Butternut Squash Fettuccini Alfredo

Sean already asked me if every meal that I make this week will include pumpkin.  Maybe?  Regardless, I’m not sorry.  It is that time of year, after all.

Even though this isn’t exactly pumpkin, it’s close enough.  The butternut squash adds beautiful color and great flavor to the béchamel sauce, along with some nutritional value.  To make things easier on whoever prepares dinner, consider roasting the squash ahead of time.  That way, everything can come together in as much time as it takes to boil the pasta!

Butternut Squash Fettuccini Alfredo | A Nerd Cooks

This recipe is adapted from the one found on Teaspoon of Spice.

You’ll need:

  • 1 (3 lb) butternut squash
  • 1 box fettuccini (or whatever pasta you’d like)
  • 3 tbs butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Take a 9×13-inch casserole dish and fill it with 1-2 inches of water.  Set aside.

Slice the butternut squash in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds.  Flesh side down, lay the squash halves in the prepared dish with water.  The water will help to keep the squash moist while roasting.  Place the casserole dish in the preheated oven and roast for 30-45 minutes, or until the squash is pierced easily with a fork.

Allow the squash to cool for 10 minutes or so.  Scoop the flesh into a blender and blend until everything is smooth.  Use a few tablespoons of milk or water to assist the process, if necessary.

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.  When cooked, drain and set aside.

While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a large, deep skillet or pot.  Once it is melted, whisk in the flour to create a roux.  Allow the roux to cook for a minute or two.

While whisking constantly to avoid creating lumps, pour the milk into the skillet/pot.  Add the cumin and curry powder, whisking to combine.  Allow the béchamel sauce to thicken a bit, then turn the heat off.  Add the pureed butternut squash, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.  Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss until the noodles are coated.

Top with more parmesan cheese, if desired.

Butternut Squash, Kale, and Feta Hand Pies

I was invited to a pie-themed potluck party recently.  When trying to decide what I wanted to contribute, I kept a few things in mind:  1) The hostess is a vegetarian; 2) Something savory would lessen the chances of us ending up with several pumpkin pies; and 3) Cute food is almost always good.

Enter: the hand pie.

Butternut Squash, Kale, and Feta Hand Pies | A Nerd Cooks

You’ll need:

  • cooking spray
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tbs olive oil, divided
  • spices of your choice (I used salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder, and chili powder)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch kale, de-stemmed and sliced into ribbons
  • 1/2 cup water or broth of choice
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • pie crust dough of your choosing (I cheated and used store-bought!)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • kosher salt for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray.  Set aside.

Put the peeled and cubed butternut squash in a large zip top bag.  Add 2 tbs olive oil and spices.  Zip the bag shut and toss the contents around until all of the squash pieces are evenly coated.  Divide the squash onto the two prepared baking sheets, spreading it into an even layer.  Bake for 15 minutes, toss everything around, and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the squash is tender and cooked through.

In a large skillet, add the remaining 1 tbs olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Add the minced garlic and cook until just fragrant.  Add the kale and stir to coat the greens with the garlicky oil.  Cook uncovered for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the water/broth and cover the skillet.  Cook for 5 minutes, or until the kale has begun to wilt down.  Turn off the heat and remove the lid.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once the butternut squash is cooked, add it to the pan of kale, along with the feta cheese.  Stir everything together.  Take a taste, and adjust your seasonings accordingly.

Remove the foil from the baking sheets, and line the sheets (or different baking sheets) with parchment paper.

Using whatever pie dough you choose, use a cookie cutter or water glass to cut circles of dough (2 per hand pie).  I used a circle that was about 3.5 inches in diameter.  Place circles of dough for the bottom half of the hand pies onto the baking sheets.  I was able to fit 6 per baking sheet.  Place 2-3 tbs of the squash/kale/feta filling on the middle of each circle of dough.  You want to have a decent amount of filling in each hand pie, but also want to make sure that you’ll be able to seal everything closed without filling spilling out.  Top each with another circle of dough to make the top of the hand pie.

Use the tines of a fork to crimp the edges of the dough (see the picture below).  This will help to seal the pies shut.

Brush the tops of the hand pies with the beaten egg.  This will help to ensure that the hand pies get brown and crispy.  Sprinkle each hand pie with kosher salt.  Cut a small slit or two into the top of each pie to allow steam to escape.

Bake your pies according to the directions for whatever pie dough you’ve used.  I baked mine at 400 for 20ish minutes to get them to be golden-brown.

Butternut Squash, Kale, and Feta Hand Pies | A Nerd CooksThey are delicious right out of the oven and piping hot, as well as at room temperature.

