your thanksgiving butternut squash soup

butternut squash soup

People have certain rules about what should be on the Thanksgiving table. I, for one, am pretty loosey goosey about the whole thing. This is not surprising to anyone who knows me well because ‘loosey goosey’ pretty much sums up my approach to the culinary world. I like to adjust as I go, add a pinch of something if it feels right and go with what I have on hand. When I sat down to plan what I would bring to the three dinners we will be attending, I knew I wanted to stray a little from tradition but still stay within the lines of the season. Dressing, green bean casserole and pie all made the cut and will maintain their traditional integrity, but I still felt like we could shake things up just a little tiny bit, but don’t worry, I didn’t nix the mashed potatoes.

I understand that no one really needs to have an appetizer right before they consume a weeks worth of food, and most people think the idea is absurd, but sometimes you want dinner to be a little fancy and I don’t know any better time to be fancy than on Thanksgiving. Break out the cloth napkins, the candlesticks and the good china, even make seating cards if you’d like and enjoy the one meal a year where you can pull out all the stops.

Thankfully, this starter won’t take up much of your time (which I know is utterly precious on the big day), and most of the ingredients are likely in your kitchen anyway, so no large additions to the shopping list either. Make the soup and remove the seeds from the pomegranate the day before and throw them in the fridge. Take a few leaves off of the brussels sprouts you’re probably already making and all thats left to do is just throw it all together. We ate it at room temperature and it was delightful, but you can warm it up in a pot if you can stand one more minute at the stove. (more…)

November 24, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . gluten free, quick and easy, sides, soup, vegetarian. 7 comments.

bi-rite gazpacho

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I’m a worrier, an over thinker, and I find it extremely difficult to say no. Satisfaction is fleeting, only remaining until the next model comes out or a prettier option pops up on Pinterest and if there is a phobia stemming from the fear of being left out, I’m pegged. While these personality traits may have been learned and deeply engrained into who I am, now more than ever, I’m trying to recognize when they inflict and adjust according to what is (I think) a simpler and far more pleasant way to live.

There are a million ways I could spend my free time and Pinterest and Instagram hold a significant corner on that market. For way more time than I am willing to admit, I troll through the newest products, recipes and drool worthy kitchen remodels that adorn the pages of Pinterest while flipping over to see what all my fabulously beautiful and ridiculously interesting ‘friends’ are doing in their perfectly normal lives. As you can imagine, filling my head with this type of stimulation day after day can cause this already anxiety filled girl with a serious case of ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’.

Mr. Roosevelt cut to the heart of it by declaring, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This is an incredible truth that speaks to my heart so completely. While I won’t be able to attend every party and I will never have the body of a super model (especially after that child I grew in there!), I can rest in and be thankful for all of the immensely beautiful and tangible blessings in my life now. I have the privilege of talking to my mom every day, waking up to the most precious boy every made and I get to sleep next to my best friend each night, even if he does steal the covers. Although my life doesn’t look like the carefully curated boards on Pinterest or the beautifully filtered feeds on Instagram, it’s okay because no one’s really does. We all have dirty dishes, unkempt hair and bad breath in the morning. Most of us have extra weight we would like to lose (so we only post pictures from the shoulders up) and that kitchen remodel just keeps getting pushed back because it’s more important to take the kids to Disneyland then to have that perfect reclaimed barn wood floor you pinned last year. If you really think about it those moments that can not be pinned or instagrammed are the ones that really matter. If I were ever (God-forbid) to lose my husband, I would hate the fact that the blankets never move at night or that I would have no reason, other than good oral hygiene, to brush my teeth in the morning.

So, in an effort to live life simply, enjoying those moments only shared with those partaking in that joy face to face, I will be content there knowing that even if the grass is brown, it’s that grass that means the most and it has the most power experienced in real life, with the real souls around me. This week, cook with your loved ones, make a delicious soup and enjoy it together in that dingy old kitchen and be satisfied.

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August 18, 2013. gluten free, quick and easy, summer, vegan, vegetarian. 2 comments.

you are the chocolate to our mousse

Until tonight, I never quite grasped how important Julia Child was to American cooks. I have read her endearing memoir and flipped through her cookbooks, but until tonight, I had never cooked through a full recipe of hers (unless you count a basic vinaigrette). Last week, my husband gifted me a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s a classic and one that I believe every home cook should have. Although I’ll likely never prepare an aspic or de-bone a duck, there are so many recipes within these pages that will be part of my permanent collection. Her recipes are straight forward, impeccably on point and explained perfectly. There was not one confusing thing about this chocolate dessert, which for a maiden mousse voyage, proved to be very helpful.

