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Batter Up

Pancakes!

 

You may have been wondering whatever happened to the mommy part of Fig Test Kitchen? Did teaching a full load of cooking classes, several appearances/fundraisers a month, raising six, fifteen and nineteen year olds (oh yes, Gabrielle still needs me!) (note from GOS – Oh puh-lease… Also I’m 20 now ;) Happy Birthday to Me!), and singlehandedly taking care of a house finally, you ask, just put me over the edge? Well obviously, but that’s nothing new. But I talked to all of my super-organized friends who are, in fact, the opposite of me… methodical tall, athletic and sometimes blond. I’ve taken a lot of their advice, and gotten my life at least somewhat in order. As you may know from the first two videos posted recently we’re starting with the basics – salt, equipment, spices, and moving toward easy recipes before we’ll finally move on to stuff like seared duck breasts or Persian jeweled rice. What all this means is, I’m back on the blog.

 

Don't you want to make these?

 

But you want recipes.  And I made pancakes! We’ve had an unusually early and beautiful spring here in New Haven, and I’ve been thinking about flowers. I was making creme fraiche pancakes during a cooking demo at the Elm City Market in New Haven and lavender just hit me. And a recipe was born. Creme fraiche is rich and creamy like sour cream (it actually has a higher fat content), but a bit more tart. Perfect for pancakes. Combine it with chocolate and lavender, you get pancakes that are fragrant, sweet and irresistible. Here’s what you need to do:

First, you will need to gather the ingredients and make sure your ingredients are in place, measured and ready to go. Believe me it pays to do, especially when baking. It seems like an extra step, but it saves so much time in the long run, and keeps you organized. You don’t want to add the baking powder twice. Not that we’ve ever done that…

 

GOS says: And yes, you absolutely must arrange your ingredients like this or the recipe will not come out.

 

Chop the dark chocolate to any size you like. I wasn’t done chopping when I took this photo, I’m just posting it because I like it. They were eventually the size of the chocolate in vanilla chocolate chip ice cream. Obviously you can use store-bought chocolate chips if you want.

 

Chop chop!

 

Once you have all your ingredients measured and ready, add all the dry ingredients in a medium size bowl and whisk well.

 

Whisk these...

 

Then add all of the wet ingredients in a separate bowl

 

 

And blend with a hand mixer or immersion blender or whisk. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix once again. Do not overmix or your pancakes will be tough. Then add the chocolate chunks and stir gently with a  spatula until just combined.

 

So close you can (and should) taste it

 

After melting unsalted butter in a large skillet, pour about a ¼ cup of batter per pancake, and cook on the first side for about two minutes, until light brown. Turn over to cook the second side for about another minute until light brown.

 

GOS says: Ahhhhhhh!! (I haven't even had these yet. I'm dying right now)

 

Find some plates, and serve with or without syrup.

 

They're done!

 

Here is the full recipe. Enjoy your breakfast, enjoy the birds chirping, and welcome spring in style.

 

Click for Printable!

A Grain of Salt: Forbidden Love

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We elite, educated, vastly superior Manhattan types are allowed to feel one of two ways about Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We are first and foremost allowed to really really hate it. If you fall into that category you get to say things like “I don’t do Brooklyn” and roll your eyes and dismiss it as hipster hell, and that makes you look nice and discerning, and that means you just can’t lose. But we are also allowed to like it ironically, which means that we can peruse the sandwich shops and Moleskine vendors to our hearts’ content… as long as we remind ourselves constantly that we are ridiculous and that no matter what we may think, we do not want to move there after college. This method is super risky. Liking something ironically teeters ever so precariously on the edge of liking something for real, and to my knowledge there is no New York crime more heinous than liking Williamsburg for real, except for maybe not liking the color black.. or actually being a Hipster.

 

For those of you who don't know, this is a hipster.

 

 

But I’m going to make the sweeping generalization now, that 99% of us educated, elite, vastly superior Manhattan-types are bluffing. Because, like it or not, unironically, through all its superficiality, Williamsburg is kind of the best.

 

 

This is from the bedford cheese shop. Don't go there, you'll want to buy absolutely everything.

