Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pumpkin Lasagna

My last pumpkins ripened on the counter, their vines having died as soon as the nights dropped close to 50º.  I missed using them for Thanksgiving, but now I get them all to myself.

All of the online recipes I read were for canned pumpkin.  The way I'm doing it, you could substitute pretty much any squash.  Acorn squash has the closest texture.
This pretty much follows the pattern for a regular lasagna.  The pumpkin mix is the marinara and the mushrooms are the meat.  For a non-vegetarian version, you could use ground turkey or chicken.

I mostly followed this recipe from Taste of Home, but cooked noodles from dry because they were on sale for 88¢.  With a side salad, this is a full vegetarian meal.

3 C canned or roasted puréed pumpkin (the 28 oz can)
9 lasagna noodles
8 oz mushrooms, preferably crimini (baby bella)
1 C diced onion
1 Tb olive oil
*1/2 C half-and-half
1 tsp sage
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 C ricotta cheese
1 C shredded mozzarella
3/4 C grated parmesan

1.  Start boiling a big pot of water to cook the noodles according to the package directions.  Thinly slice the mushrooms.  Cook the onion and mushrooms in the oil over medium heat until wilted and the mushrooms have given off their water, lightly seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.  The water may be boiling by now, so get the noodles cooking.  They will need to be completely cooked.

2.  Stir together the pumpkin, cream, nutmeg, and sage.  Add a little bit of salt and pepper.  Go easy on the salt; there's almost 2 cups of cheese in this, all of it salty.

3.  When the noodles are done, drain into a strainer and rinse with cold water.  Start preheating the oven to 375º.

4.  Get out an 8x8 baking dish.  Spoon about 1/2 C of the pumpkin sauce on the bottom of the dish.  Then layer three noodles, overlapping slightly.  Spoon on another cup of sauce.  Top with half of the mushrooms.  Then half of the ricotta and mozzarella, and 1/4 cup of parmesan.  Start again with another layer of noodles, 1 C of pumpkin, the rest of the mushrooms, and rest of mozzarella and ricotta, plus another 1/4 C of parmesan.  Top with remaining noodles, then the last scrapes of the sauce.
5.  Bake for 15 minutes.  There's no egg in this one and everything is pre-cooked, so you're pretty much just heating it through and melting the cheese.  Top with remaining parmesan and cook another 15 minutes or so, just to brown the cheese.

6.  Let casserole sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before trying to slice.  Serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sweet Potato Pie

Techie Smurf has been doing some research on his Ancestry account, and we probably have 1/4 roots in the South.  That explains why almost every Southern dish I try is like a "where have you been all my life?" moment.  Can't get into okra or New Orleans cuisine, though.

I've never made sweet potato pie, but I did have one crust left from the coconut-lime assignment.  After a bit of online research and a glance at what I had on hand, I decided to wing it.

I'll tell you right now, I only used the coconut oil because I had the jar of it.  That's why it says "or butter" in the recipe.  I decided to make that my fancy and unique flavoring for this one.  (It was originally going to be a tablespoon of bourbon.)

This recipe most closely resembles Paula Deen's from an older issue of Good Housekeeping.  The main change was swapping maple syrup for part of the sugar, making the vanilla unnecessary.  After that, it was all little tweaks.

2 C pre-baked sweet potato mash
*4 oz (1/2 C) cream cheese
2 Tb *coconut oil or butter
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C maple syrup
*2 eggs
1/2 C half-and-half (somehow I bought fat free 1/2 & 1/2.  How is that a thing?)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
*unbaked crust for one 9" pie

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  If you need to cook your potatoes, pierce several times with a fork and bake for one hour, until soft.  Slit open when cool enough to handle and scrape out insides.  You could also do it in the microwave, but the roasted flavor really adds something to the pie.  I don't recommend canned or boiled because the moisture content is much higher and will change the consistency of the finished pie.  My best recommendation is to make this pie after a holiday dinner, when there's always a couple of extra baked sweet potatoes left over.

