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
(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!
Pork Chops, Applesauce, and my Mother and Mother-in-Law with Recipes and Such
In addition to being very near and dear to my heart, my mother (Margaret) and mother-in-law (Dori), share three things in common:
1) They were both raised in the Midwest (Kansas and Iowa, respectively).
2) They both have German ancestry.
3) The former is a good cook and the latter was (Dori passed many years ago) a great cook, but they both cooked the hell out of pork chops.
I never understood it, but I think it was born of a fear of trichinosis, as if the wheat and corn fields that surrounded their homes were threaded with diseased pork phobia genetic code. Mom, a Depression-era baby trying to feed four kids on a budget she never could forget even in good times, weekly bought those razor thin “chops” in value packs, layered them into a baking pan, seasoned with salt and pepper, and added a generous drizzle of barbecue sauce. She would then tightly wrap it with foil and bake at 350F for as long as she was sure it was done. My childhood memory wants to say at least two hours, and I’m not kidding. The result, God bless her, was flavorless shoe leather. A complete disservice to pork and not a favorite childhood food memory, though I sincerely appreciate the effort, and do to this day. Dori, meanwhile, was surrounded with gorgeous corn-fed beef and pig buying options and always brought the most gorgeous cuts. A lover of her pies and all the goodies that came from her very talented cooking skill set and kitchen, I remained ever hopeful every time she put them on the grill or in the oven. But, sadly, the trichinosis thing took over and even the most beautiful Iowa pork chop imaginable was cooked to death.
So, as I grew older and started learning more about cooking on a personal and professional level, pork chops (and all other chops) was the first thing I tackled after trying to master Dori’s pie crust. Making beautiful pork chops is not hard and there really are only a few rules to keep in mind. Begin with buying the best quality chop possible. All chops are cut from the loin that runs perpendicular to the pig’s spine. My favorite of these are the rip chops (cut from the rib portion of the loin) and the center cut pork loin with contains a T-shaped bone (as pictured here). Thick cut pork chops are about 1 1/2 – 2″ deep and usually weigh about 12 ounces, or 3/4 of a pound. Bring them to room temperature before cooking, removing from the fridge about 30 minutes before you begin. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350. Using a seasoned cast iron skillet or an enamel-lined cast iron skillet or the heaviest, best quality, oven-proof saute pan you have, heat about 2 tablespoons each butter and olive oil over medium high to high heat. When sizzling, add the pork chops (leaving space, I do two at a time). Cook until golden brown and easily pulled from the pan, about 3 minutes. Repeat on the second side. Turn over again. Place in the oven, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the chop draws clear juices. The chops should be firm, but slightly pliable to the touch. (Note: If you prefer to use a meat thermometer, insert into the thickest part of the chop. You’ll want a reading no lower than 145F and no higher than 160F). I like to brush mine down lightly with barbecue sauce on both sides (I know, old habits die hard), rest on a clean plate drizzled with all the pan juices and loosely covered with foil, for about 20 minutes. The resting is one of the most important steps and not to be taken lightly. It allows the fat and juices and flavor to re-absorb into the meat where it will be waiting for your knife and fork and grumbling belly.
Pork Chops with applesauce are a common pairing for a reason – they’re smashing together. The sweetness of apples with the milky sweetness of chops are a match made in heaven especially when paired with the earthiness of sage (add that to your chop seasoning mix) and cinnamon in the applesauce. It may seem a little early to speak of apples and fall, but hints of its imminent (and always welcome to this New England girl’s soul) arrival are everywhere. Kids are going back to school, Halloween candy is in the stores, and that subtle shift of fall light has barely begun. This is a lovely recipe from one of my cookbooks, Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith). Its simplicity makes it divine and it is both beautiful and healthy. Make it a day ahead and serve room temperature alongside your pork chops.
(Yields 2 1/2 cups)
Roasting apples with a bit of lemon juice and sugar ensures that all of the juices, flavor, and nutrients stay in one delicious place, and it also yields apples so tender they are nary in need of mashing. The McIntosh virtually melt on their own, while the slightly sturdier, sweet-tart Jonathan variety require a quick final mash. Perfect on its own, warm from the oven, this applesauce is lovely with a swirl of unsweetened cream over yogurt or ice cream, or as a side to pork roast and chops.
3 Jonathan apples, peeled, quartered, and cored
3 McIntosh apples, peeled, quartered, and cored
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400F. Toss all of the ingredients together on a rimmed baking sheet, coating evenly. Arrange in a single layer. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the apples are very soft and easily break to the touch. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes.
While still warm, place the apples and all of their juices into a manual bowl. With a hand-held masher, gently mash until the applesauce is chunky smooth. Serve warm or cold. Will store, refrigerated and covered, for several days.
Happy and delicious cooking out there, my friends. Cooler days are ahead and pork chops and applesauce season is almost here. If you’re ever in greater Charleston, SC, remember to look me up for a private personalized cooking class in my kitchen. I’ve just updated the link on this site with new details and pictures. Here’s the link:
If you’re looking for a wonderful gift for the Charleston lover in your life (and really, who isn’t one?), consider purchasing my latest cookbook, The New Charleston Chef’s Table (Globe Pequot Press, May 25, 2018) to learn more about the history and food traditions of this town, visit with 80 of her best chefs, and cook from their magnificent recipes. Available online at Amazon and major and boutique bookstores now. I can always sign one for you in person at any of my cooking classes.
