Brooklyn Bridge. December 30, 2011.

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butternut squash lasagna.

I love butternut squash. It’s good by itself; roasted with some olive oil and salt and pepper and it’s also good with pasta (see my first food post: penne with butternut squash and goat cheese). I’m pretty sure I first discovered this recipe through pinterest and I’m sooooooo (so) glad that I did. Butternut squash lasagna is sweet but still savory. It’s also kind of healthy. As Kramer would say, “Giddyup”.

Thanks to Lindsay at Pinch of Yum for sharing this recipe. I took some liberties of my own with the recipe. For one, I made my own butternut squash puree. I used an entire squash. I peeled, seeded and cut the squash into 1 in. cubes. Put them on a baking sheet covered in olive oil and salt and pepper and roasted them in a oven at 400 degrees F for 22-24 mins. While I was doing that I sliced 1/2 a yellow onion and cooked it in a non-stick skillet on medium low heat with some olive oil, a little butter, salt and pepper. The onions probably took a little longer than the squash did because I wanted to slowly cook them so that they would caramelize and not burn. Once the squash was done, I melted 1 1/2 tbsp of butter and added 1 1/2 tbsp of flour to a medium sized pot. I heated up 1 cup of milk in the microwave for 45 seconds to 1 minute to help get it nice and warm so that I could add it to the roux (the butter and flour combo) and make a nice bechamel sauce. Make sure to constantly whisk or stir the milk so that the sauce thickens up asap. Season with salt and pepper.

I added 3/4 of the squash, 1/2 of the caramelized onions, and 1/4 of the bechamel sauce to a blender, at first, and pureed until everything was a nice consistency. I added the remaining squash/onions and bechamel sauce as needed in order to make sure that the puree would remain smooth. You might not need to use all of the bechamel sauce, or you may need to make more; it all just depends on how big your squash was.

Another liberty I took was with the ricotta and Parmesan cheese mixture. I added 1/2 cup of Parmesan to the 15 oz of ricotta and I also added about 2 tsp of Sriracha to it. I love the taste of Sriracha and the 2 tsp is barely noticeable so if you’re not a fan of spicy, you can totally get away with adding the Sriracha. Want your lasagna to be sweet, savory and spicy? Add more than 2 tsp. Also, I didn’t have any “sel de cuisine” so I just sprinkled a little cinnamon and crushed rosemary into the squash puree when I was seasoning it and before I started assembling the lasagna.

I had some leftover bechamel sauce so I added a little bit of it to the top of the lasagna after I had finished assembling it in the baking dish. I covered the top with a little Parmesan and covered with foil. I had it in the oven for 45 minutes at 400 degrees F. You don’t need to pre-cook the noodles although if you did, I’d probably bake the lasagna for less time. I’m so glad that I decided to mix things up and make a different kind of lasagna. This lasagna is delicious!

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Zucchini Ribbon Pasta: new fall favorite?

I’ve made this side dish a few times now and I realized, earlier today, that it had been awhile since I last updated the blog. The first time I make any recipe, I always make sure to follow the recipe to the letter. After making it several times, my creative side tends to shine through and I find myself adding this or that and making the recipe my own. Zucchini Ribbon Pasta is a healthy side dish option for chicken or fish.

The recipe calls for chicken broth and it is used to cook the zucchini ribbons and finish cooking off the pasta. The first time I made this recipe, it sort of reminded me of a deconstructed chicken noodle soup. The chicken broth ends up turning into a nice sauce for the noodles and zucchini ribbons, so if you were to serve this with carrot ribbons and a chicken breast, this could definitely be a version of deconstructed chicken noodle soup. I added onions to the recipe because I like how the flavors compliment the garlic that is used in the recipe as well. I use anywhere from a half to a whole yellow onion. Just slice in half and then slice into half rings. Add some olive oil to the pot and cook the onions first because the zucchini ribbons and garlic don’t take all that long to cook and you just need to finish cooking the pasta with the vegetables and that should only take 2-4 minutes. When the onions are cooked, they turn into the same shape as the fettuccine and zucchini; I like to keep the theme of the original recipe when I make it my own. I use 2 green and 2 yellow zucchinis and I find that with the onion and if you decide to use carrot as well, it is definitely enough vegetable to pasta ratio. I use the entire pkg of fettuccine (1 lb) because I don’t like dealing with random amounts of leftover pasta. I also don’t buy whole wheat pasta but using whole wheat anything is usually the healthier option, so do what you got to do.

