Sunday, January 31, 2010

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Hello from icy Midtown! To all the good folks in Florida, who know I never learned to parallel park OR drive in frigid conditions, rest assured, I am staying in, staying dry, and staying warm. I did venture a few steps from my house yesterday to capture the prettiness, but today the forecast is for nothing but cups of coffee, more soup, and some research.

Iced-over thyme plant.

Iced-over back yard.

Iced-over ornamental ducks (geese?).

Now onward! To the main event. Yeah, I know, I've made a curried squash soup before. But you know what they say. New year, new squash. At least, I am fairly certain they say that. Anyway, every fall I like to buy a variety of squashes from the farmers market and use them to decorate the house... then slowly, one by one, let the axe fall.

This recipe was much simpler than last year's, and I liked it just as well.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted From Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook

1 butternut squash that will fit in your slow cooker (mine came from Windemere Farms) (you could also use other winter squashes like pumpkins, delicatas, buttercup, etc!)
2 tablespoons water
1 large yellow onion
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil or unsalted butter
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon curry powder (alternatively, light brown sugar and omit the curry)
Salt and pepper
(I also added a sprinkling of ginger powder)

Wash and dry the squash and place it in the slow cooker. Add the 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and cook on LOW until the squash is tender, 7 to 9 hours. This is perfect for an all-day-at-work-or-school schedule! When the squash is done, a wooden skewer or a paring knife will pierce it easily and slip through to the center. If the squash is not done, replace the cover and continue to cook on LOW, checking every 30 minutes. Allow the cooked squash to cool. Do not discard any liquid in the slow cooker.

While the squash is cooking, peel and chop the onion. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Slice the squash in half lengthwise. From its time in the sauna, it should be a pleasure to slice. Use a soup spoon to scrape out the seeds and strings.

The cookbook says to discard the seeds, but why? I like to wash them in a mesh skimmer, dry them between paper towels, and when I have enough, I make trail mix with roasted squash seeds, chocolate chips, nuts, rosemary and sea salt.

Scoop out the cooked flesh and discard the shell. In a blender or food processor, puree half the squash with half the onion and about 2 cups of the broth. Pour the puree into the slow cooker and stir to dissolve any caramelized squash juices that have stuck to the bottom. Puree the remaining squash and onion with the remaining 2 cups of broth and add to the cooker.

Add the curry/ginger or brown sugar and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on HIGH until the soup is hot, about 1 hour.

Serve the soup hot, topped with some sour cream, yogurt, creme fraiche, some toasted pumpkin seeds, etc. I made some quick croutons with cubed Cafe Eclectic sourdough bread.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Thus Endeth Pork Week: Pork Stir-Fry with Vegetables

It's the end of the week, and you don't want to do anything overly complicated.  Lucky you, you have leftover pork from Pork Week and veggies you froze last summer.  So pull out whatever you want, mix up some sauce and start stir-frying!

Pork Stir-Fry with Vegetables
Adapted from The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
1 slice ginger about the size of a quarter, peeled (I used powdered)
2 1/1-3 ounces pork tenderloin, cut into 1/4-inch pieces or small strips
(Jones' vegetables: 3 or 4 mushrooms, thick-sliced, 1 small rib celery, cut into 1/4-inch pieces, 1 small handful of snow peas, strings removed, cut in half on the diagonal)
My vegetables:  About six strips green bell pepper, a handful of zucchini chunks, half a sliced roasted jalapeno pepper, all blanched/roasted and frozen last summer)*
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1/4 cup chicken broth or water

2 teaspoons soy sauce
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch (flour will work in a pinch)
1 tablespoon water

The recipe recommended toasted sesame oil or cashews; I used toasted sesame seeds

Heat a wok or a fairly large skillet.  Pour in half the oil, and when it's hot, scatter in the garlic and ginger.  Swirl for half a minute (you're just flavoring the oil here) and toss in the pork and stir-fry over high heat for less than a minute (you know how I feel about fully cooked pork...).

Remove the meat to a bowl, and pour the remaining oil into the wok.  Toss in the mushroms, celery, and bell pepper (WHATEVER) and stir-fry another minute.  Add the sherry and broth (or water), toss in the snow peas, then cover and let steam for about 1 1/2 minutes.  Uncover, and return the pork to the pan.  Mix together the sauce ingredients, and pour that into the wok.  Stir-fry for a few seconds to heat and blend.  

Top with sesame seeds/oil, and spoon over rice.  Yum!  I removed the slices of jalapeno once they had done their job of making the sauce nicely spicy.

