Winter Squash Soup

I LOVE FALL!  I think it has to do with the build up to the holidays and all things related to food and family.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and come September, I start thinking about that meal.  Who’s making what?  Which traditional dishes are we sticking true to and which ones are we putting a new spin on? Two weeks ago I was watching a new Barefoot Contessa episode which happened to be a Halloween themed show.  The savory dish she made, in addition to whipping up some sweet confections, was a winter squash soup.  This soup looked so tasty and it’s orange color called for being included in our Halloween dinner for two!  Also, you can’t beat the fact that there is pumpkin in the recipe…

Hers and His Pumpkins

While watching the episode, I was quite surprised to see that after battling to break down a big butternut squash, Ina decided to open up a CAN of pumpkin puree.  It didn’t make sense to me until after she explained that the “meat” from a home-cooked pumpkin is actually a little stringy whereas the canned pumpkin has a very smooth consistency.  As long as it is pure pumpkin puree, and not pumpkin pie filling, it’s the same stuff with far less work!  I bought my canned pumpkin puree from Trader Joe’s and it happens to be organic to boot.  Just make sure you look at the label of whatever canned pumpkin you’re using to ensure the only ingredient is pumpkin…

I think this recipe would be great on any autumn day and would be a great starter course on Thanksgiving.  We ate it on All Hallows Eve while seas of kiddos were knocking on our door in search of candy.  As Josh said, “It took me an hour and a half to eat dinner!” That is how often we had to get up to open the door for trick-or-treaters.  It was nice to have a smooth, creamy, comforting pumpkin-squash soup to get us through our candy dispensing 🙂

Winter Squash Soup Courtesy of Barefoot Contessa, Barefoot in Paris

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon good olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
11/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut in chunks
3 cups homemade chicken stock or canned broth
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup half and half
Crème fraîche, grated Gruyère, or croutons, for serving (optional)

Directions:

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot, add the onions, and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until translucent.

Add the pumpkin purée, butternut squash, chicken stock, salt, and pepper.

Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until the butternut squash is very tender.

Process the mixture through the medium blade of a food mill. Return to the pot, add the half-and-half, and heat slowly.

If the soup needs more flavor, add another teaspoon of salt. Serve hot with garnishes, if desired.

Yield:  4 servings

Note 1:  I don’t own a foodmill, although I have been saying I need to get one.  I used an emersion blender and made sure not to over-blend.  You don’t want it to end up like baby food.  Keep some texture to it.

Note 2:  When I tasted it at the very end before serving, I thought it needed more flavor and I didn’t think it was missing salt.  I decided to add about a half teaspoon each of ground cumin and cinnamon and it did the trick!

Note 3:  For garnish, I used crème fraîche and diagonally sliced green onion.  I think chives would have also been delicious.  Crème fraîche is similar to sour cream but without the tang.  I find it richer and creamier than sour cream and, thus, more delicious.

Enjoy!

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Savory Palmiers

What’s better than a Saturday night with a group of your closest girlfriends? Not much!!! Last night I went to a housewarming party at my friend Tausha’s beautiful home in Point Loma.  Homegirl can throw quite a soiree consisting of lots of wine, a beautiful cheeseboard and a smorgasbord of other delights.  Add in the uplifting spirit and entertaining conversation with your girlfriends and you have a perfect evening!

I decided to throw together an easy appetizer to bring and share with the ladies.  I’ve made Ina’s plain cinnamon and sugar palmiers in the past as a dessert cookie to serve with coffee.  Both recipes are so delicious and easy because you use store-bought puff pastry.  Anyone who has made puff pastry from scratch knows that making it is a labor-intensive process.  However, I don’t think many people have made puff pastry from scratch unless they’ve been to pastry school, so you’ll have to take my word for it.  These palmiers serve as more of a savory appetizer and would be perfect for a cocktail party or as a little thing to nibble on with drinks at a dinner party…or as a snack all alone!

