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So here we are. A whole year later. Who would have thought it would go on this damn long? Like many, I haven’t been to a bar in a year nor a sporting event, a concert or a ballet performance. I haven’t eaten inside a restaurant in over a year. Sure, I’ve done takeout now and again and eaten on two or three patios but I’ve mostly been staying home and cooking. A lot. A LOT. I’ve been making whatever strikes my fancy, whatever I have a taste for, which has been very carb heavy. Every variety of pizza. All the pastas – fresh, dried, filled, rolled. Dumplings. A 5lb lasagna. Bowls of cereal. I went on a tempura bender and lived in fryer oil scented air for weeks. French toast, pancakes, crepes and waffles. I had latkes for dinner 3x one week, because I can. Cooking whatever the hell I’ve wanted has been the only joy I’ve had, the most pleasurable of distractions. I’ve given in to my whims. A few weeks ago, I had a taste for those dumb lettuce cups from P.F. Chang’s. I’ve no idea where that came from as it has been eons since I’ve had them but the thought of crunchy lettuce with a sweet/savory filling was rather appealing. 

There used to be a P.F. Chang’s around the corner from an office I worked in long ago and we’d go occasionally for lettuce cup and sesame noodle lunches. I’m sure there were other things on the menu; we never ordered them. I don’t think I’ve been back since I left that job and don’t have the slightest idea if they’re still around as I’m rather loyal to my local beloved Chinese restaurant. Doesn’t matter really as these lettuce cups are easy enough to make. Incredibly easy, actually.

Hazy memories guided my recipe and I decided there were two key drivers here: crunchy textures and hoisin sauce. The crunch came from celery, water chestnuts, a sprinkling of peanuts and the lettuce (butter lettuce please). The hoisin, a Chinese sort of sweet-ish bbq sauce (often used for those delicious Chinese-style ribs), was the base of my sauce, dark and sticky with hints of star anise. A spoonful makes almost everything better (Koon Chun is the best). Typical additions of soy, rice vinegar and sesame oil and a hit of something spicy, either sriracha or sambal paste rounded out the sauce. I tossed in a little ginger, a little garlic, a few scallions and was happy on the first try.

Now then, the poultry. Let’s discuss. Turkey or chicken is a personal choice and they’re both rather neutral so I’m indifferent as to which you use. Now that I think of it, tofu would also do quite well. I’m sure these are usually made with ground meat and that’s fine but what I greatly prefer is to hand chop chicken breasts or thighs myself. They’re better that way, a little more interesting, a little chunkier and substantial, better to grip the sauce. Sure, buying a packet of ground turkey is easy but chopping it yourself tastes better. Your call.

Then it’s just a basic stir fry – vegetables first, then the chicken, ginger/garlic, finally the sauce to combine and heat through. Piled high in beautiful crunchy lettuce leaves with a sprinkling of peanuts, I was pretty pleased. Nothing too complicated, comes together quickly and all the right flavors and textures are there. Bingo.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: FILLED A NEED. Sometimes, especially when you’re hungry, you just get it into your head that you want something very particular. So you make it happen. I do this often when it comes to food matters, usually to great success, and have learned it’s really not all that difficult. This skill comes in rather handy when you find yourself in a bind, like you know, in the midst of a year long global pandemic. Ah, good times. Crave something? Figure it out.

twelve years ago: Khachapuri (cheesy Georgian bread)

eleven years ago: Parmesan Black Pepper Crackers, Irish Soda Bread, Stovetop Smoked Salmon, Blood Orange Marmalade

ten years ago: French Onion SoupFresh Paczki (homemade Polish donuts), Chocolate Cabernet SauceChocolate Snack Cake

nine years ago: Soda Bread Tarte Tatin, Irish Oatmeal Pudding, Barley Marmalade SconesOrange Sweet RollsWhatchamacallit BrowniesBaked Cheddar OlivesChocolate Malt Pots de CrèmeChocolate Crème Filled Cupcakes

eight years ago: Shaker Lemon Pie, Irish Whiskey CakesPeanut Butter Swirl BrowniesChocolate Pudding Cake

