Peach sorbet with cassis.

I’ve fallen in with the cult of sorbetmakers.  You know, the ones who can whip up a batch of fruity ice-cold goodness whenever the need requires.  The ones who like sorbet that tastes just like the fruit, without any pits or pith, or chewing, involved.  Sorbet that’s such a far cry from the stuff you can buy in the supermarket that it’s downright wrong that they would be called by the same name.

The sorbet, also, that’s so damned easy to make it would be crazy not to.  I started making sorbet following Paul Bertolli’s recipe for strawberry sorbet in Cooking by Hand. You don’t need an ice-cream maker, or strong whisking arms.  You simple whiz up frozen berries with a bit of sugar and water in the food processor, then freeze until it hardens.  The method works for many different sorbets and, in the hope of converting some readers to the sorbet cult, I’ve chosen the easiest example to showcase here, made with frozen organic peaches and a touch of cassis, yielding a lightly sweet, dainty little sorbet that is a guaranteed pleaser, perfect after a meal of steamed fish and broccoli, perfect for my health conscious Friday-night dinner clients.  Perfect, otherwise, alongside chocolate cake, or after a hamburger.  Come to think of it, this sorbet would make a perfect margarita mixer, too.

And if that’s not enough to entice you, how about this: I made this sorbet in under 4 minutes. And the majority of that time was spent doing nothing but pressing my finger on the pulse button of my food processor, and watching the peaches whirlwind into dessert.  The extent of my “prepwork” was opening a bag of frozen peaches. (You could use your own previously frozen peaches, too, as I did before they ran out… alas.) Oh, and measuring out a few tablespoons of sugar, though you could do that by eye if you wanted.

Surely you could whip up a batch between swims, or beers, this Memorial Day weekend.

Peach Sorbet with Cassis

Makes about 2 cups

This sorbet is hardly sweet, with a delicate peachy flavor and the background notes of cassis.  It would work very well as a palate cleanser between courses, or for a simple dessert on a hot summer night.

1 (10-ounce) bag frozen peaches, organic if possible
3 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1 tablespoon cassis liquor, optional
¼ cup water

In a food processor, pulse peaches and sugar together until the peaches become the texture of peas.  Add cassis and pulse more, until peaches begin to look like sand.  Begin to slowly drizzle in water, letting the processor run, until you have a smooth paste, about 2-3 minutes.  Transfer to a container and freeze until hardened, about 2 hours.  Eat within a day or two.

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Candied kumquats with vanilla and cinnamon

I’ve been anxiously awaiting canning season this year. Last summer I didn’t preserve nearly enough as we needed for the upcoming year.  We’ve been out of jam for months now and this year I plan on making enough cherry, strawberry, blueberry, and peach preserves to last a year of ravenous monkeys.

But until I’m able to find the best fruits of the season—and it’s about time for cherries!—I’ve been playing with some of the fruits that, in New Jersey, I never get to buy locally. These kumquats aren’t local, and I’m not sure when their season is (I’m guessing winter) but, cooked slowly in syrup, they were delicious nonetheless.

Anyway you candy kumquats will yield sweet-tart, marmalade-like preserves, but this recipe is really special.  I spotted it in a recipe for a gingerbread cake topped with candied kumquats, and the thought of cinnamon and vanilla bean must have flipped on a switch in my brain, because I couldn’t think another thought until I had the kumquats I’d bought earlier that week swimming in a sweet pool of honey and spices.

Orange honey is a perfect match here, the background floral and citrus is a real no-brainer to pair with kumquats, but any honey would do.  I used a vanilla bean and I don’t think vanilla extract would work here (vanilla sugar would be fine); you could leave it out if you don’t have (or want to buy) a vanilla bean.  You can’t totally see it in the pictures, since the syrup was still hot, but the magical black specks of vanilla bean came out to sparkle by the next day.  The jar didn’t last much longer than that, though.

