12 December 2014

Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Pecans

I know the title is a mouthful, but there are so many flavors going on in this dish, I still couldn't name them all.  Roasted mushrooms, pecans and cranberries complement this caramelized butternut squash, and the whole thing is topped off with soft goat cheese.  Or at least, it should be.  Due to unforeseen events, I am unable to provide photos with the goat cheese version...sigh. 
Oh, and did I mention that the squash is tossed with a killer combo of extra virgin olive oil, maple syrup, and hot chili sauce?  You don't want to miss this.
Start with a squash.  Cut it in half, scoop out the soft, stringy part.  Save some seeds if you want!  You can grow your own next year.
Peel and cube the squash.  I used a vegetable peeler, it worked okay.
This bowl was perfect for coating the squash in extra virgin olive oil, maple syrup (from Michigan!), hot chili sauce, salt and pepper.
Scatter the squash cubes on a baking sheet and bake for half an hour at 400 degrees F.
Remove the squash from the oven, add the (optional) mushrooms and pecans and roast for an additional 20-25 minutes.
Finally, add the cranberries and when mixed, top with goat cheese.  Or don't.
Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Pecans (loosely inspired by this)
Ingredients:
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs maple syrup (can sub 2 tbs brown sugar)
  • 2 tbs hot chili sauce (Sriracha or chili garlic sauce work)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 c. mushrooms, roughly chopped (half an 8 oz package) - optional
  • 1/3 c pecan pieces
  • 1/3 c cranberries
  • 3 to 4 oz goat cheese.
Instructions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2.  Halve the squash.  Remove the seeds and stringy bits.  Peel and cube the squash.
3.  In a large bowl, coat the squash with the olive oil, maple syrup, chili sauce, salt and pepper.  Spread the squash out on a large baking sheet.  Bake for 30 minutes.
4.  Take the squash out of the oven and gently stir.  Add in the mushrooms and pecans.  Bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes until the squash is tender.
5.  Put the squash into a serving bowl.  Stir in the cranberries.  Top with goat cheese.  Serve!
I don't really like squash.  I mean, I'll eat it.  But it's one of those things I can really only eat once in a great while.  I had so much spaghetti squash back when I was doing Paleo that it will likely be several years before I'm willing to give that one a try again.  That being said, this dish was delicious.  My favorite part was the pecans, Kyle's favorite was the mushrooms.  They just really push this dish over the top, it's just bursting with flavors.  The little bit of heat from the chili sauce is perfect.

So maybe squash and I will make peace after all.

05 December 2014

Chocolate Chip Biscotti

I made these on Thanksgiving day, and then I enjoyed one (or...more) with my coffee every morning of break.  It was absolutely the best part of my day.  The lesson here is that I need more biscotti in my life.  Much more.  I'm already planning my next batch - peanut butter biscotti with a chocolate drizzle!
Biscotti is how we justify cookies for breakfast (I love that virtually every dessert is justifiable for breakfast if you just give it the right name...coffee cake, muffins, etc).  Oh, the point of this is that you basically start with cookie dough.
Shape it into two flattened logs, roughly 12x3 inches.
Bake for 20ish minutes.
Let rest for a bit, then slice diagonally.  It is your right and your obligation to eat the corners.  Quality control.  It's a real job.
Place the slices cut-side down.  Bake more.
Flip.  Bake more.  Let cool, then serve with coffee.  Mmmmmm I miss it so much.  Definitely time to make more biscotti.
Chocolate Chip Biscotti (barely adapted from this)
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
Instructions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2.  Mix together the butter and sugar.  Add in the eggs, vanilla, baking powder and salt.  Stir in the flour until well-mixed, then gently add the chocolate chips.
3.  Form the dough into two logs, about 12" long.  Flatten the logs on a baking sheet (I used a stone, so no non-stick spray needed, but do what you need to!) until they are about 3" wide.
4.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand for 15 minutes.  Turn the oven down to 300 degrees.
5.  Slice the logs diagonally, keeping the slices about 1" apart.  Turn the slices cut-side down and bake for an additional 15 minutes.  Then turn them onto the other cut side and bake for 15 more minutes.
6.  Let cool, serve with coffee.
Find a comfy chair.  Eat biscotti.  Enjoy the morning.

