Friday, October 22, 2010

Exceeding our Expectations

Butternut Squash Guts

This week I finally got the chance to prepare a few recipes I’d been wanting to try for a while, namely a butterscotch chiffon pie, and a pepper-eggplant confit.  I’ll tell you up front, they both turned out fabulously, meeting and exceeding my optimistic expectations.  But what’s even better, this week also gave us the chance to finally have over a couple we’d been wanting to get together with for a while now too, Ben’s co-worker Jennifer and her boyfriend Mike.  Once again, our patience was rewarded and out expectations of a good time were far exceeded.  The four of us, along with my dad who at the last minute ended up staying in town for an extra night, had a sensational time, and enjoyed a pretty amazing meal.

Crostini with Goat Cheese and Roasted Red Pepper-Eggplant Confit 
Fresh Figs & Grapes
Pan-Roasted Lamb Chops
Couscous with Toasted Pine Nuts & Dried Fruits
Gingered Beets
Butternut Squash Puree
Butterscotch Chiffon Pie with Gingersnap Crust & Whipped Cream

I’d been eyeing this recipe for the pepper-eggplant confit even since buying the book it resides in.  This totally awesome cookbook, a collection of all-time best recipes from Gourmet Magazine, is one of my current favorites.  I found it this summer in a dusty used book shop in Madison, Wisconsin, and instantly fell in love.  Along with this vegetable confit and the butterscotch chiffon pie too, I’ve tried at least a dozen other recipes from within its pages.  Each one has been a total, absolute hit.  I got it for a complete steal, but even if I didn’t, this wonderful cookbook would have been one of my best buys of the year. 

Hors D'oeuvres

Eggplant, Red Pepper & Tomatoes

Anyways, back to this confit, this abundant blend of tenderly roasted vegetables – sweet red peppers, full and mellow garlic, velvety eggplant and deeply flavored roasted tomatoes – slightly spicy with a touch of red pepper flakes, and richly infused with lush, fruity extra-virgin olive oil.  It’s at once humble and extravagant, simple yet undoubtedly splendid.  And it’s utterly delicious.  Served atop a crispy, oblong round of French bread crostini with a dollop of creamy whipped goat cheese, and it was even that much better! 

Pan-Roasted Lamb Chop with Ginger Beets, Butternut Squash Puree & Couscous with Pinenuts & Dried Fruits

This night was supposed to be one of our last grilling nights of the year.  But at the last minute, we realized our store of charcoal had dwindled to just a few measly bricks.  And so, rather than grilling these lamb chops, I ended up pan-roasting them.  No regrets though.  No regrets at all.  A hot cast iron pan, a swig of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper – that’s all that was really needed for these gorgeous chops.  Juicy medium-rare and full of flavor, this lamb was so great, we never missed the grill.  

Lamb Chops

This couscous side dish hit the mark too.   A fluffy bowlful of tender, pale yellow particles interwoven with bright yellow dices of sweet bell pepper, golden brown dots of toasted pine nuts, chewy slices of bright amber apricot, shiny golden raisins and inky black specks of dried currents, all lightly cloaked in a bright vinaigrette of lemon and garlic with a touch of mustard and a smoky hint of cumin.  Bright yet warm, with hits of sweetness and full of savory goodness, each flavorful bite of this lovely couscous dish was fully delicious and entirely satisfying.  


Couscous & Cilantro

A perfect partner to the couscous were these gingered beets.  Tender slices of freshly cooked, redder than red beets, tossed in a garlicky, gingery vinaigrette.  Tart lime juice tames the sugary beets, while a little heat comes from a sprinkling of diced jalapeños, and handfuls of fresh mint and cilantro add a wonderful brightness.  The deep red slices of this earthy, sweet root vegetable soak up this varied mix of seasonings, so that each bite contains an exciting burst of bright, huge flavor.  Beets have never been less boring!


The deep orange, ultra-velvety puree of butternut squash was concocted from nothing more than a few simple ingredients – only a small pat of butter, a touch of dark brown sugar, a dash of salt and pepper, and the slow-roasted gourd itself.  With a recipe like this, so simple and pure, it’s all about the star ingredient.  In this case, a truly gorgeous butternut squash, large and smooth, the color or pale cream, with a straight, thick neck, swollen seedy base and firm, dense flesh of  vivid orange.  I was lucky enough to be home in Toledo when my Dad received a assortment of winter squashes from one of his business clients. Rupp Seeds is a Toledo-area family company that specializes in developing unique varieties of fruits and vegetables for chefs’ kitchens.  Every once in a while, my parents get surprise deliveries of freshly harvested produce straight from their farms, all of it of the most amazing flavor and texture imaginable.  Like any Rupp vegetable I’ve ever sampled, this squash is sensational – sweet and buttery, immensely deep in flavor, utterly delicious.  For a recipe that demands the best of ingredients, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. 

