Butternut Squash Soup with Gorgonzola Crema

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Many years ago I was gifted a little book authored by American cheese maven Paula Lambert, who owns the Mozzarella Company in Dallas, Texas.

The book is called “Cheese, Glorious Cheese.” I couldn’t think of a better title for a cheese book myself!

I remember I was almost scared to open the book. I don’t need any help eating and enjoying cheese.

But then, I did. And the recipes are really fun.

Being that I’m dreaming of fall and, my butternut squashes have successfully matured in my garden, I thought what better recipe to make from this book but a butternut squash soup with a dollop of Gorgonzola crema.

It just takes soup to a new level, right? Oh, and there’s also some peppered bacon bits on top as well. Perfect for an almost-fall, wishing-for-fall lunch.

Butternut Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola Crema
Extremely Adapted from, “Cheese, Glorious Cheese”

1 large butternut squash, about 2 pounds
Chicken broth, about 4 cups
8 ounces peppered bacon, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
4 shallots, chopped
8 ounces marscapone
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup crema, or Mexican sour cream
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola

Begin the soup by peeling the butternut squash, and removing the seeds. Cut up the squash into fairly uniform-sized pieces and place them in a large pot.

Pour the broth over the top – just enough to cover – and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pot, and let the squash cook for about 30 minutes, or until tender. Remove the lid and let the squash cool.

In a skillet, place the bacon and butter. Cook the bacon until to your taste. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, but keep the skillet with the butter and bacon fat.

Over medium heat, cook the onion and shallots for about 5-6 minutes, or until soft.

When the squash has cooled, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon and place in a large blender jar. I only begin adding the broth when blending begins, so that I can control the consistency.

Add the onion-shallots, the marscapone, and salt. Blend, adding a little broth as necessary, to make the soup to your desired thickness. I prefer my cream-based soups quite thick.

Stir together the crema and gorgonzola, and have the bacon dice on hand.

Ladle the hot soup into soup bowls.

Place a dollop of the gorgonzola cream in the center, and then sprinkle on the bacon.

The flavor combination is incredible. I could actually do without the bacon.

Personally, I forced myself to follow through on the gorgonzola; I much prefer feta. But it’s wonderful.

It’s good to stir the gorgonzola cream into the soup, but not too much. You want to taste those different flavors.

If you didn’t notice, I like thick, rich, creamy soups. If you didn’t want to make a rich soup, you can use evaporated milk instead of marscapone. But don’t omit the butter! Butter belongs in soups!

Or, you could simply use chicken broth. But that’s no fun. Happy Fall!

Pumpkin Mousse

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Someone recently asked me what my favorite dessert is. Without hesitation, I responded chocolate mousse. Not the fluffy, creamy chocolate stuff, but the dark, rich, almost fudge-like chocolate mousse.

I was honestly surprised that I didn’t have to think about it, not being much of a dessert eater. If you’d asked me for my favorite meal, I’d still be thinking of an answer, although a course of foie gras would be part of it…

So after I thought about how much I really do love chocolate mousse, I realized that it’s not on my blog.

But because it is my favorite time of year, and I’m one of those pumpkin “freaks,” I decided to create a pumpkin mousse recipe instead of preparing my traditional chocolate favorite. I wanted it to taste like pumpkin spice, yet still be fluffy, without the use of gelatin.

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Here’s what I did.

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Pumpkin Mousse
Makes about 10 8-ounce servings

3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/2 can pumpkin purée
16 ounces marscapone, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2-3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon powdered vanilla
Pinch of ground cloves

Beat the egg whites and salt in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until firm peaks form. Set in the refrigerator.


In a larger bowl, beat the pumpkin, marscapone, and sugar until smooth.
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Add the spices and blend. Taste the pumpkin mixture for sweetness and flavor. The strength of cinnamon really varies based on the source, so adjust the flavor according to your personal taste.

Also, pumpkin by itself tastes like, well, squash. So the spices, especially the cinnamon, are quite important!

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Gently but carefully fold in the egg whites into the pumpkin mixture. Try not to over fold, so as not to deflate the egg whites.

When more or less combined, place the pumpkin mousse in individual serving dishes.

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Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight, well covered. Serve either chilled or at room temperature; I prefer room temperature.

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Add a little dollop of whipped cream or marscapone on top, and add some freshly grated nutmeg if desired. A little cookie doesn’t hurt!
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After I made the mousse, I realized I’d forgotten the vanilla powder. If you’ve never used it, I highly recommend it for situations when you want vanilla flavor without the extract liquid.
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Easy Baked Brie

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I happen to love baked brie. I’ve discovered since joining the blogging world, however, that there are those who look down on it. Personally, I feel like these people are missing out. But, like with all food, taste is subjective, and no one need be forced to eat baked brie or anything else he or she doesn’t love, ever. Thankfully.

