Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rummaging for Recipes

We took a drive up to Maine on Saturday for a change of scenery.  Snacks were packed, windows rolled down, with a quiet Yager snoozing in the backseat.  I needed to breathe in some fresh ocean air.  We walked along the rocky beach at high tide before deciding on lunch at my favorite diner.  I happily devoured breakfast for lunch; two poached eggs sitting on top of a bed of spinach with a side of home fries.  It was a good day.  We popped into a few antique stores along old route one and lost track of time, wandering among the aisles and rummaging through stacks of books.  I'm no stranger to this activity.  

As a kid I went to more yard sales and antique stores than any child should have to endure.  My mother and grandmother were forever on the lookout for Depression glass, the translucent pieces bought inexpensively during the Great Depression.  We were searching for that one particular piece they needed to complete a set; a pale pink opaque cake plate perhaps, or a green bowl with scalloped edges.  I can picture my grandmother's present collection in the tall hutch in her dining room.  It's grouped together like a museum exhibit; pinks, yellows, and greens, sitting underneath the lights.  I can't remember a time it was ever used.  Much of what she has is from her own mothers' collection.  It's one of her most prized possessions.  More than just aesthetic glasses and bowls, her collection represents something deeper; the ability to overcome, prevail, and to recover. 

I'm always fascinated each time I step foot into an antique shop.  I equate it to being transported to a scene in an old black and white movie.  I find the clothing and hats irresistible, wondering what it was like when people got dressed, really dressed, before stepping outside.  I love the collections of jars, bottles, milk jugs, and vintage spice tins.  I love to see how products were marketed, taking in their colorful worn labels and 'modern' promises.  It's no surprise that I'm drawn to cookbooks, collections sitting in a cloud of dust.  Some of the cookbooks I found dated back as early as the 40's and 50's.  I especially love the ones that combine cooking, cleaning, and housewifery.  Housewifery.  Imagine that.  I decided on Marye Dahnke's Salad Book from 1954, which cost me a whopping $1.65.  Considering it went for 35 cents at the time of it's publication, it's not such a bad markup.  

I told my husband I was planning on choosing a recipe from this book to make for the blog, a fun throwback of sorts.  I began reading it as we drove back home.  It's absolutely hysterical.  Not only could I not find a single salad recipe that didn't involve flavored gelatin or mayonnaise, the combinations are enough to make your stomach turn.  Each recipe was more gruesome than the next.  It made for an entertaining ride home.  Allow me to give you a little taste.  There's the 'Hostess Salad,' a lemon gelatin mold, complete with hard-boiled eggs, stuffed olives, and mayonnaise.  Tempting, I know.  For the more health conscious, there's the 'Slenderella Salad Dressing," made with Worcestershire sauce and corn syrup.  Last but not least, the 'Cinnamon Apple Salad,' which requires melting down cinnamon candies with sugar before adding cream cheese and apples.  However, all is not lost.  There are step-by-step illustrations for making tomato flowers and tomato roses.  This might come in handy some day.  So, sorry Marye, I'm sure you were a lovely woman, but I won't be making one of your distinctive and delicious salads.  I understand you had more than thirty years of experience as a home economist, but I don't do gelatin.  I think you'll be happy I passed.

I did however, call my grandmother; first to ask her if she consumed copious amounts of gelatin molds and secondly, to give her a good laugh.  While she does remember lots of gelatin showing up at parties and get togethers, she also remembers dishes made from scratch; pie crusts, crumbles, and casseroles.  There were no pre-made packages and she was lucky enough to buy the few ingredients she needed for a recipe, most of which she clipped from the Boston Sunday Globe and Ladies Home Journal.  In those days, you got a recipe from a friend, a neighbor, or from the spiral bound cookbook the church put out.  Times were tough and families were looking for ways to stretch their money and their meals.  Yes, gelatin was used, and canned fruit was a treat, but people made do with what they had.  We spoke about her Depression glass collection, her mother having received the pieces in her cereal boxes and for purchasing a ten-cent ticket at the local cinema.  She talked about her favorite piece, her mother's amber pitcher with a bright blue handle.  Mostly, we reminisced, and for that I was grateful.  We laughed about the flop of a salad book, and she promised to dig out some old recipes for me; gelatin-free.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Harvest Salad

