Caramelly Fail.

pumpkin caramel failure 1

pumpkin caramel failure 2

Normally, I don't bother too much with looking up recipes unless either baking or confectionery is involved. Well, this time I should have done a bit more research. In trying to making some special Halloween treats, I really botched it up. The above was supposed to end up as curried pumpkin caramels all nicely tied up in little wax paper wrappers for a Halloween party. I should have added the pumpkin much later so that it didn't start to burn before reaching the required firm-ball stage (around 248F). Sorry, everyone: looks like there will be yet another bag of chips tonight.

However, I do take a lot of pride in knowing that I don't have too many of these kinds of failures. It is not too often that I find myself ruining food very far beyond being remotely salvageable. I guess I can be happy with that. Plus, the cider is looking really good and will probably be bottled next week.

But you've got to laugh a little when these things happen (until you realize how much "fun" you'll be having cleaning up burnt sugar). So, do you have any "culinary failures" you'd like to share?


Red Kuri Squash with Cocoa Nibs, Cayenne, and Scotch

red kuri squash

Somewhere between sweet and savory is where you will find this little idea of a dish. It's a place that I like to frequent as I don't really like sweets all that much. I usually try to sneak something a little savory into my desserts. Not to say that this is necessarily a dessert. One could easily put this at the beginning or ending of a fancy dinner depending on their tastes. That and the addition of either a bit more salt or sugar. I can see it at either, but I still think I would make it as a dessert, even without the sugar.

Red Kuri squash is a great little squash that is worth seeking out. It looks like a small, slightly oblong pumpkin that is wearing a little party hat. It's flesh can be orange or even slightly green or yellow. Mine just happened to be orange to match the leaves outside of my window. Perfect.

1 Red Kuri Squash
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp Scotch
1 tbsp cocoa nibs
1 tsp cayenne pepper
salt or sugar to taste
1 oz. Roquefort (optional but recommended)

Preheat oven to 350F. Cut squash into small squares or rectangles. Heat butter in a pan over medium heat. Gently brown squash until nice and golden. Move squash to oven on a half sheet pan. Reserve the butter. **CAUTION! This next move can be dangerous, so pay attention: Move the pan of butter far away from the stove and let it cool down. Add the Scotch and go back to the stove. Gently tilt the pan over the flame to ignite the Scotch. You will probably have a huge flame that will scare the bejesus out of you and might even set off your fire alarm (sorry, neighbors). The flame will die down within seconds. Be very careful, consider having your fire extinguisher near by if you have never done this before. Try this at your own risk.**

Bake the squash in the oven until fully cooked. Remove and plate the squash with the Scotch/butter sauce, some cocoa nibs, cayenne pepper, and a little Roquefort cheese.




I love polenta. It makes a great side dish to any number of vegetables, meats, and even the humble poached egg. And as much as I love polenta, I'm not so crazy about having so much corn (and the sugars that are hidden inside) in my diet. So I started thinking about a substitute that would still have great flavor and that wouldn't change the creamy texture that polenta is so well known for. Maintaining the beautiful yellow color was also something that was important to me and I didn't want to add any coloring (dyes, tumeric, saffron, etc.).

Enter the yellow split pea. Significantly more nutritious than corn, a 1/4 cup of yellow split peas contains almost 50% of your recommended daily intake of fiber and considerably less sugars. And it still tastes great, with a slightly more earthy pea flavor. So how do you make it? The same way you would polenta, but with one little step before you can begin cooking. And it involves a coffee grinder.


First you must grind the yellow split peas in a coffee grinder dedicated for spices. Just wipe out any spice residue before you begin. Also, you should make sure to pick through the split peas first to make sure that there are no small pebbles that could ruin your blade. Grind until the split peas resemble something like coarsely ground corn. Then just cook like you would polenta, whisking quickly at first to break up any clumps. A little butter, salt and pepper and you are all set.


