Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Dinner (squash free)

This KitchenAid professional Empire Red mixer was a Christmas present from my parents, and it has played a starring role in the holidays.

The butternut squash are still waiting. I'm thinking of trying a squash-and-goat cheese quesadilla today. I saw it on a local restaurant's menu before and I think we can throw something together.

For Christmas dinner, we selected a meal from the great cookbook Eat Feed Autumn Winter by Anne Bramley (full disclosure: I know the author). I bought this book for R. for his birthday. Earlier in the week we made a couple things from it but didn't do a full menu. For Christmas, we decided to select a full menu. I was in the mood for red meat, so we went with Highlands Hogmanay (p. 126) - A Scottish New Year.

Each menu has multiple dishes with the full recipes. There are also related quotes, information on that particular day (solstice, New Year's, etc.), and side boxes with other details. Plus, gorgeous pictures.

Oat Cakes with Smoked Salmon and Salmon Caviar
Beef Rib-eyes with Whisky Sauce
Caramelized Onion Mashed Potatoes
Whisky Trifle

Oh my, was that a good meal. We even found the recommend oat biscuits (Walkers) from Whole Foods. I don't think we found salmon caviar exactly, but it was something close enough (I didn't pick that part). The only recipe that took a long time was the trifle, and that could have been avoided if we had read the direction in addition to the ingredients -- the custard had to set for 3 hours and then the ladyfingers had to set for 4 hours, but I could have easily made the custard the day before (as recommended).

We ate the meal around 3 or so and had dessert around 8. I skipped a few steps with the trifle and just cooked the fruit on the stove top and we didn't do the toasted honey oats. I had some leftover trifle for breakfast and think I am slowly getting drunk on it. Instead of Scottish whisky, we used Kentucky bourbon.

It called for 6 steaks, but since we didn't invite anyone over, we just had 2 generously sized steaks. I have some leftover beef from yesterday (R. cleaned his plate) and we have potatoes still. We also cooked up some grape tomatoes and had them on the side with basil and goat cheese. Added a nice punch of color and used up some of our extra tomatoes (leftover from a salad the night before).

This was our first Christmas together and the first time neither of us visited our parents for the holidays. We really had a lovely day, and I'm glad we had such a meal to go with it.

Smoked salmon on oat biscuits topped with salmon caviar and creme fraiche

Sauteing up some grape tomatoes

Mashing the potatoes and caramelized onion in the mixer

The steaks - R. was worried about messing them up, but they turned out great, and it was a very easy recipe.

Potatoes, steak, and tomatoes with goat cheese on the plate

R. gets ready to dig in

The ladyfingers and custard -- we need a trifle bowl; this one wasn't deep enough

Apples and pears cooking in butter and sugar (and maybe just a little port)

Whipping cream in the mixer

The trifle more fully assembled

What was waiting for us afterwards. It was worth it. And the dishwasher did its share.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Stay tuned - the squash is coming

Today's CSA announcement said we were getting "3 pounds of assorted winter squash."

Can't wait!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Butternut squash lasagna

This recipe for Butternut Squash Lasagna is from Giada on the Food Network. My dad sent me the link to this -- he and my mom loved it. My dad is retired and has some time to watch the Food Network, and he is partial to Giada. Plus, e knew we had all this pumpkin. Lately, I've only been watching that channel at the gym -- it's a little disconcerting to be pedaling away on the elliptical and then see Paula Deen add 2 sticks of butter to a bowl.

I don't think I had ever made lasagna before. Or if I had, it was something really basic like layering jar tomato sauce with lasagna noodles and sprinkling some cheese on it. I cooked this on Monday after work (and after the gym). We thought the daughter of a family friend would be coming through town Tuesday and this would be good to have handy for her and her children for dinner. So I got home from the gym around 7 and started cooking.

Butternut Squash Lasagna (Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network)


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (1 1/2 to 2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 amaretti cookies, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan


Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the squash and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the water into the skillet and then cover and simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly and then transfer the squash to a food processor. Add the amaretti cookies and blend until smooth. Season the squash puree, to taste, with more salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg. Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender*. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Lightly butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup of sauce over the noodles. Repeat layering 3 more times.

Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.

*When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

First the substitutions. Can you believe 3 weeks into the Winter CSA and we still haven't gotten any squash? I used 2 cups of the pureed pumpkin from the freezer instead. This would have saved some time, except I needed to thaw it, which I did on the stove instead of in the microwave. Also, I did not use amaretti cookies -- we had leftover Nilla Wafer crumbs from bourbon balls and I used those with 2 capfuls of almond extract instead.

In terms of difficulty, this recipe wasn't that bad. I have a mental block against sauces (it's the whole stir constantly thing; I like to move around when cooking), but it turned out okay. No scorching! It could have been a little thicker, but it was much better than my pudding attempt later in the week.

