Roasted Butternut Squash and Orange Soup with Ancho and Chipotle Cream

Butternut Squash Soup

It’s cold here.  I mean, I know it isn’t as cold as some parts of the world, but for a Caribbean gal like me, it’s damn well near freezing.  These last weeks, I find myself drinking cupfuls of tea every day, and dreaming of really warm things like oatmeal, stews, and of course, soups.

Since in South Africa I saw butternut squash EVERYWHERE, and the first shopping I did here had a big crate full, so I thought, why not?!  I did have to wait a while to make it, because I love roasting squash. (Remember I didn’t have an oven until last week?)  I love roasting it because it brings out its natural sweetness.  The kitchen also was super warm and cozy with the lovely aroma emanating from it.  I also had some oranges, so I decided to grate a little bit of the zest into the onions, and then juice the rest of it to put in the soup.  It completely changed the dish, for the better!  It tasted fresher and brighter.  But of course since I like contrasts, I needed a little zip too, so I toasted and soaked some ancho chiles and pureed them with some ground chipotle pepper into the cream.  The result?  Phenomenal.  I hope you try it too!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

1 medium-sized butternut squash, halved and roasted at 190C (375F) for about an hour, let cool

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 a large onion, chopped

1 tsp grated orange zest

Juice from 1 orange

5 cups vegetable stock

1 cup 2% milk

Salt and pepper to taste

1 large ancho chile, toasted, soaked and seeded

2 tsp (or more, heck, I like it spicy, but it’s totally up to you) ground chipotle powder

1/4 – 1/2 cup heavy cream

Parsley leaf, to decorate if you are so inclined

In a large stock pot, add the olive oil and set the heat to medium low.  Add the onion and zest.  Saute until it is translucent, about 6-7 minutes.  In the meantime, peel the squash and cube it.  Add to the onions along with some salt, pepper and cook for about 5 minutes more.  Add the juice and stock and raise the heat to high.  Let it come to a boil, and then lower the heat to medium low and let it simmer for about 20-25 minutes.

When the squash is easy to mush, add the milk and purée with an immersion blender. Simmer for another 5 minutes.  Pass it through a chinois (or not, if you want it chunkier, omit this step) and return to heat.

In a small bowl, cut the ancho chile up into strips.  Add the chipotle and the cream and with the same immersion blender, blend until it is smooth.  Add some salt and pepper to taste.  (So your cream won’t whip, heat it up a little).

Serve the soup in bowls, and drizzle with the ancho chipotle cream.  Garnish with a parsley leaf.  Serve immediately.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Saveur Magazine Classic Recipes No. 74 – Garides Saganaki (Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta)

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Sometimes, you come across a recipe and you read it and think, hmmm, ok, sounds nice but you really don’t think much of it.  Well, this one was like that for me.  Last night, with Paolo’s parents here on a visit, we decided to give it a try, and we were all spectacularly pleased with it.  First of all, it was super easy to prepare, and very quick.  If you have these ingredients on hand, you can make this dinner in 30 minutes, tops.  Secondly, the flavor!  Oh my lord…..the tomatoes and melted feta were heavenly, add to that the nuanced hint of the ouzo, it turned an already delicious dish into something more than special.  The secret to this dish is to really buy the best ingredients possible.  Since it only has about 8, and in small quantities, it really begs for you to go all out.

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One thing that I absolutely recommend you to do.  Have lots of fresh crusty bread on hand.  You’ll be sopping up this sauce for sure!

Overall points: 8.5/10

Difficulty: Easy

Availability of ingredients: Readily available, if you can’t find Ouzo, use any other anisette liqueur

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 small yellow onion, chopped

1/2 medium hot green chile, stemmed and finely chopped

1 1/4 cups canned whole, peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 large head-on shrimp (about 12 oz.) bodies peeled (heads and tail shells left intact), deveined

4 oz. Greek feta, coarsely crumbled

2 tbsp ouzo

1 tbsp finely chopped parsley

1. Heat broiler to high.  Heat oil in an 8″ round metal gratin dish or a heavy ovenproof skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and chile, and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, and season to taste with salt and pepper; cook until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.

2. Arrange shrimp in dish, spoon some sauce on top, and continue to simmer until shrimp are pink and just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side.  Scatter feta around shrimp, then transfer dish to broiler, and broil until feta begins to melt, about 2 minutes.  Remove dish from broiler.  Warm ouzo in a tiny pot over low heat, then ignite it with a kitchen match and pour over shrimp and feta.  When flames die out, garnish dish with parsley, and serve.  Serves 2.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Chicken Paprikash

Chicke Papirkash

 

I know that there are as many recipes for this dish as there are days of the year.  But I love this one, also taught to me by Adrienn, and what I love about it is its simplicity.  With just a few ingredients and steps, it is such a classic and homey meal, that I turn to it time and time again.  Every single time I make this dish, I wonder why I don’t make it more often.

