Weekend in Review: January 29th-31st

Although I feel like it’s been forever since I posted, we did actually stick to our plan; it’s just that we weren’t scheduled to do any new posts until yesterday.  So our schedule is off by a day, which makes sense when I look back on it. 

Dinner with John and Virginia on Friday night was delightful: we shared a lovely meal at McCormick and Schmick’s Harborside where I loved the Seafood and Corn Chowder (I am a sucker for chowder) and the Lobster Ravioli, as well as a large glass of A by Acacia Chardonnay.   The company was even better than the food, and we’ve resolved to make sure we can get together more often this year! 

As great as Friday was, Saturday was absolutely amazing!  it started with coffee at the Mandolin Cafe, for some dear friends’ baby’s “first trip to the Mandolin” (a totally appropriate 2-week-old event no one should miss).  Then some uneventful shopping (trying to find an appropriate outfit for the evening).  We enjoyed lunch with my sister, her husband, and several friends at Tacos Guaymas.  I do love the food there, and here’s my guilty pleasure:  I almost always order their huge nachos, with the sour cream and guacamole on the side specifically so I can put the leftovers in the oven for lunch the next day.  Although the chips never regain their original crispiness, I’ve come to love the “nacho casserole” that this creates.  Then once the nachos are reheated, I just add the sour cream and guacamole and eat the whole thing with a fork.  definitely not as healthy as the CSA meals we make at home, but it’s something else I do love!  I had to finish my shopping in a friend’s closet, since the stores were not cooperating with me, but I did feel lovely once I got ready for the evening. 

Finally: I was excited when I found out that Ira Glass was going to be in Tacoma, and even more excited to find out the event was going to be at the Pantages.  Even better, they had a meet-and-greet opportunity before the show itself.  I cannot remember being so nervous for anything in my life; I was terribly afraid I was destined to make a fool of myself in front of one of the only celebrities (at least he’s “geek sexy” as I hear someone refer to him on Saturday) I really respect.  My friend ran interference for me, and kept the conversation going when I was to nervous to speak.  It was wonderful!  We handed Ira a hand-written invitation to see the sights of Tacoma after the show, but he didn’t get a chance to read it until he was already in his car, headed for the airport. 

After the show, we enjoyed Ira’s talk and then waited near the stage door for him to come out so the people we were there with could get autographs and photos as well.  It was literally a dream come true for me, since Ira Glass has been my “radio friend” for years, and as someone in the audience said during the Q&A period, it always seems like he’s talking just too me (and of course, to my office mate that listens to the streaming audio with me).  I do hope we managed to stay on the “charming” side of “crazed fanatic,” but I honestly do not know if we were able to keep it together enough or not.  One of the dangers of being “radio friends” is that only one side even knows a friendship exists at all…
After the show, Trav and I went with a friend to our local version of The Rock

, where I enjoyed sharing the Wild Child pizza – with mozzarella, bleu cheese, sautéed spinach, marinated mushrooms and whole oven roasted garlic cloves, how can you go wrong?

  

Sunday involved a day at work, with leftovers from our various meals out filling out my weekend food (yes, I did have that pizza, cold out of the fridge, for breakfast – yet another guilty pleasure). 

If you’re thinking to yourself that this post has nothing to do with eating at home, or using our CSA, or any of the other things this blog is supposed to be about, you’re absolutely correct.  We enjoyed so much good food on our weekend of restaurants, I thought it would be good to share those as well.  After all, it’s not that often that we splurge and go out anymore (and especially not for every meal in a weekend)!  So I figured that our recommendations on where to get good eats when we do go out sort of fit the theme.  Besides, I really wanted to post our photo with Ira Glass… 

If you have a great place you love to go when it’s time to eat out, please feel free to leave it in the comments.  It could be a guilty pleasure like I listed above (I mean really, do you have anything more disturbing than Nacho Casserole?), or something more in-line with the ideals of the blog (like Ravishing Radish, the caterer Trav & I used for our wedding – I highly recommend them)!
 

