Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Griddled oatcakes

From Epicurious:



INGREDIENTS

3 1/2 cups (or more) water
1 3/4 cups steel-cut oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup plus additional for serving
1 tablespoon (packed) dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Melted butter (for brushing)
2 pints strawberries, hulled, sliced

PREPARATION

Butter 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan or rimmed baking sheet. Bring 3 1/2 cups water to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Add oats and salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until oatmeal is tender but still firm to bite, stirring often and adding more water by 1/4 cupfuls if too thick, about 30 minutes.

Add cream, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, sugar, and vanilla; stir until mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. 

Spread oatmeal in prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 4 hours. 

DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

Cut chilled oatmeal into squares or triangles. Heat griddle or heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat. Brush griddle with melted butter. 

Cook oatcakes until golden brown and heated through, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Divide oatcakes among plates, drizzle with maple syrup, spoon strawberries over, and serve.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Instructional review: Flow Jitsu by Mike Bidwell

I was really tickled to get an advance peek at an instructional by Mike Bidwell called Flow Jitsu. I'm enjoying BJJ in my forties but I am really working on being less rigid and smashy, more fluid and crafty what with all these young twenty-something monsters on the mat. This sounded just up my alley.

The video is available in digital download format only at Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood Gear for $49.95 and is about an hour long.



Who is Mike Bidwell?  He is a blackbelt under Phil Migliarese and Ken Kronenberg, founder of blog BJJ After Forty, creator of Flow Jitsu, and he persevered through a very long brown belt phase from 2001 to 2014.  So, I think he knows how BJJ can become a grind. In his introduction with Nic Gregoriades, Roger Gracie blackbelt, Mike emphasized that he believes in the ideas of flow, movement, adaptability, and the importance of acknowledging and working with any limitations on your physicality by seeking easily-replicatable techniques for all skill levels. Does he deliver? Let's see!



First, let's talk about technique content: As the name suggests, all his techniques connect one to the next to create a flow. Here's the first few "modules" as he terms them--

  1. Outside Kimura Sweep from Closed Guard
  2. Inside Kimura Sweep
  3. Kimura Sweep Counters
  4. Chaining Sweeps and Setups
  5. Americana Setups from Mount
  6. Americana to Peek a boo [I didn't know this term]
  7. Seatbelt Counters [chockablock with submissions!]

... and the list goes on. A consistent theme is his desire to avoid meeting resistance with resistance, strength with strength... instead, he teaches an approach of setting up chains of stimuli that take advantage of their natural defense instincts and go with their momentum to get what you really want. If that doesn't work, well hell, go with that too because all paths lead to a submission.  That's a lot of fun to think about and plan for.

Here's an example from Module 3, Kimura sweep counters:



Mike is careful to regularly show adjustments to use these techniques in a nogi context, demonstrating alternatives to gi grips and alternative submissions. In addition, he shows you alternatives you can use if you are stiff or sore, or lacking flexibility in some element of the movement.

As far as non-BJJ-technique issues: what a nice instructional, overall.  The download comes as an MP4 on a player with intuitive controls and handy buttons for rewind 10 seconds or fast forward 30 seconds. However, I found the lack of a menu with chapter headings (or "module" bookmarks) a little weird.

The lighting and audio are excellent.  Most techniques are demonstrated from a side-on view, with the camera adjusting almost seamlessly to capture a closeup where needed.  Sometimes, you get a nearly bird's-eye view. The background/mats are blue, and while he wears a white gi, his partner wears black, so everything is very clean and easy to see. It's nitpicky to say I found his phrase at the start of every module-- "All right, ninjas!"-- to be a little annoying. It really doesn't get in the way of his instruction since he only says it once each chapter.

I distinctly found this instructional to be more upper-level. There are excellent basic techniques taught in every chapter-- kimuras, back mount, americana, omoplata etc.-- but he gives fewer details and moves right along with a quicker pace to his speech and the amount of repetition. It is refreshing to have basically a "dense" and efficient dose of technique. You could watch this on your phone and feel like just a few minutes were fully packed with things to play with. There are few to no drilling sequences and while he reviews techniques as he goes, it never gets excessive.

