Ethiopian dinner

I have been craving lentils lately. I ordered them a few times from a new restaurant that opened up in downtown Lancaster called Himalayan Curry and Grill. I have also eaten them at an Ethiopian restaurant and grocery called Addisu. They were delicious both places but I just can’t keep ordering take out!

I decided to try making the Ethiopian version at home. I read a bunch of recipes from around the internet and decided to try this one. I modified it a little bit based on what I had at home and the lentils came out amazing! I also made a chicken dish and vegetable side. I used most of the same ingredients in the chicken as the lentils. So if some of the quantities seem a little funny, it’s because I split them to make two dishes.

I mixed my own Berbere seasoning from this recipe also. I didn’t think this version was particularly spicy. My husband bought some right from the Ethiopian restaurant and grocery store. I ended up adding extra to my dishes because they didn’t really have that much spicy heat to them. You can adjust how much you add to your dishes depending on how much spice you like.

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3/4 of a large red onion, diced small

1/2 Serrano chile, minced

1 hungarian hot wax pepper, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 inch piece ginger, minced

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp. Berbere seasoning (from this recipe)

1 tbsp. turmeric

1 1/2  15 oz.  cans crushed fire roasted tomatoes

1 cup coconut milk

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (plus a little more as needed)

2 cups split red lentils

Heat the butter and olive oil in a deep cast iron pot and saute the onions, peppers, garlic and ginger for 5 minutes – salt and pepper to taste. Add in the spices and saute another 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add in the tomatoes, coconut milk, and 2 cups of stock. Bring to a simmer and add in the lentils, then bring to a boil. Stir the lentils, cover and turn the heat down to low. Stir every ten minutes to keep the lentils from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cook for 40 minutes or until the lentils are tender. If the lentils appear to be drying out, add stock a little at a time when you stir the lentils.

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The picture above shows the chicken before I broke it up. If you want to eat the chicken in pieces you can. It is still really good! But you won’t be able to pick it up with the Injera.

4 chicken thighs

pan searing flour (I use Wegman’s brand or you can make a mix of flour, salt and pepper)

1 tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. olive oil

1/4 of a large red onion, diced small

1/2 Serrano chile, minced

1 Hungarian hot wax pepper, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 inch piece ginger, minced

2 tbsp. Berbere seasoning (from this recipe)

1 tbsp. turmeric

1/2 can crushed fire roasted tomatoes (from the 15 oz. cans used in the lentils)

about 1 cup coconut milk

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

Dredge the chicken in the pan searing flour. Sear both sides of the chicken thighs in the oil and butter in a low cast iron pan with a lid. Remove the chicken and saute the onions, garlic, peppers, and ginger – add salt and pepper to taste. Add the seasonings and saute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk and stock. Nestle the chicken thighs back into the pan, submerged under the sauce. Bring to a boil, cover, and place in the oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. The chicken will come out falling off the bone! When you remove the pot from the oven, remove the chicken thighs and pull the chicken off the bones. Chop the chicken in to bite size pieces and place them back in the sauce. I added about a teaspoon of the Berbere from the restaurant to this to give it a little more spice. Here’s what it looks like:

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1 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 head shredded green cabbage

2 carrots

1/2 Spanish onion, sliced thin

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp ginger, minced

1 tbsp. turmeric

1 tbsp. cumin

1/4 cup of chicken or vegetable stock

Saute the onions, ginger, and garlic in the olive oil. Add in the spices and saute until fragrant. Add in the carrots and cabbage, salt and pepper to taste, and the 1/4 cup of stock and saute. Cover and stir every few minutes until soft. I ended up adding a little of the Berbere from the restaurant to this to give it a little kick.

Here it is all put together. I served it on top of Injera, just like at the Ethiopian restaurant and we ate it with our hands!

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I would like to try to make the Injera by myself. We got this one from the Ethiopian restaurant. They sell almost all of the ingredients that you need to make their food and the equipment you need as well. They have the pan to make Injera but it comes with a hefty price tag and I just don’t think I would use it that much. I did have the idea today to try to make it in my crepe pan! So for next time, I’ll try to do it myself. I think I am going to try to use this recipe. I’ll let you know how the crepe pan works.

