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
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 have a interesting quality that I haven’t mentioned on my blog up to this point. I guess I haven’t mentioned it because it’s something I’ve always had so don’t think about it often. But Drew mentions it to friends from time to time and I feel a bit like a carnival act. I have a memory like an elephant when it comes to food. The meal we ate on our first date? Ancho lentil tacos, barramundi cod tacos, a tea, and a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting. Our meal at the Vierling Tavern? Cajun Blackened Lake Superior White Fish with wild rice pilaf and green beans, finished off with a piece of key lime pie. My birthday meal four years ago? Cedar planked salmon vesuvio. Anyway, you get the point. I remember my meals. The good and the bad.
In the summer of 2006, I had recently begun subscribing to Cooking Light Magazine. One of the first recipes I dog eared and cooked was this golden beet salad. I made it for my packed lunch to eat during a work day on my summer gardening job. That summer I was home from graduate school and was working with my friend, June Moon, in the gardens she designed and maintains around town. That day, we sat at the patio table near the pool at a client’s house (my favorite part of his place was the English garden June had designed for his wife before she passed) and enjoyed this salad. I remember that moment every time I eat this salad. I remember the feeling of friendship. I remember the hot summer day and dipping our feet in the pool to cool off. I remember the feeling of working hard and looking forward to the best part of the day; taking a break to put our feet up and share lunch with a dear friend. I’m grateful for such a good food memory because it is so often tied to memories of where I was, who I was with, and how I was feeling at the moment.
Cooking Light’s recipe for this salad calls for roasting the beets and I can attest that it is a delicious way to prepare the beets–they develop a depth and sweetness that other methods don’t draw out. But when I’m in a bit more of a rush, I opt to boil the beets until just-tender. It takes less time and still yields great results. I also add copious amounts of chopped dill (adding some chopped fresh mint to the mix tastes great too!) because I love it.
Be careful when toasting the pine nuts. It is easy to go from toasted to burned before you know it!
For Cooking Light’s original recipe, click here!
- 3 large golden beets
- 3/4 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion (about 1 small)
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
- ½ cup chopped fresh dill
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons extravirgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 450°.
- Scrub beets with vegetable scrub brush. Cut off any “hairs” growing out of the beets. Cut off tops of beets and slice lengthwise into ¼ inch slices.
- Place slices into a pot and cover with water. Salt water and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and simmer until tender, about 15-20 minutes.
- When tender (but not mushy!), drain and rinse with cold water. Drain thoroughly. Combine beets, onion, and remaining ingredients in a bowl, stirring gently.
- This also tastes quite nice with some crumbled goat cheese or served on top of some quinoa or rice as a more substantial dish.
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.
Fasten your seatbelts, folks. It’s going to be a long post. You can skip to the bottom for the recipe if you want, I won’t be offended. But if you do, before you do, here are the Cliff’s Notes: ramblings on Christmas fun, Happy New Year(!), shame, perfectionism, joy, life lessons, resolutions or goals, and how I came to make these sweet potato, green chili, cheese tamales with tomatillo salsa. Okay–you are excused. See ya at the bottom for the recipe!
Alright, diehards, here it goes.
I am getting back to reality after a week of relaxing, both at home in Grand Rapids and in the Upper Peninsula, where I grew up. We spent the last week reading (Joseph Heywood’s Wood Cops series is awesome!), snowshoeing (new snowshoes for Christmas!), walking around historic downtown Marquette (we had a night at the historic Landmark Inn–what a treat!), and hiking to see some beautiful ice caves about twenty minutes from where I grew up. I haven’t been to the ice caves as an adult and I feel truly blessed that I have someone who I can enjoy doing things with and that he digs checking out giant frozen icicles and other wonders of nature with his Yooper gal. I’m still bewildered that someone could enjoy the same things I enjoy as much as I do myself.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner! As someone who is always thinking of her next meal, I couldn’t be more excited about the holiday. As most folks do, I have some favorite dishes that have always been traditional in my family. Homemade cranberry sauce. Cornbread dressing. Whole wheat bread dressing. I can’t wait to have these items on my plate. Over the years I’ve also updated some classics and they have bumped out the traditional dishes. The last couple of years I’ve been making a sweet potato puree with coconut milk, thanks to the recipe in Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen. A few years ago I updated green been casserole for a simple version of steamed green beans with pickled sweet and sour onions and a maple dressing. Love!! This year I plan to add Brussels sprouts to the table and came up with a new favorite way to eat them.
Every year where I grew up, we had November 15 off of school. It wasn’t always that way. Over the years as we grew up, so few kids came to school that day, the district finally caved and it became a recognized day-off, no absences counted. What, you ask, happens on November 15? Opening day of deer season. Boys and men dressed in their favorite flannels and boots and headed out to their deer blinds as if heading off to war. The ladies? They went to Green Bay to go shopping.
