30 November 2017

Rotini with Butternut Squash & Pancetta

The Thanksgiving CSA share was full of Cucurbita -- acorn, butternut, and autumn crown winter squash plus a few wee sugar pumpkins -- and I couldn't be happier. Not only because I love to eat winter squash, but also because the delicious little cucurbits will keep practically forever when stored properly, meaning I can eat CSA squash well into February.

But who am I trying to kid? I'll have eaten them all by Christmas!


The dish below is loosely inspired by Melt's recipe for "Roaring Forties with Honey Roasted Delicata Squash, Sage Butter, and Rotini" I made last month. In my dish, everything cooks on the stovetop -- freeing up the oven to bake the dozen wee sweet potatoes that were also in my CSA share -- and I've replaced the nuts with pancetta.


Rotini with Butternut Squash & Pancetta

Yield: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz chopped yellow onion
  • 4 oz chopped pancetta
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, & diced small (¼-inch cubes)
  • ½ tsp rosemary
  • ½ tsp sage
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 10 oz whole grain rotini
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 oz crumbled blue cheese, plus extra to serve

Instructions

  1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium in a large Dutch/French oven. Add pancetta and cook for a few mins or until much of the fat is rendered out. Add the onion and cook for 5 mins, until it softens and the pancetta is crispy.
  2. Add the butter, squash, rosemary, sage, thyme, and crushed red pepper flakes. Mix well to combine. Cover and cook for 10-12 mins, stirring occasionally, until the squash is soft, but not mushy. Remove from heat.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the back of the box. Drain and add to the squash mixture. Add the blue cheese and season to taste. Serve in pasta bowls sprinkled with extra blue cheese.


For years, I thought winter squash was called such because it was harvested in the fall and we needed a name to clearly differentiate it from summer squash, but NO. I know nothing. Winter squash is so named because it keeps through the winter. So obvious.

29 November 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Hill-Stead

Hill-Stead, a Colonial Revival mansion, was the first architectural project of Theodate Pope Riddle, fourth registered female architect in the United States.

27 November 2017

Cream of the Crop


Cream of the Crop is the second book in Clayton's Hudson Valley Series and is set not too long after Nuts. One of Roxie's BFFs, Natalie Grayson, takes on an advertising campaign for the small Hudson Valley town of Bailey Falls. Like many twee New England towns, it is struggling to attract and keep tourists and the locals hope Natalie's hot advertising firm can give it the boost it needs. Meanwhile, Natalie hopes to get closer to The Hot Dairy Farmer who makes her favorite brie ... and who reduces her to a blushing, stammering, lust-maddened wreck whenever she sees him.

Unfortunately, I couldn't quite get into Cream of the Crop. Mostly, I never really felt I connected well enough with Oscar Mendoza to care about him. He's frequently monosyllabic, boorish, rude -- indeed, there's a scene toward the end where Oscar's behavior is utterly reprehensible (and no good explanation/excuse for it is supplied). I get that he's meant to be Natalie's sexy "caveman," but I needed something more from his storyline to fully embrace Oscar as Natalie's romantic interest. Maybe, more about his family -- they're all still alive, footballing and farming in Wisconsin, after all -- or friends he might have other than Leo or the ex-wife, Missy (who he consistently prioritized over Natalie -- it's admirable when people can be friends their exes, but that doesn't feel like what's going on between Oscar and Missy). I get that Natalie finds Oscar totally hot and loves fucking him, but ... why does she love him? Why does he love her? Does he? Does she? Is this even a romance?

Also, I felt uncomfortable with Natalie's description of Oscar's looks and her general fixation on his sheer beefcakeness. Every rich white girl needs a little caramel macchiato pick-me-up, ammirite? Oscar Mendoza is Natalie's Jason Momoa fantasy?? I don't know. It felt like, maybe, we didn't need an Oscar backstory because Natalie just needed an Oscar-shaped sex machine who growled "Pinup" and "great, big ass" and fucked her six ways to Sunday. That there was no need for Oscar to ever be a fully-fleshed human being. But, again, how then could this be a romance?

