Friday, November 19, 2010

soups on: pumpkin soup

Hands down, creamy* pumpkin soup is among my favorite soups.  I prefer my gourd soups to be savory, and haven't gotten as much satisfaction out of a sweeter, apple & squash soup that I do from this recipe (or ones like it.)  Added bonus? this soup is really easy to play around with and use whatever herbs & spices you have on hand.

I have made this with canned pure pumpkin and by roasting pumpkin halves... Gotta say, I default to the canned method.  One of the things I love about this soup is that it's a pantry-staple recipe that can come together in less than 30 minutes.  Introducing a whole pumpkin into the mix ups the cooking time to more like an HOUR and 30 minutes, and doubles the amount of dirty dishes!  But, if you want to roast, see the note at the end of the post & knock yourself out.  Me?  I'll stay lazy and impatient.

...I think I need to make another batch.  SOON.

Smokey Pumpkin Soup
serves a lot (maybe 6-8 servings?)

1 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic
2-3Tbsp butter/margarine
28oz pure pumpkin**
14.5oz diced tomatoes (fire-roasted, preferable)
1c cream (1/2 pint) (can use milk or 1/2 and 1/2)
4c chicken stock
2tsp rosemary
2tsp thyme
2 chipotles + ~1tsp adobo sauce
2tsp smoked paprika (+more for garnish)
nutmeg, cinnamon & cayenne (~1/4tsp or less, to taste)
green onions (for garnish)

1. Melt butter/margarine over medium heat.  Add onions, garlic, chipotles, thyme & rosemary.  Cook until onions are soft and translucent, about 10 min.
2. Add tomatoes and let cook until fragrant, about 2 min.
3. Add pumpkin puree and cook for 5-10min.
4. Add chicken stock and let simmer.  Taste & season.  And throw in smoked paprika, cinnamon, cayenne & nutmeg.  Simmer for as long as you are distracted.  And immersion blender it up!*
5. Add cream.  Taste & season.
6. Serve.  Garnish with cut scallions and a sprinkle of smoked paprika. Maybe some Crusty bread?  A sprinkle of cheese?

a) Take out the smoked paprika,*** cayenne, and chipotles and add: more rosemary & thyme, and a healthy portion of sage to make a true harvest/fall pumpkin soup.  If feeling crazy, replace maybe half the chicken stock with apple juice.
b) Replace chipotles with more cayenne/red pepper flakes for a stronger, earlier heat.
c) Add. Bacon.
d) Add shredded chicken/pork/beef.
e) Add black beans & cumin.

*I kinda prefer a more "rustic" (read: lazy) soup, and don't care that it's not perfectly smooth, so an immersion blender works fine for me.  This step could also be done as part of #3.  If you don't have an immersion blender... get one!  In the meantime, you can blend this in batches in a stand blender.  Also, I would recommend a stand blender & strainer if you want a smoother soup.
**To use a whole pumpkin: cut pumpkin in half and scrap out all seeds and strings.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of any spices/herbs you are planning on using in the soup.  On a foil-lined baking sheet, roast at 375-400F until fork-tender (I'd wager this is around 35-60minutes, flipping the halves halfway through.)  Remove from oven & let cool until you can handle.  Scoop out the flesh & puree in blender or food processor.  Continue recipe as above.  
***BALDERDASH!  Smoked paprika on EVERYTHING!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

from blah-brass to chic chandelier: spray-painting a chandelier

After my re-found love of spray painting, I started searching the house for my next victim... and if I can't spray-paint the dog, I'll have to settle for the dining room chandelier.


I LOVE them!  Love love love.


So, I first found myself in a bit of a pickle: what color do I paint MY chandelier??  I contemplated A yellow/mustard to match the living room?*  Black to match the kitchen appliances?  Dark brown to go with all the furniture/wood? White, because that seems to be the most widely-loved?


In the end, I chose an cream/almond, (aside: they REALLY need to broaden the spray-paint color selection!  Rust-o-leum, please take note.  Thank you.)  I figured brown or black would be too dark.  And yellow... while I would LOVE it, I don't know if I could have found the right shade.  One day, I will have a boldly-colored chandelier... but alas, not today.

