Happy Halloween and a Seasonal Favorite: Pumpkin Pasta

I have been looking forward to today’s lunch out with my friend all week. As a mom who stays home most days, it is pretty easy to get cabin fever. I spend a lot of time at parks trying to make other mom friends. This video perfectly describes me most days.

Having lunch out with twin toddlers can be hectic, but it is good for the soul. The best part, hands down, is not having to clean the floor. This may sound silly, but cleaning the floor is my own personal torture. It is the ultimate Sisyphean task, since you clean it up just to have it get completely trashed again in a matter of hours.

Of course, JJ woke up from his nap with a fever, so I had to cancel lunch. I felt like a kid who had just found out Santa was not real – totally heartbroken.

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The only good thing about sick kids is that they are super cuddly.

The good news is that I knew tonight’s dinner would cheer me up. Pumpkin pasta is an October tradition in the Buckley household. It seems like a strange blend of flavors, but it is autumn in a bowl.  This recipe is adapted from 30 Minute Meals by Rachel Ray, a gift I got upon graduating from college. At the time I thought I would hate the cookbook, but I there are actually quite a few great go-to recipes that I’ve found in it.

Pumpkin Pasta with Sausage

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 pound mushrooms, can be white, shitake, or Portobello. Or a mix.
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 to 6 sprigs sage leaves, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 14 oz can canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, ground or freshly grated
  • Coarse salt and black pepper
  • 1 pound Penne Rigate, cooked to al dente
  • Romano or Parmigiano, for garnish
  • Chives for garnish (optional)
  1. Boil water in a large pot, get the pasta cooking.
  2. Heat a deep skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and brown the sausage in it. Transfer sausage to paper towel lined plate.
  3. Cook mushrooms, garlic, and onion with a small pat of butter (because why not?) until onions are tender
  4.  Return sausage to the pan.
  5. Add wine to the pan. Reduce wine by half, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add sage, stock and pumpkin and stir to combine, stirring sauce until it comes to a bubble. Reduce heat, simmer mixture 10 minutes to thicken, stirring occasionally.
  7. Season the sauce with the cinnamon and nutmeg, and salt and pepper, to taste. S
  8. Return drained pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Pour the sausage pumpkin sauce over pasta. Combine sauce and pasta and toss over low heat for 1 minute. Garnish the pasta with lots of shaved cheese and sage leaves.
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This is what love and coziness tastes like.

The Verdict:

You know how taste can evoke such powerful memories? The taste of this pasta brings me back 7 years to when my husband (then boyfriend) and I were first living together in a spacious but old apartment in DC. We made this pasta for our little family, which at the time consisted of the two of us and our bachelor third roommate. Making this always makes me thankful for my close family and dear friends. It is always good to end the day on a happy note!

Have a fun and festive Halloween, everyone!

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Happy Halloween!

Slowcooker Meal: Vegetable and Farro Stew with Figs

Tuesdays are the perfect slowcooker day in our home. I work late on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so a slowcooker meal means that I can come home and have a warm meal waiting for me.

I have always been a little embarrassed that I use the slowcooker as much as I do, since it has the reputation of being somewhat low-brow. So, I felt vindicated when I saw this article in Food and Wine about a fancy modernist chef who uses his slow cooker religiously, even at his upscale restaurant. This recipe is from that article, and I just had to try it. It is chock-full of veggies, and veggies are the one food group that are definitely lacking in our toddler-focused, carb-and-cheese heavy diet.

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This is the picture from the magazine. Will mine look this good??

The one problem is that this recipe has like 100 ingredients, and I have to admit here that I am horrible at following recipes. I always read recipes with such skepticism: Really? One cup of farro is enough? Let me add some more. Only 1 bell pepper? Let me throw in another. Whenever I make something that is somewhere between yuck and so-so, my husband looks at me dubiously and asks, “Did you follow the recipe on this one?” The answer is usually no.

Clare agrees- following a recipe is hard.
Clare agrees- following a recipe is hard.

So, I tried my best to stick to the original recipe, which you can find here. However, I did end up making some modifications, mostly to make this semi-intense recipe more manageable on a weeknight.

Vegetable Farro Stew with Figs and Pine Nuts

  •   2 rosemary sprigs
  •   5 oregano sprigs
  •   5 thyme sprigs
  •   1 can artichoke hearts (original recipe called for real artichokes, but I don’t have time for that)
  •   1 cup farro
  •   1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  •  1 1/2 cups tomato juice
  •    1/2 cup water
  •    2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  •    1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  •    2 heads of garlic, 1/4 inch cut off the tops
  •    1 lemon, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
  •    1 poblano pepper, sliced 1/3 inch thick (original recipe called for cubanelle peppers, but I couldn’t find those.)
  •    1 bell pepper, sliced 1/3 inch thick
  •    1 medium onion, quartered
  •    1 large Japanese eggplant, cut into 6 wedges
  •    1 cup dried Black Mission figs (5 ounces), stemmed
  •    1/2 cup raisins (original recipe called for golden raisins, I decided to use regular since I already had those)
  •    1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 6 wedges
  •    1/2 pound large cherry tomatoes, halved
  •    2 small green zucchini, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 6 ounces kale, stemmed and leaves quartered
  •  Chopped fresh oregano and Parmesan for garnish
  1.  Add the artichokes through the cherry tomatoes on the ingredient list, spread the ingredients in even layers. Add the fresh herb in a bundle near the top so you can get them out easily. Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours.
  2. Take out the little bundle of herbs so you can stir the stew gently without mixing the herbs in. Add the zucchini, yellow squash and kale, stirring to submerge them in the liquid. Add the herbs back to the top, cover and cook for 2 hours longer on high.
  3. Pick out the herbs, season the farro stew with salt and serve with the garnishes at the table.
Before cooking
Before cooking…
After cooking! Slow cooker = magic
After cooking! Slow cooker = magic.

The Verdict:

In order for me to make a recipe with this many ingredients, it has to be worth it. And this was totally worth it. All the ingredients create such depth of flavor – there is the bright acidity from the tomatoes and lemon, earthy sweetness from the figs and raisins, spice from the poblano and crushed red pepper, and the garlic and herbs add a ton too. I would say it is more of a risotto or veggie paella than a stew. This is super satisfying and super healthy. It is definitely the best vegetarian slowcooker meal I’ve ever made.

Stay tuned for Thursday’s post on Pumpkin Pasta, and the joys of eating out with toddlers.

Go-to Dinner for One: Panini with Avocado, Cherry Tomatoes, and Cheddar

I have a confession to make: I eat lunch every day at 10:30 am. And I love it. For years I would be hungry at 10:30, but I would spend a famished hour and a half watching the clock until noon, the socially-approved lunchtime. Or, I would eat an unfulfilling snack at 10:30, and I would still spend an hour and a half hungry. It just felt gluttonous to eat a full meal at 10:30 – hadn’t I just had breakfast?

Finally, a couple of months ago I decided to give in to the 10:30 lunch. The babies were hungry at 10:30, so I decided to eat a meal along with them. It felt so right diving into a turkey sandwich or a big bowl of stew at this time. Why hadn’t I just let myself eat lunch at 10:30 before? A 10:30 lunch, followed by a snack at 3:00 or so, seems to fit with when I am naturally hungry.

I am sure I am not the only person who has battled a 10:30 case of the hangries (that’s hungry + angry, for you superhumans who have never encountered this emotion). In fact, I have a feeling that I am on to a revolutionary idea. Who decided on this three meals a day thing anyway? I am now firm believer that there should be four meals a day: Breakfast at 7:00, Lunch at 10:30, Hearty Snack at 3:00, Dinner at 7:00. I think four meals a day would make the world a nicer, more satisfied place. Who’s with me??

Clearly our 11:00 lunch was too late for JJ. And for me.
Clearly our 11:00 lunch was too late for JJ. And for me.

Tonight’s dinner doesn’t really even need a recipe, but I’ll give you one anyway:

Panini with Avocado, Cherry Tomatoes, and Cheddar

-Sourdough bread (I manage to eat this in at least two of my three four daily meals)

-Tomatoes

-Cheddar cheese

-Avocado (I highly recommend Costco avocados- stick them in the fridge and take them out one by one to ripen overnight)

-Schmear of choice: I went with a honey Dijon dressing, but you could use mustard, balsamic dressing, apricot jam, or really any sort of tasty spread you have on hand.

