Friday, October 28, 2011

Butternut Squash Pizza with Chicken and Caramelized Onions

For the last few weeks, our Friday pizza nights have been the same. Pepperoni with olives. Nothing wrong with that combo- but...a little boring after awhile. I had two motives to try something out of the ordinary. 1) I was bored with plain old pepperoni and 2) I had some butternut squash in the fridge begging to be made into something delectable. As I was looking through recipes containing the sweet orange gourd, I happened upon the suggestion of pizza. Squash on pizza? Sounds a little strange. But so many people in various corners of the world wide web were raving about it, so I thought it couldn't be all bad. And after my recent soup experience, I was ready to have an open mind toward this glorious vegetable (or is it a fruit?). I searched for awhile, looking for the perfect combination of ingredients I currently possessed and ingredients that sounded appetizing together. Nothing really fit the bill, so I finally decided to make up my own combo. And, boy, it was a winner, if I do say so myself!

I decided to top a thick and chewy crust with a white, almost Alfredo type sauce, then layer on roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, chicken, and mozzarella cheese.
This was definitely a much more involved pizza than I'm used to. There were a lot of steps, but, like the soup, it would be well worth it once in awhile.
 The thin, whole wheat crust I usually make is a jiffy, and doesn't require any rising time, so the pizza is usually together in under 30 min. However, for this masterpiece, I decided to try a more traditional, thicker crust, and used Paula Deen's "Basic Pizza Crust"- it was absolutely delicious! But, it required 45 min of rise time, so I got to work on that.
Meanwhile, I also started the squash roasting. I cut it into 1 in. chunks, tossed them in olive oil (the chunks amounted to a little over a cup) and roasted them on a baking sheet at 450 for 20 min.
While the squash was roasting, I started the onions doing their beautiful thing in a shallow pan on the stove top. They sizzled away for a good 30 min in hot butter and a little olive oil, releasing their natural sugars to make a beautifully brown, sweet pan of deliciousness. Even if you are not a fan of onions in general, I urge you to try caramelizing them. They are simply transformed! The harsh, pungent, tangy onion becomes a mellow, sweet, slightly crispy delectable addition to pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, omelets, etc!
While the dough was rising, the squash was roasting, and the onions were caramelizing (this is beginning to sound like a Dr. Seuss book!) I got the white sauce going. Most meals I make (and certainly not pizza) don't have this many "irons in the fire" as it were, but I thought it was sort of fun thing to do on a cold, quiet afternoon.
Anyhow, I simply made up the white sauce in my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (the cheese version- using Parmesan cheese), cutting all of the amounts in half. It still made enough to cover two pizzas (the dough also makes enough for two pizzas, so I froze one half of it).
Once the dough had done it's thing, I stretched it out and topped it with the sauce, the squash, the onions, some cubed chicken, and then sprinkled it with cheese (I used a pizza blend containing mozzarella, cheddar and provolone). I really wished I had access to ricotta or feta or something a little more fun, but alas! our little market did not have it. Then I popped the whole thing in the fridge.
When I baked it later, I wanted to try out the new pizza stone my brother and sister-in-law (cooks and fellow bloggers themselves!) gave me for my birthday, but was sadly disappointed when my pizza stubbornly refused to slide off the pizza pan and onto the heated stone. I pulled and tried spatulas, but to no avail. I think I shall have to invest in the famed "pizza peel" or else try freezing the pizza first for easier transportation. However, the pizza baked up beautifully on the pizza pan, and it was delicious!

Disappearing fast...
We ate almost the whole pizza between the two of us, and thoroughly enjoyed the delightful co-mingled unusual flavors. On the whole the flavors were very understated, with the simple white sauce a perfect back drop for the sweet and mellow squash and onion. What a great discovery!

Butternut Squash Pizza with Chicken and Caramelized Onions
(printable version)
a KitchenJoy original recipe (with help)
Makes 1 12-14 in. pizza

pizza dough of your choice
1/2 recipe white sauce (recipe follows)
1-1 1/2 cups cubed peeled butternut squash, roasted
1/2-1 cup diced cooked chicken breast
1 medium onion, sliced and caramelized
1/2 cup or so cheese of choice

Spread pizza dough in pan. Cover with white sauce. Top with squash, chicken and onions. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake according to dough directions.

