As I’ve aged a little (I’m 45), I’ve started to back away from the starches as a main course, side or food group. Sure, we eat pastas and breads etc, but in MUCH smaller amounts than in my 20’s and early 30’s. Without getting into the politics of starches and obesity and etc. I wanted to share a version of my NO PASTA Lasagna – a different, perhaps somewhat healthier version than the Italian classic. We have this meal about 2 dinners every 3 months, and it’s usually by request.I use Butternut Squash as the lasagna noodle substitute. In this case, it’s not even a front-and-center Italian flavor profile I am going for – no sauce here. I am using the word “lasagna” to refer generally to the layering of the ingredients, and to the baking thereof, but there is a cheese factor here as you will find below. Don’t be disappointed or pre-judge – this recipe turns out a great presentation that plates really well for dinner guests.
Assuming you’re dining area and kitchen can now pass the food inspector, the critic, and a Food Network contest, and assuming you have separated the lasagna from the sides of the baking pan, the lasagna may now be sliced. Be careful! Be sure to cut it nice and clean, and you have a fork or knife in your other hand, to gently slide it off the spatula and on to the serving plate. Many times a pretty lasagna has been ruined by not gently pushing it off the spatula with an alternate utensil.
For final showiness, I drizzle a little olive oil, and either sprinkle a parsley or chive or basil on the side of the dish. Sometimes I use paprika as a dusting which also looks good. Every once in a while I do a zig-zag of balsamic reduction. You choice, just make it look nice.
In some ways the “official” start of Spring at VHC Brands has nothing to do with products at all, instead, it’s all about the weather. Each year, we plant a fairly large garden, which in southwest Missouri in the Ozarks, is something we contemplate and discuss and plan from about January 2nd, until we can officially poke holes and stick seeds in the soil. Last frost is always around Tax Day, and by tradition we plant the seeds or sproutings the weekend prior to Tax Day. This year, the weather was too nasty to plant the weekend prior to Tax Day, and this past weekend (the weekend AFTER Tax Day) we expected (and received some) severe weather, so that didn’t work either. So we planted on a work day – Monday the 20th.
When you think of gardening, you might think of sunhats, butterflies, the meadow grasses swaying in a gentle breeze, shiny green Smith & Hawken mini rakes, etc. That would not be gardening in Missouri, at least not our garden – not the VHC Victory Garden. We started calling it the Victory Garden in 2008….more on that later if we have time. Turns out it’s not that kind of Victory.
What kind of Victory is it, you ask? We battle the elements – braving wind, variable temperatures, hungry bugs and animals and rocky soil – quite literally, gardener against the odds. Today we braved the cold and 20 mile-an-hour winds to get the tiny seeds into the soil. There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no quitting in VHC gardening. WE WILL WE WILL PLANT YOU. EVERYBODY WE WILL WE WILL…anyway you get the picture. As you can see from the image, the garden is officially started, and it’s going to be a really great garden this season. We typically end up harvesting 100 to 200 pounds of goodies A DAY in full swing, no kidding. We share with anyone who asks, which makes up for us not actually doing the professional garden prep work ourselves (best left to professionals). I look forward to sharing stories of the plants, critters and tastes as the season gets into full bloom.
To all our fellow gardeners – please share your story – and Happy Planting!
Ken Kline, CEO
With the flowers and trees finally budding, it doesn’t feel much like Christmas right now, but around VHC we are absolutely buzzing with excitement over our 2015 Christmas products! In fact, we’re so excited about it, we launched new Facebook and Pinterest pages so we have a place to focus just on the various seasons!
I know you’re asking yourself – What makes this launch so exciting? Well, not only do we have an amazing selection of country rustic options that our customers know us for, but this year we’re also offering some winter whimsy style products too.
One thing I love about this year’s Christmas launch is the details! We have cute buttons (and more buttons), ric-rac, cable knit, multi-color whipstitch, applique and more.
