Monday, November 29, 2010

Sauteed Fennel with Roasted Garlic and Thyme

Last November I went on my first silent retreat.  I wanted to do something that challenged me and also scared the crap out of me.  A 5-day silent retreat was the best idea that I could come up with. 

For those of you that have never experienced a silent retreat, it's basically just what it sounds like. The retreat center that I go to is a Buddhist center situated in the middle of 15 acres of forest.  After the first meal, we take the vow of silence and do not break it until the end of the retreat.  There are usually "interviews" with the teacher where you can speak and ask her questions about meditation or what is coming up for you in your practice.  Outside of these specific times, everyone operates in total silence.

I was so thankful to be going again this year.  It's a very different world there.  Everything is controlled by the ringing of gongs and bells.  Movement is slow and intentional.  And you can't beat seeing the entire sky lit up by stars every night. 

You might think that the silence would make you feel a little crazy.  It does for me at times.  But, I also really appreciate the quiet because we usually get so little of it in our fast-paced world.  It's nice to slow down for a change.

I was standing by a lake there when the first flakes of snow fell.  Just a few flakes at first.  Then a few more.  The next thing I knew I was watching a flurry of snow fall before my eyes into the water.  It was gorgeous.  Please remind me of this the next time I am exhausted by my inbox of email and the pile of dirty dishes that never seem to stay clean. 

My favorite part of the retreat, of course, was the food.  I can never tell if the food there is amazing simply because they make amazing food or if it's because it is one of the few times in my life where I sit and do nothing besides focus on what I'm eating.  I'm sure it has to be both.

During my last meditation session I grew anxious and eager to come back home.  Part of me was concerned about driving on the icy roads.  Part of me missed my life in Seattle.  And part of me just wanted this fennel.  It's good to be home.  

This recipe comes straight from Birgitte Antonsen's Vegetarian Holiday Feast class at PCC.

Serves 4 - 6.

4 to 6 small to medium-size fennel bulbs, cut into quarters
12 to 15 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable broth
salt and pepper

Place the fennel, garlic, and olive oil in a skillet.  Saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes, then add thyme, broth, salt, and pepper.  Let simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes, covered.  Serve warm.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Spaghetti Squash with Creamy Tomato Sauce

How was your Thanksgiving?  Who did you spend it with?  Any family drama I should hear about?  Like, which family member had a little too much wine or who you will never talk with about politics again?

Family dynamics always intrigue me - whether it's my family or someone else's.  Part of the reason I was drawn to a degree in psychology and then organizational development is because of my curiosity about human behavior and relationships.  I'm sure Freud would say it has more to do with my own relationship with my family.  But, I guess I'll leave it to him to be the final judge on that one.

My family was never one for "traditional" holiday food.  There was definitely more than one occasion where we had spaghetti instead of turkey on Thanksgiving.  I personally think it gives our family history a little character.  And I have to say that no one ever minded because my mom's spaghetti was fabulous.

I've been playing around with spaghetti squash this season and this is my favorite recipe that I've come up with so far.  The sauce is creamy and rich and brings out the flavors in the squash beautifully.  The spaghetti squash is also wonderful mixed with angel hair pasta or some gluten-free pasta of your choice.  I don't expect you to be serving this up at your next holiday meal, but I won't tell anyone if you do.
    Serves 4-6.

    4 spaghetti squash
    1 1/4 cups raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 4 hours (then drained)
    1/2 cups water
    6 oz tomato paste
    1 medium tomato
    2 small yellow onions (or 1 medium), chopped
    2 Tbsp olive oil
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    salt and pepper to taste
    1 Tbsp Italian seasonings

    Spaghetti Squash:
    Cut your squash in half and remove the seeds. Bake rind-side-up in a 375 degree oven for 30 - 40 minutes, until tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Separate the strands by running a fork through the inside of the squash from the top to the bottom. The strands should easily come apart.

    Creamy Tomato Sauce:
    Add your olive oil and onions to a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Saute for about 10 minutes until the onions become transparent. Add your garlic and saute for an additional two minutes.

    Blend your cashews, water, tomato paste, and tomato.  As long as you soaked your cashews for about 4 hours or longer, you should need about 1/2 cup of water.  If you did not soak them or soaked them for less time, start with 1/2 cup of water, adding a little more water as necessary for blending. (I tried a batch with unsoaked cashews and ended up using about 1 1/2 cups of water.)  You want the consistency to be thick, but it should be able to easily run through a blender.

