Stuffed Acorn Squash

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Food cooked in its own bowl–does it get any easier than that? I love making stuffed squash–not only is it cozy and delicious, but stuffed squash is a great way to use up small bits of leftover fresh vegetables and turn them into something amazing.

All winter squash are high in fiber, low in fat and an excellent source of vitamins, including beta-carotene, vitamin B, vitamin C and potassium. It is also filling due to its high fiber content, and very inexpensive! Win-win-win-win! A serving of stuffed squash is 1/2 of a squash–we usually make more though, since a stuffed squash half makes a completely amazing lunch later.

There are endless combinations of foods for this dish, and I almost never make it the same twice, but this is one of our favorites. It has a nice, Italian flavor that spices up the squash without being overpowering. So grab an acorn squash (or two) and make your own delicious creation!

Stuffed Acorn Squash (makes 4 servings)

  • 2 acorn squash
  • 4 tablespoons fresh, grass-fed butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small, organic onion, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cloves organic garlic
  • 4-6 sun dried tomato halves
  • 1 small bunch kale, washed, trimmed and chopped (about 4 cups raw)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 lb. organic chicken sausage (ours was Italian sausage)
  • Kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup organic, mozzarella cheese, grated
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. Cover the sun dried tomato halves with very hot water and let soak.
  3. Wash the outside of the squash and dry carefully. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the squash in half widthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds. To make sure each half will stand up properly, trim a little bit of the squash ends, making a flat edge.
  4. Rub the inside of the squash with 1 tablespoon of butter each and put the squash, cut side up on the baking sheet. Roast the squash for 45 minutes or until the squash flesh is soft.
  5. While squash is roasting, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Remove the sausage from its casing and add to the skillet. Cook until sausage is no longer pink and cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the sausage and add the onion to the pan. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
  7. Remove the sun dried tomatoes from the water, chop, and add to the pot.
  8. Add the kale, sausage and water to the pan, tossing all ingredients well. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 10 minutes or until squash is cooked.
  9. Remove squash from the oven and let rest until cool enough to handle (about 15 minutes). Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.
  10. Scoop roasted flesh from the cooked acorn squash, leaving about 1/4″ of flesh to keep the squash shell stable. Return the squash shells (scooped side up) to the baking sheet.
  11. Add the kale mixture to the bowl and combine everything well. Season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste.
  12. Stuff the squash halves with the squash-kale mix, top each half with 1/4 cup of shredded cheese, and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  13. Serve immediately.

 

Apple and Kale Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

20131010-083842.jpgNorth Carolina, where I live, is the king of sweet potatoes. While it is a challenge to find organic sweet potatoes, I’ve found several farmers who carry them. Potatoes are delicious and nutritious (especially sweet potatoes!), but farmers often use carcinogenic fungicides and sprout inhibitors that penetrate beyond the skin of the potato and into the flesh. So no amount of washing or peeling is going to eliminate them. These babies are definitely worth buying organic, if at all possible.

This sweet potato dish is one of my “go to” recipes for a busy fall weeknight. It has all the great hallmarks of fall–sweet potato, pumpkin pie spice, apples and maple syrup. This would make a great side dish or a light meal in itself. We have an abundance of sweet potatoes at our farmers markets and apples are back in full force, so this recipe takes advantage of all that is fresh and delicious.

Apple Stuffed Sweet Potatoes (makes 3 servings)

  • 3 medium-sized sweet potatoes
  • 2 medium apples like granny smith or galas
  • 1 small bunch of kale
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or more, if you like!)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 tablespoons real maple syrup
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Poke sweet potatoes all over with a fork and roast in the oven until soft (about an hour depending on how large your potatoes are). Remove from oven and reduce heat to 350.
  3. While potatoes cool a bit, peel/core and chop the apples into 1/2″ chunks.
  4. Wash and trim the stems from the kale. Chop into bit sized pieces.
  5. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add butter and melt. Add apples. Cook apples for about 2 minutes.
  6. Add the kale and cook until wilted–about 4 minutes.
  7. Add spice to the apples and stir. Add more butter if you need it. Reduce heat to low and cook until apples are soft. Set aside.
  8. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut skins and scoop potato flesh into a medium-sized bowl. Add apple mixture and mix together until combined.
  9. Spoon mixture back into the potato skin shells. Top with chopped pecans, put on a baking sheet and bake for another 15 minutes.
  10. Remove from oven and drizzle with maple syrup.
  11. Serve!

NOTE: You will have extra filling left over. This makes a great leftover lunch the next day! Pair it with some cooked quinoa and you have a complete second meal.