In general, Natalie herself left me conflicted. I enjoyed watching her work her advertising magic for Bailey Falls while slowly realizing that she could have it all -- a job she loved, a man she adored fucking, the city, the country, and the fromage. Also, Natalie's near constant internal monologue was both hilariously witty and delightfully dirty. She was clearly a woman who had figured out what she liked, how to get it with regularity, and made no apologies for any of it. But. In addition to the objectification of Oscar, she did sometimes come across as a self-centered rich girl and the whole "I'll make sure the ad campaign includes Chad and Logan (The Token Gays) so everyone knows how truly family-friendly Bailey Falls is" just made me go UGH a lot.

In the end, while I have mixed feelings about Cream of the Crop, I still look forward to reading the next book in Clayton's Hudson Valley Series, Buns, featuring Clara and the new owner of the Bryant Mountain House.

Cream of the Crop by Alice Clayton (Simon & Schuster, 2016)

22 November 2017

Wordless Wednesday: November Leaves

Late November and so many leaves are still on the trees.

19 November 2017

Mom's Cabbage & Noodles

The bonus Thanksgiving CSA share included onions and green cabbage. As soon as I saw the cabbage head, I knew I wanted to make my mom's cabbage and noodles. It's an easy, comforting dish perfect for a miserable November day, when the wind roars in the chimney and the sun shines too weakly to give real warmth.


While I've given you Mom's recipe as she gave it to me, I usually double the onions and add chopped garlic. Also, sometimes I stir a tablespoon of spicy brown mustard in with the noodles, to give the dish a little kick. While Mom says to leave the dish two days in the fridge for tastiest results, the best I've managed is overnight. The flavors are better when it's sat overnight, so she's probably right about waiting two days ... I am merely too impatient (and hungry) to do so.


Mom's Cabbage & Noodles

Yield: 4, generously

Ingredients

  • ½ large green cabbage
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 lb egg noodles
  • ½-1 stick butter
  • Dill seed, caraway seed, & parsley to taste
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Chop cabbage.
  2. Melt butter in a pan.
  3. Sauté onion in pan until tender. Add cabbage and seasonings. Cover and let steam until cabbage is tender.
  4. Cook noodles a directed. Drain and add to cabbage.
  5. Adjust seasonings to taste. Best if it sits in the fridge 2 days.
  6. Serve with Polish smoked sausage or corned beef and lots of spicy brown mustard.


16 November 2017

Kohlrabi, Potato, & Leek Soup

As the fall has been so warm and mild, my weekly CSA share has been extended through to December. Unlike the summer, where I cruised the tables at the farmers market every Friday and selected whatever took my fancy, I now get a blind box of seasonal goodness. So far, I’ve received fennel, winter squash, tomatoes, peppers, pears, apples, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, eggplant, napa cabbage ... and a whole bunch of other good things I'm sure I'm forgetting. It’s been a little overwhelming, to be honest, but I’m doing my best to turn everything into tasty eats!


With ingredients from my first “extender” box, I made Betty Crocker's simply yumptious Tomato-Fennel Soup. I’d cooked fennel precisely once before and found it overwhelmingly licorice-y, so prepare to be similarly disappointed, but -- maybe it is true that tomatoes and alliums make everything better -- this soup was probably one of the best tomato soups I have ever eaten and I really look forward to cooking with fresh fennel again.

Last week, I received two trimmed kohlrabi heads in my box and I was very “Huh. Kohlrabi. I made a slaw out of this last time ... ehhhh.” While the slaw had been fine, I don’t crave slaw in November and my ostomy’s been a bit iffy about raw vegetables so … soup! Yes, more soup. Since I had leeks and some gnarly looking potatoes on hand, too, I thought I’d make a potato, leek, and kohlrabi soup. One of the cookbooks I’d skimmed at the library had said I could peel the kohlrabi bulbs and treat the flesh like that of a turnip, so that’s what I did. I don’t know if these kohlrabi were in some way physically superior to my previous kohlrabi or, maybe it was just that I already had experience, but peeling them was much easier than I remembered -- just like peeling an apple, really.


