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!

Eggplant Curry

Eggplant is one of those foods, like summer squash, I often hear people say they don’t like. And, as usual, I tell them that they just haven’t had it prepared well. On it’s own, without any seasoning, eggplant can indeed be a little tasteless and bitter. But that’s exactly why we need to know how to handle and prepare this nightshade veggie for maximum flavor and health benefits – like the ton of fiber and manganese it contains. And, when done well, eggplant can rival the taste and texture of chicken – making it a vegetarian favorite.

I recommend peeling your eggplant, especially if it is a larger variety like Black Magic – the most common kind you’ll find in the United States, pictured at left in the first photo above – and especially if it is not at it’s peak freshness.

It’s often said you should salt eggplant and let it sit for 30 minutes or so in order for the water, and bitterness, to be released. I say go for it – if you have the time and have planned ahead. I often don’t. Having tried it both ways, I can’t say I see a significant difference in the end, especially in a dish like this.

Note: Since I had quite a few eggplants to get through when I took these photos, you’ll notice they did start to brown. But I wasn’t worried because they cooked in the curry sauce and no one ever noticed. 

Start with some garlic. Brown it just slightly in a medium sized pan with some olive oil for a couple of minutes. Then add in the eggplant and a few pinches of salt. You want to cook the eggplant, stirring often, until it starts to release some liquid, 5-10 minutes.

Next, in goes the curry powder, ginger and coconut milk. I’m a big fan of coconut milk sold in cartons like this. I use it for everything from plain drinking to smoothies to cooking. However, when coconut milk is called for in a recipe, it’s probably referring to the heavier, richer kind you’ll find in cans. I recommend keeping a few of these cans, found in the international section of your grocery store, on hand at all times. They’re shelf stable. The cartons are not. But the carton works for a lighter flavor, and if you’ll use it up like regular milk.

Keep simmering the eggplant for a good 25 minutes or more. Taste it as you go and see how it’s tasting. You’ll know it’s done cooking when it melts in your mouth. Adjust the seasoning as needed and throw in the remaining garlic just before finishing. And it’s good to go!

Want to add peppers? Onions? Or other veggies? Feel free to add them in when you add the eggplant. I kind of like the simplicity of the eggplant though.

 

Eggplant Curry

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds eggplant
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Peel the eggplant and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
  2. Place oil and 1/2 of the garlic in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Two minutes later add the eggplant and a couple pinches of salt.
  3. Stir and toss constantly until after 5 or 10 minutes the eggplant begins to release some of the oil it has absorbed. Add in the curry powder/paste, coconut milk and ginger.
  4. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until eggplant is tender, about 30 minutes. About five minutes before it is done add the remaining garlic. Season. Garnish and serve over rice or another grain.

eggplant curry

Squash Pasta in Sage Butter Sauce

Ever have an amazing dish out at a restaurant and then try to recreate it again at home? I do all the time. Sometimes I’m successful and other times not so much. But what I’ve learned is that it’s all about the flavors.

One of my favorite meals was in Florence, Italy when I was traveling abroad a few years ago. It was squash filled ravioli. I couldn’t remember much more than that later on when I thought about it again at home. But I knew it included winter squash, pasta, and cheese. And that was enough to get me going.

To become a better cook that’s exactly what you need to do – pay attention to flavors and do some experimenting. Mastering techniques is important too, but what isn’t is feeling like you need to follow a recipe exactly. This and this are two excellent resources to help you think more about flavor, less about following a recipe word for word, and on your way to making a dish your own.

Eventually, I found that what I was looking for was sage, particularly – fried sage leaves. When paired with almost any kind of winter squash it’s an amazing combination. And a little butter makes it even better. Now, I pair sage and squash all the time. Maybe too much. But they’re flavors I love and this quick pasta dish proves why.

I had an acorn squash so that’s what I went with this time. Butternut, pumpkin, hubbard – whatever you like or already have will work great. Don’t be afraid to try some new squashes you might encounter at the market. Just ask a farmer if you’re not sure what they taste like.

With an acorn squash, I use a knife to slice off the skin because a peeler is just too ineffective. But first I cut it in half and scoop out the seed.

