Sausage Kale Mushroom (Pasta)

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Hey, y’all. Been a while, again.

This is one of those throw-together-and-eat-it kind of meals, which I love for weeknight dinners. Find the right combination of foods, and throw it over some pasta. Or, throw it on something else. One of the beauties of cooking is finding ways to make something you love new again.

Sausage, kale, and mushrooms are a good hearty combination that (with some onions too, in most cases, and perhaps a few other additions as noted) play well in many formats. I also added beans, because I had them and why not; and, it means I need a little less meat to make a full meal—which is always a goal of mine (without sacrificing flavor, of course).

Might I suggest:
-Pizza (put on a little white sauce, or just some olive oil first)
-Tart or galette (add an egg if you need a little more of a filling for a tart)
-Tacos or tostados (add a little hot sauce or salsa and maybe a sprinkle of cheese and you’re all set)
-Over pasta, or in lasagna, ravioli, or tortellini (for filled pastas you may have to mash it up a little more and add an egg to make a real filling)
-Over other starches, like rice or potatoes (or stuffed into squash, as noted here)
-In a sandwich (probably more like a hoagie roll) with onions too. And mustard!
-As a crepe filling (add an egg or some cheese)
-Mixed into risotto (again with the cheese)
-In soup
-In an omelette
-On top of salad (I would suggest not cooking the kale for this one, but massaging it and topping with mushrooms and sausage… and probably some cheese and a nice mustard dressing)

Drumroll: all these base suggestions are viable options for a variety of other combinations too! Once you find some ingredients you like together, you’ve got a bunch of possibilities to spin them into a meal.

You already know some good combos—tomato/basil/mozzarella is probably the most classic. My job here is to try to point you to a few more, or come up with unexpected ones.  If you get bored, try these parternerships, scientifically proven to be… interesting, at least (carrot and violet? Not sure I’ve even eaten violets…).

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I had a couple different people send me an article about how Instagramming your food makes it tastes better (the short of it: because it ups the anticipation), which I can appreciate—although even as one who does fanatically take pictures of food, I’m not sure I totally buy in. I take pictures mostly to share my food remotely with other people (which upon reflection is perhaps not very nice, if it makes you drool). But I do get pretty excited about it.

There are other ways to use Instagram to document food trends too—like looking at the geographic representation of #kale posts, and lining that up with food deserts.

I am lucky enough to not live in a food desert, and to have the means to go outside of it even if I did. Not everyone has that opportunity, although it’d be great if they did.

#kale

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Sausage, kale, and mushroom pasta
Andouille sausage, or another kind if you don't like the heat
Kale
Mushrooms, your favorite kind
A few spices: a little chipotle, cumin, some paprika, salt
Pasta

Boil water for pasta. Make sure to add salt.

Cook the sausage first, either grilled, in a hot oven (rimmed pan), or on the stove (I usually do this because it’s the fastest: start with a hot pan, and add a little water at first, covering the pan to help the inside of the sausage cook. After a few minutes, remove the lid and let the water boil off. The sausage should release some juices and you can sear it in the pan).

When water boils for pasta, add the noodles and cook according to directions (al dente). Get a strainer ready in the sink for when the pasta is ready.

While the sausage is cooking, prepare the other ingredients. De-stem the kale (by sliding your first finger and thumb from the base of the stem up), and chop the stems into tiny pieces. Roughly chop the rest of the kale, and chop up the mushrooms (I like longer pieces, not squares). Remove sausage from pan when cooked and add the mushrooms and kale stem pieces (hopefully there is still sausage juice; if not, add a little oil). Sauté for a few minutes until slightly softened, then add the rest of the kale and stir fry for another few minutes. Kale should be tender and mushrooms cooked, not rubbery. Stir in spices, taste, and adjust seasonings.

When pasta is cooked, mix everything together and serve. Would be good with a sprinkling of parmesan, too.

 

Coconut Macaroons

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I may have a new favorite cookie. (Well, okay, chocolate chip oatmeal pecan are pretty much always going to take the cake (so to speak)… but these are damn good).

