Sunday, October 31, 2010

Squash Quesadilla's

One of the more fun foods we have on occasion at our house is quesadilla's. You can put all sorts of things between two flour tortilla's and make a meal... or dessert (thin sliced apples, crushed nuts, honey). But on this particular day, my daughter was having her best friend spend the night and they had all sorts of fall activities planned. When I saw the idea of a squash quesadilla, I thought it was pretty cool. However, pureed squash and cheese just didn't give me the festive dinner I was looking for. So I improvised and what followed was a really delicious, fun meal that my family and our little guest requested I make again, very soon.

What you'll need: butternut squash, onion, olive oil, cilantro, chili powder, a 1/4 cup liquid (butter, heavy cream, chicken stock, veggie stock, etc.), cheese, flour tortilla's

Wash the outside of you squash, cut the top off, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Rub a little olive oil on the orange flesh and then place them flat side down on a cookie sheet covered in aluminum foil that has been rubbed with olive oil. Roast them in the oven for about 40 minutes at 375-400 degrees. You should be able to insert a knife through the rind easily when the squash is done cooking.

While your squash is roasting in the oven, dice an onion and put it in a large skillet with a drizzle of olive oil. Saute the onions on medium until they are translucent and slightly caramelized.

While the onions are caramelizing, chop up about 1 ounce or 1 bunch of cilantro. When the squash is done roasting, scoop it out and put it in the pan with the onions. Add 1 tsp of chili powder and 1/4 cup of liquid. If there isn't any liquid, it gets really thick.  Choose whichever liquid you like according to taste and diet. Also remember that all of these items so far have no seasoning, so salt and pepper would be appropriate at this time.

Stir it all up so it's nice and hot. Even with the 1/4 cup liquid, it's still going to be a little thick. That's a good thing because you don't want the mixture oozing out from between the tortilla's.

Take a large spoonful and spread it around on the tortilla leaving a 1 inch margin. This will allow for melting items to not escape as easily when they are pressed and heated.

Sprinkle with shredded cheese. Just a word to the wise, shred your own cheese. The cheese that you buy pre-shredded in a bag is packed with sawdust. Yep... I said sawdust. It probably reads on the bag as cellulose or something like that. They use the sawdust to keep the cheese from sticking in a big glob in the bag. So, unless you are seriously lacking in fiber, say no to the bag.

We were lucky enough to find a sweet little quesadilla press at a local store for a great price. If you don't have one of these beauties, a skillet on your stove top will work just fine. Put the tortilla with the squash mixture and the cheese on the bottom plate.

Top with another flour tortilla and close the press.

After 3 minutes, lift the lid and using a spatula transfer the quesadilla to a dinner plate.

Using a pizza wheel, cut the quesadilla on the pressed lines. You can serve them with sour cream, salsa or whatever you like best. When we make these again, we'll probably add some cayenne pepper for heat and a little garlic. Hope you enjoy them!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pretzel Cabin

I saw this craft idea years ago in a Martha Stewart Magazine and decided I couldn't wait for President's Day to make it. It's really simple and my daughter and her best friend had a great time with this project.

What you need: 1/2 pint dairy container, peanut butter, thin wheat crackers, pretzel sticks, pretzel squares, graham crackers

Empty the carton of the cream and rinse thoroughly with hot water. Tape closed the top where you opened the container.

Spread a thick layer of inexpensive peanut butter all over the outside of the carton.

Be sure to fill the open triangle with peanut butter because it will show if you don't cover it with pretzel sticks.

Put all of your pieces in a dish so they're easy to grab quickly. It's also a good idea to use scissors to cut your pretzel rods to shape over this dish so the pretzel crumbs stay somewhat contained.

Use the checkerboard pretzels for windows, the thin wheat crackers for the roof shingles and the pretzel sticks for the logs. The graham cracker makes a great front door. My daughters best friend got a little creative and used a spare piece of pretzel for a small door knob.

You could even decorate this with holiday candy to make it for a festive occasion. If you make it without the candy, you can put it out for the birds and squirrels. Have fun, I know we did!

Butternut Squash

Have you ever looked at these in the grocery store and thought they were fall decorations that go next to the bumpy little gourds by the indian corn? I did for a really long time. Aside from their odd shape, they really aren't much to look at. Their drab color doesn't do much for them either. But once you get to know this gourd, you might find that it holds a lot of interest. It's mighty nutritious. Go here for more information on that, you won't be sorry. There are many ways to cook and serve it. My biggest goal in this particular blog, is to dispel the mystery on how to use it. My family likes it roasted, so that's what we're going to do.