It's 6 am as I write this.  Thanksgiving morning.  It will be the first time my husband and I are hosting.  My mother and I have done more cooking over the past few days than I ever thought possible, and we've honestly enjoyed every minute of it. We shopped for special ingredients, laughed at a few cooking mishaps, and could barely contain our excitement following this creation.  I wish I could tell you I took photographs of all the dishes we'll be including on our menu, but it down poured all day yesterday, and the truth is, I'm just not that savvy.  I am however, including this picture of my table all set, just as dawn starts to break.  I'm sitting here with my cup of tea, writing in this quiet moment, proudly admiring the hard work I've put in.  I have a huge pot of butternut squash soup resting in my crock-pot.  My fancy stemware that never sees the light of day is sitting on the dining room table, and I've somehow managed to fill two refrigerators full of food.  Our entire menu is organic, a feat that makes me almost as proud as my contribution to this.  Many of the vegetables I'll be serving, including turnips and parsnips, are from local farms in Massachusetts.  What could be better than sharing good food with the people you love?  And for all of you, I'm sharing a recipe today I've aptly named 'harvest salad.'

It's become a favorite of mine.  I took a chance at combining some odd pairings from what I had in my fridge and pantry one afternoon last week.  As it turned out, my kitchen was bursting with some pretty interesting fall flavors: leftover butternut squash, kale, dried cranberries, pistachios, feta, and diced red onions.  This salad is a beauty to take in and tastes as appealing as it looks.  Part of its charm, aside from its vibrant color palette, is the sweet and salty duo; sweet butternut squash and cranberries contrast beautifully with salty bites of feta and pistachios.  When I create salad recipes, I always think about color appeal and variety of textures.  This harvest salad meets both criteria.  The base of it is a grain mix I recently came across that included a combination of red and gold quinoa, wild and brown rice, and amaranth.  I would imagine you could use any grain you like, although I seem to be partial to quinoa these days.  It comes together with a simple olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing.  

I should warn you, this salad takes a little of love.  And by a little of love, I mean a little time.  Mostly I mean a few pans.  Maybe after all the dishes Thanksgiving will entail, it will seem like a breeze.  You could always cook your grain ahead of time to save yourself an extra step.  I've even made it with leftover brown rice from the night before.  This is the type of thing I like to make on a Sunday and eat for lunch all week long.  Because this salad is served cold, it packs and transports well.  Its very satisfying.  Show yourself a little love and make it sometime after you've recovered from the holiday.  Or, make it to help fuel your Black Friday shopping.  I'll be in the former category.  I still haven't gotten over the year my brother dragged me out of bed at 3 am.  We arrived in our pajamas to buy a TV that was already gone before we stepped in the store.  Happy Thanksgiving my dear readers.

~Harvest Salad Recipe~

3 cups cooked harvest grain blend, quinoa, or grain of choice
2 cups roasted butternut squash
5-6 large kale stalks, stems removed, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup roasted pistachios
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable stock
2 tbsp finely diced red onion
3 tsp extra virgin olive oil (for roasting)

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp red wine vinegar
sea salt and pepper to taste

After cooking grains, place in a large bowl to cool.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut butternut squash into 3/4"-1" cubes, yielding 2 cups.  Drizzle with a tsp of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast for about 30 minutes.  Remove pistachios from shells.  Drizzle with a tsp of olive oil and roast at the same temperature for about 8 minutes.  Once they are cool enough to handle, give them a good chop.  In a large saute pan, add the final tsp of olive oil and garlic over medium heat.  Cook for about a minute or two, until the garlic becomes fragrant.  Add your chopped kale and let it wilt down for a few seconds.  Pour the vegetable stock into the pan, and let the kale continue to cook until all the liquid is absorbed.  Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing: olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Once everything has cooled, you can move forward.  To the large bowl of the grains, add kale, pistachios, dried cranberries, and feta cheese.  Pour the dressing over the salad and toss.  Add in the butternut squash last, carefully folding.  Alternatively, you can place the butternut squash on top of the salad.  It's a safer bet.  Serve at room temperature or cold.  Serves 4-6.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Savory Mushroom Bread Pudding Smothered with Portobello Gravy

