Super Simple Beef and Butternut Squash Stew

It is so cold outside that you can throw a cup of water into the air and it will turn into snow and fall to the ground. It has been that way for a week. And there’s only one thing to do. Stay in and cook — and eat something hot, hot, hot. Enter a twist on beef stew — no more heavy potatoes and cooked-to-death carrots. How about some sweet, creamy chunks of butternut squash instead? Don’t be scared! It’s delicious..

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Super Simple Beef and Butternut Squash Stew

2 lbs. beef stew meat (it says this on the package at the grocery store)

1 lb. butternut squash (about the same amount as the beef once it’s all sliced and diced)

3 cups beef broth (If you buy a carton or can at the store, read the label. There are a few out there without sugar. Kitchen Basics beef broth in a box is all real ingredients with a touch of honey.)

1/2 – 1 medium onion (whatever you have in the house will work)

1 1/2 tablespoons dried rosemary

2 cloves of garlic

salt and pepper

Optional: add a cup of leftover rice or quinoa to thicken

Dice up the onion and mince the garlic cloves. Add some olive oil to hot dutch oven or big pot, and sautee the onion and garlic until soft. Crush or chop up the rosemary and add it to the pot. Take onions off the heat while you prepare the rest of the stew.

The stew meat comes in big chunks. Be sure to cut it into smaller pieces, about an inch square. Salt and pepper it. Then heat up a big frying pan, and drop the beef chunks onto it so the outside sizzles and sears. Flip the pieces over as they brown, but make sure they aren’t steaming in their own juices. Maybe do one batch at time to make sure the meat stays dry. The inside can still be pink, but remove the beef after the outside has browned.

Then cut up your butternut squash the best you can. It’s a big squash, so get a big, sharp knife. It’s easiest to cut it into slices, then lay flat on a cutting board to trim away the skin. Then slice into cubes about the size of the meat.

Add the beef and squash to the onion pot, pour enough broth over it to cover everything, and turn up the heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium to cook for about 30 minutes — or when the squash becomes soft.

If you have some leftover rice or quinoa in the fridge, add a few handfuls to thicken it up a little bit. I’m also pretty sure this would be crazy delicious with lamb or just about any other meat, as well.

This makes a big pot that will serve 6. And the best part is it stays hot in the bowl for a long time.

Frownies

The queen of chocolate here still struggles with a worthy dessert replacement. I’ve become helplessly addicted to cappuccino as a way of deflecting something sweet after dinner. (At least it’s creamy and frothy) So I’ve made some attempts at baking. Some say that vegetarians shouldn’t try replacing chicken with imitation chicken. (We’ve all seen how this can turn out. Noone is being fooled.) And maybe the same should be said for trying to make dessert without sugar and flour. At least that where I landed after trying this recipe.

I share this as a cautionary tale. I served it to my book club along with some sugar cookies with no warning. The girls were polite — for about two minutes. Bits of brownie were surreptitiously wrapped in napkins. Then they gave it to me straight — these were ba-a-a-d. Really bad. And they even came up with a name for them: frownies. Don’t follow this recipe.

Frownies

1 can black beans (rinsed and drained)

3 eggs

3 tablespoons oil

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/4 cup coconut flour

1 pinch salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 drops vanilla cream stevia

1/2 cup agave syrup

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp espresso

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8 pan.  Put all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Bake covered with foil for 30 minutes. Cool and serve — and sit back to see how your friends react!

Note: If anyone spots what’s wrong with this recipe, let me know. Maybe I will give it another try!

That’s Italian!

The girls at book club said this soup tasted just like Zuppa Toscana at the Olive Garden. They swear this is a compliment, so I’m going to run with it. This is the perfect soup for fall, and it’s totally easy. This made enough to serve six people with soup and bread. It’s best to make it a day ahead so it has a chance to come together and thicken.

Italian White Bean Soup and Sausage Soup

3 cans white beans – cannelini or great northern – rinsed and drained (15 oz each)

1 pound mild italian sausage (with fennel)

3 cups raw kale (washed)

1 yellow onion (diced)

3 garlic cloves (minced)

1 box chicken or vegetable stock (32 oz.) – check to make sure it doesn’t contain sugar/corn syrup/etc.

1 bunch fresh basil

Bit of lemon peel

Italian herbs

1 cup water

salt and pepper

1 cup parmesan reggiano cheese

In a frying pan, cut up the sausage links or squeeze out the of the casings and brown it. Use the spatula or a wooden spoons to break it up into smaller pieces. Meanwhile in a large pot, drizzle about a 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add the diced onion. Soften it over low heat, then add garlic and beans. Mix together and add stock and fresh basil — or a smattering of dried Italian herbs on hand (oregano or herbes de Provence work great). Cook this up a little bit, then add 1 cup of water and some lemon zest. I just minced up a sliver of lemon peel and put it right in the soup. Let it cool down and put in the fridge overnight. (Don’t worry if it tastes like lemon at this point — it will mellow overnight!)

