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Archive for December, 2007

As my sister said on her way through the security line at the airport: “I’m not eating again today.  Well, not until I get home”.  As is tradition, we spent the majority of three days being uncomfortably full, and now we’re hoping to take a break from overeating for a few days.   We had a spectacular experience though, and took advantage of our family’s diversity by having Persian cuisine one night, Norwegian the next, and good ol’ American to finish it off.  Pictures to come.

In case you’re not sick of feasting yet, have I got a beautiful meal for you.  This isn’t one of those recipes where your guests will think you’ve spent all day cooking, but in fact it’s just been whipped up last minute.  You’ll actually be putting in some labor time on this one, but it’s well worth it for the right occasion.  Ours was a lovely dinner with lovely friends before we all dispersed for Christmas.  I’d recommend doing it in stages – make the sauce and roast the squash the day before, and you’ll be golden.  I’m not usually too excited by white sauces, but the combination of the sweet, caramelized squash with this rich decadent sauce is too much to pass up.

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Roasted Butternut Squash, Rosemary and Garlic Lasagna
adapted from Cooking Light

8 1/4 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (3 pounds or so.  I had a bigger squash, so just added an extra layer to the lasagna to use it up)
 Cooking spray
4 cups fat-free milk, divided
2 Tbsp dried rosemary
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (8-ounce) package no-boil precooked lasagna noodles
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
1/2 cup whipping cream

Arrange butternut squash in a single layer in a large roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Coat squash with cooking spray. Bake at 450° for 25 minutes or until squash is just tender, stirring once. Set aside.

Lower oven temperature to 350°.

Combine 3 1/2 cups milk and rosemary in a medium saucepan and simmer on medium heat 5 minutes or until mixture begins to boil. Let stand 10 minutes. Strain milk through a fine sieve into a bowl; discard rosemary.

Lightly spoon all-purpose flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and remaining 1/2 cup milk, stirring flour mixture with a whisk until well blended to form a slurry.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 1 minute or until tender, stirring constantly. Stir in steeped milk, and increase heat to medium-high. Gradually add slurry to pan, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook 15 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Combine milk mixture and squash, tossing gently.

Spread about 1 1/2 cups squash mixture into the bottom of an 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 3 noodles over squash mixture; top with 2 cups squash mixture and 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat layers once or twice with 3 noodles, 2 cups of squash, and 1/4 cup of cheese. Top with 3 noodles.

Just before your guests are due to arrive, beat whipping cream and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt with mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Spread the whipping cream mixture over noodles; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Cover with foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until golden. Let stand 10 minutes.

I’ve got another week off from work (eat that, suckas!), so am planning to tend to the winter garden (artichokes are so happy right now, but the beets, chard and turnips have been a little neglected), clean the house, and generally nest, getting ready to start 2008 on the right foot.

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Too Cold

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of the cold. My mom still talks about finding me in the middle of a hot Bay Area summer, sitting on the couch reading with a huge blanket covering me up. Even now, in the midst of a (granted, mild) winter in San Diego, I have on my bed: flannel sheets and a regular comforter topped with THREE down comforters. Sure makes it tough to get up in the morning.

This love of warmth translates to food, too – I’ve never been too fond of salads, as I prefer my greens steamy and soft – a tender biteful of garlicky greens over a crunchy crisp romaine for me, thanks. But maybe I’m coming around! I have a massage client with an orchard, and she tips me in fresh, straight-from-the-tree fruit. It’s heavenly, and this month I’m swimming in Fuyu persimmon and mandarin oranges, thanks to her bounty. I saw this salad in Cooking Light, and had to face my salad fears to try it. I’m glad I did – it’s peppery, sweet and spicy and showcases the winter flavors I love.  I subbed out the hazelnuts for candied walnuts and the persimmon for mandarin oranges, and it translated well:

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extravirgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 cups thinly sliced fennel bulb (about 2)
2 cups thinly sliced peeled ripe Fuyu persimmon (about 2), or the same amount fresh mandarin orange sections
1 (5-ounce) package bagged prewashed arugula
a generous handful toasted or candied nuts

Combine the first four ingredients in a small bowl and stir with a whisk. Throw the fennel, fruit and arugula in a big bowl, toss with dressing and top with nuts. Pair with something warm, for god’s sake!

Hope everyone had a holly jolly one!

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Can’t stop baking!

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In the oven directly after posting this: almond biscotti (with coarsely chopped raw almonds and a dash of almond extract), with mini chocolate chips on one side, and extra fennel seed on the other. That plus plenty of hot cocoa and it should be a pretty warm winter. Yeah.

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Senate Bean Soup

According to custom, bean soup must be on the menu every day in the Senate dining areas. I came across the famous recipe when deciding what to do with my lovely Rancho Gordo Yellow Eye beans, and couldn’t resist it. How much easier does it get, really? Four basic ingredients that can be set and forgotten about. Because that’s what politicians love, isn’t it? Basic things with no frills or confusion, that don’t cost a lot of money… hmm.

I so highly recommend this soup. The ingredients, or rather – the lack thereof – gave me pause, but I was so pleasantly surprised by the taste – no description or picture does it justice. The beans are super tender and buttery and perfectly exhibited in this simple soup. It’s super.  And costs about $5.00.  You should make it today.

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The Famous Senate Restaurant Bean Soup Recipe

2 pounds dried navy beans
four quarts hot water
1 1/2 pounds smoked ham hocks
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

Wash the navy beans and run hot water through them until they are slightly whitened. Place beans into pot with hot water. Add ham hocks and simmer approximately three hours in a covered pot, stirring occasionally. Remove ham hocks and set aside to cool. Dice meat and return to soup. Lightly brown the onion in butter. Add to soup. Before serving, bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Serves 8.

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Biscotti

Why did no one tell me how easy it is to make biscotti? I’ve been on a bit of a cookie craze, and the folks at work are starting to get plumper!

Last week it was Mint Chippers (yummy – shortbread-like texture, minty chocolate flavor – delish) and Coffee Meringues (speaking of easy – I’d never made meringues before, and they’re so very simple – who knew?), and this week – biscotti.

I feel a habit coming on, because after this first batch, my mind is spinning with flavor combination possibilities – almond and fig, mini chocolate chips and pepper, pistachio dipped in white chocolate… These might just be coming out of my oven soon. Anyway, for the recipe that started it all, I used a basic biscotti recipe and doctored it with fennel seed and walnuts. Since walnuts have such a strong buttery flavor, I loaded up on the fennel seed to give these crispy cookies some bite.

Walnut-Fennel Biscotti

1 1/2 cups sugar
10 tablespoons melted butter
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons ground fennel seed
1 cup coarsely chopped lightly-toasted walnuts

1 large egg white

Biscotti means twice-baked cookie, so this is a two step baking project – perfect for these chilly San Diego winter days (shut up, it’s cold)!

Mix sugar, butter, 3 eggs, vanilla and ground fennel seed in a large bowl. add flour, baking powder and salt and stir until well blended. Stir in walnuts. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a loaf, about a foot long and 3″ wide. It’ll spread a little in the oven – here’s the size of a baked loaf:

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Put both logs on a baking sheet lined with silpat or parchment. Whisk egg white in small bowl until foamy; brush over top and sides of each dough log – that’s what will give you that golden sheen on top of your cookies.

Bake logs at 350° until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool logs completely, but leave your oven on – you’re not done yet!

slices.jpgUsing a serrated knife, cut logs on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on same baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes. Turn biscotti over; bake until just beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool. Brew the hot beverage of your choice, dig in and begin plotting your next biscotti adventure.

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