Apple Avocado Salsa

FullSizeRenderA little chopping of a couple apples, an avocado, and some herbs yields this sweet and sassy salsa. Apples get second-billing to all the pumpkin spice la-dee-dah stuff in the fall, but I’d take a juicy Honeycrisp over pumpkin-flavored treats any day. (Especially since pumpkin actually has no flavor, and it’s really the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves everyone is gaga about!!! Let’s just stop the pumpkin madness, people.)

This super simple recipe was in the August 2016 Real Food magazine, put out by Lunds & Byerlys, and I tagged it to try as soon as Honeycrisp’s were in season, as those are my faves. It went together in a snap, and we served it as an appetizer to a meal of smoked chicken, and yellow rice and peas. The fresh and crispy salsa was a great complement to our comfort food, and a nice change-of-pace from tomato salsa. Our taste-testers this time were my son Justin and his girlfriend Ashley, and they both found the taste twist to be refreshing. I did sub in a Granny Smith apple for one of the sweeter variety, and that really helped. I also adjusted seasonings throughout the recipe. Tip: you’ll want to sharpen your knives and dice small, so you get a good mix of fruit bits on your chips. 

Serves 8-10

1 Granny Smith apple, cored, and diced
1 Honeycrisp apple, cored, and diced (or Gala, or other sweeter apple)
1 avocado, diced
½ cup cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters
1 scallion, sliced (use both white and green parts of the green onion)
1 fresh jalapeño, minced (remove stem veins, and seeds)
Juice of ½ of lime
1 teaspoon sugar
2-3 tablespoons of minced fresh cilantro
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in bowl, and toss to combine. Cover and chill for an hour to blend flavors. Serve with corn tortilla chips.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

FullSizeRender-1Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom has NOTHING on this savory made-from-scratch soup by Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa), posted on in 2006. I’ve been making this soup for a few years, usually to serve to company in the fall or winter. The intense mushroom flavor comes from making a vegetable stock with the mushroom stems, and adding that to the mushroom cap roux. (There’s that word again, Tom! Roux just means adding flour to butter to make a paste, which thickens cream sauces and soups.) Everyone who’s slurped this soup has absolutely raved about it, including my new bosses we recently hosted. Hey, that’s one way to stay employed—dazzle ’em with butter and cream in dishes like this one!

Here’s a budget tip: I’ve found Trader Joe’s has the best price on all of the mushrooms needed for this recipe. Some of them were about $2 per 8-ounce package, a huge cost savings over Cub foods, where they are often $4-5 per 8-ounce package. TJ’s also consistently has all of these mushrooms on hand. I’ve been to other grocery stores that only carry the shiitake mushrooms seasonally, and they do add a nice nutty nuance so are worth the search. One disclaimer: Those not mushroom fans will find there’s no subtlety of flavor here, so best to avoid this recipe. But the rest of you will love this soup as a side or main dish, with a crusty slice of warm, buttered, baguette. Mmmmmmmmmm…

Serves 8-10

8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms
8 ounces fresh button mushrooms (these are the ones that are often just called “mushrooms” on the package…)
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms (aka: baby bella)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon butter, divided
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
1½ teaspoon dried thyme, divided
2½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons coarse ground black pepper
2 cups chopped leeks (about 2)*
¼ cup all-purpose flour, or Namaste gluten-free flour blend
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups half-and-half
¼ cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley, or 1 tablespoon dried.

Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a dry paper towel. Do not rinse in water. Separate the stems, trim off bad parts, and coarsely chop them. Slice the mushroom caps, and cut larger caps in half so pieces are bite-sized. Set caps aside.

To make the mushroom stock, heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in large pot or Dutch oven. Add chopped mushroom stems, onion, carrots, 1 teaspoons thyme, salt, and pepper and cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until vegetables are soft. Add 5 cups water, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid. There should be about 4 cups of stock. If not, add water to 4 cups.

Heat the remaining ½ cup butter in the pot and add leeks. Cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until leeks are soft and begin to brown. Add the sliced mushroom caps and cook for 10 minutes, or until tender and browned. Sprinkle the flour or Namaste gluten-free blend over the mushrooms, stir, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the chicken broth and stir to remove bits from bottom of pot, and cook for an additional 1 minute. Add the mushroom stock and remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the half-and-half and parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Heat on low (do not boil) and serve.

