15 February 2016

Curried Winter Squash Soup

I have been making soup every week since cold weather set in. Any time we have leftover bones or carcasses, I begin a soup stock that sometimes takes two days to make; it's rich and savory and serves as the basis for a variety of soup recipes.

Homemade stock - apparently it's more stylishly called bone broth at the moment - is essential for casseroles and many vegetable dishes, as well as soup. When you focus on fresh or from-scratch foods, prepared sauces and soups begin to taste horrible in fairly short order.

Sampling stock in progress is a perk; I use about a half dozen spoons in the process. I throw vegetable scraps and leftovers into soup, so I've had some interesting combinations this winter. Cauliflower-corn-red pepper soup was probably my favorite.

But oh, this soup, this sweet Curried Winter Squash Soup, a gift from a bread-making friend, was probably one of the best soups I've ever tasted and although I haven't made it myself yet, I know she's OK with sharing the recipe. A farm market vendor, she posted it on our market's Facebook page.

Curried Winter Squash Soup
  • 2 pounds winter squash
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1½ cup chopped onion
  • ½ cup celery
  • 1 or 2 sweet apples peeled, cored and diced
  • salt and fresh-bourn pepper to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon curry powder, or to taste
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple cider
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or ¾ cup milk and ¼ cup sour cream)
  • Tablespoon finely minced ginger root, divided
  • Fresh grated nutmeg
Bake squash in 375-degree oven until tender. Set aside until it's cool enough to handle.

Melt the butter and brown onions and celery until tender and clear. Add apples, broth, cider, bay leaf and curry. Bring mixture to a boil, reducing heat and simmering for 20 minutes. Add squash.

Use a blender to purée mixture, about one cup at a time. Add the ginger gradually. 

Stir in milk and heat the soup again, but do not boil it. Adjust seasonings such as salt and pepper and garnish with fresh-grated nutmeg.

I'd serve this with a ham sandwich and coleslaw. 

Thanks to Brenda of Bay Bakers for allowing me to showcase her recipe.

25 January 2016

Purslane, the Tasty and Succulent Weed

Purslane in all its glory on my deck.

Although the Upper Great Lakes escaped last weekend's behemoth snow fall, it's snowing now and just below freezing, which means whatever accumulation we get will be heavy. In other words, not much fun to shovel tomorrow.

So we're staying indoors as much as possible. Yesterday I rearranged my gardening books, moving them from the pantry - I know, strange place - to a tall bookcase in the living room. I take pleasure in knowing that they are easier to access and that in a month or so, I will be starting a few seeds indoors.

As I pored over my gardening looks, I was reminded that last summer a grower friend challenged me to do something with purslane, a weed that has culinary uses as a salad enhancement and a soup thickener.

It reminds me of sedum, the kind that makes a dandy ground cover in your garden.

But it's widely used for cooking in North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia. Purslane is crisp but feels tender when you bite into it and a bit citrusy when you taste it.

I tossed some raw purslane into my salad and it was not unpleasant. I think I will pass on the soup thickening, however.  I did find it an interesting addition to egg salad, imparting a hint of lemon and a touch of crispness, not unlike thinly-sliced celery.

Some people add purslane to stir fries. That's something I might try next summer.

Purslane can be foraged. In fact, it grows all over the world. I've seen it erupting out of sidewalk cracks. You can read more right here.

No doubt I'll run across some purslane six months from now. Meanwhile, I'm going to immerse myself in seed catalogs and dream away the rest of January.

08 November 2015

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sausage and Thyme

Apple chunks, raisins, walnuts and a topping of sharp cheddar add a taste of autumn.
Last fall I was couch ridden, thanks to a painful leg injury. After several months of physical therapy followed by almost-daily workouts, I ventured into the kitchen to try my hand at meal preparation again.

I've made some incredibly tasty meals, mostly old favorites and comfort food, but I felt ready to tackle something new this fall.

Like hords of others, I love the seasonal flavor of pumpkin, and although I'm not ready for pumpkin spice everything, when I saw a package of pumpkin-potato gnocchi at the supermarket, I thought I'd give it a whirl.

It's not the easiest pasta to work with, as it happens.

I followed directions on the package. Pre-boil about five quarts of water, salt it, add gnocchi at full boil and continue two minutes after gnocchi rises to the surface, then drain.

I tasted. Bland. A bit paste-like. Perhaps I overcooked?

Now what?

