Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Squash vs Pumpkin - Part 2

Cue the Charlie Brown music, and let's talk about pumpkins. Unlike Linus' ongoing vigil in the pumpkin patch waiting on the Great Pumpkin, we do in fact have this glorious fruit (yes, it is botanically a fruit) appear every year in the Fall. Pumpkins are loaded with all kinds of nutrients: they have high levels of Vitamin A, Folate and Fiber, low in calories and zero fat or cholesterol. Another one of our favorite "super foods!"

Jaspee Vendee (on right) from Gaia's Breath Farm

Pumpkins come in many shapes and sizes and are used in a variety of ways: baked, roasted and pureed. I considered doing a fun dessert, but that just seemed a little too easy. So putting my thinking cap on this week I came up with two different soups and a stew to share with you. This week was special not only because I was on a creative streak with my pumpkin recipes, but because Larry and I were having dinner with my fellow Small Bites blogger JL Fields, and her husband Dave.

With JL Fields and Liz Johnson at the John Jay Farm Market 

JL and I were thrown together quite by chance and all thanks to Liz Johnson. We met this summer in a whirlwind Throwdown Competition that basically came out of an email exchange about recipes. She and Dave are on their “Farewell to NY Tour” at the moment, getting ready to move to Colorado in a few short weeks. While we’ve just become new friends it was an honor for me to have her dine with us recently.

I don’t profess to know all that it takes to be vegan, that is her bailiwick, but she has educated me on many things vegan, and I am so very grateful. Food is one of the few things in humanity that crosses all cultures, preferences and classes. We all need to eat to survive. Since I entered the world of food as a career I have such a different appreciation of ingredients and preparation.

Cinderella Pumpkin from Gaia's Breath Farm

That said, I was on a recipe-creating streak this week and I came up with three interesting ways to use two different types of pumpkins. Both that I used came directly from Gaia's Breath Farm, through my CSA Basket. However, you can easily use the store bought variety, and even substitute with butternut squash. The only thing I would suggest is using a smaller sized pumpkin. They are sweeter and less fibrous. The gigantic ones are really only good for carving, in my opinion. The flavor level is very low. The other suggestion would be to not use the canned variety in these recipes either.

So let’s get to it! In both soup variations I start off the same way: sautéing the onions with olive oil.

Then adding the spices, liquid and pumpkin.

Pumpkin Apple Soup

Thai Coconut Pumpkin Soup

In the two recipes I suggest pureeing all for one of them, and partially for the other. It’s completely up to what you like. The one that I pureed partially will give you a thinner soup base with the pretty pumpkin cubes visible.

My other recipe was created for our dinner with JL and Dave. First off, yes, it’s made with meat, but that was the plan. She made a very tasty chili using lentils, kale and squash and here is the recipe.

Mine is inspired from Williams Sonoma, of all places! I am always trolling around that web site looking at gadgets and cookware. I came across a recipe on their web site and decided to play with it a bit changing up a few things that I had in my pantry.

Stews are just about the best thing to make in the Fall and Winter months. Not only are they a One-Pot meal, which is big plus, but they are dishes that you can cook on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon while you are doing other things around the house. From a big pot you can have dinner for a couple of nights during the week easily and you can change it up by serving them plain, over rice, noodles or polenta.

First you brown the meat, then saute the onions and deglaze with wine. Then the liquids, meat and pumpkin go back in, bring to a boil and head to the oven.

After several hours of cooking out came my delicious stew and garnished with fresh parsley.

Pork, Pumpkin and Apple Stew

I hope these recipes will inspire you to head to the pumpkin patch at your local farmers market, or produce aisle. I would also like to take a moment to wish those hit by Hurricane Sandy a speedy recovery and all a Happy Halloween. Keep an eye out for the Great Pumpkin tonight!

Buon Appetito!