Candied Kumquats with Vanilla and Cinnamon

makes one 8-oz jar with a bit leftover

1/2 cup water
3/4 cup orange honey
scant 1/4 cup natural sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 of a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 pint kumquats, halved and seeded (about 14-18 ounces)

Add first five ingredients to a saucepan over medium-high heat, scraping the seeds from the vanilla bean and adding both seeds and pod.  Stir to dissolve sugar.  Add kumquats and bring back to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or so, until kumquats are tender and the syrup has reduced some.  Cool and store in a jar in the fridge.

Craving kumquats without the bean? Try Elise’s Candied Kumquats or get fancy with some of Cannelle et Vanille’s Candied Kumquat and Pistachio Financiers.

Braised asparagus.

I have no idea how to plan my wedding.  I don’t even know where to start. I don’t know when I’d like to have it, even, and Jim foresees a wedding a bit farther in our futures than I do; though I’m not, honestly, even sure of that—I’m not sure that I don’t want to have a long engagement, except for the nervous but-does-that-leave-enough-wiggle room-in-my-engaged, married for a handful of years before having kids-life plan? and I’m not a life planner. I don’t even know that I want kids.

Getting engaged makes me feel ridiculously ill-prepared for adult life and I’m honestly running on the knowledge of things I’ve seen on TV and the ability to stick fingers in my ears, clamp my eyes shut, and hum until it all goes away.

Though I only feel that way when I start wedding planning; when my heart starts beating a little bit too hard, and I begin to sweat.  Because I can go all day thinking about the food and the fun we’ll have but the logistics, I’m not ready for them yet.  So for now, I’ll stick to braised asparagus and that warm, comforting feeling that I’m a fiancée who will be able to make a damn-good dinner for her husband, even if she needs to stick fingers in her ears, clamp her eyes shut, and hum over everything else.

Braised asparagus can surely comfort and it’s especially good for these cold spring days we’ve been having, when braised asparagus with slices of gruyère is much more appropriate than quickly blanched stalks with lemon.  By braising, you get all of that deliciously woodsy asparagus flavor, it’s just a little quieter, sleepy maybe.  The dark green color is a good indication of the taste—darker than quickly cooked asparagus, less biting but deeper too.  And really, really good.  Good enough to make me feel a little weepy and happy that I have some braised asparagus around to give me a warm, green hug.  (Though nothing beats a hug from my fiancé.)

Braised Asparagus with Gruyère Cheese

serves 2-4

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 big shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • salt, pepper
  • gruyère cheese
  • parsley, tarragon, basil, or mint, optional

Trim asparagus, peeling the ends if they are large stalks.  Mince shallot and garlic together.

Heat butter in a pan with a lid over medium-high heat, add shallot mixture and cook for a minute, until they are softened.  Add asparagus, water, and season with salt and pepper then cover pan with lid.  Cook until asparagus are very tender, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice gruyère very thinly, using a cheese slicer or y-shaped vegetable peeler if you have one.  Chop herb or your choice, if using.

When asparagus is tender, transfer to a plate, pour remaining shallots and sauce over, and arrange cheese slices on top.  Season with herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.

Don’t Fear the Bluefish, Part Deux

When I first started blogging, I wrote a post about bluefish.  In it, I claimed that I knew the ultimate way to cook bluefish: to have Jim do it.  He let me in on his crisped-skin secret (scraping your knife against the skin to squeegee off any moisture before you cook) and it does indeed make a tasty bluefish, or any fish for that matter.  We do this crispy-skin method for fish about twice a week actually, with salmon mostly now, and it always gets great results.

But despite how good that method is, I’m telling you today: I’ve found a better way to cook bluefish, with the help of Rick Moonen of Fish Without a Doubt, who advised me on the right pan (cast-iron), the right cooking method (broiling).  The rest of the recipe came from my windowsill herb box.  I used basil, parsley, with a few cloves of garlic and the zest of a lemon, to make an herb butter.

