September 27, 2006

Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

My mom made this festive fall dish the other evening and I wanted to pass it along to all of you. It was really delicious! This dish definately tastes like fall!

I love squash in all forms - pureed in soups, roasted or mashed - and with this recipe you'll get a nice serving of it! Despite containing sausage, this is actually a pretty healthful, well-balanced dish. And with all the super lean sausage available at supermarkets now, you can find really flavorful low-fat options. This stuffed squash is colorful and looks great on the plate, plus, the method of this recipe could be applied to many other flavor combinations should you want to experiment with it.

This recipe comes from Taste of Home's Simple & Delicious magazine. A few years ago I would've been really skeptical about recipes coming from Taste of Home as most often they contain one, if not many, processed ingredients like canned soup, jello or cool whip. But, recently, I've seen less of these items and recipes that seem, at least at a glance, to have more flavor and fresher ingredients. The photography is nice and since there aren't any advertisements, it's pretty pleasing to flip through. It's still a little bit country for me and I doubt I'll ever turn to it for inspiration, but it's not too bad! I think I've also just moved on from needing recipes like most of the ones published. It feels good that I can concoct something like scalloped potatoes, an easy pasta dish, or a vegetable soup without staring down a recipe.

Microwaving the squash speeds up the prep time for this dish and finishing it in the oven browns the top nicely and brings it together. If your squash are really big and you think half of a squash is too big of a portion, I'm sure you could cut the squash into quarters and simply pile the stuffing on them as best you can. Enjoy these fall flavors!

Sausage-Stuffed Acorn Squash

2 small to medium acorn squash
1 Tbsp butter
1 pound bulk spicy pork sausage (Italian or whatever flavor you like)
1 small onion, chopped
1 egg
2 Tbsp milk
1 cup fresh baby spinach, chopped (use frozen because of this!)
1 1/2 cups soft fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Slice the squash in half (vertically, through the stem). Remove the seeds and place the squash face up in a microwave-safe dish. Season with salt and pepper and dot the inside of each half with butter. Cover and microwave 10-12 minutes, or until tender.

Cook the sausage in a skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it apart with a spatula. Add the onion and cook 5 minutes. When the sausage is browned nicely, drain as much fat off as possible.

Beat the egg and milk together in a large mixing bowl and add the bread crumbs, dried cranberries, spinach, sausage and onions. Mix well.

Stuff each half with 1/4 of the sausage mixture. Bake for 15-20 minutes in a 400 degree F (200 degree C) oven. Remove when warmed through and slightly browned on top. Serves 4.

September 25, 2006

Pumpkin Recipes!

A while ago, I submitted this yummy Pumpkin Soup with Cumin and Cilantro to Meeta, of What's for Lunch, Honey?, for her From My Rasoi event. The theme was pumpkin and well, now there are all kinds of delicious looking recipes posted here that include pumpkin! Go check them out!

I'll be back soon with more recipes and stories!

September 20, 2006

Turkey Chili

I made this for my parents tonight after a friend of mine recommended the recipe to me. I was excited for the first chili of the season and it was quite appropriate to make tonight since the temperature hovered around 50 degrees today and got even cooler in the evening. Bring on the chili! You get the oyster crackers and I'll grate the cheese! (Didn’t everyone grow up with oyster crackers in their chili?!?)

It tasted great and was very satisfying, although I must confess that with a title like Turkey Chili with White Beans, the appearance that comes to mind is more of a white chili. But, this more closely resembles a regular ground beef chili with slightly less of a tomatoey sauce. I really enjoyed the heat level in it and there are also a good amount of beans in there, which I love. I used Penzey's medium hot chili powder (actually, all the spices were Penzey's) so I used a bit less than called for, and Penzey's cocoa powder, which is about twice as strong, so I used less of that, too. It was a good reminder to me that you can use less of good quality spices - and must use a lot more with crap supermarket brands - to achieve the same amount of flavor called for. (I could write a whole blog about Penzey's! I'm such a fan - especially their extra fancy Vietnamese cinnamon!)

This one is a keeper for a somewhat healthier chili with lots of depth while still being easy to put together. Leftovers would be great over a plain baked potato!

