Squash Stuffed with Cheddar, Apple, Onion, Sage Couscous

Hello!

Right now, though, I’m thoroughly enjoying this year’s fall bounty. I went apple picking again at Russell Orchards, and I’ve been experimenting with new types of squash.

Before this year I’ve only ever cooked with butternut and spaghetti squash. Now I’m also cooking with acorn squash and kabocha squash (think of a mix between pumpkin and sweet potato).  These particular squashes lend themselves well to stuffing.

Stuffed Squash

Stuffed Squash

I decided to stuff these squashes with apple, onion, and sage couscous. Grate some cheddar cheese on top, and you have a seriously delicious fall meal.

Squash Stuffed with Cheddar, Apple, Onion, Sage Couscous 

Serves 4

  • 1 acorn squash
  • 1 kabocha squash
  • 1 and 1/4 cup Israeli couscous (I used Trader Joes’ Harvest Blend)
  • 1 and 3/4 cup water or chicken broth
  • 2 medium apples, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 fresh sage leaves, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (enough to cover squash)
  • salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
  1. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle olive oil on the squash and sprinkle salt, pepper, and garlic powder on top. Flip the squash cut side down onto a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes or until fork tender. The kabocha squash may take more time to cook.
  2. While the squash is roasting, prepare your stuffing. Chop two medium sized apples and one small onion. Add to a skillet with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Sauté for 7-10 minutes. Add minced garlic and chopped sage and sauté for another 2 minutes.
  3. Add the couscous to the skillet to let the couscous toast a little.
  4. Add water or chicken broth based on the couscous package’s cooking instructions. Let simmer until liquid has evaporated.
  5. Once the squash are done roasting, take them out of the oven and flip them back over. Spoon the stuffing into each squash half. Grate cheddar cheese on top of each half and then place back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

Enjoy the very best of fall with this comforting dish. Have a wonderful rest of the week, everyone, and I’ll be back soon with more fall favorites!

Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Rainbow Swiss Chard

Hello! I’m back.

Transitioning into the full-time job lifestyle is not an easy task, but with every new week I settle more and more into a routine. The test kitchen is busy making delicious food (some of which they allow employees to take home!), and I’m learning more about new ingredients.

Take quinoa. I grew up with rice, pasta, barley, and farro, but quinoa is a relatively new grain for me and my family. I’ve tried the pre-packaged, pre-flavored kinds. Don’t go there. Buy the plain kind and doctor it up yourself. Do keep in mind that there are different types of quinoa (like red quinoa), and check to see if the quinoa is “pre-rinsed.” If not, then please rinse it yourself! Don’t do what I did once and have a dish of bitter quinoa. Rinsing the grain helps take that bitter layer off. Now I’m imagining those NBC commercials with that music playing as the celebrity says “the more you know…”

Swiss chard is my new favorite green, leafy vegetable. Unlike fibrous kale, the leaves are soft to the touch. Swiss chard’s more mild flavor comes to life when simply sautéed with extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, and a splash of red wine vinegar. If you’re feeling like a healthy leafy vegetable but don’t want to stomach kale or spinach, I highly recommend swiss chard. I used rainbow chard over green chard. Why? The texture was more pleasing to my mouth, and, I mean, who doesn’t want to cook with a rainbow vegetable?

Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Swiss Chard

Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Swiss Chard

Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Swiss Chard takes less than 30 minutes to make—heaven to my ears after I come home from work.

Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Swish Chard

Quinoa

  • 1 cup white or red quinoa, rinsed if the package does not say “pre-rinsed”
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup grated monterey jack cheese (you can also use sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, gruyere, fontina…any nice melting cheese)
  • 3 tablespoons light cream
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper to taste

Swiss Chard

  • 1 bunch of fresh swiss chard, washed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste

1. First, prepare the swiss chard by washing each leaf thoroughly in cold water. Stack the leaves one on top of the other and then chop horizontally, so pieces will be about an inch wide. Unlike kale’s stems that are difficult to cook down, swiss chard’s stems become tender right along with the leaf. I usually chop the whole leaf and a little of the remaining stem. Set your washed and chopped swiss chard aside.

2. If your quinoa is not pre-rinsed, grab a fine-mesh colander or a bowl and rinse the quinoa under cold water for about 30 seconds. If your quinoa is pre-rinsed, then you can skip this step.

