ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH-O’-LANTERN + KALE SALAD

29th October 2014

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Around this time of year I can’t help but think of my fictional hero, Linus van Pelt from the Peanuts. First of all, he prides comfort over all things, so much so that he carries his favorite blanket everywhere he goes. While I don’t carry round a blanket, I’m fully believe in the comforting powers of a good scarf. Second, he is full of sage advice despite being no more than, what, 6 or 7 years of age? My favorite saying of his is “never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker.” While Linus means this literally, I like to consider his words more metaphorically and apply them to real world situations, including, but not limited to, jumping into real piles of leaves.

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Perhaps the thing I admire most about him is his imagination and the matter-of-factly way he talks about his beliefs, however strange they may seem to others. And I understand and agree with his decision to never discuss three things with people – those being religion, politics, and The Great Pumpkin – but love how he will still share his philosophy on autumnal spirits with anyone who asks. After all, the sincerest pumpkin patch is the best pumpkin patch.

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I think we could all learn a lesson or two from Linus. Imagine more, talk less, be sincere. Oh, and always be comfortable. This year, I’m trying to do just that. This weekend we are traveling for a wedding with a rehearsal dinner scheduled for Halloween night. To keep things festive, but comfortable, we are dressing up as Lumberjack-o’-lanterns (my husband’s brilliant idea) complete with Buffalo flannel and knit stocking hats. I think The Great Pumpkin will appreciate our wit.

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Since Linus tends to the pumpkin patch instead of traipsing around the neighborhood begging for candy, I feel like he might be the kind of kid that is partial to more grown-up foods like kale and squash. So with an all-night pumpkin patch stake out in mind, I thought some proper fuel would prove more beneficial than a sugar high. If Linus had packed himself a container of this kid-friendly Roasted Butternut Squash-o’-Lantern and Kale Salad he would have not only delighted the sincerity-seeking Great Pumpkin, but also would have been able to avoid that terrible meltdown with the candy-crazed Sally. There’s always next year.

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I think I’d trade my bucket of candy for a box of fresh apple cider donuts any day. Linus would probably do the same.

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Carving little jack-o’-lantern faces into butternut squash rounds might seem tedious, but just think how sincere and respectful you’ll look to The Great Pumpkin.

Butternut Squash-O’-Lantern + Kale Salad

small butternut squash, peeled and cut into rounds (about 1/4 inch thick)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 bunch kale, washed, dried, and shredded
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
4-6 tablespoons goat cheese
fresh sage leaves
dressing of choice ( I like a homemade mix of olive oil, a dash of vinegar, a dollop of dijon, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Shake together in a Mason jar)

1. Set oven to 400 degrees and line a small pan with a piece of parchment paper.

2. Using a small paring knife, cut jack-o’-lantern faces into the squash rounds. Spread in a single layer on the pan, lightly brush each round with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until just fork tender.

3. In a small skillet, heat a tablespoon or two of oil over medium high heat. Add several sage leaves and fry for a few seconds on each side. Remove leaves and drain on a paper towel. Set aside.

4.In a medium-sized bowl, toss together the kale, pomegranate seeds, goat cheese, and desired amount of dressing.

5. On small plates or bowls, place a portion of salad, top with a single squash-o’-lantern round, and sprinkle with crumbled fried sage. Serve immediately.

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Happy almost Halloween, y’all.

BACON, KALE, & APPLE SANDWICHES W/ CIDER MUSTARD

25th October 2014

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Blame it on the years of being a vegetarian or maybe on my reluctance to fry a batch of bacon on a day that isn’t Sunday, but I’ve really underestimated the significance of a simple bacon sandwich. With just a few other basic ingredients – most often lettuce and tomato – a humble little bacon sandwich can turn the whole day around. Sometimes you need to turn your day around. Add some kale – my go-to cureall for whatever ails you – and a few slices of seasonal apples and you can, just maybe, turn your whole life around.

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Things keep moving faster and faster these days and when looking at the big picture ahead we can often lose sight of the little details in front of us. I know the big picture is important, but I’m so in love with those little, simple, details. The simplicity of a single, beautifully written word, the hidden treasures you find in the rough, the curious friends you meet by chance, the way the laces look tied up in your new rain boots, and the silly joy in painting something gold. All these little, simple things, might not seem to go together, but in the end they somehow work to make the day a little bit better. That’s how I feel about this sandwich. A simple, no frills sandwich made of good little things.

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While I’m keen to style this sandwich with an acronym, BKA just doesn’t sound that swell. Instead of the traditional lettuce and tomato, this sandwich substitutes kale (much better for you anyways) and apples (seasonal!). In lieu of mayo, an apple cider mustard melds everything together. The bread – as always – should be toasted.

Bacon, Kale, & Apple Sandwiches

whole wheat bread, toasted
bacon, cooked until crispy
kale, washed and patted dry
sweet apples, thinly sliced
apple cider mustard (see recipe below)

Like any sandwich this can be built any which way you want, but essentially it goes: bread, a slather of mustard, a layer of kale, handful of bacon slices, a layer of apples, more cider mustard, bread. Slice in half and eat.

Apple Cider Mustard
makes about a half cup

3 tablespoons mustard seeds (a mix of yellow and brown)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider or apple juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all the ingredients in a small Mason jar and shake to combine. Let the mixture sit overnight in the refrigerator. Pour the contents into a food processor or blender and puree until desired consistency is achieved. I like to blend the mixture for just a few seconds (about 10 or 15) so that most of the mustard seeds remain whole. Alternatively, you can leave the entire mixture whole and rustic.

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Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses bacon, y’all.

