Vegetarian

Butternut and Acorn Squash Soup

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If you’re looking for something to serve as a side for the upcoming holidays, give this recipe a try.  It’s rich and creamy without using any cream at all, so it’s a little bit more waistline friendly.  This was taken from the cookbook An American Bounty from The Culinary Institute of America.  What’s nice about this cookbook is that it gives you some nutritional information with each recipe.  And this recipe is healthier than you think — 180 calories, 4 g protein, 10 g fat, 18 g carbohydrates, 285 mg sodium, and 40 mg cholesterol per 6 oz. serving.  It will serve 4 – 6 people.

I did try my best at making some fancy design like those baristas at those fancy coffee houses.  It almost worked, but since the densities of the soup and the cream were so different, designs really didn’t want to stay put.  I eventually settled on swirling everything together, which I liked.  It kinda looks like Jupiter. . . kinda. . . well, not really.  But I digress, here’s what you need:

  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, trimmed and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 t. ground ginger
  • 3-4 c. chicken broth
  • 2 c. butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 c. acorn squash, cubed
  • 1/2 potato, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 t. salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper, or to taste
  • 1 t. julienned orange zest

1.  Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium heat.

2.  Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic.  Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender and translucent, about 5-6 minutes.

3.  Add the ginger and sauté for another minute.

4.  Add the broth, squashes, and potato.  Bring the broth to a full boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low.  Simmer until the squashes are tender enough to pierce easily with a fork, about 20 minutes.

5.  Remove the soup from the heat and allow it to cool briefly.  Purée the soup with an immersion blender, food processor, or run it through a food mill.

6.  Return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer.  Adjust the consistency, if necessary, by adding additional broth or water.  Taste the soup and add salt, pepper, and orange zest.

7.  Serve the soup in a heated tureen or individual bowls.

Notes — If you wanted to make this vegan, just substitute the butter with some olive oil and switch the chicken broth with some vegetable broth. . . add a few drops of lemon or lime juice to brighten the flavor. . . you can add a T. of orange juice concentration with the final flavor adjustment. . . if you wanted to make this in advance, complete up to step 5, cool the soup to room temperature, and refrigerate or freeze.  Before serving, return the soup to a full boil, and make final adjustments. . . can be served chilled. . . whip a little heavy cream to soft peaks, fold in an equal amount of sour cream, and add freshly grated ginger, to taste.  add a dollop to each portion. . .

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

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I do apologize; I don’t have a picture of the final product — everything was eaten so fast!  At least I have a couple of pics of some things that took place beforehand.  Now there was no real intention to make these; I just saw them at the market and thought to myself, “Waterlily, you could do something nice with these!”

This was part of a welcome meal for my parents and my brother when they drove up to visit over Labor Day.  It was just something nice and a little bit special that I could have waiting for them once they got here.  It’s not everyday that you can have some fresh squash blossoms. . . well, at least in my house.  These can be somewhat tricky to work with, mostly because they can be pretty delicate.  But on the other hand, don’t be too afraid to peel back the petals and stuff them with the filling.  They can be pretty resilient.

Alright, it's not the prettiest picture I have ever taken, but it shows how simple the stuffing is.

As for the filling, it again shows some of the versatility of the Garlic Confit and the Pesto that I posted a little bit ago.  This time I combine the two with just a little bit of some cream cheese.  Of course, I did panic and make a double batch of the stuffing.  Trust me, a single one is more than enough; the good thing is that it makes a very nice spread on some bread, or a bagel, or maybe a cucumber sandwich or something along those lines.  You could probably thin out the stuffing with a little yogurt or sour cream and make a nice vegetable dip.  Or how about taking a couple of tablespoons of the filling and adding it to a pasta sauce and making a nice pesto cream sauce.  Just take the filling and some pasta water (that’s the water in which you are currently boiling the pasta, in case you didn’t know) and you have an instant sauce!  Or using it to fill some crab rangoons (which I have been craving since I’ve been sick and bedridden).  See, that’s like 20 ideas right there.  Hopefully my rambling will help everybody see how you can take portions from recipes and use them in different applications.  Here’s what you need:

  • about 12 -15 squash blossoms
  • 1 8-oz. package of cream cheese
  • 3 -4 cloves from the garlic confit
  • 1/2 c. confit pesto
  • 1 c. seasoned flour
  • 1 egg
  • canola oil for frying

1.  Carefully wash and dry the squash blossoms.  I just had them drip dry in a colander that was lined with a few sheets of paper towel.  Set aside.

