Pasta with Butternut Squash & Toasted Walnut Sauce

Mmmmmm....pasta
Pasta with Butternut Squash, Toasted Walnuts and Broccoli Sauce over Pesto. GF

Every now and then, it is time to clear out the refrigerator.  My family will confirm that I find it shameful to ever throw food away, so I occasionally end up with a dish that is out of the usual.  This is one of those meals.

We had butternut squash waiting to be turned into a roasted vegetable side dish, but that never happened and the only other vegetable I had on hand was a few broccoli florets.  I thought about it a few minutes and first thought I would make a butternut squash bisque, but the kids are never excited about soup so I pushed that thought aside.  Then I thought okay, maybe use the technique for soup, but turn it into a sauce.  After all, we love pasta and I am currently in an after-the-holidays-calorie-cutting-menu phase.

VOILA! A new sauce.

And here we go…..  As always, if you make this recipe and see a correction or better technique, let me know!

Ingredients

1 box of dried penne or other pasta that holds sauce well (gluten free or regular)

5-6 cups of precut fresh butternut squash

1 medium cooking onion, diced

1 small head of broccoli, broken into florets

1 c. walnuts, or nut of choice (I do not suggest almonds unless slivered)

4c. chicken or vegetable stock (from the pantry or purchased)

2 c. grated parmesan (not sprinkle parm, actual, fresh parmesan)

½ c. grated fresh smoked mozzarella (or regular if you prefer)

3 Tbsp. roasted tomatoes in oil (homemade or purchased) (from the pantry)

1/4 c. packed arugula

Olive oil as needed

Pesto – for an under-garnish, about 3 Tbsp. per person (homemade or purchased) (from the pantry)

Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions

  1.  Preheat oven to 300°.
  2. Place walnuts on one side of a baking sheet and the broccoli, drizzled with oil, on the other and roast for 4 minutes, stir, and toast 3 more or until you smell the nut flavor.  Remove from over, chop, and cover with just enough olive oil to coat.  Set aside.
  3. Increase the heat to 350°.
  4. Heat a heavy bottom pot (I use a 5 qt. copper pot) to medium and add enough olive oil to cover.  Cook the diced onion for 3 minutes, stirring to avoid browning.
  5. Add the cut squash and continue sautéing for about 5 minutes.  This will start to cook and soften the squash, slightly caramelizing the sugars.
  6. Add the chicken stock, bring to boil, reduce to simmer until the squash is soft, but not falling apart, 6-8 minutes – but check.  Do not overcook the squash.
  7. With an immersion blender, blend the squash, onion and stock into a sauce.
  8. Stir in 1 c. of parmesan and ½ c. grated smoked mozzerella.
  9. Add the uncooked pasta to the sauce and stir, making sure the sauce enters the rigatoni or that it coats all of your pasta.
  10. Pour the pasta and sauce into a deep baking dish and – this is important – put the dish on a baking sheet as it may bubble over.
  11. Loosely cover with foil and bake for about 10 minutes.  Check the pasta for doneness (different pasta’s will cook more quickly than others.). If it needs more time, continue baking and check every 5 minutes or so.
  12. When the pasta is properly cooked, remove from oven and stir in the roasted broccoli and arugula.  Sprinkle with remaining parmesan, spread the walnuts over the top, and dollop the roasted tomatoes in the middle.
  13. To serve, spread pesto on the bottom of the pasta plate, and serve the pasta on top of it.
  14. Enjoy!

 

Fennel Braised Short Ribs over Mushroom and Pea Risotto

This is easily my favorite dish to make when I’m serving guests. Universally loved, endlessly versatile and just as good if made ahead, there is no downside to this meal. It is at once hardy and elegant. Its presentation is impressive. The beef is so tender you do not need a steak knife, the sauce is complex, the creaminess of the risotto hold up to the strength of the beef. And best of all, braising the short ribs is much more a matter of technique than exact flavor ingredients so the dish is easy to customize to your favorite flavor profile. This recipe uses fennel, but rosemary or chili are also a great options.

