Butternut Squash Lasagna

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Fall.  Autumn.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s quickly becoming my favorite season.  Summer fruits are great, and spring has the wonderful warming feeling.  (I’ll admit I don’t like winter except for the holidays.)  But autumn has the perfect weather, and starts reintroducing us to our favorite comfort foods.  I got the first basket of my fall CSA last week, and we’re starting to drown in squashes.

I picked up this recipe from a cooking class, featuring the owners from one of my favorite local restaurants.  So, I’m just going to include an outline for the recipe, rather than the details, but it’s pretty flexible.

Ingredients

  • diced butternut squash (my lasagna was made in a 9×9 inch square pan and used about two pounds)
  • lasagna noodles (whichever kind you prefer)
  • shredded mozzarella cheese
  • grated parmesan cheese
  • herbs or spices (such as sage, cinnamon, nutmeg)
  • bechamel sauce (basic recipe below)

Method

  1. Saute the  butternut squash with some olive oil and spices.  When softened, transfer to a food processor, and process until smooth.
  2. Make your bechamel sauce and cook any other fillings you might want.  I added Italian sausage, and I’ve had a version with pecans that was really good.  I think the next version I try will have cremini mushrooms.
  3. Build your lasagna:  a layer of bechamel sauce, then noodles, then butternut (and your other chosen filling) then mozzarella, and repeat.  Top with a final layer of mozzarella and the grated parmesan.
  4. Cover and bake about 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Uncover for another 15 minutes until the top is bubbly and brown.  Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Bechamel Sauce

Bechamel sauce is a basic white sauce and one of the French “mother” sauces, and it’s not that hard to make.  I was making it before I knew what it was.  Three ingredients is all you need.

  • Butter
  • Flour (equal amount to the Butter)
  • Whole Milk or Heavy Cream
  1. Melt the butter in a sauce pan until it bubbles, but isn’t brown.  Add the flour and whisk until it forms a paste, about 1 minute.
  2. Add the milk slowly, whisking constantly.  Reduce the heat to prevent scorching (especially if using cream), and whisk until thickened to a consistency you like.
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Recipe du Jour: Cornbread Stuffing

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Everyone has their own Thanksgiving traditions. It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving unless it has the same foods that I had in my childhood. But, I’ve had other Thanksgiving dishes that I want to try. But you can’t try new recipes on Thanksgiving, and I don’t have enough friends (or fridge space!) to make doubles of everything to try new recipes.

So, when Andrew came across half-turkeys at our local grocery store, I saw an opportunity. Half a turkey would probably be the perfect size for the two of us, and I would have the chance to try a new recipe. Growing up in the Southern U.S., I’ve often encountered corn bread stuffing and liked it (my mom’s recipe is from the Northeast, so features sausage and bread cubes). It pairs well with turkey, takes gravy pretty well, and, if you’re careful, it can be gluten-free.

I decided to go with a slow-cooker version, partly because I love my slow-cooker, and partly because the oven was already going to be occupied with the turkey. The original recipe can be found HERE at one of my favorite slow-cooker blogs.

This meal is also a great example of how well Andrew and I work together as a team. I emailed him the recipe for the stuffing the night before. He prepped all the ingredients and put them in the slow cooker, prepped the turkey for the oven, and made mashed potatoes. I got home shortly after he had to leave for class, so he left directions for me to turn on the slow cooker and put the turkey in the oven. Everything took about 2 hours. He came back just as things were finishing up, so I just put together a salad, and he carved the turkey and we were good. A meal that might have taken a long time for just one of us to make went a lot faster because we split up the work.

Ingredients:

  •  a pan of baked cornbread (I used a mix to make it)
  • 4 slices of bread
  • 2 cups of celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (plus a little more)

Directions:

Try to let your bread and cornbread go a little stale before making this.  Lightly mix all the ingredients except the broth in a bowl, and then transfer to the slow cooker.  Add the broth, and cook on high for 2 hours.  If you like it a little more moist, add more broth after it’s done.

Notes: We forgot to grease the slow cooker before we made this. >.< Not a huge deal, as we don’t mind letting things soak before we wash them, but if you want instant clean, that might be difficult with this recipe.

As for the flavor, we both liked it. It was moist and very filling. Comfort food flavor, if a little bland. It benefitted a lot from some salt and pepper at the table, or gravy over the top. I also don’t think that it could be only a Thanksgiving dish. It tasted light enough that I could see using it as a starch accompaniment to a different, less heavy meal.

