December 2 weekly menu | fall table

Farm Fresh

beets, carrots, chard, kale, leeks, mushrooms, winter squash

What’s for Dinner?

In addition to all of the other excitement Fridays bring, I now await the Hood River Organic “veggie van,” eager to greet my bountiful box when the doorbell rings! A gorgeous December mix has come my way…perfect for some hearty tree-decorating fare, first of the special holiday dinners, and festive celebrate-the-season potlucks.

Friday – feliz navidad

winter squash, mushroom & black bean enchiladas (Pinch of Yum)
wintery margaritas (Relish)

Saturday – saturday soup

squash-white bean soup (Cooking Light)
cornmeal scones (Cooking Light)

pumpkin spice cake with honey frosting (Martha Stewart)

Sunday  – fancy dinner lasagna

veggie lasagna (SIO Blog, Week 13 2009)
chard & beet salad (Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome)
crusty italian bread

Monday – sammie night

squash, manchego, & balsamic onion grilled cheese (Food Network)
lemony grated carrot & seed salad (SIO Blog)

Tuesday – creamy, cheesy polenta

white cheddar polenta with kale, mushrooms, & pancetta (SIO Blog, Emily Thomson)

Wednesday –  midweek gourmet

beet and avocado salad (Alice Waters, Chez Panisse)
roasted salmon with butter (Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything)
hearty country bread

Thursday – potluck perfect

squash and caramelized onion galette (Deb Perelman, The Smitten Kitchen)

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Friday –  feliz navidad

winter squash, mushroom & black bean enchiladas (Pinch of Yum)
wintery margaritas (Relish)

Tree Day. It’s not really all it’s cracked up to be. Oh, the ending is perfectly lovely. It’s that darned beginning (the procurement), and never-ending middle (the decorating). Seems that no matter how many Christmas carols you play, or how much hot chocolate you whip up, the event is ripe with hassles. The endless stream of bins from the basement, tree stand issues, broken ornaments, and non-functioning lights. One thing I won’t have to worry about, though, is dinner. I’ll whip up this pan of these lickety-split vegetarian enchiladas in the morning; come dinner-time, they’ll just need to be popped in the oven for baking. I’ll skip the homemade tomatillo sauce, and pick up a favorite jarred version from the store. I’ll use one of my acorn squashes, but any winter squash will do. I always find it easier to pre-roast any squash I’m using first. Just cut in in half and place it face down in a hot oven until it’s easier to peel and cut into chunks. I’ll skip the green pepper, but use lots of my winter mushrooms, adding a can of drained and rinsed black beans as well. Chopped chicken would be a welcome addition too, either in place of the black beans, or right alongside. Toppings will include freshly chopped cilantro, a couple types of salsa, and maybe some sour cream or plain yogurt. And it seems a perfect evening to whip up some wintery, citrusy margaritas. They don’t exactly scream Christmas, but makes for a fun Tree Day nonetheless.

Saturday – saturday soup

squash-white bean soup (Cooking Light)
cornmeal scones (Cooking Light)

pumpkin spice cake with honey frosting (Martha Stewart)

I love a soup that seems special enough for the weekend. I’ll use accord squash and leeks in this hearty and delightful white bean soup. The bacon makes it rich and hearty, but this could easily be skipped. It has a wonderful balance of spices, and a nice salty crunch with the sprinkling of pumpkin seeds. The cornmeal scones are a welcome accompaniment, but a hearty bakery loaf could stand in. And because I’ve still got roasted pumpkin in my freezer, I think this pumpkin cake with honey cream cheese frosting (YUM!) is definitely called for. You could make it in a loaf pan as well, and skip the frosting. But why would you?

Sunday – fancy dinner lasagna

veggie lasagna (SIO Blog, Week 13 2009)
chard & beet salad (Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome)
crusty italian bread

I’m going to fancy-up my go-to, every-season vegetarian lasagna. Not by doing anything different to the actual lasagna, but by setting a Christmas table and adding bubbly! I keep this recipe on hand as a “starting point”, using whatever seasonal veggies jump out at me. The trick with lasagna is to not let the recipe make it seem too complicated to attempt! Three layering components:  noodles (can definitely be the no-boil kind), sauce (store-bought, for me) and a cheese, egg, boiled kale mixture. This week, I’ll have pre-roasted my squash, cutting it into small cubes, and layer this in as well. Don’t get all uptight about the order or what cheese goes where – it all ends up in the same place, and as long as you have two or three layering pieces, you’re set. It is nice to end with the sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan or mozzarella if you think that far ahead. I’ll add a festive salad of chopped chard and roasted beets. The dressing adds a touch of pomegranate molasses, making it extra special and holiday-ish. Add any nuts and cheese that strike your fancy. Along with your favorite bakery’s crusty Italian, this is winter comfort food at its finest.

