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Mediterranean Cauliflower Kale Roast with Feta

Mediterranean Cauliflower Kale Roast with Feta

Winter vegetables can seem bleak without the variety of the summer harvest. It’s why of all the recipes I cooked from Myra Kornfeld and Stephen Massamilla’s food poetry cookbook, Cooking with the Muse, I asked if I could share her Mediterranean Cauliflower Kale Roast with Feta. This vegetarian side dish packs in bold flavors and served with baked tofu or salmon, is my kind of healthy meal. What makes their way of approaching recipes extra special is how Massimilla provides a poet’s note and in this case, a snippet from an Auden poem to accompany Kornfeld’s recipe creation. Food poetry synchronicity at its finest!

Mediterranean Cauliflower Kale Roast with Feta

A poet’s hope: to be,

like some valley cheese,

local, but prized elsewhere.

—W.H. Auden, from “Shorts II”
 

Mediterranean Cauliflower Kale Roast with Feta

Recipe and poet’s note republished with permission from Cooking with the Muse by Myra Kornfeld and Stephen Massimilla (Tupelo Press, 2016).

Roasting gently browns the cauliflower florets and crisps the kale leaves, coaxing deep flavor out of the vegetables. Following this recipe will render them toasty and juicy at once. The combination of garlicky olives, capers, lemon, and oregano lends a slightly citrusy, almost buttery quality to the dish. A sprinkling of a good feta cheese from a pasture-raised sheep or goat adds one more element of delight and surprise. The literary history of pastured sheep’s and goat’s milk feta dates back to the Odyssey, a foundational epic poem of Western literature (see the Poet’s Note.)

Serves 4 to 6
 
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt
3/4 pound curly kale, stemmed and torn into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
1 tablespoon capers, drained, rinsed and chopped
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces feta cheese (preferably sheep’s milk feta), crumbled (1/2 cup)
 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Have ready a parchment paper–covered baking sheet.
  2. In one bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of the oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread the cauliflower on the baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, turning once halfway through.
  3. In another bowl, toss the kale with 1 tablespoon oil. Massage the oil into the leaves so that each leaf is lightly coated. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt.
  4. After the cauliflower has roasted for 30 minutes, add the kale to the baking sheet, return it to the oven, and roast for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the cauliflower is browned and the kale is crispy. Remove from the oven.
  5. Warm the remaining tablespoon of oil with the butter in a large skillet until the butter melts. Add the garlic, olives, and capers and cook for a minute or two, until fragrant. Stir in the cauliflower and kale, the water, and the oregano; combine thoroughly. Stir in the lemon juice and a sprinkling of pepper.
  6. Serve hot, with feta scattered on top.

 

Poet’s Note

This literary history of feta dates back to the 8th century BCE, though the emphasis in the epics that have come down to us was on hecatombs—sacrificial roasts of large animals on spits—the mainstay of a masculine warrior’s diet that was likely even then reserved for the upper classes. Feta, that tangy, salty, crumbly, quintessentially Greek cheese—which was originally aged and brined to keep well in a hot, arid climate—is described. Indeed, the equipment used to make sheep’s milk cheese in the Cyclops Polyphemus’s cave in Book IX of Homer’s Odyssey is much like that used by Greek shepherds to make feta today. Odysseus made the imprudent decision to raid the larder of a gigantic man-eating monster (who was fortunately myopic enough for Odysseus later to blind and outwit by escaping on the underbelly of a sheep, though some of his men didn’t fare so well):

 

We entered the cave and took stock of everything inside.

His baskets were loaded with cheeses, and his pens spilling

over with lambs and kids, divided into separate groups…

And all his vessels, milk pails, and pans into which he milked,

were brimming with whey. Seeing all this, my men begged me

to let them steal the cheeses, and make off with them to the ship…

but I wouldn’t listen to them; I wanted to meet

the owner first, in the hope that he’d give me a guest present.

