Butternut Apple Enchiladas

 I've just finished a wonderful book by Kathleen Flinn, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks, which is the second of her books I've read.  We at Cook the Books, featured  Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good last year, and I did enjoy it, and posted about my  Perfect Pizza, but this one I'm way fonder of.  Great sense of humor right from the first paragraph, where she explains what got her started on the project that led to this book.  Following a woman and her daughter through the supermarket aisles, amazed at what they were putting in their cart, how she found herself convincing the woman to make better choices, without preaching  or haranguing. Flinn gives down-to-earth information on changing eating habits whilst being entertaining at the same time.  All that and with recipes thrown in.

Even though I'm considered a pretty good home cook, and already live by no (or hardly ever) junk food, factory meat, buy only organic produce, etc., I found lots of useful tips in this book.  Plenty to learn from Flynn's teaching, restaurant work and catering experience as well as from what she gleaned from culinary school at Le Cordon Blu.  As well, the inspiration to acquire skills in a few areas she made me realize I need help, i.e. to be able to quickly and easily break down a whole chicken or duck (I've done it, the emphasis here is quickly and easily), fillet a whole fish or even to properly prepare an artichoke.  Usually I just roast a whole chicken or buy the parts I want, buy fish already filleted and eat artichokes simply steamed whole.

My inspired recipe is a pan of enchiladas with an unusual filling. One of Finn's lessons with the cooking students was on using up the produce in your fridge and any left-overs.  So, with my butternut squash sitting (lurking) in the crisper drawer, I came up with this.  Roasted butternut squash with apple and cheese, topped with green tomatillo sauce.  The ingredients are for 1 butternut squash which would make lots of extra to freeze for another day, unless you are making more than 6-8 enchiladas.  Or just use half the squash.  I roasted the squash and apple first, then set aside to lightly mash and fill later.

Ingredients for the filling:

     (I just used 1/2 to serve 2-3 - use the whole thing for more servings )
     1/2 a peeled, cored, chunked apple
     1/4 teas. cinnamon
     1/8 teas. nutmeg
      1/ lemon
      pinch of ground chipotle pepper.  Very little unless you like it hot.
     1 tablespoon butter
  Squash and Apple Enchiladas

      2 cups green chili or tomatillo sauce
      1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
     1/2 cup thick Crema or sour cream
      butternut squash/apple filling
      6 corn tortillas (or however many you want)
      Cilantro sprigs for garnish


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the squash on a sheet pan and drizzle with the olive oil, salt, pepper, chipotle powder and toss well. Arrange the squash in one layer and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, until the squash is tender, turning once with a metal spatula, half-way through, adding in the apple. Before adding, toss the apple with a squeeze or two of lemon, nutmeg and cinnamon.  When finished, set aside in a bowl with a tablespoon of butter (while still hot). Dice and mash up, tasting for additional seasoning.


Gooey St. Louis Butter Cake for Lovers Everywhere

I'm reading The Architect's Apprentice, by Elif Shafak, a truly Byzantine epic, and romantic tale involving, among other things, the doomed love of an elephant-tamer/architect's apprentice and the Sultan's daughter.  Hence the heart-shaped pan above, with my Valentine's dessert, a Gooey St. Louis Butter Cake.

The book is quite an adventure, full of historical interest, and lots of local color, as it's partly set  in the royal menagerie of the sultan's palace in Istanbul of the 14th Century.  However, books are something like desserts.  Sometimes you just have a taste, and stop, occasionally you get maybe halfway through and put it aside.  This was one of those, more than halfway finished, and I am unapologetic about this, it was too much or not enough, either way,  I think I prefer a more continuous flow going somewhere in a life.  Not the whole life, with countless occurrences.

 First time making this particular cake, though it  has been on my bucket "to cook" list for awhile.  Apparently it is a tradition in Missouri.  I added some dried cranberries on top for a bit of red, as well as balance against all the sweetness.  Nice for breakfast the next day too.  Especially with blueberries added on.  I do love my fruit, and we are between tropical fruit seasons at the moment, in our gardens at least.  Aside from lemons.

