calling for your help: a healthy, budget-friendly recipe project

Hello! How’s your October going? This month I’ve had the wonderful luxury of time to pursue endeavors that I had placed on the back-burner for a bit, and one of these is getting back to a project I’ve been working on throughout med school—something I’d like to share with you and invite you to get involved.IMG_0783

At my med school, every student chooses a longitudinal project to pursue. These range anywhere from work in basic science labs to investigations abroad. My interests landed me in the realm of community health, and furthermore, my love for cooking, nutrition, and making healthy food accessible gave me the inspiration to create a healthy cooking resource for community members in the South Side of Chicago, an area disproportionately affected by obesity and obesity-related illness and under-resourced in terms of access to healthy foods. But before I could create a recipe resource, I wanted to find out what assets, needs, and desires actually existed in the community. To do this, I interviewed community members about what and how they cook, what they like to eat, where they shop for groceries, and what they would find helpful in a healthy cooking resource. From this, I received a wealth of information regarding people’s food habits, a lot of wonderful stories about favorite dishes and kitchen memories, and most excitingly, found there were a strong interests in cooking and obtaining a healthy, budget-friendly resource of recipes.

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Now armed with this firsthand knowledge and a list of hundreds of dishes, I’m onto phase two of the project: writing up recipes that honor people’s food preferences and cooking styles and use ingredients that are readily available and affordable in grocery stores in the area. Much as I love to cook and conjure new creations, I know there is a talented pool of cooks out there, and the power of our combined efforts is greater than anything I could ever do alone.

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So, I’d love your help! If you have any favorite healthy, budget-friendly, quick-and-easy recipes, send them my way! There are also interests in diabetic-friendly, low-sodium, and kid-friendly recipes. I’m compiling recipes onto a nutrition-focused site, and of course, anything you send will be credited.

As a starting point, here’s a recipe I tested last night: Zucchini Noodle-less Lasagna, which replaces pasta sheets with zucchini slices, ricotta with cottage cheese, and packs a punch of spinach. At 120 calories, 12g of protein, 9g of carbohydrates, and 91 cents per serving, this certainly fits the bill of health and budget-friendliness.

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Here’s to putting our creative minds and cooking talents together! You can send me any of your recipes, thoughts, or ideas to joanna.perdomo@gmail.com.

Zucchini Noodle-less Lasagna
Makes 15 servings
5 medium zucchini

10 oz frozen spinach
24 oz 2% cottage cheese
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce (recipe below)*
Slice zucchini lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips. Sprinkle lightly with salt and place in a colander to drain for 20 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels.
Meanwhile, thaw spinach according to package directions. Combine thawed spinach with cottage cheese, basil, and oregano.
Preheat oven to 425F. Line a 9×13 baking pan with foil or lightly grease with cooking spray. Place 1/2 cup of tomato sauce into the pan and spread it out evenly. Place 1/3 of the zucchini slices in single strips to form one layer across pan. Spread half of the cottage cheese mixture on top of the zucchini slices. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and 1/3 cup mozzarella cheese. Layer an additional 1/2 cup of tomato suace, 1/3 of zucchini slices, remaining cottage cheese, and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and 1/3 cup of mozzarella cheese. For final layer, use remaining sauce, zucchini, and parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.
Cover with foil and bake for 50 minutes. Uncover and broil on HIGH for 5 minutes until top is slightly golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.
*May also use prepared canned or jarred tomato sauce. Try to choose a low sodium version if available.
Tomato Sauce
Courtesy of Laura Cohen
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh basil, thinly sliced, or 1 tbsp dried basil
1 clove garlic finely chopped or 2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flake
1 small onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper
sugar (optional)
Place olive oil, basil, garlic, and red pepper flake into a large pot or dutch oven and heat on low, simmering for 10-15 minutes and stirring often (careful not to burn garlic!). Add diced onion and carrot to olive oil mixture and saute for 15-20 minutes on medium-low heat until softened. Add crushed tomatoes and a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Simmer for 20-30 minutes on medium-low heat and adjust seasoning according to taste. Remove from heat and use for lasagna recipe, or store for later use!

