Butternut Squash Soup

The tail end of a cold front moved through South Florida last night and prevented us all from becoming babbling idiots after the many long months of heat and humidity. It won't get out of the 70's today and is supposed to go down to the 50's tonight. Doesn't sound like much to get excited about? But to us it means fall has arrived.....and a day like this is the reason we live in Florida: not a cloud in the sky, a cool breeze and we can finally throw open our windows and doors. (And give our electric bills a break.)
It's a perfect time to give some thought to my Thanksgiving menu now that we are cooler and Halloween is days away. It looks as though I am having some of the family here and I like to plan ahead, freeze what I can so I can spend time with children, grandchildren and friends.

There are certain dishes my family insists upon: butternut squash soup, turkey of course, a brussel sprout dish they all adore and that really, really old recipe for frozen fruit salad. It astounds me everyone still looks forward to seeing that salad on the table. Other side dishes and the dessert are up to me. Dessert is usually pumpkin something or other. Perhaps I'll try a pumpkin roulade this year; I read a recipe for it recently and have yet to try it.

This year, we shall start the festivities with a scrumptious Bellini or two (or three). We had them last Christmas and all I can say is YUM! I already sent for and received the white peach puree; you can order it overnight (it arrives frozen) from The Perfect Puree Company in Napa, California. I noticed they also had a coconut puree and because my family loves my coconut bread toasted for breakfast (AND there is a minimum order) I ordered some of that as well.

When we lived in Michigan, my mother used to buy an enormous hubbard squash at least once every fall. We all adored it- especially when it was a lovely dry one. After baking she would beat it much like mashed potatoes and she added butter, salt and pepper and a little brown sugar, but not much. Sometimes when the squash came out of the oven, it was somewhat watery and she had to cook it down to dry it out a little, but it never tasted as good as a hubbard squash that was dry to begin with. Is there a trick to knowing when a hubbard squash is going to be dry before buying and baking? If anyone knows the answer, let me know. Mother also used acorn squash a lot, halving it and putting butter and brown sugar in the center. I still bake it often, but I just use salt and pepper.

Butternut squash is a member of the gourd family and is a winter squash as are acorn and hubbard. (Summer squash would be a squash like zucchini or yellow squash; they have thinner skins.)It has a hard, thick skin and it is filled with seeds. When picking one out, choose a squash that feels heavy for its size, with blemish-free skin, and no soft, moldy spots. Although the squash is native to Mexico and the surrounding areas, the most popular butternut squash is the Waltham Butternut which was originally grown in Massachusetts. There are so many ways to serve it: in a risotto, in lasagna, in soups, in ravioli, custards, breads and pancakes.

I think you will like my soup recipe; I use it as an appetizer- a small cup of it to kick off the dinner. It has lots of flavor and the touches of bacon, Marsala and fresh thyme marry perfectly with this squash. You could easily serve it for lunch or dinner as the main course. I freeze it after after I have added the stock and simmered it for 20 minutes. You can then thaw it when you wish, add the heavy cream, seasonings and Marsala and reheat.

Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from Thanksgiving The Williams Sonoma Kitchen Library


1 butternut squash, about 3 pounds, halved lengthwise, remove seeds and fibers
6 slices of bacon, chopped
2 yellow onions, diced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
fresh thyme leaves, whole, for garnish
5 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons Marsala
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Turn your oven on to 375°.
Place the squash, cut sides down, in a baking pan. (I put tin foil down first to save clean up) Add water to a depth of about 1/4 inch. Bake about 45-50 minutes or until the squash is fork tender. Let it cool and then scoop out the flesh. You will need 3 and 3/4 cups.

Saute the bacon about 3 minutes and then add the onions and thyme. Cook until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a food processor ( and in several batches) puree the squash and onion mixture until smooth. Place in a large saucepan and add the chicken broth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. At this point, you can remove it from the stove, cool it and freeze.
When ready to use, thaw the soup overnight and place in a saucepan, reheat, add the cream, Marsala, cayenne, salt and black pepper. If you would like a thinner soup, add more broth.
Serve in bowls and garnish with fresh thyme. Serves 8-10.


Cloverleaf Rolls

We had a discussion about homemade bread after a meeting I went to last week: how much we all loved fresh bread, how our mothers and grandmothers thought nothing of making it on a regular basis. Now, rarely does anybody take the time to make homemade rolls or bread; it's understandable as life has become so very complicated. Everyone is busy with work and family and general day to day living leaves us with little energy at the end of the day. If you have free time on a weekend, are you going to spend it kneading bread? Probably not. And yet while making bread from scratch is more time consuming than buying it, there's just no comparison between rolls that come out of a plastic bag and rolls that come out of your own oven. And need I add: freshly baking bread is a heaven-sent bouquet. How about trying it on a rainy Saturday?

My grandmother and her sister owned a bakery in Detroit for many years when they were young women. In later years, Grandma spent several months of each year living with us and all we could think of walking home for lunch was what was going to be on the table. Long Johns? Fried noodles? Fresh bread? Rhubarb pie? My grandmother made them all- and perfectly too- I recognized that even as a child. Naturally my mother was an excellent baker as well and she passed her abilities on to my sister and I.

