Sunday, December 28, 2014

Butternut Squash, Blue Potato, and Gruyere Gratin

I hope you all had a merry Christmas! No holiday is complete without a menu of delicious food and hopefully your menu included a cheesy delight like this one. Truth be told, I served pretty traditional individual scalloped potato stacks alongside ham, individual delicata squash sformatos, roasted carrots and parsnips, and crescent rolls, but I wouldn't have balked at this substitution in the slightest. The flavorful blue potatoes and butternut squash form an alternating earthy and sweet structure within which nutty cheese and vibrant herbs mingle. While I enjoy it primarily for its flavor, it's a healthier substitute for some of the fattier and starchier side dishes, and gluten-free for any guests with that dietary restrictions (vegans and lactose-intolerant people will have to look elsewhere). When trying to be a locavore in northern climates, it can take some effort to keep things interesting, but this recipe definitely did my winter CSA veggies justice.

Butternut Squash, Blue Potato, and Gruyere Gratin
adapted from the New York Times
serves 6 to 8 as a side, 3 to 4 as a main

1 large garlic clove, cut in half
1 pound blue potatoes, scrubbed, peeled if desired and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence
3/4 cup, shredded Gruyère cheese (3 ounces)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper
2-1/2 cups low-fat milk

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Rub the inside of a 2-quart gratin dish or baking dish with the cut side of the garlic, and lightly oil with olive oil or butter. Slice any garlic that remains and toss with the potatoes, squash, thyme, rosemary, half the cheese and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Arrange in an even layer in the gratin dish.

2. Pour the milk over the potatoes and squash, and press the vegetables down into the milk. Place in the oven, and bake one hour. Every 20 minutes, remove the gratin dish and press the potatoes and squash down into the liquid with the back of a large spoon. After one hour, sprinkle on the remaining cheese and bake for another 30 minutes, until the top is golden and the sides crusty. Remove from the oven, and allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve hot or warm.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Great Dane Inner Warmth Stew

The Great Dane is a Madison institution both for its delicious brews and its fantastic food. Although my tastes tend toward the carnivorous when I'm dining out, it's also a fantastic place to eat vegetarian if you're so inclined. I can't recall a dish of the herbivorous or omnivorous variety that I've been disappointed with. My home cooking trends toward the plant-centered, so I couldn't pass up trying out a recipe from a favorite restaurant when my CSA farm suggested it in one of the latest newsletters.

There's no ingredients in this dish that's unexpected, but they just couldn't make a better family of flavors. This stew is both boldly garlic-y and ginger-y, bought into silky harmony with squash and tomatoes by the rich and creamy peanut butter. Timid taste buds may want to stop there, but I can't resist heating with up with generous amounts of spicy peppers or hot sauce, cooled perfectly by tangy yogurt and fresh cilantro. This is great on its own, over rice, or scooped up by naan or pita, a wonderfully satisfying vegetarian main even for the meat-eating set. Accompanied by a starch, this recipe fills four bellies generously, but can easily be scaled up to feed a ravenous (holiday?) crowd.

Great Dane Inner Warmth Stew
adapted from Crossroads Community Farm
serves 4

¼ cup of olive oil
½ of a medium onion diced
4 tbsp minced garlic
4 tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
16 ounce tomato juice or one 8-ounce can tomato sauce plus 8 ounces water
14.5 ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1-1 ½ pounds squash such as acorn or butternut, peeled and cubed into 2″ pieces
½ cup of peanut butter
Hot peppers, optional
½ bunch of cilantro chopped, plus more for serving
Yogurt, for serving (optional)
Hot sauce, for serving (optional)

1. Sauté onions, garlic, ginger, black pepper and squash in oil until they start to soften.

2. Add tomato juice, tomato strips and salt.Simmer until the squash is tender. Add peanut butterand hot peppers, if using. Mix well and simmer until a thick stew is formed.

3. Serve over steamed rice with additional cilantro, yogurt, and hot sauce, if desired.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Turnip, Leek, Potato, and Spinach Soup

Despite, or perhaps because of, it's simplicity, leek and potato soup is one of my favorites. Through some beautiful culinary alchemy, potatoes, leeks, butter, salt, and water turn in something magical that needs no further enhancement. But that certainly doesn't mean there isn't room for experimentation! This riff on classic pays homage to the classic Potage Parmentier without hiding the extra zing from the turnips or hint of earthy greens. It's surprisingly filling for such a light dish, able to become a meal with just a salad or a heartier one as a companion to your favorite sandwich. Tossing in some beans, cooked grains, or a poached egg (or any combination of the three) is my favorite way to fortify this recipe, and create a delicious, healthy meal out of the orphan ingredients in my fridge. The extra soup freezes beautifully, and there will still be plenty to save even after you dig in heartily.

