Where are we going with this weather? It’s hot. It’s cold. It’s frigid. There are crocuses. Croci? I tested this recipe a mere week ago and the winds were howling at 65mph+++. I thought my house was going to slide down the dune. My pot rack was rocking. After finding a flashlight – because I just KNEW my power would go out – I started grabbing cans of beans, tomatoes, paste, etc. and this lonely butternut squash. I figured I could survive quasi-indefinitely with a “walk-out” (refrigerator) and a gas stove. When I ultimately tucked in by the fire, I had supreme satisfaction – I beat the power outage and this chili was damn delicious! Plus there was plenty left to freeze for those nights when you know you will get in super late and you just want something to eat in a jiff. Pull it out in the morning and thaw all day in the fridge.
You could make squash chili with any squash – I had a butternut on hand – but Hubbard, acorn, Kabocha, pumpkin or other winter squashes will work well, too. I like butternut because it’s more bang for the buck in the peeling-effort-to-flesh ratio. It has a smaller cavity so that you don’t loose a lot to seeds and air. You get the yield you need with only one medium butternut. At about 2 1/2 pounds, I got 7 cups of diced squash.
I took my time with the onions browning. Since there is no meat, I wanted to caramelize the onions to help with the depth and layers of flavor. You could also roast the squash to bring out even more caramelization, but I was racing the power supply and didn’t want to be beholden to an electric oven. There are also some bonus points for going one-pot, right?
In addition to browning the onion, I always toast the spices for this kind of dish. If you don’t, you miss a big opportunity to add flavor. Stirring raw spices into liquid does not give the same depth of flavor as when you take a moment to toast them. For whole spices, I toast, then grind. Today I am using ground spices, so I just add them to the hot pan once the onions are browned, and let them cook for about a minute or two. You want to have your liquid – in this case vegetable stock – nearby so you can stop the cooking quickly. It’s a baby step from toasted spice to scorched.
I added some of the usual suspects as toppers, but I think the real rock star here is the toasted garbanzo beans. You can buy them already toasted with a variety of spice blends. The crunch is the contrast this chili begs for. Tortilla chips or strips would do, as well. Chose a variety of color, textures and taste (creamy v spicy?) and trick it out the way you like it. Chef’s prerogative!
I’m filing this butternut squash chili recipe under D for Damn Delicious. The squash’s sweetness takes on smoked paprika, chili powder (brave enough to go Ancho?) and cumin – and wins. And the toasted garbanzo beans on top are the crunch this soup begs for.
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 Spanish onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons ground cumin
2 Tablespoons ground chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded and cubed (7 cups)
1 quart vegetable stock
6 ounce can tomato paste
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
3 16 ounce cans dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Tortilla strips or dried garbanzo beans
Greek yogurt or sour cream
Heat olive oil in an 8-quart stockpot. Add onions and cook until browned, about 12 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, chili powder, paprika and cayenne. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
Add squash and about 1 cup of vegetable stock. Scrape up the browned bits in the bottom of the pot. Add the remaining stock, tomato paste, tomatoes and their juices, and kidney beans.
Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender but not mushy, about 15 – 20 minutes.
Serve hot with assorted garnishes.
You can prep most of the ingredients while the onions are browning, so prep time shown is just to organize ingredients and chop the onions and garlic.
If you cut the squash lengthwise in half first, it is easier to peel. Using a sharp peeler, remove the skin, then scoop out the seeds. Your squash is ready to chop!
Seasonings Greetings! Just saying that reminds me of the Christmas card from years ago where I clipped measuring spoons to my lobes and stood among hip-high bags of spices in a market – caption: Seasonings Greetings. Cheesy? You betcha. But that’s the way I roll. And giving gifts that are edible is another way I roll. Be honest. What rivals something homemade? Maybeeeeeee….something that you can use up? I think so. This salt & pepper gift pairing does double duty as homemade and consumable, and it is a perfect stocking stuffer. Or a gift exchange. Or a hostess gift.