White Sauce (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)
Makes enough for 2 12in. pizzas
1 TB butter
1 TB flour
dash salt
dash pepper
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Melt butter on stove top. Whisk in flour, salt, and pepper; heat till smooth and bubbly. Stir in milk. Heat to boiling; boil 1 min or until thickened. Stir in cheese until melted and smooth. 

Source for dough:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Butternut Squash & Carrot Soup

Here I am with another soup recipe! Yesterday (Wednesday, my "soup day") I decided to step a bit outside of my comfort zone and my usual routine.

I almost strictly adhere to my crock-pot on Wednesdays, as I don't usually have much time to attend to the kitchen and I need something that can keep for awhile if we get detained at our Kid's Club, Awana (which we don't mind and which usually happens! :). But, after musing on it for awhile, the adventure of trying a squash soup became appealing to me. I have never tried any sort of squash soup before, but last fall and winter, my foray into the world of acorn, spaghetti, and butternut squash (and of course, pumpkin!) convinced me that my former preconceived ideas about squash were likely all wrong. Now I can add squash soup to that list of things I was wrong about! Usually, I hate to be wrong. But when being wrong comes in such a delightful package as a warm, tasty, spicy-sweet (not to mention, healthy!) soup, I can much more cheerfully accept it!
This soup was a bit more work than most soups I make, but once in awhile it would be well worth the effort. Butternut squash is a very versatile squash, being tasty roasted, pureed, grilled, or even microwaved, if you're short on time. It is rather sweet and nutty, very similar in flavor to pumpkin.

Orange seems to be the color of the day
I think if you cooked and mashed it, it could probably be substituted for pumpkin in any recipe. It is also extremely healthy! It is an excellent source of both vitamins A and E, as well as fiber, even making the list of the 10 best foods as compiled by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (right up there with salmon and sweet potatoes)! This delicious, creamy soup also weighs in at a mere 150 calories or less per serving!
The first step is to slice the squash in half and remove the seeds and stringy stuff inside.

Hang onto those valuable little seeds!
But wait! Don't throw those seeds away! Separate them from the strings and wash and dry them to use later. Next you peel the squash, which I accomplished with my vegetable peeler, although I'm not sure it was the best method. After peeling, I diced it into about 1 in. cubes. The recipe called for 3 cups and my squash was about a medium size, so I only ended up needing half of it (which actually amounted to almost 4 cups, but I put the extra in anyway). I'm still dreaming about what to do with the other half. After cubing the squash, as well as slicing up carrots and dicing some sweet onion, I put it all in a big saucepan and sauteed it in butter for about 10 min.

Once the onions were transparent and soft, I added the chicken broth and simmered until everything was tender. After this step, and letting it slightly cool, the recipe called for pureeing everything in batches in a blender. But if you posses the awesome little tool called an immersion blender, I highly recommend you use it here. It is so easy and works like a dream! I use mine quite often- they work very well for blending soups and sauces, as well as dressings and gravy. I simply put the whole pot in the sink (to avoid splatter) and blended everything until almost completely smooth.

See how easy that is? Christmas is coming...

Once smooth and creamy, I stirred in nutmeg, pepper and half and half. Then came the taste test. Mmmm. I couldn't stop dipping my spoon into that beautiful golden-orange soup! It was heavenly! A perfect marriage of sweetness and spice, all wrapped up in a creamy, smooth goodness that slides so warmly down your throat. Tastes (and looks!) like Autumn in a bowl.

I made our soup ahead of time and found it worked well to refrigerate it, then warm it up on low in the crock-pot for 2-3 hours. We had it as a main dish, but if you don't want to go vegetarian (or almost vegetarian, due to the chicken broth) it would also work well as a side or starter to a meatier entree. I served it with an olive and cheese bread from the Brown Eyed Baker's blog.

The bread was beautiful and very tasty, but a little bit too eggy and tasted a little too much like olive oil for my preference. Might be better toasted, or with melted butter or another oil subbed for the olive oil. I love olive oil, but it was just a bit too overpowering for me.

Oh, remember those seeds you saved? Once they are dry, put them on a baking sheet and toast them at 375 for 10-15 minutes (watch closely so they don't burn!) and you have a perfect topping for your soup- no waste here!

Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup
(printable version)
from the Better Homes & Gardens Cook Book
serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side

3-4 cups peeled, diced butternut squash
2 cups thinly sliced carrot
3/4 cup thinly sliced leek or chopped onion
1 TB butter
2 (14 oz.) cans chicken broth
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup half and half
toasted squash or pumpkin seeds for garnish

In a large saucepan, cook squash, carrot and onion in hot butter over medium heat for 8 min., stirring occasionally. Add broth. Bring to boiling; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25-35 min, or until tender. Cool slightly.
Place one-third of the mixture in blender and process until nearly smooth. Repeat with remaining (or here is where you can simply employ your handy-dandy immersion blender!). Return all to saucepan. Add pepper and nutmeg, bring just to boiling. Add half and half; heat through. Garnish each serving with seeds if desired.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Monthly Menu- October/November

Finally, I'm getting around to making up a menu. Part of the reason it's been delayed is that we have been adjusting our budget and have begun to start our budget more in the middle of the month instead of the beginning. So my menus now will not start at the beginning of the month, which probably doesn't matter a whole lot to you...

Week 1 (Oct. 25-29)

Tamale Pie
Totally stole the idea to make this from my sister-in-law's menu, but it was a favorite in our house growing up, and I don't think I've ever made it for my husband!
Butternut Squash & Carrot Soup with Sandwiches
I am sort of going out on a limb by trying a squash soup, as I have never had one, but it sounds good and healthy and I think it will be worth a try!
Honey-Ginger Chicken Stir Fry with White Rice
Delicious, healthy and easy!
My birthday, so...not sure yet what's going on. ;)

Week 2 (Nov. 1-5)

Lasagna with Rolls and a Salad
Not a true lasagna, but an easier and still delicious cousin. I'm going to try swapping turkey for the ground beef.
Lentil & Turkey Italian Sausage Soup with Biscuits or Cornbread
Hearty and healthy!
Amish Pumpkin Pancakes with Turkey Bacon and Fresh Fruit
I'm so excited to try this recipe from Catz in the Kitchen!
Creamy Chicken Taquitos with Spanish Rice
Delicious homemade taquitos from Our Best Bites.

Week 3 (Nov. 8-12)

Chicken Tortilla Soup
From the freezer.
Pork Chops and Mashed Potatoes
I think I'll use my homemade "Shake 'n' Bake"
Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese
We'll be leaving on a trip Tuesday, so I'm hoping my cupboards will be mostly empty by this time...

Green Bean Casserole 
For our Thanksgiving-style potluck
Hamburger Vegetable Soup
For our Harvest Carnival

{Beware: Cuteness Overload!}: Candy Corn Sugar Cookies

As I was minding my own business the other day, making my way around the blogosphere, checking out my favorite sites, I stumbled upon a recipe that made my "cute-o-meter" rocket sky high.

 They are, simply, sugar cookies, but the form they take is absolutely adorable- they look just like candy corn! I happen to love candy corn (one of the few things I do like about Halloween), so I knew these cookies had to be made.

 I won't go into details about the preparation, since Sara over at Our Best Bites does an excellent job on all of that. I'll simply share my pictures with you, since they are so all-fired cute! Having no particular favorite of my own, I used her simple sugar cookie dough recipe as well. Happy baking!

Divide the dough into 3 parts, color one part orange, one part yellow, one part, leave plain

Flatten dough into loaf pan and layer. Chill

Slice into rectangles, then slice into triangles- so easy!

Dust with sugar or dip in sprinkles for extra fun!

Prepare for hungry trick-or-treaters!

Source: Our Best Bites

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mini Apple Crisp

My list of things to love about autumn is getting so long! All the beautiful colors, falling leaves, pumpkins, soup, spices, scented candles, cuddling under warm blankets, the first frost, foggy mornings, crisp sunshine, and...apples. The smell of apples- fresh apples, cooked apples, overripe wild apples dropping to the ground to be harvested by hungry winter-wary animals. The look of apples, not-quite-round and shiny, coming in just as many shades as the leaves that are already dropping from the trees along the river. The taste of apples- crisp and fresh, varying as much in texture and flavor as they do in autumnal hues, ranging from sweet and mellow to tangy and downright sour.
Several days ago, in a quandary over what to make for National Dessert Day (thank you to whomever began this  wonderful excuse to whip up something sweet!), I decided I must use my newly purchased little ramekins. I debated over the ideas of custards and souffles and creme brulees, but my mind kept wandering back to the thought of an adorable and simple little apple crisp. Perfect! I was also sick with a cold, so minimal effort and homey comfort was especially appealing.
The crisps were delightfully cute- and a delicious taste of fall in every bite!

