Archive for ‘cheese’

October 19, 2011

What’s in Season Wednesday – Butternut Squash

Welcome to beautiful fall!

I think the fall season is the epitome of Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote:  ‘Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.’ I am happy to say I have completely resigned myself to fall; crisp and savory foods and an assortment of delicious october inspired  beers make this by far my favorite season of flavors and tastes.

Fall is the peak time in New England for apples, arugula, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, beets, cranberries, onions, potatoes, and squash. Make sure to shop for locally grown produce, you’ll be able to taste a difference (and most importantly will support your local farms!)

Over the past few years I have really begun to love squash – butternut, spaghetti, acorn – there are so many varieties and each can be used in so many different ways. Technically, there are two types of squash – winter and summer. Butternut is considered a winter squash which means it is harvested in the early fall for use in during the late fall and winter months. The most popular variety of butternut squash is actually the Waltham Butternut so this squash has roots just outside Boston!

Think of squash like a potato, the cooking methods are endless, so you might as well get creative. It can be roasted, baked, or mashed, and the subtle sweetness of squash pairs so well with many other flavors and textures. To celebrate squash and fall I made one of my favorites – butternut squash and spinach stuffed shells with homemade vodka cream sauce.  And of course, there is lots of cheese… ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan collectively bring a perfect level of savory to the sweet squash.

I  made A LOT of this dish so I’d have leftovers for a week and could share with my hungry friends :-) so the recipe below has actually been trimmed down for 1 butternut squash worth of stuffed shells ( I realize most people don’t cook enough food for 20+ servings on a normal day).

Butternut squash and spinach stuffed shells:

1 medium sized butternut squash
1 box of extra large shells (you will probably only use 1/2 to 3/4 of the shells)
1 big bunch of spinach (my farmers market bunch was extra big)
1 8 oz. ball of fresh mozzarella
16 oz. container of part-skim ricotta cheese 
about 1.5 cups grated parm cheese
1/3 cup of light cream
salt & pepper

Directions:

1) Cut open butternut squash (I quartered mine) and scrap out the seeds and mush from the belly of the squash (I forgot to do this until after I baked it, as you can see in the photo, and it worked out fine doing it after). You can use all of the flesh from the butternut squash. Once cut open, place flesh side down on a baking sheet with a small layer of water. Bake for about 20-25 minutes at 350.
2) Meanwhile, prepare shells as the box instructs and place aside once cooked al dente.
3) Lightly steam the spinach, place aside.
4) Once the butternut squash is soft to the touch (and your kitchen smells marvelous), take it out of the oven and let them cool.
5) After they’ve cooled, scrap the flesh of the butternut squash skin into a big bowl and mash with a fork. Add spinach, light cream, ricotta and half of the parm to the squash and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
6) Stuff mixture into shells, and place into greased baking dish. Pour vodka cream sauce (recipe below) on and around shells. Chop the mozzarella into small pieces and add on and around shells. Finally, sprinkle the rest of the parmesan cheese on top.
7) Bake about 20-25 minutes at 350 – don’t bake for too long or you will dry out the shells. Broil for 3-5 minutes at the end for a crispy textured top.

Vodka Cream Sauce:
This recipe is adapted from Trattoria, by Patricia Wells. This is a spectacular book, I highly recommend it.

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 large can crushed tomatoes (I got the largest the store had)
1 nip of vodka
1.5 cups light cream
chives, chopped
lots of parsley, chopped
salt & pepper

Directions:

1) Add oil to a large sauce pan, then add chopped garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook on low-medium heat carefully, it is very easy to burn garlic!
2) After a couple of minutes add chopped tomatoes and stir. Let ingredients cook for about 15-20 minutes to achieve the right consistency of the sauce, stirring occasionally.
3) Add vodka to sauce.
4) While stirring, add light cream slowly. You might need to add a little more than 1.5 cups, depending on how much sauce you want on your shells (it will be absorbed by the shells so add extra if you really want a sauce-heavy dish).
5) Add parsley and chives, stir a bit more and salt and pepper to taste.
*This sauce is really, really good. It is a wonderful match for the sweet squash, but it is also delicious on penne pasta, where it really shines as the main part of the dish… it is much better than any jar of vodka sauce you’ll find and worth the effort, I promise. :-)

