Hot Weather in Fall

Well, it turns out that I was wrong about the weather changing to cool here for Sukkot (or for fall, for that matter).  After one day of drizzly and cool we went back to 82-92 degree weather each day this week.  So what do you do when the produce is cool weather vegetables and fruit but the weather is still summer-hot?  You just adjust your recipes slightly and make fewer stews and more salads.  With that goal in mind, here are some fall produce dishes to eat cold or room temperature.  

Before we start with the recipes, though, here are some quick instructions about cooking spaghetti squash.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.  Put a couple of inches of water in the bottom of a large pot then put the squash in the pot cut-side down.  Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat and cook at a simmer until squash is tender but not squishy-soft, somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes depending on size of squash.  Remove from the heat and cool cut-side down on a plate or colander to drain. 

Spaghetti Squash with Brown Butter Vinaigrette and Parmesan

  • 1 whole large spaghetti squash
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cook and cool spaghetti squash according to instructions above.  Cool and drain.  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan melt the butter over medium heat.  Cook it until it starts to brown – watch it carefully, though, it will go from melted to burned pretty quickly.  Remove from heat then stir in brown sugar until it melts.  Mix in vinegar, salt, and pepper then set dressing aside.  Using a fork pull the strands of the squash out of the shells, separating them and putting them in a bowl.  Carefully toss the vinaigrette and all but 1 Tbs of the parmesan and all but 1 Tbs of the parsley with the squash, coating it evenly.  Put the squash back in the shells of the squash or in a serving bowl.  Sprinkle the remaining parmesan and parsley on top of the salad.  Serve at room temperature.  If you are making this in advance, store in the fridge then take out an hour before serving so the butter vinaigrette can warm up.

Butternut Squash with Sunflower and Arugula Pesto

  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash
  • 1 small white onion
  • 1/4 dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds (you can use raw or roasted, depending on your taste but if you use salted ones be careful about the other salt you use)
  • 2 packed cups arugula
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • salt, as needed
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • juice and zest of half a lemon

Peel the squash with a sharp knife then cut in half and remove the seeds.  Cut squash flesh into 1 inch cubes then place in a pot of cold water.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until tender to a fork.  This will take about 10 minutes but check after 7 or so to make sure it isn’t mushy – do not let this get mushy or it will not look as nice.  When the squash is tender remove from heat, drain, and cool in very cold or ice water then drain well.  To make pesto put the arugula, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, sunflower seeds, and pepper into the blender or food processor.  Process until it is all blended – you may have to stop and scrape sides with spatula a few times.  Peel and chop the onion into small dice.  In a large mixing bowl carefully toss the pesto, the squash bites, the onion, and the cranberries.  Taste and adjust for salt.  Remember to toss carefully so the squash doesn’t smash. 

Potato and Pepper Salad

  • 4 large russet potatoes
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 small green or yellow pepper or half a large one
  • 1 small red or orange pepper or half a large one 
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (either red wine, white wine, or regular white)
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp red chili flakes (optional)

Peel and cut the potatoes into small dice.  Put in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Cook potatoes until they are tender but not mushy.  Remove from heat, cool in cold water, and drain.  Cut the peppers and red onion into small dice.  Toss the cooled potatoes, peppers, onions, oil, vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper.  The potatoes will break up a bit and the salad will look “creamy”.  This is right. 

Spaghetti Squash Caprese

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1-2 cups grape or small cherry tomatoes
  • 10 large fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella, either small balls or chopped pieces (you can substitute extra firm tofu for the cheese)

Cook and cool squash.  Cut the tomatoes in half, set aside.  Chiffonade the basil (cut into very thin shreds.)  Carefully toss the squash with the olive oil, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, salt, and pepper holding out a few tomato and mozzarella pieces, 1 Tbs of oil, and a pinch of the basil for garnish.  Either put the squash back in the shells or onto a serving plate.  Sprinkle the garnish vegetables on top of the squash and drizzle with the oil.  At this point you can either serve as is or bake in 350 degree oven until cheese is melted and the squash is hot – about 20 minutes.

