Stuffed Squash Blossoms

I’ve wanted to try making stuffed squash blossoms for a while now. I picked some up at the farmers market last year, but didn’t quite get around to fixing them up, not to mention I was slightly intimidated by the thought of deep-frying them. I saw them again this year and thought I’d give it a go. We have a ‘doughnuts’ chapter coming up for The Breakfast Book project so I figured I’d better try my hand at frying before that next chapter.

And you know what? It really wasn’t that bad! I bought a thermometer, kept the oil at temperature, and it all worked out. The greatest part is that my stuffed blossoms were AMAZING. I loved the crispness from the tempura-like batter and the ricotta center was a delightful, creamy contrast to the exterior. The blossoms are really just a vessel with minimal taste to themselves, so it’s important to have the right in (and out) sides.

I consulted a couple different recipes, and one had parmesan in addition to ricotta and another added lemon zest, I think both would be great additions. I’d also love to try them again with a melty-er, stringy-er cheese – I’ve had a couple different varieties in restaurants and they are all good. While you have to be a little delicate with the flowers as you’re filling them, these are definitely worth the little bit of effort – oh, and the tomato sauce is SO amazing. The slightest kick from red pepper flakes, and pure tomato goodness, it’s the perfect summer combination.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Tomato Dipping Sauce

Tomato Sauce:

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pound tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Heat oil in pan, add garlic and pepper flakes. Cook for about 30 seconds until garlic is light brown. Add rest of ingredients, and 1/2 tsp of salt. Simmer uncovered for 25-30 min until thick, stir occasionally.

Squash Blossoms:

  • 1 cup whole-milk ricotta (preferably fresh)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp cup finely chopped mint
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
  • 12 to 16 large zucchini squash blossoms
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup chilled seltzer or club soda
  • About 3 cups vegetable oil for frying

Stir together ricotta, yolk, mint, 1/3 cup parmesan, and 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Carefully open each blossom, remove stamens, and fill with ricotta filling, gently twisting end of blossom to enclose filling. (You may have filling left over.)

Whisk together flour, remaining 1/3 cup parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and seltzer in a small bowl.

Heat 1/2 inch oil to 350°F in a 10-inch heavy skillet. When the oil is hot, dip the blossoms in batter to thinly coat. Fry coated blossoms, turning once, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes total. To maintain the temperature, you may need to do a few batches, so you don’t crowd the pan. Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain. Season with salt. Serve with tomato sauce.

Original Recipe here

Tomato Jam BLT

So at this point I hope you all are familiar with my ‘cook the book’ project. As I mentioned in this post, I met my SF food blogger friends through a variety of events, one of which was an evening with Michael Natkin to celebrate his new book Herbivoracious. Michael is a vegetarian food blogger turned author and we noshed on a few of his dishes, including his signature Chevre with Sauteed Grapes – so good and so simple, while getting to know him and become familiar with the book. He’s are really nice guy and took the time to chat with each of us, listening to our passions while sharing his for vegetarian cooking. The event was held at Cookhouse, a spectacular kitchen space for rent in North Beach, which I would highly recommend for hosting your next culinary event. I went to the event with Natasha and Claudie and we met Rachel and Aimee there, and before we knew it, we were planning our next get together and the cook the book idea was born.

Cookhouse

Having tried some of the his dishes at the event, I couldn’t wait to flip through Michael’s book and decide what to make next. There were so many tempting options, it took me a while and some inspiration from Food Loves Writing, to finally land on tomato jam. My dad grows tomatoes among other things and as summer rolled around it was the perfect match.

This jam was just delightful. Akin to a sweet bruschetta, I’ve been eating it with cheese on bread, on sandwiches, with eggs on toast – there are so many options. The essence of the tomato remains, but it’s sweetened and spiced up a bit with herbs and pepper flakes. I think next time I would definitely use less sugar and add more herbs/pepper flakes, but it was definitely good as is and was a crowd pleaser as an appetizer on Saturday night. I served it on  sourdough with cheddar, and I think it would have been really amazing with goat cheese on crackers. The tartness of Chevre with the sweet jam would be amazing.

