Category Archives: Quick Recipe

Roasted Apples With Vanilla Bean Ice Cream And Apple Cider Sauce

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There is nothing that says fall in Michigan like a cold, juicy apple on a crisp autumn day.  And (in my opinion) no better place to enjoy this special treat than right here in Michigan.  Michigan apples have a flavor that is out of this world.  The comparison between a store-bought apple and an apple fresh from the orchards is like comparing store-bought tomatoes to one picked off your own tomato vine.  Just one bite and you are transported immediately to the gnarly tree it came from.  Eating apples this time of year makes me feel so grateful for fall.  Fall is one last hurrah.  A punctuation mark on summer.  And in Michigan, that punctuation mark isn’t any old period.  It is an exclamation point.

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We are fortunate to live in an area of the country that abounds with apple orchards.  Just yesterday we drove up to the Sparta area, a bit north of Grand Rapids, and checked out a couple of apple orchards. It was a cloudy day with patches of rain but when we made it out to the orchards, the sun had peeked through and it lit up the landscape.  Suddenly the reds on the trees were flaming, the pumpkins were bright orange orbs, the apples shone red-purple, and the rolling fields of dried corn stalks glowed golden under a deep blue sky.

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My sweetie often jokes during his performances that Michigan apples are the only apples that have the all the vitamins and nutrients a body needs.  If you’re eating apples from anywhere else, you’re missing out.  He grew up picking apples with his whole family when the times were tough.  His dad would climb to the top of the tree, his mom would handle the middle, and he and his siblings would pick up the “drops”, the apples on the ground under the tree that are used to make apple cider.  True story.

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When I say cider, I’m talking about the real deal.  The kind that can only be found this time of year, freshly pressed, cloudy, sweet and tart.  This time of year, almost any gathering you go to offers cups of hot cider for guests.  It can be a special treat but I’m not the biggest fan of drinking hot beverages beyond coffee and tea.  But how could I walk past those gallons of apple cider?  Well…I couldn’t…so I had to figure out something to do with it.

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I came across an idea for an apple cider reduction.  And I am so glad I did.   All it takes is a big, heavy pot and some patience.  You basically just boil the cider down until it is 1/4 of the original volume.  I boiled 8 cups down to 2 cups over about an hour or so.

This reduction can be used in a myriad of ways.  You can make a vinaigrette with it (mix with olive oil, a splash of white balsamic vinegar, a dash of salt and pepper) or brush meat with it if you desire.  And if you really want to go all out, keep boiling the cider down from 8 cups to about 1 cup and you’ll get an even sweeter reduction, just begging to be poured on ice cream.

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And with that I present to you one of the easiest desserts I’ve made, roasted apples with vanilla bean ice cream, walnuts, and a cider reduction sauce.  For this, choose apples that will hold their shape in the oven.  I chose Cortland apples but Fuji, Jonathon, or Honey Crisp are all good choices.

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This dessert is so simple yet such a delicious way to enjoy the season’s best offerings.  If you are looking for other apple recipes, head over to Cooking Light–they have dozens of apple recipes, with some of the best here.  The apple upside-down cake looks amazing.

I’m planning to use some leftover roasted apples to make apple muffins with cream cheese frosting.  This recipe looks like a good place to start my brainstorming!

But for now, here is my simply delicious roasted apple recipe.

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Roasted Apples with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Apple Cider Sauce; Serves 4

  • 4 medium apples, cored and sliced into wedges
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp cane sugar
  • 2 cups good quality vanilla bean ice cream
  • 4 tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • 4 tablespoons apple cider sauce (see below on how to make!)
  1. Make the apple cider sauce ahead of time (see below).
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 350°.  Spread the apple slices onto a large baking sheet and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Roast for 15-20 minutes, until soft but still maintaining their shape.  Go too far and you’ll have apple sauce wedges (which would still taste good so no worries!).
  3. Scoop apple wedges into four bowls.  Add 1/2 cup scoops of ice cream to the top, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon walnuts, and drizzle 1 tablespoon cider sauce on top of it all.  Dig in!

Apple Cider Reduction Sauce

  • 8 cups (1/2 gallon jug) fresh-pressed apple cider
  1. Make the cider sauce ahead of time (you can make this up to a month ahead!).  Pour apple cider into a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven.  Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low to simmer for at least an hour and up to two hours until the apple cider is reduced from 8 cups to 2.  You can keep this sauce in the fridge for a month and in the freezer for up to 6 months.
  2. To make the sauce even more condense, you can boil it down further until you have about 1 cup left from the original 8 cups.
  3. You’ll use just a bit for this recipe and can store the rest to use in a variety of dishes.

Samaritans, The Gift of Food…and Fresh Spring Rolls With a Thai Dipping Sauce

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A week and a half ago I met a remarkable woman whose work brought me to tears and who gave me a sense of hope in the kindness of others.  Shura Wallin, the founder of Green Valley Samaritans in Sahuarita, AZ, spoke to a small group of like-minded participants of a seminar discussion at the Circle Pines 75th Anniversary Celebration in Southwest Michigan.  A tiny woman with a huge heart, a big message, and a spitfire to boot, shared with us her stories of locating migrants who are found suffering and offering them first aid, food, and water to prevent them from dying in the desert as they cross the border and make their way toward Tucson.

