And the winner is!

October 28, 2009

I know I've been a bit delinquent in announcing the winner of the House of Mango Hands 2009 Pumpkin Beer Tasting. If you're hazy on the contestants, you can catch up here, here, and here. I'm very pleased to present the gold medal to...

Will Stevens' Pumpkin Ale, by Wolaver's!

This was a fun challenge for me, comparing the subtleties of so many different kinds of pumpkin beer. Maybe it will be a yearly feature, as there are many more brands of pumpkin beer that didn't make it into our brackets.

I know there were a few people pulling for the Punkin Ale by Dogfish, and I agree that it is a damn fine brew. But in the end, the Wolaver's was the unanimous winner, with a lovely wheaty undertone and the perfect pumpkin and spice notes. Plus, the Dogfish was $10 for four beers, and I found a six-pack of Wolaver's for $8.49. More beer for less money! Who isn't a fan of that?

So, as this competition comes to an end, I leave you with a little song that I learned from my old friend Dean. It goes like this:

biddly beer

Now try singing it in rounds with a friend!

Stanley P. Kachowski reminds you that pierogies are good food*

October 26, 2009

I am of the opinion that pierogies are best enjoyed while watching Steelers football. In the offseason, you can also have them at your grandma's house for a holiday, accompanied by the obscure Slovak food of your choice. (I choose babalki!) Or, if you happen to find yourself at a Pirates game, you can order them right at the concession stand. (In trying to keep at least 1,000 people in attendance, the Pittsburgh Pirates even have a mid-inning event where humans dressed as pierogies race down the field. Check out this video where a pierogie tackles Teddy Roosevelt, a racer in the Washington Nationals mid-inning President's Race.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across this article advocating the consumption of pierogies DURING a triathlon. Not as a spectator, but as a competitor! Um, that is insane. I've competed in a couple of races (and by that I mean I thumped along like a maimed hyena stuck with a tranquelizer dart), and I can't imagine eating a pierogie on the run. I mean, is there someone running alongside holding a small container of sour cream for dipping? Would you just wipe your buttery hands on your shorts? The logistics alone boggle me.

In summary, pierogies are good to eat while watching sports, good to dress up as while playing sports, and also good to shove in your pocket for snacks while playing sports.

Makes about 45

Dough, from Gourmet Magazine

1 cup flour
3/4 cup cake flour
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water

Put the flour and cake flour in a bowl and stir with a fork to combine.

Make a well in the center, and drop in the eggs, salt and water. Stir the wet ingredients together first (with the fork), and then start to add in the flour mixture gradually. Once it is a loose dough, dump it out onto a clean dry surface (including all the flour and dough bits in the bowl) and start to knead it together. Knead for 8 minutes until soft and elasticy, or until you're exhausted and need a beer. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.


2 russet potatoes
7 oz. sharp white cheddar, shredded (Vermont makes the best cheddar!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
4 small green onions
1/4 cup sour cream

To serve

Stick of butter
1 large yellow onion
Sour cream

Peel the potatoes and chop into 2 inch chunks. Put in a pan, and cover with cold water. Cover, bring to a boil, and boil until just tender with a fork (about 8 minutes). Put in a bowl with the cheese, salt, pepper, onions and sour cream. Mash with a potato masher, or whip with a handheld mixer.

Cheating variation: Have 2-3 cups leftover mashed potatoes? Add cheese, green onions, and sour cream.

Cut the dough in half and keep half in the plastic wrap. Roll out the dough on a floured surface. Roll it very thin - about an 1/8 inch. Using a round cutter about 2 -3 inches wide, cut out circles of dough. (I used my brother's wine aerator, as we were at the beach in a limited kitchen, but a can or biscuit cutter is probably a more conventional choice. Man, he was mad when he found out I touched his wine toys.)

Get a little bowl of cold water ready for moistening the edges of your pierogies.

Take about a teaspoon of filling and drop it in the middle of your dough rounds. Dip your finger in your water bowl and wet the outside edges of the dough round. Stretch and fold it over to make a half moon, and smush the dough together to seal it shut. Set the finished pierogie aside on a floured cookie sheet. Repeat as necessary. I re-rolled my dough scraps once, but after that they tend to get really tough.

