Spaghetti Squash with Pesto

Dave and I are avid shoppers of the Italian Market in South Philly, and when the weekend permits, we walk down and do our weekly produce shopping.  Lately, we have been enjoying the abundance of winter produce like turnips and butternut squash.  We recently stumbled upon spaghetti squash, and it is now our seasonal favorite.
It takes a while to cook, but once it is done, the contents get scrapped out and the flesh turns spaghetti-like.

However, I will warn you that it doesn’t taste or act like spaghetti.  When I say “act like”, I mean it isn’t easy to toss in sauce.  But it is pretty darn tasty and is a good alternative for those on a low-carb or gluten-free diet.  My favorite is with pesto and peas, seen here.
For the pesto, the recipe I am including uses basil, but you can really use any herbs or greens that you have on hand — like parsley, spinach or kale.  Traditionally made, pesto will call for pine nuts or walnuts.  I learned in culinary school that those who were poor in Italy used walnuts and rich Italian folks used pine nuts.  Tastes good to me either way!

Spaghetti Squash with Pesto and Peas

To Make the Spaghetti Squash
Adapted from, Emeril Lagasse

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Using 1 small spaghetti squash, about 2 1/4 pounds, cut the squash with a sharp knife in half lengthwise and place, cut side down, in a baking dish. If it is too hard to cut, put the squash in the microwave for about 45 seconds, and it should soften a bit.

2) Add enough water to come 1/2-inch up the sides of the baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes, until the squash is easily pierced with a paring knife. Turn squash over and cover with foil again and continue to cook another 15 minutes, until the squash is very tender.

3) Remove from the oven, uncover, and allow to cool slightly. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and discard. Using a fork, gently pull the strands of squash away from the peel and place the squash strands into a mixing bowl.

4) Add butter, oil or any seasonings of your preference to add some flavor.

To Make the Pesto

4 bunch basil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup olive oil (add more if needed)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, grated (omit this for a vegan version)
ground black pepper, to taste

1) Using a food processor, grind the basil, garlic, nuts and oil until a paste is formed.  Pulse in the grated cheese.  Season with salt and pepper.


Pseudo-Guest Blogger Strikes Back: Dave dives into the world of doughnuts!

I’m back!  If 2011 was the year of the pancake, 2012 may be the year of the doughnut.  Well, at least till I have them figured out.  What started out as a mission to replicate the beignets that we loved in New Orleans has turned into a quest to make the perfect doughnut.  So far, this has proven to be quiet difficult.

We wanted to have party favors for a recent dinner party we threw; something sweet that our guests could enjoy on their walk or ride home.  We threw around doing doughnuts initially, but I said “what about beignets?”  After trying 3 different recipes, I found one that I liked, added a bit more sugar to it and then experimented with cooking times.  Our guests liked them, and I didn’t think they were half bad myself (although they were no Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans).  I thought “that wasn’t terrible, let’s try actual doughnuts.”  Famous last words.

I am now on recipe number 4 or 5 of the doughnuts and most have different ingredients for the dough.  From what I have found, the key principles to the dough are simple: 1) make sure your yeast activates and 2) give your dough enough time to rise.  I also made some slight tweaks with the ingredients. I enjoy adding a little bit of cinnamon or brown sugar even when the recipe does not call for it.  And vanilla extract, Mel will attest that when I bake vanilla extract goes into almost anything.

While the dough part isn’t all that difficult, the cook time in the oil and thickness of the dough when you cut the doughnuts all has to be pretty exact.  After allowing the dough to rise the first time, I use a sheet pan lined with flour to roll out the dough to a thickness of between 3/8″ to 1/2″.  This step is the difference between making a doughnut that is light and airy and one that is dense and chewy.  While dense and chewy may be good, light and airy is how I like my doughnuts.

My last doughnuts were my best so far; not quite perfect but I would call them pretty damn good.  They even stayed fresh for a few days afterwards, only needing to be reheated shortly in the microwave.  They weren’t quite the yeast doughnuts that we loved from Doughnut Plant in New York City, but I put those on a silver platter that I hardly expect to reach.  It’s not like I go around and compare my pancakes to those at brunch establishments in the city (oh, wait…), why would I do that to my doughnuts?

Adapted from

Yields ~9 Doughnuts

1 envelope active dry yeast (.25oz)
1/4 cup warm water (~110 degrees)
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable shortening (can be omitted)
5 cups all purpose flour (plus more for the pan)
1 quart of vegetable oil for frying

For Glaze
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2-4 tablespoons milk

1) sprinkle yeast into warm water, let dissolve and then let stand for 5-10 until foamy.  If the yeast does not get foamy, it’s not active.
2) In a large bowl, mix together the yeast mixture, milk, vanilla extract, sugar, eggs, shortening, and 2 cups of flour.  Mix for a few minutes using a wooden spoon.  Beat in remaining 3 cups of flour 1 cup at a time until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl.  Knead for about 5 minutes then transfer the dough to a greased bowl.  Set in a warm, dark place for 1.5-2 hours or until dough has doubled in size (initial rise).
3) After the initial rise, place dough into a floured cookie sheet and roll out until 1/2″ thick.  Cut the floured dough with a dougnut cutter.  Cover the cut dough with a towel and let sit for 1 hour or until roughly double in size (second rise).
4) In a shallow bowl or platter, mix the confectioners sugar, cinnamon, and 2-4 tablespoons of milk until a thick glaze has formed.
5) Heat oil in a dutch oven, heavy skilley, or deep fryer to 350 degrees.  Place doughnuts into oil and allow 20-30 seconds of cooking per side.  The doughnuts will rise in thickness.  Be careful not to overcook, judge by color of the doughnut as it frys.  Remove after cooking and allow to drain on a paper towel lined cooling rack.  Dip into glaze while still hot, allow to cool slightly, serve while warm.

A Love Letter to the Baltimore Chocolate Top

My Darling Chocolate Top,

I so enjoyed the time we spent together during my recent visit to Baltimore.  You always entertain my taste buds with your savory sweet personality. The combination is delightful.

When I set my eyes on you, I see a work of art. I love your perfectly coiffed chocolate icing sitting upon a simple shortbread cookie.  The contrast is striking.  Just thinking about you makes my salivary glands sing!

You are one of a kind. Having lived outside of Baltimore for 15 years now, I have searched high and low for you, but your beauty can only be found in the dessert cases of Baltimore delis.  And although there are a few imitators out there, your originality can only come from the Gourmet Bakery.

The time we have spent together over the years has been wonderful.  You’ve traveled on trains and planes with my mother to visit me.  For this I am grateful.

Stay decadent my sweet and I look forward to our next rendezvous together.