One thing I liked about his relatively minimal level of detail compared to some instructionals is that I'm getting set in my ways, and I find that when someone teaches a detail which directly contradicts something that works really well for me, I mentally debate it. I challenge it or counter it in my mind and get distracted. This did not happen often in the video, which was refreshing. I found it to be like the end of open mat, where some brown or blackbelt is showing someone else something, and while it goes by quickly, it contains all the information you need to plug it in to your already-working technique library and expand it in new ways.  It does tend to assume you are familiar with the language and positions so if you are a rank newbie this may go a little bit quickly for some.

Another thing I liked was the constant stream of sub attempts. It's a facet I would like to include more in my style-- attack attack attack. However, I did think that some of his techniques assume some equality of size and strength between partners. He did such a great job talking about compensating for other limitations of physicality, I wished he could have included some adjustments us smaller-folk could make to tweak the techniques. If I had my druthers, he would have stepped back and had a smaller person demo against a larger one to illustrate such possibilities, a la Emily Kwok and Stephen Kesting.

Mike did a great job on this instructional. It's a very solid efficient hour, worth your time and money.










Sunday, July 31, 2016

Texas jiu jitsu instructor convicted of sexual assault of student

Former owner of BQuick Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Stephenville, Texas has been found guilty on July 27, 2016 of sexually assaulting a student who was 14 years old at the time. The jury had reached the verdict in less than an hour in Erath County.



Samuel Lewis was promptly escorted out of the courtroom following a guilty verdict. He was arrested back in January 2014 and charged with sexual assault of a child, a second degree felony.
According to a local news report  the victim testified saying she began training under Lewis in the summer of 2013. She also said Lewis claimed to be unhappy in his marriage. The victim testified that Lewis knew she was a high school freshman at the time. The teenager felt bad for him saying: “I felt bad and was sympathetic towards him.” She said the two communicated through text messages and Facebook, and that the relationship turned sexual on Christmas Eve 2013 when they had sex in the bathroom inside the gym.

Soon after, the victim’s mother learned about it after finding an incriminating facebook exchange- which was followed up with a police report. Lewis’ ex wife also testified against him saying she became suspicious of the relationship between Lewis and the victim. Soon after she went to the victim’s mother with her concerns.

Lewis attempted to commit suicide shortly after arrest and while he was in recovery the wife asked him about the incident: “I wanted to know why. Was it because she was pretty? Was it because she was young? Was it because she did Jiu Jitsu? Because I thought I was a pretty good wife,” she said. “He said it was because of Jiu Jitsu and that was the only time he mentioned it at all.”

Edit to add: scary comments on Reddit about this. https://www.reddit.com/r/bjj/comments/4vlsvl/bjj_instructor_samuel_lewis_from_texas_convicted/

Monday, June 27, 2016

Spartan Fit book coming out soon! Plus discount on Spartan races!

Joe DeSena’s new book "Spartan Fit!" comes out this summer. I have lots of jiu jitsu friends and sambo friends who do tough mudder and Spartan-type races. This book is a great training and motivational tool.

All of the info including the first chapter download (Free!) is here:

http://spartanracemedia.com

If you like what you read, you can (and should) pre-order it HERE:  http://bit.ly/spartanfit_preorder

I have SO much respect for people who run these Spartan races. They are tough! One of my good friends, a Caio Terra blackbelt near Dallas, runs these suckers and he's pretty addicted. Talk about functional fitness.

You can hunt for a Spartan race in your area by going here.

And if you use the code SPARTANBLOGGER you will get 10% off your entry fee.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Enormous jiu jitsu class makes it into the Guinness Book! And personal update...

I found an article about the top ten coolest martial arts records in the Guinness book, and one of them dealt with jiu jitsu-- the largest BJJ class ever.  Thought you might be interested!

I haven't trained hardly at all in the last 3 months. I swear I'm going back but it's been so hard with my work schedule. I am going to ask for an extended lunch so I can go to the noon class.  I get off at four p.m. and evening class starts at seven, so it's just hard to motivate myself to stay at work late, and my house is the opposite direction from the academy (with work in the middle.) So I know I'm making excuses, but... there it is.

Edited to add:

Thanks y'all for your words of encouragement and support!

I was approved for a 2 hour lunch, hooray!

Yeah, given that I prefer coming in to work at the obscenely early hour of 530-6am, there was no possibility of doing the morning class. And going to the academy to roll or drill for an hour or two before class at night wasn't good either, because, well, I was dating someone and did that for months with him, and then we broke up, and it was/is brutally painful... so, he ended up quitting BJJ, and it just absolutely sucked going to the academy without him. That's a big part of why I wasn't training the last while. I do not like having put on ten pounds, so I just need to buck up and go back. I think going back to a different class with different people will help change things up a bit.

