Monthly Archives: November 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Butternut Squash, Mushrooms, and Rainbow Chard

I made it!  This is the last day of November!  Technically, I didn’t post a blog every day, but I did post thirty blogs in thirty days, so I’m satisfied with that.  I’m not going to promise to keep this momentum going into December, as I will be focusing on:

  • reading the chapters on Confirmatory Factor Analysis that I should have read already
  • writing what was described in the syllabus as a “mini” NIH grant proposal but is bigger than any other paper I’ve written so far in grad school
  • celebrating my 30th birthday
  • baking at least four different types of cookies for Christmas

I will certainly write some blogs about the cookies, and don’t worry – I won’t write about Confirmatory Factor Analysis.

In the mean time, check out what I cooked last night.  This was totally thrown together, but it was an incredibly satisfying vegetarian meal with lots of delicate flavors.  With only a little butter, shallot, and tiny squeeze of lemon juice, the main ingredients really shone through.  My only regret is not using the entire bunch of chard.  Since I’m still warming up to chard, I was worried it was going to be too much, but Nick and I both wished there were more greens.

I was inspired by this recipe for Gnocchi with Mushroom and Butternut Squash which I fully intend to make at some point when I can actually devote an entire Sunday to cooking.  But for now, I used it as a guideline for cooking the butternut squash and mushrooms.  Important- if you happen to look at that recipe before following this, do not follow their suggestion of draining the squash and mushrooms on a paper towel after sauteing.  For the gnocchi recipe where they’re making a butter sauce to go with it, that’s fine, but if you do that here, the towel will absorb all the butter and juiciness.

Butternut Squash, Mushrooms, and Rainbow Chard with Brown Rice

Cook short-grain brown rice according to package instructions.

I used about a third of one butternut squash.  I would estimate this yielded about 1 1/2 to 2 cups.  It was the perfect amount for two people.

Separate the neck of the squash from the bulb; store the bulb for later use (or for a rainy day).  Slice away the peel deeply enough so that the orange flesh is exposed.  Dice squash into 1/2-inch cubes.

Clean and trim stems from 1 1/2 to 2 cups of crimini mushrooms and slice thinly.

Mince one large shallot.  Chop up about one tablespoon of fresh thyme.

Wash one large bunch of Swiss chard.  Remove stems, and thinly slice leaves crosswise, about 1/2-inch thick.

In a large skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.  Add 1/2 tablespoon of butter.  Add butternut squash and season with salt and pepper.  Stirring often, brown squash on all sides, about 4-6 minutes. Remove squash from skillet.

Add a little more olive oil, and saute mushrooms.  After a minute, add another 1/2 tablespoon of butter, thyme, shallots; season with salt and pepper.  Cook mushrooms another 3-4 minutes, until thoroughly cooked.  Remove from skillet and add to plate with squash.

Once more, add a little olive oil and butter to the skillet.  Over medium heat, stir the chard, about 6-8 minutes.  When close to being cooked, lightly squeeze lemon juice (less than half a lemon’s-worth) over the chard.  Season with salt.

Add mushrooms and squash back to the skillet and stir over low heat for a minute or two, just to make sure everything is thoroughly heated.

Serve over brown rice.

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Why I Love Wikipedia

It’s been a good day.*  I spent a few hours studying for statistics and then a few more hours reading and brainstorming for my final paper.  Plus I took enough of a break to catch Regis Philbin on The Talk, and for some reason I decided I don’t know enough about Regis Philbin.  Actually, I’m pretty sure my thought process went something like this…

Oh, I never heard who ended up replacing Regis… I should look it up on Wikipedia….  Oh, interesting- Kelly’s doing it solo now.  I like her.  I’ve seen her talking about bleaching her mustache on live television.  I respect that. 

Now that I think about it, I don’t know how I went from that to reading about Regis Philbin’s entire life.  That’s the thing about Wikipedia… the information is there.  All you have to do is click a link to a related page and the next thing you know you’ve gone from checking which Beatle was the oldest to reading all about Pattie Boyd and her sisters and how many rock stars they slept with.

Anyway, I was reading about Regis’ kids and how his daughter is married to Michael Schur.  And I thought that name sounded familiar, so I clicked again and discovered that yes, I do know that name.  Michael Schur is a writer for The Office and Parks and Recreation.  And….

Oh. My. God.

He’s MOSE!!!

Yes, Mose is the son-in-law of Regis Philbin.  Highlight of my day.

*Ironically, as soon as I typed that, the upstairs neighbor started singing and playing guitar, which knocked the good day rating down a few points.

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Post-Thanksgiving Recovery Dinner

It’s funny- I didn’t think I ate that terribly or excessively on Thanksgiving, but I think cumulatively the last week has been a little indulgent.  I mean, I did start the week by cooking Fettuccine Alfredo last Monday.  Oh, and then I finished the week with more fettuccine and a meat sauce last night.  (That was Nick’s idea, but he’d had a rough week so who was I to refuse him??)

