Gourmet Veggie Mama

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Holiday meals for vegetarians tend to be all about the side dishes. While I love sides, sometimes one wants something a little more substantial — something that serves as a centerpiece for the meal. A few years ago, I threw together a stuffed acorn squash with quinoa, mushrooms, and smoked mozzarella, which turned out to be just perfect for that purpose. I’ve made it several times for holiday meals, and it’s always a hit with the veggie crowd (that is, if there’s anyone other than me not partaking in the turkey or ham).

This year, we had Christmas dinner with my in-laws, and my future-sister-in-law (whom I love to pieces) who is also a vegetarian was in attendance, so I made a couple of stuffed squashes for us to enjoy. We weren’t jealous of the ham, but everyone else envied our “centerpieces”!

Maybe I'm projecting, but they are pretty!

This year I used smoked gouda instead of mozzarella, and added caramelized onions and toasted pine nuts courtesy of my husband-slash-sous chef. They were beautiful and delicious, and between these, the bounty of yummy sides we all stuffed ourselves with, and the bread pudding I made for dessert (more on that later), no one went away hungry. In fact, we were all still pretty stuffed by the time tamale night rolled around later that evening.


My sister-in-law made those beauties, including pork, chicken, and black bean versions. She made her own masa and everything — fabulous! Add a slice of pecan pie after a few of those bad boys, and I was stuffed and ready for early bed.

You don’t have to stuff yourself silly to enjoy the acorn squash, though. It’s definitely easy enough to be a meal for any day, and the stuffing can be switched up in any number of ways.

Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves 2

2 medium acorn squashes
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and cooked
one medium onion
1-2 cups shredded smoked gouda*
1 cup shiitake mushrooms**
dash of milk
handful of toasted pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 400°. Cut a thin slice off the bottom of each squash, so that it sits stable when you flip it over. Cut a wide opening around the stem and pull the “cap”off. Scoop out the seeds and strings. Place the squash cut (top) side down in a little water and bake for 30 minutes, or until tender.***

Meanwhile, halve the onion and thinly slice it. Heat a little olive oil over medium heat and sauté until translucent. Turn the heat down to medium low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and caramelized, about 30 minutes total. Chop the mushrooms and sauté them in a little olive oil over medium heat as well, just until they’re tender and giving off their juices.

In  a saucepan, combine the cooked quinoa, onions, mushrooms, a tablespoon or two of milk, and about a cup of the cheese. Stir together over medium low heat until the cheese melts, and add salt and pepper to taste. Add more cheese to get the consistency of the stuffing to your liking. I tend to like a lot of cheese for that great smoky flavor that goes so well with the mushrooms. Stir in the pine nuts.

Preheat the broiler. Set the cooked squash right side up in a baking pan and stuff with the quinoa mixture. Top with a nice layer of shredded cheese and put under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown.

* Or smoked mozzarella. Really any smoked cheese works great here.

** You can easily substitute cremini or other mushrooms here — whatever strikes your fancy.

*** This can be done up to a couple of hours ahead — just set the squash aside until you’re ready to stuff it, and a give it 5 minutes or so extra in the oven to warm up before you broil it.

Merry Christmas!

From my family to yours, I hope you enjoy a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends, laughter, and good times… and, of course, delectable food and drink. May the children in your life delight in their gifts, the attention of adoring relatives, and just the general magic of the season. May you have good food and good conversation around the dinner table, and may no one drink too much and spoil everyone else’s fun. But, do enjoy a nice glass of wine for me, and hug your loved ones. Merry Christmas!

White chocolate cranberry cookies

Merry Christmas Eve! In honor of the occasion, I’m sharing my favorite Christmas cookie recipe: white chocolate cranberry cookies. I’m not the biggest fan of white chocolate, and cranberries in baked goods aren’t really my thing, but these are delicious. Go figure.

Maybe it's the brandy.


White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp brandy
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375° and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.* In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and brandy. Combine the flour and baking soda and stir into the sugar mixture. Mix in the white chocolate chips and cranberries. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. For best results, take them out while they are still doughy. Allow cookies to cool for 1 minute on the cookie sheets before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

* Alternatively, make half of these, and freeze half of the dough in pre-formed balls so you have ready-to-bake cookies for another day!

