Friday, December 28, 2012

Gardens and Galettes (Butternut Squash with Caramelized Onion)

My original intention was to put together a little holiday gift post. But then I thought, "Good lord, do you know how many well-edited gift guides have already been posted?" Followed by "Do you know how unbelievably late in the season you are trying to put this together?" And "Don't you think that one of the best gifts you can bring your holiday host(ess)is the gift of food?"
So there you have it. A combination of intimidation, tardiness and rethinking caused me ditch my holiday gift guide idea. But had I included some cookbooks that you simply had to have, I would have included The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. 
I decided to make Deb's Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette which is on p. 99 of the book, though a scaled down version of it was previously posted on the Smitten Kitchen site about 5 years ago. The book recipe makes a much larger galette than I needed, so I decided to make a smaller version, which would still amply feed my family. It also allowed me to cut down on the incredible amount of butter needed for the larger galette crust (read: 16 tablespoons). Though I will admit, I firmly believe the holidays are about great friends, good wine, terrific conversation and lots of delicious food-- some of which contains a good deal of butter. 
This galette, which is like a free-form rustic tart, takes a bit of time to make. So when the boys went down for their nap, I put on some Chet Baker (I'm really feeling him these days), made myself a little cocktail and got to work.
The recipe I posted is a hybrid of the book recipe, the blog recipe and this post from Seven Spoons. I had enough Fontina in my fridge to grate 1 cup, but if you don't have enough on hand good substitutes for Italian Fontina are Gruyere and Emmentaler (maybe even Asiago). If you are thinking about using Fontinella, don't (I almost made that mistake). This American-made, semi-hard, pasteurized cow's milk cheese is not related to Fontina at all. They are completely different, so don't use it here. I also opted for thyme instead of sage, though both would work in this galette. 
The outcome was one down-right delicious meal. I have only one little caveat: don't rush the process. You really need to keep the dough in the fridge for at least an hour. Otherwise you'll end up with a bit of a mess once you start rolling it out.
Also, if you don't have a pastry blender (they are around $10), you can use a food processor to mix the dough. But be sure to use it on its lowest setting, and keep an eye on the texture-- you don't want to over-work the dough.
There's a bit of waiting time with this recipe but be patient, it's worth it. And if you bring it to a New Years Eve party, I'm pretty sure it'll be a hit!

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette (Adapted slightly from this Smitten Kitchen post, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and Seven Spoons)
Yields: 1 9-inch galette, Serves 6
You can click on the Seven Spoons link above for the larger pie recipe.

For the pastry:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup ice water

For the filling:
1 small butternut squash (about 1 1/4 pound)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons of butter
1 large Vidalia or Spanish (sweet) onion, halved and thinly sliced in half-moons

Pinch of sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
3/4 -1 cup grated Fontina cheese (about 2 1/2- 2 3/4 ounces). You could also use Gruyere.
3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon of water, for optional glaze. (It gives the galette more of a croissant-looking finish.)

To make pastry: In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the stick of butter and, using a pastry blender, break up the bits of butter until the texture is like cornmeal, with the biggest pieces the size of pebbles. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water, and pour this over the butter-flour mixture. Stir with a spoon or a rubber spatula until a dough forms, kneading it once or twice on the counter if needed to bring it together. Do not over work the dough. Pat the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic and chill it in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to two days.

Prepare squash: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel squash, then halve and scoop out seeds. Cut into a 1/2-inch dice. Toss pieces with olive oil and a half-teaspoon of the salt, some freshly ground black pepper and roast on a baking sheet for 30 minutes or until pieces are tender, turning it midway if your oven bakes unevenly. Set aside to cool slightly. Leave the oven on.

Caramelize onions: While squash is roasting, melt butter in a heavy skillet and cook onion over low heat with the remaining half-teaspoon of salt and pinch of sugar, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Stir in cayenne. 

Mix squash, caramelized onions, cheese and herbs together in a bowl.

