Sunday, April 27, 2014

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce

Did you know that wonton wrappers are not only inexpensive, but versatile?  You can use wonton wrappers to make cookies, mini-pizzas, appetizers, samosas and ravioli.

Ravioli using wonton wrappers....that’s exactly what Architect did when she made our little crew Butternut Squash Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce, a recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis.

Making ravioli or pasta dough is like making pastry dough.  It is a messy endeavor but the results are so worth the toil.  Sometimes, however, we (as cooks)  wonder if the finished product is proportionately better (considering he time invested) than preparing the same recipe using pre-made alternatives.  If, as an example, we use the raviolis Architect made using wonton wrappers, then we can say - straight up, without a doubt, conclusively - that the amount of flavor is not thwarted by the method deployed.

Don’t you just love borrowing tricks to create an efficient culinary experience?
This dish is delicious and pretty.  It calls for amaretti cookies and, of course, amaretti cookies are the quintessential Italian treat.  Amaretti cookies have an accidental beginning.  Legend has it that a husband and wife team from Saronno, Italy whipped up the first batch to serve to a visiting Bishop.  The Bishop liked them so much that he blessed the couple to enjoy long, happy marriage with the hopeful consequence that the recipe would passed down through several generations. Amaretti cookies are similar to macaroons and have a subtle coffee-almond flavor. The subtlety is why they work well in this recipe…not overpowering but just enough to add a little sweetness.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce
Recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis

Squash Ravioli
1 butternut squash, approximately 2 pounds, cubed (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
1 1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 large shallots, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
4 small amaretti cookies, crushed (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 package small wonton wrappers

Brown Butter Sauce
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
2 tablespoons torn fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries, or chopped dried cherries, or mixture of both
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

To make the ravioli, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. On a foil-lined baking sheet toss together the butternut squash, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. Bake in the oven until soft and golden, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Cook the shallots and garlic until lightly golden, about 3 minutes.

In a food processor, combine the butternut squash mixture, the shallot mixture, and the ricotta cheese and pulse a few times to blend. Add the crushed amaretti cookies, the nutmeg, and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse until smooth. The ravioli filling can be made one day ahead.

To make the ravioli, lay out 6 wonton skins, keeping the remaining skins inside the package or under a very lightly dampened paper towel. Place 1 tablespoon of squash mixture in the middle of each skin. Dip a pastry brush in a little water and wet the edges of the skin. Gently fold the square wrapper into a triangle, making sure the edges are securely closed and there are no air pockets inside. Dampen the two bottom corners of the longest side of the triangle and gently bring them together, pressing lightly to secure. Place the formed ravioli on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Before laying out another 6 wonton sheets, be careful to dry the work surface. This will help keep tortellini from sticking to the baking sheet. Continue until all the butternut squash mixture is used. There should be approximately 36 ravioli (these can be formed, frozen on the baking sheet, transferred to a tightly sealed plastic bag or container and stored for up to six months). To cook, simply toss the frozen ravioli into the salted boiling water and cook for 4 minutes.)

To make the sauce and serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat.

Add the sage, walnuts and cranberries and let cook until the butter starts to brown, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat off and season with salt, and pepper.  Stir to combine. Then, gently place the ravioli in the boiling water and gently stir. When they begin to float they are done, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, gently spoon the tortellini onto a serving platter, Top with the brown butter sauce, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thumbprint Cookies

When we have dinner at Architect’s house, it’s always my turn to bring dessert.  You might remember that I almost burned her house down with some flaming banana thing I made once.  It was good.  Dangerous, but good.

This time, however, I chose a less reckless option, Thumbprint Cookies.

Let me tell you why I chose to make Thumbprint Cookies.  

The local grocery store was having a sale, 2 for $5, on the specialty jam from France I like, Bonne Manam.  I especially like the fig, but they’re all good.  Also, the jam comes in these great jars that I use for glasses after we devour the contents.  

