Roasted Butternut Squash and Farro Salad with Apples and Blue Cheese

Here is a confession that will come as a surprise to nobody: I am a rule follower. Up until very recently, I earnestly followed recipes, measuring each spice and seasoning, setting timers, and not allowing myself to riff too much on what was written.

Bag of Apples

Not that much has changed. I’m still a rule follower… in so many ways. But somewhere in the time lapse of so many meals cooked and enough cookbooks consulted, I have internalized a larger set of rules that are helping me break away from the written recipe scripture.

Now I know I did not discover this equation  — clearly this is a natural law with which people have been engineering for some time. Still, it felt like a revelation when I finally was able to spell it out myself:

grains + leaves + protein + seeds/nuts + vinaigrette = YUM.

The equation gets even yummier if you toss is something roasted, some fruit, and/or something cheesy. This is what I did. I put the “recipe” below, but really, you can do this without it. But all you rebels out there already knew that.

squash and onions pre-roasting squash and onions post-roasting

Roasted Butternut Squash and Farro Salad with Apples and Blue Cheese

Created by Megan Knottingham. Yes, she googled it afterward and was not the first to dream up some of these things in combination…nonetheless, this is her version.

  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 of a large red onion, or 1 whole small red onion, cut into large wedges (these will melt down dramatically, so you want to cut them big)
  • 1 cup of farro
  • baby spinach
  • one large apple, cubed
  • toasted pepitas or sunflower seeds
  • blue cheese, crumbled
  • balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°. Toss butternut squash cubes and red onion wedges with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, two big pinches of kosher salt, and some pepper on a large rimmed baking tray. Roast until the squash gets some crispy brown edges and the onions are melted and caramelized, about 60 -75 minutes. Stirring about every 20 minutes to ensure even browning. Let cool slightly or until room temperature. You can also roast your veggies ahead of time — the first time I made this, I roasted the squash the day before, and heated it up slightly in the microwave before combining it with the other ingredients.

roasted butternut squash and farro salad   roasted butternut squash and farro salad - leftovers

Meanwhile, prepare the farro. Rinse the dry farro. Add it to a medium pot with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, until al dente. Drain, then put into your serving bowl.

Whisk approximately 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon mustard, 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt together. Whisk in olive oil until it tastes to your liking (I filled my container up to the 2/3 cup mark).

Toss the roasted vegetables with the farro and apples. Add big handfuls of spinach and the vinaigrette. Top with pepitas and blue cheese if you feel like it. Pour a glass of something delicious. Dig in!

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This post brought to you by the letter “M”

Cherry Mess

As in Meringue!  I’ve always loved macroons and Megan’s, John Hansen, makes a great, chewy macaroon dipped in dark chocolate. Yum! but my meringue obsession has been broadened this summer by a few new recipes.  The first is a delightful concoction called  Cherry Mess that I found on David Lebovitz’s blog.  If you are not a follower of his blog, you really should be– delicious recipes, funny stories–a great read!  Anyway, I made the cherry mess(es) for a family dinner in July and they were delicious.  They consist of a cherry/red wine almond mixture, crisp almond meringues (or not, if you forget to put in the almond like I did the first time I made them), candied sliced almonds and whipped cream with just a hint of almond (or not, if you forget to put it in the second time you made them, notice a theme here?)  The only thing that could have possibly made them better (besides making them correctly each time) would have been if I could have purchased the adorable wine glasses that Crate and Barrel had on their website–that strangely,or not, in my experience, were not for sale anywhere.  But my mom came to the rescue with her boopie glasses, which looked pretty cute, too.  And my brother said they were indeed cherry messes as he ended up wearing a bit down his shirt.

Next new love?  the macaron–which is not macaroon spelled incorrectly, like I thought the first time I saw the word a few years ago.  I’ve tasted some upscale grocery store macarons and have been less than impressed. A few weekends ago I was looking for a couple-of-hours creative project and something to take to dinner at my parents when I remembered a saved Dining section of the New York Times that had a macaron recipe and the not yet used silicon macaron template sheet that Megan  brought me from France.  Perfect!

