The Great Spaghetti Squash Massacre of 2008

I never made spaghetti squash, the Atkins-friendly faux pasta veggie with stringy Muppet hair strands, but it always appealed to me. One winter’s day in 2008, I decided to make spaghetti squash for the first time. Following directions meticulously (as I tend to do with new or unfamiliar things), I pierced the squash several times with a knife and stuck it in the microwave for ten minutes on high.

Sometime around minute eight, Logan walked by and stopped at the microwave. My microwave is mounted above my cook top and below my cabinet, roughly eye level. He asked me what I was making, and when I answered spaghetti squash, he brought his head closer to the microwave to peek in. At that very moment, the microwave door flew open with extreme force, hitting Logan directly in the head and spewing hot spaghetti squash all over him and the floor. It was a heart-stopping and slightly horrifying freak accident, but once we confirmed he did not receive a concussion or third degree burns, it became rather hilarious.

As much as we laughed, I can honestly say I had a bit of post-traumatic stress concerning the preparation of spaghetti squash. It wasn’t until I saw this recipe yesterday, a mere four years later, that I had any desire to try again. This time, I am roasting the spaghetti sauce in the oven per Martha’s method here. Yes, it takes much longer, but, hey, I have nothing better to do.

Cover veggies with enough butter and cheese and you’re probably going to love them; this dish is no exception. It’s also a great way to use up some of those leftover Thanksgiving herbs just sitting around looking pretty. I am very happy to report no injuries were sustained in the making of this recipe.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Parmesan and Herbs by Martha Stewart

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, diced small
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 6 cups Roasted Spaghetti Squash
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper

Directions:

In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium. Add shallots and garlic and cook until softened, 7 minutes. Stir in thyme and rosemary and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add squash and toss to combine. Cook until warmed through. Stir in parsley and Parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

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Real Proper Southern Lady Cornbread

Time for a startling confession. As a lifelong Yankee, this has always been my idea of homemade cornbread:

I can’t say it was ever especially good. It was, I suppose, adequate, but just barely. Recently my friend, Southern Dawn of Georgia, shared her famous cornbread recipe, and two key words caught my eye: bacon drippings and cast iron skillet. If there’s anything I love more than bacon, it’s my cast iron skillet. I decided maybe it was time to break out of my comfort zone today and make cornbread the authentic southern way. How can this not be awesome? I felt like Paula Deen, before she turned all skinny and self righteous.

The verdict? Yum! Lovely texture; moist but still firm, not mushy. Easy and delicious. A keeper, for sure, y’all. (And thanks to Southern Sue for correcting my ya’ll. Oops!)

Real Proper Southern Lady Cornbread by Dawn Rogers

2 cups plain cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
2 cups buttermilk
1 egg
bacon drippings

Place 2 slices of bacon in the bottom of your pan (cast iron skillet) and put in oven at 450 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together. Beat egg and buttermilk until mixed. Combine with dry ingredients and stir until well mixed. Take pan out of oven and remove bacon, pour batter into pan and cook for about 20 minutes. You can broil it for a few seconds to brown the top.

Easiest and Best Cream of Mushroom Soup

Years and years ago, I met my friend Julie for dinner and drinks at a restaurant called Friday Saturday Sunday. Read about this delightful Philadelphia institution here. Friday Saturday Sunday is famous for its cream of mushroom soup, and they kindly shared their recipe online.

Living in the shadow of the mushroom capital of the world, good mushrooms are pretty easy to come by around here.  But not to worry, “good” mushrooms are not required for this soup. By cream mushrooms, I am assuming chef Billy Weaver means basic white or crimini mushrooms. You can certainly go fancier, but the simple white button mushroom works very well in this soup. And as chef Billy says, the older the better.

Please do not skip the cognac. It definitely gives this soup a delightful complexity it would otherwise lack. I have been making this recipe for years, always to rave reviews. It’s as delicious as it is easy.

