December 31, 2016 Seven Fishes Christmas Eve

We have adopted the Italian/Italian American tradition of seven fishes and it has been our Christmas eve feast we share with friends for the past six years. I explained the tradition of the seven fishes in a post from 2012.

This year our seafood included oysters straight from the Chesapeake Bay courtesy of Nik.  The extra large succulent oysters are enjoyed both raw with lemon and a splash of cranberry pear vinegar and baked a la Oysters Kenwood. We had a traditional (for us) shrimp scampi pizza as well as a newly inspired creation of a clam and bacon pizza. Both were delicious. We had a refreshing calamari salad, seafood stew, the best stuffed clams ever, just hope Joe remembers the recipe. Homemade pasta was served in two forms, mussels diavola with fettuccine and delicious crab ravioli served with a delicate lemon butter sauce. Golden brown seared scallops were served on a bed of microgreens with mixed sautéed mushrooms. The last course was swordfish skewers and pearl onions with a balsamic sweet and sour sauce. Some years Joe has cooked these in the fireplace grill but due to exceptionally warm weather this year they were cooked outdoors on the grill.

We start the party a little earlier each year, so that we aren’t finishing the last course at midnight. That actually happened the first few years. To finish things off, we left just enough room to finish off the meal with delicious Italian cookies and pastries from Chambersburg, an Italian neighborhood in Trenton, courtesy of Rich.

Nik power washes the oysters before they come inside for shucking..
Joe and his wonderful stuffed clams.
Stuffed clams had bacon in them too.
Oysters Kenwood, oysters baked with tomato sauce, bacon and cheddar cheese. Delicious!!
Shrimp scampi pizza.
Clam and bacon pizza, this year’s new creation.
Delicate crab ravioli with lemon butter sauce.
Homemade fettuccine with mussels diavola.
Seared scallops on a bed of microgreens and sautéed mushrooms.

 

December 27, 2016 Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna

 

In this unique lasagna, perfect for the fall and winter months, a ricotta enriched butternut squash purée takes the place of a marinara sauce. A cheesy spinach filling complements the creamy squash for this satisfying and healthy vegetarian main dish.

You will need a medium size butternut squash, weighing two and a half to three pounds. Cut the stem end off the butternut squash then cut the squash in half where the bulb end meets the neck. Cut both pieces in half lengthwise. scoop the seeds and fiber out of the bulb end, save seeds for later use. I  rinse the seeds off and dry them between layers of paper towels. Toss with a little bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake in a 375°F oven until they pop and become toasty brown. They are great for topping salads and for snacking.

Cover a large baking tray with parchment paper. Brush the squash pieces lightly with olive oil and place the four sections of squash cut side down on the baking sheet. Bake in a 375° oven for about 50 to 55 minutes, until the squash pierces easily with the tip of the knife. Let cool for 10 minutes, the skin should come off easily. Place the squash pieces in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. If necessary, add a little additional liquid, purée until smooth, you will have about 2½ cups. Add 1 cup of ricotta cheese and purée again, season to taste with salt and pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg.

Place the spinach in a large bowl. Lightly rinse the spinach and toss in the bowl. The moisture will help wilt the spinach quickly. I used a 1 pound container of organic triple washed spinach.  Finely chop two garlic cloves.  Heat a large sauté pan over high heat and add the olive oil and swirl it around. Saute the garlic for a few minutes then add the spinach by the handfuls, adding more each time as it wilts down.  After squeezing out any additional liquid, the end result will be one generous cup of spinach.

You can make this version with regular lasagna noodles or if you are following a gluten-free diet, I would recommend  brown rice pasta noodles from Tinkyada, easily found in large grocery stores. They are actually good and have a nutty brown rice flavor. Follow package instructions with regular noodles, I would suggest cooking brown rice noodles for about 10 minutes, no longer. Drain them in a colander, rinse with cold water and dry on parchment lined baking sheets. I haven’t tried this recipe with no bake noodles, my suggestion would be just be certain that the ingredients in your lasagna are moist enough to cook the noodles properly. There are 14 noodles in the package of brown rice noodles, I cook them all in case of breakage. You can always make a lasagna roll up with any leftover purée and cheese.

In a medium bowl mix the well-drained garlic spinach with one and a quarter cups of ricotta cheese and a cup of mozzarella cheese or a cheese blend that you prefer. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

To assemble the lasagna, spray the bottom of your baking tray with nonstick spray.I used a disposable pan with dimensions of 11 x 8 x 2 . Spread one-third of the butternut squash mixture over the bottom of the tray. Top with three lasagna noodles. Dollop one half of the spinach cheese mixture over the noodles. Continue to layer and finish with the remaining butternut squash, sprinkle with a generous amount of cheese, and a sprinkle of dried basil and oregano. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for a half hour. After the half hour take off the foil reattach any cheese that has attached to the foil and bake uncovered for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Since lasagna is a time-consuming dish you could do this in stages, make the butternut squash puree one day, the spinach filling the next and assemble and cook on the third day. You could substitute frozen spinach rather than cooking down your own. Possible additions to the dish include sautéed onions, sage leaves, even toasted walnuts. Serve with a crisp salad of arugula, fennel and apples. As it is with all lasagna, it’s even better the next day.

