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October Cooking Club: Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna October 8, 2010

Posted by Angela @ Making Food for Friends in cooking club, dinner, good for a group, vegan, vegetarian.
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butternut squash

Last night I attended the monthly cooking club that I am a part of with a group of friends. Each month, the host comes up with a theme, and each person prepares a dish to bring and share, and then we all swap recipes over email after. This month’s theme was (appropriately) orange—meaning plenty of squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, cider, and other delicious autumn food!

I made a tried-and-true favorite from last fall and winter: a butternut and spinach lasagna.  My friend Sarah shared this recipe with me last year, but I am not sure of the original source.  The butternut squash is roasted with a bit of balsamic, and the spinach is cooked down with red pepper flakes, which adds a nice savory/sweet vs. slightly spicy taste dimension to the whole thing.

Squash and root vegetables are so affordable right now at farmers’ markets. I can hardly wait to go to the one near me this weekend to pick up another butternut, a rutabaga (one friend made baked rutabaga chips with curried mayonnaise last night that were so delicious!), a spaghetti squash, and maybe a few small pumpkins to use as edible soup or chili bowls. I’ve been seeing a lot of recipes for chili baked in pumpkin bowls on the internet lately that I’d love to try. I LOVE this time of year!

(For past cooking club contributions, click here.)

Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna
(Printable Recipe)

Ingredients:
3 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 ounce)
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup minced shallots
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
8 cups (3/4-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 2 1/4 pounds)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon chopped fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 (6-ounce) bags fresh baby spinach (or 2 10 oz. bags of “regular” spinach, tough stems removed and coarsely chopped)
12 cooked lasagna noodles (8 ounces uncooked noodles) (I used the Barilla no-cook lasagna noodles; there were too many in the box—only needed 12 and the box has 16—but they worked really well!)
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Italian blend cheese

Method:

Preheat oven to 425°.

Peel and dice your squash.  I like to cut the top and bottom off so it’ll stand up properly, then peel the skin using a sharp vegetable peeler.  Remove the seeds and strings (saving them to roast if you’d like!).  Dice the peeled squash into small, 1/2 inch or so cubes.

peeled and diced squash

Place squash in a large bowl. Add vinegar; toss to coat. Add 1 tablespoon oil; toss to coat. Arrange squash in a single layer in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and thyme. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes.

roasted butternut squash

Cook milk in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil). Remove from heat; keep warm.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Melt butter in a medium nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots; cook 2 minutes or until tender. Reduce heat; add flour to pan, and cook 5 minutes or until smooth and golden, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add about 2 tablespoons warm milk to flour mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Gradually add remaining warm milk, about 1/2 cup at a time, until mixture is smooth, stirring constantly with a whisk. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and cook until smooth and thickened. Remove from heat but keep warm.

Combine remaining 1 teaspoon oil, red pepper, and garlic in a Dutch oven over medium heat; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add spinach, 1 bag at a time; cook until wilted, stirring frequently. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook until liquid evaporates, stirring frequently.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°.

Spoon 1/3 cup milk mixture in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking pan coated with cooking spray. Arrange 4 noodles over milk mixture; top with spinach mixture, 2/3 cup milk mixture, and a third of the cheese. Arrange 4 noodles over cheese; top with squash mixture, 2/3 cup milk mixture, and a third of the cheese. Arrange remaining 4 noodles on top of cheese; spread remaining 1/2 cup milk mixture over noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

layered lasagna

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

(Unfortunately, I didn’t snap a good photo of the final product!  I’ll be making it again at home, soon—when I was putting it together to take to cooking club, Ryan asked if we could make it at home sometime soon.  Maybe for next week’s Fringe with Friends!  I’ll make sure to get a nice photo then.)

Vegan Option

vegan squash pasta

For the vegans in our cooking club, I saved a portion of the roasted squash and tossed it with fusilli pasta, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, fresh baby spinach, pine nuts, thyme, and salt & pepper. I had leftovers of this version for lunch today but since I am not vegan, I tossed a little blue cheese in the mix, which was really good.  I’d make this version again , for sure.