 

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the little reminders

I’m coming off the heels of a delicious week-long break. Our school kindly gave us nine days of freedom between rotations to relax and recharge. For me, that meant a trip home to Miami to celebrate the birthdays of my incredible grandmothers, followed by a couple of days enjoying my dad’s company in Chicago. Although the Miami sun was reluctant to peek from the clouds, I still managed to tan away a bit of my pasty complexion. More importantly, I got to spend a ton of quality time with my entire family and indulge in way too much good food.

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Last Sunday, we celebrated my Grandma Rita’s 80th birthday at an extravagant brunch buffet. I felt like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory as I pranced about the stations of food, doling crab legs and fancy cheeses onto my plate, and ogling over every dainty petit four that graced the dessert room (yes, room!). Let’s just say this was a special occasion for a very special lady, and I was lucky to partake in such an indulgent event! One of the highlights of the buffet for me was something that was tucked away in a little bowl behind the more showstopping rows of sushi. It was a cold soba noodle salad, full of soft chunks of tofu, studded with dried cranberries, and tossed in a light vinegary dressing. I was won over by the interplay of sweet and tangy, and loved how light and fresh the flavors were. I snapped a photo and made a mental note to recreate this as soon as I came back to Chicago.

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Serendipitously, my dad and I dined at a great Korean restaurant last night where the portion sizes were gargantuan. Among the many containers of leftovers I got to take back to my apartment was a brimming quart of cold spicy soba noodles. Although delicious in their own right, I couldn’t help but see the makings of my longed-for brunch buffet soba salad in them. So today, I did some doctoring of a different kind, and gave these soba noodles new life with the addition of thinly sliced cabbage and cucumbers, delicate carrot ribbons, tofu, cranberries, cashews, and a generous dousing of rice vinegar. Infused with the memories of my grandma’s special celebration and my dad’s visit to Chicago, these noodles will be my little reminder of the wonderful vacation had with my family as I take on my next rotation.

Soba Noodle Salad

2 cups soba noodles, cooked and chilled

1/2 head Napa cabbage, sliced in thin ribbons

1 English cucumber, sliced in thin quarters

1 large carrots, cut into long ribbons (use a vegetable peeler)

2/3 block of extra firm tofu, drained and cut into small cubes

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup roasted cashews, chopped

1/3 cup rice vinegar

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp granulated sugar

1 tbsp sriracha or other hot sauce*

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Add more vinegar/sugar/hot sauce to your liking. Enjoy!

*Note: There was a bit of spicy sauce already on the noodles I used from the restaurant, so you may want to add more or less hot sauce depending on your taste!

micro[wave]managing

Right now, I’m living in a hotel. Not too shabby…

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I’m doing my outpatient medicine rotation in a northern suburb, and the hospital up here has very graciously provided us with housing so that we don’t have to make a 1.5+ hour commute each way. I feel like I’m stuck halfway between vacation and real life: enjoying the “rainkissed leaves” scented lotion, free cookies and coffee in the lobby, and cable TV, but still facing the realities of studying, working, and waking up early.

While there are lots of great restaurants within a short distance from the hotel, my budgetary and time constraints don’t exactly allow me to be eating out every night. Lucky for me, my room is equipped with this lovely little kitchenette (aka a mini fridge and microwave). I’ve secretly been looking forward to challenging myself to “cooking” in this little space since I found out I’d be coming up here back in June. During my first two years of college, I basically earned a minor in Dorm Room Culinary Arts, so reverting back to the good old days of making do with a few inches of counter space, a tiny cutting board, a mini knife, and a small yet mighty microwave was alluringly nostalgic.

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These past two weeks, I’ve been capitalizing on the extreme microwave-ability my all-time favorite food, the sweet potato. A quick rinse in the bathroom sink, a couple of knife pricks in the skin, and a click of the POTATO button and voila!—an instant, vitamin-rich, and filling canvas for whatever your heart desires. For me, that’s been some microwave steamed kale (bought pre-washed and cut, sprinkled with a splash of water, and microwaved for 1 minute), bean salsa (both purchased and homemade), avocado chunks, and a dollop of Greek yogurt or a sprinkle of feta cheese. Delicious, nutritious, satisfying, and all wrought from this humble little space.

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I only have a few more days left here, but I’m hoping that future rotations will land me back soon for a welcome change of pace and a healthy bit of a culinary challenge.

