Acorn Squash, Spinach, and Ricotta Cheese Torte

It’s fall and winter squash are plentiful. Although there are many varieties, my favorite winter squash are the butternut and acorn. The acorn squash is also known as Des Moines or pepper squash. This recipe can be made with either butternut or acorn squash. I chose to use acorn as I was also making my Roasted Butternut Squash Chipotle Soup.

This torte makes a great side dish or can take center stage as an entrée for a meatless meal.

Here’s what I did:

Acorn Squash, Spinach, and Ricotta Cheese Torte

Ingredients

2 small acorn squash (approximately 1-1/2 pounds), seeded and cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 eggs
3 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Romano cheese
2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1 teaspoon water
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 packages (16 ounce bags) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 package (17.3 ounces) frozen puff pastry, thawed

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place squash slices on baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Lightly spritz with cooking spray. Bake 15 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine two eggs, cheeses and sage. Prepare an egg wash in a separate small bowl by whisking water and remaining egg and set aside.

In a large skillet, sauté onion in oil until tender. Stir in the spinach, garlic and nutmeg. Cook and stir for about 5 minutes until heated through and set aside.

Next, unfold one pastry sheet onto a lightly floured surface. Using a lightly flowered rolling pin, roll out pastry sheet into a 14-in. square. Press into bottom and up sides of a greased 9-in. springform pan.  Excess pastry will drape over edges. Brush with reserved egg mixture.

Next, assemble the torte by layering the bottom pastry shell with half of the squash, half the cheese mixture, and half the spinach. Repeat layers. Roll out the remaining pastry into a 10-in. square and place over filling. Then fold the bottom pastry over the top and press edges to seal. Brush pastry with egg mixture.

Place pan on baking sheet. Bake at 400° 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire rack to cool. After cooling for 10 to 15 minutes, you may remove the springform ring. Allow to cool for 15 to 30 additional minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

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Jackfruit “Pulled Pork”

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As many of you know, my daughter Elizabeth is a vegetarian which has allowed me to expand my cooking horizons. She and her boyfriend visited this weekend, and I smoked a couple racks of ribs for him to enjoy. He loves ribs. As usual, I did not want my daughter to feel left out so I made a vegan “pulled pork” using jackfruit.

Jackfruit has been widely cultivated in India and South Asia for centuries but is relatively unknown in the United States. That, however, is changing as people here in the United States are beginning to eat less meat. When allowed to ripen, jackfruit has a very sweet taste and aroma likened to a taste combination of  pineapples, mangos, and bananas. Young, or unripened jackfruit, is firmer and more fibrous. It is often used in curries in India.

For this recipe, look for canned, young jackfruit packed in water or brine. Do not use jackfruit that is canned in syrup. It will be far too sweet and very mushy. It can easily be found in Asian markets or other stores that carry a larger selection of Asian foods.

Here is what I did:

Jackfruit “Pulled Pork”

Ingredients

2 20 oz Cans of Jackfruit in brine or water (not syrup)
1 Medium onion, chopped
3 Cloves of garlic, minced
1 3/4 Cups vegetable stock
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, vegan if you desire
1 Teaspoon liquid smoke
2 Tablespoons molasses
1 Teaspoon dried or fresh thyme
1/2 Teaspoon chili powder
1/2 Teaspoon ground dry mustard
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1/2 Cup of your favorite BBQ sauce, divided

Directions

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Drain and rinse jackfruit. Cut larger pieces into smaller pieces keeping the triangular shape. This lends to a stringy pork-like look later.

Sauté the jackfruit, onion, and garlic in a large skillet until just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Then add the vegetable stock, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, molasses, thyme, chili powder, mustard, and pepper. Stir well so all ingredients are combined, then cover. Simmer on low stirring every 15 minutes. After about 45 to 60 minutes, remove lid and cook down any remaining liquid.

Use a potato masher to lightly mash the jackfruit once the broth has all cooked down. The jackfruit will easily shred and take on the appearance of shredded pork. You will want to leave some larger pieces and not a mush.

Spread shredded jackfruit onto a lightly greased, rimmed baking sheet. Place in 400°F oven for about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, stir in 1/4 cup BBQ sauce and place back in oven for 10 more minutes or until it is very browned and caramelized. Remove from the oven and place in serving bowl. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup BBQ sauce. Serve on buns with additional BBQ sauce if desired. It may also be topped with a creamy coleslaw.

Savory Spinach Pie

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A slice of spinach pie

My favorite farmers’ market in the Cedar Rapids area, the Hiawatha Farmers’ Market, opened this past weekend and I stopped by to say hello to some of my friends.

