M. Andrew Gordon

Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

Maple-glazed Buttercup and Beets with Pecans and Goat Cheese

In Appetizers, Main Dish, Side Dishes on October 31, 2009 at 7:21 am

Here are two new recipes, but to be fair, I’m looking at them as more suggestions on what one might do with the raw ingredients.  Yet again, I found myself working with some last remaining ingredients that needed to be used up and two very seasonal vegetables: beets and squash, in this case the beloved buttercup.  I promise that this is only a seasonal aberration and that as the available produce shifts, you’ll see more varied dishes here.  But hell, this is autumn and what is more autumn than root vegetables and squashes (besides apples and cranberries, but you’ll see plenty of them I’m sure)?  And root vegetables and squash may be the perfect vegetables, in my opinion, because of their flavors, that simultaneous juxtaposition of earthiness and sweetness that makes them both prime candidates for savory and sweet dishes.  And the other aspect that I enjoy is the inability to quickly cook these vegetables.  They demand some attention and patience, which makes the cook pause for a moment before committing to following a certain path toward the plate.  I love the fresh summer produce of tomatoes, peas, or green beans, which at the height of their ripeness are almost best eaten out of hand.  But it is the stubbornness of the root vegetables and squashes (gourds, lest there be any confusion about summer/winter squashes) that I find most satisfying.

Squash and Beets

The two sides accompanying a Pecan-Cornmeal Crusted Chicken Breast

Here is a roasted buttercup squash with a maple bourbon glaze and finished with a sprinkle of fresh mint.  In a funny way, it’s like a satisfying and filling mint julep but instead of being delivered in a frosty silver mug, it arrives folded around the caramelized edges of the squash.  Here is my point about this post’s recipes being suggestions:

  • I cooked the squash, tossed it in the dressing, and served it.  Which tasted fine.
  • But I think it would be even better to pour the dressing over the squash during the last few minutes of roasting.
  • And if you’re really lazy, you could roast the squash halves and glaze them the last few minutes of cooking too.
  • But that would only get the sweet glaze over a portion of the squash whereas I like the cut up option that allows for crispy, caramelized edges balanced by the soft, sweet squash inside each chunk.

And the other side dish tonight could easily be expanded and used as the basis of a light meal or a much more elaborate side dish.  Here, we have roasted beets cut into smaller chunks and dressed with a maple vinaigrette.  I can hear the critics now: more maple and no bacon in sight.  But it is October, almost November, and I am an unrepentant New Englander, so I just can’t help myself.  With some diced apple or roasted carrots this could really be impressive.  Play around with it because that is when cooking really gets fun.

Maple-Glazed Squash

  • ½ buttercup squash, chopped ½ inch pieces
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon mint, cut into chiffonade
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.  Coat squash in oil, season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.  Spread in single layer on tray and cook for 45 minutes.  Stir several times, until squash is starting to brown.
  2. In bowl, mix syrup, bourbon, lime, salt, and pepper.  Add squash, toss to coat, and sprinkle mint over squash.  Or glaze pour over squash and roast for a few minutes more.

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pecans

  • 3 beets
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup beet greens, thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • ¼ cup pecans, chopped finely and toasted
  1. Rinse beets under water and pat dry.  Place each beet on a separate piece of foil, drizzle with olive oil and coat, and wrap beet into a packet.  Roast for 45-50 minutes.  Let cool, peel skin off of beet, and chop.
  2. Whisk syrup, oil, vinegar, and greens together.  Stir in chopped beets and season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with goat cheese and pecans.
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Tostones with Smoky Cranberry Sauce and Goat Cheese…and much more

In Appetizers, Main Dish, Sauces, Side Dishes on October 25, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Tomatillo Shrimp and Chorizo-Black Bean TacosSaturday afternoon I planned to go to my friends Monica and Ryan’s house to hangout, catch up, and more importantly, cook some delicious foods.  We had decided to coordinate a menu around the ingredients and flavors of southwestern and Latin American cuisines and so I arrived with some of my usual staples (agave nectar, dried chiles, chipotle) and some things that I couldn’t pass up at market such as cilantro, plantains, and chorizo.

