Polenta with Mushrooms, Kale and Egg

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This dish made a rather unconventional Valentine’s Day supper for us this year. Tired of the usual “let’s grill a steak,” we opted for a simple, but delicious dish of polenta (in our case we used local stone ground grits), winter greens, rich mushrooms and onion, topped with a farm egg and shaved Parmesan cheese. It was a delicious, almost-vegetarian meal that was both warming and nutritious.

Polenta with Mushrooms, Kale and Egg (serves 2)

2 cups water
1/2 cup stone ground grits or polenta
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cream or almond milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cups kale or Swiss chard, cleaned and chopped
Kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

2 fresh farm eggs

Add the water and salt to a saucepan and bring to a boil.
While water is heating, add the olive oil to a skillet and heat to medium high. Add the onion and cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until the onion is soft.
Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium.
Add the mushrooms to the skillet, stir well, add some salt and pepper and sauté for about 5-6 minutes.
While mushrooms are cooking, add the grits to the boiling water, stir well and cook according to directions (about 6 minutes). Add the milk and butter. Stir well and keep grits warm.
Add the kale to the skillet, stir well and cook 5 minutes or until the kale is wilted. Correct seasonings, if needed.
Heat a small, non-stick skillet over medium heat and cook the eggs to your desired doneness (I like them to have runny yolks).
Assemble the dish by adding hot grits to two bowls. Top with the mushrooms mixture. Add an egg and some shaved Parmesan cheese to the top of each bowl.
Serve immediately.

Potato, Fennel and Smoked Salmon Hash

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I don’t know about you, but I’m still smarting a bit from the Super Bowl. Actually, I’m smarting a lot. At any rate, while the game was the least exciting Super Bowl I’ve ever watched, our pre-game dinner was pretty darn fabulous. Typically, I make a meal of foods representing both teams, and even if I’m only routing for one of those teams, we still make sure everyone is honored. This year’s menu went like this:

  • Grilled Ancho Chili Bison Steaks
  • Baked Anasazi beans with bacon
  • Potato, Fennel and Smoked Salmon Hash
  • Colorado Cowboy Cookies

If you ever have an opportunity to get bison strip steaks from Whole Foods, I highly recommend it. They are worth every penny. Steaks you can cut with a fork. Yum, yum and yum.

But on to Seattle. This dish was our Seattle representation and it was equally awesome (and a bit more budget friendly than the steaks). I would make this again for brunch and add an over easy egg to the top. Ohhhhhh, so delicious! And our leftovers were terrific warmed up for a second supper!

A note about smoked salmon: Most smoked salmon you find in the grocery is cold-smoked salmon, sliced very thin and usually served on bagels. You know what I’m talking about. For this dish, though, you want the hot-smoked variety. Hot-smoked salmon is  a thick fillet of fish smoked over a heat source. It is harder to find in a regular grocery (at least in North Carolina), but specialty grocers like Whole Foods carry a nice assortment.  We bought a maple smoked version produced in Alaska, and it was pretty phenomenal. Highly, highly recommend this.

Although my Denver Broncos completely tanked, we still had a great pre-game celebration that included some new recipes, so the evening wasn’t a total loss. Click HERE for last year’s Super Bowl menu!

Potato, Fennel and Smoked Salmon Hash (serves 6 as a side dish or 4 as an entree)

  • 1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and cubed into 1″ or 1 1/2″ cubes
  • 3 tbsp. cooking oil (I used reserved bacon fat)
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 bulbs of fennel, cored and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried fennel seeds
  • 1 package hot-smoked salmon, skin removed
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. In a stock pot, add the potatoes, 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt and water to cover. Heat the water and boil the potatoes for 5 minutes or until just soft.
  2. Drain the potatoes and let sit while you prepare everything else.
  3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the cooking oil or bacon fat over medium heat.
  4. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes or until onion is translucent and soft.
  5. Add the sliced fennel and cook for about 5 minutes or until the fennel is soft. Add the fennel seeds, salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Remove the fennel/onion mixture to a bowl and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean.
  7. Add the remaining oil/bacon fat and heat over medium heat. Add the drained potatoes, and cook for about 10 minutes. You want the potatoes to be nice a browned with a little crust on them, so don’t stir the potatoes too often.
  8. Add the fennel mixture to the potatoes and stir well. Gently flake the salmon and add to the skillet. Cook until everything is heated through.
  9. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
  10. Serve immediately.
  11. For brunch or for a heartier supper, add a poached or fried egg to the top!

