Spaghetti Squash Gratin

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

Inspiration: The beginning of fall is one of my favorite times of the year. Summer will always win out for me, but there’s something so wonderful and comforting about the leaves turning, the wind blowing, the holidays approaching, and of course, fall food. I absolutely adore cooking with fall squash (butternut is my favorite, but spaghetti squash is pretty awesome, too), so as soon as the first fall day hits, I’ve probably got squash on the menu. I first discovered this recipe and blogged about it a couple of years ago, and it has since become one of our favorite spaghetti squash recipes that we make all of the time. When fall hit this year, I simply couldn’t wait to redo my old post and encourage everyone to try out this wonderful dish ASAP.

What we Loved: This meal is the definition of comfort food to me. Any dish that is as rich and as cheesy as this one is just has to fall into that category.  The sour cream mixed together with the squash results in such a fantastic creamy texture, and the Parmesan cheese adds that great nutty flavor that I love so much about Parmesan. The cheese on top of the casserole browns just a bit, which results in loads more flavor and just a bit of an awesome crunch. And as if that wasn’t enough, the sauteed onions add a lovely browned onion flavor that is killer and absolutely essential to the dish.  With a beautiful in-season squash (I just love its bright, fresh taste), browned onions, cheesy Parmesan, and plenty of sour cream, what’s not to love?

Tips: This dish works really well in a multitude of ways. I most often serve it as a main vegetarian entree alongside a green vegetable for a light meal, but it’s also excellent topped with sauteed and sliced chicken breasts for some protein (as shown at the end of the post).  It works great as a side dish, and leftovers reheat well and are one of my favorite work week lunches. I also have a feeling that any number of mix-ins would be good to throw in, too. Sauteed mushrooms, spinach, or crumbled Italian sausage all sound like great additions to me.

Spaghetti Squash Gratin
Source: Adapted from Daily Unadventures in Cooking

1 medium-sized spaghetti squash
1/2 Vidalia or sweet onion, chopped
About 1 cup sour cream
About 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded (or more, to preference)
Kosher salt and black pepper

1. Cook the spaghetti squash. Poke it all over with a fork, and bake at 400 degrees for one hour or in the microwave for about 15 minutes.

2. While the squash is cooking, heat a pat of butter in a saute pan, and add the onion. Cook until softened and browned.

3. When the squash is done cooking, let it cool until you are able to handle, and then cut it in half. Remove the seeds from the center of the squash.

3. Scrape the squash strands into a mixing bowl. Mix with the sour cream, half of the cheese, the sauteed onions, and a healthy amount of salt and pepper.

4. Pour the mixture into a baking dish, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

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Tomato- Rosemary- and White Bean Soup

Tomato, Rosemary, and White Bean Soup

Tomato- Rosemary- and White Bean Soup

*Photo Updated December 2012*

Inspiration: Tomato soup is really a go-to soup for me, because it’s so easy to make and so versatile. I always stick with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and stock, and from there I throw anything that I happen to have on hand into the pot. Any leftover herbs or vegetables; a cup or two of cream or milk that has no use; whatever spices, sauces, or salsas that are sitting around. Some of my creations end up great, and some of them end up not so great, but it’s always fun to mix up the flavor combinations and see what happens. Every once in a while, though, I’ll buy the ingredients for this specific soup. When I first started developing a real love for cooking, this is one of the first recipes that I remember falling in love with, and it was one of my earliest blog posts. All of these years later, it’s still one of my favorite soups – which I think makes it deserving of a shiny new post.

What We Loved: I love this soup so much because it’s so unique. It’s a cross between a creamy white bean soup and a standard tomato soup, and the resulting flavor is very rich and complex. There are a lot of Italian notes from the rosemary and tomato (almost making me want to liken this aspect of the soup to a marinara), and the second level of earthy, buttery white bean flavors competes so well with the tomato flavors. Really, this is like two soups in one. The inclusion of protein in the form of white beans also makes this soup much thicker and more filling than a standard tomato soup, which is another bonus. A thermos of this soup works really great as a work week lunch.

Tips: Giada’s original recipe calls for the soup to be topped with creme fraiche and lemon, but sadly, I haven’t tried this yet for one reason or another. It really sounds great, though, so I would suggest giving it a go if you have the ingredients on hand.