Turkey Chili with White Beans
(an Epicurious recipe)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey (I used a little less)
1/4 cup chili powder
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
3 cups beef broth (low sodium)
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
3 15-oz cans small white beans, rinsed, drained

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, optional
grated cheddar cheese, optional
sour cream, optional

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and cook 5 minutes until translucent. Add the oregano and cumin; cook and stir for 1 minute. Add the ground turkey to the pan and break apart with a spatula. Brown and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, bay leaves, salt, cinnamon, and cocoa powder. Let these spices cook for about 1 minute.

Pour in the canned tomatoes and break them apart a bit. Stir in the tomato sauce and beef broth. Bring this to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the white beans and cilantro and cook 10 minutes more. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve topped with cheese and sour cream, if desired.

September 19, 2006

Fruit Smoothies!

Since moving back to the States I’ve struggled with eating a balanced diet while enjoying some of the foods I’ve missed most. We’ve been eating out a lot, which has made me feel rather overloaded and craving simple, good homemade food.

Mostly, it’s been strange to adjust to finding so many packaged foods stocking my family’s shelves. It’s something I’m trying not to be too difficult about, but I am bothered by the amount of “easy” yet illogical shortcuts that so many of us seem to go for when it comes to cooking. Just to see each new and improved something-or-other is enough to numb the mind. I’m just surprised at the amount of advertising there is on every surface that we Americans look at. I see it as amazingly insulting for companies to think that all these eye candy claims of “less fat, more flavor” yada-yada will make us buy their products.

The other night we had some frozen peas that were so proud of themselves because they could be microwaved in their own packaging. I’m so happy to have saved those 10 seconds of opening the bag and putting them in a dish. Damn. Is anybody else thinking about how stupid we all must be if we’ve been conditioned to see this as some huge advantage?

Harrumph! Anyway, other than little spurts of self-righteous mumbling, I’ve been trying to make smart eating choices. And I don’t mean I’m trying to eat only extremely healthy foods, I’m just trying to eat natural foods - foods that haven’t been heavily salted or processed, like raw nuts, breads that don’t contain a ton of preservatives, fresh fruit and veggies, and plenty of protein. And despite that fact that I'm a driver again, I try to walk places occassionally, too!

These fruit smoothies are my new favorite breakfast and I’m on a mission to convert you into a smoothie-maker if you aren’t one already. My in-laws have one every morning and turned me onto the idea. With drinking a large smoothie every morning for breakfast, I get all of my servings of fruit for the day out of the way, plus with the added protein powder and soy yogurt, I’m not starving by the time lunch rolls around. It’s just the best way to start the day! I can’t tell you how good it feels. (If you are hesitant about using protein powder, don't worry about it - it's not just for body building! Protein with each meal is a good idea!)

Maybe you’ve made smoothies before…maybe you’re not that excited by the idea, but let me tell you that this is different. This is the ultimate creamy milkshake. You must try it!
Fresh Fruit Smoothies

1 banana, peeled (or 2 short ones)
½ cup blueberries
½ cup strawberries
2 apples, peaches or pears
¼ cup pomegranate juice
1 to 1 1/2 cups vanilla soy yogurt (I like a lot in mine!)
1 scoop (about 2 Tbsp) soy (or whey) protein powder
about 1 1/2 cups ice cubes

Smoothies are, by nature, variable things, so you may want to play around with the amounts to suit your liking. I can tell you that I like mine light on the ice, which makes the milkshakey texture that I like. The combination of pomegranate juice, blueberries and soy protein is amazingly good for you, too. Play around with your own favorite combos.

Rinse all of the fruit in cold water. Peel the bananas and slice or roughly break apart the larger pieces of fruit. Puree all of the fruit in a blender until smooth, adding the pomegranate juice as needed. Once the fruit is smooth, with the blender running, add in the yogurt, protein powder, and finally, the ice. Blend until smooth and frothy. Makes 2 large, all-you-need for breakfast servings.

Enjoy – with a straw!

P.S. I enjoyed this beautifully colored smoothie this morning and the proportions went like this:

1 cup of my mom's homegrown blueberries, frozen
1/4 cup organic apple juice
1 cup vanilla soy yogurt
2 small peaches
2 short bananas
1 heaping Tbsp soy protein powder
1 cup ice cubes

Having frozen blueberries let me decrease the amount of ice, and I find that I enjoy a lot of yogurt in my smoothie for a really creamy texture and sweet taste - so I could've used more than one cup. Experiment as you see fit!

