Monthly Archives: October 2013

Butternut Squash, Black Bean and Charred Red Onion Tacos

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I’ve always envied those that are able to do what they love for their livelihood.  Although there are certainly downsides to it (as most authors, musicians, and artists know), there is great appeal to this lifestyle.  My sweetie is able to do what he loves, playing music and building instruments, and usually makes ends meet with the modest income that comes in.  It may not be all roses all the time, but there is something to be said about being able to have the time to spend on developing specialized skills and enjoying one’s passion.

Over the last few weeks Drew has been working long hours in the woodshop building a gourd banjo.  As a luthier (a beautiful way to say “builder of stringed instruments”) and newly learned clawhammer banjo player, he was intrigued when he heard Bob Lucas play a gourd banjo at a symposium called Common Ground on the Hill earlier this summer.  A couple of months later, he began to study plans of existing gourd banjos and set about building one himself.  After hours (and hours..and hours) of reading, planning and ordering supplies, and just a few weeks after the inaugural cutting of one large gourd, shipped from California, he sits playing his beautiful gourd banjo in the kitchen.

I am amazed that building a gourd banjo went from an idea of his to now, a few weeks later, a reality.  I do not have the skills required to build a musical instrument or the passion to do so myself but I most certainly am in awe of this beautiful instrument created by his hands.

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I do like my job and find excitement and satisfaction from it at times.  But as grateful for it as I am (and grateful for steady employment that affords us a comfortable home and meets all of our basic needs) I cannot honestly say it is my life’s passion.  Luckily, I get to spend time with my true passion from time to time and sometimes I even get to share it with others.  Tonight I volunteer taught a cooking class at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids (a wonderful cancer and grief support clubhouse) and I got that feeling that I think Drew must feel when he is working on building a banjo or a guitar.  I felt like I was doing something that I could do forever.  I was completely relaxed, had fun, and felt so passionate about sharing my love for cooking with a great group of women.

Because I cook so much (daily), I sometimes take for granted the skills that I’ve acquired in the kitchen.  I’m just a simple home cook when it comes down to it but I am surprised when I show a class how to do something and they are excited and delighted by it.  Tonight I showed the women how to make a Mexican meal using butternut squash and black beans.  We made butternut squash and black bean chili and these butternut squash, black bean, and charred onion tacos.  At various points in the class I became animated and excited to show random little tips as they popped into my head.  How to slice an avocado in its peel.  How to peel and cut a butternut squash.  That you can eat the skin of a delicata squash.  That you can boil apple cider down into a glaze.  That you can warm and char a tortilla directly on the flame of a gas stove.  That you don’t have to measure everything exactly.  That a little chocolate in chili adds depth and richness.  Usually these little joys of the kitchen stay with me.  I am usually pretty quiet in the kitchen at home, choosing silence over music, focusing on the meditative act of chopping vegetables and washing dishes.  I usually take the little aha moments with cooking for granted or I assume that they will not delight anyone other than myself.  It was brilliant fun tonight to not only share my love for cooking but to have fourteen women clap, smile, and say mmmmmm along with me while I cooked, learned (yup–still learning!), and dished up samples of our fall fiesta.

I do hope you try these tacos.  They are a unique way to use my favorite fall vegetable, butternut squash.  They are filling and hearty, aromatic and flavorful.  It’s really a compliment when someone who loves meat tacos deems these an A++ (thanks, hon!).  Needless to say, if I ever have a restaurant, these are making the menu.

And whatever your passion, I hope you get to spend a few moments with it today.

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Butternut Squash Tacos with Charred Red Onion and Black Beans (and a bunch of yummy toppings!)

Tacos:

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup black beans, dried and cooked, or canned is fine too—be sure to drain well
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 12 corn tortillas

For topping:

  • 2 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro, washed and stems removed
  • ½ cup queso fresco (Mexican crumbling cheese)
  • ½ cup lowfat sour cream
  • 1 scallion (green onion), thinly sliced
  • 1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
  • Sriracha (garlic-chili hot sauce, a.k.a. “Rooster Sauce”)
  1.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Lightly oil a baking sheet with 1 teaspoon oil.
  2. Prepare the squash:  Cut the bottom off of the butternut squash to create a flat surface and stand squash on its end.  Cut the squash down the middle, lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard (or…as reader Natashia suggests, you can clean and roast them, spreading out on a baking sheet as if you were roasting pumpkin seeds–takes about 20 minutes).  Peel the outside of the squash with a knife, taking care to always have a flat surface for stability.  Slice the squash into ½ inch slices.  Cut the slices into ½ inch diameter matchsticks, about 5 inches long.
  3. Place the squash sticks onto the oiled baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Don’t crowd the pan—use two pans if needed.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes.  Poke with a  fork to test for doneness—the fork should easily pierce the squash and the squash should still hold its shape.  Remove from the oven when done.
  4. In the meantime, heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil on medium high in a cast iron skillet or other heavy skillet and add the onions and garlic along with a sprinkle of salt.  Cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have browned and softened slightly.  Add the beans to the pan along with the cumin and stir for a moment until heated through.
  5. Heat a small skillet over high heat and add tortillas to the pan, one at a time, turning until they are heated and a little crisp.  Once all tortillas are heated, add a few sticks of squash to each, a large spoonful of the onion and bean mixture, and any toppings you like (from the toppings listed above).  Squeeze a wedge of lime over each and serve with Sriracha or another hot sauce on the side.

