Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Fall Menu

Whew, it's been way too long since I've blogged! Life suddenly ramped up and got busy over the last week or so. Plus, my family went out of town for the weekend, and I lost about three night's worth of sleep (I never sleep well in this big house by myself!), so pretty much I've felt like I've just been dragging myself towards the weekend like a marathoner to the finish line. :) That's okay, I'll live! In the meantime, I caught a little catnap when I got home from work, so I can finally keep a coherent thought in my head.

For different reasons, I haven't had to cook dinner on Wednesdays for the last two weeks (and I didn't have to cook tonight, either!), but I didn't want to leave you hanging, so here's an alternative post. :) A friend was hosting a craft party on Saturday, and since it was starting to look like #17 on my bucket list was not going to happen, I volunteered to do the food for the party.

I thought long and hard about what to make; I wanted to do food that spoke of fall, that incorporated as many of the amazing seasonal foods that are available at this time of year as possible, and that was totally comfort food. I ended up making Butternut Squash Soup with Fried Sage, a salad with candied walnuts, cranberries, and Apple Cider Viniagrette, a Turkey, Cheese, and Cilantro-Pesto Sammy Loaf, and (just for fun!) a batch of Buffalo Chicken Dip with Blue Cheese Crisps.

Nothing was very hard, traveled well (since I made everything at home and them heated it at the party house) and was extremely well-received. :) The only thing that made it a little complicated was that my family took our Internet doohickey with them so I had no way to look up recipes online, and I had to create my own recipes based on what I wanted to make. Luckily for me, everything turned out fine (whew!).

Here's the recipes:

First, an appetizer: Buffalo Chicken Dip

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Enough water or chicken broth to cover the breasts
Frank's Red Hot Sauce, to taste (I'm thinking I used a little less than a cup)
10 oz cream cheese
Optional: enough shredded mozzarella to cover the top

Place the chicken breasts in a pot, pour water or broth over them until just covered, and cook on low until cooked through (I kept adding broth to keep them covered). Drain, and shred chicken. Toss with Frank's until evenly coated. Pull out your mixer, and mix chicken mixture with cream cheese until blended. Pour into an ungreased pie plate, cover with mozzarella (if desired - I didn't), and cook on 350 for 15-20 minutes or until heated through. Serve with Blue Cheese Crisps or crackers of choice.

Blue Cheese Crisps

1 stick butter, softened.
1 container (I think mine was 6 oz?) blue cheese crumbles
1 baguette, sliced thin

Lay baguette sliced out on a baking sheet and let them "air" a bit - the recipe works best if they're a little stale. In the meantime, in a mixer on high beat butter and blue cheese until fluffy and incorporated. Spread mixture thickly over slices, and broil for 5 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and edges are browned.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash, halved and deseeded
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups milk or cream
4 slices bacon
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1 package fresh sage
Dried sage, thyme, garlic, ginger, and salt and pepper to taste
Heavy cream (if desired)

Place butternut squash halves, cut side down, in a baking dish, and pierce skin with a fork several times. Bake at low (I did mine at 250 for several hours) until tender. Remove from oven and scoop out flesh; place in a large pot. Add chicken stock and milk; stir to combine.
In a small skillet, cook bacon until crisp; remove to a plate lined with paper towels, crumble, and add to pot. Sautee onion in bacon grease until tender but not browned; scoop out and add to pot. Fry sage leaves 1-2 minutes, turning halfway through; remove. Puree soup until smooth, and season with additional dried sage, thyme, garlic, ginger, s & p as desired. Top with a few dried sage leaves and a drizzle of cream (if desired).

I made an amazing salad with candied walnuts and dried cranberries, but I candied the walnuts by "feel" and can't remember the amounts if it killed me. Suffice to say, I will be doing it again soon so I can get the proportions right. I did, however, invent an absolutely lovely apple cider viniagrette, and I DID remember the recipe! :)

Apple Cider Viniagrette

2 cups apple cider
1 cup olive oil
4 TBS apple-cider vinegar
1 TSP sage
salt & pepper to taste

In a non-stick skillet, reduce the apple cider until thick - maybe by about half? Mix reduction with oil, vinegar, and seasonings, and shake/blend vigorously. Easy. Peasy. Done. :)

Now, for the most amazing invention ever: Turkey, Pesto, and Provolone Sandwhich Loaf

I have to admit, I honestly felt like this was the biggest gamble of the entire meal. I could see it going both ways - hot melty goodness or stale/soggy with an overdone outside but a cold inside. Lucky for me, it was great! Plus, the smell it gave off as it "cooked"... Mm. So easy it feels like a "cheat," but so amazing that I ate the leftovers for the next couple of days!

1 loaf French bread, unsliced
1 pound turkey lunchmeat
1 package (I believe 12 oz?) of sliced provolone

1 bunch cilantro, washed and stems trimmed
1 cup walnuts
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (I like more, but most people prolly like less lol)
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil (again, I like my pesto fairly "thin," but if you're trying to save calories or prefer a thicker sauce, feel free to use less)
Salt and pepper, to taste

First, the pesto: in a food processor, blend cilantro, walnuts, and garlic until finely, finely chopped. Add olive oil in a stream as the food processor is running, until you achieve the texture/thickness you desire. Season with salt and pepper.

Now for assembly:
Slice the loaf of bread into slices 1/2-3/4" thick, leaving the very bottom of the loaf still attached. Err on the side of "too thick" - this is why you don't use presliced bread, the slices are too thin and the pesto will melt through them, causing the whole thing to be soggy! :) Slice in multiples of two; I discarded the ends because they were uneven.
Spread pesto on the "insides" of the slices - think about it, it's gonna be a sandwhich, and you only want the sauce on the "inside" of the sandwhich! :)
On each sandwich "slice" place one piece of provolone and one piece of turkey (I tore my cheese slices in half and placed each half on each side of bread so that when the cheese melted it covered the turkey).
Wrap entire loaf in aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until loaf is heated through and cheese is melted. :)
I actually left mine unheated in the fridge overnight, and not only did it not become soggy, but you couldn't tell the next day! So amazingly good.

The only thing my menu lacked was some dessert - I had a cranberry dessert in mind, but the recipe was on my mom's blog, and it was tricky enough that I knew I had no hope of replicating it from memory, and when I called my family to ask them to read me the recipe over the phone, it turns out they didn't actually have enough coverage to access the Internet. Oh, well. :)

I hope y'all are thoroughly enjoying Autumn by now. I am totally in the swing of things and enjoying the season! This Thursday marks the beginning of ten days off of work for me; I have mixed feelings about this, I love the fact that I'll have the time to do some things I haven't gotten around to, both fun and practical, but I already miss my girlie. :( But I know she'll have fun being on vacation, so that helps. And while she's gone, I'm looking forward to Maggie's and mine annual trek to the beach! :)

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