Author Archives: Wendy Dennis

A Soup for Any Sausage

Do you like hearty soups that are easy to make? Me too, and I came across a great recipe via a Facebook cooking group the other day that I just had to try. I will admit that part of the appeal was that the recipe, as written, had only seven ingredients, plus salt and pepper to taste, and very uncomplicated directions, which was just what I wanted. Sometimes it’s nice to just take it easy and still have a great homemade meal.

First, I am going to give you the basic recipe. Note: I used the recipe as a base, or a “cue,” I could say, because when doing my ingredient checklist, I realized that the only sausage meat I had not in casings was fresh chorizo, and I wanted to keep my stash of Italian sausage links intact. (I buy shares from my local farmers and it comes frozen, so I have a stash that will last until late spring.) Plus, it was only 3/4 lb, so I figured I would want to find something to round things out to be equivalent of the missing 1/4 pound asked for by the recipe. So, keep reading below for what I did. Here is the original including it’s notes and suggestions. I am certain it is delicious as written!

Sicilian Sausage Soup

  • 1 lb Italian sausage meat
  • I medium onion, chopped
  • 1 lge green pepper, chopped
  • 1 35 oz can Italian peeled tomatoes*
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • s&p to taste
  • 3/4 cup orzo

Brown sausage meat. Add onion and pepper and cook until soft. Add the tomatoes, broth and basil, breaking up the tomatoes as you do. Bring to a boil and a stir in the orzo.
Reduce heat and softly boil 10 minutes. Remove from heat as the orzo will continue to cook and expand, making the soup too thick.

  • It’s important to use the 35 oz can, not a 28 oz, as it does not give you enough liquid.
    If you cannot find the Italian sausage meat, you can buy a pound of links and remove the casing; just be sure to really break up the links!

As noted above, I only had 3/4 lb of sausage and of a different type than called for. I decided adding some beans would be a good idea, but of course, didn’t have any cooked or canned white beans, which is the kind I thought would go nicely. Never fear! Since I was not planning to make the soup for an hour or so, I simply rinsed 1/2 pound dried cannellini beans in a small casserole with 2 cups of water and a teaspoon of regular salt, covered, and popped into the preheated to 350 oven. 1 1/2 hours later, I had cooked beans ready to pop into the soup. (I could have gotten by with cooking just a 1/4 pound, but I wanted some leftover to pop in the freezer for another time.)

Three types of Baer's Best Beans.

Just a note about dried legumes: you do NOT need to soak them before cooking. This is especially true if you know your beans are fresh, as in recently grown and dried. I get my dried legumes from Baer’s Best Beans, grown in South Berwick Maine. Pictured are my three favorites: Cannellini, Black Coco, and Yellow Eye. The latter is the traditional bean for Boston Baked Beans and is the type I use for that classic dish. For more about cooking dried beans, see my post on the Wakefield Farmers Market recipe site.

If I share the video I made of this recipe adventure, you will see that I was a total space case in that I did not read through the ingredients or directions carefully when prepping and discovered, when called for, that I had not realized that I needed a quart of chicken broth. Luckily I had a quart of store-bought handy since I would have had to stop the process to defrost some from my freezer.

Along with adding about a cup of cooked beans, I used not quite a whole orange bell pepper instead of a whole green one, and tossed in about 2 cups of store-bought shredded cabbage and and carrot I had left over from making moo shu pork. (I will share that recipe later – great for a family or a crowd.)

Originally I assumed that I would not need to add the basil, but when doing the final seasoning, I decided it would work with the chorizo flavor and added a bit over the teaspoon of dried basil noted in the original recipe. I also added a number of grinds of black pepper, and two big pinches of salt just to pop the flavor.

Again, I am sure the recipe is great as written, and I can vouch that you can use is as a guideline if you have particular flavors you like or have veggies or/or legumes in your fridge that you want to use up. In any case, it is quick, easy, and tasty, and you can’t beat that! Just make sure you have some chicken stock handy. 😉

Chicken Pot Pie for Four or Forty, Seasoned to Taste

As one of the alternating lead cooks for my church’s monthly community dinners, I am always looking for relatively healthy and easy recipes to feed a crowd without breaking the budget. Usually I find and try a family-size recipe and multiply it up. However, in the case of what is now my go-to chicken or turkey pot pie recipe, it went the other way.

