Featuring Spotlight!

As I have previously mentioned, this year I will be sharing some of my behind-the-scenes work on how I do what I do. A large part of what inspires my cooking is the ingredients I use. That may seem very simplistic and well..obvious but it’s true. Something will catch my eye at the market and before I know it I am loading my cart with squash or apples or some kind of interesting green and dreaming up all the different ways that I can use that particular ingredient. I think this partly stems from the fact that my husband used to be a very picky eater in the vegetable department, and so I spent the first several months of my marriage learning every single way to cook the vegetables he enjoyed. I think I can say with confidence that I have prepared Butternut squash at least 10 different ways, maybe more! It really has helped broaden my cooking experience quite a bit. I digress..today I will introduce to you “Spotlight!” a feature I have been testing for a while now. The Spotlight feature will show you my current favorite ingredient to work with, and will hopefully encourage you to maybe try something new. When you see the featured ingredient updated, you will also know what to expect in the upcoming recipe, so you can be on the lookout for it when you’re shopping. You are also able to request Spotlight ingredients, simply leave a comment in the most recent post and it will be submitted for consideration. Stay tuned!

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Harvest Quinoa Bake

There’s just something wonderful and inviting about this time of year. The weather is just starting to get that crisp Fall chill to it, beckoning all of its victims to add another layer or two. It’s when the hubs and I begin our ritual herbal tea and cider drinking and spend our precious Sundays snuggled up with stacks and stacks of books. I am nearly giddy while adding Butternut and Acorn squash to my grocery cart, dreaming up all the wonderful ways I will pay tribute to their golden goodness this season. And of course who can ignore the glowing orange pumpkins that seem to be everywhere you turn. So with all of the tastes, color, and textures as my inspiration, I dreamed up this little creation, I call it the Harvest Quinoa Bake. I first made a variation of this for a friend’s birthday potluck (which is a genius idea for a Fall b-day) mostly on a whim and because everyone enjoyed it so much I decided to try to re-create it using some of this seasons delicious varieties of squash. This recipe sounds much more laborious than it really is, let me assure you that after you get through the peeling and hacking of squash it becomes quite simple. So try it out and let me know what you think!

 

Harvest Quinoa Bake

Note: A common problem I find with Quinoa is how to enhance its flavor and keep it from being bland. The method I use slightly toasts the grain in an onion infused olive oil, giving it a deeper and aromatic nutty flavor. This takes a bit of extra time but is well worth the effort. All of the vegetables can be prepped/chopped ahead of time to reduce the cooking time.

– 2-3 c. Butternut squash (about 1/3 of whole squash)
– 1 sweet potato
– 1/2  Summer squash (yellow variety)
– 1/2 yellow bell pepper
– 1 carrot
– 1/2 large Granny Smith apple
– 1 small bunch fresh parsley
– 1/2 yellow onion
– 2 c. Quinoa
– extra virgin olive oil
– 3-4 c. or less freshly grated Parmesan
– 1/2 c. Feta
– handful dried cranberries
– spices: several sprigs of fresh (or dried) Rosemary, dried Thyme, Sea salt & cracked pepper

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

With a cleaver (or other very sharp heavy knife) chop off the top third of the Butternut squash, remove seeds if any, and then peel skin with a vegetable peeler. Once peeled, cut squash into 1 inch cubes.

Peel sweet potato, and cut into 1 inch cubes as well. Toss Butternut squash and sweet potato in a small bit of olive oil and arrange on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with generous amounts of Rosemary, Thyme, and sea salt and bake for 20 minutes or until fully cooked and slightly crispy on the edges.

2) While those are roasting in the oven…

finely dice the onion and parsley, and coarsely chop the yellow squash, bell pepper, carrot & apple. Set aside, but do not mix together.

3) In a medium-sized pot, saute the onion in a small amount of olive oil till softened and translucent. Add in the Quinoa and allow to toast for about 30 seconds, then add 3 c. hot water to the pot and bring to a boil. When water comes to a rapid boil, lower the heat and allow Quinoa to simmer (much like you would steam rice).

