make ahead

Lentils with Roasted Squash and Dried Cranberries

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It’s all turkey talk when it comes to Thanksgiving.

But really – it’s the side dishes that everyone stresses about, right?

What to serve with the turkey.

Back in the day my Mom served the same menu every year: candied sweet potatoes (fabulous but with more sugar than I can even imagine using now!); baked cranberries (spiked with brandy); a green vegetable of some sort; her famous “filling” made with barley-shaped pasta, mushrooms, onions and celery.

I like to mix it up every year, although I stick to tradition too. So we always have some sort of sweet potato dish (sometimes – yes --- with marshmallow, sometimes not); the same baked cranberries my Mom made; lots of vegetables; and stuffing (the kids got tired of Nana’s “filling”).

We also have a vegetarian entrée, usually mujadarah or koshary. And I must be aware of allergies, so, no nuts in the stuffing, plus I try to make an additional vegetarian stuffing.

This year I am serving this lentil side dish also. It’s sort of like a salad but also like a casserole. And it can be made ahead. It’s a beautiful dish, filled with colorful, seasonal ingredients. It’s vegetarian. It’s a side-dish. It’s nut-free.

 

Lentils with Roasted Squash, Spinach and Cranberries

  • 2 cups diced winter squash (such as butternut)
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup green French lentils
  • 3 cups water, lightly salted
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2-3 tablespoons orange juice
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the squash and shallot on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Pour one tablespoon of the olive oil over the vegetables, toss and bake for about 20 minutes, tossing the vegetables occasionally. Remove the vegetables from the oven and set aside. While the vegetables are roasting, place the lentils and water in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring the liquid to a boil, turn the heat to medium-low and cook uncovered for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and place them in a bowl. Stir in the vegetables, cranberries and parsley. Pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and toss the ingredients. Add orange juice, season to taste with salt and pepper and toss the ingredients. Add more orange juice if needed for moisture.

Makes 6 servings

How to Make Fish More Appealing

My Mom, good cook though she was, was not an ace at making fish. Her broiled salmon was delicious, but beyond that, well, .... let's just say she didn't love fish, didn't want to experiment with it and so we didn't have a lot of fresh fish for dinner.

Same for my grandmother, except for once a summer when my father, uncles and assorted other men would go for their once a year fishing trip and come back with either mackerel or bluefish.

Now, everyone knows that if you come from a family that doesn't particularly love fish, mackerel and bluefish are not the ones you would pick for the once-in-a-while fish dinner. But that's what the men caught during the summer (when we would always be at my grandmother's place).

My grandma did her best with what -- and who -- she had to work with. I was -- and remain -- a devout fish lover, along with my cousin Leslie, but we were the only ones. 

For everyone else, grandma had to be creative.  Even as a child I realized that what she did to make the fish more palatable was to smother it with other ingredients that would not only distract from the strong flavor of those oily fish, but also make the dish more attractive so that we would all want to eat the dish placed in front of us.

It worked every summer. Everyone regarded that fish dinner as a winner.

You can make this recipe for the darker, oilier fish such as mackerel and bluefish, but it's also wonderful with plain old mild cod, which most people prefer.

Roasted Cod

  • 4 6-8 ounce chunks of fresh cod
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 12 pitted olives (green or black), cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup matzo meal or bread crumbs

 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the fish in a lightly oiled casserole dish. Pour the vegetable oil over the fish chunks and rub to spread the oil on the top surface of each chunk. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Scatter the garlic and shallot on top. Scatter the plum tomatoes and olives on top, then sprinkle with parsley and dill. Finally, scatter the matzo meal or bread crumbs on top. Roast for 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, or until the fish is cooked through.

Makes 4 servings

Sweet Potatoes with Date Honey

One of my favorite food memories is my mother’s Thanksgiving sweet potatoes. She’d mix a stick of butter with plenty of brown sugar, get it hot and gooey and add a large can, juice and all, of cut up “yams.” It all got glossy and richly amber and was one of the ultra sweet treats we waited all year for.

Those days are gone forever. No one in my family wants the sugar overload.