Citrus and Seeds
This salt blend benefits from a quick round of oven-drying citrus zest. Combining orange, lemon and grapefruit adds just the right amount of sweetness and acidity. And, the added fennel and celery seeds add a hint of fresh herbs, but provide a shelf life longer-lasting than fresh.
Picking the Right Salt
I am a big fan of Maldon Sea Salt and use it for its flaky form as a finishing salt. It’s delicate and thin, with crispy flakes. And great news! When I initially started making salts a few years ago (my maiden voyage in gift salts was a trio of this spiced citrus, along with kale-walnut and hazelnut-spice), I found a 3.3 pound tub of Maldon which had to be shipped from England, where the salt has been harvested along the coast since the early 1800s. Today that tub is available on Amazon. It makes using an uber high quality salt easily sourced and affordable for gift making, with plenty left over for personal use. Try it on anything that needs a sprinkle of salt – like chocolate espresso shortbread or salted caramels.
Zesting the Citrus Peel
When zesting the citrus to make the salt blend, I like to use a bar tool that makes long thin strips (use the section with the little holes, not the channel knife.) But you can also easily use a microplane which works well in removing only the outer peel of the citrus. The key is to avoid grating too deeply, thereby grabbing the white pith which adds unwanted bitterness.
Mix all the salt ingredients and spread out on a parchment-lined sheet pan and pop in the oven. It should take about 20 minutes to dry out the zest, but check after 15 minutes and give the salt a stir.
From Zesting to Zesty
And what’s salt without pepper? Salt: sister from another mister. Pepper: brother from another mother. Salt & Pepper: we are fam-i-ly! This particular pepper blend was introduced to me by a dear friend. I made my own ratios so the end result is a bit different, but she was spot on in marrying cardamon and coriander with black pepper to get a blend with more zip than any ingredient could deliver on its own. Yahoo!
Once the blends are assembled and the salt is fully cooled, the only thing left to do is put them in cute little spice jars, tied with a decorative label identifying the goods inside. I have taken these to a gift exchange, and this was the top sought after gift once the stealing began. Showing up with an armful of these salt & pepper gifts at any holiday party is sure to earn you the Best Guest tiara!! Enjoy!
Nothing is better than a handmade holiday gift. In my book, bonus points if it can be consumed and if it adds a little sumthin’ sumthin’ to my pantry. This spiced citrus salt and zesty pepper blend is my favorite spice combo! Salt & Pepper, you rock!!!
Preheat oven to 275oF. Line sheet pan with parchment.
Mix salt with citrus zests and ground seeds. Mix until well combined. Spread evenly on the parchment paper and bake until the zest is fully dehydrated, about 20 minutes. Check after about 15 minutes and stir the salt, turning over the bottom which may still be a bit wet. Once completely dried, remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
Transfer to sterilized airtight containers. Stores well for at least 3 months.
Time is nigh for setting the table and facing that big ole mess we call family…and all that that entails. This seems to be the one holiday when everyone descends on the same day and comes with baggage instead of picnic baskets. But let’s be real – we are indeed so lucky that we can in fact gather, break bread and give thanks. I am hoping the biggest debate your gang faces on Thursday is sweet potato or pumpkin. (I’m looking at you Val – duh, pumpkin!) And my picnic basket this year is loaded with a secret weapon – a dessert that you can make a day or two ahead. Check that box. Move on. Worry about the Beaujolais Nouveau and who will do the dishes. Dessert is mission-accomplished. This pumpkin ginger cheesecake falls smack in the middle of the “consider it done” category. That of course assumes you can keep it safeguarded til after dinner on Thursday. It’s tempting.
Thanksgiving dinner often gets a bad rap for being a brown meal. But I love the vibrant colors of fall squashes, pumpkins and gourds. Use them for table settings, roast them for a side or salad, make a quick bread, or whip them up in a dessert.