Surprisingly, my recipe for cloverleaf rolls did not come from my grandmother or mother; I found it in a bread book that was given to me just after I was married. The book was put out by a flour company- I don't recall which one. I made most of the bread, roll and sweet roll recipes in that book at some point or another over the years. The cookbook is long gone, but I saved my favorite recipes and the cloverleaf roll recipe in this cookbook is delicious. The rolls are slightly sweet and tender as can be. And surprisingly easy to make. I like to make them entirely by hand, including the kneading. Kneading by hand is worth the effort: you can feel the texture of the dough change right under your hands. No mixer, you really don't need one. Mixing and kneading take very little time; most of the time is spent in rising, so plan to make them when you have other things to do around the house. I now make these once or twice a year and serve them for Thanksgiving or Christmas. There is just something comforting about cloverleaf rolls; they remind me of..... home. And guess what? They freeze beautifully.

Cloverleaf Rolls

1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup lukewarm milk (scalded, then cooled to lukewarm)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, room temperature
1/4 cup shortening or butter (I use a mixture of butter and crisco)
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour

Place the milk in a saucepan and place it over heat. Before it boils and when a skin forms over the top, remove it from heat and cool it to lukewarm.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Stir in the milk, sugar, salt, beaten egg, shortening and 2 cups of flour. Mix by hand; it will be a very sticky dough. Add flour until the dough holds together. Turn it out on a floured board and knead for at least six minutes, adding flour as needed. (Fold the dough in half and use your body weight to push the dough into itself. The beginning of the kneading process might require a lot of flour. Be generous to start, but try not to add more than the dough can easily incorporate, or you will throw off the flour-yeast-water-salt ratio. Give the dough a quarter turn (90 degrees). Grab the other side and fold it in half. Again, with a lot of weight behind it, push the newly folded half into itself. Repeat this process until the dough is smooth, silky, and elastic.)
Place the dough in a greased bowl, flip it over once so both sides are greased. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.

Punch down, divide in thirds, then each of those in half. You will need to make 36 one inch balls by rolling them between your palms. Grease a muffin tin well and place three little balls in each one. This recipe should make 12 largish rolls.

Brush the tops lightly with melted butter and let the rolls rise again until doubled.

Bake in a 400° oven for 15 to 20 minutes.



Even after all the years I have lived in Florida, I still can't get used to the idea that it is almost Halloween. Fall has not begun here yet. Yes, it may surprise you to discover we do have a change of seasons but it takes a good strong cold front coming through for us to sit up and take notice. As for now, it's still hot and humid in Florida and I long for the Michigan fall. For the gold and red trees, for pumpkin fields, for cider and donuts, for University of Michigan football games, for trick or treating in the brisk night air, for leaves falling from trees, swirling to the ground and even for getting the sweaters out of my closet. I remember being in northeastern Michigan at the old family cabin in Standish and looking out over the Rifle River.

Fall also makes me think of hot soups- something we don't make very much in Florida. My sister is a master soup maker and so was my mother; I will share some of their recipes with you now and then. But today, I feel like a good hearty vegetable soup called Ghivetch. One of my favorites because it works for lunch or dinner- along with some French bread to sop up the juices. Like most stews it is better the next day and freezes beautifully. I can't remember where I found the recipe but I do know it is delicious, good for you and I love the fragrance from the kitchen filling the house while it cooks.

The history of Ghivetch (pronounced you-vetch with the accent on the vetch) is rather convoluted. People refer to it alternately as Moldavian, Romanian and Bulgarian. Let's just say it is a blending of the cookery of the Balkan states, Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria and, because of the substantial number of immigrants from these countries, it is particularly well known in Israel. Ghivetch is a medley of stewed vegetables similar to ratatouille, sometimes served with yogurt. My recipe does not use meat, fish or yogurt but I have found several that do. The choice is up to you. I cannot call it entirely a vegetarian dish because of the beef bouillon but I don't know why you couldn't use a vegetable broth instead. Anyway- serve it with some crusty French bread and wouldn't an apple crisp be a great finale?


1 cup carrots, sliced
1 cup green beans, sliced
1 cup diced potatoes
2 medium tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup celery, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1 zucchini, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
1/2 Bermuda onion, sliced
1/2 head cauliflower, in florets
1/2 cup red pepper, sliced
1/2 cup green pepper, sliced
1 cup frozen peas
1 can beef bouillon (or beef consomme )
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 teaspoon dry tarragon
2 teaspoons salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon savory (or thyme if you can't find it)

Method:Wash and prepare all the vegetables and place them in a large baking dish.
Mix the beef bouillon, garlic, olive oil, salt, tarragon, savory and bay leaf and pour over the vegetables. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake in a 350° oven for 1 and 1/2 hours. This recipe serves a minimum of 4, perhaps 6.


Floating Island

Last week during a lunch with a friend we were looking through my cookbook. (She's about to make one of her own with her fabulous Italian family recipes; I can't wait!) When she got to my recipe for floating island, she jammed her finger down and said: " you have to put this one on your blog next!" So here it is. I call it the epitome in comfort food.

