Thursday, November 3, 2011


Kam bought me a couple of bags of Littlenecks this week, which means there will be a recipe for steamed clams and a recipe for baked clams in the near future.  Having shared that, I figured it was only fair to give a couple of clam-shopping pointers.

  1. You want the clams to be alive; if the shell is slightly opened you can either squeeze it shut and then release pressure- if the clam remains closed it is still alive, if the clam opens right back up toss it. You may also lightly tap the slightly open clam on a hard surface and wait to see if it closes back up on its own; once again, if it doesn't, TOSS iT.
  2. The clams should not smell!
  3. You don't want clams with cracked or broken shells- they're likely to be dead.
  4. Take a good look at the edges of the shells; a smooth perimeter guarantees less sand, debris and shell fragments than a clam with more rugged edges. 
Its preferable to note the difference prior to purchasing and/or cooking the clams. 

    6.  Do not keep the clams in a closed plastic bag; they will suffocate & die.
    7.  If you are not using them immediately, be sure to keep them cold and store them in a bowl, on ice,    in the fridge.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Butternut Squash, Bacon & Kale Gratin

ahhh- three of my favorite vegetables. Oh, wait, bacon isn't a vegetable. Downer.

This baked dish is a hearty accompaniment to any meal [86 candied yams and serve this with your bird], as well as a satiating main course. Its fairly simple to prepare, so long as you are careful not to burn the bechamel, and the ratios can even be played around with to turn this into a soul-warming fall soup.

1+1/3 lbs cubed Butternut Squash pieces [aim for 1 inch-ish pieces. Also, a 1.5 - 1+2/3 lb butternut squash should yield about 1+1/3 lbs after cleaning]
note: the easiest way to peel the squash is with an ordinary potato peeler. then cut it in half, lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds using a table spoon.

3 strips nitrite-free Bacon, diced

small pinch Dried Thyme [barely 1/8th tsp]
1 large dried Bay Leaf, broken in half
1 small Yellow Onion, chopped
1.5 Cups 1% Milk
1/4 Cup Flour
3.5 C Kale, coarsely chopped [approximately 1 small bunch]
1 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil, for greasing an 8x6x2 baking dish 
2/3 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese, divided [half goes into the gratin, the other half goes on top]
1/4 tsp Sweet Hungarian Paprika, for topping
Kosher Salt, as needed

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease your baking dish.
2. Render the bacon in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Once the bacon begins to release some of its own fat add the bay leaf & dried thyme and stir.
3. Once the bacon is slightly cooked 
[about 3 minutes] add the onion, along with a pinch of salt, and cook until the onions are softened and translucent.

4. Make sure you have a whisk nearby and add the 1/4 Cup Flour. Stir to cook the flour just briefly [no more than a minute] and then pour in the milk, while continuously whisking.
5. Raise the heat to high and whisk while the mixture comes to a boil [do not stop whisking or you seriously risk scorching your bechamel], as soon as the mixture comes to a boil reduce the heat to low. Allow the sauce to cook for about 10 minutes, being sure to whisk often so that the bottom does not burn.
6. Once the sauce has thickened considerably, remove the bay leaf pieces and fold in the chopped Kale. Allow to cook until wilted, then add the parmesan cheese. Taste & adjust seasoning as necessary.

7. Now fold in the butternut squash.

8. Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish, top with remaining parmesan cheese and sprinkle with sweet Hungarian Paprika and a pinch of kosher salt.

9. Transfer to 375 degree oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the butternut squash is tender and the top is browned. 

The squash releases some water during cooking, so it is normal to have a fairly loose dish. You can technically shorten the cooking time & moisture content by par-roasting the squash in advance. To do so simply coat the cubed squash with 2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or Grapeseed Oil, and roast in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. When it is time to make the gratin, shorten the cooking time to 20 minutes [or until squash is tender] and increase the temperature to 425 degrees.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

adventures in baking

I'm not much of a baker. Some times I can conjure up a great batch of cookies, and I've been told I make a mean pizza, but thats about the extent of my baking abilities thus far. I'm beginning to take some baby steps into experimenting with doughs, and I am using my day off to play around with making soft pretzels. I borrowed the recipe from The Fresh Loaf and modified it a bit... I should probably follow the recipe exactly, at least for the first round, but I kind of want to see what I can get away with, and what will happen if I add more yeast than the recipe calls for.

** These pretzels didn't turn out like the soft pretzels you get on a street corner, I would definitely say they were more "rustic", or bread-like, to be honest. Yes, they are yummy, but I haven't hit the nail on the head yet. 

Here is my modified list of ingredients:
1.25 tsp Rapid Rise Yeast
1 Tbsp Turbinado [Sugar in the Raw] Sugar
1/4 Cup ground Flax Seed
3/4 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
2 Cups Wheat Flour, with germ [not whole wheat flour, just plain white wheat flour. It simply hasn't been refined or enriched. also, the 2 Cups is an approximation; I used just under 2 Cups to achieve what I perceived to be the desired consistency... ]
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1 Cup warm 1% Milk [microwave until warm to the touch. the recipe I followed called for 110 degrees. I was too lazy to dig out my thermometer and decided to go with "very warm to the touch". Once again- we'll see what happens]

1. In a separate bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients.
2. Pour the warmed milk into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add 1 Cup of the dry ingredients and begin to mix on Speed 2 [as per KitchenAid mixer, using the hook attachment].

3. Once the first cup of flour is mostly incorporated, add a second cup and continue to mix. The batter will thicken considerably.
4. Now add 1/2 Cup more of the dry ingredients and allow the mixer to knead the dough for 2-3 minutes. The dough should begin forming a ball, and not sticking to the sides of the bowl. If the dough still seems a bit too tacky, add 1/4 Cup more flour and let it work in for a moment. If at first it seems too dry, let it keep mixing and it should incorporate perfectly within a minute or 2.  If it is too dry, sprinkle in a teaspoon or so of water.

5. Once the dough has completely pulled away from the sides of the mixing bowl and has been kneaded by the dough hook into a tight ball, transfer it to a clean bowl [large enough to hold the dough once it has doubled in volume], lightly coat the entire surface [bottom & top] with a little bit of olive oil [1 tsp], cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place somewhere warm to proof for at least an hour.
 lubed & proofing.

 after one hour.

6. Now that the dough has doubled in volume, preheat your oven to 425 degrees, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and turn the dough out onto a large cutting board and gently shape into a ball. Cut the ball into 6 relatively equal pieces.

7. Roll each chunk of dough into a long rope, about 18-20 inches or so. Be sure to keep all resting dough and rolled ropes covered with a damp towel.

8. Twist each rope into your desired shape.  I twisted one into a sort of fancy roll shape, and the rest we shaped as pretzels.

"fancy knot"

standard pretzel

9.  Now that all of your pretzels are shaped, using two spatulas to hold the pretzels in the water- carefully submerge each one, one at a time, into the boiling water for about 15 seconds. Transfer to a non-stick baking sheet, or baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and sprinkle with Kosher salt.

10. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the pretzels are a dark, golden brown. Remove from oven and enjoy!

23 days until Thanksgiving...!

3 weeks and 1 day... until one of my favorite days of the year!!

October was beyond hectic, and both my health and blog were neglected, but with the light of Thanksgiving at the end of the tunnel I am ready to get back on track, thus providing you delicious ideas to accompany your turkey and smother in gravy. mmm.... Gravy.

Stay tuned!