A Diwali Dinner: Curried Squash & Apple Soup and Indian Pancakes

One of my college room-mates celebrated Diwali.  She would get really excited about the holiday and return to our dorm room with some of the best food I have ever eaten.  Her mother and grandmother would spend hours preparing a lavish feast and I was happy to be the recipient of the holiday leftovers.  It sure beat ramen noodles and instant mac-and-cheese, two of my college staples.
Diwali is the festival of lights, and while I'm not Indian or Hindu (or Jain or Sikh), I never pass up an opportunity to celebrate a holiday...even if it isn't mine.  I freakin' love holidays!  How fortunate, then, that I came across Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates: Festive Meals for Holidays and Special Occasions at my local library. 
I decided to try the soup and the Indian pancakes. I really liked the soup and it just screams "hey, it's me, Fall!"  I bought local squash, Jonathan apples (which I must confess, I don't think I have ever eaten before) and local sweet potatoes.  The Indian flavors come through from the cumin and coriander seeds.  I'm wondering if I should add some mild Indian curry powder the next time I make this.  I'll make it a game-time decision.  There's no cream in this soup and I used just one cup of stock (the original recipes uses only water).  Healthy, healthy, healthy.  The spinach, as it is used here, really isn't a garnish.  It's an essential part of the dish and it gives the soup added texture and flavors.  So go for it.  Hey, it's also good for you...
The Indian vegetable pancakes were delicious.  They are very similar to samosas-- spiced smashed potato, red pepper, onion, peas, mustard seeds, cumin and a dash of hot pepper sauce.  Before I put the patties on the skillet, I lightly dusted them with some fresh bread crumbs.  (I used Udi's 'unofficial' bread crumbs from Sunflower Market.  The market grinds down leftover baguettes at the end of the night and turn them into bread crumbs.) 
Diwali is coming up fast, so get cooking!  Happy Holidays!
Curried Squash & Apple Soup (Courtesy of Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates Holidays and Occasions)
Serves 6
2 cups chopped onions
2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
1 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped butternut squash*
2 cups peeled, cored and coarsely chopped apples
2 cups peeled and coarsely chopped sweet potatoes* 
4 cups water
* About 3 pounds of butternut squash and just less than 2 pounds of sweet potatoes will yield the right amount for this recipe.
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
10 ounces fresh spinach or mustard greens, rinsed and chopped

In a large nonreactive soup pot (it needs to be big), sauté the onions in the butter or oil until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.  In a small dry skillet, toast the cumin and coriander seeds on low heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until aromatic and lightly browned.  Cool for a few minutes and grind to a powder (I used a coffee grinder). Add the ground spices, salt, squash, apples, sweet potato, and water to the onions.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes, until all of the ingredients are thoroughly cooked and tender.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, sauté the garlic in the oil for about 1 minute on medium heat, stirring constantly, until soft and just golden. Add the greens and sauté on high heat until the water evaporates and the greens wilt.  Remove from the heat and set aside.
Purée the soup in small batches in a blender until smooth, adding about 1/4 cup of water if the soup is thicker than you'd like.  When ready to serve, gently reheat, ladle into shallow bowls, and top each serving with some of the sautéed greens.
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Second Course
Indian Vegetable Pancakes (Courtesy of Moosewood Cookbook Celebrates)
Yields 12 pancakes
(You can make the pancakes ahead, and then fry just before serving.  Top with plain yogurt.)
4 1/2 cups peeled and cubed potatoes (1-inch cubes)- About 8 medium sized potatoes
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt (I used 2)
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
1 1/2 cups diced red bell peppers
2 cups peeled and grated carrots
3 to 4 drops Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, more to taste (I used 5)
2 cups frozen peas
1 cup bread crumbs
In a large pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil.  Add the potatoes and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until tender. Drain the potatoes and reserve some of the cooking liquid.  Place the potatoes in a large bowl, moisten them with about 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid, and mash them with a potato masher.  Warm 2 tablespoons of oil in a 10-inch skillet on medium heat.  Add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook for about 30 seconds, until the mustard seeds begin to pop.  Add the turmeric, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the onions and continue to sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions are soft.  
Stir in the peppers and carrots and cook for about 5 minutes more, until crisp-tender, adding a splash of water, if needed, to prevent sticking. 
Sprinkle on a few drops of Tabasco sauce; the add the peas and stir for 1 to 2 minutes, until the peas soften.
Transfer the vegetables to the bowl of mashed potatoes and stir in 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs.  Rinse and dry the skillet.  Mix together the vegetables and potatoes and, if necessary, adjust the salt and Tabasco sauce to taste.  Divide the potato mixture to form twelve round patties, each about 3 inches across.  Set aside on a platter.  Sprinkle the remaining bread crumbs on the twelve patties, about 1/2 tablespoon per side.
Meanwhile, warm 3 tablespoons of the oil in the skillet until hot.
Gently slide three patties into the skillet with a wide spatula.  Fry on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until crisp on the bottom.  Carefully lift each one and turn it over, being careful not to splash the oil.  Fry on the second side for 3 to 4 minutes, remove from the skillet, and drain on paper towels.  Add more oil and repeat process until you make twelve pancakes.
Serve immediately or place the pancakes in a heatproof dish and keep them warm in a 300-degree oven until ready to serve. 

