Winter stew with vegetarian sausage, white beans, and kale (5 servings)

So far, 2018 has been mostly frigid, snowy, and blustery. (More like twenty-hibernate-teen, am I right?) Yesterday, thick, heavy snowflakes fell for thirteen hours straight in Durham, leaving a total of six inches in our front yard, although other parts of the Triangle received twice as much. It's definitely the most snow we've seen at once since we moved here in 2010.

The weight of the snow has caused widespread power outages in the area, but despite the damage, it was a beautiful snow. The rain that started the day allowed the snowflakes to cling to every branch and pine needle and leaf of the trees. I love how a thick snow creates definition and dimension that's easy to take for granted on an ordinary day, especially in the grayer parts of winter.

This type of chill and snow-blanketing calls for stew -- rich, hearty, flavorful stew that warms you up from the inside and enlivens the senses. This particular recipe is high in protein and fiber, so it's good for you, too! It cooks slowly in the crockpot, giving you time to read a book, reorganize a closet, write a hand-scripted letter, bake a pan of brownies, or whatever you love to do on a rare snowed-in day.

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 2 vegetarian sausages, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used Field Roast Italian)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 15-oz can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried Italian herbs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups chopped kale or spinach

Steps:

  1. Brown the sausage in a little oil in skillet over medium-heat.
  2. Place the sausage and all remaining ingredients except the kale or spinach in the bowl of a slow cooker.
  3. Cook for 6 hours on low or 3 hours on high.
  4. Add in the kale or spinach; cook on low for another hour or high for another half hour.

Next time, I'd add some chopped celery, too. I'm sure that if you're not into vegetarian sausage, you could add another can of beans or some browned mushrooms instead. This stew was just what we needed yesterday!

North African "beef" stew (4 servings)

Let's make 2018 a year of heartfelt, well-intentioned risk-taking. Let's get to know people we might have looked past before. Let's talk to neighbors we previously hadn't met. Let's take the time to learn what's going on in our communities and assist the organizations that are trying to make a difference. Let's then look beyond our zip codes to the beautiful, complicated, frustrating, joyful, always-evolving globe we all call home. Let's read and cook and eat and play outside our comfort zones.

To that end, this North African-inspired dish is an exciting way to widen your flavor horizons. The ras el hanout -- a blend that includes spices like cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice -- and the harissa paste hail from Morocco and Tunisia, enhancing the flavor of earthy root vegetables. The broth is richly-perfumed and slightly spicy but balanced by the sweetness of the currants and the herbaceous notes of the garnish. I can't say I've ever made anything quite like this before, but I'm looking forward to trying similar recipes in the near future. I took inspiration from this recipe but changed up some of the ingredients and quantities.

One note: As long as your beef substitute is vegan, this dish is vegan.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

You will need:

  • 1 - 1 1/2 lbs vegetarian beef substitute, such as Quorn, Morningstar, or Beyond Meat brand (weight will vary by brand)
    • You could also use seitan or mushrooms if you prefer!
  • 1 1/2 lbs mixed root vegetables (such as carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, or rutabagas), chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 Tbsp ras el hanout spice blend (You can find it in some grocery stores or make your own)
  • 2 tsp harissa paste (Trader Joe's has a great blend or you can also DIY)
  • 1/3 cup red wine
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/8 cup currants or chopped dried apricots
  • fresh parsley, mint, and/or cilantro

Steps:

  1. Using a stockpot, brown the "beef" according to package directions. (The brand I used needed a little oil over medium heat for 10 minutes.) Remove from stockpot and set aside. Cut into smaller pieces if needed once the beef substitute has cooled.
  2. Turn heat to medium low and add 2 Tbsp olive oil to the same stockpot. Add in the root vegetables and garlic; cook and stir for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are slightly softened but not browned.
  3. Add in the ginger, ras el hanout, and harissa. Cook and stir for 2 minutes.
  4. Add in the wine to deglaze the pan; cook and stir for another 2 minutes.
  5. Add in the cinnamon stick and broth; increase heat to bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and let it simmer for 30-35 minutes, adding more liquid if it boils down too quickly.
  6. Once the vegetables are just barely fork-tender, add in the currants and simmer for another 10 minutes. Then add the beef substitute back in.
  7. Serve garnished with chopped fresh herbs. You can serve it over cooked rice or couscous or with a side of naan, pita, or chapati bread.

Yes, this recipe calls for some ingredients that may be a little tougher to find and it includes a long list of steps, but it really isn't difficult. A little bit of searching will reward you with a decadently-scented stew that fills your belly and home with flavor.

To purposeful, enthusiastic, compassionate risks in 2018!

Smoky-spicy bar mix (~3.5 cups)

I don't know about all of you, but if I'm ever going to be caught off guard by a social event or expectation, it's going to happen in November or December. Between thoughts of, "That party is this week?" and, "I thought you were getting the hostess gift," I find myself scrambling at least once a week from now until after New Year's.

And yes, I do recognize the irony of working part-time as an executive functioning coach while I struggle with time management and organization myself.

