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Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

22 Nov

I think it’s time to admit to myself that I just don’t have much free time these days. It’s been over a month since my last post, some weeks it feels like I barely have time to feed myself. I really do enjoy being busy, but it does mean I have less and less time for the non-essential things in life. And sometimes it means I get stressed out and start crying because my roommate keeps putting my nice knife in the kitchen sink with all the other dishes. Sometimes that is what pushes me over the edge.

Essentials:

1. Office job

2. Restaurant job

3. Working out (I live for Sunday morning Step class.)

4. Laundry

5. Watching Parks and Rec (and 30 Rock when it finally returns)

6. Sleep

7. Showering

That’s right, sleep and showering rank AFTER Parks and Rec and 30 Rock. They are really good shows, guys.

Non-essentials:

1. Taking the time to take pictures of my food on the rare occasion I have time to cook or bake

2. Baking macarons. I want to try it soooo bad. (Sorry dad, not macaroons.)

3. That sewing project I started about 7 months ago

4. That other sewing project I started a month ago that is supposed to be someone’s christmas present

5. Painting my nails. I need to avoid peep toe shoes until I take care of this. It’s embarrassing.

6. Making lists of essential and non-essential things in my life

7. Everything else

It’s actually a good thing my houseplant perished when I moved to my new apartment. I would have killed it from neglect by now anyway.

Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to the holidays. I’ve got a nice Thanksgiving dinner planned: braised short ribs over polenta, rosemary roasted potatoes, green beans, spinach madeleine, and the world famous (okay, my family famous) chocolate cinnamon torte.

I’ve got a hefty stack of magazines I need to catch up on, and my goal is to do absolutely nothing on Saturday. Movies in bed, ordering take out, reading, 30 Rock marathon, sweat pants. It’s going to be epic.

I won’t be going home for Thanksgiving for the first time ever . I guess that makes me an adult…and I don’t know how I feel about that. I’m thankful that I won’t be battling through the airports on Wednesday afternoon, but sad that I won’t be seeing the usual suspects: the grandmas, the uncle. But Christmas is just around the corner and the gang will be back together again, putting our family motto into practice: “Let’s eat again, reeeeeal soon!”

And speaking of eating again real soon, this soup is easy to throw together, and would make a great starter for your Thanksgiving meal, or a light lunch when you’re recovering the day after. My sister made it during the holidays last year and it recently popped into my head as something I was craving. Try it out! It’s delicious and makes you feel good about yourself because it’s so healthy.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Serves 4

1 medium onion, diced

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 cups sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 medium granny smith apples, cored, peeled and diced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cayenne (I left it out because I’m a wimp about spicy things)
In a large heavy pot, saute onions in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. In a food processor or blender, blend until smooth.
I topped it with toasted butternut squash seeds and goat cheese, and it was delicious!
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Quinoa Stuffed Zucchini

7 Oct

One thing I don’t really understand about restaurant patrons is this: why do you always try to order from someone who is not your waiter? Maybe you don’t pay much attention so you can’t remember which one of us is your server? But…I’m a girl. The busboy is a boy. So you could at least differentiate between us. I know you’re probably super psyched about that tiramisu. But I just brought you the dessert menu, and I promise I will be back within a couple minutes to see what you want. In fact, right now I’m standing right behind him, about to ask you what you want. So maybe you could wait 2 seconds for him to clear your plate and I’ll get that order from you?

Pro-tip: At least at my restaurant, only your server can access your order in the system. Another server can’t enter whatever you ordered for me. So when you tell someone else you want a refill of wine, they have to first find me, tell me, remember what you asked for and what table you’re at. By the time they do, I probably would have already come over and gotten the order from you personally.

But I do love waitressing. Especially when you’re just at that right amount of busy that you never really stop moving but you are still able to get to every table as often as you need too.  And since I love food, I especially enjoy when people ask for recommendations. I have some strong feelings about some of those dishes.  People veer away from things named Hunkar Begendi, and they just need someone to assure them that it will be the best decision they’ve made all week, even if they can’t pronounce it.

