Fall Butternut Squash, Kale, and Cranberry Curry with Apple Quinoa

Use fall ingredients like butternut squash, cranberries, and apples to make this easy, comforting curry.

Every November, a heap of pretty butternut squashes lie untouched on my kitchen counter like forgotten children. As the seasons’ colors change from autumn orange to holiday red, they sit – ignored – until finally, I toss them into our compost heap.

In a flurry of October excitement, with the fresh outlook that only autumn brings me, I buy the squashes with the best of intentions. In the store gazing at the abundant gourds – so symbolic of fall’s arrival – I envision myself cooking away the weekends without a care in the world: butternut soup, butternut gnocchi, butternut ravioli – the scent of butter and sage wafting through the house, the exotic sounds of Spanish guitar playing over Alexa’s speaker. So much potential. 

But each weekend brings a longer to-do list that never makes space for my ambitious from-scratch kitchen plans. After a few rushed dinners, I tire of Instant Pot butternut squash soup. Not knowing what else to make with them, the squashes rot and – with a pang of guilt that reminds me I shouldn’t buy what I can’t use – into the compost I throw them. (Can you tell meal planning and organization aren’t my forte?)

Between grocery store trips and CSA hauls, I’ve had three butternut squashes sitting on my counter for the past couple weeks. This year, though – I was determined to use them. In my quest to waste less, I decided I needed to give butternut squash a makeover and come up with something new to do with them – something new to my family at least. Something fresh. But fast. 

That’s where this recipe comes in. For the past few years, the now-tattered and food-splattered pages of Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg’s Flavor Bible has given me a lot of creative ideas when I’m not sure what to do with the ingredients in my kitchen. The book includes an alphabetical listing of almost any food you can think of followed by a list of ingredients and flavors that pair well with that food. Page and Dornenburg also suggest “flavor affinities” – triads of fitting ingredients – for each food (think “sage + pasta + walnuts”). 

I have no affiliations with the Flavor Bible and did not receive any financial compensation for recommending it. I just honestly LOVE this book and believe it could help anyone who likes to come up with their own recipes. Sometimes if I have a few foods left in the fridge, and I’m not sure what to do with them, I look each one up and see which flavor affinities they share in common, so this book has also helped me waste less.

To come up with this recipe, I used Flavor Bible to research spices and seasonings that butternut squash and cranberries share in common. The result was a delicious blend of fall flavors that my family gobbled up:

Fall Butternut Squash, Kale, and Cranberry Saute with Apple Quinoa


Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

Saute Ingredients: 

1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium butternut squash, cubed

1 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, minced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 apple, diced

5 chicken thighs

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tbs Worcestershire sauce

1/4 tsp black pepper

1 c fresh cranberries

2 c fresh kale, chopped

1/2 c apple juice

1/4 c water

a handful of fresh sage leaves

1 tsp onion powder

1 tbs curry powder

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1 tbs butter

Instant Pot quinoa ingredients:

1 tbs butter

1 c quinoa, rinsed

1 c apple juice

1/2 c water

2 tsp bouillon powder (or the appropriate amount for 1 c of water, depending on the brand. I used Orrington Farms Broth Base & Seasoning, Chicken Flavored)

Add quinoa ingredients to Instant Pot. Set Instant Pot to ‘manual high pressure’ for 1 minute. Use a 10-minute release. (If you don’t have an Instant Pot, follow stovetop instructions on your quinoa package. Adjust the liquid amount accordingly.) 

While quinoa is cooking, add olive oil to a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When pan is hot, add butternut squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is beginning to soften (about 10 minutes). 

Add ginger and garlic and cook for an additional minute, stirring to keep the garlic from burning. 

Add diced apple and cook for another minute or two. Remove squash mixture from pan and set aside.

Sear chicken thighs until browned on each side, about 4 minutes per side. Add Worcestershire sauce and salt and cook for an additional minute. 

Add apple juice and water to pan, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil. 

Once mixture comes to a boil, add the black pepper, fresh cranberries, onion powder, curry powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add butternut mixture back to pan.

Simmer for about six minutes, or until butternut squash is tender. Add sage leaves. butter, and kale and simmer until chicken thighs are cooked through to 165 degrees F and kale is wilted. 

Serve over quinoa. Enjoy!

Cheese Education at Whole Foods Marlton, Dessert at Murphy’s Market Medford, & Homemade Empanadas

Whole Foods Marlton educated customers on all-things-cheese this Saturday.

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Image by: (WT-fr) Regiondesaintjeansurrichelieu at French Wikivoyage [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cheese Terroir

Often applied to wine, the French word terroir refers to the environmental factors – climate, soil quality, sunlight, and local wildlife – that can affect a food’s appearance or taste.

