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Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Autumn’s just around the corner, and what better way to celebrate than with a medley of apples and acorn squash?

Stuffed Acorn Squash

I’ve always been partial to winter squashes. They last longer than their summer counterparts, and overall taste better! The texture, the dishes, the scent, the warmth … winter squashes just have it all. So I was very excited to see winter squashes return to the farmers market, especially my beloved acorn squash.

God help us if the squirrels in "Mutts" ever catch wind of these

One of my favorite meals is to cut an acorn squash in half, bake it, and either eat it on its own or stuffed with a grain mixture. With a slight chill in the air and a lot of rain this week, I decided to whip up a stuffed acorn squash packed with one of my favorite grain dishes, Israeli Couscous with Tart Apple and Sage. Israeli couscous (also called Pearled Couscous) is a thicker couscous that’s more like a pasta, and it’s very delicious. Definitely add it to your grocery cart in the future, not just for this dish, but for other kitchen experiments!

See, not like standard couscous (also featuring a cameo from your author!)

The acorn squash takes the longest to bake, so I recommend starting with this first. Fortunately it’s also the lowest maintenance portion of the meal (and the whole meal is pretty easy). First, I started by melting about a tablespoon of Earth Balance margarine in a saucepan and pouring it into a small bowl. I then cut the acorn squash into two equal halves, using a spoon to scrape out the seeds and excess strands of pulp from the center. I also recommend cutting off a small portion of the top of the squash, as flattening the squash this way will make it easier to eat out of once it’s done. The pointy end gave me many a headache in Autumns past as it would make the squash wobble in my bowl while I tried to eat it, so giving the squash a flat base before baking will make life much easier!

Carving out the seeds and pulp is also good practice for pumpkin carving next month!

Once the squash “bowl” was ready, I prepped it for baking by brushing it with the melted butter, than sprinkling on some cinnamon, cardamom (optional), salt, and pepper. All of these spices are optional, really; but I highly recommend at least the cinnamon, salt, and pepper since they really enhance the flavor of this semi-sweet squash. I then placed the squash face down on a baking sheet, and baked at 375 F for about 30 minutes. The cooking time may vary depending on your squash, but I usually have a soft, tender squash after half an hour.

Mmmm

This gives you ample time to prepare your Israeli couscous stuffing. To start, I first simmered some Israeli couscous in vegetable broth for about 10 minutes. While the couscous simmered, I prepped my other ingredients and started to cook them. I heated a little extra virgin olive oil in a skillet, then added some heavily minced onion (I actually chopped the onion in a blender because I wanted it to cook away into nothing;  this is just a personal preference, since I don’t like onion pieces). After cooking for a couple minutes, I added my minced apple and cooked for a few minutes more, until the apple pieces softened slightly, the peel changed color, and the apple became fragrant. The recipe calls for a tart apple, but I used a Gala apple and still had success. I also left out the red pepper called for in the recipe, simply because I don’t like peppers.

Once the apples were cooked through a bit, I added some ground sage and chopped walnuts. You don’t have to cook these long; just until the walnuts become fragrant. I then turned off the heat, drained my couscous, and added it to the apple mixture, stirring so that the apple and walnuts appeared well-dispersed throughout the couscous. I then added the finishing touch: more olive oil, lemon juice (2 TB of prepared lemon juice is the equivalent to the 1 lemon called for in the recipe), and salt. Once stirred, I set it aside and let it sit while I removed my squash from the oven.

This is also an amazing side dish

The rest is cake from here. I took my acorn squash from the oven and placed it face-up in a bowl, so that the core of the squash was visible. I then spooned the Israeli couscous mixture into the core until full. Voila! An easy, seasonal meal that looks a lot more time-consuming than it really is. Dig in!

Watermelon and Pickled Cucumber Coleslaw

It’s the peak of summer – time to cool down with some coleslaw!

