Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Thanksgiving Miracle...Side Dish


Something is amiss. It's Thanksgiving Eve Eve, and our menu isn't set yet. All I know is that I need mashed potatoes and a good yeast roll, but everything else is in flux--it looks like we'll have a pretty nontraditional meal, as this is a mostly vegetarian household and I'm not dedicated enough to eat an entire turkey by myself.

If you're like me, you're probably scrambling for inspiration to round out your buffet on Thursday. Allow me to introduce you to the dish that just might get you out of dishwashing duty: butternut squash risotto.



Friends, I know I've emailed this recipe to at least half of my faithful followers. I have printed out copies and left them on coworkers' desk, like a benevolent squash fairy. I fed it to my mother last year in Virginia, sans cheese, while she was on a mushy-foods only diet, and to Aaron's family, including their Swedish exchange student. So already, this squash has been around, and now it has come to you, just in time to be surrounded by poultry, cranberry sauce, and all things pumpkin.

This risotto is so delicious--it hits all the right spots that comfort food should hit. It warms up nicely the next day, but it never lasts much longer than that around here. Bonus points: It's gluten free and vegetarian, so it covers some ground for special-diet guests. (Vegans, I'm sorry--try this stir fry instead!) It's also really easy. The hardest part is not eating all of the roasted squash off of the jelly roll pan. It's like candy! 

Actually, the hardest part about this recipe is peeling and cutting the squash. A lot of stores sell it pre-cubed, which is awesome, but there's wiggle room in my grocery budge for either super-convenient vegetables or chocolate, and I think you know which one I always pick. 

Now, if I were a great planner, I'd have uploaded my own video about how to handle a butternut squash without losing a finger, but I'm not that savvy yet. In the meantime, here are the basics:
  • Peel that bad boy with a vegetable peeler. It usually takes me two to four passes with a peeler, so keep peeling until you hit bright orange flesh--the squash's, not yours.
  • With a large, sharp knife on a large and stable cutting board, chop off the ends. If you can't quite chop them off, get your knife in there, then rotate the squash slowly to each side to coax the knife through the squash.
  • Still being very careful, cut through the squash between the straight part and the bulb part.
  • Cube the cylindrical part as you would cube a potato. Cut the bulb in half, scoop out the seeds (I use a large serving spoon for this--the trick is to try to scrape out the top layer of flesh, not just the seeds. The flesh is easier to scrape out than the seeds.) Now cube that part. 

Until I decide I'm camera ready--which, let's be honest, may not be for a while considering my mashed potatoes and yeast roll plans this week--here's a handy video on conquering the mightiest of squashes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3OjXE349-Q

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! Have I told you lately how thankful I am? I am. I'm so very happy, and appreciate you all! Now, leave me a comment and tell me what you're most excited to eat this week! I need help figuring out what else to eat!

Butternut Squash Risotto
from Gourmet

1 (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 1/2 cups broth (I used Better than Bouillon vegetable concentrate & hot water)
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus additional for serving
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 F. Toss squash with oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet and spread out in one layer. Roast, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender and golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven.

About 10 minutes before squash is done, bring stock to a simmer in a 2- or 3-quart heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and keep at a bare simmer.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy 4-quart, wide saucepan over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer, stirring, until absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add 1 cup simmering stock and cook, stirring constantly and keeping it at a strong simmer, until absorbed. Continue cooking and adding stock about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until the rice is tender and creamy-looking but still al dente, 18-23 minutes. There will be a little stock left over.

Turn off the heat, stir in the roasted squash, cheese, chives, and remaining 2 tablespoons butter. If desired, thin risotto with some of the remaining broth. Serve immediately, with additional grated cheese.



Sunday, November 3, 2013

Whoopie!


I thought I’d have this post up before red cup season, but it snuck up on me. November 1? I won’t complain. It just means that peppermint mocha time is already here. It also means pumpkin-everything season. I’ve made pumpkin lattes, pumpkin gnocchi with browned butter and mushrooms, pumpkin brownies, and pumpkin muffins, but pumpkin whoopie pies are my favorite pumpkin treat. Whoopie pie, you say? Whoopie! 



They're kind of a cookie/cake hybrid, but more cake than cookie. Once you pair them with icing--in this case, a cream cheese and cinnamon buttercream spiked with maple syrup--it really doesn’t matter what they are, because all you'll remember is that they're amazing.



I took these to a party a few years ago, and someone described them as IEDs of flavor. That should tell you how delicious these are. It should also tell you that I run with a bit of a nerdy crowd sometimes.

Nerdy or not, if you like anything pumpkin-related, or if you run with a crowd who loves pumpkin, these may just usurp your current pumpkin king, knocking that red cup right off his head. Plus, this also gives you a chance to tell your friends, "I spent all afternoon making whoopie....pies." What more could you ask for?



Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Adapted from Rachael Ray

Cakes
1 stick of butter, melted
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup canned pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
1 2/3 cup flour

Icing
½ stick of butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar (sifted, if you're picky about lumpy icing)
2 pinches salt
½ tsp cinnamon
4 oz. cream cheese, chilled
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar until it’s smooth. Whisk in the eggs, pumpkin puree, pumpkin spice, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour.

Drop 12 mounds of batter from a tablespoon, spaced evenly, onto each cookie sheets. Bake until springy to the touch, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely, and begin making the icing.

Using an electric mixer, cream the softened butter with the cream cheese. Add the sugar, salt, cinnamon, vanilla, and maple syrup, and mix on low speed until blended, then beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about two minutes.

Top the flat sides of each cakes with the frosting, then top each with another cake. Store in an airtight container.