Dinner: Ham Steak and Acorn Squash

The most food-centric holiday of the year in the US, and I didn’t post any recipes. Clearly I am not ready for the big leagues of food blogs. But I’ve never actually done any of the cooking for my family’s thanksgiving celebrations, and I don’t know the recipes for the food we traditionally eat. Well, except for green bean casserole, but you don’t need me to tell you how to make that one.

Tonight I will make up for it with TWO simple and delicious recipes I just made for dinner. It’s been getting truly cold and wintry around here, and I managed to have on hand the perfect ingredients for a hearty and comforting winter meal.

Baked Acorn Squash

Ingredients

1 Acorn squash
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp brown sugar
Cinnamon

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400° F. With a sturdy chef knife, cut acorn squash in half (I recommend having a rubber mallet handy for a large squash). Scoop out seeds and stringy bits. Put 1/2 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp brown sugar into each half, sprinkle with cinnamon. Fill a baking pan with 1/4 in water to keep the squash moist, and place the halves cut side up. Bake for 1 hour.

Notes

I love winter squash, and I had baked acorn squash all the time growing up. It takes a long time to cook, but is super-simple to make as long as you have a knife that is up to the job. Maybe you’ve heard this before, maybe you haven’t, but a good 8-inch chef’s knife is just about the most important kitchen tool to have. I cannot stress enough the importance of buying the best chef’s knife you can afford. That and a paring knife will get you through just about anything. They’re the only two knives I own and I am SO glad I have good ones.

Anyway, ham.

Autumn Spice Ham

Ingredients

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 (2 pound) ham steak
1 red apple, cored and thinly sliced
1 green apple, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup maple flavored pancake syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preparation

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the ham on both sides in the butter until browned. Lay the sliced apple over the ham. Pour the syrup over the apples and sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally until the apples are cooked through.

Notes

My ham was leftover from the red beans and rice I made for lunch this week (straight from a box of Zatarain’s, all I did was add the ham, so no recipe there. Zatarain’s red beans and rice is totally delicious though, and I highly recommend it.), so I had a lot less than 2 pounds. I just used one apple and the last of our log cabin syrup, which was not quite enough to coat the apple and ham as well as I wanted, so I added a splash of apple juice, too. It turned out really well.

Together with some toasted dinner rolls, this was just what I wanted on a chilly December evening.

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Bread Pudding

I have several main dish recipes to write about, but my boyfriend is in town and tonight I had some friends over to meet him and I made bread pudding by myself for the first time, and it actually went sort of perfectly.

So here I was, trying to decide what to make for this little party thing, and also my roommate wanted to know what I was going to do with the bagels I’d left sitting on the counter for two days, and so I thought, “can I make bread pudding with bagels?”

The answer, it turns out, is yes. First I googled “bagel bread pudding” to see if other people had tried it and liked it, and they had, so then I compared the bagel recipes to the normal recipes to see if you had to do something special to make it work, and it looked like you could just use the bagels like normal bread.

So, finally, I pulled out the trusty Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook for a good basic recipe, and modified it to suit my ingredients and taste. I stuck it in the oven about half an hour before I’d asked people to show up, and voila, awesome bread pudding.

Ingredients

2 stale bagels, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1/3 cup raisins
1 large apple
5 eggs
2 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp allspice or nutmeg

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325° F. Arrange bagel pieces in a single layer in shallow baking dish. Core apple and cut into thin slices, halved lengthwise. Combine apple slices and raisins with bagel cubes. Whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Pour over fruit and bagels. Sprinkle allspice over the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Notes

The apple I added basically because it had been sitting in our fridge for three weeks and hey, fruit is good in bread pudding. I also ended up using about 1 1/2 cups milk and 1 cup half and half. Again, partly because it was in my fridge needing to be used up.

After so many misadventures, I was paranoid about baking time. I set my timer for half an hour and checked every five minutes until it was done, which ended up being about 45 minutes in my oven. When in doubt with custards, keep the temperature on the low side and let it cook longer. For the truly worried you can put the baking dish into a water bath (I didn’t have a dish larger than the one I was using), which lets you turn up the heat a bit.

At any rate, the pudding was delicious and a big hit with my guests. In terms of fruit and flavoring, bread pudding is flexible. I particularly enjoy it with berries when they’re in season. You can basically add whatever is around and tasty, as long as you have enough egg and milk mixture to soak into the bread.

I’ve seen variations on the bread-to-egg ratio, I like mine pretty bready. The texture of plain custard weirds me out a little, and since my mother used to make custard for me when I was sick, it reminds me of being ill. I also fear that the more purely custard-like, the more likely the baking is to go wrong. I have no idea if this is a valid fear or not, but these proportions worked out great, so I don’t intend to experiment soon.

