Have you heard about \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"capsules\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"? If you are a Pinterest fan or follow the fashion world, “capsule” wardrobes are the BIG buzz. To be honest, I don’t think this is all so new, but, hey, I’ve been around a while. The concept of a capsule wardrobe is to begin with five or six basic pieces of clothing and build a wardrobe with some accessories and creativity. Goals include saving you time, money and stress. But why am I talking about clothing? I’m not really. I’m talking about homemade salad dressing. More »
It\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s not quite fall, but you can sense the change—cool air in the morning, a tinge of red on the leaves, a deeper blue in the sky and a quickening sunset. Sigh. Appetite changes, too. We remain creatures of the seasons, even if we have all but lost that tenuous connection. I start craving butternut squash soup, cinnamon tea and pear or apple cobbler. But it is rather bittersweet for me. More »
We had a little taste of fall this past week—rainy, chilly and gray for several days. My husband Don thought this was a great time for some comfort food. My thoughts were going in the same direction, too, and when my friend Deb’s special guest came up from Texas, I knew we needed to head south for a dinner. What could say \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"southern comfort\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\" better than ham hocks and beans? More »
I don’t know about you, but by the end of winter, I’m struggling to be creative in the kitchen. My most industrious activity come March is using up whatever is left in the freezer, not matter how mundane. And if you recall (and I’m sure you do), I have quite a bit more freezer space this year because of that generous birthday gift from my friends, so there’s a lot more food to use up. Ok, ok, that’s not my point here, so moving on….
My point is that sometimes it takes a little culinary magic to keep mealtime exciting at the end of winter. So I turn to sauce-ery. In this case, I set about creating two sauces—both of which are vegan and gluten free–that not only work well on their own but also pair very nicely with each other. One is created from red lentils and coconut milk and the other is a combo of tomatoes, garlic, onions and peppers. Both are super easy to make, and I used them to create four different dishes—all with lots of flair but not a lot of fuss.
I chose red lentils for my “Red Lentil Curry Cream” because red lentils are very different from their green and brown cousins; they don’t need a presoak and take almost no time to cook. In 10 to 15 minutes you can have chewy lentils; in 15 to 20 minutes you can have mushy lentils that puree into a creamy paste—exactly what I was after here. However, red lentils are still high in protein, so they make a wonderful addition to any vegetarian or vegan diet. Add in some high-quality curry powder and a can of organic coconut milk and you’ve got an amazing cream sauce.
I began my “Indian Red Sauce” by clearing a little space in the freezer: one bag of tomatoes and one large red pepper. From there I added some of my favorite Indian spices—coriander, cumin and turmeric. Just a half-hour in the skillet and it was good to go. And then… you knew there’s more to this, right? So read through the recipes below and then I’ll share my four dishes that help make the end of winter a bit more magical.
- One cup washed and sorted split red lentils
- Two tablespoons olive oil
- Two cloves of garlic, crushed and diced
- One-half cup chopped red or yellow onion
- One tablespoon curry powder (I love the bulk hot Indian curry powder from my local Green Earth Grocer, but Penzeys is another good option.)
- Two teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- One-half teaspoon crushed cardamom seed or powder
- One can full-fat coconut milk
- Juice from half a lemon
- Sea salt to taste
- Two tablespoons peanut oil
- Two cups frozen whole cherry tomatoes (No frozen? Use a large can of whole organic tomatoes with the juice)
- One large red onion, diced
- One large red bell pepper, diced (frozen or fresh)
- Four cloves garlic, crushed and diced
- One tablespoon each whole coriander and whole cumin seed, dry-toasted and crushed
- One-half tablespoon whole black peppercorns, dry-toasted and crushed
- One-half teaspoon turmeric powder
- Juice from half a lemon
- Sea salt to taste
- A dash Harissa or hot sauce (optional if you desire heat)
- Cook your washed and sorted lentils in water—enough to cover—for about 20 minutes, until they are very soft and can be puréed. Drain well.
- While your lentils are cooking, sauté the garlic and onion in the olive oil just until they are softened and their “raw” taste is gone, about five minutes. Set aside.
- In a food processor, combine the lentils, sautéed vegetables, coconut milk, ginger, curry powder, crushed cardamom, lemon juice and sea salt to taste. Puree until smooth and thick. If your processor is the size of mine, you’ll need to do this in two batches. The sauce is wonderful slightly warmed, served at room temperature or even chilled to use as a dip for veggies.
