Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Spiced Acorn Squash Rings

Today's post is about a plant that I was convinced was a creepy, crawly, life-threatening monster - until it revealed itself to be something quite beautiful and tasty!  The guys in the white suits that literally pop into the scene behind Ne-Yo in this music video are just how I perceived this plant to grow and inch toward me while my back was turned.  This is very spooky and Halloweenish activity, folks.  Read on - if you dare!

Several years ago
I started a garden space using the
I didn't have access to a tiller to 
"dig up" a garden in the traditional
manner I was used to.
This new method was circulating through
my area with great interest at the time
so I decided to give it a whirl.
And it worked!
And I loved it!

As my various seeds grew and 
prospered in abundance, I noticed
one plant in particular that was
growing at warp speed.
It seemed to grow even while I
stood and watched!
The only problem was,
it wasn't anything I had planted!

It was rogue!!

I could tell it belonged in the cucumber
or squash or pumpkin family.
But it wasn't a variety of any 
of those that I had planted.
And it seemed to be much happier
with the new garden setting than 
anything else.

When I would go out to tend my garden
I would conjure up images of
the scary movies I watched as a kid
where plants, such as this one,
would attack people from behind
and devour them!
Believe me, after this plant had literally
overtaken most of my garden space and 
started it's tendrils towards the neighbor's,
I didn't dare turn my back on it!

For the longest time
this plant annoyed me.
I didn't have the heart to pull 
it out, though, until I knew what it was!

Eventually it got some blossoms
and I waited anxiously to
see what those blooms would yield!
Oh, happy day, when
I saw that a bounty of acorn squash
would be visiting my harvest
basket that year!
Now I didn't mind it's uninvited
intrusion at all!
Now it was beautiful!

Acorn squash are so simple to fix,
and apparently, very simple to grow!
To me they are the quintessential 
fall squash as we ate them
so often as I was growing up.

Usually I just cut them in half,
scoop out the seeds, and bake.
But today I wanted to show
you how you can slice them
and make them "pretty."
They also cook faster since 
they are cut smaller!
Always a bonus!

Spiced Acorn Squash Rings
Serves 6
1 large acorn squash
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoon five-spice
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a sheet tray with cooking spray or use your oil mister.  Set aside.

Lay the acorn squash on it's side on a cutting board.  
Slice an inch off the pointy bottom part and an inch off the stem top part.  Then slice the remaining squash into 6 rings anywhere from 1/2" to 1" thick.  Using a small biscuit cutter or a paring knife, trim the seeds from the center of each slice.

Place each side, cut side down, onto the prepared sheet tray and spray or drizzle the olive oil over the tops.

Mix together the salt, five-spice, and pepper in a small bowl and then sprinkle over the top of the slices.  

If you don't have the five-spice on hand you can substitute 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.  This is not five-spice, but it'll give you a sweet and smoky flavor combination.

Bake for 20 minutes and then turn and sprinkle with more of the spice mix.  Then bake for another 15 minutes, until golden and the squash flesh is soft when pierced with a fork.  Serve warm and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sausage and Mushroom Bread Pudding

Autumn Leaves by Eva Cassidy
Absolutely soulful.  If you're not familiar with Eva Cassidy's music, you should be.  I'm actually very surprised to find I haven't put her in a post yet!  This woman sang with her heart and soul and her music has the ability to reach across the sound waves into yours.  This song is my favorite autumn song.  I have several renditions of it in my music library.  But I needed Eva's heartfelt version today.  Savory bread puddings are soul food.  And this time of year I feel the need to feed my soul.  As I reconcile myself to the fact that summer is gone I can comfort myself with earthy mushrooms and spicy sausage  - and watch the autumn leaves drift by.

It took three tries before I came up with
this recipe today!
This is what happens sometimes as
I try to fit my healthier approach into practice.

My first attempt ended up being too dry -
not enough custard mixture.

My second attempt was too mushy
as I went waaaay overboard with the vegetables.
Yes - apparently you CAN add too 
many vegetables!
At least in a bread pudding.
If you want more veggies, serve them on the side!
You need enough bread to soak up the
custard without too many other ingredients getting
in the way of that process.

My third approach I found myself really
struggling with my urge to overindulge!
"Simplify!!" my mind kept telling me!
"Quit thinking you have to add more!"