2.  Cream together sweet potato pulp, cream cheese, and coconut oil.  Add sugar and syrup and beat again.  Add eggs, half-and-half, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and beat until smooth.
3.  Pour filling into crust.  Bake for one hour, or until middle is set.  Cool slowly, first in oven, to reduce cracking.  If necessary to hide cracks, slather with whipped cream.  Best served room temperature.

Serves 8

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Chocolate-Dipped Maple Shortbreads

Just to see what would happen, I googled "Christmas Cookies" on Images.  Not that far down were these from Reader's Digest, of all places.

"Shortbread" refers to keeping the gluten strands short, generally with fat.  That is what "shortening" means in the food product.  It's why cookies and cakes are crumbly, while you have to tear a low-fat bread.

This particular recipe doesn't have an egg, which many shortbreads don't.  What that meant in this case was that I didn't have to make as many as the 6 dozen the recipe estimates.  I did some quick math and knocked out a quarter batch on a single sheet.  I still somehow came up with two dozen.  I swear, I even used a measuring tape to get the dimensions of the logs right.
The recipe was not without its flaws.  I had to knead in much more flour than I should have to get the logs to hold their shape, and they still spread out a lot in the oven.  And I knew there was too much milk in the ganache, but followed the instructions anyway.  It never really firmed up, not even the leftovers I put in the fridge to use for coffee and hot chocolate the next day.  I'm going to fix those problems here.

As you can see from the photo, I didn't limit myself to crushed walnuts for the decorations.  I pulverized a ginger snap (left over from the pie) and did some with coconut (other pie).  The cookie itself is neutral, so anything that works with chocolate is fair game.

This does make a crazy lot if you use the dimensions they give for a single-bite cookie, so I'm posting a half-sized batch.

1/4 C unsalted butter
1/4 C shortening
1/4 C powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp maple syrup
1 C flour
1/2 C quick oats
1/4 tsp salt

1/3 C semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tb milk

1.  Cream together butter and shortening.  Add powdered sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add vanilla and maple syrup and beat again.

2.  Separately, combine flour, oatmeal, and salt.  Beat into creamed mixture to make a thick paste.  Wrap in wax paper and chill half an hour.

3.  Preheat oven to 325º.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into 1/2" thick logs.  Cut 2" lengths and place on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly golden.  Allow to cool 5 minutes on the sheet, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
4.  Microwave chips and milk on half power at 30 second increments, stirring well each time, until smooth.  Arrange toppings, which can include crushed nuts, crushed cookies, coconut flakes, or sprinkles.  Dip half of each cookie in chocolate ganache, then either dip in toppings or sprinkle on top.  Place wet cookies on wax paper to firm up before plating or boxing to give away.

Makes about 4 dozen

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Oyster and Bean Stuffing

I fell off the gluten-free trend hard.  Not really.  I just happened to make something that included bread and noticed it.

I'm not a huge stuffing person.  I take the requisite spoonful at Thanksgiving, but rarely go back for seconds.  Actually, I rarely go back for seconds of anything because there's pie coming up.  With a terrible schedule at work that would prevent me from cooking anything time-consuming for five days, I decided to make a casserole to hold me until then.

This recipe doesn't have to be as involved as I made it.  You can use canned beans and cut out two hours plus soaking time.  They sell bread cubes for stuffing already dry and seasoned.  If this didn't have eggs in it, you could assemble everything except the bread a day ahead and bake it later.  I wouldn't do that the way it's written, but you could bake it ahead of time and reheat it in a 300º oven for 15 minutes.

While stuffing is traditionally a side dish, nutritionally this one can be a main-dish casserole.  It's probably more balanced than macaroni and cheese.  There's loads of protein, iron, and fiber, with carbs holding it together.  It might actually be overkill to serve it with a turkey.

The bread choice in stuffing can be critical.  Many people swear by cornbread and won't consider anything else.  I went with the more delicate French loaf because of the oysters.  If I had nixed the beans and doubled the oysters, I could have gone with cornbread or a heavy bread like rye.

