I saw the sign…

March 16th, 2008

…and I decided where to go to LAW SCHOOL. Ever since I started the law school process of LSATs, personal statements, acceptances (and rejections), I have been very stressed! The decision has been looming, always in the back of my mind, coming out when I would finally start relaxing…frequently, as I was trying to sleep. I have spent a number of nights, restless as my mind raced through all the reasons to go to this school or that…Until last week, I realized that I knew where I should go…

I am moving to CHICAGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am very very very excited!!!!!!!!!!! I love Chicago! Last February, I went to Chicago for the first time and fell in love with the city, even though I had the flu and it was freezing. Of course, I did not base my decision just on my love of Chicago but it is a plus. Last week, I filled out the deposit form, giving them the first installment of what will be a lot of money, and then dropped it into the mail box on the way to the gym. After that I had three signs that reaffirmed my decision:

First, I am one of those crazy multi-taskers when I am at the gym. I must have a book or magazine to flip through (and block the time) while I work out plus I always try to find something to watch. Well, that night the travel channel was doing a segment on Super Dawg in CHICAGO. Second, I was reading an article in Vogue, which mentioned Alinea in CHICAGO. Finally, that night was the season premiere of Top Chef Season 4 in CHICAGO!

If these are not enough, I do not know what is? Isn’t it so fitting that my “signs” were all food related?

In honor of my decision and with some inspiration from the season premiere of Top Chef, I made deep dish pizza this past Friday. It is another butternut squash recipe (shock!). Unfortunately, I do not cook for a Bravo TV show and thus my budget is a bit more limited. It turned out really well. Next time, I would make the bottom crust a bit thicker because as soon as we cut into it, it was like opening the flood gates of cheese and butternut squash yumminess. I guess I will just have to make it a goal to first test all the deep dish in the city and then perfect my own recipe. Of course, that is if I have time to cook while working hard at school…

Butternut Squash-Grape Tomatoes-Ricotta Deep Dish Pizza

Pizza Crust
(adapted from Deep-dish Sausage and Tomato Pizza)

1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water (110° – 115°F.)
a 1/4-ounce package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1. In a large bowl dissolve sugar in water. Sprinkle yeast over water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
2. Stir in 2 1/4 cups flour, cornmeal, salt, and butter and blend until mixture forms a dough. Knead dough on a floured surface, incorporating as much of remaining 1/4 cup flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
3. Put dough, in a deep oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil. Let dough rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

(adapted from Ryan Scott’s Pizza with Escarole, Butternut Squash & Ricotta Salata)

1Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large yellow onions, julienned
1 large butternut squash, peeled, diced (half-inch)
1 teaspoon dry thyme
1 ½ cups chicken stock
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 package grape tomatoes
1/4 lb ricotta
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 lb fresh mozzarella, shredded

1. In sauté pan add butter and 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat.
2. Sauté the garlic and crushed red pepper for a minute.
3. Add yellow onions and sweat down until tender.
4. Add butternut squash.
5. Sprinkle with thyme.
6. Cover with chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer and cook until tender (about 20-25 minutes). Once tender remove herbs and season with salt and white pepper.
7. Puree in a food processor, set aside.
8. Add grape tomatoes to sheet pan and roast at 400 degrees for 10 minutes; pull and set aside.
9. Mix ricotta and Italian parsley together.

Putting it together:
1. In a 10’ spring form pan, press the dough into the pan and up the side of the pan for at least 1 ½ inches up the side.
2. Spread the mozzarella on the bottom of the crust.
3. Layer with grape tomatoes, butternut squash puree and ricotta mix.
4. Bake in 500 degree oven for about 25 minutes.

P.S. Do you have left over topping? I had a good amount of butternut squash puree left. I am planning on mixing it with pasta and sprinkle it with Parmesan for dinner tonight!

And then I found five Euro…

March 8th, 2008

Happy International Women’s Day!

Have you ever been half way through retelling a story and realized that your audience is bored? What do you do to redeem yourself? Well, my friends and I went through a phase where we would add “and then I found five dollars” to the end of every dull story we would tell. Whether it was true or not, finding five dollars is quite exciting. Finding five Euro is even better, given it is worth more than five dollars.

I first learned about International Women’s Day, when I was living in Rome. Beautiful yellow mimosas were sold on the street to be given to one’s wives, daughters, sisters and friends. My friends and I went out to dinner in celebration and then had a few drinks at our local bar. And then I found five Euro…

Wasn’t that a dull story? The cool part is I really did find five Euro and I still have it as a little momento in my wallet.

