Lemon Cake

For many juvenile Southerners, like young and tender me, lemon lives in the libation section of the memory because it of its inextricable association with tall and frosty vessels of our beloved iced tea.  And though a bright yellow wedge of citrus perched happily on the edge of a glass signals sweet refreshment for some, it is a vision that makes my tongue curl in abject terror.

You see, while my child hood was, largely, a sweet time that was filled with culinary delights provided by my Mamaws,

Getting Ready to Mix

Getting Ready to Mix

including one, Mamaw Ethel, who was not only a fine cook but also a master baker, it was also a time of certain frugalities.  Though Mamaw Ethel would splurge on any number of cake ingredients, for her nearly constant companion, a giant jar of iced tea, she was content to spike her beverage with a healthy dollop of commercially concentrated lemon juice from a pale green bottle that lived in the door of her fridge.

Perhaps you can see the appeal?  When compared to the cost of real lemons, this was a bargain of nearly incomparable magnitude.

But to poor, lil’ ole me who was accustomed to liking so many of the things at Mamaw’s table, the accidental and inevitable and always shocking swallow of her overly faux-lemoned tea was ruinous to my normally sweet complexion.

And thus it has ever been.  To this day, good southern folk smile indulgently at the village idiot who orders “Iced tea, no fruit.”

And after all those years of suffering through the vile torture of sweet natured folks who just couldn’t  believe that anybody would want tea without lemon,  it has taken a long time for me to see the lemon as a friend.

Ready to Eat

Ready to Eat

But I am not alone.  Little did I know that I was experiencing literally some of the most potent figurative aspects of this particular citrus.  For in painting and in other matters artistic, the lemon may represent bitterness or wealth.  The lemon’s pith, as I imagine you know, is a tongue bending taste – all on its own it’s fiercely bitter to my mouth – which, according to various voices on the inter-webs, is what you’re supposed to understand should you see a peeled lemon in a painting.  It’s certainly what I see when I recall Mamaw’s free-flowing lemon in a jar.

Likewise, like black pepper and other spices, lemon once was a hard to get and expensive provision.  If there was a lemon on your table, your neighbors might shake their head and cluck, “You can’t hide money…”

I don’t think Mamaw worried what the neighbors thought – I suspect she was just keeping her pennies for better uses: she did make a luxurious Coconut Cream Cake at a time with when coconut was much dearer in rural East Tennessee than it is now.

At any rate, I avoided lemon bars, slandered lemon ice-box pie, and nearly gagged at the thought of lemon cake for years.  But it was, in fact, a well glazed lemon pound cake that changed my mind and my sweet life forever.

Of course, I didn’t know there was lemon lurking in every bite of that beautiful cake – it was the first pound cake that ever I saw crowned with a layer of nearly sculpted white glaze.  It was perfect, and it was love at first sight; and even after the first bite, infused though it was with lemon, lemon, lemon, I was enthralled like Romeo (but without similar consequences).

The bright and happy sweetness of fresh lemon well blended with sugar and flour was so delightful, I even wanted to kiss the little bit of zest I found lying in wait in each mouthful.  I did not eat this cake delicately, nor did I eat slowly or modestly with good sense.  I ate my second slice with the same ravenous mouth that bolted down the first.  I am not ashamed.  I had years of eating to make up for.

Thus, with all due respect to Mamaw, it pleases me more than I want to admit that Mahasti has opted to share this particular Flour Head recipe.  It is, methinks, the lemon loaf that greets the soul at paradise.  It’s moist enough as it is with a generous cloud of sour cream, but once you add the lemon syrup and seal it with a kiss, er, that is, a smooth layer of lemon glaze, you may feel compelled to sing and, perhaps, quote Shakespeare.

Flour Head Bakery’s Lemon Loaf with Fresh Berries

For the Cake:

Even Better with Berries

Even Better with Berries

4 large eggs

1 1/3 cup Sour Cream

1 1/3 cup Granulated Sugar

2/3 cup oil

3 TBL Lemon Zest

2 TBL Lemon Juice

2 c All Purpose Flour

2 2/3 tsp Baking Powder

2/3 tsp Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour a 9x 5 loaf pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, sour cream, sugar and oil. Add lemon Zest and Lemon Juice. In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and whisk just until combined. Some lumps will be left; don’t overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Drop the oven temperature to 325 and bake another 35 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

While the cake is baking prepare the lemon syrup and lemon glaze.