  

 

 

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Thursday: Travis’ Fried Rice

We both love fried rice, but we both hate eggs.  I don’t know how many folks know this, but every Asian restaurant in Tacoma includes eggs in their fried rice.  Fortunately, my husband does a fabulous rendition of fried rice.  Therefore, it’s time for a guest post from Travis!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rice
  • water
  • 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 cups frozen stir-fry vegetables
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2-3 Tablespoons hoisin sauce

Preparation:

  1. cook rice in rice cooker, following manufacturer’s instructions
  2. Once rice is done, heat oil in large frying pan over high heat until shimmering.
  3. Carefully add frozen vegetables (the oil will splash when the ice hits it) and saute until they begin to thaw.
  4. Add steamed rice and both sauces.  Stir periodically until cooked through.

The Verdict:

I ALWAYS love Trav’s rice, and tonight was no different!  Sometimes he gets these awesome crunchy bits to it, but he said tonight that he doesn’t think our current stove gets hot enough for that.  I know that crunchy rice sounds weird, but it adds a great texture when some of the rice has been browned to a crisp finish.  Let us know what you think!

Wednesday: Pizza!

Although we sometimes have regular pizza from Papa John’s or take-and-bake from Papa Murphy’s, my favorite pizza is from a home-made crust.  My family has made pizza crust from scratch for almost as long as I can remember, and I distinctly recal my mother showing me where on her regular mixing bowl to fill the warm water to, how much yeast to add and how much flour gets added to that.  We kneaded the dough by hand on our kitchen counter and pressed the resulting dough in pans that were handmade by my Uncle Doug, a metal-spinner by trade.  I now use America’s Test Kitchen’s food processor method, and I’m working on my crust-tossing techniques (I haven’t gotten to a full toss yet, but we’re getting close).  I use our pizza stone and parchment paper to develop more of a brick-oven style crust.  Anyway; here’s the recipe!

Pepperoni Pizza

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for oiling the bowl)
  • 4 cups (22 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface and hands
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • fresh basil
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces pepperoni, peeled and sliced thin (it sounds like they expect you to buy pepperoni from the sausage store and peel and slice it yourself, but I usually buy a huge bag of pepperoni slices at Costco and keep it in the freezer for use as necessary.
  • 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup) or more, to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese or more, to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  After 10 minutes, turn the oven off.  You now have a perfect proofing box.
  2. Measure the warm water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup.  Sprinkle in the yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes.  Add the room-temperature water and oil and stir to combine.
  3. Process the flour and salt in a large food processor, pulsing to combine.  Continue pulsing while pouring the liquid ingredients (holding back a few tablespoons) through the feed tube.  If the dough does not readily form into a ball, add the remaining liquid and continue to pulse until a ball forms.  Process until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 30 seconds longer.
  4. The dough will be a bit tacky, so use a rubber spatula to turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Knead by hand for a few strokes to form a smooth, round ball.  Put the dough in a deep oiled bowl an 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  I have special dough-rising talents.  I have to check my dough after about 1/2 the time, and it’s often done rising at that time.  I use the 8-cup measuring cup because it’s really easy for me to see when the dough is done rising.  Press the dough to deflate.
  5. While the dough rises, prepare the pizza sauce.  Heat the oil and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the garlic is sizzling, about 40 seconds.  Add the basil and cook untilo fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the sauce thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon, about 15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Place a pizza stone on a rack in the lower third of the oven.  Heat the oven to 500 475 degrees for at least 30 minutes.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Use a chef’s knife or dough scraper to divide the dough into three pieces.  From each piece of dough into a smooth, round ball and cover it with a damp cloth.  Let the dough relax for at least 10 minutes but no more than 30 minutes.
  7. Spread a large piece of parchment paper on the counter for shaping and transporting the crust.  Working with one piece of dough at a time and keeping the others covered, flatten the dough ball into a disk using the palms of your hands.  Using a combination of stretching the dough on the counter and tossing the dough, shape each of your dough rounds into a flattened pizza shape.  Prick the dough in several paces with a dinner fork.
  8. Lightly brush the dough round with olive oil.  Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce over the dough round, leaving a 1/2-inch border uncovered.  Scatter a third of the pepperoni slices over the sauced dough round.
  9. Slide the dough onto the heated stone.  Bake the pizza until the crust edge starts to brown, 6 to 12 minutes.  Sprinkle with 1/3 cup mozzarella and a third of the Parmesan and continue baking until the cheeses melt, 2 to 3 minutes more.  Remove the pizza from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, and serve.  Repeat the topping and baking steps for the remaining two crusts.

