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.

Source: thekitchen.com

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.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

I love a really good chicken salad sandwich. But to me this is just a simple chicken salad on white bread with a little mayo and if I’m feeling really special, some iceberg lettuce.

This is another no-recipe recipe.

Poach chicken breasts. I do this in just water because then I can give the poaching liquid to the dog. But, if you want, you can add bay leaves or garlic cloves, and even peppercorns to the water. Poach low and slow just make sure the chicken is covered by at least an inch of water. Not sure how long, but until it falls apart when you pick it up with a fork – this also makes sure the interior is not still pink.

Remove chicken from water and let cool to room temperature. (Give a dog chicken water and he will love you, pretty much, forever).

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Yep – it’s a mess, but a very good mess.

Shred or chop chicken to whatever size you prefer. I am a medium dice/shred person.

Now here is where things get subjective. Things needed: Duke’s mayonnaise, celery, shallots, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Here is where I get a little weird exacting. I like, for two good sized chicken breasts (and, no, I don’t weigh them but I should), 3 celery stalks including the leaves. The thing is – you must peel the celery. This is just not optional. Get out that serrated vegetable peeler and go to town. It gets rid of those pesky strings that no one ever wants to eat. Then split the ribs into three pieces lengthwise and the mince well. I did say exacting, right?

Now for the shallots – two medium or one large, minced. I get my shallots at Bailey’s Farmers’ Market – they sell them by weight, unlike the grocery store that sells them by some little bag. At Bailey’s, I also get to pick the ones I want – yes, this is the way to do things.

Once all the chopping is done, mix celery and shallots into chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Add Duke’s mayonnaise to taste – remember, as my mom always said, you can always more, but you can’t take it away. Taste as you go and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Add lemon juice if you would like. Yes you do want to do that.

For the sandwich you need really fresh soft white bread*. Spread one side with more Duke’s and pile on the chicken salad. Then add the super crunchy iceberg lettuce that you cored, washed and have chilling in the fridge. Another option – toast the white bread first. Yes, do.

This, I know, is simple food, but sometimes that is what is best and even more often, that is just what you need.

Now you could do this with a rotisserie chicken, not that I ever have, but I guess in a pinch it would do. If you are really jonesing for some chicken salad. Who am I to judge?

* or Italian bread or a good whole wheat.

Mushroom & Fontina Crostini 

I know toasts are a thing, but I made this because the flavors sounded so good, and I had thyme for the Tomato Bisque recipe and a I had Fontina cheese in the fridge. Fontina is one of my all time favorite cheeses – so melty and smooth. Any time it is on sale at the Publix I pick some up. It never ever goes to waste. Sometimes I just slice some up with apples and eat it. It is the simple things.D&D_1919

Bread halved diagonally *
Olive oil, divided
1 lb crimini mushrooms
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, minced
2 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp freshly chopped thyme 
3 Tbs water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound Fontina cheese, coarsely shredded, about 1 cup
1 Tbs chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Arrange bread on baking sheet and drizzle with 3 Tbs olive oil, but do not go overboard with the olive oil. Toast for 8* minutes until slightly golden around the edges.   Remove from oven. Turn broiler on low.

Thinly slice mushrooms. In a large skillet, melt butter over high heat until lightly bubbling , 2 minutes. Add remaining 2 Tbs of olive oil and the mushrooms and cook undisturbed until the mushrooms are browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, about 10 minutes. Add shallots, garlic, and thyme, lower the heat and cook until shallots are tender, about 5 minutes. Add water and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, the cook 3 minutes longer to dry off liquid. Taste and then season with salt** and pepper and remove from heat.

Spoon mushroom mixture over toasts and sprinkle cheese on top. Broil for 2 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Transfer crostini to a platter, sprinkle with parsley and serve. 

* Figure out actual timing depending on bread type selected. Used Chicago Italian bread, drizzled with olive oil and toasted 8 – 10 minutes. Just keep a close eye on it. 

**Didn’t need salt, but added freshly squeezed lime juice.

Used Italian Fontina. Next time, I plan to use thyme to top the toast since I already use it in the mushrooms. I like that little lemon note that thyme provides.

9 June 2017

Made at work for lunch – 

Source: 

Chicken Salad – one of my favorite things

I seem to get into a mood for chicken salad every so often. It really is kind of dead simple, but it takes, to my mind, a bit of finesse.

I poach the chicken breasts in just plain water. I could do it with salt, peppercorns, and a bay leaf or so, but if I do that I cannot share the chicken water with the pups. I would never deny them one of their favorite things – chicken water. It is amazing how fast they (or I should say Hood) realize what I am up to. I think it takes about a nano-second. Top it off with hard boiling some eggs and dogs just about lose their minds. It is kind of fun. To make your dogs so happy, by doing something that makes you happy too. I will not wax on about how I want another German Shepherd Dog at this point, but I really really do want another. He would never be Duke, but …. yep, I will just stop right now.

