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Friday, December 31, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Squash Casserole

You may have noticed a trend in Random Food Fridays. I like squash. A lot. I really like squash enhanced with savory flavors. I grew up with all squashes and sweet potatoes served up super sweet, with brown sugar and cinnamon. I still like those sweet squashes every now and then, mostly in pie. Savory squash dishes, like this one, are the ones that have become regulars at our table.

This recipe is adapted from Butternut Squash Supreme by Marianna King. I found it on Like many of her reviewers, I changed it to suit my tastes. Her instructions include a diced raw onion and cheddar cheese. I substituted one of my favorite flavor combinations - shallots, sage and a blend of Italian cheeses. I've made this with sweet potatoes as well. This week, I baked off the acorn, delicata and sugar pumpkin I had used as a decoration throughout the Fall. I like baking rather than boiling, as Ms. King directs. I like the flavors to concentrate and become more dense. After baking, I scooped out the flesh and pureed in a food processor.

I took this for lunch one day this week. As I sat eating, engrossed in Harry Potter, I kept thinking, "Wow, this is good. This is SO good. I've got to post this. Everyone should eat this. So, so good!" Luckily, all my coworkers heard was "Mmmmm! Mmmmm! Mmmmm!"

Squash Casserole
About 4 cups of cooked and pureed dense orange squash or sweet potatoes
2 tbsp. butter
1 large shallot, diced
2 tbsp. fresh sage leaves, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup whole milk or half and half
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup grated cheese (I like an Italian blend with Asiago, Parmesan, Provolone and Mozzarella)
1/2 tube of Ritz crackers
2 tbsp. melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 inch square baking pan by lining with butter or non-stick spray.

In a small skillet, saute the shallots and sage in the butter over a low flame until the shallots are soft and translucent.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the squash, eggs, milk, salt and pepper and cheese. Stir in the shallots and sage. Pour into prepared bake pan.

Crush the crackers in a food processor or put them in a large Ziploc back and bash them until they become crumbly. Mix in melted butter. Evenly distribute the crumbs over the top of the squash.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serves 6 as a side dish or 4 as a vegetarian main course.
246 calories per side dish serving.
370 calories per main course serving.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Turkey Pot Pie

We had a very pie-centric Christmas. December 23 saw quiche and two pumpkin pies. The 24th saw apple and pumpkin at my folk's house. Then, Christmas day brought us the real reason we roasted a turkey on the 23rd - turkey pot pie!
My fabulous daughter, Madelyn, requested a pie crust lesson. She's a very accomplished cook and makes everything from scratch. I've been lucky enough to inherit many pie-making tools, such as the pastry frame seen above. As she made the crust and I made the filling, we discussed alternative tools for her to use in her little kitchen. For a time, my in-laws, impressed by my pastry frame, used a dedicated white bed sheet to roll out pastry. They folded it many times so that a flexible fabric surface was usable for rolling out dough. Now, my father-in-law has developed his own favorite pie crust recipe which features coconut oil and is pressed into the pie pan. One benefit of a commercial pastry frame is that it has cirlces printed on it for each size of pie plate.

Pie Accomplished!
Pie Happiness!

What's better than pie? Pie cookies and jam tarts!
We used the dough recipe from my Rustic Apple Pie post. This recipe makes three single layers of pie dough, so we had some leftover for pie cookies and jam tarts. Mr. Dwayne loves pie cookies most of all. Simply brush leftover crust with cream or egg wash, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and bake. The jam tarts are the same, but folded over a dollop of jam. Don't forget to poke a steam vent into jam tarts. If you don't, you'll likely have a jam eruption on your cookie sheet. Also, to do not eat jam tarts too soon. I've been told that they can feel like trying to eat liquid hot magma!

Here are our pies. We also had some extra filling and made a little pot pie in a ramekin. Aside from the pastry, this is really not an exact science. Do a lot of tasting while you make the filling. Add the veggies that you like, make sure your gravy is well seasoned and enjoy!

