Taos Squash Stew

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I lived in Taos, New Mexico for about eight years, and this stew was one of my standbys. Aromatic, flavorful, and distinctly southwestern, it’s perfect for cold days. This can be vegan, vegetarian, or meaty. It all depends on what you add as the protein (beans or meat), and whether you add a dollop of sour cream and chunks of cheese to your bowl.

Taos Squash Stew

1 29-ounce can plain hominy
Alternate: 29 ounces corn kernels
1 butternut (or any other orange-colored) squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2-3 tablespoons light olive oil
1 medium onion, diced into 1/2-inch squares
7 ounces diced green chilies, fire-roasted
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt, to taste
2-4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-3 tablespoons ground red chili, preferably New Mexican
1 tablespoon flour
3-1/2 cups vegetable or meat stock
1 red bell pepper, diced into 1/2-inch squares
16 ounces cooked pinto or black beans
Alternate: 2 cups of venison, pork, chicken, or turkey, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup cheddar cheese, diced into 1/2-inch squares

1/2 cup sour cream or nonfat yogurt for garnish
Chopped cilantro for garnish
1 avocado, diced, for garnish
Thick corn tortillas, warmed

Drain hominy, rinse it briefly, and set aside. Peel the squash, cut it into 12-inch strips and cut each strip into pieces about 1/2 an inch wide.

Warm the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet or cast iron pot and add onion, squash, oregano and cumin; season lightly with salt. Cook over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, ground chili and flour, and stir well to distribute the flour. Add the hominy and the water, lower heat, and simmer for about 45 minutes. Add the red pepper and beans (and/or meat) and continue to cook until the squash is completely tender and the pepper is cooked, another 20 minutes or so. Taste for salt.

Just before serving, add some cheese to the bottom of each bowl, pour in soup and garnish with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and the cilantro. Serve with warmed tortillas.

Chicken-Bacon Pot Pies

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These individual pot pies, served in shuffle dishes, are a savory addition to your autumn and winter table. These can be made more quickly by buying a pre-roasted chicken. You could even top the shuffles with an all-butter puff pastry (found in the freezer section of many grocery stores), and skip making the pie crust entirely!

Chicken-Bacon Pot Pies
Yield: 4-8 servings, depending on serving size

5 applewood-smoked bacon slices
3 cups chopped onions, sautéed down to about 1 cup
3 cups sliced mushrooms, sautéed down to about 2-1/2 cups
4 teaspoons of mixture of sage, thyme, and rosemary
1-3/4 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup sour cream
3 cups coarsely shredded chicken from 1 small roasted chicken (skin removed)
1 recipe pastry (below)*
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 450F. Cook bacon in heavy large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Chop bacon. Add onions to drippings in skillet; sauté until reduced to about 1 cup. Add mushrooms and marjoram, sauté until mushrooms have released their liquid and reduced in mass to about 2-1/2 cups. Add broth; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced a little. Stir in sour cream, chicken, and bacon. Bring to simmer. Season with pepper. Divide among four 2-cup soufflé dishes.

Top filling in soufflé dishes with pastry (recipe below). Roll chilled pastry disk into a rough square, cut into four smaller squares. Place one square on top of each shuffle dish, pinching edges to seal. Cut a 1″ slit in center of crust for steam to vent. Brush pastry with beaten egg, and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, if desired. Bake until crusts are golden brown and filling is heated through, about 12 minutes. Watch closely after the 9-minute mark to make sure the pastry doesn’t burn.

Note: You can also make one large pot pie. Place the filling in a 9-inch diameter deep-dish pie dish. Set the 12-inch pastry square over the filling, then fold down the edges onto the rim. Baking time will be about 12 minutes. Watch closely after the 9-minute mark.

Pastry

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for for rolling out dough
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
Scant 1/2 teaspoon sugar
7.5 ounces chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes

Mix flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor. Add cubed butter and process until mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-size lumps. With machine running, add 1/3 cup ice water and process, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dry, until dough forms. Form dough into a ball; flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Alternate: Buy an all-butter pre-made frozen puff pastry dough (Trader Joe’s has a good one), and thaw out completely (See “note on thawing” below). Unfold pastry and gently roll out on a lightly floured work surface just to smooth creases and make the pastry large enough to fit over your chosen dish. Drape over baking dish and trim pastry so it is slightly larger than the dish (you want a little overhang). Brush with egg and make 2 or 3 slits in the pastry with a sharp knife. Bake on lower rack in oven at 375 degrees until filling is bubbling and crust is puffed and golden brown. 30-35 minutes.