To save some or all of your pierogies for later, you can put the cookie sheet in the freezer for a couple hours, and once they get good and frozen, put them in a freezer bag.

To serve, bring a big pot of water to a boil, and cook the fresh or frozen pierogie for 5-6 minutes until mostly tender.

Melt half a stick of butter in a heavy skillet. Add half the onion, and let the onion get a little browned. Push the onion to the side, and add just as many pierogie as fit in a non-crowded manner. Let them get golden brown, then flip to the other side. Repeat with the remaining half stick of butter, onion, and pierogie.

Serve with the browned, buttery onions and sour cream.

On being cured of a severe dislike

October 22, 2009

Did you know that Glasgow, Scotland has the highest per capita concentration of Indian restaurants of anywhere aside from India? Well, I heard that somewhere. Who knows if it's actually true. It was the first place I had Indian food, and I suffered such intense gastrointestinal distress I thought I might die. Very slowly I tried things that were curry-scented, or tandoori, or yogurt marinated, and now, nine years later, the smell of Indian food no longer sends me running for the bathroom. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that I rather like Indian food. If you are interested in making it at home and don't want to buy those jars of pre-made sauce in the "ethnic" aisle of the grocery store, consider getting Raghavan Iyer's book, 660 Curries. I know that sounds like an exhausing amount of curries, but, dude, India is a really big country. I've probably made 10-12 dishes out of it and all of them have been outstanding. The coconut cashew chicken curry, though, nearly made my head spin around. From deliciousness, not being possessed.

Coconut cashew chicken curry
Serves 2

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
1/4 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup cilantro
6 garlic cloves
2-3 green chiles, stems and seeds removed
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs, or two chicken leg quarters (skin removed)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon garam masala

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Toast the cashews, stirring constantly to prevent burning, until they are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon, leaving as much oil as you can.

Combine the cashews, coconut, cilantro, garlic, and chiles in a food processor and puree.

Re-heat the same skillet, and toast the sesame and cumin seeds until they smell nutty and toasted (about a minute or two). Stir in the cashew/coconut puree, and stir about 1-2 more minutes.

Push the mixture to the sides of the pan, and brown the chicken in a single layer. Pile the cashew mixture on top of the chicken so it doesnt burn. Flip the chicken over to brown the other side, again piling the cashew mixture on top.

Combine the salt with 1/2 cup water. Pour this mixture over the chicken, scraping up and browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and cover the chicken until it is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Stir and baste the chicken occasionally.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon. Shred the chicken with two forks. Stir the yogurt and garam masala into the sauce in the skillet. Add the chicken back in and stir to combine. Serve over rice.

Another way to eat syrup

October 19, 2009

Mmm, weekend breakfast. There are so many possibilities! Why have lame-o cereal and orange juice when you have time to make something that will really work to soak up whatever you drank last night? Dippy eggs, toast, and bacon? Waffles? Bagels and lox? Or (drumroll please) APPLE PANCAKE! It takes a little bit longer than your average breakfast, but that just means your loved one has time to run out to fetch you a decaf skim latte while it bakes. This is a classic in our house, and we've played with the spices and sugars enough to get it just right. Goldilocks would be proud.

Apple pancake, adapted from Dishing Up Vermont
Serves 2-4

3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon (divided)
2 apples, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
maple syrup (warm, please)

Put a cast iron skillet (or other oven-proof skillet) in a 425 degree oven.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, flour, salt, vanilla and 1 teaspoon cinnamon until smooth. In a separate bowl, combine the sliced apples, brown sugar and remaining 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon.

Take the skillet out of the oven and melt the butter. Add the apples in a single layer, then pour the batter on top.

Bake the pancake for about 25 minutes, or until puffed. Serve with warm maple syrup.

So easy even a caveman could make it

October 18, 2009

There's an awesome pizza place in my hometown of Beaver, PA, called Mario's. It's BYOB, serves a-frickin-mazing wood-fired oven pizza, and makes the most delicious chicken piccata pasta. These are all factors that make it the best place to eat in downtown Beaver. Plus there's a 92% chance you'll see my brother's friend Ryan there.

