Pot Roast with porcini mushrooms and onions

It all started with a bottle of wine — well, two to be exact. A good friend of my husband’s — who owns an extensive wine cellar — sent us a surprise gift of two bottles of Brunello di Montalcino. He knew we had been in Montalcino a couple of years ago, where we had enjoyed wines from the Caparzo vineyard, so he wanted to repay some hospitality with a bottle of the 2013 and the 1990 vintage. We couldn’t wait to crack open the older vintage first. But I knew I needed to accompany it with a meal worthy of this 30 year-old wine. I had some dried porcini mushrooms I had bought in Italy waiting to be used, so I decided to incorporate them into a rich pot roast.

Start by dusting the meat (mine was a chuck roast that weighed 2 1/2 pounds) with flour, salt and pepper, and browning it in olive oil. Then remove it from the pan.

Add the onions and sauté them in the oil that remains in the pan. They’ll add a sweetness and richness to the dish. While the onions were cooking, I soaked the porcini in water.

The onions reduced considerably and turned a golden color. Those browned bits on the bottom of the pan will add lots of flavor too, once the liquid is poured in and everything has a chance to blend together.

Place the browned meat back into the pan and add the liquids, plus the seasonings — bay leaf, herbs de Provence, salt and pepper.

Place a lid on the pot and put it in a preheated 350 degree oven. Let it cook for two hours, checking it every once in a while.

Remove the meat from the liquid. If you have time to let it cool, let it sit for a half hour. It’s not necessary, but it makes it easier to slice. If you want, you can place the platter in the microwave to reheat it, then add the hot porcini and onion sauce to ensure it’s piping hot when served.

Sprinkle with some minced parsley and serve more sauce on the side.

We drank the wine with our pot roast dinner, accompanied by sweet and sour cabbage, mashed potatoes and carrots. I think we did the 1990 vintage justice. Now onto the 2013!

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Pot Roast with porcini mushrooms and onions
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 2½-3 pound chuck roast, dusted with flour, salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1½ large onions, sliced (about 3 cups sliced onions)
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • ½ cup dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated in 1½ cups water for about ½ hour
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup red wine
  • a few fresh bay leaves (use dried if fresh unavailable)
  • 1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
  • salt, pepper
Instructions
  1. In a heavy Dutch oven, add the olive oil and bring to a medium to high heat.
  2. Dust some flour, salt and pepper on all sides of the chuck roast, shaking off any excess.
  3. Place the meat into the pan with the olive oil and brown all around.
  4. Remove the meat to a platter.
  5. Turn the heat lower and add the sliced onions, cooking them until they caramelize.
  6. Add the crushed garlic and cook for a minute or two, then return the meat to the pan.
  7. Add the red wine, beef broth, the mushrooms and the liquid from the mushrooms.
  8. Add the bay leaves, herbs de Provence, salt and pepper.
  9. Place a lid on the pan, then place it on the middle rack of a 350 degree preheated oven for two hours, checking every once in a while to make sure the meat is immersed in liquid.
  10. After removing the pan from the oven, gently take the meat out of the pan and onto a platter.
  11. This step is not necessary, but it makes for easier slicing, especially if the meat has rested at least a half hour.
  12. Reheat the sauce to make sure it's piping hot, then pour some of the porcinis and sauce over the meat and serve the rest of the sauce on the side.
  13. Sprinkle with a little minced parsley for garnish.
 

Pork Chops in Lemon Caper Sauce and Oven-Baked Polenta

While the calendar says the days are getting shorter, it’s still a long way until warm weather and eating dinner on the patio. With several months ahead of us when the threat of snow is in the air (and on the ground), comfort food sometimes is just the right thing. This dish, which I found in the New York Times, but is originally from Toni Tipton-Martin’s  “Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking,” fits the bill perfectly for one of those stay-in types of days when the fire is roaring and that bottle of pinot noir pleads to be opened.

I accompanied it with polenta to sop up all that sauce (by the way, the recipe calls for four pork chops but I cooked just two and made the full sauce recipe). I’ve made polenta many times, both the old-fashioned way, stirring for 45 minutes and in the slow cooker. One of my cousins in Italy told me she makes it in the oven, where it practically requires no tending, so I thought I’d give it a try. It really works! And it was soft and creamy, just as I like it.

Broccoli Romano  — one of my favorite vegetables — was available in my supermarket, so I served that alongside the meat and polenta. I’m getting hungry again just looking at the pictures. I hope you give this a try.