One of our very own butternut squash.
After baking, the skin pops off easily.
Skin off, ready to puree.
A large container of spinach cooks down to about a cup.
First layer of butternut squash ricotta puree .
Just a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese on top.
Lasagna noodles next, these are the brown rice noodles.
Next is the spinach and ricotta filling.
Repeat layers and finish with squash puree, a generous sprinkling of cheese, dried basil and oregano.
Out of the oven..

 

Delicious!!

Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna

Serves 6-8

Ingredients for butternut squash filling

  • 1-3 lb butternut squash
  • Olive oil
  • 1¼ c regular or low-fat ricotta cheese
  • ½ t salt
  • ¼ t freshly ground nutmeg

Ingredients for spinach layer

  • 1 lb fresh spinach
  • 1 t olive oil
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 1 c regular or low-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1¼ c mozzarella cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To assemble the lasagna

  • 1 lb lasagna noodles (regular or gluten-free)
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Dried basil and oregano

Directions for making the squash puree

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and spray lightly with nonstick spray.
  3. With a sharp knife cut the squash in half where the neck meets the bulbous end. Cut both of these pieces in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and reserve for toasting if desired.
  4. Brush the cut sides lightly with olive oil and place the four squash pieces on a baking sheet cut side down. Bake in preheated oven 25 minutes, rotate and bake another 25 minutes. The squash should be easily pierced with the tip of a knife.
  5. Cool the squash for about ten minutes, until it can be handled. Scoop out the flesh and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Puree squash until smooth.  Add the ricotta cheese, nutmeg and salt and puree again. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add a little more ricotta if necessary, the puree should have the consistency of a thick marinara sauce. Set puree aside for the assembly. Leave oven on at 375° if you will be finishing the lasagna.

Directions for the spinach filling

  1. Place the fresh spinach in a large colander that is set inside a large bowl. Sprinkle the spinach lightly with water and toss spinach lightly.
  2. Heat olive oil in a 12″ saute pan. Add garlic and saute until light golden brown. Add the spinach by the handful, adding more as it wilts down. After draining the spinach of excess liquid, you will have a generous cup.
  3. In a medium bowl combine spinach and garlic along with ricotta, mozzarella, salt and freshly ground pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Directions for assembling the lasagna

  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add  lasagna noodles and cook according to package directions. Stir noodles occasionally to prevent them from sticking. Drain well and rinse with cool water.
  2. To assemble the lasagna, spray the bottom of the baking dish with nonstick spray. I used a disposable tray with dimensions of 8″ x 11″ x 2″.
  3. Spread one-third of the butternut squash puree over the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle lightly with mozzarella cheese. Top with three lasagna noodles. Dollop one half of the spinach cheese mixture over the noodles, sprinkle lightly with mozzarella cheese. Top this layer with the second layer of noodles.
  4. Spread your second layer of butternut squash over the noodles. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, then top with the third layer of lasagna noodles.
  5. Top this with the remaining spinach cheese mixture and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
  6. Top with the remaining butternut squash puree and spread evenly over the noodles. Sprinkle this layer generously with shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle lightly with dried basil and oregano.
  7. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes remove the foil, reattach any cheese clinging to the foil and continue to bake uncover for another 10 to 15 minutes. You can turn the broiler on for a few minutes if you want to brown the cheese.

December 10, 2016 Pinchos Morunos

When Christopher Kimball left Cooks Illustrated to start a new multimedia venture, Milk Street, that includes a website, cooking school, TV and radio show and print magazine I was curious how the new magazine would differ from Cooks Illustrated, the publication he founded over twenty years ago. I have always been a big fan of Cooks Illustrated and have saved every issue since the first one came out in 1993. Could I justify subscribing to one more cooking publication?

The magazines are about the same size, Cooks Illustrated is a tad longer and both are 32 pages long. Both accept no advertising, unless you count the subscription inserts. Cooks Illustrated uses mostly black and white photography and illustration with color photographs of all the finished dishes on the inside back cover. Color photographs abound in Milk Street, though they aren’t the life-sized glamour shots we see on many popular blogs, they are accurate representations of the finished dishes. One thing Milk Street does not have are the wonderful back cover illustrations of John Burgoyne that are a welcome part of each issue. Whether it is a page of eggplant varieties, classic American cookies, crustaceans or heirloom tomatoes I always look forward to seeing his detailed and realistic work. On the other hand, Milk Street has Christopher Kimball’s folksy and entertaining  letters from Vermont.

Commenting on the new publication, Mr Kimball said that Milk Street would bring techniques from the world’s kitchens, focusing on simple dishes with easy to find ingredients. The term, “easy to find” has certainly changed since I started cooking over thirty years ago. The coconut milk and fish sauce I can find on any supermarket shelf now would have taken a special trip to an ethnic market back then. Although that was enjoyable and educational at the time, I appreciate the convenience now.

Looking at a recent issue of Cooks Illustrated I found recipes for shredded tacos, walkaway ratatouille, grilled pizza and paella on the grill, the typical representation of the Americas and western Europe. There is usually one recipe with an Asian influence, in this issue one for Korean fried chicken wings. Milk Street’s inaugural issue reflected the global emphasis they promised with recipes for harissa from north Africa,  pie crust that uses a Japanese baking technique, Chinese white cooked chicken, Thai coleslaw, French carrot salad and the one I chose to make first, Pinchos Morunos.