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Kale, Bacon, Corn and Tomatoes

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We’re at that point in winter when there isn’t a tremendous variety in what we can find at our local farmer’s markets. Lots of greens–kale, collards, cabbage–and sweet potatoes. All great, but I start to crave some variety about this time in the season, and that’s where our freezer comes in. We freeze fruits and vegetables during the spring and summer growing seasons so we can stretch our local foods over a longer period of time. After the holidays, I dig into that freezer with great enthusiasm. Strawberries, blueberries, peaches, green beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers, pesto…just what I need to make it though the boring late winter.

This dish takes advantage of local sweet potato gnocchi combined with kale from our garden, bacon from Mae Farm and corn and onions from our freezer. Add some grape tomatoes from the grocery, and we have ourselves a hearty dinner that is also fairly healthy and definitely delicious.

The idea for this came from a recipe I saw on Pinterest by blogger Teaspoon of Spice. At the time I was cooking, I couldn’t find the recipe (note to self: organize your Pinterest boards), so I made this up instead–they are pretty close though. My version uses kale instead of collard greens and I cooked the greens in the sauce instead of boiling them separately.

The flavor is very fresh and delicious. I hope you enjoy!

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Kale, Bacon, Corn and Tomatoes (serves 4)

  • 12 ounces sweet potato gnocchi, undercooked by a few minutes
  • 1 cup pasta liquid
  • 3 strips smoked bacon
  • 1 organic, yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups of kale, washed, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 cups of frozen (or fresh) corn
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • Salt and ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Set cooked gnocchi aside while you prepare the dish.
  2. In a large skillet, brown the bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on some paper towels.
  3. Return the skillet with the bacon drippings to the stove and heat at medium. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes or until the onion is soft.
  4. Add the chopped kale and toss well (I use tongs) to keep the kale wilting. Cook kale for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the corn, gnocchi and tomatoes. Toss well and continue cooking until the gnocchi is cooked through.
  6. Add the reserved cooking liquid as needed to make a thicker sauce. Stir well and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  7. Plate the gnocchi, top with cheese and enjoy immediately.

Pierogi with Crispy Broccoli and Brown Butter Sauce

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It is very cold here in central NC and tonight is only getting colder. I’m craving carbs and comfort food, but I’m too busy during the week to make a big pasta production. So this week I experimented with cooking some locally made pierogi.

At last week’s farmers market, I visited the booth for Melina’s Pasta and found some delicious-sounding pierogi stuffed with blue cheese and bacon. I had never made pierogi before, but I was assured that it was easy. Boil like pasta and toast lightly in butter. I can do this.

You can use this basic recipe with any kind of pierogi or ravioli. If you live in central NC, find Melina’s Pasta–I HIGHLY recommend the blue cheese and bacon pierogi (how could that combination go wrong, I ask you?). It was a terrific blend of flavors–not too strong on the blue cheese.

Pierogi with Crispy Broccoli and Brown Butter Sauce (serves 2 as an entree or 4 as a side)

  • 12 fresh or frozen pierogi
  • 2-3 cups finely chopped organic broccoli florets
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper, to taste
  1. In a stock pot, heat water for pasta until boiling.
  2. Add pierogi to water and cook according to package directions (8 minutes for our frozen pierogi).
  3. When pierogi are almost done cooking, melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. When foam subsides, add the finely chopped broccoli to the pan and cook.
  4. Using a slotted spoon or spider, remove the pierogi from the water and add to the saute pan. Cook pierogi on each side until lightly toasted and browned,about 1 minute per side.
  5. Remove pierogi and broccoli to a warmed bowl and top with chopped parsley.
  6. Serve immediately.