Alternate preparation method:

  1. Follow steps 1-4 and 6-7 above, skipping step 5. 
  2. Lightly brush the dough round with olive oil.  Slide the dough onto the heated stone.  Bake the pizza until the crust starts to turn golden-brown, about 3 minutes.  Remove the pizza from the oven, cool on the counter for 30 minutes or so, and wrap with plastic wrap to store.  While the first pizza crust is cooking, you can shape the second crust (with practice).
  3. Par-baked crusts will last for up to a day on the counter, up to a week in the refrigerator, or for up to two months in the freezer (wrapped in plastic wrap AND foil).  When you are ready to prepare a pizza, make the sauce.  Since the pizza will already be par-baked, you’ll put the sauce, pepperoni, and cheese on all at the same time, and bake until the cheese is bubbling and staring to brown.

The Verdict:

We love this pizza.  We especially love to make several crusts and have a potluck-style dinner party where guests bring their favorite toppings to use during the final preparation stages.

Tuesday: Spaghetti & Meatballs and Squash & Vegetables

I enjoyed our squash pasta sauce so much last week, I thought I’d use one of our remaining squashes in a similar recipe.   I thought I’d throw in some extra vegetables, which will be direct from our freezer this time, being outside our normal CSA season.  My sister and I were shopping one day, picking up some snacks for something.  We grabbed a box of Triscuits, and were looking for some cheese to go with them.  Heather picked out a cream cheese with vegetables mixed in, and I asked why she was choosing that one.  She mentioned that although the vegetable content per serving wasn’t much, it was more than the other cheese options, and she figured that any time you have a chance to substitute vegetables of any kind for other types of food, you should do so.  Especially when you will enjoy the results as much or more than you would have without the veggies!

This time we had a few problems.  Problem 1: both Trav & I combined the hamburger with a bread & milk panade, so the meatballs actually ended up pretty much falling apart and bland.  If we’d used buttermilk (as we often do), they would have been tangy instead of bland, but they still would have been falling apart.  Problem 2: the fancy new feature I discovered on our stove does not adjust the cooking time as necessary for something as ambiguously timed as winter squash.  So I’d set the squash to cook for 40 minutes, but it still was not done when we got home.  Problem 3: We’d used the acorn squash last time, which almost dissolved into the sauce.  This time, I thought that spaghetti squash would be more appropriate.  I knew that it wouldn’t act the same as acorn squash, but I thought that the special stringyness that it has would blend well with the spaghetti noodles.  It was fine, but it didn’t add any richness or depth of flavor, and the new texture wasn’t that much of an improvement.

All in all, none of these problems were huge.  The meal was still decent, just not as fabulous as it was last time.

