Butternut squash with pecans and vanilla

Simply Recipes is known for some pretty solid recipes, and her Butternut squash with walnuts and vanilla was no exception. I made some changes based on what we had on hand and how I know we like to eat. This was served with the ribs I mentioned in the previous post along with a baked sweet potato with cinnamon butter. It was quite tasty and has left me full for a majority of the evening (though I also did sample the ‘dessert’ I made).

Butternut squash with pecans and vanilla
This is how I did it and a few of my notes.

1. Preheat your oven to 400F.
2. Peal and chop the remainder of the butternut squash you have from making crimini butternut sqush risotto. Pealing and chopping a butternut squash is kind of a bitch. Be patient and take your time.
3. Toss the squash with some olive oil and a bit of salt. Enough to coat but not drench the squash pieces.
4. Roast squash for 30-40 min and realize it isn’t browning. As dinner will be ready soon, just go with it.
5. In a deep skillet, cast iron in my case, brown a cup plus of pecan pieces.
6. Belt in 3 T butter.
7. Add a small knob of chopped finger, maybe the size of your thumb tip, from the first joint.
8. Add 1 t vanilla and about 1/2 t lemon juice.
9. Add 1/2 t thyme (or maybe a bit more?).
10. Add in another T butter and serve.


I still haven’t settled on a look for this blog. As I’m unlikely to want to do any of my own behind the scenes coding, I’m stuck with prepackaged layouts and looks from wordpress. So, please forgive me over the next little bit while I play around with looks and setups.

Product Review – Stubb’s Smokey Mesquite BBQ sauce

As promised, here is a product review for one of the Stubb’s bar-b-q sauces (hey, that’s how they spell it on their bottle!).
A quick note: If you are gluten free and are going to seek Stubb’s products, make sure you double check the ingredients. They reformulated all their flavors to be gluten free back in July, but some places are still working through back stock. Read here and here to get the full back story on why I’m writing this post.

We decided to start with the Smokey Mesquite flavor since that is the one that had gluten in it the last time we tried it. The ingredients are pretty much in line with how we eat (in this case, no high fructose corn syrup and no gluten): water, tomato paste, sugar, molasses, brown sugar, distilled vinegar, salt, honey, natural mesquite smoke flavor, corn starch, spices, contains less than 0.5% of: onion, garlic, caramel color, guar gum, xanthan gum, corn syrup, tamarind, natural flavor.

The flavor is pretty much in line with how I like my BBQ sauces. It’s lightly sweet without being overpowering. There’s a touch of sour, but only a touch. I can’t stand sour BBQ sauces. And then there’s the depth of flavor. I can taste a number of different tastes, but none of them overpower anything else. Lightly tomato-y, hint of garlic, a slight smokey flavor. There’s also a slight zing to the sauce. Not spicy in a painful sort of way, but one that lets your tongue know it’s there.

We’re using the sauce to make ribs today. First the ribs get slathered in a spice rub the ManBeast likes working with. They get put under the broiler for a few minutes, and then put into the crock pot with a chopped up onion and the entire bottle of BBQ sauce. After about five hours on high, we should have tasty fall apart ribs for our dinner. And a wonderful smell infusing our apartment.

Stubbs BBQ sauce

When I wrote this post about a month ago, I didn’t expect anything out of it. I didn’t write the post to bash Stubbs (the BBQ sauce that almost glutened me). I didn’t write to kevetch about ‘Why me?’. I just wrote it as a reminder that when you have Celiac Disease, you need to always read labels. Even if four flavors of something are gluten free, it doesn’t mean the fifth one will also be gluten free.

A couple of weeks after I wrote that post, Stubbs somehow got a hold of the post and wrote me asking for my information. They said they would be happy to send me a ‘replacement bottle’. Apparently they just reformulated all their BBQ sauces to be gluten free and I must have gotten an older bottle. So I emailed them back and off went my information to them.

Monday night when the ManBeast and I were in the grocery store we doubled checked the sauces. Sure enough, four of the flavors on the shelf were gluten free, but the smokey mesquite was still the old version with fermented wheat in it.

I wasn’t really expecting much. If anything, a coupon to buy a free bottle. To me that would have likely been the cost effective way to do this. Especially since I hadn’t complained to them about it or requested anything from them.

