The Second Time Around

Man, things are so different the second time around. With Lilli, we were so clear with our rules: No sugar until her first birthday, no screen time until she’s two. And now with Bea? She had Fluff last week and has seen every presidential debate to date. (And let’s just say Lilli is making up for lost time with the screens.)

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Now, now, it’s not as bad as it sounds. We’d made Lilli a Fluffernutter which she obviously rejected after one nibble. Since we’d been given explicit directions by the pediatrician to expose Bea to all the allergens that trip kids up – her first bit of peanuts was mushed-up Bamba a month ago – we figured, why not give her a little? And she loved it. I mean, what’s not to love? It’s all sugar.

fluffernutter

We’re not doing that much better for our own dinners. We ate nachos for dinner last week. To be fair, it was National Nachos Day, and the nachos involved roasted butternut squash that had been tossed with maple syrup and sprinkled with cayenne and cumin. There were also sweet balsamic onions that did a perfect job of balancing the spice of the squash. They were phenomenal, and would have been even better if I’d used the gruyere that the recipe called for instead of the shredded cheddar we have on hand for Lilli’s quesadillas. (She likes them best with stars and moons carved into them. Thanks, Ranger Rick Jr. magazine for that pro tip.)

quesadilla

The recipe comes from The Ultimate Nachos cookbook, which is home to the horchata recipe I just shared with you guys. Some might be surprised to hear how much use a nacho cookbook gets used in my kitchen, but I’m really serious about my nachos. There’s a taco shop very close to us, Lone Star Taco, that makes my favorite ones in town. I went there solo on my birthday for them, and that’s where I’ve chosen my Mother’s Day brunch two years in a row. What can I say, I really dig nachos. Incidentally, Guy Fieri featured the place on his Boston show and we once totally sat next to some fans of his who had come specifically on his recommendation. And yes, I told them to get the nachos.

nachos

Being a nacho recipe, it’s pretty straight forward, except that I found the directions for prepping the squash a bit confusing. After I peeled the squash, I cubed half, then sliced each piece thinly, and saved the other half for this recipe. It honestly didn’t take very long to do.

Autumnal Nachos

½ butternut squash

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon sugar

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

7 ounces corn tortilla chips – approximately half of a store-bought bag, or, if prepared fresh, use 15 corn tortillas, each cut into 6 triangles

6 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese (about 1 ½ cups)

¼ cup sour cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F

Peel the butternut squash and then cut it in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and fibers from the center. Thinly slice the squash and then cut it in half again lengthwise.

In a medium bowl, toss the squash with the maple syrup, cayenne, and cumin.

Place the squash on a parchment paper or aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Roast the squash for 20 minutes, or until tender.

While the squash is roasting, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until a deep brown color, 10 to 15 minutes. Be careful not the burn the onion.

Stir in the sugar and balsamic vinegar and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Cook the onion for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350F.

Layer the tortilla chips on a 9×13-inch baking sheet. Evenly distribute the squash and onion over the chips. Cover the chips with the shredded cheese.

Bake the nachos for 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese has melted.

Serve the nachos with sour cream on the side.

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Off The Chain

In July, as I was savoring peaches whose juices dripped down my wrist and fresh corn on the cob that required a good flossing after munching, I started wishing it was October. It was in July that I found a recipe in Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetitefor a pumpkin whose empty shell had been thoughtfully stuffed with alternating layers of toasted baguette, Gruyère, and a sauce of heavy cream and white wine steeped with sage and nutmeg. “I found this recipe,” I would say to Rich, my sister, friends, the cat – really, anyone in ear shot — “that is going to be off the chain. Off. The. Chain.”

Well, it’s finally October, which means some of the best foods of the whole year – butternut squash, beets, arugula, cauliflower and, wait for it, pumpkins – have started to appear at markets and in CSA boxes around town.  Two weeks ago, my weekly CSA list noted an inclusion of a sugar pumpkin, which meant I was this close to fulfilling my stuffed pumpkin dream.

When I arrived at the student union for my usual Thursday pick up, there was a new girl checking off names. It was obvious there was no pumpkin in my box, and, even more frustrating, there was an enormous pile of sugar pumpkins on display right next to her. Rather than putting her on the spot, I thanked her for my pumpkinless box and brought it back to my office. Naturally, the only thing to do was call the farm and see how I could go about getting my rightful pumpkin at the next week’s pickup. They were totally cool about it; apparently I was the only person who either did not get their promised pumpkin – or who was crazy enough to actually call them about it. “There’s a pumpkin shortage this year!” I tried to explain to Rich.

Well, this week I received my promised pumpkin, as well as a new pumpkin in my box. So now, I can either make this dish twice, or use the second one for a terrific pumpkin pudding recipe I stumbled upon last year around this time.

