Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

pumpkin

Maple Acorn Squash Soup Makes an Elegant Start to Thanksgiving

Warm Up Thanksgiving with This Exceptional Soup Recipe

In the cooler months, my kitchen counter is permanently decorated with an array of winter squashes. Hubbard, acorn, butternut, pumpkin, turban – whatever I can find at the grocery store or farmers’ market. They serve the dual purpose of appealing to my aesthetic senses as well as fueling my appetite for seasonal cooking. All winter squashes shine especially brightly in soups, which magnify their flavor and color intensity and smooth texture beautifully.  Thankfully, the heirloom varieties (my current favorite is Hubbard) are increasingly available. Lately, I’ve been roasting Hubbard squash, halved and skin-side down in a hot oven (425F) until very soft. Once cool, I mash the flesh with a splash of salt and pepper, cinnamon, perhaps a bit of maple syrup and a pat of butter. It has an exquisite bright orange color and possesses deep, rich winter squash flavor.  With a sauteed filet of salmon or cod, it makes a complete and very satisfying meal.

The acorn squash in this soup is treated similarly and finished with minimalist ingredients so the clean, earthy squash flavor takes center stage.  The maple syrup is cooked into the soup with just a few more ingredients and the elegance of shallots and a tiny bit of cream. It is pureed to a velvety finish with an immersion blender or a food processor. Because it is so elegant, delicious, seasonal, and just the right, light weight, it is the perfect way to kick off any special meal, especially Thanksgiving. The reverence and gratitude associated with Thanksgiving make soup the perfect starter – a slow and easy debut that gives you and your guests time to sink their hearts and minds into the occasion, pausing for reflection and slow sipping as they go. It also gives the turkey and the cook a little much needed time to rest before the gigantic feast begins.

This Maple Acorn Squash Soup from  Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith) was inspired by the maple syrup and butter-filled acorn squash halves my mother made often for my brothers and sisters when we were children. Do use real maple syrup. It makes a huge difference in the authenticity of the soup’s flavor.

Maple Acorn Squash Soup – Photograph by Alexandra DeFurio from Mashed by Holly Herrick. Reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith.

Maple Acorn Squash Soup

(Yields 6 to 8 Servings)

2 large acorn squash, halved horizontally and seeded

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and halved vertically

Generous pinch of kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons bourbon (optional but delicious!)

4 cups low sodium vegetable stock

1 cup water

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons real maple syrup

2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons heavy cream

3 tablespoons finely chopped chives

Preheat oven to 425F (22oC). Place the acorn squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the flesh is very tender. Set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle,  scoop the flesh from the interior of the squash, discarding the shells. You should have about 4 cups.

In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and celery and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until just softened. Add the ginger, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and bourbon; stir to combine. Cook until the bourbon has reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes. Add the stock, water, squash, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil over high and reduce to a simmer, cooking, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove ginger pieces and discard.

In the same pot, puree the soup with an immersion blender until very smooth. Finish with the cream, heating through. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve hot in individual soup bowls garnished with a flutter of fresh chives. (Note: The soup can be prepared ahead a day or 2 and refrigerated, but remember to add the cream and the chives when reheating, not prior).

 

Wishing everyone a beautiful, happy and delicious Thanksgiving!

Holly

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Pumpkin Pecan Spiced Cream Puffs

These beautiful little cream puffs actually look a bit like pumpkins, are light as air, and practically whisper “autumn” in every bite.

Creamy sweet marscapone, ginger, nutmeg, ginger and a splash of Cognac recall the classic flavors of pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top. The pastry gets a colorful pumpkin flavor glow from the addition of pumpkin puree to classic choux pastry.  And, finely chopped pecans in the filling deliver an unexpected crunch surprise. On top? A fuss-free,  fluttery dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon.

What’s  not to love? These would make a lovely,  light ending to any meal and are sure to please. Give them a go for Halloween or Thanksgiving or any time simple and delicious sounds just about right.

(Adapted from The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs, Gibbs Smith, October, 1, 2013, by Holly Herrick)

Pumpkin Pecan Spiced Cream Puffs

(Makes 22 – 24 “petite” cream puffs)

Pumpkin Pecan Spiced Cream Puffs

Pumpkin Pecan Spiced Cream Puffs

Begin by preparing the pastry.

Sweet Pumpkin Choux Pastry

Special Equipment Needed: 2 silicon baking sheets or parchment paper, 2 half-sheet baking pans, one 12” piping bag, #806 round pastry tip, pastry brush.