 

 

If you’ve ever enjoyed food in your life, I’m going to make you agree with me. Because Brooklyn is a culinary paradise. Just because I’m the last person to say this doesn’t make it less true. When Isabella came to visit me for a much needed sister weekend, we had an eating adventure that would pretty much blow your mind. For that day, she liked food as much as I did. And I almost felt normal.

 

 

Clockwise from top righ: sandwiches that will blow your mind, fashion sketches that will blow your mind, curtains that will blow your mind

 

 

We began our adventure somewhere around lunchtime, and we used a very scholarly method to choose a restaurant. By which I mean we picked the prettiest. At Fabiane’s on Bedford Avenue, Isabella (who is actually kind of a hipster but don’t tell her I said that) sketched while I obsessively took pictures. I think it’s safe to say we were so happy with the atmosphere that we didn’t really care how the food was. That is, until the food came. I could go on for a bit about the Prosciutto, Mozzarella, Pesto Sandwich that came out first, but I’m not going to because the second sandwich was Smoked Duck with Brie and Fig Jam and I bet that will impress you a whole lot more. And well it should. I can’t even remember the last time I had a sandwich that good. Even if you can’t get smoked duck (and I don’t even know where you would) make your next grilled cheese with brie and then put fig jam on it. It will probably change your life.

 

 

Clockwise from left: whisk sign, ball made out of cupcake wrappers (legit), elephant

 

 

With no agenda whatsoever in mind, we set off to wander the streets of Brooklyn. After a brief stint hipster-watching at bookstore Spoonbill and Sugartown (see stalker pic, above), we headed up the street to Whisk, the most kick-a** kitchen supply store you will ever come across. I know you’re really not supposed to use the word “unique” in Brooklyn, but have you ever seen a ball made of cupcake wrappers hanging from a ceiling? No you haven’t.

 

 

Clockwise from left: Bottles, Bottles, Bottles

 

 

We bought mom a pie dish, and then raced out before we could do any more damage. Luckily for me, Isabella’s nose was stuffed up, so we headed next to the Bedford Cheese Shop, where we looked at spectacular packaging and beautiful window displays. We did not buy anything because we couldn’t afford anything. But that was alright.

 

 

 

 

Next we went to a clothing store. Did you know that in Brooklyn it’s illegal to sell gloves with fingers?

 

 

Not really, but pretty much

 

 

While we were in the Bedford Cheese Shop, we had seen this beautiful display of Mast Brothers Chocolate, and I realized that I had read something about their factory being in Williamsburg. And since everyone knows that factory means free chocolate, we decided to head there next.

 

 

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Lo and behold there were about 10 different kinds of chocolate to try, in their beautiful open factory. And Isabella and I received our masters degrees in chocolate tasting from Hershey University over winter break, so we were ridiculously qualified to taste test every single one of them. The chocolates were varying degrees of good, but for the first time in my experience, the chocolate actually tasted like the things it was supposed to have notes of. According to the folks at Hershey, that means the cocoa plants were grown near, say, hibiscus trees, vanilla flowers or cherry trees. (Things you didn’t know!) And while I have no idea what that means in the context of Special Dark, it was ridiculously apparent in the Mast Brothers selection. It was like they weren’t even making it up.

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They also sell art supplies, vintage flashcards, and ironic books there, like "All My Friends are Dead"

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Note – When you go to the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory, Isabella and I command you to go next door and look at the Brooklyn Art Library, an international sketchbook collection for the public to peruse. It’s totally irrelevant to this blog, but it’s my civil duty to let you know. This was our favorite sketchbook.

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The Meatball Shop

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With very little time left, very little appetite (so much sandwich) and a contra dance in Chinatown to get to (not a joke), it was time to grab a light dinner before heading back to Manhattan. And since mom has been on a meatball making kick lately, we felt it was only appropriate to make her jealous by visiting The Meatball Shop. Also, $3 meatball sliders. And you get to check off what you want on the menu with dry erase markers, and then they get your order right! And there was exactly one racy-joke-item on the menu, which is the requisite amount for a place that only serves meatballs. And it’s pretty, and the food was great. The following recipe is from their cookbook, but they give it out on little promo cards, so I don’t think they’ll mind us sharing. Make them, and buy the book. These people are very talented.