 

Later, as they observe the giant, he goes on to prepare the whey cheese:

 

He drew off half of the milk to curdle it, and set it

aside in strainers made of wicker, stored for cheeses,

but let the other half stand in the milk pails…

 

Before disembarking on the island of the Cyclops, Odysseus and his men had surveyed the land with thoughts of colonizing it. They’d noticed that the carnivorous giants had no social customs and that their sheep were allowed to cavort everywhere without any pens to hold them. Though he and his crew were not in serious need of provisions and Odysseus was certainly foolish to tarry in the cave in hopes of receiving an extra “guest present” from an uncivilized monster, it is perhaps no surprise that Odysseus risked his life and those of his men to raid this cave for cheeses, lambs, and kids in the first place. Even by Archaic Greek standards, these livestock were seriously free range.

Greek cuisine in the 4th-century classical age was more sparing. The Greek poet Archestratus lived in Sicily, which was regarded by tradition to be the original island of the Cyclops. Archestratus, who lived there after it had really become a Greek colony, was perhaps the first Western cookbook writer whom we know of, though the fragments we have are from a parodic poem that advises the gastronomic reader on where to find the best food. His recipes rightly emphasize the fresh local quality of the ingredients.

 

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Lemon Green Bean Almondine

Jazz up green beans with this easy technique of bringing lemony flavor to Lemon Green Bean Almondine - anneliesz

Truth or dare? I always go with dare, but will start here with a truth. At Thanksgiving, my two favorite dishes growing up starts with my Tita’s dressing (I’m not alone there as my Tia doubles the batch so she can freeze half, defrost, and reheat whenever she has a hankering for her mother’s cooking). The other dish at its core is more cream of mushroom soup concentrate and crunchy onions from a tin than green beans. One hopes that time outgrows habit and on that point, I still love my Tita’s dressing and a good Green Bean Casserole, though now I prefer homemade mushroom cream and fried shallots.

This dish is not that dish and yet I dare you to swap out the heavy, creamy traditional side dish for this one. It’s quick and the best part is the cooking time is about 2 minutes. Warm the lemon butter sauce in the microwave for 1 minute and as long as you’ve toasted the almonds ahead of time, you’ve got a new-to-the-Thanksgiving table side dish that takes less than 5 minutes but that also makes any evening meal a side dish cinch. You’re welcome.

Lemon Green Bean Almondine - anneliesz

Lemon Green Bean Almondine

Who doesn’t love recipes you prep in advance? Toast the almond slices the night before the big feast. Even blanch the green beans. Then on game day, reheat, toss, and serve. Easy

Makes 4 servings

1 pound green beans, trimmed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons toasted almond slices

Blanch the green beans. Heat the butter, lemon juice, and salt for 1 minute until the butter is melted. Top with the almonds.

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Jeff Friedman’s Pan-Sauteed Broccoli with Walnuts

Poet Jeff Friedman

Jeff Friedman and I don’t argue often, but when it comes to bread, we’ve almost come to blows. Okay, maybe that’s overstating things but he has tried convincing me that New England’s bread economy rivals San Francisco’s. Part of his argument included a visit to King Arthur Flour last time I ventured to New England. Whenever he finally makes it out to San Francisco, I plan on taking him to Bar Tartine for a loaf or even a few slices of Chad Robertson’s legendary Oat Porridge. I’m not convinced the Porridge bread would make the cross-country voyage or that it would make it off of my cutting board where I stealthily sneak pieces to toast with alarming frequency. It’s that good.

King Arthur Flour_pastries

On our outing to King Arthur, we surveyed the pastry case with glee. And, while we peered in like hungry wolves, we didn’t buy anything. This is saying a lot. One thing we share in common is a voracious sweet tooth that’s not easily satisfied. So, it should come as no surprise that one of my purchases in their retail store included a bag of Black Cocoa.

I was immediately intrigued by the name and claims on the bag. This may not be the right point of context but imagine tearing the side of the packaging from a newly opened bag of oreo’s. Breathe in the smell and peel off the upper cookie, scraping the white contents with your teeth. Then plunge the scraped cookie into your mouth and chew. This is surprisingly what Black Cocoa smells and tastes like- the oreo cookies of my childhood. This is also to say I haven’t found the right application yet to share a recipe here. It has a tendency of exacerbating the adage “a little bit going a long way” and like a red feather boa can be a bit garish when worn out of context.

