Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Twist on an Old Favorite

Thanksgiving… a meal like non-other, comforting and filling; yet many years it seems like the same dishes over and over again. You have your turkey with stuffing, hopefully not too dry. There’s mashed potatoes and gravy. Generally a green bean casserole. Rolls or bread. Throw in some pumpkin and apple pie and your meal is complete.

Completely boring say some.

So what to do? Turkey’s can be basted with fruits to add more flavor. Potatoes mixed with garlic and chives are always a favorite. Why not do a Asian green bean toss instead? Or try some pumpkin muffins and serve a berry pie for desert. All fairly simple substitutions. Some you may hold onto, others stick with the original and you can’t go wrong. But the stuffing… oh the stuffing is something to experiment with!

Remember the Focaccia bread I promised to reuse? Well here’s what became of the rest of it. It was a pre-Thanksgiving meal at our house featuring Louie's sausage and canned beef stock.

Since we are traveling to Chicago for Thanksgiving we took a little time to make our own Turkey a few weeks before. We then spent the weekend in Wisconsin helping my parents around the farm and setting up for their own family meal. No matter how you slice it Thanksgiving reminds us to be thankful and spend with those you love, even if you’re not with them.

Apple Sausage Stuffing
1 loaf Focaccia bread
3/4 cup crushed Italian bread crumbs
3 tbsp Olive Oil
2 carrots, washed and peeled
3 celery stalks, washed
1 large onion
1 green bell pepper
2-3 golden apples
1/2 lbs Italian sausage
3 cloves garlic
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp sage
1 tsp rosemary
3 cups beef stock
Salt and pepper

Cut Focaccia bread into large cubes. Broil in oven on a baking sheet until golden and crispy, do not burn. Remove and let cool in a large bowl.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Brown the sausage and remove. Cut up into small pieces if not using ground meat. Add to the bread bowl.

In the same skillet heat the olive oil. Cut up the carrots, celery, apples, pepper, and garlic into bite sized peices, mincing the garlic. Add to the pan and sauté on low until heated through and tender. Add to the bread bowl with the Italian crumbs, beaten egg, herbs, salt and pepper.

Fold gently until mixed. Add the stock slowly until absorbed, mixing gently. Do not over mix.
Place in a sprayed pan that fits the amount you have made.

Bake covered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 15 minutes or until top is browned slightly. Can broil if crispier stuffing is desired.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Season of Squash

With the abundance of squash during the fall comes a flurry of orange and yellow dishes. My recent favorite features roasted Butternut squash and Louie’s Italian sausage. It was based on a recipe from here, but modified to my personal taste and texture. Again, I used the canned beef broth I made.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Sausage Soup
1 large butternut squash, about 3 pounds, halved, seeds removed
1/2 pound Italian sausage (~3 whole links)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, chopped
3 cups beef broth
1/2 cup heavy cream, or more to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Lightly coat the squash halves with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, salt, and pepper on both sides. Place cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with tin foil. Bake until fork tender, about 30-45 minutes, remove from oven and let cool. When the squash has cooled enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and reserve.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat sauté the sausage till browned, remove and cut into small pieces. Add remaining olive oil to the pan and cook the onions until soft and opaque. Add the garlic, sage and rosemary; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. In a large soup pot, add the onion mixture, cooked squash, 1/2 the sausage mixture, and chicken stock, stir well to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

With a hand-held immersion blender, or in batches in a food processor or blender, puree the soup. Add the cream and remaining sausage pieces. Adjust seasoning to taste and add water till thickness desired.

Serve the soup in bowls, garnished with more chopped rosemary leaves.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's A Softie Christmas

Peek-a-boo! It's a Christmas Basket full of softies! And it’s getting crowded!

Each year my aunts hustle and bustle, cut and glue, snip and stretch tables full of items to stock a little log house on a Christmas tree cutting farm. The farm is owned by a family which has been a long time friend to ours. Each year we trample through the snowy rows of trees (if we are lucky), searching for the very very best Christmas tree ever. After you’ve tagged your tree you can warm up in the cabin with some hot chocolate… and… there just happens to be cute things for sale!