The pros: Super fast to make (30 min?), gluten-free, dairy-free, pairs excellently with chocolate, good as dessert on their own or as an accompaniment to something else, could conceivably be eaten for breakfast, if you also have an orange or something…

The cons: Some people don’t like coconut? And coconut doesn’t grow in Maine yet, so… not local.

I tend to not like anything terribly sweet, so when my mother and I were playing around with these at Christmas (she’s always been my baking partner, even when we don’t live near each other anymore) we decided to mix unsweetened and sweetened coconut. It has the added benefit of changing up the texture a little.

I keep egg whites in the freezer, from whenever I use only the yolks (custard, hollandaise, molten lava cakes, etc), and can then just pull them out and defrost them before using. If you don’t have them on hand, I’ve heard you can freeze the unused yolks (never needed to try it first hand, though), or you could just whip up a quick batch of pudding—and actually these would be fabulous dipped in caramel pudding.

On another note, I try to keep up a bit on countries I’ve traveled to, and there is quite a bit of interest in Denmark’s food system, from cutting food waste to antibiotic use in animal raising. They also just opened the first food waste supermarket, to try to do even more to combat the problem.

And, if you are following the debates (as you should be—especially you single women out there, we’ve got lots of political power!), you may be curious about the candidates’ positions on food and farming. I don’t know much about the R side, if they even have thought about food (not that anyone seems to have a chance to discuss actual policy in those debates), but here’s a little about Sanders vs. Clinton.

Coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate
4 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 oz chocolate, if desired (highly recommended)

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Defrost egg whites, if using from the freezer. Otherwise, separate eggs, putting the whites in a large bowl and saving the yolks for another venture.

Toast the coconut (not required, but improves flavor). Spread out on a baking sheet and bake at 350ºF or so until just golden (it goes quickly once it starts turning, so watch carefully), about 5 minutes. Turn with a spatula halfway through. Cool.

Mix together egg whites and sugar until frothy. Stir in cooled coconut (you don’t want to cook the egg whites prematurely) and vanilla.

Shape into 1 1/2 inch balls with your hands and place on cookie sheet. They won’t spread out at all, so they can be closer together than other cookies—but do give them a couple inches in between balls for air flow, or they won’t get as evenly golden.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until evenly golden and crispy on the outside. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a cooling rack.

When cookies are at least mostly cool, melt chocolate in the microwave or double boiler. Dip the bottoms of the macaroons in melted chocolate, then balance upside down on the cooling rack to cool. The chocolate will take a while to solidify completely (you can definitely eat them in the meantime, it’ll just be a little messy).

Excellent as trail nibbles on a late winter (early spring…?) hike.

Squash Soufflé

squash souffle

Hello, everyone.

You may have noticed I haven’t posted in a little while. I would like to apologize but also admit to you that I do not always prioritize my little blog: after working (and I was traveling for work a great deal in January, consuming an exorbitant amount of my time), I also like to sleep, and get outside, move my body, and yes, cook. I do sometimes cook things without telling you, or even Instagram (although it is much easier to snap a photo and post than write a whole recipe out, so that does happen more frequently).

I did have a lovely little sojourn in the city of my birth, San Francisco, where you can follow my food-biking tour around the city via Instagram. Here’s how it went: bike—Tartine (best chocolate croissant I’ve ever had)—bike—Ferry building farmers’ market—walk-Chinatown (bought tea)—walk—Rancho Gordo lunch at Ferry building, and coveting everything else—bike—Pier 39 and sea lions—bike/walk (too much hill to straight bike)—Lombard Street—bike—Ghiradelli sundae + break for digestion—bike—Chrissy Field beach relaxation—bike—Golden Gate Bridge—bike through Presidio—bike through Haight-Ashbury—tea break—bike through the Castro—bike home. Next day: Tartine round two, and a Mission burrito to take on the airplane. Not bad for a quick trip!

However, all that adventure aside, I am now home, and glad to be getting back into routine. I don’t promise to always post consistently, because I never know how life will go, but know that you are still important to me. Perhaps we can relax together.

It is time to take a breath.

