Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pick of the Month: The Spoonula

I've decided that along with recipes, I'd like to share with you some of my kitchen favorites; both those that I have and use and those that are on my wish list. It's the last day of January (I know. I can't believe it either!) and my first pick of the year is the spoonula. And no. I did not just make up that word or the utensil.

The spoonula is a cross between a spoon and spatula as the name sort of suggests. I received mine a few Christmases back from my brother who thought he gave me the most boring present. Little does he know, I have been in love with the silicone spoonula and spatula set ever since. The set I have is from Williams-Sonoma and can be ordered online. They retail between $10 and $15 and are also available in most kitchen stores. If you can find them in silicone, I highly recommend it. The silicone is virtually stainless, won't crack or split and can withstand heat up to 800 degrees; perfect if you live with someone who likes to "rest" utensils on hot skillets while they're cooking. The curved sides are great for scraping up every last bit of your hard work. Honestly, I think I use mine almost every time I cook. Try one out and let me know what you think! Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

squash macaroni & cheese

It has already been a hectic week and today is only Tuesday. After staying late at work I can honestly admit I was in no mood to spend my night in the kitchen once I made it home. As I was driving away from the city contemplating what would be the quickest and easiest thing to throw together (and not end up eating popcorn for dinner), I remembered the tray of squash macaroni and cheese patiently waiting for me in the freezer.  I know what you're thinking, squash has no place in macaroni and cheese. I can assure you though it does. I originally found this recipe on a blog that I follow called Cole's Kitch.  It's yummy as is but I've made a few tweaks since I have made this quite a few times, sometimes only with what I had on hand. The recipe with my favorite additions and substitutions is below; and as I mentioned, this dish freezes well. Enjoy!

squash macaroni and cheese
yields 6 servings

1 medium butternut squash
olive oil
herbs de provence
12 ounces penne pasta (or any other shape you prefer)
1 large shallot, diced
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Rub the cut side with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs de provence. Place squash cut sides down on a cookie sheet and bake in the preheated oven for approximately 1 hour or until tender. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Once the squash has cooled, scoop out the insides and mash in a large bowl with a spoon.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse and set aside.

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add shallots and cook about 2 minutes. Add nutmeg, pepper, and red pepper flakes and continue to cook until the shallots are translucent. And flour and mix well. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly. Increase heat and continue stirring until the mixture begins to boil. Reduce heat and allow the sauce to thicken, still stirring constantly. Stir in cheese until it is fully melted.

Add sauce and rinsed noodles to the bowl with squash. Mix well. Transfer to a baking dish (or two) and bake covered for 30 minutes. Mix bread crumbs with melted butter and sprinkle over top of the dish. Bake for 5 - 7 more minutes or until the breadcrumbs turn a golden brown.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

san juan steaks

This past Monday was great. No, really. It was! It was MLK day which meant I was thankfully home from work enjoying a completely lazy afternoon. The sun was shining and I spent most of my morning simply being quiet, enjoying some coffee and the beautiful view my oversized living room window had to offer. As I sat there reminiscing a bit, I was reminded of a weekend spent on San Juan Island last March and the amazing steaks that happened while I was there....well, maybe not just the steaks.

The trip was my first to the islands. Surprising, considering I have an odd affection for ferry boats and had lived in Seattle for almost 2 years at that point in time. I stumbled across the recipe in an adorable bookstore on San Juan after exploring the town in a light morning drizzle. Food wasn't on my mind as my friend, whose family owns the cabin we stayed in, and I poured over antiques and other odds and ends. Then I found myself in said bookstore faced with one of my biggest weaknesses, cookbooks. Suddenly all I could think of was dinner. Well, maybe not so suddenly having had only pancakes for breakfast; turns out stores close early the night before when you miss the ferry boat by one car. I suppose suddenly envisioning steak for dinner in the middle of the afternoon wasn't much of an epiphany after all. I started flipping through books and almost immediately found this recipe which was quickly committed to memory. While I wouldn't recommend eating these steaks at 11 p.m. as we did that night, I would recommend the roasted garlic mashed potatoes we had with them; recipe forthcoming. I guess the beautiful cabin, along with the beachside hot tub, great company and tasting (we'll call it that), proved to be quite a distraction from dinner. The steaks themselves were a hit and have been every time I've served them since. I suppose that's why the name has stuck.

Tip: If you don't want to spring for filet mignon, even though you should, sirloin steaks work well too. The balsamic "nap" will make almost any cut tender. Enjoy!

san juan steaks
serves 2

2 filet cuts
3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt & fresh ground pepper
4 tablespoons flour
olive oil
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup sweet vermouth
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

Pat steaks dry and let them rest for approximately 5 minutes in the balsamic vinegar to tenderize. Salt and pepper both sides. Coat one side of each steak in flour. Heat olive oil and garlic over medium - high heat in a skillet. Add steaks to skillet flour side down. Add vermouth and Worcestershire sauce to skillet. Cook steaks approximately 5-7 minutes on each side depending on how well you want them cooked (7 minutes should be medium). Remove steaks from skillet and allow them to rest. Add butter, lemon and parsley to the skillet; reduce to a sauce and serve over the steaks immediately.