Assemble galette: On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch round. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Spread squash, onions, cheese and herb mixture over the dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Fold the border over the squash, onion and cheese mixture, pleating the edge to make it fit. The center will be open. (Optional: Brush the outside of the crust with the egg-yolk wash.)

Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes, then slide the galette onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature. 

Now I've been consuming a lot of great food since Thanksgiving. We've had some wonderful meals, terrific desserts and a Fondue party, where there wasn't an ounce of restraint in sight. So we decided to take the kids on a hike in an effort to kind of "work it off" a little. I thought our last hike of the year was going to be this one near Boulder, but the weather turned out to be mild for another few days, so more hiking was in store. There really is nothing like fresh air, right?

The Garden of the Gods is a place we've been only once, so it was nice to be back. The rock formations are gorgeous and the views (you can see Pikes Peak, a 14,000 foot mountain) are spectacular. The hike itself is on a paved path so it's not exactly what I would call a rigorous trail, but it is a really nice place to take a walk. I hear there are more strenuous hikes in the area, which I hope to check out in the spring.
After our hike, we got in the car and started making our way back to Denver. We toyed with the idea of stopping by the 'Focus on the Family' headquarters and taking a family photo that was purposefully out of focus (something that is pretty much in-line with our sense of humor). And we thought that shot would make a pretty great image for our holiday card next year (if we can ever manage to get them out in time). But the boys were tired and so was I, so we just kept driving...
...and when we got home, I started thumbing through all those great cookbooks I've either purchased or been gifted over the past 12 months. And I started to menu plan...
I can't wait to share more recipes next year, but for now I'm signing off for the rest of 2012. 
Have a wonderful holiday season and a very Happy New Year! Thank you for all the comments, the suggestions and the support. I has meant a lot to me.
See you in 2013!
Be well,
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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

an almost-winter hike (chautauqua) + an almost-winter soup (mushroom barley)

I suspect that anyone listening to the news these days has felt a deep sorrow that seems hard to shake. We aren't the parents of the slain children, or the siblings who have lost so much, or even the community members who have to pull together and pick up the pieces. We are simply people who feel a connection with the grieving community of Newtown because we are human. 
Ever since the tragedy, I've been hugging my boys a little bit tighter, reading to them a little bit longer and telling them how much I love them a bit more often (if that is even possible).
A few months ago my friend suffered several personal losses in a row. When I asked her how she was doing she wrote: "I'm up in the mountains; the mountains are good for the soul."
Monday felt like the right time to go to the mountains. It was warmer than it should have been and the sun was shining brightly. So we drove to Boulder and hiked a small trail near Chautauqua. It was beautiful. 
We got some fresh air, got lost in our own thoughts and spent good, quality time with each other...the whole family. 
When we got off the trail, I turned to my boys and asked them, "Do you know how much I love you?" 
"So much," Otis replied with his arms fully extended.
"Yah," said Theo.
I ask them that each and every day...
This hike will probably be one of the last ones we do this calendar year. Temperatures are taking a plunge and a big snow storm is supposed to move in tonight.
I'm well into soup season and this one, from Mark Bittman, is really good. It will be a heavy-hitter in my soup rotation this winter. Enjoy it with your close friends and family.

Mushroom-Barley Soup (Adapted Slightly from Mark Bittman, Recipe of the Day)
The soup becomes a light meal with bread or, even better, croutons -- just brown slices of good bread on both sides in as much olive oil as you need. 
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (about 1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 pound shiitake or button mushrooms, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups of vegetable stock (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1. Soak porcini in 3 cups very hot water. Put olive oil in a medium saucepan and turn heat to high. Add shiitakes and carrots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown. Add barley, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown; sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Remove the porcini from their soaking liquid, and reserve liquid. Sort through porcini and discard any hard bits.
  • 2. Add porcini to pot and cook, stirring, for about a minute. Add bay leaf, mushroom soaking water and 3 cups additional water (or stock, if you prefer). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer; cook until barley is very tender, 20 to 30 minutes. {I had to cook the barley a bit longer-- and I added a few tablespoons of water every few minutes until I thought the consistency was right.} Add soy sauce, and taste. Add salt if necessary and plenty of pepper. Serve hot.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2012