- Toast all your whole spices in a small cast iron skillet just until fragrant and then crush with a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
- In a large skillet, sauté the onion, garlic and red bell pepper in the peanut oil with a generous dash of sea salt. Once the vegetables have become soft and translucent, add the toasted spices and the turmeric. Sauté a couple of minutes until you can smell the spices waft through your kitchen; then, add the tomatoes with a dash more salt. Continue to cook the sauce at a low simmer, carefully crushing the tomatoes, until everything has reduced by nearly half and begun to thicken a bit, about 20 to 30 minutes. You can serve this with just about anything from rice to pasta to cooked vegetables—whatever loves a savory red sauce.
The prep and cook times reflect the time that should be devoted to each sauce. They come together easily and fairly quickly.
Magic Green Beans
Once I had both my sauces created, I decided to fancy-up some of my standard winter dishes, beginning with plain old fresh-frozen green beans (about a half-pound bag) that I tossed with some olive oil, dark balsamic vinegar and coarse sea salt and roasted in a 450-degree oven alongside a couple quartered red onions for about 40 minutes—till they were soft and had begun to caramelize. I stirred them halfway through.
To plate the beans and onions, I nestled them atop a few spoonfuls of the heated Indian Red Sauce and topped them with warmed Red Lentil Curry Cream. For extra flair, I sprinkled the whole dish with some ground raw pistachios, a pinch of smoked paprika and a slight drizzle of Baklouti oil (What’s that, you ask. I’ll go over this “star ingredients” in a bit.). Needless-to-say, this was a dish fit for company. Serves four as a side dish.
Saucy Little Deviled Eggs (photo on the recipe card)
This is perhaps the dish of which I am most proud. Using both the sauces, I turned common-place deviled eggs into a super starter plate. I pooled room-temperature Indian Red Sauce on a tiny white plate. Saucers work great because they hold the sauce in place. I took four large hard-cooked, chilled eggs and combined their yolks with four tablespoons of my Red Lentil Curry Cream and two tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt. Whipped this a bit and piped it back into the whites using a snipped-end baggie. Then there was a pinch of smoked paprika and another pinch of something else exotic—charnushka. Charnushka are tiny black seeds from India that taste slightly spicy and are a main ingredient in garam masala. You will find charnushka at Penzeys and other gourmet food stores. Very nice. A final drizzle of that Baklouti oil (on which I have become permanently hooked!), and that was that. Serves four, two egg halves per person.
Over-the-Top Coconut Rice (my featured photo at the top)
My go-to coconut rice is pretty simple—a cup of long-grain brown rice, two tablespoons coconut oil, a dash of turmeric, a Ceylon cinnamon stick (about half-inch), two to three tablespoons raw shredded coconut and water. Using a heavy pan with a glass lid, toast your rice in the coconut oil on medium-high heat for about four to five minutes—you’ll start to smell it toast and you know all the rice grains are thoroughly coated with oil. At that point stir in the coconut, turmeric and cinnamon stick–maybe a pinch of coarse sea salt. Now carefully add the two cups of water and bring it up to a rolling boil as quickly as you can. Put on the lid and reduce to a low simmer…and LEAVE IT ALONE! In about 25 minutes you’ll have perfect rice. Remove the cinnamon stick before serving.
So to take this simple rice over the top, I used my two sauces, both a room temperature, along with a sprinkle of shredded coconut and charnushka and a drizzle of Baklouti. Serves four to six, and make sure you pass extra sauce around the table. Trust me.
Ok, now we are ridiculously simple yet yummy. The yolk mixture for my deviled eggs produced about double what I needed for the starter dish. So Don and I had the rest on whole wheat toast for a protein-powered breakfast the next day. And yes, Don had his with maple-glazed bacon crumbled on top. Serves two to four; makes four slices of toast total.
My Baklouti Oil was a Christmas gift from my friend Mary Lynn. She sent it from her new hometown in New Hampshire, also home to Monadnock Oil & Vinegar Company. Tunisian Baklouti peppers are rare and fire-hot. Monadnock’s Baklouti Oil is made by combining one pound of organic olives with 1.6 pounds of fresh whole Baklouti peppers, using Monadnock’s special infusing process. Oh my. If you can’t find this, use your own favorite chili-infused oil. But give it a try either way.
So let’s end winter with a bang, not a ho-hum. We just need to employ a little sauce-ery. Magic wands and whisks poised?
When my daughter was in elementary school, we spent more mornings than I care to admit in a heated battle over breakfast. I was insistent that she eat a “good” breakfast, maintaining that breakfast was truly the most important meal of the day. She, on the other hand, just didn’t like it. The only way to get her to eat anything was to coax her with last night’s warmed-over pizza or traditional PB&J on an English muffin or, when all else failed, a bowl of Ramen noodles or potato soup. To my way of thinking, this was not breakfast. Where was the oatmeal, the scrambled eggs and bacon, the pancakes I was willing to make from scratch, the high-priced cereal every other kid just had to have? Why was she not a good breakfast eater?
