30 October 2012

What to do with butternut squash, first installment

I am not a huge fan of butternut squash, but it's easy to grow and my husband likes it.  I think it's too sweet most of the time, and I don't like its overly mushy texture.  It's like baby food. So, here I am with a glut of the suckers and no clue what to do.  I have been experimenting with ways to sneak it into flavorful dishes to cut the sweetness, and my first success was this soup.  You can make all kinds of substitutions here--use sweet potato or any other squash in place of the butternut, trade out the greens for whatever you prefer, and even the barley can become brown rice, a small pasta shape, or Bulgar wheat easily enough.  If you make any substitutions to this recipe, I'd love to hear about them--comment below!

Butternut Squash Soup with Barley and Kale

Serves 6

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
2 teaspoons salt, divided
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon butter
1 cup pearled barley
4 cups water or vegetable stock
½ cup dried shitake mushrooms, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 cup chopped fresh or frozen kale
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Dash Tabasco
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toss the butternut squash and onion with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of the cumin, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the smoked paprika.  Spread onto a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 425°F for 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender and starting to turn brown.

Meanwhile, heat the butter over medium heat in a Dutch oven or large stock pot.  When it melts, add the barley, the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, and the remaining teaspoon of the cumin.  Saute until the barley starts to toast and become fragrant.  Add the water or stock and the dried mushrooms, cover, and increase to medium high heat.  When the soup begins to boil, lower to a simmer and cook until barley is tender, about 30 minutes.  Stir in the kale, lemon juice, and Tabasco and continue to cook until kale wilts, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, stir in the roasted vegetables, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

26 October 2012

Toasted Pasta and Roasted Tomato Sauce

Toasted Spaghetti with Roasted Puttanesca

The name says it all…

Serves 4

1 lb. of your favorite sick pasta (spaghetti, buccatini, linguine…)
4 cups homemade uncooked puttanesca
1 cup cooked chick peas

Break stick pasta in half and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake in the oven at 350°F for about 10 minutes, stirring once so that it browns evenly.  Pasta should be golden and starting to blister on the surface slightly. It should look like this:

Bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, spread the puttanesca and chick peas out onto a baking sheet.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and roast in the oven at 375°F for about 20 minutes, or until some of the liquid has evaporated.

Toss together and enjoy!

23 October 2012

Raw Puttanesca Sauce

My favorite puttanesca is garlicky, spicy, and barely cooked.  I prefer to treat it like a pico de gallo on top of pasta, just tossing it enough with the hot pasta to warm it up.  Cooking it for a long time like you do other sauces makes it lose that special fresh quality (and really flattens out the garlic).

When you have a glut of fresh tomatoes, this is a great plan; if the tomatoes are not in perfect condition (usually when texture is grainy inside), you can also simmer it on the stove to disguise their flaws.  Making the raw sauce and then canning it also works really well.

2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, cored and roughly diced
4-6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1/2 cup green olives, chopped
2 tablespoons capers
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
olive oil, salt, and balsamic vinegar to taste

Combine all ingredients and  refrigerate.  Will keep up to one week; otherwise, can it or cook it and then it can be frozen.

19 October 2012

Hummus Pizza

This recipe combines some of my favorite things: pizza, cheese, hummus, and a short ingredient list.  And surely this is healthier for you than a big pile of oil poured underneath the tomatoes, right?...

Hummus Pizza

Makes 8 large slices

1 pizza crust (here's my recipe)
1 cup hummus (here's my recipe)
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 tomato, cored and thinly sliced
1 ball smoked buffalo mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced

Roll out the pizza crust as thin as possible and prebake in the oven at 425°F for 8 minutes or until it starts to get slightly crisp on top.  Remove from oven.  Spread the hummus in an even layer on the crust, then scatter the red onion and lay down the tomato slices.  Lay mozzarella slices evenly across the top and bake in the oven 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and starting to brown.

15 October 2012

Whiskey, glorious whiskey!

I am not always proud of my freelance work writing food articles for Examiner.com (and even less proud of the near-illiteracy I see elsewhere on that site), but I'm going to suck it up and show you something because I am SO EXCITED to try bourbon and, coming soon, whiskey from Wyoming Whiskey.  They were the first distillery to open in Wyoming (2009) and they're a truly home-grown operation.  Check out info and some of my favorite recipes here.

And the best cocktail of all utilizing whiskey:

The Millionaire

Serves 1

  • 2 ounces rye whisky
  • 1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
  • 1 dash grenadine
  • egg white (this could make it through two drinks to save on the waste)

  • Shake with cracked ice thoroughly, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

  • 12 October 2012

    A new veggie burger recipe

    When I was first trying out being vegetarian in my early 20s, I bought a lot of artificially flavored, pre-made apologies.  I called them "apologies" because all of these products were made to simulate meat--fake burgers, fake bacon, fake wings--as if eating naturally vegetarian foods like beans, veggies, and grains was somehow just not good enough.  Ironically, these meat apologies were generally pretty unhealthy and in no way resembled meat--if you were turning to Boca in the early 90s for a cure for your meat craving, you were not going to end up happy in the end.  If you were craving cardboard, however, you were in luck...

