Sunday, November 30, 2014

Acorn Squash and Black Bean Stew

So the thing about not hosting Thanksgiving is that you don't have leftovers.  Had to cook the next day.

I've never had acorn squash, but they looked so cute in the market that I bought one.  I figured that I would want something somewhat light after Thanksgiving and decided to make a squash dish with some kind of beans as a one-pot meal.

I'm not calling this a chili, because it would be too much like the butternut squash chili I made a couple of years ago.  Unlike that recipe, I went ahead and soaked the beans first.  I was trying to get rid of the black water the beans give off, but more came off into the broth when I cooked it.  Also to be different, I seasoned it with savory herbs instead of spices, and topped it with queso fresco right before serving.

Beware, this is a very high fiber dish.  It's fine for anyone as a side, but don't make it a main course like I did unless you can handle it.  Most Americans don't have enough fiber in their diet to manage something like this without discomfort.  For the day after Thanksgiving, it was a wonderful change from the heavy dishes slathered in fatty sauce.

*1 C dry black beans
1 acorn squash (about 2 lbs whole)
*1/2 C diced onion
*1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tb olive oil
*2 C vegetable or chicken broth
*1/2 tsp dried oregano
*1/2 tsp dried sage
*1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper as needed
4 oz crumbly cheese such as feta, chevre, or queso fresco

1.  2 to 4 hours before starting, rinse beans and soak in water.  When ready to start, drain and rinse again.

2.  In a larger saucepan than I used (make it a big one), heat 1 Tb oil over medium.  Add onion and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about another minute. Add broth, beans, oregano, sage, and cumin.  Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cover.  Allow to cook 1 hour while you go make the squash.

3.  Preheat oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with foil.  Cut squash in half across the equator and scoop out the seeds and strings.  (You can roast the seeds while the squash is cooking, if you want.)  Rub surfaces of squash with the other tablespoon of oil and place cut-side down on baking sheet.  Bake until mostly cooked, about 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes.  If you're making corn bread, just turn up the heat as soon as the squash comes out and put in the bread when it gets to temperature.  Everything should finish around the same time.

4.  If squash is mostly cooked, the skin should peel right off.  Cut flesh into 1" cubes and add to pot.  This was when I realized my pot was too small.  Continue to simmer another 15 minutes to finish cooking the squash.  Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary, but keep in mind that whatever cheese you're using as a garnish is probably salty.  Ladle into bowls while hot.  Top with crumbled cheese and serve.

Serves 4-6

Difficulty rating :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

I finally hit my 50,000 words yesterday!!  It felt like forever, and involved coming up with two more short stories out of desperation when I clearly was not going to make the count with what I had started. Now I can start feeding myself again without feeling like it is taking away from writing time.
This was a recipe of leftovers.  The only thing I picked up new was the parsnips.  It is also low in active time, since you purée the whole thing and don't have to make any of the vegetables pretty.

The taste was intriguing.  I added the parsnips because you all may be tired of how many different ways I can turn carrots into soup.  Mixing the veggies with the rosemary gave the soup a sweet/savory combination that tasted like I had added nutmeg.  It is also a very filling soup, and much thicker than I had expected, given how watery everything looked in the pot.

*1/2 lb carrots, peeled and chopped
1 lb parsnips, peeled and chopped
*4 ribs celery, chopped
2 Tb oil, divided
*1/2 tsp dried oregano
*1 tsp dried rosemary
*1/2 C diced onion
*1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (low sodium)
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Line a baking sheet with foil and preheat oven to 400º.  Coat carrots, parsnips, and celery with 1 Tb oil and arrange on the baking sheet in a single layer.  Sprinkle with oregano and rosemary and bake until just beginning to char, about 45 minutes.  Stir every 15 minutes to keep from sticking to pan.

2.  Remove vegetables from oven and set aside.  In large saucepan, sauté onion in 1 Tb oil until browned, about 8 minutes.  Add stock and roasted vegetables and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are completely softened, about 15 minutes.
3.  Purée soup in blender in batches until smooth.  Return to heat and taste to see if it needs salt or pepper.  If too thick, thin with water.  Serve hot.

