Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

Spaghetti squash tossed with fresh herbs, tomatoes, onions, garlic, Parmesan and other goodness – it’s like a pasta and a vegetable combined in one.


We’re CSA-less this summer. Ben and Patricia of In Good Heart Farm, our longtime CSA, had been leasing land for their farm only ten minutes away from our house. But, they recently bought a farm in Pittsboro, too far away for us to stay with their CSA.

Luckily for us, a new farm is taking over their old land—Chickadee Farms. Their CSA starts in August. Can’t wait! Until then, I’m going to the Clayton Farmers Market on Saturday mornings which is where I picked up a spaghetti squash last weekend.

I’ve been making this spaghetti squash recipe for a long time but never wrote it down until the other night. The exact ingredients usually depend on what’s in the refrigerator.

It’s an easy recipe except for one thing: cutting the squash.

Cutting spaghetti squash puts you at risk of losing a finger if you’re not careful. Make sure your knife is sharp so it doesn’t slip. I usually slice off the stem first—be careful even doing that. Then, I ease the knife through to cut it in half lengthwise.

I’ve seen recipes that tell you to stand the squash up on the cut end (where the stem was) and slice it lengthwise that way. Some people microwave the squash first for a few minutes to make it easier to slice. Whatever you do, watch your fingers!

Cooking time depends on the size of your squash. If you overcook the squash, the strands get mooshy. But if you don’t cook it enough, you’ll have a tough time getting the strands out. Test for doneness by poking a thin knife through the flesh all the way to the peel. The flesh will be tender and separate into spaghetti-like strands when it’s done.  

I forgot to reset the timer and overcooked the squash in the photo below. You can tell because the strands are short and not well defined. The texture was weird but it still tasted delicious.

If you don’t have fresh herbs on hand, try adding some basil pesto or one teaspoon each of dried herbs.

Italian-Style Spaghetti Squash

Italian-Style Spaghetti Squash

You’ll need a brush, baking sheet and large pan.

  • 1 spaghetti squash (about 3 pounds), stem removed, halved lengthwise, seeds removed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1/2 (or more) red bell pepper, sliced into 2” thin strips
  • 1/3 cup chopped pancetta (or bacon)
  • Salt
  • Other options: sliced zucchini, chopped spinach
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup halved grape tomatoes (or equivalent chopped Roma or canned diced tomatoes)
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme and/or Italian flat-leaf parsley)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Brush cut sides of squash with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place squash, cut sides down, on a baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 30-45 minutes. Let cool, about 10 minutes.

While the squash is cooking, heat oil in a large pan. Add onion, red bell pepper, pancetta and salt, and cook until the vegetables soften. If you’re including any other vegetables, add them with the onion mixture. Add garlic, cook about a minute, until it’s golden. Stir in tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and herbs. Cook until the tomatoes are slightly softened.

Once the squash has cooled down a bit, scrape the flesh with a fork to remove the spaghetti-like strands. Add the squash to the pan, combine thoroughly with vegetable mixture and heat through. Sprinkle with Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.


1 year ago on Gusto: Southwestern Slaw (no mayo!)

2 years ago: Zucchini Scallion Pancakes with Soy Dipping Sauce

4 years ago: Cherry Crumble

5 years ago: Eggplant Caponata

6 years ago: Hot and Smoky Baked Beans

You’ll want to eat this sauce right from the pan—an easy weeknight chicken dinner perfect for blueberry season, or whenever blueberries are in your freezer.


I’m a big fan of dishes that combine sweet and savory with a touch of salty or spicy, like poultry or pork with fruit. In the winter, I love using apples, pears and dried fruit, as in Pork Roast with Prunes, Rosemary and Red Wine. Now that summer’s here, I’m turning to berries.

A pork tenderloin recipe inspired this dish, but I used chicken breasts instead. I keep meaning to try this with chicken thighs too – less chance of them getting too dry. I thought the rosemary sitting out on our deck would go well with blueberries so I sprinkled a little on the chicken before it went into the pan. To give the sauce some background heat I added chipotle, one of my favorite staples, to the mix. I also added a bit of honey to deepen the sweetness and reduced the vinegar a bit. All my changes worked! It’s always a relief when that happens.