1 loaf of the fat French bread, not a baguette
1 C dry white beans or 1 15oz can
1 C diced onion
1/2 C diced celery
1/2 C diced carrot
2 Tb olive oil
8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 8oz can oysters
*3 C low-sodiumchicken broth
2 eggs
1/4 tsp dry thyme
1/4 tsp dry sage
1/4 tsp dry rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
butter for greasing dish

1.  The day before, cube the bread into 1" or smaller pieces.  You should get roughly 16 cups.  Leave out to get stale.  If you're not using the oven, spread them out on a baking sheet and leave the oven door cracked.  If cooking beans, soak overnight.

2.  Day of, drain beans.  Refill saucepan and simmer for 2 hours.  Drain and set aside.

3.  Heat oil in a large skillet.  Add mirepoix (celery, onion, and carrot) and sauté until softened.  Add thyme, sage, rosemary, and mushrooms.  Continue to cook down the mushrooms.
4.  While that's simmering, chop the oysters into small pieces.  Add them, their juice, and the drained beans to the mix.  Once that has cooked for a minute, taste and decide if you need salt or pepper.

5.  Get out a big bowl.  Beat the eggs, then beat in the broth.  Add the mixture from the skillet into a kind of stew.  Start tossing in the bread a couple of big handfuls at a time until the flavor ingredients are distributed with the bread.  Leave to sit a few minutes while you prepare the oven and dish.
6.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Butter a large casserole.  Pour stuffing into casserole and distribute evenly.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  That will keep in the steam in case the moisture didn't distribute well in the bowl.  Remove foil and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, until top starts to look browned and crispy.  Serve from the pan.

Serves about 8

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Cream of Celery Soup

I had a bit of cream left from the two pies and an urge to make soup once it finally got below 80º outside.  My seedling lettuces were not happy with the heat wave and I need to replant a couple of spots.  Arugula doesn't seem to mind, though.

All cream soups have pretty much the same base: roux, dairy, and broth.  The broth gives the soup depth and keeps it from being all milk.  As a result, you can use this recipe for almost any "cream of" veggie soup and just alter the main ingredient and the herb you choose to accent with.

I have to admit, the star of this one is the celery fresh out of the back yard.  I tend to think of celery as an herb rather than a vegetable, and cooking it an hour after it is harvested really reinforces this concept.  You probably won't get raves for this soup using market celery.  However, since most cooks use this in recipes rather than by itself, the less flavorful ingredient that is readily available won't be noticed.

1-1/2 C finely diced celery
1/2 C finely diced onion
2 Tb butter
1 Tb flour
*1/4 tsp dried sage
1/4 C white wine (optional)
1-1/2 C low-sodium chicken broth
*1 C half-and-half, or cream for greater richness
salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.  Cook celery and onion until softened, about five minutes.  Add flour and stir into a paste.

2.  If using wine, pour that in now so the alcohol can boil off.  I decided to use 2 Tb tequila instead because I was having nachos for dinner.  If you use hard stuff instead of wine in any recipe, cut the amount in half as a general rule.

3.  Add broth or stock 1/2 C at a time so it can gradually thicken between additions.  Sprinkle in the sage during this process.  Once all the stock has been added, simmer for 10 minutes.
4.  Taste soup, then add salt and pepper.  Keep in mind that cream will dull the salt, but not by much, so don't worry if the soup seems too salty at the moment.  Stir in the cream, allow to simmer for 5 minutes, and taste again.  If everything is balanced, serve hot with celery leaf as garnish.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Mozzarella

I bought a tub of the small mozzarella balls to make some pizza and had quite a few left over.  I considered putting them in some kale & quinoa, then got an inspiration to bake them with some large Brussels sprouts I'd picked up.

For the most part, I liked this recipe.  It would have been better if I'd topped them with a mixture of panko crumbs and parmesan.  At that point, they become dipping appetizers with a little side of marinara.  Yes, Brussels sprouts as hors d'oeuvres.  Even when I'm disappointed in the world and seriously depressed over the state of the country, I try to eat healthy.

