Trying out Butternut Squash Lasagna

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 11, 2008 : 6:16 pm
Butternut squash lasagna

Butternut squash lasagna

Before I start my post, I want to credit Patricia at Cook Local for finding this interesting butternut squash lasagna recipe, which originates from Coconut and Lime.

The recipe calls for lasagna made with butternut squash, rainbow chard and (surprise), no tomato sauce OR meat. My first reaction is probably like yours: Whaaat? Vegetarian lasagna, that’s common enough, but no tomato sauce? This was going to be interesting, as I’m a huuuge fan of lasagna and as such, am very particular about how it tastes. In fact, Steve often cracked jokes about my food fetish because I would volunteer for lasagna duty every time we reviewed an Italian restaurant.

I won’t repeat the recipe, as I’ve linked to both blogs, who do the art of cooking more justice than I to begin with. That said, it’s a fairly straight forward lasagna recipe that consists of baking and mashing the squash, making a chard and ricotta mix, heating a milk-based sauce and then combining into layers.

I tripped up on the layering stage of making my lasagna, as my pasta somehow managed to break down into dozens of smaller parts while boiling(!). I’m sure my head added to the steam coming from the pot because I specifically tried to avoid the specific brand of pasta that I used, as I had bad experiences with it before. MY supermarket, PCC, only carried one brand for lasagna however, so that’s what I ended up being stuck with. Bah!

So, that turned into a challenging mix-and-match puzzle for a few minutes while I wrestled with the mashed butternut squash. Even though Patricia warned against it, I tried using a spoon at first, but gave up soon after the first layer and just used my hands instead. Sometimes I just have to fail in order to believe. :)

The end result was a lasagna that was rich, creamy and smooth – and much better than what I would have guessed! I thought the rainbow chard might overpower the dish beforehand, but it was subdued fairly well. I feel there was room in the recipe to add more herbs however; and perhaps even tomato sauce. But at that point, you would diverge from the uniqueness of the dish and be making a traditional lasagna (well, mostly).

Well, all this talk of food makes me hungry, so I’d better run off to the kitchen now. :) Thanks again to Patricia from Cook Local and also Coconut and Lime for this cool recipe.

PCC Baking Class

Categories: food,seattle — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ April 16, 2008 : 2:27 pm

Baked pastries
(From left to right: Rustic berry tart, Poppy seed poundcake muffin, orange cranberry scone and snicker doodles)

“Ouch,” I mutter, as I look at my thumb after nicking it on the carrot grater. It looks a little pink, but there’s no drippage. That’s good, because I’m sure the rest of the PCC Sweets and Treats baking class isn’t going to appreciate me modifying our carrot cake recipe to include a few drops of blood. Then again, my recipe sheet is splattered silly with a murderous orange color from the carrots I’ve been grating, so perhaps no one would notice anyways.

I look closer just in case. Awesome, no blood, no foul.

I wasn’t able to snap a picture of the oh-so-delicious frosted carrot cupcakes, as my hands were covered in all sorts of flour, sugar, carrot bits and other random baking ingredients that dissuaded me from shoving my hands into my pockets. With all the bakeries left over, most everyone grabbed a to-go box of goodies to bring home, so that’s what you see in the picture above.

Baking has always been a weak point in my culinary arsenal (I can make cookies?), so I decided to attend a class at PCC Natural Markets down in Issaquah. The class was a solid 2.5 hours from 6:30 – 9pm and completely hands-on, so I figured it would be a great way to ramp up my baking skills. We were given a recipe list of about 10 various items and put into teams to create each one, so it also turned out to be a nice meet and greet of sorts with strangers with the same love for food.

One of the first things I learned with baking is that it is definitely a science, as opposed to an art. That’s not to say there’s no creativity, but there is certainly procedures, measurements and scientific principles that apply to baking quite firmly before the experimentation comes in. Unlike conventional cooking, when a baking recipe calls for two cups of an ingredient, it’s quite important to use two cups – otherwise bad things can start to happen. Especially if we’re talking about flour.

Leavening is the holy grail of baking, as the rise of the dough and mixture is the difference between a tough rock or a soft, fluffy piece of heaven in your mouth. Common leavening agents include yeast, yogurt, butter, baking powder, baking soda and the act of creaming. Using any one of these methods is almost always required in baking pastries or cakes, which likely explains some of the failed mishaps I may have had in the kitchen before. Case in point, I generally reduce the usage of butter in my dishes for a more healthy approach, but I realize now that butter actually helps the dough rise in addition to giving it that savory taste, so I have to put in a leavening substitute for the butter as well.

