Stuffed Acorn Squash

Fall weather always reminds me that I want to find hearty, comforting fare that meets healthy and whole food guidelines. I collect recipes constantly, but I’ve not done a great job of trying them out. However, I am recommitting to better eating habits, and one of my first forays into trying a new recipe is this amazing and delicious squash recipe.

The original recipe was created by Guy Fieri and published in Clean Eating Magazine. I made lots of changes and took some shortcuts. However, the full original recipe is located here. The changes I made included:

1. I bought turkey Italian sausages at my local grocery store, squeezed the meat out of the casings and used that, rather than making the sausage from scratch. I will definitely try it with the homemade sausage another time, but didn’t have the ability to wait for flavors to marry in the sausage this time.

2. I don’t like the toasted squash seeds, so I didn’t use any. I don’t think the recipe suffered. To dress it up, I might use some shelled and roasted pepitas another time.

3. I used the ricotta, however, I might forego the cheese another time. I didn’t think it added substantially to what was already a very flavorful dish.

4. I did my best to adjust the recipe to make only 2 servings. I think it turned out well, though I’m not that great at reducing small amounts mathematically – I eyeballed a lot of it. When in doubt, I used somewhat less of each ingredient in order to stay close on the nutritional end of things. I also did not use any salt in the cooking of the dish – basically because I forgot to! As it turned out, I used a small amount on the plate, but felt the ingredients were satisfying without using the additional 1/2 tsp.

As I am typing this, the second serving is re-heating in my oven. A perfect lunch on a gray and raining Saturday in October. Yum!

First Soup of the Fall

Last week we had our first bout of cool fall weather. The kind of temps that make one think longingly of soup. As it happened, I not only had the desire for soup, I also happened to have the time to cook (not that the soup I chose to make was time consuming, its not). So, what was my first soup of the fall?

Black-eyed Pea, Kale and Ham Soup

Whether the photo immediately appeals to you or not, one thing I can say is that the soup is absolutely delicious – flavorful, filling, warming. The recipe originated in a Cooking Light specialty publication (unfortunately I don’t recall which one). It called for frozen black-eyed peas, which I couldn’t find in the grocery stores here, so I used canned. The other substitution I made was Tobasco sauce in lieu of cayenne pepper, which I had forgotten to replenish in my spice cupboard. This gave the soup a nice, light spicy kick.

One note about the kale. If you plan to use prewashed and chopped bagged kale, keep in mind that they typically don’t remove the fibrous center stalk from the kale leaves, and most cooks using fresh kale do. I didn’t mind; however, the stalks can be stringy and less palatable than the leafy potions.

I divided the soup into 1 cup portions (158 calories per serving). I froze two servings, while keeping three in the refrigerator for no-fuss meals throughout the week. Even when the days warmed again, I was content to eat this soup for dinner. I ate the soup with toast, but cornbread would have been the perfect accompaniment!

Salad Days

So, I wanted to share a post about salads as entrees and how I have come to love them in a way that I never expected. I began by giving the post the title, above, then got sidetracked looking up where the term comes from.  Luckily, I found all I needed to know on Wikipedia.

The origin of the phrase, “salad days” appears to stem from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, when Cleopatra, regretting an affair in her youth (with Julius Ceasar no less) utters the couplet:

my salad days/when I was green in judgment, cold in blood.

The Wikipedia entry goes on to quote Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, which summarizes several other possible meanings of the metaphor:

“Whether the point is that youth, like salad, is raw, or that salad is highly flavoured, and youth loves high flavours, or that innocent herbs are youth’s food … “

I love this summary, and the characterizations of both youth and salad.  Perhaps, subconsciously, I have made similar connections and this is why I delight in salad as my main dish. It is youthful, highly flavored, raw and herby. Innocent, in that I prefer salads without a a lot of fancy preparations – just start with a nice mix of greens and lettuces, then toss in any fruit, nuts, veggies on hand. A little highly flavored cheese (in the salad pictured above, the cheese is smoked gouda). No need for meat, expensive dressings (I prefer a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar and a spritz of olive oil) or anything sophisticated. The flavors are varied and lively. Yep, young and yummy. I feel energized after eating a really delicious fresh salad.

So, a late-bloomer as usual, I have finally in mid-life discovered my salad days…and they are good. Deliciously good!

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Sugared Walnuts

Continuing on my quest to try the recipes I’ve been collecting, I ambitiously set out to make my first ever risotto. As I have complained previously, ingredients readily available elsewhere are sometimes difficult to find in my small midwestern city. However, since even in my town, people have not only heard of but actually eat risotto, I expected no trouble. Three grocery stores later, and I returned home with two boxes of pre-packaged risotto, after having read the directions to know the rice was separate from the seasonings, so I could use it in my dish. (I complained incessantly for several days, which paid off in that I believe I now have a “local” source for Arborio rice…Sam’s Club!)

This dish was time consuming, but not difficult. I was not pleased with the garlic: since you add it to the squash uncooked, and it basically only warms, it tasted raw. I will need to experiment with adding it sometime during the cooking process. The recipe suggests 20 minutes of stirring and adding the liquid, but I found it took more like 30.  It was worth it, though!

One serving of my first risotto!

Roasted Potatoes with Oregano and Lemon

After homemade soup, potatoes are tops in comfort food. For most of my life, I just assumed they needed to be eaten as a side with a meat entree. Luckily, I’ve reconsidered that credo. I have wanted to try this recipe for a while, but in a small midwestern city, the options can be somewhat limited – we rarely have fingerling potatoes available in the grocery stores (though they are abundant at the summer farmers’ markets). Yesterday, I discovered small Dutch gold potatoes and snapped them up. The main dish: potatoes. The side: mixed baby greens with crispy pancetta and smoked gouda. Honestly, I didn’t think the dish could smell better than the scent of roasting potatoes and fresh oregano, but the dash of lemon juice at the end made my mouth water!

(Recipe can be found on recipe tab, above)

Apple-Parsnip Soup

Imagine, if you will, the day after a major blizzard. You have spent just over four hours with your trusty shovel, clearing 13 inches of snow including drifts reaching almost three feet high. The sun sets in a blaze of color, as the temperature is plummeting to an overnight low of -12 degrees.

You go inside, unpeel sweaty layers of clothing, and grasp a cup of hot tea to warm your frozen fingers. Suddenly, you remember it is parsnip week at your house! Warm apple-parsnip soup, made in the midst of the blizzard, is only minutes away from filling your empty stomach with velvety goodness. Bliss!

This soup is so good, I braved the worst of the blizzard on Tuesday night to deliver a container to my friend Layne (she lives about 300 yards away). We agree that a little more heat might improve the soup, but it is wonderful made faithfully to the recipe, too (which can be found on the recipes tab, above). I have one serving left, which I plan to savor after a little snow shoeing later today!

Pasta with (Black) Kale, Caramelized Onions, and Parsnips

The thing about living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is that there are three choices for grocery shopping and they are all supermarkets (and the three includes WalMart and Target). No Whole Foods. No Trader Joe’s. No local cooperative (unless you drive to Iowa City). Therefore, like many things readily available in other markets, there is no black kale to be had in this town, unless one grows it oneself. Luckily, this recipe is delicious with regular kale!

This is parsnip week at my house, so there will be parsnip and apple soup later in the week. I had never cooked with parsnips as a featured item before making this pasta. I discovered that, like carrots, cooking brings out their sweetness. I also learned that they should cook somewhat longer than the recipe suggests, unless you want them to be crunchy rather than crisp.  If you use this recipe, I recommend not skimping on the seasonings or it tends to be on the bland side. As always, find the full recipe on the recipe tab, above.

Spinach Salad with Chicken and Crispy Potatoes

This salad is so delicious, I was genuinely happy to be eating it!  The recipe originally came from Everyday Food.  I followed the recipe except that I didn’t wish to make four servings since I was having dinner by myself.  I found it impossible to cut the dressing recipe down to one serving, so I measured and divided accordingly AFTER the dressing was complete.  I saved the extra dressing.  While it is not impossible to cook just one half of one chicken breast, it is damn inconvenient to do so.  Therefore, I made a different salad (good but not as good) the following day with the remainder of the chicken and the dressing.  Two more notes about the chicken: I don’t bother with bone-in, skin-on breasts.  Also, rather than drizzle so much oil on the chicken, I gave it a healthy spray with my trusty spray olive oil.  It was so delicious, I doubt it would have been much improved by slavishly sticking to the recipe directions!

The full recipe can be found on the recipe tab, above.

This is my first foray into food photography, and I am clearly no food stylist (notice the shadow I created by leaning over the plate to get the shot!).  Don’t let the inferior quality of the photos prevent you from trying the salad.

Autumn Dinner

My parents, who are visiting from New Mexico, joined me in picking up this week’s fresh produce from Abbe Hills Farm (near Mt. Vernon, IA).  My friend Sara and I have split a share in this Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm this summer, and we are in the final month of weekly treasure troves.  Today’s haul included a watermelon, 5 winter squash (acorn, butternut and another kind I don’t know), 8 hot peppers, bell peppers, tomatoes, bok choy, a stir fry kit, eggplant, parsley, arugula, collard greens, kale, okra, onions.

After a brief wander in Mt. Vernon, we ate lunch at arguably the most famous restaurant in eastern Iowa: The Lincoln Cafe.  Fresh, organic, local cuisine, a concept imported to Iowa via New York by a talented chef.

Later, while my folks took a late afternoon nap, I walked around my neighborhood and the university campus, enjoying the brisk fall afternoon.  Inspired by the incredibly delicious menu at the Lincoln Cafe, I was determined to make a dinner primarily with items fresh from Abbe Hills Farm.  The result was a meatless menu of truly fresh ingredients:

  • Salad of fresh spinach, arugula, leaf lettuce, red bell pepper and toasted pecans.
  • Roasted spiced acorn squash
  • Baked eggs in tomatoes
  • Garlic bread

I had not tried the squash or egg recipes, but had torn them from the most recent issue of Everyday Foods because they looked delicious to me.  As it turns out, they ARE!  The dinner was warming, filling, and bursting with flavor (my entire meal also came in under 500 calories) – perfect for the cool, crisp evening.

We loaded our food up on plastic cafeteria-style trays (I couldn’t resist them when I saw them on the sale shelf at Target) and ate while watching the Hawkeyes take on the Nittany Lions.  Believe me when I say life rarely gets more comfortable or comforting than that!  Please check the recipes page if you are interested in trying these dishes.

Right now, still pleasantly sated from the meal, I have a pie pumpkin baking in the oven for tomorrow morning’s baked pumpkin oatmeal (another new recipe).  Who knows, if breakfast passes muster, you may find that recipe here as well!

Happy fall eating.