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I got a bunch of local grapes last week from Greenling, but they weren’t very sweet and were full of seeds. So, I had to find a way to cook them, and fast, before they went bad.

This jam is not only quick and easy (it took less than 25 minutes to make), but has some wonderful fall flavors from a bit of nutmeg, ground ginger, allspice, and cloves. In the picture above it was still warm and fresh from the stovetop, but as it cools it thickens to a more jam-like texture. I think I’m going to use it as a glaze over pork chops.

I adapted this recipe from the Wild Grape Butter recipe that came in the Greenling box ingredient list last week – I just made some tweaks based on my own tastes.

Quick Spiced Grape Jam

About 1.5 cups grapes, pulled from their stems
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3-inch piece of orange peel
Dash each of ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground ginger, and ground cloves

Combine grapes and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook 10 minutes. Pour grapes and juice into a strainer over a large bowl. Using the back of a large spoon, press grapes through strainer. The pulp will go through and the peel and seeds will stay behind.

Pour pulp and juice back into saucepan. Add peel and spices. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook 7-10 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens to a syrupy consistency. It’ll bubble a lot at the end. Use warm as a glaze, or cool to spread on toast.

Chicken-Orzo Soup

I have a sick toddler at home right now, so this weekend I took a stab at creating my own version of chicken noodle soup. I used whole-wheat orzo pasta for easy scooping (I hate it when the noodles are so long they fall off of the spoon), and added several vegetables I had in the fridge, including a big bunch of Greenling arugula – an unusual choice, but it blended right in, and it never hurts to work in extra veggies.

I like a high stuff-to-broth ratio in my soup, so this one is pretty thick. Feel free to add more liquid if you like your soup more brothy.

Chicken-Orzo Soup

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (about half a large onion)
1 carrot, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 bunch arugula leaves, chopped
1 bunch mustard greens, stems removed, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped (or 2-3 smaller sweet peppers, like banana)
1 tsp dried sage
1 cup whole-wheat orzo
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil over medium-high heat in large Dutch oven. Add chicken and season with salt and pepper. Cook for several minutes, until the pieces start to brown. Add veggies and sage and cook another 10 minutes or so, until the veggies start to tenderize.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Stir in orzo, return to a boil, and cook 8-10 minutes, until orzo is tender.

There are two failproof ways to dress up a food item that you are either not so fond of or are tired of eating. One involves covering the item in question with cheese. The other, invariably, involves sausage.

Now, I like squash. A lot. But we have eaten a lot of it this summer, and so I decided to come up with a fun way to serve it up. I combined sweet turkey Italian sausage with bell peppers, arugula, garlic, and fennel seed, added some jarred pasta sauce, and voila! We had epic stuffed squash. If you have any leftover sauce after stuffing your squash, save it to top spaghetti.

After the squash finished baking, I spotted some Pure Luck parsley and garlic chevre (which you can buy from Greenling) in the fridge and dotted our servings with it. It turned out to be a great final touch — just added a bit of tanginess to the sweet sauce. I’m listing the chevre as an optional ingredient, but I highly recommend it if you have some lying around.

Sausage-Stuffed Squash

4 summer squash (I used two 8-ball and two yellow)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 bell peppers, finely chopped
1 bunch arugula, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
20 oz pkg sweet turkey Italian sausage
1 tbsp fennel (anise) seed
24 oz jar pasta sauce (I used Classico Tomato Basil)
Salt and pepper to taste
Chevre (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the tops off of the 8-ball squash and scoop out the innards, leaving a thin rind. Halve the yellow squash and do the same. Be sure to get all of the seeds.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Remove sausage from casing and add to skillet, stirring to crumble. Add peppers, garlic, arugula, and fennel seed. Cook 10-15 minutes, until sausage is browned, veggies are tender, and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add pasta sauce and cook another 5 minutes or so, until heated through.

Using a small spoon, fill squash with sauce. Bake for 25 minutes, until squash is tender. Dot with crumbled chevre, if using.

Do you ever get in a breakfast rut? I do, often. In fact, it’s the meal at which I’m most likely to repeat the same foods over and over again. We’re talking months in a row of oatmeal. It gets old.

