Thursday, February 23, 2012

Squash Me!

Lately, I've been craving grilled cheese.  So of course, this led to soup because how else can you justify grilled cheese for dinner?  Or in my case, Red Beard would have a hissy if all I fed him was a sandwich for dinner.  And the butternut squash I'd bought was thisclose to spoiling.  And soup like this definitely qualifies as a winter food.

Side note:  I'm sure you all remember the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machines, right?  Come on, I bet you have one stashed somewhere in the back of a cupboard, all dusty and disgusting!  Well, while it may not be what ol' George had planned, and it certainly isn't "lean", those little grills make excellent panini presses.  As in, the BEST GRILLED CHEESE EVER.  E-V-E-R.  Hot, crispy, gooey, the middle is hot, and the outside is golden and delicious and perfect.  Turkey and havarti on sourdough (with caramelized onions and roasted peppers); provolone, tomato, and avocado on wheat,  colby on white .... it's like having your very own Gourmelt Truck, in your kitchen.  Seriously.  Dig through your appliance graveyard, pull it out, dust it off, and butter up some bread.  

Ooooh, swirly!
Where was I ...?  Ahhhh yes, soup.  Butternut squash soup.  Even better, roasted butternut squash soup.  Now don't pull that face.  Everyone pulls a face when squash comes up, even my own mother.  You're going to have to trust me though, this isn't like the squash or the squash soup you've had in the past.  It's even far removed from what I was taught in culinary school.  There's no heavy cream base, the vegetables aren't boiled into submission, and there's no heavy starchy babyfood-esque quality to it.  I promise.  And there's approximately 189 servings of vegetables and fruit in every bowl.  If you're like me and have to force yourself to eat vegetables, this will help.  It completely balances out all the cheese you're going to eat along with it.

This recipe is also easy peasy to amend for all of my vegetarian/vegan friends out there (amazingly, I have quite a few).  Just omit the bacon, cream, and butter.  You may have to use a bit more olive oil, and your only garnish will be the chives (so no pretty pretty swirl) but that's it.  No fuss, no muss.  

For those of you with kiddos and/or those of you who think squash is the devil, this has recipe has been tested out by a whole room full of adults (Red Beard included, and my mother) who pulled scrunchy faces at the mere mention of squash soup, as well as kids and teens ranging in age from 2 up to 14.  With the exception of the 7 yr old (I do adore her, and I give her credit for trying it, but damn she's one picky eater!), everyone loved it and ate 2nd and 3rd helpings.  

The ingredient list is fairly simple.  

Okay, it may not look simple, but it is.  Trust me.

  • Small Butternut Squash (you're aiming for about 1.5 lbs of diced squash, ready for oven)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt (Sea or Kosher please, nothing iodized)
  • Black Pepper
  • 5 Cups Chicken Stock, low sodium (40 ounces)
  • 2 Strips of Bacon (thick cut is always best!)
  • 1/2  Medium Yellow Onion (or White or Purple, it's an onion not rocket science)
  • 1  Leek, cleaned and trimmed, with most of the dark green top taken off
  • 2 Carrots, peeled please 
  • 2 Celery Stalks (this is a great use for those rough 'n' tough outer stalks)
  • 1 Granny Smith Apple (or any mostly green apple you've got hanging around)
  • 1 Orange Bell Pepper (or yellow, but not red; red will make the color funny later)
  • Flat Leaf/ Italian Parsley (if you have to use curly, I guess it's fine...)
  • Fresh Sage
  • 4 Garlic Cloves (big ones!)
  • 1/2 cup White Wine
  • 1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence (available almost anywhere & a very useful spice mix to keep on hand)
  • Fresh Chives or Green Onions (optional)
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Sriracha Sauce (or whatever hot pepper sauce you like; but really, Sriracha is awesome)
  • Heavy Cream (optional) 

A quick note about the picture quality in this blog ... the battery on my digital camera gave out after about 4 pictures.  Towards the middle, the pics start looking a little "different" - it's because I had to switch to the iPhone.

For the Roasted Squash:

This part can be done days ahead of time.  I usually roast the squash at least the day before, because it makes getting soup on the table that much quicker the night you're serving it.  Just make sure you cover it well and keep it in the fridge.  