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Pork Chops in Lemon Caper Sauce and Oven-Baked Polenta
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 4 bone-in pork chops (about 8 ounces each)
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 very small shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 ½ cups chicken stock, homemade or low-sodium, if store-bought
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons juice
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • FOR THE POLENTA:
  • 1¼ cups cornmeal (I use Anson Mills)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Dry the chops with paper towels, and season aggressively with salt, pepper and the thyme. Swirl the olive oil into a large skillet, and heat over medium until the oil begins to shimmer. Add chops, and cook until well browned on each side and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a plate, and cover to keep warm.
  2. Drain the fat from the skillet, then melt 2 tablespoons of butter in it over medium heat until sizzling. Add the shallot and garlic, and sauté until the aromatics soften, reducing the heat if necessary, about 1 minute. Sprinkle in the flour, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Whisk in the wine and chicken stock, raise heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half, 7 to 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in the capers, parsley, lemon zest and juice and hot sauce to taste (if you’re using it), and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter until it’s melted and the sauce looks smooth. Nestle the pork chops into the sauce, and allow them to warm up for a couple of minutes, then serve, pouring sauce over each pork chop to taste. Garnish with more fresh parsley.
  4. FOR THE POLENTA:
  5. Add the cornmeal, water and milk and salt to a saucepan and whisk together. Place in a 350 degree oven uncovered, for one hour, stirring once every twenty minutes. If the polenta isn't thick enough after one hour, leave it in for another twenty minutes and test again. Remove from oven, add the butter and parmesan cheese and serve.
 

 

Pecan Sticky Buns

When I know I’m going to have overnight guests in the house, I like to prepare at least one special breakfast ahead of time, rather than leave my guests to fend for themselves with only a box of cereal and cold milk. Last year I made a polenta breakfast bake that was a big hit with everyone. This year, I finally decided to make pecan sticky buns. They’re a weakness of mine that I used to order occasionally at Panera’s but has now been taken off the menu. This recipe, from the blog, Dinner At The Zoo, is nearly identical, and makes enough for a crowd. I added some currants, which the original recipe did not call for. You could also add raisins if you like. Or leave them out completely. The recipe called for all twelve pieces to be baked together in a 9″ xy 13″ rectangular pan, but there didn’t seem to be room in the pan I had, so I placed two rolls in separate ceramic round ramekins. I really liked them better in the individual ramekins since the syrupy topping had more room to ooze down the sides as in the top photo. If I had twelve ramekins, I’d bake them all this way. But they were pretty terrific in the rectangular pan too.

The dough is a very supple dough, enriched with eggs and butter, and requiring two rises. Here it is, doubled in size, after the first rise.

Next, you roll out the dough to a rectangle that’s 12″ by 18″ and spread the butter/cinnamin/currants filling over the dough. Then roll up the dough tightly, starting from the long side, cut it into twelve pieces and place each piece on top of the pecan sticky topping.

 The rolls will puff up more during the second rise,  after you’ve spread the filling and rolled them up. Then they get baked in the oven where they’ll increase in size even more. At this stage, I let them cool, and covered them with aluminum foil to place in the freezer. I removed them from the freezer the night before I wanted to serve them, and warmed them at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes before serving.

Flip them over onto a platter, or just a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, then tear apart, or slice to serve.

Having been sick all through Christmas (and still not recovered), I was grateful to be able to pull this out from the freezer and serve while we were opening our gifts.

It’s an indulgence to be sure, but oh so worth it for the holiday or a special occasion. You can start on your diets in the new year.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or whatever holiday you celebrate.

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Pecan Sticky Buns
 
Author:
Serves: 12 rolls
Ingredients
  • FOR THE DOUGH:
  • 1 packet active dry yeast ¼ ounce
  • ¾ cup warm water approximately 100 degrees F
  • ¾ cup warm milk approximately 100 degrees F
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup butter melted
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 5-5½ cups all purpose flour
  • cooking spray
  • FOR THE FILLING:
  • ½ cup butter softened
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • 2½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ cup currants or raisins
  • FOR THE TOPPING:
  • 2 cups pecans coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. FOR THE DOUGH:
  2. Place the water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  3. Add the packet of yeast and let the yeast dissolve in the water for 1 minute.
  4. Add the milk, sugar, butter, salt, eggs and 5 cups of flour to the bowl.
  5. Beat for 2-3 minutes or until a smooth dough forms.
  6. If the dough is sticky, add more flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.
  7. Switch to the dough hook, and knead the dough for 3-4 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
  8. Place the dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it sit for one hour, or until doubled in size.
  9. FOR THE FILLING:
  10. Place the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Stir until well combined.
  11. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a 18"x12" rectangle.
  12. Spread the filling mixture evenly all over the dough.
  13. Starting with the long end of the dough, roll it up tightly, jelly roll style. Pinch the seams to seal the end of the roll.
  14. Cut the roll into 12 equal slices.
  15. FOR THE TOPPING:
  16. Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat.
  17. Add the brown sugar, heavy cream, honey and salt, then bring to a boil.
  18. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 2-3 minutes until glaze is smooth and shiny.
  19. Pour ⅔ of the topping mixture into the bottom of a 9"x13" pan that's been coated in cooking spray. Reserve the rest of the topping for later use.
  20. Sprinkle the pecans over the sugar mixture, then place the rolls on top.
  21. Cover and let the rolls rise until they've doubled, this should take about one hour.
  22. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  23. Bake the rolls for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.
  24. Let the rolls sit for 5 minutes, then invert the pan onto a serving tray.
  25. Warm the reserved topping and drizzle it over the top, then serve.
 

