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Recipes made with Fall ingredients in Central Texas

Spaghetti squash with meatballs

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When I get that busy, I have two goals – try to eat healthy at home as often as possible and not waste my produce delivery.  This usually keeps me just focused enough on my crisper drawer to keep cooking simple, nutritious meals, but creating new recipes is out of the question.

Fortunately, I have blogger friends who provide terrific inspiration when I’ve lost mine.  Natanya Anderson at Fete and Feast does a meal plan for her busy family and is the queen of make ahead shortcuts for busy weekday meals.  Megan Myers of Stetted and Lisa Lawless at Lisa is Cooking make beautiful dishes featuring fresh, local produce and I often turn to them when I need a culinary spark.

I did manage to eek out a pretty tasty meatballs with spaghetti squash dish.  I use a pretty basic meatball recipe (below) so that by the time the spaghetti squash is done, the meatballs are ready.  I made four servings which gave me enough for a delicious dinner and plenty of leftovers for lunch that week.  I don’t put a sauce on my spaghetti squash, but you could definitely add another layer of flavor to the dish with a simple spaghetti sauce.

One of the challenges for me in January was having a plethora of beets on hand.  I don’t mind beets, but I don’t love them.  I usually saute the beet greens as soon as I get my produce delivery, but then the beets sit in the fridge until I force myself to cook them.  I have a few go to recipes for beets like beet pancakes and beet risotto, but I get bored with them.   I love this beet ravioli recipe from the now closed restaurant Aquarelle, but it’s more work than I’m willing to do for a dinner for one.

I reached out to my Twitter friends for ideas on new beet recipes and they offered up several great suggestions. I’d never thought of using beets in curry before and loved the idea.  I tried this recipe from Cooking and Me and it was very tasty.  I didn’t dice the beets small enough so it took a little longer to cook than the recipe suggested, but I look forward to trying it again.   I’m also looking forward to trying Megan’s beet brownies and my friend Hector’s beet muffins.  Since we still have three months of beet season in Austin, I’ll have plenty of time to experiment.  If you have a favorite beet recipe, I’d love to try it.

What are your strategies when life gets too busy for creativity in the kitchen?  I highly recommend turning to others rather than not cooking.

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Spaghetti squash with meatballs

 

1 spaghetti squash

1/4 cup water

1/2 pound Italian sausage (I use spicy)

1/2 pound ground beef (you could also substitute veal, lamb or turkey)

1/2 cup bread crumbs

2 eggs

1/2 cup grated paremsan

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Butter and salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Split the spaghetti squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Put a 1/4 cup of water in the bottom of a baking dish and place the spaghetti squash flesh side down in the dish. Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until you can easily pierce the skin of the squash with a fork.

When the squash is finished, remove the pan and allow the squash to cool enough for you to handle it safely.  Turn the squash flesh side up and use a fork to scrape the squash meat out of the skin.  The meat will come out in “strings” that look like noodles.

 

While the squash is cooking, combine the sausage, ground beef, bread crumbs, eggs, parmesan, garlic and pepper flakes in a bowl and combine it well with your hands.  (Yes, your hands.)  Form the meat mixture into balls that are about an 1.5 inches in diameter, like a ping pong ball.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and place the first batch of meatballs in the pan so that they do not touch. (If you are using a lean meat like turkey, drizzle olive oil in the pan before placing the meatballs in it.)

Turn the meatballs at least twice so that all sides are browned and the meat is cooked through (160 on a meat thermometer.)  Remove the meatballs to a plate and cover with foil while you cook the next batch.

Place a scoop of spaghetti squash in each bowl.  Place a small pat of butter (about 1/3 tbsp) on the squash and sprinkle with salt to taste.  Place 2-3 meatballs on top of the squash and serve.

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Austin Food Bloggers’ Hunger Awareness Project: Beets Two Ways

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As I considered what I would make for my final Austin Food Bloggers’ Hunger Awareness Project for the Capital Area Food Bank, I found myself thinking of what it feels like to be in the place of choosing between buying food and other essentials like medicine or paying rent.  What most of you may not know about me is that I know that feeling all too well.
Many years ago I made a series of truly regrettable and painful choices that turned my life upside down and forced me to start over.  For the two years before I started the blog, I lived on a budget so tight that I had $25 per week for food – $1.19 per meal.  Lisa Goddard from the Capital Area Food Bank told me that I probably would have qualified for SNAP, but I never asked for the help.  
I made it through that period because I had a safety net of friends and family who loved me through it and kept me fed, inviting me over for dinner and sending me home with more leftovers than we ate.  I also found a job where I traveled quite a bit and my clients often picked up the tab for my meals.  I was lucky, but not everyone has such fortune which is why the SNAP program exists – to help people fill those gaps so that they don’t have to make those choices.  
One of the great lessons I learned on that tight budget was to use every little bit of food.  Scraps that I used to throw away became valuable commodities and I would seek out foods that could be used for more than one purpose.
Beets became a new favorite in my kitchen then.  Before that I wasn’t really sure what to do with beets other than roast them and I had never considered eating the greens.  My friends Ana and Sandy changed all that.  Ana gave me a recipe from Mark Bittman for beet pancakes, similar to a potato pancake, that can be eating on their own or as the patty for a veggie burger and Sandy taught me to saute beet greens like spinach.  
I started making the two together using the beet pancakes as my entree and the beet greens as the side.  For $3-$4, I could make two vitamin-packed meals.  Perfect. 
Now you know why I am so passionate about helping end hunger in Central Texas and why I still volunteer for the food bank today.  If you agree that hunger is unacceptable, please donate to the Capital Area Food Bank.
Beet Pancakes with Sauteed Beet Greens

Adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman

Makes 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes
1 to 1 1/2 pounds beets
1 teaspoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flour
3 tbsps olive oil
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 bunch of beet greens, rinsed
Separate the beets and the beet greens.  Rinse the beet greens in a colander and set them aside to dry.  Tear the beet greens from the stems into bite sized pieces and set aside. 
Trim the beets and peel them as you would potatoes.  It helps to leave part of the stem on the beets so that you have something to hold on to while you peel them.  After the beets are peeled, you can trim off the ends.

