Thursday, October 28, 2010

spiced applesauce cake, as promised

A while back I posted my time-tested, well-loved and ever favorite recipe for cinnamon apple cake so you wouldn't think I needed another apple cake in my repertoire.  Au contraire, today's recipe combines a few desserts I love into one cute little everyday cake:  pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting, spice cake and apple cake.  It's similar to pumpkin cake in two ways:  one, it's very moist and it's tender moistness only improves with time chilling in the fridge and two, it has cream cheese frosting which is always delicious.  It's similar to spice cake in the addition of ginger and cloves along with the cinnamon.  It's similar to apple cake because, hello; there are apples in it.

The recipe calls for unsweetened apple sauce which I whipped up earlier in the day because I had those pretty Arkansas Black apples from my Michigan trip.  For the record, they are not sauce apples because they really hold their shape well when cooked but my batches of applesauce I made in the early fall were sweetened so I gave it a go.  You, indeed, do not need to make applesauce from scratch to make this cake.  Unsweetened applesauce is very easy to find at the grocery and will get you from hungry for dessert to eating cake a lot sooner.

One other optional change I made in the recipe was substituting a 1/2 cup of oat flour (ground oats from the bulk bins at Whole Foods) for 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour.  Usually I might use half white whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour, but I thought the oats and apples would be delicious.  I was not wrong.  Yummm.

I made this cake on Tuesday and I'll be enjoying a nice little piece of it with a cup of tea while Sara and I watch Grey's Anatomy tonight.  Enjoy!

the finished product

Spiced Applesauce Cake

2 C all-purpose flour (or 1 1/2 C all-purpose flour and 1/2 C oat flour)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 C tightly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 C unsweetened applesauce

5 ounces 1/3 less-fat cream cheese, room temperature
3 T unsalted butter, softened
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 C powdered sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan (cooking spray or the baker's spray with flour).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients until blended (flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves).   In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar and vanilla at medium speed until light in color and fluffy (if you are me, you test it every now and then and recall the joys of the butter and sugar sandwiches - no lie- your babysitter used to feed you for a snack).  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in applesauce.  At low speed, add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.  Bake 35-40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges to loosen and invert cake onto the wire rack.  Cool completely.  (Okay, I did this, but honestly you could leave it in the pan especially if you have a nice baking pan with a lid so you can easily cover and store the frosted cake).

When cool, make the frosting.  Beat together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla on medium-high until fluffy.  Add the powdered sugar and cinnamon and beat at low speed until well-blended.  Spread the frosting over the cooled cake.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

soup season is on!

Feeling "sweater weather" for tomorrow and pretty darn excited about it.  Nothing like a nice crisp autumn day, although the last two windy days have been fairly spectacular.  The massive weather front blew through here yesterday morning and by late afternoon the sky was the blue that named this blog.  Today the breeze kept flipping up my tennis skirt as I was running errands, but it was warm and my legs are still tan so no worries.  The temperature is falling and the remaining leaves aren't long on the trees.  I have that delightfully fuzzy feeling of too much fresh air, a nice shower and a cozy sweater.  Love it.

It is now officially soup season.  Tonight I greatly modified a simple soup recipe from Cooking Light so we all could enjoy it.  Originally this recipe called for Spanish chorizo sausage.  Being sausage, it's a pork product and one of us will not eat pork so hence the modification.  Also I stumbled upon "Babe, A Pig in the City" last night on HBO and that pig was just so adorable eating pork for me was out of the question (the first movie, "Babe" is a must see if you have small people).  I researched the spices involved in Spanish chorizo and tossed them with cubed chicken breast meat before browning the chicken as the base of the soup.  You could adapt this further and use ground pork and the seasonings, removing the meat to drain after browning and wiping the pot dry before cooking the onions and garlic.  

Tonight's soup was served with rosemary bread sliced and brushed with olive oil, baked at 350 degrees for 10 minutes before topping with a little plain goat cheese and returning to the oven until the cheese was bubbly (5-10 minutes more).  I made a pretty plate of raw orange pepper slices, cut carrots and broccoli florets instead of a salad.  Dessert on the table was fresh pears, but I still have apple cake in the refrigerator which might just be my second dessert (I'll share that recipe later this week).