Farm Stand Corn & Mushroom Tortilla Salad and the great Rocky Mountains

I came across this recipe while I was browsing food porn, I mean photos, on Pinterest (my latest guilty pleasure). I immediately "pinned it" to one of my boards. Then a few weeks later I found myself at the farmers market where fresh corn and corn tortillas were being sold. Excellent! There were also tons of mushrooms. I bagged about 2 cups of shitake...perfect for this dish.
The recipe is from New York based chef Aliya LeeKong. It is bright and "filled with end of summer flavors" - using fresh farm corn and grape tomatoes. It's very easy to make and incredibly flavorful.  
I've been getting into Mexican-style dishes because Mexican cuisine is a big part of Colorado cooking. There are chiles everywhere, so finding a nice looking jalapeno isn't very difficult. Fresh cilantro and some queso fresco top this little number off. It's the perfect lunch bite.  
Farm Stand Corn & Mushroom Salad (Adapted only slightly from Aliya Lee Kong)
Yields 2 servings
4 corn tortillas (the thinnest you can find)
Butter and olive oil
1 1/2 cup shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
12 grape tomatoes, halved
small handful of cilantro, chopped
farmer’s cheese or queso fresco
salt and freshly ground black pepper
The first step is to make the tortilla “bowls.”  Rather than deep-frying to achieve pliability and moldability, I like to go a bit healthier and just use a skillet with a touch of butter and/or olive oil to get similar results. While doing this, you’re going to use small bowls that fit inside each other to mold the tortillas.  They will not turn out as crisp (and using thinner tortillas will help), but this method makes me feel better about calling this a salad.
Simply heat a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat.  When hot, add the tortilla and flip at intervals until it puffs and browns a bit.  You’ll feel the edges start to get crispy.  At this point, add a ½ tablespoon of butter or olive oil and let coat the tortilla.   Place a small bowl upside down on a cookie sheet.  Remove tortilla carefully and place on top of the overturned bowl.  Take another bowl, overturned, and put it on top.  It should mold the tortilla to the shape of the bowl and hold it in place as it cools.   Repeat for remaining tortillas, and let cool while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Heat the same skillet over medium-high heat, and add another tablespoon of butter with 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil.  When the foam subsides, add the mushrooms and let sit undisturbed in a single layer for about 2 minutes.  You want to develop a nice, golden brown on the mushrooms and bring out the flavor.   Stir the mushrooms and sauté for another minute or two to cook through.  Add salt at the end to taste and, using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl.
Add another tablespoon or two of butter or olive oil to the pan.  Add shallots and jalapeno and a bit of salt to draw out the moisture.  When shallots are translucent (about 3 to 4 minutes), add corn kernels and tomatoes and toss to mix thoroughly.  I like to crank the heat up a bit here to develop a more roasted flavor to the corn, but be careful because the corn can start to pop a bit.  Cook for 5 to 7 minutes until corn is cooked through and tomatoes have puckered a bit.
Remove from the heat, toss back in the mushrooms, season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and add some chopped cilantro, reserving some of the cilantro for garnish.  Spoon mixture into tortilla bowls and dollop farmer’s cheese or queso fresco to your heart’s content.  Garnish with remaining cilantro and serve warm or room temperature.
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Colorado is an exceptionally beautiful place. We are fortunate to live about a two hour drive from Rocky Mountain National Park. I fell in love with our National Parks when my parents took me and my brother on a cross-country road trip. We were 11 and 10, respectively.  It was kind of Ken Burns meets National Lampoons Vacation. It was very memorable!
Since that trip almost, um, 25 years ago (eek!), I've been to Glacier, the obscure and kinda-hard-to-get-to Big Bend National in Texas, Everglades, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Painted Desserts,  Grand Tetons,  Olympic National and Mt. Rainier. For some reason the Rocky Mountains eluded me. Until now.  
I was thrilled when we decided to take an ambitious day trip to the park. For 'normal' people, a 4 hour round-trip expedition wouldn't be such a big deal.  But for us that is something exceptional since we have a 2 year old toddler and an 8 week old in tow. But we did it.    
The fall foliage was incredible. The Aspen trees were beautiful. And the Elk were mating so they were everywhere.  And I do mean EVERYWHERE.  They were on the highway, the golf course, in the park and by the river.  There were females, young calves and giant males with massive antlers. It was quite a show. As my husband and I were watching the herd cross in front of our car, Otis woke up from his afternoon slumber. He thought it was pretty strange to see the animals all over the road. With his eyes bulging he screamed out, "Moose!  Moose!" Close enough. We told him that they were Elk, he thought about it, and then he screamed, "Elk! Elk!" It was priceless. 
Below are a few shots from our outing...
From the car window...

