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Butternut Squash Soup with Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps
Braised Pork Chops with mustard/caper sauce
Broccoli Rabe with Cannellini Beans
Poached Pears in Red Wine

Warm weather days can sometimes end abruptly here in the tri-state area of the Northeast (NY/NJ/CT) One day it can be 80°F. and the very next day it's in the 50's.  That change in temperature is an instant signal to my "inner cook" that it's time to start planning comfort food menus!  Why I (and others) feel that stews, braises and soups are cold weather foods is still a mystery to me.  I can remember thinking that when we moved to Hawai'i many years ago that I probably wouldn't be cooking many stews, braised meats and hearty soups in the tropical warm climate...but I was proven wrong as the warm climate didn't really stop me from cooking my favorite braised dishes and soups.   Even though the temperature difference is only about 10 degrees F. between the summer months (high 80's - low 90's) and the winter months (70 - 80's) in Hawai'i,  I found that despite the warm climate, I still craved my favorite braised dishes like these delicious pork chops or Osso Buco and other so-called "cold weather" recipes. Go figure.

 Butternut Squash Soup

1 large Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1" chunks.  See my video clip on how to cut a hard shelled squash  
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup EACH shallots AND onion,  finely chopped
½ teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 bunch bouquet garni; 3 parsley sprigs  bay leaf, 2 fresh thyme sprigs, 1 sprig fresh rosemary, 6 peppercorns tied in cheesecloth
5 cups organic chicken broth (vegetarian broth can also be used)
½ cup light cream or fat free Half & Half
  Salt & Pepper to taste

Melt butter in a 6 quart stock pot.  Add chopped shallot and onion and sauté until onion appears translucent.  Add Five Spice powder and minced garlic and cook for another minute until garlic releases its aroma.  Add the cut up squash, broth and herbs.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper.  Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer and cover.  Cook for approximately 30 minutes, or until the squash is very soft and cooked through. 

Remove the bouquet garni. Purée the solids (use your favorite method in the pot using an immersion blender, or transfer the soup to a powerful blender like a Vitamix or purée the solids in a food processor in small batches with a little soup liquid and return each batch to the pot. When soup is puréed and smooth, taste for seasoning.  Add light cream or fat free half and half; taste again and adjust seasoning with salt & pepper if desired. Garnish with a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley and one cheese crisp.  Yield: 6 servings

Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Crisps (Frico in Italian - literally "little trifles")

For each crisp, use 2 Tablespoons of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Sprinkle the grated cheese in a circular shape - approximately 3-inches in diameter (like a pancake).   As soon as the cheese looks to be melting use a heatproof rubber spatula to smooth the outer edge of the crisp. When the edges are beginning to brown, using two metal tongs, lift the edge of the crisp and flip it to brown the other side for 30 seconds. Remove the crisp from the skillet using the tongs and place on a cooling rack.  Let cool completely before serving.

 Braised Pork Chops with Mustard and Caper Sauce
Serves 4




thick cut rib pork chops

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced

3 ribs


celery, thinly sliced


6  sprigs


fresh thyme




sprigs fresh rosemary

salt and freshly ground black pepper
1¼ cups dry white wine
½ cup water

Finishing the sauce

1 Tablespoon Dijon style or whole grain mustard
2 Tablespoons small capers, drained and rinsed
2 Tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 325°F. In a stove top and oven proof braising pan with a cover, brown chops on both sides in oil.  Remove chops from pan to a plate and reserve. In the same pan, sauté onion and celery until just wilted. Add thyme, rosemary, wine and water to the pan and bring to a boil. Return chops to the pan, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cover pan tightly with lid and braise in the oven for 2 hours.

Remove chops from braising pan to a plate and reserve. Remove sprigs of herbs and discard. Using a slotted spoon, remove vegetables from liquid in pan and puree in a food processor or blender. You may need to use some of the liquid to puree the vegetables. Return pureed vegetables and liquid to the braising pan and cook over high heat for 2 minutes. Using a wire whisk, stir in the mustard and capers and continue cooking for 1 minute. Swirl in the butter until melted.  Reduce heat and return chops to the sauce and coat with the sauce to heat through the chops.

Recommended side dishes: Garlic Mashed Potatoes; Sautéed Broccoli Rabe; Petite Green Peas; Long Grain & Wild Rice or try the following recipe:

Broccoli Rabe with Cannellini Beans

1 large bunch Broccoli Rabe, rinsed, 1/2-inch of tough end stems removed.  Stalks can be left whole or cut into smaller pieces. 
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil


2 cloves garlic, chopped


1 teaspoon red pepper flakes


2 cups canned cooked cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

In a large stockpot of boiling salted water, add the broccoli rabe -  cover briefly to bring the water back to a boil and cook the greens for 2 minutes.  Drain the greens in a colander; transfer to a plate and using paper towels, press out as much water as you can from the greens. 

In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil until hot and add the broccoli rabe (be careful as there may be some water left on the greens and it can spatter when added to the hot oil).  Sauté greens for a minute and then add the garlic, red pepper flakes and the cannellini beans. Season with salt and pepper and continue to cook stirring occasionally until greens and beans are heated through.   Serves 4 

Poached Pears

2 cups   water
2 cups   dry red wine (Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 cup   sugar
1   Zest and juice of lemon
3   3-inch sprigs fresh mint


6   firm pears with stems (Bosc variety works well)
6 oz.   Semi-Aged Manchego cheese cut into six 1 ounce nuggets
   Additional Fresh Mint sprigs for garnishing each serving

Combine water, red wine and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cut the yellow zest from lemon using a vegetable peeler and then juice the lemon. Add the peel, juice and mint to the wine mixture and remove the saucepan from the heat.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel each pear leaving the stem attached.  Cut a thin slice of pear from the bottom of each to allow the pear to stand upright.  Using a melon baller or small spoon, remove the core from each pear. As soon as you peel and core each pear,  place it into the wine mixture to avoid discoloration of the pears. Return saucepan with pears to a medium high heat, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer (but not boiling).

Cook pears 15 - 30 minutes. Cooking time depends on how ripe the pears are  - if they are very firm before cooking, then more time may be needed. Use the tip of a knife to test how soft the pear is after 15 minutes to determine how much longer to cook them.  When pears are tender throughout, remove pears to a plate.

Discard the solids from the saucepan and return the wine mixture to a boil;  cook 15 - 20 minutes, until the liquid reduces, and becomes a light syrup. This process needs to be monitored as once the water is evaporated from the wine you will begin to see lots of bubbles and the next step is the syrup stage and it's ready.  If not serving immediately, you can keep the wine syrup on the stovetop.  If it has cooled too much to be poured, re-heat  the syrup for a minute to liquefy.

To serve, spoon a small puddle of warm syrup onto each serving plate and stand a pear in the center of the syrup.  Garnish each pear with a leaf or two or fresh mint.  Place one nugget of aged Manchego next to each pear. Yield: 6 servings




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