If  you’ve never made an herb butter—with good butter and fresh herbs—then you are in for a treat.  I use them all the time, with different herbs for different proteins: sage or tarragon for chicken, rosemary or thyme for steak, dill or parsley for fish, or I just use whatever tickles my fancy (or needs to be picked from the windowsill).  I’ve never been disappointed with an herb butter and, after you start using them, you can’t stop.  I tried using an olive oil, salt, and pepper rub on a chicken dish that I’d done before with a sage-lemon butter, and oh-man was that disappointing. So, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Because once you try bluefish with herb butter, you’ll regret having it any other way.  Succulent and fresh, this recipe will turn any bluefish-hater around.  The bits of garlic in the butter get slightly burnt and give you that crackle-in-your-teeth contrast to the soft, buttery fish.  Both the basil and the parsley stand out of their own, while working well together—the parsley woody and green, the basil sweet.

To cook it, you put a cast iron pan in the oven so it sits right under the broiler, and broil the empty pan for about 15-20 minutes, so that it gets smokin’ hot.  Then you take the pan out (with good oven mitts!) and add a dollop of the herb butter.  Place the bluefish into the pan, skin side down—it will immediately cinch up and contract—and then place a few spoonfuls of the herb butter on top of the fish. (It may look like a lot of butter in the picture—and it is, about 2 ½ tablespoons.  Not all gets onto your plate but it helps to keep the fish moist when cooking.  And if you’re really worried about it, bathing suit season and all, eat a smaller piece of fish.)  Place the pan back under the broiler and broil for 3 minutes, then baste the fish by spooning the butter over it before putting it back into the oven to broil for another 2-4 minutes, until the fish is white throughout the fillet, yet still very moist.

To serve, put a piece of the fillet on a plate and drizzle some of the browned herb butter over it.  Green beans quickly cooked then tossed with olive oil and lemon are the perfect accompaniment.  Or some new potatoes on the side, little sponges to sop up the juices.  Whatever you eat it with, I’m sure you’ll love it.  Don’t fear the bluefish… just eat it.

Broiled Bluefish with Basil-Parsley Butter

serves 2

for the butter

  • 3 tablespoons good butter, softened
  • small handful basil
  • smaller handful parsley
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 (16-ounce) piece bluefish, skin on

Put butter in a small bowl, softening in the microwave for 5 seconds if needed.  On a cutting board, chop your herbs, garlic, and zest together.  Add the herb mixture and salt to butter and mash up to combine.  Season with black pepper

Put the oven on broil and place a cast-iron skillet in the uppermost shelf, or right under the broiler.  Let the cast-iron pan heat for 15-20 minutes, while the herb butter’s flavors are melding.

Season your bluefish with salt and pepper.  When skillet is smoking hot, take it out of the oven with good oven mitts and transfer to cutting board.  Add a spoonful of herb butter to bottom of skillet then place bluefish skin side down in skillet.  Transfer back to the oven and broil for 3 minutes.  Remove skillet and baste fish with butter.  Transfer back to oven and broil for another 2-4 minutes, or until bluefish is cooked through but still moist.

Serve bluefish with some butter drizzled on top and as much of the crispy herbs and garlic that you can pick up.  Goes particularly well with lemony green beans.

Scallops with mustard and balsamic, on a bed of arugula.

When winter starts to turn, spring changes my kitchen.  Asparagus slithers in, artichokes make a big entrance.  Strawberries begin to take the place of oranges and, most importantly, I start serving practically everything on a bed of greens.  Lamb chops, pork, canned tuna, even steak.  Peppery, spicy arugula is my green of choice, but butter lettuce, spinach, young kale, and even a mesclun mix can find its way to the bottom of my plate.  I almost feel sorry for it—always underneath the protein, like the overweight girl on the cheerleading team, having to lift up the stupid thin, blonde ones, with their bird legs and super-cute boyfriends and well-managed ponytai—not that I have any personal experience or anything…

But unpleasant high school memories aside, I’d like to give the bed of spring greens its due.  They are, for me, the best part of the meal.  Greens make the perfect bed for protein—they can be dressed with a pungent dressing, too strong for a salad, because the protein’s fat and juices will even everything out.  I like that it gives me a chance to wield heavy amounts of mustard, or use a tart balsamic vinegar with nothing else—I’m not sure why, but I like that.

