Curried Butternut Squash Soup

9 Oct

I can’t lie, I considered skipping this week’s Project Pastry Queen assignment.  I have a go-to recipe for Butternut Squash soup that I created myself and I just can’t bear to leave it behind.  That said, I’m glad I gave this one a try because it certainly gave my normal recipe a run for its money!

I had just come back from a weekend trip away so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to standing over a hot stove, but  it’s soup so it’s a cinch to throw together and let simmer while you take a disco nap in the hopes that you can sort of maybe catch up on the rest you didn’t catch up on over the weekend because you were having too much fun.  I don’t know why I always think soup is a long complicated process so I shouldn’t hesitate in the future.

This soup is a great recipe to keep for a cool Fall evening–the spices will warm you right up!

Note: 1 1/2 lbs of butternut squash is a relatively small squash compared to what I normally see at the grocery store.  Either make sure to get one that’s close (I had to do a 2 pounder), make a double batch of soup, or save the extra squash for something else, like Butternut Squash Risotto (my first recipe on the blog ever!)

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from The Pastry Queen, by Rebecca Rather
serves 4 to 6

  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 1 1/2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 1 medium russet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 Tbs curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Greek yogurt, for garnish
  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and carrot and saute over medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until the onions begin to soften.
  2. Add the squash potato, ginger, cinnamon, curry powder, and salt;  Saute for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the stock, milk, cream, honey, and paprika and bring the soup to a boil.
  4. Decrease the heat, cover the pot, and simmer the soup over low heat for about 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.
  5. Puree the soup with a stick blender (what? you don’t have one yet?!) until smooth.
  6. Add black pepper and additional salt to taste.  If the soup seems too thick, add more milk or chicken stock.
  7. Serve hot with a dollop of Greek yogurt on top–it adds a wonderful tangy flavor!
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Bourbon Bacon Brownies

7 Oct

I really don’t know if much can be said about these brownies.  Bacon + Bourbon + Brownies = Mad Deliciousness.  They speak for themselves!

While I love a good BLT just as much as the next person, I have to admit that I’m not fully on the bacon train that has chugged through the foodie world (and, thankfully, seems to be on its way out), but this just seemed like a no brainer.  The brownies are soft and fudgy, the nuts are soaked in bourbon, and the bacon is a great crunchy contrast to the brownie texture.

I’ll be spending my weekend at the Hicksville Trailer Park Palace (really) for my good friend’s birthday and I think these fit the bill exactly for properly themed food.  That said, these will be great for any sort of ‘manly’ event, too–bourbon and bacon makes any fancy dessert more Y-chromosome friendly!

Bourbon Bacon Brownies
adapted from Baking Illustrated and SlashFood
Makes one 8″ x 8″ pan, approx 16 brownies

  • 1/2 a package of bacon
  • bourbon, at least a 1/4 cup
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 5 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into quarters
  • 3 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1¼ cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  1. Place an oven rack in lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 400° F.  Line an 8-inch square baking dish with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray; set aside, line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. Set pecans in a small bowl and cover with bourbon, about 1/4 cup, set aside to soak.
  3. Arrange the bacon on the tin-foiled covered rimmed baking sheet and pop into the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  When you take it out of the oven, transfer it to a plate lined with 3 or 4 layers of paper towels and blot dry.  The bacon will turn crispy as it cools.  Stack the bacon and slice into 1/4″ wide slices.
  4. In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth.  Whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth.  Set aside to cool.
  5. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt; whisk until combined, about 15 seconds.  Whisk in the warm chocolate mixture until incorporated.
  6. Add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing in gently.
  7. Spoon the nuts out of the bourbon and fold nuts into batter (save bourbon for later).
  8. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread with a spatula to make an even layer; sprinkle bacon slices evenly all over the top of the brownie batter.
  9. Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, 35-40 minutes.
  10. Pour reserved bourbon evenly over the top of the hot brownies.  It will soak into the brownies and spread deliciousness all over.
  11. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.  DIG IN!

Queso Blanco Dip

5 Oct

I know Los Angeles is supposed to be one of the best places in the States to get Mexican food, but I have to admit: my favorite Mexican restaurant ever is back in Georgia.  Frontera Mex-Mex holds so many memories of family, friends and teachers for me (The Boyfriend ate a 2 pound monster burrito there last Christmas so that he could get a free t-shirt for me.  If that’s not love, I don’t know what is) but if it wasn’t for the food, none of us would keep going back as often as we did.  One of the most popular items on the menu was their cheese dip, which was white and creamy, went perfectly with their salsa, and had jalapenos in it upon request.  Many an evening I spent trying to recreate this recipe, one which involved me, just diagnosed with bronchitis, going out into the freezing windy icy middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania winter to the Walmart close to campus to go get cheese.  That’s how amazing this stuff is: you risk death just to taste it.  The only problem is, it was practically impossible to recreate.  I tried fancy Mexican cheeses like queso fresca, because it looked white like what they had at Frontera and it was Mexican, so how could it go wrong?  Turns out queso fresca doesn’t actually melt, so that trip turned out to be a bust, only one of many busts to come.

