Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Ravioli with Walnut Puree and Braised Turkey

I'm not going to lie to you.  This recipe was complicated.  Well, at least complicated in terms of what I usually cook... not Alinea complicated or even close.  Dear God, the thought of that made me both hungry and exhausted all at once.

The first thing I did was start braising a couple turkey breasts.  Funny enough, I was actually stupid enough to buy turkey breasts weeks BEFORE Thanksgiving.  Yeah.  Dumbass.  I think its was about 2 weeks before turkey day that I made this for dinner, clearly not planning ahead.  Now I'm on such turkey overload that even writing this post is daunting.  However, if you have some leftover turkey and a few hours on your hands, give this vague with lack of measurements recipe (or parts of it) a try. 

I started by sauteing onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in some olive oil, then added some water, white wine, and herbs (thyme I think, but it doesn't really matter).  I let that cook over low heat, covered, for about 45min to an hour.  Braising is such an interesting thing because at first, it strikes fear into your heart because the meat get super-tough.  Give it time young one, because after what feels like too long, it is suddenly succulent and fork tender.  Awesome.

While that was going on, I started making pasta and roasting some squash.  The squash is easy.  Cut it in half, salt and pepper it, drizzle on olive oil and toss it into a 400F oven.  Wait 30min, test for done-ness with a fork.  If the fork slides in/out of the flesh easily, its done.  Let the squash cool, then scrape out the flesh into a medium bowl. 

Note: I made my own ricotta for this but unless you have a bunch of milk laying around to get rid of just buy the stuff.

Add ricotta (~1/4C) and egg to the squash along with a pinch of nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Reserve this for later, its the filling.  Obviously.

Pasta.  My new thing is making pasta.  For some reason I have this inner demon telling me that until I perfect my pasta-making, I'm not allowed to keep calling on my Italian ancestry.  Why am I so short? Because I'm Italian! Why am I so good at drinking wine?Because I'm Italian!  So yeah, I hand rolled my ravioli dough.  You can find a simple pasta dough recipe anywhere, but no matter what, be prepared to have to play with it a little to make it suit your tastes.  That, and be prepared for a workout because man is it hard to get it thin enough with only a rolling pin.  I like to roll mine out then let them hang out over a chair/cabinet door (get it? hang out?!? zing!) for at least 30 min before forming the ravioli.  Don't let the dough dry out though, make sure you cover them with a damp cloth whilst they chill.

Make ravioli.  Cut the sheets of dough into long, similarly sized rectangles.  Add a tablespoon or so of the squash filling.  Brush the edges with some egg wash (egg yolk + water) and lay a second dough sheet on top and seal the edges (that's what the egg wash is for).  Cut out squares.  Done.

Walnut and Sage Puree.  This might have been the easiest part of the meal.  Well, boiling the water wasn't so tough either.  But yeah, this is a cinch.  Throw some walnuts in the food processor with some sage.  Blend.  Add the mix (saving a little for garnish later) to a skillet with some butter and wine and cook it over medium heat until it makes a fragrant, thick sauce/puree. 

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  We're finally getting close, Ladies and Gentlemen!

Back to the turkey first.  I loved how the braised turkey tasted, but the texture didn't seem right for this dish.  It was too many "soft" things on the plate.  So I decided to shred the turkey and place it in the oven to crisp up at little.  Wonderful flavor from the braise plus some textural contrast.

Cook the ravioli in the boiling water until they float to the surface and seem done, I think about 2 minutes or so is how long mine took.

Assembly time! Yay!

Walnut-Sage puree on the bottom.  Top with ravioli.  Throw some turkey on top of the ravioli.  Shave some Parmesan over the top and sprinkle some remaining walnut-sage crumbs over the whole thing. 

What could possibly make this better you ask?  Yeah, see that thing with the gold writing in the background next to my nasty dish sponge, gross Laura!?  Truffle oil.  Yeah.  I went there.


I don't think I need to tell you that this was pretty awesome once we finally sat down to eat it.  And you know the best part?  I decided to make this dish on ON A TUESDAY.  Smart, huh? Thank god Boyfriend had class until 9pm 'cuz we certainly weren't going to eat any earlier than that.