While an easy dish to make, it is important to not cut corners with the preparation or the cuts of meat. It is little time-consuming, but all of the steps can be done the day before you want to serve the meal, (arguably the better alternative!) giving you more planning options.

Everyone must have a good butcher, sometimes this can be found at your local grocery store, some folks are lucky enough to have a true butcher shop where your butcher knows you and will cut meat to your requests and sometimes, the super-fortunate, live in farm country and know a farmer with truly exceptional stock; raised and butchered humanely. I’m lucky like that. We live in farm country.

Your short ribs should be boneless and at least 3-4″ thick. Always always try to buy your cuts of meat that are fairly uniform in size. If you cook a 4″ short rib along with a 2″ rib, the smaller one will overcook and become dryer than it should be in the time it takes to fully cook the larger rib. This holds true for all meat. So, insist on uniform sizes. On average, I prepare 1 1/2 boneless short ribs per person. (At 3-4″ thick each).2014-11-14 14.17.52

Another “always do” is to toast your spices. I’m a true believe in fresh herbs, but not here; you will want to use nice fresh dried spices. To toast, toss your spices in a warmed saute pan over medium-low heat, and move them around the pan frequently. When you smell them releasing their fragrance, remove from heat and onto a plate to stop the toasting process. This takes 4-5 minutes but trust your nose on this one. You never want to darken or burn your spice; if you do start over.  (What?  Yep, don’t waste any more time. Okay, that’s a bit harsh brush or scrape off any burnt pieces and keep going if it isn’t too bad, but don’t blame me if you final dish has a bit of a carbon taste.)

Also see the related post on how to make Risotto.

Let’s cook.

Ingredients and Necessities

Fennel Braised Spare Ribs

Large Dutch Oven

Parchment Paper

Approximately 8 3-4″ thick cut boneless spare ribs

1/4 c. orange juice

2 c. chicken stock

2 c. dry red wine (or beef stock if you don’t like cooking with wine)

8 oz. can of chopped tomatoes with juice

1/4 c. tomato paste

1/4 c. Balsamic vinegar

4 Tbsp. dried fennel

S&P

LETS COOK – Pre-heat your oven to 300°

1.  Heat a large dutch oven over medium low heat.  Once warm, toss in your spices and let them toast for 4-5 minutes or until they make your kitchen smell delicious.  When you smell them, they are done.  Remove from the dutch oven and place in a bowl.

2.  Dry your short ribs with a paper towel, extra moisture is not your friend at this point.  Once dried, rub the toasted spice on both sides of the cut and sprinkle with cracked black pepper and salt.

3.  With the same dutch oven, turn up the heat to medium-high and sear the meat on all sides, about 6 minutes per side, but use common sense and adjust this according to the size of the cut.  Do not crowd the meat, do this in batches until all the meat is done.  Do not worry if the meat cools while you do batches, it will not matter as we will be braising it also.  Pour any oil and grease out of the pan. Do not wipe or remove the bits stuck to the bottom. They are your flavor nuggets.  Say something nice to them and continue on.

4. When all the meat is seared, and hopefully there are little bits stuck the the bottom of your dutch oven, it is time to make your braising liquid.  Working quickly, add your wine to the pot and scrape the little bits off of the bottom.  Reduce by about 1/3.

5.  Add the Balsamic vinegar, allow to reduce by half again.

6.  Add the tomato paste and swirl to combine.  Don’t worry if it isn’t completely combined.

7.  Place your ribs back into the pot, hopefully in a single layer.  Place the ribs on their sides to make room if need be.

8.  Add the chicken stock, orange juice, tomatoes and fennel. Be sure the liquid covers the meat.  If it doesn’t, add more liquid (stock, wine, juice…whatever).  Bring to a boil.