1 cup water

3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted, cold butter cut into 1/2”-cubes

1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon canned pumpkin puree

1/2 cup bread flour

1/2 cup All-Purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

Generous pinch kosher or sea salt

4 room temperature large eggs (about 1 cup), beaten together

Egg wash: 1 egg, splash water and pinch kosher or sea salt, beaten together

Preheat the oven to 425F. Have everything measured and in place in before starting to actually prepare the choux.

In a medium, sturdy sauce pan, melt the water and butter together over medium high heat, stirring once or twice to help the butter melt. Whisk in the pumpkin puree until blended. Reduce the heat to medium. Sift together the bread flour, AP flour, sugar, and salt together over a medium bowl. Add the sifted dry ingredients all at once to the melted water and butter mixture, reserving the bowl nearby. Stir the mixture (roux) vigorously with a wooden spoon to bring the dough together, initially. Continue stirring, less vigorously, until the pastry starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and forms a uniform ball. This should take about 1 – 2 minutes.

Turn the pastry out into the reserved bowl. Allow to sit for about 1 minute, or until the pastry is cool enough to touch comfortably with your finger for at least 15 seconds. Add 1/2 of the beaten eggs (about 1/2 cup) to the pastry. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the pastry looks uniform and glossy, about 1 minute. Add half of the remaining egg mixture (about 1/4 cup) and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until the pastry is uniform and glossy (about 1 minute). Repeat with the remaining egg mixture.

While the pastry is still warm, pipe and bake the pastry using a 1/2″-round tip (#806)  onto a silicon or parchment paper lined baking sheet. Pipe so that the choux puffs are all the same size, about 1 1/1″ wide (round) and about 3/4″ high. Brush the top of each pastry with a light coating of egg wash, being careful not to allow the wash to drip down the sides of the pastry.

Bake the choux puffs for 22 to 25  minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Turn off the oven, open the door, and let the pastry stand for 5 minutes. Pierce the bottom of each choux gently with the tip of a knife. Allow to cool completely before filling. (Note: The pastry can be prepared ahead and baked several days before filling. Store in the freezer in plastic freezer bags for up to three weeks).

Creamy Spiced Pecan and Mascarpone Filling

1 cup mascarpone cheese (or substitute regular cream cheese), room temperature

1/2 cup cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon best-quality vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon Cognac or bourbon

3 tablespoons whipping cream

Pinch kosher or sea salt

1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Whisk together all of the ingredients, except the pecans,  in a medium bowl until smooth. Fold in the pecans and blend to combine. Reserve cold until ready to use (Note: The filling can be made a day ahead and refrigerated, covered. Sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes before filling the cream puffs).

Putting It Together – Assemblage

If you’re not inclined to fuss with a pastry bag, simply cut each choux puff in half horizontally with a serrated knife. “Plop” a teaspoon of the filling on the bottom half of each puff and cap each with its respective top. Or, fit a clean pastry bag with a clean #806 round pastry bag, and fill the halved choux, piping about 1 teaspoon of the filling into the center of each, and capping each with their respective choux hoods.

Spiced Sugar Garnish

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Place the sugar and the cinnamon in a small sifter. Sprinkle generously over the top of the filled cream puffs.  Serve immediately and watch ’em swoon. These are first-place-delicious-good.

Bon appetit!

 

 

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Somewhere Between Sauces and Choux

I just bought Dansko shoes for the first time in my life. Sexy they are not, but they are highly practical in the kitchen and go reasonably well with the pair of jeans I usually wear when I’m cooking, especially the sassy, oiled red shoe variety pictured below.

The perfect working kitchen shoe – Dansko.

I’ve been cooking for years. So, why now, why today? A giant of a French chef told me years ago in Fauchon’s kitchen that if I didn’t wear the right shoes and stand up straight while I prepped, I’d be crooked by the time I was forty. Maybe that was the impetus, but I think it has more to do with transition.

Some people can leap from one project to another with reckless abandon. I’m not one of them. I need time, if only a few days, to clear the decks, clear the desk, clear my brain, empty the nest, and get pumped up before starting all over again.

So, on this, the literal eve of the official beginning of my next cookbook (cookbook #6!), I’m transisting and taking the brave leap from the nuances of delicate, layered French sauces and into the puffy, stalwart realm of choux pastry. And, I’m kicking it all off with a brand new pair of red shoes.

Unlike tart pastry I manipulated in Tart Love or sauces I created for The French Book: Sauces (Gibbs Smith, March 2013), choux pastry is one tough little nut. It likes to get beat up pretty good to activate the gluten and choux pastry’s unique rising effect – aided only by this, butter and egg yolks. Nutty and savory in flavor, once cooked it can be filled with anything from whipped cream to bacon and eggs. It’s a huge sweet and savory universe all of its own and can also be formed into little balls (cream puffs) or longer tubes (eclairs).

Beautiful eclairs.