Makes 12 tacos

Roasted Carrot Soup with Cilantro and Coconut Milk

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What an incredibly gorgeous weekend it has been.  The weather was perfect.  And by perfect, I mean 70 degrees, crisp, sunny, and chock full of fall fun.  On Saturday we headed about an hour and a half southeast to Bellevue, MI, to Crane Fest.  It was well worth the drive.  Each year, thousands of sandhill cranes migrate to Florida for the winter.  They happen to stop off for a rest at the Baker Sanctuary in Bellevue each year in October.  Sandhill cranes are amazing and beautiful birds.  They are the oldest living species of bird, having existed for over 9 million years.  They are graceful, lovely, and have a gorgeous rolling trumpet song that fills the air as they join together for the evening at the sanctuary.  If you’d like to read more about Crane Fest and about these beautiful birds, click here.

Now, at the end of the weekend, cozied up with my sweetie, the pup, and our brand new calico kitty (!), I’m thinking of the week ahead and what I’ll make for dinners.  I’ve got plenty of squashes and root vegetables and not much time this week so I’ve got a hunch I’ll be making some soups.  This time of year is perfect for soups.  You’ll be seeing a lot of soups posted here over the next several months.  As gorgeous as Michigan is in the spring, summer, and fall, winter is (though beautiful in its own way) long and cold.  Perfect for warming bowls of soup.

This soup is a creation of mine.  Most of the time I see carrot soup, it is carrot-ginger soup.  Carrot-ginger soup is great but it’s everywhere so I wanted to make something a little different.

This soup is so easy and takes only about 15 minutes hands on.  You roast the veggies in large chunks until soft, add to a soup pot with broth, coconut milk, cilantro, and spices, and give it a whirl.  Easy, warming, and delicious.  And healthy to boot.  I hope you enjoy!

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Roasted Carrot Soup with Cilantro and Coconut Milk

  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 and ½ lbs. of carrots, scrubbed
  • 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced into thick slices
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 6 cups of vegetable broth or water with bouillon if you prefer
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. garam masala spice blend
  • 1 small bunch of cilantro, stems and all
  • 2 tsp. good quality olive oil to garnish, optional
  • Cilantro to garnish, optional
  • 4 tbsp. goat cheese to garnish, optional
  • OR 4 tbsp. plain yogurt to garnish, optional
  • Pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) to garnish, optional
  1. Heat oven to 375°.  Lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  2. Roughly chop carrots and sweet potatoes into pieces about 1 inch in size.  Slice onions into thick slices.  Peel garlic clove (you can leave the garlic clove whole).  Place all into baking dish and cover.  Roast vegetables for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender.
  3. Pour roasted vegetables into a heavy stock pot or Dutch oven and turn heat to medium.  Add vegetable broth, coconut milk, cumin, coriander, garam masala, and cilantro.  Be sure to save a little cilantro for garnish.
  4. Using an immersion (stick) blender (see note below), blend the contents of the soup pot until smooth.
  5. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a few leaves of cilantro.  If you are in the mood, sprinkle some goat cheese onto the soup.  Or plain yogurt.  Or pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds).  Whatever you fancy!  The version in the photos is cilantro and olive oil.  Simply delicious.
  6. This makes a large batch of soup—you can enjoy it for several days and freeze any leftovers.

Kitchen Tip:  If you don’t have a stick blender, you should get one!  It is one of my favorite kitchen tools.  It helps you avoid having to pour hot liquids into a blender.  All you need to do is place the stick blender in the soup and whirl away.  You can also use it for smoothies, hummus, salsa, and so much more! But if you don’t have a stick blender today, you can use the ol’ blender method, just be careful!  And put a stick blender on your wish list…!  And no.  Cuisinart Smart Stick does not pay me for this endorsement 🙂).

