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31-recipe challenge Day 5: Butternut Panzanella Salad

Can you tell I had to use up my butternut squash? I got the last of the good pieces in just in time to make this yummy, filling salad from A Communal Table. It still wasn’t quite as good as the kale and butternut salad from Day 4, but it was a solid contender, and a good light meal to eat while catching up on two hours of Smash. Also quite a good lunch the next day (just make sure you don’t dress it ahead of time if you’re planning on leftovers.)

Butternut panzanella salad 1

I made only three adjustments/modifications to this recipe: 1) I halved it since I was the only one eating it. 2) I left out the mushrooms because I really can’t stand them. And 3) I chopped the shallots for the dressing instead of sliced them because my slices didn’t look good.

Aside from prepping the bread and roasting the squash, this is a pretty quick, simple salad to make. And those croutons are the bomb. Plus, they make your house smell like yummy, toasting bread and who doesn’t like that?

This salad automatically wins in my book if just for one simple thing: marcona almonds. What is a marcona almond, you ask? Well, it’s a Spanish almond that is skinless, smooth and buttery, almost like a cross between an almond and a macadamia nut and it. is. heavenly. Wegmans only had one marcona offering: a small(ish) can of salted almonds. It was pretty expensive for what I got, but it was so worth it–these bad boys are so good! If you ever get your hands on marcona almonds, try them! (Trader Joe’s carries rosemary marcona almonds, which are amazing! But I couldn’t get out there.)

Butternut panzanella salad 2

This salad ends the reign of the butternut squash recipes. I burned through them. Don’t think there isn’t a sweet potato or two waiting in the wings still, though.

 

31-Recipe Challenge: Day 4–Butternut Squash and Kale Salad

I kept it simple on Monday. Coming off my marathon-cooking weekend and a late night thanks to the Super Bowl, I hadn’t done any extra shopping and was feeling pretty low-key. Luckily, I had planned ahead on my last shopping trip and picked up extra kale, butternut squash and almonds for the week ahead. All I needed was some cheese and I had everything on hand to recreate Northern Spy’s Kale Salad (recipe courtesy of Food52).

Kale and squash salad 1

I sent my wonderful and adoring boyfriend out for some cheese to complete this meal, and although he could not find the Cabot Clothbound cheddar that Kristen of Food52 so vehemently praised, he did come back with some Kerry Gold two-year aged Irish “distinctively sharp” cheddar. And I wasn’t complaining. That’s some knock-your-socks-off good cheese. If it’s possible for a cheddar to taste like a Parmesan, this does. Kevin, you hit this one out of the park. Good work.

This recipe calls for oven-roasted butternut squash, and, unlike Sunday’s undercooked squash disaster, this time it roasted up nice and sweet and soft. Mix into chopped kale and almonds, add the cheddar and shaved pecorino, dress with lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper and dig in. It’s crunchy-chewy, salty-sweet, oily-acidic. It’s perfect. This was one of the best kale salads I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some good kale salads. I get why Northern Spy keeps it on their menu. Serve with anything, or on its own. We ate it with leftovers from the weekend.

And although the squash takes about 30-40 minutes to roast, this is otherwise a super-speedy lunch or dinner, and simple. Chopping and roasting the squash is the brunt of the prep work.

This one’s a clear winner in my book, and a nice break after a day of heavy eats. Also goes to show sometimes simple is best. Thank goodness I needed to leave to walk the dog, or poor Kevin may not have gotten any of this salad. I couldn’t stop eating it. I wasn’t even hungry anymore and I still found myself digging in.

Seriously, I’m still thinking about this salad. And drooling. Over SALAD. Yeah, that happened.

Kale and squash salad 2

31-Recipe Challenge: Day 3–Super Bowl Sunday!

If you remember my Super Bowl post from last year, you know I like to throw a Super Bowl party. This year was no different, except Kevin hosted and I had even better recipes to work with.

The Super Bowl menu? Beer and bacon butter beans, four-cheese macaroni and cheese and pumpkin pie bread pudding. Plus, Kevin made chicken fajitas and pigs in blankets.

Yes, this was a far departure from Day 2’s vegetarian recipes.

On to the recipes! First let’s start with the one I know you’re all looking at–Beer and Bacon Butter Beans. Let me repeat that one. Beer. And Bacon. Can you think of a better football food? I used this recipe from Crepes of Wrath and pretty much didn’t change a damn thing.

Despite the beer and bacon (or should I say, THANKS TO the beer and bacon), this is actually a very complex and sophisticated side dish, especially thanks to the whole sprig of rosemary that goes in. But seriously, just in case you had any doubt that beans slow-cooked in beer and bacon fat would be delicious, these were drool-worthy. I’ve never appreciated a plate of beans so much. And puff-pastry wrapped pigs in a blanket were a much better franks-and-beans accompaniment than plain old hot dogs.

Beer and bacon butter beans

As much of a bacon lover as I am (and I’m a huge bacon lover), I rarely cook it. Sunday I cooked it. A lot of it. 8 thick-cut strips, to be exact. And I chopped it first. I never want to do that again. Trying to cut through thick, chewy, raw bacon fat can make you never want to eat bacon again. (OK, that’s not true. But it doesn’t make you want to prep it again.)

But once that starts cooking, it’s a whole different story. The salty, smoky, bacon-y smell fills the kitchen, and all is right with the world.