When you pull the soup of the fridge the next day to heat it up, add the kale about 10 minutes before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle a teaspoon of parmesan cheese on top before serving. Abbondanza!

Super Squash

I was once asked to play squash on a first date. I thought it was a bad idea. So is thinking that cooking spaghetti squash is as simple of cooking the squash  and pouring a jar of sauce on top of it. There must be a better way —  and I found it! So pick up one of those yellow footballs in the grocery store (and save the squash playing for the fourth date) and try this quick and easy recipe.

Mediterranean Spaghetti Squash

1 medium-size spaghetti squash

2 cloves of garlic

1/2 medium-size red onion

1 can whole tomatoes

1 tsp cumin

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the stuff that looks like pumpkin gook. Be sure to get all the seeds. Then turn the squash halves face down and cook  on high in the microwave for 10 minutes or until the flesh pulls away with a fork like spaghetti. In the meantime, slice up half a red onion and add it to a large frying pan with some olive oil. After the onions soften, add two minced garlic cloves and one can of whole tomatoes along with the juice. Add cumin, freshly ground pepper, and salt. Sautee the mixture. (The longer the tomatoes cook, the sweeter they will get.) Once the squash is done, scrape out the spaghetti with a spoon and add to the frying pan. Add a little more olive oil if the mixture seems too dry.

Summer Special

Another note about eating out. Summer is a very special season in a Korean restaurant because they make a special dish that is perfect for a girl like me. Don’t try to find it in the winter (when it would also be delicious!), but July is just about right. It’s called samgyetang, or chicken ginseng soup, and you might see it posted on the wall as a special.

This magical little dish arrives in a heavy iron cauldron that is literally bubbling as the waitress puts it down on the table. At first glance, it looks like a little chicken is sitting in a bowl of broth with some green onions floating around. But that little hen has been simmering for a long time. When you poke it with a spoon, the meat starts to fall off the bones, and when you open it up to see what’s inside, it’s filled with rice, cloves of garlic, ginseng, and dried plums that have been soaking up all of its chicken-y goodness.

It starts as a cornish hen, but it turns into soup as you break apart the chicken and mix all of its surprise innards into the broth. Add a little sea salt that comes with it, and you have a feast fit for a starving person on a yeast-free, sugar-free diet. Trust me, it’s tough to tip a heavy bowl like this to spoon out the last of the soup. But it’s worth a try.

Hog Heaven

Eating out is one my most favorite things to do, and being on this diet has put a real cramp in my style–especially at lunchtime However, I have very slowly learned how to get around it. There is usually some kind of salad on the menu that can be modified for survival — a spinach salad with a nice piece of salmon on top. Or a Cobb salad with all those great hard-boiled eggs and bits of turkey and ham, with caution about the sugar and wheat in the dressing.

But I really miss sandwiches. Crusty grilled reubens that tear open the roof of your mouth, triple-decker clubs stacked with turkey and salty bacon of white bread, meatballs stuffed into homemade Italian rolls.

This is the happy medium.

This is a heavenly salad from the smokery called Neopol down the street from me. Local roast pork loin sliced thin and piled on top of incredible greens, topped with red onions, a few dollops of goat cheese and a tomato chutney on the side. As you can see, this is a thing a beauty. And believe it or not, it made me forget all about ‘sandwiches’ for a few moments. This, my friends, is hog heaven.

Summer Cooking

I’ve noticed with this no flour/no sugar diet that if I don’t eat big portions, and eat them often, I continue to lose weight. Hovering around 110, I don’t wish to drop any more. I have a closet full of clothes that don’t fit, and the rest are altered with safety pins at the waist to keep my skirts and pants from falling around me knees. I’ve yet to have someone smack me for complaining about this, but it ould still happen.

All this eating, of course, takes a lot of time cooking. And while I was good at stocking the larder in the winter time — cooking up enough on a Sunday to freeze for later — I’m finding that 100 degree weather in an un-air-conditioned house leads me cook less. Or at least seek easier–and cooler–ways to keep my belly full.

I will soon share a recipe for the best gazpacho I’ve ever had — once I wrestle it from its creator. But today I share a modification on the stuffed pepper that doesn’t involve baking or a lot of heat. I tried out the microwave, and guess what? It works pretty well for cooking up dinner in a jiffy. I also tried a little bottle of premixed Thai spices. Nothing wrong with a little help, right? So here’s a tropical version of stuffed peppers with a kick.

