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!


A Journey of Taste and a Simple Peach & Marscarpone Tart

Grain-free

One of my mother’s favorite tales to tell is the phase when E and I were quite young and we wanted waffles and (canned) green beans for breakfast every day.  Usually, this story was told during my later childhood and teenage years when I abandoned the green beans for a pickier palate.  While E, S, and I were not anywhere close to the picky eaters in parent’s horror stories, by the time the three of us were in elementary school, food choices were limited.  Carrots, corn, and fried potatoes (definitely not mashed) made regular appearances at dinner, plus the occasional salad with the tomatoes left on the plate and a few celery slices if I was feeling generous.  Cucumber if I was forced. Gravy was definitely not on my plate for many years, and that also knocked off any sort of stew as well.  Tuna out of a can was accepted, but only in a tuna salad sandwich, tuna mac & cheese, or tuna fish on toast.  Macaroni and cheese, while we’re on the subject, was something I could only eat fresh off the stove, refusing to wait until my family came to the table–any sort of thickening of the sauce as the dish cooled made it unpalatable.  Most meats were okay, depending on their preparation, and all three of us devoured fruit.  At restaurants, the pickiness returned full force.  When my sister and I were young, we often felt ill after eating away from home.  For a while, we thought it was lactose intolerance, but it was never truly consistent.  To this day, we are not entirely sure, but I suspect that it was mostly a nervous stomach, but perhaps even a reaction to gluten early on.  I don’t remember feeling unwell after eating gluten-filled food at home (be it homemade, or take-out).  E has always reacted worse than I did, and even now, doesn’t seem to respond as I have to a gluten-free diet.  But whatever the reason, this meant that E and I almost exclusively ate chicken tenders with honey mustard at every restaurant we frequented.

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In high school, for whatever reason, I made myself try and begin to enjoy shrimp (only in the form of cold shrimp cocktail or alfredo pasta) and tomato basil soup (the first soup I ever remember eating).  When I finally ate the chili mac that my mother made for dinner, I realized that chili was actually tasty.  One night I decide to add a single sliver of pepper and onion from my fajitas to the chicken, cheese, and sour cream in my tortilla.  Trying new foods in my teenaged years was the start a long slow process of exploring food that I still continue today.  College, in particular, worked its wonders.  I distinctly remember that day in my freshman year, when, unenthused with the dining halls choices, I picked a baked sweet potato.  It was the first sweet potato I have ever tried…and it was delicious!  In my junior year, I finally returned to green beans–fresh, instead of from a can–and managed to enjoy the green vegetable with a squeeze of lime juice and cracked black pepper.  I discovered pomegranates, figs, persimmons, asparagus, beets, goat cheese, broccoli, spinach, fennel, and lamb, just to name a few.

peach mini top

Many other foods fell into my range of “delicious and acceptable” over the years of college, and even now, I’m continuing to try new things.  It helps that M will try anything and everything.  His willingness instills a much needed dose of bravery in me.  With M, I’ve tried oxtail, curries, oysters, paté, crab, chestnuts, banana peppers, several types of fish, and many others.  As I found cooking and baking to be such a joy, reading and researching through cookbooks and blogs has inspired me to try even more foods, and use the ones I am familiar with in whole new ways.  Now, I am excited to purchase my first tomatillos, even if I am not quite sure, at that moment, what I will be doing with them.  I am eagerly continuing my quest to find a preparation and flavoring for cooked greens that will make me like them as much as M (he is happily eating his and my portion of the ‘failures’ along the way).  I am saving the seeds I spoon out of squash to roast the next day, craving freshly steamed artichokes, and cooking beans and lentils from scratch.  I’m making the list of foods I’ve yet to try (jicama, eggplant, swiss chard…) and figuring out just how to try them.  I’m making zucchini lasagna. I am mixing butternut squash into flour and eggs to make my own gnocchi on a Thursday night, while planning when I can attempt making bone broth from scratch.  I even let my macaroni and cheese cool and thicken as I stir in tuna and peas on the nights when I am especially lazy with dinner.

