Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vanilla cake with white chocolate frosting


I know that many people are looking for healthy recipes right now, but I figured that some of you may also be looking for dessert ideas for New Year's Eve. I made this cake for Andrew's grandmother's birthday, which was on Christmas day. It was her 90th (!), so all eight of her children and their families were in town to celebrate. Since it was a large crowd, I made a chocolate cake with Nutella frosting in addition to this one. I figured these two cakes would please both chocolate and vanilla lovers. This vanilla cake is the "whiteout cake" from the Baked cookbook, so called because it is monochromatic, all white. It is exceptionally light (in texture, unfortunately not in calorie content) due to the addition of beaten egg whites, which are folded into the batter at the end. With its fluffy white chocolate frosting, it made a great contrast to the rich, dense chocolate cake, and was very popular at the party. Happy birthday again to grandma-in-law!

This is probably going to be my last post of 2011. I wish you all a very happy new year! See you in 2012.

Are you cooking something special for New Year's Eve? What are you making?


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Seared scallops with spiced butternut squash puree


Andrew and I don't exchange Christmas presents. Instead, we treat ourselves to a nice dinner at a restaurant that is a bit fancier than the ones we normally go to, and enjoy an evening out together. The first year that we were dating, we had a three-course meal at Rendezvous, the highlight of which was an amazing appetizer of seared scallops with Moroccan spices. This year, we had the five-course tasting menu at Journeyman, which included some of the most creative and inventive dishes I have ever had. To give you an example, one of the plates included rye bread ice cream. And it was good! Several of the courses at Journeyman also included vegetable purees, which had amazing complexity and depth of flavor. I was impressed - I didn't know something as seemingly boring as parsnip puree, for example, could be so delicious!

Anyway, after I bought some gorgeous sea scallops at the Somerville Winter Market, I decided to combine some favorite elements of our past holidy dinners into this dish. I spiced up a simple butternut squash puree with ras al hanout (a Moroccan spice blend) and served it with seared scallops. The combination was delicious - spicy and sweet, with a good mix of textures. And since I already had the cooked squash in the fridge, this dish came together in less than 10 minutes! It's so nice to know that we can capture the essence of some of our favorite restaurant meals right at home anytime we want.

What are the most memorable restaurant meals you've had?


Seared scallops with spiced butternut squash puree
Makes 3 servings

1 1/2 cups pureed butternut squash*
1 tsp ras al hanout (Moroccan spice blend)
9 large sea scallops (about 3/4 lb.)
1 tbs butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small saucepan, stir ras al hanout into squash puree until well blended. Heat puree over medium heat until warm, and add salt to taste. While squash is warming, pat scallops dry with a paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place a large, heavy skillet (cast iron is best) over moderately high heat. When skillet is hot, add butter. When butter is melted and foam subsides, add scallops to pan. Sear scallops for 2 minutes per side, or until they are just cooked through with a golden brown crust. Divide squash puree into three portions, and top each with three scallops. Serve immediately.

*You can cook the squash however you want (for example, bake the squash whole until it is tender, then halve it, remove the seeds, and scoop out the flesh), and then puree the flesh in a food processor.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A holiday menu

I've been working a lot lately. In the past I've always made it a priority to cook homemade meals almost every day, but right now I just don't have time. As I've mentioned before, I'm in the final stretch of my Ph.D. and should be defending my thesis in just about 2 months! I'm not sure what will come next, and I'm taking my time figuring it out so that I can find something I enjoy. Anyway...I'm saying all this to let you know that I probably won't be blogging too frequently for the next few weeks. I'll try my best to make some blog-worthy recipes and tell you about them, but honestly nothing too interesting is coming out of my kitchen these days. So I hope you will bear with me for a while and still be around when I return in full force in a couple months!

Since I don't have a new recipe to tell you about today, I thought it would be fun to suggest a holiday menu made up of some of my previously posted recipes (I'm not actually hosting a holiday dinner this year, but it is fun to think about menus anyway!). I've been blogging long enough now that I have enough material to do roundups like this. So looking back on what I've made in the past, here is what I would cook for a (mostly vegetarian) holiday dinner party:

Start out with some
feta and radish toasts and celery root and potato latkes


Get dinner started with a kale salad with sherry-walnut vinaigrette


Serve butternut squash and hazelnut lasagna as the main course 



And finally, some cranberry pecan caramel bars for dessert!

(These bars are probably the most popular thing I've ever made, and they are perfect for the holidays! I brought them to Shannon's cookie swap over the weekend - check out her recap post if you want more cookie recipe ideas from some fabulous local bloggers)

Are you hosting a holiday gathering this year? What is on your menu?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Butternut squash and hazelnut lasagna


The last two recipes I posted were healthy, low-fat, and packed with veggies, perfect for the week after Thanksgiving. But now I think it's time to talk about something a bit more decadent, don't you? After all, the holidays are coming up (sooner than I'd like to admit), and it is time for menu planning! If you are looking for a holiday-worthy vegetarian main course, this lasagna is perfect - definitely worthy of serving to guests. I brought it to a lasagna bake-off party (what a great party theme, huh?), and it was a hit. It is a nice change from a typical lasagna with tomato sauce, and the squash and hazelnuts make a great flavor and texture combination. And with a generous amount of cheese and creamy sauce, lasagna doesn't get much better than this!

Butternut squash and hazelnut lasagna
Adapted from Epicurious
Makes one 9 x 13-inch lasagna

For filling:
1 large onion, chopped
3 tbs unsalted butter
3 lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 tbs chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
6 tsp chopped fresh sage
1 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted

For sauce:
1 tsp minced garlic
3 tbs unsalted butter
5 tbs all-purpose flour
5 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper

For assembling lasagna:
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated (2 cups)
3 oz. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)
16 (7- by 3 1/2-inch) sheets of no-boil lasagna noodles (1/2 lb)

Make filling:
Melt butter in a deep, heavy 12-inch skillet over moderate heat. Add onion and cook until softened and golden, about 10 minutes. Add squash, garlic, salt, and white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Cover pan and cook until squash is tender, about 5-7 minutes longer. Remove filling mixture from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts. Add additional salt to taste if necessary, then cool filling.

While filling cooks, make sauce:
Melt butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook mixture, whisking, 3 minutes. Slowly pour in milk, whisking. Add bay leaf and bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, whisking occasionally. Stir in salt and white pepper and remove sauce from heat. Discard bay leaf. 

Assemble lasagna:
Preheat oven to 425 deg F and butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Mix cheeses together. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in the baking dish and cover with 4 pasta sheets. Spread 2/3 cup sauce over the noodles, top with one third of the filling, then sprinkle with a heaping 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat this layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta sheets and ending with cheese. Top with the remaining 4 pasta sheets, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese. Tightly cover the baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagna in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until lasagna is golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let lasagna stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.