Monday, November 24, 2014

What's Roasting: Butternut Squash

One of my favorite things about the autumn season is the arrival of squash in all shapes and sizes. This year we grew acorn squash in our garden, and we now have several hanging out in our basement cold storage pantry. I'm particularly a fan of squash with thin skins (such as acorn and kabocha) as they don't require peeling since the skin is perfectly edible.

Awhile back D and I enjoyed a Stoney Acres farm pizza with a squash sauce, blue cheese, apples, and bacon, and I've been dreaming about that pizza ever since. The first step to making that pizza is making a roasted butternut squash sauce. And the first step to making that sauce is roasting a butternut squash. Following are instructions to make a roasted butternut squash puree. Note: the roasted butternut squash pieces would make a delicious side dish on their own; as would the butternut squash puree. This week I'll share a few more ways that you can use this roasted butternut squash puree.

Roasted Butternut Squash
makes about 3 cups

1 medium butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 cloves garlic, peel on

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil and set aside.
2. Use a sharp knife to trim both ends off of the butternut squash. Carefully peel the squash. Then slice the squash in half horizontally, separating the bulb from the neck. Then cut each piece in half vertically. Cut the neck piece into 1-inch pieces. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and pulp from the bulb end, then cut into 1-inch pieces.
3. Place the squash pieces into a large bowl. Add the olive oil and dried rubbed sage and toss to combine. Season generously with salt and pepper and toss again. Turn the seasoned squash out onto the prepped baking sheet. Scatter the unpeeled garlic cloves onto the baking sheet.
4. Roast the squash in the oven for 40 minutes, or until tender, flipping the squash after 20 minutes.
5. Remove the squash from the oven and let cool slightly. Carefully remove the peels from the garlic.
6. Serve the squash as-is or place the roasted squash and garlic into a food processor and puree until smooth. Again, the pureed squash could be served as as-is, or the puree could be used in additional recipes, such as butternut squash pasta sauce, coming soon.

(adapted from this Martha Stewart recipe)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What I'm Searching For: Thanksgiving Inspiration

Since it's less than a week until Thanksgiving, I suppose it's about time that I started to plan our Thanksgiving menu. This year my parents are in town, so we'll be setting a holiday table for four. We will be replacing the traditional turkey with one (or two) of the chickens we raised on our little farm this year. Which reminds me, I better remember to get those chickens out of the freezer and into the fridge to thaw before next Thursday!

Alongside our Thanksgiving chicken, I plan to serve the standard stuffing, mashed potatoes, and (homemade) cranberry sauce. But I'm looking for some additional side dishes (because the Thanksgiving meal is really all about the side dishes, right?) and dessert options. I've got an apple pie recipe in my back pocket, but I wouldn't mind trying something new. What are your favorite dishes to eat on Thanksgiving?

Clockwise, from the right: Creamed Spinach // Broccoli Cheese Casserole 

Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake apple-bourbon pot pie pumpkin cheesecake pecan pie bars Image Map

Clockwise, from the right: Apple-Bourbon Pot Pie // Pumpkin Cheesecake

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What's Baking: Pumpkin Muffins

I am single-handedly trying to make all-things-pumpkin cool again. That, or I had more than a cup of pumpkin left over from last week's pumpkin French toast recipe.

I could have gone savory and made pumpkin ravioli (hmm ... maybe that'll be next?), but as is usually the case, I was in the mood for a sweet baked treat to go with my morning cup of coffee.

So ... pumpkin muffins it was! Again, another great option to have on hand for a Thanksgiving morning breakfast or brunch. (Would an all-pumpkin menu be that bad of an idea? Pumpkin French toast, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin spice lattes ... have I gone too far? Maybe don't answer that...)

Pumpkin Muffins
makes 12 muffins

For the muffins:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 1/3 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cinnamon-ginger-sugar topping:
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons crystallized ginger chips, chopped into small pieces
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners and spray each liner lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, oil, and eggs. Add the sugars and vanilla and whisk to combine.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk to combine; do not overmix.
5. Divide the batter evenly into the prepped muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full.
6. To make the topping, in a small bowl, stir together the granulated sugar, chopped ginger chips, and cinnamon. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the muffins.
7. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the muffins have fully crowned and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove the muffins from the tin and place on a wire rack to let cool completely. Store any remaining muffins in an airtight container at room temperature.