Lemon Syrup:

2 TBL Lemon Juice

3 TBL Confectioner’s sugar

After you remove the cake from the oven, and while it is still hot and in the pan, spoon the lemon syrup over the top of the cake. Allow cake to cool in the pan for 30 minutes to an hour. Remove the cake from the pan, onto a cooling rack or plate.

Lemon Glaze:

1 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

3 TBL Lemon Juice

1 TBL Lemon Zest

Carefully pour the glaze over the entire length of the cake, and smooth it out with the back of a spoon, covering the top.

Slice and serve with fresh berries.

Peanut Butter Sandwich Day

Open faced and ready to eat

Open faced and ready to eat

As a younger person, I never grasped the concept of comfort food. For me, food fell into only two categories – things I liked and things I didn’t.  And the categorization was complicated – one might assume that peanut butter was in one category or another, but it wasn’t.  A piece of bread, spread thick with the smooth and creamy nut butter was something likeable unless it was it was folded in half (or topped with more bread), in which case I didn’t like it. No, not one bit.

I can still remember my poor father’s baffled expression when I wouldn’t eat the snack that only moments before I had noisily craved.  What he didn’t understand was that there was a vast difference between a peanut butter sandwich and what I called a peanut butter top. And so, when he enacted the dreadful fold, the craving died and the luster was off the nut – as I’m certain he thought I was off my nut, too.

I couldn’t explain it.  It just was – might as well ask me why I have a big toe.  I just do.

As a grown person, I don’t have that particular obsession anymore, well, not in the same degree.  Nowadays, peanut butter sandwiches have zero appeal without jelly, but I retain an admittedly strange obsession with canapes and other foods served open-faced.  And there is nothing that catches my heart, appetite, and eye quite like an open faced cookie.  For it was the thumbprint cookie that revealed not only why I turned my countenance from Daddy’s sandwich but also transformed my inexplicable obsession into explicable reason.

At least to my mind.

My mother was fond of sandwich cookies – Vienna fingers or vanilla creams were a constant and welcome presence in the pantry.  But there was one day, a glorious and epiphanous day, when some kind and generous soul gifted mother with a bag of Pepperidge Farm Strawberry thumbprint cookies.

Almost Finished

Almost Finished

Oh joyous day – every obsessive nerve in my little body quivered – here was the peanut butter top of cookies, and it had jam.  JAM!  But most importantly it was then that I knew! I knew why the peanut butter top was essential, and the peanut butter sandwich was vile.  It was at the first moment of biting that cookie when I understood that the open face always smelled better and! And! AND! the impression of the first bite was not dominated by the bread or the cookie but was shared equally with the always magnificent, always delightful filling!

First impressions DO matter.

More important than my own epiphany, now my poor father would feel the sting of my refusal less keenly!  He would understand, as I understood, that my rejection of the sandwich was a textural and olfactive thing and not some oedipal grudge.  And he would no longer think that I was off my nut.

Alas, fathers, like children, I suppose, don’t always act like we want them to do– even 45 years later my dad remains uncertain about my sanity.  But I know – and that’s enough.

And while my affection for peanut butter has changed significantly, there are two things that have become essential truth in my eating life: One is that peanut butter is always better with jelly; the other, good food with good open faced presentation is the road to Nirvana. And thumbprint cookies are the fast lane.

Sunday, April 2nd is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day.  You may celebrate with a sandwich if you must, or you can really put the hammer down by making Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprint Cookies.  Mahasti has provided a recipe below – and will show you how easy it is to celebrate in open-faced style on WBIR’s Weekend Today.

And while baking these cookies and celebrating food holidays may only affirm your family’s worry that you’re off your nut, they’ll be grateful that you’re tasteful about it.

Flour Head Bakery’s Peanut Butter and Jelly thumbprint cookies

Ground Peanuts:

The batter ready for scooping

The batter ready for scooping

½ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts ground fine

1/3 cup granulated sugar

Place peanuts in the bowl of a food processor and grind until fine.  Place peanuts in a bowl, add sugar and set aside.

For the cookie:

½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature

¾ cup creamy peanut butter

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

2 Tablespoons whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

Rolling along.

Rolling along.

