Friday, September 30, 2016

2 Butternut Squash Soups (and 3 winners!)

This is my lovely friend Katy's photo. It looks a little like a sculpture, and a little like a photo essay about how hard squash is to peel.
You guys are so lovely to want books. You made my week. And I truly feel like we're all winners, but okay, the winners are: Marika (How to Celebrate Everything), Cathy K (Commonwealth), and Cookiert (We Love You, Charlie Freeman). Please email me with your addresses, so I can send you BOOKS! And thank you so much for all your comments, which I read and loved.

Also, everyone, do us all a favor: reach out to 3 people this week who might not be registered to vote--or who might need an absentee ballot. Just ask, check.

Meanwhile, I come to find that neither of my butternut squash soup recipes are on this blog! WTF? So I'm posting both of them, right this second, because it's decorative gourd season, motherfuckers.

Happy weekend, Shabbat Shalom, I love you.

Butternut Bisque with Buttered Nuts
This is Birdy's all-time favorite soup, and we make it based on a recipe we saw magneted to the fridge at an AirBnB we were staying at. It is outrageously velvety and rich, and you could totally omit the pecans. Our friend Maddie makes a similar version that is also Birdy's all-time favorite soup.

1 large butternut squash, halved lengthwise, and the seeds removed with a spoon
Olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 onion, chopped
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups half and half
Pinch of grated nutmeg
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup (depending on the sweetness of your squash)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 400. Halve the squash lengthwise and scrape out all the seeds and stringy gunk—a fun job for a kid who enjoys gutting pumpkins (and you can even roast the seeds if you like!). Now line a baking sheet with foil, grease it generously with 1 tablespoon of the oil, and roast the squash, cut sides down, for 45 minutes to an hour, until it is very soft and offers no backsass when you pierce it with the tip of a knife. (I do the squash this way so as to avoid needing to peel and chop it raw, a job I find drains me of all of my will to live.)

Meanwhile heat one tablespoon of the butter in a very small pan over medium-low heat and, when it foams, fry the pecans for 3 minutes until they are golden and smell toasty. Set them aside.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat and sauté the onion until soft and translucent, but not browned, around 10 minutes. Use a large spoon to scoop the flesh from the peel of the squash and add it to the soup pot along with the broth. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer the soup, partially covered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Puree the soup using a hand blender, or in batches, using great caution, in a blender or food processor. Stir in the half and half, then add nutmeg, maple syrup, salt, and pepper to taste and reheat very gently. Serve garnished with the nuts.

You know you can bake the squash seeds, right? Just like pumpkin seeds! And, just like pumpkin seeds, they will either be delicious or you will forget about them in the oven and they will be inedible.
Thai-style Butternut Squash Soup
This is my own favorite squash soup recipe, because I find that it makes the squash palatably ununctious, if you know what I mean. If you have red curry paste and kaffir lime leaves, by all means use them instead of the spices and lime zest—but this is a fairly decent approximation of Thai flavors using common pantry ingredients. There's no photo, but it looks like the soup above, you know, minus the nuts and cream. And with cilantro.

1 large butternut squash
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided (by pi and 3/8)
1 shallot, finely diced (around 1 tablespoon) or an equivalent amount of diced onion
2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
1 teaspoon each freshly grated ginger, freshly grated lime zest, paprika, and ground coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 ½  teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
1-2 tablespoons lime juice
Fish sauce (optional)
Coarsely chopped cilantro (optional)

Heat the oven to 400. Halve the squash lengthwise and scrape out all the seeds and stringy gunk—a fun job for a kid who enjoys gutting pumpkins (and you can even roast the seeds if you like!). Now line a baking sheet with foil, grease it generously with 1 tablespoon of the oil, and roast the squash, cut sides down, for 45 minutes to an hour, until it is very soft and offers no backsass when you pierce it with the tip of a knife. (I do the squash this way so as to avoid needing to peel and chop it raw, a job I find drains me of all of my will to live.)

