Tag Archive: experiments


[Winter Squash, Part 1]

And just like that, it’s fall.

winter squash

I’m loving the cooler weather, changing leaves, and most of all the availability of winter squash!  Last night’s successful spaghetti squash experiment marked the first new dish I’ve created since June, when I made a mayonnaise-free, vinegar-free potato salad that I will definitely share with you at some point.  Why the lack of cooking, you ask?  Well, a certain new addition to the family is due to arrive in late December, and as it turns out, he seems to hate most vegetables (particularly the green, nutritious ones!), and he has somehow scrambled my brain such that I have become terrible at figuring out which flavors go together.  (I maintain that peanut butter, jelly, and cottage cheese is a perfectly normal and delicious sandwich combination!)  But since squash is sweet (and isn’t green!), it seemed like a perfect way to start eating vegetables again in a way the baby would let me tolerate, and sage was the obvious herb to combine with it.

sage

There are different schools of thought about the optimal way to cook spaghetti squash–whole or halved, seeds in or out, microwave or oven, covered or uncovered, steamed or roasted with oil and herbs–in the end, since I wanted the “noodles” to be all the same consistency, and since the half hour baking time would give me just enough time to make the sauce, I went with halved, seeded, face down in a baking dish with a bit of water, covered tightly with aluminum foil so it would steam.

The sauce was really easy to throw together–essentially it’s a basic white sauce (roux + milk) combined with shallots, sage, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.  For a richer sauce, you could definitely use half and half or cream, but if you don’t have them, milk works just fine.  Definitely be prepared to add more salt after you toss it with the squash “noodles” — they will dilute the flavor of your sauce more than you expect.

If you want to get a bit more elaborate than just squash + sauce, this dish would definitely be enhanced by the addition of some toasted hazelnuts or perhaps a bit of crispy pancetta–I was too hungry by the time I was done with the squash and sauce to bother, but if you have the time, you should definitely try it out.

spaghetti

So without further ado:

Spaghetti Squash with Sage and Nutmeg Cream Sauce
(Serves 2-3)

  • a small spaghetti squash (approx. 2.5lbs)
  • 3 tbsp butter, divided
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • a handful of fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt
  • pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  While it’s heating, cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and put the halves face down in a baking dish.  Add enough water to go up the sides of the squash about 1/4 inch.  (It took me about a cup and a half of water for my 9×13 pan).  Cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a sharp knife slides easily into the squash.

Meanwhile, melt a tablespoon of butter over medium heat, and saute the shallots until they soften and just start to get a bit of color.  Remove them from the pan and set aside.  Add the remaining two tablespoons of butter to the pan, and when it’s melted, add the flour, whisking constantly until you have a nice, even roux and it darkens a bit.  Then add the milk, and continue to whisk until the sauce starts to thicken.  Reduce the heat to low and add the shallots back to the pan, along with the sage, freshly grated nutmeg, and pepper.  Taste, and adjust the amounts of nutmeg and pepper accordingly.

Remove the sauce from the heat, stir in the Parmesan cheese, and then add salt to taste.  Cover, and keep warm, stirring occasionally to keep it from thickening too much; the longer it sits, the thicker it will become.  When the squash is ready, carefully remove it from the baking dish and use a fork to separate the flesh into “noodles”.  Put your squash noodles into a serving bowl and toss with the sauce until well-coated.  Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Enjoy!

P.S. If you can, wash the sauce pan right away–we let it sit a bit too long, and so even after an overnight soak it was hard to get clean!

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Saying that this dish did not turn out right the first time would be an understatement.  I’ve made plenty of dishes over the years that haven’t turned out quite like I had envisioned or that could use some tweaking here or there.  My first attempt at this one though?  Was nearly inedible.  My husband bravely finished his bowl and told me it wasn’t that bad, but really?  It was that bad.

So why am I sharing a recipe with you that I fully admit started off as inedible?  Because I ended up making it again the other night, with some MAJOR modifications and it turned out to be a pretty tasty dish!

The problem with the original version and thus the key to making the new version tasty?  Garlic.

When I pureed the pesto in the blender the first time around, I added in raw garlic (not a lot, I swear!) thinking that it would be a good punch of garlicky flavor (and be mellowed out by the cheese, broccoli, etc).  Well, this might have worked if it had been green garlic, or even early summer garlic.  But late winter garlic?  Not so much.  One of my friends coined the term “death garlic” and that pretty much sums it up.  It completely overpowered everything else in the dish and filled your tongue with a noxious, garlicky burning sensation.