As they say, time flies, so the Christmas retail shopping season will be here before you know it! But we also know storage space is precious; pre-order now and we’ll delay the shipment of your products for a few months. Don’t wait! We sell out fast, and you don’t want to miss out and not be the cool kid at the Christmas table.
I’m sure you’re dying to see more photos of this year’s collections, see the catalog here.
Ashlee, Marketing Director
This year we didn’t go for the Traditional Easter Meal at our house. We were all feeling a little “done” with the normal servings of ham, rolls and whatever, after a long “wintry” winter. So I decided to try a few different things to mix up the menu.
Background: For the “big eat” Easter Brunch meal, we had brunch at Chateau On The Lake, on Table Rock Lake in Branson. This year, there were thirteen of us at one table and ages ranging from barely 6 to almost 80. As such, a restaurant setting with a special holiday buffet solves a lot of problems. We wouldn’t otherwise have had a seafood platter, 15 kinds of desserts, a chocolate fountain etc if we had Easter at the house. The kids can eat 100% starch, and I can eat oysters, and nobody runs out of anything. So it’s nice, and easy to overeat. Which I did.
So how does going to a buffet brunch on Easter morning involve a Non-Traditional Easter Meal at the house? Different meal – dinner. Brunch was hours ago. Plus, I prepped everything in advance of Easter, so BOTH Easter meals really were all about the eating and talking this year.
The Easter Dinner included Barbecue-Roasted Venison Tenderloin, (Bacon) Roasted Asparagus with Carrots, a non-traditional Butternut Squash/Sweet Potato Casserole, Italian-style Spring Peas, and Table Rock Northern Pike in a White Wine Caper Sauce. Yum! You don’t even miss the rolls!
The Barbecue-Roasted Venison Tenderloin:
For some reason, my wonderful pictures of the Venison didn’t turn out, so I can’t share that bit of heaven on earth with all you carnivores, in the pictorial sense. I can say it turned out fabulous. My brother Kevin hunted deer with a bow for years on his land in Arkansas, and this was the last of the blessings in my freezer from the season – prior to his moving to Hawaii. I’ll share the ingredients and then the methods:
Coconut Amino (a substitute for Bragg’s and for regular Soy Sauce but you can use whichever suits you) – about 1 cup
Cracked Black Pepper – liberally placed all over the venison surface
Salt – I use a pink salt from the Himalayas but regular is fine – about 1 tablespoon
Barbecue Sauce – many times I make my own but was not in the mood so I just used store bought, about 1 cup
Thaw the tenderloin, liberally rub or sprinkle with salt and pepper, and baste overnight in the Coconut Soy Sauce and ½ cup of the Barbecue Sauce. I marinated the meat for over 24 hours and I don’t see that it hurt anything. The meat needs to be close to room temp to properly roast, per the experts, so I pulled the marinating roast out of the fridge about an hour prior to the oven time.
I set the oven temp on convect and 350 degrees, with an expected cooking time of 40 minutes overall. I set the timer for 20 minutes, added the ½ cup of barbecue sauce to the roasting pan, and started cooking. At the 20 minute marker, I ladled the sauce from around the venison back on to the roast, and added a swish of Pinot Noir which was accompanying the venison at table. A lot of people like their deer and related meats on the not-quite-done or nowhere-near-done side, and I agree with that but didn’t quite achieve that for this roast. At 35 minutes, I pulled the roast again, and there was a nice pink center, so I stopped the roasting phase, kept it covered with foil, and let the meat REST for 15 minutes in the warming drawer.
The RESTING is very important, as the juices supposedly pull back into the meat and it’s more tender. After 15 minutes I uncovered the meat, sliced it thinly, ladled the roasted wine/barbecue sauce over each piece – and had a gorgeous magazine/blog-worthy of your imagination. If I had photos, I would share, but you can imagine how nice it was.
The Butternut Squash Sweet Potato Casserole:
I have a thing for squash, all kinds. I sneak them in all kinds of meals, all year long. I thought about writing a cookbook or having a special blog: “Squash Your Appetite” but for time. Anyway, if you happen to be from the South, you know Sweet Potato Casserole is basically dessert served WITH the holiday meal, not after. My take on Sweet Potato Casserole honors that lineage with some adjustments to keep it interesting. In addition, anything with Heavy Crème and Butter and Cinnamon AND Vanilla, can’t be bad.