Monday: Twice-Baked Potatoes and Roasted Carrots

Here’s my inspiration (found in America’s Test Kitchen’s New Best Recipe), as well as my personal editing (I’m taking out these parts of the published recipe, and adding in these parts), based on what I actually have on hand:

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Here’s the note that they include in the recipe book:

To vary the flavor a bit, try substituting other types of cheese, such as Gruyere, fontina, or feta, for the cheddar.  Yukon Gold potatoes, though slightly more moist than our ideal, gave our twice-baked potatoes a buttery flavor and mouthfeel that everyone liked, so we recommend them as a substitution for the russets.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed, dried, and rubbed lightly with vegetable oil
  • 4 total ounces sharp white cheddar, swiss, and regular medium cheddar cheeses, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 medium scallions, sliced thin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ground black pepper

Preparation:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake the potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet until the skin is crisp and deep brown and a skewer easily pierces the flesh, about 1 hour.  Setting the baking sheet aside, transfer the potatoes to a wire rack and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
  2. Using an oven mitt or a folded kitchen towel to handle the hot potatoes, cut each potato in half so that the long, blunt sides rest on a work surface.  Using a small spoon, scoop the flesh from each half into a medium bowl, leaving 1/8 to 1/4 inch of the flesh in each shell.  Arrange the shells on the lined baking sheet and return them to the oven until dry and slightly crisped, about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, mash the potato flesh with a fork until smooth.  Stir in the remaining ingredients, including pepper to taste, until well combined.
  3. Remove the shells from the oven and increase the oven setting to broil.  Holding the shells steady on the baking sheet with an oven mitt or towel-protected hand, spoon the mixture into the crisped shells, mounding it slightly at the center, and return the potatoes to the oven.  Broil until spotty brown and crisp on top, 10 to 15 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes.  Serve warm.

Roasted Carrots

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds baby carrots, peeled and cut into 1″-2″ lengths
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspon salt

Preparation:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 475 degrees.  Toss the carrots, oil, and salt in the broiler pan bottom.  Spread the coarrots in a single layer and roast for 12 minutes.  Shake the pan to toss the carrots.  Continue roasting, shaking the pan twice more, until the carrots are browned and tender, about 8 minutes longer.  Serve immediately.

The Verdict:

With our hectic schedules, it is common for us to arrive home from ballet at 8 or 8:30 at night.  On those  nights, we dislike having to begin cooking dinner, and we’ve started avoiding any of the meals we might want to have that involve baking for any length of time.  We have an oven that has a delayed bake function, but I never got around to learning how to use it until today.  It seems like this could pave the way towards all kinds of wonderful dinners that we could eat hot out of the oven just minutes after we arrive home.  This time, of course, I only did the pre-bake on the potatoes so they’d finish just as I was scheduled to get home from work today.  With a multi-part meal like this, it will be useful to be able to start the meal during a lunch break or when I’m home to get ready for ballet class, and finish after arriving  back at home in the evening.  Besides those good aspects, I LOVE baked potatoes, which are a super cheap, easy and filing side to several different meals.  I’ve avoided adding baked potatoes to our menu because of the hour it takes for them to bake (tried microwave recipes, but even the best of those need to be finished in the oven to give you a good potato skin).  I’m seeing whole new realms of menu possibilities opening up for us!

In order to make this meal work, I turned up the oven to 475 after I took the potato skins out of the oven, while I stuffed the skins.  Then I roasted the carrots, removed them to dinner plates, and then completed the broiling step on the twiced baked potatoes.  Although I usually love the scallions in this recipe, it’s also good without them.  So when I’d already sent Trav to the store with this week’s grocery list, I didn’t worry about the fact that we didn’t have anything green onionish.  This utilized the leftovers of a couple different kinds of cheese, and I usually like the buttermilk in the recipe, but the carton we had as bad before I got around to making this, so it was regular milk instead.

Still tasty – I really love the carrots roasted; the carmelization really adds to the sweetness of the carrot, and you can roast them to a good consistency without overcooking.  I’m naming this meal a win!