Once I arrived, we discussed some possible menu options, kicked around what else we might need, and went to the store to get the last of the supplies.  We knew at least one dish was going to center around the chorizo and we were going to buy shrimp for another dish.  Beyond that, we were flying a little bit blind, which for those who don’t know me, is often how I prefer it when it comes to cooking.  The mangoes we planned to purchase were still hard as rocks – we could have shredded the flesh and made a slaw-style salad with it – but the nearby pineapples were $2.99 and perfectly ripe.  The pineapple won the day.  While hunting around, I noticed the small bin of tomatillos and decided that we needed a handful for some as yet-to-be determined use.  The rest of the purchases were straight forward things: onions, jalapenos, limes, oranges, black beans, and avocados, which thankfully the were far more ripe than the mangoes.  For cheeses we grabbed some goat cheese and queso fresco.

Shrimp Cocktail with Pineapple SalsaBack at the ranch, we stood and looked at the goods for a short time before I decided we had to make a cranberry sauce.  Cranberry sauce with a southwestern menu?  You bet.  Using brown sugar instead of the ol’ granulated stuff, adding a dose of orange zest, and then finishing it off with some chipotle puree, we had a smoky cranberry sauce that had a nice, hot finish.  I began slicing the ripe plantains into ¼ inch thick slices and then pressed them with the side of the knife to thin them even more.  Traditional tostones are made with unripe plantains and they are first fried, then pressed, then fried again.  Since the plantains I had on hand were already ripe, I decided to cut down the steps.  A nice side benefit is that instead of ending up with an almost brittle chip, we ended up with something that had a crispy exterior but a creamy interior, almost like toasted bread.  We decided to bake the goat cheese until golden brown to serve with the smoky cranberry sauce and the tostones.

In the meantime I started chopping up the tomatillos and rehydrated several dried poblano chiles.  These were pureed in the food processor with lime juice, cilantro and agave nectar to make a sauce that would be the base of our shrimp dish.  But as I looked at the shrimp, it seemed we had more than we really needed.  Perhaps two different shrimp dishes would be called for: shrimp tacos in the tomatillo sauce and shrimp cocktail.  For the latter we seasoned the water with salt and pepper, added a couple of bay leaves and a dried cascabel chile.  In hindsight, I might try to impart more flavors in the shrimp in this step.  The water is brought to a boil and turned off, adding the shrimp and letting them soak for 10 to 12 minutes.  As a garnish for the shrimp cocktail, I cut into the pineapple and then cut it into halves.  Working with one half, I cut that into two halves as well, removing the core and skin.  One quarter of the pineapple was roughly chopped and moved to the food processor and pureed.  The other quarter was diced and placed in a bowl with the pureed pineapple, half of a seeded and diced jalapeno, and chopped cilantro.

After our two appetizer courses we set to work on the tacos, figuring we would cook the remaining shrimp in the tomatillo sauce and crumble the chorizo and cook that with onions and black beans.  The chorizo that we used had a very subtle, smoky flavor which was in some ways shown up by the shrimp, something I had hardly considered to be a possibility.  We served both tacos with toasted corn tortillas, crumbled queso fresco, guacamole, chopped green onions, and the remaining tomatillo sauce.

I was pleased with all of the dishes but the tostones with baked goat cheese and the smoky cranberry sauce was the favorite of all involved.

Tostones with Smoky Cranberry Sauce and Baked Goat CheeseTostones with Smpky Cranberry Sauce and Roasted Goat Cheese

  • 1 ½ cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup well-packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1 tsp chipotle puree
  • Fresh orange juice, as needed
  • 2 ripe plantains, skins yellow with patches of black
  • Vegetable oil
  • 8 oz goat cheese
  1. Combine cranberries, water, sugar in small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Turn down heat and simmer.
  2. Add orange zest and cook until cranberries have burst and sauce has thickened.  Stir in chipotle puree and, if desired, a teaspoon or two of fresh orange juice.  Let cool to room temperature.
  3. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Cut off both ends of the plantain and remove peel.  Slice ¼ inch thick and press each slice with side of knife or bottom of glass to flatten slightly.  Set aside.
  4. Heat ½ inch of vegetable oil in skillet over medium-high heat.  Fry plantain slices in oil until golden brown on each side, about 2 or 3 minutes per side.  Drain on paper towels.
  5. Butter a ramekin or small ovenproof dish.  Spread goat cheese in dish and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Broil goat cheese until golden brown.  Serve with smoky cranberry sauce and tostones.

