Thursday, October 30, 2014

Beet Pasta, Butternut Squash, and Beet Pesto Lasagna

This recipe that was inspired by a recent trip to the farmer's market got rave reviews in my house by people of all ages, so I think it is share-worthy. It has so many great fall flavors, it is packed with nutrition, and it is so pretty! I'll admit, it takes time, but its easy. There are several steps to making the homemade pasta, butternut squash puree, and pesto, but I assure you, its worth it.

This could also easily be made gluten free or dairy free or both.

I peeled and roasted. more beets than I needed....2 would have done the trick. I wanted extras for snacking and for the kids. 

My favorite squash, butternut

Pureeing the beets

Beet puree

Squash puree

This is heaven on a spoon!

Fresh pasta in the mixer

Adding beet puree

So pretty!

Fresh sage butter

To grease the pan

Pretty beet pasta

I had to get a shot of my ingredients together - its just so pretty! I made the beet green pesto a froze it a few months ago. 

Rolling out the fresh pasta

Then layering...pesto


and feta

Top with a little cheese, and more sage butter

So colorful

It almost looks like red sauce - but cooked, that is the beet pasta!

Lost my light....

Look at those colors!

And oh so tasty

Autumn lasagna with Beet Pasta and Pesto

Fresh Beet Pasta:

2 beets, peeled
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 1/4 c flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs

Squash Puree:

1 large butternut squah, peeled and cubed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup Parmesan cheese
3 oz. cream cheese
1/2 tsp. salt

Beet Green Pesto:

Puree all of these in food processor, starting with 1/4 cup olive oil and adding more as needed to get a paste consistency:
Greens from 4-5 large beets
Bunch fresh basil
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
salt to taste (maybe a teaspoon?)

Sage butter: combine 1 stick butter with 2 Tbsp. fresh sage. Can be frozen.

Feta cheese
shredded cheese (I used colby jack)

Start by roasting the beets and the butternut squash in a 375 degree oven. The beets coat lightly in olive oil and wrap in foil, for about an hour, The squash coat with olive oil and put on a cookie sheet (I used my silpat to avoid sticking) about 30-45 minutes (until they are soft and caramelized on the bottom).

For the beet puree, dice beets and put them into a food processor. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil and process about a minute. They won't get completely smooth, but you want it as "paste" like as possible. Little flecks of beet in the pasta is pretty!

For the squash puree, put roasted squash, parmesan cheese, salt, and cream cheese into a stand mixer with the paddle attatchment and mix until smooth. Scoop into a bowl and rinse out the bowl and paddle.

For the pasta, to dry mixer bowl add flour, salt, and make a well in the middle. Add eggs and mix until starting to combine. Add in beet puree and continue to mix until you get a dough. If it is too wet, add more flour. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate at least half an hour.

Now to assemble!

Place 2 Tbsp sage butter at the bottom of your 9 x 13 casserole dish. Roll out 1/3 of pasta dough (with lots of flour to prevent sticking) to the size of your dish. Place in dish. Spread half of squash puree, then half of pesto, and half of the feta cheese. Repeat. Roll out last 1/3 of beet pasta and place on top. Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded cheese of choice. Melt 2 more Tbsp. sage butter and drizzle over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for half an hour or until hot throughout. Let cool 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Apple Butter Hand Pies

As you've probably figured out, I've kind of left the blogging scene this past year. Family and work don't leave much time for sitting at the computer anymore, and I love it! I may get back to it someday, but for now, all my spare time is spent trying to make the most out of my little ones tiny years :).

However, I've gotten some requests for this recipe, so I thought I'd write it up here. Its quite basic, but a few key elements makes it amazing. They are my apple butter hand pies (my husband likes to call them pop tarts).

The apple butter and the homemade crust are key here. Using fresh apples in a hand pie or pop tart just never worked for me because the apples cook down, the juices release, and then you end up with empty space and juices that make the crust soggy. While they are still good, I wanted something my family could eat with one hand on the road or to the school bus. That is where the apple butter came in.

I picked my yearly loads of apples at our dear neighbors house, and since the apples aren't exactly great for eating straight, they are perfect for apple butter. You just cut off all the bad things! Here is my recipe for apple butter: Apple Butter.