Billy Weaver’s
Cream of Mushroom Soup

1 lb. Kennett Square “cream” mushrooms
1/2 stick of butter
2 tbsp. flour
1 qt. chicken stock
1 qt. heavy cream
cognac to taste
salt & white pepper to taste
 
 
Don’t worry if the mushrooms are not “brand new fresh” – all the better. Mushrooms that have browned slightly add color and taste to the soup.
Chop the mushrooms into a fine dice. Place in a large sauce pot with the butter and saute until most of the liquid in the mushrooms is “cooked off”. Sprinkle the flour over the mushroom mixture. Stir while cooking for a few minutes, then add the chicken stock and mix well.
Allow the mixture to reduce over a medium flame to half its original volume (about 1/2 hour). Refrigerate until just before dinner.

Before serving, heat mixture while adding the heavy cream. Add cognac and salt & white pepper to taste. Serves 6.

Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Patties

For some reason, I see Dawn of the Future in 2042 looking back at this recipe and promptly placing it in the Gallery of Regrettable Food, 20th Edition. Have you seen the Gallery of Regrettable Food? If you are not familiar with this internet gem, I strongly suggest you check it out and devote at least 30 minutes to waltzing down memory lane. You will find delicious recipes like this:

Warning, do not read The Gallery of Regrettable Food at work. You are guaranteed to laugh loudly and blow your cover.

Anyway, right now in 2012, I do solemnly swear that Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Patties are quite delicious. Future Dawn may roll her eyes, but Present Dawn thinks they’re terrific. Bloggers Three Blind Wives posted their version and linked to the original recipe they found on Pinterest (you can find their post which inspired me here, as well as a link to the original recipe here). I changed things up a bit according to my preferences, and I think they turned out very well. Two-thirds of my children enjoyed them as a not-exactly-healthy-not-exactly-junky after school snack.

Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Patties, yields 12 to 15 muffin sized patties

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and cooked to package instructions. I cooked mine with chicken broth

1 large egg, beaten

1 onion, finely diced

1 lb. chicken, cooked and finely shredded in food processor

3/4 cup buffalo wing sauce, such as Frank’s

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup breadcrumbs, either regular, panko or gluten free

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly combine all ingredients in large bowl. Spoon into well greased muffin pan, filling to the top. Bake for 30 minutes and allow to cook slightly before removing from pan. Serve with blue cheese on the side if desired.

Philadelphia Soft Pretzels

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. — Maya Angelou

One of my happiest and earliest memories is my Pop Pop Nate taking me to the Roosevelt Mall in Northeast Philadelphia and buying me a cherry water ice and a soft pretzel. The warm, salty, chewy pretzel was the perfect compliment to the cold, sweet water ice. We would sit on the metal mesh bucket seats outside the John Wanamaker department store and watch the people pass by while enjoying our treats. After cleaning up with the moist towelettes Pop Pop always carried, we would walk across Cottman Avenue to the library and pick up more Madeline books to read together.

Years after Pop Pop died, whenever I heard Christopher Plummer narrating the Madeline cartoons on PBS, starting with “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines” and ending with, “And that’s all there is — there isn’t any more,” I would choke back my tears. Every child should feel as loved and adored by her grandparents as I did.

When I saw this pretzel recipe in Fine Cooking, I knew I needed to try it. Soft pretzels are such a part of my personal history as a Philadelphian and I will always feel a fondness for them, even though they are not especially exciting (or good for you). This Fine Cooking recipe uses food-grade lye, but I am not comfortable with that. Apparently lots of other people aren’t either, since they also offered an alternative which I chose to use. Both options are included below.

Well, it turns out the humble little Philly soft pretzel is a bit of a production. Not quite the production of making bagels, but a production nonetheless. The main thing you will need is time…time to knead, time to rise, time to roll out, time to freeze, time to coat and bake. It’s a fun project for a day when you’re happy to stay home and bake. Once you shape the pretzels, they can stay frozen for as long as three weeks before thawing and baking, so that’s an option if you’re not looking for an all day affair.