Place butter in bowl of stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment.  Add sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add egg and mix until well combined.  Add vanilla and milk and mix well.  In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until all the flour is mixed in.  Place the cookie dough in the refrigerator for an hour.  Remove the dough and scoop into balls.  Roll the dough balls in the ground peanut mixture and place 1.5 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for 12 minutes.  Remove from oven, allow the cookies to cool for 1 minute, then gently press your thumb in the middle.  Spoon a small amount of your favorite jam in the imprint and serve.

Makes 20 – 24 1 inch cookies.

 

Tomato Head’s Red Lentil and Bulgur Soup

Bulgur.

I hate to admit it, but there’s something about that word that puts me off.  Maybe it’s because it sounds like vulgar or because in the years before my food awakening I had no idea what it was and just assumed that I’d hate it.  It’s safer if you don’t try things, right?

Of course, that, as they say, is bull…

And in the case of bulger, that would be exceptional bull.

You may have had this cooked and cracked bit of wheat grain if you’ve had tabbouleh. Bulgur has played major role in Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries, and it is a bona fide ancient grain with 4000 year old ties to the Hittites, Hebrews and the Babylonians to boot.

Bulgur is wheat that gets a partial cooking before it’s dried and cracked.  The grain has a nutty flavor and a substantial

Bulgur and Red Lentils

Bulgur and Red Lentils

and chewy texture that’s a very satisfying by itself, in salads, and, as in our recipe today, in soup, too.

Bulgur comes packing a bunch of good things.  A cup of cooked bulgur has about 150 calories, is loaded with 8 grams of fiber, 5 and a half grams of protein, almost 10% of an adult woman’s recommended iron intake (and ~22% of men’s), and a healthy dose of thiamin, niacin, folate and vitamin B-6.  All that and it can taste good too.

Bulgur works well with lots of seasonings and matches well with various foods, but today we’re pairing it with its long time nutritional partner in crime, the amazing lentil.  Those of us with certain Sunday School backgrounds may remember the infamous bowl of lentils that Jacob used to acquire Esau’s birthright – like bulgur, lentils have an ancient pedigree: the legume was cultivated along the banks of the Euphrates some 4 millennia ago and remain an important part of that region’s diet.

If you combine these two foods you have a whopping bunch of fiber, protein, and vitamins; if you combine them in our soup recipe, you’ll be less concerned about how healthy your food is than with how well you’re eating.  Mahasti combines cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, and turmeric in this soup which echo the flavor of the history that these two ancient staples share.  More importantly, the spice blend creates a fragrant aroma and deceptively rich taste.  Both lentils and bulgur bring a lot of texture to the pot, so it’s a hearty mouthful of satisfaction that tastes as good as it smells.

 

Tomato Head’s Red Lentil and Bulgur Soup

The Finished Soup

The Finished Soup

½  onion, chopped

½ cup oil

1 Tbl Chopped Garlic

3/4 cups Red Lentils

3/4 cups Bulgur Wheat

7 cups water

3 cups Tomato Juice

1/4 cup Fresh Lemon Juice

1/4 cup tomato paste

1.5 TBL Turmeric, ground

1 tsp Cayenne pepper

2 tsp  Cumin, ground

1/4 tsp Cracked Black Pepper

½ tsp Cinnamon

1 TBL Salt

1.5  TBL Sugar

 

for Garnish:

Chopped Mint

Chopped Cucumber

 

Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat.  Add onion and Garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes.  Add red lentils, bulgur, water, tomato juice, lemon juice, tomato paste and spices.  Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 -40 minutes until lentils are soft.

Serve topped with chopped mint, and chopped cucumber.

Tomato Head’s Chile Rellenos Casserole

Casserole is a magic word.

It’s also a word with an excellent genealogy.  Its immediate roots are from the French language and a word for sauce pan, which seems reasonable enough, especially when you consider that we use the word for both the cooking vessel and the food within it.

But if you trace further you’ll find that the word relates to the Latin word for bowl, and the ancient Greek “kyathion” which is like a pet name for the “dipper for the wine bowl.”  So, if you ponder it, the word casserole both begins and ends with sharing.

Casserole has a long tradition of spreading the wealth – for those of us who grew up in the rural South, a church social often meant long tables laden with oblong and deep serving vessels full of tuna bake, hamburger pie, scalloped potatoes with ham, and any number of dishes full of creamy chicken concoctions or green beans dressed with fried onions and cream of mushroom soup.

