Saturday, October 31, 2009

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Sausage Apple Pilaf

Squash stuffed.

I made this recipe up on the fly for dinner a few nights ago. It turned out even better than I had hoped.

2 medium-sized acorn squash, cut in half and seeds removed
1 cup of brown rice
2 cups water
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 white onion, diced
1 large apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 lb sausage, removed from casing (LN: Italian or herb will do. I used Sage Sausage I picked up at the Farmer's Market)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the faces of the acorn squash with some olive oil and place face down on a cookie sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until a fork inserted into the squash comes out easily.

While the squash is cooking, place 1 cup of brown rice and 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes or until rice is tender. (LN: Note, you can also do this in a pressure cooker and it will take half the time)

When there's about 15 to 20 minutes remaining on the rice, cook the sausage in sautee pan until browned. Add in the onion and apples and cook until soft. Remove from heat. Once the rice is cooked, mix the sausage/vegetable mixture into the rice. Once squash is done, remove the cookie sheet from the oven and carefully transfer a half squash to a place. Fill the center of the squash with the pilaf mixture.

Serve immediately.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's a Recession!: Easy Homemade Biscuits

You'll never buy a can of Pillsbury biscuits again.

When I was a kid, Sundays were reserved for church and biscuits. As soon as we'd get home after services, my mom and Dad would head to the kitchen to make brunch. My dad would cook the meat -- bacon, sausage, occassionally ham. My mom would cook the eggs. And I would make biscuits. This involved pulling a can of Pillsbury out of the fridge, cringing as it made the popping noise and placing them on a cookie sheet to bake for 10-12 minutes.

If I had known then how easy it was to make your own biscuits, though, I might have done that. Especially since it's so easy to customize with buttermilk, cheese or cinnamon and raisins.

Adapted from

Eat Rating: Awesome. You really won't need to buy canned biscuits ever again.
Difficulty: Easy. It's better if you have a pastry blender and a cookie cutter to cut the biscuits. But in a pinch, I've used two knives and the mouth of a glass and it works out fine.

2 cups flour (LN: You can use all-purpose or whole wheat. If you use whole wheat, you may need to increase the milk slightly)
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup butter (5 1/2 tbsp)
2/3 to 3/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Take your butter and cut it in half lengthwise with a knife. Then cut into chunks. You want the pieces to be small, less than 1/2 inch at most. Once your butter is all cut up, add it to the flour then use your pastry blender or knives to cut it in. The butter will eventually become a mass of tiny particles mixed in with the flour. At this point, gradually add the milk a little at a time until the dough begins to cling together. You want it to be a dough that hold together but not too sticky. If you add too much milk, add a little more flour.

Knead on a floured surface about 15 times. With a rolling pin (or your hands in a pinch), roll out until the dough is about 1/2 inch thick. Use the cookie cutter (or the edge of a glass) to cut into rounds. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Buttermilk biscuits: Reduce baking powder to 2 tsp and add 1/2 tsp soda to the dry ingredients. Replace milk with 2 cups of buttermilk. Proceed with the remainder of the recipe.

Cheesy biscuits: Add 1/2 cup of shredded cheese to the flour mixture in the first step. Proceed with the remainder of the recipe.

Cinnamon raisin biscuits: Add 1-2 tsp cinnamon to the flour in the first step. Cut in the butter, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of raisins. Proceed with the remainder of the recipe.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gingerbread Cake with Pears

Gingerbread, studded with chunks of pear.

This was in the October 2008 issue of Gourmet. I must have missed it, because when I saw someone post on it the other day, it immediately jumped to the top of the "Cakes to Try" list.

The recipe calls for one pear. I used two and I think that worked better. Make sure to check on it every few minutes as it nears the end. The recipe calls for it to bake for 35 minutes. Some other reviewers said it took less time, more like 30, in their ovens, but in mine it took 45. I really think I need to get that oven recalibrated.

From Gourmet, October 2008

Eat Rating: Delicious. Very subtle flavors of ginger, molasses and pear.
Difficulty: Easy

1 1/2 cups flour (LN: I used 1/2 cup whole wheat and 1 cup all-purpose)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
3 large eggs
1/4 cup peeled, grated fresh ginger (LN: I ran out of fresh ginger, so instead used 3 tbsp of ginger paste)
2 Bosc pears, peeled, cored and chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch round cake pan.

Combine the dry ingredients, flour, baking powder, spice and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the water and butter until the butter is melted. Set aside

In a large bowl or Kitchenaid, beat brown sugar and molasses until well combined. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition. Gradually add the flour mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, beating well. Add the ginger and melted butter. Beat again just until combined.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan, then sprinkle with the chopped pears. The pears will sink to the bottom of the cake while it cooks.

Bake for 35 minutes, checking frequently as it nears the end by inserting a toothpick. Once baked, remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove from pan, cool completely. When ready to serve, you can warm slightly by placing in the oven for 5 minutes or serve at room temperature.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Programming: New Features

I have two exciting cooking projects coming up. First, as I do every year, I'll be baking holiday treats. The last two years I've made a variety of cookies. I haven't settled on my choices for this year, but I will blog about all of my picks and how they turn out. Posts about Christmas (and Hanukkah) treats will be labeled "Holiday Treats 2009."

Secondly, I'm getting married next year. I promise to avoid all the boring bride crap but I have decided to make the cake. Maybe also the pies, though that is currently being negotiated between me and my mom. In any case, I'll need to try out several recipes ahead of time. All posts about wedding cake, etc. will be labeled "Wedding Cake Project."

It's a Recession!: Homemade Butter (and Buttermilk)

Know what this is? Yeah, it's an actual butterball.