That sauce.  It is just spectacular.  I could eat it on its own with a spoon, it’s that good.  Generally, when I have leftovers, I dice up the chicken and then toss the remaining sauce with some pasta or rice.  But not last night.  I made this for a friend of mine who came to dinner, and he was so excited that I had made the chicken for him again.  I had one of the thighs, and he finished off everything else.  My daughter didn’t even have any….not because she doesn’t like it, she just got her braces put in, poor thing.  He also polished off the barley that I had made to go with it, because I don’t have the thing-a-majiggy to make fresh Spaetzle and it is near impossible to find the ready-made kind here.

This is a perfect weeknight meal, you probably have everything in your pantry to make this dish.  So why not try it next week?

Here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 3-6

3 chicken legs, cut into drumsticks and thighs

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

6 tbsp vegetable oil, I used olive

2 large onions, finely diced

1 heaping tbsp sweet paprika

Water

1/4 cup sour cream

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper, and toss with the flour to coat.  Shake off excess.  In a large frying pan, heat up the oil over medium high heat.   When the oil is very hot, place the chicken skin side down and cook, until it is golden brown and crispy.  Turn and cook until the other side is golden and crispy.  Set aside.

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In the same pan, add your onion, lower the heat to medium low.  Cook for about 5 minutes, and add some more salt and the paprika.  Cook the onions about 15 minutes, until totally softened and starting to caramelize.

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Add the chicken, and add enough water to cover the chicken up to 3/4.  Raise the heat to high, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and let it simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes.  If the water is evaporating too quickly, add a little bit more.  You want to have a thick sauce, not too watery but not just the onions and the remaining oil.  When the chicken is cooked through, turn off the heat and add the sour cream, mixing well.  Serve immediately with Spaetzle, wide egg noodles, rice, barley, or any type of grain that you like the best!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Hungarian Cucumber Salad

Hungarian Cucumber Salad

 

About 7 years ago, I had the most wonderful nanny, her name is Adrienn.  She hails from Hungary, and my daughter and I were lucky enough to be taught a few wonderful dishes that she prepares.  This salad is something fantastic.  Simple, easy, healthy.  It is a perfect side dish to many dishes, not necessarily Hungarian.

I remember her making this the way I assume her family taught her.  She didn’t use measuring spoons or cups, all she did to make the dressing was grab a glass and fill it with the desired quantities of what she needed.  I studied her closely, me being the perfectionist in the kitchen, and this was a challenge.  I am quite accustomed to making dishes that people have taught me this way, but still get a little nervous when they do.

I am going to share this recipe with you the best I know how, feel free to tweak it as you need, because to some it may lack salt, and to some it may be too sweet.  The one thing I do stipulate, as she said to me, please try to use Hungarian Sweet Paprika.  I am told it is the best!

Hungarian Paprika

So here’s what you’re going to need:

1 large cucumber, thinly sliced with a mandoline (or as thin as you can get it with your knife)

3/4 tbsp sugar (or to taste)

3/4 tbsp paprika

1/2 tsp salt or more to taste

Water

Distilled White Vinegar

Place the cucumber slices in a deep bowl.

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To the cucumber, add the 1/2 tsp of salt, and mix well with your hands, coating all the slices.  In a large drinking glass, fill half of it with water, and add the sugar and paprika.  Mix well until the sugar is completely dissolved.  You should have a very red liquid.  Add the vinegar a little at a time, until you reach your desired acidity, I think it should be at least a tbsp.  Add your dressing to the cucumber slices, and let marinate in the fridge for at least an hour.

Hungarian Cucumber Salad

 

Your cucumber slices should be quite soft.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Cassia’s Favorite Stuffed Green Peppers

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I have to admit, I was very, very surprised the first time I served this to my daughter.  I figured she would look at me, thinking I had gone mad for serving her a green pepper, with what looked like cheese on top.    But, she just cut a bite, put it in her mouth and said she loved it.  Mind you, she was about 7 at the time.

Ever since, she asks me to prepare these stuffed peppers for her.  Honestly, as a kid, I hated them, but, as tastes change and your palate becomes more forgiving and sophisticated, I learned to love them.  These truly remind me of home, not any country in particular, just home.  Throughout the years, we started to adapt our cooking from just Colombian flavors to a more Caribbean style, incorporating ingredients that we had on our lovely island of Nassau, and also some suggestions from a certain “auntie” who is Jamaican.  My Auntie Sharon introduced to us so many Jamaican products, since we were new to these sorts of things.  Ackee, bread fruit, how to eat Guava ( in the dark, if you’re asking, so you won’t see the worms! ) and also, Pickapeppa Sauce.

