Archive for October, 2018

Halloumi and Brussels Sprouts – yes, really!

October 30, 2018

It’s Tired Tuesday, y’all.  I managed to do a little meal planning and grocery shopping, but then I was almost too tired to do anything with it.  This is definitely a dish for one of those nights!  Very few ingredients.  Half of them roast in the oven while you deal with the other half.  Good stuff.  A big shout out to my Dinner: Changing the Game cookbook for introducing me to this combination.

Probably this is meant to be a side dish, and it could be.  Clearly I wasn’t going to manage anything else tonight and it did just fine as a main (read only) dish.  I only made one substitution, which is saying something.  My local Kroger didn’t have any Aleppo or Turkish red pepper.  A quick Google told me this is fairly mild red pepper so I didn’t want to use cayenne instead.  Hot Hungarian Paprika seemed like a good choice.

A couple of notes. If you’ve toasted spices, seeds or nuts before you know how quickly they go from toasted to burned.  Stay close to the stove when you’re toasting the cumin seeds.  They’re what make this dish really special.  If they get too dark, they’ll be bitter instead of nutty and fragrant.  If you burn them, toss them and start again.  Trust me on that.  No reason to ruin the whole dish because you don’t want to lose a teaspoon of cumin seeds.

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Also, I patted my halloumi dry before I put it in the oil, but there’s still a lot of water in it.  What does that mean?  It means the oil will sputter and pop so be careful putting the cheese in the pan.  Load the pan from the back and work your way forward to avoid getting burned.  You can also use tongs to put the cheese in, but I never do that.  It’s just faster to put the pieces in by hand.  Do use tongs to turn the cubes.  It doesn’t take long to get a nice brown sear on the halloumi.

Finally, you can go a little easy on the salt on the sprouts.  The halloumi is super salty.  You’re going to want that green flavor from the sprouts to balance it out.

Here’s what you need: (see not much!)

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  • 4 T olive oil, divided
  • 3/4-1 lb brussels sprouts trimmed and halved
  • 6 oz halloumi, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 t cumin seeds, toasted
  • 1/2 t hot paprika
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • salt and black pepper

Here’s what you do:

  • Preheat the oven to 450 (high heat is important to get that lovely color on the sprouts)
  • Toss the sprouts with 2 T olive oil, salt and black pepper
  • Roast the sprouts in the oven 15-20 minutes, until they’re golden brown
  • When the sprouts have about 5 minutes to go, heat the other 2T of oil in a heavy pan
  • When the oil begins to shimmer, fry the halloumi on two or more sides

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  • Add the cheese cubes to a large bowl with the cumin seeds
  • Add the roasted brussels sprouts to the bowl and toss
  • Stir in the paprika
  • Squeeze the lemon juice over the top and toss

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When I combined all my ingredients and tossed them I found that the cumin seeds mostly stuck to the side of the bowl.   Be sure you use a spoon to serve this so you can scrape the cumin along with the rest.  The toasted cumin seeds add a really wonderful earthy element to this dish.  Honestly I think it’s the cumin seeds that make this special.  Without them it would lack depth.

To be completely honest, I only made about half as much as the original recipe calls for.  I wasn’t convinced going in that I was going to love this and I didn’t want to throw out a lot of food.  Well, I do love it!  However, I’m still not convinced that this will reheat well so it might be good that I only have 1 full meal left.  It would be best to reheat this in the oven and not the microwave.  We’ll see how inspired I feel about that tomorrow.  The amounts above make probably 4 portions as a side dish and 2 as an only dish.

This is a lovely Fall dish.  If you’re looking for a new side for your Thanksgiving table, I definitely recommend this one!

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Vegetable Drawer Survivors: Vegan Curry

October 29, 2018

I’ve been traveling for work, as I often do.  I came home to a house with soup and pizza in the freezer and not much else in the way of foodstuffs, as I often do.  I left two items in the vegetable drawer, partly to see how hardy they are:  a head of orange cauliflower and a small bunch of collard greens.  Both survived in pretty fine form.  Both appear in tonight’s dinner.