Then I cut the squash into 1/2 inch cubes, throw in a baking dish with a little oil and salt and get it roasting in the oven. Because the squash is in small pieces, it’s going to cook pretty quickly – about 20-25 minutes at 425F.

Try to control yourself from eating it just like this when it’s done. Or better yet, roast a couple of squashes at once and have some for snacking or ready to go for another meal.

Meanwhile, get a pot of water boiling for the pasta. Add in the pasta and a good amount of salt when the water is boiling. Drain when al dente, reserving 2 cups of the cooking water.

Now wipe out your pot and melt some butter. We want to brown it, so that means letting it cook until all of the foam subsides. In the process, the butter acquires a really nice nutty flavor.

When it’s starting to brown, add in a handful of sage. Cook for just a couple of minutes then remove the leaves from the pot and toss in some sliced garlic. Again, control yourself. Those sage leaves are quite tempting, aren’t they?

Fortunately, dinner is just a couple of minutes away now.

After the garlic starts to just slightly brown, pour in a cup of the reserved pasta water, the pasta, squash and some grated Parmesan. Toss together and let cook a minute or so until the water is mostly gone.

Crumble the sage leaves over top, add in some pumpkin seeds if you like, and get eating.

Squash Pasta in Sage Butter Sauce

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 medium-large winter squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb pasta
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small bunch of fresh sage leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
  • shaved parmesan for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 425
  2. Halve the squash. Scoop out the seeds and peel the skin.
  3. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes, toss with the olive oil, some salt and pepper.
  4. Roast for 25 minutes or until tender.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
  6. Salt the water and cook the pasta until al dente.
  7. Drain, reserving 2 cups of the cooking water.
  8. In the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat and let cook until foam subsides and it begins to brown.
  9. Toss in the sage, cook for two minutes and remove from the pot.
  10. Add in the garlic, cook until just starting to brown then add 1 cup reserved pasta water, the cooked pasta and squash, and the grated parmesan.
  11. Toss together and cook until the water is mostly gone and a light sauce remains.
  12. Serve with crumbled sage leaves, the seeds and additional cheese. Use the other cup of the pasta water when heating up leftovers, if there are any.

Squash and Bean Burgers

Getting kids to eat their veggies is not always easy. I don’t have kids, or even claim to know much about them, but this is something I hear about all the time. When I’m out offering people samples, it’s not unusual for parents to take a look at the food and say, “my kid wouldn’t eat that” or “Johnny hates squash”.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy that.

I think that parents are often the ones who don’t like the foods, don’t make them, and aren’t willing to give them a chance because they simply believe their kids wouldn’t eat them either. If we want kids to eat smarter, than it’s up to us adults to first change our own attitudes. And that can start with cooking and some creativity. We can involve kids in the kitchen and be open to trying new foods.

Sunday I did just that. I worked with a girl scout troop to make squash and bean burgers. I wanted to do something hands on, colorful, and just a little different. I don’t believe kids should eat boring, bland foods. I certainly don’t like them. Why would they?

It was fun because the girls got to mash up all of their burger ingredients. In went the cooked squash, black beans, quinoa, bread crumbs, onions and garlic.

The breadcrumbs, quinoa, nuts and seeds act as the binder that keeps everything together, while adding extra fiber and protein. Make your own breadcrumbs by grinding stale bread in the food processor, if you have it. And experiment with the seeds and nuts of your choice. The first time i made these I used the squash seeds, but didn’t prefer such a chewy texture in the end. I like the crunch of sunflower seeds better and used those the second time around.

The spices are typical Mexican flavors you’d find in something like tacos – spices you probably already have in your pantry. But these aren’t spicy. Many basic chili powders, are in fact, sweet. A little cayenne powder, or chopped pepper could up the heat for you though.

There are a few ingredients to work with here and maybe it’s more than you’d prefer. But a little planning brings it all together with little extra effort. Roast the squash, cook the quinoa and soak the beans a few days ahead of time, at your convenience. None of these require much attention. Why not prepare some extra while you’re at it?

Cooked squash, grains and beans are good in so many dishes. Having them ready to go at any time makes for quick cooking at any time of day. Or maybe you have leftovers of some or all of these items in your fridge already. Any kind of grain, squash or bean could work in these burgers, so put those leftovers to another use!