My problems came with the layering of the ingredients. We had Barilla no-bake lasagna noodless, which are small. I'm not sure if other brands are the same or not, but I always picture lasagna sheets as being long. I put three in the bottom of the dish then added the pumpkin, sprinkled the cheese, and then poured sauce over. I felt like the noodles were too small and wondered if I should overlap more on the bottom but resisted. The recipe says to repeat this 3 times -- I ended up only doing it 3 times total. And then I wasn't sure what to end with at the top -- sauce? cheese? At the last minute (actually, a little past then because it had already been cooking awhile), I added a layer of lasagna noodles and then sprinkled more cheese on top.

It came out to a nice golden brown and, yes, the noodles expanded when cooking so filled up the dish more. I will say that this is not the most visually appealing dish - orange, green, and shades of brown. But it was delicious! The guests came through Wedneday, not Tuesday, and didn't stay for dinner, so R. and I have been eating this on our own through the week (it says it serves 8-10). It heats up nicely in the microwave and holds together well. It's rich without being too heavy.

When I told my mom I made it, I said that we liked it but it took a long time to make. She said she didn't know because dad made it -- well, he's retired, he had all day! I didn't finish until after 9. While it was cooking, I was able to take a shower and then had a bowl of cereal for dinner.

Some of the ingredients

Pumpkin puree

Stir, stir, stir!

Adding basil to the blender

After mixing the basil and some of the cream sauce in the blender

Adding nutmeg to the cream sauce

Pumpkin spread over the noodles - I probably should have had used more pumpkin. It's not like I don't have enough.

Sauce poured over cheese, pumpkin, lasagna noodles - the basil made it a lovely shade of green

Sauce layered over pumpkin & cheese

The finished product - maybe a little too brown on top?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tatsoi with jasmine rice and eggs

This is the 2nd week of our winter CSA and still no squash. There's still plenty of pumpkin in the freezer, but that requires more preparation (i.e. thawing the pumpkin). So tonight starts a new segment called Squash-Free Cooking.

I was going to cook an egg tonight with some kale (from today's CSA) and maybe a corn tortilla spread with goat cheese and hot pepper jelly. But R. reminded me of the tatsoi from last week. There's a reason it was still here -- neither of us was quite sure what it was. This is one of the joys and challenges of having a CSA.

We switched CSA locations to one slightly more convenient and I think we lucked out in the special ingredient category because we got maple syrup again! This will be luck if we skip a sorghum week (the other items are honey and mushrooms). Or maybe everyone gets two weeks of maple syrup in a row.

I skipped an Internet search and went straight to the cookbooks for a recipe. But only one of the cookbooks I checked had anything with it. Nothing in The Joy of Cooking. Nothing in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Nothing in the Moosewood Cookbook. Only Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone had anything and that was the Tender Tatsoi with Sesame Oil Vinaigrette. A salad. Except it is currently 30 degrees outside and I wanted warmth.

So I made up the following on the spot based on what I found in the pantry and what Deborah Madison's cookbook called for:

Ingredients: jasmine rice, tatsoi, olive oil, rice vinegar, sesame oil, black sesame seeds, and oyster sauce.
Cook time: maybe 30 minutes.

Cooking process:
I wasn't sure if I should just eat the greens or the stems as well so I split the difference and included part, but not all, of the stem. I sauteed the tatsoi in olive oil for about 10-15 minutes at medium heat and then added a splash of rice vinegar and a splash of sesame oil. The book called for toasted sesame seeds, which we didn't have. R. said there were black sesame seeds in the spillover spice area (on the very top of the kitchen cabinets). I couldn't reach the container even with a chair unless I climbed on the counter, which I was not prepared to do. Turns out there were also black sesame seeds in the spice rack, so I added a pinch of those.

Meanwhile, I cooked the jasmine rice according to the package instructions. I didn't feel like dirtying another pan so for the egg, I pushed the tatsoi to the side, turned the heat down slightly and cooked the egg on the other half of the skillet. I cooked it "sunny side down," which is a new thing for me. The yolk was still a little runny -- that's my favorite part when it spills over the food.

I scooped some rice into my bowl, added a little bit of oyster sauce (I bought this for an earlier Asian cabbage recipe and haven't used it since), topped it with the tatsoi and then slid the egg on the very top. Had it with a glass of Shiraz.

There is leftover rice and tatsoi for one of us to have tomorrow. Egg sold separately.
washed tatsoi in my favorite colander

Bag of jasmine rice

The extra spices live on the top of the cabinet I can't reach

Vinegars, sauce, and spice

Simmering rice

[No picture of the tatsoi cooking, sorry]

The finished plate with the runny yolk

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pumpkin & Goat Cheese Risotto

I'd been looking forward to trying this recipe for Pumpkin & Goat Cheese Risotto, which came from Kath Eats at (one of the new food blogs I've been reading -- new to me, since I just subscribed to a bunch in the past few months) who got it from the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel Chicago:

Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Risotto

½ onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and medium diced (can substitute with butternut squash or acorn squash)

½ can pumpkin puree

4 oz. goat cheese

1 ½ cups Arborio rice

5 cups hot chicken stock

½ cup white wine

1 T. grated parmesan cheese

2 T. butter, unsalted

1-2 T. kosher or sea salt

½ tsp. fresh ground pepper

2 T olive oil

1 bay leaf, dried

Chives, thyme or parsley, chopped

1. Steep the bay leaf in your chicken stock.

2. In a heavy bottom stock pot, sauté rice with pumpkin (not the puree) and onions over medium heat until onions are translucent and rice has a toasty aroma with a golden color. Add garlic and sauté briefly.

