Friday, November 6, 2009

The Perfect Fall Soup

(I originally typed up this post last week, but I wanted to wait for pictures before I posted it. Unfortunately, I only ended up getting one picture. How lame am I? But it's here none the less.)

I have to say, it surprises even me, but most fall soups don't appeal much to me. Don't get me wrong, if you put a bowl of pumpkin, butternut squash, or carrot ginger soup in front of me, I would down it in seconds, as I would any other soup. I love soup! But I don't see a picture or read a recipe and run right out to make it. It just doesn't excite me much. The flavors always sound rather bland and the pictures look so...monochromatic. I did find a recipe, however, with no picture no less, that did excite me. And it does have pumpkin in, which I just can't get enough of lately.

But before we get into that, can I just say how fantastic persimmons are? Have you ever tried one? I'd seen lots of blog posts all about their deliciousness and educating me on the two varieties and how different they are, but until last week I was a persimmon virgin. No longer. The Whole Foods wannabe hippie grocery store I frequent, Jimbo's, had fuyu persimmons out for sampling last week (exhibit A of why this store is awesome: they have produce samples every week), so Husband and I tried, loved, and bought! Apparently they're only in season about 2 months out of the year. How lame is that?

Just about every persimmon blog post I've read already says this, but if you're new to the fruit, here's some info. There are two kinds of persimmons that you don't want to get confused. First, there's the fuyu, which is the short and squat kind that looks like a pumpkin/tomato hybrid. It has the consistency of an apple when you eat it (and it should have a similar feel when you buy it, crisp, not mushy), but it tastes so much brighter and sweeter than an apple. You also eat it just like an apple. Just slice, remove the core, and eat! You'll never look back! There's also the hachiya persimmon, which is tall and slender (like an acorn). These, I'm told, are bitter and nasty if you eat them when they're not fully ripened. When are they ripe? Well basically just when you think it's past ripe. I'm told the mushier the better. The hachiya are the kind you bake with. Once they are nice and soft, just pop them open, scoop out the soft innards, and enjoy in everything from cookies to pudding. I'd say it's kind of like pumpkin puree in usage and consistency. Though the guy at the store said he prefers to just eat it straight off the spoon. So if you haven't tried persimmons before, pick some up at the store this weekend. You won't be sorry! I ate my fuyu persimmons sliced over my morning cereal, mixed with my usual banana. It was fantastic. I am so getting more this weekend (Update, since I started this post last week, I did buy more over the weekend! Mwaha!).