Stuffed Pull-Apart Christmas Tree Bread Knots

Whether it’s a good French baguette or hefty Italian bastone, I love a good loaf of bread, and don’t need any extra incentives to eat more. But this one is irresistible and can weaken my resolve to consume fewer carbs. It’s an easy-to-make stuffed bread treat that’s a kissin’ cousin to pizza. Your family and friends will love it (unless they’re gluten intolerant). With a glass of wine and a side salad, it was dinner for me and my husband last night. We could have eaten the whole thing by ourselves, but we stopped before we became truly gluttinous. You don’t have to make it in a Christmas tree shape, but that certainly does make it festive for the holidays. You could simply make it in a circle or wreath shape, or in a square format. I started out with frozen pizza dough – about a one pound package. Of course, you can make your own dough, if you’ve got the time and inclination. But there’s enough going on at this time of year, that I take short cuts when I can find them.

Start out by rolling or stretching the dough to a rectangle that’s about 6 inches by 16 inches. Have cooked sausage (1 large piece of Italian sausage, with the casings removed — crumbled and cooked in olive oil.) and some shredded mozzarella cheese nearby. Cut the dough into 16 pieces. You’ll need 15 for the actual tree, and one for the stump.

Press the piece of dough into a square shape and into the center of each piece of dough, place a small bit of the sausage and some of the cheese. Pinch the ends together firmly to seal. Make sure none of the filling is visible or it will leak onto the baking sheet.

Arrange the balls into a Christmas tree shape, pinched ends underneath, with the stump (which you have also filled with cheese and sausage) at the bottom.

Brush with beaten egg and bake in the oven. As soon as it comes out of the oven, brush with the garlic-infused olive oil, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, parsley and bits of tomato to decorate. Serve immediately.

Bet you can’t eat just one!

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Stuffed Pull-Apart Bread Knots
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 uncooked pizza dough (about 1 pound)
  • mozzarella cheese, about 2 cups shredded, or 1 large ball
  • 1 cup cooked Italian sausage, crumbled and cooled
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ⅛ cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • a few sprigs of parsley, minced
  • marinara sauce, optional
Instructions
  1. Roll out the pizza dough into a rectangle, about 6 inches by 16 inches long.
  2. Cut the rectangle in half lengthwise, then cut each rectangle into 8 pieces.
  3. Flatten out each piece of dough into a square shape, then holding a piece of dough in your hand, stretch it a bit to accommodate a piece of sausage and a bit of the mozzarella cheese.
  4. Pinch the dough together, enveloping the filling inside the dough, shaping it into a ball.
  5. Place on a silicon baking mat, parchment paper or on a greased cookie sheet.
  6. If you're making a tree shape, you'll need 15 pieces, plus another one for the stump.
  7. If you're making a circle shape, make as many as will fit on your cookie sheet.
  8. After filling the dough, place on the Silpat mat, with the pinched side facing the baking sheet, making sure the dough balls touch each other slightly.
  9. Beat the egg and brush a little of the beaten egg over the dough balls.
  10. Bake in a preheated 15 to 20 minutes or until golden.
  11. While the dough is cooking, gently saute the garlic cloves in the olive oil.
  12. Drain the garlic, retaining the oil.
  13. Brush the oil over the dough, and sprinkle with the grated parmesan cheese and parsley.
  14. Decorate with bits of chopped tomato or roasted peppers.
  15. Serve immediately, with marinara sauce, if desired.
 

Torta Dolce di Ricotta with cranberry topping

Are you wondering what to serve for dessert during the holidays? This delicious and beautiful ricotta cheesecake would be perfect on your table, with its festive cranberry topping.