I’ve taken a liking to chickpeas with cauliflower.  Neither tastes like all that much on its own.  Both take on flavor really nicely.  One crunchy and one creamy, the perfect pair.  It doesn’t hurt that I always have canned chickpeas in the house.  So, that’s how I landed on cauliflower and chickpea curry for dinner.

This is a tomato curry.  Lucky for me, I have a basement full of home canned tomatoes.  They have a brighter flavor than the canned ones you get from the store.  And since you home can in jars, they never have the slightly tinny taste that you sometimes get from an off can of store bought tomatoes. So, the advice is the same as always.  When you have only a few ingredients, use the best ones you can reasonably find and afford.  This curry has strong enough spices that you can get away with slightly more mediocre tomatoes if that’s what you have in the house.

Now comes confession time.  I didn’t have any fresh ginger in the house. I did have the end of a bottle of “squeeze ginger.”  You cannot make this up.  So, I cheated.  I used that instead of fresh.  Here’s the thing.  It’s not really a one for one substitute.  Fresh ginger is only that, ginger.  Squeeze ginger has a little sugar and a little vinegar in it.  Here’s my logic in using it anyway.  A little sugar never hurts against a heavy spice.  The tomatoes have a little acid added to them so they’ll keep in the jars, so a touch more acid from the vinegar would probably be ok.  Sound logic?  Probably not, but it worked for me.

This is super easy to put together.  Took me about 35 minutes including chopping and cooking.  With rice and/or naan alongside, this probably feeds 5-6.  As stew, more like 4.  But I have a major portion control problem when it comes to foods I like, so use your own judgment.

Here’s what you need:

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The very astute among you will notice that there’s a jar of yellow curry paste in this photo.  That’s a HUGE mistake.  I need curry powder for this.  Generally speaking, curry powder is for Indian dishes and curry paste is for Thai dishes.  Curry paste has a bunch of other stuff in it, usually including lime and coconut.  Not a terrific match for Indian curries.  Fortunately I caught my mistake before I started cooking.

This is supposed to be yellow curry powder, but I only had Madras so that’s what I used.

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I’ve never seen collard greens in a recipe for curry, but I had some and an extra leafy green never hurt anyone so in they went!  They add a little bitterness.  Just be sure to cut them in thin ribbons so they’ll cook through.  Remove the stems from the leaves and stack the leaves on top of each other.  Roll them into a cigar shape and then cut the rolls into ribbons.  Here’s what everything looks like chopped.

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Here’s what you really need:

  • 1 small head cauliflower, cut into pieces
  • 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 5-6 small collard leaves, stemmed and cut into ribbons
  • 1 T oil – olive or canola or vegetable
  • 2 t curry powder (Madras or yellow)
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced (or 1 T squeeze ginger)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 14-15 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 C water or vegetable stock
  • salt to taste

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the oil until it shimmers and add the curry powder
  • Stir the curry powder until fragrant (1-2 minutes)
  • Add the onions, saute 6-7 minutes, until the onions are soft
  • Add the ginger, garbanzo beans, cauliflower, tomatoes, collards, bay leaf and water
  • Mix gently and bring to a simmer
  • Cover and cook 15-20 minutes, until the cauliflower is cooked through, but not mushy – Stir a couple of times as it cooks
  • Remove the bay leaf
  • Serve as stew or over rice

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How’d it turn out?

I made the curry early.  One of my pups has a pack walk tonight.  No time to eat before and no interest in starting to cook after.  So, I cook before and eat after.  Extra time stewing in its own juices never hurt a stew or a curry.

Let’s start with the pluses.  The flavors are fantastic!  It tastes like sunshine.  It’s warm and delightful!  I’m imagining that it will help me get over a cold that’s trying to settle in.  It’ll be even better tomorrow I’m sure.  And it’s beautiful.  The colors are vibrant and warm.

