ready to roll.

Hello, friends!  I am so grateful to have time to sit and write this morning while the smells of bubbling chicken broth waft in from my kitchen.  Monday and Tuesday were twelve hour work days for me, and Wednesday was pretty long too.  Each day began with a massive planning session, followed by a visit to the largest indoor farmer’s market in the world- AKA my office, and a cooking extravaganza in my kitchen.  I enjoy each segment of the day for different reasons, but the very best part of the day is always Food Fairy time.  When I deliver homemade meals or prepared ingredients with recipes specifically created for each client, the joy on their faces is something that delights me to no end.  Hearing about their successes in cooking from the week before or tales about how much they loved a dish makes me giddy.  And proud.  The thankfulness pours out of my clients, and I know that I am doing something incredibly special.  So, despite some long hours, my job rocks.

Of course, since I was actually able to sleep in a little bit today (total weakness of mine, which I thought I was supposed to grow out of…), I was wide awake before 8am, and ready to start the day.  An odd occurrence for me.  I chatted with my mom and enjoyed coffee on the porch- wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket.  I really appreciate when I am able to begin my day talking with my mom.  Makes me feel grounded and full of love. She has always been my biggest supporter as I strive to grow and change and become better.

Lately, I have been trying to accept the cooler weather with grace.  Knowing that it will only get colder and darker and rainier makes my heart hurt.  Not being able to work on my screened porch in the morning because of the cold bums me out, as I am a girl made for sunshine and warmth.  That said, I am basking in the loveliness of midday and being mindful to celebrate the goodness that comes along with the dropping temperatures.

It’s pumpkin time!!!!!!  We went to Grant Park on October second, and there were pumpkins and crazy gourds to greet us. 

Lit up my face with a big, fat smile.  Folks don’t waste any time decorating for Halloween or autumn around here.  As soon as October comes, it’s game on.

There’s even a pumpkin carving contest you can enter at the market that will take place on October 30th!

I’m sure that will be an awesome day to be in Grant Park.  I promise to take lots of pictures.

H & F bakery’s booth is front and center each week, bursting at the seams with deliciousness.

I should have added one of those pecan batards to my take-home loot, but I was distracted.  I gave in to my South Jersey/ Philadelphia roots and bought myself a pretzel.

In Philly, you can buy soft pretzels in a brown paper bag- three for a dollar- on street corners.  I have to hand it to H & F. 

While they executed the chew factor of a Philadelphia pretzel perfectly, they bumped it up a notch with a tantalizingly buttery exterior and a moist quality that almost made me not want mustard.  Nice work, H & F.

Other highlights of the market this week include the Hooping Guys Farm stand.  The farmer was knowledgeable and friendly, and the vegetables were beautiful.  Their heirloom green onions are sweet and subtle,

so I grabbed my second bunch to take home.  I also was intrigued by their twisty Puerto Rican sweet potatoes

and African blue basil.

As I got out my cash to pay for these treats, the farmer mentioned a sack full of shitake mushrooms- promised to another market shopper who hadn’t shown up to claim them.  Fresh, local mushrooms you say?  Why, yes, thank you.  I think I will.

They’ve been waiting for this day…to become an integral part of a Thai coconut soup that I’m making this afternoon.  Yesssss!

Also at the market this week, Nazifa’s Bakery.

I tried some of her delicious naan bread dunked in herby olive oil,

and I’m going to take her up on the idea of a naan pizza.  A Middle Eastern crust with Italian ingredients made in a southern cast iron skillet.  Sounds about right to me.

Speaking of…the pizza oven was blazing this week,

and I saw lots of people devouring pizza as they walked around.

The Spotted Trotter was out in full effect- giving away samples of their tasty sausage and jerky,

and offering a slew of Kevin’s wondrous concoctions.

Things are really taking off for The Spotted Trotter, as they’ve got a solid date for their retail store front opening (November 3rd) and they were recently contacted by Bon Appetit magazine regarding a possible upcoming feature.  Better get in on the sausage goodness before those Outzes get so famous you can’t even get in the front door!  Cheers to their continued success!

These cool tomatoes caught my eye,

and I bought a biggun on my way to Turtle Bend’s table.

Fabulous jalapeno peppers were available by the handful, as well as frigitellos.

And they had a great assortment of kale.

Mixed bunches of Tuscano and Siberian.  Plus full bunches of the Red Russian kale.

Who would’ve guessed I’d become such a sucker for a bunch of kale?!?

They also had a basket of eggplant

and more crisp radishes.

We graciously accepted our big brown bags, weighed down with lots of apples, and headed on home.

White yams, broccoli, and green beans rounded out our glorious bounty for the week. 

Our post-market conversation was focused on how to spotlight broccoli, and the weather led us right to lasagna.  The plan was to warm up the house with a simple red sauce and a different twist on an old classic.  We decided to make broccoli lasagna rolls.