Take advantage of blueberry season (and store sales) by working them into your menu: breakfasts (smoothies, bagels with cream or ricotta cheese and blueberries, Blueberry Coffee CakeBlueberry Muffins), snacks, dinners and desserts (Blueberry Buckle). Blueberries are little nutritional powerhouses, high in Vitamin C, fiber and anti-oxidants. If you can get your hands on really fresh berries, spread them out on a sheet pan, freeze and then dump them into freezer bags to enjoy throughout the year.

chicken with chipotle blueberry sauce

Chicken with Chipotle Blueberry Sauce

You’ll need a saucepan and a skillet.

  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 teaspoons sherry or white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons molasses
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 chipotle en adobo, minced, (if you’re not a fan of heat, use only 1/2 chipotle), or ground chipotle or cayenne to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 1-1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon finely minced fresh rosemary
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons olive or canola oil

Add blueberries to a sauce pan with the water. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Add vinegar, molasses, honey, chipotle and salt. Cook 25-30 minutes or until liquid has reduced by half.

Meanwhile, sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper and rosemary. Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan and cook thoroughly until both sides are browned and chicken is cooked through. Cover the pan with a lid to speed it along.

Serve chicken with the blueberry sauce.


1 year ago on Gusto: Southwestern Slaw (no mayo)

2 years ago: Zucchini Scallion Pancakes with Soy Dipping Sauce

4 years ago: Cherry Crumble

5 years ago: Sweet & Spicy Glazed Salmon

6 years ago: Corn Salad & Plum Clafouti (a twofer)

This quick fish dinner with citrusy coconut flavor requires only about 6 minutes on the stove — a great option for steamy nights.


I love cooking but some nights I just want to get dinner on the table as quickly as possible. Like last night. I had other more ambitious plans for dinner, but decided to go easy on myself. Opening the refrigerator fruit drawer, I spied an orange, lemon, and half a lime. And, I knew I had some coconut flakes somewhere. Decision made: Citrusy Coconut Tilapia.

Here’s how it looks going into the pan. Pretty, isn’t it? I love those little flecks of green, orange, and yellow.

coconut citrus tilapia ready for the pan

My sides were easy too. I sliced some cabbage and onions, chopped garlic and ham, pulled out my homemade slow-roasted tomatoes, and started adding them all to the pan in stages. First the onions, then garlic, and then the rest. It’s not pretty but it’s tasty. And, once again, Uncle Ben’s 90-second brown, red, and black rice came to the rescue. I usually stay away from processed food, but, well, I’m human.

This citrusy coconut topping would be great on roasted shrimp too. Or, top a few flattened chicken breasts with it and prepare them the same way as the fish.

coconut citrus tilapia ready for dinner

Citrusy Coconut Tilapia

You’ll need two plates, one wide shallow bowl, and a medium-sized skillet. I use a microplane rasp to zest my citrus fruit.

Serves 2. Double the recipe for four fillets, except still only use one egg.

  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut – my store only has sweetened so that’s what I use
  • 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • Zest of 1/2 of an orange, lime and lemon, finely chopped or shredded
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 fillets tilapia or the fish of your choice
  • Canola oil

Mix together the breadcrumbs, coconut, ginger, and fruit zests on a plate or wide shallow bowl.

In another wide bowl, beat together the egg and milk. Add salt and pepper.

Add flour to another plate. Dredge both sides of the fish in the flour. Shake off any excess and smooth the flour evenly over the fish. Dip both sides of each piece into the egg mixture. Then, dredge both sides with the citrus/coconut mixture.

Cook the fish in oil on medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side, or until they’re cooked through and the coating is golden, but not too dark.


1 year ago on Gusto: Roasted Green Lightning Shrimp

2 years ago: Kohlrabi Parmesan

3 years ago: Cauliflower Faux Fried Rice

4 years ago: Watermelon Cucumber Salad

5 years ago: Fish with Coconut Red Curry Sauce

6 years ago: Corn Salad and Plum Clafouti

A quick dinner of chicken, asparagus and warm spices that’s full of color and flavor.