The solution?  Roasting.

mmm...garlicky!

For the new version of this dish, I set half a head of garlic on a piece of aluminum foil, drizzled it with olive oil, sealed it up, and roasted it at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.  Problem solved!  The smell of roasted garlic is absolutely amazing, and it mellows out the flavor to the point where you almost want to just sit there eating it with a fork.  Plus roasting makes the cloves pop right out of the papery skins!

I made a few other changes to the original recipe as well.  This time I made the pesto in the food processor instead of the blender (it made drizzling in the olive oil much easier), I added Parmesan cheese to the pesto instead of the goat cheese I used in the original version (kept the pesto thinner), and because I had them, I sauteed some mushrooms and shallots and tossed them in with the broccoli.  The mushrooms turned out to make a big difference–they added a texture and savory depth that was missing from the first version of the dish.

Pesto at the end of the tunnel

 

mushrooms!

 

So much pesto...

One note on the type of pasta: I used whole wheat fusilli noodles (corkscrew shaped), which worked out really well because this is a rather thick pesto.  There are plenty of other shapes that would work too–I’d just recommend staying away from long and/or flat pastas like papardelle or fettuccini.  They won’t work nearly as well.

In the end, the new version of this dish was MUCH tastier than the original, still not very difficult to make, and something that’s definitely worth adding to your pasta and pesto repertoire.

Ready for eating!

Broccoli Pesto Pasta
(serves 2-3)

  • 1/2 head of garlic, outer layers of skin removed
  • 3 medium crowns of broccoli, long stems are a bonus
  • 1 cup of mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • olive oil
  • 112g whole wheat pasta
  • salt
  • pepper
  • lemon juice (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the outer layers of papery skin from the head of garlic.  You only need half the cloves for this recipe, but feel free to roast the whole head of garlic if you have another use for it.  Set the garlic on a piece of aluminum foil and drizzle it thoroughly with olive oil.  Seal it up, put it on a cookie sheet, and roast for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of well salted water to a boil.  When it’s boiling, dip the crowns of broccoli in, one at a time, for 30 seconds each.  (This is why the long stems are helpful–they give you something to hold on to.  If your broccoli doesn’t have a long stem, just drop it in and fish it out with a slotted spoon after 30 seconds).  As soon as you take the broccoli out of the boiling water, run it under cold water for a bit to stop the cooking.

Roughly chop two of the three crowns of broccoli and put them in the food processor.  Grate in about 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese (more or less as you desire), and add a few grinds of black pepper.  Take your garlic out of the oven, carefully open up the foil pack, and remove the cloves of garlic from their skins and add them to the food processor.  Pulse several times, scrape down the sides, and then let it run as you drizzle in olive oil.  You want enough olive oil to thin it out into a sauce-like consistency rather than a paste, but not so much that it tastes oily.  Stop and taste it periodically until you get the consistency you prefer.  Salt to taste.

Once the pesto is done, add the pasta to the pot of (still boiling!) water that you cooked the broccoli in.  While that’s cooking, heat a bit of olive oil in a medium sized skillet and add the shallots and mushrooms.  Cook for a few minutes until the mushrooms are nice and brown.  Chop the remaining broccoli into bite sized florets and add it to the skillet.  Drain the pasta, and then add both it and the pesto to the skillet and toss everything together.  Once everything is well coated in pesto, take it off the heat and serve garnished with a bit more freshly grated Parmesan and/or a squeeze of lemon juice.  Enjoy!

Cranberry Upside Down Cake!

Because I was teaching this semester, I wasn’t able to host Thanksgiving this year.  But I still wanted to make something to bring and share…but what?  I wanted something new, but something that would still fit with the Thanksgiving spirit.  Inspiration struck in the form of an email with the new seasonal menu for one of my favorite restaurants.  There, under the desserts, they were featuring a cranberry upside down cake.

I had never really thought of making an upside down cake before, much less one with cranberries.  I had always pictured upside down cakes with rings of pineapple, and they had never seemed particularly appealing to me.  But cranberries…cranberries had possibilities!

The first order of business was figuring out how to make the cranberries stick to the top of the cake.  Flat pineapple slices would sit on a cake fairly well, even with an imperfect “glue” but cranberries seemed problematic to me.  So I asked Google for some help and read through a bunch of different upside down cake recipes and learned that in almost all of them the “glue” is basically just a caramelized sugar and butter mixture that you pour in the bottom of your cake pan, and then press the fruit into before it hardens.  Seemed fairly easy to me!

