Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Gnocchi

This past Saturday I picked up a butternut squash from Victory Farms and knew exactly what I wanted to make...warm, fluffy pillows of gnocchi, full of flavor and perfect for a rainy Fall night.  This recipe requires a little prep time but is worth it in the end. Even though there is flour in the recipe, it's especially great for those craving pasta but watching the flour intake since the bulk of the gnocchi is made up of ricotta cheese and butternut squash.  Here's the fix:

1 butternut squash, cubed
1 16 oz. tub of part skim ricotta cheese
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp nutmeg (plus more for roasting the squash)
2 large eggs lightly beaten
1/2 - 1 cup and more for rolling gnocchi
salt & pepper

Start by roasting the squash.  For those of you that haven't worked with it before, I like to peel it first and then cut it in 1/2 lengthwise.  It has seeds just like a pumpkin that need to come out so you can either spoon them out or cut around them.  Cut into equal size cubes, sprinkle with a touch of nutmeg, S & P and a drizzle of olive oil.  Roast in the oven at 425° for about 15 minutes, flipping once or twice to help get the caramel color on all sides. You'll want it a little brown on the edges for great flavor so go longer if necessary. 

Once out of the oven, transfer to paper towels to soak out some of the oil.  The squash should be as dry as possible before adding to the dough.  After drying, transfer to a food processor or use a potato masher to blend the squash until smooth.  Place the mixture in the fridge to allow to cool before beginning on dough.

The ricotta will also need to be prepped which can be done the night before by wrapping in a cheesecloth and suspending over a bowl to properly drain or, if you are like me, the 'super-quick because don't always think ahead' way - wrapped in a clean, thin kitchen towel  and squeezed with your hands until every last drop of liquid runs out.  The ricotta needs to be as dry as possible to form a dough that will hold its shape.

In a large mixing bowl, add the 'dried' ricotta, egg, parm, nutmeg and blend together until smooth.  Next add about 3/4 cup of the roasted squash mixture and fold into dough. Add salt & pepper for proper seasoning.  This will loosen it up considerably but the flour will help to bind the dough together again.  Start with 1/4 cup mixed in and slowly add more until the dough can hold it's shape.

At this point, the dough should be refrigerated for about an hour.  Prep a baking sheet with a healthy amount of flour distributed over the pan and a separate pan lined with parchment paper. Once the dough comes out of the refrigerator, form into dough balls by rolling in your hands or roll into a small tube from which to pinch off about one inch sized pieces in the form of traditional gnocchi.  Either shape will then need to be 'rolled' in the flour, sifted of any excess by tossing back and forth in hands and then transferred to the baking sheet lined with paper.  Once formed, the gnocchi will then go back into the refrigerator for at least another hour or longer.

To cook, bring up a pot of salted boiling water and carefully drop the individual pieces into the water. They will cook for approximately 3-5 minutes and are done when they float to the top.  The gnocchi should be scooped out with a mesh strainer and transferred to a paper towel before plating with sauce.

Speaking of sauce...this one goes beautifully with the butternut squash: 1/2 stick unsalted butter browned (over low-medium heat) in a sauté pan with ribbons of sage leaves and a small dice of a cured meat like Pancetta (season with salt and pepper to taste).  Watch the edge of the pan for browning and promptly remove from heat.  Spoon over gnocchi and top with grated Parmesan.

Would love to show you a picture of the finished product but our eyes and stomachs were focused in on the feast and there was no stopping 'em!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Neela Bags and Market Totes - Review & Giveaway!

