Thursday, September 30, 2010

Butternut Squash Lasagna

Pumkins and SquashIt is autumn and the produce stands are filled with beautiful winter squashes--acorn, carnival, delicata, hubbard, turban. My favorite is the butternut squash. This is the beige-colored squash shaped like a bell. It's fine-textured deep-orange flesh has a sweet nutty flavor and reminds me of sweet potatoes.

Winter squash is always a comforting side dish--it goes wonderfully with chicken and pork. But today I wanted to make it the "star of the show".

Butternut Squash Lasagna
One 4-pound butternut squash
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
One package oven-ready lasagna noodles*
2 large yellow or sweet onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, finely diced
Fresh sage
One 15-oz container low-fat ricotta
1/2 cup low- or non-fat milk
3 egg yolks
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
3 cups shredded cheese, divided (see note below)
non-stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the butternut squash, scrape out the seeds, and cut into one-inch cubes. Place the squash in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, the salt, and pepper until evenly coated. Spread out in a single layer in a rimmed baking sheet (a jelly-roll pan works wells) and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the squash is soft and begins to brown. Remove from the pan and mash with a potato masher. Set aside.

While the squash is baking, saute the onions in a large pan in the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. (Use a large pan with a generous cooking surface so that the onions brown rather than steaming. You want a bit of caramelization to take place). After about 10 minutes toss in the garlic and continue to cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. 

To prepare the fresh sage, remove 10-12 leaves from the stems; layer them one on top of the other and then roll into a tight bundle. (It will look a bit like a cigar.) Using a sharp kitchen knife slice crosswise through the sage, forming very thin strips. Stir the prepared sage into the onion mixture and set aside.

Prepare the cheese filling by stirring together the ricotta, milk, egg yolks, and nutmeg. (It is important to use just the yolks in this recipe--they help to thicken and stabilize the cheese filling).

Now it's time to assemble the lasagna. 

Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread a thin layer of the cheese filling on the bottom of the pan. Now, begin layering:

  • one layer of uncooked lasagna noodles

  • 1/2 of the squash

  • 1/2 of the onion mixture

  • one layer of uncooked lasagna noodles

  • 1/2 of the ricotta mixture

  • 2nd half of the squash

  • 2nd half of the onion mixture

  • one layer of lasagna noodles

  • 2nd half of the ricotta mixture

Top with the remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and top is lightly browned. (If desired you can prepare the lasagna ahead of time, cover, and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes and then bake as usual. You might need to add 5 minutes or so to the baking time).

Makes 8 generous servings.
* oven-ready lasagna is the kind that requires no boiling. It costs a bit more, but is important to use in this recipe because the squash as very moist.
Note re. shredded cheese: You may use mozzarella, or a blend of Italian cheeses (mozzarella, Parmesan, asiago).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How Do YOU Do Dumplings?

My younger daughter asked for chicken and dumplings for dinner. I love to cook, I love to cook soup, and I love my daughter, so I'm a happy camper.

But, what kind of dumplings? When some people think of dumplings they dream of those slippery, soft, eggy creations--like spaetzle, but lighter and thinner. But other people envision fluffy little bits of biscuit-like dough.

Why have to choose? I did both.

Egg-Noodle Dumplings
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk

Place flour, egg, and butter or margarine in the bowl of food processor. Pulse until mixture resembles fine crumbs. While motor is running, pour water through feed tube a little at a time, until mixture forms a ball.

Remove dough from processor and let rest for 10 minutes. Turn out onto well-floured surface and roll to 1/8-inch thickness. Let dough rest for 30 minutes then cut into small rectangles, about 1/2-inch by 1-inch. Cook in boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir cooked dumplings into hot soup 20 minutes before serving.