Pinchos morunos are grilled skewered meat kabobs. A pincho, or pintxo as it is called in Basque country, is a thorn or a spike. This can either refer to the skewer the meat is cooked on or the cocktail pick that is attached to a piece of bread when pinchos are served as part of a tapas menu. Morunos refers to the Moors who influenced Spanish food and culture for centuries. The meat in the original recipe was most likely lamb, the Moors were Muslim and did not eat pork. When the Spanish adopted this recipe, the meat of choice became pork. The meat was tossed with a Moroccan spice blend, ras el hanout. The term ras el hanout translates to “head of the shop” and refers to the best spices the shop has to offer. Ras el hanout can have as many as ten spices, this recipe streamlines that number to three, salt and pepper not included.

This version of pinchos morunos eliminates the skewers and brings the meat right to the saute pan. The pork is cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch cubes and tossed with a flavorful spice rub of cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. The cubes of pork are just the right size to absorb the rub and flavor the meat. The meat only needs to sit for about an hour before proceeding with the recipe. While the pork is absorbing the flavor of the spices, mix the garlic, lemon juice and honey in a small bowl.

Place a large skillet over high heat, coat lightly with olive oil and heat until smoking. Add the seasoned pork cubes in one layer and cook without moving for about 3 minutes. You want all of the meat to develop a deep brown crust. Flip the pork with tongs and cook, turning the pieces occasionally as they continue to brown. The additional cooking time is 2-3 minutes, the pork will continue to cook even after you take it off the heat and you don’t want the pork to dry out. While the pork is still hot, pour the garlic, lemon, honey mixture over the meat and garnish with oregano. Serve immediately to optimally appreciate the flavors. You can prep the components of the dish earlier in the day. Cut the meat into cubes, cover with plastic wrap and make the spice blend and lemon honey mixture . An hour before serving, bring the meat out of the fridge and proceed with the recipe.

We have enjoyed this recipe several times for dinner. Serve with rice or couscous and a salad. It would also make a great hors d’oeuvre accompanied with a saffron aioli for dipping.

Pinchos Morunos

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

  • 1½ t ground coriander
  • 1½ t ground cumin
  • 1½ t smoked paprika
  • ¾t each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1 to 1½ inch pieces
  • 1 T lemon juice plus lemon wedges for serving
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely grated
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T chopped fresh oregano

Directions

  1. Combine coriander, cumin, smoked paprika, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
  2. Add the cubed pork to the bowl and toss to coat thoroughly until no dry rub remains.
  3. Let the pork sit at room temperature for 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.
  4. While the pork is sitting at room temperature, combine the lemon juice, honey and garlic in another  bowl.
  5. In a large skillet over high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until smoking. Add the meat in a single layer and cook without moving until deeply browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Using tongs flip the meat over and continue to cook until browned on all sides, another 2-3 minutes.
  6. Take meat off the heat and pour the lemon juice and garlic mixture over the meat and toss until evenly coated.  Transfer the meat to a serving platter.
  7. Drizzle  the meat with the remaining olive oil, sprinkle with oregano and serve with lemon wedges.

Toss the pork cubes with the spice blend.
Be sure the pork develops a nice crust on the first side.

December 2, 2016 Tuna Poke

dsc_8340aOne of the highlights of last summer was our trip to the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen Colorado. It is touted as America’s premier culinary event, and certainly lived up to those expectations. We enjoyed three days of cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and best of all, the grand tasting pavilion. It was there that we, and 5000 other fanatical foodies sipped, savored and sampled our way around the massive white tents. One area we were certain to stop at during each grand tasting was to sample the offerings of Food and Wine magazines best new chefs. Everything we tried was imaginative and delicious as well. Not coincidentally, the July issue of Food and Wine magazine offered recipes from each of these up and coming chefs.

With memories of the wonderful small plates we enjoyed at the classic, it was time to try some of their dishes for ourselves. This summer I tried the rather ambitious, summer squash with lemon curd and citrus vinaigrette from chef Brad Kilgore. Joe was more interested in the Tuna Poke on Nori Crackers. This very simple version is from Ravi Kapur, chef at Liholiho Yacht Club, a San Francisco restaurant with Hawaiian, Indian and Chinese influences.

If you are not familiar with it, poke, pronounced POH-keh is a raw fish salad. Poke, means chop or chunk, which refers to the bite sized pieces the fish is cut into. It is commonplace in Hawaii, found everywhere from the deli departments of grocery stores to fine dining establishments.

The first time we tried it just for ourselves and the poke passed our taste test with flying colors. The nori crackers are a nice “cheffy” touch but speaking on behalf of the cleanup crew, messy and not necessary for the home cook. For this recipe, make the poke with sushi grade ahi tuna from the most reputable vendor you can find. The spicy mayo has only three ingredients, tamari, sriracha and mayo. So it’s very simple, finely chopped tuna, scallion, ginger, jalapeno, tamari and dark sesame oil combined in a bowl and seasoned with salt. Spoon the poke on black sesame crackers, I like the ones from Edward and Sons, easily found in large supermarkets. Dollop or pipe some of the spicy mayo on top. Garnish with some Asian microgreens and a few toasted sesame seeds. We have served it at two parties so far this year, both to rave reviews.

