Peperonata Topped Hamburger – Slow Carb

Pepperonata Topped Hamburger

Peperonata Topped Hamburger

The pepper harvest is over and I’m now in a rush to explore the multitude of recipes that use both sweet and hot peppers.  I’ve roasted some of the peppers, smoked some, frozen some, and stuffed some.  This recipe uses a mix of sweet and hot peppers as a “Peperonata” (an Italian dish of sweet peppers, onion, and garlic slow-cooked in olive oil) to top off a grilled hamburger.  My husband is experimenting with the ghost peppers, but so far they have been way too hot for me.  I grew them, but I think I’ll let someone else eat them and cook with them!

What is Peperonata?

As noted above, Peperonata (peh-peh-roh-NAH-tah) is an Italian vegetable dish of slow-cooked, or stewed bell peppers with onion and garlic.  Of course there are variations and some Italian cooks will add tomatoes, eggplant, or other Italian vegetables.  It’s sometimes served with a frittata, steak, chicken, or over pasta. It is often served cold as part of antipasti.

The simplest way to make Peperonata is to cook 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1/2 sliced onion in 1/4 cup of olive oil over low heat for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add 5 bell peppers that are quartered and of different colors and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the bell peppers are soft.

Since I have an abundance of different pepper varieties, I wanted to try a mix of hot, mild and sweet peppers.  I also wanted to make it more of a main dish to have with hamburger, as I no longer eat bread or pasta.  Fine Cooking had a recipe in a back issue that looked really good and included the sour notes of capers and anchovies.  The recipe below is an adaptation of a recipe from the 2004 October issue of Fine Cooking.

A Note on Hamburger:

If you want the tastiest burger, buy some with at least 20 percent fat.  If I buy hamburger from the grocery store I look for “chuck” burger that is an 80-20% burger to fat ratio.  My mom cooked in a time when all fat was considered bad and meat was to be cooked a long time for safety, so she will make burgers with very lean meat and cook them to well done.  There is an abundance of scientific studies out there about good fats/bad fats/animal fats/etc.  It is really difficult to make good health decisions because for every study that tells you about a particular nutritional fact, there is a study available that will refute that fact.  Whatever your sentiments are about fat, I can tell you one thing……the burger has a whole lot more flavor with more fat in it.

Peperonata Topped Hamburgers:

(adapted from a recipe in 2004 issue of Fine Cooking)

Pepperonata Saute

Peperonata Saute


  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs assorted peppers, sweet bell to hot chili peppers
  • 1 cup roughly chopped onion
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, any kind you like (I just used button)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup pitted shopped Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup pitted chopped green olives
  • 3 Tbsp capers, drained and chopped
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp anchovy paste or 2 anchovies, minced
  • salt & pepper to taste


  1. Heat olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet or saute pan over high heat.
  2. Stem and seed the peppers and cut into 1/2 inch dice.     Add the peppers and chopped onions to the pan and saute, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and saute for another 5 minutes, or until vegetables start to brown.   **NOTE:  if you want to take the time to roast peppers and remove skins, it does make this dish better, particularly if you are using a lot of bell peppers with thick skin.  I usually just chop fresh peppers with skins on because I’m always short of time.  It’s still really good.
  3. Click here for a thorough explanation of how to roast peppers.
  4. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking until the onions are translucent and the peppers and mushrooms are extremely soft (about another 15 minutes).  Add the garlic and saute quickly being careful not to burn the garlic (only needs about 30 seconds).
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the olives, capers, vinegar, and anchovies. Stir in more olive oil to make the peperonata moist and oily.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add a little more vinegar if needed.  Serve over a hamburger, grilled to medium rare (or to your own taste).
  7. Peperonata can be refrigerated and served later with chicken, on top of baguette toasts, or as an antipasti.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars

Always a decision this time of the year as to which pumpkin bars to make – silky pumpkin cheesecake bars, pumpkin bars with a crunchy oat crust, pumpkin bars with a maple sugar streusel topping, and the list goes on.  I’m starting the pumpkin bar season off with the pumpkin cream cheese bars, the ultimate in comfort foods as the weather turns cool on us.