Of all the ways that I’ve used this jam, I enjoyed this grilled BLT the most. Sharp cheddar and salty bacon balance out the sweetness of the jam and I used fresh spinach instead of lettuce – yum! I basically made grilled cheese then opened it up at the end of cooking and inserted the bacon and greens, but really you could do whatever kind of BLT you like, and I’m sure you will love this ‘tomato’ on your sandwich.

Tomato Jam from Herbivoracious*

  • 1 1/2 lbs tomatoes, cored, peeled, diced
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • pinch red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a simmer and continue to simmer until reduced, thick and syrupy. Cool and serve at room temperature. Will store in the fridge for about 3 days. You can peel the tomatoes easily by lightly scoring an X in blossom end of the tomato and soaking in boiling water for 10 seconds.

* I omitted the saffron in the original recipe – my budget has to draw the line at $18.00 spices 🙂

Easter Tree & A Strata

I had never heard of an Easter tree until I moved to Germany. I think it may be a tradition for some here, but for me growing up Easter was all about Easter baskets, egg hunts, matching dresses with my sister and a few family get-togethers. However, when we grew out of the candy and filled plastic eggs, there wasn’t much celebrating done.

The year I lived in Germany, celebrating Easter returned with two small kids in the house and I learned about the easter tree. SO cute! Hanging dyed eggs from fresh spring branches is so festive and adorable, I had to continue the tradition when I returned home. Of course, it is essential to have a good egg recipe on hand to make use of all the blown out eggs. A frittata would be perfect or perhaps some soft scrambled eggs, but this strata is one of my favorites.

I’ve been making this strata for a few years, and usually reserve it for Bay to Breakers, but it has also made an appearance on New Year’s morning, at my birthday brunch one year and Christmas morning. It’s a fantastic option for hosting morning events, including Easter brunch, because it can be made the night before and just popped into the oven the morning of. I love the eggy bread on the bottom and crispy texture on top, and the fact that it’s loaded with flavor from sausage, mushrooms and spinach. I made it along side with a bacon and cheese recipe, one time for a larger crowd, and this one won out by a mile. It’s a must try the next time you need a hearty breakfast!

And now for the Easter Tree! I made eggs a few years ago, when I first moved back to San Francisco, and decided this year was the year to make some new ones. I have a lovely bunch of twigs in my apartment that make the perfect tree and made the dyes on my own with food coloring. It’s all the rage to be making dyes with natural foods, beets, etc, but I used what I had on hand and am really pleased the result. I went with just off primary colors, simple linear designs, some over lapping colors and left bits of white for contrast, resulting in an elegant Easter Tree. I love love love it.

The process:

  • To blow out the egg, I poked each end with a push-pin, and cracked the holes a bit bigger so my needle would fit through
  • Let them rest and dry out for a period of time before dying
  • Dye per the instructions of the dye you are using – note: the eggs do not sink! You have to submerge with pressure from a spoon or something to get the whole egg one color
  • When they are dry, you can begin threading per the below image instructions.

After this point, tie a knot in the end and rotate the string so that the knot ends up inside the egg

Final result: simple, elegant Easter eggs

Sausage, Spinach, Mushroom Strata

  • 4 links mild Italian sausage
  • 1 pkg (~10 oz) crimini mushrooms
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 pkg (~9 oz) baby spinach
  • 8 cups sourdough bread cut in 1-2 inch cubes
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese
  • 7 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt & Pepper

Coat 13″x9″ baking dish with cooking spray. Heat a bit of oil in a skillet and brown sausage, transfer to a bowl. In the same skillet brown onions and mushrooms until mushrooms have released their liquid. Add spinach and cook until wilted, season with salt and pepper. Add spinach/mushroom/onion mixture to sausage and mix to evenly distribute. Place half of bread on bottom of pan. Top with sausage mixture and 1 cup cheese. Place rest of bread cubes on top. In a separate bowl mix eggs and milk, season with salt and pepper. Pour liquid over bread. Press down to make sure all bread is submerged. Cover and refrigerate 8 hrs or overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 50-55 min until top is slightly brown. During last 10 minutes of cooking sprinkle remaining cheddar cheese over strata. Let cool 10 min before serving. Serve warm.