This meal uses both mustard and balsamic, and they both—spicy and tart—compliment sweet scallops like nothing else.  Scallops need a bit of muscle in the way of flavor, in my opinion, because their sea-scented sweetness, while great on their own or with cream, can become too much without any contrast.  And as delicate as they look, a scallop’s flavor can stand up to the strongest mustard sauce.

But I’m inclined to say, all would be nothing if not for the arugula.  Its peppery flavor is almost as strong as the mustard and vinegar it’s dressed with but it adds a new dimension—vegetal, fresh, biting greenness underneath it all.  Kind of like spring, and the green grass that has been seemingly right under the snow and dirt all winter, that is just now peeping into the world, gearing up for the season.

Scallops with Mustard Sauce and Balsamic, on a bed of Arugula

Serves 2

  • 4-6 cups arugula
  • drizzling of balsamic vinegar
  • 6 dry sea scallops, abductor muscle removed
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • a small handful of sliced scallions, optional

Arrange arugula on a serving platter and drizzle balsamic vinegar over leaves, without mixing and dressing them.  Get a nonstick pan very hot, adding a bit of olive oil.  Once the oil starts to sputter, place the scallops onto the pan.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until they are browned, then flip so that you can brown the other side, another 2-3 minutes.  Remove scallops, arranging them on top of the arugula.

Add shallot to the pan.  Stir to heat them and then add the white wine.  Let the wine reduce by  half, then turn off the heat and add the water and mustard.  Reduce a little bit more, so the sauce begins to thicken, then add the butter piece by piece, whisking or swirling the pan so that it eases into the mustard and creates a thick, creamy sauce.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour over scallops and arugula, mixing everything together to get the sauce and balsamic to lightly coat everything.  Sprinkle with scallions.  Serve.

*Arugula can be arranged on platter and drizzled with balsamic a few hours a head of time.

Almond Olive Oil Cake

Something happened last week that made me literally forget about everything, and move on up to live in a cloud for a few days.  Jim asked me to marry him and as much as I didn’t think I could get any higher over it, you all pushed me further up. Thank you for all the congratulations!  We had no idea that so many of you had been following out little love affair over the past years and were so elated over the response from our engagement post. Thank you!

I hope I can repay you for such goodness with this almond olive oil cake.  It’s not mine, as Gina DePalma created it, and Sassy Radish posted it (and urged me to try) a few weeks back.  And while I can’t actually give it to you, unless you live in the tri-state area and would like to come over for a cup of tea while I bake us one, it’s so easy to make you may be able to do it quickly enough to think it was somebody else working, and not you.  It’s worth the 10 or 15 minutes of prep that you’ll put into it, and then some.  It’s also worth finding some natural almond flour (or making your own) to use in it.

Natural almond flour is almost coarse grain, with specks of almond skins and a nutty, intensely almond aroma.  It brings a great deal to the cake, even unglazed.  Though when the cake is topped with nutty browned butter, the almond flavor is heightened right up onto the cloud with me.  After one bite (and before the many, many bites that followed) I had already deemed this cake my favorite cake, one that may even end up served to a few of my closest family and friends in a year or so, on some certain day.

If you make this cake, don’t skip the browned butter, or the toasted almonds on top.  Besides the natural almond flour, the topping is what turns this cake into a favorite cake.  It’s rich and intensely flavorful, toasty and warm.  The zests add a bright contrast to what can be too much nuttiness otherwise.  I baked mine in a 9 inch spring-form, but I’m sure you could do it in a bundt for an even prettier presentation.  Because for as easy as it is to make, it’s a celebration cake, a wow factor cake, and of course, a thank you for your kindness cake.

[Editor’s Note:  I’ve made this cake again since this post, and the glaze turned out much thinner and soaked into the cake more—something I prefer.  Not sure why the glaze turned out like this in the picture the first time I made it, maybe I let it cool too long or something, but don’t be worried if yours looks different.  And either way, it’s delicious.]