So I resisted the temptation
to add more sausage.  And I heartily
fought back my mushroom addiction and
limited the numbers of those as well.

I blame my dad.
The very first time he slid a perfectly
sautéed mushroom across the table to me
and that earthy, salty, sweet morsel
met my little girl tongue, I was hooked.  
It's a love affair that's lasted to this day,

But sometimes you need restraint -
even with mushrooms!

Once I cut back on the gorge of vegetables
this dish turned out perfect!
And, of course, throwing the cheese
on at the very end, well -
melty cheese.
Not necessarily healthy but - 
Need I say more?

Sausage & Mushroom Bread Pudding
Serves 6
1/2 lb. bread, cubed or tore into chunks
1/2 bell pepper, diced
4 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/4 red onion, sliced thin or diced
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1/4 lb turkey sausage
2 slices bacon
3 fresh sage leaves or 1/2 t. dried
1 T. chopped fresh oregano or 1 1/2 t. dried
1 T. chopped fresh thyme or 1 t. dried
4 eggs
1 1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the bread cubes onto a sheet tray and toast for 10 - 15 minutes until lightly toasted.  Place them in a large bowl and set aside.

In a skillet, cook the bacon over medium high heat until crisp.  Remove bacon and break into pieces and add to the bowl of bread cubes.  Put the mushrooms into the hot skillet with the bacon drippings and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook until the mushrooms have caramelized and released their juices.
Remove the mushrooms and add to the bowl with the bacon and bread cubes.  Place the turkey sausage into the hot pan and stir to break into chunks.  Add the rest of the vegetables and the herbs and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Stir occasionally as the sausage loses it's pink color and the vegetables soften.
Add the contents of the skillet to the bowl with the other ingredients and stir to toss them well.

In another bowl whisk the eggs until uniform and then whisk in the milk.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper.  Add the egg "custard" to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients and stir well, pushing a little with the spoon to help the bread absorb the custard.  Spray an 8x8 square pan or a small rectangle pan with cooking spray and scoop the contents of the bowl into the pan.  Again, use the spoon to sort of squish the ingredients down.
Bake in the 350 degree oven for 40 minutes, but start checking at 30 minutes.  A knife inserted into a bread part of the dish should come out clean.  Scatter the cheese over the top and cook about 5 minutes more to get the cheese to melt and get bubbly.  
Remove from the oven and let sit for about 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
The cross-cut view is beautiful!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Quinoa Garden Salad

Surprise Yourself by Jack Garratt
"Keep exploring, seek and find."  My younger children, who didn't get much of a chance to get to know their grandfather, my dad, before he passed away, will ask me questions now and then about him.  They ask about the things he liked to do, they ask for little anecdotes that will shed light on what it was like to be around him, and they sometimes ask what he would have done in such and such a situation.  I love these questions as it allows me to sink back into the time when he was alive and the love I felt from him.  The words to this song are an accurate depiction of how he approached the world - an insatiable learner, never satisfied that he knew enough.  And I have inherited this from him.  When I see something that intrigues me, I must know more.  And all the quinoa salads I've had in recent months had put me on a quest to create my own.  And now I have.  And there will be more varieties because I must keep surprising myself!

I had a long round road trip this past weekend.
600 miles each way.
With road construction tucked in neatly
here and there, it amounted to about 
a nine to ten hour drive.
Ten hours to the destination because I had my 
daughter with me and she has back pain
so we needed to give her time periodically
to get out and walk around.
It took nine hours on the return trip 
because I was alone.

But I was alone!
I can usually find someone to come along for
the ride to keep me company.
This time I had no success!
How to keep myself alert and awake?


If you have never listened to a 
podcast, I greatly urge you to give one a try!
There are some really good ones!
It's like the old radio shows
but with an endless variety of topics!

On this nine hour drive I chose to listen to
the TED Radio Hour podcasts that
had filled up my queue.
TED talks are always phenomenal.
They always have subjects that exercise your
brain and enlighten your view on
so many subjects!
I probably listened to 7 of them
and never got a hint of drowsiness because I 
was so fascinated!
It's very much the same experience
I get when I'm on my treadmill.
I compose many of my recipes
and posts while on my treadmill!