A Boeuf Bourguignon Tribute to Julia

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If you’ve been reading along with us for a while, you know that I carry a little torch for Julia Child. She was an amazing woman and a wonderful chef at a time when women in the culinary arts were almost unheard of. With her quirky sense of humor and no-nonsense technique, she managed to teach a generation (or two. or three) of American housewives and home cooks not only about cooking, but about food itself.

Last August we celebrated Julia Child’s birthday and had a wonderful time (read about it here). We made seasonal dishes with our fresh vegetables and local chicken. Definitely, something we will do again. When the weather this week took a sudden turn toward real winter, my first thought was of this dish–a classic French beef stew called boeuf bourguignon. Oh. My. Goodness.

If you are a carnivore and it is cold where you live, you must make this. Yes, it is expensive, but it does make a very large pot and you will get several meals out of it. Yes, it takes some time, but it is totally worth it.

We used local, organic ingredients for our stew (except the wine–I used what I had). Our beef came from a local farm, Coon Rock Farm, and it was so tender and flavorful, it was hard to stop eating. We have so far served it with red, white and blue potatoes (to honor France as well as our presidential inauguration) and will serve it over pasta as well. Make this!

This recipe is an adaptation of this recipe on http://www.food.com.

Boeuf Bourguignon (serves 6-8)

For the stew:

  • 6 ounces uncured bacon
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 lbs. lean, pasture-raised stew beef, cut into 2″ chunks
  • 3 organic carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 organic yellow onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. whole wheat flour
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 2-3 cups low sodium or homemade beef stock
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 4 organic garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 sprig fresh, organic thyme
  • 1 organic bay leaf

For the braised onions:

  • 18-24 white, pearl onions (defrosted and drained if using frozen)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup low sodium or homemade beef stock
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 sprig fresh, organic thyme
  • 1 fresh, organic bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh, organic parsley

For the sauteed mushrooms:

  • 1 lb. fresh mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Prepare the bacon by cutting it into small pieces called lardons, about 1/4″ thick and 1 1/2″ long.
  3. Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a large, oven safe casserole dish at medium heat.
  4. Brown the lardons and render the fat, about 3-4 minutes. Remove bacon from the pan, drain and reserve.
  5. While bacon is cooking, use paper towels to dry each piece of beef. (I put some towel in my hand, drop in a piece of beef, give it a quick squeeze and set it aside and start over with a new piece.) This is important! Wet beef will not sear properly an you won’t have that lovely crust on each piece.
  6. Brown beef in the hot oil/bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Remove to the bowl or plate with the bacon.
  7. Add a bit more olive oil if needed and saute the onion and carrot until. until softened, about 5 minutes.
  8. Pour off any residual fat and add the lardons and beef to the casserole with the carrots and onion.
  9. Sprinkle all with the flour, salt and pepper and toss well.
  10. Put the uncovered casserole in the oven for 4 minutes. Toss the contents of the casserole again and return to the hot oven for another 4 minutes.
  11. Remove casserole to the stove top and lower the oven temperature to 325.
  12. Add the wine and enough beef stock to the casserole to barely cover the meat. Add the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Stir well and bring to a simmer on the stove.
  13. Cover the casserole and place in the oven for three to four hours. The meat is done when it is very tender and pierces easily with a fork.

While the meat is cooking, make the onions.

  1. Heat butter and olive oil in a small saute pan. Add the defrosted and drained onions to the pan. Saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes, frequently rolling the onions so they brown evenly.
  2. Pour in the stock, season to taste, add the herbs and cover.
  3. Simmer over low heat for 40-50 minutes. Check frequently so the stock doesn’t boil off completely and scorch the pan.
  4. Discard the herbs, remove the onions to a bowl and set aside.

