Friday Faves

photo-59 {ditto}

Happy Friday!  I hope everyone is enjoying the gray, rainy weather that has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest. I have to admit, I’ve been pretty excited to dig out my sweaters, raincoats, and Hunter boots this week (driving in the torrential downpours, however, not so much).  The forecast looks like more of the same for the next few days, so I hope your weekend plans include lots of fun indoor activities (building a fire in the fireplace, carving pumpkins, maybe making lasagna or apple crisp).  In the meantime, some links and pics to get you to 5 pm a little sooner (hopefully!). Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend!

photo-66{my grandma on her 95th birthday last weekend}

photo-61{pumpkin donuts}

photo-60{new fall lipsticks – NARS audacious in ‘raquel’ and ‘anna’}

photo 1-22{sleeping baby snuggles}

Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore

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I’m not entirely sure if lasagna is a “sexy” enough topic for a blog post, but I’ve had enough people ask me for this recipe over the years that I thought I should share it with all of you. Plus, it seems appropriate to celebrate our first official week of rainy weather with a recipe from my “Celebrate the Rain” cookbook from the Junior League of Seattle. [Sidenote, my career in the Junior League was sadly short lived - but this cookbook was one of the best things I got out of it.]  I’m not ordinarily a huge lasagna fan – I don’t eat red meat, which means I often can’t eat it anyways, but even when there’s a veggie option I find it’s usually heavy and/or mushy and/or bland.  It’s hard for me not to like a dish made up of pasta plus cheese plus tomato sauce, but rarely have I experienced a truly stand out dish – this is one of the few lasagna recipes I’ve found that I can truly say I love. So much so that I made it for a dinner party last week, and have been pouting about lack of leftovers ever since.

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Chicken cacciatore is basically chicken braised in tomato sauce, usually with some combination of onions, garlic, mushrooms, bell peppers, and herbs. I made that definition up, but it’s a combination of the first five or so recipes I read after a quick google search. This recipe, as the name implies, is a combination of chicken cacciatore and lasagna. We make a “cacciatore sauce” of sorts using lots of fresh vegetables, shred the chicken into the sauce, and layer it with noodles (or pasta sheets!) like a lasagna, only using mozzarella and parm instead of your typical ricotta layer. While there is still plenty of cheese, it somehow seems so much lighter than traditional lasagna – and so full of veggies that you don’t even feel that bad about going back for seconds.

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This isn’t the quickest of recipes, but as lasagnas go it’s pretty simple to put together. The chopping takes some time, but it’s so worth it. I’m now really wishing I had doubled the recipe, as this will keep well in the freezer (baked or unbaked), and as long as you’re doing one, you might as well do two (or even three!) – the increase in time is marginal. Time saving tips include no-boil noodles or pasta sheets and rotisserie chicken. Boiling lasagna noodles is a total pain – no matter how much oil I add to my cooking water, they seem to always stick together and then break when I try to pull them apart. I’ve used no-boil noodles before and think they’re fine, but I know some people don’t like them – the pasta sheets really are the way to go if you can get them. They’re so easy and so fun, and it makes it a lot easier to serve your lasagna without having to worry about cutting in between the noodles (no pretty ruffles like regular lasagna noodles, though). Rotisserie chicken is a huge time saver, and I find the meat easier to shred. For once I can’t tell you to use the Trader Joe’s pre-chopped onions (my apologies to your eyeballs), but slicing doesn’t take too terribly long.  Pre-grated cheese seems so un-gourmet….but if that’s your thing, I won’t tell and it will still taste yummy.  Honestly though, if you can force yourself to be at least sort of efficient in the kitchen (slice onions while chicken cooks, slice mushrooms/mince garlic/dice pepper while onions cook, grate cheese while sauce simmers, etc.) it really doesn’t take that long to put together.

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Layer your lasagna: noodles, sauce, cheese; repeat; repeat again. Don’t the pasta sheets look so fun?!? Dump an extra can of tomatoes over everything (except the top layer of cheese) if you’re short on sauce (see my note at the bottom of the recipe). You can stop here and then bake later (if you’re making this ahead of time), or freeze now and bake later, or bake and then freeze – the possibilities are endless.  For my aforementioned dinner party, I put the lasagna together ahead of time, went about my day, and then popped it in the oven right before everyone arrived. The house smelled yummy, we had a lovely 30 minute cocktail hour, and then I took the lasagna out of the oven, popped dessert in, and we sat down to a bubbling-hot-out-of-the-oven dinner (and then an hour later, a bubbling-hot-out-of-the-oven apple crisp).  For someone who’s always scrambling around and doing everything last minute, I was pretty proud of myself!  Lasagna may not be the sexiest blog topic, but it gets major points for the make-ahead factor. Serve with a simple green salad and bread, and it’s a great meal to share with friends – you can sit and chat and enjoy yourself rather than frantically throwing everything together at the last minute. And with a fire in the fireplace and a couple bottles of wine, it’s the perfect meal with which to celebrate the rain.

