Butternut-Kale Lasagna

I’ve been scared of making lasagna for a long time.  It’s the thought of trying to measure up to my mom’s amazing recipe that held me back.

Fear, you have been conquered.

This recipe is from Cooking Light magazine, March 2013.

One substitution was made, noted below.

butternut-kale lasagna 1

Butternut-Kale Lasagna

1/4 c water
12 oz package prechopped fresh butternut squash
3 c pre-chopped kale – Trader Joes was out of kale when I was shopping, so I substituted fresh spinach
1 tblsp olive oil
1 1/2 tblsp minced garlic
1.1 oz all-purpose flour (approx 1/4 c)
2 3/4 c 1 % low fat milk, divided
2 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded and divided
1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Cooking Spray
6 no boil lasagna noodles
3 tblsp chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Combine 1/4 c water and squash in a 8 inch square baking dish.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap; pierce plastic wrap 2 to 3 times.  Microwave on HIGH 5 minutes or until tender; drain.  Combine squash and kale in a large bowl.  Wipe baking dish dry. – The squash and spinach were great, but a little lumpy.  In the future, I would run this mixture through the food processor to create a more cohesive mixture.

butternut-kale lasagna 2

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add garlic; cook 2 minutes or until garlic begins to brown, stirring occasionally.  Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife.  Combine flower and 1/2 c milk in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth.  Add milk mixture and remaining 2 1/4c milk to pan; increase heat to med-high.  bring to a boil; cook 1 minute or until thickened, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat.  Stir in 1 oz Gruyere, Parm-Reggiano, salt and pepper; stir until cheese melts.

Coat baking dish with cooking spray.  Spread 1/3 c milk mixture in bottom of dish.  Arrange 2 noodles over milk mixture; top with half of squash mixture and 2/3 c milk mixture.  Repeat layers once, ending with remaining noodles and remaining milk mixture.  Cover with foil; bake at 450 for 15 minutes.  Remove foil; sprinkle remaining Gruyere and pecans over top.  Bake uncovered, at 450 for 10 minutes or until lightly browned and sauce is bubbly.  Let stand 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

butternut-kale lasagna 3

cartoon-strawberry-9OH. MY. GOODNESS.  Stop everything you’re doing and make this right now.  I freaked out a bit at the amount of garlic, but somehow it is very subtle, not overwhelming at all.  The sweetness of the butternut squash, the bite from the Gruyere and the toasty flavor from the pecans; makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

Next week will be a series of special recipes/posts from a new book – Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist.  Monday’s post will feature the Casear Salad pictured above.

Basic White Bread

Have I mentioned to you guys my love for all things bread?

Recipe from the Complete Step-by-Step Cook Book, published by Better Homes and Gardens.

No substitutions were made

basic white bread 3

Basic White Bread

1 package active dry yeast (approx 2 1/2 tsp)
1/4 c warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 c milk
2 tblsp sugar
1 tblsp shortening
2 tsp salt
5 3/4 to 6 1/4 c all-purpose flour

Soften yeast in warm water.  For best results, check the water temp with a candy or roast thermometer.  It should register 110 to 115 degrees.  If the water is cooler, the yeast won’t grow as it should.  Hotter water will kill the yeast.

In a saucepan heat together milk, sugar, shortening and salt; cool to lukewarm (105 to 110 degrees).  Use a thermometer for accurate results.  The mixture must be cooled before adding the yeast or the yeast may be killed.  Using milk instead of water as the liquid give the bread a softer crust.

Transfer the cooled milk to a large mixing bowl.  Add 2 cups of the flour and beat well.  Batter at this stage should be smooth with no lumps.  Adding the flour before the yeast also helps make the dough temperature right for the yeast.

Add the softened yeast to the milk-flour mixture.  Stir with a wooden spoon to evenly distribute the yeast throughout the batter.

Stir in as much of the remaining 4.5 c of flour as you can mix with a wooden spoon. – I used another 3 1/2 c of flour.  To maintain a smooth dough, add the flour in portions and stir after adding each.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Using a well-floured pastry cloth makes the dough easier to knead, so less flour is worked into the dough.  This is an advantage, since adding more flour tends to make the bread drier.  Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough.  To knead, fold the dough over and push down with the heel of the hand, curving your fingers over the dough.

Give the dough a quarter turn, then fold over and push down again.  Kneading is important in determining the final structure of the loaf as it develops the gluten of the flour.  If the dough is not kneaded enough, the loaf will be more likely to have a coarse texture and will probably not rise as high in the pan.