Chicken Tikka Masala

I talked about my affinity for Chinese food takeout in my post about Crockpot Honey Sesame Chicken.  And that is still true.  I like it more than I probably should.  However, my love of Chinese takeout is eclipsed only by my love of Indian food (and maybe sushi…).  But seriously, I am unable to say no to Indian food.

Since moving out to the suburbs, we have yet to find an Indian restaurant in our area that will satisfy my cravings.  Rather than, you know, being patient or having self control, I took matters into my own hands.

Chicken Tikka Masala | A Nerd Cooks

I found this recipe through Bon Appétit, and made a few small modifications.

You’ll need:

  • 4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 4 tbs peeled ginger, finely grated
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk yogurt (not Greek*)
  • 1 tbs kosher salt
  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 6 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tsp curry powder
  • salt, to taste
  • steamed rice, for serving**

Combine the turmeric, garam masala, and cumin in a small bowl.  To another, medium-sized, bowl add half of the spice mixture, garlic, ginger, yogurt, and salt.  Stir everything to combine.

Add the chicken to the bowl and turn to coat everything.  Cover and chill for 4-6 hours.  Cover the remaining half of the spice mixture and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the sliced onion, tomato paste, cardamom, and red pepper flakes.  Cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to soften and the tomato paste has darkened (~5 minutes).  Add the remaining half of the spice mixture, stir to combine, and cook for another 4-5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes with juices, crushing the tomatoes with your hands*** as you add them.  Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer.  Stir often, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot, until the sauce starts to thicken (~8-10 minutes).

Add the cream and cumin.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens a bit more (~30 minutes).

While the sauce is cooking, preheat the broiler to high.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and top that foil with a wire rack (like the one you’d use for cooling your cookies).  Arrange the marinated chicken breasts on top of the rack.  Broil for 10 minutes, or until black spots start to form on the chicken.  Note that the meat will not be cooked the whole way through.

After broiling the chicken, cut it into bite-sized pieces.  After the sauce has been simmering for about 30 minutes, add chicken to the sauce and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through (~15 additional minutes).  Add salt to taste.

Serve over rice.

This chicken tikka masala is pretty fabulous.  It’s very, very close to the stuff I would get from Lumbini or Mughal Garden in Baltimore.  I will be making this again and again, and hope that you will too!

*I had a bit of a difficult time finding whole milk, non-Greek yogurt.  The grocery store where I usually shop had exclusively Greek yogurt and low-fat flavored varieties.  I ended up finding it at Wegmans, though.

**I cooked some basmati rice according to the directions on the bag. Before putting the lid on to let things simmer, I added a bit of salt, a couple of star anise, and a few more crushed cardamom pods.

***Holy crap, these things were messy.  I should have taken a picture of the mess that I made.  Every now and then, when squeezing one, it would squirt across the room: on the floor, the (white!) walls, all over my clothes… you name it, it got dirty.  Please be more careful than I was! =)

Citrus Rosemary Mac and Cheese

I got it into my head that I just had to make macaroni and cheese a couple of weekends ago.  Not sure why.  It just happened.

I started looking around at recipes on Foodgawker, and came across this one.  I was a little hesitant at first.  I mean, citrus zest in mac and cheese?  Trust me.  It works.

Citrus Rosemary Macaroni and Cheese | A Nerd Cooks

I found this recipe on Local Kitchen Blog, and modified it ever so slightly.

You’ll need:

  • 1 box short cut pasta (I used small shells)
  • 3 tbs butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 3/4 cup milk
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 2 fat stems of fresh rosemary, leaves removed and minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 4 oz. Gruyère cheese, shredded
  • 4 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2.5 oz. parmesan cheese, shredded

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.  Take a 9×13-inch casserole dish, grease it, and set it aside.

Cook your pasta according to the directions on the box.  Undercook by a couple of minutes.  Your pasta will finish cooking while in the oven.  Drain and set aside.

While the pasta cooks, in a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter.  Whisk in the flour to make a roux.  Cook for a minute or two, whisking almost constantly.  Slowly pour the milk into the roux, whisking constantly to avoid lumps of flour.  Add the zest, rosemary, salt, and pepper to the béchamel.  Whisk occasionally, and allow the béchamel to warm and thicken (5-8 minutes).

Once the white sauce has thickened, add the Gruyère and cheddar and stir until it is all melted.  Add the pasta to the cheese, and stir to coat.

Pour the macaroni and cheese into the prepared casserole dish and top with the parmesan cheese.  Bake 30-35 minutes, or until the top is bubbly and browned.  Cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Guys, seriously.  This combination works.  Amazing.

Oreo-Bottomed Chocolate Cupcakes and Peanut Butter Oreo Frosting + Third Blogiversary!