Sunday: Hamburgers

We’ve been making hamburgers together for years, so we’ve got it down to a science at this point!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 slice sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons milk, or more as needed
  • ground black pepper
  • finely chopped onion and garlic (optional)
  • cheese (cheddar, swiss, pepper jack; whatever you like)
  • Dijon mustard
  • sprouts
  • thinly sliced onion
  • Hamburger buns (our favorites are the onion flavor)
  • Optional: avocado, pickles, tomatoes

Preparation:

  1. Place bread and milk in medium bowl and mash with fork.  Let it sit for a few minutes, and mash again, adding milk as necessary until a paste forms.  Add hamburger, pepper, and onion/garlic (if using) and mix by hand until thoroughly combined
  2. Form hamburger mixture into two to four patties and place on Cuisinart Griddler fitted with grill plates. (If you don’t have this awesome accessory, you can also fry the patties in a large frying pan over medium heat, flipping halfway through cooking.)
  3. Add cheese just before patties finish cooking, and prop top of Griddler up so that it is not touching the cheese (alternate method: add cheese after you’ve flipped the patties, and cover frying pan with lid to melt the cheese).
  4. Meanwhile, spread mustard on the bottom half of each bun.  When patties are finished, place one patty on each bun and top with onion slices, sprouts, and any other toppings you wish.

The Verdict:

Trav has put up reasonably well with the mostly vegetarian diet we’ve been on recently.  He does see how much cheaper it is to not buy meat, but he is not sold on the concept of vegetarianism.  (For that matter, I’m not actually sold on it; I just would rather have our food budget last for an entire week than only make 2 meals with it).  We’re splurging a bit this week (and last), to reward ourselves for not getting drive-through when we’ve craved it.  We’re trying to adjust our lifestyle even more towards the eat at home model, and making sure that we’re still addressing our cravings and serving our favorite foods goes a long way towards that goal!

We love these burgers.  They’re always moist (from the panade) and flavorful (from the onion & garlic inside the patties).  They have a juicyness that you just don’t find with most fast-food options, and they end up being cheaper for all the ingredients than it is to go to the drive-through once.  Not to mention the fact that we have some idea what goes into the burgers we make at home!

Menu: January 24th-31st

We’re far outside of CSA season, but we still have a few squashes as well as other root vegetables to eat through, and we’re going to base the menu this week on eating through some of that, as well as keeping some of our go-to foods (tacos, pasta, etc.)

Here’s the plan:

  • Sunday: Hamburgers
  • Monday: Twice-Baked Potatoes with roasted carrots
  • Tuesday: Spaghetti with meatballs and vegetables
  • Wednesday: Pizza
  • Thursday: Fried Rice
  • Friday: Dinner with Trav’s step-dad
  • Saturday: IRA GLASS!
  • Sunday: We’ll be working opposite shifts, so it’s leftovers for us!

Grocery List:

Costco

  • Cheddar cheese ($11.69)
  • Cereal ($6.95)
  • Crushed Tomatoes
  • Pasta
  • Frozen Vegetables
  • Bread
  • Tax

Top Foods

  • Pam
  • Tortillas
  • Cilantro
  • Tomatoes
  • sprouts
  • Ground Beef
  • cereal
  • monterey jack
  • frozen corn

For two weeks in a row, our local Top Foods has offered a specail “wallet-buster” deal where if you spend $50 or more in a single purchase, they’ll put a $10 credit into your “wallet” for a future purchase.  I have to say that I really admire the Top Foods marketing team.  Since joining their “Top Connect” program, my customer loyalty there has increased considerably!  Of course, it helps that I already liked the store.  I like that they label where their produce is from (and not just whether it’s from the US or not – a lot of times, their signage includes information on the actual farm that their apples came from).  I like that they have a good mix of gourmet/specialty ingredietns and basics.  I like that they have an onsite bakery and that their deli doesn’t blink when I ask for two or three ounces of proscuitto, sliced super thin.  Since joining their version of a club though, I have started shopping there more and more.  They used to have this 7-day pricing guarantee, which really made me feel good as a consumer.  They guaranteed that if any of your items went on sale within 7 days of your purchase, they’d give you a credit for the difference.  Although that has been discontinued, things like this weekend’s credit have spurred me to continue shopping there.  If they were to bring that guarantee back, I’d be a lifetime customer.

