Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wicked Good Pumpkin Soup

Given that pumpkins are synonymous here with fall leaves and cooler weather, it's hard to remember that there are a lot of Asian dishes that include pumpkin, and several ingredients that are seasonal that grow in a second herb harvest for the fall. It's a shorter season, but that one last burst of herbs and greens is a nice gift before winter sets in.

This soup combines the garlic harvest, cilantro, lemongrass and of course, pumpkin.

Asian-style Pumpkin Soup
1 bunch lemongrass, thinly sliced root part 1-inch, or you can find it in a jar at the store
1 bunch green onions, whites and 1-inch of greens sliced
2 cloves garlic
1.5 tbs. grated ginger
1 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. key lime, or lime juice
3.5 cups pumpkin puree (made mine fresh, or use 2 cans)
1 15 oz. can coconut milk
2 cups chicken stock
2 tbs. sugar
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. ground galangal ( or ground ginger)
salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped

Heat the oil, add the ginger, garlic, lemongrass, green onions and sweat for 15 minutes. Add the lime juice, chicken stock, pumpkin and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes, adding the red pepper flakes and galangal. Swirl in the coconut milk and sugar, bring back to a simmer. Use a stick blender to completely puree the soup until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm, garnish with the cilantro. Sriracha hot sauce also makes a nice garnish.

If you like a more traditional pumpkin or squash soup, this French Heirloom Pumpkin Soup is a nice version. Not sure which type of pumpkin to use? Here are a few tips on edible pumpkins. Finally, if you like curry better, here's a Curried Pumpkin Soup.

Be safe trick or treating tonight!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bleu Cheese and Roasted Fall Fruit Salad, or Why I will NEVER be Martha Stewart

I've mentioned it before, but I do work full time. When I say full, I mean 50 hours a week full, and none of that includes time for cooking and blog posts. I drink lots of coffee. I take vacation to clean my house. Somehow it all works out.

Until I hit a tipping point. Like, say, a 60 hour week. And a full weekend. With company for dinner. In fact, one of the few things I can count on in life is if I have a full weekend planned, work will go nuts. We do have folks over for dinner quite often even so. I like company. I like a full table. I'm just a lousy hostess sometimes. Okay, most of the time.

I hit a new low. After a long week, I got up at 6:30 am to run a 5k with the kid, off to her soccer game, farmers market, then we cleaned house and cooked dinner, had company over. I did the dishes between dinner and dessert, ate, and made everyone coffee. When I took the kid upstairs for bed before rejoining the adults ... the soft music, lying down, dark room, sleepy child snuggled up ...

Yeah, I fell asleep for an hour with a table full of guests.

At least the salad was good. Maybe even good enough to put up with the hostess.

Bleu Cheese Crostini and Roasted Fall Fruit Salad
2 anjou or bosc pears, sliced into eighths
1.5 cups red grapes, sliced in halves
2 tbs. olive oil

Eight slices of baguette
6 oz. Gorgonzola dolce, or mellow bleu cheese

1.5 cups Tokay or Muscat wine
1 small lemon, juice only
1/4 cup honey

1 tbs. walnut oil
3 cups arugula, or arugula and mixed greens

2 tbs. black walnut pieces
salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Toss the sliced fruit with the olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Divide the bleu cheese among the slices of baguette and place on another baking sheet. The bread tray should go closest to the top of the oven. Roast for about 15-20 minutes until everything is just a bit golden brown.

Put the wine, honey and lemon juice in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Allow to simmer for about 20 minutes until it is thick and syrupy enough to coat the back of a spoon.

For assembly, toss the greens with the walnut oil and divide among four plates. Top with the roasted fruit, placing and even amount of pears and grapes on each salad. Salt and pepper to taste. Add two slices of the bleu cheese crostini. Drizzle the wine syrup over the top and sprinkle on the black walnuts.

Don't fall asleep.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fall Harvest Salad

I love fall. I know, those leaves turning means I have to put on a jacket and socks, which I hate. But it's hard not to enjoy the leaves and the cool days. Fresh apples and pears. My annual pumpkin worship rituals.

