Desserts, Main dishes, Recipes, Side dishes

Thanksgiving Dishes

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I’m always interested in what other people serve at the Thanksgiving feast.  Our dishes don’t vary much, but sometimes we add something new to the menu, or we’ll drop something that’s not that popular.  So this week, I’d like to share with you what’s on our menu this year, and I’ve got a couple of recipes for you that I really like, and a new one I’m trying for the first time.

We like to hang out together all day as the dinner cooks, but we’re not the type of folks who go for formal appetizers, so we just have a cold cuts and cheese and crackers tray and a pickle plate out on the counter.  For the pickle plate, I’ll bring jars of pickled beets, pickled spicy green tomatoes, some black and green olives, and either Joel or I will open jars of dilly beans and kosher dill pickles.  I’ll also be bringing jars of my home-canned, charred salsa and green tomato salsa to go with tortilla chips.  There will probably be potato chips and dip, too.

This year, I’m bringing a bottle of champagne and a bottle of either my raspberry cordial or blackberry cordial, or maybe both, to make pre-dinner champagne cocktails.  For the kids, I’ll make a lemonade-based punch.  At dinner, we always open bottles of sparkling cider.

There’s turkey, of course.  We cook one at home for leftovers to feed the out-of-towners who stay at my house (our daughter, Amy, her husband, Solo, and his mother, Theresa).  Amy usually arrives a day early to help me with all the cooking.  For the last two years, my daughter-in-law, Tori, has cooked the turkey for the big family feast, and she’s done a marvelous job.  I taught her how to roast a chicken, told her to treat the turkey like a really big chicken, and she’s come through like a champ two years running.  This works well because we eat the feast at Tori and Joel’s house, and I don’t have to cook the turkey at my house and worry about then transporting it.  I have transported the entire dinner before, and I don’t like it!  I have also tried cooking it at someone else’s house, and I don’t like that, either.  So now, we divvy up the cooking, and it works well.

We are turkey traditionalists.  We season the bird with butter and herbs and roast it at 325 degrees in a big, old-fashioned, heavy-lidded, enamel roasting pan.   I like to mix fresh herbs from the garden—chopped thyme, sage, hyssop, and tarragon—into softened butter, and this goes under the skin of the breast and all over the bird outside.  I sprinkle it with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  I baste if I think about it, but the lidded roaster keeps the bird moist while producing a crispy skin, so if I forget to baste, it’s no big deal.

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I stuff my turkey with cornbread stuffing.  I make extra stuffing in a large casserole dish, and we take the casserole dish to the feast.  The stuffing that cooks inside the turkey stays at home for leftovers.  Tori doesn’t make stuffing, and her parents, who always feast with us, like a sausage and carrot and bread dressing, so they make and bring their favorite dressing.  Everybody has what he or she enjoys most.

Amy and I make most of the sides.  Amy has been crowned Mashed Potato Queen.  She has cooked and mashed the potatoes every year since she was a teenager.  Usually, she cooks the Yukon Golds I’ve grown in the garden.  But this year, all my Yukon Golds were volunteers (from a row Dennis didn’t dig the fall before!) and they matured so early that we had to eat them all this summer.  I have some garden reds, and I bought a 5 lb. bag of Golds, so we’ll mix them this year.  A handful of salt goes in the cooking water.  If this sounds like a lot, consider that if I don’t stop her, Amy fills my 13-quart stock pot with peeled and cut potatoes!  She puts lots of butter in them, and fat-free half & half to balance the fat in the butter.  She uses my old potato masher to break them up after draining, and then in goes the butter, and after it melts, the “cream.”  Then she uses the mixer to whip them up.  They are always light, fluffy, and creamy.  The key is to not overcook them.  Over-boiled potatoes will be gummy and gluey, no matter what else you do to them afterwards.

I make gravy from the turkey drippings.  I used to make turkey gravy with flour, but since I have stopped eating wheat, I’m reverting to cornstarch.  My mom had a funny rule:  cornstarch for light-colored gravies from poultry drippings, flour for dark-colored gravies from beef and venison.  (Of course, it was always flour for milk gravies, but that’s another story.)  I don’t know where she came up with this rule, but she never deviated from it.  At any rate, cornstarch makes a good, clear sauce for a light meat like turkey, and my turkey drippings are rich with butter and herbs from the herb butter I slather the turkey with, so it makes a delicious gravy no matter what you use to thicken it.

