The Flavors of Fall

It’s official!!!!!  Fall is now here.  I love it!  The weather is not yet reflecting fall, and our leaves are only just starting to change colors, but the calendar says it is officially here, so I am going with that.   Soon houses and homes everywhere will be filled with the scents and flavors of fall.   This includes warm cinnamon and apples; lots of pumpkins and pumpkin pie; toasted pecans; maple syrup; and so much more.   I started some fall cooking a few weeks ago, but now that it is officially the fall season, you can expect to see a lot more seasonal cooking and baking from me.

Here in the United States, we tend to think of pumpkins only for pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin pie is certainly delicious, but there is so much more you can do with pumpkin than just pie.  What we call squash is known to the rest of the world as pumpkin, so you will find I use the two terms interchangeably.  Pumpkins, like their cousins in the squash family, are part of the cucurbita family or gourd family.  Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Mushrooms  Pumpkins, or squash, are eaten all over the world and are a staple in many people’s diet.  They are very healthy for you as well as being very tasty.  Pumpkin is also very versatile.  There are s many different ways you can cook it.  I love pumpkin any which way it is cooked, and I tend to cook a lot of pumpkin dishes in the fall.  Dinner  was most definitely a meal of the fall season, complete with lots of of the flavors of fall.  We pulled some pork loin that we had already cooked from the freezer and I made a delicious pumpkin-apple butter sauce (I made my apple butter quite awhile ago.  It is almost time to make some more, and when I do, the recipe will follow)  with toasted pecans to top it off.  I served it atop garlic mashed potatoes and served it with roasted pumpkin and Brussels sprouts, also with with toasted pecans.

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The ingredients for my sauce:  Apple butter (I made that quite awhile ago), dried apples (I had them already, but normally I would use fresh apples), canned pumpkin, salt, pepper, toasted pecans and pumpkin vinaigrette (I actually used my own that I made, but for the picture, I had a store-bought pumpkin vinaigrette.  This was actually the inspiration for me making my own).   This is a zesty, flavorful sauce that is perfect for a fall dinner.  I served it over pork, but it is also very good with chicken too.

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Pumpkin-Apple Pecan Sauce

3/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped and set aside

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

1.4 cup apples, diced small – dried or fresh is fine

1/2 tsp each salt & pepper

2/3 cup apple butter

1/2 cup pumpkin vinaigrette

Just mix everything except the pecans together and cook in a saucepan for about 10 minutes, at a low simmer.  Then top your meat with the sauce and add the toasted, chopped pecans.

 

Everything I need for my maple roasted vegetables.  I used kobaishi squash, but you can use any type of hard gourd-like squash or pumpkins you like.  I use a wide variety of squash and pumpkins all the time.  Their flavors are all pretty similar.

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The recipe I was using said to cook the pumpkin first, then add the Brussels sprouts and pecans later and continue to cook for an additional 20 minutes.  Well, I tried that at first, but if I had continued to follow the recipe, my squash would have been mush.  So, after cooking the squash, I removed it from my pan and then cooked my Brussels sprouts and pecans and added the squash later.  From here on out, I will just cook everything all at once.

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Maple Roasted Pumpkin, Brussels Sprouts and Pecans

1/2 cup pecans, chopped

1 lb of your favorite pumpkin or hearty squash, skinned and cubed

1 lb Brussels Sprouts, cut in half lengthwise

salt & pepper to taste

2  TBSP pure maple syrup

2 TBSP olive oil

 

Preheat the oven to 400*F

Toss everything together and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the squash and Brussels sprouts are cooked and tender.

The flavors of fall – pork loin topped with a pumpkin-apple butter sauce with toasted pecans served atop garlic mashed potatoes, with maple roasted pumpkin, Brussels sprouts and pecans.  I served it with a chardonnay with hints of apples and citrus.    Let the fall season begin!

