Butternut Squash Pilaf

Butternut Squash Pilaf

We’re very much into routine at my house. With a 15-month-old, I feel we need to be — every small change adds up and increases his frustration level. After all, he is only just beginning to explore the world. It’s not fair that once he has his bedtime cues down pat I head off on a business trip, upending the entire system. Or at least, that’s what he would have you believe by his too-early-for-terrible-twos tantrums and nightly screamfests.

Despite travel or events, I do what I can to keep things constant. Family dinner is our main constant, and no matter what we’re eating, it’s together around the table.

Just because we’re together, though, doesn’t mean we don’t have our share of struggles. The younger one has taken to dropping things on the floor and saying “Uh-oh!” while the older one turns up his nose at steak (of all things!). While there are some standard dishes I know I can serve, I’m always foisting new recipes upon them in an attempt to broaden their taste buds. I’m happy to report this butternut squash pilaf was a winner for everyone at the table.

Made of both grated and cubed squash, this dish is a wonderful vegetarian side dish or even main. I love that it uses brown rice, and the rest of the family love sweet, mild squash flavor. Butternut squash is a favorite in our house, always making appearances in dishes from tacos to frittatas, but I’m still pleasantly surprised whenever any dish is gobbled up.

The original recipe calls for fennel fronds, but I grabbed a handful of chives from the garden instead. My chives have been growing for years in the same pot, experiencing a rebirth every time the weather gets too cold and then warms up again. I’m always surprised at their tenacity, those tender chives, and this year I’ve decided to reward them by popping chives into as many recipes as possible. The burst of allium with light herbal quality is something I love, and pairing it with sweet butternut squash makes for a family-friendly dish that is making repeat appearances on our dinner table.

Check out my post for Butternut Squash Pilaf over on Recipe.com!

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Apple Pie Bars

Apple Pie Bars

He ran down the rows, alone and crying. For whatever reason, being out in the sunshine and light wind, among the apple trees, was too much for him. My thoughts of a starting an annual apple picking tradition evaporated as I scooped up my son and snuggled him while we dragged what we had picked to the checkout barn.

Later, we munched on Cameo apples together, keeping a napkin at hand for the sticky juice. The crying had been forgotten, at least by him, and I had hope that we could return, to try again for those picture-perfect memories.

It’s been years since that day, and we haven’t returned to the apple orchard. The apple season in Texas is too fleeting, too forgotten in the languid days of summer and then the rush to get back in the classroom. I’ll admit to watching the feeds of my Northern friends, with the parades of plaid, apple-toting, autumnal cheer, with a level of jealousy. But thankfully, this hasn’t kept me from the apples.

Apples are the constant on our grocery list, despite any protests about seasonal eating. At least they want fruit, I said to myself as I plucked out Galas or Pink Ladies and added them to the cart. We almost always have some on hand, plus applesauce. Apples, in fact, were the first solid food my toddler decided to eat, gnawing away happily on the core.

Once the apples start to get forgotten in favor of grapes or whatever the fruit of the week is, I grab them for baking. Pie is obvious, and one of my favorites is this Cheddar Crumble Apple Pie, but a whole pie screams dessert while Apple Pie Bars? Those whisper softly to you, saying, “I’m a snack! I’m portable! You know you can’t resist!”

Apples know us so well.

Apple Pie Bars

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks, divided
  • 1 egg
  • 2 large tart apples, such as Pink Lady (approximately 1 1/4 pounds), peeled, cored, and sliced thinly
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Instructions

  1. Line a 9x9 square baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a food processor, pulse together 1 1/2 cups flour, powdered sugar, and salt. Add 8 tablespoons butter and pulse until it resembles cornmeal.
  3. Pulse in egg until a soft, crumbly dough forms. Pour dough into prepared pan and press evenly to cover bottom. Prick all over with a fork, chill in the freezer for 30 minutes, then bake at 375°F for 25 minutes. Let cool.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat. Add apples, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and stir to coat. Cook until apples are softened, approximately 15 minutes.
  5. Spoon apples evenly into baked crust, scraping the pan to collect caramelized juices.
  6. In a food processor, pulse together 1/3 cup flour, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons butter until coarse crumbs are formed. Scatter crumb over the top of the apples.
  7. Bake at 375°F for 40 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool completely before cutting.
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Pumpkin Gnocchi {Le Creuset Giveaway!}

This post is brought to you thanks to Le Creuset. Enter to win their new Stainless Steel Saucier pan, and get the recipe for Pumpkin Gnocchi.

Pumpkin Gnocchi image

You remember that first set of pans you got as an adult? For most of us, that meant shoddy hand-me-downs with suspect stuff encrusted on the handle, dented lids, and flaking-off coating that you just chalked up to helping your recommended dietary allowance of minerals.

