Roasted Stuffed Acorn Squash

I have never cooked an acorn squash – or any winter squash for that matter. Therefore this was a completely new experience for me. It did not hurt that I make rice just about every week and make mushrooms pretty much every week too. Rice, mushrooms, shallots, lemon – just my kind of go to lunch.

I would rather take lunch to work than to go out for it (or breakfast). I think I make pretty good food and I make what I like and that works for me. Why go out and buy something if you are happy with the things you make. And for me, I like to mix things up a bit. Sometimes it is toasted bread with mushrooms and some cheese,  or rice with mushrooms and artichoke hearts. I always have cheese and butter at work – and always always a fresh lemon. I also have a salt and pepper grinders – makes a difference.

I guess that is where my lunch hacks come from. Take something you have and turn it into something new with just what you have, appliance wise, at the office. In my case – toaster, toaster oven, and a microwave. Looking forward to the new office where will have a warming oven. Hoping it gets hot enough to make cookies (350 degrees). That will just smell great.

D&D_24931 acorn squash, cut in half stem to root and scoop out seeds/strings
1/2 cup grain, jasmine rice, cooked, finished w/lemon juice/zest
1 cup vegetables, cooked (crimini mushrooms, shallots, garlic, lemon juice/zest)
1/2 cup extra sharp white cheddar
Additional filling ingredients as desired, dried fruits, nuts, etc.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (convection).

Place the squash halves cut-side-down in a baking dish and pour in enough hot water to fill the pan by about 1/4 inch. Cover the dish loosely with foil and place the dish in the middle of the oven.

Roast the squash until easily pierced by a paring knife, 30 to 50 minutes. Exact roasting time will depend on the size of your squash.

While the squash is roasting, prepare the filling. Mix filling ingredients in a bowl and season with salt and pepper and any other spice you would like. Or add some dried fruits (I’m thinking cranberry here) or nuts.

Flip the cooked squash halves so they form bowls. Rub the inside with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Divide the filling between the halves — mound the filling on top.

Cover the pan with the foil and bake the halves for another 15 to 20 minutes until both are hot and bubbly. Top with extra cheese and serve immediately.

15 minutes at 375 convection, turn 15 more – done.

This was pretty cool. Will be trying more winter squashes. Such a new thing for me. I kind of like the speckled look of the acorn squash. Looks like stars.

Source: thekitchen.com

Christmas Eve Buffet Cheese Ball

So I think this year, I might subject friends and family to my odd sense of nostalgia and hope I, the one who has this in my memory, am not disappointed.

For some reason, known only to herself (she never did explain it), my mother left me in charge of deciding the food for Christmas Eve. Not the making in all, or even most, cases, but the deciding. In our family which was rather large even though is was just my 3 siblings, me, my parents, and our older siblings kids, we opened presents from each other on Christmas Eve, so it was a night of perpetual snacking and in my case eating enough vanilla taffy to almost (almost, but not quite), make myself sick. Oh, and fudge too. And I don’t even like fudge (Groundhog Day.)

D&D_1499This was one of the things that I wanted every year and also made myself – not exactly difficult even though we had no food processor or mini chopper. You just did it the old fashioned way, by hand – no harm in that. I have no idea where this came from, but in my made-up back-story for it, it was a contribution to a local newspaper from some woman who would call herself by her husband’s name, you know what I mean. Instead of Mary Smith, she would be Mrs. John Smith, like she didn’t have an existence outside of him – yes, going off the rails here a bit, but that kind of thing just makes me slightly crazy.

Here for posterity’s sake.

8 ozs  cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar, room temperature
3 Tbs well-drained horseradish
1/4 cup finely chopped dried beef

Combine cream cheese, cheddar, horseradish until well blended. Make into a ball and chill. Roll in dried beef until covered. Chill several hours. Let sit at room temperature before serving. Serve with Triscuits or whatever crackers you like, but when I was 12, Triscuits is what I did. And everyone else did too.

Several questions arise – the first being do they still make dried beef in those odd little jars (not that I could tell, and I looked), where is it in the store if they do and what are my other options? I’m thinking pan fried proscuitto minced.
Also – only 1/2 cup of sharp cheddar. First, must be Cabot seriously sharp, but needs to be orange for color contrast and it will most certainly be more than 1/2 a measly cup. Please.
I will taste and check the horseradish level, but must be careful not to blow everyone’s palate. I tend to like just a click more horseradish than most people.

What I did make –

8 ozs cream cheese, softened
1 cup extra sharp cheddar, shredded at room temperature
3 Tbs well drained horseradish
1 cup minced dried cranberries
3 scallions minced
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Coating:
1 Tbs chives, minced
3 scallions, minced
1/2 cup dried cranberries, minced

Combine cream cheese, cheddar, and horseradish until well combined. Add in cranberries, scallions, and pecans. Roll into a ball and cover with plastic and chill until firm.

When ready to serve, mix coating ingredients in a wide bowl, and roll cheese ball in to cover, pressing in as necessary. Serve with crackers or toasted bread.