Or the stick of butter.

We want the dish dairy-free.

No problem.

Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet. You don’t need much sweetener to make them taste good. I’ve experimented with lots of different options and this year I’m adding date honey. It isn’t actually honey — just has honey’s consistency. Sometimes it’s sold as date molasses or silan. 

Date honey has an intense flavor. Use just a small amount when you want to sweeten food. I pour a bit over plain yogurt for breakfast. I’ve added it to cake. Swirled some into the basting fluids for roasted chicken.  

It’s perfect for sweet potatoes.

Coconut oil adds a bit more of a sweet taste and you don’t need much to enrich this dish — 2 to 3 tablespoons instead of much more butter.

Besides the fact that it isn’t overly sweet, the other virtue of this sweet potato casserole recipe is that it contains only four ingredients (plus salt). And you can make it 2-3 days ahead (keep it in the fridge).

Yes, you can add marshmallows on top for the last several minutes of baking.

Sweet Potatoes with Date Honey

  • 6 medium sweet potatoes
  • 2-3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup date honey
  • 1/2 cup orange or tangerine juice
  • salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the potatoes and prick each with the tines of a fork. Roast the potatoes for about one hour or until tender. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh into a bowl. Add the coconut oil, date honey, juice and salt to taste. Mix to blend the ingredients thoroughly. 

Makes 8 servings

Sriracha Spiced Baked Beans

It’s cold and windy, and the peak day for our gorgeous New England fall foliage passed last Saturday. 

I need warm, winter foods. My go-to avocado/tomato side dish, the quick-and-easy asparagus salads and cold soups don’t seem right now.

So I’m thinking, baked beans. 

Yes, yes, I know there are all sorts of baked beans in a can and it’s oh so easy to open a can and have baked beans with dinner. I remember the green labelled Heinz Vegetarian baked beans that were a standard item at my house when I was a kid.

But homemade? Much better. Because you can, as they say, have it your way.

My way recently, was a recipe for spicy baked beans, seasoned with a dose of Sriracha. Perfect for cold weather. A nice side dish for Thanksgiving dinner.

Sure, it takes time. Do it on the weekend when you aren’t as rushed. Baked beans are fine, stored in the fridge, for a week. How’s that for make-ahead!

Sriracha Spiced Baked Beans 

  • 1 pound dried navy or Great Northern Beans
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Place the beans and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover the pan and let rest for one hour. Bring to a second boil over high heat, lower the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for one hour. (Alternately cover the beans with water and let them soak overnight, or for at least 8 hours.) Drain the beans. Place the beans in a casserole. Add the onion, brown sugar, molasses, tomato sauce, olive oil, Sriracha, mustard, cloves, salt and pepper to the beans and stir to blend them in. Stir in 2-1/2 cups water. Cover the casserole. Place the casserole in a cold oven and turn the heat to 300 degrees. Cook for 4 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water if the mixture seems dry, or until the beans are tender.

 

Makes 8 servings

Turkish Stuffed Peppers

It’s been a long long time since I ate stuffed peppers and a long time since I cooked them. Bell peppers and my tummy don’t always get along.  But I decided to give them another try.  My grandmother made a dish something like this one, only she used rice as the base. I switched to freekeh instead because I love this particular grain. It worked beautifully.  Looks good, tastes good, perfect for when you need a make-ahead dish to pop in the oven for dinner.  Perfect for Sukkot, when stuffed foods are traditional.  Easily transportable too.   Turkish Stuffed Peppers      8 bell peppers  1 cup cracked freekeh (or use rice)  2 tablespoons currants (or raisins)  5 tablespoons olive oil  2 medium onions, chopped  2 tablespoons pine nuts, optional  salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste  1 large tomato, chopped  2 teaspoons sugar  1 teaspoon ground allspice  1-3/4 cups vegetable stock  2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley  2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill  1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint  2 tablespoons lemon juice     Place the peppers in a deep bowl and pour boiling water over them. Weight them down to keep them under the water. Let rest for 5 minutes. Drain and repeat the process with cold water. Cut a lid from the top of the peppers, but reserve the lids. Scoop out and discard the seeds and membranes. Set the peppers aside. Place the freekeh and currants in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let rest for 30 minutes. Drain. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and pignoli nuts, if used, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes or until the onion has softened and is slightly golden. Add the freekeh and currants and some salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato, sugar and allspice and cook for another minute, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, bring to a boil, cover the pan and lower the heat. Cook for about 40 minutes or until the freekeh is soft and all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the parsley, dill, mint and lemon juice. Let cool. Use to fill the peppers. Place lids on top. (You may prepare to this point and cook later). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the peppers in a baking dish. Add 2 cups of water to the dish. Bake the peppers for 40 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving (warm or at room temperature).     Makes 8 servings

