Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving: What To Drink

Hesketh sparkling rose

Choosing an appropriate wine for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with all its rich and varied components, can be a tricky thing.  There are a few different ways you can successfully go, but in the end, it's going to come down to personal preference.  If you're feeding a crowd, it's best to have some options.  The black pepper and mineral notes of a bold California Zinfandel provide a more interesting contrast than you might get from other, smoother reds.  My favorite is Storybook Mountain Vineyards Eastern Exposures Zinfandel.  For white, choose a Chardonnay that's not overly oaky, like Robert Mondavi Private Selection.

If you're a guest, consider bringing something a little more unexpected, like a sparkling wine.  Last year, I brought a sparkling dry rosé from Hesketh Wines which was unanimously loved.  A visually celebratory wine with a faint pink color, its dry effervescence provided some much-needed levity to the otherwise heavy and complex flavor profile of the meal.  And there's just something about bubbles that signals a special occasion.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pumpkin Bread

It seems to me that it happened every single year in elementary school: there would be one day when we crowded around a bowl and made pumpkin muffins.  To this day, every time I open a can of pumpkin, that memory comes flying back.  It's as powerful as the smell of tempera paint or that hand soap in the bathrooms.  Isn't it strange how specific and tangible olfactory memory is?

This is my take on a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, the Fannie Farmer Baking Book.  When I was growing up, I think I baked almost every single cookie in it.  It's a fantastic reference book - every chapter begins with a "Basic Master Recipe" that goes through the steps for bread, pie, cake, quick breads, crackers, and cookies in painstaking detail.  There are drawings and suggestions for pairings and substitutions.  Most of all, everything I've ever made from it has turned out beautifully.  It also contains the recipe for the best scones in the world.  It's a great book.  When I moved out of my mom's house, I bought myself a copy, knowing that it wouldn't feel right to be in the kitchen without it!

This is a dense, spicy bread, studded generously with dates and nuts.  After the bread is baked, the dates become moist, unidentifiable pockets of sweetness.  It's best within a day or two, but after that it's fantastic toasted and spread with salted butter.

Pumpkin Bread

1 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup oat flour (grind old fashioned oats in the blender until powdery)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2/3 cup milk
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1 cup chopped pitted dates
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease and flour two standard loaf pans.  Stir together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In another bowl, stir together butter, sugar, eggs, milk, pumpkin puree, dates and walnuts.  Add to dry ingredients and fold together, taking care not to over mix.  Divide evenly between loaf pans and bake 50-65 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pans for 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

Yield: two loaves

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mushroom and Leek Wild Rice

Thanksgiving in my parents' house always goes about the same way.  Mom wakes up super early and makes coffee and homemade cinnamon rolls with nuts and raisins.  I'm the next to get up, and then we'll sit down together and start going through the stack of old, splattered, hand-written recipes that make up our family's traditional dinner.  Bajee's stuffing, supremely moist and studded with fruit and pecans, Grandmom's traditional cornbread stuffing, candied yams, cranberry sauce and orange-cranberry relish, fluffy pale green jello salad, crescent rolls, the obligatory green vegetable, and 3 kinds of pie: pumpkin, cherry, and pecan.  Nothing changes, and I wouldn't want it to.  This is the one day a year when I believe that nothing can be improved about the meal.

We cook all day, stopping briefly to eat the cinnamon rolls when they're ready and catch a glimpse of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  I always feel slightly bewildered when I see recipes for things like appetizers and starters for Thanksgiving.  It boggles my mind that people would put time and effort into fussy, complicated appetizers for people to eat before the biggest meal of the year.  There are so many problems with that!  First, who has time to make them?  Second, if people are munching on appetizers and snacks all day, how will they have room for dinner? 

Even though I think appetizers and new side dishes have no business near a Thanksgiving dinner, I am not immune to the pull of these things in other contexts.  So I'll make sausage, fig, and cranberry stuffing, or twice-baked sweet potatoes with chipotle-pecan streusel, or sweet potato cupcakes with toasted marshmallow frosting (!) some other time.  And I'll also eat mushroom and leek wild rice, stuffed into roasted winter squash, all week for lunch.

Mushroom and Leek Wild Rice

This would be a great vegan entree for Thanksgiving, if you tend that way.