Then, you strain out the bacon and cook the beans IN THE BACON FAT. Add chicken stock, lemon juice, honey, a whole bottle of malty amber ale (I used Sam Adams Boston Ale), spices and a sprig of rosemary, and pop that bad boy in the oven for a solid two hours. Then top with crispy bacon. 1) your house will smell amazing and 2) what comes out at the end of those two hours is well worth the wait.

I can’t believe I’m waxing poetic about baked canellini beans, but these beans were off-the-wall good. Granted, cook anything in bacon fat and beer and it will probably be off-the-wall good.

I’ll put it to you another way: my friend J, who still doesn’t even consider beans a viable food group, said these were good. That’s, like, Kevin loving the sweet potato tacos huge! (This has been a pretty good weekend!) Heck, the fact that he even willingly ATE the beans was a good enough compliment for me.

UPDATE: In hindsight, I realize I skipped the very last step of the recipe, which is to stir in a tablespoon of unsalted butter once the beans come out of the oven. Oh well, I didn’t miss it.

For dinner, I made Four-Cheese Baked Rigatoni from How Sweet It Is. I’ve made TONS of macaroni and cheese in my day–it’s almost become a staple for me–but this one was unique. In addition to cheddar, fontina and gruyere, this mac and cheese uses 1/3 cup of mascarpone, which is super luscious and creamy and smooth. And, as she warns, does give the mac and cheese extra oiliness, though not in a bad way. I’ve had mac and cheese like this before, and the extra oil actually lent itself well to reheating. It’s super gooey and cheesy. I used fat rigatoni noodles, like the recipe originally called for, which trapped lots of extra cheese sauce inside.

3-cheese mix

Come. To. Mama.

Although, I didn’t have any panko bread crumbs on hand, so I used regular whole wheat ones, which were fine. I also subbed a pinch of dried mustard seed for the nutmeg, since one of my friends in attendance has a nutmeg allergy. (The goal is to not kill people.)

One interesting thing about this day was that a sort of theme emerged: one pot wonders that I turned into two-pot wonders. You see, both the beans and the mac and cheese were supposed to go from stove to oven in the same cooking vessel: the beans in an oven-safe pot or deep pan, the macaroni in a cast iron skillet. I do not own either of those things (sadly), so for the beans, I cooked everything in a deep pan and transferred into a covered deep casserole dish to bake. I cooked the macaroni and cheese in the same deep pan and transferred to a traditional casserole dish to bake. I really need to get my hands on a cast iron skillet, because as ooey-gooey and lovely as that mac and cheese was, I bet it would be incredible in cast iron.

Mac and cheese

Then came dessert. Let’s just say I’m really glad someone brought cookies. I was probably the least impressed with this of everyone who ate it, but then again, I am always my own worst critic. I’m also picky about my bread pudding. I made this gorgeous-looking Pumpkin Pie Bread Pudding with Bourbon Icing from Eats Well With Others. (Well, hers was gorgeous-looking.)

It wasn’t a terrible recipe, I think I just executed it wrong. Though granted, three pounds of butternut squash to one pound of bread in a bread pudding does seem a tad imbalanced. I’d probably recommend trying something closer to a one-to-one ratio.

When the finished product came out of the oven (after it baked for way longer than called for yet barely felt done), there were more chunks of hard, raw squash than soft, melty baked ones. And the inside was decidedly, well, mushy. Too mushy for my taste. Not so bad for a bread pudding, but, like I said, I’m picky. I feel like if this was perhaps baked in individual-sized ramekins rather than one large springform, it would be more up my alley–lots of crispy outside and a semi-liquid center that’s still mostly baked.

There are a few things I think contributed to my underwhelming result: For one, I’m assuming I didn’t pre-cook the squash long enough on the stove, though I feel like I let it go even longer than the recipe called for. Also, while the recipe called for a 10-inch springform, I only had a 9 1/2-inch. So although I left some filling behind,  perhaps I still overstuffed the pan, leading to the longer-than-called for baking time.

I also made a couple of *slight* tweaks to the recipe, but I doubt they were disaster inducing: again, I cut the nutmeg so as not to send anyone to the hospital, and I subbed one cup of almond milk and two cups of regular milk (1%) for the three cups of almond milk because I didn’t have enough on hand.

Nonetheless, this is definitely one I won’t be making again, even though Kevin wants me to re-attempt it with apples in place of the squash. This one brought me back down to earth a little bit–I was getting pretty confident in my baking skills after the pizza dough victory on Day 1, but this proved I’m really still not a baker. I’m gonna stay on the stove top where I belong.

However, it wasn’t all a bust. There was that bourbon icing. Oh man, that icing. I don’t even like bourbon and I couldn’t stop stealing tastes of this stuff. Which was bad, because I’m on antibiotics and not allowed to have alcohol!

Pumpkin pie bread pudding w/ bourbon icing

But if you need a dessert topping for, well, pretty much anything, throw this together! A stick of butter, 2 cups confectioner’s sugar and 2 tablespoons bourbon. Whisk and imbibe. And to get it more glaze-y and less icing-y, just pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so.

Because, dude, you want this icing on EVERYTHING. It was pretty good on the cookies, I was told. (I had eaten enough off the spoon by that point, I figured it was better if I cut myself off.)

I’m exhausted just writing this, so it’s no surprise I nearly forgot to cook on Monday. (Don’t worry, I did!)

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