3. With a cheese grater, grate 1/2 cup of monterey jack cheese (or the cheese of your choice). Set that aside.

4. Now, I like to go back and cook my swiss chard. First, peel and mince two cloves of garlic. In a medium-large pot, add three tablespoons of olive oil. Turn the heat up to medium high and add your minced garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Let the garlic sizzle for about 30 seconds.

5. Add your swiss chard and mix around with tongs. Put the lid on the pot to let the swiss chard wilt.

6. After about 2 minutes, take the lid off the pot and mix the swiss chard around with tongs once again. Let the swiss chard cook until the liquid is almost evaporated. This should take about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the red wine vinegar. Mix it around again and have a taste. You can add more seasoning, vinegar, or oil to your taste. Let that lovely veg sit.

7. Now, for that quinoa. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add one cup of quinoa and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until the liquid evaporates.

8. Add your shredded cheese, light cream, and salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper to taste. Mix the quinoa until the cheese has melted. Taste and see if you need to add more seasoning or cheese. If you would like the quinoa to have a thinner consistency, add more light cream. Tailor the dish to your taste!

While I love pasta, quinoa provides a toothsome, protein-filled alternative to your traditional mac and cheese. You will feel energized after eating this meal, rather than feel like you’re in a food coma.

How do you cook quinoa? Do you love swiss chard as much as I do, or prefer another leafy vegetable? Let me know your thoughts!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Arugula, Spinach, Strawberry, Prosciutto, and Fresh Mozzarella Salad with Balsamic-Mustard Vinaigrette

While starting to work full-time, I also began doing PiYo (a combination of pilates and yoga) six days a week. My goal is to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, and proteins in my meals. Don’t get me wrong, I have a deep and undying passion for carbs (I can’t go without pasta for a week or else I get cranky). However, I want to start making healthy, innovative salads that can act as a hearty meal.

A few days ago I came home from work determined to experiment with what I had in my fridge.

Greens: Arugula and Spinach (GREAT combination)

Fruit: Strawberries

Dairy: Fresh Mozzarella

Protein: Prosciutto

Now, what to pair with these ingredients for a dressing. I sifted through my vinegars. Ah ha! Balsamic makes the perfect tangy vinaigrette with a dash of dijon mustard.

The finished product?

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

At first bite you feel the heartiness of the spinach with a little punch from the peppery arugula. The sweetness of the strawberry complements the tang of the balsamic vinaigrette. The fresh mozzarella is a welcome repose with its creamy texture. The prosciutto adds some protein, provides a necessary bit of saltiness, and takes to balsamic vinaigrette like a fish to water. A beautiful salad all around.

Arugula, Spinach, Strawberry, Prosciutto, and Fresh Mozzarella Salad with Balsamic-Mustard Vinaigrette

Salad (serves 2)

  • 1/2 bag fresh baby spinach, washed
  • 2 large handfuls of fresh arugula, washed
  • 1/2 ball fresh mozzarella, diced into 1 inch cubes
  • 5 strawberries, washed and chopped
  • 3 slices of prosciutto, ripped into pieces (you can substitute with another protein, like baked chicken)

Vinaigrette (adapted from a recipe in America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook)

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon light mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Wash the spinach and arugula and dry using a salad spinner. Add the spinach and arugula to a large bowl.

2. Cut a ball of fresh mozzarella in half, and then cut that half into one-inch cubes, or into whatever size cubes you wish. Add this to the bowl.

3. Wash and cut the strawberries. Add to the bowl.

4. Take three pieces of prosciutto and rip into pieces with your fingers. The pieces can be as large or as small as you’d like. Add to the bowl.

5. To make the vinaigrette, add the balsamic vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise, salt and pepper to a smaller bowl. Whisk it until smooth. Then, while whisking with one hand, drizzle in the three tablespoons of olive oil until completely incorporated. If you struggle with this multi-tasking as I certainly have, you can add the olive oil and then whisk. It will turn out just fine!

6. Add the vinaigrette to the salad and mix the salad with tongs until the vinaigrette fully coats all the goodness.

This salad comes together in just minutes, and the flavors do not disappoint.

Have a wonderful Father’s Day weekend, everyone!

Best Authentic Wontons

The month of May brought several blessings to celebrate.

