Roasted Butternut Squash with Dried Cranberries and Toasted Walnuts

My fellow Project Foodie contributor and award-winning blogger Carolyn Jung (foodgal) recently blogged about her visit to Michael Chiarello‘s Bottega. One of the many courses she enjoyed was a roasted butternut squash with burrata and caramelized mushrooms. The description and photo inspired me to prepare the following vegetable dish for Christmas. I love roasted butternut squash this time of year and found the color combination irresistable.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Dried Cranberries and Toasted Walnuts

This can be prepared with or without the spinach. It can also be served hot, right out of the oven, or at room temperature. If serving on a bed of spinach, lightly dress the spinach with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper before spooning the squash mixture on top. Serves 6-8

3 12 oz. packages of ready-cut butternut squash

4 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. fresh-ground pepper

3/4 cup dried cranberries

3/4 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

Baby spinach leaves

1. In a large mixing bowl, toss together squash, olive oil, salt, and pepper; spread on a large sheet pan and roast squash in a 400° oven for about 20 minutes, or until squash is lightly caramelized around the edges.

2. Remove squash from oven and release pieces with a large spatula. Scatter cranberries, walnuts, and parsley on top and mix with squash; serve immediately or set aside and serve at room temperature.

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Diet Secrets

Well, they aren’t secrets anymore and they might not be entirely mine, but these minor eating adjustments have contributed to my weight loss. And because I practiced them without any research from self-help books or costly consultations, I feel some sense of ownership.

Stress. Everyone handles it differently. Some turn to food for comfort. I run in the other direction. When my stomach is turning and aching from an emotional situation, food is the last thing that squelches the acrobatics. My dental hygienist did notice considerably more staining on my teeth. “Have you been drinking more coffee than usual? Well, how about red wine?” We’ll leave it at that.

Padding. No, not that kind. I’ve come to accept my endowment (or lack there of). The food kind. I try to pad my plate with something healthy every night when I sit down to dinner with the family. Brown rice, shredded cabbage, arugula, or whole wheat bread are my standard padding. Say I make grilled or baked fish and pasta. I forgo the pasta and serve it on a heaping handful of arugula. Maybe I’ll make pork chops and mashed potatoes another night. I’ll take my half serving of pork, cut it up, and serve it on a bed of brown rice. Last night I made a chopped salad with all the yummy stuff inside—salami, chicken, mozzarella cheese, marinated artichokes—but I served my small portion on a bed of shredded savoy cabbage. There was enough flavor from the ingredients and the dressing to cover the bulk of the cabbage. This strategy could be used with any protein. The key is to always have your favorite healthy padding on hand. We’ve grown accustomed to every bite of food doing a flavor dance in our mouth that we’ve forgotten that we can stretch that flavor (and fat and calories) by cutting back on portions and beefing them up with healthy bulk or padding.

Visual Trickery. Now this is where I use a smaller plate or bowl for my serving, tricking my mind into thinking that I have more food than I really do. This isn’t a new idea, but it works for me. And if I feel like seconds, I can fill my bowl or small plate with more knowing that I’m not overdoing it.

Competition. I have been accused by those closest to me that I am a closet competitor. Fiercely competitive about my kids and loved ones, but not about myself. I know that everyone says that we must love ourselves for who we are, and I do feel like I’m a fairly well adjusted person with moderate self esteem. But, I do believe that sometimes we need a little push and there’s nothing better than competitiveness to get us over the hump. Yes, you can compete with yourself to lose those last few pounds, or you can visualize someone you admire physically and imagine standing next to her while she marvels at your figure in your new skinny jeans. Hey, whatever works.

Rainy Day Clam Chowder

I’m posting another soup recipe. Blame it on the weather. Blame it on the soon-to-expire half gallon of organic milk I have in the fridge. I used to make clam chowder often since it’s my hubby’s favorite soup, but confess it’s been a few years since the last batch. He’s grown accustomed to ordering it when we’re out and never grows tired trying some restaurant’s version. This recipe isn’t as thick and creamy as many versions found at mainstream restaurants. It’s a bit more refined, but with a lot of flavor. I’m not using fresh clams because I’m not feeling particularly adventurous today, and don’t mind admitting that I sometimes take shortcuts when I cook. Try it sometime. It’s quite liberating.

Rainy Day Clam Chowder

For a vegetarian version, simply remove the bacon. This soup serves 4 and can easily be doubled.

2 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and steamed in the microwave

1/3 lb. bacon

5 Tbsp. butter

1/2 onion, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, finely chopped

1 large garlic clove, pressed or minced

3 Tbsp. flour

1/4 cup white wine

2 6.5 oz. cans of chopped clams in juice

2 cups fat-free milk

1/2 tsp. dried thyme or 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

1. Steam potatoes in microwave until tender when pierced; remove and set aside to cool.

2. Cook bacon in a skillet; remove and set aside to cool.

3. In a medium-size stock pot , add 2 Tbsp. butter and sauté onion, celery, and garlic under medium heat until very tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. While onion mixture is cooking, chop potatoes and bacon in a small dice and place in a bowl. Remove onion mixture from pot and spoon into bowl with potatoes and bacon.

