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Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

October 6, 2011

Spicy Butternut Squash soup, served with shredded mozzarella and butternut squash roasted seeds

Finally, fall has arrived in New York – and with it comes a bounty of produce, especially squash! There’s pumpkin, spaghetti squash, and acorn. But my personal favorite is butternut. It tastes mellow, sweet, and is brimming with golden goodness. It also goes well with roasts and gamey meats. I, however, love it made into a soup. Prepare yourself for the cool season with a good book, blanket, and my take on butternut squash soup.

Ingredients:

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 large celery rib
  • 1 green apple
  • 2 shallots
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 1/2 lemons
  • 2 cups Chicken stock
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/8 tsp sage
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

First, skin the butternut squash, take out the seeds and pulp from the middle, and then cut into large cubes about 1 1/2 inches thick. (If you are patient enough to sort through the pulp for the seeds, I absolutely recommend roasting them just like the veggies for a delicious snack or garnish for the soup.) After taking the skin off the shallots, cut in half length wise. Core and cut the apple into eighths. Cut the celery into about 2 inch sections. Toss them with a dash of salt and pepper, olive oil, and the juice from a half of lemon. Roast at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 25 minutes.

Once the Vegetables are done, place them with the remaining ingredients into a large stock pot and bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. After about 30 minutes, blend with either a conventional blender or food processor in batched. (Or, simply get an immersion blender. It is so excellent for blending soups in the pot, reducing the mess and time). You can serve it now, but I like to let the flavors marry for a little bit longer by letting it simmer in the pot for 20 more minutes.

Season to taste, serve, and enjoy!

The Mayo/Aioli experience

September 29, 2011
Almost Done Mayo

Some years ago when my step-mother bought me my first food processor, it came with a booklet of recipes. One of these recipes was for mayonnaise. Admittedly, I wasn’t too excited about this recipe since I’m not the biggest mayo supporter. I’d rather slather my burger in ketchup, thank you very much. However, it’s always stuck with me that you can make mayo at home. Would it be fresher? Would I suddenly be a mayo lover? And, most importantly, could I actually make this mysterious white fluffy mixture by myself?

Now mayonnaise has a cousin called Aioli. There is very little difference between the two other than Aioli must have garlic in it and use olive oil. According to dictionary.com, Aioli is “a garlic-flavored mayonnaise of Provence, served with fish and seafood and often with vegetables.” Mayonnaise is defined as “a thick dressing of egg yolks, vinegar or lemon juice, oil, and seasonings, used for salads, sandwiches, vegetable dishes, etc.” So there you have it – Aioli is fancy French garlic mayo.

Here is the recipe for basic Mayonnaise:

Ingredients in processor

Ingredients in processor

  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup oil

First, place all ingredients but the oil in your food processor, or blender. You can use bowl and whisk if you feel confident in your ability to keep up a vigorous whisking pace for at least 5 minutes. My first attempt was the bowl and whisk method and unfortunately the mayo was a little runny. The reason is the oil was not added slowly enough, and I was not whisking fast enough.

Second, with all ingredients but oil blended together, keep the food processor on as you very slowly add the oil. The slower you add the oil, the fluffier your mayonnaise will be. Once your ingredients are whipped together into a opaque white-ish spread, you are done. I would recommend letting it chill for a couple hours before use.

Mayo Done

Mayo Done

For my personal recipe, I used balsamic vinegar, a combination of both olive oil and grapeseed oil, garlic powder, smoked paprika, turmeric, salt and pepper. At first, this mayo was alright when I first made it. After letting it sit overnight, like recommended above, the flavors improved. Though now I enjoy the mayonnaise, I think next attempt I would change a couple of things. First, I would use lemon juice instead of vinegar. And second, I would use roasted garlic in place of garlic powder. Lastly, I might change out the olive oil for something with a milder flavor.

What flavors would you/have you incorporated into a mayonnaise?

Rugby Cupcakes

September 12, 2011

The world cup is going on right now – what? You say the next world cup doesn’t start until 2014? No, no, it’s the Rugby World Cup. So, as I was saying, in honor of the Rugby World Cup, and the fall seasons of rugby teams everywhere (including my team, Brooklyn Women’s Rugby, and my best friends Audrey and Leslie’s team, Chesapeake Women’s Rugby) I made cupcakes. Because what rugger doesn’t like cupcakes?

Gluten-free cupcakes by Elana Amsterdam

Gluten-free cupcakes by Elana Amsterdam

The recipe I used is pulled from Elana Amsterdam’s Gluten-free Cupcakes, a cookbook given to me as a wedding present from my good friend Cristina. I’m super excited to be able to use this cookbook as I have a love affair with coconut flour. Mind you, when you use coconut flour, it is super absorbent. I once made a chicken pot pie using coconut flour in the crust. I baked the pie, thinking of all the creamy sauce and vegetables inside. Alas, the coconut flour had soaked up ALL the creamy filling, and I was left with chicken and dry vegetables. Learn from my mistake people, coconut flour is the sponge of flours.

I used Elana’s recipe for chocolate cupcakes below:

  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar

Glancing over this list made me a little nervous at first. Grapeseed oil? Agave Nectar? I’ve had agave nectar, and it can be too sweet and tad bitter for my taste. However, if this cupcake is better for me and still tastes fabulous, I am all for it.

