Basil/Oregano Mashed Butternut Squash

I’ve become a big fan of dips – give me a variety pack of hummus flavors, or a savory baba ganoush, or a pile of guacamole any day and I’ll lay into it. I wasn’t expecting that butternut squash would make such a fantastic dip, though; rather than a recipe, today I present something I affectionately call a “mess-cipe” – something that easily could have turned out terribly as an experiment in the kitchen but which instead turned out delicious!

I was eager to roast up the butternut squash, so I added basil, oregano, and some last sprigs of rosemary that I had handy but after it finished cooking I kinda… left it in the oven to cool? I went about my afternoon, busy, and then came back to cooled-off, gooey squash. It was easy to separate the chunks from their skin, but then I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. My thought was “Pasta sauce,” along the lines of some you might have seen used on “butternut squash mac and cheese.”

I didn’t have a lot of cheese available, but I added cheese and milk, and used the food processor to mix it up. I made Husband a bowl of pasta and covered it in the sauce, which he vouched was sweet but flavorful, a perfectly fine dinner. What I noticed, though, was that since it was all fairly cool, it was really firmer than a sauce… more like a dip.

Instead of serving myself pasta, I dug a tortilla chip into the mixture, and crunched into it… PERFECT. While not a normal dip for tortilla chips, the mixture was too smooth for me to want it on something else soft like pasta, so I got the satisfying crunch and also the yummy flavor of butternut squash. I cannot give you exact measurements, but I definitely recommend that you try something like “mashed butternut squash” and have chips or crackers with it – the flavor is unusual but the texture is perfect for a dip.

Quinoa with sweet tomato, onion, and summer herbs

On Friday, I really traipsed into the thicket of tomatoes in our backyard and emerged with tons – 30 or more cherry and 10 San Marzanos. I want to freeze some to eventually can sauce, but a more pressing need presented itself: my aunt and uncle were coming over for dinner! They are the sweetest folks and one is vegetarian and the other is dairy/gluten free, so quinoa was an obvious option.

I prepared about 1 cup of quinoa according to the directions on the bag, but the long roasting time meant that I did that much later. I started by cutting up the cherry tomatoes and some San Marzanos into the roasting pan pictured. I then sliced and diced one purple onion and 4 cloves of garlic, and added maybe a teaspoon of olive oil to keep it all from sticking. I roasted it at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes.

When they came out, I added cut chives, basil, and oregano – all fresh because I’d gotten packets of fresh herbs from the community garden, and that stuff doesn’t last long! I left the whole roasting pan on the stove to stay toasty while my aunt and uncle got a tour of the house, but then added the hot quinoa to the veggies to mix up together.

We had quite a feast – Husband obviously made a salad, and I whipped up guacamole to make sure that everyone had a hearty enough meal. Afterwards was a gluten-free banana bread that I was pleased with, even though it was drier than I expected; I’ll post about it at some point. But sitting around the table, passing dishes and eating off placemats made me realize how much I missed that. When we’ve had our dinner parties, there have been too many people to sit down to table together, and that makes me think the next dinner “party” will just be, perhaps, 4 other folks. Last night was a less boisterous evening, but I think that the niceness of sharing the bounty of the garden and the chat that we all had about plants and electronic circuits and family history made me miss a regular sit-down dinner with family.

A Day of Plenty: Harvesting Squash and Tomatoes

Husband has been pushing patience at me, because online I read that for butternut squash to be ready to harvest, you have to wait until the stem had died a little; that’s the only time when it’s truly done with nutrients. He said to wait to harvest ours until that ripeness level.

However… they’ve been that creamy orange color that indicates ripeness for more than a week now! I harvested our first two, one that weighed 2 pounds and one that topped out at almost 5, and I set about preparing the first for roasting. As soon as I cut into it, a sweet smell and a bunch of water came out – it was the juiciest butternut squash ever! I was quite sticky-fingered by the time I finished cleaning it out, cutting it up and getting it into the oven, but so happy. And glad that, this time anyway, my haste was alright. I’ll wait longer for the other, because it will take me a while to process the 5 pound squash.

Also, our tomato jungle is so dense that it’s hard to reach the back rows, which are up against the neighbor’s fence. Yesterday, I braved the spiders and the mosquitos to get in and get all the hard-t0-reach tomatoes, yielding me about 25 cherry tomatoes and 15 of the San Marzanos. I’ve found that my friends J, S, and B love cherry tomatoes so I’m not freezing any more of those, but for now, my plan is to keep freezing San Marzanos until I have enough pounds to merit a day of canning. I know I don’t need to try canning, but I think it’ll be fun. I’ll bug a friend or two to help me, and we’ll make sure we have the tools we need, and everyone will go home with jars of tomato sauce (simple sauce, with plenty of lemon juice to keep it acidified against botulism!). I’m rather excited.