I cut the recipe in half to suit the pan, and the two of us, and also because I only had one egg available, which worked perfectly for this, just beaten and divided in half.  The full recipe is given below.

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake
Adapted, by Deb of Smitten Kitchen, just barely, from Melissa Clark at the New York Times, who adapted it from Molly Killeen at the Park Slope Farmers’ Market
Yields 16 to 20 servings

For the cake
3 tablespoons milk at room temperature
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

For the topping
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling.

Make the cake dough: In a small bowl, mix milk with 2 tablespoons warm water. Add yeast and whisk gently until it dissolves. Mixture should foam slightly. (Very slightly in my case.)

Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and the milk mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition. Clark doesn’t say to do this, but I switched to a dough hook at this point to beat dough on medium speed until it formed a smooth mass and pulled away (just a little, my dough was still very soft) from sides of bowl, 7 to 10 minutes.

Press, stretch and nudge dough into a greased 9-by 13-inch baking dish  at least 2 inches deep. Cover dish with plastic wrap or clean tea towel, put in a warm place, and allow to rise until doubled, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Make the gooey topping: Heat oven to 350 degrees. To prepare topping, in a small bowl, whisk corn syrup with 2 tablespoons water and the vanilla. Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream

butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and corn syrup mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition.

Spoon topping in large dollops over risen cake and use an offset spatula to gently spread it in an even layer. Bake until just golden around the edges, about 20 minutes - cake will rise and fall in waves and have a golden brown top, but will still be liquid in center when done.  Note: if you use a metal pan, rather than glass or ceramic, it may cook faster.  Allow to cool in pan before sprinkling with confectioners’ sugar for serving.

This post will be linked over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event.  Be sure to drop by.


Survival Garden Duck Soup

Not long ago I posted about a type of tropical spinach, the Pacific Spinach, after I had succeeded in identifying it.  In doing so, I mentioned other types, that it wasn't, but one of which I was then going to get, if that makes sense.  It's here now and planted, Okinawan Spinach, with mulch all around.  It's a bit wilty, having just been put into the ground. You will notice it has a sort of maroon color underneath the leaves and green on top. The Pacific variety is more tree like, this one is a lower growing, ground cover sort, hopefully. Trust me, this is going somewhere.


Crispy Rice and Eggs for Stir

 Lots of reviews going on for this book, Stir - My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, by Jessica Fechtor, and due to it being our current Cook the Books Club selection, I'm joining the crowd, and delighted to do so. It was a book I hadn't thought to really enjoy. As Fechtor herself says:
"When I tell people that I am writing the story of a blocked and broken brain --- and oh, by the way, there will be recipes, too --- I get some strange looks.  Food is not supposed to top the list of things you think about, apparently, when you're recovering from a near-fatal brain explosion."
Surprisingly, to me anyway, it was a terrific read, due to the author's straightforward account, evocative writing, and her ability to keep a sense of perspective, objectivity and (gallows?) humor through a truly horrific time.  All that and the fact that we know she does get better in the end.


Spinach and Mushroom Quiche Served up With Mystery

 I've just finished another of the marvelous Peculiar Crimes Unit novels by Christopher Fowler, The Memory of Blood.  Books like this one are what keep me reading!  Wit, comic relief, craziness, wit, entertaining, outstanding characters, mysteries, wit, you get the idea.  Very well written and yes, witty, original writing.  Plus, the murderer gets caught.  Not too long ago I reviewed another of their adventures, The Water Room.

Arthur Bryant and John May, a partnership of elderly detectives, along with their quirky, team of investigators, form what is known as the Peculiar Crimes Unit, an off-shoot of the Metropolitan Police, of which the affix 'peculiar' originally was meant in the sense of 'particular', in order to handle politically sensitive cases, or those with the possibility of causing panics or general public malaise.

