Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Freeing the Seed: A Review of Pomegranate Seed Removal Methods and A Few of My Favorite Pomegranate Recipes

This is a pomegranate. Right now, we are at the tail-end of pomegranate season. They are still available at your local grocer for a reasonable price. A few weeks ago, at the peak of pomegranate season, I could find them for less than a dollar per fruit. I love pomegranate season first and foremost because my kiddos love pomegranate. At this time of year it's a healthy, inexpensive snack packed with dietary fiber, vitamins, and anti-oxidants. It's widely recognized as a "super food". You can read more about pomegranate nutrition information HERE.

Aside from the health benefits, I like pomegranates because their sweet-tart juice is a wonderful component in recipes. In desserts and drinks, and even savory main dishes, the pomegranate, or it's juice, add flavor and color. The seeds on their own are gorgeous. They are like little sparkling rubies in a bowl. Bedazzle your dinner party! They offer a burst of flavor when eaten and also serve as a lovely garnish.

Now that we've established that pomegranates are delicious, healthy, and in season, we need to discuss how you can get at all of that fruit once you're in the comfort of your own kitchen. Read on to see the 3 methods I have tried.

The Water Method

The first time I ever seeded a pomegranate was about 6 years ago. I used the water method. You can see a detailed description of the water method HERE.  I like the water method because you get less pomegranate juice on your hands and the membrane floats to the top while the seeds drop to the bottom, making the membrane easy to skim off and discard.

The "Score and Pick" Method

Recently a friend posted a video about a new (to me) method for seeding the pomegranate on her Facebook page. You can view that clip HERE.  The speed and efficiency with which that gentleman seeds a pomegranate are impressive. It's worth a watch.

I decided to employ this method with one of our pomegranates. It involves cutting off the top of the fruit, then scoring the sides. The fruit opens up in a way that exposes a large amount of the seeds. You still have to pick them out, but they are very accessible and this method is fairly quick and less messy than the "Whack It With A Spoon" method which is up next. Another plus is that you won't need to strain anything when you are finished. This method certainly gets my vote for the best way to "field dress" a pomegranate.

Here is a view of the inside of the skin and membrane once nearly every seed was removed using the "Score and Pick" Method.

And now for the preferred pomegranate seeding method in our household.....

The Whack-It-With-A-Spoon Method

You can watch a detailed video of this method HERE.

You just cut the pomegranate in half horizontally, then....

Turn it over a bowl and whack it with a wooden spoon until all of the seeds fall out. I love this method because it is the fastest and easiest... and in my opinion, the most fun! Even a 6-year old can do it. I have to admit that I also enjoy this method because I am amused by my daughter's pomegranate-whacking expressions. Sorry for the fuzzy photos, I guess it was too dark in my kitchen for my old camera to sharpen up the details.

Here is the pomegranate once the seeds have been removed using the "whacking" method.

As you can see, there is quite a bit of  juice splatter involved when using this method. I'd recommend wearing an apron as pomegranate juice does stain.

As I mentioned, the most popular way to consume pomegranate in our home is straight from the fruit, as a snack. However, I do have a few favorite recipes that utilize pomegranate and they are perfect for this season. Maybe even a pomegranate-themed dinner? Sounds good to me....

And for dessert? Check out this Caramel Flan with Pomegranate Syrup.

And if you're in the market for a great holiday cocktail, the Pomtini's that I served at my in-law's anniversary party 5 years ago are still a favorite.

I hope that you all have a happy and healthy kickoff to this holiday season! Now go out and buy a pomegranate!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Butternut-Spinach Noodle Soup

I ate this soup all by myself. I remember that I went in to work on the day that I prepared this and that leftovers were on the menu for dinner. Except, I didn't want to eat leftovers. It was a cold, rainy day. After staring out of a classroom window at the blustery, gray day and hopping in and out of the car while picking up the kiddos after school, all I wanted was a great bowl of soup. And so, while my daughters did their homework, I threw together this simple soup and then heated leftovers for them while it simmered.
This soup was just what I needed. It warmed my bones and filled my belly and made me happy. I know that I just wrote I ate it "all by myself", but that's not completely true. While staring up at me from his leftovers, the baby got a case of soup envy. And so I shared. It made him happy too.
I used prepared chicken broth in this recipe, but you could easily make a vegetarian version by using vegetable broth.
Here's how it came together:
First, I heated a little olive oil in the bottom of my small stock pot. Then I added in the equivalent of 1/2 of a large onion, diced. I just used onion that was already chopped from my refrigerator, which consisted of part red onion and part yellow onion. Any type of onion is fine. My personal favorite from the onion family is the shallot, but I didn't have any of those laying around on this particular night. Saute the onion until tender.