Ingredients:

  • 1 package frozen Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, defrosted
  • 1/4 cup prepared pesto, store bought or homemade
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese, such as Montrachet
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sundried tomatoes in oil, drained
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • Kosher salt

Directions:

Lightly flour a board and carefully unfold one sheet of puff pastry. Roll the pastry lightly with a rolling pin until it’s 9 1/2 by 11 1/2-inches. Spread the sheet of puff pastry with half the pesto, then sprinkle with half the goat cheese, half the sundried tomatoes, and half the pine nuts. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Working from the short ends, fold each end halfway to the center. Then fold each side again towards the center until the folded edges almost touch. Fold one side over the other and press lightly.

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat the entire instructions for the second sheet of puff pastry using the remaining ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the prepared rolls of puff pastry in 1/4 inch thick slices and place them face up 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 14 minutes, until golden brown.

Note 1:  Watch the time on these!  I would set your timer for 12 minutes and keep an eye on them.  The sundried tomatoes have a tendency to burn on the edges.

Note 2:  I used a box of puff pastry from Trader Joe’s that you can find the freezer section.  It’s a little cheaper than buying puff pastry at the regular grocery store, unless it’s on sale there.  I will say that the sheets of puff pastry from TJ’s are a bit smaller than the Pepperidge Farms sheets.   You get fewer palmiers out of the recipe overall but I think it still works.

Note 3:  Might I recommend these with Layer Cake Primativo wine?  Find it at Trader Joe’s… $12.99 a bottle.  Well worth the splurge.  Well, splurge, if you are like me and usually spend less than $10, ok maybe more around $6.99, a bottle on average.  Look for a bottle with a picture of a layer cake on the label in the Italian wine section.

Enjoy!

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Roasted Shrimp Salad

I learned a lot of things in college, but cooking was not one of them.  I am guilty of eating canned soup, boxed mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly on crackers and whatever I could get my hands on in the cafeteria during my collegiate days.  I was too busy memorizing physics equations and deriving math theorems (which sounds mind-numbing but I actually enjoyed it!) to care about where my next meal was coming from.  Fast-forward to now, I spend most of my time cooking, meal planning, grocery shopping, blogging about and thinking about food.  Food has become one of the most important things in my life.  It saturates every aspect of who I am.  Thankfully, I am friends with and related to people who share a similar passion for food.  So when I have get-togethers with my friends or family, I never have to worry about whether there is going to be good food involved.  There is always good food…

For my friend Christina’s (pic below, middle) birthday last Sunday, she wanted to have a little beach bonfire potluck at sunset.  Each person brought something to share, and between the ten of us, there were some gooooood dishes.  I decided to make this shrimp salad because it had been a crowd-pleaser at one of our craft-club soirees  this summer (hold back your chuckles).  When I told the birthday girl what I planned to bring to the bonfire, she was so happy and admitted that she had wanted me to bring this shrimp salad but felt bashful in making the request for it.  This salad is amazing and amazingly easy to make.  Most shrimp salads employ the method of boiling the shrimp while this one calls for the shrimp to be roasted in the oven, which imparts way more flavor.  With the addition of orange zest, capers and dill, this ain’t your mama’s mayonnaise-laden shrimp salad.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Two of my fellow food lovers...

Roasted Shrimp Salad (courtesy of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa)

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pounds (12 to 15 count) shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup good mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest (2 oranges)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon good white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 2 tablespoons small-diced red onion

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Peel and devein the shrimp. Place them on a sheet pan with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss together. Spread the shrimp on one layer and roast for 6 to 8 minutes, just until pink, firm and cooked through. Allow to cool for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, orange zest, orange juice, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

When the shrimp are cool, add them to the sauce and toss. Add the dill, capers, and red onion and toss well. The flavors will improve if you allow the salad to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Otherwise, chill and serve at room temperature.

