Spiced Squash Cider Bisque with Whole Wheat Cheddar Biscuits

Even though we’ve had a few nice days, it’s still really cold and wintry here in Nashville. So I still want soup. And, actually, to me, it will still be soup weather well into May. If it’s not warm enough for flip flops, it’s cold enough for soup.

spiced_squash_bisque I found the recipe for this soup on the Woodchuck Cider website. I was looking for something interesting to make with it, though I was really going for a bread. But I already had some mashed butternut squash in the freezer, so I thought I’d give this a go.

I made a number of changes to it and I think it turned out great. The smell of the cumin is a little heavier than I’d like, but the taste isn’t overpowering. I also made other changes to make it vegan (even though I served it with cheese biscuits; hey, I’m trying). If you don’t like a bisque consistency, just add another cup of water to get it where you want it; it won’t change the taste too much at all. You may want to add a little salt, though.

whole_wheat_cheddar_biscuits

The biscuits were a real experiment. I didn’t change much of the recipe (cut back on the amount of butter, added mustard) and my first bite didn’t impress. But they kind of grew on me (and Mr. Eats, too). By the end of the first biscuit, I decided I liked them. However, they would definitely be better with white flour. And they’re perfect with this soup.

Spiced Squash and Cider Soup
adapted from the Woodchuck Cider recipe page
serves 4 – 6

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 teaspoon ground cumin (or a bit less)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground clove
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked, mashed butternut squash* (or a 14-ounce can pumpkin)
1½ cups Woodchuck Hard Cider (1 12oz. bottle or can)
1 cup vegetable broth
½ cup water, plus additional for thinning
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Smoked paprika for garnish

*See this butternut squash recipe for cooking instructions. (If you can’t find a whole butternut squash to roast, just check the freezer section at the grocery for frozen butternut squash. Bonus: already peeled and chopped! And doesn’t require as long to cook.)

Cook oil and onions in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until onions are soft and caramel colored, about 25 minutes. Stir in spices and garlic, cook 1 or 2 minutes more, then stir in squash, Woodchuck Hard Cider, broth, water, and vinegar.

Cover the pan and cook 35 to 45 minutes or until flavors are well blended and onion is very soft. Puree the soup in a blender or processor and return to the pan. Reheat, adjust salt to taste, and stir in additional liquid if necessary. Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with paprika.

Whole-Wheat Cheddar Garlic Drop Biscuits
adapted from 100 Days of Real Food
makes 12 biscuits

1 cup whole wheat flour
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
1 cup grated cheddar cheese* (4 oz of chunk cheese grated)
¼ cup (½ stick) melted butter
½ cup milk

Preheat the oven to 375F. In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, and mustard. Stir in the grated cheese using a fork. Stir in the melted butter and milk (also with a fork) until well combined, but not over-mixed.

Drop 12 heaping spoonfuls of the mixture onto a large ungreased baking sheet (evenly spaced). Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

*Use good cheese with this recipe. Just like with the cheese straws, the quality of cheese greatly affects the taste of the biscuit. I’d suggest Cabot cheese or what I used for this one, the Sargento 4 State Cheddar blend.

Posted in Entrees, Recipes, Side Dishes | 4 Comments

Orange Cardamom Cornmeal Cake

I must admit that just a couple of months ago, I’d never even heard of a cornmeal cake. That’s what I derisively call sweet cornbread, actually. But my friend, Amanda of loveandnachos.com mentioned that she’d enjoyed an orange cornmeal cake made by Karl Worley of Biscuit Love Truck (and that I really needed to have it). I didn’t get to have any of Karl’s cake, but I decided to try making my own. I looked through all my cookbooks and didn’t find a recipe, so I turned to the Google and discovered a very popular Martha Stewart recipe.

 orange_cardamom_cornmeal_cake_2

This recipe is also easy, which is not the case for many MS recipes and certainly not for most cakes. The most difficult part is zesting your orange. This recipe doesn’t even require using an electric mixer. All you need is a whisk. If you don’t have that, you can just use a fork. This is a great recipe to make with kids. Just make sure they don’t overstir (just like with cornbread or pancakes).

Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to alter a cake recipe too much. Baking is an exact science. But I made a few adjustments to that recipe and got a really nice, pleasant cake. It’s moist but not dense and not too sweet. That is partly due to using white cornmeal instead of yellow, but this is just not an overly sweet cake anyway.

The other adjustments I made included using a blood orange-infused olive oil (though I don’t think it added much overall), adding a bit of vanilla extract and, most importantly, finely ground green cardamom. I also baked it in a 9-inch springform pan instead of an 8-inch round cake pan because that’s what I have. If you use a cake pan, make sure it’s got the contraption on the bottom to loosen the cake or line the very bottom with parchment so that this little guy will pop out nicely. If you leave it in the pan too long, it will sweat and stick. Keep that in mind. I’ve included some other notes as well following the recipe.

orange_cardamom_cornmeal_cake_1

Orange Cardamom Cornmeal Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine’s Everyday Food: Fresh Flavor Fast

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly-ground green cardamom
1 cup sugar + 1/4 cup for dusting
zest of one orange
1/2 cup mild olive oil or canola oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and cardamom. Rub orange zest into sugar in a large bowl and whisk in the oil eggs, juice and vanilla until smooth. Add in flour mixture and whisk just to combine.