2.  In a medium-sized bowl, combine the cream cheese, pesto, and confit.  Mix until smooth.  Gently open the blossoms without tearing them and fill each one with about one tablespoon (or a little bit more, if you like) of the cream cheese mixture.  Carefully twist the blossoms closed.

3.  Scramble the egg in a shallow dish.  Now dredge the blossoms in the flour, then coat with the egg, and then dredge in the flour again.

4.  Fill a frying pan about an inch deep with the canola oil.  Over medium or medium-high heat, bring the oil to about 350 degrees F.  In small batches, fry the flowers until golden, turning them once.

5.  Drain them on a cooling rack lined with some paper towel.  Serve while still hot.

Notes — You could secure the blossoms with a toothpick if that is your preference, just remember to remove them before eating!. . . One trick that I learned from Alton Brown is that you can drain these (or anything else that you’re frying) in an unorthodox way.  Normally you would drain them on a plate or rack with some paper towel on it.  You should turn all that upside down!  It should look like this, solid surface (kitchen counter), then your paper towel, and finally an upsidedown cooling rack.  The rack acts as a wick which draws out the excess oil, but also acts as a physical barrier that prevents the food item from sitting in a pool of grease. . .

Garlic Confit Pesto

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Time to revisit that Garlic Confit that I had posted a little bit ago.  I just wanted to show a couple of different ways that you could use it in recipes.  This recipe is for another one of those multi-purpose sauces — pesto!  Quick fact about pesto — it comes from northern Italy (see? quick fact!).  Plus, what some folks don’t realize is that pesto really isn’t a sauce in the way that hollandaise is a sauce.  Actually, it’s more of a paste, at least the way that I do it.

Using the confit makes this sauce sweeter that regular pesto sauces.  When you use raw garlic, you get that sharpness and heat.  So you’ll need to keep that in mind when you use this recipe.  Now I don’t have a lot of exact measurements for this one; you just go for feel and texture and flavor here.  But I do try to standardize it when I can.  This time I did have a lot of fresh basil and parsley from the market, so I used a combination of the two.  But for ease of the recipe, I’ll just list the basil.  So here is about as standard as I can get it.

Here’s what you need:

  • 4 c. packed basil
  • 4 cloves of garlic confit
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1 – 2 t. lemon zest
  • 1 – 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 – 2 T. honey
  • 1/4 t. red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 c. Parmesan cheese, grated

1.  Coarsely chop the basil and place it in a food processor, along with the garlic, walnuts, zest, and lemon juice.  Cover and pulse for several seconds to combine.

2.  Add the honey and red pepper and process.  Slowly incorporate the olive oil and process the sauce until smooth, being careful not to over-process (the longer you do it, the more heat is added to the mixture).

3.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in the cheese.  Store in an air tight container in the fridge.  Should last for a couple of weeks.  You can freeze it, and it should last for a few months.  You could freeze it in some ice cube trays to make it easier to just add a cube or two to some mashed potatoes, or pasta, or soup, or whatever you want!

Garlic Confit

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I love garlic.  There, I said it.  What’s not to love?  And what I especially love about this recipe is how simple it is.  Plus it’s so useful since it has so many applications.  You could put it in salads, really into any dish you might need, you could just spread it on some toast, or you could just get a fork and go to town.  And you could use the oil to cook, to flavor dishes, or to make a salad dressing.

The garlic takes on a nice sweetness when cooked, much like when it is roasted.  In this application though, it is much more subtle.

For those who might not know, a confit is a preparation that helps preserve food by covering it in a layer of fat or oil.  An example is duck confit where the duck is cooked in the rendered duck fat, allowed to cool while submerged, and stored in the cooled duck fat.  This preserves the meat without having to refrigerate it.  Probably has its roots back to a time when refrigeration wasn’t as common as it is today, but that’s just a guess.  Making this recipe follows the same principle.