This market is my favorite because it opens the earliest in the year and is the last to close in the area. It is also just the right size. It isn’t filled with the craziness of the Downtown Farmers’ Market which is more a place to be seen and not a farmers’ market. I build relations with the growers at Hiawatha which is what a market should be.

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Spinach pie cooling after coming out of the oven.

This visit to the year’s first market was simply to reacquaint myself with the vendors. I didn’t buy anything this visit as the offerings were mostly bedding plants. Some of the vendors have large green houses and so they were able to offer some items like lettuces and other greens as well as hot house tomatoes.

One green I am really looking forward to is fresh spinach and that got me thinking; I’m hungry for spinach pie.

Not finding any spinach at the market and a few days latter when this craving became an obsession, I did the next best thing. I went to the organic section of my grocery and bought a couple pounds of spinach. Craving satisfied.

Here is what I did:

Savory Spinach Pie

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds fresh spinach, larger stems removed, washed and thoroughly dried (See note)
8 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
3 large eggs (one egg is used for an egg wash)
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
Pie crust for double crust pie

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Add the olive oil to a large skillet and sauté the onion and garlic over medium-high heat until the onion is translucent and beginning to soften. Season with salt and pepper. Add about 1/4 of the spinach, or whatever will fit in your skillet, and sauté until it cooks down. Repeat this until all the spinach is wilted. Continue cooking until most of the liquid is cooked out, about 10 to 12 minutes. Place spinach in a sieve and press the spinach to remove as much of the remaining liquid as possible. Set aside.

Whisk the cream, 2 eggs, and nutmeg together in a suitable bowl and set aside.

Fit the bottom crust in a 10″ pie pan. Layer half the spinach mixture in the bottom crust and then layer half the grated cheese. Repeat layers. Pour cream and egg mixture over spinach and cheese. Fit top crust over the pie and crimp the edges together. Beat remaining egg in a suitable bowl and brush over top crust with a pastry brush. Slit the top crust with a sharp knife to create steam vents.

Bake in 375F oven for 45 to 50 minutes and crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 30 minutes.

Note: You may substitute 2 10 ounce packages of frozen spinach for fresh. If you choose to do this, thaw and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. After you have sautéed the onion and garlic, add this to the skillet to warm though and incorporate the onion and garlic.

Roasted Beet, Goat Cheese, and Mint Grilled Cheese

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I have previously mentioned  I sometimes try to recreate a dish I had at a restaurant. Here is a good example. Lion Bridge Brewing Company, located in the Czech Village in Cedar Rapids, not only brews some tasty beers, but their kitchen creates some excellent food as well. The Mint and Beet Grilled Cheese is one of my wife Susan’s favorite sandwiches. The sandwich is described on their menu as “local roasted beets, mint oil, and warm goat cheese.” Susan has been begging me to recreate it.

I have, but with a few minor tweaks. First, we love beets and I didn’t think the original version had enough beets. Lion Bridge also dices the beets. I think the sandwich is more structurally sound if the beets are sliced. Secondly, they use mint oil while I used fresh mint. I believe the mint oil makes the flavors too pronounced. You want the mint to be subtle.

Here is what I did:

Roasted Beet, Goat Cheese, and Mint Grilled Cheese

Ingredients

1/2 pound roasted beets (2 medium sized beets)
1 sprig fresh mint (leaves only; about 12 leaves)
4 ounces plain goat cheese
4 slices sourdough bread sliced about 1/2 inch thick.
unsalted butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut tops and root tip from beets. Wash and place on a baking sheet. Roast beets for about one hour or until the beet is soft and can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Peel the beets when they are cool enough to handle. The skin should slip off relatively easily. Slice the beets into about 1/4 inch slices and set aside. The beets can be roasted ahead of time.

While the beets are roasting, set the goat cheese out to come to room temperature. Remove the leaves from a sprig of mint. Chop the leaves and slightly muddle the leaves in a small bowl. The muddling will release some of the mint oil from the leaves. Add the softened goat cheese and blend the cheese and leaves together so the mint leaves are well distributed. Set aside.

Heat griddle to medium-high heat.

Butter one side of each slice of bread. Spread one-half of the goat cheese and mint mixture on the non-buttered side of two of the slices of bread. Top the goat cheese with beets. Place the halves with the goat cheese and beets on the heated griddle facing up and top with the other slice of bread buttered side up. Grill until golden brown, about three minutes.

Slice in half if desired and serve.

 

 

 

Boiled Egg, Seared Asparagus, and Pickled Onion Sandwiches

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Asparagus will soon poke its delicious little spears from the cool earth giving us one more sign it’s spring. There are few things I look forward to in spring more than the fresh, herbaceous taste of freshly cut asparagus. Well, maybe morel mushrooms, but that’s another recipe.

