My husband makes our 16 month old son sweet potato fries regularly for an afternoon snack and he gobbles them up faster than you can say hot potato. So when I was at the health food store the other day and saw Okinawan purple sweet potatoes and Japanese white sweet potatoes, I had to get them for an extra special, healthy, and colorful treat. Continue reading
I’m sorry to admit it but I fell deep into a cooking rut over the past several months. I’ve been on autopilot and turning over and over again to my tried and true meals. Enchiladas, huevos rancheros, chili, tamales, stir fry…same ol, same ol. I was feeling pretty uninspired. Until…a couple of months ago when I was given the opportunity to pilot a home delivery program for groceries. Total game changer. The act of sitting down to order my groceries online every weekend has led me to start meal planning more seriously and has inspired me to shake things up a bit. And seriously…shopping for groceries in my jammies instead of shopping with a toddler in a busy store on the weekend? Heck yes!
One of the fun new things I’ve been doing with my meal planning is picking a cookbook every week and choosing two or three recipes from it to try that week. A couple of weeks ago we had Berbere red lentil stew (fantastic!), pad thai, and red flannel hash from Cooking Light’s Global Kitchen and Lighten Up, America! cookbooks. Next week I’ll be moving onto Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen with BBQ tempeh and spicy smothered green cabbage on the menu. But this week I’m having a wonderful time reading and cooking from Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. On Sunday I made Balsamic Glazed Beets and this flavor packed pate. Tonight, my husband made the Three Sisters Stew with masa dumplings and spiced pumpkin seeds. It was a delicious departure from my normal soup repertoire.
This pate, one of my favorite new recipes, is great smeared on top of crisp crackers, pita crisps, or used as a dip for your favorite crudites. This is also a kid friendly recipe. My 15-month old waddled back into the kitchen several times to tug on my leg for another taste. Finally, it’s freezer friendly – perfect to pack away in little containers for snacks at work or on the go!
- 1 pound winter squash, such as pumpkin, acorn, butternut, or buttercup, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
- Coarse sea salt
- 1/2 cup dry-pack sun-dried tomatoes
- 4 and 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Freshly milled black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Toss squash chunks with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Evenly distribute squash onto a sheet pan and place in the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes until you can easily pierce with a fork. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
- In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the tomatoes and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and set aside for 10 minutes to soften.
- In a saute pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and saute for 4 to 5 minutes, until it softens and begins to brown. Add the walnuts, garlic, sage, and red pepper flakes and saute gently for 5-7 minutes, until the walnuts are fragrant.
- Drain the plumped tomatoes but save the liquid. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the sauteed vegetables and winter squash. Puree until creamy, adding the reserved tomato water if needed, until the desired consistency is reached.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm.
When I was pregnant and shortly after I had my son fifteen months ago, I received a great deal of advice. Some of the advice was game changing, like the advice to get an Ergobaby carrier so I could “wear him down” to sleep while still getting some things done. Some of the advice clearly works for some babies but not mine…like the advice to put River in his crib and allow him to soothe himself to sleep. Let me just say that after many, many, many attempts and variations, he wants nothing to do with that business (and who would, when they can fall asleep with their head on mama’s warm chest, listening to the thump thump of her heart?). And some of the advice was just plain weird, like the time I was told by a well-meaning stranger at a concert that I should take a washcloth and rub vigorously to “toughen up my nipples” before I had my son. Seriously. A stranger told me that. I can’t make this stuff up.
Two pieces of advice that have been truly invaluable during this time have been 1) to take care of myself and 2) to embrace routine. Both are often easier said than done but over time I have found some great ways to streamline my day and make sure my basic needs are met so I can be a good caregiver and worker. As a food lover and still-nursing and pumping mom, that means making sure that I have snacks and lunches prepped and packed for the week every Sunday. I’m all about making one big batch of snacks and lunches to last through the weekdays. Freezable dishes? Even better. This recipe for granola bars provides me with a healthy snack that is easy to make ahead of time, easy to pack, provides a great boost of energy, and is freezable. A super food.
When I started out on my task of creating a granola bar recipe, several recipes I encountered online required baking the bars. I found that it was very difficult to get a consistent end result that was not dry or too chewy. After much tweaking and taste testing, this granola bar recipe is the result of my efforts. It requires roasting the grains and nuts ahead of time to add flavor without drying or hardening the bar. After the grains and nuts are roasted, it only takes a few moments to stir the dry and wet ingredients and to pat them in the pan to set. Easy. Delicious. Cheaper than a Kind bar. My favorite granola bar yet. I hope you love it too.
Have a sweet tooth? These granola bars are naturally sweet from the brown rice syrup and touch of honey. Still hankering? To turn this into more of a dessert granola bar, add a handful of dark chocolate chips to the mix. You won’t regret it!
