Recovered Produce and Stuffed Squash

Happy fall, everyone!  Although the official equinox was a few days ago, today is the day that I can actually feel it.  The air is just a little crispy and-finally!-not muggy.  We’ve had the AC off and the windows open all day yesterday and today I keep getting lovely little wafts of cool breeze as I sit on the couch.  For hours on end.  Sigh.  Somehow, I pulled something in my lower back that has kept me prone and couch-bound since Saturday.  I’m walking like a slow, old lady, and trying to sit upright is pretty terrible.  Sneezing is the absolute worst and causes some awful spasms.  Today, I think, is slightly better, so I’m hoping I can go back to working at my desk tomorrow and it will be a quick heal after that.  What is really disappointing, though, is that M and I were going away for this coming weekend and now kayaking is most likely off that schedule.  Boo.

In spite of my pain, I was excited to come home from work on Saturday to my weekly Hungry Harvest box!  I signed up for this produce delivery service a few weeks ago and I LOVE it!  I’d been looking for some kind of produce delivery/CSA, since I can’t make it to the Farmer’s Market when my Saturday work schedule begins each September.  A produce box was also appealing because it would force me to be creative with whatever I got each week.  I found Hungry Harvest, which was extremely affordable, and I loved that they were using recovered produce from farmers and grocery stores that would otherwise go to waste.  They also donate leftover produce to food banks every week.  They are awesome! (This is not a sponsored post, I really do just love HH this much.)

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This week’s Hungry Harvest box!

We’ve had great success with our weekly boxes and this week was no exception.  We are getting into the groove of meal planning around the box, too.  This week we received: 3 (giant) sweet potatoes, a carton of kumquats, 3/4 lb of collard greens, 3 empire apples, 2 beets, an adorably tiny eggplant, 1/2 a bunch of cilantro, a clamshell of cabernet tomatoes, and a large spaghetti squash.  All of that…for $15!  Did I mention that this is the SMALLEST option?  They have several larger sizes of boxes, even all-fruit, all-veggie, or all-organic boxes!  I cannot get over how great they are!  All of our veggies usually go towards dinners for the week.  Since M isn’t a big fruit-eater, I take care of most of the fruit between my breakfasts and snacks.  M was on a roll this week and picked most of the meals for us.  Here is what we will make, using everything from the box (and a few veggies left in the fridge from last week):

Dinner Plan for Sept 25-Oct 1

Sunday: Sausage & Veggie-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

Monday: BBQ pulled chicken, collard greens, cilantro cole slaw

Tuesday: Beet & Apple salad, sweet potato hash browns, eggs

Wednesday: Beef Koftas with Baba Ghanoush, Tomato-Cucumber salad

Thursday: Leftover Night (I’ll be in class)

Friday: Out with Friends

Saturday: More leftovers to clear out the fridge before we leave

Lunches are typically leftovers from dinner, and we can fill in with stuffed sweet potatoes.  Breakfasts for me rotate between smoothies, eggs, and oatmeal.  M usually has breakfast tacos.

We kicked of this week with stuffed squash, which M made from my directions while I was sitting in the other room. (No prolonged standing yet…)  Stuffed squash is super simple, and one of my favorite things to eat, since it is so customizable.  I have a very eclectically autumnal recipe for Stuffed Acorn Squash that is delicious!  I love Italian flavors with Spaghetti Squash, so we paired hot Italian sausage with veggies and tomato sauce.  We cut out cooking any grain, which saves a little prep work and makes this Primal (if you top it with cheese, like M) or Paleo (if you leave off the cheese, like me).  This was a large spaghetti squash, but not unusually large, and this meal easily made 4 huge servings.  If you scooped out the squash and served the meat sauce over top, it would very easily stretch to 5 dinner-sized servings.


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Paleo/Primal Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 lb Italian sausage (hot or mild)
  • 4 oz mushrooms
  • 1 medium bell pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 oz cherry tomatoes
  • 6 oz tomato sauce
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning (or, about 1/2 tsp each: basil, oregano, rosemary, garlic powder)
  • Optional: shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Slice the squash in half, lengthwise.  It will be very firm, but I’ve found if I can stab in the tip of the knife, I can usually get enough leverage to split open one end, then the other.  Scoop out the seeds from each half, leaving a hollow in the middle.  Place the squash cut side down in a microwave-safe baking dish and fill with an inch of water.  Microwave on high power for 8-12 minutes, or until a fork goes easily into the flesh.

While the squash is cooking, prepare the other veggies.  The chop is entirely up to you: every vegetable can be diced for a really chunky mix, or every vegetable can be chopped finely in a food processor to make a thick, but smoother sauce.  We went for something in the middle.  M is not too fond of mushrooms, but I occasionally work them in to fill out dishes.  Because of this, we “hid” them by chopping them finely, along with the pepper and garlic, in the food processor.  We diced the onion like normal and halved our cherry tomatoes.