Some years, I make a puffy, sweet potato casserole.  My husband likes those overly-sweet yams with marshmallow topping, but he is the only one who does, so I don’t make it.  My kids don’t like sweet potatoes any way I fix them, but the puff is sometimes popular with other guests, and I really like it.  The recipe is at the bottom of this post.

This year, my son asked for a dish I love:  Roasted Roots.  I have to thank my dear foodie friend, DeAnna, for introducing me to Roasted Roots some years ago. This is a simple and easy dish, but you do have to have time to prep the vegetables and the oven space to cook it.  Tori and Joel have double ovens, so one oven will be free to roast the root vegetables and after that, to brown some homemade sourdough brown and serve rolls.  You can use any kind of root vegetables in Roasted Roots.  Our favorites are sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, and onions, a cup of each vegetable, cut into chunks.  If you can get tender baby beets, there’s no need to peel or quarter them, just trim off the stem and root ends and scrub well.  If the beets are big and you can tell they’ve been out of the ground for a while, put on some rubber gloves, peel them, and cut them into approximately 1-inch chunks.  Peel the sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, and cut them into chunks the same size as the beets.  Cut the onions into quarters, and then halve the quarters.  Put all the vegetables on a cookie sheet (or two, if you’re making a big batch) and throw on at least 6 garlic cloves, still in the paper.  (The paper helps keep them from burning.)  Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables and toss them to coat.  I also like to mix a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or my homemade apple scrap vinegar with the olive oil before I toss the vegetables in it.  The vinegar really brightens the flavors, and the sugar in the vinegar helps the vegetables brown. Spread them out in a single layer, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  If you have fresh herbs available, sprigs of thyme and/or rosemary are very good, tossed on top of the roots about 15 minutes into the cooking time.  Roast at 425 about 20-30 minutes, stirring at least once about halfway through, or until the beets, parsnips, and carrots are tender.  They are the hardest vegetables, so if they are tender, everything else will be done too.  The vegetables should be tender but should have browned and developed a crunchy outer “skin.”  Remove the herb sprigs before serving.  If you have more herb sprigs, a fresh bunch makes the dish look pretty.

We don’t make the traditional green bean casserole, but we do sometimes have green beans.  I like fresh green beans blanched and then tossed with mushrooms and onions sautéed in butter.  But this year, Joel is making the green beans.  He’ll probably use frozen beans, and he plans to crisp up some bacon and onions and sprinkle them on top of the cooked green beans.  They’ll be delicious.

I usually make some kind of fresh bread for Thanksgiving dinner.  I grew up with those packaged brown and serve rolls (my mom was not much of a bread baker), but I love fresh bread.  It’s one of the things I miss most about going gluten-free.  For the past several years, I’ve alternated between a loaf of herb bread–easy in the bread machine–made with herbs I picked from my garden and dried over the summer, and sourdough biscuits or rolls.  My old bread machine finally died this summer, so it’ll be sourdough rolls this year.  My sourdough starter also died because I didn’t use it or feed it enough, so I had to make some fresh starter.  The recipe for the starter and the brown and serve rolls comes from Tina Harrington’s Facebook page, Cooking on the Sagebrush Sea.  The recipe will appear at the end of this post.

I grew up with canned cranberry sauce, but the first time I tried homemade whole-berry cranberry sauce, I was hooked.  I make it every year, following the directions printed on the plastic bag of cranberries.  It’s just cranberries, water, and sugar.  So simple, but so delicious.  Some years, we make a fresh cranberry, orange, and apple relish as well.  It’s just equal parts chopped cranberries, peeled oranges, and shredded apples, mixed with just enough sugar, a half cup or so, to sweeten it to taste.  The problem with this relish is that it doesn’t keep well as a leftover, unlike whole-berry cranberry sauce, which will literally last months in the fridge.  (Yes, I’ve found it after 6 months in the back of the fridge and it is still good–a tribute, I guess, to the antioxidant power of cranberries.)  For this reason, you don’t want to make more of the fresh cranberry relish than you think you will eat on Thanksgiving Day.

At this point, we come to desserts.  Amy and I bake the pies, and this year, my granddaughter, Kaedynce, will be helping with the pie-baking.  I have made so many kinds of pie for the feast over the years, including pecan, apple, strawberry-rhubarb, and the traditional pumpkin.  But there are two pies that everyone always wants:  pumpkin, of course, and sour cream apple.

