November 28, 2011

Acorn Squash and Goat Cheese Ravioli

It's going to be a very exciting week ahead:

Super-fun thing number one: Tomorrow, our good friends are coming over for dinner and, inevitably, a game or two of Catan because the men are engineers... and, inevitably, a glass or two of wine because they are those friends. But seriously, nothing beats really good friends. They are the type of friends that know how annoying you are, but still hang out with you. The type of friends that when you go to their house-warming party they don't say "Can I get you a glass of wine?" but instead: "the glasses are in that cabinet." I love that.

Super-fun thing number two: Wednesday we are going to OMSI after dark. (eeeeeeeep!) If you read the description of OMSI after dark on the website, it actually says "It's geeks gone wild!" My husband and I are going, so it must be true. Not only do we get to go to Body Worlds (yup, its a bunch of insides of dead people), and roam around the rest of the museum, but we also get to drink beer and wine while we do it. I did mention there will be no children there, right? This geek is going to go wild.

Super-fun thing number three: My talented friend, Leah, wrote a book (oh, and she also owns and operates her own business and runs like 5 miles a day), and she is having a book signing at her shop on Friday evening complete with live music and, of course, really good espresso.

Super-fun thing number four: On Saturday, we (Lane, James, and I) are going to Zoo Lights!!! And I think we are somehow getting in for free because Lane's company is pretty awesome to its employees. (Dear pal and "follower" Jess, if you read this, all I can say is: "they had to start using battery-operated lights because of the hippo incident of '89"...perhaps I will explain this to the rest of you when I post pics from Zoo Lights, which may not happen for at least a week since I am going to be so exhausted from all this activity.)

Despite all the adventures ahead, nothing really exciting is happening today, aside from a grocery shopping (actually, I enjoy food shopping much more than would be considered normal) and a park trip. So, being the way I am, I had to make something labor-intensive and a little strange for dinner.

I was originally going to make some sort of goat cheese and acorn squash scalloped potato dish, but it sounded too much like the food we are all now sick of from eating too much of it last week. Then I stumbled upon a recipe for pasta dough from Smitten Kitchen (who else?) that sounded so easy I had to try it.

After this dish I am even more convinced that I need a pasta machine, as this device would have made the pasta about a billion times easier, but even though it was uneven, way too thick, and really ugly, man did it taste good.

I have about fifty disclaimers before you begin, but I will only annoy you with a few of the most important ones:
1. This recipe is going to make way more filling than pasta. I packed the rest of the filling into a tupperware and popped in the freezer. When I finally do something with it, I promise I will let you know. Or, you could just double the pasta recipe, or half the filling recipe- genius!
2. Yes, it does have the same topping as the last ravioli recipe I posted. So sue me! I was originally thinking a tomato sauce or even cranberry sauce (we have so much of it left over...) for the topping, but the ravioli is so flavorful that you must keep it simple.
3. Although I tell you to roast and puree the entire squash, sometime around the asterisk I may tell you to remove some of it before adding the other ingredients. Perhaps use it to thicken a soup?
4. The recipe called for all-purpose flour, and I didn't substitute whole wheat flour because the dough is put through a food processor, and then rolled out, so the resulting pasta would have been really tough if made with whole wheat.
5. It may seem like a long, complicated recipe and a lot of dishes, but it was actually quite simple. (Says the girl who does things like this.)

Acorn Squash and Goat Cheese Ravioli
For the Filling
1 acorn squash
3 tbsp olive oil, divided (preferably rosemary-garlic infused olive oil)
4 oz log goat cheese, cut into a few pieces
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
pinch red pepper flakes (more if you want some heat)
Pasta Recipe from Here
For the topping
about 2 tbsp olive oil
about 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
about 1 tbsp pinenuts
fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish, if desired

