Roasted Stuffed Acorn Squash

I have never cooked an acorn squash – or any winter squash for that matter. Therefore this was a completely new experience for me. It did not hurt that I make rice just about every week and make mushrooms pretty much every week too. Rice, mushrooms, shallots, lemon – just my kind of go to lunch.

I would rather take lunch to work than to go out for it (or breakfast). I think I make pretty good food and I make what I like and that works for me. Why go out and buy something if you are happy with the things you make. And for me, I like to mix things up a bit. Sometimes it is toasted bread with mushrooms and some cheese,  or rice with mushrooms and artichoke hearts. I always have cheese and butter at work – and always always a fresh lemon. I also have a salt and pepper grinders – makes a difference.

I guess that is where my lunch hacks come from. Take something you have and turn it into something new with just what you have, appliance wise, at the office. In my case – toaster, toaster oven, and a microwave. Looking forward to the new office where will have a warming oven. Hoping it gets hot enough to make cookies (350 degrees). That will just smell great.

D&D_24931 acorn squash, cut in half stem to root and scoop out seeds/strings
1/2 cup grain, jasmine rice, cooked, finished w/lemon juice/zest
1 cup vegetables, cooked (crimini mushrooms, shallots, garlic, lemon juice/zest)
1/2 cup extra sharp white cheddar
Additional filling ingredients as desired, dried fruits, nuts, etc.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (convection).

Place the squash halves cut-side-down in a baking dish and pour in enough hot water to fill the pan by about 1/4 inch. Cover the dish loosely with foil and place the dish in the middle of the oven.

Roast the squash until easily pierced by a paring knife, 30 to 50 minutes. Exact roasting time will depend on the size of your squash.

While the squash is roasting, prepare the filling. Mix filling ingredients in a bowl and season with salt and pepper and any other spice you would like. Or add some dried fruits (I’m thinking cranberry here) or nuts.

Flip the cooked squash halves so they form bowls. Rub the inside with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Divide the filling between the halves — mound the filling on top.

Cover the pan with the foil and bake the halves for another 15 to 20 minutes until both are hot and bubbly. Top with extra cheese and serve immediately.

15 minutes at 375 convection, turn 15 more – done.

This was pretty cool. Will be trying more winter squashes. Such a new thing for me. I kind of like the speckled look of the acorn squash. Looks like stars.


Banana Nut Bread

I just cannot stand bananas. It is the texture I think, but, let’s just say, ugh. But here I am making banana nut bread from my mom’s recipe again. Just like so many years before.

I miss that I can’t make it for my dad anymore. But this, to me, more that just about anything else, is Christmas.

It would not be Christmas without toasted (under the broiler) banana nut bread slathered in too much butter for Christmas Day breakfast/brunch. Sausage balls are the close second.

D&D_2576This keeps well. And if you make a loaf and split it and put half wrapped in two layers of heavy duty foil in the freezer you can pull it out in March and it is still amazing.  That is what I did for my dad – half a loaf to eat now and the other have to save for a couple of months. You can make this anytime of year, really, but – it is just Christmas. And my family’s tradition.

8 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas
3 cups sifted all purpose flour
3 1/12 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cup chopped pecans (I upped this – my mom only used 1 cup)

Grease and line a 9 x 5″ loaf pan with parchment paper and spray again with baking spray.  Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and baking soda – typically, I do this on a piece of waxed paper. In the stand mixer, blend the butter and sugar together. Then add the eggs, one at a time until blended. Add the mashed bananas and blend until combined. Mix in dry ingredients. Add pecans and mix well.

Turn into loaf pan and bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour and increase temp to 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

21 December 2017 – post procedure – funny, that – that is a story for a whole different day.(said in the voice of River Song from Dr. Who – the Matt Smith version). Dear lord, I am a dork of the nth degree. And obviously, the drugs are still having an impact of sorts.

300 degrees 1 hour – turn 1/2 way through
345 degrees 15 minutes – turn
20 minutes more – check with long wooden skewer – damnation – perfect.
9 x 5 inch Williams Sonoma gold-ish large loaf pan


Work Hack – good for breakfast or lunch as long as you have Kerry Gold butter.

