Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I already have a satisfactory butternut squash soup recipe, as well as two dissatisfactory ones, so I wasn’t really in the market for another. It’s impossible, however, to read Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life without wanting to make this recipe (originally featured on her blog, Orangette, and published at Seattlest)—at least, if you’re a sucker for vanilla the way I am. I’ve had it filed away all spring and summer, just waiting for squash, pear, and cider season to roll around, and I’m happy to say it was worth the long wait. This soup is more labor-intensive than my usual one, and less savory, as well as being considerably more expensive (at least until I find a source for discount vanilla beans), but it’s also rich, complex, unusual, and utterly delicious. I was wary that with all that fruit and squash and vanilla, its flavor might veer into the realm of overwhelmingly sweet, but as long as you make sure to salt it sufficiently, it escapes dessertiness. And if in doubt, pair it with something salty to balance everything out. The first time around, I dipped in slices of the best garlic bread ever, which created an amazing contrast between flavors; for the leftover soup, a grilled-cheese sandwich made from sharp aged cheddar and onion rye bread proved a worthy accompaniment.

I won’t be dumping my former favorite butternut squash soup for this one. But my simple, everyday standby is gaining a more sophisticated, decadent, special-occasion cousin, perfect for dinner parties, Sunday suppers, and feasts welcoming fall.

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces (4 generous cups)
2 firm-ripe pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup apple cider
4 cups good-quality chicken broth
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup half-and-half
1 vanilla bean, about 7 inches long
Fresh chives, finely chopped

1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the squash, pears, and onion, stir to coat with oil, and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onion is soft and transparent and the pears are starting to fall apart.

2. Add the cider, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the mixture, partially covered, for about 30 minutes, until the squash is tender.

3. Working in batches, carefully puree the mixture in a food processor or blender, then return the soup to the pot (or keep it in the pot and use an immersion blender). Season soup with salt. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, uncovered, until it has reduced to about ½ to ⅓ of its original volume. Stir occasionally. The final consistency is up to you; when it reaches a thickness that seems right—not too thin, not too thick—it’s ready.

4. While the soup is reducing, put the half-and-half in a small saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise into two long strips. Using the back of your knife, scrape the tiny black seeds out of the bean. Scoop the seeds and the bean halves into the pan with the half-and-half, and put the pan over low heat. Warm the half-and-half until it is steaming, but not boiling. Remove it from the heat, remove and discard the vanilla bean halves, and whisk to break up any clumps of seeds in the half-and-half. Set aside.

5. When the soup has reduced to its desired thickness, stir in the half-and-half, taking care to not leave any little black seeds behind in the saucepan. Taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve, garnished with chives.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: High; soup always tastes better the next day.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Just a little over a month after discovering my new favorite salad, I’ve found its autumn counterpart in this showstopper from the Barefoot Contessa (via The Way the Cookie Crumbles, where I was tickled to see that the monkey peeler featured in the photos is the same one that’s sitting on the shelf over my stove). The arugula and toasted walnuts are still with us, but in this new version the boiled potatoes are replaced by maple-glazed roasted butternut squash, the green beans are now dried cranberries, and the dressing is still mustardy (yes, this Dijonphobe is finally learning to love what a little Grey Poupon can do to a salad dressing), but now based in a reduction of apple cider and cider vinegar for an orgy of fallishness. It’s warmer and bolder, but still light and fresh enough to be perfect for the uncertain Southern California autumn, when the temperature seems to rollercoaster between the 50s and the 90s at a moment’s notice, so that the wintry menu you planned on Friday might seem oppressively heavy and hot by the time Wednesday rolls around.

Again, the real magic lies in the contrast of flavors and textures: the peppery arugula, the caramelized squash, the tart cranberries, the earthy walnuts, the salty cheese, and the sweet-sour dressing. While it wasn’t as much of a revelation for me as the potato-green bean salad (and was certainly more labor-intensive), I’ll be happily making it again, and A adored it. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the first squash of the season.