1 cup wild rice, rinsed well
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
3 large portobello mushroom caps
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch leeks, cleaned well, and sliced
1/4 teaspoon celery seed (or 1 rib fresh celery, chopped, if you have some on hand)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup dry sherry
salt and pepper to taste

Place dried mushrooms in a medium bowl, and pour 3 cups boiling water over them.  Allow to steep for 20 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft, and the liquid is caramel colored and very fragrant.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms and set aside.  Pour the mushroom broth into a medium saucepan with the wild rice, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.  This can take anywhere from 45-60 minutes, depending on the brand of rice you use, so keep your eye on it. 

While the rice is cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Gently scrape the gills from the portobello mushrooms using a spoon, taking care not to scoop out the mushroom flesh.  Slice into 1/2-inch-thick strips.  Arrange on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for about 10 minutes, until mushrooms are tender. Set aside.

Place olive oil in a wide shallow saucepan or skillet over medium heat.  Add leeks and saute 2-3 minutes, until soft.  Chop porcini and portobello mushrooms into bite-sized pieces and add to the pan.  Add seasonings and stir to combine.  Add sherry, and deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits.  Stir in wild rice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Yield: 4-6 servings

Note: This dish tastes great as is, but if you're not vegan, stir in a couple of tablespoons of butter after removing the finished dish from the heat.  The butter adds a silkiness and finesse that makes it taste even more like a special occasion.

"Your life is an occasion.  Rise to it." -Mr. Magorium

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Southern Comfort Apple Pie and Thoughts about Crust


Are you ready?

Up until very recently, I had experienced nothing but failure when I tried to make pie crust on my own.  Oh, I could cobble together something moderately respectable, but I would never have called it a success.  So when my mom came to visit this summer, I dragged her to the kitchen to show me exactly how it's done.

There are a lot of different opinions floating around out there about pies.  Butter, lard, or vegetable shortening?  A combination?  Food processor, pastry blender, or by hand?

Here are my conclusions, based on a couple of months of research:

Butter is best for flavor, but the crust does not hold shape as well as a combination butter-shortening crust.  Read this article for a full run-down on the pros and cons of different fats (and, incidentally, a step-by-step photo recipe of my preferred method for making dough).

I like the food-processor method.  It's consistent, it's easy, and it's fast.  If you want to do it by hand, there's a great tutorial over here.  I love the idea of doing it by hand.  I really do.  And I may change my mind in the future, but for now, this method is really working for me.

When I was baking test pies for the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest, I had this idea in my head that I should bake something extra-special into the crust.  I blame Pushing Daisies for putting a bee in my bonnet.

I tried baking in a little maple syrup, a little lemon zest, honey...  And none of them worked.  Pie dough is a very delicate balance, and you can't just throw extra things in.  The one exception I've found is Heidi's rye pie dough, which is hands-down the dreamiest, easiest-to-handle, flakiest, most amazing pie crust I've ever made or tasted.

The key ingredient, I've found, is patience.  Don't cut corners, don't rush, and you'll come out the other side with a buttery, golden pie crust you can be proud of.

Southern Comfort Apple Pie
adapted from 20 Something Cupcakes

It's important that you use a deep-dish pie plate for this recipe, because the caramel filling expands while baking, and you really, really don't want hot sticky stuff bubbling out of the pan onto your oven.  I baked my pie on a cookie sheet just in case, and my pie plate is ginormous.

Basic All-Butter Pie Crust:
This recipe makes enough for one 8- or 9-inch double-crust pie, two single-crust pies, or one 10-inch deep-dish single-crust pie.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
4-5 tablespoons ice water

Place flour and salt in a food processor with the blade attachment.  Pulse a few times.  Place half of butter cubes into food processor and pulse a few times, until pea-sized clumps form.  Add the rest of the butter, and pulse only two or three times, just to break it up a little and coat it with flour.  The next step will take care of the bigger pieces.  Add apple cider vinegar and water, one tablespoon at a time, pulsing a few times after each addition, and stopping the moment the dough starts to come together.  If it gets too wet, it's impossible to work with, and really hard to fix.  Dump the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, squeeze into a disc (or two, for two crusts), wrap tightly, and let rest in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes.  All day is fine - the colder it is, the easier it is to roll out.