Sweet Home...Colorado: Sweet Corn Chowder

The boxes have (mostly) been unpacked and we decided to hit the ground running. I had an intense desire to check out the food scene here in Denver and I was really excited to try new places and a different cuisine. We got right down to business and ate the ubiquitous smothered breakfast burrito with green chiliIt was delicious- great heat, wonderful flavor. 
I'm lucky because I live in the Highlands neighborhood, right near Burrito Giant. Normally green chili is made with pork and it's hard to find the sauce without any meat product. But Burrito Giant has an out-of-this-world vegetarian chili (which can also be spelled chile- both ways are acceptable.) Theirs is one of one of my favorites so far. 
The weather here in Denver is almost always sunny and you can get really hot when you're standing in the sun. I found that Little Man ice cream is the perfect way to cool down. I also sampled some Liks Ice Cream inside my local bookstore, the Bookery Nook. Not too shabby. 
Alright, so we had great Mexican food, local dairy treats but I needed to be sure I could find Italian provisions and sweets. Coming from Brooklyn I wasn't sure anything could live up to L&B Spumoni or Lioni's. But we checked out the local Italian neighborhood called Wheat Ridge, which is right over the Denver city line-- so not too far if I need fresh mozzarella, tiramisu or a killer tomato sauce. We found an extremely authentic place called Dolce Sicilia Italian Bakery. I'm happy to report that their cannolis were dynamite! 
We also went to one of the local farmers market on Saturday. It was crowded, but there was plenty of space to move around. The market has ready-to-eat food (from trucks and stalls), cheese, crafts and locally produced fruits and vegetables. I saw this really cool food stand and wound up getting a fantastic pinto bean and cheese pupusa to start things off. It was served traditionally, with curtido- a lightly fermented cabbage slaw with red chilies and vinegar, and a watery tomato salsa. Then I got some fresh fruit and one of the best freshly squeezed (organic) lemonades I've had to date. And I drink a ton of fresh lemonade!  
I picked up tons of farm-fresh vegetables including, arugula, beets, tomatoes, potatoes and corn. The corn was sweet as could be and I decided that I wanted to make a chowder. I remembered seeing this recipe (below) and decided to make it. Potatoes, sweet corn, thyme and cream. It's fantastic! Enjoy.