seven years ago: Brown Bread Ice Cream, Guinness Chicken & Mushroom BoxtyChocolate Cherry Buns

six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

five years ago: Bakewell Tart, Everything BagelsGravlax (Cured Salmon)Tuscan Rice Pudding TorteToum and Lamb Chops (Lebanese Garlic Spread)Dark Chocolate Tapioca PuddingChocolate Banana BreadChocolate Mint Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches

four years ago: Pancetta Pea & Ricotta Hand Pies, Guinness Beer BreadBeer Braised Onion & Bacon TartBrown Butter Blueberry Ricotta CakeChocolate Cherry FinancierChocolate Fleur de Sel CaramelsTriple Chocolate Cream Puffs

three years ago: Coconut Chess Pie for Pi(e) Day, Tunnel of Caramel Cake

Ethiopian Doro Wat (Spicy Chicken Stew)

two years ago: Guinness Cheddar Biscuits, Bittersweet Chocolate Sour Cream Ice Cream

last year: Dirty Chai Cookies

ASIAN CHICKEN LETTUCE CUPS

Serves 4

You can certainly use ground chicken or turkey for this recipe, however, I greatly prefer to hand chop boneless skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs for a better texture. To do this, butterfly (cut horizontally) the chicken into thinner cutlets, then cut into long strips and then cut into smaller dice. Diced firm tofu would also be very delicious here.

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pound chicken – boneless breasts, thighs or ground (see note above)

1 onion, diced (about 2/3 cup)

2 celery stalks, diced (about 1 cup)

1 8oz can water chestnuts, drained and diced

2 scallions, sliced (whites + greens)

1 Tablespoon finely minced or grated ginger

2 garlic cloves, finely minced or grated

¼ cup hoisin

2 Tablespoon soy sauce

1 Tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2-3 teaspoons sriracha or sambal chile paste

Butter lettuce leaves, tougher part of the core removed

Chopped peanuts for garnish

  1. In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients – hoisin, soy, rice vinegar, sesame oil and chile paste. Set aside until needed.
  2. In a large skillet or wok, heat the half the oil over high until sizzling hot
  3. Add the onion and celery, stirring frequently until softened, about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the water chestnuts, stir to combine and push everything to the side of the pan.
  5. In the empty space, add the remaining oil and let heat for a moment then add the chicken and saute until nearly cooked through. 
  6. Stir to combine with the vegetables and add the garlic and ginger and stir fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  7. Add the sauce ingredients, stirring quickly to combine and heat through.
  8. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and garnish with chopped peanuts.
  9. To serve, pile a platter with washed and dried butter lettuce leaves, place the bowl of chicken filling in the center. At the table, pile spoonfuls of the filling into lettuce leaves and enjoy hot, with a sprinkle of additional peanuts if desired.

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It was the Lunar New Year last week, The Year of the Ox. To celebrate I decided to make some dumplings. It was a snowy day, again, and I had a whole lotta nothing going on. A few weeks ago, The New York Times published a recipe by Genevieve Ko for Chile Crisp Dumplings. I adore chile crisp and was intrigued but I’d recently culled down my subscriptions and the NYT food site was one of them. I was unable to breach the paywall to access the recipe so my imagination took over. In my mind, the filling was a rich ground pork, with ginger and garlic and hits of that wonderful magic that is chile crisp. I drooled at the thought. As I later discovered, that’s not at all what they were. After some determined digging, I cracked the NYT code and got to that recipe only to learn the filling consisted of tofu, spinach and celery. Huh. Sounds delicious but it wasn’t at all what I was thinking. I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed.

My idea got stuck in my head. I obsessed over it, just a little. I get like that sometimes. While wrapping up some leftover tofu one night after teaching a class, the idea further solidified. What about mapo tofu? It’s a dish I order often: ground pork and tofu chunks in a blistering spicy sauce. I had a ton of pork in my freezer, I had tofu and I had a whole bunch of various chile type sauces and things, including some homemade chile crisp. This could be interesting. So I did it.

