butternut squash & apple soup du jour

seriously, how can it be November? we’ve officially come face to face with blustery cold days and frequent rain storms. on my regular trip to the market, i find butternut squash on sale for just $0.99/lbs! without a recipe in mind, i decided to pick one up.

the lonely squash stared at me from the counter for some 9 days as the search for an appetizing meal played on. and then suddenly, déjà vu. this time, last year, butternut squash, counter. i recalled last year trying out a butternut squash soup recipe on some friends, which was given a mediocre review of a bit too thick for soup and more resemblant of a baby food.

how gross, i thought. but i’m sure i can do better. so this time around, i decided to axe up the recipe by replacing sauteed apples with apple sauce and a touch of apple juice, and one additional cup of chicken stock.

the result was dreamy. the perfect creamy soup, hold the cream. a healthy take on fall with a warm cup of butternut squash & apple soup, finished with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg.

butternut squash soup

one butternut squash (2 1/2 lbs or so)

2 cups of water

2 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp butter

1 cup applesauce

1 small yellow onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic

1/4 c apple juice

2  1/4 c chicken stock

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp white pepper

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp coriander

preheat oven to 400°. slice squash lengthwise and remove the seeds. place sliced side down into baking pan with two cups of water. bake at 400° for 45-50 minutes, or until the squash is tender. remove from oven and allow to cool, until the pulp can be easily removed from the skins. this should give you approximately 3c of pulp.

saute diced onions in butter until translucent (5 mins). add applesauce and minced garlic. simmer for another 5 minutes. add chicken stock, apple juice, squash pulp, salt, pepper, and spices. whisk ingredients together and bring to a boil. lower heat to medium and reduce for about 10 minutes.

puree the soup in your food processor or food mill. keep warm over low heat and serve immediately. top with creme fraiche and cinnamon for a special treat. enjoy!

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halibut cheek sliders; cherry compote

for anyone who hasn’t had the luxury of indulging in halibut cheeks, i’m sorry. they aren’t easy to come by, but when you stumble across them they are a must have. this mild white fish cheek compares favorably against lobster tail, without the added work.

the halibut cheeks can be sautéed in a white wine, lemon, garlic, and butter pan for about 5-7 minutes – until thoroughly cooked. the texture is much different from a fillet with the shape and density resembling miniature lobster tails.

i served my sliders with mustard greens, red onion, cheeks, and cherry compote - though the dish would also complement well with garlicky aioli. the delicious juicy bing cherries were irresistible at the market. in fact, i used the remaining cherries to whip up an unforgettable cherry almond scone (coming soon…).

 

halibut cheek sliders

3/4 lbs of halibut cheek

1 lemon

3 garlic cloves – minced

1/2 c white wine (dry)

2tbsp butter

salt/pepper

slider buns (recommended: brioche rolls)

mustard greens

saute garlic and butter, add juice from one lemon and 1/2 c white wine. lightly salt and pepper your cheeks. simmer the sauce and add the cheeks, cooking for about 5-7 minutes or until thoroughly cooked. slice red onion and rinse mustard greens. serve cheeks on toasted slider buns with greens, onion, and a dollop of cherry compote.

cherry compote

1 c. pitted bing cherries

1 tsp lemon zest

1/4 c minced onion

1/4 balsamic vinegar

3 tbsp olive oil

1/4 c water and 1/4 c sugar dissolved

saute minced onion with olive oil and fine lemon zest. add the sugar-water, cherries, balsamic and a squeeze of lemon juice. simmer to a reduction.

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thank you frank bruni

i certainly hope everyone had a chance to glance over Frank Bruni’s coverage on Seattle’s fine cuisine in the Times a few weeks back. boy did he hit the nail on the head, talking up some of our best picks including a few of my favorites – Walrus and the Carpenter, Revel, Tavern Law and Staple & Fancy.

we are quite lucky here in Seattle to have such a variety of model restaurants to stomach. if you haven’t had a chance, it’s certainly worth a read.

next up: cake balls!

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roasted beet salad & chèvre

i never used to care for beets. in fact, there was a point when if someone mentioned beets my mind immediately went to those underwhelming red vegetables served from a can. until recently, when beets became so much more than a canned vegetable.

typically i would leave the beets to the experts while dining out, but after finding some wonderful roasting ideas which all appeared pretty straight forward, i decided to give it a go. the beets are peeled and painted with olive oil. they are then surrounded with orange slices, thyme sprigs and a pinch of salt. i roasted my beets in foil the way i would a potato.

forty minutes later i had beautifully appointed rich red beets. my mom, who doesn’t much care for goat cheese was on her way over for dinner that evening. but since beets and goat cheese complement each other so well, i thought i attempt a chèvre crème fraiche sauce, toning down the goat cheese intensity for her.

the beets, finely diced were tossed with thinly sliced radishes, pickled shallots, arugula, and a balsamic vinaigrette.

