A Fall Treat: Spaghetti Squash with Herb Butter

Bright yellow, orange and red leaves swirl around us this time of year.  It is also close to Halloween and Trick-or-Treaters are busy getting their costumes ready.  Many memories of childhood come to mind — dressing up as a lion made out of a large paper bag with orange and brown paint to create my lioness face and mane.  Walking hand-in-hand with my brother and sister through the neighborhood hoping to collect a mountain of candy.

The following recipe is a truly a worthwhile treat to make, and it’s easy. Squash of all colors is in season, just waiting to be baked, steamed, creamed and transformed into something simple, and delicious.  A favorite of ours is Spaghetti Squash.    This beauty contains many nutrients, including Vitamin A, beta-carotene, folic acid, and potassium.  It is also low in calories and makes a fun substitute for pasta, making it ripe for similar sauces that we normally cook for pasta.  The recipe below is very simple, and was enjoyed by all today at lunch.

Spaghetti Squash with herb butter and tomato-basil sauce.

Ingredients:  One Whole Spaghetti Squash, 1 stick of unsalted butter, 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley and oregano, 3 large cloves garlic finely minced, salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe:  Preheat oven to 375 F.  Wash outside of squash and pat dry.  Carefully cut ends off, then stand on straight end and cut in-half lengthwise (you need a large, sharp knife).  Scrape out seeds (you can roast these just like pumpkin seeds).  Place on large cookie sheet and place with rind side up, then add 1/2 cup of water.  Cook until tender, about 45 to 50 minutes depending on the size of the squash.  All to cool enough to handle.  Use a fork to separate the strands by scraping side to side.   Place butter in large, deep sauce pan and slowly melt.  Add garlic and simmer until garlic is fragrant (do not brown).  Turn off heat and add fresh herbs.  Add in Spaghetti squash and gently toss in with herb butter.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and/or your favorite marinara sauce.

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Mickey and Rachel Thomas in the Kitchen

As temperatures dipped in the Bay Area, Kelly and I headed south to soak up some good old Southern California sunshine. Our trip included some of my favorite things in life: Family, friends, food, music and baseball. The culmination of our road trip was a fabulous meal prepared with friends Mickey and Rachel Thomas, and an interview with Mickey about the role cooking plays in his life.

The beginning of our trip was in beautiful Pismo Beach where we enjoyed dinner with Kelly’s mom, Linda and her stepfather, Travis. Kelly frequently talks about how much she enjoyed her mom’s cooking growing up and Linda’s delicious barbecued pork sandwiches did not disappoint.

Kelly and Dad with the StudebakerOn the way to our second stop in Pasadena, we managed to fit in some disc golf at the historic Oak Grove Course. Our second evening was another treat – I met Kelly’s dad, Bruce, and his partner Cynthia. They are a couple of gourmets. Cynthia treated us to the most delectable baked salmon with potatoes (roasted with bacon drippings, yum!) and her famous orange cake. After dinner, Bruce took us for a spirited cruise in his custom modified ’38 Studebaker.

Day three’s itinerary led us east to Joshua Tree National Park for a night of camping on the desert floor. We enjoyed leftovers of salmon and potatoes and were treated to a brilliant night sky before bed.  The sparkling stars provided some comfort overhead, Palm Deserthowever the desert floor did not.  Our next trek was by foot on a 9-mile hike to and from Lost Palms Oasis following which we headed directly to the nearest store we could find to buy camping air mattresses.

Four nights of comfortable beds and comfort food lied ahead with my dear friends Mickey and Rachel Thomas. I consider them family, and they treated us like family in their lovely Palm Desert home. Many of you know Mickey as a talented musician from his days with Jefferson Starship and Elvin Bishop. He continues Rachel's "To die for" BBQ Wingsmaking fantastic music as he records and tours as Starship featuring Mickey Thomas. We spent our time telling stories, creating some incredible meals, drinking great wine, watching playoff baseball and ending each evening with a scary movie in the spirit of Halloween.

