Sunday, November 28, 2010

My little butternut has the sweetest smile

Someone once told me that upstate New York has two seasons: winter and July.  They couldn't be more correct.  I went to college up here, but don't remember being so cold all the time. Maybe all that alcohol kept me warm.  (If you're my father, "alcohol" is slang for nutritious dining hall food.)

Needless to say, I've been going soup-crazy trying to stay warm.  The CSA wrapped up recently, leaving several butternut squashes to consume.  I'd been wanting to try butternut squash soup for ages, so I figured it was as good a time as any.

Most of the work went into finding a recipe.  Who knew there were so many variations of butternut squash soup?  Many of them involve cream, cheese, and/or cream cheese.  Yum!  I'm into artery clogging as much as the next gal, but I just wasn't feeling it this time.

Then, I found the Best Butternut Squash Soup Ever.  Seriously, that's its name.  Could it really be the best, even without a hint of dairy?  Well, I don't know because I haven't tried any other butternut squash soups.  But this one was very easy to make and insanely tasty, so I'd say it's at least top five.

The Best Butternut Squash Soup Ever!
Yields 4 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cube chicken bouillon
1 pinch ground cumin
1 pinch ground allspice
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Cook onion, garlic and thyme in butter until onion has softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add squash and chicken stock.
  4. Bring to a simmer and cook until squash is tender, about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Crumble the bouillon into the soup.
  6. Season with cumin, allspice, salt and pepper.
  7. Remove from heat.
  8. Fish out the thyme sprigs. Pluck any remaining leaves from the sprigs. Put the leaves back in the soup and discard the sprigs.
  9. Get your handy immersion blender and go nuts.  I'd never used mine before, and I'm really glad there's no photographic evidence.  I was a woman possessed.

    If you don't have an immersion blender, pour it into a regular blender or food processor and similarly go nuts.

I doubled the recipe because frankly, what am I going to do with half a squash, onion AND bouillon cube?  Oh, I know!  Make more soup!  Genius.

My vegetable peeler works GREAT on carrots.  Squash, not so much.  If your peeler sucks as much as mine, use a knife, like 0:47 in this video:

The soup is thicker than it looks.  Most times, I couldn't even finish the bowl, let alone eat the bread served with it. Very filling!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gluten-free cooking

While planning the menu for my husband's birthday party, I was faced with a challenge.  How can I feed my dear, gluten-free friend Karen without making her sick?  Rather than making one dish just for her, I decided to deglutenize dinner entirely!

First off, major kudos to Hannaford for having a whole gluten-free section.  Thanks for making my life easy.

Entree 1: Lasagna
Easy. I picked up some rice noodles, made one pan of lasagna with meat sauce, and one pan with marinara sauce. Hannaford carries DeBoles noodles; I don't know if they're the Rolls Royce of gluten-free noodles or what, but use enough cheese and sauce and anything will taste fine.

Entree 2: Chicken Parmesan
I had fun with this.  The store sold bags of readymade gluten-free bread crumbs, but they were really expensive for such a small bag.  In a rare flash of brilliance, I bought two loaves of sliced white gluten-free bread and decided to make my own.
  1. Get toasty.  Throw the slices right on the rack at 250 degrees. Bake for 10, then flip and bake for another 10.

    I was glad to do this because I tasted a "raw" slice, and honestly? Yuck. Burn, nasty bread, burn!
  2. Pulverize!  Throw those slices into the food processor and process the shit out of it. 
  3. Spice it up.  Add parsley, oregano, basil, garlic powder, onion powder and salt.  Just eyeball it until it looks like the stuff you buy in a can.

    That nasty bread doesn't taste so nasty now!
  4. Follow your favorite chicken parm recipe.
    Entree 3: Sausage and Peppers
    No gluten to avoid, and stupidly easy to make.

    Of course, I didn't take any pictures of the finished products.  But everyone ate it, everyone LIKED it, and most importantly, it didn't kill Karen. Mission accomplished!

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    Chump, Chive & Kale

    I'm drawn to cheesy recipes like a moth to a flame, or Lindsay Lohan to meth.

    We got a metric ton of kale, and a CSA-suggested recipe was Raw Kale Salad with Gouda, Pear, and Walnuts. Gouda is one of my most favorite cheeses, so hell yeah I made it.

    I need to take food photography lessons from Look at this photo. Wooden bowl! Carefully placed matching utensils! Slightly rumpled tablecloth! And are those flowers in the salad? I expect nothing less from Martha Stewart.