    Add this sauce mixture into the pan with your onions and garlic. Add your seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer on low for about 10 minutes to let the flavors meld together.

    Pour over your spaghetti squash and serve.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Snow Day Pancakes with Blueberry & Cranberry Compote

    I'm back from my retreat and am just settling into life again. I have some great stories to share with you, but I'd rather focus on the snow for now.  And pancakes. 

    Wherever you are, I hope you are warm and safe.  Bonus points if you get to spend time with those you love and eat good food together.  It's that kind of day.  With schools, offices, and many roads closed in Seattle, it's safe to call today a Snow Day. 

    Ashley and I couldn't get the thought of warm pancakes out of our heads so we went about making some.  I pulled out my stack of cookbooks from the library and came across a simple recipe in Vegan Yum Yum.  Ashley decided to make an old family recipe and braved the snow by foot to secure some buttermilk and eggs. 

    I kept trying to convince her to have some of my pancakes, or at least to use some soy milk and egg-replacer so that she wouldn't have to leave the house.  After all of her brave efforts, half of her pancakes burned and all of them turned out lopsided.  She joked that I should picture her pancakes here just to make my vegan ones look even better.  I'll spare you the sad sight and show you a cute snowman instead. 

    Serves 2.

    Pancakes (Adapted from Vegan Yum Yum)
    1 1/2 cups soy milk
    1 cup spelt flour (or substitute all-purpose)
    1/3 cup all-purpose flour
    2 Tbs coconut oil
    1 Tbs agave syrup
    1 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/4 tsp salt

    Add the soy milk to a blender, followed by the spelt flour, all-purpose flour, oil, agave, baking powder, extract,  and salt.  Blend for a few seconds until combined.  Scrape down any dry flour stuck to the side and blend again. 

    You can use the batter immediately or refrigerate over night.  If using the batter the next morning, add 1-2 tablespoons of water, and then blend to mix.  This thins the batter, which thickens overnight. 

    1 cup blueberries
    1/2 cup cranberries
    1/4 cup maple syrup
    1 tsp vanilla extract

    Blend about half of your cranberries with the maple syrup and vanilla extract to create a smooth sauce.  Add this sauce to a pan with your remaining cranberries and blueberries.  Cook over medium-low heat for about 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently.  Serve over pancakes.  

    Note: you can easily substitute strawberries or other berries that you might have on hand.  I just happened to have blueberries and cranberries in my freezer. 

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Creamy Tomato and Tomatillo Bisque

    I sat down to write this post this morning and the only thing that came to my head is a poem called If I Had My Life to Live Over by Nadine Stair. I first saw this on the wall of Cafe Flora's bathroom.  I'm not sure if it's still there, but I've never forgotten it.  May it touch you as well, wherever you are and wherever you need to be at this moment. 


    I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.
    I'd relax, I would limber up.
    I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
    I would take fewer things seriously.
    I would take more chances.

    I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
    I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
    I would perhaps have more actual troubles,
    but I'd have fewer imaginary ones. 

    You see, I'm one of those people who live
    sensibly and sanely hour after hour,
    day after day.

    Oh, I've had my moments.
    And if I had it to do over again,
    I'd have more of them.
    In fact, I'd try to have nothing else.
    Just moments, one after another
    instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

    I've been one of those people who never goes anywhere
    without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat
    and a parachute.
    If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have. 

    If I had my life to live over,
    I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
    and stay that way later in the fall.
    I would go to more dances.
    I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
    I would pick more daisies.

                                         Nadine Stair,
                                         85 years old

    Since there aren't any merry-go-rounds in Fremont, the best I can do is make soup.  So that's just what I'll do.  I love using cashew cream in this because it adds creaminess without resorting to soy milk.  This is also a great way to celebrate our local tomatoes and warm up from the cold.  I really like the addition of tomatillos, but you could also substitute tomatoes.  And if you don't have access to local tomatoes, you could always use canned. 

    I am planning a little personal retreat time at the moment so we might not see each other for a few days.  Just know that I plan to travel light, go barefoot (if possible), and pick more daisies.   