roasted beet & chèvre salad 

3 red beets

1 shallot

4 or 5 radishes, thinly sliced

a handful of arugula

one orange

a few springs of thyme

salt

balsamic and olive oil dressing

3 ounces creme fraiche

2 ounces goat cheese

1 tbsp milk

salt

pepper

1 c vinegar

1/2 c sugar

1 tsp salt

pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. brush peeled beets with olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and wrap up with four slices of orange and several sprigs of thyme. bake for 30-40 minutes, or until tender.

while the beets are cooking, thinly slice a shallot for pickling. combine one cup of vinegar, half a cup of sugar, and a dash of salt to a  small bowl. add sliced shallots, cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

in a food processor, mix goat cheese, creme fraiche, and milk together until you have a smooth creamy sauce. store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

once the beets are cool, dice them into small bite sized pieces. toss cooled beets, radishes, and shallots in a balsamic vinaigrette of your choice, or balsamic and olive oil. spread goat cheese sauce over a plate. top with beets and arugula to taste. add cracked pepper and a dash of salt if desired.

enjoy!

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asian chicken lettuce wraps

halfway through july and I’m beginning to worry summer may pass us by this year in Seattle. i keep waiting for a sunny day — particularly one that merits firing up some coals on the barbecue. since that day has yet to arrive, we dabbled with recipes to conjure up a refreshing summer meal despite the rain.

we settled on chicken lettuce wraps, inspired by none other than the world-wide web. these turned out just as we’d hoped  – light, refreshing, delicious.

of course what really makes these guys tasty is the ‘special’ sauce, a blend of soy sauce, rice vinegar, water, sugar, hot asian mustard, red chili paste, sesame oil, and ginger. what is great about this sauce is that each can spice up their own ramekin of sauce as desired.  the chicken breasts are first pan seared and thereafter cooled for mincing.

the meat is minced with a mixture of onions, mushrooms, water chestnuts, and garlic — and then stir fried over medium high with a soy sauce, rice vinegar and brown sugar sauce.

finally scoop a dollop of meat mixture into each iceberg lettuce leaf. load up with the sauce of your choice and fold it up like a taco. scrumptious!

alongside our lettuce wraps we indulged in a fresh asian chicken sesame salad (recipe below).

chicken lettuce wraps

2 lbs skinless boneless chicken breast

oil for cooking

1 can water chestnuts – minced

1/2 c crimini mushrooms – minced

1/2 c yellow onion – chopped

2 garlic cloves

head of iceberg lettuce

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp rice vinegar

‘special sauce’ 

1/4 c sugar

1/3 c water

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp rice vinegar

1/4 tsp sesame oil

1/4 tsp chili oil

2 tsp chili paste

hot mustard to taste

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp tomato paste

pan sear the chicken for 5-7 minutes on each side. allow to cool. while cooling, mince water chestnuts, onion, garlic, and mushrooms. set aside. once the chicken has cooled, mince the chicken and add to the other minced ingredients. combine 2 tablespoons of soy sauce with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1/2 tablespoon of rice vinegar. this is your stir fry sauce, set aside.

put all special sauce ingredients except for the hot mustard and chili paste into the food processor. blend until combined. refrigerate until eating. add chili paste (2 tsp) and hot mustard to taste right before serving.

stir fry chicken mixture with soy mixture for 5-7 minutes on medium. while this is cooking, wash, clean, and separate your iceberg lettuce leaves. spread on a plate and serve alongside the meat mixture. add about 1/4 cup of meat mixture to each lettuce wrap, add sauce to taste, and enjoy!

asian chicken salad 

1/2 package of chinese egg noodles

1/4 cup peanut butter

1 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tbsp soy sauce

1-2 tbsp of minced jarred ginger (such as the ginger people’s minced ginger)

2 tbsp Sriracha or chili paste

1 c thinly sliced carrots

one pan seared chicken breast, sliced

1 cup diced green onions

2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1/2 c chicken broth

cook egg noodles according to packaging. during the last 2-3 minutes, add the carrots to the boiling water. drain and rinse under cold water. combined peanut butter, rice vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, srirarcha, and chicken broth in a food processor. blend until combined. add green onions, sauce, sesame seeds, and diced chicken to the pasta. cover and refrigerate until ready to eat. enjoy!

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baba’s pirozhki

i’ve risen from dormancy. i almost forgot about you, blog. but i’m back. my computer and life ‘tasks’ have been salvaged from disarray (for now…). i have been back piling recipes to share with you, and am particularly excited about this one.

my babaushka (aka baba, grammy, grams, grand-ma-ma, etc.) more often than not prepared a dense russian cuisine for family meals. as children, our favorite meal was always baba’s pirozhki. the same crispy deep-fried dough and various fillings gave the  seven-year old in me just enough excitement to keep me coming back for more. often she would prepare three or four different pirozhki and each bite sized popper would be a surprising delight.

what didn’t occur to me, until i began recreating baba’s pirozhki, was that our ‘russian’ cuisine was actually russian with a chinese twist. my baba, 1/2 russian and 1/2 chinese made a minced meat pirozhki with soy and oyster sauce! she then served the meal with a homemade dipping soy sauce alongside.