King Arthur Flour Retail Shop

As we meandered around the retail store, I found myself transfixed by the walls and shelves filled with any kind of flour combination you can imagine. These bags and boxes taunted me with promises of pancakes! Biscuits! Pizza! I had to continually remind my enthusiasm about the controlled parameters of my red suitcase. We marveled at the demo kitchen set up in the middle of the store and noshed on a sample of warm blueberry muffin, recently pulled from the oven. As we wound our way over to the oils and spices section, I picked up a jar of Vietnamese Cinnamon, knowing the price was too good to not find a blouse I’d packed to wrap around it as an invitational into the luggage. Jeff picked one up as well and we moseyed over to the oils, as I exulted on the merits of making space in a spice rack / flavor pantry for toasted walnut oil. It’s a bit of a splurge, but completely worth it’s weight in drizzle.

King Arthur Demo Kitchen

Jeff left with a jar of Vietnamese Cinnamon and a vessel of Toasted Walnut Oil. In spite of my attempts to curb my zeal, I made off with a bag of Ancient Grain flour blend, cheese powder, black cocoa and Vietnamese cinnamon. In the larger scheme of things, my restraint would be rewarded. Food and poetry flit in and out of our conversation just like talking about bread bakers or a Galway Kinnell poem. In the end, who really knows which coast bakes the best bread? I’m inclined to think the best loaf is the one you break and share, even if that “bread” is time spent trolling a flour store discussing recipe ideas or snippets of literature with a kindred spirit.

Jeff Friedman Roasted Broccoli with Walnuts

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JEFF FRIEDMAN’S PAN-SAUTEED BROCCOLI WITH WALNUTS 

JEFF’S NOTES: “Originally I made this dish several years ago when poet Ross Gay came to visit. I had purchased some sweet basil oil and wanted to use it on the broccoli… Ross likes all his food hot so we decided to sauté garlic with lots of crushed red pepper and then toss the broccoli with sweet basil oil.  The recipe was good, but not anything I wanted to make on a regular basis. I normally roast broccoli because it’s so easy and delicious. Anyway, Annelies came for a visit, and we went shopping at the King Arthur Store in Norwich, Vermont. She recommended that I purchase toasted walnut oil and Vietnamese cinnamon, both of which I now use regularly. (The cinnamon is definitely amazing.)  Substituting toasted walnut oil for sweet basil oil and adding sliced almonds transformed the dish. This is simple to make.”

INGREDIENTS

3 large heads of broccoli cut into 2-inch branches

3-4 med-large cloves of garlic

3 tbs of olive oil

1 ½-2 tbs walnut oil

walnut slices (toast in pan)

crushed red pepper

salt and pepper

 

INSTRUCTIONS

1.Steam broccoli until it is tender.

2.While the broccoli is steaming, saute garlic in olive oil adding crushed red pepper.

3.When broccoli is ready, put it in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper and pinches of crushed red pepper.

4.Toss with sauteed garlic and crushed red pepper.

5.Toss again with walnut oil.

6. Add sliced walnuts and serve.

 

MY NOTE: I often eat this as is, but sometimes I add parmesan cheese at the end, also very good.. There should be enough left over to heat up in a skillet for a day or two. I think this could also work well pureed into soup.

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Green Tea Coconut Rice

green-tea-coconut-rice

I’m a bit obsessed with Matcha green tea.

Maybe it has something to do with the bright grassy flavor that almost makes the mouth pucker. Perhaps it’s because with Matcha, you drink the entire tea leaf, not leaves infused in hot water and then removed. It could be the disarmingly green color and hear me clearly, it should be bright and bold.

The color actually reflects the quality of the tea. While there are cheap versions of Matcha out there, you’ll find them to be dull in color and flat in flavor. Spend the money and invest in good Matcha. You might find yourself newly obsessed. This Japanese green tea typically is served infused with hot water and a special whisk to froth it. Often times, and in the United States it’s become popular to whisk Matcha with hot milk for a creamy beverage.

