Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Roasted Garlic Butternut Squash Soup

This recipe was sent to my by one of the choir moms. We made it this weekend, and even Alex ate it, which is amazing. I served it as a first course with some croutons made from a day-old baguette. (Melt butter in pan, sprinkle garlic powder, add baguette slices brown on both sides, sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Not from a can, as if I have to say it.) Yes, I know, garlic powder is not normally acceptable, but it is in this case. Because I say so. I also prefer to use homemade stock. In these days of trying to save money, making your own stock is a good strategy, especially since I really only like the expensive kind in the box. For $3.00 each. But hey, you do what you want. Anyway, the soup was really good. Thanks Deb!

I made this with half a butternut squash. I had used the other half a few days earlier to make Butternut squash risotto with sage. While I was doing that, I popped the other half in the oven and roasted it. I kept in the fridge for a few days and it was fine. Next, we must try to make Butternut squash ravioli with browned butter sage sauce. I'll let you know how it goes. A lot of times my ravioli making ends with cursing, but also with some pretty fantastic ravioli.

A head of garlic
A butternut squash
A small handful of fresh basil
ground pepper to taste
nutmeg to taste
salt to taste
heavy cream to finish

Split a butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and put the two halves in a roasting pan "face up" so you can see the inside. Put a pat of butter inside the "bowl" part of each side of the squash. I also slather some butter over the top "smooth" half of the squash, and score it with a knife so that the butter sinks in.

Roast in a 400-degree oven for about an hour, or until the thick part of the squash is easy to slip a butter knife into.

At the same time, take a whole head of garlic and slice off the top part so that you can see a tiny bit of the inside of most of the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil, put in a small pan, and roast it in the oven along with the squash. It should only take about half an hour to roast, though. Then remove the garlic and peel it when it is cool. Or roast the garlic however you personally like to roast garlic, I don't care.

When the squash is done, scoop out the insides and place them in a food processor along with the garlic. Put in about 1/4 cup of olive oil, and a can of chicken broth. Start the food processor going. Feed in the fresh basil and keep processing until that's thoroughly chopped. Grind in some salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. A little bit of nutmeg goes a long way.

Then transfer to a pot, and simmer for a while. (Yes, a while. It's not as though anything really needs to cook, but the basil needs to be simmering to get the flavor out.) Depending on the size of the squash, you may want to add in up to another can of chicken broth to get the consistency of soup you want, and to increase the volume because everyone will want some and that way you might possibly get leftovers out of the deal. You might keep adding nutmeg or pepper, it depends on your taste. The thing is, keep tasting, because this is delicious, and there's no sense in your family getting to eat most of it. You're doing all the work.

When you feel like it's done, ladle the soup into bowls. And then, put a splash of heavy cream in the center and swirl it around. You can swirl it into a pattern like they do in fancy restaurants if you want your family to think you're hot stuff, or you can just blend it in like we unpretentious people do. Also, you could use a spoonful of sour cream instead of heavy cream if that floats your boat, but I've tried that and I think plain old heavy cream is best. If you're trying to be calorie-conscious you could go with milk, probably, but I'm not calorie-conscious enough to try it. Who needs to be calorie-conscious when the rest of this recipe is so darned good for you, anyway.

Note: This soup is so healthful that you should probably offset it with the best accompaniment in the world: A Wegmans french baguette and Irish butter. Cut a slice of the bread, smear it with butter, dip it in the soup, totally awesome. This is a good way to taste the soup when it's simmering in the pot. You have to keep making sure it's okay, after all.

Another note: If you can get cheap butternut squash in the fall, load up and they keep for a while. And, you can always roast and freeze...it defrosts just fine for using in the soup.

Yet one more note: If you like garlic, roast up to two heads of garlic and put them in instead of just one. As long as your spouse is also consuming this meal, it shouldn't be a big deal. But you'll be aware of garlic for the next day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sometimes You Have to Make a New Plan

Today I was lucky enough to find a tri-tip roast at Wegmans. A tri-tip is a tender, fairly inexpensive cut of beef from the bottom of the sirloin. It is very popular in California, where I lived until I was thirty-two. Since moving to Upstate New York, I have begged the butchers at the grocery to order them, and they have told me they were unavailable. That is if they had heard of them at all. I have found them at a few smaller specialty meat stores in Rochester. So I was happily surprised when I found one at Wegmans today. I plucked it up and dropped it into my cart. I thought I would make Barbecued Tri-tip with Carmelized Onions and Red Wine Barbecue Sauce. I grabbed some baby romaine and a pear to make a quick salad with some blue cheese I had in the fredge at home, and some carrots and parsnips to roast in olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme along with the potatoes I still had from the farm co-op produce from last week. I even considered making a quick foccacia from scratch because Ben is home for a while and he loves it.

