Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Stuffed Summer Squash

My friend Amber is quite the gardener, and she was kind enough to share some yellow squash from her garden. Now, farmers markets aren't big where I live, and I myself have no gardening abilities whatsoever, so when someone shares fresh fruits or vegetables that they grew, I feel like it needs to be treated with honor--not just thrown into any old recipe.

Making Green Eggs and Potatoes the other day whet my appetite for creating my own dish, so to use Amber's gorgeous yellow squash, I decided to be inventive rather than follow a recipe. This actually ended up being a "use whatever's on hand" kind of meal, but I feel good about keeping the yellow squash in the spotlight.

Now, what you're going to find below is what I'm calling a pseudo-recipe. I'm sharing some cooking methods and ideas for ingredients. But I believe that a dish like this is so versatile, with so many interchangeable elements, that it seems a bit silly to me to meticulously measure ingredients and follow a strict ingredients list.

So feel free to use my pseudo-recipe as a guide or a point of inspiration . . . and be creative! Get in the kitchen and play around with ingredients that you like and have on hand! If you end up with too much filling, just nibble on it while the squash cooks, or save it for another use. If the flavors don't taste quite right, add some more herbs or salt/pepper. If the filling seems dry and crumbly, add some more cheese, or even an egg yolk (just be sure it fully cooks). This is a very forgiving kind of dish, so just have fun with it!

Stuffed Summer Squash
a pseudo-recipe by HercheyK

Cook the squash: Pierce a large yellow squash (or multiple smaller ones) all over with a fork. Microwave for 4 minutes. Let sit in microwave for 5 minutes. Remove and cut in half (to make two long halves). Scoop out the insides and add to your filling, discard, or save for another use. Alternatively, you could do bell peppers (probably boil them rather than microwave) or tomatoes (I'm not sure what cooking method you'd do here, as I've never done stuffed tomatoes).

Now make your filling by sauteing some chopped vegetables, grains/beans/ground meat, herbs, and cheese over medium to medium high heat. I used carrot, celery, green onion, frozen corn, tomato, fresh parsley, and garlic; some cooked quinoa; some dried basil, thyme, salt, and pepper; a splash of chardonnay; and a bit of feta cheese. Things like garlic, tomatoes, and feta should go in near the end. The goal in this step is to begin cooking the vegetables and warm anything that started out cold (like quinoa you cooked the night before). If you have pepper jack cheese in your fridge, use it in this! The feta was good, but I think pepper jack would have been killer with the vegetables I used.

Taste your filling and adjust herbs, salt/pepper, etc., if needed. When you're happy with it, spoon the filling into your squash/vegetable boats. You'll probably make a mess. If you don't, please teach me how you did it!

If you want, do a crumb topping. I used a bit of panko bread crumbs, some Penzeys Rocky Mountain spice/cheese blend, and a bit of olive oil. Parmesan would also be a great option, with any combination of herbs. If you don't have panko, you could use crushed up crackers or regular bread crumbs. Sprinkle on top.

Bake in a preheated oven (350ish) for 10-15 minutes--just long enough to brown the crumb topping and finish cooking the vegetables.

Garnish with any additional herbs--fresh basil, green onions, thyme . . . you get the idea. Dig in!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Green Eggs and Potatoes

I feel like it's been weeks since I actually cooked something, and even longer since I cooked something that was my own creation. So it felt good to get back in the kitchen this morning. It felt good to work at the stove again instead of zap something in the microwave, and to envision each element of this dish, playing around with the spices and flavors to create something that I thought would be good.

Green Eggs and Potatoes
Yield: 1 serving (with enough chimichurri for 2-3 servings)

5-6 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup parsley, stems removed
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1/8 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 red potato, sliced thick
Spices and herbs of choice
2 eggs
Black pepper
Dried chives

First, make the chimichurri: Put green onions, parsley, garlic, oil, vinegar, and salt in a mini food processor. Pulse and process until smooth.

Preheat a skillet over medium heat; spray with olive oil. Slice the potatoes and season on both sides with whatever herbs and spices strike your fancy. I used Mural of Flavor and a hint of chipotle powder. Cook several minutes on each side, until potatoes are tender and nicely browned.

Whisk together the eggs, pepper, and chives. Scramble the eggs in a preheated skillet over medium heat.

To serve, stir some chimichurri into the scrambled eggs. If desired, spread some chimichurri over the potatoes as well.

Notes: The chimichurri is adapted from A Couple Cooks and Naturally Ella. Though the pictures don't reflect this, I highly recommend spreading chimichurri over the potatoes as well as the eggs.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Beautiful Things

Lately I've been reflecting a lot on the past year.

This time last year was the beginning of the end for my friend and boss. After a triumphant month of May when Charles stuck it to his cancer and made it back into the classroom after almost dying a few months earlier, he almost immediately began declining again. Drastically. He spent the month of June in and out of the hospital, went into hospice care in early July, and died a week later.

At the time, it felt like my world was crashing down. And in some ways, it was. This was the first time I'd lost a close friend, so there was all this grief to deal with, with little to no experience with or knowledge of how to grieve. On top of the grief was a whole lot of uncertainty about my job—who would my new boss(es) be? how well would we get along? would I even still have a job?

Some friends at house church introduced me to Gungor’s song Beautiful Things, and it's kind of been my anthem these last 18 months.

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all

All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come up from this ground at all?

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You


You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new


For months I sang this song, resonating so much with the pain and uncertainty of the first part of the song, and clinging desperately to the hope of the later two-thirds of it—the promise that God does make beautiful things out of the dust—that hope does spring up from dry, cracked ground.

And you know what? Beautiful things have come out of all this pain. Hope has sprung, and life has grown out of the chaos.