Continue kneading in the fold-push-turn procedure till dough is smooth and elastic (6 to 8 minutes).  To be sure you’ve kneaded enough, set a timer for the maximum time suggested in the recipe.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl that is at least twice as large as the size of the ball of dough.  Turn dough over once to grease entire surface.  This helps keep it from drying out.

Cover the bowl of dough with a cloth.  You may first want to cover the dough with lightly greased waxed paper or plastic wrap.  This way, the dough won’t stick to the cloth if it rises to the top of the bowl.  The oven is a good draft-free place to set the bowl of dough.  Place on upper rack with a bowl or pan of hot water on the lower rack.  Keep the oven door closed.

basic white bread 2

Dough should be allowed to rise until it doubles in size (approx 1 1/4 hours).  The dough is ready to shape when you can lightly and quickly press two fingertips 1/2 inch into the dough and the indentation remains.

Punch down the dough by pushing your fist into the center of the dough.  Then pull the edges of the dough over and place on a lightly floured surface.

Divide dough into two portions.  Shape each into a smooth ball.  Cover with a towel to keep warm and to help prevent a dried-out surface.  Let rest about 10 minutes; this allows the gluten to relax and makes the dough easier to roll.

Grease two 8 inch loaf pans.  – I used Baker’s Joy for this step.  Shape each ball of dough into a loaf.

Cover loaves; set in a warm place and let rise.  Dough should rise over top of pan in a rounded shape.  Loaf is ready to bake when an indentation remains after touching lightly with finger.  This will probably take 45 to 60 minutes.

Bake in a 375 degree oven about 45 minutes or till done.  Test by tapping the top with your finger.  A hollow sound means the loaf is properly baked.  If top browns too fast, cover loosely with foil the last 15 minutes of baking.

Remove bread from pans; cool on wire rack.  When completely cooled, wrap in foil or clear plastic wrap or place in a plastic bag.  Store in a cool dry place (refrigerator storage is not recommended since it causes yeast breads to stale).  To freeze, wrap cooled bread in moisture-vapor proof wrap.  Thaw at room temperature, then warm in 250 to 300 degree oven.

basic white bread 4

cartoon-strawberry-9The title tells it all, this is a basic white bread.  It’s good for toast and a sandwich, but it’s not amazing.  The many steps may look overwhelming, but the process goes pretty fast.

Smoky Chicken Corn Cakes

Sorry y’all for the unintentional break.  Life gets crazy sometimes.

This recipe is from Real Simple Magazine, May 2007.

A few slight substitutions were made, noted below.

smoky chicken corn cakes 2

Smoky Chicken Corn Cakes

Chicken Mixture
1 3.5 to 4 lb rotisserie chicken
1 tblsp choppend canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
3 tlbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp kosher salt
1 small red onion, thinly sliced – I used a white sweet onion
4 Roma (plum) tomaotes, diced – I used grape tomoatoes, halved
1/3 c fresh cilantro leaves – I skipped this

Using a fork or your fingers, shred the chicken meat, discarding the skin and bones.  In a medium bowl, combine the meat, chipotle, line juice, 1/4 tsp of salt, onion, tomatoes and cilantro; set aside.

Husband is not a fan of tomatoes, and I’m not a fan of raw onions.  So – I combined everything but the onion, tomatoes and cilantro.  I then spread the chicken mixture on a large baking sheet and put in a 200 degree oven, just to warm it up.  The onions I sliced and put in a small saute pan on low and left them to caramelize.

smoky chicken corn cakes 1

Corn Cakes
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c cornmeal
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 large eggs
1 c part-skim ricotta
10 oz frozen corn, thawed
2 tsp canola oil

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and remaining salt.  Stir in the eggs and ricotta until no lumps remain.  Fold in the corn.  Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  For each corn cake, spoon about 1/4 c of the batter onto the skillet and cook until golden brown and set on one side, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a spatula, flip the cake and cook 1 minute more.

smoky chicken corn cakes 3

Divide the cakes among individual plates and top with the chicken mixture.  Serve with sour cream if desired.

cartoon-strawberry-9We made these for dinner one night when some friends were visiting, and were enjoyed by all.  And although we had a wonderful dinner, I felt like something was missing.    Whip up a creamy chipotle sauce to go over the top?  Add some cheese and put under the broiler for a minute?  For me, it was a little dry and needed something to push it from good to amazing.

Mexican Chocolate Cookies

When husband and I were dating, there was a coffee shop near his home where he would always order a Mexican Mocha.  I was hoping these cookies would remind him of those mochas.

This recipe is from Cooking Light, December 2009.

I made one slight substitution, noted below.