I was inspired by the softies that Allsorts creates, so I tried to do some little versions myself. I came up with a modified Penguin and Puppy, Squirrels, Owls, and Acorn Elves. You can see the elves above, hiding in a forest of my Grandfather's carved wooden pine trees.

I used a variety of felt fabric, with the exception of the Owls who had cotton material. Each squirrel has a hand-picked sparkly acorn; the Owls are sporting felt holy bunches; and the Elves have small unique items.

The Owls started as a patch-work quilt-like project. Each little blue-ish white square was cut out and then sewed together. I attached a felt backing and added more stitching across the pattern.

I cut the front of the owl pattern out and then sewed the rest of the felt body together on by hand. The eyes and nose are from remnants pieces. The holly bunch just made them more festive!

I tried experimenting with different stitch patterns on the penguins, each more tedious than the last. I finally settled on just plain birds with the same cute little nose that the owls have.

A couple ‘special’ squirrels have embroidered holiday icons (Christmas tree, holy bunch) but this too got quickly intensive and was given up. Since I was trying to punch out a variety of different options I didn’t want to spend too much time on something that may not go over well. We’ll see how they sell!

Merry-pre-Christmas from the basket of animals!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pasta Puttanesca - The "scandalous" dish

Pasta Puttanesca… A delicious dish with a scandalous origin. It’s said that ‘loose’ women in Naples would cook this fragrant concoction from easily accessible ingredients in order to draw sailors in. Regardless, it is an incredibly simple dish to make with an abundance of flavor.

The original recipe calls for capers, but a genetic aversion to certain foods starting with the letter ‘c’ (ie: capers, cilantro, coconut, cloves) made me leave out the little green devils. I’ve also taken the time to make my own pasta. It always brings back memories with my sister growing up; stringing clothes hangers and clothes hangers full of fresh pasta. Once you get a knack for it, it really isn’t too bad of a process.

The focaccia bread was a new trial. I’ve been having a tough time getting my bread to rise recently, so I thought, ‘fine, I’ll just embrace the flat bread and go with that for awhile.’ Thankfully I found a lot of use for the loaf; I’ll post what the remainder turned into later.

Pasta Puttanesca
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 small onion, sliced thinly
3-4 anchovy fillets
10-12 Kalamata Olives, pitted and halved
1 (14.5-ounce) can stewed tomatoes, drained and slightly pureed
1/2 cup cream or milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp Rosemary
1/2 cup Feta cheese
1 pound spaghetti, cooked to al dente

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add oil and crushed pepper. Cook chicken breasts till done. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, cut into bite sized cubes. Add garlic, anchovies, and onions to previous pan. Sauté sauce until anchovies melt into oil and completely dissolve and onion is tender, about 3 minutes. Add chicken, olives, tomatoes, cream, and rosemary. Bring sauce to a slow bubble, reduce heat, and simmer 8 to 10 minutes.

Add cooked fettucini pasta to the sauce with 1/4 cup of the Feta. Let cheese melt and pasta absorb some of the flavor. Serve with bread and more feta cheese.

Homemade Pasta
2 eggs
3 1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
Knead all ingredients together on a flour dusted surface for 5 minutes until they form a ball which is not sticky. Wrap in plastic and let sit in refrigerator for another 1/2 hr. Using a pasta attachment or other tool roll out to 1/4 of an inch thickness on a floured surface. Cut into long strips or use fettuccini attachment. Let dry on a rack for 1/2 hr.
Bring a large pot of water with salt to a boil. Add pasta and stir, let boil for about 1-2 minutes or until pasta floats. Strain.

* A fury little kitchen helper is not required to gaurd the pasta.

Caramelized Onion Foccacia
6 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon fine salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup wheat flour
1/4 cup rosemary, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the onions: In a large skillet, over medium heat, add 2 tbsp of oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté until caramelized and brown, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let cool.