- 3 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup puffed millet (optional – you can use another cup of rolled oats if you don’t have puffed millet)
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- 1/2 cup whole raw almonds
- 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- 2.5 cups dried fruits such as raisins, cranberries, etc.
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1/2 cup peanut butter (I like to use crunchy)
- 2/3 cup brown rice syrup (I buy at iHerb.com)
- Put the oats, millet, almonds, and pumpkin seeds on a large sheet pan. Spread to distribute evenly. Roast at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes until crispy but not browned.
- Meanwhile, heat the honey, peanut butter, and brown rice syrup on low in a saucepan. Heat just enough to easily be able to mix the peanut butter with the sweetener.
- Put the dried fruit into a large bowl. Add the roasted grains and nuts and mix. Pour the liquid mixture onto the dry mixture and stir well to combine.
- Pour the mixture onto a sheet pan or a 9x13 baking pan lined with parchment paper. Press the mixture into the pan hard enough to ensure the mixture will adhere and be able to be cut into bars. I recommend using a flat bottomed measuring cup or bowl to press the mixture into the pan!
- Place the pan into the fridge to cool off for an hour.
- Cut the bars into squares or rectangles.
- These also freeze very well so you may freeze any extras you have.
- Makes about 24 bars.
An old Ukranian proverb forewarns, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.” As a big beet fan, I’d like to think that a tale that begins with a beet will end with deliciousness.
My cooking style has changed considerably since my baby boy arrived in November. Meals are simple, quick, freezable, and lunch-packable. Sundays are filled with food prep to make the work-and-baby-filled weeks a little easier. This Sunday I prepped muesli for breakfasts, grains, tofu, and greens for lunches, and snacks for the whole week. As a nursing mom, I need to make sure I’m eating small, healthy snacks in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon and hummus is a clear winner. Hummus is packed with protein and fiber, easy to make, and endlessly versatile (spread on crackers or in a sandwich, use as a dip with carrot sticks or sugar snap peas or put a dollop on a grain salad). Sometimes I get stuck in a rut with a basic hummus recipe but last month’s Cooking Light magazine inspired me to get a little crazy with my hummus and the results were great. Continue reading
I’ve been making collard burritos for some time now. They have never made it to my blog. Maybe it’s because I think of them as my go-to quick meal that I eat when I don’t have time to play around with making things pretty. They are usually filled with a hodgepodge of quinoa, beans, and some random veggies. Nothing fancy. Maybe it’s because if I’m eating a collard burrito it means it is late and I don’t have daylight to photograph my creation for the blog. Winters are hard for food bloggers. There are nights that I prep my dish the night before, then race home, fly into the kitchen, and make a mess of everything, just so I can get the last ten minutes of daylight to capture my creation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
- Make the apple cider sauce ahead of time (see below).
- 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!).
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- You’ll use just a bit for this recipe and can store the rest to use in a variety of dishes.
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.
This 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!
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.
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.
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.
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
- 12 squash blossoms, if attached to baby squash, leave squash attached.
- ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Mix together cheeses, 1 lightly beaten egg, and herbs. Season with salt.
- Put the remaining 2 eggs in a bowl and whisk. Put the panko breadcrumbs in another bowl.
- Carefully spoon filling into each squash blossom and twist loosely at the end to close.
- Dip each stuffed squash blossom in egg, then breadcrumbs, and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.
- Remove from the oven. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
A while back I taught you all how to make your own yogurt. I recently also shared this how-to with updated photos on the Grand Rapids Cooking School Blog. Now that you know how to make your own yogurt, wouldn’t it be great if you knew how to make your own granola to eat with that yogurt? Granola is a great breakfast and a great snack but is often so expensive to buy in stores and is often much higher in calories than it needs to be. The good news is that it only takes about 40 minutes (only 10 minutes hands-on) to make a large batch of granola. Not only is it considerably less expensive, it is so much tastier and you can put anything in it that you want.
Below is a basic granola recipe that can be easily adapted to suit your needs. For the oil, you can experiment with olive oil, coconut oil, or canola oil. For the sweetener, you can try maple syrup, agave, or honey. For the fruit and nuts, try any combination that you like.
If you are still not satisfied with your options (I thought I had perfected granola until my sweetie begged for clumpy granola), read on past the recipe to learn how to make CLUMPY granola!
- 4 cups rolled oats (be sure not to use quick oats)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup dried fruit (I switch it up depending on what I have on hand. I have used raisins, dried apricots, currants, cranberries, or diced prunes–I bet dried blueberries would be great too!)
- 1 cup nuts and seeds (I usually do a mix of chopped walnuts, sliced almonds, raw pumpkin seeds, and raw sunflower seeds…but any combination of nuts and seeds will work!)
- 5 tablespoons melted coconut oil or olive oil
- 1 tsp real vanilla extract
- ½ cup real maple syrup, agave, or honey if you aren’t vegan
- Optional: sesame seeds, flax seeds, coconut flakes…anything else you want to add!