What would I do differently?  First, I would chop the collards instead of slicing them in ribbons.  It was weird to have stringy collards in there.  And maybe next time I’d use chard if I wanted to add a green.  Second, I would serve it over rice, or even grits or polenta.  The broth is really flavorful, but it’s really thin.  It seems too thin for the chunky cauliflower and chickpeas.  And too thin for a curry.  Maybe you could blend some chickpeas with some broth and add it back to the pot, though that doesn’t seem right either.  Maybe some tomato paste cooked in.  I’ll have to try it again to see.

Here’s a link to the recipe that served as tonight’s inspiration.

And if you love cauliflower and chickpeas together as much as I do, here’s a Thai style curry I hope you’ll like too!

Giggling Squid Thai

October 22, 2018

I have a tradition of eating Thai food at Thai Square on the Monday nights I arrive in London.  I arrived at Heathrow this morning, but instead of proceeding into Central London as usual, I took a cab to Henley-on-Thames. I have meetings here for the next few days.  It’s a really pretty little town and I know nothing about it except how to find the Cafe Nero and the Starbucks.

After a little napping, a few conference calls and some work, I turned to Yelp for dinner recommendations.  I’ve been here once before and planned to head to the nearest Indian restaurant.  Eating Indian food while I’m here is another of my traditions.  Then I found 2 Thai restaurants just a few steps further.  The Thai Orchid had better reviews so I planned to go there.  On the way I walked past the other Thai place, Giggling Squid.  There were 2 couples and a family looking group there.  It looked fun and nice.  I went on to Thai Orchid.  No one in there.  In fairness it was only 7:00, but still.  Not like it was 6:00!  And it looked a little stuffy.  So, I went back to Giggling Squid.  The sign didn’t come out, but this is what it looks like from the outside.

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I’m a big fan of squid, crispy or grilled or stuffed or sauteed.  The salt and pepper squid here was nothing like the fried calamari you get in bars and restaurants at home.  Nothing.  First, it was full tubes instead of rings.  More a tempura batter than anything, but not huge.  The most tender squid I’ve ever eaten.  Served with a sweet chili sauce.  Sooooo good.

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I followed that with Chicken Pad Kingh.  This is a dish that lets the fresh ginger sticks smack you in the face.  With earthy mushrooms and sweet carrots as the perfect foil.  The sauce and mushrooms and bell peppers were amazing.   Honestly the chicken was just filler.   It reminded me of a ginger chicken dish I used to get at a Vietnamese restaurant in Tysons Corner, VA.  Oh how I’d missed that dish until today.  Add some rice and a glass of rose from Provence and you’re in for a better Monday night than most!

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It’s not like I’m going to make the trek out to Henley on Mondays from now on, but wow am I glad I had this opportunity.  If you have a chance to go to a Giggling Squid restaurant, don’t pass it up!  And get the squid.  It definitely made me giggle!

 

Back to Basics: Beef and a side

October 20, 2018

This time of year Saturdays are long run days.  Ten miles today.  Long runs make me crave protein, usually beef.  The complicating factor today is that I’ve leaving tomorrow on a business trip.  I’ll be gone for a week so I try not to leave much in the fridge.  I also don’t usually cook on my last night so that I don’t have to clean the kitchen.  Today I had some little summer squash and an onion left.  So I pulled out a steak and decided I could manage two pans and a plate for dishes.

Sometimes all you really need is a protein and some vegetables.  Exactly as they are, or close to it.  A little olive oil, maybe some butter, and some salt.  This is the end of the summer squash for this year so it would be a crime to do anything to mask their sweet summery-ness.  And good beef doesn’t need much either.  I’m not a fan of Bearnaise or other heavy sauces.  Just a Penzeys spice rub and very high heat.

I do not claim to be any sort of steak master.  Many, many people prepare steaks more artfully than I.  But I’ll give you the quick version of my cooking and then direct you to Bobby Flay for better instructions.

Take the meat out of the fridge 30-45 minutes before you cook it.  Rub it with salt and/or a spice rub then to give the salt and spices a chance to penetrate the beef.  I heat a cast iron skillet with just a little olive oil until it smokes.  3 minutes on one side.  Don’t move it, just wait.  This is 3 brushing your teeth minutes, not 3 talking to a friend minutes, so glance at the clock or set a timer.  Flip it.  3 minutes on the other side.  Put the pan, with the steak in a 400 degree oven.  2-3 minutes on each side.  Take it out and remove it from the pan to rest.

