Archive for January, 2013

Stuffed Acorn Squash, Inspired by the Mediterranean

Last year, when I was on a trip in Dallas, I tried stuffed acorn squash for the first time in my life.  Was I wowed!  To be honest, I had never even enjoyed the sweet taste or mushy texture of squash, and could not imagine it in a savory dish.  Yet something about that couscous-stuffed squash with goat cheese called me.  After dreaming about that delicious dish for almost a year, I decided to adapt this recipe for stuffed acorn squash in order to carry out my new-found squash-loving fantasy.

In this recipe, there is a perfect combination of salty, savory, sweet, and tart ingredients that make this main dish shine.  In addition, the slightly dry and crunchy textures of the rice mixture and the smooth squash mingle miraculously to produce what I can only call a party of flavors and textures in my mouth.  Enjoy!

Mediterranean-Inspired Stuffed Acorn Squash

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Ingredients:

  • 2 large acorn squash, cut into halves with seeds removed
  • 2 Italian sausages (remove casings)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup cremini mushrooms, diced
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 2 tablespoons dill, chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries
  • 1 oz. romano cheese, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Directions:

  1. Saute the sausages until golden brown, breaking apart with a spatula so the meat is broken into small pieces.  Remove from pan, strain drippings, and wipe pan clean.
  2. Saute the onion until soft.  Add the celery and saute for 3 minutes.  Add mushrooms and saute for 2 minutes, until soft.  Add scallions and garlic and saute for one minute.
  3. Add the brown rice, dill, cranberries, Romano cheese, salt, and pepper, and return the meat to the pan.  Mix until incorporated and remove from heat.
  4. Set the oven to broil.  Place acorn squash halves in the microwave and microwave on high for 6-7 minutes, until squash is tender (ready to eat) when pierced with a fork.
  5. Fill squash halves with the rice and sausage mixture.  Sprinkle feta cheese on top.  Broil for about 4 minutes with squash 6-8 inches away from the heat source, or until feta begins to turn slightly golden and melt.
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Spinach-Pineapple Juice With Cilantro

As a 6-year-old, I used to think that eating spinach would magically give me Popeye’s superhuman strength.  I disliked the taste of spinach, but remember loading up one evening for dinner knowing that later my athletic friend and I would race each other.

Unfortunately, the spinach did not turn me into a Popeye-style racing machine.  Nevertheless, according to Livestrong.com, it’s a nutritious food, containing plenty of calcium (for bones), beta-carotene and vitamin A (for healthy skin, eyes, and immune system), lutein (to prevent muscular degeneration), and folate (to prevent birth defects).  It also helps prevent cancer, making it a winner nutrition-wise.  Baby spinach, which I use in my juices, has the same benefits of other spinach varieties.

While the idea of “spinach juice” does not appeal to me even as an adult, blending it with sweet fruit is a whole new take on the concept.  And adding some herbs gives the combination a je ne sais quoi – sophistication, perhaps?  Below is my favorite recipe, which uses only three ingredients.

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Spinach-Pineapple Juice with Cilantro

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups firmly packed baby spinach
  • 2 cups cubed pineapple (about 1/2 medium pineapple)
  • 4 sprigs cilantro

Directions:

Combine ingredients in juicer according to juicer directions.  Best served chilled!

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Beet-Carrot-Fruit Juice With a Zing!

Juicing has been on my radar since the documentary “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” came out.  Since I had only tried V8 canned tomato juice, which I had to drink holding my nose closed, I was not too thrilled initially.  However, after hearing the positive news around juicing and finding a great deal on a multi-functioning juicer, I couldn’t say no.  Once I got the juicer and learned how easy it was, things took off from there!

I know eating fruits and veggies is good for me, but I have been wary of the too-good-to-be-true health claims of people who really push juicing.  So I decided to look into it.  According to sources such as WebMD, juicing is beneficial in the sense that it’s an easier way to consume more servings of fruits and veggies, and thus get more nutrients from these sources.  However, the downside is that the fiber gets removed in the juicing process.  The WebMD article mentions an individual who uses the pulp (a.k.a., the fiber) left over after juicing to make muffins or stock.  I always feel wasteful discarding that, so that is something I will look into.

In addition, there have not been any scientifically proven “cleansing” benefits of juicing because our liver and kidneys already already take care of removing toxins.  Nevertheless, an internet search will yield lots of results of individuals claiming that once they began juicing, their skin was glowing, they were told they looked younger, and health problems went away.  I personally wonder if this is due to juicing, or because juicing resulted in a change to a healthier diet.

That said, I enjoy juicing and will continue to juice because it helps me include a larger variety of veggies (and nutrients) in my diet.  I am happy to say that I have experimented and found several veggie-and-fruit juice combinations I really enjoy.  For the juice to taste good, it’s important to include some sweet vegetables, some fruit and something that will add “zing” to the juice (like citrus or ginger).  Here is one combination I continually turn to, with two variations:

Beet-Carrot-Fruit Juice With Lemon

Beet-Carrot-Fruit Juice With Lemon

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium beets (including beet greens, if possible)
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 apple (Granny Smith works best)
  • 1/2 red grapefruit
  • 1 key lime and/or 1-inch piece of fresh ginger-root (this adds the zing to the juice!)