When I got home, I dragged the kids out to help prepare the driveway to be sealed tomorrow. They all lasted about twenty minutes, so I worked for two hours and did it all by myself.

We ordered pizza.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cooks Who Have Influenced Me

1. My Mom. My mom is the most amazing cook ever. She cooks everything fearlessly and with great style and panache. She travels with a lemon reamer in her RV, and in my opinion, that is the mark of someone who will produce fabulous meals wherever she goes. Or at least lemony ones.

There used to be a show on the travel channel called "Great Chefs of the World". The show would go to the most exclusive restaurants in the world and show their chefs cooking world-class cuisine. Meals that would easily cost you $100.00 a plate. Well, my mom is the only person I know who ever attempted to make one of the recipes from that show. Now we're not talking about accessible, tailored to the home cook food. We're talking cuisine. When Mom is visiting she and I cook together, but most of the time, she is driving the bus. She has great ideas, and even better, when she is here she pays for most of the food. So one day she says, "Hey, I made the most amazing salmon, with mango, melted brie, tomato coulis, napa cabbage, all sitting on top of Parmesan mashed potatoes. Now, my first thought was, "You're kidding. That sounds disgusting!" But I just looked warily at her and said, "Um, okay, sounds good." So off to Wegman's we went and procured the vast array of ingredients needed to make this dish. It took a long time. We came back and she started the elaborate preparations, while I kept my reservations to myself about how these tastes would intermingle with each other. Well, boy, was I wrong. But I should have known better. It was FANTASTIC! Even my kids liked it. It took hours to make, but it was worth it. My mom is the only one I know who could pull it off. Oh, except me. I have since made this dish. I would love to publish the recipe, but alas, I cannot. And even if I did, most people would be too intimidated to make it. BUT, you can buy the recipe for .25 from the Great Chefs of the World. Or you can beg me for a dinner invitation and bribe me with cheap champagne to cook it for you. You never know, I just might do it.

I have many more stories to tell about Mom's fabulous cooking. And I will. Stay tuned. Next up on Chefs who Have Influenced Me: the Galloping Gourmet. More from the kitchen later.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tastefully Stupid

Have you ever been to one of those parties where the hostess is actually a shill for some product you don't really want or need? Well, I certainly have, and really I shouldn't bitch about it too much, as my great-grandfather actually invented the home-product party. So all of my family money, of which I personally have none, came from the home-party business. But all of that aside, I have been to the ones where they pitch beer bread mixes and assorted dip mixes. And yeah, after about four glasses of wine I coughed up fifty bucks for assorted seasoning mixes, marinades, and no-work pound cakes.

Of course after I sobered up I felt really stupid. Those mixes are a complete rip-off! Most of the products can be reproduced at home for one-tenth the cost and not much more work.

Take the beer bread mix, for instance. For around $7.00 a box you get a mix to which you have to add one 12 ounce bottle of beer and 3 T of butter. Guess what? To make it at home the only other things you need are: 3 C of flour, 1 T of baking powder, 1 tsp salt, and 3 T of brown sugar. And the homemade one comes out with a nice crisp crust and a more robust, fuller flavor. For exactly one minute thirty seconds more work. Try it this fall, and save your money for something you need. Like an organic flour baguette at Wegmans with some really expensive cheese. Or smoked Maldon sea salt.

