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Saturday, November 27, 2010

acorn squash with sage, parsley and walnut pesto

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Junior Nordic

Junior Nordic started two weeks ago, and this is the first year that Meredith is old enough to join the herd of cross-country skiing kids, age six to fourteen. The kids are divided up into different groups based on age and ability—they are Polar Cubs, Otters, Wolverines, and Hawks. Meredith, being six, is of course a Polar Cub. All the kids get the cool hat and the cool jacket, so that when Meredith is skiing in her group, it is well-nigh impossible to find her in the mass of identically-dressed children. But I’m sure that’s handy for the coaches trying to keep track of their charges. And I’m all about that!

The coaches are amazing—Meredith came home the first day of regular practice and was totally jazzed up about it. I was SO relieved and happy that she enjoyed it—because first off, she gets home from Junior Nordic after her regular bedtime, and I was afraid she might be worn out and cranky. The other reason I was especially thrilled was that she doesn’t always enjoy our family skiing expeditions. I mean, there are always fun parts to our outings (the downhills, especially), but sometimes it can be a bit of a frustrating experience—for both of us.

The whole Junior Nordic program is sort of mind-boggling. A huge number of coaches is organized each day to coach the many different groups of kids, and then parents are mobilized to volunteer and ski along with the groups. And mostly this happens at night, from 6:15 to 7:30, in the DARK. Yeah, yeah, the trails are lighted, but it’s still pretty dark and a little confusing. That first night when I was skiing around with the Polar Cubs, I was trying to keep track of my group, but my kids looked just like all the rest of the Junior Nordickers out there. And then there were lots of other folks out skiing, too—serious training groups like WinterStars and the APU team, plus people going skiing after work… it was pretty crazy. But the Junior Nordic coaches are totally on top of it! Somehow they keep tabs on the kids and know what’s going on.

We are signed up for the Tuesday & Thursday evening sessions, and then the kids do longer ski tours on Saturday mornings. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Dan and I ski with a group as parent volunteers (but not with Meredith’s group, to discourage whining). And then on Saturday mornings the kids go on a 1½ hour tour! And the Polar Cubs get hot chocolate and cookies—isn’t that cool? But here’s the coolest thing about the Saturday tour. Last weekend, Dan and I asked Coach Dan (the one with the hot chocolate and cookies) if it was OK if we went out and skied on our own, instead of skiing with the group. And he was totally fine with it! So Dan and I got to zip out for our own 1½ hour tour together while Meredith was skiing and having a blast with the awesome, amazing, wonderful coaches and the other groovy little Polar Cubs.

acorn squash with sage, parsley and walnut pesto

This recipe is based on one from Eating Well magazine, and I LOVE IT! The sage with the squash is so perfect, but the parsley cuts the strength of the sage so it’s not overpowering. When you spoon the pesto into the hot acorn squash, the heat of the squash releases the most incredible aroma of the sage, garlic, and parsley… it’s really fantastic!

I’ve scaled the pesto recipe to fit the amount you can make from one little plastic clamshell package of sage from the grocery store. If you have leftover pesto (I’d be surprised if you do), just freeze it flat in a ziploc bag until the next time you bake a squash.

squash

3 acorn squash, (1 to 1 ¼ pounds each)
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

pesto

3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 to 4 cups fresh Italian (flat-leaved) parsley leaves (2 bunches)
½ cup (more or less) fresh sage leaves (about one clamshell package)
1/3 cup walnut pieces, toasted in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees
½ to 1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Brush cut sides of the squash with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the squash, cut-side down, on the prepared baking sheet, and roast until tender, 35 to 45 minutes.
2. To make pesto: With the motor running, drop garlic into a food processor; process until finely chopped. Add parsley, sage, walnuts, salt and pepper; process until the herbs are finely chopped. Once again with the motor running, drizzle in broth and olive oil; process until the pesto is starting to get a little bit of a creamy consistency, scraping down the sides of the workbowl once or twice. It doesn’t get as creamy as a basil pesto—the parsley is too tough for that. Just get it as smooth as you can—it’ll taste good no matter what.
3. When the squash is tender, spoon a spoonful of the pesto into each piping hot squash half and serve, passing the remaining pesto separately.

 


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Friday, November 12, 2010

black bean soup with sweet potatoes

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trick-or-treat soup

Since Meredith started understanding what Halloween was all about, we’ve done a little trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. Unfortunately for her, the houses in our neighborhood are relatively few and far between. Luckily, Meredith has never trick-or-treated in a more densely populated area, so she just takes it for granted that she has to walk quite a distance for her meager quota of candy. Not that we have ever visited very many houses—she usually poops out and gets cold after five or six stops.

But this year was different. First off, our neighborhood has really come together this year because now that we have kindergartners, we parents have been spending a lot of time together at the bus stop. So several of our families decided to go trick-or-treating together! A pack of our little hoodlums would be roaming the streets together, with a rearguard of parents (dads drinking beers, moms chatting. Second, Meredith has been walking to and from the bus stop every day (it’s only uphill one way, but still, it’s almost a mile), and her walking muscles are stronger than ever. So with other kids to draw her along, plus greater endurance, we went to many more houses than before.

