31 October 2008

Waiter, There's Something in My Winter Squash!

I'm submitting two entries to round twenty of Waiter, There's Something in My... The theme this round is gourds, and I decided to showcase a couple of my standby squashes for winter. First, the lovely orange butternut, pictured here in an adaptation of this recipe from Epicurious. The original is a noodle dish with a very thai feel. I had no coconut milk, but I did a version of it with a little less of a Thai flare, served over quinoa for a fall feel. I actually didn't have any regular milk onhand either, so I used powdered milk made with water and a little bit more broth, and added just a little bit of vanilla. I didn't use the chili or red curry paste, but I sprinkled some red pepper flakes in for my slightly less spice-friendly palette. It was pretty tasty! I would caution you though, use regular milk if you have it because this dish isn't very conducive to stirring so the powdered version tends to separate.

Second is my old standby, acorn squash baked with fall spices and butter. It's very simple, just take an acorn squash (this one was small enough to be just two servings, and I don't eat much) and cut it in half using a sharp knife. Put the halves in a dish with a little bit of water and stick a pat of butter and some brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in the hollows. Bake it at about 400 F or so until tender, an hour more or less. You really can't go wrong.

27 October 2008

BBM Package Received!

This round I got a fabulous Blogging By Mail package from Sweden! Lexi sent me all kinds of fun treats, and it was great fun to sort through them and see how much of the labels I could read (I've studied a little bit of Danish). I also found the package really amusing when it arrived at my door. So many stamps! I've never tried to send something internationally with stamps before, but it's a pretty neat idea. So anyway, in the non-food category I got a fun necklace and some lip balm that's really nice. She says it can serve as lotion as well, but my chapped lips need all the balm they can get for our dry (and yet somehow still snowy) winters. Then, of course, a load of food. Yum!

One of the best things for me about these exchanges is that I sometimes end up with a sender from a country I know very little about, and so I get to discover a bit of their culture (or cuisine) as I go along. Last winter I got a package from Finland, for example, with photos, and I had no idea how beautiful it is there. This time I got some really interesting tastes to try - for example, salty licorice, which I've never heard of but is actually pretty tasty. I'm a huge licorice fan, and I just love these candies called Kick. They're much softer than our licorice and easier to chew, and so tasty. I also got some other typical Swedish candies to sample, and a huge chocolate bar. Milk chocolate with little bits of peppermint candy in it. Yum! I'm a huge fan of the mint/chocolate combo. I got a couple different types of biscuit, which I haven't tried yet, and also some little ones that Lexi suggests I sprinkle over the rosehip soup and serve with ice cream. I'm really curious about that one, but I'm going to save it for later so I have something new to try as the month wears on. Also a box of a grain that's kind of like couscous. You can probably tell from this blog that I'm a fan of new grains, haha. And finally, best for last, cheese! Sorte Sara, a Danish cheese, which is really tasty. Since I don't usually keep sandwich bread around, I decided to use it for a batch of macaroni and cheese. Maybe the Danes would frown on that, but it was sooo good. I love the strong taste, and it's a great melting cheese. Thanks, Lexi! You did really well.

26 October 2008

SHF: Spice Cake

It's been a long time since I did an SHF, and I keep wanting to but timing fails me. This month, though, the fates aligned, because I had been wanting to bake a spice cake and lo and behold, the theme is spices! The host, Dessert First, is a blog I've recently discovered and love. I found it through Tastespotting (or maybe it was Food Gawker), which has been a great way to find new blogs lately. Speaking of which, if anyone knows a good-quality free online image resize site, or a good-quality free image resize program for Mac, please share the love. I want to get on those sites but my pictures always get rejected, probably because they're resizing funny.

Anyway, back to the spice cake. I remember having one of these once as a kid, probably ten or eleven, at my friend's mom's house. I helped her frost the cake and kept thinking "no way something made of SPICES is going to be any good." I assumed that a cake had to have fruit, or chocolate, or something along those lines to be tasty, but I was wrong. I love spice cake, and I'd been craving one. The recipe comes from here, and it's delicious. Perfectly moist and flavourful - the only problem is that you need to either not flour the pan (just grease) or maybe let it cool longer than instructed. About half the cake came out of the pan and the other half didn't, so I had a cake covered in cake bits. Still good, but I'm glad I wasn't bringing it to anything. Also, the cake is huge, so find some friends.

24 October 2008

A Dish from the Vegetarian Cooking Bible

A while back, I managed to get enough LexisNexis points to redeem them for Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This made me a very happy camper, as I'd looked over the book in the library and found it impossible to pick just one recipe to copy down. It had been sitting in my bookshelf for a few months, though, before I decided to try a recipe for a cheesy eggplant with red wine tomato sauce. The verdict? Fantastic as expected. Like most of Madison's recipes, it isn't terribly complicated - roast some eggplant in the oven, make the tomato sauce, assemble with goat and mozzarella cheese, heat until cheese melts, top with sauce - but the tastes are fantastic and go perfectly together. The sauce especially is a hit - though I'm not a huge fan of tomato sauces generally, the red wine is really the star in this one. I made it separately and refrigerated until I made the dish a few days later, which worked fine.