Cheesecakes are pretty flawless desserts to prepare even if you haven’t made them before, as long as you follow a few simple tips. They are super sturdy, so you don’t need a deft hand. I would argue quite the opposite. You really don’t want to be dainty with the batter – don’t incorporate lots of air, do bang the pan, get aggressive. Be bold. If you follow my instructions and read the accompanying notes, you will be a star performer – dare I say, a pastry chef. Start with your ingredients at room temperature, use a good quality springform, and use a food processor, not a mixer. A processor will combine the ingredients without incorporating air which will cause the cheesecake to puff and fall, leaving a crater in the center. Allow all the time needed for cooling to room temperature and then refrigerating. It takes time, but not active time. And know that if all else fails – craters or cracks – you will be slathering a cream topping on and that can cover a multitude of mistakes. Yes, indeed. You are definitely a pastry chef.
This pumpkin ginger cheesecake is surprisingly light, yet creamy. The nutty crust has that I want more-ish quality! And, a dose of Gentleman Jack Daniels keeps the party rolling.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup melted butter
15 ounce can pumpkin puree
24 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
5 ounces Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup sour cream
2 Tablespoons Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
Make the Crust:
Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine flour, brown sugar, pecans, and melted butter and mix until crumbs adhere. Press into a 9 or 10″ sturdy nonstick springform pan and bake for 10 – 12 minutes. Remove and cool. Wrap pan in heavy duty foil. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.
Make the Filling:
In food processor, puree pumpkin until smooth. Add cream cheese and puree until smooth. Add Gentleman Jack, sugar, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg and pulse until mixed. Add eggs and pulse 2 – 3 times only until just combined. Do not overprocess.
Pour filling into cooled crust and bang pan on the counter to eliminate extra air. Place in a roasting pan and fill with hot water, halfway up the side of the springform. Bake for 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 hours or until set. It may still be a bit wobbly in the center, but it will firm up as it cools.
Turn oven off and leave the cheesecake in the water bath in the oven for 30 minutes more. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, and carefully remove the springform from the water. Remove foil and cool on wire rack until room temperature. Refrigerate until fully chilled.
Make the Topping:
Combine sour cream, Gentleman Jack, and powdered sugar and spread on top of cheesecake. Refrigerate until set.
Gently run a knife or thin metal spatula around inside edge of pan. When cheesecake has released, open outer pan ring and remove.
Feel free to substitute a dark Rum or Bourbon if you prefer.
Muja what? I can hear you from here. Mujadara! You can spell it many ways and you can cook it even more. This dish – a combo of lentils and rice, sassed up with so many wintery spices that you will want it for your BFF – seems a lovely way to break bread and bow our heads in solidarity to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. #GreaterAs1 The culinary roots of mujadara date back to Genesis, when Jacob bought Esau’s birthright with a meal of lentils. While the version I share here with yogurt and caramelized shallots is more Lebanese, the dish is also popular with Syrian and Egyptian Jews who historically tend to eat it twice during the week: a simple (hot) meal for Thursday before a more elaborate Shabbat, and then again cold on the Sabbath. Mujadara often serves as a Lenten dish for Arab Christians.
Some versions of mujadara let the caramelized onions do all the talking. But given it’s the coldest dreariest time of year, I have added all the wonderful pungent spices that you might find in other Middle-Eastern dishes: coriander, cumin, cinnamon, allspice and plenty of pepper. Trust me; they will brighten your mood. When I can, in a dish like this, I use whole spices (not peppercorns, but cumin and coriander, yes!) Since they will be simmering in liquid for a while, there is sufficient time to soften them up. As usual, they get a few minutes in oil before the liquid to toast them and to allow the spices to release their fragrance. Rarely will I add any spice directly to liquid. I can always taste that raw spice in the back of my throat if I was in too big of a hurry to take that one measly moment that I needed to toast it. For shame.
You may also notice that I have added a healthy dose of greens to this version of mujadara. Because I can. And because it’s winter and because they are good for you and because they add a hit of color. I know it seems like a lot, but I have made it with half that and prefer it with a generous portion. Up to you. (More, more, more, more.)
