Thursday, April 26, 2012

Coconut Granola

The changes in my diet, like the changes in my body when I lost my plethora of poundage, were slight rather than drastic. But slight change after slight change later, my eating habits between now and 5 years ago are night and day. The biggest thing of course is that I eat virtually no “processed foods”. (I put it in quotes because I know some people get picky over what denotes processing. But I think we all know what I mean.) Know what happens to your body when you stop eating stabilizers, emulsifiers, and preservatives? Fantastic things. You start feeling better because everything in your body starts working better. I’ve always thought of it almost like getting off drugs. Err, not like I’ve ever been on drugs. But basically I weaned my body off of what now feels like substances that were noxious to my inner-workings.

It too started small. I gave up mayonnaise and ice cream to save on calories. I gave up boxed cake and brownie mixes when I started baking from scratch. And I gave up packaged condiments like bbq sauce when I discovered I could make my own (with whiskey!). After a few months of clean living I could never go back. Not because my domestic goddesshood was the ultimate road to enlightenment (well that too), but because my body went on strike whenever I would try to eat the foods I had since cut out. The worst culprit, and thus my favorite example, is mayonnaise. REAL mayo is awesome. Like a whole other substance. It’s a shame Best Foods gets away with calling the slop in their jars, mayonnaise. Store-bought mayo, the stuff that can sit on a shelf for months on end and never grow green chest hair, makes me feel sick. Like it wants to come back up, sick. As if my body is saying “What IS this deluge of non-food substance we have had the misfortune to experience?! Get it out!” It’s so consistent, in fact, that I am now the fake-aioli detector at restaurants. I can tell when a place boasting “roasted red pepper aioli” is really blending together eggs, garlic, and oil with roasted red peppers into creamy deliciousness, or simply opening their Costco-sized jar of white goop and mixing in some jarred red peppers. Unfortunately, I can only tell after I’ve eaten it. And it always involves me wishing I hadn’t.

Some people say, “Well I don’t want to have that kind of reaction to food, so I’ll just keep on eating my processed foods.” And I always say, what you put in your mouth is your business. But personally I’ve never regretted leaving processed foods behind. I like that my digestive system is now so used to real food that it protests the fake. I like knowing that I’m eating real food, all the way down to the condiment. But I was a hold-out on some things. Mostly, my breakfast habit of a bowl of Kashi Go-Lean Crunch cereal (honey almond flax flavor, thankyouverymuch). I thought I was starting my day off right, a great whole grain post-workout nutrient mix of protein, carbs, and fiber. Only I would often get a small upset feeling in my stomach after I finished breakfast, even though I didn’t think I had overeaten.

Then I found an article online. Now, I have searched high and low for this article again. Never found it. But that’s ok. I’m not so much interested in discussing the information in the article, just how it got me thinking. It had said that the way food manufacturers processes grains to “puff” them - which is what they do in all those “healthy” cereals so they taste airy and crunchy, rather than soft and chewy like boiled grains - actually releases or involves some kind of compound that is actually toxic to the body. So the food I ate for breakfast every day was toxic. Perhaps that’s why I was having trouble digesting it. I’m not saying if you eat puffed grain cereals you are poisoning yourself. After all, it was information I got online, from one source, and I couldn’t even find it again. I’m saying that information got me to re-examine my breakfast routine, which gave rise to a new breakfast routine.


I wanted something as fast and easy as cereal, and something with a good amount of carbohydrates for recovery after my morning workout, and protein and fiber to keep me full until lunch. And granola fit the bill. I started off by playing around with the ratio of ingredients on Nutrition Data and adjusting the quantity when the sugar was too high or the fiber too low. Then I experimented with batch after batch, tweaking ingredients (soaking/par-boiling and baking barley was a total disaster, coconut flakes were a huge win) and altering cooking temperatures until I finally had the recipe I wanted to use over and over again. And I have been! For several months now. I actually didn’t even think to share the recipe until I started seeing granola recipes popping up left and right. Some even used ingredients eerily similar to mine! That’s the great thing about granola - there are infinite variations to make it your own. This is just the one I prefer.

And for the record, I haven’t gotten a stomach ache after breakfast since I stopped eating the Kashi.

The granola starts out as most do, with oats and nuts. I prefer almonds. The sesame seeds might sound a bit odd, but I love the flavor they add. They are an underrated food in my opinion. I tried to keep the added sugar low, but some is necessary to keep the granola crispy and clumpy, as good granola should be. I decided orange juice was a good way to coat the mixture and add a touch of sweetness without going overboard. It helps that I seem to always have a plethora of oranges from my CSA to use. Definitely don’t leave out the salt, though you can reduce it if you like. Since all the nuts and seeds are unsalted, it’s really needed to make it palatable. Plus electrolytes in the morning is a good thing, right? It might seem strange to use egg whites in granola, but this was a bit of a revelation for me. I could get the right consistency of the granola without adding more sugar than I wanted to. The egg whites were a great help with this, and with a bit more protein as a bonus. I tried this recipe both with coconut oil and olive oil. Both were tasty, but with subtle differences in flavor. Since they are equally healthy in my book, I say use whichever you prefer. I tend to stick with coconut oil. The recipe is so variable, in fact, that I went ahead and made some suggestions at the bottom of the recipe. Followed by the nutritional information. You’re welcome.

One thing to note about this granola is to watch your portion size. It’s much higher in nuts and seeds than regular cereal, and a little nuts and seeds go a long way. If you just dump a bunch in a bowl and fill it up, you’ll be downing quite a few calories needlessly. The fiber and protein in just a small amount will keep you satisfied for longer than you might think. 

 I absolutely love this granola, it has really helped me build a breakfast routine that works for me. And it comes together so fast that I can pop a batch in the oven before dinner on a weeknight.  But it actually plays only half the role in my breakfast. A third of a cup of nuts and oats in a bowl is rather a sad sight, dontcha think? So I’ll go ahead and get super personal and share my full breakfast routine with you. Don’t judge me. Unless you think I’m awesome - then judge away. Loudly.