Not only delicious, these little treats are amazingly versatile. In the sauces cookbook, my primary task was to reveal the technique and versatility of sauces while adhering to the classic “recettes” for the five French mother sauces. Here, my task load is a little more free-form – to find an excellent, practical technique for making choux pastry itself, and coming up with all kinds of beautiful and delicious flavor pairings.

My head has been adrift for days and weeks with such thoughts: lemon and mascarpone and pumpkin and cream cheese on the sweet side; BLT cream puff sandwiches and French onion choux on the savory. The list goes on and on and I’m ready to have some fun and get some flour dust on my pretty new shoes. Please jump on the band wagon with me and let me know if you have any ideas you would like for me to try out. I’d love to give it a go! And, for restaurant news/review fans, I want you to know that I’m back on track with those too (after a mandatory medical delay) as we wrap up 2012 and prepare for 2013. Charleston has so much exciting and delicious restaurant news happening right now, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

In the meantime, I’m going to leave you with a recipe for fail-proof roasted chicken. It’s the perfect feast for this time year. The techniques work just as well for chicken as they do for turkey. It’s from The French Book: Sauces, with which it’s paired with a lovely mushroom sauce. Here, simply strain any pan juices, skim off any fat, and whisk together with a little Dijon mustard for a quick, delicious pan sauce.

Perfect Roasted Chicken

Roasting chicken is simple and so rewarding when done with love for the people seated at your table. Basting is really the key. Keep giving back to the chicken what it gives to you in juices. Use a sturdy roasting pan and a roasting rack to keep the chicken off the bottom of the pan. In addition to creating a safe spot for the chicken to nestle while it’s cooking, the rack enables better browning.

1 (3 to 4-pound chicken)

Sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

8 sprigs fresh thyme

1 shallot halved

1 small carrot, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths

1 small celery rib, trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, thinly sliced

For basting:

3/4 cup good-quality white wine (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay)

3/4 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 375F. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Trim off and discard wing tips and any excess fat from near the cavity. Season the cavity generously with salt and pepper. Fill the cavity with the thyme, shallot, carrot, and celery. Loosen the skin on the chicken breast from the flesh by slipping your index finger under the skin and gently prying it loose. Place the sliced butter under the skin of the breasts, spacing evenly.

To truss the chicken, arrange it on your work surface, back side down. Run kitchen string underneath the bottom of the spine and around the bottom of the legs. Cross the string over itself and now guide it up on both sides of the breasts, along the crease where the thighs and the breasts meet. Flip the chicken over, wrap the string around the wings, and pull tightly to form a knot. Trim off the excess string. Season the chicken generously all over with salt and pepper. Bake until the skin is a pale golden color and a skin/salt crust begins to form, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F. Combine the wine and stock and baste the chicken, starting now, every 20 to 25 minutes, or until it’s done, about 1 1/2 hours (count on about 20 minutes for every pound). Test for doneness by piercing the chicken between the leg and the breast; it is cooked when the juices run clear. Remove the chicken from the pan, cover with aluminum foil, and rest for 20 minutes.

To carve the chicken, cut the legs away from the body, and cut each into two pieces at the joint. Carve the breasts away from the carcass and cut each horizontally into two pieces.

Serve immediately. Delicious with rice, mashed potatoes, and a simple side of sauteed mushrooms or spinach. Bon appetit!

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Thrice “Baked” Nice

In this, their third cookbook, Brooklyn-based baking dynamos Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito really hit the ball out of the park, or should that be Yankee Stadium?

Baked Elements: Our  Ten Favorite Ingredients (Abrams, September 2012) is jam-packed with the authors’ highly original and decidedly tasty approach to baking and pairing flavors. This book is organized by their 10 favorite ingredients: peanut butter, lemon & lime, caramel, booze, pumpkin, malted  milk powder, cinnamon, cheese, chocolate and banana. The ingredients that “we would take to a desert island or rescue from a burning house,” as the authors’ wittily write.

They traverse the landscape of Americana with soul-warming and regionally influenced treats like buttermilk donuts and devil dogs.  Ironic, absent-minded professor humor (i.e., “If you have ever woken up with a slight hangover and a dubious, half-remembered, half-eaten jar of peanut butter at your side. We can empathize. We have lived this shame.”) that make this not only an extremely informed read, but an extremely fun one as well.

Beautifully organized and photographed by Tina Rupp, it is a must-read for Baked fans and bakers everywhere.  Seventy five delicious recipes with fun names (Lacy Panty Cakes, Lemon Pecorino Pepper Icebox Cookies,  Toasted Pumpkin Seed Brittle, Tunnel of Hazelnut Fudge Cake, Banana in a Blanket, and a luscious Cheddar Corn Souffle) are bound to bring out the inner baker in anyone.

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