Posts Tagged ‘vegetarian’

Cocktails and Kale

June 9, 2012 3 comments

Three Cocktails + Kale Chips = Friday Night

Cocktails and Kale…Today’s odd sounding post is courtesy of  a lazy Friday evening spent at home on our patio. We bought some delicious fresh kale from Tune Farm at the Greene Street Market on Thursday night and we still had strawberries from Dennison’s Farm so it seemed like a natural fit. Well, not strawberries and kale together (but it might not be the worst combination). Instead, we had strawberry cocktails served with oven baked crispy kale chips. In the last post, I shared several recipes for simple syrup. Those recipes will come in handy in the strawberry cocktails. The drinks feature strawberries because they are still so plentiful, fresh, and delicious. However, the drinks would also be good with blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries. These recipes also make wonderful non-alcoholic spritzers.

The drink recipes call for a muddler  and muddling. So, what is a muddler? It is a bartender’s tool, similar to a pestle, used to mash things (muddling). If you do not have a muddler, you can use a fork, the back of a spoon, or even a potato masher (though it probably won’t fit in a glass). I’ve used my lemon reamer and the pestle from our chinois conical strainer to muddle the ingredients. I’ve also thought about using my porridge spurtle. Yes, we have a porridge spurtle. What is a porridge spurtle? A wooden tool of Scottish origin used to stir porridge. We bought a hand-carved spurtle several years ago at the Monte Sano Art Show. We have yet to use it to stir porridge :).

Note: Each recipe makes two drinks. You can muddle and make the drinks in individual glasses, in a cocktail shaker, or even in a large pitcher if you are multiplying the recipe. The directions are for making two drinks directly in the glasses; however, feel free to change if you are using a cocktail shaker or making a pitcher.

Back to the drinks and snacks…these cocktails are light and refreshing, perfect for this early summer-like weather. The crispy kale chips are a crunchy, earthy, and salty balance to the drinks. Enjoy and have a happy weekend…

Strawberry Basil Refresher

Strawberry Basil Refresher

8 strawberries, hulled and sliced (or mashed)

2 tablespoons simple syrup (plain, strawberry, basil, or citrus)

8 fresh basil leaves, torn

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 ounces rum (I prefer white rum for this drink)

Crushed ice

Club soda

Garnish: 2 whole strawberries, 2 lemon wedges (or slices), and 2 sprigs of fresh basil

Serves: 2

Equally divide the strawberries, simple syrup, basil, and lemon juice between the two glasses. Use a muddler to mash everything together. Add rum and crushed ice. Stir. Then fill the glass with soda water. Stir again. Garnish with a strawberry, lemon wedge (I forgot the lemon wedge in the photo!), and basil.

Strawberry Mojito

Strawberry Mojito

8 strawberries, hulled and sliced (or mashed)

4 tablespoons mint simple syrup (or plain or berry simple syrup)

2 tablespoons lime juice

6 fresh mint leaves, torn

2 ounces rum (I prefer white rum for this drink)

Club soda

Crushed ice

Garnish: 2 whole strawberries, 2 limes wedges, and 2 sprigs of fresh mint

Serves: 2

Equally divide the strawberries, simple syrup, lime juice, and mint between the two glasses. Use a muddler to mash everything together. Add rum and crushed ice. Stir. Then fill the glass with soda water. Stir again. Garnish with a lime wedge, strawberry, and/or mint leaf.

Non-alcoholic version: Just omit the rum. You can add a few extra berries and lime if you want to intensify the flavor. Also, feel free to omit the syrup if you are watching your sugar intake.

Strawberry Mule

Strawberry Mule

This is one of my favorite summer beverages. I especially like how they make it at Amendment XXI; however, it is just as tasty when made at home. It might even be better! You will want to use a strong ginger brew if you can find it. I like Reed’s Ginger Brew. In Huntsville, you can buy Reed’s at Garden Cove, Earth Fare, Foods for Life, and The Fresh Market (I believe they carry it). If you can’t find Reed’s or you think it is too gingery, then regular ginger ale would be fine. 

8 strawberries, hulled and sliced (or mashed)

2 tablespoons fresh citrus juice (lime or lemon juice)

2 tablespoons simple syrup (plain, berry, ginger, whatever you prefer)

2 ounces vodka (plain or citrus)

Crushed ice

2-6 ounces ginger brew (or ginger ale)

Garnish: 2 whole strawberries and 2 lemon or lime wedges

Serves: 2

Equally divide the strawberries, citrus juice, and simple syrup between the two glasses. Use a muddler to mash everything together. Add vodka and crushed ice. Stir. Then fill the glass with ginger brew. Stir again. Garnish with a strawberry and a citrus wedge.

Non-alcoholic version: Just omit the vodka. You can add a few extra berries and citrus if you want to intensify the flavor. Also, feel free to omit the syrup if you are watching your sugar intake. If this is the case, then you can use sugar-free ginger ale. You can even substitute club soda for the ginger ale and add some freshly grated ginger if you prefer.

Kale Chips

Oven Baked Kale Chips

1 bunch of fresh kale

Olive oil


Preheat oven to 350º F. Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper.

Wash and drain the kale. Remove tough stems. Chop or tear into medium-sized semi-uniform pieces. I like a few “extra crispy” small chips so uniform is a relative term. Dry the kale – I roll the washed and chopped leaves in a clean kitchen towel. The drier the leaves, the crisper the chips.

Place the dry kale in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. If you have an olive oil sprayer or mister that would be great (I need to replace our broken one). Toss so the kale is coated evenly. Spread the kale into a single layer on the pan(s).

