Creamy Squash and Tomato Soup

Vermont Creamery provided ingredients for this recipe.

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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

 

Bodega Blooms

Stacie usually spends her days arranging flowers in the homes of the stars, but she met me outside a bodega to show me what could be done with the most pedestrian blossoms. With skill and style, she transformed these unremarkable bunches into high-end designs. Here are her tips for selecting and arranging corner store flowers.

Click here to read them all.

From Sweets & Bitters Volume 2, Corner Store Entertaining:

For Valentine's Day, Keep it Simple

Transient

This year, keep Valentine's day simple with these heart shaped pancakes. (And if you're not in love, you can still make them for your mom, your best friend, or yourself).

Valentine's is the worst day of the year to go out to dinner (you're likely to pay a premium for uninspired food in a very crowded restaurant, and if you don't get into an argument, you'll probably have to overhear someone else's). The bombardment of chocolates and roses leading up to the 14th can seem more annoying than romantic. Still, if you have a sweetheart, its unkind not to observe the holiday. And isn't it nice, after all, to have a holiday dedicated to love?

Who doesn't adore having breakfast made for them? Even if you are totally unprepared (or you blew it on Valentines day and you need to get out of the doghouse the next morning), you can probably make pancakes for your sweetheart. You most likely have all the ingredients in your pantry, and you can dash to the corner store, or knock on a neighbor's door to borrow a cup of milk. If you don't have measuring cups and spoons, no sweat! You can use a mug and a tea spoon. This recipe is incredibly forgiving––just don't over-stir it.

Sometimes the simplest gestures are the most thoughtful. And this easy breakfast is a celebration of love that you might find yourself repeating throughout the year.

Basic Pancakes

To make these vegan, omit the egg, use nondairy milk, and add a teaspoon of lemon or cider vinegar. If you have buttermilk, use that instead of milk and substitute 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for the baking powder. Try replacing 1/3 of the flour with whole wheat, rye, or any other interesting flour for heartier pancakes.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • generous pinch salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • oil or butter, for greasing the pan

1. Put a skillet on the stove over medium heat — it needs to be thoroughly heated by the time you drop batter in. Whisk together the dry ingredients: the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat the egg and combine it with the milk.

2. Pour the wet into the dry ingredients. Mix them quickly and leave some lumps (they will disappear as the pancakes cook). Don’t mix too much or the pancakes’ texture will be tough and chewy.

3. Pour a bit of oil into the pan to grease it lightly, turn up the heat to medium-high, and wait for the oil to warm so it shimmers. Or use butter and wait for it to melt. (If you want even-toned pancakes, use oil; butter gives a better flavor but makes the pancakes' surface splotchy and burns more easily).

4. Using a ladle, or a measuring cup with a spout, pour the batter onto the pan in a heart shape. If you're finding it difficult to draw a heart with the batter, try making the letter V (it will end up looking like a heart). You can use a spoon to quickly adjust the shape after the batter is poured.

5. When lots of tiny bubbles appear on the surface of the pancake, it’s ready to flip. Flip it, and cook until evenly browned. You can check the center for gooeyness with a toothpick or the tip of a sharp knife if you’re uncertain of whether it’s done. Repeat until the batter is used up.

Pancakes can be kept warm on a heatproof plate in a 200 degree oven for about 15 minutes before serving.

 

You might also like:

Perfect Whipped Cream

 

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.

 

 

 

Fluffy White Frosting

After the third time I lost the recipe for Fluffy White Frosting, I was too embarrassed to ask my friend Cora’s mom to write it down for me again. I was about 10 years old then–Cora and I were baking buddies–and I’ve been thinking about that frosting ever since. Today I wanted to ice cake without leaving my house to buy confectioners sugar, and I remembered that roux-based frosting, so I googled it (google wasn’t a verb yet when I was 10). I found a recipe right away, and it was as easy to make as to find. It’s as wonderful as I recall–less sugary than butter icing, with a texture like silky whipped cream, and stable enough to hold up on a hot day.

Fluffy White Frosting belongs on a magnificent Southern cake, at least three layers high, slathered on in swirls, and perhaps dusted with coconut. But today I put it on cupcakes, and finally discovered the solution to an age old problem: the amount of icing that looks right on a cupcake is far more than what tastes good. Fluffy White Frosting is less toothachingly sweet than buttercream, so the balance of looks and taste is perfect. Why didn’t I just pick up the phone years ago? That was the age before not just google as a verb but cell phones in every pocket, so I still know my friend's home phone number by heart.

Fluffy White Frosting

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla

1. Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a small saucepan. Whisk in the milk. Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly. Let it just come to a simmer, then turn it down to keep it just below simmering. When it yellows a little, loses some of its opacity, and no longer tastes like raw flour, remove it from the heat. Whisk the mixture with an electric mixer until it cools completely.

2. Cut the butter into little pieces, and add them one at a time with the mixer running until all the butter is incorporated. Continue to mix for 3-5 more minutes, on medium-high speed, until perfectly smooth and very fluffy. Mix in the vanilla.

Rhubarb: Three Memories and a Recipe

Our rhubarb plant, with it’s dark green umbrella-like leaves shooting out from brilliant ruby stalks, grew lushly in the back corner of the garden, across from the compost pile and the raspberry patch. Even the chickens wouldn’t eat the toxic greenery, but my mom had taught me to break off the stems and dip them in sugar for a sweet-tart treat (and the leaves made a nice parasol for a little girls). My mouth still puckers just thinking about it.
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