Sunday, October 30, 2011

sweet & spicy roasted squash

i made these last night for a halloween party to which we were meant to bring spooky foods, so i called them goblin ribs.* when you make them, you can just call them delicious!

delicata squash is fantastic when roasted with an asian-inspired glaze that is equal parts sweet and savory and entirely tasty.

do you know the delicata squash (Cucurbita pepo)? it's one of my favorite winter squashes because it's dead easy to cook and you can eat the skin, so you don't have to take your life into your hands as you (i) do when trying to peel butternuts and the like. it's also a good size - two people can eat one and not have ridiculous leftovers.

all you do here is preheat your oven to 375. then trim the top and bottom from the squash and cut it in half. scoop out the seeds with a spoon. if you're the adventurous type, you could roast the seeds too, but we just got composting here in portland and my roasted squash seeds are never that awesome, so i don't feel too bad tossing them.

then cut each half into ~ 1/2 inch thick slices. don't they look a little like ribs? weird little alien goblin ribs, maybe? or maybe not. whatever.

just spread the slices on a cookies sheet and drizzle a little olive oil over them - maybe a tablespoon or two. then stick them in the oven for half an hour or so, flipping them after maybe 20 minutes or whenever the bottom sides are browned. while they're cooking, mix up the glaze.

i wanted them to be nice and garlicky, so i minced up two big cloves of garlic. you can use however much you prefer, though. mix this with about a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon and a half or so of soy sauce. you also need a good few shakes of pepper flakes - however much you feel comfortable with. i also used a teaspoon of molasses, but you can skip that if you don't have any. it does add some nice depth, though.

pour the glaze over the sliced squash and stir it around a bit so all the slices get covered. then stick it back in the oven for 5 or 7 minutes - just until it gets nice and sticky and the garlic cooks up. you don't want it to burn, though, so keep an eye on it.

ta da! the glaze melts into the squash a bit and gets kind of candyish. these are good just eaten with your fingers, but you could also have them atop a salad or in a sandwich with some chicken or with rice and greens. you could also use the glaze on other winter squashes, like acorn or something.

*for the curious, other spooky foods included chicken witch's fingers, more witch's fingers made of cheddar-thyme gougères (soon to appear here), broken leg bones of phyllo-wrapped asparagus, pig-in-blanket eyeballs, and other delights. it was a deliciously spoooooky repast.

1 delicata squash

2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
pepper flakes, to taste
1 teaspoon molasses (optional)

Saturday, October 22, 2011


i know it's officially been fall for awhile now, but somehow late october is when fall starts seeming real to me. i think partly that's because in texas it's generally ridiculous-hot until then. here in portland, it's been pretty cool for awhile, but over the last couple of weeks the trees have started getting really colorful and the smell of woodsmoke is in the air. that's how you know.

fall has always been my favorite season. in texas, it means you lived through another summer (no small feat). in portland, it means scarves, boots, and brisk walks where you crunch through leaves and can see your breath. then when you get home, you can drink this to warm up!

this drink has a wealth of classic fall flavor - the sweet pear, spicy ginger, and, uh, lemony lemon combine with bourbon to make the perfect pick-me-up après-hike. or après-thrift-shopping. or après-whatever-you-like-to-do-on-a-saturday.

plus, you can make a batch ahead of time and then if people drop by unexpectedly, you can nonchalantly be like, "oh, would you like a fancy cocktail? i just whipped this up, no biggie." and they will be all, "wow, you are the fanciest!" and you will smile demurely and pass the cheese straws.

anyway. ginger:
you definitely want some fresh ginger for this. i use a spoon to scrape the papery skin off and then just slice it up (probably not with the spoon, unless it is one of those weird grapefruit ones). it doesn't really matter how thick they are, but think coins, rather than chunks.

i leave the skin on the pear and slice it from the top, also into coins. but you can totes slice it into wedges or whatever. i just think the extra surface area of the coins makes it easier to get it infused into the bourbon (yeah, that's where this is going). but follow your bliss.

then just put the pear and ginger into a thingy, add some strips of lemon rind (you can use a vegetable peeler or knife - just avoid the white pith part) smash them a few times with a wooden spoon to get the oils and whatever started, and add some bourbon.

i ended up using about a cup or so of bourbon, one small pear, maybe an inch and a half or two inches of a thinnish ginger root, and about 1/4 or 1/3 of a lemon's rind. then just cover it and let it sit for awhile. it doesn't have to be too long, but i would leave it for at least a few hours. overnight would be good as well.

then you can strain it, put some in a glass, maybe add some lemon juice if you aren't a fan of the sweetz, top it off with ginger ale or (preferably) ginger beer (it's stronger and much more gingery) and ice, and add a sliver of pear if you want to feel super-fancy. you could also use rye or another kind of whiskey or maybe even dark rum. hooray for fall!