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove pan(s) from oven. Don’t worry if the kale has shrunk and looks funny. It will be delicious! Stir. Rearrange in a single layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt. If you used two baking sheets, now would be a good time to rotate the sheets (especially if your oven is as uneven as our oven). Bake another 10 to 15 minutes until crispy (not burned). Sprinkle with a little more salt it you want. If they look a little greasy, you can drain them on a paper towel or a clean brown paper bag. Otherwise, you can cool them on a rack. I skip this cooling step, because I prefer them right out of the oven. As they age, they can get a bit soggy so please store in an airtight container.

*Note: I wait until half-way through to sprinkle with salt. If you add it too early, it can bring out water in the kale while it bakes. Actually, this could make it steam.

Variations:  sprinkle with cayenne pepper, cracked black pepper, finely grated Parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast flakes, lemon pepper, Greek seasoning, etc.

The End of a Nice Evening


Veggie Medley

May 24, 2012 4 comments

I am not a fan of the summer heat in Alabama; however, I LOVE the food that such a climate makes possible! This week, we still have salad fixings in our garden. We also have the first of our hot peppers and we have lots of green tomatoes!  I’ve never seen so many tomatoes so early in the growing season.

The farmers markets are packed with people buying fresh produce. We went to the Madison City Farmer’s Market on Saturday and bought rainbow Swiss chard, new red potatoes, purple onions, green beans, peaches, and golden zucchini. We had fresh vegetables for dinner last night – sautéed chard with purple onions, a vegetable medley, and roasted asparagus (we bought that at Publix). And for dessert, we had sliced peaches and strawberries with a bit of whipped cream, sprinkled with gluten-free gingersnap cookie crumbs.

This vegetable medley recipe is my take on a classic Southern dish – green beans and potatoes. Typically, when you order green beans and potatoes at a Meat and Three (that’s what you call a restaurant that serves plate lunches), they are cooked with bacon and they can be a little mushy because they are cooked a long time.

More about Meat and Three restaurants…
At these restaurants, you often get a choice of a meat entrée and three side dishes (the choices can vary daily). Or, you can just get a veggie plate (my meal of choice). I thought these restaurants were all over the U.S., but then my husband Matt (“The Yankee”) told me it was regional. Who knew?!? Guess it is closest to a cafeteria, diner, or a dive in other parts of the country. Some of my favorite veggie sides include turnip greens, collards, black eyed peas, crowder peas, purple hull peas, squash casserole, green beans and potatoes, boiled okra, candied yams (a.k.a. glazed sweet potatoes), mashed potatoes, creamed corn, boiled cabbage, tomatoes and okra, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, and macaroni and cheese. I also love that at many Meat & Three restaurants, fruit cobbler (or banana pudding, a.k.a. nanner puddin’) counts as a vegetable. Also, congealed salad (a.k.a. Jell-O), tomato aspic (essentially, tomato Jell-O), and deviled eggs are also considered “sides.” Only in the South! Meals are served with an obligatory sweet tea. In this regard I am a Yankee and prefer unsweetened iced tea. There goes my southern cred (if there is such a thing!).

Unfortunately the food choices at many Meat and Three restaurants are not very healthy. Often, the dishes are cooked with lard or bacon, and lots of salt. In moderation and on rare occasions, these restaurants are fine. However, many people eat at these places every day. I think the sugar, salt, fat, and large portions are contributing factors to the obesity epidemic in the South. But you don’t need all the sugar, salt, and fat to have delicious Southern food. I am thankful there are nationally acclaimed chefs that are changing the perception of Southern cuisine. I am a big fan of two Southern chefs in the Birmingham area:  Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings. Both are James Beard award winners and their restaurants prove that Southern food can be delicious and not over-the-top unhealthy.

Don’t get me wrong, I can cook unhealthy Southern fare; Paula Deen has nothing on me. However, I am making an effort to prepare healthier versions of the dishes I loved as a child. So, I decided to make a lighter version of the green beans and potatoes side, using fresh produce from the farmer’s market. It’s not the same as the side you might get at Mama Annie’s, G’s Country Kitchen, or Blue Plate Cafe, but it is good. I hope you will agree.

Farmer’s Market Veggie Medley:

¼ to ½ cup chopped onion or shallot (I used 1 small purple onion)

1 tablespoon butter (or olive oil)

6 cups water

1 teaspoon salt (feel free to use less or omit if you are watching your sodium intake)

3 cups green beans, in 1-inch pieces (I think it was a pint container)

1½ cups chopped new potatoes (I used red and left most of the skin)

1½ cups chopped golden zucchini (or green zucchini, patty pan, or summer squash)

Salt and pepper (black or red), to taste

Chopped parsley or dill, optional garnish

In a frying pan, sauté the chopped onion in butter or oil. In a large pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the salt. Stir in the green beans. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and stir. Cover and simmer 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and stir. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to strain out the veggies and add to the onions in the frying pan. Stir. Add a little of the cooking water (a.k.a pot likker or pot liquor) if you prefer more “sauce.” Add some more salt and pepper to taste (if you want). Serves: 4-6.


Spring Salad

May 19, 2012 2 comments

We are novice organic gardeners. We buy organic seeds and plants when we can and we don’t use pesticides. Instead, we use cayenne pepper, Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap, garlic, and diatomaceous earth. We also plant marigolds, mint, onions, and nasturtiums for bug control. We still have more bugs than we’d care to have, but the birds don’t seem to mind. There are lots of baby birds at the Smith-Jordan house and we’re enjoying bird watching. This photo includes our blue jay, chickadee, and woodpecker babies. The baby titmouse and cardinal are too elusive to capture on film.

