Butternut Squash and Feta

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When I read a review of The New Rules, by Christopher Kimball, I just knew I had to own it. It is a book of “recipes that will change the way you cook.”

This is part of his introduction: Rules are a mixed blessing. They are useful in building a foundation of knowledge, whether in music or cooking. But they also create boundaries that can dampen improvisation. The New Rules is our attempt to do both, to create a communal starting point for a new way to cook… while also inspiring home cooks to abandon rigid culinary notions.

A few examples – Water for stock. Putting the sweet back into savory. Blooming spices. Bitter and charred as flavors. Herbs as greens.. and etc.

I’ve already made one recipe from this book – spicy stir fried green beans – which was really good.

For the blog I chose to make this butternut squash dish because Mr. Kimball states that “a sprinkling of crumbled feta cheese balances the dish with sharp, salty notes and dill adds a fresh flavor and fragrance.”

Sorry Chris, but I’m just not fond of dill.

The lesson in this dish is caramelizing, or toasting the couscous prior to cooking to enhance its flavor.

This is obviously a vegetarian dish, but grilled chicken or pork could be added, or this can be a side dish to those proteins. To serve this, I chose a pesto-slathered chicken breast.

Butternut Squash and Feta, with Toasted Pearl Couscous

4 tablespoons extra-virgin oil, divided
1 cup pearl couscous
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2” cubes
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 bay leaves
2 cups water (I used broth)
1 – 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed, drained
1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus lemon wedges to serve
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons chopped dill, divided

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Add the couscous and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.


In the same pot over medium high, heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil until shimmering. Add the squash, then stir in 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

The last time I cut up a butternut squash my hand almost fell off, so I decided to test out this frozen kabocha (pumpkin) instead. It was completely thawed first.

Distribute in an even layer and cook without stirring until well browned, 3-5 minutes. Stir occasionally and continue to cook until a skewer inserted into the largest piece meets no resistance, another 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside.

Return the pot to medium-high. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, the onion, garlic, and 1 teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic begins to brown, 2-3 minutes. Add the cumin and bay, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.


Stir in 2 cups of water and the couscous. Cover and simmer until the couscous is tender but not mushy, about 7 minutes.

Off heat, remove and discard the bay. Stir in the chickpeas, squash, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of dill.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon dill and the feta.


Serve with lemon wedges.

As I mentioned, I omitted the dill.


This is truly fabulous. The couscous holds up really well, and the frozen butternut squash did as well.

If I have to be honest I wouldn’t like the butternut squash mixture as much without the feta, but that’s just me!

Chicken with Chick Peas, Tomatoes, and Chorizo

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You all know that I’m kind of a stubborn gal. Trends of all kinds send me in the opposite direction. I did love bell bottoms, but I was young and silly then. I will never get long pointy fingernails that seems de rigeur these days. I’m too practical. Besides I’d mostly like slice my eyeballs.

When it comes to food, I’m the same, although I’m the first to admit that I’ve been wrong. I married a guy with an orange crock pot. Never used it. Now they’re called slow cookers. I bought one and use it. Pesto and sun-dried tomatoes were on every menu in the 80’s, so none for me. Very silly. And then there was cauliflower rice. Made my eyes roll, but the recipe I made was really good! Bowls? Why does food have to be in bowls? I’ll never have an instapot, but that’s mostly cause I don’t need anything insta anymore with no kids at home.


Which brings me to when I first started noticing tray bakes and sheet pan bakes and the sort. Even my beloved Nigella put food baked in a jelly roll pan on Instagram. Really? A jelly roll pan is just a shallow baking dish!!!

Once again, I broke down once I saw the cookbook, The Roasting Tin, by Rukmini Iyer. It’s “simple one dish dinners.” Which I’m assuming are different than one pot dinners?!! Sorry, I can’t help myself.

The Roasting Tin, below left, was published in 2017, followed in 2018 by The Green Roasting Tin.