Recipe du Jour: Springtime Pasta Primavera

6982594724_91e5f0cfaa_o I try to eat in season.  It’s cheaper to do so, and once the farmer’s market starts, it’s hard not to be drawn in by the delicious looking vegetables.  Something that I don’t get to eat often is asparagus.  It definitely strikes me as a spring vegetable, and the spring is so short where I live that the season never seems to last long enough to work.  But I guess thanks to the mild winter, plants are cropping up earlier, and lasting longer.

Anyway, this means that a couple weeks ago, I acquired some local asparagus, and then later at the farmer’s market, a pound of local broccoli.  I used some of the asparagus as a side for our Easter ham, but I still had some, and a lot of celebrations had caused us to eat out a lot.  So I needed something that would use up these vegetables before they went off, and what better way than pairing with pasta.

This is really more of an idea than a recipe.  My friend Erin and I did a similar dish for one of our weekly dinner nights some time ago, but I’ve kept the idea around since then.  I normally don’t improvise when I cook, preparing to follow a recipe, even if it’s a mental one or adding certain things until it tastes right.  I’m not confident enough to wing it.  But this is little more than a saute, and has lots of room for using things up.  I also enjoy the chance to exercise my presentation skills, playing with colors in my food.  (Apologies for the fuzzy photo.)

Ingredients:

  • Pasta of your choice (I used whole wheat penne)
  • Asparagus cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • Broccoli cut the same
  • Diced onion
  • Carrot matchsticks
  • Red bell pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Broth of some kind
  • Herbs/spices
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Cook pasta to your taste.  Saute the asparagus, broccoli, and onion in the olive oil until they start softening a little.  Add some broth and cover.  Cook until crisp-tender.  Add garlic, bell pepper, and carrots.  Season with salt, pepper, and herbs, and cook until fragrant.  Serve over pasta, sprinkled with parmesan.

Notes:

If you use a veggie broth, this dish is a good vegetarian dish, and even with chicken broth, it’s a nice veggie heavy dish, something that I don’t eat as often as I should.  Since it’s more idea than recipe, it’s also great for using up things that you may have left in the fridge.  I could have added leftover meat, for example, or changed out the veggies.  I actually forgot to add any herbs or spices when I made it this last time, so it was a bit plain, but still very filling.

Recipe du Jour: Garlic Cheesy Bread

7106208965_8612eeb765_o There is a local Italian restaurant called Victoria’s, where they have a bubbly cheesy bread that they serve with marinara and Alfredo sauces.  The cheese is thick and gooey, with the edges having a slight char to them.  It’s fantastic, and while the pasta at Victoria’s is great, this is the thing I always have to eat.  Always.

Well, after one of the Weekly Girl Dinner Nights, I had some leftover Alfredo, some leftover french bread, and some leftover mozzarella.  I also had some leftover marinara from ordering pizza that week as well.  So, I decided to try to duplicate the Victoria’s cheesy bread.

Ingredients:

  • Leftover french bread, cut in half as for a sandwich, and then into smaller pieces to fit on the cookie sheet
  • Mozzarella, shredded
  • Garlic powder
  • Butter (optional)
  • Marinara and Alfredo sauces

Directions:

Arrange the bread on a cookie sheet, and preheat the oven to about 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spread the butter on each piece of bread and sprinkle with garlic powder.  Heap the mozzarella onto each piece.  Place in the oven and cook until the cheese is bubbly and browning on top.  (You may want to turn on the broiler if you’re worried about the bottom burning before the top is brown.)  Serve with sauces on the side.

Notes:

The pieces in the photo look so dark because I forgot to put the garlic powder on before the mozzarella (I wasn’t sure I’d have enough cheese), so I ended up sprinkling it on top.  Don’t do that!  Not only does it burn funny, the burned garlic powder has a strong taste that isn’t very appealing.  But the rest of it?  The rest of it is awesome!

Also, try mixing the two sauces together before using it on your bread.  Delicious!

Recipe Du Jour: Black Bean Soup

6903389797_9f9a7d38af_oSo as part of my real food lessons from GNOWFGLINS, I recently learned to soak and cook dry beans.  Most of the time when a recipe called for beans, I used canned beans.  They were convenient, but I’ve known for a while that cooking from dry beans is healthier (fewer preservatives, and reduces gas) and cheaper.  I think I overcooked them a little because I used a slow-cooker for the actual cooking, but that’s something to experiment with.  (Also, if you want to try this, make sure not to use a slow-cooker on kidney beans.  They have a toxin that needs to be boiled out, so only cook them in a stock pot or pressure cooker.)

In any case, I cooked a whole pound of dry black beans, and I needed something to use them in.  What better than my black bean soup?  It also gives me a chance to test out my new immersion blender.

