Simple Surprise Squash Soup

December 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Basically, this soup is perfect.  The grounds for this statement are just as simple as the preparations:

One: the ingredient list is minimal.
Two: the recipe is (almost) idiot proof.
Three: the flavor does not reveal statement one or two.

I like to make this soup with a wide range of flavors.  Sometimes it is gingerly sweet, sometimes it is savory and herbed.  This last batch revealed warm curry notes in the silky coconut broth.  But what ever flavor the bubbling pot may unveil, the backbone of the soup is, for the most part, unwavering.  

Squash Soup
One squash will generally make four servings, so increase the number of squashes and other ingredients accordingly.   Many times I use two varieties of winter squash for a more interesting flavor.

1 kabocha squash split in half length wise 
1 apple chopped
2 onions chopped (or 4 shallots)
1 cup coconut milk (or vegetable broth)
3 tablespoons red curry paste (or seasonings of your choice)
olive oil
sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Rub down the orange flesh of the squash halves with olive oil and sea salt and place on a baking sheet.  Roast until the skin feels like butter upon being pierced, usually 30 minutes.  This is just enough time to caramelize the apple and onions.  In a medium/large pot heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil on medium low heat, you don’t want the oil to smoke.   Now add the chopped apple and onion and some salt.  If you are making a herby soup add some of the herbs.  Cover the pot.  Check on the onions periodically and give them a stir.  After about 20 minutes remove the lid and let the steam escape for the last 10 minutes.  At this point everything in the pot should be a lovely golden color and have a silken glow, the squash should be emitting a deeply honeyed aroma and may even be sitting in a puddle of juice.  When the above criteria have been satisfied, remove the squash from the oven and let it cool for a moment.  (I would now remove some of the caramelized mix and reserve as a topping).  Then remove the skin by either peeling it off or scooping out the flesh and adding it to the pot of apple and onion with a pinch of salt.  Give everything a stir and add the coconut milk/broth and curry/herbs.  Add more water or broth to bring the consistency to your liking.  Top with caramelized onions or toasted nuts or maybe croutons for some texture.

Eat Happily.

 

Brown Butter Rice Crispy Cake

December 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

Kids may have a simple and refined (think sugar not sophistication) palette but there is something to be said about a basic colorful mass of sugar and butter which even the most pretentious of eaters could not turn their fork away from.  Take the rice crispy treat for example.  The fundamental concept is hardly any different from a cake , with a few substitutions: crackling cereal for white flour,  pillows of sugar rather than granulated, and browned butter in place of the standard unsalted.  The last switcheroo is really the kicker.  Upon first nibble of this cake you will know that something is wonderfully different about it, and yet I dare you to pin the gorgeous nutty notes on the extra 3 minutes the butter needs to transform from simply melted to luxuriously brown.

Browning butter is my favorite thing right now.  After eating browned butter that is.  Once I learned how simple it is to melt butter past the point of liquidation but before the point of charring I began to make pie crusts and cookies with this liquid gold and have even spread it straight on my toast after letting it solidify and come to room temperature.   I am still working out how to bake with it as the fabulous flavor can sometimes be masked by spices or sugars.  Any excuse to bake more, I suppose.

Fortunately this crispy cake lets the nutty tang shine right through and tastes much more appetizing than it looks (unless you are four years old or the idea of eating florescent colors seems appealing).  I made it in the shape of a cake because we were celebrating a birthday for a wheat sensitive friend, but I think that I have found my new go to goodie for all kinds of eaters.

Brown Butter Rice Crispy Cake
Deb from Smitten Kitchen inspired rice crispy recipe.  She has a thing for brown butter too.  Or just follow the instructions on the box of Rice Crispy Cereal (but dont forget to brown the butter, seriously).

1 stick ( 1/4 pound) unsalted butter
6 cups rice crispy cereal plus 1 cup sprinkles for effect
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
10 oz bag marshmallows
sprinkles
and icing

How to brown butter
Melt the butter in a lage pot on medium heat.  Once the butter melts continue cooking it until it foams and the settles and then foams again, do not walk away, stir frequently to see when dark solids begin to form beneath the foamy butter.   When the butter begins to emit a lovely nutty aroma and you can see brown particles forming, get ready to remove the butter from the heat.

Rice  Crispy  Cake

Once the butter has browned stir in the bag of marshmallows.  If the pot has cooled down and the marshmallow is slow to melt move the pot back to the warm burner or a low flame.  Once everything has melded into a glorious puddle of butter and sugar add the cereal speckled with sprinkles and stir until each grain of puffed rice has been equally coated in a healthy amount the melted marshmallow/butter mix.  Be quick.  Now pour half of the warm mixture into a cake pan and the other half into another cake pan and allow them to cool for about 45 minutes.  Remove the cooled treats and spread a nice layer of icing upon the uneven (top) side of one of the cakes.  For aesthetic purposes place the other half of the cooled treat uneven side down atop the iced layer.  Now be creative and decorate this scrumptious mass in any manor you feel suitable.


My Cookie Counterpart: A Buckwheat, Quinoa, Fig, and Nut Delicacy

December 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

Sometimes I get carried away.  I mean, is it abnormal to buy 10 pounds of butter at once?  Typical or not, yesterday my rare visit to the supermarket in search of some unsalted baking butter left me in awe.  Two pounds of high quality butter was on sale for five dollars.  Now, I am not sure if you have noticed the price of the butter recently but it is not cheap.  Usually my go to butter for baked treats costs four dollars per pound alternatively my  bread slathering butter from lancaster costs seven dollars per pound.

