Acorn squash stuffed with Curry Mustard Quinoa, Butternut Squash, Spinach, Cranberries and Toasted Almonds

Thanksgiving kicks off one of my favorite times of year. As immigrants, my family was slow to embrace the American tradition of Thanksgiving. We really didn’t know much about eating or cooking turkeys. My mother made Peking Duck instead. It is one of my most favorite culinary guilty pleasures. Peking Duck is quite a laborious venture in the kitchen. The chore begins with my mother meticulously rigging a duck on a wire hanger and suspending it from a kitchen cabinet. Then over 2-3 days, the duck is basted and dried before it is roasted. The end result is the crispiest and tastiest skin that covers moist duck meat. However, one year, on day 2 of project Peking Duck, my mother went into labor with my sister. After giving birth, my mother asked my father what he did with the duck. He fried it. The story always makes me smile thinking how my mother went through all that effort to prepare the duck, only to have it deep fried. I suppose it’s no different than frying a turkey.

Fast forward to 2014, and now I’m in a relationship with someone who also has never had a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner. He’s a vegetarian athlete and his only request was that I not prepare Tofurky. I wanted to create something nutritious, packed with protein (like a turkey) and Thanksgiving-y.   Like my sister, my Acorn Squash stuffed with Quinoa, Roasted Butternut Squash, Spinach, Cranberry & Toasted Almonds was born on Thanksgiving day. Served with vegetarian side dishes, this main course satisfied my hungry athlete.

Serving size: 6

Ingredients:

  • 3 acorn squashes* (optional)
  • 6 tablespoons of butter (substitute 6 teaspoons of olive oil for vegan)
  • 3 cups of butternut squash* (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup quinoa (rinsed well according to instructions)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon Coleman’s English mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 2/3 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots (about 2 small shallots)
  • 3 full packed cups baby spinach
  • Juice of 1/2 large lemon (about 2 tablespoon)
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper

Directions:

Preheat over 400F.

Peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler. With a very sharp knife, slice off the top and bottom of the butternut squash to create a level surface. Then carefully cut into ½ inch cubes.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Toss the butternut squash in 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt & pepper.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until tender, tossing once.

Microwave acorn squashes for 1 minute. Cut in half crosswise, dissecting the top and bottom. If necessary, slice a small piece off the top and bottom so that it sits level when served on a plate. Scoop out seeds and stringy parts.  Spread 1 tablespoon of butter (or 1 teaspoon of olive oil) inside of each acorn squash half, then season with salt and pepper. Wrap each half in aluminum foil**.

Noting the amount of time left to bake the butternut squash, bake the acorn squashes for 50-60 minutes or until fork tender.  The butternut squash will finish cooking and will need to be removed from oven while the acorn squash packets remain in the oven for it’s remaining baking time. The timing will ensure the acorn squash is still warm when served. Once the acorn squash are cooked and tender, keep them wrapped in aluminum foil to retain heat until the quinoa is ready to be served.

Bring vegetable broth to a boil then stir in quinoa.  Stir in dry mustard and curry powder.  Simmer covered for 15-20 minutes until water is absorbed or according to the package directions.

While quinoa is simmering, toast the almonds in the oven, on a baking sheet until lightly toasted and fragrant for about 5 minutes.   Allow it to cool, chop coarsely and set aside.

Once quinoa is cooked, remove from heat and toss in cranberries and stir in lemon juice. Taste the quinoa and season with salt if needed. I find that if the quinoa is cooked in vegetable broth, no additional salt is necessary. Cover and let sit for about 5 minutes. Remove lid and fluff quinoa with a fork.

With remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sauté shallots until softened. Add butternut squash, quinoa and spinach.  Sauté spinach until wilted. Toss in toasted chopped toasted almonds just before serving. Spoon quinoa into acorn squash and serve.

Note:  You may prefer not to include both butternut squash and acorn squash in this dish.  I found there wasn’t enough flesh to enjoy inside the acorn squash I picked up.  Butternut squash added nice contrast in color, flavor and texture to each bite of the red quinoa.  Alternatively, this dish can be served without the acorn squash as shown in the photo below.

** Note:  The acorn squash can be baked without wrapping in aluminum foil however, creating individual packets of acorn squash makes it easier to find space for them when other side dishes are competing for oven space on Thanksgiving day. Here are other alternative ways to cook acorn squash:

  • MICROWAVE:  Lay acorn squash cut side down and microwave and cook at 5 minute intervals until fork tender, about 7-10 minutes.
  • BAKING UNWRAPPED:  Place unbuttered and unseasoned acorn squash, cut side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Add enough water to slightly cover the sides of the squash.  Bake at 350F for about 35-40 minutes.  Flip over, add butter & seasoning.  Continue to bake until fork tender, 5-10 minutes longer.

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J’Wow’s Salsa

I had the pleasure of training for my first Ironman with Jerrold, a good friend and triathlete known as J’Wow.  He’s like a little brother to me.  He’s rescued me when I was suffering from heat exhaustion during a long training ride and encouraged me to run with him when I was suffering from stomach pain during our first Ironman.  And like any little brother, he thoroughly enjoys annoying me with his teasing.

I joined J’Wow at Lake Tahoe this summer when he came up to train with his coach.  This is when I discovered J’Wow’s delicious fresh salsa.  Fresh salsa is a very healthy snack.  Tomatoes, onions,  jalapeños and lime juice contain vitamin C.  Jalapeños contain capsaicin, which generates heat, increases the heart rate when consumed and naturally raises the metabolic rate.  Avocados contain healthy fats, mostly oleic acid, which helps reduce bad cholesterol.  In addition, avocados contain protein, fiber and is an excellent source of potassium.  What a delicious way to consume raw and nutritious fruits and vegetables.

