Lisa on October 20th, 2014
Pumpkin Milkshake

Pumpkin Milkshake

Are you a fan of pumpkin lattes? Pumpkin pie? Do you have a hankering for pumpkin ice cream at this time of year? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you’d enjoy a pumpkin milkshake. It’s pretty much made of the same ingredients you’d use to make ice cream … so it’s not surprising that it tastes like melted pumpkin ice cream. Or you can include an ice cube or two and a shot of espresso with your milkshake to make your own pumpkin frappé. Pumpkin-flavored beverages taste a lot better when you make them yourself using actual pumpkin!

Pumpkin Milkshake

Pour 1/2 cup whole milk (preferably from grass-fed cows) and 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin into a blender. Add 1 tsp. maple syrup, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, several hefty shakes of cinnamon, and a small dash each of allspice and cloves. Blend well and taste it to see if you’d like it any sweeter or spicier. (In which case add another splash of maple or dash of the spices.) If you’d like it thinner, add more milk. I topped my milkshake with a splash of cream and another dash of cinnamon as garnish. This recipe makes an eight-ounce milkshake; feel free to double or triple the recipe as you like.

Enjoy!

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Lisa on October 16th, 2014
Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew

Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew

When the days turn crisp, it’s time to haul out the slow-cooker! (I saw a recent survey in Allrecipes that said 19% of Americans use a slow-cooker in any given two-week period. Surprising, but a good trend.) It’s ridiculously simple to make a succulent leg or shoulder of lamb with extremely minimal effort. My slow-cooker is just big enough to fit a three-pound shoulder into it, which means I wind up with plenty of lamb so tender that it practically shreds itself. You could make this entire stew in a slow-cooker, but I think it’s easier to make the stew in the slow-cooker and then add the shredded lamb to warm it through. That way, you can better control exactly how crisp or soft your veggies — carrots, potatoes, onions, etc. — wind up being. And if you also have a six-quart slow-cooker, you may not have much extra room for much other than the lamb, either. I opted for boneless lamb shoulder so that it was easier to maneuver into the cooker.

The slow-cooked lamb already has herbs and flavorings like garlic and rosemary, so I flavored the stew with dried Italian herbs, which includes sage, basil, thyme, marjoram, oregano, and yes, rosemary. If you’d prefer to stick with just one of two of those, feel free to do so. That’s the other nice thing about simmering stew on the stove — you can keep tasting and adjusting it as you go.

Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew
Makes a big pot of stew, plus you’ll have leftover lamb to use in a variety of dishes (or freeze to make stew again later).

For the slow-cooked lamb:
3 lbs. of boneless lamb shoulder
8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T. rosemary
1 tsp. sea salt
4 cups (32 oz.) chicken broth

For the final stew:
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups (32 oz.) chicken broth
1 T. Italian herbs
4 small purple potatoes, scrubbed but unpeeled, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 oz. chopped sun-dried tomatoes (look for tomatoes sold dry, not packed in oil; the oil is almost never of good quality)
Sea salt to taste

Place lamb, garlic, rosemary, and salt into a 6-quart slow cooker. Pour in the broth and cook on high for 5 hours. The meat should start to shred into pieces when you lift it up. Turn off cooker, uncover it, and pull out the meat with tongs.

Let the lamb cool until you can comfortably touch it, then use your fingertips (or two forks, if needed) to shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. If you’re not going to use it all, you might want to leave the leftover meat as hunks rather than shredded — that way, the leftover meat will be more moist. And don’t discard the cooking liquid! Once it has chilled, you may wish to break the fat off of the top and discard that, but the broth you’ve created will be lovely in this stew, and it’s best to stash away leftover lamb in its broth, whether you’re refrigerating or freezing it for later use.

In a large soup pot, cook the onions and carrots with a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until veggies are fragrant and softened, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring a bit more often, or until garlic is fragrant.

Stir in broth, herbs, potatoes, sun-dried tomatoes,  and at least a cup of the reserved lamb broth. Simmer for 10 minutes or until potatoes have reached their desired tenderness. Add as much slow-cooked lamb as you’d like, salt to taste, and heat through. (I’d aim for about 3/4 pound of shredded lamb.) Serve immediately. Leftover stew can be refrigerated for 5 days, or you can freeze it for 3 months.

Enjoy!

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Lisa on October 13th, 2014
Pecan Pumpkin Muffins

Pecan Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin, pecan, and maple — that pretty much sums up the flavors of fall. Why not put them all into a muffin? All you need is a dash of fall spices to complete the impression. And although coconut is decidedly not a fall flavor, I made these muffins with a combo of coconut and buckwheat flours since both rank low on the glycemic scale and therefore make an excellent start to the day. (No sugar rush, no ensuing crash, no desperate run to the vending machine.) And another nice thing about these muffins is that they’re easy to customize: swap out the pecans for walnuts, play with the spice blend, use different kinds of oils. You could even add chopped apples or pears if you want fruit-themed fall muffins.

Since muffin cups made of parchment paper are sturdier and more heat-safe than traditional versions, if you use parchment, you can pop these muffins into a toaster oven for a few minutes to warm them. They’re best served hot with a generous pat of butter on top. And unlike a microwave, a toaster oven will create a slightly crisp top, so the warmed muffins will seem like they’ve just come out of the oven for the first time.

Pecan Pumpkin Muffins
Makes 12 muffins.

1 cup raw buckwheat OR sorghum flour*
1/2 cup coconut flour
1 T. baking powder
Dash sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1 cup cooked pureed pumpkin
1/4 cup maple syrup (or 1/2 cup if you prefer sweeter muffins)
1/4 cup unrefined hazelnut oil OR extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 to 1/2 cup whole milk, preferably from grass-fed cows

Preheat the oven to 400F and line a muffin tray with 12 parchment paper cups.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, spices, and pecans. In a smaller bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients, starting with 1/4 cup milk. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry. If the batter looks too dry, stir in an additional 1/4 cup milk. (If you’ve used 1/2 cup maple syrup, you won’t need that extra milk, but if you’re making less-sweet muffins, you might need more liquid. Coconut flour is incredibly absorbent, so sometimes you need to add more liquid to recipes containing coconut flour.)

Scoop batter into muffin cups and bake for 22 minutes or until muffin tops are turning golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean and warm. Muffins can be refrigerated for a week, but they’re best eaten warmed and with a pat of butter.

Enjoy!

* Sorghum flour ranks much higher on the glycemic scale than buckwheat does. Both are gluten-free flours.

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Lisa on October 9th, 2014
Smoked Trout with Purple Potatoes & Parmesan

Smoked Trout with Purple Potatoes & Parmesan

Smoking fish and meat is an age-old way to preserve valuable foodstuffs. Nowadays, though, you’re more likely to find cured fish and meat, whether the curing was done via salting (gravlax), brining (pickled herring), or air-drying (jerky). That’s a shame, because smoked fish is incredibly flavorful. The smoked trout in this recipe is so flavorful, in fact, that it benefits from a little gentling in the form of mashed potatoes and milk. But the smoky flavor also pairs well with the savoriness of Parmesan, olives, and capers. (Not surprising when you consider that the olives and capers are pickled.) Smoked trout — or salmon, for that matter — would also make an excellent pâté when blended with whole-milk plain Greek yogurt and a dash of dried herbs. You don’t need many ingredients when you opt for such flavorful ones!

Smoked Trout with Purple Potatoes & Parmesan
Makes an 8″x 8″pan.

6 purple fingerling potatoes, scrubbed but unpeeled, cut into 1″ cubes
About 8 oz. smoked trout
Handful of pine nuts, toasted or raw
Handful of firm pitted green olives, chopped (Picholine — a.k.a. Lucques — are quite nice)
1 T. drained capers
1/2 to 3/4 cup whole milk, preferably from grass-fed cows
Parmesan for topping

Preheat oven to 400F and thoroughly grease an 8″x 8″ pan. I like to save my butter wrappers and use them for greasing pans. So easy!

Fill a medium pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. Drain well.

While the potatoes cook, tear the trout into small pieces, removing any visible bones as you go along. Put the drained potatoes in a large bowl and use a potato masher to mash well. Stir in the trout, pine nuts, olives, capers, and milk, starting with 1/2 cup milk. If the mash looks dry, add another 1/4 cup milk.

Transfer potato mixture to the greased pan and spread out evenly. Top generously with Parmesan cheese and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until Parmesan is turning golden brown and is starting to bubble. Let cool slightly before serving — that hot cheese can burn! Leftover potatoes can be refrigerated for 4 days.

Enjoy!

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Lisa on October 6th, 2014
Buckwheat Blintzes with Spiced Ricotta & Mascarpone

Buckwheat Blintzes with Spiced Ricotta & Mascarpone

Blintzes, blini, crêpes … they’re all ultra-thin pancakes. Russian blinis tend to be thicker than blintzes (which came by way of Eastern Europe to the U.S. via Jewish immigrants) because blinis are made with a yeasted batter that’s left overnight to rise, whereas blintzes — like crêpes — are made of flour, milk, and eggs. Both blintzes and crêpes are usually wrapped around a filling or topped with additional ingredients. Street fairs in Europe, for example, typically feature Nutella-topped crêpes the size of a giant skillet. (Although my favorite topping in Germany is Eierlikör, which is a creamy apertif based on egg yolks. Probably sounds a bit odd, but it’s lusciously wonderful — it tastes like rum-spiked custard.)

The classic blintz is stuffed with fresh fruit, soft cheeses like ricotta and cream cheese, and perhaps a touch of honey or spices. It’s easy to spoon some filling onto the blintz, then wrap it into a neat bundle. The final step is to sauté the blintz in plenty of butter to make a warm, melt-in-your-mouth breakfast or dessert. And the best part? Since you can make crêpes in advance and stash them in the fridge, blintzes are surprisingly simple and quick to make. Once made, you can refrigerate or freeze the blintzes, then re-warm them in a skillet or toaster oven.

Buckwheat Blintzes with Spiced Ricotta & Mascarpone
Makes about 12 blintzes.

For the crêpes:
1 cup raw buckwheat flour*
1 1/2 cups whole milk, preferably from grass-fed cows
2 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
Dash of sea salt
Butter or ghee for cooking the crepes, preferably from grass-fed cows

For the filling:
About 6 ounces (3/4 cup) ricotta cheese, preferably made with milk from grass-fed cows (I adore Serra brand’s ricotta)
About 6 ounces (3/4 cup) mascarpone, ditto on the grass-fed milk (I used Bel Gioso’s mascarpone)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves

Maple syrup or raw honey for topping

To make the crêpes, whisk all of the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Get out a (or two or three) 7″ nonstick crêpe pan and place a dab of butter in the pan. Heat over medium heat — I go with mark 4 out of 10 on my electric burners — until butter has melted and is sizzling. Pour in 1/4 cup of the batter and cook for 2-3 minutes or until crêpe is set on top and browned on the bottom. Use a heatproof spatula to flip over the crêpe and cook the second side for another minute or two or until equally browned. If you’re adventurous, by all means go ahead and flip that sucker up into the air to turn it over. Just don’t do that directly over the burner! It’s much easier to rescue a misdirected crêpe from a cool element than a hot burner.

Place the cooked crêpe on a wire rack. (If you put it on a plate, it’ll collect condensation and get soggy.) Make a second crêpe in the same pan using the same technique. I find that I have to put a fresh dab of butter into my pan every other crêpe to keep them from sticking. Leftover crêpes can be stacked in a sealed container and refrigerated for a week.

To make the filling, combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, using a fork to mash the ricotta and mascarpone to blend them thoroughly. Spoon the filling onto the crepes. Don’t overdo it on the filling — you need to be able to gently fold up two opposing sides of the crêpe, then fold up the last two sides to make a neat package. If you’re having trouble folding up the crêpe due to too much filling, simply unfold it and take out at least one-third of the filling and then re-fold the crêpe. A rectangular-shaped blintz looks more elegant than a square one — and it stays together better — so spoon the filling onto the crêpe in a line and then fold it to be long and tall rather than square.

In the same skillet(s) you used to make the crêpes, melt another dab of butter or ghee over medium-low heat. Add the blintzes two at a time with the seam side down. Cover and cook for a few minutes to heat the filling through.

Serve blintzes piping hot with a drizzle of maple syrup or honey, accenting with a dash of cinnamon if you like. Leftover blintzes can be refrigerated for 3 days if the ricotta is super-fresh (ricotta doesn’t last long; it’s the limiting factor here in terms of time) or frozen for 2 months.

Enjoy!

* Raw buckwheat flour is not only mild-tasting, whole-grain, and gluten-free, it ranks low on the glycemic scale, much lower than other grains. (That’s because buckwheat is actually a seed, not a grain, but it’s treated like a grain in terms of how it’s used.) If you can’t find raw buckwheat flour and you like the stronger flavor of toasted buckwheat flour — also called kasha — use that. Or use brown rice or sorghum flour, although those are higher on the glycemic scale.

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Lisa on October 2nd, 2014
Fresh Ahi Tuna with Carrots & Onions

Fresh Ahi Tuna with Carrots & Onions

While I’m a fan of canned tuna — and wild salmon and smoked herring and all manner of conveniently packaged sustainable fish and seafood — I must admit that a fresh tuna steak beats canned tuna every time. Oddly enough, lots of people don’t think to make a tuna steak (perhaps because it’s so readily available canned), but it’s just as simple to make as any other fish. Easier, actually, because you can easily cut tuna into strips. Much like beef and chicken strips cook more quickly than entire steaks or breasts, strips of tuna only take a few minutes to cook. It’s easier to cook them to your liking in terms of doneness, too, because you don’t have to guess at the interior color and texture — rather than flaking the center, you can cut a strip in half. It’s neater, too.

Fresh tuna has a less pronounced flavor than canned tuna, so nearly any spice or blend is compatible with a tuna steak. I chose a blend of Italian herbs and coriander punctuated by sweet/tart sun-dried tomatoes. The onions and carrots added a welcome caramelized undertone. If you like, you can add some chopped olives for a salty/briny kick. Just be sure to look for pole-/troll-caught U.S. tuna if you’re concerned about sustainability issues. (Click here for more information about tuna from the folks at SeafoodWatch.org.)

Fresh Ahi Tuna with Carrots & Onions
Makes 4 servings.

About 1/2 oz. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, sliced
4 carrots, cut into thin rounds
1 T. Italian herbs
1 tsp. coriander
Freshly ground peppercorns
1 lb. ahi tuna, preferably troll-/pole-caught in U.S. waters, rinsed and patted dry, cut into strips that are about 1/2″ thick
1 T. sherry vinegar OR apple cider vinegar
Handful of crisp green pitted olives, chopped (optional)

Place the tomatoes in a small bowl and cover with hot water. You want to let them soak for at least 20 minutes, so get them started before prepping the remaining ingredients. Drain the tomatoes before using them.

Drizzle a generous swirl of oil into a large skillet and add the onions and carrots. Cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the onions have turned translucent and soft. Stir in the herbs, coriander, peppercorns, and tuna strips. Add the vinegar, olives (if using), and drained tomatoes.

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 3 minutes or until you see that the tuna has turned opaque along the bottom. Gently flip each strip of tuna and continue to cook for another 2 minutes or until the tuna has reached its desired doneness. If you want it cooked all the way through, you may have to keep cooking it for another 3 minutes or until each strip is opaque when cut in half, or you may want it to look like “medium”-cooked beef, in which case the tuna strips will be a little pink in the center. Serve immediately. Leftover tuna can be refrigerated for 2 days.

Enjoy!

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Lisa on September 29th, 2014
Ethiopian Spiced Collards with Poached Egg

Ethiopian Spiced Collards with Poached Eggs

Looking for a way to enliven your side dishes and breakfasts? It might seem like an odd combination, but these Ethiopian spiced collards make a lovely accompaniment to dinner, and when topped with a poached egg, the collards make a great breakfast, too. It only takes 3 minutes to poach an egg, which means you can be warming the already-made collards in a skillet while you poach the egg. (If you choose to double-duty the collards.)

You can make your own Ethiopian-style berbere spice blend, or you can go with a Mexican flair and use chili powder instead of the berbere. If you opt for the latter, bacon drippings make a lovely cooking fat for the greens. For the eggs, all you need is a pot of boiling water.

Ethiopian Spiced Collards with Poached Eggs
Makes 4 side servings or breakfasts, plus you’ll have extra berbere spice mix to use in other dishes.

For the berbere spice mix:
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon fenugreek
¾ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of cayenne pepper

For the collards:
1 bunch collards
Ghee for cooking
1 large yellow onion
5 cloves garlic, sliced
4 eggs, preferably from pastured hens

To make the berbere, place all ingredients in a clean spice jar and shake well to combine. If you don’t have one of the spices in the list, simply omit that spice. Or use chili powder instead of the berbere blend.

To make the collards, sort through the collard leaves and discard any yellowed leaves. Rinse leaves well and whack them a few times against the side of the sink to dry them. Rip away the tough stems and discard, then chop the leaves to create ribbons.

Melt a generous dollop of ghee in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in collards, cover, and cook for 5 minutes undisturbed. Uncover and stir in garlic and 1 tablespoon of the berbere spice blend.

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes or until the collard ribbons have wilted and the garlic has softened. Serve immediately, with or without poached eggs. Leftover collards can be refrigerated for 4 days and warmed in a skillet.

To poach the eggs, fill a large pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. As soon as the water boils, crack your eggs into the water. Immediately reduce heat to medium. With a heat-proof slotted spoon, gently swirl the water to make sure the eggs aren’t sticking to the pan. Let the eggs cook for 3 minutes, now and then skimming off and discarding any foam that rises to the surface. When the eggs are ready, lift them out of the water with the slotted spoon one at a time, hold each one up for several seconds to let it thoroughly drain, and nestle it onto the collards.

Enjoy!

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Lisa on September 25th, 2014
Taro Cakes

Taro Cakes

If you’ve been to Hawaii and had poi, you’ve had taro root — to make poi, the roots are peeled, boiled, and then mashed the same way you’d make potatoes for Thanksgiving. Taro is also immensely popular in Central and South America, the Caribbean, many parts of Africa, and southeastern Asia. (Which is why you can usually find taro in grocery stores where people from those regions like to shop.)

The great thing about taro is that it’s naturally sticky. Potatoes are sticky, too, but not that sticky. And being sticky is a good thing when you want to make dough. All you need to make these little fry cakes is mashed taro, an egg, and some buckwheat (or brown rice or sorghum) flour. Just be sure that your hands are well-floured when you shape the cakes so that the always-sticky taro doesn’t stick to you. And whatever you set the doughy taro cakes down on should be floured, too. Once they’re fried, you can top them with poached eggs, smear with with tapenade or hummus or guacamole, or enjoy them plain with a dusting of sea salt. Or perhaps serve them with pineapple and ham and have a mini-luau.

Taro Cakes

To prep taro roots, trim away the ends and outer “bark,” then cut the taro into 1″ cubes. Taro browns quickly when cut, so either have a pot of water boiling and ready to receive the taro, or have a bowl of cool water nearby to slip the cubes into. Simmer the cubed taro for 10 minutes or until tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. Drain well, then mash with a potato masher.

For every cup of mashed taro, stir in 1 egg, a pinch of sea salt, and 1/4 cup buckwheat, brown rice, or sorghum flour. If the dough is still too wet to hold together easily, add another tablespoon of flour. Have a floured plate ready and more flour nearby to dust onto your hands as you handle the taro.

Shape taro into balls, using about 1/4 cup taro mixture per ball. Gently pat into a flat cake shape with your floured hands and add to the floured plate. Melt a generous dollop of ghee in a medium skillet over medium heat. With a spatula, gently slide each taro patty off of the plate and into the skillet, making sure not to overlap them. (You’ll probably need to work in batches.)

Cook for 3 minutes or until the edges are turning golden brown, then flip each patty over and cook for another 3 minutes or until both sides are golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool or eat them hot off the stove.

Cooled cakes can be refrigerated for a week. It’s best to reheat them the same way you made them — in a skillet over medium heat. One minute per side should suffice.

Enjoy!

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Lisa on September 22nd, 2014
Bacon, Apple & Onion Fritatta

Bacon, Apple & Sage Frittata

If you’ve been to Spain, you’ve likely had a frittata or two. They’re the ultimate fast food to stuff in your pocket and nibble on as you browse through the calles — potatoes, eggs, and onions, all neatly bundled together in the form of an extra-thick omelet. For my version, I wanted to include a sweet/savory kick, so I added chopped bacon and thinly sliced apples to my eggs. And in the spirit of fall, I added a pinch of sage. If you’d prefer to stick with Spanish flavors — bacon certainly fits that theme! — opt for rosemary or thyme rather than sage.

Since frittatas are thick and therefore a bit tricky to handle, I prefer to cut them into quarters as they cook and then flip each quarter. That seems easier than attempting to flip the entire thing at once. Perhaps you’re a master flipper, though, in which case you might have a different technique. But I find that the quarters re-seal themselves into a single frittata as they finish cooking. Even if they don’t, you’ll be cutting the frittata into pieces anyway — no harm in some pre-cutting.

Bacon, Apple & Sage Frittata
Makes a 12″ frittata.

6 strips bacon, preferably from pastured hogs
1 small onion, sliced thin
1 firm apple, preferably organic
6 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
1 tablespoon sage
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar, preferably from grass-fed cows
2 medium redskin potatoes, unpeeled, cut into thin slices

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a rimmed baking tray with aluminum foil and set a wire rack on top of the foil. Lay the bacon strips out over the wire rack. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until the bacon is browned and curling along the edges.

Let bacon cool before lifting the rack out of the baking tray. Pour the rendered grease into a 12” skillet. Add onion and apple and cook over medium-low heat for 10 to 12 minutes or until onions are soft and fragrant.

While onions cook, crack eggs into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the sage and Cheddar. Coarsely chop the cooked bacon and whisk into the eggs. Add cooked onion and apple.

Generously drizzle the skillet with more bacon grease or extra-virgin olive oil and arrange the potato slices in a single layer. Cover and cook over medium-low for 10 minutes. Potatoes should be tender but not browned. Stir into the egg mixture.

Add another drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil or bacon grease to the skillet before adding the egg mixture. Cover and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. To flip the frittata, cut it into quarters and carefully flip over each quarter. As the second side cooks, the quarters will re-join, becoming one single frittata. Re-cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 5 minutes or until both sides are golden-brown.

Slip cooked frittata onto a large plate and serve immediately. Leftover frittata can be refrigerated for a week … which means you’ll have delicious breakfasts all week long!

Enjoy!

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Lisa on September 17th, 2014
Buckwheat Pasta with Sausage Stew & Feta

Buckwheat Pasta with Sausage Stew & Feta

With the nights turning unexpectedly chilly, something warm seems to be in order. Enter baked pasta. You can toss your favorite kind of whole-grain (or no-grain) pasta with your favorite kind of homemade sauce and your favorite kind of cheese, slip the plateful into the oven, and enjoy a last-minute, piping-hot meal. If you turn on the oven before boiling the pasta, the whole shebang is ready in 20 minutes. Can’t beat that kind of quick satisfaction.

I had made sausage and spinach stew a few days ago, so I decided to put a Greek spin on my baked pasta by topping it with the stew and goat’s-milk feta. And because the stew and cheese were so richly flavored, I tossed them with 100% buckwheat pasta. Not only is buckwheat the least-glycemic grain pasta available (read: less starchy), it has a rich, earthy flavor of its own, making it an ideal partner for the stew and feta. Look for 100% buckwheat noodles — also called soba noodles — in a Japanese grocery store or in the Asian section of mainstream stores. Just make sure the noodles are 100% buckwheat if you’re aiming for gluten-free noodles, because most soba noodles contain wheat, kamut, or spelt along with the buckwheat.

Buckwheat Pasta with Sausage Stew & Feta
Makes a big pot of stew, which means at least 4 servings of pasta plus leftover stew.

For the stew:
Extra-virgin olive oil for cooking
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. pork sausage links (such as fresh chorizo), preferably from pastured hogs
15 oz. red beans, undrained
28 oz. diced tomatoes
4 cups (32 ounces) chicken broth
2 T. thyme
2 T. oregano
8 oz. curly spinach
Sea salt to taste

For the pasta and cheese:
4 servings 100% buckwheat pasta OR your favorite whole-grain pasta (be sure to use gluten-free pasta if you’d like a gluten-free meal)
Feta cheese for crumbling, preferably made with sheep or goat milk

Pour a generous drizzle of olive oil into in a large soup pot over medium heat. Stir in onion and cook 4 minutes or until softened. Add garlic and sausage, stirring to break up the sausage, and cook another 3 minutes or just until sausage is starting to brown. Stir in beans, tomatoes, broth, and herbs.

Bring to a brief boil, then reduce to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the spinach and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes or until the spinach is soft. Salt to taste if desired.

While the stew simmers, preheat the oven to at least 425F (or you can broil your pasta if you wish, although feta doesn’t melt the way mozzarella and many other cheeses do).

Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Buckwheat pasta in particular tends to clump, so try to time the pasta cooking time in accordance with how long the stew has to simmer — since buckwheat pasta requires 8 minutes or so to cook, start cooking it a few minutes before you add the spinach to the stew. Drain pasta and immediately toss with a generous portion of the stew.

Place pasta on individual oven-proof plates and crumble feta cheese onto each serving. (If you don’t have plates that can withstand the heat of broiling, bake the pasta in an 8″x 8″ pan and serve it casserole style. Place in oven and bake/broil for 4 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Leftover stew can be refrigerated for 4 days or frozen for 2 months — anything with a tomato-sauce base freezes beautifully. If it’s too thick upon reheating, stir in more broth to thin the stew.

Enjoy!

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