Stuffed Acorn Squash


Winter squash, butternut and acorn, are two vegetables I like and think are under used.  Because I became tired of peeling butternut, I decided to invent something for acorn squash.  Much to my surprise, it is now one of Martina’s favorite foods.  She has even sent photos to her mother in Italy to see if the squash is sold there so her family can try it.  The following recipe is for two. Obviously, just buy more squash and fill if you want to make it for more people.  This is a perfect recipe for vegetarians because no meat or fish is used.

 

1 acorn squash, cut in half, seeds removed

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

Olive oil

1/2 to 1 teaspoon honey for each half

Pepitas or any chopped nut of your choice

Saute the finely chopped onion in olive oil until translucent.  Stir in approximately one handful of seeds or nuts.  Rub olive oil in the bottom of a small baking dish or pan and cover the flesh of the squash with a thin layer of olive oil.  Place squash in the pan, fill deseeded center with the onion mixture.  Place honey on top of this mixture.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the squash halves.

For a totally vegetarian meal, serve with salad.

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If you want to add more protein to the meal, add black or garbanzo beans to the salad.  Sometimes we also add chopped hard boiled eggs and feta cheese.

 

 

 

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Cod Loin with Fennel and Lemon


This recipe, one of my favorites, will appear in my soon to be released cookbook full of family and life stories about food, family, and friends.  I made this tonight around eight.  As usual, I made enough for leftovers for another meal. Makes it easier if you work or are really busy.

Two small cod loins or one large cut in half

3 gloves garlic, chopped

1 poblano pepper, deseeded and coarsely chopped

Fennel essential oil

Lemon essential oil

Vegetables of your choosing cut into bite sized pieces

1 small handful of pepitas

Olive oil

I vary this by using different vegetables, e.g. spinach, Swiss chard, Brussel sprouts, beets, carrots.  Tonight I used Brussel sprouts.

Saute garlic in olive oil until golden.  If you use beets or carrots, sauce them with the garlic until nearly tender.  If you use spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, add them last.

Add the cod loins to garlic mixture and sprinkle each one with several drops of lemon and fennel essential oil.  If you do not use essential oil, sprinkle with ground fennel and add deseeded lemons.  If using Brussel sprouts, cut them in slices and add at the same time as the cod.  When the cod is half cooked, add the poblano peppers and cook only until cod is done and the peppers are cooked but still bright green.  If using spinach, etc., add them just before cod and peppers are done and stir until wilted.  Sprinkle pepitas over the rice and vegetables.  Serve over pasta or rice.

Note:  I have also used fresh fennel for this recipe.  If you decide to do this, saute it along with the garlic.

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Almost done.

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Served over Basmati rice.  Salad is red bell peppers, red cabbage, romaine lettuce, radishes, and scallions with roasted sesame seed oil for dressing.

Overweight and Poorer


Today I planned to post a lovely poem.  However, I was so engrossed by an article on the Internet that I decided to discuss that topic instead.  Why are so many people in this country overweight?  Why do people complain about being poorer?

The article in question, which I could not download and post here, claims that the biggest item on which people in the United States overspend is eating out at restaurants.  It is also a major cause of obesity.  On average when a person eats in a restaurant they eat 200 calories more than if he or she ate at home.  If that person eats out three times a week, that adds up to more than 30,000 extra calories a year.  Even if he or she eats fast food, which probably adds even more calories, the extra expenditure at even a low 8.00 per meal, would  add to nearly 1300 dollars per year.  If it is a family, multiply that by the  number of people in the family.  For 8 dollars, they could go to the grocery here in Texas and buy a delicious already roasted chicken that would feed at least four.

Personally, I find few restaurants that can actually create a meal better than one I can cook myself.  Others say who wants to cook for oneself.  I live alone and I cook for myself all but a couple of times a month.  Being a bit of a health nut and not much of a meat eater (I eat quite a lot of fish, usually cod or salmon), that 8 dollars would turn into much bigger amounts.  Plus I do not want to waste the time eating out.  I can create a much healthier meal, cheaper, quicker at home.  Restaurant food tends to be much saltier with fewer herbs and spices than I prefer as well.

I am curious to find out why others eat out all the time.  It mystifies me.

 

PS.  Curious as to what sorts of foods I create, what spices I use?  I have posted lots of recipes here on my blog.  Take a look.

 

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Don’t eat This or Else…


This title showed up as an article in my latest “Yoga Journal”.  We hear warnings all the time about various foods so much so that sometimes I wonder just what I should eat.  The article details research on three foods which may be dangerous to ingest.

