Sunday, September 14, 2008

Masala oatmeal cookies

These are inspired by a recipe by the lovely Courtney Gibbons, a fine mathematician and flavorwright (despite her unfortunate aversion to delicious animals). The recipe was originally vegan, and as such required some ingredients like flaxseed that I don't regularly stock. I've made a few adjustments to make it work as an animal-derived recipe, and added my own goofy spice twist.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Butternut squash wontons

My love affair with butternut squash continues unabated, so I thought I'd try making a dessert with it. This is a fairly light and subtle dessert, so it'd be good in contrast to a heavy meal or as a sweet hors d'oeuvre. This recipe makes about 50 wontons, so adjust for your needed scale.

(Image courtesy of the also-lovely Nooreen Meghani)


  • One medium butternut squash

  • 1/4 c. real maple syrup

  • 1/4 c. mixed pistachios and almonds

  • 2 whole star anise

  • 6 whole cardamom

  • 1 stick cinnamon

  • 1 brick cream cheese (8 oz.), room temperature

Chop nuts to a medium-coarse powder in a processor or with a pastry cutter; set aside. Crush spices together with mortar and pestle; set aside.

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and pulp, scraping hollow with spoon to remove all fibers (these can give a weird texture if they're left in). Drizzle cut surfaces with oil and rub to coat. Place on baking sheet or in roasting pan and roast at 400°F for one hour. Remove from oven and set out to cool. When cooled completely, remove flesh from skin manually or with a spoon and mash in large mixing bowl. Add maple syrup, nuts, spices, and cream cheese, and mix thoroughly with a spoon. Set aside.

Wonton wrappers (use about three recipes per one of filling)

  • 1 egg

  • 2 c. flour (I like to mix whole-wheat and all-purpose)

  • 1/8 c. powdered sugar

  • Pinch salt

  • 1/3 – 1/2 c. water

Combine dry ingredients. Add egg and half of water. Knead together thoroughly; this is most easily done in a stand mixer with a dough hook. Add water slowly by tablespoonsful, allowing ample time between additions for water to incorporate into mixture.

Note: the final consistency is important, not the specific water content; you want dough which is pliable enough to form a ball and which holds its shape, but which is dry enough not to stick to the fingers (pinching is a good way to test both). The water required will vary wildly depending on humidity, flour density and composition, and the phases of the moon. Be vigilant! If the mixture becomes too moist, add more flour and knead in carefully.

Once the dough is kneaded, place in bowl and cover for about half an hour, giving the glutens time to develop, then roll out thin and cut into squares about three inches on a side (on my Kitchenaid pasta roller, I find that thickness 6 is best, and that the width of the sheets it produces is a good model for the squares).

Because the dough is prone to stickiness, you may find it best to assemble and fry as you go, without first rolling out all the pasta.

In the center of a square of pasta place about a teaspoon of filling, spreading it out somewhat in one direction but keeping well clear of all edges. Fold square over across the length of the filling and seal the long seam by pressing with your fingers. Fold over again, pulling the lump of filling atop the folded noodle, and seal the short edges by pressing again. Finally, pull the two edges up, fold them across the top, and press them together flat to seal into the classic wonton shape (resembles a classic nurse's cap). Fry in 375°F vegetable oil for about 45 seconds or until puffed, crispy, and beginning to brown. Set out to dry and cool on paper, then set aside until completely cool (the filling can stay hot for a few minutes after the wrapper has dried!).

Serve hot or room-temperature with cinnamon-coriander Chantilly cream (if you're a nutter like me). Store in an airtight container at room temperature (refrigeration leads to condensation). If serving well after frying, wontons may become soft and slightly soggy; they can be salvaged by toasting them for a few minutes at 400°F in the oven.