Her stories were touching and she reminded me just how closely tied we are to others and how we can always find a common thread of understanding to carry us past differences of personality, religion, politics, and all other ‘issues’ that can stand in the way of finding common ground.  If we try, we can usually find a common thread despite our differences.

One of the reasons I love food and cooking so much is that it offers a common ground and shared experience.  Drop the politics and a group of people coming together over good food can come to coexist over the shared joy of food.

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It is also the finest way I know to show someone you care for them.  For me, cooking healthy but tasty foods and sharing them with those I love is the simplest gesture of love I can offer.  I love having friends over to share a meal with us.  I love sending them home, bellies full and leftovers in hand to enjoy for lunch the next day.  To me, food is love.

Not too long ago (but long enough ago to make me feel like I’m behind on posting!) I whipped up these spring rolls when our friend, Natalia, had a canceled flight and ended up staying the night with us.  Although I’m sure she wasn’t thrilled about the canceled flight, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to have her for dinner.  It was a hot and sticky night that called for something fresh and cooling.  We had a wonderful night hanging out and I loved hearing Natalia and Drew share their new songs with each other. I felt lucky to share an unexpected meal with a very cool new friend.

This recipe is great because it satisfies those who eat gluten-free, vegans (without the sauce or with a modified sauce), and vegetarians, as well as meat eaters and picky eaters.  The fresh spring rolls seem to be a universally enjoyed dish, at least amongst the many friends I’ve served them to.

Fresh spring rolls can be concocted in a myriad of ways–this is just the way I do it most of the time.  Feel free to experiment or pick and choose various components from other recipes.  Here are a couple of others to pick and choose from:  Fresh Spring Rolls from Cooking Light (2004), Fresh Vegetable Rolls from Cooking Light (1999).

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Fresh Spring Rolls With a Thai Dipping Sauce–Serves 4

Dipping Sauce:

  • 3 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oolek (garlic chili paste)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1  garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated carrot

Spring Rolls:

  • 12  (8-inch) round sheets rice paper
  • Head of butter lettuce (tender leaved lettuce)
  • 1 cup julienned carrots
  • 1 cup julienned cucumber
  • 1 cup shredded radishes
  • 1/2 cup basil and/or mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 block of extra firm tofu, drained and pressed for 1 hour (for instructions, click here), cut into fat matchsticks
  • 2 tablespoons tamari or high quality soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil or olive oil
  1. Add oil to a wok or skillet and heat until very hot.  Toss tofu into pan–you’ll need to keep an eye on it to avoid burning and toss with a spatula or spoon until browned.  Turn off the heat and dash the soy sauce onto the pan.  Toss tofu into sauce and let sit to cool for a bit before making the rolls.
  2. To prepare dipping sauce, combine all six ingredients.  Stir until sugar dissolves.   Let sit while making spring rolls.
  3. To make the spring rolls, put an inch or two of hot water in a wide, shallow dish with sides.  I sometimes clean out the sink and fill it with water if I can’t find a bowl right away.
  4. Place one rice paper sheet at a time into the water.  Let soften–it will take about 30 seconds.  Don’t soften too much or the sheet will fall apart–you’ll get the hang of it after a couple of tries.  Put rice paper sheet on clean counter or a large plate.  Put one piece of lettuce in the center of the sheet and top with carrots, cucumber, radishes, tofu, and some chopped herbs.  Fold one edge over the filling, then both sides, rolling as you go.  The rice paper will stick and form a seal.  Press the seam if it doesn’t automatically stick.  Put the spring roll on a platter, covering with a wet paper towel to keep from sticking.
  5. Repeat with remaining ingredients until you are out of either filling or papers.  Slice on a diagonal, arrange on a beautiful platter, and serve with dipping sauce.

Baked Squash Blossoms with Goat Cheese and Feta

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What a weekend. What a life! One year ago, my weekends primarily consisted of work, work, working on my house. Every weekend I’d have a list full of tasks to tackle: sweep, mop, dust, weed the garden, post a blog post, grocery shopping…..etc. etc. etc. My life has changed so much to one where productivity is not the ultimate goal. Don’t get me wrong…I value productivity and feel good about myself when I’m getting things done. I’m proud to be a hard worker. But it never seems to be enough. I never make it through my list and I always feel like I’ve failed because of it. I’m starting to learn that when the goals you set are unreasonable, you will always feel like you have failed. I recently started something new–now rather than focusing on how many things I have left on a list, I start a new list of what I have accomplished and that list never fails to make me feel better than the list of tasks yet to be done.

