In Which I Make a Giant and Delicious Mess: Butternut Squash Ravioli with Goat Cheese and Toasted Pecans

In all it's glory. Yum.

So gather round. Let me tell you a story. A very amusing story from last January.

At the finish line

At the finish line

It was the Friday before my brother’s Hypothermic Half-Marathon in Kanata, and knowing he had to carb load I offered to make him ravioli with my newly shipped ravioli stamps. See problem is that I didn’t think this through entirely.

  1. The dough was impossible to knead, or I was just too weak.
  2. I didn’t actually have a rolling pin. So I improvised by using a bottle of wine. Which made things über classy and made rolling the dough thin enough mission impossible.

So after 3 hours of kneading and rolling, and attempts to cut beautiful raviolis that were horribly overstuffed and wouldn’t seal because the dough was dried out and tough. That night I decided to never attempt to make pasta again. Ever.

Cory and I still laugh about it.

But see, then I got myself a pasta roller and a Ninja blender system for Christmas. This system when I requested it boasted a dough blade and so I thought, thank God! I can finally make pasta again! And then I realized that I did not necessarily need the Ninja system per say. The internet was full of recipes for how to make pasta with a food processor.

I am still beyond excited about my new toy. I missed my smoothies being made in their cups instead of being transferred into their to-go cups. I have been working with an ancient food processor (legit it came from my mom who had it for 30 years before I bought her a food processor and got the hand-me-down). And it’s so shiny and pretty.

But back to the delicious, crown jewel of this post – the amazing ravioli. This, while mildly time consuming, meant that I was able to spend some wonderful time with my mom and best friend.  And I finally feel okay about making my abilities to make ravioli.

Mamma D makes a great assistant! :)

Mamma D makes a great assistant! 🙂

Thursday I walked into HMV where my good friend Victoria works, walked to the cash and informed her “You’re coming to my house for pasta tomorrow. Just so you know.” And walked away. Now the pressure was really on. I couldn’t twice invite someone promising fresh pasta and hand them a giant doughy mess. My mom and I always go to Milestone’s specifically for the butternut squash ravioli. Seriously. It is so good, if I had to trade… coffee… for this ravioli I would. For those of you who know that coffee has sort of replaced my blood, you know this is a serious trade.

Of course, this pasta is worth it.

I mean sweet basil tomato sauce (I cheated and used jarred sauce, but it was the premium sauce), peppered goat cheese, toasted pecans, and pureed roasted squash. Stop drooling on your keyboard. It’s not good to get electronics wet.

I posted a picture yesterday morning, and have already had several  requests for the recipe. So I am assuming you need to make this too. Who am I kidding – anything this delicious must be made multiple times.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Toasted Pecans and Goat Cheese

In all it's glory.  Yum.

In all it’s glory. Yum.

Ingredients:

For the Pasta

  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-3 tbsp of water

Butternut Squash Filling

  • 1 lb butternut squash cut into 1 inch cubes (If you’re lazy like me, you can buy it from the grocery store pre-cut)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small onion, sliced
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp goat cheese

Toasted Pecans

  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (optional, hey some like it hot.)
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup

Serving Stuff

  • pasta sauce
  • goat cheese (about 2/3 of a cup should do, can be either a log or crumbled)

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400F.
  2. Toss butternut squash with olive oil, herbs, onions, and garlic. Arrange in a single layer in a glass pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until fork-tender.Butternut Squash Roast
  3. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine salt and flour and pulse several times to mix it up. Crack the eggs on top and put the cover back on. Process for about a minute or until the dough comes together in a ball. If it is course and crumbly and doesn’t come together after a minute, slowly add water a tablespoon at a time until it forms a ball.

