What to do with an acorn squash? Drill it: Halloween

Morning, girls and boys. The calendar shows that today is Halloween! Of course I don't need a calendar to tell me that. Although I've been in the States for 18 years, Halloween has never been a holiday I've celebrated. I might have dressed up once or twice, and I do enjoy the candy, but that's where it ends.

And so this year, like many years in the past, I haven't planned on doing anything for Halloween. But then, I saw a pin on Pinterest that my friend Laetitia posted and I HAD to do it.

What am I talking about? It's a project that is originally from Martha Stewart. Instead of carving a pumpkin, you use a drill to make holes in it: brilliant!

Alas, my grocery store was all out of pumpkins, and so I picked up an acorn squash.
All you do is cut off the bottom, take out all the seeds, and then make a design using your drill: I stuck to simple dots along the sides of the squash.

You then put a bunch of Christmas lights in the squash and let them shine through.

I think I'm going to drill a few more holes in the acorn squash tonight to let more light through. And I'm also going to roast the seeds!

Hope you have a fun Halloween if you are celebrating!


"Three Sisters" Stew: Recipe from Vegan Holiday Kitchen

Happy Friday! It's cold outside and there is talk of possible snow this weekend. Hard to believe!

It is the perfect time, however, to make "Three Sisters" Stew. This is the second recipe I've made from the Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas. The first one, Mixed Greens with Green Apples, Beets, and Pistachios, was a delight: great ingredients, simple directions, and a very satisfactory result.

I've been developing my own recipes for years now. Even though I don't have a published cookbook, I know the process. I've also tested recipes for other cookbook authors for years. So, typically, I need to just glance at a recipe to know whether it will or will not work.

Looking at the recipe for "Three Sisters" Stew, I loved the ingredients, but thought the directions could use some work. And so I used the ingredients Nava listed, but changed the steps in preparing the dish. I hope no one finds any fault in this.

{You can see the ingredients in the above photograph on the right. Click on it to maximize it.}

Here's what I did:
1) I roasted the peeled and cubed butternut squash for about 25 minutes in the oven.
2) In a heavy bottomed pot, I heated the oil, added onion and garlic. I sauteed that for about 5 minutes. I then added green pepper and chillies and sauteed everything for a few more minutes.

3) To the vegetables I added all the spices: that allows the spices to "wake up" and release their natural oils.
4) I then added the tomatoes (I used fire roasted ones), corn, beans and water. I brought the mixture to a boil, turned it down to a simmer and cooked the stew covered for 20 minutes.
5) That's when I added in the roasted butternut squash and cooked it for 5 minutes. I think if you follow Nava's recipe and add the squash in the beginning, you'll get a very mushy stew.
6) I served the stew garnished with cilantro.

Overall, this was a good recipe. It was colorful, nutritious, filling and great as leftovers. If you aren't following a strict vegan diet, I'd recommend serving a bit of sour cream or yogurt on top of the stew...and why not even add a bit of shredded cheese?

Have a wonderful weekend!


Brown rice with beets, leeks & maitake mushrooms: perfect side for Thanksgiving

Over the weekend I made Mixed Greens with Green Apples, Beets, and Pistachios from a Vegan Holiday Kitchen cookbook I received for a review.  

What I liked most about the salad, was the combination of beets, toasted pistachios and cranberries. I decided to use the same ingredients, but in a side dish: this Brown Rice with Beets, Leeks & Maitake Mushrooms would be great for anyone who is vegan or vegetarian, or for someone who is trying to cut down on meat consumption. I also think it'd be a great dish for your Thanksgiving table.

Quick THANK YOU to Philly Homegrown: a while back I received a fun assortment of food made in Philadelphia. For this recipe I used dried maitake mushrooms from The Mushroom Cap.

1 ounce dried maitake mushrooms (~1.5 cups)
1.5 cups boiling water
3/4 cups brown rice
2 teaspoon olive oil
1 leek: white part only, thinly sliced
1 red chile, thinly sliced {Thanks, Danielle!}
2 beets, roasted at 400 for 45-90 minutes, cooled, peeled, cubed
1/4 cup cranberries
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped
salt & pepper to taste

1. Cover the dry mushrooms with boiling water for about 10 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and save the liquid
2. Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a pan, add rice and saute for a few minutes. Add the "mushroom" liquid through a strainer. Season the rice with salt and bring everything to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and let the rice simmer for about 30 minutes. {Mine might have been the quick cooking brown rice: you might have to cook yours for a longer amount of time}
3. In a separate pan, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Add leeks and red chile and saute for 5 minutes. Add in the maitake mushrooms and saute for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Add cranberries and beets to the leeks, chile and mushrooms and adjust for salt & pepper.
5. Once the rice is cooked, combine it with the vegetables. Serve topped with pistachios.

Would you combine rice with beets? My mom thought it was a strange idea ;) I thought everything tasted great together.


Mixed Greens with Green Apples, Beets, and Pistachios: Recipe from Vegan Holiday Kitchen

Last week I came home and noticed a small package waiting by my door. Inside, was a preview copy of Nava Atlas's Vegan Holiday Kitchen from Sterling Publishing.