My life has changed so much in the last year. I still have the same old anxieties about productivity and accomplishment. But I now have someone who balances me out (most of the time). Last winter when we threw our first potluck together, we were so busy making food that I didn’t get around to mopping. I kept fretting about it and was getting pretty cranked up about it until Drew said something that stopped all of the nerves. He said, “you know…all of these friends are going to come tonight and when they leave, they will all talk about what a fun time they had. And I guarantee none of them will say that they had a fun time but it would have been more fun if only Aura mopped the floor.” Sigh. So simple. But left to my own devices, I’d never have gone down that train of thought. Thank goodness for my voice of reason. Lucky girl.

This weekend was such a far cry from weekends of old! Drew and I crammed in about every fun thing we could think of. It all started with a long walk downtown with the pup after dinner on Friday. Our walks are always wonderful meanders through downtown with no agenda and no idea of when we’ll get home. We are so proud to live in the city of Grand Rapids and proud to see all of the progress made here in the last several years. Grand Rapids has so much to offer…an incredible sculpture park, a small but beautiful zoo, the largest art competition in the world, award winning restaurants and breweries, a great baseball field for the Tiger’s farm team, live outdoor music for free almost any night in the summer, two brilliant farmer’s markets…I could go on.

imageThis weekend Grand Rapids got even cooler with the introduction of Movies in the Park at Ah-Nab-Awen park. We stumbled upon this new treasure on our walk Friday night. We were so surprised and thrilled to see a 20-some foot inflatable screen set up in the park with the city lights as a backdrop and about 700 residents watching Princess Bride on chairs and blankets. It was so wonderful to see and made our hearts swell with happiness. We are looking forward to the 16th when we can watch Back to the Future (and come armed this time with popcorn, root beer, the pup, and lots of friends!). Way to go, Grand Rapids! image

On Sunday we headed out to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, one of the U.S.’s top 10 places to visit. It was incredible. Although I’ve been indoors to see the plants and art inside, this was my first time in the outdoor sculpture park and I was blown away. Here are a few of my favorites.

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Ahhhh….the weekend is over but the memories remain.  One way to preserve those memories is by sharing a dish we made after shopping at the Fulton Farmer’s Market.  One of the rarest and most exciting finds this time of year are squash blossoms.  These pretty flowers make their appearance at the same time we start seeing an abundance of zucchini fruit lined up at stall after stall.  Only one farmer at the Fulton Market carries these pretty flowers (The Barry Patch) and I have a hard time passing them up.  They are very fragile and will not keep long so I recommend buying only when you plan to use them that day.

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When I was a kid my mom would batter and fry these blossoms but being health conscious I prefer to bake them.  I set out on a search for baked squash blossom ideas.  After a quick search, I found some stuffed squash blossom bruschetta from Cooking Light’s June 2005 issue. I didn’t have everything the recipe called for so I came up with a version using cows milk feta, goat cheese, and fresh herbs. This recipe results in a crisy exterior and warm, rich interior…and a taste that is not masked by the heaviness of oil. And so beautiful!  A perfect way to cap off a perfect weekend.  Hands down, this has become a new favorite summertime dish.

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Baked Squash Blossoms with Feta and Goat Cheese

  • 1/2 cup goat cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup cow’s milk feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 eggs, divided
  • ⅓ cup chopped basil and/or parsley
  • Salt
  • 12 squash blossoms, if attached to baby squash, leave squash attached.
  • ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. Mix together cheeses, 1 lightly beaten egg, and herbs. Season with salt.
  3. Put the remaining 2 eggs in a bowl and whisk. Put the panko breadcrumbs in another bowl.
  4. Carefully spoon filling into each squash blossom and twist loosely at the end to close.
  5. Dip each stuffed squash blossom in egg, then breadcrumbs, and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.
  7. Remove from the oven. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Radishes In Browned Butter and Lemon: A Lesson in Change

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Wow…I had the craziest dream.  I went on a two week vacation through several states, came back to hold my sweeties hand through a major surgery and recovery, started a new corporate job, threw a large birthday/recovery party, and went to two music festivals, all in just over a month.

Wait a minute….I’m pinching my arm…and I can feel it.  It must not be a dream after all.  So why do I feel so out of it?  I’m the kind of girl who likes routines.  I mow the lawn on Saturday.  I eat oatmeal every morning and have one cup of coffee.  I go to yoga 4 days a week (well…errrr…until my neat little life flipped upside down and all around a month ago).  I eat my veggies.  I know exactly how long it takes me to eat breakfast, drink coffee, take a shower, put on makeup, and blow dry my hair (one hour and 10 minutes).

In one short month I have gone from working from home for five years to working in an office five days a week, eight to five.  I have gone from jeans and tees to high heels, slacks, and non-iron fitted shirts, equipped with a badge that gets me in and out of the building.  I have gone from cooking lunches when I wanted to eat (and taking photos of them) to brown bagging it from noon to one each day.  Home office to cubicle.

I’ll admit, at first I was VERY skeptical.  I believe I even yelled over my shoulder one angry morning early-transition (not enjoying the new 6:15 wake-up time), “I am not convinced!!!”  Yeah, I can be a real drama queen when I want to be.

