Tropical Smoothie Bowl

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Here’s a delicious & nutritious breakfast that feels at once light and satiating.  I like that it happens to be vegan, gluten-free and paleo all at once, while delivering so many benefits in one bowl.  Namely, vitamins and minerals (found in the fruits) combined with slow-release energy sources of protein, Omega 3 and medium-chain fatty acids (found in the chia seeds and coconut).

I hope you’ll try it, have fun with the toppings, and agree that it is yummy and very satisfying!

Tropical Smoothie Bowl

  • Servings: 1-2
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Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbsp Chia Seeds
  • 1 Cup Coconut Water
  • 1 Cup Light Coconut Milk
  • 1/2 Small Papaya, seeded and cut into cubes
  • 1 Cup Frozen Blueberries
  • Juice from one Lime
  • 1/2 Fresh Mango, cut into cubes
  • 1 Tbsp Shredded Coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
  • Handful of Granola

Steps:

Overnight portion:

  • Make a chia pudding by combining the coconut water and milk, then adding the seeds.  Stir, cover and store in the refrigerator overnight.

The following day:

  • Blend 1/2 of the chia pudding with the papaya, lime juice and frozen blueberries.  If the consistency is slightly too thick, add additional coconut water or milk as needed.
  • Place the blended pudding in a bowl and top with mango, shredded coconut and granola.

To make two servings, simply use all of the chia pudding and double the fruit and toppings.

Inspired By…

Among other new projects, I’ve been playing with some photo editing software and wanted to share some early results.  I have noticed lately a proliferation of inspiring new things, from a refresh on a long standing favorite magazine (welcome Amy Astley, new Editor-in-Chief to Arch Digest) to the replacement on Instagram of #avocadotoast with a blessed bevy of new snacks, to the unglamorous hotspot Sqirl (LA… & soon NY?), home of the best scone I have ever had, to decor stores that soothe my soul the way a museum can, and while a little intimidated ongoing, and possibly a little envious, I would like to push the envelop in terms of my own contributions.   I want to join the fray rather than continue to sit in silent contemplation of what I might contribute as the train of all things beautiful, compelling and creative whizzes by.   Lessons learned by waiting for perfection, or something closer to it, remind me that I have only been disappointed that I didn’t start a given project or effort sooner.  So here’s my first stab at reaching beyond a bit on the creative front, click on any image for a larger carousel of the gallery.

Sweet & Savory Brown Rice Porridge

Sweet & Savory Brown Rice Porridge

While briefly living in California, I was lucky enough to be invited out to the Clif Family Winery for a bikeride through Napa valley with a few of their team members, including Clif Family’s fantastic Executive Chef John McConnell.  Before the ride, John prepared a wonderful breakfast for our small group including this eye opening brown rice porridge.  I was out of my seat after one bite to ask him exactly how it’s made, and he generously shared the many details on how this dish comes together, plus why it’s a great choice for a pre-ride breakfast.

Brown rice can easily be ground up, using a strong spice-grinder or powerful blender, and then cooked more or less like polenta.  John described his slow-cooking process for the pulverized grains, and then shared how the dish is finished with a bit of olive oil and maple syrup, plus toasted sesame seeds.

This porridge is nutritious and filling yet manages to be both delicious and light and easy on the stomach.  (For those maintaining specific diets, it is gluten and refined-sugar free.)  Not only is the brown rice loaded with minerals, it has a high fiber content which helps with long term satiation, in part due to better managed blood sugar levels.  The olive oil aids with satiation too, thanks to its healthy fats.  And the combination of the sweet and savory makes this highly crave-able, hence my attempt this week.  I was thrilled to call this a success, even if it is not quite as sublime as John’s out at Clif Family!

Sweet & Savory Brown Rice Porridge

  • Servings: 2
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Hands-On Time: 10 – 15 minutes

Special Equipment: Blender, Dutch Oven or glazed cast iron pot with cover.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Cup Short-Grain Brown Rice, uncooked
  • Salt
  • Olive Oil
  • Maple Syrup
  • 1/4 Cup Sunflower Seeds, toasted

Steps:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350 Degrees F.
  • Set 2 cups of salted water in the Dutch Oven over med-high heat to bring to a boil
  • Meanwhile, grind the brown rice in the blender, first on a low setting, then higher.  The finished product should be medium-fine (vs dusty).
  • Gradually add the ground brown rice to the boiling water, whisking to prevent clumps.  Once fully incorporated, cover, and place in the oven for ten minutes.
  • Remove from oven and whisk to remove any clumps.  Season with a pinch of salt, and approximately 1 Tbsp Olive Oil, replace the cover, and let rest for 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve garnished with a drizzle of oil, maple syrup, toasted sunflower seeds, plus any fruit you may like.