Soup in the Sukkah

Well, the holiday of sitting outside in a little hut, open to the weather, to eat meals has arrived and with it autumn.  After weeks of almost completely consistent hot, dry weather last night blew in cloudy, rainy drizzly, cooler weather and tonight is the first night of Sukkot.  Some hearty souls, I am sure, ate outside tonight – we did not.  After making the various blessings (wine, the holiday, sitting in the sukkah, shaking the lulav) we went inside and ate our dinner without having it diluted by water dripping from the ceiling.  Half the years of my life meals in the sukkah have been taken in short sleeves and the other half featured heavy wool sweaters, red noses, and sometimes even shovelling snow off the table to eat.  On those years soup was a mainstay for the holiday, it looks like this year might well be the same.  So, here are a few soupy suggestions.  I bring you Harvest Festival soups that keep you warm while you dwell outside, use some of the lovely fresh produce you or your CSA have been growing, and should include something for everyone.  Be warm, eat soup, and remember – this is moadim l’simcha, time for joy.

Chicken, Lentil, and Rice Soup (filling and delicious and appealing to all ages)

  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 2 onions (both yellow, both white, one of each)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 cup dry green lentils
  • 1 cup raw brown rice
  • 2-3 cups chopped, shredded, or chiffonade greens (bok choy, chard, kale, spinach)
  • 1 ear of raw corn kernels, cut off the cob
  • 10-12 small red or yellow potatoes
  • 10 cups cold water
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot heat the oil over medium high heat.  Meanwhile, chop the onions then add to the hot oil.  Add in the ground chicken and garlic and cook, stirring and chopping the meat so you get bite-sized and smaller pieces, until meat is mostly cooked but onions are not browning.  Add the water, lentils, and rice.  Turn up heat and bring to a boil while washing, trimming, and cutting the potatoes into bite-sized chunks.  Then add the greens, the corn, and the potatoes to the soup.  Turn heat down and cover soup – the heat should be enough to keep a low boil but not enough to cause the soup to boil out or rattle the lid.  Cook covered until lentils and potatoes are soft, about 1 1/2-2 hours.  Season liberally with salt and pepper to your taste, serve hot with tortillas, crusty bread, challah, stale bagels, corn chips, crackers, or nothing at all.  Enjoy.

Asian Lentil Rice Soup (here is another lentil rice soup but with a totally different taste profile, it also happens to be vegan and gluten-free)

  • 1 1/2 cups dry green lentils
  • 1 1/2 cups raw brown rice
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 lb button mushrooms
  • 3 cups well chopped bok choy or napa cabbage or a combination
  • 1 large or 2 small zucchini
  • 3 Tbs toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tbs coarse ground black pepper (this will make the soup spicy, use much less if you don’t want spicy)
  • 2 Tbs rice vinegar
  • 12 cups water
  • kosher salt

In a soup pot put lentils, rice, and water and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and cook at a low boil for half an hour.  Meanwhile, chop the onions and mince the garlic.  Add to the soup.  Halve then slice the mushrooms and add to the soup.  Add the chopped greens and the black pepper.  Cover pot and cook at a low boil another hour, check lentils.  They should be soft.  If not, cook another 15 minutes before adding vinegar.  Add vinegar.  Just before serving season with salt and stir in the sesame oil.  Serve soup hot.  Breath in the delicious steam then slurp.

Vegetarian Green Chile (this one is soupy, not thickened with flour) (* ingredients are optional, add to suit your taste)

  • 3 yellow onions
  • 7-10 roasted green chiles (anaheim, pasilla, or the like)
  • corn kernels cut from 2 ears
  • 10 cups water
  • 3 russet potatoes
  • 1 Tbs dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbs cider vinegar
  • *1-2 Tbs ground cumin
  • *1 small can diced tomatoes, drained
  • *1/2 lb button mushrooms, quartered
  • *1-2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, chopped
  • *1-2 cups cooked and drained white beans, pinto beans, chick peas
  • *1-2 cups cooked chopped chicken meat
  • *1 lb firm tofu, crumbled

Chop the onions.  Peel, seed, and chop the chiles.  Put them together with the water in a soup pot, turn on high.  Peel and dice the potatoes and add to the pot.  Add the corn, oregano, and several shakes of black pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low boil and cook for 45 minutes.  Add in any *optional ingredients and the vinegar.  Cook another 45 minutes.  Season with salt and adjust flavor with pepper and extra oregano as needed.  Serve hot with cheesy toasted tortillas, chips, plain tortillas, whatever strikes your fancy.  This soup is even better the next day. 

