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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Stuffed Acorn Squash


 Photo by Nathan Pearce



I'm going to let you in on a secret: I don't love squash. Especially the zucchini and yellow summer squashes. Ick. Besides the taste, they do something weird on my teeth. Anyway, back to the point. If I'm going to eat squash, it's usually butternut or acorn. The texture is much creamier and the flavor usually more robust.

But I know it's good for me, so I was looking for ways to include it in my diet while trying to lessen my dependence on potatoes. They also grow abundantly here in NC, and I like to eat as seasonally as possible. I had seen the concept of stuffed squashes, so I figured it certainly wouldn't hurt to try. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them!

In this version, I used a blend of pork and beef, but one of my favorite ways to prepare the squash is to use ground chorizo. The boldness of the chorizo really helps to boost the flavor of the squash, while the creaminess of the squash balances the spice. It's magical.

Ingredients:
1 or 2 acorn squash, tops cut off, seeds scooped out
1 lb grass fed ground beef
1 lb pastured ground pork
~half pound cremini mushrooms (I use the standard package size in the store), stemmed and diced
~2 cups chopped kale
2 cloves minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Make it:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is preheating, trim up your squash. Remove the seeds, and create an opening in the top that you will be able to put the meat into after roasting. Sometimes I cut the very tip of the bottom off the squash to help it sit securely. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and roast the squash for about an hour.

While the squash is roasting, prepare your filling. Brown the pork and beef together, adding garlic after some of the fat has rendered out. As the meat mixture begins to cook and release it's juices, add the diced mushrooms. Let those cook for about 5 minutes or so, then add kale. Mix everything together to help reduce the kale down. Once the kale is reduced down, let the mixture simmer for 10 or 15 minutes. If it dries out a little, turn the heat down to low and add a little liquid. You really don't want the filling to be too wet, though, when it is time to stuff the squash.

After the squash has roasted, use a spoon and stuff it as much as you can. There will probably be some meat mixture left over, which was fine with us because we like meat. A lot. So we can just add more. After it's stuffed (I mean stuffed!) you can top with cheese if you'd like. The pic above is a quick almond meal/goat cheese topping I made. I added a few crumbles of goat cheese to about 1/2 cup of almond meal and pressed it on top.

Bake for about 20 more minutes, to heat everything back through. If you put cheese on top, you might need to place it under the broiler for a few minutes if the cheese doesn't get brown and bubbly.

We cut it up in wedges and then dig in! Hope you enjoy!
Photo By Nathan Pearce

Friday, October 16, 2015

Tostones, anyone?

Any of my friends know that I love, and I mean L O V E Central/South American food. I don't know that I have a true preference; if it's south of the border (or from a Hispanic island) I want it. It doesn't matter if it's bougie food, street food or all points in between, I like and I want it. Recently, we've discovered a Dominican/Puerto Rican restaurant not too far from us. I'm ashamed to admit my addiction to this place; well, only slightly ashamed.

I've found even more foods that I love, so of course I have to figure out how to make it myself. One of the things that I've learned to use in a much more versatile way is plantain. We have a group of African friends that introduced us to plantain years ago. Their version is frying a ripe plantain and then lightly salting the delicious sweet nuggets. I was a bit skeptical when I heard that the folks in the islands use plantains in their green form-- yikes! But then I ate it, and how quickly my tune changed. The difference between a green plantain and a black plantain are worlds apart. A green plantain can be seasoned with garlic and salt and so many wonderful things, even fried as a patty and used as a bread replacement! I was so excited when I realized that I could chow down on a burger and use plantain as bread!! For one who is largely trying to avoid grains, this was a revelation.

 I had a great flank steak in my fridge that I needed to use.I had a plan when I bought it, and this preparation wasn't it. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to season it up in my favorite herbs and spices. So that's what I'm going to do! I decided to marinate the meat this afternoon, fry up some tostones, and create my own form of nachos. I hope you gain some inspiration to cook up something delicious!!

