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Butternut Squash Fries

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These are a delicious alternative to sweet potato fries, saving the carbs from the potato and the fat by skipping the deep fryer. The squash contains a lot of liquid so I changed up the usual way of baking them in an attempt to dry them and crisp them up.

Butternut Squash Fries

1 Butternut Squash, peeled

2 TBSP Olive Oil

1.5 TBSP Corn Starch (optional)

1 TBSP Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

2-3 tsp salt, divided

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp parsley

Non-Stick cooking spray (I used Pam Olive Oil, calorie & fat free)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Peel the squash and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash into fries, about 1/4 inch thick. I only used 1/2 of the squash, which was made more than enough fries for my friends and me. The rest I put in a ziploc baggy to save for later in the week.

Pour the Olive Oil into a bowl and toss the squash sticks, coating them evenly, but lightly. You can skip the next step with the corn starch and Parmesan if you want truly raw or paleo fries, but the coating is minimal calorically and it adds a lot of flavor and crunch. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour and the cheese. Toss the squash fries into the Parm mixture. Layout the sticks on a cookie sheet in a even layer and sprinkle 1 tsp of the salt and the pepper onto the fries. Spray with non-stick spray. Place the sheet into the upper most rack of you oven and bake for 20 minutes. Half way through that time, flip and sprinkle with another tsp of salt. The salting helps draw out moisture.

After the 20 minutes are up, flip for fries again, and move the tray to the bottom most rack of the oven. Bake for an additional 15 – 20 minutes or until nicely browned and crisp on the outside. Remove from cookie tray and plate. Sprinkle a little more salt and the parsley on top and serve. They’re great on their own and dipped into ketchup they’re identical to sweet potato fries.

Healthy & Light(er) Spaghetti Squash Alfredo

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love Autumn. There’s not much Fall to be had in Austin, but each and every year I try to will this season to occur. The leaves don’t chain color, unless you count the grass dying, the weather barely cools, but I still make my house smell like synthetic pumpkin, I wear layers in earth tones, and I make squash. Lots and lots of squash.

In an attempt to make squash more than a side dish, I decided to make a Spaghetti Squash Alfredo. Creamy without being heavy, filling without being packed with carbs. To lighten the sauce, I skipped the usual heavy cream, cut back on the butter, and made a roux instead.

Spaghetti Squash Alfredo

1 Spaghetti Squash

3 TBSP butter

4 TBSP all purpose flour

1/4 cup chicken stock (or dry white wine)

1/2 cup milk (I used 1%, but any will do)

2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

Juice of 1 half lemon

1/2 TBSP dried parsley flakes or 1 TBSP freshly chopped parsley

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. In a 4 sided cookie pan or large pyrex fill with enough water to fill about 1/4-1/2 inch up the sides. Place the squash (which at this point will look nothing like spaghetti) face down into the water. Roast the spaghetti squash for 35-45 minutes or until tender. I like my pasta al dente, so I took the squash out at 35 minutes.

The sauce comes together quickly, so make this no more than 10 minutes before the squash needs to come out.  Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour until you make a paste of even consistency.  Add the milk and chicken stock or wine, whisking to incorporate. Add the garlic and let simmer for about 3 minutes, whisking periodically. Sprinkle in the parm and the garlic powder, whisking to combine. If the alfredo sauce seems to thick, add chicken stock or white wine a TBSP at a time. As it sits and simmers it will thicken, so be sure to whisk periodically. It is best, however, to make the sauce a little thick because the squash does contain a lot of liquid naturally and that will moisten the sauce once tossed together. Just before serving, whisk in the lemon juice for brightness. You can also sprinkle the lemon juice directly over the squash prior to topping with sauce if preferred.

Getting back to the squash, once done roasting, remove from cookie sheet or pyrex and let cool about 5 minutes. Wrapping the back of the squash in a tea towel (the side with the skin on it) lightly separate the innards of the squash with a fork. I stuck the tines of the fork into the squash meat and gentle twisted, revealing the meat to be spaghetti-like.

Once the squash meat is cleaned out of the skin, place your “spaghetti” into a paper towel lined colander in the sink. The one draw back to this dish is that the squash contains a lot of moisture and you want to try to remove some of that prior to serving, just so the meal doesn’t get watery. Once the sauce is done or the squash has drained a bit in the colander for 5 or so minutes, which ever comes first, place the spaghetti squash into a large bowl and toss with the sauce, reserving about 1/4 of alfredo for topping if desired. Plate topping each serving with a little extra sauce and a small sprinkling of parsley. I also topped mine with a shredded slice of prosciutto, but sautéed chicken or shrimp would also be perfect as well to add a healthy and light punch of protein. I  really couldn’t detect much of a difference in flavor between the squash and regular spaghetti at all. It was a wonderfully flavorful Autumn dinner, without weighing us down, whether or not Fall was actually happening outside.

