Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tex-Mex Squash and Bean Bowl

For dinner tonight, I was once again faced with my remaining 3 lbs. of butternut squash. I decided to make a big bowl of comfort, using some pantry items, and combining some new flavors. Organic canned beans were on sale at Whole Foods, so I really stocked up. I thought black beans seemed to pair the best with Butternut. I also had an avocado and queso fresco, so Tex-Mex seemed to be the way to go! This dish was so filling (I assume this is because the squash and beans are so high in fiber), but it was also full of flavor, and very healthy.

Tex-Mex Squash and Bean Bowl

3 cups diced butternut squash
1 tbsp. EVOO
1 tbsp. light brown sugar
Salt and pepper
1 tsp. chili powder or adobo sauce
1 15 oz. can of organic black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of 1 lime
1 Avocado, sliced
1/2 cup crumbled Queso Fresco (or Monterey Jack, Goat Cheese, anything you have on hand!)
Tobasco sauce
Chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment.
Add squash, oil, sugar, salt, pepper and chili powder. Toss to coat.
Roast for 25-30 minutes, until squash is caramelized.
Add beans to a soup pot with 1/2 cup water or stock.
Season with cumin and salt.
Bring to a simmer over low heat.
When squash is cooked, remove from the oven and plate.
Squeeze lime juice into beans, then spoon over squash.
Top with avocado, cheese, cilantro and hot sauce.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Caprese Spring Rolls with Pesto Dipping Sauce

Tonight's dinner was a little different than my normal approach. I know many readers of this blog are friends and family, and don't really know all of the opportunities out there for food bloggers. Right now, as I type, BlogHer is going on in SanFrancisco, which is a big event for women with blogs! As much as I'd love to attend one of these blogger events, I just don't have the time or money. There are some bloggers who get scholarships or sponsors to attend, but my blog has no sponsors.
I am a Foodbuzz Featured Publisher though, which has been great for my blog. It gives me many opportunities to meet other bloggers, learn about new products, and now, I have the opportunity to create a meal that Foodbuzz will judge and possibly award me a scholarship to attend the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in November!
I wasn't sure if I wanted to participate, but now that I'm about 2 years and 750 posts in, I feel confident in my blog and what I've been able to do with it. Win or lose, I'm glad that I even have the opportunity!

Now, for the details! I had to create a meal (appetizer+entree') using Bertolli products (they're funding the scholarships). I love cooking Italian food, so this was right up my alley. For my appetizer, I wanted to incorporate my all-time favorite, Caprese Salad. I've used it so many ways (pasta, pasta salad, burgers, polenta stacks, pizza, etc.) I decided to use Bertolli's Extra Light Tasting Olive Oil in this dish. For some reason, spring rolls stood out in my mind, a little East meets West fusion recipe. For the dipping sauce, I thought pesto would be fitting, and would use the Olive Oil.
The rolls could be fried in olive oil, but I like to brush them in olive oil and then bake them to get crisp with a bit of heart healthy oil, but not too much because the flavor can be strong. The pesto was a little different from traditional because I used walnuts rather than pine nuts, and romano rather than parmesan. I also blended the pesto so it would be extra saucy and dipable.
These spring rolls just might be a new all-time favorite appetizer of mine!

Caprese Spring Rolls with Pesto Dipping Sauce

Spring Rolls:
1 package wonton wrappers
2 cups packed baby spinach leaves
1 8 oz. ball of fresh mozzarella
16 large sun dried tomato halves
1 small red onion
2 tbsp. Bertolli olive oil
2 tbsp. sesame seeds

2 cups packed basil
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup romano cheese
salt and pepper
1/4 cup EVOO
Splash of water

Slice tomatoes, onion and mozzarella into 32 matchsticks each.
Fill a small dish with water.
Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Lay a wonton wrapper on a cutting board, place in 4-5 spinach leaves, 2 pieces of mozzarella, 2 pieces of tomato and 2 pieces of onion.
Roll up, fold in the sides, brush the tip with water, roll onto tip and press intoa log.
Place on the baking sheet.
Continue and roll 16 total.
Refrigerate until ready to bake (I refrigerated mine for 2 hours).
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Brush spring rolls with EVOO, sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, until crisp and browned on the edges.

To make pesto, add all ingredients (except water) to a blender.
Pulse until pesto is in small pieces.
Turn blender on and puree until it reaches sauce consistency, adding a splash of water or more olive oil to help reach desired viscosity.
Serve with spring rolls.