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Chicken, Sausage and Vegetable Alfredo

I love vegetables.  All kinds.  I have to really think hard to find a vegetable I do not like.  Because I love vegetables so much, and because they are so healthy for us, we eat a lot of them.  In fact, we eat a much larger variety of vegetables than a lot of vegetarians and vegans we know.  Strange as they may sound, it is very true.   It is recommended we eat at least five servings of vegetables per day.  Easy-peasy.    I always use a wide variety of vegetables in almost every meal I prepare.  I serve vegetables with more vegetables, and I mix all colors and textures of vegetables too, which also ensures we get a wide variety  of nutrients.  Often times, we have 5-7, or more, varieties of vegetables in one meal alone.  There is definitely no problem with us eating our daily recommended amount of vegetables in this house.  I could easily be a vegetarian if only I didn’t like meat so much.  I am definitely an omnivore and eat everything, so there is also a fair amount of meat in our diet as well.  My husband eats more meat than I do, and he wants it with every meal.  I am quite satisfied with eating it once a day.

I started off wanting to making just a simple chicken, broccoli, mushroom Alfredo, but it turned into much, much more.  Along with the chicken, broccoli and mushrooms, I also added carrots, red peppers, both white and green onions, Anaheim peppers and a jalapeno pepper, along with sausage, basil thyme and oregano.  So just in this one meal alone, I used eight different vegetables and three different fresh herbs.  I also added some sausage as well.  This is very typical of how I cook.  Because I love so many different kinds of food, and I am definitely NOT a picky eater, I always add more.  More is better, right?!  (Not always, but often this is the case).

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I bought a rotisserie chicken from Costco that I shredded and cooked my sausage and set them aside.  I sliced all my vegetables and sauteed them together until they were cooked and softened.

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If you do not want to add any meat, the vegetables alone would make a great meal in and of themselves, served with Alfredo sauce and pasta.

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Once the vegetables were all cooked, I removed them from my pan and made my Alfredo sauce.  In the same pan, with all the drippings from the vegetables and sausages, I poured in about 1 cup of a dry white wine.   Let the wine reduce down to about half, then added about 1 1/2-2 cups of heavy whipping cream and mozzarella cheese.

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Add the vegetables and meat, mix well and continue to cook at a low simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the seasonings and herbs.

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Once it has all cooked and the sauce has thickened a bit, it is ready to add over your favorite cooked pasta. Because this is a thick, hearty sauce,  I would recommend using a heavier pasta, like fettuccine or farfalle (bow-tie).  Add a little garlic cheese bread, more cheese to the pasta if you like, and serve with the wine of your choice.  I used a light, crisp viognier to help balance out the meal since I served it with a heavy, hearty sauce.  Mangia!  (The wine is from one of our local wineries, that is only about 5 minutes from where we live.  It is from Turquoise Mesa Winery, in Broomfield, CO).  This is definitely one of those meals where there is no specific recipe and I just used what I had on hand.  We always have a wide variety of vegetables.

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Garlic Alfredo Sauce

1 cup dry white wine

1 1/2-2 cups heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

salt & pepper to taste

1 TBSP garlic

1-2 TBSP butter, + more after the sauce is cooked as a finish (optional)

 

Saute the garlic in butter for about 2-3 minutes.  Add the wine and reduce by about 1/2.  Add the heavy whipping cream and cheese and mix well.  Add salt and pepper to your taste, and any additional seasonings and/or herbs and mix well.  You can use this sauce as is, or serve it with vegetables and/or chicken, sausage, shrimp or scallops, and serve over cooked pasta.

*** I almost always serve a garlic-herb cheese bread when i make this meal, and I add the leftover butter from my bread to my sauce.

 

 

The Battle of the Peanut Butter Cups

Everyone in America is very familiar with the beloved Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup candy.  Reese’s candies have been around since 1928.  They are an American classic originating in Hershey, PA by the HB Reese Candy Company, which Mr. Reese founded in his basement.  Although he had a lot of different candies, his peanut butter candies were his most popular.  In 1963, the HB Reese Candy Company merged with The Hershey Chocolate Company and history was made, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were born.  Reese’s Peanut Butter cups are among the most popular candies in America today.

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Enter the challenger, the new “kid” on the block, The Kirkland Brand Peanut Butter Cups from Costco.   Almost everyone knows of Costco, and most people love the Costco brands, myself included.  They have created their own brand, the Kirkland brand, and they have a wide variety of delicious, very good quality food products, including their version of America’s beloved peanut butter cups.

