Thursday, January 20, 2011

Butternut squash turns into a lasagna casserole

This post really is for my own benefit.  I love to experiment in the kitchen, create new recipes, etc. So one of my problems is that I don't write anything down so when I go back to recreate it I often can't remember what I did -- a symptom of age I assure you.
So tonight's experiment in the kitchen turned out F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S *said in a sing-songy voice*! I'm now going to capture the recipe here so I won't forget.  You're welcome to try it too and then send me your feedback.
**Side note - My dad and I are the true foodies in the family.  When I create new dishes he and I sit down and analyze them while we're eating. Comments surrounding this dish included - "Maybe try some italian sausage next time"..."The squash is cut up in just the right size"...."Good thing I didn't add the cabbage to the casserole. The cabbage flavor would have overwhelmed the squash" (we had steamed cabbage as a side dish).  We usually end up analyzing most meals we eat together.**

Back to the casserole. I've decided to call tonight's creation Butternut Lasagna Casserole.  I got 3 smallish butternut squashes in my Bountiful Basket this week and so I needed to use them up.  I first thought about doing a vegetable lasagna, which lead me to thinking about one of my favorite new sauces. One that actually comes in a jar:

Dave's Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce. I've only seen it at Costco, but I really haven't looked too many other places. This stuff is delicious.  There are definite roasted red pepper undertones that add an element of heat, while the sauce is smooth and slightly sweet because of the butternut squash.  I just loooove this stuff.

So here's what I came up with tonight...

Butternut Lasagna Casserole
3 small butternut squashes
2-4 TBS olive oil
1 whole sweet onion
3 chicken breasts
1 box of pasta
1 - 15oz container of ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c. grated Parmesan
1 tsp of herb de Provence
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 jar of Dave's Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce
1/2 c. of grated mozzarella to top the casserole

These are pretty general directions:

1. I boiled the chicken in chicken broth and added 3 bay leaves to water.  Once the chicken was cooked I shredded it and set it aside.
2. I cut the skin off the butternut squash, scrapped out the seeds and then diced up the squash into 1/2 inch cubes.
3. I sauteed the butternut squash in a pan with 1-2 TBS of oil just until the edges of each cube started to turn transparent and some of the squares started to get a bit toasted.  I didn't want to cook the squash all the way, because I didn't want them to get to squishy in the casserole. I removed the squash from the pan and set it aside.
4.  I sliced up the onion into thin slices and sauteed the onions in another TBS or so of olive oil.
5. I boiled the pasta till just before al dente.
6. In a small bowl I combined the ricotta cheese with the beaten egg and Parmesan, and herbs.
7. In my 9x13 pan I combined the pasta, chicken, cooked squash and onions, and the pasta sauce.  Once everything was thoroughly combined I spread the cheese mixture over the top and tossed it lightly in with the rest of the ingredients. I wasn't going for a homogeneous mixture, rather I was looking for pockets of cheese amidst the other ingredients.
8.  I put the dish in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, after 25 minutes I pulled out the casserole, sprinkled the top with the grated mozzarella to melt over the top, and put it back in the oven for the final 5 minutes.

I call it a casserole, because I just mixed everything up.  I prefer to cook my ingredients separately before combing, because I find that this allows each element to develop its own flavor and characteristics which is preserved when combined with the other ingredients.  In the end, they all work harmoniously together to create a more complex and richer flavor.

For example, some would say just cook all your vegetables together, but if you did this then the sweet butternut squash would end of assuming the overpowering flavor of the onions and they would become lost by the time you bite in to the casserole after baking.  By cooking them separately you can enjoy the sweetness of the butternut, coated by the sweet and spicy pasta sauce followed by a burst of salty creaminess found in the ricotta mixture -- a harmony of flavor.

So on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the best...I'd give this recipe a 4.  Next time I might try improving the flavor profile of the chicken..hmmm...I've got to think about that some more.  Give this recipe a try and let me know what you think.

Any suggestions??

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pizza Peel and Tomatoes

Yahoo! Two great things on my porch when I got home from work today. 1) a whole "harvest" of new tomatoes were ready to be picked and 2) my new pizza peel.

The tomatoes I'll be eating tonight (haven't yet decided how).  I sure wish I had a fresh loaf of bread, because there are very few things in life that are as good as a homemade tomato sandwich with fresh bread, mayo, big slices of fresh warm tomatoes straight from the garden and bit of salt and pepper - delicious!

However, the new pizza peel does bring me one step closer to the fresh bread.  I'm now just waiting on my "bucket", in which I'll mix my dough.  Maybe tomorrow it will be waiting for my on my porch.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Artisan Bread in Five MInutes a Day - ready to start

Ok - so I finished reading the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book. I'm ready to start!  I ordered a 6 qt container and a pizza peel today on Amazon and it should arrive here by Thursday or Friday.  I think tomorrow night I'll make the dough and then start baking on Thursday.

I've been impressed by the science behind Hertzberg and Francois's book.  I like to know "why" things work, especially when it comes to cooking & baking.  When I know why then I can figure out "how" when changes need to be made.

I'm really excited!!  I'll take pictures and let you know how it goes.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pulla - Finnish Sweet Bread

I have this AMAZINGLY talented friend. He does everything from remodeling his home and refurbishing rebuilding old pianos to computer programing, sewing and cooking. Your all around renaissance man. And every year at Christmas time Chaz makes this delectable bread called Pulla. He learned to make it will serving a mission for our church in Finland. He picked up some tips and tricks to making this Finnish delight from a local.

