June 28, 2014

Butternut Squash Cake

by horseradishsauce

In the spring out here in AZ, there is a thing called Market on the Move. For every $10 you pay, you get ~60 lbs of produce. We get a lot of melons, squashes, tomatoes, and cucumbers. In March, they had a MASSIVE box of jalapeñfonzy melonos.
We make the cucumbers into homemade pickles and freeze a lot of the extra stuff we can’t eat right away.
By the way, if you ever have a chance to pick up a fonzy melon, they are fantastic. The one you see on the right is quite ripe (about 2 weeks old), so the ones you find at the store tend to be more yellow. They taste sort of like a cross between a honeydew and a cantaloupe–sweet and fresh like a honeydew, but with a good amount of actual flavor like a cantaloupe.

Two months ago, my roommate and I got three butternut squashes. We didn’t eat them. The next month, we got another five. We’d tried making a soup with the banana squash from a previous month, and it was pretty unimpressive, and neither of us really likes eating roasted butternut squash, so I decided to make the butternut squash into a dessert. Foodgawker never fails me. I had a party and ended up messing up my cookies (I’m in an old, old house right now with an ancient dials-not-buttons-and-no-window-at-all oven), so I brought this cake instead. It was gone within a few minutes. I brought more pieces to class on Monday, and my classmates ate it all right away.

This cake is a slightly sweet cake that has a hint of butternut squash, similar to pumpkin bread. The main recipe is the cake with chocolate chips; my own cinnamon-swirl coffee cake variation is below.

Notes on making your own brown sugar and roasting/pureeing the squash are below the main recipe.

Butternut Squash Snack Cake 
(taken from The Live-In Kitchen)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar*
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups butternut squash puree**
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips***
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Coat a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray (or wipe your butter wrapper on it).
In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter and brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth and thick. Fold in squash puree. Add flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon and fold with a spatula until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan and smooth the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 24-27 minutes or until the top is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with moist crumbs attached. Allow the cake to cool completely before cutting. Cake will last three days well wrapped at room temperature.

*Make your own brown sugar
 If you want to save money, make your own brown sugar: mix 1 cup white sugar with 1-2 tablespoon molasses. At first, it looks like it will never combine, but if you keep stirring it with a fork and smashing the molasses chunks, you’ll have fluffy, fresh brown sugar. Add more molasses for darker sugar. I prefer using 2 tablespoons to one cup, which results in brown sugar that is slightly darker than the “light brown sugar” at the store and not quite as dark as the dark stuff.

**Pureeing the squash
I roasted it first by cutting the squashes in halves with the cut side against the pan and baking it at 400° for about 10 minutes.
Once the squash cooled a little, I skinned it and cut it into small chunks. It doesn’t have a lot of water, so I had to puree it by throwing in the chunks then adding water (1/2 cup – 1 cup at a time) until it finally made a puree. I also had to stop the blender and move the chunks around so the blades could reach them. Maybe it’s because I was using a blender instead of a food processor; I don’t know. 

**Alternative to chocolate chips, Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake:

Cinnamon Swirl:
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
• 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 3 tablespoons brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons cinnamon
(Mix all together)

Cinnamon Crumble Topping:
• 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons flour
• 1/3 cup granulated sugar
• 2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• 3 tablespoons butter, melted
(Whisk the dry. Add butter, tossing until it forms crumbs)

Directions:
Make the batter as above. Pour half the batter into the pan, then add the swirl with about a 1” border so that it doesn’t leak out of the cake while baking. I don’t really “swirl” it—I just drizzle it on top of the layer.
Add the rest of the batter, then press the crumble mixture lightly into the surface. Bake as previously stated.

 

November 23, 2013

Fast & Elegant Gnocchi with Pesto and Warm Balsamic Kale

by cillefish

Fast, yet oh so classy. Just like me. OK, I don’t know what I mean by that; but seriously, this meal combines an old-school, judicious avoidance of overkill with a flavor combination that really pops. Toast a batch of walnuts ahead of time to up that ‘wow’ factor with a simple, fast prep time around 30min.