Also the nachos are great when you’re drinking margaritas. No really, we’re a Turkish restaurant, I swear.

I’d also like to admit right now that I am REALLY bad at carrying martini glasses. I didn’t know it was possible to so consistently spill things on myself. Why did we design a glass that is shaped with what seems like the sole purpose of spilling alcohol?

So yes. In case you were wondering, I did just spill some of your Cosmo down my arm. My bad.

One side effect of waitressing, though, is that I’m really not cooking as much as I was before. Two nights a week I eat at the restaurant after my shift, and a lot of week nights I’m throwing together something easy. So, I’ll try to post something up here whenever I make something worthwhile, but it’s likely going to be less frequent than I would like. My mom has been hassling me to post this recipe, since she saw a photo of the finished product but I didn’t get this post together until WEEKS later. Sorry, mom! (Also you might be saying “your recipe calls for shallots, but I see onions in that picture.” True. I used onions, but after eating it, I think shallots would have tasted much better, so I highly suggest going that route.)

Stuffed Zucchini
Serves 3
3 medium zucchinis
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs olive oil
2 ears sweet corn, cut off the cob
1 large tomato, diced
2 shallots, diced
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice zucchinis in half longways. Use a spoon to scrape the seeds out, creating a small hollow area in each zucchini, like little zucchini canoes. But don’t take out too much, you still want to taste the zucchini. Set aside on a baking sheet lined with foil.
Add quinoa, water and salt in a small pot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy and semi-transparent. While quinoa cooks, heat olive oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and sweet corn and cook for 5 minutes. Set aside.
When quinoa is finished cooking, taste and add additional salt if needed. Add shallot and corn mixture to quinoa. Add tomatoes and mozzarella and stir to thoroughly combine.
Divide quinoa mixture among hollowed out zucchinis. Top with a little extra shredded mozzarella.
Cook stuffed zucchinis for 15 minutes or until cheese on top is bubbly.

Sweet Corn Polenta

12 Jul

I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July! I know it’s a little late…but this polenta is a great Fourth of July appetizer. I made it for my family and it was a hit. We took part in the traditional Towanda Fourth of July festivities, I woke up early  on the 4th to bake the cake that would become Pioneer Woman’s Strawberry Shortcake Cake. Then it was time to gather and prepare for the flea market and parade.

We headed down to Towanda in two waves: the first wave (my dad, my grandma and I) set up chairs along the parade route in the shade so we’d be sure to have a good spot. Grandma protected the location while I did an initial flea market scouting mission. The bartering started early when the very first tent I hit had two plates I wanted, marked $2 a piece. The seller immediately offered me 3 plates for $3. This was going to be a good day. I ended up taking 2 of the plates for a dollar a piece. My next find was a yellow glass vintage cake stand. The $12 price tag was reasonable, but it’s more fun when you haggle, so I offered her $10. We settled on $11.

I headed back to drop off my finds and wait for the second wave. Wave two: my mom, my other grandma, my sister and my uncle showed up right on schedule. My sister and I did another quick lap through the park, and I bought two more plates, before taking our seats for the parade. It was a good one: you have your antique tractors, your antique cars, your local sheriff, the septic tank cleaner, the town fire truck, and one float…we’ll still debating whether the people with the sign “TEA” were a local Tea Party branch…or the Towanda Education Assocation. It’s a mystery that may never be solved.

After the parade, those who couldn’t handle the heat headed into town for some last minute groceries, and the remaining four did our last round of shopping. We headed over to the south park to see what they had to offer. My sister picked out a wooden necklace, only to discover the seller was our neighbor, who gave it to her for free. I found two more plates at various other tents around the park, so that I ended up with a nice set of 6 mis-matched vintage plates. Hopefully they will soon be making an appearance on the blog…once I get them shipped here (sadly six plates and a cake stand wouldn’t fit in my carry-on).