*Other good veggies, depending on what's available: asparagus, sugar snap peas, bok choy, julienned broccoli stems (or broccolini), julienned carrots, scallions, other hot peppers, dried mushrooms, reconstituted....

Alright, yall, law school opening gala TONIGHT!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Still Pork Week: Garlic-Ginger Roast Pork

Greetings from the interior.  That is, I am presently at (our NEW!  HUGE!  PRETTY!) school, eating the leftovers of this blogpost.  So I can vouch that this is, indeed, good reheated!

Anyway, so take the rest of your tenderloin or roast from last night's scaloppine.  Maybe slice off a little more for a pork stir-fry tomorrow night.  Just add some sweet and new potatoes, or any other root veggie you want, and you've got a satisfying winter meal.  I'm having my lunch with leftover rice from scaloppine night.  Hey, I'm being resourceful!

Garlic-Ginger Roast Pork
From The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones

1 fat garlic clove
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (I used powered and it tasted alright to me)
1 pork tenderloin
freshly ground pepper
A handful of winter vegetable chunks

Chop the garlic clove fine, then sprinkle on the salt and mash with the flat of your chef's knife.

Smear the mustard, the mashed garlic, and the ginger over both sides of the pork, and pepper generously.  Refrigerate at least one hour, and until you are ready to roast.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place the tenderloin/roast in the middle of a roasting pan, with whatever vegetables you are roasting scattered around it.  Roast for 30 minutes (NOTE: if you are using a bone-in roast, like I did, it will take longer than that), then remove the meat and let rest for 5 or 10 minutes, while you finish the vegetables.

Save the rest for tomorrow's lunch.

This was very tasty, and re-learning how to cook through a week is refreshing my enthusiasm for cooking.  Woo!  I'd had enough of pasta for a while.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Let's Be Real, It's Pork Week: Lemony Scaloppine of Pork

If you can't stand the the cold, hover close to your ranges.  It's an appealing way to spend the last lazy days before the semester starts.

This article from the LA Times, on the public dialogue about local food that so often disintegrates into a shouting match between the "hard-line aggies" who must produce food on a scale large enough to survive, and the "know-nothing urbanites" who want their food deeply imbued with moral blamelessness, has got me thinking about compromises made according to the situations we are in.  From my vantage point, even though I'm extremely lucky to be clerking for a firm next summer, I am conscious that not everyone has that opportunity (which, by the way, will be the last you hear from me on that.  The first rule of Fight Club is, you don't talk about Fight Club).  Nothing is sure for a law student these days, as recent grads have offers revoked and intelligent, well-regarded 2Ls and 3Ls find that there's no room at the inn, so to speak.  It's an unknown that sends me scurrying toward my defense mechanisms, namely, risk aversion and extreme frugality.  But frugality is usually fraught these days.  I know too much about how conventional food and food-like products are produced in this country (and so do a lot of people, thanks to voices like Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Alice Waters [whatever you think of her], Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver, and Vandana Shiva, to name a few) to fool myself into believing for an instant that the shortcut is the overall least costliest option, for my body and for my environment.

Walking this tension rope between needing to be conservative with my finances and wanting to be a responsible, thoughtful human being, is not, I think, so impossible, and I'll be making a conscious effort this year to consider the push-pull between the wild, near-impossible dream of keeping my money entirely in my community, and absolute surrender to the bosom of mother consumer culture.  It doesn't have to be a dichotomy like that.  Call it a resolution for a new year, of sorts.

So, pork now.  Delicious, delicious pork.

My grandmother gave me Judith Jones' (Julia Child's editor) The Pleasures of Cooking for One as a goodbye gift last week, and I've really enjoyed going through it.  One thing that Jones is good at is getting the cook to think about various ways to use leftovers throughout the week, which is a really weak spot for me.  I tend to, say, just make a roast one night and then eat reheated roast for the next few nights.  But this book has me thinking more about being judicious with tonight's cuts of meat, so that I can make something different, with the same roast, tomorrow night.  This recipe is a good example, and I'll cook through the next few recipes to (hopefully) prove to you (and myself!) that one 1.65 lb of pork roast can be easy to adapt.

Lemony Scaloppine of Pork
From The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones

3 thin slices pork tenderloin/roast (Barnes Farms)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
AP flour for dredging
1 teaspoon light olive oil
2 teaspoons butter
4 very thin slices of lemon, plus 1/2 lemon for squeezing (my lemon was from a Florida tree, and was, like, the size of a grapefruit.  This will become important later on)
1 fat shallot, sliced paper-thin
2-3 tablespoons chicken broth or water
1 1/2 teaspoons capers, rinsed (didn't use)
A scattering of chopping fresh parsley (ditto)

Slice up your lemons and shallot to have them ready.  Start the rice on the stove now, too, if you want that.

