Sunday, October 28, 2012

Frankenstorm and the Week Ahead... 10/29/12

I live in Northern Virginia and we are preparing for the Frankenstorm (yes, that's really what they're calling the mesh of hurricane Sandy, a nor'easter, and a full moon a few days before Halloween.) We've moved things off the deck, brought the grill closer to the house, fixed downspouts and splash blocks, cut branches that used to scrape on the house, and removed the screens from our new windows. We have pitchers of water, a bath tub full of water, plenty of propane for the camp stove, flashlights, and cans of food. I think we're all a bit on edge in this area after this summer's derecho knocked power out for days. Schools are closed for the next two days, federal and local governments are closed, even public transit is shut down. The rain started a few hours ago... we'll see what really happens!

Menu for the Week of October 29, 2012
I've planned this week's menu to be pretty simple. I didn't want to buy a lot of perishables in case the power is out for a few days. I also wanted flexibility to make things on the grill or camp stove, if needed. Depending on the power situation, meals may switch around to different days.

Monday: hot dogs and baked beans
Tuesday: cuban-style rice and beans (from my nutritionist's cookbook)
Wednesday: Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash with Swiss Chard and Dates
Thursday: pasta with veggies

Friday: Curried Spinach and Chickpeas with rice
Saturday: leftovers (or must-goes, as one of my aunts calls them)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Stuffed Acorn Squash (for Camping and Home)

Me, Karen, Duffy, and Allison at the falls.
This past weekend I went camping with three great friends. We left our husbands and children at home and communed with nature and caught up with each other. We went to Cunningham Falls State Park near Thurmont, MD. I was responsible for bringing dinners, and decided to make a variation on my mom's stuffed acorn squash for dinner on Saturday. She created the recipe for camping well before I was born. It was so good, though, that it's not just for camping. This recipe is just as easily made in the oven as on the campfire. My favorite thing about this meal is that it stays hot while you eat it - always good for a cold camping night!

I prefer to do all the prep work at home, so on Thursday evening I cut and cleaned the acorn squash, coated each half in oil, and wrapped each individually in heavy duty aluminum foil. Using the heavy duty kind of aluminum foil is important when cooking on a fire.

Next, I prepared the filling, let it cool, and packed it in a plastic bag. Both the squash and filling were refrigerated overnight and packed into a cooler on Friday morning, ready for camping!
Cleaned and oiled.
Wrapped up and ready to go!
Filling ready to go.
We did two hikes on Saturday, the first one was an easy jaunt to Cunningham Falls. The second one, Cat Rock Trail, was harder, but well worth it. Cat Rock is a rock scramble at the top of a large hill / small mountain. When you climb to the top of it you are rewarded with some beautiful views. Below are some pictures from our hikes.

After a lunch of Karen's homemade hummus with a variety of GF chips and carrot sticks, we went to the lake. Here are some pictures from that area.

It was an excellent trip with excellent friends. We are planning to do it again next year!

Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves 4
  • 2 acorn squash
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 lb ground meat, I used pork this time
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • oregano to taste
  • basil to taste
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 4 slices cheese, sharp cheddar is best
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove seeds. Run inside of squash with oil. Place cut-side down on cookie sheet and put in oven.
  3. While squash is baking, saute onion. When the onion is translucent, brown the ground meat.
  4. Add the tomatoes, rice, and spices to the meat mixture.
  5. After baking for about 25 minutes, remove squash from oven, turn over, and fill with meat mixture. Cook for 20 minutes more.
  6. Place one slice of cheese on each squash half.  Return to oven until cheese is melted (about 5 minutes.)

Camping Method Notes

Before you leave:
  • Prepare meat mixture as described above, cool, and package for trip.
  • Cut and clean squash. Coat with oil and wrap individually in heavy duty aluminum foil. Package for trip.

About an hour before you want to eat:

Get a good bed of coals to cook on. Place the acorn squash (still wrapped in foil) cut-side down on the coals. You may want to rotate them or switch positioning, depending on the uniformity of your coals. When they start to soften, pull them off. I usually let the meat mixture sit out while the squash is cooking, just to take the chill off.
Unwrap squash and fill with meat mixture. Wrap in heavy duty aluminum foil (I typically use a new piece). Place in the coals cut-side up. Again, you may want to rotate them or switch positioning. When the squash has finished cooking and the meat mixture is hot, remove from the fire; I pulled ours off after 20 minutes and they were nice and hot. Unwrap each squash and place in a bowl (or plate) and top with a slice of cheese. Enjoy!

This recipe was shared on Allergy Free Alaska's Whole Food FridaysAllergy Free Wednesday, Gluten Free Fridays, and The Daily Dietribe's 5-Ingredient Mondays.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Week Ahead... 10/22/12

I had a lovely and relaxing weekend camping with my friends, two from college and a newer friend. We called it Mom's Camping Weekend 2012. We spent two days in Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland away from husbands and children. I'll have some stories, pictures, and, of course, a recipe from the trip coming up soon. But, before we get too far into the week, I'll share the menu!

