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Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Blue Cheese Dip @ My Pantry ShelfOnce you fall in love with Brussels sprouts, it is impossible to get enough.  We eat them like candy at our house, or most of us do.  One child has chosen to shun these green meatballs for now- more for us!  While we enjoy them shaved in salads and sauteed with garlic, the best preparation in my opinion is to simply toss them in oil, season them with salt and pepper and roast in the oven.

Brussels Srouts and dip

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Blue Cheese Dip can be served as either an unexpected appetizer or a gratifying side dish.  The Brussels sprouts caramelize a bit in the oven and match beautifully with the blue cheese and yogurt dip.  The dish hits all the notes of a warm, savory, dippable treat, but without the guilt of fat and carbohydrates that so many appetizers carry.

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Thanksgiving is never at our home.  Each year we alternate between my and my husband’s parents’ homes.  This holiday is decidedly my favorite.  I love the cool weather, the rustling of leaves, the family crammed into the kitchen to gossip, stir, and sip.   And of course the food.  Each of the homes we visit have special dishes that we love, but since each year we miss one of the homes, I like to make our favorites ahead of time so we do not miss out.

Stuffed Winter Squash with Rice and Sausage recipe is a take on my family’s traditional Thanksgiving stuffing.  My parents have hosted Thanksgiving every year for my entire life (and longer). Each year they put on an impressive spread with many mouth-watering dishes, but my favorite is by far the rice stuffing.   Inspired by their once neighbors and long-time friends, my parents early on shunned the bread stuffings they were raised on and adopted a rice version of the dish.  Wild rice baked along with flavorful Italian sausage, fresh vegetables and herbs to make a tasty, toothsome (not to mention gluten-free) side dish.  This stuffing is delicious baked in the bird or baked in a greased casserole dish, but love the look and taste of baking it in delicata squash halves.  It also makes for very tidy serving.  The stuffing can be made ahead a day or two and kept covered in the refrigerator or a couple of weeks ahead and kept in the freezer.  Wait to stuff the squash halves until the day of baking.  One of the squash boats is a generous serving, perfect if it is your main side dish. If you are serving it with many side dishes, such as on Thanksgiving, they neatly cut in half.

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If any week is screaming for comfort food, it is this one.  In my life, I am facing a grading deadline (I teach high school science when I’m not cooking), parent conferences crammed into any and every spare hour, and a nail-biter of an election.  Yes, the presidential election has my nerves on end, but honestly the biggest concern on my mind is California’s Proposition 30.

As an educator and parent of children in public schools, I know first hand the drastic cuts that California schools have made over the last five years.  The passage of Proposition 30 does not make things much better, but it prevents further cuts to the already ravaged district budgets.  The other day, a few students approached me about the upcoming elections.  They had engaged in spirited mock democracy in their history classes, their faces aglow with hope and pride in our civic opportunities.  We discussed that our district, backed against the wall, may be forced to end the school year three weeks early (among other extreme measures) if Prop 30 does not pass.   No, these kids did not dance and dream at the thought of a longer vacation, they went gray with the realization they may not be able to finish the year.  They want to attend school.  They know they engage in valuable learning and skill-building at school and that 15 days out of each of their classes puts them at a huge disadvantage.  Every district in California is facing some similar extreme measure.   This is the heartbreak of the school funding crisis.  Yes, economies and tax codes are complex, but when funding is denied to schools, it is the students who lose every time.  School children cannot vote.  It is our responsibility to represent their interests!  So Tuesday, get out to vote.  And if you can read this, thank your parents’ generation who approved taxes to fund the public schools that gave you and your peers the opportunity to learn.

Saucy Sausage and Eggplant over Polenta is a simple, comforting dish with fresh, rich flavors from the Roasted Tomato Sauce with Fennel.  Having a batch of the sauce in the freezer makes this dinner come together in no time.  You could certainly make this dish with your own favorite marinara sauce.  To save time, cook the polenta slow on the stove top, while you put together the sausage and eggplant.  Then sit back, pour a glass of wine, and wait for the election results to roll in…

Please share this post with other voters and lovers of comfort food!