Simple Italian Fish Stew (oh, yum, and so filling) 

  • 2 yellow onions
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 small crushed tomatoes
  • 2-3 peppers (red, yellow, orange, green)
  • 1-2 zucchini or yellow squash
  • 1 lb firm fish (I think cod is the best but you can use half salmon, too)
  • 1/4 cup capers, drained
  • 1 Tbs dried oregano
  • 1 Tbs dried basil
  • 2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 6 cups water

Chop onion and garlic.  In a soup pot heat the oil over medium high heat then cook the onions and garlic until they are soft.  Add the water and canned tomatoes and turn heat up.  Seed and chop the bell peppers into bite-sized pieces and add to the pot.  Allow to come to a boil then turn down to a low boil.  Cook for 15 minutes then add the squash, cut into bite-sized pieces.  Add the dried herbs, capers, and vinegar.  Cook another 15 minutes then add the fish, cut into bite-sized chunks.  Cook at a low simmer for another half hour then serve hot with garlic bread, crusty loaves, pasta on the side, or plain.  This is so, so good and warming and filling. 

G’Mar Chatima Tova, whatever that means

We say that on Rosh Hashanah the list of who will live and who will die in this coming year is written and that on Yom Kippur it is sealed.  Why the wait?  If G-d decides who will live and die why wait 10 days to put the final stamp on it?  Aha, that is because, we are also told, prayer, repentance (or returning), and charitable acts can change the decree.  So we practice loving everyone; we put away gossip, plotting, cruelty, impatience, stubbornness, blame, judging; we ask forgiveness from others, ourselves, G-d, nature, Mother Earth, whatever and whoever we can think of to ask; we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, make donations of money; and try, try, try to be good.  And we wish each other g’mar chatima tova – to be sealed in the book of life. 

But what is that really about?  That book of life, sealing, best wishes thing?  As a child I always wondered – was there a balance sheet?  If G-d moved someone from the death side to the life side did someone else have to be moved from life to death?  If you wished someone to be sealed in the book of life did that mean you were wishing someone else had to die?  What if you didn’t wish for someone to be sealed and then that person died!?  A child’s mind, especially the mind of a smart and fearful child, can create amazing scenarios and questions with very little fodder.  I would sit in services thinking of everyone I hoped would live this year, worried that I might forget someone important. 

Of course, as I got older I stopped with that worry game and understood this on a more metaphorical level.  Now I see it as this:  if only we can improve our relationship with our own lives then to wish someone to be sealed for year of life is to wish them luck with the eternal struggles.  That is to say, when I say, “May you be sealed in the book of life,” I really mean, “May you be able to fight the good fight and make your life worthy this coming year.”  So, to all my friends, readers, family members – G’mar Chatima Tova and a very happy and sweet new year.

More Honey, Please

Another post about honey because who doesn’t love it?  (Other than those who don’t, of course.)  Bears, bees, small children, old people, yeah, honey is good.  It also happens to be a food that is easily available as a buy-local product almost anywhere you go (read the label, though, it can be produced in China and bottled in St. Paul.)  Some people swear by it for medicinal purposes – think eating local pollen to prevent local allergies, using it as a skin moisturizing aid and mild antiseptic, to soothe a cough or sore throat.  I found this website with all sorts of (dubiously legit) therapeutic uses.  Check it out, mostly for the amusingly bad English.  http://ezinearticles.com/?21-Therapeutic-Benefits-of-Honey&id=3631637.  And honey is a sweetener with a rich flavor all of its own, which actually means that it isn’t great for some uses when you want sweet without flavor.  But for many other things it is great.  Try one of these yummy recipes with some local honey and enjoy.

