Thursday, October 31, 2013

Roasted Pumpkin Centerpiece with Thanksgiving Fried Rice Pilaf

I’ve been looking for an alternative to holiday stuffing. Don’t get me wrong I love the toasted bread concoction that some people shove into their holiday birds and call “dressing.” But making stuffing from absolute scratch—baking bread, cubing bread, toasting bread, making homemade sausage and turkey stock, dicing and sautéing fruit and veggies--due to food allergies and intolerances constitutes hours of work and a huge mess in my kitchen.
So when I saw an orzo dish in an advertisement in through Savor magazine last week, I was inspired to try something similar with rice. I put the rice in a pumpkin because it’s pretty and adds a bit of squash flavor that really speaks of fall. The oven turns the pumpkin a deep burnt orange that will be the perfect centerpiece for your holiday table. This recipe makes a small portion for a two-pound pie pumpkin. You will need to experiment with cooking times for a larger pumpkin if you need more.
Although this recipe if fairly labor intensive (it took 2 hours to make), it is less bothersome than making stuffing. As a bonus this whole dish or parts of the dish can be cooked ahead of time. If you do make it ahead of time, I suggest reheating the rice mixture separate from the pumpkin and then putting them together already hot because they will reheat much faster that way. The pumpkin and wild rice and brown rice, and nuts (if you’re using them) can also be cooked days ahead, so you have a lot of flexibility in how you want to stage the steps in the recipe if available time and space in your oven become challenging around the holidays. The recipe instructions assume that you are making the whole dish at once.
To get cooked cranberries, I run water over my cranberry sauce in a strainer, but you could buy cooked, dried cranberries to use instead. If you want to use my method, the cranberry sauce recipe was posted previously.
Instead of the chicken sausage, you could use a cooked and diced chicken breast or vegetarian sausage or you can leave it out altogether.
I used walnuts in this recipe. However, the nuts in this recipe are completely optional because they are a last-minute garnish. I would not use them if someone at the table had a nut allergy. Alternately, the nuts could be replaced with seeds, such as pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, and prepared the same way. Seasonings such as chives, celery salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger can be added if you and your guests can tolerate them.
In the photo, I have used the cornels from a last-of-the-season ear of sweet corn and left out the greens. This pictured version has a diced chicken breast instead of chicken sausage.

½ cup wild rice
1 cup brown rice (I used basmati)
1 small pie pumpkin (about 2 pounds)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 apple, diced
¼ cup cooked chicken sausage or other sausage (optional) (see recipe below)
¼ cup nuts or seeds (optional)
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon cooked cranberries
¼ cup shredded greens such as spinach, radicchio, or baby swiss chard

1.     Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add ¼ wild rice. Reduce heat to simmer and simmer for 20 minutes. Add 1 cup of brown rice and increase the heat until it boils. Then reduce the heat to maintain the simmer. Simmer the rice until that are tender, about 35 minutes longer. Strain the rice through a fine sieve.
2.     Meanwhile, begin roasting the pumpkin. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cut the top off of your pumpkin and scoop out the stringy flesh and seeds just as if you are making a jack-o-lantern. The stringy goo doesn’t taste good, but you can reserve the seeds for another use if you are so inclined. Oil the inside of the pumpkin and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Replace the lid and put the pumpkin into a casserole dish in the oven. Bake uncovered for about 40 minutes or until the inside flesh is tender.
3.     Next we will “fry” the rice. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil on medium high heat in a large skillet. Then add the diced apple and stir occasionally until it is tender. This will take only a couple of minutes. Next add the sausage to reheat it. Last add the drained rice. Stir until it is thoroughly mixed and the rice is slightly oily and toasted, about 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. If you are not going to serve this dish the same day you are making it, this is a good place to stop.
4.     Putting the finishing touches on the rice is the next step. If you are using the nuts or seeds, mix them with honey on a baking sheet and sprinkle them with salt. Roast them in the 375 degree oven for just a couple of minutes until they sizzle just a little. If your pumpkin is still cooking, you can cook the nuts or seeds as it finishes. Mix in the shredded greens and cranberries while the rice is still warm and garnish with the nuts or seeds if you are using them.
5.     Put the pumpkin on a platter and put the rice mixture in and around the pumpkin and then serve. People will scoop out some of the pumpkin flesh when they spoon out their rice. This recipe serves 4 generous portions.

Simple Chicken Sausage
Grind a skinless, boneless chicken breast in a food processor or chopper. Stir in one tablespoon good quality honey, one teaspoon salt, and one teaspoon black pepper. You can add a pinch of red pepper flakes if you want it extra spicy. Shape the sausage into links or patties or cook as loose sausage. This sausage is very lean and will typically need to be cooked with a little oil in the pan.

Cranberry Sauce and Cranberry Juice


Crisp, refreshing, tangy—all words that describe the seasonal delight that is cranberry sauce. A few years ago, I decided that I liked it too much to have it only during the holidays and started making it a regular side to our meals year round. Eating the jewel-toned sauce in every season is especially easy when a batch of homemade cranberry sauce lasts the whole year when stored in the freezer. And thanks to the high quantities of pectin that occur naturally in the fruit, the sauce jells automatically on its own.
This time, when I whipped up my usual pot of cranberry goodness, I decided that I wanted a sparkling glass of the ruby juice too. To make the juice, I used the sauce to infuse filtered water with a rich cranberry flavor. Interestingly, the pectin from the berries gives the juice a velvety mouth feel once it sets up in the refrigerator over night.

