Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Butternut Squash Lasagna | Everyday Italian

Sweet Jebus, this is some DAMN GOOD LASAGNA. If I wasn't already screaming down the superhighway toward vegetarianism this lasagna would have put petal to the metal on that cause. It is that good people.

My immediate family came to my house for Thanksgiving, I was in charge of the bird (dear God was that hard for me to clean and handle), the stuffing and the aforementioned Pumpkin Pecan Pie; everyone else brought side dishes. My dad brought these amazing mashed potatoes with caramelized leeks and cream cheese (hello THUNDER THIGHS), my Nana brought homemade biscuits, cornbread and candied carrots, my sister made the most amazing homemade cranberry sauce, and apple pie, and my mom brought enough baked butternut squash to choke a horse. The squash was the only leftover that I wanted to transform into something else and I'd heard Giada talk about this recipe on the copious amounts of Thanksgiving segments that the Today show did between Halloween and T-day, so I looked in my cookbook arsenal and there it was in the Giada's Family Dinner book.

Now. I did have a few minor changes from her recipe, the first of which was that she calls for the butternut squash to be cooked in water on the stove top, mine had already been roasted in the oven, so I just pureed the baked squash that I had left over. Second, her recipe calls for three amaretti cookies to be pureed with the squash. I did not have amaretti cookies so I threw in a hand full of cinnamon teddy grahams and added a splash of Amaretto liquor to the squash. Personally, I think my substitutions made the recipe better.

Here is the original recipe from Giada's Book
Butternut Squash Lasagna
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.

Rating = So God Damn Good

Monday, November 26, 2007

Pumpkin Pecan Pie | ATK

This pie was hell to make, not because the recipe was complicated or advanced, but was simply due to the fact that I had shit for brains and butter fingers the day I attempted to make this recipe. I ended up going to the market, four, count em' four times that day because I kept forgetting ingredients, and one of the times I had to go to the market was because while I was in the midst of combining ingredients for the pumpkin filling, I went to the refrigerator to grab the eggs, and proceeded to drop half a dozen eggs on the kitchen floor, half on the cork tile, half on the carpet. Trying to pick up the eggs was like trying to pick up gobs and gobs of snots, which kept spreading all over the kitchen floor - not fun to clean, especially when you realize, that you need to go back to the store AGAIN, because now you have no eggs, while in the middle of making the pie and baking the pie shell. SHIT.

I just had a bad kitchen day - nothing worked, as my Nana would say, I was so stupid that day couldn't pour piss out of a boot with the instructions written on the heel. If there is a silver lining to this pie making catastrophe it's that the pie, well, it was good as hell, and worth the effort.

Pumpkin Praline Pie
1 (9-inch) pie shell, chilled in pie plate for 30 minutes

Pumpkin Filling
1 (15-ounce) can plain pumpkin puree
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
pinch cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup evaporated milk
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Praline Topping
1 cup pecans, chopped fine
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
pinch salt
2 tsp dark corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp granulated sugar

1. FOR THE PIE: Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line pie shell with foil, cover with 2 cups pie weights (pennies or dried beans are fine too), and bake until dough under foil dries out, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove foil and weights, poke crust several times with a fork, and continue to bake until firmly set and lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove pie shell from oven (keep oven on) and set aside. (Shell can be cooled, wrapped tightly in plastic and stored at room temperature for 1 day.

2. FOR THE FILLING: Puree the pumpkin, brown sugar, spices and salt in a food processor until smooth, about 1 minute. Cook mixture in large saucepan over medium high heat until sputtering and thickened, about 4 minutes, and remove from heat. Meanwhile, put pie shell back in oven to warm.

3. Whisk evaporated milk into pumpkin mixture, then whisk in eggs and vanilla. Pour filling into warmed pie shell and bake until filling is puffed and cracked around the edges and center barely jiggles when pie is shaken, about 35 minutes.

4. FOR THE TOPPING: While pie is baking, toss pecans, brown sugar, and salt in bowl. Add corn syrup and vanilla, using fingers to ensure that ingredients are well blended.

5. Scatter topping evenly over puffed filling and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake until pecans are fragrant and topping is bubbling around the edges, about 10 minutes. Cool pie completely on wire rack, at least 2 hours. (Pie can be refrigerated up to 2 days) Serve pie at room temperature.

