Tuscan Fall Vegetable Soup

IMG_3469

Another wonderful fall soup discovery! I love hearty soups as the weather starts to cool down and the leaves start to change. And fall vegetables are perfect for accomplishing something hearty and delicious! This came from an oversurplus of vegetables from my local CSA that I hadn’t gotten around to using yet. I’m calling it Tuscan because, hey, it sounds good. Fall in Tuscany…well, yeah! Enjoy!


 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 carrots, cubed
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small zucchini, cubed
  • 1 small summer squash, cubed
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • 2 cups butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1 can of white beans (cannelli, navy, great northern, etc)
  • 4 cups stock
  • 1 TBS fennel
  • 1 TBS cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 TBS fresh thyme
  • 1 TBS fresh sage
  • grated parmesan, for serving

 

Method

Heat olive oil in a stock pot over med-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and give it a quick stir. Then add carrots, bell pepper, squash and zucchini, celery and butternut squash. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, give it another swirl, reduce heat to medium and let all those flavors get happy while you chop your kale. Wash your kale really well. Sand and other little critters like to hole up in the creases and while it probably won’t kill you, you probably don’t want all that extra in your soup. Just shake-dry them. A little water is fine for this effort, and will help steam and wilt the kale later. Trim off the ends of the stems, at least. If the stems are particularly woody or tough, go ahead and cut the whole stem off. Then roll the bunch up to make it easier to chop, and cut the kale into about 1/2 inch ribbons. There will be a lot. Don’t panic.

use the big cutting board

use the big cutting board

Bring the heat on your pot back up, add the kale, and sprinkle a little salt over top. It will seem like kale overkill, but trust me. It doesn’t take long to go from this:

Too full!

Too full!

To this:

Oh, that's better

Oh, that’s better

Just keep turning the already cooking veggies and oil with the kale, and it will all wilt down to about 1/4 of its bulk. Once the kale is a nice bright green color with a little shine (well coated with oil), toss in your drained beans, an extra can full of water, and your 4 cups of stock. I used chicken stock I’d made earlier, but store-bought or vegetable stock would work just fine. Add in your dry spices and fresh herbs, give it a good stir, and let that baby simmer over a medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, or until your butternut squash is tender.

IMG_3465

For a little extra body to your soup, you can add in a thickener of some kind like cream, or you can scoop out some of that squash and puree it. OR, iyou happen to have some of that Butternut Squash “Sauce” left over, which I did, it adds a little more body, and a little more oomph to the yummy.  🙂

oh...about two of these full oughta do it!

oh…about two of these full oughta do it!

Stir it around to incorporate your extra, then serve up the soup with a sprinkling (or a mountain) of parmesan to finish her off.

 

 

Butternut Squash…Sauce?

Ok, so this one can be a sauce. It could also be a soup, or a filling, or a hat. Well, maybe not that last one, but the point is it has tons of potential and tons of flavor!

I may have mentioned before, I am part of a local farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where I pay a lump sum at the beginning of the growing season, and every week I pick up a variety of whatever is in season, aka super yummy veggie surprise! I can’t tell you how wonderful the experience has been. Over the last three seasons, I have brought home and experimented with all sorts of new and wonderful seasonal  vegetables that I’d never had picked up or even looked twice at in a grocery store. Kholrabi, tut soi, any kind of fall/winter squash. And I love them all! One thing I’ve found with squash, though, is they yield quite a bit of food. So as I looked at my 2 acorn, 3 spaghetti, and 2 butternut squashes sitting on the counter (they keep for weeks by the way), I knew I needed to think outside the box a bit. My farm lady suggested soup, which I started to make. But then I veered off a bit and this bit of versatile wonderfulness was born!  🙂  Enjoy!


 

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash, cubed
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ancho chile powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • broth, milk, cream, or water

 

Method

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cutting a fall/winter squash is very intimidating. They are big, solid, have hard rinds, and are oddly shaped. Starting with a sharp knife, the easiest way I’ve found is to cut the top and bottom off to give yourself a flat surface. Then turn it on its end and split it down the middle. You will find a seed holding area inside. Using a spoon, you can scoop the seeds and membrane out, much like a melon. You can actually roast the seeds like pumpkin seeds and they are quite tasty too! You can roast the squash in the skin at this point, but for this particular recipe, cubing is easier, and faster. So you want to peel your squash with that same sharp knife, and dice it into about 1 inch cubes. Put the squash and the peeled garlic cloves (whole) on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle olive oil, turning the squash until all sides are covered. Sprinkle just a pinch of salt over them, and put the sheet in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until smashable. I’d recommend you flip all the cubes halfway through the time so you don’t get one side a little charred, but if you forget, like I soooo often do. No worries!

Once they are done, let them cool on the counter just a little, maybe 10 minutes. Put everything, squash, garlic, residual oil, in a blender, or if you have one of those fancy immersion things, (jealous!) you can use that too. Add the cumin, paprika, and chile powder and pulse just a little to get things going. This is where it’s going to be all about you: you will need some liquid to help smooth out the squash, but what kind and how much is dependent on what you want and how you want to use it. This can be vegan, vegetarian, thin, or super creamy, and everything in between. So pick your poison (or lack of) and add a little at a time until you get to the desired consistency for what you plan to use it for. Sauce topping: think Velveeta cheese-like. Pasta sauce: think mac-n-cheese-ish. Soup: well, that would be very soup-like.  😉

 

I actually made this sauce to go with some lightly breaded and fried eggplant and a side of spaghetti squash. With a medium-sized squash, I was able to feed my family of 3 (two of which hate both squash and eggplant, yet ate seconds!) and had two pint jars full left over. 

Spicy Mac-and-Cheese with Chicken Sausage

Creamy, cheesy, wonderfulness

Creamy, cheesy, wonderfulness

One of my go-tos for a long time was Kraft box mac-and-cheese with hotdogs mixed in. I know, not a culinary showcase of wonderful, but there was always something satisfying and comfortable about that old blue box full of awful powdered cheese (is it actually cheese??) and that unmistakeable smell and flavor of a good old fashioned hot dog. Unfortunately, or not, I can’t enjoy things like that anymore, but still crave those old familiars.

I picked up some organic chicken and cilantro sausage at my local organic market a while back, stuck it in the freezer, and forgot about it until I didn’t get around to going to the grocery store last week and was getting low on food. On a side note, I’ve tried a variety of organic/natural chicken and turkey sausages. Some have better flavor, and then some don’t sit right with me. But if you have the alpha-gal thing going on, make sure you check the casing on the sausage. Although the meat itself is poultry, some brands still use a pork casing. I’m not sure of the fat content of a pork casing, if any, so it may be a non-issue, but I’m not willing to take the chance considering the after effects. There are several brands that use a vegitable-based casing, or no casing at all. This is what I used for this recipe.

I always have some sort of pasta in the pantry and a variety of cheeses in the fridge. Really, who doesn’t love cheese and all it’s variety and potential? So I thought about those lazy evenings when the blue box was my savior and went from there. The cilantro in the chicken threw me off a little, until I saw my spices, and I knew what needed to happen. This mildly spicy, creamy concoction is the result. Enjoy!


 

Ingredients

  • 1 pkg Cilantro Chicken Sausage (about 4 links)
  • 1 pkg pasta (free choice: shape, type)
  • 8 oz Havarti cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1/2 medium or 1 small onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 TBSP ancho chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • salt and pepper, to taste

 

In a large saucepan, cook pasta according to package directions. In a separate pan, fry the sausage over med-high heat. They are usually pre-cooked, so you just want to get a little char on all sides. Once warmed through and charred, remove the sausages from the pan and set them aside. Reduce heat to medium, and put the butter in the pan to melt. Once liquified, losen up the sausage-frying wonderfulness from the bottom of your pan add finely chopped onion and garlic and let cook until the onions are just starting to get transparent, about 1 minute. Add the heavy cream to the pan. BEWARE: this can be tricky! I don’t know how many times I’ve had to toss a cream-based sauce because I curdled it. Basically, you heat milk or cream too quickly and it breaks up and becomes completely unuseable. My method is to remove the pan from the heat, and add just a little (like 1 TBSP) at a time, and stir it constantly. Also, I say medium heat, but that’s my stove. It’s very important to know your equipment, especially your heat source. So what is “medium” on my stove dial may be medium low on yours. All I can say is feel it out. You don’t want the pan so hot that anything is sizzling when you add the cream, but once it’s all in there with the butter, you want the burner hot enough to heat the liquid to melt the cheese in. And when it comes to cream, low and slow is infinately safer than high and fast.

Ok, so you’ve got all the heavy cream in there, stirred and incorporated with the butter, onion, garlic, and sausage scraping wonderfulness. At this point you can increase the heat a little bit to heat up the cream, as long as you continue to stir it around to prevent scalding on the bottom. Add your spices, and keep stirring until the mixture is fairly warm, indicated by a light steam coming out of the pan. Then add the Havarti. Havarti cheese is this wonderful, semi-soft Danish cow’s-milk cheese that melts wonderfully. It doesn’t have an overwhelming cheesy flavor, so it’s perfect when you have other flavors you want to highlight while keeping the creamy, meltiness. And, because it’s fairly soft, slicing or rough cutting the cheese is sufficient before adding it to the cream to melt.

At some point, your pasta probably got done. Once you’ve drained it, put the pasta back in the saucepan. Slice the sausage and add that to the pasta. Once your cheese sauce is smooth and creamy, pour it over the pasta and sausage and stir thoroughly, but gently, to cover every bit without doing too much damage to the pasta. If it needs thickening, let it sit, off heat, for about 5 minutes. Give it another good stir before serving.

Basic Chicken Soup

IMG_3384

This is the basic, short ingredient list but still super flavorful core of my soups. My Two Day Burnt Chicken Soup was supposed to be this, but happy accidents happen and now I have a good example of where this basic recipe can go. There are 1001 variations of chicken soup that incorporate various ingredients and flavors. Whether I move on to a creamy, chowder-like soup, or an asian spin-off, or something a little more spicy, I always start off with this basic recipe. For a flavorful chicken broth for other future dishes, you can use this same basic recipe but with that leftover carcass instead of the meaty chicken pieces, and triple the cooking time to get every bit of goodness out of all the ingredients. Simply strain the broth after to remove all the bones and (now completely limp and tasteless) veggie bits out. The broth freezes well, and can be used in lieu of that boxed or canned stuff full of other random ingredients you find in the grocery store. Plus it provides the opportunity to use every last bit of chicken yumminess (waste not, want not, right?), is way cheaper than that box stuff, and you can make it completely yours.

Chicken soup is so very versatile, especially with a good base, and it is truly good for the soul. Enjoy!


 

Ingredients

  • Whole chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 large carrots
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper

 

Rinse and butcher that chicken. You’re going to use all of it, and you’re going to eventually pull all the meat off the bones, so if you aren’t confident in your butchering skills, this is a wonderful opportunity to practice. I usually do it in my deep sink for easy clean up, and use a  medium-sized, very sharp knife. You don’t have to cut each piece separately, in fact, the bigger pieces will cook a little slower, imparting more flavor to the soup without drying the meat out. I usually end up with two leg quarters, two wings with drummets attached, two breasts, some skin (from the breasts and back), and the rib cage and back “body” area. Set the breasts aside; breast meat is quick to cook and doesn’t impart much flavor to the soup, so I generally set them aside or freeze them for later use in other dishes.

Now the chicken skin is a totally different case. Chicken skin is a pure and natural source of cooking fat. Plus those crunchy bits they cook down to are simply delightful sprinkled over a salad or stir fry, or completely on their own! If I’ve got it, I use the skin in place of cooking oil, especially in soups and stir fries. So cut up that skin to about 1 inch square pieces and it in your large pot over medium heat, uncovered. Be careful! Once some of the fat liquefies out of the skin, it will start to spit and pop. Adjust the heat to minimize it, or if you have one of those handy splatter screens, use it. You don’t want to cover the pot, as it will get too hot in there, and the moisture from the lid will drip down into the fat and make it much worse.

Once you get a little crispness on the skin (about 5 minutes), add the chicken pieces, skin side down to the pot to let them brown on medium-high heat. Chop and toss the garlic and onions on top to get the flavors to start their mingle without scorching them.

photo 6

Once brown on one side, go ahead and flip them. There should be a good amount of oil on the bottom of the pot from all the chicken skin by now to avoid sticking and burning.

photo 7

While the other side is browning, start chopping up the rest of your veggies. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m fond of chunky veggies in my soups, so I rough chop everything. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the chicken, and add the carrots, celery, and bell pepper. Let them saute a bit with the chicken, stir everything around, and let the flavors start to work in together.

Flavor fugmentation 101

Flavor fugmentation 101

Once everything is at least warm and sizzling, add enough water to cover it all. Don’t be afraid of a little burning extra-cooking! All the stuff stuck to the bottom will come loose when you add the water to the hot pot and make the broth that much richer. Sure, a nice light golden chicken broth is what you want sometimes, however; the sweet richness you can pull out of some chicken and simple vegetables is worth savoring at times too.

That's not your mom's chicken broth!

That’s not your mom’s chicken broth!

Add the fresh parsley (or dried if that’s all you have. It’s ok, I don’t judge. Just make sure you know your ratios.) and bring the whole thing back to a boil, and then cover it and reduce the heat to low. Let it simmer for at least 20 minutes to ensure the chicken is cooked through and you draw all that flavor out of the ingredients. Start checking the chicken pieces for doneness at about the 20 minute mark (an easy visual is if the meat is pulling away from the bone at the end of the drumsticks). Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot and put the pieces in the fridge to cool down. At this point, taste-test the broth for salt/pepper again. YOUR taste buds are your best friend in the kitchen. There is nothing wrong with adjusting bits here and there. Just remember to use a clean spoon each time if you’re cooking for others.  🙂

Once the chicken (in the fridge) is cool enough to handle, pull all that meat off and throw it back in the pot and give it a good stir. Kick the heat back up to about medium for about 5 minutes to re-warm the chicken, and then serve it alone, or with prepared egg noodles, or over rice, or anything else you want.

 

 

Once you have the basic recipe down, get creative! I added kale to this one pictured above,  mostly because it was in my fridge and was going to go bad. My various versions of this soup are normally products of whatever produce I haven’t used up yet and a few herbs and spices I always have on hand. That goes for any recipe. Once you get the basic flavor profile and feeling for it, use your taste buds and creativity to make it your own. Missing an ingredient? Substitute it and see what happens. And above all, enjoy it!

Early Autumn Soup

Harvest-y yum!

Harvest-y yum!

I struggled a little on what to call this. To be honest, I struggle with what to call most of what I cook. “What are we having for dinner, mom?” is usually followed by something very generic: soup, chicken, pasta, etc. It’s early fall, and it’s soup, and autumn sounds fancier than fall, so there we have it! This was another one of my wing-it concoctions that cleaned out my produce drawer, but it turned out to be something hearty to fill our bellies, with touches of that fall, harvest-time feeling. It’s a perfect meal for a rainy day in September, and a great alternative to chili (my used-to-be cold, rainy day go-to). Enjoy!


Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tsp fennel
  • 2 tsp ancho chile powder
  • 1 TBSP cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1/2 large, or 1 small zucchini
  • 1/2 large, or 1 small summer squash
  • 2 small to medium sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 2 cups fresh kale
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Heat and saute chopped onion and garlic in oil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add your ground turkey and all the spices except for the cinnamon. Work all the spices, onion, and garlic into the meat, and let it brown. Meanwhile, chop the your veggies. I like my veggies course in soup for a kind of rustic, hearty feel. If you prefer smaller bites or a more refined look, go a head and chop them smaller. Just remember to make everything around the same size and that they won’t take as long to cook if they are smaller, so adjust your times accordingly. Add the bell pepper, zucchini, squash, and sweet potatoes to the pot, stir it around a bit, and let it cook for about 2 minutes to warm up your veggies a bit and let the flavors start to combine. Increase your heat to high, add enough water to cover everything, and bring it to a boil.

Letting all those flavors fugment

Letting all those flavors fugment

Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low, and add kale, black beans, and cinnamon. Stir it all in, adding salt, pepper, or any other spices according to your taste, and let it simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until all the veggies have cooked to a soft, but not mushy consistency. Serve alone, or over rice.

 

 

Two Day Burnt Chicken and Vegetable Soup

Check out that deep, rich broth

Check out that deep, rich broth

This is “two day” soup because my original attempt was over two days. I accidentally cooked all the water out of the pot of chicken stock I was trying to make and was left with a semi-burnt, smoky mess. Not being one to waste a perfectly good chicken carcass, I had to try to salvage my stock. I saved the “mess” and refilled the water the next day for a second go. Unfortunately, the smokiness was too overpowering for any good use as a stock, so wracking my brain for something to cut through the burnt flavor and sweeten it up a bit, I added one or two ingredients at a time until I got the flavors just right and the soup was born. Enjoy!

 


 

Ingredients:

Chicken carcass Tomato
Onion, divided 1 lime, juiced
3 Stalks Celery, with leaves 4 carrots
5 cloves garlic, crushed 4 medium potatoes
2 cups baby kale ½ small head cabbage
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped 1 TBSP dried oregano
2 tsp caraway seeds 1 tsp fennel seeds
4 bay leaves 2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt and pepper, to taste Cayenne or chili powder, to taste (optional)

 


 

 

Put chicken carcass in a pot and just cover with water. The meatier the carcass, the more flavor and meat will be in the soup. Add half of the onion, celery, 2 bay leaves, salt and pepper. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to med/med-high and let all the water cook out (this is where the “burnt” part comes in). Allow what is left in the pot to cook about 5 minutes longer, or until it starts to smoke. Trust me, this is where the smokiness and depth of the chicken stock is created.

Refill the pot with water, allowing a little more headspace to the carcass for the other veggies: about an inch, at least. Bring the water back up to a boil. In the meantime, coarsely chop the tomato, onion, carrots, and potatoes. Crush the cloves of garlic (peel, then lay the knife flat on each one and smack the knife with the heel of your hand). Once the water is at a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and remove as much of the first set of ingredients as possible (celery, onion, and bay leaf) leaving the carcass and any meat that has already fallen off. Scrape the bottom of the pot a bit to loosen up all that goodness, and add the veggies and garlic (feel free to add more fresh celery as well if desired). Add the caraway, fennel, 2 remaining bay leaves, parsley, oregano, turmeric powder, cayenne powder (if using), and salt and pepper to taste. Remember, potatoes suck up salt, so don’t be afraid. And always reserve the right to add more of anything later. Squeeze in lime juice. Give it all a good stir and let it simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Chop and add the cabbage, and let cook for about 10 more minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through without falling apart. Remove from heat, add baby kale and stir a bit more. The heat from the soup (which should be a wonderfully rich, dark brown) should be enough to wilt the baby kale. It was suggested after to add some sausage. Andouille would go very well in this recipe, and I will be sure to try it next time.

 

*UPDATE: Turns out this soup freezes really well, and I had two people question why I was eating a beefy broth at lunch today considering my alpha-gal. Score!

Amazingly Rich Veggie Soup

This started as yet another variation on my chicken/veggie soup. But then I got carried away and forgot to add the chicken. I was nervous for the entire process of cooking this, but was simply amazed by the depth of flavor and richness I was able to achieve using just vegetables and a few spices. The burdock root and dandelion leaves add a cleansing kick to the already uber-healthy mix of deep colored vegetables and greens. I found both, fresh, in the produce section of a local health food store, but if they are not available near you, and if you are hesitant of simply pulling them from your garden, at least in the case of the dandelion leaves, there won’t be much flavor lost in their omission. Enjoy!


 

Ingredients

1 small onion 1 green bell pepper
3 carrots 3 stalks celery, with greens
3 cloves of garlic 3 medium beets
1 fresh burdock root 1 cup dandelion leaves, roughly chopped
2 bunches baby bok choy 1 cup broccoli
2 tsp caraway seeds 2 tsp ground cayenne (or to taste)
2 tsp Turmeric powder ¼ cup Dulse (dried seaweed)
Salt, preferably sea salt (sparingly to taste) Pepper
Olive oil Water

 


 

Peel the carrots, beets (be careful, they stain!), and burdock root and roughly chop all vegetables. Heat enough olive oil to just coat the bottom of your pot. Add onion and garlic, and let cook down until translucent (about 2 minutes). Add the rest of the veggies, except the dandelion leaves and bok choy, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. The dulse is seaweed and is naturally salty, so use the granular salt sparingly, or not at all, depending on your tastes. Stir fry the vegetables at med-high to high heat for about two more minutes, then add enough water to cover the contents of the pot, plus about an inch. Add caraway seeds, cayenne, and turmeric powder and bring it up to a boil. Then reduce the heat to simmer, add the dandelion leaves (if using) and cook until the vegetables are at your desired softness. Add the chopped bok choy and dulse about 5 minutes before serving.

The soup itself will be a deep red color from the beets with a slight yellow undertone around the edges from the turmeric, which also stains a bit. But with the richness of the broth, you, and anyone you serve it to will swear there is some sort of meat stock in the soup. As a matter of fact, the broth could probably be used as a decent substitute for a beef broth in recipes that call for it (French Onion Soup, etc) if you are allergic like me, or are a vegitarian, or simply don’t like beef.

Eggplant Pizza Sauce

I started making pesto pizza a while back to satisfy my cravings for pizza, which I can’t have because tomato sauce causes me quite a bit of distress. Apparently tomatoes have sulfites, although not all tomatoes, but the internet can’t tell me which ones, and possibly only in the skin, or not, depending what I read. So, despite my undying love for tomatoes and all thing tomato-y (tomato soup, spaghetti sauce, chili, pizza, ah! how I miss you!) I do my best to stay away. I can generally manage a small amount, and do, without too much distress, but full-on pizza sauce tends to be a little much for me. I started making pesto pizza, which my kids loving refer to as “Green Pizza,” on a semi-regular basis. It’s simply basic pesto sauce spread over a pre-made (organic, natural, whole wheat or sourdough, me-safe) pizza crust, sprinkled with mozzarella and parmesan cheese. It is one of their favorite things, and with the crust I use, it takes literally 15 minutes to make from start to finish. But, alas, last night I didn’t have all the ingredients for pesto and was forced to improvise. Oh, darn!  🙂

I had some beautiful eggplant from my farm CSA and plenty of fresh basil, and my wheels started going. My kids DO NOT like eggplant. At all. Ever. I make Eggplant parmesan Alfredo every now and again when I’ve got a nice eggplant because I love fried eggplant, which they will tolerate, but simply because they slather it with sauce and love the breading more than they hate the eggplant. And because I’ll usually cave and give them breaded chicken cutlets in place of the eggplant on these nights. But this pizza sauce went over wonderfully with them! It was hearty and complex enough in flavor and texture for me to love, and no recognizable eggplant “ickiness”  for them. Enjoy!


 

Ingredients

  • 1 small to medium eggplant
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes (8-10)
  • about 1 cup of fresh basil
  • olive oil
  • about 4 oz cheese of your choice (I used half white cheddar, half swiss last night)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • pizza crust (pre-made or homemade, whatever suits you)
  • extra toppings, as desired

 

Thinly slice eggplant (1/4 -1/2 inch), sprinkle with salt, and place in a colander over the sink for about 20 minutes. This helps get the bitter juices out of the eggplant before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 350. After the eggplant has been sitting, lightly rinse the excess salt from the surface and arrange the slices on a lightly oiled cookie sheet or baking sheet of some sort. I went ahead and used my pizza stone to cut down on the dishes, which worked out just fine. Peel and lightly crush garlic and place the cloves and cherry tomatoes on the baking sheet as well. Let them bake on the center rack for about  15 minutes, or until the garlic begins to brown a bit and the tomatoes start to split. Remove from oven and adjust the heat as needed to preheat for your pizza crust of choice.

Add eggplant, garlic, tomatoes, basil, and a little salt and pepper to a blender/food processor. When adding the salt, remember your choice of cheese can seriously up your salt content, so plan accordingly. Pulse-chop a couple times to get things going. Scrape down the sides and start it up again on a low to medium speed, drizzling in olive oil, slowly, until all the ingredients start to come together. I like some discernible chunks in my sauce, so my goal is to not completely puree the whole thing. However, if you like all your sauces super smooth, go for it! The flavors are there, so the texture is up to your preference.

Spread the mixture on your pizza crust. Add whatever toppings your heart desires at that moment. I used bell peppers because thats what I had, but my general go-tos include red peppers, baby bella mushrooms, even pineapple and this natural turkey-ham (all turkey but tastes like ham) I found at MOM’s Organic Market. Sprinkle on your cheese and put it in the oven according to the cooking directions of your crust. If you are adding any meat toppings, they should be fully cooked prior to putting them on the pizza. When the crust is done, and the sauce is all bubbly and the cheese is all melty and turning that wonderful golden color, pull it out of the oven and try really, really hard to let it cool a bit before serving (yeah, right!).

 

This sauce would probably work over pasta as well. In fact, I plan to try that sometime very soon!

Mom’s Burgers

The name for this recipe blog was inspired by my kids. These burgers spawned a regular insistence that I open my own restaurant, name it “Mom’s Burgers,” and make nothing but these turkey-feta burgers to feed the masses. It’s only fitting that they should be my first recipe here, I suppose.

It all started with a horrendous craving for a juicy cheeseburger and a frantic search on the internet on how to make one with ground turkey. Ground turkey is, well, fairly tasteless, dry, somewhat unstable on a grill, and did I mention dry and tasteless? So I needed moisture and flavor. My search led me to allrecipes.com, a couple other cooking sites, and then here, which is very close to what I did originally. I adjusted a bit with the garlic amounts (for sulfite levels), added some onion because, sautéed onion, added extra feta and spinach for bulk and my flavor preferences, and adjusted the grilling time for my grill and grilling ability. I have tried so many variations of this recipe (as I tend to do), and I encourage you to do the same, but this is by far my favorite. Enjoy!


Makes about 12 patties

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 8 oz. block of feta cheese
  • 8 oz. fresh baby spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 small onion
  • olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

 

On med-high, heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your pan. Chop onion into smallish-ly (no chef here: about 1/4 – 1/2 inch pieces) and add it to the oil. Chop, smash, or use your handy dandy garlic press, and add the garlic to the oil. The idea with the garlic is to make very small pieces so, 1) the flavor is well integrated with the oil, and 2) no one gets a huge chunk-o-garlic in their patty. Stir onion and garlic around a bit to infuse the oil with flavor, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the baby spinach. Let it cook down until just barely wilted, rotating the bottom oil-onion-garlicy goodness to the top constantly. Once all the spinach is coated and just-wilty, put it in a bowl, juice and all, in the fridge or freezer to cool just enough to handle without burning your skin off.

Time to get your hands dirty!

I recommend setting up where you are going to put your patties before you start in on the meat. OR, enlist an assistant to do that for you when needed. Either way, you are going to need some sort of flat cookie sheet type thing and a couple layers of wax or parchment paper to keep the patties separate. It should be something you can easily fit in your freezer as well.

Put ground turkey in a large bowl. Crumble the feta block and add it to the turkey. Remove spinach mixture from the fridge. Roughly cut the spinach mixture, without crushing it too badly, and add the spinach and about 1 Tbsp of the juice to the bowl. Add parsley, salt, and pepper (and whatever other spices your heart desires) and mix well. This is the getting dirty part. You could try to use a spoon or ladle, but I’ve found the only way to really get all the ingredients incorporated is to put my hands in it.

Once it’s all pretty well incorporated, it’s time to make the patties. Pinch off a golf ball-and-a-half sized piece of the mixture and form a ball by rolling it in your hands. Flatten the ball to about a 1 inch thickness and place it on your cookie sheet lined with parchment. Using your thumbs, gently press the center of the patty (about the size of a quarter) outward to make it about half as thin as the rest. This will help keep your patties as patties instead of meatballs. Continue with the rest of the meat, making sure to put another piece of parchment between layers if needed. When all the meat mixture has been patty-fied, wash up and put the cookie sheet in your freezer. This extra step helps with the stability of the burgers on your grill, which you should now pre-heat.

There are a couple options with grilling turkey meat. Simply, it likes to stick and fall apart on a grill. Try as I might, I always lose at least one to the grill-Gods. It’s just the way it goes. But to help, you can:

  1. Line your grill with foil. No sticking here, however you do get a good puddle of (super-yummy) juice that comes out of the burger. The patties don’t really sear (so no pretty grill marks), and can end up soggy and falling apart. Cutting slits in the foil to let the juice escape does help a bit with the soggy part, but still, no pretty grill marks.
  2. Clean your grill well, get it nice and hot, and coat the grates with olive oil just before placing the patties on. This has never worked out completely full-proof for me, but it feels more like I’m making actual cook-out style cheeseburgers, and I get the pretty grill marks and, more importantly, the wonderful charred outer crust. mmmm!

Either way you do it, timing is everything with turkey burgers. Move them too early, and they will crumble right before your eyes. Move them too late, and you have a dry, cardboard like thing that no amount of garlic and feta can save. So, choose your method, reduce your grill heat to low, and throw them bad boys on there (very carefully place them bad boys on there). Close the grill, and don’t touch for 8 minutes. Don’t open it. Don’t just peek under one. Don’t press down on them. Nothing for 8 minutes. And just when you think you can’t possibly wait any longer because this is the longest 8 minutes of your life and when will you be able to flip those puppies….! it will be 10 minutes and you will freak out, but it’ll ok. I promise. Flip them (repositioning just a tad to a fresh hot part of the grates if you are like me and slightly obsessive about those grill marks), close it back up, and wait another 10 minutes. This last 10 minutes isn’t quite so critical and can be iffy depending on the actual thickness of you patties, your grill heat, the weather, your patience, etc, etc, etc. The patties should be mostly cooked from the first side, so go ahead and open and peek and test, but don’t squeeze (Don’t every squeeze a burger of any kind on a grill! You lose oh-so-precious moisture and juice and yum that way.) the burgers until you feel they are done. Then pull them off and serve them up!

 

In my house we serve these up on some all-natural whole wheat buns, with a slew of toppings to choose from: sliced avocado, lettuce, tomato, a variety of cheeses, this buffalo-ranch sauce I picked up at whole foods, pepper relish, italian dressing…whatever happens to be in the fridge and sound yummy. Get creative!


Alternatives I’ve tried and also love

  • crumbled blue cheese (although I prefer blue with beef burgers), or no cheese
  • grated zucchini in place of spinach: 1 medium zucchini grated and added raw to the meat mixture. Zucchini naturally has a lot of moisture, and kind of blends into dishes when grated so your kids (or vegetable-hating husband) might see it, but won’t taste it.
  • herbs and spices: oregano, thyme, cumin (for a smokier flavor), chili powder or pepper flakes (for a little kick)
  • chopped jalapeños, or other peppers: I’ve added these raw and let them cook with the burgers and also tried sautéing them a bit first with the onion and garlic. I like both. Add as little or as much as your fire-loving taste buds can handle.