First off, I always top my morning granola with a scoop of ground flax seeds. Why not just put flax seeds in the granola? Well I’ve read that the body doesn’t break them down so well and whole seeds tend to, well, go right through. Again, not sure if it’s true, but I actually like the flavor and consistency it gives the milk, so I just go with it. Then I slice up a banana. Yes, I’m one of those people who has to eat a banana every morning. I heart them. I get it from my dad, apparently. My mom is decidedly not a fan. Because people who aren’t fans of bananas always seem to be rather decided about it. Have you noticed? When the whole family gets together she is called upon to buy gobs of bananas, since the siblings, spouses, and offspring in my family are all avid banana eaters. Poor woman. And because I’m a fruit pig I like to ensure a bit of variety in my diet, I usually add half (or thereabouts) of another fruit - whatever is in season; apples and pears in winter, mangoes and strawberries in spring, stone fruit in late summer. As much as I love to bake with fruit, usually what I bring home ends up breakfast. I top it off with a healthy splash of 2% milk (I’ve been toying with the idea of switching to whole milk, but I'm still unconvinced), add a cup of coffee on the side, and that’s my post-workout breakfast!

So tell me, what’s your breakfast routine? Spill it! Are you one of those evil people who cooks bacon in the morning, making the neighborhood smell heavenly, and at the same time torturous to those out running, smelling your bacon smells without getting to eat your bacon eats?


Makes 27 (1/3 cup) servings

5 cups old fashioned oats
½ cup wheat germ
½ cup raw pepitas
⅓ cup roasted & unsalted sunflower seeds
⅓ cup raw sesame seeds
1 cup raw sliced almonds
½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes, crushed
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp kosher salt
⅓ cup melted coconut oil (or olive oil)
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3 TB molasses
3 TB maple syrup
2 egg whites

  1. Preheat your oven to 275 degrees.
  2. In a very large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (the oats through the salt). In a small bowl combine all the wet ingredients (the coconut oil through the egg whites). Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until everything is well coated.
  3. Spread the mixture onto a half sheet pan or two smaller pans lined with foil. Bake for 75-90 minutes total. Remove the pan from the oven after 30 minutes, and using a spatula, flip the granola so it bakes evenly, trying to disturb the clumping as little as possible. Check it again after another 30 minutes and flip again. The granola is done when the oats have turned a golden brown and you are hypnotised by the lovely smell. (Note: If you don’t have 75 minutes and want to speed it up, go ahead and bake it at a higher temp for less time. I wouldn’t go over 350 degrees, and I would check it every 15-20 minutes.)
  4. Cool the granola completely then move it to the container of your choice. I use a gallon ziplock bag, but I’m on the lookout for a greener option. It keeps just fine in an airtight container for a few weeks (mine has never lasted more than 2 - as in, I finish it).

Alternative ideas:
Play with the nuts and seeds. Try adding chopped walnuts or cashews; flax, hemp, or chia seeds.
Play with the fat. I tried olive oil and it was delicious. Butter or another oil that can withstand the moderate oven temperature would also work.
Play with the sugar. Try honey, coconut sugar, or brown sugar. Mango nectar would be tasty, I think.
I always eat fresh fruit with my granola, but you could also toss the baked and cooled granola with all sorts of dried fruits like blueberries, cherries, golden raisins, and chopped dates.
If the egg whites skeeve you out but you don’t want to sacrifice the clumps, add more sugar.

Nutrition Information:
1 serving (1/3 cup) 

171 cal
9 fat
4 sat fat
78 mg sodium
17g carbs
3g fiber
4g sugar
6g protein

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Crave-ably Healthy Veggie Wrap

Healthy eating (and on the flip side unhealthy eating) seems to ebb and flow. It can be affected by the season, the weather, and especially holidays. December was cookies and prime rib and champagne. January was green smoothies and citrus salads and new gym memberships. Now it’s February and the juice cleanses are over. Wings were consumed. Red velvet is everywhere. Sees is booming with business. We might have overindulged with our sweethearts. I know I did!

I’ve noticed one of the keys to keeping myself in check is watching how extreme I let those ebbs and flows get. I’m too delicate to handle crazy yo-yo’s in my body. And by delicate, I mean panic attacks on the scale, inconsolable by Husband. And by panic attacks and inconsolable, I mean about a half a second of whining while Husband drops the obligatory, well-rehearsed “I’m sorry”, thinly veiling the fact that he’s not really listening to me. (I never blame him. Thankfully, he’s well used to my crazy.) In other words, I prefer to balance mostly healthy eating with regular small indulgences, rather than hard, fast weight loss and weight gain. And really, I think the key is how you approach that mindset. If I were drinking beet juice and bland chicken soup for a week, then I’d be hard-pressed to resist that giant bowl of macaroni and cheese I’d been craving that entire week. Because when you’re eating foods you don’t enjoy, you think about the foods you’re denying yourself that much more, right? I know I do!

A diet shouldn’t feel like diet. In fact, the word diet should denote the foods you have a tendency to stuff into your facehole, rather than being defined by the foods you pointedly do not stuff in your facehole. It’s a small distinction, but one that makes a big difference.  Last week, I told a friend who was lamenting her bland bowl of chicken & vegetable soup (and craving bacon in its place) to nevermind the bacon. If she was going to eat soup, she should make it good soup and then eat the heck out of that soup. Sure, the grass is always greener. Get over it! Instead focus on being happy to eat what you’re eating. Feeling sorry for your dinner is a cop out. Food doesn’t have to be a gazillion grams of fat and tetragillions of calories to be something to savor. If you’re soup is bland, try adding gobs of hot sauce and cry tears of pain triumph when you power through it. Or maybe just a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten it up if masochism isn’t your thing. Say you made a salad of carefully chopped fruits and vegetables, every color of the rainbow represented, and while beautiful to behold, you still feel like a bit of a rabbit chomping grass. Try sprinkling in just a few goodies - crumbled goat cheese, a handful of sliced almonds, toasted pepitas. The added protein will make it more filling too. Or experiment with making your own vinaigrette. They are quick, simple, and with all the fancy oil & vinegar options out there, as varied as your imagination! Your side of steamed brown rice? Try sprinkling on some salty seaweed or add some fresh ginger while it’s cooking to boost the flavor. Adding coconut milk in place of some of the cooking water is my favorite!

Break the cycle of denying and indulging. Instead choose healthy options every day, prepare them with love - not necessarily time, just consideration - and when faced with your result look it straight in the plate and say “I am going to eat the heck out of you and love every minute of it!” Now that’s eating mindfully.

