Posts tagged autumn
Thursday, October 28, 2010

butternut squash lasagna

butternut squash lasagna

I woke up the other night having dreamt of butternut squash lasagna. I often dream about what I’m cooking in real life, and sometimes have dreams about what I might want to be cooking when I wake up. Even while I sleep, my world often revolves around food. Some might find it odd, others – boring, but if nothing else, this dreaming peculiarity led me to gem of a recipe and for that I am forever grateful to that odd head of mine that not only conjures up food ideas, but also offers solutions to real-life pickles I face in the kitchen.

lasagna mise

In my dream, I was sitting at my dinner table, thinking about what to make for supper. The previous night (the awake, real-life part), I had decided upon a braised chicken with Moroccan spices and dates for our Sunday supper, but at the last minute, changed my mind and promised Andrew his favorite soup, scrapping the planned-on lentil soup. That, of course, threw a wrench in the works because no one wants to eat chicken soup followed by a chicken main course. I thought that something vegetarian might be a good, sensible idea, but I couldn’t make up my mind on what that something would be. With my supper plans unresolved, I went to bed with next evening’s meal on my mind.

butternut squash lasagna butternut squash lasagna

In my dream, I was making a list of possible main courses for dinner. I normally make lots of lists and they are strewn about all over the apartment. So it makes perfect sense that I’d be doing the same in my dream, but still, that consistency in my dream struck me as pretty funny.

As I was jotting down possible options, I thought perhaps a vegetable, spinach butternut squash (eureka!) lasagna would be perfect: the autumn flavors of cooked squash, layered with béchamel, and fresh mozarella and Parmesan, sounded perfect.

In general, I prefer my lasagna sans meat, using vegetables instead to create layers of flavor. While lasagna Bolognese sounds heavenly in theory, immediately upon eating a piece, I am compelled to take a nap. For the rest of the night. Even though I adore pasta Bolognese, and could eat it by bowlfuls regularly, the lasagna Bolognese doesn’t quite do it for me. Apparently, I’m not the only one.

butternut squash lasagna butternut squash lasagna

So how did this idea, conceived in the wee hours, come out? Let’s just say that I pray for all my dreams to have such delicious results. The lasagna turned out to be even better than I originally expected. It was delicate, autumnal and felt light as a feather. The combination of the melted burrata and Parmesan gave the butternut squash that unmistakable taste of October – the kind that is accompanied by mulled cider or fabulous red wine. Sage and pistachios, finely chopped and mixed with the squash, added a nice earthy dimension and some needed texture.

butternut squash lasagna

And best of all, no one at the table complained about the absence of meat. Everyone ate their portion and then immediately demanded seconds. A tiny piece was left over at the end of the night, lonely and abandoned in its baking dish. It became part of Andrew’s lunch the next day. Had I known the lasagna was going to be such a hit, I would’ve doubled the ingredients. Unfortunately, my dream never told me to do that. Tant pis. Clearly, there’s some room for improvement with the logistical portion of the dreams, but at least it gets the meals right.

butternut squash lasagna

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

butternut squash and cider soup

butternut squash and cider soup

We got back from London, and I promptly came down with one of those post-long-plane rides colds. At first, it was kind of fun to have a sexy rock-star voice, but when it quickly deteriorated into lower octaves, I started to sound like I’ve been drinking for thirty years. The sexy was long gone, and I just wanted my regular high-pitched, I-still-sound-like-I’m-thirteen voice back. That, and the ability to finish a sentence before erupting in a coughing fit.

I don’t know about you, but when I get sick, unless I’m running a serious fever, I don’t sit still. I don’t wrap myself in blankets, make residence on the couch and watch countless Dr. Who re-runs unless I am nearly dead to the world and have resigned to Gatorade and saltines. (By the way, the new Dr. Who is just not doing it for me. Just wanted to share that.) Something about being sick coupled with a desire to be constantly moving about sets me in motion. And makes me want to make soup. And to be precise – pureed soup that tells me that autumn is here, and it’s high time for squash.

butternut squash and cider soup

This soup comes from a highly-anticipated book – The Essential New York Times Cook Book written diligently and thoughtfully over the last six years by Amanda Hesser. The Amanda Hesser of the Cooking for Mr. Latte and The Cook and the Gardener fame, among others. Years ago, when I was reading chapters of “Cooking for Mr. Latte” in the Sunday Magazine, I would imagine myself falling in love and winning over my future husband with one meal at a time. I imagined myself jettisoning my job, packing a suitcase and moving to France to attend La Varenne. The stories always sounded so lovely, and I liked to imagine myself in them. It was the ultimate romance: love through food and stories around it. So many of our memories are shaped by what we eat and who we eat with, even if a meal is just with yourself.