Watermelon and Pickled Cucumber Coleslaw

When I think of summer, I think of outdoor barbeques. And when I think of barbeques, I think of coleslaw. Of course, like many folks, when I think of coleslaw I think of a few strands of slaw mix drowning in mayonnaise and sugar. Not exactly the most appetizing side dish. So when I stocked up on some watermelon and cucumbers from the Farmers Market, and also found a head of local cabbage for sale at Whole Foods, I decided to make my own version of this summer staple, bursting with veggies and not drowning in dressing!

To start, I cut up about seven slices of a large cucumber, about a cup of slices before quartering. I then quartered the slices so they’d be more “bite-size” in this salad. I then put them in a small bowl and covered them with rice vinegar to quickly “pickle” them. I got this technique from Eat This (Not That), and while they recommend using rice vinegar, I’m sure you could use white vinegar or even apple cider vinegar with similar success. I then let the cucumbers sit in the vinegar and “pickle” for 30 minutes. This results in a nice sour cucumber that’s still crisp and fresh, so don’t sub regular pickles that have been pickling for a really long time!

My mom used to slice up a cucumber, soak the slices in vinegar, then season them with cracked pepper and serve them as a side dish. It's so yummy!

The pickling is the longest part of the salad if you’re using pre-sliced watermelon, making the rest of the steps very easy! About halfway through the pickling process, I took a quarter of a large head of cabbage and shredded it. This can either be done with a fancy shredding tool, or by chopping the cabbage into strips, then chopping finely with a chef’s knife by moving over the cabbage in a half-moon motion, like a pendulum swinging over your cabbage. Both techniques result in a great coleslaw texture. I then put the cabbage in a large bowl.

Rather than dowse the cabbage in mayo or even vegan mayo, I decided to keep it light, spicy, and sweet by mixing German mustard with some agave nectar. You could probably use spicy brown mustard as a sub, but this may affect the taste! I then added the dressing to the cabbage, threw in some salt and pepper, and stirred to cover the cabbage. It may seem like there’s not enough, but trust me, it will taste just right!

Fun fact: "col" is the Spanish word for "cabbage"

I then measured out some watermelon chunks. I usually cut up my watermelon right when I buy it, storing the large chunks in the fridge for later use. I highly recommend doing this since it makes enjoying a large watermelon very simple, and it keeps very well in an airtight container! I then cubed the watermelon to make them more bite-size and added them to the cabbage, stirring to get them covered with dressing. I then drained my cucumber slices, added them to the slaw, tossed, and voila! A delicious, healthy coleslaw that’s bursting with fruits and veggies, while not drowning in fat. Everyone wins!

This coleslaw is especially yummy because of all the different flavors happening. The cucumbers are nice and sour, the watermelon is sweet and cold, and the cabbage, in both mustard and agave, is a happy harmony of both sensations. You can either have a big helping as a lunch salad, or serve up smaller portions alongside a grilled portobello burger or other vegetarian barbecue staple. Enjoy!

Watermelon and Pickled Cucumber Coleslaw (Serves 2 or more)

7 slices of cucumber (about 1 cup), measured first, then quartered

Rice vinegar, to cover the cucumbers (about 1/4 to 1/3 a cup)

1 quarter of a head of fresh cabbage

3 TB German mustard

1 TB agave nectar

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup watermelon chunks, measured first, then cubed

Pink pepper, to taste (optional)

Place quartered cucumber slices in a small bowl, then pour rice vinegar over the slices until covered. Let sit for 30 minutes, occasionally shaking the bowl to cover any floating pieces.

Finely chop or shred the cabbage, then place in a large bowl. Whisk together the mustard and agave until smooth, then pour over the cabbage. Add salt and pepper, then mix until the cabbage is evenly coated. If the cucumbers are still pickling, allow the slaw to sit to let the flavors meld.

When the cucumbers are ready, drain them, then add to the slaw. Add your watermelon, then toss to coat and combine with the slaw. When serving, garnish with pink pepper if desired.

Once More on the Go: The Assateague Crab House

Last week I was on a mini-summer vacation in beautiful Ocean City, MD. I’d never been to this beach, but I definitely want to go back, especially to Assateague Island!