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Tuna Poke

Serves 6-8

Ingredients for the Spicy Mayo

  • ¼ c good quality mayonnaise
  • ¼ t tamari
  • 1 t sriracha (or to taste)

Ingredients for the Poke

  • 12-oz sushi grade tuna cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 4 t minced scallions
  • 2 t minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 t seeded and minced jalapeno
  • 1 t tamari
  • ½ t toasted sesame oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Black sesame crackers
  • Asian microgreens and toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Directions for the Spicy Mayo

  1. In a small bowl whisk all the ingredients together until smooth.

Directions for the Poke

  1. In a large bowl, fold all the ingredients except the garnishes together; season with salt.
  2. Spoon the poke on the black sesame crackers and dollop with some of the spicy mayo. Garnish with sprouts and sesame seeds.

November 28, 2016 Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Walnuts

dsc_8394aA delicious side dish for holiday entertaining, canalized Brussels sprouts with apples and walnuts brings out the best in this often maligned vegetable. When Brussels sprouts are cooked in a heavy bottomed saute pan,(think cast iron)  they get brown and toasty. When they are cooked in some bacon fat, it even gets better. I save bacon fat in a container in the freezer for moments like this. If you don’t store up bacon fat like me, a combination of butter and olive oil will do just fine. Start by getting the pan hot and adding your fat of choice.  When I added the quartered Brussels sprouts, some of the leaves popped up in the pan like kernels of popcorn. Get some golden color on the Brussels sprouts before you add the chopped apple. I chose a Honeycrisp because of its super crisp texture and sweet juicy flavor. Feel free to substitute your own favorite, a Gingergold or Mutsu would work well here too. It will take a little more time in the saute pan to cook the apple and tenderizing the Brussels sprouts. Please note I said tenderize, not turn to mush, they should still have a bite. While the sprouts and apples are still warm, add the toasted walnuts and dried cranberries. Pour the dressing of sherry vinegar, honey, mustard and just a touch of olive oil over and lightly toss. Serve warm or at room temperature. Make it your own by substituting dried cherries for the cranberries, toasted almonds for the walnuts and a fruity balsamic for the sherry vinegar and honey. Maybe some crispy bacon too. Looks like I just created another recipe that I need to try.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Walnuts

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T bacon fat (can substitute olive oil)
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, outer layer removed and quartered
  • 1 Honeycrisp apple cut into small dice
  • 1 c walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 2 T sherry vinegar
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 t Dijon mustard
  • 1 T olive oil
  • ¼ c dried cranberries
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

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Directions

  1. Heat a large heavy bottomed or cast iron skillet with butter and bacon fat over medium high heat. Add Brussels sprouts, season with salt and pepper and cook until the sprouts start to caramelize, about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add apples, toss to combine and cook until the sprouts and apples are caramelized and almost tender, another 3 minutes or more. Remove from the heat and add the walnuts and dried cranberries, toss lightly.
  3. In a small bowl combine the sherry vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard and olive oil. Pour this over the Brussels sprouts and toss lightly.
  4. Remove to a platter and spoon any additional liquid from the pan over the dish.
  5. Season again with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

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November 23, 2016 Butternut Squash Quesadillas

dsc_8327aAn often requested hors d’oeuvre from my catering days were butternut squash quesadillas with chipotle lime dipping sauce. They were a lighter alternative to classics like miniature beef wellingtons or scallops wrapped in bacon. A recipe I originally found in Gourmet magazine and now on the Epicurious website, it seemed to be universally liked by everyone. Crunchy on the outside, sweet roasted butternut squash and melted cheese inside, they disappeared as quickly as wait staff could get them out to hungry guests. The flavors of the roasted squash, onion and garlic are a perfect combination with creamy jack cheese, and sweet red pepper.

Begin the recipe by roasting squash cubes, an unpeeled onion cut in segments and several cloves of  garlic. Since we had a large butternut squash crop this year, I am getting faster at peeling and chopping my own squash. But if you don’t want to take the time, you can purchase butternut squash that has already been peeled and cubed. It is considerably more expensive for the convenience.  For the best results, roast cubes rather than baking squash halves . Although the roasted squash will be puréed before it is spread on the quesadilla, roasting cubed squash and the onion, allows the natural sugars in the vegetables to caramelize and enhances the flavor.

On a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle the squash cubes, onion and garlic with a neutral oil (vegetable, safflower) and toss lightly. Spread them out as evenly as possible so the squash will roast, not steam. Halfway through the cooking time use a plastic spatula to toss the cubes around a bit to maximize the surface area that gets browned. The garlic will be done first, use tongs to remove it to a work surface. Continue to roast the squash and onion until tender, as much as 15 more minutes, I like to check about every five minutes or so at this point. The squash will be soft and browned in places. Remove the peel from the onion and the garlic.

While the squash is cooking you will have time to chop the red pepper. Cut it into small dice, it will make for neater pieces when you cut the quesadillas. Place chopped pepper and jack cheese into separate bowls at your work station.

In a food processor or blender, purée the squash, onion and garlic until not quite smooth, leave it just a little chunky and transfer to a bowl. On a work surface spread out four tortillas. Next to the tortillas, place your bowls of squash puree, pepper and onion. Since you will be using one-fourth of each item on the tortillas, it’s relatively easy to “guesstimate” how much to use. Spread the puree first, evenly, almost but not quite to the edges, then sprinkle on the red pepper and then the cheese. Top with a second tortilla and press lightly to adhere. Spread a light coating of softened, not melted butter on either side of each tortilla. This step is little messy, you can put a sheet of waxed paper on two large baking sheet to cut down on the butter getting all over your work surface.