So when I got home yesterday, I was a bit shocked to find a large package waiting for me. Inside, I found this:

All five flavors of their BBQ sauce, gluten free, two cozies, and a small toy football! I am still absolutely shocked. I really wish other companies would do customer service like this. We already liked Stubbs BBQ sauce, but now they’ve probably made fans of us for a long time to come (assuming of course their sauces stay gluten free). To top it all off I got a nice hand written note apologizing for me getting a gluten filled bottle. The last sentence though is my favorite: “Hope you feel better and that these GF bottles bring you some love and happiness.”

If you see Stubbs BBQ sauce in your grocery store, I really do recommend you try one. They are quite tasty and not filled with crap like many other brands. We’ll be making ribs with probably a few of these bottles. When we open the next bottle, I’ll be sure to post a true product review for you all.

Thanks Stubbs!

Research from New Guinea – nuts and carbs

Two articles have come out recently that I’ve seen mentioned in both the regular news and around the blogging world. As a scientist, when I see ‘popular’ media pieces about things like this, I like to go back to original research article. Often what you see reported is a bastardization of the actual research. These two articles are no different.

Hopefully in the next day or two I’ll get to this one:
Revedin A., B. Aranguren, R. Becattini, L. Longo, E. Marconi, M. M. Lippi, N. Skakun, A. Sinitsyn, E. Spiridonova, and J. Svoboda. 2010. Thirty thousand-year-old evidence of plant food processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 1-5.

But today I’d like to discuss this one:
Summerhayes G. R., M. Leavesley, A. Fairbairn, H. Mandui, J. Field, A. Ford, and R. Fullagar. 2010. Human Adaptation and Plant Use in Highland New Guinea 49,000 to 44,000 Years Ago. Science 330:78-81.

It doesn’t appear this article is open access. What this means to those of you in the non-science world is that if you want to read this actual article, you’ll have to do some work to get it. The best some of you may be able to do is read the abstract on the journals page. I might be able to hook people up with the pdf if they are interested.

I’m going to attempt to summarize some of the work discussed in this paper and the conclusions and implications it has.

People colonized New Guinea sometime around 50,000 years ago, likely a bit after that. Evidence is not well preserved from this era making work like this difficult. The earliest sites researchers have found are from around 49-43000 years ago. During this time, the climate would have been much cooler, by about 5-10 degrees Celsius. In the sites examined, old tools and starch grains were found.

First, the tools. One major finding were waisted axes. These tools were likely used to clear plant material to either help sunlight reach growing food bearing plants or other useful plants. On some of the tools found, starch grains were found. Translation: some form of agriculture/farming happened in this region.

A word about grains. This is NOT referring to grains in the common usage. This is a scientific usage referring to how plants store starches/carbohydrates, as small globular grains (think tiny sand like things, inside the plant cell). Most of the grains they found were identified to be in the yam genus. The researchers also found Pandanus nutshells, known for containing nutritious seeds. Two simple pieces of evidence point to these findings coming from human sources. 1. Proximity to charcoal, bone fragments and tools (all human associated). 2. No rodent gnaw marks on the seeds.

Unlike what you may have read in the common media about this being some evidence for grain consumption and ‘Go ahead, eat bread!’, this is NOT the conclusion drawn by the authors. First, they state “The preservation of food plant species in open sites of this age is remarkable, and the analysis confirms that Pandanus and yams were used for subsistence in this valley from the time that the earliest colonists arrived”. This does NOT translate to ‘We ate bread’. It translates to – we ate nutrient dense nuts and complex carbohydrates from yams.

The last paragraph is so interesting to me that I’m just going to copy the entire this here:
“Our data show that people occupied a New Guinea valley at 2000 m above sea level soon after their arrival in Sahul (1). As the climate cooled, the optimal growing conditions for yams would have occurred at lower altitudes. This may indicate that Pandanus was the most important staple at this time and help explain the late Pleistocene abandonment of the highland sites. Foraging into this high-altitude environment would guarantee a high return in plant fat and protein to complement local animal foods, the starch-rich yams from lower altitudes, and those foods not preserved in the archaeological record.”

There are a few things I hope you get out of that last paragraph. The first is that Pandanus was likely a major portion of their diet. They also could only grow yams at lower elevations, so as the climate cooled they had to move further down in elevation. And lastly, yams and Pandanus nuts were PART of their diet. The last part of the last sentence? “… and those foods not preserved in the archaeological record”? That’s really important here. We do know A LOT about our evolution from the archaeological record. But there is a lot we don’t know because not everything preserved well. Think about it. If your people are dying out, is your last thought going to be about preserving your heritage so that future people can study you? No, you’re likely thinking about ways you can help your people survive. If some of your tools and such survive for 50,000, so be it.

