Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Beans, sausage, squash, greens. And fall.

Lately, I've been eating a lot of soups filled with beans, sausage, squash and greens. There is a pot of it sitting on my stove right now, in fact. It started with this black bean and squash chili that I made for the first time last year and again a few weeks ago. Then I substituted the black beans for chickpeas and omitted the cumin and chili pepper for simple salt and pepper, and added a few links of chicken sausage. Tonight, there were white beans and spinach, and in the end, a short glug of red wine vinegar just to brighten things up a bit.

I've found that pot of soup bubbling on the stove on a weeknight, after the dinner dishes have been cleared away and a glass of red wine poured, is the just the thing I need -- love -- on evenings when the air is getting cooler, and we're still refusing to turn on the heat. A pot of soup just warms everything up. I've been packing them up for my lunch every day, and storing a cup or two in the freezer, although the way I've been making these soups every week, there may not even be a need for the reserves.

The truth is, I have been craving warm comfort foods. I've got my eye on dishes that involve stew meats braised in sauces for hours, shepherd's pies, slow cooker meals, recipes that call for a bottle of Guinness stout. I've even suggested a few to Murdo, to which he responded that it was still 70 degrees outside, and wait until it's colder.

That was last week. This week, I've been pulling on my boots, sweaters and scarves. I've been turning the heat on in my car in the morning. I've been crunching leaves beneath my feet as I walk to the front door at the end of the day. I've been making soup. These are the things that I enjoy in the fall, when the air still has a back-to-school feel and we haven't yet reached the painful winds and grumbles of winter. But please, let's not talk about winter yet. It's still very, very fall.

What kind of warm comfort foods are you looking forward to?

Fall Soup with Squash, Sausage, Beans, Greens (adapted from Fine Cooking)
I love the way this recipe can be altered and varied according to what I have in my fridge and pantry. The butternut squash is key, as is the sausage -- they really flavor the soup, although you could easily make this dish vegetarian by using vegetable broth and omitting the meat altogether. As for the greens, I used spinach tonight, but I prefer kale more for its bite-y texture. I've also used just one can of broth to make the soup thicker and more stew-like, but use two if you like more of a soupy soup. Bottom line: Adapt this recipe to your tastes. Enjoy!

2 tbs olive oil
2 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/4 cup celery, diced
6-8 ounces pre-cooked chicken sausage, about 2 links, sliced into halves(I use Trader Joe's Sweet Italian Chicken Sausage.)
1 15 oz can chickpeas or white beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5 oz can chicken broth
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups chopped kale, spinach, chard, or other leafy green
dried thyme
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add garlic, onions, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften and smell awesome. Add squash, thyme, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Cook a few minutes, until squash starts to become tender. Add sausage, and tomatoes with their juice. Add broth and beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the squash is very tender, or as tender as you like it. Add greens and cook until wilted (heartier green, like kale, will take longer than spinach to wilt).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Count on roasted green tomatoes.

I attempted to make seafood gumbo today. Key word: Attempted. Maybe it was because I was doubtful from the very beginning, or because Cajun cooking is way out of my league, or because quality seafood isn't readily available here. Or maybe I'm just confused about roux. Whatever the reason, I ended up with a big pot of tasteless, watery, definitely-not-gumbo, which I made my husband throw out for me because I just didn't have the heart to do it myself. Then he gave me a hug and bought me a Big Mac. Let's never talk about this again, OK? Moving right along...


Contrary to what my week-long silence around here may suggest, I've been pretty busy in the kitchen lately. There were BLTs and corn chowder, made with the last of the season's tomato and corn bounty. There was black bean and butternut squash chili, not pictured, which I made on Monday night after I had eaten dinner and showered, and ate every day for lunch the rest of the week. Just thinking about it now makes me want to whip up another batch. There was a carrot, apple, and leek soup (adapted from here), that was good but not great, with very subtle flavors that I ultimately decided were too blah to share, but the picture was just so pretty that I couldn't resist. And besides, compared to the gumbo, that soup was a masterpiece. Wait, did I say gumbo? Oops. What gumbo?

And there were green tomatoes, which I cut into wedges and tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roasted in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes, until the edges were blackened and caramelized, the texture sweet and creamy. I popped them in my mouth as I chopped vegetables for Bolognese last Sunday.

I originally wasn't going to share any of these with you. They were repeats, and ho-hums, and non-photogenic. And last week's Bolognese was a tough act to follow, which was why I attempted "you-know-what" this afternoon. But you know what? There is nothing wrong with those simple, everyday meals. They may not be amazing recipes, but they get me through the week. They're the ones that work, the ones I can count on when others have me scratching my head, stirring and tasting and slumping my shoulders, wondering what I did wrong.

