Kabocha Squash Stuffed with Caramelized Onions, Spinach & Mushrooms

Stuffed Kabocha

Stuffed Kabocha

I’m kicking myself. Yes, you read that right. I am sitting here on the couch kicking myself for being dumb.

Well, I would be if I hadn’t quit yoga a few months ago and could actually move my leg that way. But rest assured, mentally I’m kicking myself.

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Why you ask? It’s because more than a year ago  – precisely 1 years and 28 days – one of my favorite food writers posted a recipe on her blog that I’ve been unable to get out of my mind. This entire time I’ve thought about the recipe but never actually got around to making it until this weekend. And it was incredible!

Last fall Dorie Greenspan wrote what she called a “recipe in progress” for pumpkin packed with bread and cheese. It looked great, all gooey and oozy and warm and hearty. But she called it a recipe in progress because it was really about applying the concept of stuffing a hallowed pumpkin or gourd with countless combinations of ingredients.

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While Dorie’s recipe used cheese and cream, my lactose intolerant self decided to limit the dairy to just a small amount of cheese. In its place I added a bunch of sauteed vegetables to the filling for a well-rounded main course or all-in-one side dish.

Instead of a pumpkin I used kabocha, also known as Japanese pumpkin. It has a flavor similar to pumpkin but the flesh is a bit drier, which works well in this preparation, and has a green skin that is beautiful in contrast with the vivid orange interior.

Oh, and did I mention this stuffed squash is incredibly healthy? Kabocha is rich in beta carotene, iron, Vitamin C and potassium, and vegetables like spinach and mushrooms add calcium and other nutrients.

Kabocha

Here’s my take on a recipe in progress: Read more of this >>

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Challah Bread

Sliced challah

My friend Anna is a terrible influence. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about her, usually by her nickname “culinary-school-dropout.” Even though she didn’t finish the program with me, Anna still loves food and loves to cook and is usually the person accompanying me to various small, ethnic restaurants around the city. The other thing you need to know about Anna is that she’s obsessed with buying cookbooks, that’s where the bad influence comes in.

Brush with egg wash

Last week we ate lunch at TAC Quick (the most amazing tom kha soup, by the way). Afterwards Anna suggested going to Borders to look at the cookbooks. I agreed but on the condition that she didn’t allow to buy any (I have plenty, too). After an hour and a half of browsing the cooking section, I was hooked on a new book that I just HAD to have: The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: the All-Purpose Baking Cookbook. This purchase was a necessity, I didn’t have any good all-around baking books, besides, Anna bought two!

There are many recipes in the book that I can’t wait to try: the blueberry buckle, herbed dumplings, whole wheat loaf, fudge drops, etc. But I decided to start with my sister’s favorite bread: challah.

Challah loaf

Although I’ve made challah before, I didn’t have a recipe I truly liked. The one we followed in culinary school bastardized this enriched bread by adding lemon and orange zest  – ugh. For me, a great challah should be soft, slightly sweet, and void of any add-ins like zest or raisins. And the few other recipes I’ve tried were a little ‘eh.

So, how did the King Arthur recipe compare? For that I’d have to refer you to my sister, the challah expert, who wrote: “It was very good. I only got a few pieces before Jeff managed to eat it all. I really like it and thought it was sweet. It has my expert seal of approval.”

On that note, here’s the recipe, which is truly much easier to make than it may seem:

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Herbed Focaccia with Seasonal Toppings

Herbed Focaccia with winter toppings

I love making this herbed focaccia to bring to other peoples’ houses. It’s a great pizza-like, carb-heavy snack that transports well. Plus, the basic focaccia dough works with pretty much any type of topping, meaning I can use whatever leftover seasonal products I have on hand.

This time I made it to bring to my friend Eva’s house for her rockin’ New Years Eve party. It was also a shout-out to brand-spanking-new dad Chef Ben, the originator of this recipe (I don’t know if it’s actually his, but he’s the one who gave it to me) – baby Cyrus was born just before Christmas.

Buttercup squash Caramelized onions

This time, the toppings I used were roasted baby potatoes in different colors, buttercup squash, roasted garlic and caramelized onion. Just be sure to used enough salt or you’ll have to resort to doing what I did, which was asking Eva for her salt shaker in the middle of the party as a last-ditch attempt to adjust the seasonings.