To be fair, I bookmarked a number of good sounding recipes in the cookbook. The recipes are easy and I trust that the main ingredients come out of the oven all cooked properly, because the authors seems quite popular. One pot tray-bake meals do cut out any preliminary steps like sautéing or browning or par-boiling.

This is the recipe I chose to make first.

Chicken with Chorizo, Chick Peas, and Tomatoes

1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
100 grams or 3.5 ounces chorizo, roughly chopped
1 – 400 gram tin of chickpeas, drained
1 – 400 grams or 14 ounce tin of tomatoes
300 milliliter or 10 ounces water
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1.4 kilograms or 3 pounds chicken thighs
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C or 350 degrees F. Place the onion, garlic, rosemary, chorizo, chickpeas and tomatoes in a roasting tin, and use the water to rinse out the tomato tin before pouring it in with everything else. Season well with salt and pepper.


Arrange the chicken thighs over the tomato mixture, and rub with the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, then transfer to the oven and roast for 40 minutes.

Turn the heat up to 200 degrees C or 400 degrees F and roast for a further 50 minutes, until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through.

Taste the sauce, season as needed with salt and black pepper, and serve hot.

So, have I ever in my million years of cooking thrown purple onions in with sweet potatoes when roasting? Sure. Have I ever cooked chicken and sausages in the same roasting pan? Of course.

However, this book does have some unique ideas, and I can’t deny the fact that it is fun to cook a whole meal in a “tray” with minimal preparation and mess!

Although if you noticed, I did use a roasting pan. My jelly-roll pans warp when they’re in the oven, which would have created a terrible mess.

I’m sure the author will forgive me for not using a tray.

Socca

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When I travel, I like to try local specialties. It’s just part of the fun of eating and drinking in other countries. But learning about different foods and experiencing them is also a huge part of becoming a better cook.

I’ve had haggis in Scotland (a bit bland), banana beer in Rwanda (terrible), conch in the Cayman Islands (incredible.) Two foods I’ve refused to try were Casu Marzu in Corsica, a cheese covered in live maggots, and red-sauced, still-moving snails in Spain.

I’ll probably never eat fried spiders, grilled grasshoppers, and definitely not barbecued guinea pigs. So I guess I’m not the most adventurous when in comes to experiencing local food, but I do my best.

In the fall of 2015, my husband and I traveled to France, to begin a magical two-week road trip. Our guide was the incomparable Stéphane Gabart, from the blog My French Heaven. This was my third time visiting him. He knows and loves France, and he has great passion for French food and wine. He’s a professional chef, photographer, he’s really funny, and best of all, he’s my friend.

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On this trip we traveled throughout Provence, stopping in quaint villages. Stéphane planned lunch in Castelnaudary, just so we could experience authentic cassoulet. And when we reached le Côte d’Azur, we enjoyed traditional bouillabaise in Cassis. In Avignon, I ordered pieds paquets, or veal toes, after treating myself to snails (the kind that are not alive).

Before leaving Nice to return home, I wanted to try a local specialty socca. I must have seen it in a cookbook, but had no idea what to expect. I expected socca to look more like cornbread, but it was more crêpe-like.

What makes socca different is that it’s made with garbanzo bean flour and not wheat flour.

The restaurant where we lunched in vieux Nice is at the left of the plaza.

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At our final lunch together, I ordered socca with a Salade Niçoise and this is what it looked like.

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Just for fun, I thought I should recreate socca at home. I am using a recipe from the blog Foodie Underground, written by Anna Brones.

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Mine don’t look quite the same as what I had in Nice, but they were good!

Here’s what I did.

Socca
Makes 8 – 6″ in diameter

1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup garbanzo bean/chick pea flour
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon salt

This is the garbanzo bean flour I used for the socca.

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk well.

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At this point, the batter is watery. Cover with a dish towel and put the bowl in the refrigerator for one hour minimum. The batter will thicken, but still be a “thin” batter.