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Both the favorite, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and the challenger, The Kirkland Brand Peanut Butter Cups, are delicious mouthfuls of milk chocolate that have a peanut butter filling.  Both are irresistible, and make it very difficult to stop at just one.

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The contenders sit side by side on my kitchen counter, ready for battle.  Both are slowly peeled from their foil wrappers, and are ready for battle.  The favorite is wrapped in gold and the contender in bright red.  Both are prepared for this epic fight and have plenty of backup just in case one accidentally gets eaten before the finish of the battle.  Both are prepared to put up a good contest to defend their honor.  Both contenders go to their prospective corners.

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They meet, bite mark to bite mark, and size each other up.  They look pretty evenly matched, although The Kirkland Brand has a little more pizzazz to it’s bite.  Both contenders are ready.  Let the battle begin.

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The crowd favorite, wrapped in gold is looking a little flat and does not have as much style and flair as the challenger, but we all know it is substance rather than style right?!  Is the peanut butter filling of The Reese’s cup good enough to beat out the challenger?  Can it stand up to the taste test? The judge has nibbled equally from both.  She has let the chocolate and peanut butter flavors melt in her mouth to get the full essence and consistency of both.  She takes another nibble from each contestant and weighs in again.  After there is nothing left of either contender, they fought to their deaths and gave their all, the verdict is in.  And the winner is ……… Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a new winner in the house!  After careful consideration, and quite a few tastings later, the judge has decided the new kid on the block, The Kirkland Brand, is the winner.   What lead the judge to her decision you might ask.  There were actually a few factors that lead to her decision.  She liked the lighter, fluffier appearance of the Kirkland Brand for one.  She thought it had a little more personality than the tried and true Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.  But more importantly than the appearance, the judge really thought the peanut butter filling in the Kirkland Brand had a better, more “peanut buttery” taste and had a creamier consistency, again, more like actual peanut butter than the favorite.  It just melted in her mouth.  Though she still loves the favorite, it is not HER favorite.  The judge prefers the challenger, The Kirkland Brand, hands down.  I’m off to Costco.  I need more peanut butter cups.

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp with a Tomato-Herb Vinaigrette

We  love shrimp and we eat it a lot.  We also eat bacon wrapped shrimp quite often as well.  To make it different, I make and use different sauces, depending on my mood and what I have on hand at the time.  This time I made it with a delicious,  fresh tomato-herb vinaigrette.   This gave the shrimp a little bit of a Spanish flair, since this vinaigrette is found all over Spain.  By adding a little Spanish paprika to the dressing, you are also adding a little of the Spanish terroir, or personality of the land, to the dish as well.  You can use whatever type of tomato you like.  Whatever type of tomato you use will give the vinaigrette a slightly different personality each time, which makes it kind of fun and different.  This particular time, I used Roma tomatoes, but it would be also be delicious with heirloom tomatoes, or perhaps yellow sunshine tomatoes, or grape tomatoes, or any other tomato of your choice.  Use your imagination and play around a little.  Have fun experimenting with different kinds of tomatoes and trying the different flavors of each one.    This vinaigrette is just as good on shrimp as it is on salad and/or chicken too.

I served my bacon wrapped shrimp over wild rice, then added some green beans with toasted almonds and served it all with a cool, crisp chardonnay that had hints of apples and melon, for a perfect end of summer meal.

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I just put all my ingredients into the food processor and blended everything together until it was a slightly chunky-liquid mixture.  I made my dressing first, because I also marinated my shrimp in it before wrapping them in the bacon and skewering them up.  I only marinated them for about 15 minutes.  The acidity from the tomatoes and the vinegar will “cook” the shrimp, like a ceviche, if left in too long.  If they “cook” from the acidity, then cook again on the grill, they shrimp will become tough and rubbery and over cooked.

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Par-cook the bacon on a baking sheet for about 15-20 minutes in the oven at 350* F before wrapping the shrimp.  You want it to be soft and pliable.  Also bacon takes longer to cook than shrimp and you definitely do not want to eat it raw.  By par-cooking it first, then wrapping the shrimp, it will cook up just right on the grill without over cooking the shrimp.

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Once I had all the shrimp wrapped and skewered, I poured the rest of the vinaigrette on top of the bacon, then let it chill in the refrigerator until I was ready to grill it.