The rest of my Bertolli dinner will be posted tomorrow!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Creamy Roasted Asparagus and Gruyere Soup

I've been fighting cold/flu like symptoms for about a week, so a big bowl of soup sounded perfect. I had asparagus in the produce drawer waiting for be used, so creamy asparagus soup it was! I enjoy the taste of steamed asparagus, but my favorite way to prepare asparagus is to roast it. I had a small knob of gruyere in the freezer, and thought the nuttiness from gruyere would play up the nuttiness asparagus develops when roasted. This soup was delicious as a full meal with a chunk of whole grain bread, but also would be a great starter topped with toasted croutons.

Creamy Roasted Asparagus and Gruyere Soup

1 lb. of asparagus spears, trimmed
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 cup yellow onion, minced
1 tbps. EVOO
Salt and fresh cracked black pepper
4 cups vegetable stock, warmed
1/4 cup half and half
4 oz. shredded gruyere cheese
1 tsp. minced tarragon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place asparagus, garlic and onions on a foil lined baking sheet.
Drizzle with EVOO, sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss and smooth in an even layer.
Roast for 20 minutes, or until asparagus gets a little charred on the tips (depends on how thick your spears are).
Remove from the oven, heat a large soup pot over low.
Add half the asparagus and stock to a blender, whirl until smooth, pour in the soup pot.
Add the remaining asparagus and stock to the blender, puree or leave small chunks, depending on preference, pour into the pot.
*Note: Set aside a few tips for garnish, if desired
Bring the soup to a simmer, add cream, cheese and tarragon.
Stir to incorporate, taste and adjust seasonings.
Ladle into a bowl, serve with crusty bread and an extra sprinkle of gruyere and cracked pepper.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sour Cream and Onion Twice Baked Potatoes

I can still remember the first time I had a twice baked potato... It was creamy and full of cheese. I wondered why anyone would ever eat a plain old baked potato when these existed! Then I realized what a process it can be, and understood why my mom only occasionally made them. It's not a difficult process, but it's long! First baking the potatoes, cooling them, scraping out the potato, mixing the stuffing, restuffing them, and baking once again... and hoping none of the skins break when you scoop out the potato! There are a few shortcuts one can take, like microwaving the potatoes in the beginning and broiling them at the end, but I'm usually not looking for short cuts in the kitchen, I relish my time in there! However, this recipe can be made in stages. You can easily bake your potatoes the night before, or make them entirely and refrigerate them until you're ready to bake them off (I've even frozen them and baked them off!)
I decided to take a different approach with these baked potatoes. I recently was at a party and found myself going back to the sour cream and onion dip over and over. Combining sour cream and potatoes isn't very original, but this mixture I stuffed them with was a creation I just sort of winged, and it was a hit! If you're really pressed for time, you can just make these sour cream and onion mashed potatoes, but I love having a mashed potato like filling and then a crisp shell at the end...or two, because JJ doesn't eat his!

Sour Cream and Onion Twice Baked Potatoes

2 medium-large russet potatoes
1 tbsp. butter
1 cup diced onions
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup sherry
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Chives, parsley, or any other fresh herb
2 tbsp. grated parmesan

Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Scrub potatoes, piece with a fork, wrap in foil.
Place potatoes directly on the oven wrack, bake for an hour.
While potatoes bake, heat a skillet over low.
Add butter, onions, salt and pepper.
Sautee for 15 minutes, or until caramelized, add sherry, reduce and turn heat off.
When potatoes are cooled, about 30 minutes, cut off the top 1/3 and scoop out the flesh, add to a mixing bowl.Add onions, sour cream, garlic powder, herbs and parmesan to mixing bowl.
Mix well, taste and adjust seasonings.
If mixture seems dry, add stock or milk to thin.
Place potato shells on a baking sheet.
Spoon mixture back into skins, place back in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, until a golden brown crust forms.
Remove from the oven and plate.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini

Lately my posts have been few and far between. I'm not sure that I've really announced much on this blog since it's directed towards cooking, so I'll go ahead and spill the beans... First, I got a new job, second, we bought a house, and third, I am going to be a food blogger and foodie dining club host for Folio Weekly, a magazine here in Jacksonville.
Because I've taken on a job and a half and have been going through the home buying process, I've had little to no time in the kitchen. When I do, I'm not in a creative mood, I just cook my favorite, go-to meals. We'll be closing on the house between October 15 and 23, it just depends on when we get the word from our mortgage company (the sellers of the house would like it sooner, we don't care too much). So in addition to the jobs, I'll be moving....again! Luckily this time it's 2 miles away, not 1000.
The kitchen is not my dream kitchen, but it's great nonetheless because it's MINE! The house is everything JJ and I dreamed out first home would be. It's open and bright, great for entertaining, a lovely yard and a pond that's half ours with ducks! We're both so excited, and so fortunate that the home buying process this far as been so easy and drama-free!
Now about the Folio Weekly job... essentially I will be blogging about 3 times per week on anything and everything food/wine related in Jacksonville. I'll be doing restaurant profiles, going to farmer's markets, tastings, food and wine events, and many other things! The real focus of the blog is to be a central place for members of the Bite Club to chat. You can read all about what the Bite Club is here on the Bite Club Blog. If you're in Jacksonville, please don't hesitate to contact me if you have ideas for the blog!

Now for dinner... I have been meaning to make this recipe for such a long time. I never seemed to remember it when I had tahini on hand though, and at $10 a jar, I didn't want to buy it just for this. Now that I've had it, I will. I could eat this every day and every night. The only problem I had with it was sometimes I love raw red onion, and sometimes I pick one out that's just too strong. Tonight I had one that was too strong. In the future, I'll probably roast my onion in with the squash and garlic. This salad is definitely on my rotation! It's so creative and features one of my favorite fall flavors, butternut squash!
I first saw this recipe on Molly's blog, Orangette, years ago, and was reminded of it by Erin of Dinner and Dessert last week.

Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini
adapted from Molly of Orangette

3 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2" pieces
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of ground nutmeg
15 oz. can of chickpeas, drained
1/2 of a medium red onion, finely chopped
¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp. tahini
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.
Add squash, garlic, salt, and onions, if preferred.
Drizzle with EVOO, toss.
Bake for 20 minutes, remove and cool.
Whisk together dressing ingredients, add chick peas, cilantro and red onion, mix.
When squash cools, add to the salad and gently fold in.
Serve at room temperature.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cranberry Yogurt Salad Dressing and a Homemade Dressing Primer

After making the cranberry syrup for my pumpkin pancakes a few nights ago, I tried to think of another recipe where I could use the cranberries. I was in the mood for a big spinach salad with dried berries and cheese, and figured making a cranberry salad dressing would be a nice match. I love making salad dressing at home because it's so easy, it's cheap, and you never end up with countless half-empty bottles in the fridge. You also have the opportunity to be creative and use up whatever you have on hand.
I'm not a fan of oily dressings, I prefer a creamy base, however I don't like mayo. I prefer to sub plain or vanilla yogurt, both greek and regular depending on the consistency. I tend to use a 1:1 acid to oil ratio, and use other flavors to balance out the vinegar, but some more traditional dressing recipes call for a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio. Use what you like!

There are a few simple rules I follow when making a dressing, and a few cooking tools have made this so much easier!
My standard dressing is made of:
-salt and pepper
-special flavor.

OIL elements I use:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Plain or Vanilla Greek Yogurt
Plain or Vanilla Lowfat Yogurt
Sour Cream
Coconut Milk
Cottage Cheese
Sesame Oil (use sparingly!)
(Note: I always use at least 1-2 tbsp. EVOO plus one or more of the other oil substitutes, never just a substitute as I find a little oil helps stabilize the dressing)

VINEGAR elements I use:
Balsamic Vinegar
Red Wine Vinegar
Champagne Vinegar
Lemon/Lime/Grapefruit Juice

Parsley, Oregano, Cilantro, Basil, Rosemary, Chives, Tarragon
Garlic, Red Onion, Scallions
Cinnamon, Ginger, Paprika, Cumin, Corriander

SUGAR I use:
Raw Sugar
Maple Syrup
Fruit Puree or Juice

SPECIAL FLAVORS are really anything you can imagine. Some special flavors I have used to create dressings are
Fruit: Blueberry, Pear, Cranberry, Mango
Nut: Tahini, Peanut Butter, Pecan, Walnut
Vegetable: Carrot, Avocado, Sun-dried Tomato
Misc: Sriracha, Jam/Jelly, Mustard, Soy Sauce
Cheese: Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Feta, Asiago

From these ingredients, which many people keep on hand all of the time, you can create a million dressing combinations!
Check the dressing tag on my blog for some of the dressings I have created (or found on other blogs, cookbooks, etc.) are:
Blue Cheese Vinaigrette (this is one of my favorites)

For this salad, I made a simple creamy cranberry yogurt dressing.
1 cup fresh cramberries
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp. raw sugar
3/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Bring cranberries, water and sugar to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, remove from heat and bring to room temperature.
Add cranberries and remaining ingredients to a blender, puree until smooth.

