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Roasted Italian Butternut Squash

September 29, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

Nothing says autumn like the sweet taste of butternut squash. Whether it’s roasted with a little cinnamon, butter and brown sugar, prepared as a hearty soup, or served as a seasonal ravioli, butternut squash is a definite fall favorite. This recipe offers a nice balance of sweet and savory. The Italian seasonings work really well with the natural sweetness of the squash. This is a great side dish to serve with any autumn-inspired meal…be sure to keep it in mind come Thanksgiving time!

 

 

 

 

Roasted Italian Butternut Squash

I like to slice the top half as rounds, and the bottom half as long slices – this makes it easier to work around the pulp and seeds, and makes for a rustic presentation.

1 butternut squash, peeled and sliced into 1/2″ slices
1/4 cup olive oil, plus additional if needed
1/4 tspn salt
1/4 tspn pepper
1/2 tspn garlic powder
1 tspn Italian seasoning

I personally prefer to use a baking rack sitting in a baking dish or on a baking tray for this recipe, to allow for even cooking on both sides. If you do not have a rack that fits into a baking dish, you can just use a lightly sprayed baking tray and flip the squash slices halfway through baking time.

Preheat oven to 400˚. Place squash slices on a rack that is sitting in a baking dish or on a baking tray (see note above regarding the rack). Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and Italian seasoning. Lightly brush the squash slices on both sides. You can lightly drizzle with additional olive oil if needed.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the slices start to brown along the edges, turning once at 15 minutes.

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Talking Turkey on the Grill

Holidays play an important part in my family’s deep-rooted traditions. A holiday wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t spending time together, most likely while enjoying a beautiful, home-cooked meal. While the ‘big’ holidays are always special, we also look forward to the casual, summertime holidays that are celebrated over grill-outs, cold beers and fireworks. Not only are these holidays fun and exciting, they are also stress-free! We’ve started the tradition a few years back of spending these summer holidays with our close friends, Chrissy, Carl and their son Lucas, who are as near and dear to us as our own family.

A few months back, as we were enjoying a Sunday dinner with our friends, we shared conversation about how much we love Thanksgiving dinner, and how it’s a shame to enjoy such a great meal only once a year. This immediately led us to deciding on having a Friendsgiving Dinner on Memorial Day weekend. The timing would be perfect – it would be exactly 6 months until the actual Thanksgiving holiday, and we would have the rest of the summer to grill up burgers and hot dogs. From there, the wheels were in motion and the menu was planned between all of us…and a new holiday tradition was born!

The Menu

We decided to stick with a traditional Thanksgiving menu: stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, cold apple cider, a pumpkin dessert and, of course…the turkey. Chrissy and Carl also kicked the mood up a notch by digging out their Thanksgiving decorations and playing A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving DVD…complete with popcorn as a snack. Since Memorial Day is the official kick-off to summertime (Carl’s awesome mojitos were a nice reminder of this), I thought it would be fun to cook the turkey on the grill. I have always heard that grilled turkey is fantastic, so what better opportunity to give it a go?

*Note – there was one additional item added to the menu, which I will be sharing in the future. Trust me, it’ll be worth the wait!

The Turkey

The first thing that I learned right out of the gate was that whole turkeys aren’t cheap this time of the year (and the local supermarkets aren’t giving away free turkeys with your bonus points). To not risk over-grilling a $45 bird, I decided to just go with a 6lb turkey breast. An additional benefit to going this route is that you can always purchase legs and wings separately, so you can prepare as many as needed. Being that this was my first try at grilling a turkey, I spent a good amount of time doing my research on the proper cooking methods. One of the key steps that I followed was to soak the turkey overnight in a brine. Not only does brining add flavor to the turkey, it also adds extra moisture to avoid the turkey from getting dried out while on the grill.

Brine Recipe
1-1/4 cups coarse salt
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 gallon cool water
Place water, salt and sugar into a large pot, bring to a slow boil. Remove from heat, let cool completely. Place turkey breast into pot, be sure to cover completely with brine. Cover the pot tightly with a lid, refrigerate for 8-12 hours. Rinse brine off of turkey breast before seasoning.

After rinsing the brine off of the soaked turkey, I brushed it with 1 cup vegetable oil, then coated the entire bird, inside and out, with 1 tbspn Italian seasoning and some salt and pepper.

There are a few methods for grilling a turkey that I found online. The most common method that I found and decided to follow was to cook the turkey sitting over a drip pan, using indirect heat. After warming the grill up to 350˚, I placed the seasoned turkey breast, skin side up, on a rack and placed it inside of a roasting pan. I added 1 cup of water to the roasting pan (adding additional liquid as needed while grilling, to prevent the drippings from burning. I sat the roasting pan over indirect heat and let it go for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the internal temperature of the turkey was 165˚. After removing it from the grill and letting it rest for 20 minutes, the turkey was ready to be sliced. While the turkey was resting, I put the drippings to good use by making a home-made gravy (click here for the recipe).