Soup season has arrived, folks. You’ll be seeing many soups posted on this blog over the next several months, a testimony to my efforts to survive another cold and dark Michigan winter. The leaves on the trees are nearly gone (please hang on while I wipe the tear that is rolling down my cheek…sniffle), the lawn furniture looks eerily out of place and begs to be put away, Halloween is over and talk of the holidays creeps into conversation. We’ve already got a game plan for Thanksgiving dinner (my first time hosting!) and my mind is focused on developing recipes for healthy Thanksgiving sides for my next cooking class. The sun sets at around five o’clock and I’m still considering bucking the trend and ignoring daylight savings time (who’s with me?). The space heater is fully broken in and we are ready to hunker down under afghans for the next five months. For those of you who do not live in a similar climate, this is serious stuff, folks. A true test of resilience or sisu, as my mom would say. Sisu is the Finnish word for strength in the face of adversity…my mom would say, “you’ve got sisu, girl!”
I’ve always envied those that are able to do what they love for their livelihood. Although there are certainly downsides to it (as most authors, musicians, and artists know), there is great appeal to this lifestyle. My sweetie is able to do what he loves, playing music and building instruments, and usually makes ends meet with the modest income that comes in. It may not be all roses all the time, but there is something to be said about being able to have the time to spend on developing specialized skills and enjoying one’s passion.
Over the last few weeks Drew has been working long hours in the woodshop building a gourd banjo. As a luthier (a beautiful way to say “builder of stringed instruments”) and newly learned clawhammer banjo player, he was intrigued when he heard Bob Lucas play a gourd banjo at a symposium called Common Ground on the Hill earlier this summer. A couple of months later, he began to study plans of existing gourd banjos and set about building one himself. After hours (and hours..and hours) of reading, planning and ordering supplies, and just a few weeks after the inaugural cutting of one large gourd, shipped from California, he sits playing his beautiful gourd banjo in the kitchen.
I am amazed that building a gourd banjo went from an idea of his to now, a few weeks later, a reality. I do not have the skills required to build a musical instrument or the passion to do so myself but I most certainly am in awe of this beautiful instrument created by his hands.
I do like my job and find excitement and satisfaction from it at times. But as grateful for it as I am (and grateful for steady employment that affords us a comfortable home and meets all of our basic needs) I cannot honestly say it is my life’s passion. Luckily, I get to spend time with my true passion from time to time and sometimes I even get to share it with others. Tonight I volunteer taught a cooking class at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids (a wonderful cancer and grief support clubhouse) and I got that feeling that I think Drew must feel when he is working on building a banjo or a guitar. I felt like I was doing something that I could do forever. I was completely relaxed, had fun, and felt so passionate about sharing my love for cooking with a great group of women.
Because I cook so much (daily), I sometimes take for granted the skills that I’ve acquired in the kitchen. I’m just a simple home cook when it comes down to it but I am surprised when I show a class how to do something and they are excited and delighted by it. Tonight I showed the women how to make a Mexican meal using butternut squash and black beans. We made butternut squash and black bean chili and these butternut squash, black bean, and charred onion tacos. At various points in the class I became animated and excited to show random little tips as they popped into my head. How to slice an avocado in its peel. How to peel and cut a butternut squash. That you can eat the skin of a delicata squash. That you can boil apple cider down into a glaze. That you can warm and char a tortilla directly on the flame of a gas stove. That you don’t have to measure everything exactly. That a little chocolate in chili adds depth and richness. Usually these little joys of the kitchen stay with me. I am usually pretty quiet in the kitchen at home, choosing silence over music, focusing on the meditative act of chopping vegetables and washing dishes. I usually take the little aha moments with cooking for granted or I assume that they will not delight anyone other than myself. It was brilliant fun tonight to not only share my love for cooking but to have fourteen women clap, smile, and say mmmmmm along with me while I cooked, learned (yup–still learning!), and dished up samples of our fall fiesta.
I do hope you try these tacos. They are a unique way to use my favorite fall vegetable, butternut squash. They are filling and hearty, aromatic and flavorful. It’s really a compliment when someone who loves meat tacos deems these an A++ (thanks, hon!). Needless to say, if I ever have a restaurant, these are making the menu.
And whatever your passion, I hope you get to spend a few moments with it today.
Butternut Squash Tacos with Charred Red Onion and Black Beans (and a bunch of yummy toppings!)
- 1 small butternut squash
- 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
- 1 red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 cup black beans, dried and cooked, or canned is fine too—be sure to drain well
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 12 corn tortillas
- 2 radishes, thinly sliced
- 1 avocado, sliced
- ½ cup fresh cilantro, washed and stems removed
- ½ cup queso fresco (Mexican crumbling cheese)
- ½ cup lowfat sour cream
- 1 scallion (green onion), thinly sliced
- 1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
- Sriracha (garlic-chili hot sauce, a.k.a. “Rooster Sauce”)
- Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly oil a baking sheet with 1 teaspoon oil.