    Now here's mine:

    Maybe I should buy a tablecloth.

    Something I need to work on: Portion control. I'm super paranoid that our vegetables are going to go bad before I use them, and one day I will open the fridge to a bevy of mold, slime, and bugs. Shut up, bugs can get in the fridge. I made two BIG bowls of this salad (see?) the day before my husband left on a 5-day business trip.

    I tried so hard to eat it all, I really did.  It was so tasty, but just too much.  After a few days, the sliced pears turned brown and the cheese got slimy.  Next time, I will prepare the salad in smaller portions as I go. Kale's pretty hardy; it was fine at the end of the week despite the grody toppings.

    The recipe's linked above, but for the lazy:

    Raw Kale Salad with Gouda, Pear, and Walnuts

    1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
    1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    Coarse salt and ground pepper
    1 bunch of kale (about 1 1/4 lbs (I had a LOT more)), tough stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces
    2 1/2 oz goat's milk gouda, cut in 1/2 by 1/4 inch pieces (How snobby! Regular cow's milk gouda is fine, and cube that sucker all you want (AND ADD MORE CHEESE).)
    6 chives cut into inch-long pieces
    1 Anjou pear, halved, cored, and very thinly sliced crosswise
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place walnuts on rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden brown, tossing once during baking, 8-10 minutes.
    2. In a medium bowl (or two, if you're me!), whisk together vinegar and oil; season with salt and pepper.  
    3. Add kale, cheese, chives, walnuts and pears.
    4. Toss to combine.
    5. EAT.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Doing the carrot conga

    Carrots galore!  We got a big bag of 'em this week, and we haven't started on our big bag from last week! 

    Fair readers, I beseech you! What are your favorite carrot recipes?

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Chilled Cucumber-Mint Soup and Greek Salad: 99 problems and a cuke ain't one

    Remember all those cucumbers we got in my last entry? Multiply that by 4 or 5 and that's our fridge the last few weeks. My husband actually ate a cucumber for dinner one night while I was out.

    Having a surplus of one vegetable (or fruit, if you're one of THOSE people) forces you to get creative. Thankfully, Justine at our CSA does that for me. She e-mails us yummy recipes each week.

    My first cucumber experiment was Chilled Cucumber-Mint Soup (scroll down about halfway to get the recipe). It was also my first go-round with our big food processor. Woo!

    Chilled Cucumber-Mint Soup with Yogurt or Sour Cream
    Serves 4-6

    4 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 4 cups)
    1 to 2 cups water
    2 cups plain yogurt (You can use 1 cup plain yogurt and 1 cup of sour cream instead. I used 2 cups of nonfat Greek yogurt!)
    1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
    fresh mint, several leaves (Don't go too crazy, a little goes a long way.)
    2 tbsp fresh dill OR 1 tsp dried dill
    1 tbsp honey
    1 to 2 tbsp salt
    2 scallions, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
    1. Combine the chopped cucumber, 1 cup water, yogurt, garlic, mint, dill, honey, and 1 tbsp salt in a blender or food processor.
      Ingredients for Chilled Cucumber-Mint Soup in food processor
    2. Puree the ingredients, adding more water until the soup is a consistency you like. Season with more salt to taste.
      (Side note: Cucumbers are really watery. You can probably do without the extra water, unless you like soupy soup. Whatever floats your boat!)
    3. Transfer soup to large bowl and chill for several hours. Garnish with chopped scallions.
    I didn't chill it for long because I was hungry! It hung out in the fridge while I made the Greek salad, which took about 10 minutes. It was flavorful and refreshing. I only used 4 mint leaves, which were enough to get a taste, but not overpower. Husband could taste the dill (which he's not a big fan of), but the combination of everything else made him not mind as much. Small victories!

    However, it definitely tasted better the next day after being chilled. Recipes are meant to be followed sometimes, I guess :P

    The soup took care of half of our cucumbers, so I threw together a Greek salad to use the rest. Super easy.

    Good for You Greek Salad
    Serves 6

    3 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
    2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
    1 small red onion, chopped
    1/4 cup olive oil
    4 teaspoons lemon juice
    1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (Surprised it didn't ask for fresh, but I didn't have fresh anyway.)
    salt and pepper to taste (Unnecessary! The feta is salty enough.)
    1 cup crumbled feta cheese (Get the nonfat kind if you can!)
    6 black Greek olives, pitted and sliced (6?! Screw that. Throw in as many as you want! I got half a pound from the supermarket's olive bar.)
    1. In shallow salad bowl, or on serving platter, combine tomatoes, cucumber, and onion.
    2. Sprinkle with oil, lemon juice, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. (I'm serious, you really don't need salt.)
    3. Sprinkle feta cheese and olives over salad.
    4. Serve!
    Greek salad, pre-feta cheese
    No feta yet.