We’ve been in our house for 2½ years. Since it was a new home, with a cleared lot, we have lots of sunshine and a blank canvas. We are slowly transforming the back yard into an edible landscape. So far, we have five raised vegetable beds (yay Matt!), one herb bed, one sweet potato straw “cage” (my summer experiment), two fig trees, and two containers of tomatoes. We are currently transitioning from our spring garden to our summer garden. We still have sugar snap peas, several varieties of lettuce, radishes, and purple mustard greens. The carrots are coming in slowly. Soon, we’ll harvest tomatoes, peppers, onions, leeks, cucumbers, and patty pan squashes. We’ll have to wait until the end of summer for the sweet potatoes and butternut squash.

We are enjoying lots of fresh salads. This week, we went to a birthday party for a friend. We brought a spring salad with a strawberry habanero balsamic vinaigrette. It was tasty with an interesting combination of flavors – sweet, bitter, and spicy. We picked the carrots, radishes, peas, and greens from our garden and bought the strawberries at the Madison Farmer’s Market. It doesn’t get much fresher than that!

The strawberry balsamic vinaigrette recipe is originally from Rachael Ray ( I used the strawberry jam and strawberry habanero jam I made a few weeks ago in the dressing. I also made a few more changes to the original recipe to suit our tastes. This recipe is scalable, you can make it for two or twelve people, just adjust the quantities in the original recipe which serves 6-8. Be flexible with the fruit and vegetables that you add to the greens, use whatever you like, that is in season. Hope you enjoy experimenting with different flavor combinations…

Spring Salad

2 tablespoons strawberry habanero jam*

3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) balsamic vinegar

½ cup oil**

2 teaspoons water

Salt and pepper, to taste

8 cups mixed greens

½ cup pea pods, strings removed

½ cup carrots, sliced thinly

½ cup radishes, sliced thinly

1 cup strawberries, sliced thinly

Place jam in a measuring cup or in a small bowl. Whisk in the balsamic vinegar. Then add the oil and water. Whisk until you get a nice thick dressing (you might need to add a bit more water if it is too thick). Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the greens and veggies in a large salad bowl. Toss. Add the strawberries at the end to prevent them from breaking into pieces. Serve. Makes 6-8 servings.

Notes and Variations:

*Jam:  If you only have strawberry jam, that is fine. The habanero just adds a little extra kick. Raspberry preserves, orange marmalade, or blueberry jam would also work.

**Oil: You can use extra virgin olive oil or a combination of olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil. Whatever you prefer is fine.

Possible variations: Add toasted pecans, slivered almonds, walnuts, dried cherries, or dried cranberries (especially if fresh strawberries are not in season).

Onion and Thyme Tart

Want a recipe for a quiche-like tart that tastes like French onion soup? Well, this onion and thyme tart might be for you. It is a perfect vegetarian dinner or brunch when served with a nice mesclun salad. We had a fresh-picked salad with our dinner. This was not the prettiest tart I’ve made, but it was good. Looking forward to having the leftovers for brunch. This is the dish I served when we had a blind installing party at our “new” house. Matt and I bought our house when it was at about 85% completion. There were no window treatments when we moved. Matt put up darkening shades in the bedrooms and a stained glass window in the kitchen. But other than that, naked windows – not pretty. A year later, still no window treatments. To be fair, we had lots of stuff happen the first few months after we bought the house – had major surgery, Mom died, we got married(!), had frostbite (yes, in Alabama), had a pseudo femoral aneurysm, broke my foot, etc. Decorating wasn’t exactly our top priority. After a year, when things finally settled down, we decided it was time to change that.

We looked into buying wooden shutters to match the style of the house. Wow, those are expensive and not easy to install when you have goofy sized windows (many thanks to our builder!). We then looked at Costco and we were shocked at the price of blinds plus installation. That’s where they get you – the installation! We knew two couples who had just bought blinds and they suggested we look at J.C. Penney. They even offered to help us install them (did I mention that Matt and I are not the handiest folks?). We went to JCP and picked out the perfect Levolor top down/bottom up blinds. About a week later, the boxes arrived! It was time for installation. Marshall, Melanie, Richard, and Sherry came over with their drills. I made us dinner: an onion tart, salad, dessert, and Prosecco. I cooked while our friends worked with Matt to install the blinds. In two hours they were all hung! It is so nice having handy friends with drills (and the extra privacy is nice too)!  Hope you like the recipe; it is great for serving at “work parties.”

Onion and Thyme Tart

Crust for 9-inch tart pan (your favorite recipe)*

2 tablespoons butter (or canola oil)

2 pounds onions (about 6 cups sliced)**

2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (I removed the leaves and chopped them)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs, beaten

½ cup half-and-half

½ teaspoon ground black pepper (or ¼ teaspoon white pepper, if you prefer)

Dash of grated nutmeg

¼ cup grated Gruyère cheese (Swiss, Emmentaler, or Parmesan cheese also works)

Preheat the oven to 375º. Grease a 9-inch tart pan with butter or nonstick cooking spray. Place the tart pan on a sheet pan. If there are any gaps in your pan, it will prevent a mess in your oven and it also promotes even baking. You might even want to cover the sheet pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil as an extra precaution. My pan isn’t very nice and it leaks. Line the tart pan with the crust. Finish the edges so it looks pretty, I’m not very good at this, so I won’t offer any suggestions :).

Blind-bake (pre-bake) the pie shell. Cut a piece of aluminum foil that is larger than the tart pan. Lightly grease one side of the foil. Gently press the foil, with the greased side down, into the tart shell. Fill the shell with pie weights. What are pie weights? They are little ceramic or stainless steel balls that are sold for blind-baking pie crusts. They are fairly expensive so I keep a bag of dried peas just for this purpose.

