Recipe 3: Potato & Butternut Squash Soup with Caramelized Onions


One of the things our farm is known for is our incredible pomegranates. They're like the size of soccer balls!

Every Sunday and Wednesday I work the farmers market selling organic fruit. I am a huge proponent of the organic movement, and I always buy organic if it fits in my limited budget. That being said, one of the things I love the most about working the market is that all throughout the day, the vendors work to trade with each other to cover their grocery lists for the week. There are two reasons in particular why this rocks. First, and the most obvious, we can build relationships with other farms and vendors and trade product because with real produce, shelf life is limited to a week or so and the value goes down with time. Second, it keeps us all eating seasonally. I know initially this doesn’t sound all that important, but it really is. In the most basic sense, eating seasonally brings only the freshest, and peak-season produce to the table, which means a healthier and tastier meal.

This brings me to the fact that as it’s “winter” in San Diego, we have a lot of lettuces, root vegetables, citrus, and squashes. I bring home a different kind of squash twice a week when I can, but lately I’ve been stuck on butternut squash. It always cooks up so nicely! Anywho, I had picked one up yesterday and wanted something relatively healthy but hearty for dinner. Some playing around in the kitchen yielded this recipe. Enjoy!

Recipe 3: Potato & Butternut Squash Soup with Caramelized Onions


Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed.
  • 1 medium onion (purple is best, but all I had was yellow)
  • 3 small red skinned potatoes sliced thinly
  • 1/3 cup milk or cream
  • 6 cups stock (vegetable, chicken, or beef. I had a large beef soup bone that I boiled down with half and onion to make my stock)
  • 3 tbsp butter (unsalted, but if you have salted butter, wait to salt the soup until it’s almost done, saltiness is hard to reverse)
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Garnish options: pea sprouts, balsamic vinegar, a dash of vanilla extract, a dollop of sour cream, etc. Play around with this!

Process:

So the first thing I do is prep my vegetables. Peel and cube the squash as it’s  a pain in the butt and good to get out of the way. Slice the potatoes thinly, they’ll break down easier this way, and you want a creamy soup. You can slice the onion however you like, I did thin coins as I love the look of it. Once your vegetables are prep’d, add the butter to a heavy-bottom saucepan, medium-large size. I have my enameled dutch oven that I like to use. Then add your onion, give it a stir to coat it with the butter, and lower the heat, covering and allowing to cook down for 15 minutes. Once they begin to look translucent, turn up the heat a bit and uncover, allowing the excess moisture to cook off and reduce to low again to begin to caramelize the onions. Note: the key to successfully caramelizing your onions is to allow them to cook without touching them on a lower setting. Once you see some browning, toss them a bit and repeat until you have some decent color.

Add the potato and squash cubes and toss them all together to coat them with butter and onion, and then add your stock. Don’t cover it. I know intuition will tell you to, but the extreme starch content will almost always cause it to boil over. Be patient, and allow the soup to cook on med until the largest chunks of squash are easily broken apart. When this happens, turn off the heat and let it cool for 5-10 minutes. Get your mixer out and a heat-safe bowl. You could do this in a food processor, but try to stick to glass or metal at this temperature. I don’t want anyone to destroy a food processor because the plastic heats up too much.

Pour the soup into your mixing bowl and add your paddle attachment to break up all the large pieces. Run at the lowest setting (this stuff splashes!) until much smoother. Then switch to your whisk attachment and add your cream while whisking on low. Chunks are okay here, but you get to decide how smooth you want your soup!

Add your nutmeg and dish out to bowls. Garnish and serve!

Notes: You can freeze what’s leftover, there’s nothing in the soup that will be largely affected if you freeze it (like proteins such as chicken or beef would be). You can also spice this up with some cayenne, paprika or chili flakes.

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Fail 1: Burned “charcoal” Marshmallows


A big part of scientific research is keeping a proper lab notebook. One of the best purposes this serves is that it can allow you to go back and review your protocol and data to explain a particularly bad result. This is also true for cooking, though we rarely mark down observations or even notes on that particular recipe. So, in an attempt to explain a particularly had FAIL, here’s my ode to burning sugar and spilling gelatin.

The original recipe: Homemade Marshmallows (that are able to be flavored.)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup water for sugar and 3/4 cup COLD water for gelatin
  • 1 oz of unflavored gelatin (they come in .25oz, by Knox)
  • 2-3 drops peppermint oil
  • 2 large egg whites
  • confectioners sugar for dusting

Process:

Basically, you put the corn syrup and sugar into the pot with 3/4 cup water and dissolve the sugar. You get it to boil and then attach the scientific abomination called a “candy thermometer” to the rim of the pot.