For the dough: Using large bowl, mix the yeast, sugar and warm water together. Let sit until the yeast has risen. Add 2 tbsp of the olive oil, salt and flour. Mix dough until it starts to form and come together. Oil the bowl with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn once, covering with the oil. Cover the bowl with towl and place in a warm, draft free place until the dough doubles in size about 1/2 - 1 hour. Spray grease a 9x9 inch baking pan. Punch the dough down and press the dough out into the pan, using a small wooden spoon handle (or your finger) push small depressions into the dough.
Brush the dough with remaining 1 tbsp olive oil. Sprinkle the dough with kosher salt and black pepper. Spread onions over the bread evenly. Sprinkle with the rosemary. Bake the dough for 30 to 35 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
Let cool on a rack. Slice and serve.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Butternut Squash Ravioli

Easy dough recipe

2 eggs

2 cups flour

1/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil

Squash Filling

1 roasted, deseeded squash

1/2 cup cream or milk

1/4 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients in the dough recipe together. Add water till just combined. Knead slightly until the dough forms a ball. Let sit in a covered bowl 30 minutes. Knead with more flour till non-sticky, let cool in fridge for better rolling.

Half and deseed the butternut (or summer) squash. Cover with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 350 degrees in oven for 30-45 minutes or until fork soft. Remove, let cool, scoop out filling to a medium bowl. Add cream and salt. Mix well until creamy.

Using a pasta attachment (or rolling pin) roll out a portion of the dough into a long strip. Take 1/2 spoon fills and stager on 1/2 of the strip, leaving the other half empty for folding over. (Don't fill too much or it will leak out when cooking)

Using the whites from one egg and a little water, mix till frothy. Brush between the filling around edges. Fold dough strip over and press firmly between the filling scoops, removing all air pockets. Using a ravioli cutter (pizza cutter will do fine also) trim off the excess dough. Lay ravioli out on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper (they can be frozen at this time for up to 6 months).

Repeat until dough or filling is used up. Will make about 60 raviolis depending on size and dedication.

To cook heat a large pot of water with salt till boiling. Add pasta. The ravs are cooked when floating on the top. Fresh pasta cooks much faster than store bought, so be prepared to remove quickly (about 3-5 minutes).

Recommended to be served with a Pesto Sauce (also can be frozen nicely).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Onion Soup - Antique Style

There aren't many things more comforting than a nice warm cup of soup on a cold day. And when you combine a steamy rich broth with melty cheese and crispy bread crumbs it just warms you up all over.
Onion soup is one of those dishes.

Shopping at a local antique store on near my parent’s farm is always a weekend visit must. There are new treasures on every visit, many of them from the rural Wisconsin farm community, passed on through the generations.

Scanning the shelves packed with dishes I spotted these little soup cups. There was a set with listing recipes for Chicken, Cheese, and Onion Soup. I scooped up the Onion's and waited through the summer till fall.
Finally the weather cooled down and a request for more heart-warming dishes rang in the kitchen. The canning season which was just completed came in handy for that cooked all day taste.

We fired up the stew pot, simmered the onion broth till the house smelled in each room, roasted homemade bread crumbs, melted the cheese, and tried to resist burning our tongues on the steamy soup pulled from the broiler.
It might be the nostalgic soup dishes, but it warmed us to our toes regardless.

Onion Soup
6 medium onions, sliced thinly
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
3 cups chicken or beef stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup milk
Toasted bread crumbs
Mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot heat the onions with the oil till soft. Add the flour and allow to stick to the onions. Add stock, bay leaf, herbs, salt, pepper.
Let simmer for at least 30 minutes, up to 3 hrs.
Add cream and milk. Let simmer till thickned. Removed from heat and spoon into oven safe dishes, leaving 2 inches from the brim.

Place toasted bread crumbs on top of the soup. Pile Mozzarella over the bread crumbs. Place on a tray and broil till cheese is lightly brown and melted.

Remove and let cool slightly.
Goes well with sandwitches, salads, or as a side starter.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Canning through the Seasons

Canning is one of those tasks that makes me think of my Grandma in black and white. Something that seems like it should be done on a prairie or in the bunker of a WWII shed. But canning has become essential for me this season.