Take this simple veggie wrap. Sure, it looks pretty ho-hum. It sounds pretty ho-hum too. But let’s look closer. I used a whole wheat lavash sold by my favorite local market (I heart you forever, Jimbo’s!). It’s just flour, yeast, salt, and water. Or something like that. It’s soft and airy and slightly chewy with a nutty flavor - totally different from a Mission flour tortilla. I made my own hummus. Only because I like making hummus. But really because I'm cheap and dried chickpeas are cheaper. They also sell pretty awesome hummus pretty much everywhere nowadays. This is the wonderful world we live in. My hummus had roasted garlic and a ton of roasted tahini. I’m a sucker for both. At first I thought about adding cheese, but decided avocado would be better. The creamier texture and richer fat flavors were just right. This level of health food must take flavor and texture punch wherever it can be got! I used baby spinach and sprouts. Not lettuce. I’m not much for the crunch of lettuce in wraps, and it’s too watery. Sprouts taste so wonderfully grassy. Wonderful might not be the word that springs to mind when you think of something tasting “grassy”, but my mind was a pasture-raised bovine in a past life, apparently, because grassy sprouts make me swoon. It’s all about balance, really. Grassy sprouts in the same bite as creamy avocado? Good stuff. I went a little crazy and sliced up some of my favorite local fresh tofu. Plain. Because it gives me something silky to sink my teeth into. Because apparently good quality tofu does have a bit of flavor. And it’s quite tasty.

Substitution potential on this wrap are out of bounds. Tortillas for lavash. Arugula for spinach. Black bean, white bean, or lentil purees instead of traditional hummus - or a flavored hummus. Baked, marinated, or spice-rubbed tofu. Leftover shredded chicken. Canned tuna or salmon. The possibilities are endless.

But wait! I have yet to mention the best part. This wrap would be a sad story indeed without the piece de resistance. The pickled red onions and carrots. The acid. The crunch. The life of this wrap. I used to pass-over recipes that called for pickles. How complicated! Not so. Can you make ramen noodles on the stove? Then you can make pickles. Err, with a few more ingredients, and a bit more chopping (unless you buy pre-cut!). It’s just a matter of time. Stewing time. Not stove time.

So to recap, this simple encasement of bovine-approved greenery, pulverized and fermented legumes, luscious Aztecan fertility fruit, and mouth-puckeringly preserved roots is not food you dream about cheese pizza while eating. O-ho no. Before taking your first bite, behold its glory and say “I am going to eat the heck out of this puppy!” I know I did!

But, you know, with small, slow bites. Mindful eating, people.

Crave-ably Healthy Veggie Wrap

1 whole wheat lavash
1 handful fresh baby spinach leaves (~1/2 cup)
½ cup hummus
¼ avocado, sliced
½ cup sprouts
3 oz. firm tofu, thinly sliced (optional)
1 small handful pickled red onions & carrots (see recipe below)

  1. Lay out the lavash in a hamburger orientation. (As opposed to hot dog, naturally.) Down the center of the lavash lay out a flat layer of spinach leaves. Over the spinach, spread the hummus in an even layer, then top it with the avocado slices. Spread the sprouts along the side of the hummus. Lay the tofu over the top, if using. Top everything with the red onions and carrots. Roll up the wrap and enjoy! 
Note: I don't recommend cutting the wrap in half, and it tends to lead to more spillage than it's worth.

Quick Pickled Onions & Carrots

adapted from Simply Recipes

1 large or 2 small red onions, julienned
3 large carrots, julienned
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup white distilled vinegar
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the vinegars, sugar, water, and salt over medium heat until the salt and sugar has fully dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.
  2. Place the onions, carrots, and bay leaf in a seal-able container and pour over the cooled liquid. The onions and carrots should be fully submerged in the liquid. Cover the container and refrigerate at least 8 hours, and up to a week. The onions and carrots will soak up more pickle flavor and break down in texture the longer they marinate.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Browned Butter Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Spiced Bourbon Pumpkin Glaze

Because everyone else is doing it. That's an acceptable reason to do something, right? All the predictions of what 2012 will bring got me thinking. It always does. I’m always wrong. Let’s move on.

Julie’s Grand Food Trend Predictions of 2012!
[Let’s be honest, this list is grand as in lofty. My lofty notions of what I wish 2012 would bring. One can dream, right?]

  • First off, I just need to say that macarons are not a new trend. They’re an old trend. They are not the new cupcake. Cupcakes are not out. Both are delicious, infinitely adaptable to many flavors, and portable - and thus will remain around until people decide they hate sugar. Cakepops, pies, donuts, and any obscure French pastry may join alongside them, but they will not replace them.
  • Already trendy vegetables will find new ways of staying on peoples' plates. Kale chips and roasted Brussels sprouts are so 2011. They’ve officially been introduced to the masses. Now that the initial shock has passed that these past-maligned veggies are as tasty as they are nutrient-dense, we’re ready for new ways to eat them. Less approachable ways. Like raw! Massaged kale salads and shredded sprouts slaws I’m looking forward to seeing you on a restaurant menu or two! One can dream...
  • Quick pickles. 2011 was the year of savory canning. We discovered we could mass-produce not only blackberry jams and dill pickles, but also our own tomato sauces, and pickles of the non-cucumber variety. And kimchi? That was a craze all its own. While acidic, fermented foods are fabulous in their funkiness, who has time for all that? Tossing crunchy raw veggies with a quick salt/vinegar/sugar solution produces quick and refreshing results to liven up richer dishes.

  • Approachable game. Game meats are nothing new, but I’ve traditionally seen them at nicer restaurants, setting their menu apart by offering something beyond just the same ol’ proteins. I’m all about fine dining on squab leg and venison loin, but I think we’ll see more rabbit burgers and wild boar meatloaf - more casual restaurants using game to reinvent the classics. Because, inextricably, the classics are always boring and need reinvention yet we are unwilling to let them stray too far from our forks.

