squash & sweet potato tagine

Fall veggies – I could eat them all year long. Sometimes I think if everything contained butternut squash, the world would be a better place (the fact that trying to chop a butternut squash almost cost me a finger once doesn’t deter me). It just tastes like hearty sweet nutritious comforting perfection to me. So when we got butternut squash, acorn squash, and sweet potatoes in our CSA bag this week, I was really excited to get cooking! I came across this recipe for a vegetable tagine, which didn’t include acorn squash but I figured I could throw it in anyway. I also didn’t have a tagine, which is sort of a traditional Moroccan clay pot, or a dutch oven or terra cotta substitute, but I do have a beautiful Le Creuset french blue stoneware baking dish that my dad and stepmom got me for my birthday and I don’t get to use nearly enough. So I prepped the first part of the recipe in a pan and transferred it to the Le Creuset for the baking part, which seemed to work out just fine!

If you also don’t have a tagine, or something similar that can go from stovetop to oven, do this: Preheat the oven to 375. In a pan, saute one chopped onion in 2 tbsp olive oil until it turns golden. Then add 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/8 tsp crushed saffron threads, and a pinch of cayenne pepper, and cook for another minutes. Then transfer this to your baking dish with 1 butternut squash, 2 sweet potatoes, and 1 acorn squash (chopped into cubes) or any ratio of these veggies you want (I personally would have gone with more butternut and less sweet potato if I did it again). You could also add carrots. Slowly stir in 2 cups of hot vegetable stock, top with a 1/2 cup of raisins, and drizzle with 1 tbsp of agave (or honey). Stick a cinnamon stick in the middle, cover and bake for an hour. Remove the cinnamon stick, sprinkle with cilantro leaves, serve on its own, with bread for dipping, or over brown rice or cous cous. Now I have to admit (and I LOVE cilantro), I was skeptical of how the cilantro would taste with this… but it was great! Such a nice flavor contrast. Definitely don’t skip it (if you tolerate cilantro). We ate it as a main course over brown rice (Lundberg, my favorite) with sauteed snap beans. Delish…

Squash and sweet potato tagine right out of the oven

Tagine with brown rice and snap beans

 


buttermilk banana bread with coconut palm sugar

Truthfully I can’t remember where or when I first heard about coconut palm sugar, even though it was very recently, but when I saw some at the local market and it wasn’t ridiculously expensive I decided to try it. Coconut palm sugar is made by harvesting the nutrient-rich juice from the coconut palm tree flower and evaporating the liquid out in a kettle drum. It has the same number of calories as regular sugar, but it’s got a low glycemic index, meaning that the sugar is released much more slowly and doesn’t spike your blood glucose levels (I read that it raises your blood sugar about as much as milk or cooked carrots). It’s also completely natural and unrefined (read the label though, as I’ve heard of some non-organic brands trying to mix it with regular sugar to make it cheaper), and has the added bonus of containing Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6, and potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron. Now I’m not calling any sugar a health food, but if you’re going to cook or bake with it, why not use a healthiER sugar?

So yesterday I made a banana bread because there were three over-ripe (at least by my standards!) bananas lying around, as well as buttermilk left over from last week’s homemade ricotta experiment. I combined the bananas with 2 eggs, 1/3 cup buttermilk, about 2/3 cup applesauce (instead of oil or butter), and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract. Then I mixed the dry ingredients separately and then added them to the wet mixture: 1 1/2 cups coconut palm sugar, 1 cup white flour & 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/8 tsp nutmeg (spices are optional – I like them). At the end I stirred in some Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips (optional, again, or you could add nuts) and baked it at 325 for about an hour and 35 minutes. Between the whole wheat flour and the dark color of the coconut sugar, you will get a very dark looking loaf, but the taste is rich and caramel-y. Good for breakfast, dessert, a snack…. you get the idea…

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easy cheese

I can’t believe I’ve never made my own cheese!

As a little background to how this came about, I’m part of a research team for one of my professors. For the last few weeks, we’ve been collecting qualitative data (interviewing staff and kids) for a program called Cooking Sprouts, a vegetable gardening and cooking program in Sunset Park, Brooklyn for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders. As research assistants, a few of us visit the site and collect information in order to evaluate the impact the program is having on the kids and parents, and even on staff. After about 2 1/2 hours of work, we’re always treated to the fruits of the participants’ labor- delicious garden-picked meals made by kids and staff, which is shared with parents picking up their kids, and anyone else lucky enough to be around. Now I have always thought of myself as an innovative person in the kitchen, but I am beyond inspired by these 10 year olds. Every time I’ve been there, they make something new that I run home to try: grilled pizza, Thai melon salad, fall/summer vegetable soup with apples, and most recently, fresh ricotta cheese. So last Saturday, the cooking leaders and kids made two incredible chili dishes from the vegetables they’d harvested, topped with fresh homemade ricotta and grilled bread. I have no words for how delicious it was. And they made it outdoors, in about 10 minutes, with a burner and large pot. After talking to the founder of Cooking Sprouts about just how easy it was to make, I went home determined to make ricotta my next project.

So for all the cheese purists out there, no it’s not technically ricotta, because you’re not using the whey- it’s technically more like paneer or queso fresco. And it was even easier indoors… so you can use a stove, and heat the milk, stirring constantly to try not to burn it, but a little (cheating?) trick is to use the microwave (according to an article in Serious Eats).

What I did was combine about 3 cups of good quality whole milk and about 1 cup of buttermilk, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons of white vinegar in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until the milk gets to 165 F degrees (or if you can’t find your thermometer, until it bubbles slightly and curdles)- about 3-5 minutes, stopping often to check. Let it sit to form curdles and then drain the liquid (whey) out through a cheesecloth (about 4 layers thick) and colander for 5-10 minutes. Eat warm on delicious bread (mine was on a hearty wheat walnut raisin bread from Whole Foods- pumpernickel is also great for this), drizzled with good olive oil and a little sea salt and cracked pepper. And you can refrigerate the leftovers (leftovers?! not possible.) for up to 5 days and it will become firmer, like a queso fresco.

Ridiculously impressive appetizer in less than 10 minutes. Thanks Cooking Sprouts!

Ricotta on walnut raisin bread with olive oil