While the onion  sautéed, I chopped the bottom part of the butternut squash that was leftover from the Squash Fries that recently wrote about. I ended up with a heaping cupful of squash.

Add the squash to the onion and saute for a few minutes longer. Salt and pepper the mixture. Then pour in 6 cups of broth and bring it to a boil. I forgot to take a picture of this step. I got a little caught up with helping with homework, heating leftovers for the kids, and toddler wrangling....

Once the broth boils, add 2 cups of wide egg noodles. Cook according to package directions, or until the noodles are tender.

While the noodles cook in the soup mixture, chop 1/2 of an 8 oz. bag of fresh baby spinach. Or if your household is like mine; chop the spinach, assist your 4th grader with long division, listen to the nightly 1st grade reading assignment, unload the dishwasher, pull your toddler off of the top of the dining room table (from where he is firing his entire toy train/tractor collection over the edge and then leaning dangerously close to toppling over while watching them crash below because, well, his head is big and heavy and the rest of his body may just follow his head onto the hardwood floor below and land on the whole train/tractor pile-up that has accumulated there) then attempt to engage him in an activity closer to the kitchen, but not quite underfoot, perhaps a session of banging on pots with a wooden spoon, then carry a basket of laundry up from the dryer (which may or may not get folded within the next 24 hours) and set the coffeemaker for the next morning. #multitasking

Add the spinach to the soup, then cook and stir for a couple of minutes until it wilts.

And that's it! Super quick and easy soup. Packed with flavor, low in fat, high in dietary fiber, and there are even some vitamins and anti-oxidants in there.

Butternut-Spinach Noodle Soup

Olive oil
1/2 of a large onion, diced
1 cup butternut squash, chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups wide egg noodles
4-6 oz. fresh baby spinach, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat enough olive oil in the bottom of a large saucepan or small stockpot to keep onion from sticking. Add diced onion and saute until tender. Add squash and saute for 3-5 minutes. Pour in broth, then bring to a boil. Add noodles and cook according to package directions or until tender. Stir in spinach and cook until just wilted. Remove from heat. Salt and pepper to taste.

*Add a teaspoon of Italian seasoning or a pinch of red pepper flakes with the broth if a more complex flavor is desired.

This concludes my series of posts on butternut squash. Probably. There is 1 more butternut squash staring at me from my kitchen counter as I type these words, but I think that I'm going to "give it a rest" on my posts about squash for a bit. Tune in next time for my review of ways to seed a pomegranate. Have a wonderful day, everyone!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Butternut Squash Carbonara

Today I am sharing the second recipe that I tried with butternut squash in an attempt to depart from my go-to butternut recipe, Cream of Butternut Soup. When I found this recipe on Pinterest courtesy of Katie at the Kitchen Door, I knew that I wanted to try it. This pasta dish is gorgeous all plated up with it's flavor-packed crowning garnishes: thick-sliced bacon, caramelized onions, and fried sage. This meal was definitely a "Wow!" for me. The slight sweetness of the squash, balanced by the salty bacon, the onions, and the light crispness and flavor of the sage were a lovely balance.

For those of you feeding young-uns, you might just get them to buy into this because they may assimilate the appearance of the butternut-tinted sauce with their beloved boxed mac n' cheese. My kiddos all ate this without complaint. Weeeell, that is until my husband announced that I "tricked" them with a squash-based, rather than a  cream-based sauce. It's healthier, you're welcome. But everyone still cleaned their plate, and my husband, the whistle-blower, (whom for the record, still prefers a cream-based sauce) even got a second helping. Based on these observations, I'm ruling that this dish was not repulsive any one of them. I have resolved that my family is just obligated to give me a hard time because that's their "job" when they catch me sneaking healthy foods into their diet. So there. I win. And whether they want to admit it or not, they win too.

