Friday, March 30, 2012

Lent Suppers - Mushroom, Butternut Squash & Gruyere Tart

This tart was so buttery and delicious it is definitely one that is going in my regular repertoire. I clipped the recipe out of a Bon Appetit magazine a long time ago and have had it in my "to do" pile since then. Served alongside a salad it was the perfect entree or you can slice it thinly and serve as an appetizer.

To get started, gather all of these ingredients.

In my post yesterday I showed a neat-O way I learned to peel butternut squash. It is a great way to save your fingers! Put the cubed squash on a baking sheet and toss with oil, salt and pepper. Bake until soft but nut mushy. Set aside to cool.

In a pan, melt some butter in the last bit of olive oil. Cook the shallots and then add in the mushrooms. The goal is to cook everything so it is tender but not super soft as you want the tart to have texture at the end. Stir in the vinegar, nutmeg and squash. Set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. You can use a Silpat mat if you want. I've noticed that you don't get the same browning/crisping with a Silpat as you do with parchment paper. Roll out the puff pastry to be about 12 by 14 inches. The recipe calls for you to make it bigger and trim it down. I guesstimated. If anyone comments on your tart being crooked, just tell them it's a rustic tart! Move the pastry to the parchment lined baking sheet. Pierce the pastry with a fork all over except for a 1/2-inch border. Everywhere you prick will stay flat but the border area will puff up like a crust. Bake 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, into the squash mixture, stir in the egg yolks, creme fraiche, Gruyere, thyme, salt and pepper.

When the pastry is golden, take it out of the oven and spread the squash mixture on top staying within the pastry border. I chose to sprinkle a little more cheese on top...more is better, right?

Bake for 15 minutes. Cut into squares and eat!

Mushroom, Butternut Squash & Gruyere Tart


Butternut squash - 1 1/2 pounds - peeled, seeded & cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4c. olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 T. unsalted butter
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 lb. assorted mushrooms, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 t. sherry vinegar
1/4 t. nutmeg
Flour for dusting
14 oz. all-butter puff pastry
2 large egg yolks
1/4 c. creme fraiche
1/4 lb. Gruyere cheese, shredded
2 t. chopped thyme
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the squash on a baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes, until just tender. Transfer to a bowl Increase the temperature to 400 degrees.

2. Meanwhile, in a skillet, melt the butter in the remaining 2 tablesppons of oil. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened. Add the mushrooms, cover and cook, stirring, until tender, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Toss with the vinegar and nutmeg and add to the squash.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment. On a floured work surface, roll the puff pastry out to 12 1/2 by 14 1/2 inches. Using a knife, trim the pastry to 12 by 14 inches. Transfer to the baking sheet and prick the pastry with a fork all over excep for a 1/2-inch border. Bake the pastry for 20 minutes, until golden; pierce with a fork if it puffs during baking. Let cool.

4. Stir the egg yolks, creme fraiche, Gruyere, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper into the mushrooms and squash. Spread the mixture on the pastry inside the border. Bake for 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Cut into squares and serve.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Peeling a Butternut Squash

Peeling butternut squash is a kitchen injury waiting to happen. I've nearly lost a finger tip while trying to plunge my knife through one. A smarty-pants friend of mine casually threw out that she uses a vegetable peeler to skin her butternut squash. It was such a simple comment but one that changed my world! A veggie peeler sails through the skin so easily and saves so much more flesh (both the squashes and mine!) than if you use a knife.

The Lent Supper recipe for this Friday will be using butternut squash so remember this tip, it will come in handy!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Vanilla Applesauce

Back in February I mentioned how my friend Holly puts vanilla extract in her applesauce to sweeten it without sugar. I finally got around to trying it out. One word: Yum! Simply add a "glug" of vanilla extract along with cinnamon to your applesauce. While the applesauce is still warm it seems too vanilla-y. After it cools, however, the vanilla flavor diminishes and it tastes like normal sweetened applesauce. I love this method so much I think it will become my new go-to!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lent Suppers - Spinach Pie

This spinach pie is a fun take on the Greek dish spanikopita. I LOVE spanikopita! The one down fall of the dish is that recipes often call for dill of which I am not a fan. This recipe from Ina Garten aka the Barefoot Contessa does not use dill so I was anxious to give it a try. 

First dice the onions and saute until translucent. I only had one onion so made do with that instead of the two that the recipe calls for. Set aside to cool.

Next thaw the spinach and squeeze out as much water as possible. If you have watery spinach you'll end up with a watery pie!

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Then add in the onions, eggs, nutmeg, Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs and feta. I feel like nutmeg is a strong spice so I reduced the amount to 1 teaspoon and the hubby is allergic to pine nuts so I omitted those. Set mixture aside.

Butter a pie pan. Word of warning: when melting your butter in the microwave heat it in small increments and check it often. Otherwise it will explode and make a horrible mess or as Nate remarked, "butter went boom!"