Hummus Wrap

I just can not bring myself to purchase hummus. No matter what – I think it because I am too cheap. It is just so damn easy to make hummus at home and no what any banana-pants cookbook or chef says – canned garbanzo beans are really just fine. Buy the Publix brand and just make your life so much simpler.

Again, this is a recipe from my vegetarian 1990s and I still make it all the time. The thing about this recipe is balance. I think even the banana-pants (read: fancy) chefs would agree to that.

Hummus ~
2 lemons, zested & juiced
2 cloves of garlic
1-15 ozs. can garbanzo beans
1 Tbs tahini or there abouts
kosher salt
olive oil

In the bowl of a food processor, whirl up the garlic cloves until minced. Rinse the garbanzo beans in a colander, getting rid of the canning liquid* and add to food processor. Pulse a couple of times. Add lemon zest and lemon juice and pulse again. Add tahini and adjust the thickness of the hummus with a little water if necessary. Then add a little bit of really good olive oil**, because it is just a lovely thing. Taste as you go along.

Then here is the important part: Put the hummus in the fridge. Yes, this takes advanced planning, but you need to make your hummus a day ahead at the least. Let the flavors mix and then let the hummus sit out and try again – cold hummus will tell you nothing. No cold food ever tastes at its best unless it is, maybe, ice cream, but I am not even sure about that. Does it need more lemon, more salt, some sumac, a little freshly ground black pepper? Or is it just spiffy the way it is?

The Rest of the Stuff ~
Sun-dried tomato tortilla, warmed
Red onion, sliced and sautéed in a little olive oil, soft, but keep them red, splash of vinegar – red wine, or course
Crimini mushrooms, sautéed until juices are dry and well salted and peppered
Spinach (from the salad bar at the Publix)#

So this turned into more of a project than I expected, but the outcome was just lovely. I made the hummus, onions, and, mushrooms ahead of time and they hung out in the fridge for a couple of days. Did keep munching on those onions though – they were really good. Kind of pickled onions that were just a little soft.

Take a warm tortilla and spread with homemade hummus down the middle. Add the red onions and mushrooms down the middle. Top with spinach. Then do your best to roll the tortilla. I am not good at this – at all, but it worked well enough that I will get better over time. I’m sure (nope).


Next time: feta, sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil, but well-drained), artichoke hearts, roasted asparagus, hearts of palm. All these are just questions really. I could just go on and on. I really think these will make great lunch hacks, but I must pack all the items in small containers and keep them separate until it is time for lunch. Read: need new “tupperware” containers and lots of them. And I must toast or heat the tortilla  – that seems to be necessary.

November 2017 – Idea for the wrap from Ree Drummond.

*Know this is a controversial thing, but we’ll get there. I just do not like the taste. Sorry, vegan Aquafaba. Eeww.

**California Olive Ranch – Everyday. I can now get this at my Publix – very happy!

#When you only need a little greens for a sandwich or two, the salad bar can be a very good thing. If I am making a couple of spinach quiches – then I buy bags, but otherwise the salad bar is your friend.

2YA – Cheddar Pecan Crisps

One Pot Spaghetti

This recipe appealed to me because, in my small mind, spaghetti is always best as a left over. Kind of like meatloaf. I do not like warm meatloaf on a plate (isn’t meatloaf just such a strange word?), nor do I like spaghetti with sauce the day I make it. It does not really matter if it is my pasta sauce (vegetarian) or a meat sauce – it is always way (!) better when it sits in the fridge for a day or two.

My favorite way to eat spaghetti, which was always with a meat sauce when I was growing up, was a day later, reheated in a small pot on the stove – and then at the end, my mom would stir in small chunks of cheddar (a cheese she never skimped on – ever). So melty cheddar, meat sauce, soft noodles, and lovely goodness.