Spicy Shrimp CocktailShrimp and Pineapple Salsa

  • ½ lb shrimp, tails on (ours did not have tail on, but flavor will be more intense with on)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 dried cascabel pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • Water
  • ½ fresh pineapple, cored and skin removed
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, stems removed
  • 1 medium jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle powder (or ½ teaspoon chile powder)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Salt
  1. Combine bay leaves, dried pepper, salt and peppercorns in large pan and add several cups of water.  Bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and add shrimp.  Let shrimp sit for 10-12 minutes.  Drain and refrigerate.
  2. Puree one half of the pineapple with the cilantro and half the lime juice.  Transfer to a bowl.
  3. Dice remaining pineapple and add to pureed mixture.  Add jalapeno as desired.  Stir in chipotle powder and season with salt and pepper as desired.   Stir in remaining lime juice if desired.  Serve chilled shrimp with salsa.

Sautéed Shrimp in Tomatillo SauceTomatillo Shrimp and Chorizo Black Bean Tacos

  • 2 dried poblano chiles, seeds and stems removed
  • 6-7 medium tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed, and roughly chopped.
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tbsp agave nectar
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lb shrimp
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Dash red pepper flakes
  1. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil.  Place poblanos in nonreactive dish and pour hot water over them.  Re-hydrate for 15 minutes.
  2. In food processor, puree tomatillos, drained chiles, lime juice, and agave nectar.  Season with salt and pepper.
  3. In large skillet, pour ¼ cup oil and heat over medium-high heat.  Add remaining oil to shrimp in large bowl and add crushed red pepper.  Spoon 3 or 4 tablespoons of tomatillo sauce over shrimp and toss to coat.
  4. Add shrimp to skillet in one layer, cook for a minute and flip.  Add half remaining tomatillo sauce to skillet and finish cooking shrimp.
  5. Serve with toasted tortillas, remaining sauce, guacamole, and queso fresco.

Chorizo and Black Bean Tacos

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large, white onion
  • 4 links chorizo, cases removed and crumbled
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • ¼ c chicken stock or brown ale
  1. Heat oil in large skillet.  Add onion, stir to coat, and cook until translucent.  Add chorizo and cook until nearly cooked through.
  2. Add black beans and cook, stirring frequently, another 5 minutes.  If anything begins to stick to pan, deglaze with stock or beer.
  3. Serve with toasted tortillas, guacamole, and queso fresco.

Cran-exico Chicken

In Main Dish on October 23, 2009 at 6:46 am

Let’s say you’ve got most of the remainder of a package of chicken thigh in the fridge, a stray avocado, several beets, leftover Cranberry BBQ sauce, and a few other odds and ends.  What do you make for dinner?  I’m not sure about you, but I started to think of a quesadilla and this is what came up with.

I figured I would cook the chicken in a flavorful sauce and shred it because I wanted to cook all of the chicken and not worry about handling all of those thighs multiple times.  So that immediately led me to think of a quesadilla although I briefly toyed with the idea of some sort of chicken ragout.  So, a quesadilla it would be.  To help infuse some smoky and spicy flavors, I toasted several dried poblanos to add to the mixture.  Then I browned up the thighs and added a can of whole tomatoes, a sliced onion, two cloves of garlic, and the cranberry sauce.  A liberal dose of ground pepper and salt later and I was free to turn my attention elsewhere.

Beets & Avocado

Beets have a distinct and present flavor and they’re crisp, or at least when raw.  For those unfamiliar with the raw beet, get acquainted sometime.  They’re perfectly delicious though potentially a greater staining liability.  Anyway, it seemed a good match for the chicken as it would provide flavor and texture – a nice, solid crunch.

And finally, the avocado: I must say that putting avocado and beet together was a bit of a revelation.  Believe it or not, they behave remarkably well side-by-side.  For this I just made an extra simple guacamole, cubing the avocado and tossing it with lime juice, sea salt, and pepper.  Let’s be clear, though: this is not a definitive guacamole, although I do subscribe to the minimalist guacamole camp.  For this dish I was just looking for a quick garnish for an already flavor-dense dish.

