In An Autumn Mood…

imageThis post is a mish-mash of several different images and topics, all related to autumn.

First (and not surprisingly, considering my last two posts, I suppose!) is the food. As the weather cools down a bit, the “hibernating” instinct kicks in, and all ideas for all sorts of hearty foods and meals start to nag at me (in a very pleasant way).

imageHere is last night’s homemade creation: Boneless pork loin chops seasoned with garlic and thyme and smothered in apples and onion, scalloped potatoes (no cheese in mine…I prefer the classic onion, butter, and cream, with plenty of salt and pepper and a little garlic), and sweet peas.

imageDessert was homemade apple pie, from the apples yielded by the two apple trees in my parent’s yard at the old Homestead (another post on that soon).

imageSecond, is the scenery. It’s getting to peak color here in Upstate New York. Every day is a new treat for the senses.

I love driving to and from work, because it’s the equivalent of taking a “country drive” every day!

imageEven on cloudy days, the gray sky  highlights the brilliant leaves, making them almost glow.

imageAs we creep ever closer to Halloween, certain images lend a pensive or even spooky tone to the vistas. While I always love crows, since I associate my father with them, I also think that their appearance in October is perfect for this season in particular. These two handsome fellows were just hanging out in the upper branches when I pulled over on my way to work to take their picture. 🙂

Is it autumn where you live, or another season altogether (like in Australia)? Regardless of where you are, what does it look like around you? Please share in the comments!

Spaghetti Squash Made Easy

So, this is my second recipe post in a row, I know. What can I say? I like to cook, and the cooler autumn months make that even more enticing.

You don’t have to like squash to like spaghetti squash. It has a very, very mild flavor, and is a great way to sneak in more vegetables and avoid some of the simple carbs that can make you feel logey (rhymes with hoagie for those unfamiliar with the word. Logey = sluggish, and is a word derived from Dutch, used in the Northeastern part of the US, particularly in NY and MA! 🙂 )

I made some this weekend. It takes a bit of time (1.5 hours), but it’s well worth it.

imageStart by preheating the oven to 365-370 degrees F (depending on how “hot” your oven is), and washing a large, smooth spaghetti squash. Slice it vertically.image

Scoop out the “guts” (very much like removing seeds and fibers from a pumpkin when Halloween carving time comes along) and discard them. Now it’s ready to season.

imageEither slice up some garlic (I like a lot) or buy it pre-chopped from the store, which is what I did, because I didn’t have other garlic handy.

imageNote: if you use pre-chopped garlic, you may have to dry it a bit if you want it to “roast” and turn into those brown bits that taste so good.

Place the garlic in the cavities of the squash and then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Add a mixture of olive oil and vegetable oil (half and half) to the cavity and smear all over the visible parts of the cut squash.

imageRoast in the oven for about an hour. Mine took a little longer. You’ll know it’s done when the flesh pulls back from the skin without too much resistance and begins to “thread” like spaghetti. Use two forks to scrape all the squash from the inside of each half.

imageIt’s ready to serve! Put into a bowl and season with a little more oil, or some butter, and test for whether more salt and pepper is needed.

imageIt’s great as is, but it’s also delicious with your favorite pasta sauce (with or without meat or a sprinkle of parmesan cheese – use the squash just like pasta). If you use a tomato-based sauce, though, let the squash sit for a few minutes first; otherwise, it picks up the liquid from the tomatoes and gets a little watery.

That’s it! Delicious and nutritious.

Has anyone here tried this squash before? Any fans of it with other recipes for using it that you love? Please share in the comments. 🙂

Christmas at the Homestead…and A Stollen Recipe

ChristmasWell, I suppose the stollen could  be served anytime. But we always had it on Christmas.

It’s a little fussy to make and takes a few hours, between rising, baking and frosting, but the results are worth it and SO good with coffee. The pic above is of a later years Christmas morning at the Homestead…the entire living room used to be filled like this when all of us kids lived at home. My poor mother would be wrapping until 2:00am most Christmases. 🙂

Here’s the stollen recipe; it’s from a 1965 edition of Family Circle Magazine, and my mother has been making this every year for my entire life. Once I got married and started my own family, I began making it as well – though mine never turn out as nice as Ma’s do!

STOLLEN
BREADS — Yeast

Bake at 350° for 35 minutes…makes 2 large loaves

1 cup seedless raisins
1 cup (8-ounce jar) mixed chopped candied fruits
1/4 cup orange juice
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine
2 envelopes active dry yeast
OR: 2 cakes compressed yeast
1/4 cup very warm water
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
5 cups sifted regular flour
1 cup chopped blanched almonds (I use finely chopped walnuts instead)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar (I use a lot more)

imageCombine raisins, candied fruits, and orange juice in a small bowl.

imageScald milk with sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup (1 stick) of the butter or margarine; cool to lukewarm.