9.  When it hits a boil, THIS IS IMPORTANT – fully wet a large piece (or two) of parchment paper.  Place the parchment over the meat and liquid, put the lid on the dutch oven, and place in the oven for 2 1/2 – 3 hours.

10.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 30 minutes.

11.  You can serve as is (the pictured dish was served at this point), or remove the meat and cover with foil then bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to to thicken the sauce.  Of course, if you make this dish ahead of time, refrigerate the juice and remove the solidified grease first.  because the ribs are seared, much of the grease is removed early in the process.  But the meat will continue to render fat when being braised (which is why we do this!).

12. I served this over a creamy risotto with peas as pictured, but it is great with smashed potatoes.

ENJOY!

Now, with all recipes, you can adjust flavors to your liking.  I also follow this technique using chili garlic paste instead of the tomato paste and soy sauce instead of balsamic.  Have fun with it and send me pictures of your creations.

Bacon Jam Bacon Jam, Life is better with Bacon Jam.

Yep. Bacon Jam.  You can find a thousand recipes for bacon jam on the internet, this is just my version, after having tried several and having my family love/hate certain components of each.  One son loves it when I add tomatoes; the other hates the tomatoes.  This version has a hidden tablespoon of tomato paste, which makes both of them happy.  Tricky tricky tricky.

This jam, which is really more of a condiment, but “Bacon Condiment, BaconCondiment, Life is beIMG_7956tter with Bacon Condiment” just doesn’t roll off of the tongue smoothly so I call it JAM.  I’m a rebel.

Ingredients

1 lb. thick cut hickory smoked bacon, sliced thinly

2 medium cooking onions, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/2 c. balsamic vinegar

1/2 c. dark brown sugar

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

1/4 tsp. cayenne (or leave out if you don’t like heat)

Instructions

  1. Brown the bacon in a dutch oven to help keep splatter to a minimum over medium to medium low heat, remove to paper towels and thoroughly drain off the grease.  Set aside.
  2. Pour off all of the oil except 3 Tbsp. and keep it for a later use.  Add the chopped onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes over medium-low heat.  Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds.  Do NOT brown the garlic.
  3. Add the tomato paste and stir for about 1 minute.
  4. Pour in the vinegar, add the sugar, combine.
  5. Add the cayenne.
  6. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook 15-10 minutes.  Keep it low, you will be softening the bacon while slowly thickening the sauce.
  7. Remove from heat and allow to cool.  This will thicken overnight, so do not cook out all of the liquid and do not be concerned if it is still wet when you take it off of the heat.  It should be.

Use on everything.  Burgers (as pictured), egg sandwiches, with cheese, on a hot dog, everywhere.  Because as we know, everything is better with bacon.

Irish Cream Cheesecake

Irish Cream Cheesecake
Irish Cream Cheesecake

Everyone must know by now how much my family likes cheesecake, so I make at least one a week.  Seriously, at least one.  I also like to try different flavors.  This one is quite tasty and I must admit the idea to use Irish Cream came after I already added the heavy cream, so please feel free to skip the heavy cream and increase the amount of Irish Cream for a fuller flavor.

You can see in the photo the white “topping” layer. Do not skip this step.  I add it to nearly every cheesecake that I make and it adds a little something to the flavor while also avoiding a plain, flat cheesecake top which can detract from the creamy goodness below.

To the recipe!