    Now, I like homemade veggie burgers for what they are: a bunch of grains, vegetables, and perhaps some cheese smashed together into a convenient patty.  They're easy to cook and make a great sandwich filler to go with a beer.  But they can be kind of a pain to make, requiring special ingredients and often getting the balance of wet-to-dry ingredients wrong, making for either very sloppy or very crumbly patties.  Using potatoes makes it easy to keep these patties together, which speeds up the prep time quite a bit.  It's also a great way to use leftover cooked potatoes, and it relies on pantry staples so you never have to make a last-minute run to Whole Paycheck for special grains.  Win-win-win!

    Potato-Bean "Burgers"

    Makes four large patties

    1 cup canned black beans, white beans, or chick peas
    1 carrot, grated
    1/2 onion, diced
    3 potatoes, grated
    4 scallions, chopped
    1 cup corn
    salt and pepper to taste
    oil for frying

    Mash the beans with a fork or a potato masher. Add the remaining ingredients, except the oil and mix until well combined.

    Shape the mixture into patties. Heat about two tablespoons of olive oil and cook each patty until the veggie burgers are done, about 3 minutes on each side.

    05 October 2012

    More breakfast treats

    As long-time readers know, my decision-making skills in the morning are not at their best.  I'm also on the road a lot, and often don't get up early enough to sit down and eat breakfast (today, for instance, I left the house at 5:50 with Verismo Trio to catch a flight to Boise.  Ugh.)  Therefore, I like to bake big batches of muffins and other slightly dessert-like treats and then I can just grab for something in the morning without having to think about it.  Without this crucial planning, I tend to wind up eating Doritos or leftover green beans for breakfast, which doesn't always go so well.  Here are a couple more reasonably healthy muffin recipes--they freeze well and can be defrosted overnight on the countertop or simply microwaved for 20 seconds in the morning.

    Island Muffins

    12 servings

    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    2 teaspoons ground ginger
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    ½ teaspoon baking soda
    ½ teaspoon salt
    2/3 cup packed brown sugar
    ½ cup coconut (or canola) oil
    1 8-oz. can crushed pineapple in its own juice, drained and juice reserved
    ½ cup pineapple juice from the can
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 cup finely grated carrot
    ½ cup raisins
    ½ cup chopped nuts, optional

    Preheat oven to 350°F.  Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.

    In a large bowl, combine carrot, vanilla, pineapple juice, coconut oil, and brown sugar with a whisk.  Stir in pineapple juice, then add all dry ingredients, stirring thoroughly to combine.  Scoop batter into muffin tin and bake 22-25 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

    *       *       *       *       *       *       *        *        *        *       *

    Lemon-Tahini Muffins

    12 servings

    1 tablespoon baking powder
    ½ cup sunflower seeds
    ½ cup raisins
    ½ cup milk (cow, soy, almond…doesn’t matter)
    ½ teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup canola oil
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
    3 tablespoons tahini (or you could use any other nut butter)
    ¾ cup sugar
    ¼ cup lemon juice

    Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

    In a large bowl, combine milk, oil, tahini, sugar, and lemon juice; combine thoroughly.  Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.  The batter will be sticky and a bit on the thick side.  Spoon into the muffin tin and bake 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  

    02 October 2012

    Greeley, CO has a new restaurant (don't go).

    Some lovely friends joined us for a meal at the newest restaurant in town, Pellegrini. It's run by a native Italian who has successfully been at the helm of the Italian restaurant in Fort Morgan for a decade.  Unfortunately, all four of us know how to cook something beyond instant ramen, and so we knew what went wrong.

    The wine was not bad.  Remind me to mention that again.  Although it is not difficult to find decent red wine with an Italian name, they deserve credit for that, at least.  In fact, the house chianti in a carafe (though it only serves 3 glasses) is perfectly pleasant.

    Pizza: the crust is thin and puffy, and quite crisp.  It was nice.  But the pizza we got was not cooked beyond the crust: raw cheese, arugula, and cherry tomato halves were haphazardly tossed on top, making it difficult to eat and disconcertingly incoherent.

    Risotto: the butternut squash and scallop had the cutest scallops!  They were like little dwarves.  But the flavor was missing entirely, and the texture was strangely watery yet dry.  Don't get this.

    Pasta dishes: the amatriciana sauce with prosciutto was pleasantly smoky, and the chardonnay-cream sauce with shrimp was pleasantly garlicky and comforting (aren't all cream sauces comforting yet a bit monotonous by the end?).  The problem was the pasta itself.  It was overdone, yielding a gluey, gloppy mess that sticks in the teeth and distracts from the otherwise well-made sauces.  I wondered if these dishes would have been better if we had made a big show of requesting al dente (and isn't that assumed?).  In Italy, it's before al dente, which is just right

    Extras: the side salad is bagged salad with no chopped vegetables and no dressing.  They provide balsamic and olive oil on the table, which is probably better than they would do with a dressing, but the instructions to "do it like in Italy" with vinegar, then oil and salt on top" is hardly authentic advice (well, I guess I don't know what they do in Sardinia).  The crusty white bread they brought to the table was warm and well-made; the olive oil with freeze-dried garlic sprinkled on top was not.

    Dessert: we opted for booze.  The port is smooth and clean, the limoncello a bit on the chemical side.

    It will come as no surprise that Greeley struck out again.  If you live in the area and haven't learned how to cook a basic risotto and a simple pasta dish you like, you really should.

    Oh right, the wine was fine.