Meanwhile, chop and grate and measure everything else, then heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a wide soup pot over medium-low heat until it shimmers. Add the shallot, garlic, ginger, zest, paprika, coriander, and cayenne, and stir briskly for 30 seconds or so until it’s sizzling and fragrant, then add the salt, sugar, broth, and coconut milk, and bring it all to a simmer. If the squash still isn’t ready, then cover the broth mixture and turn the heat off for now if the squash is still cooking—otherwise, add the squash at this point (first you’ll need to remove the skin, either by peeling it off or scraping the squash out of it, depending on which way seems easier), and simmer it all for 15 minutes. Puree the soup with a hand blender (you could also do this in batches in a blender or food processor, but do take great care not to burn yourself or send an orange geyser skywards), then stir in the lime juice and, if you’re using it, a dash or two of fish sauce. Taste the soup: it should be lively—a mix of sweet, tart, and salty—so add more lime juice, salt, or sugar, as required. Garnish bowls with cilantro and serve.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

This and That: The Fall Version (plus a Give-Away! or three)

Cheerful decoy.
My loves. You are registered to vote, right? If not, please go here and get it done. Because we need you! If you watched the debate last night, you were doubtless struck by Trump's reduction of everything in the world to business, to profit. Every single thing we care about: economic and racial justice, the livelihood of human beings, the earth itself. But his accusation that Hillary had prepared for the debate? In that moment he reminded me of every boy who had ever accused me in elementary school of being smart. That boy, that insecure, misogynist, bullying second-grader--is that someone's president? My god. Not mine. Please vote, and vote for Hillary, even if she's not your dreamboat candidate. She's brilliant, human, and fit for the job, and there is too much at stake to do anything else.

Did we camp in the cold? We did. Did I bring bacon to Ben in the hammock? Guess. #motheroftheyear
Anyhoo. Meanwhile. I have been making some fall favorites. Plum cake and granola and oven-roasted tomato sauce and fried eggs with sizzling vinegar and chewy oatmeal cookies with chocolate. I have a post over at Tastebook about eating sandwiches for dinner (everything I've written over there is here). And I wrote a little more about the Yay, It's Wednesday Cake! cake for Jenny, over at Dinner: A Love Story, where I was honored to be a guest. If you don't have her brilliant new book yet, it's another love story--this one about celebrations large and small, classic and imaginary--and you should get it. How to Celebrate Everything. I mean, interfaith sliders! How much do I love her? Let's do a give-away of her book! Comment here if you're interested, and I'll pick a winner on Friday.

There's a little fall camping photo essay running parallel to the blog, and it has nothing to do with anything! How odd.
Speaking of books: I have the new Ann Patchett, but haven't started it yet because then I'm worried I'll finish it and be sad. But I actually bought it. (I know!) I also read, and couldn't put down, We Love You, Charlie Freeman by the amazing Kaitlyn Greenidge. So, so good. If you want either of those books instead, just say. Let's do a bigger give-away! I'll give away one copy of each of the three books.

For long-time readers: A bonus Ava sighting!
Finally: Santa Cruz and Bay Area Folks, I am coming your way! I'm reading at Bookshop Santa Cruz on October 9th at 7:00, and I'm reading in San Francisco as a guest of the tremendous CPS Lecture Series on October 10th at 7:30. The latter is a free event, but it requires registering, which you can do here.

Have a safe and sane week, my darlings. Treat yourself gently. xo

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Easy Enchilada Casserole (your new go-to dinner, I swear)

What happened? It was summer and summer and summer and then it wasn't summer anymore.

"This would be so good with bacon!" I thought to myself, with a lightbulb over my head.
As you now, this is not a graceful time of year for me and my family. Everybody is sad and lies in a sad pile and staggers around frowningly or pretends to be sick and reads in bed all day. Okay, that last thing was just me, and I was reading this, which was fantastic, but still.

Birdy wanted to eat half a watermelon with a melon baller, and did. #goalsetting
Birdy is in 8th grade and is, accordingly, 8 feet tall. After the door shuts behind her, the cat runs to me, depressed, and sits in my depressed lap all morning.

Ben grew cucamelons, which are a cross between cucumbers and melons, neither of which he likes. Don't worry, that's my old-lady hand, not his.
Ben is a junior. He is about to get his driver's license, which I have been joking about for so long, as a way of hamming up the passage of time, that now I am out of jokes. The fact that I do not cling to him crying and also crying, "Never leave us!" every second of every day is a huge maternal victory for me.

I made wild grape soda. If you find the grapes, it's easy to do. Just cook them in a pot with a splash of water until they're soft (about 15 minutes), mashing them up as they cook. Strain them and add sugar, stirring to dissolve. Then put a few tablespoons in a glass and top with seltzer. 
The only silver lining, really the only one I can think of at all, is that once school starts I stop dreading the fall, if that makes sense. Then I can enjoy the full fallishness of it--the wild grapes and turning leaves and cooling nights and mushrooms everywhere. Last night Michael and I walked on the golf course near our house as the darkness was pulling down over the sky, and bats were diving and swooping near us, and I kept saying, "I'm not even scared!" But then I was screaming and covering my head with the paper bag I'd brought in case we found mushrooms, and it turned out I was scared, but in a good way. That, for example, was not the worst 15 minutes of my life. I offer that grudgingly.