Apparently in Finland Pulla is consumed like Americans consume doughnuts or pastries. Pulla is a mildly sweet bread, flavored with cardamom, that is eaten with coffee or hot chocolate. I had to borrow this photo of Pulla bread from wikipedia because unfortunately I have to confess, I don't have any pictures to show you of a finished Pulla. "Why?" you ask, well, darn it, i ate it all this year before I remembered I hadn't taken a final picture. Aggghh!!!!!

So anyways, below are the step by step instructions. I've been bugging Chaz to have me over when he actually makes the bread so I can learn and this year our schedules finally lined up. THANKS CHAZ!!

First, here is the recipe

Pulla or Finnish Sweet Bread

2.5 c milk
1.5 sticks butter
2 packets yeast
2/3 c sugar
2 Tblsp cardamon
2 eggs
6-7 cups flour

Step 1: Warm the milk and melt the butter in it. (First I should preface this entire recipe with the fact that Chaz has a teeny-tiny kitchen and he is in the midst of doing a whole house remodel - i.e. knocking down walls, ceilings and a roof -- and he still finds the time and means for baking up batch after batch of delicious bread for everyone during the holiday season.)

Step 2: mix together the eggs, the yeast, and the sugar.

I had to show you that eggs don't get much fresher than this. Chaz has his own chicken coop and gets fresh eggs daily. (What did I tell you about him being a renaissance man - it's enough to give a woman a complex)

Step 3: crush the cardamom (usually comes in small seeds).

Chaz gave me a quick course in Cardamom 101 - normally cardamom is a very black pungent seed that comes from a pod found on a plant that is indigenous to India. For some reason the seeds that we get from our stores here in the states seem to be less potent and grayer in color - leading one to believe that they're much less fresh than cardamom which can be found in Finland. So Chaz actually uses a bit more cardamom than the recipe calls for, when he's baking here in the states, because the cardamom is less potent.

You'll need to crush/grind the cardamom seeds. If you've got a spice grinder, that will work great. Mortar and pestle will also work. If you don't have either of those, you can do as Chaz does and just use your blender - unique, but effective.

You can add the ground cardamom to the egg and sugar mixture.

Step 4: Once the butter has completed melted and the milk is starting to scald, temper the egg/yeast/sugar mixture with some of the heated milk/butter mixture. Once tempered, add the all of milk mixture to the egg mixture

Step 5: add 1-2 cups of flour to the wet mixture, this just helps things get started (the yeast becomes active)

Step 6: (if waiting can be considered a step) You now set the dough aside to rise for 20-30 minutes.

Chaz taught me another technique for rising dough - he fills up his sink with warm water and then just sets the bowl in the warm water = warm, moist environment for raising the dough.

Step 7: after it has risen and bubbled a little, you add the rest of the flour. The dough should remain relatively tacky. Shape it into a ball and let it rest in the bowl to rise more.

Here's the dough after it has had time to rest and the yeast has started to do its job.

After adding the remaining flour the dough is being set back into the bath of warm water to have time to rise a second time.

In between rising times, Chaz taught me how to use a nail gun as he had to frame out his new garage door -- fun, fun, fun!

Step 8: after this second chance to rise, your dough is ready to work. You will need to knead it for 3-5 minutes. Kneading will help develop the glutton.

Please note Chaz's amazing bread board. This beautiful kitchen tool is sooo well seasoned and loved that he didn't even need any flour on it. It's been perfectly oiled and used over the years. You can't buy tools like this...and if he's not careful, next time I'm over I may try to slip it into my jacket and make off with it.

Step 9: shape the dough - your choice.

To make the braid, Chaz first rolls out ropes of dough.

Then he lays 3 ropes out and crosses them to begin his braiding.

Finally, after braiding he tucks the ends under the braid.

Step 10: break an egg in to a bowl, mix, and apply an egg wash to the top of the formed bread. Sprinkle with course sugar.

Now Chaz swears that the best sugar for sprinkling on top of Pulla can only be found in Finland - he has to stock up when he goes to Finland. But you can probably settle for a general coarse sugar.

Step 11: Bake at 350degrees for 20-30 minutes.

Step 12: Enjoy.  (for pictures of what the final product looks like, refer to the top) Soooooorrrryyyy! I just couldn't wait to eat it, forget taking pictures of it.

The recipe for Pulla in its entirety:

Pulla or Finnish Sweet Bread

2.5 c milk
1.5 sticks butter
2 packets yeast
2/3 c sugar
2 Tblsp cardamon
2 eggs
6-7 cups flour

Warm milk, with butter in it. Mix eggs, sugar, and yeast. Crush and
add cardamon. Pour in warm milk (warm to touch, not hot). Mix in 1-2
c flour. Let sit for 15-30 min.

Mix in rest of flour slowly mixing well.

Let raise for 25-30 min. Shape and cover with egg wash before baking for shiny look. Sprinkle with coarse sugar and bake. 350 degrees 20-30 min.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A new adventure into bread making

I've decided that I need something new, culinarily speaking, to jump start the new year. Several of the food bloggers I follow have mentioned a great book called "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day", by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. It sounded very interesting. I stink at making bread. Don't ask me why. For my last birthday in October I asked my best friend to come over and give me a a basic bread lesson...she makes amazing loaves of bread (see for yourself below).
She did a great job teaching me, but I'm still struggling to make my bread as light as hers.

I've just started reading my new book. As I begin to experiment, I'll be sure to let you know how things go. Wish me luck!