Heat a 7 inch non stick skillet over medium high heat until hot and cook the quesadillas. While the first side is cooking, press down lightly on the quesadilla so that everything sticks together, it will make the flipping easier. Cook the quesadillas about 3 minutes per side, you can lift up a little to see if you have achieved the light toasty brown color. I use a plastic spatula to flip them over, with a little help from my hand. Repeat with the remaining quesadillas and regulate the heat as necessary. Transfer to a warm oven while you are cooking the remaining quesadillas. Cut the quesadillas into 6 to 8 wedges, I have found a pizza wheel makes the neatest cuts.

Serve quesadillas with chipotle lime dipping sauce. Years ago when I first made this recipe it was difficult to obtain chipotles, now they are available at any supermarket. Chipotle peppers are smoked and dried jalapenos that are marinated in a tangy sweet red sauce. A little chipotle goes a long way. It is better to add a little at first to see how it tastes. The sour cream will mellow the chili out and the lime adds a nice contrast.

The dip can be made ahead, and even though the recipe doesn’t say so, the quesadillas can be made ahead. Reheat the quesadillas in a warm oven for about 10 minutes or until they feel hot. The important thing to remember whether fresh or reheated is to let the quesadilla rest for a few minutes before cutting. Too hot and the filling oozes out and is a mess to eat.

I have always used the recommended flour tortillas, I’m sure other varieties would work too. If you like your food spicy, pepper jack cheese could be substituted or any other good melting cheese. They would make a good vegetarian entree or a light lunch along with a green salad.

Butternut Squash Quesadillas

Makes 24 to 32 pieces

Ingredients

  • 5 c butternut squash, peeled and cut into ¾ inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, unpeeled and cut into eights
  • 1 large garlic clove, unpeeled
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 8- 5 to 6-inch flour tortillas
  • 1 c chopped red pepper
  • 1 c coarsely grated jack cheese
  • ½ stick unsalted softened butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Arrange squash cubes, onion and garlic in a single layer on a shallow baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and toss lightly to coat.
  3. Roast vegetables in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the garlic is softened. Transfer garlic to cutting board.
  4. Roast squash and onion for an additional 15 minutes or until tender. Discard peels from the onion and garlic.
  5. Purée the squash, onion and garlic in a food processor. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6.  On a work surface, spread out four tortillas. Spread one-fourth of the squash purée on each of the four tortilla. Sprinkle each tortilla with one fourth each of  the red pepper and the cheese. Top each quesadilla with a plain tortilla, pressing gently together. Spread each side of the quesadillas with a thin layer of softened butter.
  7. Heat a medium non stick skillet over medium high heat until hot and cook quesadillas, 1 at a time until golden, about 3 minutes on each side, transferring to a cutting board.
  8. Cut each quesadilla into 6 to 8 wedges and serve with chipotle lime dip.

Chipotle Lime Dip

Makes one cup

Ingredients

  • 1 canned chili in adobo, minced
  • 2 t fresh lime juice
  • 1 c sour cream

Directions

  1. In a small bowl  stir the chili and lime juice into the sour cream until well combined. Can be made ahead,  cover and chill.

 

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Spread out squash, onion and garlic on a parchment lined baking sheet.
After roasting
After roasting the vegetables.
Process until not quite smooth, you want the butternut squash to have some texture.
Process until not quite smooth, you want the butternut squash to have some texture.
Spread the puree evenly over four tortillas to about a quarter inch from the edges.
Spread the puree evenly over four tortillas to about a half inch from the edges.
Next is the finely diced red pepper.
Next is the finely diced red pepper.
Top it with an even layer of Jack cheese.
Top it with an even layer of Jack cheese.
And another tortilla.
And another tortilla. Press down so everything sticks together.
Cook individual tortillas in a non stick pan on both sides until they are golden brown.
Cook individual tortillas in a non stick pan on both sides until they are golden brown.

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November 4, 2016 Pan Roasted Chicken with Harissa and Chickpeas

dsc_8239aI’ve been putting the harissa I made back in September to good use with this recipe that combines browned chicken thighs and chickpeas with a tomato broth infused with onion, garlic and harissa. Harissa is a spicy garlicky condiment native to the cuisines of the northwest African countries of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. The recipe varies by country, ethnicity and even neighborhood. My recipe for harissa included fresh sweet and chile peppers, fragrant spices like coriander, cumin and caraway, dried mint, lemon, garlic and olive oil. You can add some to bring an unexpected kick to a tomato sauce, toss with roasted vegetables, stir into hummus or make this middle eastern inspired chicken dish.

I love cooking chicken thighs for a week night dinner. They are not temperamental like the boneless skinless chicken breast that has its brief moment of juiciness, then dries out and disappoints when held for any length of time. Chicken thighs, no matter what preparation you choose, will wait patiently in a warm oven if dinner is delayed. A combination of chicken thighs and legs works well in this recipe also.