3. Deglaze with white wine, add bay leaf.

4. While stirring vigorously add stock one cup at a time. (It will take a few minutes to absorb the stock, so this is a labor-heavy task).

5. Continue adding the stock 1 cup at a time until it is absorbed. You will use almost, if not all, of the stock depending on how you like it, ale-dente or fully cooked. Before adding the last cup of stock, stir in your pumpkin puree.

6. Once your rice is cooked to your liking, you should season it with salt and pepper and add your cheeses while stirring.

7. Finish by adding in your butter, stirring until it is completely melted.

8. Stir in your chopped herbs, allowing it to sit for a minute before serving so it can allow all of the flavors to marry.

What does it say about our kitchen that fancy rice, pumpkin, and goat cheese are now staples here? Besides that we spend too much on groceries each month that we like to eat well. The only snag was we did not have enough chicken stock so ended up draining broth from two cans of chicken noodle soup.

I had absolutely nothing to do with the preparation of this meal, except the chicken broth idea which I came up with to avoid having to drive to the Sad Kroger on a Sunday night after a long day. I do have pictures of what was done, and I can tell you it was delicious! Even with us forgetting to add black pepper at the end. The only deliberate change was not adding chopped pumpkin, because believe it or not, we had no fresh pumpkin or squash; everything left was already pureed.

Even the leftovers were good -- which is the sign of a good meal. R. added sour cream and hot sauce to his leftovers.

Broth, measuring cups, goat cheese and leftover apple-cranberry crisp (not part of the recipe)

Steeping the bay leaf in the stock/broth

Adding the pumpkin puree

Cooking the rice and waiting for it to toast

The cooking putting it all together.

Still life with cheap Chardonnay, leftover Shiraz, and the cook's glasses

Risotto in my bowl!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Butternut squash with pasta & goat cheese

local maple syrup

one-half of a butternut squash, after roasting

It turns out our first winter pick up was on Wednesday, not Tuesday. At least I realized that before we went to the site. We had enough trouble as it was -- location at the corner of a one-way street on the right side and I was in the left lane so we missed it completely. Then when we came back around, we still didn't see it and didn't notice the sign until the freight train slowly passed by on the tracks between us and the building. And there's only one way there.

After all that, we finally picked it up and no winter squash! We had broccoli, a winter mix (which looks remarkably similar to the spring mix), tatsoi, kale, milk, and eggs. The special item was maple syrup!

For dinner, I roasted the butternut squash at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes after drizzling a little bit of olive oil on it. I had a craving for goat cheese, so I ended up cooking some pasta (just general Angel hair) then scraping the squash on top of the pasta and adding some goat cheese crumbles to it. Topped it off with some salt and pepper and a dash of maple syrup. Yum! I ate half the squash and pasta and finished the rest at lunch the next day.

Meanwhile, I cooked the kale and added it to the never-ending tortellini soup.

This weekend we're making mac & cheese for visiting family (plus kids) and mixing some pureed pumpkin into it. Will anyone notice?

draining the pasta

angel hair with goat cheese and butternut squash

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Butternut squash soup redux

Last night I made one of the butternut squash soup recipes I posted about earlier, the one from the NY Times. With a few differences. 1) We were all out of onions following the massive Thanksgiving cooking but had some celery, so I chopped up three stalks and sauteed that and then added ginger and garlic. 2) The recipe calls for 6 cups of water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock. I used 4 cups of chicken stock and 2 cups of water (turkey stock was being made at the same time but is for a different soup). 3) I didn't count exactly how many potatoes I used, but I used one butternut squash. 4) I squeezed fresh lime into my bowl. This was part of a different recipe, and it's so good! For my lunch today, I brought leftover soup with a lime wedge in the container.

I love these pureed soups. I'm ready to toss just about anything in there. Last night I was tempted by an orange going soft but I took a bite and decided the flavor would taint the soup.

I keep forgetting to take pictures. First, remember to leave camera in kitchen. Second, buy a better camera.

Winter CSA Countdown
Our winter CSA share starts today - squash and winter greens, eggs, and a combination of honey, sorghum, mushrooms, and maple syrup. Possibly milk, too, but that's for R. I can't wait! Part of the reason for last night's soup was to use up the potatoes and squash. We have 1 potato and 1 squash left right now plus about 12 cups of pumpkin in the freezer.