Tomorrow would have been Julia’s 100th birthday. People from all over the globe are celebrating the contribution she made to the culinary world through her extraordinary life. She effortlessly empowered men and women to become better cooks, to be fearless in the kitchen and to love what they do. One of her most famous quotes, “Never apologize!” seems unfit coming from such an accomplished chef, but her accomplishments did not come immediately. In her memoir, My Life in France, she recounts a meal she made for a friend that was nearly inedible, but instead of apologizing and offering something else, she just powered through it and moved on, without a word. Her husband Paul, quipped in some letters to his brother that Julia was not a great cook at first, but she was determined and she improved every single day until eventually she commanded the kitchen. What an inspiration! We all begin that way don’t we? No one starts something they know little about with the skill of an expert, we learn as we experience and as we do.

Although Julia got her start later in life, she made a monumental impact. I can’t imagine what she would have accomplished had she started in her 20’s. Who knows where we would be now, having had that much time with Julia. Her life, her love and her relentless dedication to the kitchen has shaped us, and for that we are better people and supremely grateful.

Julia, you are the chocolate to our mousse, and we thank you for the light of your life. Happy birthday darling.

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August 14, 2012. chocolate, dessert, gluten free, quick and easy, vegetarian. 12 comments.

roasted peaches with gluten free crisp and creme fraiche

When I plan a meal, I have several check points I go through. I want to be sure that the meal is comprised of ingredients from the current season, and that on a whole, the meal feels cohesive from start to finish. If we are having friends join us, I also try to plan a dessert of some sort. This is usually my favorite part of the meal and the item I spend the most time thinking about. I’m a self diagnosed sugar fiend, so naturally this area excites me the most.

Most often, I like to dream up desserts that have several elements and can take hours, but when we are planning a meal for the middle of the week that doesn’t always work out very well. Unless we just decide to forgo dinner altogether and serve dessert alone, I better think of something a little more speedy.

During the summer, I tend toward the natural bounty of fruit that needs little done to it, if anything at all. Fresh peaches, while amazing in cobblers and crisps, can be divine all by themselves and as far as I’m concerned, make an excellent dessert. However, roasting them for a bit and then topping them a sprinkle of crisp and a dollop of creme fraiche won’t make anyone I know turn up their nose.

There is a lesson to be learned in this recipe: dessert does not have to take hours to be awesome. I’m going to repeat that to myself: dessert does not have to take hours to be awesome. This is a great mantra for me to remember. Too often I jump right to something unnecessarily complicated. Maybe after repeating this to myself a few hundred times I’ll think more simply the next time I want to make a dessert that takes three days.

This dish is just as versatile as it is quick. You can use whatever fruit is available at your farmers market, in fact I think apricots would be delicious here, so would plums or nectarines. The crisp topping can be frozen and used to stir into yogurt or crumbled onto pies, I also think it could be a great base for a granola too. (more…)

August 12, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , . baking, dessert, fruit, gluten free, quick and easy, summer, vegetarian. 5 comments.

a collaboration + a wedding cake

There is something so incredibly exhilarating about collaborating with other like-minded creatives. The process is stretching and challenges us to see our talents in new ways and even pushes us further than we would normally go on our own. This past weekend, I headed home to the mountains again, this time for a styled bridal collaborative with some local artists. Joleen from Joleen Willis Photography was the mastermind behind the shoot, birthing the idea and then convincing all of us to come along for the ride. For me, it was a chance to step into some uncharted waters, and although the way was a little bumpy at times, I learned a lot and ultimately contributed something I am very proud of.

Our inspiration was Morocco, which is such a rich culture to draw from. The color and vibrant nature of the landscape was an easy example to follow when I was planning the food and tablescape. I chose to use some fairly traditional items for the table such as mint tea, olives and cous cous. For the main plated dish, I made a carrot salad with black rice, macrona almonds and mint, drizzled with a light harissa vinaigrette. The salad added just the right amount of color and texture to the table.

      (image by Joleen Willis Photography)

     (image by Joleen Willis Photography)

As with most weddings, dessert (most often in the form of cake) is one of the main attractions. Personally, I’ve only liked one wedding cake in all my life. I remember loving it so much that I was trying to figure out how to stuff some in my purse without being noticed. However, on every other occasion it has been something I might as well skip, which if you know me at all, skipping dessert is just something I don’t do. I figured it must be quite difficult to make a wedding cake worth it’s price tag, and ultimately, completely enjoyable, even to the point of wanting a doggy bag. So, when this project came up and I was able to explore what might make a great cake, (in taste AND appearance) I learned a few things. First of all, wedding cakes are difficult. They require a lot of work, hours and hours to be exact. Second, you don’t only have to use white or yellow cake. There are so many options out there, people! Thirdly, wedding cake CAN taste good. Like, I want a whole one to myself good.