 

Lemon, Olive Oil & Thyme Muffins

Tuscan-Inspired Lemon Olive Oil Muffins

These easy muffins are a nice departure from the typical sweeter ones I usually make – on the savorier side of the spectrum, but in this case by savory I mean a bit tangy, thanks to the lemon.  The cornmeal adds a sturdy bite and the olive oil just enough richness.  Be careful about the yogurt selection, as it can swing these into the too-tangy category!  ‘Traditional’ (e.g. not Greek) plain yogurt does the trick.

Enjoy these mid-week treats – delicious with honey!

Lemon, Olive Oil & Thyme Muffins

  • Servings: 8
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Hands-On Time: 15 minutes

Special Equipment: Microplane or Lemon Zester

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 3/4 Cups Cornmeal
  • 2 & 1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/4 Tsp Salt
  • Grated Lemon Rind from One Whole Lemon
  • 4-5 Stalks worth of Fresh Thyme Leaves
  • 1/2 Cup Granulated White Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Plain Yogurt (Not Greek)
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 2 Tbsp Water
  • Cooking Spray (Olive Oil Spray recommended)

Steps:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 357 Degrees F.
  • Coat muffin tin with non-stick spray and set aside.
  • Add flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, lemon rind and thyme to a mixing bowl, whisk to throughly incorporate.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, egg and water.
  • Pour the wet mixture into dry, and mix until just combined.
  • Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, done when a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Let cool 10-15 minutes before removing from tin.

 

Homemade Snickers Bars

Homemade Snickers Bars

These homemade Snickers bars will delight one and all who tried them.  They happen to be vegan.  While the bars have no refined sugar, facing facts one must concede they are still rather indulgent.   The bars will last up to two weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.

The recipe is originally from the blog Livia’s Kitchen, and is by Livia’s Kitchen founder Olivia Wallenberg.  I duplicated the recipe using a kitchen scale to help translate the original recipe, as several ingredients were listed by weight vs volume.  I did my best to work out the weight to volume equivalents – aince the bars are not baked, I believe there is more room for interpretation in the measurements.  Hopefully the photos, plus a bit of common sense about bar consistency in general, are a helpful guide in terms of texture and consistency.

Homemade Snickers

  • Servings: 12
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Hands-On Time: 20 minutes

Special Equipment: Food Processor, 8×8″ Sq Baking Tin

Ingredients:

Nougat Base:

  • Heaping Cup Rolled (Not Instant) Oats
  • 1/2 Cup Almond Butter
  • 4 Tbsp Maple Syrup
  • 2 Tbsp Coconut Oil, Melted
  • 1&1/2 Tsp Vanilla Extract

Peanut Caramel:

  • 2 Cups Medjool Dates, pitted
  • 1/4 Tsp Salt
  • 1/3 Cup Peanut Butter
  • 1/2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1Tbsp Coconut Oil, melted
  • 1/4 Cup Whole Peanuts, toasted
  • Scant Tbsp Water

Chocolate Topping:

  • 3/4 Cup Coconut Oil
  • 3/4 Cup Cocoa Powder
  • 2 Tsp Vanilla
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 4 Tbsp Maple Syrup

Steps:

Line the baking pan with plastic wrap, so that two opposing ends of the wrap have space to hang over the edge, and set aside.

Make the Nougat Base:

  • Place the oats in the food processor and blend until throughly cut down, close to a flour-like consistency.
  • Add the remaining nougat ingredients and blend until throughly incorporated. Mixture will be like wet sand.
  • Spread the base mixture into the prepared baking pan, using the spatula to press and smooth out an even layer.
  • Set pan in freezer.

Make the Peanut Caramel:

  • Add all ingredients *except the peanuts* to the food processor.
  • Pulse several times to bring together.
  • Add the peanuts and plus again to incorporate.  You’ll have a dense ball once combined.
  •  Add the peanut caramel to the base the same way, using the spatula to press and smooth out the layer.
  • Return pan to freezer.

Make the Chocolate Topping:

  • Melt the coconut oil over low heat.
  • Add the remaining ingredients to the melted oil and whisk to throughly incorporate.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  • Pour the chocolate mixture over the peanut caramel layer, again smoothing out the layer/creating swirls as desired with the spatula.

Place in freezer two-three hours.

To cut, removed from freezer and let the batch sit for 15-20 minutes to avoid cracking the chocolate when cutting.

Use the plastic wrap liner as ‘handles’ to remove the entire block.  Set on a cutting board and use a heavy-duty, sharp knife to cut individual bars.