This casserole will add some variety to your breakfast routine. Roasted peppers and tomatoes combine with oregano and feta cheese for a combination of flavors not usually found on the breakfast table. Try this casserole on a weekend, as it takes a little while to prepare. It would be a great addition to a brunch spread. I made this one on a Sunday evening and reheated portions throughout the week.

Egg Casserole with Roasted Peppers, Roasted Tomatoes, and Feta (adapted from Kalyn’s Kitchen)

2 cups sweet peppers, such as banana or bell, cut into strips or sliced into rings
2 tsp chopped fresh oregano
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes (or halved cherry tomatoes)
1/2 bunch garlic chives or green onions, chopped
3/4 cup crumbled Feta cheese
10 eggs
1 tsp. lemon pepper
salt to taste

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 375 degrees. Spray a square baking dish with nonstick spray, or rub with olive oil.

Place peppers into baking dish, sprinkle with oregano, and roast for 10 minutes.

Break eggs into a bowl and beat until egg yolks and whites are well combined. Season eggs with lemon pepper and salt, and stir in chives.

After peppers roast for 10 minutes, add tomatoes and stir to combine. Put dish back in oven and roast 15 minutes more, or until tomatoes start to look slightly shriveled.

Sprinkle feta cheese over roasted peppers and tomatoes, then pour beaten eggs over. Return pan to oven and cook for 25-28 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and eggs are set. (It will puff up a bit when it cooks, but after it cools for a few minutes the casserole will settle.) Serve hot.

You may have noticed that I changed the title of my blog to “Steph Cooks.” Here’s why.

I named this blog Veggie in the House back when I was a vegetarian, and my focus was on creating vegetarian and meaty versions of the same dish. Now, I definitely still do that, but since I started eating meat again, I’ve drifted away from that model and have started posting all kinds of recipes. Lately, I’ve felt more and more like the blog name didn’t reflect me anymore, so I spend some time thinking about what it should be and settled on Steph Cooks.

So, this is still the same blog, just with a different name. A name that is short, sweet, and happens to make a nice Twitter handle, which reminds me to tell you that I’ve set up @stephcooks for all my food-tweeting needs. So follow me if you want!

Edit: I realized it would probably be better for me to change my existing Twitter account name (@slogerot) to the name I wanted instead of making a new account. Unfortunately, since I’d already created the new account, it’s a little harder than usual to get that done. So, I am working with Twitter to get my new account name, and in the meantime, just follow @slogerot. Sorry for the confusion.

And if you happen to have bookmarked this site, please change the link name to reflect this new name. I really hate to be a pain and ask that. I promise this is the last time I’ll make that request. For reals. I have a yummy egg casserole I’m planning to post tomorrow, so maybe you will like it enough that you forget I even asked.

Simple Potato Packets

These little guys are incredibly easy to put together – so easy that they are perfect if you happen to be looking for ways to get your kids engaged in the cooking process. Here’s my little helper putting potatoes in a bowl:

I usually pull up a chair for him to stand on while I prep ingredients. He knows that only adults can touch knives, and reminds me each time I use one that they are “very very sharp” and can “give you owies.” Once I’ve chopped everything up, I let him put ingredients into a bowl and/or stir them together. For this recipe, which involves dividing the potato mixture into four parts and putting each part into its own foil packet, I also let him spoon the mixture onto each piece of foil, sprinkle with parsley, and put a dab of butter on top.

Sure, maybe he insisted on putting one potato piece at a time into each packet. And maybe it took much longer than if I had done it myself. But he loves cooking, and I love that he is excited about it. Plus, it’s nice to be able to channel some of that toddler “I do it!” mentality into something constructive.

Anyway, this recipe only uses a few ingredients and is easily customizable. I used parsley because I had some, but I’m thinking a rosemary/thyme combo would taste great. If you have some of those individual foil sheets (like these), they work perfectly here. If not, use pieces about 12″x12″ so that you have ample room for the potato mixture.