In the end, I finally went home to Georgia for Christmas and just ASKED the staff at Frontera what was in their cheese dip.  Would you believe the greatest cheese dip in all the world from the greatest Mexican restaurant in all the world (okay, that fact is admittedly debatable) is actually made from plain old white American cheese!?  I got over that shocker of a fact quickly and just headed to the nearest store.  Note: you’ll have to go to the deli to get the white American cheese; my deli lady just sliced it into normal sandwich slices (so she could weigh it properly) and I just finely diced it when I got home instead of shredding it.

Upon tasting, I nearly passed out in front of the stove.  This was it!  And now if only I can get Frontera to ship over a burrito al carbon, I’d be a happy happy girl.  (I’m also going to be a fat girl soon–this weekend I’ve been requested to make my other, more famous and more unhealthy queso dip recipe, the one that involves Velveeta.  This recipe will make it on the blog eventually but I’ll let you work on burning off the calories in this one first, okay?)

Queso Blanco
Serves a group of about 4
Adapted from Annie’s Eats and Confessions of a Foodie Bride

  • 1 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
  • 12 oz white American cheese, shredded or chopped
  • 4 oz Monterey jack cheese, shredded
  • 1/4-3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tomato, seeded and finely diced
  1. Heat oil in pan and saute the jalapeno pepper over medium heat until softened.  CAUTION: have windows open or a fan on when you do this.  I was coughing and choking from the spicy vapors in the air and then The Boyfriend rang the doorbell and I opened the door and he started immediately choking too.
  2. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the cheeses and 1/4 cup milk to the pan.
  3. Stir with a wooden spoon until almost fully melted, then add the tomato and continue stirring.
  4. Add milk until you’ve reached the desired texture.  I remember the cheese dip being pretty fluid, so I kept adding milk, but once I’d added a bit too much, it lost the creamy cheese flavor, so don’t add more than an extra half cup or so.
  5. Garnish with tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, and raw jalapeno, if you dare; watch it disappear in almost no time! (especially since it’s football season, right?)

Tuxedo Cake

3 Oct

What luck that Shawnda picked such a great cake recipe for the first week of the month for Project Pastry Queen–I’ve started baking treats for the monthly birthday celebration for the office and this was perfect!  My only hope is that I get it to the office without issue, which involves driving up and over a mountain range.  In fact, as you’re reading this, probably right this moment, my office is either enjoying lovely slices of Tuxedo Cake or eating Cake Mush.

The cake was pretty basic to put together: just a normal chocolate cake, whipped cream, and more or less just melted chocolate.  But what a presentation!  It just looks so fantastic, with its stark black and white contrast, that I would have sworn it took a lot more manpower and hours than it really did.  My only two notes are that I’m always afraid of over-whipping the cream so I started off with whipped cream that was too soft (although it did make a nice “crumb coat”, a thin layer of frosting that seals in all the crumbs so you can add another perfectly crumb-less layer of frosting).  The whipped cream is the right consistency when you slap a dollop on the side of the cake and it doesn’t drip right off.  Also, Rebecca (and Shawnda) used Lyle’s Golden Syrup.  I admit again that I substituted what I already had in my cabinet and readily available.  I’m not sure if it was because of this substitution, but my chocolate dripped over the sides perfectly, despite Rebecca’s warning that it might be too thick if you let it cool for too long.

Check out all of the other Project Pastry Queen participants’ takes on the recipe here!

Tuxedo Cake
From Rebecca Rathers’ Pastry Queen

For the cake

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla

For the frosting

  • 4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, well-chilled
  • 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

For the glaze

  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line the bottom of three 9″ cake pans or two 10″ cake pans with parchment paper rounds and butter and flour the pan or spray with non-stick baking spray.
  2. Combine the butter, water, and canola oil in a medium saucepan set over medium heat and let butter melt.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together sugar, cocoa and flour.  Pour the butter mixture into the sugar mixture and whisk until smooth.
  4. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, then whisk in the buttermilk.  Whisk in the baking soda, salt and vanilla all at once.
  5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pans.  For a 3 layer cake, stagger the cake layers on the oven racks so that no layer is directly over another.  Set two layers on one rack and the third on the other.  Bake 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of each layer comes out clean.
  6. Remove the cakes from the oven and cool on racks for about 15 minutes before inverting onto baking racks.  Cool the cakes completely, at least 2 hours, before frosting.