23 December 2017 – for Christmas Eve.
Never hurts to try something new, esp. if it is really good – and um, it was.

Hash Brown Casserole

I love hash brown casserole but so many recipes use cream of something soup – ugh. I just can’t stand the idea of doing that. It is just so … yuck.  I thought that for our New Year’s Day brunch, I would add this to my mom-in-law’s tradition of New Year good luck food. You know – from the south it is collards, black-eyed peas and from the north it is sauerkraut and sausage oh, and German potato salad. Hell of a New Years Day, especially when some beer is involved. And beer is always involved.

D&D_2587

2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 Tbs flour
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup chicken stock
salt/pepper

30-32 ounces frozen shredded hash browns – thawed
8 Tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled
8 ounces sour cream
medium yellow onion, grated
2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese, divided (1 1/2 & 1/2)
1 teaspoon salt, might need a bit more but I prefer to add when serving
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a small sauce pan, melt butter. Whisk in flour and let cook for a minute or so. Slowly stir in chicken broth, then milk. Stir until it begins to thicken. Let it simmer for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. This is your roux.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together thawed hash browns and melted butter.

Stir in the roux, sour cream, onion, and 1 1/2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour mixture into a lightly greased 9 x 13 inch pan. Top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese (or more if you’d like – and yes, I would).

Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.

Source: centercutcook.com

We were super pleased with this. It was really good – almost Cracker Barrel good. Think it might need a little more onions to get there, but that is totally do-able.

When it is just me and  the MotH, I’ll do a half recipe and keep the rest of the hash browns in the freezer. Love flexible recipes.

Sausage Balls – Cook’s Country

There are just some things I MUST have for Christmas and probably the two most important things for Christmas morning are toasted banana nut bread and sausage balls. My mom always made them both. For the sausage balls she used, as most people did at the time, Bisquick, but since finding this Cook’s Country recipe that is just not necessary. I never used it for anything but this recipe, so to not have to purchase it and make do with things I already have on hand – well, it just makes so much more sense to me.

So here’s to my mom and to Christmas morning. D&D_2573

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
8 ozs bulk hot breakfast sausage
4 ozs extra sharp cheddar, grated (1 cup)
3/4 cup whole buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the food processor, pulse the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper an cayenne until combined. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal about 12 pulses. Add sausage and cheddar and pulse until combined, about 8 more times. Place mixture in a nice sized bowl and stir in buttermilk until just combined.

Wet your hands and roll dough into 1 1/4 inch ball (about 1 Tbs each). Space evenly on baking sheet and bake until golden brown between 20 – 22 minutes, rotating baking pan halfway through. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm. With grape jelly. Yum.

You can make these ahead and bake, cool, and then freeze and just reheat in the oven at 200 degree for 15 or so minutes. Just test one and see if it where you want it to be for reheating.

24 December 2014

24 December 2016 – for Christmas Day brunch/lunch

22 December 2017 for Christmas Day brunch/lunch – 375 degrees convection- 20 minutes – turn 1/2 way through – perfection! Need to double next time and freeze half (after baking). They keep well in the freezer for a month or so. Also, grape jelly needs to be involved.

These are also excellent on New Year’s Day morning too. Pretty much excellent anytime, but you get the point.

Creamy Macaroni & Cheese – NYT

It is highly (highly!) unlikely for me to try a new mac n’ cheese recipe since the one I have been make for eons is just about my idea of perfect. But you know, I decided to try this out of pure curiosity. Curiosity is a little bit of a blessing and sometimes, a little bit of curse too. Odd, isn’t that?D&D_2448

I saw this not long before Thanksgiving, but just could not manage to force it into the menu that I already had – ie: too many dishes and no where near enough time. So I thought let’s give it go in between the big ol’ food holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is never anything wrong with a warm comfort food when the weather gets cold (yes, it is cold – for us anyway – don’t judge). This also does not cook the pasta ahead of time –  a step removed – already a big fan. Now let us see if the whole thing can live up to the hype. Opinions reserved until me and the Boy try it. Proof in the pudding, as it were.

modified by me from the NYT recipe

cooking spray
1 cup small curd cottage cheese (full fat, if you please)
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp dry mustard (Coleman’s)
pinch cayenne
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pound extra sharp cheddar, grated (Cabot)
1/2 pound elbow pasta, uncooked

2 Tbs unsalted butter

Heat oven to 350 degree and position rack on upper third. Use cooking spray on a 9″ round or square baking pan, or a 9.5 deep dish pyrex dish, like for a pie

In a large bowl, mix together puree cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, salt, and pepper together with an immersion blender. Grate extra sharp cheddar and reserve 1/4 cup grated cheddar for topping. Add to the bowl the remaining cheese, and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan making sure pasta is covered in liquid, cover tightly with heavy duty foil and bake 30 minutes.