Serves 4 as lunch, 6 as an appetizer

Difficulty level :)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stuffing (Dressing)

I'm finally up to 40,000 words.  I have been very busy, and skipped at least two days trying to fix a leaky toilet, but it looks like I'll be able to finish the project if I can find an hour a day to work on the book.

Meanwhile, I'm still not cooking as much as I would like.  I'm currently on a batch of macaroni and cheese with bacon.  It tastes great, and used up most of the random bits of cheese in my fridge, but it is a rerun.  I think I'm going to make a simple margherita pizza tomorrow to use up the last dregs of some spaghetti sauce and some shredded mozzarella.  A dozen cherry tomatoes are in the oven right now, dehydrating to use on future salads.

I bought two bags of cranberries and canned up a year's worth of sauce while typing at the kitchen counter.  Five half-pints will even be enough for me to take some next week to Thanksgiving.

There was talk of Costco stuffing at the meal, so I decided to make some of the real stuff to have at home with pork chops.  Stuffing is super easy, can be baked alongside most meats, and can be flavored with absolutely anything you want.  I did celery, onion, an apple, and the sage pumpkin seeds I loved.  You could easily swap out the apple for a carrot or parsnip, but I thought the sweet would go well with the pork chops and apples come with fiber.

This is a small version for a family dinner, not the huge mounds you make for a holiday meal.  Yes, it takes longer than the box, but you can flavor it any way you want.

*1/2 French bread or baguette, stale and cut into 1/2" cubes
1 C chicken or vegetable stock
1 Tb butter, plus greasing
1/2 onion, diced
*3 ribs of celery, diced
*1 medium apple, diced (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp dried sage
1/4 C pine nuts or pumpkin seeds, toasted

1.  Cut bread and set aside.  It can get as dry and stale as it wants.  Butter an 8"x8" baking casserole.  Preheat oven to 350º.

2.  Melt 1 Tb butter in a large skillet.  Add onion and sauté until it starts to get soft, about five minutes.  Add celery and apple and continue to cook over medium until everything is soft, stirring occasionally, as much as 10 more minutes.  Stir in sage and 1/2 C stock to deglaze pan.
3.  Stir in bread.  Once the bread soaks up all the liquid, transfer to baking dish.  Drizzle with remaining stock and allow to sit a few minutes so the bread can soak it up.  Sprinkle top with seeds or nuts and bake until bread is toasty and everything is heated through, about 20 minutes.  Serve hot, with gravy if desired.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, November 14, 2014

Everyday Fancy

I haven't been doing a lot of cooking because of NaNo.  As in, barely being able to feed myself.   I went almost two weeks without grocery shopping, when I usually go every three to four days so that I have fresh produce in the house.  Used up almost everything in the freezer and about half of my pantry staples.  Eggs and toast for lunch, until I ran out of bread.  You know it's bad when you're checking the tomato plants just to have something to eat.  Mmm, baked tomato with mozzarella.  I finally have some time to go grocery shopping this morning and to cook this evening, but I'm going to stock up on enough food to last until Thanksgiving, which I won't be able to host this year because of work.  Got invited out, and I'll take my pumpkin chiffon pie.

I made some meatballs with leftover sweet & sour sauce over rice.  There was more veal on sale, so I did another veal & eggplant parmigiana bake.  I really liked that the first time.  But really, after working six days a week and writing 2,000 words a day, all I want to do is pick up something on the way home.

A lot of people feel that way, but it isn't a healthy way to eat long term.  So here's something that can be put together out of packaged foods that isn't so bad for you.  Personally, I tore the lettuce off a fresh head of green leaf, got the seeds from a whole pomegranate, and roasted the pumpkin seeds, but there is no reason it can't be thrown together in two minutes or less.

1 package salad greens, rinsed
1 8 oz container pomegranate arils
1/2 C roasted pumpkin seeds
2 Tb balsamic vinegar

1.  Place lettuce in serving bowl (or divide into servings).

2.  Sprinkle generously with pomegranate seeds, then pumpkin seeds.

3.  Drizzle top with balsamic vinegar and allow to sit for a minute so the vinegar can make its way through the salad.

4.  Serve before seeds become soggy.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Blossoming Tea

That baker I was supposed to train fell through, so I'm still getting my tea time.  I made a batch of scones to go with the guava jam.