You may then feel inclined to hold it for a moment, however, afraid to mess up what is breathing itself in the oven (soufflé is French for breath). Don’t worry, ovens are not as finicky as they used to be. Soufflés are not terribly difficult (although it helps to know a little French for reading about the components) but they are still exciting. I found myself warning my roommates not to yell too loudly, or open the oven before it was time. A classic soufflé is just some very good cheese in the base; but you can add puréed anything (leeks? caramelized onions? spinach?) for added flavor.

What I like about soufflés: they are showy, vegetarian main courses, good for brunch or dinner, don’t take too many fancy ingredients, are light, soft, and luscious, and present the magical powers of eggs quite magnificently.

bechamel with squash for souffle

Squash soufflé
1/2 butternut squash (or another variety with similar moisture content), roasted and puréed (maybe 2 cups)
3 tablespoons butter, plus a little for greasing the pan
3 tablespoons flour (gluten-free flour works!)
1 cup milk
A dash each of sweet paprika, nutmeg, and a little more of salt and pepper
5 eggs
1/2-3/4 cup hard cheese: gruyere or some parmesan variation if you don't have anything fancy

If you haven’t already, roast, cool, and purée the squash (can be refrigerated at this point or before puréeing if you like).

Butter a soufflé dish, or large straight-sided dish of some kind (or ramekins/small dishes if you’d like to do individual ones). If you want, sprinkle a little grated cheese in to stick to the sides. Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Make the béchamel (white sauce): Heat up the milk (I usually use the microwave, but a stove works too), warm but not boiling. Make the roux (equal parts fat and flour, the thickener): melt butter over medium heat in a medium pan, gradually sprinkling in flour and whisking to form a paste. Gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking, and continue heating (and whisking) until thickened. Turn off heat and stir in the seasonings. Let cool for a moment.

Separate the eggs into two different bowls, the whites in a large mixing bowl (you can put the yolks right in with the puréed squash, if it isn’t hot—you don’t want to cook them prematurely). When the béchamel has cooled slightly, whisk in the yolks, squash, and cheese. It will be fairly thick.

Whip the whites until they form soft peaks, but are still shiny. Fold about 1/4 of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it, then gently add it back to the rest of the whites folding it all together (gently!) until no obvious streaks remain.

Pour into the baking dish and place in the oven. Turn oven down to 375ºF, and set your timer for 20 minutes. Don’t open the oven to look, since temperature variation can cause it to fall, but use your oven light (if you have one) to watch it puff up and brown on top. After 20 minutes (although it will probably take closer to 30, so try not to be too excited), you may open your oven briefly to check. It is done when it is all puffed, golden brown, and doesn’t jiggle anymore when delicately tapped.

Remove, and serve immediately. It will fall as it sits, but remain delicious.

 

Broiler Tofu with Roasted Corn Mixture

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Friends, I have a new way to cook tofu that does not involve frying it (!). Don’t worry, I’m not going too crazy—it’s still tossed in soy sauce and put over high heat with some oil—but this time in the oven.

Plus, after all that meat at Christmas in Montana (roast beef, smoked ham, scallops (brought by me from Maine), meatloaf with pork and emu, elk, venison, lamb…) I needed something a little more my usual style. Although I am intending to buy half a pig or something similar with Christmas money (thanks, grandparents!).

It’s January (happy New Year!), so you are officially allowed to begin using up the contents of your freezer. Which may include corn (straight from the cob to your freezer) and tomatoes. And, maybe your roommates are kind enough to get you a mushroom starter bucket for Christmas, so you have a fresh supply of oyster mushrooms. Handy.

Year-end is habitually a time for reflection, resolution, and anticipation. True also in the food world. We’ve been imagining foods of the future for a while now, that still have yet to come to pass, like a food pill (sure, Soylent, you’re getting there). But maybe instead we’ll go back to our ancient roots and renew some old grains, like millet. At least we made some progress globally in 2015 regarding changing diets, and feeding the world… and we’ve got more changes, like more female farmers, to look forward to.

And some food of our own, too. You can even pretend this is healthy (okay, it probably is healthy, depending on your health stipulations) and contributing to that New Years’ diet, too, if you want. Don’t give up deliciousness or you won’t stick to your goals!