Also, I have a set of kettlebells at home, and I've been doing bodyweight exercises-- pushups burpees and deep squats-- to slow down the slide into fatty. I miss seeing good definition in my arms and back!


Friday, April 22, 2016

Brown butter ginger snap cookies

I'm going to experiment with this cookie which I just found on Pinterest. I think it can be made softer and richer, and I'm going to try my chocolate chip cookie technique of using more, melted butter, two eggs and two egg yolks, and more brown sugar than white.

Let me know what you think..

Ingredients

2 2/3 cup all purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, browned and brought back to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup molasses (mild, not blackstrap)
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
*extra sugar for sprinkling (coarse sugar works great here, but granulated will do the job)

Instructions

To make the dough:

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Place butter in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the butter has completely melted and taken on an amber/light brown shade. It will smell slightly nutty. Once it's reached this stage remove the pan from heat RIGHT AWAY - brown butter can go from good to burnt in seconds.

Scrape butter and any brown bits into a small heatproof bowl and transfer bowl to the refrigerator (or freezer if you really want to speed it up). Allow butter to come back to room temperature (it should be solid, but soft enough to hold the impression of your finger when you press it into the top).

When the butter is ready…

Add butter and sugars to the body of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat on medium-speed until light and fluffy; about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the sides as needed.

Add the molasses and orange zest and beat until combined. Turn the mixer speed to low and slowly add dry ingredients, beating just until combined. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator to chill for at least one hour (or up to one day).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F) 30 minutes prior to baking. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Roll the dough into 1" balls and arrange on prepared sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Lightly press down on the center of each cookie. Sprinkle each top with about 1/4 teaspoon extra sugar, and bake, one sheet at a time, for 9-10 minutes, or until puffed and lightly golden.

Remove pan from oven and allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Eddie Bravo Invitational 6-- free livestream!



I just heard about FITE, a free mobile app dedicated to fighting sports. This Sunday April 24th’s Jiu Jitsu event – The Eddie Bravo Invitational 6-- will feature a 16-man bracket tournament with submission-only rules. All submissions are legal. No draws!, No judges! All for a $50,000 purse.

The EBI 6 is available on FITE TV which is available anywhere in the world that has WiFi internet connections. This app allows you to watch the matches live on the screen of your TV with just the use of your phone and app. As long as you have WiFi connection (on your phone and TV) it should be easy.

In addition to the EBI 6, on FITE TV you can watch MMA, wrestling, boxing and traditional martial arts - live and on-demand. FITE is a Free download from iTunes and Google Play.

There’s also a big red floating button on the app home screen which allows you to upload your own videos - workouts, training sessions, workshops, demonstrations or fight footage - for fans around the world to see.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Visiting another jiu jitsu academy-- part 2

Are you ready to step on the mat? Check out part 2 by Faisao, a purple belt champion competitor.

PART 2: What Happens After You Step on the Mats

If you’ve read the first part of this article, you are ready to step on the mats at a host academy. Whether learning from an instructor or doing open sparring, there are a few things to remember to get the most out of your visit. The following tips are from my own experiences, other students, and hosts.

When attending a class or seminar where someone is teaching technique, the most important thing to remember is that the instructor is the instructor. You are NOT the instructor. This can be particularly tough on upper belts when a class is being taught by someone of a lower rank. Respect that they have been entrusted to teach and do not question their techniques during class. Pay attention and do the technique that they are actually showing. If the details are different than how you have been taught in the past, do it the way the instructor is showing. Do not show your partner something that is contrary to what the instructor has shown. If you are not the one teaching, keep it to yourself. Only show a technique if asked directly by the instructor. Also, you should introduce yourself to your partner, but do not keep chatting with your partner during class.

Open rolling or sparring is typically less structured and can be an incredible experience. It can also be extremely frustrating for both host and visitor. When rolling with someone you have just met, you have no history of trust. The ego involved when rolling with someone from outside ones own academy can lead to additional problems. Visitor and host alike may feel they are representing their entire team. Remember that you roll to learn and not to win. Sparring is not a tournament and nobody is waiting with a medal for you. The things during a sparring session that will reflect poorly on your team have nothing to do with winning. Hurting your host's students is the worst possible transgression. They have accepted the risk of allowing you into their home. Do not make them regret their decision. Do not slam into or crank on submissions. Avoid pain submissions or submissions with higher risk of injury. Know what submissions are allowed. If you put their student into a submission they have not been exposed to there is a higher risk that they will respond incorrectly and injure themselves.