So, here you go.  Grab a nice soup pot and in 30 minutes or so soup is on!  My soup pot is my blue LeCreuset round french oven which technically I can not just grab.  I have to use two hands and lift with my legs (it's in a low cabinet and kind of heavy).  But, it will keep the soup warm for hours even with the burner off!

Chicken Chorizo, White Bean and Kale Soup

one pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips or cubes
1 T olive oil
1 T paprika
1/4 tsp hot paprika (optional)
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp cumin
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1 C chopped onion
3 C chicken broth (buy the organic broth in boxes at Costco)
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
4 C chopped kale leaves (coarse stems removed)
1 T cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Toss chicken, olive oil and spices together (paprika through salt).  Heat 1 T of olive oil (or more if you need it) in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add the chicken mixture and stir to cook through (10 minutes or so).  As the chicken is cooked you can break it up with your spatula if you like smaller pieces (I have a Mario Batali silicone spatula/spoon with a nice wooden handle from Sur La Table which is super useful).  Add onion to pan and saute with the chicken another 5 minutes until translucent and fragrant.  Add broth and raise the heat to bring soup to a boil, reducing to a simmer.  Partially mash some of the cannellini beans and add all of the beans to the pot.  Stir in kale and cook for another 10 minutes.  Add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste before serving.  

4 to 6 dinner servings

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

a small price to pay for a long weekend at the beach: basil, pear and gorgonzola salad

Upon returning from a perfect long weekend at the beach in Fort Walton, Florida with the entire Rogers clan except for our Kelly (busy with midterms) I found my basil good and lifeless.  It is October 26th and that is a small price to pay for long walks on the beach, paddling a kayak past dolphins and hours in a beach chair reading and drifting off for little naps.  Ahhhhhh......

I planted basil from seed this year and enjoyed an abundant supply for over four months.  If you still have basil to enjoy from your own garden, I have an amazing salad for you to try.  It will pain me a little to buy basil at Meijer (they usually have loose fresh bunches which are superior to the basil in the box), but since it is now pear season (another key ingredient) I will do it.  Forgive me, again for the lack of pictures.  I'm pretty sure you can imagine the emerald green goodness of this dressing and the pretty presentation of this salad.  I adapted this recipe from the Wine Guy's cookbook, "The Grapevine Cottage Cookbook".  

If you're an Indy person, stop by Grapevine Cottage on the red brick Main Street of Zionsville and meet The Wine Guy, buy some new and interesting wine and the cookbook.  They have a lovely assortment of gourmet treats too.  I first discovered Two Cooking Sisters jams and etc. there.  If you go in the afternoon and they've just baked french bread, you will leave with a warm batard and a good part of it will be missing by the time you get home.  Greg and I have enjoyed our membership in the Wine of the Month Club.  Two wines, a gourmet treat (often my favorite part, although only once did I not like the selection) and a little newsletter with a recipe.  Join up!  Keep a little wine journal in your kitchen or bar to help you remember what you liked.  The Wine Guy has little cards with all of the wine so you can just paste those in your journal if you like.  

Today's recipe includes gorgonzola cheese which I personally love.  I usually buy the crumbles at Trader Joe's.  Greg, who loves almost all food puts all blue cheeses on his short list of things he does not like (liver and onions, brussel sprouts, tuna anyway but raw or seared and sea urchin make up the entire list). So I serve this with feta cheese and gorgonzola on the side so he can enjoy it.  Goat cheese crumbles or baked goat cheese rounds are also delicious (cut the log in little rounds, dip them in beaten egg and roll them in bread crumbs and place them on a greased/sprayed or parchment lined baking sheet and lightly brown them in a 350 degree oven for around 10 minutes-addictive).  I usually use comice pears because I like them, but any variety will do.  

