Warmed Cinnamon Vanilla Apples

October 24, 2012 Menu No Comments

This week we’re stepping away from the pumpkin patch and are talking about my other favorite fall food…apples! Whether they’re picked fresh, squeezed into cider, baked into a pie or covered in caramel, apples are one of the most versatile and enjoyable foods this time of year. This recipe makes for a delicious and decadent topping for waffles, pancakes, ice cream, or even just enjoyed on their own (maybe with a little shot of whipped cream on the side). The spice measurements that I’m using  are a good starting point, adding just enough flavor without overpowering the taste of the apple. Feel free to adjust the spice measurements to your liking while the apples are cooking.

 

 

 

WARMED CINNAMON VANILLA APPLES
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 tspn cinnamon
1 tspn brown sugar
1 tspn vanilla extract
1 tbspn butter

In a mixing bowl, combine apples, cinnamon, brown sugar and vanilla extract. Melt butter over medium heat in a frying pan. Add apple mixture, stirring often. Cook on medium-low to medium heat for about 10 minutes, until apples are soft. Serve immediately.

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Mushroom Magic!

October 16, 2012 Menu, Soup No Comments
Why did the Mushroom get invited to all the parties? 
‘Cuz he’s a fungi! 

I’ve never really been a big fan of mushrooms. I don’t dislike them, it’s just a food item that I rarely, if ever go for. On my pizza? Nah. In a salad? Maybe. Stuffed with crabmeat? Sign me up! But that’s about where it ends. I honestly couldn’t even tell you the difference between a portabella and a shitake. All I know is that I shouldn’t eat the mushrooms that grow on my lawn. Or should I?

I have, however, learned the magic of the porcini mushroom…or should I say the porcini flavor. A good friend of mine who also loves to cook, and who also knows that some of my favorite dishes involve sauces, recently gave me a box of Star ai Funghi porcini bouillon cubes. Relatives of his who live in Italy use these cubes often, and when he found them at a store in the South Philadelphia Italian Market, he made sure to grab me a box as well. “They’re like magic,” were his exact words, and he was spot on. I’ve since used them in a few sauces, soups and risotto. Boom…Magic! The cubes add a beautiful, earthy, aromatic accent, without overpowering the dish itself. I can’t tell you how many ideas on how to use these magic cubes I have rolling through my head…but be sure that I will share them with you as soon as I put these new dishes together! In the meantime, if you find these cubes yourself, be sure to pick them up and put them to good use!


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Pumpkin Lasagna

October 7, 2012 Menu 3 Comments

I’ve been planning to make a pumpkin lasagna for a while now, and have spent a good amount of time researching different ways of how to do so. I’ve come across a lot of unique recipes – most that simply mix the pumpkin and spices into the ricotta cheese. Lasagna, in my opinion, is a very elegant pasta dish, and should be treated as such when assembling. I really wanted this dish to stand out, and while the idea of mixing the pumpkin and ricotta was on the right track, it just seemed too one-dimensional. Too simple.

My next thought was ‘what kind of sauce do I add to this to give more depth and complexity.’ Believe it or not, most of the recipes that I found used a red sauce (some of the recipes were even written by ‘celebrity’ tv chefs). I don’t know if the red sauce really would work, but it was definitely not the direction that I wanted to go. I also thought about a cream sauce, but was afraid that it would make the lasagna too heavy and just plain-old sloppy. Again, lasagna should be an elegant dish…runny, sloppy lasagna is definitely not what I wanted.

What I finally decided on was to use the pumpkin as the sauce. By doing this, it would help separate the pumpkin from the cheese, while at the same time creating the exact depth and texture that I wanted in this lasagna. The pumpkin sauce would also help keep the lasagna noodles from drying out.

I used all of the usual pumpkin spices to make the sauce (allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, brown sugar) along with some maple syrup to thicken it up a bit. By following the traditional lasagna layer method (pasta, cheese, sauce, repeat), the assembly was perfect. I topped it off with some toasted pecans for a little extra crunch.

