Serious Eats for One Month- Pumpkin Everything

Like everyone at this time of year, I look forward to pumpkin everything…beer, lattes, cookies, muffins, trips pumpkin picking, carving jack o’lanterns and roasting seeds.  I’ve developed an appreciation for fresh pumpkin in my pies, so I’ve been cooking up cheese pumpkins, pureeing and freezing for future recipes.

And since it’s Meatless Monday in our house and I didn’t feel like making our standard Mac and Cheese from a box (I told you my cooking skills were deteriorating) I thought this would be the perfect fall recipe to try.  Zombiegirl declared last week that she liked butternut squash soup and Utah once told me she liked brown butter and sage ravioli, so hey, they were bound to like Serious Eats Extra Creamy Squash Lasagna, right?

I took an extra “normal” lasagna out of the freezer last night.  Just. In. Case.y eternal clock is not on daylight savings time yet, so at 5 am I got up to make dinner.

And because my eternal clock is not in sync with Daylight Savings Time, I got up at 5 am to make dinner.

The Best Squash Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 1 large kabocha squash or sugar pumpkin (about 2 1/2 pounds), quartered, seeds discarded
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, divided
  • 2 crisp baking apples such as Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves, plus 1/4 cup roughly torn leaves, divided
  • 1 package no-boil lasagna noodles (15 noodles)
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 12 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese

Procedure:

Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 325°F. Toss three squash quarters with 1 tablespoon olive oil and coat thoroughly using your hands. Season with salt and pepper. Place in a cast iron skillet or on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and roast until a knife meets no resistance when poked into the flesh around the stem, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Increase oven temperature to 400°F. ( I already had cheese pumpkin puree on hand so I figured a 2-1/2 pound pumpkin equals 2-1/2 cups of puree. That amount worked out fine. )

Scrape roasted squash flesh out into the work bowl of a food processor. Add egg, cream cheese, 2 tablespoons butter, maple syrup, cinnamon, and half of nutmeg. Process until a completely smooth purée is formed. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside. (I’m coming to realize that maybe my skill level in the kitchen is not completely my fault.  If I had a kitchen and equipment like Rachel Ray [and her stupid garbage bowl], would I be a better cook? Would it matter if I processed stuff in stages in my tiny food processor instead of all in one go? Maybe, maybe not.  Anyways, I used my immersion blender to puree this mixture.  I tried to quietly blend since the rest of the house was asleep.  Nearly impossible…)

While squashes are roasting in step 1, cut remaining squash quarter into 1/2-inch dice. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter in a large skillet over high heat, swirling until foaming subsides. Add diced squash and apple and cook, tossing and stirring frequently until tender and browned on most sides, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add minced sage. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. (Since I had pureed all my pumpkin, I didn’t have any to dice, so I double the amount of apples.  I also ran out in my pajamas to my lawn garden to snip sage.  Thankfully, it was dark.  This step was my favorite.  I was worried that the delicious smell of apples in butter would wake everyone up.)

Place lasagna noodles in a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish and cover with cold water. Set aside, agitating the noodles occasionally to make sure they aren’t sticking.  (I didn’t do this step.  Ronzoni no-bake noodles worked just fine.)

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until butter has melted and garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until flour starts to smell nutty and is pale blond, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk in a thin, steady stream. Once milk is fully incorporated, bring to a boil, whisk vigorously, then remove from heat. Add 8 ounces of Gruyère cheese and whisk until completely smooth. If any lumps remain, blend with a hand blender or in a standing blender until smooth. Add remaining 1/8th teaspoon nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.  (I think another one of my problems is I don’t prep beforehand.  I should be getting everything out, measured, chopped and shredded before I even turn on the stove.  I use a ton of dishes when I cook, so I would probably use twice as many if I prepared all the ingredients first.  My dishwasher would quit on me if I did.  So when it was time to shred the Gruyere, I didn’t anticipate the huge mess this soft cheese would make in my shredder.  Should’ve prepped, could’ve burned everything if I didn’t chop it up quick.)