Here's how I conjured up this lovely pasta dish:

To get started, pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees and put a pot of salted water on your stove top and heat it to a boil. Once it gets boiling, cook your pasta according to the package directions, then drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

The next step to create this hearty, creamy, fall pasta dish is to slice and roast approximately 2 lbs of butternut squash. I think I had closer to 3 lbs, but it turned out alright because my self-proclaimed, squash-resistant family kept snatching the gorgeously caramelized pieces off of the baking sheet while they were cooling on the counter. You know, because they all "hate" squash so much. Hmmm.

Slice the squash into 1/2 inch thick pieces, then arrange the pieces on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, then stir the pieces around and flip them over to coat. Salt and pepper to taste before you pop the sheet into a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until the squash is tender and begins to caramelize. Here's my squash all ready for the oven.

Now while that squash bakes, go ahead and chop up 1/2 lb. of bacon. I love bacon. I've said it before and I'll say it again, BACON IS MEAT CANDY! So good! And so perfect in this recipe. I like thick-sliced bacon for this recipe. I'm a big fan of Indiana Kitchen bacon. You can visit their website to see if it's available in your area and check out some of their recipes.

Fry up the bacon until nice and crispy, then move it to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease in your skillet, then toss in a small, thinly-sliced onion.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are thoroughly caramelized and slightly crispy.

By the time you finish with the bacon and onions, your squash should be just about ready. Look at the gorgeous color on this squash! Move the squash into a bowl if you are using an immersion blender or place in your standard kitchen blender.

Add 1/4 cup of half and half and a cup of the pasta water to the squash. 

Blend until smooth. I used my immersion blender. I ALWAYS use my immersion blender. I love that I don't have to take apart a blender and wash all the parts. With the immersion blender, I just pop the stick off of the motor and give it a quick wash. It's also perfect for making cream soups, sauces, salad dressings, and smoothies. If you don't have one, put it on your Christmas list!

Be sure to salt and pepper the mixture to taste. If you're feeling especially adventurous, go ahead and put a dash of nutmeg in there too.

Next, toss the sauce with the fettuccine and keep everything warm. I did this step in the skillet that I used to fry the bacon and caramelize the onion. Less dishes to wash and there was the added benefit that I picked up any of the delicious drippings left in the skillet from the bacon and onions.

Before plating the pasta, melt a tablespoon of butter in a small skillet, and then fry the sage for a couple of minutes until it gets nice n' crispy. Fried. Sage. Who even thought of this?! Atop the pasta, it was light and perfectly crisp and added a lovely, subtle flavor to the dish. Cheers for fried sage!

And here's the finished product. For you lovers of all things butternut, make this one! I just know you will love it. And for those of you "on the fence" about butternut squash? Go ahead, give it a whirl. This recipe may just make a believer out of you. Enjoy!
Butternut Squash Carbonara with Caramelized Onions and Fried Sage
adapted from Katie at the Kitchen Door original recipe found HERE
1 small butternut squash, about 2 lbs.
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 lb.  thick-sliced bacon, chopped
1 small onion, peeled and sliced into thin half moons
1 lb. fettuccine
1/4 c. half and half
1 tablespoon butter
1 small bunch sage
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Peel the butternut squash and cut into slices that are half an inch thick. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Flip slices with a spatula to coat with the oil. Roast until fork tender and slightly caramelized, about 20-25 minutes, checking and flipping after 10 minutes. When tender, remove from oven and place in a blender. Set aside.
  2. Heat a skillet and add the chopped bacon. Cook until crispy, stirring frequently. Once cooked, set aside on a paper-towel lined plate. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the grease. Heat the grease over medium-low heat, then add the sliced onions to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until thoroughly caramelized and slightly crispy, about 15 minutes.
  3. While the onions are cooking, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the fettuccine according to package directions and drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Blend the cup of pasta water with the squash and the 1/4 c. half and half until very smooth. Toss the squash puree with the fettuccine.
  4. Just before serving, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small frying pan. Fry the sage leaves in the butter until crispy, about 2 minutes. To assemble, divide the pasta between the serving plates, and top generously with the bacon, caramelized onions, and fried sage. Serve immediately.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Squash Fries

On my most recent trip home to see my family, my middle sister plucked 3 butternut squash from her garden for me to bring back to Ohio. I was certainly grateful, as the herd of deer (I'm not exaggerating!) that reside in my backyard chose to rip out every last one of my vining plants this year. Those pesky deer also ate everything else, including the hot peppers which they saved for very last. I hope that they got a wicked heartburn!  Quite the animal lover, aren't I?