I did this with the broiler but I suspect it would be just as effective in a very hot oven, and possibly more efficient. I recommend cooking the tofu in a separate pan from the veggie mix because the tofu might otherwise absorb the excessive moisture produced by the tomatoes, diluting the soy flavor (and preventing crispiness, a real travesty).

Broiled tofu with roasted tomato, corn, mushrooms
Tofu (about 1/3 lb per person I find sufficient)
Soy sauce, a few tablespoons
Vegetable oil, a few tablespoons (separated)
Corn (frozen is fine, about 1 cup)
2-3 tomatoes, chopped (frozen or canned is also fine, if you can chop them)
Mushrooms (a large handful)
Balsamic, a dash
Coconut oil, a spoonful, if desired
Salt/pepper
Garnish: cilantro and feta

Cut up the tofu into 1/2 inch cubes. Sprinkle with soy sauce and oil in a shallow roasting pan, toss lightly, and put under the broiler. Broil for 10 or so minutes, flipping occasionally, until dark golden and crispy.

Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes and mushrooms and toss with corn, a little more oil, balsamic, coconut oil, and salt. When tofu is done, or if there’s room, put in a shallow pan under the broiler and cook the same as the tofu, 10 or so minutes until golden, flipping occasionally. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Toss the tofu with the veggies (lots of tossing we’re doing here), then crumble feta on top and sprinkle with cilantro.

Seedy Stuffed Squash

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As promised, a vegetarian (vegan if you want) version of stuffed squash. This is an entirely different dish than the kale and sausage version I posted a little while ago—a new option, rather than a substitute. Nutty, textured, and delightfully salty due to a good dash of miso.

The base for the filling is quinoa, nuts, and seeds. Mushrooms for depth, cranberries for punch, miso for umami, and a little cheese if you like for creaminess. Other vegetables would be welcome, like chopped up kale or spinach, but not needed. Extra filling would be excellent topped with an egg for another meal.

In the news: as you may know, climate change convention last week. Agriculture did not play a huge role, but there are a few hopes for carbon sequestering in the soil, and climate change-related disasters will have a huge economic impact on agriculture. In that, as with our own Congress, food systems do not yet receive the attention they are warranted. We may get there.

To keep up on those strange farm-related activities in Germany, did you hear about the herd of cattle adopting a wild boar?

In other news, please enjoy this (#starwars):

And now on to an actual recipe (of sorts. We’ve been over the no-recipe recipe deliberation).

Seedy stuffed winter squash
Quinoa
Delicata squash, or other varieties (delicata cooks quickest)
Mushrooms, any variety
Nuts and seeds: almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
Anything else you feel like (chopped kale, 
Miso, 1/2 tablespoon or so
Butter or oil
A handful of cranberries (optional, adds an exciting tang)
Secret ingredient: seaweed flakes
Melty cheese, to top

Start the quinoa cooking: add twice as much water as quinoa, bring to a boil, then turn down and let it simmer until fluffy.

Roast the squash: wash, cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and cook for 20 or so minutes in a hot (350-400º) oven, until just soft. Remove from oven.

In the meantime, compile everything else: chop up mushrooms and sauté them briefly, pull out whatever nuts and seeds you like and toast them (on a baking sheet in the oven for 5-10 minutes, watching carefully so they don’t burn).

When the quinoa is cooked, take out however much you want to make into filling and put it in a large bowl. Thin the miso with a little water, mix with butter (or oil), and stir into quinoa. Add nuts, seeds, mushrooms, cranberries, and a few seaweed flakes (we have this mix). Taste and add more seasonings, as desired.

With cooked squash cut-side up, fill the cavity with the filling mix, piling it up nice and high. Top with cheese, as desired, and place under the broiler for a few minutes, until cheese is melted and golden.

Makes for good leftovers #desklunch the next day, too (especially paired with a creamy tahini-dressed salad).

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Food Travels: Germany and Copenhagen

Well, well, back in action! I hope you missed me (but not too much).

I had a fabulous trip, not least because sharing an obsession with food is the best medium to encounter interesting, genuine, and generous people. Aiming to discover a little more about regional food systems in other countries, I managed to connect with people who were able to answer (most of) my deluge of inquiries, and I’d like to share those learned tidbits with you.

