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.

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