In a large saucepan, crumble it the sausage (remove from casing if in links) and stir to further separate the meat.  Cook until about half the meat is browned, then add the diced onions.  (If you chose to dice the peppers, now would be the time to add them)  Continue cooking until all of the meat is browned and the onions are soft and translucent.  Drain off any accumulated fat.  Add the vegetable mix from the food processor (or the diced mushrooms, if going that route).  Stir to combine and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Then add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and Italian seasoning.  Stir to combine evenly.  If the mixture is too thick, add a little water to loosen things up.  Allow to simmer for 5 minutes.  Finally, toss in the chopped tomatoes and turn off the heat.  Set the squash cut side up in a dry, oven-proof pan.  Spoon the sausage and veggie mixture into each squash, topped with cheese, if using, and bake for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melty and the tops of the sausage mixture are beginning to get crispy.  Split each half of squash in half again, width-wise.  Enjoy!


Sweet Potato & Bacon Pizza

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These days, September races by without stop.  At work, we are still (sometimes literally) packing away summer while we kick off our Fall season.  This means bringing in over 100 students to start working on four different weekend programs and preparing our 30+ after school teaching team to begin classes at as many schools.  It’s hectic, with one deadline after another, but also full of inspiration (hello, 100 children acting/singing/dancing with so much confidence in auditions!) and creativity (writing new scripts, casting, preliminary costume and set designs, etc).  In October, once we get past everything that is beginning, the routine will come.  Until then, its mostly just holding on for the ride.  I am also settling into the rhythm of Fall semester classes and M is settling in for a busy holiday season full of events.  Amidst this mild chaos, I am trying to keep  up my meal planning and trying to keep the focus on healthier foods as we shift towards Fall flavors.  It isn’t always successful–I’ll readily admit that I am a stress eater.  Or at least, a stress craver.  I don’t always give in!  And when this pizza craving struck, I tried to think out of the box.

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Years ago, right as I began to cut gluten from my diet, we went to the Dan’l Webster Inn in Massachusetts with my family.  I jumped at the chance to order their gluten-free pizza.  As a somewhat recent convert to the sweet potato fandom (thank you, freshman year dining hall for otherwise terrible food options), the Sweet Potato & Bacon pizza was very intriguing.  Sweet potato? On a pizza?!  With onions and gorgonzola cheese and bacon and balsamic vinegar?  It was too weird of a combination to resist.  And then, it came out with a layer of fresh greens.  Super weird!  But I am sooooo glad that I ordered it because, together, all those weird foods are AMAZING.  This pizza covers all of the flavor points: savory, earthy, salty, sweet, tangy, nutty, chewy, crunchy, fresh!  It was definitely life-changing, and I’ve gone on to attempt to recreate this pizza several times.   I’ve also stuffed the ingredients (minus the pizza crust) into baked sweet potatoes.  Also delicious.  We just went back to the Dan’l Webster Inn when we were up visiting my dad this summer and I finally realized that I was forgetting the “creamy pine nut spread” in all of my copy-cat attempts.  With this final factor, I’ve have been able to perfect my recipe!

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Now, this pizza isn’t exactly on that healthy list–but it isn’t as bad as a pizza could be, either!  By using ingredients that have super strong flavors, you can scale back on the amount of each used.  It’s almost a flatbread-style, which in my book means a small amount–if any–‘sauce’ and an equally small amount of cheese.  This focuses in on the toppings and means this pizza isn’t going to ooze with sauce or cheese in the same way as regular pizzas.  Add a salad or some roasted veggies on the side, and you can fulfill a pizza craving in the most delicious way!

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Sweet Potato & Bacon Pizza

Serves 4 | Prep time: 45 minutes (divided) | Cook time: 15 minutes

  • 1 large gluten-free pizza crust (a thin-crust style works best here!)
  • 2 large sweet onions
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 3 slices bacon
  • 2-3 oz gorgonzola cheese
  • 1-2 handfuls of arugula
  • 1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 batch Creamy Pine Nut Spread (below)

Creamy Pine Nut Spread

  • 2 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • 1 oz cream cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 4 sage leaves (or 1/4 tsp. ground sage)
  • 1 Tbsp parmesan, shredded

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Caramelize the onions: Add a splash of oil or butter to a saucepan and coat the surface with the heated oil.  Slice the onions and add to the pan.  Cook over medium heat until softened, then turn the heat down low and cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions have turned caramel-brown and shrunk down.  Remove from pan.

Prep the toppings: While the onions are caramelizing, peel the sweet potato and dice into small pieces.  Place in a small pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and cook over med-high for 6-10 minutes, until a fork easily pierces the potato pieces.  Drain thoroughly.