Next, take out your phyllo dough (Before you decide to make this check the thawing instructions! Typically it takes a full day to thaw properly!). You will need six sheets. The rest can be re-packaged and re-frozen.

Butter each sheet and place it in the pie dish. The sheets will be larger than the dish and hang over the sides...this is a good thing!

When all of the sheets are buttered and in the dish, pour the spinach mixture into the pan.

Fold up the loose sides of the phyllo dough to cover the spinach mixture. Simply make your way around the dish as you would fold a crostata.

Butter the top of the phyllo dough. Place in the oven and bake.

The pie will puff up and become a gorgeous crisp golden pie! Slice and serve. Ina Garten says to serve at room temperature. We couldn't wait. We served it warm and it was great that way!

Verdict: 3 cheers! The prep was easy and the end result is pretty stunning! Changes I would make: stay with 1 onion, reduce the nutmeg to 1/2 t., add in a touch of cayanne maybe a 1/4 t., cube the feta larger my cubes were smaller than 1/2-inch as the recipe suggests.

Spinach Pie - Serves 6-8
  • 3 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
  • 6 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 pound good feta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup pignoli (pine nuts)
  • 1/4 pound salted butter, melted
  • 6 sheets phyllo dough, defrosted
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium saute pan on medium heat, saute the onions with the olive oil until translucent and slightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the salt and pepper and allow to cool slightly.
Squeeze out and discard as much of the liquid from the spinach as possible. Put the spinach into a bowl and then gently mix in the onions, eggs, nutmeg, Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, feta, and pignoli.

Butter an ovenproof, nonstick, 8-inch saute pan and line it with 6 stacked sheets of phyllo dough, brushing each with melted butter and letting the edges hang over the pan. Pour the spinach mixture into the middle of the phyllo and neatly fold the edges up and over the top to seal in the filling. Brush the top well with melted butter. Bake for 1 hour, until the top is golden brown and the filling is set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Deja Vu

It happened again...snow. I feel like mother nature is playing a trick on us. It is officially Spring...right?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

MAKIt Plates

When I was in Kindergarten many moons ago I made a melamine plate. I still have it:

Apparently it was some sort of psychology experiment to see a child's perception of self image. Happy faces meant a happy child, sad faces or no faces meant issues at home. I guess I passed the happy child test!

Once I had my own kiddos I thought it would be a perfect way to keep memories in a useful sort of way. I bought a teacher kit online since it came with more sheets than the other kits. There are quite a few different plate companies but it seemed that Makit had the best reviews. One plate did arrive broken and the company offered to send a new one free of charge!

One important thing to note is that the kit is the cheap part of the deal. Once your artwork is done you have to return the kit to the company and pay for processing and shipping. Altogether the plates end up being around $15 a piece depending on how many plates you order.

This was my second year doing these plates and I couldn't have been more pleased. Here are some that we made this year:

Nate - 3 yrs.

My big sis

My cousin - 6 yrs.

Another cousin - 12 yrs.

I'm planning on doing these once a year. Even though it is only our second year Nate loves to go through the plates and re-live who drew it and when. It's also fun to see the progression in art work.

Monday, March 19, 2012

St Patty's Failure

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I cannot make Jell-O or snickerdoodle cookies. I have tried and tried but they always turn out, well, wrong. Crunchy Jell-O. Yes, crunchy. I'm not sure how Jell-O can be crunchy but somehow I've achieved it! And crispy snickerdoodles.

I've had a good streak of cooking and baking lately that I decided to try out snickerdoodles again. I tried yet another new recipe but decided to add a few drops of green food coloring to make the cookies festive for St. Patrick's Day. I was so optimistic! The cookies came out of the oven soft and chewy. Delicious! Once they cooled however they turned crisp and hard. They looked beautiful and tasted good, but the texture was so wrong. I think I'm about to give up on this cookie once and for all!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lent Suppers - Tomato Soup

On a cold and rainy day there isn't anything better than a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Back when I worked up in Portland there was this little restaurant that served the BEST tomato soup. Since my first taste of that amazing soup I have tried to get the recipe. I've asked the chef for the recipe and I emailed recipe requests to newspapers and magazines. Nothing worked.

I finally decided the only way for me to get this soup at home was to figure out how to make it myself. After numerous attempts, many good and some down right terrible here is my closest version of that yummy soup:

Here is the cast of characters.

First dice the carrots.

Next dice the onions.

In a heavy saucepan melt the butter and add the olive oil. Saute the carrots and onions until the onions are translucent. Add a splash of vinegar. Be sure not to inhale as it will knock your socks off!

Dump in the flour and tomato paste and mix until well incorporated. Cook for a minute to cook off the flour taste.

Pour in the broth and add the bay leaf.