The recipe is from a wonderful cookbook called “Feast of the Seven Fishes” by Daniel Paterna. While the book contains many seafood recipes and is an ode to the Brooklyn neighborhood where Paterna was raised, this showstopper of a cheesecake really captured my attention. It’s shown without any topping in the book, and you could surely enjoy this cake even without any embellishment. Containing ricotta, rather than cream cheese, it’s not at all heavy and it’s easy to make too.

One tip — I didn’t roll out the crust with a rolling pin as the recipe says. I didn’t even refrigerate it for the recommended half hour. Using my hands, I pressed it into a disk over a piece of parchment paper, then kept pushing with my palm and fingers until it reached 14 inches in diameter.

I then lifted the parchment and pressed it into the greased pan. Don’t worry if some breaks off. It’s easily patched together.

Here’s what the cake looks like as I pulled it from the oven. It puffs up a bit from the eggs, but will sink a bit after removal from the oven.

The little recess on top is a perfect nest for the topping, if you choose to add one. I love cranberries and typically have leftover cranberries after Thanksgiving, but you could serve this plain and simply dusted with confectioner’s sugar, or use other fruit — raspberries, strawberries or whatever you like — to crown this beauty. Buone feste!

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Torta Dolce di Ricotta with cranberry topping
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • CRUST:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra to dust board and pan
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened, plus extra to grease the pan
  • 2 large eggs
  • FILLING:
  • 8 large eggs
  • 3 pounds ricotta cheese, drained of excess water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • juice of 1 orange
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • FOR THE CRANBERRY TOPPING:
  • 1 bag of fresh cranberries
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¾ sugar
  • zest of one orange
  • ¼ freshly squeezed orange juice
Instructions
  1. FOR THE CRANBERRY TOPPING:
  2. Place the cranberries, water, sugar, orange juice and orange zest in a pan.
  3. Turn the heat to high and cook until the cranberries are popping and release their juices.
  4. After about five minutes, remove from heat and refrigerate for a couple of hours, to thicken.
  5. FOR THE RICOTTA TORTA:
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan, then set aside.
  7. To make the crust, place the flour, sugar and zest on a pastry board or clean, dry flat surface.
  8. Mix thoroughly to combine.
  9. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients.
  10. Gather the mixture into a mound and create a well in the center.
  11. Add the eggs, beating with a fork and grabbing the dry mixture until the dough begins to form.
  12. Shape into a disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  13. Meanwhile, make the filling by combining the eggs, ricotta cheese, vanilla, sugar, orange zest, orange juice, lemon juice in a large mixing bowl.
  14. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
  15. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on a large board or clean, dry flat surface, lightly dusted with flour.
  16. Using a floured rolling pin (I just used my fingers and palms of my hand and pressed it onto a piece of parchment paper) roll the dough out into a large circle, approximately 14 inches in diameter.
  17. Now roll the dough over the rolling pin and carefully unwind it over the baking pan, gently easing it to fit evenly in the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
  18. (I lifted up the parchment paper and placed the dough into the pan. Don't worry if some of it breaks. You can easily patch it.)
  19. Pour or spoon the filling mixture into the crust, leaving about ¼ inch below the rim of the pan.
  20. Place the pan in a preheated oven and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the center is slighy firm.
  21. Cool for at least 2 hours.
  22. Spread the cranberry topping over the cake.
  23. Carefully run a knife or spatula around the sides of the pan to remove it, so that no crust is pulled away when you release the spring of the pan.
 

Crumb-topped Pumpkin Muffins

Fall is the season for squash of all kinds – pumpkins, butternut, acorn and many other types, and I love them all. Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing however. After making the stuffed pumpkin from my previous post, we finished all the stuffing and some of the pumpkin flesh, but after three days, we were still left with a lot and were bored with eating buttered pumpkin again. Rather than continue to eat it all as a vegetable, I took some of it and whirred it in the food processor to use in these muffins.

I found the recipe on the internet from a website called Celebrating Sweets, and let me tell you, the muffin part was delicious and a great way to use up some of the leftover pumpkin, but that crumb topping — oh my. It just took the muffins to a new level. I think I’m going to keep cooking up more pumpkins just to have the leftover for these muffins. Or maybe I’ll just buy a can of pureed pumpkin instead and make it easy on myself. I may pour the batter into a cake tin and make this as a cake next time.

Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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Crumb-topped Pumpkin Muffins
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE CRUMB TOPPING:
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
  • scant ½ cup all purpose flour
  • FOR THE MUFFINS:
  • 1½ cups all purpose flour see note
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • ⅔ cup light brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup canola, vegetable or melted coconut oil
  • 1¼ cups canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • FOR THE CINNAMON ICING:
  • Cinnamon icing:
  • 5 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1-2 teaspoons milk more, if needed
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Instructions
  1. FOR THE CRUMB TOPPING:
  2. In a medium bowl, combine sugars, cinnamon, salt, and melted butter.
  3. Whisk until combined.
  4. Add flour, and stir until the flour is combined.
  5. Set aside.
  6. FOR THE MUFFINS:
  7. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  8. Grease a 12 cup muffin tin, or line with paper liners.
  9. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon/spice, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  10. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, brown sugar, oil, pumpkin puree and vanilla, until combined.
  11. Add flour mixture, and stir until combined (I use a rubber spatula), being careful not to over-mix.
  12. Divide the batter between 12 muffin cups.
  13. Pinch off small pieces of the crumb topping and scatter them over the tops of each muffin.
  14. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.
  15. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then remove the muffins from the pan and place on the rack to cool completely.
  16. FOR THE ICING:
  17. Whisk all ingredients until smooth.
  18. Adjust the consistency by adding more powdered sugar (to thicken) or more milk (to thin). Use a small spoon to drizzle icing over the tops of the cooled muffins.
 

Baked Stuffed Pumpkin

UPDATE TO ORIGINAL POST

I had to update this post to let you know that as much as I loved this recipe the first time I made it, with a “traditional” pumpkin that cropped up in my son’s garden totally by accident (a so-called “volunteer” plant), I made it again for my book group with a purchased “cheese pumpkin,” and it was a game changer. The squat, tan-colored cheese pumpkin doesn’t taste anything like cheese, but is named that because of its resemblance to a wheel of cheese.

The interior is brightly colored orange, and is related to butternut squash. It has a sweet flesh that tastes  much like butternut squash and is superior over traditional pumpkins for both savory or sweet dishes, including pumpkin pie.

I filled it with the same recipe I used in the original post, even though the cheese pumpkin weighed twice as much as the pumpkin in the original post. The filling came only about 2/3 of the way up the pumpkin rather than all the way up to the top.  No matter, the filling rises somewhat after baking because of the eggs. It’s actually better not to fill the pumpkin all the way to the top anyway, since otherwise, there won’t be room for the lid to fit securely.

Here’s what the pumpkin looked like about about 2 1/2 hours in the oven. Be sure to remove the lid after about two hours of cooking because the pumpkin contained a lot of water. I actually drained away the water from the pan after removing the lid, then placed it back in the oven without the lid to “brown” the stuffing.

Another tip is to cube the bread and toss with the melted butter in a cookie sheet, rather than brown the bread cubes in a skillet as I did originally. Toast the bread cubes with melted butter in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes, stirring them a few times to brown them evenly. Also, after the pumpkin has been roasting for a couple of hours, you may want to cover the sides so that they don’t burn (but keep the top uncovered in order to promote browning of the stuffing).

ORIGINAL POST:

I just love it when Mother Nature gives you some of her bounty without your even trying. It happened recently when a butternut squash grew in my garden as a “volunteer” plant among my rose bushes, and again when my son discovered a long vine with several pumpkins he hadn’t planted growing in his front yard. Either the birds or the wind carried seeds to these new places that provided fertile ground for the welcome plants.

We weren’t sure at first what kind of squash or pumpkin we were dealing with, since it was green for so long.

But as the cold weather progressed, the pumpkin started to turn orange on the bottom.

And the interior certainly looked like the typical orange jack o’lantern. I decided to use my lagniappe in a recipe I’d read about long ago in a memoir called “A Thousand Days in Venice” by Marlena De Blasi. I made several adjustments however, since I felt the amount of cheese in it was excessive (believe me, there’s still a lot of cheese in it). It would also make a spectacular showstopper dish at the Thanksgiving table.

Start by carving out the lid, and scooping out all the stringy stuff and seeds from inside.

Take some good bread (I used ciabatta) and cube it, tossing it in butter until browned.

Saute some mushrooms and onions in butter, adding some fresh sage leaves to give a bit more flavor.

Mix the mushrooms and onions with eggs and three different kinds of cheese – mascarpone, Emmanthaler and Parmesan. Marlena’s recipe calls for three cups of mascarpone, but I cut that way back to one cup and it was just fine. I cut back the amounts on the other cheeses too, and the dish was still plenty cheese flavored.