Still, by this morning I found myself craving veggies and whole grains, and squeezing into my jeans reinforced that probably would be a good idea.  I think I succeeded tonight:

Sauteed Broccoli and Spinach with Olives and Lemon + Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas + Black Quinoa

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Sunday Night

This was supposed to be posted on Sunday…

I’ve had a wonderfully productive long weekend.  I checked off far more items on my to-do lists (both school and home stuff) than I usually do.  We have so much clean laundry, I don’t have room in my closet for all of my clothes.  I read everything I was supposed to for class.  I spent several hours cleaning and reorganizing our bathroom and narrowing down my collection of eye shadows I never use.

Did I check off everything on my list?  No.  But it’s Sunday and Nick is at home.

Sundays with Nick are some of my favorite days.  They are prototypically suburban and domestic and I love it.  We go to Panera for lunch.  We go to Petsmart and Target.  We plan dinner while we drive to the grocery store.

Nick makes delicious dinners, like this:

Fettuccine with Meat Sauce and Mozzarella

We laugh at the cats.  Today Matilda used a box of packing supplies to turn our living room into her very own playground.

Needless to say, “clean the living room” is one item that did not get checked off.  And no, I didn’t get quite as far on my final paper as I planned on.  But I’m learning to let those things go and take advantage of a day when Nick and I are both home.  Letting go is the key phrase here – in the past I might choose not to do those things on my to-do list, but they’d be lurking in the back of my mind while I was trying to enjoy some time with my husband.  I’d be preoccupied worrying about what I felt I really should be doing.

The thing is, the living room will still be there tomorrow, waiting to be vacuumed.  No matter how much time I spent on my paper today, I’m still going to have a lot more to do in the upcoming weeks.  The next couple weeks are going to be crazy regardless of how much I prepare today.  I’m going to be studying for my final exam and trying to wrap things up before the semester is over.  Nick is going to be working a lot and preparing for a gig.  So I’m glad we had the opportunity to spend today together, and that I was able to forget about school and stuff that needs to be done around the house.  Besides, if I had been busy with school work, I wouldn’t have been able to catch this on camera:

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An Assortment of Christmas-Related Thoughts

Various things that I want to share yet lack sufficient elaboration to make them worthy of their very own blog entry:

  • I’ve had a crush on Zooey Deschanel for quite some time.  Until last week, that is.  Bon Appetit interviewed her in their December issue and asked her for tips for making Christmas cookies.  Her response: “Don’t make cookies.  Classic Christmas cookies are really time-consuming.  Instead, make a bar you can bake in a pan and just cut up….”  Seriously?  Why don’t you just buy a can of Pillsbury dough?  Or if you’re really pressed for time, heck, just give a can of dough to friends and let them bake their own cookies!  Considering that my favorite Christmas cookies require 90 minutes or more of active prep time, clearly we have different philosophies on this.  Zooey also lost points for indicating that she doesn’t like tequila.  So much for my dream of drinking margaritas and baking seven layer cookies with Zooey Deschanel.  (Not that I really had previously wanted to do that… reading this just made it clear that it will never happen.)  In other news, my crush on Andrew Knowlton (aka the BA Foodist) is still very much intact.
  • I am very excited about setting up our Christmas tree this year.  But I am terrified to think about how Matilda is going to behave, considering that Nick found her in a tree.  Something tells me someone is only going to be allowed into the living room when supervised for a couple weeks….
  • Going back to Bon Appetit, I hate that every December issue seems to have a cover with a dessert containing mint.  Have I not mentioned the mint thing before?  I just realized I’ve been writing this blog for almost six months, and I don’t know if this has come up yet.  Yes, I hate mint.  I couldn’t use normal people toothpaste (as in something other than Sesame Street or Muppets fruity-flavored toothpastes) until I was in high school.  I can tolerate toothpaste now, but I refuse to eat anything with mint in it and I’m not crazy about the smell either.  Phew.  So glad I got that off my chest.  Now you know.  People always seem to think this is a weird thing.  But I wouldn’t judge you for hating broccoli, would I?  (I probably would, come to think of it.)
  • I really, really wish they still aired the Claymation Christmas special on television.  It’s the best Christmas special ever.  Does Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer having dinosaur hosts?  Nope, didn’t think so.  And exactly how many singing camels are in Frosty the Snowman?  Zero?  Uh huh- Claymation Christmas has three.  I do have to say that the conductor in the Carol of the Bells still scares me a bit.

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Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad

When I was a kid, we never had the classic green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and crunchy onions on top for Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house.  No, we had its cousin- broccoli casserole, with cheese crackers crumbled on top.  I’m pretty sure it still involved cream of mushroom soup.