Braising Meats

I received a very pretty bright red braising pan from my friends Loretta and Jenny at my tea party bridal shower earlier this year.

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It is made of heavy cast iron with enamel coating. The bright red exterior is complimented by a cream-colored interior. The light-colored inside allows you to see your food cooking and browning on the bottom. You can get this same one at Target. It’s good quality, it’s pretty, and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg! I also have a cast iron dutch oven that I use to braise larger pieces of meat that my husband bought me years ago for Christmas. These heavy cast iron pans will last you a life time if you take care of them. There are so many options, and so many varying prices. You don’t have to buy the most expensive one, but I do think it is important to get one with the cream-colored inside so you can see the food you are cooking!

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I have been using this pan a lot lately especially since it started getting chilly outside. One thing that I have been making quite often is braised chicken. I have seemed to achieve perfection when I make chicken this way…. It always comes out sooooo juicy and falls right off the bone. You can make a simple dinner from it with some steamed veggies or you can pull it off the bones and use it in all kind of dishes.

I like to make chicken thighs because I love the dark meat but I have used breasts and even a whole chicken. I buy the bone-in, skin-on chicken and it should be cut into pieces if you’re going to cook a whole bird.

Start by heating the pan over medium-high heat and adding olive oil or butter (or both). Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides and place it in the hot pan skin side down. Leave it alone so the skin sears and becomes brown and crispy. You’ll know when it is ready to turn when it releases from the pan without resistance. Don’t pull the chicken or try to get it unstuck before this point, you’ll just end up pulling the skin off.

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Flip the chicken over and let it cook on the other side for the same amount of time, until the chicken releases from the pan by itself, don’t force it.

Add in cut up garlic and onions (or whatever other veggies and herbs you want) to the pan and just saute them for about a minute.

Add in chicken stock until it covers about half of the chicken (usually about two cups). You should be able see the top of it above the broth.

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Bring it up to a bubble and then cover it. Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for about an hour. You can also move the pan into the oven at this point and let it bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. You’ll get pretty much the same result.

If I have large pieces of chicken, I usually put it in the oven. If I am just making a few chicken thighs, I leave it on the stove.

Here’s what happens when it is done…

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You can touch it with a utensil and it will just melt apart!

Mmmmm…

You can save the braising liquid to make gravy by adding it to a roux or you can use it in soup. It is packed with a lot of flavor. The onions and garlic become super soft and pretty much just fall apart. You can strain it if you want but I usually just leave the aromatics in it and use the liquid as is.

Here’s a few simple dinners I made:

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Braised chicken with mashed sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli.

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Chicken braised with leeks and white wine added to the braising liquid, sauted mustard greens and broccoli.

This chicken meat is also great to add to soups and noodle bowls, added to pasta dishes, and it is delicious in chicken salad for sandwiches.

I have made several other meats using this method. The cooking time varies but it is the same basic process. Here’s a few more examples…

Braised Short Ribs and Root Veggies:

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Dredge the short ribs in flour, salt and pepper and sear on all sides. Add carrots (unpeeled), garlic, onion, and rosemary to the pot and saute for one minute. Use a stout beer as your braising liquid, I used root beer stout home-brewed by a good friend of mine. Add in some beef stock to bring the liquid about up to the top of the meat (about 1 cup). Bring everything up to a bubble, close the lid, and place in the oven at 350 degrees for 2-3 hours (depending on how large your short ribs are). You can check them by pressing on the meat with a utensil. If the meat starts to separate then they are done. The fat in the short ribs with render and they will fall apart and melt in your mouth! The carrots will hold their shape if you leave the skins on, just clean them well.

You can make gravy with this braising liquid or just spoon it right over the meat when you serve it. I served mine atop mashed parsnips.

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Ginger Braised Pork:

I used a pretty big pork roast for this – about 4.5 lbs. I had to cook this in my larger dutch oven.

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Sear the meat on all sides.

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Add in onions, garlic, and two apples (skinned and diced) and saute for about a minute. Add in a bottle of ginger beer – I used a home-brew again made by a friend. You can find ginger beers in some fancy bottle shops or you can substitute with any kind of fall beer or lager. I think it’s important to note that I used beer flavored with ginger, I did not use the ginger beer that is like ginger ale soda- I’m not really sure how that would turn out… probably too sweet but who knows! Leave me a comment if you try it!

