Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hello, again. Hello.

I know what you’re all thinking. Why would you start a blog and then not post anything for almost a month??

I admit the commencement of my blog had bad timing. Shortly after my first posts, my husband and I began the process of buying a home, so our evenings and weekends have been filled with painting, floor installation, cabinet staining and more. For the last month, my free time switched from Food Network to HGTV.

But I'm back! The past several evenings have focused on a louder calling than my impending home-ownership – the growl of my stomach.

Sunday nights returned to their usual culinary adventures chez Mom, and that is where our tale begins.

My parents took a trip to Napa several weeks ago and returned with a wonderful cookbook for me. The title – Chocolate for Breakfast. Do they know me, or what?

Ever since, I’ve been itching to try some of the delectable (and not all chocolate) recipes. Attempt/Adventure number 1 was Butternut Squash Ravioli with Black Walnut Brown-Butter Sauce.

Now, there are two things you should know about my “weekend cooking adventures”.

First: my mother and I have a rule about trying new recipes. Try the recipe as is. Use all the ingredients and follow every direction and see what happens. After you’ve tasted the original, then make your changes. Soup too liquidy? Make a note to add less broth next time. Not enough seasoning on your chicken? Make a note to add or increase that ingredient. I absolutely recommend this to all of you.

95 percent of the time, we follow this rule, but as with most rules, we have our exceptions. For my mother, it is nutmeg. For me, it is expensive ingredients (prosciutto, hazelnuts, pancetta, etc.) or ingredients that aren’t always readily available in home sweet Houma. It doesn’t happen often, but in this case, of course it did.

The second thing you should know is that these adventures occasionally induce freak-outs, and by occasionally, I mean always. This particular instance included two freak-outs.

Freak-out number one: Rouses is out of butternut squash??!!? But I’m making butternut squash ravioli?!!? How am I supposed to make butternut squash ravioli without butternut squash!??! I guess we’ll just order pizza. [Did I mention that my freak-outs tend to conclude with completely ridiculous resignations?]

After wandering around Rouses for half an hour trying to decide what to do, I throw in the towel on my rule for this recipe and decide to just go with a different kind of squash. ‘Tis the season for winter squash, so I looked through what was available and settled on one called sweet dumpling squash. I know that butternut squash has a sweet taste, and these look pretty, so I go with it.

Through my experiences with substituting winter squash [re: the squash cake freak-out of 2009], I’ve determined that, while I’m sure they have specific differences, they can be interchanged when necessary.

As I go through the recipe, step by detailed step, I start to feel pretty good about the dish. The squash and goat cheese filling is smelling delicious. The ravioli are coming together pretty well. As they come out of the boiling water they look appetizing. It isn’t until we sit down at the table to eat that I experience freak-out number two.

My ravioli are sticking together. I’m trying to use a slotted spoon, as instructed, to serve them, and the pasta is keeping them glued together. Just before I resort to ordering pizza for the second time in one recipe, my mom recommends serving it like lasagna rather than like individual ravioli, so we scooped it out in casserole-serving fashion. Second disaster averted. (Thanks, Mom.)

While it wasn’t the most beautiful dish I’ve made, it was delicious. I’ll be tweaking it for the next time around, perhaps using eggroll wrappers rather than wonton wrappers to add more substance and hopefully prevent sticking, but I certain will be cooking it again.

For my cooks of quick and simple recipes, I paired the ravioli dish with a very simple but flavorful tilapia dish, which has become a favorite of my husband. Tilapia with Balsamic Browned Butter is a Rachael Ray recipe that I first saw on (shock of shocks) Food Network, and – as with most of her recipes – I haven’t made any changes.

My only note is to be sure that you let the oil get hot enough before trying to cook the fish. Use the flour test: drop a tiny bit of flour into the hot oil. If it sizzles, it is hot enough; if it doesn’t, let it continue to heat. If the oil isn’t hot enough, the fish will stick and then fall apart.

And with that, my “weekend adventure cooking” comes to an end for this Sunday. Next Sunday is Mom’s turn, so I’ll be returning to the quick, the painless, and the inexpensive for my next entrĂ©e. 


Butternut Squash Ravioli with Black Walnut Brown-Butter Sauce
[From: Chocolate for Breakfast by Barbara Passino]

Makes 30 ravioli/Serves 6 to 7

Ravioli filling ingredients:
2-pound butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded. [Remember, I used 2 sweet dumpling squash.]
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion chopped, (about 1 ½ cups)
1 garlic clove minced
5 sage leaves, finely chopped (or substitute 1 ½ tsp ground sage)
1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves finely chopped (or substitute ½ teaspoon dried thyme)
½ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper
3 ounces aged goat cheese, crumbled (or substitute ricotta)

Additional ingredients:
60 wonton wrappers, or gyoza or potsticker wrappers [This can be found in the produce section of most grocery stores, and yes Rouses does carry it.]
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
1/3 cup black walnuts, toasted lightly and chopped coarsely

Preheat the oven to 425° F and lightly grease a baking sheet.

Cut the squash in half and place it on the baking sheet, cut side down. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the flesh is very tender when you poke it with a fork. Let it cool a few minutes so you don’t hurt your hands, and then scoop out the insides and throw away the skin. Place the squash in a mixing bowl and mash it with a fork.

Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat and cook the onion, garlic, sage and thyme, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes until the onion is golden and soft. Add salt and pepper.

Add the onion mixture to the squash along with the goat cheese and mix together with a spoon.

Put 3 wonton wrappers on a work surface, lightly dusted with flour. Place a tablespoon of the squash filling in the center of each wrapper, and then lightly brush the perimeter with water and press a second wrapper on top, pushing out any air bubbles and sealing the edges. If you have a round ravioli cutter, you can trim the edges of the dough, but it’s not necessary. Place the ravioli on a towel to dry a bit while you continue making the remaining ravioli.

In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add the black walnuts. Cook until the butter begins to brown, about 3 minutes, and immediately remove the pan from the heat. Add salt and pepper and keep the black walnut butter warm and covered.

In a large pot, add 1 teaspoon of salt to 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Cook 10 ravioli at a time in gently boiling water for 5 minutes, or until they rise to the surface and are tender. Carefully remove cooked ravioli with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate with a small amount of the hot cooking water to keep them warm until the rest are finished.

Lift them with a slotted spoon and serve 5 to a plate, topped with the brown-butter sauce.

Tilapia with Balsamic Browned Butter
This recipe also includes a pasta dish that I didn’t care for. The fish, however, was wonderful, so I’ve continued to make it, pairing it with other sides.

4 (6- to 8-ounce tilapia fillets) [Walmart and Sam’s has them frozen individually, very convenient and reasonably priced.]
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons of butter
¼ cup balsamic vinegar

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Dust fish with flour and shake off excess.
Heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. [Remember: make sure it gets hot enough or else the fish will stick!] Cook fish 4 minutes on each side.
Remove fish from skillet to a platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm. Reduce heat to medium and add butter to pan. Brown butter, 2 to 3 minutes, stir in balsamic vinegar and simmer 1 to 2 minutes to reduce by half. Pour the brown butter and vinegar over fish.