Creamy Squash and Tomato Soup

Vermont Creamery provided ingredients for this recipe.

image.jpg

Butternut, acorn, kabocha, pumpkin––squash season is upon us! It's easy enough to roast a couple of winter squash while you catch up on e-mail or watch tv. Just crank the oven to 450, slice the squash in half and scoop out the seeds, lightly oil it, and roast it on a cookie sheet until a fork can slide right in, or your finger can make a soft dent, about 30-60 minutes. Now you've got a side dish, the makings of pie filling, or the base for Creamy Squash and Tomato Soup.

Once you've roasted the squash, you can make this soup using just one pot. Dice an onion and saute it in a tablespoon or two of butter until it becomes translucent. If you've got some wine––red or white, it doesn't matter––add a glassful and let it simmer for a few minutes (it's optional). Now add a big can or box of tomoatoes; I like the Pomi ones that come in a tetrapak. Use the can or box to measure out the same amount of roasted squash (just the flesh, no peel), and then twice that amount of water. 

If you have one of those stick blenders, blend the soup right in the pot. You want it thick and creamy, but not baby food smooth, so leave a little texture. If you don't have one of those, you'll have to get the blender or food processor dirty. Now add a big pinch of salt, and simmer the soup for a few minutes, at least, until the flavors blend. Stir in crème fraîche to make the soup creamy, thick and tangy––the amount should be to your taste, but I reccomend using a lot. Add a generous amount of cracked pepper. Taste a spoonful: does it need more salt? more crème fraîche? more pepper?

Serve the hot soup with fresh herbs, if you can. This reheats well, and crème fraîche is much more stable than cream, so you don't have to worry about it curdling. If you're just cooking for one or two you can enjoy this soup for days.

 

You might also like:

Pasta with Peas and Salmon

French Lentils with Crème Fraîche and Chives

 

Coconut (water) Almond Milk

 

image.jpg

Only in Los Angeles can you have freshly made nut milk delivered to your door twice a week. I was visiting a friend near Venice Beach who poured my a glass of this elixir––almond milk made with coconut water––oh my god! If only I could get this stuff in Brooklyn! Maybe I should move to the West Coast, where there's local produce year round, and I can get coconut almond milk delivered (by bicycle) in a Mason jar.

Well, I can stay in New York for now, because I've figured out how to make it myself, and it's not that hard. Wherever you are, you can too. It's as simple as steeping ground almonds in coconut water, then straining the milky liquid. Sure, if you could crack a coconut yourself, that would be ideal, but thankfully cartons of coconut water are available just about everywhere now (Harvest Bay and Trader Joe's brands taste freshest to me). If you don't have a food processor for grinding nuts (or you just don't want to get it out) you can cheat: Bob's Red Mill sells bags of almond meal, and they work just fine.

I'm generally not a fan of kitchen tools that serve only one purpose, but after making a dozen batches of this, I bought a nut milk bag. It makes this process even easier. They cost only a few dollars, and you can find one at a health food store or online. Before that, I used a small cotton produce bag. Doubled up cheescloth knotted with a piece of kitchen twine will also work––improvise with what you have on hand.

Describing something as ambrosial is overdone and sounds cliché, but this really is! You won't even want to use it for cereal, it's so preciously delicious. 

 

Coconut (water) Almond Milk

makes 1 quart

  • 1/2 pound (about 2 cups) finely ground almonds
  • 1 quart (4 cups) coconut water

1. Bundle the ground almonds in a nut milk bag, small cotton bag, or doubled up cheescloth, and tie it tightly.

2. Put the bundle in a large nonreactive bowl, and pour the coconut water over it.

3. Leave this for 6-8 hours, or overnight, occasionally squeezing the bag to incorporate the coconut water and nut meal. It will realease a milky liquid.

4. Squeeze and knead the bag to mix the nuts and water one last time, then lift it out and squeeze it over the bowl to wring out all the milk. (Save the spent almonds to use in muffins, bread, or pancakes) .

