Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

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My ideal Saturday mornings consist of taking a little time (maybe an hour or two) to flip on the Food Network, drink my coffee, and scroll through Pinterest. Even though I do these things separately throughout the week, there’s nothing like the slow, quiet luxury of doing them all at once for an our or two on Saturday morning. This past weekend I drifted across a pin on stuffed acorn squash. I immediately thought of my mother. Growing up, we always had the same squat, beige toaster oven on the counter top. Besides toast, the only things I ever saw my mother pop into it were store-bought, frozen mini-pies and acorn squashes that she cut herself. The preparation was minimal – salt, pepper, and a pat of butter, but she LOVED that acorn squash. Whereas many people might cook it with brown sugar or marshmallows, my mother liked to make squash savory instead of sweet – a preference I carry with me to this day.

Though the recipe on Pinterest was a vegetarian one, I decided it would be exquisite with some crumbled sausage. I like mild Italian sausage because a little goes a long way. I can buy one pack of sausages, remove what I need from the casing and save the rest to add to soup, sprinkle into mac n cheese, etc. It is versatile, and the heat from the seasonings pairs well with any rich dish.

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Acorn Squash is fairly easy to prep. Slice open each gourd, scoop out the seeds and strings, and then slice a little off the round side of each half so that they won’t tip over when flesh-side up. Rub the flesh with oil (or spray) and season liberally with salt (and pepper if desired). Recipes differ on the time and temperature for roasting acorn squash, but one thing they almost all suggest is to line your baking sheet with tin foil and place the squash flesh-side down. Some recipes suggest 400 degrees; others 375 – base this on how hot your oven usually gets. Mine runs hot, so I chose 375. The cooking time varies also, but that probably has to do with the size of your squashes and the temperature of your oven. Bank on something between 30 minutes and an hour. I ended up taking mine out at 45 minutes at 375. They are done when the flesh can be pierced easily with a fork.

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For the filling, I cooked up 1 lb of mild Italian sausage (you could cook less, but then you might want to add another veggie component like mushrooms or kale or grain like quinoa so you’ll have enough stuffing). I put the sausage aside and used the pan to cook down small diced onions and garlic. I combined these and stuffed the roasted acorn squash halves with them. I topped each one with Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, and a small pat of butter (you could substitute a drizzle of oil for butter if you like). Then I broiled it for 2 minutes to melt the cheese and butter. The beauty of this recipe is that you can stuff the acorn squashes with whatever you like or have on hand. After tasting my version, Mr. Foodie and I decided it would have been absolutely perfect if we had added a few diced tomatoes to stuffing for a little acid and sweetness. Even without the tomatoes, the squash was rich and filling. The heat of the sausage paired well with the creamy flesh of the acorn squash. The cheese and bread topping added texture and a nutty bite.

Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

3 Acorn Squashes, cut in half

Olive Oil, salt, and pepper

1 lb mild Italian sausage, removed from casing

1 small diced onion

2 cloves minced garlic

1-2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese

Bread Crumbs for topping

1-2 Tbsp butter for topping

Preheat oven to 375 (or 400) and line baking sheet with tin foil. Oil prepped Acorn Squash Halves and season liberally with salt and pepper. Place flesh-side down on lined baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes to an hour. They are done when flesh is easily pierced with a fork. In the meantime, cook up the sausage, crumbling with a wooden spoon. Set aside and use the pan to cook the diced onion and garlic until softened. Mix the onions and sausage together for stuffing. Fill each roasted acorn squash half with sausage mixture. Top all with Parmesan, sprinkle of bread crumbs, and pat of butter. Broil for 2 minutes to melt butter and cheese. Enjoy!

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Adult Mac n Cheese and Veggie Bake: Dinner Party Time!