Basil, Pear and Gorgonzola Salad

basil, garlic, salt, pepper and sugar ready to process

finished dressing

4 cloves of garlic
1/3 C sugar (you can try less if this freaks you out, I have already reduced it here)
1 to 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves (I usually use somewhere around 1 1/2 C to 2 C)
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 C good olive oil (add slowly, 1/4 to 1/3 C might be enough for you if this freaks you out too, again I already reduced it)
1/3 C cider vinegar

big bowl of mixed baby greens, spring mix or baby greens and butter lettuce (your choice)
2 fresh ripe pears, cut in bite-size pieces (no need to peel the skin)
8-oz. crumbled gorgonzola cheese (or other cheese as desired)
3/4 C toasted pecan pieces (toast in a dry heavy pan on the stove over medium heat or on a sheet in the oven at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, keep an eye on them and stir them so they don't burn)

Process the garlic, sugar, basil and pepper in a food processor or blender until finely chopped.  Add the oil and vinegar and mix until just blended.  Toss the dressing with the greens, pears, cheese and nuts.  Serve immediately.  

If you take this salad away from home (people will love you for it), place the greens in a big bowl and take along the dressing in a jar, the pears tossed with lemon juice in a bag or container, the cheese in a bag or the container you bought it in, and the nuts in a bag or container.  Toss just before serving.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

the miscellaneous rainy Monday post: baked feta and etc.

Greg's Homecoming tailgate burger

Another perfect fall weekend, another fun tailgate and another great Sunday bike ride checked off the list.  Before I head off for the beach for Fall Break I thought I'd post a little bit of this and that I've had on my mac "Stickie Notes" (if you have a mac, you have to use the Stickies app on your dashboard and save your sanity and some trees).

I've mentioned me collection of Le Creuset cast iron cookware and stoneware baking and serving pieces.  A bit of an addiction.  I decided with my first purchase to just buy whatever color I liked best that day and that would be my theme.  So I have pieces that are cobalt, flame, cherry, dijon and kiwi.  Every piece is well-loved, but two of the enameled cast iron pans are on my cooktop at all times:  the buffet casserole (technically a braiser) and my 2-quart round french oven.  My 5 1/2-quart round french oven takes third place for frequency of use followed distantly by my 7-quart oval french oven and my oval skillet grill (which I believe is no longer in production probably because it's shape can be pretty limiting).  Sure they look great, but really you need to cook with them to love them.  There has been just one rocky patch in our relationship during my recovery from surgery for my broken left elbow (a tennis injury which to Greg begged the question, "Is tennis a contact sport?").  Not going to lie, Le Creuset cast iron pots are heavy.  That would be one of the reasons they are amazing for cooking and baking.  When you cook or bake the pots stay warm for a very long time.  I can heat something at home, wrap it in blankets and it will be still warm when I get to Purdue.  They are heavy, they are expensive but nothing browns, bakes or braises better.  I use my big french ovens like a slow cooker in the oven.  Just love them.

how many pieces of Le Creuset do you see in this picture?  yes, I even have a mortar and pestle

I know you've read about my love of "Fine Cooking" magazine.  The current issue is an instant classic.  Maybe it was all of those 90 degree days and the dusty drought we've enjoyed here in Indiana, but bring on Fall and all of the wonders of warm comfort food.  Buy this one.  Better yet, subscribe.  Yes, I know it's almost $30 for one year; but go old school and hold that magazine, dog-ear it, prop it up in your cookbook stand (see the "Tailgating" special issue above by my cooktop), make something and send me a note about how much you love it too.  Next recipe to try:  pumpkin enchilada casserole with red chile sauce and poblano pepita salsa.  It sounds almost as complicated as a Bobby Flay recipe, but it also sounds fabulous.

okay, can't figure out how to rotate this image and my IT department is asleep
Last week I stocked up at Trader Joe's before the new Fearless Flyer came out so I'll need to go back soon to try all the new things I didn't see.  But I did pick up a couple of things that I will heartily endorse.  If you've ever had the Mediterranean Veggie sandwich at Panera (and if you haven't, why not?) maybe you've also discovered the joys of peppadew peppers.  They kind of make the sandwich.  Otherwise it's just delicious, soft tomato basil bread, feta, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cilantro jalepeno hummus (they have that at TJ's too by the way) .  As Panera describes them the peppadews are zesty and piquant.  Precisely.  You could add them to salads and dips too.  And they are kind of cute.  Give them a try.