Anyways, this change was amazing.  I am absolutely in love with it and couldn't imagine going back to the silly brass!

Here's how:
1) Clean the chandelier thoroughly with windex/409/vinegar (particularly needed when the owners before you never cleaned and your house was left vacant for 6+ months with an open window...**)
2) Scratch up the surface with some sandpaper.
3) Tape off any wires or parts that shouldn't be painted (like the light bulb sockets.. could also stuff these with tissues.)
4) SPRAY PAINT!  Remember: light coats! and many of them! until fully covered!  It's best to start spraying with the nozzle facing the middle of nowhere & then drag across the object, (this prevents puddles of paint.)  I hung my chandelier in a tree out back (very outdoor-party chic!) for even, all-over coverage... especially when pulling the chains/wires away from the fixture.  If you don't have a place to hang yours, I hear putting it in a large box works well... or just lay down some newspaper and go at it!


Upon re-hanging, I saw a small spot I missed- if this happens to you, just spray a lot of the paint into a plastic cup and, using a q-tip/paint brush/foam brush, dab on.

I also bought a fabulous 16" ceiling medallion to really set this puppy off in style!  Whatcha think?  Be kind, tell me you love it.***

The next question is, do I paint a pattern (with a yellow to tie in the living room) on the candle sleeves or leave them as-is??  Oh decisions decisions....

*OOPS!  Haven't shared that update... but that was only because it wasn't really "done" until recently!  I'll do that soon... but for now, you can see a peek in that before shot.
**I'm not bitter.
***I really can't wait to see my dad's reaction... he's a lover of all things traditional and, particularly, of brass light fixtures.

chandelier inspiration images: Apartment Therapy

Monday, November 15, 2010

fall deorations

It seems I have caught the seasonal decorating bug.. can't decide if this is good or bad.  Anyways, while finishing the pumpkins for Halloween, I went a little spray-paint crazy....

We've been over the pumpkins, but as you saw, there were pine cones also getting worked-over...  Why pine cones?  Well, cheap, for one, and "winter-y," for second.  

Let me clarify.  By "cheap," I mean "free."  Seriously, if you are paying for pine cones, then you're doing it wrong.  I collected a few types of cones- come short & fat and other long and flakier.  Variety!  The spice of life!

So, as with the pumpkins, I first did a layer of white paint and followed up with metallic paint.  This requires a couple coats to cover all the ridges and crevices, but the result is awesome.    Also? excluding drying time, this project is done in less than 15 minutes!  I find these spray-painting projects are perfect to do after work or in between bigger tasks on a weekend.  They are fun and full or instant gratification. 

I tossed the gold pine cones in with the pumpkins & gourds from October for a fantastically "Fall" centerpiece.  You like?

Friday, November 5, 2010

soups on: roasted eggplant & tomato soup

In catching up on my Smitten Kitchen, I came across a recipe for Roasted Eggplant Soup.  At first, I wasn't that interested, but read through just for the hell of it... and then started drooling at the picture of the soup before being pureed.  And that's when I knew I had to make it.  Curiosity & drooling got the best of me.

You see, the original recipe is fairly simple: calls for roasting eggplant, tomatoes, onion & garlic.  Simmer in broth and then blend all together to get a smooth, pureed soup.  That has a weird, kinda unpleasant, light brown color to it.  BUT!  I thought all the roasted veggies HAD to be delicious, especially after spicing it up, so I gave it a go.  But I kept the soup in chunky-vegetable form!  Innovative!  Genius!  All of those things, yes... I know.

Before you go any further, can I just apologize for the pictures?  The camera was being funky & I had to resort to the cellular phone.  Sad world.

So, the general idea was to cube the eggplant, chop the onion, and roast.  I skinned 1/2 of the eggplant (thinking I would give a quick immersion-blender to a portion of the soup to thicken it up), but left the rest with the skin to give more structure.  The tomatoes were roasted whole, to preserve the juices, but then cubed once out of the oven.... making sure to get as much of the juices into the soup pot as possible!