Letting meat rest is the hardest part for me.  It’s supposed to rest 7-10 minutes.  The only way I can mange that is that I don’t start the vegetable until I’ve removed the steak from the oven. Then I have to let it rest while I finish the meal.

In a larger cast iron skillet heat 1/2 T olive oil and a pat of butter until they smoke.  Add an onion that you’ve halved and sliced thinly.  Cook until the onion start to soften.  Add a minced clove of garlic.  Cook 1 minute.  Add the sliced squash.  Cook 7-10 minutes.  (See how that works with the meat resting)?  When the squash is softened and a little brown, your ready to eat!

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This is one of the better meals I’ve had lately.  It’s plain food.  Good food.  Just remember that when your preparation is super simple, your ingredients have to be super good.  Get the best meat you can find and reasonably afford.  Buy local and in season vegetables.  Accompanied by a lovely Shiraz.  An improved by the lower price tag for such a meal at home instead of at a steakhouse. Improved even more than that by the fact that I got to eat on my couch with my dogs sleeping nearby.  I won’t get to do that again for more than a week.  A better than even trade for a few dishes.

Dinner from the dregs: Spaghetti with Shrimp and Cilantro Pesto

October 19, 2018

Factor number one, I’m traveling (again) next week so once again there’s not much fresh food in the house.  Factor number two, tomorrow is my longest run in nearly a year – 13.1 miles.  Factor number 3, I’m way low on protein today.  Like shaky hands low.  All that adds up to pasta with a protein that had to come from the freezer.

A few things I keep in the house as staples for just such occasions of these:  pasta, frozen shrimp, frozen herb mixes and sauces.  If you make your own sauces you can freeze them in small bags or in ice cube trays.  I keep basil pesto, cilantro pesto, collard pesto, charmoula, and a few other things around to jazz up pasta, rice, chicken, seafood.  I’m out of frozen chopped vegetables, but they come in handy too.

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If you think you don’t like pesto, it might just be basil pesto that doesn’t work for you.  Experiment with other combinations and you might find something you like.  Generally speaking a pesto has an herb or leafy green, garlic, olive, a nut, Parmesan cheese.  Google has an endless number of recipes.  This might be the one I used for the Cilantro Pesto I had tonight, though with peanuts instead of almonds.

Not much else to say about this.  You can cook the shrimp in the pot with the pasta to save yourself a pan.  And them about 3 minutes before you expect the pasta to be done.

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Before you drain the pasta, dip out some of the pasta water.  That helps the pesto distribute a little more evenly.  Makes it a little saucy.   I threw a few diced onions in a pan to saute and added those at the end.   No reason except that I had them and they added a little sweetness to an otherwise salty dish.

What you see in the bowl is a solid two servings, even for me.

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Tuesday Wow! Olive Oil-Braised Chickpeas with Swiss Chard and Cumin

October 16, 2018

Let me start by saying it’s been a down in the dumps kind of day.  Crap at every turn.  I could easily have had wine and cookies for dinner and called it a day.  But cooking always makes me feel better so I pulled up my britches and found my way to the kitchen.  My newest cookbook is Dinner:  Changing the Game by Melissa Clark of the New York Times.  I’ve put a dozen or more shreds of paper in there marking recipes I want to look at again.  This is one of them.

This is a surprisingly elegant dish made of really regular ingredients.  I have most of this stuff in my house all the time.  A simple and rustic vegetarian dinner with amazingly complex flavor.  I only made half a recipe and I’m a little bit sad about that.  I could have eaten the whole bowl, no problem.

Here’s what you need for 2-3 servings: (half the original recipe)

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  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 1 bunch chard (or collards or turnip greens), stems removed
  • 1 t cumin seeds
  • salt
  • crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 C diced onion
  • 1 can (2C) cooked chickpeas
  • 1/2 – 3/4 C stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • hearty bread slices
  • lemon
  • smoked paprika

The original recipe calls for shallots instead of onion, but you work with what you have.

