Butternut Squash Casserole with Pesto and Parmesan

Inspiration: I tend to focus so much on main dishes that I often don’t do much in the way of sides. When I stumbled across this recipe from Giada, I was so intrigued with the flavor combination that I couldn’t wait to make it. I debated using it as a main dish with some sauteed broccoli alongside or as a side dish alongside some sauteed chicken, and I ended up doing the latter to make for a more filling meal. Since as a side dish, this was more elaborate than what I typically do, I used it as an opportunity to cook a really simple main dish – which is something that I typically don’t do. All I did was throw some butter and chicken cutlets in a pan, and saute them up with some salt and pepper. It was kind of fun to switch it up and focus on the side for a change.

What We Loved: As I expected, I really enjoyed this dish. As a girl who adores butternut squash and loves pesto, I had a pretty good idea that this would be a winner in my eyes. I never would have thought to combine the two ingredients, though, and I was really pleased with how well they complemented each other. The warm, comforting, slightly sweet squash was a great balance to the rich, garlicky pesto. I loved how this dish was great for the transition between summer and fall – the pesto was a nice nod to summer, and the squash was a great welcome to fall. The original recipe calls for the squash to be pureed in a food processor, but I used a potato masher to mash just about half of the squash. This allowed me to leave several nice big chunks of squash throughout the casserole, which really added a fabulous substance and texture. And of course, you can never go wrong throwing some nutty Parmesan cheese into the mix.

Tips: Next time, I would definitely add more pesto and more Parmesan. I already upped the amount from the original recipe, but I still think that a nice fat layer of pesto and cheese would taste even better, rather than the somewhat sparse amount that is ribboned throughout the casserole as is. It really depends on your preferences, though – as it was, this dish really highlighted the squash flavor with some nice accents, rather than being more of a cheesy gratin.

Butternut Squash Casserole with Pesto and Parmesan
Source: Slightly adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Serves: About 6-8

1 butternut squash (about 4 lbs), peeled, seeded, and diced into cubes
Kosher salt and black pepper
About 1/3 cup pesto
About 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter

1. Add a few inches of water to a large bot, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and place a steamer insert into the pot. Place the butternut squash pieces in the steamer, cover with a lid, and let steam until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

2. Place the squash pieces in a large bowl, and mash with a potato masher until you reach the desired consistency. I mashed about half, leaving several nice large chunks of squash throughout.

3. Butter an 8×8 baking dish. Layer in half of the squash, half of the pesto, and half of the cheese. Repeat with a second layer.

4. Dot with butter and bake at 350 degrees F for about 40 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

Ham Breakfast Stacks

Inspiration: Brandon and I struggle with breakfast sometimes. It seems that all of the traditional breakfast foods are just laden with carbohydrates and sugars that we don’t eat. So we eat a lot of eggs – frittatas, omelets, scrambled eggs – but after a while, nothing but eggs sure can get old. We love these breakfast bars, but again – you can only do so much of the same thing (I think we ate these guys for about a year straight!). These breakfast stacks were Brandon’s idea to get out of our breakfast rut, and we had a lot of fun experimenting with them.

What We Loved: We really enjoyed these because they were so versatile. Ham is always a great savory breakfast option, and when you add all kinds of cheeses, eggs, vegetables, and herbs, there’s really a lot of flavor in every bite. Of the different combinations shown, our favorite was the ham combined with the colby, avocado, and cilantro. The salty ham with the slightly sharp cheese, super creamy avocado, and fresh herbal cilantro just offered a great range of tastes and texures. Second place for both of us was the fried egg and cheddar combination, which is really a great classic breakfast pairing. Really, though, every option was tasty and provided us with some great variety on our week day mornings.

Tips: The options with these are pretty much endless – whatever toppings that you like would probably work. You could also stack these up a few layers tall for a more substantial breakfast, as these are pretty light. They work great as is for a weekday lunch for us, though. On a weekend for a larger meal, I might stack them up taller and and be more generous with the ingredients (or serve them alongside a nice fruit salad).

