Hello There, Spring!

Strawberry CrostiniI love springtime — the changeable moods of the weather, how amazing everything smells, all the new growth — even with the pounding my immune system gets due to allergies. It’s such a gorgeous time of year.

Food seems to reflect the pastel wonder of the awakening world as well. It’s a time for roasted asparagus, tender greens, and new cheese. Plus, strawberries. I really love strawberries! The crostini shown above is super simple, and could almost be used as a dessert, it’s so creamy and decadent. We had it for dinner with a side salad. Serve it with a lovely glass of rosé, and celebrate spring.

Spring Crostini

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 4

half a loaf of a crusty sourdough baguette sliced into thin pieces
extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. fresh soft sheep cheese (I used Pennyroyal Farm‘s sheep milk Laychee)
12 strawberries, sliced
balsamic vinegar

Place sliced bread onto a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil.
Turn on broiler and set bread underneath. Cook for a couple minutes, or until the bread begins to turn golden.
Remove from oven and allow bread to cool.
Smear a bit of cheese onto each piece of bread. Arrange strawberries on top and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

(For even more savory, green flavors, try sprinkling the crostinis with some chopped basil.)

Dinner Salad with Farro

dinner-salad-with-farroLast week, Charles and I went to the Alsace Festival in Anderson Valley, something that has become a yearly tradition for us. It’s always a wonderful weekend filled with equally wonderful wines and sumptuous food, but after a few days of rich food and maybe a little bit too much wine… it’s good to have simpler fare.

For us, that usually means lots of greens and other healthy options. In fact, our bodies were craving tons of leafy greens and whole grains, so I threw together a salad which revisited our plates a couple more times during the week while we recovered from our libations. Other than lots of layering, this salad is about as easy as they come. We paired the salad with a lovely Muscat Blanc from Navarro. While we didn’t pick it up on this trip, it was an amazing Anderson Valley wine and was a nice companion to the many savory and sweet flavors of the meal.

Dinner Salad with Farro

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 6

1 1/2 cups farro
12 cups mixed baby greens
1 pint fresh blueberries
4 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (for a savory, almost cheesy flavor)
1 pint white button mushrooms
1 pint yellow cherry tomatoes
5 oz. soft goat cheese (optional) (I used Truffle Tremor for a compliment to the mushrooms and nutritional yeast.)
12 green olives, sliced
6 Tablespoons slivered almonds
extra virgin olive oil
pear balsamic vinegar

Place farro in a fine sieve and rinse under cold water. Drain and put in a pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook over low heat for thirty minutes. Remove from heat and drain any extra water. Rinse under cold water to cool down the grains and let drain completely.

Evenly divide all ingredients (except olive oil and vinegar) onto six plates. Drizzle salads with olive oil and vinegar to taste and serve. This is a dinner that will make your belly feel good!

Quick Veggie Burritos

Quick Veggie BurritosThere’s nothing quite as quick and delicious as stopping by the local taqueria and picking up a couple of burritos. While it may be easy, those quick calories can start adding up on your waistline while depleting your wallet — or at least, that’s been my experience.

So, I decided to create something a bit healthier, though still pretty simple to make, and crafted a quick and tasty veggie burrito. I kept things inexpensive by using frozen veggies and prepped a few days of burrito fillings in advance so that I can spoon some mix into a tortilla and warm it slowly on the stove top soon after I get home from work. Not only are these almost as easy as dropping by the taqueria, they’re just as hearty, and they’re bursting with healthy vegetables. And seriously, these things are yummy!

Pair them with a nice ale or lager, or a white wine that can play nicely with all the different flavors, something like a Fumé Blanc.

Quick Veggie Burritos


Serves 4

high heat oil
garlic salt to taste
red pepper flakes to taste
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 cup mixed mushrooms
1 cup precooked butternut squash, cubed (I even got this frozen!)
4 Tablespoons canned tomatillos
1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tablespoons sliced black olives
1 cup walnut pieces
handful of cheese (A combo of mozzarella and cheddar is nice. So is queso fresco.)
1 avocado, cubed
4 spinach wraps or other large tortillas

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.
On a cookie sheet, scatter the broccoli, mushrooms, and squash in a single layer. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper flakes. Cook until the veggies begin to brown, about ten minutes if they’re frozen, about five if they’re fresh.
Preheat a griddle or large pan over medium low heat.
Remove veggies from oven and put in a large bowl. Dump in the rest of the ingredients and stir together.
One by one, place tortillas on griddle and flip after a minute, leaving just long enough for the tortillas to be warmed and become more flexible.
Spoon approximately a cup of filling onto the middle-side of each tortilla. Fold tortilla and roll until a burrito is made.
Place on the griddle and cook on each side until lightly browned, about a couple minutes per side.
Serve with chips and salsa.