The recipe below reflects a few changes to the original, because I did think some of the proportions were a tad bonkers: specifically, the fact that it calls for so much olive oil (½ cup in the dressing, or two tablespoons per serving) and Parmesan (¾ cup or 3 tablespoons per serving). WTF, Ina? Why drown a healthy, colorful salad in unnecessary fat? Since I, too, like my dressings on the acidic side, I followed the lead of The Way the Cookie Crumbles and used only about ¼ cup of oil in the dressing, which was plenty (I still had more dressing than we needed). I should have reduced the salt in the dressing correspondingly, though; a whole teaspoon made it crazy salty (A liked it, but then that man would happily eat a salt lick sprinkled with bacon bits). Next time, ½ teaspoon. And it might sound incongruous, given what a die-hard cheese lover I am, but I can’t imagine this salad with so much cheese, so I cut back to about ¼ cup. Maybe it was the fact that the photos at The Way the Cookie Crumbles didn’t include the Parmesan, but I just kept forgetting that the cheese should be there at all. It did add a nice salty/savory quality, but a spoonful per bowl seemed plenty, and when I ate the leftovers, I didn’t bother with the cheese and didn’t miss it. So I’d even go so far as to classify it as optional.

A few other random thoughts:
  • When I pulled the maple syrup out of the fridge, I noticed that it had expired…in August 2008. Guess we need to eat more pancakes around here. Maybe it was my imagination, shocked by this discovery, but I thought it smelled a little weird, though I can’t imagine how exactly syrup would go bad. Anyway, it was OK for the squash glaze, but I threw the rest away.
  • I used fancy-schmancy hippie hand-pressed unpasteurized handmade cider from the farmers’ market for the dressing, but since you’re reducing it, any cider or apple juice would work just fine.
  • I’m not a cranberry lover, but I liked the effect of roasting them for a few minutes—they got addictively plump and chewy. Nice touch!
1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¾-inch dice
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons dried cranberries
½ cup walnut halves or pieces
¾ cup apple cider or apple juice
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 ounces baby arugula, washed and dried
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Place the butternut squash on a baking sheet. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the maple syrup, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste, then toss to combine. Roast the squash for 15 minutes, turning once, until tender. Add the cranberries and walnuts to the pan and cook for 5 minutes more.

3. While the squash is roasting, combine the apple cider, vinegar, and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cider is reduced to about ¼ cup. Off the heat, whisk in the mustard, ¼ cup olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper.

4. Place the arugula in a large salad bowl and add the roasted squash mixture and the grated Parmesan. Spoon just enough vinaigrette over the salad to moisten and toss well. Season with salt and pepper (if necessary) and serve immediately.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Fair, actually, if all the ingredients are stored separately. I mixed up half the salad for dinner the first night, then stored the remaining arugula in a bag, the remaining squash mixture in a microwaveable container, and the remaining dressing in a small jar. When we wanted to eat the leftovers, I warmed up the squash mixture, then mixed it with the arugula and dressing (I skipped the cheese, but you could add it at this point) and it was just as good as it had been the first time around.

Friday, October 16, 2009


These are a classic variety of cookie, but I can only recall encountering them once before: when S, one of my roommates in my first post-college apartment, made them. At that point I was only beginning to cook for myself (I mean really cook, not just assemble convenience ingredients), and baking seemed far beyond my reach, so I was mightily impressed that someone would just whip up some cookies in their spare time. It’s likely that my awe amplified the experience, but I remember those cookies being freakin’ delicious.

So when I received Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book, a facsimile of a 1963 edition, for Christmas one year, I was happy to see that Chocolate Crinkles were represented. I flagged the page…and then managed to ignore it for several years. There were always hipper, sexier cookies to make, cookies with sea salt and bacon and gourmet chocolate. I even made a fancier version of the Chocolate Crinkle once, with almond meal and Ghirardelli (hmm…I’d nearly forgotten about that recipe; perhaps it’s time to revisit it). I loved the vintage look of the cookbook, but the old-timey recipe seemed almost too simple—and a little weird, too, what with its four eggs, and oil instead of shortening or butter. What if it sucked?

Even after deciding to pull the trigger and finally make these cookies one Saturday afternoon, I continued to worry about potential suckiness, especially at a few key moments: when the dough turned out oddly thin, like cake batter, when I tasted the dough and it wasn’t particularly yummy (I consider eating cookie dough off the beaters the number one privilege of being the cook), and yet again when placing my tiny dough balls on the baking sheet. (I mean, teaspoons? Really? Not tablespoons? I was sure these cookies were going to end up the size of animal crackers.) Not to mention that between the chocolate and the powdered sugar, this was one of the messiest recipes I’ve made (maybe I’m a slobbier baker than some, but I had to mop a sticky coating of sugar off the floor afterwards). But the dough firmed up to a fudge-like consistency after chilling, the cookies puffed up to average size in the oven, and they tasted great. To me, the unique texture is what’s truly magical—the sugar forms a delicate, crackly shell encasing the tender, chewy chocolate within. Especially hot from the oven, when the interior is most brownie-like, these are dangerously addictive. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned.