Brush an 8- or 9-inch round cake pan (or springform pan) lightly with oil (or oil sides and line bottom with parchment). Pour batter into the pan and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake at 375F in a pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes, until the cake begins to pull away from the sides and a toothpick tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Then invert to a cake plate and back to the wire rack to cool completely.

Notes:
- I used a tangelo for a really mild orange flavor. Two tangerines or several clementines would also work well. I may try two lemons next time, though.

- I added the cardamom because I really like it, but it’s not necessary. And it’s just a hint. Even folks who don’t like cardamom usually liked the subtle flavor combined with the orange. To get one teaspoon of green cardamom, I put six whole green pods in a coffee grinder set to “fine.”

- If you want a completely white cake, you can skip the vanilla, use only orange emulsion (instead of zest and juice) and 3 egg whites with the white cornmeal. Though I think the zest would make a completely white cake really pretty.

- No mixer and just two bowls (one of which was dry) made this cake so easy to clean up, which is a huge bonus to me.

Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 3 Comments

Chocolate Straws (aka Chocolate Twists)

The inspiration for these chocolate straws (or chocolate twists?) was a recipe from the Canal House ladies. I mentioned them a few weeks ago when they were in town for the Antiques and Garden show. I tell ya what, for ladies from New Jersey, they sure know how to make really fantastic pimento cheese. The deviled eggs were also fantastic, though their biscuits were a little more dense than I prefer.

Anyhoo, they have a recipe for cheese straws (published here on the New York Times website) that uses puff pastry instead of just flour, cheese and butter like my cheese straws. Though I very much intend to try this with cheese, I decided I wanted to make a sweet version. I just bought a jar of the Hershey’s version of Nutella (forgive me, Nutella, but I had a coupon), which I thought would be a nice little treat. And they were! These chocolate straws are delicious (and so easy!).

chocolatestraws

I had to experiment quite a bit to get the chocolate straws just the way I wanted them, though. Different types of twists, different temperatures, lengths, and amount of chocolate, but I finally got to the perfect recipe. We preferred the ones that were a deep golden brown and very crispy to the ones that were a little lighter and softer, so adjust the directions accordingly if you prefer something not so crisp. The reason why I used one sheet and pressed it out was to ensure that it was thin enough to be as crisp as I’d like. You can take the shortcut of putting all the chocolate on a single sheet and then putting the other sheet on top of that, but you’ll have a thicker pastry that would be softer in the middle.

chocolatestrawshowto

Chocolate Straws (or Chocolate Twists)
yield 4-5 dozen

1 box (2 sheets) of puff pastry, thawed but chilled (I used Pepperidge Farms)
4 tablespoons chocolate spread, divided (Nutella, Hershey’s, or another brand; I used Hershey’s hazelnut)
1/3 cup turbinado or raw sugar

Pre-heat oven to 400F. Remove one sheet of puff pastry from the box and return the other sheet to the refrigerator. Unfold the pastry and then fold it in half, lengthways (opposite of how it was folded in thirds). Spread 2 tablespoons of chocolate on one half of the pastry (ensuring that it’s thinner at the edges) and fold it over so that the spread is between two layers.

Sprinkle about a quarter of the sugar out on a clean work surface and place the folded pastry on top. Sprinkle more sugar on top and roll out the pastry with a rolling pin until it is about 8 inches by 14 inches and about 1/8 inch thick. Then, using a pizza wheel or sharp knife, cut the pastry into 1/2 inch thick strips. Pick up each strip and twist from both ends 4-5 times. Transfer each twist to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, about 1 inch apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.

Remove from the oven and let cool on the parchment paper before removing so that they retain their shape. Repeat with second sheet of puff pastry dough.

Notes:
1. The twists move around on the baking sheet a bit when they’re cooking and even untwist a little. Check on them about half-way through baking to make sure they’re still on the sheet and to straighten them up.

2. I really tight twists yields a straw that’s not as crispy because the dough doesn’t open up as well and puff as much. The inside is softer and a little more doughy. Try a couple with a tight twist just to see how you prefer them.

3. I baked mine for the full 12 minutes (and just a bit longer, actually since I had to take them out and straighten them) because we liked them extra crispy.

4. As you can see in the photos, I sprinkled the sugar on the work surface before unfolding the dough, but it doesn’t matter when you do it because the dough is cold and doesn’t stick too well until it’s rolled.

Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 6 Comments