1/2 cup pecan halves, roughly chopped
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter

Place sugars, cinnamon, salt and flour into a food processor fitted with the blade attachment.  Pulse a few times until well incorporated.  Add butter and pulse a few times more, until uniform small-ish pieces form.  Remove to a bowl and stir in pecans. Set aside.


5-7 medium-size baking apples, such as Cortland
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup Southern Comfort liqueur

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Peel and core the apples, and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices.  In a large skillet, melt 1/2 cup butter over medium heat.  Add apples, and saute for about 5 minutes.  Add sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg, stirring to combine.  Using a slotted spoon, remove apples to a baking sheet, leaving as much liquid as possible.  Add Southern Comfort to the skillet, and cook about 10 minutes, until alcohol is burned off and mixture is thick.  Remove from heat and return the apples to the skillet, stirring to coat.  Roll out pie crust to a 1/8-inch thick circle, and place gently in pie plate.  Flute edges and prick all around bottom and sides with a fork.  Pour apple filling into prepared crust, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top.  Sprinkle with pecan topping, and bake 50-60 minutes, until filling is bubbling and topping is crisp and brown.

Serve with unsweetened whipped cream.

Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup

Wait, what?

Did I just say "vegan cream" like it was no big deal?  Ew!  EEEWWWWWWW!!

I think it's weird when people decide to go vegan, and then all they eat is super-processed meat and dairy substitutes.  That stuff is the devil!  Tapioca cheese?  Non-dairy creamer, which is basically just corn syrup?  Tofurky?  I just threw up in my mouth a little.  Don't even get me started on vegan bacon.  *shudder*

I mean, why mess with these abominable food substitutes when there are perfectly delicious all-natural unadulterated vegan things you could eat?

This lovely soup has nothing weird or processed in it, and also nothing that came from an animal.  I am totally on board.  Did you know about the magical creamy properties of raw cashews?  It is nothing short of a revelation.  Now, I'm not going to lie to you and say, "Oh my gosh!  It tastes exactly like cream!"  Because it obviously does not taste anything like cream.  But if you eat this soup, which tastes delicious in its own wonderfully nutty way, you'll feel better, and so will your skinny jeans.  Plus, I assume that in eight short days, you will be stuffing your face with many, many delicious things that contain real cream and real butter, so why don't we do ourselves a favor and make up for it now?

P.S. Just for the sake of full disclosure, that toast in the photo has real, non-vegan, from-a-cow cheddar cheese on it.  I am not a vegan.  Clearly.  I just think real plant-based food is fun.

Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup

adapted from Joy the Baker

Trivia: the thing that makes Worcestershire sauce un-vegan is anchovies.

1 1/2 cups raw cashews
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 heads broccoli, washed and separated into florets
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard seeds
black pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
4 cups water

Place raw cashews in a bowl with enough water to fully cover, and soak for one hour.  Drain.

Steam broccoli until tender and bright green.  Drain and set aside.

Place the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onions and saute until translucent, about 5-6 minutes.  Add garlic and cook one minute more.  Add seasonings, and continue cooking for a few seconds.  Toss in the cooked broccoli, mix it all up, remove from the heat and set aside.

Place half of cashews, half of broccoli mixture, and 2 cups water into a blender, and blend until smooth.  Pour into a soup pot over low heat, and repeat with remaining ingredients.  Add lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce, and more water if desired.  Serve warm.

Yield: 4-6 servings.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Carrot-Cherry Breakfast Cookies

Good morning!  Happy Monday!  Oh, I know you're not happy it's Monday.  I'm not terribly happy about it either.  The better the weekend, the sadder it is when it ends.  So I brought you a present to make you feel better.  Cookies for breakfast, jam-packed with healthy vegan stuff!  We are starting this week off on the right foot!