Cut the acorn squash in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy insides, cut off the peel, and cut each half into three slices the long way. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil (about 2 tbsp) and place squash on the pan. Roast at 425 for about 40 minutes, or until a fork can be poked easily into the squash, flipping the squash half way through.
While the squash is roasting, follow the recipe for the pasta. While it is "relaxing," continue to make the filling:
Put squash into a food processor, and process until smooth. (*I removed about 1/3 cup of the squash because I was afraid it might take over the goat cheese taste. This probably isn't necessary.) Add remaining 1 tbsp olive oil and goat cheese log, and process. Add the pepper, rosemary, nutmeg, and red pepper flakes and process until it is all well combined. Place in refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
split the pasta dough into two balls. Roll them out, one at a time, into a 10 x 10 inch square. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 2 x 2 inch squares. Place a heaping tsp of the filling onto every other square. Top the filling with an empty pasta square, and pinch the edges of the squares together. Try to get out any air bubbles that may have formed.
Bring a pot of water to a gentle boil. Add a pinch of salt. Gently place raviolis (you may need to do this is two batches) into the water. They will begin to float on the surface of the water, but leave them in a few more minutes, about 7 minutes total. Remove with a slotted spoon.
Heat about 2 tbsp olive oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add the pinenuts and allow to cook for a few minutes, but watch to make sure they don't burn. Add the vinegar, then the raviolis. Combine for a couple minutes, then plate the raviolis and eat warm. Enjoy.

November 26, 2011

Spirits Sprite

Yesterday was the official beginning of my hands-down favorite time of the year: Christmas time. 

Call me a nerd, but I love everything about this time of year- the music, the lights, the smell of evergreen trees, the tastes of the season- everything. Christmas time makes me want to be a kid again. And it makes me act like a kid again. Knowing this, my sweet husband suggested that we buy our tree today.

Our original plan was to buy a small tree that we could put up on a table so that the shortest family member with the stickiest fingers couldn't get to it. However, we brought it home, set it up on the table, and realized that the tree skirt would create the perfect tool for him to grab hold of and pull the entire thing down onto his head. 
We moved it onto the floor and only used those ornaments that are not made of glass or china. James was still fascinated by all of it, so we tried to use our "gentle touches only, no pulling" rule (the same we use for James when it comes to our dog who is twice his weight, but terrified of him). However, it seems we are going to have to monitor him quite a bit around the tree. 
While we were decorating, James got into the boxes of Christmas paraphernalia and managed to cover the floor with tissue paper, cardboard, and anything else he could get his hands on.

Once he went to bed, it was time for clean up and a little mommy time. I decided to make an adult beverage. What I really wanted was eggnog and whipped cream, but I figured that if I added just a smidgen (that's a real word? spell check didn't put wiggly red lines under it, so I guess so) of alcohol it would taste even better, and I would feel a little more like a grown-up. 

When I was younger (okay, until like last year) I thought that the line in Jingle Bells that goes "Making spirits bright" actually said "Making spirits sprite." I thought that "spirits sprite" must be some seasonal adult drink that was delicious and had whip cream on the top.
My childhood fantasies are coming true.

Spirits Sprite
2 tsp Kahlua
2 tsp Whiskey (I used Gentleman's Jack)
1/3 to 1/2 c eggnog
whip cream 
freshly grated nutmeg

November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope your day is filled with loved ones...



...and delicious food.

Happy Thanksgiving. 

(upside-down cranberry cake from this recipe) 

November 22, 2011

Congratulations, Jen!

To my dear "follower," but dearer friend Jen:

Congratulations on your engagement! I am so happy for you. Although I have never met James, I have face-book stalked him a little, and he seems to be a very nice man (and also very good looking, go girl!)
Love you and miss you!

PS I made these cookies in honor of your engagement and since you sadly could not enjoy them with me I ate one for you... and one for him as well.

Butternut Squash, Black Bean, and Red Wine Soup

So here's how my day went down:
I woke up this morning with a runny nose and stuffy sinuses. Not like a cold, but like allergies. This keeps happening to me, and I have finally decided what it is: I'm allergic to Vancouver.
I grew up in a really neat part of Southwest Portland, and then I moved to Corvallis for college, which is a really eclectic, fun little town... and now, I live in the suburbia of East Vancouver.
It's nothing against the people. They are all wonderful and kind. There are a lot of families here, which was one of the reasons we moved here originally. But, it just isn't us. We have been trying to make our escape for a while, but no success so far. And I feel like I need to get out.
Anyway, it was in this state of self-pity that I started my morning. Pretty pathetic, huh?