Chop the slices of bacon.  In a sauce pan (can be the same one used for the onions, if they have finished caramelizing and are removed from the pan), add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until the fat has rendered and the pieces are crispy.  Remove from pan to a paper towel-lined plate to allow to drain.

Prepare the Creamy Spread: Add the parmesan, pine nuts, stage leaves, garlic, cream cheese, and olive oil to a food processor and blend until smooth.

Make the pizza: If using fresh pizza dough, follow the directions to the point of having it rolled out on a pizza stone, then par-bake at 450 degrees for 5 minutes.  If using a pre-rolled, stiff crust (like Udi’s) with no instructions for par-baking, place the crust on the pizza stone.

Spread the pine nut mixture across the entire crust, from edge to edge.  It will be a very thin covering.  Sprinkle the onions, then potatoes, then crumbled gorgonzola cheese evenly over the pizza crust.  Bake at 450 degrees F for 10-12 minutes, until the cheese is softened and the edges of the potato pieces begin to brown.

While the pizza is baking, set the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half and has thickened.  Remove from heat.

Remove the cooked pizza from the oven and immediately top with bacon, then a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.  Finally, top with fresh arugula.


Cake Mix Hack: Gluten-Free “Oreo” Surprise Cupcakes with Cookies & Cream Frosting

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I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend!  We jumped down to North Carolina for an overnight, to see our friends.  It was great to catch up with all of them and we had breakfast at the Saxapahaw General Store before heading back.  I’ve gushed about my love for this tiny strip of town before, and each year, it gets a little better and a little crunchier–in the best of ways. 😉  Now, in addition to the General Store, the cute industrial apartments, and performing space + Coffee Shop by day/Bar by night venue, Saxapahaw has added a butcher’s shop and a shared-space work studio.  I love this focus on community and local goods!  As for breakfast, M got the usual Coconut-Braised Pork Sandwich (which is still on my list to properly recreate at home!) and I had the brunch special: Eggs Salmon Florentine.  The staff assured me that if was gluten-free, so I was expecting a lighter version of Eggs Benedict Florentine.  You know, some kind of bread, layers of spinach and salmon topped with an egg and their “lemon and caper sauce”.  Instead, in this dish, there wasn’t any bread at all.  The spinach and over-medium eggs were resting on top of a salmon fillet!  It was delicious, and way more protein than I expected.

As for Monday, I had a meeting in the afternoon, so I missed what may have been the highlight of the summer: taking Punc to our community’s “Pool Pawty”.  Each year, the day before they close up the pool, our apartment complex allows the neighborhood to bring their dogs in to swim and play.  Our complex is great at these kind of parties, so M came back with a ton a gift bags full of dog treats, bones, tennis balls, and other swag.  It was pretty awesome!  While she didn’t enjoy the water, Punc did get a doggie massage and a pupcake.  Best of all, she got along with all of the other dogs!

M wasn’t able to take her hiking as often this summer, since it was so hot.  Our area has set a new record for the number of 90+ degree days in July and August.  Ugh.  I am definitely ready for the cooler Fall weather!  So it’s been nice to have this Pool Pawty and playdates with our friends’ dogs to fill in that exercise gap for Punc.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this weekend is our last heatwave, so we can start to settle into Fall.  I know M is itching to hike again, as well.

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Today, I am back with another cake mix hack!  They served me so well throughout the summer, being fairly quick and far less fussy than baking a cake from scratch.  I’m still on the search for my “one” cake flour mix.  But, I’m also starting to lean more towards the less sweet pound cake styles.  You know, not quite a quick bread, but not quite a cake.  So maybe I’ll keep my cake mix hacks in my back pocket for occasions that call for frosting and wrappers and all that jazz; and stay content with my simpler options for “everyday” cakes.  These cookies and cream cupcakes have a tasty surprise when you unwrap them: a whole “oreo” cookie at the bottom of each cupcake!  The chocolate cakes are even more fun, because the cake really hides the cookie until you take a bite of the cupcake.

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“Oreo” Surprise Cupcakes with Cookies & Cream Frosting

Serves 12

For the Cupcake

  • 1 box Gluten-free yellow or chocolate cake mix + additional ingredients listed on the back of the package*
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 12 (1/2 of a box) “oreo” style gluten-free chocolate wafer, creme-filled cookies**
  • Optional: the filling from 6 additional cookies (save the chocolate cookies for decoration)

For the Frosting

  • 4 oz (half a package) of cream cheese, softened
  • 4 Tbsp (half a stick) of butter, softened
  • 2-3 c. confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 c. crushed “oreo” style cookies (about 10-12 cookies)
  • Optional: 12 individual chocolate cookies leftover from the creme removed for the cupcake batter, for decoration

*I used Aldi’s GFree yellow cake brand, which calls for 3 eggs, 2/3 c. milk, and 1/2 c. oil per box

**I used Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Jo-Jo cookies

Make the cupcakes

Preheat the oven to the temperature listed on the Cake Mix box.  Fill a cupcake pan with paper cupcake cups and drop one whole “oreo”-style cookie into the bottom of each paper liner.

