Category Archives: travel

Squash Soufflé

squash souffle

Hello, everyone.

You may have noticed I haven’t posted in a little while. I would like to apologize but also admit to you that I do not always prioritize my little blog: after working (and I was traveling for work a great deal in January, consuming an exorbitant amount of my time), I also like to sleep, and get outside, move my body, and yes, cook. I do sometimes cook things without telling you, or even Instagram (although it is much easier to snap a photo and post than write a whole recipe out, so that does happen more frequently).

I did have a lovely little sojourn in the city of my birth, San Francisco, where you can follow my food-biking tour around the city via Instagram. Here’s how it went: bike—Tartine (best chocolate croissant I’ve ever had)—bike—Ferry building farmers’ market—walk-Chinatown (bought tea)—walk—Rancho Gordo lunch at Ferry building, and coveting everything else—bike—Pier 39 and sea lions—bike/walk (too much hill to straight bike)—Lombard Street—bike—Ghiradelli sundae + break for digestion—bike—Chrissy Field beach relaxation—bike—Golden Gate Bridge—bike through Presidio—bike through Haight-Ashbury—tea break—bike through the Castro—bike home. Next day: Tartine round two, and a Mission burrito to take on the airplane. Not bad for a quick trip!

However, all that adventure aside, I am now home, and glad to be getting back into routine. I don’t promise to always post consistently, because I never know how life will go, but know that you are still important to me. Perhaps we can relax together.

It is time to take a breath.

You may then feel inclined to hold it for a moment, however, afraid to mess up what is breathing itself in the oven (soufflé is French for breath). Don’t worry, ovens are not as finicky as they used to be. Soufflés are not terribly difficult (although it helps to know a little French for reading about the components) but they are still exciting. I found myself warning my roommates not to yell too loudly, or open the oven before it was time. A classic soufflé is just some very good cheese in the base; but you can add puréed anything (leeks? caramelized onions? spinach?) for added flavor.

What I like about soufflés: they are showy, vegetarian main courses, good for brunch or dinner, don’t take too many fancy ingredients, are light, soft, and luscious, and present the magical powers of eggs quite magnificently.

bechamel with squash for souffle

Squash soufflé
1/2 butternut squash (or another variety with similar moisture content), roasted and puréed (maybe 2 cups)
3 tablespoons butter, plus a little for greasing the pan
3 tablespoons flour (gluten-free flour works!)
1 cup milk
A dash each of sweet paprika, nutmeg, and a little more of salt and pepper
5 eggs
1/2-3/4 cup hard cheese: gruyere or some parmesan variation if you don't have anything fancy

If you haven’t already, roast, cool, and purée the squash (can be refrigerated at this point or before puréeing if you like).

Butter a soufflé dish, or large straight-sided dish of some kind (or ramekins/small dishes if you’d like to do individual ones). If you want, sprinkle a little grated cheese in to stick to the sides. Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Make the béchamel (white sauce): Heat up the milk (I usually use the microwave, but a stove works too), warm but not boiling. Make the roux (equal parts fat and flour, the thickener): melt butter over medium heat in a medium pan, gradually sprinkling in flour and whisking to form a paste. Gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking, and continue heating (and whisking) until thickened. Turn off heat and stir in the seasonings. Let cool for a moment.

Separate the eggs into two different bowls, the whites in a large mixing bowl (you can put the yolks right in with the puréed squash, if it isn’t hot—you don’t want to cook them prematurely). When the béchamel has cooled slightly, whisk in the yolks, squash, and cheese. It will be fairly thick.

Whip the whites until they form soft peaks, but are still shiny. Fold about 1/4 of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it, then gently add it back to the rest of the whites folding it all together (gently!) until no obvious streaks remain.

Pour into the baking dish and place in the oven. Turn oven down to 375ºF, and set your timer for 20 minutes. Don’t open the oven to look, since temperature variation can cause it to fall, but use your oven light (if you have one) to watch it puff up and brown on top. After 20 minutes (although it will probably take closer to 30, so try not to be too excited), you may open your oven briefly to check. It is done when it is all puffed, golden brown, and doesn’t jiggle anymore when delicately tapped.

Remove, and serve immediately. It will fall as it sits, but remain delicious.

 

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Food Travels: Germany and Copenhagen

Well, well, back in action! I hope you missed me (but not too much).

I had a fabulous trip, not least because sharing an obsession with food is the best medium to encounter interesting, genuine, and generous people. Aiming to discover a little more about regional food systems in other countries, I managed to connect with people who were able to answer (most of) my deluge of inquiries, and I’d like to share those learned tidbits with you.

