Stuffed Pumpkin

I first heard about this on NPR, when Dorie Greenspan was interviewed for a fall baking dish and also to promote her new book of Around my French Table.  Which I promptly put in my Amazon cart and which I now possess.  But because she encourages you to make this recipe your own, mine is nothing like hers except you start with a hollowed-out pumpkin and somewhere along the line you fill it will good things, put it in a 350 degree over for 90 minutes to two hours.  So I bought a sugar pumpkin at Trader Joe’s one day, and since we were having company for Halloween Night (the  trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood all grew up and went to college), I decided to try this.  Mine is stuffed with a small pasta blend (from Trader Joe’s), mushrooms and some Jimmy Dean’s sage sausage.  I roasted it with the lid on for 90 minutes, and it was done.  It makes a great presentation.

Start with the way Dorie starts: cut the lid off a pumpkin and hollow it out, scraping the flesh slightly to get rid of the stringy bits.  Sprinkle the inside cavity with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  I found it easier to grind the salt and pepper onto my cutting board, then pinch by pinch, sprinkle it around the inside cavity (the nutmeg went on from the spice bottle, no trouble).  Set aside.

In a medium size pot, brown the sausage well.  Turn off the heat, set aside.

Wash and cut about 3/4 pound crimini mushrooms into chunks.  In 1 Tablespoon butter, sautee half of the mushrooms in a saucepan (you’ll use this saucepan later for the pasta cooking); don’t crowd.  As they get done, dump them into the sausage, stir to mix.

When mushrooms are done, in about 1 Tablespoon olive oil, cook until slightly soft: 1 shallot, chopped and 1 large (2 small, or 3 weensy) cloves of garlic.  Stir in 1 and 1/4 cups of Harvest Grains Blend** mix (about 1/2 of the package), then add in 1 can of reduced salt Swanson’s chicken broth.  Cook until al dente–it will continue to cook in the pumpkin.  Add this slightly soupy mix to the sausage and mushrooms; stir to mix.

Spoon into your pumpkin, and don’t pack it down.  Just loosely spoon it in.  Set the pumpkin on a cookie sheet that has been lined with a sheet of parchment (or a Silpat) and bake at 350 for 90 minutes to 2 hours.  Check at 90 minutes.  The tip of knife blade should go in easily.  If the mixture is too soupy (mine wasn’t, but Dorie’s was) leave the lid off for the last few minutes.

Serve with freshly grated cheese, to be added atop the melange.  We served it by slicing it into wedges, then scooping out the mushroom/sausage mixture into a shallow bowl, topped with the cheese.  Encourage your guests to mix the cooked pumpkin with the rest–delicious.

I decided to try this again tonight, to see if we still liked it.  We did.  It’s perfect for a fall supper, and since a) today’s the last day in November–made it under the wire for fall, and b) we’re supposed to get a ten-year wind event tonight.  The house is creaking and moaning, and it feels like a Winnie-the-Pooh blustery day.

**Harvest Grain Blend: Could substitute a mix of pearl couscous, red quinoa, orzo and miniscule baby garbanzo beans.  At least that’s what the package says is in there.

Three-Potato Gratin

This recipe was originally published in Bon Appetit in November of 2006, but of course, I’ve made some changes (which are in the recipe below).  This is so good and so perfect that people will fight over the leftovers.  I’ve never had any Thanksgiving Day recipe like that.

Ingredients
3 pounds mixed russet potatoes and sweet potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced
[I used 3 sweet potatoes, 2 russet potatoes, and 1 yam & the color was gorgeous!]

Butter for baking dish and foil

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped sage
1 minced garlic clove
1 teaspoon kosher salt
ground black pepper
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese (or mild Swiss cheese)

Preparation

Layer potatoes in a buttered 11×7-inch baking dish, alternating the type of potato on each layer.