So, no real recipe here, just my vote of confidence that you too will be able to make the most of any downsized kitchen space you encounter. And my biggest tip if you find yourself in a similar situation: bring your favorite plate/bowl/silverware from home and a little dish soap and sponge. It makes all the difference in making for homier mealtimes.

nested

I have been jokingly saying that for the past few weeks, I have been nesting. Like an expectant mother awaiting the chaos and loss of leisurely times that a new baby brings, I’ve been bracing myself for starting third year, where, as we were told during orientation, we should expect to have none of our ducks in a row.

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And now, the night before my Medicine rotation starts, I sit here with my laundry folded, pants hemmed, bathtub scrubbed, and most importantly, my fridge, freezer, and pantry stocked with food. I’ve realized over the years that knowing that I have healthy, delicious food on hand is a form of security for me—a way of knowing that no matter how crazy a day I have, a fresh, nutritious meal will await me at the finish line. So in preparation for busier times ahead, I’ve been embracing the freezer: mushroom barley soup, lentil stew, Cuban black beans, Spanish garbanzos, ratatouille, veggie chili and mushroom walnut burgers from Kate, and and embarrassingly lot more are neatly tucked away into plastic containers, awaiting a day in the near future when they’ll be lovingly reheated and put to a very noble and nourishing use.

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But today was a final day of leisure. And for me, a leisurely day always incorporates some time in the kitchen. A fresh mango salsa and vanilla almond granola arose from the day’s culinary adventures, as well as a bountiful slaw with miso dressing. Inspired by a carton of plump sugar snap peas from the farmers’ market and a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, I concocted a salad of Napa cabbage, snap peas, carrots, red pepper, scallions, and proteinaceous doses of quinoa and edamame. The mountain of vegetables and grains was tossed in a creamy miso, ginger, and tahini dressing, and sprinkled with some fresh cilantro and basil for brightness. This was the ideal recipe to tackle during an afternoon where I was looking for an activity to draw out the hours and listen to some music, as lots of slicing, blanching, julienning, blending, and tossing were involved. But the result is a huge batch of a fresh, protein-packed slaw bursting with sweet peas of summer that will serve as a hearty yet light lunch for the week.

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So, maybe my ducks will be all out of order this year, but at the very least, I’ve tried to make them the best nest I could.

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Sugar Snap Pea, Edamame, and Quinoa Slaw with Sesame Miso Dressing

adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

1 cup quinoa

1/2 lb sugar snap peas

1 cup edamame, cooked and shelled

1/2 pound Napa cabbage, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 large carrot, grated (about 1/2 cup)

3 large scallions, white and green parts sliced thinly on a bias

3 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Sesame-Miso Dressing

1 tbsp fresh ginger

1 large garlic clove

2 tbsp mild yellow or white miso

2 tbsp tahini

1 tbsp honey

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil

To cook quinoa: bring 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups of water to boil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Once boiling, turn heat down to medium and allow quinoa to cook for 15-20 minutes, until water is gone and quinoa is soft to your taste. Fluff with a fork.

To blanch snap peas: Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the sugar snap peas and cook for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water and drain. Pat the snap peas dry, and then remove the stems and slice them thinly on a bias.

In a very large bowl (this makes a ton!) combine snap peas with cooked edamame, sliced cabbage, red pepper, and scallions, grated carrot, and sesame seeds.

For dressing: Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blender and whir until smooth.

Pour dressing over vegetable and quinoa mixture and toss many times to coat completely. Serve right away or store in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.

cranking up the heat

In the realm of baking, 350 is a comfortable number. It’s the tried and true temp for producing moist quickbreads, gooey brownies, and tender cookies. As a kid, I was schooled in the world of baking long before I ventured into the arena of savory cooking, and for most of my childhood, I thought that temperatures above the 300s were reserved for the oven cleaning mode or some horribly hazardous activities.