(adapted from this Smitten Kitchen recipe)

Friday, November 14, 2014

What's For Breakfast: Pumpkin Spice French Toast for Two

Is pumpkin spice so out it's in again? I'm asking for a friend. And when I say "friend," I mean "me." Well, whether it's still cool or not, this pumpkin spice French toast is decidedly delicious.

And unlike many pumpkin spice food products, this French toast actually contains both pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. It's the real deal, folks! 

Just add a little (or a lot) of pure maple syrup on top (and maybe some powdered sugar or a dollop of freshly whipped cream if you're feeling particularly indulgent), and I think you've got the perfect autumnal breakfast to start your day. And wouldn't this French toast make an excellent companion to a viewing of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thanksgiving morning? I sure think so. Who wants to come over for brunch?

Pumpkin Spice French Toast for Two
makes two servings

2 eggs
1/2 cup organic skim milk
4 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
6-8 slices thick white bread, preferably slightly stale [see note below]

1. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, pumpkin puree, vanilla extract, and pumpkin pie spice.
2. Melt the butter in an electric skillet set to 350 degrees.
3. One at a time, dip the bread slices into the egg mixture, evenly coating both sides and carefully shaking off any excess. Place the battered bread onto the heated skillet. Repeat this process until the skillet is full. Cook each bread slice until golden brown on the bottom, then flip and cook the other side. Place the cooked French toast in a warm oven or serve immediately.

Note: If your loaf of bread is fresh, you can either (a) leave the bread out overnight (or just leave the bread bag open) or (b) lightly toast the bread in a 350-degree oven for 5-7 minutes, or until slightly crisp to the touch.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What's For Dinner: Pasta e Fagioli Soup

On a cold snowy day, there's nothing I crave more than a hot bowl of soup. And if all of the ingredients required to make the soup are already in my pantry, so much the better.

D and I arrived home yesterday from a weekend in South Dakota to 14 inches of snow here in Rhinelander. It looks like winter has arrived early in the Northwoods this year! This first winter storm of the season coincided directly with our path home from South Dakota, making for an interesting (to say the least) drive home. We originally planned to get back some time Tuesday, but given the weather and road situation, we opted instead to slow-roll our way back east with a stopover in Aberdeen, South Dakota (home for a time to L. Frank Baum of The Wizard of Oz fame) on Monday night.

{D hunting for pheasant with Franka}

Earlier in the weekend, we enjoyed lovely sunny weather in the 50s in South Dakota, before the chill hit and temperatures plummeted on Saturday evening and throughout the day on Sunday. D and I were in South Dakota for DL Fest, an annual gathering of Deutsch Langhaar owners for a weekend of pheasant hunting and general camaraderie.

{D with a pheasant he shot that Franka retrieved}

It was my first time experiencing hunting first-hand, though I didn't personally do any shooting. It was an intriguing experience that I'm still processing. I'm not sure if I'll ever shoot at anything other than inanimate objects, though I am excited that we brought home a small cooler full of pheasants. Now I just need to research pheasant recipes -- do you have any to share?

In the meantime, since we haven't had the chance to go grocery shopping since our return, I turned to my pantry essentials for tonight's dinner inspiration. I had pinned a recipe a while back for Pasta e Fagioli soup, and was delighted to see that I actually had the majority of ingredients on hand. I made a few changes here and there (including making the soup vegetarian), as I can't help but tinker with a recipe. The resulting soup is thick, hearty, and full of warming comfort, perfect for an evening dinner alongside a roaring fire.

Pasta e Fagioli Soup 
makes 4 servings

1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 large onion, diced fine (about 1 scant cup)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 15-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup uncooked orzo
freshly grated Parmesan cheese for garnish [optional]

1. Add the olive oil and butter to a heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat.
2. Add the diced onion and saute until softened and golden in color, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add all of the remaining ingredients, except the orzo, to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Add the orzo and cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until the pasta has cooked through. Garnish each bowl of soup with freshly grated Parmesan cheese just before serving if desired.

(adapted from this Back to Her Roots recipe

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What's Baking: Apple Cinnamon-Sugar Crumble Muffins

When you pick 20 pounds of apples, that means you gotta eat 20 pounds of apples. We picked Liberty apples at Bayfield's Blue Vista Farm. Liberties are good apples for storing -- according to ye olde Internet, this variety is good to store for up to three months, and happily, the flavor gets better as time goes by. 

Thus far I've used the apples in salads, as a pizza topping (recipe to come), in a mini dessert (another recipe to come), and in these delicious apple cinnamon-sugar crumble muffins.