    This is so much easier with a food processor

    This is so much easier with a food processor

  4. Once you have a ball remove it and knead it several times on the counter until it is a well formed ball and reasonably elastic. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
  5. After the squash is done, allow it to chill and then puree it in the food processor with the goat cheese and set aside.butternut squash puree
  6. While the dough is chilling, add syrup, butter, brown sugar and cayenne peppers to a small sauce pot until hot and bubbly. Add pecans and turn to coat. Remove from heat and spread in a single layer on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350F stirring every 3-4 minutes.
  7. Once the dough is done resting, divide it into four sections, work one section at a time and leave the other sections covered to prevent them from drying out. Roll out with a rolling pin to 1mm thickness, or about the third lowest setting on the pasta press. Start on the widest setting and run through each setting twice, progressively thinning the dough. As you finish with each sheet dust with flour and cover with a towel to prevent from drying out.
  8. Once all the pasta is rolled out drop the filling by the tablespoon about an inch apart, fold the dough over to cover, and stamp with ravioli press or use a pizza roller to cut into raviolis. Dust immediately with flour to prevent from sticking together.
  9. Once all the raviolis are formed add to a pot of boiling water for approximately 3-5 minutes, or until floating and puffed.
  10. While the raviolis are cooking, heat marinara sauce in pan.
  11. Drain and rinse ravioli with cold water. Serve topped with marinara sauce, goat cheese and pecans.
Word to the wise - food tastes so much better with family.

Word to the wise – food tastes so much better with family.

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How to Make Vodka at Dinner Socially Acceptable: Penne Alla Vodka

I forgot the feta cheese, but you get the gist - Heaven in a bowl.

recipe adapted from: Skinny Kitchen

My last attempt at Penne alla Vodka went horribly wrong. Read: I didn’t heat the vodka off properly. So it tasted like we were eating pasta soaked in alcohol. After that experience I was tempted to swear off it all together and just start driving up to Le Vieux Four near Mount Tremblant whenever the yen for the creamy, ethanol-y, goodness struck. I had for some reason also vowed to give up on ever making a “healthy” version of the dish IF I ever tried again.

Race weekend though I didn’t have the time or energy to drive all the way to Mount Tremblant, but I needed to carb load, and the only thing that would do was penne alla vodka. And I hate the idea of waste, so having half a carton of cream that would inevitably be thrown out was not really on my priority list. So I searched Google for healthy penne alla vodka recipes, which usually means no cream. Turns out a lot of the recipes also interpreted this as no vodka either. At which point, they really should admit they are doing penne with a rosé sauce. A lot of the recipes called for Greek yogurt too, which I still associate with my last attempt to make penne alla vodka, so those were off the list. I finally found Skinny Kitchen’s Magnifico, Skinny Penne Alla Vodka. The recipe was fairly straight forward so I used it as my starting point, making a few tweeks as I went. It really is best to make sure all your ingredients are laid out for this, especially in the beginning because things go a little fast. The recipe serves about 5 people, and heats up very well the next day.

I forgot the feta cheese, but you get the gist - Heaven in a bowl.

I forgot the feta cheese, but you get the gist – Heaven in a bowl.

Ingredients:

This is what I started with, plus pasta, feta, and basil which I picked last minute from the plant

This is what I started with, plus pasta, feta, and basil which I picked last minute from the plant

  • 1 can (28oz) diced tomatoes, divided
  • 1-2 cloves garlic (I used colossal garlic so I used one), minced
  • 2/3 cup onion, minced
  • 2 tsp hot pepper flakes (less if you’re not big on spicy, this is totally optional)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup vodka (buy the good stuff, I swear it’s better)
  • 1 1/4 cup 1% milk
  • 3 tbsp herb and garlic cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • feta cheese and fresh basil to garnish
  • 5 cups penne (or any tube pasta)

Making it: (Bonus points if you can do like I did, and NOT get the tomato sauce on your white shirt)

  1. Start the water for your pasta and cook it while you’re doing everything else.
  2. Heat oil in non-stick pan on medium-high (don’t let the pan get too hot, or the tomato paste may stick), and add onion and tomato paste. Stir it around for a minute until the onions go kind of clear.
  3. Add garlic and hot pepper flakes and stir them around until translucent.
  4. Purée half the tomatoes and add to the pan with salt. Give it a good stir and remove from the heat to add the vodka. Once you’ve added said vodka and stirred it in, return the pan to the heat.
  5. Simmer for 8-12 minutes until the alcohol taste has burned off. Don’t rely on time exclusively for this – taste the sauce to make sure that you’re not doing shots for dinner.