And the result?  Amazing.  Totally delicious and soon to be in regular rotation.  I get really excited for vegetarian soups- I feel they are a great way to lighten up but still have a comforting & filling meal.

Roasted Tomato & Eggplant Soup
serves 4

1.5lbs eggplant(s)
1 yellow onion
3 tomatoes
6-8 garlic cloves
4c chicken stock
1/2c heavy cream
1Tbsp fresh thyme
1tsp cumin
1tsp ground coriander
1tsp red pepper flakes (I had to use a "Hot Shot" blend, which was less than ideal)
smoked paprika
chili powder
cheese (feta, goat, a sharp-hard cheese... whatevs!*)

Preheat oven to 400F

1. Peel 1/2 of the total eggplant.  Cube all of the eggplant into 1/2" pieces.  Halve the tomatoes.  Dice (medium) the onion and peel garlic.  Throw all onto baking sheets (keeping vegetables separate), and drizzle with olive oil and salt.  Roast for 40min, but check every 15 or so to make sure they aren't burning (particularly the garlic!)

2. Allow vegetables to cool.  Add chicken broth to a pot, along with thyme and 1/2 the vegetables (make sure to add the skinless 1/2 of eggplant.)  Bring to simmer and give a few rounds with immersion blender.

3. Roughly cube the remaining tomatoes and add, with juices, to the pot.  Add remaining eggplant, garlic and onion, as well.

4. Add heavy cream, cumin, coriander, and red pepper flakes.  Allow to simmer for at least 10 minutes.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle smoked paprika & chili powder, to taste.

5. Serve with cheese sprinkled on top and crusty bread (garlic bread, if you are like me!)

*The recipe called for goat cheese, but recommended feta... I thought I had feta.  I was excited about feta.  I was sadly mistaken.  So we ended up using a sharp Swedish cheese called Prast/Prastost,** which worked fine.  Next time definitely trying goat or feta, though!  
**I am like a kid in a candy store at the Ikea Swedish grocery store, (and no, I do NOT mean the cafeteria)!!!  I love trying the cheeses and jams... and highly recommend all.  In terms of cheeses, Prast/Prastost and Herrgard/Herrgardost are very good, widely appealing cheeses.  If you like sharp cheddar, you'd like these two.  Vasterbotten is also an excellent cheese (the Swedish "Emperor of Cheeses"), and is more like a Parmesean Reggiano with it's sharp, nuttiness. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

happy halloween!

Halloween means two things: Pumpkins & Costumes!  Ok, maybe the third would be Trick-or-Treaters... but I thought it would be creepy to take pictures of other peoples' kids.  So, you only get two.

1) Pumpkins

Both of these suckers were huge, (which, I must say, pleased the trick-or-treaters!)  Mine is the one in the background- I fell for this bumpy & wonderfully imperfect pumpkin that I knew I just HAD to make into a grouchy old man.  Fun.. but next time I get the urge to buy an ugly duckling, it will be just for show... that skin was tough to work with!!

The beau's pumpkin is the bigger one in the front.  He got all fancy with skinning off parts before carving AND did rounded edges.  Attention to detail... 

Love them both!  But... I think a woodland creature has started to snack on them.... maybe time to pitch 'em. Doesn't matter- Already have ideas for next year!

2) Costumes

Clearly, everyone else who goes as Old Hollywood stars are doing it wrong.. you HAVE to dress in black & white if you're gonna do it right!  

This was at the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Rallies (Restore Sanity/Keep Fear Alive).  We received TONS of praise for the sign and the costumes (credit where credit's due: the sign was all the beau's idea... he's a clever one!)  It was really quite wild to get stopped ever 10 steps by a group of people wanting our picture; and made it difficult to make good time!  Anyways, though it was a lot of fun & I greatly enjoyed the transformation... I was super glad to wash it off and be able to freely scratch my chin without a second thought.

Added bit of fun: we were pictured on the Washington Post Blog as part of a vote-for-your-favorite-sign survey from the rally!  Check it out!