Maybe you’ve tried Matcha and you didn’t know it. If you’ve guzzled a Green Tea Smoothie or licked and slurped Green Tea ice cream, then chances are pretty high that you too have lapped on the luxurious green tea that is Matcha.

So it’s not such a far leap to consider how that bright, grassy flavor might deepen the creamy decadence that is Coconut Rice. I give you two suggestions below: for a more subtle Green Tea Coconut Rice, use only 2 teaspoons of Matcha and you’ll find the tea will paint the rice kernels a pale green with a flavor profile that is creamy, almost sweet with a slight green tea finish. For something a bit more bold and pictured below, use 2 tablespoons of Matcha green tea and you’ll find a much more pronounced tea flavor, a bright green hue with a slight creaminess of coconut. This bolder Green Tea Coconut Rice really works well and stands up to Asian cuisine like the Thai take-out we ordered for dinner earlier in the month.

SIDE DISH RECIPES- green-tea-coconut-rice

 

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GREEN TEA COCONUT RICE

YIELD: 6-8 side servings

This is one grassy and stark green rice. If you want something a bit more subtle where you get the green tea flavor in the finish with the coconut milk playing front fiddle, use only 2 teaspoons of Matcha. I tried it this way and it is a subtle cerulean green with a creamy slightly sweet flavor that ends on a grassy bright note. I prefer mine with more tea and even found it stood up to the flavors of Thai food when we paired it with take-out earlier in the month. It’s your call. I wouldn’t suggest swapping out light coconut milk for the real deal. It’s really quite pronounced of a difference and your rice is left wanting that supple quality that the full fat milk brings to it and the mingling with tea. Also, I tried this recipe with basmati rice but found the texture to be superb with a long grain white rice which served as a great canvas for the flavors. Special thanks goes out to friend Caryl at Lotus Foods for giving me samples of their specialty Mekong Flower rice to test in the recipe. It cooked up beautifully and gave a great texture.

1 1/2 cups water

2 tablespoons Matcha green tea

2 cups long grain white rice

1 13.5 ounce can coconut milk

  1. Rinse rice twice and discard rinsing liquid. Set aside.
  2. Bring water to a gentle boil. Measure out your Matcha and place in a measuring receptacle (like my Pyrex 2 cup measuring glass), slowly whisk in the boiling water. Now this is key: while you are eventually going to add enough water to the Pyrex glass to equal that 1 ½ cups, initially during the whisking stage, you want to only pour in a little bit of water- say ½ cup as it will make whisking easier. As you notice that any large clumps or notice that your tea is without clumps, add the rest of the hot water and whisk.
  3. Add your coconut milk and whisked Matcha tea to a heavy pot and place over high heat, stirring together. Once you find that the coconut milk and Matcha have integrated well and you are beginning to have larger bubbles on the surface of the liquid, add the rinsed rice and stir.
  4. Cover your pot and turn down the heat. Simmer for 20 minutes on low heat.

 

SERVING SUGGESTIONS
This is a very versatile and unexpected side dish. The key is to pair it with foods that will not overpower the Matcha and coconut flavors.  I’ve provided a few ideas to get you started. Let me know if you come up with your own pairing suggestions.

FISH- Consider pairing with a filet of salmon or perhaps this Confetti Tilapia.

VEGETARIAN- Serve with a side of the white beans from this stew.

CHICKEN-  Try this with roasted chicken seasoned with garlic, ginger and shallots.

green-tea-coconut-rice-toasted

DOUBLE THE COCONUT
You could dice fresh coconut and throw it into the pot for an extra punch of coconut or textural difference. You could even toast some unsweetened coconut and then sprinkle some on top of your finished fluffed rice as pictured above. I find that the rice is lovely without either of these additions, though I tried it with both. Your choice.

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Bulgur Collard Cakes

Repeat after me: bulgur is not boring.

Au contraire, bulgur might just revolutionize your life. If you think that’s a tall order, what other grain really can make the leap from breakfast to lunch with the ease of this whole grain? Oats have their hands full keeping breakfast on the table in the winter months. Rice definitely can play both hands in the form of cereal or steamed side.