I love how this recipes takes advantage of asparagus and eggs pair well. One of my favorite side dishes is grilled asparagus topped with a poached egg. Because of this, I prefer a medium boiled egg with the yolk still slightly soft in the middle; about a 6 minute boil, but feel free to use a harder set yolk.

This recipe uses my Quick Pickled Red Onions. You will need about 10 to 15 minutes of active cooking time and at least 30 minutes of resting time to prepare them. These store wonderfully for about a month in the refrigerator and are great on so many things. The recipe can be found here: Quick Pickled Red Onions.

Boiled Egg, Seared Asparagus, and Pickled Onion Sandwiches

Makes 2 sandwiches

Ingredients

2 eggs, medium or hard boiled (your preference)
2 demi baguette loaves (may use one regular baguette cut in half)
½ a bunch of asparagus spears (about 15-20 spears)
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil (approximately, plus more to brush on baguette)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Pickled red onion (see Quick Pickled Red Onions recipe link in above introduction)
Spritz of lemon juice
Fresh dill

Directions

Boil the eggs to your desired preference, peel and set aside.

Meanwhile, split two demi baguettes in half and remove a little of the doughy center so the asparagus and egg can fit inside. (The bread that is removed would be wonderful to toss with a bit of olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper then toasted for croutons if you serve a salad with this sandwich.) Brush a little olive oil on each half and toast the bread lightly.

Trim the asparagus by removing the woody ends. Then slice the spears in half length–wise as best you can and place in a large bowl. Drizzle some olive oil over the asparagus and then sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Toss to coat evenly. Heat a large skillet over high heat and sear the asparagus spears, about 4 to 5 minutes on each side. The asparagus will become a darker green and should begin to char in spots.

Place ½ of the asparagus on the bottom half of bread then top with one egg and pickled onion. Spread Dijon mustard on top half of bread and then sprinkle with dill. Spritz a little lemon all over the interior of the sandwich. Season with salt and pepper. Repeat for other sandwich and serve with crisp salad.

Beet and Black Bean Burgers

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Beet and black bean burger topped with a raw goat milk cheddar cheese.

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Beet and black bean burger dressed with sprouts.

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Beet and black bean burgers prior to being cooked.

I have been called a “weekday vegetarian” and I don’t mind. Too often, as soon as one says they are vegetarian, we become tense and feel we need to defend our decision. We feel personally attacked. Meat eaters are accused of doing wrong and vegetarians are labeled self-righteous. In my opinion, choosing to eat or not eat meat should not be an all or nothing decision.

I’m not sure if I truly am a weekend vegetarian; I really like meat. I do know that my meat consumption has decreased considerably over the last several years and not because I consciously set out to do so with the idea that I was going to make a difference in the world. The difference I did make was more personal. My creativity in the kitchen has exploded as I discover more ways to prepare a wider variety of foods. My nutritional knowledge has improved. My health has improved and yes, I am making better decisions at the meat counter. Since I buy less meat, I can buy better meat and again, a wider variety.

We could discuss this further, but let’s move to this tasty recipe. Roasted beets and black beans combine to make a filling burger with a great smokey taste and a satisfying texture.

Roasted beets and goat cheese are often paired together because the tanginess of the goat cheese balances the sweetness of the beets. So when I first thought of making these burgers I knew I wanted to top them with a goat cheese. A soft goat cheese I felt would be too difficult on a veggie burger; which is already much softer than a regular burger. I didn’t think it would hold up well. I found a sharp cheddar cheese made with raw goat’s milk that provided the tanginess I wanted yet did not compound the veggie burger’s softer texture.

The ingredients I have listed make for a vegetarian veggie burger. They can easily be made vegan simply by eliminating the egg and omitting the cheese.

I also topped this burger with some tender bitter greens and alfalfa sprouts.

I’m not going to lie. This recipe takes quite a bit of time to come together, and I find it best to do it over two days, but they are so worth it. The great thing about these burgers is that they freeze very well. You can easily double this recipe and freeze the extra burgers for another meal. If you do choose to freeze them, I suggest first placing them on a flat cooking sheet in the freezer for a few hours before packaging them with foil or waxed paper separating the individual patties. It will make taking out one or two at a time much easier when you need them.