5. Funnel the milk into a jar or bottle. Keep refrigerated, and shake before using. Don't worry if it separates! This keeps well for three to four days. It will ferment if you keep it much longer, so drink up!

 

You might also like:

Cooking By Ear

Green Tea Rice Macaroons

really good sushi rice without a rice cooker

eggplant with sweet miso, quick shiso cucumber pickles and sauteed shitake for Quinciple

I want rice that's fluffy and tender, never mushy or crunchy. There's this funny thing where I can execute finicky pastries and complex sauces, but when it comes to the basics I often mess up. Maybe it's just carelessness (or arrogance). But really good rice is a devine thing, and worth anyone's attention.

I'm not talking about sesoning sushi rice, but cooking short-grain rice perfectly. It turns out the trick is pressure. If you don't have a rice cooker, you can acheive this by creating a tight seal, and weighting the lid of the pan. I put a big cake pan on top of my cooking pot instead of a lid, then weight it with another heavy pot, some big cans of beans, or whatever I can find. Look around your kitchen (heavy chopping block? cast iron skillet?) and improvise.


You'll want about 1 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice, and a pinch of salt. Rinse the rice several times in cold water, then drain it and add the water for cooking. Another way to measure is by resting your hand on top of the rice: the water should just cover your fingers.

Turn the heat to high. As soon as you hear the water rumble to a full boil, turn the burner to low and set a timer for 18 minutes. DO NOT LIFT THE LID. After 18 minutes, turn the burner to high and count to 60, then turn off the burner (if it's an eletric stove, remove the pan from the heat). DO NOT LIFT THE LID. Set a timer for 5 more minutes.

After the 5 minutes, lift the lid and fluff the rice. (If it's too wet, cover, turn to high for 30-60 seconds then cover for 5 more minutes.)

This might sound complicated, but really its easy. And it will likely be the best rice you've ever made.

Good Morning, Blueberry Corn Muffins

A basket of warm blueberry muffins on the breakfast table is a romantic notion, but in fact it's quite easy to execute. You can mix them up as quickly as pancakes and they bake for just twenty minutes--long enough to brew coffee and set the table (or wash your face and put some pants on).

I grew up a quarter mile from a u-pick blueberry farm, just across the river. When I was little, my whole family would walk down the road with pails and fill them up with berries, plopping and plinking the fruit into our mouths and buckets. Muffins, pies and jams followed. When I was old enough to walk to the blueberry farm by myself, I'd bring along my pet goats and tie them up to a fencepost while I picked. What a silly sight we must have been!

The freezer is still full of blueberries whenever I visit my folks. Making blueberry muffins always takes me home. 


Blueberry Corn Muffins

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup fine cornmeal

1 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup melted butter

1 1/4 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

1/4 cup flour

1 tablespoon demerara (raw) sugar 

scant 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

 

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. 

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and soda, salt, and sugar.

3. In a smaller bowl, beat the egg; mix in the milk, and then the butter. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing as little as possible. Lumps are ok! Toss the blueberries with 1/4 cup flour, then fold them in too.

4. Divide the batter evenly into the 12 muffin cups. Mix the demerara sugar and cinammon in a small bowl, then sprinkle the mixture over the tops of the muffins.

5. Put the muffins in the oven and set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, rotate the pan, then bake the muffin for 10 more minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and the tops are browned a little.

6. Serve warm or at room temperature. These will keep for a day or two wrapped in a clean dish towel.

 

Hannah's Hint: The key to tender muffins is not to mix too much! 