Beets

Beet greens

Grate the beets in a food processor or by hand.  If you grate by hand, place a towel over the bowl to keep the beet juice from getting all over the kitchen. (Thanks Hector for the tip.)

Toss the grated beets in a bowl with the rosemary and salt, then add about half the flour; toss well, add the rest of the flour, then toss again.
Form patties with the beets – four smaller patties or two large patties. 
Preheat a skillet over medium heat and heat two tablespoons of the olive oil.
Place the patties in the skillet and turn the heat to medium-high.  Cook until the beet cakes are nicely crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Flip the cakes and continue to cook, adjusting the heat if necessary, until the second side is browned.
Remove the beet cakes from the skillet, and either heat the final tbsp of olive oil in a new skillet or add it to the previously used skillet.  Add the garlic and beet greens and saute until the greens are wilted.

Plate the beets and greens.  If desired, add a small dollop of sour cream to the top of the beet cakes.

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Chorizo & Turnip Tacos

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Last week I found myself staring into a fridge full of food as I thought, “There’s nothing to make for dinner.”  Clearly, that wasn’t true.  There was plenty of food, but none that obviously screamed “make this dish.”

After taking inventory, I started pairing foods together until I fixated on a package of Dai Due green chili chorizo and a bunch of turnips.  I knew these ingredients worked well together because I’ve used them before in  a Portugese style stew, but I didn’t want to make that dish again.  I decided instead to mix it up and make tacos – a picadillo like filling with chorizo, diced turnips and sliced onions.

Chorizo & turnip tacos

When I experiment like this, I’m always a little nervous to take the first bite, but there was no need to hesitate – the tacos were DELICIOUS.  The chorizo and turnip filling was spicy and rich, and the sliced radish garnish gave it a great crunch.  Yum!

The next time you catch yourself thinking there is nothing to cook in your packed fridge, try the matching game to create a new dish.  Create pairs of ingredients that you know work well together in other dishes and figure out how to put a new spin on it.   If you like BLTs, make pasta with bacon, tomatoes and spinach instead of another sandwich.   Don’t be afraid to experiment.  If all else fails, you can always order pizza and at least you’ll have learned something new in the process.

What creative dish have you made lately?  I’d love to hear about your kitchen experiment.

Chorizo & Turnip Tacos
4 servings

1 lb of bulk chorizo – I used Dai Due green chili chorizo, but you can use any variety
4 small turnips, trimmed and diced
2 spring onions, sliced
4 radishes, sliced
8 tortillas

Place the chorizo in a skillet and cook over medium heat until just cooked through (no longer raw.)  Add the diced turnips and onions.  Cook the mixture until the turnips are tender when poked with a fork.

Let the mixture cool for a few minutes, then top tortillas with the filling and garnish with radishes.

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Scarlet runner bean and turnip soup

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Until a few years ago, I never really paid much attention to beans.  Thanks to Tex-Mex and Southern cuisines, I grew up eating pinto and black beans with the occasional Boston baked bean thrown in, but we really didn’t eat a lot of beans.  They just didn’t seem that interesting and you had to soak them, so they were kind of a hassle to cook.

Then, while visiting San Francisco a few years ago, I found the Rancho Gordo booth at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Markets.  I was intrigued by all the different types of beans they had for sale – yellow eye, Christmas lima, scarlet runner, purple runner and zarco beans.  Clearly, I was missing out on something.

I bought several bags of beans that day and started my love affair with beans.  As it turns out, beans are great for you – both high in fiber and protein while being low in fat – and it’s easy to throw a pot on the stove to cook while you are working or doing chores around the house.  They also freeze well so it’s nice to make a big pot and store the leftovers for those days when I can’t cook or for lunches.

Now when I go to markets around the country, I seek out new bean varieties to try.  During my recent trip to Santa Barbara I was excited to find scarlet runner and calypso beans.

I made this simple soup using the scarlet runner beans, turnips and leeks – a lovely taste of spring.  You can substitute another bean variety for the scarlet runners.

Scarlet runner bean and turnip soup

Scarlet runner bean and turnip soup

1 tbsp olive oil
4 leeks, trimmed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 medium turnips, chopped
1cup scarlet runner beans, soaked in water for two hours
water to cover
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
salt, to taste

Heat olive oil in a large pot.  Saute leeks and garlic in oil until just tender, about 4 minutes.  Add the turnips and saute for another 5 minutes.

Drain the beans and add to the pot.  Cover with water.  Bring the beans to a gentle boil, then lower heat and allow to simmer until the beans are tender – about an hour and a half.   After an hour of cooking, add rosemary and salt to the bean mixture.   Adjust the seasoning as necessary when the beans finish cooking.

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