Friday, October 30, 2009

A Carrot-Ginger Soup & a Tale for Halloween

Happy Halloween!
In honor of this holiday, I would like to tell you the scary tale of my first time cooking with fresh ginger.

Having prepped the onions and garlic for my carrot-ginger soup, it was time to be brave and face the spooky-looking root sitting on my cutting board.
Recalling the research I did in Joy of Cooking, I started peeling the root with a vegetable peeler.
It was all going really well, until...
Yes, that is a blue ring in the middle of the ginger.

Listen, when you are facing a new ingredient for the first time and you see a scary blue ring in it, it is okay to panic. In fact, if you think it is moldy, throw it in the trash bowl, run to the frig, grab a new piece of ginger, cut into it, only to be horrified at finding the same blue ring everywhere you look,
I understand.

So, there I was, aghast, thinking that carrot-ginger soup was doomed. But, before losing all hope, I ran to my computer and googled "blue ring ginger." Guess what?! There is a type of ginger called "Blue-Ring Ginger" (also called "Chinese white ginger"). Which means... it was supposed to be blue! Better yet, blue-ring ginger is apparently more juicy and tasty than other varieties. My bravery was rewarded: the soup was saved!

I retrieved the ginger from the trash bowl, finished peeling it, and minced it up.

And then I continued on my merry soup-making way.
So ends the story of how I made the acquaintance of fresh ginger.

Now, for this gorgeous carrot-ginger soup. The balance from the heat of the ginger, the sweet of the carrot, and the tang from the orange is outstanding. The ginger, especially, gives everything a warmth and depth that is gorgeous.

After you have prepped the onions, ginger (phew!), and garlic, start by sauteing the onions and ginger.
In the meantime, prep your carrots. Peel them,
and slice them.
(should you have any aggression, slicing up carrots is a great way to get it out).

Right before the onions and ginger are done, throw in the garlic so it doesn't burn.
Now, add those carrots to the pot.
And give it a good pinch of salt and pepper. I find it is really important to season every layer of a soup, so it doesn't come out bland in the end. Start with the onion stage, and continue seasoning each layer.
Cover the carrots with stock.
Bring that to a boil, and let it simmer for 30 minutes until the carrots are tender.
Break out your immersion blender, and blend it all up.

How Halloween is this orange?
Next, add in your orange juice,
and (if you want) your milk or cream. Both the orange juice and the milk help thin the soup out and give it a silky texture.
Let that cook for 5 minutes, and then add in (one of my favorites) freshly grated nutmeg.
Taste for seasoning and you are done!
For the garnish, I thought to myself, now I know carrots love raisins and carrots love cashews, so why not make a raisin-cashew pumpkin for a Halloween garnish?
Beside looking perfect for Halloween, the flavors from the raisins and cashews were brilliant with the carrot, orange, and ginger. Halloween or not, the raisin-cashew garnish is a great way to go.

Once again, Happy Halloween!

Gingered Carrot Soup (adapted from
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter*
1/2 cup minced onion (1/2 a medium onion)
1/4 cup minced peeled fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced**
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock (feel free to use vegetable stock)
4 cups sliced, peeled carrots (about 1 1/2 pounds)
salt and pepper

1/4 cup orange juice *** (more to taste)
1/2 cup half and half or milk **** (I used 1% organic milk)
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg *****

Raisins and cashews for garnish

Heat oil and butter in a dutch-oven over medium heat. Add onion and ginger. Saute until onion is translucent, about 7 minutes. Add in garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add sliced carrots, salt and pepper, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to lower, cover, and simmer until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove soup from heat and blend with an immersion blender (or blend in batches in a blender or food processor). Mix in orange juice and milk. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Mix in nutmeg. Season soup to taste.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with raisins and cashews.

Can be prepared 1 day ahead.

*The original recipe calls for 2 T of vegetable oil
**The original recipe does not call for garlic. How could you leave it out?
*** The original recipe calls for 1 cup of orange juice. That is way too much. I used a 1/2 cup and thought it was a tad too sweet. Next time, I am going to start with 1/4 cup orange juice and add more to taste. Alternatively, you could just add the juice from an orange and that would avoid the sweetness problem.
****You don't have to use milk or half and half, I just thought it would give everything a nice texture.
*****The original recipe calls for 1/4 ground cinnamon. I am simply in love with nutmeg these days, so I changed it up. Feel free to do whatever you like

Monday, October 26, 2009

A whimsical pumpkin muffin

The month-o-squash continues with these muffins:How fun, right?

While things got a little messy
they were very easy to make (no electric mixer needed). And they were delicious. They have a subtle molasses flavor that just makes the pumpkin and spices sing.

