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Holidays = Local + Healthy

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Well, at least it’s easy when it comes to getting local food and incorporating that into a healthy diet.

Now it is almost winter and the once abundant local offerings of dewy lettuces, ripe berries and fragrant tomatoes at the farmers’ markets have dwindled to practically nothing after the first frost. Add to that the challenge that the holidays can bring when you are trying to eat clean, healthy and whole foods and things begin to look dim indeed.

But never fear, we have strategies. And ideas. And a recipe. Okay, we have two recipes. Because it isn’t Everyday Chef without a recipe (or two)!

Chard

Eat Your Greens

Cabbages, collards, chard, kale and mustards are just a few local greens easy to find this time of year. Incredibly healthy, these greens are frost-hardy and often get a touch sweeter as the cold sets in. Although a bit toothsome for a raw salad, kale dressed with a favorite vinaigrette and allowed to mellow out in a bowl for an hour will be delicious and tender with crunchy, toasted seeds, thinly sliced red onion and chopped apples. Throw in some fresh goat cheese, feta or cheddar and you have a satisfying and beautiful side dish that is fit for the holiday table.

Another trick to bring out the amazingness of these cold loving greens, is to cook them. Cabbage cut in wedges, lightly browned in a tablespoon of olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then braised in liquid (stock, cider, etc), turns out a melt-in-your-mouth sweet dish that pairs beautifully with roasted meats and vegetables. Try caraway or fennel seeds for an added dimension of flavor. Collards are underappreciated, but when cooked until tender and dressed with onions, salt and pepper, they yield a buttery, tender mouthful that begs for slow cooked beans, a bit of bacon and a cold glass of cider – perfect for welcoming the New Year.

Parsnip

Get Back to Your Roots

By the time the colors on our trees are but a memory and stick season shoulders its way in before the snow, I am ready the quintessential group of winter vegetables in Vermont, root veggies. Root vegetables can be found from your local farmer throughout the winter and well into spring. They store beautifully and when all the fresh eating veggies are long gone under the drifts of snow, we can dig out beets, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, rutabaga, turnips and onions. At Thanksgiving, I like to offer a warm bowl of whipped turnips with sage, a less calorie laden alternative to our favorite mashed potatoes. A regular favorite in our house during the cold months is to chop a variety of root vegetables, toss with sliced onions, olive oil, salt and pepper and then roast on a sheet pan in an oven at 375F until the vegetables are tender. Sprinkle with a bit of fresh parsley and you have a delicious and healthy side dish for roasted meats or to use leftover in salad or soups.

Color Me Squash…Winter Squash That Is

With their gorgeous colors and shapes, thick skins that equate to long storage and nutrient rich flesh, winter squashes are the stars of winter eating. Butternut, pumpkin, acorn, delicata, kabocha, and hubbard to name but a few, can be turned into mashed mounds of orange deliciousness, thick and creamy bisque-like soups, roasted for side dishes or stuffed with a million different things and turned out as a centerpiece on the holiday table. The key to cooking with squashes is to have a sharp and sturdy knife to cut through the tough skin and use a light hand with cream, butter and salt so that the various and unique flavors of the different varieties can really shine through.

Strategize Ahead and Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

The holidays are meant to be a celebration and food is often central to these gatherings. You may find yourself in a situation where your choices are being made for you and rather than get too caught up in the details, allow yourself to indulge and appreciate the bigger picture of being with others in a joyful way. In the meantime, strategize ahead when you can – eat a healthy meal ahead of your gathering, drink lots of water and keep your portion sizes in check.

And in honor of the recently past Halloween and my family’s ongoing fascination with the zombie apocalypse, remember don’t eat the locals, but DO eat local!

Stuffed Pumpkin

Roasted Pumpkin Stuffed with Many Good Things

Serves approximately 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish. Can double the recipe for a larger crowd!

Ingredients:

1 small pumpkin, about 3lbs

Salt and ground black pepper

1 ½ cups bulghur or brown rice, cooked

1 ½ cups chopped apples

¼ cup sharp cheddar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small onion, diced

1 tsp each dried rosemary and parsley (or 1 T each of fresh, chopped)

pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

4 T shredded parmesan, divided into two parts

⅓ cup of vegetable stock or milk

Directions:

Center the rack in an oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a baking dish large enough to hold the pumpkin(s) with parchment paper. Keep in mind that you may need a bit more room to maneuver a spatula in case you want to serve the pumpkin on a different dish.