Mario's is also the first place I tried what is now my favorite speedy weeknight dinner. It's called beans and greens, and it might be the best complete dinner on the planet that can be ready in less than 20 minutes. You can use any kind of greens. Kale makes a nice hearty meal, spinach is soft and silky, and swiss chard is a happy medium between the two. I probably wouldn't use collard greens, because they take forever to cook. My trick to delicous kale and chard is to cut the stem out. The stems take longer to cook, and if you leave them in, the stems can be stringy in your final product. You could also use a hard sausage (like one of those fancy sticks of salami) here with delicious results.

Beans and greens
Serves 2-3

2 links fresh sausage, or 4 oz. hard sausage
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1 bunch greens, de-stemmed and roughly chopped (no need to de-stem spinach)
1/2 cup chicken broth, beer or water
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Heat large skillet over medium heat. If you're using fresh sausage, squeeze it out of the casing and roughly break it up with a spatula. If you're using hard sausage, chop it into 1/4 inch half moons. Either way, brown the sausage. (I never add oil when browning sausage, because it has enough fat to get going on its own.) Add the sliced onion and cook just until starting to turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and hot pepper flakes. Cook 30 seconds. Add the greens, turning them with tongs to equally wilt them. Add the liquid, and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. If you're using kale or chard, turn the heat to low and cover and cook until the greens are tender, about 5-7 minutes for kale and 3-5 minutes for chard. You won't need to do this for spinach, because it wilts and softens so quickly.

Stir in the beans and warm through, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat and add the vinegar. Taste your final product to see if it needs salt. Because sausage and canned beans can be really salty, you might not need any. This is also great accompanied by some crusty bread.

Final first round bracket

And introducing the final two competitors in the House of Mango Hands pumpkin beer tasting of 2009!

Ichabod, by New Holland Brewing Company
First of all, this beer has a headless person on their label. Good thing this was a blind tasting or I may have been swayed. (I'm such a sucker for good packaging.) This beer had a mild nose, and was darker than all the other competitors. It was yeasty and tasted like a brown ale with a minor pumpkin flavor, subtle spice, and mild hoppiness.

Will Stevens' Pumpkin Ale, by Wolaver's Brewing Company
The beer had a good nose of spice and was a beautiful caramel color. It had a pleasant taste of pumpkin pie, yet was also reminiscent of a wheat beer. A very nice incorporation of pumpkin without being overwhelming.

Winner: Will Stevens'

Shout outs all over the place

October 15, 2009

I pretty much love anything crusted in cornmeal. In fact, this year for my birthday I might request that my husband coat himself in cornmeal. Mmm, he would be so crunchy and delicious. Oysters, waffles, green tomatoes, there is really nothing cornmeal can't make yummier.

I actually meant to post this recipe much earlier in the blog, but as I wrote the salsa recipe on the back of bank receipt, and then apparently used it as a bookmark in an Indian cookbook and only found it the other day when I was looking up mango recipes for a friend who lives in Tanzania. (Hi Ellie! Stay away from snakes!) Sorry it's a bit out of season, but perhaps those in the south (Henry and Erin - WHO ARE NOW ENGAGED!) can still find some serviceable peaches.

Cornmeal crusted fish with basil fruit salsa
Serves 2

1 peach
1 nectarine
1 small poblano
1 giant green onion
1/4 cup basil
2 white flaky fish fillets (I used turbot)
1 egg
1 cup course cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper

Blanch the peach and nectarine by plunging them into boiling water for 1 minute, then moving them to an ice bath to stop the cooking. Peel off the skin and chop the fruit into 1/4 inch pieces. Finely dice the poblano, green onion (including the green part)*, and basil. Combine with the fruit and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Lightly beat the egg with a splash of water in a low flat bowl or pie plate. In a different low flat bowl, combine the cornmeal, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Dip a piece of fish in the egg on both sides, then dredge it in the cornmeal. Set on a plate while you do the other piece (or pieces).

