The Pleasures of the Flesh: Stuffed Acorn Squash

Unbelievably delicious: Stuffed Acorn Squash

Chefs will tell you that we all eat first with our eyes. Our eyes see a beautiful strawberry or basted chicken or leg of lamb or cheesecake and our mouths start to water as we imagine its deliciousness.

We’re told repeatedly that beauty is only skin deep, but no one follows that up with beauty is the first thing we see, the first impression and can make us believe that something or someone is fabulously wonderful. Whether we like it or not, it can keep us from experiencing people and places and foods that are wonderful..Beauty is a tough category  for the squash family. Because they’re like not that pretty to be honest.

And the fact that we might judge them and avoid them based just on looks is sad, just sad. I mean, if we truly made all of our food decisions based on how something looked, think of all we’d miss out on…there are certain foods we might never eat. Consider kiwi fruit or burritos or even Yodels – all sort of ugly, but completely delicious.

I think the same holds true for squash. They’re rough to look at – large, hard and intimidating. Oddly colored, strangely shaped and emitting no alluring aroma. A squash virgin has no ideas of the hidden wonders of the flesh that make risking your fingers to knife them open worth it.

So…squash aren’t super pretty. I realize that no one would pay to see the Ms Squash beauty pageant. And I know that to choose a pretty squash is like declaring a tallest midget…But, since another blogger announced this week that he had a favorite child, I feel compelled to say that Acorn squash is pretty pretty and maybe even prettiest of all squash. And, lucky for me, its flesh is as delicious – sweet, delicate yet hearty – as it is beautiful. In this case, beauty is skin deep and deeper.

And, there are other amazing ways to enjoy an acorn squash – beyond just the traditional basting in brown sugar and butter…Here’s one.

Stuffed Acorn Squash (side dish serves 4-6)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

1. Saute 1/2 cup of roughly chopped baby bella mushrooms in 2 tbsp of olive oil

Baby Bella Mushrooms

2. In a second saucepan, over medium heat saute 1/2 chopped shallot and 1 chopped clove of garlic until fragrant, about 2 – 3 minutes

Saute Garlic and Shallot

3. Add in 1 defrosted package of chopped spinach, squeezed dry. Heat through – about 2 mins

Stir in 1 10oz package of frozen chopped spinach

4. Add in 1 tbsp heavy cream and stir

5. Add in 1 cup of whole milk ricotta cheese and stir to combine

Ricotta and Spinach Deliciousness

6. Once heated through, add in the sauteed mushrooms and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper

Combine Mushrooms and Spinach

7. Add in 2 heaping tbsp of parmesan cheese, stir to combine

8. Remove from heat and set aside

9. Slice the tops off of 2 Acorn Squash about 1/3 of the way down the squash and remove the seeds and membrane-y stuff from the base and the lid

Acorn Squash, Split and Cleaned

10. Put 1 tbsp of butter into the base of the larger side of each split squash

11. Using a small spoon, scoop some of the spinach, cheese and mushroom mixture into each squash on top of the butter. Do not overstuff!

12. Top with toasted panko bread crumbs and replace the top of each squash

Acorn Squash Stuffed and Topped with Panko

Oven Ready Stuffed Acorn Squash

13. Gently place the stuffed acorn squash on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put into the oven for 1 hour until fork tender

14. Let cool slightly and then scoop out the flesh and filling and put into a serving bowl. Mix together and serve hot

So, squash virgins, see the beauty in this amazing vegetable. Look past the tough exterior and heft. Fear not the splitting process. And, squash experts, give Acorn Squash a new look – move away from the 1970’s traditional brown sugar steam bath and elevate her with a delicate, creamy filling.

And, mostly all people, please enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.

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Not as it seems: Herbed Spaghetti Squash

Things are not always as they seem. And we’ve all fallen victim to items or people pretending to be something they are not.

When I was in college, my very smart roommate had neglected to fulfill her science requirement. And, suddenly she had just one semester left to do so. As a non-science scholar – she majored in Russian and International Studies or something – finding an easy class was her only goal. She certainly didn’t want to waste any of her brain space on sciency stuff. She just needed to earn the required 3 credits and be done with it.

Geology 101

So, since all of the football players did it…she elected to take ‘Geology’, otherwise known as ‘Rocks for Jocks.’

Taking Geology would not only fulfill her science requirement, but would also ensure that she would be surrounded by the tall, fit and fabulous members of the famed football team – yay. Two birds, one stone – pun intended.