With a sharp and sturdy knife, carefully cut the top ¼ or ⅓ off from your pumpkin, like you are making a jack-o-lantern. Set aside the top. Scoop out the seeds and pulp, leaving a cavity that can be filled. Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss together the next 8 ingredients, setting aside 2 T of parmesan. Pour half of the measured liquid on the mixture and toss to coat. Add more liquid as needed so that the stuffing is moist, but not swimming.

Spoon the stuffing into the pumpkin until filled to the top. Any leftover stuffing can be baked separately in a dish. Set the pumpkin in the parchment lined dish and sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top of the stuffing. Put the pumpkin top on and bake until the pumpkin is tender, about 2 hours. About 20 to 30 minutes before it is done, remove the pumpkin top so the stuffing can brown.

You can serve the pumpkin straight from the baking dish or for a more elegant presentation, using a steady hand and a sturdy spatula, transfer the whole pumpkin to a serving dish. Cut into wedges and serve!

Notes: Pumpkin seeds can be cleaned and roasted with a little olive oil. All the vegetable bits, including the pumpkin pulp, can be added to a pot with water, brought to a simmer for several minutes and strained for a delicious vegetable stock.

Cooking Variations:

  • Almost any winter squash can be used in place of the pumpkin, with roasting times varying. Smaller or elongated squashes (like delicata or butternut), can be sliced in half and the cavities filled.
  • Think of this recipe as a guideline and try variations. For example, in place of the bulghur or rice, try pieces of whole grain stale bread. Or dried cranberries or apricots for the apples. Try pairing sage with chevre or mix in feta, mozzarella and swiss. This stuffing also pairs well with cooked sausage or bacon if you would like to add meat and nuts are delicious for additional protein and healthy fats.

 

Whipped Turnips with Leeks and Sage
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

Ingredients:

4 large turnips, peeled and cubed

2 medium red potatoes, cubed with skin on

2 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 leek, white part only, sliced thinly, soaked to remove sand/grit and then chopped finely

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage or 1 tsp of dried sage

¾ cup milk

kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Fill a large pot with the turnips and potatoes. Fill with cold salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until tender and soft. About 20 to 25 minutes.

In a small saucepan, combine the olive oil and butter and melt over medium low heat. Once melted, add the leeks and sage, salt and pepper and saute until the leeks are tender and the sage is fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the milk and bring to a simmer over low heat, infusing the milk with sage flavor.

Drain the turnips and potatoes, reserving about ½ cup of the liquid. Set that aside. Put the vegetables back into the pot they were cooked in, add the hot milk and using an immersion blender, puree until smooth. If needed, add small amounts of the cooking liquid to the vegetables until the puree is silky, but still thick. If you prefer a chunky texture, mash roughly until mixed. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot or cold.

 

by Elena Gustavson, RAFFL’s Everyday Chef

braising

Oven Braising 101

September always bring a pang of nostalgia for our brief and beautiful summers in Vermont, but with the cooler nights, my mind turns towards the comforting cold weather meals of autumn – steaming stews, baked casseroles and roasted or braised meats.
Of the latter, braising becomes a “go to” for feeding our a busy family of growing teenagers, so when there are several mouths to feed and not a lot of time to do, we turn to our oven, a roll of aluminum foil and a deep casserole dish or oven proof pot to give us flavorful, nutrition filled meals all season long.
Oven braising a large and tougher cut of meat requires minimal equipment, minimal prep and because the cooking is both hands off and over the course of two or three hours, it is a method that allows you time to do other things (hopefully fun things!) while the low, slow heat works its magic.

Key things to remember
Sear it:
Because meat is cooked at low temperature, I like to sear the meat in a large pan or deep pot first, giving the meat color and giving me a base to make a flavorful sauce.