I also like to throw in whatever grated cheese I have in the fridge; usually Parmesan and Romano. If you save a little bit of the pasta water before draining, it helps the sauce coat the pasta better. I also was going through my cupboard (Yeah, just the one. Not a lot of kitchen storage in my apartment.) and I saw that I’m about 3/4 of the way through a thing of bread crumbs. I heated up some olive oil in a non-stick skillet and toasted the bread crumbs and added it to the pasta along with the grated cheese. It was about 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and 1/4 cup of bread crumbs. The store bought bread crumbs are nice if you’re short on time and need help seasoning something but if you are going for a healthier version, make you’re own and season them yourself that way you can control the amount of salt you are adding to the dish.

I use a vegetable peeler to make the zucchini ribbons because I’m not all fancy like Food Network thinks I am. I don’t know many people anyone who owns a mandoline slicer, but personally, it’s about 10 places down on my list of kitchen equipment I want to one day own. My point is: a vegetable peeler works just fine. The recipe says that you can get 4 servings out of this dish, but I think if you are serving it as a side dish, you could probably get 5 servings out of it.

I like this dish because it reminds me of chicken noodle soup.  When the weather starts to get cold and people around you start getting sick, chicken noodle soup becomes people’s go to meal. Instead of making soup, I suggest serving some chicken with this yummy side dish.

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gram’s mac and cheese: my way.

One year ago, in my very first post for this blog, I mentioned that I would share with you my favorite comfort food: my Gram’s mac and cheese. After talking to her this weekend over the phone, I discovered that my Gram is not really the one I should be thanking when it comes to the mac and cheese I’ve eaten at her house on so many occasions. Turns out my Gram had a little help from our good old friend, Betty Crocker. Most people are familiar with Crocker’s creations so I won’t be giving anyone a history lesson but it’s her recipe that I used as an inspiration/guide when I made my own version of mac and cheese this weekend.

Those that are familiar with home-made macaroni and cheese know the basic staples of any good mac and cheese recipe: milk, butter, flour, macaroni pasta, and cheese. There are so many versions of macaroni and cheese out there, you can really accommodate just about anyone’s preferences. The list of cheeses to choose from is pretty extensive and you can add bacon or squash or pretty much anything that tastes good with cheese!

I decided to alter Betty’s recipe just a smidge. Betty’s recipe is as follows:

Ingredients:

3 tbsp flour

3 tbsp butter

2 cups milk

3 cups of sharp cheddar cheese

1 1/2 cups macaroni pasta

1/4 cup minced onion

1/2 tsp salt

dash of pepper

Pretty basic right? If you’ve made mac and cheese from scratch then you can figure out how the recipe is made from the ingredients I listed. My version of mac and cheese is a little bit different. I sliced one whole onion and sauteed it on medium heat with olive oil in the same pot I had used to cook the pasta in (I also use an entire box of pasta). After a few minutes, I sprinkled 2 tsp of sugar over the onion and seasoned the onion with salt and pepper as well. Gave it a good stir, and covered the pot and let the heat and the sugar begin to help the onions caramelize (2-3 mins). Now I wasn’t really measuring anything at this point, but I poured a little red wine and balsamic vinegar into the pot as well. Enough to cover the bottom of the pot, but not so much where the onions are drowning. Sprinkle some dried basil, thyme and rosemary into the pot as well. You just want to give the onions a little flavor to soak up. Keep stirring and make sure that the vinegar/wine smell has basically disappeared before you cover the pot for 3-5 minutes. Check the onions before you transfer them to the cutting board. They need to be mostly soft but still have a bite to them because they will continue to cook in the oven with the mac and cheese. If they aren’t ready, give them a good stir and put the cover back on the pot for another 3-5 minutes or until you are satisfied.

If the onions are ready, transfer them over to a cutting board and give them a nice dice. I transferred them to the bechamel sauce that I had already been making on the stove. Season the bechamel/onion sauce with cayenne pepper (again, I didn’t really measure how much I used, but season it to your preference). This is a spicy mac and cheese. Not overwhelmingly spicy by any means but enough to notice it’s there that way other people can still add more spice if they want to. Add the cheese to the bechamel/onion sauce. I decided to add 2 cups of cheddar and jack cheese mix (about 1 cup of each). These two cheeses melt really well together.