I am not giving up on gumbo, just so you know. But I may have to look over the shoulder of a certain Louisianan during a real gumbo-making session, taking heavy notes, before I attempt Round 2.

Roasted Green Tomatoes

green tomatoes, as many as you have on hand, cut into wedges
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 F. Toss tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread onto a rimmed baking pan or dish, and roast for 40 minutes, until the edges are blackened and caramelized. Add to pasta, or salad, or eat plain, straight from the oven. Yum!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

All-time favorites, from my favorites.

spaghetti bolognese

Many people may look back on their wedding and remember it as a single day of excitement, getting ready, hugs and kisses, special reunions. But ours was an entire weekend that I will never forget -- one that brought my family, my best friends, and my in-laws to one lake for four days. Everywhere I turned there was someone from a different part of my life, who knew me in a very different way. My girlfriends made garlands with my sisters, my mother, and my aunt on the patio. My dad went for a boat ride with my father-in-law and my brother-in-law. My college roommate danced with my husband's cousin. It was all a bizarre, overwhelming, and truly incredible blessing.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. Why have just one wedding day when you can spend an entire wedding weekend celebrating the love, family, and friendships that have made you and your husband who you are, and who make up the foundation of what your marriage will become? I could relive that weekend over and over again. Of course, the celebration had to end eventually, but I was lucky enough to bring some souvenirs with me.

The night before the wedding, at our rehearsal dinner, my girlfriends presented me with a recipe book. A homemade recipe book of homemade dishes, passed along from grandmothers and mothers, Spanish house moms and aunts, college roommates and high school best friends. These are the recipes that my friends grew up with, that got them through late-night cram sessions and soccer practice and bar exams, that helped them make new homes in places like Guatemala, New York, Spain, and Denver. Each recipe has a story. Each recipe makes me smile. And hungry.

I let Murdo choose the first recipe we would share here. The one he picked wasn't passed down from a grandmother in the old country, with secret codes and special seasonings. It's an Emeril recipe, for spaghetti bolognese, and in the recipe book is labeled in all caps: MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE PASTA RECIPE. - DI. Well, if you know Di, you know that little message is saying a lot. And that's enough for me, really.

spaghetti bolognese
spaghetti bolognese

As as I read over the ingredients and the instructions, I quickly realized that this recipe and this dish are so very Murdo and I, and the perfect meal for a crisp Sunday afternoon in October. It brings together vegetables, garlic, sausage, beef, bacon, and tomatoes into one pot, to simmer on the stove for an hour or so while we go about our Sunday business. Murdo watched football, and I played with cameras and photos. At the end, in goes a pat of butter and a glug of cream. It's a meal that sticks to the ribs and makes you very happy for lazy Sundays with your husband and your cat.

Thank you Di, Leslie, Jenna, Krissy, Marci, Tori, Laurie, Nick, and to all who contributed to these touching, mouth-watering recipes. Each recipe is like sharing a favorite meal with my best friend -- whether I'm sitting at the dinner table with the Elkins family, or hanging out on the couch with Jenna and a bowl of chickpeas. Here's to a lifetime of cooking, eating, and smiling together!

spaghetti bolognese

Diana's All-Time Favorite Pasta, or Spaghetti Bolognese (from Emeril Lagasse)
I halved this recipe and cooked the sauce in my Le Creuset dutch oven. It ended up thickening plenty after just 1 hour, rather than 1 and 1/2.

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces bacon or pancetta, diced
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
3/4 cup diced carrots
3/4 cup diced celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pound ground beef or ground veal
1/2 pound pork sausage, removed from the casings, or ground pork
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes and their juice
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup beef or chicken stock or broth
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 pound spaghetti
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, until browned and the fat is rendered, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the beef and sausages, and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring, to deglaze the pan and remove any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pan, and until half of the liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and their juices, the tomato sauce, beef broth, and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until the sauce is thickened and flavorful, about 1 1/2 hours. Add the cream, butter, and parsley, stir well, and simmer for 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and adjust the seasoning, to taste. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and return the water to a low boil. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the noodles from sticking, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Add the pasta to the sauce, tossing to coat. Add 1/2 cup of the cheese and toss to blend. Divide among pasta bowls and serve with the cheese passed tableside. (Alternatively, toss only the desired portion of pasta with a bit of the sauce at a time in a serving bowl, reserving the remainder for another meal.)

Serves 6-8.