I’ve been making collard burritos for some time now. They have never made it to my blog. Maybe it’s because I think of them as my go-to quick meal that I eat when I don’t have time to play around with making things pretty. They are usually filled with a hodgepodge of quinoa, beans, and some random veggies. Nothing fancy. Maybe it’s because if I’m eating a collard burrito it means it is late and I don’t have daylight to photograph my creation for the blog. Winters are hard for food bloggers. There are nights that I prep my dish the night before, then race home, fly into the kitchen, and make a mess of everything, just so I can get the last ten minutes of daylight to capture my creation.
Hi! Great news! My sweetie and I are getting hitched! Just thought I’d let you know. I feel so fortunate. Drew is a gentle, kind soul. A hard worker. A true friend. An artist. And he brought baked oatmeal into my life. What more could you ask for?
I really grappled with what I should title this post. Why, you ask? Well….this dish is based on tofu. Now, I know a good number of people. And if there is one thing I know, it’s that they probably don’t all agree on the topic of tofu. Some eat tofu, some eat it if they have to, some would never let it pass their lips, and some tried it and don’t like it. It’s a pretty polarizing ingredient to be sure so I hesitate to call it out from the get-go, afraid it will turn off the fussy eaters among us.
Some things from my childhood have stuck with me and a love of chili with cornbread is one of those things. I fondly remember the big pots of chili my step dad would make when I was a kid. The soup was always served with a skillet of cornbread and it was always nice and spicy. When I commented/complained about the heat, my step dad ribbed me, telling me that the heat would burn the germs from my intestines. It’s a disturbing image but it was the start of my love affair with spicy foods, if not for the medicinal qualities, then for the taste.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner! As someone who is always thinking of her next meal, I couldn’t be more excited about the holiday. As most folks do, I have some favorite dishes that have always been traditional in my family. Homemade cranberry sauce. Cornbread dressing. Whole wheat bread dressing. I can’t wait to have these items on my plate. Over the years I’ve also updated some classics and they have bumped out the traditional dishes. The last couple of years I’ve been making a sweet potato puree with coconut milk, thanks to the recipe in Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen. A few years ago I updated green been casserole for a simple version of steamed green beans with pickled sweet and sour onions and a maple dressing. Love!! This year I plan to add Brussels sprouts to the table and came up with a new favorite way to eat them.
Every year where I grew up, we had November 15 off of school. It wasn’t always that way. Over the years as we grew up, so few kids came to school that day, the district finally caved and it became a recognized day-off, no absences counted. What, you ask, happens on November 15? Opening day of deer season. Boys and men dressed in their favorite flannels and boots and headed out to their deer blinds as if heading off to war. The ladies? They went to Green Bay to go shopping.
Soup season has arrived, folks. You’ll be seeing many soups posted on this blog over the next several months, a testimony to my efforts to survive another cold and dark Michigan winter. The leaves on the trees are nearly gone (please hang on while I wipe the tear that is rolling down my cheek…sniffle), the lawn furniture looks eerily out of place and begs to be put away, Halloween is over and talk of the holidays creeps into conversation. We’ve already got a game plan for Thanksgiving dinner (my first time hosting!) and my mind is focused on developing recipes for healthy Thanksgiving sides for my next cooking class. The sun sets at around five o’clock and I’m still considering bucking the trend and ignoring daylight savings time (who’s with me?). The space heater is fully broken in and we are ready to hunker down under afghans for the next five months. For those of you who do not live in a similar climate, this is serious stuff, folks. A true test of resilience or sisu, as my mom would say. Sisu is the Finnish word for strength in the face of adversity…my mom would say, “you’ve got sisu, girl!”
It is fall in my neck of the woods and I am so very happy about it! I’m trying to enjoy it as much as possible. That means a walk in the woods at the Blandford Nature Center today. Being outside in the woods with sunshine filtering through the orange and yellow leaves was so good for my soul. Continue reading
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.
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.
Butternut Squash Tacos with Charred Red Onion and Black Beans (and a bunch of yummy toppings!)
- 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
- 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”)
- Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly oil a baking sheet with 1 teaspoon oil.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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!
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
- Heat oven to 375°. Lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish.
- 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.
- 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.
- Using an immersion (stick) blender (see note below), blend the contents of the soup pot until smooth.
- 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.
- 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 🙂).