Then there was the cake to figure out.  Most upside down cake recipes called for some variety of plain cake (white, pound, vanilla, etc) to support the fruit.  On the one hand this makes sense–you want the fruit to be the star of the dish.  But I wanted something different.  I wanted something more than just a blank slate with fruit on top–I wanted something that would work together with the cranberries and enhance them.

Answer?  Spice cake.  When I make cranberry sauce, I add a whole host of spices to the pot, so I figured the same idea would work for the cake.  But I needed somewhere to start.  Luckily, I came across Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Spiced Applesauce Cake.  I wasn’t entirely sure it would work, because, never having made an upside down cake before, I wasn’t sure how stiff of a cake you would need to hold up the fruit.  (And never having made the applesauce cake before, I was also unsure how strong it would turn out to be.)  I also wanted more spices in the cake than that recipe calls for (because again, I put a LOT of spices in the pot when I make cranberry sauce) so I decided to wing it a bit, and just use the recipe as a guide.

In the end, the final product came together beautifully.  The cake was moist and well-spiced without being overpowering.  The cranberries stayed neatly in place in their single layer, their tartness marrying beautifully with the sweet, aromatic cake.  The one flaw was that in the attempt to not waste any cake batter, I overfilled the cake pan a bit and it overflowed.  Luckily I caught it before *too* much dripped down, and stuck a sheet pan on the rack below to keep it from getting on the heating element and burning.

Oops. Drippy.

Just out of the oven!

Success!

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Cake Batter:

  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 c packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1.5 c unsweetened applesauce

Topping:

  • ~2c fresh cranberries (I used a little more than a package…basically you want enough to completely line the bottom of your pan in a single layer)
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 3/4 c packed light brown sugar

Note: You can either make this cake in a 9′ cake pan or a 10′ cast iron skillet.  I made it in a cake pan, and had slightly too much cake batter.  It would most likely all fit in the skillet.  The advantage of using a cast iron skillet is that you can caramelize the butter and sugar right there, as opposed to needing to pour it from a saucepan into the cake pan.  On the other hand, using the cake pan, I was able to line the bottom with a disc of parchment paper, which made for easy extraction.  It’s up to you.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small saucepan (or your cast iron skillet) melt the butter for the topping over medium heat, and then stir in the brown sugar.  Keep stirring constantly as it simmers for 4-5 minutes.  The color should darken some, but don’t let it burn!  Pour it into your parchment-lined cake pan if you’re using one, and then spread the cranberries over the top in a single layer, packing them in tightly.  (You could even arrange them in a pattern if you wanted to be fancy.)  Do not touch the sugar/butter mixture.  It will burn you.  Set the pan aside.

Whisk or sift together all of the dry ingredients in a small bowl.  Set aside.  Then, in a large bowl, beat together the brown sugar, vanilla extract, and softened butter–keep going until it’s light and fluffy.  (You’re going to want to use an electric mixer/stand mixer to do this unless you want a really good workout.  Because it takes a good 2-3 minutes on high to achieve proper fluffiness.)  Then beat in the eggs one at a time, and finally beat in the applesauce.  Then mix in the dry ingredients until just combined.  I did this by hand because my mixer doesn’t have a setting that’s low enough to avoid a flour explosion.

Pour the batter over the cranberries in the cake pan/skillet.  Even if you have a little batter left over, do not overfill your cake pan.  Bake the rest into a little spice muffin if you like.  Put the cake in the oven on the center rack, and put a sheet pan on the rack below (just in case you did overfill), and bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick in the center comes out clean *and* the center of the cake feels springy when you press on it gently (i.e. doesn’t feel like it’s a crust sitting on top of liquid).  Make sure you do both tests–toothpicks were coming out clean significantly before the center of the cake was fully set.

Cool the cake in the pan on top of a cooling rack for 15-30 minutes or until you can easily handle it with your bare hands.  (Even longer won’t hurt it.)  Gently run a knife around the edge of your cake to loosen it in the pan.  Then take your cake plate, put it upside down on the top of your cake, and flip.  The cake should slide easily out of the pan.  If you made it in a cake pan with parchment paper, gently peel off the circle of parchment.  Cool completely and enjoy.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator–it makes an excellent breakfast the next day!

