Butternut Squash and Gouda Cream Sauce!

Remember, long long ago, when my sister made me Sister’s Gouda and Butternut Squash Casserole? Well, I finally tried making something similar but with ingredients from my beloved garden and my nearly-as-beloved Aldi.

I found some “Applewood smoked” gouda at Aldi and I had the last sad little squashes left from the summer, so I thought it time to try this so that Husband could see what a delightful combo it was. I bought “herb chicken” tortellini because 1. I’m lazy and do not make my own pasta (yet?) and 2. because husband loves a little protein in his pasta dishes. I set slivers of butternut squash in the GoSun for a sunny hour in the backyard, and they emerged soft and perfect.

The sauce starts with a roux, about a tablespoon of butter and nearly two tablespoons of flour (for me – do your favorite roux!) and then a generous pour of whole milk. More traditionalists should definitely follow a recipe for bechamel, and then grate some of that gouda goodness in. The gouda thickened the sauce wonderfully; I added Italian seasoning, basil, and oregano, and then mashed the butternut squash thoroughly before adding about 1 and a half cups of it. I wanted the sauce to be heavily squash-y, so you could always use less, but I wanted to feel like a veggie.

I boiled the tortellini as instructed and poured that sauce over; leftover gouda (I had about half of the round left) went on top of salads and into a 4-cheese tomato sauce I made later for the rest of the tortellini. I would not call this a health food, but it’s a wonderful flavor combination if you are bored with traditional alfredo, and it reminded me of good times shovelling pasta into my maw with my sister this summer; now it feels more seasonal with the autumnal chill in the air!

My Grandmother’s Cocoa Fudge

My grandmother made the same cake for my grandfather’s birthday for most of his adult life – when they married around the time they each turned 20, my grandmother learned the recipe for the yellow cake with fudge icing that he loved so much. “The hard part,” my grandmother always said. “was getting the icing onto the cake while it was hardening, because it hardens quickly and is brittle and crumbling.”

I thought this particular recipe (similar ones are found lots of places, including this one from Just a Pinch!) was so magical when I first tried cooking as a teenager: start with cocoa powder, sugar, and milk and all of a sudden, you have candy! It was pretty high-intensity, trying to make sure I got to exactly the right level of boil so that the candy turned out soft and crumbling. There are moments when you need to stir a ton, and moments when you need to avoid stirring at all, and what results can either frost a cake with sweet, sugary fudge or just be served in a little block… or four.

Fudge is certainly not a health food, but on this sweet, cool Autumn afternoon, I was more than happy to add a few extra chores to my schedule when I had a sliver of sugary chocolate motivating me. The key is to keep your hands off the next pieces! I will have to eat my salad and the rest of my dinner before I can partake in more of my grandmother’s traditional birthday treat, the one she’s been making for 67 years of marriage to my grandfather.

Chicken, Onion, and Rice Casserole

On Sunday, I made a casserole intended to fill in whatever meals we didn’t feel like preparing this week – this seems like a tried and true “meal prep” for the lazy/busy. It turned out to be a great plan because I got sick on Monday and have been fighting a cold during these busy school days. Today, however, I am free of work (fall break!) and finally attempting recovery. Also telling you about the delightful casserole I made.

So, I tend to rely pretty heavily on cheesy foods when I’m cooking, mostly because of my love of it, but I challenged myself to create a casserole that wasn’t cheese-themed. What emerged was inspired by, though not truly similar to, this chicken bake that uses onion as a centerpiece instead of cheese: http://www.plainchicken.com/2015/10/french-onion-chicken-and-rice-bake.html?m=1#more thanks for the inspiration, Plain Chicken!

