Penne with Goat Cheese and Squash

What are your pantry essentials? Pasta is one of mine. I like having a few different kinds on hand for quick meals. Nuts and garlic are always in my kitchen, also. The trick is to put it all together in new and interesting ways.

I finally found kabocha squash in the grocery store and chevre was on sale. My inspiration for tonight's meal came from a restaurant menu. I have no idea how they put it all together but this is my take on their goat cheese and squash first course.

Penne with Goat Cheese and Squash

1 squash, kabocha or butternut
olive or canola oil
1 c. penne
3 tbsp. soft goat cheese or chevre
2 tbsp. Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. finely grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. dried Espelette pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp. chopped walnuts
salt and pepper

Cut squash into sections and scoop out seeds. Lightly oil a baking sheet and also lightly oil the squash segments. Season squash with salt and pepper. Arrange on baking sheet and roast at 350F until tender, about 20 minutes.

Coarsely chop the garlic and walnuts. Place on the baking pan with the squash. You will have to watch that these do not burn. Take them off the baking sheet when toasted and set aside.

Meanwhile boil the pasta in plenty of salted water until tender. Drain, reserving about a cup of the cooking water. Add goat cheese to drained pasta and cover the pot with the lid. Let it sit for a few minutes so the cheese melts. Add yogurt, oregano and pepper. Stir to mix. Cover and set aside until ready to serve.

When the squash is tender remove from the oven. Let it cool for a minute or two then peel the skin and chop about a cup of it into one-inch cubes.

Give the pasta a quick stir before plating. If it has become thick, add a little of the cooking water to loosen it up. Split the pasta between two plates or bowls. Top with squash and garnish with toasted garlic and walnuts. Serves 2.


A Plug for Coconut Water

A couple of weeks ago I received an email offering me a case of CoCoZia coconut water to try. I haven't been offered anything in such a long time. Even though I was not fond of coconut water I thought, "What the heck?" I said yes.

They emailed me an Amazon gift certificate. I ordered online and in a week or so they arrived. Immediately I was offered a case of their chocolate coconut water. Hmmm. That sounds interesting so again I agreed. I have no idea how I the first order was processed because on my second order Amazon.com would not deliver to Canada. Weird. They probably thought Saskatchewan was a city in Alaska or something on my first order.

I wonder if the chocolate coconut order had been delivered if I would continue to receive offers of all their flavours? Coffee, mango, pineapple? Too bad my luck ran out.

Anyhoo, I tried this coconut water. I was fully prepared to not like it but I was pleasantly surprised. I mean it still tastes like coconut water but I thought it was okay. I am not a fan of sweet drinks and this has no sugar. Usually I drink water or milk. I will enjoy my case of coconut water guilt-free. It is only 70 calories in 330 mL. 330 mL is a large serving for me. I would only drink half that at a time.

I have now fulfilled my agreement to post about CoCoZia on my blog. If you like, you can give it a try.


Saucy Cajun Round Steak

A nicely cooked and satisfying home dinner in my home is more elusive than most would imagine. True, I am posting delicious looking food every few days. In reality many of these dishes are prepared for my newspaper column. 

After spending up to two hours photographing the food it is hardly appetizing. Leftovers are often frozen for work lunches. Many recipes are theoretically good to freeze but in actuality the quality is compromised. What I am saying is that I take a taste of the freshly made food but most times I am eating leftovers.

Then there the times that I am testing a recipe and, how do I say this politely, I don't like it. But someone else might like it. Most times I suggest changes that I feel will improve the dish. A quality, nutritious, delicious meal is long overdue.  

I don't mean to say that a meal isn't a meal without meat but it has been a long time since I have made a nice beef meal. And I don't mean to hint that because I am watching calories that I have not had a real meal. I am finding great satisfaction in simple, nicely cooked food eaten mindfully.

What I mean is that I have not had real food in the house for a couple of days and yesterday I resorted to a KFC supper.  Who hasn't done that?

This is an inner round cut steak which means it is a less tender cut. Less tender cuts are from the muscles that are used more. They require long, moist heat to tenderize and bread down the connective tissue that makes this meat tough.