28 November 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Black Friday is upon us!  I hope your Thanksgiving was a wonderful day of family, friends and food.  Take it slow and easy today.
Let's do a quick recap of the goals, then check out camping photos!
  • Camping.  We went camping with the Full Moon Bus Club.  There was some last minute scrambling to get the bus ready, but camping in a bus feels extremely luxurious after years of tent camping.
  • Start a batch of Drifter clone beer. Fail.  However, I got some Chilean Malbec wine (kit) going this month that should be ready just in time for my birthday.  I can't wait.
  • Get dirt for my raised bed garden. Also fail.  But we bought supplies to make two more raised beds and I think dirt will be on hold until this spring.
  • Meet some new people.  So many new people!  We were accepted as family into the Full Moon Bus Club, and also met a few other new people this month!
  • Complete a class I started taking on Coursera.  I started two classes, for the first one I'm on track to watch my final lecture tomorrow, and the exam is more like an "exam" but we'll see how that goes.  My other class still has a couple more weeks left.
I also had a few "admin" tasks that I needed to get done, and I'm sorry to say I got those done...yesterday.  Still, done.  But only because I knew I had to report about it here.  Let's move on to December.
  • Christmas will undoubtedly involve travel!  It's always nice to have a trip to look forward to.
  • We've got visitors coming for NYE.  I can't wait to see them!  Who knows what the weather will be like, so I need to prepare some options for things to do.
  • Bottle the IPA that's been chilling in the kitchen for a while.
  • Bus stuff.  I think that I'm pretty well decided on the layout and color scheme, but I'd love to sketchup the whole thing so I have an idea of what it will look like first.  Also the front seats have no padding and the 40-year-old seat covers are starting to shred, so they definitely need to be redone.  I think I can do it myself?
  • Eat better.  I mentioned last month that I don't feel like cooking, and as a result I've been eating crappier food.  Oops.  Should have seen that coming.  Buy-two-get-three-free ice cream didn't help.  Nor did FOUR Thanksgiving potlucks.
  • Start thinking about our next big trip.  It's been a year since we went to Mexico, so it'd be fun to take an international trip sometime next year.
Heeding my mother's advice, I watched a documentary called "What Plants Talk About."  The film posits that plants behave like animals, when corrected for time (ie sped up, viewing a time-lapsed glimpse into plants behavior).  It's really fascinating stuff - first they have the wild tobacco plant, which completely changes its bloom's timing, scent and sugar content in order to attract different pollinators, then there are the spotted knapweed plants, whose roots give off harmful chemicals in order to kill off surrounding competition, followed by the sand rockets who recognize 'kin' plants and grow smaller roots to allow their kin to survive (or, conversely, grow much bigger roots when competing for space with non-kin sand rockets), and finally, the Douglas fir, who grows massive networks in the forest and transfers nourishing carbons to baby plants in order to help them survive.  If that isn't enough to pique your curiosity, you're also privy to the film's witticisms: "but the wild tobacco plant has more than one trick up its leaves..." and "the knapweed is the plant equivalent of the Terminator."  If the social behavior of plants sounds interesting to you, check this movie out - you can watch the whole thing for free on this site.
Other than that, I really didn't take any photos this month that weren't bus related.
The morning we left to go camping, Kyle built a frame for the back of the bus so that we could fit our spare bed's mattress in there and still have lots of storage space.  He did a great job.
This summer, we picked up both a campstove and a coffeemaker for a steal.  However, we never tested either.  Thankfully, they both worked great - the first night dropped to just about freezing, so hot coffee in the morning was sooooo good.
Of course, nothing tops a nice campfire when you really need to warm up.
I don't think we've met a single person who hasn't commented on the paint job on the bus.  I think Sixer was the best-looking bus there, although there were two Vanagons with really fantastic artwork.
It was a very interesting crowd, both bus-wise and people-wise.  It's a great community that I'm happy to be a part of.
On to December!  It's hard to believe we're here already, but...cada dia is mejor.  Bring it on.

21 November 2014

Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie

Thanksgiving is always feast!  The turkey, the potatoes, the rolls, the veggies, the gravy - the GRAVY!  Personally, I could eat Thanksgiving leftovers for a week and not get tired of the mashed potatoes and gravy, but if you need some creative ideas, read on.
I think Kyle's favorite was the open-faced turkey and gravy sandwich.  I'm a big fan of soup, which is a great use for the leftover turkey (especially if it got dry) and possibly even some steamed/roasted veggies.  But if you want a dish that really combines everything, Shepherd's Pie is the way to go.