What I really want you to get out of this whole article is the simple fact that during this period of human evolution, we ate starch rich foods and nuts. Along with a bunch of other foods. Pretty simple.

Montys Blue Plate Diner

We had dinner at Monty’s Blue Plate Dinner last night. The ManBeast was in the mood for “American” food, in other words, a burger. A search on Yelp turned up Monty’s with a few good reviews that their food was actually decent. Add in a gluten free menu (pdf), and we decided to give it a try.

I knew before we even got there that I wanted the BBQ bacon cheddar burger on a gluten free bun. The first disappointment was the fries. I know to ask whether fries are truly gluten free, or if they are fried with other foods in the fryer. As it was Friday, the fries were not actually gluten free, because they also fry their fish fry in the same oil on Fridays. I was a bit disappointed that this was not mentioned on the menu. But as we have a deep fryer at home and the ManBeast has figured out how to make good fries, I wasn’t too bummed.

Turns out the ManBeast and I both wanted the same burger. Expect he got his with waffle fries and a regular ‘bun’. I got mine with a gluten free ‘bun’ and cole slaw. We both also had iced teas. After the exchange with the waiter about the fries, I was a bit hesitant about the bun. He went a double checked that they even ‘still have them’ and came back to tell me it was actually rice bread. Now, if you’re gluten free, you probably would have had the same reaction I did, rice BREAD? That’s not a bun! And is it even edible? He informed me that the bread was from a local bakery, the Silly Yak bakery, so I decided to give it a go. Might as well since it didn’t cost me any extra and leaving it off wouldn’t have saved me any money.

I like how Eating in Madison A to Z reviews their burgers, so I’ll do the same here:
* Bun: Not really a bun, actually 2 pieces of thick bread, VERY lightly toasted.
* Meat: Perfectly medium rare, local meat, tasted like quality ground beef.
* Bun/meat ratio: Reasonable, though when the waiter asked me what I thought about the bread, I suggested that it could be toasted a bit more and would likely hold up better that way. However, the whole thing ratio, with the cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato made it a bit overwhelming to pick up and get a good bite of everything all at once.
* Cheese: Supposedly there was cheddar, and I did see it, but I’m not sure I ever actually tasted the cheese.
* Misc.: The bacon and chipotle mayonnaise really made the burger for me and gave it a flavor I really liked. I might even say that the onions added to the flavor in a positive way.
*Gluten: I can only guess everything must have actually been gluten free, as a day later, I have no symptoms of a glutening. I think this might be the first burger I’ve eaten out WITH a ‘bun’.
Overall: 8 out of 10.

Between the two of us, we spent about $23 including tip. I’d give the place a good solid B. I’d definitely be open to going back, but with how many other restaurants there are in Madison, there are plenty of other places that I still want to try too.

Easy chili

Ok, and to balance my last post that was likely completely irrelevant to many of you and having honestly little to do with this blog other than me having space to vent, here’s a recipe. For me, this is one of those recipes that I don’t even normally think about and is why I haven’t posted it before. I’ve been making it for probably more than 10 years and I think might have been one the first recipes I learned when I still lived with my parents. So maybe going on 15 years? It’s so ingrained in me that I don’t even have to think about it. I try to almost always have the ingredients on hand as my just in case food. It’s also really easy to modify.

Quick and Easy Chili

First, how I made it last night:

1. Brown 1 lb ground lamb in a bit of canola oil.
2. Drain fat.
3. Add 1 can stewed tomatoes and 1 can of rinsed black beans. Break up the tomato chunks with your cooking utensil.
4. Add 2 T sugar and 2 T plus medium chili powder.
5. Cook over medium heat for 10 or so min.
6. Serve over corn tortillas with sour cream on top.

That’s it. Seriously.
You can do this with any kind of ground meat. I usually use turkey, but we really liked it with ground lamb and I likely make it again this way. I don’t personally care for ground beef in this, but if thats my only option, I’ll certainly eat it.
You can use different kinds of beans. My mom (and hence I) made it with kidney beans. I find I like the black beans better now.
If you like it spicy, you can use spicier chili powder, you can add more chili powder, or you can just add extra cayenne pepper. My parents don’t care for overly spicy food, so not only would my mom make this bland, we’d also eat it with Ritz spread with butter. I like my food a bit on the spicier side, but I also serve it with sour cream and/or cheese. I’ve been using Penzy’s medium chili powder, and it seems to be decent. I’m not sold on it enough yet that I’ll definitely buy it again, but its better than some of the other chili powders I’ve bought recently. Perhaps next time I’ll try their hot version.