This recipe is from Chef Thomas Keller’s book Ad Hoc.  His restaurant that folks think of is of course the world renown French Laundry.  But there is a whole group of restaurants in his portfolio, including Ad Hoc and Bouchon Bistro and Bakery.  The list of ingredients is so simple — garlic and canola oil.  That’s it!  And if you love garlic, you definitely need to add this to your basic repertoire.  I did change the amounts a little bit, just because I wanted to make a little bit more than the recipe calls for.  Here’s what you need:

  • 2 cups peeled garlic cloves
  • enough canola oil to cover

1.  Put the garlic cloves in a small saucepan.  Pour enough oil to completely cover immerse them in oil by about an inch.

2.  Place on medium-high heat.  Cook the garlic very gently; only small bubbles should come up through the oil when cooking, but the bubbles should not break the surface.  Adjust the heat as necessary.  Cook for about 40 minutes, stirring about every 5 or so, until tender.

3.  Remove from the heat and allow the garlic to cool in the oil.  Store the garlic in the refrigerator in a covered container, submerged in the oil.  Should last about a week.

Labor Day with the family

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Batten down the hatches!!!  My parents and my brother are driving up from Florida to visit me for Labor Day.  Plus I got some other cousins and aunts and uncles coming in from about an hour away.  Lord help!  It’s not that I don’t want them to visit — it’s the planning that can be tricky.  And figuring out a menu isn’t going to be easy.  Maybe I can talk my cousin into bringing something to help with the menu.  What would be nice is having a whole roast pig, but since that ain’t gonna happen I’m going to have to improvise.  And too bad my grill just busted.  Good thing there’s still the trusty Smokey Joe. . . and as a side note, here’s what the Department of Labor says about Labor Day.

Luckily, another aunt and uncle (also from Florida) came in for a visit a few weeks ago so the meal they had here was essentially a trial run.  But since there’s gonna be more people, I’m going to need to expand a bit.  I do want to make some stuff focused on local goods and made in Michigan things, but I also want to make some things that I know they’ll like.  I did find some Labor Day ideas at Grilling.com, Martha, and Yum Sugar.  So here’s what I might end up doing (which I hope to post on these new ones soon):

Roast pork shoulder

Sautéed green beans with mushrooms

Ratatouille

Grilled corn

Fresh Lumpia

Bibingka

Zucchini Ribbons with Garlic Confit

Empanadas

Steamed Mussels with Glass noodle

Koegel’s viennas

Something with Rhubarb (probably a Raspberry and Rhubarb tart)

San Miguel

Oberon

_______________

Of course all this planning might just go out the window, so I’m going to wait until the last minute to do any shopping.  There’ll probably be a trip to Windsor in the making.  Or maybe a quick jaunt to Toronto (if I’m lucky)!

Gnocchi with Leeks and Crispy Basil

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It’s been one of those “what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks do I have in the refrigerator / pantry today” kind of days.  But this recipe started out as an inspiration; an “a-ha!” moment, if you will.  For whatever reason, I was inspired to try to make gnocchi today (and by “today” I mean the same day that I’m writing this).  No idea why. . . I’ve never made gnocchi before. . . I don’t have a wise old Italian grandmother who can teach the wonders of making my own dumplings.  But I did have a bunch of leeks and a bushel of basil from the farmer’s (or is it farmers) market.  And I had some leftover mashed potatoes from the night before, so it all made sense.  I could make a shepherd’s pie, but I have the day off so why not try something new?

Now I know that you’re not supposed to use mashed potatoes when making gnocchi, but how different can it be?  There’s just a little extra cream and butter, maybe some garlic. . . and there are probably some recipes out there that would add all that stuff in anyway.  The only problem that I had was my lack of a ricer or a food mill, which I totally recommend that you have if you make gnocchi a lot. . . or even a little, because I had to pass all this through a mesh strainer, which was a pain!

Being a novice at this is rather evident — I could not roll it out right, mainly because I was working with a too-big piece of dough (I altered the recipe to accommodate).  So that meant that the pieces I cut were huge, which also meant that I could not shape things right.  But with all those things incorrect, it still tasted pretty good.  Now I have gone to restaurants and had some bad gnocchi — too dense, too doughy, too bland.  Much to my surprise, these were pretty light, but probably could have used a little bit more salt — I thought the mashed potatoes were salty enough.