Note on thawing: If you have time, it’s best to thaw puff pastry overnight in the fridge. If you don’t have time, thaw it on the counter until it’s pliable enough to unfold without cracking, but still cool to the touch. Keep a close eye on it — if the butter is starting to melt or if the dough feels very limp, refrigerate it for 30 minutes to help it firm up again.

Oatmeal-Walnut Cookies

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I’ve called out specific ingredients that really do make a difference in the finished product’s taste. I also like to add other ingredients to these cookies—dried fruit, chocolate chips, candied ginger—but my sweetie prefers the plain cookies, and their pure, nutty, brown sugar-y flavor. Suit yourself!

These bites are dense and rich. There are all sorts of things you can do to tweak them to your personal taste: add another egg for richer, chewier, cake-like cookies. Add apple butter for part of the dairy butter to cut fat. Add more butter if you want your cookies to spread out more. Add half brown sugar and half white sugar for a crisper cookie. Remember that over-mixing will make the cookies flatten and spread out more.

Oatmeal-Walnut Cookies
Yield: 22-24 small, dense, chewy cookies 

1-3/4 cups organic rolled oats
3/4 cup all-purpose organic flour
3/4 teaspoon Morton & Bassett organic cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 ounces unsalted Kerrygold or Plugrá butter (1-1/4 sticks), softened
1/2 cup packed Muscovado brown sugar
(can also add 1-4 tablespoons of Vermont medium amber pure maple syrup)
1 large organic egg
1/2 teaspoon Nelson-Massey Madagascar bourbon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted a bit (alternate: pecans)
1 tablespoon orange zest

Possible additions:  
1-4 tablespoons candied ginger, or 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (yes! really!), or or 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (give your cookies an Aztec kick), or 1/4 cup shredded coconut, or 1/3 cup dried cranberries, or 1/3 cup dried cherries, or 1/2 cup chopped dates, or 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter your baking sheets, or line with silicone mats.

Stir together oats, flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy Doing this step by hand is fine, just tiring. Add egg, vanilla, and orange zest and beat until combined well. Add oat mixture and nuts and beat until just combined.

Rest the cookie dough in the refrigerator for half an hour, or up to overnight. This step definitely helps develop more complex flavors, but do allow the dough to come up to room temp before forming and baking.

Measure dough by the tablespoon, roll into a ball, place 2 inches apart on the baking sheets, and flatten the dough balls well with your fingers. Bake cookies on center shelf, until lightly golden, about 12 minutes, less time for chewier cookies, more time for crispier cookies. Watch cookies closely, they can burn easily. (If using convection, bake for 2 minutes less.) Transfer to racks to cool.

Note: I measure out tablespoon-sized cookies, which result in small 2-1/2-inch cookies. You can play around with bigger cookies, but that will inevitably affect baking time. Keep an eye on your cookies as they bake 🙂

Chicken and Dumplings

This meal is pure comfort food! It’s also nutritious, with plenty of vegetables and organic chicken. The dumplings can be made with organic whole wheat flour, or left off entirely. The fat can be drastically reduced by using skinless chicken and skipping the browning. Also, the entire recipe can be vegetarian by using vegetable stock and substituting a mixture of beans…or even seitan. Be creative, according to your personal dietary requirements!

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Chicken and Dumplings
4-6 servings

Chicken Stew
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
2 teaspoons dried thyme
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 large bay leaf
1/4 cup flour
6-7 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 pounds chicken thighs, or breasts, bone-in
***
Dumplings
1-1/2 cups flour (this can bee half/half whole wheat and white, or 100% of either)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup coarse ground cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup + a splash heavy cream (or milk, or buttermilk)
***
Quicker Dumplings
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1-1/2 cups Bisquick
***
1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas

In a Dutch oven (or a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid), heat oil over a medium flame. Brown the chicken pieces, and remove. Discard their skins. If you’re paying attention to fat, pour off all the rendered chicken fat into a safe container, and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil to the pot. Add all the vegetables, garlic, and herbs. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, about 5-10 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup flour and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add the browned chicken back to the pot, then add broth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly; season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low, maintaining a low simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, 45-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, make dumplings: In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining flour, thyme, baking powder, sugar, salt cream. With a fork, gradually stir in milk to form a moist and soft batter. It should be just a little thicker than pancake batter and should easily drop from the tip of a spoon. Set aside. Note: Quicker dumplings, mix 1 egg with 1/2 cup milk, then add the mixture to 1-1/2 cups Bisquick and stir to combine.

Stir peas into pot. Drop batter in simmering liquid in 12 tablespoonfuls, keeping them spaced apart (dumplings will swell quite a bit as they cook). Wrap lid in a dishtowel (absorbs steam, which can make dumplings soggy), cover pot with lid, and simmer until chicken is tender and dumplings are firm, 12 minutes. Serve!

Braided Olive Bread

I’ve been making this bread for decades, and it never fails to look beautiful and taste delicious. I strongly suggest that you make a double recipe, either making one large loaf, or two smaller loaves. You’ll be glad you did! The original recipe can be found in Deborah Madison’s delightful book, “The Savory Way”.

braided olive bread

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Braided Olive Bread

1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
10 ounces green Sicilian olives (use the strongest-tasting you can find)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup organic whole wheat flour
Approximately 3 cups unbleached organic white flour
8 whole green Sicilian olives, as above, for decoration
1 egg, beaten

Warm the milk, water, and sugar until warm to the touch (a bit warmer than body temperature). Stir in the yeast and leave it until it foams up a bit. Some yeast packets aren’t very foamy, but a little island of paleness will show up after about 10 minutes…and that’s enough!

Next, remove the pits from the olives. I do this by laying a large chef’s knife on top of an olive and giving the flat of the blade small *thump* with the heel of my hand. This loosens the pit enough to pick it out of the olive’s flesh. Chop the olives into pea-sized pieces. You need to end up with a cup of chopped olives.

Once the yeast has shown signs of life (a bit of foaminess, or that little pale island), stir in the chopped olives, olive oil, salt, and whole wheat flour. Stir until a batter begins to form, then begin adding small amounts of the white flour until the dough is stiff. This is where things become a little flexible: different flours, the yeast, even the weather, has an effect on how much flour it will take to create that stiff ball of dough. So take it slow and have fun watching your dough develop. When you have a ball of dough too stiff to handle, cover the bowl with a clean cloth, and let the dough take a little rest break for about 20 minutes or up to 3 hours. During this resting stage, gluten development begins, and simple sugars start to form as starch is broken down. Although it may look like nothing is happening, you’ll notice the difference as soon as you handle the dough because it will have become smoother and elastic.

Once the dough has rested, turn it out onto a floured counter or table and begin kneading. The olives will add a few bumps to the dough, but you’re still aiming for a smooth, even consistency. I knead for about 10 minutes, but again it depends on the flour and how everything is coming together.

Film a bowl with olive oil, and roll the dough ball around a little so that it has a film of oil, too. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth or plastic wrap and place in a warm—not hot—spot to rise.

Once the dough has doubled in size, anywhere from an hour to and hour and a half, punch it down and divide it into three equal parts. Roll each part into a rope about 22 inches long (if making a single loaf. Twice as long if making a double-sized loaf.). Each rope should be about 3/4″ wide. Braid tightly, then form the braid into a spiral with the edges of the dough just touching, tucking the ends underneath.

Set the braid aside to rise again. If you’ll be using a baking stone, rise the braid on a peel dusted with cornmeal. If baking on a baking sheet, place the braid directly upon the sheet. Cover the braid with a clean towel, return it to its warm place to rise, and wait another hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, with the baking stone, if you’re using one. Break the egg into a small bowl, and whisk. Refrigerate.

After the braid has risen, brush with some of the beaten egg, and push the whole olives into the braid at juncture points of the braid. Slide the bread onto the hot baking stone or place the baking pan in the oven. After 15 minutes, brush more egg onto the newly exposed surfaces. Continue baking for another 45 minutes, or until the bread is nicely colored and has reached an internal temperature of 180-200 degrees (using a Thermapen-type thermometer, shake the pan slightly and use a towel to lift the bread up on its side. Then poke the thermometer into the underside of the bread.). Let the braid cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

My favorite food and wine pairings for this bread is feta cheese and a Chianti, or as the bread accompanying a roast chicken. Bon appetit!

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes

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I didn’t know, when I started this experiment, that  I would be making highly-addictive tomato candy. My beloved had to gently suggest I stop my maniacal late night nibbling. I may sneak back out to the kitchen when he’s asleep.

Oven-roasted cherry and Roma tomatoes are delicious, luscious, and candy-like at 200 degrees for six hours + one hour at 300 degrees (total hours = 7). Add a lttle more time if your tomatoes are bigger.

I tried 250 degrees on convection for three hours, which yielded the same look, but the flavor was only “really nice reduced tomato flavor”. Not bad at all; very tasty, in fact. But if one compares the two? Long, low, heat wins the day.

***

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes

Cut small tomatoes in half, set cut-side-up on a rimmed baking sheet, brush with garlic-infused olive oil (6 minced cloves per 1/2 cup oil), sprinkle exceedingly lightly with sea salt and black pepper. Roast at 200 degrees for six hours + one hour at 300 degrees (total hours = 7). If your tomatoes are a little larger, keep roasting until they look like the photo, above 🙂

Do try to resist gobbling.

Great on pizzas, tossed with pasta, on crackers, as sandwich ingredients, etc., etc., etc…