Sunday, October 22, 2006

Buttercup Squash Challenge

My cousin made some fantastic creamy buttercup squash for thanksgiving. I saw some at the market and tried to recreate it. If my mother was not on vacation I would have asked her for tactical advice before beginning the buttercup challenge. The next best thing would have been to ask my aunt. As I have made a tremendous number - at least for the grad school budget - of long distance phone calls so far this month (checking in with my grandfather) I decided to wing it without asking my Aunt for advice. I think the phone call might have been worth it.

The Adversary

The Tools. (For your personal enjoyment please note my bare foot at the bottom left, still stripey from my summer shoes.)

Round 1: Winner Paul (I couldn't get the thing cut in half, despite the Joy's advice to "cut slowly and deliberately".)
Round 2: Winner Laura. The nasty bits inside must be removed before roasting. If you've carved a pumkin, there is a good chance you have more than a passing acquaintance with this activity. (Warning, if you, like me, are alergic to raw squash you want to be careful doing this.)
Round 3: Winner Squash. What in all things holy happened while the squash was in the oven (at 400, for 40 mins, in 1cm of water in a pan covered with aluminium foil)? I have no idea. I think perhaps I over cooked it.

Round 4: Winner Squash (for obvious reasons, see photo below). The squash was very hard to remove from the peel and flaky and crumbly. I was surprised, because my cousin's squash was so creamy.

I finished off the squash by mashing it with a large quanity of butter, and some salt and pepper. Not bad, but nowhere near as good as my cousin's. But defeat in the final two rounds did not break my spirit, and I reflected on the challenge with a well earned bowl of yogurt and peacans.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Creamy Broccoli Soup

I have been thinking a lot about something Amanda Hesser wrote about in "Cooking for Mr. Latte". The book is a collection of food columns from New York Times magazine. They were published around 2001-2002 and my mother and I were devoted to the column. It was maybe the first time I got interested in food.

In "Cooking for Mr. Latte", Ms Hesser writes about wanting to have a cooking repertoire, instead of always having cooking experiments. This got me thinking about what my repertoire. Since I make this soup about once a month, I think it would have to be included.

Although this soup takes a while, there is little actual prep - you just need to keep an eye on it while it cooks. I often make this on a Friday night if I am hanging out at home. The technique is a modification of the Joy of Cooking recipe. I like to add the beans to make the soup taste creamier.

Creamy Broccoli Soup
large bunch of Broccoli, about two stalks
1/2 cup dry white kidney beans (I think this is about 1/2 a 16oz can, but there are no small cans at the my supermarket, and I don't want the bean taste to be over powering.)
2-3 cups chicken stock
1-2 cups water
1 cup milk
3 tbsp skim milk powder (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1/2 spanish onion
2 cloves garlic

1. Soak the beans. I do this either the night before, or the morning I make the soup. I use the joy of cooking method to soak the beans: I pour a couple inches of boilling water over them and let them sit until it is time to make the soup.

2. Put the oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat. While the oil and butter are warming up, finely chop the onion, then add to the pot. Chop the garlic, and when the onion is translucent and soft add the garlic and fry for about a minute.

3. Drain the beans (they should be about double in size now) and add to the onion mixture. Cover the beans with the stock and water so they are submerged about an inch or so. Simmer the beans about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally until they are over-cooked and squishy.

4. Cut the woody ends off the broccoli stalks. Thinly slice the remaining stocks and broccoli tops and add to the beans. Cook until the broccoli is softened, 10-15mins. Then puree the soup using your kitchen tool of choice. (I use a blender).

5. Return the blended soup to the pot, add the milk and if you are using it, the skim milk powder. I like to use the skim milk power because it adds extra calcium.

This soup goes very nicely with whole grain toast.