I started with wild rice and jasmine rice (bottom of the bag for each) and poured a big can of french onion soup over them. That went into the oven while I cooked the chicken in a frying pan with just a bit of olive oil to keep it from sticking. I was hoping that with so much soup, the rice would cook up nicely before I even added the other ingredients, and sure enough; I chopped veggies till the rice soaked up most of the soup liquid. I added what i had: an onion, 4 stalks of celery, two bell peppers, some tomatoes, and some leftover butternut squash soup, mixed it all together with the chicken once it was cooked, and layered it over the rice. For a crusty topping, I crushed a sleeve of saltines, mixed them with the chicken juices leftover in the pan, and then topped with those delicious crunchy onions that people use on top of green bean casserole. I used a lot of them, but mostly so that I wouldn’t singlehandedly snarf them as a snack.

Finally, I cooked it at 350 for about 40 minutes – while most of the elements were individually safe to eat already, I wanted the veggies to soften and the flavors to meld. In the end, the casserole was pretty low on the spicy-meter (i put some salt and pepper in, but nothing else) but Husband added his customary hot sauce and I mixed in a little barbeque sauce into my portion, and it was delicious. Honestly, I’m glad that it was a little bland, because when I’m eating the same thing for a lot of meals in a week, it’s nice to be able to re-season it slightly differently each time. It’s not as beautiful as perfectly portioned meal preps, but it has served us well through the days of my cold.

Caprese Salad: Eating Salad without the Greens

I have had the goal of eating 4 salads a week, and yesterday, we’d run out of salad greens. What we hadn’t run out of was ripe, delicious, garden tomatoes. Mostly I wanted to use cherry tomatoes, but I caved and used the ripest of the San Marzanos too.

You see, salad is a funny thing: some people consider potatoes coated in mayonnaise to be a salad, and others see only things with lettuce as a base as the healthy form of ‘salad.’ I’ve tried to stick to my belief that anything with a veggie base is salad, and caprese salad (characterized by the combination of tomatoes, basil, mozzerella cheese, and sometimes balsamic vinegar) is a wonderful variation that is filling while still being refreshing. I knew yesterday afternoon that I was in the mood to eat something unhealthy and I wanted to head it off with something fresh and lighter. This worked perfectly.

I sliced all the tomatoes up to bite size (no exact measurements here; just use what you want based on servings you want to have) and tore the basil leaves. I cut the mozzarella down to quarter-inch cubes or crumbles, whichever happened faster, and threw in a dash of olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar and a few grinds of crunchy salt. The salad worked up well but I got overzealous and added a bunch of dried basil, which rehydrated into a pretty overwhelming level of basil-ness. I didn’t think I could overdo basil, given my love for it, but this was that. Basically: add basil, taste, add more if you want it.

I know a lot of people who like to do the caprese combination on toast, but I would advocate eating it out of the bowl like a regular salad. After all, it’s one less piece of toast in your life, and it’s so tasty even when it’s in a bowl by itself (and even when it has too much basil!). This combo could be stretched to a full meal if mixed with some whole-wheat pasta or quinoa, or it could be served on a pizza/flatbread for a new variation on the timeless margherita pizza. Regardless, it makes me happy my definition of salad is pretty broad. 🙂

A New Way to Share: Pinterest Submissions!

So, I know it’s a pain to type out recipes or write them out. It’s a pain that’s worth it to me, but I also know that some folks would love to share their favorites with me, but don’t want to take the time to re-type things.

  1. Now, hopefully, you can share easily using pinterest! Here is the board for the blog: https://www.pinterest.com/recipebottle/recipe-in-a-bottle/

If you “follow” the board/me, I will try to send you an invite to collaborate on the board; anything you post will be available to any other readers! It seems like we all have a wonderful combination recipe box this way, where we can read each other’s recipes and maybe even send small stories and notes about what they mean to us.

If you cannot tell, I’m excited to see what you all send! If you don’t use Pinterest but know someone who does, send this their way! 🙂

Smoked Gouda Tomato Soup

One thing my grandmother-in-law, J, loves to do is go all out on dinner. However, one evening when she got home and Husband and I were already sitting in her kitchen, she gave us a weary look and said, “what do you think about making tomato soup and grilled cheese and sitting on the porch?” It was the most wonderful, comforting idea.