Sure, we teased her about both the participation in ‘Rocks for Jocks’ and the calculated exposure to all of those giant ballers. But, to have the chance at a husky boyfriend and an A in science was all worth the taunting to her. In fact, she considered it a brilliant plan.

As the semester started, her hopes for an easy A and football boyfriend were high. She preened before class – you know, like wearing an oversized oxford, stretch pants and pearls – and even applied a little mood lipstick – the kind that started green and then turned bright red to reflect one’s sexy mood.

From the very beginning of the semester something wasn’t right. Maybe the footballers were just busy with practice or training or something and had to miss class. Or, maybe they had sent all of these seemingly geekier guys in their place. Either way, they weren’t there…This was not turning out as she planned.

Actually, nothing was. Geology was not the easy A she had counted on…why were they studying the tides and phases of the moon, landscapes, terrains. Why was Geology so hard?

The night before the final, she was cramming like she had never crammed before. Going in to the test, she was only toting a B average and couldn’t believe her Easy A was slipping away from her. How did this happen?

The phone rang. I picked it up. It was another friend who was also in her Geology class and cramming for the test…I listened as he asked if our friend was studying …He had some questions or needed some notes.

Then he told me something that confused me. I asked for more information. I asked if he was certain. After a little more clarification, he convinced me (almost) and I told him my roommate would have to call him back.

Still not wholly believing him, I went slowly into the other room.

I approached my roommate who was poring over the pages of her highlighted textbook. Beads of sweat forming on her forehead. Her left hand frantically scratching out snippets to memorize in her notebook.

I gently and quietly asked if I could see her Geology textbook.

Puzzled and a little angry – She looked up from her study bean bag chair.

I insisted and, finally, she handed me the book.

I closed the book and looked at the cover…twice to be sure.

Hmmm. I shook my head.

Geography Textbook NOT Geology

There it was…bold letters and all: Geography. She had been taking Geography all semester. All semester. Ah, that’s why it was super hard, they never talked about rocks AND there weren’t any footballers in the class!

My super smart roommate had fallen victim to the tortures of Geography all the while believing she was studying Geology.

One dish that can fool you into believing you’re eating one thing when you’re eating something entirely different is spaghetti squash; the squash that presents as a pasta.

Herbed Spaghetti Squash (serves 4)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

1. Very carefully hack a small spaghetti squash in two

Butchered Spaghetti Squash

NOTE: I cut the bottom and top off. Evening the bottom allowed for the squash to stand upright. Eliminating the top made the slicing in half more manageable

2. Place cut side down in a baking dish, add about 1/2 an inch of water, cover with aluminum foil and put into the oven

3. Bake for :45 minutes then flip the halves over so they are cut side up. Re-cover with aluminum foil and continue to bake for an additional :15 minutes or until the flesh is very tender

4. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

5. Remove the seeds and then using a fork, gently pull the strands of squash away from the skin

Spaghetti Squash Forked

6. Heat a skillet with 2 tbsp of butter and add:

  • The forked spaghetti squash flesh
  • About 2 – 3 TBSP of Herbs: Chiffonade of Basil, Chiffonade of Sage, Chopped Chives and Chopped Parsley

Herbs: Sage, Basil, Parsley and Chives

Spaghetti Squash Heating Through with Herbs

7. Toss to combine and then transfer to a serving bowl

Herbed Spaghetti Squash

8. Top with sliced cherry tomatoes and grated parmesan cheese. Serve hot.

Herbed Spaghetti Squash Table Ready

These days, my super smart roommate is a bigwig lawyer living in the middle east. I googled her and that’s what it says on some oil company’s website. There she is in her lawyerly pose – The only woman on the company’s board of directors.

But, I’m  a little skeptical. She’s barely lived in the US since earning her law degree. And, did I mention that she speaks Russian? My other college roommates and I are pretty certain that she actually works for the CIA.

Perhaps she is the ultimate charade – fooling us all into believing she’s just a corporate lawyer, when really she’s heading up covert operations in the middle east. After the Geology – Geography incident, we all know anything is possible. And, nothing, not even a bowl of spaghetti is ever truly as it seems.

Souper Season: Vegan Butternut & Avocado Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup. Bowl by DG designs

At 10:48am this past Saturday, it began. Fall is officially upon us. Try as you may, you can’t stop the seasons from changing. All you can do is hope against a repeat of 2011’s Snow-Tober and embrace the cooler, darker mornings, the earlier sunsets, the changing leaves and all that comes with fall.

