Monday, August 29, 2011

Sausage and Corn Saute

I've been blogging for so long now that I sometimes forget whether or not I have posted a specific recipe, especially if it is one that I have had for a long time. And I have had this one for a very long time, indeed. I got it from my co-worker and boss in a two-person office when I worked for the League of Women Voters in Austin - the only job from which I have fired myself. I enjoyed working there, but it got routine after a while and I was bored, so I started going in later and later, and wasting more and more time while I was there, although how I do not remember since there was no internet at the time. We were high tech, though, for the times. We even had a word processor!

I don't remember the circumstances under which she gave me the recipes, but both of them have been in heavy use since then. One of the recipes was this Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Topping, about which I wrote recently. The other one was this sausage and corn saute. I love this dish because I love sausage, but it has always been a guilty pleasure for me because of that. And the more I try to avoid heavily processed foods, the more I have avoided buying commercial brands of sausage, like the Eckrich smoked sausage that was my favorite for a long, long time. But my changing palate (and, I suspect, a changing formula) has made it more difficult for me to justify using it, even rarely. Somehow, this no longer appeals:

I have been looking for different things to do with this summer's abundance of corn and tomatoes, and this recipe came to mind. I decided it could be lightened up if I found a different kind of sausage to use. The rest of the ingredients are quite healthy, so I figured it should not be too hard to make that one change.

The Apple Market, where I buy the majority of my meat, recently added chicken sausage to their rotation. I had used it before with my Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup, so I knew it tasted good, and is quite lean compared to the Eckrich sausage.

It worked beautifully. And with fresh corn and tomatoes, the whole dish is lighter and fresher, and much better than the original. A few tablespoons of chopped fresh oregano that my co-worker was generous enough to give me (again!) made it even better.

As it turns out, I have posted this recipe before. But since this version is lighter, fresher, and more healthy, I think it bears re-posting. Here is what I did:
Heat a scant tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add one pound of chicken or turkey sausage (it will need the oil to get started, since it does not have a lot of fat), sliced into 1/2-inch rounds, and let it brown well on both sides.

While the sausage is browning, cut a large onion in half lengthwise and slice into thin half-rings. Once the sausage is browned (Make sure it is well browned), add the onions and a handful of salt and, lowering the heat if necessary, cook until the onions are soft and translucent.

While the onions are cooking, peel 2 large or 3 medium tomatoes and chop them roughly. You do not have to take out the seeds.

Once the onions are translucent, add the tomatoes and stir well, making sure to pick up any of the brown bits on the bottom of the skillet that were not picked up by the onion. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cover.

Cook for 20 minutes. Add 3-1/2 cups of blanched corn and cook until the corn is heated through, about 10 more minutes. Remove from the heat and, if desired, add 3 tablespoons of fresh chopped oregano (or herb of choice) just before serving.
This dish should serve 4. If my experience is any indication, there won't be any leftovers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chicken with Apricots and Lemon Thyme

Last week one of my co-workers brought me a beautiful bounty of fresh herbs from her garden - basil, boxwood basil (a relatively new variety that has small, tight leaves that have a concentrated basil flavor and which I am going to try to find so I can grow it myself), a beautiful variegated oregano and some lemon thyme. What a treat!

I have been having fun deciding how to use them. The basil went into a few batches of succotash. The variegated oregano went into a frittata and an eggplant dish. And the lemon thyme? The apricots at the market were so beautiful last week that I knew on the spot that they were destined to be baked with chicken and the lemon thyme. I could hardly wait to get home and get started.

It was delicious paired with kennebec potatoes roasted with garlic and rosemary. The apricot has that beautiful tartness that counterbalances its sweetness, and the lemon thyme imparts a gentle tang of citrus and earthiness that brings everything together.

In addition to being a delicious, satisfying dish for company or family, it is quite simple to make. Here's how:
Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Take 1 roughly chopped onion and layer it on the bottom of an 8-inch by 12-inch baking dish. Place 8 pieces of chicken (any cuts, but I like the dark-meat of the thigh, which is full of flavor and doesn't dry out as easily as breast meat), skin side up, over the onion. Season the chicken well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Cut 1 pint of fresh apricots into 4 pieces each, removing the pit. Layer the apricots over the chicken. Take a generous amount of lemon (or regular) thyme (about 20 small sprigs) and sprinkle them over the chicken and apricots. If the herb is older and has a thick stem, then remove the leaves and sprinkle them over the top. Pour a little olive oil over the chicken, and then cover with foil.

