Bundle Up, Butternut

For many years, my family would threaten to skip the traditional spread for Thanksgiving in favor of plain pasta, sauce on the side. Gathering a dozen or more picky eaters around one table led to inevitable conflict and strife, because most people wouldn’t touch cranberry sauce with a three-foot spatula, green vegetables are akin to the devil for some, and even the omnivores generally turned up their noses at turkey. The only thing we could all agree on was the universal charm of good old fashioned noodles. We’re not talking about fancy herb-infused, handmade coils or twirls; no elaborate gluten-free blends. Just basic, white flour, dried pasta was always the first dish to empty at my grandma’s dinner table, no matter the intended accompaniment. In hindsight, I wish someone actually called that bluff and skipped the annual feast of discontent.

Realizing this concept in much grander fashion, a supposedly “rustic” starter of crispy butternut squash ravioli knocked me off my feet this Thanksgiving. Indeed, the ingredients are as ordinary as they come, but the time, effort, and love that goes into each individual pasta pillow is not. Longtime friend and erstwhile food blogger Jenn pulled out all the stops this year, balancing tradition with innovation, lavishly accommodating all guests with more food than a small mob could possibly consume in a week. It was that first dish that struck me as the very best though, if I had to choose, for finally hitting that satisfying promise made so many years ago.

Butternut is mashed into creamy submission and bundled up in homemade sheets of delicate dough, extraordinary for their apparent austerity yet rich depth of flavor. Owing to the skill of the cook, only some inconceivably magical process could possibly explain it otherwise. That, and a whole lot of vegan butter. Infused with a handful of bright, aromatic holy basil, sage might be more expected here but any tender herbs are welcome to this party.

In the spirit of giving, Jenn had the patience to not only swaddle those tender morsels of homemade butternut delight in handmade pasta to feed a crowd, but to endure the added chore of writing out every single step in painstaking detail on my behalf. At this point, I must acknowledge that I’m a terribly demanding guest.

Plain pasta, it is not; it’s something to be much more thankful for.

Butternut Squash Ravioli
by Jenn

Here’s a quick “no measure” recipe for a rustic ravioli dish that will make any occasion seem super special. You don’t need any special equipment — just a rolling pin though I prefer to use my Kitchen Aid pasta roller attachment to save time.

Pasta:
1-2 cups of fine semolina flour
2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
water, as needed

Filling:
1 butternut or kabocha squash, roasted and seeded
chopped fresh herbs (your choice), quantity as needed
pinch of salt
pinch of nutmeg

DIRECTIONS – FILLING:
To make the ravioli filling, Just mash the roasted butternut (or kabocha or pumpkin) and blend with the finely chopped herbs and spices. You don’t want this to be too fine a puree, you want to be able to drop it by the spoonful onto the pasta.

DIRECTIONS – PASTA:
1. Make the pasta – mix the dry ingredients and start adding the olive oil and mix well. Add cold or ice water in a thin stream, in small amounts, until the semolina starts getting a sandy texture. Check it periodically to see if you can clump it by smashing some inside the palm of your hand with your fist. If it is too tacky and wet — add more semolina (easy, right?). I prefer to use my stand mixer but you can do this by hand.

2. Use a flexible spatula to scrape out of the bowl onto a work surface. Work it with your hands to press, squeeze and smush it together into a ball that starts to really stick together. You want to develop the gluten. Get out the rolling pin and work it flat, fold it and repeat.

You can continue to work it with the rolling pin or you can get it thin enough (about 1/4″ for the widest setting on your pasta roller) to start putting through the pasta roller. I start out at “0” on my KA attachment and after a couple passes, narrow it a few more times until I get to 4 or 5.

Get the pasta sheets as thin as you can without them being transparent, developing holes or tears when you try to stretch a bit (since you’ll be doing that to make the ravioli) but not so thick that you just have a super squishy dumpling.

To shape the ravioli – you can do this with a water glass or biscuit cutter, a fancy ravioli cutter (I have individual cutters as well as a metal mold that is about as wide as the sheet of pasta.

Get a small bowl of water and maybe a brush to keep at hand. Once you roll out your sheet of pasta — put it on the form or lightly mark it with your cutter, then use a measuring spoon to scoop a small ball of your cool filling onto the center of that mark.

Dab a bit of water all around where the edge of the ravioli will be using the brush or your finger tips. Lay another sheet over top (or just fold a very long sheet) and then use your cutter (or rolling pin) to score the raviolis. Check to make sure the edges are sealed the first few times and then lay them out in a single layer on cutting board or cookie sheet to rest.

Freezing the ravioli before you cook them yields better results. You can drop them into boiling water and then scoop them out and cover them with sauce, but for this thanksgiving treat — we browned some of Miyoko’s vegan butter and crisped up the ravioli on both sides with some holy basil out of the garden, and then sprinkled with vegan parm.

You can’t eat just one!