Ed Reynolds knows all about terroir. As a part-time Whole Foods employee, he has logged more than 4,500 hours of cheese experience. On Saturday, November 10 from 1 pm – 3 pm, he led a talk at Whole Foods’ Marlton, New Jersey location for their free Flavors of the Moment cheese tasting, an educational event that taught me a lot I didn’t know about cheese. Reynolds’ passion for all things cheese shone as he introduced the word terroir – as it relates to cheese – at the start of the tasting.

“What grows together, goes together,” he explained to our small group of eager cheese samplers. In general, when foods – like honey and cheese – are grown or produced in the same geographical area, they tend to complement one another. Before the presentation, Reynolds and the rest of the Whole Foods’ cheese team used the concept of terroir to pair several varieties of cheese with the accompaniments that complemented each.

The History of Cheddar

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The tasting began with a sample of Keen’s Cheddar, a mild, unpasteurized cheese. Keen’s Cheddar is a “farmstead” product, a label given to cheese produced on the same farm where the cows are raised to make it. Producing farmstead cheese is a terroir practice that lends cheese unique properties depending on where it is made.

Reynolds and his team served the cheddar with a side of Cremenelli Tartufo Salami, an uncured Italian meat lightly dotted with black truffle. Beta-carotene lends Keen’s Cheddar its deep yellow color as a result of the cows’ grass-fed diet. While cheeses made from goat’s or sheep’s milk are often grass-fed, their cheeses do not produce as vibrant a color because goats and sheep do not secrete beta-carotene in the same way cows do.

Cheddar cheese originated in the village of Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, England, where cheesemakers used caves to mature it. Since 1899, Keen’s has produced cheddar and the farm remains in the same family today. They are one of only three farms still producing raw-milk cheddar in Somerset. The taste was decidedly mild and distinct from the mass-produced varieties of cheap shredded cheddar I often toss into my family’s scrambled eggs and tacos.

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Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England Image, the birthplace of cheddar Image by: Diliff [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
Sweet Italian Cheese

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Moliterno al Tartufo cheese with Mitica Acacia honey and a cracker

Next, we sampled a pecorino-style Italian sheep’s milk cheese called Moliterno al Tartufo, a sweet, salty cheese that contains black truffle. For Reynolds, Moliterno al Tartufo recalls memories of growing up in Philadelphia eating salted pretzels with sweet ice cream.

We sampled the cheese with a drizzle of a raw Italian honey called Mitica Acacia, which Reynolds called “low-glycemic,” ideal for people who are watching their sugar intake. (I was unable to find an online source that verifies this claim.) Boasting a long shelf-life, this light-bodied honey rarely crystallizes. Mitica Acacia comes from an acacia tree, which is native to Bulgaria but also grows in Italy.

Steps to Cheese Tasting

As we sampled, Reynolds talked about the process of professional cheese tasting. Professional cheese tasters practice what is called ‘retronasal breathing,’ a practice that uses exhalation during the swallowing phase to aid the perception of aromas in the back of the throat.

Because professional tasters, such as competitive cheese judges, often sample hundreds of cheeses in a single weekend, they don’t always eat all of the cheese they judge. Instead, they use other senses – like smell – to judge the quality of the cheese.

Reynolds also discussed the importance of food temperature in relationship to taste. Few foods, he said, are meant to be eaten cold. The temperature of a cheese, for instance, can alter the cheese’s entire taste profile. Reynolds argues that most cheeses should be consumed at room temperature, a belief shared by many other experts – like the team at Serious Eats.

Sweet Partners: Jam and Cheddar

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La Clare Farms’ Chandoka cheese with Bonnie’s Jams’ Bourbon Berry Jam

The Whole Foods team brought out Chandoka cheese from La Clare Farms Family Creamery in Wisconsin next. Like Keen’s, La Clare is a farmstead cheese producer, and they have been in business since 1978. Aged inside a cave, this cheddar cheese is mixed-milk, meaning it contains both cow’s and goat’s milk. The team paired it with a sweet jam called Bonnie’s Jams’ Bourbon Berry Jam, popular with Whole Foods customers.

Stilton: “Gateway to Bleu”

Next up was an English Stilton, a cheese that can only be produced in the British counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, or Leicestershire. Candied pecans accompanied the Stilton. Reynolds called Stilton the “gateway to bleu cheese” because Whole Foods’ employees often suggest this mild, beginner cheese to customers who are new to the world of bleu. 

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Stilton cheese

Types of Rennet

Most cheeses are made using rennet, which is traditionally obtained as a byproduct of veal. Today, the vast majority of today’s cheese producers are moving away from animal-based rennet and instead using a genetically-engineered, vegetarian rennet grown in a lab. In fact, about up to 90% of the world’s cheeses are now made with lab-grown rennet, which Reynolds says is “100% identical” in chemical composition to its animal-based counterpart.

Dessert at Murphy’s Market

Unfortunately, I was unable to stay for the rest of Whole Foods’ informative presentation. But later that day, I took my son to Murphy’s Markets in Medford for their free Taste of the Seasons sampling event. (I like free samples, okay?)

