Thursday, September 19, 2013

Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Onion, Tahini and Za'atar

As an avid cook, you would think that my shelves are lined with cookbooks left and right, but truth be told, I currently own ten books, nine of which were gifts. I love cookbooks, but whenever I purchase one, I only come across a handful of recipes that I would want to make, and these days cookbooks are ess-pensive!  Also, let's be real.. you can pretty much find anything you want to know about food on the internet, with the millions of blogs out there, so I usually take that route when I'm looking for inspiration.

I DO, however have a particular affinity for pretty books. Books with lots of pictures so I can gauge if a particular recipe I'm making is going to be visually pleasing or look like vomit (curry, anyone?).  I can't count how many times I've made a particular dish with a certain image in my head as to what the finished product will look like, only to found out that it is nothing at all how I had pictured.  Those type of things cause me to have a breakdown in the kitchen.. BREAK-DOWN! 

Two of my favorite visually pleasing books, "Plenty" and "Jerusalem" happen to be from the same author, Yotam Ottolenghi.  Homeboy knows how to make things taste good and look even better.  We eat with our eyes, so this is always a good thing.

I've already featured a couple of recipes of his on my blog: Green Couscous, Leek Fritters, and Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgar and Yogurt. There are so many more recipes of his that I would like to try, but since I only have the energy to make one new recipe a week it may take me awhile before I can get through all of them.  With so many choices, I went with a recipe that featured seasonal ingredients and required the least amount of prep work. Ottolenghi's "Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Onion, Tahini and Za'atar" from his current book "Jerusalem" is hands down one of the best things I've made in a long time.... and easy too. You basically roast up some butternut squash and red onions, top it with a simple lemon tahini sauce, some toasted pine nuts and a scattering of one of my favorite spice blends, za'atar. 

Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend of comprised of sumac, oregano, sesame seeds, thyme and sea salt (although it sometimes varies by region).  I've enjoyed it stirred into yogurt or hummus, spread on flatbread with a bit of olive oil and baked, tossed with popcorn, or sprinkled on anything from eggs to roasted vegetables to brown rice.  You may be able to find it in your local health food store or ethnic market or buy it on-line. I usually make substitutions when I can't find a particular ingredient, or leave it out all together but there really is no substitution in this dish.  I had a couple bites without it and it was still good, but the za'tar really brought it to a different level.  It's a great blend to keep on hand... so go buy some and make this recipe.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Onion, Tahini and Za'atar.
From "Jerusalem" by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

1 large butternut squash (2 1/4 lb. in total), peeled and cut into 3/4 by 2 1/2-inch wedges
2 red onions, cut into 1 1/4-inch wedges
3 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 1/2 Tbsp. tahini
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. water
1 small clove garlic, crushed
3 1/2 Tbsp. pine nuts
1 Tbsp. za’atar
1 Tbsp. coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
Put the squash and onion in a large mixing bowl, add 3 tablespoons of the oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper and toss well. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the vegetables have taken on some color and are cooked through. Keep an eye on the onions as they might cook faster than the squash and need to be removed earlier. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
To make the sauce, place the tahini in a small bowl along with the lemon juice, water, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk until the sauce is the consistency of honey, adding more water or tahini if necessary.
Pour the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil into a small frying pan and place over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often, until the nuts are golden brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the nuts and oil to a small bowl to stop the cooking.
To serve, spread the vegetables out on a large serving platter and drizzle over the tahini. Sprinkle the pine nuts and their oil on top, followed by the za’atar and parsley.

**** I served this on a bed of quinoa to make it a bit more substantial since I was having it as a main course***

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cauliflower Soup with Aged White Cheddar and Dijon Croutons

Fall is here, yo! 

I always look forward to the change in the seasons and the excitement that comes along with a whole new set of ingredients to work with in the kitchen.  Summertime is probably the most bountiful season in terms of variety, but it's my least favorite time to spend in the kitchen.  I'm one of those people that attempt to soak up as much outdoor time as possible, so meals during the summer months tend to be simple; basically a lot of salads, sandwiches and eggs, or anything that could be thrown together in less than an hour.  If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll notice I probably posted all of five posts this entire summer.. lame, I know.. but, reading, hiking with my dogs and soaking up the summer sun took precedence over cooking and writing about the same boring things I ate night after night.

Fortunately, as the weather gets cooler and the days get shorter I look forward to getting back into the kitchen again.  Instead of enjoying a glass of wine on my porch, waiting for the sun to go down, I'm making bread or stirring a pot of risotto or chopping potatoes and onions for a rich creamy soup.

Soups, stews and curries tend to be some of my favorite cool weather foods to prepare.  Served with a scoop of rice (or other grain or choice), some sort of bread or a handful of croutons, these dishes can easily become a one pot meal, and they make great leftovers too.

I stumbled upon this soup recipe last year and have made it several times ever since.  It's a rich, creamy soup but contains no milk or cream, just some butter and a handful of aged white cheddar.  My favorite part of the soup, though are the buttery Dijon croutons that go on top.  They're crazy addicting.  I love the flavor of pureed soups, but without some sort of crunchy element I feel like I'm eating baby food.  These croutons give the soup some texture and complement the flavors perfectly.

Cauliflower Soup with Aged White Cheddar and Dijon Croutons
From Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson

Cauliflower soup (serves 2)

6 oz. good quality bread (about 3 cups) torn into small cubes (I used a day old sourdough baguette)
2 T. unsalted butter
2 T. olive oil
2 1/2 T. Dijon mustard
1/4 t. sea salt

2 T. unsalted butter
2 shallots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 large yellow flesh potato peeled and cut into small cubes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 1/2 c. vegetable broth
2 c. cauliflower, cut into small florets
2/3 c. fresh grated aged cheddar, plus more for topping
2 t. dijon mustard

Extra virgin olive oil, to serve

Preheat oven to 350. Melt the butter, then whisk in olive oil, salt and mustard. Place the torn bread in a medium sized bowl. Pour the butter mixture on top, toss well to combine and transfer to a sheet pan. Bake 10-15 minutes, stirring halfway through, until they are light brown and crunchy.