For me, those are the bright memories of an otherwise difficult relationship with the little fundamentalist church that dominated so many of my greener days.  But for every recollection of that experience that troubles me, there’s also the image of my Mamaw Ethel and every other good cook who would fill the tables of a church supper with food.  Mamaw and her cohorts always brought extra to those gatherings – even if their own pantries were thin, it was essential that the church supper was a feast.  Never a matter of pride, they believed in having more than enough to share.

And if you were a visitor caught unawares by the feast, or perhaps a poorer member who couldn’t contribute much or anything to the table, then those sweet ladies would practically manhandle you to the front of line.  For them, the only sin on that day was if anyone went away hungry, and the only message to preach was to share and share alike.

And sharing, as you may know, is a particularly potent form of magic: it has the power to create friends and banish loneliness; it warms the heart and comforts the sad; and for traditions and thinkers as diverse as Lao Tzu and St. Francis, sharing is the key to happiness as well as the root of goodness.

It may seem a little too much to expect from the humble casserole.  Cynics may see only that casseroles are convenient, easy ways to feed a crowd.  But as far as I can tell, if you’re even thinking about feeding a crowd, then you’re on the track.

Even so, casseroles don’t have to be open and dump a can conveniences or concoctions of dubious merit – and they shouldn’t be.  As you can see below in Mahasti’s recipe, a well-considered casserole not only shares lots of food, it shares lots of flavor.  In this case, the excellent taste of Chile Rellenos is deconstructed into layers that are simple to assemble without sacrificing the savory joy of the original dish.

Perhaps you’ll tune into WBIR tomorrow morning for Weekend Today – Mahasti will be live showing you how easy it is to make magic and share the love.

Tomato Head’s Chile Rellenos Casserole

3 Poblano Peppers

Rinse Peppers and place on a cookie sheet under the broiler. Turn peppers until charred on all side.

Remove the peppers from the oven, place in a covered container and allow to cool. When peppers are cool enough to handle, with gloved hands, peel and de-seed peppers. Dice Peppers and set aside.

After Broiling, Turn your oven to 425 degrees.

 

½ cup Masa Harina

¾ cups Whole MIlk

Mix Masa Harina into milk and set aside.

 

¼ cup Vegetable Oil

1 cup Onion, Diced

1 lb ground Pork or Beef

½ jar Frontera Ancho Adobo

1- 28 oz can Fire Roasted Diced Tomato (puree ½ of the can in the blender – leave the other half diced)

2 tsp ground Cumin

2 tsp Salt

½ – 1 tsp Cayenne Pepper

½ tsp paprika

2 tsp Sugar

½ cup Cilantro, chopped

2 cups Shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until fragrant. Add ground meat, sautéing to break up lumps until meat is cooked through. Add Adobo, and sauté until meat is coated with sauce. Add remaining ingredients, as well as chopped poblanos and cook on low for 10 minutes.

Pour meat mixture into an 8×11 baking dish and top with 2 cups of shredded cheese.

2 egg whites

1 tsp salt

½ tsp Cracked Black Pepper

In a stand mixer with a whip attachment or with a hand mixer, beat egg whites until stiff peaks. Gently fold Masa mixture, salt and pepper into egg whites.

Pour egg mixture over cheese layer and gently spread out to cover entire surface of baking dish. Place the casserole in oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool on wire rack for 10 – 15 minutes. Serve with sour cream, chopped onion, chopped cilantro, sliced jalapenos, corn tortillas and or corn chips.

Serves 4-6 people.

Chicken Enchiladas

I’m ashamed, sometimes, to admit the truth of my personal history with the enchilada.  There are two chapters in that story, neither is particularly impressive for culinary authenticity, and I’m not sure which came first: One chapter is set in a Taco Bell; the other, in Velveeta.

If you’re an eater of a certain age who dabbled in fast food in the errant days of youth, you may recall an entrée called the Enchirito.  I remember it because I ate it. A lot.  Served in an oval cardboard bowl, it was a corn tortilla folded around beans, ground beef, a sprinkle of onion, then smothered in red sauce, and capped with dollop of sour cream and a sliced black olive.  And it was heaven.  I’m not sure what it was about this particular assemblage that set my little taste buds a-tingle, but I craved it.  And it was a treat, too, because this was back in the day when Taco Bell was a pricey proposition – long before the dollar menu was a twinkle in some CEO’s eye.