After all the mashing, the girls formed their own patties. I let them feel invested in the process and I think because of this they were open to trying the burgers, even though they all said they had never had them before.

Why not try: Making a batch (or two) of these burgers, wrapping them individually and having ready to go in the fridge for a quick lunch or dinner any time during the week. Or freeze them to last even longer.

Squash and Bean Burgers

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 6 minutes

Yield: 6 + burgers

Roast the squash (step 1) in advance and you’ll have burgers ready to go in no time.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups winter squash, cut into large pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (or 1 can, rinsed, if not using dried beans)
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1/4 cup red onion, minced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup nuts, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped (optional)
  • olive oil

Instructions

  1. Drizzle the squash with a little olive oil, bake on a sheet in an oven preheated to 425F. Cook until tender, about 45 minutes. (Optional: If you’d like to use the squash seeds in the burgers, rinse and clean them then fry in a pan over medium heat with two tablespoons oil until browned. Alternatively, you could use sunflower seeds.)
  2. When cool, peel off the squash skin, cut into pieces and mash in a bowl with the beans. Fold in quinoa, chili powder, cumin, coriander, seeds, nuts and salt.
  3. Lightly sweat the onion – until it breaks down and begins to turn translucent – and garlic in a small pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Fold into the squash mixture with the bread crumbs.
  4. Using your hands, shape into patties.
  5. Add oil to a skillet, heat to medium and fry burgers until browned, 2-3 minutes on each side.

Classic Beef Stew

Growing up, beef stew was a staple in my mom’s cooking. I knew we were having it for dinner the moment I walked in the door. It’s one of those dishes that fills the house up with warm, comforting flavors. Often, she’d cook it in her slow cooker – allowing it to be a practical dish even on the busiest of weeknights.

But it’s also perfect for weekend cooking or entertaining. And even if it’s just yourself you’re cooking for, you’ll get several dinners out of the stew, making it worthwhile at any time.

Chuck roast, from the shoulder of the cow, is an ideal cut for stew. It’s economical and full of connective tissue that will break down during a slow cook and make the pieces of meat super tender. It’s just matter of cooking until the meat reaches that point of tenderness.

Start with a 2-3 pound piece of chuck. Trim the outer layer of fat then cut into one inch cubes.

Sear (brown) the meat in a large dutch oven or pot by heating a small amount of canola oil in the bottom of the pan over medium-high heat. For a good sear you will have to do a couple of batches. Just do one layer of meat at a time and be sure not to crowd the pan. Brown 2-3 minutes per side. You’re just looking to brown the meat, not cook it through at this point. When done, remove the meat from the pot.

Add in another small splash of oil then the vegetables. Use 3 cups of your choice of sliced veggies. Onions and carrots are the standard. I add in potatoes and mushrooms if I have them, or roots like turnips and rutabaga. Your call. Just cook until browned and almost tender. Season with minced garlic, dried thyme, rosemary and a bay leaf.

When done, return the meat to the pan. Now it’s time to deglaze the pot. That means scraping up the brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pot with liquid. Red or white wine, cider or beer add some great flavor. But if you just have broth or even water – that will do the job. Just add the liquid in and gently scrape the pot with a wooden spoon.

Add in the tomatoes, broth and extra liquid, if needed, to make sure everything is covered.

Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover. Let the stew stew for about an hour before checking the tenderness of the meat. If still chewy, continue cooking, checking every 15 minutes until ready.

If the stew looks too thin you can uncover the pot in the last 1/2 hour or so of cooking to let some of the liquid evaporate. Or, if you’d like to thicken it up even more, remove a cup of liquid from the pot and whisk in two tablespoons flour. When completely blended, stir back into the pot and cook another few minutes.

If making in the slow cooker: Follow steps 1-4 as written, then transfer everything to the slow cooker. Cook on low 4-6 hours.

