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I have a thing about squash this time of year. I see big gorgeous piles at the farmers markets or pass picturesque farm stands on country roads and it’s hard to resist the urge to pull over and throw a bunch in the car. I actually did this very thing a few weeks ago. A farmer down the street from some Wisconsin dwelling friends had quite the selection in the front yard of his farm. My wheels skidded a bit in the gravel as I pulled over with the intention of picking out a nice Halloween pumpkin. He had hundreds, sorted into various groupings of sizes and shapes as well as all the multicolored heirloom varieties. It was a fantastic selection. I settled on an absolutely gorgeous pumpkin with a long tapered stem for 5 bucks. I had a 10 or a 20 in my wallet and it wasn’t the kind of situation that bodes well for change so I picked up a few additional things to round it up. This is how I ended up with two small pie pumpkins and two acorn like squashes in the trunk next to my big orange beauty. It was a good day.

The two squashes I grabbed were lovely; acorn-like but yellow with dark green and orange splotches. Some image googling determined they were carnival squash, a cross between acorn and dumpling squash. Well, alrighty. I’d never had that variety but I read they’re similar in flavor to acorn but a bit sweeter so I treated them accordingly. (If you pick up an interesting squash on a whim and are not too sure what it is, this guide is very helpful.) I enjoy roasted squash of all kinds but there’s something you have to take into consideration: they can be rather bland. This is why it’s important to use a flavorful glaze or stuffing to amp up that flavor. Today, I used both.

It started with a jar of spicy harissa sauce, leftover from some past project. Harissa is a spicy aromatic chile paste that’s a widely used staple in North African and Middle Eastern cooking and this jar had been sitting in my refrigerator for a while. It needed a purpose. For years I’d bought my harissa as a paste in a tube so this jarred “sauce” was new to me. From what I can tell, this was just a looser version than the tubed paste and with a bit less concentrated heat. I saw one particular brand of this sauce in every grocery store – from Whole Foods to WalMart – so it’s readily available and though I looked, I never did find the tube type so I just went with what I had. As I said, it needed a purpose. Harissa – both tubes and sauces – vary wildly in terms of spice so use your best judgement as to the heat levels you desire. Mixed with some honey and roasted at a high temperature, it works quite nicely. (psssst – here’s a tip. I often use Mike’s Hot Honey to drizzle on the squash before roasting. It’s wonderful stuff.)

I filled the cavities with a stuffing to make it heartier and a bit more interesting, following a basic formula: grains for the bulk, nuts for crunch, dried fruit for sweetness, herbs for freshness and cheese for a little salty/savory punch. Anything goes and this is the perfect recipe for using whatever is in your pantry. I give several suggestions in the recipe header; switch it up as you wish. Todays mix took the lead of the harissa for a Middle Eastern twist: red quinoa, dates, dried apricots, walnuts, parsley and feta. The combination of salty/sweet with crunchy bites is irresistible and rather pretty too. It is a terrific fall dish and something to think about with Thanksgiving coming up if you have any vegetarian guests. It would be just perfect.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SEASONALLY APPROPRIATE. Pumpkins, gourds, squash. I can’t help myself, I buy more than I can possibly eat this time of year. Sometimes they just sit on the table and look pretty, to be honest. But I do eat my fair share and I learned long ago to doctor those suckers up so they actually taste like something. Sweetness works well, spicy is delicious and a little salt never hurt anything. This one works particularly well because it’s a mix and match situation; you can be very intentional or you can use what you got.

other squash recipes: Baked Squash Bread Pudding,Kale & Squash SaladPumpkin HummusEasy Squash Carrot SoupSquash & Onion TartRoasted Delicata Squash – 4 WaysCrispy Squash SandwichThanksgiving Stuffing Stuffed Squash

eleven years ago: ChocoflanSour Cream CoffeecakeApple Pear Crisp,  Peach CrostadaRatatouilleClassic Apple Pie

ten years ago: Peach Frozen CustardChocolate Raspberry Cream Cheese TurnoversChicken Sour Cream EnchiladasBangkok World Gourmet Festival

nine years ago: Blueberry Raspberry CobblerPlum KuchenPB&J Bars

eight years ago: Kale & Squash Salad

seven years ago: Roasted Ratatouille with Sweet Corn PolentaSpiced Honey Maple Roasted PearsMuhammara – the best sauce you’ve never heard of

six years ago: Aunt Patti’s CornbreadPumpkin HummusWhole Wheat English Muffins

five years ago: Machaca – Mexican Shredded BeefMachaca EnchiladasSmall Batch Spiced Plum ButterCotija Cumin ShortbreadSimple Pear Tart

four years ago: German Apple Cheese TorteChicken Wing Friday – Miso Honey Butter Chicken Wings

three years ago: Miso Butterscotch BlondiesRosemary White Beans with Toasted BreadcrumbsTabbouleh SaladOttolenghi and Buttermilk Garlic SauceYemen Schug (chili herb sauce)Easy Squash Carrot Soup