Beer Bread

3 C all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
3 T brown sugar
12 ounces of beer
4 T melted butter

Mix the dry ingredients. Pour in beer and stir to combine. Pour into prepared(that means greased) loaf pan and bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts

Well, in my quest to ferret out bad food bloggers, I ran across one who is actually pretty good. Her website, simply recipes, has some great looking stuff, but I did run across a recipe which I found to be completely WRONG!!!!! She posted a recipe for Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts with mushroom sage sauce. Now, the sauce looked good, and easy to prepare, but please, NO ONE SHOULD EVER USE BONELESS SKINLESS CHICKEN BREASTS! They are dried out, rubbery messes! Taking the skin off robs the breast of the only thing keeping it moist. Removing the bones takes away substantial flavor. You can cook plain chicken breasts if you want to, but at least leave the skin on. You can even remove the skin after you cook it, but give the bird a small chance at being moist and flavorful.

Now there are those of you, my friends, who will say, "But June, they cook so fast and they are better for you." Guess, what? I don't care! Ease of preparation should never be an excuse for serving shoddy food. Unless I need to make dinner for my kids in 10 minutes flat. Then out comes the ramen noodles.

Mario Batali was once asked if there was any food he would not cook. His reply? Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts. So there, dear readers, is my justification. How about using chicken thighs instead? The tasty, moist, dark meat will take just about any preparation for which you would use breasts. If you don't have a lot of time and haven't shopped for any special ingredients, try making a chicken fricassee. The basic preparation method allows for endless creativity, or not, depending on the contents of your pantry. It is a great fall or winter meal served with some soft, herbed polenta. One of Hannah's friends like it so much, she ate four pieces one night. And then another day said she would do a favor for Hannah if she could get her mom to make "that really good chicken' again. Come on over, I can have it on the table in 30 minutes. Matter of fact, this is what I am making tonight. I'll add the polenta to pour the pan juices over and some roasted broccoli. And a salad. Because my mom would kill me if I didn't serve a salad.

Chicken Fricassee

Heat 2 T olive oil (I don't have to say extra virgin, do I?) and add 6 well-seasoned chicken thighs, skin down. Brown well. Throw in a clove or two of chopped garlic, and/or chopped onion, carrot, or celery and cook until vegetables are softened.(See, it I told you you could get creative) Add about 1/2 cup white wine and some fresh herbs, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper. I like thyme and rosemary, but tarragon, marjoram, oregano, or chives also work well. You can use dried herbs if it is the middle of winter and you can't fight the two foot deep snow drifts to go the twenty minutes to Wegmans to get some fresh ones. Put a lid on the pan and cook for about twenty minutes. At this point you can add some fresh mushrooms or kalamata olives and cook another few minutes, or just serve as is, with the pan juices. You could also add a little cream or butter to the pan juices, but I find it not really necessary. Adjust the seasonings and serve with pan juices.

Here is my favorite polenta recipe.

And this is how I roast broccoli: Cut broccoli into florets. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in a 450 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze, if desired. My kids LOVE this broccoli.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cupcake in a Mug! Really?

I recently ran across this blog written by this woman. It makes me want to throw up. The first paragraph in her latest entry is dedicated to the Paula Deen cake she made for her husband, "because he is so sweet, he does so much for me" etc. etc. Okay, maybe he is and maybe he does, but for God's sake keep it to yourself! I would never wax on and on about my hubby and how great he is. It would go to his head and then he would expect things from me. Besides my fabulous cooking, which he gets anyway. He should be happy. And do everything I tell him to do.

Well, while checking out some of this woman's recipes, I ran across this one:

LARGE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKE IN A MUG. (5 minutes ) 4 Tablespoons cake flour (I've used all-purpose flour and it works fine) 4 Tablespoons sugar 2 Tablespoons cocoa 1 Egg 3 Tablespoons milk 3 Tablespoons oil 1 Mug Put flour in mug. Stir in Sugar and Cocoa Spoon in one egg Stir in milk and oil Microwave for 3 mins on high til cake sets in mug Remove from mug when slightly cooled.

I couldn't believe it. Does she actually think that baking in the microwave is going to yield anything worth eating? Well, I decided that I couldn't judge her without trying the recipe. I called Hannah down and we cooked it up. Here is a photo essay about it:

IT WAS HIDEOUS!!!!!!! It looked like a sponge and worse yet, IT TASTED LIKE A SPONGE. DON'T DO IT!!!! DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT DOING IT!!!!!

