Sausage and Mushroom Stuffed Acorn Squash

This is my second try with this recipe concept.  The first time was a few months ago, using this kale and sausage recipe from Epicurious.  While it was good, I felt like it was lacking..something. This week I took another run at it, and I really like what I ended up with.   It would make a nice dinner party entree, and the recipe scales easily.

 

Ingredients

  • 2 acorn squash (medium or large, just aim for two about the same size)
  • 12 oz pork sausage (Italian or breakfast works well)
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 cups cubed stuffing mix
  • Thyme, parsley, rosemary, sage
  • Pinch red pepper flake (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, or chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan

 

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Halve squash, and slice a small round of the back of each half (so it has a stable base to sit on when stuffed.  Scrape out seeds (and save those for roasting later).  Place cavity side down in oven safe tray with 1/4″ of water in the bottom. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the flesh can be easily pierced with a fork.

While the squash are baking, prepare the filling.  Brown sausage, then add butter, onion and mushrooms to pan.  As those sauté, add your herbs and salt and pepper.  If you have fresh rosemary, that is a particularly nice addition here, but not required.  When the sausage, mushrooms, and onions have cooked through, kill the heat and add the stuffing mix.  Stir mix in, trying to soak up any juices in the pan as you go.  Add the wine, and let the stuffing absorb that too.  If it looks dry still, add some stock or water until your stuffing is no longer crunchy.  Add a couple of tablespoons of parmesan to the mixture.

For actually stuffing your squash, drain the water from the tray and flip the squash cavity side up.  Sprinkle some salt, pepper and parmesan onto each squash.  Fill the cavity with your stuffing mixture (I’d say I got about a cup of stuffing into each squash, but that will depend on the size of your squash). As you fill, gently press the filling into the cavity.  You don’t want to pack it tightly, but make sure you don’t have large unfilled pockets in there.  Top each filled squash with more parmesan, and broil for a few minutes, until your parmesan toasts to golden brown.

These are great right out of the oven, but I think they get even better after sitting in the fridge for a day or two.  They reheat well in the microwave, so feel free to make an extra squash for leftovers.

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Gingerbread Cookies

As is my usual tradition, every Christmas, I make a whole slew of cookies.  One of my absolute favorites, are the gingerbread.  Now, I know gingerbread cookies get some bad PR, ginger and molasses are rough ingredients for a sweet, but there is still something entirely captivating about a spicy chewy gingerbread cookie.  I have tried several recipes over the years, hoping to find one that lives up to all of my gingerbread expectations.  Sadly, many of them were acceptable, but otherwise unremarkable.  That changed this year.  I found a recipe at the Brown Eyed Baker, and wow.  These are fantastic cookies.  The trick really is the equal parts cinnamon and ginger.  Most recipes have a spice ratio that is heavily skewed toward the ginger.  Upping the cinnamon really reinforces the spicy heat of ginger and lets the sweetness of the molasses really shine through.

A note on the recipe: The original called for all AP flour, but I was out when I made these (oops!). I used a 2:1 mixture of bread and cake flour, and it worked fantastically, so I think I may just keep that change.  Also, I forgot to add the last ounce of butter (oops again!) and they still turned out great.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (dark would be better, but I used light and it was fine)
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon (I used the Penzey’s cinnamon blend)
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 6 oz butter, cut into pieces and softened slightly
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 2 tbsp milk

Method

Mix the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor with the steel blade in place. Add in the butter, and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse corn meal.  With the processor running, slowly pour in the milk and molasses and combine until a dough forms.  You may need to scrape down the sides and bust apart a large dough ball to get an even mix at this point.  Pause the processor and poke it if it looks like it needs it.  At this point, you have a couple of options.  You need to chill the dough, so you can either roll it thin between parchment, and put it in the freezer, or just slide it in a plastic zip top bag and stash it in the fridge.  If you have several hours or days, fridge is the way to go.  If you need cookies NOW, freeze it for 10-15 minutes.

Once your dough is chilled, and you’re ready to make cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whenever I roll out cookies, I use a mixture of 1:1 flour and confectioners sugar to flour the board.  You keep things from sticking, and your cookies don’t end up super floury.  It’s a win-win.  So, if you want chewy cookies, roll the dough to 1/4″ thick, use your favorite cookie cutters and place on a parchment, or baking mat lined tray.  (Now, you don’t HAVE to use Star Wars cookie cutters, but wouldn’t it be better if you did?)

Gingerbread cookies 2

Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on tray for a few minutes then remove to cooling rack until room temperature.  At this point you can decorate, or just consume with gleeful abandon.

Snow Pie

This is a recipe Chris got from one of his friend’s family several years ago, and we’ve now finally gotten around to trying it. It’s a pie that uses meringue in the place of the crust, and is a really lovely airy dessert that does provide a lovely contrast to the typical heavy holiday fare.