Unfortunately, the corn was behind this year in IL due to a very wet spring, so I didn’t get any local sweet corn while I was home, but it has made an appearance here in the mid-Atlantic at the farmers markets. Because it was so yummy the first time, I decided to make the polenta again this past weekend for my apartment-warming party. Except I got impatient, and my electric stove caused it to thicken pretty quickly. I was worried I was going to over-do it, so I didn’t let it go the whole 30 min. Don’t be like me. Instead of pretty polenta triangles, I had…gooey polenta mounds. It doesn’t really work very well as finger food…

This picture is what happens when you’re watching a parade full of tractors and your mom says “act excited about the parade!” We did our best.

Sweet Corn Polenta

Adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 8-10 (appetizers)
3 cups water
1 cup stone ground polenta
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 ears sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion, cooking for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and corn, cooking an addition 3-5 minutes until heated through. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine 1 cup water with 1 cup polenta, whisking to remove lumps. Bring the remaining 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the cornmeal/water mixture, continuing to whisk to prevent clumping. Reduce heat to medium-high, and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
When polenta is thickened, fold in corn/onion mixture.
Grease a 7×11 pan lightly with olive oil, and spread polenta into pan. Allow to cool for a few hours, or you can make it a day ahead and pop it in the fridge overnight. When you’re ready to serve, use a sharp knife to cut polenta into triangles (cut into squares, and then cut each square at a diagonal). Transfer to a greased baking sheet. Top triangles with Parmesan and place under the broiler in your oven for 5 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and browned. Enjoy!

Zucchini and Ricotta Galette

8 Mar

Confession: I took A LOT of pictures while I was making this. But I didn’t actually take a picture when it was finished. Partially because I made it for a couple of my friends, and as soon as it came out of the oven we were devouring it. So for my sake, just pretend that crust is nice and golden brown from the egg wash I put on it, and the cheese is nice and bubbly, and the zucchinis are tender and delicious looking.

This is a great dinner party dish, or perfect for a potluck (in fact, I made it for an office potluck last year). Part of what makes it great is that you can assemble it ahead of time, throw it in the fridge, and then toss it in the oven before your guests start to arrive. Even better, it doesn’t have to be served fresh out of the oven, it still tastes great after you’ve let it cool for a while. So if your other dishes are taking a little longer, this guy can just chill out on the counter and will be great whenever you get around to eating it. You could even eat it chilled if you wanted. (But I like my cheese a little melty, personally).

This week I made it for two of my friends, who were coming over for dinner before we went to a concert. We went to see The Get Up Kids, whom I was obsessed with in high school. The show was awesome. We were all singing along, and it felt like I was back in central IL, driving home from school with the windows down, singing out my teenage angst.

Since pastry crusts can be intimidating sometimes, this is going to be a picture heavy, step-by-step post.

You’re going to start out making the crust. It’s not your standard pie crust, but it comes out amazing. So flaky, so rich, everyone will be very impressed. Of course, part of what makes it so rich is the whole stick of butter that goes into it.

Just cut the cold butter into your dry ingredients, and either use your pastry cutter or your hands to incorporate the butter. If you’re using your hands, just make sure you don’t over-work it and melt the butter. It helps if you have poor circulation and perpetually freezing hands like me. It should look something like this when the butter is incorporated:

Now instead of using just ice water, you use a combination of ice water, sour cream, and lemon juice. It really makes for a great, elastic dough that is fun to work with. Just pour half of the liquid in, give it a quick couple stirs, and then add the rest, with just another few stirs. Less is more here.

At this point, if it looks a little dry, I promise it’ll be okay. Just kind of mush it all together with your hands, wrap it up in wax paper, and throw it in the fridge for an hour. Once it comes back out of the fridge, give it a very quick knead. I’m talking two to three kneads and you’re done. Just enough to get the dough to stay together in one lump.