Layer the cheese mixture into the pumpkin with the bread, making several layers and ending with the cheese mixture.

Place the lid on top and bake in the oven for about 1 1/2 – 2 hours, removing the lid for the final 20 minutes to brown the top. Pierce the flesh with a knife to see if it’s soft and if it’s not, leave it in the oven a bit longer.

Remove from the oven and bring to the table amid oohs and aahs. Scoop out some of the flesh and some of the pumpkin for each person. We had lots of leftover pumpkin after the stuffing was all gone, and it was great for leftovers one night. But I blitzed the rest in a food processor and used it to make the best pumpkin muffins I’ve ever eaten. Stay tuned in the next blog post for that recipe.

By the way, if your pumpkin was too small to hold all the stuffing, place the rest in small buttered ramekins and bake them another night. They make a great side dish — a kind of mushroom bread pudding.

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Baked Stuffed Pumpkin
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large pumpkin (about 5 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion (about 2 cups minced)
  • 12 ounces sliced mushrooms (I used baby portobello, but a mixtured of fresh mushrooms and dried porcini would be great)
  • fresh sage leaves
  • sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 3 ounces parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces Emmenthaler cheese (or Gruyere or Comte)
  • 3 whole eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons butter for toasting the bread
  • 6 slices hearty bread, cubed (about four cups)
Instructions
  1. Cut the bread into cubes (I didn't trim the crusts).
  2. Melt the 4 tablespoons butter in a frying pan and add the bread, tossing it to brown all around.
  3. (I did this in two batches so each piece of bread could rest flatly on the pan.)
  4. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter and add the onion and mushrooms, cooking until softened and the mushrooms give up their liquid.
  5. Season with salt and pepper
  6. I also added some sage leaves to the above to flavor them.
  7. Beat the eggs lightly with a whisk, then add the cheesesm and nutmeg and stir well.
  8. Remove the lid from the pumpkin and clean out the cavity of all its seeds and strings.
  9. Into the cavity place one third of the cheese/egg mixture, then layer half the bread cubes over it.
  10. Repeat again with another third of the cheese/egg mixture and the rest of the bread cubes, finishing with the remainder of the cheese/egg mixture.
  11. If you have more than you need, put the rest in a buttered casserole and cook it separately another time.
  12. Place the lid on the pumpkin and place the pumpkin on a heavy baking pan or cookie sheet.
  13. Bake at 375 degrees for 1½ - 2 hours, removing the lid during the last 20 to brown the top.
  14. Test the pumpkin to see if its cooked by piercing the flesh with a knife.
  15. It should be soft.
  16. Serve immediately, scooping out portions of the pumpkin with the stuffing.
 

Lemon Sheet Cake

Are you a fan of the Great British Baking Show? It’s a competition show, but not at all like the American baking shows, where the participants can be cutthroat and nasty. Instead, everyone is so supportive of the fellow bakers, and you feel genuinely sorry when someone gets eliminated. The show is my antidote to when the bad news cycle gets me down. It’s a feel-good show that always makes me want to rush to the kitchen and bake something.

Recently, I was searching for a recipe to use some of the lemons that had ripened on my indoor lemon tree. I almost hate picking them, but the one year I left them on the tree to admire them longer than I should have, they were dried out by the time I harvested them. So this year, I made haste to pick two lemons as soon as they turned completely yellow. They were bursting with juice and I was bursting with a desire to bake something with them.

I turned to a recipe from the “Classic” cookbook by Mary Berry, former host of The Great British Baking Show, and a noted British food writer. I was gifted the cookbook last year by my daughter’s boyfriend, when the two of them came from London for Christmas. The ingredients are posted in metric, and since I use a kitchen scale, it was easy to proceed as written. However, I made a few adjustments — substituting butter for the “cold baking spread” called for in the recipe, adding some limoncello to get more lemony flavor and a couple of other changes. While I was weighing the ingredients, I also measured them in cups, so I could write the recipe for American readers who might not use a kitchen scale. However if you don’t have a kitchen scale, I highly recommend you get one. They’re infinitely useful, and so much more accurate for baking than using measuring cups.

I also made twice the amount of icing and decorated with colorful pistachios I had stashed in the freezer from a trip to Sicily last year. Toasted slivered almonds would be great here too, or just use the lemon zest called for in the recipe. Either way, the cake is delicious with its strong lemony flavor and tender, delicate crumb. It also feeds a crowd, so keep that in mind next time you’re invited to bring something to an event.

Incidentally, the winner of the copper water pitcher giveaway (chosen by a random number computer-driven generator)  is Karen, of Karen Cooks.