Thai Summer Stuffed Peppers

3 bell peppers (try orange/red/or yellow for this one!)

2-3 pieces of mahi mahi

1 bottle of Thai green curry paste (Thai Kitchen makes a great one. Ingredients include green chile, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, salt, shallot, spices, and lime if you don’t want to cut corners)

2 cups of jasmine rice (cooked)

1/2 red onion (diced)

Black pepper

1/2 cup plain coconut milk (from a carton or can)

Let’s start with the peppers. Cut them in half lengthwise and pop out the green top and seeds. Rinse and place inside down on a plate. Cook in the microwave for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. (They will soften more as they cool.) Set aside. Heat up a medium-size pot (preferable nonstick), and add a little bit of olive oil. Sautee your diced red onions in there. While those are softening, place you fish on a plate, pepper it with some fresh pepper, and pop it into the microwave for about 3 minutes, or until just done. Meanwhile, back at the pot, add the 2 cups of cooked rice, about a 1/2 cup of coconut milk, and 3-4 teaspoons of the Thai curry paste. (The more you add, the hotter it will get.) Next, chunk up the fish and add it to the pot. Mix everything together, and then spoon it into your pepper shells. Serve over greens, and you have perfectly exotic summer stuffed peppers.

Note: You can swap out the mahi mahi for crab or shrimp — and this will be equally delicious.

Gone Fishin’

When I was a little girl, I used to go fishing with my dad. And by fishing, I mean getting my line caught in the trees with every cast and watching my dad struggle to untangle the line to retrieve his spinner lures.

I remember one trip in particular — the last one I would go on. I can clearly picture us standing on the one-lane bridge above the stream where we had been “fishing.” It was one of those perfect summer days with the blue sky and puffy clouds and the leaves on the trees rustling above us.

Below us was the stand of grass along a sandy, curving bank and the meandering brook. In the middle of the brook was a seven-foot-long Diamondback snake skimming through the water with certainty and precision.

If you’re not familiar with snakes, this one is poisonous. It’s black (the usual color of evil) and has a lovely diamond warning pattern along its back. In short, it’s unmistakable.

I can still remember the fear that gripped me when I saw that serpent beast plying the same waters where we’d been hopelessly preoccupied by filament in the tree branches. It was mixed with a healthy dose of awe and excitement to witness such a creature up close. And a bit of sadness that this would be my last trip to my dad’s favorite fishing spot.

My dad still goes fishing every chance he gets, and he has since fought off swift currents, rocks teeming with copperheads, and even a pack of wild dogs. I guess it’s worth it because he also actually catches fish.

This recipe is for one of his grand catches, a 17-inch trout that my mom pulled out of the freezer for me, wrapped in a newspaper. It tasted so good, that I will most definitely be back for more.

Brook Trout with Thai Green Beans and Coconut Rice

1-2 whole trout (as big as you can get ’em!)

1 lime

1 small yellow or red onion

salt and pepper

1/2 lb. fresh green beans (snap off the stems)

1 green jalapeno pepper

1 red habanero pepper

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 cup white rice (cooked)

1/2 cup coconut milk

Make sure your fish is gutted. It’s okay if the bones are still there. It’s belly should be slit open, the perfect spot for a few sliced limes and onions. Salt and pepper, too. Put the whole fish under the broiler until the skin begins to cook. Turn it over and let the other side crisp up.

At the same time, slice up the peppers and heat up a frying pan or wok with the sesame seed oil. Make it hot, but don’t let it smoke. Quick stir fry the beans and add the peppers, more if you like it hot — less if you’re more mellow. They turn bright green and a little snappy when they’re done.

Mix some coconut milk into the rice. Put your sizzling fish on top. (Don’t be afraid to look him in the eye. I swear they are better with their heads on!) Garnish with your spicy green beans. And you will go out of your mind for this one. Thanks, Dad!

Ten months and life to go?

It has been a little while my friends, but rest assured I’ve been keeping to the diet — mostly.

(Just between me and you, a dollop of homemade chocolate cake and sugary icing fell on to the table at my friend’s baby shower, and someone had to “clean it up.”)

The doc (that’s what I call my acupuncturist) took my pulse today and said I’m close to being yeast free. Again. But I’m pretty sure he’s going to tell me one day that I will have to eat like this for the rest of my life. He just feels too bad to tell me now. He sees the hope in my eyes when I ask if it would be okay to have a beer. Just one beer.

And he acquiesced this time when I asked, but he made me promise I would only drink something that would be worth it. “No PBR,” he said. “White wine would be better.” I made a face. Only red is worth it.