July 12, 2011

Allandale Farm

Having access to fresh and local produce is always important, but it is an absolute necessity in the New England summertime. Sunshine and hot days make me run from heavy, hearty dishes, and turn instead towards fresh salads, crisp vegetables and perfectly ripe fruit. Is there a meal more refreshing meal than mixed greens, chopped cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, fresh Vermont goat cheese and delicious vinaigrette dressing? I don’t think so.

A few weeks ago I visited the Allandale Farm in Brookline, Mass, and found an abundance of fresh local and delicious produce. A visit to the farm is a must for anyone in the Boston area this summer, although you can easily rack up quite an expensive tab! The majority of the produce is locally grown at the 30 acre farm in Brookline, or at a satellite farm in Groton, Mass. The farm also partners with other local food crafters to sell coffee, tea, honey, cheese, salad dressings and marinades, bread and ice cream. Everything seemed of the highest quality, and was well worth the extra cost (when compared to the mega grocery stores in Boston). In addition, there are nine greenhouses on the property that grow a wide variety of  herbs, flowers, plants and shrubs for sale.

I even got to hang out with some chickens!

The Allandale Farm is located at 259 Allandale Road in Brookline, MA, and is open 7 days a week.
http://www.allandalefarm.com/

June 29, 2011

Southern Tier Double IPA Cheddar Soup

If you remember this fabulous beer dinner I went to at Garden in the Cellar in Cambridge, this dish may look familiar. I have not been able to get this soup (or the entire meal) out of my head since March, and I finally decided to try and re-create it.

As with other times that I have re-created something I loved from a restaurant or other event, I don’t really have a recipe. Although this drives some people crazy, I prefer to adjust, experiment and change the ingredients as I am cooking, and tasting. Enjoy, this is a perfect meal for a rainy day – the flavors are incredible!

Ingredients:

butter
celery, carrots, onion, coarsely diced
vegetable broth – a lot
3-4 yukon gold potatoes
extra-sharp cheddar – go for high quality for this recipe
jalapeno cheddar – I happened to have this in the fridge, not necessary, but awesome!
2 bottles of Southern Tier Double IPA, or any other delicious IPA
scallions
sour cream
bread,  for croutons

Directions:

1) heat 2-3 tablespoons of butter in a large saute pan over medium-low heat
2) coarsely dice carrots, celery and onions – about 1 lb of carrots and celery, and 2-3 white onions. sweat in large saute pan and add a healthy pinch of salt
3) once vegetables are softened and translucent (about 8-10 minutes), put them in a large sauce pot – this will be the home of your soup
4) add vegetable broth, I used almost all of a 32 oz. container (you can add chicken broth for a more savory soup, but I preferred it to be vegetarian, and more healthy)
5) meanwhile, peel and chop 3-4 small-medium potatoes and add to boiling water
6) once potatoes are cooked thoroughly, add to soup. stir ingredients well, and season to taste with salt, pepper and chili powder
7) cook soup (which should be brothy at this point) cook on medium-low for about 30 minutes
8) add IPA! I added about 2.5 bottles, and you could really taste the flavor of the beer
9) grate extra cheddar cheese, I used about 12 oz – do not buy pre-shredded!!
10) add soup mixture to a blender or food processor and mix until smooth and creamy
11) transfer soup back to stove top at low heat and add cheese in small amounts, waiting for each amount to melt.
12) let simmer on low for a few hours
13) garnish with chopped scallions, sour cream and homemade croutons, and enjoy!

