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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

cranberry-infused vodka

quel autumnal treat. cranberries get their tough skins popped with boiling water, then surrender their color and tart cranberry flavor to a bottle of vodka. the result is delicious, and absolutely beautiful.

cranberry-infused vodka

1 pint fresh cranberries
750 ml vodka (we used finlandia-- guy at the liquor store said it's best for infusions)
big ol' jar with tight-fitting lid

wash cranberries and remove any stems and leaves. in a large bowl, cover the berries with boiling water in order to pop the skins. they even make a popping sound!

drain the berries and put them in a jar big enough to hold 750 ml of vodka. pour in the booze. cover with tight-fitting lid, swish around, and let sit in a dark spot for about 3 weeks. taste periodically.  

this is the color after 23 days. so lovely!

line a colander with two layers of cheesecloth and position it over a large bowl, preferably with a pour spout. i used my 4-cup measuring bowl. strain vodka and pour it into a clean bottle for storing. 

i was serious about it being tart! this has a ton of cranberry awesomeness, but it needs a little something sweet added to any cocktail you make with it. i've imagined muddled sweet orange and a sprinkle of cinnamon, maybe a dash of simple syrup, but haven't tried anything yet. i gave half of this batch to rob's sister-- she's an adventurous cocktail mixer, so i'm hoping she'll come up with something great and tell me about it!

cranberries from eatonville farms

Monday, November 22, 2010

quick-pickled fall veggies

due to a series of events taking us out of the house at night lately-- my birthday, huskies games at the bar, pool with friends-- i haven't really cooked anything in a couple of weeks, which feels like years. not only have we been eating out and bringing home leftovers, but after a time of having someone else prepare our meals, it's easy to get a little lazy about being in the kitchen. brent olsen from olsen farms even commented this weekend at the farmers market, "hey, good to see ya. it's been a while!" yes, brent, it's sadly true. because we've been ordering pizza. (and please don't make me admit that there's one in the fridge even now, as i type...)

but, i'm vowing to break the cycle, just as soon as we get through the tower of leftovers we collected this weekend.

anyway, pickles! the culinary world has gone pickle-mad, a fact i've only recently uncovered. seems most of the menus we see these days include some sort of pickled goodie, and it could be absolutely anything. pickled raisins, pickled shallots, pickled stem of chard...

we recently went to poppy, jerry traunfeld's restaurant, for seattle restaurant week. one of the small plates on the thali tray was a dish of pickled eggplant and cucumber, and it was one of the many, many standout tastes we had that night. enter my bible, also known as jerry's cookbook, the herbal kitchen, offering a chance to recreate his pickled glory at home. i made a few substitutions based on what i had on hand, including using about a quarter of the herbs he called for (as much as my little thyme plant could spare), and using half white wine vinegar and half champagne vinegar. his were better, for sure, but these were still amazingly good. they are crunchy, crisp, and full of flavor without being too saturated in overpowering acid. the vegetables maintain their original character, so make sure you start with high-quality produce. the fennel was my favorite, rob's was the cauliflower.

we had them alongside a grossly overcooked and under-seasoned pork chop. go me!

pickled fall vegetables
adapted from jerry traunfeld's herbed fresh vegetable pickle in the herbal kitchen

1/2 cup kosher salt
2 quarts cool water
2 quarts prepared vegetables, such as carrots cut into matchsticks, thin sliced fennel bulb, cauliflower florets, and cucumbers seeded and cut into half moons
a couple of tablespoons of chopped fennel frond
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup champagne vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes
3 dry bay leaves
handful of lemon thyme sprigs

stir the salt in the cool water until it dissolves. in large ceramic or glass bowl, submerge the vegetables and chopped fennel frond in the brine and let sit for 4 to 6 hours. the veggies wanted to float, so i put a deep plate on top of the bowl to keep them submerged.

bring the vinegars, sugar, 2 cups water, chili flakes and bay leaves to a boil in a saucepan. add the herbs, stir, and remove pan from heat. let mixture cool to room temparature.

drain the vegetables from the brine and return them to bowl. pour over pickling liquid (again, keep 'em submerged) and refrigerate overnight. that's it!

before dinner i scooped our servings out of the brine and let them mellow for about a half hour. the leftovers stored in the brine for another day, which i then drained for good, fearing that they would get more acidic and more floppy over time. don't know if that was the right thing to do, but then again, we ate them all up in 3 days anyway!

cauliflower-- growing things farm
fennel-- willie greens organic farm
cucumber-- alvarez farm

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

butternut squash lasagna

i generally prefer to use this space and the recipes featured to say either "this was great, go for it," or "that didn't work-- continuing search." what i really don't like to say is, "well, this was good, but it was tricky, because the recipe was poorly written, and i guess i muddled through it well enough to end up with a dish rob and i both liked." nope, i don't relish that kind of post at all, and for the most part i don't write them.  i'm bothering with this post because it really was good, but it's going to be up to the reader/cook to decide how to approach a recipe that is well conceived yet badly written, as i had to do. 