In addition to sun and sand, one of the first things that often come to mind when one thinks of the beach is seafood – lots and lots of seafood! Being a vegetarian, though, I do not partake of this beachside staple (so please folks, stop offering me fish when I say I’m a vegetarian). What’s a vegetarian to do when she’s in seafood utopia, especially in an area well-known for crabs? Let’s find out!

Beautiful beach on Assateague Island. In addition to food photos, you're going to get some beach shots in this post

When one is vacationing in Maryland, especially near the Chesapeake Bay, one can expect to see and hear about crabs wherever you go. I must’ve driven by at least twenty roadside stands that said they had the best crabs in the area. While I support local food and roadside farmer’s markets, I wasn’t going to be partaking in this particular delicacy (even when I ate meat, I wasn’t the biggest fan of crab – or any seafood, really). But especially since I was traveling with two omnivores, I knew a crab shack was in my future. We ended up choosing The Assateague Crab House, a small restaurant located just outside of Assateague Island.

Whatever your position on crab/seafood, I think we can all agree that the decor of this place is pretty damn awesome

Naturally, the menu consisted largely of seafood; however, there were vegetarian options to be found amongst the side dishes, many of which can be made into a meal! Your best bet, especially if you’re a vegan, would likely be the baked potato. It’s considered a side and only costs $2. Unfortunately though it’s only available after 4 PM; so you might need to be a little more creative for lunch. Their sides also include apple sauce and an ear of corn, also about $2 each. The ear of corn I had with my meal was very tasty and, I’m certain, local; since the only thing I saw more of than signs for crab were corn fields. It also tasted like it was just picked; and it wasn’t drowning in butter or salt, which was good (I like a taste of seasonings, not an avalanche).

Assateague Crab House also offers some veg-friendly appetizers. We ordered a basket of broccoli bites for the table, and I was pleasantly surprised at how good they were. I was expecting nugget balls of pureed broccoli and possibly cheese, but what we got was whole pieces of broccoli fried in batter, almost like the South’s answer to tempura; or perhaps a hush puppy with broccoli inside. While still not the healthiest thing in the world, it was very tasty and I could tell that the broccoli was fresh before it met the fryer. If you want something kinda greasy and very good, give them a try!

They taste great on their own, but if you're not a vegan, they also come with ranch dip on the side

For my main entree I had a simple grilled cheese sandwich. As a note, a grilled cheese is NOT on their menu – they were kind enough to make one for me when I asked. So, it might be worth asking them to make a vegetable sandwich or other vegan/vegetarian sandwich if you go – they’re very accommodating! It can never hurt to at least ask!

So vegetarians, when you are in seafood country, fear not – you can definitely get some tasty vegetables and have a delicious meal, even if you go to a crab shack! I definitely recommend Assateague Crab House if you’re in Ocean City. It’s a nice place to stop for food before visiting the beach, trails, and wild ponies on Assateague Island!

Yup, wild ponies! Why aren't you packing your bags for Assateague right now?

Eggplant and Green Bean Stir-Fry with Soba Noodles

Nothing like a good stir-fry loaded with veggies!

Eggplant and Green Bean Stir-Fry with Soba Noodles

I often extol the virtues of a stir-fry; and while my go-to for a long time has been a simple Tofu and Broccoli stir-fry, I’ve been trying to expand the list of ingredients I fry up in the skillet. Eggplants fit this bill perfectly, especially since eggplant in general is not a food I tend to eat. I’ve only recently begun buying eggplant on my own free will to prepare in dishes, and when I found some adorable miniature eggplant at the farmer’s market last week, I decided that a stir-fry was just the ticket.

Itsy bitsy teeny weeny purple stemmy eggplants!

To start, I cut up two miniature eggplants into coins. Do this first if you’ll be ready to add them to the skillet within five minutes; otherwise they’ll start turning brown from oxidation. This doesn’t hurt them, it just makes them look a little less appealing. Anyhoo, I then diced up the whites of two spring onions, setting aside the stems for later to add as a garnish; and two cloves of garlic. I heated up my go-to blend of olive and toasted sesame oils on medium, then sauteed the onions and garlic for about one minute before adding the eggplant.