Although this cake made me the most proud out of anything I’ve ever made to date, it still wasn’t perfect. If you can see, it leans a little because I was too lazy to get dowels to anchor it in place, not to mention I didn’t even out the cake layers like a real wedding cake baker would. However, even with all it’s faults and its Tower of Pisa qualities, it was still the best darn wedding cake I’ve ever had. Not the prettiest, but the tastiest. I feel a little weird writing this because it feels over the top conceited, but I’m telling you, this cake was really that good.

For the cake layers, I used a carrot cake recipe from Stella Parks, pastry chef at Table 310 in Lexington, Ky. It’s the best recipe for carrot cake out there. I’m in love with it and will continue to use it forever. The opposite layer is a nutmeg cornmeal cake. I used these two together because they have a tendency to stay moist, not to mention I thought they would compliment each other well, and they did. After all the layers were made, I smothered it all in an orange cinnamon cream cheese frosting. It was, in fact, the icing on the cake.

I garnished to top of the cake with candied kumquats and mint. Those sweet little citrus gems are something I’d like to have in my pantry at all times. They would be perfect on ice cream, a cream tart or simply fished out with gooey, sugary fingers.

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May 9, 2012. baking, cake, Candy, dessert, fruit, gluten free, quick and easy, vegetarian. 17 comments.

goat cheese ice cream + the best way to see me at my worst

There is nothing like a Zumba class to make me feel like a complete idiot. It encompasses everything I’m terrible at, all in a one hour class. First of all, I hate going because I’m averse to working out. I generally talk myself out it, reasoning that I’d better stay in tonight to rest up for the huge workout I’m planning for tomorrow. In the off chance someone invites me to go to a Zumba class with them at the gym I pay a lot of money for and never use, and I can’t find a reason to decline, I will usually go. Not because I want to, but because I’m mostly driven by guilt and would feel bad saying no. Waiting until the last second, I get into work out clothes, which isn’t so bad, since they’re really just tighter pajamas that accentuate my rolls styled with a super tight bra that flattens the only two things I have going for me and I head over the gym trying not to think about how much worse I’m going to feel about myself in about 30 minutes. Since this is a very popular class at the gym, I have to arrive at least a half hour early to get a number or I won’t get in. I could hop on a machine and get a head start on my work out, but let’s not be silly, we both know I’m not going to do that. I’m going to catch up on 30 Rock or Up All Night on my iPhone while I wait. A few minutes before the class starts, they begin calling numbers and people file in. They all sort of spread out as much as possible and hope for a good smelling partner. Of course they won’t know until the sweat starts pouring. I position myself strategically in the middle because that’s the spot with the least amount of mirrors. I can only see myself straight ahead and that’s only if I accidentally stop hiding behind the woman in front of me. The teacher shows up, a skinny Latina who knows how to shake it, and the music starts pumping. She usually starts us off slow which gives me the false sense that I might actually be getting the hang of it, and then warm up is over and I’m tripping over myself looking like I slammed a few shots of vodka on the way in. I am just about the whitest person there in skin tone and on the how-well-can-you-shake-your-hips-and-look-super-sexy-while-doing-it scale. To make matters worse, the more steps I miss, the more I can see myself missing them because the cute little lady in front of me who is not missing a beat can no longer shield me from seeing my round marshmallow man body trying to dance like a latin heart throb. It’s a heinous sight to behold. As the class goes on, the steps get increasingly more difficult and unfamiliar so I’m basically shuffling my feet and moving my arms around which barley raises my heart rate above a nice good stretch in the morning. Somehow, my body is still all damp and sweaty, and I realize it’s everyone else’s sweat accumulating in the room. Yep, I’m drenched in everyone else’s sweat. This just keeps getting better. After the class, my work out buddy asks if I want her to pay a dollar to reserve my spot in the class for next week. I say that I’ll need to keep next Tuesday night open just because I never quite know what’s going to come up. Then she offers again, and then one more time, so I look at my calendar before I concede and see we are house sitting next week. Darn it. The following week isn’t looking good either. Maybe we can get together for ice cream instead?  (more…)

March 13, 2012. Tags: , , , , , . dessert, gluten free, vegetarian. 3 comments.

quick comfort

Some days a quick and wholesome breakfast is essential, for instance, today. I am suffering from what we like to call the common cold. I’m convinced my boss lovingly passed along his germs to me through his violent coughing attacks, during which he refused to cover his mouth. In all fairness, I’m not sure how much that actually prevents the spread of said germs but it makes me feel a whole lot better none the less. Wherever I contracted these tenacious little organisms matters not as the fact of the matter is, I’m at home with tissues piling up around me and I’m worried I might never be found under the ever growing mountain.