    This is what you'll have before the milk and cream cheese are added

    This is what you’ll have before the milk and cream cheese are added

  6. Once the alcohol has burned off add in the milk and cream cheese, stir until the cream cheese has blended in really week and the sauce is hot. Add butter and stir until melted.

    After the milk and cream cheese are added you get something like this.

    After the milk and cream cheese are added you get something like this.

  7. Your pasta should be done and drained now. Put it into the sauce and stir to get it coated. Give it a few minutes to soak up the sauce and you’re basically done.
  8. Serve with feta and basil.
Add in Family, and you get something like this.

Add in Family, and you get something like this.

Running, Eating, and Dog Tags

Me and my running newbie congratulate ourselves. Omar finished about 30 minutes faster than me, but stuck around in true Running Room fashion

This was a very, very exciting weekend for me. It all started Friday when I went to pick up my race kit for the 2013 Canada Army Run here in Ottawa. All day I saw people carrying the kits, it was incredible to see how many people in Ottawa were doing this great race. Especially since the race has more than tripled in size since its inaugural run in 2008, from 7000 to 22000 split between the 5K and half-marathon events. What’s better is what this event represents – honouring the currently and past serving soldiers. Everything about this run is army – at the sports expo/kit pick-up there were military tanks and trucks; the start was signaled by a canon; the shirts have camo on them; the medals, which are handed out by soldiers, are dog tags; and along the way cadets cheered the runners and walkers. Fifteen minutes before the regular start there was a special start – wheelchair and para-athletes lead the charge so to speak. It was truly an honour to be a part of this event.

Tanks

The trucks and tanks at kit pick-up/the expo

The trucks and tanks at kit pick-up/the expo

So Friday meant two things – race kit pick-up, where I got to meet John Stanton; and carb-loading, which came in the delicious form of penne alla vodka (don’t worry I tell you how to do it here). Saturday, it was rainy and miserable. And I was praying to every God out there that it stopped raining before 8AM the next day. But the rainy miserable weather, and you know, fall in general, gave me a great excuse to break out the slow-cooker and use up the rest of the apples from last weekend. This meant pork tenderloin with apples and smashed potatoes, and apple crumble pie. Let me tell you – it was fantastic. A totally food-gasmic start to the most exciting day of my year.

What better use of the newly painted chalk wall than to let everyone know I was excited?!

What better use of the newly painted chalk wall than to let everyone know I was excited?!

You know there's a half-marathon in town when suddenly there's 40 Port-a-Potties outside city hall...

You know there’s a half-marathon in town when suddenly there’s 40 Port-a-Potties outside city hall…

Everything about race weekend gets me excited. I even got a small joy out of the long lines of port-a-potties that were already set up Friday morning. Saturday afternoon, I was like a kid in the Build-a-Bear Workshop, where we went to get Hightop some army fatigues in honour of race day (Hightop is a race day tradition my mom and I started at the Niagara Falls Women’s Half). Sunday morning I was wiggling with excitement. Even as I attempted to make my smoothie with a food processor since I discovered Friday night my blender was broken, I was excited. Bouncing even. Remember that Porky Pig comparison? Yeah that’s exactly what my morning was like. After a few shameless selfies en route, I made my way into the corrals.

Runners Back

See - nothing but runners as far as I could see. A beautiful sight.

See – nothing but runners as far as I could see. A beautiful sight.

Fortunately within the corral it was A LOT warmer, since it was freezing this morning. There are few feelings that compare to the feeling of waiting in the starting corrals on race day. The awe that comes from seeing nothing but runners as far as you can see. And the fact that despite variations in lifestyle, fitness level, career, age, whatever have you, this massive group of people forms a community, we are all in it together, even if we don’t know each other. Out for a run a few weeks ago, I kid you not, a runner on the other side of a 4 lane road waved to me.

Yes that’s a runner thing.

So is going out in the pouring rain/sleet/snow/cold because “It’s distance day. I can’t skip distance day.” Also on the crazy list? The fact that Wednesdays I run up and down the same hill multiple times. What can I say. You can’t skip hills day.