Personally, I don’t like celeriac. There might be a few other foods that I don’t love, but I can’t think of any right now. Not that I claim to love every food I’ve ever tried, it’s just that there unfortunately aren’t many I don’t like. And my ever-struggling waistline proves it.

But hopefully at some point in your life you’ve tried a baked brie – perhaps at a party. It might have been a fancy kind of baked brie, topped with a chutney, and then artistically wrapped in phyllo dough or puff pastry. When I catered, this is the sort of presentation I used because it’s impressive, and the brie is delicious as well.

My baked bries, of course, didn’t compare to something a pastry chef could whip up. The most artistic thing I could ever do with puff pastry, after wrapping and sealing the brie, was rolling the leftover dough strips to make assorted “rosettes.” I then “glommed” these together on top of the brie to make a bouquet of sorts. But even with the simplest presentation, a baked brie in pastry is a pretty thing.

And then, the pièce de resistance – you get to pierce the cheese rind, and the wonderfully warm, oozy brie pours out, along with the chutney, and you get to spread this mixture on bread. A baked brie is heavenly.

When I cook for my own family during the holidays, I sometimes don’t have the time to follow through on such preparations like a puff pastry-wrapped brie. But let’s face it. Sometimes it’s not about time at all, but their appreciation for the hours spent in the kitchen.

None of my family members read my blog, and so I can safely say, without recourse, that there’s not much appreciation for anything I do in the kitchen in my sole desire to feed and nourish them whilst they’re visiting. And make them all happy. Because, of course, that’s why we all cook, right?

They all tell me not to work so hard, but nobody has actually stopped me yet. Or tried helping me out. No one has ever suggested that we go get a bucket of fried chicken at a local drive-in.

But for my own sanity, and for the fact that I want my “kids” to keep coming home for the holidays, I do try to take the easy route occasionally. And thus, I give you a simple baked brie. Simple, yet just as delicious.

There are many options for baked brie, without the puff pastry. The bries are first warmed in the oven, and a topping is poured oven the top. You can use a cranberry-apple chutney with some toasted walnuts thrown in for good measure, or a cranberry orange compote, a sweet and nutty Foriana sauce, or just about anything that pairs with warm brie.

So here’s a simple baked brie recipe that I made over the holidays. I actually made it for my Christmas party; I just used my family as an excuse so I could complain about all the hard work I do for them.

This baked brie would be wonderful for Thanksgiving as well, or for any special presentation in the fall. The main flavors are maple and pecan, so you can just save this recipe until next October, and send me your thank yous then. Enjoy!

Maple-Pecan Baked Brie

1 – 2 pound wheel of brie, at room temperature
1/2 cup maple syrup (real maple syrup)
1 stick, or 4 ounces unsalted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Sprinkle of ground cayenne (optional)
Toasted pecans*

Unwrap the brie, and place it on a greased cookie sheet. The greasing helps insure that the brie can simply be slid on to the serving dish. If you use a spatula, you run the risk of prematurely piercing the brie, and you’ll have to start over.

This brie is made from pasteurized cows’ milk. It’s all I can get locally, and I try and support the woman who buys cheese for the grocery store in town. Without her, we’d have no good cheese at all. I probably wouldn’t serve this brie as is, but it was wonderful as a baked brie.

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Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium pot, combine the maple syrup and butter. Heat over medium heat until the butter dissolves. Cook the mixture for about 15 minutes to reduce slightly and thicken. Then add the cinnamon, and cayenne, if using. Set aside to cool slightly.

Break up the toasted pecans and set aside.

Bake the brie as is for about 20 minutes. Carefully slide it onto a heat-proof serving dish. Let it cool for about 10 minutes, and then pour the warm maple mixture over the top, and sprinkle the top with the broken pecan pieces. Serve immediately.
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Here’s to a wonderful 2014 everybody! Happy New Year!

* The easiest way to toast a small amount of pecans is in a skillet on the stove. Place the desired amount, like 1 cup, of pecan halves in a skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skillet heats up, you will smell the pecans toasting. Shake the skillet around, moving the pecans around, until you can see that they’re toasted on all sides. Then remove the skillet from the heat. Let cool completely, then break them up with your hands.

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note: This is a pretty sweet brie topping. I was thinking that replacing the 1 tablespoon of brown sugar with molasses, or omitting it altogether would cut the sweetness slightly. I’ve personally never loved brie served with straight-up honey, but that’s just a personal peeve. Real maple syrup, of course, doesn’t compare to the sweetness of honey, but still, if you think it might be too sweet for your party table, think about these two options.

