Autumn Squash, Apple, and Kale Salad

The genesis for this salad is the seasonal menu at Taylor Gourmet, which features butternut squash-based salads in both main dish and side dish form. When I happened upon the menu earlier this week, I knew that I could create something similar at home.

Some of the measurements below are a bit imprecise. Just go with it - you'll need to figure out some of the quantities on the fly, depending on your own taste. I promise it will be worth it.

Autumn Squash, Apple, and Kale Salad

1 medium butternut squash
Olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
A sprig of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
A few stems of Italian parsley
A handful of kale from the garden
1 granny smith apple
3 green onions
1/2 cup dried cranberries
4 oz. blue cheese crumbles (gorgonzola or goat cheese would also working, depending on your preference)
Sunflower seeds (shelled)

1. Peel the squash, cut it in half and remove seeds, then cut into small (1/2 inch) cubes.

2. Preheat oven to 400F. Toss squash cubes with a few glugs of olive oil and apple cider vinegar (enough that the squash is well-coated), salt, pepper, and rosemary. Spread out squash in a single layer on one or more cookie sheets or baking dishes.

3. Roast squash for ~25 minutes at 400F, stirring about halfway through. Depending on the size of your cubes, you may need to roast for a longer or shorter time. Cubes should be soft but not mushy.

4. While the squash is roasting, remove stems and thick center vein from kale leaves, then slice into thin strands. Dice the apple into 1/2 inch cubes and slice green onions into small rounds.

5. Remove squash from oven and toss (while still hot / warm) in a large mixing bowl with kale, apple, and green onion. The heat from the squash will soften the kale and apple a bit.

6. Mix in parsley, cranberries, and blue cheese. If desired, add olive oil and/or apple cider vinegar to taste.

7. Place in serving dish and top with sunflower seeds. Serve while still warm or refrigerate for later.


Shamrock Soup (AKA Potato-Kale Soup)

Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, so we made this lovely green soup to celebrate! The flavor is fairly mild, so if you like it a bit spicier, add more red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, or whatever else you like. We adapted this recipe from a cookbook we received via a friend, who got it from her CSA provider. Because you use an immersion blender to create a smooth texture for the soup, prep time is fairly quick as you'll only need to coarsely chop the vegetables before adding them to the soup. Also, the original recipe called for three cups fresh kale, but we like A LOT of kale, so we added quite a bit more. The verdict? Great!

Shamrock Soup (12+ servings)
4 T. olive oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
10 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 T. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. salt
6 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
Water and/or broth
4 large handfuls fresh kale (maybe 8 cups? who knows!)
black pepper

1. Heat oil over medium heat, add onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt. Saute until onions are translucent.

2. Add potatoes and enough water (or water + broth) to cover by two inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, covered, for 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are just tender.

3. Add kale and cook, uncovered, for an additional 10-15 minutes.

4. Puree soup using an immersion blender (if you don't have one, you can use a regular blender). Season with pepper (and additional salt & red pepper flakes, if desired).

5. Serve it up - perhaps with some soda bread?


Vegetable Pot Pie with Biscuit Crust

We're in the midst of one of the coldest cold snaps in recent history, and that just made us want to hide out inside and drink tea and hot chocolate all day. But it isn't just hot beverages that such chilly weather creates yearnings for...such weather is also an excuse to make up a delicious veggie pot pie! (Actually, I was first craving vegetable pasties, but I was talked into trying something a bit different, since the ready-made pie crusts at the store are made with lard.) Anyway, we got a lot of veggies at the grocery store, so this recipe makes a 13 x 9 pan - if you'd like to scale back, just save some of the veggies and roast them up separately for another night, or cut out those that you aren't as fond of.