Almond Olive Oil Cake

by Gina DePalma on Serious Eats, via Sassy Radish

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup blanched or natural almond flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • Grated zest of 1 medium lemon or 1/4 a medium orange
  • 1/2 cup orange juice

For the Glaze:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • A few drops of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt to thoroughly combine them and set aside.

Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them lightly to break up the yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in thoroughly in both directions for about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about 45 seconds. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice.

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined; continue whisking until you have a smooth, emulsified batter, about 30 more seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when it has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back lightly when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then gently remove it from the pan and allow it cool completely on a rack.

While the cake cools, make the glaze. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy saucepan. When the bubbles subside, lower the heat and watch the butter carefully, swirling it in the pan occasionally to distribute the heat. When the butter begins to turn a light tan color and smells slightly nutty, turn off the heat and let the butter sit. It will continue to darken as it sits.

While the butter cools, sift the confectioner’s sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk until completely smooth but thick, then slowly whisk in the butter. Taste the glaze and add a few drops of lemon juice to balance the sweetness. Stir in the toasted almonds. Spread the almonds and glaze onto the top and sides of the cake and let it sit until set and dry.

Happy, warm, and hungry. Baby potatoes with tarragon.

This is a hardly a recipe; it’s more of a warning:  If you do not make these potatoes, your life will have a teeny-tiny potato void in it, halfway between your heart and your stomach.  It might not seem like much, being so teeny-tiny and all, but I assure you, it will sting.

I didn’t even know I had this void before last night; it was, I’ll admit, easily filled with all the other potatoes that I had braised for countless dinners before.  Those potatoes, with their crispy, browned skins and mashed-potato-y white interiors, are enough to please.  It’s easy not to go looking for more when you already have such a good thing.

Thankfully, more found me yesterday afternoon, in one of my favorite places (second only to my screened-in third-floor porch on the first warm day, when winter seems behind me), my butcher’s.  Just thinking about my butcher’s, which has been written up twice by the New York Times, makes me feel happy, warm, and hungry.  The two butchers, Emil and Joe, may seem stand-offish at first, but ask them about their meat, or tell them the recipe that you’re planning, and let them lead the way for you, and they soften right up.  Become a loyal customer, and you get smiles and jokes and that happy, warm feeling I’m talking about. (You also get a bit of a panicky, distressed feeling because they are pretty old and may be retiring and you don’t know what you would do without them.)  They always know the best cut to use, and their meat is the best.  They’ve got eggs from their farm and hand-picked grocery items.  And yesterday, they had teeny-tiny baby potatoes with yellow flesh that proved beyond creamy, with soft, thin skins.

We bought almost all of them—leaving only about half a pound, because I felt guilty and another customer was leaning menacingly over my shoulder as I pillaged the goods.  I had already decided to braise them on the stove-top, in a little olive oil and tarragon, before we left the shop.  I didn’t yet know how good they’d be.

The braising method, it turned out, was fantastic.  I’m sure it’s the best method to cook these young, creamy potatoes; they brown a little but are left mostly unadulterated.  I’ll never be certain if it’s the best method, however, because I’m sure I’ll never try them another way.  They were perfect.  The tarragon braises down and imparts a nutty—not anise-y as it does raw—flavor.  The result is not quite crispy but brown on the outside, a little nutty, and oh so, ohso solidly creamy and buttery and golden on the inside.  We ate them with our fingers, alongside seared scallops and arugula, and it was one of the best meals we had ever had.  Just thinking about it, I feel happy, and warm, and hungry.

Braised Potatoes with Tarragon

serves 2 to be honest, 4 if there’s a lot of will-power involved

If you can find teeny-tiny baby potatoes, which look a lot like fingerlings, use those.

  • 2 pounds of the teeny-tiniest potatoes you can get your hands on
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • about 10-15 leaves of tarragon, chopped or torn up
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • water

In a (preferably nonstick) pan, warm your olive oil over medium heat.  Scatter your potatoes, the pan should be big enough that you don’t need to overcrowd, with the potatoes hardly overlapping (a little is ok).  Throw your tarragon, salt and pepper in.  Add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the potatoes.  Cover the pan and cook for about 20-25 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, checking at about 15 minutes in case they’ve cooked quickly.  Take the lid off the pan and cook until the water evaporates, stirring very gently with a spoon or silicone spatula so that the potatoes brown on all sides.  Serve hot, with a drizzle of olive oil.