This recipe gets right down to that point. Cooking the pasta in the sauce makes a big difference, but I will still argue that waiting that one more painful day will make it just perfection. Let us just say, that I am right because I did it that way and it was just about everything I remember from the left-over spaghetti-ness of my childhood.*

1 lb lean ground beef
1/2 large sweet onion (softball-sized onion)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups water
15 ozs can tomato sauce
15 ozs can diced tomatoes with juice
1 Tbs dried oregano
1 Tbs dried basil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
12 ozs spaghetti, broken in half
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 Tbs chopped parsley

In a large potter medium high heat cook beef and onion until soft. Add garlic and stir for a minute or two. Drain fat (there was not much).

Add water, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Bring to boil. Add spaghetti and stir. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook, stirring often, until noodles are cooked through, 15 minutes or so.

Stir in Parmesan and parsley before serving.

3 November 2017 – Tasty, but in my opinion needs more tomato flavor. Maybe use crushed tomatoes instead of diced. The Boy like the taste of it. Maybe a bit of tomato paste while adding the garlic?

Hoping the reheat on the next day will make it even better. This certainly will not be the last time I make it. And I can report now – yes – later is always better with spaghetti.

Can not wait to take it to lunch with some shredded extra sharp cheddar. That should just be the thing. This apple does not fall far from my childhood tree. D&D_2234

*Why does this come up so often? Because childhood food is really good food. That is why.

My Favorite Mushroom Asparagus Pasta … so far.

This is a recipe that I got from Giada Delaurentiis. No, I realize that I am so spelling that wrong. I am sure, maybe. I have eliminated walnuts from the original recipe and added garlic and some onions but the basic recipe is still the most important part: 1/2 pound of ridged pasta – penne. Lots of mushrooms – about a pound and then a pound of asparagus cut into pieces. And the most part is the mascarpone. Heavenly. Of course & Parmesan as always, and with me some fresh lemon zest and lemon juice to brighten up any creamy kind of pasta. You really do not need salt for this, in my mind. If you do the lemon thing. Which pretty much do every time. I do need a lemon zester at the office – who does that – no. one. except, maybe, me. Is that a bad thing or does that just make me the food snob that everyone thinks I am? Not sure. Sigh.D&D_2242

8 ozs penne pasta
olive oil
2 Tbs unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small-ish yellow onions
1 pound cremini or button mushrooms, sliced*
1 bundle of asparagus, a pound or s,  trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
8 ozs mascarpone
Parmesan, for serving

Heat a pot of boiling water, and salt well. Add asparagus and cook until bright green and crisp tender – kind of the al dente of asparagus. Remove asparagus from water and set aside. Once the asparagus is finished, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

In a sauté pan, melt butter and add a little olive oil. Add the sliced mushroom and sauté until they’ve released their juices and most of that liquid evaporates. Add garlic and sauté for another minute more.

Add the asparagus to the mushrooms. Then add the container of mascarpone cheese. Stir until it is melted and coats the vegetables . Add cooked pasta and mix together. Add a handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and stir again.

Serve with extra Parmesan for serving. A lemon wedge would not go amiss here.

*Buy whole mushrooms and slice yourself. Pre-sliced mushrooms are an abomination. Purchase cremini if you have the option. Just saying.

Sometimes (Often Times) I have this in my bag …

Actually (and I hate to use that word – really hate it*), this is not terribly exciting, but it makes my day at the office (how sad is that?). It is a lemon – I know, So. Very. Exciting. sigh.

I have this habit of bringing together odd bits of food from home for my breakfast / lunch to cobble together and occasionally make a great lunch hack. I just prefer it to buying lunch out. Snob that I am, I like my cooking better than most others. Probably because I make the things I like – like right now, I am on a pan-roasted mushroom trip. Not sure why, but it works for me.

I tend to eat crackers for breakfast just to choke down the stupid mess of meds for the equally stupid lupus that has become a very crappie part of my life recently – hello, medical field – not impressed so far. Okay – enough of that.

Back to it – It is amazing what a fresh lemon can do – just the juice, since I do not have a zester at the office. Although I probably should think about getting one. Fresh lemon (or lime) zest is just lovely. What about grapefruit zest – now there is an idea. Also need a pepper grinder too, if I really want to make the lunch hack thing special (and we all want it to be special, don’t we?)