Cran-exican ChickenOnce the chicken was cooked, I removed the thighs to cool and put the pot on the stove, cooking the braising liquid until reduced.  Pulling the meat from the bones, I put it back in the pot and got ready to make my quesadillas.

This is exactly the sort of meal that caused me to start this blog.  It’s a somewhat bizarre concept, I followed no recipe, and essentially just threw it altogether.  A week later I would try to remember what it was that I had done to make it in the first place.  Well, now I know.  While I very much enjoyed the quesadillas, I wonder if I will ever make anything like this again.  I do know that the thought the chicken being replaced with grilled duck glazed in the Cranberry BBQ sauce passed through my mind as I ate it.  Perhaps this is destined for a reinvention.  We’ll see.

Chicken:Finished Quesadilla

  • 2 dried poblanos
  • 8-10 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin removed
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 28oz can whole tomatoes
  • 1 cup Cranberry BBQ Sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic

Beets:

  • 1 large beet, peeled and shredded
  • ½ lime
  • 1 tbsp honey

Guacamole:

  • 1 avocado
  • ½ lime
  • Sea salt
  • Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Tortillas
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Heat heavy ovenproof pot over high heat.  Slice open poblanos and remove all seeds.  Toast over high heat until fragrant and darkening.  Remove.
  2. Add olive oil to pot.  Season thighs with salt and pepper and cook in batches until browned.  Place all chicken in pot, pour in tomatoes with juices, cranberry BBQ, onion, and garlic.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Transfer to oven and cook for about 1 hour.  Check halfway through and stir contents of pot.
  3. Combine juice of half a lime and honey.  Stir in beets and set aside.
  4. Remove flesh from avocado and dice.*  Add juice of half a lime and a generous sprinkle of sea salt and pepper.  Stir, mashing some of the avocado.  Set aside.
  5. When chicken is cooked, remove from pot and let cool.  Place pot on stove and bring to a boil and simmer until liquid is reduced.  When chicken was cool, pull from bones and place back in pot to warm.
  6. Heat heavy skillet.  Add generous spoonful of chicken, spread smaller amounts of beets and guacamole over chicken and fold tortilla in half.  Cook in skillet for several minutes per side, until tortilla is toasted.

*The easiest way to get to the flesh of the avocado is to cut in half lengthwise, cutting around the pit not through it.  Then, twist apart the two halves and the pit will be sitting in one half.  Give the pit a good solid “wack” with the cutting edge of the knife and the blade should sink into the pit.  Twist the blade and the pit should easily be removed.  You can then push over the top, non-blade side of the knife to remove the pit.  A soup spoon will help loosen the flesh from the skin at this point.

Seared Pork Tenderloin with Maple Brussels Sprout Slaw

In Main Dish, Sauces, Side Dishes on October 21, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Seared Pork, maple sprout slaw, and white acorn squashLast night I made an attempt at putting together an interesting dinner and while it didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had in mind, there were some good ideas.  Most things needed some extra tweaking, but in the interest of greater culinary education, I’ll write about it anyway.  For those who are new to Just Add Bacon, what I’m trying to do is develop at least one new recipe a week, not necessarily with bacon.  The way I see it, the more I write about my attempts, even those attempts I can’t fully recommend, the more I might get in feedback about how to adjust certain things.

Last night’s dinner was seared pork tenderloin over a maple Brussels sprout slaw with a roasted white acorn squash on the side.  In theory, this wasn’t a bad start.  But the biggest problem was that the strong flavor of the sprouts just overpowers the pork here.  Had I served grilled beef tenderloin or filet mignon or even a skirt steak here, the results would have been far superior.  Beef just has that extra flavor that, in my opinion, pairs so well with Brussels sprouts.  The cranberry BBQ sauce that I glazed the pork with was pretty good, though.

Although it stands to be said that this is not the definitive Collamore Cranberry BBQ sauce, named after its most vocal proponent.  The CC BBQ recipe has been lost to the ages but I intend to recreate it in the coming weeks.  This cheap, five minute version is a perfectly good substitute for a dish like this.