try me!
Now my last little shopping suggestion might be hard to find outside of the great state of Indiana, but these little jams rock!  Two Cookin Sisters from Brookville, Indiana make some amazing canned goods.  Personal favorites (perhaps I've gifted you with some, I do that a lot since I know more about food than wine) are the Strawberry Margarita (yes, there is tequila in it) and the Cherries and Hooch.  Keep them on hand and use them to top cream cheese or goat cheese and serve with crackers.  Try to share with your guests.  I buy mine at the Harvest market here in WestClay or from the Wine Guy (another favorite thing/person/place) in Zionsville, but they're around at other gourmet locations or their website.

keep on hand at all times for spontaneous gracious living

Okay, I should be off to bed but I'll throw in one recipe before I sign off for a week at the beach.  Here's a little something to throw on the grill but since I'm so excited it's not exclusively grilling weather anymore, you can also put this in a dish and cover it to bake it in the oven.

Baked Feta 

8 oz. block of feta cheese, drained (really any size is fine, but use the block not the crumbles)
good olive oil (they always say this, but really you will taste the olive oil so make sure it's one you like)
Tablespoon or so of nice oregano (do your fall cleaning and make sure your herbs in jars are fresh)
4-6 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved (or a roma or two diced)

Please don't get all "I can't make this, she doesn't tell me exactly how to do it".  You really can't mess this up.  Place your block of feta on a sheet of aluminum foil (or in a baking dish just bigger than the block).  Generously sprinkle with oregano.  Toss on the tomatoes.  Generously drizzle olive oil over everything (1-2 Tablespoons for the 8-oz. block).  Fold up the foil to seal (or cover dish tightly with foil).  Bake on grill or in a hot oven (375 degrees or so, just throw it in with something else like maybe bread that you are warming) for 10-15 minutes until melted.  Serve with warm bread or toasted bread slices (you know, slice a baguette and brush with olive oil and then bake or grill a few minutes).

before grilling

oozing cheesy goodness out of the foil and into a Le Creuset stoneware dish

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

let the baking begin

Ahhhh a two-week break from tailgate prep is coming to an end with a pre-emptory strike at this weekend's festivities and the first batch of goodness out of my Dacor ovens, hot chocolate cookies.  Let me first say three things:  one, hallelujah and praise the Lord, Purdue beat Northwestern last weekend; two, nineteen days until Boiler basketball season; and three, you can eat too much cookie dough.

I found this recipe on another food blog which I admire as much for the photography and the layout as the food.  It will be chilly on Saturday, so why not hot chocolate cookies?  Probably taking cider to warm up.  Definitely fixing breakfast casserole, baking coffee cake, cutting up honeycrisp apples and drenching them in lemon juice and ordering Jimmy John's.  Yep, not making the main dish this week.  Our Habitat for Humanity build starts this week and I'll be on site doing Tyvec, windows, doors and roofing most of the day Friday along with providing coffee, treats and lunch for 25 volunteers.  So, just like with the cookie dough there is a limit.  I'm good, but most of the time I am not crazy.  Besides, last year the Jimmy John's tray was awesome and devoured.  Never fear, Thelma and Louise (aka my husband and Lance) will fire up the grill for burgers and dogs.

Here you go, these cookies are delightful and cute.  I made the first two trays without chocolate chips and with mini-marshmallows.  The second batches were made with mini chocolate chips and no mini-marshmallows.  Decide for yourself.  Just be careful and keep your dough "snitching" to an acceptable amount.  I think I need a little restorative tea while I clean up the kitchen.