Americans don't make this dessert much, unhappily. It was originally a French nursery dessert called île flottante: a single "island" of meringue floating in a "sea" of crème anglaise. Oeufs à la neige is another name used, indicating many small eggs floating rather than one large one. I have had this dish often when in France (where it is more commonly found on a dessert menu than in the U.S.); they usually serve a large square island floating in the crème anglaise. It makes sense for a restaurant to make many portions in a large pan rather than individual "islands". The rare times I have found it on a menu in this country, they try to improve it with the addition of fruit; it doesn't work. This dessert is better the way it was served in the nursery: plain and simple.

Another reason I love floating island is my mother made it for us when we were children and I have her original recipe. The only change I have made over the years is I now bake the meringues; much simpler and I adore the peaks touched with a little color, which you really don't get when you poach them in milk as my mother did. If you have never tried this dessert, don't waste a minute. Make it for dessert tonight. You have all the ingredients you need in your pantry and refrigerator.

Floating Island
Ingredients:4 eggs plus 4 more whites
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups half and half or whole milk
seeds from a vanilla bean (optional)
cognac (optional)

Method:Preheat your oven to 250°
Beat the whites of 8 eggs with the salt and cream of tartar until foamy. Add 1/3 cup sugar and beat until smooth, stiff and glossy. Beat in 1 teaspoon of vanilla.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and with a large serving spoon, place 10 mounds on the parchment, making little peaks with the tops. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned. Place the "islands" in individual serving dishes or in one large one.

Make the crème anglaise: scald the milk. Beat 4 egg yolks (use the other yolks for something else) with 1/3 cup sugar until well blended. Temper the eggs with some of the scalded milk and then combine. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to exceed 180° or the mixture will curdle. Pour the sauce through a strainer and add the vanilla bean seeds and 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla. (If you are not using vanilla bean seeds, increase the vanilla to 1/2 teaspoon.)
You may add a little cognac if you wish; I don't. Chill.
To serve, pour the crème anglaise over the islands and serve.
If I am having company, I sometimes like to serve a caramel sauce over it:
Mix 1 and 1/2 cups sugar with 1/2 cup water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir with a wooden spoon and boil over medium heat until it turns a caramel color. Remove from heat and add another 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. It will bubble up, so be careful. Return to the heat and cook until it reaches 230° on a candy thermometer. Set aside until ready to use.



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Chocolate Cinnamon Torte

Many years ago this recipe was printed in a New York Times cooking column; I tore it out and stuck it in a cooking notebook in which I save anything that interests me. In the 70's I was sorting through that notebook (something I don't do often enough), found the recipe and wondered why I had never made it. So I made it for my next dinner party. It was a smash hit! It is very rich torte, needs to be made a day ahead and it serves quite a few people. It is not only delicious, but makes a gorgeous presentation. One of my friends liked it so much she asked me to make it for several of her dinner parties. It's a perfect dessert for a special occasion.

I recently privately published a cookbook for my family with both old and new family recipes and lots of photos of family and recipes. Of course I included the torte and baked one so I would have a perfect photo to include in my book. At the same time, I did a more thorough search about the origin of this recipe; someone online mentioned it was originally published in Good Housekeeping magazine in the late 50's or early 60's. It may have been, but I found it in the New York Times. The few recipes for this torte online don't use cake pans to make the cookies. Using cake pans makes for fairly even cookie edges for the torte and I think makes all the difference visually. Enjoy!
Chocolate Cinnamon Torte

2 and 3/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 and 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs (room temperature)
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
4 cups whipping cream
1/2 square grated unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 square of German cooking chocolate (make some decorative curls for the top)
Prepare the pans: I use 4 cake pans as I can fit this many in my oven at the same time. You will be making 12 cookies so you will cool, reline and reuse the cake pans. Cut wax paper circles to fit the bottom only of the cake pans. Lightly grease the bottom of the pans, put in the wax paper and then lightly grease the top of the wax paper. Set aside.
Preheat your oven to 375°.
Beat the butter and sugar well and add the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and cinnamon. When the dough is well mixed, use about 1/3 cup of dough in each cake pan, spreading it carefully all over the bottom. It will be very thin, but make certain the bottom is entirely covered. Bake for 8-12 minutes. Watch carefully as it burns easily. You want the "cookies" to be a little brown but remove them before the edges darken. You must take them out of the cake pans immediately while they are still soft; with the tip of a sharp paring knife lift up the edge of the wax paper under the cookie and slide the wax paper (along with the cookie) out of the pan. I spread newspapers on my counters as the cookies are greasy and they need to cool. You should have enough dough for 12 cookies.
While the cookies cool, whip the cream, reserving 1 cup. With the remaining whipped cream, layer the cookies, carefully removing the wax paper as you do each layer. I probably spread about 1/2 cup of whipped cream on each layer. End with a cookie.
To the remaining 1 cup of reserved whipped cream, add the unsweetened grated chocolate, the cocoa and the sugar. Place on top of the last cookie layer and top with chocolate curls.
Refrigerate at least overnight as the cookies are crisp and the cake will break if you try to slice it the same day. Overnight, the cookies soften. Serves 10-12 if not more.

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