*ingredients* for a number of drinks (4? 6? it depends on how much bourbon you want in yours)
1 small ripe pear
1 1/2-2 inches of ginger root, cut in coins
peel from 1/4-1/3 lemon
1 cup (+/-) bourbon
ginger ale/ginger beer
lemon juice, to taste

Sunday, October 9, 2011

chicken stock from your freezer

the problem with weekends is that they end. that feeling you get on a sunday evening - the sunday malaise, ennui, melancholia - whatever you want to call it, it is pretty much the worst. i envy those who can enter their week with a bright and chipper soul, but that is just not me.

however, as with all good things, etc ...

aside from actually roasting a chicken, there are few things that ease you into the week better than a languid afternoon making chicken stock and then turning the stock into a delicious soup. the cooking stock gets your house all warm and good-smelling and cozyface. it's like a hug made of bits of things you ate weeks ago.

wow, does that sound unappetizing. but really, making your own stock is simple and thrifty and it makes you feel all frugal and homesteady, like you are laura ingalls wilder or someone in a willa cather book. basically, you stick trimmings of things and things that would otherwise go bad into a freezer bag and then when it is full, you make stock!

this also works to satisfy the kid in you who used to go out in the woods and make elaborate and inedible concoctions of various (no doubt poisonous) berries and leaves. oh, did you not do that? well you should have. it was fun.

you can also buy things for it. i usually have to buy carrots and sometimes celery specifically for stock-making, for instance, because otherwise we don't usually have them around. and depending on what's in your freezer, you may want to add extra onion or garlic or something. as far as what you should save day to day, you don't want to use too many cruciferous things like cabbage, cauliflower, etc. you could probably use a small amount of trimmings from one, but otherwise it might make it sort of sulfur-y and gross. and that's not what you want.

the things that i usually use are: carrots, celery, onion, garlic, parsley stems, scallion tops, leek tops and chicken bones. i always save the bones when we eat chicken. if you want to start from scratch on this, just buy whatever parts are cheapest - you can sometimes get things like chicken necks and backs (i know, gross) for super-cheap at the butcher's. whenever i cut up onions, i save the tops and the layer underneath the papery outer skin - it's usually tough and hard to separate from the papery layer, so it's easier to just save it for stock.

generally, i cut a medium onion into eighths or so, let it cook a little in the biggest pot i have, then add the things that have been in the freezer. then i fill the pot almost all the way with water and turn it up high. i add perhaps a teaspoon or so of whole black peppercorns and whatever other seasonings are at hand - thyme, marjoram, that mix called "poultry seasoning" and herbes de provence are all good options (and you can mix and match these as well). once it comes to a boil, turn the heat down to pretty low - you want to just let it simmer for a few hours. you can basically cook it as long as you want - i let it go until the carrots are pretty soft - maybe two or three hours or so.

while it simmers, you can definitely do whatever else you need to do on a sunday afternoon, like mope, wash dishes, dress up your cats, or watch the wonder years on netflix instant. just stir it every half hour or so and skim any weird stuff off the top. it is dead simple.

then strain it into another pot and let it cook down for awhile on medium-high. this is not strictly necessary, but i like to make a ton of stock at once and then freeze it for the future. cooking it down ensures that there's less of it to freeze. so once it reduces by 1/3 to 1/2 or so (this is somewhat dictated by your freezer space), let it cool and then ladle it into a muffin tin (or two). place this in the freezer overnight (this is also predicated on your ability to make a flat area in your freezer). if you want to make soup right then, save some out. obviously.

then just let the muffin tin sit out for a few minutes and use a butter knife or similarly flat thing to edge the stock-muffins out. put these in a freezer bag and then you'll have easily accessible stock in a form that enables you to use as much as you need at a time. you could also use ice trays or something like that, but i find that the muffin tin-sized ones are really convenient.

aww, li'l chicken stock muffins. presh! they are all ready to help you make risotto, soups, and whatever else would benefit from some rich homemade flavor.