This is all that was left after we three dug in. I can think of no finer use of leftovers than pot pie!
Turkey Pot Pie
pastry for one double crust pie (plus extra for dessert!)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 carrot, diced
1 rib celery, diced
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced and thoroughly washed
1/2 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1 tbsp. each chopped fresh sage and parsley
2 and 1/2 cups leftover turkey, cubed
2 cups leftover gravy
1 egg
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare pastry and line 9-inch pie plate. Make an egg wash by beating the egg with 2 tablespoons water. Brush the prepared bottom crust with the egg wash. (This helps to prevent a soggy bottom.) Set aside.
For the filling, in a large skillet, saute the vegetables and herbs in the olive oil and butter. (If using frozen peas, add them when you add the meat.) When veggies are tender, add the turkey and gravy. Heat through. Taste and adjust seasoning. I think this benefits from a good amount of salt and pepper.
Pour the filling into the pie pan. Do not over fill. Save any extra for another use. Roll out top crust and transfer to pie plate. Trim edges, turn them under and crimp. Cut vents into top of crust. Bake in the preheated oven for about 50 minutes. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving. (If you can wait! This will make slicing easier.) Enjoy!
Serves 4-6.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

Merry Christmas! We're so grateful for the abundance we are able to enjoy and share!

My lovely daughter, Madelyn, and her boyfriend, Robb, came in on Wednesday night. Thursday we had a big roasted turkey dinner before Robb had to head home for work and to continue his celebrations with his family. Christmas eve was a day of traveling. We visited with my in-laws and my parents and grandma. All my life we've celebrated Christmas eve with the grandparents and had Christmas day for relaxing at home. Today's Christmas celebration was really our fourth of the season.

Receiving Pat's kitchen wisdom.

While visiting my in-laws, we got to talking about all the treats of Christmas past. My beloved mother-in-law, Pat, suffers from dementia. Sharing memories of her has become so precious and important. Pat was a fantastic cook and taught me much of what I know. Madelyn and I decided to browse through the family cookbook. I think most houses have something like this - a notebook or bundle of recipes collected over the years. These are precious family artifacts. To my great surprise, Bill gifted me with this one! Because I am interested in recipes and the stories that go with them, I have now been gifted with two of these precious heirlooms. Earlier this year, I received my Pappy's recipe book. (I had two Pappy's - my grandfathers. This one is my maternal grandfather.) His looks much like the one above, but is brown. Like Pat's, it has a combination of handwritten, typed and clipped recipes. My Pappy's notebook also contains notes and recipes from his young adult years when he worked as a chef in a hotel. My Grandma Betty gave it to me when I showed interest in it.
Because I've been part of my husband's family for about 30 years, I have a good idea which of these recipes were repeated family favorites and which were collected for experimentation.

My father-in-law has taken over the cooking duties and has become very proficient. He has several specialties that we all love. When he gave me Pat's book, he told me that his frequent-use recipes are on the pantry door.

Bill's Perfect Soup
Bill's soup is taped up above the other recipes. He makes this soup once a week and it is delicious. It was developed by trial and error and is now Bill's Perfect Soup. (I think I'll let him know that this should be it's official name.) When my daughter grows older and starts a family of her own, won't it be wonderful to have artifacts like this recipe to help tell her children the stories of their great grandparents?

I have so many cookbooks. I've been meaning to share some of them for a while. I have a collection that crosses several generations of my family. My own cooking recollections are taking shape in this blog, but are totally unorganized in my kitchen. There are printouts, scribbles and note papers everywhere! I realize that I don't have a cohesive legacy like these little rubber banded notebooks. So, while I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, it seems that one is shaping up for me - create a non-electronic cooking legacy for my descendants. I hope any cooking folks who read this little blog will consider doing the same. I love to enjoy food wisdom and sharing on the interwebs, but who knows what formats will still be around two or three generations from now. It's time for me to back it all up on files that only require eyes to read.
Heartfelt warm wishes for 2011!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Orange Beets

I love beets. I didn't eat a fresh beet until well into adulthood. It took me several years to discover that I could actually eat those green leaves on top too. I used to make the grocer cut them off! Now beets are a family favorite. This is how I first prepared beets for Dwayne. He was skeptical but ended up really enjoying them. This recipe is adapted from the Better Homes and Garden's Vegetable Cook Book, first published in 1965. This is one of the many cookbooks that belonged to my great grandmother and came to us when we moved into her home. I've only made two changes - I reduced the salt and added orange zest. I don't know how people avoided high blood pressure back in the day if they cooked with all the salt I see throughout this book. This recipe actually calls for a full teaspoon of salt! I use just 1/4 teaspoon and that is plenty.