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I used vegetable stock to bring the liquid level up higher – about half way up the roast. Let it come up to a bubble and cover it with the lid. Place it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 3 hours.

You’ll be able to tell it is done by pulling at it with a pair of tongs. If the meat pulls apart easily, it’s done. If it doesn’t pull apart, just put it back in the oven and check it periodically.

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Once again, you can make gravy with the braising liquid or just use it as-is. I served this pork with roasted mixed fall veggies and rice. I added it to my version of an Asian noodle bowl with bok choy, rice noodles, and ginger flavored broth. I also made a stuffed squash with a mixture of pork, mushrooms, rice, and cheese.

Braising does take time, but if you make more than you need for one meal, you can freeze it. I have made so many dishes using the meat that I braised and saved in the freezer. Just portion out about 1 cup per freezer bag. If you add a little of the braising liquid to the bag that you freeze it in, the meat will still be moist when you defrost it. Check back for upcoming recipes and ideas for using the braised meats – I have a lot!

Home Brewing and Spent Grain Dog Treats

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We spent Sunday home brewing our next beer for an event that our friends put together called Fe-brew-ary – more on that event in a later post. I think this batch is going to come out good, but time will tell…

We brewed an all-grain batch of brown ale this time. We used a lot of grains… too many for our pot… so we ended up rigging up this cooler system. It was pretty funny, but it worked.

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Throughout our brewing process, the dog seemed a little stressed out that we were rearranging the kitchen. He’s in the picture above looking distraught.

Making an all-grain batch of beer leaves you with A LOT of spent grains. It seems like such a waste to throw them out so I started making Monk some doggie treats out of them. Maybe if he knows treats come after beer he will relax a little.

A little FYI – Dog can not have hops!! It can really hurt them. You can read about it here. The spent grains come from the step in the beer making process BEFORE you add hops – so they are safe to use. If there are hops mixed in with your grains, do not use them for dog treats! Here is our boiling pot after we added hops… don’t let your doggie get into that!

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For the dog treats:

Collect about 4 cups of the spent beer grains and drain them well. The more moisture they contain, the longer your biscuits will take to dry out.

In a stand mixer combine 2 1/2 cups flour, 4 cups of spent grains, two large eggs, and about 1 cup of peanut butter. Mix until everything is combined.

You can make the treats two ways: squares or roll them into small balls, just like mini meatballs! It is kind of difficult to make them into other shapes because the dough is super sticky, not really cookie cutter friendly.

To make the mini meatballs, just roll the dough out into small balls and place them on the tray. It’s ok if they touch a little bit because they will break apart. Bake the treats for 1 hour at 350 degrees F for about an hour. Break up any treats that have stuck together and turn the oven down to 200 degrees F. Let the treats bake for a few hours, or until they are hard. Make sure they dry out throughly or else you won’t be able to keep them for long… they will get moldy!

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To make square biscuits, spread the mixture onto a sheet pan in a layer about 1/4 inch thick. Bake it at 350 degrees F for about an hour. Remove the pan from the oven and cut the sheet into smaller bite size squares. Separate the squares, turn down the oven to 200 degrees F and place them back in the oven for a few hours. Make sure they dry out, remember they won’t keep if they are still moist inside. If you use this method, make sure you cut the treats after an hour – If you bake it for too long and let the whole pan get hard it is really difficult to break apart.

Another variation is to add some beef flavoring to the treats instead of peanut butter. I recommend using these new concentrated broth packets made by Knorr. There’s a lot of flavor packed into the little packet and it won’t make your treats too wet like adding regular stock would.

I hope your doggie likes them… Monk does! He patiently waits for them to come out of the oven.

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Butternut Squash Lasagna

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This is one of my most favorite meals for fall. It is creamy, delicious and can be made so many ways!

I got the original recipe from Giada DeLorentis, from the food network. Her version was made to be a side dish and didn’t include meat or other vegetables, so you could leave those out if you want a simpler version of this lasagna. I haven’t actually read that recipe in a while because I have been tweaking this recipe ever since I started making it.  I added in some things to the layers to take it from a side dish to a hearty main dish. There are a few components to this dish that you must prepare before you layer it all together; the cream sauce, the butternut squash puree, and the sautéed kale (If you choose to add it). You make each one separately and then layer them in a large baking dish with cheese and lasagna noodles.