And now for the Sweet Corn Chowder...

Sweet Corn Chowder (Courtesy of Tyler Florence)
2 tablespoons butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups canned vegetable stock
2 cups heavy cream
2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
6 ears corn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme and cook until the vegetables are good and soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Dust the vegetables with flour and stir to coat everything well. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the cream and the potatoes, bring to a boil and boil hard for about 7 minutes, until the potatoes break down (this will help to thicken the soup and give it a good texture).
Cut the corn kernels off the cob (I always cut them into a big bowl) and add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve. Stir in the parsley and give it another little drink of olive oil. 

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And here are a few shots from our first week in Colorado for those of you who are checking in on us from New York City. We took two excursions, one to Red Rocks and one to Garden of the Gods...

Waving Goodbye: Wave Hill, A Scalloped Tomatoes Post and Departures

"Times they are a-changin'..."  
Summer is coming to an end and fall is in the air.  
We are leaving Brooklyn after 7 years and relocating to Colorado (see previous post for more). We have packed up the contents of our apartment and all of our earthly belongings are on a truck heading west. My second son is now 5 1/2 weeks old and the first one is turning 2 later this month. And in addition to motherly duties, I have published 121 posts since I started this blog, one year ago.  
I may not be in the big leagues of the blogging world, but that was never the point. I started this blog as a means of documenting our journey as a family. I also wanted (needed) to have something that was mine (something I could nurture) that didn't involve children. A hobby of sorts. And here it is... 
So let me say thank you to my family and friends who have encouraged me to pursue blogging while I juggle motherhood.
I have appreciated the comments and the emails more than you know. Be well and I'll be back in this little corner of the internet soon- posting from our new home in the city of Denver, in the great state of Colorado.
Here are a few photos I took from our favorite spot in New York City-- Wave Hill--during our last week in our hometown. 
{Wave Hill is where I got married and only a few blocks away from where I grew up. You can find more about the gardens here.}
Wave Hill, September, 2011:

* * *
We no longer live in our Brooklyn apartment, so I'm staying with my parents until my flight to Colorado on Sunday night. Lucky for me my mother is in a CSA this summer (did I inspire her? I'll take some credit here...) and we have great vegetables for the weekend.  There's arugula, golden beets, summer squash, butter lettuce and 6 pounds of tomatoes. We've got a lot of tomatoes.  
I decided to look back at some of the recipes I made around this time last year.  This one, for scalloped tomatoes, was a real hit when I made it last season, so I'm going to make it again.   
This is my repost:
This recipe for Scalloped Tomatoes is fantastic.  It pops with flavor and color. I have made this dish twice and my only caveat is that you should make it on the day you want to serve and eat it. Subjecting the delicate boule bread to a cycle of refrigeration and re-heating makes it a little mushy. Also, the parmesan crust on top of the dish doesn't reheat well. So, make this dish a few hours before you want to consume it and all your guests will rave about how delicious it is! Promise.
SCALLOPED TOMATOES (Adapted from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa)
Serves 6
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 2 cups (1/2-inch diced) bread from a French boule, crusts removed (Remove the crust from the entire loaf before you start slicing) 
  • 2 1/2 pounds of tomatoes, cut 1/2-inch dice 
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup julienned basil leaves, lightly packed
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12 inch) saute pan over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and stir to coat with the oil. Cook over medium to medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the cubes are evenly browned.
Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. When the bread cubes are done, add the tomato mixture and continue to cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil.
Pour the tomato mixture into a shallow (6 to 8 cup) baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan cheese and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly. Serve hot or warm.