But you know what?  I had a change…a big ‘tude change.  I decided on my seventh day of work that I could make this as hard as I wanted or as easy as I wanted.  And from henceforth and ever more I have been quite pleasantly surprised at how well adapted I have become.  I bought a daylight lamp for my cubicle.  I had some fun ordering a new wardrobe online and feel pretty darned smart in my fancy new clothes.  I love my new coworkers and have discovered after taking a dISC analysis that I am a “i”, which means that I am the social butterfly, like interacting with coworkers, and bring energy to a team.  I’m beginning to think that working with people (in-person) is really good for me.

And the most wonderful thing of late is that I have watched my sweetie go from sick and not able to eat a month ago to healthy, energetic, and happy.  We have gone for two bike rides, many walks, and have started to enjoy cooking together again now that food is not a battle.  It really brings tears to my eyes that he can finally enjoy my cooking again and that we can enjoy our time in the kitchen together.  When we started dating he said that there was no place he would rather be in the whole world than with me in the kitchen.  Sold!  I knew we’d be just fine from there on out.  And fine we are.

Radishes

We recently went to the farmer’s market and found some beautiful radishes.  Reds, purples, and whites, all bundled together.  Radishes are so beautiful to me.  I’m not sure what the history of radishes is but to me, they symbolize life and renewal.  Their peppery bite makes me feel alive and their emergence at the farmer’s market makes me think of spring and fresh starts.

Radishes in Blue Bowl

In celebration of fresh starts, I wanted to share this recipe with you.  I found this in the April issue of Cooking Light Magazine and knew I would like it.  My favorite way to eat radishes is with some fresh butter and flaked sea salt so this browned butter version appealed to me.  This recipe is also only 42 calories for 3/4 cup!  Not half bad.

I didn’t use my radishes immediately so I had to cut off the greens when they were no longer fresh.  In their place, I shredded baby collard greens from the farmer’s market and they were a fantastic substitute.

Radishes In Skillet

Cooking Light has a bunch of great radish recipes.  If you are looking for inspiration, check them out here.  In this dish, the radishes are blanched then sauteed in butter with lemon and radish greens.  Most people haven’t had cooked radishes so I like to surprise and ‘bend the rules’ with dishes like this (I like to roast them too).  I hope you can embrace change in your life, whether it’s from Tom’s to heels or trying cooked radishes for the first time.

Radishes in Browned Butter and Lemon

Radishes in Browned Butter and Lemon; Cooking Light, April 2013

  • 3 cups radishes, halved lengthwise, with root and 1-inch stem left on
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup torn radish leaves (or another green such as collards, turnip greens, or kale if the radishes don’t have their tops)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add radishes to pan; cook 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain.
  2. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add radishes to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until butter is browned and fragrant. Add rind, juice, and salt; cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat; stir in radish leaves and pepper.

Road Trippin’ and Newfangled Carrots and Peas

Happy Memorial Day!  I’m thrilled for the extra day of this weekend.  It’s been a busy few weeks.  Today I want to share a great recipe I found in Cooking Light’s May issue for another use of pea shoots, which I featured last week in my pea shoot and beet salad.  The recipe I am sharing today is a carrot and pea shoot salad with spring onions and is the epitome of spring.

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But first, I want to tell you about a few of the BIG changes going on and some of the things we saw on the trip we just returned from.

One of the first BIG changes is that I will be going from working remotely in my home office to working at (gulp) an office five days a week.  I will be leaving my job as a research manager at a market research company and joining forces with Meijer’s Consumer Insights team.  I’ll be working on internal research to help improve the retailer and it’s brands.  Very exciting stuff.  My life will be much more structured but at the end of the day I’ll have more time each week because I’ll be going from a 50-60 hour workweek to a 40 hour workweek.

Another BIG thing is that Cooking Light added my profile to their Bloggers’ Connection site and I’m thrilled!  Check it out here.  You’ll notice that I’ve added the Cooking Light Bloggers’ Connection badge to my page and I’ll just be sharing with you all a couple of the things I read about in Cooking Light each month.  I have subscribed to Cooking Light for years and have shared their recipes with friends and family during those years.  Now I’ll be sharing some of them with you!

Now onto this trip.  We went on a tour of America’s Heartlands and into Colorado for two weeks.  It was an amazing trip.  Though I have flown into several of the towns we visited, I have never driven to them.  It was a wonderful experience to drive and see a sliver of Indiana, then lots of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Denver.  Iowa was surprisingly beautiful, with rolling green hills spotted with black cows and windmills.  Did you know that Iowa gets 20% of all the energy in the state from wind?  They have committed to generating 40% of their energy from wind, a goal that may be achieved as early as 2015.  How cool is that?