Frosting

  1. Whip the cream in a large bowl on high speed until soft peaks form (when you lift the beaters out and turn them upside down, there should be little peaks on the end of the beaters whose tips fall over quickly).
  2. Add the powdered sugar and whip until stiff peaks form (the peaks will stand tall and not fall over).
  3. Place first layer of cake onto serving plate and top with a layer of frosting.  Add second layer of cake and frosting and last layer of cake and frosting before frosting the sides of the cake with a thick layer of whipped cream.
  4. Put cake in fridge and let frosting set for 1 hour.

Glaze

  1. Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan until steaming and pour it over the chocolate.  Whisk until chocolate is fully melted.
  2. Stir in the corn syrup and vanilla until fully incorporated and set bowl aside to cool for 10 minutes.
  3. Drizzle the glaze along the top edge of the cake and cover the whole top of the cake with glaze.
  4. Many people finish with strawberries, often covered in chocolate, but strawberry season is just closing here so I decided to forgo them this time–but the next time I make this I will definitely be including them!

Apple Honey Cake

30 Sep

The Jewish New Year is upon us!  The Boyfriend’s family is Jewish and every year I beg to go to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services with them.  I love the traditions observed and, of course, all of the food.  The best combination of both of those is the Rosh Hashanah tradition of eating honey and apples to symbolize the hope for a sweet year.

So I rushed home today and grabbed some apples from the grocery store on the way.  I had to be ready to go in 45 minutes and would you believe that I was able to combine the ingredients, bake the cake, let it cool a little and take photos of it all before it was time to leave for Temple?  That should show you how easy and quick it is to throw this delicious little cake together.

Some notes: the cake will end up very thin, since the original recipe called for a smaller cake pan.  I used what I had and actually really liked it thin–it let the apple and honey flavors shine and made for a perfect light dessert instead of a one that makes you feel overly stuffed.  Also, I really suggest using a mandolin slicer for this project.  I got a great handheld OXO mandolin for just about $15 and it’s an amazing tool (slicing pizza toppings– just sayin’).

Happy New Year!  This Apple Honey Cake will guarantee it’s a sweet one.

Apple Honey Cake
Adapted from Taste of Home

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 2 Gala apples, very thinly sliced (use a mandolin if you have one)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon honey, plus extra for drizzling
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line an 8″ square baking pan with parchment paper (I forgot to coat the paper with nonstick spray, but it was fine without it, so no big deal if you don’t have any).  Sprinkle cinnamon in a light, even coat across the bottom of the pan.
  3. Arrange apple slices in whatever pattern you want.  I did three rows of 6 overlapping slices, the center row moving the opposite direction.  Fancy!
  4. Cream the butter and brown sugar until crumbly and fluffy, about 2 minutes, beat in egg, then milk and vanilla.
  5. Combine flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a small bowl, then add to butter mixture and beat until combined.
  6. Drizzle honey evenly all over the arranged apples in the pan, as much or as little as you like.  Gently pour the cake batter over the apples and honey and spread until entire bottom of pan is evenly covered.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean and the apples are soft.
  8. After taking it out of the oven, let the cake cool for 5 minutes or so and invert the cake onto the serving platter.
  9. Serve warm if you can, but no matter what the temperature, definitely serve it with whipped cream!


Acorn Squash Bisque

28 Sep

I have just been beside myself with glee watching all of the squash and pumpkin recipes popping up all over Pinterest and the food blogging community!  I love love love the Fall for cooking and I wasn’t sure where to start diving in but, I have to say, this bisque is an excellent start to the deluge of Fall recipes coming at you!