Homemade Snickers Bars with-Converstions

Aromatics-Stuffed Artichokes

Stuffed Artichokes

With artichoke season here and the delicious if at times intimidating vegetable widely available, I wanted to share a highly adaptable (e.g. use what’s on hand) recipe for stuffed artichokes.

The first thing to know is how to trim the leaves.  When you first pick up a ‘choke, you’ll notice that each of the leaves comes to a sharp point (a thorn really) and because of their thick and layered nature seem tough to trim.  But it’s actually really easy – just use kitchen scissors and it takes about :15 seconds to work all the leaves.

Trimmed Artichoke

Since in this case we’re making stuffed artichokes, you can trim the leaves way back – you can only eat the bottom part anyway (more on that later).  Once you’ve removed all the thorns, continue by pulling out the center leaves, which are much less dense – they will pull out very easily.  Trim the outer leaves back even more if necessary to get down to the very center, which you’ll see is covered with short, thistley type fibers.

Once you’ve trimmed the leaves, use the scissors to cut off the stem, so that the bottom of the artichoke is flat.  The stem will also cut remarkably easily.  Save the stems as they’ll be peeled/trimmed some more and then used in the stuffing.

Trimmed Artichoke with More of the Heart Showing

Next, use an ice cream scooper to removed the fibers, which sit just above the ‘heart’ of the artichoke.  The brown part you see in the photo below is the artichoke heart.  It turns brown almost instantly once the fibers are removed, nothing to worry about.

Trimmed and Cored Artichoke

Now, 2-3 minutes later, you’re ready to stuff and cook the artichokes!  It’s really fun to serve these since they are unlike any other food likely to be in the average repertoire.  They are pretty to look at and delicious to eat.  And you now know that they’re really easy to prep.

The recipe below is more of an art than a science – if you don’t like a strong garlic presence for example, simply use less that what’s listed here.

Aromatics-Stuffed Artichokes

  • Servings: 3-4
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Hands-On Time: 15-20 minutes

Special Equipment: Lemon Zester or Microplane, Heavy-Bottomed Pot or Dutch Oven

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 Large Artichokes, with stems
  • 3-4 Meyer Lemons
  • 2 Cups Breadcrumbs
    • Make them at home: whirr thinly sliced whole-wheat toast in the blender
  • 6 Cloves Garlic, peeled and minced
  • Heaping Handful Parsley, chopped
  • Heaping Handful Mint, chopped
  • Parmesan Cheese (in block form)
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 Cups White Wine, preferably Chardonnay

Steps:

  • Zest two of the lemons, place zest in mixing bowl.
  • Juice all of the lemons into a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven.
  • Add about 1/8″ of water to the lemon juice.
  • Next, prep the artichokes
    • Cut off the stems so that the artichoke can sit upright when placed on counter.  Set stems aside.
    • Using kitchen shears, snip the tops of the leaves off to remove the sharp ends, cutting off the top 1/4 -1/3 of each leaf.
    • Pull out the center leaves by the handful.  They will get smaller as you go.
    • Use the ice-cream scooper to remove the fibers above the artichoke heart
  • Place the cored artichoke in the lemon-water and swish around to coat.
  • Peel and then finely dice the reserved artichoke stems, add to mixing bowl.
  • Add in the chopped parsley, mint, garlic and breadcrumbs to the bowl.  Grate in Parmesan cheese to taste.
  • Slowly drizzle in olive oil and toss to throughly incorporate.  Continue until mixture holds together loosely but no more.
  • Remove artichokes from water and place the breadcrumb mixture in the centers.
  • Add the wine to the lemon-water and return the stuffed artichokes to the pot.
  • Bring liquid to a fast boil, then cover and simmer for 15-30 minutes.  Outer leaves will remove with little resistance when ready.  Let cool 5-10 minutes
  • Scoop stuffing with leaves, removing the bottom portion of each leaf by biting down / scraping with your teeth.
  • Once all the leaves are removed, remember that the base (the heart) of the artichoke is the best part.  Eat with a knife and fork, or just pick it up and take a bite!

Stuffed Artichoke

 

Kumquat and Greek Yogurt Tart

Kumquat and Greek Yogurt Tart

Here’s a trick I thought of tangentially, when trying to come up with a good use for Kumquats – using Greek yogurt in place of custard in a tart.  I’d been turning Kumquats over and over in my mind, wondering what to do with them.  I’ve just learned that you can eat the skin and all of Kumquats, and they give a kick that leaves you satiated from both a sweet and sour perspective.  Because they are pretty strong, just a few go a long way.  Due to their diminutive size, juicing them is obviously impractical, and due to their flavor a pint-sized portion lasts a long time.