I wanted to recapture that day with my soup for the soup-and-bread potluck. I chose this recipe to start from: http://www.thedreamingfoodie.com/2015/02/25/smoked-gouda-tomato-soup/ The description is great and there are pictures and clear instructions, but it’s also a simple soup as a jumping off point. I was at the point where I needed to off-load a large quantity of tomatoes again, so whereas a normal process would have included only a can opener, I spent a few minutes cutting away bad spots, thawing a half a bag of frozen tomatoes, and pulling a can from the basement. I mostly left the skins on, but wonder of wonders, when you thaw frozen tomatoes, the skins slide off like a dream, so I took the time to remove those at least; I think it helped with the overall consistency, even though my soup was definitely stringier than the average tomato soup.

Husband loves spice, and I was so busy with gingerbread and crusty peasant bread and the other soup I was making that I told him he could spice up the tomato soup if it was bland to him. Silly, silly cook, I am. The soup did turn out good, but fiery – his love for red pepper flakes shone through above the tasty garden tomato fullness and the italian spicing I had originally started with. We did still have enough basil to add some fresh leaves, so overall it worked.

With so many people bringing such ample quantities of soup, it is no wonder that we ended up with lots of leftover tomato; I finished it off at lunch with crusts of bread to help me through the spiciness. It isn’t quite like an evening on the back porch with J, but it still makes me smile.

 

Gingerbread before Autumn Truly Arrives

I have so many good memories of gingerbread. I associate it most with a college friend, S; he was so quiet and shy but I got to know him through a church group and the one thing he wasn’t shy about were sweet, spicy, snappy gingerbread men that I’d bake in the dorm kitchen and bring to events. My recipe was legendary, with the secret ingredient being butterscotch instant pudding mix. Mmmmm.

For the party last weekend, I wanted a soft, cake-y gingerbread, something simple after 7 or 8 samplings of soups. I started with this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction: http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2015/12/01/my-favorite-gingerbread-men-recipe/ but I modified in a few ways: I had no molasses, so I subbed in more brown sugar and a bit of honey. I used pumpkin pie spice mix instead of the separate cloves-allspice-cinnamon, but I used the right amount of ginger! The one direction I recommend following: letting the cookie dough set in the fridge for 3 or 4 hours! I didn’t turn my cookies into gingerbread men, but they held up beautifully between fridge and oven.

I made the dough the morning of the party and baked them after running out to visit J and her rolly polly baby E; after lots of slobbering and toothless smiles, E went down for a nap and I came home and baked the cookies! They were high and puffy like I like, and though husband was disappointed because they weren’t ginger snaps (evidently I need a good recipe for those!), I thought they turned out wonderful. I’ve been eating the leftovers for days as little breakfast cookies with my coffee. They remind me of mornings in college when my church group friends would go on walks or evenings when we’d go out and watch meteors during the Perseids. A cookie companion makes cold weather more bearable, and even though Autumn hasn’t quite reared her head yet here, these cookies make me less worried about winter coming.

Party time, the third!

It’s coming. The third potluck. I think back to when I started this blog, and I can hardly believe it – the original plan was 35 recipes and 4 dinner parties. The 35 recipes has mushroomed, but I’m still only 2 out of 4 for the potlucks. Thankfully, the third is coming. When N expressed just as much excitement as I did about the idea of a party themed around soups and breads, we decided to go halves on hosting again – she’s going to bring friends from where she lives, 30 minutes away, and I’m inviting friends who live in my town, all the join each other for some autumnal enjoyment at my house.

