Monday, November 8, 2010

To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn)

It’s soup weather!

You know, sometimes it’s snowball weather, and sometimes it’s crawfish weather. Well this weekend, it was soup weather. When I woke up Sunday morning and remembered that it was my turn to cook a meal of new recipes, I knew I didn’t have a choice. The weatherman planned my menu for me. It was sunny and cool with a high chance of soup, he said.

Now when it came time to decide what kind of soup I would make, I turned to the calendar. As a price-conscious recent college grad/newly wed, one thing I’ve become very aware of is what produce is in season. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll buy some things year around – especially certain fruits that I snack on like strawberries – but when it comes to vegetables, I make the sometimes-failed attempt to buy in season. Every week my husband asks me if asparagus are in season yet. (They’re not, if you’re wondering, and won’t be until spring.)

So one week after Halloween, what am I going to cook? Pumpkin, of course!
Pumpkin is similar to squash in that when used fresh, it needs to be cut in half and roasted for a while before the useable part can be removed and added to the dish, so if you’re in a time crunch, canned pumpkin will suffice. (It’s found on the baking aisle next to the pie fillings, but make sure you’re not grabbing canned pumpkin pie filling – definitely not the same thing.)

Pumpkin can be a very overbearing flavor if a recipe is too concentrated with it, but I turned to my Bayou Gourmet Cookbook to find something with just the right balance of pumpkin and local flair. So yesterday the winner of the soup, salad, and vegetables section’s Pumpkin and Crabmeat Bisque filled our bowls… and our bellies.

For dessert, I tried another recipe from my Chocolate for Breakfast cookbook from Napa Valley – Triple-Threat Chocolate Zucchini Muffins. No, zucchini are not in season, but they are relatively inexpensive regardless of the date. During winter, however, they tend to be much smaller often too soft, so you may have to search through and squeeze every last one – pulling a Sookie St. James  but it’s worth it to get a good veggie.

The muffins turned out scrumptious. (My mom had two despite the nutmeg in the batter!) I will probably leave out the ground cloves next time, but with or without the robust spice this unique dessert and/or breakfast recipe is a keeper.

Pumpkin and Crabmeat Bisque

Serves 10-12
For stock:
1 package frozen gumbo crabs or 6 fresh-cleaned small crabs, if available
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ounce brandy
1 medium onion, cut in half with skin on
1 bulb garlic, cut in half
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
10 peppercorns
2 quarts water

For bisque:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups fresh sugar pumpkin pureé or canned pumpkin may be used
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
6 cups crab stock
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Dash of hot sauce
1 pound lump or white crabmeat
1 teaspoon sour cream for garnish per serving
Cumin for garnish

To make pumpkin pureé, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut sugar pumpkin in half and remove stem, seeds and pulp. Coat with vegetable oil and cover with foil. Bake skin side down for 90 minutes. Allow to cool 30 minutes. Scrape meat from shell and discard the shell. Pureé in a blender or food processor and set aside. Excess can be frozen for future use.

To create stock, chop crabs and claws into small pieces. In a heavy saucepan over high heat, add the vegetable oil and crab pieces and cook until edges start to brown.

Lower the heat to medium and add brandy. Allow the alcohol to boil away, approximately 30 seconds. Add onions, garlic, celery, bay leaf, peppercorns and water, and raise heat to high until water begins to boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the stock and discard the solids and set the stock aside.

To prepare the bisque, melt the butter over medium-high heat and add flour before butter turns brown. Make a blonde roux stirring constantly for approximately five minutes. Add pumpkin pureé and stir frequently for about five minutes allowing the pumpkin to come up to temperature. Add the garlic and stir for about one minute until the garlic becomes fragrant.

Add the wine and stir for about 30 seconds and allow the alcohol to burn off. Add stock one cup at a time, stirring occasionally, and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
Add heavy cream, green onions, salt, white pepper, cumin and hot sauce, and bring back to a simmer over medium heat. Add crabmeat and stir in gently. Adjust the seasoning to taste. [I did find that the bisque needed a good bit of salt, so be sure to taste it and adjust the seasoning before serving. I know many of us often skip this step.]

Ladle soup into hot bowl and garnish with one teaspoon sour cream and sprinkle liberally with cumin.

Triple-Threat Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
[From Chocolate for Breakfast by Barbara Passino]

Makes 18 standard muffins

3 cups flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar

2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips [I use semi-sweet.]
1 cup chocolate nibs or substitute chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, macadamias) [I left this out and just put an extra half cup of chocolate chips.]

Preheat oven to 400°.

Mix dry ingredients together. Mix the milk, eggs, oil and sugar together and add to the dry ingredients. Add zucchini, chips and nibs and mix just until blended. Spoon the batter into greased muffin tins and bake at 400° for 12-15 minutes until the top bounces back when tapped lightly with your finger.