It’s been a long long time since I ate stuffed peppers and a long time since I cooked them. Bell peppers and my tummy don’t always get along.

But I decided to give them another try.

My grandmother made a dish something like this one, only she used rice as the base. I switched to freekeh instead because I love this particular grain. It worked beautifully.

Looks good, tastes good, perfect for when you need a make-ahead dish to pop in the oven for dinner.

Perfect for Sukkot, when stuffed foods are traditional.

Easily transportable too.

Turkish Stuffed Peppers

 

8 bell peppers

1 cup cracked freekeh (or use rice)

2 tablespoons currants (or raisins)

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

2 tablespoons pine nuts, optional

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 large tomato, chopped

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1-3/4 cups vegetable stock

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons lemon juice

 

Place the peppers in a deep bowl and pour boiling water over them. Weight them down to keep them under the water. Let rest for 5 minutes. Drain and repeat the process with cold water. Cut a lid from the top of the peppers, but reserve the lids. Scoop out and discard the seeds and membranes. Set the peppers aside. Place the freekeh and currants in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let rest for 30 minutes. Drain. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and pignoli nuts, if used, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes or until the onion has softened and is slightly golden. Add the freekeh and currants and some salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato, sugar and allspice and cook for another minute, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, bring to a boil, cover the pan and lower the heat. Cook for about 40 minutes or until the freekeh is soft and all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the parsley, dill, mint and lemon juice. Let cool. Use to fill the peppers. Place lids on top. (You may prepare to this point and cook later). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the peppers in a baking dish. Add 2 cups of water to the dish. Bake the peppers for 40 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving (warm or at room temperature).

 

Makes 8 servings

Spinach Vichyssoise

I had a fancy dinner planned for Saturday evening, meaning drinks and hors d’oeuvres and a few courses, mostly experiment recipes, for our good friends Susan and Richard. They are among my “regular” tasters and every once in a while I invite them to “review” some of the latest creations. 
 They are good sports. 
 I cooked a couple of the do-ahead items, including Spinach Vichyssoise intended to be served as “shots” with our cocktails, and was ready to get in my car to shop for the other ingredients when, unfortunately, I realized I had done something to my knee and it felt weird and I had trouble walking. When I looked down at it, it was three times its usual size and my leg looked like there was a boulder attached. 
 So much for working out. 
 After a half day on the couch, ice-on, ice-off it wasn’t any better so Ed took me to the ER, where an orthopedist told me to stay on the couch, ice-on, ice-off for a few more days. 
 Dinner was cancelled, naturally.  
 But Susan and Richard told us to come on over for dinner, which we did, me hobbling into the car with my ice pack wrapped in a towel and with my father’s cane, which Ed and I bought for him once, a long time ago in London, and has a cobra head for a handle. 
 Susan and Richard are good people. I am grateful to have them as friends. 
 I’ll do that dinner some other time, with different recipes. As for the food I prepared, my daughter Gillian, son-in-law Jesse and their three kids came for a visit Sunday and became the tasters. They ate the frittata that I was going to cut up and serve on baguette slices — more on that in a few days. They ate some  carrot soup  and also the Spinach Vichyssoise, not in aperitif glasses, but in bowls, like regular soup, because it’s good that way too. 
 It’s a good make-ahead dish and equally wonderful whether you serve it cold or hot. 