I heart Penzeys

No, this is not a paid advertisement. I just love Penzeys Spices, and, for the sake of your foodie loved ones in this time of frenzied last-minute Christmas shopping, I feel the need to tell you about them.

I discovered the Penzeys mail-order catalog several years ago, and then they put in a store in Menlo Park. It’s a foodie wonderland. If you want your choice of five different kinds of pepper in three different grinds, this is the place for you. However, Menlo Park is a good half-hour away, and with a schedule-dependent little one in tow, it has just been more convenient to mail order lately. I was giddy when my latest order showed up.

Woo hoo!

As an unexpected bonus, a box showed up on our doorstep the other day, and it was a Penzeys herb gift box from my dear friend LeeAnn.

This is the stuff.

I was overjoyed! What a fantastic gift. Does she know me or what?

I can’t rationally explain my level of appreciation for Penzeys, except to say that they’re top-quality spices and I love that you can buy stuff you use a lot in bulk. I get the impression that it’s a company run by foodies, and, as a foodie, I appreciate that. Not only do I get my pick of three kinds of cinnamon, various hard-to-find spices, and their fabulously flavorful double-strength vanilla extract, but I can also get salad dressing mixes that make a quick dressing that is much tastier than anything you’ll find in a bottle. I absolutely love their Green Goddess mix, and their Creamy Peppercorn is great, too. Plus, they packed a bumper sticker in the box that said, “Love people. Cook them tasty food.” How awesome is that?

So, if you’re still shopping for that perfect gift for your foodie friend, get thee to Penzeys! Odds are, they’ll get the same thrill out of opening that box that I do.

Adventures in egg nog

I took the plunge and made my own egg nog, and I have to say, the results were much better than store-bought. Of course, it was also much more time-consuming than just picking up a carton, but I’d say it’s worth it for once a year. So, if you’re feeling festive, make homemade egg nog your cocktail this week!

Creamy egg-y goodness.

I did decide to go with a cooked version, since I was a little skeeved out about drinking something with raw eggs in it. Call me a wimp if you must. I know the risk of salmonella is minimal, but raw just isn’t my thing.

I might also add a smidge more bourbon while you’re fixing up your glass if you’re with… errrm… difficult relatives, since this isn’t too strong by itself. Drink up and be merry!

Egg nog
From this Alton Brown recipe, with my modifications

4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 Tbsp
4 cups whole milk
1 cup half and half
3 oz bourbon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine the milk, half and half, and nutmeg and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and gradually temper the hot mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Return everything to the pot and cook until the mixture reaches 160°. Remove from the heat, stir in the bourbon, pour into a medium mixing bowl, and set in the refrigerator to chill.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. With the mixer running, gradually add 1 Tbsp of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the chilled mixture. Serve chilled and sprinkled with additional nutmeg, if desired.

Persimmon bread

Our next door neighbor has a persimmon tree, and every year around this time, he knocks on our door with a big bag of persimmons. I had never had one before we moved here, but they are delicious. But, you can only eat so many, and feed so many to your little one (who took a while to warm up to them, but eventually did). A few years ago, I went searching for a recipe in which to use a lot of persimmons, and so persimmon bread was born.

Happy birthday!

Most recipes for permission bread (in fact, all that I was able to find) use hachiya persimmons, and our neighbor grows fuyu persimmons, so I had to do a bit of modification. Hachiya persimmons get very soft and pulpy as they ripen, and fuyus don’t, so they needed to be puréed to use in the bread. I was really pleased with the results, and I have always made a least a couple of loaves of persimmon bread every year since. It’s absolutely delicious warm from the oven (or otherwise lightly toasted) with a little bit of butter.


Nora even had some for breakfast in the morning (her first nuts — gasp!) and loved it.

Need I say more?

The recipe makes two loaves, and the second one is perfect for gifting or freezing. Enjoy!