Friday night we finally had the pumpkin of my dreams. It was everything I hoped it would be: the perfect combination of softened sweet squash mixed with the savory notes of the cheese, cream and sage. It may have been one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and I eat a lot. Our dinner guest thought the pumpkin tasted like pumpkin pizza, minus the sauce.  He suggested rather than me choosing between making this recipe a second time or making the pumpkin pudding, that I should go and find more pumpkins and make this again and again. Like I said: Off. The. Chain.

Given the cost of the Gruyère, I wouldn’t break the bank on a good one. Trader Joe’s carries reasonably priced cheeses. We’re not really big wine drinkers; lucky for us, the liquor store now carries teensy little bottles of wine.  Mine cost $1.99, and I am pretty sure I can get three more pumpkins out of it. My point is: don’t break out the good stuff for this dish. We’re lucky enough to have a sage bush growing in front of our house; please feel free to stop by and pluck some leaves if that’s the only thing stopping you from making this dish.

Cheesy Baked Pumpkin with Gruyère Fondue from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

I think I’m a little late to the Melissa Clark fan club, as she has written and co-written dozens of cookbooks. In the Kitchen is how I imagine a good cookbook to be: excellent writing and tales followed by superb recipes. I had this book for less than five hours when I decided that we needed to have the baked flounder and eggs for dinner that night. Clark actually suggests it as a breakfast, which sounds amazing to me. And I’ve made her green goddess dressing three days in a row. She has a new book out this week, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Ingredients

6 (1-inch) slices baguette

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup dry white wine

¼ cup milk

1 large garlic clove, peeled and smashed

3 fresh sage leaves

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 (3-4 pound) sugar pumpkin, well-scrubbed

5 ounces grated Gruyère cheese (1 ¼ cups)

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

•           Preheat oven to 425. Cut the baguette slices in half lengthwise and place on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes.

•           In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, wine, milk, garlic, and sage to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Take the mixture off the heat and discard the garlic and sage. Stir in ½ teaspoon of salt, the nutmeg, and the pepper.

•           Cut the top off the pumpkin and scoop out the pulp and seeds. (If you want to toast your own pumpkin seeds, and I always do, see the Note below.) Set the pumpkin in a baking dish. Place a layer of bread in the bottom, followed by a layer of the cheese. Poor in a third of the cream mixture. Repeat for 2 more layers and replace the pumpkin lid. Using your fingers, rub the oil all over the outside of the pumpkin and sprinkle on additional salt.

•           Bake the pumpkin until the skin blisters and the flesh is fork-tender, about 1 ¼ hours. Allow to cool in the pan slightly, then slice to serve.

NOTE: I saw this method for toasting squash seeds on Jody Adams and her husband’s new blog The Garum Factory. Like everything Jody does involving food, it’s pretty much perfect.

BONUS TOASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS RECIPE FROM THE GARUM FACTORY: Put the mass of pumpkin pulp and seeds in a large bowl and fill it three-quarters full with water. Work the pulp with your fingers to release the seeds from the fibers. The seeds will float. Skim the seeds and spread them on a sheet pan. Bake in the oven for 3-4 minutes or until dry. Remove the tray from the oven, drizzle a Tablespoon of oil over them, then season with salt, smoked paprika and a pinch of sugar. Smear everything about, then return the pan to the oven. Roast until the seeds are golden brown and crisp, about 8 more minutes.   Use as a garnish, or eat like popcorn with a great beer.

Bonus Cat Photo

Kale to the Chief

Last fall, during the lay-off, we took in a roommate. A good friend of ours needed a place to live for a few months, and we had been thinking about renting the second bedroom for extra cash. His rent included dinner every night, which was a bit of an upgrade for him. (He’s a great guy, but the one cookbook he owns is A Man, a Can, a Plan.)

Whenever our friend talks about his time at our place, the nightly dinner always gets mentioned. I’ve asked him for his favorite and most distinctive food memory from his time with us, and his answer is always the same: kale. When he thinks of eating at our table, he thinks about kale.

This dish, a panade, literally, a “big bread thing,” is my absolute most favorite thing to do with kale. It takes a good long time to prepare and even longer to bake, so I typically make it on football Sundays in the late fall and wintertime, starting around 1:00 for a 4:30 meal. I say Sundays because I always use leftover challah, although it’s certainly not what the recipe calls for.

In fact, the recipe I use doesn’t even include kale. It calls for chard, which I am sure would be dandy, but as soon as I saw the ingredients — stewed onions, chard, and fontina, nestled in between cubes of bread and bathed in stock — I thought kale would be even better. This season, you can get a bunch of kale for under a dollar — mine was .79 at Russo’s.

You can certainly use fancy fontina, but if you want to keep costs down, Trader Joe’s cheeses work great. I had some leftover veggie stock in the fridge, so we used that, along with the frozen turkey stock Rich made the day after Thanksgiving. We’ve found that animal stock makes the dish unctuous and more layered with flavor and depth, but I promise you, it will be delicious veggie-only as well.

This is one of those dishes that requires the dirtying of a frustrating amount of dishes, and Rich and I make it together, each tackling a part of the preparation. But trust me, the time and dirty dishes are well worth it.

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