Carrot cake is delicious.  And I’ve made Smitten Kitchen’s version (layer cake style) with great success in the past.  Seriously, it was one of the most delicious cakes ever.  And I think I still have some in the freezer somewhere.  I may need to go thaw that out…

Unfortunately, carrot cake also tends to be ridiculously bad for you.  Now I’m not one to turn down delicious desserts just because they’re unhealthy–far from it!  I love dessert and I have a terrible sweet tooth.  I don’t buy in to all the sugar-free, low fat, fake butter, weird chemical trends.  However, I’m trying to eat somewhat healthier of late and (more importantly) I’ve been itching to try my hand at baking experimentation for a while!  So I wanted to see if I could make a version of carrot cake that was still delicious and moist but didn’t contain a cup and a quarter of oil.

Now baking is finicky.  Unlike cooking, where you have a lot of freedom to adjust things as you go along, with baking, if you measure wrong or add the wrong ingredient, there’s no way to salvage it once it’s in the oven.  I was always a bit hesitant to try experimenting because I didn’t want to have a lot of good ingredients go to waste.  So I decided that I needed to do some research.  I compared four different recipes: Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, Chuck Hughes’ recipe, Alton Brown’s recipe, and the recipe from Advanced Bread and Pastry (which is definitely a book you’ll want to invest in if you’re serious about baking like my husband is!).  By studying the recipes, I got a pretty good idea of the ratios of the different types of ingredients involved in making a carrot cake delicious.  So then I started to contemplate substitutions.

The first thing I decided I wanted to include was some banana puree.  I figured that since, like applesauce (a common healthier substitution for oil), bananas contain pectin, it would probably work to sub it in for some of the oil.  I also guessed that I could cut the sugar in the recipe since bananas are naturally sweet.

The next thing I decided to include was crushed pineapple.  Again this is a naturally sweet ingredient, and in fact is commonly included in many carrot cake recipes including Chuck’s, so I figured I could get away with it.  (Also it meant that I got to have a big glass of pineapple juice to drink since I drained the crushed pineapple before mixing it in.  I love me some pineapple juice!!)

I also substituted a quarter of the flour with whole wheat flour.  I seriously considered doing more–and in retrospect I probably could have gotten away with it–but I was already not entirely sure how these were going to turn out so I didn’t want to press my luck!

The results of all this tinkering were surprisingly delicious.  The muffins were soft and moist, with sweet bursts of chewy dried fruit in the middle (I used dried cherries and raisins).  While I wouldn’t call these muffins a health food, by making the substitutions of the bananas and pineapple, I was able to cut the oil content from a cup and a quarter down to just half a cup!  And I really don’t feel like lost anything by it.  I definitely think I’m going to keep playing with this recipe–I’d like to create a version that reads more like a cupcake, and I’d like to find a way to make cream cheese frosting healthier (because I’ve been known to eat it with a spoon.  I am a cream cheese frosting junkie.)  But I hope that this convinces you, like it convinced me, that with a little research, baking is definitely something you CAN experiment with, and the outcome can be delicious!

*Originally these were meant to be cupcakes.  And really, there’s a very fine line between sweet muffins and cupcakes sometimes.  And if you want them to be cupcakes, all you really need to do is frost them.  (You could also eliminate the dried fruit if that would make them feel more cake-y to you.  Feel free to play around!)

P.S. If you’re wondering about the lack of pictures, it’s because the muffins were all gone before I remembered to take any!  My apologies!

Carrot Cake Muffins
(makes about 24 muffins) 

  • 1.5c all purpose flour
  • .5c whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • .5 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp garam masala (or ground cinnamon if you prefer)
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 4 large eggs
  • .5c canola oil
  • .5c mashed overripe bananas
  • .5c crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1.5c granulated sugar
  • 3c grated carrots
  • .5c raisins (optional)
  • .25c dried cherries (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line your muffin tins with paper liners.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the two types of flour, the salt, baking soda, and the spices.  Set it aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together oil and sugar.  Then whisk in the eggs, and when they’re fully combined, mix in the mashed bananas and the crushed pineapple.  Then mix in the grated carrots.

Once the carrots are incorporated into the wet ingredients, add the dry ingredients to the wet and start to mix.  Use as few strokes as possible – you don’t want to overmix!!  When about half of the flour is mixed in, add the dried fruit if you’re using it.  Mix a bit more until everything is just combined.  If you can still see a little bit of flour here and there, don’t worry about it.  It will be fine.

Use a disher or an ice cream scoop to evenly distribute the batter into the muffin tins.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  (It might take longer–just keep an eye on them!)  Let them cool in the pans for a bit, and then when they’re cool enough, take them out and put them on cooling racks to cool down the rest of the way.  (This is especially important if you’ve decided to frost them.  If not?  They’re really good while they’re still warm!)