Voila! She’s Finally Here and A Cookbook Give Away
It’s been a long time since I’ve visited. It’s been a very busy and wonderful year. In addition to a new cookbook (number nine), I have a now sixteen month-old puppy named Rocky (Rocken Roll) and have been enjoying writing press and news for a large Charleston restaurant group.
I deem The New Charleston Chef’s Table “number nine” with some hesitation, as I’m not sure exactly what to call a new edition of an old book (the original Chef’s Table came out in 2009). Is that really a new book? But since it’s essentially an 80% new book, that is almost all of the old book was pulled and new restaurants, chefs and recipes were added, I’m going to go with number nine.
The reason so much of it is new is that Charleston went through yet another massive restaurant renaissance during the past decade. What was delicious got even more delicious and the boundaries for types of food and restaurant locations and styles got even broader. Increasingly, Charleston taste buds veered farther from formality and more towards casual ethnicity diversification, but always, always with a demand for outstanding cuisine. Because, if it was not delivered, those restaurants went away in short order.
Reluctant at first to take on such a huge task, I was glad I did, and am grateful for the opportunity from Globe Pequot Press. The New Charleston Chef’s Table truly reflects the Charleston of now, which was my intention. I pursued recipes that were less structured and more adaptable for the home cook. Some of my favorites include Leon’s Whole Grain Spoon Salad, Fig’s Classic Arugula Salad, Crust’s Chilled Summer Corn Soup, Lewis’ Hatch Green Chile Corn Pudding, The Ordinary’s Fish Schnitzel, and The Daily’s Buttermilk Rhubarb Fool. In this book, more than in the original, I let the book morph with the commentary and thoughts of the chefs. For example, Matthew Niessner at Halls Chophouse didn’t want to share just one recipe, but an entire meal catered to this audience, just as he likes to do for groups when they come to Halls. So he shared recipes for creamed corn, iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese dressing, and how to perfectly prepare a restaurant style ribeye. Meanwhile, at Mex 1 Coastal Cantina I surfed with Ryan Jones into the Baja, California peninsula and cool surfer mentality with cantina chicken tacos and stewed lima beans slow and steady with Martha Lou Gadsen of Martha Lou’s Kitchen.
The design and editing team did a beautiful job of designing the book, which is verdant and fresh with lots of green color and beautiful photography, and has an equally more casual and modern look, reflecting an ever morphing Charleston.
The book was released this past week and is available at major bookstores and online now. I’m offering a signed cookbook to one of you. Just click like on this post or elsewhere where you see it and I’ll do a randomly picked number search on June 4 and announce the winner that day.
Wishing you a beautiful and soulful Memorial Day!
The holidays are moving at warp speed. I hope we all will take time to sit back and enjoy the ride and the reason. Cooking is a big part of my Christmas joy, and this recipe from my new cookbook (working title Mashed, fall 2016 release), is pure pleasure to make and eat. I call it “Christmas” Guacamole because two of its main ingredients (pomegranate and citrus) are in season this time of year, and the colors are red, green and simply luscious. Even better, this recipe is made in minutes, gone in less, and ridiculously healthy at a time when most of us need more of that. Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, I’m wishing you all that it be beautiful and bright and full of love and delicious food.
Christmas Guacamole with Pomegranate and Orange
(Yields about 2 cups or 16 appetizer servings)
The shimmering, ruby red and jewel-like arils of winter’s pomegranate shine against the backdrop of mellow green of creamy avocado in this so-good-you-cannot-stop-eating it holiday treat. Packed with three “super” foods and magnificent, fruity flavors, it’s also nothing to feel guilty about going back for more. Make up to an hour before serving (to prevent discoloration) and serve room temperature with best quality pita chips or toast points.
2 ripe avocadoes, halved and seeded
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 cloves garlic, smashed and very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon, best quality, fruity extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried (Valencia) orange peel
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Scoop out the flesh from the avocado with a soup spoon and mash, with a fork or manual masher in a medium bowl with the orange juice, garlic and salt and pepper. Fold in the orange peel, pomegranate seeds and fresh parsley. Serve immediately or tightly wrap (to the surface of the guacamole) with plastic wrap and serve within the hour. Garnish with a few more pomegranate seeds and fresh parsley.
Considered a super food for its high nutrient content, pomegranate can be purchased in its whole form during the cooler months, and increasingly, already seeded or juiced. The seeds are called arils and they look like little rubies. Getting them out of their tightly-knitted pockets can be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort. An easy way to get to the fruit is to quarter the pomegranate each of the four “cores” will be revealed to peel back the bitter pith pockets and release the seeds. One pomegranate will yield one to two cups of seeds.
Bon appetit! Let me know what you think. I believe you’ll love this one. Merry, Merry, Holly.
Holly will join Nathalie Dupree and a few other local authors at this festive book signing taking place on Charleston’s popular Second Sundy on King as well as Mother’s Day. Come on by and join the fun. Holly will be signing all of her titles from The French Cook series, and more.