Tuesday, November 16

Crunchy...as in Granola

I once had a friend call me "Holistic Granola."  I chuckle to myself as I write this.  I was slightly offended, "I'm so not granola."  But alas, I am.  In all the crunchy, nutty-with-a-little-dried-fruit kinds of ways.  It hit me last night as I was eating what my husband calls "bear shit in a yam."  Well, actually Mr. Isaacson it's an acorn squash.  Not that it helps my case any.

Let's go back to last month's issue of Martha Stewart Living.  Or was it from the Everyday Food recipe that pops up in my daily email?  In any case, I've been planning my very first Thanksgiving Dinner for the in-laws.  Excuse me for a moment while I wipe my sweaty palms on my pants.  Ahem.  This will be their first visit to the lovely state of Tennessee, so naturally we're excited to show them our Nashville and our humble little abode.  And you should know by now...in my world, it doesn't get any better than feasting with family and friends.

It was during my search of the perfect turkey recipe, that I stumbled across this fancy little number.   "What a lovely vegetarian option this would be for our feast," I muse to myself (lets keep in mind we have a total of zero vegetarians in the family).  I think it was the scalloped edges of the acorn squash that first caught my eye...I'm a sucker for anything ruffled.  More or less, it spoke to me in an audibly (and strangely British) deep voice:  "I will surely impress your relatives."

So as a test run, the Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice is what I made for dinner last night.  Cut to my husband "it looks like a bear shit in your yam".  Argh.  Lets start with the positives though, shall we?  It was super easy to make, and it made the house smell earthy and warm.  And it was very easy to photograph because it's a gorgeous dish.  And boy does it stick to your ribs.  Was it a Thanksgiving worthy meal?  Lucky for my relatives, I'd say no.  Unless of course you are a vegetarian and in need of some options.  Great, I'd say for anyone who'd like to open up the world of possibilites that acorn squash has to offer.  And I'm pretty sure, this is the mother of  "super foods"...you've got your pumpkin seeds, cherries, and beta-carotene packed squash.  Watch out free radicals.

Then again, I'm quite the traditionalist when it comes to my Turkey Dinner essentials.  I love to experiment with most foods on any given day, but I'd say it's almost mandatory to stick with what you know for this one evening...the sweet potatoes, crescent rolls, stuffing, maybe an herb-twist to the old mashers, cranberry sauce, etc.  Things that get better every year because you've only been making them for centuries now.  Although I have been known to get a little crazy and make a new high-class salad or dessert, just for the wow factor.

Now, I'm not saying I don't stand behind this meal, because I wouldn't put it up for the world (or my family, rather) to see if I didn't think it was worthy.  It just isn't for Thanksgiving, in my humble opinion.  So my fellow crunchy granola readers (I know you're out there)...this one's for you.  And just pretend I haven't referred to it twice now as bear shit.  Bears don't shit out anything nearly this pretty.

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice

1 cup Lundberg (or other) wild blend rice
2 cups broth or water
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic
1 shallot
sea salt and black pepper
2 acorn squash
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds or toasted pecans
1/2 cup dried cherries
extra virgin olive oil
brown sugar


Prep rice: In large pot, add butter, garlic and shallots over medium heat.  Saute until translucent.  Add water/broth and rice and turn up heat.  Bring to a boil, stir once, and cover with tight-fitting lid.  Set timer for 50 minutes.

Prep acorn squash: Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Slice squash in half so the scalloped edges show (this is the pretty part).  Remove seeds and membranes with spoon.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle the brown sugar, sea salt and pepper on top.  Place face down on foil-lined and rimmed cookie sheet and cover with foil to prevent top from burning.  Place in oven and bake for about 35-40 minutes.

When rice has finished cooking, mix in pumpkin seeds and cherries.  Remove squash from oven when ready (pierce with a fork, and when it easily glides through, it's ready), and scoop heaping spoonfuls of rice into center of squash.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, November 4

Cauliflower Gratin and a Trip to San Diego

What a busy couple of weeks we've had!  I hate to be away for so long, but such is life.  It seems like so much has happened lately, but I promise not to bore you with every detail.  I've been a bad blogger too... I haven't had my camera handy, so you'll have to excuse the iphone pictures.