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Last night, M and I went out to dinner with his mum, as a late celebration of my birthday.  She was tied loosely to a community event, so we chose the indian restaurant in the plaza where her group was performing.  I didn’t have anything as daring as you might expect to have inspired this post–the lamb kebab and the seafood sampler–but I reminisced about the first time I had ever eaten indian food (M all but forced food court butter chicken into my hands one rehearsal when he found out I hadn’t eaten dinner–it was delicious, though it might have been the hunger talking).  When M admitted that he ate just about anything, even as a child, he made me think about how little I actually ate, and, subsequently, how far I’ve come.  I still have a ways to go, especially with some strange palate and texture preferences, but I’d like to think I’m making progress.  I can, on occasion, drink soup out of a cup or thermos, nowadays (is it weird for anyone else to drink something savory, instead of using a spoon?  This is the same reason that I can’t stomach bloody marys–if somewhere served them in a little bowl, I think I’d do just fine).  As much as I am learning new techniques and recipes in the kitchen; I am learning even more about the actual foods that make up those recipes.

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Today I am sharing a recipe that is far from revolutionary and, ironically, is made with ingredients that I would have readily eaten as a child.  But, it is slightly updated to be entirely grain-free and significantly less sweet than my high-school self would have expected.  Peaches are everywhere this summer, like every other summer, and I am sure that, by now, every food blog has some recipe for peaches with pastry.  This recipe was thrown together one morning a week after seeing Shauna post an instagram photo of the birthday tart her friend made for her.  Peaches, blueberries, and marscarpone, resting lightly on a crumbly tart shell.  It looked delicious.  So I thought about the tart as I bought peaches and marscapone, and I thought about it more over the next few days, until I had the morning off.  M and I were preparing to visit my mother’s house, then go to Ikea (for my first visit ever!) to look for a new mattress and bedframe.  And the peaches were ripe, and the little note on the marscarpone was needling at me (“marscarpone is a delicate sweet cheese, blah blah, enjoyed as soon as possible after purchase, blah blah blah”).   Since I hadn’t yet worked out how to bake the tart with the peaches without turning the marscarpone into a puddle that doomed my tart crust…I decided to make a breakfast tart and leave the fruit uncooked.  I didn’t want anything too sweet, but I did want the added benefit of a little more protein than the marscarpone could provide.  And I had coconut flour in the back of my fridge and almond flour in my pantry.  With a few more ingredients, I pressed a crumbly crust into my tart pans and baked it off while I sliced my peaches.  After a layer of marscarpone and a spread of fruit, this tart became a perfect light breakfast.  I even took a little into a mini-tart pan to bring Mom breakfast!  Also, the lovely printed tea towels in these photos are a birthday present from E and A.  Isn’t the heart print the perfect background for this tart? They got me a stack of linen-type thin towels in all sorts of fun, vintage-type prints.  I love these thin towels for covering rising bread, rolling summer rolls, and–obviously–photographing dishes, and have been at a total loss with the thick kitchen towels that I have at the new house.  Now I have plenty (though I couldn’t resist grabbing one more at Ikea).

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Peach & Marscarpone Coconut Tart

Serves: 6-8 | Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes

For the Tart Crust:

Adapted from Elana’s Pantry

  • 1 3/4 c. almond flour
  • 1/4 c. coconut flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. shredded coconut
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut butter
  • 2Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 egg
  • up to 3 Tbsp. sugar (optional)

For the Filling

  • 8 oz. marscarpone cheese
  • 2-3 medium peaches
  • 1 tsp cinnamon + 1 tsp sugar (optional)

Set the marscarpone on the counter to come to room temperature/slightly soften.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt together coconut butter and coconut oil in ramekin.  Cool. Combine almond flour, coconut flour, salt, cinnamon, and shredded coconut in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed.  Add beaten egg and coconut oil/butter mixture and mix well with spoon or hands until the dough is crumbly, but sticks together when pressed between fingers.  Press dough into a tart pan.  Prick bottom with fork in a few place.  Bake tart crust for 10 minutes, until lightly browned.

While crust is baking, thinly slice peaches.  Remove crust from oven, allow to cool for a few minutes.  Spread marscarpone gently over crust (it’ll be a little crumbly) before completely cool.  If using cinnamon-sugar, sprinkle over marscarpone before spreading peaches over top.  Serve cold or room temperature for a barely-sweet breakfast or dessert.

