Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jumping the Gun on Autumn

Yesterday was a gorgeous day here, unseasonably warm, as though we were getting one over on Mother Nature and squeezing a few more heavenly days out of summer. However, I had a fully fall meal planned - baked pasta with roasted veggies - and I went through with it despite the fact that it involved turning on the oven in an apartment with no AC.

I had roasted butternut squash left over from the salad I made a few days ago and an eggplant that needed to get eaten. I diced the eggplant, dressed it with olive oil and salt and pepper and roasted in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes, stirring at the half way point.

Once you have your veggies roasted you need a pound of cooked pasta (I used penne, you should use any type of short pasta you like), a white sauce and some cheese (I used fontina and parmesan). Here's what I used for the white sauce (all already in my fridge!):

6 Tbs butter
4 Tbs flour
salt and pepper
heavy cream

Melt the butter in a saucepan and then whisk in flour. Let this cook for a few will be able to smell it when the flour is no longer raw. Add your heavy cream, I'm guessing I had about half a pint and your salt, pepper and nutmeg (s&p should be to taste, probably about a 1/2 tsp of nutmeg). I didn't expect this but the mixture at this stage got REALLY thick so I added milk...I'm not exactly sure how much, probably somewhere between 1/2 cup and a cup and it settled down nicely and became a creamy sauce. Check your seasonings at this point and adjust, mine was pretty bland so I added more salt.

Once you have everything done to this point, combine pasta, veggies, white sauce and 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese. Pour half of this mixture into an oiled baking dish and top with grated fontina cheese, then layer the second half of the past mixture, more fontina and more parmesan cheese. The crunchies you see around the edges of the pan are fried leeks - they were maybe a little TOO well done, but so delicious none the less...just the savory addition needed for this dish, since the butternut squash adds quite a bit of sweetness. I just thin sliced the white and light green parts of a leek and fried in quite a bit of olive oil until they were nice and crunchy.

Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until bubbly.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

pear and apple crisp I liked

I have to say something that might shock you. I don't really like apple crisp. I don't like how the underside of the topping gets wet and gummy, and the apples cook down so far that you don't even really have any apples left when it's done baking, you just have a thin film of apple sauce kind of, covered in sort of soggy topping.

But see, we had three apples and two pears from the CSA malingering on the counter, and I didn't want to wait for pie crust to chill. Well frankly, I didn't want to spend time making a pie crust. So my hand was forced. But I thought of a way to maybe make it so that I would enjoy it. And it worked!

This made 4 servings. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

1. peel and cut the apples and pears in BIG chunks, like 1 inch pieces (so it doesn't cook down into applesauce! One problem solved).

2. toss them with cinnamon and sugar and a pinch of salt and put them in a very small baking dish, mine was 4 cup capacity for 5 apples/pears... basically, what you want to do is FILL the baking dish to the top with fruit (this too helps with avoiding the applesauce problem - greater fruit to topping ratio).

3. then make the topping: melt 6 tbsp. butter, mix in thoroughly 1/3 cup sliced or slivered almonds, 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut* (this is how I made it good, i.e. not gummy! shredded coconut instead of flour!), a heaping 1/2 cup oatmeal, and about 1/4 cup brown sugar.

4. mash this topping down onto the apples, packing it onto the fruit to make a smooth top.

5. put it in the 400 degree oven (I put it on a piece of aluminum foil, on a baking sheet, because once the apples get nice and hot they'll get really juicy, and boil over onto the bottom of your oven and SCORCH) for about 10 minutes, and then turned it down to 350, for another... I don't know how long - maybe another 20 or 30 minutes? When the topping was golden brown, and the juices were all bubbly I took it out.