Plan ahead:
Low and slow is key to making tough cuts of meat moist and meltingly tender, so make sure you give yourself at least a couple of hours to let the meat cook. If you can cook the braise a few days ahead of time, all the better! The flavors meld and mellow and the dish is even better when reheated one, two or three days later.

Keep it simple… or not:
Seasoning with a rub or soaking in a brine will do wonders to infuse the meat with flavor or to tenderize a very tough cut, but on the flipside, salt, pepper and some kind of liquid in a sealed container is really all you need to achieve big flavor and tender results.

Know the difference:
Roast = dry (tender cuts of beef, pork and lamb; whole young birds, whole fish; vegetables)

Braise = wet (less tender cuts of beef, pork and lamb; tough, older birds; vegetables)

Know your cuts:
When looking for cuts to use, looks for words like top or bottom round, shoulder, shank, butt, etc. The cuts closest to hoof and horn will be the least expensive and vice versa – cuts furthest from hoof and horn will be the most expensive. For beef, this means top and bottom rounds, chuck, shoulders, shanks and tails (yes, tails!) and for pork, we look for ham, Boston butt and picnic shoulder.

 

Beer Braised Beef with Pork Belly Onions
Serves approximately 4. See Cook’s Notes for non-alcoholic and non-pork substitutes.

Ingredients:

3 to 3 ½ pound of boneless beef round or chuck roast

1 tsp sea or kosher salt plus more to taste

1 tsp cracked/ground black pepper plus more to taste

2 tablespoons of olive or canola oil

2 slices of bacon, roughly chopped

1 medium yellow onion, sliced into half moons

1 medium carrot, finely diced

1 celery rib, finely diced

2 cloves peeled garlic, thinly sliced

12 oz bottle of favorite beer, allowed to go flat

2 cups water

Special Equipment:
4 to 5 quart oven safe pot with heavy lid or deep casserole dish and enough aluminum foil to cover snugly

Suggested Accompaniment:
creamy polenta, mashed potatoes, steamed rice or roasted root vegetables

Cook’s Notes:
Substitute an additional tablespoon of olive or canola oil for the bacon and use red wine or beef broth in place of beer.

Technique:

Sprinkle the roast with salt and pepper. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 325 f.
In a deep, heavy bottomed pot or a large sauce pan, heat the oil over medium high heat, until the oil is shimmering, but not smoking. Add the meat and with tongs, sear all sides until they take on a golden to dark golden color. Remove and let rest on a plate. Turn down the heat to medium low.
Add the bacon and cook until the fat is rendered. Add the sliced onions, stirring in the fat and cooking until just golden – approximately 7 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat back up to medium high and add the garlic, celery and carrots, continuing to cook until the vegetables are slightly soft and golden and the mixture is aromatic, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Carefully, add the beer to the pot or pan, scraping the bottom. Bring to a simmer and let reduce for about 3 to 5 minutes.
If transferring meat to an oven proof casserole, place the meat into the casserole dish and carefully pour the sauce on top. Add water to the dish. Cover tightly with two sheets of aluminum foil, pinching it around the sides to create an airtight “lid”. If using a lidded pot or dutch oven, place the meat back into the pot of sauce, add water and cover with a lid, using parchment paper to create a more airtight seal if necessary.

Place the covered meat and sauce into the preheated oven. Allow to cook in the oven for 2 ½ to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender.
If possible, allow the meat to sit in the cooler for 2 or 3 days and reheat on the stove top. Serve with suggested accompaniments.

 

by Elena Gustavson, RAFFL’s Everyday Chef
Photo Credit: Elena Gustavson, Supper at the Farm, Craftsbury, VT 2013

IMG_0107

Zucchini Chard Cakes

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve shared this zucchini chard cake recipe with folks this summer. I was sure that as soon as I mentioned zucchini I would be greeted with a sigh and eyeroll.

“No more zucchini!” they’d say. “We’ve had enough!”

 

Because, let’s be honest, each summer we all have more than enough of the ubiquitous green squash. Even if we don’t, we probably know someone looking to give away a few dozen or so. But to my surprise, as I traveled around making zucchini cake after zucchini cake, I didn’t get one complaint. In fact, people were enthusiastic to find another way to put it to use.