Let me just say that I love meat, cheese, eggs, ice cream, etc. I'm not going to turn into a vegan, or even a vegetarian.

However, perhaps I should start giving my eating habits more serious thought: once again, my cholesterol levels came back too high.

I'm going to try to eat less meat products and foods rich in fat, although I'm not really looking forward to it.

But let's keep an open mind.

Paging through the book, I found gorgeous photographs and very accessible recipes separated by holidays: of course you can make them any time of the year. I bookmarked at least 15 recipes, but chose Mixed Greens with Green Apples, Beets, and Pistachios as the first one to try.

Ingredients {copied directly from the book}

2 medium beets***
4-5 ounces mixed baby greens (or a combination of baby greens with baby spinach or arugula)
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced diagonally
1/2 medium cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded if desired, and thinly sliced
1/2 cup shelled toasted pistachios
1/3 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons lemon juice, more or less to taste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more or less to taste

1. Cook or microwave the whole beets until just tender.  When cool enough to handle, peel and dice them.
2. Combine the beets with the remaining ingredients in a serving bowl and toss well. Serve at once.

*** I roasted my beets in the 400 degree oven drizzled with a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper and wrapped in aluminum foil for 1.5 hours. Depending on the size of your beets, it can take as little as 45 minutes.

I thought the combination of flavors, colos and textures was brilliant. At first I was a bit hesitant about the raw carrots and the addition of sliced cucumbers, but everything tasted great. In fact, I had this salad for breakfast on Sunday: yes, I'm weird like that.

Stay tuned for another vegan recipe from Vegan Holiday Kitchen on Friday.

Do you make vegan recipes? Why or why not? Which ones are your favorite?


What's on your Fall menu?

Fall is finally here. The leaves are changing colors, the air is cooler and crisp, and I find myself craving simple, warm dishes.

The photo on the left is of the Southwestern Squash & Leeks Soup I made for Robyn's blog last weekend. The touch of curry added warmth and spice to an otherwise typical butternut squash soup. You'll have to click on the link to find out what Robyn used to top off the soup. It's not to be missed!

I thought I'd share with you a few of my favorite recipes for this time of the year: most of these are one pot meals that don't take too long to prep or cook AND are great for a crowd or solo eating with a few portions saved for leftovers.

Here is a quick soup I made last weekend: all you need is vegetarian broth, to which you add maitake mushrooms, strips of carrots and cook till the vegetables are tender. Then, pile the cooked rice noodles into a bowl, add mushrooms and carrots, cilantro, alfalfa sprouts, thinly sliced scallions and  red chile pepper and top off with the broth. For a bit of a kick, feel free to squeeze some lime or add a dash of Tabasco.

If you are not a soup person, then how about albondigas? They are spicy Spanish meatballs in a tomato sauce that has cinnamon and chocolate among other spices. Last night I had a bowl of polenta with gouda cheese, a few of these meatballs and a glass of Grenache: perfection for sure.

For those of you who watch men run and kick ball and then catch it on TV (I think it's called Football), do you usually have a pot of chili simmering on the stove? Why not try something other than meat + beans? This recipe for sweet potato vegetarian chili might just become one of your favorite fall dishes.

If you just can't go without meat, try my stuffed cabbage recipe. Instead of rice, I used Israeli cous cous. Call your friends over and make these cabbage rolls soon.

And I'll leave you with enchiladas. Make them with chicken, vegetables, or beef. Use red sauce or tomatillo sauce. Either way you roll them (ha ha!), they are a hardy meal that will satisfy your entire family. Here is my recipe for beef and black beans enchiladas.

Hold on, I should probably leave you with something sweet. How about Challah Bread Pudding with dried cherries and chocolate mini chips?

Have a happy Fall weekend. Let me know what you are cooking this season.


Eating out in Asheville, NC: French Broad Chocolate Lounge & The Gourmet Chip Company (Sweet & Salty)

Happy Wednesday! I'm pretty sure this is the last full Asheville post you will find on my blog (unless I take another trip to the lovely city). Are you glad? I'll be back to recipe posting very, very soon: I promise.

Here's a question for you: what do you like as snacks? Are you a savory girl/boy and tend to pick up potato chips, pistachios, or maybe Cheetos? Or do you crave chocolate, ice cream and cake?

While in Asheville, I satisfied both my sweet and savory sides at two establishments: French Broad Chocolate Lounge and Gourmet Chip Company.

Let's start in a chronological order. I woke up, putzed around a bit {that's my friend Jenny's word!!} and then had a great brunch at Curate. What followed was some walking around, shopping, photo taking, and then I needed a snack.

Ever since I told Robyn that I'll be going to Asheville, she told me that I MUST go to French Broad Chocolate Lounge: and that's exactly what I did.

The name comes from the French Broad river that passes through Asheville: it's a great reflection of the communal feel of the lounge. The menu is written on a large chalk board, there are the most comfortable leather chairs, leather couches and one big communal table. The place was filled with couples, moms and their kids, families, and a few singles like me.