I actually used ingredients and proportions based on a few “feeding a crowd” pot pie recipes to come up with my “pot pie for forty” recipe. It was so good – and easy to make! – that I had requests for a version that would make just one 9” pie.

The recipe for 40 is at the end of this post, but here is the basic recipe for just one 9” pie. I will elaborate on variations after this first recipe.

Chicken (or Turkey)  Pot Pie   

  • ½ lb or 2 cups or so cooked chicken
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1.5 cups mixed vegetables (carrots, peas, onions, green beans, corn)
  • 2 cups turkey or chicken broth *
  • 1 Tsp or less salt
  • 1 Tsp or more pepper
  • ¼ or more teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • Pie crust , just on top or also a bottom crust.

Preheat oven to 350 for biscuit topping,  425°F for pie crust. (While I actually can make a mean pie crust, I typically use Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust. It works just fine.)

Melt Butter over low heat sauté onion and celery until tender.

Slowly add flour, mixing and stirring for a few minutes until well blended. Gradually add broth *(if using frozen vegetables, reduce broth by 1 cup) until sauce is thickened.
Note: liquid used can be increased or decreased to desired consistency

Add mixed vegetables.

Season to taste with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.

*Layer poultry meat in bottom of pan or bottom crust

Pour vegetable sauce mix over chicken in pan or bottom crust

CRUST: Cover with top crust, makes slits in crust, and bake at 425 30 to 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown. During last 15 to 20 minutes of baking, cover crust edge with strips of foil to prevent excessive browning, if desired. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

BISCUIT: Place 1/4 cup “dollops” of dough mixture on top of entire pot pie, until mixture is gone. Bake at 350 for approximately 45 minutes until biscuits are brown.

Parsley, Bell’s Seasoning, Penzeys Seasoned Salt, and Roasted Garlic Salt

Now, this recipe is tasty, but you can ramp things up easily. First, you can just add more bell seasoning. Or add a mix of your favorite Italian herbs along with the Bell’s Seasoning. Or go with a totally different spin and use just tarragon or another herb or spice or blend that you love with poultry.

I was inspired to write this blog post after posting this picture of the seasoning I used in my latest pot pie on Facebook.

Aaaaaaand…I just realized that I did not write down what amount of each seasoning I used, but from the picture, it looks like about a teaspoon each dried parsley and roasted garlic salt, and about a 1/2 teaspoon Bell’s Season and Penzeys Seasoned Salt.

I also popped in a bit more salt – maybe up to 1/2 teaspoon or more (it is up to the cook to add to taste) and also 10-12 grinds from the pepper mill. But again, you have to season to YOUR taste. If you don’t have roasted garlic salt, regular will do. And if no Penzeys Seasoned Salt (although I HIGHLY recommend that you get some!) you can click HERE to see what is in it and ad lib from there.

FYI – for my recent pie, I tossed in some leftover chunks of roasted potatoes, which worked well. To compensate for the additional veggie amount, I used 5 tablespoons each butter and flour to make more gravy. What I should NOT have done is use less chicken stock, even though directed to do so if using frozen veggies since the potatoes did their part and thickened things just a bit. But, otherwise, do use less stock if using frozen veggies.

One more super tip: To ensure super flavor without using a richly flavorful homemade stock, or seasoning beyond that used in the standard recipe, buy “next day” rotisserie chicken from your local grocery store ($3.99 each at the Market Basket in Reading MA) and you will be guaranteed a super tasty pie.

Have fun and enjoy!

Chicken Pot Pie for Forty or More

This recipe works well in a 20.5 x 12.8 x 4” pan – a standard commercial kitchen size.

  • 4.5 or so lbs cooked chicken (16-18 cups)
  • 2 cups butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 6 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 cups flour
  • 10-12 cups mixed vegetables (carrots, peas, onions, green beans, corn)
  • 3-4 quarts chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp or less salt
  • 1 Tbsp pepper
  • 2 or so teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • Biscuit mix – see separate recipe, or three regular pie crusts or phyllo dough* as needed

Preheat oven to 350 if using the biscuit topping, 400 if pie crust.

*Layer chicken meat in bottom of pan.

Melt Butter over low heat in one or two big pots and sauté onion and celery until tender.