Click here to connect with me on Instagram and find out what Ciao Chow Linda is up to in the kitchen (and other places too.

Lemon Sheet Cake
 
Adapted from Double Lemon Traybake from "Classic" by Mary Berry
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE CAKE:
  • 225 grams (8 ounces) cold baking spread or 2 sticks butter plus more for greasing
  • 225 grams (8 ounces) caster sugar - or 1¾ cups superfine sugar
  • 275 grams (10 ounces) or 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons lemon curd
  • 1 tablespoon limoncello
  • finely grated zest of 2 lemons
  • FOR THE ICING:
  • 8 tablespoplons lemon juuice
  • 2 tablespoons limoncello
  • 4 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • grated zest of 1 lemon OR chopped pistachios OR toasted, slivered almonds (to decorate)
Instructions
  1. Line a 9 x 12 inch pan with parchment paper and grease well.
  2. The original recipe tells you to add all the ingredients, including "cold baking spread" together and beat well for two minutes.
  3. I was doubtful of this procedure, so I used room temperature butter and beat it together with the sugar until smooth and light.
  4. Add all the rest of the ingredients (except the decoration) and beat for about two minutes until well blended.
  5. Turn the mixture into the prepared baking pan and smooth out the top.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees about 30-35 minutes until the cake has shrunk a bit from the sides of the pan and springs back when pressed in the middle.
  7. Cool completely.
  8. Add the lemon juice and limoncello to the confectioner's sugar and mix until you get a thick, but somewhat runny consistency.
  9. Pour half of the icing on the cooled cake and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the remaining icing (to avoid getting a "crust.")
  10. Let the icing on the cake harden somewhat for an hour or so, then spread the rest of the icing over the first layer, smoothing it out with a spatula.
  11. Sprinkle the top with the pistachios, or slivered toasted almonds, or just grated lemon peel.
 

Gnocchi Alla Romana with Butternut Squash

This post contains original content by me and is sponsored by La Cucina Italiana

When most Americans think of gnocchi, they think of those soft little cushions of dough made with flour, potatoes and eggs and served with a tomato or pesto sauce. But there’s an entirely different type of gnocchi made with semolina flour called gnocchi alla Romana.

As you can guess, it’s a Roman dish that is served in a casserole hot from the oven, golden and crunchy on top. Talk about comfort food — these just melt in your mouth. They make a great primo piatto, or first course, but I frequently serve them as a starchy side dish with a roast, or even some meatballs or braciole. I decided to give the traditional gnocchi alla Romana a little twist and added some small cubes of roasted butternut squash. But they’re equally delicious without the squash if you prefer them plain.

Detailed instructions are in the recipe below, but you start by mixing the semolina flour with milk and butter until it’s very stiff. Many people recommend warming the milk first, but in my experience, you’re less likely to get lumps if you start out with cold milk. Keep stirring so it doesn’t burn on the bottom, and when it’s thick enough to hold a wooden spoon upright, you’re there.

You need eggs to make the gnocchi “puff up” in the oven, but if you stir the eggs directly into the pan with the hot gnocchi mixture, you’re going to wind up with scrambled eggs. So you need to temper the eggs first. To do this, place the eggs in a measuring cup and whisk them together. Then add a bit of the hot gnocchi mixture to the measuring cup, whisking all the time. Keep adding a few more tablespoons at a time, whisking vigorously each time, until the temperature of the mixture has warmed slightly and become a little thick. Now it’s safe to add this mixture into the large pot with the rest of the semolina gnocchi mixture, stirring all the while to blend everything together well.

Stir in the cooked bits of squash.

Then spread it out on a cookie sheet that you first moisten with a little water. Let it cool in the refrigerator several hours or overnight (covered with plastic wrap if overnight.)

Use a cookie or biscuit cutter (or even the rim of a glass) to cut circles about two to three inches in diameter.
Arrange in a buttered pan.

Generously sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.

Bake in the oven until golden and crispy on top.

Make extra, because they are always a hit and you’ll want leftovers. They’re easy to reheat in the oven or microwave the next day.

Connect with me on Instagram and find out what Ciao Chow Linda is up to in the kitchen (and other places too.)

