Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fall Foods-Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna

This is my first New England fall and many people have requested fall foliage pictures but apparently the fall colors won't truly hit for a few weeks so it is coming I promise!

We are visiting an apple orchard this weekend to pick apples, drink fresh cider and sample the famous cider doughnut so I'll post about that soon also. Fall has always been my favorite season and as soon as mid September hits I start decorating for Halloween, lighting the fall scent candles (I am loving Autumn Leaves by Yankee Candle) and my personal favorite, start cooking with fall flavors.

Fall flavors are my absolute favorite. The flavors are rich, decadent and meant to warm you up from head to toe. Once the leaves start turning it is my license to start making pumpkin cinnamon rolls, maple glazed acorn squash, apple butterscotch tarts, and of course, the subject of this entry: roasted butternut squash lasagna

Butternut squash is a delicious squash that has a fairly sweet flavor so to marry it in a lasagna with sage, nutty Parmesan cheese and salty, smoky bacon...can it get any better?!?

First step in this delicious dish is to roast your squash. You need about 3 cups of squash puree so in my experience you need two regular sized squash or one of those huge walmart monstrosities that make you worry about growth hormones. Now, this is your first chance to add some flavor so after I peel and cut up my squash I flavor it with rubbed sage, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Toss it in an oven for 40 minutes or until you squash is nice and squishy.
Ta Da! After
So eat a few pieces of your yummy squash but toss the rest in your blender (if you have a nice and powerful one-which I don't so I use my immersion blender and puree it)
I only put this picture on here to show how awesome my immersion blender is and the puree is actually ridiculously tasty! It would make a delicious ravioli filling or you could add some chicken stock and you have a great soup.
Now, what is a lasagna without sauce? Nasty and dry! So have now onto the bechamel sauce! Remember earlier how I wrote that this lasagna has a strong sage flavor? Well you chop up your sage leaves and let them get nice and crispy in your melted butter (this smells divine, try not to swoon).

Meanwhile, go ahead and fry up your bacon ( I used turkey bacon since I am watching my girlish figure but I think pancetta would be ridiculously delicious). Once your bacon is done, chop it up into little pieces and set aside. This is also a good time to go ahead and cook your lasagna noodles. I usually can fit four layers of pasta with this recipe so cook as many noodles as you need and set them aside. I like to lay my cooked noodles out on waxed paper because if you leave them sitting together they will stick together like crazy.
Bacon frying, sage crisping and noodles cooking...I will warn you that this recipe has many dishes. Try to con your significant other into doing them for you since you are "slaving away" at the stove :)
So back to the the sage is nice and crispy, add your flour and stir it together and cook over medium heat till it is a nice golden brown color. At this point I like to add salt, pepper, and some nutmeg so season to your own taste. Once it is a nice color, go ahead and add the milk and stir until thickened-usually around 5-10 minutes. Toss in your chopped up bacon and now it is time to assemble.
My assembly area
Now, spread a ladle full of your sauce and a scoop of the puree in the bottom of your pan and put your first layer of noodles. Now, the fun part! Put another couple ladle scoops of sauce onto the noodles along with about 1/3 of your puree. Mix it all together till everything is evenly distributed and then sprinkle 1/4 of the Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese and add another layer of noodles.
Building the masterpiece!
Repeat until your top layer and then spoon the rest of your sauce on top of the lasagna and top with the rest of your shredded cheese.
Finished product. I love using glass pans because you can see the layers and beautiful colors.
Now all that is left is baking. Cover it with foil and toss it in a 375 degree oven for about 35 minutes, uncover and put it back in for about 10 minutes or as long as it takes for the cheese to get all melted and browned.
Delicious piece of beans are optional
I know this has quite a few steps but honestly, it is ridiculously delicious and it makes your home smell so yummy. I also love lasagnas because they get even better the next day and Logan and I can eat it for several meals.It is also a recipe that can be adjusted to your tastes; for example, next time I make this I will probably toss in some spinach to get more vegis in there and also for a nice texture and flavor contrast to the squash. You can also play around with adding meat but in my opinion it doesn't really need it.If you aren't careful this dish can become sweet from the butternut squash so season liberally-I think I may add some rosemary also next time to get an even nicer herb flavor (plus I love using things from the garden)

Happy Cooking!

This started out as a family recipe but I have edited it quite a bit so feel free to make it your own!

Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna

 Lasagna noodles ( I like to use whole wheat)
4 Tbs. Butter
a bunch of fresh sage leaves, chopped (original called for 6 but trust me, you need more...I would guess around 15/20?)
4 Tbs. Flour
3 Cups of milk (I use skim and it works fine. Original called for 2 cups milk, 1 cup heavy cream but once again, watching girlish figure and honestly it tastes rich and delicious without it)
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese ( I love Parmesan in this recipe because it has a nice nutty flavor so I increased it from 1 oz and decreased the mozzarella)
1 1/2 cups of grated mozzarella cheese
3 Cups of roasted butternut squash puree
1/3 cup chopped bacon ( I heartily approve of turkey bacon. It was very yummy but seriously, if you try pancetta please tell me how delicious it is so I can live vicariously through you)
Salt, Pepper and Nutmeg to taste

Friday, September 17, 2010

I am addicted to the, not that one!