I’m always happy to be proven wrong. Really. That’s why this became my go to dish (along with a complementary tomato basil chutney) for my cooking demos and local food tastings. Apparently we haven’t reached peak zucchini. Word is still out on kale, though.

rainbow swiss chard keene fm  by SC, 2008

 

These cakes use the classic technique of vegetable hiding. Zucchini doesn’t have a strong flavor all on its own and when you mix it into what is more or less a standard pancake recipe, you hardly can tell it’s there at all. So much so, that you can also get away with chopping up even more healthy green stuff – chard and parsley – and mixing it in as well. Simply avoid those fruitless debates with the picky eaters in your life (note: none of mine happen to be kids) and just go ahead and serve these anyway. Before they can tell you how much they don’t like these vegetables, they’ll be happily and unknowingly eating them anyway. Call me cruel, but this is one of my great pleasures in life.

Zucchini Chard Cakes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: about 10 – 4 inch pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb zucchini
  • 1/2 onion
  • small bunch of Swiss chard leaves
  • small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • splash of milk
  • 2 Tbsp oil + some for the pan

 

We’re going to need to shred the zucchini. You can do this quite easily with a box grater, or if you’re intending to shred a large quantity, I’d opt for the food processor like I did here. If not using all of the zucchini at once, it does freeze nicely.

Next, grate the onion. I prefer to grate the onion instead of chop it, as it will blend better into the pancakes.

 

Remove the stems from the chard and save for another purpose. Chopped and tossed into a stir fry, perhaps? Then chop the leaves.

Combine the egg, salt, and flour in a bowl. Add in the zucchini, chard, onion, garlic and parsley and stir to form a thick batter. Add just a splash of milk and the oil to form a more workable, pourable batter.

 

Heat your skillet and lightly coat it with oil when hot. Preheat the oven to 200F. Pour 1/4 cup spoonfuls of batter onto the hot skillet and cook 2-3 minutes per side, until browned. Flip and cook another 2 minutes. Transfer the cakes to the oven to keep warm while you cook the remainder of the pancakes.

Serve as a side, topped with tomato chutney, or as a light summer dinner with a side of greens.

IMAG0693-1-1

Ramp and Potato Soup

Memorial Day weekend is supposed to be the kick-off of summer. Sun. Gardening. Grilling. Relaxing at the lake.

Yet the weather around here looks cool and rainy. So I might trade in my plans to break out the grill and instead, huddle over a big pot of warm soup – because I will not be turning my heat back on, no matter how cold it might get. It’s almost June!

Depressing, yes. On the other hand, I’m a little excited to make a pot of ramp and potato soup. It’s a variation on leek and potato, but to me, it just has a fresher taste. Despite the weather, it kind of really invokes spring. Though at this point – shouldn’t we be thinking of summer

Hilary Adams and I made a pot of this soup at the Asa Bloomer building in downtown Rutland last week, as the second culinary event in the Real Rutland series. We actually threw in a number of different alliums (onion and garlic family members) in the pot, including garlic greens, yellow onions, shallots, and chives. Then we whipped up a garlic green pesto. Thanks to all who stopped by to talk with us and try these delicious local foods.

Ramp and Potato Soup

Many recipes will call for milk and/or cream as the liquid in a leek and potato soup. This doesn’t really work when you have dairy issues, like me. Of course, you could try a non-dairy milk. Coconut is often a route I take with soup. But I think the potatoes, and addition of a little yogurt, make this creamy enough without the extra fat. But use whichever you prefer. 

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cups sliced and washed ramps, or any combination of your favorite alliums
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups potatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 large, sweet onion, chopped
  • fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
  • 6 cups water or broth
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • A small bunch of chives, chopped

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and let sweat, about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic, ramps or other alliums, some salt and let cook for another 8-10 minutes. Pour in your liquid of choice, the potatoes, thyme, and a little more salt. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

With an immersion blender, puree the soup until almost smooth. Alternatively, very carefully transfer slightly cooled soup in batches a blender. Stir in the yogurt. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve in bowls, topped with the chives and some crusty bread on the side.

