Stuffing squashes!

For over a week now, I’ve been seriously considering making a stuffed acorn squash. I bought the squash last weekend at Trader Joe’s and it’s been staring at me every day since, taunting me to find the perfect recipe with which to honor it.

Now, you should know this about me: my love of squash combined with my culinary knowledge of squash has, unfortunately, not led me to actually use acorn squash in any kind of cooking endeavor. Of course, I have eaten acorn squash. I mean, I’m sure I have. I can’t say it was a staple in my household, but I just ate it and it wasn’t a brand new experience, so I must’ve eaten it at some point in my life. Right? That’s logical.

Getting back to my story, this idea for a stuffed acorn squash originated from a formerly vegetarian friend who was making dinner for a friend of hers: acorn squashed stuffed with various delicious-sounding things I don’t remember. I think there was quinoa, and there might’ve been cranberries. I only remember being jealous that I wasn’t the friend she’d invited to her house, and then being hungry.

Tonight was the night. Tonight was the night I would make the much-pondered stuffed acorn squash. There would be forbidden rice, there would be cous cous, there would be caramelized onions, there would be a sauteed portobello mushroom… there would be kale, just for some green. It would be pretty and delicious.

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Forbidden Rice and Cous Cous

Ingredients

4 acorn squash, cut in half and seeded
olive oil (enough for lightly coating the squash and sauteing)
2 cups cooked cous cous
2 cups cooked forbidden rice
4 garlic cloves
2 yellow or white onions, thinly sliced
2 portobello mushrooms, sliced
a handful of kale (1-2 cups raw)
1-2 tbsp dried thyme
salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp panko or other breadcrumbs (optional)
1 tbsp Earth Balance (optional; for the breadcrumbs)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Cut a small amount of the bottom of each halved squash so the halves stand level. Prepare a baking pan with aluminum foil and brush the inside of each halved acorn squash with olive oil; place the squash on the foiled pan. In the preheated oven, bake for 45 minutes.

2. While the squash is cooking, saute the garlic and onion slices in olive oil on medium-low heat until they’re limp and start to yellow, then add the mushroom slices and the thyme. Brown the mushrooms, then add the kale and saute for another 3 minutes or until it’s wilted. Remove from heat and stir in the cous cous and forbidden rice. Set aside until the squash is done.

3. Prepare the breadcrumb topping. Mix the Earth Balance with the panko; set aside.

4. Once the squash is done, remove from the oven (don’t turn the oven off yet – you’re not really done). Scoop the cous cous-rice mixture evenly into each squash, then top with the panko. Put the assembled squash back in the oven and bake for another 25 minutes.

5. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.

I gobbled it up with some yummy brussels sprouts. Hard to go wrong with brussels sprouts, as far as I’m concerned.

A comforting kind of weekend.

It’s always a bummer when the weekend ends. This one was lovely – I did more cooking and a little bit of walking (7.5 miles today!), and accidentally bought more groceries than I needed… again. It was a little sunny here, but fall-sunny rather than summer-sunny. You know what I mean? The air smells of crunchy leaves. It made me want to bake a pumpkin pie.

I didn’t bake a pie, but I did get into casseroles this weekend; specifically, mac and cheese! I had a serious mac and cheese craving all day Saturday and created a delicious variation of this recipe. Seriously… so good. I didn’t have nutritional yeast (yet), so I used some vegan mozzarella and cheddar. I also used quinoa pasta, which is my current favorite, and used peas as my chosen add-in.

It wasn’t so pretty when I managed to get it out of the baking dish – it kind of collapsed before it made it onto the plate – but what it lacked in appearance, it made up for in taste. Om nom nom.

Then I made a single-serving variation of this apple crisp

The apples got quite golden.

Tonight, I made myself a variation of the macaroni casserole, except with gnocchi and my own take on the sauce (minus the butternut, plus some leftover sweet potato):

With some roasted corn on the cob (cut off the cob) and more sauteed kale… I’m really digging kale right now.

And for dessert tonight, I baked a single serving of the best vegan chocolate cake ever, but substituted 2/3 of the flour for panko crumbs, of all things. Then I topped it with strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries before putting it in the oven. You know what? It was delicious. Panko crumbs were a good decision – lowered the calories slightly and didn’t sacrifice flavor.

I didn’t take a picture of this one. By the time it was out of the oven and cool enough to eat, I just wanted to eat! Mmm, chocolate…

Roasted fennel, chickpeas, peppers and grapes.

I won’t copy and paste the recipe, because I did follow it exactly, but I wanted to share with anyone who may be reading that I had a wonderful meal tonight: roasted fennel, chickpeas, peppers and grapes, with a side of sauteed kale and another side of mashed sweet potatoes. I also fed my friend Jen and introduced her to The West Wing, a show to which I am quickly becoming addicted.