  • Exotic spices are no longer very exotic. You know smoked paprika has arrived when you can buy it in the big bulk container at Costco. And that’s a great thing because smoked paprika makes a lot of dishes more yummy, and I go through it, well, in Costco quantities! Finding cardamom used to be such a treasure hunt, I would covet the lone jar I was able to locate, only breaking it out for the most appropriate of flavor pairings. Now each spice company not only sells garam masala right alongside the curry powder, but I’m thinking we’ll see ras el hanout and zaatar in the near future as well.
  • Food trucks and craft breweries are reaching critical mass, a girl can only get ripped off eat and drink so much, but they are another trend that’s not going anywhere. I foresee the not as well executed places falling on hard times while the real gems will be just fine. After all, both of these trended so hard in the first place because of crazy internet buzz. People will still buzz about the places that are worth while. And yes, sour beers are the new IPA. Glad I’ve finally started developing a taste for them.
  • I have no idea what the next diet fad will be, but vegan and gluten free have proven to be such a profitable marketing scheme for food companies, I’m sure something will pop up. Perhaps something as simple as sugar-free? Sugar is the latest evil, after all. But I just don’t see that happening. It’s also an addiction. While I might disagree, the world at large would argue that eggs (runny eggs!) are not habit forming. Nor is sourdough bread. Supposedly. If I had my way, the next fad would be “reasonably sweet”. I’m all for sugar, just not in the ridiculous quantities we use currently.

That’s it! My wishlist for 2012. Can we get on this, people? Take to the interwebs! #hashtag things! If we can get runny yolks on rabbit burgers at Applebee’s by September, I’ll learn to brew killer beer at home and give you all a bottle. Promise.

This whole exercise was really just to distract from the fact that I’m posting a recipe with nothing more than this grainy Instagram picture a couple of shoddy pics I shot on my iPhone. The holidays have really thrown me for a loop and come 8pm on a Tuesday night I am decidedly unwilling to break out the fancy camera to get the money shots while I drool all over the floor in anticipation of stuffing my face with the confection in question. Sorry.

The confection in question contains really amazing things that will make you drool everywhere too. Browned butter. It’s very 2011. It makes things buttery (obbbbviously), with a nuttier flavor. You know how I love the nutty flavor. … Please resist the dirty joke I just opened myself up for. We have cake to talk about. Pumpkin cake. Oh yes.  We’re not over the pumpkin yet are we? Good. Because it’s delicious. I know come December 1st, every fiber of my being screams for gingerbread flavored anything. But this cake is very heavy on the spice. Including ginger. Not pepper though. Good in gingerbread, but cardamom is best when it comes to pumpkin. And of course it has bourbon. The smokey flavor goes swimmingly with the browned butter. Bourbon, browned butter, and pumpkin. In a cake. You can forgive the picture now, right?

And let’s not forget the glaze. I love glaze on a bundt cake. The way it oozes over the cake when you first mix it. Watching it harden into a shiny shell, like it’s protecting something precious. Because it is protecting something precious. Unless you mixed up the salt and sugar. Then it's not so precious anymore. Then there's the panic that sets in when it slides right off the cake because you didn’t thicken it enough, as you hurry to scoop it up and re-pour it so you can get adequate glaze coverage. Oh yeah, that’s another reason I didn’t take any beauty shots. Thicken it right, people. You won’t want any paltry coating of this glaze. I used the remaining few tablespoons of the canned pumpkin puree in the glaze to boost the pumpkin oomph. And of course more bourbon. Oomph indeed! With the maple syrup and spices, I wanted to eat just a bowl of glaze. I might have licked a scoop or two off my finger, but you'll never know for sure.

So here’s to pumpkin, a food that will always be trendy. And delicious.  And remember to always brown your butter.

Please resist the dirty joke I just opened myself up for, and instead tell me what you'd like to see hit it big in 2012.

Browned Butter Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Spiced Bourbon Pumpkin Glaze

Cake adapted from Sprinkle Bakes

For the cake:
6 oz. (¾ cup) unsalted butter
8.5 oz. (2 cups) AP flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp salt
7 oz. (1 cup) granulated sugar
7.5 oz. (1 cup) firmly packed brown sugar
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup Greek yogurt, room temperature
3 TB bourbon
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 TB bourbon
1 TB maple syrup
2 TB pumpkin puree
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp nutmeg (optional)
pinch of fine sea salt
1-2 TB milk, if needed

For the cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a bundt pan with baking spray.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the butter turns a rich, golden brown, swirling or stirring often so it doesn’t burn. Keep a watchful eye. It goes from brown to black very quickly. Pour the browned butter into a small bowl and let it stand until cool but not solidified.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, Greek yogurt, vanilla, and bourbon until well combined. Whisk in the browned butter until it’s well blended. Stir in the flour mixture and mix until it is just combined.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes, then remove it from the pan and cool it completely on a cooling rack.

For the glaze:
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, bourbon, maple syrup, and pumpkin puree, until the mixture is smooth and there are no lumps. Add the spices and salt and whisk to combine. Add the milk (if needed), a small amount at a time, until the glaze is thin enough to pour and drip, but thick enough to stay mostly on the cake. Glaze too thin will pour right off the cake. If it’s too thin, add more powdered sugar until your desired consistency is reached.
  2. Drizzle the glaze over the completely cooled cake. Give it a few minutes to set up, then slice and enjoy.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pumpkin Ravioli Surprise

My Ode To Dough:

Here’s how my crazy brain works: rather than a measure of your skill in the kitchen, I think a recipe’s degree of difficulty is more like your investment in making it from scratch vs. just buying it.  Muffins, pancakes, and cookies are totally worth making at home because they’re easy and taste a thousand times better.  But a rustic ciabatta loaf?  I can hear my mom in the back of my mind saying “why go through all that work when you can just find a good bakery where they make it better than you anyway?”  Because let’s face it - bread is hard.  Your yeasts can be temperamental and sluggish.  Your gluten can be obstinate and unpliable. Your environment can cause changes in moisture absorption and and rising times.  But you don’t have to be a bread-whisperer or anything.  It’s a matter of practice in some cases - like getting a feel for working the dough, and knowledge in others - like learning that when you use water that’s too warm you kill all your yeasts.  Oops!

So why do I waste my time?  Because it’s fun and rewarding!  Because I like knowing there’s nothing in my bread except flour, water, salt, and yeast.  And because I don’t always have access to a good bakery!  So while I won’t say bread isn’t an undertaking, I will say if it’s something that interests you, you should give it a go.  It takes time to perfect, but not necessarily prone to disasters of epic proportions. The trick is finding someone to walk you through it.  This is where Nicole of the wonderful Pinch my Salt comes in.  She’s posted a plethora of bread recipes, always with great step by step pictorial instructions and lessons to learn.  Essentially, she makes bread baking a whole heckofalot less scary.