Did the dishes.  Sipping the tea and ready to share a recipe.

fresh from the oven
Hot Chocolate Cookies

1 C unsalted butter at room temperature
1 C sugar
2/3 C packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/4 C flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
4 envelopes hot chocolate mix (not sugar free)
1 C mini chocolate chips (optional)
1 C mini marshmallows (optional)

Cream butter and sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, soda and hot chocolate mix.  Add flour mixture to batter and mix until well combined.  Stir in chocolate chips if desired.  Chill dough one hour (I didn't do this and the cookies were just fine).  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Drop heaping tablespoons of dough about 2-inches apart on lined sheets.  Bake 8-10 minutes.  If topping with mini marshmallows, remove the cookies after 8 minutes and arrange marshmallows on top and return to oven for 2 minutes.  Cool sheets on racks and remove cookies to cooling racks after 3-5 minutes.  Makes 3 dozen cookies.

surely you have creamed butter and sugar before, but isn't it lovely?

some dry ingredients

the dough without chips

cookies before marshmallows

back in the oven

butternut squash skillet lasagna

Let me apologize right now for the complete and total lack of process and finished photography of today's dish.  Sara requested this delicious casserole a few days ago and when I was assembling the ingredients yesterday I realized the one ingredient I was missing was butternut squash.  Really?  The main ingredient?  I have three other types of squash in the basket in the pantry but forgot that I oven roasted my butternut squash on the weekend.  Oops.  Thankfully the wonderfully convenient Harvest Market in my neighborhood was happy to sell me a lovely butternut squash.  Probably the best part about that story is that I can ride my bike to the Harvest Market and didn't have to roll the Odyssey out one more time.  I had a busy afternoon finishing my deck staining fun and wrapping up laundry for Kelly to take back to Purdue.  That's a seriously long justification for why I did not manage to take any pictures.

This does not sound like the world's easiest recipe, but if you break it down into some steps it's worth the bit of work.  The first step should be gathering your ingredients.  I used no-boil lasagna from Barilla which takes out a step, hurray.  I peeled and sliced my butternut squash, but you can buy chunks of peeled squash in the refrigerator section of Trader Joe's and Costco.  To prep your own, slice the long neck of the squash at it's base separating it from the round end (which has the seeds and very little usable flesh).  Cut off the stem end so you have two flat ends to work with.  Use your nice sharp chef's knife (8-10" knife with a hefty blade, mine is a Santoku chef's knife) to peel the skin from the flesh.  Cut the entire neck across the middle and you have two manageable cylinders of peeled squash.  For this recipe slice off thin sheets for quicker cooking.  Shape does not matter.  Cut and turn and keep slicing.  You also should freshly grate your Parmesan-Reggiano cheese before you begin (of course you can buy the pre-grated/shredded Parmesan in the tubs, I just have a nice big wedge from Costco on hand at all times).  I like the fresh chicken Italian sausage links from Whole Foods in the meat case (I bought 4 links for this dish).  I have also used the Turkey Store Italian sausage links.  Both times I just grab the links and squeeze out the sausage into the pan.  A little extrusion process that's a bit messy, but you can do it.

This recipe is adapted from Williams-Sonoma and greatly lightened.  I use a big non-stick skillet for the onions, sausage and then the white sauce and use my favorite Le Creuset buffet casserole (covered skillet) for the baking.  Use what you have as long as it is ovenproof.

Butternut Squash Skillet Lasagna

1 T olive oil
1 large yellow or sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (start with 1/2 tsp of each)
1 pound mild Italian sausage, casings removed (I like chicken or turkey sausages)
2 T unsalted butter
1/4 C flour
3 C skim milk
I C freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tsp fresh sage, minced (or 1 tsp dried sage)
6 -8 no boil lasagna noodles
2-3 pound butternut squash, neck portion only, peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/2 C chicken broth (can use up to 2 C of broth)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Heat oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Saute onion for 8 minutes until translucent.  Add garlic, salt and pepper and cook an additional 30 seconds.  Transfer to a bowl.  In the same pan, cook the sausage until slightly brown (8-10 minutes) breaking it into small pieces as you go.  Drain sausage if necessary (it isn't with the lean chicken sausage from Whole Foods) and add to onion mixture in bowl.

