Written by Trina Davis

I know, I know, we just celebrated Christmas and already Valentine’s Day is right around the corner!  And I’m sure that the people over at Hallmark have been advertising V-Day even before we had a chance to make it past Christmas but here we are.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m actually a total romantic.  I get a thrill from all those cheesy movies and even cry at sad and sentimental commercials.  But I have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with Valentine’s Day.  I think it’s really great that we dedicate a day to celebrate LOVE but what the heck are people doing on the other 364 days of the year?  Why should we relegate only one day out of the year to celebrate love when every day we have the opportunity to love each, feed, and celebrate each other?  That’s my motto!  I’m not what you would call the biggest fan of the idea that I have to go out to a nice restaurant to stare at a menu full of high-price choices and be with my man on this day, only to be surrounded by other couples doing the exact same thing.  Where’s the sweet intimacy in that?

My hubby thinks it’s silly that I feel this way because I used to love going all out when we first met!  I have great memories of coming home to scavenger hunts, escaping to mini-getaways, receiving overly-priced flowers, romantic picnics in the backyard, gifts, etc.  To be honest I enjoyed it all and still love it 11 years later!  But these days I can do without all the hoopla.  We have a little man now, which makes it even more difficult to get out and I’m actually fine with that.  These days I would rather stay home, cook a nice meal, and enjoy a fancy dinner on another night, maybe Feb 13th or 15th.  Well, this year Cupid decided to land with his quiver full of love arrows on a Tuesday.  To me that means a long work day that includes family business like picking up my son from school, bath time, homework, and all the other “fun” stuff that fills our day.  So I’ve avoided turning what’s supposed to be a romantic celebration into a stress-filled race against time to meet my responsibilities, fight other “happy couples,” and try to make it to the restaurant on time only to be too tired and stressed to enjoy my time with my Valentine.  How did I manage this, you ask?  Well, I’ve recruited Grandma to help me out with her Grandma “super powers.”  My boy will spend the weekend after Valentine’s Day at Granny’s while my husband and I try not to set off a three alarm fire from our passion-filled weekend.  On Feb 14th my family and I will enjoy dinner at home and have a simple but beautiful meal instead of a date that’s really just a “stressopalooza.”  Oh!  And if the sleep gods are on my side, it’ll be an intimate dinner with my hubby while our son dreams the night away.

Back in my single days I used to host plenty of small and large dinner parties and still did after I married my husband.  Believe me, I loved, LOVED, every moment of it!!  But then motherhood arrived and she brought a lot of changes along with her.  Motherhood is a beautiful thing for many, many, reasons.  It teaches you to improve your efficiency, multi-task and, in my case, make simple meals that look fancy while still getting the coveted “oooooh’s,” “ahhhh’s,” and “mmmmmmmm’s” from my guests.  Next to taking care of my family and dogs, cooking and feeding people are some of my greatest joys in life.  So while motherhood has forever changed me in a zillion amazing ways, throwing fancy dinner parties with all the fancy goblets and 6-courses has fallen by the wayside….for now…..  At the moment it’s all about simple, beautiful and, most importantly, TASTY!  HI!  My name is Trina!  Welcome to my new blog!  It’s called “What’s In Trina’s Tummy?”

The menu for my Valentine’s dinner is a creation made of a few simple things that I love.

Few things before we start:

  1. Always line your baking sheets with foil for an easier clean up. It kills me when I watch cooking shows and they always pull out sparkling clean baking sheets each time.  The last time I checked, I don’t have a crew.  I’m assuming you don’t either.
  2. As I always say, add salt and pepper to taste. I’ve followed many recipes where I have usually added more salt and pepper than the recipe calls, so use your judgment here.  Start with less and you can add as needed.
  3. Olive oil. Another thing where I always seem to add more oil than asked.  So don’t go crazy here, but I don’t want to cheat you out of flavor.  Be generous but don’t go nuts!
  4. Last but not least, open a bottle of wine and turn on some music (if you can). It’s always more fun to cook with a glass of wine in hand and music in the background (sometimes to be drowned out by tantrums from the little one, but I keep trying)

Now let’s get cooking, Trina’s Tummy is growling!

THE MENU

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with caramelized Onions, Crème Fraîche and fried capers

Salmon wrapped in puff pastry with side salad

Dressed-up white chocolate cherries with almonds

At this point you might be thinking, “this totally sounds doable,” or you might be thinking, “this mom is on crack.”  In what universe is this considered simple?  Look I will show you how to make it, but honestly you can cut even more corners if needed.  I will put it in my *notes at the end of the recipe section.  The more you cook, the more you learn the tips all and tricks of making simple and elegant meals.  Ok let’s move along here…!

