Monday, October 24, 2011

Fall Food Frenzy

After about October 15, all my determination to cling vainly to summer begins to evaporate. By that time we're venturing into 40 degree weather at night and the humidity comes and goes intermittently until the air outside resembles the taste and texture of a Honeycrisp apple. Sharp, sweet and tangy. (?)

Anyway, I start doing the same strange things everyone else who nests a home probably does: buying pansies and chrysanthemums and decorative gourds (click that link only if you have a strong stomach for the f-word and a taste for the hilarious!) to put on my front porch.

Food-wise the purchasing shifts from cucumbers and watermelon to butternut and acorn squash, cauliflower for soup and mashing, and bread. Sometimes, when I have a craving for a certain ingredient but have no idea how to use it in an interesting way I will visit my favorite vegetarian website for fresh ideas.

I don't eat a lot of bread at all, because the remnants of the Adkins Diet debacle in the early 2000's are still hanging around in my consciousness... BUT being that I am much less restrictive these days (unless you count the whole vegetarian thing, of course) I like to eat it from time to time and especially during the Fall and Winter months. I can always put on a big sweater, right?

When I do buy bread I try to buy whole grain bread with a good chunky texture and a nice crust on it. If it has nuts or seeds or chunks of whole roasted garlic, even better. However, I usually am so sparing with it that I end up with essentially a big lava rock with a flat edge on my counter in a plastic bag. What to do?

Feeding the sweet wild birds in my yard is one option of course and sometimes I do that. Last night though, I got this overwhelming craving for stuffing. So I went in the kitchen and rattled off the ingredients one typically finds in stuffing. Bread, onions, celery, sage, parsley, celery seed, broth, olive oil or butter, salt and pepper and boxed vegetable broth. I also had some walnuts and dried cranberries, so I was good to go! I added some carrots that were hanging out getting ready to go limp. I got the husband into the preparation which was fun and made it go by really quickly.

Here's the breakdown for last night's Fall Cranberry Walnut Stuffing (of course you can play with the measurements as these are just by memory and the recipe made enough for 2-3 meals for two):

3/4 loaf stale whole wheat artisan bread
1 skinny carrot, peeled and diced into small pieces
2 celery ribs, diced into small pieces
1/2 medium red onion, diced into small pieces
3/4 tsp sage
3/4 tsp dried parsley
2 pinches celery seed
3-4 twists Himalayan pink salt (or sea salt is fine, of course)
3-4 twists black pepper
sprinkle of olive oil
2 tbsp Earth Balance Organic Buttery Spread
3/4 cup Imagine Foods Organic No-Chicken Broth
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or oil a medium sized baking dish.

Chop all the bread into about 1/2 inch cubes and set aside.
Put all diced vegetables with the spices, olive oil, 'butter,' and broth into a medium sauce pan and simmer until the veggies get slightly soft and everything blends well.

Right before baking, add the bread cubes a little at a time, tossing thoroughly so they are coated with seasonings and well blended with the vegetables. Then add the walnuts and cranberries. Spread it all out in the baking dish. Make sure the mixture is a little damp (not saturated) by adding a little more broth anywhere it looks too dry.

Bake for about 30-ish minutes uncovered. I like a slightly crusty top so I moved it up under the broiler turned on low for about 2 minutes right at the end.

I served it with my curried butternut squash-coconut soup (thanks Fresca restaurant for the inspiration-- I went home and copied your recipe as best I could and it's so perfect and easy, I keep coming back to it!):

I had a half a medium sized squash already baked (cut in half, seeds scooped out, 45 min at about 375 degrees, open face down in a baking dish with 1/2 inch water and covered in foil) so all I had to do was scoop it out and puree with about 3/4 can light organic coconut milk, a little more broth, and a little of the following spices: cayenne, curry, allspice, salt, pepper. Then I allowed it to simmer a bit so it would all blend well.

The combination of the two dishes together was awesome! The creamy-spicy-sweetness of the soup with the crusty bread and slightly crunchy fresh veggies and walnuts were a lovely combination. It's all I can do now not to go buy silly things like cornucopias and more decorative gourds for my dinner table. I'll leave that to the more Martha Stewart-ish of my friends :)

Enjoy and let me know if you vary the recipe and how it turns out!