Heat butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and shallot and a big pinch of salt. Sautee until onions soften. Stir in the potato, cover and cook for four minutes, just long enough for the potatoes to soften up a bit. Uncover, stir in garlic then the broth. Bring to a boil, taste to make sure potatoes are tender, then stir in cauliflower. Cook, covered for five minutes, or just until tender throughout.

Blend, (an immersion blender works great!), then stir in the mustard and cheddar. Serve with croutons, extra cheddar and a drizzle of olive oil.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Omega Bars


Whenever I whip up a batch of energy bars, I tend to use the same ingredients... Lots of nuts and seeds (or nut and seed butters), something sweet like dates or raw honey, raw cacao nibs, superfoods like spirulina, goji berries or maca and shredded coconut or coconut oil. 
Energy bars are something that should deliver what the name implies: ENERGY!  Unfortunately a lot of so called energy bars in grocery stores are filled with lots of sugar and unrecognizable ingredients. I used to rely on these bars a lot in college or as a pre- workout snack, but they didn't really give me anymore of a boost that a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit.

These here bars are chocked full of all sorts of goodies that are high in protein (walnuts, hemp, flax and chia seeds, pumpkin seeds) antioxidants (raw cacao) natural sugars (dates and raisins), and healthy fats (coconut oil). A couple of these washed down with a cup of coffee in the morning will give you a serious boost, no doubt.

You're probably wondering about the name: Omega Bars.

O.K. Let's talk about it....

Three Words:

Essential. Fatty. Acids.

You've no doubt heard the term thrown around these days.. Maybe Omega 3 fatty acids rings a bell?

Omega 3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids because they are necessary for human health. But.....your body is incapable of producing them on their own, so you have to get them from food. EFA's play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. They may help reduce the risk of heart disease and have been known to help fight inflammation and may lower the risk of chronic infections like heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Symptoms of a deficiency (which is quite common in the standard American diet) may include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, mood swings, and depression and circulatory problems.
Whenever any of those symptoms start to surface in my life, because let's be real, I suffer from mood swings AND fatigue AND circulatory problems, I take a look at my diet and see if I'm getting enough EFA's.
Fortunately, there are lots of foods that are high in omega 3 fatty acids like fish (salmon, sardines, tuna are your best bets). If you follow a vegetarian/vegan diet, walnuts, flax seed, chia seed and hemp seed, cauliflower, sesame seeds and Brussels sprouts are also great sources as well.,

An easy way to incorporate some of these foods into your diet is through these energy bars.  Not only do they make you feel great, they can also make your skin glow and be less likely at lashing out at your husband for leaving an empty jar of peanut butter in the cabinet.

Omega Bars (makes 15 bars)
From This Rawsome Vegan Life

1 c. walnuts
1/3 c. chia seeds
1/3 c. ground flax seeds
1/3 c. hemp seeds
1/4 c. cacao nibs
1/4 c. shredded coconut
3/4 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 c. raisins
1 c. dates
1-2 T. coconut oil, if needed

Throw all of the ingredients (reserve a small bit of each ingredient, about 1/2 c. total) into a food processor. Pulse to break down a bit then add raisins. With the motor running, add dates, one at a time until everything comes together. If it's a little dry, add a bit of coconut oil. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the reserved ingredients with your hands. Press into a 9 by 9 inch pan lined with parchment paper and place in the fridge for 3-4 hours. Lift the parchment out of the pan and cut into squares. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Ginger-Plum Fruit Kvass

Kvass is probably a foreign term to you unless you are a fermentation nerd, work in a health food store or live in Russia. 
Traditionally, kvass is a fermented beverage made with beets, rye bread and whey. As much as I love beets and rye bread (especially when toasted and slathered with butter) the thought of drinking this particular beverage kind of made me dry heave a bit.

I'm a huge fan of fermented beverages, be it kombucha, rejuvelac know beer and wine, so when I came across a whey, grain and beet free version of kvass I had to give it a try. 
Adding fermented food and beverages to your diet is a great way to restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gut, which can be thrown off track with a poor diet and certain medications, like antibiotics.

This here fruit kvass is made with some overly ripe sugar plums that were gifted to me and needed to be used ASAP, but you can make kvass with whatever fruit you're currently loving at the moment.  I try to eat seasonally, so I hope to whip up a batch with the last of the peaches and blueberries. I would imagine an apple or pear version would be particularly tasty in the fall.

Many of you out there may be intimidated making your own fermented foods and beverages. I was definitely weary when I first started making my own kombucha and sauerkraut, but fear not, this is probably the easiest and quickest ferment that you will make. 

Ginger-Plum Fruit Kvass
Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories

1/4 large mason jar (I used a 32 oz. jar), organic pitted plums, halved
1 T. raw honey (make sure it's raw!)
1 inch piece, peeled ginger, sliced
filtered or mineral water (enough to almost fill the jar)

Place the plums, ginger and honey in a mason jar.  Add water to fill the jar, leaving an inch of space at the top to allow for pressure to build. Tightly close the jar and leave on the counter for 2-3 days shaking a couple times a day to prevent bacteria from forming on the surface. After 24 hours you should start to see little bubbles form on the surface. Give it a taste after 48 hours; it should be tangy and sweet and the fruit should look "cooked".  When you're happy with the flavor (mine tasted a little like a floral apple juice), strain out the fruit and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.