8 large Brussels sprouts
olive oil
salt and cracked pepper to taste
*1/4 tsp dried oregano
*8 "cherry" sized mozzarella balls

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Trim the bottoms of the sprouts and cut in half lengthwise.

2.  Drizzle oil on the bottom of a 9" x 7" roasting pan.  Toss the cut sprouts in another tablespoon of oil and place cut-side up in the pan.  Sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper, and oregano.

3.  Bake for 30 minutes.  While that's going on, cut each cheese ball in half.  Remove pan from oven, top each half with a cheese half, and bake until cheese is toasty and melted, another 15-20 minutes.  This is also when you would add the panko crumbs if you wanted to do the crispy topping.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pumpkin Pie Spice

When I decided to make the Ginger-Coconut Pumpkin Pie, I was willing to concede the point and buy pumpkin pie spice at the market.  It's a pointless thing to have when you know how to cook, just as any cook familiar with Indian cuisine will make their own garam masala or a preserver will have a unique pickling spice.

The market made the choice easy for me, since they were out.  Instead, I got down Grandma Sophie's pumpkin pie recipe and made a triple batch of just the spices.  It's pretty much the same thing.  You can add some allspice in the same amount as cloves if you have it, just for an extra kick.  Then I marked on the jar that 2-1/4 tsp equals one pie, and the job was done.  Just a couple of minutes and no money spent on a unitasker ingredient.

1 Tb cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp ground ginger
1-1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground cloves

Stir together in a small bowl to make a smooth powder.  Store in a tightly lidded container in a dark, dry place.

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Ginger-Coconut Pumpkin Pie

This isn't a trend with coconut.  It just sounded good and I'm stress-baking; I suspect I'll be doing that often for the next four years.  The coconut in this one is very understated and could be swapped for heavy cream.

While not my assignment, this was on The Bitten Word's pie challenge list.  Since my selection from The Food Network had come out as advertised, I decided to give this recipe a shot.

Funny story about grocery shopping for this one.  I couldn't find the ginger snaps and was totally lost on the cookie aisle.  This was when I realized I never buy cookies.  Finally, I asked an employee.  The words GINGER SNAPS were written super huge on the orange box.  I can't find anything, sheesh.

6 oz ginger snap cookies
*1 Tb finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 Tb packed light brown sugar
4 Tb (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 15oz can pumpkin purée
1 C coconut milk
3/4 C sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt

3/4 C heavy cream
1 Tb packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice, plus more for dusting

1.  For the crust, preheat oven to 325º.  In food processor, pulverize cookies, ginger, and brown sugar.  Add melted butter and pulse until a paste forms.  Press into pie plate, covering bottom and curving up the sides.  If you use a glass plate, hold it up to the light to see if you have gaps.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes to set.  Mine puffed up a bit and I had to press it down before it could cool like that.
2.  Open can of coconut milk, empty into a bowl, and beat to reconstitute.  The stuff settles in the can into something resembling shortening over water.  Once you get all the lumps out, measure out the cup you need and refrigerate the rest until you can think of a use for it.

3.  Beat eggs lightly in that bowl you just got dirty.  Add remaining filling ingredients and combine.  Pour into crust and bake for about 1 hour 15 minutes, until set.  Allow to cool at room temperature, about 2 hours.  Now, my pie developed deep cracks because I used homemade pumpkin purée, which has a different moisture level than canned.  Never fear, if yours cracks there is topping to cover it.
4.  Whip heavy cream, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice to firm peaks.  Spread over pie, leaving enough showing around the edges to be interesting.  Dust with more pie spice.  Pie can be served cold or room temperature.

Serves 8

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Lime-Coconut Custard Pie

The Bitten Word, one of my favorite blogs, is ending in a few weeks.  They're going out with a bang, doing their annual Thanksgiving recipe index, Fakesgiving, and a reader-participation challenge.  I signed up and got this pie from The Food Network.

When they say this is Easy, they mean it.  Whisk things together and pour into store-bought crust.  In the spirit of the challenge, I made this exactly as written.  I'd never used refrigerator crust before.  Crazy easy to work with, but was tough and didn't taste very good.  If you're going to cheat, the frozen crusts are better.