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The first night, we stayed in a beautiful apartment full of antiques that is set up for traveling musicians.  It was right behind the stage at the Legion Arts Center in Cedar Rapids.  The Legion Arts Center is a wonderful building that showcases both artwork as well as some phenomenal musicians.  It is right across from the Newbo Market, a mini-Pike’s Place of sorts that was opened just 6 months ago.  In the morning, we had a great cup of coffee from the coffee shop on the first floor of the building and looked at art in our pajamas.  The folks in Cedar Rapids were so wonderful–one couple even called ahead and bought our lunch at a funky diner called the Bluebird Diner in Iowa City on our drive to Topeka.  It was an act of incredible hospitality and we are so grateful for it.  Drew had Huevos Epsteinos and I think it went down as one of his top ten meals…at least that’s what I gathered when he ate them with his eyes closed most of the time.  One of the few souvenirs we brought home was a bag of the Bluebird Coffee, which I think is worth special-ordering.

In Topeka, we hit up the Topeka Zoo, where I fed a baby giraffe!  We also saw gorillas, tigers, lions, black bears, eagles, and this photogenic flamingo.

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We also saw the Westboro Baptist Church compound (from the outside, of course).  There was a bright side to it–across the street from the compound, the organization Planting Peace purchased a house and painted every piece of siding a different color of the rainbow.  A member of the Westboro church was on a ladder looking over the fence and praying against the house but that didn’t take away from the delightful presence of this house that promotes peace, fights bullying, and helps with orphanages, de-worming, and rain forest conservation.  It’s wonderful to see this organization stand up for peace and this bold act gave me hope.

And then…the Rockies.  Oh my goodness…the Rockies.

Mountains

I had never driven in the mountains and I must have said “wow” every minute or two for the four hour drive from Denver to Carbondale.  This is the view when you get into Carbondale:

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Even though it was cold and sometimes snowy, the breathtaking views made me forget about having to bundle up!

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That night, we ate at a wonderful new restaurant called Town. (with a period) and had a great experience sitting at the community table and getting to know a few folks.  Their clams were excellent as well as the roasted carrots and cauliflower.

East of Carbondale, I had my first fly-fishing experience in the world-famous Frying Pan River.  Standing in the water with the current pressing against my waders and looking at the incredible red rock cliffs that surrounded us, I started tearing up with the joy of being in such a beautiful place.  My weepy moment passed quickly, though, because a rainbow trout came up to my leg and used my boot as a break from the current for about a half hour, joined by three of his pals for several minutes at a time.  I learned how to cast, watch the strike indicator, and mend my line that day, all while staring down at my feet off and on to look at the pretty rainbows swimming by me.

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The drive from Carbondale to Westcliffe on Highway 24 was incredible.  The terrain seemed to change every five minutes.  Rocky and desert-like at one turn, snow-covered pines the next.  My favorite view on that drive was the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a mountain range that is almost 250 miles long.

Mountain Range

Over the next weekend, we went fishing in the Colorado River where I got a great casting lesson from Shaggy, the awesome shaggy-bearded best friend of my sweetie.

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And then in the Blue River, Drew’s other buddy, Romano, taught me more about casting, mending the line, and setting the hook.  And all of that coaching paid off!  I caught my first trout by myself!  The boys were so proud of me when they saw me mending  my line, watching the strike indicator (bobber), setting the hook, and reeling the fish in.  It’s catch and release out there, and that’s what we would do anyway, so no trout for dinner.

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It was incredibly hard to leave the mountains behind to drive back to Michigan but we had much to do upon our return.

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After just a couple of days of being home my poor sweetie had a major surgery on Friday to correct a nerve-related motility disorder called Achalasia.  The muscle between his stomach and esophagus was clenched so tight that most food could not make it through the tiny tube.  It’s been such an irony that the boyfriend of a foodie/food blogger like me could not eat most foods for several months.  But the surgery was so successful and slowly we are introducing foods back in.  In a couple of weeks he will be able to eat everything I am eating, which will just be so wonderful.

On Saturday, I ran home to let the pup out and decided to stop at the Farmer’s Market on the way home.  I was in the mood for more pea shoots, one of my favorite spring vegetables.  I made a pea shoot and yellow beet salad a couple of weeks ago and loved it.  On the trip, I thumbed through the May issue of Cooking Light Magazine and found another pea shoot recipe to add to the repertoire.

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This recipe was quick, just what I needed for my quick break, and delicious to boot.  I had to use big carrots because there were no carrots ready at the farmer’s market so I just cut them on an angle for a nice presentation.  The spring onions soaked up the sugar/vinegar glaze and were marvelous.  I may just cook up more spring onions with a little sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper to mix into quinoa or spoon over crusty bread.  Mmmmm!

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Stay tuned for more recipes from Cooking Light Magazine–I’m going to make a healthier version of biscuits soon once my honey can eat them.  I’m picturing them with some fresh local butter and creamed honey……!  But I am getting ahead of myself.  I hope you enjoy this great springy peas and carrots recipe as much as I did!

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Newfangled Peas and Carrots from Cooking Light Magazine; May 2013 Issue

4 servings of ¾ cup each; about 30 minutes total, 15 minutes hands-on

  • 6 cups water
  • 12 ounces baby carrots
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups vertically sliced spring onion, white parts only (about 9 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 cups pea tendrils or watercress
  1. Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add carrots; reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain; rinse under cold water. Rub carrot peels off with a clean, dry kitchen towel.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 3 minutes or until slightly tender. Add carrots, sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper; cook 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves and carrots are thoroughly heated. Stir in tarragon. Top with pea tendrils.