Chocolate Honey Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 cups flour (if you want to use whole wheat I suggest using half white and half whole wheat pastry flour)

Melt butter, chocolate, and honey together in a double boiler.  Stir till it is all melted and well mixed.  It should be warm but not hot to the touch.  Mix in the eggs thoroughly then mix in the nutmeg.  Add in the flour and mix well.  Grease cake pan, brownie pan, bundt pan, muffin or mini-muffin pans then pour the cake batter into it.  Bake at 350 degrees until cake is done (this amount of time depends on size of pan – 10 minutes or so for mini-muffins, 45 minutes or more for a deep cake – it will be done when a thin knife or toothpick inserted comes out clean.)

Chevre, Pistachio, and Honey Crostini

  • 1 baguette
  • 8 oz chevre
  • 2 Tbs honey (the more flavorful the better, try lavender or orange or buckwheat or wildflower)
  • 1/4 cup raw pistachios
  • 1 Tbs extra virgin olive  plus a little for drizzling
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice the baguette slices between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick.  Toast in 250 degree oven until lightly crisp.  Remove from oven and put aside.  Put the pistachios on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven until they start to brown – be careful not to burn them.  Remove from the oven and let cool enough to chop them.  Put the chopped nuts in a bowl, holding out a couple tablespoons full for garnish, and add the chevre, honey, olive oil.  When ready to serve, spread the cheese mix on the crostini then sprinkle with the pistachios you saved for garnish.  Lightly drizzle with olive oil then sprinkle with salt and black pepper.  Serve by themselves or with a salad of baby greens that are tossed with a light lemon, olive oil, honey dressing.  Yum.

Honey, please

This is the time of year for honey eating.  Apples and honey, challah and honey, honey cake, honey on meat, honey in everything.  Here is a recipe for chicken with honey, rosemary, and lemon.  And a recipe, using some honey, of course, that makes the most delicious, amazing, chewy, flavorful cookies I’ve had in a long time.  You can use whatever kind of honey you like best for these recipes, keeping in mind the other flavors (clover is always nice, wildflower is delicious, buckwheat honey has a darker, deeper flavor, orange honey is amazingly fresh, etc.)  If your honey has crystalized in the jar you can liquify it by heating, either by placing the jar or bottle in a bowl of hot water or by heating for a few seconds in the microwave.  So, slather it on (either your dinner or your face) and enjoy.  (Just remember not to feed honey in any form to babies under the age of a year.)

Sweet and Tangy Chicken

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup pure honey
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 large onion
  • kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

Zest the lemon then squeeze its juice.  Put zest and juice in a bowl with the honey and mix well.  Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry.  Peel and halve the onion then place in the body cavity of the chicken with the rosemary sprigs and the squeezed lemon halves. Put the chicken in a baking or roasting pan.  Spread the honey mix over the chicken on all sides.  Sprinkle generously with kosher salt and black pepper and bake at 325 for 2 hours, check to see if chicken is done (the time this will take depends on the size of the chicken, obviously.)  Serve chicken with any pan drippings.  You can put brussels sprouts, chopped potatoes, or chunks of cabbage under the chicken to cook with it – just toss them with a small amount of oil before you put them in the pan so they brown, not burn.

Chewy Coconut Almond Cookies (so, so, so, so good but also very sweet – not for the sugar-free, low-carb folk among us)

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I used 3/4 cup white and 3/4 whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbs amaretto
  • 1 1/4 cups flaked unsweetened coconut

Mix the dry ingredients (the first four items on the list) in a bowl.  In a larger bowl beat the butter, sugars, and honey until creamed.  Beat in the egg and the amaretto.  Mix in the flour mixture then the coconut.  Place teaspoon sized balls on a cookie sheet, leaving room on all sides for the cookies to spread, and bake in a 350 degree oven for ~8-10 minutes.  The cookies should be lightly browned when done.  Remove from the oven, cool on the pan for 10 minutes then remove carefully with a spatula.  Eat.  Eat again.  Eat with tea.  Eat with coffee.  Serve them to your friends.  Eat plain, eat with milk, eat some more.  Then bake more.  Really.