Monday, February 25, 2013

Roasted Acorn Squash

We really didn't start eating squash or pumpkin until maybe 20 years ago. Not that there was any problem with it, we just didn't do it.

The first real squash introduction came from a South African woman. Because of this, I thought of it as exotic. (But the truth about squash is that it's really not exotic. It's squash. It's plebeian... but so good.)

It was roasted and served with butter and brown sugar, and it was good.
I still really enjoy roasted pumpkin or squash- and by now I've moved on to other versions of squash.
But still, a soft and golden piece of squash with a little pool of salty-sweetness in the center is wonderful.

I suppose you could go the savory route, rubbing the flesh with some olive oil, sprinkling with salt and pepper. In that case, maybe finish with a drizzle of olive oil and a shower of freshly grated Parmesan (or a handful of Parmesan shards if that suits you).
Sounds like dinner (maybe with polenta or risotto).

Roasted Acorn Squash
makes 6 halves

3 acorn squash
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
6 T (90 g) butter
Generous 6 T (84 g) packed brown sugar

Dried cranberries
Chopped pecans

Other options: instead of brown sugar try maple syrup, maple sugar or golden syrup

Preheat the oven to 400 F/205 C.
Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Nestle the squash halves together in a 9x13 inch pan with sides (or something that fits the squash nicely).
Sprinkle each squash half with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place a generous 1 T (14 g) brown sugar in each hollowed piece of squash. Top with 1 T (15 g butter).
Pour 1 c water (240 ml) in the bottom of the pan and cover the whole thing with aluminum foil.
Bake 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake another 20 minutes.
(If you want to add pecans or cranberries, do so after the first 30 minutes.)
Serve warm. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Vegetable Korma

I wanted to prepare a good main for this month, and Indian seemed to be the way to go. Vegetable korma it is.

My personal preference would be for variety of vegetable flavors and textures, but of course, you can use whatever you have available and prefer. In fact, this seems to be a good winterish dish since root vegetables work well for this stew-like meal. Although cashews or maybe almonds are usually cooked in korma, I like them better sprinkled on top after cooking so they stay nice and crispy.

Rice may be all you need in addition to the main, but accompaniments may include yogurt or raita and  fresh cilantro.

If you need a little primer in rice cooking, try this.

And I know, I ask that you use whole yogurt and heavy cream- but there's a reason. There's less of a chance of your korma curdling if there's some fat there. It's more stable.

Yes, it is mostly an extremely sunny yellow when it's finished, but there's certainly some orange in there. Maybe we can call it a shade of yellow-orange?

Vegetable Korma
Based on a Nigel Slater recipe in Tender
serves 6 or more

2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 T (30 ml) vegetable oil 
1 large thumb-sized piece of ginger (I tend to use more)
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 1/2 to 3 lb.  (very generous 1 kg, 1.25 kg) hearty vegetables, peeled and coarsely chopped (I have used butternut squash, carrots, parsnips, potato... with and without cauliflower... maybe red or green bell peppers would be good, too)
2 t (8 g) cumin seed
1 T (5 g) coriander seed (if you can't find whole, use about 2 1/4 t ground)
7 green cardamom pods, cracked and seeds removed
1/2 t chile powder (not enough for a weight, sorry)
2 t (6 g) turmeric powder
1 cinnamon stick
1-2 jalapeno or serrano chiles, seeds and ribs removed and finely sliced (serranos are a little hotter than jalapenos)
Salt to taste (I think about 1 T/18 g should do it) 
Several grinds fresh black pepper 
3 c (750 ml) water
3/4 c (150 g) thick whole yogurt, such as Greek style
1/2 c (120 ml) heavy cream
1/2 c (80 g) frozen peas 

For serving:
2/3 c (90 g) cashews or sliced almonds , toasted
Basmati rice
Fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves
Extra yogurt

Prep the vegetables:
Onions in one medium bowl, the other chopped vegetables in another large bowl.

Grind the cumin, coriander, and cardamom seeds with a mortar and pestle. 

Heat the vegetable oil in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until slightly golden. Turn down the heat slightly, and add the ginger and garlic and saute 30 seconds or so until fragrant. Add the cumin, coriander, cardamom, chile powder, turmeric, and cinnamon stick. Saute these along with the onion mixture until it all becomes a bit pasty. Pour the vegetables into the pot, give a good stir, and add the chopped chile,  salt, black pepper, and water. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Place a cocked lid on top of the pot and cook 30-40 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender (stir every now and then).

Whisk the cream and yogurt together in a medium bowl and set aside. 

When the vegetables have finished cooking, stir the peas into the pot and cook for a couple minutes, until warmed through.
Add a few spoons of the hot sauce from the pot to the cream and yogurt mixture and whisk to incorporate.  This step is meant to temper the yogurt so it will come up to temperature and behave when it's added to the korma. Add more sauce if necessary and whisk again- you want the yogurt mixture to be pourable. 
Pour the cream and yogurt mixture back into the the warm korma and carefully stir through. Cook gently a few minutes until slightly thickened.  
Serve warm with toasted cashews, cilantro, yogurt and rice. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hot Chocolate

This serves as a little break- I know there's no orange here and I've broken my own rule already.  But, it's a break with purpose. I can personally think of a few reasons to have hot chocolate right now...