I grow pie pumpkins, and I roast and puree them for pumpkin pie filling.  I use the same recipe I grew up with—it’s on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can—with one other exception besides growing and roasting my own pumpkins.  Goldie, my sister and pie baker extraordinaire, taught me to double the spices the recipe calls for.  Oh, yeah.  It’s fantastic!  And the home-grown, fresh-roasted puree puts the whole pumpkin pie deal right over the top.  It is sacrilege to put anything except freshly-whipped cream, just barely sweetened and with a touch of vanilla, on top of that pie.  So that’s what we do.

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I owe the sour cream apple pie recipe to my good friend, Wes Reid, who brought me one years ago that his partner, Lori, had made for us.  I fell in love with the thing, made it for Thanksgiving that year, and then the whole family fell in love with it too.  Now, it’s the first dessert to disappear.  Sour cream apple pie is in the chess pie family, and it’s topped with a cinnamon streusel that gets crispy under high heat during the last few minutes of cooking.  This is a custard-type pie made with sour cream, eggs, and shredded apples, and while it sounds odd, it is absolutely the bomb, sweet and tart and tangy, and very easy to make.  You’ll find the recipe at the end of this post.  My thanks to Wes and Lori for passing along this recipe from Lori’s family to ours.

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I usually make at least one other pie or dessert.  This year, I’ll be making my new love, pear mincemeat in a gluten-free pie crust.  Follow the links to previous posts that contain these recipes.  Pear mincemeat (no meat) is spicy, tart-sweet, with a great hit of citrus from the whole lemon ground up with the pears and other fruit.  It’s a wonderful filling for the gluten-free crust.  I like to make turnovers because they’re handy, literally, and bake up nicely, but a pie would be just as tasty.  I’ll see how busy I am on baking day.  A pie it’ll be if I don’t have time to form turnovers.  If I make turnovers, I’m thinking I might make a fresh lemon glaze to drizzle over them, to pretty them up a little bit and tempt someone who might be scared of the idea of “mincemeat” or gluten-free.

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It’s standard to ask a question at the end of a post, in an attempt to generate more comments.  I see it so much, it sort of feels like a cheap trick to me, and I’ve resisted the trend until now.  But now, I’m asking because I’m genuinely interested:  What’s going to be on your Thanksgiving table this year?  And if you’d like to share recipes or stories, so much the better.

And now, the recipes, in the order they were mentioned above.   I hope one or more of them makes it onto your Thanksgiving table, either this year, or in the future.

Sweet Potato Casserole

2 ½ lbs sweet potatoes

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 T. unsalted butter, melted (plus more for the pan)

2 T. dark brown sugar

1 t. salt

½ t. cinnamon

½ t. ginger

Pinch of nutmeg

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place scrubbed sweet potatoes on baking sheet, poke with fork three or four times.  Bake for 45-60 min. or until tender.  Set aside to cool.

Turn oven down to 350 degrees.  Scoop potato meat out of skins and into bowl.  Mash potatoes until smooth.  Add eggs, butter, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper to taste.  Whisk mixture until smooth.

Butter 8X8 casserole dish or pan.  Pour sweet potato mixture into pan and sprinkle top with pecans.  Bake for 30-40 min., until a bit puffy.  Serve immediately.

Sourdough Starter and Brown and Serve Rolls

Sourdough Starter:  Mix 1 cup white all-purpose flour, 1 cup lukewarm water, 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 tsp. active dry yeast in large bowl.  Leave out on the counter (or in warm place), covered with a cloth, until bubbling and yeasty smelling.  When mixture is frothy, scrape into a jar or lidded crock and refrigerate.  Starter is ready to use when a clear liquid has risen to the top of the jar.

It’s best to take the starter out the night before you plan to use it and feed it.  To feed starter, place in large bowl and stir in 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour.  Cover and let sit in a warm place overnight to activate yeast cultures.  After measuring out the starter called for in the recipe, put the “fed” starter back in the jar or crock and back in the fridge.  Use your starter frequently, or at least feed it, or it will die.

Sourdough Brown and Serve Rolls

1 cup milk, scalded then cooled
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons dry yeast
1 cup of activated (“fed”) sourdough starter
2 small or one large egg
4 ½ cups flour (white or whole wheat)

Mix milk, salt, sugar and butter in a microwave safe measuring cup.  Heat until the butter melts. Let this cool to room temperature. Add yeast and let proof five minutes, then combine with other wet ingredients and 2 cups of flour in bowl of stand mixer.  Let knead on the dough hook for ten minutes.  Add remaining flour in ½ cup increments until the dough just comes together. Turn out into a greased bowl, and proof (raise) for an hour. Make into rolls (makes about three dozen rolls). Place in greased pans a quarter inch apart, and let raise another 45 minutes.