Bake the chicken for abount 45 minutes, then take off the foil. Bake for another 30 to 45 minutes, until the chicken has browned and the juice runs clear when pricked with a fork.

Remove the chicken and the apricots from the pan. Strain the remaining liquids and either use as a sauce or reserve for later use. (I actually found that the chicken did not need any sauce, so I put the strained liquid in the refrigerator, then removed the fat, and used it later in the week for a different dish. Double duty!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Blueberry Tease

Blueberries are abundant in Chicago right now, and I find myself buying a couple of pints once a week. They have been delicious in yogurt with strawberries, and I have made my new favorite blueberry buttermilk cake a couple of times, but I have been looking for something new.

What you see above is my first attempt at blueberry pie. It was not bad, although there are definitely some adjustments that need to be made.

Once I have made them, and come up with a winner, I will share with you what I did, something that tastes as good as I think this one looks.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Pasta with Eggplant and Tomato Sauce

I have always had a love-hate relationship with eggplant. I love the way it tastes, but I have a hard time cooking it properly. And eggplant that is not well cooked is not good. I am convinced that is the reason why so many of my friends don't like it. When it is bad, it is very, very, bad.

I have, however, recently discovered the secret to cooking eggplant. This is it: cook the shit out of it. And then, cook it a little more. There is no such thing as al dente eggplant. If eggplant is not cooked all the way through it is rubbery and has very little taste. Cooked right, it is a smooth, silky pillow of flavor. Even then, not everyone will like it, I guess, but I think more people would appreciate its earthy flavor if it were properly cooked. It should be a heartbeat away from falling apart. That's how you know it is ready.

Some people may stay away from eggplant due to the belief that the peel and the seeds can be bitter, and you need to salt it, soak it and peel it before using, which is a lot of work. I am pleased to report that these days that is no longer necessary. I have never salted and soaked my eggplant, and I have not yet run into one that has a remotely bitter skin, or seeds. So that is no longer an excuse.

Eggplant is one of the clean 15, so I buy conventional from my local grocery store, rather than organic at Whole Foods. And they must be in season right now, because they are inexpensive and gorgeous. So I brought one home with me the other day, even though I was not sure how I wanted to use it. And in one of those serendipitous moments that occur now and then in life, I was watching Barefoot Contessa and her guest was Antonia Bellanca with a pasta with eggplant recipe. It looked like a great way to take advantage of the season's tomatoes and basil, so I decided to try it. Of course, I used it more as a guideline and fiddled with it along the way.

The result? Quite delicious. The eggplant is soft, smooth and silky, and adds an almost smoky tone to the sauce. I used whole wheat orecchiette, which was a good choice because the sauce filled the little hollows and clung beautifully. A crisp, crunchy green salad complements the smoothness of the sauce.

This actually made quite a bit more sauce than I needed, so I was able to freeze some of it in two pint-size jars. For one of those, I cooked up a cup of orzo and threw it into the sauce (which I heated in a 3-quart saucepan), and then added 1/4 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. I added more cheese for garnish, and sprinkled some fresh basil on top as well. (If the cheese looks a little funky, chalk it up to my mini food-processer. The blade was slightly angled and it clumped more than grated. Another reason why I usually grate it, but I was feeling lazy. I will remember this the next time I decide to grate my cheese in the processor.)

If you're tired of your same old pasta sauce, or have been relying on jars lately, give this a try. (And much as I am plugging the eggplant here, it would actually work with any vegetable.)
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 4-6 servings

3 Tbsp olive oil
1Tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 medium eggplant, chopped
1/4 cup marsala or chianti or other red wine
4 large medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, liquids strained from seeds and pulp
(or 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved)
1 lb dried short pasta (orecchiette, farfalle, rotini, cavatappi, etc.)
1/4 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped (or 1 Tbsp dried), plus more for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
Grated Parmagiana Reggiano, for topping

Heat oil and butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until just translucent, then add eggplant and cook for another 2 minutes, until eggplant just begins to soften. Add the liquid from the tomatoes. Cover the skillet and lower the heat. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the eggplant has softened. Add the garlic and the tomatoes and season to taste with the salt and pepper. Continue to cook until the eggplant is well cooked and the tomatoes have broken down, another 20 to 30 minutes. Cook longer if needed, to make sure the eggplant is thoroughly cooked.