To a nice fatty ground pork (scoff if you will but that fattiness makes a luscious dumpling) and diced tofu I added various aromatics – garlic, ginger, scallions, Shaoxing wine and then came the chilies. Chile crisp, of course because that’s where this whole idea started, and in the spirit of mapo, tobanjan (a fermented spicy bean paste) and fermented chili bean paste (often referred to as mapo sauce). It was spicy, but not overly so, more a pleasant zing. Wonderful.

I also opted to make homemade dumpling wrappers as they’re not all that difficult – two ingredients! – and I had the time. I should be honest and admit that the decision was heavily influenced by the fact that my little car has been stuck in an ice floe for weeks and likely won’t be free until sometime in July. A quick trip to the Asian market for dumpling skins just wasn’t in the cards. Besides, I greatly prefer the wonderful toothsome texture of a homemade wrapper. They’re so much better so it was a happy compromise. The recipe is from the wonderful Andrea Nguyen’s book “Asian Dumplings” and comes together very easily though I roll/cut it a bit differently than she directs. 

A quick note about chile crisp. It is the wonder condiment everyone is talking about – chilies, fried shallots and garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, peanuts, ginger. It is strangely addictive and good on everything. You can purchase the Laoganma brand in any Asian market, there are several specialty brands available online or you can make your own, which I highly recommend. 

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: BUSY HANDS. It’s no great secret that I love a project. Rolling and folding homemade dumplings is right up there at the top. It’s not overly difficult but it does take a fair bit of time and attention so it’s perfect when you need a distraction but more importantly, when you need to feel like you’ve accomplished something. This one fits the bill perfectly. I find great satisfaction in fat, pretty little pleated dumplings lined up on a pan, waiting to be seared off or stashed in the freezer for a later treat. I like knowing that they are there, in the depths of my freezer, for some later comfort even though I’m trying hard to keep from putting more things in my freezer. I like knowing that as temperatures drop in the coming weeks, I can easily pull 6 or 8 or 10 plump little fiery dumplings from my freezer and have a little treat that will warm me from the inside. I just like everything about it.

twelve years ago: Khachapuri (cheesy Georgian bread)

eleven years ago: Won Ton Soup

ten years ago:  Dark Chocolate TartChocolate Ganache Tart

nine years ago: St. John Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

eight years ago: Peppermint Patty BrowniesChocolate Raspberry Tart

seven years ago: Dulce de Leche FondueChocolate Linzer Cookies

six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

five years ago: Orange Chocolate Angel Food Cake with Candied ClementinesMexican Chocolate Poundcake

four years ago: Chocolate Cardamom Shortbread HeartsDark Chocolate Pudding

three years ago: West African Puff Puffs

two years ago: Bittersweet Chocolate Sour Cream Ice Cream

last year: Dirty Chai Cookies

SPICY MAPO TOFU DUMPLINGS – the dumpling dough is from the wonderful Andrea Nguyen’s book “Asian Dumplings”

Makes about 3 ½ dozen

While you can certainly used purchased dumpling wrappers, I urge you to make your own. Sure they’re a little time consuming but no more so than say, a pie crust. The texture is far superior so I think the effort is well worth it. The different chile sauces will require a trip to an Asian market but don’t let that stop you from making this recipe. If you want to skip those, use more chile crisp. Do not skip that. You need chile crisp in your life. Trust me. If you need a better idea of how to fill and pleat a dumpling, I have some photos and a more detailed explanation in my potstickers post.

4 oz firm tofu, drained

½ pound fatty ground pork, preferably pork butt 

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup minced peeled fresh ginger 

½ cup finely chopped scallions (about 3)