Bake for about 25 minutes on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Remove the tart shell from the oven. Carefully gather the edges of the foil and remove the foil with the weights (dried peas). Return crust to the oven and bake another 5 minutes until lightly golden brown.

While the crust is pre-baking you can work on “sweating” the onions. They aren’t quite caramelized but they are a nice golden brown. In a large skillet that has a lid, melt the butter. Add the sliced onions, thyme, and salt. Stir to “break up” some of the large pieces of onions. Cover with the lid and cook on medium high heat for about 15 minutes. You want the onions to sweat out any excess liquid. Stir. Turn the heat to low, cover, and cook another 20 minutes. Stir a few times during this process and see how much liquid there is remaining. If there is a pool of liquid, then keep uncovered and cook until golden brown. If there is no pool of liquid, you can keep it covered. If you are like me, you might get impatient with this step, please resist turning up the heat. In an instant, 30 minutes of work can turn into a burned goo. I turned the temperature up to medium, turned my back to fiddle with something else, and almost burned my onions!

Once the onions are golden, remove from the heat and cool. To speed up the process, I remove them from the pan, and put them in a bowl that is large enough to hold the onions, the eggs, and the half-and-half.

After the onions cool, add the eggs, half-and-half, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix until just combined. Pour into the baked tart shell. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake for about 20 more minutes. You want it golden brown and not too jiggly. Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes. Once cool, remove the tart pan ring. Slice and serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings

*Crust: Homemade crust is the best, but sometimes you just want a shortcut. When I want a quick tart, then I use a refrigerated pre-rolled crust. I like Immaculate Baking Company’s pie crust. Locally, in Huntsville, you can get them at Earth Fare and sometimes The Fresh Market. When I see them on sale, I buy a few and keep them in the freezer. If you want to make this really simple and you do not have a tart pan, you could use a regular pie plate or frozen crust already in a pie plate. The result would just be more quiche-like than tart. But it would still be tasty.

**Onions: Use plain yellow or white onions. It is tempting to use one of the sweet varieties that is abundant now, but they don’t work as well. I’ve tried this tart with Vidalia onions and they are too sweet with too much moisture. Not sure about purple onions, haven’t tried them. Two pounds of onions is about five medium onions. To be sure, just weigh them at the market and buy between 1½-2 pounds. Sounds like a lot of onions, but they cook down. You want uniform onion slices so they cook evenly. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to cut the onion in half from root to stem. Then you get a nice level surface that makes cutting easier. After cutting in half, peel the onion, and slice into ¼-inch slices.

Refrigerator Pickles

April 19, 2012 5 comments

We make and eat lots of refrigerator pickles (sometimes known as cucumber/onion salad) at our house. They are quick, easy, versatile, and it’s a great way to use extra cucumbers. I learned how to make them from my Mom. I think she learned how to make them from Nanny, her grandmother. We had a large garden growing up and we had loads of cucumbers. There are just so many bread and butter pickles one can eat, and then it’s time to make refrigerator pickles or cucumber/onion salad.  Whatever you call it, it is tasty!


Refrigerator Pickles

3 cups sliced cucumbers (about 4-6 small cucumbers)

1 cup sliced onions (I use 1 small red onion and 1 small white onion)

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

pinch of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (optional)

1½ cups white vinegar

I like the cucumbers and onions sliced very thin so I use either a mandoline slicer or a food processor. But hand-slicing works great too (and there is less equipment to clean!).  I usually leave the peel on the cucumbers, but you can peel them if you prefer. 

Mix the cucumbers and onions in a larger container with a tight-fitting lid (I use a large Pyrex container or a large Mason jar).  Sprinkle with the salt and pepper.  Pour in the vinegar.  Mix well. You can eat them immediately but I like to refrigerate them for several hours (or even several days). I just shake (thus, the tight-fitting lid) or stir them every day.


– Add cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes.

– Add sugar, stevia, honey, or agave to cut some of the tartness.

– Add fresh garlic for an added flavor kick.

– Add thinly sliced green or red bell peppers.

– Add jalapeño pepper slices.

– Add fresh herbs (parsley, dill, chives, etc.).

– Mix it up with different onions: white, Vidalia, yellow, purple (or even shallots).

– Try different vinegars: apple cider, white vinegar, or even a splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar.

– Drain off most of the vinegar and stir in some sour cream or plain yogurt and dill for a creamy side salad.


Ginger Ale Carrots with a Kick

April 12, 2012 4 comments

I volunteered at WLRH earlier this week for their spring fund drive. While waiting for the phones to ring, the volunteers were sitting around, chatting about cooking, recipes, food blogs, etc. Someone mentioned they wanted a recipe for glazed carrots. I told them about a recipe Alton Brown made on Good Eats that I would share on my blog sometime in the next few weeks.

Typically, I’m not a huge fan of glazed carrots; they are a tad too sweet for my taste. But I like ginger ale and chili powder so I tried Mr. Brown’s recipe a few years ago. They were delicious!  I have since tweaked the recipe a bit (kicking up the heat), but I stayed fairly true to Alton’s original recipe. Here is a link to his original recipe:

Coincidentally, yesterday I was at Garden Cove and they had carrots on the sale table – .75¢ for a large bag of Georgia carrots! I couldn’t pass up such a bargain. So here’s my spicier version…

Ginger Ale Carrots with a Kick

2 tablespoons butter (margarine or coconut oil)*

3 cups sliced carrots (3-4 carrots, thinly sliced)**

½ teaspoon salt

12 ounces ginger ale (I used Reed’s Original Ginger Brew)

½ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

pinch of cayenne, chipotle, or Aleppo pepper, optional

1 tablespoon maple syrup (honey or agave), optional

½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger or a pinch of powdered ginger, optional