If you are looking for a new method for making a turkey, I highly recommend grilling it. There is minimum prep time and effort involved, and if you follow the brining method, you will be sure to end up with a turkey that is flavorful and juicy!

Whole turkey cooked on a gas barbecue, using a roasting pan. Image courtesy of istock.com

Whole turkey cooked on a gas barbecue, using a roasting pan. Image courtesy of istock.com

What, No Cranberries?!?

Aside from finding out that turkeys are not in large supply this time of year, it was also a challenge to find fresh cranberries for my home made cranberry sauce. Instead of resorting to frozen cranberries, I thought it would be fun to add a bit of a summertime flavor to the table by making Bon Appetit’s Cherry Compote recipe (click here for the recipe). This an excellent substitute to the traditional cranberry sauce. It offered a nice summertime sweet/tart flavor combination, and the leftovers worked very well served over vanilla ice cream!

You Can’t Forget the Pumpkin!

It’s no secret that I am a nut for all things pumpkin. Even though we are not in pumpkin season, we made sure that it would somehow be represented at our Friendsgiving meal. For dessert, my wife Daria made a pumpkin crisp that has been a signature at our family’s Thanksgiving dinner for a few years now. We made sure to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which put this dessert over the top!

Pumpkin Crisp
(Originally posted at myrecipes.com)

1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1 c. of evaporated milk
1 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 (18.5 oz) pkg butter-flavored yellow cake mix
1 c. melted butter

Optional:
1 c. chopped pecans
Ground nutmeg
Whipped cream
Vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350F.  Stir together the first five ingredients. Pour into a lightly greased 13×9 inch baking dish.  Sprinkle cake mix evenly over pumpkin mixture (if you wish to add pecans, sprinkle them evenly over cake mix).  Drizzle melted butter over cake mix. Bake at 350F for 60 – 65 minutes or until golden brown**.  Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  IF desired, serve with whipped cream, sprinkle of nutmeg or vanilla ice cream.

** If baking ahead of time, I baked for about 55 min then re-heat again for another 10 min before serving.

I am very fortunate to be thankful for a lot of things in my life, most of all for my family and friends. I am also thankful that we started a new tradition to look forward to every Memorial Day!

Here’s to friends…and Friendsgiving!

Friendsgiving mascots!

Friendsgiving mascots!

 

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The turkey breast, fresh off the grill!

 

TDay3

…and dinner is served!

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Italian Eggs in a Basket

March 24, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

Eggs in a Basket has been a fun and popular breakfast item for many years. Quite a few versions of this meal exist, from the quick and easy Toad in the Hole* (using a juice glass to cut a hole in the center of toast, then frying an egg in the center of the hole), to lining a muffin tin with hash browns and bacon, then topping with a scrambled egg batter before baking.

In my version which I am about to share with you, we will be using dinner rolls that are hollowed out and baked with an egg poured inside. While this is also a very popular and common version of Eggs in a Basket, I’m adding a bit of an Italian spin to mine. Before cracking the egg into the hollowed roll, I add a slice of provolone cheese to the lining of the roll, then fill it with a tablespoon of bruschetta (home-made or jarred will work well). I also like to sprinkle some fresh herbs, salt and pepper on top of the basket for additional zing. These extra ingredients add a beautiful flavor and texture to an already classic dish. With springtime  finally in the air and Easter Sunday just a few days away, this dish will make for a great brunch item to serve to family and friends…and it’s just as easy to make a single serving for yourself during the week!

Italian Eggs in a Basket

The recipe is per serving. You can make as many, or as little as you wish!

The basic ingredients: eggs, bruschetta and dinner rolls

The basic ingredients: eggs, bruschetta and dinner rolls.

 

Slice a small portion off of the top of the roll, then hollow out the roll. Keep the sliced top for dipping.

Slice a small portion off of the top of the roll, then hollow out the roll. Keep the sliced top for dipping.

 

Line the rolls with sliced provolone cheese, then with a teaspoon of bruschetta (home made or store bought).

Line the rolls with sliced provolone cheese, then with a tablespoon of bruschetta (home made or store bought).

 

Gently crack an egg over the top of the roll. Top with salt, pepper and fresh herbs (basil or Italian seasoning work well).

Gently crack an egg over the top of the roll. Top with salt, pepper and fresh herbs (basil or Italian seasoning work well). Place on a sprayed baking sheet.

 

Bake in a 375˚ oven for 25-30 minutes, until the eggs are set, or to preferred doneness. You can place under a broiler quickly for well done yolks.

Bake in a 375˚ oven for 25-30 minutes, until the eggs are set, or to preferred doneness. You can place under a broiler quickly for well done yolks.