2 pounds fresh cranberries
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
Additional water for juice

Directions for Cranberry Sauce:
1.     To make sauce, combine the cranberries, sugar, and 2 cups of water in a large stockpot. Bring to a vigorous boil. Then reduce heat to low to maintain simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes.
2.     Remove from heat. Set aside about 3 cups of the sauce to make juice. Store the remaining cranberry sauce in the refrigerator until it sets up like jelly. Then the sauce may be frozen for up to a year.

Directions for Cranberry Juice:
1.     To make juice, you will need about 3 cups of warm cranberry sauce, a juice pitcher, a large spoon, a mesh sieve, a bowl slightly larger than the sieve, and about a quart of water. Place the sieve in the bowl and add 1 to 2 cups of the warm cranberry sauce to the sieve. Pour some of the water over the sieve and stir.
2.     Once the cranberry sauce turns the water very read, lift the sieve out of the water to strain the juice. Pour the resulting juice from the bowl in the juice pitcher. Discard the cranberries that have been strained. Repeat this process until you have about a quart of juice. Store the juice in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Beef and Barley Soup

Having meals ready to eat in the freezer is essential to making it through my week without going hungry or eating something stupid that will make me sick. Right now, I'm cooking up 6 quarts of soup in my Crock Pot slow cooker so that I can restock my freezer. To make the preparation process quicker, I put most of my ingredients in my Cuisinart Mini chopper to get them diced fine. Later in the week, I plan to roast a pie pumpkin and serve the reheated soup in it for a dramatic presentation.

1 pound of beef, cubed
1 rib of celery, diced fine
3 carrots, diced fine
2 pints of cherry tomatoes, diced fine
1 apple, diced
1 pear, diced
1 cup pearl barley
1 handful of fresh spinach, shredded
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
10 cups of filtered water

Put ingredients in the slow cooker in the order they are listed. Cook on low for 8 to 12 hours or cook on high for 6 to 8 hours. This recipe make 12 servings.

Next time I make the dish, I plan to leave out the celery and add potatoes, either sweet potatoes or Yukon Golds.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Eating While Traveling: Microwaved Tagine

A tagine is a North African stoneware cooking vessel with a conical lid. I've been considering purchasing one and was unable to resist when I saw this microwave miniature version called the "Stone Wave" at Walgreens.

I bought the tagine when I was getting ready to go on a trip and would need to prepare my meals using the usual hotel microwave and refrigerator. I imagined cooking with the tagine would at least make my meals a little more interesting than the usual microwaved bowl of food.
In my hotel room, I made a tomato and chicken tagine and served it with a microwaved sweet potato. The resulting dish tasted better than just microwaving the ingredients in a bowl. The lid seems to let just the right amount of steam escape to concentrate the sauce to deepen flavors, yet keep the dish moist. The addition of a high quality olive oil provided a warm savory flavor to the tangy and velvety tomato sauce.

Microwave Chicken and Tomato Tagine


1/2 tomato, diced
1/2 organic chicken breast, diced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 squirt of water from sports bottle (hay, I was traveling)
Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place half of the tomatoes in the tagine. Then place the chicken in the dish and top with remaining tomatoes. Add the remaining ingredients.
  2. Place lid on "Stone Wave" and place in microwave. It is helpful if you have a microwave safe plate under it as it has the tendency to boil over a bit. Microwave on high for about 5 minutes, depending on the power of your microwave. Serve with microwaved sweet potatoes. Serves 1 small portion.

I am considering buying this larger version from William Sonoma to use at home so that I can make enough for my whole family at once. But the smaller Stone Wave version worked perfectly to feed just me safe meals while I stayed in a hotel.
How do you deal with your food allergies when traveling?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Apple and Tomato Steak over Jasmine Rice

This is an easy weekday recipe that takes about 20 minutes to make. I bought the beef already cut up for a very good price from the grocery store.
In this recipe, I describe how to cook rice using the pasta method. This is a fool proof method to cook rice because you can constantly check it by pulling out a few grains at a time as you go until it is cooked just as you like it. This method of cooking also has the added benefit of removing a lot of the residual arsenic that is in most grain products grown in the United States, according to a Consumer Report. You will need a sieve like the kind used to strain gravy or a colander with very small holes. Jasmine rice is an especially fragrant medium grain rice and is often found in the ethnic section of your grocery.

1 cup jasmine rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 rib of celery, diced
1 pound of steak cut into 1 inch cubes
1 apple, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cook rice according to the pasta method. This means bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil (at least 5 cups) with a pinch of salt in it. Add the cup of dried rice. Reduce heat to maintain boil (about medium). Cook uncovered until rice has reached the desired tenderness (taste it to check). Strain rice through a sieve to remove from the water. Allow to rest in the sieve to let it get fluffy.
  2. While the rice cooks, heat the oil in a large skillet on medium high and saute the diced celery until it starts to brown. Add the cubes of steak and stir to brown the meat on all sides. Salt and pepper as desired.
  3. Add the diced apple and quartered cherry tomatoes. Put a lid on the skillet and reduce the heat to low. Allow to simmer for 2 to 5 minutes. Then serve the meat mixture over rice. This makes 4 servings.

There are not a lot of ingredients to aggravate typical allergies and intolerances as this recipe contains no preservatives or dyes and no wheat, soy, egg, dairy, nuts or seafood.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Eating While Traveling

I have been known to earn some funny stares when I travel. Eating out with food allergies can be scary, and sometimes I want to relax and not take the risks. Here we are breaking some serious hotel rules and cooking with open flame on a hotel balcony. Do not try this at home (or at your hotel).