What kind of weekend did you have?  Fun?  Responsible and productive?  Both?  I had the apartment to myself, and I had a whole mental list of things that I wanted to get accomplished, including:
  • finally switch my closet from summer to winter
  • purge said closet of things that either don't fit me or I hate and never wear
  • clean all the things!
  • take a yoga class
  • buy some new winter clothes
  • get the plants in from the porch so that they don't die in the frost

Here's what I actually did:
  • drank wine while knitting and watching Cars 2
  • danced around the house to Adele and Maroon 5 (I've got the moves like Jagger.  Yes I do.)
  • cooked for 8 hours straight
  • met friends for drinks at a new-to-me bar in my neighborhood
  • brought treats with me everywhere I went

Sometimes you just have to scrap your sensible list and do what feels right.  I mean, obviously you'll get back to the list sometime.  And these cookies are great for that.  They are perfect try, try again cookies.  Yummy, soft, spicy, and so healthy.  Hope you love them as much as I do! 

Carrot-Cherry Breakfast Cookies
adapted from Joy the Baker

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
3 tablespoons millet, rinsed well
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 heaping cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

Position racks in the upper half of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.  Whisk together oil and maple syrup, carrots, cherries and ginger, and add to the dry ingredients, folding to combine.  Let mixture rest for 5 minutes. 

Spoon mixture by heaping tablespoonful onto pans and bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.  Allow to cool on pans for about 5 minutes, and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

30 Day Photo Challenge: Gratitude

It's really starting to cool down in earnest in Chicago.  Yesterday, we had our first snow flurry, and this morning I had a peppermint mocha at Starbucks.  They're starting to put up Christmas lights all over the city, and department stores are in full holiday swing.  Did you hear that lots of stores are starting their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day this year?  I think that's sad. But I don't know who's more to blame: retailers or consumers?  If there are people who are willing to go shopping all through the night, why stop them?  It does seem like a shame to make employees work on a holiday, but let's face it; that's what you sign up for when you work in retail or food service or entertainment.  You work when other people play.  It's life.

As the holiday shopping frenzy starts to heat up (ONLY 44 SHOPPING DAYS LEFT, PEOPLE!), I wanted to take the opportunity to focus on something else.  We all have the Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table naming something we're thankful for, right?  Well, Dani of Positively Present has taken it one step further, using the month of November as a reflection on gratitude, through the medium of a 30-day photo challenge.

Visit her page for all the details.  I'll be posting my pictures daily on Flickr and Twitter, or if you don't care and just want to know how it went when it's all over, check back here in about 30 days, and I'll post a little collage.  Let me know in the comments if you're participating too!

Update 2/17/2012: Finally done! My 30 photos are over here.

Day 1, Favorite Food: for today, it was a beef chili quinoa bowl from Protein Bar. Delish!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Anything-Goes Muffin Mix

Even though both my parents worked when I was growing up, we never lacked for delicious, healthy homemade food.  My mom was constantly on the look-out for ways to save money and time on meals.  She made frequent use of the Crock-Pot, the auto-timer on the oven, and in some cases, mixes.

Homemade mixes!  What an inspired idea.  Mix together all the dry ingredients in a basic muffin recipe, stick it in a container, write the recipe on the lid (GENIUS!), and voila!  Muffins at any time.  This is a great thing to have around as the holidays are approaching, when you have family and guests around more often!  What an effortless way to whip up breakfast for people on the day after Thanksgiving (that is, unless everyone's eating pie for breakfast)!

Mix in whatever you like to make them more special!  Here are a few suggestions:
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest, 1 cup fresh cranberries, and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract, 3/4 cup dried cherries, and 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, and 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup frozen fruit of your choice, straight from the freezer
  • 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut and 1/2 cup diced pineapple
  • 1 cup diced apple, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup grated carrots, 1/2 cup raisins, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, 1 tablespoon honey
What would YOU mix in?

Anything-Goes Muffin Mix

5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cold butter, chopped into pieces

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Yield: about 4 dozen muffins

To make muffins:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Beat together 1 egg and 1 cup milk.  Add to 2 1/2 cups muffin mix and stir until barely combined (too much stirring = hockey pucks).  Fold in any mix-ins you like.  Spoon into paper-lined or greased muffin tin.  Bake 15-20 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Each batch yields 1 dozen muffins.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Brussels Sprout Salad

This past Sunday, my mom gave a concert in Suttons Bay.  We went up to attend, and my mom graciously invited me to sing with her on a couple of pieces.  What an absolute joy to be able to sing together.  You want to talk about voices blending?  Try being related!  It's like nothing else.  The program was all sacred, and there was a free-will offering collected to raise money for homeless teens living in the area, in order to provide them with turkeys for their Thanksgiving celebration.  The goal had been to raise $300, which would have covered that cost.  We ended up raising $575.  I was speechless.

