1.26.2011

Squash Soup

The other night I brought this soup to a "chicks only" cocktail party at a friend's home. I decided on soup because, well, it's January and what better lifts mood and body temperature than a dollop of hot and savory goodness? Yes, this took me longer to prepare than a bag of chips and jar of salsa, but the result was well worth it.

As guests charged the pot to snag a ladelful, I wondered, why is it so uplifting to feed others good tasting homemade fare? Perhaps the delight on people's faces boosts my ego. Or maybe it's a female thing. To those who enjoyed, does it matter?

Recipe

Sister-in-law Amy shared this recipe with me from her Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special Cookbook. She roasts the squash, onion, and garlic together as the original recipe instructs but I like to chop and saute those ingredients instead. I'm not sure which way is tastier, easier or creates less mess. If you hate chopping, roasting the vegetables first might be the way to go. Just leave yourself a lot of time.

I omitted the sizzling sage, which I found to be kind of pain, and instead added dried sage. I also halved the amount of olive oil.

In a large pot heat over medium heat, until hot:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Add and saute 5-10 minutes until translucent:
  • 2 large yellow onions, cut into 1 inch pieces

Add and stir about a minute, until fragrant:
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced

Add and stir for a minute or two, just to combine:
  • 40 ounces (doesn't need to be exact) cut up squash from the produce section, cut into 1 inch cubes*

 Stir in:
  • 1 cup no sugar added apple juice*
  • 2 cups low-fat chicken broth*
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • ground black pepper, to taste

Bring soup to a boil then turn heat down and simmer 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until squash is soft enough to smash with a fork.

Puree with an immersion blender* (remove pot from heat when you do this) or let soup cool a few minutes and puree in a regular blender in small batches. Make soup as thin or thick as you want. If it gets too thick add more liquid.

Taste and adjust seasonings.

**Extra! Extra!**
  • I find cutting squash too time consuming and scary, but if you are skilled and willing, go ahead and buy a few whole ones. You'll need about 3 pounds worth.
  • You can play with the amount and types of liquid. Vegetable broth instead of chicken? Sure. More apple juice? Yes. But keep in mind more apple juice means a sweeter soup. Also, keep extra liquid on hand to thin out soup later, if need be.
  • Using an immersion blender can be fun, but take a minute or two to read the instruction manual so you don't end up with soup all over your kitchen and up your nose. Trust me on this one.

1.10.2011

Roasted Potatoes

Last summer while vacationing in a rented house in Michigan with my brother's family, I watched my boys joyfully wolf down Aunt Amy's roasted potatoes. I was never much of a potato lover, more of a bread eater, really. But since I recently slashed the amount of bread, pasta and other gluten foods in our house getting these potatoes right became a priority.

Angel/Sister-in-law Amy was there to help. The trick, she finally pounded into me, is to cook those suckers a good long while and if you don't have the time, don't bother. Then, after they cook for an hour or so, broil them until crispy.

Months later (last Saturday to be exact) I gave it a go working from Barefoot Contessa's Roasted Potatoes applying Angel Amy's methods. It was a perfect match. To me they tasted like they had been injected with a magic potion. My oldest son said they tasted like french fries. Score.

Recipe

These take about 90 minutes start to finish (including prep) so be prepared. I've added to Barefoot Contessa's original recipe the option for an extra 1/2 pound of potatoes for leftover lovers and to max out on the long cook time.

1 1/2-2 pounds small red, white and/or yellow skinned potatoes, unpeeled (not russets!), scrubbed clean
4-6 tablespoons olive oil
3/4-1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2-3/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
2-3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves (I used dried thyme, about 1/2-3/4 teaspoon)

Preheat oven to 400. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil.

Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Put them in a bowl. Drizzle in the olive oil and stir them around with a spoon or your hands and get them well coated with the oil. Then sprinkle in salt, pepper, garlic and herbs. Give them a good toss. Arrange them on a rimmed baking sheet cut side down so they are flat. Push them around the pan a bit, keeping them flat, so they all soak up the oil and seasonings. If there's any oil/seasoning left in the bowl, spoon it out and sprinkle it on the potatoes. I especially like each piece to have a chard or two of garlic on them.

