Saturday, October 31, 2009

Entertaining In An Instant

My husband was home this week recovering from back surgery. Believe me, this type of surgery has changed remarkably over the years, and recovery is somewhat easy. Last Saturday afternoon J and L called to see if they could visit the patient. John, of course, said yes and made plans for later in the day.

Earlier that day I had made a mushroom spread fragrant with lemon zest, thyme leaves and Pecorino cheese to have on hand during the weekend. When J and L arrived bearing gifts and good cheer, it was easy to slice up some dry Italian sausage and top some crostini with the mushroom spread as J opened a bottle of wine.

Soon we received a phone call from T and J asking if they could come to see John. Of course they could. When they arrived they joined us in another bottle of wine and some crostini.

As late afternoon turned into evening, it became apparent that we needed to think about dinner. Fortunately, I had made a large pot of chili that was sitting in the refrigerator. I pulled it out and began to heat it up. As I heated it, I searched the fridge to see what else could round out this meal. There were tortillas to heat up and cheddar cheese to grate. There were even some cinnamon biscotti in the freezer for dessert.

There is a lot to be said for having a well-stocked pantry--but there is more to be said about having good friends that feel comfortable enough to show up and go with the flow.

This recipe for Pumpkin Turkey Chili was posted on by Kristen Swensson. This is my variation. Perfect for a chilly fall day.

Pumpkin Turkey Chili
Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 red or yellow pepper, chopped
1 4-oz. can chopped green chiles
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey
2 cups (1 14.5 oz can) diced tomatoes, roughly pureed
1 19 oz. can cannellini beans
2 cups (1 14.5 oz can) pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper to taste (do not skip this)
Pinch cinnamon

Saute the onion, bell pepper, green chiles and garlic in oil until tender--about 10 minutes. Add ground turkey and brown about 10 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, beans and pumpkin. Season with chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, cayenne and pinch of cinnamon.

Reduce heat and simmer at least 20 minutes. As with all chilis, this is even better after it sits for awhile.Thin with a little water if it becomes too thick. Top with cilantro, sour cream, or grated cheddar cheese, if desired.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Clean Sweep

On my way home one day this month I heard on the car radio that it was National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. That's all the inspiration I needed to nudge me toward the job I have been meaning to get to for some time.

The day was gray and drizzly as I put on some coffee and my favorite news channel and got to it. I emptied the refrigerator shelf by shelf and began the task of cleaning everything while sorting through the odd bits one inevitably finds in even the cleanest refrigerator.

Maybe because of the down economy, I have been reading and hearing a lot lately of using up and finishing the leftover bits in the refrigerator and pantry at weeks' end.

I don't know about you, but I was brought up in a blue collar Italian-American family. Every bit of food was used all the time. In our house it was tantamount to a sin to throw away food. We ate mostly delicious peasant dishes containing very little meat. My mother always said my father did not like leftovers, so she did not serve them. Perhaps she misunderstood the meaning of the word.

Every Thursday--and I mean EVERY--my mother made a large batch of tomato sauce with meatballs and sausage. We would eat it that evening with pasta, called macaroni back then. Then EVERY Sunday we would eat it again. If rarely she would cook an eye round roast, it would appear a couple of days later under hot gravy alongside fried potatoes and peppers. A pot roast and potatoes would reappear as hash. To her these were not leftovers. I guess now one would say "cook once, eat twice."

As I cleaned out my refrigerator I was intent on using what I could. A half cup of white beans was mashed with some garlic and olive oil and added to some ground turkey along with an egg, some breadcrumbs, a half red pepper diced, and some seasonings to make turkey burgers. Various odd greens--endive, red leaf lettuce and some chicory along with some kalamata olives became the evening's salad.

And my favorite--one lonely tablespoon of marmeleda de jalapeno, carried back from Mexico City, topped the last bit of goat cheese on top of a piece of crostini. Along with one lone glass of sauvignon blanc this became my reward for a job well done.