Black Bean and Sausage Soup with Avocado and Cilantro

Inspiration: I love making homemade soups. Since we receive two chickens per month in our CSA share, we make a ton of stock, and we like to use it to make soups to take to work for lunches throughout the week. Do you know what I hate, though? Pureeing soups in a food processor. What a giant pain. I was so happy this year when Brandon surprised me on my birthday with an immersion blender and two new soup cookbooks! Hurray!

What we Loved: This is one of the best soups that I’ve ever made, and it’s my favorite soup that we’ve had since the pork hock and 15 bean soup back in November. The flavor of the soup is really outstanding, with a nice southwestern feel. With the rich black beans and tomatoes, the spicy sausage and cumin, and the fresh complements of avocado and cilantro, there really are a lot of great things going on. The base of the soup is so smooth and creamy (with some nice added texture from the sausage), and it’s nice and filling since it’s so packed full of protein. I really can’t say enough about how much we loved this recipe!

Helpful Hints: I ate some of the leftovers with bleu cheese crumbles on top instead of avocado and cilantro, and that was a great pairing as well!

Black Bean and Sausage Soup with Avocado and Cilantro
Source: Adapted from The Daily Soup Cookbook

1 lb pork sausage
1 onion
1 habanero, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground thyme
2 bay leaves
1 lb black beans, soaked overnight
6 cups chicken stock
28 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
1 avocado
Handful cilantro, chopped

1. Crumble the sausage into a soup pot, and saute until cooked through. Remove to a bowl.

2. In the same pot, add the onion, and cook until softened. Add the habanero and the garlic, and cook for an additional minute.

3. Add the cumin, thyme, and bay leaves, and stir to coat the vegetables.

4. Stir in the black beans, chicken stock, tomatoes, pepper, and cayenne. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and partially cover. Simmer 1-2 hours, until the beans are tender.

5. Puree the soup with a food processor or an immersion blender.

6. Season to taste with Kosher salt. Add the sausage back into the pot, mix to combine, and bring everything to a simmer again for a few additional minutes.

7. Peel, pit, and dice the avocado. Mix with a handful of cilantro and a good sprinkle of Kosher salt.

8. Serve the soup topped with the avocado mixture.

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Spicy Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage and Peppers

*Photos updated October 2011*

Inspiration: This meal was inspired by a meal that I had a long time ago (on the night that Brandon proposed way back in 2005, actually) when we first went to our now favorite restaurant. I ordered a spicy pasta dish that came with garlic sausage, capocolla ham, sliced hot peppers, olive oil, and romano cheese. When we had some extra spaghetti squash, Brandon suggested recreating a similar dish.

What we Loved: What I like most about this recipe is the spiciness. With the Italian sausage, pepper strips, and plenty of crushed red pepper flakes, the dish is really defined by the nice spicy kick. Second to the spiciness, I love the flavor of the olive oil. Rather than being used for sauteeing or cooking, the oil is mixed into the finished dish purely for the flavor. Since spaghetti squash has such a delicate, mild flavor, you can really taste the olive oil and the nutty, cheesy Parmesan. All around, this is a nice light supper with some good memories attached :)

Helpful Hints: I used finely sliced pancetta in this recipe, but I thought that it ended up getting lost in the final dish. I would suggest using bacon or cubed ham instead. Also, I’d suggest using a nice olive oil and plenty of it, because its flavor is important to the dish.

Spicy Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage and Peppers
Source: Original recipe, inspired by The Earle

1 small spaghetti squash
1/2 lb Italian sausage
6 oz pancetta, diced (Alternatively, I would recommend 5-6 slices of diced bacon or about 1/2 cup diced ham)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
3 anaheim peppers, seeded and sliced
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or more to preference), plus more for serving
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
Dried oregano
Crushed red pepper flakes

1. Poke the spaghetti squash all over with a fork, and bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, slice the squash in half, remove the seeds, and scrape the strands into a bowl.

2. Add the pancetta or bacon (if using) to a deep saute pan, and saute until the fat is rendered and the pancetta/bacon is browned. Remove to a plate and set aside.

3. In the same pan, add the Italian sausage (& ham, if you are using it instead of pancetta/bacon) and cook until browned. Remove to a plate and set aside.