Fluffy Biscuit-Like Dumplings:
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

Mix flour and baking powder in mixing bowl. Cut in butter or margarine until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in milk, mixing only until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not over mix. Drop by teaspoon into simmering soup. Dumplings should be no larger than a walnut. Cook uncovered 10 minutes. Cover and cook 10 minutes longer.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oven Fries

My husband receives email offers for "buy one, get one free" at several local sports bars/family restaurants in our area. He loves the burgers, and I love the fries. But eating out (even just burgers and fries) is pricey, and the fries are deep fried. Not heart or waistline friendly.

So I've devised a recipe for oven fries that pleases even me:

Oven Fries (For two large servings):
2 large russet potatoes, well scrubbed
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Cut potatoes into 1/4-inch thick slices, and then cut the slices into 1/4-inch thin strips. Place in a large bowl and cover with hot (not boiling) water. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain well and pat dry. This step is important. Get as much water as possible off of the potatoes.

Combine the flour, salt, pepper, and paprika in a large mixing bowl. Add the well-dried potato strips and toss to coat.

Put the potato strips on a jelly-roll pan. Drizzle olive oil over the potatoes and toss to coat. Bake in preheated oven about 15 minutes. Stir and return to the oven and bake an additional 5 minutes or until browned and crispy.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fair Scones

I went to the Western Washington Fair today--it's the 7th largest fair in the country (over 1.2 million visitors each year) and has something for everybody. Barns filled with every type of farm animal you can imagine; grange exhibits; 4-H; new product demonstrations, hot tubs, tractors, chain-saw carving; carousels and carnival rides; art, needlework, photography and hobby displays.

And then, there is the food. You name it, they've got it. And even a few things I'll bet you've never heard of--deep fried cookie dough, alligator on a stick, and the "Earthquake Burger" -- one-half pound of ground beef with all the trimmings.

The fair has been going strong for 110 years, and for more than 80 of those years, visitors have savored the hot scones filled with butter and raspberry jam. I love fair scones, but wince at the cost. $1.25 for one little triangle--about 6 bites.

I make scones at home, and my family says they are more than "fair":

Fair Scones
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form. Add the milk and toss quickly and lightly with a fork.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead about 6-8 times or until it forms a smooth ball. Don't overwork or your scones will not be tender.

Cut the dough in half and pat each half into a circle, slightly higher in the middle. Cut each into 4 equal pieces to make 8 pieces total. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove to cooling rack. To serve "fair-style", while still warm split and fill with softened butter and raspberry jam.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Soup, soup, glorious soup!

Today is the first official day of Autumn. But I have felt “Fall” in the air for the past month. There’s a certain crispness in the morning, a smell in the air, and a tinge of color in the leaves that signals that God’s earth is preparing for another slumber.

With autumn my “kitchen” thoughts shift from salads and barbeque to savory casseroles and soups.

One of my favorite warm, comforting soup recipes is for “Bread Soup” (or in Italian, ribollita). I first tasted this wonderful frugal meal-in-a-bowl at an outdoor bistro in Florence, Italy. After much trial and error, I have come up with what I feel is a pretty close cousin to that amazing Tuscan meal:

Ribollita (Bread Soup)
12 oz. dry cannellini beans
1 medium onion finely chopped

2 stalks of celery finely chopped
3 medium carrots finely chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
3 cups shredded kale

*8 slices good-quality dry rustic bread
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
shredded parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Place the beans in a large stock pot with 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Immediately turn off the heat, cover the pot and let sit for one hour. This step takes the place of the traditional overnight soak for cooking dried beans.

2. In a medium saute pan cook the onion, celery, and carrot in 1/3 cup olive oil until the onion is softened and translucent.

3. Stir the sauted vegetables, canned tomatoes, and garlic into the stock pot with the soaked beans. Let simmer over a low heat for about 2 hours or until the beans are tender (test with a fork).

4. Once cooked, remove half the beans and broth and puree in a blender.

5. Return the pureed beans to the pot. Stir in the shredded kale and simmer for 30 minutes.

6. Cut the bread into 1/2-inch pieces and add it to the soup.

7. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste.