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As I wake up to my fourth straight day of rainy weather this week, I can’t help but wish I was back in the Florida house fighting off the sun with wide brimmed hats and sunscreen. Not that I’m complaining about the fact that Fall has finally arrived here. I don’t mind cooler temps, but this rain man. I require sunshine. So I’m beating the rain day blues the best way I know how – baking. Mr. Foodie is still raving about the American Gingerbread I made the other day, and yesterday, we hosted a dinner party for my grandpa Calvin (also a pastor) who will be marrying us next year! Calvin is not related to me by blood, but he and his late wife, Ann, were like grandparents to my siblings and I for the last seventeen years. I’m so lucky that we’ll have Calvin presiding over our ceremony because he knows me so well. I also plan to carry a little piece of Ann with me as I walk down the aisle – a little photo in a locket on my bouquet. I remember the first time I ever made mac n cheese for her, she said “some day you’ll make a wonderful wife.”

Mr. Foodie never got to meet Ann before she passed away, but he met Calvin when we were dating a couple years ago. I was so excited that we would get to spend time with him for dinner. Because I know he loves it, I made my Adult Mac n Cheese and a baked squash dish since I was given a massive amount of squash from a dear friend who works near the Capitol garden! We’ll also have salad for something fresh and non-baked.

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My mac n cheese is inspired by Ina Garten’s as it uses two of her favorite cheeses: Gruyere and Fontina. Both of these are excellent melting cheeses – perfect for fondue or any gratin dish. I also like the pairing of the creamy, milder fontina with the sharper, pungent gruyere. Luckily I live near a Wegmans whose cheese counters are to die for. They always have a fresh batch of these cheeses grated and ready to go.

I also use mild italian sausage (or spicy depending on who I’m cooking for). Even the mild offers a spicy zing to an otherwise cheesy, starchy dish. It makes it even richer, but this flavor combo hits the spot, especially on a rainy day. I sprinkle the top with wheat panko crumbs for a little crunch and texture – I’m telling, you, this mac n cheese will change your life.

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The veggie bake is based on something I found a while ago about using up your summer squash. In addition to the tasty squash my friend gave me from the Capitol garden, I also had some whole zucchini left over from our camping dinner. I really wanted to find a dish that would use them all and which would enable me to do prep ahead of time (always a good idea when hosting a dinner party). This veggie bake was just the ticket. Of course I only got a pic of it prepped and forgot to take one after it was baked and before we consumed it. Oh well, isn’t it pretty?

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Added on top of this is a mixture of parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Both the mac and cheese and the veggie bake I made the day before and covered until I was ready to bake them – I popped both into a 350 degree oven at different times since the veggies cook faster (partly because I doubled the mac n cheese recipe and it was super cold from the fridge). Later, my mom remarked how much she enjoyed having dishes that didn’t require any attention right before the party. All we had to do was assemble the salad and set the table. We went all out and used china and cloth napkins – it was so much fun!

I hope you enjoy making these recipes and making them your own. What rainy day comfort foods do you like to make?

Fontina/Gruyere Mac n Cheese

(I doubled this recipe for my dinner, but here I’m giving you the original recipe)

1 lb regular sized pasta shells

1 pack of uncooked Italian mild sausage, casings removed

1 stick of butter

1/2 Cup flour

1 Quart milk, warmed

12 ounces gruyere (with both cheeses, I just pick up two containers as measured by Wegmans and I eyeball it – you can add cheese to taste)

8 ounces fontina

salt and pepper

Panko bread crumbs (wheat or white as you like)

Cook the pasta according to the instructions, drain, and set aside. Cook the sausage, drain off excess fat, and set aside. Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Once melted, turn down heat and add flour, whisking constantly for two minutes until the mixture is golden brown and the flour taste is cooked down. Slowly add the warmed milk to the pan, whisking as you go. Turn the heat to medium and let it cook until slightly thickened. Take off the heat (and here is where many recipes say to up the cheese into the sauce and then pour onto the dish, but I usually put the cheese into the dish and then pour the white sauce over it – either way it bakes together in the dish). Mix the pasta and sausage in a 9×13 baking dish. Add the cheeses and mix together. Pour the white sauce over top and mix lightly. Taste and salt/pepper if you like. At this point you can cover and pop in the fridge or sprinkle panko bread crumbs on top and pop in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes (or close to an hour if you are taking it out of the fridge). When the cheese is bubbling and the top is slightly browned, you know the mac n cheese is ready.