½ cup vegetable oil
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar

1. Mix oil, chocolate, and granulated sugar. Blend in one egg at a time until well mixed. Add vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Chill several hours or overnight.

2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place confectioners’ sugar in a shallow bowl and drop in teaspoonfuls of dough. Roll in sugar, then shape into balls. Place about 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes; do not overbake.

Yield: About 6 dozen

Friday, October 09, 2009


Habitual readers will already know how much I love ravioli, dumplings, and most other variants of food-stuffed-inside-other-food. It’s surprising, then, that it’s taken me so long to attempt to make my own wontons. I guess I was waiting for the right recipe—one that contained foods I really liked, and didn’t sound too fussy or have too many ingredients. When I saw this one, originally from Food & Wine, at The Bitten Word, with the reassurance that it was actually pretty easy, I finally decided to take the plunge.

I’ve made these twice now, and I can confirm that it isn’t too hard. It’s just on the verge of being too taxing for a weeknight meal, but once I discovered that I could make the filling a day or two ahead of time and chill it in the fridge until I was ready to form the dumplings—and then I could even freeze those until I was ready to cook them—that became a nonissue. These are fun to make (I find folding them rather meditative) and really delicious, and knowing exactly what’s inside them (pork, spinach, and seasonings) makes them seem more wholesome to me than dumplings usually do. They might not win any beauty contests (mine cooked up sort of blobby), but a bowl of them makes an excellent dinner. Even though we eat more (12) than the recommended serving size (7.5), I feel OK about it—that’s only 2 ounces of pork, not much more fat to speak of (just the sesame oil), and at least a cup of spinach.

Lots of recipe notes:
  • After reading the comments, I went ahead and doubled the original filling recipe, which was supposed to fill 30 wontons, and got just enough to fill 48 wontons, the exact size of the package of wrappers I’d bought. And that’s not even using heaping teaspoons, so I’m not sure why the proportions of the original are so off. I recommend using the quantities below—if you have too many wontons (is there such a thing?), just freeze them for later; I cook 24, which is two servings for us, and freeze the other 24.
  • The recipe originally called for 2 (doubled, 4) cups of spinach. The second time I made it, I went ahead and used the whole bag of spinach I’d bought, which said it contained about 6 cups, because I didn’t want extra spinach sitting around the fridge and I figured spinach shrinks down so much anyway. It didn’t make a noticeable difference in the quantity or taste of the filling, and it was a good way to squeeze in a few more nutrients, so I’m going to continue doing it in the future.
  • I didn’t have sherry, so I didn’t use it. Still tasted good.
  • The second time around, I put the garlic inside the wontons instead of in the sauce (more on that sauce below). Because I love garlic. It was good, so I’m modifying the recipe to include it.
  • I thought the original sauce seemed sort of pointless—the first time, I just used a little extra soy sauce with some red pepper flakes sprinkled in, and it was fine. Then A found Gyoza Dipping Sauce at Trader Joe’s, which is delicious and contains pretty much the same ingredients as the sauce the recipe asks for. Either way, I think it’s a good idea to drizzle the sauce over your bowl of wontons, because it keeps them from sticking together, and they’re a bit delicate to try to dip into sauce anyway. But A prefers to dip, so do whatever you like. Regardless, the garnish of chopped cilantro is key.
4–6 cups baby spinach, rinsed
3 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
2 teaspoons dry sherry (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ pound ground pork
2 scallions, minced
1½ teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 small garlic cloves, minced
Cornstarch, for sprinkling
48 thin wonton wrappers
Chopped fresh cilantro
Extra soy sauce or other Asian-style sauce for dipping (I recommend Trader Joe’s Gyoza Sauce)

1. In a skillet over medium heat, cook the spinach with a few spoonfuls of water, covered, stirring occasionally, until wilted; transfer to a colander, let cool, and squeeze dry. Finely chop the spinach.