I admit that I was hesitant to switch it up from my normal Butternut Squash soup but was delighted with the results.  The recipe makes a delicious, almost delicate, bisque that would make a fantastic start to a large hearty meal, or just as a light meal in itself.  It does thicken up as leftovers, but reheat it very very gently, as mine started to curdle very quickly.  (You wouldn’t think it, but a quick whirl with the stick blender gets rid of all those unsightly white specks in an instant)

The soup was excellent with just the little bit of thyme seasoning it, yet I could tell I wanted just a teensy bit more flavor.  I make a mean Butternut Squash soup so I had to physically restrain myself from adding all the normal spices I add to that–I wasn’t making a clone, after all.  I left the nutmeg, the cinnamon, bay leaf, and rosemary behind (but it was almost painful to do so) and stared at the rest of my spice shelf.  I hesitated for a second before grabbing the cloves, knowing they would be overpowering if I wasn’t careful.  It was just what I was looking for!  1/8 of a teaspoon is honestly all that is needed for the whole big pot to give the soup that warm spiced flavor without losing the delicate acorn squash flavor.  It doesn’t have the stunning orange color that butternut squash soup or pumpkin soup does, but it is absolutely a wonderful addition to the Fall dinner table.


Acorn Squash Bisque
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 4 as a main dish or more as a starter appetizer

  • 2 acorn squashes (3 pounds total)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 – 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Halve squash lengthwise; scoop out and discard seeds. Place squash, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet; cover tightly with aluminum foil. Roast until almost tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes minutes. When cool enough to handle, scrape out flesh and discard skin.
  3. In a large saucepan, melt butter. Add onion; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add squash, thyme, broth and water. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce to medium, and cook until squash is very tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
  5. Working in batches, puree mixture in a blender until very smooth (or leave it in the pan and use a stick blender, the most useful soup tool ever). Return to pan; add half-and-half, cloves and season to taste with salt and pepper (mine didn’t need any extra).
  6. Serve garnished with thyme sprigs.

Caesar Salad Pizzas

26 Sep

I’ve been looking forward to this recipe ever since I first opened the Pastry Queen cookbook, so I knew that it would be a winner–Caesar salad, is my favorite after all.  I’ve attempted to make salad dressing myself before and, while it ended up okay, I wasn’t going to stop buying my favorite dressing (Annie’s Lite Herb Balsamic, if you were curious) in favor of my own.  I know now that whenever I need a Caesar dressing, it will without a doubt be homemade!  I thought the dressing was fantastic and, for the first time, I got to use the little drip hole tube in my food processor specifically for making salad dressing (I kept screeching at the Boyfriend to come watch this miracle tool in action).  I’m a bit of a Caesar salad purist, so I left off the tomatoes Rebecca suggests and, of course, the pizza crust was more than enough to substitute for croutons.  In a bit of a Southerner moment, I realized I had no coarse cornmeal in my kitchen and substituted grits instead, which worked fine.

The crust is good, if not a little thick for the amount of salad and I think going forward I would enjoy making a big salad and a half recipe of crust to cut up for breadsticks to accompany.  In the end, though, a great dinner!

As always, you can find my fellow Pastry Queen-ers versions of the recipe here; be sure to check them out!

Caesar Salad Pizzas
Yields four 8″ pizzas
Adapted from The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rathers

Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (110 degrees)
  • 2 oz active dry yeast (what’s usually available at the store is a strip of 1/4 oz packets)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for brushing on crusts
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 4 to 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup coarse cornmeal
  • 1 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

Dressing

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 large eggs, beaten (or 1/2 cup pasteurized egg product)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese
  1. Combine the lukewarm water, yeast, olive oil, and honey in a large mixing bowl.  Add 3 cups of all purpose flour, salt, and crushed red pepper and stir till well combined.  Add 1 additional cup of flour to the dough and stir in until combined.
  2. Turn contents of bowl onto a floured surface and knead dough until smooth and elastic (about 10-15 turns).  Place in large oiled bowl and cover and let rest at room temperature for 30-40 minutes.
  3. Generously coat 2 baking sheets with olive oil.  Sprinkle the sheets with cornmeal.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  4. Divide the dough into quarters.  Roll each piece into a ball, place the dough balls on a clean baking sheet, cover with a damp towel and let rest for 10-15 minutes longer.
  5. Using a floured rolling pin, flatten each dough ball into an 8 inch circle.  Brush each dough round with olive oil and sprinkle each with 1 1/4 cup of cheese.  Transfer the crusts onto the prepared baking sheets and bake for 10-15 minutes until browned and crisp.
  6. While the crusts are baking, pull out the food processor and turn it on.  With it running, toss in the garlic cloves first, and once the cloves are as chopped as they can be (just a few seconds), then add the eggs, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and mustard.  Wait a few seconds for it to fully combine and then either pour the olive oil in a slow steady stream through the open the feed tube, or find the empty cylinder with the small hole in the bottom and fill it up with olive oil.  It will take care of the slow steady stream for you!
  7. Toss the chopped lettuce with the salad dressing while the crusts cool for just a minute or two and then top the crusts with a big pile of salad.  Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper. Yum!
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