    Unlike the soup, the salad tastes better if eaten right away. The leftovers were ok, but the tomatoes were mushy. I never cared for cold tomatoes though, so it could just be a preference thing. Throw some more olives and feta in and you won't notice :)

    And with that, cucumber dinner is served!

    Chilled Cucumber-Mint Soup and Greek salad
    Of course I used the one chipped plate for this picture.

    This was the fastest I'd ever turned out a meal. Granted they weren't the most difficult of recipes, but I'm admittedly slow when it comes to preparing. I need to learn to not care as much about how big my chopped pieces and other little details are.

    Wednesday, June 30, 2010

    CSA share, aka "Is that a cucumber in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"

    Whoa, nelly! Check out our CSA share this week:

    june 30, 2010 share

    From top left, clockwise:
    • lettuce
    • broccoli
    • peas (snow or sugar snap, not sure yet)
    • spinach
    • basil
    • cucumbers
    • yellow summer squash
    • zucchini
    • turnips (in middle)
    The cherries are sweet and firm, the best kind.  Nothing worse than tart or mushy cherries.  I forsee a pie in our future, assuming we don't eat them all first.

    And holy cucumbers, Batman!  We got seven, varying in size from "standard Kosher dill" to "five dollar footlong."  The girth on this bad boy would make Jenna Jameson blush. Maybe.

    fat cucumber

    Our CSA does an awesome job of providing recipes to go with each share, so I'm eager to try the Chilled Cucumber-Mint Soup. I may also make a salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella. Why not, right? I will also do all of this tomorrow, since I'll be out of town Friday-Monday. Wish me luck!

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Relucant Domestic: 1, Broccoli Raab: 0 (cheese & bacon: infinity)

    We joined a local CSA, which started up a few weeks ago. So far, we've gotten some yummy vegetables! It's a lot of food for just the two of us, but we make it work. We usually eat salads for dinner, so thanks to our shares, we haven't had to buy leafy greens or other salad veggies.

    We work the other vegetables into our weekly lunch routine, which goes like this:
    1. Cook a boat load of meat (usually chicken breasts).
    2. Cook whatever veggies are on hand (blanch and freeze what we're not going to use).
    3. Season appropriately.
    4. Bring lunch-sized portions for lunch during the week.

    Since we're not going out for lunch, we're saving a lot of money! Unfortunately, it can get boring after a while.

    This week, we switched it up. We got broccoli raab and Swiss chard in our share, and I'm honestly not a big fan of either. What to do? The only recipe on that uses both is Pasta with Greens and Sir Laurier. Pasta, pancetta and cheese? Yes, please!

    When you decide to cook something at 9PM on a Friday, your grocery options are limited. The local supermarket had neither pancetta nor the mysterious Sir Laurier d’Arthabaska (which, by the way, WHAT?). I was so hopeful about the cheese, being only 4 hours from Quebec. Anyway, we improvised. We got bacon, and after consulting the internets, Crème de Brie.

    We doubled the recipe, and threw in some fennel (also from the CSA). It came out great! It's not swimming in cheese, but it's enough to mask the broccoli raab's bitterness. The bacon helps, too :) So not the healthiest recipe, definitely too much to eat every day for a week, but a well-deserved splurge! Sorry no pics, I'll try to do better next time.

    The CSA fruit share starts up next week, and I can't wait! I have a hard time eating fruit from the supermarket, and we've been out of town so much we've been missing the farmers markets. If the strawberries we got our first week were any indication, I think I'm in for a fruitful (har har) summer.

    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    Repurposing an old liquor bottle, AKA the girl is crafty like ice is cold!

    Whenever I visit my Dad, he gives me something he randomly found in the basement and doesn't want. Most recently, it was an unopened bottle of Galliano. He had no idea where it came from, probably a Christmas gift from someone at work. He also had no idea WHEN he got it, so who knows how long it was sitting in the basement before he unearthed it.

    Not one to pass up free booze, I took it home. Husband and I went straight to the internets. I don't know about you, but I'm not drinking anything remotely resembling urine before doing my research. Wikipedia says its 30 ingredients include "star anise, Mediterranean anise, ginger, and citrus and vanilla." Anise means Sambuca, which means black liquorice, which means... barf. I tried it anyway, and just wasn't a fan. My Sambuca-freak husband didn't like it either, so I didn't feel too bad about dumping it.