Roasted Apples With Vanilla Bean Ice Cream And Apple Cider Sauce

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There is nothing that says fall in Michigan like a cold, juicy apple on a crisp autumn day.  And (in my opinion) no better place to enjoy this special treat than right here in Michigan.  Michigan apples have a flavor that is out of this world.  The comparison between a store-bought apple and an apple fresh from the orchards is like comparing store-bought tomatoes to one picked off your own tomato vine.  Just one bite and you are transported immediately to the gnarly tree it came from.  Eating apples this time of year makes me feel so grateful for fall.  Fall is one last hurrah.  A punctuation mark on summer.  And in Michigan, that punctuation mark isn’t any old period.  It is an exclamation point.

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We are fortunate to live in an area of the country that abounds with apple orchards.  Just yesterday we drove up to the Sparta area, a bit north of Grand Rapids, and checked out a couple of apple orchards. It was a cloudy day with patches of rain but when we made it out to the orchards, the sun had peeked through and it lit up the landscape.  Suddenly the reds on the trees were flaming, the pumpkins were bright orange orbs, the apples shone red-purple, and the rolling fields of dried corn stalks glowed golden under a deep blue sky.

Apple Orchard

My sweetie often jokes during his performances that Michigan apples are the only apples that have the all the vitamins and nutrients a body needs.  If you’re eating apples from anywhere else, you’re missing out.  He grew up picking apples with his whole family when the times were tough.  His dad would climb to the top of the tree, his mom would handle the middle, and he and his siblings would pick up the “drops”, the apples on the ground under the tree that are used to make apple cider.  True story.

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When I say cider, I’m talking about the real deal.  The kind that can only be found this time of year, freshly pressed, cloudy, sweet and tart.  This time of year, almost any gathering you go to offers cups of hot cider for guests.  It can be a special treat but I’m not the biggest fan of drinking hot beverages beyond coffee and tea.  But how could I walk past those gallons of apple cider?  Well…I couldn’t…so I had to figure out something to do with it.

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I came across an idea for an apple cider reduction.  And I am so glad I did.   All it takes is a big, heavy pot and some patience.  You basically just boil the cider down until it is 1/4 of the original volume.  I boiled 8 cups down to 2 cups over about an hour or so.

This reduction can be used in a myriad of ways.  You can make a vinaigrette with it (mix with olive oil, a splash of white balsamic vinegar, a dash of salt and pepper) or brush meat with it if you desire.  And if you really want to go all out, keep boiling the cider down from 8 cups to about 1 cup and you’ll get an even sweeter reduction, just begging to be poured on ice cream.

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And with that I present to you one of the easiest desserts I’ve made, roasted apples with vanilla bean ice cream, walnuts, and a cider reduction sauce.  For this, choose apples that will hold their shape in the oven.  I chose Cortland apples but Fuji, Jonathon, or Honey Crisp are all good choices.

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This dessert is so simple yet such a delicious way to enjoy the season’s best offerings.  If you are looking for other apple recipes, head over to Cooking Light–they have dozens of apple recipes, with some of the best here.  The apple upside-down cake looks amazing.

I’m planning to use some leftover roasted apples to make apple muffins with cream cheese frosting.  This recipe looks like a good place to start my brainstorming!

But for now, here is my simply delicious roasted apple recipe.

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Roasted Apples with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Apple Cider Sauce; Serves 4

  • 4 medium apples, cored and sliced into wedges
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp cane sugar
  • 2 cups good quality vanilla bean ice cream
  • 4 tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • 4 tablespoons apple cider sauce (see below on how to make!)
  1. Make the apple cider sauce ahead of time (see below).
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 350°.  Spread the apple slices onto a large baking sheet and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Roast for 15-20 minutes, until soft but still maintaining their shape.  Go too far and you’ll have apple sauce wedges (which would still taste good so no worries!).
  3. Scoop apple wedges into four bowls.  Add 1/2 cup scoops of ice cream to the top, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon walnuts, and drizzle 1 tablespoon cider sauce on top of it all.  Dig in!

Apple Cider Reduction Sauce

  • 8 cups (1/2 gallon jug) fresh-pressed apple cider
  1. Make the cider sauce ahead of time (you can make this up to a month ahead!).  Pour apple cider into a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven.  Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low to simmer for at least an hour and up to two hours until the apple cider is reduced from 8 cups to 2.  You can keep this sauce in the fridge for a month and in the freezer for up to 6 months.
  2. To make the sauce even more condense, you can boil it down further until you have about 1 cup left from the original 8 cups.
  3. You’ll use just a bit for this recipe and can store the rest to use in a variety of dishes.