I didn't have rum this week, so I used brandy. You can easily replace this with apple cider. I didn't add any cider this year. Just apples, brandy, and a vanilla pod, scraped out. In the end, you just want the apples completely soft and falling apart. I let them stew over night in the crock pot. Then I puree them up, skins and all! I want it thick, so if I don't think it is thick enough '(think thick jam) I let it sit while its still hot to let the moisture evaporate a bit.

The crust is my classic pie crust. You can use whatever flour you want....I use a whole wheat flour for our family. It makes 4 "discs" so if you wanted to make whole pies, you'd get two. I used 3 discs (I had used one for a lemon merague pie) and got 9 hand pies out of it, They are about 4.5 inches in diameter. They are pretty big, but that is the way I like em!! I used the lid to one of my canisters for cutting out the just find something that matches the size you are looking for.

Cubed, cold butter

After the butter is cut in

Add egg mixture


form, and refridgerate

roll and cut

I rolled my dough to about 1/4" - a little thicker than for a regular pie. They hold up better that way. Just lay a circle down and put a generous 2-3 tablespoons of apple butter in the middle. Spread out leaving a 1/2 " edge for sealing. Place another circle over the top and carefully close up the filling. Seal the edge with your fingers, a fork...whatever you want.

be generous, but don't go crazy so you can't seal it

You can use a fork to seal or your fingers like me. A little water around the edge helps too

GT had his own project with the crust

I made little pies too this time :)

Then to get that awesome looking crust on top, beat an egg and brush some over the tops and if desired, sprinkle with raw sugar. This gives it a great crunch!

Bake them at 415 degrees for 30-35 minutes until they are golden brown. Let cool, but I highly advise eating one slightly warm.

I was skyping with my Mom while these were inthe oven, so they got a little dark....but still good!

The yummy inside!


Apple Butter Hand Pies

1 recipe Vanilla Apple Butter

Pie crust:

4 cups whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp Salt
1 3/4 cup cold butter (a pound minus half a stick)
1 egg
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp white or cider vinegar

1 egg

Prepare Apple butter and pie crust the day before you want to make your pies. The crust does best when it has sat for a day or so in the fridge, and the apple butter takes at least 10 hours!

For crust: Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter into cubes and work into the flour using your fingers or a pastry cutter. When it is incorporated (butter like small peas in the flour), mix together the water, egg, and vinegar and add to the flour mixture. Combine well and divide into 4 parts, shaping them into a disc. Wrap and store in the fridge for a day. They also freeze well!

Assemble the hand pie by rolling out a disc of dough to about 1/4-1/3" thick and cutting to desired shape/size. Put a generous amount of filling in the middle and spread to the edge, leaving a 1/2" edge for sealing. Top with another round of pastry, and seal well with your fingers or a fork. Continue like this until you've made the amount of pies you want, or until you are out of dough or apple butter :). You can re-roll the dough several times. You can also eat it raw, like me. Place the pies on a baking sheet.

Beat the egg and brush the tops with it, Sprinkle with raw sugar or cinnamon sugar if desired. Bake at 415 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until brown on top.

You can also leave off the egg wash/sugar and make a glaze to go on top, if you are feeling decadent. I think a cinnamon glaze would go well here. About 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 2-3 tsp. of milk. Add more powedred sugar if it needs to be thicker, and more milk for thinner. Drizzle over cooled pies.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Why gluten free (or grain free, or low carb) is not for me

This post has been sitting in the bottom of my stomach for months. I'll randomly think about it, but I haven't had time to get it down on paper. I haven't had time to get any of my un-processed adventures on the blog either, but this post needs to come out of me. I'll compose sections of it in my head, and hope I can find the same wording when it comes time. I can't promise verbal eloquence, but hopefully I'll get my message across.

I'm going to start by giving a shout out to all of those with Celiacs disease. You are all warriors in my mind. You have to watch everything you eat, everywhere. People with Celiacs disease can NOT eat gluten. They can't drink wheat beers, wheat alcohols, and of course every human delicacy made with wheat. Not because they think it'll make them fat, tired, and stupid. Because they have a severe reaction to it. Celiacs is a DISEASE that should not be taken lightly. I'm so glad that for those that have it, they have discovered it and altered their lifestyles accordingly.

Going gluten free, or all out grain-free, is a common trend these days. Folks have claimed that they feel better, perform better, and all things that ail them have gotten better since giving up gluten. The Paleo diet is a hot search topic everywhere.