If you love mushrooms, you will love this recipe.  I promised a more uplifting holiday post after my Halloween rant, and here it is.  I'm smiling as I write this, see?  You'll have to take my word for it.  Perhaps my festive photos below will persuade you of my current Thanksgiving-is-upon-us elation.  This year, I wanted to create something a little out of the ordinary that could double as a main dish for any vegetarians in the crowd, but also function as a side dish for the whole gang.  It could even, dare I say, take the place of stuffing, but I'll leave that up to you.  If an image of revolting family members armed with utensils comes to mind, you might want to make this in addition to your traditional stuffing.  Heck, you could even just call it stuffing, because this new stuffing will be the stuffing everyone wants seconds of.

Bread puddings don't have to be sweet.  They can be savory too.  Remember the blueberry buttermilk bread pudding I made over the summer?  I took a little inspiration from that post and tweaked it with some holiday flavors.  For me, that involves beefy mushrooms, garlic, onions, and thyme.  As soon as these hit the pan and start working together, I'm immediately transported to Thanksgiving bliss.  This savory version is made much the same way as a dessert style bread pudding, but without the soaking time typically involved.  I got my hands on a loaf of day-old rosemary olive oil bread.  If you can find something in that ballpark with herbs or garlic, that should work out just fine, as would a loaf of sourdough or multigrain.  I layered the mushroom mixture over the bread pudding and sprinkled Gruyere down as the final top layer.  A tip on the Gruyere: don't get distracted and start grating up the bright blue 'Switzerland' rind.  This may or may not have happened to me.  

The bread pudding bakes up to a custardy, springy texture, perfect for smothering on gravy.  Portobello's are earthy, flavorful, and work wonders in vegetarian gravy.  Don't be put off by the lumpier texture.  I think it contrasts well with the pudding.  If however, a smoother gravy is more your thing, you might want to forgo this version.  Gravy is personal.  No hard feelings.  However, in using the portobello's, I've managed a lighter version, but still plenty flavorful, with just a smidgen of butter.  There's no rue involved and much of the flavor comes together with vegetable stock and cooked onions.  Cooking the onions longer than you might suspect makes all the difference in this gravy.  You have my word.  This dish, by no means elegant, is indeed decadent and comforting.  It will be making an appearance on my Thanksgiving table this year, most likely sitting next to our traditional stuffing.  I don't want any uprisings either.  Go ahead.  Stuff yourself with stuffing and savory bread pudding.  Transport yourself to Thanksgiving bliss.

~Savory Mushroom Bread Pudding Recipe~

1 lb crusty bread, cubed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
12 oz container button mushrooms, sliced
1 large Portobello, cut into cubes
4 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
3 cups whole milk
4 eggs
1/4 tsp sea salt
few grinds of pepper
2 cups grated gruyere cheese
butter for greasing pan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a 13 x 9 pan with butter.  In a large sauté pan, add onions, mushrooms, and thyme to extra virgin olive oil.  Cook down for about five minutes over medium heat.  Remove and set aside.   Place cubed bread in a large bowl.  In an additional large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper.  Pour this mixture over your bowl of cubed bread, using your hands to submerge the pieces.  Pour the bread and egg mixture into your greased pan, again using your fingers to press the bread into the wet mixture.  Top your bread pudding with the mushrooms and onions and sprinkle with Gruyere cheese.  Place aluminum foil over the pan.  I also inserted a toothpick into the center to prevent the cheese from sticking to the inside of the foil.  Bake for 30 minutes covered.  Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Serve with portobello gravy if you're feeling ambitious.  The bread pudding is great on it's own too.  Serves 8.   