So, while I'm listening to these fabulous
talks, in the back of my mind, 
I was also composing 
my quinoa salad.

I knew that what I loved about the quinoa salads
I'd had so far was the variety of textures
more than the variety of flavors.
But follow the texture cues and
you're bound to find amazing flavor!

There needed to be freshness, crispness, 
crunch, smoothness, creaminess, and a pop.
I thought about what was hanging out
in my pantry and fridge at home.
The ribs from the romaine lettuce 
and the new crop Fuji apples would be crisp.
Sunflower seeds would give a crunch.
Tomatoes would be fresh.
Avocados would provide the creamy element.
And quinoa has a sort of pop in your mouth.

I couldn't wait to try it out!

Sometimes these salads are offered with a 
protein addition like chicken or shrimp
but they don't need one
as quinoa is a complete protein itself!
But I'm a fool for a soft poached or over-easy egg.
When I dine out, even if an egg isn't offered on the menu,
I will ask if the kitchen would be
willing to do it anyway!
I'm rarely told no!
There is a guilty pleasure in the way the velvety
yoke coats all the morsels that enter your mouth!

My favorite bite?
Each time one of those apple chunks
found their way onto the fork!

New to quinoa?
Expand your mind
as well as your palate!
You just might surprise yourself!

Quinoa Garden Salad
Serves 6

1 head romaine lettuce, rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup cooked and cooled quinoa (follow pkg. directions)
1 tomato, diced
1 apple, cored and diced
1/4 red onion, small diced
1/2 orange bell pepper, diced
1 small avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
2 Tablespoon chopped chives
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
juice from 1/2 orange
2 Tablespoons vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

Whenever I am working with fruits or vegetables that tend to oxidize (turn brown) quickly, I set up a strategy where I can make sure that that doesn't happen.  If you're not that picky then ignore my steps!  But, with this salad, I am dealing with both apples and avocados.  Both known oxidizers.

I started by cutting the stem end of the romaine lettuce off and washing it well and then standing it up in my dish drainer to drain while I did the rest of the prep.

Next I cooked the quinoa and spread it out on a shallow pan and stuck it in the freezer to cool quickly.

Next I made up the vinaigrette with the last four ingredients - the ones after the dashes.

After that, I cup up the apple and scooped the bits into the bowl with the vinaigrette and tossed them around so that the acid from the orange juice could keep them from browning.  With a slotted spoon I removed them and placed into a large bowl and set aside.

Then I chopped the tomato, and onion, and bell pepper - adding all to the bowl with the apples.  I also chopped the chives and thyme and added them to the bowl as well.

When you have something this pretty going on, how can it be anything but delicious?!

Now it was time to chop the romaine lettuce.  I placed it all in a larger serving bowl.  I removed the quinoa from the freezer, fluffed it with a fork and sprinkled it over the lettuce in the serving bowl.

I cut up the avocado and tossed it around with the apples and vegetables and then poured them all into the serving bowl.  I lightly mixed the ingredients around and gave it a taste.  I ended up adding a little bit extra dressing but I was surprised at how the dressing on the apples had done a great job of coating everything else!  A little salt and I was good to go!

You can serve it just like this.
You won't feel cheated, I promise!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fall Fruit Galette

All Will Be Well  by The Gabe Dixon Band
How have I gone this long not knowing about The Gabe Dixon Band?!  I was lucky to be able to visit Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas a few weeks ago.  While wandering around the grounds, and reveling in the whole "feeling" of the place and recognizing that I wanted to just stay there - it dawned on me that the music was just as much to credit as was the meticulous layout and design of the property.  After a few songs, I pulled out my phone and used my Shazam app to find out who was singing to me.  At that moment, I fell in love with Gabe Dixon and his band.  As soon as I got home I purchased three albums of their music!  This song is special as it gives me reassurance that, especially in my quest to be healthy, as I have setbacks among the successes, all will be well.

In my pursuit to find health and balance
 I found that my approach
to food and it's preparation has changed.
Instead of seeing how absolutely decadent I
could make something, I started
considering how I could keep the
star ingredients as close to their 
natural state as possible - preserving
their already great flavor.

I started cooking simpler.

It seemed the more I handled and "decorated"
my food, the more excess and unwanted
 ingredients tended to creep in - 
which usually translated into  
more calories than necessary.

And the startling thing is that I don't really
miss the over-the-top decadence!
I've found that I really do love
food as it really tastes!

And you might think this an odd topic for 
a post that delivers a dessert offering!
But, in fact, it describes exactly how I
approached the creation of this recipe.

There I was with some beautiful fall fruits -
apples, white-fleshed peaches, and beautiful pears.
And I had company coming for dinner.
It was a busy day but I wanted to
have something a little special.
My knee jerk reaction was 
I do love pie!!
But all that pie crust
and all that sugar!
Read: all those calories!!

So what if I only used half the pie crust?
And what if I added a small
portion of the sugar usually used in pie?
How much sugar do you really need
in a pie anyway?

What if I made a galette?

Galettes are rustic freeform pastries.
They can also be referred to as crostatas.
You CAN make them fancy if you want.
But they're equally acceptable if they're 
on the rough-looking side!

I tasted as I prepared, just to
be sure that my mission to
be more healthy didn't override my
desire to serve delicious food that my
family and friends would enjoy as well.

I started adding a bit of honey.
And then a bit of sugar.
And, according to my tastebuds,
it was sweet enough with just that!
I livened it up with a bit of cinnamon
and added a bit of flour to 
thicken the juices.

I made up a batch of pie crust
for double crust pie but
only used half.  Now I have an extra
ball of dough in the freezer for another time!

Just roll the dough out to a rough circle
and place on a parchment lined sheet tray.
You can just dump the fruit on
the dough, if you like, or
you can take a few minutes to arrange the fruit.
Since it was for company, I took just a few minutes to
fussy out the fruit - but not too much.
Remember that the pile of fruit will 
soften and reduce down as it cooks.

Then I folded in the edges, leaving an opening in 
the center for steam to vent.
When it was folded, I brushed a bit of heavy
cream on the outside of the dough and
sprinkled some chunky sugar over it.
You don't have to do this part, but, again, company!

I baked it at 375 degrees and started
checking it at 30 minutes.
It ended up cooking for 50 minutes.
So beautiful!
And it looked like it took a long time
but it didn't!
The thing about desserts like this is that
there's no way to taste it before you
serve your company so I was nervous!
But guess what?
It was FABULOUS!!!!!
I just added a small dollop of
whipped heavy cream, ever so slightly sweetened.

Fall Fruit Galette
Serves 6
3 pieces of fruit, I used an apple, a pear, and a peach
2 T. honey
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of salt
1 Tablespoon of butter, in pieces
Pie dough (I used half the recipe and froze the other half)
Heavy Cream, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel and core fruit and slice into uniform sized pieces and place in a bowl.  Drizzle the honey over and sprinkle the sugar and flour over as well.  Add the cinnamon and salt and toss until the fruit slices are evenly coated.  Set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll out the pie dough into about a 14" circle - but don't be fussy about it.  It should look uneven.  Fold the circle gently in half and quickly lift onto the parchment paper and unfold.  Stir the fruit once more and scoop onto the center of the pie dough, leaving about a 2-3" empty space around the outside.  Dot the top with the pieces of butter.  Fold the edges back in toward the center, leaving an open space where the fruit is exposed and steam can escape as it bakes.  If you like, you can brush the outside of the pie shell with cream and sprinkle some sugar over it.  

Bake for 50 minutes, or until the crust becomes a dark golden brown and the fruit is bubbly.  Remove and let cool.  Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Vegetable Stock

Vegetables by The Beach Boys
Ok - so if you've never had the pleasure of listening to this song, PLEASE, for heaven's sake, click on the link and watch this video.  The creators of the video use images of "vegetable art" to view as you listen to the song.  And they're very clever!  There's a cabbage head that looks a great deal like Roger Waters, in my opinion.  And the okra creation - well, let's just say it might take me a bit to be able to look at okra without a moment's pause.  But the SONG!!  It's quirky and clever and very cheeky.  And I love to blast it while I'm driving around in my convertible!  I like to give people a moment that they've probably never experienced before - and may not ever again!  Also, if you have kids, they will flat out love this song.

One of the topics I covered in the cooking classes
I taught while I was away
is how to make your own stock.


Good question!
At $4 a quart in the grocery store
it's a great budget stretcher - especially when you're probably
throwing out all the ingredients you need to make it -
not knowing their value.


