winter hike

photographs taken 11.30.2014  --  Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee

a sunny morning + winter brunch

Pan-fried kielbasa

+  +  +  +  +

Browned-butter German pancakes 
{dusted with confectioners sugar + drizzled with warm syrup}

+  +  +  +  +

Winter fruit salad
{orange supremes, sliced pear & diced banana
drizzled with ginger-mint syrup + a fresh squeeze of lime juice}  

A note on homemade syrups:
Simple syrup is exactly as it sounds -- simple in flavor, simple to create. Something would certainly be amiss if we opened our refrigerator door and at least one glass jar of sweet syrup wasn't sitting casually on the top shelf. Follow the recipe found here for the basic syrup. It is open to many alterations: brown sugars, turbinado; or you can add fresh ginger, jalapeno, citrus, or a variety of herbs to infused the syrup with lovely, delicate flavors. These can also be used to sweeten and flavor cocktails or homemade sodas.

sage roasted butternut squash & cider soup

Finger-numbing cold recently slipped into the South, and it's safe to say I'm plenty content about it. Thousands of leaves, having bronzed, gilded and fallen, gather in crunchy drab piles against fences and hedgerows. In more affluent neighborhoods they are massed in rolling drifts along the roadside, awaiting their scheduled pickups. The weather has been capricious -- one day dismal, sulky and burdened, another brusque and biting, yet another brilliant with cheery sunlight and the purest blue skies.

The grocery is now abundant with scores of apples and squashes, cranberries and Brussels sprouts. Root vegetables have gained their seasonal prominence. Sweetened considerably when roasted, carrots, parsnips, turnips, and the like all benefit deliciously from time spent softening and sizzling in a hot oven.

We gobble roasted vegetables by the pound, savory with fresh herbs like sage and rosemary. Heaps of potatoes and carrots are overlaid with olive oil fried eggs, yolks still soft and runny. Large shards of pan-roasted chicken breast, crispy skin and all, sit beside earthy turnips and rutabagas. And then there are the squashes, butternut and kabocha, acorn and delicata, all waiting to be transformed into silky soups, creamy risottos, and hearty salads.

One large butternut squash that decorated my kitchen met a similar fate. Roasted with sage, combined with curry dusted red onions, and then pureed with spiced apple cider, the squash was reborn as a sweet, velvety soup. Crumbles of tangy goat cheese swirled through the richness, and all was cozy and satisfying with hunks of rustic bread.

Sage Roasted Butternut Squash & Cider Soup
Adapted from Ina Garten

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon curry powder
3 pounds butternut squash, roasted (see recipe below)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups good apple cider
1-2 cups water
Crumbled goat cheese (optional)

In an 8-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat oil over medium. Add onion and curry powder, stirring often, until onion is soft and fragrant.

Add roasted squash, salt, pepper, apple cider, and 1 cup water. Transfer soup in batches to a blender and puree until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids: remember to remove the small center lid to allow steam to escape and cover the opening with a dish towel while blending).

Return pureed soup to pot. If necessary, add additional water to make the soup of desired consistency. Taste for salt, adding more if needed.

Serve hot, garnished with crumbled goat cheese.

Sage Roasted Butternut Squash
Adapted from Food & Wine

One 3-pound butternut squash
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 sage leaves
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Peel squash, cut in half, and remove seeds. Cut squash into chunks.

In a large bowl, toss butternut squash with extra-virgin olive oil and sage; season with salt and pepper.

Spread squash on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, until tender and lightly browned, tossing once half-way through. Serve immediately or reserve for soup.