Rating = So God Damn Good.

ALSO - the day after Thanksgiving I was reading my latest Women's Health magazine and there was an article titled Season's Eatings which talked about how to make healthier food choices during the holiday glut, and one tip was to have Pecan Topped Pumpkin Pudding instead of Pecan Pie so go figure, I was being all healthy and whatnot with this pie choice. (Somehow I don't believe that).

I was also in the car a lot this weekend, so I listened to the radio a lot and inevitably every radio dj talked about the holiday food bonanza that is the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and one dj mentioned a statistic that seemed so startling to me. He said that the average American puts on 9, (NINE) pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I just could not believe it, it seemed too outrageous. Does this statistic seem plausible to everyone? I was shocked, just shocked, as I feed myself another slice of pumpkin pecan pie.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Chocolate Chip Mint Biscotti

Ok. So, yesterday I did something completely out of the ordinary, I went to see a psychic. My mom had gone to see this woman about six months ago, and was completely taken with her. Looking at my mother and never seeing her before, she told her how many children she had, the gender of her children, and the stages of life each child was in, she also went on to talk about very personal things with my mother that this woman could not have known, in a word my mother believed her.

I'm not facing any big decisions in my life right now that I think need to be answered, but I was curious about this woman, and what she would see in me. So yesterday my mother and I took the trip to go an see her. I didn't know what to expect, so when she asked me why I was there and what questions I wanted answered I didn't have one. She then asked me what the most important thing in my life was, and my instantaneous response is my marriage, that's the most important thing to me. She then said, ok, we'll start with your marriage, "do you have any questions about it," and the only thing I could think of was that I just wanted to check to see that the marriage my husband and I have in the future is as happy and amazing as the marriage we have today. So we started from there, she laid out the cards, and began to read, telling me that my marriage is solid, that there is so much love and respect there, a love and respect that can't and won't be changed, she mentioned that we will never be deceptive or lie to one another. She then began to say things about my marriage that she just couldn't have known, like we own a house in the country in another state (VT) and that we like to take weekend trips to this house just so we can be alone and together, she mentioned that we just celebrated our third anniversary, and that we went on a trip and the thing that grabbed me was she said, you bought a house together before you got married. What? How would this woman know this?

She mentioned that CB and I are planning another trip, but this time it's going to be on the water; in fact, CB and I just started planning a cruise to Alaska, I just picked up the cruise booklet on Friday. What?

I was there an hour, and for an hour she talked about things that she just shouldn't have known, I've never met this woman before, and she's never seen me, and it was very cool and weird at the same time. There was nothing bad, no precautions, no dire warnings, when I left she said, "you and your husband, it's like you're the same person, he's your soul mate." Which I thought was pretty cool.

Have any of you ever been to a psychic? I'd love to hear your stories.

Oh - and CB he loves him some cookies. I used a recipe that I found on another blogger's website called Sarah's Kitchen and modified it a bit.

1 1/4 cup All-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup Sugar
1/8 c chopped fresh mint leaves
3/4 tsp Baking powder
1 tbsp Water
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 Egg
1 Egg white
Vegetable cooking spray

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine water and next 3 ingredients; add to flour mixture, stirring until well-blended (dough will be dry.) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 7 or 8 times. Shape dough into a 16 inch long roll. Place roll on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and flatten roll to 1 inch thickness.

Bake at 350F for 25 minutes. Remove roll from baking sheet to wire rack, and let cool 10 minutes. Cut roll diagonally into 24 (1/2 inch) slices, and place, cut sides down, on baking sheet. Reduce oven temp. to 325F, and bake 10 more minutes. Turn cookies over and bake an additional 10 minutes (cookies will be slightly soft in center but will harden as they cool.) Remove from baking sheet; let cool completely on wire rack.

Rating = So Damn Good

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pumpkin Scones with Pecans and Dark Cholocate Chips

This is another recipe that lasted mere nano seconds in my house. The pecans offered a great crunch and the dark chocolate melted all ooey gooey when I cut the scones in half and toasted in the toaster oven, such a great breakfast when served with cottage cheese or applesauce on the side. I did make these before I went away to Mexico, and at that point said F-IT. I'm eating good in the neighborhood; bikini be damned. I altered this recipe from this one on the Joy of Baking website, so it was a bit healthier than the original.