Indian style chicken and asparagus

Now that asparagus is in season again, we’re having it at least once a week. Depending where you shop, you can find local asparagus, and it’s not so pricey this time of year, at least not in most markets. I remember when I lived in Sacramento, the coop had local (Delta) organic asparagus during the spring for $5.99/bunch. I love asparagus and I love buying organic, but not at that price.

Sometimes my buying decisions don’t follow any logic. I’m willing to pay twice as much for North Carolina shrimp, but not Delta asparagus. Yet, I consider myself a frugal shopper. But am I really? I usually cook from scratch so I save a lot of money by not buying processed food. But, on the other hand, instead of making my own chicken broth, I’m more likely to save time (but spend more money) by using Better Than Bouillon or a can of Swanson.

I belong to a CSA, but I probably spend more there than I would if I bought the same produce at the supermarket. But, here’s the thing, the farm’s vegetables are fresher, healthier (no pesticides and all that), and tastier than the vegetables at the supermarket.

Frugality is important to me but not at the expense of good ingredients. If I were wealthy, I’d always buy organic. But now I only choose organic or sustainable when it’s not that much higher than the conventional price. Twice as much? No. 50% more, maybe. 30% more, definitely.

But saving time is important too, so I don’t always make my own broth, beans, bread and other ingredients from scratch. If I didn’t have to work for a living, I might be more like the domestic goddess I aspire to be, but I’ve got bills to pay.

Have you thought about your grocery shopping habits? What do you splurge on? Where do you save? How do you make decisions about buying the humanely raised pork chops versus the regular factory pork chops? Having choices is complicated, isn’t it?

Back to asparagus. Roasted asparagus is one of our stand-by vegetable dishes. If it’s not in your repertoire, here’s how you do it:

  • Place spears on a sheet pan, toss them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then spread them out. If the spears are thin, toss them with minced or thinly sliced garlic now. If they’re thick, hold off on the garlic until later, unless you don’t mind browned garlic.
  • Roast at 425. Test the asparagus with the point of a knife after about five minutes and decide how much longer they need. Add the garlic now and give the spears another toss.
  • Once out of the oven, sprinkle on some grated lemon zest and Parmesan cheese.

Five years ago, I posted an earlier version of Indian-Spiced Chicken and Asparagus, but I’ve altered it a bit since then, so I thought, why not post my current recipe. When it’s not asparagus season, I make this with a bag of frozen sugar snap peas instead. I let the package sit on the counter and thaw before throwing them in.

Tired of chicken? Try it with shrimp. Don’t cook the shrimp first, like you do with the chicken. Instead, add them to the pan at the end since they only need a few minutes to cook. And spend the extra money on shrimp from the U.S., not Asia.

indian spiced chicken asparagus in the pan

Indian-Style Chicken and Asparagus Skillet

You’ll need a medium bowl, large skillet and plate.

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel
  • Salt
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-size chunks
  • 1 + 1 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 red or orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno (or other chile), seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1” to 2” pieces
  • 3 scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/4” pieces
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup light coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a medium bowl, combine the cumin, fennel and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Add the chicken pieces and toss together until the chicken is coated.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil (if needed), onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic, chile, ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin and fennel. Cook, stirring, another minute. Add asparagus and scallions, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer for 2 minutes more.

Return the chicken and any accumulated juice to the pan and cook until the chicken is just cooked through and the asparagus is tender-crisp, about 2 minutes more. Serve sprinkled with cilantro.


1 year ago on Gusto: Roasted Shrimp and Asparagus with Black Garlic and Lemon

2 years ago (sort of): Kohlrabi Parmesan

4 years ago: Turkey Pesto Meatloaf with Balsamic Tomato Sauce

5 years ago: Broccoli Cheese Soup

Take sweet potato fries, add some pimento cheese and top it all with andouille gravy—that’s southern poutine.


Last night, as I pinned a recipe for pimento cheese stuffed chicken and yet another recipe for pimento cheese (that makes seven now), I remembered a recipe featuring pimento cheese that I’ve wanted to post here on Gusto. I call it Southern Poutine.

The original recipe for Sweet Potato Fries with Andouille Gravy and Pimento Cheese was developed by Lauren Grier for her Climbing Grier Mountain blog. I like her blog’s tagline: “Moguls. Meals. Misadventures.” Now, I’m thinking about three words to describe Gusto, and seeing how I love alliteration, they all have to begin with the same letter. Hmm.