Make the mushrooms:

  1. Heat the butter and olive oil over medium/high heat in a large skillet.
  2. When the butter foam subsides, add the mushrooms and toss. Cook about 4-5 minutes.
  3. As soon as the mushrooms are browned, remove from heat and set aside.

Assemble the stew:

  1. When the meat is tender, remove the casserole from the oven. Using a slotted spoon (I use a stir fry spider) remove the meat and vegetables from the sauce and reserve in a bowl. Discard the herbs.
  2. Skim any fat off the sauce and simmer it for a minute or two. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce and it should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If the sauce is too thin, continue cooking it down.
  3. Taste for seasonings and correct if needed.
  4. Put the meat in a heated serving bowl. Top with the onions and mushrooms. Pour the sauce over it.
  5. Serve immediately with noodles, potatoes or rice. Garnish with fresh parsley.
  6. You can make this ahead and keep refrigerated for reheating later.

Braised Beef Shanks and Ragu

Shank in the beef cut chart.

Shank in the beef cut chart. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A funny thing happens when you shop for meat from the farmer/rancher. You learn a LOT about how to make a bit of meat stretch a long way and you learn about cuts of meat you have never heard of. Farmers are, by their nature, frugal people. I have also learned that most farmers love to eat. This makes for some great conversations about menu planning. Try having that conversation with the meat guy at your chain grocery store. Go ahead. I’ll wait…

Until last year, I had never even considered buying beef shanks, let alone how to cook them. As a rather inexpensive cut of meat, they deliver TONS of flavor, but require a long, slow cooking method, like braising. Mae Farm and Farmhand Foods both offer excellent quality beef and this dish uses them to their maximum potential. One of the lovely aspects of braising is that you can make dinner while you watch a football game. I find that pretty fabulous.

I found a promising recipe on epicurious, reduced the amount of meat, upped the level of vegetables in the ragu and reduced the overall liquids to make a thicker sauce for pasta and polenta. It is AMAZING. Not only did the final product taste delicious and tender, but my entire house smelled like I had Super Chef visiting. Yum, yum and YUM. I could actually eat this out of a bowl by itself. And, I have to admit, I have eaten it by itself. Still. Awesome.

So, if you’re in the mood to try something new and make the most out of a less expensive cut of beef (especially if it is locally produced and hormone/antibiotic free!), give this a try!

Beef Shank and Sausage Ragu (12 servings)

  • 3 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. Mae Farm Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 3 1/2 lbs beef shanks with bone
  • 2 large organic onions, chopped
  • 3 cups of chopped organic carrots
  • 2 cups of organic mushrooms
  • 1 bunch of organic kale or other greens
  • 2 28 oz. cans organic whole tomatoes with juice
  • 1 small can organic tomato paste
  • 1/2 bottle dry, red wine
  • 6 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tsp. organic dried Italian spices
  • 1 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a small skillet, toast fennel seeds over medium heat for about 2 minutes or until fragrant. Set aside.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in an oven proof pot and add sausage. Brown in pot for about 10 minutes, breaking up chunks with the spoon. Using a slotted spoon, remove from pot and put aside in a large bowl.
  4. Add 1 Tbsp. oil to pot. Sprinkle beef shanks with salt and pepper. Add to pot and brown at medium high heat for about 6 minutes on each side. Transfer to bowl with sausage.
  5. Add onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms and greens to the pot and saute until brown and tender, about 10 minutes.
  6. Return beef shanks and sausage to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Add tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, fennel seeds, spices to pot. Bring to simmer.
  7. Cover pot and put in oven. Braise 2 1/2 hours until beef is very tender and falling off the bone.
  8. Transfer shanks to a cutting board and remove meat and dice. Return diced meat to the pot and simmer on stove for about 10-15 minutes to thicken and reduce the sauce.
  9. Skim fat off the sauce (I actually cooled the sauce, put it in the fridge and skimmed the fat off the next day.)
  10. Season with salt and pepper.
  11. Serve over pasta, polenta or bread.
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