Begin this preparation by finding the correct pan. You will need a heavy bottomed, oven proof skillet that fits comfortably in your oven. No plastic handles please, many skillets are marked oven proof on the bottom. Keep a pot holder over the oven door lest you forget and touch the very hot handle with your unprotected hands. I know because I have done it. Preheat the oven to 425°F or as I do, 400°F for convection cooking. Heat the oil over medium high heat and swirl the pan around to evenly distribute the oil. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces and add skin side down to the hot skillet. You may need to do this step in two batches. If you crowd the chicken it will steam, not brown. Brown the chicken on the first side for about five minutes, or until golden and crisp, resist peeking too soon or the skin may tear. Turn on the other side and cook an additional four to five minutes. Add all the browned chicken pieces to a plate and keep warm. Empty all the drippings from the pan except about a tablespoon full into a small metal bowl or glass measuring cup. Hot oil will eat right through that empty plastic yogurt container you considered using and then you will have the additional clean up of hot drippings on your countertop.

Add onion and garlic to your now empty skillet, cook, stirring often until softened, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring until it begins to darken, about 1 minute. Add the chick peas, harissa and chicken broth and bring the pan to a simmer. As much as I love fresh chickpeas, canned ones are fine for this recipe. They soak up the flavors in this dish and take on a nutty quality. Harissa, can be found in different forms. I’ve seen a powdered version that needs to be reconstituted, a jarred version, a paste in a tube and one that comes in the kind of container hummus comes in. Whatever version you buy or make, it is important to taste it before adding it to the dish. The recipe calls for a quarter cup of harissa and even though the other ingredients round out the flavor a bit, it is best to hold back if you think it will make the dish too spicy. It’s easier to add more at the end of the cooking time.

I have made this recipe several times on a weeknight which classifies it as a keeper for me. I like the fact that it doesn’t have a lot of ingredients, and most are pantry staples. Since it is finished in the oven, you have time to make a salad or cook a vegetable while the chicken cooks. I have added vegetables when the dish goes in the oven,  for me, end of season baby eggplants, I think quartered Brussels sprouts or small florets of cauliflower would work as well.

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Pan Roasted Chicken with Harissa and Chickpeas

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3 lb bone in chicken thighs (6-8 thighs)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed
  • ¼ c or more to taste harissa paste
  • ½ c low sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ c chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium high heat.  Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in 2 batches, cook until browned, about 5 minutes per side; transfer to a plate.
  2. Pour off all but 1 T drippings from the pan. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until beginning to darken, about 1 minute. Add chickpeas, harissa and broth; bring to a simmer.
  3. Nestle chicken, skin side up, in chickpeas; transfer skillet to oven. Roast until the chicken is cooked through, 20-25 minutes. Top with parsley and serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over.

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October 30, 2016 Sweet Pickled Celery

dsc_8190aAs mentioned in my previous post, from day one, the traditional accompaniments for buffalo wings have been celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. Last week, we were pleasantly surprised with the sweet pickled celery served with the buffalo cauliflower at The Vault. It requires no special canning equipment and you can make it in small batches. No delayed gratification here, you can enjoy it as soon as the canning liquid cools.

This quick and easy recipe is courtesy of celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay. I have been enjoying the most recent season of Ramsay’s reality cooking competition, MasterChef, while I exercise on the elliptical machine. For some reason our new Xfinity cable box saved several seasons of MasterChef as something we might enjoy. Well I am happy to say “cable box, you get me.” With all of his swearing and in your face style with the contestants, I forgotten what an amazing chef he is.

This recipe is from Ramsay’s Ultimate Home Cooking cookbook and was an accompaniment for buttermilk fried chicken. Interesting, since the episode I watched today featured a fried chicken challenge for the losing team on MasterChef. No chicken here, just pickled celery.

Start with a head of celery, separate into individual ribs or stalks, remove any strings and wash and rinse well. Cut celery on the diagonal into one inch lengths and place in pint jars with lids that have been sterilized with hot soapy water. Over medium high heat make a simple syrup of equal parts 1 cup water to 1 cup sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add peppercorns, herbs and vinegar and bring mixture to a boil. Carefully pour the hot liquid over the celery filled jars. The celery will cook a bit, shrink and resettle from the hot liquid. You will be able to add more celery when this happens. When the liquid cools, the celery is ready to eat. It will be even better if you have time to refrigerate it overnight.

Great as an accompaniment to buffalo cauliflower, an antipasto platter or chopped finely and added to chicken or egg salad.

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Sweet Pickled Celery

Ingredients

  • 1 medium bunch celery
  • 1 c water
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 t black peppercorns
  • 1 t mustard seeds
  • 1 t fennel seeds
  • ½ t cloves
  • ½ t salt
  • 6 T white wine vinegar

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Directions

  1.  Cut celery into individual stalks, wash and cut into one inch long diagonal pieces and place into sterilized pint canning jars. Fill the jars to the top. Keep extra celery aside to add later.
  2. Create a simple syrup of one cup water and one cup sugar. Add to a medium size pot along with the peppercorn, mustard and fennel seeds, cloves, salt and white wine vinegar. Over medium high heat, stir to dissolve sugar and bring to a rolling boil.
  3. Carefully pour the hot liquid into the canning jars. Wait a minute or two, the hot liquid will cook the celery a bit and shrink it, leaving more room for additional celery left over from the first step. Pack the celery in tightly, covered with the pickling liquid.
  4. As soon as the liquid cools, the celery can be eaten.  Even better if you refrigerate it overnight.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.