Here, the cast party for a shocking new play ends with an even more shocking murder.  As the daughter of a prominent government official is involved, the case gets referred to the PCU.

The book begins with a prologue of the close-of-play party, (theater folks do enjoy parties) which is completed at the very end, revealing the solve.  And, since food is involved, I'll share with you the opening paragraph:
"Arthur Bryant stood there pretending not to shiver.  He was tightly wrapped in a 1951 Festival of Britain scarf, with a Bloody Mary in one hand and a ketchup-crusted cocktail sausage in the other.  Above his head, a withered yellow corpse hung inside a rusting gibbet iron.
     'Well,' he said, 'this is nice, isn't it?'"
I like this bit as well, which gives you an idea of Bryant's unique persona:
"Arthur Bryant couldn't handle cases that required an understanding of human relationships, and would take off into lunatic new directions if left unchecked.  Someone had to keep an eye on him.
     May peered around the door of his partner's office and watched Bryant knocking the contents of his pipe into the brain-pan of the Tibetan skull on his desk.  Half of the bookcase had been emptied, and two immense stacks towered on either side of the desk, framing the old man with playscripts, manuals, comics, art books, histories, encyclopedias, miscellanies and a number of surprisingly sleazy pulp thrillers.
     'I knew it,' May said with a sigh,  'You've been thinking again.'
     Bryant widened his watery blue eyes in surprise.  'Ah, there you are,' he said.  'Now that you've finished holding your little chats, (referring to the suspect interviews) we can talk.  Do come in, and shut the door behind you.'"

Early in the novel, the partners meet at a tea shop that had just opened downstairs from the Unit, The Ladykillers Cafe.  On offer were: Battenburg cake, quiche Lorraine, Bath and Banbury buns under glass.  So, having just made a Pacific spinach and mushroom quiche, I thought to serve it up here.  Based on an Elizabeth David recipe, it called for heavy cream and egg yolks.  Quite good, though next time, I think I'll lighten it up a bit by using at least half kefir and maybe whole eggs.

Pacific spinach is a perennial tropical green I've been growing for awhile, without knowing exactly what it was.  So, a Google search just revealed the true name for what I'd been mistakenly referring to as Malabar spinach or New Zealand spinach, or??  Doesn't look like either one of those. With our survival project going on, I'm trying to propagate more food perennials happy in the climate conditions we have going.  Since this Pacific spinach is very nutritious, I've got those (above) cuttings to plant some more.  One of the beauties of tropical perennials is that they keep on going (duh) no dying back in winter, re-sowing and waiting again and again for your spinach or what have you.

Spinach and Mushroom Quiche
     loosely adapted from the Leek and Cream Pie in At Elizabeth David's Table

1 8" pastry crust
2 cups spinach, thick stems removed
2 tablespoons vinegar
3 or 4 mushrooms, sliced
3 medium shallots, peeled and sliced
2 oz. lean ham or prosciutto, diced (optional)
1 - 2 tablespoons butter (depending on how many mushrooms)
3 eggs
1 cup cream (or use 1/2 buttermilk or kefir)
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375F

Line an 8-inch pie tin with pastry (your own favorite or a prepared crust).  Wash, then remove any thick stems from the spinach.  Drop for a moment into boiling salted water, to which the vinegar has been added, just enough to wilt.  Remove and let cool before squeezing out excess water, and chopping up.

Melt the butter and saute the shallots til soft, then add the mushrooms and saute briefly.  Add in the spinach and ham or prosciutto and stir.  Spread mixture over the pie crust.

Beat eggs  and cream; season with nutmeg, salt and pepper; then pour over the spinach mushroom mixture.

Bake for 30-40 minutes  --  Serves 4 - So I had a piece for lunch next day.  Lovely.

We ate most before I remembered to take a picture of the whole pie.  This post will be shared over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event.  You can visit and also add your own link if you like, on what you're eating or cooking up.