Crust – gf (8″ pan)

1 1/4 c. shortbread or gingerbread cookie crumbs
1/4 c. ground nuts (I used almonds, but pecans or walnuts are wonderful too)
1/4 c. brown sugar
6 tsp. unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake filling

3 pkgs. Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese (full fat only), at room temp.
1 cups sugar
¼ cup heavy cream (or 1/2 c. Irish Cream and no heavy cream)
¼ cup Irish Cream
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
3 large eggs, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure almond extract

Topping

16 oz. sour cream
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. Irish Cream

Crust
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Prepare a 8″ springform pan by wrapping the outside with plastic wrap, then again with foil. You will be baking the cheesecake in a water bath, so it is imperative to keep the water from seeping in. You can stop here, but I also line the inside with parchment paper. This is tricky to write, but here goes. Take a long piece parchment and place it on the bottom of the springform pan; then, put the bottom into the round from the bottom, the parchment should remain relatively flat. Snap the springform and then wrap with saran and foil. This makes it easier to slid off of the bottom and onto your serving plate but it unnecessary if you don’t care to do it. Bake for 12-15 minutes or unitl set and beginning to brown. Set on a rack to cool, do not remove the wrapping.

2. In a food processor, add your cookies and process until it is in small crumbs. Move to a bowl and process the nuts until the same size as the cookie crumbs. Add to the bowl. Add the brown sugar and mix until well incorporated. Stream in the melted butter and continue mixing until fully incorporated. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan and if there is enough, partially up the sides. Bake at 350 Degrees for 12-15 minutes or until set. Allow to fully cool to room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

Topping

3. In a small bowl, mix the sour cream sugar and Irish Cream and set aside, covered, on the counter. You want this at room temperature when you put it on the cheesecake.

Cheesecake

4. Heat the oven to 325° (note that the oven is cooler than when baking the crust) and place your baking pan (not the crust, the pan that will hold the water and crust; I use a large roaster) in the over to warm. In a stand mixer, add the cream cheese and sugar, blend for several minutes until smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom every minute or so. The smoother your filling as you mix, the creamier your cheesecake will be. Add the almond extract while still mixing. Scrape the sides again, and add the cream in a slow stream. Continue mixing and scraping, and add the Irish Cream. When fully incorporated and smooth, add the eggs – one at a time – and continue mixing. Be sure to crack the eggs, 1 by 1, into a measuring cup or small bowl to be sure that none of the shell accidentally falls into the mixing bowl. Pour the cheesecake into the prepared pan and place the pan into the roasting pan that is also preheated. Add boiling water to the roasting pan taking care not to get any water into the cheesecake batter. Put enough water to come 1/3 of the way up the sides of the cheesecake. Bake for 60-75 minutes. Open the door of the oven and pull the cheesecake out. The sides will be firm, but the center of the cheesecake will giggle slightly, truly slightly, when you tap the side with a wooden spoon.

5. Immediately pour the room temperature topping on the cheesecake, smooth it out with an offset knife and return to the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and from the water bath. Immediately place on a cooling rack and remove the foil/plastic wrap. Don’t burn yourself, but take the wrapping off as soon as possible as it will be holding water. Allow to cool for an hour then refrigerate until fully cooled before cutting, at least 6 hours, but better if you can refrigerate for 8 before cutting.

6. Run an offset knive around the edge fo the ring, and unsnap. Remove the ring and move the cheesecake to your serving platter. I grated a little fresh nutmeg over the top.

Serve alone, or with an additional topping of your choice. This cheesecake pairs nicely wth a caramel drizzel and a nice cup of espresso.

Vanilla Cheesecake with a Shortbread and Almond Crust – and it is gluten-free.

Vanilla cheesecake with a shortbread almond crust
Vanilla cheesecake with a shortbread almond crust

Cheesecake is so fabulous that I’m considering giving it its own category. From preparing the pan to having the patience for the right technique to toppings. It all matters and when the individual parts come together you will have created a creamy, cool, delicious and highly adaptable dessert that nearly everyone will love! And when someone tells you that they don’t like cheesecake assure them that they just haven’t tried the right one for them yet!  A cheesecake can be dressed for a hot day in the sun with some fresh lemon curd (see related post) or for thanksgiving with my related pumpkin version.  You can make a raspberry swirl topped with dark chocolate Grenache or an Almond Joy  the flavor options are endless, and if you have a request for a flavor combination send it over to me in my Cooks Q&A Section and I’ll work it out for you.