The other downside of the meal was that in the interest of simplicity I parboiled the sprouts – I know that is normal, but to me it just kills the flavor, resulting in a strong cabbage tang.  Not that I have anything against cabbage, but if I’m eating Brussels sprouts, I want to taste Brussels sprouts, which when cooked with a dry heat develop an almost nutty flavor.  So in the future, I will roast or even grill the sprouts before I shred them.  But since it was still pretty good, the recipe is below.

And finally, the squash was good, but the combination of butter, lime zest, triple sec, and tequila that I brushed theWhite Acorn Squashsquash with just didn’t quite do it for me.  I was worried that the tequila might lend a strong, astringent flavor but really, the squash was just a little bit plain.  The lime and triple sec flavors were nice, however, so next time I might try omitting the tequila and adding a small amount of brown sugar to the butter, lime, and triple sec.  I’ll try it again and post here.

So, the pork didn’t quite go with the slaw, the slaw’s flavor was a little off, and the squash was a little plain.  Still, it wasn’t the worst meal I’ve ever had.

Five Minute Cranberry BBQ Sauce

  • 1 ½ cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • ½ teaspoon liquid smoke
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Combine cranberries, water, and sugar in sauce pan and place over medium-high heat.  Stirring often, cook until mixture begins to boil and cranberries start to pop open.  Keep heat high, stirring.
  2. When all cranberries have burst and sauce has become deep red color, add ketchup, molasses, liquid smoke, and season with salt and pepper.

Brussels Sprout Slaw with Maple DressingMaple Brussels Sprout Slaw

  • ½ lb Brussels sprouts
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  1. Cut stem end from sprouts and cut a deep “X” into the base of each sprout.
  2. Parboil until bright green.  Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.
  3. Using the grating disc of a food processor, shred the sprouts.  Shred the carrot.
  4. In small bowl, combine oil, vinegar, and maple syrup.  Add shredded vegetables and toss to coat.

Japonesa Squash + A Few Other Things = Perfect Autumn Meal

In Main Dish, Soups and Stews on October 16, 2009 at 10:07 am

First, I want to say that this recipe was unnecessarily complicated because of a desire to use up some ingredients on hand.  I will discuss how it can be simplified but decided to include the recipe as it was made for the sake of integrity.  While I will try to not often pat myself on the back, this turned out to be quite good.  But what I am most proud of is with this is having created an incredibly flavorful stew/soup without having to add much in the way of spices or herbs.  Instead, all of the flavors come together and complement everything else, needing only a hit of salt and pepper to work.  I have to say I impressed myself.

Besides being delicious and, bacon excluded, not terribly unhealthy, what I like best about this dish is how flexible I think it could be.  It is substantial enough that you could omit the chicken altogether if such were your inclination.  So at that point, it’s only a step or two away from being all vegetables.  If you leave the bacon out, I would add a dash of butter to increase the richness.  Or maybe replace a cup of the stock with coconut milk and a teaspoon or two of curry powder.  You could use carrots if you had them and not parsnips or just use them anyway.  You could replace the squash with any gourd, I suspect, although I would think you might want to add some honey or brown sugar if using something like a butternut.  The japonesa* and kabocha squashes are particularly sweet, so in my estimation they do not need any additional sweetening in a dish like this.  The point in all of this is that this could be a very flexible recipe.

*Japonesa squash are dark green with a warty, bumpy exterior and are related to the slightly more common kabocha.  I can find them at my local market but if they are not available, try a buttercup or butternut instead.  Or even a sugar pumpkin.

The cascabel peppers do a suitable job of adding just enough spiciness to this.  They are a mild chile pepper so not much in the way of heat is contributed to the stew.  If you can not find cascabel peppers, I would look to use a single Anaheim pepper, perhaps. You could omit it entirely but I would strongly discourage it.  As another option, a couple of teaspoons of chipotle puree could also be used in place of the peppers.

IMG_2964As for why I described this as being unnecessarily complicated, it is because of the two different cuts of chicken used.  While some might argue that is a strength, and I would concur, it does add additional steps in the cooking.  Honestly, you can use any piece of a chicken – breast, thigh, drumstick, wings even (though the meat yielded from most wings is insubstantial).  This also could be a good candidate for roasting a whole chicken and pulling the meat off, adding as much or as little as you like the stew.  If you really wanted to save time and effort, you could even just pick up a rotisserie chicken at the supermarket and use that.