Because there is a good amount of sweet spices included, I used thin layers of pumpkin and cheese so that the pasta would still stand out. I also made a brown butter sage sauce to drizzle on top of the individual servings to add a bit of savory. Although the butter sage sauce wasn’t really necessary (the pumpkin spices were perfectly balanced), it added a beautiful balance.

I was very happy with this dish…it was the perfect fall taste that I was hoping for. I hope you enjoy it!

PUMPKIN LASAGNA
Adapted from a recipe on Life Currents

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 box uncooked lasagna shells (you will need 12 shells for this)
1 (15-oz) container ricotta cheese
8 ounces shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup pecan pieces, lightly toasted in a pan with 1 tspn melted butter

Brown Butter Sage Sauce
1 stick butter
10 fresh sage leaves

Prepare the lasagna shells as instructed on the box (you can do this ahead of time), place aside to cool and dry.

Preheat oven to 400º. In a mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, brown sugar and syrup. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

Lightly coat a 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray. Add a light coating of the pumpkin mixture to the bottom of the dish. Place three pasta strips into the dish, side by side. Top each strip of pasta with about a tablespoon of the cheese mixture, spread it out on the pasta. Add a thin layer of the pumpkin sauce, spread it out evenly. Repeat these steps (pasta, cheese, pumpkin) until you finish up with the three final strips of pasta. Top with the remaining pumpkin mixture, then top with the toasted pecans. Cover with aluminum foil, bake in oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, keep covered and let cool for 10 minutes.

While the lasagna is cooling, melt the stick of butter in a small sauce pot, until it starts to brown. Add the sage leaves, let them simmer in the butter for 20-30 seconds. Remove and discard sage leaves. Remove butter from heat.

Slice and plate the lasagna, lightly drizzle each piece with a bit of the butter sauce.

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Fall Spaghetti Squash

October 3, 2012 Entrees, Menu No Comments

Looking for a healthy and tasty seasonal side dish that’s quick and easy to prepare? Try a little spaghetti squash! Along with the other variety of squash that are popular this time of year (acorn, butternut and pumpkin), spaghetti squash are easy to find at farmers markets and in your grocer’s produce section. While I do enjoy the taste and various textures of all the squash mentioned above, the spaghetti squash, in my opinion, is easiest to prepare. The spaghetti squash, which is oblong in shape, shares the same hard exterior flesh as the other squash when raw. When cooked, however, the interior of the spaghetti squash falls from the flesh in strands or ribbons, similar to spaghetti.

There are a few different ways to prepare spaghetti squash, the most common being baked in the oven, sliced in half, cut-side face down in a baking tray filled with a bit of water. While I am not a big fan of using the microwave these days, the spaghetti squash is actually very easy to prepare in ‘nuker’. Whether you are preparing the squash at meal time or in advance, the cooking and prep time are just a few minutes. Once the squash is cooked, you can toss it with spaghetti sauce, a little salsa, or even just some butter and parmesan cheese. This, of course, being my favorite season of the year, I couldn’t resist sharing with you my autumnal take on this dish. Just follow the simple steps below, making sure to handle the squash VERY CAREFULLY once cooked. While microwaving the squash does save lots of time, the squash will be extremely hot when done and will need to be handled with a towel or an oven mitt.

FALL SPAGHETTI SQUASH

1 spaghetti squash
1 tbspn brown sugar
1 tbspn butter
1 tspn vanilla extract
Salt and Pepper to taste

Generously pierce the skin of the squash. Place in the microwave at high for 3 minutes. CAREFULLY remove the squash, let sit for a few minutes, until cool enough to handle. This will soften the flesh and will allow you to easily cut the squash in half length-wise and scoop out the seeds. Lightly moisten the inside of both halves of the squash with some water. Place both halves cut-side face up back into the microwave, and cook on high for 4 minutes. CAREFULLY remove the squash and again set aside for a few minutes until cool enough to handle. Using a fork, gently scrape the inside of the squash into a bowl. The inside will fall off of the flesh in strands similar to spaghetti. Add the brown sugar, butter, vanilla, salt and pepper. Stir and serve.

Note – you can adjust the amount of brown sugar, butter and vanilla to your liking. You can also add other fall favorite spices to this, such as nutmeg, cinnamon or allspice. You can also add pecan pieces for a little crunch.

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