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The dough is stupidly simple to make–almond flour, egg whites and sugar.  You don’t even need a mixer.  The panic set in when I read those words I dread, “using a pastry bag fitted with a smooth tip” The pastry bag is where most projects involving a pastry bag seem to go to H-E double hockey sticks for me.  Almost as bad as the other four culinary terms that terrify me, “hard crack” and “soft ball”.  But, I kept a positive attitude (or something close) and figured the dough was so simple, if it all went south, no big deal.  It actually went pretty well and the little silicone template sheet worked fantastic, and they actually baked like the recipe said they would.  I was on a roll.

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Now to fill them.  Quick google search (the time to leave for dinner was getting closer) for a macaron filling and the first hit was, of course, a Martha Stewart recipe.  Don’t get me wrong, I have followed Martha Stewart since Entertaining was published (and I have a signed copy that was my dear friend, Sally’s) but I have learned sometimes her recipes don’t quite turn out right.  It only required sugar, egg whites and butter which I had all of and it was pretty simple to assemble. It seemed to turn out a little on the thin side to me and when put in the pastry bag (yes, another), it pretty much ran out.  I refrigerated them for one hour and they set up fine so maybe that’s how it was supposed to turn out, but if that’s the case, tell me in the notes or directions!

When all was said and done, they were delicious little morsels.  Great almond flavor with a rich filling and not a crumb was left after dinner.  Next, I might try a floating island with a delicious creme anglaise sauce…

Go have some fun in the kitchen!

1552Nancy Macarons

Adapted from “Cuisiniere Lorraine” by Elisabeth Denis

Time: About 30 minutes

Yield: Approximately 40 2-inch cookies

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/4 cup almond four or meal

2 egg whites (large eggs)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (or silicone template sheet)

In a medium bowl, make a paste using 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons water.

Add almond meal and unwhisked egg whites and mix. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and mix until thoroughly combined.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a smooth tip; pipe out circles about the size of quarters, spacing each disk at least an inch apart. Rap the pans on the counter a few times to even out batter and eliminate air bubbles.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until edges are golden but centers are still light and slightly soft.  Let cookies cool on baking sheets for a few minutes to set.

Green is delicious: Pozole with Pepita-Tomatillo Mole

These past two months have gone by without posting, but not without cooking. Luckily for me though, a lot of it has been done by John! Since he finished the semester back in the middle of May, he has been making a number of tasty creations, including these chickpea sandwiches, green smoothies with almond milk, and a number of pizzas.

There has also been a number of new favorites from some of my favorite cookbooks, including David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook. I highly recommend all of them! I’ve had a lot of fun exploring recipes from these books.

Ingredients for the Mole

My favorite recent meal was the Pozole with Green Mole from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (the cooking bible from Deborah Madison). Actually, this is one of my favorite dishes of all time. This is not the first time I’ve made or consumed this dish (Stephanie was the first to make this one), but this time around, I was struck by how quick and easy it actually is, especially when using canned hominy. Is making pozole from scratch, versus using canned hominy, worth it? Yes. But you shouldn’t not make this because you don’t feel like making the dried stuff from scratch. Just use the canned stuff. It is still incredible. When you’re feeling extra ambitious, go ahead and make the pozole from scratch.

And even though there are a number of dirty dishes, this recipe is so fun to make. The green on green on green ingredients are so pretty, the tomatillos are wicked cute, and you’ll feel like you’re making a magic potion when you add romaine leaves to the sauce and then fry it. But it will seem the most magical when you finally taste the finished product.

