Thanksgiving traditions: mushroom & leek stuffed squash.


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This squash dish is a new Thanksgiving tradition in our family. I created it last fall after being asked to bring an orange vegetable side to dinner at a mushroom-lover’s house. It seemed to hit every note I wanted: easy to prepare, accessible ingredients, festive and pretty on the table. The primary flavors in the stuffing– sweet leeks, hearty mushrooms, familiar sage– are all good matches for squash, and they provide textures and colors that are wonderful to taste and see. I used Kabocha squash last year and have experimented with Butternut, acorn and blue Hubbard as well. For Thanksgiving this year, I’m trying a new-to-me variety called Butterkin, because of its low, bowl shape and promised creamy and sweet flavor profile. I’d say you could pretty safely try any kind of winter squash you enjoy (maybe not spaghetti squash because of the texture) and have this stuffed squash recipe turn out beautifully.

If you’re looking for a hearty meal, more of an entree than a side, I’ve also made this with cooked wild rice mixed into the leek mixture, served as an adorable one-squash-per-guest meal. I crumbled bacon over the top when I made it with acorn squash, and it was salty and crunchy and good. I have also tried using a tart apple in place of dried cranberries: I diced a Honeycrisp apple and added it to the stuffing after the mushrooms had cooked, just before filling the squash halves, so it stayed a little crunchy. Honestly though, the mix of leeks and different mushrooms in a buttery sauce feels decadent without any additions. You could add other vegetables to the stuffing, or make the other changes I mentioned, but “plain” is pretty darn good as is.

It feels nice to add some new sides to our rotation of holiday favorites, and at the same time, to make a squash dish that tastes great every day of the year. Please comment: what’s your favorite squash dish to make? Do you have a traditional side you’re looking forward to on your holiday menu? I’d like to wish you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving– I certainly think of your continued readership and support when I think of all I have to be thankful for each year. Cheers!

Mushroom & Leek Stuffed Squash

Mushroom & Leek Stuffed Squash (serves 2-4 as entree, 6-10 as side)

  • 1 medium-sized winter squash, cut in half around the center to form two bowls, seeds removed
  • 2 T. olive oil, plus extra for the squash
  • 4 T. unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 – 2 1/2 c. thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only, from 1 large or 2 medium leeks
  • 8 oz. chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned thoroughly and roughly chopped*
  • 8 oz. white button or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 tsp. dried sage, crumbled
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/4 c. dried cranberries, or dried tart cherries
  • salt & pepper to season

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the squash halves, cut side down, on a lightly greased cookie sheet or baking pan. You can cover the pan in parchment or tin foil to assist with clean-up; if you plan to do so, lightly oil the edge of each squash half so it doesn’t get stuck on the pan.

Bake for 20 mins., then carefully turn each squash over on the pan. Season the center with salt and pepper and cook for another 15-20 mins. When tested, the squash should be firm, but with enough give that you can pierce it with a fork. At this point, you can pause for up to 2 days by cooling the squash to room temperature and carefully wrapping it to store in the refrigerator.

On the day you plan to serve, if you refrigerated the par-cooked squash, remove it and let it come up to room temperature (or close) while you make the stuffing.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a baking dish that fits the two squash halves snugly side by side, but allows them to lie flat. If you don’t have the right size baking dish to fit both, put each squash half in its own dish. Pie plates work well here.

Place a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 T. olive oil and 2 T. butter. When the butter has melted, add the leeks to the pan and cook for 5 mins. Add both kinds of mushrooms and cook for about 3 mins., until they begin to soften. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the sage and thyme, then add the stock and dried cranberries. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for just another 2-3 mins. Remember that the stuffing will cook further in the oven, so it’s okay if the vegetables are al dente. Divide the filling between the two squash halves and dot the top of each with 1 T. butter. Bake for 20-25 mins. The dish is done when the edges of the squash are fork-tender.

Remove whole to a serving dish for a family-style table setting or, as an entree, serve each guest one, or half of one, squash half. For an easier but less dramatic presentation, scoop out the squash into a serving bowl with stuffing mixed in or on top of the bowl.

*If you have trouble finding chanterelles, substitute an equal amount of another wild mushroom you like, or double the amount of white button or creminis you’re using.

Roasted potatoes with cheese curds and pickled peppers.


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We visit Long Beach, WA at least once a year and often stay at the Adrift Hotel. Located just steps from the beach and in the middle of a trail and boardwalk that runs for miles, we are content to spend most of our time wandering up and down the coast, on foot or the bicycles you can borrow from the hotel. After a long day in the fresh salt air, we head back to our room and order room service from the house restaurant, Pickled Fish. They have decent pizza, excellent fried oysters, my favorite pickled vegetables and a number of other tasty offerings. But nothing beats their fries. Nothing. We like them Dirty Dirty.

Adrift fries

Dirty Dirty house fries at Pickled Fish are handcut fries, great on their own but taken to another plane when topped with fried pork belly, garlic, pepperoncini and a mild shredded goat cheese. They come with truffled ketchup and a handful of napkins and they are one of my favorite things to eat in the entire state of Washington. No, we don’t go to Long Beach just to eat fries, but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to make that argument. And this is from a girl who doesn’t really like fries! No kidding, other than the ones at Pickled Fish, I might eat fries once or twice a year. That’s why, when I created my homage to Dirty Dirty fries, I chose to go with roasted potatoes. Personal preference aside, they are easier to make at home than fries, and perhaps a little healthier. Which means you can eat them more often, and that’s good news for me.

I experimented with a few versions at home before settling on this combination of toppings for my Adrift-style roasted potatoes. I am lucky that my Mom makes excellent pickled peppers with the banana peppers she grows in her garden, so those are my pepper of choice. We also tried and liked pepperoncini, which are available in just about every grocery store these days, and even the sweeter Mama Lil/cherry peppers that are often found in the olive bar at the grocery store. Whatever you like, heat- and flavor-wise, go with those. For the cheese, we couldn’t find a passable facsimile of the goat cheese they use, but did have some good luck with crumbled feta, especially the less-salty French fetas. However, our favorite choice for these potatoes is cheese curds, particularly the herbed version of Beecher’s curds or the extra-garlicky ones called “Vampire Slayer” from Face Rock Creamery. They become soft and melty without disintegrating, and the herbs add another dimension of flavor. As for the pork belly, I could never get it quite right; I suspect it’s because they fry it at Pickled Fish and I’ve only tried pan roasting. The closest substitute was a beautiful piece of slab bacon I found at the Mount Vernon Co-op, which I cooked and cut into pieces. For the most part, we leave these potatoes bacon-free, and they’re so good you don’t miss anything.

My Adrift-Style roasted potatoes are a treat I add into the meal plan every few months, usually to snack on while watching a movie on Saturday night. They are a little crispy, with creaminess from the cheese, a garlic punch softened by the roasting process and a bright, fresh bite from the peppers. They remind me of one of my favorite places to visit and our fun days spent on the beach. If you ever get the chance to visit Long Beach, I hope you will, and make a point of stopping at Pickled Fish. You won’t be disappointed. In the meantime, you can get a preview of the experience in your own kitchen.

Adrift-style roasted potatoes with pickled peppers and herbed cheese curds.

Adrift-Style Roasted Potatoes

  • 1 lb. unpeeled red potatoes, cut into 2″ cubes
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • kosher salt & black pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed
  • 1/2 c. pickled banana peppers, or pepperoncini
  • 4 – 6 oz. cheese curds (I liked the herbed ones from Beecher’s)
  • 4 oz. cooked, cubed slab bacon (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, toss the cubed potatoes with olive oil, paprika and a sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper. Add in the garlic cloves, which should be smashed but still mostly whole; this way, when they cook, they flavor the potatoes but still become soft, and are less likely to burn than minced garlic. Spread the potatoes and garlic in an even layer on a pan large enough to hold them without crowding; I use a cookie sheet covered in foil. Scrape out any seasoned oil left in the bowl and drizzle over the potatoes on the pan.

Roast for 45 mins.; after 20 mins. use a spatula to turn the potatoes so they color evenly. The finished potatoes should be crisp on the outside, fluffy in the middle and golden brown. Add the cheese curds, pickled peppers and bacon, if using, to the potatoes and toss gently to combine. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Turn everything out onto a plate or platter and serve hot, with ketchup or another favorite fry-dipping sauce.

our most recent room at Adrift

Our most recent room at Adrift– you should go!

My favorite granola, and a new job.


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I got a new job! I don’t talk too much about my work here; it’s generally not related to anything I do in the kitchen, and I am very much a believer in work-life balance and my job being done when I leave my desk. I was thinking you may have noticed that my posting slowed down a bit, both here and on my Facebook page, and I wanted to explain why. I spent a good amount of time in September job searching, and most of October wrapping up my last position and getting started in my new office. It was an exhausting process and I didn’t do or think about much else for about six weeks. So far I am very happy with my decision to make a move. It’s a big change: I no longer work at home with my dog in my lap. (The worst part– I miss her so much.) But…my commute is absolutely manageable and my new coworkers are a good bunch. After two weeks, I feel like I am going to learn a great deal and be challenged. What more could I want?

I have no plans to stop– I wouldn’t know how to quit! Being in the kitchen, working on new recipes and sharing them with you is my best creative outlet. I am so proud when I hear that my Apple Crumble Pie and Pork Sugo were made recently by two readers and turned out well for them. I love getting your feedback, questions and comments. Now that I am settling into a new routine, I will figure out a new plan and timetable for cooking and writing. Luckily, I have a few recipes lined up, just need to get them finalized and written up. I am going to thank you in advance for being patient and staying with me while I get settled.

One of the aspects I had to relearn about actually going to work is packing a lunch. How funny– but I have been ten steps from my kitchen for the past four years and didn’t ever think about it. For the past two weeks, I have been doing my regular meal planning with work-friendly leftovers in mind: stews like pork verde, baked chicken, and soup so far. The first week, I bought nuts, dried fruit and pepitas to stash in my desk, and yogurt for the refrigerator. Last weekend I made a batch of my favorite granola and had an epiphany– I could keep some of this at work! It’s perfect for a quick snack on its own and delicious as a yogurt topper. This particular granola, flavored with maple syrup and cinnamon and full of toasted coconut, pecans, dates and raisins, has just the right amount of flavor and sweetness to make my preferred plain yogurt a protein-rich, delicious snack. This recipe makes about a three week supply for me when I’m eating it daily.

Having a reliable granola recipe is a major win, in my opinion. I know exactly what’s in it and can customize for different moods, uses or snackers. I use coconut oil in place of canola sometimes and dried cranberries (or cherries, or blueberries) in place of raisins. No pecans on hand? Sub in almonds or walnuts, or a mix. Granola is fun to make and give away, and the holidays are just around the corner… I also love how cost-effective it is to make granola instead of buying it. You can buy large quantities of oatmeal and nuts (store those in the freezer so they last for a while) and find dried fruit on sale in the bulk section. I haven’t figured the exact savings of making versus buying, but I kind of want to– and will report back when I do.

Whether you see it as the perfect snack to make and bring to work or send to school with your kids, or a way to jazz up your breakfast, give this granola recipe a try.

My favorite granola.

My Favorite Granola

  • 3 c. old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 2 c. whole pecans
  • 1/2 c. canola oil (or coconut oil)
  • 1/2 c. pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. golden raisins (or a similar dried fruit)
  • 1/2 c. chopped pitted dates

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, coconut flakes, pecans, oil, maple syrup, cinnamon and salt. Mix well. Turn the mixture out onto your baking sheet and spread it into an even layer.

Bake the granola for one hour at 250 degrees, then turn up the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 15 mins. If you like to have chunks of stuck-together granola, don’t stir, as that breaks up the chunks. After 15 mins., check to see if the oats and coconut are golden brown and the oats feel dry when touched. If the mixture is still pale and wet, cook for another 5-7 mins. and check again. Continue adding 5-7 min. blocks of cooking time until you like the color and texture.*

Cool the granola on the pan for about 30 mins. Scatter the raisins and dates over the top and then transfer to a well-sealed container for storage. I have a big glass jar that works very well, but any container will do as long as it seals out moisture.

The granola will keep for about a month in a dark, cool cupboard.

*I tend to go for 1 hr at 250 degrees and then 30 mins. at 350 degrees, because I like my granola very toasted, almost burnt on the edges. The picture above represents my cooking preference. When I am baking it for other people, I stop after 15 mins. at 350 degrees.

Apple crumble pie.


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You’ve read this from me before, but I don’t mind saying it again: I adore First Prize Pies and The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. I credit the authors with getting me past my irrational fear of pie crust and to a place where I am confident, excited even, to make and share pies. I think of the books as a complimentary set; I will forever more use the pie crust from First Prize Pies, and I love the creative, unusual fillings in Four & Twenty Blackbirds. For this apple crumble pie, I used the perfect classic pie crust from FPP, created a filling on my very own using a hand-blended apple pie spice from a friend, and topped it with a crumble topping heavily inspired by F&TB.

A quick aside about my lovely friend S and her spice blend: tiny jars of apple pie spice and grilling spice were given as favors at her wedding, a genius idea, and you should go look at the amazing work she does at Letter & Line Studio as soon as you’re done reading about my pie!

Now back to dessert. Here’s a confession: I don’t remember ever making an apple pie before this one. I watched my Mom make her fair share, and often peel and slice apples for the Thanksgiving pie my husband makes every year. I enjoy apple pie (who doesn’t?) but always default to apple crisp or cake like this one when given the chance to make an apple dessert. Because– another confession coming right up– I love apple crisp and will chose it nine times out of ten over pie. It’s the crumble factor. I am particular about my crisp topping and prefer those without oatmeal, nuts or other fuss. That’s why the crumble from F&TB is perfect. I deducted a little sugar from the amount called for in the book because I planned to serve the pie with ice cream and butterscotch sauce and didn’t want a sugar bomb. A bonus point in favor of a crumble topping on your apple pie: most crust recipes make enough for a double crust pie, meaning that you will have an extra crust with which to make a second pie. Two pies! That’s a game changer if I ever saw one.

Two pies aside, what really sets this apple crumble pie apart is the balance of flavors and textures. The crust is buttery and flaky; the filling is saucy, with slices of apple providing another layer of crisp bite, and the spices are pleasantly assertive to play off the sweet ingredients. I like to use a combination of sweet and tart apple varieties; a few juicy Honeycrisps, a couple sweet Fujis and some classic McIntoshes, or a similar mix, gives your pie a more interesting flavor and ensures your filling will be neither too crispy/dry nor too soft. The crumble gives texture, crunch, and added sweet and buttery flavors. It is a pretty pie, perfect for upcoming holiday gatherings. For me, this apple crumble pie checks every box on the list of ideal traits of an apple dessert, and I know there are other crisp fans out there who will be so happy to see that golden streusel on top. Why choose between a pie and a crisp when you can have both?

apple crumble pie

Apple Crumble Pie

  • 7-8 apples, mixed varieties (I used Fuji, McIntosh & Honeycrisp), peeled, cored and sliced, tossed with 1 T. lemon juice to prevent browning
  • 2 tsp. apple pie spice*
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. apple cider (or water)
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • 1 c. flour
  • 3 tsp. sugar
  • 2 T. brown sugar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 6 T. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
  • 1 9″ pie crust, preferably the classic crust in First Prize Pies

Start by making the apple filling, which can be done 1-2 days ahead. The filling needs to be cooled to room temperature before using, so give yourself enough time.

Set aside about a third of your apple slices for later use and add the remainder to a large saucepan along with the apple pie spice, salt and 1 c. brown sugar. In a small bowl, mix about 2 T. apple cider with the cornstarch and set aside; add the rest of the cider to the saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat while you stir; try not to mash or break up the apple slices, though they will break down naturally on their own. As they heat, the apples will give off a good amount of liquid, which is fine. When the mixture begins to steam and gently boil, add the cornstarch mixture to the pan and continue to stir until the sauce thickens noticeably and looks shiny. Remove the pan from the heat and gently fold in the reserved apple slices. Allow the filling to cool to room temperature before proceeding. You can cool it in the refrigerator; if you do so, bring it back to room temperature before baking, or add about 5 mins. (at 350 degrees) to your baking time.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place one rack in the middle of the oven and cover the rack below it with tin foil or a similar drip catcher– this is a juicy pie!

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, 2 T. brown sugar and pinch of salt. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the ingredients. Stop when you still have some pea-size pieces of butter but the rest of the mixture appears like wet sand and is uniform. Store in the refrigerator for at least 15 mins. before using. The crumble topping can be made 1-2 days in advance, too.

Roll out the crust and place in a 9″ pie plate. Flute the edges or decorate with fork marks as you prefer. Pour the cooled apple filling into the crust and top with the chilled crumble mixture. Bake for 20 mins. at 425 degrees. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and raise your oven rack closer to the top of the oven. Rotate the pie if your oven heats unevenly or if one side appears to be browning faster. Bake for 25-35 mins. more, checking after about 20 mins. and every 5 mins. thereafter, until the crust and crumble are golden brown. Cool the pie for at least an hour before serving. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream and a drizzle or butterscotch sauce if you’re feeling feisty.

Your apple crumble pie will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for about 4 days… but probably won’t last that long.

*As I mentioned, I used apple pie spice blended by a friend. There are countless recipes online for making your own, including the one I linked above, which is the blend I would make myself. In the grocery store, you can usually find apple pie spice in the baking aisle as well as most well-stocked bulk spice sections.

Italian meatball stew.


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At first, I didn’t know what to call this. It’s a veritable mash-up of three other meals I like a lot: soup with tomatoes and Swiss chard, spaghetti and meatballs, and gnudi with greens. When I thought about how I could best explain what the ideas were that spurred me to make it, I keep coming back to the word stew. Essentially composed of a jar of home-canned tomatoes, braised chard, delicious pork meatballs and delicate ricotta gnudi, I think ‘Italian meatball stew’ is the simplest, best description. I wanted the impression of comforting, all-day-simmer goodness and a ratio of chunky ingredients that was equal to or greater than the broth component. I also wanted a meal that could be simplified enough to make even on the busiest night. I got everything I wanted, and created a dish so good we spent most of dinner discussing what else we could add (mushrooms! leftover rice in place of pasta? artichoke hearts!) and how many times a week we could justify having this for dinner.

I happened to have some gnudi dough ready to go, but this could be made with store bought gnudi or gnocchi or any other noodles you enjoy. I think tortellini would be especially good. The meatballs are tender and so easy to put together; I used ground pork and would also recommend turkey, ground beef or a mix. Swiss chard is always in my refrigerator, and I love how it tastes with tomatoes and how it holds up in soup, but any dark greens would be at home here: spinach, kale, even broccolini or rapini. I am so jazzed about this stew and foresee many bowls on my dinner table this winter. It is even better left over! With time for the ingredients to meld, the stew takes on a new depth. With elements that are easy to make ahead or buy premade, this can plausibly be a 15-minute dinner, but it tastes like you stirred and chopped for hours. Impress your family today.

Italian meatball stew

Italian Meatball Stew (serves 4)

For the meatballs:

  • 1 lb. ground pork (or beef, or turkey)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • generous pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 c. fine breadcrumbs

For the stew:

  • 1 large bunch of Swiss chard, stems diced, leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 pint (16 oz.) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 c. chicken broth
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 T. red wine vinegar
  • 6 – 8 oz. pasta (gnudi, gnocchi, tortellini, etc.), cooked and drained

Start by making the meatballs: in a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix (preferably by hand). Don’t overmix; you’re done when the dry ingredients are incorporated and the mixture looks uniform. You should be able to form a ball that holds its shape; if your mixture is too wet, add more breadcrumbs a few tablespoons at a time, but be careful not to go too dry. Form 14-16 uniform meatballs with a scoop or your hands. Heat 1 T. olive oil over medium heat (you can use the pot you plan to make the stew in so all the flavor stay put) and brown the meatballs in two batches, turning at least once, for about 8 mins. per batch. They *will not* be cooked through but will finish in the stew. Set aside.

The meatballs can be made a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator or several days ahead and frozen. (Defrost in the refrigerator before continuing with the stew.)

To make the stew, heat 1 T. olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. (You can continue with the same pan you used for the meatballs, and may not need to add more oil.) Saute the Swiss chard stems for 1-2 mins. Add the chopped leaves and stir, then cover and allow to wilt for about 3 mins. Stir in the tomatoes, broth, pepper and salt; cover again and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 8-10 mins. Stir in the vinegar and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Place the meatballs in a single layer in the stew and gently stir so they are coated in sauce but remain whole. Cover again and cook for 8-12 mins. to ensure the meatballs cook through. Gently stir in the cooked pasta, heat for just a minute to make sure everything is warmed through, and serve.

Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Spicy peanut sauce.


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September is often a busy month and this year has been no exception. For the most part, I am looking toward my kitchen gadgets, Dutch ovens, special baking dishes and tagine longingly and defaulting to quick and easy meals I’ve made many times before– I don’t have the luxury right now of long afternoons spent playing at the stove. But… I have this brilliant new peanut sauce in my life. Peanut sauce is not something we take lightly in our house: it must be sweet, it must be spicy, it must be salty and creamy and have just the right amount of peanut flavor. After many recipes tried and tossed, this one is a winner. It is everything I just mentioned and more– perfectly pourable for your noodle dishes, thick enough to be a delicious dip for satay skewers or raw vegetables (snap peas in peanut sauce? yes, please!) and so tasty you might be willing to forego every vehicle other than a clean spoon. It’s also easy, did I mention that? You could have it ready for dinner tonight. My current favorite way to serve this peanut sauce is over a bed of rice or rice noodles topped with wilted dark greens (spinach, tatsoi, Swiss chard, etc.) and sometimes chicken. It reminds me of the Swimming Rama I order so often at our favorite Thai restaurant and is both comforting and filling. I feel like I should stop explaining and get to the recipe already so you can make some! Sometimes all you need to get through a busy month is a good peanut sauce recipe, and here is mine.

Spicy peanut sauce, over wilted tatsoi and rice.

Spicy Peanut Sauce (adapted from this recipe; makes about 2 c.)

  • 1 T. red or panang curry paste (I like Mae Ploy brand)*
  • 4 T. creamy peanut butter
  • 3 T. fish sauce (I like Red Boat brand)
  • 2 T. brown sugar
  • 1 14 oz. can of coconut milk, preferably not low-fat, well-shaken
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh ginger* or 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 T. rice wine vinegar (unseasoned)

In a small saucepan, mix the curry paste, peanut butter, fish sauce and brown sugar until you have a smooth paste. Stir in the coconut milk a little at a time (this helps to ensure a smooth sauce), then stir in the ginger. Over medium heat, bring the sauce to a lazy boil, stirring often; it will begin to thicken slightly but does stay quite thin. Add the rice wine vinegar near the end of the cook time. The sauce is ready to use immediately or will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Update: I made this again using a different brand of curry paste and found it slightly salty. As such, I reduced the amount of the fish sauce in the recipe to 3 T. If you find it needs more seasoning, add another 1 T. fish sauce -or- a pinch of kosher salt.

*Fresh ginger is spicy in its own right and will add another level of heat to this sauce. If you want a milder heat, consider using ground ginger and reducing the amount of curry paste to 2 tsp.

Pork verde with taro.


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Pork verde, named for the fragrant green sauce that defines the dish, is a bridge between summer and autumn cooking. The ingredients say summer: shiny, crisp chiles in a variety of shapes and sizes, fresh tomatillos, abundant cilantro. The cooking method says fall, an all-afternoon slow bubble on the stove. The final product is so good you will want to eat it any day of the year.

The taro, though not traditional, is my favorite part of this dish. Simmered in the piquant verde sauce, it becomes tender and creamy but holds its shape. I found myself picking out a few extra chunks to put in my bowl. Speaking of tender, I haven’t had pork like this in years. The acidity of the tomatillos is partially responsible; the slow, lazy cook also helps. My husband used leftover pork to make sandwiches for several days and is already asking me to make this dish again. Despite the quantity of chiles in the recipe, I would not consider this an overly spicy dish. The heat is balanced by the sweet onion, starchy taro, tart tomatillos and herbaceous cilantro. I listed my preferred blend of mild to medium varieties, but you can adapt the mix to your own taste. When Hatch chiles are available, they’re my first choice; any combination of available chiles will work. You can substitute a green bell pepper for the poblano if you want and jalapenos, Anaheims or serranos for the others. We used leftover sauce on rice with some quickly sauteed seasonal vegetables– corn, zucchini and summer squash– and it was as satisfying as the bowls with pork and taro. The versatility of pork verde is wonderful: in the course of a week we ate it as a stew, with polenta, in sandwiches, as saucy tacos (with corn tortillas and avocado) and with rice.

With very little preparation time, pork verde is a fairly simple meal that tastes as good for Wednesday lunch as it did for Sunday supper. I know that this will become a staple dish in our house and I hope you will enjoy it as much as we do.

Pork Verde with Taro, served with polenta

Pork Verde with Taro

  • 1 T. canola oil
  • 3 lb. boneless pork shoulder roast, fat trimmed, cut into 1-2″ chunks
  • kosher salt & black pepper
  • 1 medium sweet onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 T. cumin seeds
  • 3 c. chicken broth
  • 1 lb. tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed and quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded and roughly cut into pieces
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and roughly cut into pieces
  • 4 Hatch chiles, roughly cut into pieces
  • 1 c. cilantro leaves and stems, packed
  • 3 green onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 lb. taro, parboiled, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces*
  • polenta, rice or tortillas to serve (optional)
  • sour cream to serve (optional)

Begin by searing the pork: in a large Dutch oven or similar heavy and large stew pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season the pork liberally with salt and pepper and sear in your hot pan until you have good brown color on at least two sides, which takes about 5-7 mins. Work in batches to prevent overcrowding the pan, which could cause the meat to steam instead of browning.

While the pork sears, begin the verde sauce. In a food processor or blender, combine the tomatillos, garlic, half of the chopped chiles, cilantro, green onions and 2 c. chicken stock. Blend until smooth and set aside.

When the pork is all browned, add the onion to the pan and cook over medium heat for 7-10 mins., until translucent. Add the cumin to the pan and cook for another minute or two. Add the remaining half of your chiles and stir, then return the browned pork to the pot and stir again. Add the remaining 1 c. chicken stock and use a wooden spoon to gently get all the good brown bits off the bottom of the pot, then stir in 2 c. of your verde sauce. Bring to a gentle boil, then cover the pot and lower the heat to a low medium. Simmer the pork verde for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

At this point, you can pause the cooking process, cool the pork slightly and transfer to the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.

To prepare the taro, bring 4 c. salted water to a boil and gently drop in the whole taro roots. Cook for 3 mins. and drain. When the taro is cool enough to handle, remove the fibrous peel and cut into 1″ chunks. Don’t skip the parboiling step! Taro contains oxalic acid, which is neutralized by cooking but can irritate your skin if you try to handle it raw. Taro should never be eaten raw.

Add the taro chunks and remaining verde sauce to the pot and cook for another 35 mins., until the taro is fork tender. Taste for seasoning and add salt, if necessary. Serve immediately, over polenta or rice or with tortillas, garnished with sour cream and additional cilantro, if desired. Leftover pork verde will keep in the refrigerator for at least five days.

*There are many types of taro. I prefer and usually buy the small round variety, sometimes called eddoe. If you have trouble finding taro, substitute an equal amount of potato or parsnip and omit the parboiling step.

Spicy watermelon salad.


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Because it is September but I want to extend the summer vibe a bit longer, I’m sharing our favorite discovery of the year thus far: spicy watermelon salad. I have used watermelon to make gazpacho before, so I knew it could stand up to savory flavors, but this salad was a revelation nonetheless. With sour citrus and cool mint to round out the sweet and spice, I can’t help but think of this dish as a culinary perpetual motion project– you take a bite, feel the tingle of spice in your mouth and take another bite to cool off with refreshing watermelon. Repeat, repeat.

When I go out for Thai or Vietnamese food, I always order a green mango or papaya salad if it’s on the menu. They have the same heat-and-sweet flavor profile I enjoy so much in this watermelon salad. I added some shredded green papaya to one of my salads this summer for some texture and color variation; you can also use jicama or cucumber, or just stay with all melon. Served with grilled shrimp, fish or chicken, this will be a salad people ask you about. They will want the recipe. It may be September, but there will still be sunny weekends and warm evenings for picnics and cookouts, and melons are abundant and so good at this time of the year. Try something new, fresh and surprising for your next potluck or barbecue.

spicy watermelon salad

Spicy Watermelon Salad (adapted from Scaling Back Blog)

  • 4 – 6 cups watermelon, rind removed, cubed or balled
  • 1 c. shredded green papaya, jicama or cucumber (optional)
  • 2 T. fresh lime juice
  • 2 T. fresh orange juice
  • 1 T. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 T. fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. sriracha
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt to taste
  • 1/4 c. torn mint leaves
  • 1/4 c. torn rau ram leaves (optional)*

Prepare the watermelon as desired and put into a large bowl. Add shredded green papaya, cucumber or jicama if using. (Green papaya is in the picture.) In a smaller bowl, whisk together the lime juice, orange juice, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, sriracha and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the watermelon and gently toss to combine. Taste and add salt, if necessary. Transfer to a serving dish (or hollowed watermelon rind for a fun presentation) and allow to sit for at least 30 mins., up to 2 hours.

Just before serving, toss in the mint leaves and rau ram, if using. Spicy watermelon salad is best the day you make it but will keep in the refrigerator for a day or two.

*Rau ram can be found in the produce section of most well-stocked Asian specialty markets. If you can’t find it, add a little more mint or some Thai basil, or just omit.

Blueberry lavender ricotta pound cake.


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That’s a big name for a little cake! Let’s pretend that every word in the title of a recipe adds an extra kick of flavor to the finished product, because that’s certainly true for this cake. When I found a container of fresh ricotta in the refrigerator a few days before vacation, I started researching baked goods. I’ve been dreaming of the perfect ricotta cake for months and it just sounded like the best possible idea. I found this recipe for a pound cake flavored with orange and almond, but that’s not quite what I wanted. A few tweaks and a cup of blueberries later, I present my blueberry lavender ricotta pound cake. I left a loaf for our fabulous friend, who took great care of our pets while we were in Maine, and can now say that it also makes a wonderful gift!

Ricotta adds some beautiful moisture and texture to the cake without making it heavy. It is vaguely reminiscent of a cheesecake, but the pound cake title is much more appropriate. I was deliberately light-handed with the lavender, to prevent a soapy flavor, and I think it was a great choice, the perfect accent for sweet blueberries. Serve a slice of your cake with coffee or tea, with ice cream and extra berries for dessert, or lightly toasted for a decadent breakfast treat.

blueberry & lavender ricotta pound cake

Blueberry Lavender Ricotta Pound Cake (makes 2 loaves)

  • 12 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 c. whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. culinary lavender
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice (about half a lemon)
  • 1 1/4 c. + 3 T. flour
  • 1 T. cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 c. fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray two 8″ x 4″ loaf pans and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, ricotta and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Mix in the lavender, lemon zest and lemon juice.

Sift together the 1 1/4 c. flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on a very low speed, add the dry ingredients to the bowl in small amounts. Stop the mixer as soon as the dry ingredients are mixed in.

In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with the remaining 3 T. flour. Use a large wooden spoon or spatula to fold the blueberries and any loose flour into your batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Bake for 40-50 mins., rotating the pans after about 20 mins.; the cakes are done when they begin to pull away from the sides of the pans and a knife comes clean from the center. Cool on a rack for at least 20 mins. before attempting to remove from the pan.

The blueberry lavender ricotta pound cake will keep, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for up to three days and in the refrigerator for slightly longer. Bring to room temperature before serving, for best results. Although I haven’t tried freezing the cakes I imagine they would freeze well.

Roasted Mediterranean vegetable salad.


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I love the combination of zucchini and tomatoes. One of my go-to summer meals is a casserole of sliced zucchini with tomato sauce and various seasonings, draped in melted cheese. I like both zucchini and summer squash sauteed briefly and tossed with tomato wedges and fresh herbs, drizzled with olive oil. And recently, I tried a lasagna using sliced zucchini instead of noodles, with a thick marinara and lots of fresh ricotta. It’s safe to say that any meal I plan with zucchini is likely to have fresh or sauced tomatoes somewhere within– but it’s still a good idea to keep trying new combinations of the two complimentary ingredients. For this salad, I decided to experiment with a mix of tender roasted vegetables and raw, fresh ingredients and serve everything cold. My instincts were right; this salad feels fresh and summery but benefits from the sweetness cherry tomatoes get when cooked. It is reminiscent of caponata, a cousin of Greek salad when crumbled feta is added, and just plain tasty. Using a mix of yellow, orange and red cherry tomatoes and equal amounts of summer squash and zucchini makes it stunning to look at, as well. Use any color bell pepper you like to play up the rainbow effect.

Your roasted Mediterranean vegetable salad can be a side dish for just about any meaty entree you make. Try it served on a bed of barley or lentils for a heartier option; add cubed roasted chicken or salty feta for a boost of protein. You can make it ahead: I recommend reserving the dressing to add until just before serving. Here’s another versatile, colorful, delicious side dish to take advantage of all the summer bounty from your garden or farmers’ market. Enjoy!

roasted Mediterranean vegetable salad

Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable Salad (serves 6-8 as a side)

  • 1 lb. zucchini or summer squash or a mix, cut in half lengthwise and then into half-moons (about 3 medium or 2 medium-large squash)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, preferably mixed varieties
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. dried mint
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup diced bell pepper
  • 1/4 c. olives, pitted (I used a mix of Nicoise and lemon-stuffed green), halved if large
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 2 T. red wine vinegar
  • 5 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. fresh parsley, minced
  • 2 oz. crumbled feta cheese (optional)

Plan to roast the vegetables the day before you eat the salad, or at least several hours in advance. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the cut zucchini and/or summer squash in a shallow 2 qt. casserole dish, or similar, and add the cherry tomatoes. Drizzle 1 T. olive oil over the vegetables and sprinkle with dried mint, dried oregano, salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Roast for 30 mins.; remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap or transfer to a container with a lid and cool completely in the refrigerator, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Add the bell pepper and olives to the cooled roasted vegetables. In a small bowl or jar, whisk or shake together the honey, vinegar and 5 T. olive oil. Just before serving, or up to an hour in advance, dress the vegetables; you may not need all of the dressing, so start with half and add more to taste. Garnish with fresh parsley; serve with crumbled feta, if desired.

Leftover salad will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 days.


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