Archive for October, 2010

Perfect Autumn Tossed Salad

I went to a local restaurant (Salt) for lunch a couple weeks ago and had the most delicious salad. It was a perfect transitional salad, with elements of both Summer and Fall. It was composed of sweet baked heirloom squash, earthy and rich shiitake mushrooms and French lentils served over mixed salad greens, dressed in a light balsamic vinaigrette, and sprinkled with pepitas (pumpkin seeds). The original salad on the menu was made with goat cheese; I subbed French lentils instead and I prefer it that way, but you could certainly do either or both.

Last week’s freeze brought us fully into Fall, from a culinary standpoint. With that in mind, I’ll replace the salad greens with a heartier green like spinach, baby kale, or arugula that will be available locally for at least several more weeks. Of course, there’s Winter squash aplenty at the Market right now, and local shiitake mushrooms are available year round. Until olives and grapes start growing in Boulder, we’ll have to import the ingredients for the dressing.

All of the components of this salad are staples for me at this time of year. It’s worth making them specifically for this salad, but be sure to make extra, as they are all great to have on hand to inspire and/or garnish other yummy and seasonal dishes.

This recipe will make enough to serve four entree sized salads

  • 1 large or 2 medium delicata or other sweet Winter squash
  • 1 large shallot
  • 2 cups shiitake mushrooms
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 4-6 cups baby kale, spinach, or arugula, torn into bite-sized pieces, if necessary
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked French lentils (or black beluga lentils)
  • 1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • optional additions: caramelized onions, fresh thyme in the dressing, a bit of toasted sesame oil on the mushrooms

Heat oven to 400 degrees. There is no need to peel the squash – just cut in half and remove seeds. (I like to put the seeds in a bowl of water with a little salt and soak them overnight, then rinse and roast them the next day.) Cut the seeded squash into cubes, then place on a tray, toss with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Slice the shallots and toss with the squash. Put the tray in the oven (no need to worry if it’s not fully heated yet).

Prepare the shiitakes. Rinse them lightly, but thoroughly, to remove any dirt or sand. Cut off stems and reserve for stock, then slice the caps. Place sliced mushrooms on a tray, toss in olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. put the tray in the oven, flipping the squash around at the same time. The squash is done when it’s very soft and browned in some places; probably 25-30 minutes after you put them in the oven. The mushrooms are done when they are shrunken and slightly crisp, probably about 10 minutes after you put them in the oven, but more or less depending on thickness.

Meanwhile, measure the oil and vinegar in a small jar with a few pinches of salt and a pinch of pepper, tighten the lid, and shake vigorously. Tear the greens into bite-sized pieces, if necessary, and put in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the greens and toss to coat. Add the lentils and toss again. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. When the squash and mushrooms are done, add them to the salad, toss, and finish with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds. Enjoy!

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Vegetable Salsa, raw or roasted

There is such a beautiful array of vegetables available at the Farmers’ Market right now, I literally cannot stop myself from buying them, even though I know that my fridge is stuffed full!  This salsa is a wonderful way to use overripe tomatoes and all that other produce that  does not fit in the vegetable drawer, and it can pack a lot of nutrients. I also love that  it is different every time and, though some of us might associate salsa with Mexican food, you can change the flavor using herbs and different vegetables to complement any cuisine.
Today happens to be a beautiful and warm Fall day, so raw vegetables are perfect.  However, the weather is forecast to be cold and rainy just a couple days from now, and I might prefer to roast all of the veggies for a delicious and warming roasted vegetable salsa when the cold comes in.  See the changes below the recipe for the roasted version…

  • 2-3 medium tomatoes,roughly chopped, or equivalent in cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 small carrot, diced
  • 1/2 sweet bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2-2 small anaheim or other chili peppers*, seeded and chopped
  • 1 small red or white onion, finely  minced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1-2 Tablespoons of lime, or lemon, juice
  • handful of chopped parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • optional – a handful of other fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, oregano, etc.

*a note on the chili peppers – I used anaheim, which are rather mild and I only used a part of one pepper, because I am pretty sensitive to the heat.  This is totally a matter of taste, so use your favorite type and keep tasting until it’s as spicy as you like it.  Just be careful if you are using really spicy peppers to remove the seeds and wear gloves while prepping!

You can go one of two ways, depending on the texture you are looking for.  I like to pulse the vegetables in a food processor until chunky, then add the citrus juice and herbs and season to taste.  You can also process until smooth, or go the other direction and stir them together for more of a pico de gallo.  Think about how you are going to eat it and proceed accordingly.  Whatever you choose, enjoy it!