You must also protect yourself. Your host may allow submissions or techniques you have not learned.
Know what your host allows. If you are not prepared for certain positions or submissions, let your rolling partner know before you begin. If you have an injury, let them know before you begin. Be prepared to tap early. Putting yourself into dangerous positions and waiting too long to tap reflects poorly on your home academy.

To get the most out of your rolls, focus on more than the tap. Sparring allows you to find out how someone with a different teacher responds to situations. Rolling with someone outside of a competition that does not know your game is a great learning opportunity. Avoid thinking of yourself as better or worse than your partner. They may be giving you 10% or 100%.

Typically, timed rounds during a class should not involve pauses to discuss a position. If you are in an open mat situation, stopping to take a closer look at a position is usually acceptable. There is no universal rule for this so take cues from your partner and those around you. As a guest the following guidelines will serve you well:

  • If you are a lower rank than your partner, do not initiate teaching a technique unless asked to do so. Regardless of rank, be wary of saying a technique is outright wrong. Your partner may be attempting something from their instructor that you are not aware of. If you wish to offer suggestions, it can be as an option instead of replacement.

  • Mat etiquette varies significantly by academy. Rules for the same situation might be quite different. As an example, some academies have rules on who is allowed to ask someone else to roll or spar, while others do not. Rule variations I have seen include:

  • Only higher ranks may ask lower ranks to spar.

  • Any student may ask any other student.

  • Instructor determines who spars with each other.

Rolling with many different skill levels and body types can improve your jiu jitsu game, but you must know your limits and be strong enough to decline a request (even from an upper belt) if you do not feel comfortable rolling with them. If anyone ever warns you not to roll with a particular person from their team, there is probably a good reason. Listen to their advice.

Once you are sparring, be aware of what is happening around you and protect yourself and your partner. Most academies have rules to decide who must move when two or more pairs get close enough to risk colliding. Having these rules helps to reduce disruption during rolls. Some variations for “right-of-way” include:
  • Highest rank pair has right of way and lower rank pair must move.

  • Pair in position easiest to pause moves.
  • Pair in greatest fear of being crushed moves.

Any student will know the rule for their home academy, so you should be able to follow your partner’s lead. Whether rolling or drilling, try not to be a mat hog. Be aware of how much space you are using. Sweeps and takedowns typically take more space. If the mat is crowded, it might be better to work on something else.

The last big thing I’ve learned over the years is that every academy has rules you will never think to ask about. These are the unwritten rules that are reasonable and obvious to members of the academy but will completely blindside a visitor. It is almost impossible to know of these rules before you break them. If an instructor or student points one out to you, your best response it to thank them for letting you know and try not to do whatever you just did ever again.

Hopefully this article will help you make the most out of visiting other jiu jitsu academies. Most hosts are very forgiving of any mistakes you might make as long as you are respectful. Your team is your family, but there is a great extended jiu jitsu family out there for you to meet as well. I hope you make the best of it.

Monday, March 14, 2016

How to be a good jiu jitsu visitor... Part One.

A dear friend, talented purple belt, avid competitor and killer training partner, who now lives a little bit aways from me, wrote this lovely two-part post with some very useful advice.  Hope you enjoy! Part two, next week.

Being a Good Jiu Jitsu Visitor

Part One: What To Know Before You Step on the Mats 

If you stay in jiu jitsu for any length of time (and I hope you do!) then at some point you will probably be a visitor to another academy, school, dojo, gym, mat, club, lab or whatever name your host will use to refer to the place where they do jiu jitsu. Each will have its own unique rules and dynamics. As a visitor, you represent both yourself and your team. Knowing what to expect can help you be the best guest you can be. Through the years, I have come to the realization that I was not always an ideal guest. The following is what I wish I had known when I first started.

Why would you visit an academy other than your own?

There are a lot of great reasons to visit another academy. They host seminars, camps, special events, and open mats open to members of the jiu jitsu community. I highly recommend taking advantage of these events. They can be incredible opportunities to learn new techniques and meet members of the community. Always mention to the head of your academy if you plan to attend an event. It is a sign of respect to your team to let them know where their students will be, and they may have information you
need to know about who you are visiting. They may even ask you to share what you learned when you
returned.

