Friday, December 31, 2010

Butternut Heaven

I bet you remember the first time you ate butternut squash soup. I just think it's one of those foods that do that to you... you take the first bite- not expecting much- but as soon as the first bite enters your mouth you realize something special is happening.
I was at Revelations- a restaurant that used to be where The Mix currently is in Greensboro. I had just stopped eating meat and seafood, and still wasn't sure what to do when I was out to eat... so, I ordered butternut squash soup for dinner. I remember being less than thrilled about my choice. But, what choice did I have? I had done this to myself...
Once I had that first bite, however, I realized the beginning of vegetarian bliss... it was just the start of being introduced to an endless amount of food I'd otherwise never take the time to notice...

The richness of the squash, the sweetness of the supporting veggies, silkiness of the cream... all hosting seasonings beautifully... butternut squash soup has become something I crave. I have tried to make it before- in my food processor. DO NOT TRY THAT EVER! What a mess! I learned rather quickly that using something too liquidy in a food processor is not a good idea... and you might be thinking how obvious that is considering something more liquid should go into a blender, while things that are more dry go into a food processor... I learned said lesson that day.
It also should be noted that using a blender for HOT liquid can also cause quite a mess- although it's doable if you are careful... I wasn't and another kitchen disaster left me feeling over ever trying to make soups that required blending... an immersion blender was the only answer. And an immersion blender, I did not have for a very long time.
Scott is a great man and got me one for Christmas this year and there was not a doubt in my mind what I would make first! Upon my next trip to the store, I bought 2 small beautiful butternut squashes. I knew I had carrots, onions, garlic, milk, and veggie broth at home... I could make that work.

First, I prepped the veggies for roasting... I coated quartered squashes, halved onions, peeled and quartered carrots, and a garlic bulb with EVOO and roasted them for about 40 minutes on 425 until the skins of the squash were golden brown and everything was soft. The house smelled so super good. When they were done, I sprinkled them with salt and pepper and gave them time to cool a bit on a plate. Into my soup pot went EVOO and a good amount of Penzy's Balti seasoning and Penzy's Vietnamese Cinnamon. I gave the oil time to heat and roast the spices before adding almost an entire box of veggie stock- maybe about 3-31/2 cups? I'd only used some of the box for a sauce on Christmas... Next, I squeezed the garlic out of the bulb, threw in the carrots and onion, and dug the meat out of each quarter of squash. The heat was on low, and it was time to use my new toy! Immerse, Immerse, Immerse! Everything began to come together... the carrots were my favorite-when I would buzz them, it was like a carrot blood bath into the yellow of the squash! This was fun!
Once it was smooth, I turned the heat up a bit until it got to temperature, then I turned the heat off completely. I added a glug of milk and tasted... a little more Balti, a bit more cinnamon, a little mild kosher salt... and it was perfect. I was so happy.

There were 2 biscuits left from Christmas Day, so I'd decided to turn them into crutons. I cubed them, put them in a small ziplock, added some EVOO, garlic powder, salt and pepper and shook to coat. They toasted up nicely in a 250 degree oven... excellent garnish.

Thanks to Scott, I can now quickly whip up one of my very favorite soups anytime I wish... and if you have somehow put off trying butternut squash soup, I hope you will order it next time you see it on a menu... or just come over, and I will make it for you!

Monday, December 27, 2010

All I Want for Christmas is Food.

Deciding on the menu for the most important cooking day of the year is always the good kind of stressful.. do I try new things? Stick with tradition? Balancing flavors, keeping some semblance of nutrition... there are a lot of aspects which must be considered as I lay out a menu that will hopefully outdo years prior.

It's just Scott and me on Christmas Day, and it is never anything short of magical. We sleep until we're ready to get up and open our stocking gifts while the coffee brews... Green and Black's 85% dark chocolate for me, Rocher truffles for him, new socks, silly gifts, it's so fun...

A little Kaluha in the coffee, and it was time to make breakfast. I decided to make homemade biscuits for breakfast this year... I used Bobby Flay's recipe instead of Grandma Phoebe's- as hers calls for pure trans fats. I'm sure she'd understand the switch. Flour, loads of baking powder, salt, well over a stick of butter, and buttermilk... I really was worried I'd worked the flour too much- afraid they'd be like hockey pucks... but. They came out beautifully. Before putting them in the oven, I'd brushed the tops with half and half and sprinkled freshly ground black pepper on top. A fried egg, Port de Sol cheese, and a couple strips of Morning Star Farms Bacon and we were ready for meal #1. They didn't disappoint... gooey, crunchy, biscuity heaven. Yum.

Time to open another gift. Hottie Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen cookbook for me! I got Scott Michael Jackson Experience for Wii. My man has moves and loves him some MJ, so I knew this would be a hit. We made blood orange mimosas and set off to play- what a blast!!! We were laughing so hard and needed to rest after so much activity. I put beets in the oven to roast- just wrapped them in foil with plenty of EVOO, set the oven to 400 and we put in Scrooged- and passed out. Scott set his phone alarm for the hour the beets needed, so no burnt beets!