June 6, 2011

Cheddar Jalapeno Buttermilk Biscuits

Three things I love: bread, jalapenos, and cheese! These biscuits are on the heavier side so they are wonderful combined with a light, healthy dinner, as a snack on their own, or even for breakfast (think hearty breakfast sandwich!)

I like this recipe because it is all natural, as biscuits should be. They were warm, a little spicy, cheesy, flaky – an ideal side dish at dinner. Those refrigerated croissants/rolls/biscuits in a can are easy to make and good enough, but we all know that there is something not quite right about bread that has ingredients I can’t pronounce.

Cheddar Jalapeno Buttermilk Biscuits:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 cup cold buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 cold extra-large egg
  • 1.5 – 2 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 medium-sized fresh jalapeno peppers

1) Add flour, baking powder and salt to electric mixer and mix until combined.
2) With the mixer on low add butter slowly by tablespoon, until the butter is reduced to small marble-sized pieces.
3) Combine buttermilk and egg, whisk together and add to mixer until dough is moistened.
4) Add shredded grated cheese (it is always better to grate your own, more flavor and texture) and mix very briefly, so dough is roughly combined.
5) Put dough on a well-floured cutting board and knead for about a minute.
6) Slice two fresh jalapeno peppers, remove seeds, and chop into small pieces. Fold into dough until distributed. Feel free to add extra jalapenos for more spice!
7) Roll dough out with rolling pin, cut into desired biscuit size and brush with egg/water wash (not necessary, but gives them a nice shine). Sprinkle some pepper and salt across top of biscuits.
8) Bake in pre-heated oven at 425 degrees for about 20-25 minutes until top is lightly browned.

May 23, 2011

Kale and Broccoli Pizza

Yes, kale even makes a wonderful pizza topping!

Boston has seen nothing but rain for what feels like weeks and weeks, so at the end of a particularly dreary and rainy day, homemade pizza was the perfect dinner! Whole wheat pizza dough topped with fresh mozzarella, grated parm, broccoli and crispy oven-roasted kale chips makes for a nutritious meal that still fulfills the cheese quota so needed after a cold and rainy day. The pizza was served with a mixed greens salad with lots of veggies.

To make the pizza:

  • Trader Joe’s whole wheat pizza dough
  • Trader Joe’s pizza sauce (I added chopped fresh basil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and dried oregano)
  • fresh mozzarella, 8 oz
  • shredded Parmesan cheese, I didn’t measure… about 3/4 cup or so?
  • chopped broccoli
  • minced fresh garlic
  • kale, chopped into small pieces

1) roll out Trader Joe’s whole wheat pizza dough on a cutting board with lots of flour, I made two smallish (about 8 inch) pizzas. With enough time I would have preferred to make the pizza dough from scratch- my dad makes an amazing sourdough pizza dough, but Trader Joe’s had to do on a work night.
2) chop broccoli crowns into small pieces, steam lightly in a vegetable steamer
3) chop kale and toss (lightly) with olive oil, salt and pepper. place on a cooking sheet and cook at 375 for about 10-12 minutes or until crisp. They will turn a darker green… my kale chips ended up getting a little extra crispy (almost burned), but were still delicious, they literally melt in your mouth.
4) add pizza sauce to pizza dough and top with chunks of fresh mozzarella and shredded parm cheese. Then add broccoli and fresh chopped garlic.
5) bake pizza for about 15 minutes, until edges of crust are lightly browned and crispy. Add kale for last 1-2 minutes of baking just to re-heat.

For the salad:

  • romaine lettuce and fresh spinach
  • grape tomatoes
  • cucumbers, chopped
  • shredded fresh Parmesan
  • stale bread for homemade croutons (or fresh if necessary, hamburger buns, rolls, etc. work too)

1) toss lettuce, spinach, grape tomatoes, cucumbers and parm together
2) take bread and cut into bite size pieces. Coat lightly in olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and any extra spices – I used dried oregano and parsley- bake in oven or toaster oven until crunchy, about 5 minutes.
3) for a salad dressing I recommend a to-taste combination of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, pepper and fresh chives… a simple dressing works for this relatively simple salad, and the end result was fresh and delicious!