Now that your dough is chillin’ in the fridge, time to move on to the filling. You’ll want to slice your zucchinis, lay them out on a paper towel, and sprinkle with salt to pull out some of the liquid so that your galette doesn’t end up drowning when you cook it.

While the zucchini sweats it out, you can mix up those delicious cheeses: ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan.

I’m a rebel, and I always put in more cheese than the recipe calls for. I don’t drink milk, so I have to get my calcium other ways, right?

Now you’ve got your zucchini, your cheese, and your garlic olive oil all ready to go. So it’s time to roll the dough out and assemble.

I like to roll this dough out pretty thin. It’s fairly sturdy so it won’t tear apart, and it’s so rich that if you keep it too thick it’s overwhelming.

You want to transfer it to your baking sheet before you start assembling, or else it will be all but impossible to move. Cheese goes on first. Spread it out leaving about an inch or so around the edge.

Then just layer on the zucchini in some sort of pretty fashion. I did alternating green and yellow, as you can see.

And then you just fold up the edges, and you’re ready to roll! Right before you put it in the oven, adding an egg wash will make it brown up just perfectly.

Zucchini and Ricotta Galette
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves 6

Pastry:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup ice water

Filling:
1 large or 2 small zucchinis, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup (1 ounce) shredded mozzarella

Egg Wash:
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Mix the flour and salt together in a medium bowl, add cubes of cold butter and cut in using a pastry cutter or your freezing hands, until butter is about pea-sized.

In a small bowl, mix together the sour cream, ice water and lemon juice. Add half of liquid to the flour and butter and give 1-2 gentle stirs. Add the rest of the liquid and gently stir another few times, until the dough is mostly in large lumps. Press into a ball and wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Slice zucchini and spread out in a single layer on a paper towels. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and let sit for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes, blot the zucchini with another paper towel to remove extra liquid.

In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil and garlic. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and 1 teaspoon of the garlic olive oil mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured work surface, roll the dough out to about a 12 inch circle. Fold in half, and then in half again to make it easier to move. Unfold onto an ungreased baking sheet. (I’d suggest using one with sides, as there is sometimes a little liquid that comes out of the galette and that way you’ll avoid having the clean the bottom of your oven.)

Spread the cheese mixture over the pastry, leaving about an inch around the edge. Next, arrange the zucchini slices in circles on top of the ricotta. Drizzle the remaining garlic olive oil over the top. Fold the edges up around the filling, pleating to keep it in place. Brush the crust with egg wash. (If you aren’t baking it until later, wait and put the egg wash on immediately before putting in the oven).

Bake until the cheese is puffed and the zucchini is tender, 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate and enjoy!

Spinach and Quinoa Salad

25 Feb

Guys. Why didn’t anyone tell me about quinoa? I know that I had heard vague things about it, seen it on menus here and there, but I was obviously not paying enough attention.

When I go to the grocery store, I have a bad habit of just strolling around the aisles, looking at all the stuff they have. This leads to impluse buying, but I just like to see all the different foods out there! This week, I strolled by the bulk bins and on a whim, decided to get a small bag of quinoa. I vaguely remembered hearing of people putting quinoa on salads, and I had some spinach leftover from my lasagna, so it seemed like a good idea.

I got home and had to google “how to prepare quinoa” because I had no idea. But my search led me to several articles about how great quinoa is for you. Now, I love a food that tastes like a carb but secretly is great for me. That just makes my day.

Did you know:

1. Quinoa is actually a seed. And it’s not part of the grass family, so it isn’t a grain, it’s a “pseudo-cereal.” I like pseudo-anything. Okay, so actually I just like using the prefix “pseudo.” So pseu me. (See what I did there?)

2. It’s one of the few plants that offers you a complete set of amino acids, so it is a great source of protein for non-meat eaters (or very occasional meat eaters, like me).