    Serves 4 - 6

    1 lb tomatillos, chopped
    1.5 cups cooked kidney beans (optional - I just like to add a little protein to my soups)
    3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
    6 carrots, chopped
    5 celery stalks, chopped
    2 yelow onions, chopped
    4-5 cups vegetable stock
    1 cup cashews, soaked overnight
    1 green pepper, diced
    1 tube of tomato paste (3.5 oz)
    salt and pepper to taste
    2 tsp cumin
    6 cloves garlic, minced
    dash of cayenne pepper
    2 Tbsp olive oil

    Add your olive oil to a large pot and put over medium heat.  Add the onions and saute for about 5 minutes.  Add the celery, tomatillos, tomatoes, carrots and garlic.  Saute for about 5 minutes then add your vegetable stock.  You want enough liquid to cover everything and give it a little room.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to medium-low heat.  Add the cumin, green pepper, beans (if using) and salt and pepper to taste.  Let simmer for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.

    Meanwhile, drain the soaked cashews and blend with about a cup of broth from your pot.  Set this aside.

    When your vegetables are cooked, begin adding the soup to your blender. You will probably have to do it in several batches depending on the strength and size of your blender.  When you have blended all of your soup, add it back to the pot with the cashew cream (reserve a bit of this if you want some for the garnish) and stir.  Allow to simmer for about 10 more minutes to let the flavors meld together.  Garnish with some fresh herbs, olive oil, and/or a drizzle of extra cashew cream and serve.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Pasta for One

    Ok, I'll admit it. Sometimes it's hard to be a vegan. There, I finally said it. You happy now?

    It's especially challenging on the nights that Ashley gets pizza delivered. I get to sit and watch as she devours all that garlicky, cheesy goodness. Followed by baked cinnamon sticks dipped in frosting. Yum. Vegan pizza from Pizza Pi is always a great option to calm my jealousy, but sometimes you just don't want to leave the house. And so, you make this.

    This is one of my favorite pasta dishes. There is no marinara, no white sauce, just olive oil - and lots of it. It can be ready in under 20 minutes, is super easy to make, and I always seem to have the ingredients handy. Perfect.

    The olive oil, garlic, and blend of Italian seasonings are what make this dish amazing. The other ingredients are optional - so you can add or change whatever you like.  Mushrooms, other greens, and/or cannellini beans also go well in this.  This is a perfect pasta to customize to your own tastes.

    Serves 1 (and sometimes, that's all you need)

    Olive oil
    1 Tbsp Italian seasonings
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    handful of kalamata olives, sliced
    1 roma tomato, sliced
    1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
    handful of artichoke hearts
    handful of arugula
    1/2 cup uncooked pasta (I used brown rice pasta)
    salt and pepper to taste

    Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a pan over medium heat. Wait about a minute then add the onion slices and turn the heat to low-medium. Make sure that all the onions are covered in oil and add more if needed. Turn the onions every 5 minutes or so. If they start to stick to the pan, add more oil. Add your Italian seasoning after about 15 minutes. The onions should caramelize in about 20-25 minutes. Just before they are done, add your minced garlic and let it cook for about 2 minutes.

    Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the directions. When it is finished, run it under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

    Once the onions and garlic are ready, add your pasta into the pan. Add a good glug of olive oil (that's what makes this so good) and throw in any extras - like artichoke hearts and black olives. Let the pasta heat up and mix with the other ingredients. At the last second add in your tomatoes and arugula. Throw on a plate and season with salt and pepper to taste.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Beet and Orange Salad

     This week I...
    • Hosted two dinner parties with great friends.  
    • Ate dessert every single day (Ok, I'm lying... I had dessert twice on Tuesday)
    • Ordered tickets for the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Don't judge...)
    • Spent an entire afternoon napping with my cat.
    • Deleted my myspace account because of their lame privacy policies
    • Went to a cooking class at PCC. (I won't give it all away, but just know that there are very delicious things heading your way via this blog.)   
    • And I made this salad. 

    I've been craving oranges for some time now so I've been scheming about how to use them in a salad.  I think I'm just getting anxious for clementine season.  The sweetness of the oranges compliment the beets nicely.  Even for people who aren't a big fan of beets, I bet you could handle this one.  

    The oranges also serve a nutritional purpose in this salad because your body needs to have Vitamin C along with greens in order to properly absorb the iron.  The olive oil also adds a nice fat to help with vitamin absorption.  

    This salad comes together very quickly and is perfect for a dinner party because you can prepare the ingredients ahead of time.  I actually cooked the beets the night before and left them in the fridge to cool because I wanted them served cold.  This recipe will serve a light salad for four or a larger salad for two.  If you do not have sherry vinegar on hand, you can easily substitute red wine vinegar or some apple cider vinegar in the dressing.