*ingredients* (for a large pot of stock that reduces to about one and a half muffin tin's worth)
1 onion, plus any trimmings
2-3 carrots, cut in 3" lengths (our dogs love to eat these after i strain them out of the stock)
1-2 celery stalks
chicken bones (variable - whatever you have in the freezer - i usually use at least a pound and probably more like 2)
~ 1/2 bunch parsley - stems only or stems and leaves
5+ cloves garlic
other vegetable trimmings and leftovers - leeks, carrot ends, onion and scallion ends, etc are all good
herbs like thyme, marjoram, bay leaves - fresh or dried

Saturday, October 1, 2011

simple cozy brown bread

so it's officially fall now. grey days may still be slightly outnumbered by sunnyish ones, but the ratio is definitely heading toward portland's traditional parade of grey from october to may.

which is fine by me, actually. when it's grey and chilly out, there is nothing better than making yeasty brown bread. it fills the house with delicious smells and the joy of eating fresh homemade bread cannot be overstated.

this is a versatile little loaf, too. sometimes i make it with part rye flour, sometimes i use more molasses, sometimes i add some oats for part of the flour. i also like to set a little bit of dough aside in the fridge and add it to the next batch, like an ersatz sourdough starter.

the best thing about the bread, though, is that it is as simple as the proverbial pie (which, come on, is not that easy). you can let it rise for as little as 20 minutes, but i usually give it at least an hour or so. you could also mix it up the night before, leave it in the fridge for awhile, and let it warm up and rise for an hour or two the next afternoon and then bake it. whatever you want!

i got the initial recipe from the guardian. i've fiddled around with it a bit, but the recipe as is is plenty delicious. i do appreciate that english recipes tend to use weights for measurements - it makes it roughly 100% easier to switch things with no ill effects.

first, you bloom the yeast in warm water and molasses. i use one whole packet of that yellow-packaged active dry yeast. in the original recipe, it says that the water should be "at blood heat," which, while vaguely creepy, is probably about the temperature you want - lukewarmish. it also calls for black treacle, which is not something i normally come across here. so i used some blackstrap molasses (the strong molasses) and, because i like those really dark sort of sweet breads, i usually use at least a tablespoon or so instead of the meager teaspoon called for originally.

just mix 1/2 cup of warm water, the packet of yeast and the molasses and let it sit for 10 minutes or so. the yeast gets all excited and froths up, so don't mix them in something too small.

while you're waiting for the yeast to do its weird thing, mix up the rest of the ingredients - 1 pound of flour (either all whole wheat or part wheat and part other flour, like rye - experiment!) and a teaspoon (or a little more) of salt. i did one of those online conversion things that said that 1 pound of wheat flour is about 3 3/4 cups, but you'd really be better off just getting a scale. it's much easier and better for switching up flours, since it's more exact. but otherwise, i think you could go with a little under 4 cups of flour and be fine.

once the yeast has foamed nicely, add that mixture and another cup of warm water to the flour and salt. get it all mixed nicely and pour/scrape (it will be pretty wet, for bread dough) it into a greased loaf pan. i like to line the pan with some parchment paper - it makes it easier to get the finished loaf out. then let it sit for awhile in some warm place. the original recipe says just 20 minutes, but i think it should go for at least an hour.

this is also the point at which you could save a little knob of dough for the next batch. i don't know if it really makes a difference in the taste, but the idea appeals to me and i usually do this. i keep it in the fridge in an old olive jar and have used it 2 weeks after it was made with no ill effects. just add it to the new loaf when you stir the water and yeast mixture into the flour and salt.

it rises pretty well over the course of an hour, but this isn't one of those super-rising loaves. it's meant to be a more dense, thick-textured one, like the knobby wool sweater of breads. hmm, that doesn't sound as complimentary as it was meant to. but that's the kind of bread i want on chilly fall days.

preheat the oven to 450 and bake the bread for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400 and let it bake for another 45 minutes + (it should sound sort of hollow when you tap the bottom of the pan). let it cool in the pan for a bit and then set it on a rack to cool fully. you can also take it out of the pan about 5-10 minutes early and set it back in the oven - it gets the crust crispy. but it is also kind of a hassle. so.

they always tell you not to cut warm bread because it something something ... whatever, i am not physically able to resist cutting warm bread. after you make homemade bread, it's an imperative. i mean, don't cut it straight out of the oven, sure, but i rarely wait more than 20 minutes or so before following the siren song of malty, yeasty goodness.

this bread's as good with tea and jam as it is with pimento cheese, salty butter and crisp radishes, or cream cheese, smoked salmon, and capers. in short, it is good with everything. when toasted and well-buttered, it makes a particularly fine accompaniment to soup.

i think i know what we're having for dinner...

1 packet yeast (the original recipe has a measurement for fresh yeast, if you want to go that route)
1 1/2 cups water, divided
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses (or you could use wuss molasses, if you like)
1 lb (450 grams, or ~ 3 3/4 cups) whole wheat flour (or mix of flours)
1 teaspoon or 2 salt