8. Drizzle each serving with olive oil and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

     *a dense, chewy artisan bread such as Italian, ciabatta

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The "When Harry Met Sally" chocolate cake (or, is it okay to take a "Better than Sex" cake to the church picnic?)

I love chocolate cake. No, let me rephrase that -- I LOVE chocolate cake.

Today is the day of our annual church picnic. I always bring a salad and dessert, often trying a new recipe. I spent yesterday afternoon looking through my recipe files, hoping for a bit of chocolate inspiration. I didn't find anything new. Rather, I found something old--a yellowed clipping from a newspaper, all but forgotten at the bottom of my card file. And what an intriuging name--"Better than Sex" cake.

...OK. I'll make no comment, either now or later. Let's just get busy baking:

Better-Than-Sex Chocolate Cake
1 cake mix (ANY chocolate flavor will do)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
1 jar ice cream topping (see note below)
1 small carton frozen whipped topping, thawed

Prepare the cake mix according to package directions. Bake in a 9x13-inch baking pan and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Poke 12 evenly-spaced holes in the cake with the handle of a wooden spoon. Fill the holes with the condensed milk. This will take a few minutes. You will need to fill the holes one at a time, wait a moment while the milk soaks in, and then repeat the process until all of the milk is used.

Next cover the top of the cake with the ice cream topping. Place the cake in the freezer for about 20 minutes. This will allow the ice cream topping to firm up a bit. Remove the cake from the freezer and cover with the whipped topping.

That's it--cover the cake and store in the refrigerator.

By the way, if this does not provide enough decadance for you, you can always sprinkle butter brickle bits, walnuts, mini chocolate chips, or sprinkles on the whipped topping.

Note re. ice cream topping--you can use any flavor you want.
Chocolate fudge, caramel, butterscotch, etc.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Oodles of Noodles

I love Saturdays. Every other day of the week is filled with work and routine, but Saturday is my one day to really "play" in the kitchen. That's the way it was for my mom. Early Saturday morning I would awake to the aroma of yeast dough proofing in the pantry, waiting to be formed into rolls or coffee cake. And while waiting for the dough to rise there would be a pie in the making--apple, peach, maybe apricot, rhubarb, or (Daddy's favorite) gooseberry.

And then, in the afternoon while the bread was baking and the pies were cooling, mom would make dough for egg noodles.

Mom made the most amazing noodles. They were rolled by hand--paper thin and light as air. And when she wasn't looking (or so I thought) I would grab a bit of the raw dough and pop it in my mouth. Flour-y, eggy, salty wonderfulness!! As the years passed Mom's arthritis made it impossible for her to wield the rolling pin that formed those thin layers of pasta dough. So Daddy bought a pasta machine for her.

I have Mom's pasta machine now, and whenever I use it I think of her. Today with the help of Mom's pasta buddy I made noodles. But these were no ordinary noodles. In my pantry is a large (I mean REALLY large) package of sliced almonds. I found them in our local warehouse store, and they were just too great of a bargain to resist. They have appeared in salads, cakes, and cookies. 

And today they served as my inspiration for fettuccine.  Almond fettuccine. Here's how I did it:

Homemade Almond Noodles
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 tablespoon wheat gluten*
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg

Process almonds in food processor until ground. However, don't process to the point of having almond butter. There should be a bit of texture in your pasta. To the same bowl add the wheat gluten, salt, and flour. Pulse until mixed. Add the egg and process until a stiff dough forms and cleans the sides of the bowl. This will take a few moments and a bit of patience. At first it will seem that the dough will not come together--it will be a bowl full of crumbs. But as the gluten in the flour breaks down your dough will come together. Trust me!

With a pasta machine or by hand roll dough out to desired thinness. Use machine or knife to cut into strips of desired width.

Here are what my almond noodles look like after being rolled and cut. After they dry a bit I'll cook them in boiling salted water for a few minutes and serve with melted butter and fresh parsley. YUM!