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Baklava, nom

Beginning with Germany. Food in Germany, especially Berlin, is extraordinarily cheap. There are quite a few particularly good Turkish food joints (namely falafel, döner, and gyros) because of the large immigrant population in Berlin. I also had a ball at the Turkish markets, tasting hummuses and other dips, spinach potato pastries, and buying up spices, persimmons, and tea. Europe is so close to the rest of the world, which sounds a little silly but is still challenging to actually comprehend. And it makes globalization of food, as an archetype of culture, much more apparent.

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Chestnuts! Thanks, Christmas markets

Yet I didn’t find people to be more knowledgable about the food system in Germany compared to the U.S. Many people I talked to knew more about the American food system than the European one, because there’s been a strong food movement in the U.S. to expose the evils of industrial ag, and although similar problems also exist in Europe, they aren’t as high-profile. Similarly, the dearth of vegetable consumption is not a purely American phenomenon—as with most issues, there are some people who pay attention and others who do not. In particular, we’ve helped more consumers connect to their food by sharing stories, good and bad, of food producers—something that I’m not sure is being done to the same extent elsewhere. The moral of that story is that even though I think of Europe as being more progressive than the States in many ways, we’re actually doing pretty well for ourselves here. On the other hand, there’s still lots more to learn, and I was only there for two weeks, so I remain a little biased.

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Currywurst, the classic German dish

I visited a small town with a sustainable agriculture university, Witzenhausen, to learn more about food sustainability in Germany. Similar to my own community in Maine, it felt like an enclave of conscientious food consumers, cooks, producers. Touring a grocery store with my host (a student at the university) was an informative joy—grocery shopping is one of my favorite travel activities, because ordinary experiences can tell you so much. Like finding eggs on the shelf instead of in the fridge (which has to do with cleaning regulations). Germany has a few different food labels: there’s “bio,” or biological, which corresponds roughly with organic in the U.S.; and then there another higher-level category, Demeter (after the Greek goddess of agriculture), which indicates more ecological and sustainable practices. Demeter is definitely more expensive, but in general there isn’t as high a cost differential between organic and non-organic in Germany, I think because of the subsidy structure.

History also affects food production. One of my guidebooks (Rough Guide to Berlin) informed me that sauerkraut was invented because King Frederick of Prussia established state monopolies of salt, coffee, and tobacco, and forced the citizens to buy large quantities of each commodity—so sauerkraut came out of the need to use up a lot of salt. I haven’t been able to verify this anywhere else, but I like the general concept: necessity, otherwise known as oppressive policies, is after all the mother of invention.

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Roast pork deliciousness
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Land of the fancy pastries

At the end of my Germany adventure, I tacked on a trip to Copenhagen, because I’ve heard a lot about the city and flights were cheaper (Wow Air, by the way, has super cheap flights to Europe—as long as you don’t mind packing super light and not even being served water (for free anyway) on the plane ride). And I was glad I did. Denmark has started to become known for the “New Nordic” cuisine, which is focused on local/sustainable/seasonal produce, and I was in food heaven. Much of the movement is thanks to the innovations of Noma, named the best restaurant in the world a few times. I heard some skepticism about it (serving moss and live ants, apparently), but many points for originality and the utmost care in sourcing and foraging. Chefs from Noma have then gone off and created their own restaurants throughout the city and spurred innovations of their own. I did eat a fancy new Nordic dinner one night, which consisted largely of foam sauces and thinly sliced vegetables. Fun, although I would have been more impressed if they had mixed it up a little more (four courses of foam gets a little old).

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Caramelized onion foam sauce on pork cheeks and roasted sunchokes

The other dish Denmark is known for is smørrebrød, basically a pretty open-faced sandwich, the most traditional with pickled herring. Also delicious, although the pickled herring was somehow sweeter than I expected. The first day I was there I went to Copenhagen Street Food on Paper Island, and was quite overwhelmed with the array of fresh vegetables, meat samples, and delicious smells. It’s fabulous. The Danish government actually subsidizes organic food, which makes it much more prevalent (although ends up encouraging monoculture organic, rather than real sustainable system change). Food is also generally very expensive (along with everything else) in Copenhagen, although pretty much all the social services are taken care of for you (thanks, tax money!).

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Smørrebrød is so pretty

Maybe someday I’ll move to Denmark and participate more actively in cuisine inventions and learn more about the benefits of paying taxes. Although, part of what I liked about Denmark is that it reminded me of Maine. For now I am thrilled to have triggered more food for thought and met some wonderful people, but I am quite happy to be back in my own kitchen, and my own world.