And while I’m pretty sure I’m the last person in the New York area to visit Williamsburg, take a visit if you haven’t and decide for yourself what you think. Don’t worry if you like it. Your secret’s safe with me.

Click for pdf!

Our Triumphant Return!

Hello, adoring fans!

A trillion apologies for our unannounced hiatus, but I am happy to report that as of today, the Fig Test Kitchen is once again active. Last semester was a whole lot more insane than any of us intended, and so as we were forced to abandon many other luxuries in our lives (free time, exercise, sleep) we were forced to abandon blogging as well. But we are happy to report that Gabrielle’s Architecture Studio all-nighters are behind her, and she is no longer taking comp sci. And mommy… is as busy as ever, but she promises to blog anyway.

Look forward to a million new recipes (at least), a billion new pictures (at least) and a trillion new features (at least) including desktop backgrounds and restaurant reviews. And if we don’t deliver on our promises, you have our permission to bother us until we do.

For now, take a look at some pictures taken in a rare moment of Holiday Downtime. You’ll be hearing from us again very soon. We’ve missed you.

Much love,

Heide and Gabrielle

 

Spices and Teas(e) has EVERYTHING. They're the best.

Jasmine Tea at Union Square

This stand makes Truffle Cheddar Pretzels. That's right pretzels with Truffles and Cheddar.

Beautiful Lights at the Thai Stand. They're made out of real leaf skelatons.

Cookies

Lamps at the Turkish Stand

The prettiest stand you ever did see

The Manhattan You Never See…

Can you believe this is New York?

 

Earlier this evening, I was sitting in my suite’s dining room, working on an architecture project, and I saw this insanely beautiful sun setting over the water tower. And since sunshine means nothing if you keep it to yourself, I thought it might be a good opportunity to give you a slight idea where your recipes will be coming from for the next nine months or so. So here’s a little mini tour of the apartment! In the next few days, you’ll get homemade Korean food and exploding plum cakes. Get excited.

 

My handy dandy bottle collection...

Look familiar? (not at all egotistical...)

Our resident marshmallow pit...

I kind of love this water tower.

Wordless Wednesday – Chester Sunday Market

A Hen of the Woods Mushroom from CT's best forager. Don't try this at home ;)

The most delicious flag I ever did eat.

From Holy Cows (I'm so sorry)(I couldn't resist)

We took home a book on barbeque and a book on bread baking... as if we needed more cookbooks ;)

Your guess is as good as mine... don't you kind of want to be this guys friend though?

Baguettes with Sea Salt. The sea salt is now all over our kitchen floor but the bread is in our tummies so it's totally worth it. We just say the salt gives the floor a kind of... rustic crunch ;)

Flowers to brighten up the rainy day

A local musician serenades the crowd and sees us on our way

Just Peachy

My roommate this year had a pair of purple Crocs that followed me everywhere. If I was at my desk, the Crocs were underneath, if I was by my bed, they were under my ladder, and if I was walking across the floor, I could be sure that the Crocs would be right smack dab in the middle. I think most people would be annoyed, or creeped out, if a pair of shoes were stalking them. But I’m a big believer in fate (one day I’ll tell you the story of how my parents met, and you’ll understand), so I knew it must be a sign of… something.

It was a sign of this pie, if you can believe it...

 

So it made perfect sense when, in March, I got an email from John Moore, who works with none other than Mario Batali, asking me to write a post on one of Mario’s recipes. At the time I was still in New York  – so close to Eataly but so far from my kitchen – but I hurriedly immersed myself in the vibrant Babbo Cookbook so I could get cooking as soon as I got home.