Thankfully, we were able to abscond with a bunch of tomatoes from Tennesee to make our sauce (since, despite my own recommendations, I do not have any tomato sauce in my freezer).

Usually, I add tons of veggies to my red sauce, but we really wanted to broccoli to shine in this dish.  So we opted for a roasted garlic tomato sauce with very few ingredients.

Adam cut off the top of one head of garlic, put it in a foil pouch,

drizzled it with a touch of olive oil, and roasted it in a 350 degree oven until it was soft and sweet.  Meanwhile, we starting building the sauce.

We browned off the ground beef first.

While the meat worked, we brought a large pot of water to a boil and crossed my tomato skins with a pairing knife.

(Not the cherry tomatoes- they’re too small too worry about skinning.)

Once the water was boiling, we placed the tomatoes in the pot and let them swim

for about 2 minutes.  Next, we plunged the ‘maters into an icebath.

and easily slipped off the skins.

Then I chopped those beauties up, cut my cherry tomatoes in halves quarters (depending on size), and diced a yellow onion.

Once the ground beef was cooked, we removed it from the pan, leaving the fat behind.

Adam seasoned it up with a pinch of dried Italian seasoning and salt and pepper, while I added one yellow onion and a pinch of salt to the pot and let it soften and mingle with all of the brown bits on the bottom.

We added the tomatoes to the pot

along with a pinch of dried Italian seasoning (parsley, basil, oregano, thyme), salt, pepper, and a couple of tablespoons of sugar,

so they could begin breaking on down.

This gave us time to build the ricotta mixture.

One container of part skim ricotta, plus a half cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, the zest of a lemon and half of the juice, 2 cloves of minced garlic, a small handful of both fresh flat leaf parsley and my African blue basil.  Also, a pinch of red pepper flakes, dried Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.  I mixed it up and tasted it, adding an extra pinch of salt, before adding two eggs.

With the cheese sauce complete, and the garlic out of the oven,

it was time for us to boil our whole wheat lasagna noodles until al dente,

(I drizzled them with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.)

and finish up the sauce, which was bubbling down nicely.

We squeezed about ten cloves of roasted garlic into the sauce, let it simmer a few more minutes, and then broke out our immersion blender.

We tasted the sauce and added a few ingredients to round out the flavor-

the juice of half a lemon for brightness, about a tablespoon of tomato paste to bring forth a bolder tomato presence, and a pinch of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.  We incorporated those flavor boosters, and then finished the sauce off by adding the beef back to the pot, along with fresh parsley and basil.

We let it sit on the burner over low heat while we got busy on the production line.

The goal was to let the naturally grown broccoli stand on its own two feet and be a star in the dish, so we simply chopped it into small bits, tossed it with the juice of half a lemon and a drizzle of olive oil, and seasoned it with salt and pepper.

Time to build.

Rather than depositing a pile of cheese and broccoli on one end of the noodle and rolling it up, I decided that I wanted to spread the love across the entire length of the noodle.

Then, we sprinkled broccoli bits over the cheese, like so, and we were ready to roll.  Literally.

The last touch for the sauce was adding a sweet heirloom green onion.

Adam ladled some of the meat sauce into the bottom of our baking dish,

so the rolls had a safe place to land. 

We fit six lasagna rolls in one dish,

and four in a small loaf pan.  Then, we sauced them up,

and sprinkled some good quality part-skim mozzarella cheese over the top.

Does this look like it could turn out badly?

I don’t think so.

Into a 350 degree oven they went for about 45 minutes, until the cheese was browned and lovely.

We let it set a few long minutes before employing a sharp paring knife to cut through the cheese between the rolls.  And then I carefully scooped out heavenly spirals of deliciousness.

And I could not wait to dig in and taste our lasagna rolls.

Oh my goodness.  Yum!!!  The sweetness of the roasted garlic tomato sauce with savory bites of beef, the saltiness of the mozzarella cheese, the wonderful flavor of fresh local broccoli, and the creaminess of the ricotta all added up to something incredibly comforting and exciting at the same time.  The pasta was done to perfection- no mushiness, and not too much of it.  I’ll be honest- I went back for seconds.  I ate one and half rolls before I could call it a night. 

And then, I was able to package some up for lunch, and freeze several rolls individually for easy meals in the future.  Success!!!!!

I hope that you are enjoying the cool fall weather and beginning to cook your own heart- and belly-warming dishes.  Maybe this year, you’ll put a new spin on an old favorite.  I encourage you to let one ingredient shine sometimes, really spotlighting that one flavor, like we did here with the broccoli.  Make large batches of dinner over the weekend, so you’ll have easy, go-to meals midweek or on a cold night when you’re too frigid to cook.  ‘Tis the season.

Happy cooking and eating to you.


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