The second chapter happened at home when Mom and Aunt Ellner discovered large flour tortillas that they could stuff

Pre-rolling

Pre-rolling

with ground beef and fat slabs of processed cheese.  You could roll those babies up early in the day and just leave them to hang out and chill until the extended family finally made it to the party.   A quick dollop of sauce and a few minutes in a hot oven, and insto-presto, there was a delicious and exotic feast for everyone.  And ooey, gooey sorta cheesy they were – which is to say, delightful, and, therefore, a big hit at family hoedowns.

But my family wasn’t unique in that regard; enchiladas have long been popular in the average American home.  In fact, the first printed mention of an enchilada in the states showed up in a church cookbook from the Heartland itself.  The “Centennial Buckeye Cookbook” was first published in 1876 by the good ladies of the First Congregational Church of Marysville, Ohio to help raise money for a parsonage.

And that recipe (contributed by the honorable Anson Safford, Governer of Arizona) like Aunt Ellner’s recipe, and Taco Bell’s too, was true to the concept of the enchilada as formulated by the Aztecs.  An authentic enchilada isn’t difficult to achieve as the essential element is that there is a tortilla in a chile sauce.

Beautiful to see and to eat

Beautiful to see and to eat

Sadly, Aunt Ellner got the tortilla wrong – authenticity demands corn – but we’ll cut her some slack ‘cause we like her and her cooking, too. Besides, I imagine that you can use whatever tortilla suits you without upsetting anybody – especially after the first bite.   And it’s unlikely that the ole Aztecs loaded up their tortilla with bright yellow, melty cheese, but I dunno -I never asked them.

What remains really right and important about the enchilada is that it’s easy to assemble ahead of time, it’s delicious and, if you’re a sharing kind of person, it’s pretty impressive, if simple party fare, too.

That’s especially true of the Tomato Head’s super simple and mighty tasty version.  If you’re up early – you can catch Mahasti making the treat live on WBIR’s weekend today – if not well, we’ll put a link right here so you can check whenever you’re ready to cook.

 

 

Tomato Head’s Chicken Enchilada

 

For the Chicken:

1 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast

1/3 cup Oil

½ large Onion, largely diced

8 cups of Water

1 Tbl Salt

To Assemble the Enchiladas:

2 -8 oz packages Frontera Enchilada Sauce

8 – Corn or small Flour Tortillas

½ lb Shredded Monterey Jack Cheese

Sour Cream

Chopped onion

Cilantro

Heat the oil, in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add chicken breast, water and salt. Increase heat to high, when water starts to boil, reduce heat to low and allow chicken to simmer for 20 minutes until done.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the chicken from the broth; let the chicken cool until it is cool enough to handle. Shred the chicken by pulling it apart. Set aside.

Pour 1/3 of the packet of enchilada sauce into the bottom of an 8 X 11 baking dish. Arrange 3 or 4 corn tortillas on your work surface. Place approximately ¼ – 1/3 cup chicken on each tortilla followed by ¼ cup of shredded cheese. Roll the tortillas up to form cylinders. Place the tortillas seam side down. Repeat the process until all the tortillas have been filled and place in the baking dish.

Pour the remaining sauce over the rolled tortillas, making sure they are covered entirely. Sprinkle any remaining cheese on top of the sauce. Bake the enchiladas for 20 minutes – or until the cheese melts and the sauce is starting to bubble.

Remove the dish from the oven. Serve with Sour Cream, cilantro and chopped onion.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Roasted Pumpkin and Poblano Pepper Soup

 

img_1518

Fall Goodness

It’s about that time, you know, when the Great Pumpkin descends and showers candy and other goodies upon cute little ghouls, goblins, superheroes, a handful of witches and miniaturized versions of the walking dead.  And there are larger folks, sometimes also dressed in strange attire roaming about, too, herding the little bands of the costumed from treat to treat.  A few of these Halloween shepherds are happy to snag whatever funky candy that the kids won’t eat, and yet, sad but true, some of us aged ghouls are a little too sweet already.

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to make a diet of Skittles and chocolate bars, but most colorfully wrapped candy leaves much to be desired for my appetite.  Of course, if you’ve got a fat cupcake or hefty wedge of peanut butter pie, that works, but, truth be told, the older I get, the more I crave the warm and savory when little spirits are indulging in a sugar rush.

So, when Mahasti was planning her visit to WBIR this morning, I was thrilled that we would be learning about a savory seasonal something that’s super suitable for sharing with big hobgoblins who might knock on your door looking for a less sugary Halloween treat: Pumpkin Soup.