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I distinctly remember the first time I cooked something at 400 degrees. I was in middle school. The recipe was for Rachael Ray’s oven fries. My mom was at work. My dad was busy with his tools in the garage. With no one around, I cranked the oven dial past the 350 mark and set it squarely on 400. I felt a rush of rebellion. The potato wedges quickly crisped to a golden brown before anyone could see the dangerously high temperatures with which I was playing. I had discovered the joy of roasting, and there was no turning back.
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These days, roasting is one of my techniques for cooking all manner of things. Carrots are a natural fit for high-heat cooking and have become my favorite vegetable to roast. For this recipe, I first thought about cooking them at 425, but on a whim, let the dial creep up to 475. I figured it would save me some time, and potentially add a bit more color to the carrots. I tossed the half-moon slices in a generous glug of olive oil and threw them into the fiery oven as I prepared the rest of the salad components: a lemon harissa dressing (inspired by this great book), quinoa with golden raisins, and wilted rainbow chard. Within 30 minutes, everything was ready for assembly, and I opened the oven to find 475-degree-kissed perfection: the carrots were caramelized, tender but not too soft, and had a beautiful amber hue. I mixed everything together and topped the salad with fresh mint and a handful of chopped walnuts for a weeks worth of filling lunches. Even when eaten cold, the sweet smokiness from the roasted carrots really shone through.

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Whether you’re reading this from chilly Iowa or steamy Miami, I urge you to crank up the heat higher than usual and bask in the pleasures of roasting.

Roasted Carrot Salad with Harissa Lemon Dressing

Roasted carrots:
4 large carrots
3 tbsp olive oil
salt

Preheat oven to 475. Peel and cut carrots into half moons. Toss carrots with olive oil and a couple shakes of salt and spread on a foil lined baking sheet. Roast for 30-40 minutes, tossing halfway through and then every 10 minutes after that until tender and caramelized in some spots.

Quinoa:
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
¼ cup golden raisins

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan on high heat, covered with a lid. When contents come to a boil, reduce heat to medium high and cook for 10-15 minutes, until water is completely absorbed and quinoa is al dente.

Chard:
1 large head rainbow chard (or any other dark green)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
Zest of a lemon

In a large pot over medium heat, saute chard and garlic in olive oil for about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until wilted and slightly cooked down, but still retaining some bite. Add lemon zest and remove from heat.

Dressing:
1 lemon
2 tbsp harissa
1 tbsp honey
⅛ tsp cumin
3 tbsp olive oil

Combine lemon zest and juice, harissa, honey, and cumin in a small bowl. Add olive oil and whisk vigorously to emulsify the dressing.

To assemble:
½ cup chopped fresh mint
Handful of chopped walnuts
salt and pepper to taste

Combine cooked quinoa, roasted carrots, cooked chard, dressing, mint, and walnuts in a large bowl (or save a dish and use the chard pot) and stir until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy warm or cold. Keeps well in the fridge.

Other tasty add-in ideas: feta cheese, 1 can of drained garbanzos, chopped or shredded cooked chicken

deconstructed dolmades

Almost every week this winter, I’ve make some sort of dinner dish that includes a combination of beans, greens, and grains. It’s a hearty, healthy, and student budget-friendly meal. But after making one too many iterations of stewed beans in tomato or curry-based sauces, I was feeling in a rut. Thus, a new dish was born. Inspired by a technique of pan-frying beans that I had recently read about and a steadfast love for Middle Eastern flavors, I paired together garbanzos, caramelized onions, spinach, lemon, za’atar, and brown rice.
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It was love at first bite. I gobbled up a bowl for dinner, reveling in the zing of the lemon, the earthiness of the za’atar, and way that the garbanzos had a crispy bite, yet a soft and creamy interior. The caramelized onions added a rich sweetness, the rice a bit of heft, and the spinach a healthy dose of vitamins.
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I was going to clumsily dub this “Lemony Greens & Beans Rice with Za’atar” until Kate had an aha moment while eating some of this dish tonight. “In the best of ways,” she said, “this tastes just like deconstructed dolmades.” She was precisely on point. The spinach had wilted down in such a way that it resembled the texture of a grape leaf, and the ingredients were pretty much identical to what one might stuff inside of grape leaves, or dolmades. For a non-vegetarian version, you could add in some sauteed ground beef, lamb, or turkey. And for an extra special touch, a drizzle of tahini made this delicious dish even better. I think it’s safe to say I’ve broken free from my greens and beans rut. I’m looking forward to seeking out more de- and re-constructions of dishes in the future.
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Deconstructed Dolmades