For Brown and Serve: Preheat oven to 250*F and bake for 25 minutes. Let cool, and wrap and freeze (or refrigerate). When you want to serve these, take them out of the freezer and let them thaw for ten minutes, then bake at 425*F for 5-10 minutes.

Note:  An egg wash makes breads brown beautifully.  Simply beat up an egg with a spoonful of water and brush it onto bread before baking.  For the brown and serve option, use the egg wash prior to the second baking/browning.

Sour Cream Apple Pie

One 9” pastry shell, unbaked

2 tablespoons flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

¾ cup sugar

1 egg

1 cup sour cream

½ teaspoon vanilla

2 cups finely chopped or grated peeled apples (tart pie apples are best)

Mix dry ingredients, beat in egg, sour cream, and vanilla until smooth.  Add apples, mix well, pour into pastry-lined pie pan.  Bake in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for additional 30 minutes.

While custard is baking, mix the topping:

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup softened butter

Mix well and sprinkle over pie. Return to oven at 400-425 degrees and bake for ten minutes to form streusel crust on top of custard.  Cool completely before cutting.  Store in fridge.

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Gluten-free, Recipes, Side dishes

Conversions III: Gluten-free Cornbread Stuffing

I’m gearing up for Thanksgiving.  I bet you are, too.  I like tweaking recipes, but there are some recipes I don’t mess with.  I should rephrase that:  I am not allowed to change certain treasured family recipes, like my cornbread stuffing.  Both of my children (but especially my daughter, Amy), are adamant that the meal must stay pretty much the same as it was when they were kids.  Frankly, the only reason I’m changing my stuffing recipe is that I’ve changed.  I am no longer eating wheat, and that means I had to find an alternative to my beloved cornbread stuffing.  I’ll still make the traditional bread and cornbread stuffing for the family, but alongside, I’ll make this conversion to gluten-free for me.

The recipe starts with a gluten-free cornbread.  I use an inexpensive gluten-free all-purpose baking flour that I get in the bulk foods section at WinCo.

Gluten-free Cornbread

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend

1 cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon coconut flour

1/3 cup sugar (I use organic coconut palm–you can use whatever you like)

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

4 eggs

1/3 cup safflower oil

1/3 cup milk

Mix dry ingredients.  Mix wet ingredients, mix into dry.  Grease an 8-inch cast iron skillet. Pour batter into skillet and bake for 20-25 min. at 425 degrees.  (You may also bake the batter in a greased, 8 or 9 inch square pan—bake 20 min.—or in 12 greased muffin cups, fill half-full, bake 15 min.)  Remove and cool five minutes, remove cornbread from skillet by inverting over a plate.

Using a cast iron skillet to bake cornbread is a tradition in my family.  The advantage is that you get a really crispy crust on the bottom and sides, and this is delicious when you’re eating the cornbread as is (or with apple butter or honey, two of my favorites), as well as working beautifully in the stuffing.  That brown, crisp crust gives the stuffing more texture and flavor.  So if you have an iron skillet, grease it up and bake with it.

Another tradition in my family is to have beans and cornbread the night before a big feast day.  This works out nicely because I have leftover cornbread for the stuffing, as long as I make enough (or don’t let anybody have seconds)!

Gluten-free Cornbread Stuffing (Serves 4-6)

2 cups gluten free bread (Elana’s Pantry Paleo Bread) cut in ½ in. cubes and dried in oven on low heat

2 cups gluten free cornbread, crumbled

3/4 cup butter

1 medium onion, chopped

4 medium stalks celery, chopped

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning OR 1 ½ teaspoons dried, crumbled sage, ½ teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1-2 cups chicken stock

Melt butter in saucepan, add chopped onion and celery, cook until tender.  Mix bread cubes and cornbread cubes in large bowl.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and herbs, mix.  Mix butter and vegetables into breads, folding carefully to keep cubes from losing their shape.  Carefully fold eggs into bread mixture.  Add enough chicken stock to moisten stuffing mixture.  Don’t let the mixture turn into a paste.  Mix gently to keep bread cubes intact.