Finally, I had given up entirely on our pepper plants, but two lovely things happened: the only pepper plant I knew of now has 3 teeny tiny peppers on it, so I’m hoping for lots of sun and rain to get those swelled up and beautiful, and there are at least another 10 flowers that I can dream about turning into bell peppers. Also, I noticed a very small plant with the same kind of leaves as the pepper, which I hope means we’ve got another, late-bloomer pepper emerging. Last year, Husband moved into the house in September and was pulling peppers into early October, so I am hopeful that we’ll have a long, luxurious harvest. It’s not orderly and perfect, but just dragging in the bowl of tomatoes every day gives me more joy than I ever thought raising a little bit of food could.

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Community Supported Agriculture

Lately, I’ve been ordering online from a very small urban garden about a mile from my house. They can’t have everything a grocery store has, so I often look through their website and think, “How will I find enough produce to spend at least 10 bucks, making it feel okay to have them deliver it to my door?” I don’t want to waste food, so I have to get creative.

In this last shipment, I felt pretty proud. I purchase fresh herbs – thai basil and rosemary – which I’ve used in a lot of my cooking lately, including the mac and cheese from a couple of nights ago. I also got yellow squash which featured in a potato dish I haven’t written about yet, and four jalapeños in a cute green  bag that I need to use for something but don’t really know for what yet. Husband is the spicy food person, and I’ve been told that chopping jalapeños can be hazardous to your health… or at least to your eyes!

Our local bakery has also partnered with them, so I got the rest of my way to 13 dollars of produce by adding in a lemon rosemary bread, which was consistent and delicious in all the ways that my bread never is, and made great toast for breakfasts; it replaced buying store-bought bagels that we usually use for breakfast, which I count as a win. Lastly was a new bag of kale, which got put straight in for more kale chips.

The fun part, of course, is the community of it. The woman who runs the boxes from her mini van up to my front door is now becoming a friend of mine; I give her back the cardboard box from the previous week and take the one she has in her hands. We chat about the day and how the tomatoes are coming in, both in her garden and in mine. If you have ever felt happy to see a full fridge or a pile of groceries, I assure you, the feeling of a box of local produce is even better, and it really isn’t expensive. I feel like I’m healthier for it after only two weeks, and I’m looking forward to the cooking challenge of using what’s in season.

The Unexpected Pleasure of Veggie Side Dishes, brought to you by GoSun

The GoSun oven provides for my cooking of veggies what Pokemon Go provides players for walking: an extra pleasure, a delight above the regular benefit of the action. Walking and eating veggies are their own reward, but that’s sometimes not enough to make us do those things. The GoSun makes me cook more veggies than I ever thought I would this summer, and I thought I’d share my four favorite combinations:

  1. bell peppers and onions: This mix is especially great for breakfast, right alongside scrambled eggs and biscuits. You barely need to season a good onion recipe, and as long as you cut the bell peppers ahead of time and let them air-dry for an hour or two. Also nice on top of burgers!
  2. yellow squash and zucchini – It only takes a little longer to put these in the GoSun than in a roasting pan, so if you spice them up with red pepper flakes and some garlic, this can make for the best possible side-dish and also use up some of that squash piling up during this part of the summer.
  3. cut cherry tomato halves – to roast up cherry tomatoes before putting them in pasta or a casserole, throw them in the GoSun with a little olive oil! I have been doing this in order to make it not feel like we have too many tomatoes coming out of the garden – sure, they’re good on salads, but this packs so much flavor into other dishes.
  4. Green beans with a little bacon grease – I am not a huge green bean person, but putting a bunch of these in the GoSun with a little pan dripping from a batch of bacon makes them full of flavor and, as long as you don’t go overboard, still quite healthy!

Obviously, I need to get more adventurous with my cooking of other things besides vegetables, but these are just so easy to clean up after, so tasty, and such a good mid-summer run.

 

By the way, I get nothing from GoSun for these posts – I just really like this product and think that people will like it if they get it and use it regularly. Just letting you know, this ain’t an ad. 🙂

S’s Kale Chips

I grew up with a fusion of two cuisines: my mother’s family travelled around but was dominated by Southern cooking, with a little German tradition, but my father’s favorite foods were from South Korea, where he grew up. I did not anticipate ever finding a popular food that approximates the salty-crisp nothingness of dried seaweed, but the other day, I did. S was hosting me in her home, and she mentioned she had kale chips she’d made, fresh from the garden. I joked that I wasn’t hippie enough to appreciate them, but I tried one grudgingly. Granted, they are not chips, so don’t be disappointed that it is, in fact, no a Dorito, but they do have a delightful crunch to them, not unlike the dried green sheets that I ate as a child, unaware that usually people just use them to hold sushi together.

So, in my fervor to support our local community gardeners, I ordered not one, but two varieties of greens this week: butterhead lettuce and russian kale. The lettuce works great in salad, but the kale is, understandably, a little bitter. In an attempt to turn the kale into something other than salad, I read on the internet about how kale chips are formed. The general theme is: toss kale with a splash of olive oil, just enough to coat a little. Spread out on a tray, season with salt, and bake for 12 minutes in a 350 degree oven. This worked for me: some of the pieces were browned and some were still green, but none of them were blackened.

