Friday, October 31, 2008

Stuffed Squash Strikes Again

Yesterday we had our first rainfall of the season here in the Bay area, and here's hoping there's a hell of a lot more where that came from, because we need it!

Anyway, after a wet and windy bike ride home from work, it was the perfect evening to make what is now officially one of my favorite dishes on earth: stuffed squash - stuffed kabocha, in this case. My love for kabocha squash borders on fanaticism; in fact I can be perfectly happy eating a very simply roasted kabocha squash, with nothing more than a little olive oil, salt and pepper. But what I love about stuffing a squash is that you can easily turn it into a one-pot, very satisfying meal, using a little bit of whatever you happen to have on hand. I happened to have some cooked lentils and some chard, plus some slivered almonds and cooked quinoa, and I mixed it all up with a sprinkling of breadcrumbs and parmesan, and it was so delicious. Here's a basic recipe that you can alter as you see fit, using what you have in the house and using what inspires you - in fact I'd love to hear your ideas for varying this recipe, so bring 'em on!

Stuffed Winter Squash

Pre-heat the oven to 375.

Begin with one medium-sized winter squash, such as kabocha or butternut. You could also use delicata or acorn, but since those varieties tend to be smaller, you may want to use one squash per person.

Cut the squash down the middle, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with a little olive oil, season w/ salt and pepper. If you'd like you can press a little minced garlic into the flesh. Now place the squash into a baking dish, cut side down, and roast for about 30-45 minutes, until the squash starts to become quite tender and almost looks like the flesh is puckering.

While the squash is roasting, get your stuffing together. I like to use the amounts that are on the larger side, so I can have extra stuffing to eat the next day. Set aside a good sized bowl to mix your stuffing, and add to it:

1/2 an onion, sauteed slowly till it's sweet and golden brown
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa, rice or couscous
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked lentils or chic peas
1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds or pine nuts
1/4 to 1/3 cup bread crumbs - Panko works especially well
1/4 to 1/3 cup grated parmesan

And then, here is where you get to be creative, by adding any of the items below, or any combination of them:

1 bunch chard, cut into small ribbons, and quickly sauteed with a little olive oil and minced garlic
1 cup or so of sliced shitake mushrooms, sauteed or pan roasted in a little butter
1 cup or so of sweet corn or peas
1/2 cup currants or dried cranberries
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
Or, maybe you have your own ideas about what to add!

Mix the stuffing well, season it with salt and pepper, and here, you can also be creative with your seasonings. I added a couple dashes of tamari, and, believe it or not, a couple dashes of fish sauce, which added a little depth and most certainly did not lend any sort of fishy flavor, for the record! But you could also add fresh herbs or dried herbs, and/or a little stock or broth. You don't want the mixture to be too moist, but you do want it to be moist enough to hold together somewhat.

Now, it's time to stuff the squash. Take it out of the oven after 30-45 minutes of roasting have passed. Turn it over and spoon the stuffing into the squash. Hopefully you'll have extra stuffing which you can spread into the rest of the pan outside the squash. Drizzle everything lightly with olive oil, add another light sprinkling of bread crumbs and parmesan, and bake for about another 30 minutes or so, until the stuffing becomes nicely golden brown and the squash is meltingly soft.

And now, it's time to eat! And in case you didn't know, you can eat the skin and all, as long as it's well cooked. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vote for Garlic!

Friends, Family, Countrymen...

You may not know it, but there's another very important election taking place in the near future.  This one involves something we can all get behind:   garlic!!!

See, I heard about this contest where a local PBS station was soliciting folks to send in their garlic recipes, and so I did, and I was one of a group of people they chose.  I and the others got to make and post a video of ourselves preparing our recipe, and you, the viewers, get to vote on which ones you like the best.  The winner(s) will be invited into the station to prepare their recipe live on the air.

Truth be told, I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but I had a lot of fun and learned quite a bit in the process!  In fact, the biggest thing I learned just might be that I like writing about food more than standing in front of a camera trying to teach it, but c'est la vie!  So really, I'm only asking for your vote if you feel my video is the best, and the jury's still out on that...probably if I'd had a few more glasses of wine, I would've been MUCH livelier, but I didn't want to cut off any fingers, so I just did the best I could, and let's just say I'm no Rachel Ray.