This version is a poor excuse for the traditional shepherd's pie (traditional ingredients include beef/lamb, carrots, peas and onions, Worcestershire sauce, thyme and rosemary), but a great excuse for using Thanksgiving leftovers.  
It starts with the veggies.  Some leftover French green beans supplemented with a bag of frozen mixed veggies will do the trick - also note that I have doubled the recipe listed below (making a 9x13 pan rather than a 9x9 pan).
Top with leftover shredded turkey.  Add in the spices.  I made a citrus-sage turkey so I used fresh sage, but also the traditional thyme and rosemary.
Add in the gravy and a little more salt and pepper.
Mix everything together then try to smooth down the top of it in preparation for the mashed potatoes.
Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the dish, sealing all the delicious flavors in.
Bake until the tops of the mashed potatoes start browning.  I took mine out a little early because the gravy was bubbling up over the top.  I couldn't wait to get a helping of this shepherd's pie!
Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie
Ingredients:*
  • 2 c. veggies: green bean casserole, steamed mixed veggies, roasted fall veggies, etc.  I'm not sure how squash would work out, but don't be afraid to give it a try.
  • 2 c. shredded leftover turkey
  • 1 c. gravy
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 c. mashed potatoes (can use mashed sweet potatoes but NOT candied sweet potatoes)
Instructions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 
2.  Put the everything but the mashed potatoes in a 9x9 pan.  Stir everything together.  Use a spatula to push everything down and smooth the top to prep for mashed potatoes.
3.  Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the turkey/veggie mixture.
4.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops of the potatoes start browning.

*There are lots of substitutions you can make here.  If you don't have enough veggies left over, supplement with a bag of frozen mixed vegetables.  If you didn't roast a turkey, use whatever meat you have around.  No leftover gravy?  No problem.  Add a little chicken broth instead (1/4 to 1/2 cup) or maybe a can of cream of mushroom soup.  If you have LOTS of leftovers, double the recipe and put it in a 9x13 pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.  I roasted a citrus-sage turkey so I added a little fresh sage to my Shepherd's Pie.
 
Have a great Thanksgiving!  It will be a quiet holiday for me this year, but we might make some last-minute plans just to get out of the house.  Thanksgiving dinner is probably going to be bar food - or better yet, tacos.  We'll see!  I still got my turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy, so I don't mind a bit.