And a note on the crispy shallots: they really are caramelized not crispy here. If you want to make crispy shallots – which would be a great texture contrast – you really need to use a lot more oil and fry them. That’s not really the way I roll, but I do love the taste and texture. If you are leaning that way, you should make sure the thinly sliced shallots are patted dry and then toss them in a 50/50 combo of flour and cornmeal. Heat several cups of oil to about 300oF and drop the shallots in, frying til crispy, draining on paper towels. I used to do something similar for a lentil salad at New World Grill and while we didn’t have a deep fryer – the horror – let’s just say our technique was not far off. I. Just. Can’t. (But by all means!)
Mujadara is a warm and wonderful combo of lentils and rice, sassed up with so many wintery spices that you will want it for your BFF.
1 1/4 cup brown or green lentils
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 shallots, very thinly sliced by hand or in a food processor
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup long-grain rice
1 Tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 bay leaf
2 5-ounce packages (about 8 cups) mixed greens, like kale, chard, and spinach, chopped
Zesty Yogurt Dip
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon whole coriander, toasted and coarsely cracked
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Zest of one lemon
2 Tablespoons chopped mint
Make the Mujadara:
Par-cook the lentils by simmering in a medium saucepan with 4 cups of water for 10 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid and reserve the lentils.
Divide the olive oil, placing 2 Tablespoons in a large skillet and heat over medium. When the oil is shimmering, add the shallots and cook until well browned and crispy, about 30 minutes. As the shallots brown, remove and transfer to a paper towel and drain. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. If making this ahead, store wrapped in paper towel in an airtight container, once cooled.
Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a stockpot with a tight-fitting lid and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped onion to the stockpot, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Stir in rice and sauté 2 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, cinnamon stick, allspice, black pepper, and cayenne; sauté for one minute until fragrant.
Add 2 cups water to the pot, along with the bay leaf, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and the reserved lentils. Cover and simmer over very low heat until the lentils and rice are almost tender, about 15 minutes more.
Rinse the greens and distribute across the top of the rice and lentil mixture, checking to see if the rice/lentils require any more water. Cover and cook 5 minutes more, until rice and lentils are tender and greens are wilted. Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Stir to combine greens.
Make the Zesty Yogurt Dip:
Combine the yogurt, coriander, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. To serve, add the lemon zest and chopped mint.
Makes 1 cup.
Serve topped with crispy shallots and Zesty Yogurt Dip, along with warm pita.
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook Time:60 minutes
This makes a great vegetarian entrée, but I took it to a friend’s who just happened to have a big ol’ pot of curried chicken thighs, and it was a match made in heaven. #damndelicious.
Nothing screams holidays like cranberries, citrus and spice. Mulled wine, orange pomanders (that’s fancy talk for oranges poked full of cloves), and cranberry garlands. So imagine my delight when the good people from the healthy living site Mambo Sprouts shot me a box of the finest spices to review. Squealing! I like to make edible gifts for the holidays – are you with me? We really don’t need one more thing to dust or store. But devour? Hells yeah! Last year I made cheese wafers and put them in a nice little cracker dish (okay, one more thing to store).
This year I have on my radar some spice blends and chutney. What’s that you say? Chutney is weird? No, no. Ain’t so. Yes. You are right. But only if you are referring to the more traditional, pungent (read: medicinal tasting) versions that are fortified with mustard oil and strong vinegar. This Anglo spin balances its tarts with equal measure sweets (sugar, dried cranberries and candied ginger), and the acid from kumquats (unlike strong vinegar) borders on sweet. It’s practically dessert, wink wink. It can be the perfect foil to too-rich-double-crème brie or the right amount of sweetness to tangy goat cheese. One chutney can do both! Spicy (think turmeric, allspice and cinnamon), zippy (crystallized ginger), tart (kumquats and crans) and sweet (yeah, there’s some sugar – but not as much, by half, of what you would normally see.)
Palate. Passion. Purpose.
