Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to cut a butternut squash

The more I'm living by myself and in the kitchen now, I realize that there are so many fruits and vegetables that I have never handled entirely before (aka pineapple). So for anyone else out there who is just like me, here are five easy steps to maneuvering a butternut squash (or pretty much any cylindrical shaped squash or melon). 

1. Wash and observe. Since it is long-shaped, it makes sense to cut off the ends and deal with it lengthwise. 

2. After cutting off the ends, place it upright and cut it sagittally ( that term only used in anatomy?). Or to rephrase, cut it in half lengthwise. You want to always make a flat surface to work with (this goes for anything you're cutting). This way is most efficient and safest.

3. Scoop out all the seeds.

4. Cut the halves into several 2-3 inch slices. Then with the pieces laying on their sides, carefully cut off the thick layer of skin. Try not taking off too much of the meat layer!

5. Now that it is totally skinned, you can pretty much finish chopping up your squash into any shape you want to!

For ideas on what to make with butternut squash, why not try out this recipe of roasted squash with Italian sausage

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving ideas: butternut squash with Italian sausage

This one is easy. And once you start eating it, you won't be able to stop. Baking this squash brings out all the sweet flavors and intensifies the color, making it a very palatable and aesthetic ordeal. It's the perfect side dish that uses the hues, flavors, and ingredients of Autumn. The Italian sausage adds spice and flavoring to the squash, but to my vegetarian friends: please try this recipe without the sausage! 

And since this is a non-conventional Thanksgiving suggestion, I would of course recommend that you try this recipe whenever you get your hands on a butternut squash! 

Roasted Butternut Squash with Italian Sausage
2-3lb butternut squash, cubed (I bought it already halved, skinned, and gutted)
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp thyme 
1/2 tsp salt 
4-5 cloves garlic 
1 lb Italian sausage, uncased and minced (I used hot, but sweet should work as well) 

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. 
2. Toss the butternut squash in a tablespoon of olive oil or until all the squash is lightly and evenly coated. 
3. Then season the squash with thyme and salt. 
4. Place in a baking dish (I used an 8x8in) and bake for 20-25 minutes or until tender. 
5. In a non-stick pan, heat about half a tablespoon of olive oil with the garlic cloves. 
6. Insert Italian sausage into the heated plan and cook until browned. 
7. Scoop sausage (leaving excess oil behind) into the baking dish with the squash. Bake together for 5 minutes. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Wien, Austria

It certainly has been awhile since I've posted about my travels, but now that the Nor'easter has implanted thoughts of the imminent winter in us, I couldn't help but reminisce upon the last time I experienced such bitter cold temperatures.

Things I did not know before coming to Vienna:
1. Wiener = Viennese
2. They speak German. (Don't judge me.) 
3. There's a LOT more to the Habsburgs than Marie Antoinette. 

Vienna is the capital of Austria, and being the primary workplace of Mozart, it is now still most famous for the arts, for there is a rich collection of museums and concert halls. The streets are wide, the walkways pristine, and the Habsburg influence prominent. And just as importantly, their cuisine is hearty and their beers full-bodied. Having a freshly made schnitzel with a cold beer will warm anyone up from a brisk day outside. And though it may seem like there is a lack of youth culture or even young people walking on the streets during the day, an unexpected night at an underground drum and bass club will surely change your perception of Viennese culture. Though I was only in this city in passing, there is so much more here for me to explore, that I can only hope to visit again soon! 

In the middle of Stephansplatz

The immense silver wear collection of the Habsburgs 

Ottakringer beer

Yes, we all ordered Wiener schnitzel with potato salad. 

Mozart memorial grave at the Habsburg garden

Wurst on sauerkraut

Stuffed cabbage with sour cream

Habsburg Palace

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sandy Baking: Dirty Blondes

Like most people who were given the day off by Hurricane Sandy, I found myself with some free time and stuck indoors. And like most people, I decided to bake it off! So with the limited ingredients I had in my kitchen, I wanted to throw together some blondies. However, I was too tempted to use some of the cocoa powder I had, so my hurricane blondies were then aptly transformed into: DIRTY BLONDES (name credit: Michael Suen, take his social media and identity survey here). The ingredients were everything I already had in my pantry, and it was super easy, so definitely hold on to this one for the next natural disaster that keeps you under house arrest.

Dirty Blondes
1 stick of butter (8tbsp), softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 large egg
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup chopped nuts (I had almonds, but I would have preferred pecans or walnuts)
1 cup chocolate chips/chunks

1. Preheat oven to 350F. 
2. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. 
3. Mix in the cocoa powder, then beat in the egg and vanilla extract. 
4. Add salt and fold in the flour. Then mix in nuts and chocolate chips. 
5.Pour mixture into 8x8 baking dish. 
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle. 
7. Enjoy with a tall glass of low fat milk! 

Monday, November 5, 2012


Balthazar: French bistro, located in Soho, over-teeming with tourists, great bread. That's pretty much all the essentials about this popular brunch place. If you're not going during an obscure time on a weekday, chances are you will be stuck in line long before you are seated down in a cramped booth.

I know many New Yorkers who have never been to this place because it's not the most convenient location residentially or for parking and because there are always unrealistically long lines. Well, I am  now here to fill you in with the scoop.  

So what are the selling points of this place? Well, the ambiance is definitely worth the wait. If you’re itching to sit in a French bistro themed space, this one will make you feel right in Paris. The bread basket is solid, as are their coffee, brioche french toast, and the decadent duck shepherd's pie. 
The brioche french toast is the perfect solution for the ever controversial sweet vs. savory breakfast dilemma. Sugar powdered french toast with salty bacon, yum. But if you want something that's unquestionably savory and heavy French, don't hesitate to try the duck shepherd's pie, where ground beef is replaced with a rich sauce and slices of duck. The crisp top layer of mashed potatoes should convince you enough to try this dish at some point. It's also great for dipping with the bread basket. 
Oh, and how could I leave this bit out? We ordered a pain au chocolat to share after our meals were done, and it was a great way to end our meal. Flaky buttery pastry, rich chocolate filling. Mmm. 

Things that were okay and I would probably not order again: eggs Florentine and scrambled eggs in  puff pastry. The eggs Florentine were good, but they definitely did not stand out. $22 for 2 poached eggs on a light bed of spinach and artichoke? Beyond overpriced. Similarly, the overpriced eggs in puff pastry were mediocre. The pastry was on the dense, rather than flaky, side, making it an overall very heavy ordeal. 

Overall, it was great for brunch with my grandmother who adores bread , but I suppose the wait staff is accustomed to the high turnover of tables and therefore service is kind of skimped upon. When you're done with your meal, don't forget to head next door to the bakery for some goodies to take home! I always enjoy their brioches and chocolate chip cookies with an iced coffee. 

(Photo credit: James Eng)

Brioche french toast with smoked bacon

Eggs Florentine

Scrambled eggs in puff pastry

Duck shepherd's pie

Pain au chocolat

(Photo credit: James Eng)