I may just wait another month to kick that last little yeastie out of my system. I’d hate to stand in the way of progress — especially when I’ve sworn off pizza and Coca-Cola for nearly year now. And I don’t even miss the pasta. Whom exactly have I become?

Whomever it is — there’s less of her. So I offer another recipe to prove that I am indeed eating.

I’ve recently discovered that the next best thing to potatoes is turnips — so here’s a little ditty that unites them with pork. It’s especially good because we add something yellow and green! And if cook extra pork chops, you can serve them up with sauerkraut later in the week (so good for you!).

Pork Chops and Turnip Surprise

2 pork chops

1 turnip (peeled and cubed)

a generous handful of kale

1 yellow pepper

1/4 red onion (sliced)

1 clove garlic (minced)

fresh thyme

First, get your turnips going. Get some water boiling and drop your turnip cubes in it. It should take about 10 minutes to cook them. Check them with a fork to see if they are soft like a potato. When they are just about done, throw your kale into the pot and let it cook for a couple of minutes. Until it turns bright green. Then drain the whole mess and add some salt and pepper.

While you’re boiling the turnips, you can start the porch chops. Turn up the heat on your frying pan and drop the chops in so they sizzle. We’re searing them here, so let them brown a little on one side, then flip them over to give them a little color on the other side. Then turn down the heat a little and cover to cook through. You can add the onion about now, and the yellow pepper and garlic, too. When they are just about done, add some fresh thyme on top.

Mock Turtle Soup

My book club has become as much about eating as reading, and I always try to prepare a meal that complements the book. This month was ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ (Everyone knows the story, but has anyone actually read it?) We did, and we hated Alice — but we did clear up that Lewis Carroll wasn’t an acid-dropping stoner but a conservative mathematician who loved logic puzzles and used his story to satire the emergence of a new kind of math in the 1800s. Very interesting, indeed.

Since little cakes that say ‘Eat Me’ were out of the question, I took food inspiration from the Mock Turtle Soup served in the book, with cow hooves emerging from the pot, by making a steaming pot of beef stew. I found that making beef stew is a lot more time consuming than it should be for a one-pot meal, but it was well worth the trouble. This recipe was wildly received (much more so than the book), especially with the replacement of potatoes with rutabegas.

There are carrots in this recipe, which are usually too much of a veggie carb to eat on the diet. But after this long eating this way, I don’t think it will hurt. I’m going to pretend that any sugars in the red wine burn off with the heat, as well. You could easily leave these out if you prefer to operate a stricter kitchen.

RECIPE OF THE WEEK

Mock Turtle Soup (or Beef Stew)

2 lbs. of stew beef (it comes in the meat department already cubed and labeled as such)

1 large rutabega (or yellow turnip)

1 yellow onion, sliced and cubed

1 small bag of baby carrots

1 large carton of beef broth (read the ingredients – you can find one without sugar and starch added)

1/2 cup of red wine (preferably leftover from a bottle in your kitchen)

3 cloves of garlic, minced with press

1 tablespoon of almond meal

1/2 teaspoon of pepper

1/4 teaspoon of sea salt

1/2 teaspoon parsley

Several sprigs of fresh thyme (or dried if you can’t find fresh in the store)

Serves 6

Let’s start with browning the meat. It comes cubed, but you may need to cut it into smaller, bite-size pieces. Heat up a large dutch oven, preferably nonstick, to medium-high. Drop the meat cubes into the pan and make sure it’s spread along the bottom. It should sizzle, and one side should cook long enough to brown and almost char. Flip the pieces over to brown the other side. Make sure the pieces have some room to cook or else they could end up boiling in their own juices. We want to seal in the juices with the searing. Once everything has a touch of grilled look to it, spoon the meat out of the pan into a holding bowl.

The dutch oven should now have some meat crud on the bottom. Add the 1/2 cup red wine to the pan while it is still hot. It will bubble and steam. Scrape off the crud to make a little sauce, and pour it into a holding bowl.

Now for the vegetables. Cut up your little carrots into little pieces. You can use big carrots, but it’s easier to use carrots that have already been peeled. Peel your rutabegas, slice them, and cube them. This is a pain, but it is a great substitute for potatoes and they don’t get super mushy in the stew.

Add a little bit of olive oil to the pan. Add your onion to the pot and cook until clear. Add your cubed rutabegas and stir. Then add the carrots and stir. Add garlic and stir. Then add the spices and the meaty wine sauce you scraped off the bottom of the pot.

Now you can add the meat back in to the pot, and pour an entire box of beef stock on top of it. Add the almond meal to help it thicken. Cover and simmer for about 2 hours. It serves about 6 people.

This is a great thing to make a day ahead. It will thicken in the fridge overnight, and you just have to heat it up on the stove — or put it up in the freezer for another day.