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Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore, from Celebrate the Rain

Serves 8*

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
3/4 lbs. boneless, chicken chicken breast**
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
10 ounces button mushrooms, brushed clean, trimmed, and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2″ dice
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes***
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 lb. mozarella cheese, grated
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
12 cooked lasagna noodles OR 9 no-boil lasagna noodles OR 3 fresh pasta sheets

To make sauce:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, add them to the pan, and cook until browned on the bottom, about 6 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook until tender and cooked through, about 5 minutes longer.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and let cool; reserve the saucepan. When the chicken is cool, shred it and set aside. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in the saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the mushrooms and garlic and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes longer.  Add the bell pepper and sauté until nearly tender, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, basil, salt, black pepper, and dried red pepper flakes. Add the chicken, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.

To prepare lasagna: 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Oil a 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce (avoiding large chunks of chicken or vegetables) on the bottom of the dish.*** Line the dish with 4 cooked lasagna noodles or 3 no-boil lasagna noodles or one pasta sheet. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella and 1/3 of the parmesan. Repeat the layering of noodles, sauce, and cheese two more times.  (The lasagna can be prepared a few days ahead, covered with plastic, and refrigerated, or covered securely with plastic and foil and frozen for a few weeks). Bake the lasagna until the cheese turns golden brown in spots and the sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes (if after 30 minutes the sauce is bubbling but the cheese hasn’t started browning, turn the oven to broil and watch the lasagna carefully – it will brown quickly).  Transfer the dish to a wire rack and let the lasagna sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

*The recipe says 8 servings, but I’ve found it usually yields closer to 10-12. You’ll want leftovers, though.
**You could use a store-bought rotisserie chicken here as a shortcut. I usually do, and wondered why I didn’t this time (not that it’s hard to cook the chicken, but I always manage to get oil splattered all over my stovetop). You’ll need about two cups cooked, shredded white meat, skin and bones discarded.  One chicken should yield this easily.
***Every time I make this recipe, I find that I’m way short on sauce (in part probably because my lasagna pan is bigger than 9×13, so this may not be as much of an issue for you). My new trick is to use an extra can of crushed tomatoes – you could use a jar of spaghetti sauce as well if you’re in a pinch.  I like to pour 1/2 cup – 1 cup crushed tomatoes into the bottom of the pan before I start building the lasagna (rather than using the sauce as instructed). Then I do the recommended 1 1/2 cups of sauce per layer (possibly a little more if it looks like that isn’t enough). Once I reach the third layer I’m a little short, so I use up the homemade sauce and then dump the rest of the can of crushed tomatoes over the casserole before I add the final layer of cheese.  You could use a 15.5-ounce can of tomatoes if your lasagna pan is closer to 9×13 size/if you find you aren’t that short on sauce, but I used an entire 28-ounce can this time and it turned out great.  You could also just add the second can of tomatoes to the sauce as you’re making it (along with the can called for), but my saucepan is usually close to overflowing so I’ve been doing it this way.  Making sure the top layer of pasta is fully covered with sauce is especially important if you’re using the no-boil noodles or the fresh pasta sheets as they’ll need the liquid to cook. photo 3

Friday Faves

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{apple picking in hood river last weekend}

Can you believe we’re halfway through October already? Sob. A friend of mine is expecting a baby on December 31st – we were chatting yesterday and she mentioned she only has 10 weeks to go. And while that’s great news for her, I’m not even close to ready for 2015 yet – I feel like I just started getting used to 2014.  But anyway. Time marches on, as they say!  I hope everyone is looking forward to something fun this weekend.  I’m excited to hang out with my baby nephew tomorrow, and we’re celebrating my grandmother’s 95th birthday on Sunday. The forecast for the party is 73 and sunny – on October 19th! Amazing!  In the meantime, some highlights from this past week:

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{Mark Bittman book signing!}

photo-58{dinner party prep}

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{loving my new hair powder}

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{Coop loves the pumpkin patch!}