Cook the pasta 2 minutes less time than is indicated on the package instructions. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and add it to the skillet. Combine with the sauce and cook for another 2 minutes, to let the flavors blend and to finish cooking the pasta.

Remove from the heat and stir in the basil and the mozarella. Stir well to melt the cheese.

Sprinkle Parmagiana Reggiano over the top and add fresh basil for garnish.

Adapted from Antonia Bellanca's Pasta alle Melenzana recipe, as shown on "Barefoot Contessa," Episode: Italian Old and New.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Monday, August 08, 2011

Lima Beans with Corn and Tomato

Ah, summer. I've made no secret of the fact that I am not a fan, but I must say there are some redeeming features that make it almost worthwhile. It is worth it for the fresh tomatoes and corn alone.

And then there are the unexpected pleasures, like fresh beans. This is the third year that I have brought home at least one batch of fresh lima beans. I've never been a big fan of dried, although I do enjoy running into the occasional bean in a bowl of soup. They are too mealy for me to enjoy all by themselves, though.

Except when they're fresh. As I discovered last year, they are fantabulous. Soft and buttery, they almost melt in your mouth. I have been waiting for their appearance at the market, and when they finally showed up yesterday I grabbed a bunch, along with tomatoes and corn.

I knew I wanted to make something like the succotash I made the first time I brought them home, but I wanted something a little lighter and fresher. So I used a fresh tomato instead of canned, and I only used one tomato. I added a little butter and used olive oil instead of canola. And I had some beautiful basil that I thought would add a little extra burst of freshness.

I like this version much better than the succotash I made the year before last. The buttery beans, the sweet corn, and the slightly tangy tomato make for a perfect combination of summer flavors. This would make a nice change from baked beans or potato salad at your next barbecue.

The recipe as I made it serves two, maybe three at best. It can be easily doubled. And all of the amounts are really to taste, and can vary depending on what you have available.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 2 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/4 tsp sugar
1-1/2 cups shelled fresh lima beans (about 1-1/2 lbs in pods)
2 ears fresh corn, blanched and cut from the cob (1-1/2 cups)
2 Tbsp fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Shell the lima beans. Bring about 1/2 an inch of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add salt and lima beans. Cover, lower heat, and cook for about 10 minutes. The beans should still be a little undercooked.

Heat oil and butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add tomatoes, sugar, and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and cook until the tomatoes have started to break down and have formed a liquid. Add the lima beans.
Cover, lower the heat, and cook for about 10 minutes, until the lima beans are cooked.

Remove the lid and add the corn to the skillet. Cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until the corn is heated through. Add more salt if necessary, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Remove from the heat and tear the basil over the lima beans and corn just before serving.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Friday, August 05, 2011

Recall of the Week: Cargill Ground Turkey

From the USDA Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection service website Wednesday:
Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation, a Springdale, Ark. establishment, is recalling approximately 36 million pounds of ground turkey products that may be contaminated with a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella Heidelberg, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

Here's some perspective: 36 million pounds is 18,000 tons of meat. That's about 2,800 elephants. Imagine how many people that would feed.

I just heard someone on NPR say that feeding low-levels of antibiotics to animals ensures the best quality of meat for the best prices. If that's true, then why is so much of it being recalled?

If there is anyone out there who is still surprised by these super-large recalls, then I have little hope that anything will change.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Chana Dal with Cabbage and Eggplant

While we have had by no means the hottest weather in the country these past few weeks, it's been mighty hot here. And while I still want to cook, I just don't feel like it. So I make grand plans, but when it comes time to execute them I often end up waffling.

A few weeks ago my friend gave me a bag with some CSA items she wasn't going to be able to use before leaving on her vacation. I thought it was just going to be a few zucchini, but I also ended up with a bunch of white beets, a small head of cabbage, a radish (!) and 2 small kohlrabi. All lovely, but what was I going to do with it?