Dal

DalHappy New Year! I’m back from my blogging hiatus and ready for a full year of healthy cooking.

Every year I choose a word I want to focus on, and for 2016, I chose “active.” I was so busy last year, it seemed like every bit of potential free time was spent indoors, which definitely took a toll on my physical health. Though I was doing some awesome, creative things, it also took a toll on my mental well being, as I didn’t have time to focus on the things that keep me happy and productive. For me, my year of “active” means also being more involved in the things I find fulfilling. Blogging is one of those things, filling my wellspring back up.

Since it is a new year, and everyone is focused on healthy eating and improvement, I thought I’d focus on an easy, tasty vegetarian meal — Dal. I grew up thinking lentils were boring, never realizing that what they really needed was some spice. Of course, Indian grandmothers have been in the know about that for generations. What’s even better, lentils are an incredibly inexpensive food source. The recipe below is for four servings for around $3, and is so tasty, I’m making another batch tonight, per Charles’ request for more.

I served this with a dry Riesling. It would also be quite good with an amber ale, or if you want to go the non-alcohol route, coconut water would be nice, too.

Dal


Serves 4

water
1 cup dry, red lentils
2 cups water
1 sweet onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, diced
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
3 roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed and diced
salt, to taste

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika powder

4 small handfuls chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Cover the lentils in water and let sit for a half hour or so. Drain and rinse.
In a small pot, add two cups of water, lentils, onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and jalapeno. Bring to a boil over medium heat then cover pot with a lid and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
Whisk the lentils and smash some with a large spoon in order to thicken. Add a pinch of salt and stir. Turn off heat, but keep the pot covered.

In a small pan, heat grapeseed oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add cumin and mustard seeds and cover for a few seconds. Add the powder and let them bubble for about 30 seconds. It can burn easily, so keep an eye on the spices. Pour the oil into the lentil mixture, stir, and serve with a garnish of cilantro.

Winter Squash Soup

Winter Squash SoupYou ever spy a bunch of beautiful squash and end up buying them even though you have no idea what you’re going to make with them? No? Just me?

Well, that’s exactly what I did the other day. The winter squash had just been stocked, and it looked lovely. There was my favorite — red kuri squash, but while I was at it, the acorn and delicata looked good too, so…

Once I got them home, I thought the savory flavors of the kuri paired with the sweeter delicata and acorn would make a tasty soup. My instincts were right on. This is honestly in my top five recipe creations of all time. It was so good, rich and creamy and full of flavor. It will definitely be a regular player on the dinner table this winter. I paired it with a Paris Valley Road Chardonnay. While not usually a big Chardonnay fan, this wine was absolutely transformed by the soup, complimenting the sweetness and supporting the creaminess beautifully.

Winter Squash Soup


Serves 4-6

1 acorn squash
1 delicata squash
1 red kuri squash
2 Tablespoons butter
5 sage leaves
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
salt, pepper, and garam masala to taste
4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock to make this vegetarian.)
sriracha to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut squash in half and remove strings and seeds. (I kept some seeds for next year’s garden.) Place cut-side down onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and cook until a fork can slide into it, about 20 minutes.
Let cool. Scoop out the squash flesh from the skin. (I did this the night before and kept the squash in a reclosable bag in the fridge until I was ready for the next step.)

On the stove top, heat a saute pan over medium-low. Add the butter and sage and swirl around the pan until butter begins to turn a light brown. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl.

Return pan to stove, turn heat up a bit, and cook onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and garam masala until onions begin to turn translucent. Turn off heat.

In a blender or food processor, mix squash, butter and sage, onion mixture, and stock a little at a time (Probably around two cups each try) until everything is blended smooth. Pour blended mixture into a large pot and continue until everything has gone through the cycle.

Place pot back on the stove and reheat on low until soup begins to slowly bubble. Stir in a squeeze or so of sriracha for a bit of heat, and taste to see if any other spices need to be adjusted.