Gnocchi Alla Romana with Butternut Squash
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 6-8 people
Ingredients
  • 1 cup butternut squash, diced into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt, pepper
  • 9 oz. semolina (1¼ cup)
  • 1½ quarts of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of white pepper
  • a few gratings of nutmeg
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Peel the butternut squash and dice into small pieces.
  2. Toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. (I use herbed salt that I make from fresh herbs.)
  4. Roast the squash in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes, turning once.
  5. Remove squash from oven and set aside.
  6. Place the milk and the semolina in a saucepan.
  7. Many people tell you to heat the milk first, then add the semolina, but I find it gets lumpy that way, so I start with cold milk and add the semolina directly.
  8. Whisk it constantly, adding half the stick of butter (4 tablespoons), the salt, the white pepper and the nutmeg.
  9. After about five minutes, it will thicken quite a bit, and you can switch from stirring with the whisk to a wooden spoon.
  10. Keep stirring another ten minutes until the mixture is very thick.
  11. Remove from the heat and add half the parmesan cheese.
  12. Whisk the eggs in a glass measuring cup or bowl.
  13. Don't add the eggs directly into the hot gnocchi mixture or you might wind up with scrambled eggs.
  14. Instead, add a small amount - maybe a few tablespoons - of the gnocchi mixture to the eggs, stirring quickly with a whisk to incorporate.
  15. Do this a few times until the mixture is thickened and homogenized.
  16. Add the egg mixture back to the gnocchi mixture and stir in the reserved squash.
  17. Wet a cookie sheet (one with raised edges) with a little water.
  18. Spread the gnocchi mixture on the cookie sheet, to an even thickness of about ¾ inch.
  19. Place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator and let it cool for at least four hours or overnight.
  20. Take a round cookie cutter, or biscuit cutter, or even the edge of a glass, and cut out circles, about two to three inches in diameter.
  21. Grease an oven proof casserole, and place the rounds inside, overlapping slightly.
  22. Make a second layer, but don't completely cover up the first layer around the edges, since you want them to get some browning too.
  23. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gnocchi, then sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup parmesan cheese.
  24. Bake uncovered, at 400 degrees, for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
 

Vegetable and Swiss Chard Stalk Soup and a Giveaway

Please don’t tell me you’re one of those people who buys Swiss chard and throws away the stalks. They’re equally as delicious as the leaves, but many people are in a quandry knowing what to do with them. They make great fritters, something my mom made when we were growing up, (recipe here), but another way to use them is in a vegetable soup — perfect for the fall weather that is descending on us here in the Northeastern U.S.

These are the stalks from some multi-colored Swiss chard my father grew in his garden. Just chop them up into small bits, along with the leaves and follow the recipe below.

After you’ve sautéed the onion and garlic, add all the rest of the ingredients to the pot and let it simmer for about a 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. I also added in some fresh corn, since it was summer when I took these photos and corn flavor was at its peak. Add more liquid (water or chicken stock) to the pot if necessary.

Grate some parmesan cheese over the top and serve with some hearty toasted bread that’s been drizzled with olive oil and salt. Enjoy a healthy and delicious bowl of soup.

And while we’re on the subject of healthy, I received this water pitcher from Shantiva and so can you. Aside from serving water in a beautiful, hand-hammered copper pitcher, drinking from a copper vessel has health advantages too, according to Shantiva’s webpage. Water from a copper pitcher can enhance digestion, decrease the risk of bacterial infection, improve cardiovascular and thyroid health and stimulate the brain, among other things. Who wouldn’t want that? Shantiva has graciously agreed to send one of my readers one of these lovely pitchers. All you need to do is leave a comment on this post (NOT in an email) and tell me what healthy food you like to consume after indulging in what you think is bad eating. And don’t forget to leave a way for me to contact you — whether through email or through a blog you may also write.

Click here to connect with me on Instagram and find out what Ciao Chow Linda is up to in the kitchen (and other places too.

Vegetable and Swiss Chard Stalk Soup and a Giveaway
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large bunch of Swiss chard, stalks diced and leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup of fresh tomatoes, diced (or one small can diced tomatoes)
  • 1 small can cannellini beans
  • 1 cup of green beans, cut into small pieces
  • kernels from two ears of corn (optional)
  • 6 cups either water or chicken broth, or a combination of both
  • a parmesan cheese rind
  • a nice handful of parsley, minced
  • salt, pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Pour the olive oil into a large pot and saute the onion and garlic until soft on low temperature. Do not let them brown. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the green beans and the parsley, and let everything cook together for about ½ hour. If you have fresh corn, add the kernels from that too. Add more water or chicken broth if the soup is too thick.
  2. Add the green beans and cook until they are tender, about ten minutes.
  3. Stir the parsley at the last minute before serving, to get a fresher taste.
  4. Remove the parmesan cheese rind, and serve with grated parmesan and Italian bread that's been toasted and smeared with olive oil and salt.