One of my favorite parts about picking up and moving across the country is the opportunity to explore an entirely new area. There are tons of restaurants to patron, book stores to explore, and coffee houses to frequent. A few weeks ago Logan and I went shopping in an area nearby that is simply amazing! It has great boutiques, a Crate and Barrel, amazing restaurants and it's all outdoors. It reminds me of a huge Utica Square (for those of you who live in Tulsa).

Anyway, I have always been a devoted coffee drinker. I worked through high school at Java Dave's where I prided myself on my ability to have a 4 shot iced latte and sleep like a baby right after. In college I worked at Starbucks for a year where I imbibed in coffee based beverages on a daily, if not tri-daily, basis. (I now know all the recipes and trust me, your ridiculous frappuccino does not really have much coffee in it)

So this all leads up to a shameful truth.... I have been cheating on my coffee maker.
I know, I know, it is terrible. I haven't used my coffee maker in weeks and my poor free trade breakfast blend coffee beans have been sadly neglected. This is all because of the new addiction in my life: Tea, but not just tea, tea from The Green Teahouse in West Hartford. It is simply amazing! (free shipping on orders over $50)
Please do yourself a favor if you are a tea lover and check out their site. They not only have a huge selection of loose leaf green, black, white etc teas but they also do blends. My absolute favorite is the Snow Jasmine blend: This jasmine green tea is one of the most highly prized in our store. The high quality green tea is superbly scented with jasmine flowers in the Szechuan province, which is the birthplace of green tea. (description from website) 
It is delicious hot or iced and there is something extra special about loose leaf tea blends. One of my friends and her husband got Logan and I a beautiful loose leaf tea pot for a wedding gift (Thanks Wes and Elizabeth, I absolute adore it!) and I have been using it daily to brew a pot of hot and put it in the refrigerator and thus have delicious, refreshing and full of antioxidants iced tea. 

Other favorites include Jasmine Berry (apparently I have a Jasmine fixation and it's also great iced), Coconut Spring (imagine drinking tea from a coconut on a sunny beach in Jamaica-it tastes just like that), Sweet Awareness and the Sweet Apple Chai. This list could go on and on but I imagine you get the point: 
                                The GreenTeahouse=awesome

Happy Drinking,

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Creating a Home

One of the most exciting parts of moving to Connecticut was the prospect of owning our own home. As a serial apartment renter having a large space with an actual yard was exciting and yet scary. The inside decorating came much easier than the outside. I have been decorating apartments for years, but gardening...well it is a new pursuit. 

One of my favorite parts of our home is the deck. It is large and container gardening much less intimidating then actually putting plants in the ground. I love cultivating my own herbs but this year I added several pepper plants to the mix as well as a few flowering containers. 

I have gotten so much out of my containers. I have used my basil countless times and the peppers have done so well this year. Pictured from left to right: dill, cilantro, russian sage, lavender, serrano peppers, jalapeno pepper, rosemary, basil, and a citronella plant.

We moved here in mid June but didn't really get settled until July so fairly late in the growing season but I really wanted to do some veggis. This year I did a small vegetable garden where I grew tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, and cucumbers.

The tomatoes and cucumbers especially have produced prodigiously. Next year I will actually construct large beds because I want to do different kinds of tomatoes as well as some other varieties of vegetables.

Here is the you can see, there is a lot of space but I have no idea what to do with it. I have been toying with the idea of raking up the steep hill and creating a wild flower garden. I am tempted but it would be a ton of work but I imagine it would be worth it. I have been researching it and it seems like I would need to get it done before the end of the fall since the seeds would need to be "winterized" meaning they (similar to tulip bulbs) need to sit in the ground through the cold season to help their growth in the spring/summer.

The title of this blog is "Creating a Home" so obviously, I have made a small step to creating a home other than the small bits of gardening...
                                                       WE BOUGHT A TREE!

I love trees and although our backyard has tons, our front yard was sadly lacking. When we started thinking about tree choices we really wanted something that would grow fairly quickly, be low maintenance, and have fall foliage. Back in Oklahoma you see Bradford Pear trees everywhere so when we saw a hybrid of those called Aristocrat Pear we were so excited! It was not some puny twig we were planting, but a nice 10 ft baby tree that already looked like a piece of home.

Logan proudly planting our baby tree (isn't he cute in his scrubs?)
Aristocrat Pear in its glory, also can kind of see Rose of Sharon and the beautiful butterfly attracter flowers near the mailbox.

We also have taken out this terrible bush that was on the far right of the house (you can see if in the before picture). It was nice looking but attracted hundreds of flies so our neighbor helped us and we ripped that sucker out. You can barely see it in the after picture but we plated a Rose of Sharon there that has purple/blue flowers which will look so nice next year next to our blue hydrangeas.

I have bought a couple books on gardening and although I still feel like I have no idea what I am doing, but there is something so nice about putting a plant in the ground and seeing it flourish. We bought this house and we are slowly but surely making it our home.

Happy Planting,