Slowly add flour, mixing and stirring for a few minutes until well blended. Gradually add broth (if using frozen vegetables, reduce broth by a 2-3 cups) until sauce is thickened.
Note: liquid used can be increased or decreased to desired consistency

Add mixed vegetables.

Season to taste with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Pour vegetable sauce mix over chicken in pan.

Place 1/4 cup “dollops” of dough mixture on top of entire pot pie, until mixture is gone or use homemade or store bought pie crusts or phyllo dough*.
Bake at 350 for approximately 45 minutes until biscuits are brown or, if using pie crust, bake at 400.

*As of writing this, I have never used phyllo dough so can’t help you with the amount needed.

Wow, long post! But to end, here is the biscuit recipe I use for the crowd-size pot pie.

Super Easy Whole Wheat Biscuits      We need two batches of this recipe

  • 4 cups whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur’s white whole wheat organic flour) or whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 8 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

2 cup milk (any kind)

In a medium sized bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well with whisk or fork.

Cut the ½ stick butter into little pea sized pieces and then mix the pieces into the flour mixture. OR use a pastry cutter.

Using a fork, try to mash the butter pieces as you mix it together with the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs. It is okay if the outcome just looks like the same pea sized pieces of butter covered with flour.

Then pour in the milk and mix it all together. Knead the dough with your hands 8 to 10 times and then turn out onto a counter or cutting board if making biscuits or plop on the chicken pot pie.

Done! Thanks for reading. 🙂

Pork and Summer Squash Casserole over Rice: Family Size or For a Crowd

pork and squash casserole
We could not wait to eat before taking a picture.

Background: The Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Wakefield MA offers a Community Dinner each month from September to June in partnership with Wakefield’s Horizon House Clubhouse. Horizon House provides their kitchen and dining room, and we provide the food, either via cooking or catering.

I love to cook for a crowd, so I try to sign up as lead cook for at least a few dinners a year and always try to find recipes that are on the healthy side, if only “healthyish,” to steal Bon Apetit’s descriptor, and that might be a bit different from the usual fare.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but this casserole is SO easy, and SO tasty, and was such a hit at a recent Community Dinner, that I finally got myself to sit down and get this recipe on line.

This month I totally lucked out in finding this pork and summer squash recipe. Not only is it really tasty, it is really easy to make, whether you are opting for the family size or multiplying out for a crowd. Also, the summer squash and diced tomatoes fill it out so a relatively small amount of pork is needed to satisfy even hard core carnivores.

Here is the original recipe that says it serves four:

Pork and Squash Casserole

6 ounces ground pork (use seitan for vegans and vegetarians)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 ounces cremini* mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (preferably whole-wheat)
1 14.5-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup low-fat small-curd cottage cheese
1 1/4 cups shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend (5 ounces)
1 large yellow squash, halved crosswise and thinly sliced lengthwise
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

* I used shitake mushrooms when I tested it at home on my husband

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, breaking up the pork, until slightly browned, 2 minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, half of the scallions and 2 tablespoons panko; cook 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, half of the parsley and 1/3 cup water. Increase the heat to high; cook until slightly thickened, 3 minutes.
  2. Combine the cottage cheese, 3/4 cup Mexican cheese and the remaining parsley in a bowl. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons panko in a 9-inch-square baking dish. Top with half of the squash, overlapping slightly; season with salt. Top with two-thirds of the pork sauce and the cheese mixture. Add the remaining squash; season with salt. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons panko, pork sauce and 1/2 cup Mexican cheese.
  3. Cover with foil** and bake until the cheese melts and the squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover and turn on the broiler;* broil until golden, 2 minutes. Top with the remaining scallions.

** Thinking that covering in foil would be a bother when making the crowd-size version, I opted, in my home test, to leave the casserole uncovered and just cooked it a bit longer so the cheesy top got a bit crusty in texture. It worked just fine. 🙂

NOTE: While the original recipe calls for cutting the squash in half and slicing longwise, as shown here, I found it works way better to slice is VERY thin rounds and layer across the area.

I did not serve my test version over rice and it worked well an an entrée served solo, and is a great choice if you want a low carb meal, However, as you will see below, I opted to serve it over rice when cooking for the crowd.

Here is the recipe to use if you are cooking for 35-40 and serving just the casserole, or, for 50 if you opt to serve it over rice.

