Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Behold, my first homemade butternut squash soup - ever. Despite that fact that I adore butternut squash soup, I've never bothered to make it. Frankly, I was put off by the obvious task of pureeing the soup, usually in a blender and in multiple batches. I've seen my less lazy friends do it, and I simply couldn't be bothered. Who wants to deal with all that scooping and blending and pouring? The number of dishes I would have to dirty alone was enough to give me pause. Yeah, I'm lazy sometimes. We can't all be Julia Child every day. However, now that I have a handy-dandy immersion blender, this soup was a cinch. 

The first time I tasted butternut squash soup was in a little Irish restaurant up the street from Mom and Dad's house called Kate's at Milton Hill. My home town didn't really have restaurants, except for the much-loved local pizzeria and a small deli. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that we spent a lot of nights up at Kate's. There was a dining room as well as a small "pub" which eventually became our default dinner out. On nights when Mom had to work late, and even when she didn't, we would trek up to Kate's pub for some soups, sandwiches and a little Red Sox baseball. Katie's wasn't anything special, with its corny, Celtic stencils painted on the walls and the never-ending playlist of airy flutes and hearty fiddles, but it was relaxing, comfortable and close to home. To me, those are some of the same qualities that make up a good squash soup. Maybe it isn't the most remarkable thing I'll ever eat, but I always feel warm and happy having had it.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup 

Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2003

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
4 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 or 3 apples, peeled, cored and diced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup apple cider
1 cup white wine
Greek yogurt

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, nutmeg and curry powder. Saute onions until they begin to brown. Add squash, apples, broth, cider and wine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered about 30 minutes, until squash and apples are tender. Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth.* Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt. 

*If you don't have an immersion blender, you can puree the soup in a blender, pureeing a few cups at a time and transferring pureed soup to another bowl or container. When you have pureed all the soup, pour it back into your pot and simmer until the soup reaches your desired temperature. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Bahh!! Zombie pumpkins! Grab your shotgun, machete and canned goods and head for the roof! Zombie pumpkins are coming!

Yeah, OK, I am a huge nerd, but this pumpkin makes me think "zombie." Boyfriend and I discussed making a jack-o'-lantern out of one of these guys, but the irony was too much for me. I mean, am I really going to carve out zombie brains?!? Mmmmm, brains.....

Maybe I am taking this too far, but speaking from a purely gastronomical point of view, zombies seem to have veered away from the all-brain diet lately. Have you noticed? The recent batch of zombie movies seem to indicate that the zombie palate is expanding to appreciate skin, intestines or pretty much anything living, even non-humans. This shift made me wonder, are zombies appetites becoming more distinguished or less? Are they intrepid eaters or browsing billy goats? I'll leave you to ponder than one on your own.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Zucchini Ziti

I don't like ziti. In fact, I hate it. Nine and a half times out of ten, I will substitute it out of a recipe. Who needs it? For one thing, it is a boring shape. Tubes. Blah. Two, is has no texture. Sauces seem to slide right off the damn thing on its way to my mouth. And really, what is pasta, if not an efficient means for delivering delicious sauces to my taste-buds? Three, most ziti is just a little too long to fit in my mouth sideways, which means that whatever small amount of sauce was able to desperately cling to the too-smooth surface, does not so much end up in my mouth, as on my face. Really, ziti? Let's just say, ziti and I got beef.

Nonetheless, since there wasn't really a sauce to this dish, I'll thought I would attempt to let bygones be bygones. Not to mention the fact that "ziti" and "zucchini" are really fun to say in the same sentence. Ziti Zucchini. Zucchini Ziti. Ziti, ziti, I love zucchini. Yum.

Savory awesomeness!

Ziti with Roasted Garlic, Onions and Zucchini
(Adapted from Bon Appetit, October, 2010)

2 lbs. zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
2 cups onions, cut into quarters and thinly sliced
12 garlic cloves, chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
1 lb. box of ziti
1/2 - 1 cup fresh basil, chopped
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine zucchini, onions and garlic. Toss vegetables with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and crushed red pepper. Spread veggies out across two rimmed baking sheets and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast veggies for 30 to 35 minutes, moving/stirring the veggies a couple of times.