Heat the vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet. Once it's hot, gently place the fish in. Once the underside is light brown (about 3 minutes), turn and cook the other side.

Top the fish with the salsa.

*I hate when recipes tell you not to use the green part of a green onion. Why not? It's still onion-y and delicious.

A most delicious memorial

October 14, 2009

Like many people who love food, its politics and its stories, I was heartbroken to hear about the cancellation of Gourmet magazine. Even though its readership has more or less been steady despite the economic downturn, advertisers have cut way back. From what I've read, the ad revenues for Rachel Ray and Paula Deen's magazines have been just fine. Sigh. Look, I love a good 30-minute meal, and I find it hilarious what Paula will put mayonnaise in, but do they really need entire magazines? Apparently that's what sells. Or more specifically, that is what advertisers want to be available on the shelves. Maybe because the cooks who buy those magazines will use more pre-packaged ingredients? Which are conveniently advertised inside the pages of those magazines? Whereas Gourmet questioned industry practices (read this shocking article about tomatoes in Florida) and promotes going to the farmer's market to use seasonally available fresh produce. Which reminds me of a great quote I read this weekend, "Eat foods in inverse proportion to how much its lobby spends to push it." (Kirk Westphal)

Or perhaps I'm just sad that something I really enjoyed every month is gone and I needed a good whine.

So, in honor of Gourmet magazine, I thought I would finish off Squash Week with a delicious dessert I found amongst its pages. Read more about Gourmet memorials.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie
8 slices
(could serve 8 once, or 1 person 8 times)

4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (about 6 ounces of cookies, crushed in the food processor)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Press evenly into a pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Let it cool at least an hour, or preferable longer, before continuing with the rest of the pie. (I did mine the day before.)

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
8 ounces cream cheese (let soften to room temperature)
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated, if you can)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin (please note this is not an entire can)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put sugar and ginger in the food processor and pulse until the ginger is really small. Add the cream cheese, and process until smooth. Add rest of ingredients except pumpkin, and process until combined. Take out 2/3 cup of the cream cheese mixture. (It is easiest to pour it into a glass measuring cup.) Now add the pumpkin to the cream cheese in the food processor, and pulse to combine. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the crust and spread evenly. Pour the reserved cream cheese mixture on top, and swirl decoratively with a knife.

Bake on a baking sheet until the center is set, 35-45 minutes. Let it cool to room temperature on a rack (about 2 hours). Then chill in the fridge at least 4 hours before serving. I garnished mine with a few pieces of chopped crystallized ginger.

In which I attempt to bake something

October 12, 2009

If you've never thumbed through a Donna Hay cookbook, get thee to a bookstore posthaste! I have a couple of her books (thanks Barbara!) and really love them. Her recipes are delightfully simple, but she puts ingredients together in such an interesting way. Maybe it's because she's Australian. (I wonder if she knows Crocodile Dundee?) Sometimes you might look at one of her recipes and think, "Hmm, that sounds insane." But most of the time it works! My lovely mother-in-law got me a subscription to her magazine one year. I loved it, but their seasons are opposite of ours. Here I am, freezing in February, and Donna Hay is tempting me with barbequed chicken and watermelon from halfway around the world. Crazy Australia and their backways flushing toilets.

Anyway, so this recipe was featured in Donna Hay Magazine Issue 32, and as I have a general fear of baking bread, I followed the recipe exactly. It came out great, and would make a fun bread to have alongside a big salad for dinner, or to pass at the table for Thanksgiving.

Butternut Feta Bread
Makes 1 loaf

1 small butternut squash
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil (divided)
2 tablespoons yeast (2 packages)
1/2 cup warm water
1 onion
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
3 cups flour
7 oz. feta cheese, cubed or crumbled

Peel and seed the squash. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes, toss with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil, and roast in a 350 degree oven until tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Combine the yeast and water in a bowl, and let stand in a warm place for 10 minutes. If the yeast doesn't foam, it is probably dead and you need to start over with new yeast.

Put the onion, remaining 1/2 cup olive oil, milk, eggs, rosemary, salt and sugar in a food processor, and run until smooth.