Fuyu Persimmon Bread
Based on this recipe

2 eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 tsp vanilla
3 cups fuyu persimmon purée*
2/3 cup (10 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom**
2 tsp cinnamon
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup walnut pieces

Preheat the oven to 350° and generously grease two 9 x 5 loaf pans. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Mix in the persimmon puree, and then the butter. Sprinkle the baking soda, salt, and spices over the mixture and mix to combine. Add the flour and stir until just combined. Stir in the nuts.

Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans. Bake for about an hour, or until a wooden pick inserted in to the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

* Peel, core, and quarter 5-6 persimmons (depending on size), and then use a food processor or blender to purée. You could also just run them through a food mill.

** Substitute allspice if you don’t have cardamom on hand.

Crispy Baked Kale with Gruyère

Thanks to the delightful Ruby, I have discovered a great new way to use kale. This dish is definitely more than the sum of its parts — the onions, the kale, the gruyère, and the croutons combine to form a fantastic meal.


I will admit that I have a soft spot for casseroles of all kinds, but I especially love how fresh and simple this is. It makes a lovely weeknight meal. You can even make the kale mixture and the croutons ahead, refrigerate them separately, and then just assemble the casserole right before you’re ready to bake it.

Crispy Baked Kale with Gruyère
From this recipe from Food & Wine, with my modifications

One 4-oz piece of sourdough bread, crusts removed, bread torn into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 lbs kale, large stems discarded, leaves chopped
1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 cups shredded gruyère cheese (3 1/2 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the bread on a baking sheet and toss with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil. Bake for 8 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Let the croutons cool on the baking sheet.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the shallot, onion and garlic and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the kale, cover and cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the thyme and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the kale mixture to an 8-by-10-inch glass baking dish. Scatter the cheese over the kale and top with the croutons. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and the croutons are golden. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Running ruminations

I have to admit, I have been pretty lazy when it comes to running lately. After my half marathon, I slacked on training for my 5K a couple of weeks later (though I did end up with a PR, yay!), and since then… well, let’s just say it has been a battle to get out the door. I have managed to fit in a couple of runs a week, but I’m not really at the level I need to be.

It has always been a struggle to make time for running, but I find that as a mama, it’s even more so. It can be so hard to take time for yourself, especially when it involves convincing your also busy partner to take over baby duty while you exercise.* Plus, with daylight hours getting shorter and the weather getting colder, it’s just a difficult time of year.

* I am not complaining. I have pretty much the best husband ever, who often comes home early from work just so I can get out for a run. But, life gets in the way sometimes!

I really need something to train for, and a firm plan, to keep me in line. I like having a schedule to follow, and I tend to stick to it (as long as it’s written down) tenaciously. In pre-baby days, that often meant getting up well before the sun rose to pound out my miles before work, or sneaking out for a lunchtime run if that failed.

Nowadays, morning running doesn’t work too well, due to our little early riser, so I’ve become an evening runner, mostly. I head out while the hubby takes care of bedtime and get back in time for dinner. That has gotten harder recently, since the sun is setting so early, and I’m not uber-comfortable running in the dark. Sure, I can go with the jogging stroller in the daytime, and often I do, but it’s harder (*whine*) and Nora won’t stay content in the stroller for more than about 3 miles, so longer runs aren’t really an option.

I still love having her as my running buddy, though!

But, as I well know, there’s always an excuse, and logistical issues can be overcome. That’s why I was psyched when one of the moms in my playgroup suggested we get a group together to train for the Go Green St. Patrick’s Day Run in March. A goal, hurray!

I’m as yet undecided as to whether I will run the 5K, 10K, or half marathon. I had been thinking about trying to speed up my half marathon time in the spring, so I’m tempted, though most of the group will be running the 5K.

Anyway, I just felt like blathering about running today. Anyone care to join me? What motivates you to get out the door for a run? Are you are lazy as I am this winter?

Sweet potatoes with cinnamon and molasses

Sweet potato was one of Nora’s favorite first foods, and sweet potato purée was one of the last things she’d let me feed her when she started rejecting purées. I’ve tried homemade sweet potato “fries” (just sprayed with olive oil and baked), but she wasn’t a huge fan, so she hasn’t really had them in a while.

