Delicata Squash with Apple Pecan Quinoa Stuffing

DSC_0688 Delicata is sweet with an edible skin just like acorn squash, but the texture is much smoother and creamier.  I love this dish as a vegetarian main course served with mixed greens or as a side dish to accompany pork tenderloin.  Filled with the flavors of fall, this is comfort food at its healthiest.

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Delicata Squash with Apple Pecan Quinoa Stuffing

serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a side dish

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 delicata squash
  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, cut into 1/2 in dice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 4 slices provolone cheese, each cut in half
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, maple syrup, cider vinegar and dijon mustard.  Set aside.
  2. Cut both squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to remove all seeds and pulp.  Place two of the four halves flesh side down in an 8×8-in microwave safe dish.  Fill pan with 1/2 inch of water and microwave until squash is tender all the way through, 8-10 minutes.  Repeat with second squash.  Place all four squash halves in a rectangular baking dish flesh side up,  drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Mash lightly with a fork, leaving skin and a 1/2 inch rim of squash completely intact.
  3. While squash is cooking, rinse quinoa well in a fine sieve.  Place rinsed quinoa, salt , and 1 and 3/4 cups of water in a pan with a tight fitting lid.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and cover, cooking for 12-15 minutes or until all water has evaporated.  Remove from heat and let sit for a few minutes.  Fluff with fork.
  4. Toast pecans in a large saute pan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes or until nuts are warm and fragrant.  Set aside.
  5. Wipe saute pan clean with a paper towel, removing all nut skins and pieces.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions, apples, and garlic to pan and saute until onions are translucent and apples have softened, about five minutes.
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low.  Add cooked quinoa, pecans, cranberries, sage, and the maple/cider vinegar/dijon mixture to pan, season with salt and pepper, and stir until ingredients are thoroughly combined and warmed through.
  7. Stuff each squash half with 1/4 of the mixture and cover with 2 provolone halves.
  8. Turn oven to broil.  Place squash pan under broiler for one to two minutes or until cheese is brown and bubbly.

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Big Mac Throwdown

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Last weekend during our outing to Little Goat Diner, Hannah ordered the All-American Burger – complete with special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun.  Everyone at the table tried it and loved it, so I decided to surprise them with a version we could enjoy at home.  I started by Googling “Big Mac Special Sauce,” and there it was – the original recipe.   But gack!  It was pre-bottled, sugary, preservative-laden stuff.  Consequently, I set about making a healthier version (and by healthier I do not mean low-fat, simply not so processed) that would still taste like the real deal.

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My homemade version of a Big Mac.

My trip to the store was somewhat amusing because, I have to be honest, I was a little embarrassed to put iceberg lettuce in my cart.  Seriously, when was the last time you bought iceberg? 1995?  Not to mention American cheese!  But with potential comments about inauthenticity looming in my mind, I did what any semi-rational/semi-ridiculous woman would do – I put the lettuce and cheese in the cart and buried them under oranges and bananas so no one but the check-out guy would see them.  (I even felt compelled to explain to the check-out guy that I was trying to replicate a Big Mac so he wouldn’t be all judgy over my vitamin deficient lettuce.  What is wrong with me?!)

Anyway, back to the burgers.  I am thrilled to tell you that they received rave reviews and I even had requests for the leftover Special Sauce (recipe below) to be used on turkey sandwiches for lunch the next day.  It probably didn’t hurt that I served the burgers with whipped cream-laden strawberry milkshakes and that I didn’t try to sneak veggies onto their plates save for the fries (which are loaded with potassium, are they not?).

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Homemade Big Macs with Special Sauce

serves 4

For burgers:

  • 1 pound ground chuck, gently formed into four patties
  • 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, cut into shreds
  • 1/2 small white or yellow onion, finely minced
  • 4 sesame seed buns
  • 4 slices American cheese
  • jarred pickle slices

For sauce:

  • 1/2 cup Veganaise or Miracle Whip (I used Veganaise and it is worth seeking out  – in the refrigerated section)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish (I used Wickles)
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced shallot or use 2 teaspoons of the onion you minced for burger topping
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper
  1. Whisk all of the sauce ingredients together.
  2. Season the formed beef patties with salt and pepper and grill or pan fry to desired doneness.  Melt cheese on burgers in last minute of cooking.
  3. Assemble and enjoy!

Recipe and photos via the aesthete and the dilettante.  Original Big Mac sauce recipe here.

Seared Salmon with Creamy Leeks and Mushrooms

DSC_0237I am really, really crazy about salmon.  I eat embarrassing amounts of it sashimi style, make it once a week for my family, and until recently I would order it whenever we went to Francesca’s, craving the fabulous crispy sear that eluded me at home.  But guess what?  I have discovered the salmon searing trick and now I’m sharing it with you.  When you try it (and you really should) you’ll fall in love and wonder how you ever did it any other way.DSC_0211I’ve prepared salmon this way several times now, and paired it with everything from spiced lentils to noodles in a coconut curry broth.  You just can’t go wrong.  This time I came up with a creamy, lemony leek and mushroom sauce and spooned it over soft polenta, but mashed potatoes or pasta would be pretty fantastic, too.