Rosemary Tomato Soup
Source: Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

I made some minor changes to the ingredient list and doubled the recipe so that the soup can last all week for work lunches. Here’s my version:

2 small onions, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 15-ounce cans navy or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable, to keep the dish vegetarian)
2 bay leaves
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary, minced, plus more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and black pepper

1. In a large pot, add the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots, and cook until the vegetables are tender. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more.

2. Add the beans, tomatoes, broth, bay leaf, rosemary, and red pepper flakes. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, covered.

3. Remove the bay leaves. Puree the soup using an immersion blender or a food processor.

4. Season to taste with Kosher salt and black pepper.

5. Serve the soup with minced rosemary on top.

Chile Relleno Frittata

Inspiration: Like most people, we have our favorite places in town. For us, one of those places is a brightly outfitted Mexican-American spot where we sit in striped booths, eat tortilla chips from a red basket, and sip our beverages of choice – usually margaritas for me (and strong ones at that!) and a tall frosted mug of Dos Equis for Brandon. This is the only place that I’ve ever been where it’s sometimes unwise of me to order a second margarita, so that = yes. Anyway, this restaurant serves up chile rellenos in the most delicious form – piping hot, oozing with melted cheese, covered in a smoky sauce. Yes, yes, and yes again. Frittatas are significantly less exciting fare, but you know what? A frittata based on one of my favorite Mexican dishes can’t be a bad thing.

What we Loved: This frittata had all of the flavors that I expect from a chile relleno, just in a rearranged form. Spicy, earthy poblano peppers, browned onions, fresh cilantro, perfectly melted cheese, and a smoky, spicy red sauce. It’s a wonderful combination of Mexican flavors and spices, and probably as similar to a chile relleno that you can get in frittata form. We ate this both for dinner and for breakfast, and while I loved it in each setting, I preferred it for breakfast because it made me feel like I was eating a Mexican treat first thing out of bed. I can get behind that! Now if only I can sneak a margarita into breakfast? ;)

Helpful Hints: Chihuahua cheese is my favorite melting cheese, particularly for use in Mexican dishes. It melts like no other cheese that I’ve found, so if you can find it, I would definitely recommend using it. I find ours at the cheese section at Whole Foods.

Chile Relleno Frittata
Source: Original Recipe

For the Frittata
1 tablespoon butter
3 medium poblano peppers, seeded and diced
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 eggs
Handful fresh cilantro, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 cup chihuahua cheese, shredded

1. Melt the butter in a large saute pan, and then add the peppers and onions. Saute until the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown. Add the garlic, and cook for one minute more.

2. Whisk the eggs, cilantro, and 1/4 cup cheese together. Season well with salt and pepper.

3. Pour the eggs into the pan, and place into a 350 degree oven. Cook until the eggs are just set, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the eggs, and bake for 3-4 minutes more, until the cheese melts.

4. Serve topped with the chipotle sauce.

For the Chipotle Sauce
This will make a lot more than needed (~2 cups), but you can freeze the extra and it makes a great chile relleno or enchilada sauce.

1-2 chipotle chiles, diced, and 2 teaspoons of adobo sauce (be cautious here, depending on how much spice you like)
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Vidalia onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup stock (I used chicken; use vegetable to keep this vegetarian)

1. Heat  a drizzle of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook until softened. Add the garlic, cumin, and oregano, and stir to combine, cooking a minute longer.

2. Add the chiles, adobo sauce, tomatoes, and chicken stock. Simmer 20 minutes.

3. Pour the sauce mixture into a food processor and process until smooth.

Spinach, Mushroom, and Almond Frittata

Inspiration: Since making a Tuscan frittata a few weeks ago, I’ve been in the mood to try out all different kinds. They really make for such frugal and interesting dinners! This recipe is actually a very old recipe from my blog that was adapted from a tapas cookbook and meant to be part of a tapas meal. I increased the ingredient amounts here to make a full supper, but this recipe is good cut in half and served as a tapa as well.

What we Loved: This recipe is packed full of nutrients and interesting flavors/textures. Earthy mushrooms and spinach, crunchy almonds, and nutty Parmesan make for a great combination in our book! I feel like mushrooms and spinach always pair beautifully because their dark, earthy flavors complement each other, and the addition of almonds in a frittata is a crunchy, unexpected surprise. This is a solid and light weeknight supper.

Helpful Hints: This is a very dense frittata the way that I prepared it (using only four eggs). I would suggest using at least six eggs, and anywhere from 6-10 would probably work. My frittata needed a little more structure, as there wasn’t quite enough egg to seep down around all the vegetables. I’ll indicate to use six eggs below, but use even more if you’d like – the only thing that it will vary is how packed together the vegetables are in final dish.