6. Axel F got some vanilla ice cream to put on top, because there really is no substitute for putting vanilla ice cream on apple crisp, especially when it's actually good and crispy apple (and pear) crisp with crunchy almonds and toasty, brown sugary, buttery coconut. Thanks again to him for these quality photos, especially considering the surpassingly poor quality of our camera and lighting situation.*don't skimp and use sweetened flake coconut, that stuff is gross and doesn't really taste like coconut. The unsweetened flake coconut, like this, is totally different, and worth a trip to Whole Foods for. It actually has a very fine texture - tiny little flakes, rather than being big thick ribbons, so it's an excellent flour substitute in this situation.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash and Arugula Salad

Two cute baby butternut squash and a bunch of arugula walked into a, not really. But I did find myself with two small butternut squash from our parents' garden and a bunch of arugula from this week's CSA. The squash had been hanging around for a while and I wanted to use them up and the arugula DOES NOT KEEP so had to be used immediately. A quick internet search led me to an Ina Garten recipe with EXACTLY these two ingredients. Serendipity. Of course, I didn't have ALL the ingredients on hand but I improvised and results were still delicioso, although I do look forward to making this by the book next time. For example, I substituted apple cider with apple cider syrup diluted with water - the syrup is really tangy and intense so it was still flavorful, but I'd still like to do this with the apple cider. Anyway, here is what I had:

2 little butternut squash
1 Tbs real maple syrup
2 Tbs dried cherries (instead of cranberries)
1 bunch arugula
Apple cider syrup (diluted with water, instead of apple cider, total 3/4 cup liquid)
2 Tbs white wine vinegar (instead of cider vinegar)
2 Tbs chopped onion and garlic (instead of shallots)
2 tps Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup toasted pecans (instead of walnuts)
Parmesan cheese

Peel and dice (3/4 inch) the butternut squash. Place on baking sheet with 2 tbs olive oil, maple syrup and s&p and roast at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Add the dried cherries with about 5 minutes left.

To make the dressing, I combined apple cider syrup and water (about half and half, but if you use cider or juice this won't be an issue), vinegar and onions/garlic and brought it to a boil. Let it simmer until its reduced to about 1/4 cup. Remove from heat and whisk in mustard, olive oil and s&p to taste.

Top your arugula with the warm butternut squash and a few tablespoons of dressing. Sprinkle with toasted nuts and parmesan cheese - I used a vegetable peeler to make ribbons but you can use grated as well.

You'll find that the flavors in this salad complement each other beautifully - the hint of maple syrup with the sweet squash and tart cherries, the nutty parmesan with the peppery arugula and pecans. And I have tons of the roasted squash leftover, so there will be a pasta recipe to follow soon!

Friday, September 17, 2010

B! L! T!

Jenean and I were driving home from somewhere last weekend, and we were discussing what we had left of our meat CSA - a modestly sized ham steak, and a package of super thick sliced smoked bacon. I said, what totally awesome use of bacon is there? What should we do?

And then Jenean had one of the all time great ideas - we should make BLTs. Axel F had picked up the CSA, and I called him to confirm that we had gotten a couple tomatoes and a lot of lettuce. So Jenean and I stopped at Trader Joes for some good white bread (they call it "The Shepherd's Bread"), and then I made a special trip to the 7-Eleven for Hellmann's mayonnaise (I will accept no substitution when it comes to mayo - I grew up on the west coast so I prefer to call it Best Foods*, but it's the same mayo, i.e. the best mayo money can buy, hands down, no doubt about it).

Then we agreed that the best way to cook that beautiful bacon was to bake it, so I put my cooling rack inside my sheet pan, and laid out the bacon slices, and baked them at 450 for about 20 minutes. To be honest, my actual timing method was: when F said, "hey, that bacon is smelling good," that's when i went it to check on it, and it was done. Boom. Pulled it out, and while it cooled down and crisped up, I toasted bread, sliced tomatoes, selected lettuce leaves, spread mayo on said bread, laid on the bacon, then the lettuce, then the tomato, then salt and pepper, then topped with another slice of bread (also spread with mayo of course).

Let me tell you how awesome that bacon was - about a quarter inch thick, and the package happened to have 15 slices. That meant 5 beautiful thick smoky slices per person, meaning that in combination with the best mayo money can buy, the freshest ripest tomato in big thick juicy slices, and some crispy lettuce, we had the world's best BLT. It's not hard to get there, really. You should probably do it.
Thanks to Axel F for the muy romantico pictures.