butternut squash and cider soup

I am so very grateful to the that same thoughtful soul (you know who you are!) who sent me the fantastic Melissa Clark and Bill Yosses book for sending me a review copy of this expansive tome. It was on my list of books to own and it is an absolute treasure. Painstakingly curated and lovingly put together, this book is encyclopedic in its scope with recipes dating back to 1880’s, comprehensive, and thorough. But beyond its offerings, it’s like a treasure trove of history – stories told through recipes of how this country has evolved in what we eat, and consequently what we might be concerned with: sustainability, health, frugality, or excess. There are dozens of recipes I’ve noted and set aside. I will be cooking from it for decades.

butternut squash and cider soup

I tweaked this soup quite a bit because I like to play with some spices in my squash, so I added some cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne. And I wanted to make the squash taste more um, should I say “squashy”, so I added a tiny bit of lemon juice just to brighten the flavor just a bit. I took out the apple garnish, adding instead some cumin-spiced sour cream, which can be swapped for crème fraîche or yogurt, if you like, and sprinkled a few cilantro leaves on top. But, darlings, the cider! The cider was bold, pronounced, and unexpected. On the one hand, there was an unmistakable taste of apples and fall, but on the other hand, the apples gave way to more savory flavors of the squash playing a supporting, rather than a leading role. It’s soup that is at once inspiring and comforting, bold and subdued, celebratory and casual. And it’s perfect for those evenings when you’ve all but lost your voice. For if you cannot exclaim out loud the admiration for the soup, your empty bowl will be declaration enough.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

applesauce

my mother's kitchen light

And so we’ve officially ushered autumn in. Everywhere I turn – apples, apples, apples. Everyone keeps telling me about apple picking, my farmers market has more apple stands than I know what to do with, and I’m coming into a small apple fortune come Monday night when a friend plans to bicycle over a portion of her forty pound bounty, and I’m hoping to get busy with some apple butter, which reminds me I should get a food mill and some Bell jars stet.* But that’s a story for another day. Today is all about apple sauce that I made while at my parents’ house a few weekends ago.

quartered

You see, my mother, like me, gets overly excited about fall produce and before she knows it, her house is drowning in apples as if she’s about to start her own apple stand. But you and I both know that a human being can only eat so many apples a day and before you know it, they start to get all mushy and mealy. And then you throw them out, and that’s just tragic. Tragic, I say.

cored

So I found myself staring at piles of apples that I knew, (just knew!) were going to go to waste and that my mother would kick herself for allowing that to happen. I figured apple sauce might be a fun way to use them, and since I’ve never actually tried my hand at it, I decided to trust Elise’s recipe (since hers never fail me) and attempt one of my childhood favorite treats. So while my mother was napping, or running errands (I can’t recall which), I grabbed some apples and got to work. And by work I mean I cut and cored the apples, threw them in the pot with the remaining ingredients, brought everything to a boil, reduced heat, and let everything simmer for half an hour. In fact, while the apples were cooking, I got started on dinner and didn’t even tend to the pot once. Not a single time.

ready

If I’d known apple sauce was so easy to make, I would have never bought it in the first place. And the taste, the flavor, the apple-y intensity that a pre-made version can’t even approximately deliver – are well worth the minimal effort apple sauce requires. Besides, no scented-candle can make your house smell as cozy and welcoming as that cinnamon-apple smell that will envelop your house. If anyone finds a way to bottle it, let me know – I’ll be your first customer!

apple sauce
apple sauce

*Whoa, that was a long sentence!

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Friday, September 3, 2010

tarte tatin

tarte tatin

I can’t help, but cheat on summer a little. I’m just so tired of being so hot all the time, of dreading to turn my oven on, of running air conditioner non-stop. I’m even sick of tank tops (gasp!), and white wine (blasphemy). I’ve been sweating for three whole months, and now I just want it to stop, you know? This heat thing is getting old. East coast folks, are you with me?

tarte tatin

What I want are things that belong firmly to autumn. I want to take a walk in the rain in my jeans and a sweater with a scarf around my neck while holding hot cider in my hand. I want to stand over a huge pot of simmering apple sauce and smell the cinnamon. I can’t wait for that morning chill in the air, and that first red leaf I spot on the ground. Fall is full of such good things, it’s no wonder I’m more than ready for it.

nekkid apples

I have been long entertaining visions of tarte Tatin, but someway or another it always eluded me. I first had it when I was backpacking through France right after graduating college. A friend and I found ourselves in Nantes and after speaking with a few locals about where they like to have dinner, managed to find our way to the restaurant. I don’t remember much of the meal other than it was very good, rustic French home-cooking. There was little pretense and the focus was on making real, honest food that people might want to eat at the end of a long week. I remember thinking it was delicious.

tarte tatin tarte tatin

When we got to dessert, I ordered a tarte Tatin. I didn’t really know what it was, but I knew I liked tarts, and after our waiter said something about apples, which my limited French picked up, I was sold. I thought what I was ordering was a tradition French apple tart, a favorite pastry of mine. What arrived on a plate (accompanied by a glass of Sancerre) was something altogether different. The apples were not splayed out in a meticulously thinly sliced array, but instead sat atop a pastry – quartered, brown, and caramelized. At their bottom was this thick amber-colored syrup. The puff pastry had soaked a bit of that syrup where the two met. It was a strange and unexpected sight, and before I gave myself a chance to analyze this unfamiliar pastry, I grabbed a fork and dug in. I can still taste that first, revelatory bite. I even remember the plate the tart arrived on – white, with tiny blue flowers around the border.

