January 13, 2012

Recipe - Stuffed Butternut Squash

Okay, I finally have to admit it: winter is here. We East Coasters totally lucked out and managed to get away with unseasonably warm weather all through December, but it's catching up with us now. Johnny and I have been piling on the blankets at night, I ordered a few pairs of comfy over-the-knee socks from Sock Dreams for an added layer of warmth, and the hats/scarves/gloves have come out of hiding and taken their rightful positions on our bodies. No snow yet, but I'm sure that's next. I remember sort of secretly wishing for snow a few weeks ago, but I'm beginning to think that was a mistake...

It's no surprise that I've been craving warm food from morning till night with weather like this. I've traded breakfast cereal for oatmeal, salads for soups, and I have a hot mug of tea in my hand every night (our kettle is getting quite the workout!). And while I'm sure I'll be complaining about a lack of produce come March, right now I'm digging on winter vegetables. Butternut squash has got to be at the top of that list. So easy to prepare, so filling and satisfying... it's deep orange color even makes it look warm. Perfect seasonal food.

I remember first having butternut squash as a kid when my parents would make their famous Stuffed Squash. Their version uses bread cubes and sausage and my siblings and I absolutely adored it. Of course, we'd pretty much eat the stuffing and leave the squash behind. Nowadays I'm more like to scarf the squash up first! So how do you replace sausage in a favorite childhood recipe and still get a tasty result? Lots and lots of flavor.

I was drawn to this recipe because it called for an unusual combination of ingredients. Dried fruit and sundried tomatoes? Intriguing. I made some substitutions based on personal taste and what I had on hand and I really loved the result. The sweet and savory flavors blend into a perfect bite and the combination of toasted bread and silky, buttery squash is delicious. I used croutons, but next time I will use crusty bread and cut it into smaller cubes for a more stuffing-like consistency. I really can't wait to make this again!

For his part, Johnny claims his tastebuds were a bit off as he was recovering from a cold the night we ate this. So he didn't like it at first, but he warmed up to it slowly, eventually eating most of his half. He's such a fan of his own stuffing, his mind isn't really open to new interpretations. :-)

Stuffed Butternut Squash
Serves 2
(Based on this recipe by Food.com)

1 butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, diced small
1/8 cup cooking alcohol (I used Mirin)
2 cups bread cubes or croutons
1/2 cup dried fruit (I used cherries, but cranberries or raisins would also be nice)
1/2 cup nuts (I used chopped walnuts)
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut your squash into equal halves and remove the seeds (I use a small ice cream scoop for this and it works great!). Rub the cut side of the squash with a bit of olive oil and place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Cook for 30 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the onions, celery and carrot for about 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms and garlic and continue cooking until soft. Add your cooking alcohol to deglaze the pan, making sure the heat of the pan is high enough that the liquid bubbles up and begins to evaporate.

After a few minutes, add the bread cubes, dried fruit, nuts and sundried tomatoes. Stir well and add your spices, then stir in the vegetable broth to soften the bread. Remove from heat.

Allow the stuffing mixture to cool a bit, then spoon it into the cooked butternut squash. Bake on your baking sheet for another 20 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then serve with some lightly dressed mixed greens.

January 8, 2012

Recipe - Vibrant Vegan Lasagna and Holiday Round-up

Well, hello there! Did everyone enjoy the holidays? Johnny and I actually stayed in New York for Christmas and it was our first Christmas away from family. We certainly missed our loved ones, but we ended up having a great time! We took our annual pilgrimage to the Rockefeller Center tree, we saw a few movies, had brunch and a few drinks out on Christmas Eve, and had lots of cuddly nights at home. On Christmas day, we started with some "Fronch Toast" with an apple cinnamon topping I whipped up that was to die for. Then our lovely friends had us over to their place in Brooklyn for Christmas dinner. It was a Polish feast! Stuffed cabbage, pierogies, homemade sauerkraut... all so delicious. I was in a food coma for about a week!

We also bought our first Christmas tree and put up some fun decorations. Ornaments can be so expensive, so we decided to make our own. I got the idea from Cold and Sleepy's blog to make a simple flour/salt dough, then we used cookie cutters to make shapes and baked them. After they cooled, we decorated them with marker and it worked out beautifully! Here are a few of our creations:

Bells and Trees
Snow People - Pimp, Hula Lady, and Standard Snowman
Miss Piggy and Kermit, Charlie Brown and his gimpy tree, and Gingerbread Man
Now that the excitement of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's has died down, I'm striving to get back to basics. For me that means cutting way down on sugar and processed foods, increasing my fruit and veggie intake, and getting back to walking and exercising. All those holiday foods taste so good, but it's amazing how much they affect me on every level! I get moody, tired, anxious, my blood sugar fluctuates like crazy and random aches and pains increase. It's fun to indulge, but it's also really nice to get back to cleaner eating.