September 16, 2006

My 100th Post!

Oh, Blog, How I've Missed You! After over a week without blogging, I hope to get back into the swing of things soon.

This is my 100th post and I thought I'd mark the occasion by making a list of my favorite posts and some of the recipes that I make most often. I've had some fun reading over some of my old posts and I hope you will too! Here we go!

The Repeat Offenders in my Kitchen are:

Chicken Curry with Cashews is something Paul and I crave.

Chicken Enchiladas are fun to make together and always great to make in quantity to have leftovers to go in the freezer for whenever you need a quick meal!

Taco Salad with Chicken and Black Beans
always satisfies on a hot day!

Boeuf à la Bourguignon was a lot of work, but just about the most amazing stew I've tasted!

Salade au Chèvre Chaud will always bring back memories of Paris to me.

Cool Autumn days will be begging for this Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée.

Roasted Cauliflower has become a staple side dish at Chez Mégane.

Quiche did become a standard for us in Paris...this time Zucchini and Tomato Quiche!

Tina's Vegetable Filled Crêpes are comfort food at their best!

This Strawberry Clafoutis has been one of my favorite desserts this year!

Who couldn't love these Chocolate Brownie Cookies?

Gin & Tonics...but you knew that already!

My Favorite New Recipes Tried Last Year!

Tartiflette was one of the more satisfying things I've made. It's a rich, heavy French dish of the very best kind!

Tzatziki makes the most wonderful appetizer dip.

Black Bean Lasagna was a really really good tasting recipe I concocted one evening. I know it will stick around and make appearances at dinner more often!

What are your staple dishes? What's the best new thing you've tried lately?

September 6, 2006

Salmon, 2 Ways!

We were served a wonderful dinner on our 2nd wedding anniversary last Sunday. We're often treated to fantastic Sunday dinners with Paul's family and it has become one of the best parts about coming back to visit. After all, the first time I ever met his family was one Sunday evening 8 years ago.

I remember there being Tater Tots for dinner, among other things, although I'm not sure Paul's Mom would remember it that way. I say that because she is a magnificent cook and the idea of her serving tater tots is so far removed from her normally elegant dinners, it is almost laughable. This dinner last Sunday, however, did not include frozen potatoes, but instead this elegant salmon, mashed red-skinned potatoes, a spinach salad decked out with tomatoes from the garden, kalamata olives and fresh mozzarella, and perfectly seasoned pencil-thin asparagus spears. It was SO good. Isn't there something fantastic about pairing salmon and asparagus?

Paul still had his very rare filet mignon since he's like that, but the rest of us made quick work of devouring this salmon. Paul's mom enjoys it because, "you can't taste the salmon," but I enjoy the taste of salmon and I still think this is great! It's also really simple and healthful.

Roasted Salmon with Macadamia Nut Crust

3 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
1 full salmon fillet, about 2 1/2 pounds, skin on and any bones removed
1-2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 C). Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and add the macadamia nuts. Cook 2-3 minutes until lightly browned. Remove them from the heat.

Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a roasting pan. (Place in the oven for a few minutes). Place the salmon filet in the roasting pan and season with salt and pepper. Spread the toasted nuts over the salmon. Bake for 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of your fish.

Transfer the salmon to a serving platter. Sprinkle the cilantro and fresh lime juice over the salmon before serving.

Two days later, my Mom served us this grilled salmon. It's her staple salmon recipe and it's just as delicious as more complex preparations. I'm so happy to finally have the recipe because I always enjoy it so much. I don't have a picture, but it looks great; I promise! There isn't really a dominant flavor, but a nice balance between the soy sauce, basil, lemon and parmesan. This is also nice because the skin on the fish stays on the pan while the filet can be lifted off easily for serving.

Obviously, our moms have perfected the easy-to-fix yet flavorful salmon recipes! Try this one soon!