Ham Breakfast Stacks
Source: Original Recipe to Serve Two

2 breakfast ham slices
Butter
Desired toppings

1. Saute your ham slices in a bit of butter until they are beginning to brown and are nice and hot. Stack with your desired toppings. We used the following ingredients (each pictured in this post):

- sliced colby cheese, avocado slices, and cilantro

- ricotta cheese, tomato slices, pesto, fresh black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil

- fried egg, grated cheddar cheese, and cilantro

- tomato slices, scrambled eggs, shredded gruyere, and fresh black pepper

Southwest-Style Chopped Chicken Salad

Inspiration: I created this dish as a meal that would be a good on-the-go dinner when Brandon and I were taking childbirth education classes at the hospital. The classes ran from 6:30 t0 9:00 at night, right through dinner time, so I was looking for something that we could pack up into a cooler and eat a few hours later during class. When the occasion arises where we need to eat a quick dinner away from home like that, I would much rather pack a meal from home than be forced to grab something from a fast food place. There’s nothing worse to me than gobbling down some food that I’d rather not be eating while I’m busy and in a rush. To a couple of people who  love food as much as we do, we always feel like meal times should be enjoyed, no matter what.

What We Loved: This salad was really good for just what I intended – an easy throw-together meal that was great eaten cold and on-the-go. We really enjoyed the combination of flavors – moist chicken, creamy avocado, bright tomatoes, earthy black beans, and awesome little cubes of spicy pepper jack. We both thought that the pepper jack cubes were the best part! And to top if off, everything was coated in some lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, and salt, which really tied everything together.

Tips: I served this with some fresh blueberries alongside, and that was a good pairing. I think that mixing some blueberries right into the salad would be delicious! Or, it would be great to serve all of the ingredients over a bed of salad greens, with the olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, salt, and pepper whisked together to form a dressing instead of just added into the salad separately.

Southwest-Style Chopped Chicken Salad
Source: Original Recipe
Serves: 2-3

2 chicken breasts
Butter
Kosher salt and black pepper
2-3 oz pepper jack cheese, cubed
Half pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 small avocado, diced
Handful fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice from 1 lime
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat a pat of butter in a saute pan, and saute the chicken until cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan, let it cool, and then cut into cubes. Cool in the refrigerator until nice and cold.

2. Add the chicken, pepper jack cheese cubes, grape tomatoes, black beans, avocado, and cilantro to a bowl. Squeeze the lime juice over everything, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and pepper.

3. Serve immediately, or chill until ready to serve.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Lemon (Cachumber Salad)

Inspiration: We recently had some chicken tikka masala for dinner, and I was searching for a nice and fresh side dish to go along. I ran across the idea for a cachumber salad online as a nice pairing for Indian dishes, and it really seemed like just what I was looking for. I love when I find new ideas or dishes that I’ve never heard of before – there’s something so thrilling to me about trying new recipes, particularly from cuisines different than American.

What We Loved: This certainly was a refreshing salad and was the perfect complement to a spicy curry. The cool flavors of the cucumber and other vegetables really contrasted nicely with the rich heat of the curry. This reminded me a little bit of a Mexican pico de gallo – but with cucumbers and lemon instead of peppers and lime, this was definitely its own dish entirely. I just loved the freshness and how perfect the flavors were for an end-of-summer meal.

Tips: I chopped the vegetables big enough to make this into a salad, but you could also finely mince everything (or throw it all in the food processor for a few whirls) to make this into a salsa. Made that way, I think it would be great to serve right atop a curry, rather than alongside.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Lemon (Cachumber Salad)
Source: Adapted from Poetry of Food
Serves: 2

1/2 small onion, diced
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
1/2 English cucumber, diced
Handful cilantro, minced
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Good pinch Kosher salt

1. Toss everything together in a serving bowl and serve.

Rosemary Truffle Burgers

Inspiration: I think Brandon could eat truffles/truffle salt/truffle oil at every meal and never tire of it. He just loves it (…and I certainly won’t turn it away, either). We bought a nice little bottle about a year ago that has lasted us a good long time, and it’s always fun experimenting and trying to come up with new uses for it. We love to cook fries or sweet potato fries in goose/duck fat, and then sprinkle them with plenty of Kosher salt and drizzle them with truffle oil. That’s our absolute favorite use of the truffle oil for sure. But it sure is great in a lot of different applications – it adds such a super flavorful and fancy flair to so many dishes.