Thanksgiving Nov. 24, 2011

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I don’t do hectic holidays. I only spend time with people I like, which is a very, very limited list, and I don’t put on pants unless I absolutely have to. So when it comes to Thanksgiving, I have two goals: eat a ton of junk and have a freakin’ good time. I want to be as relaxed as Sammie. Nothing gets to him. He sleeps, eats, and ruins all my nicest crap. He is one cool customer.

For the last 10-12 years I’ve been doing Thanksgiving on my own. I don’t do turkey. It’s dry. It makes you sleepy. And if you cook the stuffing on the inside of the bird, one could contest that the bready delight is, in fact, a health hazard. I make prime rib. It’s awesome and delicious. And you get to make Yorkshire Pudding instead of stuffing, which is a million times better. Don’t know what Yorkshire Pudding is? You take the drippings, the liquified fatty fat fat-fat, from a prime rib and you heat it to 500 bagillion degrees. Then you pour a mixture of flours, eggs, and milk in the searing hot heart stopping grease and it sizzles up to make a thinish, soft bread. It’s awesome. And is absolutely awful for you. I normally eat the left overs for breakfast the next morning. Totally cold. Ahhh, yeah.

I invite any of my friends and all of my family to join. Normally, my parents have to host on Thanksgiving for other parts of my family so they’re always out. It also doesn’t help that I live 1800 miles from them (not an exaggeration). This year we had our friends Tim, Angie, Nick & Tania, over along with N&T’s two kids, Nicco (5 months old and slept the entire time, except for the 5 minutes that Chip made her cry) and Dexter (a super awesome, laid back, and independent 2 year old). How many toddlers do you know that can both recite the alphabet and ask for prosciutto? He’s awesome.

And the food was a breeze. On top of the prime rib, Chip made ice cream to go with Tania’s amazing salted caramel almond brittle tart, which I would have taken a picture of, but we inhaled it at the speed of light, and I made my family’s greens recipe for a side.

First the good stuff. We made 2 batches of ice cream: Madagascar Vanilla bean and Coffee Vanilla bean. Two batches are roughly equal to two quarts and take EIGHT egg yolks per batch, for a total of SIXTEEN egg yolks. 1 cup each of brown and white sugar gets whipped with 8 egg yolks. You just cream them together until you think your arm is going to fall off. In a sauce pan over medium heat mix 3 cups of half & half, 1 cup of heavy cream, and the inside of a vanilla bean to 170 – 175 degrees, stirring constantly. It’s best to do this with two people. My attention span is nil and this is quite the process.

Then you temper the egg and sugar mixture into the warm milk. Slowly – SLOWLY – add a little milk to the eggs and stir. Little more milk, little more stirring. Once the eggs are warmed enough so that they won’t cook if added to the milk mixture, completely combine the two. Again, over medium heat and stirring constantly, bring the egg-sugar-milk mixture to 170 – 175 degrees. Then remove it from heat and strain through a sieve into tupperware. This makes for velvety smooth ice cream. Once the strained mixture has cooled, place it in the fridge to be thrown into an ice cream machine on another day. For our coffee flavor, we mixed a couple of tablespoons of decaf instant espresso into about 3 tablespoons of hot water, which we then added to the milk mixture. Yes, we could have just added the instant espresso to the hot milk mixture, but we wanted a little bit more control over it and wanted to make sure the crystals dissolved completely. So, that’s pretty much it. Toss the custard mixture into an ice cream maker (we have a Cuisinart), let it go for 20 minutes, and then throw it into the freezer. On Thanksgiving we had fresh home made ice cream and french toast for breakfast. Perfect.

Not for nothing, but the above picture is Chip. I am an Italian American lady, so I am certainly not without hair – the darkest, thickest fur you’ll ever see on a being that is neither man nor Sasquatch – but that hairy hand there is Chip’s.

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Sure, we roasted potatoes and had the Yorkshire Pudding, but the side that took actual work was Greens. My whole life I’ve only ever called this dish “Greens”. “You want some greens?” “What’s for dinner? Pasta and greens?” “I have the world’s worst gas – it must be from the greens!” Greens are easy, delicious, and make great leftovers. You take one or two clean bunches of swiss chard and a bunch of escarole and roughly chop them. I couldn’t find escarole any where so I finally settled for a bunch of endive leaves, which the checkout lady ironically rang up as escarole.

Toss the chopped leaves into a big stock pot that has been filled with 3 inches of water, one potato that’s been cubed, and 2 tablespoons of salt. Add a can of Cannellini beans to the top and cover.

