Kale Salad: Building Blocks

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It’s been a bit of a rough week, in terms of stress management.  The most frustrating part is that I am not even at the actual busy, stressful time yet–I’m just worrying about it.  Anxiety life.  Oy.  But, if I can just keep on picking away at my assignments and project prep: a little bit of work this evening or that morning, I shouldn’t have any problems at all.  I’ve just gotta remind myself that the best thing I can do is to break everything into manageable tasks.

Kale Chop

Freshly chopped.

I also have to find some stress relief.   That is currently in the form of watching season 1 of Once Upon a Time (I’m behind, I know.  But I am also totally over whiny James and would just like him to disappear, please!) and planning a mini patio makeover for us.  We haven’t done much with the space in our two years here.  We brought a pair of plastic adirondack chairs we found at the curb of our old neighborhood, and purchased an Applaro table + chairs + stools from Ikea when we moved here, which I still love!  Every piece folds up, so its a total space saver!  Other than that, we have my herb planter and a very old, giant grill that was another curbside find.  M and I agreed that we would be getting a new grill this year (possibly even this weekend!) and I was feeling like things needed a little sprucing up, in general.  I want to enjoy my time on our patio, rather than simply abandoning it to the bugs.  Since the beginning of this year and our grocery budget revamp, I have also been trying (semi-successfully) to purchase our groceries with cash.  I almost never carried cash before, so this has been a huge shift for me.  But, our ATM only allows withdrawals in sets of $10, so, with my $35 to spend at the grocery store, I’m left with $5 that isn’t budgeted for groceries.  It had been easy enough to stash this weekly $5 bill in a jar and forget about it.  Now, four months into the year, I have a nice little cash fund that I can use towards a patio update: to get some string lights, pillows, and maybe a lantern or two!  Since we are hosting our families for a small Easter lunch, I am hoping to have the patio finished by then!  I’ll be sure to share the results when I do get things done.

Kale Ready

After “massaging” the kale.

Today, I am sharing our absolute favorite recipe for kale.  This is the only salad that we eat consistently, but it never disappoints, even when it is so simple.  It’s gleaned from several different recipes across the web and also from a few kale salads that we have sampled in restaurants.  By thinking of this salad in flavor building blocks, rather than in specific ingredients, we always have enough “building blocks” on hand in our pantry to make this salad, and we have endless combinations to try!  There are 5 important parts: Sweet (some kind of dried fruit works best), Crispy (breadcrumbs or croutons), Crunchy (nuts or seeds), Salty/Creamy (cheese), and Tangy (vinaigrette).  Add each of these elements to some kale and you will not be disappointed!  This salad is almost more like a coleslaw in terms of the thinly shredded greens and the ratio of greens to other ingredients.

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Kale Salad

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 10 minutes |Cook time: (optional) 3-5 minutes

  • 1 bunch curly kale
  • 1/2 c. dried fruit
  • 1/3 c. tiny croutons (about 1-2 slices of bread)
  • 1/3 c. sliced/chopped and toasted nuts or whole, shelled, toasted seeds
  • 1/4 c. shredded parmesan or other hard, salty cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 5 Tbsp. vinegar, divided (red wine, champagne, or apple cider vinegar is best)
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 6-8 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • salt & pepper

Place the dried fruit in a small bowl and add 2 Tablespoons of water and 2 Tablespoons of vinegar.  Microwave for 30 seconds and allow to sit while preparing the rest of the salad ingredients.  This allows the fruit to rehydrate slightly, making it softer and adding a chewy bite to the salad.

Remove the leafy part of the kale from the stems.  Stack the leafy part and slice the greens into thin strips.  Add to a large bowl and massage the kale greens.  The greens will get softer, will slightly change color, will shrink a little in mass, and will begin to smell like grass.  Your hands may even turn a bit green.  This breaks down the tough leaf without cooking and makes the raw salad infinitely more palatable! Check out the photos above–can you see the difference?  Set the greens aside.

Chop the bread slices into the tiniest pieces that you can manage.  I prefer this to breadcrumbs, as it gives a more hearty texture.  Plus, then I don’t have to keep GF breadcrumbs around.  I’ll be totally honest, we usually freeze the ends of bread loaves for this exact purpose!  Place the bits of bread in a skillet with a glug of olive oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until these tiny croutons are a little toasted.  Set aside.

Mix up the dressing: add 3 Tablespoons of vinegar, 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice, 6-8 Tablespoons of olive oil (the usual ratio is 1 part vinegar to 2 parts olive oil, but we prefer less oil for a tangier dressing), 2 teaspoons dijon mustard*, and 2 teaspoons honey into a jar.  Lid tightly and shake until the dressing is combined.  Taste the dressing and adjust as needed–perhaps more honey or more vinegar.  If I need more vinegar, I’ll first use the water-vinegar combination from my soaked fruit!  You can jazz up this vinaigrette by using different types of vinegar and oil, adding herbs or garlic, etc.

Put together the salad: Drain the soaked fruit and add the fruit to the greens.  Add the nuts/seeds, then the cheese.  Pour over about half of the dressing.  Sprinkle salt and black pepper over the salad, fairly liberally.  Toss all of the salad together until thoroughly mixed.  Add more dressing if needed.  Last, add the croutons, and mix in.  This helps to prevent them from getting soggy.  Serve immediately or set in the fridge for up to an hour before serving.  Leftover can be stored in the fridge tightly covered for up to 2 days, but you will lose a lot of the texture from the nuts and croutons as they soften.

*The mustard helps the oil and vinegar emulsify, so do your best not to skip it!

Some of our favorite combinations are:

–Dried cherries, pumpkin seeds, and parmesan

–Dried cranberries, sliced almonds, and parmesan (in the photos)

–Dried currents, toasted walnuts, and asiago

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Coconut-Creamed Spinach

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It doesn’t look like much, but it is totally delicious!