Place your very sharp chef's knife on top of the pork about 2 1/2 inches from the thicker end.  Tilting the knife slightly on the diagonal, slice off one quite thin scallop, moving from where you inserted the knife toward and off the end.  Repeat two more times to make three slices.  

Pound the scallops gently to an even thickness (this is easy in a plastic bag.  I used a rolling pin to pound them).  

Salt and pepper them lightly and dredge them in flour.  

Heat the oil in a skillet just large enough for the three scaloppine, then add the butter, and when it is sizzling, lay in the meat along with the slices of lemon and shallot.  Cook the scallops over medium-high heat for less than a minute on each side (longer if your scallops are thicker... just watch them and don't be afraid to cut into them.  Uncooked pork still makes me nervous).  

Remove scallops to a warm plate.  Squeeze most of the half-lemon into the pan, add the chicken broth/water, and boil down until lightly thickened.  Toss in the capers and return the meat to the pan just to heat through.  Taste to see if it needs a little more lemon and/or salt.  Spoon everything onto your warm plate and scatter a little parsley on top.

I had this with brown rice and a salad with roasted white sweet potatoes (from Delta Sol Farms) on top.  The pork was good, but holy lemon!  If your lemon is the size of a grapefruit, squeezing "half a lemon" into the sauce will make it so that lemon is ALL you can taste.  Just... just use a normal sized lemon.  You'll be fine.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Roast Pork with Apples

I can haz traffic?  Meaning, of course, hi, I'm here and I PROMISE I will be better about posting this semester!  Or, promise to try to be better.  There isn't as much job search/five classes/law review note research going on.  So be, be optimistic, faithful readers.

My trip home was excellent; thank you for asking.  The fam all went to Disney, negotiated the hostile territory between three warring cats, cooked a lot of the freezer pig, put up decorations, took down decorations, and told terrible jokes in bad accents.  I also got my yearly fix of junk brain food, in the form of this, this, this, and, oh yes, THIS (this one is for Peter!).  Thank you, Melissa, and your devotion to Top 40 radio.  You have unearthed me from luddite-ism (luddism?), however temporarily.

Obligatory cute kitten photos!

Chewie, bewildered at the Christmas morning festivities.

Mom battles Chewie in backgammon... I think Chewie is cheating.

So, speaking of pork.  We were speaking of pork, right?  When is it ever a bad time to speak of pork?  If there is one, now is not it, and I give you a Crock-Pot delight.  This is a nice, basic recipe for the classic pork-and-apples combo, and has the added bonus of being non-labor-intensive.  The only complaint I have was that my apples were a little too mushy.  So, slice 'em thick, and don't push it with the time in the cooker if you can help it.

Also, I halved the recipe below in terms of pork and apples, but made the full amount of sauce.  It fed me for a few days.  Adjust accordingly!

Roast Pork with Apples
From Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook

One 3- to 4-pound bones and tied pork loin roast, trimmed of visible fat and blotted dry (as the picture shows, mine is from reliably delicious and high-quality Barnes Farms)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 to 7 tart cooking apples, sliced (Arkansas Blacks from Jones Orchard, mmm)
1/4 cup apple juice, fruity white wine, or Champagne (or brandy, if you've none of the above!)
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

Preheat the broiler.  Season the pork roast with salt and pepper.  I like to do this the night before if I can think that far ahead, and let it sit in the fridge overnight.  Place the roast in a shallow roasting pan or on a rack in the roasting pan if you have one.  

Brown the roast on all sides under the broiler or in a skillet over high heat to remove excess fat; drain well.

Coat the slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray.  Put the apple slices in the cooker and set the roast on top of them.  

Combine the brandy, brown sugar, and ginger in a small bowl and spoon over the roast, rubbing it all over.  Cover and cook on high for 1 hour.

Reduce the setting to low and cook until fork tender, 7 to 8 hours.  Transfer the pork to a warm platter and let rest for 10 minutes (let all the yummy juices redistribute!).  Slice and serve warm.  I had this with mustard and turnip greens sauteed in olive oil and lots of chopped garlic, which was yummy alongside the sweetness of the apples.

Goodbye for now; going to see off my dear friend Jessica at Blue Fin downtown.  Have been avoiding food all afternoon in anticipation of the sushi blow-out that awaits us.