I only made one minor change to her recipe: since I have a pot of chives out on the deck, I snipped some and sprinkled the dish with about a tablespoon of them. I also recall adding more pimento cheese than I was supposed to, it’s hard to resist.

If you can’t find andouille, you could substitute another spicy sausage like chorizo or linguica. I learned recently that a Kroger’s in the next town sells linguica so now I have a few packages in my freezer. Woohoo!

So what the heck is poutine, you ask? It’s a French-Canadian dish of French fries and cheese curds smothered with beef gravy. I’ve only had poutine once in my life while attending an ASAE conference in Toronto. My friend Sandra and I went to the Fairmont’s bar for a drink and a snack and got ourselves some fancy pants poutine. I don’t recall the exact ingredients but I’m sure poutine purists would not have approved. However, they would have loved it despite themselves.

sweet potato fries w pimento cheese and andouille gravy - southern poutine

Southern Poutine aka Sweet Potato Fries with Andouille Gravy and Pimento Cheese

You’ll need a baking sheet and medium skillet.

  • 1 package (around 20 ounces) of frozen sweet potato fries
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup diced andouille sausage (or spicy sausage like linguica or chorizo)
  • 1/3 cup diced bell pepper (green, red, yellow or orange)
  • 1/3 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • Hot sauce, salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup pimento cheese, room temperature
  • Green onions or chives, chopped

Preheat the oven to 425. Spread out the fries on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes—or 5 minutes less than the package directions.

Meanwhile, make the gravy. In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the sausage and cook for 2 minutes. Add the bell pepper and onion with a dash of salt. Cook until nearly softened. Add the garlic. Cook for another minute or until it starts to golden. If you won’t be standing over the stove while the garlic cooks, turn the heat down to low so it doesn’t burn.

Stir the flour into the andouille/pepper mixture. Cook for a few minutes over medium hit, stirring every now and then. It’s okay if it darkens a bit. Stir in the chicken broth. Scrape up anything that’s stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer and stir until the gravy has thickened and reduced. Season to taste with hot sauce (if you like it really spicy), salt and pepper.

Back to the fries—when they’re done, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the gravy evenly over the fries. It won’t be pretty but who cares. Next, spoon bits of pimento cheese over the fries. Then, sprinkle the green onions over everything. Place the pan back in the oven for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly.

This dish is best when it’s warm from the oven, but even the soggy leftovers are good when warmed up in the oven or toaster oven.

Original recipe: Sweet Potato Fries with Andouille Gravy and Pimento Cheese, Climbing Grier Mountain


1 year ago on Gusto: Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Mushrooms and Red Bell Pepper

2 years ago: Kohlrabi Parmesan

3 years ago: Sweet Potato and Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

4 years ago: Flounder with Spiced Breadcrumb Topping

5 years ago: Tuna Noodle Casserole

deli meat tray

Ideas for turning your deli meat tray leftovers into breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners.


If you hosted a Super Bowl party last night, your refrigerator this morning might look a lot like ours—full of leftovers. As we prepared our deli meat and cheese tray, sandwich fixings, wings and guacamole, we figured we would have more than enough food. And then a crockpot full of Italian meatballs and a tray full of stuffed clams walked in the door—along with their human counterparts.

I hate wasting food so we’re going to transform the remains of that deli meat and cheese tray into dinners. That’s my challenge. We’ve got roast beef, pastrami, ham, turkey, Genoa salami, capocollo, sopressata, plus three kinds of cheese. No one needs that many sandwiches.

As I do with any other culinary challenge, I turn to Google and Pinterest. Here are some of the ideas I found in case the thought of sandwiches and more sandwiches is making you groan too.

Freeze the meat.

Snack on a roll-up. Roll up a slice of meat and cheese. For an extra punch, stick a cornichon or sliced pickle in the middle.

Make roll-ups with a tortilla. You could smear on some plain or flavored cream cheese (horseradish makes the cream cheese even better), mayo or mustard.

Bake a pasta casserole with deli meat, onions, peppers, garlic, spinach, broccoli, cheese and bechamel sauce.