How is your week going?  It seems like everyone either has massive winter storms or unusually spring-like weather.  We are in the latter, with our afternoons reaching almost 70 degrees!  It has been a lovely respite, in a certain sense, but a little unsettling.  It is still February, after all.  Will we even have a winter season this year?

I’ve been starting to think about my garden plans for this year, because the extended forecast is still staying pretty mild!  I think I will be aiming to put a few hearty green seedlings into the ground within the next couple of weeks: swiss chard, kale, etc.  Whatever I can get my hands on, knowing that this isn’t actually planting season.  Normally Home Depot fills my seedling needs, but I may need to venture to an actual garden center to find seedlings.  I also need to check the almanac for the last predicted frost, but I’m feeling pretty confident about planting seeds soon, as well.  I’ve always felt like I start my seeds too late, so this mild winter may be the reason that I finally get them out on time!  I’m still planning to use square foot gardening, but I am expecting to tweak a little from last year’s garden plan.  It was not as successful as my first year, unfortunately. I didn’t really get any onions or carrots last year, and I bought tomato plants that were too big for my box.  This year, though, I’ll learn from those mistakes!

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I am also dreaming of a patio makeover.  And I am determined to make those dreams a reality!  Our patio is the one part of our apartment that I’ve also felt was a little neglected, so I’ve been saving up a few dollars here and there for a cheap update!  Some actual decor, perhaps a few pillows, maybe some new (cheap) chairs, and a new grill!  I will keep you posted on our progress!

This Spring weather also has us see-sawing back and forth between comforting winter meals and lighter Spring ones.  Which is why I keep finding my meal plans full of slow-cooked, heavily spiced Indian dishes and soups…or sushi.  Haha!  On Sunday, I let myself play in creating a big vegetarian, Indian meal.  I had wanted to make Paneer cheese again (I’d give myself about an 85% success rate with this batch…insufficient draining, I think) and we had potatoes and cauliflower to make Aloo Gobi, so I rounded things out with a batch of Coconut-Creamed Spinach, which is totally my go-to side dish for any Indian food!  I’ve talked before about how I am working to appreciate cooked greens more and this is one of the few cooked greens dishes that I will always enjoy!  It is so delicious over a bit of rice, creamy and comforting and full of flavor!  Light Indian spices and coconut milk instead of cream give this dish an unexpected twist, without being too overpowering.  A healthy dose of garlic and salt, with a little heat, are still required, just like in regular creamed spinach.

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Coconut-Creamed Spinach

  • 2 packages frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 can (15 oz) coconut milk
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. chili flakes
  • 2 tsp. coconut oil
  • salt & pepper

Press the thawed, frozen spinach into a mesh sieve to squeeze as much water as you can from it.  Leave to drain as you cook the onion.  In a sauté pan over medium heat, as the coconut oil and the diced onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened and is mostly translucent.  Add the minced garlic and the spices (garam masala, ginger, cumin, and chili flakes) and stir the whole mixture for about 2 minutes, until the garlic and spices are fragrant.  Add the drained spinach to the pan and stir to combine with the onion.  Pour in about half of the can of coconut milk, stirring until the spinach mixture loosens up and the coconut milk in incorporated into the mix.  Add the remaining coconut milk and simmer the mixture until the desired thickness–the milk should hold together everything: the liquid shouldn’t pool from the greens.  It should only take a few minutes, at most!  Add a hefty pinch of salt and pepper, taste, and add more salt if needed!


How to Roll Sushi

Not exactly a recipe today, but more of a technique post.  But I do have a few sushi recipes, that can be shared here, now that I’m covering the basics!

Since I know you have all been waiting with baited breath to hear what M picked for Valentine’s dinner…(haha)…surf and turf!  Perhaps a little traditional, but oh so delicious!  He grabbed some personal-sized sirloin steaks and a cluster of snow crab legs for each of us!  It was so, so good!  I think it’s actually been over a year since I had crab legs and I definitely will have to do some scrimping and scrounging of pennies and some careful sales watching so that we can have them again before this year is over!  I’ve admitted to my own recent conversion to seafood-appreciator on this blog before, but I had forgotten how much I like crab!  Especially the legs, because the insides and organs and gunk of blue crabs still grosses me out.  Plus I’m bad at picking those little legs.  Please give me those (somewhat) tidy clusters of snow crab legs!

Yummmmmm.  I thought about those crab legs and butter all day.  I also spent the day enjoying my Valentine’s gift of a brand new office chair!  It’s red, it’s sleek, it has any amount of support…perfection!  I’ve had a sad history of used and often-broken office chairs, though my latest model was doing just fine enough for me to stop complaining about my back pain (mostly).  But, M remembered and got me one and totally surprised me at work–enough to have me on the floor teary-laughing!  So I am very excited to adjust this exactly how I need it and improve my daily office life!

Anyways, I thought I would take advantage of the simple cucumber rolls in this week’s meal plans to take a few step-by-step photos to show how to roll sushi.  I’ll be honest: the thought of making sushi was on my list of Very Intimidating Cooking Things. (Side note: if you’ve been reading along for a while, you should be celebrating with me because you also realize that I have now tackled everything on that scary list!!!)  But then I finally did it and it really can be very not frightening and even almost easy, if you are kind to yourself!  The biggest impetus was honestly that sushi is so expensive!  It it so much cheaper to make at home, and if you are very, very nervous, then just start practicing with some veggies rolls that will cost you pennies!  But they look super fancy and taste delicious and still have that sushi magic of filling you up without much food actually being used…I still prefer the ease of keeping the seaweed on the outside of the rolls–still got all the right flavors in there!  Someday, perhaps, I’ll be brave enough to flip the rice to the outside!

Let’s get started!

First make your rice.  Be sure to use rice marked as “Sushi” or “Nishiki” rice!  Prepare according to the bag’s directions.  I usually bargain for about 3 sushi rolls-worth from 1 cup of uncooked sushi rice.  Remember, 1 cup uncooked is going to result in several cups of cooked rice!