~Portobello Gravy Recipe~
1 large onion, diced
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 Portobello mushrooms, chopped
3 cups vegetable stock
2 tsp tamari
sea salt and pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan, add onions to olive oil and butter over medium heat.  Cook the onions for 10-12 minutes until they start to caramelize.  Add 1 cup of vegetable stock, releasing and scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan.  Add the portobello's and cook for about 5 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed.  Remove from heat.  In a blender, blend the mushroom mixture with remaining 2 cups of vegetable stock.  Return gravy to your pan.  Add tamari and sea salt and pepper.  Check your seasonings.  At this point, you can also play around with the consistency of your gravy, adding additional vegetable stock if you choose.  Serve over bread pudding.  Makes 3 cups.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hot Apple Cider and Bittersweet Vines

Earlier sunsets aside, November is shaping up to be pretty spectacular in my opinion.  We are in the midst of some unseasonably warm weather, and after October's snowstorm, I'm embracing it with open arms.  I've been spending much of my time outdoors; lazy walks with my dog, hikes through the woods, and a visit to a nearby farm.  Some of these excursions have been taking place in the city I grew up in, which lucky for me is just a short drive down the road.  There's a bike path there that stretches a few miles across neighboring towns.  It was my destination of choice one morning last week when temperatures started climbing.  We passed rows and rows of trees with yellow leaves, laden with brown splotches, barely hanging on.  Many leaves were making their spiral decent through the sunshine.  This one tree in particular caught my eye.

While it's hard to compete with the autumn foliage, there's another contender that stole my heart that morning.  Bittersweet vines.  The trail was sprinkled with them; their vines twisting and climbing upwards, reaching for sunlight, wrapped around fences and fallen limbs.  It's a show few other plants can rival this time of year.  The yellow skins of the berries burst open, exposing a hidden deep orange-red gem.  Never without her gardening clippers for occasions such as this, my mother, who joined me on my walk, collected the delicate vines.  By the end of the walk, we had a beautiful bunch of draping bittersweet vines I plan to hang on my front door.  What could be better than immersing yourself in nature and bringing a little piece of it back home?  I often do the same with seashells at the beach in the summer.

My autumn delight continued with a visit to Brooksby Farm, the place where I bought our very first Christmas tree a few years back.  I spent the afternoon walking the grounds and photographing farm animals basking in the sun.  If you've never seen a pair of pigs ankle deep in mud, feasting on butternut squash, it's safe to say it will warm your heart a little.  Although the weather might be unseasonably warm, it didn't stop us from getting our hot apple cider fix in the farm store, which just so happens to turn out the best apple cider donuts.  Hands down.  It's safe to say I am deeply embracing the autumn season and it's mild weather.  Either that, or I'm on the brinks of an apple cider donut coma, which I'll gladly blame on the hypnotizing deep fried cinnamon smell.  Inspired by my bittersweet vines and trip to the farm, I decided to turn out my own hot apple cider later that day.  

My mother used to make something similar to this recipe when we were growing up.  I can't recall it's exact ingredients, but this is my take on it.  It's spiked with cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange and lemon slices.  She'd keep a pot of this on the stove around the holidays and serve it to anyone who stopped by; family, friends, neighbors.  It was always served in Irish coffee mugs and garnished with cinnamon sticks.  I've done the same.  If you're hosting Thanksgiving this year, why not welcome guests into your home with a warm mug of this?  And lucky for you, it also doubles as instant kitchen fragrance.  I made another quick batch of these to go along with my cup that afternoon, something else I can't seem to get enough of at the moment.  Get a pot of this going and embrace the season before it comes to a bittersweet close.

