Curried Pumpkin Soup

curriedpumpsoupIf you already have your pumpkin cooked, this soup can be ready in about the time it takes to boil a pot of water.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon butter (or olive oil)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups of water
2 cups of pumpkin, puréed
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger root
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup cream (or milk)

Roasted pumpkin seeds for garnish

Method:

  • Sauté garlic in butter (or oil) in a soup pot over medium heat for a few minutes. Be careful not to let the garlic brown.
  • Add everything else except the cream (or milk). Bring to a boil. Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Turn heat down, add cream (or milk).
  • Top with roasted pumpkin seeds and serve warm.

Serves four.

About Pumpkins

boopumpkinOne of my favorite fall sights is a sprawling pumpkin patch. They always take me by surprise. Amid the waning crop fields spring large bright orange orbs. It never fails to make me smile.

I like fresh pumpkin better than canned for several reasons. One, I like to buy things from my local farmers. Two, it’s one less can that needs to be recycled. Three, it tastes better. Plus, today’s centerpiece is tomorrow’s pie. You can’t say that about canned pumpkin.

It does take a little time to cook a pumpkin, but it isn’t difficult. I like to roast a couple small pumpkins at the same time, make a puree and then freeze what I don’t use right away. That way, I get the benefits of fresh pumpkin with the convenience of canned.

Like its winter squash siblings, pumpkins are an excellent source of vitamin A (as beta-carotene) and a good source of a slew of other nutrients, including vitamin E, vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, riboflavin, potassium, copper and manganese.

For display and carving, I tend to go for the big, ugly pumpkins with lots of warts. They make for interesting jack-o-lanterns. For eating, I pick the smaller ones with smooth skin. If you are baking a pie, ask your farmer what his/her sweetest pumpkins are.

Next up…how to cook a pumpkin whole

Butternut Apple Soup with Gorgonzola and Bacon

This combines two of my favorite fall things — butternut squash and apples — with two of my all-year-round favorites — blue cheese and bacon.

Ingredients:

1 large butternut squash
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium to large tart apple, chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter
4 cups of water
2 cups of apple cider
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
Dash of cayenne and black pepper
2 to 3 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
1/4 to 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (or any blue cheese)

Method:

  • Cut squash in half (stem to bottom) and scoop out seeds and stringy pulp (save the seeds for roasting). Peel and cut into chunks.
  • Heat olive oil or butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until onion turns translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir often to keep garlic from browning.
  • Add butternut squash and chopped apple. I don’t peal the apple.
  • Stir in water, apple cider, vinegar and season with salt and pepper.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until squash is fork-tender, about 30 minutes.
  • Use an immersion blender to puree soup. You can also use a traditional blender and puree the soup in batches. Let the soup cool a bit and be sure to keep a towel and your hand firmly on the blender lid. The hot soup has a tendency to spew. If soup is too thick, thin with water or apple cider.

Top soup with a sprinkle of bacon and Gorgonzola and serve hot.

Serves four to six.

Peaches

New column up at the Register Star.

While Georgia is known as the “Peach State,” I’ve tasted some darn good peaches here in New York. The local peach crop is now in full swing, so be sure to grab some.

The best place to get a peach is to pick one right from a tree. My friend Douglas said that he never buys supermarket peaches (unless they are local) because they go from being rock hard to mushy.

Peaches bound for the supermarket are cultivated for a long shelf life and a pretty red color. Flavor gets a back seat. They are also refrigerated, which can turn an unripe peach mealy.

Apparently we’ve been having that problem since the late 19th century. This from a New York Times editorial dated Aug. 23, 1895, written in response to an article claiming California peaches were of poor quality: A defense of California peaches – those sent to New York are poor because picked too soon, by Charles Vogelgesang:

The fruit is picked only half ripened, thus, in the first place, depriving it of the nourishment and sunshine necessary to give it its full flavor and sweetness. Consequently, it ripens without those essentials and, as I will admit, with very poor results as we usually find it in New York markets and thereby the fruit is placed at a sorry disadvantage when compared with that allowed to ripen on the trees and shipped comparatively few miles before reaching the consumer.

I always search out organic peaches. The Environmental Working Group, a not-for-profit research organization, has a list of the most pesticide contaminated fruits and vegetables, called the “Dirty Dozen.” Peaches top that list. They have the highest pesticide residue out of the 42 fruits and vegetables they tested. Pesticides easily migrate into the fruit through the soft skin of the peach. Since local peaches don’t have to travel far, farmers can get by with using less pesticide. Ask your peach farmer about his/her pesticide practices and/or shop for the organic variety.