Back in September Nicole posted a day by day set of instructions for how to create your own wild yeast sourdough starter.  From scratch!  Using just water, flour, and a little pineapple juice to start.  In case you’re wondering the pineapple juice is used because the acidity helps the right kind of bacteria to grow, which is what the wild yeasts come to the party to eat.  Err, or something like that...?

I love sourdough bread.  I love that tangy, sour flavor.  I love the smell.  And Husband has a special soft spot for it too.  We’re both Bay Area natives, after all.  It’s in our blood or something.  But sourdough starters scared me.  Sent me for the hills.  Arms flailing.  All that. Even after I conquered my fear of yeast, this blob of gloppy mess gave me pause.  But there was something about the bubbles and the way the blob would climb up the jar a little more each day.  It was like a pet, but one you wouldn’t feel too bad about accidentally killing.  Tamagotchi!  And on top of that, Linda from Salty Seattle was posting her usual food porn featuring sourdough recipe (linguine with chocolate lamb ragu? omg!) after sourdough recipe (sourdough pumpkin beignets with pork belly? Hello!).  Those two trouble-making ladies have since gotten together and declared this month in the name of Doughvember.  

Good thing I had already decided to take the plunge and my starter was already under way!  I am now the proud owner/parent of my very own sourdough starter.  I grew/birthed it myself!  It did take a couple of tries, and it was touch and go there for awhile, but I think we’ve ultimately reached a delicious understanding.  I feed it - it feeds me.  Here are some lessons I learned in my failed and almost failed attempts (most of it either wisdom directly from Nicole or online resources pointed out to me by Nicole - she rocks!):

  • It’s easier to create a starter with whole wheat flour instead of refined flour because the sugars in the whole wheat provide more food for the yeasts to feed off of.
  • If your starter is a bit sluggish at the get-go, it can be helpful to stir it once a day or so, just to redistribute stuff.
  • After day 5 or so, when you’re feeding it twice a day, it helps to move to a scale.  Measure 8 oz. of starter and mix in 4 oz. flour and 4 oz. water. And make sure your water isn’t too hot or cold or you’ll kill/scare away your yeasts.
  • When you’re ready to move your starter to the fridge, cover it in plastic wrap with a few holes poked in it.  That way the yeasts can breathe, but the blob won’t dry out.
  • When adding your starter to recipes, 1 cup of starter can replace approximately 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of water in the recipe.

My favorite recipe to use my extra sourdough starter so far has been these sourdough crumpets from Chocolate & Zucchini.  They take literally 10 minutes to make, start to finish (7 minutes of that is letting your pan heat up), making them invaluable for a quick weeknight meal accompaniment.  It helps that they’re flipping delicious too - like a tangy, savory pancake.  I’ve also tried throwing a little starter in pumpkin muffins and cream cheese biscuits, to great success.  It really just adds a hint of something extra.  

I ended up making Salty Seattle’s sourdough pasta recipe.  I would recommend halving it, unless you truly have an army to feed.  Half was plenty for the chocolate lamb ragu I made (recipe coming!), and after making pumpkin ravioli for dinner last night, I still have a small dough left for a rainy day.  I wasn’t going to blog the ravioli.  It was an experiment.  I didn’t even really expect it to turn out edible.  But thank goodness it did because I had no backup dinner standing by, and now I can tell you all about the magic of egg yolks inside pasta dumplings.  Oh yes, these raviolis featured a raw egg yolk placed in the center of a filling with pumpkin, pistachios, sage, shallots, garlic, and Parmesan cheese.  Every good thing, right?  It was like hiding all the magic of a poached egg inside for a nice surprise.  I cooked the ravioli long enough for the yolk to cook to about the point of a poached egg.  It’s hard to judge because you don’t know how done it is until you eat it, right? I did a test run before I cooked the rest, just to be sure.  I would recommend it.  But one fork-pierce and out runs the yolky goodness!  It’s heaven.  Pure heaven.  Who needs marinara?  The pumpkin and pistachio filling was a sweet accompaniment that actually paired wonderfully with the richness of the egg and the slight tang of the pasta dough (remember, it’s sour!).

So while my lame ineptitude prevented me from having the foresight to get a money shot of these babies - the one where you see yolk running from the center like an erupting volcano - I did remember to write down the method to my madness, so you can give it a go and see the insanity for yourself.  You’re welcome.  
Doughvember, for the win!

PS: Why yes, I am addicted to instagram. Feel free to follow me at bananasforbourbon!

Pumpkin Ravioli (with an egg yolk - surprise!)

Makes 8 raviolis (these are rich, so I would say that’s more than 2 portions)

~ ¼ batch of this recipe for sourdough pasta dough
1 large shallot, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
6-7 leaves of sage, minced
1 TB olive oil
pinch of kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ cup white wine
1 cup pumpkin puree
¼ cup pistachios, lightly toasted and cooled
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
lemon juice (optional)
8 egg yolks

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots with a pinch of salt and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two to soften.  Add the pepper and nutmeg and stir to incorporate. Add the wine and bring it to a simmer.  Once the wine has reduced by about half, or a little more, remove it from the heat and let it cool.
  2. In a food processor, finely grind the pistachios.  Add the pumpkin puree, Parmesan cheese, and the cooked shallot mixture.  Process until the mixture is smooth.  Adjust the seasoning to your taste.  Add a little lemon juice if it needs some brightness.  Add the mixture to a ziplock bag (or pastry bag if you want to be fancy), and cut the corner so you can pipe it.
  3. Roll out the pasta dough into very thin sheets.  I don’t have a roller, so I did it by hand.  You’ll need about a 4 inch square to work with.  Pipe the filling in a circle, leaving about an inch-wide circle of open space in the middle (about the size of your egg yolk).  I didn’t measure, but I’d say it was about 1-2 TB of filling.  Basically, you want about ½ inch of thickness and ½ inch of height for the filling, or about the level with the yolk.  Carefully place an egg yolk in the middle of the filling.  Place a sheet of dough on top and gently press around the filling, sealing it as tightly as possible.  Then press a little firmer to make sure the dough it good and sealed.  Cut out the ravioli with a glass, a biscuit cutter, or just a knife.  I opted for about ¼ - ½ inch between the edge and the filling.  Repeat this for as many ravioli as you want to make.
  4. In a pot of gently simmering water, add the ravioli.  Make sure the water doesn’t boil too hard, or you raviolis could fall apart, and make sure it’s not set too low or once you add them, it’ll take too long to come back to a boil.  Boil the ravioli for 4-5 minutes, depending on how runny you like your yolks.  
  5. Remove the ravioli from the water, and add them to whatever sauce floats your boat.  I did a simple olive oil drizzle (with good olive oil), since the yolks are essentially all the sauce you need, but I’m sure tossing them with some browned butter and sage would be divine too.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Halloween Trifle

I’m going to drop some embarrassingly honest Julie history on you.