Anyhoo. In compensation for how lame I've been about posting, I am offering you not any of the summer recipes I had been documenting and planning to post here (I am no longer in the mood for gazpacho, waah waah waah) but this humdinger instead, my ace in the hole, the famous Enchilada Casserole. It is in the oven ten minutes after you first think about making it, and everyone loves it every time. Which is a lot, because it's easy and we always have the stuff to make it. And, weirdly, it's not only a great desperation dinner, it's also a great dinner-party dinner because it is so crazily delicious and crowd-pleasing. Like enchiladas, minus all of the work and mess. I don't even grate the cheese myself!

Tortillas sprayed with oil (ew) and cut in half.
Exact science.
More layering. The thing I don't mention in the recipe that you don't recognize is called "chicken mushrooms" and I found them on a stump. Just ignore them. 
I try to make the top layer neater. #fancy

Easy Enchilada Casserole
Serves 6

This is not only delicious and crazily easy—it is also easily doubled! Make it in a regular-size lasagna pan, and use roughly twice the amount of everything. Please note that while I am using homemade greenenchilada sauce, this is good with any color or storeboughtness of enchilada sauce! It would probably even work fine with salsa, but then it wouldn’t taste like enchiladas. Oh, also, you can add shredded chicken to this—pulled off of a rotisserie chicken or leftover or whatever—and it’s great that way, if you have chicken-eaters in the house.

Olive-oil spray (or olive oil)
1 ½ cups enchilada sauce (this one, or another homemade or store-bought one of your choosing)
8 corn tortillas
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained
1-2 cups corn kernels (fresh, or frozen and thawed)
10 ounces shredded cheese ( I use the better part of a 12-ounce bag of Trader Joe’s shredded 3-Cheese Blend, which is cheddar, Monterey Jack, and mozzarella. If what you have is an 8-ounce block of something, that will be enough.)

Heat the oven to 375 and grease a 7- by 11-inch or equivalent sized (equivalently sized? what?) baking dish. Please note that this is not a full-size lasagna dish, but the, like, half-sized one.

Do the tortillas. So, if you fry each one in a little bit of oil, the way you would if you were making real enchiladas, the casserole will be sublime. Sometimes you will do this, and sometimes you will be lazy. When you’re lazy, which I 90% of the time am, simply spray each tortilla, back and front, with the olive oil spray (or brush them with oil). Stack them and cut them in half.

Layer the casserole: pour ½ cup sauce in the bottom of the pan and tilt it to distribute. Arrange 5 tortilla halves so that they more or less cover the bottom without overlapping. This is not an exact science. Distribute half of the beans and half of the corn over the tortillas, then sprinkle with a third of the cheese.

Now add another layer of tortillas, top these with ½ cup of sauce, then the remaining beans and corn, and half of the remaining cheese.

Top with a final layer of tortillas, then the remaining sauce and cheese, and a seal with a piece of foil that you’ve sprayed with olive-oil spray so that all the cheese won’t stick to it and pull off.

Bake for ½ hour, then uncover and bake 10 minutes longer, until the casserole is bubbling and browning. Let it rest 5 minutes before you cut it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Green Enchilada Sauce

Green Enchilada Sauce
Makes 6 cups

This is what you can do with a glut of tomatillos, if you're not making this salsa. It's what we use in this wonderful casserole, which is why I freeze it in 1 1/2 cup measurements. If you have more or fewer tomatillos, just scale the recipe roughly up or down. You can add chopped cilantro just before blending, if you like. It will make the sauce greener and more vibrant.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons flour (use gf flour to make this gf, which is what I do)
2 heaping quarts tomatillos, husked and quartered
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Salt / sugar / white vinegar / more garlic powder

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat, and sauté the onion until it is translucent and getting golden, around 10 minutes. Add the spices and sauté another minute, then add the flour and cook, stirring, until the whole thing looks kind of pasty. Add the tomatillos and the broth, bring to a boil over higher heat, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the tomatillos are tender, around ½ hour, stirring occasionally.

Blend in the blender (very carefully, in batches), or with a stick blender (which is what I do), then simmer it for another ½ hour, stirring occasionally. Now taste it: it should be salty, tangy, sweet, and rich. Add salt, sugar, vinegar, and/or more garlic powder to make this happen. I usually add a teaspoon, salt, around 2 tablespoons of sugar, and another teaspoon of garlic powder--but if the tomatillos are really sweet, I skip the sugar and add a splash of vinegar.

Can it, or else cool it and freeze it in measured portions.