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the political, economic and social achievements of women throughout the world. Regardless of your political leanings, Zorra and Fiordisale made this day fun for all cooks by sponsoring an event to celebrate.
My first dish, the Saffron Buns,
as I have already lamented, did not turn out as well as I would have liked. Thankfully, my cousin and I made Fried Cornmeal Shrimp with Butternut Squash Risotto, which helped me satisfy the requirement of this event. This dish is very yellow and very delicious. The slight garlicky crunchy shrimp complement the creamy butternut squash risotto very well. My cousin and I think that next time we will add ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper when sautéing the shallots to add a little kick. We did not change much of the recipe just a little bit here and there to fit what I already had in the pantry and make it easier to understand. Enjoy!

Fried Cornmeal Shrimp with Butternut Squash Ravioli
(from Bon Appetit through epicurious.com)

1 1 3/4- to 2-pound butternut squash (or one 20 ounce pre-cut butternut squash package)

3/4 cup uncooked large shrimp , peeled, deveined
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled, smashed

1 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cups chicken broth
2 chopped shallots
2 garlic cloves, chopped or pressed
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine

Vegetable oil (for frying)

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Pierce squash several times. Place on baking sheet; roast until tender, about 1 hour (if using the precut, roast for about 30 minutes until tender). Cool. Cut squash in half; discard seeds. Scoop flesh into processor. Puree until smooth. I prefer it a mix of smooth and still kind of chunky.

Place shrimp, 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 smashed garlic cloves in large resealable plastic bag; turn to coat. Chill 2 to 3 hours.

Stir cornmeal, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in medium bowl. Add shrimp; toss. Arrange in single layer on large plate.

Bring broth to simmer in heavy small saucepan; reduce heat to low and keep hot. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook until beginning to brown, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add chopped garlic and 2 teaspoons thyme; stir 1 minute. Add rice and stir 1 minute. Add wine; stir until almost absorbed, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add 1 cup hot broth and cook until almost all liquid is absorbed, stirring often. Continue adding hot broth 1 cup at a time and stirring frequently until rice is almost tender, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, add enough vegetable oil to heavy large skillet to reach depth of 1/4 inch. Heat oil over high heat. Working in 2 batches, fry shrimp until golden brown and cooked through, about 1 1/2 minutes per side.

Add butternut squash puree to risotto and stir until rice is tender but still firm, about 2 minutes. Stir in Parmesan cheese and remaining 2 teaspoons thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

P.S. Check out the other great yellow dishes here in honor of International Women’s Day!

International Women's Day

Another Quick Dinner and Some Sage Advice…

February 28th, 2008

I have another confession. I love butternut squash. I can’t get enough of it. I am always looking for new, interesting and delicious ways to prepare butternut squash. One of my greatest successes but also failures was my butternut squash ravioli. Please, ask my family about that story and they will crack up!

A couple years ago, I decided I was going to make dinner for my family. I had this recipe in mind for butternut squash ravioli that filled wonton wrappers with a goat cheese butternut squash mixture. It sounded divine! I figured it would be fairly easy to make but I was very very wrong. I am a naturally messy cook but this was a disaster. Filling and wonton wrappers were everywhere. But I finally made a small bowl of butternut squash ravioli, which I put on my nicely set table and called my family to dinner. My sister, brother and parents each served themselves a couple (about 3) ravioli. They loved them but then asked “What is for dinner?” Yes, I kind of misjudged the quantity needed to feed a family of five. I will never live down that kitchen adventure but at least the ravioli tasted good!

I keep noticing Ruth‘s Presto Pasta Night but have never gotten my act together to add one to the roundup. For its first birthday, I decided to enter this dish. The original recipe came from a New York Times article encouraging the reader to eat more vegetables with less pasta. I cannot promise that we always do that but the pasta sauce is delicious. I added sage because butternut squash and sage are the perfect pair. Check out the round-up for other pasta dishes at Once Upon A Feast.

Pasta with Butternut Squash and Tomatoes
(adapted from NY Times)

Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped or pressed
1 shallot, sliced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 tablespoon sage, chopped
1 can (14.5 ounces) chopped tomatoes
1 pound peeled, pre-cut butternut squash (I love the already cut up squash you can buy at the store, it is worth the extra expense for me not to have to risk a digit cutting up the squash)

1/2 pound cut pasta, like ziti or penne

Freshly chopped parsley or Parmesan for garnish.

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.

2. Put olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, shallots, sage and pepper flakes and cook for about a minute.

3. Add tomatoes and squash, and cook with some salt and pepper.

4. When squash is tender — about 15 minutes — cook pasta until it is tender. Combine sauce and pasta, and serve, garnished with parsley or Parmesan.

P.S. Some more sage advice…One of my favorite dishes to make is a simple brown butter sauce with sage over ravioli or tortellini. Take about 3 tablespoons of butter and heat over medium heat until it begins to melt and bubble. Take about 5 leaves of sage (I like to dice them) and put in the melting butter. Cook until the butter begin to brown. Pour over some ravioli, sprinkle with Parmesan and eat! yummy!