Monday, October 21, 2013

Butternut Squash & Buffalo Mozzarella Flatbread with Shallots & Fresh Thyme

I am one of those people who is easily influenced when it comes to food. All it takes is seeing a photo of something, such as a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs, turkey or vegetarian of course, and suddenly I have to have just that. Right now I find that I am especially influenced by all of the wonderful fall ingredients that are available right now, butternut squash being one of my favorites. 

I was contemplating what I could make for dinner with this nutty, subtly sweet delicacy when suddenly the idea popped into my head: Flatbread with roasted butternut squash and buffalo mozzarella. Yum! My mouth was already watering. Rich and yummy flavors, but also bordering on the healthier side of pizza. A flatbread would also be something simple enough to make that it wouldn't take the entire evening to prepare. 

Off I went to the grocery store to collect my ingredients. In addition to the squash and mozzarella I opted for fresh thyme, shallots, some fake bacon and a little Parmesan cheese. The "bacon" and Parmesan would add a nice element of saltiness to compliment the sweetness of the squash and the mild, fresh flavor of the buffalo mozzarella would round it out to perfection. 

Now, for the butternut squash. I have cooked and prepared butternut squash enough times to know all of the ways that don’t work when it comes to getting the result I want. It is easy enough to merely slice the squash length-wise, scoop out the seeds and lay it face down in a baking dish with a bit of water to keep it from drying out. However, the end result is a mess of flesh that is difficult to use, if it is not to be used in a soup or puree. 

The best method I have discovered so far is to peel the entire squash before carving it up into cubes. This does make it a bit slippery to work with (so be careful!) but in the end it is the quickest and most efficient method that I have found. And you get some nice caramelization on the edges of the squash when it is roasted without the skin. Which tastes amazing.

I recommend roasting your cubed squash in a cast iron Dutch oven but if you do not have one a baking dish in the oven works well too. I place my Dutch oven directly on the stove top. The cast iron heats up really well and the heat distributes evenly so be careful not to have the heat too high. I use about a tablespoon of olive oil and a thick pat of butter. Once the butter stops sizzling add your cubed squash, stirring well to coat each piece. Then place your lid on and let her roast. Check often to control the heat and make sure it isn't "caramelizing" too much. It should take between 20-30 minutes, depending on how high you have your heat.

You can even add a drizzle of maple syrup (if you love syrup like Buddy), when it is nearly done, but I think the sweetness of the squash is perfect all by itself. If you are roasting in the oven, I would place the baking dish in the oven first  to warm it up, then add the olive oil and butter. Once the butter has melted you can add and toss your squash. Bake at 200 C  (approximately 400 F), stirring every so often to avoid burning. Once cooked, allow the squash to cool slightly.

Now you are ready to assemble your flatbread. This recipe is so delicious. I am already craving it again. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Butternut Squash & Buffalo Mozzarella Flatbread:

Preheat your oven to 265 degrees Celsius (approximately 510 degrees Fahrenheit), with your baking (pizza) stone in the oven. I know, this is hot, but it is one of the keys to making amazing pizza & flatbread. If you don't use a pizza stone, you can just put your pan in the oven with the pizza when it is ready to bake.


2 ready-to-bake pizza doughs (*see tips below)
1 small to medium size butternut squash, peeled, diced, and roasted
1 package fresh Buffalo mozzarella, sliced and hand torn
2 small shallots, sliced in rings 
2-3 slices of fake bacon (or the real stuff if you aren't vegetarian), cooked & crumbled
Fresh thyme, rinsed and separated from the stems
Olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh ground pepper
Sea salt


Roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface. Or if you are not using a pizza stone & pizza peel, place dough onto your prepared baking pan.
Brush dough lightly with olive oil and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt.
You can layer the remaining ingredients however you want but this is the order I followed:
Roasted butternut squash
Torn slices of mozzarella
Shallot rings
Bacon crumbles
Fresh thyme leaves
Remaining Parmigiano cheese
A twist or two of freshly ground pepper
Repeat for second flatbread

Using your super peel, transfer to your flatbread to your pizza stone in the oven. Bake for approximately 6 minutes. Keep an eye on it because it cooks quickly. 

Remove your flatbread from oven, transferring it to a round pan. (Leave your baking stone in the oven for flatbread number two). Slice your flatbread and enjoy with a glass of chardonnay or pinot noir.

*Tips that will make your flatbread/pizza making life easier:

- Purchase already made pizza dough from your local pizzeria. They are usually pretty inexpensive and it saves a ton of time. Plus they've already nailed the recipe and you are guaranteed delicious crust every time.

- If you do not already have one, purchase a pizza stone for baking homemade pizzas. It makes a huge difference and is well worth the small investment. 

- Get a Super Peel. Seriously! You really should consider getting one of these. My husband wanted one for the longest time and, thinking it was one of those frivolous, kitchen gadgets that would sit unused in the cupboard until our next big move or kitchen clean out, I sort of refused to get it. Then one day I decided, "Okay, let's try this thing," and I ordered it for him as a gift from my parents. I now have to eat my words. It has been one of our best kitchen purchases and we both love it. 

Bonus: Check out these amazing anonymous photos taken from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mind Over Matter - Part 2

(Notice there are now three check marks - only one more to go!)

When I last checked in regarding the Swedish Women's Classic (Svenska Tjejklassiker), it was a mere two days before I was to hop into some very cold water and swim 1 kilometer as fast as I could. Well, the water was pretty darn cold but after standing around in my wetsuit for thirty minutes the cold was not as shocking as I had anticipated and the swimming part, while challenging, was not at all as bad as I thought it would be. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure I can also say that I was mistaken in thinking that the swimming portion of this four-part endurance feat would be the most difficult. 