~Hot Apple Cider Recipe~

1/2 gallon apple cider
3 orange slices
4 lemon slices
2 cinnamon sticks, plus additional for garnishing
3 cloves 
pinch of nutmeg

Pour apple cider into a large saucepan.  Push cloves into the center of each orange slice.  Add into the pan, along with lemon slices, cinnamon sticks, and nutmeg.  Bring the cider up to medium heat, but do not let it boil.  It will take about 5-6 minutes to get it going.  Reduce heat and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes.  You can also leave the cider on low until you are ready to serve.  Discard the fruit slices.  Ladle into mugs and serve with a cinnamon stick and garnish with extra orange or lemon slices.  Serves 8.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Spinach Tortellini Soup in Lemon Broth

I've yet to mention my job in a previous post, but there's a connection as to why I refer to it today.  Usually work and this blog don't collide, but here we are.  While I'd certainly like nothing more than to delve into free writing and cook food all day long (maybe someday!), I do in fact have a day job working with children.  As anyone who works with children knows, it's pretty impossible to keep yourself germ-free in a world where sleeves are used as tissues.  It's enough to make me want to (lovingly) hose them all down with disinfectant, although I'm pretty sure there are laws against that.  There are many other unsightly details I'll spare you from since this is a food blog after all, and I don't want to ruin your appetite for what I'm about to share.  It came to being last week following a lingering cough I couldn't shake.  I listened to my body, which declared it wanted the following: a thick lemony soup with tortellini and spinach.  

I envisioned it following the succession of a coughing fit on a rainy afternoon.  Since I wasn't feeling myself, I wanted a big pot of comfort I could pull off quickly and easily with serious payoff.  This one delivers.  I got my veggies, garlic, and thyme sautéing in a little oil, added in some great quality stock for slow cooked flavor, and plopped in the tortellini.  That's the beauty of a good stock.  It gives off that aura that you've been cooking all day without breaking a sweat.  From there, I temper the eggs to thicken the soup, a trick I learned while in Greece.  It changes the texture to a creamier and thicker base that elevates this soup a notch in my opinion.  Every spoonful ends with a fresh zesty lemon finish.  Since going vegetarian, I've declared it my new chicken noodle soup.  Comforting, nourishing, and just what my body ordered...along with an oversized down comforter, copious amounts of herbal tea, and TV reruns from the couch.  

~Spinach Tortellini Soup in Lemon Broth Recipe~

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
8 cups vegetable stock
9 oz. fresh good quality tortellini
6 cups fresh baby spinach
2 eggs
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, add olive oil and adjust the temperature to a medium-high heat.  Add in onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and thyme.  Cook down for about five minutes.  Add in vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil.  Add in fresh tortellini and cook for about two minutes, until they float to the top.  Remove from heat. 

Next, you'll want to temper the eggs.  Tempering is the process of blending ingredients of different temperatures.  We're going to do this with the hot broth and eggs.  Using a ladle, remove a scoop of the broth from the pot and place it in a small bowl.  Let the temperature of the broth come down a little.  In another small bowl, juice your lemon and add in the two eggs, whisking together.  Check the temperature of your reserved broth.  If it's too hot, you will scramble your eggs.  When it's come down to a warm temperature, add in the lemon and eggs, whisking continuously to combine. 

Once the broth, lemon and eggs are incorporated, add into the pot of soup.  You'll see it transform into a thick and cloudy broth.  Stir continuously to incorporate it together.  Add in the spinach, allowing it to barely wilt down.  Check your seasonings and add sea salt and pepper to your liking.  Serves 6.

Update: my cough is finally gone and so is the soup.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Stalking Brussels Sprouts

Stalking: pursue or approach stealthily.  If I told you this was my approach in the grocery store, would you be surprised?  While I always go to the store with a list, I do admit to the occasional stalking session.  It's not my fault entirely, because I feel as though I get seduced.  It usually occurs in the produce department, where displays of luscious fruit and deep dark greens draw me in, twist my arm, and hop into my basket.  This also occurs in the chocolate aisle, but we'll save that for another day.  (That aisle involves less stalking, more casualties).  I understand there's a method at work, the placement of sale items greeting me as I walk in the door, the little necessities conveniently placed within arms reach while I wait in the checkout line.  I'm sure there's some supermarket psychology game plan I fall victim to each and every time.  I show more restraint in the clothing department, but when it comes to food, I'm an easy target.   Today was the day of the Brussels sprouts.  I came across this giant stalk, stealthily moving towards it like a predator, and just shy of pouncing on it, whisked it away and lost my list.