In wrapping this up, I am curious to hear how others might define a dish like this.  By definition, I don’t believe this can be considered a stew because the meat is not really stewed, or braised.  It’s cooked separately by two different methods and then added to the rest of the ingredients.  But given the consistency and richness, it simply begs to be called a stew.  Any thoughts out there on this?

Pairing: I found the Fisherman’s Pumpkin Stout by Cape Ann Brewing to be quite good alongside this stew.  There is just enough pumpkin flavor and spice to complement the flavors of the squash and sweet potato, but also the expected roasted malt flavors of a stout to offset the richness of the stew.

In addition, we poured a Pretty Things Brewing St. Botolph’s Town with dessert, which may or may not have been an attempt at a sweet apple gnocchi over vanilla ice cream.  No recipe yet, because it realistically needs work.  If anyone has thoughts on how to make apple gnocchi as a dessert, please do tell.  Expect to hear more on this in the future regardless.

Squash and Root Vegetable Stew

  • 1 japonesa or kabocha squash, halved
  • 5 or 6 chicken drumsticks, skin on
  • 2 sweet potatos, scrubbed and cut into ½ inch chunks
  • 1 lb parsnips, peeled and cut into ½ inch slices
  • 2 red onions, one diced and one cut in half and each half cut into eighths
  • ¼ lb bacon, diced
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half length-wise and sliced thin
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 cascabel peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.  Place one halve of the squash in an eight-inch baking dish.  Add about 1 cup of water and cover with aluminum foil.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, until squash is soft.
  2. In heavy pot or dutch oven, heat one to two tablespoons olive oil.  Season drumsticks with salt and pepper and brown in the pot, 4 to 5 minutes.  Place drumsticks on a baking sheet, cover, and place in oven for 40 minutes or until juices run clear.  When cool, pull meat from bones and reserve.
  3. Peel the remaining halve of the squash and chop into ½ chunks.  Combine squash, sweet potato, parsnips, and quartered red onion.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle generously with olive oil.  Stir to coat vegetables and place on two baking sheets.  Vegetables should be in a single layer.  Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, turning vegetables to cook evenly.
  4. In heavy pot or dutch oven over medium heat, cook bacon until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp.  Remove bacon to paper towel-lined dish.
  5. Cook chicken breasts in the bacon fat until browned, 3 or 4 minutes, and remove.
  6. Add onion, garlic, and peppers and cook until soft and onion begins to caramelize.  Transfer to food processor, scoop out flesh from the cooked squash and add to the processor along with 2 cups of the stock.  Puree until mixture is smooth and pour back into pot/dutch oven.  Alternatively, you could use an immersion blender for this step.
  7. Stir in remaining stock, chicken, and roasted vegetables.  Season with salt and pepper and let simmer for 15 or 20 minutes.

Chef’s Tip If you want this to be even thicker, simmer a little longer as the cubed squash will start to break down and contribute to a thicker consistency.

Beets with Cranberries

In Side Dishes on October 14, 2009 at 10:25 pm

IMG_2951I really feel bad for the people who don’t like beets.  I’m not sure what the aversion is to them.  Is it their rough and dusty exterior?  Is it the potential to stain everything in your house when preparing them?  Is it long-suppressed childhood memories of metallic-tasting canned beets?  I don’t know, but I’m glad I do not suffer from such an aversion.

As much as I like beets, however, I do struggle with finding appropriate ways to prepare and eat them.  You can slice the things and cook them but while the flavor will be fine, I’ve always found big hunks of beet on a plate to burden the whole dining experience.  And as far as preparing them goes, there just doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of imagination out there with beets.  The roasted beet salad has gained popularity recently, perhaps to its detriment, and Harvard Beets are pretty decent.  I even like beets raw, though that seems more a late summer/first-of-the-season type of dish.  But there isn’t that one great beet dish, at least for me.  Just a great vegetable.