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Tomato-Herb Vinaigrette

3-4 medium sized tomatoes of your choice, cut into a medium dice (or about 1 lb, depending on what kind of tomatoes you are using)

1 1/2 TBSP garlic

1 TBSP Spanish paprika

1 1/2 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

3-4 TBSP sherry vinegar

3-4 TBSP red wine vinegar

1 tsp each thyme, basil, oregano

Put everything together in the food processor and blend for about 1 minute, or until everything is liquified and well blended.   It will still be slightly chunky, and that’s perfect.  It just adds more character and texture to either your salad or to your marinade.

 

A Poem By The Stroppy Git Who Hates Poetry

Normally I do not reblog other people’s blogs and ideas, but this was to funny not to share.

Bitchin’ in the Kitchen

My much loved fellow blogger, Kristian found a challenge on a blog I haven’t come across before but will have to start following I think!

Esther of Esther Newton Blog set a challenge to write a poem about food.

Yes you read that right. A Poem.

Me. The girl who’s idea of a classy sonnet is ‘The Boy Stood On The Burning Deck…

I make no secret of the fact I’m not a fan of poetry. I’m a big, Big, BIG fan of Kristian though so I read every thing he writes. As should you! Seriously, I love his stories. He’s one of my absolute favorite bloggers.

So poems. Poems and me. I went there. Apologies in advance but the devil made me do it!

I never thought that I should see

A food that couldn’t quite please me

A filthy psycho chose to tease

And thus invented cottage cheese

View original post 188 more words

Tuscan Steak

After our wonderful Caribbean vacation, where we ate mostly seafood, we came back really wanting and craving steak.   Like with everything else I cook, I like to make things in a variety of ways to keep our meals fun and exciting, so I am always coming with new twists to old classics.

I used a nice flank steak that I marinated with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, paprika and Worcestershire sauce.  I let it marinate for about 4 hours before grilling it up.  To me, the best way to eat a steak is medium rare.  That’s when it is really juicy and tender and all the flavors just really pop.  But, as I always say, cook it how you like it.

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To make my steak Tuscan style, I used fresh baby spinach, tomatoes, garlic, onions, mushrooms and butter beans.  Normally I use the smaller cannellini beans, but I accidentally picked up the wrong can.  I usually have a wide variety of beans on my shelves, both canned and dry.  In the end, it really does not matter.  Cannellini beans are smaller, but their flavor is pretty similar to butter beans.  Any white beans will do.  I removed all the stems from the spinach and diced all the vegetables.

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Once everything was cut, I was ready to cook my vegetables.  I sauteed them all in olive oil with salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, basil and thyme.  I use both dried and fresh herbs.  It really just depends on what I have on hand at the time.  If you are using fresh herbs, a general rule of thumb is to add them towards the end of the cooking process so they do not get lost in the cooking process, whereas with dried herbs, you can add them at any stage of the cooking process and the flavors will incorporate into whatever you are cooking.  Also, when using fresh herbs, you will use a bit more than if you are using dried herbs.  With dried herbs, the flavors are more concentrated than they are with fresh herbs.  I prefer fresh when I have them, but dried is certainly a great alternative.  Usually, unless a recipe calls for specific amounts (although if you have been following me, you should probably know by now, I rarely follow a recipe when cooking), I use about 1 tsp of each herb.

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After the vegetables were cooked and softened, I added the beans. Drain and rinse the beans before adding them to the vegetables, then continue to cook for an additional 5-7 minutes.

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I layered my plate by starting with the beans and vegetables, then added the cooked steak, and finished with a little more beans and spinach on top.  I added a slice of polenta with caramelized onions and herbs Caramelized Onion, Herb & Polenta Loaf then completed the meal with a smooth, medium-bodied fruity red blend.  This was a perfect end of summer meal that we enjoyed out on our deck.

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Tuscan Steak

2 lbs flank steak, cooked

2-3 cups fresh spinach, stems removed and chopped

1/2 cup mushrooms, quartered or diced

1/2 cup chopped tomatoes

1 heaping TBSP garlic

1/3-1/2 cup onions, diced small

1 can of cannellini or butter beans, drained and rinsed

olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

1 tsp each basil, oregano, thyme

 

Cook your steak to your liking.