For those of you who have reached your Pumpkin Spice threshold for the year, please don’t give up on us yet – this pumpkin spice will re-fire your engines and heat your endorphins into full steam.  Tomato Head’s Roasted Pumpkin and Poblano Pepper Soup features a heart and head warming blend of spices with a calming and comforting dollop of heavy cream to create a treat that will revive and refresh even the most dead-on-her-feet zombie.

Mahasti’s recipe includes both Poblano and habanero pepper along with a touch of ginger.  Poblanos, of course, are only mildly spicy but have a rich and warming, almost earthy flavor that’s a fantastic match to pumpkin’s also slightly earthy but buttery and mildly sweet flavor.  Habanero lends some heat but, better yet, it contributes a bright personality that, with the ginger, gives an extra tingle to each mouthful of this potage.

It’s a creamy comfort that gets a fun crunch from the addition of toasted pumpkin seeds, which, IMHO, is one of the great under-sung heroes in the pantheon of snacks.

What’s particularly nice about most creamy pumpkin soup is that it’s great warm, at room temperature and cool, too – so despite the warm Halloween that we’re expecting, this soup can easily match your mood and the forecast, too.  And because it’s pureed to a silky smooth texture, it’s easy to serve a dollop in a cup for a quick snack or an on the go goody for shepherds of the fast moving and ambitious trick or treaters – after all, Halloween comes but once a year and when the Great Pumpkin finally arrives – best grab it while the getting’s good.

You can see how easy this recipe is to put together by checking out Mahasti’s appearance on WBIR’s Weekend Today at this link:  http://www.wbir.com/life/food/soups/tomato-head-pumpkin-and-poblano-soup/344125793

 

Tomato Head’s Roasted Pumpkin and Poblano Pepper Soup

 

¼ cup oil

1 cup onion, diced

1 inch piece of ginger, peeled, chopped

¼ Habanero pepper

1 medium size Poblano pepper, roasted, seeded and peeled

2 cups Roasted Pumpkin

1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

1 tsp salt

2.5 cups water

1 cup heavy cream

In a medium pot, over medium heat, sauté the onion in oil until translucent. Add ginger, habanero, peeled poblano, roasted pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, salt, and water. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and cook for 10- 15 minutes until ginger is soft. Puree the soup with an immersion blender **. Add the heavy cream and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Serve topped with toasted pumpkin seeds.

4-6 people

** Do not blend hot soup in a traditional blender; allow soup to cool and then puree the mixture. Return the mixture to the pot and bring to a boil, then add heavy cream and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes longer.

 

Pumpkin Spice Champurrado

Despite my inclination to poke a little fun at the growing pumpkin spice craze, it’s actually one of the coolest food and beverage trends to come along in a great while.  In fact, anything we do to give pumpkin a lift is really a kind of All-American celebration, because the great orange squash is one of those great All-American foodstuffs that predates Amerigo Vespucci (America’s namesake) by about 5000 years.

When I was knee-high to a gourd, we read about Native agriculture in the form of the 3-Sisters, corns, beans, and squash, which were cultivated together because of their symbiotic relationship: corn gives the beans a natural pole to grow on; squash has wide foliage that help product corn’s shallow root system; and beans add nitrogen to the soil which helps everybody grow.

Squash, and pumpkin in particular, have deep roots in this continent – in fact, it may have surfaced right here, close to home, in the land that provides us with a lot of culinary inspiration: Mexico.

Archeologists opine that the Oaxaca Highlands (which, roughly speaking, is on the Pacific side of Mexico opposite Veracruz) were among the first places where pumpkin was cultivated – some 7500 years ago.  The squash was grown for food, of course, but also for medicine, for storage (you can make nifty bowls from pumpkin hulls!), perhaps even for use of its fibrous strands for making mats.  Of course we still prefer eating pumpkin to any other use – though Jack-O-Lanterns are awfully nifty, too.

Recently, as you all know, folk have also taken a lot of interest in drinking pumpkin – or at least the flavor of pumpkin or just the spices that often go with it (we vociferated about that in a previous blog post).  Despite the quibbles we’ve already expressed about the craze, we remain committed to the idea of giving pumpkin its due.  And since we owe this wonderful cucurbit to our friends to the south, this week Mahasti showed us all how to celebrate both pumpkin itself and its ancient home all at the same time.