While the vegetable are roasting, cook the pasta in a large pot according to the directions on the box. Drain, reserving about 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Return the pasta to the pot and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cover until the vegetables are done roasting, then mix in veggies and 1/4 of cooking liquid. If your timing is a little off and either the vegetables or the pasta gets cold, just warm everything in the large pot over medium heat until heated throughout. Mix in basil and cheese.* Add more of the cooking liquid, a little bit at a time, if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Did I mention yum?

*There was a little bit of a trade off with the cheese. I get very annoyed when adding grated cheese to hot pasta dishes because the cheese so often wads up and encases a smattering of random ingredients in giant cheese balls, while the rest of the dish goes virtually uncheesed. (Yeah, "cheese" can be used as a verb). So I tried to add the cheese about 1/4 cup at a time and mix well before adding more. The trade off is that all the additional mixing (perhaps I was too forceful?) tore apart the zucchini. Oh, well, I'll trade pretty for delicious (and no cheese bombs!) any day.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Apple Cake with Lemon Sauce

Apple picking! Hooray autumn! Thank bloody goodness. I am practically giddy about the crisp, cool, sunny weather. I kicked off autumn this year with a day of apple picking and baking. Regrettably autumn only lasts about 4 days in D.C., days on which I can stand in the sun in a light sweater and breathe in the sickly sweet smells of rotting leaves, before the temperature drops to 40 or below, and I have to dig out the scarves and winter coats. Inconceivable! I do my best to encourage my own little mental lapses, pretending that autumn is a real season in this swampland. I bake as many spicy, sour-sweet recipes full of pumpkins, cranberries and apples, as I can. (And for the record, my love of autumn has nothing to do with the fact that so many of my favorite seasonal flavors translate so harmoniously into desserts. Pure coincidence). Mostly, each autumn I'm determined to make the season last a little bit longer than it did the year before, mostly.

First up, is another recipe card from Great-Grammie's recipe box. After a few hitches earlier this week with her fig square recipe, I thought I would go with an easy one. (I'm coming back to those fig squares, even if I have to make several batches to get it right!) The original apple cake recipe was a little fuzzy on the details, listing "apple slices" and "lemon sauce" but not including the number of apples or how to make the lemon sauce. (I think the lemon sauce recipe may be lost to the annals of cookery). Honestly, as Great-Grammie's recipes go, a few missing instructions are usually the least of my worries.

I was surprised how great this cake came out. While I was mixing the batter, it seemed a little plain; I was worried it wouldn't have enough flavor. I couldn't have been more wrong. The cake itself was light and bouncy, so much so, it was tricky to get out of the pan, squishing down under the pressure of my spatula and popping right back up when I took the spatula away. The apples were also a surprise. I thought they would be dried out, which they were a little, but they were still crisp and juicy when I bit into them. The cinnamon and lemon sauce gave everything a little depth and moisture, which made me want to lick my fingertips and dab up any stray, sticky crumbs. Now I understand what Mom meant when she said, "This cake never got cold in our house."

Apple Cake
(Adapted from Great-Grammie's recipe)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, well beaten
7/8 cup milk (2% or whole)
2 small apples, cored and sliced (I used Jonagold)*
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Lemon Sauce
(Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 1998)

1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 1 or 2 lemons)
2 or 3 teaspoons grated lemon peel

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8-inch baking dish. In a large bowl, cream together butter and 1/2 cup sugar. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking powder. Mix eggs, milk and dry ingredients with creamed butter and sugar alternatively. Pour batter into greased baking pan. Press apple slices into batter in concentric circles, starting at the outside then moving into the middle. Mix together 2 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over cake. Bake 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve with lemon sauce.

*To keep your apple slices from turning brown while they wait to be added to your cake, put them in a bowl of water with a couple of splashes of lemon juice. I cut up my apples last, but, of course, forgot to preheat the oven, so they had to wait a bit before being added to the cake.

Lemon Sauce
In a small saucepan, mix together sugar and cornstarch; add water and bring to a boil. Boil for a few minutes until the mixture gets thick. Add lemon juice and grated peel. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Spoon over pieces of cake.

Makes about 9 servings.