Other types of visits are more personal and you will be the only representative of your team on the mats. If your academy is part of a larger affiliation, you might drop in at other locations within that affiliation. A friend from another team may invite you to visit their academy as a guest. Perhaps you are on vacation or a work trip and want to stop in somewhere to get your jiu jitsu fix. The toughest visit of all is when you are looking for a new jiu jitsu home. There are many reasons you may need to find a new academy, and for the purpose of this article we will assume you are on good terms with your previous team. In any of these situations, let your head instructor know ahead of time that you are planning to visit another academy and the reasons behind it. Your teammates and instructors might have connections and recommendations for places to visit in other cities. Typically your academy will have a policy about cross training. Find out what that policy is. With social media, visiting without letting your instructor know can easily get back to them and be interpreted as disloyalty. Jiu jitsu is not an individual sport and trust is earned between teammates and with your instructors. Take care not to break the trust of your jiu jitsu family.

In addition to being up front with your instructor, there are some basic things to do before you arrive to the academy you are visiting.  For events (Seminars, Open Mats, etc.), always pre-register or sign up as “attending” if possible. This will give the host a better idea of how many are coming and hopefully allow them to contact you if there are any last minute changes. If you have a child, find out whether they are allowed to attend the event or if there will be a place for them to hang out while you participate. 

Whether visiting on your own or with a friend, contact the owner ahead of time for permission to stop by. They have no obligation to allow you to participate even if you show up with one of their students. They are responsible for the safety of everyone that visits their academy, and allowing you onto their mats is a risk that they do not have to take. Additionally, not all classes may be open to visitors or those below a certain rank. Some academies will not want you to drop in unless the head instructor is on site. When you contact the owner, always offer to pay a drop-in fee and ask what it is. Drop-in fees vary quite a bit, and you should never assume fees will be waived for you.  

If an academy has a website, it can be a great source for information when kept up to date. It is a good idea to check the website before contacting the instructor. There are several basic things to find out about the class you want to attend: type of class; start time; and attire. Many academies teach a variety of classes so know what you are getting into. Do not show up to advanced MMA class expecting beginner jiu jitsu. Uniform requirements vary by academy.  Example questions for uniforms include:

 Are there requirements for gi colors?
 Are patches from other teams allowed? 
 For no-gi/MMA are spats without shorts allowed?
 Are rash guards required? 

Do you know what submissions and positions are allowed for your rank and below? This can vary
significantly and is important to know for your own safety as well as the safety of your host’s students. Never assume that what is allowed is the same as your home academy. Safe submissions are not universally agreed upon within jiu jitsu.

Whether attending an event or visiting a class, it is best to show up early. Some academies run on
“Brazilian time” and you may end up hanging around outside for a bit waiting for the place to open. Others have punishments for late arrivals. It is better to be early than arriving at the last moment or late. When you arrive, be ready to sign a waiver and pay your drop-in fee. Show up clean (body, clothing, and equipment) and well-groomed with nails trimmed. Don't assume that an academy will have sufficient private changing space for you to get into uniform after you arrive. If possible, arrive so that you could get into the remainder of your uniform in full public view. It may not be necessary, but it is better than having to wait for the only restroom. 

DO NOT WALK INTO A RESTROOM BAREFOOT!!! Footwear and how it is dealt with at different academies has surprised me more than any other item. Figure out the rule for footwear as soon as you enter the building. Sometimes you will have to leave your shoes next to the front door. Other places you must wear them at all times until you step onto the mat. In general, never walk onto the mat in shoes and never walk into the bathroom without. For anything in between, it is probably directly related to how the academy is cleaned and not following the rules can cause bacteria and grime to be tracked where it can cause a problem.

Once you know what to do with your shoes, have filled out the paperwork, and are changed for class,
take some time to introduce yourself to the instructor and other students.  Talking to members of another team can be tricky. Everything you say reflects on you as well as your jiu jitsu teammates. When it comes to first impressions, the best option is to stay positive. Whether talking about your own team or one you are not associated with say nice things or keep quiet. Leave any frustrations or problems you have at the door. Talking poorly about a rival academy or student will reflect very poorly on yourself as well was your team. The impression you will leave with your host is that you are a gossip that talks poorly about people behind their back. They’ll be left wondering what you will be telling others about them. By association, your academy can develop the same reputation.