I am new to this “runner” thing. Before this weekend I had done three half marathons. Toronto Goodlife, Ottawa Race Weekend, and most recently, the Niagara Falls Women’s Half-Marathon. Each had its ups and downs. Mostly ups. Pun intended. But I walked them. Key word there? BUT.

21.1 Kilometers is a long way to go. Unless you’re driving. Then you have no real reason to brag unless you’re 16 and learning to drive (I once balked at my dad telling me to go faster than 10km/h in an EMPTY parking lot). And I constantly downplay it. Fact is that I walk as fast as some people run. And I do it for almost 3 hours. And I love it.

When I finished Ottawa Race Weekend, I finished next to last in my age/gender category. This was a wake-up call of sorts for me. I started telling myself I should be a runner. How was I so slow for my age?

I let that take away from the fact that I had just done something incredible.

The concept of RUNNING a half-marathon seemed beyond my reach. I put runners on a pedestal and watched them in awe.

What finally triggered me to get out and run? Last September I went and cheered my brother while he ran the Army Run. Afterwards, I saw his dog-tag medal and decided I needed one. So yeah I chose my first running goal based on the medal. I generally do them for the swag bag anyways so this wasn’t a stretch.

All winter I struggled. It was too cold for a run (I got a gym membership and cancelled it after a week). The roads were too slippery (I bought traction grips for my shoes and ended up returning them). I had class (I brought my running gear so I could go between classes but then reasoned that my boyfriend wouldn’t watch my stuff or I didn’t want to go to class sweaty). In my defense it was a horrible winter.

Translation: I let life get in the way.

After the Niagara Falls Women’s I had to kick it into high gear to train for the Army Run, technically I was already a week behind the schedule. My first distance run sucked. It was pouring rain. I literally came back dripping with water pooling in my sleeves. The second Sunday run was better, but I struggled to push myself to the 9 kilometer mark. Third week, I decided to take my brother’s advice, and you know, actually follow through on a plan (albeit this plan was hatched 10 months earlier), and I went to the Running Room.

I fretted, what if they were rude? Or cliquey? What if it turned out I wasn’t able to keep up with them? What if? Just kept repeating over and over and over again in my head. Always followed by some disappointing or self-depreciating assumption.

But I ignored those thoughts – reassured myself that if they turned out to be mean, rude, or whatever other problem arose, I could always never go again.

What happened? I went with a slower group, unsure of myself, and they turned out to be great! They were all several years older than me, and thus we were at different life stages but that didn’t matter – we were joined by the love of running. The group was slower than I really wanted to go, so the next week I decided to go with the faster group. And I never looked back.

Every Sunday I faithfully woke at 6:15AM, made a smoothie and a breakfast pita. And while there was usually this tiny part of me that begged to just sleep in. Or at least begged for the coffee I always skipped Sundays in the interest of staying properly hydrated pre-run. I don’t regret a thing. I met some of the most amazing people I have ever known in my life. The most supportive people you could hope for, none perhaps more supportive than Doug. Race day, I was struggling, and despite the fact that I told him I was going to have to walk a lot, and repeatedly begging him to go on without me, he stuck by my side. That is, everything that the Running Room represents for me – people who truly care about one another, and want to help encourage each other. They NEVER leave anyone behind. EVER. It’s the golden rule of Run Club. And they never make you feel bad about it either.

This is a small segment of my Running Family before the start of the run. They're kind of awesome.

This is a small segment of my Running Family before the start of the run. They’re kind of awesome.

On Race Day I had a lot of time on my hands to think, a very small part of me thought of all the things I had to do afterwards, but mostly I thought of the experience of becoming a runner and what that meant to me and why I did it and will continue to do it.

It really is incredible to me how far I’ve come since the few scattered and slow runs in May. In four months I went from barely able to run between street lights, to able to run 5K comfortably, to running a half-marathon. I did what I thought was impossible.

The first few runs I really wondered what screw came loose in my head that made me WANT to do this, and think I COULD do it. “This” being run a half marathon/run 5 days, and “it” being not dying in the process. Now, I am addicted. Running is a part of who I am. I came to hate rest days because I wanted to run.