1 tablespoon fresh parsley (flat or curly), chopped

Mix 1 tablespoon of butter, carrots, salt, and ginger ale in a large sauté pan that has a lid (Recipe will work in a regular pot with lid, but it will likely take longer for the glaze to thicken and reduce.  A covered wok would also work great.). Cover with lid and bring to simmer. Reduce the heat to low. Cook about 6 minutes. Remove the lid, stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter, chili powder, and cumin.  If you want to kick up the flavor, add the cayenne, maple syrup, and ginger. Turn up the temperature to high.  Stir and cook about 4 to 7 minutes until tender (it depends on the size of the carrot slices, the ones I bought were huge and took longer to cook).  Stir constantly so the carrots do not burn. The sauce will thicken and make a nice glaze on the carrots. Remove from heat. Top with chopped parsley and serve.  Makes about 4 adult servings (as a side dish).

*These carrots can be made vegan with an easy substitution of margarine or coconut oil for the butter.

**I used 4 extremely large carrots and ended up with just over 4 cups of sliced carrots.  Truthfully, the carrots were a tad dry.  In the future, I will add a bit of water or more ginger ale if I use that many carrots. Luckily this is a really forgiving recipe and tweaks to it are perfectly fine.

Italian Dinner Menu – Butternut Squash Lasagna

February 9, 2012 2 comments

Butternut Sage Lasagna was the main course for our dinner.  If I say so myself, it was good.  I think it was even better because we used butternut squash that we grew this summer!  It took me a few weeks to create the recipe.  After reading it, you might see why.  There are a lot of steps:  roasting the squash, mashing the cookies (yes, cookies!), making the filling, browning the sage butter, making the Béchamel sauce, assembling the lasagna, and frying the sage leaves.  But, please don’t let the number of steps keep you from trying the recipe.  It is worth it.

I would also highly recommend growing your own butternut squash if you can.  It makes a huge difference in flavor.  It also makes a difference in the texture of the squash filling.  After baking the home-grown butternut squash, I noticed that it was wetter than usual. I guess because it was so fresh?  Not really sure why, but the texture was different from when I roast store-bought butternut squash.  I knew I needed to do something because I didn’t want the filling too runny. So I removed some of the moisture by squeezing the cooled squash over a sieve. And I added more cookie crumbs. It worked.

We served this with oven roasted broccoli.  I used an Ina Garten recipe.  Here’s her recipe:

As I mentioned, this lasagna takes several steps, so figured I’d break the steps into separate recipes – butternut squash filling, sage brown butter, béchamel sauce, the assembly of the lasagna, and an optional garnish of fried sage leaves.

Butternut Squash Filling

2-3 medium butternut squash, about 6-7 pounds

⅓ cup loosely packed fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped

7 or 8 ounce tub mascarpone (I’ve seen both sizes at the store, either will work)

7 ounce package of amaretti cookie, mashed into crumbs*

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon white pepper (black is fine too)

few grates of fresh nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400º degrees F.  Cover a sheet pan with aluminum foil (roasting whole butternut squash can be drippy and messy).  Place the whole butternut squashes in the pan.  Roast for about 2 hours until soft.  You can test it by squeezing it to see if it gives (it will be hot, so I recommend a handy-dandy pot holder to keep your fingers healthy and burn-free!).  While the squash is roasting, you can prep the other layers ingredients.

When the squash is ready, remove from the oven.  Holding the squash with a tea towel, carefully split it open lengthwise.  Then, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and fiber strings, and discard. Scoop the flesh into a bowl, if cooked properly, it should come away from the skin easily.  If it doesn’t come away from the skin easily, it might need more roasting (just pop it back in the oven).

Mash the squash with a fork or a potato masher.  Stir in the chopped sage and the mascarpone.  Mash until smooth and soft (you can use more mascarpone if needed). You want a soft, spreadable consistency. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Stir in the amaretti crumbs.  Cover and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.  Or you can put the mixture in a re-sealable bag and set aside.  When you are ready to assemble the lasagna, you can snip off the corner and squeeze out the butternut squash filling.  Some might find it easier than spreading it on the layers with a spoon or a spatula.

If you have extra filling, you can use it for ravioli.  Or you can use it as a sauce for pasta (just add a little of the pasta water to thin it and make a sauce).

Sage Brown Butter

6 tablespoons butter

6 sage leaves

While the squash is cooking, heat the butter in a small saucepan over low-medium heat.  You want to heat it until the butter is foamy and is light brown. Watch carefully, so it doesn’t burn.  This can go from smelling nutty and delicious to burned in an instant!  Remove from the heat and stir in the sage.  Let the sage and butter infuse for about 10 minutes.  Then strain the mixture into a small bowl.  You can strain it with a metal strainer or use cheesecloth.  If the butter starts to solidify, microwave for a few seconds before using. You will use some to grease the baking dish and some for the white sauce.

Béchamel Sauce (Basic White Sauce)

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon white pepper (black is fine too)

3 cups milk (I had trouble with Lactose-free low-fat milk, recommend 2% milk)

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

4 tablespoons sage brown butter (see previous section)

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Whisk in the flour and continue whisking until smooth and incorporated. Cook over low heat, constantly stirring for 4 to 5 minutes (this minimizes the “raw flour” taste). Do not let it brown.  Whisk in the milk and continue cooking until smooth and thickened.  Whisk in all but about two tablespoons of the sage browned butter, reserve the rest.  Whisk in the nutmeg and salt.  Set aside.  This is slightly thinner than your typical Béchamel sauce.  That’s ok, that’s how you want it for this lasagna.