Oh yeah – and – if you have more pasta than energy to make ravioli — you can slice the sheets up into linguine or fettuccine, or make farfalle (butterfly or bowtie pasta) just by cutting squares and pinch in the middle. In all cases — leave pasta on a cookie sheet to rest and freeze or dry. You can also tightly wrap leftover pasta ball with plastic wrap and refrigerate to roll out later.

Printable Recipe

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Out of the Blue

Sharp. Salty. Smelly. Moldy.
What, were you raised in a cave?

If you happened to be a wheel of blue cheese, the answer is most likely “Yes!”

These complex blue-veined curds have traditionally been aged in caves, and still are to acquire the distinctive ambrosial funk specific to the local bacterial population. Some speculate the the earliest batches of the stinky wheels were actually mistakes, unintentionally inoculated with the natural mold in these subterranean shelters. Praise of the highest order is due to the brave soul who first thought such a terrible case of spoilage might still be edible, let alone delicious.

Though caves are no longer required for production, such a unique flavor and aroma can only be reproduced with Penicillium roqueforti cultures to accurately bear the label. Such rigorous regulations put this funky delicacy firmly out of reach for the average food crafter, no matter how obsessive, especially if dairy is off the menu.

Authenticity be damned, irrepressible cravings for a bite of the blue stuff needn’t be denied for lack of access to this illusive ingredient. Lending its own singular sort of funk, fermented Chinese tofu is what gives my plant-based facsimile its unmistakable, irrepressible twang. Taking this shortcut to building instant bold flavors allows my particular cheesy delight to achieve depth without delay. No need to wait for any spores to work their magic; it’s instantly delicious, as soon as it’s set.

Swirls of blue-green algae lend it a convincing appearance, but this is purely for aesthetics. Feel free to skip straight to the finish line without detracting from the overall eating experience one bit.

Such a pungent fixing goes a long way in small doses, which makes it ideal for sprinkling on salads or mixing into dips, rather than serving it up solo. Finally achieving my platonic ideal of a wedge salad, this deceptively simple composition of crunchy lettuce, smoky bacon bits, and fresh cherry tomatoes is really just a vehicle for that deeply savory dressing. Go ahead and really slather it on thick; we all know you’re not eating a head of iceberg lettuce for any other reason.

Vegan Blue Cheese

5 Ounces Fermented Chinese Tofu
1/4 Cup Cooked White Beans
1/2 Ounce (About 1 1/2 – 2 Tablespoons) Chopped Scallions, White Parts Only
2 Tablespoons Barley Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/3 Cup Refined Coconut Oil, Melted
1/4 Teaspoon Spirulina (Optional, for Color)

Before getting started, have a 1 1/2 – 2 cup glass, ceramic, or BPA-free plastic container at the ready. I like to use glass containers that come with lids, so they can function both as the mold for initial shaping and as a more long-term storage solution. Lightly grease and set aside.

Very thoroughly drain the fermented tofu before tossing it into your blender or food processor along with the beans and scallions. Puree until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed to incorporate all of the ingredients. Add in the miso, both vinegars, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and onion powder next, blending to combine.

With the motor running, slowly stream in the liquefied coconut oil, creating a creamy emulsion much like a salad dressing. Make sure the whole mixture is perfectly silken, without any remaining lumps, before proceeding.

Remove about 2 tablespoons of the base and place it in a small bowl. Stir in the spirulina and briefly set aside. Pour the rest of the concoction into your prepared storage vessel, tapping it on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Add the blue-tinted portion in small spoonfuls, swirling it throughout with a thin spatula or knife.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or until fully solidified. The finished cheese will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Makes About 1/2 Pound Blue Cheese

Printable Recipe

Classic Wedge Salad

Blue Cheese Dressing:

1/2 Small Shallot, Finely Minced
2/3 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Minced
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 Cup Crumbled Dairy-Free Blue Cheese (See Recipe Above)

Wedge Salad Fixings:

1 Head Iceberg Lettuce
4 Ounces Vegan Bacon
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

Prepare the blue cheese dressing by simply combining the shallot, mayo, non-dairy milk, parsley, and vinegar in a medium bowl, stirring until smooth. Add the blue cheese chunks and mix in gently.

Assembly is just as easy. Quarter and core the lettuce, placing one wedge on each plate. Drizzle liberally with the blue cheese dressing and top with meatless bacon bits, scallions, and cherry tomatoes. Serve right away.

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe

No Bones About It

Iconic as it is deeply flawed, the imagery of a dog gnawing away at a huge, meaty bone is one embedded in our cultural fabric, a remnant of misguided early training practices. Our tiny beasts are carnivores at heart, some argue, irresistibly drawn to the taste of meat, who love nothing more than savoring our scraps while getting a good dental workout at the same time. Without picking apart the umpteen faults in that shaky logic, the irrefutable truth is that bones are dangerous for dogs big and small, young and old. Brittle and easily snapped into pointed shards, those sharp pieces can result in choking, digestive blockages, cuts around the gums and throat, vomiting, and in the worst cases, yes, those symptoms can be compounded, and that innocent treat can become fatal.