{Photo credit: AP}
My old college roommate Katie is from Newtown, CT. Through Katie I met my close friend Tom. He too was raised in Newtown. And they both went to Sandy Hook Elementary School. 
I've been to Newtown only a couple of times. I remember thinking how beautiful it was. It seemed like a nice place to live and to grow-up. Quiet. Picture-perfect Americana.  
And then, on December 14, 2012, 20 children and six adults were killed. The loss is indescribable. 
Many articles and blog posts have been dedicated to the Newtown shooting victims. But Olga's post, and the poem she chose to share, were among the most beautiful I've read. The following passage is from Thomas Lynch's eulogy, which was written after the September 11th tragedy:

 "But the bodies of the dead are not “just” anything or “only” anything else. They are precious to the living who have lost them. They are the seeing–hard as it is–that is believing, the certainty against which our senses rail and to which our senses cling. They are the singular, particular sadness that must be subtracted from the tally of sadness. So the cruelty is real, the pain of it unspeakable. It is as if, until they are returned, their deaths belong to their murderers, the media, the demographics or the larger history of the world. But if they are victims of terrorism, casualties of a widespread war, part of a national tragedy, they are no less spouses and parents, daughters and sons, dear to friends, neighbors and fellow workers who are not only missed in the general sense, but missed as surely in the flesh–in beds, at desks and dinner tables, over drinks and talk and intimacies–the one and only face and voice and touch and being that has ceased to be. And their deaths, like their lives, belong to the precious few before they belong to the many who care.

When do the missing become the dead? When do the lost become the lost forever? When does hope give way entirely to grief? When will searching no longer serve the living or the living that have died? How will each family’s lamentation be heard above the nation’s keening? Where is God in all of this? The dead, of course, do not much care. They are predictably indifferent to such details. Perhaps it is the first gift of paradise. The dead don’t care. Only the living do. Whether faith furnishes our heavens, or doubt leaves the decor up for grabs, or wonder keeps the particulars ever changing, Whomever Is in Charge There must take care of them. God is good to them, wherever God is these days. The dead who occupy these places know our hearts, our hurts and how we have searched and watched and waited for them.

We do what we do for the living’s sake. The living must decide when the time has come to cease looking and begin to mourn, to organize the liturgies of thanks and praise and affliction, to shake a fist in God’s face and say the ancient prayers. All the dead require is witness and remembrance–to say they lived, they died, they matter to us."

* * *

To the parents who buried their children, 
our hearts are with you during this time of immense pain and suffering. 
To the people of Newtown, 
may you find healing and strength through your community.
To my own children, 
we will work to make sure nothing like this happens again.
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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy Chanukah! or Hanukah! Adam and Maxine Rapoport's Potato Latkes (Potato Pancakes)

The other day
 I stumbled upon the latke line up for the Fourth Annual Latke Festival. I nearly boarded a plane and headed straight for LaGuardia airport. All those latkes, made by some of the best restaurants in New York. Oh, I wanted to be part of it. I wanted a little latke taste...
But (now) I live almost 1,800 miles from Brooklyn and flying in for a latke festival seems a bit extravagant. Maybe next year. 
Or better yet, I can organize a latke-swap right here in Denver. Who's in?
We could have all kinds of latkes. Sweet potato, leek, yam & carrot, curried latkes. Oh, and the toppings. We could really go crazy! 
But maybe I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself. Before taking on a more inventive latke menu maybe I should master the classic. 