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Stuffed Pumpkin

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As you can tell from the above photo, that is not a pumpkin. I set out to stuff a pumpkin, but they were nowhere to be found. It turns out that my local grocery store only sells pumpkins until Halloween. I was truly shocked. So, I bought a pretty acorn squash instead.

As I only feed two people in my household, with my daughters grown and gone, I decided it wasn’t such a terrible idea to just stuff an acorn squash. That way, we each got a nice serving of baked acorn squash stuffed with brilliant saffron rice studded with pistachios and cranberries for a more festive feel.

I baked the acorn squash separately, and made the rice separately, but warmed everything in the oven before serving. If you enjoy this kind of flavor profile, complete with the sweetness from the dried cranberries, I encourage you to follow this recipe, or create one similar. There are many different variations possible. Use what you have on hand and what you like.

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Saffron Rice-Stuffed Acorn Squash

1 acorn squash, or larger squash
1 – 0.5 ounce package dried chanterelles
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups saffron rice*
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, optional
Broth, see recipe
Pistachios
Dried Cranberries

Slice off the top of the acorn squash, making a “lid.” Scoop out the seeds using a spoon. Wrap the squash completely in foil, including the lid, and bake the squash in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Set aside.
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Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl, and cover them with a generous amount of hot water. Set aside.
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Place the butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.
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Add the onion and sauté them for about 5 minutes.
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Stir in the rice and thyme, if using, and stir it around for about 1 minute.
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Meanwhile, drain the mushrooms in a sieve over a bowl. Pour the liquid into a measuring cup. Add chicken broth to make the total amount of broth/mushroom liquid equal 3 cups.
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Add the liquid to the rice. Bring the rice to a boil, then cover with a lid, reduce the heat to low, and let the rice cook for 30 minutes. All of the liquid should be absorbed.
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If necessary, remove the woodier stems from the chanterelles, then chop them up.
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Add the mushrooms to the rice and fold them in gently.
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When the acorn squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out a little bit of the squash to create a little more space for the rice stuffing.
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Spoon the rice into the acorn squash. Sprinkle with the cranberries and pistachios.
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Alternatively, add the cranberries and pistachios to the rice stuffing and stir to combine. I happen to feed someone who isn’t enamored by the combination of sweet and savory, and so I went the sprinkling route. It just depends how much of the accessory ingredients you wish to taste.
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* I used saffron rice from Marx Foods. It was part of a nine jar rice sampler that I purchased over a year ago, and I’m still playing with. I wouldn’t have purposely chosen saffron rice, since I own saffron, but I must admit this does come in handy, and holds the beautiful yellow color well. It also tastes good!
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Think about all the variations you can create mixing up the ingredients. You can use many different rices, even including wild rice if you love it. And include some lentils as well. And then there’s celery, leeks, and carrots, if you like. Pine nuts or pecans would be just as delicious, and if you don’t like the fruit addition, you can omit them. Curried rice stuffing would be fabulous as well – you just want the stuffed squash to go with the protein you’re serving it with. So many possibilities!

note: This recipe makes about 6 cups of stuffing, so if you did happen to have a good sized pumpkin it would be perfect. I am going to use the excess rice as a side dish, because it’s delicious on its own.

Pear Vinaigrette

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You may find this fact hard to believe, but I’ve never purchased a bottled salad dressing or vinaigrette! I honestly don’t understand why anyone would. Don’t take this the wrong way if you happen to like them, but to me, they’re a real waste of money. And that’s besides the fact that you are also investing in chemicals and preservatives, in most cases.

But for me, even without the financial aspect, what’s more important is making my own vinaigrettes depending on my mood, what kind of salad I want to make, and the season. I’ve actually taught vinaigrette making in classes before. They’re so easy to make, and they’re way healthier because you control the ingredients. There are an infinite number of creative ways to make vinaigrettes.

When I cooked for a family for so many years, I never made the same dressing twice. So trust me, there are potentially multitudes of vinaigrettes.

There are two basic components to a vinaigrette – the vinegar and the oil. Think about all of the vinegar choices these days! There’s apple cider, red wine, rice wine, white balsamic, and the list goes on. It’s also important to consider the color of the vinegar when you’re choosing one, as well as the flavor you want.

If you’re not too fond of vinegar, try using rice wine vinegar. It’s less strong than the others. And if you like a touch of sweetness, try white balsamic vinegar. It’s clear as well, so it mixes with anything. Balsamic vinegar is pretty powerful, so I usually don’t use it in vinaigrettes. I prefer it as is. Plus, the brown color can “ruin” a pretty salad if you’re not careful.