    I liked the bottle too much to throw it away, so I decided to make it into a decoration.

    empty galliano bottle

    Yellow glass beads. Some of them were too wide to fit through the bottle opening, so I have a bunch leftover. No idea what to do with them. Any ideas?
    yellow glass beads

    Throw in a couple of fake gerbera daisies (I think).
    the finished producttop shot

    I think it's cute! The beads are not quite as bright as the liquor, but that's ok. It's on the dining room table now, but I might move it outside when it gets warmer. It's pretty sturdy, so I don't think it'll blow over too easily.

    Thursday, April 22, 2010

    6,000 chicken fajitas, please.

    Don't lie, you know you always pronounce it "fah-jye-tuhs" like Peter Griffin.

    Gentle reader and friend Erica answered my plea for easy recipes and came through with chicken fajitas. They were definitely easy, and very tasty!

    Erica's Mom's Chicken Fajitas
    • 1 lb chicken, cut into thin strips
    • 1 cup mild garden salsa
    • 1 1/2 cup peppers, sliced
    • 1/2 cup sliced scallions or onions
    • 2 tbsp oil of choice (I used canola, it's what we had in the pantry.)
    • 8 8" tortillas, warmed
    • toppings! (guacamole, sour cream, shredded cheese, etc.)
    1. Cut chicken into thin strips.
      Raw chicken is GROSS. I didn't cut it as thin as I probably should have because I wanted the experience to be over with.
      sliced chicken, pre-marinate

    2. Marinate the chicken in the salsa for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
      Crap, should've read that part before I decided I was starving.

    3. Slice peppers and onions.

      Pepper fetus!
      pepper fetus!

      sliced peppers

    4. Cook peppers and onions in skillet over medium high heat in oil for ~5 minutes.
      peppers and onions

      Husband chopped up a few cloves of garlic and threw them in after I took this. We are garlic freaks.

    5. Remove peppers and onions (and garlic) with a slotted spoon.

    6. Dump chicken into skillet.

    7. Cook, stirring constantly until meat is cooked.
      See above about being starving and not cutting the chicken into thin enough strips. I was getting cranky around this point.
      cooking the marinated chicken

    8. Add peppers and onions (and garlic) back to skillet, heat through.
      added the peppers and onions back to the skillet

    9. Serve in tortillas with your toppings!

      In case you don't know how to fold a tortilla.
      how to fold a tortilla

      I've made guacamole before, but didn't feel like it this time. Guacamole in a pouch just seems... wrong.
      guac in a pouch
    The best part... leftovers! This is only half. I actually tripled the recipe so we could eat them for lunch all week.
    Big thanks to Erica! I'm feeling much more confident in my cooking abilities now.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010

    A cry for culinary help, and adventures in cleaning (with product reviews!)

    Well, I haven't written here much, have I? Honestly, I feel I've been a big fat domestic failure lately.

    I haven't tried to cook anything since the corned beef. I want to, but where do I start? We have so many cookbooks, and there are so many recipes online, I feel overwhelmed before I even begin! If you have a fantastic (and EASY!) recipe for a novice like me, please post it in the comments!

    To give myself some credit, I have been cleaning a lot. Our residence has never been cleaner in the 8 or so years since Husband and I started shacking up. Former apathy has been replaced with annoyance every day when I find his coffee drip stains on the counter.

    Other highlights:
    • Clorox's Green Works natural bathroom cleaner is fantastic! I use it on everything in the bathroom! It also cleans the mirrors without leaving streaks. I'm so stoked to not have to buy a separate glass cleaner. Another plus, it smells way better than other cleaners.

    • Swiffer WetJet is on my shit list. It doesn't pick anything up, just pushes it around. Maybe I'm doing it wrong?

    • I cleaned the microwave today, but only because my lunch went boom. Chicken was everywhere. I've nuked chicken before and this has never happened, so... I got nothing. It looked like the Bodies exhibit exploded in there. The horror...

    Saturday, April 3, 2010

    Adorable pet tags on Etsy!

    I like to support local and/or small businesses whenever possible. When we moved, I had to get new tags for our cats. Rather than get the usual mass-produced engraved plastic discs, I wanted to try something new.

    Say hello to my little friend, Etsy! I found some adorable hand-stamped metal tags by seller PoochyCouture. The seller was super-fast, and my babies were sporting their new tags in no time.