First, turn your oven on to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line your cupcake/muffin pan with 9 liners. Note, this recipe makes 9 cupcakes.

Then, mix the wet and dry ingredients separately, until both are combined completely. The dry ingredients should be in a larger bowl. Also, like sugar, Agave nectar is a wet ingredient – just in case you didn’t notice it’s a syrup.

Next, mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients with an hand mixer. Or, if you’re training for the rugby season, a whisk and your bare arms. Grr.

Cupcake batter with Coconut flour. Remember, this is okay. The coconut flour will soak up all the moisture.

The mix will look a little runny. After the mix is thoroughly combined, grab your 1/4 cup, and ladle the mix into the lined cupcake pan. Then, pop it into your 350 degree oven for 18-22 minutes. The cupcakes are done when you insert a toothpick in the middle, and it comes out clean. Now let them cool for about an hour before frosting. Otherwise, your frosting will melt into the cupcakes.

Speaking of frosting, I used a cream cheese frosting and chocolate frosting. For a simple cream cheese frosting, just blend cream cheese with a sweetening agent (confectioners sugar, simple syrup, or agave nectar) until the sweetness you want is achieved. Then fold in whipped cream (I made my own using cold heavy cream and a hand mixer until soft peaks form). The ratio of cream cheese to whipped cream is up to you, but I used 3/4 cup cream to a cup cream cheese.

Rugby Cupcakes all decorated and ready to go.

I decorated my cupcakes with a rugby theme, alternating the two frostings for variety. I wanted to get the whole “Rugby World Cup 2011” on there, but realized that was entirely too ambitious for my icing skills. So I went simple.

Either way, the most important factor was their fluffy deliciousness. Oh, and they were both fluffy and delicious. My junk food loving husband told me so, and I agreed. The ruling? Agave nectar and grapeseed oil work wonderfully with coconut flour to make yummy cupcakes.

Cupcake in your face

This is the cupcake heading to my mouth. Yum.

Making some Yogurt

September 4, 2011

I’ve been working with a nutrition coach recently, and she told me I needed some good, local probiotics in my gut. As we sat together at lunch, eating our portabello mushroom tacos at The V-Spot, She told me excitedly she had made her own yogurt. Intrigued, I asked how that was possible. Apparently, it’s pretty easy.

First, visit your local health food store in the refrigerated section and pick up a yogurt culture pack. She pointed out this brand, Yogourmet, and told me to follow the instructions.

Yogourmet

The package of freeze dried yogurt cultures

So I brought it home and stuck it in my fridge. Then, I visited my local farmer’s market in the middle of McCarren Park, and bought some local NY based dairy whole milk. Though it’s important to me to support the local agriculture community, it was essential for this project. I needed the bacteria local to my home to give my immune system the boost it needs. Beyond the health of it, what better base could I get for my home based yogurt than fresh, local milk?

Ronnybrook Farm's Milk

Ronnybrook Farm's Milk

I am known in my family for a couple things, one is I’m a little nuts. The second is my passion for trying new things. So when I got home from the market with my husband (who loves me enough to put up with my constant barrage of creative projects, usually concerning food) I immediately embarked on the yogurt making project with excitement. Out came my thermometer (which was originally bought to make caramels), a medium sized pot, and whisk. Following the directions, I heated the milk up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, or just at its boiling point. Then I took it off the heat, and let it cool down to 108-102 degrees Fahrenheit. Note readers, this takes about twenty to thirty minutes, so prepare to relax for a bit with a good book nearby.

Next, you mix the contents of the packet into a small amount of the milk letting it dissolve. The ratio of milk to yogurt starter is 5 grams for every quart of milk. You will get the same amount of yogurt as the milk you started with – so if you want a quart of yogurt, use a quart of milk. Now, pour the small amount of milk mixed with yogurt starter into the rest of the warm milk. Mix together.

Here is where I got confused. There is apparently a couple of methods to make yogurt- let it sit out overnight, or put it in a yogurt incubator for 4 hours. Really? A yogurt incubator? Yes, and a yogurt machine, for all those wondering out there. The directions on the packet read, “Incubate 4 to 4 1/2 hours, or until yogurt has reached desire thickness. May be used with any make of appliance, according to instructions. For best results, use a Yogourmet yogurt maker.” Mind you, this was on the back of the packet inside of the box, so I could not read these instructions before I bought the box and started my yogurt journey. But I, being fearless and determined, decided incubator be damned, I would press on.

I decided to let it sit out, and ran out to complete the remaining errands. When I returned, the supposed yogurt still looked like milk. What? It’s been two hours. Surely, it needs to be thicker than this. I consulted Google. Apparently, to become yogurt, the mixture needs to stay around 107 degrees for 4ish hours. To solve this problem, I placed it on my hot oven, letting the residual heat warm up the mixture. For the most part, it worked, though the yogurt is not as thick as I would like. It is definitely tasty; but next time, I’m going to use my crockpot to keep the milk nice and toasty for a better consistency.

Here is a picture of the final product, with blueberries and honey.

My home-made yogurt, with blueberries and honey