Spoon into bowls and serve with some crusty sourdough bread.

End of Summer Pasta Salad

End of Summer Pasta SaladAs summer winds into autumn, I begin to be lulled into a false sense of satisfaction, as crisp nights cause me to begin to dream of sweaters and boots and cooking hearty meals in the kitchen. Then, BAM!, the hot days come back with a vengeance, a t-shirt feels like too much clothing, and there’s no way I’m turning the oven on after all. Happens every year. You’d think I’d learn.

Despite the heat wave, my body has decided it’s pasta time, remembering the chilly mornings before the 100 degree F days. I thought I’d compromise with my cravings by making a cold pasta salad, something assembled, the only heat required being boiled water. I paired dinner with a Red Meritage, enjoying the play of flavors with the different salad ingredients.

End of Summer Pasta Salad


Serves 6-8

1 lb conchiglie pasta
a few splashes of sundried tomato and garlic vinaigrette
4 oz capers
2 roasted red peppers, diced
3 oz kalamata olives
6 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 basket of cherry tomatoes
1 slicer tomato, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (I used Pennyroyal Farm’s Pepper Moldune. It gave the salad a nice hint of heat.)

Put a large pot of water over high heat. Cook pasta to package directions.
While pasta is cooking, put mushrooms in a large bowl and drizzle a bit of vinaigrette over them. Toss mushrooms until they’re fully coated. Toss roasted peppers, olives, capers, and sliced tomato into the bowl, mix well, and set aside. This will give the mushrooms a chance to soak in the flavors of everything else hanging out with it.
Once pasta is finished, drain and rinse with cold water until the pasta is cool. Work the pasta through your fingers a bit, since conchiglie likes to nest into clumps.
Add cooled pasta, cherry tomatoes, and goat cheese to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Drizzle on a bit more vinaigrette and toss until everything is happily mingled.
You can serve right away, or cover it and leave it in the fridge until the next day, as it will be even more flavorful after a night’s rest.

Kitchen Sink Chickpea Salad

garbanzo bean saladWhile the light is beginning to change and speak more strongly of autumn, our local produce bounty is just now reaching its peak. Harvest and crush is already in full swing in the wine world, and tomatoes are so bountiful, the kitchen is saturated in their heady scent.

I happened across a recipe from PBS that featured chickpeas and fresh produce, and wonder of wonders, I had a can of garbanzo beans in the cupboard., so I thought I’d give the salad a shot. Of course, I wasn’t content to leave it as it was. I had to add to it a bit, as I had some feta that wanted to be used and some mache, and oh, an avocado that had refused to ripen for a week and a half until I decided to make this salad. Like so many instances with me in the kitchen, if there’s a chance for a dinner filled with produce, I’ll opt for even more produce.

We paired dinner with a dry Riesling. It went pretty well, but nothing like last week’s pairing. There were no fireworks, but sometimes, when you have a dish that incorporates a whole host of flavors like this one does, pretty well is good enough.

Kitchen Sink Chickpea Salad


Serves 4

1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 lemon cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup of green olives, sliced
1/2 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
1 avocado, cut into small cubes
1 cup mache or green salad mix
2/3 of a red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 of a red onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
juice from half a lemon
drizzle of lemon-infused olive oil
drizzle of champagne vinegar
salt and black pepper to taste
20 mint leaves, chopped

Put everything in a large bowl. Using tongs, or your hands, toss until everything is well mixed. Cover and place in the refrigerator. For best results, save it for dinner the next day, as it gives the beans time to absorb all the flavors, but if you’re hungry NOW, it can be eaten fresh, too.

Not-so Traditional Panzanella

panzanellaYou have a sourdough loaf that’s a couple days past its prime, a whole lot of tomatoes, and a grumbling belly. What do you do? Make a bread salad for dinner!

The reason this post is titled, “Not-so Traditional Panzanella” is because traditionalists usually only create it using bread, basil, tomatoes, and onions. Like the way I feel about making stock, I think you should make your meal with what’s already in the kitchen. If that means you open the refrigerator door and spy, say, olives and a bit of mozzarella — and maybe there’s an avocado sitting on the counter that has to be used today or it will be too old for anything but guacamole — well then, use them! If the flavors seem like they’d meld well, go for it. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but the best way to stick to a food budget is to eat what you buy. Wasted food is money down the drain, or into the compost heap, so make sure to figure out how to use those random leftovers you have hanging around the kitchen.