Well, in reality she was a great little breakfast eater, perhaps better than her mother. It wasn’t breakfast she detested; it was the menu. Heather has taught me many things over the years (Children do have a way of doing that.). But one of the most important lessons was about food, about breaking the established rules to make the meal suite the person rather than the tradition and coming up with something delicious, incredibly low-sugar (For instance, compare black beans and scrambled egg on a sprouted tortilla to a cinnamon roll.), and usually full of protein for that starter meal of the day.
So my daughter Heather is the inspiration for this week’s post: Quinoa Breakfast Bowls, which actually could work for lunch or light dinner, just as well. We both like quinoa for the base of this recipe because we are both vegetarians, and quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids in fairly equal amounts. These are the nine essential amino acids people cannot produce on their own and must get from the foods they eat. While most animal protein sources such as meat and eggs contain complete sets, few plant sources offer all nine. Quinoa is an exception. Further, it is super easy to prepare—cooks just like rice—and has a mild, nutty flavor that can be used in a million different ways (including chocolate cake…not kidding).
Remember Jack? You know, the little guy with the cow, the magic beans and the no-nonsense mom? Well, I’m thinking Jack’s mom was sorta quick to judge. I think Jack really had something going when he decided magic beans were a great deal. You see, I just happened to get a bag of magic beans for Christmas this year.
Ok, I’m wandering a bit far off into the woods here, but did you catch the name of my new favorite product: Toni’s 10-Bean Mix? Pretty magical, right? I wish I could claim responsibility for this delicious 10-Bean Soup Mix, but it’s a different Toni. And this amazing product is made and sold by the Women’s Bean Project, based in Denver, CO.
In their own words, here is what the Women’s Bean Project does:
The mission of Women’s Bean Project is to change women’s lives by providing stepping stones to self-sufficiency through social enterprise.
Founded in 1989, Women’s Bean Project is an anomaly in the business world. It is a business, one that packages and sells bean soup mixes, baking mixes and other dry food products to stores across the U.S. and online. But tucked inside this business is a human services organization designed to provide a safe and accepting work environment where impoverished women can learn the skills required for gainful employment.
Well Happy Valentine’s Day! I think I have a new salad and dressing pairing that will tug at your heartstrings… in a super healthy way. Not only is it delicious, it allows you to be planet-conscious while being health-conscious.
One sure way to tug at my heartstrings is to give me new ideas about eliminating food waste (I know, hopeless romantic). This is nothing new coming from me, right? But I try not to harp on it too often because I realize everybody can only do what they can do. Every effort is valiant. However, when I get the inspiration to turn my compost into delicious recycled food, I gotta share.
I mentioned on the blog a couple of weeks ago how impressed I was with Delicious Living Magazine’s January issue, the headline of which read “Waste Not!” There are several recipes in the print version and more online that make incredible dishes out of what is virtually food waste. If you recall, near the end of my post I linked to the Celery Leaf Walnut Pesto from the “Root to Leaf” article.
But the recipe that intrigued me the most was Apple Core Syrup, made by taking peels and cores of apples and cooking them down into a ready-to-use syrup for desserts, marinades, dressings and more. All you needed was your imagination. The recipe is also super simple and only uses three other ingredients: water, honey and cinnamon sticks. The only catch for me? It takes six cups of apple cores and peels. Since I almost never peel my apples, it was going to take quite a while to save up cores in my freezer, but I just couldn’t let the idea go.
Heathy? Well there goes romance…
Now, now. There’s nothing wrong with champagne and a decadent dessert on a special occasion, but let’s think outside that chocolate box just a little. Let me tug at your heartstrings with a Juiced-Up Cocktail and some Green Gal Good-For-You-and-Over-The-Top Dark Chocolate Bark.
Shall we start with chocolate? Chocolate is traditional, sexy, scrumptious and has been shown to be good for you… at least in moderation. Can it get any better than that? YES! By adding in some dried superfruits, some raw organic almonds, some spices for that back-of-the-palette explosion and a pinch of hand-harvested sea salt, it can get WAY better.
Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate that is at least 75 to 80 percent cacao, has been in the media for several years as a potential health food. It can improve your heart, boost your brain power and even protect against diabetes. Though it comes with some caveats and some restraints, most experts are convinced that conservative consumption of dark chocolate on a regular basis is good for us.
To help get that daily quota, here is a five-ingredient, 15-minute-prep recipe that will win the heart—and the health—of your special sweetie.
Since starting this blog well over a year ago, I have become an amazingly easy person for whom to buy gifts. My friends give me food—ingredients they think I will enjoy using in my kitchen and, sometimes, trying out on them. If you cook for those you love, your loved ones will shop for you. Works for me!