Aren't they cute? :)

Miniature Apple Crisp
(printable version)
makes 4 individual servings (I think my ramekins are 4 oz. If you have larger ones, this will probably only serve 2)
a KitchenJoy original recipe

1-1/2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into small cubes
2-3 TB half and half cream
2-3 TB sugar

2 TB oats
2 TB brown sugar
2 TB flour
2 TB butter, softened

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease ramekins. Mix apples, cream, sugar and spices (to taste). Divide apple mixture evenly among ramekins. Mix oats, brown sugar, flour and spices (to taste) together; cut in butter. Sprinkle mixture evenly over apples. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 25-35 min., or until topping is browned and apples are tender and bubbly. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Crock-Pot Chicken Stew

So, as you see, I am still on a soup kick. In fact, I may be on a soup kick for awhile! These chilly fall days have me hankering constantly for that pleasant aroma to fill my home and that warm, hearty liquid to slip down my throat. Especially on days like yesterday (and today)- when I'm down with a cold. I had planned on our usual Friday night pizza, but when I woke up feeling under the weather, I decided something a little more soothing was in order. A favorite stand-by of ours (especially since I almost always have all the ingredients!), Crock-Pot Chicken Stew, sounded perfect. This recipe was given to me in a box of family favorites by my sisters as a wedding gift. It is a treasure and this particular recipe comes from my sister-in-law, Chelsia over at Catz in the Kitchen! It is an extremely comforting, adaptable soup, equally at home with your company dinner as with your curl-up-on-the-couch dinner. It can be served alone or with the addition of some fresh hot biscuits, rolls, French bread or corn muffins.

Crock-Pot Chicken Stew
(printable version)
serves 4-6

2-3 medium potatoes, cubed (you can leave the skins on or peel, whatever your preference)
2-3 large carrots, sliced (about 2 cups)
2 stalks celery, sliced
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 lb. chicken breast, cubed (it is best if you use uncooked chicken, because it ends up so tender if it is simmered long in the broth)
2 (14 oz) cans chicken broth (or substitute homemade broth)- divided
2/3 cup flour
1 tsp dried basil
3/4 tsp dried rosemary
3/4 tsp dried tarragon
1/4 cup heavy cream (or half and half)
3/4-1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Combine carrots, celery and all but 1 cup chicken broth in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 2 hrs. (Sometimes if I'm in a hurry or I won't be around later, I skip this step and simply cook the whole thing- minus cream, salt and pepper- on low 6-8 hrs). 
Stir flour into remaining broth until smooth. Stir into slow cooker, add chicken, peas, potatoes and herbs. Cover and cook 4 hrs on high. 
Stir in salt, pepper and cream.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Soup's On! {Crock-Pot Beefy Cabbage Soup}

Fall brings many things, and one of them that we certainly look forward to is the starting of our church's Awana Kid's Club! It is a fun program, and Travis & I both greatly enjoy working with the kiddos in our community.
Last year, I started a tradition for our little family of "Crock-Pot Wednesdays". It is hard for us to eat before Awana, since it starts at 6, and I never feel like cooking afterwards, so the Crock-Pot is the perfect solution. The house smells wonderful, and it's ready to eat when we walk in the door! I experimented with a few different Crock-Pot meals last year (such as lasagna and tamale pie), with disastrous results. Since I never know exactly when we'll get home, those types of meals didn't seem to be working out. So I decided to go with soup, which, if you choose the right type, can be left simmering for hours and just keeps improving! We discovered many new and delicious homemade soups, and as soon as the rain set in and Awana was on the horizon, we started to look forward to beginning our "Soup Nights" again.
I had a leftover half a roast in the freezer, so the first recipe I pulled out was a "Beefy Cabbage Soup" I had found in's "Southern Food" section but never got around to trying. We experimented with cabbage soup last year, and both loved it! It is so healthy, and when I worked out the cost, amounts to just a few dollars a meal! It is hearty and filling and fills your home with delightful smells! Even if you don't like cabbage, I'd encourage you to give it a try!
Tip: most soups without lots of rice or noodles freeze tremendously well, so don't be afraid to fill your Crock-Pot even if, like us, there are only a couple of you! It makes for a very easy meal later- I just barely defrost it and plop it into the Crock-Pot again to let it completely defrost and heat up. So simple!