After the rice has cooked and steamed according to the package directions, for every 1 cup of uncooked rice that you made, mix together 3 Tbsp rice vinegar + 1 Tbsp sugar + 2 tsp salt in a small bowl until the sugar and salt has dissolved (if I’m in a hurry, I’ll microwave this, since the warm liquid will dissolve the salt and sugar more quickly!)  Fluff the cooked rice with a fork, then pour over the vinegar mixture and mix gently, but well to distribute the flavor!   Continue to stir gently for 1-2 minutes more, to help the rice release steam and cool.  Cool the rice to room temperature.

Prep your sushi filling–thinly slice whatever you are putting in there: fish, veggies, etc.

Fill a bowl with water, grab your nori (seaweed sheets), put the filings and the rice beside you, and you are ready to go!

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Okay, so you do need to invest in a sushi mat.  I found them for a very reasonable price at my local grocery store–it came in a kit with a wooden spoon that can be used instead of the fork to stir the vinegar into the rice!  While it is possibly to roll sushi without a mat, it make it so much easier that it is definitely worth the investment!  Place the mat in front of you with the sticks running perpendicular to you.

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Put a sheet of nori on the mat.

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Dip your fingers in the water.  With WET hands, scoop two small handfuls of rice onto the nori.  Wet your fingers again and press the rice into a thin layer.  Leave about 1 inch of space at the far end of the nori, but make sure that the rice goes close to the other edges.  If your fingers are not wet enough, the rice will stick.  Keep dipping them in the water as needed.

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Lay your fillings on the near end of the nori sheet.  Try to make them even, across the whole sushi roll.

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Grasp the edge of the mat with your thumb and forefinger (with both hands, I just needed one hand to take the photo).  Use the rest of your fingers to press against the fillings.  Lift the sushi mat and begin to roll the edge of the nori sheet over the fillings as your middle, ring, and pinky fingers tuck the filling under the edge of the roll, like you would with a burrito. (Check out the technique next time you are at chipotle–they flip the tortilla over the filling and pull/tuck it back into the roll of the tortilla.  You are doing the same pull/tuck technique with your fingers!)

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Keep rolling with the mat guiding the nori sheet until the edge of the nori goes entirely around the filling to meet the rice (I’m just lifting the mat to show you).

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You can release the mat once the filling is encased in the first part of the roll.  Keep  rolling until the rice is covered and only the edge of the nori remains.

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Use a little of the water to liberally wet down the edge of the nori wrap, all the way across.

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Roll all the way over.  The wet nori will stick to the roll.  Gently flip the roll over and press down the seam.  Place seam side down on the plate and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.

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When you are ready to slice, use a serrated meat or bread knife.  Wet the blade before every cut.  I usually chop my sushi into eight pieces, as that’s simplest.  I’ll cut the roll in half, then line up the two pieces side by side to cut those pieces in half again, and then those four pieces in half one more time.

And there you have it!  Homemade sushi!


Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes

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I hope everyone is enjoying the beginning of October! The temperature is starting to drop, which makes me worry a little for my seedlings in the garden, but also makes me so happy because Autumn is my favorite season!  I love the ability to layer clothes and dress in comfy sweaters.  I love all those fall flavors and dishes: pumpkin and squash, apples, pears, brussels sprouts, spices, thick stews and gravies, and all of those stick-to-your-ribs and warm-your-bones types of food.  I love that everything gets a little more cozy.  Summer is for going everywhere, traveling, eating at restaurants, on patios, going out with friends, and all that.  I think that Fall finds us at home more, but also in homes more, whether we are visiting friends or having them over at our place.  And since I love feeding people and love staying home, this makes this season pretty ideal.

At the top of my cozy, crave-able dinners list is risotto.  It’s always my back-up, since the base can be made with pantry staples, so it is great for days when I didn’t plan dinner or when my other plans are foiled for one reason or another.  Then I can dig out some arborio rice, some broth, an onion, and a bit of cheese for a risotto base that can be doctored up in endless ways!  Risotto also has the same sort of creamy, starchy goodness as say…macaroni and cheese, but it doesn’t leave me feeling quite as weighed down after eating it.  Plus, I am pretty particular about my mac and cheese, so–even with the required stirring–risotto is way easier for me to get on the plate.  And, as an added bonus: leftover risotto is perfect for making arancini!  This is another favorite that I will have to post soon, but the leftover risotto is wrapped around cheese, then breaded and fried or baked to crispy, cheesy, dip-able perfection!  Easily one of the best leftover dishes, ever.

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This risotto, as I mentioned, comes from the same base as I’ve posted before.  I’ve come a long way from my first frightened attempt at risotto.  I am nearly on auto-pilot nowadays.  When I got shiitake mushrooms in our Hungry Harvest Box (still totally in love, BTW), I knew I wanted to make them into a risotto.  Since M isn’t too keen on mushrooms, he is usually a good sport when I ‘hide’ them in our dishes.  But I wanted these to be the star of the dish.  Luckily, he goes off with friends one night a week, which is quickly becoming my time to indulge in all dishes mushroom and/or shrimp.  So this risotto was thrown together on a Tuesday, after my late shift at work.  After 30 minutes stirring at a toasty stove, I had my reward!  I decided to throw in these tomatoes at the last minute, when I realized that they needed to be used up, and I’m so glad that I did.  The mild acidity of the roasted tomatoes is the perfect compliment to the creamy risotto.  While it may not be much to look at, it was delicious! Enjoy!

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Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 30-40 minutes

  • 3 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • 3 small-medium shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 c. arborio rice
  • 1/4 c. white wine*
  • 4 c. broth (chicken, beef, veggie)
  • 8 oz mixed mushrooms**
  • 8 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 stalk fresh rosemary
  • 10-12 stems of thyme
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream or half & half
  • 1/4 c. parmesan, grated
  • 1 pint small tomatoes (cherry, grape, cabernet, etc)

*If you want to avoid alcohol entirely, you can replace the wine with an equal amount of broth + a splash of vinegar.