Feeds: 2

  • 1 14-oz package of gnocchi
  • ~ 2 Tbsp good pesto that’s largely good oil (I use Mt Olive)
  • 1 bunch young kale, de-spined and cut with kitchen scissors to 2-or-3″-square pieces (you can also use a mix of spinach and mild arugula, and omit the microwave step)
  • 1/4 tsp Italian Traditions salt-free Italian spice mix (I highly recommend this mix specifically due to the freshness and depth of flavor)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder (NOT garlic salt – just ground dried garlic)
  • 1/3 c: 2 parts mirin, 1 part balsamic vinegar of Modena
  • scant 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
  • Parmesan Reggiano, shaved with a potato peeler, ~3 Tbsp
  • 1 1/2 twists fresh cracked black pepper per plate

Important: Toasting walnuts takes ~11 to 45 minutes, but you get better results taking the longer approach and toasting entirely on low to medium-low. The hot-and-fast approach tends to turn things from pale to burned too fast for me to save them in time, and the slower option creates a fuller flavor. I keep these on hand and do this in batches of 1/2 cup of finely chopped walnut, stirring every 3 minutes or so.

Note: the spice mix can go either onto the kale or in the sauce. The mix I use lacks the dusty, strawlike consistency of cheaper mixes, but if your mix is tougher and dryer, put it in the sauce with the honey.

Prep:

  1. If you don’t have any toasted walnuts on hand, start with this step first. Raw may be alright but will lack most of the richness and depth of flavor of toasted.
  2. Combine olive oil, garlic powder, mirin and balsamic vinegar in small saucepan on low, and let it warm up. Add honey. Let it sit and reduce by 1/2, stirring or swirling every now and then to prevent the honey from crystallizing and burning. Meanwhile; wash, spin, and scissor kale and place it in a big glass bowl.
  3. When walnuts are toasted, set aside and get water boiling for gnocchi.
  4. When gnocchi is done, sprinkle italian spice on chopped and microwave for about 1min (you want it to reduce volume just slightly and take on a brighter hue, but stay just slightly crunchy and not quite “wilted.”)
  5. Pour warm, reduced balsamic mix into kale, separate into 2 bowls, and top each with matching portion of walnuts and parm. Toss gnocchi with pesto and spoon into sides of bowls. Twist pepper on top and serve!
March 3, 2013

Frittata, Frittata, Frittata, Je T’aime

by cillefish

For the frittata-uninitiated, these are basically quiches without crusts — firm, cakelike omelets cooked slowly over low heat. My first efforts at these resulted in scrambled eggs, but a good frittata actually can be super simple and surprisingly classy for something so packed full of good things. Tips to simplify:
Frittata

  • The right hardware: A big, cured skillet is best for this recipe since the frittata turns out particularly attractive if you sit it under the broiler for a minute or two, and I don’t trust teflon or the “wrap the plastic handle in foil” method not to do nasty things in the oven.
  • Butter is better: If your skillet isn’t (or is) well cured, barely-browning some butter in the bottom of the pan right before you pour in the egg mix will help it stay loose and come out a little easier.
  • Implements that help: A big, flexible pancake spatula is also a plus here, as is one of those knives that looks like a soft-cheese knife but has very good, small serrations on the bottom for astoundingly excellent julienne-slicing.
  • Shortcut: For the faint of heart or accident-prone [me], the baking method also works: butter a deep pie dish, do whatever stovetop prep is necessary to get the veggies where you want them, and pop the whole thing, uncovered, into a 350° oven for, say, 30min.