Boil away for 10 minutes, then add a bag of spinach; I used a bag of baby leaf spinach you can find with the rest of the salad mixes in your grocery store.Continue boiling for another 5 minutes. Then chuck every thing into a strainer and sprinkle with salt. Put the stock pot back over medium to medium high heat and add 1/2 cup olive oil, 3-4 cloves of garlic roughly chopped, and red pepper flakes to your heat tolerance. Saute for 3-5 minutes. You’re infusing the oil, but you don’t want to brown the garlic.

After a few minutes add the greens, beans, and potatoes back to the stock pot and stir. Continue cooking for an additional 3-5 minutes and then remove from heat. The greens should be fairly moist. Feel free to add olive oil as needed if you feel they’re too dry. Add 1/4-1/2 shredded Parmesan cheese and stir. Finally, add 1/4-1/2 cup of bread crumbs, stir, and call it a day. You’re done. Those greens are good right now; they’ll be even better tomorrow. You want serious awesomeness? Take some chiabatta, a chicken cutlet and provolone. Make a sandwich and before you put the top piece of bread on, add a scoop of greens. Crazy good.

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Friday, November 25th

I got up, got out, and got all my Christmas shopping done. I even got my father is birthday gift. He was born on Christmas day and his name is Chris. Reeeeeal original there, Grandma. When I say that I got up, got out, and shopped what I mean is this: I went to the gym at 9am, went home, and went to Amazon.com. Speaking of which, their site was SO NOT PREPARED for their own Black Friday deals. It was crashing for hours. I was shocked. So, in that sense, my shopping spree was a little annoying. Not so annoying that I had to put on pants, look at people, or mace anyone, but slightly annoying. On Thanksgiving day, I had had ice cream for breakfast, prosciutto and melon for lunch, and was so tired of cooking that by the time the roast came out of the oven, I couldn’t even stomach it. I pretty much just munched away on steamed broccolini in fresh lemon juice. Even still, I managed to eat enough that on Friday I didn’t really want to eat anything. I had a lot of coffee, put Christmas lights up on my house for the first time ever, went to play with dogs at the new Austin Animal Shelter, and enjoyed a quiet house. To commemorate a calm evening in a clean house after a successful holiday, Chip and I decided to let loose, get loaded, and watch a ton of BBC& TNG over homemade pizza.

The man child rarely strays from his old standby of pepperoni. I, however, like to change it up. I like experimenting with sweet sauteed onions, sharp cheeses, and smokey chicken or bacon. Sometimes I bake a crust with just olive oil, parm, and garlic. Then I top it with salad lightly tossed in honey and lemon juice and add slices of pear and crumbled blue cheese. I like little to no sauce on my pizza, good cheeses, and different levels of flavors.

Man. It sounds like I eat super pretentious pizza, huh? Well, what are ya gonna do?

If you’re interested in making pizza at home here’s the best tip you will ever get: Buy dough from your favorite pizza place. Seriously. I haven’t walked into a place yet that wouldn’t sell me their dough without question for $3 or $5. In Austin I’ve purchased it from Mellow Mushroom, Central Market, and Home Slice, but really, if you want awesome pizza in the capital of Texas just eat in at Home Slice or Red House. Home Slice is by far my favorite, awesome pies and great staff, but Red House not only has great slices, but also the best fried calamari I’ve had since the last time I ate in NYC. Lots of tentacles, my favorite.

Anyway, I thawed some dough, I stretched it out, and I started prepping it. I do not use a roller. You can cheater, if you really want to quitter , but it’s really not that hard to delicately stretch it using your fists and I find the dough just bakes better so stop being a baby and use your hands. I prep my dough by rubbing olive oil over its surface, add garlic, parm, and a sprinkle of kosher salt and cook on the lowest rack of a 450-500 degree oven for 5-10 minutes, just until parts of the bottom become golden brown. Then I add the toppings. For the pizza last night I sprinkled mozz and provolone cheese of Chip’s side with a smattering of pepperoni. On my side I did mozz, smoked Gouda, provolone, blue cheese, sauteed red onion, and bacon, with most of the fat removed.

On Thanksgiving our dryer broke when all of our kitchen towels were in the washer. And, ironically, it’s been raining for the first time in months. I’m explaining this because between the vodka&coke’s and the lack of napkins during cooking, I improvised my own wipe cloth, much to the amusement to Chip.

Listen: They are large and in the way of everything, so when I’ve been drinking and don’t have kitchen towels, my set o’ twins become nature’s napkins. I don’t know why I didn’t use the paper towels you can see over my shoulder. Ask Three Olives Vodka. All that matters is that dinner the night after Thanksgiving was great. An excellent evening all around.

We even broke the tree out of it’s exile for the last two years in the garage (we didn’t decorate last year), much to the enjoyment of the brat cats. I really don’t remember the tree being so pathetic…Oh, well.