There are also fruit vinegars that can be purchased and used in vinaigrettes. I bought a raspberry one once and it was awful. And it even said “all natural” flavors on the label. A good reason to make your own fruit vinegars at home! (Which I never have but I know they’re very straight forward and easy!)

Then there are the oils – extra virgin olive oil, of course, but also hazelnut, avocado, walnut oil, and so forth. These don’t add huge amounts of flavors, but they’re all delicious. And it’s fun to mix and match them to the vinegars.
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Garlic is a common ingredient in my vinaigrettes that I make at home. Mostly because I love garic. But if you’re making a very subtly flavored vinaigrette you might have to back off from the garlic. It can overpower. The same goes for ginger and shallots. But they both work in a vinaigrette as well.

Now we come to the fun stuff. Think about these additions – frozen orange juice, sun dried tomatoes, beet juice, reduced leftover champagne, herbs, apple cider, mango, roasted red bell peppers, pesto, harissa, chimichuri sauce, avocado, strawberries, and on and on. All of these “accessory” ingredients can be added to a basic vinaigrette to create a really unique flavor. I’ve only listed a few.

Today, because it’s autumn and the pears are ripe and delicious, I’m making a pear vinaigrette. I wanted to make a composed salad of butter lettuce, some cabbage and carrots, a few mushrooms and hearts of palm slices, lentils, and some grilled chicken. The pairing with the pear vinaigrette sounded perfect to me.
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I chose to use apple cider vinegar and walnut oil, just for fun, along with a whole pear.

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So here’s what I did:

Pear Vinaigrette

1 whole pear, cored
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 small garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnut oil

Place the pear, vinegar, garlic and salt in a blender jar.
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Blend until smooth. You have to make sure that the garlic is blended. It will look like this:
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Keep blending on low, and gradually pour all of the walnut oil into the pear-vinegar mixture. It will be nice and smooth like this:
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Serve immediately, and store any excess in a jar in the refrigerator.
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Although it may not last long because it’s fabulous!
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Cooking in Autumn

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Pumpkins. I think about them a lot in the summer. It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 degrees out – I’m thinking of pumpkins.

I love autumn and all of the foods that it brings to life. I do love the summer months for fresh tomatoes and lovely ripe fruit, but seriously, there’s nothing quite like pumpkins. I think it’s not just about pumpkins themselves, but more about what they represent to me.

Fall is my favorite time of year, and it’s maybe my favorite eating season. I have a daughter like myself. We’re not too fond of the extreme heat of our summers, and pretty much count the hours until that first cool brisk day of autumn. We like wearing cardigans, we love pretty fall leaves, fireplaces, football games, hazelnuts, pears, gourds, and we love our pumpkins.

I started my blog at the end of September, 2012. WordPress tells me that I started it in August, but that’s when I purchased my wordpress theme. Then we left for a lovely three-week trek through Scotland, and it was right when we were back that I published my first post.

It was perfect timing, because fall was about to arrive where I live. Over the following months I wrote posts on pumpkin polenta, butternut squash soup, pumpkin pancakes, sweet potato risotto, pumpkin spazele, and acorn squash dip. I was definitely excited to write about autumnal dishes. Not the greatest photos – but fortunately, those have improved.

So now here it is 2013. I finished up my summer posts, and scheduled some that fit in quite nicely into the “shoulder” season between summer and fall. And then we took a long road trip through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. As much as I love cooking, it was a nice break from the kitchen, as well as from the computer.

But during the whole time I was gone, I was receiving my weekly posts from hundreds of fellow bloggers. It was like they stole all of my pumpkin ideas, and beat me to the punch! It wasn’t even cold out yet! I seriously thought I was the only cooking pumpkin freak on earth! I was reading about pumpkin breads, pumpkin dips, and pumpkin smoothies. I was in shock! There were also pumpkin falafels and crepes! Why did I never think to make those?!!!

It took me a while to realize that it’s not just autumn that cooks and food bloggers love – it’s every season. And why not? If you love food, then you’re most likely seasonally driven.

Since it’s just the two of us eating at home now, I really don’t need to go too crazy on making everything pumpkin, although I will kind of miss it. In the past I’ve made the requisite pumpkin butter and as a result, I still have too many in my freezer. At some point, maybe for company, I’ll throw some canned pumpkin into a savory bread, or maybe in some sweet scones for a fun breakfast food. But I really can’t be too obsessed with turning everything pumpkin like I’ve done in the past. And based on the expansion of my waistline since I started blogging a year ago, this is probably a good thing.

If you do want some ideas for using pumpkin, either fresh or a good canned variety, here is a post I wrote this past February. I was obviously obsessed with winter squashes and resisting spring!

And speaking of spring, when it comes, I will most likely forget about pumpkins and renew my love affair with all things strawberry and asparagus. Happy Fall, folks!