Remove lasagna noodles from baking dish and transfer to clean dish towels to blot excess moisture. (See, this would have ended up with another dirty dish.  Nope.)

Spread 1/6th of the white sauce over the bottom of the baking dish and top with three lasagna noodles. Add 1/5 of squash puree and 1/4 of sautéed squash and apple mixture. Top with 1/6th of white sauce. Repeat with 3 more layers of noodles, squash puree, cooked squash mixture, and white sauce. At this stage, you should have used up all of the sautéed squash and still have 1/6th of the white sauce and 1/5th of the squash purée remaining. Place the final three noodles on top of the lasagna, top with the remaining purée, the remaining 4 ounces of shredded Gruyère, and drizzle with the remaining white sauce. Cover with aluminum foil, and transfer to the oven. (This all worked out well- it went together as stated and I didn’t end up with extra anything.  I went back to bed for 20 minutes.)

Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until browned and bubbly, about 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven, let rest for 5 minutes, slice, and serve (Zombiegirl threw all the lasagnas in the oven before I got home, so it was nice to have everything ready when I walk through the door.  I took a Lactaid [did you see how much dairy is in this thing?] and we tried it.  That was the deal- everyone had to try a small piece before they ate the “normal” lasagna.  Zombiegirl’s friend Nathalia was eating over so we had another potential opinion.  The kids were all a no, but MR had two helpings.  I had mine and everyone else’s. No wonder I’m fat.)

It was good.  I’m not a big fan of Gruyere- it has a funny aftertaste to me but the pumpkin mixture with the apples and noodles was really delicious.  A nice fall treat.

Good thing I liked it, I’m going to be eating it for lunch the next six weeks.

Serious Eats for One Month- Mambo Italiano

 

“Hey Mambo, Mambo Italiano…” is one of those earwig songs that reverberate through my brain at least once a week.  It’s one of my mother-in-law’s favorite songs.  So when I’m cooking Italian, I’m usually humming this ditty.

The Mother-in-law.  In a husband’s eye, mama is the best cook in the world.  I remember when I got “serious” with the ex-asshole.  My future ex-Monster-in-law took me into her kitchen to teach me how to make Sunday Gravy.  She wasn’t the nicest person in the world, but she sure could cook. I still think of her Struffoli and Stromboli.  And being that American kind of Italian, they mispronounced almost every “true” Italian dish.  It was years later when I realized their “Aya Ooya” dish was really Pasta Aglia E Olia- garlic and oil over pasta.  So when I asked in an Italian bakery once years later if they had Struffo’, I was met with blank stares.  I found them in the case and just pointed and grunted.  They weren’t as good as the Monster-in-law’s.

I practiced that Gravy every Sunday and it was never as good as hers.  I think that’s because Mother-in-laws leave out crucial steps or ingredients so their boy could come home and get “real cooking”.  I’ve made numerous sauces over the years and have not achieved that perfect spaghetti SAUCE- the one I can make my own and teach to my daughters.  Not that they’d ever use it- I’m sure their mother-in-laws (and future MILs) make their son’s favorite sauce.

My mom used Ragu.  That’s one step above using ketchup.  So I’m not even going there.

This sauce (link to the lab) from Serious Eats went into such delicious detail I couldn’t resist trying it out.  And since MR is our resident meatball maker (he learned from his mom) I asked him to try a Serious Eats meatball recipe to keep with our month long experiment.

The Best Slow-Cooked Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 4 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, preferably imported D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes (see note above)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing.
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into large chunks
  • 1 medium onion, split in half
  • 1 large stem fresh basil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley or basil leaves (or a mix of the two)

Procedure:

Adjust oven rack to lower position and preheat oven to 300°F. Place tomatoes in a large bowl. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes by squeezing them in your fingers until pieces no larger than 1/2-inch remain. Transfer 3 cups of crushed tomatoes to a sealed container and reserve in the refrigerator until step 4. (I used 4 cans of good old Redpack tomatoes.  They were on sale.  And I had a coupon.  I promise next time I make this [and I will] I will use a better grade Italian tomato.)