Note 1:  They didn’t have 12 to 15 count shrimp at my fish counter at Henry’s.  Plus, that size shrimp may run you close to $20 a pound, and honestly, a 12 to 15 count shrimp is more than a mouthful.  I went with ones that were caught closer to San Diego (Baja Mexico versus Thailand) and that were already deveined.  If you want to take an hour to peel and devein 2.5 pounds of shrimp, be my guest.  I think the ones I used were 26 to 30 count and were on sale for $6.99 a pound.

Note 2:  Don’t feel the need to use all of the mayo sauce right off the bat.  I usually hold some back, let the shrimp hang out in the refrigerator, and then if I feel like they need more sauce before serving, I’ll add the rest.

Enjoy!

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Truffled Mac and Cheese

This may be the BEST mac and cheese I have EVER had.  By “may be”, I mean DEFINITELY IS the best mac and cheese EVER!  So, as some of you know, my man just returned home last weekend from a LONG TIME away from home.  As always, I make him a delicious, stick-to-your-ribs meal upon his return.  By stick-to-your-ribs meal, I mean mac and cheese.  Now, I have made many o’ mac and cheese recipes and this is my third Barefoot Contessa mac and cheese recipe.  Girlfriend hit it out of the park on this one.  Previously, my longstanding favorite Ina mac and cheese recipe was her Lobster Mac and Cheese, to which I subsequently added pancetta.  I wanted to try something different this time, but this recipe was not found in one of her cookbooks, rather it was found on the Food Network website.  I read a bunch of reviews of the recipe, most of which included high praises, so I thought I would give it a try.

My helper is back in action!

Always waiting for me to drop a nibble...

Now, I will admit, finding the truffle butter is not the easiest task.  I already knew Whole Paycheck, I mean Whole Foods, carried both white truffle and black truffle butters.  I had used white truffle butter to slather my turkey last Thanksgiving, per Ina’s recipe for Perfect Roast Turkey.  Expect to see a blog post on this next month!  For those of you who don’t know, a truffle is a fungus like a mushroom.  If you don’t like mushrooms, you probably won’t like truffles and you probably wouldn’t like this recipe anyway.  However, if you are open to fungus eating and are willing to encounter a ka-pow-bang-boom of musky, earthy flavor, you will love the punch that the white truffle butter adds.  The white truffle butter at Whole Foods comes in a 3-ounce container for around $11.  I KNOW!  It seems expensive, but the flavor payoff is worthwhile, I promise!  I also purchased the pasta imported from Italy at Whole Foods, while everything else was obtained at Trader Joe’s.

Truffle Mac and Cheese (courtesy of Ina Garten)

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Good olive oil
½ pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced ½-inch
½ pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced ½-inch
3 tablespoons cream sherry
Kosher salt
1 pound pasta such as cavatappi
3 ounces white truffle butter, such as D’Artagnan
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 quart whole milk, scalded
12 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 ½ to 3 cups)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1½ cups fresh white bread crumbs

Directions: 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) sauté pan, add the mushrooms, and cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until they are tender. Add the sherry and continue to sauté for a few more minutes, until the sherry is absorbed. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the pasta and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until al dente. Drain well.

Meanwhile, melt the truffle butter in a large (4-quart) saucepan and whisk in the flour. Cook for 2 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the white sauce is thickened and creamy.

Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1½ tablespoons salt, the pepper, and nutmeg.

Combine the pasta, sauce, and mushrooms in a large bowl and pour them into a 10 x 13 x 2-inch baking dish.


Place the garlic and parsley in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until they’re minced. Add the bread crumbs and pulse to combine.

Sprinkle the crumbs over the pasta and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the crumbs are golden brown. Serve hot.

You could get 8 servings out of this recipe.  We’re big eaters in our house and we ate a little less than a third of the batch between the two of us the first night AND someone did go back for seconds.  It makes great leftovers.  I would reheat it in the same temperature oven until it is warmed through.  This keeps the top and the edges crispy, which you know is the best part of mac and cheese anyhow. If you reheat in the microwave, you’re going to lose the crispy texture.