Typically students do not talk poorly of their own team. They tend to err toward excessive praise of
their instructors and teammates. Remember to be humble when talking about your home academy. You think you’ve got the best instructors and students? That’s great! Then why are you visiting? Realize that they have something special to offer. It could be their location, a class at a time you can actually make, a seminar you want to attend, or that friend that you came with. Saying your team is the best ever means you think the academy you are visiting is not. Maybe your academy truly is that incredible, but respect your host enough to keep your praise in check.

Are you ready to step on the mat? Check out part 2 next week!



Ms. Faisão is a cunning and relentless purple belt with triangles from everywhere.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving recipes and love for you :)

Hi Lovelies!  I have been... just too happy to mess with blogging these days. But Thanksgiving is right around the corner so I'll share a few recipes and tell you what's been up with me lately.. though if we're facebook friends that probably has kept you really posted on my life.

So, the house is all settled in. Still waiting on my handyman guy to put the new closet door into my guest room and a few other piddly things but overall I am so happy with my new house in Austin. I especially like the backyard and the covered patio with all my hammocks. Work is keeping me insane these days so I haven't been training much but once a week keeps me feeling like I am still connected and next year it will get easier for sure.

I am dating someone special, too. I don't need to share all the details, but, he's amazing, and as close to perfect as I could imagine. He even trains! So I won't jinx it, hopefully, by telling you that much!

I'm making Thanksgiving as usual... for about eighteen, maybe twenty.  This year since the new house only has one oven, I'm buying two deep fried turkeys, and my dear friends Sandy and Gabrielle will bring a few dishes, but I'm doing the gravy, a traditional bread stuffing, mashpots, green bean casserole, brussels sprouts, acorn squash (from the bf's dad's garden!), buttermilk biscuits, and my traditional chocolate-caramel-walnut tart.

I wish you and your loved ones the happiest of holiday seasons.  And now, for the cookings....
From the Kitchn.com folks:



Orzo with Butternut Squash, Spinach & Blue Cheese


Serves 4 to 6
2 1/2 cups cubed butternut squash (1/4-inch cubes)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup regular or whole-wheat orzo
2 cups shredded spinach
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles
Preheat oven to 425˚F. Toss butternut squash with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Spread into a single layer on a sheet tray. Bake until squash is tender and starting to brown, 35 to 40 minutes. (Squash can be roasted up to 5 days ahead and kept refrigerated. Rewarm before serving.)
Place the spinach in a large bowl and set aside. In a small skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil until just warm. Stir in garlic, remove from heat, and allow to sit until ready to use.
Place the orzo in a pot and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender but not mushy, 8 to 9 minutes. Drain and immediately pour the hot orzo on top of the spinach. Let sit for a few minutes to slightly wilt spinach.
Add butternut squash to the pasta, along with the blue cheese and garlic olive oil. Toss until well-combined and serve warm.

  • Make-ahead moment: Roast the squash whenever you have a spare moment and keep it in the fridge for up to 5 days. Warm it in the microwave, a low oven, or in the skillet with the garlic before tossing with the pasta.

Buttermilk Drop Biscuits -- from Cook's Illustrated (the best source!)


(makes 12)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon sugar 
3/4 teaspoon table salt 
1 cup buttermilk (cold)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and cooled slightly (about 5 minutes), plus 2-3 tablespoons melted butter for brushing biscuits

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in large bowl. Combine buttermilk and 8 tablespoons melted butter in medium bowl, stirring until butter forms small clumps.
2. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated and batter pulls away from sides of bowl. Using greased 1/4-cup dry measure, scoop level amount of batter and drop onto parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet (biscuits should measure about 2 1/4 inches in diameter and 1 1/4 inches high). Repeat with remaining batter, spacing biscuits about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until tops are golden brown and crisp, 12 to 14 minutes.
3. Brush biscuit tops with remaining 2-3 tablespoons melted butter. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Chocolate Caramel Walnut Tart-- again Cook's Illustrated, my tried and true favorite!