To that end, I made a really great lasagna last night that was just about as healthy as a lasagna can be without being boring. It was a bit labor intensive, but we've been eating out so much that I didn't mind spending a little extra time in the kitchen. I wanted to steer clear of any fake, processed "meat" and "cheese" products and use ingredients that were there for a health purpose, not just for flavor. I call it "Vibrant Vegan Lasagna" because the colors in it really are pretty and because it will make you feel truly vibrant - not weighed down like most lasagnas.

I knew I wanted to use a "cashew cheese" for the protein, healthy fat, and B12 courtesy of nutritional yeast. I based it on a recipe from Oh She Glows! but had to make some modifications as fresh basil is not in season. The sauce was inspired by Olivia Wilde's "Bomb-Diggity Bolognese" (she's so cute) which I've cooked many times over the past year. We just watched her in "Cowboys and Aliens" this weekend - I thought it was really good BTW - so that be why I had her on the brain. She uses tempeh and mushrooms as a meat-like base and chops them up in the food processor to get that Bolognese-like consistency. This sauce is so flexible - you can add just about any veggie to it you have on hand and it will come out tasting great. The tempeh adds even more protein and it is a fermented food, which is great for digestion. I then added some chopped collards (really working on boosting my daily intake of greens!) as they are high in vitamin C and soluble fiber. You can substitute spinach or kale and I'm sure the result would be just as good.

So how did it turn out? Let's just say that I devoured my first piece and was back for seconds before Johnny had even finished pouring himself a drink in the kitchen! I was a bit worried that the unconventional ingredients would not suit Johnny's tastebuds, but he really loved this lasagna and even had seconds himself. And now we have some leftovers for lunches and a bunch more to freeze! I love when new creations turn out so well!

Vibrant Vegan Lasagna
(Makes 12 servings)

For the tomato sauce:

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 small yellow or white onion
1 block of tempeh (I used Lightlife Organic 3-Grain tempeh)
1 pint baby portabella mushrooms, rinsed
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 28 oz jar pasta sauce (I used Newman's Own Tomato and Basil sauce)
1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes

For the cashew cheese:

1 clove garlic
1 1/4 cups raw, unsalted cashews (soaked for at least 30 minutes or overnight)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (I know it sounds weird, but trust me!)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water or vegetable broth

For the crumb topping:

2 cups breadcrumbs (I made my own from a stale baguette which I pulsed in the food processor)
2 tbsp Earth Balance or olive oil
1/2 tsp oregano
salt and pepper to taste

9 lasagna noodles
1 bag frozen, chopped collard greens, thawed (be sure to squeeze out the liquid so they are as dry as possible)

First, put a large pot of water on to boil. Then make your tomato sauce so it can simmer while you prep the rest of the ingredients. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Chop the peeled garlic cloves in the food processor and add to the skillet. Pulse the peeled onion in the food processor and add to the skillet. Cook for 5 minutes or until softened. Add the tempeh to the food processor and pulse until it breaks into small crumbs. Transfer to the skillet. Pulse the mushrooms in the food processor until chopped into small pieces. Transfer to the skillet. Add the wine and spices and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mushrooms will begin to give off their liquid and cook down, and the tempeh will brown a bit. Stir in the jar of pasta sauce and the chopped tomatoes and reduce heat to low. Allow to simmer while you prepare the rest of the lasagna, stirring every now and then.

Your water should be boiling at this point, so add your lasagna noodles. Be careful not to overcook them, 9 minutes should be plenty. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Next, wipe out your food processor so you can make the cashew cheese. Drain and rinse the cashews. Chop the peeled garlic clove in the processor, then add the cashews, lemon juice, mustard, nutritional yeast, and salt and begin to process. Drizzle in the water as the processor is running until you achieve a smooth consistency. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. You made need to add more or less than 1/4 cup water, but you want it to form a paste.

Drain the lasagna noodles and immediately rinse with cold water. In a 9"x12" glass pan, put some of the tomato sauce in the bottom so your noodles won't stick. Lay down three of the noodles, then spread 1/3 of the cashew cheese mixture over them. Sprinkle 1/2 of the collard greens on top, then spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce on top of that. Layer on three more noodles, then 1/3 cheese, the remaining collard greens, and 1/3 tomato sauce. Add another layer of noodles, then the rest of the cheese and the tomato sauce.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Before the 30 minutes is up, prepare your breadcrumb topping. In a medium skillet, melt the Earth Balance or heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and spices and cook for 3 minutes, or until everything is well incorporated. Once the lasagna has been cooking for 30 minutes, remove the foil and sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top. Cook uncovered for another 7-10 minutes or until the breadcrumbs are browned.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting and serving.