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Pickapeppa Sauce is akin to Britain’s HP sauce, but with a bite, more tangy and less sweet.  We started incorporating this in many, many recipes.  And this is a staple in my house that I bring back from Miami whenever I can.  I can assure you, that adding this to your beef stew, hamburgers, even dips will give it an extra-special kick!  And apparently it’s really awesome with cream cheese.

So, why not try these stuffed peppers today?

Here’s what you’re going to need:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1/2 leek, sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

50 g cherry tomatoes, halved

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp cumin powder

Salt and Black Pepper, to taste

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp jalapeno powder (or chili powder if you can’t find)

400g Ground Beef or Pork (or a mix of the two)

2 tbsp raisins

2 tbsp Pickapeppa Sauce ( HP Sauce if you can’t find Pickapeppa)

3-4 long green peppers, sliced open, seeds and ribs removed

1/2 cup cheddar cheese (more to taste)

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).  In a large sautee pan, heat the olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the onion, carrots, leeks, garlic and cherry tomatoes.  Sautee for about 10-15 minutes, until softened.  Add the tomato paste, cumin, salt and black pepper, garlic powder, and jalapeno powder.  Sautee for another 8 minutes, until nicely softened.

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Raise the heat to medium high, and add the ground beef or pork and cook until browned.   Add the raisins and the Pickapeppa Sauce and cook, stirring until mixed.  Take off heat.

Carefully stuff the peppers until full but not overflowing.

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Place in a baking dish, and top with grated cheese.  Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes*, until the peppers are softened and the cheese has melted and is bubbling.

Serve immediately.

*  If you prefer the peppers to be softer, you can parboil them for 2 minutes.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Minestrone

Minestronne

 

Nothing screams homey, comfort and belly-warming to me more than Minestrone.  Growing up, it was my mother’s preferred way to get me to eat veggies, mine too now, of course; I also remember watching my uncle carefully chop all the vegetables, and explain to me in which order they should be sautéed, for how long, and of course, his secret ingredient.

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The hard rind of the parmesan cheese.  He rarely threw out any food out, there was always some use for it.  I remember as a kid, watching that incredibly hard and inedible rind being plopped into the soup mid way, and upon its extraction, it was a soft, gooey, gloop of a mess.  For me it was alchemy, magic.  And the taste of the soup…..incredible!

I still make my minestrone exactly the way my uncle taught me, digging out as many veggies from the fridge as I can, but always respecting their taste profiles.  I remember him saying never to put eggplant in, as it would give the soup a more acid taste.  So I don’t use it.  Also, he used broccoli, but this time I found this beauty:

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I think this is purple cauliflower, but the taste seems to be a cross between the two.  It gave the overall dish another beautiful color profile, which I love…..I love eating the rainbow, it just makes me feel so healthy!

The recipe I am going to give to you is by no means written down anywhere, I always make it from my memory.  So, the amounts are not perfect, so hang in there.

So, here’s what you’re going to need

Serves 8-10

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 stalk of celery, sliced

1/2 leek, halved lengthwise and sliced

6-7 cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 handful of green beans, chopped into 2 inch sticks

1/2 zucchini, diced

6-7 broccoli or purple cauliflower florets, chopped

1/2 cup white beans, from can or jar

1 tsp dried oregano

3 cups vegetable stock

1 large can (800 g) crushed tomatoes

1 parmesan cheese rind (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots, celery and leeks.

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Sprinkle in some salt and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes.  Raise the heat to medium high, and add the rest of the veggies, except for the beans.

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Saute until the mushrooms are just starting to soften, about 6 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the vegetable stock, crushed tomatoes, parmesan rind and oregano.  Let it come to a boil, and then lower the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Five minutes before you take it off the heat, add the beans.  Taste and add more salt if needed, and some pepper.

Serve with the grated parmesan.

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From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Parmigiana di Melanzane – Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan

 

I adore eggplant.  I love it’s versatility, it’s meatiness, the way it soaks up the surrounding flavors.  I love that you can even make desserts with eggplant! (Just ask the Sicilians).  Parmigiana has been a staple in my household for years.  When I was vegetarian, I used to prepare this all the time.  And, lucky for me, my sweetie Paolo, makes an amazing parmigiana.  Unfortunately, he is in Madrid, so I had to make this myself.