Winter Squashes

Butternut Squash

And now we move from butternut to butterscotch.  Butterscotch chiffon pie that is.  A butterscotch chiffon pie with a deep brown gingersnap crust.  A crust that’s a little bit sweet and a littler bit spicy with the heat of ginger, and its texture  just the perfect blend of chewy and crispy.  Within this tender crumb crust is folded a silky whipped filling of  glowing golden butterscotch, so hugely buttery and intensely rich, it’s the epitome of edible decadence.  On top, a cool dollop of vanilla-spiked whipped cream.  A perfect finish for a perfect finish. 

Butterscotch Chiffon Pie with Gingersnap Crust

Roasted Red Pepper & Eggplant Confit
Makes about 3 cups
Eggplant-Red Pepper Comfit with Goat Cheese & Crostini
2 large red bell peppers
1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, drained and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
First, roast the peppers: Preheat the oven to 500°F.  Place the peppers on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast, turning every 5-7 minutes, until the skin is loose and blistery.  Remove from the oven and place the peppers in a container. Cover with a lid or with plastic wrap. Allow them to set for about 15 minutes.  Remove the peppers from the container.  Slice each pepper in half, length-wise, and then into quarters, lengthwise again.  Remove the stems, seeds, and any tough, pithy membranes inside.  Using a knife, scrape off the charred skin from the outside of the peppers.  Slice the peppers into 1/2-inch pieces.
Set the oven to 400°F.
In a large roasting pan, toss together the sliced peppers with the sliced eggplant, garlic cloves, chopped tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper flakes.  Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan.  Roast, stirring ever 15 minutes, until the vegetables are very tender, about 1 hour.  Cool to room temperature before serving.  Serve alongside creamy goat cheese and toasted French Bread crostini.
The confit can be made up to 1 week ahead a kept refrigerated in an air-tight container.  Bring to room temperature and give it a good stir before serving. 


Pan-Roasted Lamb Chops
Serves 6
Pan-Roasted Lamb Chops
12 lamb chops
2 Tbl vegetable or canola oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Allow the lamb chops to sit at room temperature for about a half hour before you cook them – it’s always best not to work with super cold meat.

Heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet for 10 minutes over medium-high heat. After 10 minutes, thoroughly dry the lamb chops by patting with paper towels, then season them liberally on both sides with salt and pepper. (Wait until the last minute to season, because in order to get a good sear, you’ll want the meat as dry as possible, and salt will cause juices to come to the surface of the steaks.)

Add oil to the pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the chops to the pan, cover with a splatter screen. You’ll definitely want to use a splatter screen! And while you’re at it, turn on the fan over the stove, and maybe even open all your windows :).

Cook the chops for about 3-4 minutes, then flip them over and cook for about about 2-3 more minutes for rare (120°F ), 4-6 minutes for medium  (130°F ), and 8-10 minutes for well-done (150°F).  Before serving, allow the lamb chops to rest on a platter, covered with foil, for about 10 minutes. 

Couscous with Toasted Pine Nuts & Dried Fruits
Serves 6
Couscous with Toasted Pinenuts & Dried Fruits
1 small garlic clove, peeled & finely minced
zest & juice of 1 lemon
1 shallot, peeled and finely diced
large pinch cumin
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups water
1 Tbl butter
1 cup couscous
1/4 cup dried apricots (about 8), finely diced
2 Tbl dried currants
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded, cored and finely diced
kosher salt & finely ground black pepper, to taste
First, make a vinaigrette:  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the minced garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, diced shallot, cumin and mustard.  Slowly add the olive oil, pouring in a thin stream and whisking as you pour.  Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Reserve.
Next, cook the couscous:  Combine the water and a large pinch of salt in a small saucepot and bring to a boil.  In a medium-sized saucepot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the couscous and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat, then pour in the boiling water.  Stir to evenly distribute the couscous, then cover and let sit for 10 minutes to steam.  Remove the lid and fluff the couscous with a fork. 
Finally, mix it all together:  In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked couscous with the diced apricots, currants, raisins, toasted pine nuts and diced pepper.  Toss gently to combine.  Give the vinaigrette a final whisk, then drizzle over the couscous.  Toss again to evenly combine.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
Gingered Beets
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin
Serves  6
Ginger Beets
about 12-16 small beets
1 small shallot, peeled and finely diced
1/2 small jalapeño pepper, cored, seeded and finely diced
1 small clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbl lime juice
6 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt & finely ground black pepper, to taste

To prepare the beets: Slice and the stems and roots from of the beets and discard.  Add the beets to a large saucepot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the beets are tender, about 30-45 minutes.  The beets are done when you can easily slide a paring knife through the center, without hardly having to push at all.  Drain the beets from the water, and allow to cool at room temperature for about 5-10 minutes.  Peel the beets, discarding the skin. You should be able to easily peel the skins off the beets with your fingers.  If not, use a paring knife.  Slice each beet into 6-8 wedges.  Reserve.