Monday – sammie night

squash, manchego, & balsamic leek grilled cheese (Food Network)
lemony grated carrot & seed salad (SIO Blog)

I know I’ll cheat on this, and use pre-roasted, peeled, sliced squash. But it’s hard to resist that spicy, sweet oven-roasting, so I may just pop it in the oven for a few minutes, giving it a nice coating of the maple syrupy, chili peppery concoction. I’ll definitely caramelize one of my leeks with a bit of balsamic to get an amazing spread. People can opt in or out of the almonds, as their taste buds desire. My trusty ridged cast iron skillet (with another cast iron topping the sandwiches) whips up two paninis at a time. This easy grated carrot salad has a winning combination of salty sunflower seeds and a tangy lemon vinaigrette.

Tuesday – creamy, cheesy, polenta

white cheddar polenta with kale, mushrooms, & pancetta (SIO Blog, Emily Thomson)

Polenta…no longer fuddy duddy peasant food, that’s for sure. It is a super versatile, humble cornmeal dish that can be baked, fried, grilled, or simply cooked gently on the stovetop with some butter & parmesan for a wholly satisfying, rich and delicious dish. This week’s kale lends itself wonderfully as a polenta “topping” – any greens would work beautifully. In this recipe, I double the polenta portion and make it in a wide bottomed pan suitable for serving as well. When the polenta seems “done” (not grainy or hard to the bite), let it settle in the pan after mixing in the not-to-leave-out butter (the essential rich and creamy part of the best polenta!) The lightly sautéed and braised mushrooms, greens, and garlic are then spread over the top, with the grated white cheddar adding a finishing touch. Just before serving, warm it in the oven, letting the cheese get just barely browned. You could skip the pancetta and mix in some white beans, for a wonderfully rich and satisfying vegetarian dish. See where your taste buds and diners take you. A little Italian bacon is hard to pass up.

Wednesday – midweek gourmet

beet and avocado salad (Alice Waters, Chez Panisse)
roasted salmon with butter (Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything)
hearty country bread

This Alice Waters beet and avocado salad is a cinch, with the beets ready to roll. Critical weeknight tip for the beet salad:  roast the beets ahead of time. Any time. But don’t wait until the often frenetic dinner hour – you’ll very likely skip ‘em. Believe me, I speak from some experience of beets straight to the compost bin! BUT, if you take an hour to roast the beets while you’re home doing something else (addressing holiday cards!), you’re set for whatever you might want to do with them. (Quickly peel and slice after they’ve cooled.) I don’t put anything on the beets while roasting – just wrap tightly in foil, and cook. Simplify the dressing as much as you want – often my beet salads are just dressed with olive oil and vinegar (any kind). But citrus with beets is amazing, and a winter classic, so I’ll take the extra minute for the zest. Put this one in the back pocket for Christmas Eve or Christmas – festive and fabulous! Add a wonderful piece of northwest salmon, roasting at the same time, and you’ve got a warm, healthy, scrumptious mid-week dinner.

Thursday – potluck perfect

squash and caramelized onion galette (Deb Perelman, The Smitten Kitchen)

I’m often searching for an opportunity to repeat this fantastic galette. And here it is. A holiday potluck celebration, and an overflow of winter squash. This pastry dough makes an outstanding crust, but by all means, just pick up a pre-made version at your local market. Just about anything can grace the insides – sweet, savory, and everything in between. And the crust is so darned forgiving. None of this fancy fluting or lattice work. You basically just spread your chosen filling on the inside, then fold over (in any quick, messy way) the dough edges. We’ve got caramelized onions and the squash for the sweet, a pinch cayenne for the spicy, and some fontina cheese and sage leaves make the amazing savory. For the potluck version, I’ll cut this galette into smallish squares and set out with a mini spatula to serve the (couple) bite-sized delicacies.

“What the Kale?!?”

Don’t panic and get out the compost bin if all of the sudden you have a giant veggie delivery coming your way, and you still have a fridge full.  Here are a few suggestions for preserving the bounty!  (Soups and stews freeze wonderfully in those gallon zip lock freezer bags.)

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