A passed down Mirro 8 quart pressure cooker from my mother spawned numerous frantic phone calls as my first attempt to can homemade tomato sauce was riddled with squirts and spirts from the top of the pot’s lid. I was assured that this was normal and no I would not blow a hole through the roof of my kitchen, as my mother and aunt had when they were children. A few minutes later of intent staring led to a less squirty rocking of lid’s weight. A few more after that and the cooker was ready to take off the heat and let cool.

Since the tomato sauce we have canned beef stock, chili, and more sauce. Numerous recipes this season will call for tomato sauce or stock, I will try to point out when I use the canned version, but until I run out assume that I use the homemade version. I am very surprised at how many recipes (not even including soups or stews) call for stock or sauce.

Pressure cooked foods will last well in a cool dark place; the high heat at which they are sealed insures no spoiling will occur. They are perfect for a quick meal that you need a time saver on or for a college kid who wants a home cooked feel, without the effort. You can control the veggies, the thickness, and the spicyness all at once!

Moral of the post: Canning is not for the ancient, nor will it cause a kitchen remodel and is incredibly useful and tasty!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sausage Quiche, this ain't no Lorraine

The original quiche may have come from Europe, but it's influences stretch far and wide. There are many ingredients that can be added to this flaky, pastry-like dish, but the main ingredient is always eggs.

The incredible edible egg. The question of which came first. The answer to many a riddle. Growing up I never really enjoyed eggs, I still turn down a plain scrambled egg even though I very much enjoy making them.

Quiches on the other hand are a whole different beast. They will sustain veggies, meats, and cheeses quite well. It’s a perfect ‘garbage’ meal, something our house always turns to in order to use up the weekly grocery supply.

The dish this recipe follows is a warming savory meal, baked with
Louie's Meats sausage and local University of Minnesota blue cheese. Any combination you can think of would create a wonderful meal or side dish.

I always make a fresh crust from my Grandmother's recipe. The crust works well on savory dishes as well as desserts. By blind baking the crust you can get a stiff, partly cooked shell that will stand up to the expansion of the eggs and blending of ingredients.

Onion Sausage Quchie

2 links Chirizo Sausage (about 2 cups)
1 small Onion
1 cup Red and/or Green Peppers
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp chopped Chives
1 tbsp fresh Rosemary
2-3 washed, peeled Yukon Potatoes
3 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp milk or cream
1/4 cup Blue Cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste

In a sauce pan heat water with a little salt and cook potatoes till done. Remove from heat, drain, and let cool. Once cooled slice in to thin peices.

In a medium saute pan heat cut sausage till done, remove into a large bowl. In the same pan saute sliced onions, peppers, garlic, and chives until done. Add to sausage. Chop herbs and add to mixture.

In a separate bowl beat eggs with milk, salt, and pepper till frothy.

Pre-baked crust using a fresh crust (see below) or store bought. Layer potatoes on bottom of crust. Top with sausage mixture, crumbled cheese, and then eggs.

Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees until slightly browned and firm, about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.

Grandma O's All-purpose Crust
1/4 cup Lard
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
cold water

Mix first 3 ingredients together well. Add water until flaky. Knead with a little more flour until the consistency of pie dough. Can let cool. Use for pies or pre-bake with pie weights for a crispier crust.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I feel so privileged to live in a country where you can vote. No matter who wins, whether it's the person that you feel is right for the country or someone else, if you vote you had a say in it.

Standing in line at 6:30am to open the polls there was the same feeling of anticipation and urgency through the long long line. Elderly sitting on benches waiting for the line to move; mid-thirties with their books and coffee quietly standing and reading; and families with younger children, promising that if it got too cold they could wait in the car.

I remember when I was taken to the polling both with my mother. My most vivid memory is stepping into a curtained poll both and being allowed to fill in the circle for the presidential vote. It seems so grown up doing it for myself, even though I've done it before. A little waiting, a little filling in circles, slide your ballot through the electronic reader and viola! you get a sticker. Thanks for voting America!