 

This cookbook is awesome

 

Picking a recipe was next to impossible. Goat Cheese Tortelloni with Dried Orange and Fennel Pollen sounded so decadent, but then again homemade Gnocchi with Oxtail Ragù was reminiscent of the first meal I ate out in New York. I read about Duck with Chicory, Preserved Lemons and Kumquat Vinaigrette, Asparagus Vinaigrette with Black Pepper Pecorino Zabaglione, and even a Saffron Panna Cotta that sounded perfectly indulgent. It wasn’t actually until I got home that I could even make a decision. But when late May came around, and the sun began to shine, and the thermometer hit 90, and I got out my shorts and skirts and began to spend my days building fairy houses in the backyard with Francesca and Isabella, the answer was clear. “This weather clearly calls for a Peach Crostata with Honey Butter and Honey Vanilla Gelato,” I thought to myself, “I wonder if Mario has a recipe for anything like that…”

 

Woah....

 

And you can imagine my utter shock when Mario had a recipe for exactly that…

(Just kidding) (I fudged the details of that story a bit)

 

A cross section of the crostata

 

I ran out to pick up some beautiful Georgia peaches, turned on Andrea Bocelli Radio (which is the only thing you can listen to while making Italian food, or really just while making food) and got to work baking. And I should warn you – making all the parts of this recipe will take you a good part of the day. But I can promise that it is ridiculously worth it. And even if you can’t, for example, make the gelato because you haven’t got the time (or the gelato maker), please make the Crostata. It is the perfect Italian twist on Peach Pie (or to use Mario’s words, what happened when “the perfect summer pie happened to take a little ride uptown”) and it brings summer wherever you are.

I began a bit scared because I have very little experience in tart doughs. But this one, to my shock, took about 10 minutes, and it smells and tastes, like an amazing cookie. I kept on calling my family over to smell it while I was making it. Which is a weird thing to do with a tart dough. But it really smelled that good. And, in fact, I actually made cookies out of the extra dough, and filled them with spekuloos (although in the spirit of Italy, I’d actually recommend using Nutella instead). They’re a bit tougher in texture than the tart shell, since you have to knead them and roll them out again, but it’s so much better than letting the dough go to waste.

 

Cookies&Milk

 

There are just a few important things to remember. First of all, freeze your butter after you dice it so that your crust will be nice and flaky. It’ll only take a few minutes, but it makes a big difference. Second of all, if your refrigerator has a tendency to freeze things, as ours did the day I made this, then only chill the dough for three-four hours, rather than overnight, so it doesn’t have a chance to freeze. Otherwise you will have a very interesting time trying to roll it out. If it does for some reason, freeze, you have little choice but to let it thaw a bit, so just be careful to make sure the thawed dough doesn’t stick to your work surface. Put down a little flour underneath when you roll it out, but if it does still stick, carefully run the blunt end of a chef’s knife underneath the dough to separate it from the countertop. Then just pick it by draping it over your rolling pin, and lay in the tart pan.

 

How to make a crust

 

With the crust behind me I moved on to the filling and the gelato. Everything went off delightfully without a hitch. The almond filling is about as simple as a buttercream (and the process is very similar), and the peaches just need to be tossed with a few things to accentuate their flavor and texture. And as for the gelato, just remember – making gelato is quite a bit like making a creme brulée, or a creme anglaise – it’s very important to temper your eggs by whisking in a little bit (1/3 cup or so) of your cream, before slowly pouring the yolks into the cream, whisking all the while. That’s the best way to avoid fancy scrambled eggs (unless you like that kind of thing). But that’s the hardest part of the recipe, and it’s really not as scary as it sounds. Then just freeze the gelato in a better gelato maker than my $30 disaster (there are horror stories, but you don’t need to hear them… they involve cursing and a kitchenaid), and you’re done!