My collection is growing…I have four, or six if you count the still-full jars.

So, not wanting to pass up the opportunity to stock up and knowing it was my turn to make dessert next, I pondered what I could make using my bargain find.  I searched the Internet for “what to make using jam” and there they were.

And that is the story of how I made Thumbprint Cookies.

I bought Apricot Raspberry and Fig and I used the Fig for the yummy cookies I brought for dessert.  I divided the dough in half and put half in the freezer.  Younger daughter and I will make the other half of the dough today, using the Apricot Raspberry this time.

The origin of the thumbprint cookie, also known as a “bird’s nest” is disputable.  Some say the cookie originated in Poland others say the Swedes invented this cookie that they refer to as Hallongrotta, meaning “raspberry cave.”  Regardless of the origin, the name makes perfect sense…..balls of dough, sometimes rolled in nuts, coconut or sugar, with a indentation pressed in the center with your thumb, filled with jam before baking, hence the name “thumbprint.”  Here's another batch I made and rolled in coconut before baking.  That's what the Barefoot Contessa does.

The recipe below says to use room temperature eggs.  I forgot and wondered why this is important.  Room temperature eggs will combine with the batter more easily and evenly, creating a lighter texture that bakes more quickly.  If, like me, you forget to take your eggs out of the fridge before you are ready to make these cookies, no worries, just add them to a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes or so. 

I will write about the amazing raviolis Architect made next.  Simply delicious.

Thumbprint Cookies
From:  all
Makes 2 dozen

1 cup of butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces), room temperature
1/2 cup of sugar
2 eggs, room temperature 
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 cups of flour
1 cup of chopped nuts, coconut or sugar (optional)
3/4 cup of your favorite jam
Parchment paper

Cream the butter and sugar on high speed for about 3 minutes.

Separate the eggs. Add the yolks and vanilla extract to the butter mixture. If using nuts place the egg whites in a shallow dish on the side and whisk them until bubbly and frothy (the egg whites will be used to keep the nuts on the cookies).

Add the flour and salt. Mix until just combined. Place the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes and preheat the oven to 350F.

Roll the dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter. If using nuts, coconut, or sugar, dip the balls into the egg whites then roll them into the nuts, coconut or sugar until covered. Place the balls on parchment lined cookie sheets.

Press down with your thumb to make a small well in the center of the cookie. Do not press too hard or the cookie will fall apart. Fill with 1/2 teaspoon of jam.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until slightly firm. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet to firm up before moving them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Haricots Verts and Pea Pods with Hazelnut and Orange

We had dinner at Foodie’s house last Wednesday.  She made a lovely halibut dish with tomatoes and artichokes because she was craving to make the delicious side dish you see right there.

In other posts, you have read about our many adventures with the Jerusalem Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamimi and this recipe — Haricots Verts and Pea Pods with Hazelnuts and Orange — is from the predecessor cookbook, Ottolenghi.  Ottolenghi is equally popular and beautifully illustrated and, like Jerusalem, the authors offer practical guidance with each recipe.  For instance, in the prelude to this recipe, they explain that the hazelnut and orange balance each other beautifully, offering the right amount of earthiness and freshness but the flavors are subtle enough to not overpower the vegetables.

We agree.  This dish is amazing.

You can find hazelnut oil in specialty or whole food stores; I found some at Giant.  I was pleasantly surprised, but relieved  because I plan to make these emerald beauties for Easter.

I will have a house full!

Don't you just love a full house on a holiday?!

Snow or sugar-snap peas are also known as mange tout, which is French for “eat everything” since you eat the pod as well as the pea.  To me, those are not very appetizing words so I will refer to them a pea pods.  