Heat olive oil and butter over medium heat in a large Dutch oven until butter is melted. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add pepper flakes and oregano and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, carrot, onion, and basil, and stir to combine. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over high heat. (This smelled HEAVENLY! I used minced garlic and homegrown oregano.)

Cover Dutch oven with lid slightly ajar and transfer to oven. Cook, stirring once every 1 to 2 hours, until reduced by about half and darkened to a deep red, 5 to 6 hours (reduce oven temperature if the sauce is bubbling too rapidly or the browned bits begin to turn too dark). (The only Dutch Oven we own is the cast iron one I bought this past summer for camp meals.  It weighs a ton and I always say a prayer when I put it on the oven racks in the stove.  I won’t do this sauce in the cast iron again…it left a slight metallic taste that we didn’t like.  I need a real enamel 6 quart Dutch oven, preferably in red or orange please.  Yes, another hint.)

(We left the sauce in for 5 hours and in the last half hour, added the meatballs [they’ll be a separate post].)

Remove from oven. Using tongs, discard onion halves, carrots, and basil stems. Add reserved tomatoes to sauce and stir to combine. Add fish sauce, if using. Season generously with salt and pepper and stir in minced herbs along with additional olive oil as desired. Serve immediately, or allow to cool at room temperature, transfer to airtight containers, and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Sauce can also be frozen in sealed containers for up to 6 months. To reheat, warm very gently in a saucepan with 1/2 cup water, stirring until it all melts and heats through. (I’ve never used fish sauce in anything before.  It smells like poo, but added a little depth to the sauce.  Before we added the meatballs, I also added 1-1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to cut the acid from either the tomatoes or the cast iron.  And a little brown sugar.  Don’t hate me.)

This is the sauce.  It was thick and sticky- all my past sauces were watery and didn’t stick to any pasta or meat.  We discussed what we liked and didn’t like. It was a little too spicy- less red pepper next time, and it was a little metallic- try cooking it in a different pot.  I’m also going to try the better tomatoes.  A little more experiment with an already good sauce and I think I may become the Mother-in-law that serves up the real cooking.

I have to get them to come visit somehow…

Serious Eats for One Month- Getting Back To Basics

My cooking skills lately have been so bad.  I’ve been rushing home from work and throwing together a haphazard dinner with dubious ingredients or just being lazy and not watching that pot boil or letting the stove wreck havoc with whatever I’ve thrown in there.  There was no love in what I served my family- not that they ever complain, I love them for that- and it was getting depressing.

I recently discovered the website Serious Eats and I was impressed with the level of instruction and pictures.  So many of the recipes looked delicious and were well within my cooking level. Since it was around the time that I usually make my meal plan for the month (not that I’ve ever stuck with it to the end) I decided to look through and pin to Pinterest some recipes that I thought the family would like.  One for each day of November.  It’s a short month anyway- we have a few birthdays and Thanksgiving weekend up at the in-laws.

And in keeping with the internet initiative of blogging every day in November, I figured it was not only a good time to come back, but also to critique my back-to-basic cooking adventures.

Tonight I made Double Crusted Chicken Pot Pie.

  • For the crust:
  • 2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 16 tablespoons (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 6 to 7 tablespoons whole milk
  • For the filling:
  • 2 cups homemade or store-bought low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless, chicken thighs, legs, breasts, or a mix
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 medium leeks, white and light green parts, washed, halved vertically and cut into 1/2-inch half moons (about 3 cups)
  • 2 medium stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (1 cup)
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, halved vertically and cut into 1/2-inch half moons (1 1/3 cups)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 teaspoons whole milk, divided
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 large egg yolk

Procedure:

For the Crust: in food processor, place half the flour, sugar and salt and pulse to combine.  Add butter cubes and pulse until mixture resembles wet cornmeal.  Add remaining flour and pulse once or twice to combine. (I have a teeny tiny food processor and none of this worked.  I had to pulse what I could and finish it in a bowl, cutting in the butter with knives.  I need a pastry cutter…hint hint.  And yes, that is TWO sticks of butter.  Delicious but deadly.)