Makes one 9-inch tart, serving 12 to 16
WALNUT CRUST

1 large egg, separated
¼teaspoon vanilla extract
½cup toasted walnuts (2 ½ ounces), see note
½cup confectioners' sugar (2 ounces)
1cup unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces)
⅛teaspoon table salt
5tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into ½-inch cubes

CARAMEL-WALNUT FILLING AND GARNISH

¼cup water
1cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
⅔cup heavy cream
3tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
½teaspoon vanilla extract
½teaspoon lemon juice from 1 lemon
⅛teaspoon table salt
16-18 walnut halves, plus 1 cup (5 ounces) toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped (see note)

CHOCOLATE GANACHE

2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon heavy cream
⅓cup heavy cream
⅓cup whole milk
5ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
2tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

INSTRUCTIONS
The nuts used in the crust, in the caramel filling, and as a garnish must all be toasted; the entire amount can be toasted together on a baking sheet in a 375-degree oven until fragrant and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. For cutting clean slices, dip the blade of the knife in warm water and wipe with a kitchen towel before making each cut.

1. FOR THE CRUST: Beat egg white in bowl with fork until frothy; remove 1 tablespoon egg white to second bowl and whisk in yolk and vanilla. Process nuts and sugar in food processor until finely ground, 8 to 10 seconds. Add flour and salt and pulse to combine. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture; pulse to cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse meal, about fifteen 1-second pulses. With machine running, add egg yolk mixture and process until dough forms ball, about 20 seconds. Transfer dough to large sheet plastic wrap and press into 6-inch disk; wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm but malleable, about 30 minutes.

2. Roll out dough between 2 large sheets lightly floured plastic wrap to 13-inch round, about 1/8-inch thick (if at any point dough becomes too soft and sticky to work with, slip dough onto baking sheet and freeze or refrigerate until workable). Place dough round on baking sheet and freeze until stiff and cold, about 15 minutes (or refrigerate about 30 minutes). Meanwhile, evenly spray 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom with nonstick cooking spray.

3. Remove dough from freezer; discard top sheet plastic wrap but keep dough on baking sheet. Following illustrations 1 through 6 below, line tart pan with dough. Freeze dough-lined tart pan until firm, about 30 minutes. (Can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen up to 1 month.)

4. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Set dough-lined tart pan on baking sheet. Spray 12-inch square foil with nonstick cooking spray and press foil inside chilled tart shell; fill with pie weights. Bake until light golden brown, about 30 minutes, rotating halfway through baking time. Carefully remove foil and weights and continue to bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes longer. Cool on baking sheet on wire rack about 5 minutes, then brush hot crust with reserved egg white. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

5. FOR CARAMEL-WALNUT FILLING AND GARNISH: While crust is cooling; pour water into medium heavy-bottomed saucepan; add sugar to center of pot to keep granules from adhering to sides of pot. Bring to boil over medium-high heat; covered; swirling pan once or twice to dissolve sugar. Uncover pot and continue to boil, without stirring, until sugar is deep amber and begins to smoke and registers about 375 degrees on instant-read or candy thermometer, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Carefully add about half of cream; mixture will sputter and steam. Add remaining cream and let bubbling subside. Return pan to low heat and stir with heatproof rubber spatula until caramel is smooth. Add butter and stir until melted. Remove pan from heat; stir in vanilla; lemon juice; and salt.

6. Add walnut halves to caramel and stir to coat; let stand until caramel is slightly thickened, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon and allowing excess caramel to drain back into saucepan, transfer walnuts to wire rack set over baking sheet; set aside. Stir chopped walnuts into caramel, then pour mixture evenly into tart shell. Refrigerate, uncovered, on baking sheet until caramel is firm and does not slip when pan is tilted, about 20 minutes.

7. FOR CHOCOLATE FILLING: Whisk yolks and 1 tablespoon cream in small bowl. Bring milk and remaining 1/3 cup cream to simmer in small saucepan; off heat, add chocolate and butter. Cover pan and let stand until chocolate is mostly melted, about 2 minutes. Using spatula, stir mixture until smooth; stir in yolk mixture. (Chocolate should be thin and pourable; if too thick to pour evenly, set saucepan over low heat to warm mixture.) Pour filling into caramel-filled tart shell, tilting tart pan as necessary to evenly distribute chocolate to edges of tart. Bake on baking sheet in 300-degree oven until tiny bubbles are visible on surface and chocolate layer is just set (if pan is gently shaken, filling will appear very wobbly because caramel layer is warm), about 25 minutes. Set baking sheet with tart on wire rack; arrange caramel-coated walnut halves on surface of tart, around perimeter. Cool tart until just warm, about 30 minutes, then refrigerate, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.