Classic Beef Stew

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Yield: 6-8

Ingredients

  • Canola oil
  • 2-3lb chuck roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 cups sliced veggies such as onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, or potato
  • 1/2 cup deglazing liquid such as wine, beer, cider or broth
  • 4 cups beef stock or broth
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour (optional)
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a dutch oven or large pot over medium heat.
  2. Sear the chuck, in a single layer, in batches, without crowding 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan when browned but not cooked through.
  3. Add in the veggies with another tablespoon oil. Brown and cook until just slightly tender, 5 minutes. In the last couple minutes of cooking, add the garlic, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf.
  4. Return the meat to the pot and deglaze with your liquid of choice.
  5. Pour in the broth, and some water if needed, to cover everything in the pot with liquid.
  6. Bring a boil then reduce the heat to medium-low to bring the stew to a simmer. Cover and cook for about an hour.
  7. Check the tenderness of the meat. If not yet done, cover and continue cooking, checking every 15 minutes until to your liking.
  8. If you’d like to thicken the stew, remove a cup of the stew liquid and whisk in 2 tablespoons flour. Stir back into the pot and cook another 5 minutes.
  9. Taste, adding salt, if necessary, or a splash of apple cider vinegar, for some extra flavor.
  10. To serve, remove the bay leaf and top with the chopped parsley, if desired.

Planning Your Thanksgiving Feast

I learned something important about cooking Thanksgiving dinner the first time I did so for a large crowd five years ago: be realistic and plan ahead. Deciding on a whim to make homemade eggnog the day of may not be the best idea, for instance. Want to brine your turkey? First make sure you have an appropriate container in which to do so. But with more than a week to go there is plenty of time to get on track for a delicious, stress free meal.

If you haven’t already, finalize your menu and recipes this week. Keep in mind what you can find at the farmers market or co-op over the weekend. There is an impressive, beautiful selection of produce, desserts, wines, breads and more available right here in our county. Take advantage of these foods and producers; I’ve learned while traveling and cooking at the holidays that you can’t find such quality and freshness everywhere.

Once you have your menu, recipe and ingredients set, you’re halfway there. Now, just do a little prep each day leading up to the big dinner to avoid a mad scramble on turkey day.

Sunday

Make a list of the tasks and recipes you might be able to prepare over the course of the next few days. Post the list in a visible spot in the kitchen so you can cross each item off as you go and see what still needs to get done.

 

Monday

Today, chop veggies. Look at your recipes and see what you’re going to need. Divide them into resealable plastic bags based on each dish. While you chop, cook your cranberry sauce, which will do fine in the fridge for the next few days.

Cranberry Orange Sauce 

Makes 2 cups

1 pound cranberries
½ cup sugar or maple syrup
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
A pinch of cloves, salt and pepper

Combine everything in a small pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once the cranberries start to pop, lower the heat, cook another 3-4 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool.

 

Tuesday

Focus on the stuffing – which if you ask me, is the next best dish after pumpkin pie. I don’t stuff my bird, but rather divide it up into muffin tins for easy to serve, realistic portions. Check your favorite bakery for day old or even pre-cubed bread.

Apple and Onion Stuffing

Makes 10-12 servings

1 stick unsalted butter
4 ribs celery, chopped or 1 large celery root
1 large onion, chopped
2 large apples, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, thyme and sage or poultry seasoning
About 12 cups stale bread, cubed
3 cups broth
½ cup dried cranberries
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the celery, onion, apple, a pinch of salt and herbs or poultry seasoning. Cook about 5 minutes, until veggies have softened. Pour in broth and toss in the bread and cranberries. Cook another 5 minutes then stir in the egg and parsley. Divide among lightly oiled muffin tins. If preparing ahead of time, cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. When ready, bake covered with foil, for 20 minutes in a 375F preheated oven then another 20 minutes uncovered. They’re done when browned and crispy.

 

Wednesday

If you’re planning to serve turkey tomorrow, get that set now. Clean the bird, season and stuff with aromatics as you like, season the skin, tie it up and set in the roasting pan in the fridge. You want it ready to go in the oven without worrying about details tomorrow.

Then, if you have any sides you could prepare now, do so.

Turnip and Potato Purée

Makes 4-6 servings

1 ½ lbs turnips, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 ½ lbs potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup milk
Kosher salt
Thyme
Butter (optional)

Cover the turnips, garlic and potatoes in a medium pot over high heat with the milk and just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until veggies are tender. Drain and with an immersion blender or food processor, purée until smooth. Alternatively, you could mash. Mix in thyme leaves to your liking and melted butter, if you choose. This reheats well in the oven.