Then I remembered all the times I’ve passed by the tantalizing cases within pretty much any given patisserie.  And I realized that kumquats are the perfect citrus for little tartlets, since they are small enough to be used in abundance and would provide plenty of sweetness when candied just a little bit.

So for a few weeks I had kumquat tarts bouncing around my head, but wasn’t over the hump yet since tarts usually involve custard, which I don’t happen to find very satisfying, especially for the calories.  Finally, it occurred to me to swap out the custard with plain Greek yogurt, which is versatile enough to work in sweet and savory recipes.

Greek Yogurt Replaces Custard An educated guess told me that the tanginess of the yogurt would be a great balance to the sweet citrus.  I took the yogurt a bit more savory, adding a splash of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt, you could also use some of the sugar water left from the fruit candying to sweeten it some.  (Add any flavoring *after* the yogurt has been strained.)  Either way, the tart has a great contrast of flavors from the kumquats and the yogurt, and beyond the taste is satiating due to lots of protein.

Kumquat and Greek Yogurt Tart with Pistachios

  • Servings: 3-6
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Hands-On Time: 30-40 minutes, in two parts if making tarts ahead.

Special Equipment: Food processor, tart pans/forms with removable bottoms, parchment paper, cheese cloth or fine strainer.

Pastry Ingredients:

  • 1 & 1/3 Cup Flour
  • 1/4 Cup Sugar
  • Pinch Salt
  • 7 Tbsp Butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1 Egg, lightly beaten

Pastry Steps:

  • Pulse butter, flour, sugar and salt in food processor until the mixture is incorporated.
  • Add the egg and continue to process until the dough comes together, about :45 – 1 minute.
  • Remove from processor and press the dough together to form a ball.  Do not knead.
  • Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
  • Pre-heat oven to 400 Degrees F.
  • On a floured surface, roll out dough to at least 1/8 of an inch thickness.  Carefully press into tart forms, then let rest in the fridge at least 20 minutes.
  • Pierce the tarts with a fork across the bottom, line with parchment paper (paper should overflow edges) and fill with pie weights or dried beans to prevent dough from rising.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, remove beans and paper, and bake 5-10 minutes more.
  • Cool completely.
    • After this phase, tarts may be frozen for later use.  Freeze them in the tart forms, wrapped in plastic wrap.  Simply move tarts into fridge several hours before use.

Baked Tart Shell

Tart Ingredients:

  • Low-Fat or Non-Fat Greek Yogurt, 1/2 – 2/3 cup per tart
  • 1 Cup Kumquats, thinly sliced
  • 1/8 Cup Sugar plus 1/8 Cup Honey
  • Pinch Whole Cardamom Seeds (Not Whole Pods)
  • 1 & 1/2 Cups Water
  • Chopped Pistachios

Tart Steps:

  • 3-4 Hours before, strain the Greek yogurt using a cheesecloth or fine metal strainer.
    • If necessary, transfer pre-baked tarts from freezer to fridge.
  • Add the sugar, honey and cardamom to the water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugars.
  • Add the sliced kumquats and simmer, stirring occasionally, 20-30 minutes.
  • Arrange a sheet of parchment paper over cooking wracks or a cookie sheet.
  • Using kitchen tongs, remove fruit from the sugar solution and lay flat on the parchment paper to cool.
  • Add a teaspoon of sugar solution per 1/2 cup of strained yogurt and spread across the bottom of the tart and layer to fill.
  • Arrange the cooled fruit and garnish with pistachios.

 

Mediterranean Fish Tacos

Fish Tacos with Meyer Lemon and Olive Salsa

These are by far the best fish tacos I’ve ever had.   With a desire to pay tribe to their provenance, and to create a quick reference for myself, I am sharing them here.

I first came across this recipe on Food52.com, however it is originally by a woman named Emily, of FiveandSpice.com / @fiveandspice.  Emily explains that the inspiration to make these tacos came from the cookbook Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzzane Goin.  When I looked into it, I learned that Lucques is a restaurant in West Hollywood, Los Angeles and is run by Suzzane Goin & Caroline Styne.  Without a doubt the next time I am in LA I will stop by to pay homage to the birthplace of these to-die-for tacos.

I did not make any modifications to @fiveandspice’s original recipe.