Preheat your oven to 400º F. 
First, you'll need to peel and clean your squash. 

Cut the squash across to separate the fat round bottom from the slimmer neck.  It's easier to peel in two pieces.  Peel using a regular vegetable peeler - the skin is thinner than you'd think.  

Poor naked squash. 
Then, cut open the round bottom part (like a pumpkin) and scrape out the seeds and goo.   

Poor eviscerated squash.
Cut all of the squash into a large dice (approximately 3/4 inch cubes).  Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and about a 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper; arrange in a single layer in a baking dish.    

Okay ... APPROXIMATELY a single layer.
Roast, uncovered, for approximately 20 or 30 minutes.  The squash should be very soft, soft enough to squish with a fork, and starting to get brown and toasty around the edges.  Stir it once during the process.

This is where the iPhone pics begin.

After it's cooled, or the next day, or whenever you're ready to put all of this together, toss the squash into a blender with about 1.5 cups of the chicken stock and puree the heck out it.  It should be really really smooth.  

Smoother than a baby's butt.

If it seems too thick, and it's not blending all the way, add some more liquid.  If you're using an immersion blender, it's the same process just in a container.  But, I have to say, for this step I prefer a blender - it seems to come out creamier.  Though I do love an immersion blender; more on that later.

When you taste the puree, don't be alarmed; it will be really bland and have some of that starchiness and baby food quality that makes everyone terrified of squash.  Don't bother seasoning it.  Just set it aside and move on to the rest; it'll fix itself later.

Not yummy yet.  Bleh!

For the Soup:

One of the joys of a pureed soup is that you don't need to spend a lot of time making sure your vegetables are cut nicely and prettily.   Instead, just aim for getting everything approximately the same size, in order for everything to cook evenly.

Cut all of the veg into a medium dice.  Just keep your onions, leeks, and garlic a little separate from everything else because they're going to be added at different stages.

Like a half a rainbow....
The garlic doesn't even really have to be cut - just give it a good squish with the flat of your knife.  
No curly parsley!  No curly parsley!

While you're cutting, go ahead and rough chop the parsley and sage as well.  You're aiming for about a 1/4 cup of each, loosely packed.

Sage.  A little stinky, but worth it in the end.
Then, give your bacon a chop.

Now go wash your hands, the knife, & the cutting board - raw pork germs are nasty!
Time to start cooking!  In a shallower, heavy bottomed pot (not a deep stock pot you'd boil pasta in, you need room to maneuver), start your bacon on a low-to-medium heat - not too hot; while you want the bacon to get a little crispy, you also want the fat to render out.  

Pork fat.  Enough said.
When the bacon is happy, add a little olive oil and some butter (about a 1/2 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter) to the pot, and add the onions and leeks.  I think that sauteing everything (vs. chucking it all in raw to boil in the stock) keeps the flavors a lot fresher.  Plus, all that browning and caramelizing it just yummy.   While it may seem excessive to add extra fat on top of the bacon fat, it isn't.  You're going to be adding a lot of veggies.

Breathe deep.

When the onions are translucent and just starting to brown, and the leeks are soft, add the sage and parsley and herbes de provence, as well as the garlic.  Let them hang out for about 2 minutes. 

Another deep breath.  If only blogs included scratch 'n' sniff.

Now chuck in everything else, stir, and let cook for about 5 minutes longer.  This should start smelling very very nice.  Now deglaze your pot with the white wine, stirring and scraping to get any brown bits up off of the bottom of the pan.  Brown bits = yumminess.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

In goes the rest of the chicken stock.  Stir, bring up to a simmer, and allow to cook (covered) for 15 or 20 minutes - until the carrots are fork-tender.  

Do not try this at home!

Now, the Adorable Roomie and I like spicy foods.  So at this point, I added 1 full teaspoon of sriracha sauce.  Don't do this!!  Wait, until after the whole thing is assembled, and then add a little at a time - start with maybe 1/4 to 1/2 a teaspoon and taste as you go.  If you're cooking for kids, I'd just put the hot sauce on the table and let the adults spice up their own bowls.  