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Baklava, nom

Beginning with Germany. Food in Germany, especially Berlin, is extraordinarily cheap. There are quite a few particularly good Turkish food joints (namely falafel, döner, and gyros) because of the large immigrant population in Berlin. I also had a ball at the Turkish markets, tasting hummuses and other dips, spinach potato pastries, and buying up spices, persimmons, and tea. Europe is so close to the rest of the world, which sounds a little silly but is still challenging to actually comprehend. And it makes globalization of food, as an archetype of culture, much more apparent.

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Chestnuts! Thanks, Christmas markets

Yet I didn’t find people to be more knowledgable about the food system in Germany compared to the U.S. Many people I talked to knew more about the American food system than the European one, because there’s been a strong food movement in the U.S. to expose the evils of industrial ag, and although similar problems also exist in Europe, they aren’t as high-profile. Similarly, the dearth of vegetable consumption is not a purely American phenomenon—as with most issues, there are some people who pay attention and others who do not. In particular, we’ve helped more consumers connect to their food by sharing stories, good and bad, of food producers—something that I’m not sure is being done to the same extent elsewhere. The moral of that story is that even though I think of Europe as being more progressive than the States in many ways, we’re actually doing pretty well for ourselves here. On the other hand, there’s still lots more to learn, and I was only there for two weeks, so I remain a little biased.

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Currywurst, the classic German dish

I visited a small town with a sustainable agriculture university, Witzenhausen, to learn more about food sustainability in Germany. Similar to my own community in Maine, it felt like an enclave of conscientious food consumers, cooks, producers. Touring a grocery store with my host (a student at the university) was an informative joy—grocery shopping is one of my favorite travel activities, because ordinary experiences can tell you so much. Like finding eggs on the shelf instead of in the fridge (which has to do with cleaning regulations). Germany has a few different food labels: there’s “bio,” or biological, which corresponds roughly with organic in the U.S.; and then there another higher-level category, Demeter (after the Greek goddess of agriculture), which indicates more ecological and sustainable practices. Demeter is definitely more expensive, but in general there isn’t as high a cost differential between organic and non-organic in Germany, I think because of the subsidy structure.

History also affects food production. One of my guidebooks (Rough Guide to Berlin) informed me that sauerkraut was invented because King Frederick of Prussia established state monopolies of salt, coffee, and tobacco, and forced the citizens to buy large quantities of each commodity—so sauerkraut came out of the need to use up a lot of salt. I haven’t been able to verify this anywhere else, but I like the general concept: necessity, otherwise known as oppressive policies, is after all the mother of invention.

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Roast pork deliciousness
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Land of the fancy pastries

At the end of my Germany adventure, I tacked on a trip to Copenhagen, because I’ve heard a lot about the city and flights were cheaper (Wow Air, by the way, has super cheap flights to Europe—as long as you don’t mind packing super light and not even being served water (for free anyway) on the plane ride). And I was glad I did. Denmark has started to become known for the “New Nordic” cuisine, which is focused on local/sustainable/seasonal produce, and I was in food heaven. Much of the movement is thanks to the innovations of Noma, named the best restaurant in the world a few times. I heard some skepticism about it (serving moss and live ants, apparently), but many points for originality and the utmost care in sourcing and foraging. Chefs from Noma have then gone off and created their own restaurants throughout the city and spurred innovations of their own. I did eat a fancy new Nordic dinner one night, which consisted largely of foam sauces and thinly sliced vegetables. Fun, although I would have been more impressed if they had mixed it up a little more (four courses of foam gets a little old).

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Caramelized onion foam sauce on pork cheeks and roasted sunchokes

The other dish Denmark is known for is smørrebrød, basically a pretty open-faced sandwich, the most traditional with pickled herring. Also delicious, although the pickled herring was somehow sweeter than I expected. The first day I was there I went to Copenhagen Street Food on Paper Island, and was quite overwhelmed with the array of fresh vegetables, meat samples, and delicious smells. It’s fabulous. The Danish government actually subsidizes organic food, which makes it much more prevalent (although ends up encouraging monoculture organic, rather than real sustainable system change). Food is also generally very expensive (along with everything else) in Copenhagen, although pretty much all the social services are taken care of for you (thanks, tax money!).

