Archive for ‘comfort foods’

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. :-)

Advertisements
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.

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!