At long last, the Thanksgiving post has arrived!  Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, but I’ve come to appreciate it exponentially more in recent years, partially because I’ve gotten more into cooking, but also because I spent three Thanksgivings in a row (2006-2008) outside the US.  In 2008 I did get to attend the US embassy potluck Thanksgiving, which was fabulous and full of delicious food, but now that I’m back in the US, I’m just so thankful (no cliche intended!) that I get to spend Thanksgiving with my family!

As has become the tradition recently, we had two Thanksgivings this year.  The first was at my parents’ house and had nearly 20 people in attendance (so many cousins!).  The second?  I hosted!  Since my fiance and I have a big table and a nicely functional kitchen (unlike the teeny kitchen we were working with in his apartment last year!) I thought it would be lots of fun to have both of our parents plus his sister and her husband over for Thanksgiving.

I had never made a turkey before.

I had never cooked that many dishes all at once before.

I am really bad at timing (as in getting all components of a meal to be done cooking at the same time.  This is why I usually cook one-dish meals.)

This had great potential for disaster.

In the end, mistakes were made, there were a few things that didn’t make it onto the table for various reasons, and the timing wasn’t perfect, but no one went home hungry, I didn’t light anything on fire, and nothing turned out to be completely inedible.  So I’d say it was a success! And now you can learn from everything I did wrong and do much better than I did the next time you host a major gathering!

Part 1: Overall Tips: Start in advance.  Way in advance.  Like…a month or two in advance even.  Your freezer is your friend for many things, from roast pumpkin and squash to cranberry sauce.  So don’t, for example, stress yourself out by trying to roast the pumpkins for pumpkin pie two days before Thanksgiving, because you will inevitably be stuck with a stubborn pumpkin that does NOT want to be cut open.  (More on that later).  Save yourself the headache, and roast your pumpkins in October, puree the flesh and then freeze it, leaving yourself free to make stress-free pumpkin pie from scratch.  Same for cranberry sauce–make it in early November and freeze it.  Applesauce too.  And if you happen to be making coconut butternut squash soup, freeze that too!

Just don’t freeze your mashed potatoes.  Those are better fresh.

Another tip: get a cooler to use as a temporary spare refrigerator.  It is likely while you’re in the process of preparing all these dishes, that you will run out of refrigerator space.  We were lucky that it was just barely cold enough to keep some things outside, but if you live in a warmer climate or the weather is unseasonably warm for late November, you will want a cooler with ice in it for overflow refrigeration.

Part 2: The Dishes I made a lot of food.  Too much, judging by how full my freezer still is.  But leftovers are good!  And I’m convinced that had we been able to use the bigger plates, people would have eaten more.  But more on the plates in a bit. So here’s what I made:

  • Turkey – I bought a 12lb organic bird.  I had wanted a 10lb turkey, but I didn’t know until it was too late that you can pre-order your turkey from the grocery store.  I bought it fresh, four days before Thanksgiving.  Its sell-by date was the day I bought it–I was a little concerned, but it was fine.  But I’d definitely say pre-order your turkey if at all possible.A note on turkeys–obviously not everyone can afford or even find organic turkeys.  So if you can’t, and if you don’t hunt your own wild turkeys (I certainly don’t!), then at least aim to get one that is a) under 14lbs or so (have you seen those 25lb turkeys?? They’re so breast-heavy they’d tip over!  Just get two if you need to feed more people) b) natural, as in it hasn’t been treated with all manner of antibiotics and chemicals, and hasn’t been injected with weird stuff and isn’t self basting.

    Once you’ve got your turkey, for the love of all that’s holy do not just set it in your refrigerator!!!  Put a large plate or platter under it at the very least, or better yet set it in the roasting pan.  It WILL leak.  You don’t want to know how long it took me to scrub out our fridge.

    If you’re going to brine your turkey, keep in mind that it takes quite a long time (8-16 hours), so plan accordingly.  I didn’t brine mine this year, but maybe next year!

    Assuming you’re doing what I did, on Thanksgiving morning, take your turkey out of the fridge and move it over to the sink.  It should be thawed by this point if it was frozen.  Make sure you’ve given yourself enough time!  You’ll want about 2 hours of prep time (this is generous, but you never know how long it’s going to take, especially if you’ve never done it before!) and you’ll want to make sure you have enough time to roast the bird.

