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Pumpkin + Apple + Curry + Bacon Soup

October is one of my favorite months of the year - I love the weather, the pumpkin festivals, the Halloween costumes, haunted houses and parties. It's all the fun of the holidays minus the stress. Well, relatively speaking considering I have two little goblins in tow.

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The pumpkin is one of the most ubiquitous and beautiful staples of the season, and while I love displaying and carving them, I don't cook with them nearly enough - until now.

Inspired and armed with this awesome list from Food Network Magazine, I set out to make the perfect pumpkin soup. I did a little test drive on a class full of hungry second graders yesterday for our "Veggie of the Month" lesson (yes, I know it's technically a fruit) and it is definitely a winner!

Now I'll go one better and tell you this recipe was made with CANNED pumpkin! While I love the rich flavor of roasted squash of all varieties, including pumpkins, I don't think it's required for this recipe. Save all that work for dishes where you'll actually appreciate the taste AND the texture.

Pumpkin + Apple + Curry + Bacon Soup

15 oz can pumpkin

4 cups of chicken stock

1 T olive oil

1 large onion diced

1 cup of bacon or pancetta diced

2 large apples peeled and diced

1 garlic clove diced

1 bay leaf

1/2 t pumpkin pie spices

2 T curry powder

4 T maple syrup

Simmer olive oil, onion, bacon, apple and garlic until soft. Add all other ingredients and simmer for at least 45 minutes to meld flavors. Remove bay leaf and blend THOROUGHLY. This is the secret to omitting all the butter and cream in "creamy soups" in my opinion. Return to heat before serving. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with roasted pumpkin seeds and rosemary, crisp bacon and sauteed apple chunks, creme fraiche or all of the above.

Now, it's on to a fresh take for chili with this recipe from The Kitchn.

Viva la pumpkin! 

 

Pork Chile Verde Tacos

It's important to me that my readers know that I truly love to cook. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and there are in fact times when I pour over dozens of recipes and slave over techniques before I decide something is good enough to share on Gather365.

I'll out myself early by saying this is NOT one of those times, and it's not even one of my recipes. Credit goes to my good friend Rebecca at Kitchen Preserve.

I could go on and on about how to make the perfect slow-roast pork, or how to select the best ingredients for the freshest salsa verde. But my conscience won't let me. I must admit that this is one recipe that is so basic and so simple, yet so delicious, it's ridiculous. Absolutely no one can screw this up. I promise.

Now that I have your undivided attention, I'll throw in that you can and actually should use your slow cooker. Please know that I do NOT normally recommend these dinner-wrecking machines. And wait, are you sitting down? You don't need to make the salsa verde - you can simply go buy a jar of your favorite brand. Hallelujah!

But if you insist, here's how to make it from scratch. 

 Pork Chile Verde

3 lbs pork butt cut into 2 inch cubes

6 large green chilies - roasted, peeled and chopped

1 large jalapeno

2 garlic cloves

1 large onion diced

1 large can tomatillos

2 tbs cumin

1 bunch of fresh chopped cilantro

1-2 cups chicken broth

Brown pork on all sides, drain and transfer to slow cooker. Add all other veggies and spice - or jar of salsa, and simmer for 5-7 hours on low or until pork is fork tender. Add salt to taste. Remember too much liquid + meat + slow cooker = potential dinner disaster. Only add enough stock to cover the meat and if you're using store-bought salsa, and I hope you do, add it in the last hour of cooking.

Kick taco night up a notch and serve this with warm tortillas, grilled scallions, fresh cilantro, sour cream and lime wedges, or serve as a piping hot bowl of stew with fresh baked cornbread, or as a hardy appetizer spooned over sopes and garnished with sour cream and cilantro.

For a little twist on the stew idea, try this yummy recipe from Epicurious. 

 

Moroccan Chicken

I originally stumbled across this recipe as Spiced Chicken Thighs in Tomato Broth, but I much prefer to call it Moroccan Chicken - sounds more exotic right? Presentation is everything in entertaining and enticing descriptions don't hurt either.

There are several reasons I love this dish and you can probably guess the first one - right, it's filed under one-dish ! No need to repeat myself so I'll move on. The only thing I love more than one-dish meals is spice rubs and when you can combine them both in the same recipe, well that's what I call heaven.

The combination of spices, typical of a Moroccan tangine, are the reason I take liberty with the name of the recipe and one of the reasons I love it so. Perhaps it's the Lebanese in me, but I adore mixing cinnamon with savory warming spices like cumin and coriander. It makes me happy from the inside out plus it makes the house smell amazing.

I've read that you can make this in a slow cooker - that's if you trust your slow cooker. I don't trust mine. It has turned too many meals to mush and sent me on too many last minute dinner recovery runs. I'd rather risk burning the house down with this in the oven if I need to go out. But by all means if that works for you - go for it!

