Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Delightful Fall

This might be my favorite time of the year (although I feel that way at the beginning of every new season); cool, crisp days that make sweaters, boots, hot tea and fires so cozy and inviting. The weather inspires me to cook stews, casseroles and root vegetables. And oh, do I love my winter squash! Butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash and pumpkin - all delicious with warm spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger... I'm making myself hungry. 
Acorn squash from above, baked and mixed with butter, nutmeg, cinnamon and some honey. Yum!

Last night I made a ground beef and broccoli alfredo casserole that was a hit with the menfolk, despite turning out a little too soupy. I will definitely be trying it again. I only remember to take pictures when things look pretty - my vanity at work, I suppose. But this is my slightly altered recipe:

2 pounds of ground beef
1 small onion
10 oz of broccoli (which is about two medium-sized heads, if you're buying fresh)
12 oz of cream cheese
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of romano cheese
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese
1 tsp of garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp of nutmeg (optional)
1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley (optional) 

In a large skillet, cook ground beef and onion. I threw in a fresh-pressed clove of garlic right at the end. Meanwhile, steam broccoli until bright green, do not overcook. Drain very well (I probably didn't drain it well enough, that was likely my problem with soupy-ness). Mix softened cream cheese, with cheeses, spices and parsley, if desired. (I used the "farm" cream cheese, which has a more soft, runny consistency than store-bought cream cheese, that may have contributed to the runniness also.) Mix with the hamburger and broccoli in a greased casserole dish. I used our deep, 9X13 stoneware pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes, until bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

I thought it was very good, in spite of the unfortunate soupy consistency. And I personally thought it went well my favorite side - Sweet Potato Fries!
This is a wonderful recipe from Trina that I make any time I have sweet potatoes. I'm not a huge fan of the typical southern sweet potato casserole, and as a child I loathed baked sweet potatoes (slathered in butter and syrup and cinnamon, I still couldn't stand them) but I love these fries! I even like them more than regular fries. 

Here is the link to her recipe. My personal tips: 
-make sure not to crowd the fries. I started piling them on the baking sheet, since we love them so much, but then they don't crisp up, they turn out more like soggy noodles. Not so appetizing.
-if the fries are coated with the oil, they seem to cook better. I'd suggest gently melting the coconut oil and drizzling over the fries.
We usually end up cooking them a little longer (more like 45 minutes) probably because we do two pans in one oven. They turned out looking nice, but I didn't get a picture of them (maybe my vanity isn't actually affecting me, maybe I'm just lazy, or forget...)

I also made my own vanilla extract (another idea from Trina) and even though Mom and I accidentally ordered some very expensive organic vanilla beans, it was still much more economic than buying it! 

I had an empty 8oz vanilla extract bottle that I was saving specially for this purpose. I decided to use bourbon, and those are my expensive vanilla beans. I simply snipped 2 beans into thirds with scissors, dropped them in the bottle, and filled it up with bourbon. Later, I read another blog post suggesting the beans be sliced down the side to expose the pulp, but after only a day sitting in the bourbon, my extract was already smelling like vanilla, so I left it alone. 4-6 weeks, shaking occasionally, and it should be ready!

Here's some early fall shots I took with the macro lens Sarah and I bought. I am so obsessed with this lens, it's perfect for food pictures (when I take them) and does more than I could hope with simple flower shots - and those are my two favorite photography categories.

I am so enjoying this weather! Cooler weather tends to make me more contemplative, and I've been reminded of all His faithfulness through this year. I feel so refreshed and joyful with this new season!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
-Psalm 90:14