Mediterranean Fish Tacos

  • Servings: 4
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Hands-On Time: 45 Minutes – 1 Hour

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 Cup Plus 2 Tbsp Olive Oil, divided
  • 2 Tbsp Finely Diced Red Onion
  • 3 Tbsp Sherry Vinegar, Divided
  • 2-3 Meyer Lemons
  • 1/2 Cup Pitted Green Olives, Chopped
  • 1 Small Fennel Blub
  • 1/2 *Small* Head of Red Cabbage
  • 2 Tsp Whole Grain Mustard
  • Sea Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 1&1/2 – 2 Lbs. Firm White Fish
  • 2 Tsp Hot Paprika
  • 2 Tsp Dried Thyme
  • 8 Tortillas
  • Plain Greek Yogurt, Spiked with Drizzle Olive Oil & Sea Salt
  • Avocado Slices, if you like

Steps:

For the Lemon-Olive Salsa:

  • Combine the chopped onions and 2 Tbsp Sherry Vinegar in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.  (The vinegar will temper the onions so completing this step independently is important.)
  • Prepare the Meyer lemons by cutting off both ends, then cutting in half vertically.  Cut  each vertical half in half again and remove the seeds.  Remove the white center of the lemon (which is now on the outer edge of each slice), then, dice into small cubes, including the rind.
  • Once the lemons are prepared, whisk 2 Tsp honey and a pinch of salt into the onions, then, whisk in 1/4 Cup olive oil.
  • Finally, stir in the lemons and olives and set aside
    • Salsa may be made up to one day ahead

For the Cabbage-Fennel Slaw:

  • Clean and trim the fennel bulb and 1/2 head of cabbage and thinly slice.
  • In the second mixing bowl, whisk together 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp Sherry vinegar, 1 Tsp honey, 2 tsp mustard plus approx 1/2 Tsp each salt & pepper.
  • Add the fennel and cabbage to the bowl and toss to coat.  Set aside.
    • Slaw may be made hours ahead.

For the Fish:

  • Rub the fillets with the paprika and thyme and sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Let rest 5 minutes.
  • Heat 1-2 Tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan.
  • Add the fish and fry until just cooked through and flaky.

Assemble the tacos as you like!

Fish Tacos with Meyer Lemon Salsa

Lemon & Rosemary Scones

Lemon Rosemary Scones

This recipe was inspired by one of my favorite cookbooks, L’Art de la Table by Gintare Marcel, who points out that these scones lend themselves really well to mix-ins.  Her original version is Lavender Rosemary, which also sounds delicious, and is a great reminder that breakfast baked goods do not need to be overly sugary to be satisfying.

I did make a flour substitution to the original recipe, swapping some all purpose flour for almond.

These have a great fluffy texture while still maintaining a lot of moisture, and the intense flavor gives them the aura of a special treat.  And they can be made at a moment’s notice!

Lemon & Rosemary Scones

  • Servings: 8
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Hands-On Time: 15 minutes

Special Equipment: Food Processor, Parchment Paper

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 2/3 Cup Almond Flour
  • 1 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
  • 3 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Finely Chopped Fresh Rosemary
  • Zest from 2-3 Lemons
  • 4 Tbsp Chilled Unsalted Butter (1/2 Stick), Cut into Cubes
  • 1/3 Cup Buttermilk, plus extra for topping
    • For Homemade Buttermilk: 1 Tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice, 1 Cup 2% or Whole Milk, Combined and left at Room Temp for 10-15 minutes.  (Keeps in the fridge for  1 week.)

Steps:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 400 Degrees F.
  • Pulse dry ingredients, plus sugar, rosemary and lemon zest in the food processor to combine.
  • Add the butter and pulse until mixture is coarse and crumbly.
  • Add the buttermilk and blend in the processor until a cohesive dough ball forms, about :45 – 1 minute.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.  Press the dough ball into a disk about 1&1/2″ thick / 12″ in diameter.
  • Cut the disk into eight even pieces by cutting in half, quartering and so on.
    • Alternatively a circular cookie cutter can be used to make fancier scones.
  • Set the wedges about 2″ apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
  • Bake for 12 minutes / until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Lemon Rosemary Scones Pinwheel

Sonoma County Olive Oil & Meyer Lemon Cake

While briefly living in Northern California, I was lucky enough to visit a private ranch in Sonoma County where about an acres’s worth of grapes grow – enough to make several dozen cases of wine per year, with which among other things grown on-site provide bountiful country picnics with a tasting of several gold and silver winning varietals to life on a regular basis.  When I got there for a late lunch on Saturday, a table on the deck was already covered with eight or ten bottles and glasses, and a grill with various local carnivorous treats smoked nearby.  An orchard with several types of fruit trees stood across a verdant lawn and beyond that, the hills of Sonoma County.  We settled in as our host began explaining his Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and I pinched myself.  The idyllic setting aside, I’d never been to a hobby vintner before and it was impressive and naturally quite fun to try so many successful wines just among friends and family.

Weather or not an experience of this kind will ever become customary, I don’t think it will ever loose its magic.  And being entirely new to it, I had to find a way to take it with me.  Enter the citrus.  In the orchards I mentioned, a little bevy of trees sat heavy with the seasonal fruit.  I stared, I smelled, I picked.  And picked, and we left with about eight to ten pounds of lemons, oranges and kumquats.

