Dinner #3: Stuffed Acorn Squash

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Tis the season for squash and, depending how you feel about squash, this good be a good thing or a not-so-good thing. We are mixed over here on the circle. I love velvety autumn squash soup, roasted butternut tossed into a fall inspired salad, and can even get on board with Deb Perelman’s spaghetti squash taco if it has the extra kick of cayenne pepper. A couple of weeks ago we received four lovely acorn squash in our farm-delivered Veggie Crate. One week after that, we received four more. Yikes! Did I mention that the kids aren’t huge squash fans? That said, they will devour some white beans, whatever the add-in. This time I opted for kale and tomatoes with a touch of lemon. I think you will like how the citrus juxtaposes the sweetness of the squash.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

4 acorn squash, halved, seeds removed
3 tblsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can cannellini beans, drained
1 can petite diced tomatoes with juice
6 cups chopped kale or swiss chard
1 tblsp fresh lemon juice (for extra citrus, add a tsp of lemon zest)
1/4 cup white cooking wine
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the squash in half and spoon out the seeds and pith. Place them face down on the lined baking sheet and roast for about 35 minutes, or until a fork can easily be inserted into the skin and flesh. While they roast, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 3-4 minutes until tender, never burnt. Add the drained beans, can of diced tomatoes and continue to saute for about 10 minutes until the beans begin to soften and can be smashed a little with the back of your spoon. Add the kale and stir to coat with bean and tomato mixture. Once it is wilted, add the lemon juice and the zest if you opted for it. Stir in the white cooking wine, increase the heat a little and reduce the wine by about half. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and fold in half of the Romano cheese. Remove from the heat.

Remove the squash and arrange them in a baking dish cut side up. Reduce the heat in your oven to 325 degrees. Fill each one with a heaping amount of the filling and top them with the rest of the cheese. Bake, uncovered for 20 minutes.

I serve these with a greens salad and slice of crusty bread if it is available. They reheat perfectly for lunch the next day.

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Dinner #2: Marinara

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Marinara is a staple in our house. My hunch is this-you either open a store-bought variety or whip something up off the cuff. Either works, and until about five or so years ago, I opted for a jar of pre-made tomato sauce. When I was growing up my parents canned their own tomatoes every year. It was quite an event, actually. They had a Victorio Food (read:tomato) Strainer and it came out only once per year. My mom prepped the jars, seals and lids and then they both cleaned and then strained ungodly amounts of tomatoes. We had a storage for approximately one year-that is, after they distributed several quarts to friends and family. In those days, mom would simply heat a little olive oil, saute a handful of chopped onion and garlic and pour in the sauce to simmer. I feel like I can still smell it cooking in their kitchen. They buy cans of tomato sauce now, and so do I. I hope that Cory and I will feel motivated one day to dust off the old Victorio strainer, until then we make sauce like this:

Marinara

3 tblsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup dry, red wine (optional)
1 28oz can tomato sauce (crushed is fine too if you like a thicker, sweeter sauce)
2 tblsp wet Italian herbs (I use these), or a handful of freshly chopped basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano and parsley
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

In a heavy bottomed sauce pot heat the olive oil to simmer. Add the onion and garlic and saute over medium heat until the onions are soft and transparent. If adding the wine, increase the heat to medium high and stir it in to deglaze the pan and cook off the alcohol for about 5-7 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the tomato sauce. Add the herbs. Continue to simmer on medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy over pasta.

A couple of cooking notes. I prefer to add red wine when I am pairing the sauce with red meat or eggplant-think richer, more complex flavor. If I’ve made chicken or pasta alone, I might omit the wine for a lighter version. One other thing. Sometimes I will add a dry Italian seasoning. More recently I seem to love dried tomato and garlic basil seasonings, something like this. I add it when I add the Italian herbs.

Enjoy!

Dinner #1: Meat-a-balls

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Lily and Grandma Theresa making meatballs last summer

Mmmmmm meatballs. I am sharing this recipe today because I have modified it some since I passed it to a few friends. Please note, this is not the recipe we published in our cookbook, however that is a great one too from my Uncle Joe.

Dena’s Meatballs

1 1/2-2lbs meatloaf mix*
2lbs ground beef (no more than 90% lean)
1/3 loaf stale Italian bread, ground into fine breadcrumbs (my grocery store offers a delicious rosemary pugliese I prefer)
11 eggs lightly beaten
1 tube of wet Italian herbs**
1 1/2 cups of grated Romano cheese (a little more never hurts)
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Mix gently with your hands, shape into 1-2 inch round balls and bake for 25 minutes.

*about meatloaf mix: it is usually available in the meat department; equal amounts of ground beef, ground veal, and ground pork.
**about wet herbs: these are a must-find them in the produce department in a tube. I buy this brand.

Another last minute recipe note, I really do think freshly ground breadcrumbs really make all the difference in the moistness of the meat. Dried can easily be substituted but you may want to add an extra egg or two. Also, I don’t turn my meatballs while they bake, but my mom does. She likes them to stay shapely and round. Sometimes I reserve a large handful of the meatloaf mix and roll tiny balls that I am able to freeze for soups. This recipe makes approximately 3 1/2 dozen large meatballs and they freeze perfectly in Ziploc freezer bags. Next week I plan to post my recipe for quick pasta sauce.

