Butternut Squash Soup with Sage-Gouda Baguette

Look at the pretty mug o' soup

From Giada De Laurentiis’ newest cookbook, Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California (Amazon link), I made this butternut squash soup tonight. Its been snowing and blowing all day, so this seemed like a great choice for such a gloomy, read a good book in bed all day, kind of day.  Unfortunately, I did have to venture out to buy the sage but Horrocks is quite close and the snow was keeping the usual Sunday crowd away.

I received this cookbook as my prize for winning the Cookbooker challenge by reviewing recipes from a featured cookbook. This is the first thing I’ve made from it. I’m intrigued by some other dishes, especially the lobster risotto (because really, who wouldn’t want that!?!). I doubt I would have bought this book of my own volition simply because I tend to avoid the Food TV cookbooks even though I do like Giada’s show.

There are some recipes which definitely are more suited to spring but a soup like this is perfect for mid-December.  I have been eager to make a pureed soup since ordering an immersion blender (thank you Kohl’s Cash!) a few weeks ago. An immersion blender has been on my ‘wish list’ for-EVER and I discovered that Kohl’s carries a recommended one with a more powerful motor than the cheapie available elsewhere.

This one is from Wolfgang Puck and came with a number of accessories I don’t really need but for the price (with the coupon) it didn’t really matter. I did notice that the casing on the motor section gets hot so as I use it, I’ll need to be mindful of that.

The soup is easy enough: onion, carrot and garlic sauteed in butter/olive oil then diced butternut squash added along with several cups of broth. Bring to a boil, add sage then cook 20 minutes or until veggies are soft enough to blend.  We liked it though I did have to adjust the salt for more flavor boost- I didn’t use low-sodium broth so this surprised me but it wasn’t enough to make me worry about sodium. I do think I might make this in the future with oven-roasted squash. A little (or a lot) caramelization never hurts.

The recipe called for fontina cheese melted on baguette which I didn’t have and didn’t see at Horrocks so I just picked something that would melt and sounded good. In this case, it was Beeemster XO Gouda. The XO stands for extra old or aged. It is a harder cheese and nuttier than regular gouda but not smoked, as you can sometimes find gouda.  Good on the bread, and yummy straight up too.

Between the fun of immersion blending and the cool new soup mugs I won at the charity auction (through work) last week, I see plenty more soups in my future.

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Garlic-Lime Steak w/ Horseradish Mashed Potoates

About a month ago, I started to review a cookbook for Cookbooker, a website for reviewing cookbooks and recipes from those cookbooks. There was a challenge involving a cookbook meant to provide lots of flavorful dishes with minimal time and labor. I didn’t own the cookbook but started with the freebie recipes. Thanks to my mom, I learned the website was giving away a copy of the cookbook, High Flavor, Low Labor, on their site blog.  And I won!

Once it arrived, I made an effort to try an assortment of recipes from the sections: appetizers, main dishes, soups, sandwiches, sides and pasta dishes before the challenge was over. There are still five days left in the challenge and I”ll get through two or three more recipes but I don’t need to wait to call this cookbook a five spice hit. We’ve only had one thing not be a complete success and it was probably not the recipe’s fault.

Tonight, I made steak, marinated in garlic, lime, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar (seasoned for sushi). The steak is topped with an avocado and cilantro salsa which was tossed in some of the reserved marinade. To accompany this, we had mashed potatoes seasoned with dill and horseradish. Bonus for the Spartan-themed dish.

Go Green! Go White!

 

All week, we’ve been snacking on the tomato-bacon jam, either with cream cheese on a bagel or with goat cheese on sliced and toasted baguettes. I’ve also made the sloppy joes (subbing ground turkey for beef)

Tomato Bacon Jam with Goat Cheese

Sloppy Joes on Onion Buns

Other items made so far include chimichurri chicken with asparagus and roasted potatoes, pesto chicken and the previously reviewed steak and linguine. Before the challenge is over, I’m hoping to make the turkey & gouda pizza, a truffle oil extravaganza and something for Thanksgiving dinner but this book will see regular rotation as we work through all the recipes tagged with ‘try’, which just happens to be more than two-thirds of them!