To Assemble:

Now is the time to bring out your immersion blender.  If you don't have one already, they aren't expensive at all, you should consider getting one.  They are the best way ever to blend hot liquids, because you never have to take the hot liquid out of the original pot.  And, it's just damn handy to be able to blend something in it's own container.   But of course, a regular blender works great here too, just be careful because they can splatter and I'm not sure how much you need to cool the soup before it won't crack the glass on the blender (are blenders heat tempered?  I've never checked). 
It may seem odd that we've already pureed the squash, and now we're doing the soup separately.  That's on purpose.  In order to achieve the perfect texture it really is best to puree the roasted squash separately from the soup base. Trust me when I say, it’s worth washing the extra dishes!  The squash blends much smoother than the base and adds to the creaminess in the finished product. 

I'm going to assume you've got an immersion blender, because that's what I used.  

Set your pot of soup into your sink (to reduce splatter) and begin blending the base.  When you're starting to see some progress, add the pureed squash and blend the entire mixture until it's as smooth as you can get it.  It'll take a minute.

Pepper, pepper, and more pepper.
Then, put the pot back onto the stove and bring it back up to a simmer.  Season well with salt and lots and lots of pepper.  Pepper is our friend.  And I got a new pepper grinder for Christmas that I'm in love with and it's brought my love of pepper to a whole new level.

While you're at it, add 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.  Yes, it sounds weird.  But it makes such a difference!  A huge but subtle lovely difference that is oh so worth it.    If you haven't added your spicy sriracha yet, add it now too (slowly, and in very small quantities).  

Taste one last time, make any necessary adjustments, and start serving it up! 

Is cream every bad? 
As a garnish, using about a half a tablespoon of heavy cream per bowl, drizzle the cream over the soup.   Granted, this is completely optional, so if you don't want to add any calories or don't like things pretty (ahem), skip this step.  

Please ignore my lack of a manicure.  Eventually, I'll use my latest Groupon & get my damn nails done.

Then, sprinkle the top with finely sliced chives, for just a little crunch and a burst of freshness.

So pretty.  So tasty.  Even without a snowstorm.

I can't even begin to tell you how wonderful this is.  There's a fresh quality to it, where you can just tell it hasn't been cooked to death.  There's a smooth creaminess that is surprising given the lack of dairy.  And the overall flavor begs to be sipped slowly and savored.  

I highly recommend you pair your soup with something grilled and gooey .... 

Roasted peppers, caramelized onions, thin sliced turkey, & a whole lot of havarti.  Ooooh, oozy.

Soup recipe, all handy dandy and printable, is available over in my recipe box at Tasty Kitchen!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sacré Bleu!

I have a love/hate relationship with the moldy cheeses... when Brick's melts blue cheese onto their escargot, or Luciano's adds gorgonzola to pretty much anything, I love it.  But other times, like on a black and blue burger, the smell just hits me wrong.  Really, I'm just a little weird.

Now when it comes to chicken wings and blue cheese, it's all about the love.  

For a long time, and for no concrete reason at all, I would only buy blue cheese dressing.   There was no way I could make it, right?  Because, after all those years of culinary training, I wouldn't have any idea how to build a simple salad dressing from scratch!  

Yeah, sometimes I'm slow.  

Over this last weekend, I decided that the most perfect chicken wings ever really did deserve a dressing/dipping sauce made from scratch.  So, I made one up. 
It's only 12 ingredients!  (The honey snuck out of the picture, little scamp; I'm starting to think my honey is shy)
You'll need fresh chives and fresh Italian parsley, garlic, one lemon, one of the small containers of blue cheese crumbles (or a solid chunk and you can break it up yourself), mayonnaise, sour cream, dijon mustard, a little creamy horseradish, and salt (kosher or sea salt) and pepper.  

Variation:  You can also use plain Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise for a lighter version.  I prefer FAGE but use what YOU like.  Just be prepared to add a little bit of cider vinegar and extra salt (teeny amounts) if the flavor of the dressing seems a little flat. Of course, if you are dairy free, stick to mayo!

Start by mincing up two cloves of garlic.  

Thinly slice some chives (approx 2 tablespoons).

Finely chop some Italian parsley (approx 1 tablespoon).

