Thursday, December 26, 2013

From My Kitchen: Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Casserole with Pecan and Almond Crunch

Disclaimer: This recipe was developed on the fly mere days ago and I am working off scribbled notes, so individual results may wildly vary. 

I love sweet potatoes and butternut squash and will admit to loving me some church casserole. What I don't love are overly sweet, overly processed casseroles topped with crackers and baked to death. I wanted a sweet potato souffle that was a little like my grannies, but more in line with the way I want to eat. This was a great addition to our holiday feast.

Tools to Use.
Oven, preheat to 350
Casserole dish, 3 quarts with a lid, or based on the volume of the veg you use
Baking Sheet, greased with veggie oil or use parchment paper to line the pan.
Mixer, hand or stand - this is an easy mix.
Two large bowls
One small bowls

Your Shopping List.

Sweet potato
Butternut squash
Pumpkin Pie Spice - See the image to the left. You can buy the pre-mixed stuff in the spice aisle which is totally usable, but if you have the basics it's tasty to make it yourself. (Image credit and recipe)
2 eggs
Sliced almonds
Pecan pieces
All Purpose Flour
Brown sugar
Salt, sea or kosher
Olive Oil

The Base. 
3 medium sweet potato, washed
1 small butternut squash or half of a large one, cut in half and with the skin on
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
** Poke holes in the sweet potatoes and put them on the baking sheet (or use a baking pan so they don't slide around)
** Coat the squash in olive oil and put it cut side down on the baking sheet
** Roast both the squash and the sweet potato in the oven for 20 to 40 min or until it's soft
** Remove and let them cool until you can handle them easily
** After they cool, peel off the skins of the sweet potatoes and use a paring knife to take off the butternut squash skin (or use a spoon)
** Add the eggs, spice and sugar to the veg and beat until it's fluffy
** Out the mixture in the baking dish

The Topping. 
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup almonds
3/4 cup pecans
4 Tblspoons butter, room temp
dash salt

This is the part where you get your hands dirty.
** Dump it all into a bowl and work it until the nuts partially break down, you have worked in all the butter and you are left will a very lumpy crumb.

** Put the squash mix in the baking dish and sprinkle the topping in an even layer.
** Bake at 350 until the topping is browning and it's warmed completely through.

It's Tinsel Time At My House

I have a real, aching love for tacky Christmas lights. Not being a supporter of most things Christmas, I can pass on all the professionally produced lights, but the allure of a house covered in C9 lights in weird or random patterns is too much for me to bah-humbug about. My family suffers my "OH! Look over there" followed by a sharp turn of the wheel and our slow crawl past the house. There is a giant bin in my garage with lights and such, begging me for the last 2 years to do something interesting, but I have failed 2 years in a row.

This year I decided that I would put up some kind of tree to put the kiddo's presents around. He is the only person I still buy presents specifically for this holiday and since it's all about finding my joy in his experience, I wanted to give him festive without covering the house in Santa Claus. The end result:

The tree does actually twinkle thanks to the strand of twinkle lights I wrapped around the pole that holds up the tinsel tree. I got the tree at my local bullseye-themed big box retail store for less than $20. Tree, plus $3 in twinkle lights and $0.97 worth of tinsel garland and TADA Shiny Celebration Tree!!

Part of what I love most about the house we moved into last year is this giant mantle. The snowmen you see are a small bit of my college obsession. Prior to my low clutter days, I loved to have boxes and boxes of holiday decor. I have no interest in lugging that around every time I move, so I have paired it down to some fun pieces that really hold my interest.

That's about $5 in tinsel garland, $7 worth of pre-cut glittered snowflakes and a $2 bag of bows.

What is left of what used to be a slightly obsessive snowman collection. 

Menu: Tinsel Holiday Family Dinner

The "holiday season" is my least favorite time of any year. However - I do love food and I do love my family and this year I had a chance to feed the people I love the most so I grabbed it.

The weekend before the main holiday event my dad came down from Ohio, Robert's dad came over and we all sat around the dining table while D opened his presents and then we feasted.

I was a kitchen god.

The Menu

* Cheese-ball, summer sausage and crackers
(I didn't make these, dad brought them)
* Olive and Pickled Tray
* Deviled Eggs

I splurged and bought a Honeybaked Ham, which has turned into several meals (more on that later)

* Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Casserole with Almond and Pecan Crunch
* Slow Cooked Green Beans with Country Ham and Black Pepper
* Braised Brussel Sprouts with Leeks

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

From My Kitchen: Toffee Almond Caramel Coconut Dark Chocolate Bars

We are not a Christmas holiday celebrating household, but I do like a nice family dinner and all the baked goods that come along with a holiday built for gorging yourself. This recipe started as a reason to use toffee and came out as a new holiday favorite.

Tools to use:
Oven, pre-heated to 350F. Do this first and make sure that the oven is hot.
Mixer, I'm a shameless Kitchen Aid stand whore, but stand if you can, shortbread is a bitch to hand mix.
Baking Pan, 13x9x2 either well greased with butter, bakers spray or lined with parchment. Without it, this cookie is like a construction project to get out of the pan. (Helpful hints on stuck cookies below)
High sided, flat bottom medium sauce pan. You want ample room.
2 Spatulas, both silicone if you have them, things are about to get sticky.

Your Shopping List. 

Unsalted butter
White sugar
All-Purpose flour
Salt, kosher or sea
Toffee bits without any chocolate coating
Light corn syrup
Sliced Almonds
Shredded, unsweetened coconut
Dark chocolate chips

The Shortbread.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
2 cups AP flour
pinch salt, sea or kosher
** mix butter and sugar in mixer until pale and airy
** stir flour and salt together with a fork
** add the flour mix to the butter mix, gradually until combined.

Your batter will be on the dry side, it's shortbread, not a chewy cookie. You want dense, but mold-able. The dough will melt in your hands, which is what makes it sticky and results in a greasy shortbread. Handle it a little as possible; dump it in the middle of the greased or lined jelly roll pan and use a rolling pin (this is my favorite kind), side of a can or the back of a large metal spoon to push the dough as evenly as possible into the baking pan.

Pop that into your waiting 350F oven for 10 to 15 min or until the edges are lightly golden brown the and middle looks more opaque.

While you stand around inhaling the ever growing buttery goodness coming from the oven, make your toffee topping.

The Topping.

Disclaimer: This is not a dessert for those with weak, fake or broken teeth. It's the gift that pulls out fillings if you are not careful.

1 1/2 cups plain toffee, pounded into bits - they sell bits in the baking aisle, or, you can buy toffee bars and beat them with your heavy plastic rolling pin like I do. Just toffee, not toffee covered in chocolate or that contains bits of nuts.
3/4 cup of light corn syrup
pinch of salt, kosher or sea
1 Tblsp unsalted butter
1 cup of sliced almonds, divided in half
1/2 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut
8 oz of dark chocolate chips

** in the medium saucepan, add the toffee bits and corn syrup and cook over medium heat stirring constantly until the toffee chips are melted into the syrup.
** take it off the heat and add the butter, stir in
** turn the heat to low, stir in 1/2 cup sliced almonds, 1/2 cup of coconut and a pinch of salt.
** turn off the heat and set the caramel mix aside


** take the shortbread out of the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the hot shortbread and spread around with a spatula
** pour the caramel topping over the shortbread and chocolate
** sprinkle the remaining almonds over the top
** pop the whole thing back in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the top bubbles

Let the whole pan cool down and then use a sharp knife to score the topping down to the short bread.

Try not to eat all of them, it's hard.