Here is what I did:

Beet and black bean burgers

Ingredients

2 medium red beets (about ½ pound)
1/3 cup brown rice (uncooked)
2 (15.5-ounce) cans black beans
3 tablespoons dried minced onion
1 teaspoon dried minced garlic
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons course ground brown mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 large egg (leave out for vegan burgers)
¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
Kosher Salt
Fresh ground pepper

To serve:
Thin slices of goat milk sharp cheddar cheese (or other tangy cheese)
Hamburger buns

Directions

Roast the Beets:
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Trim tops and root tips from the beets. Fit a cooling rack inside a baking sheet and place beets on rack. Roast until easily pierced with a fork, about 50 to 60 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Parboil Rice:
Meanwhile, bring about 1 ½ quarts of generously salted water to a rolling boil. Add the rice, stir, cover, and return the rice to a boil over medium high heat. Continue to cook the rice about 20 to 25 more minutes until the rice is tender yet still firm. Remove from heat and drain the excess water. Then run the coldest water you can get from the tap over the rice. This will help stop the cooking process and also cool the rice. Allow the rice to completely drain so it does not absorb any additional water. Set aside and allow rice to completely cool. (This may be done the day before and refrigerated.)

Grate the Roasted Beets: Use the edge of a spoon or a paper towel to scrape the skins off the cooled roasted beets; the skins should slip off easily. Grate the peeled beets on the largest holes of a box grater. Transfer the beet gratings to a strainer set over the sink. Press and squeeze the beet gratings to remove as much liquid as possible from the beets. Allow beets to drip freely until adding them to the mixture and to further reduce water content.

The Veggie Burger Mix:
Drain and rinse both cans of beans. Transfer the beans to a food processor and pulse in 1-second bursts just until the beans are roughly chopped — you do not want the beans to become mush — 8 to 10 pulses. Transfer beans to a large mixing bowl. Add the shredded beets, cooked rice, dried onions and garlic, smoked paprika, mustard, cumin, coriander, and thyme to the bowl with the beans. Mix all the ingredients until combined. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper to taste. Add egg and mix well. Finally, add oats and mix until you no longer see any dry oatmeal.

Loosely cover the bowl with wax paper or foil and refrigerate over night. The mix can also be kept refrigerated for up to three days before cooking.

Making the Burgers:
Scoop up about a scant cup of the burger mixture and shape it between your palms into a thick patty the size of your hamburger buns. You should end up with 6 large patties approximately 6 ounces each.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil to completely coat the bottom of the pan. Cook the patties for 3 to 4 minutes, then flip them. There should be a good crust formed on the cooked side. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 4 more minutes until the patties are warmed through. Place a slice of cheese over the burgers in the last minute or two of cooking if you’re adding it.

Serve the veggie burgers on a firm, lightly toasted burger buns with some fresh greens. Sprouts are also very tasty topping these burgers.

Recipe Notes:
Because of the tendency for veggie burger to sometimes fall apart, you will probably be more successful cooking these indoors in a cast iron skillet. However, I have been successful cooking these on an outdoor grill by simply using a flat cast iron griddle on my gas grill. A large cast iron skillet would also work on a grill.

Brussels Sprout Fried Rice

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Need a Meatless Monday meal idea? Vegetarian or vegan and wanting to wake up your taste buds? Looking for alternatives for Lenten meals?  This Brussels Sprouts Fried Rice recipe is packed with flavor. 

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We typically have one meatless meal a week so I am always looking for ideas. One of my go to sources is Isa Chandra Moskowitz on her Post Punk Kitchen website. Her vegan site has given me a lot of inspiration when cooking for my vegetarian daughter.

Here is a very flavor packed fried rice recipe that can be eaten as a side to a larger meal or as a meal like we did. That fact that we love Brussels sprouts makes this a win-win recipe. One could easily add additional protein to this dish by adding a couple scrambled eggs at the very end.

I made a few slight variations to the original recipe found on PPK. Here is what I did:

Brussels Sprouts Fried Rice

Ingredients

4 tablespoons refined coconut oil, divided (or your favorite cooking oil)
12 oz Brussel sprouts, trimmed and quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into thin half-moons
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup fresh basil
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
1 cup finely chopped scallions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
4 cups cooked and cooled jasmine rice (See Note)
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Juice from one lime
½ teaspoon agave

Sriracha to serve

Directions

Preheat a large heavy bottomed pan (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat. Saute the Brussel sprouts and carrots in 2 tablespoon of oil until Brussel sprouts are lightly charred; about 5 to 10 minutes. Toss in the pine nuts and cook for two minutes, tossing often, until toasted. Transfer everything to a large plate and set aside.

Lower heat to medium. Add ½ tablespoon oil. Saute the basil, cilantro, scallions, garlic and ginger for about a minute. Stir in the red pepper flakes when the herbs are wilted and aromatic. Return heat to medium-high and add remaining oil and rice and cook for about 5 minutes. Toss often to combine.

Lastly, add the Brussels, carrots, and pine nuts back to the pan. Drizzle in the soy sauce, lime juice and agave. Cook for 5 more minutes or so until rice is lightly browned. Taste for salt. Serve with Sriracha.

Note: You must use cold rice in this recipe. Using warm, recently cooked rice will cause it to get mushy and clump together. I suggest making the rice the day before.