SIDE DISH RECIPES- Bulgur Collard Cakes

In Middle Eastern cultures, bulgur wheat is a household staple for good reason. Here in the U.S., we might be more apt to write it off as a grain we bring into the house only when we want to whip up a tabbouleh recipe. I recently polled a handful of readers to hear other ways they might cook up bulgur. One suggested kibbe as an option and another suggested a link to a kofte recipe that’s in Turkish. Given that my Turkish is non-existent and my propensity for new languages in 2012 is at a minimum, I forged ahead, playing with this grain that had begun to tickle my curiosity with its nutty flavor.

Like rice, bulgur shares a cooking time of about 10-20 minutes depending on the cut of the bulgur. Finer cuts cook quicker and more coarse cuts take longer. Intrigued by taking on bulgur as a side dish and breakfast, I cooked up several ways to make tasty and unexpected additions to meals with this largely ignored and misunderstood grain.

So if you’re looking for something to spruce up the winter table, opt for something simple and go with this humble whole grain.

bulgur collard cakes recipe

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BULGUR COLLARD CAKES
I picked up some beautiful mushrooms from Far West Fungi this past weekend at the farmer’s market and a small tub of Cowgirl Creamery fromage blanc. They added some noteworthy flavors to these cakes. You can use bella brown mushrooms or the regular white variety of mushrooms if you can’t get your hands on King Trumpets. The King Trumpet mushrooms gave a slightly sweet nutty flavor to the cakes. If you don’t have access to fromage blanc, you can easily substitute in cream cheese. Nutmeg is the secret ingredient I use to give collard greens an enticing edge.  Use a cautious hand when adding in the nutmeg- a little goes a long way.

YIELD: 14 cakes

  • 5 small King Trumpet mushrooms, minced
  • 2 cups collard greens, chopped
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 3 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp. grapeseed oil
  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 1 ¾ cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons fromage blanc
  • nutmeg, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Sauté the garlic and the shallots over medium low heat for 2 minutes. Then add the mushrooms and sauté for 1 minute. Next, add the collards to the pan and cook over low heat for a few minutes.
  3. Set a pot with the water to a rolling boil. Add bulgur to the pot and turn down heat so it simmers. Cook for 10 minutes or until the bulgur is chewy and cooked through.
  4. Mix together bulgur and collard mixture in a large bowl and set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Add in the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Whisk in the fromage blanc with a fork into the bulgur and collard mixture. Then beat the eggs into the mixture. Once combined, use a regular tablespoon to scoop spoonfuls of the mixture onto a silpat on a cookie sheet.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

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Zucchini Aioli Mashed Potatoes

zucchini aioli mashed potatoes recipe

When served a cone of freshly crisped hand-cut fries, some of you might reach for a bottle or spoonful of ketchup. I would join you there except for very rare exceptions: there is really nothing like a crunchy French fry dipped in mayonnaise.

Now hear me out, those of you scoffers who would eschew this combination. The creamy and rich mayonnaise shellacs and clings to the fry. I hear the Dutch are rather fond of the combination. So I’m not alone in my wayward affection. Taking this a step further, I re-envisioned this pairing and introduced zucchini into the mix. Is this a classic for the ages? I don’t know, you tell me. I will let you in on this little secret though: this is one sexy side dish.

The garlicky French variation of mayonnaise, aioli, brings a slightly sophisticated twist to mashed potatoes. Fingerlings lend a certain silkiness and natural buttery flavor to the zucchini which gives a pop of color, texture and an unexpectedly winsome flavor. Try this at your next dinner party or kick up your heels and serve it during the holidays.

zucchini aioli mashed potatoes recipe

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ZUCCHINI AIOLI MASHED POTATOES

YIELD: 6 side dish sized servings
TIME: 25 minutes

  • 12 fingerling potatoes
  • 16 baby zucchini
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup olive oil

1. Fill a medium sized pot a little more than halfway full of water. Set to boil.

2. Wash potatoes and baby zucchini well as you are going to mash them and want to remove any dirt from the skins.

3. When the pot of water is at a rolling boil, add potatoes to the pot and cook on medium high heat for 8 minutes. After your 8 minutes is up, add the baby zucchini to the boiling water and cook for 12 minutes.