Ingredients:

  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans black beans (or equivalent amount cooked)
  • 1 (8 oz) can Spanish style tomato sauce
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp gr. cumin
  • 3 cups chicken (or veggie) broth

Directions:

Heat all ingredients together in a pot.  When hot, use immersion blender to halfway puree the soup.  Don’t puree completely; you want to be able to see some whole beans still.  (If you don’t have an immersion blender, ladle about half the soup into a blender.  Blend, and then add back to the pot.  Be careful when pureeing hot liquids!)  Serve with a nice crusty bread, my favorite is sourdough.

Notes: 

This soup is something that would be great in a bread bowl.  It comes together really quickly and makes for an easy weeknight meal.  Watch out though, it can be a bit spicy.  The image above I was testing my new blender, and so I pureed the soup a bit too much.  The completely pureed soup is best as a dip and definitely needs bread.  Personally, the texture is better with some whole beans still left.

Recipe Du Jour: Mac ‘n’ Cheese Soup

Ham and Mac and Cheese
Ham and Mac and Cheese

In every culture, there is the idea of comfort food.  The foods that remind you of home, or childhood, or just plain make you feel good.  Now, in most cases, comfort food is not good for you.  It’s meant to be good for the soul, not necessarily good for the body.  But I think in this recipe, it’s a step closer to being both.  I have many comfort foods, but one of my favorites is mac ‘n’ cheese.  It’s cheese and pasta.  What’s more comforting than that?  The source of this recipe is Little Yuzu, a blog that I used to follow for bento, but stopped reading when it turned to non-food topics more often than food ones.

Ingredients

  • Chicken Broth
  • Pasta (I used tiny shells)
  • Carrots, Broccoli and Cauliflower (This is what I used because I always have frozen on hand.  Any combination of these would probably be all right.)
  • Flour (for thickening)
  • Milk
  • Cheddar (I used sharp)
  • Ham (not in the original recipe)

Tastiness Factor:

I think everyone agrees that mac ‘n’ cheese and broccoli/carrot are a classic combo.  So is ham and mac ‘n’ cheese.  This is much thinner than what most people think of for mac ‘n’ cheese, but a smidge of salt and pepper made it great.  It was creamy, starchy, and had veggies.  I will note that because of the chicken broth and milk, the cheese flavor is not too strong.  I used a sharp cheddar, and the pasta didn’t taste that sharp.

Reheat Factor:

My bento basically looked like the bowl above, so I didn’t bother taking a picture of it.  While the soup thickened considerably after it had been taken off the heat, it still retained the same comforting texture.  Taste was about the same as the original.

Overall Impression:

This is absolutely great.  It makes me feel better about eating comfort food, and pairing it with a protein makes it a relatively balanced meal.  It reheated well, which makes for good bento food.  I will definitely be putting this into my regular rotation, as I always have the ingredients on hand.  I just wish I was good with coming up with recipes on the fly like Little Yuzu is.

Dinner and a Recipe!

I thought I would share with you one of my standbys for when I have guests.  This meal is great for vegetarians and vegans, and I’ve had non-vegetarian people love it also.  Even Andrew, who normally abhors pasta dishes, likes this one.

Ok, so here I’ve served it with cheesy garlic bread, which I know creates a carb overload, but it was for guests, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Also, I actually garnished it.  I normally don’t garnish my dinner, but I love how instantly it makes everything looks so put together.  Anyway, onto the recipe!  To be quite honest, I don’t follow the recipe exactly anymore, I just eyeball everything except the tomatoes and artichokes.
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Tomato and Artichoke Sauce
1 (12oz) jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
1 (28oz) can of diced tomatoes
~1/2 cup white onion, chopped
~3 cloves garlic, minced
parsley
oregano
olive oil
Parmesan (optional)

1)  Heat the olive oil in a pan (I recommend a deep dish one with a lid.)  Add the onion and the garlic and cook until soft.  If the garlic starts to brown before the onion is soft, just move onto the next step.  It’s more important not to burn anything than it is to get the softness.
2) Add the artichoke hearts.  I normally pick out the hardest pieces when I chop them, but regardless, you want to cook these until soft.  Again, if browning starts to occur in any way, just move on to the next step.
3) Add the tomatoes.  DO NOT DRAIN before adding.  Just dump the whole thing in.  At this point, I put on the lid and let it stew for a little bit.  This will definitely make sure everything softens up.
4) Add the parsley and oregano.  Fresh is best, but if you have dried, it still tastes good.  You can add a little salt and pepper at this stage, but I normally just let people add their own.
5) Let it stew a little longer.
6) To serve, put over penne pasta and top with Parmesan, if you like.  I think it really brings the dish together.  I always use penne with this sauce because the result is more of a chunky sauce and so other pasta shapes don’t tend to do well.