Arugula Salad with Pomegranate Dressing

I love to eat pomegranate, so I always become excited when the winter holidays roll around and pomegranates are in season. There’s a certain hidden beauty about pomegranates. When you cut through their unassuming leathery skin, luscious seeds, just waiting to explode with dark red juice, reveal themselves. I have fond childhood memories of myself spurting red juice all over the kitchen while I attempted to remove the seeds from their membrane casings. The intensity of each little pomegranate seed’s juice, followed by the crunchy inner core will forever remain one of my cherished holiday memories.

The spicy, peppery taste of the arugula pairs nicely with the sweetness of the pomegranate. If you don’t have any garlic oil on hand, don’t feel that it is absolutely necessary to run out and buy some. Making your own is ridiculously easy. All you need are 4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into fourths. Heat about 1 cup of olive oil in a small butter pan on low heat. Add the garlic and allow its flavor to infuse into the oil. Make sure that you keep the flame as low as possible, or else the garlic will burn too quickly. Continue cooking the oil for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the oil to cool. Strain the oil into a glass container and toss the leftover garlic.

7 oz. baby arugula, cleaned and dried
1/2 a pomegranate
1/3 c. garlic oil
2 tsp. fig balsamic vinegar
2 Tbl. pomegranate seeds
2 Tbl. toasted pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste

Remove about 2 Tbl. of the pomegranate’s seeds; set aside. In a small bowl, gently squeeze the sliced half of pomegranate, allowing the juices to flow. It’s ok if a few loose seeds fall out into the bowl as well. *Please wear an apron while squeezing the pomegranate. No matter how “careful” I think I will be, I almost always end up squirting bright red juice someplace!* Add the fig balsamic vinegar. While whisking, slowly pour the garlic oil into the bowl. When the dressing is mixed together completely, taste and adjust ingredients according to your taste. Set aside.

Place the arugula greens into a large salad bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the pine nuts and pomegranate seeds. Pour over the dressing. Toss to coat. Serve immediately. If you would like to dress up this salad even further, feel free to add some small pieces of chopped orange, or even turn the salad into a main course by including some pan fried potatoes with rosemary.

Rice, Nut, and Seed Loaf

This is a nice meat-alternative dish that is hearty enough to please even the meat and potatoes crowd.  In fact, my very carnivorous husband sometimes even requests this!  Served like a meatloaf, it does well as the centerpiece of a meal, or as an accompaniment to pasta and veggies.  It also freezes well, uncooked, so if you have a large enough mixing bowl, consider doubling the ingredients for an easy meal another day.

This is also a great recipe for the novice cook – it simply requires a bit of chopping and shredding, and if you have a food processor, those steps are a snap.

We realize that this is not the most visually appetizing dish, but it does taste good!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups shredded cheese (more or less depending on your taste) — cheddar or mozzarella, or a combination of the two
  • 4 lightly beaten eggs
  • 1 medium chopped onion
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped sunflower kernels
  • 1/8 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/8 cup flax seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning, or 1/2 teaspoon of each of the following dried herbs: thyme, oregano, basil, marjoram, parsley

Combine all the ingredients and pack into a greased 9″ loaf pan.  Bake at 350°F for 50-60 minutes or until firm.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes.  Serve in slices and top with warm marinara sauce.

Mexican flavor variation — instead of Italian seasoning, use chili seasoning (cumin, paprika, chili powder, and oregano) and replace some of the cheese with shredded Pepper Jack or Monterey Jack.  Top with your choice of traditional red tomato salsa or salsa verde.

Don’t throw out the pumpkins…or the seeds!

One of my favorite things about Halloween is seeing all the pumpkins, carved and whole, adorning porches, windows, and doorsteps.  And one of my other favorite things is spending an entire season consuming the delicious foods derived from pumpkins and other squashes — seeds, breads, soups, pies, casseroles, and more.  Despite the fact that a shortage of pumpkins — caused by unusual weather circumstances — has pervaded many communities in the U.S. this year, many shoppers heading out on November 1st will find stores offering great deals on the leftovers of these orange orbs.  Below are a few ideas on how to take advantage of this autumn favorite.

Toasted pumpkin seeds

Pre-heat the oven to 300ºF. Scoop out the seeds from your carved pumpkins or squash into a large bowl. Fill the bowl with water and separate the seeds from the pulp by hand, discarding the stringy orange part. Don’t worry about getting them perfectly clean. Rinse and drain the seeds and shake off any excess water. Place the seeds on a rimmed baking sheet. Season them with your choice of flavoring. My favorite is simply adding a sprinkling of sea salt, but you could add garlic or onion powder, chili powder, cinnamon and sugar, or even a little maple syrup. Let your taste buds guide you! Sprinkle (or drizzle) your flavoring over the wet seeds and toss to evenly coat them. Spread the seeds out on the pan in one even layer and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until they are dry and crisp, but not brown and burnt. Toss the seeds every 10 minutes or so while toasting so that they dry out evenly. The cooled seeds can be kept fresh in an airtight container for several days. Enjoy!

Use the pumpkin as a baking dish!

A hollowed-out pumpkin makes a wonderful and festive container for baking anything from pasta and bread casseroles to potatoes, soup, and meat dishes. Small pumpkins can be used for individual servings, and large ones can contain a centerpiece dish for your next dinner party. Your imagination is the limit!

Pureed Pumpkin

Sugar pumpkins (or pie pumpkins) can be found at rock-bottom prices, and the puree made from this variety can be used in a ton of recipes. Cooking it is quite simple.

Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds. Place the cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet with about 1/4 inch of water, and bake at 350º for about an hour, until a fork can be inserted easily. Add more water while cooking, if needed. Scoop the meat away from the skin and puree it in a food processor until smooth.

This method can be used for used for other types of squash, such as acorn, butternut, and (my favorite) delicata.  The pumpkin or squash puree can be used right away or frozen.  During the fall, while this produce is abundant, I like to make a lot of it and freeze it in 1-cup portions that can be pulled out at a moment’s notice for a quick soup or casserole dinner.

Pumpkin bread

This is a delicious recipe that came from my sister, and it can be made into loaves, cupcakes, or mini-muffins.  For my last batch, I made all three!  Spread some soft cream cheese or top it with cream cheese frosting to make it extra special.

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice (or 1/4 tsp. nutmeg)
  • 2 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups puréed pumpkin (or one 15-oz. can)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 350º. Sift together all the dry ingredients (except the sugar) into a large bowl. Cream together the sugar, eggs, and oil in a separate mixing bowl. Add the puréed pumpkin. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the water to the egg mixture, one-third at a time.  Stir in the nuts.

Bake as follows:

  • Bread: pour batter into 3 greased and floured loaf pans and bake for about one hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  If baking with dark pans, reduce the oven temperature to 325º.
  • Cupcake / mini-muffins: makes three dozen standard cupcakes or nine dozen mini-muffins.  Fill cups or liners 3/4 full.  Bake standard size for 20-25 minutes and the mini size for 12-15, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Hint: to satisfy both those who do and don’t like walnuts, instead of mixing the nuts into the batter, sprinkle them along the top before baking so that they can be easily removed later on. Just watch them to be sure that they don’t burn.