Spinach, Mushroom, and Almond Frittata
Source: Adapted from The Tapas Cookbook: A Classic Collection of Spanish-Style Recipes

Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
6-8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
10 oz package frozen spinach
1/3 cup roasted almonds, finely chopped
6 eggs (can vary to 8-10)
2 tablespoons cold water
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a saute pan. Add the onions and cook until tender, and then add the mushrooms. Cook until the water released from the mushrooms has evaporated and the mushrooms are tender and starting to brown, approximately 5-10 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until the moisture evaporates, and then add the almonds. Mix all of the ingredients until well combined.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, water, salt, and pepper. Pour the mixture into the pan.

3. Add the grated Parmesan to the top of the frittata, and place it in a preheated 450 degree oven. Cook until the eggs are set and the cheese is melted, approximately 10-15 minutes. Broil for an additional 2-3 minutes if desired (I did not).

Tomato Pesto Soup

Tomato Pesto Soup

*Photos and Content Updated June 2012*

Inspiration: I need to experiment more with weekend lunches. For some reason, I usually just resort to whatever we can scrounge up from the pantry. But why? Weekends at home are really the perfect time to cook more. And our cat Boots seems to agree! Somehow, he got it into his head that sitting on top of the refrigerator and meowing/nuzzling my head when I walk by/doing any cute thing that he can think of every time that I come near him means that he will receive treats. He was my buddy the entire time that I was whipping up this soup.

What we Loved: This soup has a rich, garlicky flavor from all of the pesto, which is such a great complement to tomatoes in any form. It’s really just a classic Italian-flavored soup with a nice little spin. I love the dollop of extra pesto served on top, which adds a bright burst of herbal flavor, and I can never get enough black pepper freshly ground atop my tomato soup. For some reason, I’ve just always loved that flavor contrast of bright tomato and spicy pepper – from tomato soup with pepper to freshly sliced grape tomatoes with just a sprinkle of salt and pepper on top. What a great and classic pairing.

Helpful Hints: Don’t skip the butter in this recipe. It really cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, leaving you with a balanced flavor (plus just a touch of a buttery flavor, which is always a plus). You can also use less stock and/or more half and half for a creamier soup.

Tomato Pesto Soup
Source: Original Recipe

Butter, for sauteeing
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock, to keep this vegetarian)
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
6 tablespoons pesto
2 tablespoons butter
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 1/2 cups half and half

1. Heat a pat of butter in a large pot. Saute the onion until softened, then add the garlic. Cook for an additional minute.

2. Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, sundried tomatoes, and pesto. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes.

3. Turn off the heat, and blend with an immersion blender or food processor. Return to very low heat, and add the butter and half and half. Stir well to combine, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Serve with a dollop of additional pesto and freshly ground black pepper.



*Photos and Content Updated June 2012*

Inspiration: What to do with a surplus of garden tomatoes and cucumbers (more thanks to Brandon’s parents)? Knocking out a soup recipe that has been on my to-make list for ages sounded like a plan. And in the knick of time, too, as my mind is already in chili/stew mode.

What we Loved: What a refreshing soup. After trying gazpacho for the first time a few months back at a restaurant, we both knew that we would love a homemade version. If you haven’t had gazpacho before, it may sound odd or unappetizing to eat a cold tomato soup, but it really is unexpectedly good. It’s wonderfully refreshing, with nice crisp cucumbers and peppers and just a little kick of spice from the jalapenos. This soup is so chock full of vegetables and spices that there’s a great combination of (peeled, seeded, and skinned) vegetables in every bite. At the same time, the soup is nice and mild without any flavors that are too strong or overpowering. This is a fantastic end-of-summer work week lunch or a great light dinner served alongside some grilled chicken breasts.

Helpful Hints: This one is really a simple recipe, but it requires a lot of peeling, dicing, and seeding – so make sure to leave plenty of time. Depending on what kind of texture you prefer, you could throw as much or as little of vegetable mixture into the blender for a super chunky soup or one that is completely pureed. But I think that the recipe as written is a good balance. After all that work, it would be a shame to puree it all.

Source: Alton Brown

I made some slight changes to the recipe, and I also made a double batch. Here’s the recipe for a single batch (serving 4) with my changes.