Anyway, with that lovely disclaimer, I'm asking you now, with all your infinite spare time, to sit back, grab a glass (or a bottle) of wine, and watch some videos that will no doubt make you crave garlic.  And then, vote if you feel inspired.  I'm told the voting begins on Nov. 1st.

Click on this link to watch the videos. You'll need to scroll down a bit to see mine. Look for Val's Kitchen Cooking Show: Chipotle Roasted Garlic Hummus. I'm told the voting begins November 1st, so stay tuned for updates!

I wish I had more to report, but I've been insanely busy and not all that creative in the kitchen this month - but I'm looking forward to some much needed down time in November and December, and expect to spend a lot of that time cooking and baking up a storm, so I'll keep you posted!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Squash Season is Here...

... and I sure am happy about that.  There's been quite a nip in the air over the last couple of days, and I've been keeping the  house warm by cooking up a storm.  I haven't been posting much because almost all the recipes I've made lately have been straight-up out of cookbooks w/ no adaptation whatsoever, but recently I did fool around with a recipe from the Moosewood Low-fat Favorites, and the results were splendid.

This recipe for a Basque White Bean and Squash Soup was pretty tasty on its own, but both the sweetheart and I found the texture a bit off. Now mind you, neither one of us has anything against cubes of butternut squash, but we both found the soup a little lacking.  It felt more like a thin soup with chunks of squash, rather than the hearty stew that we wanted it to be on a crisp fall evening.  So, at the suggestion of my culinary advisor and partner in crime, after we'd eaten the soup as it was, I fished out almost all of the squash, plus a little broth and a little of the other vegetables, and pureed it until it was smooth as silk.   Then I added it back into the soup pot, and I swear it was 100% better!  NOW, it was stew!  Fortunately there was more than enough for both of us to enjoy for several meals, and today seems to be just as chilly as yesterday, so I know what I'll be having for lunch...

Basque White Bean and Squash Stew - adapted from Moosewood Low-fat Favorites

2 T. olive oil
2 cups diced onions
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground fennel
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 stalks celery, with leaves, sliced
1 cup green cabbage, sliced thin
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
5 cups vegetable stock
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
A pinch or two of saffron
A generous teaspoon or two of Better Than Bouillon stock (optional)

Sautee the onions and garlic in the oil until golden brown, and then stir in the fennel and thyme, followed by the cabbage and celery.  Cook over medium-low heat, covered, for about 5-7 minutes, then add the peppers, squash and stock.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about another 10-15 minutes, or until the squash is tender.  Now add the beans, crumble the saffron into the pot, and season generously with salt and pepper.  When I made this, I found that the stock was a little thin tasting even once seasoned with salt and pepper, so I added a plop of the Better Than Bouillon Lobster stock base that I happened to have in the fridge.  It didn't so much lend a fishy flavor as it did a subtle, savory depth. 

At this point, you can do one of three things:

Eat the soup just as is...


Scoop out all the squash plus some of the broth and veggies, and puree it in your blender and add it back into the pan...


Grab your trusty immersion blender, and blend some of the stew right there in the pot.

Top your stew a little crushed red pepper, and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Chocolate to End all Chocolates

My, where does the time go? It feels like I just blinked, and suddenly it was ten days later.

And also, I blinked, and suddenly, I was a chocoholic. I didn't used to be, but that was before I tried Colombian Single Origin Dark Chocolate from Chocolate Santander. I think I can safely say that now I'm ruined as far as the other chocolates are concerned. A friend from work happens to be fairly addicted to this chocolate, and was kind enough to share a bar with me. And then it was all over. I suggest you get your own bar and taste the glory yourself, or buy some for that special chocolate-addict in your life.

Mind you though, I'm talkin' dark chocolate here - my personal fave is the Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao with Cacao Nibs. I could try to wax poetic but I'll leave it at this: this stuff slays me!

In other news, I did it! I finished my very first cooking show episode (a BIG thanks to my friends Steve & Patsy for lending me their camera!)! And oh, how perfect it is not! But it feels really good to have completed it, for better or for worse. I learned an awful lot in the process, and I can't wait to do it again. And soon you'll be able to view it. And maybe even vote on it, if you feel so inspired. Or, just watch it and laugh at me. Whatever moves you.

Soon I'm headed for a mini-visit with my family in AZ, and with any luck, I'll have some good eating to report back about next week.

'Til then, cheers!