The thermometer is a lie.

This candy thermometer is evil. Trust me on this one. They say that you’re supposed to calibrate it by measuring the temperature of boiling tap water (which is always supposed to be 212F at our elevation) and then remember the displacement between the actual reading. Well, even after doing that, this thing doesn’t work worth a damn. It was only until later that I learned about the cold water test, something that has allowed me to make the smoothest caramel known to man. (More on that later).

The color seemed a little...off.

While this mixture is boiling to reach 260F, you dissolve your gelatin in the cold water and let it “bloom” 7-10 minutes. You then want to heat this up in a water bath, which isn’t a major problem until it spills over into your gelatin, throwing off your consistency AND destroying your water bath. If you’ve added in the drops of oil, your failure now smells of peppermint.

Of course, I continued hoping that by some cooking miracle, the marshmallows would turn out okay, maybe a bit…soft. I started the egg whites whipping in my stand mixer and got ready to add the gelatin to my sugar. But, my sugar looked a little dark…and it hadn’t reached 260F yet! In fact, it was at 240F even with my calibrated thermometer. So, I added the gelatin in a rush, which caused the solution to boil up and spill over slightly, while I frantically whisked them…with a metal whisk. Metal utensils in candy making is apparently a cardinal sin. NO METAL. It acts as a surface for nucleation, which in cooking terms means that it will cause your sugar to turn back into a solid lump of crystals. Luckily, the gelatin here acted as an interfering agent, so the sugar couldn’t crystallize out.

Whipping the mixture and praying that it would be saved...

Once combined, I added the mess to the egg whites, and fluffed the whole thing on med-high until it couldn’t get fluffier. The marshmallows still looked a little…brown. So even after I turned them out onto greased parchment lining a glass dish for them to settle, my hopes for a culinary miracle were dashed. They tasted like something fished out of the bonfire. Nice and burnt.

So, into the trash. At this point, not worth saving. Though I’ve made these successfully before, I find that my mood profoundly affects my cooking abilities. And I think I was studying for a test at the same time, which always puts me in a panicked mood.

Mmmm...tastes like failure...

So, lessons learned. Next time I’ll make sure I have plenty of time and patience, and instead of the candy thermometer, a bowl of ice water to test the progress.

Recipe 2: Chicken Tortilla Soup


Today it was raining off an on, which in San Diego means it’s probably winter. At least when compared to the 80F Sunday we had last week. On days like these, I aim to make food that heats you from the inside out. And today, that recipe was my tortilla soup with chicken.

Recipe 2: Chicken Tortilla Soup


Notes: This soup is very much adjustable to suit your penchant for spiciness. I accidentally added more jalapeño than I meant, so I had to dull the spice down with a little milk. One of the things I added today that is now permanently a part of the recipe is a can of hominy. It’s a very tasty way to get a ton of vegetables in your diet.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 of a large purple onion, diced
  • 1  can (14.5 oz-ish)  fire-roasted tomatoes (I like the ones with garlic)
  • 1 can (15.5 oz-ish) hominy, rinsed.
  • 3 teaspoons of minced garlic (I have a container in my fridge)
  • 1/2 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • 1 ancho or poblano chile, seeded and chopped into thin ribbons.
  • 4 chicken “tenders”
  • 1 tomatillo, diced (optional, I used an unripe green tomato this evening)
  • Salt to taste (give it time to develop first, then salt)
  • Cumin to taste (about 2 tsp)
  • Water (about 2-3 cups) or chicken broth (better).
  • Garnish: avocado cubes, chopped cilantro, fried tortilla strips or crushed chips, and a splash of lime juice.

Process:

Gather your ingredients and chop all chiles and the onion. Add a little olive oil to your soup pot (a medium-size saucepan works) and add the garlic. Medium-high heat until the garlic starts to brown, and then add all of your peppers, onion, and tomatillo, stirring here and there until the onions start to look translucent. Then, add the canned tomato and the cumin, stirring to combine and cook until the liquid is almost gone. Add your chicken broth or water to your desired level (no higher than 3 inches from the top of the pot) to deglaze the pan of all the caramelized vegetables, and bring to a boil. Add the chicken and the can of hominy and allow to cook down for about 20 minutes. Taste test along the way, and try to pull the chicken apart into shreds.