Now the 2 things that I think make homemade dressing SO easy are:
1. The Magic Bullet - this is a small, food processor/blender that sits on the counter and has a 1 or 2 cup capacity. I use it almost every day, and every time I make dressing to whirl up a small batch for JJ and I.
2. The Aerogarden - When I have a house, I plan to plant a nice herb garden, but for apartment living, or people without garden aspirations, this is a small hydroponic garden system that grows 7 herb varieties at a time. I like the Italian Herb mix, but they're all great. This makes adding fresh herbs to my dressings a pinch, especially when I want 5-6 herbs a week and they're about $2 a bunch. The system is expensive to begin with, but I think it has paid for itself (and it looks pretty cool!)

If you have any questions about the dressing combinations, or want to suggest one that you make at home, please let me know, I love trying new dressings at home!

And please remember, when you make your dressings, TASTE! TASTE! TASTE! You'll have to work with them a bit because there are no true measurements, but err on the side of caution when adding strong flavors, vinegar, spices, salt, etc. You can always add a splash more vinegar or a pinch of salt, but if it's too much to begin with, you'll most likely have to start over.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Spanikopita Pasta Salad

I love spanikopita, but for a weeknight meal, it's a little involved. I took all of the flavors and ingredients and tossed them with some orzo (because I had it on hand, but any pasta will do). I thought this was a great pasta salad. My mom has always added cottage cheese to her spanikopita filling, so I never realized it wasn't a traditional ingredient. I wasn't sure it would work in this dish, but it made it creamy without being too heavy. It can be left out, and more feta added, but I think it adds an interesting flavor and texture to the dish.
This can be served immediatly at a warm temperature, or it can be chilled, or anywhere in between. We had ours immediately, warm, JJ's with a chicken breast and mine with a morningstar farm's chik'n patty (the new italian herb seasoned patties are delicious!)

Spanikopita Pasta Salad

1/2 lb. short cut pasta
2 tbsp. EVOO
1 yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
4 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1 tsp. fresh minced oregano (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
1 tsp. chopped fresh dill
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup lowfat cottage cheese
6 oz. crumbled feta cheese

Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt heavily and add pasta. Cook according to package directions to al dente, drain and add to a mixing bowl.
Heat a skillet over medium heat, add EVOO, onion, garlic, salt and pepper.
Saute' for 6-8 minutes, or until onions are soft and slightly caramelized.
Add spinach, toss and wilt.
Add mixture to the orzo. , stir to combine.
Add herbs, crushed red pepper, cottage cheese and feta cheese, toss and serve or chill and serve later.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Pumpkin Pancakes with Cranberry Syrup and Cinna-Cran Goat Cheese

I'm not a big breakfast eater. Something about filling myself up early in the morning with carbs and protein (usually high in fat) makes me feel lazy and lethargic all day. It's not until dinner time that I want to eat a full, hearty meal. This fact means that I rarely cook breakfast or brunch dishes.
Now that it's September, I feel as though it's time to go pumpkin crazy. I've been wanting to make pumpkin pancakes for the longest time, so I decided to go for it. I whipped up the pancake batter and it turned out great. The pancakes are spiced with traditional pumpkin pie flavors, and the whole wheat flour adds health benefits but doesn't overpower the flavor.
I found frozen whole cranberries in the freezer section of my new grocery store, and thought a cranberry syrup would be great on these. It was a bit tart, but I loved it. I also topped these with a bit of cinnamon cranberry goat cheese, which I had leftover from my 4-pack and was stumped on how to incorporate it into a meal.
It was an interesting dish, however I think the cranberries and goat cheese overpowered the pancakes a bit, and I think they would be better simply topped with some pure maple syrup.