Now come the tomatoes. I like the whole tomatoes with basil in the Winter since basil is hard to come by. In the Summer I get plain whole tomatoes and add in fresh basil at the end. As for adding in the tomatoes many recipes will tell you to break up the tomatoes with your hands. Not really sure why it has to be your hands. Seems too messy to me (if you know, please enlighten me). Instead I take scissors and cut them while in the can. Add the tomatoes and juices to the pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Be sure to stir occasionally so the soup doesn't scorch on the bottom. Scorched soup is not happy soup.

Remove the pot from the heat and blend with an immersion blender until smooth.

Add in cream and parmesan cheese. I tend to be pretty liberal in my measurements...

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with a grilled cheese sandwich!


  • 4 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely diced
  • course sea salt and fresh black pepper
  • splash of red wine vinegar (just over 1 Tablespoon)
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 3 T. tomato paste
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 2 cans (14 1/2-oz. each) vegetable stock or chicken broth
  • 2 cans (28-oz. each) whole peeled tomatoes in juice (with basil if available)
  • 3/4 c. cream
  • 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese (shaker kind)

  • Directions:
    In a large saucepan or Dutch oven melt butter over medium heat. Add oil, carrot and onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is translucent and the carrots are well on their way to softening, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the splash of vinegar and stir until cooked off.

    Turn flame to low and add flour. Incorporate into the onion and carrots. Add tomato paste and cook for 1 minute to distribute the paste and cook off the flour taste.
    Add broth and bay leaf.
    Break up the tomatoes and add tomatoes and juices to the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

    Remove from heat. Using an emulsion blender, puree soup in pot until you’ve reached the desired consistency. Stir in cream and Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.

    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    Green Onion Pancakes

    This traditional Chinese flat bread (Chun Yao Bang) was a favorite of mine growing up. It was that rare treat we got when visiting family in L.A. Once I moved out on my own I set out to learn how to make this treat from my childhood. Little did I know that while labor intensive it is relatively easy compared to many breads. No yeast, no leavening, just flour and water and some flavor added in! I actually remembered to take pictures of most of the process!

    Start by pouring boiling water over flour and stir vigorously. The dough will be dry and shaggy. Let rest for a couple of minutes. Add in cold water and mix. Again the dough will be shaggy. Knead dough about 5 minutes until it comes together and becomes smooth.

    Place dough back in the mixing bowl and cover the bowl with a thoroughly damp cloth and let stand 15 minutes. If the towel isn't wet enough the dough will form a crust and dry out. Not good eats.

    While the dough rests, chop the green onions.

    I like to separate the onions into 8 separate piles. That way each pancake has the same amount and I don't run out!

    After the dough has rested cut the dough into quarters and then each quarter in half. You should have 8 equal pieces. Roll each of these pieces into a ball.

    Take a dough ball and roll it out so it is around a 10-inch circle.

    Smear the vegetable shortening onto the circle, sprinkle it with salt and green onions. Roll the circle up like a cigar. Well, I've never rolled a cigar but I am assuming that's how you roll a cigar.

    It should look like a a long snake. Typically I squeeze it a bit to get out the air bubbles.

    Coil the dough like a snail. Repeat with the other dough balls. (Wow. Snakes, snails...maybe I should have said to roll the dough up like a puppy dog tail)

    Next roll out the coil into a pancake around 1/4" in thickness. The hubby likes them thinner as they are crispier.

    Add the vegetable oil to a frying pan and over medium heat cook the pancake for a couple of minutes on each side. I don't recommend using your nicer pans as the grease does create a mess!

    Transfer the fully cooked pancake to a cutting board and cut into wedges. At our house these disappear as quickly as you can cut them!

    Green Onion Pancakes - makes 8 pancakes


    4c. all-purpose flour
    1 c. boiling water
    2/3 to 1 c. cold water
    1/4 c. vegetable shortening
    2 t. salt
    1 c. minced green onions
    1 c. vegetable oil
    Place flour in a large bowl. Pour 1 cup boiling water over flour and immediately stir with chopsticks or a wooden spoon to mix well. Let flour mixture stand 2 minutes. Add 2/3 cup cold water. Knead dough about 5 minutes until smooth; add more water if needed. Cover with a damp cloth and let stand 15 minutes.
    Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Use your hands to roll each piece into a ball. Use a rolling pin to roll out each ball to a 10-inch circle.

    Spread 1 1/2 teaspoons of shortening on each circle, then sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons green onions. Roll up each circle like a jelly roll, then coil like a snail. Press coil flat with the palm of your hand. Use a rolling pin to roll out about 1/4-inch thick.
    Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. Fry 1 pancake about 2 minutes; turn and fry the other side 1 to 2 minutes, adding more oil if necessary and jiggling skillet so pancake doesn’t stick and crust is flaky. When both sides are crisp and golden, remove from skillet and keep warm. Repeat with remaining pancakes and oil. Serve pancakes hot.