Mexican-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

Happy…middle of September?  How the heck did THAT happen??

Before we know it, Autumn will be upon us.  In fact, it’s coming early from what I can see – we already have trees turning on our street (much to Darling Daughter’s dismay).

While I do NOT look forward to winter, I generally enjoy fall.  It’s a gorgeous season up here in northeast Ohio and the crisp temperatures are an invigorating excuse to wear my didn’t-exist-until-I-moved-North cool weather wardrobe.

Because, let’s face it, it’s cold for all of about 3 days in the middle of February down in Texas.

It’s also an opportunity to start tuning up for cold-weather cooking, which is (according to at least one of my readers) my forte.  I won’t deny it; I love casseroles and stews and braises and other hearty, stick-to-your-ribs fare.

This particular recipe is a new favorite.  Ooooohhh, myyyyyyyy.

While the butternut squash Beloved planted earlier in the season didn’t take at all (this is not true of the one that has sprung up spontaneously in another garden – I guess the compost didn’t get hot enough again this year), the spaghetti squash is doing just fine.  We’ve already picked a couple, and I made this with the very first one Beloved harvested.

Fortunately, the harvest of this squash coincided with the last of the summer sweet corn we picked up at the farmer’s market.  When I finally decided what I was going to do with this particular one – I didn’t want it to involve a pasta sauce – I soaked and cooked some black beans, as well as a pound of Meat for Tacos. After that I made a fresh salsa with some red onion, a hillbilly tomato and a jalapeno, all from our garden, along with some cilantro from the CSA.  Once I’d roasted the squash, all that was left was to shred some cheese and assemble the whole thing and bake it in the oven.

It. Was. AMAZING.  This is comfort food, folks – delicious, satisfying and quite healthful comfort food.  The servings are also quite generous, and the leftovers keep well in the refrigerator, if they’re well-covered.  It really reheats beautifully – Beloved and I shared one stuffed squash half the night I made it, and finished off the other half for lunch the next day.  It was every bit as good (if not a little bit better, as dishes like this tend to be).

This would also be awesome topped with a good, homemade guacamole.

Mexican-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash. Healthy and creative, this Mexican-inspired casserole is a great way to jazz up this versatile winter squash.

Click the image to enlarge

Mexican-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 large spaghetti squash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 pound [url href=”http://www.janssushibar.com/meat-tacos/” target=”_blank”]Meat for Tacos[/url]
  • 1/2 medium red onion, diced
  • 2 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 cup fresh tomato salsa
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Halve the spaghetti squash and scrape out the seeds from the center. Rub both halves with olive oil and place them, cut side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork; remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  3. While the squash is roasting, prepare the [url href=”http://www.janssushibar.com/meat-tacos/” target=”_blank”]Meat for Tacos[/url].
  4. Once cooled enough to handle, shred the meat of the squash into a large mixing bowl with a fork, leaving the shells intact. Season lightly with salt and pepper; stir in the beans, corn, taco meat, red onion and half the cheese until thoroughly combined. Spoon the mixture back into the squash shells and top with the remaining cheese. Return to the foil-lined baking sheet.
  5. Reduce the heat to 350 F and return the stuffed squash halves to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Allow the stuffed squash to rest for 5 or so minutes before cutting each half in two. Top with the salsa and serve.
  7. Nutrition (per serving): 584 calories, 36.4g total fat, 95.4mg cholesterol, 1076.6mg sodium, 1024.3mg potassium, 37.1g carbohydrates, 6.9g fiber, 4.9g sugar, 30.9g protein

Loaded Smashed Potatoes

Good grief – will someone please tell me how it got to be September already??

Things have calmed down somewhat around the Sushi Bar; The G Man is in Michigan and starts kindergarten today (boy, talk about time just flying by!!) and while The Young One came home for the long weekend, we didn’t see much of him (he spent a lot of time sleeping) and he was back on campus by Sunday afternoon.

However, even though our lives are no longer ruled by the comings and goings of young men, things are still pretty busy.  It is, of course, prime canning season and we did it in style this last weekend.  If you think we went crazy with the zucchini and green beans, well…let’s just say they weren’t anything compared to this weekend.

