Friday, December 16, 2011

Winter Squash: A Study in Still Life Part II

I just know you are sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for this next post!  Well, wait no longer my is Part II.  I had grand ambitions of getting this to you much sooner, but the craziness of the season got the best of my time.  Rather than work my way through the natural order of a meal, as I had originally intended, I'm going to play the "I'm a woman-it's my prerogative to change my mind" card and instead give you a few recipes that might be fun to play with over the holidays if you have time.  I am at least sticking to one theme, and that is Breakfast!

This fall I heard that Willy St. Coop had developed a squash smoothie for their juice bar.  I have not yet tried one, but I have heard from reliable sources that they are wonderful.  I'm a big smoothie fan, but in all honesty the thought of this type of smoothie made me wrinkle my nose just a little.  And, because it sounded a bit off, I naturally had to try to make one for myself.  Those who know me well know that I am not one to shy away from oddities in the food world.  In fact, I relish them.   The results felt a bit Willy a very good way.  It's like pumpkin pie in a glass AND it's good for you!  Doesn't get much better than that.  I've been imbibing these creamy delicious drinks on and off for the past few weeks for breakfast.  They are satisfying and actually keep me full until nearly lunch time.  Here's what I did:

1 hard winter squash (I used pumpkin, because I love them...butternut is also a great option)
**This is the time consuming do ahead part: cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, roast flesh side down in a shallow baking pan (with a little water added) at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until the skin is browning and the flesh is nice and soft.  Let cool enough to handle, scoop flesh in to a bowl that can be used for storage, and mash the flesh just until it's a consistent texture.  You can do this any time in advance and store covered in the refrigerator.

Squash Smoothie
3/4 C. mashed roasted squash (see above)
1/2C Cottage Cheese or Plain Yogurt
1 banana** (see tip below)
1 C. milk (you can use any kind of milk you want...cow, almond, soy, rice...) OR Apple Cider
a slug of real WI maple syrup (probably a tablespoon or two)
5-6 good shakes of Penzey's Baking Spice  (you can substitute some cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom)

Combine all ingredients in a good blender and blend until smooth and frothy.
The awesome thing about smoothies of any kind is they are hard to screw up.  You can adjust flavors and ingredients until you get a product that suits you.  This recipe will make a couple of 8 oz glasses and will store in the refrigerator for a couple of days if needed.

(If you spend a good amount of time in the kitchen and have the means I highly recommend getting a VitaMix blender.  It is definitely an investment, but I think it is a versatile workhorse and worth every penny.)

**Banana tip.  I buy free trade bananas from the bargain bin at the grocery store (WSC).  When they are nice and ripe I peel them and store them in a gallon sized freezer bag in the freezer.  When I need a banana for a smoothie or other recipe that calls for mashed banana, I pull one out and nuke it for approximately 30 seconds to thaw and use.**

Crock Pot Pumpkin Steel Cut Oats
(the original recipe can be found through this link)
A co-worker just told me about this idea and I can't wait to try it.  It sounds delicious and is a smart way to feed a crowd a unique and healthy breakfast or make some convenient freezer packages for busy days ahead.  As I said, I can't wait to try it...meaning I haven't given this recipe a "go" but it looks like it should be a winner and my co-worker raved about it, so I feel comfortable sharing it with you.  Besides, we can all try it together.  Let me know how yours turns out!  I modified the recipe a touch so you can use the squash you have on hand and with the changes I will make when I give it a try. The recipe calls for pumpkin, but I think you could use any variety of hard squash.  See the Squash Smoothie recipe above for instructions on roasting your squash.


Optional additions:  chopped apples, raisins, chopped walnuts or hickory nuts


Combine all ingredients in slow cooker.  Cook on low 4-6 hours.  If it needs more sweetening when it's ready try adding Maple Syrup and add more milk if it's thicker than you like.  Oatmeal freezes very well.  Simply portion in to freezer safe containers.  **Remember to always label your containers because frozen food all looks the same and is nearly unrecognizable.**  When ready to eat, thaw and reheat. It is ideal to reheat oatmeal on the stove top and be sure to have more milk or water on hand.  

Makes 8 - 1 cup servings.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Burritos 
(for original recipe follow the link...below is my modified recipe)

I was recently asked to do some freezer cooking for a friend who was planning ahead for the arrival of their baby.  I've always frozen food as a preservation technique or when I have too much to eat at once, but until that moment I had never planned meals specifically to freeze for convenience later.  The research of recipes and techniques for this style of cooking was a lot of fun and this Sweet Potato Black Bean Burrito recipe inspired a breakfast burrito that has proven to be one of my favorites and something I plan to keep on hand at all times.  FYI, the cookbook I found most useful for this project is "Don't Panic - More Dinner's in the Freezer" by S. Martinez, V. Howell,  & B. Garcia.  The above recipe is a vegetarian  option and uses sweet potatoes, which can often be interchanged with hard squash in nearly every recipe.  I am a big fan of breakfast style burritos and Mexican style chorizo sausage which is why I modified this recipe to suit my taste.  I usually get my chorizo from Jordandal Farm , but I occasionally make my own using local ground pork.