Pork and Squash Casserole for a Crowd*

4 pounds ground pork
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 clove garlic, chopped
2 pounds mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
20 scallions, chopped
4 cups panko breadcrumbs (preferably whole-wheat)
116 ounces** of no-salt-added diced tomatoes
2 cups chopped fresh parsley
6 cups low-fat small-curd cottage cheese
3 or more pounds (never too much cheese!) shredded Mexican cheese blend
6 pounds yellow squash, sliced in thin rounds
As many tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil as needed to sauté. ***

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, 2 teaspoons salt and ½ to 1 teaspoon of pepper. Cook, breaking up the pork, until slightly browned, 5-10 minutes as needed.
Add the garlic, mushrooms, half of the scallions and 1cup panko; cook another 5 or so minutes.
Add the tomatoes, half of the parsley and 1 1/2 cups**** water. Increase the heat to high; cook until slightly thickened, 5-10 minutes.
Combine the cottage cheese, two thirds of the Mexican cheese and the remaining parsley in a bowl.
Sprinkle 1 1/2 cup panko in a 9-inch-square baking dish.
Top with half of the squash, overlapping slightly; season with salt.
Top with two-thirds of the pork sauce and the all the cheese mixture. Add the remaining squash; season with salt.
Add the remaining 1 ½ cup panko, pork sauce and remaining Mexican cheese.
Bake until the cheese melts and forms a crust and the squash is tender, about 40 or more minutes. To hold until serving, put oven at 180-200 degrees. Top with the remaining scallions, if desired, before serving.
* My test batch would have made five, not four servings, so I multiplied the original recipe by 8 to make 40 servings. In addition, although using 6 oz of ground pork worked perfectly well in my home test batch, I used 8 oz per 5 servings as my baseline for the crowd size and got 8×8=48/16 oz per pound, so four pounds of pork.
** four 26 oz cans and one 14.5 oz can will do it.
*** We split the pork between to 14 inch pans and went from there.
**** Multiplying the original amount of water by 8 was way too much. Cornstarch came to our rescue. 🙂

Last but not least, to stretch the meal in case we got more guests than we expected, I opted to make a batch of rice to go with the meal. I used converted rice because brown rice can be a tough sell with some crowds, but at least converted rice has more nutrients than white rice. Also, the recipe called for converted rice, although it noted it would work for brown rice – just cook brown rice longer. Since the recipe was for 50 servings, I went with it as is.

Rice for 50

NOTE: Some recipes say to rinse the converted rice first, others say not to so as to not lose nutrients. I went with the latter advice as it said the same on the package of Uncle Ben’s converted rice that I used.

3 1/2 lbs. converted rice
2 tbsp. sea salt
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 qt. boiling water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place rice in a 12x20x2 1/2″ pan.
Boil 4 qt. of water in a large pot and add 2 tbsp. of sea salt. Make sure the salt dissolves fully.
Add 2 tbsp. of extra-virgin olive oil to your water and pour the mixture over your converted rice slowly so that the rice remains even throughout the pan.
Cover your pan with aluminum foil. Tighten the foil along the edges of the pan to prevent the water from evaporating too quickly during the cooking process.
Open your oven once it has reached 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place your pan in the center. Set your oven timer to 60 minutes.
Remove the pan from oven after an hour and place it on top of your stove to allow it to cool for five to 10 minutes.
Remove the aluminum foil and use a fork to fluff your rice before serving it.

That’s it! We also served a simple salad of romaine hearts, cherry tomatoes, sliced English cucumber, and grated carrot, tossed with a modest amount of Italian dressing. AND Applesauce Cake with quick and easy cream cheese frosting. Click HERE for the family and crowd size for dessert.

I plan to add more of the recipes I have used when cooking for our community dinners, so always check back!

Applesauce Cake made with White Whole Wheat and Oat Flour with Quick Cream Cheese Frosting

applesauce cake
We ate most of it before remembering to take a picture, a common theme. 🙂

When devising the menu for a recent community dinner (click HERE to see the other menu items) I looked for a healthyish dessert, and was thinking that some kind of oatmeal/applesauce sort of bar would be nice. However, I ended up finding an amazing applesauce cake recipe that, and this is very important for this “once in a great while baker,” easy as well as tasty and left room for nutritional improvements. I switched out the white flour for 2/3 part white wheat whole wheat flour and 1/3 part oat flour, which I ground from oatmeal in my Nutra Bullet.