The first one is rice which really frightened me at first because I really, really like rice and eat it multiple times a week.  The problem with rice is arsenic, yes, arsenic.  Everyone knows that arsenic is not good.  Due to arsenic containing herbicides and pesticides, harmful levels have been found in rice.  Why?  Rice grows in water and therefore absorbs ten times more arsenic than other grains.  This not only means humans need to be careful about eating rice but also other products such as brown rice syrup found in infant food and energy bars.  Is organic safer?  No.  And forget eating brown rice because it contains 80 per cent more arsenic than white rice.  These rice warnings also apply to products made from rice including crackers, pasta, cereal, even rice milk.

Does this mean eliminate all rice?  Not necessarily.  Some rice has much less arsenic than others.  The safest rice from the arsenic standpoint is white basmati from India, Pakistan, and California.  Lundberg is one company that tests for arsenic so their rice should be safe as well.  Rinsing rice thoroughly helps.  You can also cook it in extra water and drain like you would pasta.  Boiling leaches out the arsenic.

The verdict is still out regarding GMOs.  Some countries have banned GMO foods totally.  According to the article in “Yoga Journal”, the only GMO crops commercially grown here currently are soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and some summer squash.  The FDA has approved an apple that does not turn brown and a potato that produces less carcinogenic compounds when cooked at high temperatures.  If you want to avoid GMO, look at the list above.  Some farmers are growing non-GMO soybeans.  However, they usually go to foreign markets which do not want GMO products, e.g. China.

For me, the worst on the list, carrageenan, remains the most hidden because most people do not even know they are eating it.  Where is it?  In ice cream, yogurt, nut milk, canned whipped cream, cottage cheese, salad dressing.  Why care?  New evidence indicates it may cause all sorts of health problems from gastro-intestinal inflammation to cancer and diabetes.  The only way you will know if this is in a food product is to carefully read the label.  Some zero fat yogurt contain it and some do not.  Silk brand nut milk does not contain it whereas several other popular brands do, e.g the ones that are not in the refrigerated section at the grocery. Some companies are fazing it out of all their products; this includes Horizon and Silk.

The only way to eat for good health and be safe it seems is to keep up on the latest research and read the labels.  Know what you are eating.  Bon appetit.

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Note:  the rice used here is basmati from Pakistan.

Long Life


If you believe in averages and want to live long, don’t live in the United States of America, a country that failed to make it to the top ten for either men or women.  Some countries appear to be better for one gender than another.  A few countries remain in the top ten for both genders:  Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, Italy, and Luxembourg.  Iceland’s the place to be if you are a man, Spain for women.  Worldwide the mean for men is 68.1 and for women 72.7. Sadly, the discrepancy from country to country is immense.  Nine countries still show a life expectancy less than 55 years, all in sub-Sahara Africa.  War and AIDS take their toll.

Blue Zones remain the place to grow up and live if you desire a long healthy life.  Where are they?  Okinawa, a peninsula in Costa Rica–I’ve been close, Sardinia, Loma Linda in California–Seventh Day Adventists, to name a few.  Genetics, according to some experts, predicts only twenty per cent of longevity.  Then why do people in these places live long and healthy?  What do they have in common:

-healthy diets with lots of vegetables and fruit

-activity–the people there get a lot of exercise, e.g. climbing up and down the mountains of Sardinia

-a sense of community–people get together often

Some communities in the US plan to become Blue Zones.  Fort Worth, Texas, even has a Blue Zone project which includes encouraging restaurants to provide healthier options, a bike share program, and an initiative to combat childhood obesity.  My guess is that the United States will lag further and further behind unless the obesity epidemic can be controlled.  So far, I don’t see that happening.

What can you do to prolong your own life:

-don’t smoke

-eats lots of fruit and vegetables

-avoid sugar

-eat less meat and more fish

-eat less–Okinawans quit eating when they are 80 per cent full; they even have a saying for this

-spend time with friends and family

-find ways to increase your exercise even if it is as simple as throwing away your TV remote control

If I live the average of my parents and grandparents, I have a long way to go so I must take care of myself to stay healthy.

Curried Vegetables with Quinoa


This recipe originated out of my desire to learn to like quinoa.  Except for some quinoa cakes at a local restaurant, I had never eaten quinoa that I thought delicious.  Actually, I found it a dreadfully boring food.  Nevertheless, I became determined to find a way to like it.  Why?  Nutrition.  It is good for you.  So let’s start with how I learned to cook quinoa so it is actually tasty.