Hot chocolate is certainly an important topic, and I've not written about it yet. Yes, there's a cold version, but it's not the same as the warm. Winter is a better time to be discussing and making hot chocolate anyway, you have to admit. It's not that you couldn't drink it year round, but it's more understandably more soothing when you can be warmed at a time you are in want of warming.

Hot chocolate is a very good thing. Well, maybe I shouldn't be lumping it all into the "very good" category. Maybe hot chocolate isn't something to be diplomatic about...
But anyway, if I have a choice I think I prefer this type- the type made with a ganache instead of cocoa powder and sugar. It's creamy, rich and thick, and sometimes creeps up to the line of pudding/custard territory. It's a special treat.
As far as percentages go, my preference is dark, and I (very luckily) have easy access to a good 72%- so that is what I use. Use whatever good chocolate you can find, but since you're not doing much to alter the chocolate you start with, make sure it's a chocolate you would want to eat (the stress is on "good" here, folks). After all, if you wouldn't want to be eating it as is, why would you want to drink it?

If your chocolate base is prepared, which doesn't take too long, you're ready to go. All you need is hot milk. 
I like 3-4 T of ganache with about  3/4 to 1 cup (180-240 ml) of milk, but it's really up to whoever is making it whether they want to be lighter with the chocolate or add with a heavier hand. 
Just remember that more can always be added, but it's a bit more difficult to take it away. 
Then again, I guess you could always add milk to correct the terrible error. 

Dark Hot Chocolate
serves 5-8 (recipe makes about 18 T ganache)

5 oz (140 g) dark chocolate (60-70%)
1/4 c (58 g) sugar
1/2 c (120 ml) heavy cream
Small splash of vanilla extract, if desired

Hot milk, preferably whole milk

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate along with sugar and cream, stirring frequently until smooth (it should only take a few minutes). Add vanilla if using and whisk to incorporate. 
Place 3-4 T (45-60 ml or 60-80 g) chocolate ganache in a cup along with a splash of hot milk. Stir until smooth and add milk to taste (maybe 6-8 oz. or 180-240 ml). 
Alternatively, whisk the ganache into a pan of hot milk.

A dollop of whipped cream on top is optional.

Refrigerate any extra ganache in a covered container. Try to use within a week.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Orange Marmalade

Sometimes I really like a piece of perfectly crispy toast with orange marmalade. I'm not saying it's an all the time sort of thing, but sometimes it can be so good.
(No matter what, I always love toast. That part does not change.)

Often marmalades can be too bitter, most probably due to the white pith in the peel. I think you definitely need some bitterness, it's part of the orange marmalade charm, but it shouldn't be the sole and completely overwhelming part of the taste. In addition, I like when the peel has a little thickness- so that it adds a bit of substantial chewiness to the finished product. Not everyone wants their marmalade so textural. If you make your own marmalade you can cut the peel thin or thick, in long strips or as the diced bits you may desire.

Orange marmalade really doesn't require many ingredients. It's technically just fruit preserved in sugar.
The really nice thing is that oranges have all they need (besides the extra sugar) to thicken and become what we know as marmalade. The lemon is a little extra to brighten and enhance the flavor with a sour note.

Pectin is what makes jams and jellies jell along with a sugar and acid combination, and it's found naturally in citrus fruits- specifically the peels and pips.
Now, I think it's best to leave the seeds in so they can do their part to make the marmalade jell.
Really, it's ok if there are seeds in it.  It may require a bit of deft maneuvering with a knife when it comes time for breakfast, but so be it.

Maybe you'll think the amount of sugar called for is horrific. Sorry, but this is the way it must be.
It seems that for a jam to jell as well as keep, you would need at least 50% of the fruit amount as sugar. It's a chemical reaction thing.
However, it's safer storage-wise and thicker with more sugar.
Ah, the magic of sugar.
And if toast is your vehicle to aid in consumption of your daily sugar ration, so be it.

That said, all I can say now is that there's no way anyone would eat all the jam in one sitting (even though it is an enticing jewel-toned shade of orange). You'll probably feel better in many ways if you share it.

Since I seem to amass vanilla beans (and keep what looks like a sad and gangly vanilla bean graveyard in a sugar jar), I took a suggestion from David Lebovitz and tucked a few of the used (but still flavorful) pieces of vanilla bean into a couple of the just-poured jars of jam. Those jars had a bit of a vanilla infusion with a delicate, slightly more complex flavor.

This jam isn't technically canned, so it should be refrigerated.
You're welcome to can it, of course, but I didn't feel like it was worth the trouble for the yield (especially if you're not eating it all yourself).