 Spinach Vichyssoise 

 2 tablespoons olive oil 
 3 large all-purpose potatoes, peeled and chopped 
 1 large yellow onion, chopped 
 2 large leeks, cleaned and chopped 
 2 carrots, chopped 
 1 small Serrano pepper, deseeded and chopped (or other chili pepper) 
 5 cups vegetable stock 
 1 medium bunch spinach, wash, drained and coarsely chopped 
 salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 
 1 cup coconut milk 

 Heat the olive oil in a soup pot. Add the potatoes, onion, leeks, carrots and Serrano pepper and cook them over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened. Add the stock. Bring the soup to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the spinach, season to taste with salt and pepper, cover the pan and cook for another 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor and return the soup to the pan. Stir in the coconut milk and heat through. OR, refrigerate and serve chilled. 
 Makes 8 servings

I had a fancy dinner planned for Saturday evening, meaning drinks and hors d’oeuvres and a few courses, mostly experiment recipes, for our good friends Susan and Richard. They are among my “regular” tasters and every once in a while I invite them to “review” some of the latest creations.

They are good sports.

I cooked a couple of the do-ahead items, including Spinach Vichyssoise intended to be served as “shots” with our cocktails, and was ready to get in my car to shop for the other ingredients when, unfortunately, I realized I had done something to my knee and it felt weird and I had trouble walking. When I looked down at it, it was three times its usual size and my leg looked like there was a boulder attached.

So much for working out.

After a half day on the couch, ice-on, ice-off it wasn’t any better so Ed took me to the ER, where an orthopedist told me to stay on the couch, ice-on, ice-off for a few more days.

Dinner was cancelled, naturally. 

But Susan and Richard told us to come on over for dinner, which we did, me hobbling into the car with my ice pack wrapped in a towel and with my father’s cane, which Ed and I bought for him once, a long time ago in London, and has a cobra head for a handle.

Susan and Richard are good people. I am grateful to have them as friends.

I’ll do that dinner some other time, with different recipes. As for the food I prepared, my daughter Gillian, son-in-law Jesse and their three kids came for a visit Sunday and became the tasters. They ate the frittata that I was going to cut up and serve on baguette slices — more on that in a few days. They ate some carrot soup and also the Spinach Vichyssoise, not in aperitif glasses, but in bowls, like regular soup, because it’s good that way too.

It’s a good make-ahead dish and equally wonderful whether you serve it cold or hot.

Spinach Vichyssoise

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 large all-purpose potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 large yellow onion, chopped

2 large leeks, cleaned and chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 small Serrano pepper, deseeded and chopped (or other chili pepper)

5 cups vegetable stock

1 medium bunch spinach, wash, drained and coarsely chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup coconut milk

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot. Add the potatoes, onion, leeks, carrots and Serrano pepper and cook them over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened. Add the stock. Bring the soup to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the spinach, season to taste with salt and pepper, cover the pan and cook for another 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor and return the soup to the pan. Stir in the coconut milk and heat through. OR, refrigerate and serve chilled.

Makes 8 servings

Spinach Feta Cheese Pie

Several couples I know, fellow food-bloggers, have recently had babies, one just a day or so before Mother’s Day. I’m sure their families and the friends who live close by to them will lend a hand. Life is always so hectic and emotional after a baby is born and new moms and dads can always use extra help.  In our family we have tried to anticipate a birth by a few weeks and get together to cook foods that can be packed into containers and stored in the freezer, so that cooking dinner won’t be another something to do during the first week or so after the baby is born when everyone is tired.  We’ve made  carrot soup  and something we call  "green soup"  because most of the time — but not all — we use dried green split peas and the liquid part looks sort of green. We’ve cooked  baked ziti  and our famous, family, tried-and-true  butter cookies . And more.  But the favorite is always Spinach Pie. We make a dairy version with feta cheese and a non-dairy version using sauteed mushrooms. This dish freezes well, it’s easy to defrost and pop into the oven (we freeze the pies before baking them). Spinach pie is suitable for lunch or dinner or even as a side dish.  If someone in your life has had a baby recently, why not give them a break and cook some food for them?  Here’s the family Spinach Pie recipe, dairy version:        SPINACH FETA CHEESE PIE      2 10-ounce packages frozen whole leaf spinach, thawed  2 tablespoons olive oil  1 medium onion, chopped  3 large eggs  8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled  6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese  1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill  freshly ground black pepper to taste  4 sheets phyllo dough  2 tablespoons butter, melted  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Squeeze as much water out of the spinach as possible and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the spinach and mix well. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the eggs, feta cheese, Parmesan cheese, dill and pepper. Mix well and place in a baking dish. Top with 4 layers of phyllo dough each brushed with melted butter. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Makes 4-8 servings (as main course or side dish)