Go to the Register Star for Peach Cobbler and Grilled Shrimp with Peaches and Bok Choy in a Spicy Peanut Sauce recipes.

Tomatoes

As a kid, I had to do chores. If my siblings and I fought, we had to do extra chores. We often fought. I don’t know why my parents thought it would be a good idea to make fighting siblings do chores together, especially if one of the chores was gathering rotten tomatoes from the garden to feed to my brother’s pigs.

I don’t remember how it started, but my sweet little sister, Stacey, took aim and threw a tomato that hit my older brother, Rob, squarely in the face. There was a brief pause, all three of us were stunned, and then my sister took off running for the house, screaming.

This from my sister: “I remember Rob saying something that made me really mad. I’m not sure what it was, I just remember being really mad and hurling a rotten tomato at him. When it hit pay dirt, I remember fearing for my life. I distinctly remember that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don’t remember how it ended. I don’t think I got pummeled, so I think I must have run to the house — somehow beating Rob — and hid behind Mom.”

Our tomato patch this year would have been a good place for a tomato fight. Sadly, late blight wreaked havoc on our garden and the rotten tomatoes outnumbered the good ones. The survivors were prized indeed.

Most things taste better fresh from the garden, but some things are essential to have fresh. The tomatoes that you can get all year round in the grocery store, in my opinion, aren’t really tomatoes. Sure they look like them, but these impostors certainly don’t taste like them. Real tomatoes have to be picked locally and eaten in season. Period.

A sure way to ruin a good farm fresh tomato is to store it in the refrigerator. It changes both the flavor and texture. A refrigerated tomato is still good to use in a sauce, but I wouldn’t use it for anything that wasn’t cooked. No worries though, cooking tomatoes increases lycopene absorption.

Lycopene is the darling of the phytonutrient world and tomatoes are an excellent source of it. It’s found in vegetables with red pigment such as tomatoes, apricots, pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya and guava. Lycopene is purported to be protective against a number of cancers. It may also provide cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory benefits. Tomatoes are also an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A and a good source of fiber. So, eat up!

I had the good fortune to go south this weekend. I gladly lugged an extra bag on the train to carry my tomato haul. I treasured the tomatoes and fretted over just what to do with them. There weren’t enough to make all of my favorite dishes, so I had to be choosy. Just throwing them on top of a green salad wouldn’t do. I wanted to celebrate the pure tomatoness of the tomatoes.

There are three tomato dishes that I would be very sad if I didn’t get at least a taste of in the summer: BLTs, caprese salad and panzonela. All three dishes say “summer” to me. The recipes are sort of non-recipes — the amounts don’t matter so much and the ingredients are either self-evident or flexible.
Read more…

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Picnic on the Hudson with Trixie

Since the weather finally feels like summer, my Mom suggested that I write an article about picnics. Good idea, Mom. Some of my favorite meals have been picnics. This spring, we had a sprawling one in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Friends kept showing up with food and blankets. It certainly captured the spirit of casual outdoor dining.

Aside from the ants, one of the challenges of picnics is transporting the goods. My takeout containers and tinfoil don’t always do the trick. As luck would have it, I ran into Trixie Starr showcasing Tupperware at the opening of Clear Massage Studio. Who better to go on a picnic with than someone who is an expert in food storage?

Trixie has the envy of any kitch-collecting diva, a Tupperware picnic set from the ’70s. One look at it and the whole picnic took shape in my head.
Read more…

Trixie will be showcasing her Tupperware at a benefit for The Second Show Community Thrift Store from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Jason’s Upstairs Bar, 21 Warren St., Hudson. Twenty-five percent of all sales will benefit The Second Show.

Fava Beans

Whenever I say “fava beans”, my husband makes a rapid lip-smacking noise and says, “I ate his liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti,” quoting Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. So I try not to say “fava beans” too often.

I had never prepared fava beans until a few years ago. My friend Ellen brought a big bagful over to my Park Slope apartment. I was skeptical because fava beans look suspiciously like extra large lima beans and I’m not crazy about extra large lima beans. I don’t mind young lima beans but the mature ones are a bit too mealy and mushy for me. Fava beans, on the other hand, are slightly sweet, creamy with a hit of nuttiness.