Quinoa

Olive oil

1 cup quinoa

1 3/4 cups water

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic–I am lazy about garlic and buy it by the giant jarful, already chopped

1 heaping teaspoon vegetable or chicken base–I use Better Than Bouillon

Rinse quinoa thoroughly–it requires an extremely fine strainer.  Pour enough olive oil in a medium sauce pan to cover the bottom.  Place the chopped garlic in the olive oil and sauté a minute or so at medium high heat. Add the quinoa, stir quickly to mix with the garlic and oil mixture.  Add the water and base.  Stir thoroughly to combine the base with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to low.  Cook approximate 20 minutes or until the quinoa has absorbed the liquid and is fluffy.  Quinoa reheats well in a microwave so you can make extra for meals later.

Curried Vegetables

1/2 medium purple onion, chopped

1 large poblano pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

3-4 portabella mushrooms, sliced

1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 small beet, sliced and cut into smaller pieces

1/2 cup coarsely chopped butternut squash

Olive oil

1/2 tsp. curry powder–I used Malaysian Seven Seas Curry by Spice Appeal

1/2 tsp. masala–I used Chana Masala by Spice Appeal

Use whatever curry you prefer.  This curry is a mite hot.

Saute the onion, mushrooms, squash, and beets in olive oil until slightly tender.  Add spices and peppers and sauté until tender but still slightly crisp.  Serve over the quinoa or rice.

Regarding olive oil:  I use it to make nearly every kind of food from all over the world.  I use a lot because I really like it.  I have even made pie crust out of olive oil.  It is one of those few oils you can use and know it is good for you.

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Holiday Break Fun and Recipes


Because of my job, I am on the last day of a two week holiday break.  What a productive and fun time it has been.  Christmas Eve, my friends, my daughter, and my grandson came over.  For the first time ever, I made ham in a big Crock Pot and it melted in our mouths.  They requested I make my signature Refried Black Bean Cassserole and roasted vegetables so I did.  Other food requests included chocolate spiders for dessert–they are cookies.

Ham in the Crock Pot

Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with a 1/2 inch thick layer of brown or turbinado sugar mixed with 2-3 T tapioca. Place ham on top of the sugar.  Cover the top of the ham with preserves of your choice.  I used homemade pineapple/apricot preserves I had made several years previously.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Note:  I used spiral sliced ham precooked.  You do not need to add any liquid, it will make its own.  If you wish, once some liquid has accumulated, you can periodically baste the ham.

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Christmas Eve dinner, eating and relaxing at the dinner table.

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At the bar before dinner while I am still cooking.

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Lingering and relaxing around the dinner table.

These same friends came over about 1 1/2 weeks later.  The special request that time was for another round of Refried Black Bean Casserole.   This is one of those recipes I invented but never measure anything, just make to taste.  This last time I decided to work at paying attention to what I used so I could share.  It may or may not be exactly what I do every time, but it is close.

Refried Black Bean Casserole

2 cans black beans drained

Enough olive oil to cover bottom of large skillet

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

3-4 Tablespoons organic ketchup

3 Tablespoons cumin–add or subtract to suit you taste

Tortillas

Grated white cheese–I usually use monterey jack

Heat oil in skillet and add onions.  Cook until translucent.  Add black beans, one can at a time.  Take a regular table fork and mash beans repeatedly until most of the beans are mashed–I like to leave some not totally mashed to add a bit of texture.  This is easier to do if you only add one can at a time.  Thoroughly mix beans and onions.  Add the cumin and ketchup and stir thoroughly and keep mixing until the mixture it thick and heated through.  Use a round slow cooker or casserole dish.  Oil bottom of dish and place one tortilla in bottom.  Place enough of the black bean mixture on top to cover the tortilla, then sprinkle the grated white cheese on top.  Repeat layers, ending with grated cheese.  You may use any kind of tortilla.  However, I prefer whole wheat flour, but anything works.  Heat through until cheese is melted.  You may also make the bean mixture a day in advance and refrigerate.  If you do this, it will take longer to heat the casserole.

In between cooking adventures, one of my best friends and I decided to take a quick trip to Albuquerque, NM.  We visited our favorites places in Old Town, ate here and there when we felt like it, and stayed someplace new to both of us, Los Poblanos.  We loved this place.  It is located a bit north of downtown and Old Town, off of Rio Grande Blvd. by the river,  and includes 25 acres of lavender fields, a barn, a solar powered swimming pool–not open in the winter, a restaurant, a farm store, an herb garden, paths for strolling here and there, and an impressive tree lined entry drive.

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The lavender field.  They offer many lavender products in the Farm Store as well as balsamic vinegar, cookbooks, and various other items related to what they grow and organic farming and cooking.

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A view of the main house and restaurant area.

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A view near one of the many walking paths.

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The fireplace in our room.

Although I have been to Old Town in Albuquerque many, many times, never before did I go inside the beautiful old church on the square.  They allow photography so I took a photo.  It was all decorated for Christmas with a nearly life sized nativity scene.