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Lars Ginger Snaps with Murphy’s Pumpkin Dip

We sampled Lars Swedish Ginger Snaps with Murphy’s pumpkin dip, which Murphy’s often has available for sampling throughout the season. The dip, which is made at Murphy’s, is a creamy, delicious blend of pumpkin puree, sugar, and cream cheese. I’m not usually a big pumpkin-spice gal – despite my love for all-things-fall – but this one had me reaching for more.

Murphy’s also had out a basket of their brownies to try (pictured above). This chewy, enticing brownie has become locally famous, and if the crumbs on the floor were any evidence of their popularity, I’d say a lot of people enjoyed them on Saturday.

My son’s favorite Murphy’s sample was the caramel cranberries – fresh cranberries dipped in gooey caramel, which would make for a delectable, light Thanksgiving appetizer or dessert. We also tried several of Murphy’s seafood spreads and dips with crackers, including their buffalo chicken dip.

My experience at Whole Foods and Murphy’s gave me a lot of ideas to think about for Thanksgiving dinner – cheese grazing boards, desserts made with locally-grown cranberries, imported Italian meats. I might think twice next time I reach for the cheap shredded cheddar at Wal-Mart.

But I think even processed cheese has its rightful place, and no one was complaining this weekend when I used Target cheese on my homemade empanadas. If you ever make empanadas, be sure to use this dough recipe from Laylita’s Recipes. I used frozen butter, and the result was a flakey, buttery crust. I stuffed mine with shredded chicken, canned corn, canned tomatoes, and Mexican spices (chipotle, smoked paprika, salt, and chili powder).

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My homemade cheap-cheese empanadas

Easy Fall Sweet Potato & Chicken Bake

Whip up this easy sweet potato and chicken dish for a tasty autumn meal.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

Easy Sweet Potato & Chicken Bake
Whip up this easy sweet potato and chicken dish for a tasty autumn dinner.

 

Sweet potato & chicken bake

1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 in. cubes

3 leeks, roughly chopped

2 tbs. Extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, mashed

2 tbs. Lemon juice

½ tsp. CinnamonIMG_5940

1 tsp. Salt (or to taste)

¼ tsp. Black pepper

1 inch. Piece fresh ginger, minced

½ c. orange juice

1/2 tbs. Grainy, old-style mustard (I used Maille brand)

1 lb. chicken breast tenderloins

Parsley, fresh or dried (optional)

Jasmine rice

2 c. white jasmine rice

2 c. chicken broth

1 tbs. Butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients for the sweet potato and chicken bake in a large, oven-proof glass casserole dish. Make sure sweet potatoes and chicken are coated.

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Cover with aluminum foil and bake in oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 20-25 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft and tender and chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Cook the rice while the sweet potatoes and chicken are baking. I used an Instant Pot for our rice, cooked at high pressure for 4 minutes with a 10-minute release time.

Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with rice.

Fernbrook Farms is one of many Community-Supported Agricultural (CSA) farms in New Jersey. Thirty-five minutes north of our home in Medford, Fernbrook is outside of the Pine Barrens. While it’s a bit of a drive, our family chose to become CSA members at Fernbrook this year for two reasons.

Fernbrook Farms (CSA) in Bordentown, NJ
Fernbrook Farms in Chesterfield (Bordentown), NJ has a CSA program and a number of hiking trails and animals for kids to see.

First, there’s a lot there for kids to do, including seeing animals like goats, sheep, chickens, and pigs, and I always bring my three-year-old son with me. Also, there are lots of scenic hiking trails, and when we go each week to pick up our farm share, we usually spend an hour or two hiking.

The diverse produce we’ve gotten at Fernbrook has always been fresh and delicious. Fernbrook provides a variety of vegetables from which we can pick each week. In fact, I think before we became CSA members, I was a bit ignorant as to how many different crops can grow in New Jersey.

Most people are familiar with Jersey tomatoes and corn, Jersey peaches, and Jersey blueberries, and other Jersey staples like cucumbers, bell peppers, and watermelon. I was surprised, though, by the high-quality kohlrabi, large variety of peppers, napa cabbage, and okra Fernbrook grows.  

Burgundy sweet potatoes and leeks
Burgundy sweet potatoes and leeks are fall crops in New Jersey.

I also didn’t know sweet potatoes came in so many varieties. Recently, we picked up ‘burgundy’ sweet potatoes and leeks as part of our farm share. The flesh inside burgundy sweet potatoes looks and tastes just like any other sweet potato (albeit maybe a tad sweeter). But the skin on the outside is a purplish color. These sweet potatoes were also much smaller than sweet potatoes we usually buy in the grocery store. I don’t know if their size is due to their variety or to the time of year.

I came up with this recipe one night when I needed to prepare a quick dinner. While it takes about 40 minutes to bake, the recipe is hands-off once you get it in the oven. I used that time to clean up the kitchen, so we’d have extra time after dinner to sit outside by our campfire with a cup of hot tea to tell ghost stories. Have I ever told you how much I love fall in South Jersey?