One of the stories I'm working on for NaNo involves a girl who works at a tea shop.  As research, I went to the one at the mall and ended up buying a couple of tins of blossoming tea buds.

These are simply regular teas and flowers that have been wrapped by hand into a little ball and dried.  As they rehydrate, they "blossom" into an anemone-like mass in the bottom of the tea pot.  It's kind of gross when you watch it, but fascinating.  The tea tasted wonderful, at least until I got halfway through the pot and it started to be bitter.  That happens to all teas.

The blossoming teas are rather expensive, about $2 per bud, but fun for a party or special occasion.  I'll probably give a few as gifts this holiday season because they're so unusual.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Guava Jam

It took me a little longer to get to 10,000 words than last year.  I actually made this on the first, but haven't had the time to post it.

My neighbor received a boatload of guavas from another neighbor and passed on several pounds to me when I mentioned that I sometimes can stuff.  I don't think I've ever had a guava, only guava juice.  Off to Wikipedia we go, and it looks like guavas are great for canning because they have a lot of built-in pectin and are usually sweet enough to go easy on the sugar.  All I needed was a proper recipe and a few free hours for canning once the fruits were fully ripe.

I put the guavas in several paper bags to ripen more quickly, along with a green tomato to make sure the process was working.  Fruits give off a gas as they ripen, which then helps to ripen other fruits stored with them.  There was a chance these were the green variety of guavas and I would not know if they were ripening, but I had accidentally knocked a green Bradley off the bush and figured it would be a great control subject.  Sure enough, it was much more pink the next day.  I moved it to another bag to help those along.

These guavas were the green kind, with white flesh.  I kind of let some of them go a little too long and had to throw out a few, but there were still 4 pounds of fruit once I had trimmed off the stem and blossom ends.  They almost filled my second-largest pot to the brim.  Since my 2-gallon stock pot is also my canning pot, it's a good thing they fit.
I finally broke down and bought a food mill.  I have been able to avoid it and use either a sieve or the food processor because I cook in small batches.  Pressing this much guava through a sieve would have taken all day.  I can use it on all sorts of things that I make anyway, like not-refried beans.  Just one more toy.

This is the one-pound version, for those who don't own a tree.

*1 lb ripe guavas
1/2 C water
*2 tsp lime or lemon juice
1/2 C sugar

1.  Cut off stem and blossom ends of guavas.  If using a blender, peel.  For a food mill or sieve, that is not necessary.  Quarter and scoop out seeds if using a blender.  Food mill or sieve, put in pot whole.

2.  Add water and cook fruit over medium until completely softened, about 30 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly.

3.  Either purée fruit in a blender if peeled and seeded, or run through a sieve or food mill to remove seeds and skin.  Return fruit to pot, add juice and sugar, and bring to a boil.

4.  Boil jam until thickened, about 15 minutes.  Either cool and store up to a week in the fridge, or process in a water bath 15 minutes to can.

Makes just under 1 cup

Difficulty rating :-0

Sunday, November 2, 2014

NaNo 2014

Despite the fact that I still haven't edited the first draft of last year's novel, I'm doing National Novel Writing Month again.

The main impetus for committing to 50,000 words in a month is my desktop computer.  It's really old, and one day will no longer work.  The printer doesn't, and the operating system is so old I can't go online.  Meanwhile, I have first drafts of several stories for a Young Adult mystery & horror anthology on it, plus rather detailed story notes for more.  Like, way more detailed notes than I realized.  If that computer dies, I will have lost nearly 15,000 words of pretty decent stories.

It will also be nice to do a NaNo that isn't completely cheating.  While four stories will be rewrites, there will be at least three new ones, and one is a very challenging concept for me.  I might even make the 50k goal.

So, fancy cooking and blog posts will be my reward if I manage to get ahead on the word count.  Or really want cookies.  I keep forgetting it takes less time to make a batch than to run down to the store for some.