Uncover, stir gently, sprinkle with remaining cheddar and dot with remaining butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Source: NYT – need to give credit to the author at the NYT food section [Julia Moskin]. Will be difficult now since everything, mostly, is behind a pay way. Too bad, but there are other resources if you know where to look.

Because I was using a glass Pyrex plate, I lowered the temperature to 350 degrees. I think I will decide what to do once the first 30 minutes goes by and I get a sense of how things are going.

Must admit it did not look so pretty going into pie plate, but even ugly ducklings can turn into swans. Didn’t take a picture out of embarrassment for the mac n cheese, not me.

After the first 30 minutes, the pasta was still more tough than I would like, so 15 more minutes in the foil. That said, the flavor was spot on. I could taste the Coleman’s mustard and the cayenne came in at the end. Not much in the nutmeg department even though I only ever use freshly grated nutmeg (so simple and so worth it).D&D_1473_iPhone

When I opened the dish after 45 minutes you could really smell the nutmeg, and that was great, but perhaps a bit more next time. I stirred again and then added the mixed white & orange Cabot seriously sharp cheddar to the top, turned the pan half way around and baked for 30 more minutes. Just divine. Sampled while not making a total mess of the top of the dish. Needs more black pepper to serve, but that is the case, in my opinion, every mac n cheese – I blame appreciate my mom for that even though we only had that pre-ground stuff you get at the store. It still made a significant difference.

Do you get the giggles when a recipe just totally exceeds expectations? I sometimes do and I did tonight. Part of that might be beer but the rest was just “oh, holy cat, this is amazing.”

Right now, I am writing while the mac and cheese cools. I want to have that for breakfast but will wait for a day until the MotH can take some great pictures.

Guess someone didn’t want to wait, ah well. Can quite blame the Boy for that. D&D_2439

One Pot Spaghetti

This recipe appealed to me because, in my small mind, spaghetti is always best as a left over. Kind of like meatloaf. I do not like warm meatloaf on a plate (isn’t meatloaf just such a strange word?), nor do I like spaghetti with sauce the day I make it. It does not really matter if it is my pasta sauce (vegetarian) or a meat sauce – it is always way (!) better when it sits in the fridge for a day or two.

My favorite way to eat spaghetti, which was always with a meat sauce when I was growing up, was a day later, reheated in a small pot on the stove – and then at the end, my mom would stir in small chunks of cheddar (a cheese she never skimped on – ever). So melty cheddar, meat sauce, soft noodles, and lovely goodness.

This recipe gets right down to that point. Cooking the pasta in the sauce makes a big difference, but I will still argue that waiting that one more painful day will make it just perfection. Let us just say, that I am right because I did it that way and it was just about everything I remember from the left-over spaghetti-ness of my childhood.*

1 lb lean ground beef
1/2 large sweet onion (softball-sized onion)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups water
15 ozs can tomato sauce
15 ozs can diced tomatoes with juice
1 Tbs dried oregano
1 Tbs dried basil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
12 ozs spaghetti, broken in half
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 Tbs chopped parsley

In a large potter medium high heat cook beef and onion until soft. Add garlic and stir for a minute or two. Drain fat (there was not much).

Add water, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Bring to boil. Add spaghetti and stir. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook, stirring often, until noodles are cooked through, 15 minutes or so.

Stir in Parmesan and parsley before serving.

3 November 2017 – Tasty, but in my opinion needs more tomato flavor. Maybe use crushed tomatoes instead of diced. The Boy like the taste of it. Maybe a bit of tomato paste while adding the garlic?

Hoping the reheat on the next day will make it even better. This certainly will not be the last time I make it. And I can report now – yes – later is always better with spaghetti.

Can not wait to take it to lunch with some shredded extra sharp cheddar. That should just be the thing. This apple does not fall far from my childhood tree. D&D_2234

*Why does this come up so often? Because childhood food is really good food. That is why.

Hummus Cheddar Iceberg Sandwich

This might just be a sandwich born of desperation or poverty or both. This is simple sandwich but the flavors mix well together, but only if you make the hummus a day ahead – again a flavor-melding-together kind of thing.D&D_2110

For hummus, here is what I do:

Rinse a can of garbanzo beans* – really rinse them well. This is a key step. While they are draining, mince two cloves of garlic in the food processor, add the garbanzo beans, and the juice of two decent-sized lemons. You can add less, but why would you? Add two big tablespoons of tahini, making sure it’s mixed well because of its maddening habit of separating. Add a pinch of salt and whirl away. If it needs it, add a little water to make it smoother. That’s it. Pretty simple really. Then wait till tomorrow to eat it. Advanced planning required. This is so not optional.

Then the rest is just as simple. White bread (although a good wheat bread or Italian bread would not go amiss here either), with a little Duke’s mayonnaise, a good slather of hummus, sliced cheddar (I got it from the deli this time) and a bit of crunchy iceberg lettuce. Dead simple and really amazingly good.

 

*Yes, yes, you can certainly do this with dried garbanzo beans, but most of the time, I just opt for a can of beans – quicker, easier, and well, it works with my way of making good food.