Sunday, January 31, 2010

Let them eat CAKE and soup!

With the weather predicted to be freezing rain, sleet, or a few inches of snow, I desperately wanted to make something warm, filling, and delicious before the power went out. I experienced a week without power last winter during an ice storm. I admit I am terrified of being without heat again. This time, the night before it was all supposed to hit, I felt a need to make sure my belly was full in case something happened the next day. So, we went to eat pasta at the Pesto Cafe. It was a delicious meal. I had pesto pasta and I don't remember what David had but it was good. We decided on a lovely-sounding dessert: Pear Frangelico. With pear, Frangelico, and ice cream listed as ingredients, who could resist? It was in fact, the pear in this dish that gave me the idea of trying to make a pear dessert of my own. I found a Pear Upside-Down Chocolate Cake recipe to try.

I already knew I wanted the main dish to be soup. Few things sound as comforting in the cold of winter, especially as sleet hits the windows and you are quivering with the thought of the heat going out at some point that night.

I have little experience creating dishes with squashes but I was eager to try a butternut squash soup. This recipe I adapted from a Paula Deen one on the Food Network website.

This soup was an adventure. It is a simple recipe but I kept running into stumbling blocks. I was unable to find fresh butternut squash at the grocery store until the checkout girl rang up my last item. Yes, at this moment, I spied them in a corner with some other types of squash. I hadn't even gone over there because I'd been attracted to a pile of squashes more centrally located. Why must they separate the squash!?! Fortunately, before I checked out, I had looked in the frozen section and found the frozen variety ( I didn't even know they sold frozen butternut squash). Also, while laying out all the ingredients, I noticed that the half an onion that I had in the fridge had molded! I was forced to use dried minced onion in its place (trudging back to the grocery store in several inches of snow seemed unappealing). I do hope your soup endeavor runs smoother than mine. I know I'll be more prepared next time.

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from a recipe by Paula Deen

You'll need:

- 2 lbs of butternut squash. If using fresh, halve the squash, peel it, and make sure all the seeds are out before cutting into 1-inch pieces. If using frozen, simply defrost before use.

- 1 1/2 cups diced onion (again, mine molded so I used the dried kind, following the rule: 1 tablespoon minced dried onion = 1/4 cup of fresh onion)

- 2 carrots, peeled and diced

- 41.25 ounces of chicken broth. The recipe called for three 13 3/4 oz cans, but I get a kind that doesn't come in cans)

- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter + 1 tablespoon butter (divided)
- 1/2 cup of cream
- Croutons, if desired
- Shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired

In a large saucepan, sauté squash, onions, and carrots in 1 tablespoon of butter. Add broth and salt and simmer uncovered for about 40 minutes. Allow soup to cool somewhat, add remaining butter and puree soup in a blender or food processor. Stir cream into soup.  Serve warm with croutons or bread. Sprinkle on shredded Parmesan cheese if you wish (oh, you'll wish).

You can make your own croutons by cutting up good bread and toasting in the oven. You can add spices, but I found that just a good toasting works when making croutons for this soup.

And now for the cake!

The cake recipe called for ground toasted almonds. I bought a 6 ounce bag of sliced almonds and toasted the whole lot. I think probably you only need half the bag for the cake recipe. Live and learn right? To toast the almonds, spread the nuts out evenly on an ungreased cookie sheet (the kind that has higher edges is best so you don't lose almonds over the edge). Toast them at 325 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes, checking and stirring often to prevent burning. They will burn quickly! Let them cool a bit and then run them through a food processor to "grind" them.

Pear Upside-Down Chocolate Cake
adapted from a Food Network recipe


- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons of packed brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 Bosc pears


- 1/3 cup of milk
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup finely ground toasted almonds
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 4 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup non-Dutch processed natural unsweetened cocoa (plus some additional for dusting)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- Confectioner's sugar for dusting
- Dark Chocolate bar (at least 70%) for shaving on top of the cake

To prepare the Pears:
Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, lining the bottom with parchment paper and buttering the paper too. Melt the butter, brown sugar, lemon zest and juice over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the pears and cover, allowing to simmer for about four minutes (until the pears are soft and juicy) making sure to turn pears over once. While the pears are cooking, set a strainer over a saucepan. Once done, pour the pears and the syrup into the strainer. The saucepan should catch all the liquid while the pears stay in the strainer. The juice you will later reduce and pour over the cake. Arrange the pears in the cake pan with the stem ends toward the center and rounded sides down, trying to leave 1/4 inch between them and the sides of the pan. The recipe says you should have one pear left and to chop it and use enough of it to fill the center. However, I found that I had 3 halves left and didn't really need but a few small pieces to fill the center.

To prepare the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and move the rack to the middle of the oven. Scald the milk in a small saucepan and keep warm for later use. Stir together flour, almonds, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cloves. In a separate bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth (about 2 minutes). Increase speed to medium-high and slowly add the sugar, beating until mixture is light and fluffy (about 4 minutes). Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl so all the sugar is incorporated. Add the cocoa powder and vanilla and beat an additional minute. Turn speed to medium-low and add the eggs one at a time, making sure to mix well before adding the next. Very slowly and in small portions, add in the flour mixture, again making sure to mix well before adding the next portion. Turn off the mixer and fold in the hot milk.

Spread the batter over the pears carefully as not to disturb them. Tap the pan lightly on the counter to settle the batter and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean (about 50 minutes). Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes then invert the cake onto a serving dish. Allow to cool more before carefully peeling the parchment paper from the top. Cool completely. Once the cake is cool, boil the reserved pear syrup until it is slightly thick. Brush it on the top of the cake. Mix together a small amount of cocoa powder with an equal amount of confectioner's sugar and sift over the cake. Add the chocolate shavings and serve. Yum!

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