I just sold myself, here comes a new category. Two actually, it will be in Tea Parties also.

Back to the cheesecake.  The basics:  only use full fat cream cheese. This is not the time or place for a low-fat version. It just doesn’t work. If you’re going to make a cheesecake, do it right. If you want to count calories, go for a walk with a pedometer 😝and a dog🐶.  Both you and Fido will be happy!  But I digress….to the recipe!

Vanilla cheesecake with a shortbread almond crust
Vanilla cheesecake with a shortbread almond crust

Prepare Your 9″ Springform Pan

Watch the video.

Crust – gf

1 1/4 c. shortbread cookie crumbs
1/4 c. ground nuts (I used almonds, but pecans or walnuts are wonderful too)
1/4 c. brown sugar
6 tsp. unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake

4 pkgs. Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese (full fat only), room temp.
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 tsp. lemon zest

Topping

16 oz. sour cream
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Crust

1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Prepare a 9″ springform pan by wrapping the outside with plastic wrap, then again with foil. You will be baking the cheesecake in a water bath, so it is imperative to keep the water from seeping in. You can stop here, but I also line the inside with parchment paper. Grease the bottom and the insides of the walls with butter, then roll your parchment in a cone shape and cut to make a big circle. Press the parchment into the buttered pan and it will stick.

2. In a food processor, add your cookies and process until it is in small crumbs. Move to a bowl and process the nuts until the same size as the cookie crumbs. Add to the bowl. Add the brown sugar and mix until well incorporated. Stream in the melted butter and continue mixing until fully incorporated. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan and if there is enough, partially up the sides. Bake at 350 Degrees for 12-15 minutes or until set. Allow to fully cool to room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

Topping

3. In a small bowl, mix the sour cream with 1/4 cup the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla bean paste and set aside. If you refrigerate, be sure to bring it back to room temperature before adding to the cheesecake.

4. Heat the oven to 325°. Add all of the cream cheese and 1 1/4 c. sugar to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle. Mix on low, #2 or 3 until incorporated. Scrape down the sides frequently. This step is critical to creaminess. Add the vanilla bean paste until incorporated. Scrape the sides and add the cream in a slow stream. When incorporated, add the eggs one at a time and continue mixing. Be sure to crack the eggs, 1 by 1, into a measuring cup or small bowl to be sure that none of the shell accidentally falls into the mixing bowl. Add 1/4 tsp. of almond extract and continue mixing. Zest about 1/2 of a lemon into the mixing bowl. Be sure to not get any of the white pith from the lemon, it is bitter. Pour the cheesecake into the prepared pan and place the pan into a larger roasting pan. Add boiling water to the roasting pan taking care not to get any water into the cheesecake batter. Put enough water to come 1/3 to 1/2 way up the sides of the cheesecake. Bake for 60-75 minutes. Open the door of the oven and pull the cheesecake out. The sides will be firm, but the center of the cheesecake will giggle slightly.

5. Immediately pour the room temperature topping on the cheesecake, smooth it out with an offset knife and return to the oven for 10 minutes (A bit longer, 15 minutes, if the topping is cold). Remove from the oven and from the water bath. If you did not use parchment paper, run an offset knife around the edge. Allow to cool on a rack for about an hour, then refrigerate until fully cooled before cutting, about 4 hours.

6. Remove the ring from the springform pan and move the cheesecake to a cake plate before serving.

Serve with a topping of your choice, I like serving it with lemon curd, see my related recipe in the “tea party” section if you would like to try it this way.

Bolognese a/k/a Meat Sauce a/k/a More Please….

Showing the parmesan rind.
Bolobnese, showing the parmesan rind.

One of life’s truisms is that everyone loves pasta, don’t let them tell you otherwise – that is just an attempt to make you walk away from the pasta bowl to save more for them.  Honestly.