Directions:

  1. Clean and cut all vegetables to the size required by your juicer.
  2. Follow juicer instructions to get the juice.

Yield: 2 cups

Nutrition Information: 224 calories total (according to the Self Nutrition Data calculator)

So I know that the research doesn’t prove any additional health claims to juicing – besides getting the nutrients – but I feel energized and healthy after drinking a tall glass of these nutrients!  Even if it’s the placebo effect, it can’t hurt.  I will continue drinking to my health!

Spicy Collard Chips with Lemon-Thyme

It’s Thursday.  My fridge is still overflowing with veggies from my intense farmer’s market and CSA shopping on Saturday, and I know that the countdown toward their demise has begun.  Knowing that I live with someone who will do anything possible to avoid consuming veggies of his own initiative, I knew I had to get creative.  So what’s a girl to do?  Inspired by overpriced kale chips I saw at Sprouts, I knew I had to convert a veggie into something called a chip!

I decided to work with some leafy greens – collard greens.  I looked at some recipes for collard greens online, and was inspired by this recipe for lemon-thyme collard greens to make my collard green chips.

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Spicy Collard Green Chips with Lemon-Thyme

Spicy Lemon-Thyme Collard Green Chips

Ingredients:

  • 10 leaves collard greens, stems removed and torn into 3-inch chunks
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small pinch red pepper flakes
  • 4 sprigs thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice (I used key limes)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.) Separate the collard green leaves from the stems by holding the leaf in your left hand and tearing down along the stem with the right.  Tear the leaves into three-inch chunks.

3.) In a bowl, combine the leaves with the remaining ingredients and mix.

4.) Spread the leaves out in a single layer on two baking sheets lined with aluminum foil.

5.) Bake for about 7 minutes, or until crispy on the top.  Remove from the oven, flip over, and bake fora bout 5 minutes on the other side.

6.) Chips are ready when they are crispy.  If a few are still limp/soggy, remove the crispy ones to a bowl and return the limp ones to the oven for a few more minutes.

In my opinion, they are deliciously crunchy, spicy, and aromatic.  But the real test is: What will a potato-chip loving, meat-is-king husband say?

He tried them.  His verdict: “Mmmm… you could sell these.”

Who knew?  Chips – a whole new way to enjoy your veggies!

Broccoli Soup – Creamy and Healthy!

I love it when I stock up on more farmer’s market veggies than I can eat because it forces me to try new things with food.  And I know I’ll be getting more than my daily five servings of veggies this week!

Today I got home early after working a half-day and decided to try out a broccoli soup.  The results were pretty healthy and delicious, though I added in some less healthy ingredients to up the yum factor 🙂  Another perk was that I got to inaugurate my new Ninja blender.  I have struggled with an awful blender, in which I had to manually stir the ingredients and which would have taken a lifetime to blend this soup.  With my new Ninja blender, I pushed the blending button three times and was done!

 

Broccoli Soup with sour cream and sauteed bacon bits.

Broccoli Soup with sour cream and sauteed bacon bits.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 gloves garlic
  • 1.5 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 large head broccoli, chopped (I included a large portion of the stem, not just the florets)
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 freshly shredded cheese (I like one with a strong flavor and used Romano, which I had on hand)
  • extra cheese, sour cream and freshly sauteed bacon bits, optional

Directions:

1.) Heat the oil in a skillet.  Add the onion, celery, and carrot, and saute until tender, about 4-5 minutes.

2.) Add the bay leaf, garlic, and thyme, and saute for 30 seconds.

3.) Add the broccoli and chicken broth.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until the broccoli is soft.

4.) Stir in the cheese, and season with salt and pepper.

5.) Transfer the mixture to a blender.  Blend until all ingredients are blended.

Serve with extra cheese, sour cream, and bacon bits.  Dee-licious!

Ramekin-Broil Eggs – A New Breakfast Staple

Today, I decided to get creative with breakfast – after all, I have relied on the same 3 breakfast choices (cereal, omelets, or pancakes) for the past 10 years of my life, and it is time for a change.  Yesterday, I had come across four ramekins that I purchased about 3 years ago, and have not used once.  So it was only natural to break those out and see what I could come up with using them!  Here is the result:

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Eggs broiled in ramekins with bacon, spinach,tomato, and cheese.

I set my oven to broil, then placed a strip of bacon across each ramekin, draping it at the sides.  Next, I layered baby spinach and chopped tomatoes, making a little “nest” (indentation) in the middle for the egg to land into (otherwise, it will splay off to the one side of the ramekin and not look nearly as pretty).  Lastly, I cracked the egg into the center and topped it with salt, pepper, and freshly grated cheese.  

I broiled this concoction for about 10 minutes, until the whites were set and the yolk was still a little runny.  Before eating, I topped it with some freshly chopped herbs and hot sauce.  Simple and delicious!