My soup spawned from a mishmash of recipes -- some from the internet, others from cookbooks -- so there are probably much better ways to do this than how I did. Also, it’s a very leek-y, turnip-y tasting soup, so you really need to like those flavors to enjoy this soup.



Kohlrabi, Potato, & Leek Soup

Yield: 6 (generously)

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 leek, white & light green parts only, sliced into thick coins
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled & cubed
  • 1 large kohlrabi, peeled & cubed
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, shallots, garlic, onion, crushed red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning. Cook gently for five minutes, stirring often, or until the alliums begin to soften and become fragrant.
  2. Add the potato, kohlrabi, vegetable broth, and bay leaf to the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until kohlrabi and potatoes are easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.
  3. Remove pot from heat, discard the bay leaf, and let the soup cool for a few minutes.
  4. When the soup is no longer dangerously hot, blitz it with a stick blender or whathaveyou until smooth.
  5. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

15 November 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Remembering Hedwig

My Hedwig, a year gone this week. I still half-expect to find her snoozing behind "her" curtain or sunbathing on the window seat.

09 November 2017

#ImprovCookingChallenge: Winter Squash & Bacon

November's Improv Cooking Challenge is all about winter squash and bacon. Winter squash -- particularly butternut -- was my childhood gateway to squash love and I am still quite capable of eating an entire tray of roasted squash all on my own with no accompaniments. There's just something about roasted winter squash -- rich, creamy, sweet, earthy -- that I cannot get enough of.


For this Improv Cooking Challenge dish, I roasted delicata squash with Brussels sprouts, shallots, and pancetta:

Delicata squash is a recent discovery for me. I first heard about it in cookbook club and then it began appearing in my CSA share. It is, as far as winter squashes go, adorable -- a plump little yellow-and green-striped sausage of a squash. The thin, edible skin that makes it much easier to process than some of the other, sturdier-looking winter squash and the flavor is rich and creamy -- kind-of like a cross between a sweet potato and butternut squash. If you want to try my recipe, but can’t find delicata squash, acorn squash can be substituted (but you won’t be able to eat the skin).

My CSA share Brussels sprouts were excessively wee -- like marbles or large blueberries -- so I roasted them whole. Larger sprouts will need to be halved or quartered to make sure they’re done at the same time as the squash.

I used Pancetta, “the Italian bacon,” because I’m fancy. No, actually, I was just too lazy to buy thick-cut bacon and cut it into lardons. The grocery store sells three varieties of diced pancetta and I saw that as I sign I should take the easy way out.


Delicata & Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta

Yield: 4 side dish servings

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces diced pancetta
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 delicata squash, halved, seeded, and sliced into ½” thick half moons
  • 8oz small Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 2 shallots, sliced thickly (like pound coins)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • ¼ or more red chile pepper flakes, to taste
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Set a skillet over medium-high heat and combine the pancetta with the oil. Cook, stirring, until the pancetta pieces have started to crisp and render off some of their fat.
  3. Combine the squash in a bowl with the Brussels sprouts, shallots, and rosemary. Add in the browned pancetta with its oil, chile pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper. Toss well, combining thoroughly to make sure all the vegetables are coated. If they seem a little dry, add a splash of olive oil.
  4. Spread in a single layer on the foil-lined baking sheet. Try not to crowd the vegetables together or they will not roast so prettily. Cook for 20 minutes or until the sprouts and squash are tender and their the edges are starting to brown.