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Pea Shoot, Sunflower Sprout, and Yellow Beet Salad with Goat Cheese

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“The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things:  of shoes and ships and sealing-wax.  Of cabbages and kings.  And why the sea is boiling hot.  And whether pigs have wings.” –Lewis Carroll

I’ve had this quote stuck in my head all day because I keep thinking, “the time has come, the time has come!”  The farmer’s market has returned and along with it, the excitement of seeing the produce parade, unfolding week by week.  Last week the most exciting finds at the market (for me) were pea shoots and sunflower sprouts.  This week, asparagus.  I wait all year for asparagus and am giddy when I see it make its brief appearance, standing at attention all down the rows of the market.  Alas, I am in Denver this week (well, not alas–I get to learn fly fishing in the mountains–can’t beat that!) and am missing out on the first appearance of asparagus at the market.  But lest I get ahead of myself…let’s talk about pea shoots.  And sunflower sprouts.  And last but not least, for a tour of my local farmer’s market, click here and I’ll show you around my beloved Fulton Street Farmer’s Market.

Sunflower Sprouts

Sunflower Sprouts

Before we went to the farmer’s market on opening day, May 4, I was imagining what we might find.  It was a cold and long winter so our produce in Michigan got a slow start.  Radishes, asparagus, pea shoots, leeks…all popped into my head.  We didn’t find radishes or asparagus last week but found pea shoots!  And sunflower sprouts!  I knew exactly what to do with these two wonderful spring vegetables.  This salad seemed the perfect thing to make and it allowed me to experiment with sauteing pea shoots.  This salad has both raw and sautéed pea shoots, some sunflower sprouts, yellow beets, radishes, and crumbled goat cheese.  Finished with a light honey-mustard vinaigrette, this salad was the essence of spring.

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Spring Pea Shoot Salad with Sunflower Sprouts, Yellow Beets, and Goat Cheese; serves 1

  • 1 medium yellow beet, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2-3 oz bag of pea shoots
  • 1/3 cup sunflower sprouts
  • 2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Peel the beet and slice from top to bottom into thin wedges.  Place in a saucepan with water to cover and a dash of sea salt.  Bring to boil then turn heat down to simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until beets have softened but are not mushy.  They should still have a little bite to them.  Drain in a colander and let cool.
  2. Split pea shoots in half.  Arrange half of the pea shoots in a salad bowl—I like to use a shallow bowl to showcase the salad…much prettier that way!  Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet or wok.  Add the other half of the pea shoots to the pan and saute briefly, just until wilted.  Add the wilted pea shoots to the raw pea shoots in your salad bowl.  Add the sunflower sprouts to the pea shoots and toss.  Arrange the beet wedges amongst the greens and sprinkle the goat cheese on top of the salad. 
  3. Mix the mustard and honey together in a small bowl until combined.  Slowly drizzle the oil into the honey-mustard mixture.  Add the vinegar slowly then whisk to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle a little vinaigrette over the salad (there will still be vinaigrette left over for more salads).  Sit down and welcome spring with this simple salad.

Chickpea and Quinoa Salad with Cashew Chutney

Chickpea and Quinoa Salad with Cashew Chutney

Well, it’s been a little while!  I’ve been busy, busy, busy.  This past weekend I had a Dinner With Aura booth at the Grand Rapids Public Library’s Green Market Expo.  It was so much fun!  I sold some granola and biscotti, raffled off Super Natural Everyday, and met so many awesome people who were interested in eating healthier.  Several folks mentioned that they were simply trying to reduce the amount of meat they ate, replacing a few meals a week with vegetarian options.  That got me so excited.  I truly believe that small changes add up.  It can be really intimidating to be expected to change everything about your eating habits.  Eating is such a personal and habitual experience so I believe that tackling one change at a time is the key to long-lasting change.  I met a lovely woman who wanted to start by eating vegan three days a week.  I’m so excited to hear how that goes for her and excited to see what new foods she will discover in the process.

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I’ve also been busy moving my honey into my house.  Having lived alone for three and a half years, this has been a big change!  We are in the process of merging our things and getting into a routine.  I’m excited to see what the future holds for us.

This weekend was so busy that I just ate really simple dishes.  I was cooking for myself this weekend so things were back to my usual one person meals, quinoa with sauteed kale, zucchini, carrots, etc.  I really don’t mind eating like that most of the time but it is fun to have someone to cook for and I tend to make more substantial meals when I’m not on my own.

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Today, I was so happy that at about 7:00 I finally had time to cook up the recipe for the Food Matters Project.  I was even more happy that it is finally spring and we have daylight at 7:00!  This dish was so easy to put together and so tasty.  All I can say is thank you for the awesome pick, Jess!  Once again, I had a hard time imagining what this salad would end up looking and tasting like.  The result was such a pleasant surprise.  It had so many flavors I love all in one bowl.  I modified the dish somewhat, adding quinoa, radishes, and peanut to the mix.  The chickpeas and quinoa provide protein and the nuts provide healthy fats.  This salad is a great main dish meal.  If you are looking for something a little different and very, very easy, try this!  You won’t be disappointed.  If you want the original recipe, head over to Jess’s site.  And to see the variations everyone came up with, head over to the FMP website.