I took out my most recent copy of Bon Appetit and there it was: the most perfect looking latke. The recipe was from Adam Rapoport's mother Maxine. Adam is the current editor of Bon Appetit magazine, so I figured it had to be good...
And it was. 
The latkes cooked evenly on both sides and they were perfectly crisp. Not a bit of sogginess or unwanted oiliness. I made the recipe just as it was written, minus the optional schmaltz. 
For those of you who don't know, schmaltz is rendered chicken fat. I have vivid memories of my father cutting fresh challah bread and slathering it with schmaltz. It was part of our family's Friday night shabbat ritual and it was a big treat in our house. But then around the mid-80s the truth about schmaltz came out-- it turned out rendered chicken fat wasn't exactly good for you. And just like that, my mother abruptly stopped serving it. I think it took my father years to recover emotionally; he really loved that schmaltz.
But anyway, back to the latkes. They are really simple to make and I have to tell you, they are the best latkes I've ever been able to make at home. 
So enjoy these classic latkes and have a very happy Chanukah!

Adam and Maxine's Famous Latkes

Russets are ideal for latkes. Their high starch content means you won't need flour to bind the pancakes. The result? More potato, and a crunchy (not cakey) texture.
(Courtesy of Bon Appetit Magazine
Makes 24
3 pounds large russet potatoes (4-6)
1 medium Vidalia, yellow, or brown onions (about 2)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup fine plain dried breadcrumbs
3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-4 tablespoons (or more) vegetable oil

2 tablespoons (or more) schmaltz (chicken fat; optional)
Sour cream

Preheat oven to 325°. Peel potatoes. Using the large holes of a box grater or the grater disk on a food processor, grate potatoes and onions. {I use the box grater for the potatoes and the food processor grating dish for the onions.} Transfer to a large kitchen towel. Gather ends of towel; twist over sink and squeeze firmly to wring out as much liquid as possible. Open towel; toss mixture to loosen. Gather towel; wring out once more.

Whisk eggs, breadcrumbs, salt, baking powder, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend. Add potato mixture. Using your fingers, mix until well coated. (Latke mixture should be wet and thick, not soupy.)

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Set a wire rack inside another large rimmed baking sheet; set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons schmaltz, if using, and 2 tablespoons oil (or 4 tablespoons oil if not using schmaltz; fat should measure about 1/8 inches) in a 12 inches nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Drop a small amount of latke mixture into pan. If the fat sizzles around the edges, it's ready. (Do not let fat smoke.)

Working in batches and adding more schmaltz and oil to skillet as needed to maintain 1/8 inches fat, drop large spoonfuls of mixture into pan, pressing gently with the back of a spoon or spatula to flatten slightly. (If mixture becomes watery between batches, mix to incorporate; do not drain.)

Cook latkes, occasionally rotating pan for even browning, until golden brown and cooked through, 2 1/2-3 minutes per side. (If small pieces of potato floating in the oil start to burn, carefully strain out.)

Transfer latkes to paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain, then transfer to prepared wire rack. Place sheet with latkes in oven to keep warm and crisp while cooking remaining latkes.

Serve warm latkes with applesauce and sour cream.

Here are some vegetarian options from the Fourth Annual Potato Latke Festival in Brooklyn: 

  • Potato Latke with Fontina, Apple, and Truffles from A Voce.
  • Potato, Yam & Carrot Latke with Honey, Preserved Lemons & Yogurt Sauce from Balaboosta
  • Potato Pancakes with Vanilla Applesauce and Schmaltzy Onions from Blue Ribbon Brooklyn
  • Laid Back Latke with Deviled Egg and Red Onion, Parsley and Black Olive Relish from Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola
  • Spud Maccabee with Pickled Fennel Jam, Butternut Squash, and Crème Fraîche from The Farm on Adderley
  • Magic Mushroom Cakes: Traditional Potato Pancakes made with Mushrooms & Onions and topped with Porcini Mushroom Sauce and Cranberry-Apple Sauce from Norma's
  • Duo of Potato Latke with Balsamic Lemon Crème Fraiche, Fresh Shaved Black Truffles and Micro Green Salad from Veselka
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