i know, it sounds amazing weird. but believe me, it’s good. the pirozhki dough takes a few hours to rise and is easy to work with. i flattened a golf ball sized glob of dough and put one spoonful of filling in each dumpling.

don’t let the deep-frying scare you away from this recipe. we find that only ~10% of the oil used in the cooking process remains in the food after crisping on a paper towel. OK, it’s not a great statistic, but it could be worse.

the recipe my baba kept of course calls for 10 cups of flour and enough to feed an army of people. i cut the recipe into 1/4 and still have leftovers! it should feed 4-6 easily. the rolls also freeze very well. the result will be best if you reheat them in the oven @ 350 degrees.

pirozhki (пирожок)

dough

2 1/2 c flour

1 tsp salt

2 eggs

1/2 c milk

1/4 c warm water

1 tsp cooking oil

1/2 yeast packet

2 tbsp butter

melt butter in a microwave safe bowl. add 1/4 cup of milk. separately, dissolve 1/2 packet of yeast with warm water. allow to proof for ten minutes. add 1/4 c milk, oil, and eggs to yeast mixture. transfer to a large bowl. sift flour and salt together. add buttermilk mixture to yeast mixture. begin slowly adding flour until dough can be kneaded (approximately 2 1/2 cups). knead dough and allow to rise in a warm covered bowl for 3 hours or until it has doubled in size.

filling

1 yellow onion

1 tsp dill

2 garlic gloves

1 tbsp oil

bunch of fresh thyme or herbs of choice

salt

black pepper

3/4 lbs minced pork

1/2 lbs minced beef

2 hardboiled eggs

saute onions and garlic in oil. add dill, pepper and salt. add minced meat once the onions are translucent. if desired, add about 2 tablespoons of soy or oyster sauce to the meat mixture. cook meat until browned (10-15 minutes over medium). drain the meat mixture. dice the hardboiled eggs into small pieces and add to meat pan. mix in a 1/8 c of flour for thickening and set aside until dough is ready.

when the dough is done rising, take a small amount of dough (golf ball size) and flatten it like the picture shows. add one scoop of filling. Close and pinch the dough together. allow pirzohki to rise for another ten minutes prior to deep-frying. deep fry until golden brown on each side in 3 cups of vegetable oil.

be sure to try them with soy sauce! other popular side sauces are sour cream, horseradish, or mustard. enjoy!

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tiramisu cheesecake

happy birthday [to me]! i celebrated yet another birthday last night and am rather embarrassed to admit i slaved away on my own birthday cake. honestly i’m not a big birthday fan, so why did i need to make myself a cake? we had already celebrated with friends on Saturday, indulging in italian pizzas and coconut cream pies.

but Nick thoughtfully prepared an earth-shattering dinner menu for Monday that we planned to consume until incapacitation, after which i would probably have been better off falling asleep. instead i topped it off with a slice of irresistible. so i felt it would only be appropriate to make my contributions to the meal via a celebratory dessert finale.

the menu? short rib bone marrow homemade ravioli sprinkled with garlic chips courtesy of the chef [seen below], followed by tiramisu cheesecake from ricotta and marscarpone courtesy of the apprentice.

i actually intended to make a traditional tiramisu, but it turns out lady fingers are far more difficult to find that one would think [high demand, mother's day weekend?]… three markets later, i decided to go for a chocolate cookie crumb cheesecake with an espresso twist.

the end result was surprisingly so much better than tiramisu. it was moist and creamy, but not too heavy. since my cheesecake cracked [womp, womp] i covered the top with a plain marscarpone whipped cream frosting, filling in all of the crevices. i then added the chocolate marscarpone whipped cream rim and ground dark chocolate, the perfect amount of bittersweet.

i may just have to make this birthday cake business a tradition.

tiramisu cheesecake [espresso cheesecake]

16 oz cream cheese

4 oz marscarpone

1/2 c ricotta

1 c sugar

2 eggs

1 shot espresso

2 tbsp Bailey’s Irish cream or Kahlua

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 c chocolate graham crackers

3 tbsp butter

4 tbsp flour

pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

in your food processor, blend melted butter and lightly smashed graham crackers. pour mixture into the bottom of your 9″ springform pan and press into the bottom in an even layer. set aside. mix cream cheese, marscarpone, and ricotta on high until light and fluffy. add sugar slowly until combined. reduce blender speed and add eggs one at a time until just mixed. add espresso, vanilla, irish cream until combined. gently fold in flour slowly to avoid clumping. pour mixture through a food mill into the prepared pan. wrap pan with foil tightly and place into a water bath in the oven. bake for 60 minutes.

marscarpone frosting

1 c heavy whipping cream

8 oz marscarpone

1 c confectioners sugar

1/4 c cocoa powder [optional for chocolate frosting].

whip in your stand mixture until thoroughly combined. spread evenly over cooled cheesecake.

cover cheesecake with your choice of chocolate shavings, fine chocolate, cocoa powder, or chocolate covered espresso beans. allow to cool in the refrigerator for at least two hours prior to serving. enjoy!

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