 

The crostata again

 

I hate to say it, but I always expect to have to change something when I use a restaurant cookbook, because professionals often don’t measure when they cook, making their recipes difficult to transcribe. So you can imagine my actual surprise (as distinct from the fake surprise of before) when everything came out the first time, without editing anything. This recipe translates beautifully from restaurant kitchen to home kitchen, which I think is one of it’s chief successes. The other thing I love, is that while there are many steps, none of them are too difficult, which perfectly illustrates the Fig philosophy, that a recipe doesn’t need to involve ridiculous techniques and liquid nitrogen to be absolutely perfect. The essence of good cuisine lies in knowing the best way to accentuate an ingredient, or in understanding how to blend flavors, which this recipe does perfectly. So whether your summer is here, or right around the corner, this Crostata is the perfect way to welcome it in. Serve it warm, or chilled, with a scoop of gelato and a drizzle of honey butter. Put on your favorite pair of Crocs, turn up Andrea Bocelli, and love your life. If you can get local fruit, even better – I can’t wait to make this after the first time I go peach picking. But even if you can’t, this quintessential, sophisticated summer dessert is tutto delicioso e tutto perfetto. Buon Appetito!

 

Peach Crostata with Honey Butter and Honey Vanilla Gelato
Reprinted with permission from Mario Batali’s The Babbo Cookbook
Serves 8-10

1 recipe Tart Dough (see below), chilled

Almond Filling

1 1/2 cups blanched, sliced, almonds
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt

Streusel

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup blanched, sliced Almonds
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Peaches

6 medium ripe peaches
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar

Honey Butter

1 cup honey
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

2 pints Honey Vanilla Gelato (see below)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Roll the chilled Tart Dough into a 12-inch circle, large enough to line the bottom and sides of a 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press the dough into the sides and trim the top so that the dough is flush with the tart pan. Place the pastry shell in the refrigerator and chill until completely firm, about 30 minutes.
  3. To make the filling: spread the almonds evenly on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until light golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Allow to cool completely, then place the nuts in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not powdery.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and the confectioners’ sugar until very smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla and the salt. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Thoroughly beat in the ground almonds. Set aside.
  5. To make the streusel: Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Place the flour, almonds, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the melted butter and pulse to form pea-size crumbs. Spread the streusel out onto a cookie sheet and chill briefly.
  6. Peel the peaches and cut into 1/4-inch wedges. In a large bowl, toss the peach wedges with the lemon juice, vanilla, flour and sugar. Spread enough of the almond filling on the bottom of the tart to completely cover it, and arrange the peach slices densely on top. Sprinkle the streusel crumbs over the tart. Place the tart on a baking sheet to catch any juices and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the crust and streusel are nicely browned and the juices are bubbling. Allow to cool completely before removing the tart from the pan.
  7. To make the honey butter: In a small saucepan, combine the honey and the insides of the split vanilla bean. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the hone is reduced by 2 thirds. Whisk in the butter until it is completely incorporated.
  8. Serve with a scoop of the Honey Vanilla Gelato and drizzle with the honey butter.

 

Tart Dough

2 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest of 1 orange
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small cubes
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons heavy cream

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and orange zest. Add hte cold butter cubes and toss lightly to coat. Pulse until the butter is the size of small peas.

In a separate bowl, combine the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and heavy cream, and add it to the flour-butter mixture. Pulse to moisten the dough, then pulse until it begins to come together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand. If the dough is too dry, add a few drops of heavy cream. Shape into a small disk, wrap, and chill thoroughly for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

 

Honey-Vanilla Gelato

9 egg yolks (*note from Gabrielle – save the whites, we’re going to do something with them in an upcoming post)
1/2 cup honey
pinch of kosher salt
2 1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 plump vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons sugar

  1. Place the egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk together with the honey and salt.
  2. Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan. Add the vanilla bean and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat. When the milk and cream come to a rolling boil, quickly whisk some of the boiling milk into the egg yolk mixture, then return the egg yolk mixture back tot he pot. Whisk well to combine the rest of the milk with the egg yolk mixture. Strain through a chinois or fine-mesh strainer and save the vanilla bean for future use.
  3. Chill the custard completely, then freeze in a gelato maker according the the manufacturer’s instructions.

This, by the way, is a picture of the pie.

It wasn’t taken on location, but the sentiment is there. If I haven’t already mentioned, and if I have it’s worth repeating, this is the best pie you will ever have.

You should also know that two days later, I went back and the boys were still scraping at the remaining crust. Which is both a testament to how good the pie is and a reminder to butter the pan.

Recipe at the bottom of this page.