For the marinade:
handful of cilantro (I used probably close to a cup, but what's a measuring cup again?!)
couple chugs of olive oil (maybe 1/2 cup)
3 or 4 cloves of garlic salt to taste
juice of 1 lime
Whir this together in your food processor/magic bullet, etc. It'll be a green saucy beauty, and you'll want to eat it all as is. But don't. Just save a little. Trust me on this, you're going to want to let this sit. It gets better the longer it sits. ;-)
Marinate the meat as long as you can. Mine sat about 4 hours.

If you are interested in making tostones,  I'm going to burst my own bubble and say that I'm not Hispanic,so I can't exactly call myself authentic. But I can read about how to make tostones, so in theory I can make tostones. To do that you simply cut up some green plantain and fry them. I use coconut oil to do this. Fry them until golden, and then smash them. Like this:



As you can see in the background, I flipped around my handy-dandy meat tenderizer and used the flat side to smash them. But word on the street has it that there are legitimate tostone smasher thingies out there... just sayin'. Then you fry them again.

Back to the meat!! I sliced the meat into 1-inch strips and sauteed them off in a cast iron skillet over med-high to high heat, or until the meat is cooked to your preference. In the end I used the tostones as a nacho type base, topping with the amazing steak, chopped tomatoes, avocado, lettuce and some of that green sauce that I kept to the side. See, I told you saving a little was a good idea.




Apple Pie Pancakes

Because who doesn't love apple pie?

When I was growing up, my mom was not much on breakfast. I love her to pieces, but I definitely didn't learn my breakfast skills from her. She was not a morning person by any stretch of the word, so getting three kids off to school on time and herself to work on time was an accomplishment. I know this because I did happen to inherit her morning skills. During the week, I was proud of myself if I managed to eat a bowl of cereal before school. Usually though, it was my mom "encouraging" me to get my dragging behind out of the door while shoving a pop tart in my hand. A cold one at that. It should come as no surprise to you that I've had to make myself enjoy breakfast as an adult.

On occasion, mostly on the weekends, she would cook breakfast for us. One of our favorites was what she called German pancakes. Whether these were authentically German, I will probably never know. But what I did know was that on that occasion, she would let us break out the powdered sugar (Oh yes!) and would often fry some apples for us to put on top. There was never enough. Ever. To this day, I can remember sitting around our kitchen table, with both of my brothers, waiting for the pancakes to come out of the oven. 

I said earlier, I inherited my mom's morning skills. My kids and hubs, much to my chagrin, are morning people. They wake up with feet to the floor, ready to eat and ready to roll. I had forgotten about these pancakes for a while. But one day I stumbled across our old family cookbook and the fond memories came back. I figured my kids might enjoy them as much as I did. Or maybe I just hoped. Who knows. Either way, they did! 

Recently, with apple season starting, I decided to give the pancakes a twist. Instead of simply placing the fried apples on top, my daughter gave me the idea of making the pancakes with apples in them. *poof* Mind blown. We now refer to them as apple pie pancakes. 

Ingredients:
6 eggs
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup AP flour (we're gluten free, so we use an AP blend that's always around)
1/4 tsp xanthan gum (if you're GF like us!)
1 1/2 cup milk (coconut, almond or even buttermilk work just as well)
a few dabs of butter for the pans

For the apples:
3 or 4 nice sized apples, cut into slices
1 tsp cinnamon, depending on your taste
if you need sugar, we usually use about 1 or 2 tbsp of coconut crystals
few tsps oil, I prefer coconut oil

You'll want to cook the apples first, since this can take up to 15 or 20 minutes. Saute all the ingredients in a saute pan over medium heat until the apples have softened a bit, and the sugars start to form what looks like caramel. Set to the side.

For the pancakes: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, put the butter into two 8-inch cake (baking pans) and put the pans in the oven for about 3 or 4 minutes to let the butter melt. (Alternatively, you could melt the butter and coat the pans.) Beat the eggs with salt. Add flour to milk and blend until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the eggs and blend well. You'll want to pour a layer of the batter into both of the pans, then add a nice even layer of the apples. Whether you use them all or save some for later is completely up to you. Add the rest of the batter evenly into both pans. Bake for 15-18 minutes. They should look brown on top and be puffed up quite a bit. It's usual for the pancakes to deflate slightly.

We cut them up in quarters, but the important part is that you enjoy!