I really only use the flat leaf/ Italian parsley.  I know people say that curly and flat leafed parsley taste exactly the same.  I have to disagree.  It seems no matter how finely I chop those curly little leaves, they still seem to have a tougher and sharper consistency than flat-leaf.  And I don't think they taste the same - they don't SMELL the same, how can the flavor be identical?  Of course, if you prefer the curly stuff, or it you can't get flat-leaf, that's totally fine.  It's personal preference.  I'm not going to show up at your door and throw a hissy fit for using the wrong varietal of an herb.

Zest a lemon (1 lemon = approximately 1 tablespoon of zest).

Add the blue cheese.  I used a 5 oz container.  Break up the cheese with a fork and mix well with the herbs, lemon zest, and garlic.

Juice a lemon and add approximately 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (no seeds please!).

Add 1 cup each of mayonnaise and sour cream.  Add 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon of honey, and 1 tablespoon of creamy horseradish.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  The cheese makes this prone to saltiness; add salt sparingly and taste often.  Pepper, however, is just dandy - add as much as you can stand!

 I know it's hard to see in the picture (eventually, I'll need to upgrade my camera), but it's actually quite pretty.  There's all sorts of little confetti bits in yellow and green, and of course the moldy cheese adds some color as well.

Store in an air-tight container in the fridge.  Serve it on salad or with crudite, or serve it like this:

Given the acid from the lemon juice, even if you used home-made mayonnaise this should last for at least a week in the fridge, if not a little longer.

The handy dandy printable version of this recipe is in my Recipe Box, over on Tasty Kitchen!


Growing up, my brother and I used to make jokes about sprouting feathers, because we ate so much chicken.  In summer, it was barbecued, in winter it was roasted, and anytime at all it could be fried or souped.   It makes sense - my mom loves all things chicken, almost as much as she likes bacon, and chicken was an inexpensive option, especially when you add in multiple kids, friends, and extended family. 

I'm thankful she passed on the love of our feathered friends to me; I love chicken.  Red Beard, however, isn't thankful at all because he thinks chicken is boring, but don't worry; I'm doing great on my campaign to change his mind.  In fact, this last weekend, I think I may have made some amazing headway on that!

For Super Bowl Sunday, I made some lovely, spicy chicken wings - braised down, not fried - in a thick, gooey barbecue-style sauce that would be great on anything from pulled pork to short ribs.  Be warned - while these wings and this sauce aren't in-your-face fiery, they do have a mellow, building heat that will open your sinuses for days.  

Don't panic when you see the array of spices in the rub - I know, it seems like a lot, and a large variety.  It may also seem expensive.  I promise, with some smart shopping, it isn't.  I am in love with these little envelopes, always available at Winco and to a lesser degree at Savemart:

Handy Dandy!
World Market also has an amazing variety of spices, in the same type of packaging.  Wherever you find them, they range from approximately 68¢ up to just under $2, and they last forever; they've got enough in each envelope to use again and again.  So far, from one packet of cumin, I've made a triple batch of chili (hunting season), these wings, and I've got more than half left.  You've got the option of investing in refillable $1.99 jars while you're at World Market, or just keep your spice envelopes in a plastic container in your pantry (I have a plastic container with an attached lid, that's supposed to be for recipe cards). 

On a side note, I love World Market.  LOVE.  The food section, the wine section, the kitchen toys, the dishes ... then there's that bathroom stuff and the wrapping paper, and the decorator items.  And the Christmas stuff!  So much fun.  It's like a less expensive version of Pier One Imports (my second love, but mostly I'm only allowed to window shop).  Anyway; back to the food...

Preheat the oven to 400º F.

I bought the frozen "party wings" chicken wing pieces but you can get whatever you prefer, just aim for 2 to 3 pounds.  I would recommend using pieces vs. whole wings, and reserve the wing tips (which hardly have any meat anyway) to use later for chicken stock.  You are all making your own chicken stock from scratch, right?  Hee hee hee.

Rinse the chicken under cold water and pat dry (I pretty much always rinse off meat).  

Chicken.  So nasty raw; so yummy cooked.

Then wash your hands.  This is going to be a theme today because it's raw chicken, chock a bock full of nasty germs that you really don't want to spread around.