Lamb Soup with Beet Horseradish and Lemon

lamb soup with beet horseradish and lemon

It is definitely getting cooler in these parts. And getting darker earlier too. Unfortunately, that is the one part of the "out with the old-in with the new" that I don't look forward to this time of year. As night time creeps in a little earlier each day, one of the activities I have been really enjoying lately is stock making. Preparing your own stocks is an easy way to add incredible flavor and depth to your dishes and sauces, or even to just make your own soup. It takes very little actual work, but does take a fair amount of cooking time. I've made a few batches lately which I have been turning into soups for my lunch. The latest batch was made with some less than desirable cuts of lamb. These cuts are perfectly suited for long simmering required by stock making. Because they are not more tender cuts, they are ridiculously inexpensive which never hurts either.

4 lbs. lamb (mix of stew meat and neck bones)
2 gallons of water
5 large carrots
5 large ribs of celery
3 onions
3 fresh bay leaves, torn
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp beet horseradish
juice of two lemons
5 sprigs fresh thyme
5 oz. capelli d'angelo pasta
salt and pepper to taste

For the stock:

In a stock pot, heat oil over medium heat. Brown the lamb in batches and reserve. Cut all of the vegetables into large chunks and add to the stock pot, cooking in the lamb drippings until nicely browned. Add in bay leaves and tomato paste and stir. Pour in 1 gallon of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a rolling simmer and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

** I find that after about an hour, the vegetables will have spent all of the flavor and no longer are required to be in the pot. I remove them at this point. **

Add the neck bones and most of the stew meat, reserving some for later. Add the remaining gallon of water and the thyme. Bring back to a boil and reduce to a rolling simmer and cook for three to five hours. Be sure to skim off any scum that might come to the top. After two to three hours, taste the stock every once in a while to check it's progress. When you are satisfied with the results, remove from the heat.

At this point, I like to remove the lamb and strain the stock. Then I ladle the stock into several plastic containers. I allow the stock to cool. As the stock cools, the fat will collect on the top. Simply remove the fat for a fat free stock that will still have plenty of body. Refrigerate for three to four days or freeze for three months.

For the soup:

Pour the de-fatted stock into a pot and bring to a boil. Add the reserved stew meat and reduce the heat to a rolling simmer for 30 minutes. About 25 minutes into cooking the stew meat, add the capelli d-angelo and the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with a garnish of beet horseradish and some thyme.



Hard Cider

hard cider

One topic I don't believe I have talked about on Six Course Dinner is my flirtation with fermenting. (I guess the sourdough starter sort of counts.) Over the last few years, there have been many sessions of watching barley steeping in 150F water, yeast selection, and hop aroma filled nostrils. And while brewing beer is tremendously satisfying, all the boiling and sanitizing does end up making it quite a process. So as fall starts to get comfy in these parts, I was really looking forward to some more fermenting projects. This time I've decided to save a bit of time and a bit of clean up and make some hard cider, or apfelwein. I've added some spices to support the great apple cider from my local farmer's market.

5 gallons apple cider
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp allspice berries
1 tsp grains of paradise
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp white peppercorns
1 package Wyeast cider yeast

***If you have never brewed before or don't have carboys and airlocks I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the basic brewing process, with additional focus on sanitization. Cider and beer making both are only possible because of rigorous sanitizing of anything that might come in contact with your brew. Also, U.S. laws require that anyone fermenting beer, cider, mead, wine, or sake be 21 years old or older. You don't want the ATF coming after you, do you? Didn't think so.***

Bring 3/4 of one gallon of cider to boil and add the light brown sugar and maple syrup to dissolve. Place the remaining 1/4 gallon of cider in the freezer; you will need this when you bottle. In a pan, gently toast the spices over medium heat until fragrant, but not burned. Lightly crush in a mortar and pestle. Add to the boiling mixture and cook for five minutes. REmove from heat, cover, and let it return to room temperature.

In your sanitized carboy, pour in your now cooled and sugar/spice laden cider. Pour two more gallons of cider on top of this. Pitch your activated yeast. Pour remaining two gallons of cider into carboy to help aerate the entire batch. Seal with a sanitized airlock. Ferment for at least four weeks.

One month later, remove the cider from the freezer. Let it thaw and then boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and cover, letting the cider come down to room temperature. Put in another sanitized bottling bucket or carboy. Through a sanitized siphon, move the cider into the bottling bucket. Bottle in sanitized bottles and wait a week or two for the subtle carbonation to take place. Enjoy slightly chilled and preferably outside.