Mexican Chocolate Cookies 1

Mexican Chocolate Cookies

5 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped – I used a combo of unsweet, bittersweet and semi-sweet. It’s just what I had on hand.
3.4 oz all-purpose flour (about 3/4 c)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Dash of black pepper
Dash of ground red pepper
1 1/4 c sugar
1/4 c butter, softened
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

mexican chocolate cookies 2

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place chocolate in a small glass bowl; microwave on high 1 minute or until almost melted, stirring until smooth.  Cool to room temperature.

Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife.  Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through ground red pepper); stir well with a whisk.

Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended.  Add egg; beat well.  Add cooled chocolate and vanilla; beat just until blended.  Drop dough by level tablespoons 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until almost set.  Remove from oven.  Cool on pans 2 minutes or until set.  Remove from pans; cool completely on a wire rack.  Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

mexican chocolate cookies 3

cartoon-strawberry-9The pepper in these cookies adds a great little kick!  But to get the flattened crinkle cookie, I had to pull the sheets out of the oven about 2 minutes before the baking was done and flatten them with the back of a spoon.

Chipotle Pork Tacos

Oh Mexican food, how I love you so.  Growing up in California, I was surrounded by amazing Mexican food.  There are a couple of favorite spots I will do my best to hit any time I’m home, but living here in the south it’s hard to find really good Mexican food.

This recipe is from Cooking Light, April 2011.

Not substitutions were made.

chipotle pork tacos 2

Chipotle Pork Tacos

1 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed
1 1/2 tsp finely grated lime rind
1 tblsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp minced fresh oregano
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp chopped chipotle chile in adobo sauce
– this can be found in the international section of your supermarket. I had to buy whole chipotle in adobo, so I ran the chilies and sauce through the food processor, then froze what I didn’t need for this recipe in an ice cube tray – approx 1 tblsp per cube
2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp salt
Cooking Spray
1 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 tsp olive oil
6-inch tortillas
reduced fat sour cream
Chopped cilantro (optional)

Place the pork tenderloin between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound to 1/4 inch thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet.  Remove plastic wrap.  Cut pork into thin strips.  Combine pork, lime rind and next 6 ingredients (through salt).

Heat a large nonstick skillet over med-high heat.  Coat pan with cooking spray.  Add shallots to pan; saute for 4 minutes or until tender.  Place shallots in a large bowl.  Add oil to pan.  Add pork; saute for 3 minutes or until no longer pink.  Add pork to shallots.

Warm tortillas according to the package directions.  Spoon 1/3 c pork mixture onto each tortilla, and top each tortilla with sour cream and cilantro (optional).  (It’s so optional that I forgot to put the sour cream on husband’s tacos…)  

chipotle pork tacos 3

cartoon-strawberry-9The lightness of the pork and the spicy of the chipotle was a wonderful mix, and we added some refried black beans – YUMMO!  We enjoyed our tacos and used the leftovers for some amazing nachos the next night!

Cinnamon Raisin French Toast

My last post told you about the wonderful Cinnamon Raisin Bread from “The Bread Bakers Apprentice”.  The day after it was baked, husband and I were talking about how good it might be as french toast.  It happened that same night as our dessert.

cinnamon raisin french toast 2

Cinnamon Raisin French Toast

2 eggs
1/2 c milk or heavy cream (or a combo of both)
2 tsp cinnamon sugar
1 tsp vanilla (I’m usually heavy handed when pouring vanilla)
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients, whisking to incorporate well.

Cut two thick (1 inch) slices of the cinnamon raisin bread and place in a shallow baking dish.

Pour egg mixture over the bread.  Refrigerate and let soak for 1 hour, turning after a half hour to be sure bread is soaked through.

Heat skillet on med-high heat, melting 1 tblsp of butter.

Cook till both sides are golden brown and serve with powdered sugar and maple syrup.  Or a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you’re so inclined…

cinnamon raisin french toast 3

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

I would really like to better my bread making skills.  Which means I wanted to find a good instructional book and I also need (no pun intended) to bake a lot of bread.

The book I purchased was “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice – Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread”, by Peter Reinhart.  This book covers it all.  Differences in types of flours, weighing vs measuring your ingredients, tools and wonderful recipes.

I decided to start with the Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread and see how it goes.  The only substitution I made was pecans for walnuts.

cinnamon raisin bread 1

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread

3 1/2 c unbleached flour
4 tsp granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 large egg, slightly beaten
2 tblsp shortening, melted or at room temperature
1/2 c buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature
1/4 c water, at room temperature
1 1/2 c raisins, rinsed and drained
1 c chopped walnuts – I used pecans

Stir together the flour, sugar, salt, yeast and cinnamon in a mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer).  Add the egg, shortening, buttermilk and water.  Stir together with a large spoon (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) until the ingredients come together and form a ball.  Adjust with flour or water if the dough seems to sticky or too dry and stiff.

