Monday, March 28, 2011

Spaghetti Squash - A Leftover Magnet

Last night, I made a meal that Miriam said was "one of the best meals [I've] ever made." I was glad she liked it, but I was a little offended because I'd made it just to use up some leftovers. It got me thinking, though, that spaghetti squash makes an excellent leftover magnet. It's pretty neutral, so it mixes with just about anything you might have in your fridge. Also, the "meat and vegetables tossed with pasta" class of dishes isn't exactly on the weird end of the meal spectrum. Best of all, you can (and probably should) cook spaghetti squash in the microwave. Honestly, if you're making a meal out of leftovers, do you really want to fire up the oven? Of course not.

I'm sorry I didn't take any pictures, but it was a meal of leftovers so I didn't think about it. You'll just have to use your imagination.

In the fridge, I had leftover steak and broccolini from Saturday, and some sun-dried tomatoes from who-knows-when. I cooked the spaghetti squash in the microwave, and scraped it out into a large bowl. I cut the steak and broccolini into bite-sized pieces and reheated them in the microwave. I chopped the sun-dried tomatoes into very small pieces, because I don't like to have too much of their particular flavor in each bite. A little goes a long way. Then I tossed the steak, broccolini, and tomatoes with the spaghetti squash, and added a little olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

I tasted it then, and it was really good. If you stop there, you've got an excellent paleo meal on your hands. I did add one non-paleo ingredient after that, though. I added a sprinkle of a very hard cheese that I had grated very fine. I didn't feel too bad about it, because I didn't add much, and it was a "real" cheese, not in any way a "cheez." I tend to agree with Mark Sisson that the occasional high quality cheese is nothing to be scared of. If you don't agree, feel free not to use it. Like I said, the dish tasted good even without it.

So, that's what I did with my spaghetti squash. What you do with yours is up to you. Here are a few of my tips for successful spaghetti squash cooking to get you going.
  • Cook it in the microwave. I've tried several methods of cooking spaghetti squash, and I can't for the life of me tell any difference between a spaghetti squash that was roasted at 350 for an hour and one that was cooked in a microwave for 10 minutes. The microwave is way easier.
  • Don't cut it in half before putting it in the microwave, but be sure to puncture the skin many, many times. I like to use a steak knife to make the punctures, and I also always make sure to make at least three punctures that go very deep into the squash so that any steam from the middle can get out. I've had spaghetti squashes explode in the microwave when I wasn't diligent about this.
  • A small spaghetti squash takes about 7-10 minutes to cook in the microwave. A large one will take 10-12. You know it's done if it squishes a little bit when you squeeze it.
  • You'll need to use an oven mitt on one hand while splitting and scraping the hot squash. Waiting for it to cool is a fool's game. It takes forever, and let's face it, you wouldn't be cooking if you weren't hungry, so you might as well put on the mitt and get to it.
  • Use a large serrated knife (like a bread knife) to cut both ends off of the squash, and then cut it lengthwise down the middle. While you've got the knife out, go ahead and cut around the edge of where the seeds are. That will make it easier to remove them.
  • Scoop the seeds and seed-related pulp out of the center with a big spoon. Discard. (Or clean them and roast them and make a delightful centerpiece out of them if you're a budding Martha Stewart. I'm not.)
  • Use a fork to scrape the meat of each half of the squash into a large bowl. Scrape lengthwise. You should have a bowl of spaghetti-like strands.
  • I always like to add a little oil to the squash right after it goes into the bowl. I think it helps keep the strands separated.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Technically Paleo Chocolate Cake.

Is it a really big plate, or a really small cake?
Last year, Miriam's birthday happened to fall right in the middle of a paleo challenge that we were doing at the gym. She wanted to stay really strict on the diet, so we didn't have a cake. Instead, I made a key lime pie out of paleo ingredients. If I had been a more experienced paleo baker, I could have whipped up some of these little chocolate cakes instead. They have a texture somewhere between a cake and a brownie, and they're awesome on their own or with a small scoop of coconut milk ice cream on top.

Now, before I get started with the recipe, here's the caveat. These are definitely in the "indulgences" category. They make a great treat for you and your sweetie to split after a romantic dinner, and if it's your birthday you can totally have one guilt-free. However, if you're having one of these after dinner every night, you're not going to be happy with the results.  (Well, the long term results, anyway. The immediate result is that you eat chocolate cake, and you'll probably be OK with that.)

Without further adieu:

I like to get everything together first
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or any neutral oil)
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cookie Sheet
Miniature Tart Pans
Large bowl

Preheat your oven to 325.

Add the almond meal, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt to a large bowl, and whisk to combine.

A large bowl is the baker's best friend.

It won't be totally smooth, but that's OK. You're really just trying to distribute the baking powder evenly.

Now add the egg, oil, water, syrup, and vanilla to the bowl.
The maple syrup is what really pushes this into indulgence land

You really want to get it smooth. Remember, almond meal doesn't form gluten, so go nuts with the mixing. It should look like brownie batter when you're done.

Distribute the batter between four miniature tart pans (I think mine are 5 inch tart pans) on top of a cookie sheet.

It's really important to put the same amount of batter in each one. Otherwise you'll end up with a charcoal brick in some and chocolate pudding in others.

Now, bake the cakes at 325 for about 12-15 minutes. They're done if you can stick a toothpick in them and have it come back out clean.
You can kind of see the toothpick holes in the back two.

Getting these out of the tart pans is a little tricky. Most tart pans have removable bottoms, which helps a lot. I have good luck using a very thin-bladed knife to separate the cakes from the sides of the pans, then turning them upside down and popping the bottom out of the pan. Then the pan-bottom can be separated from the cake with the knife.

  • These taste a lot like brownies. They're pretty dense, and very chocolatey.
  • If you don't have tart pans with removable bottoms, you could try cutting a parchment paper circle to fit the bottom of the pan, so that the bottom of your cake won't stick to the bottom of the pan. I haven't tried it that way, but it might work.
  • I have no idea whether or not you could just pour everything into one larger pan to make one larger cake. It might work OK in one nine inch pan, but I suspect you'd need to bake it for about 20 minutes. Maybe one day I'll give it a try.