Crock Pot Beefy Cabbage Soup
(printable version)
by Diana Rattray, on
tweaked by Jenn
makes 6-8 servings

1/2 head of cabbage, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium sized carrots, sliced thinly
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 TB rice
4-5 cups beef broth (or 3 to 4 cans)- I saved the liquid from when I cooked the roast and used that in place of some of the beef broth for extra flavor!
1 or 2 meaty soup bones, or 3 cups leftover roast, cut into chunks
2 cans (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
savory seasoning to taste
parsley to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all in slow cooker. Simmer for 8-10 hours or until vegetables are tender.

This recipe is linked to:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fall Pork Chop Skillet & Prune-Plum Crisp

So I'm having to ease into fall again...and food always helps. Letting go of summer is so much easier when you spend a rainy afternoon cooking and baking. So that's what I did today! I was feeling a bit on the inventive side and unsatisfied with other recipes, so I decided to go sans recipe! This is getting easier for me to do, the more I experiment with flavors, but I still come to the kitchen with much trepidation, always a little afraid I'll mix the wrong spices or flavors and end up with a horrible tasting dinner! When Travis & I went shopping last night, I did intentionally pick up pork, apples and cabbage, but I wasn't sure exactly how I was going to combine them. They are certainly a common assortment of flavors, but I wasn't really liking any of the recipes I found (or the ingredients weren't on hand), so I took a handful of ideas I had seen and started cooking! Here's how it went down:
I took two thickly cut boneless pork chops (salted & peppered) and seared them in olive oil till just browned on either side. While the pork was searing, I mixed together a few things...brown sugar, white cooking wine, vinegar, thyme, rosemary, lemon juice and apple juice. Unfortunately, I didn't measure anything, so when I post the recipe, everything's approximate! 
Once the pork was evenly browned, I added the liquid mixture, plus some chicken broth and a bay leaf, got it simmering, and put the lid on. While it was simmering, I chopped some Granny Smith apples, cabbage, and sweet yellow onions. 

When the pork had simmered about a half hour, I added the apples, cabbage and onions and covered it again and simmered it for another half hour. After that, I removed the pork and the cabbage, apples & onions with a slotted spoon and turned the stove on high, reducing the liquid for about 7-10 minutes, whisking in 3 TB flour to make a sort of gravy. This was absolutely delicious! We served ours over rice in a shallow bowl. It was a hearty, fallish blend of sweet and sour and bursts of flavor, thanks to the apple. Mmmm!

I recently discovered, to my great delight, two loaded Italian prune-plum trees in the vacant lot behind our house. But it also came with a puzzle. We had one of these trees in our front yard when I was growing up, and the only thing we really ever did with them was to eat them plain as they ripened on the tree. My mom and I made jelly from the red plum trees bordering our property, but we never really knew what to do with the small, deep purple, yellow-fleshed, tart fruit that grew on the little tree in the yard. I am not sure if I want to tackle it yet, but these do seem like they would make delicious and beautiful jam. However, I ripened a bowl of these little beauties on the counter for a few days, and tonight I decided to make them into a crisp. 

Aren't they just beautiful?

I simply quartered the fruit, removed the pit and mixed them with some sugar. This prune-plum is quite tart, especially if they aren't fully ripe, so I made sure to taste them as I sugared them. Then I sprinkled a typical crisp topping of flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter on top and baked it in a 375 oven for about 35 min. Wow. As the plums cooked, the dark purple skin turned the yellow flesh into a gorgeous reddish, jewel-like color, and the fruit turned into this gooey, sticky, jammish yummyness. To me the flavor was almost akin to cherry, with a sweet first flavor and a tangy aftertaste. Love it. It definitely tastes like fall to me.

Couldn't stop eating long enough to get a good picture, haha!

 Mmm...ok, summer, move over. Fall is winning my heart, one meal at a time.

Pork Chop Skillet
(printable version)
 a KitchenJoy original recipe
with more pork, this could feed at least 3, maybe 4 

2 boneless, thick cut pork chops
2 TB brown sugar
1/4 cup white cooking wine
2-3 TB vinegar
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp rosemary
2-3 tsp lemon juice
1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/4-1/3 of a large head of cabbage (shredded)
1 Granny Smith apple, sliced
1 small yellow onion, quartered
3 TB flour

Sear pork chops in olive oil in large skillet. Combine next 7 ingredients, pour over pork chops, add broth and bay leaf. Simmer 30 minutes. Add cabbage, apples and onion slices. Simmer another 30 minutes. Remove pork, cabbage, apples and onion, whisk in the flour and turn up the heat, reducing the liquid for 7-10 min. Serve over rice, pouring "gravy" over pork chop.
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