Sprinkle or crumble yeast into very warm water in a large bowl. (“Very warm” water should feel comfortably warm when dropped on wrist.) Stir until yeast dissolves, then stir in cooled milk mixture, eggs, and lemon rind.

imageBeat in 2 cups of the flour until smooth; stir in fruit mixture, almonds, and nutmeg, then beat in just enough of remaining 3 cups flour to make a stiff dough.

Knead until smooth and elastic on a lightly floured pastry cloth or board, adding only enough flour to keep dough from sticking (this is the part that’s always tough for me…figuring out how much to knead it, because there are ingredients in the dough that prevent it from being “smooth” and so difficult to tell if it’s “elastic” yet. If the dough springs back a little when you poke it, then it’s good). 🙂

imagePlace in a greased large bowl; cover with a clean towel.

imageLet rise in a warm place, away from draft, 2 hours, or until double in bulk. I use my oven’s “proofing” setting, because it keeps it draft-free and just warm enough.

imageIt should look like this on the left when ready for the next step.

Punch dough down; knead a few times; divide in half. imageRoll each into an oval, 15Ă—9; place on a greased large cookie sheet. Melt remaining 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine in a small saucepan; brush part over each oval; sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar; imagefold in half lengthwise.

Cover; let rise again 1 hour, or until double in bulk. Brush again with part of the remaining melted butter or margarine.

imageBake in moderate oven (350°) 35 minutes, or until golden and loaves give a hollow sound when tapped. While hot, brush with remaining melted butter or margarine; cool on wire racks.

When cool, frost and decorate. imageI use a basic white icing (butter, confectioner’s sugar, a little vanilla and a couple tablespoons of milk), decorated with cut red and green cherries.

It’s really great with coffee…and with just the white frosting, you could serve it anytime!

Quick and Easy Lasagna

Baked-Lasagna-photo-by-Sarah-Franzen-1024x682

Photo courtesy of Sarah Franzen

So, I must be on an Italian food kick lately (maybe it’s the wintery weather that inspires me!), because I made this over the weekend for a six person, family pre-show dinner (we had lots of leftovers). It’s a great recipe for feeding a crowd (just make two pans to feed up to 18 people) and a lot easier and quicker to make than most people think, especially if you opt to use the “no-boil” lasagna noodles.

The pictures in the steps of the recipe below feature the traditional kind, but that was only because my husband “couldn’t find” the no-boil kind in the store. Other than adding about 15 minutes to the prep time, using traditional noodles doesn’t change anything in this recipe.

Here are the ingredients:

  • 1 package of lasagna noodles (boiled if traditional, or right from the box if the no-boil kind)
  • 1 – 2 regular-sized jars of your favorite sauce
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef (or turkey)
  • 1 lb bulk (uncased) sweet (or hot, if you like spicy) Italian sausage
  • 1 TBSP garlic powder
  • 1 TBSP onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp ground pepper and salt
  • 1 lb part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1/2 lb. 4% milkfat cottage cheese
  • at least 1 lb of grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

imageIn a large sauce pan, heat a TBSP olive oil on medium high heat and add your ground beef and Italian sausage.

 

 

imageCook and stir until browned, but be careful not to burn. If your meat isn’t especially lean, be sure to drain off any fat before the next step.

imageAdd in all your spices and your jarred sauce.

I sometimes throw in some diced tomatoes, canned or fresh, if I want a little more texture.

Let it cook until it comes to a simmer, with little bubbles, but not a full boil.

Set aside for a bit while you ready the noodles (boiled and drained for traditional, removed from the package for the no-boil kind).

Also, at this point it’s a good idea to get the cheeses out.

Get out a rectangular pan. image9×13 inches is great. Mine is glass, which I think works better than metal, but I’ve seen other use the coated metal pans just fine.

imageSpread a thin layer of the meat sauce on the bottom of the pan.

 

 

 

 

image

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese (NOT the cottage cheese), the basil, oregano, and egg. Mix well.

Now you’re ready to assemble the lasagna.

image

Atop the thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the pan, arrange noodles length-wise and slightly overlapping.

 

imageSpread half the ricotta mixture on the noodles, followed by half the cottage cheese. That’s a secret ingredient, as it makes the cheese part of the lasagna really creamy. Sprinkle the whole with a little of the shredded mozzarella. Cover all this with another thin layer of meat sauce.

imageMy sweet Mama taught me to put the second layer of noodles on horizontally (another neat trick) to help the lasagna maintain its structure on the plate, once it’s baked and sliced. Because the noodles are too long for the width of the pan, every noodle has the opposite end folded under and tucked in. Repeat with another layer of cheese and a layer of sauce, and then a final layer of noodles length-wise again.

imageTop with one last layer of meat sauce, and then sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella on top. I like to put the whole thing on a foil-lined cookie pan, to catch any bubbled-up spills.

Pop it in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, uncovered for traditional noodles, and covered with foil if you used no-bake noodles.

That’s it! The entire process from start to finished product on the table takes about an hour and 15 minutes. Add a salad or some crusty bread if you want (and a nice glass of red wine!), and you have a great, filling meal that’s enough for a crowd but fit for company, too. 🙂