Several years ago, not long after I first started this blog, a friend suggested that I tackle the subject of how to plan meals, especially for beginning cooks. She said she knew how to follow a recipe, but she wanted to do a better job of looking at ingredients (either in her kitchen or at the store) and coming up with a meal plan that would utilize them.

At the time, I was really just starting to figure out how to do that myself, so I did not know how to put into words what I was just beginning to get a feel for myself. But the thought stayed in my mind and informed many of the posts I wrote, and it did start a project that lasted for a few months, that might just be worth reviving. It was interesting to see what items I had to purchase for my cooking, and what I already had on hand. I think I might have to start that up again.

Which I will do with this post in a less formal manner. I had grand plans for those vegetables, but heat and inertia caught up with me and I ended up using them more on the fly. Here's what I did:
Zucchini - Of the three, one went into frittatas and the other two I used as pizza topping.

Beets, kohlrabi and radish - I boiled the beets, then sliced them with the kohlrabi and the radish and made a salad with red onion, fresh oregano, and a lovely honey mustard vinaigrette. If I had any greens I would have added them as well, but I made do with what I had.

Cabbage - Ah, the cabbage. I had big plans for that cabbage but just couldn't get to the point of actually going into the kitchen and starting any of those dishes. By the time it needed to be used, I also had two small eggplants that were getting a little past their prime. I also have a large amount of dried chana dal right now, so I decided to make soup.
The picture above is a little fuzzy, but the soup was quite good. I combined a few techniques I had picked up from other recipes, most notably Madhur Jaffrey's recipe for Spicy Eggplant Stew with Potatoes, Mushrooms and Chickpeas, but it seemed more effortless to just start chopping the vegetables and throw them in the pot than it is when I am following a recipe. It wasn't perfect this first time around, but it was pretty close, and with just a few tweaks it will be excellent. I love the toasty nuttiness of the chana dal, but regular chickpeas would work just as well, or any legume for that matter. And any vegetables would work instead of cabbage and eggplant - you can use whatever you have on hand.

So this is a dish that, if you have the basics down, you can make any time with any vegetables. I also happened to have some chickpea stock in the freezer so I used that, but you could use vegetable or chicken stock, or even water if that's all you have.

The best advice I can think of to give someone who has just started cooking and wants to go further than just following recipes is this: Consider recipes as suggestions, and start looking at specific ingredients as recommendations. If you have some vegetables in your refrigerator that you need to use and you don't have any specific recipes for them, think of some dishes that you do like and imagine how they would taste with what you have. I think you will be surprised at how quickly you learn how easy it is to start creating your own dishes.

But recipes are still necessary, at least to me, if for nothing else than the "suggestion" of how to use something in a way I might not have thought of myself. And so I give you the recipe for my Chana Dal with Cabbage and Eggplant.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 8 servings

1 cup dried chana dal (or 1/2 cup dried chickpeas)
4 cups water
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger (or 1 tsp ground)
1 serrano pepper, chopped
2 small or 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 small head of cabbage, shredded
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala, or tandoori masala, or curry powder of choice
1 cup diced tomatoes, with liquid.
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup whole wheat couscous
Salt to taste

Sort through the chana dal and rinse thoroughly. Place in a medium bowl with the four cups of water and let soak for 2 hours. (If using chickpeas, let them soak overnight - or you can use 1 14.5-ounce can, drained and rinsed.)

After soaking, drain the chana dal and put it into a medium saucepan with 3 cups of water (to cover by about 2 inches). Bring to a boil, lower, then cook until tender, about 40 minutes. (The beans can be
cooked a few days ahead and refrigerated.)

Heat oil in a large pot. Add the onions and cook until just translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and serrano pepper and cook another 2 minutes. Add eggplant and half a teaspoon of salt and cook for about ten minutes. Add cumin, turmeric and masala and cook for 1 minute more, being careful not to burn the spices. Add the cabbage and cook for a few minutes, until it has started to wilt. Add the tomatoes, the stock, and salt to taste. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until the eggplant is tender. Add the chana dal (or chickpeas) and the couscous and continue to cook until the chickpeas are heated through and the couscous have cooked. Remove from the heat and add the cilantro and the parsley before serving.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

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