Although we do grow a lot of different varieties of pumpkin and squash, I’ve found the canned pumpkin to be the go-to alternative for bars.  After adding the amount of sugar and spices that pumpkin bars and cakes call for, you can’t really distinguish the nuances of which variety of pumpkin you use, and the canned pumpkin is just as nutritional considering the other ingredients that go in bars.  We are, after all, making a sweet treat (for cheat day or otherwise) and sometimes it’s difficult to justify the prep work required of fresh pumpkins for something with this much sugar.

To me it is similar to my earlier years as a bartender when customers would order a really expensive bourbon and coke.  The sweetness of the coke was so overpowering I’m sure they could not tell the difference between that expensive high-end bourbon and the less expensive house bourbon.  Now if they order bourbon on the rocks or with a splash of something, that’s a different story.

So, I save the heirloom varieties of pumpkin and squash for meals where I can truly savor the differences in their nuttiness and sweetness.  A popular blog called did an interesting post on what is actually in the canned pumpkin, and it turns out that most canned pumpkin also includes some varieties of squash.  They suggest Libbys brand if you want 100% pumpkin.

See thekitchen’s full post on canned pumpkin by clicking here.  Please let me know in the comments if you have had a different experience with the type of pumpkin you use in bars.  I would love to know if you think I’m off-base here.

So, the recipe…..

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars:

(adapted from an old Star Tribune recipe for pumpkin bars)


Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Bars (top view)

Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Bars (top view)

Ingredients for Filling:

  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 (15-oz) can pumpkin (Libbys is 100% pumpkin)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Ingredients for Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 6 ox cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 6 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour (or spray with cooking oil spray) a 10 x 15-inch baking pan.  If you use a more common 9 x 13-inch pan, you will have to cook it longer or the middle will not get done.  Alternatively you could only pour in 3/4 of the batter into the 9 x 13 and use a muffin tin or small baking pan for the rest.
  2.  In a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together the sugar and oil and pumpkin until creamy (about 1 min). Beat in eggs until well combined – about 2 minutes.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and all of the spices. Add these dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth.
  4. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes, until evenly golden and a toothpick or knife inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs attached.  Let cool completely (about 1 1/2 hour) before frosting.
  5. Using a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, milk and vanilla.  Gradually beat in powdered sugar, a little at a time, until mixture is smooth.  Spread frosting over completely cooled bars.
  6. Chill or freeze before cutting into bars.  Makes 2-3 dozen bars (depending on how large you cut them).

Spice-crusted shrimp and Asian Slaw – Slow Carb

Spice-crusted Shrimp on Asian Slaw

Spice-crusted Shrimp on Asian Slaw

I usually have three main criteria in mind when adapting recipes for the Slow Carb Lifestyle:  quick, easy and robust flavors.  This cabbage slaw marinated in Asian flavors, topped with spice-encrusted sautéed shrimp meets all of the criteria, making it a perfect fit for a slow carb lifestyle dish .  The heirloom tomatoes on the side are a bonus.  This time of the year, heirloom tomatoes accompany just about every dish I make since we grow them for market and always have an abundance to work with.  The dish is just as good without the tomatoes, but they do add color and interest if you have them.  The tomatoes shown in the photo are a French heirloom variety called Juane Flamme.

Seafood, and shellfish in particular, is great to work with on the slow carb lifestyle because it is so quick to cook and packed with nutrition and flavor.  The problem is that many of the fried or sautéed seafood dishes you find in restaurants or cookbooks are first breaded with cornmeal, flour, crackers, etc.  While I love breaded and fried food, it is not compliant with the slow carb lifestyle so I’m always trying adaptations.  These shrimp are “spice-encrusted” rather than breaded, meaning they are generously rubbed with five-spice powder, salt and pepper before sautéed or fried.  You don’t get as much crunch as a breading would give, but they are delightfully tasty.