Making this as written, it also got expensive.  I've never bought coconut oil before.  $5.99 on sale for 14oz.  The crusts, $2.50 (2-pack) for the store brand on sale.  Limes 39¢ each.  Sweetened shredded coconut (I only had organic unsweetened at home) $2.99 for store brand.  Pints of both half-and-half and heavy cream.  I needed every ingredient except the flour, eggs, sugar, and vanilla.

As for the taste?  Ignoring the crust issues, I would focus on the coconut part if you were thinking of making this pie.  The hint of lime barely freshens it up a bit, and I would use all the juice from both limes if I made this again.  I would also put a little sugar in the whipped cream, or better yet, buy a spray can of it.  Cheaper and easier, if not as pretty.  On the other hand, it's a pretty good coconut pie, and came out looking exactly like the photo on their site.  Even the time estimates were about right.  I don't put in times here because everyone works at a different pace.  The biggest effort went into zesting and juicing the limes.  Aside from that, it was all measuring and stirring together while the oven preheated.

1 sheet refrigerated pie dough
2 Tb flour, plus more for dusting
2 eggs
1/4 C coconut oil
1-1/4 C half-and-half
1-1/4 C, plus 1 Tb, sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 C sugar
2 limes
1/2 C heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla

1.  Assuming your pie dough needs to come up to room temperature to be rolled, get that out first.  While it's warming, finely zest both limes.  Cut one open and juice.  Warm the coconut oil, either in the microwave or on the stove, until just melted.

2.  Start preheating the oven to 350º.  Lightly dust a work surface with flour and roll out the crust to 12".  My pastry board has outlines for several sizes of pie plates, so I just used the one for a 9" pie.  Transfer dough by folding it over the rolling pin and sliding it over to the plate.  Coax crust into a 9" pie plate, glass if you have it, then crimp the edges into whatever decoration you like.

3.  In a medium bowl, beat eggs slightly.  Then beat in flour, liquid coconut oil, half-and-half, shredded coconut, and sugar.  Reserve 1/2 tsp of lime zest for garnish and add the rest, plus the juice of one lime.
4.  Pour custard mix into pie crust and bake for 50-55 minutes.  I checked after 45 to make sure the crust wasn't browning too quickly.  Mine was fine, but if yours is getting dark, use a crust guard or strips of foil to cover just the edges that are too dark.  The pie is done when the center is done jiggling, but not completely set.  Allow to cool to room temperature, 1 or 2 hours.  At this point, you can refrigerate it overnight.

5.  For garnish, bake reserved coconut until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes.  I did mine in the toaster oven at 350º.  Walked away and burned the first batch.  At least it was only a small commitment of time and resources.  While that's cooling, whip heavy cream and vanilla to soft peaks.  Spread on pie and sprinkle with toasted coconut and reserved lime zest.  Serve immediately or refrigerate for later.

Serves 8

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, October 31, 2016

Accidentally Gluten-Free

Very few of my dinners lately have contained gluten.  I do work in a bakery and bake at home as well, so there most certainly is gluten in my life.  It hasn't been a conscious choice, just something I noticed after the meal was made.

And that's the point I'm making.  I don't like diets that try to pretend you're having meat if you're a vegan or bread if you're gluten-free.  You shouldn't feel like you're missing out by having substitutes and instead embrace the variety of what you can have.  I like following a meal plan that makes delicious food that just happens to conform to the guidelines.  I won my senior competition in culinary school with a vegetarian meal in part because no one noticed there was no meat in it.  Delicious and nutritious meals should be your goal.  Whatever restrictions you or your doctor have placed on your dietary lifestyle simply have to be built into the recipes.

Meanwhile, I've lost a little more weight than I should because of the gluten-free thing.  I tend to replace bread with low calorie, high-fiber foods like beans and brown rice or just more veggies.  Not much of a potato person, I rarely add salt to anything, and I haven't been frying lately.  So I'm having ravioli with alfredo sauce and garlic bread for dinner.  Nothing like packaged food to put a little weight back on.