2. In a bowl, combine the 3 teaspoons soy sauce with the sesame oil, sherry, salt, sugar, and pepper. Mix in the pork, scallion, ginger, garlic, and spinach. Chill for 10 minutes. (You can chill it, covered, for a day or two if you’d like to make your wontons later.)

3. Dust a large baking sheet with cornstarch (you can skip this if your wonton wrappers already seem plenty cornstarchy, as mine did). Arrange 4 wonton wrappers on a work surface, keeping the other wrappers covered with plastic wrap. Brush the edges of the wrappers with water and spoon 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each. Fold the wrappers diagonally over the filling to form triangles; seal. Bring the two opposite corners of the triangle together; press to seal. Transfer to the baking sheet and cover. Repeat. Any wontons you don’t want to cook right away can be frozen (freeze them on the baking sheet until they harden, then transfer them to an airtight container and freeze until ready to cook; you don’t need to defrost them—just drop them directly into boiling water as in Step 4, but give them a little more cooking time). I usually cook 24 and freeze 24.

4. In a large saucepan of boiling water, simmer the wontons over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. When they float, cook for 3 minutes longer. Drain the wontons well (they can be delicate, so I find that it works better to transfer them one by one to the colander—or directly to serving bowls—with a slotted spoon, rather than pouring them out with the water).

5. Place the wontons in serving bowls and sprinkle with the cilantro. You can toss the wontons with the dipping sauce (I prefer this, because it’s neater and keeps them from sticking together) or dip them into the sauce individually (A prefers this, because it’s fun).

Serves: 4–8
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Not good if already cooked (they stick together and fall apart easily), but it’s great to freeze uncooked wontons for a quickie meal later.

Friday, October 02, 2009


Yes, another pizza recipe. I haven’t met one yet that I didn’t like. That can be reassuring, especially when one needs something new to post to one’s food blog and one’s little experiment with making one’s own pita bread was an EPIC FAIL. (Well, OK, it was edible and tasted good, but it was totally pocketless—it’s supposed to puff up in the oven and then deflate when you take it out, thus creating the pocket. Instead I got flatbread, the making of which devolved into an epic dough-wrestling match that tried my patience and my confidence. I may or may not make a second attempt.)

I was pretty high on roasted garlic after last week, and I had some leftover asiago still in the fridge, so this recipe from Eggs on Sunday (again!) was a slam dunk. I suffered a moment of fear while preparing the kale—being so obsessed with roasting it, I suddenly realized I’d never sautéed it before and didn’t know if I would like it—but the kale actually turned out to be what I loved most about this pizza, which is high praise indeed when you’ve also got roasted garlic and four cheeses to contend with. Even though I’d sautéed it and partially buried it in cheese, its time in the oven rendered it familiarly browned and crispy on the edges: it was like a roasted-kale pizza, guys! Actually, even better: it was like roasted kale on delicious garlic-cheese bread. Because I had a little ricotta sitting lonely in the fridge and have realized that I love ricotta on non-tomato-sauce pizzas (it adds just the right amount of moistness without being overcreamy), I subbed that for the provolone in the original recipe. And it was excellent (while I’m at it, I might try sneaking a little ricotta onto that mushroom-garlic-asiago pizza next time around). Add this to the list of recipes that will get kids (and A, and me) to happily eat their kale.

1 pound pizza dough
1 head of garlic
1 bunch kale
3 cups of grated cheese (I used a mix of ricotta, fontina, asiago, and mozzarella)

1. To roast the garlic, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the top ¼ inch off the head of garlic, so just the very tops of the cloves are exposed. Drizzle a little olive oil over the head of garlic, wrap it loosely in foil, and place the foil package in the oven for about 1 hour, until the cloves are soft. Squeeze the soft cloves out and roughly chop them. (Roasted garlic can be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for several days.)

2. When you’re ready to bake the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Stretch out your ball of pizza dough and lay it out on a pizza peel or baking sheet that’s been generously dusted with cornmeal.

3. Wash the kale and trim away the tough center stems. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté the kale until wilted. Remove kale from pan and chop it.

4. Top the crust with half the grated cheese, then the roasted garlic and the sauteed kale. Top with another layer of cheese.

5. Bake for about 8 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and just starting to brown, and the crust is golden brown.

Serves: 4
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good