What many of you may not know about Mickey is his passion for food. Dinner with the Thomas’ is always a treat, whether Mickey or Rachel is cooking. They are both very talented in the kitchen and two of the sweetest most down to earth people you will encounter. After greeting us with a fresh Pasta Primavera dinner, Mickey and Rachel graciously allowed us to take over theirTapas Plate kitchen the following night for a meal we prepared with risotto and mussels. We spent our last day making a video for Noah’s Wish – Mickey and Rachel’s favorite charity – and planning our last feast. Creating this feast was like a musical performance with all four of us in the kitchen creating six dishes that were to die for:  Rachel’s secret barbecued chicken wings, stuffed eggplant rolls in marinara sauce, Vietnamese shrimp meatballs, Southern scallops with black beans, Greek salad, and spicy shrimp lettuce wraps.


Mickey, Rachel and Berkley The story of this feast unfolds here, in this slide show and interview with Mickey Thomas.

Family Reunion Pasta with Bolognese Sauce

FamilyRenionPhoto
Pasta with Bolognese sauce is a classic Italian meal that is simple to prepare – it just needs plenty of time for the sauce to simmer slowly.  I recommend selecting music that inspires you as you cook it then settle into a good movie as it simmers . . . . . Did I say, slowly? This is apparently the key to a good Bolognese sauce as I discovered in my Italian Classics by Cooks Illustrated.  This recipe is fail proof and yummy, and as they explain in their prologue for Bolognese sauce, it’s “about the meat, with the tomatoes in a supporting role.”  Tomatoes have played a starring role in an earlier blog entry, so this story is about the beef.

Grass fed ground beef and pork

Grass fed ground beef and pork

Since the meat is the focus of this dish, we used local, grass fed beef as the foundation. There are important differences in taste and nutrition when you compare grass fed beef to the much more common grain fed (or corn fed) beef that most Americans eat from cows raised on enormous industrial cattle lots. Carbon foot print issues aside, grass fed beef has far superior flavor and texture, and it is healthier because it is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E and is lower in fat and calories than grain fed beef.

Not many ranchers have the ability or support to raise organic, grass fed beef in California.  An exceptional ranch near us in the spectacular Point Reyes Peninsula is run by the Lunny family – third and fourth generation farmers who have found a way to raise grass fed, organic beef on their historic farm.  While our budget doesn’t allow us to enjoy the treat of their beef often, we plan special meals with them in mind. I interviewed Kevin Lunny, the grandson of the farm’s patriarch, Joseph Lunny, for a museum exhibition on family run farms, Growing the Future. As I listened to his story, my esteem for farmers and ranchers grew ten-fold.  I learned that farmers are not just hard workers, they are problem solvers, looking for solutions to the many challenges of farming such as land stewardship, soil erosion, and energy use. Knowing the people that grow my food has changed the way I think, cook, eat, and vote. Take a few hours for food and fun and visit a local farmers’ market if you haven’t already, and get to know the people who grow our food.

The following Bolognese sauce recipe is simply fabulous, and is straight from Italian Classics. The Berkelly influence comes from the organic ingredients we chose to use from our local food producers in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Just add music

Just add music

Ingredients
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (We used Straus Family organic sweet cream butter)
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons minced carrot
2 tablespoons minced celery
¾ pound ground beef chuck, ¼ pound ground veal, and ¼ pound ground pork
(We chose to use mostly ground, grass fed beef and some ground pork which makes the sauce sweeter. We didn’t use ground veal.)
1 cup whole milk (Straus Family milk has a full, rich flavor. Cream makes the sauce too heavy).
1 cup dry white wine (We used a terrific white wine from the wine making region of Rueda in Spain – a Verdejo by V-solo – on sale that week at Whole Foods).
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juice (We used Berkley’s roasted tomatoes instead since we had them on hand from our weekly CSA, Tolay Valley Farms.)
Sea Salt to taste
1 pound dried pasta (we used fusilli because it is kid friendly)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy bottomed Dutch oven or pot then add and sauté the onions, carrots and celery until softened (not browned).  Add the ground meats and ½ teaspoon salt and continually crumble the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Only cook until the meat is cooked, but has not yet browned.