Pumpkin Scones with Toasted Pecans and Dark Chocolate
2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup light sugar
1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/4 c applesauce
1/4 cup dark chocolate pieces (I used 65% cacao)
1/4 cup toasted and chopped pecans
1/3 - 1/2 cup vanilla soy milk
1/2 cup fresh or canned pure pumpkin (if using canned pumpkin make sure there are no spices or sugar added)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) and place rack in middle of oven. Line a
baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Stir in the raisins and pecans, if using. In a separate bowl mix together the buttermilk, pumpkin puree and
vanilla and then add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Mix just until the dough comes together. Do not overmix the dough.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and
knead dough gently four or five times and then pat the dough into a circle that is about 7 inches (18 cm) round and about 11/2 inches (3.75 cm) thick. Cut this circle in half, then cut each half into 3 pie-shaped wedges (triangles). Place the scones on the baking sheet. Brush the tops of the scones with the egg wash and sprinkle a little Turbinado sugar on top, if desired. (I didn't)

Place the baking sheet inside another baking sheet to prevent the bottoms of the scones from over browning. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 8 scones.

Rating = So Gad Damn Good (when toasty warm)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Back - and ready to roll

Us at the Mayan Ruins at Coba
Mayan ball field at Coba

CB Climbing down the Great Mayan Pyramid at Coba

The thing I love about going away is the fact that I always want to come home. I love traveling and experiencing new things, but there's nothing like coming home and sleeping in your own bed.

Mexico was great, it was warm, the water was blue, the hotel was amazing, we met amazing people on our trip who we will no doubt keep in touch with, and the people of Cozumel were so nice and genuine.

Our first full day in Mexico we took the 9 hour trip to Coba on the mainland of Playa del Carmen. We sailed on the ferry from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen, and then took an hour and a half bus ride to Coba; one of the Mayan ruins sites on the island, and the only site where you can actively climb the ruins, which was just amazing. After touring the ruins with a Mayan tour guide we stopped off at a small little open air restaurant and ate the best food - CB had chicken, pork, beef, and I had rice, beans and fish. It was soooo good.

We relaxed by the pool, snorkeled in the ocean, ate too much, drank too much, staved off a bit of traveler's diarrhea (I know too much information sorry, and it was bad, must bring antibiotics on next trip to Mexico!)

Glad to back, glad to be cooking and baking, I made risotto and biscotti when I got home yesterday - posts coming tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

8 Days

No posts until next Wednesday at least people. I'm taking a break....sipping cocktails, sleeping past 5 friggin 30, and I'm going to love every minute of it.

And Sweet Jebus please let my eye stop twitching by the end of the week, it's really driving me nuts.

See next week guys. Take Care, Eat Well.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Spaghetti with Eggplant, Butternut Squash and Shrimp | Everyday Italian

Could you possibly spy this eggplant at the market and not buy it? Could you then not bring it back to your office just so you could place it on your desk and wait for your fellow employees to walk by your office and get a glimpse of it, and then take a double take? Could you then not dress up the eggplant, call it Mr. Eggplant Head, and take far too many pictures of it? Well maybe if your mature you can stop yourself from doing all these things, but I am not so I did all of the above, and then I took it home and ate it. In fact, we ate it so fast I didn't get any pictures of the dish, but it was very very good. It was a Halloween recipe from Giada's Everyday Italian. Here Goes.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 5 cups)
2 Japanese eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes (I used regular eggplant)
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 1/4 cups dry white wine
2 cups fish broth, fresh or frozen, or canned vegetable broth (I used vegetable broth)
2 pounds uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper
17.5 ounces orange-colored fresh spaghetti or linguine 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
Heat the oil in a heavy large nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for just a minute. Add the squash, eggplant, rosemary and thyme and saute for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and broth and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer until the squash is tender and the liquid is reduced by about half, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the shrimp and simmer gently until almost cooked through, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Drain pasta. (Alternatively, you can use dried pasta, which will take 8 to 10 minutes to cook.)

Toss the pasta, squash mixture, and butter in a large bowl until the liquid thickens slightly and coats the pasta. Transfer the pasta mixture to a wide shallow bowl and serve.
Note: I wanted to thicken up the sauce a bit so I dissolved a tablespoon of cornstarch in a few tablespoons of water and added it to the sauce. I think it worked better doing that than if I hadn't.
Rating = Damn Good