**I used equal parts button and shiitake mushrooms.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Toss the pint of tomatoes with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, until well coated.  Pour the tomatoes onto the baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Once the time is up (sometime during your span of cooking the risotto), turn off the oven and leave the tomatoes inside to stay warm.

Set a pot on the stovetop over medium heat.  Fill with the broth and add 2 sage leaves, a few stems of thyme, and one crushed garlic clove.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down low.

Prep the veggies: Finely dice the shallots.  Mince the remaining garlic cloves.  Dice the mushrooms.

In a large pan, over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and then add the chopped shallots.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until the shallots are softened.  Add the arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter.  Cook for about 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the rice turns opaque and smells a little toasted.  Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring, for one more minute.  Add the white wine and continue stirring until the liquid is absorbed.  Stir in the mushrooms.  Add a ladle-full of hot broth and continue stirring.  Just keep on stirring to release the starch of the rice, which makes risotto super creamy.  The liquid will begin to be absorbed until when you pull your spoon across the pan, there will be a second or two where you can see the trail of the spoon before the rice mixture begins to pool back together.  Then it is time to add another ladle of broth and stir some more.  Always keep stirring and adding a ladle of broth once the previous is absorbed.  When you are down to just one more ladle of broth, chop up and add the herbs.  When all of the broth has been added to the pan and absorbed by the rice mixture, add the cream, parmesan, and the final tablespoon of butter.  Stir until the cream is absorbed.

Top with the roasted tomatoes and serve immediately.


Pumpkin-Coconut Custard

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Hello, hello!  Long time, no see.  I know, that’s all my fault of course. I have been distracted by a couple of projects this month, not the least of which is preparing for yet another showcase weekend swiftly approaching in mid-December.   I am 99% certain that all of the set is sketched out.  Since we are using foam board to create replaceable-facing style of set, it is possible that I missed one of the 48 piece of foam board that I am using to create the set.  I will find out soon enough–I’ve started piecing it all together and hope to get to painting next week.  I’m also on sound duty, though two of the shows are a little too intensive for me to go at creating them alone.  I’ll have to take advantage of M’s expertise there.  I’m thinking every small-company, multiple-hat-wearing theater administrator should have an audio engineer for a boyfriend.  They are exceedingly useful!

This week has been a little bit of an extra battle.  Every showcase for, at least, the last year-and-a-half of my two-ish years of stage managing our showcases, inevitably, I break on in hives on my face.  Typically, I get them in the last week or two and I am left with an itchy face all weekend.  This season, they’ve come early, at four weeks out from performance.  Worse, the temperature dropped at the same time, hovering in the thirties.  I’ve worn no make-up all week.  I picked up some hydrocortisone cream, but that actually made it worse.  I woke up red and stinging.  So, I’ve been reduced to dabbing tea tree oil and aloe vera, as that seems to be all that my skin can withstand while it is so cold and dry outside.  I’d nearly gotten rid of the hive, just to have them flair up again.  I am hoping some rest during the holiday break will be enough stress-relief to clear them all up.

Punc is also really disliking the cold, so at least I have company in my misery.  As a notorious seat-stealer, but anti-cuddler, Punc has thrown all of her rules out the window for the winter.  She sneaks up onto our bed in the early morning and wriggles up into the warm spot in between the two of us.  Whenever either of us sits down, she is quick to climb up beside us, making enough contact to start stealing body heat.  I’ve been thinking about getting her another coat, since she is looking pitiful so much more often these days.  The only one we have right now is a big, bulky coat that makes her look like a cosmonaut.  It works wonderfully for walks, but is a little inhibiting to wear around the house.  All in all, I don’t think I will have a puppy who is fully happy again until Spring.

M and I have finally figured out Thanksgiving.  We knew we would be sticking close to home, due to his work schedule, but we will be having dinner with his mum and whomever else we can get to join us.  I’ll be bringing my Knock-off Pepperidge Farms Gluten-Free Cornbread Stuffing.  I will be following that recipe, plus adding 3/4 c. each of whole cranberries and roughly-chopped, peeled chestnuts.  I tried this combo last Thanksgiving and it was fantastic!  Tart cranberries and soft, cozy chestnuts contrast perfectly against the herby cornbread backdrop.  I’ll also be using my Favorite Gluten-Free Pie Crust to make an apple pie and a pumpkin pie (unless I decide to make pumpkin cheesecake, or even this custard!).  M requested I make Popovers, which I think are the perfect roll for Thanksgiving: light and airy.  Who wants to fill up on rolls with the decadence of an entire Thanskgiving feast on the table?  Popovers are a nice compliment, without feeling so heavy.  It’ll be nice to have a low-key Thanksgiving Day.  I don’t even know if I will be going out for Black Friday shopping.  I may find something that I just have to purchase, but at the moment, I can’t think of anything.  This is also my very first paid holiday, which is pretty exciting!  I even managed to pay off one of my student loans in this first month on full-time salary!  Hurray!  I’m still working on creating my first true budget, now that I can plan with a steady income, but I’m getting there.  Baby steps, right?

Anyways, amidst all these projects, I decided to try eating semi-paleo (no grains, no dairy, no legumes) for a week.  This is a pretty huge challenge, though I tried not to think about it.  I pretty much subsist on yogurt and cheese.  So, as you might expect…I lasted 3 days.  I know that it wasn’t long enough to truly reset, but I didn’t notice any difference either way.  Eating a big bowl of cheesy pasta when I finally broke had no adverse effects.  Sure, it wasn’t a true test, but I was mostly seeing if I could actually manage to eat grain-free and dairy-free.  Obviously not.  I also found myself consuming a lot more sweeteners, which probably is not acceptable on paleo.  I am also sure that the only way that I survived was making this Coconut-Pumpkin Custard on day #1.  It soon became dessert and breakfast, and is a dish I will certainly make again.