Here is why a gluten free/grain free/Paleo diet is NOT for me, and probably why it isn't for you either.

1) I tried it. I didn't like it. 

Yes, I too wanted in on this "extra energy" and full body performance the paleo diet seemed to promise people. I figured I would try it for a while just to see if it was worth the effort. It couldn't hurt, right? I don't have many food sensitivities beyond bananas and cilantro, so I figured I'd just see what the hype was about. I wanted to get off the sugar train too. I love sugar. After the holidays, I needed to cut it out for a while. This is nothing new to me. I know that sometimes, I just need to hold the sweets.

The first few days, I did get a headache from the lack of carbs, but this was nothing new to me. My body always goes through withdrawal if I change something abruptly. It generally goes away after a few days and I start to feel better again. After a few days of eating "Paleo", I did feel better, but not great. I just felt kind of normal.

Then something I didn't expect - I started to feel worse. I was tired. I was slow. I was eating lots of veggies, fruits, grass fed meats, nuts, and healthy oils. I talked to a friend also trying to cut out grains and she said that it can take over a month for your body to adjust. OK. I guess I'd give it some more time.

Well, 5 weeks went by, and I wasn't feeling any better. My workouts were weak. I didn't feel great. I did lose a few pounds but it was probably because I wasn't eating sugary baked goods like I was over the holidays. My brain was foggy. I would randomly get dizzy. I decided that maybe this wasn't for me.

I added grains back into my diet. Whole grains, as usual. Holy cow. I felt FANTASTIC almost immediately. I didn't gorge myself on it either. Just a piece of whole wheat bread with my lunch. I felt like angels were lifting me around my house helping me handle the kids, housework, and everything else. I slowly started to add grains back in, and suddenly, I was myself again. My mind started to clear  (as much as Mommy brain clears), I increased my 5K time by 4 minutes, and I was able to do more sets of my weighted workouts in my living room.

What this showed me was that maybe some people function well on a limited diet. However, not me. I think I function best with everything in my diet. I don't think it is good to eat high concentrations of anything, and if you cut one thing out, something else is going to be consumed more. Sure, almonds are healthy. That doesn't mean you should go eating as many as you can.

2) Just because something it "Paleo" doesn't mean it is healthy and can be eaten in abundance. 

Oh, its sweetened with honey? Perfect! I'll take 3! It is made with coconut oil? That is like a vitamin! Pile it on! Well, yes, because I'm a glutton, and enjoy yummy things, but I'll eat them the same way I eat any sweet. Just because something is "Paleo" or "low carb" doesn't mean its a free pass. Paleo foods are nutrient-dense for sure, but that also means they are loaded with calories. I am person that really likes volume when it comes to food. I like to eat LOTS of food. I don't have the control to eat small portions of things. I think you need that control to go on a low-carb, high fat and protein diet. It has been shown time and time again that while honey and maple syrup are less processed and come from nature, they effect your body the SAME way as sugar. You aren't getting away with anything by using these sweeteners. Now, I do prefer them over sugar most of the time. Why? Because I can get them locally, that's why. And they taste great. Local foods trump processed foods any day in my book. If they were growing organic sugar cane next door would I use bet!!

So, just because it doesn't have wheat, doesn't mean it is healthy. A lot of gluten free foods use refined rice flour, or starches like tapioca that have very little nutrients. I consider them even worse than sugar, because they are so processed. Gluten free does not mean it is healthy for you. Food companies can smell a food trend from miles away and will label products as gluten free to jump on the wagon. People eat that up. People fall for it all the time. Food corporations want one thing: more money. They don't care if they are selling you a healthy product or what happens to you as a result of your eating their product. If you will pay for it, they will sell it.

Also, a note on Agave nectar:

3) Food culture

I am a foodie. I love gourmet food. My husband teases me for how much time I spend in the kitchen creating things. I make restaurant-style meals for our family when I cook. I love trying new things. I see food as not only eating to keep us alive and get us through the day. I see recipe books handed down from generation to generation. I see family gatherings in kitchens making meals for holidays and celebrations. I see my great-grandmother making scones and biscuits from scratch. I see people enjoying food, enjoying being together, and celebrating life. Food has been the center of our culture, and many cultures, for centuries. When I make food, I want it to be fresh, healthy, and nurturing. I also want it to be comforting, warming, and make people happy. Give me the option between a artisan loaf of french bread with a perfectly crispy crust and soft, risen interior and a piece of processed, 50-calorie sponge that claims to be "healthy" and you can guess which one I'm going to chose.