To cheer myself up, James and I went to our favorite coffee shop, where he downed with impressive speed a 6 oz 1/2 milk 1/2 chocolate milk. Then we delivered a hot coffee to Lane at work (or at least, outside at the gate, since we can't go in without a badge because we might be spies). Then we went to the grocery store (which is my favorite place in Vancouver, hands down).

At least, we tried to go to the grocery store.
I kind of forgot that it is two days before the biggest cooking day of the year, and that today is Senior Citizen Discount Tuesday at Chuck's. So, we circled the parking lot many times, but there were no spots to park. To make matters worse, I had to pee so bad. (Which is ironic, becuase I didn't order anything at my favorite coffee shop so that I wouldn't have to pee. I guess the two cups I had before we left the house didn't help.) Anyway, we ended up going home with no groceries. We had a pretty bare fridge at home. Ah ha! Time to get creative.

This morning, I had planned to make some sort of chicken noodle soup for dinner, but we had no chicken and very little noodles since I didn't go grocery shopping. I wanted to use some left-over squash, and also some left over oregano (I hate wasting herbs since they cost about five dollars an ounce). I grabbed a can of black beans from the pantry for protein. The rest just sort of came together as I went.

While the soup simmered on the stove, James and I waited for Lane to come home. We felt like we needed to put up something festive, so we hung some twinkle lights which, we decided, are not a Christmas decoration if they are white.

Lane came home and we enjoyed our warm, comforting soup under the soft glow of the twinkle lights.

It turns out, life in the 'Couv isn't really all that bad.

Squash, Black Bean, and Red Wine Soup
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 white onion, chopped
1 c broth
1 c water
2 c* butternut squash, roasted or steamed
1 15oz can black beans
1/4 c fresh oregano, stemmed (de-stemmed? un-stemmed?), plus more for garnish
1/2 c red wine

Pour olive oil in a dutch oven or large sauce pan, turn heat to medium-high. Add onions and garlic and saute until they are browning. Add broth and water, and turn down to a simmer.
Place cooked squash, black beans, and oregano in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Add the puree to the broth mixture, whisking until smooth.
Add the red wine, but don't let it get above a simmer so that you can preserve the flavor of the wine.
Serve hot with oregano leaves on top. Enjoy.
*That is, 2 cups before it is cooked, so it will cook down to more like 1 1/2 cups.

November 21, 2011

Pear, Pecan, and Blue Cheese Salad with Cranberry-Ginger Vinaigrette

This was one of those weekends that I need a weekend to recover from. Saturday was busy with "work" and a housewarming party (sadly, not our housewarming), Sunday we tried out a new church and then I co-hosted a baby shower.
Needless to say, there wasn't a lot of time for cooking. Conveniently, I have been craving my favorite salad combination, so we ate a lot of these salads over the weekend.

This salad always reminds me of Thanksgiving because, in past Thanksgivings with my in-laws, I have been asked to bring a green salad. I think this because I married into a family of fabulous cooks, and so they know how to prepare all the main dishes really well. Therefore, I get stuck bringing the boring green salad.

My first Thanksgiving with the new family, I decided I was going to wow them with a salad that, although it met the "green salad" specifications, was also creative, delicious, and pretty. This was when I stumbled upon a pear, walnut, and blue cheese salad with cranberry vinaigrette from Cooking Light. After doing a bit of tweaking, I brought a salad that I thought could not fail. I thought for sure by the next year I would be asked to bring the turkey. I had forgotten that fruit, cheese, and salad greens together are not a favorite combination among my in-laws. Oops.

This year, I have insisted on not bringing the green salad (but I still need to figure out what the heck I am making). I have volunteered to bring some sort of green vegetable dish, a dessert, and Lane is making cranberry sauce. For the dishes I am making, I am thinking perhaps something like this and this.

If your family, friends, and/or in-laws ask you to bring a green salad to your Thanksgiving feast, I highly recommend gracing the table with this one. It is sure to be a hit. Unless, of course, they don't like fruit in their salad, in which case you can keep the salad all for yourself.
(But watch out, or some little person may try to steal the salad toppings while you are taking pictures of it:)

Pear, Pecan, and Blue Cheese Salad with Cranberry-Ginger Vinaigrette
Makes 2/3 cup dressing and about 6-8 side salads
For the Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup cranberry sauce
juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp grated or very finely minced ginger
pinch salt
For the Salad:
1 head of romaine lettuce (about 8 to 10 cups)
2 pears, sliced and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup sliced red onion
1/3 cup blue cheese (try to get the least-smokey one you can find)
1/3 cup toasted pecans
1/4 cup dried cranberries
To prepare the vinaigrette, whisk the ingredients together.
To make the salad, divide all the lettuce up equally between the plates, then evenly divide toppings. Top with vinaigrette just before serving. Enjoy.