14 November 2014

Citrus-Sage Roast Turkey

I roast whole chickens pretty frequently, but turkey still feels a little intimidating.  However, as long as you know a couple tricks, it doesn't have to be intimidating at all.  Add in some citrus-sage butter, and you're all set.  The scariest thing about this recipe is that your relatives might permanently put you in charge of turkey roasting every Thanksgiving.  Kidding.  That was a pretty bad joke.  Let's move on to the recipe.
Here's what you really need to know about turkey.  Most importantly, if you buy a frozen bird it might take a week or more to thaw in the refrigerator.  The other very important thing to know is that there is usually a package of organs (giblets) in the neck cavity of the bird, and there is a neck, typically in the organ cavity.  These are great for making stock and/or gravy.  I bought my bird (frozen) a week ago and put it in the fridge, then let it sit out for a couple hours before baking, and the neck was still frozen to the cavity.  A little hot water fixed that, but if your whole bird is still frozen, Thanksgiving dinner is going to be a little late.
All the grocery-store turkeys I've gotten in recent years have had a little plastic thermometer inserted into the breast, and a little plastic ring holding the drumsticks together.  I use a meat thermometer, and I would only use the plastic thermometer if I had no alternatives.  The plastic ring on the drumsticks is really handy though.  It is safe to bake it with that ring on (unless there are instructions on the package that say otherwise).
You know it's going to be a good recipe when the first ingredient is a citrus-sage butter.  The recipe I followed starts out with "Sage is to turkey what cinnamon is to apples; they go together like bread and butter."  Mix room temperature unsalted butter with fresh chopped sage and zest from one lemon and one orange.  Add a little salt and pepper (unless you're using salted butter!).  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Take a deep breath.  Time to tackle the bird.  Open up the turkey and remove the organ package and neck (save these for later - put them back in the fridge).  Pat the bird dry.  Starting at the back of the bird, near the organ cavity opening, loosen the skin from the breast meat with your fingers.  Try to keep the skin fully intact, but loosen as much skin as you can on the breasts and drumsticks.  Do the same at the neck cavity.  Spread the butter under the skin as evenly as possible.  The bird will look totally misshapen, and butter will be everywhere.  It's okay, it's part of the process.  Washing your hands is a futile effort, you'll never get that butter off.  Try dish soap.  Try not to use the whole bottle.  This was the first time I'd ever had to use dish soap to wash the dish soap bottle...but eventually the butter gives.
Quarter that orange you zested earlier.  Do the same with an onion.  Tuck a couple pieces of each into the neck cavity, then tuck the skin flap under the bird.  Put the remaining orange and onion pieces into the chest cavity.  Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the whole bird, then add a cup of water to the roasting pan.  That's it!  This turkey is ready for the oven!
Here's the procedure: set the timer for 30 minutes.  At the first 30 minute mark, baste and turn the oven down to 350.  Then just baste every 30 minutes.  When the skin is browned to your liking, gently tent some aluminum foil over the turkey.
Around that time is when I start checking my thermometer - insert it into the deepest part of the breast to find the coldest spot.
The turkey is done when the lowest internal temp you can find is at least 165 degrees F.  Expect the total roasting time to be 2.5 - 3 hours (for a 13 - 15 lb turkey).  Take the turkey out, let it sit and soak up the pan juices (move it to the serving platter).  When I pulled this turkey out, the plastic thermometer hadn't even popped, but my meat thermometer was showing 165 all over.  I belabored the uselessness of the plastic thermometer to Kyle, but while I was standing over the turkey, doing a final baste, it literally popped! and I might've jumped a little bit.  According to Kyle, it heard me making fun of it and took revenge.  Anyway.  While the turkey rests, you've got work to do.  It's gravy time.
I use a spatula to gently scrape the bottom of the roasting pan and get all the good tasty bits off.  Then, pour all the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer.  I was surprised at how much fat was in this bird, but I did add an entire stick of butter.  I managed to skim a cup of fat off the top of my broth, of which I used about a third of a cup to make the roux for the gravy.
A roux is just a thickening agent for sauces, typically equal parts fat and flour, cooked until flour can no longer be tasted (technical definition, NOT a recommendation) and/or the desired color is reached.  I put mine on medium heat for 3-4 minutes - mine is very dark because I used whole wheat flour.  Slowly whisk in the broth - stirring constantly prevents lumps from forming.  You can see I had about two cups of broth from the pan juices, which I supplemented with 2 cups of broth that I made using the neck and organs.
The roux will probably spit and hiss a little when you start to pour the broth in - fair warning.  Just make sure to keep whisking and pour slowly.  Then bring the gravy up to a simmer and hold there for five minutes, making sure to taste-test and add salt/pepper as needed.
Okay!  That's it!  Add some garnishes to that beautiful turkey then carve it up and douse it with gravy. Delicious, delicious gravy.  Oh, and that plastic thermometer will pull right out as soon as the turkey is cool enough to touch, so be sure to get rid of that eyesore before serving.
Citrus-Sage Roast Turkey + Gravy (adapted from this)
Ingredients:
  • 1 stick butter (1/2 cup), room temperature
  • 1/4 c. sage, finely chopped
  • one lemon
  • one orange
  • salt and pepper
  • 13-15 lb turkey, giblets/neck removed
  • one onion
  • water
  • 6 tbs flour
  • 4 c. broth
Instructions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Citrus-Sage Butter
2.  Mix together the butter and sage.  Zest the lemon and orange and mix the zest with the sage butter.  Add a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of pepper to the butter mixture.
Turkey
3.  Place the turkey in the roasting pan.  Loosen the skin from the breast meat and thighs, then spread the butter mixture between the skin and meat evenly.  Quarter (eighth?) the orange and the onion.  Place a few of the orange/onion sections in the neck cavity then tuck the neck skin under the bird.  Place the remaining orange/onion sections in the chest cavity.  Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the turkey, then add one cup of water to the roasting pan.  Tuck the wings into the bird, and if necessary tie the drums together with kitchen string.  Place the pan in the oven.
4.  After 30 minutes, baste the turkey with pan juices and turn the oven down to 350 degrees.  Baste the turkey every 30 minutes thereafter, and when the skin is sufficiently browned, loosely place tin foil over the bird.  Bake until the lowest internal temperature of the bird is 165 degrees F (should be 2.5 - 3 hours).
5.  Transfer turkey to serving platter and let stand for 30 minutes.  Gently scrape the bottom of the roasting pan, then strain the pan juices in a fine mesh strainer.  Let the juices stand for 2 minutes so the fat separates out, then skim the fat off (I used a ladle).  At this time I made a quick broth from the giblets and neck by simmering 2 cups of water with the organs so that I had a total of 4 cups of broth when combined with the pan juices.
Gravy
6.  Make a roux using 1/3 cup of the skimmed fat and 6 tbs of flour: heat the fat in a pot over medium heat.  Add the flour and whisk.  Mixture should bubble.  Cook for 3 minutes, then slowly whisk in the broth.  Season gravy with salt and pepper, to taste.  Simmer gravy for 5 minutes then remove from heat.
7.  Carve up the turkey and serve with gravy!
Here's my own helpful hint: almost all recipes will tell you to tuck the wings into the turkey before baking and secure them with kitchen string.  What I did was cut a wee hole in the skin and tuck the wing into that hole to secure it.  If it's dumb, but it works, is it really that dumb?  The purists will probably tell you to preserve the integrity of the skin (it does help keep moisture in), but I'm not going for award-winning turkey.  Check out this stealth-tuck:
Check back next week for an awesome Thanksgiving leftovers recipe.  If there's anything left, of course - you might need to use the skin/bones to make more stock for gravy.