Cinnamon-Coriander Chantilly Cream

  • 1 c. heavy cream

  • 2 tbsp. powdered sugar

  • 1.5 tsp. vanilla extract

  • .5 tsp. almond extract

  • .25 tsp. ground coriander

  • .5 tsp. ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in chilled mixing bowl. Whip with balloon whisk until stiff peaks form. Served chilled.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Butternut-squash cannelloni with sage brown butter

(Photo courtesy of the lovely Nancy Pontius)

I absolutely adore the flavor of roasted butternut squash. It's nutty and filling, with a rich warmth that isn't matched by anything in the world. Yum. It's fantastic for making soups, of course; I also like to use it as the base for filled pasta. Normally I make ravioli, but last night I was pressed for time whilst cooking for seven, so I made cannelonni instead, which were just as tasty and saved many vital minutes. I'll definitely be making this again.

Butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter

  • One 2lb. butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded

  • One head garlic, peeled

  • 6oz. whole-milk ricotta

  • 1/4 c. grated parmesean or reggiano

  • 1 tbsp. assorted dried Italian herbs

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Eight thin fresh pasta sheets, approximately 4" x 6"

  • One large egg

  • 1 tbsp. milk or water

  • 1/2 c. (one stick) butter

  • Sixteen fresh sage leaves

  • Whole nutmeg

  • Bitter or bittersweet chocolate

  • Shelled pistachios

  • Grated parmesean or reggiano

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Rub or brush the cut faces of squash with oil and place them open-face-up in roasting pan. Place the garlic cloves in the center of a square of aluminum foil (about five inches on a side) with a drizzle of olive oil and wrap tightly, twisting ends together to form a bundle which will trap liquids. Roast garlic and squash in oven for about an hour or until squash is very tender to the fork and garlic is squishy. Let squash cool until it is comfortable to hold (be sure to allow adequate time, as this may take as much as an hour), then scrape flesh out with a spoon and reserve, discarding skins. Note: roasted butternut squash flesh freezes well, so you can buy a piece much larger than 2lbs, roast it, and save what you don't use for this recipe.

Place squash flesh and roasted garlic in a large processor or mixing bowl. Process on high or mash together with potato masher until smooth, then add ricotta, parmesean, dried Italian herbs, and salt and pepper, mixing thoroughly. Set aside.

Boil pasta sheets one to two minutes until al dente. The exact time will depend on the thickness and freshness of the sheets. If fresh noodles are not available, boxed lasagna noodles can be substituted but should be cut in half and formed into miniature cannelloni, adjusting quantities below to suit; fresh noodles are, of course, to be preferred. In either case, after boiling, toss the noodles in a bath of cold water and olive oil to stop cooking and prevent sticking.

Beat egg with milk or water in a bowl and set aside.

To assemble each cannelloni, lay one sheet of cooked pasta on a clean surface. Place about an eighth of the squash mixture in a line down one short edge of the noodle with a spoon, spreading out evenly. Roll tightly, starting at the end with the filling. Before finishing the roll, brush some of the egg wash on the end and press to seal.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Place the assembeled cannelloni in an oven-safe dish and bake for about 9 minutes, until pasta shells are tinged with gold and pliable but firm. The timing is fairly forgiving here; just be sure not to dry out or burn the noodles. Remove from oven and set aside for serving.

While the cannelloni are baking, melt the butter in saucepan over medium heat, then fry the sage leaves for about three minutes or until crisp. Remove the sage leaves with a slotted spoon and set on paper towels to dry. Continue to heat the butter until it just begins to turn brown, then remove from heat.

To serve the cannelloni, place one tube on a plate, drizzle it with the brown butter, and garnish with two sage leaves, pistachios, parmesean or reggiano, and a bit of grated chocolate and nutmeg. Serve hot.

Serves eight.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Spaghetti with meatballs

Everybody has his own favorite recipe for spaghetti sauce and meatballs. Here's mine. I prefer to emphasize savory herb and spice flavors rather than the sticky sweetness which is common in American sauces, so bear that in mind if you follow this recipe.

Spaghetti Sauce
Using canned tomatoes is far more convenient (and practical in the off-season) than using whole fresh fruits, and does not significantly alter the taste if high-quality product is used. The secret to bringing the flavors out is the relatively large amount of olive oil; many of the important flavor chemicals in tomatoes are oil-soluble rather than water-soluble.