4. Drain all but a few tablespoons of grease from the pan. Add the peppers and onions to the pan. Cook until softened and slightly browned. Add the garlic, and cook for one minute more.

5. Add the sausage and pancetta/ham back into the pan. Mix in the squash and Parmesan. Drizzle with a good amount of olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, oregano, and crushed red pepper flakes. Mix to combine.

6. Serve topped with shaved Parmesan and an extra drizzle of olive oil.

Sausage and Bacon Stuffed Mushrooms

Portabella Mushrooms with Sausage and Bacon

Portabella Mushrooms with Sausage and Bacon

*Photo and Recipe Updated December 2012*

Inspiration: These are the kinds of meals that I love to eat when the weather is nice. It has been gorgeous around here for the past few days. We opened up every window in the house last night for the first time this year, just letting the sunshine soak in and the breeze fly through, and this was the perfect, light meal for such a day. The avocados at the store started tasting really, really unbelievably good recently, so I’ve been shoveling them into my cart every week like it’s my job. Avocados are one of my favorite foods, right up there with goat cheese and almond butter and chocolate. I mixed them up here into a chopped guacamole salad for such a great side dish.

What we Loved: We first used the basic idea of the stuffing for this recipe when we made cubanelle peppers stuffed with bison and bacon. Brandon came up with that great flavor combo, and we’ve been using it as a stock recipe for stuffing peppers and mushrooms ever since. Bacon, onions, garlic, salt and pepper, chihuahua cheese, and meat of choice. It’s really an incredibly flavorful, crispy, salty, cheesy combination that we just love. And this recipe was no different. It was hearty and satisfying, and it paired perfectly with the guacamole salad.

Helpful Hints: I really prefer chihuahua cheese as a melting cheese when I’m making dishes like this, because it really has a great, creamy texture when it melts. If you can’t find it, though, pepper jack or monteray jack would be good substitutes for this meal.

Portabella Mushrooms with Sausage and Bacon
Source: Original Recipe

2 large portabella mushrooms
2 slices bacon, diced
1/3 lb pork sausage
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper
3 oz chihuahua cheese, shredded

1. Clean the mushrooms, and cut off the stems. Chop the stems into small pieces, and set aside.

2. Heat just a pat of butter in a saute pan over medium low heat. Add the two mushroom caps, and cook for 5-6 minutes per side, allowing the moisture to be released from the mushrooms. Place the mushrooms in a baking dish.

3. Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan or saute pan, saute the bacon until it’s crispy. Remove to a plate and set aside. Add the sausage, onions, and mushroom stems to the pan, and saute until everything is cooked through and starting to brown. Add the garlic, and cook for an additional minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper and turn off the heat. Mix in about 2/3 of the cheese.

4. Fill the mushroom caps with the sausage mixture. Distribute the remaining cheese atop the mushrooms.

6. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes, until everything is warmed through and the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Broil for a few minutes at the end if you’d like additional browning on the cheese.

Italian Sausage Dip

Inspiration: If there’s a perfect day for a decadent, cheesy dip, it’s definitely Superbowl Sunday! This one was on our snack menu for the big game.

What we Loved: Creamy cheese, spicy sausage, and sweet tomatoes? Count me in! I always feel like cream cheese makes the best dips, and this dip was no exception.  It had the rich, velvety texture of cream cheese, and I really enjoyed the spicy layers of flavor and the little kick of heat that the Italian sausage added.  The third ingredient, tomatoes, added a nice sweetness and such a lovely color! And on top of how much I loved the taste of this dip, it was easy to prepare, and it tasted great served warm or at room temperature.

Helpful Hints: This makes a lot of dip, so be prepared for leftovers if you aren’t serving a crowd. I’ve still got a sizable amount in the fridge waiting to be eaten. I left the hot sauce out of this dip, but if you’d like a lot of spice, definitely add it in! I found that the Italian sausage had a little bit of spice on its own, which was nice and made for a very mildly spicy dip.

Italian Sausage Dip
Source: My Baking Addiction

Here’s the recipe as I made it, without the hot sauce.

16 oz Italian sausage
15 oz can diced tomatoes with mild green chiles, undrained
2 8 oz packages cream cheese

1. Saute the sausage in a skillet over medium heat until cooked through and browned.

2. Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the tomatoes and cream cheese until blended. Cook until just heated through.

3. Serve warm.

Pork, Chorizo, and Mushroom Stew

Inspiration: B bought me the most fabulous slow cooker for Christmas. My last slow cooker, which I really loved, was a really nice (or so I thought!) Kitchenaid slow cooker whose ceramic pot cracked all the way down the middle one day while I was cooking a nice pot roast. And after only 10-15 uses! Needless to say, I was really upset with the fact that it broke and with Kitchenaid’s customer service, and I had to resort to using my old, pretty terrible crockpot for at least a year because I didn’t want to spend the money to replace my nice one. So this past Christmas, B hooked me up with a fabulous All-Clad cooker that has an aluminum insert that’s also safe to use on the stovetop and in the oven, which means crock pot cooking all in one pot, with no worry of a cracking ceramic insert! I didn’t even know such a thing existed, and I’m still unnaturally excited about it :) B showed me this recipe on the Williams Sonoma site that made use of the all-in-one pot functionality, so we spent a nice Sunday afternoon changing the recipe to suit our tastes and creating a lovely, Sunday night stew.

What we Loved: What didn’t we love about this stew? It was incredible. It made our home smell so delicious and hearty all day long as it cooked, and the end result was an intensely flavorful stew with fall-apart pork pieces, ridiculously tender chorizo pieces, and a rich and earthy sauce. The sauce was particularly enjoyable because it contained all of the flavor from the vegetables and garlic, as well as all of the juices and fats from the three different types of meats that cooked in it. And I just loved the rich red color! We put the whole cloves from a entire head of garlic in the stew, and they ended up with a softened, roasted garlic flavor that I really enjoyed. A clove on my spoon with a bit of the sauce was a little piece of heaven! I was also very surprised by the chorizo, which was more tender than I ever thought it could be. All-in-all, this was a very meaty, filling, and wonderful stew that was so perfect for a cold Sunday evening.

Helpful Hints: As B was cooking the bacon, which is the first step of the process and which renders the fat in which to cook the pork and vegetables, we realized that our bacon wasn’t very fatty (as far as bacon goes, anyway) and wasn’t rendering enough fat. So, we added some of the discarded pork fat to the pot with the bacon, and this browned up wonderfully and added plenty of extra fat and flavor to the pot.

Pork, Chorizo, and Mushroom Stew
Source: Adapted from Williams Sonoma

We used the cassoulet recipe as a base and changed it to suit our preferences and make a stew. Here’s what we did.

4 oz bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch strips
2-3 pounds boneless pork shoulder (I used a picnic roast), trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 inch pieces
3 medium yellow onions, chopped
24 oz baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 28 oz can peeled Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 cups chicken broth
24 oz Spanish chorizo links, sliced
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled

1. Add the bacon pieces to a saute pan or dutch oven (I used the stovetop-safe insert of my crockpot). Heat over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is browned, approximately 7-8 minutes. Remove the bacon  from the pot and set aside.

2. Add half of the pork to the pot and brown it on all sides, approximately 7-8 minutes total. Transfer the cooked pork to a platter, and repeat with the remaining pork.

3. Add the onions and mushrooms to the pot. Cook until all of the water releases from the mushrooms and evaporates, approximately 15-20 minutes.

4. When the mushrooms have started to brown, add the wine, and simmer until reduced by half. Stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes, and broth.

5. Remove the pot from the heat, and add the pork, chorizo, garlic cloves, and reserved bacon.

6. If you aren’t using a stovetop-safe crockpot insert, transfer the contents of the pot to your crockpot insert. Cook on low for 9-10 hours, until the pork pulls apart with a fork.

Mozzarella-Stuffed Meatballs

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

Inspiration: I thought that these meatballs would go great with an appetizer-only dinner that we recently had. And as a bonus, I knew that there would be plenty of extra to freeze for future meals. I see them served with marinara sauce in the future!

What we Loved: I’ve always loved spaghetti and meatballs, meatball sandwiches, and meatball appetizers. But what made these meatballs even better than others that I’ve had was the cheesy mozzarella center. It was the perfect added touch! I also loved the crispy brown coating, which added a nice crunch and which may have been my favorite aspect of the dish. As for the flavor, the fact that this recipe used both ground beef and Italian sausage resulted in a wonderful, spicy depth. I’m going to keep the recipe as my standard meatball recipe from now on.

Helpful Hints: This recipe made about thirty meatballs, for reference. If you don’t want to use mozzarella, I think that nearly any cheese would work in its place. Mozzarella is very mild, so if you’d like something with more flavor, a pepperjack or even a cheddar would work great.

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs
Source: Adapted from Mark’s Daily Apple

1 lb ground beef
1 lb Italian sausage (I used spicy)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary, minced
3 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1/2 cup almond meal
2 eggs, whisked
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
A few grinds of black pepper
Approximately 3 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Mix all of the ingredients together until well combined. Using your hands works well.

2. Roll the mixture into meatballs, placing the mozzarella cubes into the center of the meatballs as you roll them. Try to enclose the mozzarella completely.

3. Heat a good drizzle of olive oil in a saute pan, enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the meatballs, and cook until the first side is nicely browned. Turn the meatballs, browning on all sides.

4. Place the meatballs on a foil-lined sheet into a 350 degree oven and cook for about 15 minutes longer, until they’re cooked through.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

*Photos and Recipe Updated November 2011*

Inspiration: I browse a lot of food blogs, and sometimes when I see a recipe, I know right away that I want to try it soon. This was one of those recipes. When I ran across it on My Kitchen Addiction, I immediately put it on my menu. Prior to this fall and winter season, I hadn’t eaten much winter squash before, so this year I’ve really been on the lookout for new squash recipes to try.

What we Loved: This dinner was beyond fantastic. The lasagna was hearty, meaty, cheesy, and filled to the brim with vegetables. We sat down to this supper after a long and busy Sunday afternoon, and it was so comforting. Brandon said that it reminded him a lot of baked spaghetti, but better. The squash was nice and tender, and its mellow flavor really went well with all of the other vegetables thrown in (spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots, onions, and red peppers). We used a lovely Italian sausage that added a great meaty and hearty aspect to the meal, and there were nice strings of gooey mozzarella throughout the dish. This meal is some seriously hearty comfort food that is just packed full of all kinds of good.

Helpful Hints:  I mixed up a semi-complex marinara sauce for this, but you can certainly use your favorite marinara or just mix some crushed tomatoes with some butter or olive oil and seasonings. I feel like this meal could be taken in a lot of different directions, too. For instance, instead of a tomato-based sauce, I think that some sort of alfredo or white sauce sounds really great with the complementing flavors of Italian sausage and spinach. Or even a pesto sauce would be lovely.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna
Source: Adapted from My Kitchen Addiction

*Note – this makes a very large 9 x 13 casserole. 

1 large spaghetti squash

For the Sausage Layers
1 lb Italian sausage
1 onion, diced
Kosher salt and black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup frozen spinach, thawed

For the Tomato Sauce Layers
1/2 onion, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig rosemary, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper
Italian seasoning
2 28 oz cans crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons butter

For the Cheese Layers
6 oz mozzarella cheese, freshly grated
1 oz Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Italian seasoning

1. Preheat the oven to 375.

2. Poke the squash all over with a fork, creating holes. Roast the squash in the oven for 1 hour. Remove the squash from the oven, and cut it in half. Allow it to cool, and then scrape out the seeds (save them to make simple roasted squash seeds!). Scrape the spaghetti squash strands into a colander, and set the colander in the sink until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna.

3. Brown the sausage in a saute pan over medium heat. When it is nearly cooked through, add the onions, and season with salt and pepper. Saute until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and spinach, and mix to combine. Remove from the heat.

4. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat some butter in a sauce pan. Add the onions, carrots, mushrooms, and red peppers, and saute over medium heat until the moisture released from the vegetables has evaporated and the vegetables start to get nice and browned. Add the garlic and the rosemary, and season well with salt, pepper, oregano, and Italian seasoning. Stir to combine. Add the crushed tomatoes and a few big chunks of butter. Heat through, and adjust for salt and other seasoning.

5. Assemble the lasagna. Add half of the spaghetti squash to the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread evenly and flatten with a spatula. Top the squash with half of the sausage mixture and then half of the tomato sauce. Cover with half of the mozzarella cheese.

6. Add the second half of the squash, sausage, and tomato sauce to the dish. Cover with the rest of the mozzarella cheese and the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning.

7. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. If desired, broil for 2-3 minutes, until the top is browned.  Allow to rest for about 10-15 minutes before serving.