Hotbox Hipster

a pittsburgh hippie chick's unbridled love for all things food related


comfort food

a bit on spiritual eating… and one spicy and spectacular sausage and lentil stew.


ok… I know what you’re thinking… sausage and lentil stew?  how good could it be?  TRUST me… it is beyond good. Tis amazing.  absolutely bursting with flavor in every bite, super duper healthy and full of vitamin rich ingredients!  best of all… very easy to prepare, so that most anyone can whip this up on a weeknight, no problemo.   this freezes wonderfully in small 16oz containers… making for stellar lunches at any given time, or a quick little dinner for a willing friend.   I love feeding others.  it’s my thing.  I love to hear what they say about the dish… how much they enjoyed it… and it makes me smile knowing I was able to nourish another, physically… but possibly mentally as well.  allow me to spill on that a bit.  people are busy.  we all have jobs, maybe kids, pets, homes, bills, cars,  the list goes on.  when you make time to see and connect with friends and family in your life… you’re saying something.  you’re letting that person know that they are important.  they are a priority.  their presence in your life, hopefully, brings you comfort and joy.  it’s why you make time, right?  do me a favor.  think back to the last noteworthy home cooked meal you may have had with say, your mom… or your sibling… or a significant other… that food, more than likely, was prepared with love.   when you cook with love and compassion and your soul is happy… all of that shows up in your dish.  ie: the people who eat it can feel that shit.  it is a mindful practice… where the cook is thinking fondly on those who will consume their dish… and they long to nourish that person inside and out… it becomes almost a spiritual culinary experience.  taste goes beyond flavor.  it involves all of the senses… sight, smells, sounds, touch and texture… the company for the meal…  your head space as you nosh… right??  all of it plays a role in your food experience.  are you sad? are you content? are you rushed? are you relaxed??  all of these affect the taste.   I love this… and it’s why I love feeding others.  it is also… why I love foods that require one utensil.  soups, stews, shallow bowls full of rice or pasta swimming in deliciously flavorful sauces.  things that can be eaten with one spoon, or one fork.  things that can be carried to a favorite chair or couch or beside a fire… and enjoyed with both hands… one holding the vessel, and the other doing the work to bring food to mouth.  easy.  comforting. simple, but memorable.  these are the types of foods I enjoy sharing with others.   experiment with your dining experiences, and notice the way food tastes differently in various settings.  I can be by a bonfire on a crisp cool night with a few friends and a few beers… and the hot dog I roast over the flame can taste better than a fancy steak almost every damn time.  it’s the setting.  the vibe.  pizza on a rooftop patio with Edison lights strung about vs. inside the sterile pizza shop in a tomato red booth with fluorescent lighting.  food on vacation vs. food after a stressful work meeting…  we know the answer to that.  don’t even get me started on music…. haaha!   food is love.  feel the love yo.  anyway…. enjoy this stew.



a little  over a pound of bulk (loose) hot sausage

cup of dried lentils (cooked according to package directions)

half of a butternut squash, peeled and diced (or buy it pre packaged and already prepped)

two large carrots (peeled and diced)

two large stalks of celery (leaves included: diced)

three cloves of garlic, chopped or minced

one large onion, diced

one bell pepper (red, yellow or orange)

one 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

one 14oz can chicken broth

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 tsp dried oregano

1 heaped tsp dried parsley

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp chili powder

1/4 tsp nutmeg

pinch of turmeric

Prepare all vegetables.  Wash, peel, chop and set aside in a large bowl.  You will be adding them all at once, so don’t worry about keeping them separate.  This way, once your stew gets rolling and you brown your sausage, you’ll be ready to add them.  if you’ve never prepped a BN squash, lop off the top and bottom with a sharp, sturdy knife and stand it on it’s bottom.  Carefully cut it straight down the middle top to bottom.  Spoon out seeds and discard.  with a vegetable peeler, carefully peel off the outer layer of skin.  you are now ready to chop it up into bite sized chunks.  you could also buy pre peeled and chopped “ready to cook” if you are feeling lazy.

cook lentils as per package. drain and set aside.