I know this looks like a lot of steps, but it’s really not bad.  I finished the whole thing in 35-40 minutes and I managed to feed the dogs in the middle!

Here’s what you do:

  • Chop greens and stems (separately) into medium sized pieces
  • Heat oil to medium high in a large pot (the greens take up more room than you think)
  • Add garlic, cook until barely golden (1-2 minutes)
    • Note:  If you burn the garlic you’ll have to start over.  It’s super bitter when it’s burned

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  • Add chard stems, cumin seeds, salt, red pepper
  • Cook until stems soften (4-5 minutes)

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  • Add onion, cook 2-3 minutes
  • Add chickpeas, chard leaves, stock.  Mix well.  Cover.

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  • Reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer 10-15 minutes

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  • Puree part of the mixture
    • Use an immersion blender if you have one.  Takes about three squeezes.  That’s what I used.
    • Put 1/3-1/2 in a regular blender if you have that instead.  Don’t blend long.  Just enough to break down the chickpeas
    • Mash the chickpeas with the back of a fork to save yourself cleaning up one more thing.
  • Return the mixture to the pot and stir in

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  • Rub the bread slices with garlic
  • Toast the bread slices
  • Place bread in the bottom of a bowl and ladle stew over it
  • Squeeze lemon and sprinkle with paprika

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How’d it turn out?

I might have licked the bowl.  The garlic, cumin, pepper, lemon and paprika layer themselves throughout the dish.  It’s warm and earthy and bright and smoky.  The texture is creamy without being mushy.  The olive oil is rich and wonderful.  It’s wonderful over crusty bread, but I’d happily eat it over rice as well.  Or by itself, maybe as a side dish for chicken or fish or lamb.

This is a keeper.  I would serve this to guests except then I’d have to share it.  I can only imagine that the leftovers will be unimaginably good.

A Very Fond Farewell to Greenway: Beef and Butternut Chili

October 14, 2018

Frequently you hear me reference things I got at the farmers’ market.  That’s no mistake.  I buy as many things as I can from local farmers.  I like knowing the people that provide my food.  I like knowing that it comes from nearby.  That it wasn’t trucked from hundreds or thousands of miles away.  I like being educated about what’s in season when for my region.  I have a great appreciation for the tremendous amount of work that goes into running a farm.  And a great admiration for the families that take it on.

I have been buying beef from the Clark family at Greenway Beef for a good many years now.  Anyone who has eaten pot roast or London Broil or short ribs or hamburger or chili at my house has eaten Greenway Beef.  The Clarks are lovely people, local to me, and also distribute pork, chicken and vegetables for other local providers.  I’ve grown quite fond of them.  Mike taught me that cooking grass-fed beef requires different things than grain-fed beef.

Recently I learned that Mike Clark has decided to retire.  Well deserved for sure.  Cattle ranching is hard work.  Being committed to providing hormone-free, antibiotic-free meat is no easy thing either.  Getting ready for and showing up at farmers’ markets weekend after weekend is hard work.  But I’m having a hard time imagining not having Greenway Beef around.  Where will I get the best bacon in the world now? (Crabill’s)  Who will sell me white acre peas?  Hamburgers made with some other beef?  Hard to believe.  I stocked up yesterday because it was Mike’s last day at the market.

So, to the Clark family I say, thank you.  I know that the work was hard, but it mattered.  I don’t know that you can ask more than that.  Your life’s work mattered.  Feeding people matters.  I’ve enjoyed supporting your family while you were supporting mine.  Know that you will be missed.  Enjoy your retirement!

So, tonight we have Beef and Butternut chili, thanks to Greenway Beef.

Chili is one of those things that doesn’t really have a recipe.  You can make it any way you like:  beef, pork, chicken, with or without beans, only beans, with veggie crumbles, whatever you like.  This is a tomato chili with beef, onions, garlic, and beans and butternut and green chiles.  Throw in a pumpkin beer, some chili powder and cumin and you’re done.  I make my chili on the mild side so that it works for everyone.  You can always add Tabasco or Texas Pete or jalapenos to kick up the heat if you want.  I serve those things on the side.