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Lightly oil a large round flat skillet. I used my Le Creuset crêpe pan that came with a little wooden tool. I’ve never used it for crêpes, just flatbreads!

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Turn the heat to high. When the oil is smoking, gently pour a scant 1/3 cup of the batter onto the skillet, much as you would a crêpe.
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The high heat really grabs the batter. You can see little holes forming around the edges.
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Wait just until the middle of the socca has firmed up, then flip it over. To best assist with flipping the socca, I used a giant spatula that I usually only use for moving pastry. It’s really thin.

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Flip over and cook for just about 30 seconds. This one got a little too browned on the first side.

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While still warm, I folded the socca into quarters. My French socca were definitely more pliable than these.

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To serve with the socca, I put together a green salad with some fun goodies.

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The vinaigrette is a creamy lemon and parsley.

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The socca were fantastic. I really loved the flavor of the Herbes de Provence.

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Other recipes for socca list cumin or rosemary.

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I’ve also seen recipes for socca that are thicker and cooked in the oven, served in wedges. I’m definitely going to experiment more because there is obviously more than one way to make socca. Plus, there are Ligurian recipes for the Italian version, called farinata, which makes sense since Liguria is so close to Nice.

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Notice the lacy look of my socca.
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The taste is really lovely, and there was no bitterness from the garbanzo bean flour. Their look is so-so, but I’d definitely make these unique pancakes again!

If you’re interested, check out highlights of our trip here Je Ne Regrette Rien.

Beet Hummus

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Firstly, I have to clarify that this recipe is not a true hummus. Personally, I don’t really love hummus. I mean, it can be good, but there are a lot of bad ones out there – at restaurants and pre-packaged at stores like Central Market and Whole Foods. Some are too lemony, some are tasteless, and sometimes the hummus is mealy. I prefer a softer, smoother texture that I get from using white beans instead of garbanzos.

So this recipe is actually a white bean dip recipe made with beets. There is no lemon and no tahini and no garbanzos. It’s just sometimes easier to say or write hummus, rather than white bean dip!

I recently made beet ravioli again, and this time I used canned whole beets to see if there was a difference in the beet filling, as compared to using roasted beets. As it turns out, that there wasn’t any difference.

With all of the many different variation of white bean dip I’ve made over the years, I’ve never included beets, and I decided to change that immediately!

For the beet ravioli filling, the cooked beets are finely processed, placed in cheesecloth in a colander over a bowl, and weighted down. This serves two purposes – the juice is collected for a reduction, and the beets dry out to create a denser filling. So keep in mind that these beets have been squeezed “dry.”

So this is what I did today:
white bean and beet dip
White Bean and Beet Dip

1 – 15 ounce can Great Northern white beans
1/4 cup minced cooked beets
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
Pinch of salt
Olive oil, about 1/4 cup
Olive oil for drizzling
Valbreso, or other feta cheese, optional

Drain the white beans well in a colander. I give mine a rinse as well.
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Place the beans in the jar of a food processor. Add the beets*, garlic, cumin, and salt.
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Process, pouring in a little olive oil at a time until the mixture is fairly smooth. Scrape down, and process until the bean dip is smooth.
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Serve immediately, with pita triangles or crackers. If desired, drizzle a little olive oil on top of the dip.

A little crumbled feta cheese on top is also tasty!
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* You don’t have to squeeze the liquid from cooked beets for this recipe, but you may not need as much olive oil if you don’t. Just add the oil slowly, until the proper consistency is reached.

note: The next time I make this, which I will, I will use 1/3 of a cup of beets, instead of the 1/4 cup I used. The beet flavor is surprisingly a bit subdued. I could used less garlic and cumin, but I really was after that beet, garlic, and cumin flavor combo!
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If you’re interested in my other white bean dip recipes on which I’ve posted, check out white bean dip, and another white bean dip!