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September Cooking Club Part 2: Mediterranean Halloumi Salad September 7, 2010

Posted by Angela @ Making Food for Friends in cooking club, salad, vegetarian.
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For my other contribution to last week’s cooking club (the first was the Pomegranate Mint Gin Fizz), I made a Mediterranean salad using grilled halloumi, homemade sumac pita chips, roasted beets, pistachios, finished with a homemade lemon mint vinaigrette.  I was really happy with everything–the pita chips were crunchy and tangy from the sumac (sumac is a spice typically used Middle Eastern cuisine.  It has a tart flavor and a deep red color, and is the key ingredient in fattoush salad dressing. The chips are a great snack by themselves, and a really good way to use up some pita that is slightly past it’s prime), and the vinaigrette will definitely be a regular around our house.  And grilled halloumi is always good.  (Check out this halloumi salad recipe for another Allen household staple.)

There are a lot of steps below but they are all easy, and involve plenty of hands-off time.  I made a bunch of each ingredient, kept them in separate containers, and had enough for several lunches as well as our cooking club dinner. And everything can be made ahead of time and stored for a couple of days. Even the halloumi, though it’s best straight from the grill!

Mediterranean Halloumi Salad

halloumi saladIngredients:

5 oz herb spring mix (or other mixed greens)
3 medium beets, roasted
8 oz halloumi cheese, grilled
1/4 cup pistachios
Baked pita chips with sumac (ingredients: pita bread, olive oil, sumac, salt, and pepper)
Lemon mint vinaigrette (recipe below)

Method:

The order I would recommend making the ingredients is: roast the beets, make the salad dressing and prep the pita while the beets are roasting, bake the pita chips while the beets are cooling, and grill the halloumi right before serving.

To roast the beets: Pre-heat your oven to 450. Wash the beets, and wrap each one up individually in an aluminum foil packet with a teaspoon of olive oil drizzled on top.  Roast the beets in their little packets in the oven for about 50 minutes.  You should be able to stick a fork in them when they are done.  They will be HOT when you take them out.  Let them cool a little (I rinsed mine under cool water to speed this up), cut each in half, and then slip the skins off.  They should come off fairly easily in your hands.  Cut into small matchsticks or dice and set aside.

To make the pita chips: Rip your pita bread into pieces (bite-sized or slightly bigger) and place in a large bowl.  Pour some olive oil on top, sprinkle with liberal amounts of spices (I used sumac, salt, and pepper), and stir the bread to make sure the oil and spice are distributed evenly. I find this works best if you just use your (clean :)) hands to mix it up.  A spoon just didn’t cut it for me.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes–the time window between perfectly crispy and burnt is small, so you kind of have to keep an eye on them.  I usually shake or stir mine halfway through cooking.  Cool, and eat!

Grill your halloumi on a grill pan, in a skillet, or on the outdoor grill on some foil.  Assemble the salad using your ingredients, and enjoy!

Lemon Mint Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Combine all ingredients, shake to mix thoroughly, and store in an air-tight container until ready to use.

September Cooking Club Part 1: Pomegranate Mint Gin Fizz September 3, 2010

Posted by Angela @ Making Food for Friends in cooking club, drinks.
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Our cooking club theme this time was Mediterranean, and I chose to do the salad and drinks. Salad post is coming later, but I wanted to share this drink as well. When I think about drinks from the Mediterranean region, wine and sangria (and ouzo!) immediately come to mind. But I wanted to make a cocktail. I googled for a Mediterranean cocktail recipe on the web, and came across a thread on the Chowhound message boards that gave me an idea for a pomegranate mint drink. Here’s what I came up with. It takes a little bit of time to go through all the steps, but if you can boil liquids and have just a small amount of patience, it’s easy to pull together. Unfortunately I did not take a picture of the drink, so I am ripping a picture off the internet of what it COULD look like, just so you know.

Pomegranate Mint Gin Fizz

pomegranate-mint-fizz

Drink contains:
2 parts gin
1 part mint simple syrup
1 part lime juice
1/2 part pomegranate molasses
Top with club soda

Ingredients:

To make pomegranate molasses:
16 oz. of pure pomegranate juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup lemon juice

To make mint simple syrup:
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
handful of fresh mint leaves, crushed

Fresh lime juice
Club soda
Gin (I know nothing about gin and chose my brand solely based on looks: Cittadel gin. Very delicious.  It might be because it has 19 herbs and spices included, whereas the other gins I inspected had fewer than 10.)

Citadelle gin

Method:

First, make your pomegranate molasses, because it’ll take the longest.  Put 16 ounces of pure pomegranate juice, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/8 cup of lemon juice in a pot and bring it to a boil.  After it comes to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and let it simmer away for at least an hour.  The liquid should reduce significantly, leaving you with about 1/2 cup of very concentrated, red liquid.