So I started to think about beets and wondered how they would be with cranberries.  While I had never seen them together it seems to make perfect sense: both come into their own in the fall, one is sweet and the other is tart, helping to balance things out.  Of course, a little extra sugar wouldn’t hurt as fresh cranberries are rather tart…why not add some maple syrup?  And hell, why not throw some pecans in there for added texture?

The final dish is about as simple as you can get from an ingredients standpoint.  And even the preparation is not terribly difficult.  The beets get nice and soft in their time in the oven, the cranberries do add a nice, tart jolt next to the sweetness of the beets and syrup, and the pecans did add a nice crunch.  It would pair well with roasted chicken or turkey and might be good next to pork.  As I was eating, however, I started to envision this as a pie or crisp filling, with some shredded apple mixed in.  An apple-beet-cranberry crisp sounds like something served in colonial Massachusetts.  Will I try making said pie/crisp?  Perhaps.

Beets with CranberriesIMG_2958

  • 3 medium beets, peeled
  • 1 cup cranberries, cleaned
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ½ cup pecans

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.  Using a box grater or food processor, grate beets and keep in large mixing bowl.
  2. In food processor, pulse cranberries with sugar until chopped.  Alternately, chop cranberries by hand and toss with sugar.
  3. Heat a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat and melt butter.  In bowl, combine shredded beets, chopped cranberries, and maple syrup and stir to combine.  When butter has melted, add beets to skillet and cook for several minutes.  Chop pecans and sprinkle over beets.
  4. Place skillet in oven and cook for 20 minutes.

Seared Scallops with Shitake Mushrooms and Caramelized Shallots

In Main Dish, Side Dishes on October 13, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Scallops are an interesting thing to cook, because they seem to call for either a really simple preparation with a light accompaniment with fresh ingredients – think a quick salad of fresh picked tomatoes and herbs dressed with oil andIMG_2938vinegar.  Or, conversely, scallops can stand up to some bold flavors well.  Like bacon, for instance.  It occurred to me that I titled this silly blog “Just Add Bacon” and I have not included bacon in any recipe featured here.  That changes today.

Grabbing some shitake mushrooms at the market, I quickly envisioned the scallops sitting on top of a bed of barely cooked mushrooms and caramelized shallots.  The sweetness of the shallots and the earthiness of the mushrooms would play well off the vibrant flavor of the scallops.  I decided to include the chile pepper only because, as mentioned in previous posts, I can’t seem to pass them up right now.  In fairness, it probably results in a dish that is a little spicy, so for those not interested in heat, I’d replace the chile pepper in this dish with red bell pepper.  The bacon would anchor the flavors here, imparting smokiness into the shallots and lending some texture with the crispy bacon sprinkled over the scallops.

The potato side dish here is probably not something I completely created; I’m nearly positive I first saw something quite similar somewhere.  But since this is not a rigorous academic writing but an amateur attempt at blogging, I am not going to waste my time trying to figure out where I might have come across a recipe like this.  Point is, the smashed potatoes are really easy to make and give a simple roasted potato just a little dressing up.  I really like the texture it creates where parts of the potato get crispy, almost like a homefries.

Pairing: A little short on the beer front tonight (I know, please relax, everything is okay), so I tried pairing a Shipyard IPA with this.  Not ideal; this is a fairly easy, hoppy beer but it was still a little much for the dish.  To stick with the Shipyard theme, I think the Chamberlain Pale or even an Old Thumper might have been a better option had they been sitting in the fridge.

I realize after looking at these photos that I need to address the serving dishes; it always seems that the plate overwhelms the food.  I can assure you this is not the case when eating, however.

Seared Scallops with Shitake Mushrooms and Caramelized ShallotsIMG_2935

Serves 2

  • ½ lb sea scallops, rinsed and dried
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon chile powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 thick slice of bacon, diced
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 large shallots, sliced thin
  • 1 small, mild red chile pepper, diced
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • ¼ lb shitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Combine pepper, salt, and chile powder and stir together.  Dip each end of the scallop in the mixture and set aside.
  2. Heat medium skillet and cook bacon until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp.  Drain bacon on paper towel and pour out all but one tablespoon of fat.
  3. Add butter to skillet and melt, cooking over low heat until butter becomes light brown.  Turn up heat to medium.  Add shallots and diced chile, stirring until shallots start to caramelize, about 5 or 6 minutes.  Add vinegar and cook for a minute.
  4. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring often.  Season with salt and pepper.
  5. In separate non-stick skillet, heat olive oil.  Add scallops and cook until opaque, about two minutes per side.
  6. Spoon some of the shallot and mushroom mixture on plate, top with scallops, and sprinkle with sea salt and reserved bacon.