After letting the eggplant cook a bit, I added Braggs liquid aminos, mirin, and rice vinegar to really give this somewhat neutral vegetable a punch of flavor. I then allowed the eggplant to cook for awhile before adding additional ingredients – eggplants are very moist, and need more time than sturdier veggies to heat through and really soak up the flavor! After a few minutes I added the green beans, stirring to get them coated. I wasn’t particularly concerned with getting the seasonings cooked into the green beans because I think they have a swell-enough flavor on their own; they just needed to heat through a bit. Up next, I added a couple large dashes of cayenne to spice it up, then topped off the stir-fry with my not-so-secret but all-too-important ingredient: nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast adds some amazing flavor as well as texture to a stir-fry, especially one with soft ingredients like eggplant. Give it a try!

While the veggies finished up and the soba noodles finished boiling (you can prepare your noodles while stir-frying everything up), I chopped my spring onion stems into small circles to add as a garnish. To make the meal, I spooned out some soba noodles, topped them with my sauteed vegetables, and garnished with the spring onion stems and sesame seeds. This meal is great for a relatively fast, hot lunch that satisfies; and it features seasonal ingredients front and center. Enjoy!

Eggplant and Green Bean Stir-Fry with Soba Noodles (Serves 1)

Prepared soba noodles, hot

2 tsp olive oil

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 spring onions, white parts chopped, green leafy stems set aside

2 miniature eggplants, cut into coins (or 1 cup eggplant chunks)

1 TB Bragg’s liquid aminos, or soy sauce

1 tsp mirin

1 tsp rice vinegar

1 cup green beans, chopped into matchstick pieces

Cayenne, to taste

2 TB nutritional yeast

Sesame seeds

If your soba noodles are not yet prepared, boil them while you cook your vegetables.

Heat oils on medium in a skillet. Add the onions and garlic and saute for about a minute. Add the eggplant, stirring to coat with oil and mix with the onions and garlic. Add the Braggs, mirin, and rice vinegar. Cook for a few minutes, allowing the eggplant to brown. Add the green beans, mixing well. Add the cayenne and mix, then sprinkle with nutritional yeast and toss. Cook for up to a minute more. While the vegetables finish cooking, chop the spring onion stems into small pieces.

Spoon vegetables over soba noodles. Garnish with spring onion stems and sesame seeds. Serve hot.

Welcome Back, Farmer’s Market!

Spring is almost over, and summer’s just around the corner. And in these parts, that means that the Farmer’s Market is back! *throws confetti*

Well, truth be told, the farmer’s market that I frequent is technically open year-round; but they spend the winter selling breads, cakes, tea, and pickles. While yummy, this doesn’t exactly constitute a well-balanced diet. So once the ground thaws and the plants start growing, I’m back at the Farmer’s Market faster than you can say “sweet potato.”

While sweet potatoes were not to be found at the market this week, I did find an amazing bounty. Anyone concerned that Farmer’s Markets won’t have everything you need produce-wise, look around. Today alone I purchased cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli, spring onions, zucchini, yellow zucchini, kale, and miniature cucumbers. The market also had carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, yellow onions, basil … you get my drift. It’s well-stocked.

Not only are these markets well-stocked, but the produce is fresh and looks amazing! For instance, I found a head of cauliflower that was bigger than my own noggin. Check it out:

Attack of the 50 Ft Cauliflower!

Speaking of colossal, check out these spring onions. I’m just gonna laugh at the ones they keep in the store now, shipped in all the way from California. Hey CA, keep your minis – VA’s got the big guns!

What I’m most intrigued by, though, are the yellow zucchini. I’ve never had this variety of zucchini before, and while I have an iffy relationship with summer squashes (they sometimes make me nauseous), I couldn’t resist their pretty yellow color and the following description: “buttery taste.” I’m looking forward to trying some new recipes with these guys, and of course sharing my results!

Don't confuse yellow zucchini with yellow squash!

In short, my first 2011 foray to the Farmer’s Market was a success, and I look forward to getting local produce again through Autumn. To fresh and local eating!