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Chickpea and Quinoa Salad with Cashew Chutney;adapted from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Project

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 small dried hot red chile or ¼ tsp of red chili flakes
  • 1/3 cup cashews (raw are fine)
  • ¼ cup peanuts
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 3 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained
  • 1 and ½ cups quinoa
  • 1 cup chopped fresh mangoes (can also use apricots)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Olive oil as needed
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 radishes, cut into matchsticks
  1. To make chutney:  In a small, dry skillet, combine cumin seeds, chili, cashews, and peanuts. Heat over medium heat, shaking pan frequently for 3 to 5 minutes or until everything colors slightly and becomes fragrant.
  2. Transfer to blender or food processor. Add garlic and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Process, stopping machine to scrape down sides if necessary, until finely ground but not as smooth as peanut butter.
  3. To assemble salad: In a salad bowl, toss chickpeas, quinoa, and fruit with chutney. Add lime juice and a little oil if needed to help bring everything together. Stir in cilantro and radishes. Taste. Adjust seasoning. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.  Enjoy!!!

Tropical Fajitas With Jicama and Pineapple-Lime Glaze

Seitan Jicama and Pineapple Tacos

I don’t know what the weather is like in your part of the world but here it is the Winter-That-Never-Ends or the Spring-That-Never-Comes (there are still 3 feet of snow where my poor mom lives in the Upper Peninsula so I’ll hush now).  Today was dark and rainy, so dark that I had to turn on the lights in my house as though it was nighttime.  I needed a pick-me-up.  Pronto.  So I made this lively and lovely fajita recipe, courtesy of Mark Bittman.  Thanks to the darling Margarita at Let’s Cook and Be Friends for choosing this recipe as the Food Matters Project recipe of the week.  The original recipe is called “Not Your Usual Steak Fajitas” and can be found on Margarita’s blog by clicking here.  This being a vegetarian blog, I ended up making mine with seitan (seasoned wheat gluten) instead of steak.  But if you prefer, you can substitute meat or any meat substitute in this recipe and it will still be delicious.  If you want to check out what the other FMP bloggers came up with, head to the Food Matters Project website for more.

Browned Seitan

Browned Seitan

This recipe uses jicama, an often forgotten vegetable in my cooking repertoire.  Jicama tastes a little bit like a green apple when it is uncooked.  Cooked, it retains a pleasant crunch and light sweetness.  The pineapple and limes in this recipe really bring out the tropical flavors of this dish.

Radishes, Jicama, Onions, Bell Peppers, and Limes ready to go in the skillet.

Radishes, Jicama, Onions, Bell Peppers, and Limes ready to go in the skillet.

I tried these in taco-form initially but really ended up coming to the conclusion that this is just as good as a stand-alone or served over a bed of rice.

Deconstructed Fajitas

Deconstructed Fajitas

Each bite is a reminder of the summer that I know will eventually come.  It was a great pick-me-up today and along with my chaser of hot yoga, by the end of the day I was sitting pretty.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

Tropical Fajitas With Jicama and Pineapple-Lime Glaze
Adapted from “Not Your Usual Steak Fajitas”; Mark Bittman, The Food Matters Cookbook
Makes: 4 servings        Time: 40 minutes

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces of seitan, thinly sliced (don’t feel limited by this–if you prefer you can use steak, chicken, tofu, or any other protein you want–this dish would also be great with veggies alone if you don’t have protein on hand)
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 or 2 fresh hot chiles (like jalapeno or Thai), seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 8 ounces jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 3 radishes, cut into matchsticks
  • 2 large carrots, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 cup cubed fresh pineapple
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ½ cup water
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
  • Warm corn or whole wheat tortillas, for serving, optional
  1. Put a large skillet over high heat until it smokes, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and, a few seconds later, the seitan/protein. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir immediately. Cook, stirring every 20 seconds or so for just a minute or 2 until it has some nice charring on it. Transfer to a plate.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil to the skillet and reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the onion, bell peppers, chile, and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the seitan/protein.
  3. Raise the heat to high again and add the jicama, radishes, and carrots. Stir immediately, then cook, stirring every 30 seconds or so, until the vegetables soften and begin to char slightly, 3-5 minutes. Transfer everything to the plate with the seitan/protein.
  4. Add the pineapple, lime juice, and water to the skillet. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring to scrape any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, until the glaze thickens a little. Return all the vegetables and seitan/protein to the pan and toss to coat with the lime and pineapple mixture. Garnish with cilantro and serve with warm tortillas.

How To Make Homemade Croutons

Simple Herbed Croutons

You know the saying “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime?”  Well, this week I’m going to show you how to make your own croutons.  You’ll never want to buy a box of croutons again once you know how easy this is and how much better homemade croutons taste!