Pumpkin Apple Soup
Makes 1 quart

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ cup Vidalia onion, about ½ onion
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 cup apple cider
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 lb. pumpkin, about 4 cups, chopped 2” pieces
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2 whole sage leaves
1 sprig thyme
Kettle Corn, (sweet and salty popcorn), optional garnish

Place a small heavy bottom pot over medium heat and add the oil and onion along with ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the apple cider, stock, pumpkin and apple and mix to combine. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Add the herbs and cook until the pumpkin and apple are soft. If you can take the back of a spoon and press the pumpkin up against the side of the pot you know it’s done.
Remove from heat and allow it to cool slightly. Fish out one of the sage leaves and the thyme branch. Using an immersion or regular blender puree the soup until smooth. Taste for seasoning and serve warm.

Just for fun I topped mine with a few kettle corn popcorn kernels for a cute garnish!

Cooks Note: the pumpkin I used for this recipe came from the part that was leftover from the stew below. 

Thai Pumpkin Soup
Makes about 2 quarts
1 ½ cup leeks, sliced thin and rinsed well
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Kosher salt
White Pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 13oz can Lite Coconut Milk
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
12 cups pumpkin, 4 lb size, peeled, seeded and cut in 1½ -2” cubes
2 dried Thai chilis (3 if you like it really spicy!)
Zest and juice of 1 orange, divided and set aside
¼ cup chopped cilantro plus more for garnish
Shaved unsweetened coconut, lightly toasted, for garnish

In a heavy bottom pot over medium heat sauté the leeks and garlic with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and white pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes until soft and translucent, but not brown.

Add the ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, stock, pumpkin and chilis. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Add ½ teaspoon of zest and 2 tablespoons of the juice. (Save the remaining for later.) Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender, but not completely falling apart.

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Scoop out about two-thirds of the pumpkin cubes and set aside. Add the cilantro to the pot and puree until smooth. Season with additional salt and pepper and the remaining orange zest and juice if desired. Add back the pumpkin cubes you removed. Serve warm and garnish with shaved coconut and cilantro.

Cooks note: If desired you can puree all of the pumpkin too. The version I have above will give you a little more texture and looks pretty with the cubes.

Pork, Pumpkin and Apple Stew
Serves 8

4 lb. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ Vidalia onions, diced
3 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup white wine
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 15oz. can Hunts Fire Roasted Tomatoes with juices
3 lb pumpkin, peeled and diced into 1 1/2 " pieces
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 cup apple cider
3 cups chicken stock
½ cup chopped parsley

Preheat an oven to 325°.

Season the pork with salt and black pepper. In a 7-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, coat the bottom with olive oil. Working in batches, brown the pork on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes per batch, transferring each batch to a bowl, and adding more oil as needed. Reduce the heat to medium and with 2 tablespoons of oil sauté the onion and garlic until golden brown, about 7 to 10 minutes. Deglaze with the wine and reduce for about 2 minutes.

Add the ginger, tomato paste, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cloves and red pepper flakes. Stir constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the vinegar and cook for about 2 minutes.

Add the apple, tomatoes, pumpkin, sage, apple cider, stock and pork with the juices. Mix well. Bring to a boil and season with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Cover the pot and place in the preheated oven. Cook until the pork is fork-tender and falling apart, 2½ to 3 hours. Remove from oven and pull apart the pork with a fork and gently mix throughout the stew. Mix in the parsley and serve either simply alone or over polenta, rice or noodles.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Winter Squash vs Pumpkin, Part 1

Before I get to the topic at hand I want to share my little adventure this past weekend. Larry and I found ourselves with, as he likes to say, an "unprogrammed day." Between both of our schedules which seem to be packed these days, we rarely find ourselves with a mutually free Saturday.  Earlier in the week I took a run up to Amawalk Farm, in Katonah, to pick up a big load of their sweet potatoes. (I'm going to be featuring them in my blog next month, and of course there is Thanksgiving right around the corner.) While I was there Marian Cross, co-owner of the farm, invited Larry and me to come back on Saturday to help plant garlic. This was of course something I've never done, and was completely intrigued. After a quick review of the our calendars we were both "in."

