Sunday, October 22, 2017

Kale and Wild Rice Casserole

This recipe and this post came together through a couple of habits: a current one and an old one. The current habit has to do with flipping around on the internet looking at, bookmarking, and “pinning” recipes. I’m not sure if this is a good habit or a bad one, since it seems to take up a lot of time that might be better used cleaning the bathroom or something.

The other habit is the one I used to have when I had more time. I used to really tightly plan my meals for the week, build my grocery list according to the recipes I’d chosen (many of them discovered using habit #1), and then spending a good deal of time making delicious meals every day. Well, my life doesn’t really allow for this kind of behavior anymore, but I miss it.

And so, I dug a kale and wild rice casserole out of my internet bag of tricks and modified it to my personal taste. While I mostly made this in one cooking session, I also found ways that I could break this recipe up into a few steps that could be done ahead of time. There are some suggestions along those lines in the recipe text below.

The resulting dish is hearty and satisfying. There’s a lot of wild rice here, which I love, and its nutty chewiness goes well with the slightly bitter green kale. I liked the sharp cheddar cheese, but Gruyere or a milder Swiss cheese would be good, too. There’s just enough cheesiness and creaminess from the sauce in this dish to hold all the healthy ingredients together and give them additional rich and savory flavor. There’s a big herbal hit from the thyme in there. While I only had dried thyme on hand, fresh would be even better. Increase the amount of fresh thyme leaves to a tablespoon.

As far as habits go, I think getting back to good, solid meal plans is something worth nurturing again. A new role in my day job just made my life a bit more, let’s say, “interesting.” I’m going to need a good plan, and some make-ahead strategies like the ones in this recipe and the previous one I posted, if I’m going to avoid going hungry!

Kale and Wild Rice Casserole
Based on a recipe at Half Baked Harvest

I usually cook up a big batch of wild rice when I need it for something like this. Measure out what you need for the recipe and freeze the rest. You can cook your wild rice a couple days ahead. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until needed.

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8-10 cups chopped kale
1 ½ teaspoon coarse salt, divided
¼ cup water, or as needed
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup vegetable broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 cups cooked wild rice
2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray a 2-3 quart casserole dish with cooking spray or grease it with butter or oil. Set aside.

2. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute. Do not let the garlic brown. Add as much of the kale as you can get in the pan and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook until the kale is wilted enough to add the remaining kale (you may need to do this in a few batches.) Continue cooking the kale until it is completely wilted and tender, adding ¼ cup water or more as needed to keep the kale from getting too dry and burning in the pan.

3. Stir in the black pepper. Transfer the cooked kale to a bowl and set aside. (This can be done up to 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate if making ahead.)

4. In the same large skillet (cleaned) or in another one, heat the remaining olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. (You can cook the onions at the same time as you are cooking the kale. You can also make the onions up to 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

5. To make the sauce, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour to make a very thick paste. Cook the paste about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Slowly whisk in the milk. Whisk in the vegetable broth. Continue to whisk until all the flour lumps are removed.

6. Cook the sauce, stirring frequently, until it begins to boil. Boil gently, continuing to stir, for about 1 minute, or until the sauce thickens. Stir in the thyme and nutmeg. Remove from the heat. (I do not recommend making the sauce ahead of time.)

7. In a large bowl, combine the cooked wild rice, cooked kale, half of the cooked onions, and half of the cheese. Stir together and stir in the sauce.

8. Spoon the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Distribute the remaining onions over the top of the mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. (You could cover and refrigerate the entire casserole at this point and bake it the next day. Bring it as close to room temperature as you can before baking, and increase the baking time.)

9. Bake, uncovered, at 375 F for 20-25 minutes, or until bubbly and heated through. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. Cover and refrigerate leftovers and reheat to serve.

Makes 6-8 main dish servings.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Spaghetti with Squash and Spinach

Pasta tossed with seasonal vegetables is weeknight cooking at its best. I’ve posted countless spring and summer versions of this on The Messy Apron, but not so many of the fall and winter variety. That’s where this simple and delicious recipe comes in.

This pasta toss is loaded with roasted winter squash, spinach sautéed with garlic, and a handful of walnuts. I like the sweetness of the squash combined with the earthiness of the spinach and crunchy walnuts. I also put in a splash of cider vinegar, but lemon juice, which was in the original inspiration recipe, might be even better.

In order for this dish to be utterly simple to throw together, the squash needs to be handled ahead of time. The way I managed it was to peel and cube the squash one day, roast it with olive oil and salt another day, and keep it in the refrigerator until I was ready to make pasta. This requires some planning ahead, but that’s the only way I can get just about anything interesting going. 

There are lots of ways to vary this, of course. I used a red kuri squash, but butternut would be even easier to peel and cut, and Hubbard or other similar sweet winter squash would be great, too. You could replace the spinach with kale or chard, or with any greens you like. I love the walnuts here, but they don’t need to be there if you don’t want them, or you could replace them with something like pine nuts or pumpkin seeds. I added a garnish of parmesan cheese to each serving of my spaghetti, but you could easily make it vegan by just leaving it off.

As a reward for my successful planning and preparations, I also have the rest of my squash all ready to go for another recipe. I’m thinking of this Squash and Pinto Bean Chili from the archives for some warm comfort as these autumn nights get colder. Mmmmm…..good eating this week!

Spaghetti with Winter Squash, Spinach, and Walnuts
Based on a recipe from Lazy Cat Kitchen

2 cups cubed (about 1-inch), peeled winter squash
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided, plus more for the pasta water
½ pound spaghetti or other long pasta
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon crushed chile flakes
4 cups fresh spinach, chopped if leaves are large
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
½ cup chopped walnuts
Chopped fresh parsley and grated parmesan for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine the squash, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and ½ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Toss together to coat the squash well. Transfer to a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet. Roast at 400 F until tender and lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from the oven and set aside. (This can be done ahead of time. Cover and chill until ready to use.)

2. Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until it is as tender as you like to eat it. Drain and keep warm.

3. In a large saute pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, about 1 minute, or until fragrant and just beginning to brown. Add the crushed chile flakes and cook about 15 seconds more.

4. Add the spinach and remaining ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the spinach is completely wilted. Stir in the cooked squash. Add the cooked spaghetti and cider vinegar and toss to combine well.

5. Stir in the walnuts and remove from the heat. Garnish each serving with parsley and parmesan if desired.

Makes about 4 main dish servings.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

14 Sweet Pumpkin Recipes

I love baking with pumpkin this time of year. While I do like to take a beautiful little sugar pumpkin, roast it and make my own pumpkin puree using the method in this old post, most of the time I use canned pumpkin. It’s quick and convenient, many recipes are calibrated to the amount of pumpkin in a 15-ounce can, it’s consistent, and it’s downright good. Armed with a few cans of pumpkin puree and a jar of Pumpkin Pie Spice, I can celebrate fall and winter in sweet and delicious style.

A couple of easy recipes include Sweet Pumpkin Dip

That pumpkin-loaded applesauce can be used in Applesauce and Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Or even Pumpkin Waffles.

There’s also Butterscotch Pumpkin Fudge to satisfy the extra sweet tooth, but the best pumpkin baking is in the form of pumpkin pie, such as Grandmama’s Pumpkin Pie

So, welcome, Great Pumpkin! You’ll always be invited here.