4. Return stock pot to stove and under medium heat melt remaining 3 Tbsp. butter; add flour and stir constantly until mixture turns to a smooth paste. Continue to cook roux for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Measure wine and strain out clam juice from cans into measuring cup with wine. Slowly add wine-clam juice mixture to roux, stirring constantly until liquid thickens. Stir in milk. Add clams and ingredients from bowl to soup. Season with thyme, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Tunisian Turkey Soup with Roasted Butternut Squash and Tomatoes

What do you get when you combine a recently purchased tube of harissa paste with turkey broth from a leftover turkey carcass? Yep, Tunisian Turkey Soup. I’m not sure if turkey is a popular poultry in this North African country, but all of the other ingredients in this spicy soup are. I’ll just pretend that Thanksgiving isn’t just an American holiday, but a global one as well.

Tunisian Turkey Soup with Roasted Butternut Squash and Tomatoes

The amount of harissa used in this recipe doesn’t deliver very much heat, but rather a smoky flavor to the soup. If you like your food more spicy, feel free to add more harissa paste, 1/4 tsp. at a time. Don’t worry about this delicious paste sitting in your fridge. Use it anywhere you like a little heat such as in a spicy tomato sauce with pasta, a chilled cocktail sauce served with poached prawns or raw oysters, gazpacho, scrambled eggs with chorizo…you get the idea.

2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (about 12 oz.)

2 large beefsteak tomatoes, cored and sliced horizontally in fourths

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. coriander seeds

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 medium onion, peeled

2 medium carrots, peeled

2 garlic cloves, pressed

8 cups turkey broth

1 tsp. harissa paste

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

1/2 tsp. salt

1 small cinnamon stick

1 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed

1 cup shredded cooked turkey meat

Cilantro

1. On a large sheet pan, toss squash and tomato slices in 1 Tbsp. olive oil and spread evenly. Roast in a 400° oven for 15 minutes, or until mixture is nicely browned on all sides.

2. While squash and tomatoes are roasting, add coriander and cumin seed to a small skillet and toast on med-high heat for a few minutes, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant. Remove from skillet and crush with a mortar and pestle until finely ground; set aside.

3. Finely chop onion (1 cup) and carrot (1 cup) and sauté in a medium-size stock pot with 1 Tbsp. olive oil for about 7 minutes over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, add garlic, and squash-tomato mixture. Add 1 1/2 tsp. spice mixture, reserving remaining for later use, broth, both pastes, salt, and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer soup, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

4. Remove cinnamon stick and puree soup with an immersion blender or ladle soup in a standing blender or food processor, in batches, and process until pureed. Return soup to pot and add garbanzos and turkey and continue cooking over medium-low heat for another 15 minutes. Ladle soup in bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro. Season with additional salt and/or harissa to taste.

Breakfast with Michael Symon

I just had breakfast with Michael Symon. Well, we did have a large demonstration kitchen counter separating us, but I was in the front row and did ask a couple of questions so technically we did nosh and converse over a scrumptious breakfast he prepared. He was in San Francisco today promoting his first cookbook, Michael Symon’s Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen. The event was held at the Union Square William-Sonoma and was an intimate setting. Just me, Michael…and several other bloggers, writers, and others in the media.

I admit that I wasn’t familiar with Michael Symon before my Project Foodie invite and have confessed in earlier posts that I only watch the Food Network when I’m at the gym. Lately, though, I’ve been getting the magazine and giving it a glance for my monthly Project Foodie magazine reviews. The last two months, Food Network magazine has far surpassed Bon Appetit (the other mag I review) in recipes, content, and overall appeal. I might occasionally bash some of the Food Network “personalities”, but not the talented and professionally trained chefs like Michael Symon. I appreciate the fact that he is dedicated to his six Cleveland-area restaurants, has a loyal staff and customer base, and is a family man at heart, repeatedly referring to his wife (and working partner), son, and extended family.

While Michael whipped up scrambled eggs with goat cheese, potato pancakes, and bacon, he talked about his cooking philosophy, his restaurants, and the tough job of writing a cookbook. Actually, he said it was the hardest thing he ever did, but that he loved every minute of it. I’m going to enjoy going through his cookbook and preparing some of his Greek-inspired dishes (his mother is half-Greek). I’ll post later about my thoughts. Check Project Foodie to see my or my Project Foodie co-blogger Peggy Fallon’s review of his book. Thanks William-Sonoma and Calphalon for a lovely morning.