White Bean, Ham and Quinoa Soup

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We definitely have fall here in North Carolina, and it is great soup weather! I love traditional white bean and ham soup–studded with tender white beans and aromatic rosemary, this soup tastes and smells wonderful. The combination of garlic and rosemary is pretty magic, isn’t it?

Although this soup has a thick, creamy texture, it is dairy and gluten free! I get the creaminess from blending some of the beans with an immersion blender. Voila! Creaminess without the fat or lactose of cream! This time I also added some leftover quinoa that was parked in the refrigerator and I have to say, I like it! The quinoa didn’t add any flavor to the soup, which was already very savory, but it did add protein and thickened up the broth even more. It was also very filling. A two-cup serving kept me full from lunch until dinner (bonus–no 3:00 snack craving!).

I used dried beans for this recipe, but if you are in a hurry, you can substitute canned cannellini beans that have been drained and rinsed (look for BPA – free cans). Also, you could leave out the ham and use vegetable stock instead of chicken and make this a vegan dish as well!

You could double this recipe and freeze some for later. This soup freezes wonderfully!

White Bean, Ham and Quinoa Soup (makes 6 servings)

  • 2 1/2 cups dried cannellini beans (white beans)
  • 3 cups homemade chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 cooked ham steak or 2 cups leftover cooked ham
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1-2 cups cooked white quinoa (or 1/2 cup of uncooked)
  • Kosher or sea salt and ground pepper

If using dried beans, prep the beans the night before by rinsing them and putting them in a bowl. Cover the beans with water + about 2″ of water above the top of the beans. Cover the bowl and let the beans soak overnight.

  1. Put the beans and the stock in a large pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to a simmer and cook the beans for 20 minutes.
  2. While the beans simmer, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion for about 2 minutes or until soft. Add the carrot and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Remove 1 1/2 cups of the beans, plus some cooking liquid from the pot and set aside.
  4. Add the cooked vegetables to the pot and stir.
  5. In a bowl for an immersion blender, combine the beans, cooking liquid and rosemary. Blend until thick, about 5 seconds.
  6. Add the bean paste back to the cooking pot and stir well.
  7. Chop the ham into bite sized pieces and add to the pot, along with the quinoa.
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Simmer the soup for at least one hour if using dried beans (20 minutes for canned beans).
  10. Serve hot with crusty baguettes or with a tossed salad.

Sautéed Cabbage and Apples

Apples are an all-American success story-each ...

We had our first day of actual, chilly weather today. Really, it was just morning chilliness, but still, it made a believer of me that fall is actually coming! Last year, we had a late freeze that took about 80% of our state’s apple crop. It was a sad fall. North Carolina apples were tricky to find and pricey, so we didn’t cook with them much and I definitely didn’t can any apple butter. Dishes like this one made the most of our apples, by using them as part of a larger dish.

Not only is this dish a delicious way to enjoy local cabbage and apples, but it also is very economical and deeply satisfying. Unlike some vegetable dishes, this seems to taste even better warmed up later, so make plenty! We are making it again this week with some local smoked sausage for an early Octoberfest supper. You could also serve this as a main course by itself with some crusty bread and have a terrific rustic winter meal! If you want a vegetarian version, omit the bacon and use 3 tbsp. of olive oil and replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock.

Sautéed Cabbage and Apples

  • 8 slices thick cut bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 medium head green cabbage, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 3 large apples (granny smith or gala), peeled, cored and sliced thick
  • 1/2 c. chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander seed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, cook bacon pieces over medium heat and stir often to keep them from sticking. Cook until browned, but not too crisp (about 6-7 minutes).
  2. Remove bacon from pot and set aside. Reduce drippings to about 3 tbsp.
  3. Add onion and carrots to the pot and cook over medium/high heat about 4 minutes until onion is translucent.
  4. Add apple cider vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any brown bits.</li
  5. Add the cabbage and stir to combine. Cook about 10 minutes until cabbage softens. Add apples, stock and coriander. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Check frequently to make sure the cabbage is not sticking. Add a bit of water or more stock if needed.
  6. Add bacon back into the pot and cook an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve!

Summer Vegetable Tian

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I first saw the idea for a vegetable tian in an issue of Martha Stewart magazine many years ago. It looked hard. And fussy. I didn’t have a food processor, but I did have a little baby, and the thought of slicing all those vegetables seemed out of the question–who had the time? But things change, right? A few weeks ago, I saw another recipe on Pinterest and thought I’d give it a try. I have a trusty food processor now, making all that slicing easy. And that little baby is 13, so I can use sharp cutting tools without too much worry. Perfect timing!

A vegetable tian is basically thinly sliced vegetables that are stacked, seasoned and roasted until tender. Then topped with some cheese and baked until melty. This is a reasonably healthy, tasty and pretty dish–perfect for a dinner party or holiday dinner since it looks so fancy. Although we had this as a side dish, it would make a terrific vegetarian entree if you subbed the Parmesan cheese for soy cheese!

For our tian, I used late summer vegetables that I had handy–zucchini, purple potatoes and Roma tomatoes. I would have used yellow squash, but we had eaten it all. Ditto for the eggplant. The next time I make this, I’ll probably add some yellow squash and onion slices for some added flavor. And I may leave out the tomatoes since I am the only tomato fanatic in the house. You could make this with any vegetables you have handy as long as they can be sliced thin (sorry, broccoli, you’re on the sidelines for this one).

Looking ahead (although I am still not finished with summer), a fall version with sweet potatoes and squash would be pretty phenomenal–maybe drizzled with maple syrup!

While my “little one” isn’t so little anymore, I wonder if smaller children would love to see the animated movie Ratatouille, followed by helping to make the vegetable stacks for the pan. Maybe that would increase interest in eating vegetables??? This is one dish that involves some fun and creativity in the prep work!

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Summer Vegetable Tian (makes 8 servings)

  • 2 zucchini, washed and trimmed
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, washed and trimmed
  • 1 quart purple potatoes, scrubbed and trimmed
  • Kosher or sea salt, to taste
  • Ground, black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray or oil.
  3. Slice all vegetables to equal thickness (ours were on the thinnest setting of the food processor).
  4. Arrange vegetables in stacks within the baking dish–I used a little pattern, but you could be random–whatever works for you.
  5. When all your vegetables are safely tucked in, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Cover and roast for about 30-40 minutes. Vegetables should be soft.
  6. Uncover, top with cheese and bake for another 15 minutes.
  7. Serve immediately.

Southern Succotash

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I’ve always loved vegetable mixes, especially that popular mix of corn, carrots and Lima beans called succotash. To me, the three vegetables combined were always more interesting than they were served individually. And then, of course, there is the name “succotash”, which always seemed fun to say, especially if you use your best Sylvester the Cat voice and say “Sufferin’ Succotash.” But I digress.

This succotash has a lovely, summer Southern flavor based on vegetables that are plentiful here in late summer North Carolina. It is a delicious and vitamin rich side dish, but served on top of organic rice, grits or corn bread, it is also a hearty, vegetarian main dish. This version centers on okra, tomatoes, field peas and onions, all grown within 50 miles. So delicious, so healthy, so summer. Sufferin’? Not hardly–how about celebratin’ succotash?

Southern Succotash (makes 4 entree portions or 6 side dish portions)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 sweet, organic onion, peeled and sliced
  • 4 cloves organic garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 quart baby okra, washed and trimmed
  • 1 quart cherry tomatoes (we used purple splash)
  • 1 quart pink eye field peas (any field pea or butter bean would work)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
  1. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the onions and sauté until just softened, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add the tomatoes and okra. Cook until tomatoes start to release their juices, about 5 minutes.
  5. Stir well and add the fresh field peas and thyme.
  6. Reduce heat , cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until peas are just tender. If mixture becomes dry, add about a half cup of water and continue cooking.

Summer Field Peas

I like pretty much all kinds of peas and we here in North Carolina are high into field pea season. If you haven’t tasted home cooked field peas, you really must get in your car NOW and head south. Unlike tender, fragile spring peas, field peas are hearty, soul satisfying and meaty. They are amazing in chili or with collards or just cooked with a ham hock until rich and creamy. I was going to do some research on field peas, when lo’ and behold, I saw this blog. Done and done. This is a great resource about field peas, how to store them for later and how to cook them. Now I just need to buy some ham hock 🙂

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/08/17/have-you-ever-heard-of-summer-field-peas/

 

Rustic Blackberry Jam

Blackberry

This blackberry jam is a hybrid between jam and jelly. Jellies are clear, sparkling creations that have had the pulp, seeds and skins removed. You must strain the mashed berries slowly so none of the fruit particles remain to cloud the final product. True jellies are refined. This jam is not. Why? Because I can’t bear to part with all the goodness that comes in our summer blackberries.  I’m okay with some cloudiness and imperfection if it means more blackberry flavor. So this recipe is a fun, full-of-itself cousin to true jelly. A little rough around the edges, but still a lot of fun. Think of it as that rogue cousin who shows up at a family funeral with a six pack of beer instead of a pound cake. You know exactly who I’m talking about, don’t you? Well, okay, maybe it’s just me…

While this jelly won’t earn any ribbons for beauty at the State Fair, it is delicious, full of flavor and would be good on a biscuit or on a pork tenderloin. The reason it isn’t crystal clear and sparkling, is because I use a food mill instead of cheesecloth to extract the seeds. This leaves in some of the fruit pulp that makes the jelly opaque instead of clear. I don’t care. When I have blackberries, I’m using every little bit of them I can!