IMG_1724

Beet Burgers

That’s no typo. Beet (not beef) burgers are awesome. But I’m going to go ahead and guess you aren’t already enjoying these at your typical summer cookout. Though there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. If you give these guys a chance you might be surprised – even you non beet lovers out there. A couple of attendees at a demo yesterday afternoon certainly agreed. They’re crunchy, sweet and moist. On a slice of toasted bread with some fresh greens and cheese, they quickly surpass the usual overcooked, dried out burgers that I often dread at gatherings. I want flavor! And these deliver.

The keys to a good veggie burger, aside from something like a portobello mushroom burger, are a balance of beans, grains, veggies and seasonings. What’s cool is that you can use whatever kinds you like. Pinto beans? Sure. Quinoa? Why not? Sweet potato? Definitely. But it’s certainly a balance. I’d say ia 1:1:2 ratio of beans to grains to veggies is ideal. Then flavor with the herbs and spices you prefer. Though, firmer vegetables are pretty much a necessity if that’s your burger’s focus. The root vegetable avenue is probably the way to go. And maybe some winter squash too.

On the other hand, an even balance of beans and grains, supplemented with some vegetables, works fine too. Though, technically, something like that might be classified as a bean or grain burger rather than veggie. Keep in mind that the beans and grains contribute proteins and amino acids that make a non-meat burger nutritionally balanced, so they’re certainly an important component no matter which kind you make.

Good characteristics of a veggie burger are: 1) that it stays together and 2) that it has some texture (not mush). If you find your burger heading in either of those directions, throwing in the chopped or ground nuts will help improve things immensely. I find that adding too much flour results in (logically) an overwhelming flour taste.

If you’re new to veggie burgers, this is a good place to start. And beets aren’t all that messy to work with – despite popular belief. I’ve never had an issue. And you could always use a food processor. So, have fun with this one and then try some of your own combinations!
 Beet Burgers

Prep Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 9 burgers

 Save yourself some time: Use leftover cooked rice and beans. When cooking grains and beans – always try and make some extra and freeze in cup sized portions for quicker cooking in recipes (like this) later on. Don’t feel like chopping? Throw the beets, onions, peppers and garlic in a food processor, instead.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 poblano pepper, diced and seeds removed
  • 3 large red beets, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups black beans (or 1 can)
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
  • 4 Tbsp parsley, minced
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped/ground nuts (optional; walnuts or almonds work well)
  • Olive oil
  • Bread, cheese and other burger fixings

Instructions

  1. Heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and peppers and cook until softened. Stir in the beets. Cover and cook until the beets are tender, stirring occasionally – about 10-15 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the cider vinegar and lemon juice.
  2. In a large bowl, mash the black beans up a bit. Add the rice, the beet mixture and herbs and spices. Stir to combine and taste for seasoning. Slowly mix in a little flour and nuts (if using) until it’s a thick enough consistency for forming patties.
  3. Heat a heavy skillet over high heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil. When you see the oil shimmer, the pan is ready.
  4. With your hands, scoop up about a cup of the burger mix and shape it into a patty between your palms. Set it in the pan, where it should begin to sizzle immediately. Shape and add as many more patties as will fit in your pan. Reduce the heat to medium-high.
  5. Cook the patties for 2 minutes, then flip them to the other side. You should see a nice crust on the cooked side. If adding cheese, do so now. Cook the second side for another 2 minutes.
  6. Serve the burgers on buns or lightly toasted bread along with some fresh greens.
  7. Cooked burgers should be eaten the same day. Leftover mix can be saved for up to a week. OR, form your patties, place on parchment or wax paper and freeze for a few hours before transferring to a large freezer bag.

Recipe adapted from Nick Evans at www.macheesmo.com.

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How To Grill Veggies: Tips and a Few Recipes

We certainly got lucky this past Saturday. Despite the very un-summer like weather we’ve been having, the sun was actually shining. And the deliciously grown foods available at that morning’s market were just waiting to hit the grill. With the expertise of guest chef Randal Smathers, we set up at Rutland’s newest community garden (The Northwest Garden located on the corner of Park and Baxter streets) and demonstrated to neighbors and passersby to how easy and tasty it is to grill fresh vegetables.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway of the event was that almost anything can be grilled. Tomatoes, peppers, squashes, onions, snap peas, fennel and corn were just a few items we used with a degree of success. We don’t suggest grilling rhubarb, however – though it was a fun experiment.

