Hot, Sticky, Sweet

10 12 2008

Dates have always been a special occasion treat for me.  (I’m talking about food, not my social life, just to clarify.)  When I was a kid, I used to go crazy for the Betty Crocker Date Bar mix, which we could only seem to find around Christmastime.  They were kind of a pain to make, with the crumbly bottom crust always getting stuck in the sticky date puree as you tried to spread it out, but the payoff was well worth it.  Crispy, chewy, and redolent with brown sugar, I could easily have polished off an entire pan of these at one sitting, though I don’t think I ever actually did.  I first tasted a fresh date when I was 25, working in the kitchen of a soon-to-be 5 star restaurant.  (We were using it on a cheese plate with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.)  I was blown away.  It was everything I loved about the date bar – sweet, caramelly, and luscious – without the hassle (or the shame) of the boxed mix.  Fresh dates, however, are difficult to find and can be expensive.  Luckily, I soon realized that dried dates were nearly as good.

Stirring cream into hot caramel for toffee sauce

Given my love of dates, and caramel, it is shocking that I took so long to attempt a sticky toffee pudding.  Traditionally it is a dense pudding-cake loaded with dates and drenched in toffee sauce.  What’s not to love?  But I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I wanted a seasonal variation, something that would sate my annual hunger for pumpkin pie, and that was maybe a tad less sweet (all those dates can make for a toothache-inducing dessert, if you’re not careful).  Since I was pretty sure I’d have more than enough Butternut squash to accompany the scallops, I set aside a little to use in my pudding.

Pour some toffee on me!

When the time came, I whisked the Butternut purée with some brown sugar, egg, vanilla, and melted butter.  I combined flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in another bowl, then mixed the two together.  Chopped dates and a bit of minced crystallized ginger were folded in, and I scooped the batter into my spiffy new silicone dome molds.  In a makeshift water bath consisting of a round ceramic tart dish and a piece of tinfoil, I baked the puddings until they puffed up a bit.  Meanwhile, I made the toffee sauce (see photo above), finishing it off with a wallop of scotch.  “This is a pajama dessert,” I told Nick, so we got ourselves ready for bed while waiting for the puddings to cool.  I served them as soon as they were cool enough to handle, with a full coat of toffee sauce poured over the top.

Pumpkin Sticky Toffee Pudding

Delectably sweet, and oh-so-comforting with the homey flavors of the squash and spices mimicking pumpkin pie even better than I expected.  This is definitely dessert you eat in your pajamas.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Potiron-Piquillo Soup

20 10 2008

Well, Fall is officially upon us.  The guys with the makeshift grills who sell corn on the cob all summer have switched over to chestnuts.  Winter squash are starting to show up in the market, and despite the gorgeous sunshine, there is a distinct nip in the air.  Soup is definitely in order these days.

A light Fall supper

Hope over at Hopie’s Kitchen has been regaling her readers with tales of her awesome organic farm share basket.  If there’s a best time of year to belong to one of these, I think Fall is it.  Anyway, she posted a delicious-looking Butternut Squash and Roasted Red Pepper Soup a little while ago, and I wanted to make it, despite the fact that I am not, in general, a fan of bell peppers.  Upon reflection, I thought, wouldn’t it be good with the sweet smokiness of charred piquillo peppers?

Charring piquillo peppers - it's the fire that makes it good.

Never being one to leave recipes alone, I also decided to use a hunk of potiron (a type of pumpkin with very thick flesh and much more flavor than the kind used to make Jack O’ Lanterns) instead of the butternut squash.  I roasted it in the oven until it was soft, then scooped out the flesh and added it to my already-simmering pot of onions, piquillos, and chicken stock.  I seasoned the soup with salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, and the tiniest hint of cinnamon – just enough to bring out the warm sweetness of the potiron.  After simmering it all for about 10 minutes, I busted out the hand blender.

Ah, the hand blender.  Is there anything it can't do?

Wearing my new favorite T-shirt, I fearlessly buzzed the soup, knowing that the pot was deep enough to contain any splatters that might occur.

Read the rest of this entry »








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