Chard and Tepary Bean Saute with Quinoa Pilaf

Cooking is such a pleasure this time of year. With the farmers markets brimming with beautiful, local produce, the hardest decision of my week seems to be deciding how to spend my farmers market allowance. Strawberries always take up a good chunk of the budget in June (more on that later in the week), and I cannot resist the beautiful bunches of rainbow chard.

Chard is easily my favorite of the hearty, leafy greens. Kale’s probably a close second, but I adore the way the delicate chard leaves softly wilts into any dish. And unlike kale, you can just chop up the lovely pink stems and throw them right into your dish, so there’s no waste. Last night, I had our friends Kris & Paz over for an impromptu dinner and I whipped up this delicious saute with the chard, tossing in a bunch of other veggies I had in the crisper. A good balsamic brings the dish together, and the golden raisins add just a touch of sweetness. To give the meal a little heartiness, I cooked up some tiny tepary beans, and then served it over a quinoa pilaf. With the crisp rose Kris brought over, it was a perfect summer meal with wonderful company.

Chard & Tepary Bean Saute
Adapted from Naturally Ella
Serves 5

1 1/2 cups cooked tepary beans (or other small, white bean)
1 large bunch of rainbow or swiss chard, stems separated from leaves and chopped. Tear leaves into bite-sized pieces.
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin
1 T olive oil
1/2 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup golden raisins
3 T pinenuts, toasted
2 T balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

Quinoa Pilaf
1 T butter (or olive oil)
1 1/2 cup dried quinoa
1/2 onion finely minced
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup white wine
2 1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper

  1. Making the quinoa: Heat a 2-3qt, non-stick pot over medium heat. Add the butter and melt. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute until the onions begin to soften, 3-5 minutes. Add the wine, water, salt and a few grinds of black pepper, cover and bring to a boil. When boiling, pour in the quinoa, stir and simmer (without stirring) for 12-15 minutes until the germ separates from the quinoa (that’s the little curly-cue things). Turn off the burner and remove the pot. Let it sit for another 3-5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. The quinoa will stay warm enough while you cook the rest of the meal. (Alternately, saute up the onions & garlic, and then toss everything into your rice cooker on “quick steam” setting – will take about 30min.)
  2. Sauteing the veggies: Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the oil and when it’s hot and shimmering add the sliced onion and chopped chard stems. Saute for 3-5 minutes until the onions begin to soften. Add the minced garlic, chard leaves, raisins and saute just until the beans are heated through and the chard wilts. Add salt & pepper to taste, and drizzle with 2 T balsamic vinegar, and toss to coat. Serve on a bed of quinoa pilaf.

Chard: 170 cal per serving, 60cal from fat, 6g fat, 300mg sodium, 370mg potassium, 26g carbs, 6g fiber, 10g sugars, 5g protein
Quinoa pilaf: 189 cal per 2/3 cup, 35 cal from fat, 4g fat, 150mg sodium, 45mg potassium, 29g carbs, 3g fiber, 5g protein

Tepary Beans – Rancho Gordo
Inspiration: Naturally Ella
Old Town Oil website

Chana Dal

Sabera is one of my very favorite bloggers. Over on One Life to Eat, she shares simple recipes from her homeland, India. Sabera has taught me a few of the subtle techniques in Indian cooking that really make the spice combinations sing. Like dropping black mustard seeds in hot oil to hear them crackle and pop before sauteeing the onions. The aroma of the spiced oil is amazing and immediately reminds me of my favorite chana masala dish at the small Indian cafe in our neighborhood.

A couple weeks ago, there was a beautiful 60 degree, sunny day…seems like ages ago now, as we’ve been stuck back in the high 30s with gale-force winds for days on end. I took advantage of the good weather and got my bike out for my first ride of the season. I went down to the Indian/Pakistani area on Devon Avenue in Chicago to stock up on spices and lentils so I could make a few of Sabera’s recipes. Biking down Devon is a sensory experience. As you coast down the small hill into the Indian corridor, the smell of spices wafts from open shop doors and the aroma of roasting meats from the Kebab houses makes your stomach rumble. Biking also allows you to take in all the sights at a slow pace, so you can stop and wander into any shop that looks interesting – not to mention that parking a bike is MUCH easier than parking a car in this bustling neighborhood.

Patel Brothers
grocery is a spice-lover’s haven. The walls are lined floor to ceiling with cubbies full of spice packets, many of which are unfamiliar to this Midwestern woman. Luckily, Patel is well-staffed, and I had a personal guide through the shop to help locate everything on my list – and then some. Returning home, I dove into the kitchen to soak some chana dal (split chickpeas) so I could make this dish the next day. This is a really simple dal, and I loved the heartiness of the split chickpeas which retain most of their structure after the dal is made. Sauteeing the onions with the whole spices and curry leaves really made a huge flavor impact on the finished dish. I don’t often cook with curry leaves, but every time I do, I’m reminded of how important they are, adding a wonderful fragrance to any dish and a light curry flavor without a lot of heat.  If you enjoy dal, I’d encourage you to give this one a try!

What’s your favorite kind of dal, or your favorite chickpea dish? Share your chickpea obsessions in the comments below…

Chana Dal
Adapted from One Life to Eat
Serves 6

2 T olive oil + 1 T coconut oil
2 cups Channa dal (Split Chickpeas) washed well and soaked overnight in a large bowl, covered in at least 3″ of water
1 large onion chopped
1 can diced fire roasted tomatoes
3-4 curry leaves
1 T black mustard seeds (same as brown mustard seeds)
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4 cloves chopped garlic
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 T fresh grated ginger
3/4 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp Garam masala
Salt to taste
A large handful of chopped cilantro
Lemon wedges for garnishing

  1. Heat large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and when it’s hot and shimmering, add the mustard, cumin seeds and curry leaves. When the seeds start to pop and splutter, add the onions and saute until the onions are translucent and soft – about 5-7 minutes.
  2. Add the ginger & garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook until heated throough. Add the chopped bell pepper and add all the dry spices and cook for another 5 minutes.
  3. Drain off all water from the soaked chickpeas, rinse and add to the pot. Add enough water to almost, but not quite cover the beans. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the beans are done, but not mushy – about 2 1/4 hours. Stir the beans occasionally as they cook. (Note: bean cooking time will vary, so it may be more or less time for you). If the beans soak up all the liquid while cooking, you can add a bit more as they cook.  Add salt to taste.
  4. Chop a big handful of cilantro and stir it in at the last moment, reserving a few leaves to garnish each bowl. Serve with brown rice, or Indian breads (roti, naan, paratha). Add a wedge of lemon with each bowl for seasoning.
300 cal per 1 cup serving, 45 cal from fat, 9g fat, 410mg sodium, 150mg potassium, 43g carbs, 8g fiber, 4g sugar, 15g protein

Thai Pork Stir Fry

I haven’t been eating out much lately, due to a couple of gluten cross-contamination incidents that have laid me flat. Such is the reality of living with celiac disease – every pot, pan and surface is suspect if outside your control. A mere morsel of gluten left inside a wok can make me ill for several days, making eating out a lot less exciting (unless you find several days of migraines, brain-fog and stomach ache thrilling).

This week, I was really missing our favorite chicken Ga Prow Kai stir fry from Thai Spice. It’s a classic Thai dish with both heat and a hint of sweetness, liberally spiked with wonderful Thai Basil, served over rice and topped with a wok-fried egg. I had neither chicken nor Thai basil in the house, but I did manage to hit the essence of my favorite dish, even if I lacked the high-heat searing of  a restaurant wok.  The trick of making stir fry at home is in cooking the individual components separately (using the largest flat-bottom skillet you have), so that you don’t crowd the pan and steam the food instead. Take it slow, and try separating the elements of your stir fry into batches so that everything is cooked perfectly, then put it all together with your sauce right at the end.

What’s your favorite way to wok-up a stir-fry at home? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Thai Pork Stir Fry
Serves 4
1 lb lean ground pork
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced thin
1 bell pepper, sliced
2 tsp grapeseed oil, divided
1 large shallot, sliced
1 jalepeno, seeded and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T fish sauce, divided
1 T fresh ginger, grated, divided
2 T cooking sherry
1 T honey
1 T hoisin sauce
2 T chili garlic sauce
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 scallions, sliced
  1. Crumble the pork into a bowl. Pour 1T of the fish sauce and half of the ginger over the pork and mix gently with your hands. Set aside (and wash your hands).
  2. In a small bowl, combine 1 T fish sauce, 1 1/2tsp grated ginger, 2 T sherry, 2 T chili garlic sauce, 1 T hoisin and 1T honey and stir, dissolving the honey into the liquids. Set aside.
  3. Heat a 12″ non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1tsp oil, then add the onion, carrot and bell pepper. Saute for 3-4 minutes, until the carrots begin to soften, but still have a little crunch. Scoop the veggies out of the pan and into a bowl and set aside.
  4. Turn the burner down to medium low, and return the pan to the heat. Add the last teaspoon of oil to pan, then add the sliced shallot and jalepeno and saute for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the heat low enough so that you don’t burn the aromatics.
  5. Turn the burner up to medium. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30sec. Add the pork to the pan, and stir. Brown the meat until cooked through, the add the vegetables back to the pan and pour the sauce over the meat & veggies. Stir to combine, then add the cilantro and scallions and serve over brown rice.

260 cal per serving (excluding brown rice), 60 cal from fat, 6.5g fat, 90mg cholesterol, 1080mg sodium, 130mg potassium, 15g carbs, 2g fiber, 40g protein

Basil Hummus

When I took the gluten-free plunge 8 years ago, I found parties to be particularly difficult. I LOVE food (as you may have guessed), and the sight of a party table loaded with treats that I could not eat made me so sad. At the start of my long climb back to real health, I ate a very restricted, simple diet to help heal my wounded digestive system – “snack” foods were out. As I racked my brain for ideas of what I could bring to a party to eat – my love affair with hummus began. I then arrived at every party with a platter of chopped veggies and exotically flavored hummus in hand.

Homemade hummus is worlds better than most of what you find stacked in shiny plastic tubs at your local grocery. And if you take the extra step of cooking your own chickpeas (Rancho Gordo, of course) – you’ll really have something revelatory on your hands. Once you’ve got your chickpeas cooked, all hummus takes is a few ingredients and a spin in the food processor to make a high-protein snack that satisfies.

This particular version is my summertime favorite – a hummus that is green in color from all that fresh basil whipped into the beans. While the season is currently far from summer, I did stockpile a bunch of pureed basil and olive oil in the freezer for these cold months, so I popped a couple of the thawed herb cubes into the mix.

Now that I’ve learned to eat wide and deep into the world of fresh foods, I don’t feel at all handicapped when attending parties and my dish-to-pass is likely a little more interesting than a bowl of hummus with veggies. A scoop of hummus and a bag of chopped veggies is still a favorite treat for afternoons at the office, and my friend Rachel also reports that her 2 year-old daughter loves this hummus,  so it’s a kid-approved snack too!

What’s your favorite way to enjoy hummus? Share your thoughts in the comments below…

Basil Hummus
Serves: a party

1 clove garlic
3 cups of home-cooked chickpeas
6 T tahini
2 T olive oil
1/4 cup water
juice of half a lemon
dash of cayenne
1/2 cup packed basil
salt & pepper to taste
  1. Combine the tahini and olive oil in a measuring cup and stir to combine. Set aside. Combine the water and lemon juice in a cup and set aside.
  2. Place the clove of garlic in the food processor and pulse until minced. Add the chick peas and cayenne and puree for a minute until pulverized. Scrape down the bowl. With the machine running, pour the water and lemon juice in slowy. Stop and scrape down the bowl again and add the basil leaves. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the tahini/oil mixture. When the mixture is smooth, stop to taste it – add salt & pepper to taste. If it still needs to be thinned out a bit, add in a little more water and pulse for a few seconds to incorporate. Serve with hearty tortilla chips, crackers or veggies.
  3. Alternate variations for hummus: Instead of basil, drop in a couple of roasted red bell peppers. Or, add a hefty spoon of your favorite mild chile powder or smoked paprika for an exotic feel.

70 cal per 3T, 30 cal from fat, 3.6g fat, 75mg sodium, 80mg potassium, 7g carb, 2g fiber, 2.6g protein

Battle Cinnamon: Quinoa Chickpea Salad

This month I scored a coveted invitation to a Chicago Iron Chef group that my friends Emily and Heather are a part of (check out the full battle rundown here). I was excited for this competitive foodie potluck – our own little Olympic celebration. The secret ingredient was revealed as cinnamon 2 days prior to the event, and my mind predictably scattered in a hundred directions. I didn’t want to make something obvious – I wanted to score high on those coveted creativity points. I wanted to avoid sweets, as I feared that the table would be trending sweet already. Instinctively, I knew that my final dish would have chickpeas.

Two days later and the morning of the competition, chickpeas were still all that I had in mind. Should I make a tagine? A Moroccan veggie stew? A salad? Roasted chickpeas with cinnamon and cardamom? Eventually my hands started working and my mind quieted as I cooked by taste and feel. I dragged out the mortar and pestle and started grinding spices. Preheated the oven to make some caramelized onions. I roasted some carrots and peppers in the spice mixture I came up with. Then – rice or quinoa? I settled on quinoa, using both white and red quinoa for a prettier presentation (creativity points, people!). I whipped up a simple vinaigrette and took a heavy hand with the spicing, dumping in the fresh ground spices, jazzing it up with a little cayenne. Now I knew I was onto something.

After all the ingredients were assembled, the many dishes done and the salad tossed, I knew I had a dish worthy of my debut in this new food circle. The finished dish was unlike any quinoa salad I’ve made previously, and yes – the presence of cinnamon was there without falling into the territory of being sweet. The cumin and brown mustard seeds in the dressing brought the dish back down to earth resulting in a warming, filling salad. I walked confidently to the train to carry my goodies downtown to Emily’s apartment to meet new friends, talk food, Olympics and EAT.

When all the scores were tallied, my dish came in 4th of 12 dishes – a very respectable entry for this Iron Chef newbie. And maybe some of you will enjoy what I created for this special event.

What’s your favorite way to make a splash with cinnamon? Share your thoughts in the comments below…

1 cup white quinoa
1 cup red quinoa
1 onion, sliced very thin
5 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ wide coins
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 poblano pepper, chopped
3 cups cooked chick peas
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon
kosher salt
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

2 T brown mustard seeds
1 T whole cumin seeds
1.5 T cinnamon
1/3 cup lemon juice (I used meyer lemons, since they are in season)
2 T dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
2/3 cup grapeseed oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Combine the mustard seeds, cumin and salt in a mortar and pestle and bash the spices around until you have a rough grind. Set aside.
  3. Cook the quinoa with 1tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp kosher salt according to your package directions (or in the rice cooker as I do). When the quinoa is done, fluff with a fork and scoop into a really large mixing bowl.
  4. While the quinoa cooks, roast the veggies. Peel the carrots and slice into coins about 1/4″ wide. Chop the bell pepper and poblano into bite size pieces. Toss the carrots and peppers in a bowl, and add 1tsp of the spice mixture, a pinch or two of kosher salt, and 1tsp olive oil. Stir to coat. Spray a sheet pan with olive oil, and pour the veggies onto the sheet, spreading them out in one layer. Slice the onion in half, then slice into very thin slices – I used a mandoline with the thin-slicing blade here. Spray a second sheet pan with olive oil and spread the onions onto it in one layer – sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. Place both sheet pans of veggies in the oven (one on high-middle shelf, one on bottom shelf) and roast for 15 minutes, then stir. Roast for another 10 minutes, then remove from the peppers and carrots from oven and scoop the roasted veggies into the mixing bowl on top of the quinoa – let them hang out on top for a few minutes to cool off, so the carrots don’t go completely soggy on you. The onions will need another 15-20 minutes – you want them to caramelize and get a bit crispy. When they’re starting to crisp, remove them from the oven, and add to the veggies and quinoa.
  5. Make the dressing: Combine 1/3 cup lemon juice 2/3 cup grapeseed oil, 2 T dijon mustard, the remaining spice mixture and cayenne in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add salt to taste – the dressing should be pretty highly seasoned, as it will be the main flavoring for all that fluffy quinoa.
  6. Add the cooked, drained chickpeas, toasted pine nuts and minced parsley to the mixing bowl with the quinoa and veggies. Gently stir to combine everything. Pour most of the vinaigrette over the salad, reserving 1/4 cup. Stir to coat everything in the dressing. Taste, and adjust seasoning and adjust with a squirt more lemon juice a dash more cayenne or salt if needed. You can store in the fridge until ready to serve, then toss the salad with the reserved dressing. Salad tastes best at room temperature.

357 cal per 1.5 cups, 160 cal from fat, 18.9g fat, 350mg sodium, 180mg potassium, 41g carb, 10g fiber, 9.6g protein

Polenta Chili Pie

Would you like some deep dish Chicago style pizza? Yeah, me too, (though the gluten would kill me)…so while the above photo may look like a deep dish pizza, this is a whole other animal that I’m calling Polenta Chili Pie.

If you liked those polenta wedges two weeks ago, then this is the next step in your polenta experience. I won’t kid you – this is one of those multi-step recipes that takes a fair amount of time, but give it a chance. None of the steps are difficult and you can make it in stages as I did. Make the crust and chili one day, bake it the next. The pie makes a TON, so either invite some friends over for dinner or plan on enjoying this for leftovers for a few days. You’ll also have some leftover chili beyond what you use to fill the pie, so it’s like double-bonus leftovers!

If you’re a meat-free kind of person, just leave the ground beef out – you’ll hardly notice the difference – the chili is fantastic sans cow. I used two cheeses in the recipe and those can also be left out if you need to keep it dairy-free.

You might not be familiar with cotija or chihuahua cheeses – both are Mexican style cheeses. I used the hard, dry cotija cheese in the polenta crust for it’s intense, slightly funky flavor to give the polenta a little punch. If you can’t find cotija, I think an aged gouda would be good. Chihuahua is a soft grating cheese used in quesadillas and enchiladas for it’s mellow flavor and meltability – you could use jack cheese in its place.

The finished pie is spicy, hearty and perfect comfort food. Because it’s such a heavy dish, pair it up with a light green salad to balance the meal. One word of caution – removing the pie from the pan is a bit of a messy ordeal – the slices of pie weren’t the prettiest, and I used two spatulas at once to get them onto plates in one piece, but a little ugly pie doesn’t bother me a bit.

Polenta Chili Pie
Serves 6
3/4 cup of polenta (coarse cornmeal/grits)
2 1/4 cups water
1 oz cotija cheese, grated with microplane (optional)
1 lb lean ground beef
3 cups cooked black beans (or two 14oz cans, drained and rinsed)
1 T olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 can fire roasted tomatoes (Muir Glen brand)
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 T chile con carne seasoning (or chile powder), divided
1 tsp dried oregano
1 T chipotle puree (or your favorite hot sauce)
3oz grated jalepeno chihuahua cheese (or monterey jack)
1 tsp salt, divided
cilantro for garnish
  1. Brown the beef: Heat a large non-stick pot over medium heat. Crumble the beef into the pot and brown until cooked through. Pour the beef into a strainer over the sink to drain off any liquid and fat, then set the beef aside. Wipe out the pot and return to medium heat.
  2. Cooking the polenta: Pour the water and 1/2 tsp salt into the pot and cover. Bring the water to a boil. When the water is boiling, pour the polenta into the water and stir. Add 1 T of the chile powder. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring every minute or so, until the polenta is done, and beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan. When the polenta is done, stir in the cotija cheese (if using).
  3. Next, spray a baking pan, springform pan or large pie plate with oil. Pour the polenta into the pan and smooth it into a crust-like form. If the polenta won’t stay up on sides of the pan, do the best you can, then chill the crust for 15 minutes to let it set up a bit, and then you can work the crust into all the corners and smooth it out. I used a small glass to form the edges. At this point you can chill the crust for a day or two if you’re planning ahead.
  4. Making the chili: Reheat the pot over medium heat. Add 1 T oil, onion and bell peppers. Saute for 5-8 minutes, until the onions are translucent and beginning to soften. Add the garlic, 3 T chile con carne and oregano and stir until fragrant – about a minute. Add the beans and can of fire roasted tomatoes, chipotle puree and 1/2 cup water – stir, cover and bring to a simmer. When the chili is bubbling, add the cooked ground beef and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Taste and add salt or more chipotle puree as needed. You want the finished chili to be moist, but not juicy so that the pie won’t be too oozy when baked. The chili will make far more than you need for the pie, so you will likely have 3 servings of chili leftover to eat on its own – lucky you!
  5. Baking the pie: Bring the crust to room temperature before baking. Prehead the oven to 375 degrees. Spoon enough chili into the crust to fill the crust to the top, without overflowing. Bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check to make sure the pie is hot all the way through, then top with the grated chihuahua cheese and bake for 7 more minutes until the cheese is melted. Remove the pie from the oven and let it rest for 3 minutes before serving. It’s a little tricky to remove from the pan, and may not hold together in pretty slices, but the awesomeness of the pie will help you forget any sloppiness in the serving.
379 cal/serving, 110 cal from fat, 11.9g fat, 60mg cholesterol, 590mg sodium, 290mg potassium, 40g carbs, 8g fiber, 6g sugars, 26.2g protein

Roasted Polenta Wedges

Polenta is one of those comfort foods that I adore, yet I seem to forget about it most of the time. It’s humble food – there’s nothing really flashy about this thick corn porridge, yet it can be dressed up into something marvelous with very few ingredients.

In November, I was reminded about how much I love polenta at the Safe & Sound Allergy-Free Dinner at Chicago’s BOKA restaurant. One of the courses in the awesome meal included a few cubes of the creamiest polenta I’ve ever had. They were crisp on the outside, but soft and creamy inside. I could have eaten a whole bowl of those little cubes. I’ve been pondering how Chef Tentori achieved this culinary marvel (without any dairy at all) and I’m guessing he was using a much more finely ground polenta than what I had in the pantry for this recipe.

I’m no Chef Tentori, but my polenta is quite tasty and fills the bill when the craving for comfort food hits. After you roast the polenta, it’s lovely and crisp on the outside and still soft inside. YUM. One batch of polenta makes a lot, so you can make these lovely polenta wedges and dip in that fabulous tomato butter sauce, while having plenty of leftovers to say – spread some olive tapenade on, or make openface polenta pizzas. The possibilities are wide open with polenta as your culinary blank slate.

Roasted Polenta
Serves 5

1 1/2 cups corn polenta
4 cups water
1 T butter
2 T olive oil (I used the garlic oil from my mojo de ajo)
3 T half & half
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp kosher salt

  1. Heat a large non-stick skillet (that has a lid) over high heat. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and slowly pour in the polenta, stirring constantly. Add the butter, thyme and rosemary. Cook for about 10 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the polenta begins to pull away from the edges of the pan.
  2. Add the half & half, pepper 1 tsp salt, cayenne and most of the grated parmesan (leave a little bit for garnishing later) – stir to incorporate.
  3. Spray a half sheet pan (or 9×13 baking pan) with olive oil. Turn the cooked polenta out into the sheet pan, and gently smooth the polenta into one layer using a spatula. Sprinkle on the reserved parmesan cheese and then chill the polenta until you’re ready to prepare dinner – at least 3 hours, so the polenta has time to firm up.
  4. Roasting the polenta: Preheat the broiler. Remove the polenta from the fridge, and turn the polenta out onto a large cutting board. Cut into desired shapes – slender fingers or large triangles for a main course. Lightly spray the sliced polenta with olive oil. Place the polenta on a sheet pan, and broil for 15 minutes, turning the pieces over halfway through. Serve piping hot.

268 cal/serving, 100 cal from fat, 11.3g fat, 15mg cholesterol, 25mg potassium, 33g carbs, 3g fiber, 6.7g protein

Sweet Potato Soup with Chorizo

Saturday morning, I awoke with a very sore throat. Fearing that this was the harbinger of Mark’s cold come to roost, I decided to hit it with everything (natural) that I had. So, out came the vegetable juicer and I dove into my carrot-ginger-celery juice regime, brewed endless pots of “tea” with grated ginger, honey and lemon and topped it off with a few mugs of peppermint tea.  By mid-morning, I’d pushed back against the cold and could actually both swallow and breathe through my nose…I could feel that victory was mine for the taking.

Knowing that root veggies are full of good antioxidants and vitamins that my immune system needed, I went for the knock-out punch and whipped up a big pot of Jamie Oliver’s Sweet Potato Soup that Shauna had posted about over on Pork, Knife and Spoon. The components of this soup are so simple, that this is a case where I’d really insist that you use homemade chicken stock. It makes such a difference in the depth of your soups, and it’s cheaper to make your own, too.

Jamie used spanish chorizo in his version, but I adore the fresh Mexican chorizo made by the butchers at my local Mexican produce market, so that’s what I used. I can live without most of the fat in chorizo, so I saute it first, and then drain it well on three sheets of paper towel. If you’re vegetarian, simply omit the chorizo, and add a heaping tablespoon of smoked paprika to the simmering soup, to add that smoky dimension – I bet it would be just as good. The soup came together in under an hour, and I love how you can taste every ingredient – sweets and carrots are highlighted by the spicy curry and chorizo. By Sunday morning, I was feeling better, and I’m giving this soup some of the credit.

What’s your favorite way to eat sweet potatoes? Discuss in the comment section…

Sweet Potato and Chorizo Soup
Adapted from Jamie’s Food Revolution
Serves 8

1 quart chicken stock, (the good homemade stuff that jiggles when chilled)
3 cups water
1.5 T grapeseed oil
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 medium onions, peeled and rough chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ¾ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
8oz Mexican Chorizo
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 T Madras curry powder (or to taste, if you don’t want too much heat)
3 T cooking sherry
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Bring a large (10qt+) pot to medium heat. Crumble the Mexican chorizo into the pot in one layer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes, rendering out a good amount of fat. Line a small plate with three layers of paper towel and scoop the sausage out of the pot and onto the paper towel to drain. Fold the edges of the paper towel over the chorizo and press to squeeze out more fat. Set aside. Wipe out the pot, and return it to medium-high heat
  2. Pour in the oil. Put all the chopped veggies into the hot oil. Add half of the curry powder and mix it all up. Cook until the carrots have softened but are not falling apart and the onions have turned a little golden, about 10 minutes.
  3. Pour in the stock and water. Give the soup a stir, cover and bring to to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the soup uncovered until the sweet potato is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  4. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Stir. Taste. Season it to your taste, adding another spoon of curry if you like it a little hotter (note: the curry will intensify overnight).
  5. Blend the soup with an immersion blender (easiest) or by pouring it into a large blender or food processor. Add the cooking sherry, and stir to incorporate. Garnish with a bit more parsley and serve.

258cal/serving, 13.4g fat, 27.2g carbs, 9.1g protein, 5.5g fiber, 8.1g sugar, 523mg sodium, 41.1mg cholesterol, 603mg potassium

BBQ Baked Beans

I always find it a little funny that baked beans are a summer picnic food – I guess that’s fine if you’re letting Bush’s make the beans for you and all you have to do is open a can. REAL baked beans require hours in the oven to slowly simmer and bubble away in a flavorful broth until they become tender, plump and coated with a sticky, spicy sauce. These baked beans are hearty and definitely for the winter months when you welcome the extra heat that running the oven for 6 hours provides.

And while you’re running the oven for hours on end, you might as well throw one of my slow-roasted BBQ Pork Shoulders in the oven right alongside the beans…this is all in the name of using energy efficiently, you know. Okay, it may be a little bit about having just a teensy bit more pork in an already extravagant meal, but baked beans and pork shoulder belong together – trust me. Once everything is in the oven, the beans require little more than a stir every hour, and you can baste that beautiful shoulder while the oven door is open. Six hours later, you’ve got a complete meal ready for the table to impress your guests. Serve it up with some homemade tortillas, a big bowl of crunchy slaw and you can close your eyes and pretend it’s summer…though you certainly won’t mistake those beans for Bush’s.

BBQ Baked Beans
Serves 10-12 as a side dish
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

4 slices bacon, chopped fine
1 onion, minced
4 cloves garlic , minced
1 T smoked paprika
1 pound dried small white or red beans, rinsed and picked over (I used Rancho Gordo Santa Maria Pinquinto beans)
8 cups water
1 cup strong black coffee, or 1 T coffee extract
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons brown mustard (Gulden’s is my favorite)
1 tablespoon mild molasses
1 T chipotle puree or hot sauce
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Cook the bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in the onion and cook until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir in the beans, water, coffee, smoked paprika, barbecue sauce, brown sugar, mustard, molasses, 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco, and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Cover and transfer to the oven. Bake, stirring every hour, until the beans are tender, about 4 hours.
  3. Remove the lid and continue to bake, uncovered, until the liquid has thickened to a syrupy consistency, about 1 1/2-2 more hours. Season the beans with additional barbecue sauce if needed, chipotle puree, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. To Make Ahead: After cooking, the beans can be cooled to room temperature and refrigerated, wrapping tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 4 days. Reheat over medium-low heat before serving.
204 cal per 3/4 cup serving, 25 cal from fat, 2.8g fat, 190mg sodium, 580mg potassium, 35g carbs, 8g fiber, 10g sugar, 10g protein