While I can’t say this recipe is all super-healthy, its not horrible, nutritionally speaking. Well, except for those potatoes with the cream, butter and cream cheese. Importantly, the recipes live up to the goal of the book: lots of flavor, pretty easy to put together. I also like that many recipes have overlapping ingredients. We use a lot of balsamic vinegar so that is always on hand but when I buy a tub of goat cheese, its nice to know that I’ll be able to use it up in a week’s time by making at least two different, unique dinners.

 


The same author has written a vegetarian cookbook with the same focus on flavor first: Venturesome Vegetarian (amazon link) which I can’t speak for but is available used for $2.50! Kind of hard to go wrong in that case.

Chili Balsamic Marinated Sirloin with Linguine and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

My e-mail inbox is out of control. I’m using the new Priority Inbox at Gmail but it is still stuffed full of old newsletters, mailing list digests and of course the non-spam spam (that would be the ‘today only!! Sale!!!’ announcements from any website you have ever purchased from*). I have been ruthless in my deletion of messages I know I won’t ever read. I’m also unsubscribing to a number of regular senders which often results in unsubscribe-confirmation emails. Aagh!

In my purging, I started to delete the email from Cookbooker, a website for posting cookbook recipe reviews. I signed up there at some point but never actually used the site. At the time, my focus was primarily ad-hoc cooking or using web-based recipes. Now I have about one-third of my cookbooks out of boxes, on a shelf, ready to be used and reviewed.  But rather than start using those books and their recipes, I decided to take the Fall challenge by writing reviews for the recipes in the spotlight book, High Flavor, Low Labor. I don’t own this book but fortunately, the website provides you with three sample recipes to get you started.  All three sounded pretty good to me and since Chris had been out of town for a week and would be leaving again in a week for another five days, I didn’t want to buy a fridge full of food that wouldn’t get eaten.

I decided to start with the sirloin and pasta because I either had a number of the ingredients on hand or knew that if I opened a jar of, for example, sun-dried tomatoes but didn’t use it all, I would be able to find another purpose easily enough.

The sample recipe, Chili Balsamic Marinated Sirloin with Fettucine & Sun-dried Tomatoes is the third one provided, when you follow the link. I think you could figure that out, though.  Note, firstly, that my blog post title is linguine, not fettucine. For reasons I can’t explain, the only brand of fettucine at the most convenient grocery store (a Kroger) is the cheapest name brand. I did not want.  They also had the fresh, refrigerated stuff but I didn’t need that much. Also, I think I like the smaller size of linguine better. I bought a whole-wheat version and was quite happy with the outcome.

I am not, historically, a buyer of steak so finding the right cut and the right size proved more work than I initially anticipated. I believe that my final choice was pretty close to the the recipe’s intentions although I couldn’t tell you what is was called, sirloin something**. I didn’t slice it in to strips before marinating/cooking because I was being lazy. And the trip to the store to buy the ingredients cut in to my time for cooking them (primarily because sun-dried tomatoes are in two places and I had to walk around a lot to find the right ones). But mostly because I am lazy.

Other than halving the amount of meat and reducing the amount of pasta for serving two instead of four, I followed the ingredient proportions.  Next time, I will either not be lazy and slice the meat so it can absorb more marinade or add more shiracha since I thought it needed heat.  I also added a bit of the marinade to the tomatoes and peppers which was not called for but I liked it. For food safety reasons, you will need to cook this a bit more than “warm through”.

The seasoning profile for this came out very well. Again, I would have liked a little more heat but you could definitely tell the shiracha was there. I salted the pasta water exactly right, apparently, because the linguine had a nice nutty wheat flavor but didn’t taste like salt. We both liked this and it really did only take 30 minutes.

Garnished with a bit of green tops from our wee little onions in the garden.

*On the drive home from a party Saturday night,  we discussed diagramming sentences (honestly, no alcohol involved). I very distinctly remember not learning how to do this in junior high. I think my English teacher spent one day on the uselessness of the exercise and on we moved.  Fast forward to AP English in my senior year of high school where the formidable Ms. Moore was crusading against all sorts of grammar violations including writing ‘alot’ instead of ‘a lot’, avoiding redundancy, again and not ending a sentence with a preposition. This last one is a struggle for me as I balance using academic language and structure with not sounding like a stilted buffon. I was trying to explain the problem to Chris by example except I couldn’t think of a single suitable sentence!  Since he reads this blog, the sentence up there with the asterisk is just for him as is the reworded example to be ‘correct’ located in this paragraph.  (Note: I was pleased to see that Grammar Girl says this ‘rule’ is really a myth and I shouldn’t worry so much about it).