I know some of you have some turkey and squash laying around from last week begging to be used up.  Try this.  Or, if you don't have 5 hours to spend in the kitchen.  Just make the easy-as-pie walnut sauce and toss it over some pasta with the turkey and squash.  Hell, that might only take you 15 minutes.  Why on earth did I just think of that now?!?!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Colcannon with Turkey Kielbasa

I have to admit, I made this dish over a month ago, during the Great Computer Meltdown of 2010.  But I figured that you deserved to see an adaptation of one of my favorite childhood recipes.  My mom used to make kielbasa with cabbage and potatoes all the time when I was growing up and I would go ga-ga for it (strange child, I know).  Somehow, I never remember my mom's kitchen smelling like farts... but yeah, cabbage apparently seems to do that.... Boyfriend was a little nervous....

Super-lucky for moi, my CSA crops were fantastic this year and one of the things that I've been over-run with is potatoes.  I never used to buy potatoes, seriously, never.  And, even now, I don't think I would conscientiously purchase them unless I needed them for a recipe or something.  I don't know why, but I think maybe I have some mental aversion to potatoes because I'm so against the "meat and potatoes" diet that so many of us fall prey to.  But then again, get ready to learn all about my meat-and-potatoes-(and cabbage) dinner :)

Either way, when I found myself looking at nothing but cabbage and potatoes... you know I thought, right? Whiskey and Famine!

Ha ha!.... ha...  Ha?  No... not really.

I thought of colcannon, the traditional Irish dish of cabbage and potatoes that my mom used to make with the inclusion of smoked kielbasa.  Since it was a million years ago when I made this I have zero idea the exact measurements I used for the seasonings so I'll let you use your tastebuds if/when you ever give this a try.

potatoes, mashed with butter and light cream
cabbage, sliced into thin stripes
smoked polish sausage, cut on the bias
apple butter (homemade, but I think you can find it anywhere or substitute apple cider vinegar)
course dijon mustard (from Trader Joe's)
a liquid (I used beer, but water or white wine would also work well)
salt and pepper, to taste

Basically, I made mashed potatoes (do it however you usually do).  Next I sauteed up my kielbasa until the edges were starting to get crispy and delicious, at which point I removed them from the pan and added my liquid (beer) to deglaze.  I added my cabbage, apple butter, mustard, salt and pepper and let the cabbage cook down for about 20min or so.  Once the cabbage is getting mushy and flavorful, I put the sausage back in the pan to re-heat it and boom! done.

Easy to make and easy on the wallet.  Great fare for the upcoming colder months, and fairly healthy to boot!  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rise and Shine! Lobster Souffle

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose SoufflĂ©s as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflĂ© recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.
On one hand, I was super excited for this month's challenge, I've never made a souffle!..... On the other hand, I knew it would be a challenge... both because I've never made a souffle nor do I own a souffle dish.

But hey, what's the point of joining the Daring Cooks if not for the challenge, right?  

The recipes that were included in the challenge all seemed so delicious (watercress souffle, crab and artichoke souffle, chocolate souffle!)... but I really wanted to put my own spin on it, and what better way to show off New England (and make everyone super-mouth-watering-ly jealous) than with a Lobster Souffle?

I followed the basic souffle recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (thanks Julia!) but added some lobster juice and body/tail meat to the milk/egg/flour base.  A quick warning should you try this one day: it came together much more quickly than I anticipated and I was very glad I pre-measured and chopped all my ingredients ahead of time.