Never having had lemons by the bushel before, it was exiting to find additional ways to use up the newfound treasure, and for now share the first take from this unexpected project: a Meyer Lemon Olive Oil cake.

Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake

For this recipe I first turned to my ever-more tattered copy of Epicurious’ Italy Eats and went to their Olive Oil and Orange Cake recipe.  I updated the recipe by using Meyer lemons and thyme in place of oranges and cardamon, plus I reduced the sugar and honey in the topping by half.  In doing so, I think this cake goes from certifiable dessert to a special-treat breakfast.

Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake Slices

Olive Oil & Meyer Lemon Cake with Honey

  • Servings: 8
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Hands-On Time: 45 Minutes

Special Equipment: Mortar & Pestle, Medium Saucepan, 9″ Round Spring-Form Pan

Ingredients:

– For the Meyer Lemon Topping:

  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1/4 + 1/8 Cup Honey
  • 4-5 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
  • 1 & 1/2 Cups Water
  • 3-4 Meyer Lemons, cut into thin horizontal slices

– For the Cake:

  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil plus more for brushing pan
  • 1 Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Semolina Flour
  • 1 & 1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/4 Tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Tsp Dried Thyme, ground further to a powder with a mortar & pestle
  • Pinch Salt
  • 3 Eggs, Separated
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar, divided into two 1/4 Cup portions
  • 2/3 Cup Plain Lowfat Yogurt (not Greek)
  • Zest from 1-2 Meyer Lemons, depending on size (separate lemons from those in the Syrup)
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Tsp Fresh Thyme leaves, removed from sprig

Steps:

– For the Meyer Lemon Topping:

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside
  • Bring sugar, honey, thyme and water to a boil, whisking until sugar dissolves
  • Add lemons and reduce to a simmer
  • Cook about 40 minutes, stirring lemons/turning them over in the liquid occasionally
  • Remove lemons with kitchen tongs and set on the baking sheet to cool, discarding thyme springs and any seeds
  • Strain syrup through a metal strainer or cheese cloth and set aside

– For the Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F.
  • Brush or spray spring-form pan with olive oil and set aside.
  • Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, dried thyme and salt together, set aside.
  • Beat 1/4 Cup Sugar and 1/2 Cup Olive Oil in a large bowl.
  • Beat in yolks, then flour mixture, then yogurt, zest and vanilla, set aside.
  • Clean and try the egg beaters, then, beat whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form (about 3-4 minutes on the highest setting).
  • Add in the remaining 1/4 Cup Sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form, about another 3-4 minutes.
  • Working in two batches, gently fold egg whites into batter until just incorporated.
  • Pour/scrape batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes/until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Poke hot cake with a toothpick all over and slowly pour 1/2 the lemon syrup over.  Once absorbed, repeat with the remaining half.
  • Let the cake cool on a wire rack, then, clear the edge of the cake with a knife and remove sides of spring-form pan.  Carefully slide a knife or spatula to remove bottom of pan (or simply set bottom of pan on a serving plate).
  • Arrange lemon slices however you like and top with fresh thyme leaves.

Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake with Whipped Greek Yogurt

Mushroom Ragu

Mushroom Ragu

I would never go so far as to say that an all-vegetable dish could actually fool a meat-lover, but there are some that I believe would wholly satisfy the most ardent of carnivores, and this is one of the few and far between.

After searching high and low online, I finally just turned to a favorite Bolognese recipe that I first came across in the Epicurious bookazine Italy, which I reference regularly, and made educated adaptations.  Including opting out of using dried mushrooms, and using chicken broth in place of mushroom.  Rosemary and red wine in addition to the broth creates a warmth and depth of flavor and the fresh cooked mushrooms combined with finely diced carrots make a hearty texture.

The recipe worked out beautifully – I’m glad I put my trust into the tried and true hand chopping and step by step cooking that goes into our favorite Bolognese.  This version is much different of course being meatless and including rosemary, but it is equally as reliable.