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Seared Salmon with Creamy Leeks and Mushrooms

serves 6

  • 1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated, chopped, and broth reserved
  • 3 leeks, sliced in half lengthwise then cut into 1/4 inch segments and sloshed around in cold water to remove grit
  • 1 pound fresh baby portabello mushrooms, sliced (though any variety of fresh mushroom would work)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (I used Sauv Blanc)
  • 1/2 cup reserved mushroom broth
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 6 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, skin on

-For the Creamy Leeks and Mushrooms:

  1. Rehydrate dried shiitakes: place dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour one cup boiling water over the mushrooms.  Let steep for half an hour.  Remove from the bowl and squeeze excess moisture from the mushrooms back into the bowl.  Set mushrooms on cutting board and strain mushroom liquid through a fine mesh sieve lined with paper towel to remove grit. Reserve liquid and chop rehydrated mushrooms.
  2. Heat butter and olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add washed and chopped leeks to the pan and cook for 10 minutes or until leeks have softened, stirring occasionally.
  3. Stir in fresh mushrooms, chopped shiitakes, tarragon, wine, 1/2 cup reserved mushroom broth, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper.  Cook for 10-15 minutes or until almost all of the liquid is gone, stirring occasionally.
  4. Reduce heat to low, stir in half-and-half and lemon zest, and simmer until sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes.  Stir in 1/4 cup lemon juice and remove from heat.

-For the Seared Salmon (learned from this recipe):

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

  1. Pat dry salmon fillets.  Rub fillets with olive oil and season tops generously with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a dry, heavy oven-proof skillet (I used cast iron) over high heat for four minutes.  Add salmon fillets flesh side down and cook for two minutes without moving fish.
  3. Flip salmon fillets over, place pan in oven and cook for 4-5 minutes.  Do not overcook!

To finish the dish, place salmon on a generous helping of polenta, mashed potatoes or pasta and top with creamy leeks and mushrooms.

recipe and photos via the aesthete and the dilettante

Table for Four

lamb chops with dried cherries and port

This weekend, we enjoyed a casual dinner at home with two of our dearest friends.  Feeling in need of a cozy late winter meal, I made succulent pan seared lamb chops with dried cherries and port (recipe here), oven roasted Brussels sprouts over toasted pecan and pearl onion studded wild rice, and a lemon tart with fresh whipped cream.  While I do love to go out, nothing beats spending a leisurely evening by the fire with good friends and a great bottle of red.

The lamb could not have been simpler to prepare, and the dried cherry port wine sauce was divine.  If lamb is not your favorite, the sauce would be wonderful with pan seared duck breasts or pork tenderloin.

I’ll post the lemon tart recipe later this week.  It was my first entirely successful gluten-free crust (meaning it rolled out beautifully, held together like a dream, and had the taste and texture of a traditional crust) so I must share it with you.

Fusilli with Bacon, Gruyere, and Roasted Cauliflower

Fusilli with Bacon, Gruyere, and Roasted Cauliflower

This is a very special day for me.  Not only is this my 100th post (who knew I’d have one hundred things to talk about?) but today also marks the one-year anniversary of the aesthete and the dilettante.   To celebrate the occasion, I have created a sinful recipe using some of my favorite ingredients.  Sweet, caramelized cauliflower, applewood smoked bacon, and lots of garlic come together with creamy fontina and nutty, earthy gruyere in a dish totally worth the splurge.  And one more very important thing.  Thank you for reading.  It brings me great pleasure to share my discoveries with you.

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Fusilli with Bacon, Gruyere, and Roasted Cauliflower

serves 4

  • 1 and 1/2 heads cauliflower, cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch florets
  • 1 small yellow onion, sliced into thin lengthwise pieces
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 ounces (3-4 slices) bacon, chopped into pieces or thin strips (Nueske’s applewood smoked is THE best if you can find it)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 12 ounces fusilli pasta
  • 8 ounces (1/2 lb) fontina cheese, grated
  • 8 ounces (1/2 lb) aged gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

  1. Place the cauliflower florets and sliced yellow onion on a baking sheet, drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt (about 1 teaspoon) and freshly ground pepper.  Stir to coat and place in preheated oven.  Roast, stirring every 10 minutes, for 35 minutes or until caramelized and tender.  Remove from oven.
  2. Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente (stopping a minute or two before package directions). Reserve 1 cup of hot pasta water before draining.
  3. While cauliflower is roasting in the oven, saute the bacon pieces in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat for 6 or 7 minutes or until crisp.
  4. Add the 4 cloves minced garlic to bacon and saute 1 more minute.
  5. Turn heat to medium-low and whisk the flour into the bacon and garlic and stir for two minutes.
  6. Gradually whisk in the cream and milk, stirring occasionally until sauce is thick, about 5 minutes.
  7. Whisk in the shredded fontina and gruyere, stirring until melted.
  8. Slowly whisk in the reserved pasta water until sauce is perfectly creamy (I used 1/2 cup, but you may need more).
  9. Season to taste with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper.
  10. Stir in roasted cauliflower and onions and the hot, drained pasta.
  11. Serve in warm bowls with a good sprinkle of parsley and any crispy onion pieces left on the baking sheet.

roasted cauliflower and onions

recipe and photos via the aesthete and the dilettante