    Serves 2-4
    1 bunch fresh spinach leaves
    3 navel oranges
    5 beets (I used red, but you could use any variety of your choice)

    2 Tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
    1/3 cup olive oil
    salt and pepper to taste
    1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
    3 Tbsp fresh orange juice

    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash the beets and trim off the greens and pointy ends. Place the beets on a sheet of foil on a baking sheet. Cover with a light coat of olive oil and wrap the foil over them so they are covered. Cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until beets are soft, but not slimy.

    Mix the ingredients for your dressing together and set aside.  Slice your oranges.  I found this easiest to do by slicing the ends of the oranges off first and then cutting the rest of the skin away with a small paring knife.  I then sliced the oranges into thin slices.

    Once your beets have cooked and cooled, slice them into medium slices (about 1/2 inch thick) and plate your spinach.  Arrange your beets and orange slices in alternating layers atop the spinach and cover with the dressing.  Garnish with some parsley. 

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    5 AM Gluten-Free Breakfast Cookies

    I've always admired the 5 AM-ers.  You know who I'm talking about.  Those people that get up early just to read the paper, do some morning meditation, or go for a run.  If you are one of those people, I applaud you. 

    I have always been fascinated by this 5 AM group.  How do you do it?  And, more importantly, why do you do it?  I have a hard time believing that your internal clock just naturally wants you to be up at that hour of the morning.

    About a month ago I finally decided to do something about my recent lazy behavior.  I'd been skipping gym appointments with myself and generally lacking in motivation in the workout department.  That is when I decided it was time to become a 5 AM-er. 

    I groaned at the thought of it.  Really?  Is 5 AM really necessary?  I'd been so good about evening workouts in the past.  Couldn't I just try harder?  But, I knew that I had to do something drastic to get myself back into a consistent workout schedule.  5 AM it is.

    I have to report that I am now in week 3 of the 5 AM workouts and have not only gone almost every day, but actually look forward to this routine.  When I told a friend this recently she looked at me like I was crazy then asked for some tips.  Need some motivation of your own?  Here's my advice.

    Day 1:  Day 1 will be hard.  Day 1 will be miserable.  When your alarm goes off on Day 1, you might even tell yourself that tomorrow sounds like a better day for Day 1... but don't give in!  I decided to try a new spin class on Day 1 which made me feel obligated to get out of bed and go.  Make a commitment to yourself that you will stick to. 

    Day 2:  Day 2 is also hard.  You will probably say to yourself "I should sleep in today... especially after that hard workout yesterday."  It's another trap - don't fall for it!  I promised myself on Day 2 that I could watch Law and Order SVU on my iphone while running on the treadmill.  I practically jumped out of bed that morning.  The point is to make it fun, whatever that means for you. 

    For the rest of the week, do whatever it takes to get you up and moving -- make an exercise date with a friend, bring a new magazine to the gym, or try a new workout.  By the end of the first week, your body should be adjusting to the schedule change (assuming that you are going to bed early and getting enough sleep). 

    My other piece of advice is to reward yourself with some good food after your workout, like this breakfast cookie.  These cookies (which are more like oatmeal-on-the-go) are quick to make and a great balance of fiber, protein, and antioxidants.  The recipe came from Eating for Evolution which is a wonderful resource for gluten-free living.  

    The other great thing about this recipe is that the ingredients are pretty flexible so you can make adjustments depending on what you have on hand and your taste preferences.  I've been crazy about goji berries lately so I added in extra to my cookies.  If you don't have quinoa flakes on hand, you could easily leave these out. 

    Recipe slightly adapted from Eating for Evolution

    Makes 6 to 8 cookies
    Preparation time: 5 minutes
    Cook time: 10 to 12 minutes

    1 1/2 cups water
    1/2 cup gluten-free steel-cut oats
    1/2 teaspoon sea salt
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon cardamom
    1 tsp stevia (if you don't like stevia, substitute 1/3 cup of agave or maple syrup)
    1/4 cup ground flax seeds
    1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

    3/4 cup almond meal
    1/2 cup quinoa flakes
    1 1/2 cup crispy rice cereal
    1/2 cup nuts or seeds (I used walnuts and pecans)
    1/4 cup gogi berries (or another dried fruit of your choice)
    1/4 cup dried apricot, chopped (or another dried fruit of your choice)
    1/4 cup raisins

    Heat water, oats, salt, vanilla, spices and stevia in a small skillet. Bring to a simmer, stirring every few minutes until nice and thick. Turn off heat and stir in ground flax. It will get really thick as the flax mixes into the oats. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl, and then add the oats mixture. Stir until well-mixed. Once it has cooled a bit, use your hands to form into cookies. If you desire more sweetness, add some extra agave or maple syrup.  Garnish with a few coconut flakes on top.