You already know I’m all about this, right? But I have met my match in partnering with Frontier Co-op. A purpose-driven company, Frontier’s theme is Cook with Purpose. Every bottle contains products with a story and the label tells that story. Frontier, as one of the earliest to advocate organics, firmly believes that social responsibility is the foundation for great products and that sustainable agriculture and ethical sourcing yield quality. Since their 1976 Iowa founding (in a river cabin!), they have worked with growers worldwide to build a safe food supply. A large part of that is education and they have created charitable funds (three to be exact) that train farmers and co-ops on how to protect themselves and the environment. The turmeric, sourced in Sri Lanka, was produced by a co-op that benefited from a Frontier grant which enabled an organic training center for the farmers. The cinnamon is Vietnamese. Frontier provided its producers with educational supplies, beds, room & board so the children in these remote communities can be educated. Worldwide, producers are blessed by the generosity of Frontier providing so many basics, ranging from clean water to roads to medical care. Frontier is on a mission – responsibility to people and planet. And btw interesting timing…our paths crossing now. I’m a month away from joining the board of CWS, a global agency with key initiatives in sustainability, hunger, development, and advocacy, among other important work. #fullcircle Frontier had me at Purpose!
Spicing It Up!
Armed with my box of Frontier Co-op goodies, and knowing it’s the time of year when warm spices soothe the soul, I decided to dose this chutney with Vietnamese cinnamon, turmeric, and allspice. The great thing about warm spices is they can flow from sweet to savory, and in fact this chutney does a bit of both. I spent some time a few years ago in southern India and learned more about Ayurvedic cooking. (I also learned a thing or two – first hand – about Ayurvedic massage. Ever have a massage by two people with a whole lotta oil and choreographed moves? Inner-resting! But, that’s for another post.)
A word…or two…about the star ingredients – the spices!
Quality cinnamon is different from supermarket cinnamon (generally cassia) due to its super high oil content, a result of specific harvesting techniques. This Vietnamese (fka Saigon) cinnamon has at least a 5% oil content, which makes it more than double the regular stuff. That results in an abundance of flavor, but especially the pungent, sweet and spicy notes. It also means a little bit goes a long way. The difference in color compared with supermarket brands is remarkable.
You may remember that Buddha Bowl post with fresh turmeric from the winter. While it’s lovely to source fresh ingredients, chances are that rhizome has been on the road a while. If you want real flavor, reach for a quality dried spice. Often called Indian saffron, turmeric – a member of the ginger family – not only gives curry its bright golden color, but it also adds a pepperiness that makes it a regular in Asian cuisine.
And our old friend allspice – I just used it in that yummy pumpkin chia pudding recipe. While it seemingly combines cinnamon + clove + nutmeg and has a very big name, it’s just a single spice and it hails from Jamaica. No doubt you have seen it as an essential ingredient in jerk chicken. It is in fact the unripe berry of a small evergreen. How very Christmasy!
In a medium non-reactive saucepan, combine the cranberries, kumquats, sugar, applesauce, and lemon juice. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often, until the cranberries begin to pop, about 5 minutes.
Add the dried cranberries, crystallized ginger, vanilla extract, cinnamon, allspice, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Continue simmering until the fruit is softened and the chutney is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes more.
Remove from heat and let cool completely. Refrigerate, covered, and serve at room temperature.
Makes 3 cups.
Serving Suggestions: This is great with roast meats, slathered on a sammie, or served alongside or atop cheeses. If you warm it up, it will thin a bit and it makes the best glaze for your Christmas ham.
Serving and Giving Notes
The chutney can be made up to 1 week in advance, and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. It will easily last several weeks, but I’m just not going to tell you to prepare it weeks ahead. Scraping the last bit out of the bottom of the jar 3 weeks in? Well, that’s a different story. By all means!
If you are making this to give as a gift, make sure to sterilize the jars (glass only, please), and let your giftee know this has not been canned, needs to be refrigerated, and is for current consumption.