Squash Veggie Bake

2 medium-large zucchini

2 large yellow squash

1 Cup parmesan

1/2 Cup panko bread crumbs

salt and pepper

Olive Oil

Cut the squash and zucchini into 1/4 inch thick wheels (using a mandolin or a knife). You don’t have to alternate them as I did (photo above), but you can inside a pie dish. Propping them up, though, enables you to drizzle the crumb/cheese mixture in between them. Oil the veggies and season them in the pan. Sprinkle the panko crumbs and parmesan over the top, pushing some down with your fingers between the pieces. For a little more flavor, you can dot the top with butter and I’m experimenting with adding other things, like sauteed onion and red pepper flakes (make it your own!). Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes (or turn up the heat for crispier veggie-edges. I used 350 since I was also making the mac n cheese).

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National Potato Day

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So yesterday 8/19 was National Potato Day! I planned ahead this time and picked up 1.5 lb of potatoes when we were at the grocery store the other day. I grew up with the idea that potatoes were an essential part of living. Though we lived in California most of my childhood, we were midwestern at heart. My dad’s parents still live in North Dakota where my grandpa used to help harvest and pack potatoes (he lost is wallet in a potato field once and made his seven children return every day to try and find it). My grandma and I make a special Christmas treat each year, the principal ingredient of which is potatoes! Of course most of the “potatoes” I consumed growing up were of the instant whipped or boxed gratin variety. It is hard to for us to picture what a revelation these boxed versions of our favorite vegetable were to my grandmother and mother – no prep! no mess! consistency! To this day my grandma prefers to make our special Christmas treat with instant mashed potatoes instead of the real kind because the consistency is easier to work with. The only real potatoes I remember eating growing up, actually, are “baked” potatoes which were, in reality, microwaved, split, and stuffed with sour cream, cheese, etc.

The first time I made mashed potatoes from scratch, I was over-the-moon excited by my accomplishment which seemed like quite a feat compared to pouring flakes out of a box with butter in a saucepan. I was luckily guided by a Gourmet recipe on the science behind making mashed potatoes, so I learned not only how to do it but why water is the enemy of starch and how much cream/butter/etc. you really need to make the best dish.

To celebrate this year’s National Potato Day, I planned to follow the recipe for Apple-Bacon Roasted Golds in Victoria Shearer’s The Florida Keys Cookbook – pretty much the current bible of keys cooking. But of course I had to make some changes and substitutions, all of which I note below.

Apple-Bacon Roasted Golds (with some changes)

1.5 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 regular slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 C diced sweet onions (we used regular white onions)

1/3 C apple-cider vinegar (we used white wine vinegar bc we didn’t have this on hand)

1 Gala apple, peeled, cored, and diced

1 tablespoon snipped fresh parsley (we omitted parsley)

1 teaspoon snipped fresh chives

As I’ve mentioned, our grocery store is going through a renovation, so we don’t always have or can’t always find everything we need thus the substitutions/omissions. Begin with your potatoes and dice them into even sized pieces (our were larger than we would have liked – go for 1/2 inch squares if possible). Coat the pieces with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until pierced easily by a fork (the book says 18-20 min, but ours took longer perhaps because of the size or oven temp).

Meanwhile, cook bacon pieces until crisp, drain on paper towel. Cook onions until softened, turn down heat and add vinegar. Take off heat and add apple, bacon, and roasted potatoes to pot – fold together gently. Check seasonings, add parsley and/or chives if you have/want.

 

The resulting dish is probably one more savory than Victoria had in mind, but we enjoyed it quite a bit. The potatoes have a peppery, tangy bite that pairs well with the fatty, salty bacon and sweet apple pieces. Next time I would cut my potato pieces smaller, perhaps grate the apple instead of dice it, and add even a little more bacon (or thicker cut bacon) to take this tasty mixture over the the top. Mr. Foodie made lightly floured, pan-fried tilapia filets to go with our potatoes and a simple salad. All together a delicious Friday dinner. Did you celebrate National Potato Day? Do you have a favorite potato recipe? We’d love to hear about it!

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