1-2 Tablespoons chili crisp

1 Tablespoon tobanjan (fermented broad-bean paste) 

2 Tablespoons fermented chili bean paste (ma po sauce)

3 Tablespoons Shaoxing wine 

1 large egg white 

½ teaspoon kosher salt 

2 Tablespoons cornstarch 

round dumpling wrappers – either homemade (below) or purchased

vegetable oil, for frying

  1. For the filling: Cut the tofu into ¼” thick slices; wrap in a layer of paper towels and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients. 
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the pork with all the ingredients except the tofu and cornstarch.
  3. Cut the tofu into small dice and fold gently into the spiced pork mixture.
  4. Fold in the cornstarch just until incorporated.
  5. Refrigerate until needed.
  6. To assemble: Lay a wrapper in the palm of one hand or on the work surface. Using your finger, brush the outer edge with water. 
  7. Spoon 1 heaping Tablespoon of filling in the center. 
  8. Fold the wrapper over the filling to form a half-moon; pinch at the top to adhere. 
  9. Fold a pleat in the wrapper on the top left, angling the pleat back toward the center, pressing to adhere. 
  10. Repeat the pleating on the top right of the wrapper to meet the first pleat in the center. 
  11. Transfer the dumpling to a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap; repeat with the rest of the wrappers and filling.
  12. To cook: pour enough oil into a large nonstick skillet to cover the bottom in a thin even layer. 
  13. Arrange some of the dumplings in the skillet, flat side down (pleats up). You will need to work in batches if cooking all the dumplings in one go. 
  14. Cook over low heat until golden on the bottom, about 2-3 minutes.
  15. Carefully pour in enough water to reach halfway up the dumplings – careful it will spatter aggressively. 
  16. Cover and cook until almost all of the water is absorbed, and the filling is cooked through, about 4-6 minutes.
  17. Uncover and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated, and the dumplings are crispy on the bottom, about 2 minutes longer. 
  18. Carefully invert the dumplings onto a plate. 
  19. Repeat the process with the remaining dumplings. Serve warm.
  20. Do ahead: filling can be refrigerated overnight. The assembled, uncooked dumplings can be frozen for up to 1 month and cooked from frozen. Just add 2 minutes to the covered cooking time. Alternatively, you can boil or steam the frozen dumplings for about 8 minutes.

DUMPLING DOUGH:

Makes enough for about 46 3 ½” dumplings

10 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour

¾ cup boiling water 

  1. For the dough:
  2. food processor method:
  3. Put the flour in the work bowl and with the machine running, add the water in a steady stream through the feed tube. 
  4. As soon as all the water has been added, stop the machine and check the dough. It should look rough and feel soft but firm enough to hold its shape when pinched. 
  5. If necessary, add water by the teaspoon or flour by the tablespoon. 
  6. When satisfied, run the machine for another 5-10 seconds to further knead and form a ball around the blade. Avoid overworking the dough.
  7. by hand
  8. Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. 
  9. Use a wooden spoon to stir the flour while adding the water in a steady stream (a kitchen towel rolled into a ring with the bowl nestled in the center will keep it steady.) 
  10. When all the water has been added, there will be a lot of lumpy bits. 
  11. Knead the dough in the bowl to bring all the lumps into one mass; if the dough does not come together easily, add additional water by the teaspoon.
  12. Knead: Regardless of the mixing method, transfer the dough and any bits to a work surface; flour the surface only if necessary, and then sparingly. 
  13. Knead the dough with the heel of your hand for about 30 seconds for machine-made dough, or about 2 minutes for handmade dough. The result should be nearly smooth and somewhat elastic; press on the dough; it should slowly bounce back, with a light impression of your finger remaining. 
  14. Place the dough in a zip-top plastic bag and seal tightly closed, expelling excess air. 
  15. Set aside to rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the plastic bag and become soft, and pliable which makes the wrappers easy to work with.
  16. After resting, the dough can be used right away to form the wrappers or, refrigerate overnight and return to room temperature before using.
  17. To roll: divide the dough into four pieces. Sprinkle each piece lightly with flour, cover with plastic wrap.
  18. Roll a piece of the dough as thin as possible, working it back and forth and using additional flour only if it sticks terribly. Keep turning the dough and rolling to get it as thin as you can.
  19. Cut rounds with a 3 ½” round cutter. Continue with the remaining pieces of dough, keeping the rounds covered to prevent them from drying out. The scraps can be re-rolled but they benefit from a rest so it’s best to save all the scraps, tightly wrapped, to roll last.

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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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