Pozole with Pumpkin Seed-Tomatillo Mole and Garnishes

Pozole with Tomatillo-Pumpkin Seed Mole
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison

Ingredients:

  • 2 29-oz cans of hominy
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • ¾ cup of roasted pepitas/hulled pumpkin seeds
  • 1 pound tomatillos, husks removed
  • 10 romaine leaves, cut into strips
  • 2 jalapeños, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • kosher salt
  • garnishes: lime wedges, diced avocado, Mexican oregano, Cholula, corn tortillas (homemade are really good here), quesadilla wedges, a bottle of beer…

Preparation:

Prepare the hominy:

Drain the hominy. Add it to a pot with 5 cups of water, along with the minced onion and garlic, and salt to taste (I’d start with ½ teaspoon of kosher salt). Simmer for approximately 20 minutes (while you are preparing the mole). Add water in ½ cup increments if the pot gets a little dry.

Prepare the mole:

If you are using pepitas/pumpkin seeds that are already roasted, you can go right to pulverizing them in the food processor. If they aren’t toasted yet, toast them in a skillet on the stove top first before grinding. Set aside.

Cook the tomatillos in boiling water for 10-12 minutes, until they are dull colored and soft. Drain. When cooled slightly, add to the blender along with the romaine leaves, jalapeños, cilantro, and a cup of water. Press your favorite blender settings to juice it up. You now how a blender full of delicious green.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Add the mole, and stir frequently. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the ground pepitas, and fry for about 12 minutes, until thickened. Then, strain it through a fine mesh sieve. Discard the solids. Taste for salt (the mole might taste quite bitter and spicy at this point – don’t worry. It will be magical when paired with the slightly sweet hominy).

Put it all together:

Taste the simmering hominy for salt. Depending on if you used salted pepitas earlier, your mole may have some salt in it, but probably not enough if the hominy tastes flat. Add the mole to the hominy and stir it all up.

Serve with your favorite garnishes. I like Mexican oregano, avocado, lime, and cilantro — it carries the green theme through, and they just taste right. Some people add sour cream, but I think that actually muddies up the flavor, so I don’t add that anymore. Homemade corn tortillas or corn quesadillas on the side are marvelous. Beer is a great beverage to consume here.

The No Garden Summer Garden Pasta

Droopy Doodle is wondering what the heck happened.

Droopy Doodle is wondering what happened to her garden.

I have yet another confession to make, no, nothing from this post was pulled out of the trash, it’s even worse,  I am filling in my garden with, *gasp*, grass.  Sorry,  I know it goes against all the current trends and Sunset magazine will probably revoke my subscription if they find out  but I have too much yard to take care of by myself  and I am not married to a man who likes yardwork.  I enjoyed the vegetable gardening thing for awhile,  I grew radishes and green onions and kale with pretty good success and I grew great crops of cherry tomatoes.  But other than that, I spent a lot of time weeding, watering, picking worms out of cabbages and trying to outsmart the chickens.  Their entire life’s mission is to get into the garden so they can pull out every seedling and eat every flower.  So this weekend, all the herbs were moved or repotted,  four yards of soil was spread and grass seed  and peat moss were sprinkled.  Ironically, until this weekend I have not missed anything about not planting a garden until I decided to make the Barefoot Contessa’s Summer Garden Pasta for  family dinner on Sunday.

$5 a pint!

$5 a pint–which is probably a bargain.

I first made this recipe a few summers ago when I had buckets of cherry tomatoes all ripening at the same time as it takes a whopping four pints.  Yesterday  at the local farm stand when faced with forking over $5 a pint for organic tomatoes, I  decided three pints would do just fine.  If you are an order Muppet like me, you can start this dish in the morning by preparing  the tomato marinade and then head out for a bike ride or some yard work and still throw together an awesome dinner. The tomatoes are marinated  with the olive oil, basil, garlic and red pepper flakes for about 4 hours which makes your entire house smell delicious and makes those you live with think you are a culinary genius.  You finish it off by cooking a pound of angel hair pasta  and then mix it  together with the marinade and copious amounts of freshly grated parmesan.  Couldn’t be easier!  Serve it with a nice loaf of bread and maybe another wedge salad and, of course, something fabulous for dessert.  Oh, and don’t forget a chilled bottle of white!