Combine the yeast mixture, onion mixture, and flour in a large bowl and stir well. Cover the bowl and allow it to rest in a warm place for about an hour, or until the dough doubles in size.

Preheat oven to 320 degrees. Grease a loaf pan.

Stir the feta and squash into the dough. (Yes, this is somewhat weird, as the dough is all sticky.) Put the dough into the loaf pan. Bake for an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean. (My bread took an extra ten minutes.)

Battle of the brews, bracket two

Pumpkin beer tasting continues here at the House of Mango Hands.

The second bracket contenders are:

Punkin Ale, by Dogfish Head Brewing Company
This beer has a lovely rich amber color, with a pleasant nose of vanilla, but had no head when poured. It had a slightly hoppy flavor, with subtle pumpkin notes. Tastes mostly of beer with just the right hint of pumpkin and spice. Overall, a nicely balanced fall beer.

Pumpkin Ale, Smuttynose Brewing Company
An unfiltered beer, the Smutty had an intriguing citrus nose with a lovely thick head. It was high on the hoppiness scale, and while it had a slight spice note, tasters had a hard time detecting any pumpkin flavor. Overall it's a good beer, but it could not hold its own in a pumpkin contest.

Winner: Punkin

Playing to its strength

October 10, 2009

Teacher, in a concerned voice: I'd like to talk about your son, Spaghetti Squash. He's, well, different from all the other squashes.

Mom Squash: Yes, he's so yellow!

Teacher: No, no. It's not that. He's strandy! Like a noodle! I think he needs vegetable reassignment therapy.

Mom Squash: Yes, his father and I know about his noodly orientation. But we believe that is the way he was made. If he wants to be served with sausage and red sauce, he's not hurting anyone. No squash should be changed into something he is not.

Yes, spaghetti squash is probably the spaghetti-est vegetable there is. I know it looks orange in the photo, but because the squash is yellow, and the sauce is red, well, you remember the color wheel.

Spaghetti (squash) and sausage
Serves 2-4
(depending on size of squash)

1 spaghetti squash
2-3 hot italian sausage links
12 oz. (half jar) of purchased pasta sauce
1 cup chopped parsley
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. (God, how many times have I written that sentence this week?) Cover each half with plastic wrap, put on a plate, and microwave for 10 minutes or until tender. If you have a really small squash, you might want to go a minute or two shy of that.

Meanwhile, squeeze the sausage out of its casing, and brown it, crumbling it with a wooden spoon as you go. Add the sauce and parsley, and warm through.

Carefully take the plastic wrap off the steamed squash halves. Take a fork, and starting at the stem end, run the fork lengthwise down the squash, creating strands. Dump the strands in with the sausage and sauce. Keep the squash halves!

Divide the squash/sausage mixture amongst the empty squash halves and top with the Parmesan cheese. Put the halves in a baking dish, and bake for 20 minutes, and then broil for 1-2 minutes, until the cheese is browned.

If your halves are huge, cut them in half, and serve one quarter squash per person. If your squash is smaller, serve half a squash per person.

Candy, candy canes, candy corns, and SYRUP

October 9, 2009

My husband is from Vermont. That means that in addition to a freakish tolerance for cold, he must maintain a certain BML (blood maple level) in order to survive. This is one of the squash recipes he brought to our relationship, a favorite from when he was a kid.

Here are a few random facts about syrup that I've learned from our years together:

  • Syrup never goes bad. If it gets mold on it, just skim it off and reboil the rest of the syrup.
  • It should be stored in the fridge.
  • Syrup, like wine, has terroir.
  • It comes in different grades: Fancy A, A, and B. We always buy grade B; it's darker and has a richer flavor.
  • That Aunt Jemima stuff is not maple syrup. The House of Mango Hands will point a finger of shame at you if you use colored corn syrup in this recipe.

Acorn squash with maple butter
Serves 2

1 small acorn squash
3 tablespoons melted butter, divided
2 tablespoons maple syrup
pinch each of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves
salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Season the squash with salt and pepper. Brush the inside of the squash halves with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Place the squash cut-side down on a small baking sheet with sides. Pour about 1 cup of water onto the baking sheet, which will keep the squash moist as it bakes. Cook for about 15 minutes.

Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, syrup and spices in a small saucepan and whisk over very low heat until combined. Take the squash halves out of the oven, and carefully turn them cut-side up. Brush about half of the maple mixture onto the squash. Cook for another 10 minutes. Brush with remaining syrup, and cook for 5-10 more minutes. The squash should be nice and caramelized, with a delightful puddle of maple butter in the middle.

It is pictured above with maple mustard pork tenderloin and garlic spinach.

Perfect for fending off vampires from Hot Topic

October 8, 2009


So, today is National Pierogie Day. And it is the middle of shark week. I mean, squash week. I could kick myself for the poor planning. So even though I could write tomes on the loveliness of pierogies in honor of their special day, I am going to stick with squash. (But stay tuned for an ode to the delicious pierogie.)

Back to the regularly scheduled squash program! The bit of yum pictured here is one of my favorites. It's a big pile of pasta with garlic, squash, and sage. And to totally gild the lily, goat cheese! Kind of hard not to love. If you're not sure if someone will like squash, give them a little spoonful of this.

Squash pasta with roasted garlic and sage
Serves 4

2 small squash, or 1 big squash (I used a small blue Hubbard and a buttercup)
olive oil
15 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 bound of short pasta (just not something long and strand-like, such as spaghetti)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper, to taste
4 ounces goat cheese

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place face down on a cookie sheet in a pre-heated 375 degree oven. Bake for 45 minutes, or until tender. (How long your squash takes will depend on your oven, the type of squash, whether you got enough hugs as a child, and a bunch of other factors. Just keep an eye on it.)

Put the peeled garlic cloves in a little ramekin or small oven-proof bowl. Cover with olive oil, which should be a couple of tablespoons. After the squash has been cooking for about 20 minutes, put the ramekin in the oven as well. Take the garlic out when the squash is done. Please be careful taking the ramekin out, the oil will still be boiling. Scoop out the squash flesh.

Cook the pasta in salted water. Once you dump the pasta in the water, begin assembling the sauce. Pour the garlic cloves and garlic oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the wine and sage and cook for a minute or two, smooshing the garlic cloves with a rubber spoon. Add the squash, salt and pepper. Smoosh the squash with the spoon as well. Add a ladle-full of pasta cooking water if it seems to be getting a little dry.

When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving a cup of the cooking water. Toss the pasta with the squash sauce, adding cooking water to smooth it out a bit if necessary. This should be a fairly thick sauce, though, so don't go crazy with the water.

Crumble the goat cheese onto individual portions.

Yum - happy fall!

Round One - Fight!

We here at the House of Mango Hands are doing a pumpkin beer tasting. I bought six different brands of pumpkin beer that will be blind taste-tested to determine the king (or queen) of squash beers. Beers will be paired up for an initial head-to-head competition. The winner of each match will move on to compete in an Ultimate Cagefighting Championship. And by that I mean a final tasting to determine the winner.

Each beer is covered with a paper bag, and poured into a pint glass to observe color, head, and smell before tasting.

I present to you the first two contestants:

Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale, brewed by Michelob Brewing Company.
It had a lovely deep color, but mysteriously did not have much of a smell. The head was a bit thin. It was watery, and tasted mostly of cinnamon and cloves, with little to no pumpkin flavor. The House of Mango Hands would not recommend purchasing this beer. Although we do have 5 left, so if you come to visit we'll probably make you drink one.

Post Road Pumpkin Ale, brewed by Brooklyn Brewing Company. It was nearly identical in color to Jack's, but had a nice thick head and a pleasant odor of spice. The beer was full bodied and had a nice balance of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla spice flavors. A hint of pumpkin flavor came through, without being overpowering.

Winner: Post Road.

No chewing required

October 6, 2009

Oddly, several people I know rather well have been put on non-chewing or liquid diets (myself included) for long periods of time. One of these people was my mom, who got run over by our dog. It totally wasn't funny at the time, but in retrospect, come on. I mean, she got RUNOVER by a DOG. (Hi Mom! I love you!) She absorbed most of the impact right in the kisser, so she made the dog make her soup for weeks until she was better.