My point is, food culture is important to me. I make my grandmother's shortbread cookies and Irish soda bread and relish the fact that I got these things from her. I feel like I got a lot of things from her, but these are tangible, edible pieces of the past. My great-grandmother lived until she was 102, and I'll be damned if she didn't spread real butter on her bread until the day she died. Unless a doctor tells me I'm going to die from eating a shortbread cookie, there is no way I'm giving those up. It is a part of me.

4) A "diet" is a lifestyle, not something that should be used to get healthy or lose weight and then forgotten. 

I get the impression that a lot of people go gluten free or Paleo to try to fix something. To lose weight, to gain energy, to get rid of their acne. Whatever. The problem is, if you are going to eat that way, you have to eat that way for LIFE. LIFE is forever!! That 's a really long time, you know?! If you are going to make a diet for yourself, it has to be something you can stick with forever. I am not OK with never having a piece of birthday cake, food served at a party, or any other food that is considered "off limits" for the rest of my life. In fact, sometimes I like daily treats! I think it is incredibly dangerous to say you'll never eat one food again for the rest of your life for one reason or another. I would just be asking for trouble. Don't get me wrong, some people function well that way. And for people with food allergies and diseases, they HAVE to give them up. But I don't have to. So why would I? If gluten and sugar are going to take years off my life, I think more years would be taken off by the stress accumulated from giving up those foods. I chose to not eat processed foods most of the time. However, if my friend puts out crackers for a party or orders a pizza for bet your bottom I'm eating it. Lots of it. And enjoying it. Guilt is the pits, you know.

5) I. Love. Grain. 

And everything made with it. Mostly bread. Seriously, I just can't imagine living without it! Pasta I can do without. I can even do without cake, cookies, and crackers. I can make do. But a piece of bread to soak up the juices from my dinner, or to slather with butter, or to make a PB&J? I just don't want to delete that from my life. I just get too much pleasure from it. Life isn't really worth living without joy, correct? Bread brings me joy. GOOD bread brings me joy. Making it brings me joy. That in itself is enough.

There it is in a very large nutshell. I could go on and on, but I think I've made my point. Perhaps gluten free/grain free/low carb diets are for some, but they aren't for me. I do avoid certain foods. I have PCOS, and avoid soy, rice, and processed foods. We all have to act accordingly to how we respond to the food we eat. Jumping on the latest trend boat may not be what is right for everyone.

Parmesan scones

I am always taking random photos of food I make with the ultimate plan on putting it on the blog, because I think it is blog-worthy. They barely ever make it here though, because they aren't anything really special, I didn't get photos of the process, or, I just forget about them as I carry on with my packed days. 

Well, this is one of those recipes. I do a LOT of baking in my kitchen of food that never gets on the blog, but some recipes stand out and I think they should be shared. These are fabulous. The perfect textured scone with the flavor of Parmesan with sun dried tomato butter. Breakfast or tea doesn't get any better. I love scones of all types, but when you want something savory that doesn't need to be cooked, these fit the bill. 

I also made these for teacher appreciation week for Gavyn and Alli's gymnastics teachers. They make a good gift because they keep well and can be eaten as is, without too much mess. Great for packing up and giving to other hungry humans. 

Parmesan Scones

2 cups unbleached all purpose or whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. course ground black pepper
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 stick butter, cut into cubes and softened
1/2 cup half and half
1 large egg
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper.
Combine flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Add butter and mix until it starts to look like crumbs
Combine half and half and egg and add to the bowl and mix until a soft dough is formed.
On floured surface, roll out to 1 1/2 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes (I used a cute heart cookie cutter :)).
Place on baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and top with remaining parmesan. Add extra, if desired.
Bake for 12-15 minutes or until brown all over. Serve warm or cool. Best with sun dried tomato butter (just mix soft butter with chopped marinated sun dried tomatoes).