When we got married, we received a few new pans, and supplemented the nicer ones with stuff from big box stores. We moved across the country only six weeks after getting married, so dropping a paycheck on quality cookware wasn’t in the cards. Fast forward through the years of home ownership and two kids, where there is always some pressing need like water heaters or fences or asthma medication, and it’s no surprise that investing in cookware was always put off.

That is, until this year, when my family surprised me with a set of stainless steel Le Creuset for my birthday. Granted, as I spent the entire day sick in bed I didn’t get to enjoy it right away, but I was thrilled to finally have pans without plastic handles.

Pumpkin Gnocchi pic

I’ve used my pans every day since, and I’ve loved how beautiful they’ve stayed, even when we don’t get them cleaned right away. (Ahem.) When I recently received the Saucier pan, I was blown away by how pretty it was. Even my toddler was enchanted, making faces at himself in the reflective curves.

The deep sides and rounded bottom of the Saucier make it ideal for recipes that need movement, like risottos, stir-frys, or quickly sautéing foods you don’t want to stick.

With the weather cooling down — even in Texas — I wanted to make a heartier dish full of seasonal flavor, so pumpkin gnocchi was at the top of my list. Gnocchi, like pasta, is actually quite easy to make from scratch, but does take some time. If your kids are into cooking, this is a great project for them, because they can take part in the entire process.

You only need pumpkin puree, an egg, flour, and salt, though you can easily incorporate spices or herbs into the dough. I prefer to use fresh herbs in the sauce, which keeps the flavor a bit lighter. That is, as light as it can be when paired with butter, shallots, and diced bacon!

Pumpkin Gnocchi uncooked

I have a gnocchi paddle, but you definitely don’t need one to create the characteristic grooves of the gnocchi. A fork will do just as well. The main thing to remember when forming the gnocchi is to use a light hand when it comes to handling the dough and adding flour, as too much flour or overworking will make the gnocchi too chewy. Also, you can use whichever flour you prefer for these, including whole wheat, fine pasta flour, or even a gluten-free blend. Add the flour in small batches, as you might not need to use the whole amount, depending on how much liquid is in your puree.

After the gnocchi boils, simply toss it in the sauce and serve. It doesn’t take long to go from pan to plate for this comforting seasonal dish.

Pumpkin Gnocchi photo

Want to get your own gorgeous Saucier? I’m giving one away thanks to Le Creuset! Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below, then grab the recipe. Good luck!

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Pumpkin Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme

Instructions

  1. Mix together pumpkin, egg, and salt. Slowly add the flour, a little at a time, until a soft dough forms. Knead dough a few times, but don't overwork it. Divide dough into four pieces.
  2. Dust a kitchen towel or board with flour. Roll each piece of dough into a long snake, then cut each snake into small pieces.
  3. Form the gnocchi lines by rolling it softly down the tines of a fork or on a gnocchi paddle. Set aside on a lightly floured towel until ready to cook.
  4. Set four quarts of water to boil.
  5. Dice bacon and put in saucier. Set heat to medium and cook bacon until crispy, then reduce heat to medium-low and add butter and shallots, stirring frequently.
  6. When the water is boiling, add gnocchi and cook for 3-4 minutes, until they float to the top. Remove from pot using a slotted spoon and immediately add them to the saucier.
  7. Add thyme and stir to coat gnocchi, then plate and serve.
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Disclaimer: I received a Saucier pan for the purpose of review. I was not otherwise compensated for this post, and as always, my opinions are my own.

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Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Cranberries

Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Cranberries

Crisp air is battling it out with sticky humidity for fall supremacy. One day I’m pulling out a blanket for the soccer sidelines, the next I’m wondering if I can really keep wearing the same pair of shorts for the rest of the year. No wonder my brain is swirling with thoughts like the fallen leaves in our yard.

It’s been more than a week, and I still feel tired from the Byte of Texas conference. It’s not just the actual act of organizing the thing (I had tons of amazing help) but the work of being “on” all weekend, which completely wipes out introverts.

The other big thing in my brain, the one that has been rattling around the most, is that odd now what? feeling. My to-do list is packed, but suddenly no longer spending 20-40 hours a week on something is a bit discombobulating. September and October smack of turning points in my career, and as a freelancer, navigating what I want is trickier than anticipated.

Fortunately, there is always refuge for me in the kitchen, in the chopping of vegetables, the sizzling in the pan, and the triumph of a meal that didn’t involve the drive-though. Some days even that familiarity is daunting, but once I grab ingredients and the cutting board, it flows into place.

Some of my friends say they’re over Brussels sprouts, but for those of us who didn’t truly discover them until the past five years or so, we say to bring ‘em on. And frankly, it’s weird to get worked up over having a vegetable on the menu that people consistently order. Do we really need to shame people because they like Brussels sprouts? Haven’t Brussels sprouts suffered enough at the hands of our boil-obsessed ancestors?