October 26, 2016 Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

dsc_8213aInspiration for the recipes at Sue’s Seasonal Palate comes from many sources. Sometimes it’s a magazine article I’ve read, an intriguing recipe from the internet or a dish I’ve recently tried in a restaurant. The latter was the case for this recipe.

Last weekend we got together with some long time friends at a popular brewpub called The Vault. It’s located in a former bank built in 1889 in the historic borough of Yardley Pennsylvania. The owners of the Vault bring their own brand of sophistication to the brewpub concept and have turned it into an experience that is unique. No deafening pop or rock music or a bank of televisions tuned to the latest sports programs, they have chosen to feature live and recorded jazz that enhances the relaxed atmosphere and is more conducive to conversation. The beer is brewed on premises and the offerings from the kitchen are made in-house or sourced locally. Both the kitchen and the brewery are open to view. Though I am more of a wine drinker I really enjoyed the Sweet Potato Ale. The menu includes a nice selection of starters along with sandwiches, interesting salads and pizzas from their wood fired oven. The menu is definitely a cut above the average pub fare and one of their appetizers made me want to recreate it at home.

Our server suggested we start off with an appetizer of buffalo cauliflower to share for the table while we were pondering our other food choices. For a brief history of the buffalo wing we only need to go back to 1964 where they originated in, no surprise here, Buffalo, New York. The story has several versions but the most popular and my favorite, is that one evening, Teressa Bellissimo, co-owner of the Anchor Bar was challenged to whip up a late night snack for her son and his friends. “Mother Teressa” found some large chicken wings that had been deemed too meaty for the stockpot. Bellissimo chopped the wings into two sections, deep-fried them and tossed them with some hot sauce. She served them with celery that was part of the Anchor Bar’s antipasto and some of the house blue cheese dressing. The wings were reported to be an immediate local success and the first official Chicken Wing Day was celebrated on July 29, 1977. Over fifty years later they are a national favorite consumed everywhere from bars, to sporting venues to “competitive eating events” like the Philadelphia Wing Bowl and Buffalo’s annual National Buffalo Wing Festival.

It wasn’t enough for cauliflower to be a substitute for mashed potatoes, couscous and even pizza crust, the versatile vegetable takes the place of chicken wings in this recipe. The Vault’s buffalo cauliflower is described on the menu as buttermilk cauliflower, house buffalo sauce, chive sour cream and the real surprise, sweet pickled celery. The calorie count for six pieces of deep-fried chicken wings at one website I looked at was 616. Though I have nothing against traditional buffalo wings I also thought this recipe was worth the somewhat healthier do-over.

Start with a large head of cauliflower and break into chicken wing size florets. I was aiming for 1½ in by 2½ inches in length, you should have 5 to 6 cups of “wings” and probably more. Some recipes I found called for the cauliflower to be roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. I wanted the florets to have a bit more substance so I coated the cauliflower with a simple batter of flour, milk and spices. Substitutions can be made here, almond milk for vegans, rice flour for a gluten-free diet. If you use rice flour as I did, you may need to thin the batter out a bit more.

I tried at first to dip the pieces by using the handle at the bottom of my cauliflower “wing”. This turned out to be a very messy approach., It is easier to use tongs to dip the individual pieces in the batter. Dip each piece thoroughly, lift out and allow the excess batter to drip back into the bowl. To minimize clean up, line the baking sheet with foil or parchment. Since several of the blogs I read mentioned excess batter clumping up and sticking to the baking sheet, I chose to place the florets on a wire rack thoroughly sprayed with Pam over the baking sheet. Preheat oven to 425°F, (convection heat) and bake for about twenty minutes or until golden. I flipped the pieces halfway through the baking process.

While the cauliflower is baking, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the hot sauce and stir to combine. In a medium bowl, combine the cooked cauliflower and sauce, toss gently to combine. Place the cauliflower back on the baking sheet and bake for another 10 minutes, until the cauliflower begins to crisp. Serve immediately with plain or sweet pickled celery and blue cheese dressing or sauce.

Cauliflower pieces shouldn't be too small.
Cauliflower pieces shouldn’t be too small.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
Ingredients for the batter.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
Dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Place on a wire rack above the parchment lined baking tray for easy clean up.
Dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Place on a wire rack above the parchment lined baking tray for easy clean up.
While the cauliflower is baking, stir together melted butter and hot sauce.
While the cauliflower is baking, stir together melted butter and hot sauce.
After the cauliflower has baked to a golden brown, mix with hot sauce and butter.
After the cauliflower has baked to a golden brown, mix with hot sauce and butter. Bake until crisp.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.

Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

Serves four or two very hungry  people

Ingredients

  • 1 c flour, can be all-purpose, whole wheat, brown rice etc.
  • 1 c milk, almond milk or water
  • 1 t  garlic powder
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ t ground paprika
  • 1 head cauliflower,cut into florets
  • ½ c hot sauce (I used Franks Original)
  • 3 T butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spray a large wire rack with cooking spray to place over the baking sheet.
  2. Combine flour, water, spices, salt and pepper in a large bowl and stir until smooth. Using tongs, dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Coat well, lift out and allow the excess to drip back into the bowl.
  3. Arrange cauliflower in a single layer on the wire rack that is on top of the baking sheet.  Bake 20 minutes or until golden.
  4. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, add the hot sauce and stir to combine. Pour evenly over cauliflower. Toss gently until cauliflower is evenly coated.
  5. Bake 10 minutes or until cauliflower begins to crisp, rearranging florets occasionally if needed. Serve with celery and blue cheese dressing.