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Habañero Pepper Jelly

October 27, 2012

The rains came this week and called the official end to summer.  The cool weather came a bit late if you ask me, our sweaters and socks, not to mention our umbrellas, were looking mighty lonely. We picked our last lug of peppers just in time, hauling in a respectable bounty before the soaking.  Our pepper plants have nearly given us more peppers than we know what to do with, or than we would know if we were not busy making all sorts of yummy pepper dishes every few days.  There was no question of how to prepare this last harvest of peppers.  For the last year there has been a habañero pepper-sized hole on my pantry shelf (and in my heart- sigh).  Before you jump to judgement and label me as a dramatic preserved foodaphile, let me explain.  I started making a version of this jelly years ago.  In the early days of our relationship, my husband and I would make whole meals out of Swedish crisp bread topped with cream cheese and pepper jelly.  It was so good, we dubbed it “THE snack”.  It became a staple in our pantry and our diet.  For some reason, I never got around to making it last summer, so there was sweet relief in filling the pantry void with this jeweled treat.

Sweet, tart, and spicy, Habañero Pepper Jelly is nearly irresistible.  Habañero peppers have a robust flavor that infuses the jelly, but they are very spicy.  For this batch, I used a combination of semi-hot Hungarian wax peppers and a handful of habañeros.  There is a serious kick.  More often I pair the spicy habañeros with sweet bell peppers.  Of course, you can add whichever kinds of peppers you wish.  Not a fan of the heat?  It is fine to use only sweet peppers.  The only guideline is to try to use peppers that are in the same color range.  I once tried to use green, yellow, and red peppers and the result was a murky brown jelly.  Serve this jelly with a cheese course (great with goat cheese, brie, or cream cheese- a sharp cheddar is good too).  The jelly adds a serious kick to a simple grilled cheese or spread it on a turkey sandwich.  Come to think of it, this would be a wonderful hostess gift for Thanksgiving.  This recipe is all the reason you need to run out to the Farmers’ Market today to snatch up the last of the fall peppers.  You will not be disappointed.

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Our garden grew wild this year.  Between the overload of responsibilities and excursions that spring demanded, not to mention an uncooperative back, it is actually surprising we even found time to thrust some plants in the ground.  But somehow, despite our lackluster efforts, the garden is producing heartily.  The other afternoon on a saunter through our beds I was shocked to find piles of peppers.  We planted a variety of sweet and hot that we found at our favorite plant sale. Each plant boasts a different flavor, color and shape.  The other night their abundance begged to be honored with a starring role in this dish. Read the rest of this entry »

Fuyu Persimmon Chutney

December 12, 2011

To my knowledge there are no holiday songs written about persimmons, but there should be. Persimmons hang on months after most fruit.  They wait for the frost to come before dumping their leaves and gloriously displaying their sweet orange lanterns hanging from naked limbs.  The fruit, sweet and flavorful when ripe, has an unpleasant astringent quality when eaten before they fully develop.   So I wait for it, because I love this fruit. It may be the last truly seasonal fruit, in that there is not enough demand to cause our friends in the Southern Hemisphere to begin shipping it here in the off season.  (I imagine it would be tough to sell a persimmon during the height of peach season!)

This year a friend invited me over to pick Fuyu persimmons from her tree. (Thanks A!) Fuyus are the short, squat variety that are eaten while firm.  They are not often cooked, but rather eaten raw in salads or on their own.  My mother-in-law, a fellow persimmon fan, introduced me to a recipe for using Fuyu persimmons to make a chutney.  The dense flesh retains its shape and color when cooked.  The chutney is seasoned with garlic, ginger, and mustard seeds that pop in your mouth with each bite.  The raisins and sugar balance the acidity of the apple cider vinegar and the red pepper flakes add a subtle bite.  I often serve the chutney with a soft cheese on an appetizer tray.  It also shines as a side to roast pork.  Jars filled with persimmon chutney make a welcome holiday gift.

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Sweet Potato and Bacon Gratin

November 21, 2011

Sweet potatoes are not very popular at my family Thanksgiving gathering.  There are a few of us that enjoy them, but by and large they are passed around the table and politely declined.  Even I, a professed yam lover, took years to warm to this tuber.  It was not until I had them roasted and unsweetened for the first time that I took a liking to them.  I think the added sugar is what gives sweet potatoes a bad name in some circles.  If you love those super-sweet marshmallow-covered casseroles, then more power to you, but I cannot stand them.  In my opinion, the key to a delicious sweet potato dish is to let the sweetness of the potato itself shine through and season it in a savory way instead.

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