This dish is pretty plain to look at, but the smooth coconut paired with the sweet flavor of lightly-spiced pumpkin is a match made in heaven!

Pumpkin-Coconut Custard

  • 2 c. pureed pumpkin*
  • 1 14 oz can full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

*Canned is fine, but I used scratch-made pumpkin puree (1 sugar/pie pumpkin split in half and roasted at 425 degrees F for 40 minutes. Scoop out the seeds and discard.  Cool pumpkin, then scoop the flesh out of the pumpkin skin and puree until smooth in a food processor) because I had a sugar pumpkin on hand.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch (for a thinner custard) or a 9 x 9 inch (for a thicker custard) casserole dish.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, maple syrup, and sugar.  Stir in coconut milk until thoroughly combine.  Then add pumpkin puree, all spices, and vanilla extract.  Mix well.  Pour in greased dish and bake for 35-45 minutes, until the top is lightly browned and the custard jiggles slightly, but is not liquid at the center of the dish.

Serve warm or cold, by itself or with whipped coconut cream, or with ice cream.

Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.


My Favorite Tomato Basil Soup

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We are falling quickly into Fall!  I am a-okay with that (except for the impending leaf mold–ugh, my allergies are inescapable).  Fall is my favorite season and–now that we have hit the first of October–I can start including pumpkin in all of my recipes without shame!  Well, truth be told, aside from Dunkin’s pumpkin coffee, I still haven’t been hit with major pumpkin cravings.  Tikka masala, on the other hand, I would like to eat for dinner every night for the rest of time.  Ahem.  I had a life-changing dish of tikka masala when we went out to eat with M’s mum and aunt last week.  Seriously, I am still dreaming about it.  I may try to adapt Aarti’s recipe for a slow-cooker.  My crockpot is my saving grace these days.  I have a slightly new schedule that includes two later evenings per week.  Though I’m still home within a fairly reasonable time, given M’s unpredictable schedule, its easier for me to set something to cook through the day so he can eat it early if he has an evening call.  And with our Saturday classes starting this weekend (Auditions! My favorite day!) our schedules are back to being downright hectic.  We will adjust soon enough…I was almost getting bored with normal days.

That reminds me: I have this new schedule, in part, because I–technically–have a new job!  Really, its more like an uber-promotion.  I’m still with the same companies that I love and adore, but I am officially a salaried employee!  Yep, this twenty-something has finally landed the grown-up job!  Guys, I’m comparing insurance plans and everything!  Whoa.  My first ‘day’ is next week, and then I have orientation the following week and we get right on rolling like nothing has changed.  Except that Columbus day will be my first paid holiday ever!  Anyways, to say the least, it is super comforting that I don’t have to worry about securing benefits and can really focus on my job full-time.  I did have to give up my box office job, which was sadder than I thought.  But, chances are, I will probably see more shows now that I am not working at the venue, and I expect I’ll be stopping by to visit and chat.  M still works there, so I’ll certainly keep up with everyone.  They all love Punc there, too, and I am sure they wouldn’t mind a visit or two from her.

In the meantime, while I can’t yet give you a recipe that will make you fall head-over-heels in love with Tikka Masala…I can maybe do the same for Tomato Basil Soup.  I’ve talked about my childhood of picky eating before.  When I finally decided I could eat soup (savory liquids were too weird for a while), it was a couple years before I would eat any soup except for Tomato Basil.  Thus, I am quite well-versed in all of the variations of Tomato Basil soup: unfussy versions with little-to-no cream where the tomato flavors stands out boldly all the way to the soft, smooth versions where cream and butter soften the brisk tomato edge.  This recipe, my favorite, sits somewhere in the middle.  The cream and butter make this rich and filling, but using the tomato juice along with the tomatoes and tomato paste prevents that bright tomato flavor from being overwhelmed.  A touch of lemon and basil add just enough depth to keep things interesting.  The best thing is, this soup comes together in under 30 minutes for a quick, comforting dinner!

LM Tomato soup dinner 2

Tomato Basil Soup

Serves: 4 | Prep Time: 5 min. | Cook time: 20 min.

  •  1 (15 oz) can of high quality crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 2 c. tomato juice
  • 2 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • about 10 basil leaves
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 4 Tbsp. butter

Add the tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato paste, lemon zest, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  If using an immersion blender: drop the basil into the soup and blend to desired consistency.  I like a slightly chunky soup.  If using a blender: please only fill the blender halfway–or less!  The heat and steam will expand and you will risk painful splatter if you overfill the blender.  Do the soup in multiple portions if needed.  Using a blender, I would blend about half of the total soup to get the thick consistency I prefer.  Return all soup to the pot, stir in cream and butter.  Stir occasionally until butter is melted, then stir briskly to fully incorporate all ingredients.  Serve immediately.


Balsamic-Peach Caprese Salad

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Fall. Pumpkin. Leaves. Fall! Pumpkin Spice! Leaves!  FALL.  PUMPKIN SPICE….I get it.  I really do.  Fall is my absolute, unequivocal favorite season and I have been more than happy to pull on sweaters while daydreaming about the not-so-far-off time that the crisp weather that accompanies me on morning walk will last all day long.  Yes, I am excited for fall.

Here’s the deal.  It isn’t fall quiteyet.  We are still hitting 70’s here, with strong sunlight that keep our afternoons warm (downright hot, if you couldn’t resist a sweater while getting dressed this morning.  Thank goodness for chilly offices).  And, while decorative gourds and sweet potatoes are showing up at the farmer’s market, the tomatoes, peaches, and melons are still overflowing.  Even if I am wearing a sweater, I am not ready to kiss “summer food” goodbye.  Braising and stews and soups can wait.  I’m going to go eat a peach.