the recipe is a butternut squash lasagna from giada de laurentiis. it's essentially a white lasagna in which pureed butternut squash takes the place of ricotta. great idea, and great flavors. but the recipe has major-league trouble with the math. you can make a 3-layer lasagna using a third of the squash and cheese, or make it 4 layers using a quarter of the fillings each time. but, you can't use a third of the squash and "repeat layering 3 more times" as the recipe instructs. you just can't. (not to mention that 3 1/2 cups of sauce isn't used up after 3 *or* 4 layers asking for 1/2 cup each...) we made a 3-layer version, and that's the recipe (as best i remember) i've typed out below.

back to the good. this lasagna is super yum, and not very cheesy at all. the basil bechamel sauce is rich and wonderful (though i did not use all of it), but the lasagna itself remains rather light, at least compared to the other one i make full of sausage and about 4 1/2 pounds of cheese. be careful on the seasoning-- it can turn out rather bland if the butternut puree doesn't get plenty of salt and pepper. adding parmesean to each layer could accomplish this, too. oh, and i left out the amaretti cookies the recipe calls for-- i just couldn't bring myself to believe that cookies have a place in lasagna. 

butternut squash lasagna
adapted from giada de laurentiis at

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 2lb butternut squash
salt and pepper
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk 
pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cup lightly packed basil leaves
12 no-boil lasagna noodles (the ones that go 4 across the length of the pan, not the long ones that go 3 across longways. make sense?)
2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup parmesean cheese

peel, seed, and cube the squash. i do this by chopping it into sections of about 4-5 inches, then cut off the tough peel with a sharp knife. remove any seeds, usually in the bottom half of the squash, and cut into 1-inch cubes.

heat oil in large skillet over medium heat and toss in squash cubes and salt and pepper. add water and cook, covered, until tender and gloppy, about 20 minutes. stir occasionally. process squash in food processor until a smooth puree. process with a tiny bit of water if it seems too thick. season to taste with salt and pepper-- IMPORTANT!

melt butter in a heavy bottom saucepan. add flour and whisk one minute. gradually add milk, whisking. bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until thickened, whisking regularly. careful not to burn it. remove from heat, whisk in the nutmeg, and allow to cool slightly. move half of sauce to a blender and blend with the basil leaves until smooth. return basil sauce to sauce pan and stir to combine. season with salt and pepper. 

preheat oven to 375.

butter a 9x13" baking dish. spread 3/4 cup sauce in dish and top with 4 noodles, overlapping slightly. spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles,  then 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, and 3/4 cup of the sauce. repeat layering 2 more times, ending with squash, cheese, and as much of the sauce as you want. i did not use all of the sauce, just topped the dish off with enough that when it ran down into the sides of the pan, it basically came to the top of the noodles. this amount worked well enough. 

cover tightly with foil and bake 40 minutes. remove foil, sprinkle with the parmesean cheese and the remaining mozzarella, and bake uncovered until browning and bubbly, about 15 minutes. let sit 15 minutes before serving.

butternut squash from alm hill gardens
the final, somewhat pitiful basil leaves from our herb patch

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

cauliflower soup from the pioneer woman

a couple of weeks ago i threw out my second attempt at cauliflower soup. both times i'd read a few recipes and thought, meh, i'll just wing it. and both times, it was AWFUL. (granted, the second time was because i blended the bay leaf into the soup. again. but still. awful.) so, i did what anyone else would do in such a situation-- i turned to facebook. i asked my friends, "friends, can you send me a good cauliflower soup recipe?" and one came through in a major way. she sent me to the blog the pioneer woman. "try this one," she said. "i have never gone wrong with pioneer woman."

so i did. and now i've never gone wrong with pioneer woman! this soup was so freaking good. creamy, buttery, tangy, full of perfect, wonderful cauliflower... rob was even mentioning it a couple of days later. it was great that night, and heated easily for my lunch for most of the week. we cranked out a loaf of bread in the bread machine and there it was, a perfect fall dinner. (it's also great with crackers!)

so thanks, caitlin and pioneer woman, for my cauliflower soup success!

the pioneer woman's cauliflower soup
serves 4
(she has amazing step-by-step photos for this soup, so for sure go check out her post!)

1/2 stick butter, divided
1/4 onion, finely diced
1/2 - 1 carrot, finely diced
1/2 - 1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 whole head cauliflower, roughly chopped into florets (i tried to keep most of the florets whole and bite-sized, then chopped a few down into small bits in order to give the soup extra texture)
1 Tbps fresh parsley, chopped
1 quart chicken broth, homemade if you have it
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream (PW calls for half and half. but it was raining. and i had heavy cream at home.)
sour cream

melt 2 Tbsp of the butter in a heavy-bottom soup pot. add the onion and cook for a few minutes. add carrots and celery, cook a few minutes more, stirring occasionally. add cauliflower and parsley and stir well.

cover, reduce heat to very low, and cook 15 minutes. (i thought this step seemed weird, since there's no liquid in the pot, but it effectively seemed to steam the cauliflower.) add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer.

in small bowl, whisk flour and milk to combine well. melt the remaining 2 Tbsp butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. slowly add the flour/milk mixture to the butter, whisking all the while. keep whisking! in a few minutes, it will suddenly thicken. when it does, remove from heat and stir in the cream or half and half.

add cream mixture to the soup and stir. simmer another 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. season to taste with salt and pepper.

to serve, ladle into bowl and stir in a spoonful of sour cream. garnish with fresh parsley.