 

Thursday

The big day. Your bird should be the priority at this point. Be sure to let it come to room temperature before getting in the oven – this will reduce roasting time and help ensure even cooking. Plan to take it out of the oven at least an hour before guests arrive – giving it time to rest and you time to make gravy, heat up prepared dishes in the oven, and carve the bird. Finish off any quick cooking dishes today as well.

Sautéed Brussels sprouts

Serves 4

2 cups Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped herbs

Over medium high heat, sauté the Brussels sprouts in the olive oil. Cook until just starting to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add ½ cup water to the pan with the lemon zest. Cook until the water has evaporated. Toss in the cheese and herbs.

Originally published in our Harvest Watch column in The Rutland Herald on November 19, 2013.

Barbecue Sliders

Thanksgiving takes first place as the largest food consumption day of the year in the United States. That’s probably no surprise. But any guess what takes second? It’s not Christmas or New Years. It’s Superbowl Sunday.

It’s estimated that on February 2nd more than 1.25 billion chicken wings will be consumed across the country. That’s about 4 wings for every single American! Ever stop to wonder where the rest of the chicken goes? With factory farms, it’s used for other cuts and purposes, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a small or humane farm selling you a forty pack of wings. It’s just not practical. This Salon article highlights some of the concerns pretty well.

Then there are the 4.4 million take out pizzas that will be sold and the countless bags of chips, bottles of soda and cans of beer. For those who started healthy resolutions for 2014, all that hard work could be undone in one day.

Those statistics make me want to do nothing but get in the kitchen and cook – without any chicken wings in sight. I’ll have chicken another day, thanks. Instead, why not beef sliders? They’re also a good finger food and with a simple homemade barbecue sauce, you’ll get much of the same flavor as wings too.

Let’s start with the sauce. Chances are you have everything you need on hand.

You’ll need onions, garlic, tomato puree or sauce, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, hot sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, Dijon mustard and orange marmalade, if you’d like. These are common barbecue sauce ingredients and you can use my suggested amounts in the recipe below as a guide. The way it’s written will produce a mostly sweet sauce. Increase the amount of hot sauce as you see fit.

I use a combination of tomato sauce (already getting low on my canned supply) and ketchup to get to achieve the consistency I like. The onion gives the sauce some texture too, but you could always puree it if you’d like it smooth.

Barbecue Sauce

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 2 1/2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • A few dashes hot sauce, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoon orange marmalade (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a small pot over medium high heat.
  2. Add the garlic and onion. Sauté until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.
  4. Lower the heat and keep at a low simmer 15-20 minutes until the sauce has thickened.
  5. Taste and add more seasoning as needed. Keeps for up to 1 week in the fridge.

Mixing the barbecue sauce into the ground beef (or other ground meat of your choosing) results in a moist and flavorful burger. If you’re not having a party, these work fine as normal sized burgers rather than the 2 ounce suggestion. In winter I prefer to cook them in a pan on the stove with just a little oil.

For the buns, you could use minis, if you can find them, but you could also just cut out pieces of bread. The top of a small jar makes a great sized cutter. Just toast before using, then place some greens on the bottom bun, like spinach, add your burger then top with cheese, extra sauce and even some bacon for a more unique contribution to the game day party. These would go great with rutabaga fries.

Barbecue Sliders

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Yield: About 12 sliders

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ground beef (or pork, chicken or turkey)
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • ½ cup barbecue sauce
  • Olive oil
  • 6 ounces grated cheddar
  • 6 pieces cooked bacon (optional)
  • 12 mini buns

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl combine the ground beef, chili powder, cumin, salt, green onion and barbecue sauce.
  2. Lightly coat a skillet with the olive oil and heat over medium high heat.
  3. Use an ice cream scoop to portion out 2 ounce patties of the beef mix, lightly flattening with your hands before placing in the pan. Cook each patty 2-3 minutes per side, in batches.
  4. When ready to serve, place on a bun, top with cheese and melt under the broiler in the oven.
  5. Top with additional barbecue sauce, bacon, if using, and any other toppings.