Combine heavy whipping cream, chicken broth, chopped sage, garlic, and salt; pour over potatoes. Sprinkle with pepper. Cover with buttered foil; bake at 425°F for 35-45 minutes. Sprinkle with Gruyère cheese. Bake uncovered until brown and bubbling, about 25 minutes. Let rest before serving.

I put this in the microwave for about 15 minutes first, in order to heat up the liquids and get a jump-start on the baking.

Here it is in all its cheesy, rich goodness.

Quinoa, Corn and Edamame Salad

I first read this recipe in the New York Times, in a special article on summer salads with recipes by Martha Rose Shulman.  I subjected Dave, my husband, to a series of these, and he declared this one to be a winner.  It’s pretty–green and red–and crunchy, but not a wildly out of control crunch–just pleasant fresh vegetable munching.  While this is a summer salad, I could also see it served as cold side dish at a holiday buffet, as the colors are so beautiful. Regarding the “optional” feta cheese: we tried it both ways–with and without.  Adding the feta cheese brings a creaminess, a certain “mouth” satisfaction to the dish.  I recommend it.

For the salad:
1 cup quinoa, cooked (I made it with chicken broth, but water works as well.  Click **here** for basic quinoa cooking directions.)
1/2  of a 16-ounce bag of WHITE frozen corn
1 small red onion (about 1/3 cup), cut in small dice
1 red bell pepper, cut in small dice
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery, from the tender inner stalks
4 or 5 radishes, sliced
1/2 cup fresh or thawed frozen edamame
2 ounces mild feta, cut in small dice (about 1/2 cup), or crumbled.  I buy the bricks, then crumble it.
1/2  jalapeño chile, seeds and membranes removed, minced finely
1/3 cup chopped cilantro

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 small lime, depending on size)
1 garlic clove, finely minced or pureed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Soak the onion in cold water to cover for five minutes. Drain, rinse and drain on paper towels.  **I have no idea why this step is here, but I did it.  Must be some kitchen chemistry.

Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and toss with the salad. Serve.

Yield: Serves four main dish, and six side dish servings.

Advance preparation: The quinoa freezes well and the assembled salad will keep for a day in the refrigerator.

Here’s our version. I served it with a delicious foccacia from the local bakery, which was topped with tomatoes, potatoes and dill.  We were full after our meal, and our leftovers the next day were even better.

Nutritional information per serving (four servings): 359 calories; 18 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 43 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams dietary fiber; 25 milligrams sodium (does not include salt added during cooking); 10 grams protein

Baked Asparagus

Sorry I don’t have a picture of the asparagus all on its own, but I forgot to take a photo.  But here’s what it looks like when I served it with Halibut Steaks with Creamy Saffron Sauce.

Rinse your bundles of asparagus until cool water, then lay on some paper towels to drain.  Snap off the ends, placing your hands close to the end of the stalk so as not to snap off too much.  It should naturally break where it needs to most of the time.  Don’t be alarmed if it goes higher.  If the asparagus is thick, use a vegetable peeler and peel off the outer skin on the lower edges, as shown.  It also provides such a lovely green color when they’re cooked.

Place them on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with some olive oil.  Grind on some pepper and salt, then slosh them around a little to recoat.

Slide into a 400 degree preheated oven, then turn the temp up to 425 and bake until the stalks are tender, about 10-12 minutes.  Check by seeing if a knife slides in and out easily in the stalk.  Serve immediately, or you can let them cool a bit and serve them room temperature.  This is a nice variation to the steaming, plus the color is much better (I think).

Lemony Potato Salad

Sometimes before I have to start cooking dinner, I’ll lazily browse through the website Epicurious.com, as it’s easier than browsing through all my Gourmet cookbooks, and the website has pictures.  This recipe is credited to an Ian Knauer, first published in Gourmet in July 2009.

I’d tucked this recipe away, saving it for a day I was intent on barbecuing–thinking it would be a nice addition to a summer meal.  The only thing I have to say about this is it takes more salt to balance the flavors than you think.  I’d also put the salt shaker on the table, even though we’re not supposed to in this day and age. I’d also cut back on the chopped celery to 3/4 cup.  A bit too much, if you ask me.