For the creme sauce:

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small chopped onion

2 large cloves minced garlic

4 tbsp flour

1/2 cup chicken stock

4 cups whole milk

salt and pepper

a piece of whole nutmeg (or about 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg)

1/2 cup packed fresh basil

Add 2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp olive oil to a large saute pan. Add the chopped onions and 2 cloves of the minced garlic and saute just for a minute. Add 4 tbsp Flour and whisk while cooking for a few minutes to make a roux. Whisk until the four mixture turns a golden color. Add 1/2 cup chicken stock and whisk until it is absorbed by the roux. Add the warmed milk 1 cup at a time and whisk until the sauce starts to thicken. Add each cup while whisking and simmer on low until sauce is a nice creamy consistency. Season with salt, pepper and about 1/2 of a freshly grated nutmeg. Put the fresh basil into a blender and ladle about two cups of the white creme sauce into the blender. Blend until the basil is fully incorporated, pour the mixture back into the rest of the sauce and stir to incorporate.

For the butternut squash puree:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 medium-sized butternut squash

1/2 cup chicken stock

salt and pepper

4-5 small Amaretti cookies

In a sauce pot, heat the olive oil and saute the butternut squash until some are lightly golden. Add in the chicken stock, cover and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender. Blend the squash in a food processor until smooth and add in 4-5 Amaretti cookies and blend until they are crushed and mixed in.

For the sautéed kale:

1 bunch of purple kale

2 cloves minced garlic

Salt and pepper

a piece of whole nutmeg (or about 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg)

Clean and cut up the kale. In a large saute pan, heat the oil and begin to saute the kale, add in the garlic when the kale starts to wilt. Saute the kale until it is wilted and soft and season it with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

To assemble the lasagna:

24 No-boil lasagna noodles (Barilla makes this and they are pretty easy to find)

1 lb Ricotta Cheese

1 lb shredded mozzarella cheese – or you can use your favorite blend of any Italian cheeses

Basil creme sauce

Butternut squash pure

Sautéed kale

1 lb of you favorite turkey sausage

Sautéed the sausage and brake it into small pieces until it is cooked through – I like the cranberry sausage, apple sausage, or sage sausage from The Turkey Lady in the Lancaster Central Market. I would choose a sweeter sausage rather than a spicy one for this dish.

In a 9×13 inch baking dish,  begin with a layer of creme sauce (a little less than 1/3 of the sauce), top it with about 6 noodles, depending on how they fit, just make sure you make a solid layer. Add about half of the butternut squash puree and about half of the ricotta cheese to the next layer. Top that with the turkey sausage and cover it with another layer of noodles. Cover those noodles with another third of the creme sauce. Add the sauteed kale in the next layer and about half of the shredded cheese. Add another layer of noodles, the rest of the butternut squash puree and the rest of the ricotta cheese. Top it with another layer of noodles and cover them with the rest of the creme sauce. Make sure the whole top layer of noodles is covered or they might not get fully soft. Top the whole thing with the rest of the shredded cheese.

Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the cheese on top starts to get brown and bubbly. Let the lasagna sit for about 15 minutes before cutting – otherwise the layers might slide and the pieces might fall apart.

I hope you enjoy this dish! It does have a lot of steps but it is delicious. I bet it will become one of your favorite fall foods!

A note about freezing this lasagna:

*You can use a 9×13 inch baking dish or two smaller baking dishes to build this lasagna. It freezes great – both uncooked and cooked!

If you baked a large pan and you have any left over, you can cut it into single portions and wrap the pieces tightly in plastic wrap. You’ll have single servings that you can unwrap and reheat it in the microwave easily.

If you don’t bake a large pan, split it into two baking dishes and freeze one. It is nice to have it on hand to bake it when you need it. It does take a long time to bake when it is frozen… but it tastes like you just made it, even after two months in the freezer! Just make sure you really wrap it up good to prevent freezer burn. You could defrost it in the refrigerator over night or put it in the oven frozen. It may take up to 4 hours to bake through if it is frozen when you pop it in the oven. So plan ahead a little bit.