    Lenny. Phone number is at the bottom and blurred out (sorry, stalkers).
    It’s hard to see, but there’s a little skull and crossbones in the middle.

    Chloe. Phone number’s on the back.

    St. Patrick's Day: Corned beef & veggie-o-rama

    St. Patrick’s Day may mean green beer for some, but I’m all about the corned beef! I would eat it all year-round, and sometimes I do :P My dear husband has always prepared it for us, but I wanted to give it a try. I’ve been told it’s nearly impossible to screw up, so why not?

    We wanted leftovers for the rest of the week, so I had to buy a cut big enough to last a few days. I settled on a 4-pounder. I also bought little red and gold potatoes, carrots and cabbage.

    Supermarket shenanigans were still in full effect. I was able to find everything I needed this time, but the checkout area was completely different. A red velvet rope separated the customers from the registers, guarded by an employee who *ushered* me to a cashier’s lane. What? Thankfully, the weirdness got canceled out by the fact that everyone who works there was so gosh darn nice. I just moved here from Long Island, I'm not used to friendly people!

    How to prepared corned beef and vegetables
    (according to package)

    1. Trim fat from corned beef.
      You’re kidding, right? Corned beef by nature is half fat. I hacked off the obvious hunks until I had a baseball-sized pile of fat. That grossed me out enough to stop.

    2. Place corned beef in large pot and cover with water. Add spice packet and bring to a boil.
      Ever wonder what’s in those spice packets? Check out the ingredients if you’re curious.

    3. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 2 hours.

    4. Add carrots and potatoes, cook for 10 minutes.

    5. Add cabbage, cook for 20 minutes.

    6. Drain, cut and serve!

      Those are my husband’s hands, by the way. Just in case you thought I had man hands.

    The meat was delicious! It practically melted in my mouth. The carrots and potatoes were the perfect consistency. Cooked, but not soggy. The cabbage could have cooked longer; some pieces were almost raw. Next time, I’ll buy less vegetables. I still have half a bag each of the potatoes, and one head of cabbage was just way too much.

    I bought these two humongous whoopie pies for dessert. Fun fact: Whoopie pies are also known as BFOs, or Big Fat Oreos. I of course automatically assumed the F stood for something else. Whoopie pies are basically two soft chocolate cookies with a creamy filling. This particular filling was cake frosting, and it was waaaaay too sweet for me.

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    Lowfat Spinach Dip: Strong til the finish, 'cause I eats me spinach.

    "One man's poison ivy is another man's spinach." -George Ade

    My in-laws came to visit a few weeks ago. Since I don’t work Fridays, I was charged with the grocery shopping. It took FOREVER. The local supermarket has been remodeling since we moved here, so every time we go, everything’s in a different place. I got so frustrated, I just started throwing things in my cart until I had enough food to feed the Duggars on Thanksgiving.

    I had some time to kill before The Husband got home from work and his parents arrived, so I got started on the spinach dip.

    Light Spinach Dip

    Makes 3 cups
    • 12 oz lowfat cottage cheese
    • 10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
    • 1/2 cup lowfat or nonfat sour cream
    • 1/4 cup dry vegetable soup mix (Works out to 1/2 a packet, I used the whole thing because… what else do you do with 1/2 a packet of soup mix?)
    • 2 tsp grated fresh onion (Unless you have need for the rest of the onion, feel free to substitute with dried.)
    • 1 tsp lemon juice
    • 12 oz water chestnuts, drained and chopped
    1. Process cottage cheese in food processor or blender until smooth. Place in bowl and set aside.

      I’m not embarrassed to admit it took me 10 minutes to figure out I had to lock the bowl of the food processor bowl before it would work.

      Don’t you hate when you need X amount of something but it only comes in Y size? What do you do with 2 extra ounces of cottage cheese? You eat it. Or at least try to. While my tastes have matured and I now like foods I hated as a kid (asparagus! beets! sweet potatoes!), cottage cheese? Still nasty. Its vomit-like consistency makes me gag. Blech.

    2. Press spinach between paper towels until barely moist.

      I wasn’t sure if I dried it enough, but it didn’t impact the consistency of the dip much.

    3. Add spinach and remaining to cheese mixture; stir well.

    4. Cover and refrigerate three hours.

    The recipe says to serve with store brand Triscuits (guess where I got the recipe?), but I prefer lightly salted pita chips.

    Guess how much we ate during their visit? NONE. But I ate it after they left. It was fantastic and not at all reminiscent of vomit. I’m glad I used the whole packet of vegetable dip because otherwise I think it would’ve been bland.