Sausage, Barley and Spinach Soup

Friends often ask me how I find the time to cook so much. While I get paid to do so at times, I also make it a priority in my non-work life. That is, when I can actually distinguish the two. Some people spend their evenings at the gym or the pub. I usually spend them in my kitchen. But here’s the thing – I probably cook way less than they imagine.

When I cook, I almost always make meals that go further than just one occasion. I embrace leftovers and usually get at least a lunch or second dinner out of each meal. You might find me almost always enjoying a home cooked meal, but that doesn’t mean I cook up something new every single day.

Soup is the perfect example of winter cooking that really stretches itself during the week. Even if it’s just me I’m cooking dinner for, I’ll make a big pot of soup anyway. If for some reason I realize I won’t finish it all within a few days, I just freeze it. Soup freezes great and will defrost in no time. I’d rather make more than necessary to have ready to go than scramble on busier nights or opt to eat out more often than I can actually afford.

While beef and barley is the classic soup combo, I had some ground sausage hanging out in the freezer and figured it would work just as well. If you have beef, certainly use that here, instead. I started the soup, as most soups start, by browning onions, carrots, garlic and herbs in olive oil. These are the aromatics.

 

I added the sausage and broke it up with a wooden spoon, letting it cook until browned.

Next, I added the barley, letting it sauté for a minute or two. I think barley is excellent in soup. It doesn’t turn mushy or puff up like how most other grains or pasta. Barley maintains a nice chewy texture and adds some heartiness. Try subbing it for other grains in your favorite soups or those soups needing something to make them more filling.

 

Then in went the liquids – broth and crushed tomatoes. I used vegetable broth I already had opened, but beef broth would work too. I also found a couple of turnips hanging out in the fridge that I decided to add in as well. That’s what I love about soups. You really can add in a little of anything. It’s the perfect way to clean up those odds and ends you might have accumulated.

 

After letting the soup simmer a good 30 minutes, I mixed in a few cups of spinach. It’ll cook down a ton, as I always seem surprised to find, so don’t worry if it seems like too much at first. Then, the soup just needed a few minutes more for the spinach to wilt. Before serving, I added a splash of lemon juice for brightness and salt and pepper as needed. Adding acidity like citrus or vinegar at the end of a soup will help bring out the flavors and add a level of freshness.

Sausage, Barley and Spinach Soup

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1/2 lb ground sausage
  • 14 1/2 ounces crushed tomatoes
  • 6 cups of your favorite broth
  • 2 turnips, diced
  • 1 cup pearled barley
  • 5 cups spinach
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium high heat. When hot, add the garlic, onion, carrots and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables start to brown and become tender, about 7 minutes or so.
  3. Add in the ground sausage and break up with a wooden spoon. Let start to brown for about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in the barley and let cook for a couple of minutes.
  5. Next, pour in the tomatoes, broth, and turnip. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer and cook about 30 minutes until the barley and turnips are tender.
  6. A couple minutes before serving, stir in the spinach. Let it wilt, then add the lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Baked Mac and Sweet Potato

Mac and cheese is a classic, well loved comfort dish and there are countless variations. But no matter what’s in it, I’ve always preferred my mac and cheese to be creamy, yet slightly crispy, from baking. And neither soupy nor dried out.

When made with just pasta and cheese, as it often is, the dish is lacking much in the way of nutritional value. Instead, it’s a high calorie, high fat and high sodium guilty pleasure. I figured there had to be a way to both meet my mac and cheese expectations while turning it into a dish with some redeeming value and without the guilt.

My answer was to cut down on the cheese and add in mashed sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes add creaminess and a vegetable component while making the reduced amount of cheese less apparent. Last week I did something similar when I made butternut squash enchiladas that contained a limited amount of cheese. I adapted (and I’d say improved upon) this recipe from Cooking Light.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against cheese. In fact, I could live on cheese and that’s the problem. Being so high in fat and with a serving size at just one ounce, it’s too easy to get carried away. So I look for ways to keep my cheese intake realistic. This may not be the cheesiest mac and cheese you’ll ever have, but it’s not a bad alternative.
You start by chopping your sweet potatoes and putting them in a medium sized pot.