Meanwhile… in another deep skillet or pot saute the remaining vegetables and apples in a small bit of olive oil. When they are almost cooked, stir in the parsley and cook for a few seconds until wilted yet still bright green.

4) In a 9×12 casserole dish layer the cooked Quinoa and onion, next add the sautéed vegetables & parsley, then the roasted Butternut squash & sweet potato, and finally top with Feta, Parmesan, & cranberries. Salt & pepper and bake for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.




 

Summertime

There’s just something about watermelon that loudly announces the start of summer. Think about it, you wouldn’t lug around a container of turnips at the beach, you most likely would not serve cabbage at a picnic, and I don’t think onion slices would be a very tasty poolside snack. When it comes to summertime snacks, watermelon is tops!

But don’t neglect the other guys in the produce aisle, with the turn of the season comes fresh new summer produce. One of the wonderful things about Texas in July (definitely not the humidity) is the colorful array of seasonal produce it offers. Shopping seasonally not only saves your hard-earned cash, but gives you the opportunity to purchase your fruits and vegetables at their peak of freshness. And if you choose to buy local, you can also feel good about the fact that you’re supporting local agriculture and boosting the business of your “neighbors”. Being neighborly is what being a Texan is all about right?!

Here is a list of seasonal produce for the month of July:

Apples,
Blueberries,
Cabbage,
Cantaloupes,
Carrots ,
Cucumber,
Herbs,
Honeydew Melon,
Mushrooms ,
Nectarines,
Onions ,
Peaches,
Pears,
Peppers,
Plums,
Potatoes,
Summer squash,
Tomatoes,
Turnips,
Watermelon

*If you’re not a native of the Lone Star State, you can find your states produce calendar on the NRDC website, simply follow this link and enter your state.

http://www.nrdc.org/health/foodmiles/fullyear.asp?state=45

Roasted Radish Salad

The great thing about this time of year is the colorful variety of produce available at the market. As a seasonal shopper, I try to utilize what is in season (along with my regular produce) as a springboard for new recipes. It’s a great way to cook outside of your comfort zone, not to mention have the freshest food at lower cost. Thus, I stumbled upon this recipe. With radishes as my inspiration, I combined some of my favorites to create a Roasted Radish Salad of sorts. The Roasted Sesame Oil finishes the dish, adding a slightly smoky flavor to the hearty vegetables. This recipe may seem understated in nature, but trust me when it comes to texture and flavor this one’s definitely got it.

Roasted Radish Salad
Radish, 1 bunch
Carrots, 2 whole
Squash,1 (I used Yellow Summer, but any firm squash will do)
Zucchini, 1/2
Red Kidney Beans (Dried) approx. 1/2 cup – Soaked, Rinsed well, and Cooked Completely*
Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Spices: Red Chili Powder, Cracked Pepper, Minced Garlic ( 2 Cloves), Sea Salt
Roasted Sesame oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash all vegetables and trim off the ends.
  2. Cut the radishes in quarters. Peel the carrots and slice them in thin rounds. Cut squash/zucchini in half and remove seeds with a  small scoop or spoon, then chop in 1/4 inch thick slices.
  3. Add all vegetables and kidney beans into an oven-safe dish, and drizzle lightly with Olive Oil. Add Chili Powder, Pepper, Garlic, and Sea Salt. (I usually don’t measure spices, but as a guide use about  1 teaspoon of each.)
  4. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes or until tender and almost fully cooked, stirring occasionally.You must watch the vegetables, because they cook up fairly quickly.
  5. Remove dish from oven, and drizzle with Roasted Sesame Oil (lightly coated). Return the dish to the oven, and continue roasting till slightly golden around the edges.

*Note: I used dried beans that I had pre-cooked, but canned will also work if rinsed very thoroughly.

This recipe is great as a stand-alone dish, or paired with grilled beef or brown rice. It’s very versatile.