Friday, October 5, 2012

Autumnal Comfort Food: Vegan MOFO Post 4

The other day I spied some adorable Delicata squash in the market and decided to bring one home to try. The evening I tried it out turned out the be one of those rare nights when I got creative in the kitchen and the resulting recipe actually tasted amazing! (What usually happens is that I taste it, think "huh," and eat it anyway, so as not to waste the food.)

I cut open the squash and scooped out the seed/mush part. After slicing it up, skin and all, I threw it into a glass pyrex pan and scoured the kitchen for other things to put in, as the squash looked a little bare and lonely. I thought of the Granny apples I'd bought which were a smidgen too sour for even my taste and realized that the sour might be good balanced by brown sugar. So I cut up one apple and threw it in. (Again, peel and all.)

That sweet potato over in the corner -- you know, the one that languishes in your own kitchen -- had been eying me for weeks. (Get it?) It looked a little scary, though, and seemed to be growing vines. It had apparently assumed I wasn't going to do squat with it and was planning its escape. I tentatively snagged off the growth, peeled it, sliced it open and -- exhale -- it was perfectly good. It got chopped into large pieces and thrown in.

I added maybe a Tablespoon of olive oil and two Tablespoons of brown sugar and mixed it all together. Into the preheated oven it went (425 degrees). And off I went to figure out what my next post would be.

Ten minutes later, I thought, "Walnuts!! That thing needs walnuts!"

I quickly chopped some up, opened the oven door, and carefully, oh-so-carefully, dotted the dish with them and stirred them so they'd get coated with the oil and sugar. I closed the door softy, turned around, and spied some pears that had finally ripened after well over a week. I cut one up, re-opened the door, and added them to the growing pile of food.

I didn't time it, but it was all ready in close to half an hour. (If you're going to do this, though, I'd put your timer on for 20 minutes and then check it every 5 minutes or so after that.) The whole house smelled like holiday. It was the scent that Yankee Candle would give their eyeteeth for, but never quite achieves. I just wanted to breathe in that smell permanently, in a therapeutic kind of way. You've got to try this, if only to get this aroma to permeate your home-sweet-home.

Fresh out of the oven and sizzling...

Is it dinner? Or is it dessert?

Then I whipped up a quick and simple massaged kale salad. You wash and rip up the kale (taking the woody stems off), throw on a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and some fresh lemon juice, and then use your hands to literally massage the oil into the leaves for about two minutes.  It will reduce in volume pretty quickly as the leaves become more pliable.

This is the kale, post massage.

I decided to add some nuts to the salad to satisfy that autumnal fat craving. Any toasted nuts would be good. I was strongly leaning towards sliced almonds, but the pine nuts won. When you toast these babies, DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT walk away from them. They're a splurge and it's much too easy to burn them. (I'm just sayin'.) Simply throw them into a small pan with no oil. None. They actually have oils in them that seep out pretty quickly and do the cooking for you. Turn the stovetop on medium to medium-high heat. 

Initially they look like this.

But in about a minute, you'll see the oils come out and they'll get shiny.

Every thirty seconds or so, just swish them around.

And when they look like this (slightly browned), you're good to go. They'll look like this in about four minutes or so.

I decided to throw and apple and some avacado on the salad too. Why not?

Speaking of apples, about ten years ago I lived in a little town in central Bolivia called Yotala. It was there that I learned one of life's most important lessons from my best friend Margarita Manzano (Spanish for "apple"). I will pass it on to you. I'm sure it will change your life as it changed mine. Here it is.

(dramatic pause)

Never pick the pretty fruit. 

Margarita (or Marga, as we all called her) lived on the same street as I and, together with her mother and sister, owned a small store in front of her house, which is how I met her passing by one day. They made the best bread around -- people would drive for miles on weekends to come buy their bread -- and one day she saw the strange pale gringa walking by and called me over to enjoy some bread with her. From then on, we were best buddies. I used to even go to her house on bread-making days and help them make the rolls to put into the enormous outdoor mud/clay oven.

Oh dear. I'm rambling and way off topic. Back to the point.

During orange season, I started to pick out some of the more fault-free fruits from her store to buy and take home. She watched my progress, then came over, shaking her head, and muttered, "You Americans. Always picking out the prettiest fruit. Don't you know that the best fruit is the ugly stuff?" She threw my perfect specimens back, grabbed one of the more scarred ones, sat my down at her small wooden table, and expertly began cutting the orange open. (Bolivian women can do magic with the seemingly most cheap of knives.) She handed me a dripping, sloppy piece of the fruit. The second the piece of sunshine hit my tongue, I'd realized what a fool I'd been. The pretty fruit had nothing on this.

To this day, as I pick fruit, I always look for the scarred pieces. Not bruised, mind you. But the ones covered with blemishes that ordinary folk see as unattractive. Never judge a book ... 

Here is a Honeycrisp, topped with blemishes.

And Kaci with the apple, just because.

Here is my final dinnerplate, complete with a magnificent (and simple) risotto I made from The Vegan Slow Cooker by Kathy Hestor.  (Get. This. Book.) The dinner was not only wonderful, but a great reward for my courage to take culinary chances, after so many past failures. :)

Finally, I'm going to throw some product placement at you, because I think it might make cleaning up a whole lot easier. Whenever I cook pine nuts, I always find the pan is stained a bit brown. The best way to get that off is to use this cleaner, Bon Ami. It's a scouring powder, but it does not test on animals and it doesn't have a strong odor. (When I used to use other scouring powders, I'd have to hold my breath, because the fumes made me feel a little lightheaded.) And it's the same cost as the other powders too. I absolutely love it. (And no, they are not paying me to say that. At least I don't think they are.) :)

Bon Ami -- a great scouring powder. Get it.
What sorts of make-it-up-on-the-spot recipes have you done that were winners?


  1. I first discovered Delicata squash a few weeks ago (technically I discovered it last year when I read about it on Cadry's blog, but by that time it was no longer in stores here -- a few weeks ago I finally found it in stores -- yay!). It's amazing, and I love the concoction you came up with!

    I heard that theory a few years ago about the "ugly" fruit -- even though I know it's true, it's a hard habit to break!

    1. It is a hard habit to break, Bobbie! I gravitate towards the lovely pieces and then have to remind myself to pick the weird-looking ones.

      That was my first foray into Delicata - I think I too initially saw it in Cadry's blog. The taste was quite fetching!

  2. Looks delicious; I love the additions of the apple and pear to the squash and sweet potato. And Kaci is super-cute!

    1. Kaci will be delighted by your comment, Renae. She loves being told how pretty she is.

      It WAS good! Made me realize I should cook with apples and pears more often. They add such a wonderful layer of taste. :)