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October 13, 2016 Chicken and Butternut Squash Soup

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Joe begins planning the vegetable garden right after the Christmas holidays. As always, he asked me if there was anything I wanted to add this year. I knew right away I wanted him to grow butternut squash. They were never planted before because the vines need considerable room to grow. Since the ever-expanding garden now includes an area near the orchard and the berry bushes, there would be some more room available. Last year he grew some loofah and bird house gourds in that area but since they were not going to be repeated, butternut squash got the okay.

Butternut is a variety of winter squash. The name is a bit of a misnomer however,  since all winter squashes are frost tender (the plants will die with the first frost) warm season (seeds must be planted when the soil temperature is above 65°) annuals (plants that complete their life cycle in one growing season). With a growing season of 110-120 days for full maturation, they are harvested in the fall and can be kept well through the cold winter months, hence the name. Summer squash like zucchini and yellow crookneck are harvested all summer long while the fruit is still immature and the skin is still tender. Not counting the ones that “get away” and could fill in for baseball bats. And yes, botanically speaking, both winter and summer squash are fruit since they develop from a flower and are the part of the plant that contains the seeds. Winter squash should only be harvested when fully mature. When winter squash is mature, the stem end will turn from green to brown and will appear that the stem is beginning to dry out. The skin should look dull, not shiny and it should be difficult to dent the squash skin with your fingernail. Winter squash do not require refrigeration but should be stored in a cool dark area.

Last weekend the harvest was finally ready and Joe brought them in by the wheelbarrows full, 60 in all. Some of the squash were slightly damaged and they will be the ones I use first. Some I will give away to friends and the rest we are storing on shelves in our basement.

Low in fat and rich in vitamins A, C, fiber and antioxidants, butternut squash is a great addition to many recipes. I like to roast cubes of butternut squash to add to my fall salads.The butternut squash seeds can be tossed with olive oil and salt and roasted for a crunchy snack or a salad topper.

The creamy texture of butternut squash makes a wonderful soup and I have recipes for two on the blog from years past, butternut squash soup with cider cream and butternut squash soup with Asian pear and ginger, both unique and delicious.

Because of fall’s chilly temperatures, I wanted to make a more substantial main course soup. I liked the idea of roasting the vegetables on the baking sheet to bring out their natural sweetness. For easy clean up, I lined the baking sheet with parchment paper. The leek, pepper and squash should be cut into pieces all relatively the same size so they cook evenly. A medium dice works best here, about 1 to 1 ½ inches. Toss the vegetables with olive oil and spread out evenly on a baking sheet, don’t overcrowd. Arrange the chicken thighs on top of the vegetables and season everything with salt and pepper. I think chicken thighs are the best choice for this recipe, the skin keeps the meat moist during the roasting process. Rotate the pan halfway during the cooking process to ensure even cooking.

Transfer the chicken thighs to a plate to cool and add the roasted vegetables to a pot along with the chicken broth and spices. Simmer over medium heat and use a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon to mash-up some of the vegetables to give the soup a thick, chunky texture. Shred the chicken into bite sized pieces, discarding the skin and bones. Add to the soup and stir in fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. When the soup is almost done stir in the kale ribbons and cook until they are wilted, an additional five minutes. Additional add ins for this soup could include cannellini beans and fire roasted diced tomatoes. The soup can be frozen or stored in the fridge for several days.

Roasted Chicken and Butternut Squash Soup

Serves four to six

Ingredients

  • 6 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 medium butternut squash, (2½ to 3 lbs) peeled, seeded and diced medium
  • 1 medium leek, sliced medium
  • 1 small red pepper, diced medium  (I added a red poblano too for a little kick)
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 c low sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ t ground cumin
  • ¼ t ground coriander
  • ¼ t smoked paprika
  • 2-3 cups of thinly chopped kale (avoid thick stems)
  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • Fresh parsley or coriander (optional)

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Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. In a large bowl toss the squash, red pepper and onion with the olive oil. Spread evenly on a large baking sheet. Arrange the chicken thighs on top, spacing out evenly. Season everything with salt and pepper.
  2. Roast until the squash and chicken are cooked through, rotating pan halfway through the cooking process.
  3.  Transfer the chicken to a plate, loosely cover and let cool. Transfer squash and onions to a medium pot and broth, cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. Simmer over medium high heat.
  4. With a potato masher or the back of a  wooden spoon, mash some of the vegetables until soup is thick and chunky.
  5. Discard the skin and bones from the chicken, cut meat into small pieces and add to the soup. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Stir in the thinly chopped kale and cook for five minutes more, until the kale is wilted. Taste and adjust seasonings, To serve, top with fresh parsley or cilantro.
Preparing the butternut squash.
Preparing the butternut squash.

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I used a leek from the garden but an onion will work as well.
I used a leek from the garden but an onion will work as well.
Lining the baking sheet with parchment makes for easy clean up.
Lining the baking sheet with parchment makes for easy clean up.
The "after" picture.
The “after” picture.
Kale ribbons only need about five minutes to wilt into the soup.
Kale ribbons only need about five minutes to wilt into the soup.

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