This is one of those very non-fussy cooking projects, where just about anything goes.  All you will need is some bread, olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs.

Ingredients for croutons

A note about the bread:  you can use just about any bread that you like to make these.  I prefer a whole wheat bread but the preferences end there.  You can start with a rustic loaf with, a light loaf, a dense loaf.  Even stale bread works beautifully here.  You should never have to throw stale bread out again–this is a perfect use for it.  Although I prefer whole wheat for everyday croutons, you can also use a rustic white bread, roughly torn into pieces.  It will make for a slightly less-healthy but really tasty version, great for panzanella (a bread salads).  For this batch, I used Stone House Bread’s Honey Wheat Sandwich Bread.  You can pick it up at Meijer for $3.39, a steal!  And this bread is what bread should be, made simply and locally with a few, high quality organic ingredients.

Bread for croutons

Just cut the bread into strips, turn the other way, and cube it!  You can also roughly tear it into pieces.  Either way the results will be great.

Strips of bread

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For the herbs, I prefer fresh parsley or basil but in a pinch, you can use dried if need be.  You will mix the herbs with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Mix:

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Put the bread cubes into a large bowl and pour the olive oil, herb, salt, and pepper mixture over the croutons.  Spread onto a large baking sheet, making sure to avoid overcrowding:

Bake in a 300° oven for about 15 minutes.  Check to see if they are browned and crispy.  If not, bake for another 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let sit until cool.  This will also harden the croutons further so they are nice and crispy.  Once they are completely cool, place in an airtight container.  They will keep for a couple of weeks at room temperature.

Simple Herbed Croutons

Simple Homemade Croutons

  • 6 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley, basil, or other fresh herb
  • generous pinch of salt
  • generous pinch of pepper
  • Optional:  1 minced clove of garlic or 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • Optional:  2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 300°
  2. Cube bread or tear into pieces.  Place into a large bowl.
  3. Mix together the olive oil, herbs, salt, and pepper, and garlic or cheese if you are using them.
  4. Pour the olive oil mixture over the bread and stir to coat well.
  5. Scatter the coated bread pieces onto a large baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes and check for browning and crispness.  If needed, put back into the oven until done.  Mine usually take about 20 minutes.
  7. Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
  8. Enjoy on salads, soups, or right out of the jar!

Roasted Vegetables with Cheese Sauce and Toasts

Roasted vegetables with cheese sauce and toasts

Welcome to another Meatless Monday with the Food Matters project!  I say that half-joking because everything on my blog is meatless, Monday or not.  This week Lexi from Lexi’s Kitchen chose “Reverse Fondue” for the Food Matters pick of the week.  If you have a minute, check out Lexi’s blog.  She grows her own vegetables and has tons of tasty recipes.  I have been meaning to try her baby spinach salad with dates and almonds for a couple of weeks.  It looks amazing and I can’t wait to try it.

I had such a busy, busy day today and had about 30 minutes to whip together lunch (and exactly 7 minutes to eat it!).  This no-fuss recipe was easily done in that span of time.  All I had to do was rough-chop some veggies, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast for a short time.  While that was happening, I mixed together the cheese sauce, which was a five-minute-max project and pretty impossible to screw up.  Slice up a few pieces of bread from a baguette and toast a moment, and voila!  Roasted Vegetables with Cheese Sauce and Toasts.

Veggies Read to Roast

Feel free to experiment.  This recipe is hard to go wrong with.  Use any veggies good for roasting, use any cheese you want, any kind of bread you want (or skip the bread if you want).  Piece of cake.  I couldn’t help thinking when I made this that this trick is how parents get their kids to eat veggies (broccoli with cheese sauce, anyone?).  I felt a little childlike digging into this dish myself.  Not a bad thing in the middle of a hectic workday.

Roasted Vegetables with Cheese Sauce and Toasts

Roasted Veggies With Cheese Sauce and Toasts, adapted from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Project Cookbook

  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • Stem of broccoli, shaved then sliced on the diagonal
  • 2 carrots, sliced diagonally in about ½ inch pieces
  • 1 turnip, cut into wedges
  • ½ medium onion, cut into wedges
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz vegetable broth or chicken broth if you aren’t vegetarian
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 4 oz cheese (I used a combination of Swiss and goat cheese)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat oven to 450°.  Cut all of the veggies roughly—they don’t need to be perfect.  Spread on a large, rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with some salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until crisp-tender and beginning to brown. 
  2. Meanwhile, cut a few ½ inch thick slices of baguette and place in the oven on another sheet or move the veggies over to make room for the bread if you only have a few slices.  Toast until browned but still soft in the middle.  This should take less time than the veggies, about 10 minutes. 
  3. While the veggies and bread are in the oven, mix cornstarch with broth in a small saucepan.  Bring to a soft boil and add cheeses.  Stir continuously until all of the cheese has melted.  Pour into a small bowl and put a pinch of pepper on the top if you like. 
  4. Serve the cheese sauce with the roasted veggies and the bread on the side. 
  5. Dip away to your heart’s content!