    Turn on the cold water, and start washing your turkey, inside and out.  Make sure you take out the neck and giblets.  And please do us all a favor and throw the giblets away.  Unless you really like organ meat and know how to cook it, neither of which are true for me.  Just make sure you don’t do what I did and throw them in a pot to try and make some sort of stock.  You’ll just end up stinking up your entire house.  It’s *really* hard to get rid of that smell.Anyways, rinse your bird thoroughly, and check it for unplucked feathers.  It likely will have a few, and if it’s an organic bird, possibly more than a few.  You especially need to make sure to check the armpits and crevices by the legs.

    Once the turkey is all clean, pat it with some paper towel and set it in your roasting pan.  Now you’re ready to stuff/season/flavor/otherwise prepare the bird so that it comes out juicy and delicious!  This is where a recipe can definitely come in handy.  I used Jamie Oliver’s turkey recipe which was definitely a good choice.  The turkey came out moist and tender–it’s true what they say: bacon makes everything better!  I did find it rather difficult to get the pancetta wrapped rosemary skewers into the thigh, and I ended up only doing two per thigh unlike the 6 he recommends, but I found that by poking a hole with a knife, and then widening it with my finger, I could shove the pancetta in there first, and then pin it in place with the rosemary.  Just try not to make the hole too big–the skin needs to be mostly intact to keep the juices in.  The other key point of his recipe is to stuff the turkey breasts.  Even if you’re not making his exact recipe, you should totally do this!  It’s a little tricky to get your hand up in there, but that was the moistest, juiciest turkey breast I’ve ever had.

    His name was Mr. Turkey.  He was delicious.

  • Mashed potatoes – Not much to say here…mashed potatoes are tasty.  And easy.  Just keep an eye on them so they don’t boil over.
  • Mushroom gravy – Since my fiance is a vegetarian, I made mushroom gravy instead of gravy from the drippings.  It’s really easy to do, and plus you can do it earlier in the day so you won’t be scrambling to make gravy while your turkey is resting and your guest are arriving.  I’ll put the recipe down at the bottom of this post.
  • Stuffed onions – I decided that for the vegetarian stuffing, I would make Smitten Kitchen’s stuffed onions. The stuffing inside of these onions?  Delicious!  The onions?  A giant pain in the neck.  She’s right that a melon baller is definitely the appropriate tool for hollowing out an onion, but if you’re making 10-15 of these, unless you have onion goggles, your eyes will be burning for the rest of the day.  And you will stink like onions for quite some time thereafter.  Still determined to make them?  Hollow them out as much as you possibly can without punching a hole in the side–if you can get it down to one layer of onion?  Awesome.  And make sure you pre-roast the onions long enough before stuffing them.  I was a bit rushed for time, and I don’t think they went nearly long enough–and you really don’t want that raw onion flavor, especially if you, like me, were unsuccessful in scooping out all but one layer of onion.
  • Sausage stuffing – I made the stuffing from Jamie Oliver’s recipe, but sadly, this was one of the things that didn’t make it onto the table.  I had put the leftover stuffing that wasn’t in the turkey into a casserole dish and stuck it in the oven, but I don’t think the sausage managed to cook through.  It is currently in the freezer, waiting for me to toss it in a skillet to turn it into something else.
  • Green bean casserole – The stereotypical dish that can be made entirely from canned goods!  Blech!  Make it from scratch.  Blanch your fresh green beans for three minutes (less if they’re not very tough), toss them in a casserole dish with homemade cream of mushroom soup (I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe) or just use some of your mushroom gravy, and top it either with panko breadcrumbs or make your own crunchy onions. But since crunchy onions roast at a much higher temperature than turkey and I only have one oven, alas, I had to forego the crunchy onions.
  • Sweet potato cranberry bake – My fiance got this recipe from a coworker and can I just say–yum!  Chunks of tender sweet potato (the real stuff!  the canned stuff is nasty!), tart bursts of juice from the fresh cranberries, and a crunchy, sweet oatmeal and brown sugar topping!
  • Kale and apple salad – Just what it sounds like, and with a lemon vinaigrette dressing and some walnuts on top.  You’ll want to blanch the kale a little bit to make it less tough, and you can do this ahead of time–just make sure you have an ice bath ready for it, because you don’t want mush!
  • Cranberry apple chutney – This is one of those things that is super easy to make but looks really impressive in the end.  All you really do is simmer fresh cranberries and a granny smith apple with some spices until the cranberries pop and the sauce thickens.  It’s good by itself, on a leftover turkey sandwich, or on crackers with a bit of goat cheese!in progress
  • Applesauce – If you, like me, bought an absurd number of apples at the farmer’s market, make applesauce!  I don’t bother peeling the apples–I just cube them and toss them in a pot with a little water (only enough to cover the bottom layer or so of apples), ground cinnamon and cloves, and a bit of allspice.  Cook it down until the apples are mushy, add a little brown sugar if it needs it, mash it all up, and there you go!
  • Coconut butternut squash soup – This time around I had a 6lb butternut squash.  It was absurdly huge.  But in fact, the ratio of 6lbs of butternut squash to two cans of coconut milk makes a delightfully textured soup that actually deserves to be called soup and not a puree.  Fresh grated ginger as opposed to ground also adds a nice dimension of flavor.
  • Pumpkin pie – Like I said above–if you’re going to roast your own pumpkins, do it in advance!  You don’t want to end up with a pumpkin like this throwing off your entire day:

    I do now have a lovely pair of pumpkin shell bowls!  The shell stayed super hard, even after roasting for 45 minutes!

In addition to all the dishes mentioned above, my fiance (the baker in this relationship!) baked three loaves of French bread and an apple pie.  Yum!

And now the recipe I promised you:

Mushroom Gravy

  • 2 handfuls crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 3tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2tbsp flour
  • 1c mushroom broth

Put a saucepan on the stove over medium heat and add 1tbsp of the butter.  Let it melt and start to sizzle a bit, and then add your mushrooms.  Cook them until they’re nicely browned and then remove them from the pan and set aside.  In the same pan, add your remaining two tablespoons of butter, and when it’s melted, add the flour.  Stir until it forms a thick paste, then add your mushroom broth.  Reduce heat and stir more or less constantly until your sauce starts to thicken.  Then  add the mushrooms back in, and cover it and keep it warm on the stove until you’re ready to use it, stirring occasionally.

We’ve been going to the farmer’s market the past couple of weeks.  Now that it’s mid-summer, the market is full of all kinds of fresh, local, and often organic produce.  All for way less than you’d spend at the grocery store.  It’s fabulous!  Two weeks ago when we went, as we wandered past the cheese stand, we saw one last stand of vegetables, hiding just off the main drag.  Along with the usual assortment of beets, onions and lettuces that were populating most of the stands, this one had these delightful, curly green things with cone-shaped bulbs near the top.  The Asian man working at that stand told us that they were part of the garlic plant and that many people just used them to decorate their kitchens, but that in his culture people would chop them up and put them in stir fry.  Never ones to pass up new varieties of produce, we bought a bunch.

A little googling told us that these curly green stems were called garlic scapes and that they had a milder garlic flavor than the bulb so I decided that they would go really well in an omelette.  The stems seemed a little tough, so I figured they would need to cook for a little while before I poured the egg in (actually, they could have cooked even more than they did).  I dropped some butter in a skillet (nonstick because I can’t for the life of me make an omelette in stainless steel) on medium heat.  Once it melted, I dropped in the garlic scapes which I had chopped into half inch pieces, some finely chopped green chili pepper, and some onion.  Meanwhile I beat four eggs in a bowl and after a few minutes, added them to the pan.  After giving everything an initial stir, I covered it and let it cook, shaking it every so often to unstick it from the bottom.  When it was almost finished, I added some freshly ground pepper and pieces of fresh mozzarella cheese on half of it.  I folded it in half when dumping it onto the plate.  The cheese was plenty salty, so it didn’t need any additional salt, but if you’re making it without cheese or with a different kind, you might want to add some salt.  The garlic scapes did indeed have a wonderful, aromatic flavor which went really well with the eggs and cheese.  The bulbs were a bit strong, but if you cook the scapes a bit longer than I did, it would probably mellow out.

Sorry I don’t have any pictures, but it was gone before I thought to take any!  It was that good!

 

Garlic Scape Omelette
(serves 2)

  •  one bunch fresh garlic scapes
  • one shallot or small onion
  • one green chili pepper (optional)
  • butter
  • four large eggs
  • fresh mozzarella cheese
  • pepper (and salt)

Put a skillet on medium heat and add about 1.5tbsp of butter.  While it’s melting, chop your garlic scapes into half inch pieces, dice the onion, and finely chop the green chili pepper (if using).  Add all the vegetables to the skillet and cook until garlic scapes start to soften.  Meanwhile, crack four eggs into a bowl and beat them until they’re a uniform color.  Once the vegetables are starting to soften, add the eggs, give everything a good stir to evenly distribute the vegetables and cover.  Check on it periodically, giving it a good shake, and if it seems like the bottom is cooking much faster than the top, you can cut slits in it to let the uncooked egg on top run down to the bottom.  When the omelette is almost set, add the fresh mozzarella over one half, along with some freshly ground pepper.  Cover it again and cook a bit longer, til the cheese starts to go melty.  When transferring your omelette from the skillet to the serving plate, fold it in half so that the half without cheese covers the half with it. If desired, add more pepper over the top.  Enjoy!