1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (about 4 large)
Tomato juice (from tomatoes; directions follow)
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
Handful cilantro, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lime, juiced
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Fill a pot with water, and bring to a boil.

2. Make an X with a knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop them into the boiling water, boil for about a minute, and then remove. Let cool.

3. Peel the tomatoes. Chop off the top of the tomato with the core, and then cut the tomatoes into quarters. Place a mesh sieve over a large bowl, and seed and juice each tomato portion over the sieve, pressing as much of the juice as possible through the sieve with your hands. You should end up with about 1 cup of juice. If necessary, supplement with store bought tomato juice, or just use whatever amount you end up with from the fresh tomatoes (which is what I did).

4. After juicing/seeding the tomatoes, chop them into small pieces. Place the tomatoes into the bowl with the juice. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, garlic, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.

5. Transfer 1 cup of the mixture (use more – or all – if desired) to a blender, and puree (or use an immersion blender). Return the pureed mixture to the bowl, and stir to combine.

6. Cover and chill for at least two hours before serving.

Italian Eggplant Stacks

Inspiration: Brandon’s mom stopped by last week with a huge basket of fresh vegetables for us from their garden, including a pile of gorgeous eggplants and fresh tomatoes. Love.

What we Loved: This meal really surprised both of us. When I was planning it, I worried that the meal would be difficult to eat because of the arrangement, and most of all I worried that it would end up as a pile of mushy vegetables, which I would hate (particularly mushy eggplant!). However, we both thought that these were fantastic! To avoid the mushy factor, I took the eggplant slices out of the pan while they were still a little bit firm, and I cut my tomatoes into nice, thick slices. A fork and a steak knife cut these right into neat bites. You can’t tell from the pictures, but the eggplant slices had a wonderful browned crust, and the big dollops of oily pesto worked as such a fantastic, garlicy sauce. Is there anything more summer than this?

Helpful Hints: I think that it’s most important to use very fresh, crisp vegetables in this dish, because as I mentioned, I don’t think that mushy eggplant and tomato slices would leave you with a good meal. Taking the eggplant out of the pan before it got mushy and cutting the tomatoes into thick slices worked well for me.

Eggplant Caprese Stacks
Source: Original Recipe, to serve 2

1 eggplant
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 small tomatoes, thickly sliced
4 tablespoons pesto
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Cheese of preference

1. Slice the eggplant into 8 thick slices. Place the slices in a colander, and sprinkle them well with salt. Let the slices sit for 30 minutes. This will help to draw the water out of the eggplant.

2. Rinse the salt from the eggplant, and pat the slices very dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with black pepper.

3. Heat a decent amount of butter in a saute pan, enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the eggplant slices, and saute until nicely browned on one side, approximately 5 minutes. Flip, and then saute the second side until the eggplant is browned on both sides and slightly softenened (but not mushy).

4. Just before the eggplant slices are done cooking, add slices of cheese to the top of each one to melt.

5. Arrange the cheese-covered eggplant slices, tomato slices, pesto, and basil leaves in stacks as desired.  

Zucchini Basil Soup

Zucchini Basil Soup

*Photo and Content Updated July 2012*

Inspiration: When I first ran across this soup recipe, I really thought that it had our names written all over it. For one, Brandon and I love basil and love anything that involves it. The idea of pureeing it in a soup seemed brilliant and was something that had never occured to me. And secondly, all of the fresh zucchini and basil really make this a great summer soup, which is a bit unusual and different (….just in case the mood for a soup happens to hit on a 90 degree day).

What we Loved: My best description of this soup would be that it tasted like a pesto soup. Amazing! I used a lot more basil than originally called for, and I also added a Parmesan rind to the soup as it cooked. When I mixed the shredded Parmesan in at the end, this really had a lot of the components of a classic pesto. The zucchini, which was the bulk of the soup, had such a smooth and subtle vegetable flavor and added a wonderful creaminess. I think I’d list this as one of my favorite soups to date.

Helpful Hints: The Parmesan was delicious mixed into this soup, so I’d recommend having plenty on hand. I originally wanted to saute some chopped prosciutto until it was crispy and use that as a  topping, too, but my store was out of prosciutto. I still think  that it would be a wonderful addition, though. Pine nuts would also be great and contribute even further to that pesto-like flavor.

