Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pasta with Butternut Squash Sauce

Don't leave out the lemon juice. It adds a nice acidity to the otherwise very heavy cream sauce. (I followed the recipe exactly, so click the link to get it)

Adapted from Simply Recipes

Eat Rating: Delicious. Very heavy though, so prepare to be filled.
Difficulty: Easy to Medium.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chard Sweet Potato Gratin

I like to pretend that root vegetables are just as healthy for me even when I slather them in cheese.

The only major change we made was the cheese. Deb calls for using gruyere cheese. I forgot to pick it up at the store, so we were stuck with what was in the fridge. Those choices were parmesan or smoked cheddar that I had picked up from our CSA. We went with the cheddar and it was a brilliant choice. The smokiness added a nice subtlety to the sweetness of the vegetables. We also cut this recipe in half since it feeds 12 and even if we included the dog and his massive appetite separately, we'd still only have four. CCO and I thought this would be lovely as a side at Thanksgiving dinner.

Eat Rating: This is what heaven tastes like.
Difficulty: Medium. It helps if you have a mandoline for slicing the sweet potatoes. Also a whisk for making the bechamel sauce.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 large bunch of swiss chard, leaves cut off the stalks and roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled
1/2 tsp dried thyme
3/4 cup smoked cheddar, grated

Fill a medium-sized pot with water and add the sweet potatoes. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. You just want the potatoes parboiled a little.

After ten minutes, drain the potatoes and allow to cool until you can easily handle them. Using a mandoline, slice thinly, about 1/8 inch (Note: you can do this with a knife if you don't have a mandoline. Try to get the slices as thin as possible). Set aside.

In a medium saute pan, melt 1 tbsp of butter. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the chard and cook until the greens have reduced by half. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the remaining butter (1 1/2 tbsp). Add the garlic and sautee about 1 minute until browned. Using a whisk, add in the flour, constantly stirring until you have a light brown paste. Gradually add the milk to the flour/butter paste about a 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly between additions. You want a thick, gravy-like sauce to develop. Once it's sufficiently thick, remove from heat.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Butter or grease a 8 x 8 square glass dish. Layer some 1/3 of your sweet potatoes on the bottom, then 1/2 of the chard on top. Spoon a few tablespoons of the bechamel sauce on top and sprinkle cheese. Repeat once more, topping with the last 1/3 of sweet potatoes. Top with any remaining bechamel sauce and cheese.

Bake for 1 hour until the cheese on top has browned and the liquid is bubbly. Remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly and serve immediately with crusty bread for soaking up the leftover sauce.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Picture courtesy Bon Appetit

We started a baking club at my office. Every month or so, we have a theme and people bring in a dish along that theme. For our inaugural event, the theme was pumpkin.

Now everyone in the office knows I bake a lot, so I really had to bring it. Something delicious but not too fancy. Something sweet and fall but not too predictable. Something like a Pumpkin Whoopie Pie with Maple Cream Filling.

You can feel free to admit that you now wish you worked in my office.

Eat Rating: Most responses went something along these lines: "This is so wrong. But so good."
Difficulty: Medium

Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2009

1 cup of powdered sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
7 oz. marshmallow fluff (about 2 cups)
3 tbsp maple syrup

3 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground cloves
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup milk

Combine and sift all the dry ingredients (flour through nutmeg). In a bowl or Kitchenaid, beat the butter with the brown and granulated sugars. Add in the oil, then the eggs one at a time, beating between each. Add in the pumpkin puree, then 1/2 of the dry ingredients, the milk and then the remaining dry ingredients. You should have a thick, cake batter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spoon 2-3 tbsp of batter onto the parchment paper, fitting 12 cakes per sheet. Bake 20 minutes, or until tester inserted comes out clean. Remove cakes from cookie sheet and allow to cool on a wire rack. Repeat until you run out of cake batter. You should get about 46 to 48 small cakes.

Once the cakes are cool, make the filling. Add the sugar and butter to a bowl or Kitchenaid and beat until fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add in the marshmallow fluff and maple syrup and then beat until well combined. Spoon 1 to 2 tbsp of filling onto a cake, then top with another cake. (Note: Don't try to put more than 2 tbsp of filling between the cakes. It will just ooze out and make a mess. You will probably have some leftover filling. Don't sweat it)

Serve to your friends and become instantly popular.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Holiday Treats 2009: Dulce de Membrillo (Quince Paste)

You don't have to make the manchego. That you can buy at the store.