Spice-Crusted Shrimp and Asian Slaw:

(inspired by a recipe in Eating Well magazine)

Five-spice crusted shrimp on Asian slaw

Five-spice crusted shrimp on Asian slaw


  •  1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 4 tsp soy sauce
  • 4 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sugar (omit sugar if on strict slow carb protocol)
  • 1/2 head cabbage, napa is good – I used a red cabbage because it’s what I had available
  • 2 orange or red bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 1/2  tsp five-spice powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 lb. pkg of frozen raw shrimp, medium to large
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)


  1. Thaw out shrimp and pat them dry with a paper towel.  Get them as dry as possible.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar (if using).
  3. Remove the tough core from the middle of the cabbage and shred the 1/2 head of cabbage into bite size pieces with a knife.  Add the cabbage and chopped bell peppers to the marinade and toss to combine.
  4. In a clean bowl whisk together the five-spice powder, salt and pepper.
  5. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat (look for oil to start smoking a bit to tell if it is hot enough).  While oil is heating, toss the shrimp in the spice mixture, coating the shrimp thoroughly.  Add the shrimp to the pan when the oil is hot and cook, stirring often, until they are pink (this only takes about 3 minutes).  Add the pepper flakes if using, and cook about 30 seconds longer.
  6. Serve the shrimp over a bed of  the Asian slaw.

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Smoked Tomato Shrub Syrup: 3 Drink Recipes

Smoky Tomato Shrub Bloody Mary

Smoky Tomato Shrub Bloody Mary

Last year I smoked much of September’s heirloom tomato harvest, then froze them in freezer bags and used them in stews, sauces, and soups throughout the winter and spring.  This year I’m smoking the tomatoes again, but instead of freezing, I’m preserving them as “Shrub Syrups”  and using them in drinks, sauces, stews, etc., as well as selling them at the farmers’ markets.

Basic Explanation of a Shrub Syrup:

In case you’re new to this site, here’s a brief explanation of what a  “shrub syrup” is:  Basically it is a concentrated syrup made of fruit, sugar and vinegar.  There are various methods of extracting the juice from the fruit (i.e., cold shrubbing vs. hot shrubbing), and various ratios of fruit juice to sugar to vinegar.   I will explain the different methods for making shrub syrups in future videos, but one method is illustrated in this previous post:

(click here to see a previous post on making a blueberry shrub).

Popular Uses of a Shrub Syrup:

Although shrub syrups can be used as vinaigrettes, marinades and sauce additions, the original (and most common) way to use them is in drinks.  The fruit and sugar take the pungent edge off of the vinegar and the vinegar enhances the sweetness of the fruit syrup, resulting in a really refreshing drink.  Recently there has been a revival of shrub-based drinks, especially in the cocktail world.  Shrub syrups can take cocktails to new levels, adding depth and complexity to a drink, especially when bitters are added in.

For non-imbibers, the popularity of the sodastream as a replacement for sweet carbonated beverages (i.e., pop) is the perfect foil for shrub syrups.   No sodasteam?  Just add a few tablespoons of shrub syrups to any kind of fizzy water (club soda, sparkling water, tonic water, etc.) and you have a really nice way to get that much-needed water into your dehydrated body.  Make it as sweet as you want and control the calorie count yourself  instead of the soda companies controlling it for you.

Behind the Scenes at HeathGlen Farm with our Tomatoes

If you are interested in meeting the HeathGlen Team and seeing some of the ways we use heirloom tomatoes, watch the final video on this post (The Bloody Mary Video).  Skip to 1:00 if you just want the how-to.

Using the Smoked Tomato Shrub Syrup in Cocktails:  3 Ways

The Smoky Tomato Martini

(See the 15-sec Video here)

In a shaker of ice, combine:

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz tomato shrub syrup
  • 1/2 oz. dry vermouth
  • 2 dashes plum bitters

Shake ingredients and strain into martini glass.  Garnish with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls.


The Smoky Tomato Daquiri

(Recipe only – click here to see video on youtube)

Tomato & Smoked Cherry Shrub Daiquiri

Tomato & Smoked Cherry Shrub Daiquiri

  • 1 oz. Citron vodka
  • 1/2 oz. Effen Black Cherry Vodka
  • 1/2 oz. Smoked Cherry Shrub Syrup
  • 1 oz  Tomato Shrub Syrup
  • 2 dashes cherry bitters
  • 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice

In a shaker of ice add all of the above ingredients, shake and strain into glass.  Garnish with a lime wheel.


The Smoky Tomato Bloody Mary (and a look at HeathGlen)

**Note:  The beginning of this video is a behind the scenes look at HeathGlen’s Farm.  If you want to go straight to the “how-to” on the Bloody Mary, skip to 1:00.

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Pork Ragu & Spaghetti Squash for Slow Carb Diet


Pork Ragu over Spaghetti Squash

Pork Ragu over Spaghetti Squash

The cooler temperatures of Fall seem to cry out for those robust, hearty flavors in our dishes, but this favorite season also begs for dishes that show off the autumnal color palate.  A hearty Italian ragu sauce coupled with golden buttery squash speaks to the robust flavor profile, as well as the visual yearning for the beautiful fall colors.  Ragus are typically combined with pasta, but the substitution of spaghetti squash for pasta makes this a perfect dish adapted to the Slow Carb Lifestyle (or Slow Carb Diet).

Smoking Tomatoes:

Smoking Heirloom Tomatoes

Smoking Heirloom Tomatoes

I’ve been smoking my tomatoes in the Bradley Smoker that my husband gave me last year for my birthday.  After they are smoked I place them in a freezer bag and freeze them to use in sauces over the winter.  It is so wonderful to thaw out that bag and smell the rich aroma of smoked tomatoes.  They don’t seem to lose any of the smokiness in the freezing process.  This year I am also taking the smoked tomatoes and preserving them with sugar and vinegar as a “shrub syrup”.

See this post for more on how to use the Smoked Tomato Shrub Syrup in cocktails.

The Ragu recipe below uses the smoked tomatoes straight from the freezer.  You can use regular canned or fresh tomatoes instead of course, but you won’t get as rich of a flavor.  If you want to add the smoky flavor without the smoked tomatoes, I would try adding a little smoked sea salt or even some liquid smoke.  It is a wonderful dish however, even without the smoke!


Pork Sausage Ragu Over Spaghetti Squash

Serves 4


  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped (and seeded) sweet red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 lb ground pork or Italian sausage (I used a mix of sweet and hot Italian sausage)
  • 2 cups smoked tomatoes with juice (or 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes)
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar (leave out if on slow carb diet)
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp smoked sea salt (optional: if using, decrease amount of kosher salt to 1/2 tsp)
  • 1 medium spaghetti squash


  1. Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Either roast in 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes or cook in the microwave for about 10 minutes.  If roasting, brush the tops of the squash with a little oil so it doesn’t dry out.  If microwaving, I just turn the squash flesh-side-down on a plate and microwave for 10-12 minutes.  Click here for a more detailed way of cooking it in the microwave.  Either way, just cook until it is tender enough to easily stick a fork in it.  Leave it in the microwave or oven until ragu is done.
  2. While the squash is cooking, heat the oil in a dutch oven or large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook for about 3-5 minutes, or until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook quickly (30 seconds).  Add the bell pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Increase the heat to medium high and add the ground pork.  If using Italian sausage, cut the casings open and spread out the sausage throughout the pan, chopping it with your spatula to break it up.  Cook until the pork is browned, about 5 minutes
  4. Add the crushed tomatoes (or smoked tomatoes), balsamic vinegar, salt and sugar and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes (depending on how hungry you are)
  5. Scrape out the flesh of the spaghetti squash with a fork or spoon onto a plate (use a potholder to hold the squash if it is still hot).  Spoon the ragu sauce over the squash and serve.
Pork Sausage Ragu for SCD

Pork Sausage Ragu for SCD

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