For Roasted Vegetable Salsa:

I recommend at least doubling the recipe, since you are turning on the oven anyway and you’ll find lots of yummy uses for this salsa.  Either way, use twice the garlic called for in the raw recipe, as it mellows when it is roasted.  You’ll prep the vegetables slighly differently for this roasted version, quartering the tomatoes, roasting the garlic cloves whole, and cutting the rest of the vegetables into large chunks.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees.  Quarter the tomatoes place them in an oven proof dish, season with olive oil and a little salt.  Rather than peeling and mincing the garlic, remove the papery outer peel and toss the unpeeled cloves in olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt, then place them in a small covered dish or wrap them in aluminum foil.   The rest of the vegetables (but not the parsley and herbs) can just be roughly chopped and placed on a tray with a rim then coated with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.  Put the tomatoes, garlic, and vegetables in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes, or until they are very soft and partially browned.  Peel the roasted garlic and add to the tomatoes along with the rest of the vegetables.  Using a hand blender, roughly puree the salsa.  Stir in the parsley, herbs, and citrus juice (or balsamic vinegar), then season with salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!

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Chocolate Cake

I don’t make a lot of chocolate treats, because I don’t eat the stuff myself and it’s hard for me to serve something without taste-testing it firsthand. But, my seven year old just had a birthday and requested chocolate cupcakes for his school birthday treat, so what was I to do? I now had two internal conflicts. First, the aforementioned serving without tasting issue, But, even more critical than that, I do not believe in serving unhealthy snacks to children, or anyone else for that matter. No, not even for birthdays. I mean, treats, fine, but I stand firm to my belief that all food should have some balance and nutritional merit, even if it’s a treat, even if it’s a birthday, even if it’s a vacation…you get the picture. In the end, chocolate cake it was, because I am a total sucker for my children. So, I set off to find the perfect chocolate cake that 24 first graders would enjoy, and that I could live with. I used freshly ground sprouted buckwheat and quinoa flours, but using standard buckwheat and quinoa flours will work fine. I added cinnamon because it’s a good blood sugar regulator, plus some almond butter and hemp seeds for a little protein and healthy fat to help balance out the sugar. I used brown rice syrup and grade B maple syrup for the sweeteners – brown rice syrup because it’s richer in complex carbohydrates than other sweeteners and is absorbed more slowly in the bloodstream, and grade B maple syrup because it retains more minerals than grade A, has a richer flavor, and just tastes delicious.

The cupcakes were a hit, then we made it in cake form for the actual birthday party. Kids who have made it quite clear in the past that they “don’t do gluten free” gobbled it right down and asked for more, so I would say this recipe is a keeper! We frosted it with chocolate frosting and sprinkles per the birthday boy’s request, then had some cupcakes with vanilla frosting on the side, but as with any cake, there are many other options. Be creative and enjoy!

This recipe makes 2 8-inch layers, one 11×7 rectangular pan, 12 cupcakes, or 24 mini-cupcakes

  • ¾ cup buckwheat flour
  • ¾ cup quinoa flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup macadamia nut or coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 Tablespoons flax seed, ground
  • 1 1/2 cups hemp milk*, or as needed
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ cup dark chocolate chips, optional
  • Frosting of your choice, optional
  • Sliced or crushed almonds for garnish, optional

*to make hemp milk, blend ½ cup hemp seeds with about 1 cup water until smooth; depending on the flours you use, you may need additional liquid, so if you might have another use for hemp milk in the next day or two, make a little extra. If not, you can use water to thin as needed.

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat your baking pan(s) with coconut oil, or line with muffin papers or parchment paper. In a medium bowl, sift together flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix almond butter, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, and coconut oil until smooth, heating gently over a pot of hot water if necessary. Stir in vanilla, flax seed, and hemp milk. Gently mix in the flour mixture about a third at a time, adding more hemp milk or water if necessary to form a smooth, pourable batter. Fold in the chocolate chips. Gently, but thoroughly, stir in the apple cider vinegar (it will start to bubble – this is good; it’s the acidic vinegar reacting with the leaveners to create the bubbles to make it rise) and immediately pour into prepared pans. Bake until center is firm; approximate baking times follow, but please watch carefully as they can vary from oven to oven:

20-25 minutes for 2 9 inch rounds
30-35 minutes for 11×7 rectangle
15-17 minutes for cupcakes
12-15 minutes for mini-cupcakes

Cool completely before removing from pans/frosting. Enjoy!

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Stuffed Peppers

Yum. I don’t love green peppers on their own and neither does anyone else in my family, so when I get more than one in my CSA share, I start to panic a little. But, then I remember that once they are transformed into delicious edible bowls filled with a savory stuffing, everyone loves them. Yeah!

  • 4 medium-large green peppers
  • 2-3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch spinach, kale, or your favorite leafy green
  • pinch cayenne
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the peppers – slice off the tops with the stem and reserve. Clean out the seeds, replace the tops and place in an ovenproof dish. Put the peppers in the oven and bake until they begin to soften and brown, probably about 10 minutes. In the meantime, heat a large pan to medium, pour in the olive oil, and sauté the onion until it begins to brown. Add the garlic and cumin and cook for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, spinach, and cayenne, and cook until the tomatoes begin to break down. Stir in the cooked rice and beans. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Turn oven down to 350 degrees. Remove the tops from the peppers, fill each one with the stuffing, and replace the tops. Spoon any remaining filling in between the stuffed peppers and cover the dish. Bake covered for 20-25 minutes. Serve with a green salad and some cornbread, and enjoy!

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