Monthly Archives: March 2010

Spring has Sprung

What a glorious weekend!!! This is the first time in all the years I’ve lived in New England when I remember the first day of spring actually feeling like spring.

This weekend was warm and sunny. We have a cottage in the woods on a lake in Maine. We went to spend the night there this weekend, and to retrieve Howard’s mid-life crisis car from the garage there.

Yesterday was a relaxing day. We arrived in Maine late morning. We went for several walks with Bella. We took Howard’s convertible for a spin. We risked the metallic red paint on the long dirt road in search of ice cream. We didn’t actually find an open ice cream stand. It is only mid-March after all. Despite an unsuccessful mission, we enjoyed the sun shining and the wind blowing as we rode around on the country roads with the top down.

When we got back, we hauled the lawn chairs into the front garden to bask in the sun and read. For dinner, Howard broke out the grill, and we had the season’s first hamburgers from one of our last packages of ground beef from Codman Farm.

This morning, we headed home as I had plans to meet up with my friends Laury and April to visit the Concord Museum to catch the final day of an exhibit of work from students of the North Bennet Street School. The North Bennet Street School is in Boston’s North End.. They teach fine artisan crafts, like furniture making, musical instrument making, jewelry making, and book binding. The school is celebrating their 125th anniversary this year. We enjoyed admiring the varied work, especially the furniture.

We also started the vegetable garden this afternoon. I don’t know whether it is overly optimistic, but we planted peas (both shell peas and sugar snaps) and lettuce (two mesclun mixes and some head lettuce). In the herb garden, my chives are a few inches tall, and the tarragon is starting to come up.

It’s definitely time to step efforts to finish up the last of the winter vegetables. I’m down to 4 butternut squash, 3 turnips, and a pound or so of beets. I used the last of the parsnips and some beets for St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s time to finish up the rest.

I used one of the squashes to make a Butternut Squash Lasagne. It’s a light lasagne, not hearty like my usual Spinach Lasagne. This lasagne layers no-boil noodles with pureed squash topped with a white sauce with pesto stirred in.

Butternut Squash Lasagne
Adapted from this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis/Food Network
Serves 6-8

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup water
3 amaretti cookies, crushed
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour (whole wheat, if you have it)
3½ cups skim milk
Pinch of nutmeg
½ cup pesto
1 box Barilla Oven-Ready (no-boil) Lasagne noodles
8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese (part-skim)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the squash and toss to coat with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the water into the skill, then cover and simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, adding more water if needed, about 20 minutes.

Puree the squash in the food processor. Add the crushed amaretti cookies and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg and the pesto until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Lightly oil a 13×9 baking dish. Spread ¾ cup of the sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange 4 lasagne noodles to cover the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the squash mixture over the noodles. Sprinkle with ½ cup mozzarella. Drizzle ½ cup of sauce over the noodles. Repeat 3 more times. Use up all the sauce and all but ½ cup of the mozzarella.

Tightly cover the dish with foil. Bake for 40 minutes. Combine the reserved ½ cup of mozzarella with the Parmesan. Remove the foil and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes more until the lasagna is bubbly and the top is golden brown.

Let the lasagna rest a few minutes before serving.

Erin Go Bragh

We make Corned Beef and Cabbage once a year for St. Patrick’s Day. It’s not my favorite meal of the year, but, over the years, I’ve played around with the basic components of the meal to make it enjoyable.

In the past, I simmered the corned beef with the vegetables on top of the stove. Once I added a slow cooker to my kitchen, I used that instead. This year, Howard prepared the Corned Beef with his LTLT (Low Temperature – Long Time) cooking technique, similar to the Sous Vide Duck he wrote about last week. He brined a brisket for 5 days, then cooked it at 140F for 2 days. It came out very tender, and the pickling spices really permeated the meat. I think it came out especially well this year.

Did you ever wonder why it’s called “corned” beef? I did a little research. First of all, corned beef is actually pickled. That is why Howard brined it first. In the olden days, they used rock salt. The grains of salt were large, like corn kernels, which is where the term “corned” comes from.

To accompany the corned beef, I simmered cabbage wedges, red potatoes, and sliced carrots and parsnips. I also roasted some beets and cut them into wedges. I also make a tangy horseradish sauce to go with the vegetables. Otherwise, they are on the bland side.

Finally, I made two kinds of Irish soda bread. The first is my favorite with caraway seeds and golden raisins. The second has sliced scallions mixed in and is more savory. Howard doesn’t eat dried fruit, so the scallion version gives him an option. I eat both.

Irish Soda Bread with Caraway and Raisins

1 cup flour
¾ c. whole wheat flour
¼ c. wheat bran (or more flour, if you don’t have it)
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp caraway seeds
1 cup raisins (it’s great with golden raisins; also Trader Joe’s sells a Raisin Medley with both golden and black raisins that I like)
¾ cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350F. Sprinkle flour onto a baking sheet.

Whisk together both flours, wheat bran, baking soda, baking power, salt, and caraway seeds. Toss raisins in the flour mixture. Stir in buttermilk. Usually, not all of the flour stirs into the dough. Knead the mixture to incorporate the remaining flour.

Place the rounded dough on the baking sheet. Cut an X in the top. Bake for 40 minutes.

Variation: Irish Soda Break with Scallions
Substitute whole wheat flour for the wheat bran. Substitute 2 or 3 scallions, sliced, for the raisins. Omit caraway seeds.