  • 1 1/2 c. red wine

  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar

  • 1/4 c. olive oil

  • 1 white onion, diced

  • 1 green bell pepper, diced

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced

  • 2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

  • 2 28oz. cans tomatoes, whole or crushed

  • 1 28oz. can tomato paste

  • 4 tsp. mixed dried Italian herbs (esp. basil and oregano)

  • 2 tsp. cumin

  • 1/2 tsp. crushed black pepper

  • 1 tsp. salt

  • Meatballs (recipe follows)

Combine wine and vinegar in small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until reduced by half. Set aside.

While wine mixture is reducing, heat oil in a stock pot or casserole over medium heat. Fry onions, bell peppers, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes until onions begin to be translucent. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, wine mixture, and all remaining spices. Reduce heat to simmer for about half an hour, stirring occasionally. Increase heat to bring sauce back to a boil and add meatballs. Cook five to ten minutes, depending on size of balls. Remove from heat and serve over warm spaghetti.

Once again, I prefer to use spice flavors rather than sweetness in the meatballs. These definitely have an unusual flavor, but, although it doesn't fit neatly into any national-cuisine category, I really enjoy it. I prefer to use ground turkey for the meat, not for any silly health reasons, but because its lighter flavor allows the spices to work more prominently. If you use a meat with more flavor like beef, you may need to adjust the quantities of spices.

  • 2 lb ground meat

  • 1/4 c. dried bread crumbs

  • 1/4 c. quick-cook oatmeal

  • 2 tsp. cumin

  • 2 tsp. mixed dried Italian herbs (esp. basil and oregano)

  • 1 tsp. salt

  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

  • 1 tsp. curry powder

  • 2 tbsp. mustard

  • 2 tbsp. ketchup

  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Form into small balls between 1 and 1.5 in. in diameter.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sausage sandwiches

Sausage sandwich with red-onion marmalade

Good sausage doesn't need much help to be delicious, as it's already prepared with tasty meat and a variety of herbs and spices. This sandwich takes advantage of those flavors by pairing them with tangy marmalade and sweet mustard which complement the flavors in the sausage rather than competing with them.

Sausage Sandwich with Red-Onion Marmalade
This is a pretty basic sandwich. The trick is to find the right combination of flavors. I used the honey oatmeal bread from a recipe in the book that came with my Kitchenaid mixer for the toast; any hearty and sweet bread should be fine. If you prefer a very strong bread flavor, a rye or pumpernickel might be appropriate as well, but you'd risk overpowering the sausage flavors.

  • 2 slices hearty sweet bread, toasted

  • 1 high-quality savory sausage, broiled and sliced into medallions

  • 2 tsp. stone-ground mustard, to taste (alternative: use purchased pesto instead)

  • 2 tsp. red-onion marmalade, to taste (recipe below)

  • A few sweetened dried cranberries

Spread mustard on one slice of bread and marmalade on the other. Arrange slices of sausage to cover one slice. Sprinkle on cranberries. Serve open-faced or as a conventional sandwich.

Red-Onion Marmalade

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil

  • 1 red onion, diced coarsely

  • 2 tsp. (~2 cloves) minced garlic

  • 1/4 c. port wine

  • 2 tbsp. marsala wine

  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar

  • 1 c. red table wine

  • 2 tbsp. honey

  • 1 orange, juice

  • 1 orange, zest

Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add onion and garlic and cook until caramelized, stirring frequently. Add port wine and simmer about ten minutes. Add remaining liquid ingredients and simmer until reduced to marmalade consistency (about fifteen minute), stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and fold in orange zest. Store in refrigerator and serve cold.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

2007's Christmas dinner

This is the third successive year that I've concocted a grand meal as a Christmas gift to my parents as well as my brother and sister-in-law. This year, however, I was able to work on a previously unprecedented scale, thanks to the assistance of my lovely girlfriend-cum-sous-chef. I also mixed things up a bit from previous years by focusing significantly more on the presentation of the foods, even going so far as to acquire two whole new sets of dinnerware to make sure I had enough square plates. It was quite an adventure.