Pepper Jelly

I have been experimenting with all of the lovely peppers I found at market the past few weeks. 20121023-225739.jpg

I tried making pepper jelly for the first time and canning it to keep for the wintery months. The first batch came out awesome! It was delicious – not too sweet, not too hot, just the right amount of kick. My second batch was a bit hotter because I switched up the peppers a bit and added in a chocolate Habanero.

I have been reading a lot of pepper jelly recipes from around the web to get ideas. I took a little advice from each of them.

I used a bunch of different peppers from around market. The stand holders have an explosion of them this time of year, as the plants produce their final peppers of the season. Since they are so abundant, you can get a lot of peppers for a little bit of money. I used a spectrum of peppers, in colors and in heat. My first two batches included peppers ranging from Habanero hot to bell pepper mild. Here are some of the peppers that I used: green bell, red bell, cherry pepper, jalapeno, chocolate habanero, anaheim chile, hungarian wax, poblano, serrano, bolivian rainbow (I think), and others that had no label at the market.

Here are a few pepper identification sites from around the web if you don’t know your peppers. some of them also tell you the heat levels – very helpful. Check them out: Epicurious, Chow, and Saveur.

I don’t think the exact peppers you use will matter that much, it’s more about the ratio of hot to mild. I am not very heat tolerant so I used a lot of sweet peppers and kind of mild hot peppers like jalapenos and cherry peppers in the first round. I’m writing a recipe that gives the overall quantity of peppers to use in the jelly mixture. The ratio you use is up to you. I think the best ratio of  4 1/2 -5 cups mild/sweet peppers to 1/2 cup hot peppers. It really depends on the type of hot peppers you use… warning: if you use 1/2 cup of Habanero then your jelly is going to be hot!

Pepper Jelly

5 – 5 1/2 cups peppers

1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar

3 1/2 tbsp. pectin

1 cup raw honey

2 cups organic cane sugar

Cut up all of your peppers really small, or put them in the food processor and pulse them until they are cut into small pieces – but don’t turn them into paste.

Bring the peppers and vinegar up to a boil and gradually add in the pectin, stirring constantly. Allow the mixture to boil hard for a few minutes. Add in the sugar and honey and bring the mixture back up to a rolling boil. Allow to boil again for about 5 minutes, stirring the mixture.

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Prepare your jars and lids. Here’s a really good resource on how to prep your jars so they are clean and sterile.

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Fill your heated jars with the jelly, leaving about 1/4 inch head-space in each jar, make sure the edges are clean, cover with lids and screw the bands on. Boil the jars for ten minutes and remove from canner. Allow the jars to cool, they will seal and the jelly will set within 24 hours.

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The seals are usually good soon after you remove them from the canner and they start to cool. Check the lids and if they did not seal within 24 hours then process the jars again. This jelly is not as thick as regular fruit jelly. If your jelly is sliding around in the jar, it is ok! It is a good consistency for placing atop a piece of cheese.

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A few lessons I learned from reading and from experience:

1. Be very careful when handling the peppers! Wear gloves – seriously, really – wear gloves. If you cut up and clean the seeds out of a bunch of hot peppers… your hands are going to burn. It might not happen right away, but a little while later, or right about when you have to start canning the jelly, your hands are going to be on fire. I have had this happen to me both times I made this jelly. You think I would have learned after the first time, right? Well I did learn but silly me just tried to put plastic baggies on my hands for protection because I didn’t have gloves. That was a mistake because my hands still hurt and burned.

2. I made up another theory about what might be happening to cause the burning on my skin. I have no scientific evidence to back this up so it might sound dumb. I was not wearing gloves while cooking the jelly and all of the steam was hitting my hands as I stirred. I realized that some of the capsaicin had to be going into the air because it was making me cough. So I am not sure, but I thought maybe that was what was making my hands burn. I will be doing more research on this. I will also be buying a box of gloves and wearing them every time I cut up a bunch of hot peppers.

3. The jelly is a thinner consistency than fruit jelly normally is. I like this consistency. It is good for spreading on a cracker with cheese. If you like your jelly a little thicker, add about 1/2 tbsp more of pectin to your batch. I also read that some people drain their peppers before they cook them with the vinegar. I didn’t want to do that because I felt like I was loosing a bunch of the flavor.