1. I graduated with my Master’s in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College!

2. I accepted a job offer with America’s Test Kitchen! I’ll be their new Email Marketing Specialist. I start on June 8th, and I can’t wait to return!

3. On the last day of May, I made wontons.

Do you remember my post on Lessons in Chinese Cooking? Well, I finally got around to making wontons, and they came out exceptionally well thanks to Mrs. Chang’s detailed instructions and infinite kitchen wisdom.

When I made wontons with her, we folded them like this:

Folded Wontons

Folded Wontons

Aren’t these beautiful?!

My boyfriend helped catch me in action and take step-by-step photos for how to fold wontons. I shall now impart my wisdom unto you so that you can make the most glorious wontons at home.

Best Authentic Wontons

Filling (same as for steamed pork buns, fyi)

  • 3/4 pound ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 box of frozen spinach, thawed and chopped (or 1/2 bag fresh spinach, sautéed, cooled, and chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger (chopped or grated)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional ingredient: 1/8 teaspoon of Hondashi (a seasoning of sorts that can be made into a fish stock – adding a little of this brings out the flavor of everything else very well)

Wrapper 

To Make the Filling…

1. Take your ground pork and put it in a medium-large mixing bowl.

2. Chop the scallions, defrosted spinach (or sautéed and cooled spinach), and fresh ginger. Add that to the mixing bowl.

4. Add the sherry, sesame oil, egg, and spices (salt, pepper, and Hondashi if you have it). In this step, add as much liquid as you need in order to make the mixture sticky. You don’t want it too thin (too much liquid/oil) or too dry (not enough).

5. Take your hands (or chopsticks or a fork) and mix the filling together, making sure all ingredients are evenly incorporated. Wash your hands and set aside.

How to Fold Wontons

Step 1 for Making Wontons

Step 1

1. Add a small amount of filling to the middle of the wonton wrapper. Fill a small dish with water and set that beside you. Dip your finger into the water and wet the top edge of the wonton wrapper.

Step 2 for Making Wontons

Step 2

2. Fold the bottom edge of the wrapper up to meet the wet top edge. Press down to create a seal.

Step 3 in Making Wontons

Step 3

3. Take the now sealed top edge and make a small fold towards you. The fold should hit the top of the meat filling. this ensures a tight seal.

Step 4 in Making Wontons

Step 4

4. Now, grab the left and right side of the wonton wrapper and fold it down so that the two ends meet in the middle. The motion is curved so that by the time your two hands meet, your hands have moved in a half circle meeting at the bottom-most point. Does that make sense? In other words, the wonton should look like your typical tortellini.

Step 5 in Making Wontons

Step 5

5. To create the seal, dip your finger into the water bowl and wet the bottom left inner edge of the wonton.

Step 6 in Making Wontons

Step 6

6. Finally, take the right side and bring it over to the left, creating a seal with the wet left edge. The two ends will not completely overlap, just those inner edges.

The final product should look like this:

My folded wontons

My folded wontons

Don’t worry if it takes a few tries to get the perfect fold. As long as you have a good seal, your filling won’t come out!

To Cook the Wontons

1. Bring a large pot filled with water to a boil.

2. Put as many wontons as you would like into the pot to cook. You can refrigerate the wontons for a day or so, or you can freeze them to use again later.

3. Once the wontons begin to float, let them cook for another minute or so. If there are many wontons crowded into the pot, add an additional minute just to be sure. Then they are ready to eat!

You can simply take a slotted spoon and place the wontons on a plate. Have some soy sauce, sriracha, and sesame oil on the ready for dipping sauces.

OR…and this is my favorite…make the easiest wonton soup ever.

Wonton Soup

1. As the wontons are boiling, grab a clean soup bowl and add your seasonings and fixings. I usually like to chop up one fresh scallion, mince a small amount of fresh ginger, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon of sriracha, and a little salt and pepper. You can add almost anything that makes sense. Mrs. Chang had special pickled radishes you can find in an asian foods market, and she also had these little baby shrimps you can find in the asian foods market. This is your chance to get creative!

Ingredients for Wonton Soup

Ingredients for Wonton Soup

2. When the wontons are done, take a slotted spoon and add your wontons. Then, take a ladle and add some of the wonton water into the bowl. Mix it all around, and there you have it! Those seasonings will flavor that water so that it doesn’t just taste like boiled water, trust me.

