Ever find yourself in a sandwich rut? Let’s be honest, most of us have made enough peanut butter and jellies or turkey and cheeses in our lifetimes to feed a small army (in my case, the small army of my own children). And after awhile it can get b-o-r-i-n-g, an endless loop of the same old, same old.
Now that I work from home, I’m especially motivated to make my lunches a little more exciting. I don’t generally do anywhere or do anything special for lunch–and I rarely even see other people (cause I can get kind of hermit-y). Mostly, when lunchtime comes, if my husband isn’t working from home along with me, I sit on my back patio and scroll through Facebook or listen to a true crime podcast over a sandwich or salad.
So when I have an impressive lunch to look forward to, it’s kind of big news. And the lunch I’m talking about is none other than one of my very favorite sandwiches: a Ham, Goat Cheese, and Mango Chutney Croissant.
I first had this sandwich at a little cafe on Bainbridge Island off the coast of Seattle when we took a trip there a few years ago. The juxtaposition of salty ham, creamy goat cheese, and sweet, chunky mango chutney rocked my world–why had I never thought of this combo before?–and ever since I’ve enjoyed making it on my own. Today, since I just made a Trader Joe’s run yesterday, I had all the ingredients on hand to make it. (If you’re not familiar, TJ’s makes a mean mango chutney for about $2.)
There’s no reason, of course, you couldn’t have a Ham, Goat Cheese, and Mango Chutney Croissant for an easy dinner, or serve it in mini-croissants as part of a buffet. For me, though, it’s a favorite lunch that makes my workday a little bit more inspiring (and delicious).
Ham, Goat Cheese, and Mango Chutney Croissants
- 1 croissant
- 3-4 slices ham, sliced medium-thick
- 1 Tbsp. creamy goat cheese
- 2 Tbsp. mango chutney
- Halve croissant lengthwise. Place ham on one side and spread the other with goat cheese and mango chutney. Assemble and eat!
Last weekend, while I was out at the toddler cooking class I teach once a month, my husband got together with a group of guys for a Sausage Festival. I’m not being gross. They literally hung out for several hours making sausage. I kinda wish I could have been there, because this is one aspect of food production I have never personally experienced…and, though it’s not terribly glamorous, it’s pretty interesting! So before I dive into this tasty Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale–which, of course, uses the sausage from the Sausage Festival–here’s a little glimpse into the process.
Apparently it all starts with pork shoulder, cut into chunks.
Then the pork goes through a grinder…
And gets mixed with a blend of spices–in this case, parsley, garlic, fennel, and red pepper flakes.
And finally, the part everyone knows and loves: filling the casings with the meat to make links!
Pretty floral apron optional.
As far as I’m concerned, the best part about the Sausage Festival is that we now have homemade sausage to last until Kingdom Come. The guys made both links and bulk sausage, so I was only too happy to use some of the bulk kind up in this hearty, Mediterranean-style Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash.
It all starts with yourr basic giant yellow squash, baked and scraped to get those signature squiggly strings so reminiscent of pasta. In the meantime, you’ll brown some sausage and wilt some kale in a bit of garlic-infused olive oil on the stovetop. Toss these yummy goodies–plus some sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan, and cannellini beans–with the squash strings. Refill the shells, top with a sprinkle of mozzarella, and bake one more time for the finished product!
As a one-dish meal, this Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash is full of nutrients from the kale, beans, tomatoes, and squash, makes a ton, and reheats well. I think you’ll enjoy it, even if you don’t have the luxury of homemade sausage.
Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale
- 2 large spaghetti squash
- 3/4 lb. mild sausage
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 bunch kale
- 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained
- 1/2 c. sun-dried tomatoes
- 1/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick both spaghetti squash all over with a fork and microwave each one for about a minute, to soften.
- Slice squash in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds. Place squash halves cut side down on a greased baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes.
- While squash bakes, prepare the rest of the filling. In a large pan, cook the sausage over medium heat until browned and crumbled. Remove from the pan and place on paper-towel lined plate.