A few years ago I ate out pretty much every meal except breakfast. My gourmet kitchen offerings back then? Something along the lines of 2 cans of chili dumped in a bowl with a package of shredded cheese, sour cream, and a jar of salsa, microwaved until melty and disgusting and enjoyed with a giant bag of blue corn chips. No joke. We called it nachos and boy was it ever delicious. Generally, we were happier to pay someone else to prep our plates, so we’d stop at Rubios or Panera. I’d order something one might consider on the healthy side - by comparison to some of their other offerings - a burrito bowl, or a cup of soup and half sandwich. But let’s be honest, I couldn’t say no to just one fish taco on the side, or a stop at Maggie Moos next door for ice cream.

I never exercised with any regularity. I couldn’t run for 5 minutes, let alone a mile. Even the sensation of my heart rate in the proper cardio zone had me asking my doctor if I had exercise induced asthma. Oh, you mean it’s supposed to feel like I’m gonna keel over and die? Ick! There were bouts of motivation where Husband and I would trek out to the gym for a couple of hours - once or twice a month at our best - and eke out some semblance of a workout. But wouldn’t you know it, I only ever put on pounds. Maybe it’s because we’d always stop at Jamba Juice on the way home from those workouts?

I admit, I was a victim of the Chili’s quesadilla explosion salad - the one that famously caught flack when they started posting the nutritional stats on their website. The “healthy option” many of us were outraged to learn actually had 1200 calories. But let’s not blame Chili's for my dissatisfaction with the scale. The choice of where to eat and what to order was all mine. In the end, my seemingly good habits were bad habits, and my bad habits were downright disgustingly awful habits. No wonder every shopping spree had me wondering why the clothes kept getting smaller and smaller!

So what changed? Looking back, everything. But not all at once. I didn’t wake up one day and say to myself "From this day forward I will change all my habits." Heck no! When did it change? I can’t even pinpoint how long it’s been since I lost that first pound. It was so gradual and non-purposeful. Has it really been almost 3 years?  I started reading a food blog or two. I tried a recipe here and there to pretty good success. I started going for walks, and playing around on that new-fangled Wii Fit. I did things that required a small, doable change. And when I got comfortable with that routine, I did a little more.  Can you believe just being a little more mindful of the choices I made and being a little more realistic about what those choices meant would get noticeable results?  How noticeable?  Well, I lost that first pound.  The hardest pound of my life.

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts by food bloggers I follow talking about their struggles with balancing food obsession and a healthy lifestyle. It really got me thinking about my own weight loss journey, and looking back, my food obsession and weight loss developed hand in hand. Go figure.

Now that I eat salads heavy on vegetables and light on dressing (and no cheese quesadillas on top), I can work in a little dessert without totally undoing my day. Like cookies. And mousse. And curd. All together in a trifle. I had never made a trifle. I would even go so far as to say I didn’t think I was much of a trifle person. But I take it back! Trifles are as awesome as the delicious components that are their makeup.

This trifle came about so very randomly. I got a bag of oranges four CSA shipments in a row. I was overwhelmed with oranges! But I didn’t want to just juice them. I wanted to really use their orange essence in something that would showcase their awesomeness. Because oranges are awesome. Sweet. Acidic. So I decided to make a curd. Despite the unfortunate name, curds are delicious. They’re bright and tart; sweet and creamy. But generally not something to enjoy alone. They’re a great accompaniment. 

Accompany what? Chocolate, of course! I originally considered pudding, but Husband requested chocolate mousse. Good call. So glad I listened. The light as a cloud, bittersweet mousse contrasted so nicely with the heavier, creamier sweet yet tart curd.  And this curd was all about the orange essence.  I didn't just use orange juice, you see.  I reduced it first. So I could get as much orange flavor out of those babies as possible!  And if you have to ask if I boozed it up, do you even know what blog you’re reading? I opted for Grand Marnier in the chocolate mousse to compliment the orange curd, and bourbon in the orange curd because I love the dimension the smokiness adds.

The flavors together were wonderfully indulgent, and the layers of orange and deep brown made me think instantly of Halloween. But I wanted a crunch element for texture, and what’s a Halloween treat without pumpkin? I love pumpkin! It pairs great with chocolate and orange. So I made the crunchiest cookie I could think of: biscotti! Pumpkin biscotti to be exact. It’s crunchy yet slightly crumbly texture was perfect for crumbling in between the chocolate mousse and orange curd layers, or leaving whole and dunking.

Who needs chili reminiscent of dog food in nachos when you can have this?  Definitely a small change for the better.

Any personal Halloween confections being made in your house this year that are strictly for personal, non-treat-or-treater enjoyment? 

Halloween Trifle

Makes ~8 individual trifles, depending on your container, or 1 big one

4 cups chocolate mousse (recipe below)
3 cups orange curd (recipe below)
8-10 pumpkin biscotti (recipe below)
  1. In a 4-6 oz. glass container (like a glass mug or jar), spoon in a layer of chocolate mousse, about 2 TB. Add a layer of orange curd, a little shy of 2 TB. If you want the biscotti crumbled directly into the trifle, crumble about ¼ of the cookie over the orange curd. Continue layering until you reach the top of your container, ending with a chocolate mousse layer. 
  2. Repeat for as many containers as you would like to prepare.
  3. Alternatively, if you are doing one big trifle, just follow the same procedure, but increase the quantities until you have an inch or so for each layer (or however you prefer it!). 