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Smørrebrød is so pretty

Maybe someday I’ll move to Denmark and participate more actively in cuisine inventions and learn more about the benefits of paying taxes. Although, part of what I liked about Denmark is that it reminded me of Maine. For now I am thrilled to have triggered more food for thought and met some wonderful people, but I am quite happy to be back in my own kitchen, and my own world.

Brussels Sprouts Cranberry Salad

Brussels sprouts salad with cranberries

2015 Winter Salad #1! This is the kind of vegetable-based meal I delight in. Manages to feel healthy and hearty at the same time, and provides a good balance of different flavors and astringencies. One important note: DO NOT overcook your Brussels sprouts. This happens fairly easily; I tend to roast vegetables until quite done and caramelized, but that’s not how these work. You want them crisp but still with a good crunch, so watch them carefully in the oven.

Lots of oven time on these ingredients; save time and dishes by toasting pumpkin seeds and walnuts in large batches ahead of time. You’ll be glad you did for future food forays, or averting hanger after a long work day.

I have alluded to this before, but the time has come (the walrus said [Brussels sprouts are a kind of cabbage, so that’s not totally uncalled for. And Europe had kings at one point])! I am off to Germany on vacation next week. Therefore, do not expect a recipe (or non-recipe as is my tendency) from me in the next fortnight. Do continue to follow me on Instagram, I endeavor to post pictures of fairy tale food and other similar adventures.

Roasting pan of Brussels sprouts salad

If you come, they will build it: lessons in supply and demand from our food giants—consumer demand is changing how large corporations are handling their supply chains, labor practices, and additives. Moral of the story: keep asking for better food.

On another note, how about a suffragette cookbook? Cake against injustice (that’s my kind of subversion…)!

Or, vegetables for justice!

Vegetable-based meal rule number one: start with the vegetable (surprise!). Brussels sprouts are truly excellent roasted, as long as you don’t overdo it (remember last year’s Brussels sprouts with bacon? Nom.)

Rule #2: Add protein: nuts and seeds, in this case (otherwise: a small amount of meat (this can add flavor too); eggs; cheese; tofu; grains like quinoa).

Rule #3 (more of a guideline really, but arguably the most important): flavor! Salt is crucial. Here, cranberries and apple cider vinegar create a sharp contrast, and a little paprika on the pumpkin seeds round it out with a smoky note.

Cranberry Brussels sprouts fall salad
1lb or so Brussels sprouts
A few handfuls of cranberries
Salt and olive oil
A handful of pumpkin seeds (pre-toasted if you can)
A handful of walnuts
A dash of apple cider vinegar

Halve or quarter the Brussels sprouts (depending on size), and roast at at least 400ºF with a little salt and oil until barely tender and crispy, not more than 20 minutes. In the last 10 minutes (or right in the beginning if you want them softer), toss in a few handfuls of cranberries.

If pumpkin seeds are not toasted yet (I usually just do it whenever roasting a pumpkin/squash), spread out on a baking sheet with a little salt, oil, and paprika (smoked or otherwise, depending on preference), and toast in the oven for at least 10 minutes, scraping up and flipping halfway through, until golden and crackly.

Toast walnuts on a baking sheet until fragrant and crunchy, about 5 minutes. This can happen while the Brussels sprouts are in the oven.

When sprouts are ready, toss with a little apple cider vinegar, then mix in the rest of the ingredients, salt to taste, and serve.

Other vinegars, like balsamic, would also substitute if you want something a little richer.

Auf wiedersehen!

Creamy Mushroom Sauce

mushroom cream sauce

Have you been finding any mushrooms in the woods lately?

I haven’t. I don’t feel like I know quite enough yet (working on it though, because wandering through a forest + finding food is a dream life), but! I have a few friends who are adept foragers, and I’ve been fortunate enough to reap the benefits of their forays.

Mushrooms are very strange animals (okay, not animals. But, they might be closer to animals than plants). I used to not like them at all, then finally my dad convinced me to try morels (thanks, Dad). Nutty, textured, with a fantastic scent, they’re probably still my favorite, although it’s been a long while.

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(not morels)

Regardless of what else I do with mushrooms, usually the first step is to fry them up in plenty of butter. Some kinds soak it all up immediately, and although others don’t need quite as much, my recommendation is to not skimp on the fat. You don’t want them to burn. Besides, eating more delicious, flavorful foods might prevent you from overeating! How’s that for incentive (we all know that fat is flavor)? In all seriousness, there are some foods that make me feel gross post-consumption (mostly sugary ones), and I have never felt unhappy about this.

Quite the contrary.

This sauce is versatile and can be made with pretty much any mushroom (other vegetables too, for that matter). I sometimes add leeks for extra nuance and spinach to get some greenery in there, but neither are necessary, and if you have spectacular mushrooms I would focus on their flavor instead.

mushroom cream sauce

Creamy mushroom sauce
Butter, plenty of it
2 handfuls of mushrooms, any variety (morels and oyster mushrooms are my favorite)
1/2 to 1 leek, or 1 onion (optional)
A few handfuls of spinach (it will cook down a lot; optional)
Cream: maybe 1/2 cup, depending on how much liquid you want
Salt and pepper

If foraged, check the mushrooms for bugs and brush them off (mushrooms soak up water, so use minimal water). Tear apart with your hands, chop with a sharp knife, or leave whole, depending on the variety and how big they are. Wash and chop leeks, if using—I like mine in thin strips a few inches long. Wash and roughly chop spinach.

If using an onion, thinly slice and caramelize—sauté over high heat stirring frequently, then turn down heat and cook until soft and dark brown. You can add the mushrooms right to this, then continue with the cream.

No onion: melt butter in a pan. Sauté mushrooms over high heat, until they start to brown and soften. Add leeks, and more butter if needed. Stir in salt to taste. When leeks are soft (this will take some time), pour in cream, stirring, then add the spinach and turn off the heat. The spinach will wilt, the cream will thicken and darken from the mushroom coloring, and the whole thing will have this mouth-watering dark rich smell.

Serve over pasta, or whatever else you like eating with creamy deliciousness, and crack some pepper on top. Shave on some parmesan if you’re feeling it. You will be quite happy.

mushroom cream sauce on pasta

P.S. If you’ve been following some of what I write about the overall food system and are upset about it, here’s 5 things you can do right now. 

Kale and Sausage Stuffed Delicata

stuffed squash

This was in my CSA newsletter a few weeks ago, and is very worth sharing. I’m sure I’ll make a vegetarian version sometime soon, although the sausage was so, so tasty… Not great timing perhaps, as we just learned (or perhaps were only reminded) that red and processed meats cause cancer. Not a huge surprise. Of course the meat industry says not to discriminate and that meat is an important part of a balanced diet, which although not untrue isn’t a great defense for not cutting down on meat consumption (reading through the double negatives: lobbyists are biased and eat less meat). You can do that after you’ve made this.

I would guess that a pig you could’ve met has less carcinogenic potential than something raised in a factory. At least you can buy organic meat. Old news by now but did you hear about how Bhutan, that tiny Asian country somewhere between India and China, aims to be 100% organic by 2020? Quite a feat, although perhaps less difficult without an entrenched industrial agricultural complex as we have here—even our version of organic has been co-opted. Similar to Maine, Bhutan has small pockets of viable land tucked into mountains and hills, which makes organic and permaculture more cost efficient. Maybe we should start measuring gross domestic happiness too, and we’d get there sooner.

Instead, we live in a country where the idea that diet and the sustainability of the planet are related is too much for us, according to the recent dietary guidelines. Michael Pollan and co have exactly the right idea, we need a national food policy, and as Mark Bittman adds, it would help if we encouraged our political candidates to talk about food. It seems like a no-brainer: food and agriculture in particular has the ability to transcend political boundaries, uniting staunch conservatives and hippie young democrats. I imagine any issue with that much potential voter power to be tantalizing to politicians. But, finding ways for people to work together across party lines is not exactly our current political spirit.