Anyway, this was the food:

Who knew roasted grapes could be so delicious? You need to try it. I scoured the vast interwebs this afternoon not at all during work hours in search of a recipe that utilized the weird fruits and veggies I picked up in my fanatical grocery shopping endeavors this weekend, and this recipe ended up being one of my best decisions this week.

After that wholesome meal, I succumbed to an unhealthy craving and made myself a bowl of vegan and gluten free cookie dough and relatively harmless dark chocolate (cocoa powder + boiling water + stevia) and frozen raspberries. Then I baked some cookies. Now I am singing along to my current favorite song, Until It’s Gone by Monica. This song is so ’90s – I love it.

Beefless Stroganoff.

When I was growing up, I remember my mom making the best beef stroganoff. Of course, my mom makes the best everything, so it’s no great wonder that her beef stroganoff was also the best.

Today was one of those cold, dreary days in Seattle, the kind of day that becomes commonplace in the fall. It’s the kind of weather that makes the indoors cozy enough to make me crave comfort food – spaghetti, meatloaf, Chinese food, whatever. (Yes, Chinese food is comfort food in my world.) Tonight, while out for my post-work four-mile walk, I decided I would try to make beefless beef stroganoff. Mind you, I had never even tried to make beef stroganoff with the real thing, so there was an added challenge.

I creatively adapted the recipe from my family’s favorite Russian cookbook to suit my newly vegan needs. The book is cleverly titled Nothing Beets Borscht.

Beefless Stroganoff

Ingredients

For the sauce:
1 package Trader Joe’s Beefless Strips
Mushrooms, sliced (as many as you want – I used about 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon scallions, chopped
2 tbsp vegan butter (I used Smart Balance Lite)
6 tbsp vegan sour cream (I used Vegan Gourmet)
1-2 tbsp dill
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1-2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp white wine

For the accompaniment:
1-2 tbsp vegan sour cream
1-2 tbsp dill
Cooked rice, cooked potatoes, or my current favorite, shredded, boiled zucchini pasta (or regular pasta, if you really want it – my mom used to serve this over bowtie pasta)

Directions

1. Cook the beefless strips as directed; set aside.

2. Over medium heat, melt 1 tbsp of the vegan butter in the skillet. When the butter is melted and bubbling, add the garlic and scallions; saute until the scallions are limp and translucent (don’t let them brown). Add the sliced mushrooms now, raising the heat a bit and constantly stirring for 3-4 minutes, or until the mushrooms are barely cooked through. You may need to add more butter if it starts looking too dry.

3. Add the vegetable stock, mustard, wine, sour cream and dill, mixing well to combine. Now add the beefless strips, again, mixing well. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened and looks right (you’ll know when that is if you’ve ever had stroganoff – if not, it’s when it’s no longer watery).

4. While the sauce is simmering, prepare your accompaniment. If you opt for the zucchini, like I did, just shred the zucchini, boil it for a minute, and drain it, rinsing with cold water.

5. Top the accompaniment of your choice with the sauce. If you’re so inclined, add a dollop of sour cream and some dill.

Healthy foodie goes vegan.

Wait, what? Little Miss I-Heart-Salmon is now eschewing all things animal? Yes, that’s right, folks. I’ve decided to go vegan.

Before you accuse me of arbitrarily trend-following, know this: I have good reason for this decision. I’m in the midst of reading The China Study, a book that has enlightened me to the fact that there is a good possibility that eating animal products can increase one’s chances of getting cancer. As someone whose mother and maternal grandmother had breast cancer, whose father has colon cancer, whose maternal grandfather had prostate cancer and type 2 diabetes… well, any diet that even hints at the possibility of lowering my chances of getting cancer is something I’m going to try. Even if it doesn’t prevent anything, it’s worth a shot, right?

Anyway, today was Day 4 (or Day 2 of strict vegan behavior, because I had a goat cheese and salmon pizza on Friday), and I think I like this. It’s taking some getting used to because it’s such a 180 from the Perricone plan (at least, in terms of type of protein), but I really like that I can have bread and whole wheat pasta, and I’m fascinated that there are so many soy substitutes available. I spent much of this weekend going on supermarket reconnaissance missions that resulted in a refrigerator stuffed to the brims with goodies. I’m especially excited that I can eat potatoes, even though I don’t actually know what to do with a potato to make it delicious. This will be a learning experience, for sure.

For now, I will leave you with a lovely picture of Saturday night’s dinner. That’s a forbidden rice salad (with cranberries, walnuts, celery and red onion), roasted butternut squash, roasted brussels sprouts, and an heirloom tomato salad with soy mozzarella, basil, and balsamic. Isn’t healthy food pretty?