Remove the inside filling from six cookies, being careful to keep the chocolate wafers intact.  Heat briefly in the microwave to soften, then mix with the liquids called for on the package–if a liquid fat (like oil or melted butter) is called for, this is the best ingredient to mix with the creme filling.  Mix the dry and wet ingredients as instructed on the packaging.  Be sure to include the extra vanilla extract as you mix in the wet ingredient.  Scoop the prepared batter over the cookies in each cup, filling about 3/4 full.  Bake as directed on the packaging.  Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting

Leave the cream cheese and butter on the counter as the cupcakes bake and cool, to allow both to soften.  Whip the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla extract on low speed until the mixture is uniform and soft.  Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar, one half-cup at a time, whipping until fully incorporated.  After adding 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, add in the crushed cookies and mix well.  If the mixture is still soft, continue to add in the additional confectioner’s sugar in 1/2 cup measures.  When the mixing blade or whisk is removed, the frosting should be almost at a stiff peak–the mixture stands straight up from where the whisk was pulled away (if the very tip of the peak falls, that is okay, but the whole peak shouldn’t slump).  Spread or pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes.  Favor a higher pile in the middle, which allows you to sink on of the reserved chocolate wafers upright into the frosting as garnish.


Sandy’s Sweet Yellow Squash Relish

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Last weekend, we got a couple friends together for a canning party.  I taught them how to make this Squash Relish, which has become an absolute necessity in our house (and a handy holiday gift).  We also made some quick, half-sour pickles and canned some peaches and pears, as well.  All the while, Punc ran around with their golden retriever puppy and the guys grilled up dinner.

I cut it close this year.  We were down to our last jar from last year’s batch of relish (I brought our very last unopened jar with us to Cape Cod).  This is my favorite condiment on anything grilled, particularly hot dogs.  It’s also great to mix in to potato or pasta salads and–I admit–we have even mixed it into substandard batches of macaroni and cheese.  It was actually pretty good!  The squash is just different enough in flavor compared to the run of the mill sweet pickle relish, with a tiniest kick from the chili flakes, to make a really unexpected topping.  I also use much less sugar than most relish recipes, which makes for a nice change.

I got this recipe from a former coworker, during a year when she had a glut of yellow squash and a poor crop of cucumbers.  On a whim, she replaced all of the cucumbers with yellow squash and was left with fabulous results.  Thanks for creating an addiction, Sandy! 😉

This recipe is made to be canned in a water bath and to feed our cravings all year–it makes between 8 to 10 half-pint jars (cups) of relish.  If you are not interested in canning, you could certainly halve or even quarter the batch and it would last for a good long while if kept in the refrigerator.

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Yellow Squash Sweet Relish

  • 4 medium-large yellow crookneck squash
  • 2 medium sweet onions
  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 1 medium red bell pepper
  • 1/4 c. salt
  • 2 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. celery seed
  • 1 Tbsp. mustard seed
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 c. apple cider vinegar

Finely dice all of the vegetables. They will shrink slightly during cooking, but not by much, so aim for the size that you would prefer in the final relish. Place the vegetables in large bowl. Sprinkle the ¼ cup of salt over the vegetables and cover with cold water. Allow this mixture to sit for two hours. It may get a little pungent, but don’t worry!

While you are waiting, prepare for the canning process.  Trust me, a pot large enough to cover jars can take forever to actually come to a boil.  Prepare your canning jars by washing with soap and water while bringing a large pot of water to boil.  If you have a canning rack, place it in the pot.  Submerge the sterile jars (unlidded) along with their lids and rings, then simmer for ten minutes.

Drain the vegetables and rinse well. Drain extremely well—I wrap the mix in a thin towel and wring out all of the liquid.

Combine the sugar, vinegar, and spices in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, then add the vegetables and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the mixture for ten minutes.

Remove the jars, rings, and lids from the hot water, drain, and pat dry with paper towels.

Pack the mixture into clean jar, remove the air bubbles, and clean the rim of the jar. Top with the lid and hand-tighten the ring. Process in a boiling water-bath for 10 minutes, then remove and allow to cool.  Within a few minutes, you should hear the small “pop” and the button at the middle of the lid will depress, showing that you have properly created the vacuum seal. Leave the jars undisturbed for 24 hours, then tighten the rings and store.  If you can stand it, allow the relish a few weeks in a cool, dark place to really meld the flavors.

Store opened jars in the refrigerator.

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