Tomatoes, garlic, basil and red pepper

Tomatoes, garlic, basil and red pepper

Barefoot Contessa’s  Summer Garden Pasta by Ina Garten

From Barefoot Contessa At Home

serves 6 (generously)

4 pints cherry tomatoes, halved

good olive oil

2 tablespoon minced garlic (not the jar kind, mince it yourself)

18 large basil leaves, julienned, plus extra for serving

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound angel hair pasta

1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving (again, grate your own)

Combine the cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup olive oil, garlic, basil leaves, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, and the pepper in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature for about 4 hours.

Just before you’re ready to serve, bring a large pot of water with a splash of olive oil and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil and add the pasta. Cook al dente according to the directions on the package (should be 2-3 minutes). Drain the pasta well and add to the bowl with the cherry tomatoes. Add the cheese and some extra fresh basil leaves and toss well.  Serve in big bowls with extra cheese on each serving.

The smell from this is fantastic

The smell from this is fantastic!

So, when you visit, we’ll sit on my backporch and admire my lovely green grass and I’ll make you this yummy dish! Oh, and there’s still plenty of flower beds to weed–don’t worry, I have extra gloves!

Cheers!

Iceberg dead ahead!

There’s an old Kenny Rogers song that has lyrics that go something like “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run”–keep that in mind.

First let me say, it’s hot here today and I am only a fan of hot in Hawaii or Palm Desert, not when I have lots to do around the house/yard. I spent the day washing the windows and screens inside and out as well as doing multiple loads of laundry, some vacuuming and bathing Buster–so I’ve had a full day and I am a little tired.

Jack decided to try an Eric Ripert steak recipe from this month’s Bon Appetit for dinner, which is fantastic because A). He’s doing it and B). I could have a crush on Eric Ripert–he’s adorable, especially in print and from the waist up. I saw him walk once on a cooking show and that was less than impressive but anyway…

What to have with the ER steak? Too hot for potatoes or rice and no time to make the israeli couscous Eric served with his steak, but we have asparagus which is perfect and then I thought a cool, crisp iceberg wedge would be delicious. Problem is, it’s a little like Old Mother Hubbard’s here. Please do not judge me when you read the rest.

I used the Smitten Kitchen recipe, which is a great recipe. My buttermilk had a pull date of 5/26 but it looked and smelled fine and it’s buttermilk–it’s already sour. I had a partial head of iceberg which I almost fed to the chicken this morning but after closer inspection thought it might come in handy. I actually had a stalk of celery freshly purchased yesterday and the radishes, well, I might have dug a few out of the trash (I had just cleaned the veg bin). I did have bacon in the freezer and chives from the garden. Ok, just know I would never do this if you were coming to dinner, but it’s just me and Jack, and he will never read this.

It was all going well (?) until I opened the container of blue cheese–terrible smell, terrible color, could not do it– mind you, a few minutes earlier I pulled radishes out of the trash! So now, the dilemma, get in the hot car and drive to Safeway (Costco is closed) and pay way too much for mediocre blue cheese or bag it and have an iceberg wedge with buttermilk dressing? You guessed it, buttermilk dressing…know when to walk away, know when to run. It’s too hot to go to the store–the salad will still be yummy, especially with the Eric Ripert steak!

Smitten Kitchen Iceberg Wedge Salad

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Bon Appetit!?

Weeds and Margaritas!

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Magartia at the Mission Inn in Riverside, CA

I haven’t been cooking much lately…I’ve been working out in the yard.  And nothing tastes better after a day of yard work than a perfect Margarita.  A cold beer is a close second but I’m not making beer yet, so I’ll stick with the Margarita.  Now, I’m not talking you mowed your lawn or dead headed your pots kind of yard work, rather your hind-end up in the air for hours, hands hurt, and you see weeds when you close your eyes kind of yard work–that deserves a reward and that reward is the perfect Margarita.