By the way, I highly recommend this handy kitchen appliance. But, back to the cake: I also cut the amount of sugar by half, and, to give a little flavor boost, used 1/2 cup brown sugar with 1/2 cup white sugar instead of the full cup of white sugar. It was SUPER! My husband Steve and I both loved it, (I always test recipes at home before serving to a crowd) and even more so because it is SO EASY TO MAKE. As noted above, I am not one to bake. But with this recipe, all you do is measure and dump all the ingredients into a big bowl, mix it up with a big ol’ wooden spoon or the like, and pour the mix into an UNGREASED pan (I hate greasing pans!) and bake it. Can you tell I am excited that I now have a delicious and foolproof cake recipe? Everyone needs one.

Here is the recipe as I make it for 10-12 servings in a 9×13″ pan. Click the recipe title for the original recipe, for which I am eternally grateful. Do read the comments, though. It cooks more quickly than the 60 minutes noted in the original recipe.

Applesauce Cake
1 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour ( I used King Arthur flour)
1 cup oat flour*
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
3⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon clove
1⁄2 teaspoon allspice
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
1⁄2 cup water
1 1⁄2 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 eggs

* You can use a food processor, blender, or a Nutra Bullet type appliance to grind your own from oats, or purchase pre-ground.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all ingredients; pour into a 9×13″ pan.
Start checking at 35 minutes. It is done when a toothpick comes out clean and/or you get a hollow sound when you tap the top lightly.

For the community dinner, I multiplied the recipe by three. I used one 20x12x2.5″ pan, and it worked fine, although it was higher in the middle versus flat across the top, as was the cake I made in the 9×13″ pan. Perhaps it would be better split between two of those big pans, thinner but more even. Hmm. I will have to experiment and update here once I do.

NOTE: just do the math to make as much cake as you want. Use 12 serving as the baseline for the original recipe and go from there.

Now for the frosting! I didn’t use frosting for the batch I made at home, and truthfully, the cake is plenty moist and flavorful to stand on its own. But, why not have more of a good thing? Here is the recipe.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 12 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel), at room temperature
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, yogurt, and vanilla in a mixing bowl until smooth.
Make Ahead Tip: Refrigerate for up to 3 days. Let come to room temperature before using.

NOTE: I doubled the amount and it was way too much for just the top of a 20×12 cake. In fact, I saw a comment saying that using just an 8 oz pack of cream cheese was fine for the 9×13 cake size even when icing the sides. So, there is that to consider. But, you can always pop any leftover frosting in the fridge and make some more cake. Never too much good cake. 🙂

More Zucchini? Grate!

My friend Elizabeth just left two of the most gorgeous zucchini squashes on my porch. Between the two they weigh in at close to 7 pounds. The ruler is there for scale.  Elizabeth did send me a picture in which she used her glasses to give an idea as to the size of these babies, but WOW. These are some big zucchinis!  And, I can report that their flavor is just as big.  Yum, even just chomping a raw slice.  Thank you, Elizabeth!

So, now what? My first step was to do some online research to see if one can successfully freeze spiraled zucchini since I recently acquired that magic machine and love it. The good news is, yes!  Click HERE for a link to a page giving instructions for such. I will be doing this will at least a pound or two of these suckers.  🙂 Disclaimer: I have not tried this technique yet and other websites claim that zuke noodles don’t reheat well, but I am willing to give it a try.

But, in the meantime, I have all this zucchini and it is so hot out today (over 90 F) that I don’t want to cook.  Tomorrow I will do one of my favorite easy ways to prepare any type of summer squash: Slice and sprinkle with with Penzeys Italian Herb Mix before steaming until just soft. My husband, Mr. tons of butter and salt man, loves it like this WITHOUT adding any butter or salt!!!!

But, I digress. I said “grate” in the title and I found two recipes that use grated zuke that look fabulous, and also found a number of sites that say freezing grated zuke works just fine. So, I grated enough zuke to make this recipe by Julia Child and then prepped and froze it. I am also going to try THIS recipe that also uses shredded zucchini in the next few days since I have plenty of zucchini. 🙂

So, here is what I did based on what a few different sites suggested: I weighed out 2 pounds of zucchini, cut it into food processor-sized pieces for grating, and grated away.