 

Breakfast Pizza

Just before my brother finished law school and left New York to work with Bay Area start-ups, we spent an evening tinkering with how to make pizza on a hot steel slab. Our first attempt, a simple margherita, we burnt to a blackened crisp. Still, it was somehow delicious. By the third or fourth miniature pie, we were getting the hang of how thick to roll the dough, how hot to keep the oven, how long to cook each pizza–and getting creative with toppings from the odds and ends in my fridge. A favorite was heaped with olive-oil drizzled arugula that wilted in the oven, then finished with slices of avocados and a sprinkle of lemon zest. Perhaps that’s not authentically a pizza, but it was really good.

That’s the thing: pizza is as versatile a vehicle for just about anything as is a sandwich or a burrito. Once you have dough (if you don’t have the desire or time to make it, you can walk into about any pizza joint and ask to buy some, and many grocery stores carry it), and a hot oven, pizza is a very quick thing to make, and a great way to use up bits of this and that–last nights steamed vegetables, a forgotten sprig of herbs, the end of bit of cheese. Often, my best cooking happens when I try to use things from what seems like an empty pantry.

My favorite pizza right now, and one I always have the ingredients for, is a breakfast pizza. I believe it was inspired by an article I tore from the New York Times Magazine years ago, about Big Sur Bakery. It made perfect sense to me the moment I saw the recipe, and stuck in my imagination until it became my own. Maybe my brother and I can take a trip to try the original when I visit him in California. And I hope he continues our pizza experiment, just as I will.

 

Breakfast Pizza

If you want to get serious about pizza, head over to The Pizza Lab at Serious Eats.

  • fist-sized piece of dough*
  • spoonful cornmeal
  • generous drizzle extra virging olive oil
  • handful shredded sharp cheddar
  • 2 scallions
  • sprinkling of cooked sausage or bacon (optional)
  • 2-3 eggs
  • small handful pasley or cilantro
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat a steel slab in a 500 degree oven, ideally for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, trim and oil the scallions, and put them on the hot steel or under a broiler until they wilt. Cut them into two-inch sections.

On a floured surface, roll the dough as thin as you can without it tearing. Sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel or cutting board. Lay the dough on it. Drizzle olive oil generously over the dough. Scatter the cheese and scallions on it, and meat if you're using it. Make little nests in the toppings to hold the eggs.

Slide the pizza off the board onto the steel with one swift shake. Crack each egg into a teacup, then pour it into its nest on the pizza. Cook for a few minutes, then check to see if the bottom of the dough is browned. Watch out, it cooks quickly! You want it quite brown, but if the crust cooks before the eggs, slip the whole thing onto a pan under the broiler just until the eggs set.

Sprinkle a handful of fresh herbs and a pinch of chili flakes on the pizza. Season it with freshly ground pepper, and a sprinkle of salt on each egg. Eat right away.

 

*I'm talking about my fist, which is pretty small.

 

 

 

Tatsoi and Eggs with Crispy Spring Shallots

My friend Kate can tell you who grows the best watermellon radishes, when and where to get lovage, and which stalls to check out at the farmers markets in New York City any day of the week. If I want to plan a special dinner two months from now, Kate can tell me what will be in season. If I want to make a batch of Tequila Por Me Amante (I'll give you that recipe soon), she'll show up at my door with a flat of the first local strawberries. Even with all that esoteric knowledge, she's a down-to-earth cook.

I'd only dreamed of Kate doing my grocery shopping, but now she does. If you live in New York, her new company, Quinciple, will deliver a weekly box of reasonably priced farm-fresh food. I've been having a lot of fun with what Kate brings me, and now I'm contributing some recipes for the neat little set of cards that comes in each box. A version of Tatsio and Eggs with Crispy Shallots was in this weeks Quinciple box. You can find the ingredients any time of year in Chinatown if not at the farmers market.