For the first time since we moved to Nashville, we flew back to San Diego for a little getaway.  The trip was a true testament to our age because it was gloriously filled with a wedding AND a baby shower (separate couples!).  And for the first time, I was a tourist in my old stomping grounds.  This fact was not made any less obvious by our rental car.  I was a little embarrassed for us, but not enough to not take the top off and blast the music all the way down the coast.

There was a lot of reminiscing going on that weekend.  It was difficult to imagine that we spent nearly 10 years there.  We soaked up some time at the beach and hit up our favorite eateries.  One of our favorites used to be a coffee shop that sits on the 101 along the coast.  All of my memories at Pannikin are of overcast and windy San Diego mornings and the day we visited was no exception.  We laughed how everyone kept apologizing for the bad weather.  In their defense, it was 65 and overcast.

The best part of our trip was not the food or even seeing the ocean again.  It was getting to spend time with our dear old friends; catching up on life and seeing all the changes that had taken place while we were gone.  It was hard leaving, knowing we would miss two more babies being born.  But on the upside, San Diego is not a bad place to visit when it's time to go back.

I was excited to get home and back to cooking but not to make this recipe.  In fact, I've been dreading it.  My Grandma makes the most amazing Cauliflower Noodles Alfredo, but the problem is, I can't make it for the life of me.  Last Spring I gave it a go.  No big deal, right?  Noodles Alfredo...I've got this one in the bag.  I ended up dumping the entire batch in the trash (and I'll eat just about anything).  I even crossed it off the "Must Have" list at one point.  But it taunted me all summer long.  I've resisted the "cauliflower" self-talk for months, and it finally got the better of me.  Did I mention I hate cauliflower?  So the cauliflower and I had to compromise.  I decided if it was going in anything, it had to be pureed.  My sister actually makes a killer Cauliflower soup (that I promise to get the recipe for) and if she can get it taste good, maybe I can too.  My cooking pales in comparison to hers though, so there's no guarantee.

This recipe is something I've been mentally preparing for for months, so when I finally took it to the kitchen, it just snowballed.  In honor of finding out that I have French Canadian blood (I've always wished I was French...but wait, does that count?), I decided to use brown butter as the base, which turned out to be a fabulous idea.  It gave a nutty complexity to the sweet and creamy cauliflower.  It was perfection!  I somehow created a perfect balance of flavors, and this fledgling cook actually felt like a real one for a fleeting moment in time.

It ended up being more of a casserole than an alfredo.  The sauce was almost mashed-potato-like, but without the guilt.  I feel like a proud parent to my little dish, "Cauliflower Gratin."  I hope you like it!

Cauliflower Gratin


1 head of cauliflower
10 ounces whole grain penne pasta, cooked al dente, drained and set aside
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground white pepper
small handful of fresh sage, finely chopped
small handful of parsley, finely chopped
whole wheat breadcrumbs
parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare Cauliflower: Remove leaves and cut off florets.  Discard core.  Steam cauliflower florets for 8-10 minutes.  Place florets into food processor or blender and puree until smooth and creamy.  If dry, add a dash of cream.

Brown Butter: In large pan, melt butter over medium heat.  Stir constantly to prevent solids from sticking to the bottom and burning.  Butter will begin to turn a golden-tan color.  Remove from heat.  Allow to cool just briefly.

Sauce: Add minced garlic to butter to instantly saute.  Quickly add pureed cauliflower to prevent garlic from burning and becoming bitter.  Add salt, and stir over medium-low heat.  Mix in pre-cooked pasta, and pour into gratin dish.

In a small bowl, mix equal parts of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese (not a lot, just enough to lightly top the dish) and add chopped parsley, sage and a few grinds of white pepper.  Top pasta with breadcrumb mixture to add a little texture, and place in preheated oven for about 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.