Saute all the vegetables and herbs together in olive oil.  When the vegetables are done, add the beans, and continue to cook for about 5-7 minutes.  Layer your plate with the spinach and bean mixture, then add the steak, and if you like, add a touch more spinach and beans on top of your cooked steak.

 

Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Mushrooms

I love pasta.  I can eat pasta all the time, in many, different ways, and never get tired of it.  However, pasta is high in carbs and eaten all the time, it can be very fattening and because of the sugar content, it can wreak havoc on someone who is trying to control their sugar intake.  A healthy alternative to eating pasta is to substitute spaghetti squash for pasta.   The two are similar in that spaghetti is in the name of both, and they can both be used in a similar way, but that is where the similarities end.  For one serving of pasta, add about 100 calories to the meal, whereas the same serving size of spaghetti squash only adds 20 calories.  Spaghetti squash is also very high in fiber and antioxidants, as well as vitamins A, B complex and C, making this a much healthier, less fatty alternative to eating pasta.    Spaghetti squash is in the same family as pumpkins, zucchini, acorn squash and cucumbers.  They are all part of the winter squash family known as the cucurbita family or gourd family.

I used my spaghetti squash last night and added a rich and hearty sausage and mushroom bolognaise sauce, served with a nice little side salad and a rich, crusty chiabbata dipped in olive oil with garlic, pepper and balsamic vinegar.   I added a rich red blend to complete the meal.  I actually used the spaghetti squash as a little “boat”, and just topped the sauce right on top along with mozzarella and baked it all together.

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I add wines to my sauces all the time, but not usually when I make a bolognaise sauce.  Every now and then though, I change things up a bit and vary my recipes, just to give them a kick and do something a little different.  This was one of those times when I added red wine to my bolognaise sauce.   I had some red wine that I just did not like at all, and could not drink.   I very rarely find a bottle of wine that I do not like, but believe it or not, it does happen every now and then (I am not going to reveal the name of the unliked wine).  Well, I hate to waste anything, so even if I do not like things in their original form, I will always try my best to re-purpose it in other ways.  This time it was in making my sauce.  I admit, as much as I try my best to make everything from scratch, I very rarely make my own pasta sauce from scratch, mainly due to lack of time.  Instead, I enhance ready-made sauces and make them my own.  These are the ingredients I used, along with my favorite ready-made sauce.

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The spaghetti squash was in the oven baking with salt, pepper, and olive oil, at 350* F for about 10-12 minutes to soften while I pan-fried my sausages and was cutting all my other ingredients for my sauce.   After the sausages were cooked, using the same pan, I sauteed my mushrooms, garlic, onions and red pepper flakes in olive oil, then added the red wine.  By using the same pan, you get all the flavors and drippings from the sausages that add to the flavor of the sauce.  This time, I used a chicken-basil sausage, but you can use whatever type of sausage you like.  We eat a lot of sausage, and we try all kinds.  Because spaghetti is such a staple here in the United states, and everyone has their own “favorite” version of bolognaise sauce, I would not even think of stepping on those time-honored traditions by giving an actual recipe.  For some reason spaghetti and spaghetti sauce takes on the personality of the person who prepares it.  Often times these recipes are family heirlooms that have been passed through the generations.  So make your spaghetti sauce in your own favorite way and try it with the spaghetti squash to add a new twist to things.

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After the mushrooms, garlic and onions have softened,  add the sauce, the remaining ingredients, including the spices and herbs (dried herbs.  If using fresh, wait until the last few minutes of cooking or add just before serving so the flavors and textures do not get lost in the cooking process); and the sausage.  Incorporate everything well, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to simmer for an additional 10-20 minutes, or until the sauce reaches your desired consistency.

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I was going for a baked and crusted effect, so I spooned my sauce over my squash boats and topped them with mozzarella cheese.  Then I baked them for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until my cheese was completely melted and had a nice brown crust on it.  You can also just spoon it over the cooked and scraped squash to make it look more like “spaghetti” too if you prefer.  It was just a different presentation and a slightly different taste, but basically it is the same.

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Buon Apitito e mangia!