Easiest Wonton Soup

Easiest Wonton Soup

Have fun with this! Please comment with any questions, concerns, or success stories. Have a wonderful week!

Braised Kale and Parmesan Whole Grain Rice Bowl

Is it just me, or was kale not really around in the 90s? I’m sure it was, but as a child I was too fixated on Dunkaroos, those fake cheese snacks with the bread sticks or pretzel sticks for dipping, and Little Debbie oatmeal pies. My family ate healthfully for the most part, but hearty leafy veggies like kale were not exactly on our radar.

I ate kale for the first time when I moved to Boston in August 2013. When I hosted a dinner party with new friends, one of them brought sautéed kale with cumin. This same friend brought a kale salad with wheat berries, apples, and a smoked paprika vinaigrette to another dinner party. Kale began to intrigue me. The hearty, earthy flavors mix so well with fresh fruit and smokier spices. The one thing I could not get over was the texture of raw kale. Treated incorrectly, raw kale feels like rubber in my mouth.

When I interned at America’s Test Kitchen, I discovered this quick video tip about how to handle raw kale:

While raw kale is totally edible, I prefer this nutritious veg braised.

What is braising, you ask? Braising means cooking something in a small amount of liquid that will evaporate and allow the main ingredient to caramelize without getting burnt. It’s magic.

I love mixing whole grains with salad greens. Sweet Green got me hooked. I feel full, but I don’t experience that food coma you get when you eat too much of that homemade mac and cheese.

America’s Test Kitchen’s The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook has a recipe for Braised Kale that’s amazing (I urge you to check out this cookbook, even if you eat meat). I adapted that recipe for the amount of kale I had, and then I added brown rice (I used Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley with long grain brown rice, black barley, and daikon radish seeds). Adding grated pecorino romano cheese at the end was the slam-dunk perfect finishing touch.

Braised Kale and Parmesan Whole Grain Rice Bowl

Braised Kale and Parmesan Whole Grain Rice Bowl

Braised Kale and Parmesan Whole Grain Rice Bowl

For braised kale

  • 1 10 oz. bag of tuscan kale, or 10 oz. fresh kale rinsed, stemmed, and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth (if you don’t have broth on hand, you can use 1 cup of water and 1 bouillon cube)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup parmesan

For brown rice 

  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1 1/4 cups water

1. Heat olive oil in a 4-Quart pot or Dutch oven on medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until translucent, about 7–8 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and cayenne pepper, cooking for about 1–2 minutes. Just make sure the garlic doesn’t brown.

3. Add in half the kale and cook it so it wilts down. This is a fabulous ATK tip I learned, and this will allow you to fit all the kale in the pot.

4. Put the rest of the kale in the pot along with the broth and some salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir every once and awhile until the greens are tender. This will take roughly 20 minutes.

6. While the kale is cooking, grab another pot and cook your brown rice. Follow your package’s instructions. If you have a rice cooker, even better. My parents just got an Aroma rice cooker and love it.

5. Now, remove the lid of the pot with the kale and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook the kale until the liquid has pretty much evaporated. This will take about 10 minutes.

6. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and any additional salt and pepper you may need to the kale.

7. Take your now cooked brown rice and add that to the pot of braised kale. Mix together. Then add the pecorino romano cheese and mix until combined.

There’s nothing better than food that is super healthy and super easy to make. If you are just getting introduced to this leafy vegetable, I guarantee you’ll love this dish.

Javi’s Gazpacho

As my boyfriend jets off to España today on vacation with family, I become nostalgic thinking about my time there. In the summer of 2012 I worked in Boadilla del Monte just west of Madrid at Grupo SM. I edited their textbooks in English and translated from Spanish to English for their online learning supplements.

In my last three weeks there I stayed with my coworker’s family. Her husband was from Asturias, a region in northern Spain, and he was the most hospitable, heartwarming man. The kitchen was his domain, and he created new dishes every evening. When I first arrived at their house, he greeted me with a massive pan of paella. I knew I was in good hands.

He taught me the vocabulary for spices in Spanish. I would smell each spice, and then he would say the word in Spanish for me to repeat. As I smelled dried basil, he would say “albahaca.” When I picked up fresh parsley, he would point at it and say “perejil.”

Gazpacho was Javi’s kitchen staple. While I was used to very chunky renditions of this soup in the U.S., Javi’s version was  a fresh garden of veg turned creamy. In the heat of a Spanish summer, gazpacho is the most beautiful, perfect way to cool down.