As well as my resistance to fall, another odd change has occurred.  I’ve never been a fruit-on-salad kind of person.  While I’m sure I’ve had one or two very delicious salads with strawberries in my life, and I will jump at the chance to add dried cranberries into salads; the thought of fresh fruit mixed among greens and vegetables has been less than appetizing.  Occasionally, I will get a hankering for mandarin oranges on an Asian-style salad, but only with a lot of sesame dressing, tender chicken, and crunchy seeds.  I have realized, however, is if the greens and lettuces are decreased and the more weighty vegetables are increased, I tend to love the fruit+vegetable combo.  Add a bit of cheese and I am totally sold.  I don’t know why it has taken me so long to come to this realization.  I’ve been pairing fruit in meat dishes for ages: apples and pork, pineapple in asian dishes, lemons and oranges with chicken.  I love the sweet+savoury profile.  With this new expanse of fruit and vegetable dishes to explore, I have been happily pairing and partnering any fresh produce I can get my hands on.  I have been keeping the produce raw, cold, and fresh–still distinctly in the summer season for these dishes.

On Labor Day weekend, M and I had our mothers over to catch up after ignoring being unable to see much of them during the camp season.  It was only a day after we returned from North Carolina, and after a weekend of trying new restaurants, pizza, ice cream, and road trip snacks, all I wanted was vegetables.  While M took care of the short ribs, I mixed up kale salad, potatoes with mojo verde sauce, a ton of grilled veggies, and the crowning glory: this Balsamic-Peach Caprese salad.  Adding peach to caprese is certainly not a new idea, but one I had avoided for a long time, given my thoughts on fruit and vegetables intermingling.  But I saw it (and did not order it) on the menu at the Saxapahaw General Store and it struck a chord with me.  I am so happy that I made that salad.  I only had the chance to take one photo before everyone in attendance devoured it, but I will continue to make this as long as I can get my hands on peaches and tomatoes.

Caprese is one of the simplest salads to put together, yet it looks beautiful and special.  Yes, I am well aware that true Caprese means tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and just a touch of salt and olive oil.  But I also love the little zing that a bit of balsamic vinegar and black pepper can add to that mix.  These also compliment the peaches sweetness perfectly.  Ripe peaches have the texture of the perfect tomato: where the flesh is firm and there isn’t too much of the seeds to squish and get slimy.  Between the texture and the sweetness, peaches are the perfect addition to the already perfect Caprese.

A couple of slices, a sprinkle of salt, and a little drizzle of olive oil are all that separate you from this fresh, delicious salad.  Be sure to use the highest quality ingredients that you can find–in such a simple salad, every ingredient shines.

Balsamic-Peach Caprese Salad

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: N/A

  • 4 oz fresh mozzarella
  • 3-4 small or 1-2 large, firm tomatoes (I used campari)
  • 1 large, ripe peach
  • 1 handful of fresh basil leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. high-quality olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper

Thinly slice the mozzarella.  I usually get an 8 oz ball and cut it in half, then slice from there.  The smaller pieces of cheese are more on scale with my small campari tomatoes.  (Typically, I count the slice of cheese that I end up with, so I can cut the peaches and tomatoes accordingly).  Slice the tomatoes, then the peach into slightly thicker slices.  Add the peaches slices to a bowl, pour the balsamic vinegar over the peaches and mix gently to coat. (This spreads the balsamic flavor through the whole dish, and, unlike drizzling the vinegar over everything, keeps the cheese white, rather than staining it brown).  Layer a piece of cheese, a basil leaf, a tomato slice, and a peach slice.  Repeat until all slices are organized into the pattern on the plate(s).  Drizzle olive oil over the dish, then sprinkle salt and pepper.  Serve cold or at room temperature.  Refrigerate leftovers promptly.


A Quick Pumpkin Smoothie

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My breakfasts are pretty routine, but certainly driven by the season.  Summer=cold breakfast, winter=hot breakfast.  Fall and spring get a little muddled. While eggs of some kind are always an option (I think I ordered eggs and fries 90% of the times that we visited the after-9pm eatery on campus during my college years–no meal is better at 1am), but eggs do take a little bit more cook time.  This is mostly due to the fact that we do not own a toaster.  Since we freeze our GF bread, thawing and toasting is pretty much a requirement.  Also, the last thing I want to do is start off my morning with multiple dirty pans.  So eggs require shifts: toast, then bacon or sausage if we want, then eggs in the same pan; and these shifts take just a minute or two more than I can spare on most days.  Oatmeal can easily be changed up with different add-ins, keeping breakfast interesting.  I don’t often have cold cereal in the house, but if we have it, it works on the fly.  Though I almost always prefer a hot breakfast, I can sometimes manage a cold one if it is served alongside hot coffee.  I need something hot to eat/drink in the mornings, even in the blazing summer.  When I can manage a cold breakfast, yogurt and smoothies are my favorite.  I can occasionally pack some spinach into my smoothies, but my poor, little 5-year-old magic bullet blender has certainly seen better days.  Of late, I’m usually left with diced spinach in some fruit goop.  Not especially appetizing.  I have had great success with avocado and cucumber smoothies, but I haven’t taken the time to snap a photo.  Lately though, if I am looking for some vegetable matter blended into breakfast, it is coming in squash and sweet potato form.  I’ve already baked both into muffins.  When I can put the same with some milk, spices, grains, nuts, and seeds, and have it taste eerily like a dessert: game on.  This smoothie, just like every other pumpkin smoothie on the web, taste like pumpkin pie.  But, this has the award for being one of the only smoothies containing oats or nuts that I have found palatable.  I’m not big on graininess that usually accompanies these ingredients as they enter the smoothie realm.  Here, both ingredients contribute the “crust” flavor, and, when well-blended, boost the thick, creamy texture of this drink.