4. I list 5-5 1/2 cups of peppers because it is hard sometimes to get an exact amount with out wasting some of the peppers. I also don’t think that it’s necessary to be that exact when measuring out the peppers. I had a few little differences in the batches I made and they both came out great. You should measure out the other ingredients pretty accurately because the other ingredients will have more of an affect how your jelly turns out.

5. I used the small 4 oz. ball jars. This batch filled about 16 of them. I think they are a great way to serve the jelly. You can set the jar out next to a piece of cheese and it looks cute with a little serving spoon in it. You don’t have to search for a small serving bowl and you can just put the lid back on if there is any left… but there probably won’t be any left.

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I paired this savory jelly with wheat crackers and a specialty aged cheddar cheese from Cabot Creamery. This is my new favorite snack… and quiet possibly my favorite cheese combination ever! You will be hooked after you try it.

If you are interested in cheese making – I know I am – then watch this video on one of Cabot’s specialty cheeses. I would love to visit the place where they age all the cheeses or visit the creamery itself.

Thanks to my chef friend Aaron for some inspiration with the pepper jelly and paring, I had his version a few weeks back and it was amazing!

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Butternut squash and leek Macaroni and cheese

Butternut Squash and Leek Macaroni and Cheese

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This is a great fall dinner. It is perfect for a chilly night and it can be deliciously paired with a spicy pumpkin ale.

2 lb. butternut squash

1/2 sweet onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced

2 leeks, cleaned and sliced

1 lb. pasta – shells, or your other favorite smaller shape

6 tbsp. unsalted butter

3 tbsp. flour

1 cup chicken stock

2 cups milk

1/2 lb. cheddar cheese, grated

1/2 lb. Gruyere cheese, grated

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

a handful of basil, chiffonade

3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Clean and cut the butternut squash into smaller chunks, about the same size as the pasta you chose to use. Saute the squash, onion and half the garlic in 1 tbsp. butter. Cook until the squash is close to being soft all the way through – check it by sticking a fork through it.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta to al dente according to the package directions. Save some of the pasta water to thin out your sauce in case it gets too thick.

Saute the leeks and the other half of the garlic in 3 tbsp. of butter until tender. Add in the  flour and whisk in until smooth. Add in half the chicken stock, whisk until smooth again. Warm the milk (in the microwave or on the stove) and add it into the sauce, whisk until creamy. Let the sauce cook down until it is a little thick – keep whisking it so the bottom doesn’t burn. When the sauce thickens add in the cheddar and Gruyere cheese and whisk until all the cheese is melted.

Mix the sauce, cooked pasta, basil and squash mixture together. If the sauce is too thick, thin it out with a little bit of pasta water. Pour it all into a buttered 9×13 inch baking dish.

Make a mixture of 2 tbsp butter cut into small pieces, the Panko breadcrumbs and the parmesan cheese. Mix it with your finger tips to separate the butter. Sprinkle it on top of the pasta and bake in the over at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until your breadcrumbs look toasted.
For all you bacon lovers out there – try adding some bacon crumbles to the top before you bake it…. mmmm!

Sweet Potato and Bacon Soup

This soup was kind of an accident. I don’t know what made me want to turn sweet potatoes into soup – but I am glad that I tried it because it has quickly turned into one of my favorites. I have made it twice now, with and without leeks, both were delicious.

Sweet Potato and Bacon Soup

4 slices bacon

1/2 medium-sized sweet onion

2 carrots

3 ribs celery

3 cloves of garlic

1 large or 2 thin leeks

1 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes

3 cups vegetable or chicken broth

a hand full of chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup light cream

creme fraiche

Cut the bacon in small pieces and cook over medium high heat. Allow the fat to render and remove the crispy bacon bits that remain in the pan. *The bacon bits will get soggy in the soup so make sure you remove them at this point.

Dice the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery stalks and saute them in the bacon fat for a few minutes. Clean and slice the leeks and add them to the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste and saute until all veggies are tender.