- Using the grease left behind by the sausage (or supplementing with olive oil), saute garlic and kale until kale begins to wild and garlic begins to brown. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add cannellini beans, sun-dried tomatoes, and parmesan and cook an additional minute or two. Place mixture in a large mixing bowl, along with cooked sausage.
- When squash has finished baking, remove from oven and scrape most of their contents into the mixing bowl, leaving a small border of flesh. (Be careful, squash will be hot!) Mix squash strings, sausage, and kale mixture thoroughly.
- Divide the mixture among the four squash halves and sprinkle with mozzarella. Place back on the baking sheet and return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese has melted and filling is warmed through. One serving equals half of a squash boat.
Back in September, I posted about the chopped salad that was my top choice for my birthday dinner. Since then, I’ve been overwhelmed at the amount of attention that post got! I guess the internet was hungry for the funky-but-delicious combo of smoked salmon, dried sweet corn, cranberries, and arugula (among other ingredients) topped with a creamy pesto dressing.
Writing about–and eating–the Stetson Chopped Salad got me thinking of other variations on the theme of salad ingredients layered neatly in rows. I mean, really, you can’t go wrong with a chopped, layered salad. It’s just so dang appealing, with its colorfulness, its order, and its symmetry. This Harvest Chopped Salad featuring apples, pears, cranberries, pecans, bacon, and blue or goat cheese is the product of these recent salad daydreams.
It couldn’t have come at a better time, either.
Not long ago, I started volunteering on a monthly basis as a cooking demonstrator at my local Natural Grocers. It’s a fun volunteer activity, but it’s tougher than you might think coming up with recipes that are 1.) gluten-free (Natural Grocers keeps a gluten-free kitchen), and 2.) conducive to demonstration. When you watch the Food Network, you don’t really notice that TV allows for time-lapsing cooking, or simply producing a finished version of something that took who-knows-how-long to cook or bake. In the real world, it’s not that easy. Like, if I’m demo’ing a recipe with roasted vegetables, uhhhh, what do I talk to my audience about for 45 minutes while the oven does its job?
So for the purposes of my October demonstration, the Harvest Chopped Salad is a saving grace. And maybe it will be for you, too, some autumn weeknight. There may be quite a bit of slicin’ and dicin’, but this recipe requires no lengthy cook time and can get dining-ready in no more than 30 minutes.
In fact, this recipe seems to be such a winner that I was contacted by someone at Natural Grocers’ corporate office to ask if it could be featured on their website! Of COURSE, I said! (Link coming soon.)
If you live in the Phoenix area, join me for my demo (and samples!) of this yummy fall main dish this Thursday, October 19th, at 6:30 at the Natural Grocers at 2151 E. Baseline Rd. in Gilbert.
Harvest Chopped Salad
- 10 c. romaine lettuce, chopped
- 8 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
- 3/4 c. pecan pieces
- 4 oz. crumbled goat cheese or blue cheese
- 1 c. honey crisp or other apple, chopped
- 1 ripe pear, chopped
- 3/4 c. dried cranberries
- 1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp purchased poppyseed dressing
- On a large platter or five individual plates, spread romaine in a single layer.
- Cover with layered rows of bacon, pecans, crumbled cheese, diced apple, diced pear, and dried cranberries.
- Serve with purchased poppyseed dressing drizzled on top or on the side.
Here’s a cooking question for the ages: is it possible to take a classic, tried and true recipe and improve upon it? Is there a quintessentially perfect basic blueberry muffin, for example, or pot roast, and is it a sacrilege to modify them? Or how about a ham and bean soup? As far as I know, Americans have been making ham and bean soup since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. (Or at least once they figured out how to not starve–go read Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent book Mayflower for a lesson on how the Pilgrims were kind of boneheads when it came to agriculture.) Anyway, if not since Plymouth Rock, ham and bean soup has been an American staple at least since the 1980s–I know because there’s a recipe for it in my very own passed-down Better Homes and Gardens “Red and White” cookbook.
Which, come to find out, is now going for 90 bucks on the Internet. Sweet!