Haricots Verts and Pea Pods with Hazelnut and Orange

1 lb Haricots Verts or french beans
3/4 lb snow pea pods
1/4 cup un-skinned hazelnuts
1 orange, washed and zested into strips
4 teaspoons chives
1 garlic clove crushed
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp Hazelnut oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

Using a small, sharp knife, trim the stalk ends off the beans and the snow peas, keeping the two separate. Bring plenty of unsalted water to a boil in a large pot.  You need lots of space for the beans, as this is critical to preserve their color.  Blanch the beans in the water for 4 minutes, then drain into a colander and run them under plenty of tap water until cold.  Leave to drain and dry.  Repeat with the snow peas, but blanch only for 1 minute.

While the beans are cooking, scatter the hazelnuts over a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes.  Leave until cool enough to handle, then rub them with a clean kitchen towel to get rid of most of the skin.  Chop the nuts with a large, sharp knife.  They should be quite rough; some can even stay whole.  

I love the knife the Pioneer Woman uses, so I just had to have one…it is amazing.  And quite sharp!

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the orange in strips, being careful to avoid the bitter white pith.  Slice each piece of zest into very thin strips.  You could also use a citrus zester.

To assemble the dish, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, toss gently, taste and adjust the seasoning.  Serve at room temperature.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Spaghetti With Crab, Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

It was Singer’s turn to cook last Wednesday.

We were all yearning for something light and springy, to lift our moods because the weather, to that point, was not cooperating at all.

She did not disappoint.

But talk about disappoint...I am a week behind in my posts — again — and this time, technology is the culprit.  I needed to get a new computer, and not only did I get a new computer, I decided on a new computing experience.  I switched from a conventional laptop to a Mac.  AND, since I don’t have Word for Mac installed yet and had to work in "Pages," I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. 

I apologize in advance for formatting errors.

Anyway, back to last Wednesday’s dinner.  Singer made Spaghetti with Crab, Cherry Tomatoes and Basil.  Loaded with fresh flavors — tomatoes, asparagus, lemons, garlic — this dish was just the Wednesday, mid-week pick-me-up we needed.  Kind of a hump-day happy hour….in a dish.

Speaking of hump-day...have you seen that hump-day commercial with the camel?  Yeah, I'm not crazy about that commercial but, I do have to admit, here I am talking about it so it is obviously a brilliant marketing maneuver. But this got me thinking about the origins of calling Wednesday "hump day."  We already know a few things about Wednesdays.  According to a popular rhyme, children born on this day are full of woe, Christians distribute ashes on Ash Wednesday in Lent, there is an Addams Family character named Wednesday and now we have christened it with this nickname.  

Wednesdays get a lot of attention....besides our dinner club. tells us that if you imagine the work week as a hill, Wednesday represents the apex, and, when workers leave what theVogues call the Five O'Clock World on Wednesday, he or she can now descend the hill and look forward to the weekend.  Of course, with workweek variations and the limitless connectivity we have even when we are not at work, this definition could easily be disputed.  Many European countries try to enforce a strict work week and encourage workers to not check email during non-work hours, but, as you can imagine, technology demands often give this idea the boot.  Or is it the reboot?  


Anyway, two Wednesdays ago, we enjoyed another wonderful evening of each other's company and this fantastic meal. 

Spaghetti With Crab, Cherry Tomatoes & Basil
Adapted from:

Sauce Ingredients
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Garlic Cloves, chopped
Good sized pinch Chili Flakes
Container of Cherry Tomato, halved
1 Lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 cup of white wine                   
1 lb of Canned White Crab, drained
Blanched bunch of Asparagus cut into pieces

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and chilli flakes. Cook until just pale golden, then add the tomatoes. Cook 3 mins more on a high heat until the tomatoes start to break down a little. Toss in blanched asparagus.  Add the lemon juice and cook for 1-2 mins. Remove from the heat and stir in the crab to warm through - not too much or it will break up.

Pasta Ingredients
1 lb of fresh Fettuccine or linguine
1 tablespoon Capers, drained & rinsed (optional)
Handful of Basil Leaves and Parsley roughly chopped

Step 2
Boil the pasta in a large pan of salted water following pack instructions then drain. Mix the pasta in the warm pot with the sauce, lemon zest and capers, and toss the basil through.