Here's what I cooked up this last week:
  • Black bean and pumpkin soup, courtesy of NPR Kitchen Window. I know, I said pumpkin soups didn't entice me. Well black beans are a whole other matter. This is one of the better soups I've ever made. As Husband put it, it speaks volumes that he didn't feel the need to reach for the hot sauce when eating this soup. Because it is already so flavorful, literally nothing else is needed. Except a spoon. Though I think I could make do with just stuffing my face in the bowl and drinking it. All the ingredients in this soup really came together to create some really complex flavors. The tomatoes with the green chiles are a must. If you want to make this soup but don't have these on hand (either because your store doesn't carry canned tomatoes with green chiles or because you would rather use what you already have in your pantry), definitely add a small can of green chiles separately. The spice from the chiles added with the hefty amount of cumin created a fantastic smoky flavor that kept every bite interesting. And of course, was the perfect compliment to the chorizo, which was just fantastic. I got the...loose kind? The kind not in casings because that's what the store had. But I really like how it broke up and provided flavor throughout without really changing the texture, so I think in the future I would take the casings off anyway. I'm not one for random chunks in my soup. The sherry provided...ok, I am so bad at identifying what it is that liquor does to food to make it taste so good. But it keeps it from tasting bland or boring. Keeps your mouth entertained. Booze and pumpkin are just a match made in heaven, I think. My only negative would perhaps be that the pumpkin gets a bit lost in the soup. Black beans and chiles are a strong flavor against the mildness of the pumpkin, but it definitely provided a sweetness that probably kept the soup from being a bit overpowering, not to mention adding to the creamy texture. I plan to stock pile canned pumpkin while I can so I can make this soup year round. It is seriously that good. Make it! Unfortunately, the soup disappeared before I could get a picture of it. I also didn't get a chance to serve the soup in a pumpkin tureen, which I actually would have done, had fate seen fit to let me have a proper Halloween dinner like I was hoping for. I ended up having to go out of town last minute, which wouldn't have left me enough time for making up a whole fancy dinner (I need at least a day of shopping for that, right?). But the bigger obstacle was that no one wanted to come over for dinner. Is my cooking that bad?
  • I popped another food cherry this week. Oh don't blush, you know what I mean. This time, with spaghetti squash. Can you believe I had never had spaghetti squash before either? I didn't even know there was such a thing before I started reading all these fantastic food blogs. I really love pasta, but I try to stay away from it as much as possible because it really messes with my food group ratios. Instead of 50% veggie, 25% protein, 25% whole grain, I end up with 75% grain (whole if I use whole wheat or brown rice), 25% sauce of some kind. Not the best. And then I digest it too fast, my blood sugar spikes, I get hungry again 10 minutes later, etc. So I try to only eat it occasionally. I was skeptical about spaghetti squash. Sure, it comes in strands that resemble pasta, but that doesn't mean it could hold up to dishes like pasta. Well I tried it and I am skeptical no longer. It's light and sweet flavor and slightly crunchy texture is, I think in some ways, preferable to regular pasta. It definitely plays a background role, flavor-wise, to the sauce, while still providing an excellent textural base. Try it people, it's good! It's also insanely easy to make. Just chop it in half (by far the hardest part. My effort involved a cleaver and a mallet, which Husband was wielding because we both know better than to let me get anywhere near that setup and expect me to walk away with all 10 fingers and toes), put it in a roasting pan with a little water, and roast at 375 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, or until tender. Then just run a fork over it and it easily comes out of the skin in strands. That part is seriously cool. And I put over it a fantastic slow cooked bolognese sauce, courtesy of The Kitchn. I've made this sauce once before, and have been itching to make it again ever since. It is the best pasta sauce I've ever made. That's actually not saying much since I suck at pasta sauces. But it's not the best pasta sauce I've ever had because, hello, some Italian restaurants spend days on their sauces. There's a little place near me that has the best creamy tomato vodka sauce. Seriously, I go there just for the boring pasta with the boring sauce because it's one of the best things I've ever eaten. How about this sauce is better than any sauce I've bought from the store. Yeah, we'll go with that. Anyway, this sauce is good. And seriously easy. Just sweat the veggies, brown the meat a little, and let it all do its thing together in the crock pot. I used ground sirloin, and the extra fat from, say, ground chuck was definitely not needed. In fact, I'm glad I used the leaner meat because the extra fat probably would have congealed when it cooled in the refrigerator, which is just not appetizing when you're packing your lunch for the day. The meat was still moist and delicious from simmering in deliciousness all day. The wine...again, I have trouble with the flavor, but it gave the sauce a nice sweetness without tasting sugary. If that makes sense. And of course, the tomatoes made the sauce sweet in another way, and bright, and delicious. I used 1% milk because that's what I drink, but had no problems with it. I am a total idiot and apparently bought whole milk and ate it in my cereal every day last week without realizing it wasn't my usual 1%. I finally clued in when I bought a new carton of 1% over the weekend and realized the cartons were a different color slightly. As I said, idiot. So I guess that means I also used whole milk in this recipe. Whoops! I'm sure the 1% would be fine though. Anyway, It doesn't look like much, but it tastes meaty and delicious and divine. The sauce is very chunky. I used the full 2 pounds of beef, and it was definitely not very saucy in the traditional sense. But it clung to the squash well and easily mixed throughout to be saucy enough for me!
The sauce on the left is a pesto my friend made from his own home grown basil. It was also fantastic on the spaghetti squash. Since pesto is a bit heavy, it was nice to eat it with something so light, and again that slight crunch is just a great contrast to the sauce.
  • Bulgur wheat with lentils, mushrooms, and caramelized onions, courtesy of Culinate. I've blogged about this recipe once before. I loved it then and I love it still. Though it had some stiff competition this week. Husband tends to think lentils are a bit bland, so he added some Cholula hot sauce. I think adding sliced almonds dresses it up enough, but I admit a few dashes of hot sauce were rather good on it. This dish is definitely where I got my woody, nutty flavor for the week. A good, healthy recipe I plan to keep in my back pocket.

While I couldn't get anyone to come over for dinner on Halloween (I can't really blame my friends since I'm a terrible host, and I usually hate having people over because I get so stressed out about being a terrible host), I did get a few people to come over for dessert. I'll post more on that later, but I'll leave you with this bit of wisdom: pumpkin and butterscotch may just be the best thing since chocolate and peanut butter.

By the way, I think I may have a food blog reading disease. It's kind of like a flu. I'll call it F0B1 Every couple of days I find a new one to add to my google reader. It's getting ridiculous! How can I possibly make all the fantastic recipes I find on these websites? I'm just one person, feeding two, and I only cook once a week! It's too much for a girl to handle, that's for sure. Is there a vaccine?


Kelly said...

Wait a sec, you only cook once a week? Jealous! I might have more motivation to cook something fancy like you if I didn't cook every day :) (I think we're totally having hamburger helper tonight lol)

What food blogs do you read? I think I only have 5 that I read (not including yours), and my fave is Bakerella..she's my idol :)

JuLo said...

Um...yeah...did I not mention that before? Yeah. I pretty much can't stand cooking during the week. I get home way late and the last thing I want to do is anything more than reheating. So I cook massive amounts over the weekend and hope it lasts the week. I've gotten pretty good at estimating. Now we'll usually have some scraps to finish up for lunch on Saturdays.

But it's still a big time commitment! Basically I spend most of Saturday running around doing errands (90% of which involve buying food for the week). Then I spend most of Sunday cooking everything, baking anything I can, etc. It seriously takes up my entire weekend. When we have something else to do, like say go to a wedding, it throws everything off. It's kind of reinforced our antisocialness, which isn't great, but oh well!

I have some links to the right on the blog (can't be seen through the reader! gasp!), but they're way out of date. Sounds like I should do a separate post! Woo!

Aj said...

Funny, I went to go buy a lb. of fuyu persimmons yesterday at a Korean market. They were on sale, 3 lbs. for 99 cents! So I got a lb. of em for 33 cents, haha.

I've never heard of spaghetti squash until now! It looks like prepared noodles in a hollowed out vegetable.. I'm going to need to try it soon, it looks and sounds so interesting!

JuLo said...

$.33 a pound?!?! Holy moly! Yeah, I paid like ten times that. I gotta get my butt down to an asian market apparently!