- Preheat oven to 300°
- Mix together oats, cinnamon, salt, nuts and seeds in a big bowl. Please note: I have added fruit to the mix at this point mostly with success…but due to burning the fruit a couple of times during the baking process I now choose to add it at the end!
4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring until all dry ingredients are well coated. Spread mixture onto two oiled baking sheets (make sure they are rimmed sheets!).Spread evenly and press down firmly into a single layer with a spatula. You can leave an empty space in the middle of the pans to create another “edge” to prevent an uncooked middle.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes until granola is golden brown and crisp at the edges. You can bake it to your preference. One time I made the granola lightly browned:
And the next time I baked it a little longer:
6. Add fruit to the granola while still warm. Allow to cool for 15 minutes on baking sheet before eating and at least 30 minutes before storing (allow to cool completely). Store in an airtight jar.
Now, since you’ve been so patient, I’m going to tell you the secret to making clumpy granola…egg whites! I’m not sure yet how to make a vegan clumpy granola but so far, as a non-vegan, egg whites are doing the trick for me. If you want clumpy granola, mix 2 egg whites into your wet mixture before adding to the dry. When you bake the granola, be sure not to stir it while baking. This will break up the clusters. When the baking is complete, allow to cool completely before breaking the granola into nice big chunks. There will be some chunks and some free bits too.
Now enjoy your amazing homemade granola and yogurt!
I just listened to a wonderful TEDx talk by Sarah Britton, the author of one of my very favorite food blogs, My New Roots. The TEDx talk was called “One Change” and in it, Sarah talks us through the idea that one small change in the kitchen can have life changing consequences. Food, she argues, is life sustaining and life changing. What you reach for in the grocery store is an important choice with long term consequences. ‘More than fuel, food can be a powerful medicine.’ Sarah reminds us that whole foods make us feel better and they simply taste better. At the end of the talk, Sarah shows the audience how, in a matter of minutes and with the most basic of kitchen tools, you can make your own nut milk at home. Not only is it cost-effective, it tastes better and it empowers you, both in the kitchen and in your life.
I must have nodded my head 98 times while I was listening to that talk. I couldn’t agree more. It is so fulfilling and empowering to me to make my own foods from scratch. I get so much joy from experimenting in the kitchen and my successes are shared with friends and family as I make the rounds calling and urging them to please try this at home.
Coincidentally, I was listening to Sarah’s talk while making this week’s Food Matter’s Project recipe (chosen by the ever-adventurous and darling Margarita at Let’s Cook and Be Friends). Coincidentally, it was my very first time making biscotti. And perhaps not coincidentally, I plan to continue making my own biscotti for years to come. One change.
Biscotti rarely calls to me at a bakery. Next to all of the more gooey, more creamy, more sweet sweets, biscotti fails to convince. Maybe it was smelling the biscotti baking in my own kitchen, maybe it was discovering just how easy it is to make, or maybe it was simply the fact that I made it myself (!) that I find myself hooked. Biscotti instantly found its way onto my list of food gifts to make for friends and family at the holidays. Biscotti instantly found its way into my heart and into my Sunday morning coffee routine.
This recipe is great because there isn’t too much sugar (next time I will experiment with using agave or sucanat and see how that goes) but it still ends up being satisfying. For my holiday gifting, I plan to dip some biscotti in dark chocolate to make it more enticing but for me, this simple version is the perfect starting point and perfect in itself. Sitting in my window seat with my cup of pour-over coffee, I’m in a happy place.
Please share with me any of your own cooking revelations. Is there anything you always used to buy but now only make at home? In the meantime, please try this at home!
Walnut Biscotti; from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook
Makes 2 to 3 dozen; Time: 1 and 1/4 hours, mostly unattended
Even without eggs and butter, these biscotti aren’t too dry, and they maintain their pleasant texture for days. Serve with coffee or tea.
- 1 and 1/3 cups walnut halves
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 and 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
- 2/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup honey
- Vegetable oil for greasing pan
- Heat the oven to 350°F. Put half the walnuts in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl and add the remaining walnuts along with the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; mix well. Add the honey and 3/4 cup water and mix until just incorporated, adding a little extra water if needed to bring the dough together.
- Lightly grease 2 baking sheets with a little oil and dust them with flour; invert the sheets and tap them to remove the excess flour. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a 2-inch wide log. Put each log on a baking sheet. Bake until the loaves are golden and beginning to crack on top, 30 to 40 minutes; cool the logs on the sheets for a few minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 250°F.
- When the loaves are cool enough to handle, use a serrated knife to cut each on a diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slices. Put the slices on the sheets, return them to the oven, and leave them there, turning once, until they dry out, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks. Store in an airtight container for up to several days.