Turnip, Leek, Potato, and Spinach Soup
adapted from the New York Times
makes 8 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large leeks, white and light green part only, halved lengthwise, cleaned and sliced or chopped
Salt to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds turnips, peeled and diced
1 large russet potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled and diced
2 quarts water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock
8 ounces baby spinach or kale, chopped
A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf and a couple of sprigs each thyme and parsley
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Chopped fresh tarragon and/or chives for garnish

1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat and add the onion, leeks and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Add the turnips, potatoes, water or stock, salt to taste, and the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender and the soup is fragrant.  During the last few minutes of cooking, add the spinach by handfuls, cooking until the just wilt down. Remove and discard the bouquet garni.

2. Blend the soup in batches in a blender (cover the top with a towel and hold it down to avoid hot splashes), or through a food mill fitted with the fine blade. The soup should be very smooth. Strain if desired. Return to the pot. Stir and taste. Adjust salt, add freshly ground pepper, and heat through. Serve in small bowls or espresso cups, garnished with chopped fresh tarragon and/or chives.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Butternut Squash and Tahini-Yogurt Dip

It's been far too long since I've shared a recipe, but that isn't because I've stopped cooking. I picked up an ample winter CSA box last month (and again this week) and those vegetables have kept me plenty busy, just in more quick-and-easy preparations, which may or may not be worthy or recipe status. A good portion of them went into the Thanksgiving dinner I hosted, and although I keep it pretty classic for holidays, this non-traditional appetizer was one of my favorite things I ate all weekend. The sweet and caramelized butternut squash is perfectly complemented by rich, nutty tahini and tangy yogurt, with the heat of the cayenne or hot sauce providing the perfect final zip. The sweetness of the butternut squash best complements the diverse palate of flavors, but even acorn squash or pumpkin could do in a pinch. This hearty starter deserves a robust dipping implement, like roasted root vegetables, pita chips, or crusty bread, but also made a great spread on a Thanksgiving leftover sandwich. I'm not too far from putting together my menu for Christmas dinner, and this recipe was delicious enough it just may make another appearance.

Butternut Squash and Tahini-Yogurt Dip
adapted from Food and Wine
serves about 8 to 12 as an appetizer

1 head of garlic
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
One 1 1/2-pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plain lowfat or nonfat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup tahini paste
3 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne pepper or dash of hot sauce, to taste (optional)
Toasted pumpkin seeds, for serving (optional)
Roasted vegetables, for serving (optional)
Hearty crackers or bread, for serving (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Cut 1 inch off the top of the garlic head and place the head on a piece of foil; drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and wrap it tightly. On a large baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Set the garlic on the oven rack. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally, until squash tender and golden brown and garlic cloves slip easily from their skins. Let cool.

2. Scrape the roasted squash into a food processor. Squeeze the garlic cloves from their skins into the processor. Add the yogurt, tahini, lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Puree until smooth, adding a little water if the dip is too thick. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the dip to a serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Top with the toasted pumpkin seeds, if desired, and serve with roasted vegetables and hearty crackers or bread.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Warm Green Bean, Tomato, and Chickpea Salad

My work schedule has been insane lately, leaving me much less time to cook that I'd like, so when I'm able to carve out the time, I really want to make it count. For me, making the most of that limited kitchen time means cranking out a big batch of something healthy, delicious, and versatile. This recipe fits that bill perfectly. Packed with tons of fresh vegetables and herbs, filling beans, and savory cheese, this salad is delicious with a slice of crusty bread, over rice or pasta, as a bed for a juicy salmon fillet or chicken breast, or all on its own. This recipe is very versatile depending on what's available - green beans could be swapped for asparagus, sugar snap peas, or even Brussels sprouts, white beans for the chickpeas, Parmesan for the feta, and almost any fresh herbs for the parsley. My garden might be in its death throes with winter's impending arrival, but there's still enough time to use the scrappy ends of my horticultural endeavors in a delicious meal like this one.

Warm Green Bean, Tomato, and Chickpea Salad
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4

1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch length
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for the pan
Coarse salt and ground pepper
3 wide strips lemon zest, cut into thin matchsticks, plus 3 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved, or 3 medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1/4 small red onion, sliced
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 ounces feta, crumbled (1/2 cup)
2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Preheat a large pan over medium heat, add a splash of olive oil, and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook beans, stirring occasionally until browned in spots and just shy of crisp-tender, about 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice and oil and season with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes and onion to the pan and cooking continuing until the tomatoes collapse and onions start to soften, about 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in chickpeas and cook until mixture is warm, another minute or two.