Even so, not everyone loves the same kind of pasta.  Some like their noodles al dente (“toothy), others mushy (not me!).  Some like red sauces, some white.  Some red sauces have sugar added, others would rather gnaw on a pine cone.  Some choose a smooth marinara, others a chunky Bolognese.  This recipe is in that last category, a nice, chunky Bolognese – with no sugar added.

If you follow any of my recipes, you are probably aware that I consider a recipe more of an advisory opinion that a “you must do this….this way….now”.  And that is quite true with sauces, partially for the reasons set forth above:  everyone has their own preferences.  So, here comes by basic recipe.  You can add, subtract and substitute all day long and make it your own.  But I suggest beginning at the beginning.  Make this base, what I consider “essential” recipe, then modify it to your own liking.  Oh, and this recipe makes 6 quarts of deliciousness.  As you will see below, I use my vacuum sealer  to make individual quart bags to freeze for later.  They lay flat, and thaw quickly, but you can also use mason jars.  I do not suggest storing red sauce in any of your plastic containers (to be honest, I don’t recommend plastic containers at all), because the sauce will stain the containers and depending on quality, you may even end up with a chemical taste in your sauce.  Ew. (Jimmy?  Jimmy Falon??  Where are you?)

Continue reading “Bolognese a/k/a Meat Sauce a/k/a More Please….”

Breakfast Casserole – gf

ImageImage

Okay, we all know how that breakfast casseroles are more about technique and proportions than ingredients, so have fun with this and make a style that you and your family will love. I’m posting how I made the one pictured, but trust yourself and go nuts. My dish fits into the Athletic Training menu, lots of Omega-3 eggs, turkey sausage, a starch and some dairy to start the day. I served it with plain Greek yogurt sprinkled with a pinch of raw sugar and fresh cut fruit. An easy and tasty day to tackle the day with long-lasting energy.

Size: 8″ square casserole dish (I used a glass dish, if you prefer non-stick metal, please adjust the temperature and time accordingly)

Ingredients

8 Omega-3, cage free (please) eggs
1/3 c. low-fat breakfast sausage, turkey sausage or smoked kielbasa, chopped and brought to room temperature
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 c. frozen shredded potatoes (or make your own, but use a low-starch potato if you can)
1/4 c.onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. red (or green, or yellow) pepper, chopped
1/4 c. fresh spinach
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne (can omit, but it adds a little sumptin-sumptin to the dish.
2 Tbsp. super skim milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease your casserole dish with butter, lard or crisco. Try not to use a spray, the eggs will still stick.

Bring the sausage (assuming it is precooked, if not, cook it slowly) and potatoes to room temperature as set aside. Pat the potatoes with a clean towel to remove any water or wetness.

Warm a saute pan to medium low-medium heat and melt the butter. Once melted and warm, cook the onion and green pepper until soft but not brown. Doing this step over a low heat retains the size and flavor of the vegetables. When almost done, remove from heat and put the vegetables on a plate to cool. If you add them to the egg and they are still hot, the egg will begin to cook around the veg and coat it with a thin layer of egg, you don’t want that to happen, trust me. In a separate skillet, cook

While the vegetables are cooking, crack your eggs in another bowl, add the milk and whisk just until your incorporate together. Try not to over beat the eggs, the eggs don’t like it and they will hold it against you by refusing to be fluffy and light. Stir in the spinach. When the onion/pepper mix is cool, add it to the eggs and stir again. Add the cayenne and white pepper and stir. Add the cheese, meat and potatoes, sir to disburse evenly and pour into your pre-greased casserole dish. Pop into the over for 35-45 minutes, or so. Watch the dish, when the top appears to be browning on top, remove from the oven and allow it to rest, the eggs will continue to cook a bit longer and become firm, so you want to do this as soon as you can, again to end up with a light dish. If the eggs overcook it will still be good, all is not lost.

You can also make this ahead, cover it with foil and put it in the refrigerator overnight. Just remove it from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temp before putting it in the oven to bake.