The soup is based on one I enjoyed at Bashan’s, one of my favorite up-scale restaurants.  Sadly, this little jewel closed its doors for good last year.  The meal I had there consisted of a 9-course chef’s tasting and a version of this soup was served.  Because it was only a tasting, my portion consisted of a teeny tiny cup.  But remember that big things can come in small packages, and that was absolutely true of this soup!  My version is a simpler version that is easy to make.  It doesn’t exactly run neck-and-neck with the one I had at the restaurant, but it’s close enough and I won’t tell anyone if you don’t ;).

IMG_3850Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1 large butternut squash or about 5 cups peeled, seeded and cut into cubes (most stores also sell precut versions to save more time)
  • 1 large white onion peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1 garlic bulb
  • 11/2 tablespoon dried Thyme
  • Olive Oil needed
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Soup Garnish

  • Two tablespoon capers taken out of brine and dried on paper towel
  • 1 small white onion peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Olive oil as needed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A small container of Crème Fraîche

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil and keep it in the oven while the oven is heating.

IMG_3954In the meantime place the cut squash and onions in a large bowl. Sprinkle the thyme, teaspoon salt and pepper and enough oil to coat the squash and onions.   You can use your washed hands or a large spoon to make sure all the pieces are coated with oil and well-seasoned.  Now take a piece of aluminum, enough so you can wrap up an entire garlic bulb inside.  Cut of the head off the bulb while leaving the rest of the garlic and skin intact.  Next place the whole garlic bulb on the aluminum sheet and coat the bulb with olive oil, sprinkle it with a dash of salt and pepper.  Wrap up the bulb with the aluminum sheet so that no garlic is showing.   Take the baking sheet out of the oven, thoroughly coat with cooking spray and place the squash, onions and garlic wrap on the sheet.  Bake for about 40 minutes or until the squash is tender, you can test the tenderness with a fork.

Now that there’s a party going in the oven, let’s get the garnish ready.  Start by frying up the capers.  Make sure to dab the capers with a paper towel to get them as dry as possible before adding them to the hot oil.  Heat a pan on high and add some olive oil, enough to coat the bottom, then add the capers and fry for about a minute or until they get crispy.  Drain the capers on the paper towel when done and set aside.

Once done, reduce the stove heat to medium or low heat.  Melt two tablespoons of butter and add the sliced onions.  This process might take a bit of time since the onions need time to caramelize.  Let the onions cook slowly while gently stirring.  The onions should become translucent, soft and eventually golden brown.  Add the dried thyme and stir.  If the onions seem to be browning too fast, just turn down the heat.  Once the onions are soft and close to being golden brown, add the brown sugar.  Bring the heat down to low and keep stirring until each slice is coated and caramelized.  Add about ¼ teaspoon salt to taste but no more than that.  Remove from the stove and set aside.

FullSizeRenderNow we can get back to making the soup.  Take the squash out of the oven after it’s fork-tender and let it cool for a bit.  By now the onions should be done.  Remove the garlic from the foil and separate the garlic pods from the skin.  The next steps should be simple if you have a Vitamix.  Just put all the ingredients into the Vitamix and set it to soup mode.  Easy peasy!!  If you don’t have a Vitamix it’s still easy!  Place the squash, onions, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, broth and coconut milk in a large bowl.  If you have an emersion blender you can puree everything in a large pot and puree it in there.  If you have a standard blender puree in small batches until smooth and then transfer to a large pot.  Heat the soup on the stove on low heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.  The sweeter the squash is, the more salt it will require, but be careful and add salt little by little to get it to your optimum umami taste.

This is where you take this soup from your everyday butternut squash soup to WOW!  When ready to serve, pour a heaping ladle of soup into your favorite bowl.  Garnish with a dollop of crème fraiche, a tablespoon of caramelized onions and a teaspoon of capers in the center of the soup.  Enjoy! 

*No time to make this soup on a weeknight?  Grab some ready-made butternut squash from your local store. There are plenty of great ones out there.  No Crème Fraîche at your local store?  Substitute it with sour cream.  All good!  But do at least try it once with all three garnishes.  I love the combination.  Now on to the entrée…..you can do it!!

You really can’t go wrong with the entree.  I have been wrapping food with puff pastry for as long as I can remember and it truly is hard for anything wrapped in puff pastry not to taste good.  I’ve done sweet, I’ve done savory and it has always been glorious!!!

IMG_3953Salmon Wrapped in Puff Pastry

– 2 Sheets frozen puff pastry (Thawed!)