Vegetable Pot Pie with a Biscuit Crust (8-10 servings)
1 cup dry white wine
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
3 large carrots
1 large parsnip
1 medium turnip
1 medium rutabaga
seasonings to taste (salt, pepper, rosemary, sage, thyme, etc.)
1 10-12 oz. bag frozen peas
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can pre-made biscuit dough, or your favorite biscuit recipe

1. Chop onion and mince garlic. Cut carrots and parsnip into 1/4 inch thick pennies; cut larger rounds in half. Dice turnip and rutabaga to ~ 1/2 cubes.

2. Warm 1/2 c. wine over medium heat in a large pan. When it starts to steam, add onions and garlic and cook for two minutes, until onion begins to soften. Add carrots, parsnip, turnip, and rutabaga and 1/2 c. more wine. Stir together, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 400F.

4. Add desired seasonings to vegetables and stir. Stir in frozen peas. Continue to simmer uncovered for 5 minutes, until vegetables are just tender.

5. In the pan, or a separate bowl if the pan isn't large enough, stir together vegetables and cream of mushroom soup.

6. Spray a 13 x 9 casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Turn vegetable mixture into dish. Cover with foil and bake at 400F for 30 minutes.

7. Remove casserole dish from oven and take off foil. Place biscuits on top of vegetable mixture (you may need to cut a few of the biscuits in half - also, don't worry if the biscuits don't cover the entire vegetable mixture).

8. Return casserole dish to oven and bake uncovered an additional 15 minutes, until biscuits puff up.


Margarita Cookies

Continuing with the theme of desserts inspired by the flavors of Mexico (begun with Mexican chocolate brownies) - I also wanted to make a cookie that incorporated the lime and tequila flavors of a margarita. I thought about adapting a recipe for lemon bars, but ultimately decided that I wanted something that would pack more easily. And so I hit upon this concoction, which blends a classic sugar cookie with a margarita. These cookies were a huge hit at the office. (Note: There isn't much tequila in them to begin with, and it bakes off anyway.)

Margarita Cookies (~ 3 dozen cookies)
1 c. butter (two sticks)
3/4 c. sugar
zest of 1 lime, 1 lemon, and 1 orange*
1 egg yolk
1 T. tequila
1 tsp. lime juice
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/4 c. flour

For dusting: 1/4 c. sugar + 1 tsp. salt

1. Cream butter and sugar together. Stir in egg yolk and citrus zests, then tequila, lime juice, and salt.

2. Mix in flour a little at a time until fully incorporated.

3. Cover and refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 350F.

5. Scoop dough out with cookie scoop or teaspoon, form into balls, and roll in sugar + salt mixture. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment or silicone and flatten each ball slightly with the tines of a fork.

6. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool on pan for a couple of minutes, then move to wire rack.

* I only had key limes, so I zested two. Instead of the orange zest, I used 1 tsp. of dried Valencia orange peel.

Mexican Chocolate Brownies

This past Sunday was Cinco de Mayo, which in the US means that we have an excuse to eat a lot of Mexican food and drink margaritas. And since the day after Cinco de Mayo happened to be the monthly celebration of birthdays in my office, I thought that I'd use the holiday as inspiration for a couple of birthday treats. First up - Mexican chocolate brownies.

This is only the second time in my life that I've made brownies from scratch. It definitely won't be the last. Sure, it takes a little longer to melt the chocolate down, but you also get to control for things like chewy vs. cake-y and the level of sweetness, and the balance of flavors. (And if you have a stand mixer, the machine does most of the work anyway!) As written below, these spicy beauties pack three kinds of chocolate (but aren't super sweet), a little bit of heat (but not so much that your co-workers who prefer bland foods will have to miss out on the brownie fun), and are quite moist and chewy.

Mexican Chocolate Brownies (~16-20 brownies, depending on how generously you cut 'em)
1/2 c. butter (two sticks)
2 oz. unsweetened or bittersweet baking chocolate, chopped
2 T. cocoa powder
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 tsp. cayenne pepper (or rounded 1/4 tsp.)
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 c. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease a square 8 x 8 baking pan.