Consequentially as I calculated the price of my Christmastime baking escapades my wallet cringed, belly smiled, and my pants tightened.  But now I have a refrigerator full of discounted butter, cabinets full of unconventional flours, and a computer full of bookmarked cookie recipes.  Let the Christmas giving begin.  

During my thorough recipe research to find the perfect cookie escort to Biz’s Cookie Swap next weekend I found what I hoped would be my baked soul mate.  Everyone has one.  Some people are a dense double chocolate.  Some are of the buttery and addictive persuasion.  While some are salty and crumby.  Think about it and I bet your favorite cookie will tell you more about yourself than you realize.  Maybe I have simply indulged in one too many personality tests for my own good.

Personally, I am sweetened with honey, figs, and brandy while still retaining my nutty foundation.  I like to surround myself with intriguing qualities like buttery buckwheat or  toasted quinoa doughs brightened with citrus and then douse myself with Gran Marinier icing.  Tell me about your cookie personality.

Buckwheat/Quinoa Italian Fig Cookies
The inspiration came from here, although the flour experimentation is thanks to Kim Boyce.    I made two exploratory batches; one substituting some buckwheat flour and one swapping quinoa flour in for the all purpose flour.  The buckwheat creates gorgeous blueberry color with a deep luxurious flavor and the quinoa bakes into a cookie which is nutty is appearance and flavor, it reminds me of peanut butter.  Also, I like to make half batches of dough because I make things so often, so I will give the measurements for both whole and half.  On the other hand I love fillings, so I doubled the ingredients, again both are listed.

For the fig, nut, and honey filling:

1 cup | 2 cups dried quartered figs (I used Kalamata, like the olives and Turkish but much prefer the Turkish as they are softer and sweeter.)
1/2 cup |1 cup raisins
1/4 cup | 1/2 cup dried chopped dates
1/2 cup | 1 cup honey
1/4 cup | 1/2 cup brandy
1 1/2 teaspoons | 3 teaspoons orange zest
1 teaspoon | 2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon | 2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon | 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon | 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (really, it makes a difference.  Go get whole nutmeg)
1/2 cup | 1 cup toasted and chopped almonds
1 cup | 2 cups toasted and chopped walnuts
a dash or two of salt
*optional dark chocolate chocolate chips not added into the filling mixture but placed between the filling and the dough

Soak the figs in the brandy while you prepare everything else (i.e. toasting and chopping nuts, grating nutmeg, and measuring).  Now chop all of the dried fruit in a food processor until the pieces are uniform.  If you want more textured cookies (next time I do) stir all of the other ingredients in a large bowl with the diced dried fruit.  Or you can potentially break a vital piece of equipment and add everything to the food processor and whirl it around.  Let the flavors unify overnight or at least 8 hours in the refrigerator.

For the buckwheat and/or quinoa dough:

1 1/4 cups | 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cups | 1 1/2 cups buckwheat or quinoa flour
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon | 1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar (I used Florida Crystals, an organic less refined sugar)
1/2 tablespoon | 1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon | 1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup, 1 stick | 1 cup, 2 sticks cold unsalted butter
1 egg | 2 eggs
1/3 cup | 2/3 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoons | 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon | 1 teaspoon orange (or lemon) zest

I toasted my quinoa flour, which is hardly imperative but very aromatic, and I would guess adds a wonderful dimension to the dough.  To toast the flour mix the quinoa and all purpose flour together and the put the mixture into a large skillet on medium heat, stir the flours frequently to check the bottom for browning.  My flours took about seven minutes to begin to brown and emit a vivd nutty scent.  Or just skip this and jump to the next step.

Mix the flours together then sift into a big bowl with the rest of the dry ingredients (sugar, baking powder, salt).

Grate the butter into the dry ingredients (Kim Boyce’s idea) using a cheese grater.  This makes breaking up the butter into the mixture much simpler.  Now you can use your fingers pinching to incorporate the grated (or cut into 1/2 inch pieces) butter into the flours until they are pea sized bits.

Add the slight whisked egg(s), milk, vanilla, and citrus zest and give everything a nice stir.  The dough will be shaggy so at this point I use my hands and gather, almost kneading, the dough into a nice ball.  If you are making a whole recipe you now separate the dough into two disks and let them sit in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.  I left mine overnight. 

Can you spot the difference in the two photos above?  One is buckwheat and one is quinoa.

When the time comes to bake:
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the dough on a heavily floured work surface and begin to roll (with a floured rolling pin) the disk into a large rectangle (13 x 15 inches to be exact) the thinner the better.  My rolling pin is 14 inches so I can easily estimate.  Trim the sides down to a 10 x 13 inch rectangle and save the scraps.  You want to cut the rectangle into four strips 10 inches long, so quarter the long 13 inch side.

Using your most valuable tools, you hands, place a stripe of filling about an inch wide down the center of each strand of dough (here is where you can add the optional chocolate chips under the fig filling).  Wrap the sides of the dough around the filling pinching the edges to secure everything as it may try and escape in the oven.  Now flip each log so the seam side is down and cut each long segment into squares or rectangles depending on your size preference.

Bake the cookies in the middle of the hot oven for 16-20 minutes.

Repeat with the scraps or another disk of dough.

Make the icing while the cookies bake:
1/2 cup confectioner sugar
1/2 tablespoon Grand Marnier Liquor (or as much as you need)
1 tablespoon orange juice (or as much as you need)

Mix everything together until it is a gloopy liquid, adjusting to your taste.

When the cookies are out of the oven, have been transfered to a cooling rack and have cooled for about 10 minutes, coat the goodies with a couple delicate brush strokes of the icing.  Everything is done.  Let the cookies cool before eating too many because you have been staring at and smelling their indecency all day.  

Eat Happily.

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