It was time for lunch already! Not that we were hungry, but I don't think anyone gets hungry on Christmas Day, do they? I set to work on the stuffed zucchini. I've been making these on Christmas Day for years. They are the perfect lunch- still decadent, but packed with veggies, so at least there are some vitamins and minerals going on...
I halved the zucchinis, dug out the innards and set them aside. After brushing each half with EVOO, they went into the oven to roast until they were golden. In a sauce pan went EVOO, a chopped onion, 5 minced garlic cloves, and hot pepper flake. Once they were soft, I added the innards from the zucchini, a handful of chopped basil, and a can of diced tomatoes- the juice drained and reserved. Once the liquid cooked off the veggies, I deglazed the pan with a glug of nice Sauvignon Blanc... I gave that some time to cook off, and deglazed again with the reserved tomato juice. The stuffing was ready. In another small pan, a couple TBSP of butter and about a cup of whole wheat bread crumbs. When they were buttery and toasty, I added some additional pepper flake and chopped basil. The zucchini were ready and I filled each one with the stuffing and topped each with the bread crumb mixture and plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Back into the oven while I got the salad ready. My best quality EVOO, sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper... a good whisk to that... I added some into a large bowl with arugula and tossed. Big mounds of the arugula on our plates topped with slices of the roasted beets and blood orange segments... after our heavy breakfast, I was looking forward to some veg...

After lunch, I made a vodka soda and Scott began to try to varied beers I'd put in his stocking that were now cold enough to drink. We drank and watched a couple of our favorite trash TV shows that we continually pause and add in our own commentary. Good times. We also polished off the very yummy homemade popcorn I'd made for our viewing of Miracle on 34th Street the night before.

We opened a couple more gifts and I squealed with joy as I opened a Cuisenart hand blender with mini chopper and whisk attachment. I have been wanting one forever!!! Now I can make the butternut squash soup I've been craving!! I also have a small processor now and won't need to get out my HUGE processor just to make something small like pesto or tapenade. I was elated! Alton Brown would also be pleased at my man's ability to buy me a multi-tasker!

The snow began to fall! What a treat! Snow in Virginia on Christmas Day!!!

Dinner prep began with a dijon mustard sauce. I started with EVOO, minced garlic, and thyme- and then had to dump it and start again.... I walked away for all of 15 seconds and came back and my garlic had begun to brown... no good. Second time was much better. After the garlic was soft, I added a mixture of veggie broth and arrowroot (arrowroot is like cornstarch, basically...) and it began to thicken as soon as it hit the heat... I added a bit of the Sauvignon Blanc, lemon juice, tamari, pepper, and whole grain dijon mustard... brought it all to a boil until it was the right consistency, and set it aside to cool.
Into the oven to roast were Brussles sprouts and asparagus each lightly coated with EVOO. I added a bit of lemon juice, zest, and Penzy's Flordia Pepper to the asparagus. The Brussels would simply need salt before serving.
My chickpea cutlets begin by mashing the chickpeas with EVOO, then adding lemon juice, zest, sage, thyme, paprika, pepper, tamari, bread crumbs, and wheat gluten. I kneaded the mixture until it was combined and the gluten did it's thing making the mixture almost stretchy in a way... hard to's almost like stretchy play-dough... that doesnt sound appetizing, but they are so very good. I formed small patties and prepped a skillet with canola oil.
Baby Yukon potatoes were soft and ready. I drained them, put them back into the pot and added a little butter and some buttermilk along with salt and pepper. I gave them a rough mash and... omg, they were good. I let them stay warm on a back burner while I cooked the patties. The trick to a good veggie patty is low-medium heat and patience. You have to have the heat low enough that they will cook within without burning on the outside. They turned out perfectly.

The Asparagus was still bright green and crisp, the Brussels were brown and crisp like Scott loves them, and potatoes were fluffy and buttery and topped with fresh chives, and the patties were golden. I had added a bit more broth to the sauce, let it get just above room temp, toasted a couple of biscuits... and dinner was served.
Scott had opened and poured the wine- a lovely Avenel Red Table wine from Napa that I'd bought him last year for Christmas- We have started a tradition where I buy him a good wine each year- and we save it for the following year's Christmas dinner. This one was smoky, but soft in the mouth and absolutely perfect for the meal.
We sat and ate slowly, talking about our childhoods, our future, how good the food was... it was perfect.
We ended our day of celebration by opening the rest of the gifts under the tree. I got purple patent Danskos!!! I was so excited I put them on immediately and ran around the house- they are too cute! Henry sat right between us while we opened- trying desperately to fit himself into a box that really didn't fit his girth... he's so funny.
When the gifts were opened and the wine was gone, the intensity of the day hit hard- we were exhausted! We fell asleep together on the couch reliving our day while the snow began to accumulate outside... I am really not sure I'll be outdoing myself next year because this entire day was nothing short of absolute perfection...