So, if anyone you love gets runover by a dog, or a reindeer, you now have a great recipe to make for them. If you're serving it to people who can chew, it is also really good with sharp cheddar grilled cheese sandwiches.

I adapted this recipe from a Bon Appetit recipe for Southwestern Pumpkin Soup.

Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 4

1 butternut squash
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup milk (whatever fat level you have)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder*
a couple of grates (about 1/8 teaspoon) fresh nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
fresh black pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar

Pierce the squash all over with a knife. Put in a microwave save dish, and cook for 5 minutes. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place the halves face-down, and microwave for 5-8 more minutes, or until tender. Once it is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh.
Heat the stock and milk in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the squash, sugar, cumin, chili powder, and nutmeg. Let it come to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Once the soup is heated through, turn off the heat and puree with an immersion blender. If you don't have an immersion blender (they are awesome, consider getting one) carefully pour the soup into a blender, in batches if necessary, to puree. Season with salt and pepper. Top individual portions with cilantro and cheese. (If you're making grilled cheese alongside, skip the cheese on the soup.)

*I used Chili 3000 from Penzey's Spices. It is supposed to be the chili powder of now. (Chili 9000 is the chili powder of the future.)

May have been touched by Michelle Obama

I love hot peppers.

Poblano peppers are probably my favorite pepper, because they have this kind of smoky rolling heat to them, but still mild enough to eat without making your head explode. I got some at the farmer's market as soon as they made an appearance mid-summer, but they were really tiny. As it became closer to fall, the poblanos got bigger (perfect for stuffing) just as winter squash came into season. Actually, I bought most of the ingredients for this dish the day Michelle Obama stopped by to open up DC's newest farmer's market! "Oh, hey Michelle. Yeah, I'm making squash for Squash Week. You? Oh, kale! Yummy! Ok then, carry on! Your arms look great!"

I experimented with two types of squash for this dish, a "cream of the crop" (like a white acorn squash) and an ambercup. The ambercup - the orange colored filling - had a richer, thicker squash flavor and was the unanimous winner of my informal taste test. But use any squash you like.

Squash-stuffed roasted poblanos
Serves 2 (as an entree)
or 4 as a side dish
loosely adapted from my dog-eared copy of The Essential Eating Well Cookbook

4 poblano peppers
2 small-ish winter squash (or a large butternut squash)
4 oz. crumbled queso blanco or sharp feta (I used a local goat feta, and it was goooooood)
1 tablespoon pineapple juice (you can sub orange juice)
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sour cream, for serving

First, roast squash. Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast face down on a cookie sheet in a 375 degree oven for 40-60 minutes, until tender. Take them out of the oven and let them cool face-up.

Meanwhile, roast peppers under a broiler until skin blackens on all sides. Depending on your broiler, this could take anywhere from 5-15 minutes. (You could also blacken them on the grill.) Put them in a closed paper bag or a bowl covered with plastic wrap for about 15 minutes, so they can cool and steam.

Peel the peppers. If a couple of bits of skin are being stubborn, don't worry about it. Using a paring knife, cut the stem and seeds out of the squash, trying to keep the pepper intact (kind of like a tube). Rinse the peppers to get the rest of the seeds out and set aside.

Scoop the squash flesh out into a food processor. (If you are using two different types of squash, you can either combine them or process them separately.) Puree until smooth and put in a medium bowl. Stir in the cheese, juice, cumin, cilantro and salt. Try not to eat all of the filling before stuffing the peppers.

Spoon the squash filling into the peppers, smooshing it down into the pepper so you can pack it full of filling. If you have leftover filling, it would be really good in a quesadilla.

Place the stuffed peppers in a baking dish, cover with foil, and bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve with sour cream.

Welcome to...

Every year, the Discovery Channel hosts a week of all shark programming. Really - every single show is about sharks. It is amazing. Well, if you like nature shows where animals eat other animals, that is. So, in the tradition of Shark Week, I bring you Squash Week. It is 98% less deadly than Shark Week. All posts for the next week will be about sharks! I mean, squash.