ROASTED ROSEMARY CARROTS & CONCORD GRAPES

20th October 2014

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There were several things I expected to love about New England – the obvious contenders being pumpkins, cider, and all things fall – but never did I ever think that I would fall head over heels for grapes. Yes, grapes. But not just any grapes, Concord grapes. Rustic, dusty, dark little grapes that smell, well, like the epitome of grape. I brought them home from the farm stand and tucked them into the fridge as I pondered their fate. Every time I opened the fridge door an overwhelming – read: pleasant – waft of realistic grape jolly rancher filled the room. It. Was. Perfect.

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Concord grapes were first developed in the mid 1800s in Concord, Massachusetts by a man named Ephraim Wales Bull. A few years later, the grape was used by a Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch (yes, that Welch) to create the first Concord grape juice. Since then the grape has been a fixture in non-alcoholic communion wines and lunch room peanut butter and jelly sandwiches throughout the nation.

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Sadly, these grapes don’t taste all that great as a plain old snack. The Concord grape is known as a “slip-skin” which means that the skin – which contains most of the intense grape flavor – easily pops off the pulpy centers. So Waldorf Salads, frozen for snacks, and other raw recipes don’t really mesh with these odd grapes. Thankfully, these olfactory wonders work well under a little heat.

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I’m not entirely sure how I got there, but I think this is roughly what was going through my head at the time:

grapes…roasted grapes…roasted grapes are like freshly made flavorful raisins…raisins are my favorite part of Southern shredded carrot salad…but carrots can be roasted too…what if I roast them together…and throw some rosemary on there too?…then the whole house will smell like grape jelly…

And here we are.

So it might seem weird – roasted carrot and grapes – but trust me, it’s worth the odd looks around the house. The grapes burst a bit and create their own little jelly in the bottom of the pan which coats some of the carrots, staining them a lovely shade of purple. Sweet enough for the veg-averse, but not so sweet you feel like you’re eating a PBJ (with carrots).

Roasted Rosemary Carrots & Concord Grapes
serves 2 to 4

5-6 small to medium sized carrots, split in half lengthwise
1 medium bunch concord grapes
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Set the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a small roasting pan, arrange the carrots, grapes, and rosemary, drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes or until the carrots are just fork-tender. Some of the grapes will explode and create the best tasting glaze for the carrots. Serve warm as a side or on top of warmed bread, over couscous or quinoa, or over roasted chicken.

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RECIPE REPOST: HOMEMADE HONEY APPLESAUCE

14th October 2014

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In one of his last manuscripts, aptly entitled Wild Fruits, Henry David Thoreau thought it “remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man.” With this notion in mind, I feel like we ought to eat more apples. Since eating them as-is can sometimes be a bit boring after a while, a simple applesauce sweetened with honey is the next best thing. Plus it goes well with my morning yogurt.

Thank you Best Friends for Frosting for featuring another one of my creations!

Find the full recipe and many more lovely things here.

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS TERRACOTTA CACTUS POTS

10th October 2014

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Occasionally I step out of the kitchen, but mostly it’s just into the study to work on food-related research. I read all the popular (and even the unpopular) food magazines, news sites, and such and keep current with most of my favorite food blogs. When I’m not testing a recipe, I’m in the library looking up facts for my latest food encyclopedia entry or in the grocery store sourcing ingredients for another article. I love food, but a girl’s got to have some other hobbies.

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I like to bike, but that’s not really photogenic. I love to read the most embarrassing young adult fiction novels, but there’s no way I’m showing you the titles. I’m a novice knitter, can sew decently enough, and have a few rainy day sketch books. I learned to tie flies for fly fishing at a very young age and have made some fairly impressive spun deer-hair streamers, but I’ll only ever post about those in the context of pan-fried fish. That leaves gardening. And I’m proud to say I do a decent job considering what I have to work with and with the fact that it snows a good two-thirds of the year up here in New England. So with winter coming, I looked inside for a plant-based project and found myself thinking of Texas and that of course led to cactus.

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With Halloween right around the corner – the be-all-end-all of holidays in my family home – and Dia de los Muertos shortly after, cactus blossoms quickly morphed into sombreros and little terracotta pots into sugar skulls. The result: DIY Dia de los Muertos Cactus Pots. Alternatively, you could call these Terracotta Jack-o-Cactus.

Lo que sea.

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The instructions are frighteningly (get it) simple and you can either draw your designs free-hand or find some inspirational drawings on Pinterest to trace. You can find the teensy terracotta pots at most nurseries, but if you have trouble finding them there look at larger craft stores.

DIY Dia de los Muertos Terracotta Cactus Pots

teensy terracotta pots
black craft paint
fine paint brushes
pencil/eraser
cactus pequeños
soil/gravel/decorative rocks

1. Using a damp paper towel, wipe the terracotta pot to remove any dust. Draw your face design in pencil.

2. With a very fine paint brush, paint over the pencil lines. Set aside and let dry. When the paint is completely dry, use a soft eraser to remove any lingering pencil.

3. Carefully remove the cactus from the plastic container (consider using canvas work gloves if the spikes are large). Using kitchen shears, cut off any large spikes.

4. Place a few pieces of gravel or decorative rocks at the bottom of the terracotta pot. Add a small amount of dirt and then place the cactus in the center. Fill around the cactus with more dirt as necessary and finish with a thick layer of gravel or rocks at the top. Place in a dry area and enjoy.

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There you go, DIY Dia de los Muertos Terracotta Cactus. And when your New England plant nursery is low on cactus, sometimes a particularly spiky succulent looks just as spooky. Just remember to water your succulent every once and a while. The cactus don’t need it. Magic!

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