First, soak the raisins in a cup of hot water for five minutes. This helps the raisins plump up and retain their moisture in the baking process.
In the meantime, mix together your dry ingredients. How is it that the smell of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg never ceases to intoxicate me?
Next, add your brown sugar to the dry ingredients. This adds more hints of molasses, as brown sugar is white sugar with molasses.
Now, for the pumpkin-y wet ingredients. Whisk together butter, pumpkin, buttermilk, eggs, molasses, and vanilla.
Now, make a well in the middle of your dry ingredients.
And pour in the pumpkin mix.
Stir that until just combined. Really, no overstirring is allowed at this point. Overstirring develops glutens in the flour which makes for tough muffins. Yul. Stirring until just combined, on the other hand, makes for light, fluffy wonderful muffins. Yum!
Now, stir in your raisins. I made half of this recipe with raisins and the other half without (apparently not everyone realizes that pumpkin and raisins were meant to be).
Spoon that lovely batter into your pre-greased muffin tins. I like to use a ice-cream scoop for this. It ensures that every muffins cup has the same amount.
And, for my favorite part, top each muffin with chopped walnuts. This is what I love about the recipe: you still get the walnut taste; but instead of being hidden and boring on the inside, they are on top looking fun.
Then, into the oven they go. Twenty minutes later, you get these gorgeous muffins.
Let those sit for five minutes in the pan and turn them out.
Just look at them, who wouldn't find these delightful?

Pumpkin Walnut Muffins (adapted from
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin*
1/4 cup well shaken buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour (or 1 cup all purpose and 1 cup white whole wheat)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon**
1/2 tsp ground ginger**
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup raisins*** (golden or regular, as you see fit)
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (about 3 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease 12 1/2-cup muffin cups.

Melt butter and cool slightly. In a bowl, whisk together butter, pumpkin, buttermilk, eggs, molasses, and vanilla. Into a large bowl sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. Whisk in brown sugar. Make a well in the center of the flour mixutre and add the pumpkin mixture. Stir until just combined. Stir in raisins and divide batter among cups. Sprinkle walnuts evenly over batter in each cup. Bake muffins in middle of oven 20 to 25 minutes, or until puffed and a tester comes out clean.**** Cool muffins in cups 5 minutes and turn out onto a rack.

*The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup pumpkin, but having experimented, I think 1 cup is better (December 2010)
**I always make my cinnamon and ginger heaping. But this is a bad idea with cloves and nutmeg, because those are really strong spices.
***The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup pitted dates (about 4 ounces). 1/3 cup of raisins does not make for a very raisin-y muffin. If you like your muffins full of raisins, you may want to try 1/2 cup of raisins.
****20 minutes was perfect in my oven

Friday, October 23, 2009

Absolutely beautiful butternut squash bruschetta

Maybe you are thinking, bruschetta and... butternut squash? But trust me, this is easily one of the most perfect things I have ever made. This bruschetta has everything: sweetness from the squash, raisins, and caramelized onions; sourness from two kinds of vinegar; creaminess from pinenuts; and loads of flavor from coriander, hot red chilli, garlic, thyme, and parsley.

Once again, hats off to Mr. Jamie Oliver.

Here are the basics of the recipe. First, you prep. Next, you steam the squash (with loads of flavor). Then, you saute the squash (with loads more flavor). That's it.

For the squash: peel it, halve it, and deseed it.
Then, cut it into finger-sized pieces. At the end, you want the squash to keep its shape, so don't cut the pieces too small.
Then, cut up the onions into fine slices.
For the next step... drum roll please... I used a mortar and pestle for the first time ever! I bought a lovely mortar and pestle months and months ago, but have been too timid to use it. So, when this recipe called for coriander seeds bashed up in a mortar and pestle, I knew I had to be brave.
Turns out, bashing things up in a mortar and pestle is so easy and so fun, that I had nothing to worry about at all. Not to mention it is an amazing way to get flavor in recipes. I feel like a whole world has just opened up to me.
Now, time to cook this beautiful squash. Add some olive oil to a pan, let that heat up, then add in the squash, onions, bashed-up coriander seeds, a dried red chilli, and a "wine glass" of water. Cover it, and let that simmer for about 10 minutes.
Remove the lid and wait for the liquid to evaporate. Once it has, then you can start browning the squash pieces. So throw in some salt, pepper, thyme, and garlic, and get it going.
Once the squash is lightly golden, time for more flavor! Add in raisins, parsley stalks, and pinenuts.
After that has married together for a minute or so, time for even more flavor: splash in some balsamic and white wine vinegars, and sprinkle in some sugar. This gives everything a really nice, sweet glaze. Throw in some parsley, and you are done.
Garnish with some parsley and freshly grated Parmesan (the saltiness is a really nice touch). Serve it warm or cold alongside some crostini (and maybe even some mozzarella!).
And there you go: absolutely beautiful butternut squash bruschetta!