Here are a few of Randal’s grilling tips:

  • Oil the grill – not the veggies. This prevents burning and an unpleasant oily taste. When oiling the grill, do so just lightly and apply with a paper towel. It’s also important to make sure the grill is well cleaned beforehand.
  • It’s much easier to grill the veggies first, then chop. Smaller pieces are more difficult to control when on the grill and it’s easy to lose them down the grates.
  • Pay attention to the grill. Foods can cook pretty quick, especially veggies, and it doesn’t take long for something to burn.

And here’s what we made:

Grilled Veggie Salad. There’s really no recipe for this one. Just grill up your favorite mix of vegetables, slice and toss together with just a little olive oil, salt and any fresh herbs you have on hand.

 

Grilled Salsa

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: about 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 ears of corn
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 onion, halved and papery outside skin removed
  • 2 medium – hot peppers (your preference)
  • small bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • hot sauce (optional)
  • lime juice (optional)

Instructions

  1. Soak the ears of corn in water for 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the grill to high heat and lightly coat the crates with olive oil.
  3. Place the corn, tomatoes, onion and peppers on the grill, intact.
  4. Cook until everything is slightly charred.
  5. Let cool a couple of minutes before handling and then remove the corn husks, tomato stem and outer layer of skin on the peppers and onions.
  6. Slice the corn off the cob, chop the onions, peppers, tomatoes and the cilantro.
  7. Toss everything together in a large bowl with some salt, a glug of oil and a splash of lime juice, and a couple dashes of hot sauce, if using.
Grilled Veggie Salad with Honey Yogurt Dressing

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 +

You can use any combo of fresh veggies and herbs here. Try it as a side to meat or main dish tossed with pasta. If you already have grilled veggies leftover, you can put this together in just a couple of minutes.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of mixed grilled veggies sliced into medium sized pieces
  • 1 cup of fresh herbs, chopped (use your favorite mix of summer herbs)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon grill seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • salt

Instructions

  1. Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

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Blueberry, Basil & Jalapeno Salsa

As strawberry season faded in the last few weeks, I quickly turned my attention to blueberries – my all time favorite berry. And once again, I’m looking for some creative uses for experimenting and sharing with you – at least the successes. With blueberries now in season, and pick your own sites offering some of the lowest prices, there’s every reason to take incorporate berries into your diet on a daily basis.

What was I talking about? Oh, right. It’s useful to learn new ways to use familiar ingredients. That way, you don’t get fatigued on something after just a few days. Though, if you just stock up and freeze your berries for use throughout the year, that’s good too.

favorite pepper

How hot is your favorite pepper?

Even though blueberries are the focus right now, that doesn’t mean I’m disregarding the awesome amount of produce that’s flourishing right now. Often, I find the most interesting uses for fruit to be savory, not sweet. With this simple salsa jalapenos, basil, garlic and red onion pair with the berries for a spicy-sweet flavor.

It takes just a few minutes to get everything ready and toss in the food processor. A blender could work just as well too. Despite what many people think, comparatively speaking, jalapenos are relatively mild. Take a look at this pepper scale from www.liveinthenow.com. Jalapenos fall in between poblanos and cayenne peppers. And there’s a big difference between jalapenos compared and habaneros, which are much, much hotter. But there’s nothing wrong with a little heat. In fact, capsaicin benefits the heart.

If you’re hesitant, I suggest starting out with less. It’s much easier to add heat than to remove it. Start with just a 1/4 of a jalapeno if you’re really cautious. Or, use half and add the second half if it’s too mild for you. Note: remove the seeds of the pepper for less heat. Just slowly slide the edge of your knife across the inside of the pepper.

While you enjoy this simply as a snack with corn tortilla chips, it would pair fantastically with grilled pork chops or pork tacos. As the recipe suggests, try simmering for a few minutes to reduce the amount of liquid if you do decide to use in a taco.