Reduced after 2 hours

Reduced after 2 hours

2.  Add the milk and bring to a simmer; continue simmering until the milk evaporates and the clear milk fat remains (about 10 to 15 minutes). Add the wine and bring to a simmer, continuing to simmer until the alcohol evaporates (another 10 to 15 minutes).  Add the tomatoes with their juice and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to a low simmer so that there is just the occasional bubble or two at the surface at one time. Simmer on this low setting until most of the liquid has evaporated (so, no simmering with the lid on), about 3 hours (four hours if you double the recipe, which we did.) Add salt to taste (we added at least another teaspoon of sea salt to our doubled recipe). You can make this sauce in advance and refrigerate or freeze it. We made it two days ahead for the family reunion.

3. Make pasta according to the package directions, leaving a little bit of cooking water on the pasta which helps distribute the thick meat sauce.) Serve in individual bowls with sauce ladled on top and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

To start out the evening, my sister, Kris, served beautiful Bruschetta (actually pronounced brus’ketta), and we rounded our meal by creating a salad bar with organic veggies and cheesy garlic bread.
FamilyAtTheTableB&W

The best part about the evening was seeing my family members eating with delight; laughing as they shared a delicious meal made with love.

Transitioning to Fall: Vegetable Soup

The key to great soup of any kind is really good stock. You can use a vegetable or chicken stock from the grocery store to make this soup, but if you are inclined and have the time to simmer your own, it will make all of the difference. I like to use chicken stock because the flavor is richer and balances the vegetable flavors.

Chicken Stock Ingredients

2 medium or one large yellow onion
1 red onion
2 heads of garlic
3 stalks celery
3 large carrots
2 roast chicken carcasses
Salt

Cut onions into quarters, leaving the skin on; Cut garlic heads in half; wash and coarsely chop carrots and celery into large pieces. Place vegetables into large stockpot, place two roasted chicken carcasses on top, and add water until it covers the ingredients. Bring to full boil, lower to simmer with lid on for 1 ½ hours. Let cool a little, then strain stock into another stock/soup pot, bring to boil, then lower to a simmer to reduce the stock liquid about 1 inch. Add salt to taste (i.e. 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons).

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup Ingredients

12 to 16 cups chicken stock depending on how much soup you want to make. I make extra and freeze it for a busy winter week. (See above recipe or use your favorite store bought)

3 carrots – medium to large
3 medium red potatoes
3 turnips (peel outer skin if winter turnips – it’s bitter)
1 medium star squash
1 medium to large zucchini
1 to 2 small crookneck yellow squash
Bunch of washed spinach with stems removed
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Wash and dice carrots, turnips and potatoes in large bite sized chunks and set aside in a bowl. Wash and dice the rest of the vegetables and set aside. In soup pot, bring stock to low boil and lower to simmer. Carefully add carrots, turnips and potatoes with large spoon (so you don’t get splashed with hot stock) and raise heat to bring back to a simmer, then lower to hold at a simmer for 7 to 8 minutes. Add the rest of the veggies and the dried herbs and simmer 5 more minutes. Test/taste the vegetables which should be al dente, like pasta – not too soft. Serve with grated parmesan cheese and good local bread.  I made one of my favorite fall/winter recipes for cornbread from the Joy of Cookings recipe for Buttermilk Cornbread. An easy addition to this soup is to add cooked pasta (don’t cook the pasta in the soup), which makes it a hearty main dish.

