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Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

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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We are at that amazing time of the year, well at least in the Midwest, when all that beautiful local summer produce is having its final hurrah. With not much happening due to Covid restrictions, cooking has been one of the only things that has brought me some joy. Grocery and farmers market shopping is the only thing getting me out of the house and as such, things are starting to pile up. Add to that the goods from my little community garden plot and the massive haul I brought home from a friends robust garden and I was drowning in produce. The clock was ticking; it was time to form a plan of attack. Here’s what I did with those key summer treats – Tomatoes, Peppers and Zucchini –  and some other ideas too.

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I have a remarkable cadre of friends in Southwest France, mostly retired, who are truly living their best lives. They are constantly posting beautiful, luscious, envy inducing photos of meals they’re enjoying through this pandemic and it’s been enough to make me tear up a few times. Maybe one day we’ll be able to enter the country again. Maybe one day, I’ll see them again and share a lovely meal.

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Even before this pandemic began, I was a bean hoarder. You see, I’ve got a real thing for Rancho Gordo, those utterly delicious heirloom beans. They are fantastic and live up to all the hype. I’ve bought them in stores, I’ve ordered them online, I’ve received them as gifts. I even went to the home base in Napa, CA … and bought more beans. Back in October, I received an email that their Bean Club was open to new subscribers. This rarely happens. There’s a 5,000 person waiting list and somehow, I had the golden ticket. I’d passed on it once, years ago, and wasn’t going to let it happen again. On a whim, I quickly joined and a month later, a box with 6lbs of beautiful beans arrived in the mail. It was glorious. A few months later in the midst of a nationwide lockdown when everyone was clamoring for beans, and these beans in particular, my little whim seemed pretty damn smart.

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Cooking in the time of corona and self-isolation is getting interesting. Hopefully you have what you need or more importantly, need to get by. I hope you’re digging into the depths of your freezers for long forgotten treasures and your pantries, finding those lost bags of beans and jars of things you bought a while back for something. I am unusually well stocked and have been diligently working my way through all my stuff and am doing pretty well. I’m taking on long, involved cooking projects because I have the time – sourdough (who isn’t??), fresh pasta, kimchi, lasagna, bagels. Why not? Perhaps you’re like me and made some curious choices on your last grocery trip. Case in point: I am perplexed as to why there is not one, but two, whole heads of cabbage in my refrigerator right now. One red, one green. Why? That is 50% more cabbage than I purchased in the 2019 calendar year. I suspect my instincts took over while shopping; cabbage is a good keeper and at least one was certainly a St. Patrick’s Day inspired purchase but why two? Regardless, I have a lot of cabbage taking up too much space for one person and it needs to go. Time to get creative.

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I came home from the Labor Day weekend with a big bag full of peppers, a gift from a friend with a large and productive garden. I was thrilled – homegrown produce is always welcome – but I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Her husband suggested salsa but I’d just come off a similar project and wasn’t all that interested in making more. I’d already made a delightfully cheesy hatch chile queso dip, but that only used five of the hatch chiles. There we so many more in the bag. So I did what I always do when I’m not sure how to proceed: I googled. “What to make with a lot of peppers” yielded the expected results with recipes for peperonata dominating. No surprise as it is essentially a pepper dish but I was surprised at the lack of variety in the recipes. Italian in origin, peperonata contains slowly stewed sweet peppers, onions, garlic and sometimes tomato, and it is absolutely delicious. But my peppers were mainly Mexican/Southwest in origin – anaheim, poblano, hatch, jalapeno as well as a mess of hungarian yellow. An idea formed. Would a spicy version work? I wasn’t sure but a southwest style peperonata was now in the works.

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When I started this exploration of the foods of recently maligned countries a few weeks ago, the only real familiarity I had with African foods were those from Ethiopia. When I first moved to Chicago, there were three Ethiopian restaurants within walking distance of my apartment. I’d go frequently on the weekends when they had a cheap and plentiful buffet and load up on all sorts of delicious things – the spongy sour bread that sops up all the delicious flavors, the deeply flavored, subtly spicy stews and the tender, flavorful greens. Oh man, those greens. Right off the bat, I knew I had to make those greens.

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As far as I’m concerned, leftovers are a key part of any Thanksgiving table. Who doesn’t like to wake up, turn on a football game, hopefully the first of many, and make a big fat sandwich piled high with all the fixings from the day before? As any good hostess will tell you, planning for leftovers is key to a successful Thanksgiving. Sadly, in all the years that I’ve been an adult on my own, I’ve only hosted Thanksgiving once. Once! So I’ve really only had real leftovers that one time. I have, however, been known to make parts of the classic dinner just to have my own leftovers. Mostly the sides though because, as we all know, the sides are the best part.

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I’ve been on a fall recipe kick lately – squash, pumpkin, apples, beets. I made the switch so fast from summer tomatoes and corn, it caught me by surprise. When I recently found myself with some extra butternut squash and no inkling (nor freezer space) to make soup, I thought about a sandwich. Specifically, it was a sandwich I had last spring at Bad Hunter, a Chicago restaurant. Their menu is interesting – mostly vegetarian but with a bit of meat here and there for flavor, creative dishes that are quite beautiful and with spectacular desserts. One menu item really struck a chord with me: a crispy squash sandwich.

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A few weeks ago, I saw an Instagram post by my friend Camas Davis, proprietor of the Portland Meat Collective. It was a shot of quartered beets with the greens attached and she mentioned she was cooking from the Gjelina cookbook. I’d always cooked the two separately; this idea of cooking them together intrigued me. And I had that book somewhere. More importantly, I had beets with the greens still attached in the refrigerator and no real plan for them. The timing was perfect so I rounded up my copy of Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California by Chef Travis Lett and found the recipe. It seemed simple enough, small beets are roasted with the tops until the bulbs are tender and the greens are crispy. Simple enough until I made it. There was this one thing, this one annoying little direction, that had me cursing.

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