Another important thing I learned is that my big silver bowl and a whisk isn’t going to cut it if I want to do any serious baking. A professional mixer turned a stick of butter and cream cheese packet into an instant frosting after about a minute of beating; something that would be impossible by hand, short of 10 cans of Red Bull to the tune of Chariots of Fire. That means have to go run to Sears, Bed Bath and Beyond and some other stores later this weekend to pick one up, so hopefully it’s not too expensive.

If you ever shop at PCC and wonder about the classes, I can tell you they are definitely worth it. Our instructor, Krista, was great and the setup they have is very professional. There were two assistants that circle around helping with the class and helping with prep work. Three big LCD screens display the two cooktops and the center preparation table so you can see all the action while sitting in your seat. The best part is that the price of the class is a mere $30 (for our baking class at least), while you get the enjoy food, learn and also have fun at the same time. It’s a great deal, so I’ll certainly be going back for more classes in the future.

Northwest Seafood @ Culinary Communion

Categories: food,seattle — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ April 10, 2008 : 2:05 pm

Zach of Culinary Communion

(Above: Zach, cooking instructor at Culinary Communion))

I had a great time last night attending a Northwest seafood cooking class at Culinary Communion located in Beacon Hill. It was a 3 hour adventure of chopping, boiling, juicing, cutting, mincing, washing, slicing and more importantly – tasting!

Our cooking class was led by Zach, new Culinary Communion instructor who just moved back from Vegas not too long ago after being sous chef at Guy Savoy (if I recall correctly) at Caesar’s Palace. His credentials also include being a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and chef at Cascadia in Belltown a few years ago. Zach is a great teacher and friendly guy, so he’s highly recommended if you ever decide to take a cooking course at Culinary Communion.

Salmon, oysters, crabs and clams

We started off the night with a huge table filled with fresh seafood that included whole Canadian king salmon, Manila clams, pacific halibut, Penn Cove mussels (plus two other varieties I forget) and live dungeness crab. Zach walked us through the varieties of sea life, methods of cooking and also great tips on places to buy seafood. He stated that for the regular consumer, Uwajimaya provides great, fresh seafood in addition to excellent prices. For whatever reason, I was never sure of the seafood at Uwajimaya, but I think I’ll give it a shot with Zach’s recommendation.

For those in the city, Zach also mentioned that while the Pike Place fish tossing troupes might seem like a tourist trap in terms of price gouging – they are more than willing to negotiate prices with locals if they think you know about the gig.

A couple of neat things that we learned about our various seafoods were that farm raised salmon will have white tongues as opposed to black tongues from wild salmon (go with wild salmon). For salmon (or any salt water fish), look for clear eyes as opposed to cloudy to gauge how long the fish has been dead. When preparing mollusks, press down on their lids and see if they retract and clamp back down. If they don’t, that means they’re dead and you should toss them out. An important tip- while you want to soak clams in water, do not soak mussels in water unless you want to kill them. Instead, cover mussels with a damp cloth towel and set aside until ready to use.

Salmon fillets

Among the dishes we cooked, the slow-roasted salmon was a big favorite. It featured a variety of simple ingredients such as butter, lemon, olive oil, herbs and wine, poured over slow cooked salmon fillets. Other dishes that we cooked included:red curry mussel stew, halibut seviche, New England clam chowder and biscuits, bucatini alla puttanesca (I am officially a new fan of bucatini), Peruvian ceviche and fresh Vietnamese spring rolls.

Bucatini alla puttanesca

I love the bucatini pasta because it’s a thick spaghetti like pasta that is hollow in the middle, providing more surface area for sauce delivery. If you’ve ever wondered why pasta is always shaped in odd, funny shapes, it’s all to provide extra surface area. The bucatini works great for this purpose and I can see lots of uses in the future for red and white sauce Italian cooking.

The amazing part is that most of these dishes were quite easy to make. With a dozen cooks of mixed skill, it was no trouble getting all the food prepped and cooked while coming out delicious. One of the teams forgot to add baking powder and soda to the biscuits, which caused them not to rise and turn out more like biscuitty chewables, but even then everyone had a good laugh and reached for seconds when it came around.

While I learned a whole lot from the class and Zach, the most important things I learned were:

- Uwajimaya is great for seafood.
- Use LOTS OF SALT when boiling seafood, pasta or blanching vegetables. Like, an entire cup of salt. This sounds scary, but in reality, it works great and won’t send your sodium intake through the roof.
- Ceviche is the easiest dish in the world.
- If your clan chowder is soupy, blend in a biscuit to add consistency.
- All fresh fish can be eaten raw; so don’t overcook that salmon.
- More butter the better, at least for biscuits.
- Shucking oysters is fun. Try it.

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