We took Friday off from work, which was a good thing, since it gave us the opportunity to do some housework and yard work.  We made our usual CSA/farmer’s market runs Saturday morning, and came home with 2 bushels of paste tomatoes (to which we added another half bushel from our own garden), 5 dozen ears of sweet corn, 5 pounds of okra and a 1/2 peck of the sweetest peaches I’ve ever tasted.  The result?

– 8 pints of barbecue sauce canned

– 32 pints of tomato canned

– About 2 1/2 cups of tomato paste made, portioned and frozen

– All of the corn shucked and cleaned; 1 1/2 dozen frozen on the cob, the remainder cut away from the cob, portioned, and frozen

– All 5 pounds of the okra cleaned and sliced; about 4 pounds breaded before being frozen (’cause we love our fried okra)

– All of the peaches peeled, sliced and frozen

The tomatoes were milled and the sauces and paste were made on Saturday.  The canning, corn and okra were done on Sunday, and I peeled and sliced the peaches while cooking our dinner (an amazingly delicious and un-paleo gumbo) Monday evening.

In short, we basically came back to work today to rest from our “long weekend.”

We’d have gone out to eat Sunday night – the day was just that exhausting – but all the decent restaurants in Podunk are closed on Sunday, so we made dinner as simple as possible.  Beloved fired up the grill and cooked us steaks, while I roasted some of the okra I’d left whole.  Darling Daughter asked for this particular dish and since she did most of the work, I’ll credit her with the execution.

I have to tell you, these smashed potatoes are really pretty easy and they are really very delicious; even Beloved, who prefers sweet potatoes, wolfed them down.  The leftovers keep quite well, too, as you can see in the photo below, when we had them with the leftover steak, over-easy eggs and watermelon the next morning.

Note:  You can leave off the bacon if you don’t eat pork or want to make them vegetarian-friendly – simply sub the bacon fat with melted ghee or olive oil.

Loaded Smashed Potatoes.  Crispy and delicious, these are somewhere between potato skins and baked potatoes.

Click the image to enlarge

Loaded Smashed Potatoes
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound whole new potatoes, preferably Yukon golds
  • 4 ounces bacon, chopped
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup snipped chives
  • 1/4 cup sour cream, (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  2. Scrub the potatoes well. Carefully drop them into 2 quarts of boiling salted water and cook until tender enough to pierce with a fork, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain; spread out on a shallow-rimmed baking sheet to cool slightly.
  3. While the potatoes are boiling, cook the bacon in a small skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain; reserve the fat left behind in the pan.
  4. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, smash them slightly (still on the baking sheet) with a potato masher or the bottom of a heavy glass measuring cup. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and drizzle with the reserved bacon fat.
  5. Roast the smashed potatoes until crisp, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the bacon and cheese. Return the pan to the oven until the cheese is melted, another 5 to 7 minutes longer.
  6. Sprinkle the potatoes with the snipped chives and dollop with sour cream, if desired, before serving.
  7. Nutrition (per serving): 235 calories, 16.1g total fat, 36.6mg cholesterol, 283.1mg sodium, 395mg potassium, 14.1g carbohydrates, 1.7g fiber, <1g sugar, 8.8g protein

Migas

Well, hello there.

If you’re wondering if I’d fallen off the edge of the earth, you’re not alone – I’ve been wondering that myself.  But no, just extremely busy (more on that tomorrow).

I’d mentioned a bit earlier that ever since The Young One has been off to college, I hadn’t felt much like cooking.  Or at least cooking anything worthy of a blog post; most of it’s been either recipes I’ve posted before, or stuff so simple that you could hardly call it “cooking.”  A lot of it couldn’t even remotely be considered “paleo” (but again, more on that tomorrow).

At any rate, I have prepared a few things worthy of a photograph and blog post – this is one of them.

My first husband was (is, I suppose, since he’s still living) Hispanic, and his grandmother was one of the finest cooks I’ve had the privilege to have known.  It was she who introduced me to authentic Mexican cuisine, rather than the Tex-Mex I’d grown up with, and her handmade tortillas, refried beans, menudo, and caldo de res were beyond compare.  I couldn’t wait for the holidays every year, when she and my mother-in-law would crank out enormous batches of tamales, both sweet and savory, and the buñuelos she made us as a treat for New Years were the best I, or probably anyone else, have ever tasted.