After a day of pumpkin patch exploring and soccer games, we were just insane enough to have company for dinner in an already overbooked day. Fortunately we had the most gracious of guests — folks that wanted only soup and salad. Brought wine and gifts, AND send you a thank you card the next day. For soup and salad.

Granted it was a good salad.

Fall Harvest Salad
3 cups greens, mixed arugula and spinach.

1 apple, sliced
1 pear, sliced
2 clementine oranges, sectioned
1 pomegranate, seeded (yes, in advance)
Pumpkin seeds, 4 tbs.
White stilton with lemon peel, 2 oz.

1/2 cup lemon olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbs. honey
1/4 cup white balsamic
Salt and pepper to taste

This serves 4 adults and one kid along with a cup of soup for a light fall meal. If you cannot find the Stilton with lemon peel, just use plain white stilton and zest the lemon used in the dressing over the top of the salad.

Other favorite salads for this season:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sweet Dumpling and Musquee de Provence

Sweet Dumpling

Still in love with pumpkins this fall! This was just window light on my much smaller than normal pumpkin collection. I have decided to scale back so I can cook all the ones I buy this year. It's tough with 300 lbs. of winter squash, but I think I can manage 100 lbs.!!!

Tons of Halloween Recipes!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Best Applesauce EVER.

I declined a birthday party invite for my kiddo. We, okay, I had a busy weekend planned and a lot of conflicts. For starters, it's the first weekend I have not had to juggle soccer games with my farmers market habit. So, right off, I'm due for a nice long, relaxing market day. Second, there is this farm tour thing.

I know. If you ask a five-year-old if she would rather go nuts jumping on inflatables and eat cake with 20 screaming kids, or go pick apples with the folks ... I know. This officially makes me the Fun Nazi, right? Or does it?

I've been to a lot of birthday parties for kids. A lot. I survived the Princess party. Barely. Sparkles still give me flashbacks of an army of sugar-frenzied princesses tearing through wrapping paper and screaming for "More Presents!!!!" Wow, that one hurt.

Which is part of the reason I declined this invite instead of canceling our plans. You see, this is one of those where the whole class is invited to a party for a kid we do not know. I'm sure he's a great kid. But. The venue has the kids play for most of the time, then gather in a "cake room." On one end of the room, I kid you not, is the Birthday Throne. The birthday child sits here and then proceeds to open TWENTY presents and eat cake.

I guess if you are five this is like a dream come true, right? But, where I stand, it feels like an obscene amount of overload. I don't ever remember twenty — TWENTY — birthday presents or a huge party for ME with my whole class in attendance, not even when I turned 40. (I just quietly drank good red wine for that one.) Certainly nothing on that scale every year when I was a kid. I turned out fine. Opinions vary, but overall ... just fine.

In the backdrop of the present overload is a frenzy of kids cranked on sugar and upset because THEY are not in the throne getting stuff. They barely know the other kids. And the whole thing is indoors just as fall's perfect weather is calling me the most.

Granted, we have had a couple huge birthday parties for the kiddo before I scaled back. But I mandated NO presents. For one event, I asked for donations of lightly used books to rebuild New Orleans libraries INSTEAD of presents. The kid will not remember this. She just remembers having fun with her friends. Which is kind of the important part, right?

So, I have my reasons. And I say ... let's go pick apples. Do a hay ride. Be outdoors where Mommy can hear herself think. And meet farmers who grow good food and have a laugh in the sun, play hide and seek in the hay bale maze. And just be.

Did I mention apples? Because if you pick the apples, then you need to make this Best Applesauce Ever. It's better than cake with blue sugar-and-shortening frosting. Maybe better than presents.

Besides, there's another birthday party at a similar place in a couple weeks, smaller party, and for a really good friend. I might even be in the moonwalk that time. Look out kids, it'll be like an earthquake in that thing when I bounce.

Best Applesauce Ever
8 large Gala apples, peeled, cored, sliced
1/2 cup dry red wine such as Temparillo or Cabernet
1 large sprig rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. Ceylon (soft) cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Szechwan peppercorns
1/2 tsp, salt
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste

Put the ingredients except sugar in a large pot and cover. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a nice simmer. Simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring once in a while to get all the apples cooked. Use a stick blender and puree to desired texture. I like chunky. Mix in sugar gradually, stopping when it hits just the right amount of sweetness.