*NOTE: Leeks often are full of sand and grit, so it’s best to chop them, then soak them in a bowl of cold water. The sand will sink to the bottom, and the leeks will float on top. Scoop them out of the water, and drain in colander.


Baked Northern Beans with Rosemary and Mustard

FullSizeRenderTake a break from basic baked beans with this bacon-laced white bean side dish. I’d clipped the recipe from the May 2007 edition of Better Homes & Garden magazine, and had yet to try it out. Since it called for rosemary, and I’m trying to find ways to use up my fresh herbs before the first frost, I finally got around to giving it a whirl. I liked it, but it isn’t a “star” dish. Not everything on the table has to take center stage though, does it? It’s also not terribly gorgeous to look at, as you can see from my sad photo attempt. (I’m really selling you on this one, aren’t I!) It would work for summer barbecue with brats or burgers, and it would also pair well with a winter meal of roast pork, beef, or whatever meat you choose. It’s got that homey, comfort-food vibe going on, so tag this one to make this winter.

The original recipe called for four 16-ounce cans of butter beans or Great Northern beans, but I wanted to use a bag of dry Great Northern beans I had on hand. I’ve also heard that the canned beans are rather high in sodium, so thought it might be a healthier dish if I used the dry beans instead. Directions below include overnight soaking of a bag of beans—which required pre-planning, but wasn’t a ton of prep otherwise. My husband didn’t think the dish was zippy enough, but he’s burned out his taste buds by constantly dousing his food with cayenne pepper. Consider the source. My taste-tester Emily and I thought they were tasty, so I’ll be making these again some time—when my husband’s not home for dinner.

Serves 6-8

1 bag dry Great Northern beans
1 teaspoon salt
8 slices bacon
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 2 teaspoons dried rosemary)
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
¼ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 (8-ounce) container dairy sour cream (1 cup)
½ cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour or Namaste® gluten-free perfect blend
1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I used 1, but I think it could have used 2)

Rinse dry bean in cold water, and then put in Dutch oven. Cover with cold water, and let soak overnight. Drain off water and add water to 1-inch above beans. Add 1 teaspoon salt, cover, and bring beans to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes, or until beans are tender. Drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. In a skillet, fry bacon over medium heat until crisp. Line plate with paper towels, and place bacon on towels to drain. Let cool. Drain skillet of all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add rosemary, parsley, and black pepper and sauté until fragrant. Transfer to a large bowl. Crumble cooked bacon and add to beans.

In small bowl, whisk together sour cream, chicken broth, flour or gluten-free flour blend, and Dijon mustard. Add to beans and stir until all ingredients are combined. Place in a 2-quart casserole dish and bake, covered, for 45 minutes. Serve.

MAKE AHEAD TIP: Can make bean dish and not bake, and then store covered in frig for a day or two. Let sit at room temperature for about an hour before baking.

Spinach Artichoke Hummus

FullSizeRenderA can of artichokes, and a few handfuls of fresh spinach make for a new twist on classic hummus. I found this recipe in the Fall 2016 edition of Lunds & Byerly’s Real Food magazine, and couldn’t wait to try it. My son Mitchell loooooves spinach in everything, so I wanted to see if this would be another way to give him his spinach fix next time he’s home from college. It was a nice dip for corn tortilla chips, and would actually be great with cukes, carrots, and jicama sticks as well. And if you’re a raw broccoli dipper, go for it. (I personally avoid broccoli in a raw veggie tray at gatherings. That, and raw cauliflower florets…those veggies are best eaten when roasted, if you ask me. But I digress!) If looking for some interesting appetizer ideas, this would be good to include in a hummus trio, with Spicy Sweet Potato Hummus (previously posted), and the classic hummus, for the true hummus aficionados. Serve with warm pita bread triangles, and your family and friends will gobble these up.

Serves 6-8

1 (14-ounce) can garbanzo beans*, rinsed and drained
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained
3-4 cups fresh spinach
2 garlic cloves
4 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini paste
½ teaspoon salt

Combine garbanzo beans, artichoke hearts, spinach, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, tahini paste, and salt in food processor, and pulse until smooth. Stop to scrape down side occasionally. Serve. Leftovers may be stored in a covered container in the frig for up to five days.

*NOTE: The original recipe called for soaking dry chickpeas overnight, and then boiling them for an hour, and letting them cool. That sounded like waaaaay too much work for me, so I used the canned chickpeas (aka: garbanzo beans). Also, I added more lemon (as noted above) then called for in the magazine recipe, as it seemed to need more zing.