The very next day after the Vansbro 1 kilometer swim, I pulled out my running shoes, dusted off my Garmin, and started training for the 10 kilometer run. The race was just under three months away. It seemed like plenty of time to prepare but I figured I should get started. Ahem. 

Have you ever trained for a running event? If you are already a runner, it doesn't count. I'm talking about starting from scratch, as in from a sitting position on your couch. I'm kidding, sort of, but the minute I started my couch to 10k program, running one minute, then walking one minute, and repeating ten times, I felt that I needed to question my sanity. 

You'd think running for just one minute would be a piece of cake right? (A piece of cake sounds good right now and I miss my couch!) I peeked at my Garmin, merrily keeping time, after what seemed to be a reasonable amount of time, only to discover that I'd been running for a mere 20 seconds. 20 seconds???!!!! Holy cow. How was I ever going to be able to run 10 kilometers? 

I kept with my training however, thinking (and hoping) that it would get better. In the beginning I endured cramps in my lower legs that were so severe, I'd have to stop completely (I couldn’t even walk) and shake out my legs until the pain became bearable enough to walk my minute and start running again. Gradually I built up my time and distance and the cramping stopped but, even so, I continually questioned my ability to build up to the point of finishing the 10 kilometer race. And yet, with a discipline and determination that surprised even myself, I stuck to my training schedule and continued running 3 times a week. Some days I even got up before work to run, which was the biggest surprise to myself. Until....

.... a little under three months later, on Sunday, September 29th, I actually completed the Lidingö Tjejloppet - 10 kilometer run. I personally think it should be called, "The Up and Down and Over-the-Hills and Through the Woods" race, but that is beside the point. It was tough. And by tough I mean probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. But I can also say that it was a truly amazing experience and something I might even do again.

A couple of things I learned along the way:

  • Where there’s a will, there’s a way. 
  • The body truly is stronger that the mind thinks it is.

Truer words have not been spoken. I encountered a couple of minor injuries along the road in my training. Plantar faciitis in my left foot and runner's knee in my right knee both threatened to stop me. However after speaking with runner friends and other sports enthusiasts, I learned some exercises and things I could do to alleviate the symptoms, strengthen the surrounding muscles, and allow me to keep training. 

After all of this has been said and done:

If you have even an inkling of desire to train and participate in some type of sports event, be it bicycling, running, even walking, I encourage you to start training - like now! It won’t be easy but I can guarantee that if you keep it up, the pain will go away and it will get easier. Your body will get stronger ... and so will your mind! 

I have tried running many different times in my life but due to the horrible cramping I would experience in my lower legs I just thought, “running isn’t for me,” and after a short time period I would quit. No one told me that these pains were normal and that it would take time to build up my endurance in the different muscles and tendons. No one told me to keep going, or that it would get better. Well, I am telling you...

KEEP GOING... it WILL get better! 

And send me a photo of your finish when you complete your first 5k, or 10k if you are crazy like me! 

Like Nike says, JUST DO IT.

Ps. Just one tiny event left for me to do to complete the Svenska Tjejklassik - 30 kilometers on cross-country skis. Double gulp. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Plum Crazy

An early fall day. Sun shining. Out for a trail run through the woods with a couple of friends. Lunch after on the deck. Perhaps the final day to sit outside without a blanket. A bit chilly but the homemade carrot soup warmed us. Mmmmm. With a yummy arugula, chicken and bean salad on the side. Afterward, picking and eating the cutest tiny little plums directly from the tree. “You guys should take some home with you.” With pleasure, thank you! We were also invited to pick fresh pears and apples from our friend’s abundantly adorned trees. Heavenly!

Once home I contemplated what to do with the plums. I searched one of my favorite food blogs for recipes using these lovely gems. Lo and behold, there was a recipe for a plum galette! Of course! It sounded absolutely perfect. And, I had most of the ingredients on hand. 

Here’s what transpired:

Plums are rinsed and ready to be made into a simple galette.

Pitted? Check. Only a few were eaten during this stage. It is nearly impossible not to. And the entire time I was thinking, “I should have picked more!”

Ready for the oven!

Look at that bubbling gooey goodness. Just begging to be eaten.

Served with a generous dollop of Turkish yogurt and a drizzle of honey.

This galette was good to the last scrape... I nearly licked the plate, as you can see. Instead, I just enjoyed a second piece. :-) Why not?!

Recipe adapted from Since I didn't have every ingredient, I merely used what I had on hand. Changed I made to the recipe included:

  • Spelt flour instead of rye.
  • Agave syrup instead of maple. 
  • Vanilla extract instead of scraped bean pod.
  • Probably 1/4 tsp of dried thyme instead of 1/2, but in the future I would use the whole 1/2 tsp, or plan ahead and use fresh. It was hardly detectable with only 1/4 tsp.
  • Turkish yogurt instead of sheep’s milk.
  • Added a drizzle of honey.

The crust tasted fresh and crisp without the heavy feeling of eating a crust made with butter. And I really loved the texture that the poppy seeds added. I drizzled honey over the top because I love honey with Turkish yogurt and there was so little “sugar” in the recipe. And I thought it was a good idea. 

It is worth noting that my husband ate only one slice of this galette. I pretty much finished it off/gobbled it down over the course of the next four days. 

I think it would be just as tasty with other fruit, if plums are not available or in season.

Happy fall!