Butternut Squash and Lentil Chili

What is it about one pot meals that is so satisfying? I mean, when I smell something simmering on the stove, its essence wafting through the house, I am driven to pre-dinner cocktails, wood burners and general goodwill.

Meals that take time to prep, simmer and deepen are the ones that hook me.  Fast, quick and reheated do not interest me.  When cooking is your passion, method and alchemy are paramount.  This does not mean complicated.  It does mean that quality and seasonal ingredients lend themselves to satisfying results.  In the fall, squash and legumes naturally create a bowl of awesome.

When it comes to “chili” the approaches are endless.  There are no hard and fast rules. The first time I served this I was asked what kind of meat I used.  Without exception it was a surprise that it was sans meat.  Several carnivorous family members decided that I didn’t need to make any other chili!  Who would have thought…..

Butternut Squash and Lentil Chili:

  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 head garlic, minced
  • 1 large bell pepper (any color) chopped
  • 2 cups dry brown lentils
  • 2 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 dry bay leaf
  • 8 cups canned or homemade chicken stock
  • 4 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 2 (15 oz) can dark red kidney beans
  1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic and chopped bell pepper; saute for 5-6 minutes or just until the vegetables begin to soften.
  2. Add lentils, cumin, oregano and salt.  Cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add tomatoes, bay leaf and stock.  Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered for 20 minutes or until lentils are soft.  Add butternut squash and continue to simmer for an additional 15 minutes.  Add beans and cook additional 5 minutes or just kuntil beans are heated through and squash is knife tender.
  4. Discard the bay leaf.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed.
  5. Serve hot with your favorite toppings, such as chopped fresh cilantro, green onions, sour cream, shredded cheese or chopped avocado.

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“Soup is a lot like family.  Each ingredient enhances the others;  each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to reach its full flavor.”  –Marge Kennedy

Second Wind

There is a significant difference between summer and fall.  In summer  I sit down after working on the farm and fall asleep; in the fall I sit down after working on the farm and I want to cook all sorts of wonderful meals. Humidity and temperatures lower and rather than sapping my strength,  I am rejuvenated and energized.

The larder is full of the foundation for many savory meals; the freezer abundant with grass-fed lamb, pork and chicken.  Being a vegetable farm we eat 3-4 vegetarian meals a week.  I love root vegetables and all winter squashes.  They are so versatile  and can be used from soups to entrees.  We stock up on butternut, spaghetti and acorn squashes, along with beets, carrots, potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic. When I consider what to make, I think about contrasts and textures.  If a squash is naturally sweet, do I want to magnify its sweetness or contrast it with a savory ingredient?  I love to use spaghetti squash to replace pasta as it compliments many sauces.  However it also can stand on its own as a satisfying entree.

When considering ingredients I think of many traditional combinations.  Tonight, rather than use the squash as a pasta substitute, I wanted it to stand on its own.  Sweet, salty, fatty, rich are all elements of this dish.  A simple salad of greens tossed with a vinaigrette and you have a satisfying and balanced meal.

Savory Spaghetti Squash:

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 lb. bacon, diced
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 cup scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • 3-4 oz. Bleu cheese (I like Roquefort)
  • 2 Tbs. clarified butter
  • 1/4 cup curly parsley, chopped
  1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut squash in half length wise and scoop out seeds.  Brush cut sides with olive oil.  Place on rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cut side down.  Bake for 50 minutes or until paring knife slides easily into flesh.
  2. While squash in baking, fry bacon in 12-inch non-stick pan until crisp.  Drain on paper towels. Set aside.
  3. Place pine nuts in dry non-stick pan over medium heat.  Toast until brown, shaking pan frequently.  Remove from pan and let cool.
  4. Once squash is done, let cool slightly.  Take a fork and scape flesh into a bowl.  Add bacon, pine nuts, scallions and clarified butter.  Toss to combine.
  5. Arrange in bowls and top with Bleu cheese and parsley.  Serve.

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“There is nothing as stable as change.”  …..author unknown

Escape to Scapes

Sometimes we neglect to see the obvious.  Subtleties elude us, and in our zeal to enjoy fresh hard-neck garlic, these tender flower heads were ignored.  In the past they were typically given as fodder to livestock. Garlic scapes are abundant at farmer’s markets this time of the year.  The window for tender scapes is only two weeks.  If scapes are left on the plant too long, they become woody and lack the tenderness that gives them their appeal. Cutting them allows the plant’s energy to go directly to the bulb.  Although previously ignored, the garlic scape is a delicious spring discovery.  Someone realized they were edible and creativity took care of the rest.

Garlic scapes can be used as an ingredient for scrambled eggs and potato salads, made into salad dressings, vinegar and pesto.  Let your imagination soar.   They are easily frozen for future use to be put in quiches, frittatas and grain salads.  This weekend I focused on making pesto using scapes, cilantro and Swiss chard.  The chard can be replaced with spinach or beet greens.  Pesto can be used as an addition to sandwiches, pizza, roll ups or added to yogurt for a dip.