Super sweet and sour squash (from Cook with Jamie)
serves 4

1 medium (2 1/2 pound) butternut squash, peeled, halved, and deseeded
Olive oil
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, bashed in a mortar and pestle
1 dried red chilli
1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced (or 2 if they are small)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a glass of water (I think this is 4-5 ounces)*
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
a handful of raisins
a small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped, stalks finely chopped
a handful of pinenuts
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
parlsey, for garnish
Parmesan, for garnish

crostini (optional)

Cut the squash into finger-sized pieces. Add a good glug of olive oil (about 2 Tbs) to a Dutch oven and heat it up. Then add the coriander seeds, chilli (crushed up), squash, onion, and a wineglass of water and put the lid on the pan. Cook for around 10 minutes, then remove the lid. The water will cook away and everything in the pan will soften.

You can now begin to fry again. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper, the garlic, and thyme. Fry on a medium to low heart, slowly but surely cooking the squash through until it begins to turn a light golden color. At this point add the raisins, parsley stalks, and pinenuts. Fry for another minute or so, then add the two types of vinegar and the sugar. Fry for a final 3 or 4 minutes, this is enough time to cook the harshness of the vinegar away and the sugar will give it a sweet glaze. Check the seasoning one more time and adjust if need be. Stir through the parsley leaves.

Serve immediately, or wait until the next day. Garnish with parsley and some Parmesan. Serve with crostini, with salads, or as a side dish.

*A note on Jamie Oliver-ese: a "wine glass" of water is amazingly ambiguous. Does he mean a whole entire wine glass full of water? Does he mean the amount of liquid in a regular glass of wine? While I went with the entire wine glass full of water this time, it was way too much. Lesson learned: when Mr. Oliver calls for a 'wine glass', I think he means 4-5 ounces (1/2-2/3 cups), which is equal to one serving of wine.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I love Jamie Oliver and his Butternut Squash Soup

Let me be clear about one thing. It is not that I am in love with Jamie Oliver, the man himself. His wife can have him. But, I am absolutely crazy about his food. Anything that man makes, I want to devour.

And, what better way to celebrate this kind of love than investing in two new Jamie Oliver cookbooks: Jamie at Home and Cook with Jamie?

Armed with a Jamie Oliver-ese cipher,
I was ready to try my first recipe from Jamie at Home: 'Superb Squash Soup'. And did you look at it? How could anything that gorgeous not be delicious?

One of the things I like most about Mr. Oliver's food is the depth of flavor he incorporates in his recipes. He adds lots of herbs, chillis, oils, and so forth to enhance the basic ingredients. But no flavor is overwheling. They all marry together brilliantly.

Take this soup, for instance. You start by frying sage leaves in oil.
You reserve those sage leaves for garnish and then you use that sage-flavored oil as the base of your soup. Come on now!

And, instead of using just onions, carrots, celery, and garlic as your soup base, he has you add rosemary and a red chilli. Now, neither the rosemary or the chilli really hit you over the head at the end, but they just enrich the overall flavor. And it is this additional flavor that makes this soup 'superb'.
Now onto making this soup. You first soften your base vegetables over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prep your lovely butternut squash. Bonus: you can just leave the skin on since you are simmering it for so long.
Once your vegetables are soft, add your butternut squash to the pot.
Also add the stock.
Bring that to a simmer and simmer for about 30 minutes, until everything is tender. Pull it off the heat, pull out your immersion blender, and as Mr. Oliver says "whiz it up."
And, you are left with this absolutely stunning pot of soup.
Ladle the soup into a bowl.
Remember these fried sage leaves?
Use them as a garnish, along with a little Parmesan. To remind you how gorgeous this is:
Warning: at the end, you may want to lick the bowl.
Again, to quote Mr. Oliver, "Happy Days"!

Super squash soup (from Jamie at Home)
serves 8

Olive oil
16 fresh sage leaves*
2 red onions, peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 1/4 pounds butternut squash, onion squash, or musque de Provence, halved, deseeded, and cut into chunks
2 quarts low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
extra virgin olive oil

Put a very large sauce pan on a medium heat and pour in a couple of glugs of olive oil.** Add the sage leaves and fry for around 30 seconds or until dark green and crisp. Quickly remove them with a slotted spoon to a bowl lined with paper towels-- you will use these for garnish. In the pan you'll be left with a beautifully flavored oil (yes, the recipe actually says this), so put it back on the heat and throw in your onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary, chilli, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Cook gently for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are sweet and soft. Add the squash and the stock to the pan, bring to a boil and simmer for around half an hour.

When the squash is soft and cooked through, whiz the soup with an immersion blender or pour it into a standard blender and pulse until you have a smooth puree. Most importantly, remember to taste and season until its perfect.

Divide soup between bowls and sprinkle with a few of your crispy sage leaves and drizzle with a swirl of good-quality extra virgin olive oil.

*I only fried 4 leaves because I only need one portion that night.
**1 glug = 2 Tablespoons