tarte tatin

You would think that this would have been the first thing I would have made upon returning to the United States. You wouldn’t think that nine whole years would pass before I’d actually get around to making it. Well, embarrassing as this is, nine years did pass. And I finally got my act together and made the tart for my book club dinner. I can’t tell you why it took so long, but I am sometimes horribly disorganized, and, well, there it is. I have no excuse, just some lost time I need to make up. And so should you. Perhaps this weekend, as you welcome fall, this could be just the dessert to bring to your Labor Day barbecues. Summer won’t mind, I don’t think. It’s had three whole months to reign over us and I think it needs to move over and give fall a chance. I’m only trying to be fair.

tarte tatin
tarte tatin

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Monday, September 28, 2009

wine-stewed prunes & mascarpone

wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone

Meet my new favorite dessert. Come over and say hello. No, really, take a good look at it, take it all in. Wine stewed prunes, folks. Yes, that’s right, my new favorite dessert is something that doctor might prescribe older folks for, well, lack of better word, regularity.

in watery winewine gets thick and luxurious

I know it seems perfectly unbelievable that something as, um, boring as prunes can go from Cinderella to belle of the ball in forty-five minutes flat. I would’ve never even considered it were it not for a recent meal at Frankie Spuntino, one of my all time favorite haunts, a place considered by some as the most important restaurant in New York City.

wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone

Usually, I am too full to look at dessert, but last time, I wanted to see what the offerings were and let me tell you, I’ve been missing out! These red wine stewed prunes topped with the creamiest of mascarpone around, was about the most stunning dessert I’ve had in a long long time. Its simplicity is what astounds me the most.

wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone

Luisa waxed poetic about them some time ago, and I’ve had the New York Times recipe bookmarked for ages (and yet never made the connection!) and I suppose it’s time for me to throw my hat in because these are incredible! The dessert is both comfort food and haute cuisine. Something about the thickened, reduced wine, infused with nothing more but sugar and two cinnamon sticks with prunes that absorb these flavors, takes you from pedestrian to decadent. And as we are very clearly entering fall season, eating this at the end of your meal is just about the coziest, most lovely thing you can do. Like pulling a nice woolly sweater over your head and just settling into the fuzzy warmth.

wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone

And though I know we’ve been cheated of a proper summer, I am welcoming fall with open arms. When at the end of a long day, I can sink into my couch holding a bowl of these prunes in my hands, I don’t even think of shorter daylight hours or the sweaters I’ll have to eventually unearth. This alone will be enough to carry me through the darkest and coldest of seasons. And I hope it does the same for you.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

apple cranberry pie

last picture before i broke the camera

This entry is over three weeks late. I can’t quite begin to tell you the drama of how the pictures before your eyes were the very last I took with my camera before I banged it on the corner of the table and it had stopped working (the one above is the very last photo prior to the incident). On Thanksgiving Day of all day. On the day when I was finally going to pull out all stops and show you just how awesome a roast turkey can be. How incredible and simple a cranberry sauce is. How awesome, tasty, seductive even my famous porcini mushroom soup is. Thrice I have made that soup and thrice I’ve been unable to take pictures of it, for whatever reason. But back to my camera agony – yes, the camera broke immediately after I took a glorious shot of the apple pie and then, then it was all gone. The camera unwilling to turn itself on, the sheer terror that had overcome me, the frenetic pace of the morning (cooking since the early hours) – it all just came unraveled.

If I sound like a bit of a techie geek, I suppose it’s proof enough that for the last three weeks, I’ve been walking around like the living dead, somewhat. A bit off kilter, somewhat out of my element – as if I was missing a limb. After the camera was fixed, coincidentally I discovered that the battery went dead – and it took me another week to get the battery (weeknight and all do not allow for any kind of errands).

little did i know of the dangers that lurked ahead...

It was a dear consolation that the pie turned out well. Particularly after my summer pie crust scare and panic. Having never really failed at a baking project, the crust of the summer was a disappointment and a warning that not all could go smoothly in the kitchen.

with cranberries

While I’ve done almost no cooking in the last three weeks due to work, I still have to post this recipe. It came from the Martha Stewart cookbook I very much love and use when I cook – I find that there are very few books I actually want to own. The crust in this recipe was everything I wanted a crust to be – buttery, flaky, easy to work with!! Making the filling was easy enough though I found that I needed fewer apples than what the recipe called for – I used about 5 apples, which I think is less than 3 lbs. I added about a cup of cranberries on my own – but you can keep this cranberry-free if you think it’ll be too tart.

Now that my camera is fixed, I can start taking pictures again, however, who knows when I cook next? And with a vacation right around the corner (San Antonio, Texas, here we come!!) I am hoping to at least capture some of the sights, sounds and tastes for you all to enjoy.

happy pate brisee

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