Ingredients
4 eggs, separated
1 lemon
2 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup heavy cream

Method
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Separate the eggs, reserving the yolks. In a mixer, beat the egg whites until frothy, then add cream of tartar. Continue beating and gradually add in 1 cup of the sugar. Beat until egg whites are stiff peaks. Put into a greased pie pan and bake for one hour.

Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks, zest and juice from one (or two) lemons, and 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil (this can be done either directly on the oven or over a double boiler-I recommend the later). Once boiled, it should be thick. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

When meringue is done, remove from oven and allow to cool.

Whip cream with remaining (1 cup) of sugar. Once everything else has cooled, top meringue with half of the whipped cream, then layer in the lemon mixture. Finish it off with the remaining whipped cream. Refrigerate over night.

This was a big hit at Thanksgiving. The result is a very fluffy, sweet pie with a nice zip from the lemon. If you’re looking for something a bit more sophisticated, this could be done in individual ramekins. I would lower the bake time to 30 minutes, and keep an eye on them, and then proceed as usual.

Italian Stuffed Mushrooms

These are an old favorite from my aunt Rosemary. I’ve no idea where she got this recipe.

These can be made with sliced mushrooms, in which case they’re not really stuffed, but more of a casserole, or they can be made with the stuffing put into mushroom caps that have been destemmed and cleaned.

Ingredients:
1 to 1.5lbs button mushrooms, sliced (or stemmed)
1 stick butter
1/2/ to 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 can of breadcrumbs (plain or Italian style)
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1/8 tsp onion powder
Italian herb seasoning (no hot pepper or anise/fennel please)

Method:
Melt butter and pour over the mushrooms, in a mixing bowl.
Stir in breadcrumbs, Parmesan, and the herbs/spices. Transfer to a casserole dish, cover, and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Alternately, they can be microwaved for 5 to 10 minutes until mushrooms are thoroughly cooked.

This has become a very popular thanksgiving/christmas side dish in my family.

Pear Butter

A couple of weeks ago, Dad dropped off a huge bag of pears that they had picked from a nearby pear tree. Two weeks later, they had finally ripened, so we made some pear butter. I used the same basic recipe as the apple butter we’ve made in the past, with a few modifications to the spices.

Ingredients and Method
8 lbs pears
3 cups water (may need less-I used 4 and it was too much)

Peel, core and chop pears. Cook in water until they break down (or until you get bored and hit them with an immersion blender). Measure out pulp. Add

1/2 cup sugar for ever 1 cup pulp (you may want to reserve a cup of sugar-I used 6 cups of sugar to 14 cups pulp and it was plenty sweet)
1 tsp ceylon cinnamon
1/2 tsp cassia cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
Juice of 1 lemon

Stir together, and let come to a boil. The butter is ready to jar when it sets up on a cold plate. For me, this yielded 10 8oz jars. I used about a 10 minute processing time.

The pear butter looks quite a bit like the apple butter, but a bit softer. The flavor profile is a bit more floral and a bit lighter.

Mrs. O’Callaghan’s Soda Bread

So in this month’s issue of Bon Appetit, I found a recipe for Irish soda bread that looked really good. Ever since I was a kid, my mom made James Beard’s Soda bread recipe, and it’s good, but the soda taste is very pronounced. I’ve made it the past few years for Chris’ family’s St. Patrick’s day corned beef dinner, but I always keep my eye out for a better recipe (with NO raisins!). I gave this new recipe a try (you can find it here, at epicurious). Chris and I both really like it. It has a pronounced nutty wheat flavor and is slightly sweet from the brown sugar. With a nice smear of butter, it’s probably the tastiest soda bread I’ve had. Next time I’ll either make it into two boules or bake it in the loaf pan (this time I just made a free form loaf-it turned into a bread-monster).

Sweet Potato Rolls

We had a massive sweet potato on hand that we had picked up before Christmas to make some pie. Now, after Christmas we are pretty much tired of desserts, so I decided to make some sweet potato dinner rolls out of it. For the first batch I tried, I used the recipe here, as written. They were good, but at 4 oz a roll, were a little too big for what we were looking for. The buttermilk also added a slightly jarring note that I think detracted from the sweet potato flavor (I love buttermilk rolls, but not with my sweet potato). Today I threw another batch together with the remainder of the mashed sweet potato. I based it on the same recipe, but made a few changes.

Ingredients
1 cup mashed sweet potato
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick butter, melted
2 cups milk
5 tsp yeast
1 egg
2 1/2 tsp salt
6-7 cups bread flour, as needed

Mix all ingredients except the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the flour 1 cup at a time until smooth, and soft. Knead for a few minutes by hand (the dough is soft, but shouldn’t be sticky). Let rise until doubled twice, punching down each time. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Portion out 3 oz pieces of the dough, and knead into rolls. Place in a buttered lasagna pan, or whatever your preferred roll baking device is, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown on top.

This batch is tastier than the first, and will definitely be repeated.