It seems apparent that the world is moving to all things 'green'.  For those of you who've had some trouble thinking of easy ways to get with the movement, and even for those of you who are heading the movement, I've got a great product to share.  A year ago, my sister-in-law treated me to a birthday lunch and gave me a gift that I've used almost everyday since.  She presented me with this little bag, decorated in a funky, modern, giraffe print and bordered in hot pink.  Inside were 5 more neatly folded bags, the only difference being when you open the inside bags up, they unfold into extra large carrying totes!  Neela Bags have made a world of difference for me at the grocery store.  For one, I was always the person to forget my reusable totes at home, leaving them scattered all over my pantry and storage areas.  Neela Bags fold and roll back into the same condensed shape, secure with velcro, and get tucked right back into the matching bag.  The fabric is soft enough to fold easily but sturdy enough to a) hold a billion groceries and b) keep the original folding creases so that it practically folds itself when you are done.  I fold them one by one while putting away the groceries and place them back in the carrying bag.  Then the carrying bag goes on my front door handle so that I remember to take it back to the car for the next use. They look so cool, I don't mind having them as added decoration for a night!
Neela Market Pack in Circles Kelly Green

So, in addition to the neatness factor, they are strong, strong, strong!  I can't emphasize this enough. I've had a gallon of milk, a couple of bottles of wine and various other groceries all in the same bag and I have never worried about the bottom dropping out.  The straps are long enough to make it easy to carry multiple bags at a time and 5 bags, plus the little guy for smaller items, is more than plenty for one run to the store.  I use them in other capacities, too - they are great for the farmer's market, toting anything to and from the car, lunch carriers, you name it, they work and look good working, too!

So, I wanted to share here because I have had so many people asking me about the bags and how to get them.  I also think that using reusable, recyclable bags instead of plastic or paper bags is one easy way we can all help.  And if we are gonna turn this world green, let's work in some style while we are at it! Click here to see all that Neela has to offer, you won't be disappointed.

But wait...there's more! To show you just how much we love this product, we are giving away one Market Pack to a lucky reader! Sign up to become a follower of the blog by clicking on the 'Follow with Google Friend Connect' button and entering your information. You'll see your online handle show up as a follower to the blog and get updates in your blog feed when a new post is available. Once you are a follower, you will be automatically entered into the drawing (current followers are also eligible). Or, become a Facebook fan by hitting the 'like' button on our page.  Either way you'll be entered! Contest ends October 1st at 5 p.m. EST.

Let's see your love for Mother Earth and all Neela Products!  And be sure to tell us what changes you are making in the kitchen to 'go green'...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Quick Cookie with Nutella & Toffee

Seriously, I think all family baking talents were funneled to my sister. Did I mention that my grandmother used to sell holiday fruit cake right out of her kitchen every year? She had recurring orders starting in August so they must have been delicious. We never met her but I am sure we are channeling her in the kitchen....apparently, I just need to focus a little more on the baking side.

So, to get up to speed with the baking skills train, I have put myself on a strict 'bake something at least 3 times a week' schedule. Let's just say this week's first two tries this week fell short...way short. I'll catch you up on those once I identify the issue and how to fix it- apple pie, I'm coming back for you! In the meantime, I decided a little confidence booster was in order so nothing easier than a dressed up sugar cookie! Really, it took less than 10 minutes thanks to a well know friend, Betty Crocker. These babies are quick, quick, quick. Equally tasty, little bit of crunch and melt in your mouth goodness. Sometimes you just have to be thankful for pre-made mix.

1 package Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie mix
1 stick butter
1 egg
Heath Toffee Bits
Nutella Hazelnut spread

Prepare the cookie mix according to instructions on package for drop cookies with the butter and egg. Using your cookie scoop, drop cookies on non-stick baking sheet (Airbake sheets are great for sugar cookies), top with as many little bits of toffee as you would like and bake at 350° for 7-9 minutes or until browning around the edges. Let stand for 1 minute and then transfer to a cooling rack. Spoon some nutella into a piping bag or a ziploc and snip the tip off. Once the cookies have cooled, pipe the hazelnut spread over the top anyway you like. See...nothing but easy. Confidence restored!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Football Party Mac & Cheese

Football Mac & Cheese

If you have a guy in your house or kids, this one is a winner. It's a go-to meal because chances are you have the ingredients in your kitchen already, especially if you love cheese the way we do in my house. I call it Football Party Mac & Cheese because it's a manly type meal and perfect for a few friends crowded around a TV rooting for their favorite team.  Check it out:

1 lb whole wheat rotini pasta
5 turkey hot dogs
7 tbsp unsalted butter
6 tbsp all purpose flour
4 cups 2% milk
2 tsp of dried mustard
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
fresh black ground pepper
10 ounces shredded Wisconsin white cheddar
4 ounces shredded extra sharp cheddar
1 cup Italian style breaded crumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°. Bring salted water to a boil for pasta and cook to al denté based on package instructions (usually 7-9 minutes).  If hot dogs are frozen, throw into boiling water for the last minute. In heavy bottomed sauce pan, melt 6 tbsp butter over low heat and whisk in flour until fully incorporated.  Stream in milk, continuing to whisk and raise temp to medium to medium high.  Bring milk mixture to a boil, whisking along the way to prevent milk from burning.  Cut back heat to low to low-medium and add in mustard, cayenne, salt and pepper, whisking occasionally until mixture thickens.  Adjust S & P if necessary.

Drain pasta thoroughly and cut hot dogs into small bite sized pieces. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in milk mixture, white cheddar and sharp cheddar.

Grease a shallow baking dish with butter and transfer all to dish.  Mix together bread crumbs and Parmesan and spread over the top of pasta. Cut up remaining tbsp of butter and distribute pieces over breadcrumbs.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, comes out bubbly and golden.  Serve it up alongside a mixed greens salad with a mustard vinaigrette to compliment the flavors in the mac & cheese. 
Dig IN!
Football Party Mac & Cheese on FoodistaFootball Party Mac & Cheese

Monday, September 20, 2010

Honey & Cinnamon Pear Granola

Since I skipped the market this past Saturday for one last weekend at the beach, I decided to write about a treat I made from a previous pick-up. Knowing I have a tendency to let healthy eating go out the window when I visit the beach with friends, I wanted to make a healthy, crunchy snack that was portable and easy to share. Granola sounded perfect… sweet and crunchy but made with healthy oats, nuts and dried fruits. The binder is where the market item comes in, I used Alfredo’s Beehive whipped honey stirred into a delicious pear jam made by one of my parent’s friends – it smells like Christmas in a jar. Back to the honey though, I am sure you’ve seen the honey cart parked smack in the middle of the market with a beehive display and a kind man passing out samples. Be warned, if you sample you will buy! The honey is smooth, perfectly sweet and there are a few options to choose from.  As I mentioned before I choose the whipped option because the consistency is a little fluffier and I like the way it melts when it hits my mouth. Aside from eating it all by it’s lonesome, I’ve been baking away with it all summer (see the whole wheat muffins mix from a previous post) and it seemed like a perfect fit for a healthy granola.  Here’s what I did to achieve the right mix:
3 cups oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 cup chopped dried dates
1 cup golden raisins
4 tbsp whipped honey
3 tbsp pear jam (made with cinnamon)
3 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350° and start by combining the oats, almonds and sesame seeds in a large mixing bowl. I like to rough chop the almonds and here’s a tip, spread them in a thin layer on your chopping board rather than a pile and keep your knife tip on the down while running through the nuts. It’ll keep your kitchen free of little almond missiles. Next, over low heat, combine the honey, jam and butter until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer to mixing bowl and stir until oats are coated thoroughly.
In a non-stick jelly roll pan (at least 9″x13″), spread the mixture into a thin layer and bake for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until oats are golden brown. Will still warm, sprinkle salt and cinnamon over the mixture. It will crisp as it cools down and when it is back to room temperature, add in chopped fruit. It will keep for weeks in an air tight container in the pantry. Enjoy and check out Alfredo’s Beehive next time you’re at SOTJ!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fettucini Pie

Football is back and so is the need for comfort food! This one fits the bill and is an easy use of ingredients you have in your pantry and fresh market finds. We picked up fresh made pasta from the Bombolini stand this past Saturday and Roasted Red Pepper Flake and Parmesan bread from The Norwood Cottage, both of which are the stars in this week’s dish, Fettuccini Pie. Here’s how I put it together:

1 bundle Bombolini Roasted Red Pepper Fettucini noodles*
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
½ medium white onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1 package frozen spinach
10 eggs
3 tbsp whole milk
1 cup part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 thick cut slice (about 2”) slice of Norwood Cottage Red Pepper Flake and Parmesan bread, cubed*
2 tbsp parmesan/asiago/reggiano blend
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400° and start by slightly cooking the pasta. Since it’s fresh it should only take a little over 1 minute in salted boiling water. Be sure to not overcook since it will be baked in the oven also. While the water is coming up to a boil for the pasta, heat the olive oil and butter in a cast iron skillet or one that can be transferred to the oven. Add the onion and garlic to the skillet to sauté until translucent (it helps to add the garlic a little later than the onion because it can burn easily). If using frozen spinach like I did, defrost in the microwave, and drain in a clean kitchen towel by adding to the center of the towel, folding over and twisting until all the liquid runs out. Add to skillet and stir into the onion garlic mixture. If using fresh, add right into skillet and let wilt down.

In a mixing bowl, lightly beat 10 eggs with 3 tbsp whole milk, a pinch of salt and a few cracks of fresh ground black pepper. Add in 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and the drained pasta. Mix together until all noodles are coated. Transfer to the skillet and toss the mixture together with the spinach, onion and garlic until equally distributed.

Top with the cubed bread and the remaining blended, shredded cheese. Cover with foil to bake for the first 15 minutes and then remove foil and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until the center is set but still moist. Let set for 5 minutes before slicing.

The bread will give it a little extra zing and crunch when baked on top and the ‘pie’ resembles a fresh frittata with a great texture added from the pasta. We served it up alongside a grilled sausage we’d purchased on a previous Farmer’s Market visit and a salad but it is hearty enough to be served on its own while watching a good ole football game, of course!

*For those of you not in the area, a prepackaged fettucini noodle (cooked as instructed for al denté) and a store bought french bread can be used as a substitute. I would also add a pinch of red pepper flakes to the egg mixture to get it a little heat.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Market Pie - Tomato and Goat Cheese Pizza

We saved this week's Farmer's Market treats for our last possible holiday weekend hurrah, Labor Day dinner.  After a few days of grill favorites, we wanted to turn to another staple - pizza.  Fortunately, our market supplies us with wonderful products outside of the produce stand.  We picked up prebaked pizza dough from the Countryside Bakery's table. Each week they have a great deal on two pizza rounds for only $6. Buying it prebaked saves time and a mess to clean up. We also wanted to savor those heirloom tomatoes a little longer, so we stopped by Amy's Garden and got a basket of varietals. The last stop for this go-round was at a favorite, Sullivan's Pond Farm, to pick up fresh made, straight-from-the-farm, tangy goat cheese.  We've sampled most they have to offer but since I was planning to combine this with other flavors, I went with a plain Isabel-Moonshine chevrette wrapped in corn whiskey macerated corn husks.  Their cheese never disappoints and can be used in a number of different ways, aside from just being enjoyed own its own. Delicious! 

We took these ingredients and put them together for one half of the pizza and for the other half, we used a store bought alfredo and topped with grilled chicken.  Here's how we put together the Farmer's Market pizza (measurements below calculated for a full pizza):

1 Countryside Bakery pizza round

3 tbsp pesto (leftover from last weekend's recipe)

8-10 Roma or cherry tomatoes depending on size

3-4 tbsp Sullivan's Pond goat cheese

Since the dough is prebaked, the ingredients go right on the pizza dough and it bakes in half the time.  Start with a layer of pesto spread thinly over the entire round, add sliced tomatoes and top with crumbled goat cheese.  Bake at 375° for about 8 minutes and if baking in a standard oven, hit it with a LO broil at the end for about 3 minutes to really get the edges brown and the cheese smooth.  Serve it warm and watch out, those tomatoes hold some heat!  I burned the roof of my mouth with the first bite, but it didn't stop me from devouring the entire half! 

These are market vendors we will definitely be visiting again for quick, easy, tasty weeknight meals.