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Garlic Scapes, Cilantro, Swiss Chard Pesto:

  • 1 cup garlic scapes, chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves only
  • 1 generous bunch cilantro, washed and spun dry
  • 2/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

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Blanch Swiss chard leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds, to remove chalky taste.  Rinse in cold water and squeeze out as much moisture as possible.  Put blanched chard, garlic scapes and cilantro in the bowl of food processor and process until still slightly chunky.

Gradually pour olive oil in a slow stream into feeder tube and continue to process until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.

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Divide into four 4 ounce jars and cover with olive oil to seal.  Freeze for future use.

 

“The secret to success is making your vocation, your vacation.”

—Mark Twain

To Faux or Not to Faux

Is this the question?  As someone who went gluten-free over 16 months ago, one of the biggest adjustments was bread!  It seemed more often than not gluten-free bread was an oxymoron.  Replacement ideas seemed to lack that texture thing.  When it came to alternative ideas like using veggies for pizza crust, I couldn’t even bring myself to give it a try.  Cauliflower?  You’ve got to be kidding!

Well here I am literally eating my words!  Cauliflower, that’s right, cauliflower has become my go-to veggie for a healthy bread replacement.  When I finally decided to give it a try (did I mention my stubbornness?) it was to make faux bread sticks.  I reasoned this would be a path to missing a decent pizza crust alternative.

Ricing cauliflower has been used as a substitution for white rice in many recipes; and I have used it for fried rice with great success.  It has proven to be a great idea for lowering your carbs in your diet.  You can even find it at Trader Joe’s in the produce section ready made (for those of you without a food processor).  The leap for using it as a bread substitute became an aha moment. I wasn’t completely sure, but now I’m completely sold!  I gave it to some foodie friends to try without mentioning the absence of bread and they absolutely loved it.  When I told them it wasn’t bread at all but cauliflower, they were amazed.

CAULI-BREADSTICKS

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Ready for the oven

  • 1 small cauliflower, flowerettes separated
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parley, chopped
  • 1 jar prepared marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (this will prevent it from sticking) and set aside.

Place cauliflower flowerettes in food processor bowel and pulse until finely ground and it looks like rice.  Place cauli-rice in non-reactive bowl covered with saran wrap and microwave for 10 minutes.  Let cool slightly.

To this add your oregano, salt, pepper, beaten eggs and 2 cups of the shredded mozzarella and mix thoroughly.   Pour onto parchment paper and shape into oval using your fingers.

Bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle on the remaining 1 cup of shredded mozzarella.  Bake additional 5 minutes.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley.  Cut into “sticks” using pizza cutter; serve with marinara sauce on the side.

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Fresh from the oven

“Those who never retract their opinions love themselves more than they love truth.”
Joseph Joubert

Morocca-Tori

I’m always looking for inspiration in the kitchen.  When it comes to regional cuisine, a classic dish can often inspire me to bend the rules.  For example, I love Italian Chicken Cacciatore, with its tomatoes, garlic, onions and capers.  The challenge for me was, its traditional breading always sat a little heavy.  Why not lighten it up, leave the breading off, use Moroccan spices, chickpeas and feta?  The result?  Something similar, yet completely different in tone.  Vegetarian?  Leave out the chicken completely and replace it with roasted butternut squash or zucchini.  The real focus is what the regional seasoning does in relation to everything else.  The Moroccan or North African seasoning called  Ras El Hanout (which means: “top of the shop”) can contain anywhere from 10-100 different spices. I’ve included my version of this savory spice combination.  I highly recommend making it yourself, as you can easily control the heat. I’m hooked on it and keep finding different ways to use it.  You can also find it manufactured by several companies like McCormick or the Teeny Tiny Spice Company. Served over rice, couscous or quinoa, with a simple side salad of mixed greens tossed with vinaigrette and you have a dinner that’s comes together quickly and is sure to please.

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Moroccan Chicken Thighs:

  • 6 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, sliced vertically into thin strips
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon Ras El Hanout*
  • 1 28 oz. can Muir Glen Organic Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1 cup organic chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz.) crumbled feta
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • 2 cups of cooked rice, couscous or quinoa

*Kim’s Ras El Hanout:

  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add a bit more if you want more heat)
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix all the spices together and store in airtight container.

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Melt butter and olive oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat.  Saute garlic and onion until soft, about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add Ras El Hanout and simmer an additional 2 minutes.
  3. Add crushed tomatoes and stir to combine.  Take off heat.  Spoon about a 1/2 cup of the sauce into a 8 x 8 casserole dish.  Place chicken thighs on top of sauce.
  4. Sprinkle chickpeas around chicken.  Spoon the rest of the sauce over the chicken.  Sprinkle feta over sauce.
  5. Bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes, or until bubbly and chicken thighs are done.
  6. Remove from oven and sprinkle with minced parsley.
  7. Serve over rice, couscous or quinoa.

