Friday, October 30, 2009

Mashed Butternut Squash Goodness

A short ode to butternut squash:

Formidable opponent-
You scare me not

Thick rind I battle
with grace

For yet I know
when knives are lain

Sweet deliciousness
I shall taste

So, clearly there is good reason that I am not a poet. However, there is just something about butternut squash that inspires me to lyric.

There are many reasons this specific squash has captured my heart (the least of which being that my favorite color is orange!) The top two:
-Taste: While similar to that of a sweet potato, I find butternut squash to be even more versatile. It pairs exceptionally well with both savory and sweet condiments, making it possible to fit my discerning taste buds. I know that simply by having a butternut squash on hand (and with a pretty good shelf life this is easy to do) I can whip up a fulfilling meal in no time.
-Nutrition: Foods with vibrant colors are most likely to be nutrient packed... and butternut squash is no exception! Each bite of the sweet squash is loaded with fiber, vitamins, potassium, and anti-oxidants. What's more, each cup of diced squash comes in at 0 grams of fat and only 63 calories! Compare that to sweet potatoes' 114 calories and significantly larger carbohydrate and sugar count!

Unfortunately, as was alluded to in my amateur poem, there is one slight downside to butternut squash: It can be a little tricky to prepare. But, no fear! With a few simple tricks, anyone can tackle the daunting rind and discover the joy that lies within!
-If you are really intimidated by hacking into the squash, you can start by nuking it for a minute or two, just to soften it up.
-The best way to tackle the squash is by chopping off the top and bottom, so that it can stand up vertically.

-With a sharp, thick knife, slowly work down the middle of the squash, dividing it in two. Good news! The hard part is done!
-Now, simply use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.
-Depending on how the squash is to be prepared it can be chopped into hunks or left in full halves. See, not so bad, and definitely worth it!

I have been absolutely obsessed with finding new ways to prepare butternut squash this season. As mentioned, it works extremely well with both sweet (brown sugar and butter) or savory (roasted red peppers, garlic, etc) accompaniments. Plus, the options in preparing the squash are nearly endless. It makes a great soup, simple oven-fires, roasted side-dish...

However, I kept finding myself coming back to one recipe: Roasted butternut squash with pears, onions, dried cranberries, and blue cheese. The first time I made this dish, I think I ate the whole entire squash by myself! Not to say it wasn't entirely filling, but I just couldn't help but go back for seconds, thirds, fourths, etc! It is truly my ideal comfort food, combining the warm, sweet, richness of the squash with the bite of mustard, and the tang of dried cranberries.

I would seriously make the dish every night. However, with two roommates, oven space is often at a premium, and sometimes I have to adapt. That is where my recipe creation comes in. First of all, while I love cutting into the individual bites of the roasted squash, when I am really craving comfort food, there is nothing better than mash
ed goodness. I decided to see how this dish would lend itself to mashed form... and the results certainly did not disappoint!

Savory Mashed Butternut Squash...
what dreams are made of

  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1/2 of one yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 milk
  • 2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter is optional (I found it was fine without)
  • Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds (see directions above)
  • Place squash halves in microwave and cover with wax paper. Heat on high for 8 minutes. Allow to cool for 2-3 minutes, then heat on high for another 9 minutes, or until tender. Allow to cool enough to handle.
  • In the meantime, heat the oil in a small skillet. Caramelize the onions until translucent. Season with salt and pepper.
  • When squash is done cooking, scoop out the inside and place in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Mash with a fork. Add mustard, milk, and optional butter and continue mashing until desired consistency. Add onions and dried cranberries, mixing together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
My final advice: sit down with a bowl (preferably large!) of mashed squash by a toasty fire and reflect on everything good in life... Sometimes something as simple as food can make everything better.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Saying "Thank You" with Apple Cake!

It seemed only appropriate that I return the generosity of my friend who introduced me to Japanese eggplant... I mean, that is what my momma would want me to do. In the name of good manners, I was willing to bite the bullet and come up with something do offer in exchange. Of course, that thought logically led me to think of a baked good. What better way to repay kindness than with some sugar (and that goes double for homemade goods deprived college students!)