For starters, it allows you to have that deep flavor you get
when you let a pot of soup simmer for hours or all day -
but without the soggy vegetables that tend to go with it!
Stock is also a time saver!
It allows you to have that "simmer all day
flavor" in a fairly quick meal.
While chopping vegetables with your family
as you chat about your day's activities
you can have dinner on the table in 30 minutes!
In addition, many dishes can be made more stellar
by using stock in place of water.
Cook rice or potatoes or polenta with stock 
and you've just upped your game!

The stock class was one of the last classes in 
my program because I wanted them to participate
in the habit of saving scraps as they go to be used for stock.
Each week as we did our vegetable prep for the various
dishes we were making, we'd have two buckets
in the middle of the counter.
One was for trash.
This included the trimmings not suitable for stock such as
cruciferous vegetables (a fancy name for veggies
like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale.)
The papery outer layers of onions should be tossed as well
because they can impart a bitter flavor to the stock.

The other bucket was for the stock scraps!
This would be the peelings and ends cut off of carrots and onions 
and celery.  Mushroom stems are also welcome.
The cores of peppers, stems and all, and tomato trimmings.
The stems of parsley can be saved as well.
If you make sure you've cleaned the veggies well before
prep, you can use almost everything you trim off.
And at the end of prep time, we'd put the contents from the
stock bucket into a freezer bag and toss it into
the freezer, where it waited until stock class.

This is a practice that you can employ in
your kitchen as well!

In commercial kitchens, this is a valuable
practice that helps increase revenue.
In the hands of a talented chef,
the scraps can be turned into the most
delectable items on the menu.
Woe be unto the staff member that is caught putting
valuable kitchen inventory
into the waste bin!

On the day of stock class, I hauled out all the
bags of trimmings from the freezer.
I also went through the vegetable bins in my refrigerator
and checked for other produce that wasn't spoiled
but maybe had become "tired" looking.
I'd wash it up and toss it into the stock pot as well.
If I had any bags of purchased frozen veggies with a
minimal amount left in it's bag, I'd use them as well.
It's a great way to tidy up the freezer!
I try to have some tomatoes on hand to add to the pot.
I might even roast them
in the oven first for added depth of flavor.
To roast vegetables, simply put them on a sheet tray
and toss in a small amount of olive oil.
Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes,
until the edges just start to brown.
Remove and scoop into the stock pot, being sure to 
get all the juices that have accumulated in the pan.

After all the vegetables are added to the pot, I'd throw in
some herbs to join the bath!
Thyme works well as does sage and oregano, some bay leaves
and some black peppercorns, too.
Parsley is a must but you only need the stems.
You want to leave that step for when you use the stock
in your meal preparation.

Now you're ready to add water.
You'll want to cover the contents by about an inch.
The veggies will want to float but you can
still judge when you've added an inch above where they 
were before you started.

Put the pot on the stove over medium high heat and bring
just to a boil.  Reduce the heat and let simmer for about an hour.
Remove from heat and let cool a few minutes.

Line a mesh strainer with some cheesecloth
and place into a heat resistant bowl.
Pour the contents of the pot through the strainer.
Not all of the vegetables will fall out into the strainer,
but some will.
It's wise to do this step in a clean sink,
just in case you spill.
Lift up the strainer and let the juices flow through.
At this point, all the flavor and goodness has been
extracted from the vegetables so you can toss them
or use them for compost.

Next you're going to want to chill that
stock as quickly as possible.
Do not put it into the fridge or freezer to do this as it will
crash the temperature of either one
and put all your other food at risk of spoiling.
Instead, make an ice bath in a larger bowl or in 
your kitchen sink.
Stir often as this will circulate the cooler liquid from
the sides of the bowl into the center and facilitate
the cooling process.

Once cooled, pour the stock into freezable containers
and label with contents and the date and freeze.

Now you are only minutes
away from meals that taste like you've 
been slaving away all day!

Vegetable Stock 
Vegetables and scraps
Water to cover vegetables and scraps
Parsley stems
Black peppercorns
2 Bay leaves
Large stock pot

Place all ingredients in stock pot.  Cover with water.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for an hour.  Let cool a few minutes.  Strain through a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.  Cool in an ice bath and then pour into freezer containers.  Label and freeze.