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Pumpkin Pie Smoothie 

Serves: 1 | Prep: 2-3 minutes | Cook: —

  • 1/2 c. pureed pumpkin, frozen*
  • 3/4 c. milk or yogurt (non-dairy is fine)**
  • 1 Tbsp. ground flax seed
  • 1-2 tsp. chia seeds
  • 1-3 tsp honey, agave, sugar, maple syrup or molasses (my favorites here), to taste
  • 1-2 Tbsp. chopped pecans, optional
  • 2-4 Tbsp. GF rolled or instant oats, uncooked
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ginger, ground
  • dash turmeric***
  • dash salt
  • ice cubes*

*A frozen element creates that frothy delicious texture I’m looking for in smoothie.  If the pumpkin is frozen, you will not need the ice cubes.  Vice versa, add the ice if you pumpkin is refrigerated or at room temperature.

**Using yogurt will create a much thicker smoothie.  You may have to add some liquid (water or milk) to thin to your desired consistency.

***I am working on sneaking more turmeric into my diet in every possible way–so whenever a recipe calls for ginger, I add a dash or two of turmeric as well.

Add ingredients to blender in order listed.  Blend well, pulsing several times then blending for 1-3 minutes until smooth.  If intolerant to oats, replace with additional half Tablespoon of flax seed and additional teaspoon chia seed.   Blend well, then allow smoothie to rest for 5 minutes, then blend again for 30 seconds.  The flax seed and chia seeds will help to thicken the smoothie without oats.


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Sweet & Smokey Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

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We have finally had a much-needed, relaxing weekend here.  With my company’s weekend classes starting next Saturday, I know it is probably our last ‘official’ (that is Saturday-Sunday) weekend off, but I’d even be happy with a few more instances of Sunday-Monday or Monday-Tuesday freedom–some kind of weekend-type spread, wherever it might occur during the week. Again, working in the arts and entertainment industries keep M and I on strange schedules.  But M actually had both Saturday and Sunday off, and, aside from a brief Saturday morning shift, I was free as well.  After sleeping in (to a glorious 8:30 AM…oh, adulthood) M spent Saturday on a day-long bachelor party for his friend–go-carts, skeet shooting, bars, steaks, and beer pong with the boys.  Punc and I headed over to visit my mother and let Punc get some energy out by playing with my mom’s dogs.  I didn’t do much beyond chat with my mother (and visit her baby turtles–head over to my Instagram to see them! –>), but it was lovely to simply sit and do nothing for a while. I did go through my great-grandmother’s recipe box for ideas for a new project of mine.  I will hopefully have more news on that soon!

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Today, after another lie-in, M and I walked Punc and I actually climbed back into bed after my shower for another nap–guess I needed a bit more catch-up for my sleep bank!  M and I went to an oyster roast with his coworkers and I came home with a bag full of apples from our friend’s parents’ farm.  They’d pushed a full milk crate onto him and his roommates, but I was happy to take a pound or two off their hands!  I will probably bake a few into something sweet, but I think most are destined to become apple butter…which will then probably find its way into a baked good. Now, I’ve banished myself upstairs while M watches the Breaking Bad finale.  I’m lagging in season two, simply for lack of time.  Usually, he will wait and watch it online on his iPad after I’ve gone to bed, but I figured the end should be on a real television.

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M and I are going down to North Carolina this week for the wedding.  I am stocking up on NookBooks and hoping M will have as brilliant of a find as our last road trip’s The Bone Season for our audiobook.  We’ll be gone from Thursday to Sunday.  While he has a host of wedding party duties, I’m hoping I can get some serious relaxation in before we hit the race of Fall: Fall/Winter = holidays and Holidays = a lot of work in all of our jobs.  Hopefully I can squeeze in another post before we go and maybe I’ll find something inspiring over the weekend!

Today, I have a delectable recipe for Tomatillo Salsa that has been waiting quite patiently for some time.  My recipes are stacking up–pumpkin smoothies, several variations of the softest peasant bread imaginable, and even some veggie-packed muffins are waiting for their turn on this blog.  This salsa is perfect: though I am desperately clinging to tomatoes as summer comes to a close, I’ve been seeing tomatillos everywhere, still going strong.  Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of all of the vegetables, and can help prevent the watery taste that can sometimes come with tomatillos.  If you are looking for something a bit different to top your chips, give this salsa a try!

 

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Sweet & Smokey Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Serves: 8-10* | Prep time: 15 min. | Cook time: 30 min

  • 1 pint tomatillos (about 5-6 large, or 10-15 small or medium)
  • 1 small green bell pepper
  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 1 large sweet yellow onion
  • 4-8 garlic cloves, peeled (to taste–I used 7)
  • 1-2 jalapeño peppers** (optional)
  • 1/2 c. packed cilantro
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. good olive oil
  • salt & black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Shuck the tomatillos by firmly grasping the stem and twisting.  The stem and papery skin should be easily removed.  Roughly chop tomatillos, all peppers (de-vein and de-seed jalapeños for less heat, leave some or all veins and seeds in for more heat), and onion.  Mix vegetables and garlic and spread in single layer over a parchment paper-lined, lightly oiled baking sheet.  Sprinkle lightly with salt.  Roast for 30 minutes, until vegetables are soft.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Add roasted vegetables to a blender or food processor with cilantro, lime juice, sugar, olive oil, and additional salt and pepper.  Pulse to desired consistency.  If necessary, stir in more salt and pepper with a spoon, so as not to further liquify.  Chill at least 30 minutes before serving, or store tightly sealed in refrigerator for up to a week.

*As a dip.  If using to cover enchiladas, etc this should spread over 4-6 servings.  Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

**I did not include any jalapeños in the photos above–the salsa was incredibly mild, allowing the roasted sweetness and smoke to shine through.  The jalapeños are used to directly influence your preferred heat level.