The stuffing may be inserted into the cavity of a chicken or turkey or baked in a greased, uncovered casserole dish alongside the bird at 325-350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until top is browned and crusty.  (Yeah, I know.  Everybody’s scared of cooking stuffing inside the turkey.  All I can say is I’ve been doing it almost 50 years, and nobody has ever gotten sick.  But follow your own inclinations on this one.)

I’ve used this recipe for years with wheat-based bread cubes and cornbread made from half wheat flour and half cornmeal. Here’s a picture of last year’s Thanksgiving turkey with the same stuffing made with wheat bread cubes and traditional cornbread.

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I apologize that there are no pictures of the gluten-free stuffing, but honestly, it looks just like what’s in the picture above.  Unfortunately, I got distracted by football and didn’t get any pictures while I was making the gluten-free stuffing.  Our team lost–another distraction–and as consolation, we ate up the test batch (stuffed into a pair of Cornish game hens) before I could get pictures of it.  Maybe that’s the best testimonial of all.

I’m so happy that I don’t have to give up my treasured cornbread stuffing this year because I’m no longer eating wheat.  I can make the kids happy and satisfy myself at the same time.  Dennis doesn’t care either way; he’s like Mikey.  He’ll eat anything.

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Gluten-free, Main dishes, Recipes

Gluten-free Eggplant Lasagna (with meat)

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Some months ago, I decided to cut gluten and most grains from my diet.  This has meant learning to cook in new ways and with new recipes, and learning to adapt beloved ones, like lasagna.

I love pasta, and I miss it.  It’s really about the only thing I haven’t yet figured out how to make from gluten-free flours.  I hope I’ll have the time to work on that this winter.  A few months ago, when the longing for Italian food got too strong, I went on the hunt for something to fill that craving.  I found a recipe for eggplant lasagna, but the eggplant was there to substitute for the meat, not the pasta.  I wondered:  could oven-roasted eggplant take the place of the pasta in lasagna?  Conveniently, I had eggplants in my greenhouse, so I was able to give the idea a try.  And it’s delicious.  I was surprised that I didn’t miss the pasta at all.  The flavor of the lasagna is authentic, and it fulfills all my cravings for Italian food, without wheat.  Cutting out the pasta cuts down significantly on calories and carbohydrates as well.  This is a protein-rich dish that also contains a lot of vegetables, so while I usually serve it with a salad or another vegetable, we have been known to heat up a square and eat it by itself with no loss of satisfaction.

You can use any ground meat you like in this recipe.  I have used ground beef, turkey, Italian sausage, and ground venison.  You can mix ground meats, and frankly, mixing a little Italian sausage with any other meat is going to add extra flavor and succulence to your lasagna because it adds fat.  You can control the fat in the recipe by using leaner or richer meats, and lower or higher fat cheeses.  For the pictures for this post, I used bear sausage and ground turkey, because that’s what I had on hand.  I also used shredded, low-fat mozzarella out of my freezer. I buy cheese on sale, shred it in the food processor, mix a teaspoon or two of cornstarch into it, and freeze it flat in Ziploc bags.  The cornstarch keeps the cheese from sticking together, so I can use as much or as little as I want from a bag while it is still frozen.

I also make my own ricotta for lasagna because it is easy, and so flavorful, and so much cheaper.  I make ricotta whenever I have milk about to sour or already gone bad, so I’m minimizing waste.  Sour milk makes great cheese.  After the whey has drained away from the cheese, I put the ricotta in the freezer, so again, it’s handy when I want to make a pan of lasagna.  The whey can be saved and used in baking, particularly breads and cakes, instead of water.  You can make your own ricotta out of any kind of milk, from low-fat to full-fat, or even out of half-and-half, if your coffee creamer has gone sour.  But of course, you can buy ricotta cheese if you don’t wish to make homemade.

I’ve always made my own marinara sauce for lasagna, but you don’t have to.  You can buy jarred marinara or spaghetti sauce from the store.  If you do that, I strongly suggest that you add herbs to it to perk up the flavor.  However, marinara is easy, cheap, and quick to make, as you’ll see from the recipe below, so I hope you’ll give it a try and see how much better it is than pre-made, store-bought sauce.  I’m starting with the marinara sauce, because it can be cooking down while the eggplant is roasting.

Easy Marinara Sauce

You can start homemade marinara with either canned tomatoes or tomato sauce (or with fresh tomatoes, if you have the time).  Making the red sauce with canned tomatoes takes a little longer than starting with tomato sauce, but it cooks down while the eggplant is roasting.