But anyway, whether you're fumbling to figure out what to serve as an appetizer for Thanksgiving, bring to a friend's holiday housewarming, give to your coworker for a Secret Santa gift, or present to that tough-to-shop-for relative, I've got the solution: A jar of crunchy, salty, smoky, spicy nuts and seeds from Oh She Glows. The recipe is dairy-free and vegan, and it can be made gluten-free by swapping out the soy sauce for coconut aminos. And it takes almost no time to put together!

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1 1/4 cups raw unsalted cashews
  • 1 1/4 cups raw unsalted almonds
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes or chips (Something like this -- not traditional sweetened, shredded coconut)
  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp smoked sweet paprika
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or hot sauce (I used chipotle-flavored hot sauce)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper.
  2. Mix the cashews, almonds, coconut, and sesame seeds in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl (or even a mug), mix the remaining ingredients with a fork or small whisk.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients over the nuts mixture and toss to coat evenly.
  5. Spread the mixture out on the baking sheet in a thin layer.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes; stir, and then bake for another 10 minutes, or until the coconut flakes are golden brown.
  7. Allow to cool; store in an airtight container (if it makes it that far).

I made a few tiny changes to the original recipe; I increased the cashews and almonds and decreased the liquid smoke slightly. The original author recommended running the range fan and opening a window, so that made me a little leery of using the full liquid smoke amount. Even with the smaller amount, it was still pleasantly smoky, especially since I used chipotle hot sauce in addition to the smoked paprika.

By the way, if you're on the fence about the coconut, don't skip it! Yes, it's unusual, but in the oven, it becomes crispy and golden, and it lends a beautiful flavor without being too assertive. I wouldn't say it tastes coconut-y at all, really!

Polenta cake with tomatoes and bleu cheese (6 servings)

When it comes to starches, rice and pasta often seem to be the most versatile. They can be paired with so many things, from silky sauces to roasted vegetables. However, polenta deserves its time in the spotlight, too!

This particular rendition pairs dense, herb-flecked, pleasantly grainy polenta with sweet tomatoes and pungent bleu cheese. I was lucky enough to pick up some local goat-milk Blue Chevrolait, a gorgeously buttery creation from Prodigal Farm in Rougemont. Its rich umami notes stole the show without drowning out the other flavors. Cut with a drizzle of honey, it was the perfect topping for this dish.

You will need:

  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/3 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup slivered fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 3/4 cups crumbled bleu cheese
  • 1 tsp honey

Steps:

  1. Grease a square cake or baking pan with one tablespoon of the oil and set aside. Preheat the oven to 450°.
  2. Combine the water, cornmeal, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking as close to constantly as your little forearms can handle. (Reaching boiling stage ALWAYS takes longer than I think it will!)
  3. Once the mixture starts to bubble, lower the heat to medium-low. Whisk constantly for a few more minutes, or until the mixture is thick enough to start pulling away from the sides of the pan. (My clue that I'm almost done is that I can't hold the whisk like a pencil anymore.) Fold in the remaining tablespoon of the olive oil, the garlic, and the basil.
  4. Pour the polenta mixture into the prepared pan. Top with the tomatoes and cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.
  5. Remove from oven and allow it to set for a few minutes. Lightly drizzle the pan with honey, and then cut the polenta into rectangles. Serve with a lightly-dressed salad and you're good to go!

My version of the recipe was based on this Epicurious offering.

Brownie in a mug (1 serving)

Like many people, I have a note-saving app on my phone. The things I save there tend to fall into one of two categories: Items I plan to refer to again eventually (a collection of must-see places in Scotland, quotations I pull out of books I read, a list of pun Halloween costumes I'll probably never make or wear) and information I might need in a hurry (the combination of my gym lock, a list of repair companies for various household items). This brownie recipe fits the latter category. If you claim you've never had a moment where all you needed in this world was an emergency brownie, then you are a liar. We've all been there at some point.

I've been referring to this recipe from time to time (ahem) for several years now, and I don't even remember where I found it originally. It's quick and convenient and produces a brownie that's crumblier and less fudgy than what I'd cut out of a pan of traditional brownies, but in a pinch, it's better than decent. It's dense and warm with a rich chocolate flavor that can be enhanced with any number of add-ins, from dried cherries to peanut butter. The only thing healthy about the recipe is that the single serving size keeps me from eating half a pan of brownies on my own. And that counts for something, right?

Click here for a printable recipe.    

You will need:   

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 Tbsp flour
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp chocolate chips

Steps:

  1. Melt butter in mug.
  2. Stir sugar and vanilla into butter.
  3. Add salt and yolk.
  4. Add flour and cocoa powder and mix.
  5. Stir in chips.
  6. Microwave for 45 seconds on high. Enjoy your piping hot brownie!

Again, this brownie isn't as satisfying as your grandma's, but it's WAY better than the "omg these low-fat microwave brownies are ahhh-mazing and they're made with only unsweetened applesauce, mashed organic black beans, and unbridled despair!" recipes that are all over Pinterest. I promise.