Grilled Salmon with Herbed Lemon Parmesan Crust

1 pound salmon fillets
2 Tbsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp grated lemon zest

2 tsp dried or fresh basil

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp soy sauce
3-4 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan
salt and pepper

Combine the lemon juice, zest, vinegar, basil, garlic powder and soy sauce in a small cup or bowl. Place the salmon fillets (can be in individual fillets or one big piece...) on a foil lined roasting dish. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Pour the lemon soy sauce evenly over the salmon and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
Put the pan on a medium-high grill and cover. Cook 15-20 minutes, or less for smaller fillets. Alternately, roast in a high heat oven (425 degrees F) for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your salmon.

For an expert description of how to perfectly cook fish, look here at Beyond Salmon for this great explanation, and much more info about cooking all types of fish!

I'm sending these recipes over to Kalyn's Kitchen for Weekend Herb Blogging - Go check out all the other
herbaceous recipes this Sunday!

September 4, 2006

Five Things to Eat Before You Die...


Top 5. What are the top 5 foods I've eaten in my life? I feel like I eat pretty well most of the time (and you know I enjoy my food!) so this one was tough for me. If you're a reader of The Traveler's Lunchbox (and if you aren't...why not?!?!) you have seen the lists of great ideas on the five things to eat before you die. I was stewing about what mine would be, but left it to simmer while I went about packing and moving over an ocean.

Then Tanna tagged me and it got my mind spinning again with ideas about my favorite foods. This type of list is tough for me. Not being one to ever want to write anything in stone, I had to spin the idea around to be the top 5 things I've had that will let me die a happy woman! It's my nature to remember the classics over the innovators, so I guess nostalgia took over a bit. Plus, isn't location pretty important in this?

1. A cold Gin & Tonic each summer, sitting on the deck of the lake house (which sits secluded on its own island) in Canada. (McGregor Bay area, to be more precise.) True relaxation does not exist for me except this.

2. Sharing un éclair au chocolat with your sweetie in Paris. Perhaps in the Palais Royal gardens or Parc Monceau?

3. Bœuf Bourguignon, ideally from Chez René in the 5eme. They are bit chilly with the welcome, but the food will more than make up for it. (14, blvd Saint Germain, 5e)

4. A homemade Italian family-style feast at an agriturismo in Faenza, Italy. Each evening, an amazing array of raviolis filled with simple cheese and spinach, or speck and radicchio were followed by huge servings of grilled meats and potatoes before we even got to salad or dessert! If only I had known how important the word basta! would be...

5. Sharing a meal of Raclette in the French Alps. A half-moon wheel of raclette about 2 feet wide is placed on a contraption with a burner fitted just over the cut side of the cheese. Fill your plate with mixed charcuterie, boiled potatoes, cornichons and pearl onions. Wait. A few minutes later, slide the cheese wheel out from under the burner and scrape off the bubbling cheese onto your plate. Devour with joy!

Psst! Don't tell!
5.1. A relaxing quiche and salad lunch on the terrace of L'Ete en Pente Douce, a cafe just near the Sacre Coeur in the 18th arr. Don't forget the glass of wine! (23, rue Muller)

There are so many more, but I'll stop there. What are your top 5?

September 2, 2006

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with Cumin and Cilantro

Well, the move is complete. We said au revoir to Paris and have comfortably installed ourselves in the lovely guest room at Mom and Pop's house. I've happily been able to relax and not do much cooking myself yet, but instead indulge in a pedicure and some of the best gin & tonics around. But, I do have a wonderful recipe to share with you that I've been saving just for such a cooking hiatus.

This recipe is a serious secret weapon! It couldn't be easier and tastes surprisingly rich and flavorful. One of my favorites for nights that are seriously short on time, I like to pair this soup with half a quesadilla or a simple sandwich. Try one of these quesadilla recipes for some ideas. Black beans might also make a nice addition to this soup. I hope you can make this some night soon!

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with Cumin and Cilantro
(an epicurious recipe)

2 ½ cups chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream or half & half (can use less...)
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
½ to ¾ tsp chili powder
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
2-3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
grated cheddar cheese, optional

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the pumpkin, brown sugar and ground spices. Simmer over medium low heat for 5-10 minutes so that it reduces and thickens slightly. Turn off the heat and stir in the cream and most of the cilantro. Serve topped with additional cilantro leaves and grated cheddar, if you desire.