After you have your pomegranate simmering, start your mint simple syrup.  Simple syrup is made with a ratio of 1:1 water:sugar.  I used 2 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar in this case.  Add the water and sugar to a pot, crush/tear a handful of fresh mint leaves, and add them to the mixture.  Let it come to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  The liquid should be a nice light green at the end.  You don’t want this simple syrup to reduce as much as the pomegranate molasses.  Mine was still pretty watery (not syrup-y) when I took it off the heat after 15-20 minutes of simmering.

Let both the pomegranate molasses and mint simple syrup cool.

Mix your drink in a big pitcher following the ratios listed at the top of the recipe.  At the end, I had about 1/2 cup of pomegranate molasses, so I used that for my basis and added the following to a pitcher:

1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
1 cup lime juice
1 cup mint simple syrup
2 cups gin

Mix it all together, and top off with club soda as you pour individual drinks.    You can garnish with lime slices or mint sprigs, if you’re fancy.

Cooking Club: Spicy Lemongrass Soup July 23, 2010

Posted by Angela @ Making Food for Friends in cooking club, soup, vegan.
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I look forward to cooking club so much!  Even though I’m sure I gain 5 pounds every time our cooking club gets together, it’s one of my favorite nights of every month.  This month it was hosted by Kirsten of I Eat Veg, and the theme was Asian.  I choose the soup course this time around, and put together a spicy lemongrass vegetable soup.  Check out Kirsten’s blog in the coming days for some amazing recipes—vegan spring rolls, delicious fresh rolls, tofu peanut noodles with veggies, steamed dumplings, an assortment of dipping sauces, oh-so-good but oh-so-dangerous Mai Tais, and  Asian pear & grapefruit with sake granita and pear sorbet (so fancy! so tasty!).

This was my contribution.  I hope you enjoy it!

Spicy Lemongrass Soup

spicy lemongrass soup

Ingredients:

1 can coconut milk
4 cups veggie broth
2 stalks of lemongrass, grass cut off and white parts cut/bruised with knife
1 tablespoon curry paste
1 tsp sugar
1 inch ginger
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1 cup broccoli, chopped
4 oz mushrooms
1 package baked tofu, diced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Golden Mountain sauce (if you have it—if not, no biggie)
lime for garnish
sesame seeds for garnish

Method:

Heat the coconut milk and veggie broth in a pot.  When it’s warm, add the bruised lemongrass, knob of ginger, curry paste, and sugar. Simmer for 30 minutes.  When you have simmered at least 30 minutes, fish out the lemongrass and ginger knob before adding other veggies—otherwise it’ll get lost in the pot!  🙂

Add the carrots first.  Simmer until they are tender but not mushy.  Add the red peppers next, then the mushrooms, then the tofu, and the broccoli last.  Stir in the soy sauce and Golden Mountain sauce (if using).  Taste, and add more soy/Golden Mountain/or minced ginger, if necessary.

Garnish with sesame seeds and squeeze fresh lime juice in right before serving.

Frozen Mango Yogurt Dessert with Pistachios April 30, 2010

Posted by Angela @ Making Food for Friends in cooking club, dessert.
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Last night, as part of a monthly cooking club organized by Kirsten of I Eat Veg, I made a quick and easy mango yogurt dessert to go with our Indian theme for the month.  I’m not going to lie–I almost felt guilty bringing such an easy treat to a club that is all about cooking, trying new things, and sharing recipes with friends (so I supplemented dessert with a mango summer-y drink).  But really, who doesn’t love something that is easy and healthy and tastes good?   Full disclosure: I used frozen mango chunks from Trader Joe’s to make this. I didn’t even peel the mangoes myself!!  Such a slacker!  Here we go….

Mango Yogurt Dessert with Pistachios

mango dessert

(photo by Kirsten of I Eat Veg)

Ingredients:

Chopped frozen (or fresh) mango

Vanilla 0% Greek Yogurt

Chopped pistachios

Method:

Blend the frozen mango chunks in a blender until they are smooth enough to easily spread into a small bowl. Spread the mango in the bottom of a small dessert bowl.  Freeze that for at least 20 minutes.  Spread vanilla Greek yogurt on top of the mango, and place back in the freezer for another 20 minutes.  You can freeze the mango alone longer, but if you freeze the mango with the yogurt too long, the yogurt gets a little weird.  Right before serving, sprinkle with chopped pistachios.