On Saturday afternoon, we drove up to Brys Estate on Old Mission Peninsula for a wine tasting and food pairing event.  It was a beautiful day - sunny, cool and clear.  The views were unbeatable.

We got home, and I started putting everyone to work on dinner: Dad shelling pistachios ("Three quarters of a cup of shelled pistachios is more than you would think!"), hubby peeling potatoes, sister grating cheese.  It's amazing how fast dinner comes together when you have 5 pairs of hands!  (If you're doing mental math right now, my sister's boyfriend was also there helping.  Calm down.)

I first had this brussels sprout salad at my friend Joey's restaurant, Franks 'n' Dawgs.  I might never have ordered it if he hadn't just given me a taste one time.  I mean, you can't blame me.  Who in their right mind would order a salad of brussels sprouts when the menu boasts things like the "Tur-doggin" (Turkey & date sausage, crispy duck confit, herb garlic aioli, pickled onion relish & pickled carrots), "Krazy Kimchi" (Spicy beef sausage, braised short rib & turnips, kimchi, wild rice & basi), and "Peking Duck" (Duck & sesame sausage, pickled cucumber, hoisin aioli, scallion, crispy peking duck skin & puffed rice)?  Many of the sausages are house-made daily, and they're served on freshly baked, buttered, and toasted New England-style lobster rolls.  Certainly, the salad is NOT the thing to order here.

Or is it?

I am so glad I tried this, because it completely transformed the way that I see this humble vegetable!  Don't get me wrong, I've never been a hater.  My dad started me on steamed sprouts early on, and since then I have fallen in love with their roasted counterparts.  But raw was a new concept to me.  This salad is the perfect antidote to sad, wilty lettuce salads when the weather turns cooler.  Refreshing and satisfying, with a zing of lemon and a crunch of pistachios, this is the perfect salad to have alongside something not-so-light.  Like the fabulous sausages at Franks 'n' Dawgs, or fried chicken and mashed potatoes at home. 

Brussels Sprout Salad
1 bag brussels sprouts
3/4 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup of olive oil
pepper to taste
finely chopped fresh dill, to taste (about 3 tablespoons for me)

Chop the tough ends off of the sprouts, halve them, and slice them thinly.  (This was a revelation to me. It's like a tiny cabbage!)  Place sprouts in a large bowl.  Add remaining ingredients and toss.  Serve with something indulgent.  It's all about balance.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Roasted Buttercup Squash

The last day that they had the outdoor farmer's market near my office this year was a cold, drizzly, dreary day that made you just feel so sorry for the few farmers who had decided to man their stands until the bitter end.  Three days later, the market near my house (yup, I'm lucky enough to have a weekday one about 2 blocks from work, and a weekend one steps from my apartment) opened warm, sunny, and breezy - the kind of fall day you live for, that you can't help but savor.  I've been trying to branch out to different hard squashes (butternut and acorn rut, anyone?), and that day I found a Red Thai squash (the orange one above) and a Buttercup squash (the green).  Oh yeah!  And a magic brussels sprout wand.  Don't you love that they grow like that?  Look at this picture of a whole field of them!  It's like alien vegetables!

They look very similar to acorn squash, don't they?  Taste similar, too - more flavorful, I thought.  Into each little quarter went a bit of butter, maple syrup, a pinch of salt and a whisper of cayenne pepper.  For a second I was reminded of my brief, ill-advised foray into the world of the Master Cleanse and shivered.  Then I popped these babies into the oven, and in about 45 minutes, here's what came out:

Ahhhhh.  Comfort food.  Look at those little pools of love! 

A pan-seared pork chop, some brussels sprouts, and roasted squash.  Virtues: low-carb, more vegetables than non-vegetables, multiple colors.  Vices: butter.  But who's counting?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Roasted Cranberry-Apple Sauce

I love chilly weather.  I love sweaters and fuzzy slippers and, Lord help me, I love my Snuggie.

Photo from Snuggie Sightings.  Bet you didn't know that was a thing!

Apparently, I'm not the only one.