For instance, this Christmas, I received gourmet oils and vinegars, homemade canned apple pie filling, home-brewed hard apple cider and the decedent and exotic ingredient I’m featuring today: Mushroom Jerky, a smoky and rich vegan delicacy even my carnivore husband loves.
Leo Sulentic (Remember Leo the local mushroom grower?) gave me a precious bag of his newest creation for Christmas, and, of course, it came with a challenge: “Let’s see what you can do with this.”
Ok, enough about cake! With all the holiday decorations packed away and the cookie tins emptied and washed, I’m feeling a desperate need to move on to clean, healthy, functional foods. How about you?
The thing is, just as we vow to eat better, live greener and become healthier in the coming year, two calendar events pop up to destroy our best-laid plans: Super Bowl and Mardi Gras. If ever there were two events focused on unhealthy food in a “pig out” environment, these qualify. The English translation for Mardi Gras, as we all probably know, is FAT Tuesday. Enough said.
So can we come up with a party dish that is traditional enough to hold its own at the buffet table, tasty enough to win over junkfoodies, sensitive enough to include all diners regardless of food-related sensitivities, and healthy enough to keep us committed to our vow of better eating in 2017? The answer is YES.
I ended 2016 in a blizzard… of sugar, flour, coconut and pistachio dust. But it was not a harrowing experience. It was a labor of love. And at the end of the storm were, I think, my best cakes of the past year.
Baking a cake for someone you love is a lot like painting her portrait. When I started planning a birthday cake for my friend Deb in December, I wanted to celebrate what makes Deb such an amazing human being—her sweetness (Admittedly, that was kinda easy since it was a cake.), but also her magical view of the world, her love for all things summer, her beauty, her keen intellect, her fixation on order and rules, and her never-ending love of fun. It was going to be a complex confection, to say the least.
For guidance, especially with cakes, frostings and fillings, I turn to my trusted Joy of Cooking. I now have two copies of this famous culinary reference and cookbook: the one I purchased in 1997 is yellowed, dog-eared and covered in tiny notes; my most recent flea-market find of a pristine 75th anniversary edition is, as yet, unblemished (Give me time.). Both were open on the worktable as I began building my palette and sketching my plans.
In the silence of a snowy December morning, Sylvia sipped her tea and watched with trepidation the weather on the other side of the kitchen window. She had planned this shopping day for more than a month… one day to get the presents for her six little ones. Well, Debra was not so little anymore—nearly 12 now and so responsible. Steven, too, was really “a little man.” But Kathy and Cynthia were still just toddling around, barely in school. Larry and Cindy were her “middles,” always too small or too big to do as they pleased, according to them. She smiled and sipped her tea.
Of course they were her greatest joys, but today, just today, she was going to be on her own, shopping and having lunch with her friends. At least that’s what she hoped she’d be doing. If only the snow had held off. The schools were closed for the day, and her children were still nestled in their beds.
There was a knock at the door. “Bill! Thank God you could make it over. I can’t thank you enough for staying with the kids,” Sylvia said as she ushered her brother into the house.
“Oh, I don’t mind at all,” Bill said taking off his coat and shaking the snow back out on the porch. “You go on and go; get your shopping done and have a good time.”
“It’s so hard being single, you know? I just hadn’t planned it this way,” Sylvia admitted as she gathered up her pocketbook and keys. “But you know I always say, ‘Everything…’”
“…Happens for a reason, I know, I know,” Bill laughed and gave his younger sister a hug. “You’re doin’ just fine, if you ask me.”
We all have one… the elderly neighbor, the second cousin we see only once a year, the cranky aunt, our best friend’s mom who is suddenly flying in from the coast. These are the impossible-to-buy-for people still on our lists. And, it’s already December 18! There’s no time, not much money and absolutely not a clue what they’d like. So I say, it’s time to bake a cake.
But not just any cake. A very special Christmas cake my friend Mary Lynn shared with me years ago. It is super simple to make (OK, a big plus there.), takes minimal, easy to find ingredients (Yes!), is small and personal and… the clincher… tastes, looks and smells just like Christmas.
Case in point: We have a very dear neighbor named Dave. He’s getting on in years, and my husband does a lot of yard work for him over the spring, summer and fall. Dave is very generous in his compensation, but Don would do it anyway because Dave is a super cool guy. And other than running the occasional errand for him, taking his trash bins in from the curb and making sure he’s ok if the power goes out, there’s not much we can do for or give to Dave that he couldn’t do or buy for himself.
You see Dave used to own the hardware store in town—I mean the original hardware store. Where you could walk in, open a dusty little wooden drawer, fish out two of the screws you needed for a repair and hand Dave 25 cents. Well, trust me, there were such stores when I was a kid. Anyway, Dave sold his store several years ago and retired to a relatively comfortable, self-sufficient and quiet life. But he can’t cook a lick.