2. Melt butter and chocolate together in the microwave, stirring frequently (I heated for 30 seconds, stirred, and repeated until ready to go). Stir in cocoa powder and set aside.

3. In large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, and vanilla. If using a stand mixer, set to stir and pour in chocolate mixture.

4. Sift in flour, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt; stir until just combined.

5. Fold in chocolate chips and pour batter into prepared pan.

6. Bake at 350F for ~35 minutes, until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Craft-y Macaroni and Cheese

I have fond childhood memories of making the mac and cheese that came in the blue box. My parents didn't let me have it particularly often, but Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was perhaps the first meal that I was able to cook on my own (not that it took a lot of skill). It was more of a treat - I remember having friends over for a sleepover during which we made a VERY FANCY version (we cut up hot dogs and mixed them in, along with the milk and butter and powdered cheese).
But a funny thing happened on the way to adulthood - the day-glo orange cheesy noodles aren't quite as good as I remember. Don't get me wrong - I still like an occasional bowl of mac and cheese. But it just doesn't cut it for me anymore as a stand-alone meal. I try to atone for the cheesy goodness by mixing in some sort of vegetable (carrots, spinach, etc.). I stir in pepper or Italian seasoning to liven things up a bit.

Which leads me to...going beyond the box. It doesn't really take that much longer to whip up a homemade batch of mac and cheese, and it is infinitely more customizable (and, perhaps, a tad healthier - although, really, it is never going to be a healthy meal). Making your own mac and cheese means that you can pick the cheese that you like (I used a mix of mild and sharp provolone, fontina, and asiago when I made this the first time - the leftovers from an Italian cheese tray, which I chopped up - although cheddar, colby, mozzarella, pepper jack, or many others will also work). And it turns out that you don't have to have powdered, super-processed cheese food product to achieve the bright orange color found in the blue box - squash puree can give you the same result!

Macaroni and Cheese (8 servings)
1 package (13.25 oz.) whole wheat macaroni (penne, shells, or other shapes will also work)
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
ground black pepper to taste
2 c. skim milk
1 1/2 c. shredded or chopped cheese
1 c. cooked squash puree (half of a square frozen package)
1 c. frozen or 3 c. fresh chopped spinach (or try other vegetables)

1. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain and set aside.

2. While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then stir in flour and pepper. Stir in milk, cheese, and squash puree. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the cheese is melted and the squash puree is fully incorporated.

3. Toss together pasta, cheese sauce, and spinach. Pour into a 13 x 9 baking dish. Bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes, until heated through.


Kale Slaw

Spring is in the air (or at least it was, until we got a load of sleety rain yesterday, which brought a chill just in time for the start of astronomical spring) - and fresh produce is in the mind, if not yet abundant in the stores and farmers markets. But fear not - kale is a perfect vehicle for springtime veggie lust.

This slaw doesn't require much time or equipment to prepare - just a large bowl (if you have one with a lid, that's even better), a smaller bowl, a good chef's knife, a cutting board, and a fork. Of course, if you want to get fancy and use a food processor or mandoline on the carrots and cabbage, that's okay, too. Also, you may need to play with the proportions of ingredients based on the size of your kale bunch, how much you like particular ingredients, and desired amount of dressing, but this is a good start. The slaw keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days, so don't be afraid to make a big batch - you might find it disappears pretty quickly.

Kale Slaw
1 bunch curly kale
3-5 green onions
1-2 carrots
1/8-1/4 head red cabbage
1 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained

1/4 c. mayo
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. poppy seeds
salt and pepper to taste

1. Chop kale, onions, carrots (julienne or shred), and red cabbage (finely chop or shred). Add chickpeas and toss in a large bowl.

2. Stir together mayo, red wine vinegar, poppy seeds, salt, and pepper until combined. Add to slaw and toss. If desired, make more dressing and repeat.

3. Serve up a big helping and enjoy!