Okay, it only happens to be a minor detail that I was actually LOOKING for an excuse to whip up this apple cake. I loved the recipe from the moment I saw it: Fresh apples. A hint of orange. Some chopped walnuts... Channeling Ina Garten, "What could be bad about that?"

What may be the very best part about the recipe-- I soon discovered-- was that it portions perfectly into three mini-loaf pans. What does this mean? If you guessed one to share, one to enjoy now and another to enjoy later then you are a winner (and are getting to know me all too well)!

I got the original recipe from "Food Republik", but as with any recipe, I took it on as a bit of a challenge, tweaking the original to fit my personal preferences. That is where walnuts and a little bit of maple syrup enter the picture. So then, feel free to adjust it to will or whim. I'm thinking next time I would love to incorporate some caramel or even some dried cranberries. Fortunately apples lend themselves wonderfully to a variety of flavors, so the possibilities are as endless as apples are available!

The primary adjustment I made, and with great success, was substituting the oil that is called for with applesauce. This is quite possibly one of the greatest tricks my mom ever taught me in the kitchen, and so simple to follow: an equal amount of applesauce can be substituted when a recipe calls for oil. I personally have never noticed a difference in taste, and actually prefer the lightness and underlying "appleness" that the applesauce contributes. This exchange lends itself best to cakes, breads, and brownies than cookies, although it can be done.

Onward to the apple cake! Oh, the lingering smell of cinnamon that fills the kitchen is enough to try this recipe... and that is before even getting to the taste. Let me just summarize by saying I wrote this recipe down as:

The Best Cinnamon Apple Cake...
and "best" is a serious matter


For apples...
  • 3 apples (I used Granny Smith)
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. maple syrup
For batter...
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • scant 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Peel apples, cut into chunks, mix with cinnamon, sugar, and syrup.
  • In separate bowl, combine flours, baking powder, and salt.
  • In another bowl, mix applesauce, orange juice, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Add wet ingredients to dry, add eggs and stir together.
  • Pour half of batter into single greased loaf pan (or divide half of batter evenly among three mini-loaf pans, as I did). Top with half of apples, add rest of batter, spreading over top of apples. Finally, top with remaining apples, arranging evenly.
  • Bake 1.25 to 1.5 hours, until toothpick comes out clean.
    NOTE: If apples are browning too quickly, tent with foil.
There it is: a simple, satisfying, and slightly healthifyed apple cake. Great when topped with a scoop of ice cream; even better when shared with a friend!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Roasted Veggie Thin Crust Pizza

As a die-hard Kansas fan, I can cite many reasons for disliking the state of Missouri (centralizing on some college in the town of Columbia...). So then, actually liking a product from within Missouri borders is fairly big news.

A friend of mine was nice enough to bring me some fresh produce from the St. Louis farmers market this past week. I got some delicious red bell peppers, an avocado, and-- best of all-- Japanese eggplant. My friend had been talking to me for weeks about the wonders of Japanese eggplant. He raved about how the flavor is so much more tender than that of traditional eggplants. I found myself hesitating as I passed by the Japanese eggplant selection at the local grocery; there is always a little fear in the unfamiliar.

However, when my friend so graciously gave me the Japanese eggplant, there was no way I was going to let the opportunity slide. Enter: roasted Japanese eggplant and onion thin crust pizza!

Notes of significance: I love crisping up whole wheat tortillas to use for flat crust pizza. Just before the first frost, I (sadly) stripped my basil plant and made an extra large batch of pesto to keep me through the winter. I froze the pesto in an ice cube tray, so I have convenient 1 tbsp. sized portions whenever I want!

Roasted Japanese Eggplant Pizza...
individually portioned, because you won't want to share.

