On My Plate: World Food, Squash Gratin & Kitchen Must-Haves

If you haven’t seen Peter Menzel’s photographs called “A Week of Groceries in Different Countries”, make sure to click here right now.

Even though this article has made its way around the interwebs a few times now, it always reminds me of how relative food is depending on where you live, how many people are in your family, and what is available to you. It’s amazing to look at these photos and see the difference of a week’s worth of groceries in America versus Japan, Poland, Chad, and Mali. These photos tell a really important story; not just about the food we eat, but the quantities of it and the economic impact that food has on our culture. When we examine these photos, it’s no wonder you hear more about heart disease and diabetes in America than you do in Bhutan or Turkey, for example. Our diets are very important, and these images just hit home for me every time and remind me that we still have so much work to do on what we eat. When you look at these images what are your reactions? Does anything take you by surprise?

Food: Fall means squash! Squash varieties (pumpkin, butternut, green, yellow, spaghetti, etc) are super healthy and absolutely delicious. And guess what else is? Apples and leeks! Try out my healthy and yummy version of Squash Gratin and you will fall in love with the flavors of autumn. This recipe makes a LOT – so get ready to share with friends and family – and have plenty of leftovers to take for lunch.

Squash Gratin

•    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
•    4 medium leeks, sliced finely (and make sure to discard the roots and rough outer leaves, or you can just buy the packs at Trader Joe's that are ready to be sliced)
•    Coarse ground pepper
•    1 tablespoon dried sage
•    1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced 1/8-inch thick
•    1 pound Gala apples, cut into 1/8-inch thick slices (with skin on)
•    1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1.    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add leeks and 4 tablespoons water; season with pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, about 10-20 minutes. Add sage and cook until liquid is reduced to a glaze and leeks are soft, about 5 minutes; set aside.
2.    In a large shallow baking dish, arrange squash in overlapping layers; season with lots of pepper. Spread leeks evenly over the squash.
3.    Arrange apples in an overlapping layer over the leeks. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake 45 minutes.
4.    Uncover and sprinkle cheese over the top. Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and is golden brown. The tip of a paring knife should easily pierce the gratin. ENJOY!

Homestead: The recipe above takes a little bit of effort if you’re planning to slice everything by hand. This is a good segue for me to talk about my favorite and most helpful kitchen utensils and appliances.

A mandolin, for example, makes slicing butternut squash, apples, and so much more a total breeze. If you don’t have one, I highly suggest investing in one. You can get a great mandolin for $30 or less; so it’s an inexpensive way to save yourself a lot of time in the kitchen.

Also, a peeler is great, too, in order to peel off the tough skin of squash such as pumpkin and butternut varieties; peelers make taking the skin off of white potatoes a breeze, though I’m a fan of leaving the skin on all varieties of potatoes for the nutrients. I have a small peeler that has a ring on the back – it just slips over my middle finger and curves in the fold of my hand. It looks like this.

A good food processor is a MUST. I can’t tell you how I would manage to make hummus or homemade nut butter without my trusty Cuisinart food processor. And you know how much I love our dehydrator – from fruit leather, to apple chips, to homemade jerky, you really can’t go wrong having one of these babies on hand. 

My newest addition that I’ve really been enjoying is my food scale. I bought it at Bed, Bath & Beyond for about $15. It measures in both grams and ounces, and I have found it incredibly helpful with portion control, especially with foods like nuts and frozen fruits/veggies. It’s really easy to overestimate the calories you’re taking in if you’re simply measuring out a serving size in a measuring cup. For example, when you look at a nutrition label for frozen green beans, it might say “30 calories per 2/3 cup serving.” Well, it’s hard to measure long-cut frozen green beans in a 2/3 measuring cup. So I look at the recommended weight, which is 90 grams. It’s easier to lay the beans on the scale and measure that way.

What are your favorite kitchen utensils and appliances?

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