Readying garlic for roasting Potatoes

Also note that this isn’t a last-minute recipe – it takes quite a bit of time for the dough to rise, so allow at least four hours if not overnight. Here’s the recipe: Read more of this >>

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Rocky Mountain Toast By Any Other Name

Rocky Mountain Toast

I remember my dad cooking just two dishes, ever (cereal doesn’t count). Both were for breakfast and both used eggs: scrambled eggs with cinnamon and rocky mountain toast. The scrambled eggs were fine, but it was the rocky mountain toast I really liked. And the only way to convince him to make it for me by promising to do all the kitchen clean-up. It was worth it.

Today it remains one of my favorite comfort foods, although I make it only once or twice a year. Rocky mountain toast can be unhealthy (eggs, enriched bread, butter) but that’s not the reason. It’s simply because I just never have bread in my kitchen. I stopped buying it a few years ago when I realized I couldn’t make it even halfway through a loaf without it turning moldy, and I didn’t care for the consistency of defrosted bread. Plus, while I am a carb addict, I rarely eat sandwiches (I prefer hot food, but I’ll leave that discsussion for another day).

So, imagine my excitement when I had two slices of challah bread leftover from the Baked Challah French Toast with Praline Topping I made for my sister and her friends. I waited to use it for days until I couldn’t take it any longer: it was rocky mountain toast time.

I pulled out my nonstick pan reserved specifically for eggs and gave it a quick coating of cooking spray and set it on the burner over medium heat. Then, the fun began. I buttered not one, but both sides of the bread and used my fingers to make a quarter-sized hole in the center of each. Sure, I could have used a round cookie cutter, but my dad taught me to use my fingers so that’s what I did. Of course, I had to eat the small bits of bread that were removed.

buttered bread

Next, I placed both pieces of buttered challah bread in the hot pan and cracked an egg over each so that the yolk sat right over the hole. I cooked it until the bottom of the bread was toasty and the egg whites on the pan had set, then I carefully flipped the bread over so the eggs were now on the bottom. This was the most important part – you have to gently but efficiently flip the bread over so the egg stays in place but also so the yolk doesn’t break. It’s tricky.

Cooking rocky mountain toast

All that was left was to cook the rocky mountain toasts until the bread was crisp, the egg whites were set but the yolks were still runny in the center (as a kid I would to instruct my dad to cook one piece all the way through and to leave the yolk slightly runny in the second). I put both pieces on a plate and used my fork to break the center of the eggs, releasing a small stream of bright yellow liquid which I sopped up with the crunchy, golden toast.

Although this isn’t a unique recipe and, in fact, goes by many different names (i.e. toad in a hold, egg in a nest, etc.), to me it will always be my dad’s.

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Really, Really Cooked Beef Stew & Beer Bread

Beef stew with beer bread

The Cubs lost a playoff game last night. And the night before. I was at the second game, the game wherein they truly self-destructed, and I can’t even begin to express the despair felt by all in the stadium. Even the Dodger fans sitting next sit me seemed a bit bummed. Of course they wanted their team to win, but still would have appreciated a good game. A day later and I’m still feeling glum (good word, right?), so I figured it was necessary to bring out the big guns with something I like to call Really, Really Cooked Beef Stew. You see, I like my stew thick with the meat falling apart as though it were braised, which let’s face it, isn’t too far of a stretch.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really think the whole meal through before I began. I got the stew going and all was good until about halfway through when I realized that I needed something to eat with the stew, namely a nice chunk of crusty bread. At this point there just wasn’t time to make a starter or even allow a rapid-rise bread the time needed to proof.

Damn it, I was glum and getting a bit hungry (also the reason why I didn’t take photos throughout). I quickly Googled “quick rise bread,” “no rise bread,” and finally “beer bread,” which is where I found my answer. I followed the recipe with two exceptions: used whole wheat flour (which incidentally expired 11 months ago – oops) and cold beer rather than room temperature. In the end I decided this bread is good to have as a back-up when you’re craving fresh, warm out-of-the-oven bread with a nice crust but wouldn’t be my first choice overall, and it has a slightly off aftertaste that is probably just the beer flavor, but a little unfamiliar to me as I rarely drink beer.

Blurry piece of beef stew
*This blurry photo was intended to show just how tender the beef was, but turned out poorly because the camera fell into the stew while taking it.

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