The dish can be served immediately, but (imho) it's better if allowed to cool down a bit -- the flavors seem to stand out more. Makes about four servings as a side dish. If you have leftovers, it is really delightful (like, I specifically hold some back just to do this) on a flatbread with fontina and blue cheese:

Brush flatbread with a little olive oil (garlic-infused is fab). Top with shredded fontina cheese, then roasted vegetables, then a scatter of crumbled blue cheese. Sprinkle with chopped fresh rosemary. Bake on a pizza stone in a 425°F oven about 10 minutes or until the crust is crispy and the cheese has melted. Remove from oven and eat. It's fabulous.


For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the second Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.




08 November 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Seed heads

Seed heads from a woody garden weed. Birds seem to like it so I've left it be ... which means the vegetable bed will be full of it next spring.

06 November 2017

Nuts


Many years ago Roxie Callahan escaped her tiny Hudson Valley town years ago to study at the CIA California. After graduation, she became a private chef and, after years of hard work, has become modestly successful. No need to ever go back to suffocatingly twee Bailey Falls, right?

But then Roxie abruptly finds herself jobless and very short on cash. When her mother calls up, asking Roxie to take care of the family diner for her while she goes off on a grand adventure, Roxie really has no choice but to go home. Happily, Bailey Falls is not without its charms ... not least of which is hot organic farmer (very rich in old New York money, btw) Leo Maxwell.

I really enjoyed Nuts. From beginning to end, it is a lighthearted romp set in a sweet fantasy confection of a small New England town. Roxie and Leo's romance is consistently hot and fun -- they clearly genuinely like each other from the get-go and take enjoyment in each other's company as much outside of the bedroom as in it. There are a few dramatic moments toward the end, when a "secret" Leo has been keeping is revealed, but it is handled in a realistic, adult way that makes sense for the characters and the story. I liked that Clayton did not give Roxie and Leo a Happy Ever After, but a Happy Enough Right Now. A HEA would have felt unconvincing, moving their story ahead too fast. I loved that Roxie retained her autonomy and space while still being clearly and completely entangled with Leo.

The large supporting cast of characters was well fleshed out and entertaining. I did, however, wonder where the other queer folk were (Chad Bowman and Logan, while extremely charming, felt like tokens) and whether Bailey Falls had any non-white people, but I always wonder that. There was lots of talk about food and loving descriptions of cooking, which left me famished -- as did the ohmygodsohot sex.

If you enjoy cooking (or just reading about cooking) and have ever fantasized about living in an idealized Smalltown USA, nibbling luscious local produce whilst being rigorously seen to by a hot farmer, Nuts is for you. It certainly felt like it was written for me, anyway. I've read a lot of romance and erotica, but never before something that came so near to ticking all the boxes.

Nuts is the first book in Clayton's Hudson Valley Series, of which there are currently three. I certainly look forward to reading the next book, Cream of the Crop, featuring one of Roxie's BFFs and the beautiful dairy farmer next door.

Nuts by Alice Clayton (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

02 November 2017

Halloween-y Marbled Cupcakes


I’d meant to make HHalloween spritz cookies again, but ... ehhh ... life. So I knocked together these Halloween-y marbled cupcakes using a box mix, canned icing, and liberal amounts of gel food color.

First, I prepared a Betty Crocker™ Super Moist™ Favorites White Cake Mix following the instructions on the back of the box. Then, I split the batter between two bowls and tinted each with liberal amounts of gel food color. (I chose to use black and purple, but in hindsight it’s clear orange or green would have made a sharper contrast against the black). I then spooned the batter into cupcake liners -- alternating colors as I went and then giving each cup a gentle swirl with a skewer -- and baked them according to the box.

When the cupcakes were cooled, I beat green food gel into a can of Betty Crocker™ Creamy White Rich & Creamy Frosting until I’d reached a Frankenstein-ish green. I iced the cupcakes with frosting, sprinkled them with green sugar for extra sparkle, and ... that was it, really.

I admit they’re pretty and I have been happy enough to nom a couple with a mug of tea, but they’re not as good as scratch-made. The Husband is not that keen on the canned frosting and keeps scraping it off before devouring the cake beneath!

Tl;dr: next time, when feeling lazy, simply buy cute Halloween cupcakes from the cupcakery.