Monday, November 10, 2008

Birthday Potluck Fiesta

There could not have been a better way to celebrate my 27th birthday, then to have my closest friends over for a potluck dinner. Everyone brought over something delicious to contribute to a collection of different dishes which made up our fantastic and unforgettable dinner!
One of my friends who was there this weekend was in from New York. I met her at The Natural Gourmet (the culinary school I attended last year). In fact her birthday is the same day as mine, November 11th - so it was a dual celebration! Together we spent a whole morning shopping for the prime ingredients of what would make up some of the creations of the evening.

We started our venture at the Brickworks Farmers Market in Midtown Toronto. What an amazing place! Fresh produce galore, wild mushrooms and rustic root vegetables. We definitely did not leave there empty handed. From there we made our way down to St. Lawrence Market, mainly just to look. However we did find some great organic produce and some organic kabocha squash which was transformed later into a Roasted-Spiced Squash Soup with Asian Pear. We then went across town to Kensington market and worked our way through the busy streets to the organic markets that had what we needed. I must say, Toronto made it very easy for us to come home with "re-usable" bags full of local and farm fresh ingredients.
Marti (yes her name is Marti) my New Yorker friend and I spent the rest of the day creating recipes from a pesto pizza's with goat cheese, fennel and figs to a green pea guacomole, to ginger snap cookies, to cashew cream covered carrot cake and of course the most delectable squash soup puree garnished with pomegranate seeds (as seen in the picture).
What made this whole evening so great, was having all my friends over to enjoy a delicious and colourful dinner full of variety and flavour. The meal included, delicious dips, a quinoa salad with purple cauliflower, cabbage salad with a cider vinaigrette, a wheat berry citrus salad with goji berries, brown rice sushi rolls, a goat cheese maple glazed pecan salad with raspberries and the rest of the creations that were catered by Marti and I. So all in all my friends pulled through to help make a well balanced and healthy dinner that had our belly's full by the second bite - not to mention the all organic wine that accompanied the meal!
So if you are looking for a fun and different way to celebrate- then have your crew over for a night of good conversation, healthy food and a birthday memory you will never forget!
Squash Soup With Asian Pear and Ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-2 kabocha squash halved
1 butternut squash halved and seeded
1 cup coarsely chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 asian pears, peeled and chopped
8 cups water
pomegranate seeds or roasted pumpkin seeds for garnish.
Recipe inspired by Rebecca Katz's Cookbook "One bite at a Time"
Preheat oven at 425F
Line sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl whisk the allspice, cinnamon, salt and nutmet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Brush the inside flesh of the squash with spice mixture and arrange the squash cut side down on the pan. Roast for 30 minutes or until soft. Remove from oven and let cool.
While squash is roasteing, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the reserved spice mixture in pot over medium heat. Add teh onions and pinch of salt and cook until the onions turn a light golden brown. Add the shallots, saute for about 3 minutes and add teh ginger and pears. Continue to saute for another 3-5 minutes or until fruit softens and turns brown. As the mixture startes to stick to the bottom of the pot, deglaze with 1 cup of water. Loosen all the bits from the bottom for a great added flavor. Add 3 more cups of water and simmer.
When the squash has cooled, scoop the flesh into the onion fruit mixture. Mash the squash mixture with back of wooden spoon and add 4 more cups of water.
Gently simmer for another 15 minutes. Ladle soup into blender in small batches or use a hand blender and puree until smooth.

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