Friday, October 29, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger Pear Compote, and Artisan Bread in 5 min a day

I was looking through my recipe box the other day and came upon a handwritten recipe from my mother for this soup.  It doesn't say where the recipe was from originally, but it sounded delicious and like just the thing for the start of fall.  I picked up fresh cider, pears and butternut squash at the farmers market and I was all set to try it out.  I have to say that this recipe had a lot of butter in it... my mom's notes indicated she had cut the butter in half, and I cut it in half again, and it still seemed like a lot to me.  I am sure the soup would be delicious with even more butter but it seems excessive to me - I think it would taste good using half butter and half vegetable oil and/or cutting down the amount of butter even further than I did.  In any case, it was a really great flavor combination and we enjoyed it a lot.

Butternut Squash Soup with Pear Ginger Compote

For the soup:

  • 3 tablespoons butter (or less, or sub vegetable oil for part)
  • 2 small chopped onions
  • 2 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-2" cubes (about 4-5 cups)
  • 3 cups fresh apple cider
In a medium saucepa, melt butter and add onion, cook over medium heat until transparent.  Add squash and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add cider and bring to a simmer.  Lower heat and cover, and cook until squash is tender (about 1/2 hour or more).  Puree either with a hand blender or in a regular blender (being careful not to burn yourself).  Season with salt and pepper.

For the compote:
  • 2-3 ripe pears, chopped with skin on
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
In a medium skillet, melt butter and cook pears gently over low heat for 5 minutes.  Add ginger and continue cooking with lid on until tender (10-15 minutes).  Serve soup topped with a dollop of compote.


The other part of this meal was fresh homemade bread.  A few months ago I bought the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day cookbook, which I had been hearing all about and wanted to check out.  It has a lot of really great-looking recipes and I was excited to try their technique.  The basic idea is that you make a large batch of very wet bread dough and store it in your fridge for up to a couple weeks, and then you are able to take out a loaf's worth and cook it after a relatively short rise.  The wet dough keeps the bread moist and as the dough ages in the fridge it takes on a sourdough type of flavor.  I was tempted to jump right to one of the whole grain loaves, but they advise starting with the "master recipe" for a white bread boule, so I started there.  

Despite making a number of mistakes (like not putting enough flour on the dough when I was shaping it, and forgetting to slash the top before baking), the bread turned out to be really delicious!  The master recipe was published in the NYT a few years ago if you are interested in trying out the technique without buying the book yet...  Now I just have to decide what to do with the remainder of the dough I have saved... I am thinking probably pizza, but I am tempted to try another loaf of bread.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Spider Treats

Inspired by the hershey's kiss and pretzel treats that I have eaten before, I thought I would try making a spider version for halloween.  I found this recipe online for the traditional version, and then followed it but using stick pretzels arranged like spider legs as shown below.  I think they turned out super cute, but I did have a bit of a hard time getting all the legs to really get stuck to the chocolate so I wouldn't call them a runaway success.  I think they would probably work better with the smaller stick pretzels.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wedding Pottery

Photo Courtesy of Joe Shymanski
I had mentioned in a few other posts that I had made pottery for our wedding, but hadn't gotten around to doing a post on it yet.  In addition to the flower pots that I made as centerpieces for each table, (shown here), I also made lots of little 3-6" tall vases for the mantelpieces.  There were two fireplaces with big mantels in the ballroom, and another one in the room where the buffet was set up, so as you can imagine it was a lot of vases!  I had so much fun making them though.  For one thing, I was throwing in porcelain and I had a lot of trouble getting the flowerpots to turn out how I wanted (eg, round), whereas the vases were easier to keep from getting distorted.  Plus, I just had a ton of fun experimenting with different shapes and trying to think of ways to make each one unique.  At the reception, we had enough pottery in between the centerpieces and the vases for each person/couple/family to take a pot home.  People seemed to have a great time picking out a piece and appreciated getting to take home a special homemade item.  I didn't really think of them as "favors" but I guess that's what they were, in a sense. 

My mom got and arranged all the flowers in the vases which I thought looked great!

Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Thurston

Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Thurston

Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Thurston
Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Thurston

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall Garden

The luxury of living in DC as opposed to farther north is that when you have a hectic summer and you don't have time to clear out space for fall planting until October, it's not totally too late to even be worth it.  As usually happens, a few weeks ago my garden was looking raggedy and overgrown in a lot of areas, so two weeks ago I pulled out the cucumbers and a few other things that were clearly done, weeded, put down compost, and planted a few seeds.  Mostly I planted greens which only need a month or two to be ready to eat, so despite the late start I should still be able to make something of this late fall planting.  By last weekend mostly everything had sprouted.  Here are how things look now.


Kale (planted in with some swiss chard that has been going all summer).

A few spinach plants

Arugula (plus I planted some in with the tomato plants)

Lettuce (may need to plant some more)


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Festive Felt

I was very excited when I won the giveaway on the long thread for Fa la la la felt, a book full of holiday decorations made from felt.  I was initially excited just to have won something, but I was even more excited when the book came in the mail and I saw all the cute ideas for felt projects.  I especially liked the ideas for ornaments, since we don't have a ton of ornaments for our tree yet and have been enjoying building our collection.  Last year we got a number of different bird ornaments so we have a bit of a bird theme going... so I was especially excited to see a number of bird related patterns in the book.

When the book came in the mail, I ordered a sampler of felt squares on etsy, and then I was raring to go... despite not having the right kinds of embroidery thread, or having made enlarged copies of the patterns in the book.  So I made a few things with the materials I had on hand (and sketching out the patterns) and ended up with the adorable baby owl on the left above.  I didn't realize until I made the enlarged copies how much smaller it would be than the actual intended design, but I actually think it is super cute to have a big one and a baby one to go with it.

These birds were a great chance to use up some william morris fabric that I have had for quite a while - I love how the leafy patterns look like feathers on the wings.

These ornaments are super adorable, they were one of my favorite designs when I first looked through the book and I am thrilled that they turned out looking so much like the design!

I liked the snowflake ornaments in the book, but decided to make something simpler (this shows the two sides).  Snowflakes are one of my favorite holiday motifs so I have a few more ideas of snowflake ornaments I'd like to make.

And here are ones that I made up myself.  I thought it would be fun to do a pointsettia... my first attempt is on the right, my second attempt on the left.  I like how the petals of the second one are separate, I think it looks much more like a pointsettia, but I like the shape/outlining on the first.  So maybe I will do a third attempt to try to perfect the design.

I hope to make several more projects out of the book, and am also inspired with more ideas for my own designs.  In keeping with the bird theme, I was thinking I should possibly make a penguin ornament.  Or maybe I should get the backyard birds kit and learn how to needle felt?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Easy Roasted Tomato Polenta

As you know if you have ever done it, making polenta the traditional way, which involves near-constant stirring on the stovetop for a half an hour, is a real pain.  So I was very excited last year when I first heard about making polenta in the oven - this is a good general recipe that I have used as a guide.  While this technique is often called "no-stir," that is really a misnomer, since you do stir it a few times, but it is much less labor intensive.  I have made it just plain, and served it with a sauce on top or as a side dish, but I also like stirring in other stuff to make it more interesting.  Earlier this summer we had a bunch of uncooked veggie skewers left over from a party with zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and onions, so I roasted them in the toaster and then later stirred them into the polenta, which was delicious.  This rendition was inspired by the slow roasted tomato bruschetta in the Gourmet cookbook, but really you could stir in any roasted veggies and it would be yummy.  Another good fall/winter option is to add sauteed mushrooms and kale. 

Easy Roasted Tomato Polenta
  • 2 lbs assorted tomatoes, coarsely chopped (halved or quartered depending on size)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups dried polenta/coarse cornmeal
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Spread the tomatoes on a baking sheet, then mix the garlic with 1/2 cup olive oil and drizzle the garlic/oil mixture over the tomatoes.  For slow roasting, bake at 250 for 4-5 hours or longer (I did this the night before); you could probably roast at 350 and just put them in 20 minutes before the polenta and they would be roasted enough, if you want to make it all in one night.

For polenta, add dried polenta, water, salt, and about a tablespoon of oil to a large baking pan.  Stir to ensure that there are no dry lumps in the polenta - the polenta will settle at the bottom.  Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, at which point the polenta will be mostly cooked but there will be wetter and drier spots.  Take out of the oven, add the roasted tomatoes and stir to combine and to fully mix the polenta.  Bake for another 10 minutes.  Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes and serve.

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