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What I’m Eating: Winter Frittata

This frittata was an experiment; I’d never made one before. I’d never even used a broiler before. And so of course I managed to screw it up: I didn’t cook it on the stove top long enough before I moved it to the oven, and then I forgot to move the oven rack to the top position. Which meant that the edges of my frittata were fully cooked, but the middle was still runny. After a few minutes of panic because I was out of eggs and had no other food planned, my roommate and I cut off the cooked edges and I redid the whole thing according to directions. Much to my surprise, it worked beautifully. I had been afraid that the top would get rubbery, but it ended up rather appealingly brown and crispy instead.

The frittata itself is full of protein and vegetables, making it a great one dish meal to take with me during the day. My only disappointment was that it wasn’t really big enough for a whole week. Maybe next time I will make a frittata and another main dish, and alternate. And of course I skipped the “fat-saving” details of the original recipe. I need the energy!

Ingredients

5 slices bacon
2 cups thinly sliced red potato
2 cups sliced red onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped spinach
2 tsp minced garlic
10 eggs
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Preparation

Cook bacon until crisp. Let cool. Chop and set aside. In a 10-inch skillet, sauté potato, onion, bell pepper, rosemary, and 1/2 tsp salt in 1 tbsp oil 5 minutes over medium heat. Cover and cook 10 minutes. Stir in spinach and garlic and sauté 1 minute. Remove from heat. Beat eggs and remaining salt in a large bowl. Add vegetables, bacon, black pepper, and feta. Preheat broiler. Place cleaned 10″ skillet on a burner over medium heat and add remaining oil. Pour in egg mixture and cook 4 minutes. Move skillet to broiler and broil, uncovered, 3 minutes. Slide onto plate. Cut into 6 wedges and serve hot or cool.

Notes

Leave out the bacon and this would be a great ovo-lacto vegetarian main dish. Next time I make it I might try to find a larger container of feta. The cheese was not especially noticeable, and I love feta.

You can cook the bacon in the oven, which will leave you and the skillet free to start sauteing vegetables.

I think I’ll be making this recipe again soon. Just writing about it is making my mouth water!

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Long time no food!

Yes, it’s been ages since I posted. Sorry for the long silence. There’s this thing where grad school is a lot of work! I was hoping to make a habit of posting soon after I cook, but I keep cooking on Sunday nights, and then when I’m done I just want to sleep, and then suddenly another week has gone by…

Ahem. I have indeed been continuing to cook, and I will do my best to write some recipe posts this weekend. For now, I will share some links. For example, my adventures in unfamiliar culinary territory have tended to go something like this. Bitten, by the way, is an excellent food blog by the author of How to Cook Everything, which will probably be the next cookbook I buy, to join Better Homes and Gardens (I have the 10th edition) and Vegetarian Planet, a much-appreciated graduation gift.

For the most part though, when I am trying to find meal ideas I go first to Tastebook, which is a great resource for finding and organizing recipes. You could also probably help them stay in business by ordering one of their beautiful custom cookbooks, if keeping a stack of recipe printouts on top of the microwave isn’t your style.

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What I’m Eating: Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce

I have kind of a problem with pasta sauces. I never seem to have enough tomato-based sauce, because it all just slides off the pasta and I have half of it left on my plate when I’m done. Cream sauces are delicious, but often seem too heavy, especially if I have just pasta and a flour-based sauce. I need some contrast in the dish. So when I found a recipe for tomato cream sauce using diced instead of pureed tomatoes, I got excited. And it turned out just as delicious as I’d hoped. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
3/4 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter

Preparation

In a saucepan, saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Add tomatoes, basil, sugar, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to boil and continue to boil 5 minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates. Remove from heat; stir in whipping cream and butter. Reduce heat and simmer 5 more minutes.

Notes

I combined the sauce with about half a pound of rotini and a small head of steamed broccoli. It was, for me, a nearly perfect sauce-to-substance ratio. The pasta and vegetables were coated in sauce but not swimming in it. The broccoli and diced tomato pieces added a little acidity and freshness. I am quite happy with the way this turned out and will definitely be making it again. Did I mention that it’s also fast and easy to make? Commenters on Allrecipes recommend serving it with grilled chicken or Italian sausage.

My protein for this week was a lentil salad that was not nearly as successful, at least partly because of mistakes I made during preparation, so I will probably try again later to give it a fair chance. My first mistake was not try out the lentil recipe I posted before, but I didn’t end up making it to the farmer’s market and the grocery store tomatoes were just not up to my standards. For years I thought I hated raw tomato, but it turns out what I hate is raw watery, yellowish tomatoes. I need a really good dense roma tomato if I’m going to be eating it raw.