 

Blueberry Basil and Jalapeno Salsa

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 cups

Want more heat? Include the seeds and try using the whole pepper. This would also be excellent with cilantro in place of the basil.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 jalapeño, seeded
  • 1/4 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 large handful of basil
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Sea salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. Puree everything in a food processor until smooth. Optional: Simmer the salsa to remove excess liquid. If using in a taco, for instance, this might be a good idea.

Notes

Adapted from www.closetcooking.com

ratatouille

End of Summer Ratatouille

Whenever I find myself loaded with tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant and summer squash this is what I make. Ratatouille (rat-a-too-ee) is an old classic French vegetable stew that was made popular again a few years back by the Pixar movie of the same name. If you haven’t seen the film, I suggest you do – perhaps tomorrow over a day old dish of this stew.

The theme of the film is that anyone can cook and make delicious food with high quality, yet simple ingredients. That’s awfully similar to the premise of Everyday Chef, isn’t it? Also, the longer the vegetables meld together and break down, the better this dish gets – so I wasn’t joking on trying it the next day. It’s great cold and I often eat it simply on a piece of toasted bread.

I know I’m bringing this to you a bit late in the season and for that I apologize. During the past few weeks much of my time was focused on our Twilight in the Meadow fundraiser, which helps raise money to continue our programs like Everyday Chef. But I saw a ton of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant thriving at the market this past weekend, so it is still very much possible to make. You might be out of luck on the summer squash at this point, but just increase the amount of the other ingredients and use varying colors, or throw in a few others, such as mushrooms or even potato.

I’ve seen ratatouille made many ways. But my favorite is by roasting. I think it’s also the least fussiest method.

Gather your veggies. Peel and slice as needed. I like to do a rough chop and keep everything similar in size. I don’t bother with a fancy presentation. Often you’ll see ratatouille plated with everything sliced paper thin in circles, all the same in size, and arranged perfectly together. But unless you’re trying to impress or are running a restaurant, I don’t think you don’t need to bother. This will still look, and more importantly, taste, good.

 Arrange everything but the tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with of oil, thyme leaves and a few pinches of salt. Roast at 425 for 30-45 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook down the tomatoes on top of the stove in a little heated oil, garlic and red pepper flakes over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally and throw in some salt to taste. When they’re close to done and at a sauce-like consistency, add in a few splashes of red wine vinegar and the basil.

When the veggies are ready – they should look something like this, maybe a little less charred – toss them together with the tomatoes.

You could eat this all by itself topped with some grated Parmesan. But I love to serve it over polenta. Remember, it gets better the next day and the day after that. Bon Apetit.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • 3 medium onions
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 3 zucchini or summer squash
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup packed basil leaves
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • red wine vinegar

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 425.
  2. Peel veggies as needed (especially if your eggplant is not super fresh) and roughly chop into pieces about the same size.
  3. Place all the veggies but the tomatoes on a baking sheet with 1/2 of the garlic, the thyme leaves, a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt.
  4. In a medium sized pot heat a couple tablespoons of oil and then add in the remaining garlic and red pepper flakes. Let cook for a minute, then add in the tomatoes and season with salt.
  5. Allow to cook down over low-medium heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally and being careful not to let the tomatoes splatter.
  6. When nearly done, add in the red wine vinegar and basil.
  7. When the veggies are done roasting, toss with the tomatoes and serve. Top with Parmesan if you’d like. Enjoy by itself or over polenta.
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No Recipe Vegetable Sauce

If you take a look at my fridge or kitchen counter right now you’ll find odds and ends of lingering summer veggies. Green tomatoes on their way to ripening, a couple of Japanese eggplants, all kinds of peppers, mixes of herbs in jars of water and other remnants.

I’m sad to pull be cleaning out the garden – though the bursts of warm temps are surprisingly keeping the peppers and eggplant going, if not at a bit slower of a pace. And I’m still seeing many of these items still at market – but probably not for too much longer now.

Though they might not be in their prime anymore, that certainly doesn’t stop me from finding a use for them. You could should try the ratatouille, or you could do something even easier – just cook everything down in a big saute pot.