Butterscotch pudding.

I’m not sure why I’m in love with butterscotch pudding.  There’s the deliciousness, there’s that, but I thinks there’s something more to it.  I’m drawn to butterscotch pudding, I feel it in my soul.  It’s as if I grew up with the fondest memories of butterscotch pudding, which I hardly ever had (don’t remember ever having.)  Maybe I wish I did.  Maybe it’s those Werther Original’s commercials, where the old man shares a Werther’s with his grandson, off in his own little world of memory and happiness.

And I’m not sure I even love the taste; good as it is—sweet, buttery—it’s almost too much.  I feel almost too much like a kid eating it.  With some whipped cream on top, a good blanket to snuggle into, and a good book to read, it’s almost too sweet, too much, this butterscotch pudding.

Which isn’t to say your shouldn’t try it.  Especially with a few big spoonfuls of lightly whipped cream. Especially if you have fond memories of butterscotch—real or televisionary—that you’d like to revisit.  You don’t need to add whiskey into it—the origin of the scotch part of the word butterscotch is murky—but if you happen to have a bottle of Balvenie 10, you’d be crazy not to use it.  The spicy, vanilla notes of this scotch were simply made for brown sugar and butter.  It adds a hint of warmth, an extra jolt of comfort.  Whatever you do though, make sure you have the whipped cream, the blanket and a comfy couch, and preferably a good book.  Maybe even a tumbler filled with whiskey on the side table, like I did, to, you know, remind myself that I’m all grown up.

Butterscotch Pudding

adapted from Gourmet

  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of non-peaty scotch-whiskey
  • lightly sweetened whipped cream

Whisk together brown sugar, cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp salt in a heavy medium saucepan, then whisk in milk and cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently, then boil, whisking, 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, vanilla, and scotch. Pour into a bowl, then cover surface with buttered wax paper and chill until cold, at least 1 1/2 hours.

Adzuki, I’m so glad I ate you.

I’m sure you’ve all been in this situation.  You go to the market.  You see something new and exciting you’ve never eaten.  You buy it, sure that you’ll go home and promptly find exactly what to do with it.  And then you do go home, throw it onto your bean shelf in the bedroom (you all don’t have those? …Weird) and then promptly forget about it.

But thank goodness for the internet, specifically the group of uber-talented, delicious people who write food blogs. Like constant motivation, the food blog world weekly slaps me about the head and reminds me to get in the kitchen.  And it daily (hourly!) lends me ideas.  Heidi from 101 Cookbooks recently posted an adzuki bean and butternut squash soup and I remembered I had unused adzuki beans on my bean shelf in the bedroom (yes, I’m totally crazy and have no design skills.)  I’d imagined they would go in a soup when I bought them but of course forgot everything by the time I got home.  But now here was the perfect soup, on my screen.

It’s got lots of butternut squash and just enough chipotle to make you sweat.  Onions and tomatoes and 6 cloves of garlic.  And ground cinnamon, of which you’d hardly know it was there, but would miss it if left out.  I added some kale because I had some.  A little cumin because I love some.  [And meatballs because we’d been at the butcher and who doesn’t leave their favorite butcher without some ground meat?  Sadly, though, the soup was made and photographed the day before, sans meatballs, and I was too hungry the next day to stop and do anything other than eat my meal as soon as it was done.  Another time, maybe. And you don’t need the meatballs, anyway, I loved it just the same without.]

It was spicy and a little sweet and wholesome and comforting and whoo-damn it was good.  Jim deemed it the best soup we’ve ever made, and I was hard-pressed to disagree.  Adzuki, I’m so glad I (finally) ate you.