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First Guest Recipe!

I’m really glad to get initial encouragement from people, especially since last week was a little overwhelming for me. But I managed to rest and relax a little this weekend, and I’m feeling much better. So now, here is a recipe! I was going to try to cook it myself before posting, but while I did get time for some cooking this weekend, this one just wasn’t in the works. But I think it looks pretty great, so here is Helena’s suggestion:

I’m writing because I recently discovered a great and easy recipe that has two fantastic advantages. Since I have a very hectic work schedule, I often make quick meals that don’t include enough vegetables or protein. Now and then I start to feel tired, and really crave vegetables or steak as part of my body’s desire to get me back into balance. The following recipe is great on both fronts – tomatoes for the veg (ok, fruit, but still) and lentils for the protein.

Lentil Salad with Tomato and Dill

Ingredients

1 cup dried lentils (preferably small French lentils)
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3/4 lb tomatoes, diced (2 cups)
4 large scallions, thinly sliced (3/4 cup)
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, or to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

preparation

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan with lentils, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender, 15 to 25 minutes. Drain in a large sieve, then transfer to a large bowl.

Toss hot lentils with tomatoes, scallions, dill, basil, vinegar, oil, pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste.

notes

You can prep everything for the salad during the 20 minutes the lentils are cooking, so it’s fast.

For the budget conscious:
– You can get 2 salad runs out of a bag of lentils < $1
– Olive oil, vinegar, and garlic (minced, in a huge jar) are staples that are usually in the kitchen, but their prices don’t work out to much per round of the salad
– The tomato content is 2-3 depending on size, so typically less than $2
– Green onion content also < $1
– The herbs are the priciest part, but if you grow your own basil and dill, they’re FREE!
So if you grow your own herbs, you can probably put a round of this together for less than $5. With my (small) appetite, I generally get 4-6 meals out of this, but even for hearty appetites getting 1-2 meals, that’s pretty cheap.

I prefer my food a bit spicy, so I kick this up with a little extra black pepper and some dried red pepper flakes.

I recently served this at a dinner party for 6. With the other dishes, people took small enough portions that there was enough left over for 2 very satisfying meals (I’m a one-dish kinda gal when I’m eating alone, so that’s enough for me, but as a side the portions would be smaller and the freshness of it mixes well with either light or rich main courses – at the party I served it with goat cheese and scallion stuffed breaded chicken roulades – yum!). This salad also packs well for lunch at the office that doesn’t require reheating.

So there you go. I think this sounds simple, cheap and delicious, and I’ve got most of the ingredients already. I’ll probably look for fresh tomatoes at the farmer’s market this weekend and make some for my lunches next week.

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Fruit and Spice Granola

Yogurt, fruit and granola is one of my go-to combinations when I’m just not sure what I want to eat. Fruit and dairy products almost never go wrong with me, and a good granola provides a satisfying complementary crunch and spice. Whole milk yogurt in particular is delicious and gives me the energy I need to keep going when I don’t have a lot of time to figure out a more elaborate meal. Store-bought granolas frequently have things like coconut or almonds that I don’t like, and of course are not cheap. So this summer I experimented with this recipe a bit. You need an hour or so to make it, but then afterward you have plenty of delicious granola to use on the fly.

You can find the original recipe on epicurious, here is my modification.

Ingredients

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup pecans
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup honey
2 cups mixed dried fruits (I tend to use raisins and cranberries)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325°F.

In a large bowl stir together oats, nuts, and spices. In a small saucepan melt butter with honey over low heat, stirring occasionally. Pour butter mixture over oat mixture and toss to combine well.

Spread granola evenly in 2 shallow baking pans and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, stirring frequently and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Watch carefully during the second half of baking, to prevent burning. Add dried fruit to granola and mix. Leaving the mixture to cool without stirring will produce chunky granola, stirring as it cools will make the chunks much smaller.

Notes

I changed the oven temperature to 325 because the granola was burning at 350. The extra honey makes the finished granola form more chunks, as does leaving it to cool without stirring. You can of course adjust all the proportions to taste, add back the coconut if that’s your thing, and use whichever nuts or fruits you like. That’s the beauty of a recipe like this. I found the base recipe that seemed most appealing, and then adjusted it for my own taste.

If your bank account is up to it (mine, sadly, is not at the moment) I particularly recommend a good Greek yogurt with the fruit and granola. Greek yogurt is amazing.

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