    You can eat them right away or let sit for a bit to let some of the flavors meld. They will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010

    Housewarming Apple Crisp

    Someday you will have the need for your house to smell like apples and cinnamon. When that day comes, turn to this crisp. Just know that you have been warned about its addictiveness from the beginning.  And, if you serve it alongside some Coconut Bliss ice cream (which you should), there is absolutely no stopping you.

    I made this for a little housewarming party last night. I've never baked an apple pie, but the beauty of the apple crisp is that anybody can bake a crisp. If I can do it, you can too. Peel and core some apples. Sprinkle some oats over the top. And... voila! There's the best smell coming from your oven and warm, gooey crisp ready to meet your mouth.

    Spending my Saturday afternoon in the kitchen brought me back into balance after this long week.  Food has a way of doing that for me.  Well, food and library books.  And Enya.  But, let's just stick to the food for now.

    Adapted from the Clean Food Cookbook
    Serves 8 - 10.

    12 apples (peeled, cored, and sliced)
    1/4 cup maple syrup*
    2 tsp ground cinnamon
    1 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour or brown rice flour
    *If you are serving along side something sweet (like ice cream), use 1/4 cup maple syrup. If the crisp will be served on its own, use 1/2 cup.

    2 cups rolled oats
    1 cup whole wheat flour or brown rice flour
    1/2 cup chopped walnuts
    1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
    1/2 cup maple syrup
    1/2 cup canola oil

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

    To prepare the filling, place apples in large bowl. Fold in syrup and cinnamon. Sprinkle on flour and gently fold until combined. Spread mixture into 9x12-inch baking casserole.

    To make topping, use the same mixing bowl and combine oats, flour, nuts, and cinnamon. In separate bowl, whisk together syrup and oil, add to dry ingredients and mix until crumbly. Spread topping evenly over apples, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 20-30 minutes or until apples are cooked through and the top is crisp.  Remove from oven and serve.

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    Chunky Potato Chowder

    Well we've certainly entered Soup Season, haven't we? It's been so long since we last talked.  My apologies...  Why don't you pull up a chair?  I plan to stay awhile.

    This last week has been one of those weeks where life just comes at you and you have to take it on.  And so I did.  I promise I didn't forget about you in the process.  You were always on my mind as I made it through the ever-increasing inbox of emails, to-do's, can't-wait's, and can't-someone-else-do-it's? Sitting here with you is definitely where I need to be right now.

    I didn't make it into the kitchen much this week.  Instead, I discovered something amazing. It's called takeout.  I don't know if you have heard of it, but it's worth trying.  Should a week like this one hit again anytime soon, I might even have to indulge in takeout's good friend called delivery.

     The most amazing part of my week was bringing home this little guy.  Meet Bilbo.  We found him at the Seattle Animal Shelter and completely fell in love with him.  If you look at that picture long enough, you will too.

    The only thing better than cuddling with this cat is cuddling while eating this potato chowder.  Blending some of the potatoes creates a wonderful creaminess and the carrots add just the right touch of sweetness.  I used yellow carrots in this batch and I tend to like the fact that they blend in with everything else.  If you're in the mood to be bold, then mix it up with different colors.  If not, that's just fine too. 

    Serves 4 - 6

    3 onions, diced
    2 Tbsp olive oil
    4 carrots, diced
    1.5 pounds of potatoes (I used Austrian Crescent fingerling potatoes), diced*
    salt and pepper to taste
    1 Tbsp fresh dill
    1 Tbsp fresh parsley 
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    3 cups of vegetable broth

    Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a medium pot and saute the onions over medium-low heat for about ten minutes. Then add the carrots and potatoes, adding more olive oil as necessary to keep everything from sticking. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring as necessary. Add the garlic and saute for an additional two minutes. 

    Add about 3 cups of stock (it should just barely cover everything). Add the dill and parsley then cook for about 15 minutes, until potatoes are soft but not mushy.

    Put about 1/2 of the soup in a blender and process until smooth. It might be necessary to add a bit of water to help it blend. Finish by adding this mixture back to the pot and stirring everything together. Let simmer for 5 - 10 more minutes.  Garnish with some more fresh dill, salt, and pepper. Serve with some warm bread.

    *Note: I did not remove the skins on my potatoes because they were very delicate, but depending on the type of potatoes you use and your personal preference, you might want to peel the skin.