A few positives about the onset of autumn – The return of boots – wrestle them out of their summer hiding places – backs and tops of closets and wear them proudly! Sweaters, fashion tights, football, the NYC Marathon, season premieres of your favorite shows. Oh yes! Fall is filled with wonderful things.

The chill in the air also ignites a desire for sipping, savory soups.

Let me just be honest: a bowl of soup does not a meal make. Those girls in their Manolos and Pashminas who would smile as they popped a head into my office at lunchtime and say: ‘Hey, I’m going to get some soup, wanna come?’ drove me insane. Hot soup is a starter. Cold soup is a pallet cleanser. Neither is a meal.

I don’t care if it’s loaded with rice or pasta or jam packed with vegetables and infused with cream. Soup isn’t a meal. OK, yes when the proportion of protein – beef, chicken or turkey NOT tofu or egg – far outweighs the amount of liquid, it can be a meal. But that’s a stew or a chili – not a soup.

So, to celebrate the season of soup and kick off #SquashWeek….A Souper Starter:

Vegan Butternut & Avocado Squash Soup (serves 4-6)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

1. Cut a 3lb Butternut Squash in half and remove the seeds….The 3lbs is a guideline and unless you have a food scale, you may never know how heavy your squash is as under 5lbs generally won’t register on a regular scale. Because I was curious, I stood on my bathroom scale and weighed myself and then weighed myself with the squash – exactly 3lbs. Just lucked out on this.

OK, splitting the squash is the hardest part and requires patience, strength, courage and the right tools….sharp knife and knife resistant glove. These tools do look like murder weapons, but the only thing murdered was the squash I assure you….

Squash Splitting Tools. Not murder weapons…

Butternut Squash hacked in two and de-seeded

2. Drizzle the cut side of the Butternut squash with Olive Oil and a little salt and place cut side down on a rimmed baking dish lined with tin foil

3. Cut an Avocado Squash in half, drizzle the cut side with Olive Oil and salt and put cut side down on the baking dish with the butternut squash

Avocado Squash: purchased at local farmer’s market

NOTE: The avocado squash added another layer of flavor. It’s sweeter and a bit more delicate. The seeds are small, and since I was going to puree the soup, I left them in…

Butternut and Avocado Squash ready for the oven

4. After 30 – 35 minutes, remove the Avocado Squash from the oven and allow to cool.

Avocado Squash Roasted and Ready for Scooping

5. Once cooled scoop out the flesh from the squash and set aside

6. The Butternut squash will take longer to soften – closer to :60 minutes. You will know it’s done when you can easily pierce it with a fork. Remove from oven, allow to cool and then scoop out the flesh and set aside

Butternut Squash, roasted, softened and ready for scoopin

7. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of Olive Oil and then add in two diced shallots and saute until fragrant and softened – about :06 mins

Shallots Sauteing and Softening

8. Add the squash flesh, 1 qt of Vegetable Stock and 1 1/5 tsp of Curry Powder and bring to a boil – I used mild, but you can go as spicy as you like

Bringing the mixture to a boil

9. Reduce to a simmer and cover for :10mins until the squash flesh is broken down

10. Remove from heat and allow to cool for :05 – :10 minutes

11. Working in batches, transfer some of the mixture to a blender and puree. If you like a little chunk in your soup….just chop, don’t puree. Transfer post-blended soup to a new saucepan on the stove and keep over low heat. Repeat until all of the mixture is blended and soup-ified

BE CAREFUL! If the soup is too hot…it will blow the top off of the blender – seriously, let it cool!

Butternut and Avocado Squash Mix in Blender

Butternut and Avocado Mixture to Soup Staging Area

12. Once heated through, garnish with parsley and a drizzle of Olive Oil and serve hot.

NOTE: If you are not Vegan, you can add a dollop of Sour Cream

Fall is here. Celebrate it! And with the dawning of fall, Squashweek has officially begun. So, get some colorful squash from your farmer’s market, grab a sweater, put on those boots, tune in to football or the newest episodes of your favorite TV shows and start any fall meal with this Souper Squash Soup.

No Need to Be Afraid of Vegan Alfredo

Vegan Fusili Alfredo with Roasted Vegetables

We are all afraid of something. I mean, as New Yorkers, we’re afraid of more things than people from other cities – quote ‘Rent’ ‘I’m a New Yorker. Fear’s my life.’ But, everyone is afraid of something.