1 28 oz. can of whole or diced tomatoes or 2 cups of canned tomato sauce

¼ cup red wine (optional)

1 T. fresh basil, chopped, or 1 t. dry basil, crumbled (more or less according to your taste)

1 t. fresh organo, chopped, or ½ t. dry oregano, crushed (more or less according to your taste)

1 clove garlic, crushed and chopped

½ cup. onion, diced

1-2 tsp. sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

If using whole or diced tomatoes, whirl the contents of the can (or quart jar, if you can your own tomatoes) in blender until smooth.  Place in large pot, add wine, herbs, garlic, onion, sugar and ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper (more or less to your taste) and cook on med. high heat until reduced by half.  Watch out—it spits as it reduces!  If you are starting with tomato sauce, just add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until onions are translucent.  You can add more wine, more sugar, more herbs, more of anything you particularly like.  You can use basil alone if you don’t like oregano, or vice versa.  You can add a tablespoon of fresh, chopped Italian parsley if you have it.  I use a larger quantity of herbs than I’ve specified in the recipe because I love the flavor of herbs, but these amounts are a good place to start.  Play around with the sauce until it suits your taste.  You want to end up with about 2 cups of marinara sauce, so don’t over-reduce.

That’s it!  That’s marinara sauce.  You can make it more complicated, roasting the garlic and adding shredded carrots and other ingredients, or you can buy it in the jar, but what’s the point, when this is so easy?  It is delicious and can form the basis for many an Italian dish that calls for a red sauce.  Now, on to the lasagna.

Roasted Eggplant Lasagna

2 large eggplants

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Cut tops off eggplant and slice lengthwise into ¼ to ½ in. slices.  Keep them uniform in thickness.  Brush olive oil onto cookie sheet and lay out eggplant slices in one layer; brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in 400 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until very tender.  Turn eggplant over half-way through cooking time.

While the eggplant is roasting (and your sauce is cooking down, if you made sauce), it’s time to season and brown the meat.

1 ½ lbs. ground meat (Italian sausage, turkey, venison, beef, bison—whatever you like or have on hand)

Salt and pepper

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 red or green bell pepper, chopped (optional)

2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (optional)

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 cups marinara or red sauce (see recipe above) or jarred spaghetti or marinara sauce

2 cups ricotta cheese

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

3 beaten eggs

Season ground meat with salt and pepper and garlic powder; brown and drain.    Add onion, mushrooms, and bell pepper; cook until onions are translucent; add chopped garlic, cook for one minute.  Set aside.

Mix eggs with ricotta and ½ cup of parmesan cheese, season with ½ to 1 teasp. salt and ¼ teasp. pepper.  Reserve ½ cup of parmesan for top of lasagna.  (As always with my recipes, start with the smaller amount of salt and add more to your taste.  Salt is a highly individual seasoning.)

Place a couple of spoonfuls of marinara sauce into the bottom of an 8×12 or 9×13 pan and spread it around.  (This keeps the eggplant from sticking to the pan.)  Place one layer of roasted eggplant slices on top of sauce.  Stir the meat mixture into the rest of the marinara.  Spread half of marinara/meat mixture on top of eggplant slices.  Top with half of ricotta/egg mixture.  Spread half of shredded mozzarella on top of ricotta mixture.  Top with another layer of eggplant, layer of meat mixture, layer of ricotta mixture, and mozzarella.  Sprinkle reserved parmesan cheese on top. (I always seem to overfill my 8 X12 glass pan, so I put it on a cookie sheet to keep any potential spillage off the bottom of the oven.)

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Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until dish is bubbling and cheese is browned.

If you can keep your hands off it that long, cool slightly before serving, about 10-15 minutes.  This allows the dish to set up a bit and makes it easier to cut into squares for serving.

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This gluten-and-grain-free lasagna satisfies my every craving for Italian food.  I don’t miss the pasta, and neither has anyone I’ve served it to, including my dear foodie friend, DeAnna, and my son, Joel.  Joel said, “Mom, I’ve never had lasagna like that, but it’s killer!  It’s lighter without the pasta.  I don’t miss it at all.”  If you try it, I bet you won’t either.

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appetizers, Canning, condiment, Recipes

Red Hot Sauce

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I could have titled this post “What To Do With Box-Ripened Tomatoes.”  Fall presents gardeners with something of a quandary:  what to do with all the green fruit that had to be gathered before the first frost.  By this time, most of us in the parts of the country that experience winter have picked our green tomatoes.  We’ve boxed them, and we’ve probably mostly dealt with them.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about what I did with my green tomatoes this year.  But there are always some we let ripen in the box.