You Can’t Beet a Good Story

Don't miss a Beet

Beet photo from ourhomeworks.wordpress.com

Garden beets have been a nutritious cultivation of human kind for a very long time – since the second millennium BC, when the pharaohs of Egypt ruled and chariots were the latest and greatest in transportation. Berkley and I love their sweet, earthy flavor, and since they are in abundance right now we are researching recipes that feature these deep purple beauties. The best place to get them is at your local farmer’s market.

Both the leafy greens and the roots are edible. The greens can be sautéed with onion or garlic in olive oil, much like spinach or Swiss chard (a close cousin of the beet) and are high in vitamin A (needed for good vision), while the roots are a great source of vitamin C (needed for a healthy immune system).

Beet Season is here!

Beet photo from blueheronlocal.wordpress.com

Beets grow best in a cool climate. Perhaps this is why we see so many delicious beet recipes from Russia and nearby countries, i.e. cold beet borscht soup.  (Not to be confused, however, with Russia’s large production of Sugar Beets, used for making sugar and not for eating.)

 

Hotties

To serve garden beets as a hot side dish, Berkley roasted beets in the oven,and after they cooled a bit, removed the skins, cut them into large chunks, and served them with a warm, buttery balsamic vinegar sauce. I highly recommend this yummy recipe to beet lovers as a good contrast to the large variety of cold salad recipes.

Russian Beet Salad

This week’s featured dish is a cold but hearty Russian beet salad. We prepared this salad for a Sunday potluck with our friends from the Unitarian Universalists of Petaluma. While we blog about cooking food to feed ourselves, families and friends, it is our UUP community that feeds our souls.

Feeding the Soul

Feeding the Soul

On that topic, if you have a recipe that “feeds the soul,” please feel free to share it with us in a comment!

Our Version: We used extra virgin olive oil instead of the recipe’s call for sunflower oil, which worked very well. There is no need to use vinegar in this salad – the root vegetables flavors of carrot, potato, and beet come alive with the fresh dill. We didn’t include peas, as the recipe calls for, and didn’t miss them, as the root vegetables seemed to go so well together. Don’t over salt – a little goes a long way with this dish. Tips for cooking the vegetables: The key to this beet salad is to boil the vegetables together so that they become just barely tender, but not soft. We recommend using Russet potatoes. Peel the potatoes and cut in half (or if they are really big, into thirds), use medium sized beets (or cut large beets in-half), and keep the carrots whole (use large carrots, not the baby carrot variety) and place them on top of the other vegetables.

Beet Salad
Beet Salad

We used a 1:1:1 veggie ratio for this salad (same number of potatoes, to beets, to carrots.) Place washed and cut vegetables into a soup pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer for 17 to 20 minutes (after 17 minutes test a beet or potato with a knife, which should pierce with ease, but also a little resistance.) Drain carefully, and let them cool. Take the skins off of the beets with your hands (they should slide off easily), and cut them into hearty dices (use an apron or wear clothes you don’t mind staining with the bright beet juice!). Place in a large salad or mixing bowl. Cut potatoes and carrots into hearty dices and add to salad bowl, then let them chill in the refrigerator ahead of time if you can. When you toss the diced vegetables with the onion, oil, dill, and salt and pepper, do it lightly and sparingly or you could end up with a reddish mashed potato salad.

 

Local food + local couple who likes to cook = yummmm

The Cooks

The Cooks

We are a couple that likes to cook, and likes to eat — and take long walks to burn the calories from all those home cooked meals. The key ingredients? Local food from Petaluma, Sonoma county and nearby growers. Tomorrow we are collecting organic vegetables from a small garden that is tended by a fourth generation Petaluma man who runs a family bar named after his grandfather, Ernie, (also his namesake) — Ernies Tin Bar.  Following that, we will pick up fresh bread and other products at the local farmers market on Wednesday in downtown Petaluma. More to come on what we create, including recipes, stories, and hopefuly some laughs (an important ingredient in all we cook together.)