*Here’s a little hint about slicing the leeks. Most recipes tell you to slice the leeks into half-moons. We are going to blend this soup with a hand blender. I find that when the leeks are sliced like this they tend to get stuck in the hand blender and leave stringy pieces in the soup. If you slice the leeks lengthwise and then cut them across, you get very small square pieces that do not get stuck in the hand blender. If you are going to use a regular blender and spoon your soup into it, it probably doesn’t matter which way you slice the leeks. Here’s what they looks like cut up small:

After the veggies are tender, add the sweet potatoes and saute about 5 minutes. Add in the stock and bring to a boil, simmer until the potatoes are tender.

Chop the basil and add it into the pot. Turn off the heat and use a hand blender to blend the soup until creamy. Add in the light cream and stir. You can thin the soup with more broth if you like it a little thinner.


Serve the soup topped with a dollop of creme fraiche, a little more basil, and bacon crumbles on top.

Spaghetti Squash

My friend asked me about recipes for spaghetti squash the other day and I though I would post a small collection of some of my favorites.

If you haven’t tried spaghetti squash… you should! It’s a good substitute for actual spaghetti if you are trying to lay off the carbs. I personally can’t give up pasta or I will starve to death, but I do like to eat different things once in a while…

There are a few different ways to cook the squash. It is pretty neat once it is cooked and the flesh turns soft. The flesh turns into long fibrous strings that you can remove just by scraping with a fork. Check out what they look like:

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I cooked this squash in the microwave by cutting it in half and placing it in a baking dish upside down with a small amount of water. Though I don’t usually cook many things in the microwave, it is the quickest method to cook the squash. It takes about ten minutes to get soft and you can’t really screw it up. If you bake it in the oven it will take 30-40 minutes, you should still add water to the baking dish and cook it cut side down. You could also boil it, which does take longer and tastes the same so I don’t really think it’s worth it.

No matter which way you cook it, you should try to let it drain once you have scooped it out of the skin. It will make whatever you are adding to it watery if you don’t drain off the extra water.

I usually just add my favorite sauce on top, just like spaghetti. If you mix in a little butter, salt, and parmesan cheese to the plain squash it makes it even better! You could also add crime fraiche if you want to get fancy…and delicious.

We had beef short rib ragu on top of spaghetti squash tonight for dinner, along with a mixture of fall veggies.

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Here are some of my other favorite recipes from around the web:

A very simple side dish

A Greek version

With shrimp on top

Roasted and sweet

I can’t seem to find my favorite recipe online, but I will tell you all about it. I’ll have to cook it up next time I get a spaghetti squash at market and write out the exact quantities. I don’t think it should be too hard to figure out. I made a very creamy casserole out of a pretty big squash one time – cooking the squash in the microwave, scraping it out, draining it, and then mixing it with a few simple but delicious ingredients. I included creme fraiche, fresh thyme, crushed pink peppercorns, nutmeg, butter, and the squash strands all in a bowl and mixed. Everything went into a casserole dish and into the oven until it bubbled. It was a rich and delicious side dish, perfect for a fall meal.

Experiment yourself! You could add pretty much anything to this squash. It takes the flavors of whatever you add to it, so it is super versatile!

Chicken of the Woods

We had a great dinner the other night with an unexpected ingredient – Chicken of the Woods mushrooms!

We’ve had some rainy days lately, which means mushrooms popping up all over the place. We went on a hike through some moist woods after a night of rain and there were mushrooms everywhere. It was a really nice hike with some great fungus spotting. As we hiked through the woods, we happened upon a big patch of Chicken of the Woods mushrooms. I have never eaten this type of mushroom but there are tons of recipes on the internet for them. Some consider these mushrooms a delicacy, so needless to say – I was excited to try them!

These mushrooms are vibrant and beautifully colored. They surprised us as we rounded a bend and saw the bright orange and yellow colors that stood out against the brown of the rotting log that we found them growing on. We only collected the smaller ones from the log. The smaller ones are more tender so we left the larger ones  still growing on the log. We also didn’t want to collect them all, you’ve got to leave some behind. When gathering edibles,  you always want to leave enough in the woods to reproduce so you can find them growing again.