The last year has been filled with sweet, refreshing newness. With hope budding up out of desolate ground. Countless friends have surrounded me with tender support and encouragement. My new boss is pretty great, and I’ve found dear friends in him and his family. I got promoted into a position that didn’t exist before now. And in a couple weeks I’ll be moving into a new house.

At times like this, when I’m surrounded by beauty and feel like I’m getting a fresh start, I sing this song in praise of the beauty God has made from this mess. I sing it to remember the pain and the desperation, and I sing it to rejoice in the beautiful things that have come from it.

And during seasons like mid-June to mid-July, when I miss Charles like crazy and can’t help but think of all how awful this time was last year, I sing this song to remind myself afresh that God already has brought beautiful things from this hurt, and to cling to the hope that there is more beauty yet to come.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cambodian Curry - and Green Mango Cafe Cookbook

Within the last year or so, I began following the blog A Couple Cooks. Not only do I want to eat nearly every recipe that Sonja and Alex share, but I also appreciate their focus on global issues--particularly women in poverty or abusive situations.

They're invovled with an organization called Center for Global Impact, which founded a culinary training program and restaurant/bakery in Cambodia, which trains at-risk women in the culinary industry, equipping them to earn a living without having to sell their bodies or compromise their well-being. Cool, huh?

So Alex and Sonja visited the Green Mango Cafe and Bakery and have created a cookbook with many recipes from the cafe. My parents gave me the cookbook for Christmas, and I am loving it! Not only does it include a variety of cuisines (Cambodian, French, Italian, American, and Mexican), but they also do a great job of introducing unfamiliar ingredients--like galangal, lemongrass, and rice paper--in an approachable, non-scary way. And all the proceeds go to CGI's programs for at-risk women.

I think it's cool that, even though Sonja and Alex aren't necessarily gifted at founding programs like the Green Mango Cafe--or even moving across the world to work at one--they are gifted in photography and food, and they do have a voice and an audience through their blog. I appreciate that they're using the gifts and resources they have to support these women in Cambodia.

I must sheepishly confess that, though my parents gave me the Green Mango Cafe cookbook for Christmas (as in almost six months ago!), and though I instantly wanted to make the vast majority of the recipes inside, I only just recently made my first recipe from the cookbook, a delicious Cambodian curry.

This curry involved some new ingredients for me--canned bamboo shoots, yellow curry paste, and fish sauce--as well as some I wasn't able to find--kaffir lime leaves and fresh lemongrass. The recipe felt a little time-consuming, mostly because of all the different ingredients that need to be prepped and ready to go before you start cooking. But the end results was this amazing dish with layer upon layer of flavor. Absolutely worth the effort! Mine didn't come out as soupy/saucy-looking as the picture in the cookbook, so I'll probably add a bit more broth and coconut milk next time.

Cambodian Curry
Adapted slightly from Green Mango Cafe and Bakery: Cooking for a Better Tomorrow
Yield: 6-8 servings

1 lb. chopped chicken, shrimp, beef, or tofu
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil (divided)
3 cloves garlic, minced
15-oz. can bamboo shoots, drained, rinsed, and finely chopped
1 sweet potato or cassava, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 small white onion, diced
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 lemongrass stalks
1/2 bird's eye chili, thinly sliced (more or less to taste)
1 tablespoon curry powder or Thai red curry paste (see note below)
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
2-1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 Tbsp. fish sauce (or soy sauce)
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup fresh Thai basil, chopped
Cooked rice or coconut rice (for serving)

If using tofu, drain it, then place on a plate covered with a paper towel. Cover it with another towel, then squeeze gently to drain excess liquid.

Prep all the vegetables and meat. Get all your ingredients ready to go. Heat oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat.

  • Saute the meat (or tofu) until browned; remove from the skillet and set aside.
  • Add the garlic to the wok or skillet and saute for about 30 seconds, just until fragrant. 
  • Add the bamboo shoots and sweet potato; saute for 5 minutes. 
  • Add the carrot, onion, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, chili, curry powder/paste, and peanuts. Saute for 3 minutes. 
  • Add broth and bring to a boil. 
  • Add the fish sauce, sugar, and coconut milk and return to a boil. Boil about 5-8 minutes, until vegetables are softened and liquid has reduced slightly. 
  • Taste, add kosher salt
  • Add the meat. Note: If using chicken or beef, add the meat when you add the fish sauce, sugar, and coconut milk--the flavors will permeate the meat better. 
Serve over rice, and garnish with green onions, cilantro, and Thai basil.


  • Sonja and Alex offer this tip: "Curry powder used in Cambodia is most similar to Vietnamese curry powder, which cannot be substituted by an Indian-style or Madras curry powder. If you cannot locate Vietnamese curry powder, substitute Thai red curry paste, or try mixing half red and half yellow curry powder." I used equal parts Thai red curry paste and yellow curry paste.
  • I couldn't find fresh lemongrass (though one of my friends has since educated me on where to get it) so I used a bottled lemongrass paste. I'm sure the real deal would have been better, as there were all sorts of preservatives and extra ingredients in the bottled paste.
  • For the kaffir lime leaves, I substituted a little extra lemongrass plus the juice from 1/4 to 1/2 of a lime.
  • I forgot to look for Thai basil, so I just left it out.
  • This is great over coconut rice: Cook jasmine or basmati rice according to package directions, but use (light) coconut milk for about half the liquid measurement, and omit salt and butter.
  • I found it helpful to line up all my ingredients on the counter, in the order that I'd need them. That way, once the skillet was going, I didn't have to think about what was supposed to be added at each step.
  • Alex gave me permission to share this recipe, but they aren't giving me any sort of reward or incentive to promote their cookbook. I'm sharing it purely because I think it's a delicious recipe, a great cookbook, and an even better cause!

This is not at all what I expected to find when I opened the container of yellow curry paste: