Sunday, November 16, 2008

    Back in the Kitchen

    As I continue to heal, I've begun to regain my "kitchen legs." Less than a year ago, when my fridge only had condiments and take-out, I never imagined I'd say this, but I actually love to cook. It's helping me regain my confidence, creativity, and focus, as well as comforting me.

    Over the last couple of weeks, I was visited by Alesa and Nicky, two of my very best, dear, energetic, kitchen-savvy friends, and we cooked up a storm: juicy whole chicken roasted over parsnips, onions and carrots that were pure flavor explosion; garlicky, rich baba ghanoush; cornmeal fried okra and squash (okra is out of season so we used frozen, and the squash was a lot better than I expected); quinoa salad with shitakes; low-fat pumpkin muffins (from a streusel muffin mix -- we substituted pumpkin puree for the eggs and milk); lasagna; chicken casserole; and turkey chili (recipe below). The last four are freezable, which means that not only did I get to enjoy making the meals with my friends, but I also have a freezer overflowing with individually contained meals for two. Just add salad, wine, husband, and voila!

    Today I'm alone at home resting and enjoying writing while watching the New Orleans rain, but I couldn't resist a little kitchen time. I made the following because I didn't want the last unused squash to go to waste. It turned out very well:

    Jennifer's Fall Leftovers Gratin

    (Ingredients vary, & might include: breadcrumbs, store-bought pumpkin puree, fresh squash, Fuji apples, olive oil, garlic powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon, & nutmeg.)

    -Heat olive oil at medium-warm in saute pan.
    -Chop 1 squash & 1 apple (amount of both are to your taste).
    -Add squash & apple to pan. Stir in your preferred combination of garlic powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon, & nutmeg. Let sit on low for about 10 min.
    -If you're using fresh bread, on a cutting board, tear apart or chop bread into small pieces (to texture preference). I used about 3-4 cups of homemade breadcrumbs, which came from the bread leftover from a takeout dinner at Ignatius the other night, which is essentially French bread. It wasn't actually stale yet, though it would've been A.O.K. if it had been. You could also use pre-bought breadcrumbs, or my favorite, whole wheat Panko).
    -In small bowl, mix crumbs with olive oil, olive oil, garlic powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon, & nutmeg (to taste).
    -Add squash mixture to slightly oiled (I use Pam) small baking dish. Add a layer of breadcrumbs, then smooth out a layer of pumpkin puree, then the rest of the breadcrumbs.
    -Bake at 400 degrees for 30 min, or until top breadcrumbs are the texture/color you like.

    As mentioned above: Turkey Chili Mole With White Beans & Corn

    -1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    -2 medium onions, chopped (I used the food processor as it's so easy, though I still wore onion goggles due to my "smell of raw onions" allergy.)
    -1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (Recipe calls for it, but I didn't have, don't like it much, didn't use.)
    -1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
    -1 1/2 lbs. lean ground turkey (Oops, I misread the recipe before going to the grocery, so mine only has 1 lb. this time: hence, the amounts are in bold here.)
    -1+ tablespoon chili powder (To taste)
    -1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (To taste: I added much more.)
    -1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (Again, to taste. Coupled with the cinnamon, the powder gives it a rich, mole-like flavor, unlike any chili I've eaten.)
    -2 bay leaves
    -1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    -1 28-oz can whole tomatoes; if you want it thicker, add more.
    -3 cups beef stock or broth (1 can or more, to taste, pending on desired thickness.)
    -1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
    -3 15 oz cans small white beans, rinsed & drained (Pending thickness of soup you could add more or less.)
    -1 can unsweetened corn

    -Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions & saute until light brown & tender, about 10 min.
    -Add cumin, stir 1 min (Add oregano here too if you're using it.)
    -Increase heat to medium-high. Add turkey, stir until no longer pink, break with back of spoon.
    -Stir in chili powder, bay leaves, cocoa powder, salt & cinnamon.
    -Add tomatoes with their juices, break with back of spoon. (You can also cut them when it's done cooking, or leave them whole like I did last night.)
    -Mix in stock & tomato sauce. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, simmer 45 min. (top on), stirring occasionally.
    -Add beans & corn. Simmer until flavors blend, about 15-20 minutes. Discard bay leaves.

    Bon Appetit!

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