Other things I love about the advent of chilly weather: roasting and baking!  Squash, apples, and cranberries.  Warm spicy drinks.  The Starbucks holiday cup!  Although I do think it's just a bit early for department stores to be busting out the Christmas music and decorations.

Seriously, though - I love roasted food.  And in the summer it feels almost like a sin to fire up the oven for dinner.  When it's cold (and you're quickly realizing that your apartment does not have the insulation quality you might hope for), firing up the oven is comforting and practical and fills your house with happy smells!  Especially if you make this roasted applesauce, which was one of the best experiments I've tried in a while.

This recipe is so simple and delicious - sweet apples, tart cranberries, and a spicy punch of fresh grated ginger. I used a mixture of apples that I had leftover from the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest (which I just realized I never told you about!  Silly me!).  Make sure to select apples that are good for baking or sauce, like Cortland, Jonathan, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, and Northern Spy.  See this article from Midwest Living for a great primer on the relative virtues of different types of apples.  When you mix different types together, you get a more complex flavor in the finished product.

So pretty!

Roasted Cranberry-Apple Sauce

About 10 pounds fresh apples, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped (about 20 large apples)
1 bag fresh cranberries, picked over for soft or rotten-looking ones
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.  Spray a large roasting pan (or a couple of smaller pans, if you're like me) with nonstick cooking spray, and spread the apple and cranberry mixture out in an even layer.  Place pan into the oven, and roast for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.  When the cranberries have burst, and the apples are completely soft and juicy, remove from the oven and mash with a potato masher.  Taste and add more maple syrup if you like.

Yield: 3 pints

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

I took a yoga class last week.  My first Baptiste Power Yoga class ever.  I've been practicing yoga on and off for several years, but I've never felt a particular sense of commitment to one form or another.  I like Bikram, but it tends to be hard to fit it into my schedule.  Ashtanga is great; I like the idea of building heat from the inside using breath and flowing through the postures.  I've always felt challenged by the classes I've taken, but Baptiste?  Baptiste should be in a category of its own.  It takes the external heat of Bikram and combines it with the internal vinyasa/breath heat of Ashtanga, and it is SO. HARD.  (Also, I just want to mention Om on the Range - fantastic teachers, clean facility, lots of different classes in two different locations, and such a welcoming atmosphere.  I love it!  Go try it - $20 for your first unlimited week!)

Of course, when you leave the class, you barely remember how hard it was because you're practically high with all the endorphins.  Amazing.  I ended up taking 3 classes last week, and I'm desperately looking for a hole in my upcoming schedule so I can go back again.

Isn't it funny how one little decision can make such a difference in the direction of your whole life?  One day, I'm lethargic, eating Chee-tos on the couch and watching 6 episodes of Scrubs in a row.  The next day, I take a yoga class, and it's like I've suddenly regained the ability to take good care of myself!  I come home from yoga, take a shower, put a clay mask on my face, and make myself a nutritious meal. 

Who knew that the basic laws of physics could be so aptly applied to peoples' lives?  Physics was the only math/science class I actually enjoyed in high school.  I liked exploring the explanations of realities that we experience every day but rarely think about.  Evidently interest is not enough, because my inadequate math skills landed me a C in the class (give me a list of vocab words any day), but maybe it worked out.  I'll just apply my limited understanding of physics to yoga, luscious fall soups and life lessons.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

When I was growing up, my mom used to make a dish of roasted bone-in chicken, potatoes, apples and carrots, in a yellowish mustard-honey-curry sauce.  It was a fantastic cool-weather dinner, and was easy on her, too, since it only used one baking dish.  This soup is my take on those same flavors, without the chicken.  To make it truly vegan, replace the honey with agave nectar.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 sweet onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz can light coconut milk
2 tart apples (preferably Granny Smith), cored and chopped
salt to taste

Place the olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute, stirring often, until it starts to soften.  Add celery and carrots and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes.  Add butternut squash.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are starting to brown slightly on the edges.  Add curry powder, honey, and mustard, and stir well.  Add 2-3 cups of water (depending on how thin you like your soup), stir to combine, and bring soup to a simmer.  Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are almost done.  Add apples and garbanzo beans and simmer a few minutes more, until just tender.  Stir in coconut milk at the very end, and season with salt to taste.

This is great by itself, or over brown rice or quinoa for an even heartier meal.

Yield: about 6 servings.