Wipe the pan and return it to medium heat to melt the butter.  Add the flour and stir to cook for a minute. Slowly whisk in the milk (a flat whisk works well here), increase heat to medium high and continue to whisk and cook until thickened (6-8 minutes).  Stir in 3/4 C of the cheese, the sage and season with a little salt and pepper.

Spread about 1/3 C of the sauce thinly on the bottom of the baking skillet.  Top with a single layer of noodles (my skillet takes two, the no-boil noodles are short and wide).  Spread that noodles with another 1/3 C of sauce (it's fine if you just kind of spoon the sauce on and mainly cover the noodles and just drop a bit more around the noodles), 1/3 of the sausage mixture and 1/3 of the squash.  Repeat the layering two more times, turning the noodles perpendicular of the prior layer and filling in with the sausage and squash.  You should have about 1/3-1/2 C of sauce left in the cooking pan.  Turn up the heat again on this sauce and whisk in the chicken broth and continue to whisk until thickened somewhat (obviously it will be a little thinner than the all-milk original sauce).  Pour this extra sauce over the entire dish making sure to cover all noodles.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 C cheese.  Cover casserole with foil and bake 45 minutes removing the foil the last 5 minutes to brown the cheese a bit (non-stick foil is good for this).
Let stand 5 minutes and serve.

Serve with a nice salad and some warm crusty bread.  Mmmmmm.... love fall food!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Union Pier, Michigan weekend

The second annual weekend on the shores of Lake Michigan has come and gone, but my new Olympus Pen and I documented the trip and we'll share a little travelogue with you this morning.  It's Friday and since I'm in the middle of staining my decks, sorting closets and raking up the robust acorn harvest from our lawn I'll take a little break here and catch up on my writing.
It's a scenic short three-hour drive to Union Pier and when I joined the party late Thursday evening, the other seven members of our group were a couple bottles of wine into the weekend and hungry for dinner at The Roadhouse.  The weather was blustery and the warm comfort foods with a twist were as delicious as remembered.   Pumpkin bread pudding, by the way is as yummy as it sounds.

Greg's fish sandwich, my jambalaya not as photogenic
Friday the girls meandered around the area a bit and stumbled upon Froehlich's (yep, that's a link for you to check out their website) in tiny little Three Oaks.  Colleen Froehlich is living the dream with a beautiful store full of artisan breads, jams, preserves and housewares.  Had we not just enjoyed lunch down the street, the sandwiches, soups and salads would have been delightful (you can tell just by looking).  I admire anyone who cans (I prepare, jar and freeze) and the jars of tomato sauces and salsas beckoned.  I have no trouble spending money on beautiful food and I brought home strawberry rhubarb jam, habanero apricot jam and sandwich chutney (peaches, pear juice and spices) in gorgeous Italian canning jars.  I baked bread Sunday night and five days and many pieces of toast later, the strawberry rhubarb jam is almost half gone.  The Ball Mason quart jar of freshly made raspberry lemonade was good for a chug or two straight from the jar before Saturday night's meeting with some vodka for drinks for the chef.

We gathered up groceries at farm stands along the way and at the Barney's market in New Buffalo for that night's dinner.  This is my favorite way to cook.  I love a good plan with hours spent pouring over recipes, making lists and cooking but really I love thinking on my feet and throwing something together even more.  Maureen's idea to bring my ipod speakers into the kitchen was sheer genius.  We prepped, chopped, sauteed, baked and let Greg help us on the grill all the while humming, singing and moving to the music (I hesitate to call anything I do dancing, you can't be good at everything).  Good times.  Anyway, I butterflied a chicken, baked some squash, roasted tomatoes for a pasta sauce and Maureen sauteed some zucchini and tossed a beautiful salad.  Dawn and Tracy set out a bountiful appetizer spread on the deck while things in the kitchen hummed along.  The sunset was spectacular and off across the lake out on the horizon amazingly you could see the Chicago skyline with the gorgeous autumn gold glow of the sun reflecting off the Sear's tower (I know it has a new name, but it's the Sear's tower).  My pictures don't do it justice, it was spectacular.  Dinner in, music, drinks, friends, mild weather and a stunning sunset made for an indelible memory.  