If a recipe is in the red and white cookbook, I consider it a classic. But to tell you the truth, last week when I read through the Ham and Bean Soup recipe in the BHG Bible, it just didn’t excite me. It used water instead of broth, had minimal seasonings, and called for dried navy beans when I wanted canned. The one thing that DID match my criteria was that it used a ham bone, which I had saved from our Christmas Ham-fest. Still, that wasn’t enough to give it the pizzazz I was hoping for, so I decided to tempt fate and tinker until I came up with something a bit more interesting. Adding chicken broth, carrots, dry mustard, and nutmeg gave this hearty soup enough flavor to eliminate the need for added salt–always a plus, if you ask me. And cutting out the dried bean soaking time got it from prep to table in under an hour. After two bites, my 7-year-old proclaimed it his new favorite soup of all time.
So, if I dare say it, I think our family has a new classic Ham and Bean Soup. Try it out and tell me if you feel the same.
Ham and White Bean Soup
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
- 6 carrots, diced
- 1 large onion
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ham bone
- 2 15-oz. cans great Northern beans, drained
- 2 c. chopped ham
- 1 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp. dry mustard
- 1/4 tsp. ground thyme
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 c. chicken broth
- 4 c. water
- In a large stockpot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, and ham bone and saute until vegetables have softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds.
- Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer at least 30 minutes.
- Remove ham bone and bay leaves and serve.
Today is a red-letter day. After three weeks of being on the fritz, my oven is finally fixed! As a rather obsessive home baker, the last three weeks have been pretty painful (especially since my nutrition internship required me to provide baked goods for 40 kitchen employees last week). Mentally, I’ve been running through hypothetical would-you-rather scenarios involving my oven, like, “Would I rather have a working oven or a working microwave?” “Would I rather have a working oven or indoor plumbing?” (Speaking of which, did you ever read about the British study where people reported they’d rather give up indoor plumbing than Facebook?) I think I’d choose the oven over Facebook…but the plumbing over the oven.
At any rate, it’s been a challenge these last few weeks to get dinner on the table, considering the dead oven situation. The good news is that I’ve been making these Pork Chops with Pan-Fried Apples for years and knew it would serve as one hearty stovetop-only meal that’s perfect for fall.
Except for one little snag…
As written, this recipe is a Sodium B-O-M-B. Checking the nutrition info on realsimple.com revealed that the original recipe contains 2,045 milligrams of sodium per serving–right around the recommended amount for an entire day. Holy Saltshaker, that’s a lot of sodium! Time for a recipe makeover!
For my version, I’ve cut back the salt in the pork chops’ breading, limited the salt on the pan-fried apples to just a sprinkle, and used low-sodium chicken broth for the pan sauce. With these changes, this recipe is still a fairly high-sodium one (just so you’re aware) but is more in the reasonable range. This way you can enjoy your dinner without feeling like you overdid it and have to eat flavorless salt-free mush the entire rest of the day. Even with the sodium reduced, the flavors of the savory pork and caramelized exterior of the apples join for a classic fall combination that doesn’t need anything extra. I served it over mashed potatoes to complete the comfort food feel.
And now that that’s all squared away, I think I’ll go bake something!
Pork Chops with Pan-Fried Apples
(Adapted from Real Simple)
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. canola oil
3 small to medium apples, sliced in half
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cumin
scant 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 lbs. thin-sliced boneless pork chops
1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
Fresh or dried parsley
- Heat butter and canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle apple halves lightly with salt and pepper, to taste. Place cut-side down in the skillet and cook 3-5 until golden brown. Remove and set aside, covered.
- Meanwhile, mix flour, cumin, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl. Dredge pork chops in flour mixture to coat on both sides. When apples have finished cooking, add more butter or oil to the pan if necessary and cook the pork 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown. Set aside, covered, with the apples.
- Add broth and vinegar to the skillet and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 4-5 minutes until slightly reduced. Pour over pork chops and top with parsley. Serve with apples.
Serves 4-5, depending on appetites.