*Please use organic oranges and lemons since you're pretty much using the whole fruit.

Orange Marmalade
makes about 5 cups/1.25 l

3 large Navel oranges
2 lemons
Pinch of salt
5 c sugar (1.22 kg)

Optional: vanilla bean (fresh or spent)

Wash the oranges and lemon with soap and water. Dry the fruit and set the lemon aside.
Peel the oranges, trying to keep the peel pieces relatively large
Place the orange peels in medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer about 15 minutes. Remove the orange peels from the water to cool. Reserve the water.
Meanwhile, remove any strings and extra pith from the peeled oranges. Roughly chop the oranges and pour the orange bits and any juice into a large stainless steel pot.  Zest and juice the lemons (along with the pits) directly into the pot and add the salt.
When the peels are cool enough to handle, remove some of the white pith using a knife, or by scraping it with a spoon. Chop the orange peels to desired thickness and add them to the pot along with the reserved water used to cook the peels. Add enough extra water to just cover the oranges and peel.
Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit 30 minutes.
Add the sugar, stir, and and let the orange mixture sit an hour until the sugar dissolves.
Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to very low and simmer about an hour and 30 minutes (for a thick marmalade). Stir occasionally to keep the marmalade from scorching on the bottom of the pan, especially after the first 60  minutes. Skim off and discard any foam that rises to the top closer to the end of the cooking time.
You can test a dollop of marmalade on a cold plate. If after it has a minute to cool on the plate it wrinkles when nudged with a finger, it's gelled.
Ladle the orange marmalade into jars, seal, and refrigerate. The marmalade will continue to thicken quite a bit as it cools. 

(Note: Vanilla bean can be added along with the sugar, or if you have extra "used" vanilla beans sitting around, tuck a few pieces into each jar after you've poured the marmalade into them.)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Carrot Soup

I wanted to make a soup with what I could find (because I didn't want to have to run out to the store).
Sometimes that can be a bit of a challenge- especially when you start thinking of what you would like to do and as it turns out whatever you're imagining isn't available to you.
But I think I got lucky this time around.
Most of the things I chose to use I consider staples, and others I was able to find from grocery runs earlier in the week.

There's a little patch of thyme in the backyard. I'm always taking sprigs, so I'm grateful it's right there. It's my favorite. I'm not saying that everyone can just run out and grab thyme from the backyard, but it certainly helps to have it there at my disposal when I want some since it seems to survive year-round. I think everyone should consider growing herbs.

One ingredient I really wanted was ginger, I didn't want the less-potent dried ginger, and there wasn't any fresh laying around. I was ready for disappointment, but...
I remembered I had a pot of ginger growing next to the back door.  I'd planted it more than a year ago, it was sort of an experiment, and long story short, it takes a while to mature (apparently you're not supposed to dig up the root until the leaves start turning brown), and I hadn't tried using it yet.

The project started when I bought more ginger than I ended up using and some of the extra pieces decided to start sprouting.  No one I'd asked knew anything about the plant since it's not really something native to the midwest. The great thing was that after it was potted, it took, cooperated, and grew.
Apparently it's now ready for use.
Ginger is officially do-able.

And so, the carrot soup was pulled together.  It's a soup that's fresh, fairly healthy, a little zing, nice bright color (working very well within the self-imposed color theme), and an easy way to eat vegetables if it happens to be a difficult task. It's not bad at all.
I can attest that warm carrot soup eaten with a dollop of yogurt and toasted almond slices, plus a bit of parsley for a bit of green flavor, is really a treat.

If carrots are organic (preferable), you can get away with just giving them a good scrub to remove any dirt, but if they're not, you should probably go ahead and peel them.

Sometime, I think I may try a version with rosemary or curry.

Carrot Soup
serves at least 6

2 lb. (907 g/scant 1 kg) carrots, scrubbed/peeled and roughly cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large onion, large diced
5 cloves of garlic
3 T (45 ml) olive oil
1 1/2 (6 g) t kosher salt
1/2 t (2 g) freshly ground black pepper
6 c (1 1/2 L)  chicken or vegetable broth (low sodium would be better, since you can ultimately decide the salt content)
1 T (15 g) freshly grated ginger, maybe a thumb-sized piece
5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped
a generous pinch of cinnamon
1 lemon, juiced 
1/2 c (120 ml) heavy cream

Possible accompaniments: chives, parsley, plain yogurt, toasted almond slices, caramelized shallots

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F/205 C.
Toss carrots, onion, and garlic together with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes, tossing once or twice.
While the vegetables cook, bring the chicken broth to a simmer along with the thyme and ginger. Pour the roasted vegetables into the simmering stock along with the cinnamon. Continue simmering the soup until the carrots are very soft, at least 15 minutes.
Puree the soup in batches in a blender, or with an immersion blender. Stir 1 T (15 ml) fresh lemon juice into the carrot puree, then add the cream.
Taste and add additional cinnamon, lemon juice, salt or pepper as necessary.
Serve warm, garnish as desired.