Crispy spaghetti squash crepes with mushrooms and sage

The season has officially turned, but this weekend I’ve been enjoying the last few moments of summer-like weather. At this time of year, one never knows how many more chances there will be to have the windows open all day or sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.

The fair temperatures have not fooled my palate, however. My brain and taste buds know that it’s nearly October, and therefore I find myself craving hearty, rustic meals. Various types of squash are in abundance right now, so I took advantage of the fall’s bounty and pulled up this recipe I’ve had bookmarked for quite some time.

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Mushroom risotto with tarragon cream sauce

mushroom-tarragon-risottoAs previously mentioned and evidenced by the number of recent risotto postings, I am a bit obsessed with risotto. Even though I made it just last weekend, I tried a new recipe last night. With the dramatic dip in temperatures, I was craving some comfort food and this fit the bill perfectly.

I borrowed the recipe for cream sauce from Real Simple, adapting it to not use the onions, but this sauce is AMAZING and light and would go well over many types of vegetables or fish.

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Easy, homemade croutons

When faced with leftover bread that’s gone stale and no longer good enough to eat on its own, one must not worry! The easiest thing you can do is turn it into croutons which no doubt will be better than anything you can buy at the store.

You can customize your own flavor and season as much or as little as you like to get the exact flavor you want. If you have 20 minutes, you can make these in time to serve with your dinner salad. Easy peasy, done and done. Use to garnish your salad or soup of choice!

Ingredients

  • Bread (leftover baguettes work fantastic)
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • Seasoning of choice (herbs de provence, garlic, rosemary, thyme, etc.)
  • Salt

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350
  • Slice the bread into ½ inch cubes
  • Toss in a bowl with the olive oil until the bread is well coated
  • Sprinkle in your seasoning and a few pinches of salt, continue to mix until the bread is well coated
  • Spread the croutons on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, ensuring to mix and turn at least twice so the croutons get an even color on all sides.

croutons

Caramelized onion and apple risotto

onion-apple-risottoI have a confession to make: I am a bit obsessed with risotto. I love everything about it – the process of making it, all the ingredients that go into it and not least of all, eating it. I love it because it’s versatile and is a dish you can eat year-round, customizing to ingredients and flavors that are in season. It can be made to appeal to any diet preference as well – it works wonderfully with light seafood such as scallops or shrimp and is a great vehicle to highlight seasonal vegetables.

Forever on the hunt for the next awesome flavor profile, I decided that caramelized onions and apples sounded like a good idea to try. I know what you’re thinking – there’s already plenty of onion in the base of risotto, won’t this be overkill? I was worried about that too, but I did it anyway and was glad I took the risk. Caramelizing the onions gives them a different flavor, so this wasn’t overkill with onion. You’re also only going to use a half cup of the onions, so you’ll have some leftover. (Looking for what to do with them? Try this crostini recipe.)

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Baking and Pastry week 10

The first quarter of this culinary journey is complete! The last two weeks of class garnered some of the easier, every day breads and treats. In week nine, we made challah bread, fougasse and baguettes. We also snuck in an ice cream treat because the ice cream kitchen was finally available. I’m still enjoying my pistachio white chocolate ice cream – I actually can’t believe I still have some left.

The last 2 classes focused on how to use leftover ingredients – namely, an extra challah loaf and baguette we left behind from the week before. We turned them in to an amazing chocolate bread pudding and croutons, respectively. We also squeezed out some toffee, brittle and pretzels, which just like all the breads before it, was laborious, but worth the effort.

On the very last night of class, I had my very first total recipe failure. We were making truffles and I over-poured the cherry liquor and my ganache never set up enough to roll into truffles. Lesson learned, when the chef says not to use more than 1.5 ounces of liquor and you accidentally pour 1.8, don’t shrug it off and say “it will be ok”. I actually intended to take a sip to try the liquor on its own, but totally forgot as I started throwing things together. Alas, no truffles for me. But, like any good chef, I can improvise – the cherry-chocolate sauce will be great over my pistachio ice cream!

I was much more successful with my toffee and spicy pecan brittle. Both were a hit at the office, I personally like the brittle the best.

The past ten weeks have been a blast – I’ve had fun and I learned a TON. I’ve been able to work in a professional kitchen where there are awesome tools like blast chillers, Hobarts that are so big they need to be wheeled out on a cart and had access to a pantry full of goodies to please any palate.