If the only beets you know are the little pickled ones at the local salad bar, I hope you will give fresh beets a try. Also, if you've never eaten fresh beets before, do not be alarmed by any colorful changes in your digestive habits. One friend of mine took himself to the emergency room after his first helping of fresh beets!

Orange Beets
6 medium beets
3 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. orange zest
1/2 cup orange juice

Wash beets and cut the greens off about 1 inch from the crown of the beet. (This prevents all of the color leaking out while cooking.) Place in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to slow boil. Cook until tender when pierced. This will take 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. When tender, remove them to a plate to cool.

For the sauce, place the sugar, cornstarch, salt and butter in a medium saucepan. Melt the butter over a medium heat, stirring constantly to make a roux. Do not brown. When smooth, pour in the orange juice and zest. Continue to cook and stir until smooth, thick and glossy. Set aside while you slice the beets.

Cut the tops and bottoms off the cooked beets. Cut into quarters lengthwise, then slice. Add beets to the sauce and heat through. Sprinkle with additional orange zest before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Frittata

Eggs to the rescue! Full of nutrients! Delicious! Easy to prepare and enjoy in no time at all. Eggs!

This holiday season has been a little crazy for me. There's so much going on at work, and the evenings are filled with holiday preparations. A quick and nutritious home-cooked meal can feel heaven sent. Frittata's are my go-to egg dish. This is one of those dishes that is easily adapted to your own preferences and refrigerator contents. The frittata pictured above is filled with chopped shallots, diced ham and one leftover baked potato that had been cubed and crisped in butter before adding the eggs. I think eggs and Parmesan cheese are a match made in heaven, but you could use any melting cheese you like to top your frittata.

Here is a simple supper from this summer. This frittata is filled with leftover Swiss chard that was sauteed with shallots and mushrooms. (Notice my yummy iced coffee drink. I'll sing the praises of Medaglia D'oro instant espresso in a different post.)

So, when you are in a hurry and you are thinking about stopping for some fast food, consider stopping at home for frittata instead.


Up to 1/2 cup vegetables and/or cooked meat of your choice (I usually have shallots in there somewhere)

1 tbsp. butter

2 eggs

1 tbsp. half and half

3 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Preheat an 8 inch skillet over a medium heat. Use an oven-safe non-stick skillet or a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. Add butter and add any raw vegetables and saute them until tender-crisp. If using leftover potato, add cubed potato with the raw veggies so it has time to crisp a bit. Add any additional cooked vegetables and/or cubed, cooked meat.

Preheat your broiler with the rack on the top shelf of the oven.

Beat the eggs with half and half and 1 tbsp. of grated Parmesan cheese. Distribute the veggies and/or meat in the pan and pour the egg mixture over all. Tilt the pan to make sure egg gets all around the contents of the pan. Reduce heat to low. Use a spatula to gently lift the edge of the frittata and tilt the pan so that the raw egg runs under the frittata. You may have to do this a few times. When the surface of the frittata is just moist, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and pop it under the broiler for 1-2 minutes. Watch it closely and remove as soon as the cheese is melted and the eggs are slightly puffy. Serve immediately with toast and jam.

Serves one. To serve two, increase eggs to 3 or 4 and add a bit more filling ingredients.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Plum and Pineapple Jam

Before I started really learning about canning and writing about my food experiences, I made plum and pineapple jam every year to give at Christmas time. My mom has a tree and we grew up eating this jam. We followed the recipe on the Sure Jell package and didn't bother with a boiling water bath. No one ever suffered from our short cut, but I'm glad that I now know how to make all my products safe. With my Ball Blue Book and litmus strips, I shall be able to give boiling-water-bath preserves with confidence!
The color and flavor of this jam will be strongly impacted by the type of plums you use. Some years I have used blue plums and some years I've used these little golden plums from my mom's tree. I don't think I've ever had to buy plums. Because these golden plums came in at the same time I was trying to throw an anniversary party and my finger was still in a splint, they got thrown into the freezer. I weighed them prior to freezing and they were about 25 lbs. in eight one-gallon Ziploc bags. Yesterday I brought four bags out of the freezer and committed to using them today. If I had processed the plums straight off the tree, I would have had a much brighter color, similar to apricots. The freezing process turned them a little brown. To mitigate the brown color, I used a package of fresh cranberries to add a red color. I'm pleased to say that it turned out with the honey color you see slathered on the French bread above. If you have beautiful plums, omit the cranberries.