What We Loved: There were a lot of earthy flavors in this burger that all complemented each other very well. Both rosemary and truffles have a very rich, earthy, almost primal flavor, and the smoky, nutty gruyere cheese played off of those flavors so well. There’s nothing like a really great smoked cheese to top off a burger (and this particular cheese was just fantastic – so rich, smoky, nutty, and creamy). Brandon and I both love grilled onion slices on burgers, too – something about grilling the onion lends an awesome charred flavor that is just fantastic. We used Vidalia onions here, so there was also a nice hint of sweetness to contrast with all of the other richer, deeper flavors.

Tips: Rosemary has a pretty potent flavor, so use as much or as little as you’d like, depending on how strong you want that flavor to be. The same goes for truffle oil. Truffle oil is pricey, but you really never need too much when you’re using it. Just a few drizzles will impart loads of flavor.

Rosemary Truffle Burgers
Source: Original Recipe to Serve 2

1 lb ground beef
Handful rosemary, minced
Truffle oil
Seasoning salt
Garlic powder
Applewood smoked gruyere cheese, shredded
2 thick slices Vidalia onion

1. Place the ground beef in a bowl. Add the rosemary, and drizzle with truffle oil. Season to taste with seasoning salt and garlic powder. Mix well with your hands, and form into two burgers.

2. Place the onion slices on the grill, and grill until they are nice and browned. Meanwhile, grill the burgers until they’re cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. A few minutes before you take the burgers off of the grill, top with the gruyere cheese.

3. Serve the burgers topped with the onion slices and drizzled generously with more truffle oil.

Salmon and Crab Cakes with Avocado

Inspiration: I have this thing with favorites. Brandon always teases me because any time that there’s an opportunity, I’m always asking him to pick his favorite. If we have a wine tasting and taste several wines, I have to know which one he likes best. If we try out a bunch of different appetizers at a restaurant, I’ll always ask which he liked above all of the others. I don’t even think about it until after I’ve asked, and then we both laugh at how ridiculous I always am. The funny thing is that I’m always mentally forcing myself to choose favorites, too, and a lot of times I just can’t decide and get stressed out about not being able to pick a favorite. Ha! Anyway, if I had to pick a favorite seafood dish, I think that really good crab cakes might be it.

What We Loved: We really liked these because they had a really fresh seafood flavor. While there are quite a few supplementary ingredients, none of them are too overpowering or take away from what is so good about a crab cake – that predominant seafood flavor. And with these, that flavor was perhaps a little more prominent than just an ordinary crab cake, because the added flavor of the salmon was so buttery fresh and delicious. Another great plus is that the salted avocado on top added a nice creamy, cooling contrast to the cakes. We enjoyed these alongside a couple of bowls of gazpacho for a lovely summer meal.

Tips: I meant to add a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise or Greek yogurt to the mixture, but I completely forgot. I might suggest throwing it in to make the salmon and crab cakes creamier (these were good as they were, but I think that the extra moisture would make them even better). Plus, the mayo or yogurt would act as a further binder to hold the cakes together.

Salmon and Crab Cakes with Avocado
Source: Original Recipe
Serves: 2

4 oz lump crab meat
10 oz fresh salmon, chopped into small pieces
Good glug of extra virgin olive oil
Handful fresh cilantro, minced
1 thin slice onion, minced
Juice from 1/2 lime
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Seafood seasoning, to taste
1/8 cup coconut flour
1 egg
Butter
1 small avocado, thinly sliced

1. Add the crab meat, salmon, cilantro, onion, and lime juice to a bowl. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and seafood seasoning. Add the coconut flour and egg, and gently stir until everything is incorporated.

2. Form the mixture into four cakes. Chill for about 1/2 hour.

3.  Heat a good pat of butter in a saute pan. Add the salmon crab cakes, and saute until they are cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

4. Serve topped with sliced avocado and an additional sprinkle of Kosher salt.

a girl, two guys…..

I haven’t made mention of it here on the blog yet, but for the past nine months Brandon and I have been cooking up something pretty awesome. Our little family grew by one when we welcomed our son Benjamin on August 23, 2012. We couldn’t be more in love.

Since we’re now a girl and two guys, we’re making a few changes to the layout around here, though it’s a still work in progress. We’re so looking forward to sharing our meal times with our little man in the coming years!

In the mean time, we planned ahead and have quite a good selection of posts that we saved up over the summer for this busy time in our lives, so we’ll still be bringing you recipes each week.

Here’s to family and food – two of life’s greatest things.

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