Javi's Gazpacho

Javi’s Gazpacho

Javi’s Gazpacho

  • 9–10 medium tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup chopped onion (if raw onion flavor is too strong for you, try using shallots)
  • 2/3 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry, crusty bread broken into pieces
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 11 ice cubes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
  • 1/4 cup cucumber, chopped (optional)

1. Wash and chop the tomatoes, onion, and pepper. If you choose to add the garlic and cucumber, you can wash and chop those too.

2. Add ingredients to a blender and blend for 2 minutes.

3. Break apart about 1/4 cup of bread (2-3 small baguette slices). I suggest using a crustier bread. Stale, dry french bread is the best. Add to the blender.

4. Blend for 30 seconds.

5. Add balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper to the blender. Blend for 30 seconds.

6. Add the ice cubes to the blender right as you are about to serve the soup. Blend until ice is fully incorporated.

If the gazpacho is too grainy or seedy for you, you can pass the ingredients through a fine mesh strainer. This recipe serves about five people, so if your blender is not very large, you may need to make this recipe in batches. I’ll usually cut the recipe in half and make two batches in my blender.

Enjoy a taste of Spanish summer!

Egg Noodles with Ricotta, Lemon, Mint, and Peas

Yesterday was the first day of spring, and it’s now…let me check my phone…26 degrees Fahrenheit here in Boston. We’ve all been craving the sunshine, the green grass, the blossoms, and the spring harvest. Winter brings us squash and citrus, but gosh do I miss those colorful farmers markets, those bright, fresh flavors. I needed a boost after being plunged into the cold for months, so I went to the grocery store and found fresh mint. One whiff of this beautiful herb brings images of summer to my mind’s eye.

Right before I traveled to England in 2011 to study abroad in Oxford, I watched Jamie at Home every day. Jamie Oliver is one of my favorite chefs of all time for several reasons. He has a knack for pairing flavors together in the most beautifully simple way. The one flavor trio that stood out most was his use of lemon, mint, and chili. Look to his courgette salad recipe for an example of this. Mint and citrus are made for each other, and that extra kick at the end from the chili adds an unexpected warmth. Amazing.

This past weekend my boyfriend and I ate dinner at The Haven, a Scottish pub in Jamaica Plain, MA. One of their signature sides is minty mushed peas. Oh my heavens. Chopped mint made those creamy peas the most refreshing mashed vegetable in the world.

So, with these inspirations in mind, I wanted to create a dish that put lemon, mint, peas, and chili together. Behold:

Egg Noodles with Ricotta, Lemon, Mint, and Peas

Egg Noodles with Ricotta, Lemon, Mint, and Peas

 Egg Noodles with Ricotta, Lemon, Mint, and Peas

Serves 2

  • 1 pound egg noodles (I recommend Pennsylvania Dutch Extra Wide)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese (about 1/4 cup per person)
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 9 mint leaves, chopped
  • a pinch to 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (you can use fresh red chili if you wish)
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Put the frozen peas in a pan. Take a garlic press and crush one clove of garlic, adding that garlic to the pan.

2. Add olive oil to the pan and turn the heat up to medium. Season the peas with salt and pepper to your taste. Let the peas sizzle in the pan until fully thawed. Turn off the heat and set aside.

3. Fill a large pot with water and heat until boiling.

4. As the pasta water heats up, wash the mint leaves and either chop them with a sharp knife or rip them into pieces with your fingers for less bruising. Add these mint leaves to a bowl along with the lemon zest and lemon juice. If you do not have a mortar and pestle (I don’t!), take the back of a spoon and press or “muddle” the mint and lemon against the side of the bowl. This allows the juices in the mint to come out and mix more readily with the lemon juice.

5. Add the ricotta cheese to the mint and lemon and mix until fully incorporated. Add the cayenne pepper (or fresh red chili) and salt; mix until combined. Set aside.

6. When the water begins to boil, add the egg noodles and cook until al dente.

7. Add drained pasta back into the pot and mix with the sauteed peas and garlic.

8. Spoon the pasta into bowls and top with the lemon mint ricotta cheese mixture. Mix it all together.

And there you have it! A pasta dish so creamy yet so refreshing. Spring is here—celebrate with good food. Happy cooking!