Simple but Special Soup and Hors d’Oeuvres

When winter starts to roll in, it becomes tough to find fresh, local ingredients – what I like to use in all my recipes. As a chef I’ve adapted, and use vegetables that store well, like potatoes, beans and squash. I recently visited one of the organic farms near Canandaigua Lake, and the farmer told me she found some sweet potatoes from last year that were perfectly good. I was amazed. I knew root vegetables could last for a long time, but an entire year? Of course, it needs to be said that she had the perfect storage conditions: cool, dry and dark, like a root cellar.

This time of year, I’m looking forward to special hors d’oeuvres, soups and classic holiday dishes. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without green bean casserole, squash soup, deviled eggs and cranberry sauce. They all bring back childhood memories of very loud holidays with aunts, uncles, grandparents and all my cousins (12 in all; eight are girls) on my mother’s side. As we sat around the big dinner table at my aunt’s house the last few holidays, we discussed the fact that while I really like classic holiday cooking, I am a chef now, so I have to put my special little twist on everything. I was worried about Grandma – was she was going to be okay with me changing her recipes? It turns out that the one I was worried about the most wasn’t hers at all, but from the back of a soup can.

For this issue, I’m keeping it simple. Here are some classics to include in your feast no matter what geographic region you’re in. Review the recipes, preheat your oven and assemble all your necessary ingredients and equipment ahead of time. Called “mise en place” (everything in its place) this process allows you to cook without having to stop to collect or assemble items in the recipe.

Butternut Squash Soup With Spicy Cranberry Sauce (serves 4 to 6)

for the soup
• 4 cups butternut squash, cleaned and diced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 4 cups acorn squash, cut in half and seasoned well
• 4 cups chicken stock, hot

Place the butternut squash and garlic into a small stockpot and add the heavy cream. Add enough water to cover the squash and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the squash is tender. Place the acorn squash on a sheet pan and roast in a 400-degree oven until soft enough to purée, about 25 minutes depending on the size of the squash. Transfer the butternut squash, garlic and liquid, and the acorn squash to a blender. Add the hot chicken stock and blend until smooth. Cover the blender cup tightly and use caution when blending hot ingredients. Serve with spicy cranberry sauce.

for the cranberry sauce
• 1-3/4 cup cranberry juice cocktail
• 3/4 cup honey
• 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 teaspoon peeled fresh ginger, minced
• 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 2 whole cloves
• 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1 12-ounce bag of fresh or frozen cranberries

Combine 1-1/2 cups cranberry juice cocktail, honey and orange peel in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until honey is dissolved. Simmer 4 minutes to blend flavors. Add cinnamon stick, bay leaf, ginger, coriander, salt, black pepper, cloves and cayenne pepper and simmer for 2 minutes. Add cranberries and simmer until berries burst and sauce is thick, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Discard bay leaf, mix in remaining 1/4 cup cranberry juice cocktail. Refrigerate until well chilled. Can be prepared up to three days in advance.

Holiday Hors d’Oeuvres

Not Your Average Deviled Eggs (makes 24) 
The trick to this recipe is to soft boil the eggs and use the yolks to cream with the oils so you don’t have to use mayonnaise.
• 12 eggs
• 1 large shallot, minced fine
• 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
• 1 tablespoon extra virgin
olive oil
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
• Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Place the eggs in a large saucepan and cover completely with water. Bring to a rapid boil and cook for 10 minutes. Gently pour the eggs into a colander and rinse under cold water for about 5 minutes. Peel the eggs in the colander under running water. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and scrape the soft cooked yolk into a bowl. Add the shallots and thyme to the yoke and stir well, mixing in the oils and mustard. Season to taste with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Fill whites with egg yolk mixture, mounding slightly, and place on a large serving platter. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. By inserting a toothpick in a few of the eggs on the outer edge of the platter, you can prevent the wrap from sticking to the eggs.

Tuna on Parmesan Crackers
• 8 ounces Parmesan cheese
• 1 can tuna in oil
• 1 large shallot, finely minced
• 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
• 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Grate the Parmesan cheese on the large holes of a box grater and place in little circles (about 3 inches diameter) on a pizza stone. If you don’t have a pizza stone use aluminum foil on a baking sheet. Bake in a 375-degree oven for about 7 minutes until golden brown. Let cool. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and season with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Scoop the tuna in small balls and place one on each Parmesan crisp.

by Chef Eric K. Smith, New York Wine & Culinary Center, photos by Jennifer Srmack

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