April 21, 2011

Sweet Potato Black Bean and Spinach Quesadilla

This is – hands down – the best quesadilla I’ve ever had!

I had grown weary of quesadillas, the vegetarian versions always have too much cheese and limp soggy squishy vegetables all folded into a greasy tortilla.

This version is light, healthy, delicious and a great dinner for one! Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite ingredients – they are considered one of the healthiest vegetables in the world, and are so flavorful!

Ingredients:

  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 1 tortilla – I recommend Mission’s Jalapeno & Cheddar
  • about 1/2 can of black beans
  • 1/3 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • spinach, a few handfuls
  • cooking spray

Necessary condiments:

  • medium/hot salsa  (I love trader joe’s fresh hot salsa)
  • sour cream
  • fresh guacamole (it is a good idea to ALWAYS have an avocado laying around)
  • A couple of slices of lime
  • and of course you can always spice it up with fresh jalapeno slices, crushed red pepper, or a spicy tomatillo salsa verde :-)

Directions:

1) Stab sweet potato with a fork, and cook in microwave until soft, let cool
2) Grate cheese – you’ll almost never ever see me using pre-shredded cheese because it doesn’t have enough flavor, and is usually dry and bland.
3) Cook spinach on low heat with a very minimal amount of olive oil, just a drop will do! The spinach will cook down drastically (and quickly!)
4) Mash up sweet potato – you can cut it in half and spoon out the flesh, or mash it with the skin on if you prefer.
5) Spray pan with non-stick cooking spray (or use butter), and place tortilla face down – pan should be at medium heat.
6) Spread sweet potato on one half of tortilla (this is how I prevent over-stuffing of my quesadilla), add spinach and black beans. After about 3 minutes add cheese and close quesadilla. It will cook quickly – about 4-5 minutes on each side, max.
7) Once the tortilla is crispy, remove quesadilla, slice and eat with the above-mentioned delicious accompaniments! Fresh lime juice really helps to bring it all together!
*I mixed all extra sweet potato and black beans together and it made a great snack for the rest of the week  :-)

nutritionally speaking:
excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamins A, B6, C, E, K,  potassium, zinc, thiamin (vitamin b1), folate, calcium, iron, manganese, protein

March 16, 2011

Sierra Nevada Beer Dinner at Garden in the Cellar – Cambridge, MA

Last week I had the privilege of attending a Beer Dinner hosted by the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company at Garden in the Cellar restaurant in Cambridge, MA. The dinner was an absolutely spectacular event, and if you have the opportunity you must visit Garden in the Cellar – the restaurant is small but comfortable, the drink list is great, and the food is prepared skillfully and with passion.

The Beer Dinner was a 5-course adventure with each delicious course paired with an equally delicious Sierra Nevada beer. A few Sierra Nevada Representatives were on hand to explain the history of the brewery, and provide basic background on each beer being served.

The first course featured famous, and locally farmed, Island Creek Oysters. Farmed in Duxbury Bay, these exceptionally fresh oysters were served with frozen horseradish granite, caviar and honey, and the course was paired with Glissade Golden Bock. This first course set the tone for the evening beautifully – the dish was so light and fresh, I swear it tasted like spring. The oysters were chilled, fresh, and wonderfully enhanced by the flavor of horseradish and the sweet and subtle aftertaste of honey. The beer pairing was spot on, as the Glissade Golden Bock was light and crisp with a mellow malty bite, a refreshing beer for a refreshing first course. The flavor profiles were delicate, sweet, and slightly tart, and had us all looking forward towards spring.