Assemble the Lasagna

16 ounce package oven-ready lasagna sheets

8 ounces Fontina cheese, grated**

To assemble the lasagna, pour about 1-2 tablespoon of the sage brown butter into the bottom of a 9x13x2 inch glass baking dish. Swirl to coat the bottom of the dish. This will prevent the noodles from sticking or drying out.  But don’t use too much or it will be greasy. Cover the bottom with a layer of noodles.  Spread ⅓ of the butternut squash mixture evenly over the noodles.  Add another layer of noodles.  Spread ⅓ of the white sauce.  Sprinkle with ⅓ of the grated Fontina cheese.  Continue to layer until you are out of ingredients (probably two more times). The top layer will be béchamel and a final sprinkle of Fontina. You can decorate with sage leaves or you can leave plain and then top with the fried sage leaves after baking.  The lasagna can sit for several hours in the fridge before baking.

Cover with foil. You might want to grease the foil just in case it touches the cheese.  Another option is to leave the last layer of cheese off and then top the lasagna when you remove the foil for the last 10 minutes.  Bake at 400º degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until it is bubbling.  Remove the foil and cook another 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let it sit at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Optional Fried Sage Garnish

6-9 fresh sage leaves

3 tablespoons butter (or clarified butter)

This step is similar to making the sage brown butter; however, you fry the sage on both sides until it is crispy. If you want it super-crispy, I would do this step while the lasagna is resting.

In a small frying pan, melt the butter over low-medium. Once the butter is golden brown and starts to bubble, add sage leaves. Fry sage leaves on both sides, until crispy.   Drain on paper towels.


*Note about cookies in lasagna:  It sounds weird to use cookies in lasagna, but it’s delicious! Trust me.  I use D. Lazzaroni and Company Amaretti Cookie Snaps.  I usually buy them at The Fresh Market.  You can also sometimes find them at TJ Maxx.  You’ll need almost an entire bag (I usually eat a few while I’m cooking).  It’s okay if some are missing!  The amount of cookies you need depends on the moisture-level of the butternut squash.  I’ve made this before and didn’t need as many as the recipe requires (more to nibble)!  The last time I made it the squash had a lot of moisture, so I used more crumbs (good thing I had two bags!).

You want the cookies crushed. You can either pulse them in a food processor or put them in a re-sealable bag and roll them with a rolling-pin or crush them by hand.  You want them crumbly, but a few chunks are fine. The final texture really depends on your preference (I prefer them finely ground).  You want about 1½ cups of crumbs.

If you can’t find amaretti cookies, you can use regular lady finger cookies (a little easier to find).  Pulse ¼ cup of almonds in a food processor until they are crumbly, add a package of lady fingers, and a ¼ teaspoon of almond extract.  Or, you can bake your own if you are feeling really ambitious!

**Note about Fontina cheese:  Fontina is a wonderful cow’s milk cheese. Fontina cheese has been made in the Aosta Valley in Italy.  If you can find Fontina in the US, it is often the Danish version. It can be distinguished from Italian Fontina by the red wax rind (Italian Fontina has a natural rind due to aging, which is usually tan to orange-brown).  The Danish Fontina is great in the recipe.  Fontina is not the easiest cheese to find, so substitutions might be necessary.  Emmentaler or Gruyère can be used.  However, they can also be difficult to find in some stores.  So you can use a blend of Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Provolone (or just use an Italian blend from our grocery store).  Not the same, but it will work. 

Italian Dinner Menu – Starters

February 3, 2012 2 comments

These are the recipes for the starters and salad we served at the Italian Dinner.  I posted the Tuscan White Bean Dip a few weeks ago.  Matt made most of the starters and the salad.  So glad I married someone who likes to cook!  He made the marinated olives and they were delicious!  The only complaint – we needed to serve them with a spoon so people could eat the juice with their bread.  Silly hosts, we only put out toothpicks!


Marinated Olives with Orange

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

16 ounces mixed olives (green, purple, black – any combination works)

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

2 shallots, minced

pinch of cinnamon

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons white vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons orange juice

1 tablespoons fresh mint chopped

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Dry roast the fennel and cumin seeds in a small, heavy-bottom pan on medium heat.  You want them to heat them until they start to pop, but be careful because they can burn quickly.  Shake or stir frequently.  Remove from heat and let the seeds cool.  Place the seeds in a large container with a lid.  Add the olives.

Mix the orange zest, lemon zest, shallots, cinnamon, balsamic vinegar, white vinegar, olive oil, orange juice, mint, parsley, salt, and pepper.  Pour over the olives and toasted seeds.  Mix, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 day before serving.


Crostini with Roasted Garlic

3 heads garlic, whole

2 tablespoons olive oil

pinch of Kosher salt

pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 loaf of Italian or French bread, in ½” slices (thinner if you prefer, I like ¼”)

¼ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (optional)

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Remove the outer, papery layer of skin on the garlic heads.  However, leave the skins of the individual cloves intact. Use a sharp knife to cut off a ¼  to ¾-inch slice from the pointy end of each garlic head. Place the bulbs in a garlic roaster (if you have one, we do not), an over-proof container, or you can wrap them in foil.  Drizzle the garlic with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover with a lid or use foil.  Bake for 50-60 minutes until the garlic is soft.

Let the garlic cool, and then use your fingers to squeeze the roasted garlic out of the cloves.  Or you could use a tiny fork or a butter knife to remove the garlic.

Put the garlic in a bowl, mash with a fork.  Add a little more olive oil if it is too dry (you can use the oil from the garlic roasting if you want).  The mixture should be spreadable.

Toast the bread, the oven should still be hot from roasting the garlic.  Spread with the garlic. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Serve.