two years ago: Asian Flavored Pickled Watermelon Rind

last year: Minestrone

ROASTED STUFFED SQUASHserves 4

Keep in mind, you can vary the stuffing an infinite number of ways. Rather than quinoa, use any grain or rice – wild or brown rice, wheat berries, millet, farro, kamut, etc. – and alter cooking times accordingly. You have to have a crunchy element so use any nuts or seeds you like or have on hand – pumpkin, sunflower, pine nuts, almonds. A few flax or chia seeds wouldn’t hurt. For the dried fruit, anything works – raisins, currants, cherries, cranberries, figs, blueberries, what have you. Fresh apple would be nice too. Fresh parsley is easy but dill, tarragon or a bit of rosemary would be nice. Don’t rule out leftover chicken or beef, diced or shredded fine, or a handful of cooked chickpeas, lentils or whatnot to make it a bit heartier. And while I call for acorn squash, any smaller variety will work – delicata, dumpling, small pumpkins, spaghetti, etc. Use the base recipe as a guide and take it any direction you wish. 

for the squash:

2 medium acorn squash

2 Tablespoons olive oil

4 teaspoons harissa sauce (use a bit less if using harissa paste)

4 teaspoons honey

kosher salt

for the quinoa stuffing:

½ cup quinoa, rinsed (any color is fine)

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 ¼ cups water

3-4 dates, pitted & chopped, about 2 Tablespoons

6-8 dried apricots, chopped, about 2 Tablespoons

2 garlic cloves, peeled & finely chopped

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

¼ cup chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted

¼ cup chopped scallion

¼ cup chopped parsley

½ teaspoon harissa sauce, optional

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 ½ teaspoons olive oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
  2. for the squash: use a sharp chef’s knife to slice cut in half from the tip to the stem. It’s easiest to work along the depressions, easing the knife carefully around the perimeter. With a spoon, scoop out and discard the seeds and stringy bits.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, harissa sauce and honey.
  4. Drizzle half of this mixture on the cut side of each squash, rubbing into the cut sides and reserving the rest for later.
  5. Season each squash with a good pinch of salt.
  6. Place cut side down on the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. 
  7. Turn the squash cut side up, spread the remaining harissa/honey mixure all over the cut surfaces.
  8. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes until tender. Leave the oven on. There may be a pool of liquid in the squash centers; this is fine.
  9. While the squash is roasting, place the nuts on a small sheet pan and toast for 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can do this in a small pan on the stovetop over medium.
  10. For the stuffing: in a medium saucepan, combine the rinsed quinoa, salt and water. 
  11. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. 
  12. Simmer, uncovered, until all of the water is absorbed, 12-18 minutes. You may have to add a few additional Tablespoons of water if the quinoa isn’t fully cooked. Just keep an eye on it.
  13. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the dates, apricots, garlic and lemon juice. 
  14. Cover, and let the mixture steam for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff the quinoa with a fork.
  15. Pour the quinoa mixture into a medium bowl; add the toasted nuts, scallion, parsley, pepper, olive oil and additional harissa sauce if using. 
  16. Let cool before adding the feta, so it doesn’t overly melt. Gently stir to combine. Taste and add additional salt, if needed.
  17. Evenly divide the stuffing between the squash cavities. 
  18. Return to the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, until the stuffing is golden brown and dry on top.
  19. Garnish with chopped parsley and/or scallion and serve warm or room temperature.
  20. To do ahead: you can roast the squash and make the stuffing up to 1 day ahead. Let both come to room temperature, then stuff and roast as directed.

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It seems I am incapable of cooking for one person. I try, I do, but this fact has become abundantly clear during this quarantine and I am overrun with leftovers. Browning bananas, pieces of half used vegetables, staling loaves of bread, and plastic deli containers of semi-identifiable ingredients are taking over my kitchen. I don’t like leftovers so I’ve taken on the challenge of turning them into something new. Last night’s pasta, beans and greens became today’s lunchtime soup. Dinner leftovers were chopped up, encased in pie dough and reinvented as lovely turnovers. Last week’s excess cinnamon rolls became the weekend’s bread pudding. It’s been working out pretty well. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. The other day I found a plastic wrapped chunk of cornbread, hidden behind an enormous bowl of oranges. Wonderful. Forgot about that. It was fine, but stale. I thought about making stuffing to go alongside a roast chicken but bread pudding has been on my mind. What if I turned this stale hunk into a strada, a savory pudding with whatever I could wrangle up in the fridge? I could use those little bits of whatnot tucked in plastic wrap and Ziploc baggies and make something delicious. This was how a cornbread pudding was born.