3. Remove the pan from heat and toss with the dressing, feta, and parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature, either over cooked grains or with a slice of crusty bread or pita.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

BBQ Cauliflower Grilled Cheese

As a born and bred Wisconsin girl, I never need an excuse to eat a grilled cheese, but as the days grow short and the temperatures drop, I crave them even more. I can't complain about even the most basic version, provided it's served hot with a cup of tomato soup, but there's certainly plenty of room for creativity too.

Roasted cauliflower is another food I just can't get enough of, so I figured why not toss it on my grilled cheese? It makes my sandwich tastier and healthier and is a wonderfully easy way to sneak in more of those veggies we all need. Fall and winter are prime time for roasted vegetables, so you may have some leftovers hangimg around as I perpetually do, but it's well worth cooking up some just for this occasion. The creamy barbecue mayo is the perfect sweet and spicy sauce (if you use a quality BBQ) and the touches of red onion and greens have just enough acidity and freshness to contrast the rich and nutty Gruyére. It takes a little more time and a few more ingredients than the bare bones version, but the upgrade to gourmet is completely worth it.

While the long days and warm temperatures of summer are fading away, there are no shortage of wonderful things to embrace about fall, especially the culinary fare. And I can't wait to keep the cozy meals coming.

BBQ Cauliflower Grilled Cheese
serves 1

1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon barbecue sauce
2 slices whole grain bread
2 ounces raw cauliflower, cut into approx. 1/4-inch thick slices (or leftover cooked cauliflower)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
A few thin slices of red onion
A few leaves of spinach or other greens (optional)
1 ounce Gryuere, thinly sliced or shredded
Cooking spray

1. Preheat a pan over medium heat. If using raw cauliflower, toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the cauliflower in the pan, flat side down, and cook until the first side is nicely caramelized, about 4 to 6 minutes (depending on the thickness of slices). Flip the cauliflower over and cook until the other flat side is also nicely browned and tender, another 4 to 6 minutes.

2. In a small bowl, combine mayo and mustard and mix thoroughly. Spread on one slice of the bread.

3. Place the spinach on the second slice of bread and top with the cauliflower, red onion, and cheese. Place the other slice of bread on top.

4. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Place the sandwich in the pan and cook, flipping once halfway through, until bread is golden and ingredients are warmed through, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Cut sandwich in half and serve promptly.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Spicy Tomatillo Soup

With a number of record low high temperatures in Wisconsin this week, you would think my gardens would go on strike. But despite their distinctly summer soul, my tomatillo plants are still generously gifting me with a respectable amount of fruit. It won't be all that long until I start picking up my winter with all its glorious roots, so I certainly don't object to eating up these lighter veggies for a while yet. I'll admit my tastes are drifting towards fall, falling victim to the siren song of all things apple and pumpkin, but my taste buds don't object to that dichotomy.

Despite being located on opposite sides of my yard, my cucumbers also missed the memo about the fall slow down, so I was happy to use up some of those as well. All the veggies keep this soup nice and light with low calorie yogurt creaminess making it gently filling. (For vegans, avocado would make a nice substitution). It can be as spicy as you like, depending on whether you remove the ribs and seeds from the peppers, balanced by the roasty garlic and acidic lime. Add only a little water if you'd like this as as light main course, but it can certainly be stretched to many side dishes if you dilute it further. 

My favorite season might be well on its way, but it's too early to completely turn my back on the light and spicy tastes of summer just yet. Bring it on garden! I'm still ready for you.

Spicy Tomatillo Soup
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 4 servings

2 pounds tomatillos, hulled and washed
6 garlic cloves
1 to 2 jalapeño or serrano chiles
2 cups diced cucumber
1/2 cup roughly chopped onion
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1 cup homemade or low-sodium canned vegetable or chicken stock, skimmed of fat
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup plain yogurt
Water, to thin (optional)

1. Heat broiler. Place tomatillos, garlic, and serrano chile in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast until tomatillos are soft and browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Turn all items; continue cooking until other side is soft and browned, about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat; let cool slightly.

2. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack; let cool completely. Peel garlic, seed peppers, if desired, and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add tomatillos and any accumulated juices along with cucumber, onion, cilantro, stock, lime juice, and salt; blend until mixture is smooth. Add yogurt and desired amount of water; process until they are just combined.

3. Transfer to a large bowl or plastic storage container; cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Serve cool, at room temperature, or slightly warm.