The first few box-ripened tomatoes are good.  They were the ones so close to ripening on the plants that only a few days or a week or so in the box with other tomatoes, and maybe an apple or banana or two, have brought them good flavor and juice.  They’re fine for eating fresh, in salads, on sandwiches and hamburgers.  But as the days go by, and as the tomatoes that were truly green when picked start to ripen under the influence of the ethylene they (and the banana and/or apple) produce, the flavor starts to decline.  After a few weeks, the tomatoes that ripen don’t have much more flavor or juice than supermarket tomatoes.  And we all know what those taste like.  So what do we do with these tomatoes we saved and cared for and now don’t really want to eat?

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I make sauce.  I make two sauces, and the recipe I choose depends on how many tomatoes I have, which of my two sauces I have left from last year, and what I think I’ll need in the year ahead.  One of the sauces is an all-around pasta/pizza sauce, and I usually freeze it because it doesn’t make much (tomatoes really cook down), and I’m tired of canning by November.  The other is red hot sauce, which could be frozen, I suppose, but is designed to be canned.

I discovered red hot sauce a couple of years ago when my husband was given a whole, uprooted bush of habaneros to bring home to me.  This was a dubious gift—something the giver really just wanted off his hands so he didn’t have to deal with them.  What in the heck was I going to do with approximately 40 habaneros?  I started paging through my trusty Ball Blue Book and found red hot sauce.  It didn’t call for habaneros, but it called for hot peppers and tomatoes, both of which I had in abundance.  Never mind that the peppers were supposed to be “long, hot red peppers” and the tomatoes were supposed to be “red-ripe.”  Mine were red.  Sort of.  They’d been in the box long enough to ripen.  Sort of.  Good enough.

I made the hot sauce with habaneros and my box-ripened tomatoes.  I learned a little something about working with hot peppers along the way.  Yes, I knew that habaneros were about the hottest pepper I would likely ever encounter.  I knew to wear gloves and keep my hands away from my face.  What I didn’t know was that chopping the peppers in the food processor was a no-no.  What I didn’t know was that as soon as I took off the lid, the capsaicin that had been released from chopping the habaneros would rise up and hit me in the face like pepper spray out of a can.  Since I’d never been hit in the face with pepper spray, I didn’t know that it made you cough, and cough, and wheeze for breath, fruitlessly.  I’d heard about the tears, the outpouring of snot from abused mucus membranes, but I’d never experienced them.  It was an hour before I could go back in the kitchen and continue my little experiment.

But I am nothing if not dogged.  It was still pretty fumey in there, and for the rest of the time I worked with the sauce, I coughed and wheezed and hacked and went through a box of tissues.  But I learned that vinegar neutralizes capsaicin, and as soon as I got the vinegar, tomatoes, and peppers all cooking together, the peppers stopped releasing capsaicin, and I started feeling a whole lot better.  I got the food processor and all the tools I’d used on the peppers rinsed out with COLD water, and then washed with dish soap, and the atmosphere in the kitchen improved considerably.

Why am I telling you about my pepper fiasco?  Because I learned some things from that first experience of working with really hot peppers that I’m going to share with you so that you don’t have to learn what it’s like to get hit in the face with pepper spray. (I’m assuming that as a law-abiding citizen, you haven’t already experienced this.)

The red hot sauce turned out beautifully.  I was afraid to taste it, at first.  But having made it, I had to see if it was edible.  There was still heat, but no burn.  The vinegar tames the burn.  It was slightly sweet and the spices made it somewhat reminiscent of ketchup.  But it was nothing like ketchup.  I ended up with 3 half-pint jars.  I gave two of these to my son, who loves spicy.  He was the one who discovered that a better dipping  sauce for a shrimp platter has yet to be found.  And that’s why this year, I once again made red hot sauce with my box-ripened tomatoes.  I’m envisioning shrimp platters at football parties.  For the timid tasters among us, I’ll also make a lemon-basil mayonnaise.  But back to the red hot sauce.

Like pizza/pasta sauce that gets a lot of flavor from wine, herbs, onions, and garlic, red hot sauce is a perfect way of using up those box-ripened, less-than-tasty tomatoes because you’ll add a lot of flavor with the peppers, vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices.