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I’ve been on a salad kick lately and was looking for something bright and tangy the other day after eating several plates of filling, hearty spätzle. Vietnamese food came immediately to mind and thought a salad incorporating those flavors would be nice. Something with a bracing nuoc cham type of dressing, bright with lime juice, chilies and fish sauce. I pulled a chicken breast from the freezer. Took stock of my vegetable bins. Grabbed a package of rice noodles from the pantry. I hashed out an idea from a recipe I’ve used before, stopped by the Asian market for fresh lemongrass and picked up some mint while I was there too.

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I was hungry. It had been a long, chaotic day spent on my feet cooking for other people and the last thing I wanted to do was cook for myself. A drive thru was in order. Driving home, I passed the usual suspects and wasn’t all together thrilled. Burger? Fries? Ugh. I started thinking about healthy fast food and the lack thereof. In general, the options are not great. Back in my advertising days, I worked on my fare share of fast food accounts and time and again, no matter how great the option, healthy fast food never sold. The sad truth – surprisingly (or maybe not), there’s not a high demand for healthy options in fast food restaurants. But there was one thing, quite a while ago, that was pretty good. Back in the late ‘90s Wendy’s had fresh pita sandwiches on the menu and they were delicious. Really good.

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A few months ago, suffering from a terrible bout of jetlag, I decided to sort and rearrange my cookbook collection. I purposely avoided counting them (some things just don’t need to be known) but let’s just say I have a lot. In the course of sorting, I found quite a few I haven’t cracked in years and were happy reintroductions, others left me perplexed as to why I had them and yet others made me laugh out loud. One of the later was The Northern Exposure Cookbook: A Community Cookbook From the Heart of the Alaskan Riviera. I’m sure it was a gift though I don’t recall from who. I loved that 90’s show about small town Cicely, Alaska and all the characters that lived there. Plus DJ Chris Stevens was hot. (When has John Corbett not been hot?) While the DVDs are readily available, the show doesn’t seem to be streaming anywhere. That’s a shame.

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This recipe has been stalking me. True story. It first appeared in The New York Times in October of 2017 and has shown up in my social media feeds regularly ever since. Last summer it showed up in my feeds every single week for two months. Maybe it’s stalked you too. Every single time that bright green sauce caught my eye I thought, I’m going to make that one day. Well, that day is here. I needed something to bring to a holiday BBQ and thought, well here we go.

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As a product/recipe developer, I end up with a lot of stuff. Leftovers from various projects, bags and jars and cans of stuff upon stuff add up. Some, I give away but a lot ends up hanging around. I cleaned out my refrigerator earlier this week, a horrifying prospect at any time, and found quite a bit of nut butter accumulated on that bottom shelf. All open, all filled to various levels. I took inventory: 2 jars peanut butter, 1 jar sunflower butter, 1 jar cashew butter and 2 jars of almond butter, all tucked into that back corner that regularly escapes your attention. WTF? This was ridiculous.

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During this little project I’ve been doing for the last few weeks, exploring the foods of recently maligned cultures, I’ve become a bit fascinated with the layered Moroccan meat pie called b’stilla. It was one of the first things I thought of when I started this exploration. This isn’t that post. I did buy all the stuff to make a b’stilla but I just wasn’t feeling it. My first attempt was underwhelming and I really didn’t feel like making it again right now. Instead, struggling with some horrendous jet lag that has me turned all upside-down, I wanted something spicy, something comforting, something saucy. I wanted a project; one that would eat up some time since I seem to be awake at all kinds of weirdo hours and provide my addled brain something to focus on. I wanted doro wat. Luckily, I had everything on hand, including all the spices so I dove in, taking most of my Moroccan ingredients and turning them into a spicy Ethiopian chicken stew instead.

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I had friends over for dinner recently, where I tried out a bunch of dishes I’ve been working on, exploring the foods of maligned cultures that I know little about. Turns out, they knew little about them too. Haiti, El Salvador and all the countries that make up Africa, few knew much about the food and it lead to lively discussions, great conversation and a really enjoyable meal. Food has the power to do that, bring people together. Today’s post is from Haiti and it is a hell of a good stew – Poulet Creole. All the lively flavors interwoven in the country’s history, namely from waves of African and French immigrants, come together in this dish in the best possible ways.

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Continuing on with this culinary journey of recently maligned countries, today it’s Africa, specifically Senegal. When I was a kid I had a cookbook that featured the customs, a brief history and a recipe from various countries. It’s where I learned that cashews grow on trees and the nut grows off the bottom of the fruit, the cashew apple, in a very hard shell. Each apple has one cashew nut, or seed. Though I don’t remember the featured country – Brazil? India? – I figured out pretty quick why cashews were so expensive. That little nugget of information has absolutely nothing to do with this post except that there was another page in the book that was very interesting. It was a recipe for an African “groundnut stew” and contained peanut butter, which blew my 8 year old mind. My entire frame of reference for peanut butter at that time was a sandwich, on smooshy bread with grape jelly and yet here it was in a stew. For dinner. What? I’ve been intrigued ever since.

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