Are You There, Spock? It’s Me, Katie.

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2010 Editor’s Pick on OpenSalon.

When I was fourteen years old I got my first job at a recycling plant for the town of Danbury. I made ten dollars an hour at that time, which, at twenty eight years old with a BA and an MA, is pretty close to what I make now. After the summer gig at the recycling plant I started work at a coffee shop at the age of fifteen. I was underage, but they hired me anyway, and that job really helped shape my high school life. Well, it shaped my extra-curricular high school life anyway. I also worked at clothing stores, and while looking cute was an integral part of my persona, folding clothes was not.

My mother worked for what we’ll refer to as Cashline.com at the time and got me a job doing receptionist work and IT Help Desk stuff. When I worked the Help Desk I would help the technologically inept (“My computer froze. I hit Ctrl-Alt-what?” and “How do I change my background?”) and I would wait on hold when the Help-Desk itself needed help. When I would work the receptionist desk I would…I won’t say I would do my best because that would be lying. I couldn’t slack off too much because my mother would have my head if I gave her reason to be anything but proud of me. I was, however, adequate and did well for a kid. There was this one regular caller in particular who really made up for any slacking off or fooling around. For legal and mental health issues I’ve forgotten his name.

As these days predated Caller ID (or personal cell phones for that matter) I never knew when this individual would be calling. On the evenings that he did get through I imagined he was calling from somewhere along the Pacific border. I don’t know why, I guess because he called each evening, after 4pm, and I just thought his type of call was better suited as a middle-of-the-day activity. So he would call, and I, a now sixteen year old, ego maniacle punk would answer, “Thank you for calling Cashline Executive Offices. How may I direct your call?” And he would respond “I want to speak with William Shatner.”

Me 'n some friends.

I enjoy the Geico commercials, or at least I did when they first premiered years ago during a Super Bowl. It would never occur to me, however, to call Geico and ask to speak with a caveman or British lizard. Be that as it may, in my few short years so far on this earth I have learned that reason and logic elude many. Many.
“William Shatner does not work here, sir,” I’d respond.
“Yes, he does. I’ve seen him in your commercials.”
“I know he does our commercials, sir, but he doesn’t work here. We don’t even film our commercials here.”
“William Shatner DOES work at Cashline and I demand to speak with him!”

At this point the guys voice would be at the level of making a sixteen year old girl cry. A weak sixteen year old. Being the opposite of weak I was merely an ass and, it should be noted, less articulate then this recreated conversation may imply. This call would happen almost every day and after time I knew what he looked like. Well, my teenage imagination did.

I always imagined this particular gentleman older, but not OLD, maybe in his mid-sixties, sitting in a 1970’s a corduroy Lazy Boy that had seen better days, duct tape on the sides and arms, an over used and beaten seat he referred to as his captain’s chair. I imagined he wore the same outfit every day, stuffing far too much flesh into far too little polyester, black pants with a red top, of course, and an embroidered or even hand drawn communicator just above and to the left of a probable by-pass surgery scar. A pale, hairy and slightly pink gut desperately trying to escape the confines of his get-up would be exploding from between pants waistline and repressive shirt. That’s what I thought, anyway.

On and on he would ramble: Cashline did this, his flight was awful, the Captain rescues people – never works WITH the bad guys! Shatner working for Cashline was like him cohorting with Klingons. I didn’t watch the original Star Trek series at this time and this experience may be some of the cause behind that. My favorite part of his calls always came after he started yelling:
“THE CAPTAIN OF THE ENTERPRISE WOULD NOT ALLOW SUCH SCAMMING TO OCCUR. YOUR COMPANY SCAMS PEOPLE AND I INTEND TO ALERT THE CAPTAIN!”

Well, Sir, why don’t you just hit your communicator and ask to meet him in the Halodeck? There you can reveal the evils of Cashline over a Saurian Brandy or a Romulan Ale.

Did I ever actually say that? Nah, I wasn’t that cool. I, in all honesty, would nod as if he could see me and “Mmhmm” like I had been there. I always got him of the phone calmer, but, then, he did always call back.

So why is this important and why does it matter? Because every day as a teen I learned that people are different and you must have patience. Granted once I know you I have no patience for you and you’re finished in my book, BUT every day I would get a little more evidence that either the world is crazy and I am fine or that there is simply no sanity and we’re all screwed. Either way I learned patience every day, in one way or another, and even get  chances to demonstrate such patience, brief as those moments may be, every once in a while. When you’re young you first learn of differences from sight, you visually see that others are different. But this, this, taught me that people may have skeletons – not in their closets, but in their mind – and they seem all “normal” and you think you’re making ground and then – THEY GET YA! And that’s just the way it is, I guess.