Fall Fest: Roasted Apple and Squash Soup

berry1

Do you ask yourself, what’s in season?
Do you know the difference between availability and seasonality?
Have you been to the farmer’s market lately?

Answering these simple questions can change your direction as a cook and you might even find your food tastes better, much better. Here in Southern California, because of our Mediterranean climate, the transition from summer to fall is a little slower than most other places where the weather has already changed dramatically. There are farmer’s still selling strawberries and pushing out the last crop of heirloom tomatoes and peaches. Of course it is nothing compared to the bounty of summer, but like a street vendor trying to sell you a knock off Gucci purse, they are nonetheless, trying to convince you that their fruit is delicious and you have to take it home. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to eat peaches in October any more than I want to see Santa Claus on the 4th of July! I’m ready for fall food and have no appetite for spring asparagus or summer berries.

Remember- just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Apples are a perfect example of availability vs. seasonality. There is never a shortage of apples, an apple picker’s strike, or ever a fear they might run out. You can pretty much find apples everywhere from the grocery store to a Mc Donald’s Happy Meal – apples are available twelve months out of the year. Right now is apple season and there is no comparison to the flavor of an in season apple. If you have ever bit into a crisp, perfectly sweet, tart, juicy, apple that drips down your chin- then you know what I’m talking about. These are just a few of my favorites; Braeburn, Jonathan, Jonagold, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, Cameo, and Jazz.

berry2

This apple squash soup is a staple on my fall menu, both my clients and family adore it. I’ve tried many different ways over the years to perfect the combining of these simple ingredients- simmering, sweating, thickening, pureeing… The method I ended up with that produced the best flavor? …roasting. I roast the onions, squash and apples to caramelize the natural sugars, and then puree everything with a bit of broth, season … and it’s done. It’s a warm and comforting balance of sweet and savory flavors with just a slight earthiness from the herbs. It’s wonderful with a basket of crusty bread for lunch or paired up with some spicy bratwurst or chicken apple sausages for dinner.

berry3

Roasted Apple and Squash Soup
serves 6 dinner size portions

3 pound butternut squash- peeled, seeded and cut into large dice pieces
4 sweet/tart apples- peeled, cored, and cut into large dice pieces
1 cup yellow or white onion- cut into large pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sage

4 cups low sodium chicken broth

1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees
Adjust rack to the upper third of the oven
Place squash, apples, and onions onto a lined baking sheet
Toss with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and sage
Place into the oven and roast for approximately 15-20 minutes or until fork tender and slightly golden brown
Remove from the oven and place half of the roasted, onions apples and squash in a blender
Carefully puree in batches with chicken broth and pour into a large soup pot
Simmer soup over low heat and season with nutmeg, thyme leaves and adjust seasoning with the last teaspoon of salt
If soup is too thick it can be adjusted with additional chicken broth or water
Serve warm

Churros with Cinnamon Orange Dipping Sauce

pie eatingCaramel apples, cotton candy, deep fried frog legs, giant turkey legs, deep fried Klondike bars, funnel cakes, zucchini wienies, and last but not least…cinnamon sugar kissed- Churros. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about “fair food”. As many of you know I work as a private chef which allows me the freedom to explore a variety of different opportunities. Most recently I was asked if I might be interested in working at the Orange County Fair here in Southern California. With naivety and childish anticipation I agreed. The fair opened last Friday, and I’m not sure I’ve caught my breath. In a nutshell this has turned out to be, by far, the largest catering event I’ve ever been a part of.
pie eating - 2Weeks before the fair actually opens the fairgrounds begin to buzz and day by day from the ground up the fair becomes a city of it’s own. Busy streets, lights, music, racing golf carts, cranes and trailers. Until all hours of the night, each branch of the fair is hustling to create something magical. I’ve experienced more in the last 4 weeks than I can even begin to wrap my mind around. We transformed our 22,000 square foot empty airplane hangar into a culinary arena, including a kitchen stage, ice museum, and a replica of Julia Childs’ kitchen. As soon as we had finished this monumental transformation, our attention shifted to a 6:30AM shift of receiving jams, pickles, jellies, brownies, cookies, and cakes for the contests. I have to admit that judging day was my favorite. I learned from women who had been cooking for 50-60 years how to taste a pickle and how to know if a strawberry was fresh when it was made into preserves.

I’ve also learned that people LOVE pie eating contests and winning a first place blue ribbon for your peach jelly is priceless. I have a new found respect and genuine adoration- let’s call it… a love a “fair” that I never would have imagined. The fair is so much more than rides, music, art, and food…It’s a gathering of the community, it’s tradition. I am proud to say that I am the 1st “Orange County Fair Chef” 2010. Yup that’s me, Louise Mellor – chef – carny- fair folk. It was only fitting that my first demonstration on stage would pay tribute to the fair, so I did – Churros with Cinnamon Orange Dipping Sauce.

Churros
1 cup water
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
canola oil

1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon

In a medium sauce pot bring water, butter, salt and sugar to a low boil
Add in flour and stir until mixture comes together and begins to roll into a ball and becomes shiny
Turn off heat and continue to cook, stirring for an additional 2 minutes
Remove from heat and allow to cool
Once cooled but still warm stir in eggs and vanilla one at a time until incorporated ( you may use a mixer or stir by hand)
Place dough into a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip
Heat 2-3 inches of canola oil to 375 degrees in large heavy bottom pot or a shallow saute pan with high sides
Carefully squeeze 3 inches of pastry dough into the hot oil, cutting off each churros by swiping off at the tip with your finger or a knife.
Oil will bubble around the churros vigorously- when bubbles begin to die down and churros are golden- flip over and repeat, about 1 minute on each side.
Place cooked churros onto paper towel to drain off excess oil and toss in sugar and cinnamon
Serve warm

Chocolate Sauce
8 oz of semisweet chocolate
8 oz heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick
Zest of 1 orange

In a small sauce pot warm cream with cinnamon stick and zest- for about 5-10 minutes
Place chocolate into a bowl and pour strained cream over the chocolate- allow to sit for 5 minutes
Whisk smooth and serve warm