Before you start, make sure you place a damp paper towel under your cutting board. This will keep your board from sliding as you maneuver this odd shaped vegetable.

There are two ways to peel it. You can use a pairing knife or a peeler. When using a knife, number one... use extreme caution. The outside layer is slick and hard. Peel around the top first.

Then run your knife down the side to the place where the squash bumps out.

Once you have peeled the top portion, cut it off so that the bottom is easier to handle.

Then use your knife to peel around the bottom. Again using extreme caution.

Now I don't know how many of you have this kind of peeler, but I am still questioning myself as to why I waited so long to get one. Maybe because it's not what I grew up using in my mom's house. But I broke down and bought one so I could see if it would make the job of peeling this monster easier. DON'T WAIT!!! Go buy yourself one right now! I will never be without this kind of peeler again.

It made ridiculously quick work of this squash. I almost had tears in my eyes it went so fast. Again... GO BUY ONE NOW!!!

I can't believe how struggle free it was. All done peeling in a matter of minutes and way safer. However, a side note would be that when I have used this peeler on smaller items like apples, I took a nice chunk out of my finger. So use a little more caution with the smaller produce.

Take the top portion of the squash and cut it in 1/2 inch slices.

Then cut those in 1/2 inch slices

Then 1/2 inch chunks.

Next cut open the bottom half. This will look like the inside of a pumpkin since they are both squashes.

Use a spoon to scoop out the insides and discard. I suppose you could clean them off and roast them or dehydrate them like pumpkin seeds, but I've never tried it.

Cut the little bottom buttons off.

Then slice the bottom half into 1/2 inch slices.

Turn them on their sides for safety and cut these, one by one, into 1/2 inch pieces.

Throw them in a bowl, toss with some olive oil, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Layer on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.

This is what not to do! I put too many on this sheet and when they were done roasting, some were burned and some were just soft. None of them caramelized and got yummy and sweet. Look back at the oven shot and see how they were sitting on top of each other. Now look at the picture below.

These are all in a single layer. They are crowded, but most importantly, they are in a single layer.

If you look at this, the only ones that burned were some small ones on the outside edge (that's normal). The other ones shrunk beautifully and caramelized like a champ. I serve these just as they are as a side to some sort of protein. If they aren't quite sweet enough for your young ones, you can drizzle a small amount of local maple syrup or some raw honey on top. We seem to do just fine without that though.

I really hope you try this if you've never liked this squash before (pureed, uck!) And if you've never tried it, I hope you will give it a go.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Wisdom of Marilla

Anne of Green Gables has been a movie I have cherished since High School. It's a story of a young orphan girl that is adopted by an elderly brother and sister. Through a series of verbal exchanges though, the information was skewed and instead of them getting a boy to help on the farm like they had requested, they got Anne. Upon finding out that Marilla planned on sending her back because she wasn't a boy, Anne replies "I'm in the depths of despair." to which Marilla's responds, "To despair is to turn your back on God." The meaning didn't stick with me so much as the memory of the exchange between them.

Yesterday, I found myself in a state of despair. I found myself in a situation very similar to Anne where I had been anticipating an event for months with every fiber of my body. I could not wait for it to happen. I had made all the necessary preparations to be there at the exact time, with the proper materials, I was eager. I waited... for almost an hour. And as I resigned myself to the fact that no one was coming I trudged slowly out to the parking lot. My heart was heavy and disappointed. And the tears began to roll. I wasn't actually crying, but my body was weeping. Big, fat, hot tears slid down my cheeks as I closed myself in my vehicle. The silence was deafening. And I thought, "I'm in the depths of despair." However, I am highly realistic and reminded myself that this was nothing that warranted that description. Maybe I wasn't in the depths of despair, but I was despairing. And being a realistic person, I realized the first thing I needed to do was get myself out of the dark parking lot in a not so good part of town and go somewhere where I could process what just happened.

As I drove I ended up turning my focus away from my despair on to what Marilla had said, "To despair is to turn your back on God." What did she mean by that?! If I let myself get into such a state that I'm despairing, I have centered myself more on my issue than where God is in my situation. I am in essence telling God that he can't pull me out of that place. He's not able.  This is more than contrary to what the Bible teaches and what I believe. And so I decided to do the grown up thing and not despair... I sulked.

After doing some searching on my computer I found an email I had neglected to read that informed me that the class I was so eager to attend had been postponed until February 2011. I am no longer sulking, but eagerly looking forward to February.

Lesson learned: read my email. They are important.