The second course built on the flavors of the first course remarkably well. The dish was Razor Clam Ceviche, served with dark rum, fried plantain, bacon powder and cilantro and was paired with Kellerweis. I thought this dish creation and placement within the menu was genius – it featured the same light and fresh flavors from the first course, but added citrus, latin and tropical flavors that really worked well together. The dark rum was drizzled on the plate and was dense and boozey, perfectly complimenting the fresh ceviche that had fresh tastes of pineapple and cilantro. Bacon powder was an interesting addition, I am not a huge fan of molecular gastronomy and I tend to shy away from it, but in this case the bacon powder provided the flavor of bacon to contrast with the fruity tastes on the plate, without having a slab of greasy, heavy bacon to overwhelm the delicate flavors.  The fried plantain provided some texture and crunch to the dish, and a small taste of salt. Out of all of the beer pairings, I found this course to be the best matched. The Kellerweis is a non-traditional Hefeweizen that has delicious flavors of clove and banana, but remains light and crisp. I often find German Hefeweizen’s to have a tongue-coating aftertaste that keeps me from having more than one, but Kellerweis was refreshing and delicious and went wonderfully with the Ceviche. I will definitely be buying this beer again, it will be a perfect accompaniment to a long anticipated summer day! (I also plan to make my own ceviche this summer, so stay tuned for that!)

The third course was my favorite dish of the evening. Torpedo Cheddar Soup served with an apple cigar and topped with popped corn, and paired with Torpedo beer. This soup was one of the most delicious soups I have ever had. The taste was so intense – sharp cheddar and hoppy beer flavors in a creamy broth. Hats off to the chef on this one! The room was literally filled with voices declaring their love for this soup. The soup was cream and vegetable based and made with the Torpedo IPA – a big, hoppy, bold beer that you could taste with each bite. The popcorn garnish added a nice crunch to the soup, and the apple cigar was filo-like pastry wrapped around slices of apple and cinnamon – perfect for dipping into the soup! Of course the beer pairing worked well since the beer was featured in the actual dish itself. I will attempt to make this soup myself because it was so delicious I simply must have it again!

The fourth and main course was Slow Cooked Venison served with yellow foots, butternut squash, and espresso crumble, and paired with Sierra Nevada Porter. This was a creative dish and although I do not typically eat venison, I did enjoy this course. The meat itself was rare which was a bit much for me, but seemed to be appreciated by most of the people I was dining with. The butternut squash was a delicious and sweet accompaniment that paired well with the smooth texture of the venison. The espresso crumble was an awesome addition I never would have thought off  and it really helped compliment the smokey flavors of the dish, while also adding a crisp texture. The yellow foots (a small and very thin type of mushroom) absorbed the flavors of the meat well and provided additional texture variation. The Porter was an excellent beer pairing for this dish being savory, sweet, and rich with hints of caramel and molasses. The dish had an overall winter feeling to it, and the Porter worked well in this concept. In addition, it went beautifully with the espresso crumbs.

The final dish was Bread Pudding, served with burnt sugar ice cream and Stout espuma and paired with Sierra Nevada Stout. Keep in mind, at this point in the night I have had four courses and four beers, and although I am sad to be at the final course, I don’t know if I have it in me to even finish it! That being said, the bread pudding was a wonderful way to end the night, and is always one of my favorite desserts in general. It was cooked perfectly, crispy on top, and light and doughey on the inside. The burnt sugar ice cream was a much needed bit of dairy to help diffuse the dry dessert. The Stout espuma was also a fun addition; espuma is basically a foam that has subtle flavors of an ingredient, in this case the Stout itself. The dessert paired well with the Stout, which was creamy, full-bodied and almost like a dessert on its own.

All and all the night was a tremendous success. The dishes were creative, flavorful, and delicious, and the beers were paired perfectly to both compliment and contrast the various spotlighted ingredients. I thought the menu was incredibly well designed, going from lightest to heaviest and through different seasons of flavor. I look forward to more Beer Dinner events at Garden in the Cellar, and have a new appreciation for Sierra Nevada’s array of beers.