November 16, 2011

Cranberry, provolone, basil, turkey paninis

Last night James and I received the sad news that our play date for today was not going to work out on account of pink eye (yes, please stay home, we will catch up with you once the antibiotics have kicked in) and we realized we were facing a whole day with no plans at all. Worse than that, a rainy, cold, windy day with no plans at all. So, we deemed today would be an eating-cooking-baking day. Those are the best kinds of days anyway.

We changed out of our pjs and into our comfy pants (cute little Addidas warm-ups and yoga pants, respectively), and we vowed to leave the house only once to go to the store and collect more eating-cooking-baking supplies.

All I had to show for myself at the end of what was going to be a super-productive-in-the-kitchen day is one loaf of whole-wheat chocolate chip walnut pumpkin bread for moms group tomorrow (already wrapped and out of sight on top of the fridge, don't tell my husband) and dinner, which was paninis made on homemade whole wheat foccacia bread.... Oh wait, scratch that, the foccacia bread stuck to the baking sheet. (Am I repeating myself? Has this happened once before? Maybe twice? Perhaps it is time to invest in better bake ware?)

So we used store-bought ciabatta. Oh well. 
I really love paninis. Like a lot. I mean cheese melted on bread with other good stuff in the middle and then brushed with olive oil and grilled, how could you go wrong? 
This particular combination comes from a cafe I worked at in college. I love basil a lot too, and it is perfect during the holidays when paired with the sweet-tart of the cranberry sauce. I am already planning to stock up on basil so that I can make the ultimate after-Thanksgiving panini with left over turkey, my husbands amazing cranberry sauce, and plenty of cheese. Maybe a little garlic mashed potato pile on the side for dipping? After all, tis the season.

Cranberry, provolone, basil, turkey paninis
(Does this really need a recipe? I am copy-and-pasting from the last panini recipe I posted.)
loaf of good, fresh, artisan bread (I used ciabatta), cut into thin slices
olive oil
turkey lunch meat (I used peppered turkey)
basil leaves
cranberry sauce (I used the canned kind, what a cheater)
Turn a pan or stove-top grill to medium heat. Lightly brush one side of a slice of bread with olive oil, then set it down, oiled side down. Layer meat, then basil, then cheese on top. Slather another slice of bread with cranberry sauce, then place it over the cheese, and lightly brush the side facing up with oil. Place on grill, then press down with another pan on the top of the sandwich. Grill about three minutes, or until grill marks are present and cheese is melting. Flip and grill, pressing down, on the other side about three minutes. Enjoy.

November 11, 2011

Velvety Butternut Squash Soup and Grandma's Biscuits

(really poorly lit photos courtesy of daylight savings time, since we don't eat dinner at 2 in the afternoon)

Christmas music came on by accident in our house this morning.
I'm serious. It was completely unintentional. I was innocently listening to a Nat King Cole Greatest Hits album on Spotify, and The Christmas Song came on (you know: "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..."). Which, as we all know, is the ultimate Christmas song, especially when sung by Nat.
It instantly brightened my mood and I knew that, although it really isn't legal yet, I must start listening to Christmas music. After a full album of Nat's Christmas songs, James and I indulged in the instrumental version of Charlie Brown Christmas (instrumental Christmas music before Thanksgiving is only half cheating). Can I just say, it warms the heart, like soup on a cold rainy day...

Which brings me -really stretching the segue here- to dinner last night...

This soup can be made with a rosemary and garlic infused olive oil* which my mother-in-law makes and let me borrow a little (must return the jar so she will replenish my supply as a stocking stuffer), or you can add the garlic and rosemary to the veggies while they roast. I did both just to be on the safe side.