Back to Basics, with Bénédict Beaugé

The culinary world is quite confused right now. Between the organic locavore movement and the liquid nitrogen movement, it’s hard to say where food is going. Who are the true innovators? That’s a question I’d been trying to answer for weeks, especially as more and more famous chefs combine the two. But, last Friday afternoon, by sheer, last minute luck, my friend Theresa barged into my room and informed me, “There’s a French man giving a speech on food at the Maison Française at four.” And that, somewhat indirectly, is how I found the answer.

The French man in question was renowned French food author Benedict Beaugé, who was on his way to speak at the James Beard Foundation (fancy, I know).  M. Beaugé has the thickest, most wonderful, most perfectly French accent I have ever heard. But while he might sound a bit, dare I say, like Inspector Jacques Clouseau, he actually has all the simple, sensible answers we need.

To understand innovation today we need to have a little history lesson. You see, the innovations today are directly connected to innovations of the past. And unsurprisingly, they all originated in France. This all began in 1651, with the publication of what Beaugé calls “the first book of French modern cuisine.” Le Cuisinier François was written by Pierre François La Varenne, as a way of departing from the “spectacular” cuisine of the Middle Ages. “People are not so fond of spices now and they try to find the real taste of the produce,” explains Beaugé of the Renaissance attitude. Food became fresher and tastier ­– they didn’t have to do weird things to it to make it taste edible – and so La Varenne called for chefs to highlight le goût naturel – the natural taste of the ingredients they used. Three years later, Nicolas de Bonnefons wrote Les Délices de la Campagne, a book with the same principle, meant not for the aristocracy but the bourgeoisie. “If it is cabbage soup, it must taste cabbage, when you have turnip soup, it must taste turnip, and that’s something really new,” says Beaugé. This is where the true innovation in cooking was then, and, at least as a starting point, where it is today.

While Molecular gastronomy has a place in the kitchen, it is destined to become another technique chefs use to express natural flavor. Molecular gastronomy itself is not particularly innovative. In fact, it’s really just backtracking. “it is quite similar with the cuisine of the Middle Ages or of antiquity, of the Romans, or something like that,” Beaugé says. “Really it’s much more the appearance which is important than the taste.”  “I don’t think molecular gastronomy is the future of cuisine,” he continues, “it’s something which will be integrated with cuisine in a general way, as every new technique is integrated into cuisine – those of 18th century, those of 19th century. It doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to cook with nitrogen.”

His message is helpful and optimistic. Chefs like René Redzepi and Ferran Adrià will be the most inventive, expressing goût naturel through molecular tools, but to a degree we all have an opportunity to be innovators here. With the rise of farmers markets, and the near constant availability of fresh produce, we can all highlight our weekly finds when we cook. I’ve included these pictures from the local farmers market as inspiration. These are the flavors we want to preserve. If we want to be innovative we are so lucky, because even as home chefs we have everything we need.

 

Too many Pumpkins…

For most people the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving. Here the “holidays” as they are collectively known, begin in (very) early October. I don’t know why the color orange and October make me so happy, but I am a sucker for all things autumn and Halloween, probably because Halloween is about fun, not office parties. Instead, it’s about apples and pumpkin picking, and laughing at the hysterical decorations and costumes so many people come up with.

More lawns than ever are populated with monsters and graveyards and not-so-scary whimsy, like this monster and mermaid I found in Essex, CT.

 

 

Our house is always the most over the top in the neighborhood, but we’ve even outdone ourselves this year with a witch that projects on to our house. It’s pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself.

We are so into the season that my youngest daughter isn’t allowed to wear anything that isn’t orange and black or doesn’t have a witch or ghost on it. I’m really not kidding. Thank goodness she’s only five and thinks it’s a blast.

A little odd, perhaps, but I did the same thing with Gabrielle and Isabella and they turned out pretty normal.

But of course, this is a food blog, and no post about October would make any sense without talking about all the spectacular cozy foods of autumn. We love teaching light and fresh meals at the Fig Cooking School in the summer – a chilled borsht made with organic beets on a sticky day is superb – but nothing beats hearty stews, rich pies and crisps made with apples or pears, or really anything made with the vast array of squashes and pumpkins now in season.