Brown Butter and Bourbon Apple Crisp

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It’s hard enough to pass up any old apple crisp recipe, even when it’s not called “The Best Apple Crisp You’ll Ever Have.” If I ever see a recipe entitled “the best [anything] you’ll ever have,” I feel compelled to make it, regardless of whether or not [anything] is something I would normally want to make.  Otherwise, I would clearly be missing out. I bookmarked this recipe when I first came across it in November of 2012, and for some reason it’s taken me almost a full two years to make it – which is a shame, because it really might be the best apple crisp I’ll ever have.  I hate to think how many apple crisps I’ve eaten in the past two years that weren’t this good.  So many wasted calories. Don’t get me wrong – even your average apple crisp is usually pretty yummy. Apples, sugar, crumble topping, ice cream – it’s hard to go wrong.  But this one has brown butter – vanilla brown butter, no less – and bourbon, which makes it pretty much spectacular.

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This recipe is a bit more involved than your average crisp, but I promise you it’s worth it. The topping is crunchy and buttery and delicious – I especially loved the big chunks of almonds.  I didn’t really taste a ton of vanilla, so you could probably skip that part (especially when a vanilla bean costs $10!), but it was pretty fun to scrape the seeds into the butter, and it smelled amazing.  Fun tip, if you do use the vanilla beans: save the pods and use them to make vanilla extract, vanilla sugar, or vanilla salt.

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Re: what type of apples to use.  The recipe calls for Granny Smiths, but when I asked the guy at the farm stand (that’s right, this is literally a farm-to-table crisp) he emphatically informed me that Granny Smiths are the “styrofoam of apples,” and that I wanted to use Newtown Pippins. He didn’t have any that day, so I trekked to another farm stand where a helpful woman told me that I actually needed a mix of all different types of apples.  I went a little crazy and got Newtown Pippins, Crispins (aka Mutsus), Honeycrisps, Fujis, and a couple Granny Smiths just in case (a combination of everything she recommended and everything I had read online during my quick google search between farm stands). Five varieties is probably excessive, but I found a number of articles that recommended using at least two or three. Different textures, levels of sweetness/tartness, etc.  I couldn’t say for sure that it made that much difference (it could have been the brown butter or the bourbon), but the crisp was so amazing that I’m officially an apple snob now.

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The peeling/coring/slicing of the apples takes awhile, although I doubled the recipe so that probably didn’t help. I used my mandoline for really thin, uniform slices, but you could easily use a knife. I loved the look of the slices once the apples baked down, but you could do bigger chunks or a dice as well.  The recipe has you mix a little of the topping in with the apples before you pour everything into the pan, so there were little flecks of nuts and oats in every bite – so brilliant. Why have I never thought of this before?  Sidenote: I bought this bakeware set (similar here) as a shower gift for someone last summer and then decided to keep it for myself.  Probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because the different sized pans are all adorable, but especially the mini one.  The best apple crisp you’ll ever have, for two!

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One year ago: Pumpkin Black Bean Soup and Pumpkin Bread Pudding 

The Best Apple Crisp You’ll Ever Have, from Ambitious Kitchen via Cup of Jo

For the topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces

For the filling:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 medium-sized apples, peeled, cored, and very thinly sliced (recipe recommends Granny Smith, I used Newtown Pippin, Honeycrisp, Crispin, Fuji, and Granny Smith)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon bourbon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease an 8×8 baking pan (or a pan of similar size).

Make topping: Toss flour, oats, brown sugar, and almonds in a large bowl until well-combined. Add in butter pieces and use your hands to squeeze and combine until the mixture becomes crumbly and resembles wet sand. (You could also use a pastry cutter here, or place all of the topping ingredients in a food processor and pulse until just blended. I usually would use my food processor, but the recipe recommends hands so I did it that way and it turned out great – and I didn’t have to clean my food processor!). Let topping chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the apples.

Make filling: Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and add vanilla beans (not pods). After a couple of minutes the butter will begin to crackle and foam – make sure to whisk constantly. Let butter cook for another minute or two, until it starts to turn a slight brown/caramel color on the bottom of the pan; continue to whisk and remove from heat as soon as the butter begins to give off a nutty aroma. Immediately transfer the butter to a bowl to prevent it from burning; set aside to cool.

While the butter is cooling, combine sliced apples with brown sugar, cinnamon, and bourbon in a large bowl and toss to combine. Pour the brown butter over the apple mixture and toss again until the apples are well coated.