That broccoli casserole will always have a special place in my heart, but as a grown-up I look for the green portion of my Thanksgiving plate to be something that makes me feel less guilty about the carb party surrounding it.  As I am currently challenging myself to branch out and try different vegetables (i.e., chard and kale), this kale & Brussels sprouts salad seemed like it would be promising, especially since it has cheese.  You can always coax me to try something different if there is cheese involved.

Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad (from Bon Appetit November 2011 via Epicurious)

makes 8-10 servings

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp minced shallot

1 small garlic clove, finely grated (or pressed)

1/4 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

Freshly ground black pepper

2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 pounds total), center stem discarded and leaves thinly sliced (note: I just used what the store was selling as “green kale.”  It worked fine.  Also, the discarded stems make excellent treats for rabbits, if you have any siblings with bunnies.)

12 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed and finely grated or shredded with a knife (or, this is a perfect excuse to pull out the mandoline!  I held onto the stem and sliced them cross-wise, starting at the top.)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided (as in, separate 1 tbsp and reserve the rest)

1/3 cup almonds, coarsely chopped

1 cup finely grated Pecorino

Whisk together lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/4 tsp salt, and pinch of pepper in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Toss thinly sliced kale and shredded Brussels sprouts in a large bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes.  Transfer nuts to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Slowly whisk remaining olive oil into lemon juice mixture.  Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.  *All of these parts can be prepared 8 hours ahead.  Cover dressing and kale mixture separately and chill.  Cover almonds and leave at room temperature.

Add dressing and cheese  to kale mixture; toss to coat.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Garnish with almonds. (Or if some members of your family have nut allergies and/or nut aversions, put nuts in a small bowl to accompany the salad around the dining table.  Obsessively watch to make sure they stay with the salad and remind people that they can sprinkle the almonds on the salad, if they would like to do so.)

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Sweet Potato Stuffing with Bacon and Thyme

When I told my sister-in-law that I wanted to make stuffing with bacon for Thanksgiving dinner, she started to say, “Well, we were thinking about wrapping the turkey in bacon…” and my first reaction was to assume that she was going to say that two bacon dishes might be overkill.  But then I remembered she is Nick’s sister, so it didn’t surprise me at all when she finished, “so those should go really well together!”

The thing that excited me about this recipe was that it would bring sweet potatoes into the dinner without adding an extra dish.  (Well, that and the bacon excited me.)  I followed the recipe closely, except that I used 1 1/2 cups celery and 1 1/2 cups fennel instead of 3 cups of celery.  Why?  Because if you couldn’t tell from my typical dinners, I kinda love fennel.

Sweet Potato Stuffing with Bacon and Thyme (adapted from Bon Appetit November 2009 via Epicurious)

Makes 16 servings

10 cups of sourdough baguette with crust cut into 1-inch cubes (they say you can get this from 1 and 1/2 one-pound baguettes, but I couldn’t find a baguette, so I used one 16 ounce round loaf, which yielded just over 10 cups.  Plus some extra cubes of bread for a lovely pre-cooking snack.)

1 pound thick-cut bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces*

2 tbsp butter

2 3/4 pounds of peeled sweet potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (should yield 6 1/2 cups )

2 large onions, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (should yield 4 cups)

about 4 stalks of celery, cut into 1/2 – 3/4-inch pieces (should yield 1 1/2 cups)

2 small or 1 large fennel bulb, cut into 1/2 – 3/4-inch pieces (should yield 1 1/2 cups)

1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme

1 1/4 tsp coarse kosher salt

1 1/3 cups fresh orange juice

3 large eggs

1 1/3 cups low-salt chicken broth

With rack in center of oven, preheat to 350 degrees.  Spread bread cubes in a single layer on a large baking sheet (I had to use two baking sheets).  Bake until almost firm to touch, about 10 minutes.  Cool.  *This can be made 1 day ahead.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Place bread cubes in extra-large bowl.  Cook bacon in skillet over medium heat until crisp.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.

Reserve 3 tbsp of bacon drippings and place in a large, heavy pot.  Heat pot over medium-high heat and add butter, sweet potatoes, onions, celery, fennel, thyme, and 1 1/4 tsp coarse salt.  Saute until onions are slightly soft but not brown, about 6-8 minutes.  Add orange juice and bring to a boil.  Cook until sweet potatoes are almost tender and juice is almost absorbed (the original recipe says this takes about 5 minutes, but it took me closer to 10 minutes).  Add bacon and sweet potato mixture to bowl with bread cubes.  Season with more salt and pepper.  Cool slightly.  *This can be made 1 day ahead.  Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter 15 x 10 x 2-inch baking dish (I totally skipped the buttering and had no problems with anything sticking).  Whisk eggs and chicken broth in a medium bowl to blend; add to stuffing and toss to combine.  Transfer to baking dish.

Bake uncovered until top is lightly browned and crisp around the edges, 50 minutes to an hour.

*PS- Who takes photographs of mounds of raw bacon??  Oh right- I do. Below, bonus bacon photos:

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