Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Butternut Squash & Hazelnut Lasagna

I love lasagna. I think it’s because it was the first dish that I made on my own. The first dish I can claim as mine. As a kid I was an expert at all the family cookie recipes: Snickerdoodles, peanut butter cookies from a cake mix, and ginger cookies. I also did a mighty fine job with those box pizza mixes from Chef Boyardee. But when I was in high school, living in Vancouver, Washington, I found a recipe for lasagna in The Columbian newspaper. It was a basic red meat sauce version. Nothing special about it. But it was mine.

Even though I haven’t made that recipe in years, I still love making lasagna. Especially since cooks get so creative with it nowadays. I’m always cutting out interesting varieties from Gourmet or Food & Wine. Last fall (or lasagna season, as I call it) I fell in love with Roasted Portobello Mushroom and Prosciutto Lasagna. Last week I discovered a new favorite: Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna.

My folks were in town for our family’s first Thanksgiving dinner at my sister and her husband’s new house on Mount Washington, and I wanted something to serve before the big day. That’s the great thing about lasagna. Add a salad, and it’s a great meal for groups. And if you’re cooking just for yourself, you can cut it into quarters, freeze each quarter separately, and then take one out whenever you don’t feel like cooking. I’ve never met a lasagna that didn’t reheat beautifully.

Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagne
from Gourmet (with slight modifications), December 2001

Ingredients for the squash filling
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 good sized squash)
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
- 1 cup hazelnuts (about 4 oz.), toasted, loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel, and coarsely chopped

Ingredients for the sauce
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 5 cups milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Ingredients for assembling the lasagna
- 1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated (2 cups)
- 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3 oz)
- 12 (7- by 3 1/2-inch) sheets no-boil lasagne (1/2 lb)

Directions for making the filling
This can be done a day ahead of time and kept in the fridge.

1) Cook onion in butter in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes.

2) Add squash, garlic, salt, and white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes.

3) Remove from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts.

4) Cool filling.

Directions for making the sauce
This can be done while the squash cooks, and can also be made a day ahead of time and kept in the fridge.

1) Cook garlic in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute.

2) Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes.

3) Add milk in a stream, whisking.

4) Add bay leaf and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes.

5) Whisk in salt and white pepper and remove from heat. Discard bay leaf. (Cover surface of sauce with wax paper if not using immediately.)

Directions for assembling the lasagna

1) Preheat oven to 425°.

2) Toss cheeses together.

3) Spread 1/2 cup sauce in a buttered 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking dish and cover with 3 pasta sheets, leaving spaces between sheets.

4) Spread with 2/3 cup sauce and one third of filling, then sprinkle with a heaping 1/2 cup cheese.

5) Repeat layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta sheets and ending with cheese.

6) Top with remaining 3 pasta sheets, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese.

7) Tightly cover baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagne in middle of oven 30 minutes.

8) Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more.

9) Let lasagne stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Note on the sauce:
I could not get this sauce to thicken. I cooked it for nearly 30 minutes, added an extra Tablespoon of flour, and finally gave up. Though it was runny when I turned the heat off, it thickened up while it sat there, and in the end, it worked perfectly. My point being, don’t get frustrated if the sauce doesn’t seem to be thickening. It will!

(photos by Julie Fay)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Chicken & Artichoke Soup

Every time I look at my little blue Le Creuset French oven, I feel that I must use it. Usually, the recipe is of the kitchen sink variety. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not so much. Recently, though, it worked. I dug through my cupboards with all their emergency kit cans of things I can’t live without in the case of an earthquake or nuclear war (sardines, turkey chile, you know, the essentials) and foraged up a beautiful soup for autumn. Because I didn’t measure, I’m going to wing it here … just add whatever ingredients I’ve listed to suit your own taste.