Step 47: Vogue.

October 5, 2009

Two years ago my husband and I tried to grow tomatoes on the windowsill of our apartment. We bought a cherry tomato plant in late spring and watered it, sang it lullabies, and generally loved it to pieces. Come mid-summer, we saw little blossoms! How exciting! Our baby was having a baby! But then only like three of the blossoms became tomatoes. And a bird ate one. So, after a whole summer of devotion, we had two wee tiny cherry tomatoes. It was so sad. So, I don't garden. Yet. But, if I did, I would plant loads of plum tomato plants to make sauce. It tastes so summery and delicious, and since my recipe can go in the freezer, you can take it out in January and remember that there is a time when the sun shines more that 5 hours a day.

So, as per my usual summer ritual, I bought a giant basket of yellow plum tomatoes. You could totally do this recipe with regular red plum tomatoes. The key is more that they are VERY ripe. There are about a badillion different ways to make sauce, but I think Lidia Bastianich, an Italian grandmother-y type who has a great show on PBS, does a damn fine job of it. Plus she's so thorough with her instructions, if you screw up you only have yourself to blame. This recipe is more or less based on hers.

Summer Tomato Sauce
Makes 3 quarts of sauce

8 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
3 onions, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
5 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
a bunch of basil (about 8-10 sprigs), including stems

Ooh, you think you're ready to cook! Ha! First you have to do the hard part - preparing the tomatoes!

Preparing tomatoes
Set a large pot of water to boil.

Make an ice bath in a large bowl by combining two trays of ice cubes and cold water. Next to that set a colander.

Using a slotted spoon or a spider, set about 8-9 tomatoes in the boiling water for about a minute. Take them out using the spoon or spider, and put them in the ice water to stop the cooking. Once they are cool, put them in the colander to make room for the next batch. Repeat with all of the tomatoes.

Once all your tomatoes are in the colander, prepare two more large bowls. In the first one, set a fine mesh wire strainer.

Working over the bowl with a strainer in it, take one blanched tomato at a time. Remove the skin with either your fingers or the aid of a paring knife. (I think it's easier to just use my paws.) Drop the skin in the strainer. Squeeze the tomato so the juices and seeds fall into the strainer. (You will end up squirting yourself in the eye many times.) Drop the whole tomato into the other bowl. Repeat for 8 pounds worth of tomatoes.

Take a rubber spatula and press the skins and seeds into strainer to extract as much juice as possible. (Sometimes the juice gets stuck up there with all the skins, and you might have to do this partway through the process as well.) Reserve all the juice, and discard the skins and seeds.

Sauce, continued

Okay, back to making sauce.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sturdy dutch oven. Cook the onions until translucent, trying not to let them brown, about 7 minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt. Turn the heat down if it seems like they are cooking too fast.

Clear a little space in the onions, and add the minced garlic and hot pepper flakes directly onto the bottom of the pot. Let them cook for about a minute, then stir into the onions. If things are starting to stick a bit, add a couple of tablespoons of water to loosen things up, scraping the bottom with a rubber spatula.

Add all the tomatoes and juice. Rinse your tomato bowl with about a cup of water, and then toss that into the soup pot too. Add the remaining teaspoon of salt and stir everything together. Put your basil sprigs, stems and all, into pot.

Cover, and let it come to a boil. Turn it down to low (so it is just simmering), and keep it covered, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Your tomatoes should be beginning to break down at this point.

Let the sauce simmer, uncovered, for about an hour, or until it becomes as thick as you like it. Continue to stir occasionally. Once it's gotten to a thickness you're happy with, turn off the heat and pull out the basil sprigs. (You don't have to worry about every little leaf, but no one wants to eat an entire basil stem.) Sometimes I use my handheld blender to make it a little smoother, but that's up to you.

Eat what you want now, and store the rest in the freezer for using mid-winter. Don't try to can this sauce - you have to have the correct pH balance to can tomatoes to make sure you don't get botulism.