We do not have to look at the calendar to be reminded that the winter holiday season is upon us. Christmas displays started popping up in stores right along with jack-o- lanterns, while television commercials repeat a dizzying array of gift ideas. Not to mention that we all have that one friend on social media who has their Christmas shopping finished at the end of September. Unfortunately, I am not that friend. Though every year I want to be.
Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” As my husband and I try to become more self-sufficient in our food production, I have embraced the idea of rustic elegance when it comes to meals. Not only does it suit the farm-to-table lifestyle, but it can be an efficient way to cook.
I welcome food prep that can carry over into a variety of meals. Cooking in bulk can
serve a busy schedule well – especially during the hustle and the bustle of the holidays. For example, a large pan of roasted Brussels sprouts can be a healthy holiday side dish and the leftovers can hearty up a breakfast quiche, add flavor to a spinach salad, or be an unexpected addition to a pasta dish (and with the time you save you can wrap up those last minute gifts).
One of the foods that has come a long way from the bad rap that many of us gave it as kids, is squash. Not only does it grow easily in a garden, but it will keep a long time (several months) when stored in a cool place. If you do not have a green thumb, you can find a wide array of squash in the supermarket.
While I am known to use spaghetti squash as a healthy alternative to pasta, I enjoy preparing butternut and acorn squash. Both can be served whole (or more accurately halved) and they can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients (think rice, quinoa, or farro. Nuts, dried fruit, and even sausage). The squash can also be cubed and roasted, or even mashed. Since it can be prepared ahead of time, you can warm it up or serve cold as a salad. As long as you have the oven turned on, you might as well prepare a few extra squash and puree the leftovers with broth (and cream if you’re feeling indulgent) for soup (I also like to add apples to butternut squash soup).
Since both butternut and acorn squash are quite hard and difficult to cut, I prepare them whole: Pierce Butternut Squash and place in a baking dish (add a couple of cups of water to bottom of the dish)
Roast squash for 30-45 minutes at 400 degrees.
Peel squash and remove seeds. If you want to cube the squash and roast it, you could prepare using the above technique for a shorter amount of time until it is soft enough to cut easily. Once you have the squash cut, drizzle with olive oil and spices and roast until slightly caramelized and soft.
I recommend serving squash on a large serving platter. For a real rustic feel, do not peel but “scoop” the squash to serve.
A great accompaniment to squash is roasted cranberries, walnuts, and a homemade
Pumpkin Vinaigrette. The vinaigrette also makes a fantastic dressing for a green salad and it will keep over a month in the refrigerator.
If you have never roasted cranberries before, you are missing out. Not only will your house smell amazing, but the sweet-tart flavor is astounding. Plus, you control how much sugar you want to use. You might want to make a triple batch (or more). Roasted cranberries are delightful as a topping for oatmeal (hot or refrigerator oats) and they make great appetizers (serve on toasted French bread or crackers with brie or goat cheese).
*Bag(s) of cranberries (fresh or frozen)
*Juice and zest of one orange
*1 teaspoon of rosemary (more to taste)
* 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (more to taste)
* ¼ cup of honey (to taste. You can also use maple syrup or brown sugar)
Roast for 20-25 minutes at 375-400 degrees
Serve warm or cold (as they cool they will thicken)
(make sure you check out the recipe Apple-a- Day Mason Jar Salad that
incorporates this dressing)
* 1/2 cup of vinegar (I use raw apple cider vinegar. You may want to vary the amount of
vinegar based on how tart you like your dressing. I recommend adding a little bit at a time
and tasting the dressing as you go)
* 3/4 cup of pumpkin
* 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
* 1/4 cup of water (the dressing tends to be thick so I thin it out with water. You could add
* 1 large clove of garlic
* 1 lemon ~ juice and zest
* 3 green onions (you can use a Tablespoon of regular onion)
* 1 inch of fresh ginger root
* 1 Tablespoon of pure maple syrup (you could also use honey)
* 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
* Salt and pepper to taste
Blend dressing until smooth. The combination of sweet, savory, tart, and spicy ingredients make it a pleasing combination.
This holiday season I hope you find many moments to make memories with your friends and family. If you are responsible for preparing a feast, remember that many foods can be made in bulk to serve many recipes and save precious time. Keeping our menus simple and rustic, does not mean that we have to sacrifice taste. Nature provides us with complex flavors and textures. One of the best gifts that you can give loved ones this year is a meal cooked with fresh and wholesome ingredients. From The Waldo family to yours – may your table be filled with holiday blessings!