The flavor of this is light–not heavy–made even lighter by the use of Light Mayonnaise (NOT the Low-fat variety–ick!), although I’m sure that’s sacrilegious in some households (Dad?).  If you decide to go this way, look for the blue lid and blue label.  It’s tastes pretty close to the original, with less of the nasty stuff.

Yield: Makes 8 servings

Active Time: 15 min, Total Time: 45 min

Ingredients
3 pounds small boiling potatoes
1 cup chopped celery (about 4 ribs–again, I’d use only 3 ribs)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper

Preparation
Cover potatoes with water in a large pot and season well with salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer until tender, 12 to 20 minutes.  While potatoes cook, stir together celery, mayonnaise, chives, lemon zest and juice, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.  Drain potatoes and cool completely, then halve or quarter. Add to dressing and toss to coat.

NOTE: I chunked up the potatoes before I cooked them, cutting them into pieces as shown above in the photo.  The trick to not having your potatoes fall apart, I think, is not BOILING them at a full boil overly long. Just SIMMER them, barely bubbling.  Mine cooked in about 12 minutes after they came to a boil; yours may take longer.

Gourmet says that the potato salad can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before serving.  (Just be cautious about leaving out the mayo-based food for too long; food poisoning, you know.)

Asparagus Belgique

This Easter I had a desire for simple supper on Easter Sunday, that would be followed by a more traditional meal the next day when my husband returned from his traveling. I had picked up some fresh asparagus at the store–only the green variety was stocked, but the white is also delicious–and decided that this would be just the ticket.  One year when traveling in Belgium, a friend took us to her country club where white asparagus was in season.  It was served simply, with crumbled hard-boiled egg and a light vinaigrette over the top, served with a side of greens and a garnish of lemons and tomato wedges.  I hoped to recreate that.

Ingredients:

asparagus spears, white or green, approximately 3/4 pound (one bundle)
2 hard-boiled eggs
a good quality vinaigrette if store bought, or use Lemon Vinaigrette if you have time to make it

Wash the spears, then snap them near the bottoms to remove the woody part.  Place them in a pan with about 1/4 to 1/2″ of water, and cover.  Steam them, shaking occasionally.  Don’t let them get too done–check by inserting a knife tip in the lower portion and when it slides out easily, it’s done.  Turn off the heat and prop the lid slightly so the spears don’t discolor.

This should be a good way to use up those dyed Easter eggs, but mine are just plain.  Peel the eggs, then cut them into ribbons by slicing first one way then the other in an egg slicer.  In the photo from Belgium, the eggs are crumbled, but this way will do fine.

Photo is slightly out of focus, I know, but I was hungry and in a hurry.  I think Brianna’s French Vinaigrette is a good substitute for the homemade vinaigrette if you like.

You know what to do from here.  Lay the asparagus onto your plate, scoop out some of the egg, then drizzle with the vinaigrette and enjoy!

Carrots and Snap Peas

This is my go-to recipe in springtime when I need a quick but delicious vegetable side dish.  First printed in Bon Appetit last year, I made my own changes to it which I present below.  Below  I show it with Lamb with Chimichurri Sauce.

Notice how I never say the word “veggies.”  It’s the equivalent of fingernails on the chalkboard for me–a real spine-grabber of an irritant.  (I just realized how dated the image of “fingernails on the chalkboard” is since most people now only encounter plastic whiteboards on the walls of their classrooms.  Oh well–that cliche stands.)

At the grocery store, select three long, slender carrots.  Three makes enough for the two of us, so adjust your quantites accordingly.

Buy a bag of snap peas from the produce department.  Ours are about 8 ounces per package, roughly.

Peel the carrots, then cut into “nickel” slices.

Dump them into a pot of boiling salted water and set the timer for 2 (two) minutes.