Several couples I know, fellow food-bloggers, have recently had babies, one just a day or so before Mother’s Day. I’m sure their families and the friends who live close by to them will lend a hand. Life is always so hectic and emotional after a baby is born and new moms and dads can always use extra help.

In our family we have tried to anticipate a birth by a few weeks and get together to cook foods that can be packed into containers and stored in the freezer, so that cooking dinner won’t be another something to do during the first week or so after the baby is born when everyone is tired.

We’ve made carrot soup and something we call "green soup" because most of the time — but not all — we use dried green split peas and the liquid part looks sort of green. We’ve cooked baked ziti and our famous, family, tried-and-true butter cookies. And more.

But the favorite is always Spinach Pie. We make a dairy version with feta cheese and a non-dairy version using sauteed mushrooms. This dish freezes well, it’s easy to defrost and pop into the oven (we freeze the pies before baking them). Spinach pie is suitable for lunch or dinner or even as a side dish.

If someone in your life has had a baby recently, why not give them a break and cook some food for them?

Here’s the family Spinach Pie recipe, dairy version:  

 

SPINACH FETA CHEESE PIE

 

2 10-ounce packages frozen whole leaf spinach, thawed

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

3 large eggs

8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill

freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 sheets phyllo dough

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Squeeze as much water out of the spinach as possible and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the spinach and mix well. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the eggs, feta cheese, Parmesan cheese, dill and pepper. Mix well and place in a baking dish. Top with 4 layers of phyllo dough each brushed with melted butter. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 4-8 servings (as main course or side dish)

Root Vegetable, Caramelized Onion and Chestnut Crumble

Parsnips, carrots and onions are my comfort foods in the vegetable world. Even though I like these three ingredients all year, there’s something better about them when the weather gets colder. Maybe because they’re earthy and sturdy and instead of steaming them or roasting them as “fries” like I do year ‘round, I can use them as part of another filling winter dish, like beef stew or vegetable soup.

Or for those dinners when the vegetable is more the star, not the meat or fish.

Or those times when I have a traditional meat or fish meal but have vegetarians as guests and need something substantial for them. Thanksgiving for example. I make a lot of side dishes so none of the folks who don’t eat turkey goes hungry as the rest of us are stuffing ourselves.

This Root Vegetable Crumble contains the big three plus winter squash and chestnuts, which make the dish even more suitable for winter. The streusel top gives it some eye appeal don’t you think? And has a lushly soft texture to it. 

I make this dish a day ahead and pop it into the oven for dinner.

Root Vegetable, Caramelized Onion and Chestnut Crumble

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 medium parsnips, diced
  • 1 cup diced butternut squash
  • 1 dozen cooked, peeled chestnuts (I use packaged)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped almonds
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter or margarine

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a casserole dish. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until they are golden brown. Place the onions on the bottom of the casserole dish. While the onions are cooking, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the carrots, parsnip and squash. Bring to a second boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 3-4 minutes or until almost tender. Drain and place in the casserole dish on top of the onions. Scatter the chestnuts on top. Make the crust: mix the flour, breadcrumbs, almonds, thyme and some salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Add the butter in chunks and work into the dry ingredients until they are crumbly. Scatter on top of the vegetables. Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 4 servings