We have the “Real Lemon” juice in a bottle in the office fridge, but it is just so lame compared to fresh lemon – even if the lemon is kind of a lame, old-ish lemon from the back of my fridge at the house – that juice makes all the difference. The difference is really very telling – not a joke. cropped-dd_1784

So I have some left over rice, maybe with some artichoke hearts in it, and then I add my favorite garlicy pan-roasted mushrooms on top and heat it up. What makes it perfect? Fresh lemon juice. You see where this is going, right?

Just put a lemon in your bag. It will be fine. And it is kind of cool. Kind of like a fez.~

* Inspector Morse always hated that word too and I love my Morse (John Thaw). That’s a post for a whole other time. Or as Dr River Song would say, “That’s a whole other birthday.” Yes, a cool Dr. Who reference~. My total geek is showing.

When you get right down to it  – it is the author of the Morse stories, Colin Dexter that, I think,  hated “actually.” Understandable. But I do have to quibble with his use of “sludgy” green eyes – seems to be a recurring theme that I resent because my green eyes are said to be lovely. I was going to say hot, but only blue eyes and brown eyes are hot and to be honest, no one knows what to do with hazel eyes. Genetic randomness right there.

The Boy has lovely blue eyes that can turn grey depending on what he is wearing or even what kind of mood he is in. I did not know that could happen. But how does a child with two green-eyed parents end up with a blue-eyed child. Apparently blue eyes can stay hidden from previous generations, so I expect that is it. Way to much science for me. Hello, Gregor Mendel and principals of inheritance. See, I did learn some science in Jr. High School. Who knew?


Well, we just went for a wander, didn’t we? Or, I guess it was me that let this tiny brain of mine wander a bit.

Back to lemons, in your bag, to make you desk meal (lunch hack) a real treat vs. a total bore. Your call.


Sun-Dried Tomato Rice with Pecorino

So the Publix had a large-ish jar of oil packed sun-dried tomatoes on sale a bit ago and I went for it. I usually get the dry ones and rehydrate them, but figured I might as well try this because it was a good deal. So then I had to figure out what to do with them and this was an early thought. And one I liked quite a bit and made for an easy and great lunch. Though I will say I added, once again, some fresh lemon juice to enhance the flavors of everything. This also keeps me from adding salt, and I just can’t help but think that is a good thing.D&D_2188

2 Tbs sun-dried tomato oil
1 Tbs canola oil
1 medium shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup short grain rice
2 cups water with 1 tsp vegetable bullion (Better than Bouillon)
1/3 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, minced and patted very dry – yes, very dry
Pecorino or Parmesan – it is for the salt, mostly.

Heat oils to medium and add shallots and cook until soft. Add minced garlic and let get soft, but no color – about 1-2 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat with oil. Stir for one minute, then add water/bouillon mixture. Bring to boil and then, cover and reduce to a simmer – just like you regularly cook rice – until liquid is absorbed. Remove from burner and let steam with lid on. I just push it to the back of the stove where there are no burners on. That little bit of steaming helps a lot. I do this for every pot of rice I make – and I make a rice quite often – all different types – long grain, jasmine, short grain, arborio. You get the idea.

Add sun-dried tomatoes and mix in grated Pecorino. And there is lunch. Simple.

21 Oct 2017
This was a crap shoot recipe. I made it with what I had on hand at the time because I needed some breakfast/lunch at the office. I prefer my own food to going to a restaurant in most cases. At the office, I added some fresh lemon juice, just to brighten the flavor.
There is something about sun-dried tomatoes I love, but you have to use them with restraint because they can make things really sweet. I have only recently started using the oil packed ones just to try something different. So far, so good, but acid and salt need to be balanced with the sweetness.

This worked, but I think I will work on it some more because it is just not quite there – at least for me. Maybe some artichokes or blanched asparagus – not sure, but a little more veg could be a very good thing. Mushrooms?

This is why lunch hacks are so cool. Just bring what’s in the fridge at home to the office and then sort it all out – try different combinations. See what you can pull together from the random things at the office. It is like a work place version of the Food Network show, Chopped. “Here are some random items – now make yourself some lunch.”

Really, that is a more accurate description than I had ever considered.