Side Dish #2: Roasted Potatoes

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Potatoes are easy, I know.  We roast, bake, boil, etc…and end up with something to take up space on the plate.  I for one am growing tired of potatoes and don’t feel like my family even cares to have them.  However, there is one way I have found to make potatoes less than boring and tasty enough that Ella gets excited when I tell her they are on the menu (she is our potato-loving child).  Once you make these a few times, you can embellish and change it up.  I think bacon and cheddar would be a yummy twist, also tarragon and a little dry mustard.  You can also use a seasoning you favor in your pantry-think, season salt or garlic pepper seasoning.  For the recipe below, I am going with our basic standby-something I think you will like a whole lot.  Oh, a quick note-I usually use Russet potatoes but have also used red and gold too.  Yukon golds are sweeter and require a little less cook time, so keep that in mind when choosing.

Roasted Potatoes

6-8 potatoes

1 fresh sprig of rosemary, chopped

2 tblsp olive oil

salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs

2 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Clean and cut your potatoes into 1/2-inch wedges.  In a large bowl toss the potatoes, rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil until all the potatoes are coated.  Spread onto the lined cookie sheet and roast for approximately 20-35 minutes.  Remove the pan and coat the potatoes evenly with the breadcrumbs and cheese.  Return to the oven and broil on low for about 10 more minutes.  Serve and enjoy!

The breadcrumbs and Parmesan that falls between the potatoes will create this deliciously crunchy layer of goodness on the baking sheet.  You can scrape that into the serving bowl with the potatoes or you might sneakily pick at it and keep it all to yourself while you get the rest of dinner on the table.  No judgement if you choose the latter.

Side Dish #1: Flowering Kale

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I know that all the kale hype can be irritating.  What used to simply garnish your breakfast plate at Denny’s is now featured in nearly every cookbook or cooking magazine published since 2008.  “Put it in smoothies!”  “Saute and add to pasta dishes!” “Stir it into soups before serving!” (we actually do this a lot) “Puree and sneak it into your kid’s mac and cheese!”  “Rub it on your face!”  Well, maybe that last one hasn’t been truly vetted, but I would bet there is someone out there dying to tell us how beneficial it is.

So, in my attempt to get on board with kale, and to bring along my family, I have been trying out a few recipes that make kale the centerpiece rather than an addition to something else we already eat.  The one I share today is really delicious and uses flowering kale, a variety with an easy and highly palatable texture.  Ella’s mom gave it to me after she stumbled upon it shopping at our local grocery store.  I don’t always add the tomatoes unless I think I will have enough left over to have for lunch the next day.  When I do add them, I do it at the very end in order to retain the tomato skin integrity-I prefer the skin to stay intact and attached to the fruit.  I also think it would be delicious to add a handful of toasted pine nuts to give it a little crunch.  Our whole family enjoys it, I hope you do too.

Flowering Kale

2 cloves crushed garlic

3 tblsp olive oil

2-3 heads flowering kale (about 6-8 cups uncooked)

1 tsp salt

fresh cracked pepper

3 tblsp balsamic vinegar

2 tblsp grated romano or parmesan cheese

*Optional: 1 cup sliced cherry or grape tomatoes and/or 2 tblsp toasted pine nuts

Heat the oil and garlic on medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed pot until the garlic is soft, but not brown.  Add the kale and stir until it is coated with the oil and garlic.  Reduce the heat to medium low and cover with a lid, stirring occasionally -this allows the kale to steam and soften.  Once the kale is reduced by half in the pot, add the salt, pepper, balsamic and grated cheese.  Stir and remove from heat.  *Now is the time to toss in the tomatoes or pine nuts if you wish. 

We serve this with a nice piece of roasted salmon, or alongside a grilled piece of meat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baker man, baker man

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We cook in our house, baking…not so much.  So this year when we unwrapped a bread machine from my parents, we were delighted.  You see, we have been considering this purchase for a little while, every time we buy a five dollar loaf of bread, in fact. We took to the grocery and picked up all the necessary components.  Yeast, salt, flour, dry milk, etc., only to be left with four very unsatisfactory, dense and bland loaves of bread.  (sigh)
Bad bread is like bad pizza, it’s too easy right?  There should be little room for error–it’s four ingredients for goodness sake!
Our sad loaves inspired us.  Within three days we had bookmarked bread recipes on the internet, scoured the library for popular, and easy, recipe books for bread until we finally managed to turn out a edible loaf, one for the Gods, or at least three hungry little mouths 🙂  Turns out, bread making is quite easy when you learn to be flexible and patient, allowing for the good and the bad.  New buzz words in our kitchen are “proof”, “pre-ferment”, and “punching down”. **The latter refers to what you do to the dough once it’s rested for a bit, it can also refer to what you do to a random pillow pet that is lying around when you discover your dough hasn’t risen.  Either form is therapeutic.
Alas, we have decent bread that we are even brave enough to share with our neighbors.  The irony, of course, is that we have ditched the bread machine and mix, “proof”, and bake by hand now.  As seasoned as we have managed to become in the last month, we have come to the conclusion that the machine limits our bread baking capabilities.  Spoken like a true amateur.