You might think that we collected quite a pile of Halloween candy, but it didn’t really work out that way. Despite visiting twenty houses or so (which seemed like a lot in the cold and icy road conditions), we caught a lot of folks off-guard. I don’t blame them—they kept saying “We’ve NEVER had any trick-or-treaters! I’m so sorry, I don’t have anything!” Sometimes they would give us something creative; Meredith collected a large and heavy bottle of juice and a homemade oatmeal cookie. But some just didn’t have anything to hand out. At every house that came up empty, I would explain to the homeowner “Well, you DO get to choose—a trick or a treat. We’ll come back later with the toilet paper.” They would look at me for a second, wondering whether I was serious… “Just kidding!” I would say. “But consider yourself warned for next year!” They promised to be ready for us next year! 

If this isn’t a Halloweeny soup, I don’t know what is. I spotted it in an email from FineCooking.com, and I made my version ahead of time to eat after trick-or-treating on Halloween night. But don’t wait for next October to make it! It’s really good—perfect for any chilly night.

 

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black bean soup with sweet potatoes

I made this soup based on recipe by Lori Longbotham, in an email from Fine Cooking. But instead of just cooking the sweet potatoes in the soup, as she recommends, I roasted slices of sweet potatoes and added them as a garnish at the end. Also I used home-cooked black beans instead of canned ones, so I didn’t have to use stock, as her recipe called for. But you could substitute canned beans and stock if you like, instead of cooking your own beans and using the bean cooking liquid. 

As Ms. Longbotham pointed out in her recipe, “The sweet potatoes in this soup contrast nicely with the tang of the yogurt and the tartness of the lime. Aniseed lends an unusual hint of licorice flavor.”

If you have time, cook the beans and make the soup ahead of time, like the day before, and then roast the sweet potatoes just before dinner. Or you can roast the sweet potatoes ahead, too, and just reheat everything when you’re ready to eat. This soup freezes wonderfully, too.

Oh, and one more thing—about the sweet potatoes. First, let’s make sure we’re talking about the right vegetable. Sweet potatoes like the ones I’ve used in this recipe are usually called yams in the grocery store—for example, garnet yams. Use the really orange ones.

The Beans

4 cups black beans, soaked for 4 hours or overnight
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
kosher salt or sea salt

Drain the soaked beans, rinse them, and then put them in a large pot and cover with cold water by a couple of inches. Add the quartered onion and garlic and make sure the water covers the onions. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are tender. This could take 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours, depending on the size of the beans and how old they are. When the beans are tender enough to easily squish between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, turn the heat off. If you have time, let the beans sit in their liquid with the aromatics until cool. Remove the quartered onions and whole garlic and discard. Add salt to the beans to taste.

The Soup

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
6 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon aniseed
Freshly-ground black pepper
kosher salt or sea salt

Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, aniseed, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans and broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 or 20 minutes. Taste the soup and add salt I f needed, stir well, and set aside until an hour and a half before dinnertime.

While you’re roasting the sweet potatoes, and/or when the soup is cool enough to handle without burning yourself, using a slotted spoon, set aside 2 or 3 cups of the beans and onions. Puree the remaining soup in batches in a blender. Return the solids to the soup, and when you’re ready to eat, reheat over gentle heat, stirring often (Don’t burn the beans!) and season to taste with salt, pepper and a little lime juice.

The Sweet Potatoes

4 medium sweet potatoes (called yams at the grocery store—get Garnet Yams, or something similar), peeled and sliced into ¾-inch thick rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

My method for roasting these is from Cook’s Illustrated. The reason for all the shenanigans with the foil at the beginning is that starting the sweet potatoes in a cold oven keeps the temperature lower at first, to allow more of the starches in the sweet potatoes to convert to sugars. Then the 425-degree final temperature browns and caramelizes them. If you prefer not to peel the potatoes, just scrub them well before cutting.

1. Toss sweet potatoes in large bowl with oil and salt until evenly coated. Grease one or two large rimmed baking sheets with olive oil or cooking spray.
2. Arrange sweet potatoes in single layer on baking sheet(s) and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Adjust oven rack to middle position and place yams in COLD OVEN. Turn oven on to 425 degrees and cook sweet potatoes 20 to 30 minutes, until they are starting to get tender.
3. Carefully remove foil, and return sweet potatoes to oven and cook until bottom edges of yams are golden brown, 15 to 25 minutes. If they are very tender and brown, they are already done! (Whether they are done or not will depend on how fast your oven heats up.) If not tender yet, go to Step 4.
4. Use a spatula to flip slices over. Continue to roast until bottom edges of sweet potatoes are golden brown, and they are quite soft in the center, 10 to 20 minutes longer.
5. Remove from oven; let them cool for a bit, and then cut some of them into small pieces to sprinkle on top of your soup.

The Other Garnishes
½ cup plain yogurt, salted to your taste (optional—I actually liked it better without the yogurt)
fresh lime juice, or wedges or slices of lime

Serve each bowl of soup topped with sweet potato cubes and, if desired, a dollop of yogurt, and a squeeze more lime juice if it needs it.


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