**I could have bought pre-sliced sirloin, apparently for stir-fry recipes except the premium on the per pound price was too high and the packages were only one serving each.


 

My review at Cookbooker is here. I have also made the pesto chicken dish and plan to make the tomato-bacon jam tonight. If this third recipe is a success, I’ll probably buy the book even though I don’t really need another cookbook. I should probably get rid of some that I don’t use now but its a hard thing, much easier to say than do.

Riverhouse Inn, Williamston, Mi

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Chris and I enjoyed a lovely riverside dinner at Riverhouse Inn in Williamston on the last weekend in August. Hopefully we’ll have another chance for such a nice meal al fresco before fall truly sets in.

I started two new classes today and unlike previous quarters, I haven’t done any reading yet. My first bit of home work is due Thursday, in both classes, we’ve been out of town since last Thursday, my google reader is overflwoing and ditto for my inbox, our fridge is both empty or full of ‘stuff’, depending on how you look at it and this weekend is our first wedding anniversary (!!) so I’m probably gonna have to pull out some kind of romantic meal at some point (we are going to an old favorite w/ special meaning for the official celebration).

This post is mostly pictures. 

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Bread is served with flavored olive oil. Yes, that is a giant mound of garlic in the center. You can use as much or as little as you like. We used most of it.

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Chris had the butternut squash ravioli with a sweet, maple cream sauce and pecans. It was yummy and as you can see, I had to get my pics quick before he started chowing down.

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I had a hard time choosing but a craving for ‘green’ and crunchy’ led me to the Caesar salad with added chicken.  The salad includes anchovies but whole ones so I just set those off to the side.

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Chris’s dinner came with a side salad and he decided to get two dressings, one for me to try (he’d sampled on a previous visit) and one new one. On your left is the avocado ranch and the right is raspberry vinaigrette, both house-made.  I like green in all things (see above and my closet) but also the raspberry was bit sweet for my tastes.

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We actually had this first but I saved it for last because it was the best part of the meal. Two bruschetta options are offered, one with hummus, the other more traditional. Chris dislikes hummus (sigh) so we ordered this one. It was delicious though so I will forgive him.

With goat cheese and balsamic glaze:

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Riverhouse Inn

http://www.riverhouseinn.org/Index.html

Menus available at the above website though not identical to the ones we had. Chris says they also make a good steak as went there for lunch while I was out of town a few weeks ago.

There are three dining options- indoors, outdoors on the patio, outdoors at picnic tables down by the river. We ‘chose’ option 3 as it was nice out but all the patio seating was reserved. There is also a lovely gazebo for private dining. When we first came in, someone thought we were the party that reserved this gazebo which could have been very awkward later (there was a gift on the table). I may have suggested to Chris that he should take a cue from this when planning our dinner on Sept 11.

Wrought Iron Grill- Father’s Day the Sequel

For Father’s Day 2009, Chris and I took my dad to the Wrought Iron Grill in Owosso at which time I wrote a review and indicated we would certainly go back. And we did, this year for Father’s Day. Despite intentions, driving between Flint and Lansing scads of times, we never made it back in between. I went back to look at my review from ’09 and am sorely tempted to just re-use most of it. We ordered different things but the similarities were striking. Excerpts from 2009 are quote boxes.

We had a number of adventures this past weekend starting with a brief jaunt to Ft. Wayne for storm-chasing on Friday night. The night ended with me driving home through that horrible downpour/second great flood/electrical storm south of Lansing. Fun times!

In 2010, we had some adventures starting with a storm encounter on Friday night. This time, though, we went to Kalamazoo for pizza, stix with dill dip a wee bit o’ college flashback (for me) at Bilbo’s Pizza. Just as we arrived in K-zoo, a fierce storm came through with driving winds and flooding rains. After dinner, we drove around town a bit, tried to go to a movie and toured the storm damage that involved power outages and trees down. Fortunately, I was not behind the wheel for the drive back to Lansing. Even more fortunately, the worst of the storms were well ahead of us and missed our house. We did take a little wind damage to our tomato plants but no power was lost.