My other great political theory at this point in life is that if we fed everyone delicious food all the time (which is not something that everyone has access to, but that’s a story for another time), they’d be in a more convivial and collaborative spirit. Cooking provides a handy metaphor, by combining various ingredients into something new and more fulfilling than the separate ingredients alone. Here, the sweetness of the squash plays very nicely with the fatty sausage, a little vegetable oomph from the kale, texture from the grain…and salty creaminess is what cheese does best.

I would’ve made this wth rice but ran out, so ended up cooking barley instead, and loved the texture. Use whatever grain suits your fancy, or endures your pantry.

Sausage-stuffed delicata squash
2 or 3 Delicata squash, halved lengthwise 
lb sausage (your choice) 
1 1/2 cups cooked rice, or other grain
A bunch of kale, minced 
One (or more if you like onion) large onion, diced 
Garlic (3 or 4 cloves, minced)
Grated cheddar
Salt, pepper

Cook the rice/grain, if you haven’t already, and chop the onion, garlic, kale.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Wash squash, cut in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and guts. Place faceup in a pan or a rimmed baking sheet and add a little water. Start to bake while you prep the other ingredients.

Heat up a pan over medium-high, and brown then cook sausage through. Remove from pan, leaving the drippings, and chop up as fine as desired, or remove from casing. Add onions and garlic to pan and start to cook until slightly translucent, then add kale. When cooked, mix in rice, sausage, and salt and pepper to taste (make sure to taste. You may have extra filling, I doubt it’ll present a huge challenge).

When squash is soft (easily punctured with fork, 20-30 min), remove from oven and fill with stuffing mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and place back in oven, under the broiler if you want it crispy, until cheese is melted.

Remove, serve, and stuff your face.

Cream Cheese Leeks on Cheese Biscuits

leek cream cheese

Lunch, breakfast, dinner. It matters not. Not for these. Something like a classic bagel topping, but lighter, greener, and a little cheesier.

I adore leeks. And as it is now fall (you can feel it in the air and see it in the brilliant trees), they are quite available, and looking for attention. Let them shine on top of a simple cheese biscuit, with plenty of cream cheese.

Something about the cold weather is making me crave cheese and butter and all I can think about at work is coming come to bake something fatty and delicious. Good job body, preparing for winter. (You should too)

You may be interested to learn that my style of no-recipe teaching recipes is somewhat of a trend, as it happens. I think it’s a good one—after all, you can learn how to follow rules all day, but eventually shouldn’t you eventually know why they exist, and begin to create your own? (We should probably all go into policy, following that prescription.) It is indeed not about the recipe, but engaging you to think about food: the way certain vegetables lend their flavor to other parts of a dish, the composition that blends to create a whole mouthfeel. Yes, there are some ingredients that need to be exact—baking is particularly stickling (hence the detailed measurements below)—but more important are the ideas. The Internet is awash with recipes; I aim to offer you not only ingredients and methods but a conception of a meal, a menu, a combination, at the very least.

If you ever have questions, let me know.

Leeks on cheese biscuits with cream cheese
Biscuits:
2 1/2 cups flour 
1 tsp salt 
1 Tbsp baking powder 
¾ tsp baking soda 
1/2 cup cheddar, or other hard sharp cheese, grated
8 Tbsp cold butter (1 stick)
1 cup yogurt 

Leeks (1 per person, assuming you like them)
Butter, salt
Cream cheese

Make biscuits: Preheat oven to 425ºF. Blend all biscuit ingredients except yogurt in food processor (or knife/pastry blender) until a sandy texture, with small nuggets of butter, similar to making pie crust. Stir in grated cheese without destroying the large grated chunks, then add yogurt and pulse; mix until almost forms a ball. Roll out on a floured board about 3/8 inch thick. Cut out circles (big or small, depending on the crowd and what you want—large size is better for topping with leeks) and place on baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or so, until golden on top. Remove from oven, take off baking sheet and let cool for a few minutes on a rack.

Slice leeks lengthwise and clean. Sauté with butter and salt over medium-high until soft, shiny, and slightly caramelized.

Cut biscuits in half, slather with cream cheese, and drape with leeks. Add a little fancy salt and pepper if you’re feeling decadent. If you want something heartier (again, lunch/breakfast/dinner, top with a fried egg, or some salmon (smoked or otherwise).

leek cream cheese