I've had the great good fortune of collaborating over the past year and half with a handful of farms in New York and Connecticut. All thanks to my farmers market demos. Newgate Farm in Windsor, CT, Cabbage Hill Farm in Mt. Kisco, Gaia's Breath Farm in Jordanville, NY (and also my CSA) and last Amawalk Farm.  I am continually awed by their incredible passion and love for what they do. It's hard, laborious work, many times finding themselves at the whim of Mother Nature. In a blink of an eye they can loose animals and crops to viruses or bugs. Marian and her husband Larry Cross were recounting to us on Saturday how they lost their raspberry patch to a nasty stinkbug with no hope of bringing them back. You could see the sadness in their eyes.

Back to garlic planting! When we arrived the field was ready for us to plant. The bed had 18 rows, each row divided into 3. We basically dropped the clove in and covered it with soil. 

After all the rows were completed they rolled a big drum over them to really press the dirt down. In a few weeks the bed will be covered with straw and the cloves will get to work. From 250 pounds of garlic planted they yield over a 1,000 pounds! I'm actually quite excited to go back in the spring to see their progress. It was a fun day all around the the weather spectacular for mid-October.

I even came across this gorgeous orange orb spider. It was hard to miss against the plain dirt. 

Autumn is in definitely full swing. The leaves are turning bright beautiful shades of gold and red then falling from the trees. I'm sad to see the summer fading quickly, but excited about all the new vegetables cropping up. Potatoes of all kinds and squash, to name just a few. This week and next I'm going separate the story of squash in to two parts: winter squash and pumpkin. Both are used somewhat interchangeably, but they are slightly  different. Let's look at squash first. Squash is broken down into generally two categories: summer and winter. A few months ago if you remember, I did a story on summer squash. One of the first differences between them is the thickness of the skin. Zucchini and yellow squash have a very thin outer skin. So much so that you can eat it raw if the vegetable is young enough, and certainly if cooked. Winter squash skin is pretty much not good eats. It's much thicker and when cooked gets crispy and hard. The inside is fairly different as well. The seeds in the summer variety are small and soft, almost indiscernible when cooked. The winter variety are larger and most definitely tough and bitter. They can be eaten, but only after being toasted.

(clock wise starting at the top) Spaghetti, Acorn, Delicata and Amber Cup Squash 

At a recent visit to the Rye Farmers Markets I picked up severable varieties to play with. I did a simple oven roast on the Amber Cup, Acorn and Delicata, as you can see. All you need to do is cut in half, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with a little oil oil, salt and pepper and place in a 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Let me also add that you should make it a practice to wash all of your fruits and veggies before cutting. Any dirt that is lurking on the skin will dive right to the center along with your knife. 

For the amber cup and delicata I simply filled them with homemade applesauce and couscous. The couscous recipe you can find on my recipe page tab to the right. I used the same filling for a lita squash. Or you can just scoop out the soft center and enjoy as is! 

This week I have a quick and easy stew to show you. The squash I used for this one is butternut. The idea for this came after I got a request by Liz Johnson, from the Journal News. She did a story on slow cooker stews for Halloween and wanted to include a recipe from me.

As usual I was looking to ramp things up in the flavor category, so I decided my base would be chipotle. I love cooking with them, cooked, dried and powdered. They add a warm smoky flavor with a nice after-kick. A little goes a long way, so use carefully.

I started my stew with a base of celery, carrot and onion.

To that I mixed in the cut of veggies along with salt and pepper. Remember to season as you place in the cooker. You don't really get a chance to taste as this is cooking.

Then the chicken. I used thighs for this recipe so the meat would not dry out and taste like little rocks! Your stock goes in last and the timer is set!

This can all be pre-prepped before starting to cook, just keep the chicken separate from the veggies until you are ready to go.

In the last hour of cooking I decided to toss in a little brown rice. You can accomplish this step with a little pre-planning if cooking overnight. Start the timer so that last hour works out to the the time you get up. Then zip down to the kitchen and add the rice.

Here is my finished stew: smoky, tangy ... and a departure from the usual!

Just a quick note to let you know that I have some new cooking classes coming up at Tarry Market. In particular this coming Friday I have a new Kids Class. Check the calendar on line for details. You can also find information on classes on my website too.