I then spread the results out over two cookie sheets, sprinkled and tossed a bit with 1/2  tsp or so of salt over both trays, let it sit for a few minutes, and then, in 4 batches, put the shredded zuke onto a clean kitchen towel, pulled it closed, and squeeze out the liquid.

I ended up with two 12 ounce bags to pop in the freezer.  I’ll find out how it works when defrosted for use in one or both of the above recipes calling for grated zucchini.  And, if I try either or both with freshly grated zucchini in the meantime, I’ll keep you updated. It will be great!

Ready for the freezer!

French Lentil Soup: Splendidly Simple and Most Satisfactory

Finally, the perfect lentil soup recipe! As not actually usual for me, I made it as written so I will copy and paste it here with the title linked to the recipe on that I used.

…Well, okay, I made ONE change. The recipe calls for 4 cups of vegetable broth. I had a cup of chicken broth that needed a home so I used that along with three cups of veggie broth. I did use freshly homemade veggie broth, but I don’t think the type of broth is going to make or break this recipe.

Okay, ONE other change: I used a quick squeeze of balsamic cream (Pastene brand that I picked up on a whim a few years ago) instead of a splash of balsamic vinegar. But, I am confident that the recipe is splendid as written.

Note to self: Get that balsamic cream out of the cabinet more often!

I highly recommend accompanying this soup with some good quality crusty bread to go with it!  My husband and enjoyed it with a loaf of Asiago bread that I picked up from Mamadou’s Artisan Bakery that morning. A simple green salad would go nicely, as well.

French Lentil Soup

3 tablespoons extra–virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery stalks plus chopped celery leaves for garnish
1 cup chopped carrots
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 cups (or more) vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups lentils, rinsed, drained
1 14 1/2–ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
Balsamic vinegar (optional)


Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium–high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic; sauté until vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes.

Add 4 cups broth, lentils, and tomatoes with juice and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium–low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes.

Transfer 2 cups soup (mostly solids) to blender and puree until smooth. Return puree to soup in pan; thin soup with more broth by 1/4 cupfuls, if too thick.

Season with salt, pepper, and a splash of vinegar, if desired. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with celery leaves.


Easy Salsa Chicken Tortilla Casserole Featuring Pam’s Salsa

I started doing the cooking demos at the Wakefield Farmers Market last season (summer of 2016) and continued doing them for most of the subsequent Melrose-Wakefield Winter Farmers Market season as well. While the major goal has been to highlight veggies and fruits from our produce farmers, I do like to
incorporate the offerings of other vendors when I can. (Due to Board of Health safety constraints, I have to stick to vegetarian/ non PHF (potentially hazardous foods) ingredients in the demos, which means I can’t share just any recipe at the market if I want to offer samples.) While salsa is indeed vegetarian,  I have yet to use Pam’s Salsa in a cooking demo. To make up for that, I found the perfect way to highlight this amazing fresh and delicious salsa in a recipe that is quick and easy, suitable for even the most busy household.

Easy Salsa Chicken Tortilla
Casserole Featuring Pam’s Salsa

1 – 1 ¼ pound boneless skinless chicken breast
1 pint Pam’s Salsa, separated if using a 1.5 quart slow cooker
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup or so:
chopped onion
chopped bell pepper
grated carrot
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup tomato plain tomato sauce
1 tsp hot sauce
6 flour tortillas (10 inch)
6 ounces shredded cheese, Mexican blend if available

Put chicken and 1 cup (or the entire pint if using a 3.5 quart slow cooker) salsa in a slow cooker and cook 6-8 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high.
Preheat oven to 350°. In a 10” fry or sauté pan, heat the olive oil and cook the onions, garlic, carrot, and bell pepper until just starting to get soft.
Stir the hot sauce into the tomato sauce and add to the veggies, along with remaining salsa if applicable.
Use two forks to shred the salsa-cooked chicken and mix into to the veggie-sauce mix.
Place two tortillas, overlapping as necessary, in the bottom of a greased 13×9-inch baking dish.
Cover with half the chicken mixture and one-third of the cheese. Add another layer of two tortillas, the other half of the chicken mixture, and another third of the cheese.
Place the remaining two tortillas on top and cover with the remaining third of the cheese.
Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until bubbly and a bit browned.