Sometimes my experimental recipes don’t go very well.  Or sometimes (like yesterday) they start off good but I quickly get sick of eating them.  Probably about 95% of the time I make one-dish meals (saves on dishes and I’m just cooking for me!), so it’s not good to get sick of what you’re eating halfway through!  But sometimes I invent something awesome that I totally want to eat again.  Tonight was one of those nights.

The initial inspiration for this recipe came from Jamie Oliver–I had bought the tagliatelli a couple weeks ago for making his pasta dish with parsnips and pancetta.  When I went grocery shopping this past week, I decided to pick up some fresh mushrooms and fresh herbs with the vague notion of making some sort of pasta dish.  I had also wanted pancetta, but alas there was none.  So tonight I was digging around in my fridge trying to figure out what else to put with the mushrooms, rosemary, and tagliatelli when it occurred to me to toss in some kale and goat cheese, figuring that I could thin the goat cheese with a little olive oil to make it like a sauce.

This turned out to work exactly as expected and was delicious!  That rarely happens without a recipe!

And thus without further ado:

Mushroom and Kale Tagliatelli

  • 2-3 handfuls of small porcini mushrooms (or whatever kind you like)
  • 2-3 stalks of fresh rosemary
  • 2 servings worth of tagliatelli or other long pasta
  • 3-4 large leaves of kale
  • half a package of goat cheese
  • olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)
Put a pot of water on the stove to boil.  Meanwhile, wash the mushrooms, rosemary and kale.  De-stem the rosemary and kale, and then finely chop the rosemary and coarsely chop the kale.  Slice the mushrooms into 1/4 in. slices.  Peel and coarsely chop the garlic.  Salt the boiling water and add the pasta.
Add a good glug of olive oil to a hot skillet and toss in the mushrooms, rosemary, and some salt and pepper.  Stir frequently, and when the mushrooms are mostly cooked, add the kale and a little bit more olive oil if necessary.  When the kale turns bright green, turn off the heat and toss in the garlic.
Drain the pasta, reserving a small amount of the cooking water.  Dump the pasta, water, mushrooms and kale back into the pasta pan.  Add the goat cheese and a little olive oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir vigorously until the goat cheese melts and forms almost a sauce.  Serve, and top with Parmesan cheese to taste.
[Note: I’ll post pictures later when I get them onto my computer]

More Beets!

The lasagna from my last post only used one beet, so I had three more to use!  I decided to try something a little different and make a beet curry.  Since I’d never made anything like this before, I started off by googling around for recipes, but came up mostly empty handed.  I did find a few recipes, but they all required a long list of Indian spices which, unfortunately, I don’t have.  But I wasn’t going to let this stop me!  I do have a good curry powder, so that’s what I started with.

I dropped about three tablespoons of unsalted butter into a medium pan, and once it was melted I threw in about a tablespoon of curry powder.  There are a lot of different curry powders out there, and if you’re not making your own, I would recommend the Whole Foods brand (though ironically that’s not what I have–they were sold out so I ended up with Frontier Natural Curry Powder, which is also a pretty good option).

Then I tossed in the diced beets, peas (thawed but not heated), and what turned out to be the key ingredient–golden raisins.  After letting everything simmer for a bit I tasted it and added some salt.  Just at the end I threw in a couple tablespoons of shredded coconut, tasted it again, and added a few more raisins and a bit more salt.  Here’s the result:

mmm...beets!

It turned out better than I was expecting, and tasted even better as leftovers!

The recipe (all quantities are approximate):

Beet Curry

3tbsp unsalted butter
1tbsp curry powder
2 medium beets, cooked, peeled and diced
1/3c frozen peas, thawed
a handful of golden raisins
2-3tbsp shredded coconut
salt to taste

Melt the butter in a medium pan and add the curry powder.  Stir until curry powder is coated.  Add beets, peas, and raisins.  Simmer 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add salt, stir, and add coconut.  Cook for another minute or so and add more salt and/or coconut if necessary.  Enjoy!