The Best Freaking Turkey you will EVER taste!

It’s November and we know what that means! Thanksgiving will be here any day now so I’m reposting this recipe because it IS that good. This year we have our own homegrown turkey and I can’t wait to do this with it.


I have finally perfected our Turkey Recipe! It takes some preparation, but in the end it was more than worth the effort!

This recipe will work for a 16-25lb turkey. Make sure the bird is completely thawed the day before you plan to cook it because brining it requires at least 12 hours.


For Brine:
1 gallon unsweetened apple juice
3/4 cup salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6-8 slices of ginger
2 Tbs peppercorns
2 Tbs allspice berries
2 Tbs whole cloves
2 bay leaves

Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pan. Stir in salt and sugar. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes and then allow to cool completely.

We use a large orange “water cooler” that we have designated just for brining similar to this one:
Unwrap the thawed turkey, remove the giblets and place neck end down into clean cooler. Pour cooled brine over the bird. Add water until the bird is completely submerged. Add a bunch of ice on top to keep cool. Put lid on cooler and leave undisturbed for at least 12 hours.

For Roasting:

1/4 lb butter (1 stick) cut into pats
2 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tbs chopped fresh Thyme
2 Tbs chopped fresh Oregano
2 cups chicken broth
Olive Oil

1. Remove bird from brine and let brine drain out of cavity. Don’t rinse bird.
2. Coat roasting pan with olive oil and place bird breast side up in it.
3. Using your hands separate skin from breast and legs. Rub the chopped herbs onto the meat.
4. Place the cut pats of butter under the skin in various locations, including the legs. Pour chicken broth over bird.
5. Cover bird with lid of pan or foil and place in a preheated oven at 350 deg.
6. Roast for two hours basting every hour. Remove foil and allow bird to brown, basting every 20 min.
7. Continue to roast bird until interior temp reaches 165 deg. Can range from 1-2 additional hours depending on whether the bird is stuffed. Make sure when taking the temp that the thermometer is through the thickest part of the breast and is not touching bone.

This recipe will give you an incredibly moist flavorful bird that is amazingly tender.

Tom’s Spicy Tomato Sauce

Tom and I’s first date he made me dinner at his apartment. It was a simple yet tasty dinner but I was most impressed that not only that he could cook but also that he enjoyed it. One of his best dishes was spaghetti sauce from scratch. Everyone who ever tries it raves about it.

Over time his recipe has improved. Fresh herbs and homemade sauce from our garden replaced the commercial sauce and dried herbs. The season really depends on all that we put in it. During the winter we don’t have peppers, zucchini, or eggplant available. So instead we just add more onions and mushrooms.

The secret ingredients in this sauce are the hot sauce and the sugar. Tom didn’t really want me to share, but then why would you make this recipe if it was just so-so?  The hot sauce adds some heat along with some extra acid. We generally like to use Tapatio. I think Tabasco would be too vinegary for this sauce though.

  • 4 c tomato sauce
  • 1 c tomato paste
  • 1/4 c red wine
  • 1 c water
  • 1lb sausage, removed from casings or ground meat
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 zucchini, cut in half and sliced
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small eggplant roughly chopped
  • 1 bell pepper chopped
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbs Hot Sauce
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh basil
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh Thyme
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh Oregano
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

1. In a hot dutch oven over medium high heat add oil and then sausage. Break up sausage while it cooks. Add garlic, herbs and hot sauce and continue cooking until sausage is browned.
2. Deglaze with the red wine.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until vegetable are tender and the sauce has thickened.
4. Serve over fresh pasta or add to a lasagna (I’ve been known to eat it on it’s own).

Mmmmm….Crockpot Chili

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a non-canning recipe so I figured I was overdue.

With this cold weather it’s nice to sit with a bowl of comfort food. I love chili but I really don’t make it enough. We have a ton of dry beans that we’ve grown so there really is no excuse for not making it. Yes, I put beans in my chili, which I know some of you would consider blasphemous. I’ve done it this way since I learned how to cook. My mom has done it this was for as long as I can remember. And I will probably always add beans to my chili.

I don’t like to heavily rely on meat to make my chili, well, meaty, so beans are added. Of course, it does take some planning ahead because you’ll need to soak the beans overnight. You could skip the soaking, but it will have to be cooked on the stovetop at a higher temperature for quite awhile.

As for the meat, we’ve got a freezer of goat and it seemed like some goat ribs would be a fantastic addition to this chili. Goat can be difficult to find so feel free to substitute it with lamb.

The night before in a large bowl cover 2 cups of dry beans with water. Add enough water so that there is at least an inch of water over the beans.

The next morning in your crockpot combine:

2 cups chicken broth
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups tomato sauce
1 Tbs cumin
2 Tbs chili powder
1 tsp salt
12 oz roasted green chilies, chopped
1 lb goat ribs

Turn your crockpot on high and leave it until dinner. The meat should be falling apart. Most chili powders are mild so it won’t really be a spicy chili. If you want it to have some kick add some hot sauce. Serve with fresh chopped onion and sour cream.

Monday’s Guests – Rabbit Liver Pate

Today’s post comes from Kitty over at Havenscourt Homestead. She graciously gave us some of this delicious pate this weekend to try out. I’m a fan of liver in general sauteed up with some garlic – yum! But if you don’t like eating liver you may still like pate. 
Rabbit Liver Pate
Mention liver to most people and you’re bound to get one oftwo answers:  YUMor ICK!  In my experience, liver has had moreof an ick factor.  I’m not sure why.  I think it’s just a texture thing along witha very strong flavor.  Or maybe it’s becauseI grew up with a father that loved to coat liver with flour and cook it withonions, then expect us children to eat that awful smelly stuff.  What can I say?  I was a kid. I didn’t like broccoli either.
Enter adulthood and I discovered pate.  Mmmmm… Rich, smooth, creamy, deliciouspate.  I immediately loved it.  Little did I know it was basically my fathersliver and onions pureed and served cold with crackers.  But pate is expensive in the store, so Ididn’t eat it too often. 
Fast forward to my homestead.  Now that I raise the bulk of my own meat, Ihave lots of liver.  Putting it in thestock pot with the bones and such just seemed to be a waste.  So I decided it was time to try my hand athomemade pate.  Liver is verynutritious.  It’s a good source ofThiamin, Zinc and Manganese, and a very good source of Protein, Vitamin A,Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, PantothenicAcid, Iron, Phosphorus, Copper and Selenium. 
After searching the internet for recipes, I settled on onefrom Hoyt Archery.  It seemed simple andcontained herbs that I like and had on hand. I especially liked that it called for soaking the liver in milk.  I had heard that this made the liver muchbetter tasting.  And I just happened tohave fresh raw goat milk in the refrigerator. Of course I also had 2-1/2 lbs of fresh rabbit liver, much more than therecipe called for.  So I multiplied allthe ingredients by 2-1/2 and got down to it. 
1pound liver
1 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup brandy
Place the liver and milk into a bowl.  Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.  I actually let mine soak overnight.  When you are ready to start cooking, put theliver in a colander and drain well.
In a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat melt fourtablespoons of butter with one tablespoon of olive oil.  Add the onions and cook, stirring often,until they are soft and pale.  You don’twant to brown them.  Once the onions aresoft, add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant.  Again, do not brown it.  You just want the wonderful aroma.  This should only take a minute or two.
Carefully add the liver to the onions.  Then add in your spices.  This recipe uses thyme and bay leaves.  But you could use just about any spice youlike.  I tend to cut the salt in halfwhen I cook.  I find that most recipesdon’t need as much as they call for.  IfI feel something needs more salt when I’m done, it’s easy enough to season itafterwards.
Gently stir and sauté until the liver is browned on theoutside, but still slightly pink in the inside. I test this by simply slicing a bit of the liver using the slotted spoonI’m cooking with.  At this point, Ithought it smelled wonderful.  I wasready to grab a fork.  I honestly don’tknow why I didn’t enjoy this aroma when I was a kid.
Once browned, remove the skillet from the heat.  Pour on the brandy.  Don’t forget to have a nip for yourself!  Return the skillet to the heat and light thebrandy.  *POOF* Flambé!  What can I say?  I’m a pyromaniac.  I love to flambé!  Besides, the flames only last for a minute orso until the alcohol is burned off.  Butif you have guests that have never seen it, they’ll be most impressed.
Continue to cook until most of the liquid hasevaporated.  The liver should be cookedthrough, but it should still be tender. Again, test it by slicing into it to make sure it’s brownthroughout.  Remove the skillet from theheat and allow the liver and onions to cool slightly.  Remove the bay leaves.
Carefully spoon the liver and onions into a foodprocessor.  Depending upon the size, youmay have to do this in batches.  Pureethe mixture until smooth.  Cut theremaining butter into small pieces and add them to the pate.  Pulse to blend.  Don’t worry about over processing at thispoint.  You want everything to be smoothand blended together.
Taste your creation. If you need to adjust any of the seasonings, now is the time to doit.  Just be sure to pulse the mixture tomake sure any additions are thoroughly blended in.
Before packing your pate into a mold or other container, oilthe mold with a little olive oil.  Thishelps to prevent it from sticking.  Youcan also use plastic wrap.  Since I had avery large batch, I used a 9” loaf pan. I lined it with plastic wrap and then used a paper towel to wipe theinside with olive oil.  Next, cover thepate with plastic wrap, pressing it down onto the surface to eliminate as muchair as possible.  Air will cause thesurface to discolor.   This doesn’t hurtthe flavor or freshness of the pate.  Itjust doesn’t look as nice.  Pop it intothe refrigerator until it is firm, at least 6 hours.
One great thing about pate is that it freezes well.  So if you’ve made a large batch like I did,simply slice it up, seal it, and freeze it. I have a vacuum sealer.  If youare freezing any meats, I highly recommend buying one.  It sucks all the air out of the package andseals it up perfectly for freezing.  Imade each package about 4-5 ounces which is a good serving size forentertaining.
To serve, simply unmold it onto a plate and addgarnish.  Pate is great with crackers,flat bread, or toast.  Serve it with yourfavorite cheese and a glass of wine. Once you realize how quick and simple it is to make, you’ll never takepotato salad to a potluck again!

Not-So-Green Chili Stew

Remember the Red Roasted Tomatillo Sauce? Here’s what you do with it.

So I promised this recipe when I posted the Red Roasted Tomatillo Sauce recipe and I just kept forgetting to post it. Well, here it is finally.

My mom taught me how to make the first version of this back when I was in college. It became a staple for me because it was tasty and easy to make. It was originally made with canned enchilada sauce, canned green chilies, pork, onions and potatoes.

Over time the recipe obviously evolved substantially.  It made it’s largest change when we wanted to make it one day and didn’t have any enchilada sauce but plenty of tomatillos – which we simply threw in the food processor. For that recipe you just replace the sauce with 2 1/2 lbs of tomatillos, 4 tsp chili powder and 4 tsp cumin.

Even though we’ve eliminated all of the commercially canned ingredients, this is still a surprisingly easy recipe to make.

Not-So-Green Chili Stew
1 quart of Red Roasted Tomatillo Sauce
1/2 lb pork loin, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 c nixtamel or hominy
1/2 lb roasted green chilis, remove skins and seeds and chop
1 lb potatoes, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 c chicken broth
2 Tbs oil
Hot sauce to taste
Sour cream and/or cheddar cheese

1. Heat a dutch oven over medium high heat and add oil and then pork and garlic. Cook until pork is browned.
2. Deglaze dutch oven with chicken broth.
3. Add remaining ingredients except sour cream/cheese and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are very tender.
4. Serve topped with sour cream and/or cheese.

Making Rabbit Sausage

Mmmmm, rabbit

 We’ve got so much rabbit and so very little freezer space right now, with more rabbits on the way. We needed to do something with all this rabbit and let’s face it, I’m getting a little tired of just braising it.

Rabbit’s a very lean meat and can be quite tough if it’s not cooked right, which usually means either cooked very quickly or cooked for a very long time at a low heat. Since Tom is rather squeamish about rare or even medium rare meat, we have to go with the long cook time.

Grinding is a great way to deal with tough meats

However, there is another way you can prepare tough meat. Tough cuts from any animal whether it’s beef, pork or rabbit lend themselves very well to grinding.

Not really wanting to make rabbit burgers and being that the current Charcutepalooza challenge is stuffed sausages I decided that rabbit would be the meat of choice for this challenge.

Pork fatback

But of course it wouldn’t just be rabbit. Because sausage needs 25-30% fat I needed to add pork fatback. But I didn’t stop there. My goal was a very flavorful sausage so it had to have asiago cheese and porcini mushrooms. But wait! It needed something more! Garlic! Yes garlic.

Unfortunately, Tom proclaimed that it smelled like a foot. He said the cheese smelled like a foot. The mushrooms smelled like a foot and now the fridge smells like a foot. Tom does NOT like stinky cheese, which, in my opinion, is quite a shame. I’m hoping this recipe works for him.

Unfortunately we’re out of fresh garlic, but we have some really good dried garlic. So here’s my recipe:

Rabbit Sausage with Porcinis, Asiago and Garlic

2 Whole Rabbits (3-3 1/2 lbs each), deboned and cut into 1/2″ chunks
1 1/4 lb pork fatback, cut into chunks
1/2 lb Asiago cheese, cut into chunks
1.5 oz dried porcini mushrooms
3 Tbs dried minced garlic
3 Tbs Kosher salt
10+ feet of pork casings (optional)

1. Rehydrate mushrooms in 2 cups hot (not boiling) water. Put mushrooms in water into fridge overnight to chill.

2. Drain mushrooms reserving 1 cup of liquid. Return liquid to fridge.

3. Combine everything but the liquid in a large bowl and put in freezer until very cold, just short of freezing solid. Also freeze the detachable parts of meat grinder that will be coming into contact with the meat.

4. Reassemble meat grinder and run meat mixture through and into a bowl set in ice (I use the bowl to our stand mixer). I use the smallest die that came with the grinder.

5. Using my stand mixer (mine is the smaller Kitchen Aid mixer so I have to do this in batches), I quickly mix half of the ground meat adding 1/2 fo the reserved mushroom liquid to evenly distribute the spices. I repeat with the second half and then combine it all in one large bowl. Don’t overmix or you’ll end up with an emulsified sausage – mix just enough to distribute everything evenly.

6. Cook a small patty to check and adjust seasonings as needed. Return to the freezer to chill again.

7. You can choose to stop here and use it to make breakfast sausage or you can stuff it into casings.

I have to admit, or more like my husband has to admit, smelling like a foot can sometimes be a very good thing. The porcinis I feel are a bit overpowered by the garlic and asiago though, so I think next time I’ll save my money and omit them.

So what did we do with the sausages? We’ve added them to spaghetti sauce and lasagna. We’ve eaten them on homemade rolls with homemade sauerkraut and eaten them as snacks when out and about. I even add them to soup. Sometimes you don’t need a special recipe to use them because they are the special recipe.

Pasta a la Carbonara with Leeks and Arugula

Sometimes you don’t know you’re looking for something until you find it.
Sometimes you’re just minding your own (or everybody else’s) business mindlessly surfing through facebook when a friend of yours posts a recipe to another friend of yours saying “we need to make this” and you can’t not look, because hey, it’s food and both of those friends know good food when they see it (or read about it) and all of a sudden your dinner plans have DRASTICALLY CHANGED. And also you feel a little like you just stuck your nose in something that was not for your nose. But still. Sometimes these things happen.
And sometimes that’s awesome.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted this recipe, and I was immediately smitten. The flavors reminded me a lot of an eggs en cocotte recipe (served over sauteed asparagus, leeks and bacon) that I have always loved, and the method (similar to a pasta a la carbonara) was something I had been meaning to try for a while.
So this weekend I picked up leeks at the farmer’s market. And, because I have a massive aversion to parsley in most dishes (mostly, everything but these), I picked up some arugula. I figured heck, why not? The recipe called for a lot of cracked pepper, so maybe the green tanginess and spiciness of arugula would be just the thing to kick up the mild softness of the leeks and garlic.

When I’m right, I’m right.
…also, usually kind of smug. But it’s OK to be smug about good food choices.
The pasta was PERFECT with this sauce. The sweet, mellow flavor of the long-cooked leeks and garlic blended with the salty crispness of the bacon and the crunch of the raw arugula and the rich heartiness of the egg to make something greater than I could have imagined.
This one’s going in the recipe box, for sure. You know, after I post it on facebook.
Pasta a la Carbonara with Leeks and Arugula
(adapted from the New York Times)
8 oz of any dry pasta (I like linguini/fetuccini for this)
4 thick strips of smoky bacon, cut into pieces
3-4 medium/large leeks, sliced into thin rounds and thoroughly washed/drained
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 c fresh baby arugula
1 very large (or 2 small) eggs
salt and pepper, to taste
In a large skillet, brown the bacon bits until they are just starting to crisp. Remove them with a slotted spoon and toss the leeks and garlic into the pan drippings (add more bacon grease or olive oil if they start to stick). Cook the leeks slowly over low-to-medium heat until they are very soft and golden (about 30 minutes).
In another pot, bring a large amount of lightly-salted water to a boil and start your pasta cooking. You want it to be al dente right when the sauce is pureed and ready to go back in the pan.
NOTE: it is very important that the pasta be hot when the sauce is added, as the heat of the pasta and reserved cooking liquid are what cooks the eggs and makes this a safe dish to serve. Even with our fresh backyard eggs, I am very careful to thoroughly wash the shells before cracking them, and to being them to a safe temperature before eating them.

Transfer the softened leeks into a blender or a food processor (my blender does a better job of pureeing than my cuisinart) along with most of the arugula (save a little bit to chop for garnish) and the raw egg. Blend until the sauce is thick and a bit foamy. Add a tiny bit of water if the arugula won’t blend down on its own.
Transfer this puree back into the large skillet (off the heat) with about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, and the (drained but not dry) pasta. Toss to combine, making sure the sauce thickens and the strands of pasta don’t stick together too much.

Serve this pasta on a large serving plate (or individual bowls) with a sprinkle of chopped arugula, some bacon bits, and fresh cracked pepper and salt.

Get-Well Turkey and Vegetable Soup

It is turkey season again!

Rick’s already been out once, bringing home a gorgeous 27 lb tom (cleaned and plucked, it was about 17 lbs of edible bits). We cleaned and froze the breasts, wings, and drumsticks for later meals, and made Hank Shaw’s Wild Turkey Marsala with the scrap bits from the breaking-down process. The carcass and any wiggly-bits (fat, cartilage, etc) went into a stock pot and were simmered down to a rich, hearty broth that we condensed for future risottos, soups, and gravies (it’s sort of like boullion, but liquid – we freeze it in ice cube trays for easy use).
Aside from being turkey season, it is also very much SPRING here in the city. The garden is starting to thrive; sending out new shoots of green everywhere, and forming visions of salads, soups, and stir-fries in my mind every time I walk out the back door. Our winter-planted broccoli is heading, the carrots are finally bulking up, the fennel is producing lovely bulbs, and there are greens, greens, greens for days, days, days. Mustard and kale and beet and chard and collard, as well as spinach, lettuce, arugula, and cabbage.

I got an email the other day from my band mate and cooking buddy, Alanna, who said her boy was feeling under the weather. It’s hard enough to be sick when it’s grey and hazy outside, but feeling awful when it is finally sunny and beautiful out…well, that’s just not OK. I was heading over to their house later that evening for practice, so I thought I’d see what I could do about a get-well soup.
I started out with a basic recipe in mind: a spicy and sweet beet/garlic/veggie soup I used to make all the time when I was in high school. I was a singer then, too, and needed a good throat-soothing hot broth and LOTS of vitamins for the (inevitable) malaise that always seemed to strike the day before a big competition. And hey – I’m not a vegetarian anymore, so why not throw in some of that delicious wild turkey?
A trip out to the garden supplied some early green garlic, a bulb of fennel, some broccoli tips, a giant golden beet (with greens), a few carrots, some ribs of new celery, and a giant bouquet of kale. Sounds like soup to me!
In retrospect, I should have made about ten times as much, as it was well-received by both poor sick Jay AND all us healthy folks who were eating it proactively. Hey, who says you have to be sick to eat healthy soup? I will certainly be making this again soon!
(note: this is a very fast-and-loose recipe. You can make it with veggie broth if you’re not into the whole meat-thing. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand. The only things I’d make SURE to include are the beets, garlic, soy sauce, and the spice: either hot pepper flakes or a sauce like Tiger Sauce…even Tapatio will do just fine in a pinch. If you’re not sure on how to make your own chicken/turkey stock, Michael Ruhlman’s method is simple and pretty fail-proof. You should also read his hilarious article on roasting a chicken, which is linked on that page.)

Get-Well Turkey and Garden Vegetable Soup
about 8-10 c broth (I used 1/2 wild turkey broth and 1/2 veggie broth that I’d made with kitchen scraps the week prior)
1 young (not headed yet) green garlic, cleaned and chopped
3 cloves (regular) garlic, sliced or crushed
1 bulb fennel, cleaned and sliced thin
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced into thin half-rings or diced
1 large head broccoli, or about 1 1/2 c of florets, cut into manageable pieces
2 ribs of celery, cleaned and sliced
3 large carrots, sliced into rounds (about 3/4 to 1 c)
1 very large (or a few small) beets, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks. I like golden beets here, because they don’t turn the soup BRIGHT PINK. Save the greens to add in with the kale at the end.
1 c sliced mushrooms (I used buttons, but crimini are ideal, texturally)
1 bunch kale, cleaned and cut into pieces/strips. Something manageable.
3 Tbsp (ish) soy sauce, more if you like it salty
1 dash hot sauce (I like Tiger Sauce best for soups)
1/4 c white wine, if you have it on hand
1 tsp dried sage
1 bay leaf
If you’ve made your own stock, strain out any bones or cooked vegetables, and return any remaining meat on the bones to the pan with the broth. If you don’t have 10 cups, add some water. Again, this is an anything-goes kind of recipe. Make it to fit the size pot you want to cook in. Don’t sweat it. This soup is supposed to make people HEALTHY – not stressed out.
Bring the soup to heat, but do not boil it.
Prep all the vegetables, and add them into the mix according to cooking time, and how soft you like them to be: First, put in the beets, onions/clove garlic, and any other roots or tough/stringy ingredients. Let this cook for a bit, and then add the carrots, celery, and fennel. Finally, put in the broccoli and the green garlic. Also add in the sage and bay leaf, as well as the soy sauce/hot sauce/wine. Let this cook until the beets and carrots are cooked to your liking (about 45 minutes?), and then remove the soup from the heat.
Don’t forget to fish out the bay leaf!
Finally, shock the kale and beet greens into the soup. You want them soft and cooked through, but not falling apart – the residual heat from the soup is plenty to accomplish this, and will leave them a vibrant, healthy-looking green.
Give the soup a final taste, and adjust for acidity/salt/spice with more soy, hot pepper flakes, or a dash of red wine vinegar or lemon juice as you like.

Serve this on its own, or with a hunk of crusty bread (preferably smeared with some tasty brie).

The Best Lasagna Ever

My name is Jessa, and I am a planner.
You know the type: I’m an organizer, and I like when things are set up ahead of time. Yes, this is because I am totally OCD as well as being more than a little bit neurotic. Having plans in place is comforting, because then I don’t have to think about it anymore. I like to know how things are going to go before they happen, and I have a very hard time with surprises.
But this is nothing new – we all know I’m off my rocker.

So I figure, why fight it?
I have learned, over time, to embrace this part of myself and find ways that this seeming flaw can be used for good. For example, I am very skilled at meal planning, and I always make extra servings to bring to work for lunches during the week. In this way, I can free up my night and morning times for important things (like blearily bumbling about in the kitchen trying to make tea to wake myself up, or a luxurious 15 minute hang out with the heater vent before heading out into the cold).
So imagine my surprise when I made a giant pan of lasagna to serve as an after dinner (read: mid-band rehearsal) pick-me-up, and the 4 of us managed to eat nearly the whole pan! So much for my glorious intentions of lasagna lunches. That said, it is a testament to simple food, done well: comfort foods like lasagna, casseroles, and pans of enchiladas just make people happy.
Even if they’ve already had plenty of food.

This lasagna is paramount in my comfort food arsenal. I do not skimp on cheese, and I use many, many spices and flavors in the slow-cooked sauce. I do not drain the sausage meat before I add it to the sauce. This is not diet food, by any stretch of the imagination. It is rustic, it takes all day to put together, and it gets many pans dirty. It uses up all the excess chard growing like mad in our early-spring garden. It is recklessly rich and massively easy to eat too much of.
It is everything a lasagna should be.
Namely, it is gone in one sitting. I couldn’t have planned for better praise than that.

Wild Boar Sausage and Chard Lasagna
(makes one MASSIVE pan, with some leftover sauce)
for the sauce:
1 lb sausage meat (if you are using cased sausage, remove it from the casing and crumble it)
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large bulb fennel, cleaned thoroughly and sliced
about 1 c white button or crimini mushrooms, chopped
1 large can of diced tomatoes (about 4 c, or 8 diced fresh tomatoes plus 1 small can of tomato paste)
3/4 c red wine (I used the last of a bottle of zin I had sitting around)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp fennel seed, either fresh or dried
1 tsp each dried basil, oregano, marjoram, sage
1 tsp red pepper flakes (or about 1/2 small dried red chili, chopped)
1 Tbsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
for the lasagna:
1 Tbsp olive oil
pre-made sauce (see directions below, or try my oven-roasted heirloom tomato sauce recipe)
1-2 large bunches of chard, stems removed (about 8 c, loose)
1 lb mozzerella cheese, sliced into thin rounds
1/2 c shredded asiago or parmesan cheese
12-15 lasagna noodles (pre-cooked to al dente and cooled in a water bath)
In a dry pan (a large sautee pan or stock pot would be fine, as would a deep frying pan), brown the sausage. If it’s sticking, you can add some oil.
Note: I used some wild boar sausage that we made with friends last fall from a pig one of them had hunted. It had some added garlic and spice (some sort of red pepper/vinegar hot sauce was used). To up the fat content a little, we used some heritage pork butt in there as well. Unfortunately, it either didn’t get mixed long enough, or the fat wasn’t cold enough, or something went wrong, because the cased sausages were very grainy when they were cooked. This recipe is, in part, due to my attempts to use up this sausage (removed from the casing) so that we have space in the freezer to try sausage-making again.

Once the sausage is browned, remove it from the pan. To the remaining grease, add the prepped onions, garlic, mushrooms, and sliced fennel, and cook until tender. Add the bay leaf, fennel seed, and spices (but not the sugar).
Let this all cook down for a bit (the mushrooms will weep quite a bit of liquid, which will then start to evaporate back out). Once the pan is getting close to dry, pour in the wine to deglaze the pan, followed by the tomatoes and all their juices. If you’re using fresh tomatoes, mix the contents of one small can of tomato paste with about 1/2 c of warm water and add it in too.
Season with 1 Tbsp of sugar (trust me) and salt and pepper to taste. Add back in the sausage, and any cooking juices that have sweat out, stirring to combine everything. Let this simmer on the stove for at least an hour – it only gets better the longer it cooks.
In the meantime, pre-cook your lasagna noodles. Yes, I suppose you could use those fancy “cook in the sauce” ones, but I prefer the organic ones I get in bulk at the local coop grocery store. They are very thick and need to be boiled before use. When the noodles are cooked to al dente, place them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. I often prep enough noodles to make a few lasagnas (especially now that I know how fast they can be eaten!), storing them in a gallon zip-top bag with about a Tbsp of olive oil to prevent sticking. Then I can throw together a lasagna in a very short amount of time.
At this time you can also cook the chard. After a thorough washing (our garden can get a little muddy during the rainy season, and it’s always good to check for sneaky bugs hiding out in the curled-up leaves), I remove the stems and tear the leaves up into pieces about 2″ square. These get tossed into a steamer pan (I bought it at a yard sale – I think it’s actually for steaming pork buns and the like, with one section for the water and another perforated section on top where the cooking happens) until they are soft. If you don’t have a steamer, you can easily cook down the leaves in any pan with a lid – just add a bit of water to start the wilting process. This will cook down a LOT, and you’ll have about 1 c of cooked greens at the end.
To assemble the lasagna, coat a cake pan or casserole dish with a bit of oil. I use my 9 x 13 pyrex baking dish, as it has a fancy rubber top which makes storage or transportation a breeze once the lasagna is baked. Lay down one layer of noodles (it takes three to cover the bottom of my pan). Ladle on enough sauce to coat the noodles thinly – a lot will seep underneath them. Layer on about 1/3 of the steamed chard, and enough mozzarella that there will be some in each bite. Then place on another layer of noodles, and repeat the sauce, chard, and cheese. Continue doing this until you have used all of the noodles, or have run out of the other ingredients. Top with a final layer of sauce and top the whole thing with mozzarella (sometimes I add some shredded asiago or parmesan to the top as well).
Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown. Longer cooking (without burning) is good here, too. I love the crunchy baked cheese on the top!

Take my word for it – make two. At least.

Curry Rice and Beef Stuffed Bell Peppers

Controversy! Intrigue! Catfights! Who knew that a simple question like “what recipe should I post on my blog this week?” would elicit such strong responses?

OK, I’m totally exaggerating. There were no catfights, nor was there really much intrigue. There was, however, controversy. Which is totally cool. It’s nice to know that people out there care about the recipes I post, and that the silly little foodstuffs I make in my totally-not-professional kitchen are actually inspiring people to get out there and cook! I promise that if you voted for baguettes, your time is coming very soon.
I’ll tell you, even I am conflicted about my post this week. I’ve been sitting on a whole oat and honey baguette recipe for about a month now that I KNOW is wonderful. I’ve made it successfully at least 10 times in a row (barring one incident involving benadryl and an uncanny ability to zone out the sound of the kitchen timer), and it is possibly the most reliable and tasty bread recipe I have tried thus far.
However, the pictures I took of the dough making/baguette shaping process need a little more editing before they are ready for public viewing. The stupid rain came and made my available “natural light” look all blue and icky. So…submitted for your viewing pleasure, I present the OTHER delicious thing we’ve had on the menu this week: curry stuffed bell peppers.
As a friend so astutely pointed out on facebook (thanks for your unwavering support, there, Hank), bell peppers and tomatoes are far from in-season, which I suppose makes this recipe post controversial for more than one reason. Still, I will back up my use of these tasty peppers by saying that they are not only semi-local (grown in the Sacramento area in a greenhouse set up), but are also organic. I got them, as well as the tomatoes and onions, at the farmer’s market by my house, and I feel totally OK with that. Once our greenhouse is up and running in the back yard, we’ll be trying to grow them in March, too!

A little back story on this recipe: I used to work at a travelers’ hostel in the Tenderloin area of San Francisco. One of the great perks was that the hostel was walking distance from the Civic Center farmer’s market. Another great perk was that we had a GIANT kitchen and cool dining area where our guests could cook their own dinners, or even work together for a big family-style potluck, with each guest preparing a dish. One such evening, a guest of ours came back from said farmer’s market with a big bag of beautiful red bell peppers, golden globe-like onions, and juicy tomatoes…and announced that he was going to make us (the staff) dinner.

Not one to say no to free food (particularly given that the produce was coming from the farmer’s market, which said something about the quality of ingredients, as well as the possible expertise of the chef), I gladly accepted his offer.
About an hour later we were sitting down to a beautiful pan of bell peppers stuffed with rice, beef, onions, and spices, all covered with a fresh tomato/cilantro sauce – heaven.
Years later, I found this recipe scribbled onto the back of a tour booking receipt, stuffed into a drawer (you know, for “safe keeping”). I had completely forgotten that delicious dish! The chef had been glad to give me his recipe, but neglected to give me his name, so I am sad to say I can’t give credit where credit is due. I shall have to show my appreciation by passing this simple, hearty, elegant recipe on to you.

**Note: I haven’t tried it yet, but I bet this would be AMAZING with ground lamb and couscous. Just sayin’.**
Curry Rice and Beef Stuffed Bell Peppers
serves 6-8
4-6 large red bell peppers
for the stuffing:
1 1/2 c long grain rice
1 lb organic, free-range ground beef
2 Tbsp olive (or sunflower) oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp coriander
salt and pepper, to taste
for the sauce:
4 large, ripe tomatoes, diced (alternately, 1 can of diced tomatoes)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
cilantro, to taste (I used about 1 tbsp, roughly chopped)
Prepare the rice according to the cooking instructions (different kinds of rice will use different amounts of water, and will take different amounts of time to cook). You want the rice to be soft and not too wet, and ideally there should be about 3-4 cups of it when it’s cooked and fluffed.

Prepare the peppers: If the bell peppers are short and squat, you can roast them whole. Just cut off the caps (any viable pepper bits that you remove can be chopped and added to the tomato sauce), and scrape out all the seeds and white pithy stuff from the inside. If the peppers won’t stand on their own, cut a little bit off the bottom to even them out. If your peppers are long and thin, you can cut them into two shallow boats, or cut them down the middle (cross-section) making two little cups. You’ll have to remove the stem from one of the cups, which will make a hole in the bottom. this is OK, just be careful when serving that the filling doesn’t all come out the bottom!

Prepare the sauce: In a saucepan, sautee the onion and garlic until translucent, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and simmer until a thick sauce forms. If you need to, add some water to prevent burning. Once it has softened to your liking (it will be chunky), mix in the cilantro and turn off the heat. This should look like a thick marinara sauce or chunky salsa.

Prepare the stuffing: Brown 1 lb of ground beef in a large skillet (use oil if needed to prevent sticking). Add onions and garlic, as well as all the spices, and stir until the meat is cooked through, the onions are translucent, and everything is evenly coated (it’ll be yellow from the turmeric in the curry powder). Add in about 3-4 c rice, and again stir to combine. Taste for salt (I put in about 1/4 tsp, as well as some black pepper).

Place the peppers into a greased baking pan (we broke my favorite 9 x 9 pyrex last week, so I had to use two smaller pans), and stuff them with the rice/beef mixture. You can pack the rice in pretty heavy, but don’t compress it too much or it can get chewy and gelatinous when it cooks (you want enough room that the tomato sauce can drip down into it while it’s cooking).
Bake these pepper cups at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the peppers are just beginning to soften. Ladle the tomato sauce over the tops of the peppers and bake for about another 10 minutes, or until everything is hot.

The man who passed down this recipe said that you can optionally add cheese (I think a cumin smoked gouda or an asiago would be tasty), but it really doesn’t need any cheese, or anything else. I did, however, quite enjoy the leftover stuffing last night at band rehearsal (I had extra – oh, bummer) tossed with a bit of parsley…along with some delicious potato pancakes made by Alanna of Bojon Gourmet.