On occasion, when I need to bring baked goods in to the office, I get up at 5 a.m. and do my baking in the morning. One morning a few months ago, I thought I'd make some fresh whipped cream to frost a coworker's birthday cake. I put the cream in my Kitchenaid and walked into the other room. When I came back a few minutes later, the whipped cream was a disaster. It had separated into little beads of fat in a thin liquid. Disgusted, I threw it away and made a buttercream frosting instead.

Now I sort of wish I hadn't thrown it out. As I learned on The Kitchn a few weeks back, if I had let the mixer keep going I would have ended up with butter. If you keep beating the butter past the whipped cream stage, it eventually breaks down into the fat (butter) and what's left (buttermilk).


I've frankly become obsessed with making my own butter now. But beware walking away from this either, once it gets to the separated stage, the buttermilk is very thin and watery and will spray right out of your mixer all over the floor. (My dog Rex loves it when I make butter for this very reason.

The cool thing about this is, depending on what type of butter you regularly buy, making it yourself can be cheaper. A quart of cream at Giant runs between $4 and $5. By comparison, a pound of comparable quality butter, like Horizon Organic, is $6.

Eat Rating: Awesome. Imagine the best butter you've ever tasted.
Difficulty: Easy. Requires a Kitchenaid mixer or food processor. (You could also do this by hand by shaking a jug. But your arm would probably get tired.)

1 quart of cream

Place the cream in the bowl of the mixer and fit with the splatterguard (that step is super important if you don't want buttermilk all over your kitchen)

Turn the mixer to high.

The cream will begin to form soft peaks, then hard peaks of whipped cream. Keep beating and it will start to break down into little pieces. Continue beating. You'll know it's done two ways -- 1) the chunks will turn a golden yellow color and 2) you'll hear the change in resistance to the beater, it will sound sloshy.

Place a colander over a large bowl. Pour the butter mixture into the colander. Remove the colander. What's left in the bowl is your buttermilk. Pour it into a separate container, refridgerate and use within 1 week.

Turn on the sink to cold water and rinse the butter in the colander. Place chunks of butter in a clean paper towel and squeeze. You need to make sure all the whey is removed or your butter will go rancid. Rinse again in water and squeeze in a paper towel a second time.

Once the butter is clean, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze or refrigerate for up to a week.

For more storage tips and ideas for things to try with your butter, see this entry over at Brownie Points blog.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


How could you not get off the couch for that?

Lately, in the war of Leah versus inertia, the inertia has been winning. When I get home at the end of my 10+ hour days, I just want to sit on my couch and stare at the wall. It's almost embarrassing to think about how much time I spend staring at the walls. And it's not as though I haven't been cooking. A girl does, after all, eventually have to stop staring at the wall, get off the couch and eat. But lately there have been a lot of meals of cheese and crackers. Or cheese and bread. Or sometimes just large chunks of cheese.

To get me out of the funk, CCO and I cooked up a batch of soup, minestrone to be exact. Minestrone is my absolute favorite soup. I don't really know why. Probably something to do with it having both pasta AND beans. Also it's one of the only foods (along with carrot cake) where I willingly eat carrots.

This recipe has sausage added in. You can leave it out to make it vegetarian. Use veggie broth in place of the beef broth if that's the case.

Eat Rating: Awesome.
Difficulty: Easy. You just need a big pot.

1/2 pound pork sausage, casings removed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
2-3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 bunch of swiss chard or other greens, ribs removed and chopped
3 roma tomatos, chopped (LN: You can also sub a can of diced tomato with the juice)
2 cans of white beans (Navy or Small White Beans), drained
1 cup of small-shaped pasta (LN: I think I used orecchietti)
7 cups of beef broth (LN: I used better than bouillon)

In a skillet, cook the sausage until browned. Remove from pan and set aside.

In the bottom of a large pot, heat the oil, then cook the onion, carrot and garlic until slightly softened. Add the tomatoes and cook until they release their juices. Add the chard and cook just until it begins to wilt. Add in the beans and beef broth and stir back in the sausage. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the broth has reduced some. Add in the pasta and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the pasta is sufficiently soft. Serve with some crusty bread and red wine.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Rosemary Bread

I'm not ready to talk about it yet.

But no matter what else happens in life, I know that when I get home at the end of the day if I mix egg yolks with chocolate and sugar and a little butter, it will thicken.

The pictures are from a class I took on bread baking.

Eat Rating: Awesome
Difficulty: Medium

Adapted from Bread Baking Success class, September 2009

5 1/2 - 6 cups of flour (all-purpose preferred)
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
2 packets active dry yeast (that's 4 1/2 tsp if you're using the jar)
2 cups milk
1/4 cup olive oil or butter
2 tsp fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped

In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine milk and oil or butter. Heat until warm, bubbling around the edges but not boiling.

Add the milk to the flour and mix until combined. You should have a thick liquid. Add the rosemary and stir again.

Measure out the remaining flour in a separate bowl. Gradually add the flour to the liquid, stirring in between each addition. The liquid will begin to thicken, then become doughy. You want to continue adding flour until the dough won't take in any more. If should be doughy, but not sticky.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a floured cutting board or counter. Knead for several minutes until the dough is consistent throughout. (Don't worry about overkneading. It's not really possible to overknead. I find it very relaxing to knead dough. I think I could do it for hours)

Lightly butter or oil the sides of a clean bowl. Place the dough in the oiled bowl and cover with a cloth. Allow to rise for 1 hour.

After one hour, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove dough from bowl and re-knead. Using a knife, cut the dough into two equal size pieces.

Grease two loaf pans, preferably metal ones. Shape the dough into loaves and place in the pans. Place on top of the warmed oven and cover with a cloth. Allow to rise for another hour.

After the second hour of rising, bake the bread for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Remove from pan, and brush the sides with oil or butter. Allow the bread to cool completely on a wire rack, laying on its side.