Mexico, of course, is the font of innumerable good things to eat and drink, but when autumn hits the air, we’re pretty sure that champurrado is the best thing from our neighbor since corn tortillas.

Champurrado is a thick, rich drink, originally made with chocolate – it’s like hot chocolate, but thicker, richer and much more fortifying.  It’s almost breakfast itself because it starts with masa harina – dried corn meal – that’s cooked with a little water and combined with chocolate.

Mahasti’s current version, though, doesn’t use chocolate – instead, she uses fresh roasted pumpkin (and plenty of pumpkin spice, too!) blended with milk.

The flavor and texture of this drink are luxurious, and, fair warning, may make your favorite latte seem a little wimpy in comparison.  And it’s very easy to make at home – plus, if you’ve never roasted a pumpkin in your own kitchen, this is the perfect chance to get some practice in for pie making season and add a great fall drink to your repertoire, too.  You may even throw in a little food history and heritage to your smaller helpers.

We have the recipe here below, but you can watch it happen the way Mahasti does it (with a couple fun tips, too) on WBIR by following this link:

http://www.wbir.com/life/food/recipes/pumpkin-spice-champurrado/336348500

Tomato Head’s Pumpkin Spice Champurrado

1 Tbl Masa Harina

1.25 cup cold water

pinch of salt

1 cup milk

½ cup fresh pumpkin, cooked and peeled

1.5 Tbl sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp Clove

1/8 tsp nutmeg

3/4 tsp ginger

Cut pumpkin in half, remove seeds and place cut side down in a baking dish with 1 inch of water. Bake oven in a 400 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes or until you can insert a fork into the pumpkin easily. Remove from oven, flip the pumpkins over. When the pumpkins are cool, scoop out the flesh and discard the skin. Store extra pumpkin your refrigerator for another use.

In a medium sauce pan whisk together the Masa Harina with cold water and pinch of salt. Heat the mixture over medium heat stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a blender, blend the fresh pumpkin with the milk. Add the milk mixture and the remaining ingredients to the pot, whisking constantly until milk heats up and mixture thickens and foams a little.

Serve Hot.

Watermelon Salsa

The passing of summer always makes me sad – not for the end of sultry days and blinding sun, of course, but for the end of market days and backyard harvests, of warm tomatoes and sweet corn.  Even so, I am made equally happy for the first sweet smell of autumn when I find it in the air of some cool September morn carting the promise of cooler days and warm cider.  But September is a teasing month, and those wafts of fall give way to still sultry, sunny afternoons that surprise me like a sudden slap.

It’s the contrast of these transitional days that make me think of Pablo Neruda.

If you don’t know Neruda’s poetry, it’s worth a trip to the library, particularly if you’re a food lover.  Neruda, a Chilean poet and the winner of the Nobel Prize in 1971, wrote a wide variety of verse including some fabulous odes to food.  My college roommate introduced me to the haunting Ode to Salt and, my favorite of all, the joyous Ode to Watermelon:

the throat
becomes thirsty,
the teeth,
the lips, the tongue:
we want to drink
waterfalls,
the dark blue night,
the South Pole,
and then
the coolest of all
the planets crosses
the sky,
the round, magnificent,
star-filled watermelon.

It’s the promise of autumnal breezes juxtaposed with the last cruel rays of sun that make me thirsty above all things and bring to mind my favorite line of the ode, “we want to drink/ waterfalls”.  And so I go in search of the melon, clinging to the sweet spot of the sunny season even as I grasp the joys of transition to the days of football fields and the first taste of fall flavors.

It’s an awfully romantic way to describe a food obsession, I grant you, but that’s just how I roll.

But that transition, particularly in terms of flavors isn’t always jarring – in fact, it’s harmonious in our kitchen.  That’s because when our thoughts run to tailgating we find that watermelon sneaks into many of our considerations of game-day nosh.  And one of the best ways to assuage all the feels that fill our hungry heart is to incorporate melon into dishes.  It keeps the flavor in our minds and mouths and makes for some pretty clever eating, too.

Ready to Eat

Consider the case of Watermelon Salsa.  At first, you’re thinking of the spice and heat and how odd that might seem with our beloved sweet fruit, or perhaps you know about the secret and sacred flavor connection between tomato and watermelon – if you do, you know that this salsa makes perfect sense.  The tomato at its finest is also a sweet treat, full of the same waterfalls that our friend Pablo imagined.  So it’s never hard for us to imagine a dish of salsa with watermelon in it – somedays, it’s hard to imagine salsa without it.