Weather you are starting with fresh or frozen fruit, the first step is to cook it. My mom's plums are small, soft and not very pulpy. I cook them whole and run them through a food mill. For larger plums, I pit and chop them before cooking. The recipe I'll give you requires six and a half cups of fruit. You can use 100% plums, but I really like the plum and pineapple combination. This jam is one of my favorite sauce bases. I start with one 20 oz. can of Dole crushed pineapple in juice and bring it up to six and a half cups with the plum pulp. I searched the interwebs and found some discussion that suggests that Dole does not use PBA in their pineapple cans. However, when I emailed them to make sure, I received a computer generated response that was so vague I couldn't really tell if they use it or not. For now, I'm going for it. I knew when I learned about PBA that pineapple would be the most difficult canned food for me to give up. If you want to chop a fresh pineapple, that will work here too.

Once the fruit is mixed, the pineapple provides most of the texture. When the jam is done cooking, it is important to skim the foam and then stir for a couple of minutes to distribute the fruit. This prevents the chunks of fruit from floating.
Today's project started with 12 lbs. of plums and one bag of cranberries cooked down in two different pots with one cup of water each. The resulting pulp was enough to make five batches of jam with one can of pineapple used in each.
Plum and Pineapple Jam
1 20 oz. can of crushed pineapple in 100% pineapple juice
prepared plum pulp to bring the fruit up to 6 1/2 cups
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 1.75 oz package of Sure Jell for no or low sugar recipes (in the pink box)
Prepare a boiling water bath. Wash 5 pint jars,lids and rings. Sterilize jars. Place lids and rings in a sauce pan with water and bring to a simmer. Keep jars hot until ready for use.
Measure the fruit and place in a large sauce pan. Measure the sugar. Mix the pectin with 1/4 cup of the sugar. Whisk into the fruit mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once the fruit and pectin mixture is boiling, add the remaining sugar and continue to stir constantly. Bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil for exactly one minute. Remove from heat. Skim the foam. Stir the fruit gently for a couple of minutes to distribute the fruit. Ladle into clean, hot jars. Wipe the rims with a clean, moist towel. Place lids and rings on jars and gently close. Do not tighten. Carefully lift the jars into the boiling water bath. Boil for 10 minutes. Reduce heat and once boiling has stopped, gently lift out the jars and place them on a towel. Resist the urge to tilt the excess water off the jars. I like to place a towel in a bake pan and place the hot jars on the pan for easy transport. Do not disturb the jars and allow them to sit over night before labeling.
Makes 5 pints.
Goodnight my yummy little jars of goodness. I'll be seeing you for labels tomorrow!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Oatmeal Raisin Muffins

These are currently Mr. Dwayne's favorite breakfast. I puzzled, for a while, about how to get him to eat some oatmeal. He's just not a hot cereal kind of guy. I came across this muffin recipe in Jane Brody's Good Food Book. I've adapted it from her recipe, adding a little more salt and some vanilla to suit our tastes. The amount of oatmeal in them may not offset the cholesterol in the butter, but hey, they're better than white toast! There's lots of fiber and lots of flavor. They really do taste like oatmeal raisin cookies.

Oatmeal Raisin Muffins
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (Jane Brody only calls for 1/4 tsp.)
3 tbsp. wheat germ
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. honey
1 egg

In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, oats and raisins. Allow them to soak while preparing the rest of the ingredients. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and wheat germ. In a third and larger bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, vanilla, honey and egg. Add 1/2 the oat mixture to the creamed mixture, then add 1/2 the dry ingredients, stirring just to combine. Repeat. Do not over stir. Divide the batter into 12 greased muffin cups. (I use a 4 oz. disher to scoop the dough and come out with exactly one dozen every time.) Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Per my calculations, these have 187 calories each.