Here's what I came up with:
  • 1/1 17/6-ounce package gnocchi
  • 2 medium or one very large sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 links of apple-chicken sausage, sliced about a half-inch thick
  • 1 chopped apple, any variety, but choose one that holds up when heated
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon butter
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1/8 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • salt and pepper to taste (lightly on the pepper)
  • 1/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Prepare and measure all ingredients in advance. With gnocchi, one must move fast to keep it from getting mushy.

While gnocchi is boiling, sauté onions until carmelized, adding sliced sausage, apple and thyme. Use a large skillet, so you can add gnocchi when thoroughly cooked. Lower heat, add walnuts and raisins, Stir gently, so as not to break open the gnocchi.

Serve with grated cheese on top.

A few things tips and things I learned:

  • Use onions, not shallots, for more robust flavor.
  • Undercook the gnocchi, just a bit.
  • Go light on the pepper. Just a dash.
  • Add more butter, if you wish.
  • Try a pinch of brown sugar at the very end.
  • Consider a healthy dash of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice.
  • Thyme may be increased, according to individual tastes.
  • Pair with warm spinach salad and cornbread. Serve with hard cider.
I'm not sure I'll try this again. Too carb-y and tasteless on its own. But with some additions and some trial and error, the dish was good, especially with a side salad that added a bit of tartness and freshness.

Fall in Northeast Wisconsin, Part Two

A local park in early October.

Early fall farm market sign.

Saturday in October, downtown building.

Side yard on a Monday morning.

11 October 2015

Fall in Northeast Wisconsin

We harvested dozens of green tomatoes this week, but still have a few pole beans on the vine. There's one tiny eggplant left.

No hard freeze yet and its already the middle of October. The leaves are turning slowly this year and all signs point to a long and lingering fall.

The farm markets are winding down, in stark contrast to a decade ago when they peaked with gleaming pumpkins and squashes in brilliant hues at the end of October. There's not much of a pumpkin harvest this year, relatively speaking.

Our earlier tomatoes were mushy and tasteless, thanks to heavy rains in June. Later season tomatoes, especially the cherry variety had more zip. We made a huge bowl of salsa last week, and split it so I could add cilantro and my husband could go heavy-handed on the hotness.

I bought eggs, pumpkin, onions, carrots and freshly-ground coffee at the farm market this week and splurged on an apricot-orange scone with the faintest hint of almond. So good.

Happy October!

27 July 2015

Roasted Green Beans with Carrots, Onions and Honey

I firmly believe that good meals need not be complicated.

In fact, I have a three-items-on-the menu role. A savory with a compliment and a contrast. Simple meals, in my opinion, are more elegant.

A favorite here is roasted chicken with fresh French bread and a tossed salad.  More often than not, the starchy item is eliminated, and replaced with a vegetable side dish.

I would serve this simple side dish with pork and cole slaw (made with pineapple).

Roasted Green Beans with Carrots, Onions and Honey (serves two)
  • 1 cup trimmed green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup carrots, trimmed into slender, 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small sweet onion, sliced or cubed
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon honey (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using a medium sauce pan, bring about two cups of water to a boil. Add the beans and carrots and boil for two minutes. Remove vegetables and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking.

Grease a shallow casserole or pan. Add the vegetables, including the onions, and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven and roast for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Toss frequently during roasting.

I added butter and honey after roasting. The result was a sweet-salty side dish.

25 July 2015

Slim and Subtle: French Green Beans with Lemon and New Red Onions

Green beans are my go-to vegetable in summer, especially when fresh from the farm. I love their sweet, subtle-but-earthy taste, and I think they pair well with chicken and fish.

So I was delighted when one of my favorite growers asked me to try this summer's green beans, which include a lighter and more delicately-flavored French bean.

My husband grilled chicken and I made a classic tossed salad. The beans were the perfect side dish. I'm declaring this Green Bean Week at A Frenchtown Kitchen, and I'll have a variety of recipes to share over the next week.

I made only enough for two people at one meal, so double or triple the amounts to meet your needs.

French Green Beans with Lemon and New Red Onions

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh green beans, trimmed and washed, and parboiled
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons minced onion or roasted-onion seasoning
  • 3 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small early red onion, thinly sliced
  • Freshly-ground pink Himalayan salt to taste
  • Dash pepper

Slice the onion and set aside. Melt butter in small skillet. Add onion, along with parboiled beans, lemon juice, seasoning and sauté for about five minutes, stirring frequently, until onions turn brown and beans turn golden. Season.

Simple and delicious. Sometimes the best food is easy to prepare.