The less tender cuts are usually more flavourful and always lower in fat. They are less expensive and they are equally as nutritious as the most tender, high priced steak. 

Any sweet green pepper can be used. The Anaheim green pepper is mildly hot and is often used in making chile relleno. If left in the field it will ripen to orange and red. I found this one for half price in the produce department the other day and making this dish even more cost friendly.

To be clear, I love this meal. The seasoning is balanced and not spicy. The sauce pairs very well with a plain basmati rice. Add a vegetable or two and you have a nutritionally balanced meal. 

Saucy Cajun Round Steak

1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper
1 lb. inside round marinating steak
1 tbsp. canola oil
2 onions, sliced
2 tsp. Cajun seasoning 
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 c. tomato paste
1 1/2 c. beef stock
2 Anaheim green peppers
2 green onions, for garnish
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

In large plastic bag, shake together flour, salt and pepper. Cut steak into 8 pieces. One piece at a time, seal steak in bag; pound with meat mallet to 1/4-inch thickness, working flour mixture into meat. Reserve any remaining flour mixture.

In Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Brown meat well, in batches if necessary. Remove to plate.

Add onions, garlic, celery, Cajun seasoning and thyme. Cook, stirring, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with any reserved flour mixture. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk tomato paste into stock and pour into pan. Return steaks and any accumulated juices to pan.

Cover and simmer over low heat, turning steaks halfway through, 1 hour and 45 minutes. Add green pepper. Simmer, covered, until steaks are fork-tender and green pepper is tender-crisp, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with green onions and parsley.


Root Vegetable Tarte Tatin from Epicurious

This recipe came in my email inbox this week from Epicurious. Their picture was stunning and enticed me to try it as soon as I possibly could. I have to say that adding pastry to anything takes it up a notch, both visually and for its gustatory enjoyment.

This is a dish that deserves a place at a vegetarian meal as the entrée. Most people like a little brown sugar on their sweet potatoes. Me, I like butter. Next time I would skip the carmelized sugar in the bottom of the pan. It was too sweet for my taste.

I prefer to use my cast iron pan for tarte tatin. It is essentially a pan that releases well without using a lot of fat. It holds the temperature nicely and the dark colour allows for optimal browning of pastry.

Having said that, this did not completely come out of the pan for me. I think I left it a tad too long and would be better inverted on a serving plate while it is still bubbling a bit. Some of the sweet potato slices stayed in the pan but were easy enough to take out with a spatula and arrange atop the pie.

Root Vegetable Tarte Tatin
  • 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled, sliced into 1/2" rounds
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled sliced into 1/2" rounds
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, sliced into 1/2" rounds
  • 1 medium parsnip, peeled, sliced into 1/2" rounds
  • 1 small red onion, sliced into 1/2" rounds
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese
  • butter pastry for single crust pie
  • All-purpose flour (for surface)
Place a rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 400°. Toss potato, sweet potato, carrots, parsnip, and onion with oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper and arrange vegetables in a single layer. Roast until golden around the edges and tender, 30-35 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, cook sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan over mediumhigh heat, swirling pan occasionally, until mixture is amber-colored, 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and add vinegar and a pinch of salt, swirling pan to combine. Quickly pour caramel into a 9"-diameter pie pan; tilt and rotate pan to evenly coat bottom with caramel. Scatter rosemary and sage over top.

Arrange potatoes, carrots, and parsnips snugly in a single layer on top of caramel, using smaller carrot and parsnip pieces to fill in any holes. Scatter onion rings and crumble goat cheese over vegetables.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 12" round. Drape over vegetables, tucking edges into pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until crust looks dry, about 20 minutes; reduce heat to 350° and bake until crust is golden brown, 15-20 minutes.


Shaker Lemon Pie

Citrus is in season during the winter months although lemons and oranges are available year round. Out of season fruit comes from farther away. At the moment citrus in Canadian grocery stores is coming from Florida and California.

This traditional pie is a favourite in the Shaker community. An interesting piece of trivia here "shaker your plate" means eat every last crumb. Waste nothing.

This pie is tart like marmalade. Macerate the lemon slices in sugar at room temperature overnight.