Adzuki Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

serves 6-8, adapted from 101 Cookbooks

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 generous teaspoons finely chopped chipotle pepper (from can, or rehydrated from dried chile)
  • 2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
  • 2 medium-large onions
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 5 – 6 cups water
  • 5 whole canned tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale
  • 4 cups cooked or canned adzuki beans
  • chopped cilantro for serving

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the cinnamon, coriander, chipotle and salt and saute for a minute or two – until aromatic. Add the onions and saute for about 10 minutes, until they are soft and beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and butternut squash and cook for another 5 minutes. Add 5 cups of water. Increase the heat to bring to a boil, and once boiling, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the squash begins to soften, 15-20 minutes or so.

Once the squash has softened, break up some pieces with the back of your spoon (it should be soft enough for you to do this relatively easily). Add the tomatoes, and cook a couple more minutes before adding the kale and beans. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and the cilantro.
Heidi’s recipe was adapted from Jae Steele’s Get It Ripe: A Fresh Take on Vegan Cooking and Living (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008)

New beginnings.

It doesn’t feel like so long ago when I was last having new beginnings.  It seems that graduating from college and facing the big-people world works that way.  You get a job, any job, and then realize you don’t want any old job.  You work for a while, gain some confidence and start looking for the next challenge.  You may then, even, find your perfect place, a nice Mom and Pop of a school, perfect hours, summers off, and wonderful people all around.  Ok, that’s unlikely, though it was what I had.  But, like the rest of the world, things fall apart. Companies get sold, disgruntlements ensue, and you start wanting to begin again.

So that’s where I stand now.  A part-time job and a fledgling personal chef business.  It’s exciting.  And scary.  And lovely… unimaginably lovely.  Kind of like this soup, really.  The whole time I was preparing it, from breaking down the garlic cloves to passing it through the food mill, I was scared for what was to come, but pretty thrilled for it.  Four heads of garlic?  Garlic soup?  It sounds like something out of True Blood, but there’s no vampires to fend off here.

You don’t need to be warding off blood-suckers to love this soup anyway, because it’s hardly pungent, almost indiscernibly garlic—that is until someone tells you it’s garlic soup and you become altogether terrified that someone who hasn’t eaten the soup will kiss you tonight.  Not that they would notice.  Or care.  (Because who doesn’t need a kiss, anyway?)

You won’t notice the thyme much either, though it’s not the same without it.   Fresh thyme is best, and it’s the same for garlic.  Don’t make this soup with brown-bottomed, half-dead garlic bulbs—make sure they are fresh, resilient, and either white or purple.  Check the roots because (not that I want to get into the whole nature/nurture discussion) brown spots at the root is bad news.  Luckily, finding good garlic is the hardest part.

Just break up 4 heads of garlic, brushing off the white, papery skins but not bothering to peel the cloves.  Throw them in a pot with 12 or so sprigs of fresh, fragrant thyme.  Splash in a quart of roasted vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water, and simmer away until the garlic yields to the gentle pressing of the back of a spoon.  Run everything through a food mill with a fine grater (or take out the thyme twigs and blend) and then add the juice of one lime.  Serve piping hot with a slice of good, crusty bread, or all by itself for a warming first course.  It tastes exciting and different from any other broth soups, and is invigorating enough to sustain you through a long kissing session afterwards.

Garlic and Thyme Soup

adapted from James Peterson’s Splendid Soups

serves 4 in small bowls

  • 4 heads good garlic
  • about 12 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 quart roasted vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water
  • 1 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

Break down garlic heads into cloves, brushing away the white, papery skins but not bothering to peel.  Wrap the thyme into a bunch.  Add both to a 3 qt pot and cover with 1 quart of the vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water (I use roasted vegetable stock and it is lovely here.)  Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the garlic cloves are soft and yield to a fork, about 40 minutes, depending on your garlic.

Run the soup through a food mill fitted with a fine grater, or take out the thyme sprigs and blend in a blender (if you blend, you’ll need to pass your soup through a sieve afterwards.  Add the juice of one lime to the soup and taste for seasoning, adding a little salt or pepper if you like.  Serve in warmed bowls.