Hearty Mushroom Ragu

Mushroom Ragu

  • Servings: 4
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Hands-On Time: 25 Minutes

Special Equipment: Heavy bottomed large pot or Dutch Oven

Ingredients:

  • 1&1/2 – 2 Lbs Mixed Mushrooms
  • 2 Large Carrots, Finely Diced
  • 1 Celery Stalk, Finely Diced
  • 1 Yellow Onion, Finely Chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Butter Or Olive Oil
  • 2 Tsp Finely Chopped Fresh Rosemary
  • 3 Tbsp Tomato Paste
  • 1/2 Cup Dry Red Wine
  • 2 Cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 Whole Sprig Fresh Rosemary
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Steps:

  • Remove the stems from the mushrooms and brush caps to remove any loose dirt.
  • Slice all the mushroom caps into approx 1/4″ slices.
  • Heat butter over medium heat in the Dutch Oven, then add the chopped rosemary.
  • Add the carrots, celery and onion and cook until tender, 8-10 minutes, stirring regularly.
  • Add the mushrooms and gently fold into the vegetable mixture.  Cook until volume is reduced by a little more than half, about another 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
  • Add the tomato paste and stir to throughly incorporate.
  • Add the wine and bring to a boil, again stirring to mix liquid throughout.
  • Add the chicken broth, rosemary sprig and bay leaf and bring to a simmer.
  • Season with salt and pepper, partially cover (leave a small steam vent) and simmer for 45 minutes.
  • Stir once more and add any additional salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve immediately over pappardelle pasta or polenta, with fresh parmesan cheese.  (My favorite polenta recipe can be found here.  I typically the butter and parmesan measurements way back, and it’s still delicious.)

YUM!!!

Mushroom Ragu Served with Polenta and Parmesean Cheese

Chocolate Cake Recipe Makeover

Chocolate Cake Recipe Makeover

Here’s something I learned this past December: in Victorian England, the end of Christmas celebrations actually fell on January 5th, or Twelfth Night, aka the last evening of the Christmas season.  The celebration included a very specific cake, called everything from Twelfth Night Cake to Plum Cake.  I would love to say that I picked up this bit of info due to a revisiting of Whistler’s works, a favorite artist who worked during the Victorian Era.  Alas, the info was gleaned last month from my annual (and first digital) advent calendar, which happened to be Victorian themed and included a daily fact about Victorian life during Christmas time.

On Twelfth Night, many Victorians threw one last party to end Christmas celebrations.    I went on the prowl for the traditional cake recipe and learned that it has lots of raisins  and is topped with copious Marzipan (adding up to a double negative in my book).  Rather than try to find an acceptable version the original cake, I opted to simply use Twelfth Night as an excuse for cake in general!

Enter this chocolate number, which hails from the Guittard Chocolate Cookbook.  The recipe in the book is a Guittard family original, hailing back to the 1800’s when Mr. Guittard first set up his chocolate shop during the Gold Rush in San Francisco.   I made a few updates in the kitchen lab, the key being substituting olive oil for butter.  The results are tremendous, with a moist, fluffy cake and helpful olive oil benefits (like reduced inflammation) to boot.  I haven’t noticed an actual olive oil flavor, the chocolate remains center stage.  There are several other healthy ingredients – whole wheat flour, pumpkin puree and yogurt.

To that end, the other key substitution I made was to use chocolate shavings in place of chocolate chips.  My goal was to have the shavings melt into the cake crumb, which they did perfectly.  I used a simple cheese tool to make the shavings.

Guittard Chocolate Bar Shavings

 

Chocolate Cake Recipe Makeover

  • Servings: 6-8
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Hands-On Time: 20 Minutes

Special Equipment:  6-cup bundt cake mold or cake pan.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Cup Whole-Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 6 Tbsp Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (Dutch-processed if available)
  • 2 Tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 1 Tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tsp Ground Cloves
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1/2 Cup Plain Yogurt (I used non-fat.  If you only have Greek yogurt on hand, fill measuring cup 2/3 full with Greek yogurt, then the remainder milk.)
  • 1 & 1/2 Cups Unsweetened Pumpkin Puree
  • 1/2 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Shavings

Steps:

  • Pre-heat oven to 375 F and prepare bundt cake mold with a light coating of butter or non-stick spray.
  • Add the dry ingredients, flours – ground cloves, in the smaller of the mixing bowls and whisk throughly to incorporate.
  • In the larger mixing bowl, add the olive oil and sugars.  Mix with the hand-held mixer 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the eggs and beat with the hand-held mixer another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the pumpkin and repeat.
  • Add the dry ingredients in two – three segments, using the electric mixer to incorporate each time.
  • Finally, fold in the chocolate shavings using a large mixing spoon or the spatula and pour the batter into the prepared mold.
  • Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with unquestionably baked crumbs (not perfectly clean: it will be dried out by then).
  • Let the cake cool at least 15 minutes before tasting, and serve at room temperature.

Recipe Makeover: Chocolate Cake

Turkey Meatballs with Fresh Oregano and Basil

Easy & Delicious Turkey Meatballs

If meatballs with tomato sauce aren’t a fun weeknight dinner, I don’t know what is.

Thanks to fresh herbs and garlic, these turkey meatballs would be delicious as a stand-along  anchor of a well rounded meal, accompanied by greens and potatoes – actually a more authentically Italian take than the Americanized version featuring tomato sauce.  I’ll take one of each!