The tastiness was familiar, crisp and light but also with a bitter, green flavor. What did surprise me was that, sitting in their bowl right next to me, they became a bit of a “movie snack” – I grabbed leaf after leaf as we watched our favorite shows. I marveled to Husband that I was “addicted” to a food that was healthy! Usually, eating healthy is such a deliberate aspect of my life, never casual or done while also watching a show to relax. It’s great to realize that I actually appreciate this food that I thought was too “hippie” for me!

Browned Butter Cream Cheese Glaze on Zucchini Banana Bread

We now get some produce via a local community garden that delivers… for free! The downside is that I got a little order-happy and have way more zucchini currently in my possession than I have any idea what to do with. So… I made zucchini banana bread. No one claims that it isn’t a heaven of butter and sugar and flour, but it also contains two full bananas and a huge pile of grated zucchini. Win win win win.

I used the lovely recipe from Averie Cooks – she has such a professional look to her site but she also includes stories about cooking, which are obviously my favorite. I was going to forego a glaze this time, but reading about hers just made me itch to brown some butter… and this turned out WONDERFUL. My sweet-toothed, veggie-averse father in law came back for seconds of this recipe, so I fully recommend making it. I was low on cream cheese, so i skimped on it a little, and I added cinnamon to it, but otherwise, all the glory of this is in the browned butter and the confectioner’s sugar…

Honestly, I have been wanting to love on my coworkers a little this week, so with the remaining overripe bananas and another zucchini, I’m probably gonna make another batch and bring it in for them. While I’m sure their husbands may get the lions share (both of my closest coworkers are very health-conscious), I bet the fact that it’s plump with veggies and fruit will convince them to sample it. Just the act of writing about it makes me want to make more of it, that’s how much this combines all my loves: comfort food, good stories, and sharing things with others! What is your favorite food to give as a gift?

 

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GoSun Herb Potatoes

If you are a brunch fan, you’ve probably run into a really good pile of home fries here or there: maybe they were deep fried, with the soft outside and the creamy inside, or just set to sizzling on a stovetop with a generous supply of butter and garlic, but fried potatoes have got to be one of my favorite foods. They definitely are in Husband’s top 5 list, which includes mostly simple dishes. After a few weeks of complex dishes (and a harvest of modest potatoes), we decided to see if the GoSun could get a nice crust on a pile of potatoes.

I cut up the littlest of the potatoes into quarters and piled them in alongside sea salt, black pepper, and oregano, as well as some sizable pats of butter. I think butter is going to be a final frontier for me; so many of the best and most delightful dishes of my childhood were heavily buttered, so while I feel pretty proud of my ability to add veggies and more plant-based proteins into my diet, I think a lot of things may still be cooked in butter. I welcome alternatives and often throw olive oil in things instead, but I don’t see myself changing soon… oh well!

The GoSun started in bright sunshine, but quickly was shrouded in cloudy afternoon, so I left the potatoes out there a very long time – actually went to a neighborhood organizing meeting while I waited! When I returned home, the butter was melted and everything was hot, but the potatoes were still raw-crunchy, not fried-crunchy. Husband generously let me go take a bath while he gave them the last edge of cooking in his cast-iron skillet, but I still count it as a win because it took much less time than just cooking them straight-out would have taken. I’m still figuring out how to use the GoSun in a busy work-filled life, but I’m going to keep trying!

 

Also, huge shout out to everyone who has submitted a recipe! I am going to try to write them out on recipe cards and add them to my list but I still welcome more!

Results of Potato Barrel Experiment

We started the spring with half a whiskey barrel that we found on sale at a home improvement store; we wanted to do something like this experiment to grow potatoes in it. While I pulled out two pounds of potatoes for a recipe 10 days ago, this weekend we finally dumped the whole barrel and sorted through the dirt on a tarp, finding even the tiniest of potatoes and adding them to our loot.

The experience of layering in potato plants was somewhat good – the problem, I think, at the end was that we’d just put too many slips into the barrel and certain varieties crowded out others, resulting in sad, sickly looking yellow stalks. Because of this, we probably harvested earlier than needed, especially since some of the potatoes were the size of a quarter. Still, we got multiple pounds of potatoes and spent only a couple dollars on slips, so I count it as a success in spite of the fact that I’ll do it differently next year.

We also grew multiple varieties of potatoes, which might not have been a necessary thing. I think that I am happy with red potatoes usually so hopefully next year we can stick with just those and not confuse our poor plants by penning them in with a ton of root systems from various kinds of potatoes.

I think that this evening I’m going to take some of the tiniest potatoes and make up a GoSun recipe to get them nice and toasty, perhaps covered in herbs and butter. That, alongside the pesto quinoa I’m hoping to make with some roasted walnuts and our herb-garden basil, will make for a perfectly delectable dinner. I have recently read a lot of good recipes for pesto, and I’m intrigued to see if it goes well with our potatoes or if it’s better just on the quinoa.