Black Bean + Sweet Potato Chili

The calendar says February which means cooking and eating heavy meats, stews, and braises. Meals meant for winter days. Or like my New England friends, staying indoors while the snow piles up outside.

In San Francisco, the weather isn't exactly frigid with snow on the ground. Looking for something still hearty, full of flavor, and that doesn't require an oven (my kitchen doesn't have one), this chili fits the bill. I also had (almost) every ingredient on the list and made substitutions for what came up missing. In lieu of jalapeno, use one chipotle in adobo (which is really smoked jalapeno in a can). And I didn't have celery or a red onion. My adaptation makes enough for two big meals with leftovers; the original serves eight to twelve.

Pro tips: Even though the chili is vegetarian, I added ground beef on a second go of this for Super Bowl supper, but chorizo or another spicy sausage would work just fine. After browning the meat, keep the fat in the pan, add a little more oil if needed, and then proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Make the chili in advance, and it gets better after a day.

Black Bean + Sweet Potato Chili
adapted from Aida Mollenkamp

1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 small sweet potato, medium dice
1 (14 ounce) can cooked black beans, rinsed
2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground chile powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, and chopped
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
8 ounces water, chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper, to taste
Avocado, optional, for garnish
Tortilla Chips, cooked white rice, or cooked quinoa, optional

Heat oil in a large, heavy bottomed Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the sweet potatoes and cook until golden brown.

Stir in the black beans, garlic, chile powder, cumin, and jalapeno and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, water, and a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil over high heat, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the liquid is slightly thickened, about half an hour.

Taste the chili and adjust for any seasonings.

Garnish with avocado chunks or tortilla chips or serve over rice, or quinoa. A sprinkle of chopped green onion, chopped cilantro, or squeeze of lime would be great flourishes.

Butternut Squash Pasta + Kale

Its been years since I have cooked a packaged pasta. Buitoni, the longstanding brand of pasta sauces, filled pastas, and noodles, recently announced two new pasta flavors. The nice folks (thanks Sarah!) at Buitoni's agency, Night Agency in NYC, contacted me about tasting these pastas and creating a new recipe or two.  Armed with coupons to try them out, I brought home packages of the Butternut Squash Agnolotti (half moon shapes filled with butternut squash puree, ricotta cheese, and amoretti cookie crumbs) and the Chicken Marsala Ravioli (chicken, roasted mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, and Marsala wine). Both of these pastas are part of Buitoni's all natural reserve product line.  

Preferring the Butternut Squash, I made a list of ingredients that plays well with the agnolotti filling. Nutmeg immediately jumped to the top of the page. Shallots and garlic are always reliable aromatics. Finally, kale emerged as the other star of the show. The green leafy vegetable often shows up butternut squash side dishes or savory pies. Plus, it seems to be everywhere this time of year and for a bargain.

What I didn't want to create was another sauce, especially one chock full of butter or cream. Not that those sauces don't taste good - they just didn't seem to fit with this pasta.    What I like about this recipe is the use of a delicious filled pasta (the filling really tastes like butternut squash) along with seasonal ingredients, not to mention local.  This means cutting out some kitchen time (rolling and stuffing pasta) yet still chopping, stirring, and toasting raw ingredients. Water boils while the kale wilts in the saute pan. Active cooking time means dinner gets eaten sooner. 

Kale is one of those superfoods that gets lots of name dropping for health benefits and nutritional impact. It is a frequent guest on farmers market tables in the summer as well as the winter. In other words, this pasta recipe fits the summer and the January dinner menus. There are many varieties of kale - use whatever you find at the market. Since they all look like mini shrubs, rip off the stems and tear the leaves. No need to bring out the knife this time.  Unlike the other green leafy vegetable, spinach, it won't disappear quite as quickly in the pan.  Another +1 for this recipe: it only took 30 minutes, from start to finish.    

*I was not compensated for these products or recipes - the Night Agency provided me with coupons to purchase the pastas free of charge*

Butternut Squash Pasta + Kale + Toasted Sunflower Seeds

yield: 3-4 servings

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups kale (any variety), stems removed and leaves torn into pieces
1 small shallot, thinly sliced, about 1 tablespoon
1 garlic clove, chopped, about 1 teaspoon
1/2 cup (4 ounces) chicken or vegetable stock
Fresh nutmeg
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon toasted sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon grated Pecorino cheese
1 package Buitoni Butternut Squash Agnolotti


Cook the Buitoni pasta according to the instructions on the package.

Heat the olive oil in a medium size skillet on medium high heat.  Add the kale and toss the leaves in the olive oil to coat.  Watch how the color changes to bright green.  When the kale starts to wilt a little, add the shallot and garlic. Turn the heat down a bit to avoid burning the shallot and garlic.

After about five minutes of cooking, add the chicken or vegetable stock. The stock will sizzle and start to form a sauce, of sorts. The kale will get more tender. 

Grate the nutmeg over the kale - 20 gratings should do the trick.  Use more or less depending on taste. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper.

When the pasta is ready, spoon the agnolotti into a bowl or plate. Add several spoonfuls of the kale on top of the pasta. Sprinkle with toasted sunflower seeds and cheese.