And she introduced me to Migas.

In the Mexican-American household – or at least, her Mexican-American household – Migas is a simple dish of eggs scrambled together with bite-size pieces of corn tortillas, and I loved it from the first time I took a bite.  Having said that, it occurred to me when I made this particular recipe that I hadn’t eaten it in over 25 years.  You see, when I was pregnant with Darling Daughter (in 1986 – yeah, I’m that old), migas was one of those things that, for no good reason I could tell, just turned my stomach – I simply couldn’t eat it. (Pregnancy will often play horrible tricks like that on you.)  I re-entered the workforce when she was about 6 months old, and I guess it just never occurred to me to ever cook it again.  I don’t know why.

Fast forward to a couple of days after Christmas.  Jolly and The G Man had spent Christmas Eve with us, and I had made Mexican for dinner, which included beef and cheese enchiladas.  (Hey, it was our Christmas Eve dinner – we could eat what we liked.  And we did.)  So, here I was, left with half a package of corn tortillas sitting in my fridge, softly calling to me, “Here we are…are you going to let us go bad?’

The answer to that would be, “No.”  And Migas, which Beloved had never eaten before, was the result.

Ironically, this version is a gussied-up, restaurant-style, Tex-Mex version of the simple dish Grandma taught me, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious.  You can, of course, make it with just the eggs and tortillas, but the addition of the vegetables is just wonderful.  You can also leave out the cheese and half and half for a dairy-free version, or you can leave out the tortillas if you’re avoiding grains.  It won’t be Migas without them, of course, but it’ll still be pretty darn good.

Migas. Simple Tex-Mex comfort food at its finest.

Click the image to enlarge

Migas
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 8 corn tortillas, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup shredded pepper jack or cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Whisk together the eggs and half and half until well blended; set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften and the onion turns translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the jalapeno and cook for another minute more.
  3. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the pan. Stir the tortillas into the vegetable mixture and cook for one minute; pour in the egg mixture and stir gently to combine. Reduce the heat slightly and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the eggs are softly scrambled. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then gently stir in the tomatoes.
  4. Divide the Migas between 4 plates; top each with cheese and serve immediately.
  5. Nutrition (per serving): 479 calories, 30.8g total fat, 430.2mg cholesterol, 350.2mg sodium, 457mg potassium, 27.7g carbohydrates, 4.3g fiber, 3.8g sugar, 23.7g protein

Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto

This recipe is the result of an impulsive purchase of fair trade, organic arborio rice, the huge sage bush planted on the east side of our house, a baby butternut squash from our garden and not enough leftovers for lunch.

Don’t ask me what possessed me to buy the rice or make this for lunch, because I really couldn’t tell you – except maybe that I love risotto and haven’t made it for, well, years.  But when I saw I was going to have to cook something for our lunch to go with the leftover lamb chops from our dinner the night before, I realized I not only had all of the ingredients for risotto (we’d just canned a huge batch of chicken broth the previous week), but all the ingredients for a butternut squash risotto.

So I made this.

And it was incredibly good.

A northern Italian specialty dating as far back as the Renaissance, risotto is traditionally served as a primo piatto (first course) after the antipasto, although in the U.S. it’s usually served as a side, or even a main course. It is made from a high-starch, short-grain rice, such as arborio; the risotto becomes exceptionally creamy as the liquid is gradually stirred into the dish.

This is not a quick recipe, although it’s quite simple; it just requires a lot of attention in the way of stirring, to make sure the liquid – in this case, a good homemade chicken broth – is absorbed so the rice doesn’t become gummy or unevenly cooked.  You don’t have to actually stand over it and tend it non-stop, especially if you’re doing other things to get the meal on the table, but it’s good to make sure it’s well-stirred every half-minute or so.

