Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Ginger Lentils & Balsamic Roasted Butternut Squash

Sometimes, inspiration is found in odd places. This dish was adapted from a recipe by Martha Rose Shulman published in the New York Times with a few added tweaks of my own. However, it was my son’s baby food that actually inspired this meal. I make him a lot of food, but I sometimes need a quick food on the go and so I have a particular brand of purees I love, especially their world baby line, with wonderful and exotic food combinations. Their Moroccan puree is lentils with roasted butternut squash and apricots. It sounded so yummy to me that I began to devise a grown up version of the dish.

Ginger is an absolute game changer for lentils, heightening the sweetness of the legume. The fiery spice of ginger is buffered perfectly by the starchy, dense lentils and mellowed out to a low flame in the background. I only had ground ginger (I know, I know, but life is busy with an infant), but I intend to try it with fresh ginger as well, so I’ve put down the amount I’ll be using.

I served this alongside a modified, vegetarian version of Tyler Florence’s Apricot Couscous

The two recipes together make a healthy, filling weeknight meal, particularly when you’re in the mood for lighter, meatless fare.

Lentils & Roasted Squash

Serves 8 - 10

1 lb lentils, rinsed & picked through
20 ounces peeled, cubed butternut squash
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground ginger, or 1” piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly
1 half an onion, coarsely chopped
1 shallot, chopped
Salt, generously, to taste
Pepper, to taste
(for garnish): 1 Tablespoon minced cilantro & 1 Tablespoon minced Italian Parsley

1. In a large pan over medium heat combine 1/2 gallon of water with all ingredients except for the vinegar, squash & olive oil.
2. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 60 minutes, or until lentils are almost thoroughly soft (some should still be slightly crunchy).
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a sieve over a bowl and strain the lentils through. Retain the broth.
4. Mix broth with vinegar, olive oil and a touch more salt and pepper. Toss squash into broth/vinegar mixture and coat thoroughly.
5. Bake until cooked through, 50 - 60 minutes, depending on cube size.
6. Reintroduce broth to lentils in the pan, add squash and cook for an additional 20 to 30 minutes, or until lentils have reached desired consistency.

Serve garnished with cilantro and parsley and alongside apricot couscous.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Pepper Biscuits and White Sausage Gravy

This post is inspired by one of my favorite concepts: breakfast for dinner. Growing up we would often get breakfast for dinner as a special treat. It usually meant eggs and some kind of vehicle for New York’s spectacular maple syrup (my mom’s banana walnut and blueberry pancakes stand out as favorites). I usually enjoy savory fare for breakfast, especially given the price of real maple syrup here on the West coast. So, instead of trying out pancakes or french toast I’ve decided to add one of my favorite breakfasts to our menu: biscuits and gravy with a perfectly fried egg. While visiting my badass ship captain/carpenter/former lobsterman sister in Maine we stopped in at a little diner in Portland. As we approached the diner I could smell the wonderful aroma of sausage gravy and I had a feeling I was about to encounter a popular American classic: biscuits and gravy. It was indeed on the menu and it was absolutely delicious! Soft, fluffy New England style biscuits made a perfect vehicle for luscious, flavorful sausage gravy. Rich, runny egg yolk from a perfectly over-medium fried egg brought the combination together in a decadent, mouthwatering way.

I’ve been thinking about putting breakfast for dinner on my weekly menu ever since I planned a weekly menu for a good friend of mine who daily cooks dinner for her husband and two young daughters. We’ll call her R. I feel pretty harried cruising the aisles of the grocery store with just one cute little wriggler, much less two, so I try to plan the menu for the entire week and buy most of my groceries in one trip. This is an entirely new experience for me, as I previously mainly cooked to develop recipes for the blog. When I became a mom I was suddenly filled with the yearning to make us a home cooked meal every night. Aside from playing with my son and watching him learn and grow, prepping and cooking dinner for my family has been the most fun and rewarding part of my day.

My friend R, who made spectacular stuffed mushrooms for a recent dinner we had together, is rather modest about her cooking abilities. She mentioned that coming up with a new idea every night for dinner was probably the hardest part about cooking for a family. I mentioned my weekly menus and infrequent grocery store trips. I offered to write one for her family and she accepted. This weekly menu presented some unique challenges: she is vegetarian; her husband is not. They both eat eggs so as a way to bridge the gap and make cooking easier on her I suggested breakfast for dinner for one night of the week.

The gravy is lovely as a stand alone. White sausage gravy is creamy and tastes quite a bit more rich than it actually is. Sauteed onions make it sweet and it is kept from being too boring by the addition of bitter, lightly herbaceous celery and sweet thyme. If you’re wondering how they come together I sift the dry biscuit ingredients, then make the gravy, preheat the oven and stick the gravy pan on the back of the stove (next to the oven vent) to keep it warm as I finish getting the biscuits together.

Black Pepper Biscuits

Makes one dozen

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 tsp salt
3 tsps baking powder
1/2 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
Generous pinch of freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350. Sift together dry ingredients (including pepper).
2. With your fingers, add butter: delicately pinch it with the flower between your fingers, until dough begins to resemble large, soft sand.
3. Add milk and buttermilk and mix gently until they have been incorporated. Stop mixing the instant the dough no longer feels wet.
4. Using your hands, break off 1/4 of the dough mixture. Roll gently, then flatten into a roughly circular shape roughly 1” thick. From the dough use a circular cutter or the mouth of a glass to cut out three biscuits.
5. Repeat with remaining portions of dough until all the biscuits have been cut out.
6. Spread biscuits out onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 - 22 minutes, or until cooked through. Be careful not to overcook.

Serve warm smothered in white sausage gravy.

White Sausage Gravy

Makes 10 - 12 servings

4 pork sausages (preferably bratwursts)
3 cups milk
3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup beer (or whatever you prefer to use to deglaze)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Salt, to taste
Pepper, generously, to taste

1. Heat a large, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Remove sausage casings, add the meat to the pan and crumble it up. Add pepper.
2. Sear sausage meat and when it is fully cooked through, (about 10 minutes) remove it from the pan and set aside, leaving the fat that has been rendered in the pan.
3. Add celery, onion and thyme and saute over medium heat until the vegetables are cooked through (roughly 5 - 7 minutes). Set vegetables aside with sausage.
4. Turn heat down slightly and melt butter, then add flour and cayenne. Cook, stirring near-constantly, until the flour turns golden. Deglaze pan with beer.
5. Turn heat to low and whisk in milk. Cook for five minutes, then reintroduce sausage and veggies and when everything is warmed through turn off heat. Gravy will thicken upon standing and will loosen the warmer it gets..
Serve gravy over biscuits and accompanied by eggs fried over medium.