My daughter, also, absolutely adored this.  I didn’t tell her what was inside.  When she asked what was for dinner and I said Melanzane alla Parmigiana, she just nodded and life was ok for her.  Italian food is her passion.  I should probably start translating all of my dishes in Italian so she’ll eat them.  The best bit was when she tried the first bite and told me it was delicious.  Score!  Another veggie consumed happily by the picky teen!

Parmigiana can be served as a main meal, or as an appetizer.  But I like to eat it as a main, since every bite is amazing.  Oh, and this recipe I changed up a bit, to make it a little more heart and calorie friendly.  Instead of frying the eggplant, I baked them in the oven.   Let me tell you, I think I am going to make it like this all the time.  The flavors of the tomato sauce and the eggplant really came out, instead of the heaviness of the oil.  But hey, if you ain’t watchin’ your weight, go ahead and fry!

It is a very simple dish to prepare.  It has a few steps, but once that is done, you can just sit back and wait until it comes out of the oven.  And it’s even better the day after!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 4 (as a meal) or 8 (appetizer)

2 medium eggplants, sliced and sprinkled with salt, and place in a colander for about 1 hour, then rinsed.

1 tbsp olive oil, more for tray and eggplants.

1/2 onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and black pepper, to taste

2 small cans diced tomatoes, if you can, use italian tomatoes.  You WILL notice the difference.

2 fresh mozzarella, sliced

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 425F (220C).   On a large baking tray, place a layer of aluminum, and paint with a layer of olive oil.  Place all the eggplant slices on the tray, and then paint them with another layer of oil.

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Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until starting to brown.  Take out of the oven and lower the heat to 400F (200C).

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium low heat, add the tbsp of olive oil.  Add the onion, garlic, salt and pepper and sauté until translucent and softened, about 6-8 minutes.   Add the two cans of tomatoes and cook for about 20 minutes.

In a small baking dish, add a scant layer of tomato sauce.  Top with the slices of eggplant, then mozzarella, and finally the parmesan cheese.

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Repeat, adding, in order, tomato sauce, eggplant, mozzarella and parmesan until you have no more.  The last layer should be the mozzarella and parmesan.  Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes.   Uncover and continue to bake until the cheese is golden brown and most of the water from the tomatoes has evaporated.    Take out of the oven and let rest 15 minutes before serving.

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From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Tuna Noodle Casserole

 

When I told my daughter I was going to make her a dish that would make her like tuna, she said to me, “There are two things I hate about what you’re going to make.  Tuna and Casserole.”   Poor casserole.  Already got a bum rap and she didn’t even know what I was talking about.

To my utter delight, she actually loved the dish (as I knew she would) and ended up repeating several times.  I generally don’t make tuna noodle anything, but since I am now on survival mode/use up everything in my pantry mode, I figured this would be perfect.  And, apart from the tuna, it was chock full of other veggies sneaked into one recipe so it was a double whammy for mom!

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As I’ve mentioned before, we never ate such classics when I was a kid.  People actually thought our food choices were really weird.  Nothing screams outsider like Colombian, Italian and Arabic food in the Bahamas, let me tell you.  My mom had this really great volume of Time-Life cookbooks, and I might have spied this for the first time in one of those, and once in college I recreated it.

I actually really like it.  I remember not being sure how the whole tuna/noodle/cheese/béchamel thing was going to work out, but you know what, it does.  And now that I know my picky teen will gobble this up, I think it will be a repeat offender at my house from now on!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 6

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 celery rib, sliced

1 cup fresh shelled peas (if you can’t find fresh, frozen will do)

1 cup quartered cremini or button mushrooms

3 tbsp flour

2 tbsp butter

2 cups milk

Salt and Pepper to taste

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Pinch of nutmeg

1.5 cups cheddar cheese, grated

1 can tuna, drained and flaked

200 g egg noodles, cooked according to package directions, strained

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (or torn up pieces of white bread, like mine above, if you don’t have breadcrumbs)

In a large frying pan, heat olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the onions, celery and peas.  Saute until softened, about 8 minutes.  Raise the heat to high, and add the mushrooms and the salt.  Saute until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the 2 tbsp of butter, and mix until melted.  Lower the heat to medium, and add the flour and mix well.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes.  Add the milk, stirring constantly, and cook until thickened.  Season with the salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg.  Take off heat and mix in 1 cup of the cheddar cheese and mix well.  Add in the tuna and the noodles and mix well.

Transfer to a baking dish.

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Top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheddar, and then top with breadcrumbs.  Bake in a 350 F (180C) oven for about 20-25 minutes or until crumbs are golden and it is bubbling.  Remove from oven, and let cool 10 minutes, serve.