  1. Warm a skillet or griddle pan on medium heat, slather some butter on there.
  2. Slather bread with schmear and place dry side-down on skillet.
  3. Add whatever fillings you have available. Tonight it is avocado, cherry tomatoes, and cheddar cheese.
  4. Place second piece of bread on top. Put something heavy, like a pot, on top of the sandwich to smoosh it all together.
  5. Flip when bread is golden brown and warm the other side.
Melted cheese, avocado, tomato. Yum.
Melted cheese, avocado, tomato. Yum.

The Verdict:

Paninis are a my go-to dinner for one. They feel a little more official than a cold sandwich, and who doesn’t love melted cheese? Because they are so versatile, they make a great clean-out-the-fridge meal. The key to the panini is the schmear – that’s what gives it flavor.

I promise, I will have a more official recipe tomorrow. In fact, here is a teaser of the prep I did tonight…

Yes, those are two whole garlic cloves. Get excited.
Yes, those are two whole heads of garlic. Get excited.

Planning Time!

I was thrilled with Varina asked me to guest blog this week. Mostly, I hope this weeklong blogging stint will help turn around what is a serious lack of planning meals in our household.

These days, my need to plan meals is greater than it ever has been. My boy/girl twins just turned one, and they are becoming eaters of real food. That means no more picking a store-bought puree from the pantry to feed them (I dabbled in making my own purees but abandoned that effort pretty early on). Without a plan, mealtime can devolve into taking everything out of the fridge and throwing it on the high chair tray to see what they’ll eat. What’s the metaphor, throw everything against the wall and see what sticks? My hope is that having a plan will create a calmer toddler mealtime.

Yes, this amount of mess is typical.
Yes, this amount of mess is typical.
This kid lives exclusively off of hummus and crackers.
This kid lives exclusively off of hummus and crackers.

Also, because my husband works late most nights, I am the only adult around at dinnertime. Without a plan in place for my own meal, dinner can easily become the dregs of what was left on the highchair tray: leftover quesadilla, peas, or cheese strips. Ultimately this type of eating is just not good for the psyche.

I figured that it also makes sense to have some sort of coordination between toddler and adult meals. It is easier if the prep for both meals is somewhat the same, for the sake of efficiency and for the sake of feeling less like a short order cook.

Because we are home each day for lunch and dinner, my plan involves both meals.

I apologize if this plan makes your head spin. I’ve bolded the adult dinners, since I assume that is probably what I’ll be blogging about:

Monday Lunch:

(for me) Grilled cheese and tomato soup

(for the tots) Grilled cheese, watermelon, spinach smoothie.

Tuesday Lunch:

(for me) Greek salad with falafel and hummus

(for the tots) Falafel dipped in hummus, peas, strawberries and watermelon.

Wednesday Lunch:

(for me) Leftovers

(for the tots) Leftovers, yogurt

Thursday Lunch:

(for me) Lunch out!

(for the tots) All of our favorite things: cheese, peas, hummus on crackers, strawberries.

Friday Lunch:

(for me) leftovers

(for the tots) leftovers, if they like them, if not, All of our favorite things (see Thursday lunch)

Saturday Lunch:

(for me + Husband) Turkey sandwiches

(for the tots) avocado, turkey, toast, fruit

Monday Dinner:

(for me) Panini with avocado, cherry tomatoes, and cheddar.

(for the tots)   Avocado, cherry tomatoes, cheese, lunchmeat, toast

Tuesday Dinner:

(for me) Vegetable and Farro Slowcooker Stew

(for the tots)   Vegetable and Farro Stew (possibly pureed a bit), lunchmeat, fruit

Wednesday Dinner:

(for me) Leftovers

(for the tots) Quesadilla, watermelon, strawberries, cherry tomatoes

Thursday Dinner:

(for me) Pumpkin Pasta

(for the tots) Pumpkin Pasta, probably pureed, broccoli,

Friday Dinner:

(for me) leftovers or take-out with the Husband

(for the tots) Fish sticks, broccoli

Saturday Dinner:

(for me + Husband) Salmon cooked in foil

(for the tots) Bfast for dinner: Green Chile Quiche, Sausages, Spinach smoothie

We shall see how we do!