Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A cozy fall supper...

The weather has been going all kinds of crazy on us lately. Last week, I actually had to meet with one of my Plattsburgh State classes outside because we couldn't take the oppressive humidity of our second-floor, non-air-conditioned classroom, something I managed to avoid doing all through two summer sessions. But then we have spates of coolness where we have to run around, closing all the windows at home and debating whether it's time to fire up the freshly-serviced furnace or not. And I find myself torn, too. On the one hand, my lackluster tomato crop could use any extra warmth that we can squeeze out of the season, but we also need the crisp weather to brighten the leaves that are just on the cusp of becoming fully glorious.

Our meals are likewise schizophrenic: one night we'll grill out and have the last bit of local corn on the cob, but the next night, I crave a cozy pot of soup and homemade bread. For the latter, I offer two recipes to make your gullet all nice and toasty. First, a lovely autumnal soup. Normally, I favor Martha's Jamaican Butternut Soup, but I decided to go a different way this time. One of the vendors at the farmers' market gifted me with two acorn squashes a few weeks ago, and they've been hogging up valuable counter space ever since. So I decided to roast them and then fashion a soup of my own devising. And let me tell you, it turned out GREAT--savory and creamy with a wonderful sweetness, perfect for a cool fall evening. I served it with a delicious, homemade maple oatmeal bread (you will note the maple theme...can you tell that I just bought a big jug of Grade B for cooking from Parker's Maple Farm down the road from me?), sparkling apple cider to drink, and the beloved maple walnut cookies for dessert. And you can make this delightfully seasonal meal, too...here's how!

Acorn Squash Soup with Maple, Brown Sugar, and Bacon

2 acorn squashes, halved and seeded
2-4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar

6-8 pieces bacon, cut into very thin slices/slivers
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves)
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
pinch of cayenne
pinch of nutmeg (freshly grated, of course)
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons maple syrup (preferably, Grade B)
1/2 cup heavy cream (more or less, as you please--and you could swap out half-and-half, if you're cowardly)

Preheat the oven to at least 400 degrees. Drizzle the acorn squash halves with 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle them with brown sugar. Roast the squash until caramelized and tender, about an hour. Let cool, then scoop the flesh off of the rinds.

In a large pot, heat the remaining olive oil and cook the bacon pieces until crisp. Remove them with a slotted spoon, then saute' the diced onions in the drippings. Add the thyme, sage, cayenne, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. When the onions are tender and just threatening to brown, add the roasted squash and chicken stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Using an immersion/stick blender, blend until smooth. Stir in maple syrup and cream. Taste and correct seasonings. Serve steaming hot into large bowls and garnish with the reserved bacon pieces.

Vermont Maple Oatmeal Bread
(Source: Janet Fielden via Recipe Link)

3/4 cup boiling water
1 cup hot coffee
1 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup maple syrup (preferably, Grade B)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 packages dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
1/4 cup lukewarm water
2 eggs, unbeaten
5 1/2 cup sifted bread flour or enough to make stiff dough (I used white whole wheat)

Combine boiling water, coffee, rolled oats, shortening, maple syrup, sugar, and salt. Let this mixture cool until lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water and add to mixture. Blend in the eggs. Gradually add the sifted flour and mix until smooth. Add enough additional flour to make stiff dough. Place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise until double in size. Knead just a little and form into two loaves. Place in two well-greased bread pans, and let it rise again. (After the second rise, I glazed mine with an egg wash.) Bake in moderate oven, about 325 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until deep brown. Let cool in the pan for ten minutes or so, then turn the loaves out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

*Note: Makes superlative toast!

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