Game Day: Elevated Pigs in a Blanket

Um, these are kind of amazing, no no, like really amazing. As much as I love gourmet food and making things from scratch, there are some oldies but goodie that are pretty fantastic as is – add a couple of extra ingredients and they just might blow you away. I’ve been in love with lil’ smokies in a blanket since I made them for a 70’s party several years ago (I went with a snack from the era) and since then I’ve made them for many a house party because they are so easy and such a crowd pleaser. The thing that makes these great for hosting is that you can tuck in the piggies ahead of time, keep them on baking sheet in the fridge and pull out when you are ready to bake. I also love how this particular recipe doesn’t need a dipping sauce, so they are clean and easy for game day viewing.

What makes these elevated is the home-made spicy mustard, apple and sharp cheddar. The apple, cheese, meat combo is a classic that I’ve applied here and here. I am a huge fan of how the lil’ smokies and crescent roll are slightly sweet and are balanced by the crisp apple and the sharpness of the cheddar and mustard. Also, if you are wondering why I went crescent roll over puff pastry for my special smokies – I just think they taste better. I like the bread texture, and I think they maintain texture and flavor better than puff when cooled. When rolled all together these little piggies are hot, melted  and I know everyone will love them.

{cut each crescent roll in half and spread with spicy mustard}

{layer on thinly sliced apple and cheese – don’t slice too thin because they need to hold their own against the sausage and the roll}

{add the lil’ smokie – it looks high, but it’s so worth it}

{wrap ’em up tight, bake with the apple on the bottom}

{bake on parchment paper at 375 for 12-15 min until golden and melted}

Spinach-Ricotta Ravioli with Mushroom Brown Butter

Finding a cooking companion is kind of like finding a good traveling partner. It’s best if you have a similar level of expertise, a mutual vision of your end result (and are willing to make little compromises along the way) and ideally have a comfort level with one another such that you can do a little ‘kitchen dancing’ in small spaces, if needed. The past two meals I’ve cooked with friends, I’ve been very lucky to have good cooking chemistry – sharing ideas and coming up with REALLY tasty meals, like last night’s fresh ravioli!

Kelly and I are friends through work and since we had a big meeting yesterday, we decided to celebrate by utilizing the pasta attachment left at her house last weekend. We opened a of wine and began to knead, chop, saute, roll and pinch. She had just gotten spinach in her CSA box, and I had mushrooms from mine last week, so we decided to go simple with a spinach-ricotta filling and two different sauces: mushroom brown butter and creamy tomato.

They were great! It was so fun to really see the little Italian pockets of flavor come together and I was shocked at how easy it was. We used spinach and basil in the filling, which yielded a firmer texture than just ricotta alone and the brown butter sauce was really amazing – salty and a little crisp, finished with a squirt of Meyer lemon, which was a bright end note and nice complement to the heavy butter. All in all, a huge success that was the result of a great culinary partnership.

Spinach-Ricotta Ravioli

Dough

  • 2 1/4 cups semolina flour
  • scant 1 tsp of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons oil

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl whisk egg, water and oil together. Add to flour and salt. Mix until combined and starting to clump. Turn onto lightly floured surface, pull dough together and start kneading. Knead for 10 minutes until smooth and springy. Note: The dough is tough! Just keep on kneading. You should feel it change textures as you go – first very grainy and eventually much smoother. After 10 min, once dough is smooth, flatten into disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 min.