4. While the potatoes and zucchini cook, make your aioli.

5. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, garlic paste, Dijon mustard and olive oil. You’re going to whisk this until it’s glossy but not thick and set like a proper aioli. You want it to have some fluidity.

6. Once the zucchini and potatoes are fork tender, drain the water from the pot by pouring the potatoes and zucchini into a colander. Then move the potatoes and zucchini back to the pot.

7. With a masher, begin pressing down on the potatoes and zucchini, smashing them into each other.

8. Once they are coarsely combined, begin pouring in the aioli and continue smashing and mixing until the aioli and mashed potatoes are completely combined.

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Spaghetti Squash Gratin

Spaghetti Squash Gratin is a switch from the classic potato gratin.

Some people try to pass off spaghetti squash as the slick noodles made of durum wheat. I am not one of these people.

Halve and seed a spaghetti squash as the first step to makeSpaghetti Squash Gratin.

My taste buds know what you’re up to. Don’t get me wrong, I like spaghetti squash slathered with tomato sauce too, but in thinking about a way to gussy it up for Thanksgiving, a gratin made sense. Harvest vegetables for the fall make warm bedfellows with an oven cranked up on high. Roasting vegetables deepens the flavors and makes for easy cooking, freeing up time to spend in other ways.

Roasting spaghetti squash for about an hour to start the Spaghetti Squash Gratin.

As a weeknight replacement or for serving at your Thanksgiving table, swap in this squash dish for a traditional side of potatoes. Can I entreat you to splurge on the heavy cream? I cut back on how much you would need to use by substituting in some milk and Greek yogurt but really it lends a silkiness and heft that is important. I’ve added a panko crust for a bit of textural crunch, but if you are gluten intolerant- Olga- I’m looking at you, feel free to swap in crushed gluten free rice cereal or just omit the breaded topping altogether.

Spaghetti Squash Gratin is a decadent side dish perfect for holiday tables.

If you’re a fan of sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, here’s a recipe for simple “candied” sweet potatoes.

Hearty comfort food to warm up your winter, Spaghetti Squash Gratin!

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Spaghetti Squash Gratin

SERVES: 6 hearty portions or 9 smaller ones

  • 1 spaghetti squash, halved and seeded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup manchego, shredded
  • ¼ cup parmesan, shredded
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Brush the inside and outside of the spaghetti squash with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place the hollowed side of squash down on a roasting pan. Roast for an hour or until tender. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350F. Grease the sides of a casserole dish and set aside.
  2. Scrape the strands of the spaghetti squash into a large bowl and discard the hollowed out squash skins. Add the thyme, milk, cream, yogurt, Manchego, Parmesan, paprika, salt and pepper to the bowl. Mix until combined. Fill the casserole dish with the spaghetti squash mixture in an even layer.
  3. Saute the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, butter and panko bread crumbs until coated in a small sauce pan. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the gratin. Bake for 35 minutes or until panko bread crumbs have browned. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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spaghetti squash gratin recipe

SIDE DISH RECIPES- Spaghetti Squash Gratin

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Simple Candied Sweet Potatoes

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Dates and Pecans

I don’t know about you but with the close of October marching gleefully toward us, all eyes are on Thanksgiving. I’m thinking of doing a series on simple sides that will augment that fine feast without a ton of prep work.

This little beauty below worked well served beside roasted chicken and collard greens. If you happen to be a fan of the candied sweet potato side dish that makes the rounds at the Thanksgiving table, I bet this recipe will appeal to you. Think of this as the scrappier cousin of that marshmallow or sherried sweet potato dish. I played off the natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes, taking them up a notch with dates and added a splash of apple cider vinegar to balance out the other flavors with a bit of tartness.

What I liked about this recipe is how easy it is for a weeknight (or for the day to end all other celebration meals). It’s about as easy as you can get and involves no refined sugar. I found time to putter around the house while the potatoes roasted. Saving time in the kitchen and creating something simply delicious makes me want to give thanks!

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Dates and Pecans

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Simple Candied Sweet Potatoes

SERVES: 2

  • 5 small sweet potatoes
  • ¼ cup pecans, chopped
  • 3 medjool dates, seeded and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400.