Caprese Crostini

For this recipe, there are no quantities.  You’re basically making little open faced tomato and cheese sandwiches.  Make as many or as few as you want.  I’m just listing the ingredients so you know what you need:

Italian or French bread, in ½” slices (thinner if you prefer, I like ¼”)

raw clove of garlic

tomatoes, either Roma, cherry, grape, or regular (whatever is in season and looks good)

fresh mozzarella

fresh basil, thinly sliced

olive oil

Balsamic vinegar (Balsamic Vinegar Reduction, sold in some groceries and gourmet markets or you can make your own)

Kosher salt

black pepper, freshly ground

Toast bread.  Rub the bread with a raw clove of garlic.  Drizzle the bread with olive oil. Top with a slice of mozzarella. Slice the tomatoes, and put a slice on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.    Sprinkle with the basil.  And drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Fennel and Orange Salad

This is the salad Matt made for the Italian Dinner.  It was the first time he’d made the salad so it was basically an experiment.  But it worked out well and was a big hit. I’m not a huge fennel fan but I really liked the salad.  He used one orange per person.  This is a versatile recipe and can be scaled up or down.  He used pomegranates, but if you don’t like them or if they aren’t in season, you could use dried cranberries.  For a totally different taste, you can mix it up and substitute sliced ripe olives for the pomegranates and add some red chili flakes for a touch of heat.


8 oranges (he used a combo of Valencia, navel, and blood oranges)

1 teaspoon orange zest

3 tablespoons orange juice

¼ cup olive oil

¼ teaspoon Kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced

1 mild medium sized white onion, thinly sliced

½ cup pomegranate seeds

Wash and dry the oranges and then Zest some of the orange (no white pith) and reserve it for the dressing (about 1 teaspoon). 

Section the oranges.  To me, the easiest way is to slice off the top and bottom.  Set the orange flat on a cutting board, and then use a knife to carefully remove the peel along with all of the pith. I cut from top to bottom vertically, following the orange’s curve.  To remove all of the peel and pith, you will probably end up cutting some of the juicy flesh, but that’s ok.  It’s better to not have the pith.  While working over a bowl, take your knife and cut out each individual section of the orange.  You’ll be left with a bunch of pith, squeeze this to remove any juice. Another way to section an orange is to cut the orange in half and use a spoon to scoop out the pulp, kinda like you would do with a grapefruit.  Reserve at least 3 tablespoons of the juice for the dressing.  Drink the rest (if you want!).

Mix the olive oil, orange juice, orange zest, salt, and pepper.  Toss this with the orange sections, fennel, and onion.  Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and serve.


Note:  I’m having some font/style issues with WordPress today, sorry if there are inconsistencies.  Also, issues with spacing and proofreading. I’m frustrated and tired of tinkering with it, so I’m just gonna post “as is.” 

Happy Year of the Dragon!

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

The recipes from our Italian Dinner are on hold for a few days.  The first two recipes are Matt’s creations and I need to get his input this weekend. So, thought I’d be somewhat timely with this post about the Chinese New Year, even though we were late celebrating it this year.  The New Year kicked off on January 23, 2012 and continues until February 9,2013.  This year is a Water Dragon Year and according to things I’ve read, it is supposed to be a lucky year!  Wishing everyone good fortune and a happy year! On Wednesday, I had some extra time and decided to make some dishes from my childhood.  Matt came home to hot and sour soup and fried rice.  The original recipes came from a Chinese cookbook my parents had back in the ’70s.  We’ve modified the recipes over the years.  Just once, I wish I could have egg rolls like the ones we used to make…they were so good, I found some notes in the book that might be part of their egg roll recipe, it’s something to experiment with in the future. But I digress, back to soup and rice…

Both of these recipes are very customizable.  They can easily be made vegetarian (even vegan if you want). Don’t eat pork?  Use chicken, tofu, or mushrooms.  Don’t like tofu? Use meat or vegetables. Don’t like water chestnuts?  Use bamboo shoots or onions.  No dried mushrooms?  You can use fresh.  Want more veggies?  Add carrots, corn, or mushrooms.  Substitute brown rice for long-grain white rice. You can also change the spiciness of either dish. We like things spicy, so these recipes are geared towards our tastes (I add even more pepper than the recipe). Feel free to omit the hot pepper and use less black pepper, white pepper, or cayenne.  Start with a little and add more as you see fit.  Same with the salt, soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil (you can even use hot pepper sesame oil instead of toasted sesame oil).  Start with a little then increase as you want.

One more note – this is about ingredient size:  When making the soup, you want all the ingredients cut into thin matchstick shapes. For the fried rice, you want the ingredients cut into cubes, everything roughly the same size.  Having ingredients that are of uniform shape and size helps everything cook evenly, plus it looks nice (please don’t look too closely at the photos, I was in a hurry!) 

Ok, enough about customizations and ingredient sizes, you get the point. These recipes are just a guide…have fun with them and make them your own! 


Hot and Sour Soup 

4 dried Chinese mushrooms (this is about an ounce)

1 tablespoon canola oil (or peanut oil)

½ cup lean pork, sliced thinly

1 small piece (½”-1”) fresh ginger, peeled and grated (optional)

1 small hot finger pepper, thinly sliced (optional)

½ cup canned bamboo shoots, sliced into thin matchsticks

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons white vinegar (I use 3-4 tablespoons) or rice vinegar if you prefer

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon white pepper, ground

½ teaspoon black pepper, ground

¼ teaspoon cayenne, ground

32 ounces chicken stock

1 block firm tofu, drained and sliced into ¼” strips

2 tablespoons cornstarch

4 tablespoons water

1 large egg, beaten

½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil

3 green onions, sliced, for garnish


Put the mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse the mushrooms and slice into thin strips.


Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, pork, ginger, hot pepper, and bamboo shoots. Stir and cook for a few minutes.  Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, salt, and peppers in a small bowl.  Pour this mixture into the pot with the pork and veggies. Add the chicken stock and bring the soup to a boil.  Simmer for 9 minutes. Lower the heat and add the tofu. Cook for another 3 minutes.


Dissolve the cornstarch in the water and stir until smooth (a cornstarch slurry). Mix this slurry into the soup, stir constantly until the soup thickens, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat, and slowly pour in the beaten egg.  Egg strands should form immediately (looks kind of like egg drop soup).  Add the sesame oil and stir gently.  Garnish the soup with chopped green onions and serve.


Fried Rice

4 cups cold cooked long-grain rice

4 large eggs

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon water

3 tablespoons canola oil (or peanut oil)

1 small white onion, chopped

1 small hot finger pepper, thinly sliced (optional)

½ cup lean pork, diced into cubes

½ cup chicken breast, diced into cubes

½ cup cooked ham, diced into cubes

4-6 fresh mushrooms, chopped

6 large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and chopped

4-6 water chestnuts, diced into cubes

½ cup frozen peas, thawed

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil

3 green onions, sliced, for garnish


Cold rice tends to get clumpy, so use your fingers or chopsticks to separate the rice.  In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the salt and water.  In a small frying pan, scramble the eggs until just set.  Remove from the pan and set aside.


Heat the oil in a wok or a large skillet (you want it very hot, but not smoking or burning). Add the onion and pepper, and cook for about 1 minute.  Add the pork and the chicken.  Stir fry for about 2 minutes.  Add the ham and mushrooms.  Stir fry for another minute.  Add the shrimp and water chestnuts.  Stir fry another minute.  Add the rice, soy sauce, and sesame oil.  Stir fry 1-3 minutes.  Add the peas and the scrambled eggs.  Stir gently and make sure everything is heated through.  Garnish with green onions.




Post 12/13 – Italian Lentil and Pea Soup with a Pesto Swirl

January 17, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the many beautiful sunsets we saw in Levanto, Italy

Once again, I took liberties with my naming.  Italian might be a misnomer, but I made up this soup using a few ingredients we bought in Italy, so I called it “Italian.”  The rest of the ingredients came from our pantry or Garden Cove.  It was a pantry soup, tried to use what I had on-hand.

We bought the pesto in Levanto and the orzo pasta in Milan.  The recipe is also inspired by a soup we had in Levanto.  We had dinner at Ristorante da Rino, at the recommendation of our friend and host, Claudio.  It was one of the best meals we had on our trip. My favorite part of dinner was the minestrone soup. Their soup rivaled some of the food at the slow food restaurant, La Pallotta, in Assisi (one of the best meals of my life).   It was a thick, creamy bean soup with a pesto swirl, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of Parmesan.  Nothing like the thin, tomato-based soup served in the States.   

Pesto:  We visited and fell in love with Liguria, a region in northwest Italy. It is famous for its cuisine, particularly pesto. For good reason – the local pesto is incredible! We brought home a few jars.  The pesto we bought includes cheese, so this dish isn’t vegan but it is vegetarian friendly.  You could easily make it vegan by using a pesto with just basil, walnuts (or pine nuts), olive oil, and garlic and leaving off the optional Parmesan sprinkle garnish.  It would probably be even better if you made fresh pesto.  But there was something special about using a jar of pesto from a cute little shop in Levanto.

 Orzo pasta:  We also bought back orzo pasta.  Orzo pasta is pasta in the shape of large grains of rice.  It is also called risoni.  Luckily, you can find it in many grocery stores here.  It was just kinda cool using a bag from a fancy-dancy department store in Milan. Orzo is often used in soups.  I love it in lentil soup, split pea soup, and chicken soup. Since this soup is a combination of split pea and lentil soup, I thought it would be a good addition.  This soup is thick, more like a stew, so I pre-cooked the orzo in salted boiling water and then drained it before adding to the soup.

I made this soup a few weeks ago.  I wrote down the ingredients on the back of an envelope.  I have so many scraps of paper with a list of ingredients, it’s kinda ridiculous!  Slight problem, I didn’t include the directions. So, I’m trying to recreate it in my mind.  Hope it isn’t too scattered.


Italian Lentil and Pea Soup with a Pesto Swirl

10 oz. (approx. 2 cups) of fresh sugar snap peas (frozen sweet peas would work too)

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 stalks of celery, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 cup lentils (I used Turkish red lentils)

4 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

¼ -½ teaspoon black or cayenne pepper (or Penzeys’ Black & Red Blend)

½ teaspoon dried parsley

1 bay leaf

½-1 cup of cooked orzo pasta (depends on how much you like pasta!)

pesto, for garnish

olive oil, for garnish

freshly grated Parmesan, for garnish

If you use fresh pods, use everything – pods and peas (might want to remove the string if they are stringy).  You can also use frozen peas or frozen peas in the pod. Cook the peas until just tender in a small saucepan on the stove or zapped in the microwave. Mash them with a fork or purée with a hand blender.  Set aside.

In a large heavy-bottomed pot sauté the celery, onions, and garlic in the olive oil, until soft.  Stir in the lentils, water, mashed peas, salt, pepper, parsley, and bay leaf.   Cover and simmer on low for about hour or until the lentils are tender.  Check every 20 minutes or so to see if it needs more water.  Add water as needed. Remove the bay leaf.  Purée some of the soup or mash it (depends on how much texture you want).  Add the cooked orzo pasta.  Serve with a swirl of pesto, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of Parmesan.