Out of everything I’ve made, a few items stand out as my favorite: tiramisu, French macarons, panna cotta, quiche, and pastry cream which has a million different uses.

I have a break for the next three weeks, and when class starts up again, I’ll be going back to basics – knife skills, stocks, sauces and soups. I’ve heard that breaking down a whole fish and boning Cornish hens are on the syllabus – eep!

week10collage

Goat cheese and caramelized onion crostini

caramelized-onion-crostiniWeek nine of baking and pastry yielded lots more bread – 3 baguettes, 2 challah loaves and a pint of ice cream to be exact! I selfishly took everything home and now I have more bread than I know what to do with…until I thought of crostini.

I whipped this up for an afternoon snack. If you’ve never caramelized onions before, the trick is to be patient and make sure you have at least 45 minutes to let them simmer. You can’t rush the process, otherwise you won’t get that perfect, yummy caramelization. Bon Appetit has some great tips here.

Ingredients

  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced (I used Vidalia)
  • 1 baguette
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 5 tbsps butter
  • ½ c olive oil, plus more to drizzle on the bread
  • 1/4 white wine, red wine or balsamic vinegar

Heat the butter and olive oil in a 12” skillet over medium heat until the butter is just melted. Add the onions and stir to coat with the oil and butter. Keep the onions on the heat for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally until well caramelized.

Once the onions are well caramelized, deglaze the pan with the wine to reincorporate the fond that has formed on the bottom of the pan.

While the onions are cooking, slice and prepare the bread. Turn on the broiler to low when there are about 5-6 minutes left for the onions to cook.

Coat the top of the bread with olive oil, then spread a good amount of goat cheese on the bread and top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Place in the broiler and broil for 3-4 minutes until the cheese is heated through. Top the crostini with the onions and serve.

 

Caramelizing the onions

Caramelizing the onions

 

Prepping the bread

Prepping the bread

 

All done!

All done!

Baking and Pastry Week 8

The final result: my impatient Danish.

The final result: my impatient Danish. Worth every single minute of effort.

It’s Labor Day today, so I’m not going to labor too hard over this post. I actually started my draft on Friday, but over the long weekend, it’s been hard to do anything other than sit outside, nap, read my book or indulge in a nice glass of wine and dinner out with Terry.

In our second series of bread making, the focus was on laminated and sweet dough. Or as I like to call it, “I’m glad I learned this in class because I’ll never make it again.” As I’ve mentioned before, some nights, I am just low on patience and these breads all take a lot of time. I’m also not so adept with rolling out and shaping dough, so that’s been we’ll say, “fun” to have to deal with. However, for whatever frustrations I have while in the kitchen, it’s always 100% worth it when I get the first bite. Sometimes I can’t believe I actually made these things. I will forever have respect for professional bakers. Thank goodness there are people that choose to do this all the time.

Maple-pecan sweet rolls

Maple-pecan sweet rolls

Wednesday night started off with our sweet roll dough. Once we got that together, we went to work on the Danish pastry dough. This one is pretty high maintenance. It’s not so much mixing the dough that’s a big deal, it’s the rolling and folding that takes forever. With Danish pastry, you first roll it out into a rectangle and once the butter has warmed up enough (or, as it’s called in the industry having “plasticity”), you then slather two-thirds of the dough with it. You’ll go through an ungodly amount of butter, but it’s a necessary evil because that’s pretty much the only reason Danish taste so delicious.

Once the butter is “locked in” (which is the term for the first fold to encase the butter), you move on to your first “fold”. After the first fold, the process of turning begins. For each “turn”, you fold and roll the dough again. Then it’s back into the cooler to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes between turns. You do this 2-3 more times, and there goes your entire day.

More Danish!

More Danish!

Because our class is only 4 hours long, we only did one turn on Wednesday and completed the rest of the turns on Thursday. I admit to just wanting to get it over with and did not roll out my dough as thin as I should have, and that’s why I call my final result an impatient Danish. Had I done it all perfectly, I probably would have had better end results, but the taste was still pretty darn good.

As for the sweet rolls, they were filled with a maple-pecan spread and topped with a yummy cream cheese icing. Nothing exactly a photogenic dish, but tasted pretty darn alright to me.

Whatever you’re doing with your long weekend, hope you enjoyed it and ate something yummy!

Two more weeks of baking and pastry, then a short break and in early October, I start with stocks, sauces and soups!