Fava beans are a little like one of those Russian nesting dolls. They have a husky pod, then a bean, then the real jewel is the tiny chartreuse bean inside the larger bean. While you can eat young fava beans after the first shelling, it is really worth the extra step to get to the good stuff.

First remove the outer pod. Then immerse the giant beans in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Next, plunge them into an ice water bath. The tough light green part should then easily separate from the smaller bean.

For a quick, delicious spread, mash them with a fork, add a little garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on crostini or toast points. Delicious!

Sugar Snap Pesto

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Excerpt from my June 26, 2009 column in the Register Star and Daily Mail:
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Pesto means “to pound.” Traditionally it is made with a mortar and pestle…and basil. I will occasionally make regular pesto that way. For this recipe I’m substituting sugar snap peas for the basil and am using a food processor to make quick work of “pounding” the pea pods. The result is a beautifully green, bright tasting pesto. Perfect for tossing in pasta or serving with grilled fish or chicken.


Ingredients

2 cups young sugar snap peas (Whole, not shelled. Taste a whole pea. If it is not sweet, shell the peas first.)
1-2 garlic cloves
1 cup shelled pistachio nuts
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 tablespoon rice vinegar or lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper

Method

-Remove the stems and strings from pea pods. Wash and pat dry.
-Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend. Add more olive oil if pesto is too dry.
-Taste; add more salt, pepper, and lemon juice if needed

Asian Chicken Dumplings

For those just looking for the video link I mentioned in my Register Star or Daily Mail column, here it is: Folding Dumplings.

For the rest of you, here is the dumpling recipe from my column.

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My friend Amy Goldberg made a version of these delicious dumplings for a party a few weeks ago. I happily parked myself right in front of a platter of them and ate more than my fair share. I wasn’t the only one doing it so I didn’t feel too bad.

Amy made everything from scratch, but if you’re short on time you can use pre-made gyoza wrappers instead. Look for them in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.

Click here for a video that walks you through the process. It’s not hard, but seeing someone fold the dumplings is helpful.

This isn’t a quick dish, but it is a very satisfying one. There are three parts, the dough, the filling and the dipping sauce.

Dough

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup boiling water

Method
-In large bowl, combine flour, salt, and 1 cup boiling water.
-Mix until dough forms a ball.
-Transfer to lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and shiny, 5 to 6 minutes.
-Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

FIlling
Ingredients
– 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar (white vinegar will work in a pinch)
– 3 cups Napa cabbage (1/4 medium head), chopped (you may substitute bok choy, savoy or regular cabbage
– 2 cups cooked chicken, minced
– 3 scallions chopped
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
– 1 tablespoons soy sauce
-1 tablespoon of fish sauce (you may substitute soy sauce)
– 1 tablespoon honey
– 1 teaspoon sesame oil
– 1 large egg, beaten
– 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
– 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Method
In large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Dipping sauce
Ingredients
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup rice or white vinegar
1 teaspoon Sriracha (chili sauce)
1 scallion chopped

Method:
In medium bowl, stir together all ingredients.

Filling the Dumplings
-Dust a baking sheet with flour or line it with parchment paper.
-Divide dough into 2 even pieces.
-On lightly floured surface, using palms of hands, roll each piece into 3/4-inch-diameter log. Cut each log into 1-inch-long sections. You should get 16-20 equal sized pieces.
-Roll each dough piece out on floured surface using floured rolling pin to a 4-inch circle and set aside on prepared sheet.
-Repeat with remaining dough sections.
-Hold a dough wrapper in palm of hand. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of filling in the center of wrapper.
-Using fingertip dipped in water, gently wet around the inside edge of wrapper. When the edges are pressed together, the water will help seal the dumpling.
-Fold wrapper in half. Gently push the filling down to keep edge of wrapper free of filling. You can simply press the sides together and seal the dumpling or you can be fancy and make nice pleats like they do in the instructional video.
-Set dumpling, sealed edge up, on baking sheet and repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

Cooking the dumplings
-Heat about 2 tablespoons oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat.
-Gently set dumplings in the pan.
-Fry for 3 or 4 minutes, or until the bottoms are a nice golden brown. Shift dumplings occasionally to prevent from sticking. (These are sometime called pot-stickers because of their predilection for sticking.)
– Gently turn over and cook for a couple more minutes. Shift occasionally.
– Add 1 cup water to the pan. Cook until most of the water has evaporated.
-Remove from the pan and allow them to sit for a couple of minutes.

Serve dumplings warm with dipping sauce. Serve as an appetizer or add a salad and call it dinner. That’s what I did.