Asparagus Salad

Admittedly, asparagus isn't a favorite. However, thinly shaved and tossed with a honey vinegar dressing, I think asparagus and I could be friends.  This pencil-like vegetable is best in the spring and sourced from your farmer. The mizuna is a hearty green that can be eaten raw or cooked. It just adds some extra bulk to the asparagus.  Pick your favorite fresh herb, chop and sprinkle along with some cheese.

Shaved Asparagus Salad

Serves: 2
Adapted from Food52

1/2 bunch asparagus
1/2 cup loosely packed mizuna or arugula
1/2 teaspoon chopped lemon verbena or mint
1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, thinly grated

Use a vegetable peeler to thinly shave the asparagus lengthwise to create strips.

Whisk together vinegar, honey, and olive oil. Toss with the lettuce and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Grate the cheese on top. Sprinkle the lemon verbena or mint as the final touch on the salad.

Dim Sum Brunch with Herbivoracious

As a spring semester social media intern for the Harvard Common Press, I was paired with one of HCP's blogger authors, Michael Natkin. Last week, I along with a small group of Boston Brunchers had a chance to chat with Michael about his new book Herbivoracious and enjoy dim sum brunch at Moksa.  Boston was one of Michael's stops on the Herbivoracious book tour. A Seattle cook, writer, blogger, and now author, Michael wrote a globally inspired book of recipes full of unique flavors.  After spending several months "socializing" Michael's book, Herbivoracious, with vegetarian and food enthusiastic audiences, it was a treat to see the newly released book, especially seeing the color photos.  Michael shot all the photos in the book, all 80 of them. Herbivoracious contains vegetarian recipes with some conversions for gluten free or vegan options.  This conversation with Michael at Moksa, a two and a half month old restaurant in Central Square, Cambridge, proved to be a great setting to enjoy a Sunday dim sum brunch.
Moksa's dim sum brunch menu has a range of small plates and larger plates for sharing.  Chef Patricia Yeo (owner of Om Restaurant & Lounge) opened Moksa as Boston’s first Pan Asian Izakaya. Small plates are divided into Asian bbq meats, pan fried, steamed, and fried. Larger plates for sharing are noodles, rice, pancakes, and eggs. The dessert menu rotates on a daily basis. Moksa was very quiet during our Sunday brunch. The space has the feeling of a nightclub driven by a cocktail list.  Even though our group was the only party in the restaurant, our server explained every detail of the menu. We ordered a variety of vegetarian and meat dishes that the chef thought would be appropriate for the group.  Thanks to Moksa for the warm hospitality and the complimentary brunch. Special thanks to Adam Salamone and Bruce Shaw of Harvard Common Press for the fantastic internship experience.

Radish & Pecan Grain Salad

Salads like this one remind me of warm weather, picnics, and farmers markets.  While not exactly spring in New England, this plate of crunchy radishes, chewy grains and lentils, and tart dried fruits might just transport you.   



Radish and Pecan Grain Salad
Adapted from Food52
Yield six to eight

2 cups mixed grains/beans/rice (used barley, millet, and French green lentils, but farro, wild rice, and quinoa can also work)
1 cup baby arugula leaves
1/2 cup parsley leaves, minced
1/2 cup mint leaves, chopped
1/4 pound pecans, slightly chopped
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup mixed radishes (used watermelon and French breakfast) cut into thin slices, preferably using a mandoline (watch your fingers!)
1/4 cup shallot, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup dried cranberries/raisins/cherries

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the grains/beans and cook until just tender, about 25 minutes. The barley went in first, followed by the lentils.  The millet was cooked separately due to it's shorter cooking time.

Drain the grains/beans into a colander, then set aside until warm to the touch.

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss well. Season with salt to taste.

Fennel and Black Olive Pizza

For some reason, fennel has become my new favorite vegetable.  Maybe it is because it can be chopped into thin slices for salads or the stalk saved for vegetable broths or that the fronds make for a pretty garnish.  

This pizza combines tangy goat cheese, bright lemon zest, salty olives, and the crunchy fennel.

The dough is of the no-knead variety and takes up to 24 hours to rise.  I like to make this dough later in the day allowing it to rise overnight; it is a definite time-saver.

Fennel and Black Olive Pizza

adapted from The Kitchn 

makes one 10-12" pizza

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 fennel bulb, cored and sliced thin 
a few spoonfuls flour
1 ball pizza dough (recipe for No-Knead)
a few spoonfuls coarse cornmeal
2-3 oz goat cheese
3-5 black olives, pitted & torn into pieces
1 teaspoon lemon zest
a few cracks freshly ground pepper
8-10 one-inch pinched fennel fronds

Preheat oven to 450° F.  Stick a pizza stone or sheet pan in the oven.

In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add fennel slices and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly browned. Remove from heat.

With floured hands over a floured surface, stretch the dough until it is 10-12", taking care not to stretch it too thin. Uneven is okay, this dough makes a rustic crust. Press small thumbprints around the crust and brush with remaining tablespoon olive oil.

Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal and transfer the crust over. Re-shape if it's gone askew. Top with the goat cheese, fennel, and black oives. Slide onto the pizza stone or baking sheet in oven.

Cook until crust looks golden brown and cheese is bubbling, 6-10 minutes. When ready, carefully pull from the oven, top with lemon zest, a few cracks of pepper and the fennel fronds. Slice and serve.