Delicious new recipe!

Wow! It's been a while since I've cooked anything...but, I've still got it! :)

So, last fall I got a neat cookbook, "Cooking the RealAge Way" by Dr. Roizen and John La Puma. It's based around the RealAge concept, which is a way to assess your biological age based on lifestyle and health. (The website is www.realage.com - go there and take the test to figure out your RealAge!) Based on this premise, the cookbook provides healthy recipes, and an assessment of how eating each recipe impacts your RealAge. For example, the recipe I made last night, if eaten 12 times a year, will make your RealAge 8.7 days younger. Woo hoo! Eat great food and live longer - that's an idea I can get behind!

Anyway, I've had this cookbook for a year, and I have been dying to make this recipe: "Pistachio Pilaf with Butternut Squash and Gingered Cranberry Sauce". Now, there are a lot of expectations riding on a recipe you've been thinking about for a year. It was worth the wait!

I am fairly liberal with my interpretation of recipes, so I am not going to quote the recipe here. But, note that 1) this is a great cookbook and worth purchasing and 2) all credit goes to the authors as I would never have come up with this idea on my own. Neverthless, even with my interpretations it was delicious. So, here is what I did.

- Recipe calls for whole wheat pilaf mix - I used an organic 7 grain blend.
- 1 large butternut squash (about 2.5 lbs)
- Recipe calls for 1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp cranberry chutney. I used a jar of cranberry relish, as well as a plain old can of whole berry cranberry sauce. I wasn't really sure what I needed based on what it called for. But, the plain old can of whole berry cranberry sauce works just perfectly, unless you want to get fancier. :)
- 1.4 c. cranberry juice cocktail
- 2 tbsp chopped crystalized ginger
1/2 c. coarsely chopped pistachios

- Prepare pilaf mix according to directions on the box (replacing any butter with olive oil). This usually takes some time to cook for a soft fluffy texture, so it makes sense to do this first.
- Cut up butternut squash into 1-2 inch cubes, removing skin, seeds and membrane.
- Take the better part of the cranberry sauce and spread it evenly over the butternut squash. (Remember, I'm pretty loosey goosey here, so use your best judgement. About 3/4 of the can should do.)
- Roast the butternut squash at 350 for about 30 minuts, or until slightly carmelized and soft and fleshy when poked with a fork.
- In small saucepan, or similar, combine remaining cranberry sauce, the cranberry juice and crystalized ginger. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes until slightly thickened. (Again, these quantities are flexible. For thicker texture, use less juice. If you like ginger, throw in a few more crystals.)

When everything is ready to serve, use pilaf as base, top with roasted butternut squash, top with sauce and top everything off with pistachios.

This is hearty enough to be a main course, or paired with a salad. I served it with chicken tenderloins seasoned with smoked Spanish paprika and steamed broccoli. Together, it made a great presentation and delicious meal.

The flavors - earthy grains, sweet squash, tart cranberry, sharp ginger - are an incredibly exciting, complex and complimentary combination. The textures - granular pilaf, soft butternut squash and crunchy pistachios - were unique and worked well together. I loved the unexpected crunch of the pistachios! (Note that the recipe calls to toast the pistachios, but I honestly don't think it is necessary and think it would have detracted from the fresh and naturally unique flavor of the pistachio.)

Here are some other thoughts I had about cooking this again (which I definitely will):
- If you want to roast a large quantity of butternut squash for other uses (like soup, purees, etc...), don't put the cranberry sauce on, just brush them with some olive oil. You can just make a larger quantity of the cranberry-ginger sauce.
- As a nice alternative to using the cranberry on the roasting butternut squash, cut up some nice fall apples and put them over the butternut squash. (Use a glass casserole dish for this, instead of a pan.) The juices from the apples will drip down and moisturize the squash, making it so flavorful, soft and moist. Then you can still top with the cranberry-ginger sauce.
- My friend asked about a spring time interpretation of this. We came up with using summer squash (yellow and zucchini), saute them in olive oil, maybe with a sweet onion. And, instead of cranberry and ginger, try some fresh (maybe grilled) mango. I'm still contemplating the sauce/spices for mango.

The book also recommended soy nuts as an alternative to the pistachios. Maybe in the spring interpretation, but I have to say the pistachios really added some great depth of flavor and unexpected texture.



I had a delicious dinner out last night at Zaytinya in Penn Quarter, Washington, DC. Zaytina's a Mediterranean restaurant specializing in mezze, small plates of food, from Greece, Lebanon and Turkey.

As always, it was a lovely experience with many different dishes full of fabulous flavors. Following is a summary of what we had with my comments. In addition, the staff was thorough and kind. They called the day after I made reservations on Open Table to confirm, and even allowed me to change the number. Once there, they were friendly and attentive, without being over bearing. I cannot say how much this contributes to a lovely dining experience. My only complaint is that we were sitting next to a display of glassware filled with different olive oils. One of the larger containers had been uncovered and had accumulated some flies, making it look a bit like an extravagant science experiment. Minor, of course, but still....

So, here is the summary of food with comments. Overall, I've been to Zaytinya a number of times and highly recommend it. It's a fun place to go with friends. And, all in all, it's a great value. So, make a reservation and check it out!

~ L

Zaytinya always provides unique and fabulous, fresh and hot pita pillows! The best base for everything they serve, especially the hommus and tzatziki. They also provided a platter of fresh cucumbers for some low-carb eaters in the party. (Note that this is a place where it is possible to manage a low carb diet relatively easily.)

Hommus - Delicious, of course, should just make the portions larger.
Baba Ghannouge - I don't eat this, but the others enjoyed it.
Tzatziki - I love this! It's a creamy base, but with chunkier cucumber in it.

Three cheeses w/ apple and pear chutney - Delicious!

Falafel - Very good.
Grape-Leaves Dolmades - This was good. Not my favorite, but good quality.

Olive Oil Salmon - This was slightly overdone. We also had a special that had salmon in a filo shell with an interesting sauce. This was much better.

Arayes ("grilled ground lamb and tahini stuffed pita") - Nice flavor and texture. Delicious!
Rabbit Stifado - This has a French smell to it. I didn't taste the rabbit, but the sauce was fabulous!
Chicken Muhammarah - This is a basic chicken, like from a kabob. Interesting spicing. Nothing special, but good.
Kotopoulo Youvetsi ("chicken, orzo, tomato, kefalograviera cheese") - Lovely and delicate pasta dish. Nice compliment to the rest of the dishes as the orzo gives a different texture.

Finally, I always suggest checking out the specials they offer. We had a delicious special that involved a fall squash, golden raisins and other spices, baked into soft balls. Delicious!