1 medium onion
4 tbsp olive oil
1 15 oz can garbanzos, drained
10 oz spinach leaves, torn or chopped into smaller pieces
2 generous tbsp za’atar
2 lemons
1-1 ½ cups cooked brown rice
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Slice onion thinly and add to olive oil. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 25-30 minutes, until golden and caramelized. Remove onions from pan. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to pan over high heat. Add drained garbanzo beans to pan and arrange in a single layer. Allow beans to cook undisturbed for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown on bottom. Toss the pan or give them a good stir to rearrange them and allow them to cook on the other side for another 3-4 minutes. Add spinach, onions, za’atar, and zest and juice of two lemons and allow to cook until spinach wilts down, about 5 minutes. Toss in cooked rice and allow to cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

feeling squirrely

Being stuck in the middle of winter has imparted me with a squirrely compulsion to have my pantry hyper-stocked. This is by no means a bad thing, except for the fact that I am about sixteen bags, cans, and boxes of nuts, grains, and beans away from clearing out my cabinet before heading home in a month. I knew this weekend I needed to tackle a few of these items, and the first, and perhaps fondest item, to experiment with was a bag of dried brown lentils. Lentil soup is my usual go-to lentil dish, but I decided to switch it up this week, inspired by three juicy Meyer lemons that had been eyeing me from my produce drawer all week long and a recipe I had recently seen for lentils, sweet potatoes, and radishes in a Meyer lemon dressing.
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Radishes are not something I normally gravitate towards—their bitterness just doesn’t sit quite right with me. But roasting them was pretty revolutionary. They went from being having a sharp and crunchy bite to being meltingly soft and even a little bit sweet. Paired with my all-time favorite, the sweet potato, and a mustard, thyme, and Meyer lemon vinaigrette, this salad was bright, yet earthy, and had a beautiful mix of colors to boot. I shared this with friends at a potluck dinner tonight, and I’m already looking forward to having leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

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One bag of beans down, 15 more pantry staples to go. Stay tuned for more!

Lentil Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
Serves 8-10

Roasted Vegetables:
2 large sweet potatoes, cut into small cubes
1 lb radishes, cut into small cubes
1 red onion, diced
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 450. Toss cubes sweet potatoes, radishes, and diced onions with 3 tbsp olive oil, salt, and thyme. Use remaining tbsp of olive oil to coat the bottom of a cookie sheet. Spread the vegetables out in an even layer. Roast for one hour or until sweet potatoes start to caramelize, stirring every 15 minutes.

Lentils:
2 ½ cups (1 bag) green or brown lentils
5 cups water

Rinse lentils under cold water. Place them in a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer with a lid partially on the pot for about 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft but not mushy. If all the water is not absorbed during the cooking process, drain off liquid in a colander.

Vinaigrette:
3 Meyer lemons
2 tbsp grainy mustard (Dijon would work too)
1-2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
a few cracks of black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil

Whisk together zest and juice of 3 lemons, mustard, thyme and black pepper. Add olive oil and whisk until vinaigrette is emulsified.

To assemble:
Stir cooked lentils, roasted vegetables, and vinaigrette in a large bowl. Serve warm or cold. Keeps well for meals throughout the week!

hey it’s good to be back home again…

Those who know me (and, by this point, maybe also those who read this blog) know how much I love a good figure of speech or turn of phrase. I inherited a whole bunch of my best one liners and witticisms – most of which are unmentionable here- from my Grandpa Gerald. Driving home from Madison late last night, I could hear Grandpa’s voice telling me, “Katlynn, you have wheels on your butt,” his favorite zinger for anyone in the family who was constantly on the road, running around too much and not content to stay home and take it easy. And while I live to travel and spend time with my people scattered across the country, my wanderlust has certainly gotten the best of me lately and it I’ve barely unpacked my suitcase in the last 2 months. Cooking the delicious meal I’m about to tell you about with Joanna with tonight, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and contentment to be home in Chicago with no trips on the horizon. I think it’s time to take the wheels off for a while.

When home is Chicago and the forecast is “ice storm warning,” the sugar cured girls have no choice but to pull out all the stops on the heartiness front. This mushroom bourguignon recipe is one that Joanna and I turn to again and again when we want something special and filling but relatively low-fuss.  There’s quite a bit of chopping involved (I recommend recruiting a sous chef to make light work of this part) but it comes together quickly and without stress. You’ll probably want a sous chef to help you finish that bottle of wine you opened for the stew too. We’ve served the bourguignon over roasted potatoes or egg noodles in the past but I think we found the perfect base in polenta on this iteration. If you’re as dubious of preparing the polenta in the oven as I was at first, you’ll have to trust me when i say that it works like a charm. This method is so easy that I may never cook polenta on the stovetop again.