These are light, quick to make and great for a crowd.

Weeknight Turkey Meatballs with Fresh Italian Herbs

Turkey Meatballs with Fresh Oregano and Basil

  • Servings: 3-4
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Hands-On Time: 25 minutes

Special Equipment: Heavy-bottomed baking dish or Dutch oven, ice cream scooper (for creating uniform meatballs)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 Lb Ground Turkey
  • 1/2 Small Red Onion, very finely chopped
  • 1 Garlic Clove, minced
  • 1/2 Cup Plain Breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1/8 Cup Fresh Basil, chopped
  • 1/8 Cup Fresh Oregano, chopped
  • 1/8 Cup Milk, room temperature
  • 1 Egg, room temperature
  • 2 Tsp Tomato Paste
  • 1/4 Tsp Salt
  • 1/4 Tsp Pepper
  • Splash Olive Oil

Steps:

  • Preheat oven to 400 Degrees F.
  • Excluding the olive oil, gently mix all ingredients together until evenly incorporated.
  • Drizzle the baking dish with olive oil to prevent sticking.
  • Using the ice cream scooper or a spoon, form evenly sized meatballs and arrange in the baking dish with uniform space around each.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes.
  • If you like, serve with extra tomato sauce – I always do!

 

 

Recipe Makeover: Skillet Cornbread

Skillet Cornbread with Honey Butter

Here’s a reliable skillet cornbread recipe makeover.  It has olive oil instead of shortening, which gives a richness of flavor in addition to moisture.   Use this for stuffing, or just eat it right out of the pan once adequately cooled!

Updated Skillet Cornbread

  • Servings: 8-10
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Hands-On Time: 10 minutes

Special Equipment: 8″ cast iron skillet or 8″ baking pan.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup Cornmeal
  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 1 Tsp Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/4 Cup Maple or Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 & 1/2 Cups Buttermilk
  • 1 Tbsp Butter

Steps:

  • Preheat oven to 400 Degrees F.
  • Combine cornmeal – baking soda in a mixing bowl and whisk to incorporate.
  • Add sugar, oil and buttermilk and stir gently until completely incorporated.  Batter will seem very liquid-y.
  • Set the skillet over low heat and add the butter.  Swirl it around to coat the entire pan as it melts.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared skillet – the batter will go right to the brim – and bake for 20-25 minutes.
  • Cool on a wire rack or trivet at least 15 minutes before serving.

Skillet Cornbread

 

 

Black Bean Butternut Squash Chili

Butternut Squash Black Bean Chili

On a crisp day this chili is just what the doctor ordered, in so many ways.  It’s a great make ahead and pre-portioned servings freeze beautifully.  This chili is meatless and can be a welcome respite from heavy cold-weather dishes, yet is still very satisfying.

Black Bean Butternut Squash Chili

  • Servings: 6-8
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Hands-On Time: 1 Hours

Special Equipment: Parchment Paper

Ingredients:

For the Chili:

  • 6 Cups Cooked Black Beans, Rehydrated or Canned
  • 1 Red Onion, Finely Diced
  • 5-6 Cloves of Garlic, Peeled and Minced
  • 2 Poblano Peppers, Charred, Peeled and De-seeded
  • 1 Jalapeno Pepper, Charred, Peeled and De-seeded
  • 1 28oz can Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp Cumin
  • 1 Tbsp Coriander
  • 1 Tbsp Chipotle Powder
  • 1/2 Cup French Lentils (other varieties of lentils are too soft for use in Chili)
  • 1/4 Cup Quinoa
  • 32 Oz Chicken Stock
  • 1 Butternut Squash, Peeled, De-seeded and cut into approx 1/2 inch cubes
  • Splash Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste

For the Garnish:

  • Lime
  • Cilantro
  • 1/4 of an Avocado per serving, cut into small pieces
  • Greek Yogurt Mixed with Olive Oil and Pinch of Salt (2% works really well)
  • Corn Tortillas, toasted in a non-stick frying pan until firm and crispy.

Steps:

  • Heat approx 2 Tbsp Olive Oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic.  Saute until translucent.
  • Add all the spices, stirring rapidly to avoid burning.
  • Add the butternut squash, again stirring rapidly to incorporate all ingredients while avoiding burning.
  • Add tomatoes, lentils, black beans and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then simmer.
  • Simmer, covered, over low heat for one hour.
  • After the chili has cooked for one hour, add the quinoa, simmer again, then cook, covered, another thirty minutes.
  • Add salt & pepper to taste.
  • Garnish & serve!

Butternut Squash Black Bean Chili