Also, I wasn’t going to buy a whole loaf of white bread just to use a couple slices for the topping and would end up going to waste in our house.  I decided to use panko breadcrumbs.  I actually think this is a better choice because you get an even crispier topping in comparison to the fresh breadcrumbs, which I have used in the past.

Please make this!  You won’t be sorry 🙂  Enjoy!

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Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Salad

The end of summer tomato bonanza is in full swing!  We just went to the farmer’s market yesterday and every vender had their farm’s bounty of tomatoes exploding in their stand.  From your standard vine-ripened tomatoes to the popular heirlooms that come in all shapes, sizes and colors, the taste of tomatoes are at their peak right now.

Last weekend, at the request of the guest of honor, I made a caprese-style salad for my friend’s baby shower.  Ina’s recipe is called “Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Salad” which, last time I checked, are the three main ingredients in a caprese salad.  This is basically just an assembly job.  As long as the ingredients are of good quality, you will end up with a delicious salad. I bought my heirloom tomatoes (organic) last week at Trader Joe’s.  You get a pound for around $3 which, for organic heirlooms, is really reasonable. I also bought the basil and fresh mozzarella at Trader Joe’s.  They have many different varieties of mozzarella from which to choose.  I went with the log of fresh mozzarella made for slicing.

Then, my mom brought me a whole bag of fresh tomatoes from her co-worker’s garden and I had a great deal of mozzarella left over from the shower, so I made this salad all week as a side dish.  I STILL had leftover mozzarella come yesterday, so I picked up some more heirloom tomatoes at the Little Italy farmer’s market and we had this salad again last night.  So good!  Enjoy the tomatoes while they last!

Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Salad (courtesy of Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa: Family Style)

Ingredients:

  • 6 small tomatoes (4 medium)
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella
  • 10 to 15 basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella and arrange casually with the basil leaves on a large platter.

Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve at room temperature.

I think the “serve at room temperature” part is actually really important.  Not only have I learned not to store tomatoes in the refrigerator, which kills the flavor, I have also learned, thanks to my Italian friend, Christina, that cheese tastes best at room temperature.  It really does. Bon appetito!

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Chipotle & Rosemary Roasted Nuts

This week is going to be a little nuts, so I am making some nuts!  Tomorrow I am throwing a baby shower for my bestie, Angela, who, now that she is pregnant, I have affectionately nicknamed “Meatball”.  NO, I am not trying to be mean!  She’s a little Italian who is now almost eight months along, how can I resist the oh-so-obvious nickname?  She’s a good sport and seems to embrace the nickname.  Good thing I surround myself with people who have a sense of humor and can dish it right back. Looking forward to what she’s going to call me when I get pregnant…

So, back to the nuts.  My friend, Rhonda, made some incredible spiced nuts for our Christmas brunch last year.  We all demanded the recipe and, upon receipt, I literally made those nuts the entire rest of the month of December.  I made a new batch every time the spiced nut reserves ran low.  Fast-forward to yesterday.  I was trying to come up with a little nibble item to put in bowls around the house for people to munch on during the shower.  While Rhonda’s spiced nut recipe is delicious, it’s not an Ina recipe.  I then consulted my Barefoot Contessa cookbooks and ran across this recipe and viola!  I was intrigued by the variety of nuts and the pairing of orange, maple syrup, chipotle and rosemary.  I thought it would be an interesting blend of sweet, smokey and herby.  Boy oh boy, was I right.  By the way, Angela is having a baby boy!

Chipotle & Rosemary Roasted Nuts Serves 8-10 (courtesy of Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa:  How Easy is That?)

Ingredients:

Vegetable oil
3 cups whole roasted unsalted cashews (14 ounces)
2 cups whole walnut halves (7 ounces)
2 cups whole pecan halves (7 ounces)
1/2 cup whole almonds (3 ounces)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons ground chipotle powder
4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves, divided
Kosher salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brush a sheet pan generously with vegetable oil. Combine the cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, the maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, and chipotle powder on the sheet pan. Toss to coat the nuts evenly. Add 2 tablespoons of the rosemary and 2 teaspoons of salt and toss again.