The best pumpkin has to have the best stem...

Of all the fall foods and decorations I go especially crazy for pumpkins. I can’t get enough of them. Francesca has a fantastic book called Too Many Pumpkins in which Rebecca Estelle thinks she hates those beautiful bulky balls of orange until a truck spills dozens of splattered pumpkins in her yard. The next year there are hundreds of pumpkins and so she has to make dozens of pumpkin pies, cookies, muffins and breads for the townspeople so they don’t go to waste. In the end, the pumpkins bring her happiness and community… totally my kind of story.

If you ask Mark and the girls they’ll tell how they have to pull me away from the pumpkin patch. It’s an addiction, really.

And I like gourds and weird pumpkins too!

 

 

 

So obviously, some of my favorite foods are made with pumpkins. This gorgeous vegetable makes the most wonderful soups, muffins and pies and, when roasted whole, a beautiful, edible bowl for your favorite autumn stew.

 

 

Since it is such a busy time of year, I try to keep it simple and create recipes that are hearty and delicious, so we have more time to be outside apple picking or taking scenic drives. I’ve created a delicious but simple pumpkin-butternut squash soup using canned organic squash and pumpkin. It’s so easy you will never be tempted to by commercial soup again. I promise.

Hopefully it will become part of your regular dinner plans. When you make it, be sure to let us know!

Pumpkin-Butternut Squash Soup with Pears

2 cups of leeks, chopped
1/3 cup shallots, chopped
1 Bartlett pear, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 can organic butternut squash puree
1 can organic pumpkin puree (unprocessed)
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup sour cream
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/3 pound pancetta, sliced thin (optional)

1. Sautee shallots and leeks until they are wilted, but not yet brown, about 5 minutes
2. Add squash and pumpkin and stir
3. Add one teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
4. Add the broth, pears, sugar and cayenne pepper and bring to a boil
5. Let simmer for about 12 minutes, or until pears are soft
6. Add both the pumpkin and squash and cook for another 7 minutes on a low flame
7. Puree in a food processor, or with an immersion blender (you may also use a blender, but be sure to let the soup cool to lukewarm first)
8. Add sour cream and mix well
9. Fry pancetta in a small pan over medium-high heat, until crisp, and pat between two towels to absorb grease
10. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle chopped chives and crumbled pancetta on top

Check In

I did it! I finally arrived at college last Monday, I managed to set up my bedding on the top bunk, I connected to campus WiFi and, most importantly, I found a group of friends who are willing to make bruschetta with me tomorrow afternoon. In 18 years I have never once felt this proud of my accomplishments.

So even though I haven’t had much time to explore New York yet, I thought I’d just give a quick update on life in the big city! It’s scary how many opportunities there are to eat here. There’s a Pinkberry within walking distance of my dorm and a farmers’ market across the street from me (with 10 varieties of eggplant!). My room is also conveniently placed across from the community kitchenette, so I’m going to keep cooking. And the good news for you is that my new kitchen is equipped with nothing more than 4 electric burners (2 of which function) and a microwave. So if I can make something here, you can certainly make it at home. I also have many new friends who are kosher and/or vegetarian, so you’ll reap the benefits of my new culinary challenges.

What I can tell you after a week is that Tom’s Diner (the Seinfeld Diner) makes much better milkshakes and pancakes than one would expect from a tourist trap (Order the Broadway Shake. It’s made with chocolate and coffee ice cream, and it’s not on the menu. And if you were wondering, they will serve it at breakfast. Not that I would know…), and I can also tell you that little green plums are not quite as good as little purple plums, but that skinny cucumbers are much better than regular cucumbers, and that okra comes in red, and that fairytale eggplant is  adorable.

My new camera has yet to arrive, so the pictures will get better and more frequent. For now enjoy a few snapshots of the week, featuring the local farmer’s market and Yoko Ono’s Wishing Tree at the Museum of Modern Art. I can’t wait to start sharing restaurants and recipes!

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