A couple of things about the ingredients.  I am very fortunate to have many quarts of home canned tomatoes in my basement.  Canning is a hobby of mine.  The tomatoes are background in this chili, so feel free to use cheap ones.  Save the San Marzanos for something else.  I used an Aleworks Pumpkin beer.  It’s my favorite of the pumpkins.  nice sweetness and pie spice.  It goes well with the butternut.  Use whatever you like.

You’ll see I also used pre-cut butternut.  I almost never buy pre-cut vegetables.  I like being in the kitchen so the chopping doesn’t bother me.  Except for butternut squash.  I hate cutting a butternut squash.  They’re super hard and tend to roll.  And then you have to cut the rind off.  If you’re going to cut your own, use a large and very sharp knife.  No shame in buying the pre-cut though.  I did cut this a little finer so it wouldn’t overwhelm the beef and beans.

Here’s what I used tonight (listed above):

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Here’s what you do:

  • Start with a big, heavy pot
  • Drain and rinse the beans
  • Brown the beef, garlic and onions
  • Mix in 2-3 T tomato paste, cook 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently

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  • Add a quart of canned tomatoes, with juice
  • Add salt, chili powder and cumin
  • Add beans and green chiles
  • Add cubed butternut squash

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  • There’s not enough liquid in here to cook the butternut well.  Add 1 bottle pumpkin beer or water or stock if you prefer.
  • Bring to a simmer; put the top on the pot, slightly askew
  • Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chili thickens
  • If the butternut is too firm, put the top fully on the pot and simmer until it’s done

This is good chili, though not spicy enough for me.  I should have added slightly more chile powder at the beginning.  I like the slight sweetness of the butternut.  The mix of textures with the beef and beans and butternut is really nice.  I served mine with a little Tabasco and some plain greek yogurt.

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It’s Fall Y’all! Stuffed Acorn Squash

October 12, 2018

I’ve been working overseas for the last week.  I arrived home late last night in the remnants of a hurricane to a house without power.  An adventure to be sure, though a tiny inconvenience compared to what people in the path of Hurricane Michael are enduring.

No time today to do any grocery shopping.  Most things in the fridge went into the trash.  Time like this make me glad I keep my freezers stocked to the brim.  The food keeps longer in full freezers.  So, into the freezer for dinner.  Two things:  chorizo and a frozen bag of vegetables, quinoa, and lentils.  I had an acorn squash on the counter.  Dinner done.

I like acorn squash.  It’s perfect for making single servings.  It’s much easier than butternut for cutting through and seeding.  It’s pretty to serve.  The only drawback is that it’s never quite as sweet as I want it to be.  Maybe next time I’ll roast it with a little honey.

I roasted the squash at 375 for 10 minutes and then added the chorizo to the pan.  10 minutes on each side.  In the last 5 minutes of roasting the squash and chorizo, put the veggie bag in the microwave.  Cut up the chorizo and mix with the veggies.  Serve in the squash.  That’s it.

It’s a darn good dinner.  It does take 30 minutes, and the prep is about 6 minutes more.  Totally doable for a weeknight.  And only the sheet pan for dishes!  I recommend turning on the oven when you get home and letting it preheat while you change into your lounge wear.  Take the 6 minutes to prepare the squash and put it on the pan.  That leaves you 30 minutes to have a glass of wine or check homework or read a magazine or start a load of laundry.  You just have to check in every 10 minutes to add the chorizo, or any other sausage, and flip it over.

Keeping those bags of vegetable mixes in the freezer can be a real life saver.  They’re perfect for this kind of dish or casseroles or hash – anything that doesn’t need the vegetables to have any crunch to them.  This one also has protein in it so I didn’t really need the chorizo to make a complete meal, but this dish would have been pretty bland without it.  Leave it out if you want to keep this vegetarian.  Maybe add some extra vegetables in that case.  This bag saved me 10 minutes of chopping and 15-20 making quinoa.  Score!

This meal was nothing I’d make for a dinner party, but it sure was nice to have a real meal without dirtying up the kitchen and without needing a trip to the store.