Remove topping from fridge. Take about 1/2 cup of the topping and toss with the apples. Pour the mixture into your prepared pan and sprinkle evenly with the rest of the topping (it will seem like a lot of topping, but it’s ok).

Bake the crisp on a baking sheet (in case it bubbles over) for 55-60 minutes, or until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbling. Remove from oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Serve warm, ideally with vanilla ice cream.

Notes: Feel free to use different nuts instead of almonds – walnuts or pecans would be delicious – or you can leave them out entirely. If you don’t have bourbon on hand, you can replace with ½ teaspoon vanilla extract (bourbon is pretty dang good though).

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Friday Faves

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{roasted delicata squash}

Happy Friday! What are you all up to? I’m looking forward to a low key weekend for the first time in awhile. We finally have some fall weather in the forecast, and I’m not going to lie, I’m kind of excited to have an excuse to wear my Hunter boots. And I have a ton of apple recipes I want to try, so rainy day baking sounds kind of heavenly. In the meantime, some fun links (recipes, movie reviews, online shopping) and pics to help get you a little closer to 5 pm:

  • I can’t do another butternut squash bowl recipe, but how good do these look?
  • Is it wrong that I want all of the flannel shirts at Madewell right now? Specifically this one, this one, and this one. (Funny story, I was in the store a couple days ago and asked the salesgirl where to find the one she was wearing, as it was my favorite. She told me she found it at the Goodwill for $1.50.  Not what I needed to hear when I was already feeling guilty about paying $80 for something I used to own ten of back in my wannabe-grunge days!!). I should probably order this one from Old Navy instead! New career – splurge/save editor for Us Weekly!?!
  • PSA – the Serena & Lily Friends and Family sale is on now – and it runs through Tuesday, which is perfect timing for me as that’s the day I find out if I’m getting my first niece or another nephew next March! (They have tons of amazing non-baby stuff too though!).
  • Can’t wait to dive into my copy of this book.
  • After literally not going to a movie theatre in what feels like years, I’ve been on a real movie kick lately. I’ve been seeing a ton of previews for The Judge – didn’t get a great review but I’ll probably go see it anyways.

photo-51{i’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time (also, how great is this picture?)}

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{i’m obsessed with these cookies}

photo 4{did you know that when you order any makeup or skincare item from nordstrom.com, you get to select three samples (from about 12 options) to arrive with your purchase? I ordered a new face wash the other week and chose fun samples of la mer moisturizer, la prarie eye and lip cream, and the new jo malone scent – jo malone because i love keeping the sample sizes in my purse; the first two because I could never afford them in real life}

photo-50{sweetest little guy!}

Butternut Squash and Farro Salad

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I know that by February I’ll be longing for a warm and sunny October.  OK, by November (which is only 22 days away, eeeek!) I’ll probably be longing for a warm and sunny October.  But as of this week, when the 70+ degree temperatures are keeping me from my new fall wardrobe, I’m really ready for it to start feeling like fall.  I’ve dug all of my sweaters and boots out of the back of my closet(s), but it’s been t-shirt and flip flop weather all week (the things I find to complain about, I know). I’ve decided, however, that even if the forecast points to an Indian summer, the calendar says fall, so that’s what I’m going with.  I colored my hair dark this week (!!!), bought a flannel shirt that’s way too hot to wear anytime soon, and started in on the “fall recipes” on my to-do list. First up, this yummy butternut squash salad from Smitten Kitchen.

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Is there anything more “fall-ish” than butternut squash? (Is “fall-ish” even a word?) Well, there are probably lots of things, but butternut squash has got to be up there. After I made this salad, I found this one and kind of wished I had made it as well. If you’re really on top of life, you could prep a big batch of squash ahead of time and use it for both recipes (it will keep either raw or roasted in the fridge for a few days at least). You could throw it into a pasta dish, or into a green salad, or just eat it plain with parmesan like I’ve been doing a lot lately (yum).  But for now we’re talking farro, which is delicious (and pronounced FAR-ro, not FAIR-ro like a Pharaoh from ancient Egypt.  I may or may not have been mispronouncing this word for entirely too long, so just want to save you the embarrassment in case you’ve been making the same mistake). Deb explains the difference between pearled, semi-pearled, regular, etc., and the corresponding cooking times.  I just bought the Trader Joe’s “10 minute farro” and it was great (TJ’s FTW, as usual).