Some of these fears are totally rational: falling, heights, being buried alive, cockroaches, zombies.

Michael Strahan Kelly Ripa

Pain-O-Phobic Michael Strahan

On Live! With Kelly and Michael, Michael Strahan admitted that he is afraid of needles and, oddly, pain. In spite of the fact that the ex-Giant must have endured great pain and doled some out as well during his football career, Michael Strahan fears pain.

Some people are afraid of things that crawl; mice, rats, gophers, gerbils etc. Some fears are so common that they can draw huge audiences at the box office – Fear of spiders, Arachnophobia. Fear of snakes – Snakes on a Plane. Fear that your house was built on a cemetery where the builder ‘moved the headstones but not the bodies’ : Poltergeist.

It’s amazing where our heads can go in times of great fear. One minute everything is fine and safe, then, a loud noise in the distance and you think ‘Gun fire! Take cover!’ Generally just a car engine backfiring, but, sure, it could have been gun fire.

Scary Evil Witchy Poo

Growing up I was most afraid of Witchy Poo. She was the evil witch on HR Pufnstuf’s television show that ran in reruns on Saturday mornings in our house.

I spent my nights shaking in fear, waking in a pool of sweat from the nightmare of Witchy Poo. I mean, look at her…very scary.

Some fears, however, are less than rational. In California, it’s pretty common to have an awareness and fear of earthquakes – because they happen out there with relative frequency. This is a geographically rational fear.

Earthquakes in New York, however…not so common. We had an earthquake in New York last summer – like summer of 2011. I was home and the building started to just shimmy shake a little. Then, I heard a rattle-y noise and noticed that the handles on my dresser were shaking. I thought it might be an earthquake, but my head went to a completely different place. At that moment, as the rolling 5.8 earthquake rolled through my apartment, shook my floors and rattled the handles on my furniture, I thought….

‘ALIEN INVASION!’…..uhm…What?

Another fear that is not wholly rational is a fear of Vegan cuisine. Last night I went Vegan for no reason and made…

Vegan Fusilli Alfredo with Roasted Vegetables (serves 4)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and bring a large pot of water to a boil.

1. Cube 1 medium sized sweet potato and cut the florets from one stalk of broccoli  into bite size pieces. (Note you can save the broccoli stalk for vegetable stock if you so choose.)

SuperFood Sweet Potatoes Cubed

Broccoli

Broccoli Florets in Bite Size Pieces

2. In a bowl, toss the vegetables in olive oil, salt and pepper…you can use Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt as well. Just toss enough to lightly coat the veggies.

3. Arrange the vegetables on a rimmed baking pan lined with parchment paper and roast in the oven for :20minutes, turning the vegetables about halfway through the roasting. Once the veggies are softened and gently beginning to brown, remove from the oven and set aside.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli

Pretty Roasted SuperFoods

4. Once the water is boiling, drop in about 1 cup of fusilli per person. Then season the water generously with salt and a little olive oil.

NOTE: Waiting to add the salt until the water is boiling will help prevent salt stains on the bottom of your pot.

NOW – time to make the sauce…

Vegan Alfredo Sauce Mise En Place

5. While the pasta is boiling…In a food processor, puree 1/4 cup of raw cashews until fine.

Finely Ground Cashews

6. Add in:

  • 1 TBSP of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 TSP of Dijon mustard
  • 1 TBSP Olive Oil
  • 1 TSP of Soy Sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 TBSP of Nutritional Yeast
  • 1 cup of boiling water from the Pasta Pot
  • 1/2 cup of Almond Milk (at room temperature)

Puree until creamy – you’ll see gentle bubbles of frothiness form. This can take about a minute or so…

Vegan Alfredo Sauce Frothy

7. Drain the pasta, but reserve at least one cup of the pasta water

8. Put the pasta back into the pot over low heat and pour the sauce over it. Stir to combine and heat through. If the sauce is too thick, use the pasta water to thin it just a bit.

9. Once heated through, transfer to a serving bowl and add the vegetables on top. You can also add some sliced cherry tomatoes. Very pretty!

Pretty Vegan Fusilli Alfredo With Veggies

10. Toss and serve. I served with a side of garlic bread and should have served a salad as well…but didn’t.

When I was about 10, I awoke from a dream in which I had witnessed the exile of Witchy Poo. In the dream, the evil witch was sent off to an island in the middle of the ocean. With her in exile, I took back the nights and could finally sleep without fear.