add a generous swirl of olive oil in your favorite dutch oven.  turn on your flame and begin to brown you sausage, careful not to burn.  break it up with your spatula and stir frequently.  once you are sure it is browned and cooked through, remove it onto a place with a slotted spoon, keeping juice and grease in the dutch oven.  you will be cooking your veggies in this grease. set aside.  add your vegetables and cook over medium heat for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.  add a can of crushed tomatoes and a can of chicken broth and all of your spices.  stir together to combine. bring up to a boil.  add your sausage back in and stir to combine.  turn heat down to medium low and cover it, letting it simmer for about ten minutes. uncover, stir, and check your carrots and celery for doneness. cook few mins longer if necessary.  once these are cooked to your liking, cut the heat and add in the cooked lentils. stir once more and serve it up! I like to add a large handful of chopped fresh parsley.  fine without though. Enjoy! you will enjoy this stew for days… I’ve even been known to eat it for a late breakfast.   for the most part… pretty easy… and very very comforting…  the way life SHOULD be, if we’re doing it right.

peace and love.  spags.



Creamy dreamy chicken comfort casserole

quick, easy and delicious!!
quick, easy and delicious!!

This January in Pittsburgh as temps are ping ponging between 28*F and -10*F on a weekly basis, i find myself more than ever longing for comfort foods.  Stews that simmer for hours on end… filling the house with delightful aromas,  homemade breads rising in front of the fire… ready to mop up red sauces later that evening, and ultra thick, creamy flavorful sauces like the one above… ready to cling to whatever pasta you pair it with.  Our activities are limited in weather like this.  Where we would normally linger outside in the yard with the dog, maybe tossing a tennis ball or two, we find ourselves hovering inside the door wishing he/she would hurry up and do their business already.  Where we would normally be bundling up the children and sending them out for sledding and snowball fights, we find ourselves considering the risk of frostbite and keeping them inside instead.   I myself love to run, and try to get out at least a couple of times per week to log some miles… but this weather… it’s abrasive to say the least.   Our kitchens are the comfort hubs in the winter months.  The oven is warm, the hot cocoa supply is endless, our pantries are stocked and families everywhere are baking batches of warm cookies on a whim… just for “something to do.”  The recipe i’m about to arm you with comes together in less than a half hour- and warms in the oven a bit afterward while you get everyone ready for dinner … turn off the TV… turn on some relaxing music… enjoy a nice glass of wine and sit down and ‘be together’ with your family.  “become present” and enjoy the food.  Here we go.

what you need:

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of celery soup

1 8oz container of sour cream

1 bag of frozen ‘cook in the bag’ broccoli florets

1 stalk of celery (and some of the leaves if you have them)

half an onion (if large) -whole if smaller

skim milk

box of pasta (penne or farfalle or cavatappi- whatever you like)

cooked rotisserie chicken from your local store (just for ease)


what you do:

start a pot of water boiling – and cook pasta according to package directions.  drain, rinse and set aside once it’s done.  cook your broccoli in the microwave per package instructions. set aside once it’s done.  in the mean time, if you are using a rotisserie chicken, slice up the breast meat- and cut into small pieces. set aside.  dice your onion and celery (and leaves if you have some) and set aside. in a large non stick pan (i like to use a wok for this to be honest)- add a bit of olive oil or butter- and saute your onion/celery until tender- maybe five minutes or so. Add your 2 cans of soup and a half a can of milk. stir well to combine.  see visual below.

the base... bring it up to temp
the base… bring it up to temp

bring this up to bubbling over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add pepper (maybe a half a tsp) and stir. pinch of salt- the soups are already salty though.  Stir and then add your sour cream, your cooked broccoli and your chicken. stir to combine.  see visual below.

bringing it all together
bringing it all together

bring back up to bubbling over a medium heat. turn off heat and add your cooked pasta right in… stirring to coat nicely.   Take and grease a large lasagna pan with olive oil (or any oil)- and preheat your oven to 350*.  Add this pasta right into your dish (careful- the pan will be heavy) and top with a bit of shredded cheese of your choosing. i chose a shredded cheddar jack-  you don’t need much- maybe a cup- but if your family loves cheese… then go at it with two cups.  🙂  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes uncovered.  i neglected to take a finished plated pic of this last night… probably because i could not wait to get this into my mouth!! it was super duper delicious, creamy and satisfying in every way.  Anyone can tackle this recipe.  honest.  Enjoy… and for goodness sakes, KEEP WARM!!

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