Serves: 3-4

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“The forest not only hides your enemies, but its full of your medicine, healing power and food.”  —African Proverb

Beyond Lettuce

I’m a huge fan of salads.  I could eat one everyday, particularly since we grow so many ingredients for them during the farm season.  When I was on a restricted diet following my recent surgery (the first 10 days were liquids) what I missed the most was a variety of texture.  God, just give me some crunch, something to chew!

Often times, when purchases from the farmer’s market are limited and the choice of lettuces from the grocery store are packed in plastic containers, picked over a week ago, you simply have to get out of the box.  If you want texture you have to get beyond the Honeymoon Salad (lettuce a lone!) and look for more seasonal fare.

There are many veggies that work beautifully in the winter for salads.  Try combining both fruit and vegetables like pear and butternut squash or kale, chickpeas and pomegranate seeds.  Nuts such as almonds, pine nuts or pepitas, hard-boiled eggs and hard or soft cheeses also work.  Try all kinds of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower or one of my favorites: Brussels sprouts.

Any type of cabbage pairs well with the smokey taste of bacon or pancetta. This gives you the option of making a warm dressing with some of the fat by adding something acidic like lemon juice or vinegar.  Get creative! Seasonal winter salads can be warm or cold.  They can be the center or side of a meal. You are only limited by your own imagination!

Brussels Sprout Salad With Warm Bacon Vinaigrette:

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  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 generous tablespoon whole-grain mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 6 slices bacon, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 lbs. Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved and sliced thin using a mandolin or knife
  • 3 ounces shredded Pecorino cheese
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  1. Whisk together vinegar, mustard, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt in small Pyrex measuring cup.  Add shallot, cover and heat in microwave for 30-60 seconds or until steaming.  Stir, then cover and let come to room temperature, about 15 minutes.
  2. Cook bacon in deep 12-inch skillet over medium-heat until crisp, stirring frequently.  Drain bacon on paper towels.  Add shallot mixture off-heat, stir until combined.  Add shredded Brussels sprouts and toss with tongs until dressing is evenly distributed and sprouts are slightly wilted, about 3 minutes.
  3. Transfer to serving bowl.  Add Pecorino, dried cranberries and almonds and toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

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Serves 4-6

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“What a wild winter sound,— wild and weird, up among the ghostly hills…. I get up in the middle of the night to hear it. It is refreshing to the ear, and one delights to know that such wild creatures are among us. At this season Nature makes the most of every throb of life that can withstand her severity. ”  –John Burroughs, “The Snow-Walkers,” 1866

Beautiful Bones

As a foodie, farmer and cook, I enjoy doing many things from scratch.  With my surgery a week away, I’ve been organizing recipes for my 10 day post-op liquid diet and wanted to include some homemade chicken or beef broth. I recently came across the benefits of bone broth.  Although similar to stock, bone broth is more rich in flavor and nutrients, making it a healing food.  Gelatin, found in the joints and knuckles of bones, is one of the most prominent “super foods” for healing a troubled digestive system.  It protects and heals the mucosal lining of the digestive tract and helps to regenerate cells.  It also aids in the absorption of nutrients.  Marrow, found in the larger bones such as the femur, helps to strengthen bones and connective tissues, as well as supporting the immune system.

Bone broth is a time-honored tradition with a long history.  It is not an accident that chicken soup was given for ailments from colds to upset stomachs.  Its soothing qualities help support the immune system.  it is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can find.  It protects your joints with natural glucosamine, and the glycine in it helps us sleep better.  Bone broth is a rich source of collagen that will feed your skin, hair and nails.  The title of “super food” is well deserved.

Bone broths of all kinds are inexpensive to make and will reward you ten-fold with flavor and nutrients not found in any commercial product.  Be sure to choose your bones carefully from 100 percent grass-fed and finished cows, pastured chickens, and wild-caught fish.  Seek out a local, sustainable farmer or fisherman.  I have found that I prefer to make bone broth from chickens in a crock pot, and beef broth in the oven.  The choice is up to you.  Either way, the bottom line is that you will end up with the most rich and healthful broth you have ever tasted!

Beef bone broth ready for the oven.

Beef bone broth ready for the oven.

Beef Bone Broth:

  • 4 lbs. beef marrow and knuckle bones
  • 1/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar (I prefer Braggs)
  • 2 stalks of celery, halved
  • 3 carrots, halved
  • 3 onions, quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Handful fresh parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • Filtered water (as much that will fit into your Dutch oven
  • Himalayan pink salt
  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees.  Place all ingredients in large Dutch oven and bring to a boil.
  2. Place in oven for 18-24 hours, stirring occasionally.
  3. Let cool, remove bones and vegetables.  Strain through wire sieve lined with cheesecloth.
  4. Season with Himalayan pink salt to taste. I start with a teaspoon.
  5. Chill in large bowl.  Lift off extra fat.  Pour into quart Mason jars.
When chilled, you can see the gelatin, nutrient-dense richness of this broth.

When chilled, you can see the gelatin, nutrient-dense richness of this broth.

“Good broth will resurrect the dead.”  —South American Proverb

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