Filling

  • 15oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 bunch baby spinach
  • 2 tbsp basil, finely chopped
  • handful grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt to taste

Wilt the spinach in a saute pan. Cool and squeeze out excess water. Chop finely. Combine with all other ingredients in a bowl. Be sure to taste the filling and make sure it’s got enough salt and basil to your liking.

Assembly

After dough has rested in fridge, remove and roll to about 1/4 thick (or just thick enough to fit into the widest setting on your pasta machine). Note: you may want to cut the dough into a few piece to make them easier to work with. Run through the pasta machine, starting on the widest setting and going down one level after each run through. We went down to 4 on a setting of 1-8. Note: since the ravioli edges are double thick, I would go thinner next time – to level 5 or 6. Lay rolled pasta sheets on a lightly floured counter and place rounded teaspoon sized dollops of the filling on top. Cover with another piece of dough. Gently press the top piece of dough on top of and around the filling, being sure to squeeze out any air around the filling. Lightly press surrounding layers of dough together. Pinch out ravioli with a crimper or ravioli punch. Separate and move aside to wait for cooking.

Cooking

While assembling ravioli, bring a pot of water to boil. Place several ravioli in the boiling water. After a few seconds they will float to the top, let them hang out there for a few more seconds and remove – totally cook time is maybe a minute. Note: Be sure to test one or two ravioli first! Every dough and water will be different, cook until aldente – it will NOT take long.

Mushroom Brown Butter ‘Sauce’

I use the term ‘sauce’ lightly for this one, because it’s really just brown butter with mushrooms. The mushrooms will soak up a lot of the butter, so they are meaty and rich – you really don’t need a lot of it to make a big impact. Quantities are to adjustable to your liking and how much you need.

  • wild mushrooms, rough chop
  • ~4-7 Tablespoons butter
  • salt
  • fresh lemon

Heat a tablespoon of butter in a saute pan. Add mushrooms and cook until lightly brown. Note: you can start and stop here while the dough is resting and finish the rest of the way when the ravioli are cooking/done. Melt rest of the butter and as it starts to bubble add back the mushrooms. Cook until butter is browned and mushrooms are crispy. Sprinkle in salt and finish with squeeze of about 1/4 of a small lemon – adjust salt and lemon to taste. Spoon over fresh ravioli.

Braided Sausage Roll

Hostess: Could you bring an appetizer?
Me: Sure! I’ll bring my braided sausage roll.
Hostess: Wow! Braided? Sounds fancy.
Me (thinking to myself): Muahaha, if she only knew how easy it is…

This braided sausage roll the ultimate item you can bring to or serve at a party – something that looks very impressive, but is really not to difficult to put together. It is another one of my favorites from the holidays, as there are many parties to attend and people to impress. If the pictures aren’t enough to make you want to whip out the pastry roller, you’ll be happy to know the filling is delicious too! It’s almost sweet with apple and cheddar to balance out the mild spiciness of the sausage and the sage is earthy and screams of winter. I go packaged on the puff pastry, obviously (I am not a miracle worker) and it all comes together a little bit crispy and a little bit melt in your mouth.

You’ll have to give this a try – and experiment with fillings too. I have provided some pictures with tips and tricks, to make it easy for you to impress your next guests.

Braided Sausage Roll:

  • 1 lb mild italian sausage
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 3/4 cups apple peeled and grated, about 2 smallish apples, lightly squeeze out excess juice
  • 3/4 cup cheddar cheese
  • 2 tsp sage
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 package puff pastry (2 sheets)
  • egg wash (1 beaten egg + some milk)

– Heat some oil in a pan, cook onion until translucent. Add garlic and sausage. Brown until sausage is cooked through. Drain any excess fat.

– Transfer sausage mixture to a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients, mix until evenly distributed.

– Roll out both puff pastry sheets to 15×10 inch in size, transfer to pastry sheets lined with parchment paper. Cut sides, place sausage in the middle and braid (see below).