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Tomorrow I go back to work.  With friends coming over for Christmas Eve, a trip to the local museum with my friend Roberto Borja, his family coming over for dinner again, the trip to Albuquerque with my friend Zuriash, hanging out with my daughter and grandson, it turned out to be one of the best holiday breaks ever.  Here’s to an equally wonderful 2014.

Fun, Food, and Community with Vegetarian Enchiladas


A couple of weeks ago, one of the blogs I follow, getsetandgo, created a post about “community” with photos of an Indian festival where all sorts of people come together to celebrate–a community.  She requested others post photos of their community events.  After reading her blog post,  I decided to tell about my attempt to start a monthly “community” :

Several months ago, I reached way out of my comfort zone and started a monthly potluck.  When and where I grew up, inviting people over for a potluck was socially unacceptable.  If you invited people over, you cooked everything yourself.  If people wanted to bring something, insisted, well, ok, but otherwise, no, no, no.  Because of work, writing, and singing, I invited a number of friends over only every few months.  In September, I decided it would be far nicer to see people  more often and invited some friends over for potluck.  They asked if we could do this regularly so a monthly ritual began.  More and more friends keep asking to join.  It remains a type of hit and miss thing.  Sometimes 16 people show up, sometimes only five.  My most recent event was a week ago.  Because some of these friends are vegetarian, I invented a recipe, vegetarian enchiladas, just for them.  I also made pork roast and chicken enchiladas.  The vegetarian enchiladas disappeared quickly and everyone wanted the recipe.

Vegetarian Enchiladas

Six tortillas (I used whole wheat)

1/2 purple onion, chopped finely

1 large poblano pepper, chopped finely

1/2 medium sized red bell pepper chopped finely

1 package cream cheese

Olive oil

1 tsp Mexican spice mix

1/2 tsp chipotle pepper, ground (I used Spice Appeal-adjust to hotness desired)

Shredded monterey jack cheese

Red enchilada sauce–I used canned because my cooktop is awaiting repair

Saute onions and pepper in just enough olive oil so they will not stick or become too dry.  Mix in cream cheese and spices until thoroughly blended.  Fill the tortillas, roll up, and place in an 8 inch casserole dish.  Cover with a light layer of enchilada sauce.  Sprinkle enough shredded cheese on top to cover.  Cover with aluminum foil.  Place in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.

In the spirit of the getsetandgo blog, I took photos of my friends as we talked and ate.  The enchiladas were all gone before it occurred to me that it would be nice to have a photo.

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Additionally, I regretted not taking a photo of three of my women friends with long hair.  Another friend who has spectacular, very dark grey, long hair and just turned 70 recently told me a story about how a mutual acquaintance came up to her and told her no woman over 60 should have long hair.  It annoyed me so much in an odd sort of way that I now wear my hair longer than usual.

Pasta with Kale and Portabello Mushrooms


Earlier I took a hike across my little canyon and up the hill where I plan to build a fence so people will not drive where they are not supposed to drive.  Driving there causes rather bad erosion.  Walked back to the barn, fed the horses, and returned to the house, then noticed hunger.  This afternoon I bought some Tuscan kale and wanted to try it out.  Here’s my creation:

Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped

3-4 medium size portabello mushrooms, sliced

3 large Tuscan kale leaves, center stem removed and chopped

Pasta–your choice.  I used rigatoni but my favorite is conchiglie from Montebello Monastery in Italy which has been doing this since 1388 or so they claim

Greek oregano

Ricotta cheese

Cover bottom of a skillet with the olive oil.  Add the onions, mushrooms, and chopped kale stems.  Saute until the onions are translucent and the kale stems are cooked but still crunchy.  While this is cooking, tear the kale leaves into bite sized pieces.  Take two dried oregano stems and lightly remove and crumble the leaves and florets into the skillet.  Discard the stems.  Add the kale leaves to the onion mixture and saute.  When done, kale leaves will be tender but still a bright green.  Pour over the pasta and place a dollop of ricotta cheese on top.

Note:  I grow my own Greek oregano and dried a bunch on my counter top this week–I live in a dry climate so this works.  I took two stems with the dried leaves and flowers still attached and stripped off the leaves and flowers and crushed them with my hands directly into the skillet.  Greek oregano is very mild.  You might want to use less of other oregano.  Without the ricotta, this recipe is vegan.  I used whole milk ricotta; I never buy low fat anything.  I tried to learn to like whole wheat pasta but gave up.  Quinoa and corn mixed pasta is ok, but give me the real thing from Italy.

 

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This photo illustrates the dried Greek oregano.  I will have to decide whether to store like this or take it all off the stems and crush it.