Start assembling your spices.  There's 10 altogether, and the list is not in the order they're shown in the picture because I just can't tell the difference between all the funny greeny-brown ones from a picture, without being able to sniff them:

Not as expensive as it looks.
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Granulated Garlic
  • 1 tsp Paprika
  • 1/2 Tbl dried Oregano
  • 1/2 Tbl Cumin
  • 1/2 Tbl Coriander
  • 1 Tbl Chili Powder (I used a mild Spanish variety)
  • 1 Tbl Salt (Kosher or Sea salt please, none of that iodized stuff that tastes funny)
  • 1 Tbl Black Pepper (recipes like this is why I keep the pre-ground pepper on hand)
Whisk them together with a fork (or a whisk, but I didn't feel like pulling one out).  Mix well.

I like the colors.

Add your spices to your chicken bits (just put your chicken in a bowl first vs the colander you rinsed it in, or it's going to get messy..)

Starting to get un-boring...

Start tossing everything about!  And if you're one of those people who's squeamish about handling raw meat - so sorry, but you're going to have to get your hands dirty.  Get in there and work the spices into the chicken, pressing the rub into the meat.

Now go wash your hands again.
Assemble a baking rack inside a sheet pan, and spray the entire thing with Pam non-stick cooking spray.  This is less about the chicken sticking to the rack, and more about having to scrub spicy bits off of the pan later.  Pam cuts down on my scrubbing dishes time, so I love it.  

We hate to scrub!  We hate to scrub!

Arrange the chicken pieces on the rack and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.  Or, if you're like me and you forgot to defrost your chicken wings and they are still a teeny bit frozen in the middle, bake them for 30 to 45 minutes.  Wash your hands before you touch the oven handle. 

Ready for the oven!
While those are roasting away, it's time to talk sauce.  These wings would probably be fine just rubbed and roasted, but the we aren't going for fine.  We're going for fantastical and amazing.  

Yes, I know my orange & lemon are naked.  I've got to use them up somewhere.
You'll need some of your spices again - the chili powder, cinnamon, and salt and pepper; plus some chili flakes.  In addition, we're adding orange and lemon juices, onions and garlic, Worcestershire sauce, maple syrup, and Tobasco to kick a bottled barbecue sauce into high gear.  I don't know why there's honey in the picture; little bastard must have sneaked out of the cupboard when I wasn't looking.  Bad honey!  No cookie!

Mince and saute 4 garlic cloves and about 1/3 of an onion.  When it's just starting to brown, add a 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and let them start to bloom and release their heat.

Add a cup of whatever barbecue sauce you like.  I am in love with the spicier varieties of Sweet Baby Ray's, but really, use what you've got.  You're going to be adding so much other yummy stuff that the barbecue sauce is really just a background note and it adds much needed volume. 

Add a cup of orange juice, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, as much Tobasco as you think you'll like (I used one teaspoon), a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, and a 1/4 cup of maple syrup (real, bled-from-a-tree maple syrup, not the "pancake syrup" that is just cooked-down sugar). 

Stir to combine and begin adding your spices - 1 teaspoon of chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and a 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and ground black pepper.  Stir to combine.  Let the sauce reduce on medium low heat for 10 minutes - you'll notice it starts to get nice and thick and syrupy; just stir it often to keep it from burning.  

Check on your wings.  They should be roasting nicely and starting to drip onto their pan.  

When your wings are roasted, arrange them in (mostly) a single layer in a baking dish.  Again, spray the dish with Pam!  No one wants to scrub off the sauce mess later.

Sorry, I'm out of caption ideas right now. 

Pour all of that lovely sauce you made down over your wings.  

And they're off for a swim!
Now, if you're freezing this dish, or taking it across town to your mom's house for Super Bowl (or wherever), stop here.  Cover them with foil and you're done until you're about 30 minutes away from serving them.  If you're freezing, just be sure to double wrap, and then defrost completely before baking.

Sigh.  It's just so gorgeous.

When you decide you're ready to eat them, pop them into a 400º F oven for about 30 to 45 minutes.  The sauce will start to bubble, the wings will cook until the meat is almost falling off the bone, and all the flavors will get married and live happily ever after.

So hot.  So spicy.  So fantastical.

Serve them with Blue Cheese dressing (check out the post Sacre Bleu for the dressing details).  Or serve them by themselves.  Or hoard them all for yourself and don't serve them at all and forget everything you ever learned about sharing.

Get the handy printable version of this recipe over at Tasty Kitchen!