Vegan or not, bones have no place on the menu for humans, so why should they suffice for our canine companions? Countless alternatives exist for safer, softer options, including those made from scraps of a different sort. Polishing off a few yards of leftover remnant yarn, this quick knit bone was a satisfying project for both human and animal participants.

A prodigious chewer with especially pointed little teeth, I thought for sure my monster baby would tear right through my handiwork in less time than it took to complete, but I’m happily surprised by its longevity thus far. Content to teethe rather than shred, Luka seems to savor this new toy with a sense of appreciation. It’s only a matter of time before the plush facsimile lies in ruin, no doubt, but that can easily be replaced; the pup himself most certainly cannot.

High-Fiber Diet

Veggie burgers have a very obvious nutritional edge over the meaty competition, bolstering their longtime reputation as healthy alternatives. Now that the options are tastier (and more realistic) than ever, it’s hard to imagine that anyone is left asking “Where’s the beef?” these days. Still, some hardcore health food fanatics are left wanting for an even more virtuous variety, immune to any of the frequent issues that plague prepared foods in general; high levels sodium, fat, and a lack of fiber can afflict even the most favorable plant-based patties.

Well, hold on to your green smoothies, because the burger of the future is finally here. Not just high in fiber, but ENTIRELY made of fiber, it’s even stuffed with more organic material.

Organic material in the form of tissues, that is. Call it silly, call it crazy, but I’m just calling it a cozy. There’s no arguing that whether it’s crafted out of cotton, hemp, or linen, it’s the healthiest burger you’ll ever find.

Pattern from Twinkie Chan’s Crocheted Abode a la Mode.

Do or Do-nut

Bigger is always better, or so we’re led to believe here in America. Grande sounds good, but why stop there when you can get a Venti, or even a Trenta? While you’re at it, you might as well super-size that order, or just get your whole meal in a bucket when no other vessel is large enough to accommodate. The literal proportions of the situation can quickly get out of hand, but by no means is this a criticism- More of an amused observation. I fully accept my own guilt when it comes to pushing reasonable size limitations in all aspects, and especially when it comes to food. Though I’d like to think of myself as more rational, balanced, or reserved, it’s hard to deny when the entire volume of your largest suitcase is occupied by just one doughnut.

Somehow it figures that the single largest object to have ever emerged from my crochet hook would be a dessert. Coming from this sweet-toothed and food-obsessed crafter, what else could it have really been? Billed as a “floor poof,” I’d like to think that this creation is genuinely more functional than frivolous. Kick up your feet and use it as an ottoman; stack up some reading material to enjoy it as a side table; cozy up with it on the couch as a super plush pillow. Really, its utility is as expansive as its physical size.

What I didn’t anticipate was that everyone in the house would want to make the most of this enormous fiberfill fritter.

It should come as no surprise that dogs love doughnuts too. One four-legged visitor discovered that my cotton snack cake was in fact the perfect size for a dog bed. Seeing this sweet pup so happily wedged in the center, it was hard to argue that in this case, bigger really was better. Maybe I should try stepping it up next time and build one with a Great Dane in mind. It’s best to keep thinking big, right?

Pattern from Twinkie Chan’s Crocheted Abode a la Mode.

Given the Cold Shoulder

Blurring the line between genius and madness, typical recipe brainstorming sessions can yield any number of wild, unpredictable results, combining disparate flavors that bear tenuous connections at best. It’s the best and worst part of any free-association exercise, opening up the floodgates and allowing a torrent of unfiltered ideas to flow. I’ve come up with some of my greatest hits this way, but sometimes, I’ve inadvertently managed to cobble together terrifying Frankenstein monstrosities instead. Most of these are easily eliminated before they ever come to fruition to assault unsuspecting eaters in real life, but unfortunately, it sometimes takes a round of testing before I realize the errors of my ways. Recipe writers don’t like to talk about it, but failure is far more common than success.

Thus, given my adoration for ice cream and endless supply of crazy concepts, I’ve dished out more than my fair share of distasteful scoops. In honor of Nation Ice Cream Day today, I thought it might be fun it dive into the archives to unearth some of these frozen horrors. Brace yourselves: The following list is not for the weak of stomach.

  • Raisin Bran Ice Cream
  • Black Garlic Ice Cream
  • Old World Borscht Ice Cream
  • Ketchup Ice Cream
  • Bread & Butter Pickle Chip Ice Cream
  • Cinnamon-Raisin Noodle Kugel Ice Cream
  • Smokey Barbecue Sauce Ripple Ice Cream

Consider yourselves lucky that I had enough common sense to know when to put the ice cream paddle down. Not all ideas can be winners, but you have my word that only the best ever make it into print.

I hope everyone is enjoying this “holiday” with only the creamiest, sweetest, and most luxurious of sweet scoops!