Wash and scrub potatoes well. Then prick potatoes in several spots with a fork. Once oven is ready, place in oven for about an hour or until soft when pierced with a fork.

Pull out of the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. While potatoes are cooling, chop up your pecans and dates. Set aside. Once the potatoes are cooled, chop sweet potatoes into small cubes and place in bowl. Add pecans, dates and sage. Stir. Then add in the apple cider vinegar, olive oil, maple syrup, salt and pepper and then the rest of the ingredients.

Toss and serve.

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Jose Maria’s Gallo Pinto

COSTA RICAN RECIPES- Gallo Pinto

Have you ever stalked an ingredient before?

This is what it must feel like to be the hunter: to crane your ear toward the direction of the prey and listen for a rustling- to look with eyes that see beyond the veneer of branches and blades of grass for what moves among that which doesn’t – to be poised and ready.

It’s been a little over two months since we visited Costa Rica. Over the course of our two weeks there, we became intoxicated by the tranquility of Nosara and elated at making new friends with Jose Maria and Francisco from an old connection, my Dad, in San Jose.

If a dish existed that personified that place it might be Gallo Pinto. Such affection bubbles up in the national conscience for this humble yet tasty combination of rice and beans that is thoroughly Tico. We noticed it on menus early on in our stay and had an opportunity to try Gallo Pinto on different occasions. I knew this one would be packed safely in my luggage to be enjoyed on many occasions by the mister and I as recipes are duty free and not given to customs searches.

Back to the elusive ingredient- as we waited in the San Jose airport, I wandered. I tend to do this when in airports unless deeply sunken into a book. One of the few stores I walked into had shelves upon shelves loaded with tchotchkes. I smiled and considered taking a photo of Gallo Pinto in a can. Somehow this didn’t seem like the penultimate way to enjoy this national dish. Close to it was a bottle of Salsa Lizano, which we’d seen don the tables at the restaurants we’d visited akin to a bottle of Heinz in the United States.

Now pay attention. I remember picking it up and thinking how novel it was to find this salsa in this airport tourist trap (more like Worcestshire sauce than the Mexican variety, as salsa means sauce). I set the bottle back down on the shelf, sampled one of the chocolate covered pineapple bits on the counter and walked back to our gate.

A few days in and with curiosity piqued, Jose Maria kindly shared his recipe for Gallo Pinto with me. He exclaimed the absolute importance of Salsa Lizano to this dish and the crucial Costa Rican flavor that makes this Gallo Pinto, hoping it would not be difficult for me to find now that I was back in San Francisco. Inside I scoffed thinking, this is San Francisco, a mecca for foodies, not at all concerned about locating this small Tabasco sized bottle of sauce.

The hunt was on!

Off I went on two buses to Fisherman’s Wharf one Saturday and the World Market. Sadly, I exited the automatic doors sans salsa and sorely wondering how the store could live up to its name. Next, I chided myself for not going to the granddaddy of search and hopped online onto google. Much to my growing dismay, I found a forum online dedicated to salsa lizano and trying to conceive of a recipe to make it frequented by people who could not find it stateside but had to special order it in bulk. Not for me. On a hunch and slim suggestion, I headed to El Chico in the Richmond, praying as I began perusing the aisles past produce. My eyes strained as they looked for that familiar label and swooped typeface of Lizano. After a double check and a confirmation check with one of the employees, I left empty-handed. This didn’t thwart my mission, to the contrary, it upped the ante. I put the escapade on hold for a week knowing my search would next take me to the Mission, which now had a whole new meaning for me as a neighborhood. Surely there, in the borough of Latin American fusion might be space and interest enough on the shelves for bottles of this Tico salsa.

Nathan and I drove out to the Mission the next Saturday and meandered one of my favorite streets: 24th Street. En route to the Mission district’s El Chico Produce Market, we strolled hand in hand taking our time and taking in the sights. We passed windows to a panaderia with homemade Conchas beaming from inside the glass case. Taquerias dotted both sides of the street in stoic invitation of messy burritos and tortas. A hipster coffee house with next to no lights on inside winked its wary welcome. Yet on we walked with a bounce in our steps- sometimes there is such joy in just being together and experiencing the world around.