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No GSD will ever be better than my Big Dog. I miss you.

Back to chicken salad. I know you can make it with rotisserie chicken, but I am old school and like a poached chicken in this application. That along with a couple of hard boiled eggs*, a shallot, and some (peeled) celery. Of course Duke’s mayonnaise – a requirement in the South, a good pinch of salt and some pepper, and maybe a little lemon juice, just to brighten things up a bit. Then all you need is some fresh white bread spread with a little more Duke’s mayonnaise, and maybe another pinch of salt. That is amazing lunch.

MotH’s mom makes chicken salad with grapes and nuts and I do so love her for that, but I know the MotH and the Boy would just boycott that, even though it would be great for me. And it usually is – we share chicken salad and boiled collards. The boys just do not get it.

* The easiest way to make an excellent hard boiled egg that is still lovely (read: not green around the edge), is this: Put eggs in a pot, cover with about an inch of water and bring to a rocking boil. Then remove them from the heat and cover the pot with a lid. Let sit for 13 minutes and you really have just about the best boiled eggs there are – just cover with cold water and crack them a bit against the pot and then shell. There it is – just make sure you have at least a couple for your dogs.

Homemade Boursin

I am a huge fan of Boursin. My spell check wants me to write bourbon but I am not a big fan of that, so that is not going to happen. I think the best Boursin-like cheese I had was in Amsterdam. Lord, there are cheese shops there are on every corner. Yes, I should move there now. I really could live on bread and cheese alone – I am not kidding about this.D&D_1485

We were in Amsterdam when the Boy was about three and a half and he and I would walk along the canals. Such a lovely city. One time there was a what I can only think was a boat full of tourists on the canal and they were video recording the Boy and I (mostly the Boy) on the bridge as they went by. Funny, with his blonde hair and blue eyes, I’m sure they thought he was a native. They recorded a really cute American kid in Amsterdam.

It is a bit of an indulgence, Boursin. It is not cheap, but it is worth it. And to figure out  a way to make it at home would be pretty nice. Even if it is a close approximation I think I will be pretty damn happy with it.

Yes, just bread and some sort of cheese –  No dessert, no chocolate. Not sure I could give up lemons though. Just give me bread and cheese and I will be happy. Yes, very happy.  And beer not giving  that up, forgot to mention that bit. But I do not think that is a big surprise.

8 ozs cream cheese, softened
1 medium sized shallot, minced
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup Italian parsley, minced
2 Tbs chives, minced
a couple or three scallions, minced
Lemon zest, as much as you would like – I lean in favor of quite a bit, but that is me – at least, and then the juice of that lemon too.
Finely ground black pepper, just a few turns

Whir up the shallot in the food processor. Add salt, pepper, lemon zest and lemon juice and whir just a couple more times. Add the cream cheese,  parsley, chives, scallions, and ground pepper.

Pack into a ramekin and cover with plastic wrap (cling film) and chill for an hour and up to five days.  Serve with crostini or some kind of bread thing – so random – toast maybe. I still think that an oven-toasted crostini would be the best delivery vehicle. But now that I have had that, I think a nice soft bit of French bread would also suit well.

I have to say … I really liked this – um, a lot. Probably too much.

Spiced Kumquat Chutney

So my lovely mother-in-law gave me a nice bag of kumquats and I had no earthly idea what to do D&D_1043with them until I saw a Bon Appetite article for citrus you don’t use but you should. Lots of citrus ideas of lots of citrus I have no access to, but I do have a bag of kumquats. So let’s get to it.

12 ozs kumquats, quartered lengthwise and seeded (who knew from seeds?)
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 shallot, minced
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp freshly ground black peppercorns
1/8 tsp ground cloves
2 star anise in cheese cloth to be removed later – or just fished out. That’s what I did.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil. Boil until kumquat skins are tinder and mixture thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove star anise. Transfer to a bowl until cool. Cover and store (in a mason jar) in the refrigerator. Can be kept for two weeks.

D&D_1171Notes: I really like this, but the cloves are a bit strong. Next winter I may leave that out. Even though kumquats grew around me all the time as a kid, I’ve never really bothered with them. Do hope to get a nice supply next winter. Always hopeful.

On an aside: star anise is one of those spices I keep whole and don’t get to use often. But it is nice to have when you need it. I also keep whole nutmeg. There is nothing better – those things last for damn near ever. Just use a microplane grater on it. Thank you AB – but I had a few of these before I ever “met” you.  And on the recommendation of America’s Test Kitchen I keep fresh peeled ginger in a jar of sherry in the fridge.  Fresh ginger any time you want it.

All the thing you learn as you get on in cooking. Excellent.