Black Bean Burgers

Here’s my inspiration (as usual, found at Epicurious), as well as my personal editing (I’m taking out these parts of the published recipe, and adding in these parts), based on what I actually have on hand:

Black-Bean Burgers

Gourmet  | February 2009 by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez

yield: Makes 4 servings – active time: 10 min – total time: 15 min

Ingredients:

  • 2 (1415-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained, divided
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise, or more for consistency
  • 1/3 cup plain dry bread crumbs 1 slice sandwich bread, crust removed and torn in quarters
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled tumeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 soft hamburger buns, leftover from the pack you bought for regular hamburgers earlier this week

Optional Accompaniments: sour cream; salsa; lettuce; sliced avocado; dijon mustard

Preparation:

  1. Pulse bread in the food processor until it forms crumbs.  Add Pulse 1 can beans in a food processor with mayonnaise, bread crumbs, cumin, oregano, chili powder, cilantro and cayenne until a coarse purée forms. Transfer to a bowl and stir in cilantro and remaining can beans. Form mixture into 4 patties as best you can.  The mixture will be more like burger batter than like anything that can be formed into patties.
  2. Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Cook burgers until outsides are crisp and lightly browned, turning once, about 5 minutes total or possibly considerably longer, if you’re trying to wait until they’re solid enough to flip. Serve on buns with optional accompaniaments as desired.

The Verdict:

Althougth Travis balks at vegetarian versions of meat products, he will go along with using the food we have at home rather than going out to buy more meat.  He did have a good point that thinking of these as burgers will lead to a bit of dissapointment.  They’re really more “Black Bean Sloppy Joes,” but with less sauce.  I added mustard, sour cream, and avocado to mine, and I thought it was fine.  It wasn’t wonderful, and I would have rather had a real hamburger or even a gardenburger, all things being equal.  The fact that all things were not equal and that we used items entirely from our pantry and refrigerator made this a meal I was happy about.  It’s shocking how much better average food tastes when it helps you meet the challenges you’ve put in place for yourself!

I wondered why they wanted me to chop cilantro and add it in later, and decided the recipe writer was a little crazy.  After I’d made bread crumbs, I just threw the one can of beans and all the spicing/binding agents together in the food processor until I thought it looked good.  The cilantro flavor came through fine, and I had one less dirty knife and cutting board than I would have had if I’d followed the recipe.

I would forsee, since we do always have canned black beans on hand (we always stock up when they go below $1 per can at the grocery store), and since we do occasionally splurge with hamburger night purchases, we may try something like this again.  This was actually the second time for this recipe, and I wasn’t really amazed either time.  I’m the one that doesn’t mind eating vegetarian, so the fact that I’m ambivalent doesn’t bode well for the future of this recipe!  However, when Trav was pulling the epicurious app up on his phone, he said he’d found 4 other recipes as well, so maybe we’ll see what they call for and try one of them out!

Spaghetti and Meatballs and Squash

Although this is where I usually list my “inspiration,” this meal was completely inspired by what ingredients we had on hand (mostly including leftovers).  I really enjoyed it, so I hope you give it a try!

Ingredients:

  • 1 acorn squash
  • olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled & put through a garlic press (divided)
  • 3 shallots, minced (divided)
  • approximately 4 cups whole peeled tomatoes canned in their own juice
  • chopped fresh basil to taste
  • approximately 4 ounces lean ground beef
  • 1 slice sandwich bread, crusts removed (we used whole wheat and flax because it’s what we had on hand, but I usually use a high-quality sandwich bread or a couple of slices from a french loaf if I’m making garlic bread with the meal).
  • milk
  • shredded parmesan cheese
  • dried spaghetti