No particular adventures on Saturday this year, we spent our time figuring out how to make best use of some special Meijer coupons to buy a new tent, air mattress for camping and fire pit grill/grate. And I made those turkey meatballs…

On to Sunday:

My parents live in Flushing, just west of Flint. We live on the west side of Lansing. I didn’t really expect my dad to drive all the way to Lansing nor did I really want to drive all the way in to Flint considering I also had a paper to finish write from scratch for class, due before bedtime. …We arrived before my dad and, following the behest of our GPS, drove right past the place and around the block to come in from the side. The restaurant is located in an old factory building/warehouse and is surrounded by several other buildings of the same variety. This area is right near the train tracks and across from the grain co-op, apparently the commercial-industrial center of Owosso, in its heyday. We parked along the side and noticed the adjacent building is the (former?) home of the Owosso Casket Company.

No GPS to guide us this year but there is a detour so we had to go around via a few side streets and ended up coming in the same way. It looks pretty much the same as last year.

After a little confusion because the hostess wasn’t listening when we said we’d like to sit outside, we grabbed a table on the porch/patio. … The al fresco dining was perfect. The patio faces east so we didn’t have to worry about baking in the sun and it was neither too hot nor too humid.

We ate outside again. Earlier in the week, in discussing the plan with Chris, he said we should go later to avoid the sun and I said something along the lines of ‘doesn’t the patio face East?’ Guess I should have checked my own blog! The confusion came this year in that the server who told us it was okay to just pick a seat outside apparently failed to tell any other staff of our presence but a waitress did come by a minute or so later. Last year we got the mediciettes as an appetizer which were only okay in my opinion so this year I suggested the Lobster, Spinach and Artichoke Dip. We put that order in then made decisions on our entrees.

After our appetizer, we finally ordered our entrees. I went with the Seafood Risotto, Chris ordered the Wrought Iron Pizza and my dad had the salmon “burger.” … Its not uncommon for Chris to change his mind right when the server shows up to take orders so this could be significant.

In the interest of trying something new this year and not particularly feeling the pasta special, I decided to order the Duck & Wild Mushroom Pizza. Chris opted for the Pork Tenderloin: bacon wrapped and served with a Michigan cherry-jalapeno sauce, sweet potatoes and seasonal vegetable. Dad got the salmon burger again. He was pretty sure that he’d gone for the salmon entrée last year but now we know. I also ordered a glass of Starry Night Zinfandel.

I’ve never had this label before, I don’t know how since Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists and the name alone should have been enough to suck me in.

The Food

Right after we submitted our entrée orders, the appetizer came out. It was not at all what any of us were expecting. Dip implies that upon dunking the chip/vegetable/cracker/bread/finger in the container, something will stick. This Lobster, Spinach and Artichoke Dip did not stick. It was almost dry with very little cheese. We actually asked if this was normal and apparently it is. I don’t expect a cheese bonanza since I’m paying for lobster, spinach and artichokes too but you can go too far or in this case, not go far enough. That’s two poorly received appetizers in two visits for those of you keeping score at home.

About this time is also when the waitress returned to inform me that the kitchen was out of duck. And you can’t have Duck & Wild Mushroom Pizza without duck! She recommended the Wrought Iron Pizza instead but that didn’t really grab me. I vacillated between the Ahi tuna burger and the Seafood Risotto before I realized that there were actually two pork dishes so I ordered Berkshire Pork Chop with creamed leeks and roasted red skin potatoes. Despite the delay in having to re-order, the main dishes came out pretty quickly. The lack of fries with the burgers noted last year hasn’t changed but it was even more noticeable this time because my plate was half potatoes! Strange. I could not possibly eat all the potatoes and I love the starches. I opted to eat the ones with the crunchiest crusts. Tasty. The other half of the plate was dedicated to the pork chop on a bed of creamed leeks with brandied apples.

Brandied apples- reminds me that we have that apple brandy from Uncle John’s and I should use some more of it.

My dish was very good overall with the pork in particular being cooked well so as to remain juicy throughout.