– Brush with egg wash and bake at 400 degrees about 35 min until browned and bubbly.

The braiding:

Tip: Roll out the puff pastry and transfer it to the baking sheet THEN cut the strips. You will have one heck of a time transferring if you cut or fill and braid if you’re not already on the baking sheet.

As easy as it looks, just one over the other, alternating sides, all the way down

Tip: you might have to cut off the last strip of dough on each side at the end to make sure it folds up pretty.

Leek and Goat Cheese Tart

I adore leeks. I first really got to know them when I lived in Germany. My host family taught me how to cook them slowly without browning and finish with cream and smoked salmon to serve over pasta – so so so good. I could eat the ‘sauce’ all by itself. Leeks appeared in my Farm Fresh to You box this week and I couldn’t have been more excited. My mind immediately went to that good ol’ pasta topping, but I also had other aspirations for what I could do with this green onion relative.

I love how leeks have that mild onion flavor and get really sweet when you cook them down. As I was perusing a variety of recipes, I found this leek and goat cheese tart that reminded me in the slightest of  caramelized onion flatbread and I was even more excited that I would be able to use the remains of the goat cheese log from my birthday. I even labored over home-made crust since I don’t own the recommended food processor – though I must admit I have become somewhat of an expert at cutting in butter with my fingers after this past year of cooking adventures.

The end result of the time and love was an absolutely delicious, with the sweet leeks and sharp goat cheese balancing out each other just right. To give you some perspective, when I have left overs I usually eat them for 3 meals at the most… say a dinner, a lunch and another lunch or dinner. I ate this tart for about 4.5 meals: dinner, lunch (a sliver for breakfast too), dinner and lunch. I couldn’t keep it out of my mouth. You layer goat cheese and leek confit and cover the whole things with a milk/cream/egg mixture. It’s a bit remaniscent of a quiche, but less eggy and definitely still worth every bit. It would make a great appetizer, cut into bite size pieces too. I know Thanksgiving is tomorrow, but there are a slew of holiday parties right around the corner for which this would be a fantastic addition.

ALSO – After a year of blogging, I finally figured out how to take non-yellow photos in my kitchen! In honor of this finding, I’m happy to present to you “Leek and Goat Cheese Tart: A Photo Montage”:

Leek and Goat Cheese Tart:

CRUST

  • 4 tablespoons (or more) ice water
  • 3/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

FILLING

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheesechèvre
  • 1-1 1/2 cups Leek Confit, depending on how many leeks you used *recipe below

Preparation:

CRUST

  • Combine 4 tablespoons ice water and cider vinegar in small bowl. Blend flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter with finger tips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Slowly add water-vinegar mixture, mixing only until moist clumps form. If dough seems dry, add ice water by teaspoonfuls.
  • Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep refrigerated. Allow dough to soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.
  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Roll dough out on lightly floured work surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter tart pan. Press dough onto bottom and up sides. Fold in overhang and press to extend dough 1/2 inch above sides of pan. Line pan with foil and dried beans, pie weights or rice. Bake until dough looks dry and set, about 30 minutes. Remove foil and beans and continue to bake until crust is pale golden, 20 to 25 minutes longer. Remove from oven and cool while preparing filling.
FILLING

  • Whisk milk, cream, egg, egg yolk, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese over bottom of warm crust; spread leek confit over and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Pour milk mixture over to fill to the top (you may not need all the liquid). Bake until filling has puffed, is golden in spots, and center looks set, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Leek Confit:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3-4 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 5 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preparation

  • Melt butter in large pot over medium-low heat. Add leeks; stir to coat. Stir in water and salt. Cover pot; reduce heat to low. Cook until leeks are tender, stirring often, about 25 minutes. Uncover and cook to evaporate excess water, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve warm. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 week ahead. Keep chilled. Rewarm before using.

The original bon appetit recipes here: confit & tart