I made these muffins this past weekend to share at brunch with a friend and her two children. Long story short, these apple-filled muffins were a hit among both the over-30 and under-3 crowd. Though the ingredient list may be a bit long, don't be intimidated. These muffins come together rather quickly and bake up in a jiffy. And, they make a great breakfast (or second breakfast!) served warm alongside a large cup of coffee.

Apple Cinnamon-Sugar Crumble Muffins 
makes 12 muffins

For the muffins:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
dash of ground allspice
1 1/2 cups peeled, cored, and finely chopped (about 1/4" pieces) apple (I used Liberty apples, which are a slightly tart variety)

For the crumble topping:
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. I find that spraying the liners lightly with cooking spray ensures the liners peel off easily after the muffins have baked.
2. Melt the butter on the stovetop or in a microwave. Set aside to cool.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice. Pour the cooled melted butter into the flour mixture and stir to combine.
4. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Stir to combine, but do not overmix. Fold in the apples. Divide the batter (it will be thick) evenly into the prepared muffin cups. (Each muffin cup should be filled to the top.)
5. In a small bowl, stir together the sugars, flour, cinnamon, and sea salt with a fork. Use the fork or a pastry blender to incorporate the butter into the sugar mixture, forming pea-sized crumbles. Sprinkle the crumble mixture evenly over top the muffins.
6. Bake the muffins in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the muffins are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven and let cool in the tin for 5 minutes. Then remove the muffins from the tin and let cool completely on a wire rack. Any remaining muffins can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days, though they are best eaten the day they are baked.

(lightly adapted from this recipe by a farmgirl's dabbles)

Monday, November 3, 2014

What I'm Bringing to the Party: Peanut Butter Caramel Corn Mix

It's November, which means that the holiday season is nearly upon us. And with the holiday season comes holiday parties and the need for plenty of party food.

This past weekend, D and I attended a Halloween costume party hosted by our friends. Sticking with the Wes Anderson theme we started last year by dressing as Suzy Bishop and Sam Shakusky from Moonrise Kingdom, this year we went as Margot and Richie Tenenbaum from The Royal Tenenbaums. Along with Margot's mopey attitude, I also brought along this decadent peanut butter caramel corn mix to the party.

This caramel corn mix is an ideal treat to bring to a party because it is dangerously addictive. Meaning, it's better to have it (and leave it!) at someone else's house than to keep it in your own. Or, at least, that's definitely true for me, anyway. The caramel, which gets extra oomph with the addition of some peanut butter during the cooking process, is drizzled over a mix of popcorn, pretzels, Reese's Pieces, and pretzels. After being baked in the oven at a low temperature for 20 minutes, dark chocolate is drizzled over top the caramel corn mix along with festive sprinkles. You can easily adjust the ingredients to match your holiday -- orange and brown go just as well with the autumnal harvest holiday of Thanksgiving as they did with Halloween; green and red M&Ms along with festive snowflake sprinkles would work nicely for Christmas. And of course, rainbow sprinkles, and a confetti of M&Ms would work well for a party on any day of the week.
Peanut Butter Caramel Corn Mix
makes 12+ servings

For the popcorn mix:
12 cups air-popped popcorn
1 cup lightly salted roasted peanuts
1 cup Reese's Pieces
3 cups mini twist pretzels

For the peanut butter caramel:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup golden syrup (or dark corn syrup)
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup dark chocolate melts, melted
1-2 teaspoons festive sprinkles [optional]

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Pop up 12 cups of popcorn -- I used 4 tablespoons popcorn kernels in my air popcorn popper. Spread the popcorn evenly onto the two prepped baking sheets. Divide the peanuts, Reese's Pieces, and mini twist pretzels evenly across the two baking sheets.
3. In a medium sauce pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar, golden syrup, and creamy peanut butter. Add in the salt and stir to combine.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Once the mixture begins to boil, let it continue boiling for five minutes without stirring.
5. Remove the sugar mixture from the heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla extract. (The mixture will foam up.)
6. Pour the caramel evenly over the baking sheets with the popcorn mix. Stir to combine, evenly coating the mix in the caramel.
7. Place both of the baking sheets in the oven on two separate racks. Bake for 20 minutes in the oven, stirring after 10 minutes, and switching the position of each baking sheet in the oven.
8. Remove from the oven. Drizzle each sheet of caramel corn with the melted dark chocolate, then top with the sprinkles. Allow to cool completely. Store the peanut butter caramel corn mix in an airtight container at room temperature.

(inspired by this Back to Her Roots post)


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