Yeah, that’s right. With some tomatoes in there to release their juices (don’t be afraid to use the green ones for a completely different, but still delicious flavor), it doesn’t take long for everything to break down and transform into one awesome vegetable sauce. Just start with some onions and garlic in oil. Add in whatever veggies you have. Season. Toss in some chopped herbs towards the end of cooking. And when it looks sauce-like, use however you want. If it still needs a little flavor, add a splash of vinegar, another pinch of salt, or a few more herbs.

Toss with pasta, fill up tacos, cover a pizza, serve over your favorite grain or just eat it plain. I’ve even freezed sauces like this with some success.

Whatever you do, just don’t let the last of those summer flavors go to waste!

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Winter Squash, Red Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza

Have you tried the 5 minute pizza dough yet? No? Well here are three excellent reasons to go, right now, and take literally 5 minutes to mix it up and get it rising: roasted winter squash, red onion and goat cheese. This combo, with a little olive oil, salt and balsamic, makes for one awesome pizza. I could not keep it on the table last week at RRMC. Staff and visitors were raving about it and the recipe cards went quick.

The dough, simply made up of flour, water, yeast and salt, doesn’t require kneading – just a quick mix with a wooden spoon. Check the label next time on one of those pre-made crusts in stores. I’m betting there are quite a few more than four ingredients.

Once you have that good to go, roast your squash. Any kind of winter squash will work – though maybe not spaghetti. For a quick roast, peel and chop, in small, bite sized chunks beforehand. This will greatly reduce how long you’ll need to roast. 15-20 minutes with a little oil and salt should be good.

Try keeping cooked winter squash on hand this time of year. Have it ready for pizza, soup, salad and other dishes, anytime.

The other option is to cut your squash into large chunks. When I do this, I don’t bother peeling. Just remove the seeds, drizzle on a little oil, sprinkle some salt, and into the oven it goes. This will take 45 minutes to an hour. If you are waiting for your pizza dough to rise, it’s the perfect time to also roast the squash. If your dough is already ready, go the quick route.

Either way, roast the squash at 425.

If you already chopped up your squash, then after roasting, it’s ready to go on the pizza as soon as your dough is done rising. If you went the large chunk route, let the squash cool a little before slicing off the skin and cutting it up. One advantage of this method is that the squash will be very easy to work with.

Preheat the oven to 450. If you have a pizza stone, heat it in the oven. If you don’t have a stone, flip over a cookie sheet and preheat this in the oven instead.

Roll out the dough on a piece of parchment. Forget making it look perfect and bothering with the perfect crust edge. I like a thin, crunchy pizza crust, so I roll the dough out as thin as I can. If you like it doughy, then don’t go so thin, but keep in mind you’ll get less pizza out of it.

After it’s rolled out, drizzle over a little olive oil. Then spread over the crumbled goat cheese. I spread it out a bit with the back of a fork. Next on goes the squash. And then the onion. Finally, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of salt. If you’d like, go ahead and add some grated Parmesan or herbs such as sage, rosemary or thyme.

Place the parchment in the oven on your heated stone/sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or more until you’re happy with the browning. Cool the pizza for 5 minutes before slicing. And here’s a good slicing tip: try using scissors to cut the pizza instead of a knife. You’ll be less likely to lose your ingredients in the process.

 

Winter Squash, Red Onion and Goat Cheese Pizza

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 1 medium sized pizza

Already have pizza dough and cooked squash? Then it’ll be only a few quick minutes before you’re enjoying this healthy, seasonal pizza. Quicker and better than greasy takeout!

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe of Pizza Dough
  • olive oil
  • 2 cups cooked, cubed/chopped winter squash
  • crumbled goat cheese
  • 1 cup red onion, sliced or chopped (your call)
  • balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 and place a pizza stone or upside down cookie sheet inside to heat.
  2. Roll out the dough on a piece of parchment paper.
  3. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the dough.
  4. Spread the goat cheese over top.
  5. Cover with the cooked squash.
  6. Top with the red onion.
  7. Sprinkle balsamic vinegar over it all and a little salt.
  8. Carefully place the pizza, on the parchment paper, onto the heated stone or sheet.
  9. Bake 15-20 minutes or until browned and crispy to your liking.
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