Pumpkin Pancakes with Cranberry Syrup and Cinna-Cran Goat Cheese

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
3/4 cup skim milk

Cranberry Syrup:
2 cups fresh cranberries (frozen, thawed in fridge)
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp. brown sugar

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flours, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together egg, pumpkin, brown sugar and milk.
Heat a griddle over medium-low.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, whisk until just combined.
Ladle 1/4 cup at a time onto the griddle, cook until bubbles rise then flip (about 4-5 minutes for the first side, 2-3 for the second).
Plate or keep warm in a 200 degree oven.
Place all cranberry ingredients in a small soup pot.
Bring to a boil, turn to low and simmer for 10 minutes, or until thick and berries have burst.
Ladle over the pumpkin pancakes, crumble cinnamon-cranberry goat cheese over top.
Makes about 8 pancakes

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Six Bean Chili with Cilantro-Lime Cream

Fall is my favorite season of the year. I love everything about it, the beautiful changing leaves, the crisp, cool air, the flavors of pumpkin, apple, and squash, and football!
It appears as though everyone is feeling the change except for me... because I live in Florida now. While some are now experiencing highs in the 70's, it's still 80 degrees and humid when I head out for my morning run. So rather than sit and wait for fall to come to me, I'm going to force it. How might I do that? By making a big pot of chili. And later this week, apple-maple sausage and pumpkin pancakes. I may not having changing leaves and pumpkin patches, but ask me how much I like Florida in January when I'm wearing flip flops and friends in Indiana are in snow pants!

About the chili.... I love a variety of beans and peppers in my chili, so used that as a base. To add some fun, tex-mex flavor, I spiked the chili with a bottle of Corona and topped it with a cilantro-lime sour cream. This chili was very bright and fresh tasting, still reminiscent of summer, but hearty and warm for anyone who really is experiencing fall-like weather, and wants a warm bowl of something!

Six Bean Chili with Cilantro-Lime Cream

1 small red onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 bottle of beer (I used coronoa)
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained
1 15 oz. can light red kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
1 15 oz. can pinto beans, drained
1 15 oz. can lentils, drained
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. dark chili powder
1 tsp. corriander
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne powder

Cilantro-Lime Cream:
8 oz. light sour cream
1/4 c. cilantro leaves
1 lime, zested and juiced

Heat a large dutch oven over medium heat.
Add 1 tbsp. EVOO, onion, garlic and peppers.
Saute' for 5 minutes, or until a bit soft.
Add beer, cook off half the liquid.
Add remaining chili ingredients, stir to combine, turn to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasonings.
Add vegetable stock if chili is too thick or cook off liquid to reduce if too watery.

Add all cream ingredients to a blender, puree until well mixed.
Keep chilled.
Ladle chili into a bowl, top with cilantro-lime cream.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Strawberry Charlotte

For my bookclub meeting last night, the host asked me to bring a dessert. I wanted to do something pretty and girly as it was a group of women. I have been wanting to make a strawberry charlotte for the longest time, so this seemed like the perfect time!
I looked up quite a few recipes, but couldn't find a comprehensive one that I liked, so I decided to create my own from other recipes. I had planned to make the lady fingers, but some things came up and I ran out of time. However, in the time it took to locate some lady fingers, I could have made them!
This cake was delicious, and the filling was amazing. I always wondered what ingredients were used to make this type of filling, so I'm happy to know how to now many a whipped cream filling that's stabilized and like a pastry cream. In the end, I ran out of strawberries and filled my holes with blueberries, but I wish I had enough strawberries!

Strawberry Charlotte

Cake - Simple White Cake from allrecipes
This is by far my new favorite go-to white cake recipe! It was moist and tender, like a pound cake, but fluffier and more spongey.

2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter
4 eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons baking powder
1 cup milk
Dash of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line 2 10" cake pans with parchment and grease.
In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then vanilla, salt and baking powder.
Alternately add the flour and milk, starting and ending with flour.
Pour into the cake pans, smooth out.
Bake for 28-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Strawberry Cream from the Joy of Baking
3/4 cup strawberry puree (from frozen berries in juice)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 envelope (1/4 ounce) unflavored powdered gelatin
3 tbsp. powdered sugar

Chill your mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small measuring cup stir together the gelatin and 1/4 cup of the strawberry puree.
Let this mixture sit for 5 minutes and then microwave for a few seconds to dissolve the gelatin.
Once the gelatin has dissolved, stir the gelatin mixture into the remaining 1/2 cup of strawberry puree.
Set aside while you whip the cream.
Remove the mixing bowl and whisk from the freezer, and beat the cream until soft peaks form.
Add the strawberry puree mixture and continue to beat the cream until stiff peaks form.
Taste and fold in a little sugar, if needed.

In the future, I'd double the cream recipe so I could use some to stick the ladyfingers on.

I also used fresh strawberries tossed in sugar to mascerate them and top the cake.

For assembly, I cut each cake layer in 2 and had a 4 layer cake with 3 layers of filling.