Menu for the Week of October 22, 2012
My husband did not cook while I was away. This means I can use the easy meals I had planned for last week on Thursday and Friday of this week when I will be busy with Girl Scout events.
Monday: beet and spinach salad
  • prep adzuki beans for Tuesday and Wednesday
  • prep quinoa for Wednesday
  • prep dressing for Wednesday
Tuesday: Apple Pilaf with adzuki beans 
  • prep sweet potatoes for Wednesday
Wednesday: Adzuki Bean & Quinoa Kale Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Thursday: bison hot dogs, baked beans, salad

Friday: chicken nuggets, tater tots, green beans

Saturday: out to dinner after my mom's concert

Monday, October 15, 2012

More Intro and The Week Ahead

You know that ice breaker where everyone has to say two lies and one truth about themselves and then everyone has to guess which one is the truth? I actually really like that game - I think because it's fun to come up with a truth that sounds outlandish enough to be a lie, or vice versa.

Here are some of my favorite "truths" for the game:
  • My favorite vegetable is asparagus.
  • I have bungee jumped.
  • I have visited 17 national parks.
  • I love math and science.
  • I earned the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouts. 
  • I am a Girl Scout leader.

Outside of my not-so-outlandish "truths", my day-to-day life includes my wonderful husband of 11 years, James. We have a 2-year-old son that I'll refer to as EJ, for Engineer Junior. I hope it doesn't seem as though I'm pushing him toward engineering with that nickname. While he can build a mean tunnel with Mega Blocks, he also loves music, hockey (2-year-old version), and playing in the dirt.

I am an architectural engineer with a focus on mechanical systems. An architectural engineer is not the same as an architect. We focus on the engineering related to architecture, so structure, mechanical systems, electrical systems, and construction management. I design heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems for commercial and institutional buildings, mostly renovations.

When I get home from work I have to take care of (play with!) EJ and get dinner on the table. Because I like to maximize my time with EJ every day, a lot of the dinners we eat have parts of the meal that can be prepared the night before or are rather quick to completely make.

I spend time every weekend planning our dinners for the entire week, keeping in mind any evening events, such as my Girl Scout troop meetings. I take the weather forecast into consideration by planning a casserole that I can pop in the oven for days that are nice so EJ and I can play outside.

Menu for the Week of October 15, 2012
I have an appointment Thursday evening, so an easy dinner is best. Friday and Saturday I'll be camping with my best buds, so James is chef those nights. I've planned easy, super-kid-friendly meals for him to prepare.

Monday: Spaghetti Squash Bake
Tuesday: Curried Spinach and Chickpeas with Rice
Wednesday: Pasta with Veggies
Thursday: Leftovers
Friday: Chicken Nuggets and Tater Tots
Saturday: Hot Dogs and Baked Beans

You'll rarely see a Sunday menu because my entire family goes to my mom's house for dinner almost every week!

I have some questions for you: (1) How do you save time planning and cooking? (2) What are your favorite "truths" for the game?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Inaugural Post Pasta

I'm an engineer so I like to solve problems. I've always liked to cook. Combine those two together and you get my approach to cooking... find something interesting and tweak it until it's something better! Much of what I'll be posting here will be recipes that are inspired by other recipes. I generally make the recipe as written the first time and then tweak it after that.

A byproduct of engineering and a passion for cooking means I like kitchen gadgets. More on that in future posts...

About 18 months ago I visited a nutritionist who recommended I change my diet as a way to manage both rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease. So, I've dropped gluten and all cow products (beef and dairy) as well as a handful of other things like soy, green peppers, and raisins. I've never really liked green peppers and raisins so that hasn't been a problem. I've also dropped acidic foods like tomato sauce. My health has increased dramatically; my arthritis rarely flares, and neither does the Crohn's. I've managed to learn most of what triggers my GI problems and what to do when I have a problem.

I'll introduce myself more over the next few posts, but I'll end this inaugural post with my first recipe: a creamy butternut squash pasta, reminiscent of macaroni and cheese. It's a cinch to pull together and you can do some prep the night before, if you choose. It's also unbelievable reheated the next day for lunch!

Butternut Squash Pasta
total time: 35 minutes once squash has been cut
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thin
  • 1 can coconut milk, full fat
  • 1 butternut squash, approximately 2 lbs., "degunked", peeled, and cut into ~3/4" cubes (can do this the night before)
  • 16 oz bag brown rice penne pasta
  • 1-1/2 c fresh spinach, packed, cut
  • 2-3 tbsp goat cheese (chevre)
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • salt
  • pepper
  1. Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. (Use a pan that has a lid. I use a 13" brazier because my largest saute pan does not have a lid.)
  2. Add onions to pan and cook until translucent.
  3. Add coconut milk and butternut squash. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  4. While the squash cooks, cook the pasta according to the directions. (I use Trader Joe's brand and it takes about 10 minutes to cook. Don't forget salt and olive oil in the cooking water! Stir often. And, I find that it's critical to rinse brown rice pasta in cold water after cooking.)
  5. Once squash is soft, use the broad side of a spatula or spoon to mash it. I like to mash all of the pieces, but you could leave it chunkier, if you choose.
  6. Stir in spinach and goat cheese. Keep stirring until the goat cheese melts.
  7. Add spices.
  8. Stir in rinsed and drained pasta. Cook for a few minutes to reheat the pasta.
 Inspired by

This recipe was shared on Allergy Free Alaska's Whole Food Fridays and Gluten Free Fridays!