With winter upon us, however, and our CSA on hiatus until the spring, I am running out of “creative” veggies, so I picked up a sweet potato at the store and decided to experiment a little. Feeling inspired, I made a dish loosely based on what my mom has always made for Thanksgiving dinner: sweet potatoes roasted with honey and pecans. However, honey and nuts are on the no-no list until one year, and Nora hasn’t had them yet, so I mixed it up a little bit. I omitted the pecans, added a sprinkle of cinnamon, and rather than honey, I used just a drizzle of molasses (which happens to be a great source of iron).

Om nom nom.

She dug into them at dinner last night, so I think it’s safe to say I’ll be making more of these in the future.


Fortunately, one large sweet potato made plenty to go with several dinners, so I have more in the freezer. Bonus!

Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon and Molasses

1 large sweet potato
2 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
generous sprinkle of cinnamon
1 Tbsp molasses

Preheat the oven to 400°. Scrub the sweet potato and pierce it several times with a fork. Place it directly on the rack, with a sheet of foil on the rack below it, just to catch any drips. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the sweet potato seems to have shrunk a little bit inside the skin and is a little oozy.* Remove it from the oven and let it cool a bit. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°.

Once the sweet potato is cooled, remove the skin using your hands (it should slip off easily). Cut the flesh into 1/2-inch to 1-inch chunks and arrange in a baking dish. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the sweet potato, then sprinkle with cinnamon and drizzle with molasses.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, stirring and tossing a couple of times, until butter is melted and the sweet potatoes are very tender.

* Yes, that is a technical term.


Chocolate truffles have a reputation for being difficult, but they don’t have to be. They also happen to make the perfect Christmas gift for people you’re not sure what to get, or even to just hold in reserve in case of a “gift emergency” (you know you’ve had one). And, let’s face it, it’s just fun to get your hands all chocolatey!*

* Or is that just me?

I’ve had success with “traditional” recipes using some combination of chocolate, heavy cream, and/or butter before, but I found myself needing a little something different a few days ago, and I managed to stumble onto the easiest truffle recipe I’ve ever found. The results were deliciously sinful.

This is the stuff.

The hubby had helped organize a wine tasting fundraiser for a local non-profit, and they needed some nibbles to complement the wine. I had plentiful chocolate (Scharffen Berger, mmm…) and a can of sweetened condensed milk in the pantry that needed to be used (but no heavy cream). I also scavenged some hazelnuts and a tub of mocha hot chocolate mix that was basically sweetened cocoa with some coffee thrown in, so I was all set for coatings.

I just chopped the hazelnuts and rolled the truffles in them, although next time I think I’d toast them first. The mocha cocoa was the real winner, though. The coffee flavor really deepened the chocolate, as it tends to, and I am a sucker for that.

So. Much. Chocolate.

You can imagine all kinds of coatings for these babies, though — the sky is the limit!

The original recipe called for a lot more butter, but the comments indicated that some people had trouble with the mix firming up. I’m okay with chocolate overload, so I cut way back on the butter. The result was a super-easy truffle recipe that was basically foolproof, and they were a hit!

Easy Chocolate Truffles
Adapted from this recipe

8 oz semi- or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
dash of vanilla, or 6 Tbsp liqueur for flavoring**
Your choice of coating***

Heat the chocolates, butter, and milk in a pan until partially melted. Remove from the heat and stir until completely melted. Whisk in your desired flavoring until creamy-smooth.
Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for an hour or two.

Remove the mixture from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for a few minutes so it’s easier to scoop out. Mold the chocolate into approximately 1 Tbsp-sized balls, using your (clean) hands to roll them. Place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.

Place your desired coating in a shallow bowl. Working one at a time, roll the truffles into the mixture, turning to coat. If you need to, roll the truffles a little more by hand to make sure the coating is nice and secure. Return to wax paper.

These can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 5 days, or frozen up to 1 month. Before serving, let them stand at room temperature to soften slightly.

** Good flavor options are Kahlua, Chambord, or Grand Marnier (with or without a little grated orange zest to complement). I wanted to keep mine simple for the wine tasting, but next time I’ll probably get creative.

*** A few ideas: chopped toasted hazelnuts, cocoa powder, slivered almonds, mini chocolate chips.

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