Chicken & Artichoke Soup


- 1 lb. boneless chicken breasts, cubed (large)
- 1 can artichoke hearts, unseasoned, chopped large (preferably from Trader Joe’s)
- 6 stalks of celery
- 1 can white beans (preferably S&W)
- 2 yellow onions, sliced (thick half rounds)
- 6 shitake mushrooms, sliced
- Handful of pitted Kalamata olives
- 1 box vegetable broth (again, I like Trader Joe’s)
- Bundle of thyme, tied in string
- Sherry
- Red wine vinegar
- Olive oil


1) In your little Le Creuset, sauté the onions and celery in olive oil

2) In a frying pan, brown in the chicken in olive oil; when done add to Le Creuset

3) In same frying pan in chicken flavoring, sauté mushrooms; when done add to Le Creuset

4) Add vegetable broth, beans, artichoke, and olives

5) Bury thyme at bottom of the soup

6) Splash in sherry and vinegar (up to ¼ cup each)

7) Bring to a boil, then simmer for however long you want … the soup was done in about an hour, but really good and flavorful after three.

8) Remove thyme and serve.

I like to make a big batch of this, then put half in small batches in the freezer, so I can heat some up whenever I like.

I made a variation on this about a month ago, which was really terrific. Instead of yellow onions, I used one large red onion. Instead of white beans, I used two cans of Trader Joe’s Tuscan bean medley. And I also added 2 chicken/cilantro sausages (fried and sliced), a ½ cup of Trader Joe’s red wine and olive oil vinaigrette, and about ¼-½ cup balsamic vinegar.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Egg Casserole with Leeks and Feta Cheese

This recipe was assigned to me recently by my sister Julie who got it from my mom, who got it from one of her friends in Tucson’s Saddlebrooke Community where she and my dad live. It was originally labeled as a frittata, but I’ve looked up frittata recipes and most seem to call for first cooking in a skillet and then a quick final step under the broiler. This recipe is more like a casserole, so I’m going to call it that.

The flavor combination of note in this dish is the feta cheese, dill, and mint. It has proven especially popular as a staple at Julie’s yard sales. She hosts about three a year. Yes, hosts, as if throwing a party. And in a way, she is. She blasts an email out to all our friends and they show up with their old stuff for a morning of selling to the same people who come to every yard sale (the lady on the bike, the guy who only buys jewelry, the character actor best known for his roles on Seinfeld), sipping coffee and then mimosas, and nibbling on whatever dish she’s whipped up. It used to be her Seven Layer Mexican Dip; now it’s this one, which I’ve been told is much more South Beach friendly. Sometimes there are donuts, too.

Egg Casserole with Leeks and Feta Cheese


- ¼ cup long-grain brown rice
- ¾ cup water
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. olive oil
- 3 leeks, white and 2 inches of the green, chopped and washed (spring onions can be substituted)
- 3 zucchini unpeeled and coarsely grated
- 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill (dried dill works fine)
- 8 eggs, lightly beaten
- 8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled


1) Bring the rice, water and a large pinch of salt to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, covered for about 20 minutes, until the rice is cooked and the water is absorbed.

2) Preheat oven to 325F.

3) Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the leeks, covered, until soft, 10-15 minutes.

4) Remove from the pan and over medium heat, sauté the zucchini, uncovered, until the zucchini softens, 5-7 minutes. Season the zucchini with salt and pepper.

5) Combine the rice, leeks, zucchini, mint, dill, feta, salt and pepper and eggs. Mix well.

6) Oil a 9x9 baking dish with the remaining 2 tsp. of oil. (A 9x13 will work too, but the casserole will be thinner.) Pour the eggs and vegetables into the dish.

7) Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden and set. Cut into squares and serve warm.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mexican Clam Dip

(photo by Julie Fay Ashborn)

The time has come to add something new to this blog, which has been neglected for months because of work. Good news, To Vietnam With Love is finally out in the world. Bad news, Communion is still in the editing stage. Good news, Ingram Publishing Services is now distributing all ThingsAsian Press titles to bookstores around the country. Bad news, it’s a lot of work having a distributor! (For some reason, Blogger won't let me add links today, so head to Amazon for the book and www.thingsasianpress.com to check out our other new titles.)

Last weekend was my spectacular friend Vickie’s spectacular 35th birthday, and I made a few contributions to the party: an incredibly yummy Peach White Wine Sangria and this delicious (super easy) clam dip. With most of the ingredients out of cans, plus a handful of cilantro for the fresh factor, it’s exactly what is called for when you need a last minute party dish. Just add tortilla chips, and you’re set.

Mexican Clam Dip
from Bon Appetit

- 12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 3/4 cup (about 6 ounces) purchased green chili salsa (salsa verde), medium
- 1 4-ounce can diced green chilies, mild
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 3 6.5-ounce cans chopped clams, drained well
- Tortilla chips


1) Beat cream cheese in large bowl until smooth.

2) Mix in salsa, chilies and cilantro.

3) Add clams and blend well.

4) Season dip to taste with salt and pepper.

5) Transfer to ovenproof dish. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)

6) Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake dip uncovered until heated through and bubbling around edges, about 35 minutes.

7) Place bowl of dip on platter. Surround with chips and serve.


Pictures by Julie Fay. Check out more at Julie’s website.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Red Onion Marmalade

I’ve been in the kitchen these past few months, making loquat jam from the tree across the street, experimenting with Romanesco from the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, and trying different flavored waters (dried lemongrass and fresh lemon verbena are my favorites so far). But every time I sit down to write, it has to be for work—To Vietnam With Love is coming out in June, and To Myanmar With Love isn’t far behind. So I haven’t had a chance to write any new recipes down. But tonight I made something so incredible that I just had to record it.

Ever since buying a jar of red onion marmalade at the Borough Market in London last September, I have been craving the stuff. When I went back in December for more, the stall was closed for a week, as it turns out it always in between Christmas and New Year. I couldn’t remember the name of the company, so I couldn’t order any. Finally, I decided to make my own. This version was cobbled from recipes I found online, and although it’s not the Borough Market marmalade, it’s really good. It’s always recommended with pork, but that seems too autumnal. I advise heading to your local cheese shop. When I told one of the experts at the Silverlake Cheese Shop I had a red onion marmalade and asked for a suggestion, I ended up with a perfect pairing. (Of course, I’ve forgotten the name of the cheese—it’s been a hectic year!)

Red Onion Marmalade


- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 6 cups thinly sliced red onions (about 4-5 medium onions)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper or red pepper flakes ground in a mortar and pestle
- 1 cup (packed) brown sugar
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup dry Sherry
- 1 1/2 tablespoons grated peeled fresh ginger


1. Heat oil in large, heavy saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and dried red pepper. Cover and cook until onions are tender, stirring occasionally, 10-15 minutes.

2. Add brown sugar, vinegar, balsamic vinegar, Sherry, and ginger. Cook on medium uncovered until onions are very tender and mixture is thick, stirring frequently, 30-40 minutes. The result should be caramelized.

This marmalade is terrific served cold, at room temperature, or heated. Makes two 8-ounce jars and then some.

PS: Loquat Jam ...

Loquats are in season right now in L.A., and there are three laden trees across from my apartment. No one eats the fruit, and it just falls on the ground and rots, which is such a shame. Loquats are fabulous, the closest I’ve found to a mangosteen, which is my favorite fruit in the whole world. They’re a pain to peel and de-seed (the seeds, apparently, are poisonous), but it was worth it for making jam. Out of curiosity, I used the exact same recipe that I used for my pear jam, excluding the jasmine tea. And it worked. Even though I know different amounts of sugar are usually required for different jams, I use this recipe as a template, and so far, it hasn’t failed me.

Monday, February 25, 2008

And the Oscar goes to … Beer & Barbecue Sauce Crock Pot Turkey Meatballs

Every year for the past seven or eight years, my sister and I (but mostly my sister) have been hosting an Oscar party for our friends … complete with food themed to the movies and actors up for awards. Among this year’s dishes: Away from Herb Dip and Julie Crispies, No Caprese for Old Men, Johnny Dipp with Helena Bonham Crackers, Prosciutto of the Caribbean, La Vie En Fromage, The Bourbon Ultimatum Bars, Elizabeth the Golden Aged Cheddar and English Pickle, There will be Blood Oranges, Into the Wild Mushroom Fricasee ... and yes, I know great liberties were taken with these titles. Even more fun are the movie posters my sis makes to go with them!

All around, the food was terrific, thanks to Jules, Trae and Robin up from Orange County, Sarah, Jenny, and Bette in from Seattle just in time to enjoy a rainy weekend, with Clive providing the token male presence. For my dish, I was assigned Michael Claypot ...

I found a few crock pot meatball recipes online (my clay pot is too small for feeding a group), started experimenting, and concocted this winner.

Beer & Barbecue Sauce Crock Pot Turkey Meatballs


- 2 lbs turkey
- 2 eggs
- 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
- 4 good dashes garlic salt
- 4 big dashes Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1 bottle trader Joe’s All Natural Barbecue Sauce (18 oz)
- 1 cup Fat Tire beer


1) Toast the pine nuts in a pan and set aside.

2) Brown onions in olive oil.

3) Mix turkey, eggs, onions, garlic salt, Worcestershire sauce, and pine nuts.

4) Shape meatballs, approximately 1 inch round.

5) Brown meatballs in olive oil, but don’t cook completely.

6) Arrange meatballs in crockpot.

7) Pour barbecue sauce over meatballs.

8) Pour beer over meatballs.

9) Cook in your crock pot on low for 4-8 hours.

Serving size:
I wish I could tell you how many meatballs this made, but I didn’t count. I’m guessing about 50.

Ingredient note:
The turkey mixture seemed a little mushy when I browned the meatballs, though they held together in the end. Perhaps try 1 less egg, or add some breadcrumbs—not soft dusty crumbs, but crispy panko breadcrumbs.

More crock pot recipes:

- Crock Pot Beef Burgundy
- Pulled Pork

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Limoncello Season: My Favorite Time of Year

Here in L.A., it’s that time of year again … the tree out back in my driveway is bursting with lemons. That means one thing in this household: limoncello. I know that I first posted my limoncello recipe almost two years ago, but it’s among the top two items that bring people to this blog (the other being cha ca, or clay pot fish), and I wanted to make it easier on readers by publishing the recipe without all the blah, blah, blah back story and fussing around that went with making my first batch. So, here it is, nice and easy …

Limoncello, Phase One

- Choose 24 medium size lemons or 12 large lemons. When I say large, I mean huge. The ones from my tree are the size of grapefruit. Use organic lemons, since the alcohol is going to suck out every bit of oil (and pesticide, if it’s there) from the zest.

- Peel the zest from the lemons. Make sure not to get any pith, since it will make the liqueur bitter. I’ve heard that a microplane works well, but since I don’t have one, I used a serrated vegetable peeler.

- Put the skins in a jar and dump in two 750 ml bottles of 150 proof Everclear (see photo below). Leave in the jar in a cool, dark place for approximately three weeks. You’re ready to move on when the zest has turned white and the alcohol is yellow.

Limoncello, Phase Two

- Strain the zest from the alcohol. Squeeze any oil, if possible, from the zest and add to the alcohol.

- Mix the lemony alcohol with a simple syrup of 12 cups water and 5 cups sugar for a mix that won’t kill you, and 9 cups water and 4 ½ cups sugar for a mix that will merely burn your eyelashes off. Liquid should turn slightly cloudy.

- Put the jar back in its cool, dark place for three more weeks.