Bavarian-Style Soft Pretzels by Peter Reinhart, Fine Cooking, August 2012

1-1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
19-1/2 oz. (4-1/2 cups) unbleached bread flour; more as needed
2 Tbs. packed light brown sugar
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2-1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Oil mister filled with vegetable oil (or cooking spray)
1-1/2 Tbs. food-grade lye microbeads, or 3 Tbs. baking soda
1 large egg, lightly beaten (only if using baking soda instead of lye)
1 Tbs. pretzel or coarse salt

In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook (or in a large mixing bowl with a whisk), combine the yeast and 1-1/2 cups lukewarm (90°F to 95°F) water and let stand until dissolved, about 5 minutes. (The mixture should smell yeasty. If it doesn’t, start over with a fresh batch of active dry yeast.) Add the flour, sugar, oil, and salt. Mix on low speed (or with a wooden spoon) until the ingredients are hydrated and form a coarse ball of dough, 2 to 3 minutes. Add more water as needed, 1 tsp. at a time, if all of the flour is not incorporated into the dough.

Increase the speed to medium low and mix (or transfer the dough to a work surface misted with oil and knead by hand) until the dough becomes smooth, supple, and elastic, about 3 minutes. The dough should be soft but only slightly tacky; if it seems sticky or very tacky, sprinkle in more flour, as needed. If using a stand mixer, transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface and knead by hand for a few more seconds. Form the dough into a ball, transfer to a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until it’s about 1-1/2 times its original size, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Lightly mist a work surface with oil and transfer the dough to it. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces (about 6 oz. each). Form each piece into a smooth, round ball, lightly mist with oil, and cover with plastic wrap; let rest on the work surface at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.

Shape the pretzels
Line a large baking sheet with lightly oiled parchment or a silicone baking mat and set aside.Lightly mist a work surface and, using your palms and fingers, roll each piece of dough on the work surface into a rope that’s about 30 inches long and 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. If the dough resists or shrinks back, let it rest for a few minutes while you work on other pieces; short rests will let the gluten relax enough to allow for the full rollout.

Working with 1 dough rope at a time, shape it into a large U that’s 5 to 7 inches across with the curve closest to you. Take the 2 ends of the rope in your fingers and cross one over the other so the ends overhang the cross by about 3 inches. Twist the ends of the rope, shortening the overhang to about 2 inches. Next, pull the twisted end section toward you and fold it down over the bottom curve of the U so the ends are a couple of inches apart and overhang the bottom by about 1/4 inch.

Carefully transfer the pretzels to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them evenly and reshaping as needed. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until hard, at least 2 hours and up to 3 weeks.

Dip the pretzels
If using lye, put on protective gloves. Pour 2 cups cool water into a small stainless-steel bowl just wide enough to hold one pretzel.Add the lye and stir with a stainless-steel whisk or spoon until completely dissolved.

If using baking soda, bring 2 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the baking soda, and stir until completely dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and let cool to lukewarm, about 30 minutes.

Using stainless-steel tongs or a stainless-steel slotted spoon, dip one pretzel at a time in the lye (or baking soda) bath and soak for 5 seconds. If the liquid doesn’t completely cover the pretzel, turn it over and submerge the other side for 5 seconds. Remove the pretzel from the liquid, allowing the excess to drip off, and return it to the baking sheet. To discard the lye bath, slowly pour it down the sink drain and flush with cool running water for a few seconds. If you wore non-disposable gloves, wash them in cool soapy water and rinse well. If you used a baking soda bath, brush the tops and sides of the pretzels with some of the beaten egg.