Autumn Expectations and Butternut Squash Gnocchi

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We had the first glimmers of autumn here in the past few day: a gentle crispness in the mornings when we take Punc out for her walk and cool breezes throughout the days.  I, of course, pounced on this brief respite from the heat and took my cue to start thinking of all of the stereotypical fall plans.  Pumpkin-everything, baking apples nine different ways, sweaters, and cool days and long, darkening evenings.  Yes, I harbor a deep love for fall, for all of the stereotypical reasons.  As mentioned, with my primary job working with children, our schedule revolves around theirs.  We can segment the year into Fall, Spring, and Summer.  Naturally, the oncoming of September each year has developed into a transition-type period in my life, and the hints of a season change only strengthens that feeling.  After a long, hot summer, I am longing for the blustery, cool weather.  This year especially, I find myself earnestly awaiting the season’s shift.  Fall feels fresh; encouraging cozy clothes and the promise of fires in the hearth.  As much as I have dreamy musings of wanderlust (long walks, new places, all colored with autumn leaves); I find myself craving stillness even more.  I want stretches of quiet, allowing for reflection and reading.  I want a quilt, a cup of tea, and a new book to keep me company as the day creeps from afternoon to night.  I fully plan on getting what I want–I’m drafting up quite a list of books waiting to be read, and I’m compiling simple or long-and-slow cooked recipes for dinner, to simplify my evenings after work.  Less stress, more rest–that is my plan for the coming few months.

gnocchi close up

I have been putting more effort into socializing as well.  Living with my significant other and a roommate fulfills my basic need for conversation and camaraderie, but I do miss spending time with other girls, and the friends that have been close to me for years.  It is so easy to get stuck in the rut of a daily routine: See roommates at home, see coworkers at work, come home, dinner, tv, bed, repeat.   With my strange arts schedule keeping me working on weekends, meeting up with people with more “routine” schedules is all the more challenging.  I am trying harder to keep connections as more friends are getting engaged, getting married, having babies, and moving across the country.  Everyone is busy, but the initiative to see one another has to start somewhere.  I am putting more effort into taking that initiative.  (Plus, then I have an excuse to go to brunch/coffee/dinner–why didn’t I start reaching out earlier?)

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I also feel like I haven’t really been listening lately.  Not in a “can you repeat that” sense, but I have noticed myself interrupting more, and pushing to express my opinion.  I am giving the people around me only half of my attention as I think about my own response–before they are even finished speaking.  So there is another goal for this season: give all of my attention and listen fully to another’s story, anecdote, complaint, idea, sentence until it is complete.

gnocchi

This recipe for butternut squash gnocchi fits with all of my goals and with my seasonal obsessions:  squash is one of my quintessential ‘fall flavors’ and these gnocchi make a filling, comforting dish.  Plus, the preparation of the dough is a simple, meditative task that, while somewhat time consuming, allows for mindless relaxation or a long conversation with whomever you can lure into the kitchen.  I’ll pour M a drink and force him to sit with me!

gnocchi salad plate

Gluten-Free Butternut Squash Gnocchi

Adapted from: Iowa Girl Eats

Serves: 6|Prep time: 60-90 minutes|Cook time: 5-10 minutes

  • 2-2.5 lb butternut squash
  • 1 c. brown rice flour (or white rice flour)*
  • 3 Tbsp. buckwheat flour (or millet, oat, teff, or a heaping measure of quinoa flour)*
  • 1/4 c. + 1 Tbsp tapioca starch*
  • Up to 1/2 c. additional flour (2 Tbsp. tapioca starch + 6 Tbsp. brown rice flour or more of the mix)
  • Additional flour for coating the rolling surface
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper, ground
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp sage, ground, optional
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, optional

*Or use 1 1/2 c. total of your preferred GF flour mix–a low starch mix is preferred–my combo here is around 20% starch.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line baking sheet with foil and coat lightly with oil.  Pierce the squash several times with the tines of a fork or the point of a sharp knife.  Split the squash in half.  Remove the seeds and discard, or save for roasting.  Roast the squash, cut side down, for one hour.  Remove the squash from oven, let cool for 10 minutes, then scoop out the flesh.  Mash well, then spread on a plate or cookie sheet to cool completely.

In a large bowl, mix the cooled, mashed squash with the egg and parmesan cheese.  Whisk together all spices and flours in a small bowl.  Add 1 1/2 cups of flour mix to the wet mixture, stir and knead until a smooth, uniform dough forms.  If too wet, add up to 1/4 c. additional flour, in small increments, kneading in between, until dough is smooth and slightly tacky to the touch.  The dough should pull away from the bowl.  Refrigerate dough for 10-15 minutes.

Flour your work surface and your hands well.  Split cooled dough into large segments.  Take each segment and roll into a long rope on a well-floured surface.  The rope should be 1/2 inch- 1 inch in diameter.  Cut rope into 1-inch segments, coat lightly in flour.  You can either leave the segments unshaped and rustic, or roll them into the traditional gnocchi shape over a fork or gnocchi paddle.

To Serve Immediately: Boil a pot of salted water on the stove.  Drop the gnocchi in one-by-one in small batches, stirring once after 30 seconds to prevent from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until gnocchi floats at the surface.  Ladle out the pasta, into a saucepan with 1 Tbsp of butter+1/8 tsp. ground sage (per serving of gnocchi).  Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring gently, until gnocchi is lightly browned.  Serve with grated parmesan or crumbled goat’s cheese, or feta and balsamic vinegar.  I’ve also made it with sliced sausage, onions, and wilted greens as ‘add-ins’ that can be added to the gnocchi in the saucepan.  This gnocchi would be delicious with a variety of sauces.

To Freeze and Cook Later: Before placing kneaded dough in fridge, knead in an addition 2-4 Tbsp of flour mixture*.  Place in fridge for 10-15 minutes. Flour your work surface and your hands well.  Split cooled dough into large segments.  Take each segment and roll into a long rope on a well-floured surface.  The rope should be 1/2 inch- 1 inch in diameter.  Cut rope into 1-inch segments, coat lightly in flour.  You can either leave the segments unshaped and rustic, or roll them into the traditional gnocchi shape over a fork or gnocchi paddle.  Place formed gnocchi on a cookie sheet and freeze flat overnight.  In the morning, transfer to a freezer-proof bag.  Cook from frozen–do not thaw.