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My only other notes would be: (1) Deb recommends you pickle your onions for as close to 30 minutes as possible, but tells you that if you don’t have that much time less is ok too.  I’m sure she’s right, but as a raw-onion-hater I’ve found that the longer the onions are marinating, the less raw-onion-y they’ll taste. When I have time, I let mine sit in the fridge for an hour or two (fun tip: even soaking slices of red onion in plain ice water for a few minutes makes them taste a little more neutral).  Of course if raw onion hatred isn’t an issue for you, 30 minutes or less is fine.  (2) Sometimes ricotta salata can be hard to find – I’ve used feta in the past and it works just as well.  This is probably blasphemous to write on a food blog (however wannabe it may be), but I’m not entirely on the ricota salata train in the way that everyone else seems to be and I almost like it better with the feta. (3) Deb will tell you this as well, but this salad is super flexible – use any type of squash or roasted veggie in place of or along with the butternut, use rice/orzo/barley instead of farro, etc.  Although if you don’t have an aversion to anything in the recipe, I would encourage you to try it as written at least initially, as it really is delicious. Ratios are also flexible – I just used a whole squash, an entire (small) bag of farro, and then adjusted my toppings and seasonings accordingly.  (4) This salad is good at room temperature (i.e. when you’ve just finished making it and the squash and farro are still warm), but delicious chilled – it’s one of those salads that is really better the next day (especially if the next day is a little closer to sweater weather).

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Butternut Squash, previously: soup, baked pasta

Smitten Kitchen, previously: about every other recipe on this blog

Butternut Squash and Farro Salad, from Smitten Kitchen

1 medium butternut squash
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup farro
1/3 cup toasted, salted pepitas
3 ounces ricotta salata, crumbled or coarsely grated (or other salty cheese, such as feta)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

Prepare Squash: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Peel butternut squash and scrape out seeds. Cut squash into 1/2″-3/4″ cubes. Coat baking sheet (or sheets, if you have a large amount of squash) with olive oil, and then toss squash on the baking sheet with small amounts of olive oil, salt, and pepper until coated. Roast 30-40 minutes, or until squash is tender and starting to brown, tossing or stirring a couple times so that the pieces don’t stick.

Prepare Farro: According to package instructions.

Prepare Onions and Brine: Chop onion into small dice. In a small bowl, whisk together the sherry vinegar, water, sugar, and salt, until the sugar is dissolved. Add onion and stir to coat. The brine won’t cover the onions all the way, but that’s ok. Place onions (in brine) in the refrigerator while you wait for squash/farro to cook. Ideally they can chill for 30 minutes, but less time is ok.

In a large bowl, mix together farro, squash, onions (with brine), cheese, and pepitas. Add three tablespoons of olive oil. Taste, and add more oil, sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Top with more cheese and/or pepitas if desired (I did). Salad is best chilled, and will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Friday Faves

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{soaking up these last few sunny days}

Happy Friday, friends!  I don’t say this often, but I feel like this past week flew by. How is it already October? My little baby nephew is two months old today – time really does fly, as they say. He’s getting so big (sob!).  Any fun plans for the weekend? I’m heading to a farmhouse wedding tomorrow, and then brunch with my book club girlfriends on Sunday. And I get to meet not one but two new babies, Charlie and Cameron (belonging to my friends Heather and Karrie, respectively).  Going to see Gone Girl tonight – CAN. NOT. WAIT. I suspect it might be a huge disappointment, but hopefully I’m wrong.  Wishing everyone a sunny and relaxing weekend! Some fun links and pics (I hope you guys appreciate these links, because sometimes it’s really hard to come up with five good ones :) But I do it because I love you – and I know how hard it can be to get through a Friday sometimes so hopefully this helps you kill some time!):

  • This tailgate looks AH-mazing
  • Because I always want a crispy crust when eating leftover pizza
  • I’ve been getting a ton of compliments on my skin lately – want to know my secret? (in “warm soul” and I use it more like a bronzer)
  • Grilled cheese? Yes, please!
  • The best color, for all things, all of the time

photo 2{homemade pumpkin spice, inspired by…}

photo 2-16{…my barista’s homemade pumpkin spice (which is way better)}

photo 2 {new favorite eye cream – because I need to be at least kind of believable when I claim to be 29}

photo-44 {I had so much fun putting together Coop’s halloween present: treat bag from pottery barn kids, sleepers from hanna andersson and carter’s, pumpkin onesie and hat from gymboree, oregon state gear, bottle from lifefactory (and filled with reese’s pieces for mom and dad), books from amazon. Not pictured but a must for any baby halloween gift – skull diapers.}