* wheat gluten is available in health-food stores and in many major grocery stores in the baking goods section. Gluten provides the "glue" that binds dough and makes it sticky and pliable. A bit of gluten is needed in this recipe because almonds (which do not contain gluten) are taking the place of some of the flour.

Friday, September 17, 2010

(Almost) Fool-proof Pie Pastry

Okay, so yesterday I posted a recipe for Rhubarb Crumble Pie. But maybe I need to take a giant step back. How to create the perfect piecrust in which to envelope that wonderful rhubarb pie?

I remember watching my mom make pie dough. She and my oldest sister (26 years my senior) were the bakers in our family and they each had their specialties. Sis was a master at making cakes and cookies, and mom held the crown for most amazing bread and pies ever created. Period.

I've looked at dozens of pie crust recipes. A few contain simply flour, water and fat (shortening, butter, margarine, or *gasp* lard). Others are more elaborate and call for the addition of milk or even vinegar. Mom was a traditionalist with simply Crisco, flour, water, and a pinch of salt and her pie pastry was heavenly. So flaky it would crumble if you breathed on it.

Well, I remember Mom's recipe, and I've used her technique, but I also have made a pledge to myself to strive to use healthy ingredients, whenever I can, for my family. That's not to say that I don't splurge once in a while. But I've found that pie pastry is one place where I can ramp it back a bit and still come up with a product that would make Mom smile.

Knowing that olive oil is far healthier than margarine, butter (or certainly lard), I started with my Betty Crocker recipe for "oil pastry" and tweaked it a bit. Here is what I do when I make a one-crust 8 or 9-inch pie:

Easy Pie Pastry
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water

Mix flour and salt in medium bowl. Add oil; mix until you have particles the size of small peas. Then sprinkle in the water, just a little bit at a time until the flour is moistened and the dough almost cleans the side of the bowl. (If it seems dry, add a drop more oil--don't add any more water). Gather the dough together and press into a ball.

Place the dough between two sheets or waxed paper and roll out to 2 inches larger than your inverted 8- or 9-inch pie pan. Peel off top paper. Place pastry, paper side up, in pan. Peel off paper. Ease pastry into pan and crimp edges as desired.

If you want to make a 2-crust pie, here are the proportions:

1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup olive oil
3 to 4 tablespoons water

Rhubarb Crumble Pie (or dessert from a deer-proof garden)

I love rhubarb--tart, tangy ruby-red rhubarb. It's one of the first plants to pop up in my Springtime garden. Actually, it's the only thing that appears in my garden at any time of year. I live in "deer country". Bambi and company don't just wander through occasionally. They live here. In the morning they munch on the salal, at noon they frolic through the flower beds after a short nap on the back lawn, and in the evening they bed down under the cedars.

Nothing is off-limits....nothing, that is except for the rhubarb. And in autumn I find that it is still going strong and so today I gathered a few plump stalks and decided to prepare one of my family's favorites -- rhubarb crumble pie.

Rhubarb Crumble Pie

One unbaked 9-inch pastry shell
3/4 cup granulated sugar
5 teaspoons cornstarch
4 cups rhubarb, cut in 1/2-inch slices
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

Combine sugar and cornstarch in large mixing bowl. Add rhubarb slices and toss until all slices are covered with sugar-cornstarch mixture. Set aside for about 10 minutes or until sugar appears moist. Place rhubarb-sugar-cornstarch mixture in unbaked pastry shell.

Place flour, butter or margarine, and brown sugar in another mixing bowl. Cut butter into flour and sugar with a pastry blender until mixture has the appearance of coarse crumbs. Place this crumble mixture atop rhubarb in pastry shell, spreading to evenly cover rhubarb.

Chill prepared pie in refrigerator and chill for one hour. (This resting time will allow the cornstarch to begin to thicken the pie filling).

After one hour, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Bake pie in preheated oven for 50 minutes or until crumble topping and pastry edges appear golden brown.