Simple Potato Packets

1 lb roasting potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I used purple potatoes, but red ones would be perfect, too)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
4 tsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine potatoes, garlic, bell pepper, and green onions in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Place 1/4 of the mixture onto each of four foil sheets. Top each with a sprinkle of parsley and teaspoon of butter. Draw up the sides of each foil piece and pinch at the top to create a packet. Place on a baking sheet and cook about 25 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Cucumber-Basil Mojito

A few years back, Mason and I went to a Christmas party where the host served some fantastic, slightly sweet cucumber martinis. Ever since, I’ve been a big fan of cucumber in drinks. When I came up with the idea of a cucumber-basil mojito the other day, I thought I was so frickin’ brilliant. A twist on the classic rum drink, adding cucumber and using basil instead of the traditional mint? Surely no one else had come up with the same concept.

Alas, my claim to booze brilliance was short-lived. A few Google searches revealed that I was not, sadly, the first person to come up with this idea. I didn’t like any one of them in its entirety though, and some had no mojito-like qualities at all, like the one that used gin and lemon juice. What? Anyway, I adapted several recipes to come up with my own version, which Mason and I both agree is quite tasty. For a non-alcoholic drink, try using lemon-lime soda instead of the rum.

Cucumber-Basil Mojito

6 basil leaves, roughly chopped
5 1-inch pieces of peeled cucumber, one of which is finely diced*
3 tsp simple syrup (or finely granulated sugar)
2.5 oz dark rum (anyone who tells you that a mojito must contain light rum is a liar, but feel free to use it if you prefer)
Splash of lime juice
Splash of club soda
Slice of cucumber, for garnish

Put basil and syrup or sugar in the bottom of a glass. Muddle the basil with the back of a spoon or the side of a measuring cup — you just want to bruise it to release its flavor. Fill the glass with ice and add rum, lime juice, cucumber, and soda. Stir to blend, and garnish with a cucumber slice. Makes 1 drink.

*I like how the drink looks with both chunks and small pieces of cuke floating around. Also, finely dicing one of the pieces releases a little more cucumber flavor into the drink.

Mason and I headed over to our favorite taco joint, Torchy’s, for lunch today. They recently opened a location in north Austin, off of Spicewood, and since that’s pretty close to where I work, we popped in for a quick lunch. It was there that I saw the following:

Well. I usually get a green chile pork taco and a fried avocado taco, but I couldn’t pass this up. The Damn BP replaced my usual avocado taco, and damn, it was good. As good as the avocado one? Well, maybe not. But it was still a Torchy’s taco, which makes it better than 95% of the tacos out there.

I post this to let you all know about the Damn BP and that $1 from each purchase of one goes towards the Gulf cleanup that is currently ongoing as a result of the BP oil debacle. You can do something nice about the environment and eat some great food while doing it.

NFR: Summer Fun

NFR means “not food-related.” I’ll try to tag posts as such from here on out, so that those of you who are just here for the food can tune out. I do mention a watermelon later on, but that probably doesn’t qualify this post as food-related. Anyway, here are some fun pics of our summer so far. The first few are from when Mason went out to do some watering in the front yard last weekend. Ryan just assumes that when a water source is near, he has free reign to get wet. No matter what he is wearing. Observe:

Which brings us to this weekend, where I’m hanging out back in Groves, TX, my hometown. Dad and I spotted an alligator pool (you’ll see what I mean in a minute) at Walmart yesterday and thought Ryan might enjoy it. He got it all set up and Ryan and I came out to see it. One minute, Dad and I are discussing how to anchor the slides so that they didn’t float. The next minute, Ryan is diving headfirst into the pool, fully clothed:

He enjoyed that a lot more than is evident here. The pool has pictures of alligators on it and has two slides, one for getting into the water and one for getting out. Anyway, at this point I just stripped him down, put on a swim diaper and, since I’d forgotten his bathing suit at home, put his shorts back on. He proceeded to continue to go headfirst into the pool.

The shorts didn’t last long, though. Kind of soggy, you know? Ryan doesn’t mind being pants-less anyway. Really, what boy does? He just continued to throw his balls in and out of the pool and jump around.

Watermelon break!

Swimming makes you tired.

Maddie even had her own pool.

ETA: Maddie and I are usually on good terms, but today she got on my shit list because she decided that instead of being a docile, harmless pug, she was actually a vicious guard animal and proceeded to bark loudly and rapidly when my 80-year-old grandpa rang the doorbell at 2:30 in the afternoon, waking Ryan from his nap and abruptly ending my writing of this post. Grr. She’s cute though, so I guess I’ll forgive her.