This recipe is one of my go-to side dishes because it’s quick and full of flavor contrasts: sweet cranberries, creamy walnuts, and slightly bitter sprouts. Plus it’s vegan so you can feel comfortable serving it to a large crowd (though you can always add bacon or pancetta for the carnivore set).

Smaller Brussels sprouts work best when you’re sautéing them quickly, so if yours are a bit large be sure to quarter rather than halve them. This will help ensure you get some of that lovely caramelization on each piece.

Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Cranberries

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 17 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed, and halved
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add Brussels sprouts, salt, and pepper and stir to coat.
  2. Cook sprouts for approximately 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Add walnuts and cranberries and cook for another 5 minutes, until sprouts are caramelized. Serve immediately.
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This recipe previously appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of Hobby Farms.

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Mascarpone Pancakes

Mascarpone Pancakes image

I have a dirty little secret to share with you. These pancakes? The fluffiest, most tender, absolute best pancakes I’ve ever made in my kitchen?

I didn’t make them. The truth is, while I am pretty good at every other dish that comes to our dining table, pancakes for me are a big fat flop. OK, yes, I create the recipe and mix it all together, but when it comes to the cooking? Well, if you want a pancake that is both overcooked on the outside and kind of raw on the inside, I’m your girl. Otherwise, you shouldn’t trust me with a spatula.

Technically, my husband is the one who cooks the pancakes around here. It’s one of the only things he is just naturally good at making, and this fact has not gone unnoticed by our older son, who seems to enjoy telling the adults in his life that his mother is “kind of a professional cook” but “she can’t make pancakes”.

That’s fine with me, though. While I don’t get to sleep in while the pancakes are cooking (hi, two kids and my bedroom right off the kitchen), I get the bacon ready, warm up the syrup, and get dibs on the first plate of hot, steamy pancakes.

When I made my DIY mascarpone cheese, I knew right away that I wanted to use some for pancakes. I’ve made pancakes with ricotta before, and I just knew this thicker, creamier cheese would produce amazing results. And really, I’m not kidding when I say these are the best pancakes we’ve ever made. They even hold up after a few days in the fridge, reheating to perfectly moist and fluffy rather than turning to weird and rubbery. This was a huge revelation for us, since we always have a few extra pancakes stashed for later in the week.

Mascarpone Pancakes

Grate some orange zest on top, or fold blueberries into the batter, and you might even forget about the bacon.

Just make these pancakes. I don’t care who actually cooks them – everyone deserves the credit.

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Homemade Tortillas

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Living in Austin, we have no shortage of places that have great tortillas, and we always have some stashed in the fridge for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Always having them, however, means we also always run through them pretty quickly, and there have been too many days where we’ve been without. I decided to finally embrace making tortillas at home.

Now, I’ll admit it takes a little bit of practice to get your tortilla method down, especially if you have never used a tortilla press before. A press is actually easier than using a rolling pin, but you need to use just the right amount of pressure and the right length of time to achieve the desired thickness.

I’ve used both lard and butter in my tortillas. I prefer lard, but only if I can get it from the local butcher – not those blocks from the grocery store. Good quality butter is a nice stand-in, though I don’t recommend shortening unless you must, as it doesn’t add any flavor to the tortillas.

This post is also a precursor to October Unprocessed, the monthlong challenge to avoid processed foods. While I cook most of our food at home, it’s sometimes shocking how easily convenience foods sneak into the kitchen and our diets.

Homemade Flour Tortillas pic

Depending on your tortilla press, you might need to press more than once to get the thickness you like. A rolling pin can also be used , but be sure to not use too much flour or your tortillas can end up tough.

Tortillas are always best when they’re made right before eating, but you can cook up the whole batch in advance as well. Simply let them cool and store in an airtight container, then reheat on a griddle pan as needed.

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Homemade Tortillas

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter or lard
  • 3/4 cup water

Instructions

  1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Cut in butter or lard until mixture starts to clump together when squeezed.
  3. Mix in water a little at a time (you may use less depending on your flour) until a rough dough forms. Knead dough until it comes together and forms a ball.
  4. Let dough rest for 30 minutes.
  5. After resting, line a tortilla press with plastic wrap. Divide dough into 8 pieces and roll each into a ball.
  6. Place one ball on the tortilla press and squeeze down for about 10 seconds. Repeat with remaining dough.
  7. Cook tortillas on a hot griddle for a minute or two on each side, then keep wrapped in a kitchen towel until ready to eat.
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Welcome to another edition of Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a progressive dinner party. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats, a theme is chosen each month, members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party, and you can hop from blog to blog to check them out.

progressive eatsWe have a core group of 12 bloggers, but we will always need substitutes and if there is enough interest would consider additional groups. To see our upcoming themes and how you can participate, please check out the schedule at Creative Culinary or contact Barb for more information.

This month’s theme is Tex-Mex, hosted by Milisa of Miss in the Kitchen.

Appetizer

Salad

Soups

Main Course

Bread

Sides/Veggies

Beverage

Desserts

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