2 Tbls cooking oil* (see tip below) or your leftover bacon grease, divided

1/2 lb Mexican style chorizo, casings removed1 onion, chopped
1 Red Bell Pepper** (see tip below), chopped 4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 large winter squash or 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 Tbls butter
6 Eggs (from a friend, farm neighbor, or farmer's market...pastured eggs taste better, are healthier, and are worth the cost) 12 (10 inch) flour tortillas
½ to one pound Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded


Heat large heavy skillet over medium high heat.  Add 1 Tbls oil or fat, when hot add ground chorizo.  Fry in skillet stirring often to break up in to small pieces.  When sausage is browned remove to paper towel lined plate, reserving fat in skillet, and set sausage aside.  

Return skillet to stove over medium heat.  Add another 1 Tbls of oil or fat, when hot add chopped onion and bell pepper.  Saute until beginning to soften, scrape up any crispy bits left in the pan from cooking the sausage.  Add a little water if needed to help loosen any stubborn bits.  Add garlic, spices, and squash.  Cook, stirring often, to combine for 2 minutes.  Cover skillet and continue to cook, stirring often, until squash is soft but not mushy, approx. 8-10 minutes.  While waiting crack eggs in to bowl and whisk briefly with a fork to combine.  Season with salt & pepper.  Remove lid, add black beans, and cook another couple of minutes to heat beans through and evaporate collected liquid. Remove contents of skillet to large bowl.  Add reserved chorizo to this bowl as well, stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. 

Return skillet to medium heat, add 1 Tbls butter.  When butter is foaming,  add whisked eggs and cook as scrambled until moist and glistening...they will seem undercooked.   Dump scrambled eggs in to bowl with black bean mixture, stir gently to combine.  Do not allow the eggs to brown or cook until dry or "done".  At that point they will be overcooked and rubbery. Check out this great video on cooking perfect scrambled eggs.  


If you plan to freeze the burritos, allow filling to cool completely before assembly.  This is important! If you wan to eat them right away, carefully assemble with the hot filling.  Working with one tortilla at a time (they will be more pliable if room temperature or slightly warm...if you will eat them right away you can actually pre-heat each tortilla in a hot skillet first).  Lay tortilla on work surface.  Place 1/4 C. or so of filling in a line down the middle of tortilla (from top to bottom) leaving a good inch of space at each end.  Top with a couple tablespoons of shredded cheese.  Fold right side of tortilla over filling, fold top and bottom of tortilla next, and finish with left side being sure corners are tucked in and filling is completely contained.  Set aside seam side down.  Repeat until tortillas are used up. (My photos were taken after the fact, so I apologize that they don't follow my directions exactly, but they are still a useful guide)

For freezing: wrap each burrito in plastic wrap, followed by wrapping tightly in foil.  Label each burrito with a marker and freeze.

To eat from freezer:  if you plan ahead you can thaw them and heat in oven or microwave.  I never do that, so when I need to grab breakfast in a hurry I completely unwrap the frozen burrito (I save the clean plastic wrap & foil for another use), wrap the burrito in a paper towel, and microwave for 1 minute 30 seconds on 70% power.  I turn the burrito over and microwave another 1 minute 30 seconds on 70% power.  They are always perfectly reheated when I do this.  I top them with some of my canned salsa and enjoy.  These burritos are really tasty and satisfying!

*Cooking Oil tip:  I use Olive oil (not Extra Virgin) or Grape Seed oil for cooking; Sunflower Oil is being produced and sold locally from Driftless Organics and is a nice option as well.

**Bell Pepper tip:  Bell Peppers in their off season are expensive and have to be shipped to us from far off places.  During their peak season (late summer in our area), load up on these beautiful and tasty peppers from your local farmer's market.  Give them a wash, remove the stem and seeds, and chop or leave in large sections.  Place pepper pieces in freezer bags or containers and put in the freezer for use throughout the year.  When thawed they will lose their crunch, so won't be suitable for eating raw, but they retain their color and flavor so will be perfect for all of your cooked dishes.  

Whew!  There is a lot of information here.  But fun and delicious ideas for using your supply of winter squash.  Please let me know if you give these recipes a try.  I would also love to hear what your favorite uses for winter squash might be!  

Stay tuned for Part III where I'll share a versatile entree recipe that is great as a salad, side dish, or main course.  

One final thing I have to share.  I was very excited when Terese Allen and Joan Peterson released the first edition of their "Wisconsin Local Foods Journal" earlier this year.  I was even more excited to get my hands on a copy and saw what an amazing resource it really is.  The icing on the cake is that the proceeds from the book sales go to support REAP Food Group's food and sustainability programs.  As a leader on the board of Slow Food Madison, supporting local food groups who focus on sustaining our local food system is a priority for me.  I am such a fan of these women and this book is my favorite gift to give this year.  I anticipate it will become an annual favorite for years to come.

Happy holidays to you all and best wishes in the coming year!!


  1. I have never heard of a squash smoothie! Great idea. I love squash, but my family doesn't. Maybe if I hide it....
    Thanks for visiting my blog!

  2. Hey friends! I have to post a follow up comment to the Steel Cut Oats recipe. I tried making this recently and, well, honestly it's not my favorite. A word of caution about cooking this longer than specified. I think that was my biggest error. I put the pot to start cooking before I went to bed for the night, slept in the next morning (completely forgetting that I had put the pot to cook), got busy with other things and ultimately the oats ended up cooking for nearly 12 hours. It was an unappetizing mush. I added a bit more milk and tried to eat it anyway, but I just couldn't. :( I also thought the spices were a bit strong for my taste. If I try it again I will be careful to not overcook it and I will back off on the spices a bit. Did any of you try it? How did it turn out?