Transfer mixture to large bowl and using rubber spatula, stir in 6 tablespoons milk, pressing mixture against sides of bowl, until mixture comes together into a dough. If too dry, add remaining tablespoon milk. Wrap 1/3 of dough in plastic wrap, pressing into 4-inch disc. Wrap remaining 2/3rds in plastic and pressm into bottom of 10-cup soufflé dish (see note above). Place soufflé dish and dough disk into refrigerator.

For the filling: In large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat chicken broth on medium heat until simmering. Add chicken and simmer until just cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow chicken to cool in broth. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove from broth, shred into bite size pieces, and transfer to medium bowl. Strain broth, reserving 3/4 cup and pouring remaining broth over chicken. Set aside.  (I didn’t cook the chicken this way- I used a roasted chicken I cooked this morning to replenish my chicken stock and I picked it clean of all the meat)

In same unwashed saucepan, heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add leeks, celery, and carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are almost soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add vegetable mixture to chicken. (Go figure- Stop and Shop was OUT of LEEKS.  I used two russet potatoes instead, cooked until slightly tender.)

In same saucepan, heat butter on medium heat until melted. Stir in flour until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, until raw flour aroma is gone and flour is pale golden blond, about 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly add 1 cup milk and 3/4 cup reserved chicken broth, scraping up any bits that have accumulated on the bottom, and cook until mixture is smooth and comes to boil. ( I would double this and make more gravy.  Although tasty, the pot pie was a little dry. And besides, what’s better than freaking gravy?)

Remove from heat and stir in vegetable/chicken mixture, parsley, and thyme. Stir in frozen peas. Season to taste and transfer mixture to large bowl. Cover and chill until just cool, about 1 hour.  (I ran out into the pouring rain to pick some thyme from my lawn garden and chopped it up with the parsley…and totally forgot to put it in with the filling mixture.  Duh.)

Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and place pizza stone on rack. Preheat oven to 400°F for 45 minutes. (I didn’t read this the first time and didn’t wait the whole 45 minutes.  I waited until I was ready to go.)

On lightly floured surface, roll out larger piece of dough to 14-inch circle. Roll up dough with rolling pin and then unroll over souffle dish, allowing dough to fit into bottom and completely up the sides. If very soft, chill dough in dish until dough is firm, about 15 minutes.

Fill crust with cooled chicken filling. Roll out remaining piece of dough to 9-inch circle and place over the top. Press the edges together, trim, and crimp with fork. (Chicken wasn’t cooled, but I didn’t think that mattered.)

In small bowl, whisk yolk and remaining 2 teaspoons milk. Brush over top crust. Poke a few slits into the top of the crust. Place a piece of parchment paper on the pizza stone and place the pot pie on top. (I forgot the egg, too [where is my head?] but I did but a few pretty slits in the top.

Reduce heat to 375°F. Bake until deep golden and filling is hot (at least 140°F), 70 to 80 minutes. Serve. (It only took an hour for the crust to brown and filling to bubble.  I should have started this 3 hours before I wanted to serve it, or do the filling the day before.  I did have a good two cups of filling left over, so I’m planning on making mini pot pies for lunch this week.)

Overall, this was really good, buttery and filling.  I think next time I will eliminate the bottom crust just to cut down on the fats.  I worked hard and poured a lot of love into the pot pie and even though I forgot a few steps, MR declared it delicious.  This ones a keeper.