Chocolate Mousse

Adapted from David Lebovitz

Makes 6-8 servings

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used 70%)
6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup dark-brewed coffee
¼ tsp of sea salt
4 large eggs, separated
⅔ cup, plus 1 TB sugar
2 TB Grand Marnier (or bourbon)
1 TB water
½ tsp vanilla extract
  1. In a bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, melt together the chocolate, butter, coffee, and salt, stirring frequently. Once smooth, remove it from the heat to cool down.
  2. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
  3. In another bowl set over the pot of gently simmering water, whisk the egg yolks with the ⅔ cup of sugar, liquor, and water for about 3 minutes until the mixture is light and thick, like runny mayonnaise. Whisk constantly so the yolks don’t curdle. 
  4. Set the bowl with the egg yolk mixture in the bowl of ice water and beat until cool and thick (it will make thick ribbons when you bring your whisk out of the bowl). Then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks. It might look broken at first, but just keep mixing, and it’ll smooth out.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand if you have the stamina), beat the egg whites with the salt on medium-high speed until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not completely stiff (don’t over-beat!), then add the vanilla and mix on low to combine.
  6. Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then in two increments, fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don’t overdo it or the mousse will lose volume. It’s ok to have a few white streaks.
  7. Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm.

Orange Curd

Adapted from Ina Garten

Makes about 3 cups

4 oranges, at room temperature
¾ - 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from the 4 oranges above)
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
¼ cup bourbon (or Grand Marnier)
⅛ tsp sea salt
  1. In a small saucepan, bring the orange juice to a rapid simmer and reduce until you have ½ cup of liquid. Set aside to cool.
  2. Remove the zest from the oranges with a vegetable peeler or zester, no pith please. Put the zest in the bowl of a food processor. Add the sugar and pulse until the zest is very finely minced and evenly distributed among the sugar. 
  3. Cream the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the sugar/orange zest mixture and beat on medium speed until it is light and fluffy, a few minutes. Add the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, then add the reduced orange juice, liquor, and salt. Mix until combined.
  4. Place a mesh strainer over a medium bowl and set aside. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over low heat stirring constantly for about 10 minutes, until it is thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon (~175 degrees if you have a candy thermometer). Be careful not to overcook, or it will curdle. Remove the mixture from the heat and pour it through the strainer set over the bowl. Refrigerate the curd until fully cooled, a few hours. It will thicken further as it cools.

Pumpkin Biscotti

adapted from Simply Recipes

Makes about fifteen cookies

1 ½ cups of flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ginger
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp kosher salt
2 eggs
½ cup of pumpkin purée
1 TB bourbon
1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and spices.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin purée, bourbon, and vanilla extract. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture. Give it a rough stir to incorporate the ingredients.  The dough will be crumbly.
  3. Flour your hands and a clean kitchen surface and lightly knead the dough until it is uniformly mixed. It will be a little on the sticky side. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, form the dough into a large log, about 1 inch tall and 15 inches long. Bake for 22-28 minutes, until the center is firm to the touch. 
  4. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Let the biscotti cool for 15 minutes and then, using a serrated knife cut into pieces about an inch wide. Lay the cookies flat on the baking sheet and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Let them cool completely.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fall Vegetable and Beef Bolognese

Fall is here. Almost. I’m ready for warm stews and casseroles. Almost. I’m ready to stop eating anything that doesn’t involve a whole can of pumpkin. Getting there. But it’s also still sunny and warm out. I’m still hanging on to the late summer peaches and plums. And does zucchini even have a season in San Diego? Seems like I can get it locally and cheap year-round. Fine by me! So I made this sauce. It’s warm and comforting like I’ve been craving, but I don’t even have to turn on the oven. Because this sauce is made, for the most part, in my crock pot. How about that? Don’t use that thing nearly enough. With my uber-busy new schedule, this recipe is definitely one I’m remembering when it’s Wednesday night and I haven't got much in the way of food for Thursday.

This sauce is a bolognese. It’s got beef (but you could totally use turkey, chicken, or bison if you want to be fancy). It’s got milk and wine, which sounds weird, but actually makes the meat flavor more succulent and delicious. True. Besides the tomatoes, it’s chalked full of other vegetables. Because I’m me, and I up the veg. Always. It all bubbles away all the live long day or night and when it’s done it’s chunky and meaty and savory. I would argue one doesn’t even need to serve this on anything besides a spoon headed for my mouth. 

But I didn’t serve it that way. I didn’t serve it over spaghetti either. Or penne. Or bowtie. Not even spaghetti squash, though I’ve done that before and I highly recommend it. I had red potatoes and an idea. I roasted those suckers until they were cooked through. Then I carefully smashed them flat, about ½ inch thick. Then I heated some olive oil in a skillet, and fan fried my roasted/flattened potatoes until they were golden and crispy on the outside and soft and wonderful on the inside. Then I topped those suckers with my bolognese. Then I ate them. Well, the ones Husband would let me get to. Men really are all about steak and potatoes at heart, aren’t they?

But that explains the funky pictures. That and the fact I was photographing my lunch container for the next day. But don’t let the funk fool you. This sauce is just what the don’t-leave-me-late-summer-it’s-almost-fall season calls for.

Fall Vegetable and Beef Bolognese

adapted from The Kitchn

Makes about 8 servings

1 TB olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 medium eggplant, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
8 oz cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef
⅛ tsp nutmeg
a few pinches of kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
1 cup white wine or dry sherry
2 28 oz. cans of whole peeled tomatoes, drained and finely chopped (juices reserved)
1 cup reserved tomato juices
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped for garnish

  1. In a large saute pan or pot heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and let it sit, undisturbed for a few minutes until it browns. Flip the beef over and break it into pieces using a wooden spoon or spatula. Once the other side has browned, remove the beef from the pan and set it aside. Lower the heat to medium and add the onion, celery, and carrot with a pinch of salt and cook until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Add the eggplant, mushrooms, and zucchini, and cook until their water releases and evaporates, another 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, and then add the nutmeg, black pepper, crushed red pepper, and another pinch of salt. Add the beef back into the pan and any juices that have accumulated, and stir to combine.
  2. Stir in the milk, bring it to a simmer and cook until the milk has reduced completely and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes. Stir in the wine and simmer again until reduced completely, about 10 minutes.
  3. In your slow cooker, add the beef mixture, the chopped tomatoes and one cup of the reserved tomato juices. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on HIGH for 6 hours or LOW for 8 hours.
  4. In the last hour of cooking, make sure the cooking temperature is set to high and remove the lid to allow any excess liquid to evaporate and reduce the sauce. Stir every 15 minutes or so, until the sauce is chunky.
  5. Serve over pasta or smashed roasted potatoes, and garnish with chopped parsley and Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sautéed Swiss Chard and Mushrooms with Chicken Sausage