Smashed Red PotatoesIMG_2947

Serves 2

  • 8-10 small-medium red bliss potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400° F.  Coat potatoes in 2 tablespoons of the  olive oil and place in baking dish.  Roast for 20 minutes, or  until potatoes are easily pricked with fork.
  2. Heat remaining olive oil in heavy skillet.  Place potatoes in skillets and smash with either another heavy skillet or a potato masher.  Season with salt and pepper and flip, cooking until edges become crispy and golden.

Hermit Cookies Remade

In Baked Goods on October 12, 2009 at 7:31 pm

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Hermits, that dense molasses baked good studded with raisins, has long been one of my favorites.  In fact, some of my earliest memories of food are being with my grandmother in her narrow kitchen and making Hermit Cookies with her.  After being spoiled with a really high quality version made by grandmother, every version I have had since has paled in comparison.  And in some ways I was worried that even with her recipe in hand, I wouldn’t quite make the treasured, rich molasses bars that I remember as a child.

I began to think that the basic idea of the Hermit – rich, sugary molasses flavor and chewy pieces of fruit – might well translate into a muffin.  But the batter that is used to make Hermits would not yield a muffin, so tinkering would be necessary.  Since the recipe for the Hermits is an old recipe from my grandmother, I figured I would follow that line of thinking and look through some of her old recipes.

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I quickly found a simple Pumpkin Muffin recipe that looked promising; the flour and sugar ratios were similar to the Hermits and the chief differences were the amount of butter (less in the muffins) and the liquid ingredients, where the Hermits have no milk added to the batter.  The only liquid in the Hermits come from eggs, melted butter, and molasses.  No wonder they’re so dense!  I also decided that I would use dried cranberries in place of the raisins because I like them better and, for some reason, people expect cranberries when I cook.

While I was at it, I decided to make the Pumpkin Muffins as well, but I dressed those up a little bit by adding chopped cranberries since I have several bags of cranberries kicking around.  I rinsed about one and a half cups of cranberries and threw them in the food processor, added about a tablespoon of turbinado sugar, and chopped them.  I figured the sugar would help cut the tartness of the berries.  I added a heaping cup of the chopped berries to the Pumpkin Muffin batter after everything else was already mixed.

Hermit Muffins

(makes 12 small muffins or six larger muffins)

  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400° F.  Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.  In separate bowl, combine liquid ingredients and mix well.
  2. Add liquids to the dry ingredients, stir together.  The batter will be lumpy.  Mix in cranberries and let sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Grease/butter muffin tins and fill each 2/3 full.  Bake for 18-20 minutes and remove immediately from pans.

Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins

(makes 12 small muffins or six larger muffins)

  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup pureed pumpkin or squash
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup melted butter

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400° F.  Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.  In separate bowl, combine liquid ingredients and mix well.
  2. Add liquids to the dry ingredients, stir together.  The batter will be lumpy.  Let batter rest for about 5 minutes.
  3. Grease/butter muffin tins and fill each 2/3 full.  Bake for 18-20 minutes and remove immediately from pans.

The Versatile Buttercup Squash

In Desserts, Soups and Stews on October 6, 2009 at 2:38 am

The buttercup squash doesn’t get enough credit.  Sure, everyone sees the venerable butternut squash, with its sleek tan shape, everywhere.  And the acorn squash with its dark green skin and neat ridges is pretty common.  Squash CheesecakeHell, even the hubbard squash for all its bulbous grey-green glory, gets some pub.  But the buttercup – yes, buttercup, not butternut – just seems to be the forgotten gourd.  It is a shame, because I think it’s one of the best squashes.  And so I found myself with a good sized buttercup this past weekend.  TIP: look for squashes that look heavy relative to their size; they should be dense and if it feels light it might be a sign that the squash is getting stringy, which is not good.

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