  • 1 whole-wheat tortilla
  • 1 Japanese eggplants
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach
  • 1/8 cup feta cheese
  • 1 tbsp. pesto
  • thyme, basil, salt and pepper for seasoning.
  • 1-2 tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice eggplant in 1/4 in thick slices. Cut onion into large chunks. Coat the eggplant and onions in olive oil. Season to taste and spread out on roasting pan.
  • Roast for approximately 30 minutes, flipping once.
  • While vegetables are roasting, thinly coat the tortilla with olive oil. When vegetables are done in the oven, bake tortilla (still at 400 degrees) for approximately four minutes on each side, or until lightly brown and crispy. Watch closely for bubbles forming in tortilla. Pop any bubbles, so as to keep the tortilla flat.
  • When tortilla is crisped, coat in pesto, cover with a layer of baby spinach, and arrange roasted vegetables. Top with feta cheese. Bake in oven for approximately five minutes.
  • Cut and enjoy... all to yourself!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Whole Wheat Bread for Dummies

Growing up, my dad was known for his frugality in shopping for food. The classic example, brought up much to my dad's dismay at every family gathering, was when my dad bought 10 boxes of sugar cookies at the store for $1.00.

"How could I pass up such a deal?" He argued. Well, we soon enough found out... Basically, a little bit of mold goes a long way in ruining an appetite.

Sorry, on second thought, that probably isn't the best dinner table conversation. So I digress. The story just leads another classic example of trying to save money: our adventure with a bread machine.

This time, it seemed that my dad was on to something. My sister and I loved nothing more than the smell of freshly baked bread. We would eagerly anticipate smearing the warm slices with butter and covering in honey... mmm... the memories.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until I lived on my own that, in the bread world, a bread machine is basically considered cheating. Never one to cheat (okay, other than Candy Land), I devoted myself to taking on the intimidating homemade bread obstacle.

My adventures began with this simple to bake, but highly satisfying, orange-scented whole wheat bread. I adapted the recipe from Chef in You.

Much to my delight, the bread turned out even better than I imagined. I loved the unexpectedness of the orange scent and the nuttiness of whole wheat. It is just subtly sweet and entirely filling! Perfect for toast in the morning.

Orange Scented Whole Wheat Bread...
no cheating necessary!

  • 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp. flax seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 envelope rapid-rise yeast
  • Grated rind and juice of whole orange (medium sized)
  • Stir flour in large bowl. Mix in salt and flax seeds, and then rub in the butter.
  • Add sugar, yeast, and orange rind. Combine orange juice with lukewarm water until there is 7/8 cup of mixture. Add juice to flour mixture and mix into soft ball.
  • Knead on gently floured surface until smooth.
  • Place in loaf pan, cover with towel, place in warm place and allow to rise until doubled in size.
  • Bake in preheated 425 degree oven 20-30 minutes or until lightly browned.
  • Turn out to cool, and enjoy!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Spiced and Simple Black Bean Burgers

Okay, there is no denying it: I have been neglecting my blog lately. Funny as it is, this isn't because of any inactivity in the kitchen. In fact, I have been cooking up as big a storm as ever... I'm having so much fun exploring all the new flavors of fall! However, I have been less than inspired to actually take pictures.

So then, this is my avowed recommitment to regularly updating my blog. I invite you to check back regularly; I hate to disappoint, so with more people to "let down" I'll be more disciplined to write! (:

One of my "go-to" dishes is a black bean burger. The patties are so easy to put together, and I almost always have the necessary ingredients on hand... If not, it is indication I REALLY need to make a visit to the store!

I often find the patties to be satisfying on their own with a side of vegetables. However, they can just as quickly be dressed up with a nice, toasted whole wheat bun, some lettuce, tomatoes, onions, etc.

Another benefit to homemade black bean burgers is that I can control the spiciness. Some days I just need the perk of an extra splash of hot sauce; other days I am content with a more subtle flavor.

Spice it UP! Black Bean Burger...
a delicious alternative to turning up the thermostat!

  • 1 15- to 16-oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp. salsa
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce
  • Using fork, mash beans in a medium bowl.
  • Lightly saute onion and carrots in olive oil over high heat until just softened.
  • Mix the onions, carrots, bread crumbs, 2 tbsp. salsa, cumin, and hot pepper sauce with the mashed beans. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Using moistened hands, shape mix into four equal patties. Either cook in greased pan or under broiler on greased pan until lightly browned.
As mentioned, one of the great things about this recipe (besides how simple it is!) is that the spice can always be adjusted to individual taste. Likewise, feel free to use vegetables that are on hand. I often love to add in mushrooms for an extra "meatiness."