I often make pastry in my food processor. It is quick and easy. This butter pastry is the perfect match to the tartness of the lemons.
Form into two disks and then chill for an hour or more.
The juice of the lemons is drawn out by the sugar. The lemons are zested before slicing and the zest is also in the filling. Then add the egg mixture to complete making the filling.

Pour into pastry shell. Top with the second crust and crimp. It's ready to bake.
This pie is very tart but will mellow out if served the day after baking. And the crust is still fresh.

Shaker Lemon Pie
The Meyer lemon is native to China and is a cross between a lemon and an orange. The result is a sweeter and less acidic fruit. This sweet tart marmalade-like pie mellows after a day or two. 

2 c. sugar (500 mL)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt (1 mL)
2 Meyer lemons, zested and thinly sliced, seeds discarded
4 eggs
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted (60 mL)
3 tbsp. flour (45 mL)

1 3/4 c. flour, plus more (415 mL)
3/4 c. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled 175 mL
2 tbsp. vegetable shortening (30 mL)
1 tsp. kosher salt (5 mL)
4 tbsp. ice cold water (60 mL)

Toss sugar, salt and lemon zest and slices in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Pulse flour, cold butter, shortening and salt in a food processor into pea-size crumbles. Add water and pulse until dough forms. Divide dough in half and make two flattened balls. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill one hour.

Heat oven to 425 F (220 C). Whisk eggs in a bowl until frothy. Whisk in melted butter and three tablespoons (45 mL) flour. Stir into reserved lemon mixture. On a lightly floured surface, roll one disk of dough into a round and fit into a nine inch (23 cm) pie plate. Trim edges using a knife, leaving one inch (2.5 cm) dough overhanging edge of plate. Pour in filling. Roll remaining disk dough into a round and place over top of pie. Trim and crimp edges and cut steam vents in the top crust. Bake until crust is beginning to brown, about 30 minutes. Reduce oven to 350 F (175 C) and bake until golden brown, 25–30 minutes. Let cool completely before serving.


Lemon Ricotta and Almond Flourless Cake

Imagine a life without lemons. No spritz over butter fried sole. No squeeze on a parsley and tomato salad. No marinade on that spatchcocked chicken. No candied rinds. No zest. No slices garnishing your roasted fish. And no lemonade.

It is believed that lemons originated in India over 2500 years ago. From there they travelled around the world and became a culinary necessity. There are over 200 cultivars in America alone. Some are better in arid climates, other in humid, some for lemon oil and others for sweetness, fewer seeds, more seeds and so on. Surprisingly lemons are hand picked. There is no machine that can pick a lemon. They are picked green and cannot be wet. As they cure the colour changes to yellow, the skin thins and the fruit becomes juicier.

Lemon Ricotta and Almond Flourless Cake 

This rich, dense and moist lemony cake is almost a cheesecake. Homemade ricotta and ground almonds are bound together with eggs and flavoured with a generous amount of lemon zest. The cake benefits from a couple of days of rest before serving. Lightly dust with powdered sugar and you have a dessert worthy of any dinner party.

 1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened 
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1/4 c. lemon zest
4 eggs, separated and at room temperature
2 1/2 c. almond meal
10 1/2 oz. ricotta
Flaked almonds, to decorated
Icing sugar, for dusting

Heat oven to 325 F. Generously butter the bottom and sides of an 8 inch round springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper and set aside.

Place the butter, 3/4 cup sugar, vanilla seeds and lemon zest in an electric mixer and beat for 8-10 minutes or until pale and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then gradually add the egg yolks, one at a time, continuing to beat until fully combined. Add the almond meal and beat to combine. Fold ricotta through the almond meal mixture.

Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl with electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar to the egg whites mixture and whisk until stiff peaks form. Gently fold a third of the egg whites into the cake mixture. Repeat with the rest of the egg whites.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smooth the tops with a spatula, decorate the cake with almond flakes, and bake for 45-50 minutes or until cooked and firm to touch. Turn off, open oven door and leave pan in the oven to cool. Allow to cool completely in the cake pan overnight. Dust with icing sugar to serve. (Adapted from Donna Hay)