3. It’s high in fiber. I love fiber. It makes my world go round.

4. It’s gluten free, if that’s a problem for you. And easy to digest! Yay!

5. It’s a great souce of iron, magnesium, folate, and phosphorus. I’m sure those things are important, right?

You can expect to see quinoa popping up in recipes around these parts with more frequency now that my love affair with it has been allowed to blossom. I hear it makes a great breakfast (and the fiber will help you stay full throughout the morning!).

Spinach and Quinoa Salad

Serves 1

For salad:
¼ cup uncooked quinoa
½ cup water
1-2 cups baby spinach, washed and dried
2 tbsp dried cranberries
2-3 tbsp crumbled goat cheese

If not using pre-rinsed quinoa, place in a fine-mesh strainer and run under cold water for a minute or two to wash away the saponin (or else the quinoa will taste bitter). Add rinsed quinoa and ½ cup of water to a small sauce pan and simmer over medium heat until water is absorbed (10-15 minutes). You want it to still have a little “bite” to it, like al dente pasta.

While your quinoa is cooking, go ahead and throw the goat cheese and cranberries onto the spinach, and you can mix up a homemade vinaigrette (or use a dressing you have in your fridge). My standard balsamic vinaigrette recipe is below, and I think it works well with my standard carb/fruit/cheese combo in salads.
When quinoa is finished cooking, just spoon it on top of the spinach salad, dress with vinaigrette, and enjoy!

Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp honey
pinch salt
pinch fresh ground pepper

Combine all ingredients into a small bowl and whisk to combine. So easy. This is why I don’t ever buy salad dressing at the store.

Rosemary Roasted Red Potatoes

7 Feb

On Saturday, I was sitting on the couch a few hours into a Glee marathon when I decided I really wanted a steak. Had to have one. Maybe it’s the 8K training talking, but this hankering could not be ignored. Luckily, I live a few blocks from an inexpensive organic store (no, really, it’s cheaper than the regular supermarket), so I just bopped on down the street and grabbed a steak, a few red potatoes, and a bag of frozen green beans (all the while dreaming of the wonderful summer Saturdays when there is a farmer’s market a mere block from my apartment. Those are the days.)

After getting home and watching a few more hours of Glee (I had never watched the show until this marathon, but I’m kind of hooked now), I headed to the kitchen. Obviously we don’t need any recipes on my green beans. Pot. Water. Beans. Salt. Pepper. Bam.

And, here’s a confession: this was my FIRST TIME ever cooking myself a steak. So, I didn’t do anything fancy. Olive oil. Salt. Pepper. Hot skillet. Just check out the smoke coming off of that baby. My kitchen smelled AMAZING.

To go along with the steak, I just crushed a clove of garlic into a tablespoon of butter, and mashed it up with a fork. I tossed a little in with the green beans as well. And then I toasted some bread and put the garlic butter on that too. Can you ever really have enough butter and garlic? The answer is no. No you cannot.


The potatoes are actually excessively easy as well, and barely necessitate a recipe. This is how my mom always prepares red potatoes to go along with a meat dish. And something about those cute little red potatoes just makes them seem perfect for a single girl.

Rosemary Roasted Red Potatoes
From my mama’s kitchen

1-2 red potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1-2 tbsp fresh chopped rosemary (But let’s be real, it’s February, my herb garden is a block of ice. I used dried. You gotta do what you gotta do.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Scrub potatoes and cut into 1 inch cubes. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary.
Roast in oven for 20-25 minutes, or until potatoes start to brown around the edges.

Whew. Wasn’t that hard? You should probably go watch another few hours of Glee to recover.

And while we are talking delicious food, I made this pineapple meringue pie from the Tasty Kitchen blog for a Super Bowl party and it totally knocked my socks off. I’m not a huge pineapple fan. I like it dried (when it’s basically just pineapple flavored sugar), but I never crave it fresh.

This pie, however, is so good that after eating three slices at the party and having a stomach ache all night because of it, I woke up and wanted to make another one so I could have another three slices. Please find an excuse to make it right now. Any excuse will do. The mail came today? Sounds like you need to make this pie to celebrate.