Throw together a pasta salad.

Bake a breakfast casserole with eggs, deli meat, cheese, onions and garlic.

Layer meat and cheese in between crescent roll dough and bake like this Italian Sub Layered Bake.

Make a quiche with meat and cheese.

Prepare Cobb, chef or antipasto salads.

Bake stuffed chicken breasts with meat and cheese, herbs, and pesto.

Use sliced meat and cheese as pizza toppings.

Instead of tuna salad, make roast beef or ham salad.

Make roast beef hash.

Add ham to pretty much anything you’re cooking.

If you have a good idea for leftover deli meat, please share it in the comments below. Thanks!


1 year ago on Gusto: Cranberry Almond Orange Chocolate Dutch Baby

2 years ago: Monkfish L’Americaine

3 years ago: Chipotle Sloppy Joes

4 years ago: Kale and Romaine Caesar Salad

5 years ago: Eggplant and Zucchini Lasagna

6 years ago: New England Clam Chowder and Sweet Potato Fries

(Creative Commons photo by Didriks)

Southwestern Slaw | Grabbing the Gusto

Southwestern Slaw | Grabbing the Gusto

This healthy cole slaw delivers southwestern flavor without the heaviness of mayonnaise.


If you’re looking for a dish to bring to a 4th of July cook-out this weekend, I’ve got a contender for you—Southwestern Slaw. Even if someone else brings cole slaw to the party, theirs will probably be full of mayonnaise and not full of southwestern flavors.

The ingredients and their amounts are merely guidelines—add more or less depending on your taste (and your friends’ and family’s tastes) and what’s in your refrigerator. I always have lonely broccoli stems in my vegetable drawer. They’re perfect for slaws. Just slice off the brown bit at the end of the stem and any brown knobby bits and julienne them like any other vegetable. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Your mandoline or food processor could get a good work-out prepping the vegetables. I usually end up slicing all the veggies by hand. As long as I’ve allowed enough time, I enjoy doing that kind of focused work while I listen to a podcast. Even if I didn’t have anything to listen to–which would be a miracle considering all the podcasts I subscribe to–I still would love the focus and flow of chopping vegetables. It’s a good way to set the mind free.

I use rice vinegar in many of my slaws because it’s a mild vinegar. It can be used interchangeably, I think, with champagne vinegar.

You can crank up the heat by adding a minced chipotle chile. Just one unless you’re feeding a bunch of chileheads.

Not in the mood for slaw? Try my Southwestern Potato Salad–another no-mayo recipe. My honey doesn’t like mayo, so…

I hope you like this colorful dish—it will brighten up your menu and your 4th of July table. While I’m on the topic, if you want to impress your friends and family with your patriotic knowledge, check out this post from one of my clients on ten fun facts about July 4th.

Southwestern Slaw | Grabbing the Gusto

Southwestern Slaw | Grabbing the Gusto

Southwestern Slaw

You’ll need a large bowl, small bowl and a whisk. A mandoline helps too for slicing vegetables but it’s not necessary. Sometimes, prepping vegetables is the type of relaxing activity you need.

  • 1/2 head green (or Napa) cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 head small red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 4 carrots, grated or thinly sliced
  • 1/2 sweet onion, grated or thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • Option: broccoli stems or sugar snap peas, thinly sliced
  • Juice from 2 limes
  • 4 tablespoons rice vinegar (or champagne or whatever you have)
  • 1 cup cilantro, leaves and thin stems, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons hot sauce
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper and ground cumin, to taste
  • Option: minced chipotle chile en adobo

Toss cabbage, carrot, onion, red bell pepper and any other vegetables in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk lime juice, rice vinegar, cilantro, hot sauce, oil, salt, pepper, cumin and optional chipotle together. Pour half the dressing over cabbage mix and toss to coat. Add more until it’s wet enough.

Serve immediately or refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Great with tacos and other southwestern dishes.


1 year ago on Gusto: Zucchini Tots

2 years ago: Chipotle Sloppy Joes

3 years ago: Cherry Crumble

4 years ago: Southwestern Potato Salad

5 years ago: Corn Salad and Plum Clafouti