Top with sour cream and or whatever toppings suit your fancy.  And, of course, add anything else such as black olives, chunks of fresh tomatoes, more hot sauce, more cheese, or substitute enchilada sauce or adapt however will make this perfect for you.

NOTES: I used a 1.5-quart slow cooker. If using a 3.5-quart slow cooker, put the whole pint of salsa into the slow cooker with the chicken rather than adding the other cup to the chicken mix after sautéing with the veggies and tomato sauce.

Using Pam’s Salsa makes this so deliciously easy with the perfect “so fresh” taste. But, in a pinch, use one cup of a regular salsa of your choice and add a cup of frozen corn to replace the 2nd cup of salsa – or use your imagination. My suggestion is based on the Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken recipe I found HERE. (Scroll down a bit once you get to the page.) But, Pam’s Salsa really made this recipe pop, that’s for sure!

Makes six servings.

Frozen Steak? Just Grill or Pan Sauté It. Really! No Need to Defrost.

This is steak grilled from frozen. It was really good.

Not only can you grill (or pan saute) steak when frozen, many recommend it. I will update this post with references, but, for now, based on repeated experience as grilled by my husband Steve, here are the instructions for grilling frozen steak:

Heat the grill to high. Put the totally frozen steak over direct heat and grill for 5 minutes.

Flip, baste*, and grill for another five minutes. Lower heat and flip steak one more time, this time moving it up away from direct heat.

Baste one more time, and let the steak “roast” with the grill lid down, keeping the temperature at 350-375.

Use an instant read thermometer to monitor the internal temperature, checking every 5 minutes or so. Remove when at desired temperature and let rest at least 5 minutes per inch thickness. The attached picture shows steak done this way to 135 and then rested 5-7 minutes before slicing.

*For basting, we melt about a tablespoon of butter per steak. Once hot, we stir in 3/4 tablespoon  or so to a tablespoon of butter of Bondat Food’s Chocolate Chipotle Grilling Rub.

IMPORTANT: Keep a close eye to make sure the attached or dripping fat doesn’t catch fire and cause charring.

If grilling in cold weather, keep the lid down during the initial grilling to maintain high heat.

NOTE: This technique can be used inside using a heavy frying pan for the high heat part and the oven for the finishing roast period.

Want the Perfect Ham? Just Think Slow and Low

My slow-roasted 5.5 lb ham gave me 3 lbs sliced and plenty more meat and a bone for pea soup.

Finally! A totally foolproof way to produce the perfect ham, It is all about cooking it slow and low.

I had saved a 5.5 lb bone-in smoked ham that I purchased last spring from Lilac Hedge Farm and decided that it would make a great centerpiece for my annual July 4th gathering.

Given that cold-sliced made more sense for a picnic sort of fare than ham hot from the oven, I opted to cook the ham the day before, cool it overnight, and slice it the day of the party.

Since I had  a bit of an issue with dry ham with one or possibly two of the three (I had a crowd!) I cooked for Easter, I did some research in hopes of finding a way to ensure a juicy ham with a minimum of fuss.  I can’t find the website now, but someone posted about their friend who owns a diner, saying that the diner owner just puts the ham in a roasting or cast iron pan, covers it loosely with foil, and cooks it for 7-8 hours in a 275 oven. That’s it!

Since my ham was smaller than the one mentioned on the website I was consulting, I started checking the temperature with an instant read thermometer after 4 hours, with the ham reaching a safe 160 degrees or a bit more throughout in close to 6 hours.

Once done, I let it cool on a rack and them wrapped it up for an overnight in the fridge. Even then I could tell it was very moist, but when I carved it into as big chunks as possible and started slicing it on the morning of the 4th, it was confirmed: Perfection!  And it was delicious with no basting – but you can certainly add whatever sort of garnish or glaze that suits your fancy.

I am going to use this method for my Easter holiday meals from now on. For 2017, I have a bone in ham of just over 7 pounds, which will be plenty for my (relatively) smallish guest list of 7 plus my husband and me for 9 at the table. I’ll just pop the ham in the oven around 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. and let it cook all morning into early afternoon to be ready, cooled a bit, and carved for a 3:00 or so meal time.  And I am already looking forward to some pea soup in the following weeks, too!