Moroccan Chicken for 4

Combine, Rub & Saute:

4 chicken thighs

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 pinch salt

Add and Saute:

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 cinnamon stick

Deglaze:

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon tomato paste

Add & Simmer:

1 cup tomato, chopped

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup canned chick-peas, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup green olives, pitted and halved

1 tablespoon honey

1 lemon, cut into wedges

1 bay leaf

sauteed chicken thigh

Finish:

fresh parsley, chopped

salt

Directions:

1. Combine spices and salt in a dish, then rub over chicken thighs; let stand about 5 minutes.

2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium; add chicken, skin side down, and saute until browned on both sides, 10 minutes total. Remove chicken and pour off all but 1 T drippings.

3. Add onion and saute 3 minutes.

4. Stir in ginger, garlic, pepper flakes and cinnamon stick; cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute.

5. Deglaze with wine and tomato paste, stirring to combine. Simmer until liquid evaporates.

6. Add tomatoes, broth, chickpeas, olives, honey, lemon and bay leaf; stir to combine.

7. Arrange reserved chicken on top cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until chicken is cooked through and sauce is reduced, 20-25 minutes.

8. Finish with parsley and salt just before serving.

9. Serve with pita bread and/or couscous

Yucatan-Style Grilled Chicken Achiote

If you're looking for one simple ingredient to transform your grilled meats, this is one of my favorites.

My first encounter with achiote paste - a characteristic seasoning of the Yucatán,
was several years ago at Chef Mateo Granados' wildly popular booth at the Healdsburg Farmer's Market. He's known throughout the area for his inventive catering and "pop-up dinners" and has since opened Mateo's in Healdsburg which is definitely worth a visit.

His taco recipe is still my favorite - something about the lemon juice and marinating overnight that makes the meat - it's just as good with beef or pork, super juicy and fork tender. Pickled red onions are a great condiment but I also like to add grilled scallions.

Enjoy!

Yucatan-Style Grilled Chicken (Gallina con Achiote) Serves 4

This recipe provides enough marinade for a whole chicken cut into serving pieces, although Granados prefers to use leg-thigh quarters. He removes the thigh bone before marinating, an optional step. Grilling the chicken slowly over indirect heat produces a crusty skin and juicy interior.

  • 4 chicken leg-thigh quarters
  • 1/2 cup achiote paste (see Note)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

For serving

  • Hot tortillas
  • Pickled red onions
  • Shredded romaine lettuce or cabbage
  • Sliced radishes or tomatoes

Instructions: Put the chicken parts in a non-reactive container, such as a glass baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the achiote paste, lemon juice and salt and use your fingers to blend the mixture until it is smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve over the chicken, then turn the chicken in the marinade to coat all sides. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours, turning it in the marinade halfway through.

Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium-high. Create an area for indirect grilling: if cooking with charcoal, bank the coals under one-half of the grill rack or make a ring of coals with a bare space in the center; with a gas grill, leave one burner unlit. Remove the chicken from the marinade to a platter. Drizzle with the olive oil and rub the oil evenly over the chicken parts with your hands.

Place the chicken on the grill, skin side down, over indirect heat. Cover the grill, leaving vents open. Cook, turning once, until the chicken is appetizingly browned on both sides and no longer pink at the bone, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the chicken rest 10 minutes before serving.

To serve, wrap some grilled chicken in a tortilla with any or all of the accompaniments.

Note: Achiote paste is available at Mexican markets.

Thyme-Roasted Grapes + Ricotta Cheese

I adore dishes with simple ingredients that you can throw together in minutes, shove in the oven and walk away from - it makes entertaining so much more fun.

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My favorite variation on this theme usually involves tomatoes but I've made that so many times I need to give it a rest. I found this combination of roasted grapes, thyme and cheese very appealing and started with this recipe from Alexandra's Kitchen

Of course, I made a few tweaks because sometimes I can't help myself - either that or I simply cannot follow instructions. Roasting the grapes really brings out the sweetness, which made me think that a more savory contrast would be nice so I added a handful of garlic cloves and mixed in a creamy blue cheese with the ricotta.

For the bread, I simply toasted it in the oven. If you have the time though, I think you should grill it like Alexandra - it adds a lot of flavor and the fancy factor is quite high with those beautiful grill marks.

  • lb of seedless grapes
  • handful of garlic cloves peeled
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • 5-6 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1/2 cup fresh ricotta + 1/2 a creamy blue cheese like Gorgonzola whipped together
  • good rustic bread, sliced into 1/2-inch thick pieces

1. Preheat oven to 450ºF. Spread grapes onto a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Lay thyme leaves over top. Toss all together gently with your hands. Place pan in the oven for 7 to 9 minutes or until grapes just begin to burst. I prefer the shorter roasting time — it’s nice when some of the grapes remain in tact.

2. Meanwhile, heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high - or toast in the oven. Brush the bread with olive oil. Grill until nice and toasty. Rub with clove of garlic.