*You probably already know this, but Best Foods and Hellmann's are the same company. Best Foods is obviously the better name than Hellmann's, especially considering their jingle: Bring out the Best Foods, and Bring out the Best! It's a lame jingle for Hellmann's, and yet, east of the Mississippi, they say Bring out the Hellmann's and Bring the Best. Lame, I say!
But... it is the best.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Garlicky Lemony Roast Chicken

We got a beautiful whole chicken in last month's CSA which Elaine kindly split in two so that we could each have a half. I wanted to roast mine and I also wanted the skin to get crispy, the meat to stay juicy and I wanted to add a big kick of flavor so I settled on garlic and lemon with some roasted potatoes and onions on the side. I modified a Cook's Illustrated reecipe and it turned out just the way I wanted! Here's what you need (double it if you have a whole chicken, which you probably do):

Half chicken
5 cloves garlic
2 tsp kosher salt
1 lemon
potatoes, quartered (however many you want)
onions, quartered (however many you want)
olive oil
Make a garlic paste:
Smash your garlic cloves then add the kosher salt and work into a paste using the flat of your knife. Just keep chopping and smashing until its a pasty consistency.

Gently separate the chicken skin from the chicken but don't remove it. Using your fingers, spread the garlic paste between the skin and meat. Really get in there and coat the entire chicken. Then, squeeze the juice of one lemon all over the chicken.

I don't have a roasting pan so I used a wire cooling rack set over a 9" x 13" baking pan. I cut the squeezed lemon into quarters and put them on the cooling rack and put the chicken, breast side down, on top of the lemons. If you're using a whole chicken, you can probably just put the lemons inside the cavity. Place the chicken in a 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Turn the chicken over so the breast side is up. Once the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken back in and cook for another 20-25 minutes until your juices run clear.

Nothing can be easier than roasted veggies - I added my potatoes and onions, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, to the oven when I turned it up to 450 and everything was done at the same time.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Peach Shortcakes!

I was in Trader Joe's last week and they were selling local peachs in these adorable cardboard baskets that said "These are from here!" and so of course I bought them. They were so declicious and juicy, perfectly ripe and fresh. However, I soon realized buying these was dumb, because there were about 15 peaches in the basket and now I live alone and that is WAY TOO MANY PEACHES for one person to consume before they get all mushy and gross. Nothing to do but bake with them.

Our friend Jess is a pie baker extraordinaire, and she and Elaine made DELICIOUS peach pies several weeks ago. I can't get involved in pie making - the crust is crazy intimidating to me. Although last week I made this zucchini gallette from smittenkitchen and while it wasn't perfect, I'm going to try again so it CAN be perfect. But anyway, making a pie seemed like too much and crisps and crumbles seemed too fall/winter for these summer beauties. I found a recipe for peach shortcakes on the Cook's Illustrated website - I HEART SHORTCAKES, so this seemed perfect. Kind of strange I never thought of making them with anything other than strawberries. But now that its a possibility, I will make them all the time, with everything because these are easy and awesome.

(Cook's did a lot of fussy things with the peaches that I didn't do...maybe next time, but I doubt it.)

For the peaches you need:
2 lb peaches (about 4-5)
4 tbs sugar (reduced from 6)

For the biscuits you need:
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbs sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 stick melted butter (unsalted), cooled slightly

For the peaches:
Slice peaches into 1/4 inch thick segments, sprinkle with sugar and let sit to get the juices flowing. Cook's suggests chopping 1/4 of the peaches up smaller and adding peach schnapps to the mix and microwaving it, but I think this was to ramp up the peach flavor when you don't have good peaches, which I did, so I didn't bother.

For the biscuits:
Combine dry ingredients. Whisk together buttermilk, egg and melted butter. Pour wet ingredients into dry until just combined, then stir vigorously with a wooden spoon for 30 seconds. Shocking, I know. Instead of a loose, wet biscuit dough like I expected, it held together quite well and was kind of smooth. Using a greased 1/3 cup measuring cup, scoop 6 biscuits onto a greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle biscuits with 1 tbs sugar and bake at 475 degrees for about 15 minutes until golden brown on top. Let cool on a rack.

To assemble:
Split a biscuit, spoon some peaches on the bottom half, top with whipped cream and the top of the biscuit. Eat. Enjoy.

Such a simple dessert but so delicious because of the freshness of the peaches - a great example of how perfect simple dishes can be if you use ingredients that are in season.