Happy third birthday to my little blog!  Each year, I try to make something a little special (and so far, sweet) to commemorate the occasion.  Last year it was The Buckeye State Ice Cream, and the year before that it was Chocolate Chip Cookie Stuffed Oreos (both seriously delicious).  This year is no different.  I’ve been eyeing these ridiculous cupcakes on Lauren’s Latest since they were first posted back in May.

Oreo-Bottomed Chocolate Cupcakes and Peanut Butter Oreo Frosting |A Nerd Cooks

I used Lauren’s Perfect Chocolate Cake recipe for the cupcakes, and this for the frosting and method.  Note: the cake recipe produces about 30 cupcakes, while the frosting recipe makes enough for 18 cupcakes.  So you can either halve the ingredients for the cake or double the frosting.  Or just have some extra cupcakes hanging around!

You’ll need:

For the cupcakes -

  • 18 Oreo cookies (or as many Oreos as the number of cupcakes you plan to make)
  • 2 cups milk, plus 2 tsp white vinegar
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt

For the frosting -

  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1-4 tbs milk
  • 6 Oreo cookies, pulverized

For the drizzle/garnish -

  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup real maple syrup
  • Extra Oreos for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners and deposit 1 Oreo cookie into the bottom of each liner.  Set aside.

Combine the milk and vinegar.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, whip the oil and sugar together.  Add the vanilla.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk all of the dry ingredients together.  Little by little, in an alternating fashion, add the dry ingredients and milk/vinegar to the sugar mixture, stirring to combine after each addition.

Pour the cake batter into the lined muffin pan, over the Oreo cookies that are in the bottom of the liners, filling to 3/4 full.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick, when inserted into the center of the cupcake, comes out clean.

Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, combine butter, peanut butter, and powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat for a minute or two on low speed.  Slowly drizzle in the milk until it’s moistened and has come together.  Once it comes together, beat for a couple of minutes until the frosting is fluffy.  If you accidentally thin it out too much with the milk, you can always add a little more powdered sugar until you reach the consistency that you’d like.  Stir in the Oreo bits.  Frost the cooled cupcakes generously.

To make the drizzle, microwave the peanut butter and maple syrup until it’s warmed up and thinned out (30-40 seconds).  Use a spoon or a squeeze bottle to drizzle this over each cupcake.  Top each cupcake with half of an Oreo cookie.

Do yourself a favor and make these cupcakes right away.

I mean, come on.  Look at this.

Inside of cupcake


Oreo-Bottomed Chocolate Cupcakes and Peanut Butter Oreo Frosting |A Nerd Cooks

Chocolate Chip Scones

I had a craving for scones over the weekend, so I searched through the recipes I’ve had bookmarked for a while and came across this one.  The results were excellent.  These scones are tender, and not overly sweet.  Sean and I each had one for dessert, and I plan to have them for breakfast this week as well.

Chocolate Chip Scones | A Nerd Cooks

This recipe comes from Food Librarian‘s blog.

You’ll need:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter, cold and cut into smallish cubes
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, cold
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 425 F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together.

Add the butter to the dry ingredients.  Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is the size of small peas.  (As a side note: sometimes I will put the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine. Then I’ll add the butter and pulse some more until the butter is well-incorporated and, again, the size of small peas.  This is faster but results in more cleanup).

Now add the heavy cream and chocolate chips.  Using a spatula, mix until everything is well-combined.

Turn the dough out onto a clean surface, and shape it into a disc.  Transfer the disc to the parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the top with the beaten egg and sprinkle, pretty liberally, with sugar.  Cut the dough into eighths.

Bake 14-16 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Chocolate Chip Scones | A Nerd Cooks

Broccoli Pesto – Updated!

As you can see, I’m continuing to update some older posts.  With this one, I’ve updated the photo, and also tweaked the recipe slightly.  The addition of feta cheese, along with the parmesan, is just what this pesto needed.

This pesto has no oil, and is packed with nutrients from all of the broccoli.  The Greek yogurt adds a nice bit of protein, too.  Even though all of the carb-y pasta probably isn’t ideal, you can still feel a bit better about this healthier sauce.Broccoli Pesto | A Nerd Cooks

My original blog post for Broccoli Pesto Pasta can be found here.

You’ll need:

  • 4-5 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 lb short cut pasta (I used penne)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
  • 1 cup basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium-large pot, bring water to a boil on the stovetop.  Boil the broccoli florets for 4-5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon to a blender or food processor.

In the same pot, add the pasta.  Cook according to package directions until al dente.

While the pasta cooks, pulse the broccoli until it’s chopped up a bit.  Add the garlic, cheeses, and basil.  Process until the mixture is relatively smooth.  Add the Greek yogurt and process until the mixture is creamy and smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pot.  Add the pesto to the pasta and mix until the noodles are well coated.  Top with a little extra cheese and enjoy!