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I hope you’ll find an occasion to stay home and try out the recipe in your own kitchen. And if you need a sous chef and you have a couch I can crash on, there’s a girl in Chicago with wheels on her butt that could probably be persuaded to come visit you wherever you are.

Mushroom Bourguignon and Oven Baked Polenta (adapted lovingly from two of our very favorite and most trusted food blogs, Smitten Kitchen and Joy the Baker)

For the bourguignon:

2 T olive oil

1 T butter

2 lbs portobello or cremini mushrooms, washed and cut into 1/4″ slices

1/2 lb carrots, sliced

1 large onion, quartered and sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 c red wine

2 c beef or vegetable broth

2 T tomato paste

1 T fresh thyme leaves (1/2 t dried)

1 1/2 T all-purpose flour

Parsley, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat 1 T oil in a large, heavy pan over high heat. Cook the mushrooms until they start to brown but don’t yet start to release their liquid. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Lower the heat to medium and add another 1 T oil to the pan. Toss the onion, carrot, thyme, a few good pinches of salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Add the wine, scrape off any vegetable bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pot, turn the heat all the way up, and cook until the wine is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add back the mushrooms along with the broth and tomato paste. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until everything is tender. Mash the flour into the butter to make a paste then stir it into the stew. Cook 10 more minutes at medium heat until the stew is thick enough for your liking. Add parsley just before serving. Serve over polenta (recipe follows)

Oven baked polenta

1 c coarse ground cornmeal

4 c water

1 tsp salt

4 T butter

1/4 t crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 350F. In an 8×8 baking dish, mix cornmeal, water, and salt. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and add butter, stirring until the butter is melted. Bake for 15 minutes. Stir in red pepper flakes and serve.

hibernation celebration

When you have survived as many winters in the upper midwest as I have (a full quarter century’s worth!), you are bound to have high standards for “hibernation fare.” These are the recipes the very thought of which will help you ward off frostbite when your scarf is frozen to your face and you can’t feel your toes at the bus stop.  This is the type of food best enjoyed while sitting on the couch, wearing your comfiest sweats and two pairs of wool socks, watching your favorite football team in a victorious effort on the Frozen Tundra.

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Hibernation fare is one of those categories where you have to be true to your deepest comfort food whims. I have a bit of an unorthodox approach seeing as I’m not a meat-and-potatoes type and I’ve never been the biggest fan of soup. No hot dish for me, but if that’s your thing, by all means bring on the tots. I tend toward chunky, filling-but-not-heavy stews and curries. To solidify a spot in my winter rotation of recipes, a dish should have a little bit of kick and it should be tastier as leftovers for lunch two days later than the day you made it. Bigtime bonus points for inclusion of tomatoes or squash. Ex: this well-loved white been stew. Deb’s formula for perfection in lentil form. Or this newcomer to the list, Thai red curry with kabocha squash. I think I could drink the broth with a straw as the antidote to all things that are January in Chicago. Adjust the spice to your liking, adjust the squash to what you have on hand (though if you can find kabocha, its pumpkiny goodness is extra good) and serve some Joanna’s January Cake for dessert. Stay warm and stay tuned for a whole winter’s worth of hibernation recipes to come from the sugarcured kitchens

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1 large kabocha (or other orange) squash

10 oz tofu, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1 large handful green beans, cut into 2″ pieces

1 red bell pepper, diced

1/4 c basil leaves, chopped

1 T oil

1 15oz can coconut milk (light or regular)

3 T red curry paste

1/4 c water

2 T brown sugar

2 whole thai red chilis

1 T fish sauce (optional- I omitted it but I’m sure it would be a tasty addition if you have it on hand)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half. Line a baking sheet with foil and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Place the squash halves cut side down on the tray and roast for about 30 minutes until tender but not totally mushy. Let cool.

In a large saucepot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the curry paste, mashing it to incorporate it with the oil. Slowly whisk in the coconut milk until no clumps remain. Add water, basil, sugar, chilis, and fish sauce (if using) and bring to a simmer. Add red bell peppers and green beans and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes until the veggies are tender.

Peel the roasted squash and cut into 1 inch chunks. Add the squash and the tofu to the curry and heat just until they are warm. Serve over rice.