Limoncello, Phase Three

- Pour into bottles.

- Make labels.Tie a recipe for limoncello biscotti around the neck of the bottle, and you have the perfect spring gift for friends.

A note on alcohol:
You will find recipes that call for vodka instead of grain alcohol. Don't do it, unless you want to make a glorified lemondrop martini. I've tested this recipe various ways, and my friends have taste-tested those various batches, and the recipe that I have come up with here is considered the best, especially by all those who had their first sips while traveling in Italy.

(top photo by Julie Fay)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Super Easy Peanut Butter Cookies

Last week we had my cousin Jeanne, her beau Steve, and her son Connor over for Sunday dinner. I say “we,” but that’s just to take credit for the delish Bubble & Squeak my sis and her hubby Clive made. B&S is an English favorite that’s made its way into our apartment due to this transatlantic marriage business … B&S is traditionally a mash made with leftover veggies, but Jules and Clive make up a big pot of it with whatever root vegetables are in season, plus beets (for a weird pink color), and a few other things … once I get the recipe figured out, I’ll post it. In the meantime, I want to write about something that I’ve actually written about before but think falls naturally into my January-Is-The-Month-For-Easy-Recipes theme: Peanut Butter Cookies.

After we finished eating our Bubble & Squeak, we realized we didn’t have any dessert. But I had all the makings for my mom’s classic PB Cookies, leftover from a cooking project with my after school program. Ten minutes later, the cookies were baking away … and they were a huge hit, or at least the ones I didn’t drop on the floor were—we had a wee bit of red wine with our dinner. The secret quickie ingredient? Yellow cake mix. Just add peanut butter, eggs, oil, and water, and you have the best PB cookies ever. Whatever you do, though, don’t read the ingredients on the cake mix box. I have never seen such an unhealthy and possibly toxic ingredient listing in a single place, with the exception of a Twinkie box. That said, consider these a special treat, to counteract all that green tea you drink with your blueberries and cranberries and organic quinoa!

Peanut Butter Cookies

- 1 package yellow cake mix (extra moist)
- 1 cup chunky peanut butter (see note below)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp water
- 2 eggs

Combine ingredients. Drop round 1-inch balls of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet, 1-2 inches apart. Press cookies flat, making a criss-cross pattern with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

Peanut Butter Note:
I usually use Skippy. Not because I want to, but because it tastes best. But the last time I was in a rush and picked up a Whole Foods brand peanut butter: the kind that has sugar in it … this is very important. It worked---sorry, Skippy.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Turkey Meatloaf

It’s January. It’s cold and dreary (even here in L.A.). December was exhausting---juggling jury duty, working, gift shopping, and getting myself over to London took it out of me, not to mention watching my sister prepare a Christmas feast in her flat for her new family, my parents, and me. Now that I’m back, I just want to ease into the flow of all my New Year’s resolutions. I don’t want to hassle in the kitchen, but I do want some comfort when I eat.

This turkey meatloaf is a standard for me, though I often substitute ingredients for whatever I have in the cupboard. A makeshift version I once made with Ritz Crackers was unbelievably good, and the fancy version I tried with thyme and a little white wine was nice, too, though in general meatloaf lends itself to less refined ingredients. I also consider this my Trader Joe’s dish, since I get everything I need for it, except the Worcestershire sauce, at my favorite one-stop shop. Freeze the turkey, keep the ingredients on hand, (pair it with soup in the winter and a salad in the summer) and you always have something healthy and satisfying for dinner. Though I’ve included measurements below, they are guesstimates, as this is really a “pinch of this, dash of that” dish.

Turkey Meatloaf


- 1 package ground turkey (about 1 lb.)
- 1 egg
- A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
- A few Tbsp barbecue sauce
- 1 Tbsp yellow mustard
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste


1) Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Pour into a loaf pan.

2) Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or up to an hour, depending on your oven.