After finally rolling out of bed at 11am this morning, I forced myself to bathe. While I was using the shower as a steam treatment, I was pleasantly surprised to have a bit of an appetite. Knowing I can only manage to stand upright for about 15 minutes at a time, I’d have to make breakfast quick if I wanted something more comforting than cinnamon toast crunch. The most creativity I could muster was to take cereal one step further, to the hot variety. Steel cut oats are certainly healthier and offer more sustainability than a sugary cousin. I’m not exactly sure when I’ll be able to pull it together enough to get up off the couch and feed myself again, and sadly my husband is gone all weekend so I’m hoping extreme hunger will be enough to counter act the just-got-run-over-by-a-truck feeling, even if just for a short microwave cycle. (more…)

March 2, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , . breakfast, gluten free, quick and easy, vegan, vegetarian, Whole Wheat. Leave a comment.

raw kale salad with oranges, red onion + goat cheese

Every year it seems that Thanksgiving sneaks up on me. I mean, I know it’s coming, but for some reason it just all seems to happen so fast. One day it’s the middle of August and the next, BOOM! I’m buying a turkey. (Are the years moving faster some how?) I guess it’s possible that the weather around here has stunted my seasonal clock. I grew up in an area that has distinct seasons and by this time of year there has been at least one snow storm and everyone has already swapped out their summer clothes for winter ones. In contrast, I walked to the farmers market today in cropped pants, no socks, no jacket and broke a sweat on my way home. Granted, I was carrying a very heavy basket of goodies, but still, I suppose I’ll need to find different cues for reminding me that the holidays are coming.

The best indicator I can think of to remind me to start planning ahead for the holiday season is the local harvest. Right around this time curly kale fills the stalls at the market and farmers are sampling the sweetest valencia oranges. Those just happen to be two ingredients in one of my favorite winter meals, raw kale salad. I could eat the stuff by the bucket full, and in the winter months, I do. It is a great way to get a heavy dose of vitamins to help fend off seasonal illness and as a plus, it tastes fantastic. So much so, that it will be on my Thanksgiving menu, right next to a heaping pile of whipped potatoes (and of course, a glass of wine).

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November 19, 2011. gluten free, quick and easy, salads, vegetarian, winter. 1 comment.

roasted butternut squash soup

It’s funny how my affections change so quickly. One day I am completely loyal and in love with fresh summer produce, have no intention of turning on my oven even for a minute (except for the occasional roasted beet extravaganza) and wouldn’t dream of eating things that signify the end of summer. And then the rains came and just like that I jump head over heels into fall. I bought tall leather boots, a warm (and super cute-thanks H&M!) winter coat, and about 10 pounds of butternut squash.

While the wind whips and the rain pounds our windows, I warm the house with a hot oven. The smell of caramelizing onions mixed with roasting root vegetables is enough to send me into fall for good, leaving tomatoes and fresh corn behind. If this rain keeps up, I might just break out the Christmas records. It’s never too early for that.

roasted butternut squash soup with caramelized onion and yogurt
serves 6 for a main course or 10 for a first course

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash peeled, cleaned and cubed
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons fresh thyme, divided
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 heaping tablespoon smoked paprika
  • non-fat greek yogurt

For caramelized onions:

  • 2 onions sliced into rings
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • fresh thyme

Preparation: 

  1. To caramelize the onions, heat a skillet over medium heat. Coat with olive oil. Add onions, salt and thyme and turn heat to low. Cook on low for about an hour until the onions are deeply caramelized. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss squash, carrots, garlic and two tablespoons thyme in a generous amount of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet until tender, about 20-30 minutes.
  3. In a large dutch oven, add a glug of olive oil, the diced onion and celery, two tablespoons thyme and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium high heat until vegetables are soft. Add roasted vegetables and smoked paprika. Pour in the chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes. With an immersion blender, puree soup to desired consistency. [You can also use a regular blender to puree your soup, just be very careful as the soup will be hot. Be sure to remove the stopper in the lid and cover the hole with a clean kitchen towel.] Serve topped with a dollop of yogurt and caramelized onions.

October 5, 2011. fall, gluten free, quick and easy, soup, vegetarian. 1 comment.

quinoa salad with mangoes and curry dressing

This dish represents the return to normalcy. It has been a long time comin’! For the last month or so, life has been wildly full of super fun things, but have also prevented me from cooking proper meals on a regular basis. I’m quite certain we have subsisted on delicacies like cold cereal, take out and the occasional breakfast-for-dinner stand by. It’s been rough, but we are emerging through the fog of busyness into the land of healthful, wholesome food and I couldn’t be happier about it. click here for the full post!

February 25, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , . fruit, gluten free, quick and easy, vegetarian. 7 comments.