Tomato Sauce Seasoned with Lemongrass. Quick, Thick, and Easy!

demo ingredients FAI have really been enjoying doing cooking demos at the  Wakefield Farmers Market this summer.  I will hopefully get around to posting about the recipes I prepared earlier in the season, (some of which caused our farmer to sell out!)  but will start with this easy and really delicious (if I do say so myself!) tomato sauce that I prepared in the Market Kitchen Tent on August 6, 2016.

Since the goal of these demos is to encourage folks to try new types of produce and/or learn easy ways to use various veggies and fruits and then purchase them from our farmers, all the ingredients for the sauce except for the olive oil, salt, and black pepper were sourced from our farmers that market morning.

First, I got 5 pounds of  lovely tomatoes and basil, and I already had some garlic from Farmer Dave’s. I didn’t get a picture of it, but I got an awesome onion from Kelly’s Farm, and specific to this demo, I got the lemongrass from Flats Mentor Farm.



I had been wanting to make sauce for a farmers market demo so I could share a handy technique for making a thick sauce from fresh tomatoes without the day-long simmer that I previoulsy posted about HERE.  I also am always looking for ways to highlight less familiar Asian veggies, greens, and herbs available from Flats Mentor Farm. In wandering around the Internet, I came across a tomato sauce recipe calling for lemon zest. AHA! I thought, maybe lemon grass is an option. Having never used lemon grass, I needed to find out if it could, indeed, be used to bring a light, citrus boost to a cooked sauce. After some searching, I found this information:

Substitute 1 stalk lemongrass, chopped to make 1 TBSP for 1 teaspoon lemon zest, grated.

I also found a very helpful tutorial on preparing and using lemongrass HERE.

grated tomatoes before cooking

grated tomatoes before cooking

With this info, as well as ideas based on perusing a number of sauce recipes using a minimum of seasonings, I was ready, packing just olive oil, salt, and a pepper mill to use in addition to the produce from our farmers. (Disclaimer: Although I knew I would only need a few of the items, I actually always bring a small tote bag with what I consider pantry essentials so I will be prepared for anything: olive oil, rice vinegar, tamari, salt, a pepper mill, dried red pepper flakes, and honey. I should add some maple syrup, too.)

After I got all the ingredients from our farmers, I started with the five pounds of tomatoes. I cut them in half, cut out the stem/core, and then grated them  right into a big bowl, holding the cut side of the tomato along my box grater on the side with the biggest holes, which also saved peeling the tomatoes as the skin remained behind.

minced lemongrass and garlic

minced lemongrass and garlic

Next I prepped the lemongrass and garlic, using about two inches of  peeled lemongrass  and the equivalent of a smallish clove of garlic, both minced. I did not measure, but I am going to say two 2 teaspoons of minced lemongrass and 1 teaspoon of minced garlic. Or thereabouts.  Next time I will most likely use at least another teaspoon or two of minced lemongrass.

sauteed flavor base

sauteed flavor base

Next I chopped a medium size onion and added it, with the garlic and lemongrass, to the pan after I had heated a few tablespoons of olive oil, and cooked on medium heat until just soft. Then I added a handful of fresh basil, chopped, and a few grinds of black pepper, and sauteed for a few minutes before adding the grated tomatoes.

sauce before strain

sauce before strain

strained pulpOnce all had cooked for about five minutes, I poured the contents of the pan, via a few batches, through a big mesh strainer, making sure to get as much liquid separated out as I could. Then, reserving the pulp, I poured the liquid back into the pan and cooked it down until very thick, which took about 15 or 20 minutes.

liquid cooked downOnce the liquid was thick enough to stay apart so you could see the pan for a few moments after running a spoon along the bottom, (see photo) I added back the pulp, and a about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and simmered for a few minutes to reheat the pulp and meld the flavors. And that was it!

deanos pasta for demoFor the market demo, I had cooked up some Fresh Egg Fusilli from our vendor Deano’s Pasta, which was the perfect medium!

And, below, here is the sauce. Well, what was left of it when I remembered to take a picture of it. It was definitely thick. 🙂 And folks sure did like it. I had two people ask me if they could buy the sauce and then told me I should get someone to jar it for me so I could sell it! And, having a youngster say, with eyes wide, “This IS good!” is another indicator that using simple seasonings and easy techniques are the best way to let the wonderful flavors of freshly picked local veggies and herbs to shine.

thick sauceFor just the recipe without so much talk, see HERE.