Let the pretzels thaw and rise at room temperature until they are soft and puffy, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Bake the pretzels
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Brush baking-soda-dipped pretzels once more with egg.Lightly sprinkle the pretzels with the salt. Set the baking sheet of pretzels on another baking sheet (double-pan them) to prevent the bottoms of the pretzels from browning too quickly. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until rich, deep mahogany-brown for lye-dipped pretzels or dark golden-brown for baking-soda-dipped pretzels, 20 to 22 minutes. Transfer the pretzels to a rack and cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

 

Brussels Sprout Chips

In my ongoing quest to find a healthy chip substitute, today I whipped up a batch of Brussels sprout chips. I am embarrassingly excited about how delicious these are! Seriously, so good. I wish I had made more, but I only made a small experimental batch.

I would say these are even easier than kale chips, since the leaves come off in less time and minimal knife skills are required. I flavored mine with salt, cayenne pepper and garlic powder, but feel free to use your imagination.

Brussels Sprout Chips

Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and leaves pulled apart

Cooking spray

Salt, garlic powder, cayenne pepper or other flavorings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place Brussels sprout leaves on baking sheet. Spray evenly with cooking spray. Add salt, cayenne, garlic powder, or flavoring of choice. Check on these after five minutes. They brown quickly but still taste delicious on the well done side.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Is this even a recipe as much as an idea? In any event, there hasn’t been too much of what passes for cooking around here these days, and this is the best I’ve got. One of the many hats I wear is landlady, and I’ve been quite busy lately with my landladying business. Sadly, it is not as fun as being a Parisian food critic, my real calling, but a girl’s gotta make a buck sometimes. Between that and back to school preparations, my meals have suffered.

I do love summer tomato season, even if it is sometimes overwhelming. We had a pretty decent crop this year, despite our rocky start. I usually make a batch or two of slow roasted tomatoes every year, and I usually consume the first batch entirely by myself. I don’t suggest doing this for a variety of reasons, mainly digestive. Or that “gluttony is a sin” idea, if you’re religious. But they are that good!

Dawn’s Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Cherry, Grape, or other small tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
one clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of vinegar (balsamic, red wine, or sherry)
fresh herbs of choice (thyme, basil, rosemary and/or oregano)
pinch of kosher salt

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

1. Measure about 1/4 cup olive oil in a cup. Add minced garlic, vinegar, herbs, pinch of salt. Mix well with a fork and set aside. Let this sit at least 30 minutes before using.

2. Cut tomatoes in half and place on rimmed baking sheet or 13 x 9 glass pan.

3. Drizzle olive oil mixture over tomatoes.

4. Put them in the oven and go on with your life. They should be ready in about three hours.

5. Don’t eat all of them by yourself! It’s fun to share.

Lentil Salad and an Ode to Maille Mustard

I found this recipe in my Fall 2012 Entertaining from Cook’s Illustrated magazine and  knew right away I would like it. I am a huge fan of lentil soup, so lentil salad with a mustard vinaigrette seemed like an obvious win.

You may have noticed a jar of Maille mustard on my masthead. It looks like this:

I warmed up to mustard later in life. I think I was about twenty-two before I could eat it at all, and then each year my love for mustard grew exponentially. I am embarrassed that I was a big fan of what passes for Dijon mustard in this country; I always keep a jar of Grey Poupon in the refrigerator. When I was in Paris, I was drawn to the colorful display of the Maille Mustard Boutique, at 6 place de la Madeleine. It really is a mustard boutique. Think about that for a second and tell me the French aren’t magnifique.

After sampling a few varieties, I purchased a ceramic jar of Moutarde Fine au Vin blanc, or white wine mustard. The mustard comes right out of a tap and is sealed with a cork. Blessedly, it survived the transatlantic trip, and if I was smart, I would have stocked up some more. I am down to the last precious little bit, and I devoted it to this recipe. Unfortunately, this is NOT the same Maille mustard we can get in North America. I don’t know what silly trade rules or FDA regulations are responsible for this travesty, but I do know that the mustard from France is much stronger and fuller bodied than any Maille Dijon that can be purchased here or in Canada.

But back to this recipe! It’s a great little salad that can become a full meal if you add chicken or sausage, but it is substantial enough to stand alone, too.

Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Scallions, adapted from Entertaining, Fall 2012

1 1/2 cups lentilles du Poy, but I just used regular old lentils, rinsed

1 small onion, halved

3 bay leaves

1 sprig of fresh thyme

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3/4 cup roasted red peppers, patted dry and finely chopped

1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (I used 1/2 c)

3 scallions, sliced thin

1. Combine 6 cups water, lentils, onion, bay leaves and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil in large pot. Reduce heat to medium low and cook until lentils are tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

2. While cooking lentils, whisk together vinegar, oil, mustard and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in small bowl and set aside.

3. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid and drain lentils, removing and discarding onion, thyme and bay leaves. Transfer to medium bowl and toss with dressing. Let cool to room temperature. Stir in red peppers, walnuts and scallions. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Orzo with Chicken, Cherry Tomatoes and Gorgonzola

It was yet another, “Oh, lord, I have to feed these people AGAIN?” kind of day, and this recipe came across my Facebook feed just in time to save dinner. Thank you, Fine Cooking, for the inspiration. Their original recipe, the foundation for my creation, can be found here.

If you’re not a fan of strong cheese such as Gorgonzola, move along…this recipe will not be for you. And don’t even THINK of substituting it with any other cheese! I highly recommend splurging on some sherry vinegar, which my newly appointed cooking guru David Lebovitz favors over balsamic. But I do think for this recipe, any old red wine vinegar will do if you don’t feel like running out to buy a sherry vinegar, which is not always available in every store. Aside from the dressing and the cheese, this recipe is very open to improvisation. The combination of sweet cherry tomatoes and strong Gorgonzola is just perfect.

Orzo with Chicken, Cherry Tomatoes and Gorgonzola

Kosher salt
2-1/4 cups orzo
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
1/3 cup sherry vinegar, more as needed
freshly ground pepper
3 cups halved cherry tomatoes (preferably a mix of colors and shapes)
1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
1 to 2 cups cooked cubed chicken, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 thick slices of red onion, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
olives (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook per package instructions. Drain the pasta and toss it immediately with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Let the pasta cool completely in the refrigerator.

Put the sherry vinegar in a small bowl and gradually whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil. Taste and season with salt, pepper, and additional sherry vinegar or olive oil as needed.

Put the cooked, cooled orzo in a large serving bowl. Add the cherry tomatoes, Gorgonzola, chicken, onions, olives and the vinaigrette and toss. Taste and season as needed with more salt and pepper. Serve within an hour or two of making.

Orzo and Roasted Vegetable Salad

This is one of my all-time favorite pasta salads which was introduced to me by one of my favorite hostesses. It’s so simple, healthy, and — dare I say — elegant for a pasta salad. It is also open to improvisation, so feel free to add or subtract vegetables to your liking.

While you can certainly use a store bought basting oil to roast your veggies, I prefer to use my own concoction. Just add one clove of minced garlic and some fresh herbs such as thyme and parsley to about half a cup of olive oil, stir well, and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Plain old olive oil works just fine, too.

Tiffany’s Orzo and Roasted Vegetable Salad

Ingredients:

1 box orzo

asparagus (but I used broccoli rabe because: 1) it’s awesome and 2) no asparagus in the house)

red, yellow, orange peppers

zucchini

red onion

eggplant (I used three different colors since I’m so fancy and kind of a showoff)

olive oil

kosher salt

fresh herbs such as basil, parsley and thyme (dried if you’re lame like me)

feta cheese

black olives

Mix veggies in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes or until brown. I like to do the eggplant in one batch and everything else in a second batch. Cool veggies.

Cook orzo according to package directions. Cool orzo.

Mix orzo with veggies, olive oil, salt and pepper, and add feta cheese, fresh basil, sliced cherry or grape tomatoes, and juice from 1/2 a lemon.

Three kinds of eggplant to impress one’s guests.

Veggies awaiting their orzo mating

Ready to party!