As we entered El Chico, I had a good feeling this was where we would find this Salsa Lizano. A panoply of Mexican cheeses in the case to the right, both sides of the aisle piled high with produce, we walked ever closer to the salsa aisle. And what a salsa aisle it was! We were like two kids doubling over with anticipation. Beck grabbed a few bottles of our mainstay in Salsa Verde and Casera. I pulled down a can of chipotle peppers in adobo, but try though I might, not a single bottle of anything that even vaguely resembled Lizano. I politely asked the checker if they carried it, thinking maybe I hadn’t looked carefully enough (the four times I roamed the aisle) and he replied that they used to, but no longer. After purchasing the groceries, we exited. I was disappointed, but having such fun with Nathan that it was to a minimum. I started concocting the semblance of a Plan B.

And then kitty corner across the street, I saw Casa Lucas. Just for grins I told Nathan I would try there, maybe fourth time was a charm. Something felt very different inside this mercadito. A woman was bottling crema in the back of the store. Another, flipping corn tortillas with bags of freshly steamed tortillas perched on her table. If nothing else, I found myself immensely intrigued. I turned the corner from one aisle to the next until I’d made it to the aisle where they kept their salsa and found myself in eager excitement at finding canned flor de calabaza (squash blossoms). This new discovery almost eclipsed what sat only a few short products away on the shelf. A knock-off of Salsa Lizano!

salsa alfaro

I asked the teller if they had the actual Lizano salsa instead of the Salsa Alfaro, to which she confirmed my suspicions that this was basically the same thing. To be sure, I checked the provenance of the salsa on the back of the bottle. Sure enough, it read, “Made in Costa Rica.” This wild goose chase had landed us in a day that stood out as the embodiment of pura vida, where we drank in the moments slowly savoring them.

Nathan and I walked down 24th for coffee and a Guinness doughnut from Dynamo Doughnuts before heading home and out of the drizzle that had begun to dampen the sidewalks and edifices.

So lesson learned: if you see bottles of sauce that you think you might need when you get home, you might want to suck it up and buy one. You’re a tourist after all. Or leave yourself to the whims of adventure and the fancy of the elusive ingredient- the hunt makes the meal taste that much better…

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Jose Maria’s Gallo Pinto

I’ve tried to stay as true to his recipe’s translation as I can. Eating this makes me feel a little bit closer to living Pura Vida.

YIELD: 3 cups

  • ½ cup long grain white rice
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 medium Spanish or yellow onion, minced
  • 1 red jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 ½ tablespoon safflower oil
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 2 tablespoons salsa Lizano or Alfaro
  1. Wash your rice three times as this does affect how the rice tastes once cooked. (If you’ve never washed rice before, pour water so it covers the rice. Then drain the water out without losing any of the grains of rice.)
  2. Add 1 cup of cold water and bring to boil.
  3. Cover and set to simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. When the rice is getting close to being finished, in a large pan, sauté the onion and jalapeno in the oil over high heat for five minutes.
  5. Add the black beans to the jalapenos and onion mixture along with 1 cup of your cooked rice and the Salsa Lizano (or Salsa Alfaro).
  6. Break up the rice and mix all the ingredients together. Simmer for 10 minutes and stir frequently.

chopped onion for gallo pinto recipered jalapeno for gallo pinto recipe

jalapeno and onion for gallo pinto recipe

Gallo Pinto Recipe

Costa Rican Menu Idea: Serve with a side Ensalada de Palmito (side salad of hearts of palm, tomatoes and avocado, topped with Lagarta Lodge dressing.)

gallo pinto recipe variation

Variation: Let’s say you don’t have any fresh jalapenos handy. Shop the Latin American aisle at your local store and pick up a can of pickled carrots and jalapenos. Drain the pickled carrots and jalapenos and dice them. Then substitute 2 tablespoons of them into the onion saute as it is almost finished with the edges charring slightly. Saute like this for 1-2 minutes and then follow the rest of the recipe as cited above.

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