Tatsoi and Eggs with Crispy Spring Shallots

  • 2 limes
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce, best you can find
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 5-6 spring shallots (or scallions), cleaned and dried
  • 3 Tablespoons good canola or peanut oil
  • pinch kosher salt
  • ¾ pound (1 bunch) tatsoi*, stems trimmed and separated, cleaned and dried
  • 1 cup loose-packed cilantro leaves, cleaned and dried
  • 2 eggs
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • serve with rice or rice vermicelli

*baby bok choy works just as well

1. This dish works best cooked in a wok. Any wok will do, as long as it’s not non-stick. The keys to a good stir-fry are a very hot pan and very dry vegetables (so they don’t steam and get mushy). Once all the ingredients are prepped, the cooking goes quickly.

2. Set your wok over low heat while you prepare your ingredients. Make the sauce. Zest one of the limes into a small bowl. Juice both the limes into the bowl (you should have about 2 Tablespoons juice). Stir in the fish sauce and sugar. Set aside.

3. Trim off and discard the roots of the shallots. Cut the dark green tops off, leaving about 2 inches of white and pale green stalk. Chop the dark green tops into thin rings; set aside. Slice the pale base of the stalks lengthwise on a slight diagonal, to make one-inch strips. Set aside.

4. Make sure all your ingredients are ready to cook. Turn the wok to medium-high. Set out a serving plate for the finished dish. Set out a bowl with a sieve or tea strainer over it.

5. When the wok is visibly hot and you can feel the heat radiating if you hold you hand over it, add the oil. Let the oil heat for just 30 seconds before adding the pale part of the shallots. Stir the shallots in the sizzling oil, keeping it just below the smoking point, until they are golden brown (they will continue to cook to dark brown as you remove them from the pan). Pour shallots and oil into the sieve. Reserve the oil in the bowl. Sprinkle the shallots with kosher salt.

6. Return 1 Tablespoon of the oil to the hot wok. Keeping it over a high flame, add the tatsoi. Toss it around the wok for a minute or two, until it’s uniformly bright green and barely becoming tender. Transfer it to the serving plate.

7. Add the remaining oil to the pan, and let it heat for 30 seconds. Crack the two eggs into the pan. Break the yolks. Fry undisturbed until the edges are crispy and golden. Flip, and break into bite-sized pieces. Quickly add back the tatsoi along with the sauce and sliced scallion-tops; toss everything together. Transfer to the serving plate, add the cilantro leaves and crispy shallots, and season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve warm, with rice or rice vermicelli.

Goat Milk Custard with Pomegranate Molasses

Goat Milk Custard with Pomegranate Molasses

You know when you travel somewhere foreign, but there's something about the place that makes you feel like you've come home? That's how pomegranate molasses tastes to me. Its sweet floral tang is mysteriously familiar. I find myself mixing it with seltzer, substituting it for balsamic vinegar and adding it to desserts–even sneaking a spoonful from the fridge now and then.

Pomegranate molasses might sound exotic to American cooks, but it’s cheap and pretty easy to find. Middle Eastern markets stock it right next to the rose water and orange blossom water (at 1/3 the price they sell for at Whole Foods, you might want to pick those up too).

Here's a sweet recipe to get you started–Goat Milk Custard with Pomegranate Molasses. Serve this effortless and sophisticated dessert to impress dinner guests. While the ingredients may seem exotic, the preparation is simple. You don’t even have to turn the oven on.

Goat Milk Custard with Pomegranate Molasses

  • 4 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1-2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup goat milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla, or seeds scraped from on vanilla bean
  • fresh pomegranate seeds for garnish

1. Pour one tablespoon of pomegranate molasses into each of four small ramekins. Set aside.

2. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together the yolks, egg and sugar until well mixed and a little frothy. Slowly whisk in the milk. Stir in the salt.

3. Gently warm the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly. When it begins to thicken watch closely, it will cook fast. Turn off the heat when it’s about not quite as thick as runny yogurt. Whisk in the vanilla.

4. Carefully spoon or pour the custard into the ramekins, dividing it equally between them. Place them in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, until set. They’re best consumed within a day, but will keep for a few days.

5. Sprinkle some fresh pomegranate seeds on top before serving.