Spread the nuts in one layer. Roast the nuts for 25 minutes, stirring twice with a large metal spatula, until the nuts are glazed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with 2 more teaspoons of salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons of rosemary.

Toss well and set aside at room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking as they cool. Taste for seasoning. Serve warm or cool completely and store in airtight containers at room temperature.

Lola waiting for me to drop more nuts...

Note 1:  I used half the amount of salt and half the amount of rosemary.  No one needs to eat nuts that taste like a pine tree and I thought 4 tablespoons was heading into Pine-Sol territory.

Note 2:  These are addicting!  My belly hurts… too many nuts…

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Eton Mess

The day after the Great Blackout of 2011 in San Diego, I felt the need to whip something up in my ELECTRIC stand mixer.  You know, you can’t do much better than fresh whipped cream!  While Ina uses whipped cream as a topping on many of her desserts, this dessert uses whipped cream as one of the main components.  It actually ends up feeling like a “light” dessert because of the airy whipped cream, puffy meringues and fresh berries; however, this dessert is probably not light on the calories.  Then again, what worthwhile dessert is light on the calories? Hmmmm?… Exactly.

The name sounds funny, “Eton Mess”, because it’s British.  You know those Brits with their off-the-wall names for things.  Every time I hear Nigella call baking soda “bicarb powder”, it throws me for a loop. Nigella Lawson is another love of mine, but I will save that for my second blog.  And then there is their calling all desserts “pudding”.  That really makes things confusing.  “What’s for pudding, puddin’?” response: “Oh, ya know, just some pudding!”  That conversation would be like the chicken or the egg conundrum…

Now, this recipe serves six people and I was just planning a dessert for little ole me.  Soooo, I cut the recipe in half and saved the leftovers.  Being that I am writing this post after having eaten the second helping of this dessert the next night, I can attest that the leftovers hold up, even the whipped cream. I just put the raspberry mixture and the whipped cream in separate airtight containers in the fridge and it turned out to be as good as it was last night!

I served the eton mess in one of the Waterford Crystal champagne glasses we used to do our first toast as husband and wife at our wedding reception.  Along with the whole eating a delicious dessert alone on a Friday night, that made me miss my man even more, but not for very much longer…

Eton Mess (courtesy of Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa:  How Easy is That?)

Ingredients:

  • 4 (6-ounce) packages fresh raspberries, divided
  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon framboise liqueur
  • 1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 (3-inch) bakery meringue shells, broken in piece
Directions:

Pour 2 packages of the raspberries, 1 cup of the sugar, and the lemon juice into a 10-inch saute pan. Crush the berries lightly with a fork and bring the mixture to a full boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is syrupy. Fold the remaining 2 packages of raspberries and the framboise into the hot mixture and refrigerate until very cold.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream, the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, and the vanilla together on medium-high speed until it forms firm peaks.

In decorative glasses, layer a spoonful of the whipped cream, a spoonful of the raspberry mixture, and then a few meringue pieces. Repeat once or twice, depending on the size of the glasses, until the glasses are full, ending with berries and a dollop of cream. Serve immediately or chill for an hour, until ready to serve.

Note 1:  I think you could cut the sugar down in this recipe and the flavor would not suffer.
Note 2:  Ina calls for 3, 3-inch bakery meringue shells.  Trader Joe’s carries a package of individual vanilla
meringue cookies.  I crushed up four of the cookies and that was enough for half this recipe.  
Note 3:  I couldn’t find framboise liqueur, which is a raspberry liqueur.  I went to Trader Joe’s and Vons, no dice.  So I used Chambord, a black raspberry liqueur, which I have often used to give a glass of champagne a little pizzazz.  It worked PERFECTLY in this recipe.  Chambord is very easy to find at any grocery store.
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