The biscuits are my Grandma Rose's recipe. I can remember "helping" her make them numerous times in her cozy kitchen when I was young. I have made a couple adjustments to make them a little more nutritious, but they are still crunchy on the outside and soft and flaky on the inside, the perfect accompaniment to soup.
* to make garlic infused olive oil: fill about an 8 oz bottle with 2 peeled cloves of garlic and 4 sprigs rosemary, fill the bottle the rest of the way with olive oil

Velvety Butternut Squash Soup
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds scooped out, and cut into 1" cubes
1 yellow onion, cut in half, then cut into four parts per half, layers separated
1/4 cup of rosemary-garlic infused olive oil or 1/4 cup olive oil and:
1 clove garlic and 4 sprigs rosemary
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 tsp (25 grinds on the mill) freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt

If not using the infused oil, peel the garlic clove and cut in half, rub the cut half over a rimmed baking sheet and discard the garlic. Put butternut squash and onion on the baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil. Toss the veggies in the oil and evenly distribute on the baking sheet. If you are not using the infused oil, put the sprigs of rosemary around the baking sheet. Bake the veggies at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, then toss and bake another 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven, discard rosemary, and puree in a blender or food processor until creamy. Add broth, salt, and pepper and puree until smooth.

Grandma's Biscuits
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp applesauce
1/4 cup canola, olive, or safflower oil
2/3 cup reduced fat milk
canola cooking spray

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry, mix until just combined, do not over mix. Drop heaping spoonfuls on greased baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 12 minutes.
Serve with Butternut Squash Soup. Enjoy.

P.S. I made whole wheat bagels using this recipe, and substituting whole wheat bread flour for white bread flour. They were surprisingly easy and, although not pretty, very delicious.

November 09, 2011

Peppery Thin Wheat Crackers

I have discovered that snacks disappear much faster when you make them yourself.
For example, the pan of granola bars I made only Saturday are mostly gone (recipe coming soon when perfected), although the Costco box of Nature Valley bars has been sitting in our pantry for at least a month and is still over half full.
Perhaps this is because we know what goes into our homemade snacks, and so we feel better about eating them. Or possibly because we don't have to open a bunch of packaging (and glance over the horrifying nutritional panel) to get to them. But honestly, I think it is actually because homemade snacks are so much more delicious than their store-bought counterparts.

And, of course, much more labor-intensive.

The recipe I adapted is from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book which, for some reason, was the last place I looked for a whole-grain cracker. Sometime last spring I made these cheese crackers for James from the online encyclopedia of all things delicious: Smitten Kitchen. Although I love all of Deb's recipes (I like to imagine that we are on a first name basis) and the crackers were fabulous tasting, they were also a bit greasy, heavy, and guilt-inducing, not what I wanted from a snack cracker. The King Arthur crackers, however, were light, thin, and crispy. The only reason I felt guilty from these crackers was because I ate half the batch. Not kidding.

Although there are countless adaptions to this recipe (added herbs, honey instead of sugar, garlic and parmesan, cinnamon and sugar...) I kept the recipe simple so that I could see how I liked the results, and go from there. There should be many more interesting adaptations to come.

Peppery Thin Wheats
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracker peppercorn
3 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 c water
canola oil cooking spray

Combine flour, sugar, salt, and cracker pepper. Cut in butter and drizzle mixture with oil. Use your hands (or a pastry cutter, but hands work better in my opinion) to thoroughly blend the fats into the flour mixture. Add the water, mix in with your hands.
Divide the dough into four balls. Keep the balls you are not using covered with plastic wrap (I don't know why, bit it is what the recipe says, I assume for moisture reasons). Roll each ball out to 12 inches square. (Now, this is the part that really confused me. It is impossible to roll 1/4 of the dough out to 12 inches by 12 inches. That is why it says: "12 inches square," meaning 6 inches by 6 inches. I am not a math major.) So, each side should be 6 inches. Cut off the excess dough (later roll all the excess out and cut into crackers). The crackers should each be about 1 1/2 inches wide. Bake the crackers on a lightly greased baking sheet for about 7 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Watch the crackers closely. You want them to be a golden-brown color and crispy all the way through, not light or dark brown. Let them cool on a plate, then immediately store them in a Tupperware so that you don't eat them all. Enjoy.