When the timer goes off, dump in the snap peas and set the timer for 3 (three) minutes.

When that timer goes off, scoop them from the boiling water and put into an ice bath to stop the cooking.  Drain the water as you will use the hot pot in the next step.  (You could also drain the vegetables into a colander and then put them into the ice bath, but work quickly.)

In the hot pot, melt 1 tablespoon of real butter.  Meanwhile, drain the vegetables, and pat dry if desired (I don’t.)  Add the vegetables to the butter along with 1 tablespoon of snipped fresh mint and 1 tablespoon of snipped fresh tarragon leaves.  Toss with a bit of salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Pommes des Terre Rouge avec Haricots Verts

My friend Susan, tired of not seeing her friends, got a few of us together the other night at her house for what her ninth-grade daughter christened as Salon du Chocolat.  Who knows why a French title, but it does sound really cool.  (Maybe she’d heard about the famous one in Paris?) So we all racked our brains to come up with something French to contribute to the evening.

This was mine, a mixture of sauteed haricots verts, red new potatoes and strips of lemon zest.  It’s not my recipe; head over to Food & Style to read all about it and even watch Viviane’s video.  Then come back here and I’ll tell you what I learned.

I learned that I should have cooked the potatoes earlier, like an hour or two earlier.  They were too hot when I put them into the pan to saute them up.  I also think you could get away with just 2 Tbls of olive oil, instead of 3, but that’s just us.

The secret ingredient I had that night was  this:  Fleur de Sel from the Dallmayr’s shop in Munich.  I used three hearty pinches, and yes you could substitute regular sea salt if you wanted to.  I walked past their food emporium in Munich and one of the windows was a like a scene from a bazaar, with large flat bowls of various types of Fleur de Sel.  I chose the lemon flavor–I thought it would be the most useful, and besides the jar was really cute. In earlier days, I would have saved the jar for a special occasion–always years in the future.  But now, I notice that special occasions are all around me–like tonight’s Salon du Chocolat, so why wait?

Others got into the spirit as well with quiches (from Susan), tartlets (which Thatcher was quick to note was food, not tiny wayward women), ratatouille from Kara, chocolate-dipped strawberries (Kris), watermelon salad (Julie), Choux Pastry with Almonds (Jo) .  Donna and Nicole joined us after the picture and I didn’t keep track of the food after that as I was in a happy haze of  delicious dishes and good company.

Sautéed Haricots Verts With Baby Red Potatoes And Lemon Zest, with changes

(I made two batches)

1 1/4 lbs baby red potatoes – unpeeled and left whole
1/2 lb haricots verts – stem ends trimmed and cut in half
1 tablespoon sea salt for the blanching water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
zest of half a lemon – peel zest with vegetable hand-peeler and cut in 1/8” julienne strips
3/4 to 1 teaspoon sea salt to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste

Step 1: Fill a medium heavy bottom soup pot with cold water, add the potatoes and bring to a boil at medium-high heat. Fast simmer, uncovered for 10 to 14 minutes depending on their size. The potatoes should be tender but still firm. Drain, then set aside to dry and cool.

Step 2: Fill a large bowl with cold water and several ice cubes.

Step 3: Fill a large heavy-bottomed soup pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the salt and blanch the haricots verts(tender green beans) for 3 to 4 minutes (depending on their size) until tender, but still crunchy. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water bath until cool. Drain on towel, then pat dry, and set aside.

Step 4: Cut the potatoes in 1/2” edges. Heat a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the butter and olive oil. As soon as the butter is melted, add the potato slices and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until golden. Toss the potatoes and continue sautéing for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, until golden. If needed, repeat the process until the potatoes are golden brown on all sides. Add the lemon zest, toss well and sauté for an additional 1 minute until lemon is crispy and golden. Add the haricots verts. Toss well until the beans are warmed through, about 1 minute. Add the salt and pepper, toss again and remove from heat.