Monday, May 5, 2014

Smoked Tasso Ham (and Maque Choux)

I love conquering levels of the culinary world that I have never tried before. Techniques that may have scared me before seem more and more plausible each day. Things I used to not understand are becoming clear. It helps to answer the question of why I am so obsessed with food, cooking, and baking. It is because there are endless things to learn, something new to try each day, and you can visibly see your work turning from a raw, perhaps unappealing ingredient into something that looks, smells, and tastes magnificent. A good meal can make a celebration all the better, a bad day into comforting warmth, and remind us of days well past by their smells and tastes. Food is so powerful, and I love being the one to have power over it.

This weekend I smoked something. Yup, that's right, I spent all day smoking in my yard. Pork, that is! Tasso ham, to be exact. Tasso ham is a Southern dish of somewhat spicy, seasoned, dry smoked pork used to flavor dishes much like bacon. It is used in cajun cooking quite a bit, and I knew it would be perfect for the Moque Choux (Mock Shoe) I was making for a party on Saturday. I have no idea where to find it around here, so I decided to pull up my big girl pants and do it myself!

My Dad used to smoke everything. We actually used to smoke chickens in out chimney in Minnesota and called it "chimney chicken". No wonder I LOVE things that are smoked. Fish, chicken, pork, cheese....everything seems to taste better with that mesquite flavor. I was always just a taste tester, not part of the process. I had to do some research on how to do it myself - especially since all I had was a basic oudoor charcoal grill. I've heard it done before though, so I knew it was possible.

And possible it is. And I was very successful! I put the meat on to smoke in the morning, ran some errands, and added more charcoal and wood chips when I got home. I smoked the Tasso ham for about 6 hours total. Here is how I did it.

3 days prior to smoking, I put a dry rub, listed below, on my pork. I had a 2 lb. pork loin and cut it into 1" thick cutlets. I set it in the fridge and let it merry with the spices.

The morning of smoking, I set my wood chips (I just used mesquite wood chips) in some water to soak. They soaked for about 2 hours.

I set a big pile of coals on one side of my grill and let them pre-heat for about an hour. I let them get completely white. Then I laid on a few handfuls of my wet wood chips. I did not include a water pan like most smoking. These cutlets are supposed to dry out. If you wanted to keep smoked meat moist, you'd want to add a pan with water to the side you are cooking the meat on.

There was apparently some stuff on the grate to burn off...

I placed my cutlets on the off-heat side of the grill and closed her up!

This is what my coal-wood chip pile looked like. 

Halfway through cooking

My little helper
 The finished product!! I probably could have taken these off a little earlier but truth be told, I totally forgot about them. They were still so so good - almost like jerky. My husband just ate a whole one when he got home from work and said he just wanted to eat all of it. It is pretty salty, but it is supposed to be for flavoring dishes.

Now, for the dish I made. Moque Choux. A Southern Cajun dish of spicy corn.

I diced up my Tasso Ham really finely.

Added it to a pot with veggies...

And added corn and other herbs. The final picture of my final product is kind of cruddy because when it was done, it was a rush to get out!! So I had to take a picture of cold leftovers. Which are still delicious, by the way!


The Tasso Ham did a fantastic job giving my dish a smokey, salty, spicy flavor. The hard pieces softened in all the juices of the veggies. Really a great side dish. 
Spice Rub for Tasso Ham
adapted from Nola Cuisine
*This is a rub for about 5 lbs of meat. I only smoked 2 lbs, so I have a little container of spice left. 
3 Tbsp. Salt
2 tsp. cayenne (or more, if you want it really spicy)
4 Tbsp. Paprika
2 Tbsp. fresh garlic
1 Tbsp coarse black pepper
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp Brown sugar. 
Blend all ingredients in a bowl. Rub into 1" thick slices of pork and refrigerate for 2-3 days. Smoke without water (except for the water used for soaking woodchips) and let sit out in the open until cool after smoking. 

Moque Choux

2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1/2 cup (or 2 cutlets) Tasso Ham
4 cups corn, frozen or fresh
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes*
3 roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup half and half
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in large sauce pan. Add onion, pepper, celery, and Tasso Ham. Cook until vegetables are softened. Add corn and heat through. Add crushed pepper flakes and tomatoes and let cook 5-10 more minutes. Add in half and half and let the sauce reduce and thicken slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve. 

*The red pepper flakes can be replaced by fresh jalapeno. This is what I would have done had I had a fresh jalapeno.