About three weeks ago I damaged the Soleus muscle (calf) and had to take a full week off, and while I started running again the day before, I had to skip the last distance day before Race Day. This was the run I had most been looking forward to – it was a race route replicate. But having a still tender ankle and having taken off 5 days I figured if I wanted to be able to run on Race Day, I had to skip it. And sleeping in felt weird. I was grouchy beyond grouchy the whole week, and despite spending the week limping around, I wanted to run.

A lot of people don’t get why runners run if it ends in injury. Why I want to run even if I can barely walk. Why do I run though?

Because I am tired without my runs. And grouchy.

Because I love the feeling of pushing my body to the limits

Because I love being so in tune with every muscle, every beat of my heart, every breath I take.

Because it makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel strong and proud.

Because I want to be around for a long time – I want a long and happy life.

Because when I run I come alive.

Because running gives me time to think and break away from whatever stresses are waiting for me back at home.

Because running has taught me the difference between CAN’T and DON’T WANT TO – I know I can do anything, I just have to push.

And most importantly – Because I am addicted to dry fit.

Ok, that last one I was only sort of kidding. But seriously, I spend more on dry fit than I ever would on normal clothing. I think nothing of a $200 pair of running shoes, and a $30 dry fit top feels like a steal. Take me to the mall though and I will pretty much refuse to buy any pair of shoes more expensive than $40 and if a t-shirt costs more than $15 I deem it overpriced. I can’t help it.

The run did not go as planned. Not by a long shot. By kilometer 9 I had encountered “The Blerch” (check out The Oatmeal’s comic for an explanation of The Blerch). So kilometers 9 to 13 I struggled with my inner wimp’s desire to give up. For those of you wondering – no at kilometer 13 I did not suddenly conquer the Blerch, instead I hit a pot hole, twisting my knee, so the last 8 kilometers really were a head game. A battle royale between my will to continue and the desire to give up and wave down a medic. But I pushed on because I knew my family was waiting for me at the finish line. I didn’t drag them all the way downtown just so I could wheel up on a golf cart with a DNC (Did not complete). So I pushed on. Even if it meant running half a kilometer, walking half a kilometer.

My parents met me at the finish with Hightop, everyone thought I ran with a stuffed rabbit the whole way. Which is way less impressive than the guys that ran with a flag and tire respectively.

My parents met me at the finish with Hightop, everyone thought I ran with a stuffed rabbit the whole way. Which is way less impressive than the guys that ran with a flag and tire respectively.

I finished about 10 minutes slower than my goal time, and came out of the finishers area excited, but complaining about how I didn’t finish in goal time. My brother, the only other runner in my family, laughed and said “See! You get it now! You finish a race and are instantly thinking of what you are going to do better in the next one! You can’t even just be happy you finished this one!” And he’s tragically right. Which is doubly sad because when I was a walker I idolized the runners, and thought that I SHOULD be running, then I ran, and said I SHOULD have run faster. So basically, I appear to be some sort of self-depreciating nut bar who can’t just be proud of her accomplishments. I swear I was overjoyed at the finish line though. It really was a surreal feeling crossing the finish line and I am still proud of all my past achievements. I just can’t wait for the next one. I don’t look down on myself, I look forward to the me I could me. The me I know I can be.

Me and my running newbie congratulate ourselves. Omar finished about 30 minutes faster than me, but stuck around in true Running Room fashion

Me and my running newbie congratulate ourselves. Omar finished about 30 minutes faster than me, but stuck around in true Running Room fashion

This year really seems to have become about breaking down the I-could-never’s and the I-did’s. I never thought I could write a blog, and here we are. I never thought I could run a half-marathon and here I am, with an IT band injury and a dog tag medal. I should probably remember these things when I start my grad school applications and think “I can’t” or “I won’t make it” fact is – I’ve conquered some pretty crazy stuff in my life, I have accomplished so much that I never thought I would. And thus with dog tag in hand, it’s time to find a new crazy goal.

The medal I wanted so bad in all its glory.

The medal I wanted so bad in all its glory.

Maybe I should aim higher? Like climbing Mount Everest?