Ingredients (for 2 entree souffle's)
1/2 C grated pecorino cheese (I substituted, the original calls for parmesan)
1 small shallot, diced
1 C 1% milk
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 tsp tomato paste (more for color than flavor)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
2 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1/2 C chopped lobster & its juices
2 tsp chopped oregano

My mise en place:
MtAoFC in the background....
1) Pre-heat oven to 400F and place rack in the bottom third.
2) Butter and "cheese" your souffle dish (coat the sides/bottom with a thin layer of cheese)
3) Heat the remaining butter in a saucepan, add the shallots and cook until soft (2-ish minutes)
4) In a separate saucepan, heat the milk and lobster juices until warm but not scalding.
5) Add flour to the butter/shallot mixture and stir for a couple minutes until the flour just barely starts to brown.
6) Off heat, add 1 C of the the hot milk/lobster juice mixture to the flour/shallot mixture and whisk to incorporate and thicken.
7) Back over a low heat, whisk in all but 1 tbsp of the cheese, salt, pepper, oregano and tomato paste.
8) Off heat, add the egg yolks one at a time, whisking to incorporate after each addition.
9) Let the souffle base sit while you beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.  I used my KitchenAid with the whisk attachment, but a regular electric mixer will work fine.  I didn't use cream of tartar (not due to some weird aversion, I simply don't have any) but I used a  splash of lemon juice instead.
10) Stir 1/4 of the egg whites into the souffle base to lighten it, then carefully fold in the remaining whites, trying very hard not to break them down too much.
11) Pour this delicious mixture into the souffle dishes (or soup bowls in my case), sprinkle with the remaining cheese and put in the oven for 30min. 

Julia's recipe says to turn the stove down to 375F once you put them in the oven, so that's what I did.  I also tried very very very hard not to open the oven door lest my souffles collapse.  I'm sure I looked like a maniac as I squatted near my oven door, beer in hand, giggling like a school-girl as I watched my beautiful souffles rise.  I tried to take a picture, but it turned out like this:

So puffy!!
Me thinks I need to clean my oven....

After I pulled these amazing smelling concoctions out of the oven I took a picture as fast as I could while watching them deflate.  Its true, the souffle waits for no one.  Puffy or not, these babies were Mmm Mmm Good!  Even though I put relatively little lobster into each of them, the flavors really came through wonderfully.  Next time I think I'll add a little nutmeg and maybe try to get my hands on a proper souffle dish (I'm hoping they won't collapse as quickly, but that might be a pipe dream).

Can you tell how much they've already deflated?
Boyfriend LOVED it and subsequently asked me, "So, is this considered a healthy or un-healthy dinner?".  I smiled and replied, "Let's just say we won't be having these all that often.  I think the butter alone counts for almose half of the calories in the dish."  He thought about it for a minute, then just smiled and said, "So good honey... really really good."  I'll take that compliment, thankyouverymuch.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Back in time... Chiles Rellenos

I miss living in Arizona (sometimes).  The sun.  The dry heat.  The food.

Everytime I go back I make sure I hit up my favorite food and drink spots.  No Anchovies, Rosa's, Nico's, The Shelter, The Buffet, Taco Bron (now called Papas y Beer, I think).

As if I needed to tell you this, but the Mexican food in Boston is... well.... to put it lightly... crap.  It's either over-Americanized or over-thought, and never nearly as authentic.  Maybe its the lack of lard?  The boring tortillas?  And even though I might seem like I'm complaining about this... like I expect someone to *finally* open the ideal taco stand, I'm perfectly happy about this situation.  Why?  Because food tastes best when it grows near where you live.  When you find me an avocado tree or some Hatch green chilies growing in Massachusetts... then I will start to get antsy for some real Mexican food.  But that's not what we do here.  We do lobster and clams.  They grow here.  Its why our Lobster Rolls and Clam Chowder are famous and why you can't really reproduce them anywhere else.

But that doesn't mean I can't try.... :)

I haven't had chiles rellenos since I left AZ, so I think that puts it at around 4 years.  When I was at the farmer's market last week, you won't believe what I saw.  POBLANOS.  Yeah, that's right. So I snatched them up and was on a mission to make some delicious Mexican food because a smart woman once said,
"....food tastes best when it grows near where you live.  When you find me an avocado tree or some Hatch green chilies growing in Massachusetts... then I will start to get antsy for some real Mexican food."
Seeing poblanos sitting in a bin having traveled only 50 or so miles to Boston from my CSA farm made that statement true as day.