please note the assorted tableware from the rental home

Baked Acorn Squash

acorn squash
brown sugar
rosemary sprigs

Halve your acorn squash at the equator.  Scoop out seeds and any stringy flesh.  Turn cut side down and place in a baking dish.  Add about 1-inch of water to the dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or so until flesh is fork tender.  Remove from dish, turn cut side up and add a little pat of butter, a tablespoon of brown sugar and a sprinkling of rosemary to the well.  Serve hot.  

Pasta with Roasted Tomato Sauce

ripe tomatoes (any type, any quantity)
olive oil
garlic, minced
thyme sprigs
rosemary sprigs

Wash and halve tomatoes, arrange in a baking pan, drizzle generously with olive oil, sprinkle minced garlic, thyme leaves, and rosemary leaves atop tomatoes.  Grind some sea salt and some black pepper over the mixture.  Toss a bit and roast in a very hot oven, 425-450 degrees for about 20 minutes until tomatoes burst and juices start to caramelize a bit.  Keep roasting and tossing every now and then for 10 to 20 minutes more if you like it browner (up to you, fine after 20 minutes).  Just keep an eye on that hot oven because burnt garlic will ruin your dish.  

Toss with hot pasta.  Serve with Parmesan-Reggiano if desired.

Saturday morning after a brisk walk with my Greg; Tracy, her Greg and I set off for the farmer's market. This is another place I have no trouble spending money.  I bought some Arkansas Black apples because of their unusual color (darker than pictured) and well, who has ever heard of them?  Supposedly they will be good for baking and for sauce (already made my apple sauce for the year from transparents and it is safely "put up" in the freezer because I have a huge chest freezer and lack the patience for canning).  Also bought the mother of all cauliflowers, plums, beautiful green beans, butternut squash and apple honey (haven't tried it yet, but the little apple orchard pollinating bees make it so it's probably fabulous).  Also visited the Season's Harvest (yep, another link) for Southwest Barbecue Sauce (loved the Midwest version last year), Lemon Herb Salad Enlightener (loved the Blush flavor last year) and Butterscotch Schnapps dessert topping for my dad.  Yum.  

Saturday afternoon brought grey skies, strong winds and eventually rain but luckily we snuck in our side trip to Round Barn brewery and winery before the wet weather arrived.  After lunch at The Stray Dog (a place where apparently everyone goes for Saturday lunch and not just because the "Sit Stay" t-shirts are so cute), the boys took a turn at grocery shopping.  Lots of football later (and thank God, Purdue had a bye so we didn't stress over that debacle), we served up some appetizers and the famous steak dinner was on.  Lance whipped up an amazing dish of twice baked potato casserole to go with the steaks, sauteed mushrooms and aspargus.  Manly and delicious food.

just kind of love this sign from Round Barn Brewery

cutest beer logo ever, so cute I actually had a beer last year to get the glass
One last little food note.  I took along some food finds from Whole Foods and served them to rave reviews.  Their Caramel Dip is, as I say, "fully leaded" (aka full fat, full sugar, full on delicious) and so rich and caramel-y brown that I had to buy it.  Served with some honeycrisp apples it is heaven.  Just the other day they mixed it half and half with marscapone (Italian cheese similar to cream cheese if you haven't tried it) and served it with Pumpkin Pecan bread.  So good I bought the bread to serve with soup this week.  Maybe I'll walk an extra mile or two and try the caramel/marscapone for a football appetizer this weekend.  Also tried the Mt. Tam triple creme cheese from Cowgirl Creamery in California.  Splurge.  Worth it.  Served it with their Adriatic Fig Preserves.  Also good with fig/hazelnut cracker thins (I would tell you who makes them, but the wrapper and the crackers are long gone).

Mt. Tam triple creme, fig preserves, honeycrisps, black grapes