If you want some fast chocolate cake make these instead. Just leave off the mint sauce and serve with ice cream. I once made these from start to finish, on the table in twenty minutes. I had a dinner party and one of my friends made a sarcastic remark about the dessert not being chocolate. So I gave her a dirty look, got up from the table, marched in to the kitchen and presented her with these little beauties a short time later. Even though I had made a delicious, decadent trifle with gobs of raspberries, silky custard, and whipped cream. The nerve of some people. Of course, come to think of it, she got to have trifle AND molten chocolate cakes.

Note about the cakes: you most likely have all of the ingredients in your cupboard right now. They are a snap to make in your kitchenaid. You do have a kitchenaid, don't you?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Most requested recipe

Almost anytime I am asked to send in a dish for a teacher luncheon, my husband's office party, a pot luck or whatever, I bring or send my Curried Chicken Pasta salad. It is REALLY good. Of course. Why would I make it if it wasn't? The only problem is that EVERYONE wants the recipe. Which I can understand. It is that good, if I do say so myself. But I have found myself hounded by people; everytime I see them they beg, "Oh, can I PLEASE have the recipe?" And of course I say "Yes!" And then promptly forget about writing it down. I have avoided people at the grocery store over this. That and I don't want them to see the hohos in my cart.

So from now on, I will just tell them, "Sure, go read my blog" And then I can alienate them and they'll avoid ME at the grocery store.

Curried Chicken Pasta Salad

2 Lbs chicken, roasted (or use one of those $4.00 roasted chickens from the grocery store)
1 Lb medium pasta shells, cooked and cooled. (DO NOT OVERCOOK THE PASTA!!! If you cook your pasta any softer than al dente, you're an idiot. The time on the box is too long, so don't go by that either)
1/2 C raisins
!/4 C slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 C diced celery
1/2 C chopped green onions

Put it all in a bowl and top with dressing:

1/2 C mango chutney, chopped. (yeah, I know it is expensive. Get over it if you want the best pasta salad you ever ate)
2 tsp curry powder (get it at the Indian grocery, the stuff in the regular grocery sucks)
1 1/2 C mayo
1 tsp tumeric

Blend with a whisk.

Let me know how you like it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wine at Jan's

Well, we celebrated the end of summer (sigh) by meeting up at Jan's for some drunken debauchery accompanied by kids splashing in the pool and some good eats.

Laura brought a delicious black bean and corn salsa.

I don't know if this is the same recipe she used, but it is my version:

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

  • 2 cans black beans, rinsed
  • 1 can white corn, or leftover corn cut from the cob
  • 1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 minced jalapeno
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 1/2 limes
  • 3 Tablespoons and red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix it all up and serve with tortilla chips.

Jan made a fantastic grilled pizza, it had sauteed veggies and goat cheese and some other stuff I may have been too drunk to remember. She put her pizza stone directly on the grill. Next time, I'll show her how to cook pizzas directly on the grill. It is easy.

Grilled pizza

Okay, if you're too lazy to make your own pizza dough, or you don't have time, you can use a dough ball from the grocery store. I make it in the Kitchenaid with 1 C warm water, 1 T yeast, 1 tsp sugar (dissolve yeast in water, add sugar, and proof (that means wait until it gets foamy for you dough-challenged people) add 1 T olive oil, 1/2 tsp kosher salt (do I really have to say kosher? All of my faithful readers would never dream of using regular salt, right?) and 3-4 cups of flour. Let rise about an hour.

Rip off a piece of dough and pat or roll it into some kind of pizza-looking shape. It doesn't have to be perfect. Brush it with olive oil (or in this case I will let you get away with spraying it with Pam. But this is one of only two sanctioned uses of Pam. I'll bet you can guess what the other one is, and it is NOT roasting asparagus, ANN) Plop it on a pre-heated grill set to medium and cook a minute or two on one side, until it is set a little. Flip it over and brush with olive oil. (No Pam THIS time, faithful readers) Top as you please. Lower the heat, close the lid and cook until the cheese is melted and the dough is cooked, about 5 minutes, depending on the heat and your toppings.

Suggested toppings:

Goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and kalamata olives

Carmelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, blue cheese and fresh mozzarella

Pesto, fresh mozzarella, slivered prosciutto and a basil chiffonade. (google it if you don't know how to chiffonade)

Tomato sauce and any traditional pizza topping

Fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil

Pears, manchego cheese, and walnuts

There were several other really good dishes that I don't have time to tell you about now. More from the kitchen later...