Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Winter Squash, Corn, and Bacon Chowder

Winter Squash, Corn, and Bacon Chowder in ramekin, with spoon and napkin in background

Perfect for those who think they don’t like winter squash

Chowder? Isn’t that about seafood?

Well, yes, often it is. But “chowder” is really just a generic name for a type of hearty stew—usually one that’s cream- or milk-based, and typically thickened with potatoes or crackers.

So why not a chowder built around winter squash? Squash has great flavor and is abundant in grocery stores throughout the US this time of year. Mix in some corn and bacon, and you’ve got a dish with magical flavor.

Dished up in quantity, this chowder makes a great main course for weekday dining. Ladled out by the cupful, it’s a starter you’d be proud to serve to company. No clams needed.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Winter Squash Gratin

Winter Squash Gratin in gratin dish, overhead view on black

A hearty dish for fall and winter

When autumn arrives, grocers start to feature colorful, thick-skinned winter squash. Their variety seems endless:  hubbard, acorn, kabocha, butternut, turban. And of course pumpkin (a name many people use generically for winter squash, though here in the US, “pumpkin” refers specifically to the big orange-hued squash that we use to make Jack-o’-lanterns—and pie).

You can often use the various types of winter squash interchangeably. Although their flavors and textures may differ somewhat, they all bear a close family resemblance. Certainly all of them work in a dish like this savory gratin, where the deep flavor of squash combines well with sharp Gruyère cheese.

This dish is almost a meal in itself, but it also makes a terrific side for roast fowl or baked ham. So it’s a handy recipe to have on hand when you start planning Thanksgiving and Christmas menus.

But you might want to prepare this dish right away—just to test it out, you know. You’ll be glad you did, because the flavor is wonderful. And you can pat yourself on the back for planning ahead.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kale, Quinoa, and White Bean Soup

Kale, Quinoa, and White Bean Soup in white ramekin, overhead view on black

This vegan main-course soup is a meal in a bowl

Kale is wonderful any time of year, but it always seems best when there’s a chill in the air (as there is in much of the US about now). That’s because cold weather sweetens the flavor of kale, making an already great-tasting vegetable even better.

Cold temps also make many of us crave warm, hearty dishes—especially homemade soup.

You can see where we’re going with this: Just mix some of that delicious kale with quinoa (a nutritional powerhouse) and white beans for a tasty dish that is dinner all by itself. Of course, you could add a salad and some bread too, if you insist.

Easy, tasty, hearty. Who misses summer?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka in white ramekin, overhead view on black

A spicy pasta dish from the 1980s

Back in the day, Penne alla Vodka was the “It” dish at the sort of Italian restaurant where they helped you with your napkin. You know the kind I mean—just a little bit snootier than necessary.

Penne (or Pasta) alla Vodka became so popular that it soon moved to the more down-market trattoria, where it was a menu staple for years. Then it seemed to disappear.

Well, good news! Lately I’ve spotted it again on some restaurant menus. And I even ordered it (for the first time in probably 20 years). I had forgotten how great this dish could be—so of course I’ve been inspired to make it at home again.

You can too—and get a taste of the 80s.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lemon Cheesecake with Walnut Crust

Lemon Cheesecake with Walnut Crust, on plate with whole cheesecake in background

Mascarpone amps up this gluten-free delight

Looking for a dessert that’s a BFD—you know, a big fancy deal? One you can serve to your boss or your fussiest relatives?

Well, your search is over. This mascarpone-driven Lemon Cheesecake with Walnut Crust delivers “Wow!” factor.

It’s the perfect dessert for an important dinner party. That’s because you can (and should) make this dish ahead of time, preferably the day before you intend to serve it. When you’re planning a big dinner, that “make ahead” thing isn’t a bug, it’s a feature: You get dessert out of the way early, so you can obsess over the main course on the day of.

Plus, it will give you plenty of time to anticipate the standing O you’ll receive from your guests when they take their first bite of this tongue pleaser.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pulled Pork Green Chile Chili

Pulled Pork Green Chile Chili, overhead view on black

Flavorful and mild

Most chili recipes call for dried chilies—especially red ones in the form of powder. But chili made with fresh, whole green chilies has tremendous flavor. 

Green chilies are just juvenile red chilies. Red chilies are fully ripe, and often are dried before using (which concentrates their flavor and spiciness). You can also find spicy green chilies, but it’s more common to see mildly flavored ones—perfect for those who like a bowl of chili, but don’t want serious heat.

In this recipe, we pair tasty green chilies with “pulled” pork. The meat we’re using is really just Mexican-style shredded pork (similar to that which is often found in tacos, burritos, and enchiladas), but it has virtually the same texture and appearance as the traditional wood-smoked pulled pork used for barbeque dishes. And it has great flavor.

So taste buds, prepare to tingle.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Skillet Jalapeño Cornbread

Skillet Jalapeño Cornbread on plates, with skillet in background

Great with chili or soup—or all by itself

Cornbread is a New World original. Long before Europeans landed in the Americas, corn (maize) was a food staple here. Native Americans prepared corn in many different ways—including grinding it into a coarse meal and baking it.

Nowadays, we usually make cornbread as a “quick” bread (i.e., one that’s leavened with baking powder). The modern version is also richer, often including milk and/or eggs.

Cornbread is pretty tasty stuff as is, but it’s even better when you add some zesty jalapeño peppers to the mix. Jalapeño cornbread pairs perfectly with spicy chili or hearty soup. And it makes a terrific snack all by itself.

Best yet, it bakes in 30 minutes or less. So you can whip up a batch and let it bake while you finish the rest of your dinner preparations.

Fresh hot bread for dinner? You’ll be a hero!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Chunky Pork and Sweet Potato Chili

Chunky Pork and Sweet Potato Chili in bowl, overhead view on black

Black beans add rich goodness to this spicy blend

Fall means the beginning of chili season—at least here at Kitchen Riffs central. When the weather turns cooler (as it’s finally beginning to in most of the US), nothing is more satisfying than a hearty bowl of chili.

We like chili season even better when we can try some new variations. Like this succulent recipe. Pork adds a deep flavor that’s irresistible. It also combines beautifully with traditional chili ingredients—as well as some not-so-traditional ingredients, like sweet potatoes.

Chili takes a while to prepare. But you can make it when you have some cooking time, then stash it in the freezer. Because, as good as it tastes when freshly made, it’s even better reheated. So you can use it for quick weeknight dinners or as tailgate fare for watching the big game. It’s even special enough to serve to good friends at a casual weekend dinner party.

And once they taste your Chunky Pork and Sweet Potato Chili, they’ll become even better friends.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pisco Sour Cocktail

Pisco Sour Cocktail in cocktail glass

This tart, smooth drink may be the tastiest product of South America

Both Chile and Peru claim to have invented pisco, a clear, fragrant grape brandy. They also both claim the Pisco Sour as their national drink.

We can’t settle the origin dispute, but we can tell you this: The Pisco Sour—in which brandy essence combines perfectly with citrus juice and a touch of sugar—is the best drink we’ve had in ages.

Once you taste it, you may want to declare independence—just so you can name the Pisco Sour as your own national drink.