Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Spicy Squash Soup

I love love love soup. It can be a one dish meal, a way to use leftovers, and a simple comfort. I know I’ve written about soups before, but there’s always room for more. Especially in the winter. At the moment I have, in my freezer, the following soup varieties: carrot ginger, tomato, mushroom barley, and pork tortilla. But even so, I decided to make more soup this week — inspired by a locally grown butternut squash I found at the store.

This recipe is a rare chestnut from my mother. It’s delicious, nutritious, inexpensive, and easy. The vegetables don’t have to be chopped very carefully, since they get blended. The amounts are fairly elastic. If you don’t have all the spices, don’t worry. The one fussy requirement is that you need either a blender, food processor, or immersion blender. Smoothness is key here.

This soup is also a great canvas for garnishes, which are part of the experience for this soup. This week I chose crème fraiche, toasted pepitas, and flat leaf parsley, mostly because that was what was in the fridge. With bread and a salad, it's a great meal. 

Spicy Squash and Pear Soup
adapted from Carole Brown

2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 t. cumin
½ t. cinnamon
¼ t. cardamom
¼ t. ground ginger
2-3 pears, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
4 c. chicken broth
salt and white pepper to taste
a squeeze of lemon

Heat oil in a soup pot. Add onions, squash, garlic, and spices. Cook on medium heat until onions start to soften and spices are fragrant, about five minutes. 

Add pears and broth. Simmer (but do not boil) for about 30 minutes until squash is soft. 

Remove from the heat and allow to cool a bit. Puree, either in a food processor or blender. If using an immersion blender, leave soup in the pot. Add salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How To Eat Like a Millionaire

This past weekend I needed to make a British-inspired dessert (to bring to a viewing party for a certain wildly popular TV series from across the pond). In doing a little research, I came across Millionaire's Shortbread, which is thought to be Scottish in origin. How have I missed this apparently famous baked confection for so long? It's a dreamy triple threat of shortbread, caramel, and chocolate. It might be on my personal "Top 10 Baked Desserts" list. While this dessert apparently has several names, I like this name best since you won't easily forget just how rich it is.

Among the ingredient list below, you might wonder about Lyle's Golden Syrup. While we have corn syrup here in the colonies, the Brits have Lyle's, which has a similarly consistency, but made from sugar cane or beets, rather than corn. Both liquid (or invert) sugars help ensure the caramel doesn't crystallize as it cooks, but Lyle's also adds a more robust flavor. And a bit of British Isles flair.

My Millionaire's Shortbread (adapted from the recipe at Food 52)

Shortbread Layer
1 1/2 c. flour
5 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature, cut into 10-12 chunks
1 egg
2 T. milk

Caramel Layer
1 1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
1 T. Lyle's Golden Syrup or corn syrup
5 T. heavy cream
5 T. butter, room temperature, cut into 5 chunks
1 T. crème fraiche (or sour cream)

Chocolate Layer
1/2 c. heavy cream
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8x8 baking pan with 2 pieces of parchment paper (spray the pan lightly with cooking spray, lay down one sheet in one direction, spray again, and lay down the second sheet cross ways. Spray the top sheet lightly with cooking spray).

In a stand mixer using the flat beater, add flour, sugar and salt, and mix briefly until combined. Add butter chunks and mix until the butter breaks down to the size of walnuts, then add egg and milk and mix until the dough just comes together. Press shortbread dough into the pan and bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool, keeping the shortbread in the pan.

To make the caramel, put sugar, syrup and water in a saucepan on medium high heat on the stove. Put the cream, butter, and crème fraiche in a bowl next to the stove. Do not stir or swirl, especially once the sugar mixture starts to boil. If sugar bubbles up and sticks to the pan, you can brush down the inside of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Watch the mixture carefully, since it will bubble clear for a few minutes, then start to color quickly. As soon as the sugar turns amber, turn off the heat and add the cream, butter and crème fraiche and whisk (there will be lots of bubbles). When all of the ingredients have been incorporated and the butter is melted, the caramel will stop bubbling. Pour caramel over the shortbread layer and cool (in the fridge if needed).

To make the chocolate, heat the heavy cream in a saucepan until bubbles start to form around the edge of the pan. Turn off the heat, add the chopped chocolate, wait a minute, then stir until the chocolate is melted. Pour chocolate over the cooled caramel layer, tipping the pan if needed to spread it evenly. Cool, in the refrigerator, for at least 3 hours.

Remove it from the pan using the parchment paper to lift it out. Cut into 16 squares.