Monday, January 18, 2010

homemade pasta

I've given you marinara. I've given you meatballs. The final missing ingredient? Pasta! Of course you can buy a box of pasta at the grocery store. Or maybe you even spring for the "fresh" stuff sold in the refrigerated aisle. But do you really want your freshly made marinara and meatballs to suffer such injustice? I know you don't. That's why you're still reading.

Now if you don't have an Italian grandmother, don't worry. You can still successfully make fabulous, fresh homemade pasta. Unless you truly want to go old school and roll it out yourself, it does take some equipment. I have always used the aid of a pasta roller, which is most easily operated with two people. I have since upgraded to the amazing pasta attachments for my KitchenAid stand mixer as you can see here; making pasta production that much easier. That all being said, this contraption wasn't always in existence and I think it's safe to conclude that the pasta came before the roller. I recently saw pasta being made strictly by hand on an episode of No Reservations while Anthony Bourdain () was visiting Sardinia. Maybe one of these days I'll get around to trying it out that way. If you don't have a pasta machine though it doesn't seem that complicated by hand. And just because your pasta may not look perfect doesn't mean it won't taste amazing. Let me forewarn you though....once you go fresh, it's hard to eat anything out of a box again.

The recipe listed here is a tried and true favorite with my family. One batch will make approximately 8 servings. Once the pasta has dried it can be frozen for up two months. Semolina flour can be found at Italian/gourmet/specialty food type shops.

pasta dough
yields 8 servings
(if you want to make more, don't double the recipe; make two separate batches.)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour (2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1/2 cup semolina flour)
2 eggs
1/2 cup water

Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium sized bowl; create a "well" in the center. By hand, beat eggs and water together. Pour into the "well". Using a fork slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet. Once the mixture becomes thick (should be a crumbly mess at this point), transfer the mixture to a lightly floured flat surface. Begin to knead the mixture until it comes together in a ball; texture should be similar to bread dough but heavier. If the mixture is dry, add water SLOWLY, a teaspoon at a time.

Form into a ball, cover and let rest for 20 minutes. Cut into 4 or 5 pieces and feed through pasta machine or roll out by hand. Lay pasta out on a flat surface to dry; gently toss with flour to prevent sticking. Pasta can be cooked almost immediately. Add to a pot of boiling salted water; let boil for about 5 minutes. Drain and serve.

TIP: Let pasta dry completely before storing; it can be left out overnight.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

roasted beet salad with almond shallot vinaigrette


OMG Beets.

Go ahead. It's ok. You can say it. You can even venture to eat them.

I think the word alone scares a great deal of people away from this red root. The name for the unfmailiar many conjures up images of pickled red discs floating in dark red liquid. I can still remember my college roommate's love for beets and how I would almost cringe every time she ate them. My nose just wrinkled at the memory. I promise though that if you give beets a try (again), it will be worth it!  I myself have been eating a lot of beets lately. I didn't discover them again on my own. Turns out it's winter and they keep showing up in my CSA box. I've tried my hand at beet chips but was looking for a more substantial dish. With a dinner party approaching and both red and gold beets in my fridge, I decided to give the following recipe a go. It was a hit!

I've made this salad again since and substituted hazelnuts for the almonds. Also, mache (aka lamb's lettuce) is a must! Enjoy!

roasted beet salad with almond shallot vinaigrette
yields 4 servings
2 large beets, peeled and cleaned (one red, one gold)
1/4 cup sliced natural almonds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large Asian pear
3 cups mache or baby arugula
gorgonzola cheese crumbles

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wrap beets in foil and roast in the oven until tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Unwrap beets and allow to cool.

While beets are roasting, cook almonds in oil in a small skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until they are a pale golden brown. Allow almonds to cool in oil (they will get darker as they cool). Transfer almonds with a slotted spoon to a small bowl and season with salt.

Stir together shallot, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, salt and oil from almonds in a large bowl.

Halve the beets then cut them into 1/4 inch thick slices and add to dressing, tossing to coat.

Quarter and core pear; cut into julienne strips.

Arrange beets on a platter and drizzle with any dressing remaining in bowl. Top with mache and pear strips. Sprinkle with almonds and gorgonzola.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I feel my last post left something lacking. I mean, what good is a great marinara recipe without the meatballs (and fresh pasta) to go with it? Also, a friend of mine has been looking for a good meatball recipe and I can't think of a better way to pass this one along.

So here you have it, meatballs!

yields approximately 25 - 30 
1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb ground sausage
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 C milk
1 1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 1/2 C seasoned bread crumbs, plus more if needed
1 TBL olive oil

Mix ground beef and sausage together in a large bowl with hands. Add in eggs, milk, garlic salt and pepper and mix well. Add bread crumbs. Mixture should be moist but still hold its shape if formed into meatballs.  Roll into 2 inch balls. Brown meatballs in olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once all sides have browned, transfer the meatballs to a large pot of marinara sauce and simmer until cooked through.