Life is crazy. Life is a whirlwind. Confession: I am a homebody. A shut-in at heart, though not in practice. I like spending my evenings quietly with my husband and my dog, my days in simple, solitary tasks that allow for personal reflection. But I’m a complicated woman. Local breweries throw parties, my favorite restaurant tempts me with wildly amazing new burgers (a lobster-crab patty and a wagyu beef patty together, and that was only half of what all came on it! Words cannot describe...), wineries want me to come pickup the wine I’ve ordered while pouring me glass after glass of their wares, family visits and the sights must be shown. People I know inexplicably want my company more often than I’m able to give it. I can’t say no to any of it. I’ve been having fun. Why is fun so durn tiring? It’s all I can do to bake a batch of cupcakes to research recipes and flavor combinations for my nephew’s second birthday cake. That’s happening. Remember last years? I’m really excited to share it with you when the time is right. Oh, and did I mention I’m changing jobs? Again. I’m scared. It’s new and challenging, but also old and familiar. And completely crazy and unexpected. Hopefully it’s the right decision. We never know until we know, right? So life is a whirlwind. But it’s also full of love, fun, and opportunity. It’s exciting and engaging. And most importantly, there are cupcakes.

With all the libation partakage, face-stuffing, and uncharacteristic socialbility, it can be hard to maintain one’s girlish figure. It’s a constant...I want to say battle, but that’s not the right word. I’m not at war with my body. It’s more like I need to keep constant vigilance! I’m at war with my fatty fatty fat fat. If I let my guard down, it’ll sneak in and squat. Not cool. So even though I despise waking up at 5am to fit in a decent workout before work, I despise forgoing drinks and dessert far more. Even though some days I want to quit my run at mile 3, I push on to mile 5 and follow up with a couple sets of burpees and jack-knives because I want to have a good time out with my friends, and not feel guilty if I don’t order a shamefully made salad that will ultimately leave me feeling hostile towards the establishment. Burpees are the bane of my existence. My motivation is my lifestyle. I like it. I want to keep doing what I’m doing. But I like my body too. I’m healthy. I feel good. My clothes fit. It’s all about the choices we make and the priorities we set, right? Finding that balance. 

One way I offset my weekend escapades is to cook as deliciously healthy as possible during the week. You know, cook vegetables. The stuff most restaurants seem to stubbornly shy away from except in the most fleeting capacity. I get so disappointed when a dish boasts of a protein and starchy side resting on a bed of, say, Swiss chard, and the reality of what’s presented before me is a mere morsel compared to the gluttony of the other components. Proportions people! How about a whole big bunch of Swiss chard? And fungus is uber-healthy. Lots of vitamins and fiber and not much else. And ingestion is supposed to help prevents cancers and other lethalities. Not to mention mushrooms are a huge source of “umami”. Which, since I’m not Japanese and most of my vocabulary is construed as some form of English, I tend to refer to as “earthy”. Wonderfully earthy. So let’s throw a heap of mushrooms in there too. And how about some protein? It doesn’t need to be a giant hunk of meat on top. It can be the flavor base of the dish. The thing that makes it deceptively filling. And if your grocery store happens to sell a fantastic chicken and mushroom sausage behind the meat counter? Well I think you should tell Mr. Meat Counter Man to pack you up a couple of links!

As a quick weeknight meal, this simple saute of Swiss chard and mushrooms and chicken sausage was a pleasant surprise. One of those meals I didn’t plan, didn’t expect to be anything exceptional, and upon tasting, immediately ran to write down the recipe while it was still fresh in my head so I could make it again and again. One of those meals Husband made lots of quiet grunting noises while eating between expressions of fondness for the dish. It was, unfortunately, not long for this world with such ardent admiration. But I snapped a pic or two and here I am to share it with you.

Besides coming together fast, it’s also very adaptable to what you have in the fridge. I think Swiss chard works best, but collards or kale would do. Cremini mushrooms are a bit more rich in flavor, but button mushrooms are mighty tasty too. I love the flavor of dry sherry and mushrooms, but a dry white wine would be a lovely substitution. No sausage on hand, but a crisper drawer full of bacon? Well it’s not quite the same, but I’m sure it would still be pretty dang tasty. Whatever dry or fresh herbs that tickle your fancy would be nice, but thyme and tarragon fit that bill for me. Freshly squeezed orange juice was all the sweetness and acidity I needed, but a squeeze of lemon juice and a touch of honey could be just the thing. Just promise me one thing. If you do use Swiss chard, don’t throw away those bright and delectable stems! Their color not only adds an enticing hue to the dish, but you paid for a bunch of chard. Why are you going to throw half of it away? Let’s practice root to leaf practices here, people. It’s like celery. It just needs some time and love, but you’ll be glad you did.

Sauteed Swiss Chard and Mushrooms with Chicken Sausage

Makes about 6 servings

1 lb. fresh chicken sausage (I used a chicken mushroom), or any preferred sausage
1 yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems chopped and leaves cut into ribbons
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried tarragon
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry sherry (or wine)
¼ cup fresh orange juice (~ ½ a juicy orange)
kosher salt to taste
2 TB olive oil, divided

  1. In a large skillet (preferably cast iron), heat 1 TB of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once it is good and hot, crumble the fresh sausage evenly into the pan and let it sit undisturbed for a bit to brown. Flip the sausage for the other side to brown, and using a spatula or wooden spoon, break up any large chunks that are sticking together. Once the sausage is browned and cooked, remove it from the pan to a plate and set aside.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium, and if it is needed, add the second TB of olive oil. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute until it is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the Swiss chard stems and cook for another 3-5 minutes, until they have begun to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, until it is softened and aromatic. (This is around the time people in your household will comment on how good it smells)
  3. Add the mushrooms with another pinch of salt, as well as the thyme, tarragon, and black pepper. Cook the mixture until the mushrooms have given off their water, shrunken, and the water has mostly cooked off. Add the sherry to deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan. Let the mixture simmer for a minute so the sherry can slightly reduce and concentrate. Add the Swiss chard leaves and the orange juice and cook until the leaves have wilted and softened, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the sausage, and any juices that have pooled on the plate, back to the pan and simmer for a couple more minutes so the flavors can fully marry together.