If it’s too spicy, you can add a little splash of milk to lessen the heat. Keep in mind, the avocado garnish cools the peppers down a bit when you eat a bite.

To serve, spoon some of the soup into a bowl with a mound of the solids in the middle. Roughly chop some cilantro and sprinkle on top, add some cubed avocado or even a dollop of sour cream, then some tortilla strips (crisped or “raw”) and a splash of lime juice. Just be prepared to finish the entire pot that night. Leftovers don’t last with this soup, it’s too tasty!

I encourage you to make it your own. Seriously. Add some paprika or maybe some black olives. Omit the chicken or use beef instead. This soup base is very forgiving. Just watch the heat. I’d avoid serrano chiles in this one, too.

Enjoy!

Introduction and Recipe #1: Citrus Cookies


I think my cooking obsession started with being a poor college student. Why spend the money when I could recreate things at home for a fraction of the cost of buying it pre-made? It started with various dinner foods, then expanded to pastas and breads, and by that point I had more cuts and burns and destroyed kitchen utensils than I could count, but a much better appreciation for the value of a little effort and lots of time. So now, I run from recipe to recipe, still a poor college student, but rather than cooking to save money, I find myself doing it for the challenge or because often things made at home are just healthier, and closer to “real” food. My ideal situation is to own a place with a large kitchen and a large yard and do almost everything from scratch. So for those of you who have ever looked at something edible and though “Psh, I could TOTALLY make that at home”, here’s to you. :)

Recipe 1: Citrus Cookies

Notes: So, these cookies are a reaction to my love for limes and my general distaste for cookies. I made this recipe once with limes and then with oranges. Though the orange version was good-tasting, it was far less aromatic than the lime version. In addition, photos used here were from 3 different preps, I found out the hard way that these don’t flatten or rise in the oven, hence the round ball cookies in some pictures. You can make those, or roll and slice (like store-bought cookie doughs), or roll it out, chill, and then use a pretty cookie cutter.

Ingredients:

  • 12 tbsp room-temperature butter (no microwaving)
    1/3 cup confectioners sugar (powdered sugar)
    2-3 heaping tbsps of lime zest (smaller pieces rather than strips)
    2 tbsp lime juice (from the zested limes)
    1 tbsp real vanilla extract
    1 3/4 cups AP (all purpose) flour
    2 tbsp cornstarch
    1/4 teaspoon plain salt

Process:

Pre-heat oven to 350F. These cookies bake fast, and they are done when the edges are juuuuuust lightly browned.

Gather your ingredients, and make sure your butter has had time to soften. To expedite this process, you could use a rolling pin to knead the butter a bit, but it’s better to just leave the sticks out to soften while you do other things. The point of this is to allow a fluffy medium for the dry ingredients to become suspended in. If melted in a microwave, the butter liquid won’t be able to hold any air. It’s just like milk versus whipped cream. I am fortunate to have a stand mixer, so I just add the butter to the bowl and using the whisk attachment, whip it a bit while I add the vanilla, lime zest, and lime juice. Once it’s nice a fluffy, I switch out to the paddle attachment and add the dry ingredients, making sure I sift the cornstarch and the flour together before adding to the cookie mixture. Once everything is combined and smooth, I turn the dough out to sit between two sheets of wax paper that are about the size of my cookie sheet. I roll the dough out between the paper so it fits the pan and then pop it onto the freezer for 5-7 minutes. (This dough also freezes well if you want to save some for later.)

Once firm, I pull off the top piece of wax paper and bust out any of my pretty cookie cutters and carefully peel them off the wax paper and onto a prepared cookie sheet with ungreased parchment paper on it. They don’t expand much, so whatever shape you want, go for it. Spacing doesn’t need to be more than 1/2 inch between, so you can fit on a bunch.

Rolled out before baking the first trial batch... (they didn't flatten!).

Pop into the oven and set your timer for 5 minutes. As some ovens aren’t “true to temperature” (ours is 50F off!), a check at this point can save the cookies if you’re running hot. Usually depending on the weather it takes between 7-15 minutes for these to be nice and done. We’re looking for lightly golden edges, but really, they’ll be firm and cookie-like and pale as a sheet if you take them out early. Chewiness isn’t an option here.

In the sugar bowl to be coated.

Once cooled, transfer to a bowl (or plastic bag) of powdered sugar and dust them. Another option is to cool them on the pan and sift powdered sugar over them (the prettier version). Enjoy and make sure you fling some at friends and family!

Sifted powdered sugar on top makes these fluted rounds really pretty.