Eggplant Rounds with Cheese and Red Wine Tomato Sauce
Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

2 eggplant rounds per person (I suggest using enough to fill up the final pan you're using)
3/4 cup grated or sliced mozzarella
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola, goat cheese, grated Fontina, or a mixture (I used goat and it was fabulous)
Chopped parsley or basil

Red Wine Tomato Sauce:

2 T olive oil
2 small onions, finely minced or grated
2 small bay leaves
6 thyme sprigs or 1/2 tsp dried
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried savory (I omitted this)
pinch red pepper flakes
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry red wine (I used cabernet)
28 oz crushed tomatoes in puree (I used diced with a bit of the juice)
Salt and pepper

Grill, broil, or fry your eggplant slices. I just roasted them in the oven, and I used a single layer in the small roasting pan I later used to do the cheese part. I think next time I would use about twice as much eggplant and just do them on separate pans before throwing all in the same pan for the cheese.

For the sauce, start by heating the oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, herbs, and pepper flakes and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for fifteen minutes. Add garlic during last few minutes. Raise the heat, add the wine and half a cup of water, and simmer until reduced by half, 12-15 minutes. Add the tomatoes and 1/2 tsp salt. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 35 minutes. Keep an eye on this. In my experience, everything was pretty dark thick after twenty minutes, but I think that has to do with my tomato substitution. Next time if I'm using diced tomatoes (which I like), I'll add all of the juice from the can. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Put the eggplant slices on a sheet pan (or roasting pan) and cover with the cheeses. Bake at 375 until the cheese melts. Serve with 2-3 spoonfuls of sauce per serving and garnish with the herb.

18 October 2008

Cornbread: Another Recipe Semi-Flop

This is another recipe that I can't find in my bookmarks now that I'm posting it, but it wouldn't really be worth sharing, anyway. It wasn't horrible, but as you can see it was a very, very floury cornbread. I was looking for something that used fresh corn, and I found a very simple recipe for cornbread. I was sceptical from the get-go, to be honest - very little liquid, lots of flour, not much holding it together. When I put it in the pan there was a lot of loose flour and no real way to incorporate. The end result was a moist bread, surprisingly, but dusted with large amounts of flour. I was able to shake some of it off, and the fresh corn was delicious and sweet. It was also much better warmed in the microwave and served with generous amounts of butter. But next time, I'm going to look for a less suspicious recipe.

17 October 2008

Not On, Cookies, Not On

So I tried Gretchen's fabulous chocolate chip cookies again for a bake sale a couple of weeks ago, and for some reason they didn't turn out anything like they did the first time. Instead of being gorgeous and flat and crispy/gooey, they were puffy, cakey, and had a weird almost sponge-like consistency. They also didn't taste all that great. The changes? Well I had enough flour this time; last time I had to skimp and use 1/4 cup less than the recipe. I used raspberry chocolate chips (though I can't imagine that making any difference) and I ran out of brown sugar so part of the brown sugar amount was natural cane sugar instead (the coarse, light brown kind). I hope I can make them turn out the right way again!

15 October 2008

It's That Comfort Food Time of Year

I'm embarrassed to say that I'm so far behind in posting to this blog after all the actual cooking I've been doing (gleefully, as the weather has become cold enough to enjoy it) that I'm at a point where I can't even remember what recipe I used for the casserole I'm showing you today. I do know that it was quite simple, and I thought fairly tasty, though I could imagine some improvements (creamier, cheesier, more packed into the dish). I used some very tasty yellow squash from the farmers' market, which had an unusual shape but was fairly easy to slice nonetheless. As you can see, this particular casserole has a crumb topping. I believe the one my grandmother used to make, which to me is the emblem of comfort food, had either cheese or maybe some crackers on top. It's been a while, so I don't quite remember, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't bread crumbs and parmesan. In any event, I'm thrilled that comfort food days have rolled back around and am already eagerly anticipating my menu for the Thanksgiving holidays. Though I'm not actually making a Thanksgiving dinner for anyone, the three days off of classes mean that I probably will be using the time to prepare a few fall dishes. Yum, yum.

ps - If you didn't get the message on Twitter and want to share a favourite pumpkin bread recipe or spice cake recipe, please pass it on! I have some good ideas but more never hurts.

12 October 2008

Another cheesy post

It's time again for La FĂȘte du Fromage, and this time I have something more exciting than grilled cheese for you. I'm showcasing two fruity cheeses, both of which appeared here previously in my wine & cheese tasting post:

These are both made by Ilchester, and you can see them a bit better here - like I said before, the Stilton with Blueberries is a little firmer and smoother than the Wensleydale with Cranberries, which is a crumbly, sharper cheese. I personally prefer the Stilton, which is sweet and mild and frankly unlike any plain stilton I've tasted, though I used to eat something similar with apricots in Ireland. I think the key is that it's a white stilton, as opposed to a blue. Anyway, both are lovely, especially with wine, but equally on their own.

08 October 2008

Still here!

Just a quick little "hello" to let you know that I have plenty of stuff to post and will soon. I was out of town for the weekend in South Dakota, and then I hurt my neck/shoulder so that it's painful to sit at the computer, and tonight/tomorrow is Yom Kippur so I don't want to look at pretty pictures of food while I'm fasting, haha. Oh, and the dog ate my homework. :-)

01 October 2008

Say Cheese! Port Salut

When I saw that Cook (Almost) Anything Once was doing another Say Cheese event, and that we were instructed to try something new, I decided to open up this block of Port Salut and have a taste. Port Salut is a mild, soft French cheese with a lovely bright orange rind. It's apparently a good melting cheese, and I'm going to use most of it in a tart early next week, but this time I just tasted a few pieces on crackers. I found it mild but distinctive, with a flavor I could recognize if I tried it again. It's very soft and quite tempting to eat more! Thanks to Haalo for hosting this event.