I also chose to use penne pasta instead of the traditional macaroni pasta. I love penne and the truth is, as long as the pasta is a tubular pasta, it will be perfect for any mac and cheese because come on, let’s face it… You want the cheese sauce to get inside the noodle too. The pasta needs to be al dente because it’s going to continue cooking in the oven. Transfer the pasta (that you should have already cooked) to the cheese sauce and combine until the pasta is coated in the cheese sauce. Transfer that to a greased 9 x 13 in pyrex baking dish. You can grease it with butter, I chose to use an olive oil spray. You’re going to need at least a cup of sharp cheddar cheese (or more if you like your mac and cheese really cheesy). Sprinkle the bottom of the dish with cheese (that’s my gram’s trick) then eye-ing the pasta/cheese sauce mixture, add half of the cheese and pasta to the pyrex dish, sprinkle with more cheese (and if you want to add more cayenne pepper now would be a good time to do that too). I also like to sprinkle grated parmesan cheese on my mac and cheese as well, so I added some grated parmesan when I added the cayenne pepper and shredded cheddar. Spread the remaining pasta/cheese combo on top and sprinkle with more cheese (and again, if necessary, more cayenne pepper).

The mac and cheese goes in the oven at 350 degrees for about 40 mins. You want the cheese that was sprinkled on top to be brown. It’s cheesy and the onions have a really sweet but still savory flavor to them that adds a little more depth to the mac and cheese. The cayenne adds a nice kick as well. You could always decide to not use any extra pepper when seasoning your mac and cheese too and it will still be delicious. This is not your grandmother’s mac and cheese (or mine for that matter). Hopefully Betty would be proud (and yes, I know Betty isn’t a real person).

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oh so easy: rustic raspberry tart.

I have really been enjoying all the wonderful fruits and veggies that have been in season these past few months. By far my favorite has to be the raspberries though. It’s a good thing they only sell them in those little tiny cartons at the store because they are usually gone once I start eating them. Fresh raspberries are perfect for summer baking. I personally like to toss a raspberry in my champagne every so often because I love how the bubbles play with the raspberry when you first put it in. Also, raspberries taste really good when they’ve been soaking in champagne… just throwing that out there. I found the recipe for Rustic Raspberry Tart on the FoodNetwork website and it has, quite possibly, the easiest way to make dough I have ever come across. Flour, sugar, butter, and milk. Pop it in the fridge for an hour or so. Boom. Fresh dough. It gets even easier to make if you’ve got a handy food processor to cut the butter in for you! The raspberry filling? Maybe even easier. Sugar, flour, lemon zest, raspberries (surprise!) and melted butter. The first four ingredients get tossed together until the raspberries are covered and the melted butter gets drizzled over the filling once you’ve got it all tucked into the dough. Just before putting it in the oven, brush the dough with a little egg wash then pop it in the oven for 30-35 minutes and you are done. Oh, wait. Sorry, you sprinkle powered sugar over the top, then you are done. Let it cool a smidge before you dive in. The dough is buttery and just the right amount of flaky. The lemon zest is definitely tasted in the filling but it’s almost barely noticeable which is great because you wouldn’t want it to take the spotlight away from the sweet and tart raspberries.

The nice thing about this tart is that depending on your dough rolling skills you are probably gonna have 6 small servings. And by small, I mean small. Definitely could hold one slice of this tart in one hand, easily. This is great if you have people devouring this tart and they happen to be watching what they are eating. Who’s going to say no to a tiny slice of a fresh raspberry tart? Probably no one. Especially if I’m the one asking (only sort of kidding). This tart was so easy to make and now would be the time to make it! Raspberries aren’t going to be in the produce section forever. Maybe the freezer section, but that just wouldn’t be the same.

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Happy Champagne Thursday!

Fun things to think about for next Champagne Thursday:

7 ways to use Champagne

Quotes about Champagne

Yummy Pom Champagne Cocktail via The Whole Kitchen

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Coronado Beach. August 6, 2011.

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