Brussels sprouts are delicious and I'm going to prove it to you.  Don't forget about the glorious cruciferous varieties this fall, especially while they are in season.  A powerful anti-cancer super food, Brussels sprouts look like mini cabbages of sorts and taste similar too.  Maybe you've been ignoring them, or maybe you haven't been preparing them in a way that suits your taste buds.  Roasting Brussels sprouts in olive oil and balsamic vinegar gives them a deep and dark crusty exterior.  Crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, this is a no fail way to work Brussels sprouts into your oven and onto your table.  Give them a chance.  Before you reach for that same vegetable that's on your own shopping list, be adventurous.  Let the produce lure you in, start stalking, and let go of the list.  I rarely stick to my own shopping list, (hence the giant Brussels sprout stalk), and often discover something new in the process.  The more variety the better.  True with vegetables, and also true in life.     

~Roasted Brussels Sprouts Recipe~

1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
a few pinches of sea salt and grinds of pepper 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Pull the Brussels sprouts away from the stalk, also removing any visible yellow outer leafs.  You'll want to cut the tough end off the Brussels sprouts before cutting them in half, lengthwise.  In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and pepper.  Add the Brussels sprouts to bowl, using your hands or a large spoon to coat and combine.  Spread the Brussels sprouts onto a single layer on a sheet pan.  You can also add an additional sprinkle of sea salt at this point.  Roast for 45 minutes until the Brussels sprouts are caramelized.

Guess who else likes to stalk the stalk...?  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Homemade Almond Milk

I can't imagine many people getting as excited as I did when I made homemade almond milk for the first time, but something tells me Sarah Britton of My New Roots would understand.  Her blog has quickly become a new favorite of mine.  Maybe you are already familiar with her.  A wealth of knowledge on the health front, she delivers amazing recipes and eye opening nutrition facts, all with a sense of humor and beautiful photography.  A holistic nutritionist and vegetarian chef living in Denmark, Sarah touches on everything from probiotics to homemade cleaning products.  When I saw her post for making homemade nut milk, I just had to give it a try.  She even created a catchy video that breaks down the surprisingly easy process.  Be sure to take a look.  If the thought of making a homemade nut milk seems time consuming and daunting, not so.  It is so, so simple.  Seriously.

I chose to highlight almond milk, since I reach for it as a healthier alternative to dairy quite often these days.  I've also made cashew milk, which is delicious served warm with a little cinnamon and nutmeg.  I think many people are looking for dairy alternatives lately for one reason or another.  I myself was never one to drink dairy milk as a kid, and happily moved onto other substitutions, including almond milk once I found it in stores.  However, I was always a little squeamish about the preservatives on the ingredient list.  Little did I know, I could make almond milk at home with just two ingredients, cheesecloth, and a blender.  I have in fact become so captivated with this process that I purchased the nut bag pictured here for all my future milk making endeavors.  If you are going to make nut milk on a regular basis, it might be worth purchasing one, especially since it's reusable and sturdy.  

I chose the unsweetened route, but you could certainly sweeten it with maple syrup, honey, agave, or vanilla extract.  It's great on it's own, ice cold and refreshing from the fridge.  It has a wonderful nutty quality (stating the obvious here), goes down smooth, and has just the right amount of creaminess for my liking.  It can also be substituted for milk in all your cooking and baking recipes.  Now go ahead and try a glass while you peruse Sarah's blog.  Neither will disappoint.  