My quest began after Megan and I had a delicious Margarita at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California.  We were on our way from Palm Desert to Los Angeles and had heard they had the “best” margaritas.  We decided to stretch our legs and wet our whistles and we were not disappointed.  Their Margarita was excellent as were their guacamole and quesadillas.

I’ve been trying to replicate the recipe at home ever since, as I have not found any at restaurants that I feel are worthy of the caloric intake. The Costco mix is fine in a pinch when you are in Maui and don’t have room to pack your Vitamix in your luggage but I would never drink it at home.   I tried a few internet recipes and was disappointed or they had really expensive ingredients like Cointreau in them.  I came across the Perfect Margarita recipe in one of my Barefoot Contessa books and gave it a try…PERFECT.  So good and so easy.

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Ingredients for the Perfect Margarita

Perfect Margaritas

Barefoot Contessa

Serves 6

1 cup Tequila (the Costco brand works fine for these)

1 cup Triple Sec

1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

2 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

3 cups ice

Put it all in the blender and mix until blended (any good quality blender will do if you do not have a Vitamix)

I “salt” the rims of the glass with:

2T sugar

2T kosher salt

Zest of one lime

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Cheers!

Absolutely fantastic and it will almost make you forget how much your backside aches.  Give it a try–but only if you’ve worked hard enough!

The Modern Martini (cilantro-lime gin cocktail)

In the name of science and the public good, I’ve infused another bottle of spirits. I know some might be nervous about potentially wasting a perfectly good bottle of booze by stuffing it full of a bunch of nonsense. And as of the date this is published, there are no comments nor reviews on the recipe at bonappetit.com. Someone had to step up to see if it was any good.

the modern martini (gin + cilantro + lime)

cilantro + lime gin

making the modern martini

This is very good. Yes, I am big fan of cilantro, but I am not a big fan of gin. I’ve had a number of several gin and tonics at Stephanie and Jack’s (first with Bombay Sapphire, later with Gordon’s, which I preferred), always with high expectations, but I’ve always been slightly put off by the flavor. When I first sampled this concoction after one day of infusing, I was disappointed because that distinct gin flavor was still there. It also tasted strongly of cilantro. However, when I tried it again the next day, something magical had happened. It tasted herbaceous and smooth. The flavors had melded. And while it tasted a bit green, if I hadn’t known that it was infused with cilantro, I don’t think I could have put my finger on it.

This really couldn’t be easier to make. If a fresh-tasting, simple (and strong) cocktail is what you’re after, you should definitely make this. I also appreciate that all of the effort happens upfront with this cocktail. When you are ready to drink it, you just need to shake it up with some ice and garnish it with a twist.

The Modern Martini

from bon appétit, June 2013

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 750-ml bottle London dry gin
  • 3 cups fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 8 lime twists or rounds (to garnish the finished cocktail)

To make the gin, combine sugar and 2 tablespoons hot water in a large jar, cover, and shake until sugar is dissolved. Add gin, cilantro, and lime juice (save gin bottle for finished product). Cover and chill 2 days. Strain into a medium bowl; discard cilantro. Pour cilantro-lime gin back into reserved bottle.

For each cocktail, pour 3 ounces cilantro-lime gin into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Cover; shake until cocktail shaker is frosty, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled Martini glass and garnish with lime twists.

Cilantro-Lime Gin can be made 1 month ahead. Keep chilled.

Cheers!

Megan

P.S. We enjoyed these cocktails with the delightful company of Martha, who was in town at the time. Her visit was the perfect opportunity to finally make a rhubarb recipe I’ve been itching to make for a while now: rustic corn tarts with rhubarb compote! It is now listed under the appropriate category with notes in Rhubarb Roundup Part 1, but I’ll just stick the pics here:

rustic rhubarb tarts

 rustic rhubarb tart with ice cream