Friday, November 19, 2010

My Season of Red and Orange
What’s cooking? Sweet Potato Ginger Soufflé

I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with fall. It’s the end of warm weather for a good six months; the leaves, while briefly beautiful, are a lot of work to clean up; and my garden reminds me of Medusa on a bad hair day.

But it’s not just the leaves that turn red and orange these days. So many gorgeous foods are at their peaks in these months that I wander the farmers’ markets and the grocery aisles just dreaming of what to cook. Pomegranates, apples, cranberries, oranges, beets, carrots, radishes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and butternut squash. And I’m sure I’ve left some out.

I start most days with pomegranate seeds mixed with creamy Fage yogurt and a spoonful of honey. Seeding a pomegranate is so tedious, there are times when I want to scream at it and throw it in the trash. But those little jewels with their bright, sweet-tart flavor give a lively start to even the dreariest day, so it’s well worth the effort. They also add wonderful sparkle – in look and taste – to a spinach salad. In the store, look for the fruit with the deepest red skin, because underripe pomegranate seeds taste...well, “bleah” is the best I can do to describe the sensation. Then park yourself in front of the television, find something interesting to watch, and seed the whole thing at once. One good pomegranate will do for several breakfasts or enough salad for 8-10. And the calories are practically nothing.

I found acorn squash at the farmers’ market last weekend. Ok, it’s green on the outside – but deep gold on the inside, so I think that counts. Split one in half, remove the seeds, and roast the halves face down on a greased pan at 400º for 45 minutes. Then turn them over, swab each inside with a half tablespoon of butter, and sprinkle on a tablespoon of brown sugar. Then send those babies under the broiler until the sugar bubbles. Whew – it’s like dessert, and it’s a vegetable!

As much as I love sweet potatoes, I’ve never been a fan of those casseroles with the marshmallows on top. So I was thrilled to find what I regard as the best ever sweet potato recipe, from one of those thin Williams-Sonoma cookbooks that I don’t think they print any more. Although they call it a pudding, it’s really more of a heavy soufflé. When we lived in New Jersey, my sister-in-law and I used to make one together every Thanksgiving – until our children grew up, and we had to make two. It’s a bit of work, but you can trust me that this is absolutely the best sweet potato dish you have ever had.

Kitchen Goddess note: In regard to nutmeg, you can use the already grated stuff in the jar, but it’s really nothing to buy the little nuts and grate them yourself on a fine grater or one of those rasps. The aroma of freshly grated nutmeg will tell you the difference in a way that words cannot hope to. I actually bought a small rasp made just for grating small stuff like nutmegs and hard chocolate, but then you knew I would have, didn’t you?

Sweet Potato Ginger Soufflé
from Chuck Williams’ Thanksgiving & Christmas

2 lb sweet potatoes
finely grated zest of one lemon
½ tsp salt
⅓ c crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1½ c heavy cream
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites

Cut the unpeeled sweet potatoes into fourths and place them in a large saucepan with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer covered for 30-40 mins, or until tender. Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 2-quart soufflé dish.

Peel the cooled sweet potatoes and place in a food processor. Process to a smooth purée. (You should have about 2½ cups of purée.) Transfer the purée to a large bowl and stir in the lemon zest, salt, and crystallized ginger. Stir in the cream and add nutmeg to taste.

In a separate bowl, using a mixer set on medium speed, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add about a quarter of the beaten whites to the potato mixture and combine well. Then, using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the remaining whites. Spoon into the prepared baking dish.

Bake until risen and slightly golden on top, 40-50 minutes. [Kitchen Goddess note #2: I often have to bake it an hour. It’s done when the top is firm but the center is just a bit jiggly.] Serves 8.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Preserving the Season
What’s cooking? Quick "Preserved" Lemons

Some two or three years ago, I read for the first time about preserved lemons. I thought they sounded way cool as a condiment – they come out of Moroccan cuisine, and while I have no idea what that means, they apparently are best made from Meyer lemons, which I greatly love.

Here’s the story: you take 8-10 lemons, slit the sides, jam them together in a large jar with enough salt to choke a kosher horse, and after about three weeks, the skins become pickled and are apparently great in relishes or lemon-herb butters, in salads, to dress up cooked green veggies, and as a flavoring in soups. (FYI: Meyer lemon season runs for the next 3-4 months, so if you want to try preserving some, check out this site for a more cogent description of the process.)