 

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 

Buckwheat Polenta with Gorgonzola Cream and Toasted Walnuts

 

Buckwheat Polenta

 

The first time I tried Polenta I was 11 years old, my first year in Switzerland.  I remember seeing these enormous vats of polenta, being stirred constantly by a mechanical arm.  To tell you the truth, it really didn’t look very appetizing.  It looked like a big mass of yellow mush.  Then I tried it.  I’ve been hooked since.

I love the versatility of polenta.  It can be eaten soft, or left to harden then baked or fried.  It allows you to top it with an infinite nuber of possibilities, savory or sweet.  Buckwheat Polenta, or as they call it in Italy, Polenta Taragna, is quite different.  It has a saltier and denser quality, and usually it is eaten only with savory, and with a final addition of Bitto cheese.  In Lombaridia, the region where Milano is capital, there is an area called Valtellina.  This is the northern alpine area, and buckwheat is used in many recipes, two of the most famous being this polenta and a type of pasta called Pizzocheri.  They are both some of my favorites, but for my belly it needs to be quite cool to eat this since it is much more filling than normal pasta and polenta varieties.  That said, it is also a heck of a lot more nutritious too!

On my last trip to Lugano, I brought back some of this polenta, and finally the weather cooled down enough for me to make some.  I have a few friends here who are die-hard fans of polenta, so I wanted to introduce this variety to them.  I chose to top it with a creamy gorgonzola sauce, and some toasted walnuts.  If you are so lucky to find some, make sure you get the express variety, which cooks in about 5 minutes.  If not, you will have to stand over the stove and CONTINUOUSLY stir the polenta for 40-50 minutes!  (I haven’t had an arm workout like this in years.)  But, the end result is well worth the exercise, and throughout the process, I was channeling my inner nonna.

So, here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 6

500 g Polenta Taragna (or regular polenta if you can’t find it)

250 g Gorgonzola Dolce Cheese

200 ml cream

Salt, Pepper and Freshly Grated Nutmeg to taste

100g Walnuts, toasted

Cook polenta according to package directions.   In a small saucepan over medium low heat, add the cream and gorgonzola cheese, stirring until it melts.  Take off heat and add the salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Keep warm.

In a small frying pan, toast the walnuts until darkened and fragrant.  Take off heat.

On a plate, heap some polenta on it, then drizzle as much cream sauce as you want ( I like a lot) and top with the toasted walnuts.

It’s that easy and it’s even more delicious!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Saveur Magazine Classic Recipe No. 83 – Elvis Presley’s Pound Cake

Elvis Presley's Pound Cake

Hello my friends, I am very sorry for not posting in a week…..I have been bombarded at work, staying up until 5 am to watch the US elections, and then, my fantastic computer (not) decided it needed a break too and wouldn’t work.

Finally, after many restarts and uninstalls and installs, it decided to be nice and let me post!

This dish was a petition from my daughter,  as I mentioned before, we each get to choose a recipe to be done for the week.  My daughter was intrigued, thinking this would be more of a bread, obviously from the aspect.  I was very wary, because I remember pound cakes being these incredibly moist, buttery things you got in a white box that read Entenmann’s.  I remember getting that said box, tearing it open with my grandmother, and having her cut the middle slice, where the loaf separates, and gobbling it down with a glass of milk.  Other pound cakes I had tried didn’t come close in comparison.

Except for now, I can proudly say, this recipe is a MILLION times better than those pre-prepared confections.  Spongy, moist, dense without being dry.  All in all, this is one pretty amazing pound cake!

Imagine, 3/4 of the loaf was promptly eaten straight out of the oven.  And the next day, after resting in the fridge, it was even better.

I hope you get your mojo on and make this cake.  Fairly easy to make, no rocket science involved.  And my daughter gladly lent me a hand in preparing it.

Overall taste points: 8.7 / 10

Difficulty: Easy, but you need a stand up or hand-held mixer

Availability of ingredients: Super easy

16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans

3 cups cake flour, sifted, plus more for pans

3 cups sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 tsp kosher salt

7 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

 

Heat oven to 350F (180C).  Grease and flour two 9″ x 5″ x 2″ loaf pans; set aside.  Beat butter, sugar, vanilla and salt in a bowl on medium – high-speed of a hand mixer until pale and fluffy, about 6 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each, until smooth.  Add flour and cream alternately, beginning and ending with flour, beating until smooth.  Increase speed to high;  beat batter until smooth and light, about 5 minutes.  Divide batter between prepared pans, and smooth tops with a rubber spatula; bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a couple of crumbs adhering to it, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let cool 30 minutes, and then unmold onto a cooling rack; let cool completely before slicing and serving.  Serves 10.