Here's where Barefoot Contessa and I part ways: she says to flip them during cooking. I say leave them for one hour without doing anything. Then remove the potatoes from the oven and see if you can loosen one; if it looks brown on the flat side you should be able to flip the rest (if they don't look done, try 10 more minutes). Do so carefully as not to rip off the browned side. If you can flip them easily (no sticking) but they don't look brown (but hour's up) that's okay. They'll brown during the next step. However, make sure they look and feel cooked and a bit soft (you can pierce one with a fork).

After you flip them move the oven rack to the highest position and turn on the broiler. Put the baking sheet back in for 5-10 minutes until the flat side looks brown and crispy as you like. Check them often as they broil so they don't burn.

Let cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

Next day you can reheat them in the microwave, but cover with a damp paper towel so they don't dry out (thanks Angel Jackie for that suggestion).

I know, I know, this takes a while. So cook these when you're stuck at home doing something anyway, like waiting for the cable guy.

1.01.2011

Ribs

Ribs. Just saying the word brings a twinkle to my husband's eye. We've ordered them in from Smoque, Smokin' Woody's, Carson's, Fat Willy's and others over the years, but hands down the best ribs I ever ate came from an unknown little place in Boca Raton, Florida: my friends' backyard. They own a smoker and one visit the man of the house honored us with his talents. At 8 a.m. as we all sipped morning cups-a-joe, he began the process. Some 12 anticipatory hours later, finished product was before us. I remember nothing about the day but watching him walk in and out of the backyard with a smirk on his face, foreshadowing what lay ahead.

Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. And the cost of plane tix for four.

We have no plans to buy a smoker, though tempting. Space and weather here make such indulgence impractical. I often considered venturing into the world of homemade ribs sans smoker, but every recipe I found involved several steps, ingredients, and kitchen utensils, overwhelming me in an instant. I'd reach for the phone instead.

Then Grandma CC served us her homemade ribs. We all raved. How did they compare to our friends' 12-hour version? Not as good, I admit. But pretty great regardless. She told me they were easy to make and I didn't believe her. You be the judge.

Recipe

Buy 2 slabs of baby back ribs from a good butcher. Let them sit at room temperature while you turn oven to 350 and wait for it to preheat. Place a roasting rack* on a baking pan/cookie sheet lined with tin foil (for easier cleanup). Put both slabs, meat side up, on the rack. Put nothing on the ribs, yet. Ribs should sit out at least 15 minutes before going in the oven.

Then bake ribs (uncovered) on middle rack of oven for one hour. Take ribs out of oven and baste, meat side only, with liquid smoke* or any barbecue sauce*, homemade or bottled. Return ribs to oven.

Bake one more hour, basting once or twice during the hour, depending on how saucy you like your meat.

Remove ribs from oven, move oven rack to broiler level (that's the top position), turn on broiler (on high, if your oven has a hi/lo choice) and return ribs to oven.

HERE'S THE TRICKY PART. Don't leave the oven. Stand there, watch it. As the sauce bubbles, watch! Yes you can open the oven and watch. You want the sauce to caramelize (when the sauce cooks and gets sticky), without charring too badly, or it will catch on fire. This should take less than five minutes. The minute all the ribs have bubbled, take out the pan. (You can always put it back for more caramelizing if necessary.)

Turn oven back to 350 and move oven rack back to center. Bake 30 more minutes.

Remove ribs from oven and see how you did! You should be very proud.

Note: I have not tried to make more than 2 slabs at a time but as soon as I do, I'll update this post. Two slabs of ribs barely served my three men.

**Extra! Extra!**
  • Buy a cheap roasting rack (Target or the grocery store) that fits two slabs. The rack I had wasn't big enough so my ribs didn't all fit. Tragic.
  • Liquid smoke gives it well, a smoky flavor. I used Trader Joe's BBQ sauce but Todd would have preferred Open Pit.