Zucchini Basil Soup
Source: Adapted from Caviar and Codfish, originally from Gourmet

1 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 lbs zucchini, roughly chopped
3 cups stock (use vegetable stock to keep this vegetarian)
1 cup loose basil leaves
1 Parmesan rind
Kosher salt and black pepper
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

1. Heat a pat of butter in a pot over medium heat. Saute the onion until translucent, about 3-4 minutes, and then add the garlic. Cook for an additional minute.

2. Add the zucchini and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

3. Add the stock and the Parmesan rind, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Remove the Parmesan rind. Puree the soup along with the basil using a food processor or immersion blender.

5. Season with salt and pepper, and serve garnished with Parmesan cheese.

Spaghetti Squash with Vodka Sauce, Goat Cheese, and Basil

Inspiration: With one more spaghetti squash kicking around in my kitchen from the winter, I thought that it would be the perfect time to make a homemade vodka sauce. Plus, I’ve been dying for some goat cheese lately!

What we Loved: The vodka sauce in this meal is really a lovely sauce. It’s lighter than something like a hearty meat sauce, yet it’s still really rich with creamy tomato flavor. To me, vodka sauce has always been much better than a basic marinara because the tomato and vegetable flavors taste so much richer and more pronounced. Perhaps even more important, the consistency of the sauce is really wonderfully creamy, which is something that I’ve always prefered over a plain marinara. And my favorite component of the entire meal? The goat cheese, of course! It completely melts right down into the sauce and adds a perfect finishing touch.

Helpful Hints: I’ve had problems with tomato-based sauces being too acidic before. I always thought that adding sugar was the only way to counteract that acidity, but sugar isn’t something that I prefer to use. I learned from this recipe that adding butter to your finished sauce will do the trick, too. A few pats in my pan really balanced out that acidic bite and left me with a much cleaner tomato flavor. Learning awesome new tricks like that is one of my favorite things about cooking :)

Spaghetti Squash with Vodka Sauce, Goat Cheese, and Basil
Source for the vodka sauce: adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

For the sauce
Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
4 fresh basil leaves, minced
2 dried bay leaves
Kosher salt and black pepper
1-2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 cup cream, at room temperature
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

To finish the meal
1 spaghetti squash, cooked*
Goat cheese
Basil leaves, finely sliced

1. In a large saute pan, heat a good drizzle of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion, and saute until soft. Add the garlic, and cook for an additional minute.

2. Add the tomatoes, basil, bay leaves, salt, and pepper, and reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, or until the sauce is thick.

3. Remove the bay leaves, and taste for seasoning. If the sauce tastes too acidic, add unsalted butter 1 tablespoon at a time to round out the flavor.

4. Add the vodka to the sauce, and simmer until the mixture reduces by 1/4, approximately 20 minutes.

5. Stir in the cream and Parmesan, and simmer until the sauce is well blended and heated through.

6. Serve the sauce over cooked spaghetti squash and topped with goat cheese and basil.

*To cook your spaghetti squash, poke it all over with a fork. Place it into the oven at 400 degrees, and bake for 1 hour. Slice the squash in half, remove the seeds from the center, and pull the strands out of the squash with a fork.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Inspiration: As always, I love finding new soup recipes so that B and I can have some variety in our weekday work lunches. This was a great one to put on the list because it could take another chunk out of a spare container of sour cream in my fridge. Those things are so hard to use up when you don’t really need them, aren’t they?

What we Loved: B and I both love the flavor of mushrooms, so we of course loved this soup. It was full to the brim with mushrooms in every bite! And the broth had a nice, creamy paprika flavor similar to the sauce in the chicken paprikash that  I made earlier this week. I really loved the earthiness of this soup and its simplicity.

Helpful Hints: Sauteeing the onions and mushrooms takes some time, because there are a lot of them. Make sure that you have 15-20 minutes or so to get them cooked through!

Hungarian Mushroom Soup
Source: Eat Me, Delicious, originally from AllRecipes

I made some changes to the recipe, mainly to make more servings and to omit the flour carbohydrates. Here’s the recipe as I made it.

Extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 lbs fresh mushrooms, chopped
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 heaping teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon soy sauce
5 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock to keep this vegetarian)
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
Lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup sour cream

1. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Saute the onions and mushrooms until all of the water released from the mushrooms has evaporated and the vegetables are softened and starting to brown, approximately 15-20 minutes.

2. Stir in the dill, paprika, soy sauce, chicken stock, and milk. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Add the salt, pepper, lemon juice, cilantro, and sour cream. Whisk together well, and allow the soup to heat through before serving.