I paired the panzanella with a Dolcetto, and it was phenomenal! It’s the type of pairing one dreams about, that perfect harmonizing of food and drink. There was a lovely counterpoint to the tomato, basil, avocado… even the olives. If I had more Dolcetto in my collection, this would be our meal for the rest of the summer. Unfortunately, I only have one more bottle, and it can be a hard wine to come by in California. People don’t know what it is, so they’re hesitant to try it. It’s a beautiful wine, but because folks won’t buy it, winemakers don’t make it. Please, don’t be scared! Search it out, and have it with this recipe.

Not-so Traditional Panzanella


Serves 4

Most of a leftover sourdough baguette, cut in one-inch pieces
pinch of dried sage
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
drizzle of olive oil
3 tomatoes, cut in chunks
1 avocado, cut in chunks
4 ounces of mozzarella
7 ounces of kalamata olives
20-30 basil leaves
drizzle of olive oil
drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Warm a skillet over medium heat. Drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the skillet. Toss in bread, sage, and pepper and stir until bread begins to golden.
Remove from heat and toss the bread, with the rest of the ingredients, in a large bowl. Cover the bowl and set in the refrigerator for a couple hours so the flavors have a chance to combine well.
Remove and serve.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

strawberry spinach saladToday’s post is a quick one, as every spare moment has been filled with busy work this week. I’ll be telling the whole tale on my other blog, but for now, why don’t we take a break and enjoy a superb salad?

There are a lot of strawberry spinach salads out there, and for good reason. They’re a wonderful mix of flavors, and they’re good for you, too. Mine has the protein upped a notch with the addition of pecans and thin slivers of Pecorino cheese. After a little drizzle of papaya poppy seed dressing and a glass of rosé, this salad was ready to be a sensational supper.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 2

2 cups baby spinach
4-6 strawberries, sliced
1 Tablespoon coarsely chopped pecans
1 avocado, sliced into small pieces
2 Tablespoons thinly sliced Pecorino cheese
salad dressing (I used Annie’s Papaya Poppy Seed)

Arrange the spinach on two plates. Layer the other ingredients. Drizzle the dressing and serve right away.

Slow Cooker Vegetable Bean Soup

Vegetable Bean SoupWell, hello there! Things were a little quiet on the blog last week because I was on a short vacation, enjoying the wildflowers in Death Valley. Charles and I don’t do complicated camp food. Our cooler is reserved for beer, so everything else is just boil-in-a-bag. After a few days of eating Tasty Bites Jaipur Vegetables for dinner, I was in the mood for anything different.

It was a busy week for us after our break, as the reality after trips often is. I wanted something healthy and inexpensive, and I didn’t want to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen, since I didn’t have a great deal of time. That’s where my favorite kitchen tool — other than my Japanese chef’s knife, the slow cooker came into play. After a night of soaking beans, it was a day of slowly cooking a mishmash of ingredients, and by the time I got home from work, soup was on!

One of the best things about soup is it’s not an exact science. I tend to eyeball the amounts when I’m making it, so don’t feel freaked if you only have 30 ounces of tomatoes or vegetables. It will still be tasty.

What’s even better, there are plenty of leftovers. We’ll have more soup tonight, probably paired with a Zinfandel or Sangiovese, and I’ll freeze the rest in two-serving containers for more easy, soup-filled evenings in the future.

Vegetable Bean Soup

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 10

1 cup dried Orca beans (Black turtle beans or little navy beans would also work.)
water
32 oz canned, fire-roasted tomatoes
32 oz (2 bags) of frozen, assorted vegetables (Buy these while they’re on sale and hoard them for whenever you need a veggie addition to a meal.)
2 cups of stock (You know I always have plenty in my freezer.)
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried parsley
roasted red pepper flakes to taste
salt and black pepper to taste

In an eight quart slow cooker, soak the beans in water overnight.
The next morning, drain the beans in a colander. Return them to the slow cooker and add the rest of the ingredients. Add water to the pot until it’s 3/4 of the way full. Put on the lid, turn the slow cooker onto low, and let cook eight to ten hours.
Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Serve with some crusty bread, if you’re into that.