NaBloPoMo #29- The Yeti is Dead

The joys of having all girls. Hair fights in the mornings, clothes fights in the afternoon, period talk at the dinner table. We’ve experienced it all. Recently we had “the Talk” with Zombiegirl because they were showing a “body” film in school and I wanted her to be prepared. TMI, Mom. That’s what I got when I showed her the “Miracle of Birth” film.

We were on our way to Cheeburger, Cheeburger (review to follow) in Plainview tonight in Dad’s truck. MR was in the front and Beena, Z-girl and I were in the back. The AC was blasting and Z-girl was getting goosebumps. Which caused the hair on her legs to stand straight up! Beena and I were amazed at how much hair she had- she was furry! Okay, she’s got a great tan and blondish hair but alot of it. When she put her legs into the front seat to show MR, he called her a Wookie. I’ve had this discussion with some of the other moms (seems this generation is unnaturally hairy) and we’ve all agreed that it’s to early for them to shave. But Beena suggested using Nair on the little Yeti.

I am thankful that Zombiegirl is growing up with an older sister. When I piss her off, and I know I will, it’s good to know she can go to her sister, who has a good head on her shoulders. She’ll confide more in Beena than with me, and I’m surprisingly okay with that. I don’t have a sibling anymore to share my pains and joys so I’m glad the girls have each other. And getting rid of unwanted hair might be a little cooler if she takes it off with her sister instead of her mom. As long as she runs downstairs with a big grin on her face and rubs her legs against mine to show how smooth they are. As long as she still wants to snuggle on the couch- just a little while longer.

NABloPoMo #28- I Was Blogging, I Swear!

Oh for crying out loud, I can’t wait until August is over and I can forget to blog a day and not feel guilty.

I was blogging last night, really.

Just not here.

My hubby- he who still does not have an ATM card, fought to NOT get EZ Pass and won’t join Facebook- has a blog.

Yes. You read correctly.

You see, he has a love of watches- much like Rachel Zoe loves shoes, or a drug addict loves a speedball- he loves watches. He tries to talk to me about the 75mm o-ring or the 32 jewels in the automatic setting but I just kinda…

Oops. Sorry. Spaced out a little there. See? That’s what happens when he starts watch talking to me. So I suggested awhile back that he start a blog so that he can spout all his expertise to other watch collectors.

So having some blog experience I helped him set up his account and template. He figured out how to upload the pictures himself, bless his heart! His very clever, so if you can get through the watch mumbo-jumbo, he writes a good blog.

From Time to Time. Read it and comment- make him feel good!

NaBloPoMo #27- AuntSoo to the fourth!

I’m going to be an aunt again! MR’s baby sister Paula and her husband Ray are expecting!

This will be their fourth child. All the rest are four and under.

They’re crazy. But they make beautiful babies.

When Raymond, formerly known as Ray-Ray, was little and Paula was expecting Sammy, Beena went upstate to live with them for the summer as an au pair. She got really close to the kids- so close that the family took her to the Bahamas with them so Paula and Ray could go out at night. Unfortunately, we live about an hour and a half away, so I don’t get to see them as much as I want to.

But when we do, we can’t help talking about them all the way home. They are riots. Sammy (aka Samantha) with her crazy beautiful hair, Raymond with his fasination with trucks and guns and Lily asking “why?” all the time. They are precocious, smart and wild. They’re loving and funny and satisfy my need to read to small children. And tickle. I have to tickle these kids because their laughs are cotton candy and gumdrops. I’ve done “baby hat” *to each and every one of those kids- some of them while in the hospital waiting for their baby brother or sister to be born. I wish I lived around the corner so Aunt Soo can spoil them rotten. I’m jealous of Titi who only lives five minutes away. But I love Titi, too. She’s a wonderful aunt,

Paula doesn’t want to know what the next baby is going to be, but I think we’re all wishing for a boy. I know whatever it is, it’ll be as beautiful and loved as the others.

We took this picture to give to Grandma and Grandpa for Christmas last year…

What a family!