1 Large Butternut Squash, cut up and cooked to softness (microwave or roasted depending on your preference)
2 Medium Sweet Potatoes, cut up and cooked to softness (micro or roasted again)
2 or 3 Cuties or 1 flavorful Orange, or Tangerines etc
Agave Nectar – to taste
Butter (real Butter), maybe 2-3 tablespoons
Marshmallow in whatever form suits you – small, large, topping, spread, etc.
Balsamic Vinegar Reduction – if you like
Process:Place the cooked butternut squash in a large food processor and pulverize into a mashed potato consistency. Remove to a large mixing bowl.
Place the cooked sweet potatoes in the same processor and pulverize same as the squash. Add to the large mixing bowl with the squash.
Juice your Cuties, Oranges, or Tangerines and add the juice to the squash mixture. The idea with the citrus is it adds some sweetness but in a more sophisticated manner. If you add too much, you get Orange Julius casserole…if you don’t add enough, you can’t taste it. So you want a flavor profile somewhere in between…..
Sprinkle a healthy amount of cinnamon into the mix.
Pour ½ heavy crème into the mix. Add butter
Mix thoroughly. Taste for flavor. At this point, I add the Agave Nectar in spare amounts until I get the right sweet note, and stop sweetening. I also sometimes use Vanilla which balances the Cinnamon, but can be overdone. I used a 9 inch pie pan (glass) and sprayed it with Coconut Oil, but any spray will do. Pour in or ladle in the casserole, and top with Marshmallow and more Cinnamon for color.
Given that the main ingredients were already cooked, this casserole requires just a few minutes in the oven. I set the timer for 10 minutes which was at the top end, and could have done less. But the topping was nice and melted and with roasted spots like a classic pie with topping, so I felt like it turned out well.
The final ingredient – Balsamic Vinegar Reduction – isn’t necessary, and I didn’t use it this time, but it adds color and a very nice flavor hit along with the hint of orange citrus. Squeeze it on sparingly or dot the melted marshmallow.
The (Bacon) Roasted Asparagus with Carrots:
Asparagus is a Rite Of Spring, you can’t avoid eating it and consider yourself normal. Easter is the perfect kick off meal for this vegetable. However, I find it looks (and tastes) too plain by itself – so I typically dress it up.
Bacon with fat, chopped finely or coarsely to preference, about 2-3 slices. I am all for flavored bacon, which works well in this recipe, but I just used what I had on hand.
12-15 smaller asparagus, ends cut, and asparagus cut into 2” lengths
1-2 medium carrots cut into carrot stick type usage
Olive oil/grapeseed oil etc
Salt/pepper/spice it if you like
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanche the carrots and the asparagus for 2 minutes to bring out the color and pre-cook them, prior to oven roasting.
To seal the color (the blanche effect), place the cooked carrots and asparagus in ice-chilled water, with the ice. Set aside.
Render the bacon fat and cook the bacon. I add the chopped or crushed garlic towards the end, into the bacon pan. No need to make crispy bacon, as it will cook off some more in the oven w/the veggies.
Spray a casserole or pie dish and place the drained asparagus and carrots. Ladle the bacon, bacon drippings, and garlic mix over the veggies and spread around. Alternately, you can dump the veggies into the bacon pan and mix, your choice. In the picture I took, I have not yet added the bacon/garlic, but you can see how nicely the color brightens on the blanched asparagus.
Finish with salt and pepper to taste. I also add Oregano just for something a little extra, and a splash of olive oil.
Roast for 12-18 minutes in the oven at 350 degrees. If you like them more roasted and crispy, cook them to taste. I like grill marks, burn marks, char marks etc on foods, so I cook mine longer but watch them closely. There is no exact science to cooked/charred with a pleasant firmness on the inside for the veggies, in my opinion, so you can experiment to get it right for you.