February 11, 2011

grilled cheese & apple sandwich


grilled cheese has to be one of the best comfort foods ever. lately restaurants have been including traditional versions of both grilled cheese and mac & cheese, as well as variations on both classic dishes on their menus. yay for cheese!

this is a classic grilled cheese and apple sandwich. made with toasted whole grain sour dough bread, extra-sharp cheddar cheese and slices of gala apple you cannot go wrong. this sandwich is ideal for saturday afternoon lunch- in any season- but seems to hit the spot extremely well in late fall and winter.

to create this delicious masterpiece at home (its simple!):
1) make sure to have good, hearty bread. i prefer whole grain, 3-grain, sourdough, or something similar.
2) slice apples and cheese
3) butter the bread very lightly on two sides, layer the apples and cheese in-between the buttered bread slices (butter facing out)
4) with the stove on medium, heat a small amount of butter on a fry pan until the fry pan is thinly covered with the butter in the center
5) cook sandwich on both sides until the bread is nicely browned, usually about 3-4 minutes a side
6)  sometimes it helps to put a small plate on the sandwich to get it closer to the heat source – this can help make the bread crispy
7) serve with trader joe’s creamy tomato soup (highly recommended)
8) enjoy!

January 12, 2011

broccoli leek & potato soup

i made this soup in those dreary weeks between the end of fall and the beginning of real winter. it is a perfect pick me up soup; delicious, hearty and warming from the inside out. i love this recipe because it really showcases the leeks, which often do not get the praise and attention they deserve, and it has a rich creamy texture (with very little cream!). in addition, this recipe uses both broccoli florets and stems to reduce food waste and increase nutritional value.

nutritionally speaking – excellent source of vitamins A, B6, C, K, riboflavin, and folate and significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron. low in saturated fat, and very low in cholesterol.


broccoli leek & potato soup:

  • 2 baking potatoes – peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 large broccoli bunches
  • 4-5 medium to large leeks – white and light green parts only
  • olive oil – about 2-3 tablespoons
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic – chopped small
  • 3 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup of light cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • bread (for croutons)
  • parmesan cheese for garnish

directions:

1) peel baking potatoes and chop into 1-inch cubes. cook in boiling water until a fork easily goes through one of the chopped pieces. set aside once cooked.
2) meanwhile, separate broccoli stems from florets. slice the stems into small coin-like pieces (sometimes it is recommend that you peel the outside of the stem, i do not bother with this step unless the outside of the stem is very thick). break the florets into small pieces and steam both the florets and stems together in a vegetable steamer. set aside once cooked.
3) clean and prepare leeks. chop off the darkest green ends of the leeks which are often slightly damaged or worn. cut off the white bearded bulb at the bottom. all you should have left are the white and light green parts. separate the leeks length wise and run under water to remove the dirt between the leaves. some leeks are really dirty – there is nothing wrong with this (usually those are the best locally grown leeks!) just clean them well. once clean slice thinly.
4) in a large fry pan heat olive oil and add garlic. add leeks and cook on medium heat to “sweat” the leeks, stirring often until they begin to soften and are fragrant – usually about 5-6 minutes. add about 3 cups of vegetable broth and cover, reducing the heat to medium-low. cook another 8-10 minutes.
5) mix cooked potato, cooked broccoli and leeks in a large bowl, and transfer the mixture in batches to a food processor (a blender also works) and puree until smooth.

6) as each batch is pureed, return to a large sauce pan on the stove. then add light cream, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, chives and parsley.  reheat about 5-10 minutes.
7) serve with shaved parmesan cheese and home made croutons *

*croutons can be made with almost any type of bread, stale bread works best. chop into cubes, add a small amount of olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh or dried herbs of your liking, toss and bake in a toaster oven or oven for 10-15 minutes until crunchy.