When we have dinner at Singer's house, it's always Foodie's turn to bring dessert.  I bring wine and Architect brings salad. We devoured that Panna Cotta you see up there, a recipe courtesy of David Lebovitz and Foodie.

Monday, April 7, 2014

One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Rye

I did not know this until maybe three years ago.

Bourbon, Scotch and Rye are all types of whiskey.  Please don’t judge me; I don’t drink much liquor and only became aware of the difference when selecting spirits to serve guests at my annual holiday party.  Older daughter’s beau finally educated me on the fine art of selecting a different blend of each type of whiskey.  He made me that drink you see right there.

Now, it’s a taste-a-rama.  Then, I saw this article in the New York Times, and you know I love the New York Times, about a Bourbon-Rye Blend from Wild Turkey. 

I decided to buy a bottle for this year’s holiday shindig.

It was a hit.

I would imagine most people, unlike me, know the difference between these three spirits and to those, I apologize if the following tutorial seems a bit elementary.  For all others, please read on and be enlightened.

All whiskeys are made with a grain, water and yeast.  The yeast eats the sugar – the grain used – and the byproduct is alcohol.  Then the entire concoction is distilled, which is the process of separating the grain pieces and other fermentation matter from the liquid, now alcohol.  The more the liquid is distilled, the smoother the flavor of the finished product.  After distillation, all whiskey is aged in oak barrels.  Oak is used because it is a pure wood and environmental notes in the wood often contribute to the taste to the finished product.

Bourbon is frequently associated with the great Commonwealth of Kentucky (did you know that Kentucky was a Commonwealth, along with Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Virginia) and it is made primarily from ground corn, at least 51%.  The mixture is aged (ideally for four years) in new, charred oak barrels. 

Kentucky is playing in the NCAA final game against UConn, who beat St. Joe's and Villanova.  Go Wildcats.

American Rye whiskey, true to it’s name, is made with at least 51% of the rye grain.  Before prohibition, Rye whiskey was the Bourbon of the Northeast, and the production epicenter was located in Pittsburgh, PA.  Rye is also aged in charred, oak barrels for at least two years.   

Scotch is made predominately with malted barley and, as its name suggests, is native to Scotland.  The smoky flavor or “peatiness” of Scotch occurs when the barley is dried in kilns fired using peat. Sometimes, the barrels used to age Bourbon are shipped to Scotland to age the Scotch. Scotch also matures in oak casks for a minimum of three years. 

I word about peat.  Peat is lumps of decayed vegetation such as grasses, mosses, fungi, trees, insects that accumulate in a “bog” and is highly flammable.  Peat is used like wooden logs in Ireland, and when burned, produces a soothing, organic aroma.  Brother tried to bring some home from Ireland last year but Custom officials deprived him of that opportunity.   Below is a photo taken while at a historic bog village in Ireland that displays a typical pile of peat.  And a bike.

So, now we know the difference between Bourbon, Rye and Scotch and rather than merely read this new, useful knowledge and say “that was interesting,” I offer a recipe.  You can use any whiskey, but Bourbon is particularly good.

Bourbon Smash
Recipe courtesy of Geoffrey Zakarian
Form:  Food Network’s The Kitchen

3/4 ounce simple syrup
8 fresh mint leaves, plus 1 sprig, for garnish
3 lemon wedges
2 ounces bourbon
Splash of ginger ale or sparkling water

Put the simple syrup, mint leaves and lemon wedges into a cocktail shaker and muddle them until the lemons are broken down. Add the bourbon and fill the shaker with ice; using a long cocktail spoon, stir vigorously until very cold.

Fill a rocks glass with ice and use a fine strainer to strain the drink into the glass. Put the mint sprig in the palm of one hand and gently smack it with the fingers of your other hand (this releases the oils and fragrance). Finish off with a splash of ginger ale or sparkling water. Garnish the drink with the sprig and serve.