This is a family run place. The owners, Jael and Dan are self taught: "Self-guided, never-ending chocolate education – from textbooks, cookbooks, chef friends, online classes, cacao farms of Costa Rica, culinary tours throughout United States and Central America, and of course, in the kitchen. (nope, they didn’t attend culinary school)."

I've had a chance to try a few of the truffles from French Broad Chocolate Lounge at my hotel, and although the flavors were definitely creative, they just weren't my cup of tea. I prefer dark chocolate with maybe an addition of nuts or fruit. So for my dessert I chose a chocolate raspberry cheesecake with a nut crust and a glass of hibiscus iced tea.

I sat on a couch, caught up with my reading and indulged in the smooth texture of the cheesecake and the refreshing ice tea. This was a perfect mid afternoon snack.

I left the French Broad Lounge and headed back to the hotel. On the way back, however, I ran into a family that looked familiar. Turns out they were in the same airport as I was waiting for the flight to Asheville. For some reason, I decided to say hi. That's not my typical behavior: my mom is the one who typically chats up anyone and everyone. Turns out, that family was from Washington DC and was visiting their relatives in Asheville. When they found out that I was into food and food photography, they said I HAD TO visit their sister-in-law's The Gourmet Chip Company. Who was I to say no?

This place sells GOURMET chips made from regular potatoes, purple sweet potatoes, plantains and taro roots. The chips are topped with everything from chocolate, to blue cheese and red wine. I was intrigued.

Alas, Gourmet Chip Company doesn't have a sampler. I ended up ordering The Cajun: Sweet Potato Crisps with smokey, sweet & spicy topping. The chips were made directly in front of me, topped with the secret mix of seasoning and some lime juice. They had quite a kick to them and were surprisingly not greasy. Since I was still pretty full from the cheesecake, I saved half of the chips for the next day, and they still were crispy!

The picture above on the right is of The Parisian: a woman sitting next to me asked if I'd like to try it, and I happily obliged, offering her a few of my chips. The Parisian had rosemary, thyme, goat cheese, white truffle spritz and sea salt. It was divine. These chips would be great for big parties...even something as fancy as a wedding!

Where do YOU snack when you are on vacation? Do you take advice of almost-strangers on where to eat? Please chime in!


Eating out in Asheville, NC: Dinner at The Market Place PLUS Recipe for Tomato Jam

Welcome to another "Eating out in Asheville, NC" post! Hope you are enjoying vicariously traveling to Asheville through reading my posts and looking at the photographs. If you've read the super long title of this blog post, you know that in the end I'll share a recipe for tomato jam...but you have to wait a while ;)

My first official meal in Asheville was at the Market Place Restaurant & Lounge.

From their website:

"We believe in the importance of working locally, not just using ingredients from our surrounding area, but also in our contribution to the community. The success of our restaurant has always been closely entwined with the health and progress of our community. For 30 years we have supported the arts, local-needs and education programs."

I decided to sit at the bar: this is NOT something I'm really good at. For some reason, bartenders don't chat me up. The same thing happens when I'm getting a haircut. I guess I don't look super friendly {shocker!}. I wish I would have brought a book. Oh well. I took my time looking at the menu, the dark yet inviting decor, and was happy to have live music in the background.

Patrick Fitzsimons
I started with a glass of local beer (sorry, can't remember the name), and also ordered two appetizers: corn cake with salsa and fried calamari & shrimp. I really liked both appetizers, but the salsa that came with the corn cake was somewhat bitter. I shared my thoughts with the bartender, and he said that the chef will come over and see if he could offer me something else.

That's when I met William Dissen. He offered me tomato jam and sweet chile sauce: I thought they were both incredible and asked William to share his recipe for tomato jam: and he did!!

I finished my meal and really liked how the check was presented: in a jar! I could not wait to get home and recreate the tomato jam in my own kitchen.

Tomato Jam
Recipe by William Dissen of Market Place Restaurant & Lounge
{I slightly rewrote the recipe to fit my format, but the ingredients and basic directions are the same}

1.5 pounds Roma tomatoes, pitted and chopped {I chopped mine in half, then sliced each half into three pieces and then each of those pieces into thirds again}
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme {my grocery store did not have fresh thyme, so I used 1 teaspoon of dry thyme}


1. In a small pot, combine all ingredients, other than thyme, and bring to a simmer.

2. Simmer, stirring occasionally until the mixture becomes a consistency of a thick jam. This will take about an hour.

3. Stir in thyme and adjust for salt and pepper if necessary.

4. Allow the jam to cool and refrigerate.

This was an incredibly simple recipe to make, yet the flavors are vibrant and strong. I should have doubled the recipe, because two days later there is almost nothing of the jam left. I ate it with crackers and also mixed it with Greek yogurt and some cilantro and red onions for breakfast.

Thank you, William, for sharing this recipe with me and my readers.

PS: I've created a Mango & Tomato Facebook Page: if you don't follow me on Twitter, this would be a great way to get updates ;)