But I digress, the point of this post is not to rant about my love-hate relationship with the wildlife in my backyard. Fun to watch, not so fun to deal with. Let's get back to the squash. Nearly every fall I make Cream of Butternut Soup, but with 3 squash in my possession, I wanted to explore some other preparations of this late season garden staple. I took my search to Pinterest and ended up making 3 separate recipes with the squash, 2 of them inspired by Pinterest and one an invention of my very own. Stay tuned for upcoming posts about how the other 2 recipes turned out.  Today I feature the simplest of those recipes, Butternut Squash Fries.

 I wanted to introduce squash into my kiddos diet in a way that I was sure they would eat...or at the very least try. My children don't eat french fries often. Mainly because, for them, fast food is a big treat or a necessity on a road trip. And even when we do hit a drive-thru, the fries are not their first priority. They are far more excited about the chance to order a beverage that isn't water, 100% fruit juice, or milk. I know, they are soooo deprived by their controlling, nutrition-conscious mom. They certainly don't get their ambivalent attitude towards fries from me. I happen to LOVE french fries. Unfortunately. Hey, I said "nutrition-conscious". Just because I am conscious of the fact that french fries are not super nutritious doesn't mean that I possess the self-control to completely eliminate them from my diet.  In fact, sometimes my choice of fast food restaurant is driven entirely by the type of fries that I am in the mood for.

While my children do not share my enthusiasm for the perfect batch of fries, I do know that they will eat fries. They are not a scary, new food for them to try. I theorized that disguising squash as fries would be a brilliant way to get them to try butternut squash. Plus, I already had Cheeseburger Soup on the menu for dinner on the night that I served these. I thought that these fries served alongside the soup might be a fun twist on the traditional "Cheeseburger and Fries" pairing. Here's how it came together:

I began with a butternut squash with a long neck. This made it easier for cutting fries. I made one initial cut, decapitating the long top of the squash from the rounded bottom, then I peeled both portions with my vegetable peeler. I removed the seeds from the bottom portion and put it into the fridge for use in the soup that I will feature in an upcoming post.

I sliced the top portion into "steak-fry like" sticks.

Then I drizzled them with olive oil and tossed to coat. In my haste, my drizzle turned into more of a pour. Next time, I think I will back off a bit on the oil. It may have prevented my fries from reaching their crispiest potential.

Then I gathered the spices: smoked paprika, garlic salt, and chili powder. I think parmesan cheese would have worked nicely here too.

I liberally sprinkled the spices on the fries and tossed them a bit to coat.

I decided to arrange them on a rack over a foil-lined baking sheet (less mess!) to keep them up out of the oil and hopefully contribute to a "crisp" finished product. Next time I think that I'll bake them directly on the foil-lined baking sheet and possibly flip them 5-10 minutes before they finish baking. Pop them into a pre-heated 450 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes until tender in the middle and crispy on the outside. Then plate them and dig in!

It is my oldest daughter's habit to ask, "What's for dinner?" within minutes after I pick her up from school. On this day I answered, "Cheeseburger and fries." Eyebrows raised, she looked at me with a certain amount of (warranted) skepticism. "Really?" she asked.  "Yep," I answered.
When I served up dinner a few hours later, she confronted me, "You tricked us!"  True. I tricked them- into a healthy, delicious dinner. Guilty as charged. Please note from the picture above: That little hand grabbing for a fry? Yeah, that hand is attached to my 10 year old and she was happy to consume the healthier version of fries that had been placed before her.  
The baby liked them too. He took great joy in dipping the fries into the Cheeseburger Soup and exclaiming, "Mmmmm." I have to a agree. These fries were delicious!
Here is the recipe adapted from Busy in Brooklyn, original recipe found HERE.
Butternut Squash Fries
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