Buon Appetito!

Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken and Butternut Squash Stew
Makes 6-8 servings

6 boneless chicken thighs, about 1¾ lb
1 celery stalk, ¼” dice
1 carrot, ½” dice
8 oz of small white onions (boilers), cleaned and cut in half
1 – 12 oz bag of little sweet peppers (Lil’ Sweeties), seeded and cut in half
1 -2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
½ lb tomatillos, about 2, cut into 1” cubes
½ lb tomatoes, about 2, cut into 1” cubes
2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2” cubes
1 quart of low sodium chicken stock
1 chipotle in adobo, finely minced, about 1 tablespoon
Zest and juice of one lime
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
¼ cup brown rice, optional, see note below

Cut the chicken in to 2” pieces, season with ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper and set aside.

Place the celery, carrot, onion, pepper, garlic, tomatillo and tomatoes in a, 5 quart slow cooker and combine well with 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper.  Add the squash and chicken and mix everything together.

In a large mixing bowl combine the chicken stock, chipotle, lime zest and juice and pour into the pot.

Set on low heat for 8 hours.  After it finishes cooking allow the stew to cool completely, if not eating right away, and place in refrigerator.

Reheat in the oven or microwave and serve over rice or egg noodles
Cook’s notes: * You can prep all the ingredients ahead of time just keep the chicken separated until you are ready to cook.

* If cooking over night start cooking at a time that will allow you the ability to have 30-45 min to cool down before placing in the refrigerator.

* To make the stew a little heartier add ¼ cup of brown rice in the last hour of cooking.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cecina, a special flatbread from Italy

Working on this post brought back many wonderful memories of my time in Italy. I lived there for six months between the Fall of 2007 and Spring of 2008, as part of my culinary training. The road to cooking full time is a question I am asked frequently at demos and during cooking classes.
Lange Valley, Piedmonte
Most of my adult life up until 2007 was working in retail management and then human resources. I started off as a dancer just out of college, but me plus thousands of other dancers in NYC did not equal steady work. About a year and half after graduating I got a Christmas temp job at Macy's and my path changed. After working my way (slightly) up the ladder there I jumped to Banana Republic and then to Tiffany's. The Tiffany job lead me to Michigan were I was running a small store. It was challenging times for the auto industry back then (when isn't it?) and after the store downsized I decided a move back to NYC was the sensible thing to do. I landed pretty quickly at Brooks Brothers in the Human Resource department and worked my way through all of the disciplines: labor relations (my favorite), training, and compensation. From there a jump to Sony Corporation I thought would be were I would stay for a long time (I loved the company); however, after September 11th I found myself downsized once again. Short stints with a software company and a now defunct hospital as Vice President of HR lead me to my final human resource position (nearly 22 years later) as head of human resources for the handbag line Le Sportsac. I pretty much thought I found my dream job once again, but between the intensity of consolidating their manufacturing off shore while the company was sold to a large conglomerate, trying to fit the square peg into the round hole of the new owner, plus my own emotional roller coaster of a perinatal loss very late in our pregnancy, I decided in the spring of 2007 I was done.