Add milk, thyme, onion, garlic and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender. Simmering the potatoes right in the milk and broth imparts a ton of flavor, as opposed to just cooking them in water.

When they’re tender, remove the pot from the heat and puree with an immersion blender. Of course, you could transfer the hot contents to a standard blender and puree that way, but you’ll want to be very careful. Or if you don’t have either, you could also just mash it up for a chunkier result. Then add the yogurt, salt, pepper…

and of course, the cheese. I choose Cheddar and Fontina – a creamy, rich Italian cheese that melts well and is popular in fondue. Those just happened to be the cheeses I had at the time, so use what you like. And if you must, increase the amount of cheese.

The sweet potato cheese sauce after everything is melted and combined.

I liked this fun spiral pasta. All of the grooves and twists help capture the sauce.

See? It’s ready for the baking dish.

Every mac and cheese needs some good breadcrumbs on top. I ran some stale bread through the food processor and combined the crumbs with Parmesan and paprika before coating my pasta. Then it baked at 375F for about 25 minutes, until bubbling and browned.

Mac and Sweet Potato

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 + servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cubed and peeled sweet potatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 4 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup chopped Fontina cheese
  • 1 pound spiral pasta
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Combine the sweet potatoes, broth, milk, onion, thyme and garlic in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large pot bring water to boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain well.
  4. Using an immersion blender, puree the sweet potato mixture. Add salt, pepper, Cheddar, Fontina and Greek yogurt. Stir until combined and the cheese is melted.
  5. Add the pasta to the sweet potato mixture and stir until combined. Spread mixture evenly into a large glass or ceramic baking dish.
  6. Combine the breadcrumbs, paprika, and Parmesan and top the mac.
  7. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.

Lemon Rosemary Sunchoke Pasta

It’s time for a little English lesson.

Restive. Irregardless. Superfluous. Jerusalem artichoke. What do these words have in common? They sound like they mean one thing, yet are actually something altogether different. The English language is full of such confusion, if you think about it. And guess what? Jerusalem artichokes are neither from Jerusalem or are even artichokes. Why they have the name they do is a bit of a mystery.

sunchoke

 

So what are these tubular, ginger looking things? Let’s start with taste. They’re earthy, sweet and a bit nutty. You won’t find the starch, like in a potato, and they don’t quite cook up the same way either. It’s more complex of a flavor and in my opinion, only slightly comparable to the taste of an artichoke. Though they grow easy enough (almost like a weed), they remain somewhat unknown or unpopular, but I think they’re worth giving a shot.

It might seem strange, but they’re actually the tuber of a sunflower. Their blossoms tend to turn towards the sun, like a sunflower and that’s why I like to refer to them as one of their more fitting, alternate names – sunchokes. Locally, you’ll find them grown by Heleba Potato Farm of Center Rutland.

Lemon Rosemary Sunchoke Pasta

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb pasta
  • 1 lb sunchokes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 springs rosemary leaves, chopped
  • splash of white wine (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon butter

This was my first time cooking sunchokes and knowing that they cook up somewhat quickly, I used them for a fast pasta dinner. You can use any pasta you like or even a grain. Barley is a good option.

washing sunchokes

Start a pot of well salted water for the pasta and wash the sunchokes by rinsing in water and scrubbing with a clean towel. They’re too knobby for efficient peeling.

Slice the sunchokes somewhat thinly across, along with one onion, and saute in oil over medium high heat, stirring often. By the time the water is boiling and you add in your pasta, you can also add the zest of one lemon, two minced garlic cloves and two springs of chopped rosemary to the sunchokes and onions and continue cooking. You’ll find that the sunchokes won’t cook evenly and this is normal.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and reserve 2 cups of the cooking water. If using the wine, pour into the sunchoke pan and stir to deglaze.

Either way, add about a a cup and a half of the reserved pasta water to the sunchoke pan and bring to a simmer. Cook for a couple of minutes until the liquid has thickened into a sauce then toss in the pasta, the butter and stir to coat. Taste and adjust salt, if needed. Save the remaining pasta water and use when reheating any leftovers.

sunchokes and pasta

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