To make the vinaigrette: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the shallot, jalapeño, garlic, ginger, mint, cilantro and lime juice.  Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper.  Slowly add the olive oil, pouring in a thin stream and whisking as you pour.  Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Reserve.
To finish:  In a mixing bowl, toss to combine the sliced beets with the vinaigrette.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  This dish can be kept refrigerated in an air-tight container
for about 12 hours, before the herbs begin to discolor. 
Butternut Squash Puree
Serves  4
Butternut Squash Puree
1 large butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
about 1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbl butter (1/4 stick), melted
2 tsp dark brown sugar
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, drizzle the insides with olive oil and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Place cut side-down on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Cover tightly with foil, and roast until completely tender, about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the size of your squash. Remove from the oven, and when cool enough to handle, scoop out the tender flesh and discard the skins.
Roasted Butternut Squash
Place the butternut flesh in the bowl of an electric food processor, and process until very smooth.  Add the melted butter and brown sugar and pulse to combine. Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper, then pulse again to combine.  Serve hot. 
The butternut puree can be made up to 2 day ahead, then re-warmed over medium-low heat in a covered sauce pot.  Add about 2 tablespoons water to the puree, and stir occasionally as it re-heats. 
Butterscotch Chiffon Pie with Gingersnap Crust & Whipped Cream
Serves  8-10
 Butterschotch Pie with Gingersnap Crust
For the gingersnap crust:
10 oz gingersnap cookies, processed into fine crumbs
3 Tbl dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 Tbl butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle position. 
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir to combine the cookie crumbs, sugar and salt.  Add the melted butter and stir to combine.  Evenly press the crumb mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch glass pie plate, forming a neat border around the edge.  Bake until the crust is set and golden, about 15 minutes.  Set aside on a wire rack to completely cool. 
Gingersnap Crumbs, Dark Brown Sugar & Salt
For the butterscotch filling:
3 Tbl light corn syrup
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbl granulated sugar, divided
2 Tbl plus 2 Tbl water, divided
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 tsp cider vinegar
2 pinches salt, divided
1/3 cup plus 1 cup heavy cream, divided, chilled
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp unflavored gelatin (from 1 envelope)
3 large egg whites
Combine the corn syrup, 3/4 cup sugar and 2 Tbl water in a medium-sized (about 2 quart)
saucepot.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Boil the mixture, swirling the pan occasionally but not stirring, until it turn deep golden caramel, about 7-9 minutes. 
Remove the saucepot from the heat.  Add the butter, vinegar and a pinch of salt, and swirl the pan until the butter is melted.  The sauce will bubble violently.  Add 1/3 cup cream and the vanilla.  The sauce will again bubble violently.  Stir for 1 minute, until the bubbling subsides.  Cool the sauce until it is just warm.
While the sauce cools, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the remaining 2 Tbl water in a small sauce pan.  Let it set for 1 minute to soften, then heat it over low heat to dissolve the gelatin.  Stir the gelatin mixture into the butterscotch sauce, then cool to room temp.
Using an electric stand mixture fitted with a whisk, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt on high speed until they hold soft peaks (When you stick a spoon into the whites and lift it out, a point will form then droop down after a second or two).  Add the remaining 1 Tbl sugar and continue to whip until the whites just hold stiff peaks (The point formed in the whites will stand straight up and not fall over).  Fold in the butterscotch sauce, gently but thoroughly.  Transfer this mixture to large mixing bowl, then clean the stand mixer’s bowl and whisk.
Beat the remaining 1 cup cream until it just holds stiff peaks.  Fold the cream into the butterscotch mixture, again gently but thoroughly. 
Gently pour the butterscotch mixture into the cooled gingersnap crust.  Chill, uncovered, until thoroughly set, about 2 hours. 
Slice the pie into 8-10 wedges.  Serve the slices cold with a dollop of whipped cream. 
For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tbl sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Whip the cream to soft peaks (When you stick a spoon into the cream and lift it out, a point will form then droop down after a second or two).  Add sugar and vanilla and whip to firm peaks (The point formed in the cream will stand straight up and not fall over).


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