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Slice squash in half and remove seeds.  Drizzle a small amount of olive oil into each half of the squash and spread oil over the entire squash (both skin and flesh sides) with your hands.  Bake squash on parchment-lined cookie sheet until tender.  The squash is done when a fork or skewer slides into the flesh with minimal resistance. (Can be baked up to two days ahead and stored, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator).
  2. Meanwhile, rip bread into approximately 4 pieces and place in small mixing bowl with a splash of milk.  With a dinner fork, mash the bread until it forms a paste with the milk.  You can add more milk as needed until you get a smushy consistency.  Add 1/2 the garlic and shallots along with all of the beef to the bread mixture and mix with hands to combine.
  3. Form smallish (1″ diameter) meatballs and place on an additional cookie sheet.  Bake meatballs in the same oven as the squash until browned and sizzling.  Since these are made with a panade (the bread/milk combo), it’s really hard to overcook them, so don’t be afraid to give them a little longer than you normally would.  They’ll also be reheated in the sauce, so it’s pretty difficult to undercook them.
  4. Puree the canned tomatoes until smooth.  Note: this recipe should work just as well with diced tomatoes or crushed tomatoes, without this step.
  5. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add shallots and saute until soft, approximately 2 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, 30 seconds or so.  Add pureed tomatoes and heat through.
  6. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
  7. Add basil to the tomato mixure and continue to cook for a few more minutes.  Once the squash has finished cooking, scoop the flesh directly into the tomato sauce.  If you are cooking the entire recipe in one night, use caution while handling the hot squash.  Add parmesan cheese to taste.
  8. Add meatballs to the sauce and heat through.
  9. Cook spaghetti according to package directions and serve topped with sauce.  You can top with additional parmesan if you desire.

The Verdict:

We love spaghetti and meatballs, and we got our original meatball recipe from America’s Test Kitchen.  These meatballs are not quite as tasty as theirs, but since we had so many parts going on with this meal already, we skipped the step where you brown the meatballs in oil.  I can only handle so many dirty pots & pans from one meal!

The sauce came out really flavorful and thick because of the squash.  Although there was not any specifically squash flavor that I could tell (which sort of disappointed me, because I do like my squash), there was a heartiness and an oranginess that I liked.  I think this would be a really good recipe for someone to try that has squash to use but is either sick of the flavor or isn’t sure they like squash.  I had originally baked the squash a few days before, to use in a different recipe that I never got around to, so using the one we had this way seemed like a good idea.

All-in-all, this was a delicious rendition of one of our standbys and we’d likely try it again under similar circumstances.  In the future, I do however want to experiment with other pasta & squash recipes that really highlight the squash flavor.

Acorn Squash Burritos

I don’t have an inspiration for this one, except the concept of repurposing leftovers into delicious meals!

Ingredients:

  • leftover Mexican Rice
  • canned black beans
  • frozen corn
  • roasted acorn squash
  • Cheddar Cheese, shredded
  • flour tortillas
  • Sour Cream, Salsa, & Guacamole optional

Directions:

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle/lower positions and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Heat rice, beans, corn, and squash in the microwave (everything except the squash can be mixed together or kept separate, as desired).
  3. Stop oven & change to “low broil” setting
  4. Place tortillas directly on oven rack, with about 1/4 cup of shredded cheese on each one.  Broil until cheese is melted.
  5. Remove tortillas to plates and top with warmed squash, rice, beans & corn, and any other optional toppings you are using – enjoy!

The Verdict:

I absolutely love these.  I’ve taken to making a large batch of Mexican rice every week or so, and enjoying it in these tacos (with or without the squash) every few days.  These also make a great lunch, if you’re opposed to leftovers for dinner.  The key to a soft tortilla and melted cheese is to heat the oven, but then use the broil function.  We’ve found that just broiling results in a tortilla that is too crispy on top, but just baking leaves the tortilla too crispy on the bottom.  A little of both?  Just right!