I could tell right away that Chris was going to be somewhat disappointed in his dish. When I said seasonal vegetable up top, I bet you presumed asparagus. It is mid-June in Michigan after all; can’t get much more seasonal than that! But, no. The vegetable serving was skimpy and consisted of what appeared to be over-cooked steamed California Blend (cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and maybe onions). His pork was good although perhaps a touch dry on the end and he also enjoyed the cherry sauce. Later, he indicated that the sweet potatoes were not great either but was not specific on the issue. Today, I was checking something on the website and noticed a picture gallery that included several menu items. Although I can’t be 100% positive, the very first dish in the gallery appears to be what Chris ordered. Except it didn’t look anything like that dish aside from sweet potatoes on one end, vegetable on the other and pork in the middle.

On a follow-up call with my dad, he mentioned that he remembered the salmon differently the previous year. We think perhaps last year they served a fillet while this year was more like a burger, ground salmon formed in to a patty. Kind of implies pre-made, eh?

I didn’t order the risotto this year but let’s return to 2009, just because it’s risotto.

I love risotto. I still reminisce over the risotto at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham (MI) which I had at the wedding of my now ex-boyfriend’s sister six years ago. Good stuff. I make it a lot at home, look through the archives here and you’ll find the recipe for the mushroom version we like best.

I will be making risotto tonight. Its phase II in a reverse engineering project to re-create something Chris picked up last week.

The wrap-up

In 2009 I said we would have to go back to the Wrought Iron Grill soon because the waitress told us the menu changes seasonally. Of course, we don’t know how since we went again at the exact same time of year! I do have some additional motivation to return before June 2011 in that we purchased 2 gift certificates from Restaurant.com during a big May sale. We used one on Sunday to save $25 off the bill. One thing about these GCs: in some, the fine print indicates that an 18% gratuity will be automatically added on. The waitress was careful to point it out which I appreciated. That is within my normal range of tipping for restaurants of this type. I will say that slightly friendlier service would have probably earned her 20%. Not that the service was bad but I got the distinct feeling that she was slightly irritated to have to wait on us up until and through closing time. Also, she never came back after delivering the credit card receipt and I still had ½ glass of wine left.

My wine was good enough that I ordered a second glass.

It’s a pet peeve of mine, when waitstaff don’t return to fill water or non-alcoholic beverages after the bill’s been paid. We were not keeping anyone from going home as a table of diners arrived about 15 minutes before closing and it was only a few minutes past 8 when we settled the bill.

For this night, it was just nice to have a good meal and let Chris and my dad get to know each other better

Ditto again. This time we talked about my dad’s newly started consulting business and tried to figure out how we could all have a four-hour work week (google it).


After dinner, Chris decided he wanted to find a Twisty Treat type of place with his first choice being a Dairy Queen. DQ is top priority because of Warren Buffett*. Thanks to the handy-dandy Droid phone, I determined that the nearest DQ was not too close but by this time we had detoured to check out the local airport which actually appears to be quite popular with the single-engine guys. Airport-related detours are quite common in our life. I indulge it and sometimes even surprise him with directions that just ‘happen’ to go by an airfield; the gazetteer maps are awesome for this. Anyhow, after the airport drive-thru we used the phone, again, to find a local ice cream store. He got a twist dipped in chocolate and I had cookie-dough ice cream on a sugar cone. As per usual with these places, the child-size was a full scoop plus which means the single is really a double, etc. Good price though at less than $5 for both.

Details

Wrought Iron Grill Website with Menu
317 Elm Street Owosso, Mi 48867 989-472-9025
HOURS: Mon – closed Tu-Th 11a-10p Fr-Sa 11a-12a Sun-12n-8p


*Chris deeply admires Warren Buffett and he’s been studying up on his investment theories. He also points out every time we pass a company owned by Berkshire-Hathaway among other things. I would be willing to trade unlimited Dairy Queen runs in return for denying a regular request to name any of our (future) children Warren or Buffett** or Charlie or any other related name.

**Actually I may be willing to use Buffett as a middle name. Most people would probably assume we meant Jimmy since Chris is from the Florida Keys. But I fear they would pronounce it buffet and wonder what sort of freak, food blogger not withstanding, names her kid after a type of meal. This would only be a question in the minds of people who don’t know me well though. My foodie friends would be perfectly understanding if I named a child Wusthof or Forschner or ahem, Alton. Right?