- Prepare the squash: Cut the bottom off of the butternut squash to create a flat surface and stand squash on its end. Cut the squash down the middle, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard (or…as reader Natashia suggests, you can clean and roast them, spreading out on a baking sheet as if you were roasting pumpkin seeds–takes about 20 minutes). Peel the outside of the squash with a knife, taking care to always have a flat surface for stability. Slice the squash into ½ inch slices. Cut the slices into ½ inch diameter matchsticks, about 5 inches long.
- Place the squash sticks onto the oiled baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Don’t crowd the pan—use two pans if needed. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. Poke with a fork to test for doneness—the fork should easily pierce the squash and the squash should still hold its shape. Remove from the oven when done.
- In the meantime, heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil on medium high in a cast iron skillet or other heavy skillet and add the onions and garlic along with a sprinkle of salt. Cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have browned and softened slightly. Add the beans to the pan along with the cumin and stir for a moment until heated through.
- Heat a small skillet over high heat and add tortillas to the pan, one at a time, turning until they are heated and a little crisp. Once all tortillas are heated, add a few sticks of squash to each, a large spoonful of the onion and bean mixture, and any toppings you like (from the toppings listed above). Squeeze a wedge of lime over each and serve with Sriracha or another hot sauce on the side.
Makes 12 tacos
What an incredibly gorgeous weekend it has been. The weather was perfect. And by perfect, I mean 70 degrees, crisp, sunny, and chock full of fall fun. On Saturday we headed about an hour and a half southeast to Bellevue, MI, to Crane Fest. It was well worth the drive. Each year, thousands of sandhill cranes migrate to Florida for the winter. They happen to stop off for a rest at the Baker Sanctuary in Bellevue each year in October. Sandhill cranes are amazing and beautiful birds. They are the oldest living species of bird, having existed for over 9 million years. They are graceful, lovely, and have a gorgeous rolling trumpet song that fills the air as they join together for the evening at the sanctuary. If you’d like to read more about Crane Fest and about these beautiful birds, click here.
Now, at the end of the weekend, cozied up with my sweetie, the pup, and our brand new calico kitty (!), I’m thinking of the week ahead and what I’ll make for dinners. I’ve got plenty of squashes and root vegetables and not much time this week so I’ve got a hunch I’ll be making some soups. This time of year is perfect for soups. You’ll be seeing a lot of soups posted here over the next several months. As gorgeous as Michigan is in the spring, summer, and fall, winter is (though beautiful in its own way) long and cold. Perfect for warming bowls of soup.
This soup is a creation of mine. Most of the time I see carrot soup, it is carrot-ginger soup. Carrot-ginger soup is great but it’s everywhere so I wanted to make something a little different.
This soup is so easy and takes only about 15 minutes hands on. You roast the veggies in large chunks until soft, add to a soup pot with broth, coconut milk, cilantro, and spices, and give it a whirl. Easy, warming, and delicious. And healthy to boot. I hope you enjoy!
Roasted Carrot Soup with Cilantro and Coconut Milk
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 2 and ½ lbs. of carrots, scrubbed
- 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled
- 1 large sweet onion, sliced into thick slices
- 1 large clove garlic
- 6 cups of vegetable broth or water with bouillon if you prefer
- 1 can light coconut milk
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. garam masala spice blend
- 1 small bunch of cilantro, stems and all
- 2 tsp. good quality olive oil to garnish, optional
- Cilantro to garnish, optional
- 4 tbsp. goat cheese to garnish, optional
- OR 4 tbsp. plain yogurt to garnish, optional
- Pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) to garnish, optional
- Heat oven to 375°. Lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish.
- Roughly chop carrots and sweet potatoes into pieces about 1 inch in size. Slice onions into thick slices. Peel garlic clove (you can leave the garlic clove whole). Place all into baking dish and cover. Roast vegetables for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender.
- Pour roasted vegetables into a heavy stock pot or Dutch oven and turn heat to medium. Add vegetable broth, coconut milk, cumin, coriander, garam masala, and cilantro. Be sure to save a little cilantro for garnish.
- Using an immersion (stick) blender (see note below), blend the contents of the soup pot until smooth.
- Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a few leaves of cilantro. If you are in the mood, sprinkle some goat cheese onto the soup. Or plain yogurt. Or pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds). Whatever you fancy! The version in the photos is cilantro and olive oil. Simply delicious.
- This makes a large batch of soup—you can enjoy it for several days and freeze any leftovers.
Kitchen Tip: If you don’t have a stick blender, you should get one! It is one of my favorite kitchen tools. It helps you avoid having to pour hot liquids into a blender. All you need to do is place the stick blender in the soup and whirl away. You can also use it for smoothies, hummus, salsa, and so much more! But if you don’t have a stick blender today, you can use the ol’ blender method, just be careful! And put a stick blender on your wish list…! And no. Cuisinart Smart Stick does not pay me for this endorsement 🙂).