Poblano peppers
cheddar cheese (I bought a block and cut it in slices.  If shredded works better for you, fine)
cojita cheese
soy-rizo (or use real chorizo, up to you, but I think Trader Joe's soy chorizo is the bomb)
eggs (1 egg per pepper)

Seems simple, right?  Actually, it is.

1) Roast the poblanos until the skin is charred and black.  Put them in a covered bowl or plastic bag to steam for at least 15-30min (until the skins peel off easily).
2) Once you've peeled the poblanos, cut a slit in them lengthwise and remove the seeds and ribs carefully, trying not to tear the pepper up.
3) I sauteed my soy-rizo in a skillet to bring out some of the flavor, but this is optional if you just want to use cheese only.
4) Stuff the peppers with cheddar cheese and soy-rizo, but not so full that you can't get them closed.
5) Separate the eggs into yolks and whites and beat the whites into stiff peaks.
6) Mix the yolks with flour (1 tbsp per 3-4 eggs) to make a paste.
7) Add the yolk paste to the beaten egg whites to form a homogeneous but fluffy batter.
8) Heat 1/4" oil in a skillet (for frying).
9) Carefully roll each stuffed poblano in a coating of flour, then dip in the egg batter.  Place in the hot oil and fry on all sides until golden brown and delicious looking.

I served these over some cilantro brown rice with a sprinkling of cojita cheese.  Delicious!  And, better yet, the poblanos had some serious kick to them.  Now, I'm very tolerant to spicy food.  Love me some spicy food.  But even I ended up chugging water and eventually going to the kitchen for a swig of milk because my mouth was on fire.  Boyfriend said his weren't nearly as hot as mine (maybe I missed some seeds?).

Still, next year when CSA season is cranking, you can bet your hot peppers I'll be snatching up some more of these darlings to satiate my Mexican cravings.

Arizona.  Mexico.  I miss you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beet Gnudi with Portobello, Shallot & Fig Cream Sauce

Right, I know... totally random.

I've been reading a TON of molecular gastronomy blogs lately (shout out to Salty Seattle and Alinea at Home) and I thought that for once, instead of relying on my usual ideas of Italian-means-tomatoes-and-basil and Greek-equals-feta-and-olives, I decided to try to think about flavors.  Now, the reason these traditional cuisines are so delicious is exactly because a long time ago people discovered that basil and tomatoes balance each other terrifically.  So, I have been trying to come up with a way to use up the rest of my beet gnocchi (gnudi actually, because they are ricotta-based instead of potato.... details, details) and be slightly more creative about it and the flavors that come with it. 

Here's about how it went in my wine-addled brain:
"Beets.  Beets are earthy.  What else is earthy?  Mushrooms.  Yes, mushrooms!  I love mushrooms.  Mushrooms make me want a nice glass of pinot noir.  I love wine.  Mmmmm shiraz is also tasty.  Shiraz is peppery.  Pepper! Yes, pepper.  How do I make this a sauce?  Cream.  Can't go wrong with cream.  Beet gnudi with mushrooms in a peppery-cream sauce.  Seems to earthy.   I mean, I love the earth and all... but hmmm... too much of the same.  Maybe something sweet?  I do have to dried figs in the pantry... oh, and by the way, I need to figure out what 'figgy' pudding is..." 
Aren't you sad you now know how I think?  Imagine working with me.  Tangents.  Everywhere.  No wonder my students always look so confused....

Moving on. 

I tossed some sliced portobello mushrooms, garlic and shallots into an oiled saute pan over medium heat to get soft and start browning.  Once I got some nice color on the 'shrooms, I added the chopped figs and about 3-4 tbsps brandy to the pan and turned the heat up a little to bring it to a simmer. 

I started a pot of salted boiling water for my gnudi, they only take like 2 minutes to cook, even from frozen.  Yay for fresh pasta!