Orecchiette with Lentils, Onions and Spinach

I've been feeling pretty emotional about our impending move. We are leaving our family and a wonderful circle of friends. It's going to be tough. And yes, I've shed quite a few tears over the last few days. That said, the time has really come for us to move to a city that is more suitable for our family of 5 (I'm including the elderly Rottweiler in this count).   
For five generations my ancestors have made New York City their home. The original pioneers left Europe and came through Ellis Island well over a century ago. My great-grandparents lived in Manhattan, my grandmother grew up in the tenements on East Broadway (long destroyed) and my grandfather grew up in Harlem.  In the 1940's a good chunk of my mother's family crossed the East River (Harlem River) and settled on the Grand Concourse (fun fact: the concourse has the second largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the United States).  
My parents moved to the Riverdale section of the city in the 1970's and I grew up on a beautiful tree-lined street. I took the 1 and now-defunct 9 train (plus the cross town bus) to high school on the Upper East Side , went to college in the village and most recently spent 7 years in Brooklyn. You can see that there's a lot of history here. Sure, a few family members moved to Los Angeles and Seattle in the 1950's (I think it was) but, for the most part, my people don't move west of the Hudson River...
Now we are picking up, heading west toward the Rockies and replanting ourselves in a new city with the hopes that we will provide an enjoyable childhood for our sons. We don't want to be on wait lists for public schools and we are tired of living in such close (albeit environmentally friendly) quarters. I mean it's time to move around in a space that exceeds 600 square feet.  I marvel that we've been able to function in such a small space for all this time. We don't need a mansion, just a little bit more room. Okay and maybe a yard. And decent schools. Some National Parks. Kayaking and white water rafting? Yes, please.  Maybe snowboarding or winter sports for the kids! 
In general we are looking for a less aggressive existence... because we don't believe that things really have to be so hard.  Fingers crossed!  
Anyway, the reason I mention this is because I need to start using up a lot of odds and ends in my pantry. I have left over French Lentils and Orecchiette, so I used google to figure out what I should make. This is what popped up.  
So, if you're making a big move and  looking to use some left over legumes and pasta this recipe is for you. If you are staying put and just want a dinner, I think this does the trick too. 
Bon Appetite! We will miss you (and you know who you are) so, so, so much. 
{In addition to my pantry items (lentils and pasta), I used a combination of fresh and organic frozen spinach and CSA onions and garlic.} 

Orecchiette with Lentils, Onions and Spinach (Courtesy of Gourmet Magazine by way of Epicurious.com)
Serves 6
1/3 cup olive oil
3 large onions (2 pounds total), thinly sliced (7 cups) 
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1 cup French green lentils
1 pound orecchiette, fusilli, or penne
2 (5-ounce) bags baby spinach
1 1/2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then stir in onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Reduce heat to moderately low and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until onions are very tender and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Discard bay leaf.
While onions cook, cover lentils with water by 1 inch in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan and boil over moderate heat, covered, until lentils are just tender and most of water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and let stand, covered, until ready to use.
Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander and return pasta to pot.
Add onions, lentils, and spinach to pasta, then toss with just enough reserved cooking water to wilt spinach and moisten pasta.  Add cheese and salt and pepper to taste, tossing to combine.

Post Script: Follow-up on this dish: I had to add quite a bit more salt and pepper once everything was mixed. I also think that the lentils should have been rinsed before being added to the pasta. This recipe should be 'really good' and I thought it was just 'good.' Maybe some stock would help. I'm open to suggestions as I'd like to make this again. I like the combination of greens, beans and pasta-- this dish just needs a little kick. Maybe some red pepper flakes? That said, I wanted to post this pasta anyway.   I made it and so I feel like it should be documented. With a little tweaking I think it could be excellent. Happy cooking!