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(Grain-less) Gluten-free Zucchini Lasagna

lasagna pan 1

This has been a crazy couple of weeks, to say the least.  I knew it would be, but even I couldn’t prepare myself for the little wave of panic when I looked at my calendar and saw three tech-to-performance weeks in a row.  There is a reason that the theater industry calls these “hell weeks”…nah, I’m (mostly) joking.  Thankfully, all of these performances are with my children’s company which means: (A) I know those involved, (B) Most of our team has down this before, and (C) We are all awesome enough to make these week run smoothly and simply!  This post has been sitting in my drafts, half-written, for almost a week-and-a-half, and this recipe has been waiting even longer!

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This lasagna was one of the actual “recreation” dinners I made after going gluten-free, and it was also the first time I’d ever tried making lasagna at home.  I was intrigued by the grain-free recipe (one less ingredient to worry about converting to gluten-free–score!) and the extra veggies with zucchini substituting for noodles.  I added more vegetables in the form of onions and peppers, but this recipes is incredibly flexible.  Sub more vegetables in for some or all of the meat, or any more to the onion-pepper mixture.  When I first made this recipe, I sliced the zucchini lengthwise, into long strips like noodles.  These had a tendency to slip out when trying to cut a bite’s-worth, so I recommend cutting into circle crosswise, or peeling the zucchini before slicing it.

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I wish I had had time to make this Lasagna this week (the recipe and photos are from about a month back).  This makes the best leftovers, and we have plenty when I’m only serving dinner to three people.  This comforting dish is the perfect bridge between winter and spring (we’ve just had three days of torrential rain–yuck) and would be the best lunch on my hectic performance days.  I’ve got one more performance weekend, one more week of wrap-up, and then we’ll be off on our relaxing cruise!  I’ll certainly keep you posted before then, and plan to come back with a full review of Royal Caribbean’s gluten-free offerings!

As noted in the recipe below, there is plenty of room to play in this recipe. If you make this vegetarian or vegan, or sub in an awesome ingredient, let me know how it turns out! 🙂

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Zucchini Lasagna (Pasta-less Lasagna)

Serves: 8 | Prep time: 30 minutes

  • 2 large zucchini
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 large bell pepper (any color), finely diced
  • 4 cups fresh spinach or kale leaves (kale stems removed), roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 16 oz ricotta cheese*
  • 1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese*
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese*
  • 1 lb italian sausage (can replace with equal amounts of another ground meat or finely diced tofu or mushrooms or veggie mix)
  • 2 c. tomato sauce (storebought or homemade), divided

*I’m guessing that you could possibly use cashew ‘cheese’ if you wanted to make this vegan.  I’ve never tried it myself, please let me know how it turns out if you give it a try!

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Slice the zucchini into thin slices crosswise (making circles, not long strips). (Optional–peel zucchini before slicing).  Lay slices out on papertowels and salt generously.  Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes–zuchinni will release some of their liquid.  Crumble sausage/meat/tofu/veggies into a large sauté pan.  Cook completely, then set aside.  Drain grease. Cook chopped onions and peppers in a large sauté pan with minimal oil for about 5-7 minutes, until softened.  Set aside.  Rinse all zucchini well.  Cook zuchinni in sauté pan for about 5 minutes, until slices begin to wilt.  Spread on papertowels and allow to cool.  Cooked spinach/kale in a covered sauté pan until wilted, about 3 minutes.  Mix together wilted greens, basil, garlic, parmesan, 1/4 c. mozzarella, and ricotta cheese in medium bowl.  In separate bowl, mix together onions, peppers, and meat/veggies with 1/2 c. of tomato sauce.  Firmly pat zucchini slices dry

Lightly grease a 9×9″ pan.  Spread  1/2 c. of tomato sauce into the bottom of the pan, coating evenly.  Layer zucchini in even layer, top with cheese mixture then meat/veggie mixture, spreading evenly for each layer.  Top meat/veggie mixture with 1/2 c. of tomato sauce.  Continue this pattern (zucchini, cheese, meat, sauce) until ingredients run out–I got three layers.  Be sure to end with sauce on topmost layer.  Cover with remaining 3/4 c. mozzarella cheese.

Cover pan with aluminum foil.  Bake at 375 degree F for 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until cheese is browned and bubbling.  Allow lasagna to rest for 20 minutes before slicing.

Can be refrigerated in sealed container for up to 4 days.