Rustic Blackberry Jam

  • 8 cups of fresh blackberries
  • 3 tsp. calcium water (this comes with the Pomona Pectin)
  • 3 cups pure cane sugar
  • 3 tsp. Pomona’s Pectin
  • 1/4 cup water
  1. Rinse the berries and put in a nonreactive stock pot. Add the water. Mash the berries with a potato masher and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Let cool about 5 minutes.
  2. Put a food mill with a fine blade over a large bowl. Fill the food mill half way with the cooled blackberry mixture. Process until there are just seeds remaining and dump the seeds into a container for composting. Continue until you have processed all the berries.
  3. Pour 3 cups of the processed blackberries into the pot and bring to a boil (NOTE: if you have more than 3 cups of processed blackberries, adjust the amounts of the remaining ingredients accordingly).
  4. Add the calcium water and bring to a boil again. Mix the pectin and sugar in a bowl. Add to the boiling blackberries and stir until sugar is dissolved.
  5. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes. Scrape off any foam.
  6. Either refrigerate the jelly or ladle into clean, hot half-pint jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow jars to rest in the hot water for 5 minutes. Remove from the canner and set aside. Check seals after 24 hours and if seals are good, store for up to 1 year.

Yellow Squash Muffins

There are some food combinations that immediately speak to me–chocolate and hazelnut, tomato and garlic, bacon and, well, anything. Other combinations make me wonder–is this a joke? This recipe falls in the latter category. Yellow squash and applesauce? Blech. Since I had some homemade applesauce and large, lovely yellow squash on hand, I thought I’d throw caution to the wind and give this a try. This recipe is from Food.com, but was shared with me via our weekly Produce Box. How was it? Abso-freakin-lutely delicious. These taste more like corn muffins, but they don’t have any corn in them. We loved them. They are moist and light and not too sweet. Perfect with our acorn squash and apple soup and they would be delicious with chili as well. We ate our fill and froze the rest for some future fall soup nights!

Yellow Squash Muffins (makes 18)

2 lbs. yellow summer squash
2 eggs
1/2 c. melted butter
1/2 c. applesauce (we used our crock pot applesauce)
1 c. sugar
3 c. flour (we used whole wheat pastry flour)
5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tin with liners or lightly grease cups.
2. Wash squash, trim the ends and cut into 1-inch slices.
3. Put squash in a medium saucepan along with 1/2 cup of water and cook for about 20 minutes or until very soft.
4. Drain squash very well and mash with a potato masher.
5. Measure 2 cups of the cooked squash into a medium mixing bowl and add eggs, butter and applesauce. Stir well and set aside.
6. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of mixture and add wet ingredients. Mix until just combined.
7. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.
8. Bake about 20 minutes or until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
9. Cool 5 minutes in the tin and remove muffins to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Roasted Okra

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When I say “okra”, people either respond positively or wrinkle up their faces and express their hate for “slimy” vegetables. Few people are undecided about okra. The funny thing is, when fried or roasted, okra has none of the viscous texture that it has when sautéed or stewed (I still like it that way, too, though!). We found that roasting okra in the oven makes for a crispy and delicious summer side dish that has the crunch of fried okra without the fat (or the mess). We have roasted okra as a french fry replacement with sandwiches and with grilled food. Here we are having it with BLT sandwiches with local bacon. All the yummy, salty crunch of fried food, but with fiber and vitamins, instead of fat. A summer win-win!

Roasted Okra (makes 3-4 side servings)

  • 1 quart of okra (younger, smaller pods will be more tender)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil (optional).
  2. Trim the stem ends of the pods and wash the okra.
  3. Dry well with a tea towel and put the dry okra in a medium mixing bowl.
  4. Add oil and salt to the bowl and toss so all the okra is coated.
  5. Spread okra across the baking sheet in one layer.
  6. Roast for 15 minutes. Stir okra. Roast for another 15 minutes or until okra is crispy and browned (your timing will depend on the size of the okra pods).
  7. Serve hot.
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