Once the brandy evaporated off and everything was smelling fantastic, I added about a 1/4 C cream, some beef stock and a healthy dose of cracked pepper.  While that was amalgamating and getting all happy, I cooked the gnudi.  About 5 minutes later I had the gnudi plated and was pouring delicious earthy-figy-goodness over the top.  A sprinkle of thyme to seal the deal.

Yum.  I thought this turned out great.  Boyfriend liked it too, but thought that next time I should add less figs and/or chop them up a little finer.  I agree (although how often to I make things twice... yeah, the answer to that would be, "extremely rarely").  But just in case, I will heed his advice :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Locally Grown Feast

First, I'm sorry I haven't been posting much lately.  I've been traveling a TON, work has been crazy busy, and, to top it off, my home computer totally bit the big one.  I've been cooking some super fun stuff... just haven't had time to upload any of it.  So, hopefully, this post will be the beginning of good things to come :)

And here we go (again on my own, goin' down the only road I've ever known!)  Now that I've song-poisoned you... here we go:

I'm so sad now that my CSA season has come to a close. Because of all the travel this summer, I really missed the experience of walking to pick up my veggies every Sunday morning.  Luckily for me, my awesome roommate came to the rescue so I only had to miss 2 pick-ups all season.  However, now that its all over, I find myself hoarding winter squash and potatoes, knowing that they will store the longest and provide me with some lingering joy knowing that they were grown so close to where I live.

That said, I'll need to cook them up at some point.  I can't go hoarding them forever.  I made a delicious roasted butternut squash and ginger risotto a couple of days ago (forgot to take a picture... bad food blogger!) but had the neck of my beautiful butternut squash left, all alone, in the fridge... there are only 2 of us and that was one big squash.

Now, Boyfriend as I've mentioned, isn't the biggest squash fan.  Butternut is an easy one though because it's pretty sweet and the texture isn't as mushy as long as you don't cook it forever.  With that in mind, my first inspiration was to make a butternut and potato gratin.  I wanted to break up the sweetness and squashy-ness with some nice starchy potatoes (which I've also been hoarding).

A layer of potatoes, layer of squash, repeat.  Salt & pepper, cover with foil and bake for 30min in a 350F oven.  Uncover, pour some light cream over the top and bake uncovered for another 15min or so until the cream is thickening and bubbling.  Top with some panko and dots of butter, toss under the broiler, and done.  Easy peasy (well... more about that later... wait for it...).

As for the other part of our "local" feast.  Well, there's a nice story associated with that one.  However, I will warn you, I was recently told that my stories run a little long these days.... I think the phrase I heard all weekend was “Land the plane, Laura... Land. The. Plane”.  
I was down in the North End buying ground lamb (for euprika, see here) when on my walk back to the T I wandered across Mercato del Mare.  I’ve been to Mercato del Mare before, I love it.  Small little local seafood monger.  Most amazing owners ever (Woot Woot! Keri and Liz!!).  Ever. I popped in with a simple question, “Hey, are you guys still doing those free oyster shucking lessons on Saturday?”
Keri: “Yeah, definitely."

"Great, I'll try to make it down this weekend."

K: "Well, hey, I mean, are you busy now?”... 

“Well.... no”

K: “Well, c’mon in then!  I’ll make (name) show you how to do it”  *meanwhile, (name) is wearing a lobster on his head... fan-&*%-ing-tastic!*

“Really?!?  Awesome!”
And that’s how I learned to shuck oysters.  
Oh.... wait....
That’s not really important right now is it?  OK, here’s the important part, I felt so at-home and happy that I also bought a pound of fresh-off-the-boat bay scallops.  It was a kickass day, I got some fresh ground lamb, learned to shuck oysters, and picked up some nice local scallops.  Happy day!

My impromptu dinner was slowly coming together.  
Local scallops, seared (in butter, obv) with sweet potato gratin and a nice salad.

The scallops were unbelievably good (the butter might have had something to do with that... just a little something) and the gratin turned out significantly better than I thought since I totally burned the panko topping under the broiler because I wasn't paying attention and wine may or may not have been involved let's just leave it at that.

In fact, I believe this gratin might make an appearance on the Thanksgiving table this year....
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