This is another one of those things that doesn’t have as exact measurements as I would like. I kept on adding flour to the dough since it was too wet (I assume from the mashed potatoes).  But something like that would probably happen if it’s too humid outside.  This is as close as I could get it.  Here’s what you need:

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 c. leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1 1/2 c. flour, plus extra for the dough and rolling
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 leeks, thinly sliced
  • 2 sprigs of fresh basil
  • canola oil
  • zest of a lemon

1.  Into a large bowl, run the mashed potatoes through a ricer, food mill, or a sieve.  Make a well in the middle and add your eggs, salt, & pepper.  Mix the eggs with a fork, gradually adding some of the potatoes along the sides of the well.

2.  Sprinkle the flour over the top and using the fork mix to combine, being careful not to overmix.  The dough should be moist, but not wet or sticky.  If it is still wet, sprinkle flour over the top 1/4 c. at a time and work in gently.

3.  Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.  Roll out the dough into a thin log, about an inch wide.  Cut the dough into 3/4 in pieces and dust with flour.  Roll the pieces over the tines of a fork.  Place the rolled pieces onto a sheet pan.

4.  Bring some water to a boil in a large stock pot.  When it comes to a boil,  generously salt the water with about 1 T. salt.  Drop the gnocchi into the water and cook for about 5 minutes; when they are done, they will float to the surface.  Transfer to a bowl and set aside.  Prepare the crispy basil.

5.  In a small pan, put about an inch of canola oil on medium-high.  Pinch off the individual basil leaves.  Working in small batches, fry the basil in the oil; it should only take a couple of seconds.  Remove the leaves and place on a wire rack lined with paper towel.

6.  Put a couple of tablespoons of the basil oil into the drained stock pot (I didn’t want to dirty another pan).  Place on medium high and sauté the leeks.  Add salt & pepper to taste.  When tender, add the gnocchi and heat through.  Toss with the lemon zest and serve.

Notes — Alright so here’s a little history for you, for which I know you’ve been chomping at the bit.  Gnocchi is probably one of the oldest recipes out there, with some documentation dating back to the 1300s.  There is debate on the origin of the word, but most agree that it has its roots in the Middle East. . . Traditionally, this is one of those meals that help extend your budget, since you can make it from simple ingredients. . . You can make these ahead of time and leave them in the refrigerator or maybe freeze them. . .

Caprese Salad with an Herb Vinaigrette

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Here’s something that I had tried to put together.  Originally I had the idea to make a Caprese Pie (which I still want to make), but alas I was fresh out of Pate Brisee.  So instead of trying to reinterpret a Caprese salad, I decided to try to switch it up a little bit.  This is a great summertime dish because prep can be so simple.  And who wants to be bogged down in a hot kitchen during the summer?  Not this guy!  The hardest thing you need to do could be just washing the veg!  Plus tomatoes are so good right now!  And when you can get a bushel of basil from the local farmer’s market for $1, it’s a match made in heaven.

Now after a little bit of research, what everyone knows as a Caprese salad really isn’t the one from Capri.  According to Epicurious, the original salad was served with arugula and dried oregano, both of which grew wild on the island.  Plus, it is served with olive oil only.  The vinegar would be detrimental to the flavor of the dish and overpower some of the more delicate notes.  My take does have an herb vinaigrette and the moscatel vinegar that I used can be a little overwhelming, but I make a nice emulsion with some basil and oregano which does help tame it a bit.  Here’s what you need:

  • 2 fresh tomatoes, cut in half and sliced 1/4 in. thick
  • 2 lbs. fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 in. thick half rounds
  • 1/4 c. moscatel vinegar
  • 3/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 c. fresh herbs (I used basil and oregano), coarsely chopped.
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt & pepper, to taste

1.  In a small food processor, chop the basil, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the top and blend well.

2.  While the dressing marries, arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella on the plate.  I made a circular pattern alternating the cheese and tomatoes.  In the center I put a chiffonade of some basil.

3.  Pour some of the dressing on top and you are ready to serve!  Simple!

Notes — If you like you could try using a more neutral vinegar, but I like the tartness of the moscatel. . . I think that you could add a lot of interest to this salad by using some heirloom tomatoes and different kinds of herbs like some purple basil. . . I also did a lazier version where I just coarsely chopped everything and tossed it with the vinaigrette — very rustic!