~Homeamde Almond Milk Recipe~
Sarah Britton

1 cup almonds, covered with water for soaking
4 cups water

Soak a cup of almonds overnight in water in a bowl, ensuring they are covered.  Drain and rinse plump almonds in the morning.  Blend almonds with 4 cups of water in your blender on its highest speed for about 30 seconds.  Cover the top of a pitcher or container with cheesecloth.  I would use a rubber band around the mouth.  Allow the liquid to strain through the cheesecloth as the pulp separates on top.  I also used the back of a spoon to spread the pulp out along the cheesecloth and to release more liquid.  You might find you need to change the cheesecloth halfway through the process.  Just be sure to give it a real good squeeze to release all the additional liquid before changing it.  Store it in an airtight container (I use a mason jar) for 2-3 days and give it a good shake before drinking.  It naturally separates while resting.  Makes 1 quart. 

What to do with the leftover pulp? I haven't yet created a recipe for it, but in the meantime, it makes an excellent exfoliant for your skin.  No kidding.  Slather some onto your face and body, and you'll be silky smooth in no time.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Confetti Spaghetti Squash

I finally got around to organizing some photos I took over the last few weeks.  In doing so, I realized I neglected sharing a side dish I made with spaghetti squash.  Spaghetti squash qualifies as a winter squash variety, and while it's technically not winter just yet, the view outside tells me otherwise.  Just this weekend we watched icy cold rain turn to snow from our window.  Snow.  In October.  Yes, a rarity, but also a glaringly obvious reason to dig out the wool socks and sweaters we stored away.  Also ironic is the snowman with a pumpkin head that has taken form on my neighbors' lawn.  A collision of autumn and winter it seems, creating a beautiful chaos of sorts.  Although the weather forecast predicts sixty-degree temperatures later this week, I have to remind myself it is New England after all, so you can never be too sure.  Remember those hydrangea pictures I shared with you over the summer?  Here's an updated icy-cold version.  Still beautiful though, don't you think?  Like the hydrangeas, I'm doing my best to embrace the chill at the moment.

This side dish is something I made with things I had on hand.  If you haven't worked with spaghetti squash before, you are in for a treat.  It's such a nifty and fun vegetable to play around with.  The insides hold delectable sweet and crunchy strands that can be jazzed up any number of ways.  I've had it sweet with butter and brown sugar.  I've had it savory with chopped tomatoes and feta, and I've even had it spicy with crushed red pepper flakes.  A good deal of recipes call for a marinara style sauce on top, using the spaghetti squash as a stand in for pasta.  You could certainly go that route if you like, but tomato sauce seems a bit too heavy for something so delicate.  

I chose some mild ingredients that are not at all overpowering or competing.  I saute the strands with leeks, which have a more delicate and mild flavor than onions, add a helping of fresh chopped parsley, and some fresh squeezed lemon juice.  It's all very effortless, very light, and it's a cinch to throw together as a side dish.  Whenever I use leeks, I chop them into half moons and submerge them in a bowl of water.  It's by far the easiest method I've come across.  By swishing them around in a bath, you can remove any debris that gets trapped inside before straining them.  

The process of removing the strands from the squash is easy enough.  I like to start from the front to back, scraping with a fork.  Then I move along the insides, scraping towards the center.  You might be surprised at how much squash each half holds.  It reminds me of nature's own pasta of sorts, but unlike a big bowl of spaghetti, this is light and luscious, and will leave you feeling as such.  The strands get tossed into the wilted leeks, creating confetti of yellow and green ribbons.  With just a handful of ingredients, this might just be the most ridiculously easy side dish I've made.  There you have it, a simple dish, simply stated. 

~Confetti Spaghetti Squash Recipe~

1 spaghetti squash (2 1/2-3lbs), roasted with 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 leeks, cut in half lengthwise, and again into 1/2" moons
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
handful fresh parsley, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and pepper to your liking

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut your spaghetti squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Drizzle a tsp of olive oil on each half and roast for about an hour.  You'll know it's done when can be easily pierced in  the center.  Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle.  Using a fork, scrape down the insides of the squash to remove the strands.

After cleaning leeks, saute them in a large pan with extra virgin olive oil over medium heat.  Saute for 5-7 minutes, until they have wilted.  Add in the squash strands and stir together.  Add in parsley and lemon juice, incorporating all the ingredients together.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serves 4-6 as a side dish. 

A few more photos of simple beauty I captured, pre-nor'easter.