Spinach, Red Pepper, Onion, and Feta Frittata:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, halved vertically and thinly sliced
  • 2 red bell pepper, quartered lengthwise and sliced very thinly
  • 10 oz frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed out (I up it to 15oz)
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/4 to 1/2 c crumbled feta
  • optional: 1 Tbsp pre-grated parmesan
  • optional: 1/4 c to 1/2 c chopped fresh parsley, or 1-2 Tbsp dried (I omit this)
  • 1 tsp italian seasoning (I used 1 heaping tsp)
  • Pepper to taste or a pinch of crushed chili pepper (the egg can handle it)
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter

Preparation:

  1. Pop the spinach in a bowl in the microwave on half-power to start it thawing. Meanwhile, chop everything. More Frittata goodness
June 19, 2012

Summer Italian Soup with Soup-Bean Mix & Leftover “Steak”

by cillefish

Bean soup always takes a little while due to the overnight soaking (the 1- or 2-hour “quick soak in hot water method seems to curse the results somehow, so I avoid it).  However, this one’s worth it. A nice soup mix in smaller beans / peas / lentils makes it hearty but not too beany, and the carrot and tomato brighten it up. Plus, it’s got spinach in it and manages to pull that off without reminding you of grand-maman’s cabbage soup.

  • Timing: Count on an overnight soak, 8-20 min prep (depending on how snazzy you are with chopping stuff), then just under 2 hours of “sit and wait while it cooks” time.
  • Results: 10 servings. Very filling. Low calorie (roughly 200 calories per serving)

Summer Italian Soup with 16-Bean Soup Mix, Tomatoes, Carrot, Parsnip, and Leftover “Steak”

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp hot chili oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced (or chopped then smashed)
  • 4 carrots, sliced pretty thin & diced
  • 1 medium parsnip, handled just like the carrots
  • 1 container Low Sodium Vegetable Broth + 4 c water (or 8 c water and 2-4 vegetable bouillon cubes)
  • 1/4 c lentils
  • 1 (28 ounce) can or 2 1/2 c diced tomatoes (italian seasoning or plain)
  • 1 (10 ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed out and squeezed of water
  • 1 tsp ground red pepper (seems like a lot, but the beans handle it)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano, or 1 1/2 loose Tbsp fresh
  • 1 c dry lentils, sorted and rinsed (optional)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1/2 to 1/3 c Fry’s Vegan Steak Strips (or leftover cooked meatballs or other lean beefish item), thawed and chopped to 1/2″ cubes
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice (optional)

Preparation:

Soak beans (1 night):

  • Sort (to remove stones / sand) beans, rinse, and then in a large bowl soak (overnight – you can also soak them in HOT water for about 2 hours but the overnight is better).

Before you turn the heat on (~10min):

  • Set the spinach out in the sun or in someplace else it can thaw (or microwave it – see note below)
  • Drain the beans. While you chop things, let them sit with the vegetable broth in their bowl.
  • Chop the carrot & parsnip and set aside; chop & smash the garlic.

Deal with the carroty stuff (~10min):

  • In a stock pot on medium heat, saute the onion and garlic until the onion starts to turn translucent on the edges; dump in the carrot and parsnip and toss around for about another 5min.
  • Add in soaked beans, vegetable broth, and water.


Cook beans (1.5 to 2 hours):

  • Bring to a boil, then lower heat when beans are ABOVE a simmer (at a “good boil” but not rolling).
  • Cook, covered, for 1.5 to 2 hours.

Add & cook other ingredients (~20min):

  • When beans are just about done, add in tomatoes, spinach, red pepper, oregano, basil, steak strips & optional lentils (if necessary, chop can tomatoes with kitchen scissors or spoon before mixing)
  • Cook 20 min more or until all bean items are done
  • Add salt, lemon, & additional red pepper to taste

Serve

Tips & Notes:

  • Thawing spinach: put in cardboard, in bowl in microwave and cook on 4% power for 2-4 minutes. Squeeze spinach in cardboard so water goes into same bowl (you can use water for part of broth water if you feel like maximizing your nutrient intake here)
  • Oregano: if you don’t do the chili oil and go easy on the pepper, you can bump this up to 2 tsp dry / up to 2 Tbsp fresh
  • Serving: Plain water crackers are awesome crumbled up in this
  • Based on this recipe