– All purpose flour

– 1 small yellow onion peeled and sliced thinly

– 2 cups baby spinach

– Olive oil as needed

-1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

– Salt and pepper to taste

– 2 lbs. of wild skinless salmon

– 1 egg beaten

 

Let’s get started!  Preheat the oven to 425° degrees.  Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray.  Heat a pan on the stove with the heat set to medium.  Add olive oil.  Once heated, add onions and sauté until you can almost see through it. Add the Italian seasoning.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  Then add baby spinach and sauté until the spinach has wilted, season with more salt and pepper if needed.  Always taste your food as you go.  Set a plate with paper towels on it and transfer spinach mixture to the towel and cover it with a towel as well.   This will remove lots of the moisture in the mixture that sometimes tends to make the puff pastry soggy. 

Let’s move on to the puff pastry now.   Make sure the pastry sheets are thawed and not frozen before you do anything.  Carefully unwrap and open them up.  Take about ¼ cup flour and dust a large board or working area with the flour.  Place the first sheet on the board followed by the second one right next to the first with edges touching and almost overlapping.  Now use a fork or your fingers to seal these two edges together.  Proceed to roll out the sheets maybe 1 inch on all sides or even more as long as you don’t stretch it too thin.  It should resemble a rectangle and not a square.

IMG_3952Season the salmon with salt and pepper.  Now place each fillet of salmon in the middle of the sheet, side by side so that it also resembles a rectangle.  Now take the spinach mixture and spoon it on top of the salmon evenly. Fold longer side of the pastry carefully over the salmon and bring the other longer side over to meet.  If it overlaps, great! Often there is more puff pastry than needed.  I like to cut off some pieces off from each side and use to decorate the top of the puff pastry.  This time I cut a few strips and decided to do some lattice design on top.  In the past, I have done leaves or other fun shapes.  If it meets in the middle, then just crimp the edges together with your fingers to seal.  Next, fold the two remaining edges under as well.  Carefully, with both hands, transfer the salmon to the prepared baking sheet.  Brush the entire pastry with the egg using a small pastry brush.  This will give it the puffed golden color.  Bake your salmon in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the color reaches a  golden brown.  This might sometimes take longer than 25 minutes, depending on your oven.  Just be sure to monitor your oven after 25 minutes. It is critical that the entire puff pastry is golden brown in color, if not the inside dough might be still raw.  When ready, remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly. The best part about this meal is that it can be served a few minutes out of the oven or at room temperature. 

In the meantime prepare your favorite store-bought side salad.  In the future, I will share some yummy salad dressing recipes, but in general, I think the store carries plenty of side salad options.  Remember to keep it easy, people!

When it’s time to serve, you can use a serrated knife and slice 2 inch thick slices.  Serve each slice with a side salad and, friends, you’ve got dinner!  Trust me, this is a crowd pleaser!  I’ve served this to my husband and to a dinner party of four.  It’s beautiful to serve on a lovely platter, pre-sliced with some lemon wedges and parsley to bring it together as a presentation.  If Salmon is not your thing, try sautéing some veggies like peppers, zucchini, onions and mushrooms along with some thyme.  Just be sure to remove the moisture with paper towels. 

Now for the sweetest part of the meal!!  The dessert!!  It’s a version of something I once had at a friend’s house.  I never got the recipe, but it was pretty easy to figure out which is why I took a liking to it.  My version is the “grown up” version but you can make it kid friendly as well.  It tastes great either way.

CaptureDressed Up White Chocolate Cherries with Almonds

  • 2 cups frozen cherries
  • 3 drops almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon cherry liquor
  • Your favorite white chocolate bar broken in pieces or 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • ½ half and half
  • 1 cup sliced almonds for garnish
  • Your favorite granola for garnish (optional)

Heat up the half and half in a small sauce pan.  Put the white chocolate in a glass bowl and pour the heated half and half over the chocolate.  Stir until the chocolate as melted.  This is when I like to add the almond extract and cherry liquor.  It takes the flavor to a whole new level.  Now put about ½ cup cherries into a shallow bowl and pour the hot chocolate mixture over the cherries until they’re coated.  If you prefer to add more, go right ahead.  Sprinkle the top with ¼ cup sliced almonds and a sprinkle of granola.  Serve right away and enjoy this sweet simple dessert. 

*The kid version is simple.  Just omit the liquor and extract.  The kids will love it!  If you want to get fancy, serve this over a piece of sliced pound cake. 

Now that your tummy is full, break open that bottle of bubbly or heck make yourself one of my favorite after dinner drinks – An Old Fashioned and enjoy the rest of your night! Chin Chin!!!

Thanks for hanging out with me!  Stop by again soon to see what fun, yummy, things you might find in Trina’s Tummy!