At my CSA, the last week of each season is "pick your own share" day. Instead of a pre-packed cooler, you get to pick out whatever you want from the farm's offerings. The last week of the fall season, I was a little torn. I love squash and brussel sprouts, but really there is only so much a person can eat of that in one week. But among the boxes of apples and pears, I found a heaping pile of quince, which reminded me of this post. So in addition to the pints of brussel sprouts and various squash, I filled my share up with golden orbs of quince.

Quince, in case you haven't heard of them, are a fruit relative of the apple and pear. Even before you cut them open, they have a lovely half-citrus, half-floral aroma. But quince are really hard and you can't actually eat them uncooked, at least not the modern day ones. Supposedly in ancient times, you could eat them just like an apple and according to some, Eve actually gave Adam a quince, not an apple, in the Garden of Eden. Anyway, today you most commonly see quince in some form of jam or jelly, or as dulce de membrillo, a Spanish delicacy often served with cheese.

Membrillo keeps for forever -- between two months and a year depending on who you ask. So I figured I'd do a test run in anticipation of holiday treats. I have yet to decide whether I should send out delicious blocks of quince paste or cut them into squares and send chocolate-covered membrillo.

(For more on quince and dulce de membrillo)

Eat Rating: Delicious. It has a slightly floral, slightly citrus taste, reminiscent of a good jam.
Difficulty: Easy to Medium. Requires a food processor or blender.

Adapted from Simply Recipes

5 to 6 quinces
Juice from 2 lemons
4 cups sugar (more or less may be needed depending on the size of your quinces)

Peel, core and cut the quinces into large chunks. Place in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, then cook for about 30 minutes until the quinces are easily pierced with a fork.

Drain the quinces and allow to cool for 5 minutes. In batches, place the cooked quince pieces in a food processor or blender and puree. Measure the puree before returning to the large pot. Add an equal amount of sugar as you have puree to the pot. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Continue to cook over medium heat. Your mixture will turn an orange-y color and begin to thicken. After about 40 minutes, it will get to the consistency of jam. Keep going. You want it a ruby red color and so thick that when you take your spoon out and turn it over, the paste doesn't fall off. Really, really thick. (LN: The first time, I didn't cook it long enough. So when I moved to the next step, it set around the edges but not in the middle. If in doubt, cook longer.)

Once it's thick enough, remove from heat. Heat your oven to warm or 250 degrees. Line an 8x8 square pan (glass or aluminum) with parchment paper, then pour the mixture into it, making sure to spread it out to the edges (it will set in whatever shape you leave it in. You could also use a cool mold for this part). Place the pan in the oven and let set for about 40 to 50 minutes. When you check it, shake the pan. If it jiggles a lot in the middle, keep going. It it doesn't and seems more like a solid mass of jello, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Place a piece of saran wrap on the counter and flip the quince paste onto it.

The paste will keep in the fridge, wrapped in saran wrap, for several months. To serve, cut off a small piece and eat with Manchego cheese or on toast.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

Nothing says comfort like an enormous bowl of squash, butter and cheese.

Eat Rating: Delicious.
Difficulty: Medium. Be careful not to add too much flour or overknead. You want it to be light and airy, not thick and chewy.

Adapted from Apples and Butter

1 butternut squash, about 2 lbs
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 - 3 cups of flour
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the butternut squash, cut in half and scoop out the seeds and membrane. Cut into 1 inch chunks, toss in olive oil and then place on a baking tray. Bake the squash for about 30 minutes, turning the pieces or tossing after about 15 minutes, or until the squash is easily pierced with a fork.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool. (This step can be done a day or several hours ahead of time)

Place the cooked butternut squash in a bowl and mash until you have a thick puree. Add in the nutmeg and stir until thoroughly mixed in. Gradually add in the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the squash forms into a thick dough.

Flour a cutting board or the countertop and turn your dough out onto it. Divide into four pieces, then roll each piece into a long, thin cylinder. Use a knife to cut the strand into 1 inch pieces.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Drop the gnocchi into the pot of water. The gnocchi should drop to the bottom. When they are finished, they will float to the top.

While the gnocchi is cooking, melt the butter in another small saucepan. Once it's melted, remove from heat.

After gnocchi floats, remove from the water using a slotted spoon. Toss with butter and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Any uncooked gnocchi can be frozen for up to a month.