For any doubter’s out there, we’ll show you how it works right on your own TV – if you’ll tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today, on Saturday morning, Mahasti will be making Watermelon Salsa just in time for when football time in Tennessee really heats up.

Try it, you’ll like it – even more so if you’re reading aloud a bit of poetry – like you do before college football games, right?  Or perhaps not – but you’ll be feeling it – maybe even just a bit like this….

Jewel box of water, phlegmatic
queen
of the fruitshops,
warehouse
of profundity, moon
on earth!
You are pure,
rubies fall apart
in your abundance,
and we
want
to bite into you,
to bury our
face
in you, and
our hair, and
the soul!

Thanks, Pablo – we feel you!

The ingredients

The ingredients coming together

Tomato Head’s Watermelon Salsa

8 cups watermelon, diced

1/3 cup cilantro, chopped

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 large  jalapeno, diced about 2 Tbls

1 tsp salt

2 Tbl fresh lime juice

Cut Watermelon in half, then cut into 1 inch segments.  Lay each segment on cutting board and carve out the flesh.  Cut the watermelon into ¼ inch cubes and place in a medium mixing bowl.  Add chopped cilantro, diced onion and jalapeno along with salt and lime juice.  Mix everything together with a large spoon until all the ingredients are distributed evenly.

Serve as a dip with Tortilla chips.  Also makes a great salsa for topping your favorite fish tacos or black bean nachos.

Fattoush

Unlike hummus, baklava or even falafel, fattoush is a word that hasn’t quite made it into the common food vocabulary.  Like the other foods mentioned, fattoush is an important dish in the cuisine of Levant – a broad and imprecise area that includes much of the eastern Mediterranean.  The word Levant doesn’t get used so much anymore in English – apparently the French still like it, though I didn’t actually ask them – and, according to an article on PRI.org, “It literally means “the rising,” referring to the land where the sun rises. If you’re in France, in the western Mediterranean, that would make sense as a way to describe the eastern Mediterranean.”

And all of that makes perfect sense if you’ve ever eaten fattoush; it’s a simple, summery feast of color, flavor and texture that brings a lot of the rising sun into each bite.

Fattoush is part of a larger group of dishes, like panzanella, that are basically bread salads, all born of frugal food sense and a no-waste kitchen economy.  These dishes stretch the dough, literally and figuratively, to make stale bread not only useful but delicious.  The secret starts in the toasting, of course, but what happens after is the real magic – the kind that comes from sunshine.Fattoush1JustinFee

Good fattoush is simple and combines crispy pita, olive oil, tomatoes, and cucumber.  There are other ways to dress up the salad, but those four essentials are what make or break the dish.  The key is freshness – not only of the produce but of the composition itself.  Sure the pita can be stale, but it must be freshly toasted – and the whole salad has to be tossed together just before serving so the bread doesn’t turn to mush.

When it’s made correctly, it’s a dish that you can eat like nachos – picking up pieces of pita piled high with summer veg and dripping with olive oil.  The combination of cool, crisp cucumbers, and tomatoes ripe from the vine slick with the sun-packed flavor of oil makes for a textural match made in food heaven when joined in a single bite with the crunch of toasted pita.

It’s a remarkable dish that’s straightforward, pantry friendly, and simple but all the more elegant because of that.  It’s a feast for the eyes too: the colors are bright and shiny with oil and reflect the best rays of the summer sun.

If your appetite is activated now, just wait until Saturday when you tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today.   Mahasti is back on the air after a brief sabbatical, and she’ll show us all her secrets for one of her favorite warm weather meals.  We hope you’ll tune in, and shortly thereafter, chow down!

Tomato Head’s Fattoush

2 cups quartered cucumbers

2 cups quartered or diced tomatoes

1/3 cup chopped onion

¾ cups crumbled feta cheese

1 TBL chopped mint

1 TBL fresh lemon juice

3 TBL olive oil

1 TBL Balsamic Vinegar

1.25 tsp salt

1.5 – 2 cups Stacy’s Pita Crisps

Place cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, feta, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, balsamic

vinegar, and salt in a large bowl and toss well. When ready to serve, add pita

crisps, toss and serve.

Serves 2-4 people

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design