This year, with red hot sauce in mind, I actually planted habaneros in my greenhouse.  I started them from seed in April.  I should have started them in early March.  They are very slow to sprout and then to grow.  They didn’t even start blooming until August, so I knew that it was unlikely I would get ripe peppers.  When my boxed green tomatoes started to get ripe, I checked my habaneros.  There were some small green peppers just starting to turn yellowish.

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Good enough, I decided.  I gathered them.  I also had some jalapenos that I’d gathered from the garden when I picked all the green tomatoes.  And I had a few store-bought Serrano peppers, smaller but hotter than jalapenos.  I needed 1 ½ cups of peppers, chopped.  But wait a minute.  It was the chopping that got me into trouble before.  And it was the vinegar that came to my rescue.  So I devised a plan to keep that capsaicin under control.  What follows is the recipe I used, unaltered from its 1981 Ball Blue Book roots, except for the preparation of the peppers and the cooking time.

Red Hot Sauce

2 quarts cored, quartered tomatoes

1 ½ cups hot peppers

2 cups vinegar

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons mixed pickling spices

1 tablespoon salt

2 additional cups vinegar

Combine the tomatoes and 1 ½ cups of vinegar in large pot and get them started cooking.  Wearing gloves, and using a knife, cut peppers into chunks and measure.  If you want less heat, seed them before cutting in chunks.  Depending on the variety of pepper you use and the level of heat you’re comfortable with, seeding might not be necessary.  Put the peppers into a smaller pot for which you have a tight-fitting lid.  Pour in ½ cup of vinegar.  Put on the lid, bring just to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook for approximately 15 minutes or until the peppers are tender.  (Stand back as you lift the lid to test tenderness with a fork.  Some capsaicin will be released into the air, but it won’t be much and shouldn’t be enough to cause any problems.  Although you might have a runny nose.  If you can schedule this on a day when you need some sinus relief, you’ll be a champion multi-tasker.)

Add the peppers and vinegar to the tomatoes and vinegar and cook until tomatoes are soft.  Wearing gloves, run the mixture through a food mill, fine-mesh strainer, or chinois to remove skins and seeds.  Put the resulting juice and pulp back into the pot and add the sugar and salt.  Put the pickling spices in a spice bag or tie in a square of cheesecloth or nylon tulle and immerse in tomato mixture.  Cook, stirring frequently, until thick.  Add remaining 2 cups of vinegar.  This will thin down the sauce again.  Continue cooking until as thick as desired.  (For shrimp dipping sauce, the right consistency is like a thin, pourable ketchup.  It should be thick enough to adhere to the shrimp when dipped, but not so thick that it all comes away on the first shrimp dipped.)  Remove spice bag.

Pour into sterilized, half-pint jars, leaving ¼ inch head space.  Process for 15 minutes in boiling water bath, adjusting for altitude as necessary.  Yield is about 4 half-pints, but it depends on how much you reduce the sauce before putting it in the jars.

Some notes:  It takes a while thicken the tomato sauce.  You can’t turn it up high or it sticks, so it has to be simmered on low, and it can take a couple of hours.  Have something else to do in the kitchen while you’re making this sauce.  You need to be available to stir it so it doesn’t stick, but other than that, it doesn’t require any attention.  And then as soon as you get it thick, you add more vinegar and thin it down again, and you have to cook it down again.  But, NEVER skimp on the vinegar.  I know it’s a lot of vinegar, but the peppers need it, and the sauce needs it to have enough acid to make it water-bath safe.  Also, do add it as directed at two different times in the cooking process.  There’s a reason for this.  Boiling a vinegar solution can evaporate the vinegar’s acetic acid.  And its acid is the reason we use the vinegar.  Adding vinegar at the beginning of the cooking time tames the peppers, but some of the acid cooks out.  Adding more vinegar  closer to the end of the cooking time ensures the sauce’s acidity.  Trust me, the sauce isn’t vinegary.  It’s actually perfectly balanced between heat, sweet, acid, and spice.

Also never increase the amount of peppers in the recipe to get more heat.  That affects the acid balance and can create opportunities for botulism to grow.  Habaneros are plenty hot enough in this sauce, believe me.  And if you want less heat, seed your peppers.  Or use jalapenos.  Or use Serranos for slightly more heat.  Or mix the two.  Or mix it up with a variety of peppers, like I did.  Just don’t exceed the AMOUNT called for in the recipe.

That’s it.  That’s a good way of using up your box-ripened tomatoes.  That’s perfect dipping sauce for a shrimp platter at your Super Bowl party.  That’s red hot sauce.

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