It’s important to make sure the butternut squash is cut into small cubes, since the liquid added to the rice is also needed to cook that, as well – if cut too large, the rice will cook before the squash is done. (If you’re worried about it, you can parboil the cubed squash for a minute or two in advance, but if cut to a 1/4″ dice, it shouldn’t be a problem.)  You also don’t want to overcook the rice; it should be al dente, so begin tasting it after about 18 to 20 minutes or so.  A mushy risotto is a sad, sad thing.

All in all, this was a plate of creamy, rich, autumnal yumminess, and I was not in the least bit sorry we ate the whole darn pan for lunch (and which also explains why I don’t make it very often).

Note:  This can easily be made vegetarian by using vegetable broth or stock in place of the chicken broth.  If you wish to omit the wine, which adds necessary acidity to counterbalance the richness of the butter and cheese, substitute with 2 or 3 tablespoons of a good quality white wine vinegar.

Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto. Winter squash makes a great addition to this autumn-inspired rice dish, which is finished with chopped fresh sage.

Click image to enlarge

Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto
[i]Serves 6 as a side dish, or 3 as a main course[/i]
Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups chicken stock or broth, preferably homemade
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh sage
  • salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Heat the chicken stock in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat until it comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and keep hot.
  2. Melt the butter in a large, wide skillet or pan over medium heat. Add the onion and squash and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened and is turning translucent. Stir in the rice and garlic and continue cooking for another minute.
  3. Stir the wine into the rice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Begin adding the hot chicken stock a half-cup at a time, stirring constantly after each addition until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Continue stirring the stock into the mixture, a half-cup at a time, until the rice and squash is tender, about 30 minutes.
  4. Stir the cheese and sage into the rice; season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
  5. Nutrition (per serving): 336 calories, 11.1g total fat, 29.8mg cholesterol, 481.1mg sodium, 488.4mg potassium, 42.4g carbohydrates, 1.4g fiber, 6.2g sugar, 12.4g protein

Apple-Bacon-Cheddar Burgers

I’m really beginning to wonder if one of the symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome is a lack of interest in cooking, and a lack of interest in photographing the results when you do feel like cooking.

Because that seems to be my life ever since The Young One left for college.

Seriously – Beloved and I are living off of eggs, simply cooked meats and vegetables, fruits and ferments…lots and lots of ferments.  (Ferments = easy, nutritious and delicious.)  It suits our lives right now, and I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I’m rather enjoying it all.  No kids.  No pets.  Just me, Beloved, and episodes of Orange is the New Black and 24 on Netflix.  Life is good.

At any rate, I’m sure my interest in cooking and food photography will return eventually, but in the meantime I’m going to post twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday.  And it will most likely be simple, easy dishes unless the mood strikes and I make something along the lines of the Apple Fritter recipe on a Sunday morning.

This is one of those simple recipes.  It is also incredibly delicious – Beloved said it was the best burger he’s eaten in a very long time, and I have to concur with him.  They are just marvelous.

The trick is not to overcook them; low and slow is the way to go.  Check the temperature of the burgers and don’t let it go over 145 F, then cover them and put them in a warm oven for 10 minutes.  The result is an incredibly juicy, flavorful burger.

I served this with Dilly Beans, Jalapenos en Escabeche (both of which are almost completely gone now) and roasted sweet potato wedges; it was a great dinner.  Anyone interested in a recipe for the wedges?  They were pretty darn good, too.

Apple-Bacon-Cheddar Burgers. Apple and cheddar cheese really pump up the flavor of these burgers, while bacon helps keep them moist and juicy.

Click the image to enlarge

Apple-Bacon-Cheddar Burgers
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds ground pork
  • 4 ounces bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 large apple, peeled and grated
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Gently combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Form 8 patties from the mixture.
  2. Heat a griddle or large frying pan over medium-low heat; cook the burgers until the internal temperature reaches 145 F.
  3. Place the burgers on a large plate or platter; cover with aluminum foil and place in a warm oven. Allow them to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
  4. Nutrition (per serving): 434 calories, 35.1g total fat, 106.1mg cholesterol, 621.8mg sodium, 395.7mg potassium, 3.9g carbohydrates, <1g fiber, 2.8g sugar, 24.4g protein