Polenta sulla Spinatora (Polenta on a Board with Wild Boar Ragu)
Cooking is a thread that has run through the course of my life since I was 13 or 14. Even as a little baby (I've been told) I was mesmerized by things in the kitchen. When I was old enough to reach the stove I wanted to cook. I cooked all through High School for my family, in college for my apartment mates and beyond. Never, ever complaining that it was a chore. I truly loved it. (still do!) When Larry and I began living together I started doing my epic dinner parties for our very close friends, sit down as everyone was eating surveying the table of food I created listening to our friends, contently realizing that my life is pretty freaking awesome.
Slow Food Headquarters in Bra, Italy
So back in 2007 being completely burnt out and disillusioned with my career, which by the way had pretty much hit the pinnacle, I found myself looking at the world of food from a different lens.  Initially it was just going to be a few summer classes to reenergize myself, then head back to a new corporate job - but that's not exactly what happened. I signed on to, at the time, a relatively new program at the International Culinary Center and within a matter of months I left Le Sportsac and found myself on a plane for Italy. A new path spread out in front of me. It was hard being away from Larry, Elinor, my family and friends, but in the end so worth all the sacrifice. I blogged about my time in Italy which helped me feel closer to everyone while I was away. I can say with great resolve that I am happier now that I have ever been with my career. I cook all the time, I teach recreational cooking classes at Tarry Market and privately, I cater and I write. I have lots of balls in the air all the time, and I love it.
Cinque Terre, Italy
When the idea of a flatbread story came up I remembered eating something in Italy that was quite tasty with Larry, on one of his visits. We were in Liguria, on the coast, one of the Cinque Terre towns. Honestly I can't remember which, as we hit all five. In any case, the dish  was called Farinata di Ceci. Translated it means "made of chick pea flour."  It originated in Genova and traveled outwards from there. You might also find it called "Cecina" or "Socca" depending on which village you come to.

I wanted to recreate this interesting dish for you and went on a search for recipes. I'll be honest and say it did take me a couple of tries, and the final version, which turned out perfectly, was right on my cookbook shelf! As I searched I found many recipes and version mostly in Italian and metric; however, I found the best and simplest one in Mark Bittman's book How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

You basically whisk water into the flour along with some salt, pepper and olive oil. Let it hang out on the counter for a few hours.

In my trial and error I found the perfect size pan for this recipe is a 12" non-stick pizza pan easily found at the grocery store. The one I got at Stop and Shop was about $6.00.

In Mark's recipe he suggests rosemary and onions, but I went for just thyme. This dish can be eaten plain or topped with just about anything you can think of. I made this dish for the Small Bites Blogger Dinner a few weeks ago. We each brought a dish and Liz shared several of the recipes in her post. I wanted to make it a little more robust, so I topped it with butternut squash which I simply tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted for 10 minutes at 450. After it cooled I drizzled it with Vincotto, which I love using.

After my cecina is finished cooking I brushed a little vincotto over the top, and broiled for a few minutes.

I was thinking that this dish needed one other thing to pull it together  so a quick check of the 'fridge yielded a bunch of rainbow chard which I quickly made into a pesto.

This is my finished dish, but you can really just eat these plain or with a nice grating of Parmigianno cheese. They are delicious with just about any topping.
The next time you are in the mood for a snack or appetizer that is just a little bit different and completely Italian give this a try ... I think you will really like it!
Buon appetito!!

Cecina (slightly adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe)
Serves 4-6
1 cup of chick pea flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme, roughly chopped
Place flour, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and slow whisk in 1 1/2 cups of warm water. Once it’s all combined whisk in the oil. Cover the bowl with a towel and set on the counter for a while … up to 12 hours if you choose. 
Preheat the oven to 45o degrees and spray a non-stick 12” pizza pan with vegetable spray. Just before pouring the batter into the pan whisk in the thyme, and scraping up any flour that has settled to the bottom of the bowl. I found it easier to place the pan in the oven and then carefully pour the batter in, it’s a little less messy. 
Bake for about 10-15 minutes. The flatbread should be slighlty firm to the touch. Remove from oven and turn on the boiler. Brush the cecina with a little vincotto and place under the broiler for a couple of minutes. 
Cool slightly and carefully remove from the pan to a rack. When it’s cool enough to handle cut in wedges and serve plain or with any topping you desire.

Chard Pesto
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
½ cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 bunch of Rainbow Chard, roughly chopped
1 -2 garlic cloves, crushed

½ cup grated Pecorino-Romano chees
1 Lemon, zested and juiced
Kosher Salt and Freshly Grated Black Pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Place the pine nuts, chard and garlic in a food processor. Pulse 5 or 6 times to break it all up.  Add the cheese, lemon and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. With the machine running slowly drizzle the olive oil in until the pesto comes together and is the consistency you like; about ½ to ¾ cup. Taste again for seasoning.
Cooks note: If you end up with leftovers freeze it in an ice cube tray and place in a zip lock bag.