Last night, my guests for Vegan dinner were two cautiously supportive friends. When I served the Vegan Fusilli Alfredo, they each politely took about a spoonful and a half onto their plates. Each smiled through their fear as they went in for the first bite…I waited.

We had a back up plan to order in if the meal proved to be inedible.

‘Wow. It’s actually good.’ One of my friends finally said with surprise breaking the silence and the mystery aura surrounding Vegan cuisine. The other agreed and each helped herself to and finished a real portion of the dish.

I admit…I was skeptical too. I am not a Vegan, but wanted to give this dish a shot. And, I’m glad I did. It was a great, low-calorie option…And, more importantly, I am no longer afraid of Vegan Alfredo.

Sweet Potatoes, A Super SuperFood

Baked Super Sweet Potato Fries (in hand thrown bowl by DG)

I am not normal. And, I think that’s just they way it is. I’ve grown to accept it. I didn’t always like the stuff that everyone liked or want to wear the clothes that everyone wanted to wear – sometimes this was a good thing as no one can produce a photograph of me in bobby socks and MIA flats. I didn’t have a LeSportSac or wear enough makeup or even like the right foods…

I may have been, for example, the only kid who loved liverwurst (did not make me very popular in the fifth grade), Brussels sprouts (granted, I buttered and salted them to death back then) and cottage cheese. And I’ve always felt bad for these hated foods.

In more recent years, however, I have found redemption in the fact that Brussels Sprouts are like totally all the rage. OK, I know it’s still hard to find someone who loves cottage cheese beyond having to eat it for dietary reasons and I highly doubt that I can bring liverwurst into favor – do they even make it anymore? But, one out of three ain’t bad.

So, when I was working on Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago and people totally gasped when I wanted to make sweet potatoes, I was shocked. The first time, I was told that I could make sweet potatoes, but only if I did it ‘southern style’ – with a heap of sugar and melted baby marshmallows on top. The next time, it was only OK to include a sweet potato dish if I promised to make regular mashed potatoes and only if the regular mashed potato bowl was like four times the size of the sweet potato dish. I may have recently been given this as a directive for the upcoming Thanksgiving as well.

I get it. Sweet potatoes are not that easy to love. They’re different, after all.

But it is their difference that makes them so interesting…and, delicious. And, not just for Thanksgiving.

Plus…they’re a superfood! Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, Vitamin A, C and B6. Also they’re high in potassium and manganese. They can, according to Yahoo ‘help stabilize blood sugar…[and] they’re relatively low in calories’. WebMD recommends them and, as if that isn’t good enough…so does Doctor Oz!

So stop with the hate and find a way that works to enjoy this delicious superfood.

One option is:

Sweet Potato Baked Fries with, if you must, a Maple Mayo Dipping Sauce (serves 4)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees

1. Peel 3 large sweet potatoes and then chop into 1/4 inch thick fries

Pretty Peeled Sweet Potato

Raw Sweet Potato in Fry Form

NOTE: getting the sweet potatoes peeled and cut into fry form is the hardest part. And, I’m a little klutzy with a knife. So have a sharp one and be careful.

2. Toss the sweet potato fries with olive oil, Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt or Sea Salt and Pepper. Just enough to coat the fries. You can also add spicy spices here if you want them with a little kick – cayenne, paprika etc.

3. Arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper

Sweet Potato Fries-To-Be Ready for Baking

4. Put into the oven for a total of :20 – :25 mins

BUT: toss the fries about every :05 minutes. This will help even cooking.

Sweet Potato Fries in the Oven

5. Remove from the oven and let cool for :03-:05 mins

   and since you’re not sure you really like sweet potatoes…serve with a Maple-Mayo dipping sauce

Maple Mayo Dipping Sauce

All you need for a Maple Mayo Dipping Sauce

Mix together 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 1/8 cup of pure maple syrup and 1 1/4 TBSPs of brown sugar. And chill at least :15 mins before serving.

Super Sweet Potato Fries with Sweet Dipping Sauce

Sweet potatoes aren’t just a Superfood, they’re a Super SuperFood. Keep trying them until you find a way to love them. If nothing else, their bright orange color brings newness and energy to your table and can liven up the appearance of any plate.

Plus, they can become a fry – yes, you can actually fry them in hot fatty oil, but try not to negate the super-ness and just bake them – would you?

OK, off my soap box for the underrated and sometimes hated sweet potato. Just eat and enjoy. I mean I’m not asking you to love liverwurst…