The ingredients we had this week made for a great end of summer dinner. Dan grilled us New York strip steaks on the charcoal grill and I sautéed some veggies and made a fresh salad. Here’s how we put it all together:

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Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms:

8 oz. Chicken of the woods mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

3 tbsp. butter

1/4 cup brandy

1/4 cup chicken stock

1 tbsp finely chopped white onion

2 tbsp. heavy cream

pinch chopped parsley

Saute the mushrooms in 1 1/2 tbsp. of butter for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Stirring occasionally and carefully – I just flipped them over in the pan.

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Take the pan away from the heat and pour in the brandy. Allow it to bubble and place it back on the heat when the bubbling subsides.

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Cook the mushrooms for 5 minutes more and add in the onions and the chicken stock. Cook the mushrooms for 10 minutes more and add in the cream and parsley. Cook the mushrooms for a final three minutes, mixing in the cream.

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Sauteed Zucchini and Yellow Squash:

2 tbsp butter

1/2 small white onion, sliced thin

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 tbsp olive oil

1 zucchini, sliced in to rounds

1 yellow squash, sliced into rounds

shaved parmesan cheese

Smash the garlic using a pinch of kosher salt and the side of your knife blade so that all of the oil is being released and it turns into sort of a paste.

Saute the onion in the butter over medium heat for 3 minutes, until the onion is translucent and add the smashed garlic.

Add in the zucchini and squash and saute for about 8 minutes, just until the squash starts to turn soft. I don’t cook the squash for a very long time because I really like it to still have crunch to it. Remove the squash from the pan so it doesn’t keep cooking and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

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Heirloom Tomato Salad:

1/3 lb. mixed heirloom tomatoes, cut into chunks

1 medium-sized cucumber, skinned, cleaned of seeds and sliced

a few very thin slices of sweet onion

1/2 cup chopped pea shoots

1/2 cup arugula

good quality extra virgin olive oil good quality balsamic vinegar – I used the latest ones from my Global Gardens olive oil club.

salt and pepper to taste

Mix the ingredients in a bowl and serve with shaved Parmesan cheese on top.

 

Grilled NY Strip Steak:

2 new york strip steaks

Clarified Butter

Kosher salt and black pepper

Pat the steaks dry and sprinkle them with the salt and pepper on each side.

Rub the steaks with clarified butter to coat them.

Grill the steaks over a hot grill – we like to cook steak so it’s medium rare. It will take about 12 minutes for a 1 1/2 inch thick steak.

Make sure your grill is really hot so you get nice seared grill marks on your steaks. Place them on the grill over the hot coals and leave them alone for 5-6 minutes – don’t move them around the grill! Flip them over and cook for 5-6 minutes more. Remove the steaks from the grill and wrap in aluminum foil. Let them rest for about 5 minutes before slicing so the juices can redistribute throughout the meat.

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This meal was a great experience. Eating food that I have gathered myself gives me great appreciation for food that I eat. One of my favorite things is trying new foods and new recipes. It makes it really special when you know that you have found something great that you may or may not find again easily.

If you try gathering your own edibles, be sure to identify everything correctly! It is an interesting experience finding things that you didn’t know were around… or that you didn’t even know you could eat! Just be sure to leave some of the plants or other edibles where you found them so they can reproduce in that area. You always want to be able to find them again some day.

Grilled Sausages with peppers and onions

I have been trying to use the grill in new ways lately. I wanted to use the cast iron skillet over hot coals to cook something. So, I grilled some onions and peppers in a cast iron skillet to eat with grilled turkey sausages. It was a quick and easy dinner.

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I cut up the peppers and onions and tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. They went into a small cast iron skillet that I heated on the grill. Once they are on the grill, make sure you turn them over a few times with the tongs or they will burn. I placed the sausages on the outer part of the grill so they cooked a little slower.

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The sausages stayed nice and moist and juicy on the grill. I tossed the sausages into the cast iron skillet after I removed the peppers and onions – just for a minute – to make the outside of them pick up some of the sausage and onion juices left in the skillet.

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I made a spread with spicy brown mustard and horse-radish to spread on the buns: 2 parts mustard to one part horse-radish. Then piled bun with a sausage link and peppers and onions.

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I would like to try to cook other foods on the cast iron skillet. I am open to ideas, so leave a comment if you have any!