 

Serve immediately.

Serve immediately.

 

Lightly toast the bread toppings for dipping. Enjoy!

 

*Note – there is also a British version of Toad in the Hole, which consists of sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding, served with vegetables and onion gravy. Maybe I’ll consider adding an Italian spin to that dish somewhere down the line….

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Mini Timbale

March 11, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

In my last post, I shared with you my updated spin on the classic sausage and peppers, with the addition of rice and seasoned tomato sauce. Today’s post will put that recipe to excellent use, by using it as a stuffing inside of a timbale! For those of you not familiar with timbale, it is a dish that is prepared in a round pan (most often a spring form pan for a large size), that is lined with thin layers of eggplant, then filled with a mixture usually made up of a pasta base. The timbale is baked, then presented whole, which looks like a timbale drum, then is sliced and served. If you are a long-time reader of my food blog, you may recall my less-than-successful attempt a few years back at making timbale for my Mom’s birthday (click here for The Trials of Timbale).

After a few years, I felt that it was time to once again give it a go at making timbale. Learning from my previous mistakes, I decided this time to make individual servings in ramekin dishes to help keep everything contained and not have it fall apart all over my kitchen counter. Because I was planning to use a much smaller container, I thought that it may not allow for much room for a pasta filling. This is why I opted instead for the sausage, peppers and rice filling. By adding the sauce to the filling, it would allow the ingredients to hold together as I packed it into each serving dish. Unlike my last attempt, I was also very careful not to use too much oil when preparing the eggplant slices. Adding oil to eggplant, especially when baking it, can be very deceiving. The eggplant has a tendency to soak up liquids like it were a sponge, but then it releases them as it cooks. My previous attempt failed because I used too much oil on my eggplants, which did not allow it to hold together once removed from the pan.

Thinly sliced seasoned eggplant on a lightly oiled baking sheet, baked at 350˚ for 5-10 minutes until softened.

Thinly sliced seasoned eggplant on a lightly oiled baking sheet, baked at 350˚ for 5-10 minutes until softened.

I started off by thinly slicing one large eggplant length-wise. I lightly sprayed a large baking sheet, and placed the slices on the sheet, lightly seasoning them with salt and pepper. I placed them in the oven at 350˚ for about 5-7 minutes…just long enough to make the slices pliable but not to where they would fall apart. Already I was off to a much better start! This left me with enough slices to line two single-serve ramekin dishes. Unlike a full size timbale, I opted to not add enough eggplant to enclose the filling. While this step is necessary with a full size, I felt that it would work fine with the smaller size, and especially with the tighter packed filling that I was planning to use. If you opt to use a pasta filling, be sure to account for more eggplant. I also suggest preparing the eggplant ahead of time and storing it in the refrigerator. The slices will stay soft enough to work with, but will not fall apart.

My sausage, peppers, rice and tomato sauce filling.

My sausage, peppers, rice and tomato sauce filling.

As I prepared my filling (you can click here for the recipe), I once again preheated the oven to 375˚. I lightly sprayed the ramekin dishes before lining them with the sliced eggplant. Although some pieces of eggplant were longer and larger than others, I put all of the slices to good use, making sure that the entire dish was lined. If you want to fully enclose you timbale, be sure to use larger slices off eggplant and have them overlap the edges of the pan, then simply fold over once the dish is filled. But again, because my filing was more compact that a pasta filling, I went with not completely enclosing the dish.

Ramekin dishes liked with the eggplant slices.

Ramekin dishes lined with the eggplant slices.

 

Tightly packing the ramekins with the filling.

Tightly packing the ramekins with the filling.

Once all of the filling was tightly packed into the ramekins, I placed them into the oven for about 30 minutes, until the outer edge of the eggplants started to brown and slightly crisp. I removed them from the oven, let them cool for a few minutes and very carefully ran a paring knife around the inner edges to separate the timbale from the dish. With a careful flip onto the dish and a few light taps, the timbale fell perfectly onto the dish. I quickly hit them with a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh herbs…and it was a thing of beauty! After years of disappointment, I had finally achieved making timbale. Not only did it look elegant, it tasted just as wonderful. It was a spectacular dish, put together with just a few simple ingredients. But a little bit of extra love took it a long way.

Carefully flipping the timbale onto the dish.

Carefully flipping the timbale onto the dish.

 

Drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh herbs.

Drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh herbs.

Regarding the filling – you can get as creative as you like. Pasta, ricotta cheese, various meats, shrimp or even vegetables would make for excellent fillings. You can also top it however you like once it is removed from the baking dish. A nice slice of mozzarella, some fresh tomatoes and basil…the options are endless!

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Perfection!

So there you have my triumphant return to attempting timbale, and I hope it inspires you to give this creative, impressive and filling dish a try!

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