Soups are one of my favorite foods, and that’s a little strange because they weren’t hugely important in my childhood. My dad makes a mean Korean noodle soup, and my Mom knows her way around a pot of chicken and dumplings, but purees, chilis, etc. just weren’t that common for us. However, I’ve got big plans: I’m going for a chunky tomato and gouda (won’t call it a bisque because my tomatoes may not whip up smooth, but a soup nonetheless) and a version of my curried butternut squash soup that has some apple in it for added sweetness and depth. I want to make the buttered-bowl peasant bread again, and then something for dessert… I will dig through the recipes I still have to use, but I’m thinking maybe gingerbread? Tasty but also autumnal in their flavors?

One of my favorite parts of eating soup is dipping a really good piece of bread into it, so I hope to have a wide variety of soups and breads to share with you once the party is over and the soup has all been packed in pyrex to take to work the next day. I’m hoping for good fall weather, though, because we have had a bit of a heat wave lately.

 

Homemade Salsa – Delicious Veggies in Disguise!

Some of my favorite aspects of Mexican food (and all the American variants on Mexican food) are also the fattiest ones – avocados mashed together with garlic and pepper, sour cream on top of a taco, and that glorious spicy goo that is hot queso. I generally saw salsa as a garnish on top of other food.

I have had two experiences where salsa became one of my favorite foods, and where I realized that it is pretty much all veggies while not tasting anything like salad. One was when a classmate brought in homemade pico de gallo and we all crunched into tortilla chips covered in the fresh, spicy mix; I noted how refreshing it was, while still feeling substantial – iceberg lettuce, it is not. The other time was at a girl’s night, when I was first getting to know three friends, B, K, and J, who live near where I live now. They made an enormous bowl of corn and black bean salsa, which is pretty substantial and filling without being super calorie dense like guacamole or queso. I could eat it all evening long and still leave a reasonable level of full. Also, it utilized red wine vinegar and had this amazing, addictive combination of sweet and savory. For something similar, check out this recipe from Culinary Hill: http://www.culinaryhill.com/black-bean-salsa/

So when Husband proposed a Taco Tuesday this week, I thought I’d whip out the food processor and make some homemade salsa; we still have mountains of tomatoes coming in and it seemed a great way to liven them up and try using some spices other than my go-to italian-driven palate. I didn’t have any cilantro – our one little cilantro plant had a sad and short life this year – so I employed this recipe – http://www.food.com/recipe/salsa-no-cilantro-370600 – and used lots of onion, garlic, and spices to bring the tomato to life. Instead of layering cheese and avocado on my tacos, I put a large bed of this spicy salsa in and left less room for my fattier favorites. The result was a more fresh-tasting taco that didn’t leave me feeling like a blob afterwards. Delicious.

 

Roasted Butternut Squash Seeds

I have always liked a good toasted pumpkin seed, so when I started realizing that my butternut squash plant was producing like crazy, I googled whether or not their seeds were good to eat. Seeds are so nutricious, and I now had so many of them!

The hardest part about this recipe is certainly the acquiring of clean seeds from the mountains of orange slime inside each squash. This website made me feel so much more sane as I was doing it, and includes a recipe for the seeds themselves: http://toriavey.com/how-to/2012/10/all-about-butternut-squash-how-to-peel-seed-slice-and-prepare/ I doubt I would have attempted this at all, if it weren’t for the advice to submerge the seeds in water, which was essential to getting the slimy orange goo off.

I used paprika, salt, and garlic once I had tossed the seeds with butter, and toasted them until there was a decent bit of char on them. I thought, as I often do, that I might have ruined them, but they were light, crisp – really much better than pumpkin seeds, which tend to retain an internal chewiness. These were like popcorn, in the sense of being completely crisp and airy.

I packaged them up in a tupperware container and accidentally left them in my car on the way to work, where I discovered that they are the perfect snack for when you are going home but you are already hungry after work. I would eat enough to be less ravenous  but stop in time to still want my dinner once I got home – a rare and wonderful combination. The allure of fast food always goes down when I have some kind of snack, and these fit the bill perfectly. Like popcorn, I also enjoyed them while watching movies with Husband. Overall, a great and easy treat if you are making butternut squash anyway!