J’Wow prefers chips with a hint of lime flavor to serve with the salsa.  I’ve used the salsa with fish tacos, burritos and a variety of chips.  Although you can serve the salsa right away, it tastes even better the next day after all the flavors have had a chance to marry.  We had 6 people in the house and this recipe made enough salsa for us to enjoy for 2 days.

Serving size: 12

Ingredients:

  • 10 tomatoes on the vine diced
  • 1 large yellow onion diced
  • 1 green bell pepper diced
  • 3 ripe avocado diced
  • ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 – 2 1/2 jalapeño peppers, seeds removed and minced
  • ½ cup of lime juice (4 medium fresh limes)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

In a large bowl, dice the tomatoes, onion, green bell pepper and avocado.  Add finely chopped cilantro and minced jalapeno peppers.  I removed the seeds and was careful to wash my hands well after handling the peppers.  Add more or less peppers depending on your taste and how hot the peppers are.

Add the lime juice. One fresh medium lime should yield about 2 teaspoon of juice.  If the limes are small or dry, you may need more than 4 limes to yield ½ cup.  To get the most juice out of a lime, I put pressure roll it on the cutting board while putting pressure on it with the palm of my hand. I then use a reamer.  You can also put it in the microwave for 20 seconds before squeezing.

Toss all of the ingredients together.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Tomato, Tomato, Tomato Salad

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes!

According to WebMD “Eating lots of tomatoes, any way you can, is a great thing. This fruit that acts like a vegetable is loaded with health properties.”

I disliked tomatoes as a kid.  I use to pick those tasteless, mushy, slices off of my sandwiches or donate them to my father’s salad plate.  Then, one day, a friend of mine happily snatched my tomato slice.   She sprinkled salt on it and ate it just like that.  She commented on how much she enjoyed snacking on tomatoes this way.  I felt like I was missing out by not being able to appreciate tomatoes.    With an open mind I sprinkled salt on a slice of a beefsteak tomato and ate it.  To my surprise, I enjoyed this juicy fruit whose sweetness was amplified by the salt.  Yum!  From that point on, I was on a quest to enjoy a variety of tomatoes: heirloom, grape, cherry, Roma, etc.  In fact, there are about 7,500 varieties of tomatoes!  As a tribute to my love of this fruit, that acts like a vegetable, “Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes” is a trilogy of basic tomato recipes: Tomato Salad, Sun Dried Tomatoes and Tomato Sauce.

This tomato trilogy begins with the fastest salad you’ll ever prepare.  Ready?  Set?  Go!

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/health-properties-tomatoes

Serving size: 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 Heirloom Tomatoes* (2 different colors)
  • 2 Tomatoes on the Vine*
  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes* (multicolored)
  • 6 fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons cherry balsamic vinegar or plain balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

* NOTE: Any variety of tomatoes can be used.  Try to select tomatoes of different colors and sizes to create a more visually interesting plate.  After all, we eat with our eyes first!

Directions:

Cut tomatoes in ½ inch slices or in half if using cherry or grape tomatoes.

Arrange tomato slices on a serving plate.

Stack the basil leaves and roll like a cigar.  Chiffonade the basil by cutting thin slices.  Sprinkle over tomatoes.

Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Broccoli and Mushroom Pasta with Red Pepper Flakes

A couple of my Ironman training partners are on a vegan diet.  Both maintain a busy schedule working full-time while training 6 days a week.  This doesn’t leave much time to prepare healthy vegan meals.  One hired a nutritionist to cook meals for her while the other is a single bachelor.  I created My Broccoli and Mushroom Pasta with Red Pepper Flakes for them.  It’s a healthy, carbo-loaded recipe that is quick and easy to prepare.

A single serving of this dish contains a cup of broccoli, one of the super-foods.  Broccoli is low in calories and rich in nutrients including protein.  Broccoli also contains the highest levels of certain glucosinolates, which scientists believe may reduce the risk of certain cancers.

The broccoli is cooked for only a couple minutes.  Experts recommend that broccoli be cooked for only 2-3 minutes and remain crunchy in order to retain its health benefits.

For more information on broccoli, check out this article:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111011112501.htm

 Serving size: 2

 Ingredients:

  • 1 small garlic clove or ½ large garlic clove
  • 1 cup of cooked whole wheat pasta (or gluten-free pasta)
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli florets
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • ½ cup + 3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes, plus more if desired
  • ½ cup pasta water
  • ¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese freshly grated (optional and may be omitted for a non-dairy diet)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F.

Slice off enough of the top of the garlic clove to expose the cloves.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil.  Roast for 25 minutes.

While the garlic is roasting, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt to the water and then add pasta.  Cook until al dente, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain pasta in a colander, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water.  Uncooked spaghetti, about the diameter of a quarter when held together between your thumb and index finger, should yield about a cup of cooked spaghetti.

In small sauté pan, sauté mushrooms in 2 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Saute for about 5 minutes until mushrooms are lightly brown.  Season with a pinch of salt and freshly cracked peppercorns.

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Boil or steam broccoli for 1 minute.  Discard the water in the pot used to boil or steam the broccoli.  Return cooked broccoli to the empty pot.

Once the garlic is roasted, peel each garlic clove by removing the outer most cloves first.  Then cut the tip of the skin off the top of each clove.  The roasted garlic clove should now be easy to remove.

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Course chop the garlic gloves and add to the broccoli.  Then add mushrooms, red chili pepper flakes and olive oil.  Saute over medium heat, for approximately 1 minute, mashing the garlic into the broccoli and mushrooms.

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Add the pasta and reserved pasta water.  Season with salt and freshly cracked peppercorns and toss for 1 more minute.

Place in individual serving bowls and add grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese before serving.  Sprinkling a pinch of red chili pepper flakes on top makes a nice presentation.

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