Sprinkle flour on a counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing on medium speed, switching to the dough hook).  The dough should be soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky.  Add flour as you knead (or mix), if necessary, to achieve this texture.  Knead by hand for approximately 10 minutes (or by machine for 6 to 8 minutes).  Sprinkle in the raisins and nuts during the final 2 minutes of kneading (or mixing) to distribute them evenly and to avoid crushing them too much.  (If you are mixing by machine, you may have to finish kneading by hand to distribute the raisins and nuts evenly.)  The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 to 81 degrees.  Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

The most reliable method to determine when gluten development is sufficient is called the windowpane test, sometimes referred to as the membrane test.  This is performed by cutting off a small piece of dough from the larger batch and gently stretching, pulling and turning it to see if it will hold a paper-thin, translucent membrane.  If the dough falls apart before it makes this windowpane, continue mixing for another minute or two and test again.

Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

cinnamon raisin bread 2

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and form them into loaves.  Place each loaf in a lightly oiled 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch pan, mist the tops with spray oil, and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Forming the loaves: Flatten the measured piece of dough with your hand, folding in the edges to make and even-sided rectangle about 5 inches wide and 6-8 inches long.  Working from the short side of the dough, roll up the length of the dough one section at a time, pinching the crease with each rotation to strengthen the surface tension.  the loaf will spread out as your roll it up, eventually extending to a full 8 to 9 inches.  Pinch the final seam closed with the back edge of your hand or with your thumbs.  Rock the loaf to even it out; do not taper the ends.  Keep the surface of the loaf even across the top.  Place the loaf in a lightly oiled loaf pan.  The ends of the loaf should touch the ends of the pan to ensure an even rise.

Proof at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough crests above the lips of the pans and is nearly doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the oven rack on the middle shelf.  Place the loaf pans on a sheet pan, making sure they are not touching each other.

Bake the loaves for 20 minutes.  Rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the oven.  The finished breads should register 190 degrees in the center and be golden brown on top and lightly golden on the sides and bottom.  They should make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.

cinnamon raisin bread 3

Immediately remove the breads from their pans and cool on a rack for at least 1 hour, preferable 2 hours, before slicing or serving.

Another trick that adds flavor is to brush the tops of the baked loaves with melted butter as soon as they come out of the bread pans, and then roll them in the cinnamon sugar.  When they bread cools, the top will have an additional sweet and crunchy flavor burst.

cartoon-strawberry-9I used my mixer for kneading the dough and then kneaded in the raisins and pecans by hand.  My bread didn’t quite pass the windowpane test, but it was close.  In the future, I would knead the dough a little longer.  Mixing in the raisins and pecans was a bit messy, but fun!  And the smell of melted butter poured over hot bread?  Pure heaven.  This recipe made two loaves, so I was able to give one away for a yummy birthday present.  This bread is worth the time and effort needed.

Oh, and then husband and I made french toast with this bread… (coming on Friday)

cinnamon raisin bread 4

Sugar Cookies

How did I forget these cookies?  These are some of the best sugar cookies ever.

The recipe came from the packaging on the Wilton cookie tray.  The tray had cavities of hearts and “Valentiney” designs.

No substitutions were made.

sugar cookies

Sugar Cookies

1 c butter, softened
1 1/2 c granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla – b/c the almond extract is optional, I used 2 tsp of Vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
2 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly spray cookie pay with cooking spray

Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer at medium speed until well blended.  Beat in egg and extracts; mix well.  In a separate bowl, combine flour and slat; add to butter mixture.  Beat until well blended.

Press dough into cavities, filling 2/3 full.  Bake 9 -10 minutes or until lightly brown around edges.  Cool in pan 5 minutes.  Turn pan over; tap to remove cookies.  Cool completely on cooling rack.

cartoon-strawberry-9Did I say these cookies were good?  Husband even commented a couple nights ago how good they were.  (I think he was hinting for me to make more..)  There were 3 batches of these cookies made in about 2 days.  I did add a little red food coloring to some just to have some fun with the Valentine holiday.

I also did a simple glaze of powdered sugar, a little lemon extract and water, blended until clearish.  Then applied with a silicone brush.

I haven’t tried to roll these out and use with cookie cutters, but I think it’d work.  I’m sure I’ll be trying it soon.