Summer Solstice & Creamy Basil Manicotti

22 Wed, 2011 § 4 Comments

Dave & I have grown fond of observing seasonal transitions, marked by particular days.  Following earth’s transitions — while it may seem “hippie” & quirky to some — is centering & meaningful to me.  We don’t chant or pray or sing; we simply embrace the moment for what it is, celebrate it in our own way & take the lessons nature willingly offers.

Yesterday was the summer solstice, the first day of summer & the longest day of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere.  Traditionally, this solstice celebrated a time of fertility, marked by outdoor festivities & gatherings.

Amidst the growing harvest season, it is easy to recognize the fertility & abundance of summer through experiencing the new foods the season brings.  We wanted to pause yesterday & take in all the sensory experiences accompanying summer — the sights, the smells — & appreciate the extra hours of sunlight.

Summer screams freshness & bounty which has the power to transcend us to our deepest childhood memories or cause a yearning to create new ones.

One of my favorite summer notes is the awakening aroma of fresh basil.

Stuffed with a sauteed clove of garlic, a small white onion, half a medium diced zucchini (remove seeds unless using young/baby zucchini) & pressed & crumbled tofu (about 10 ounces firm), I wanted our manicotti to sing basil.

Using Angela’s Creamy Avocado Sauce, I increased the fresh basil to about 1 cup, juiced a whole lemon & thinned the sauce with hemp milk to keep the creaminess of it but make it more sauce-like.  I stirred half the sauce into the sauteed vegetables, stuffed it into 6 prepared manicotti, lined them in a lightly oiled baking dish (which I had also smeared with a spoonful of extra sauce on the bottom) & poured the remaining sauce over the top.

Cover with foil & bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 350*F-oven.  Rotate pan midway if needed to ensure even baking.  Remove foil & bake another 10 – 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top.  Watch closely & don’t let it dry out.

Garnish with fresh lemon zest & oven-roasted tomatoes.  A dollop of plain Greek yogurt was also a nice, cooling accompaniment.

*There was extra stuffing mixture, which we saved to combine with leftover quinoa-millet pilaf for lunches.

To further enjoy this extra light, we picked up a few items over the weekend.

A small table, a chair, a rug, a cushion & candles created a cozy, little nook outside our french doors.

Last night, we enjoyed dinner on our little patio, which will become a more common theme around here.

An after-dinner walk in the woods behind our home would have been a perfect way to connect with nature & celebrate the extended sunlight; but as the light faded to golden shimmers & we sipped our tinto de verano, the neighborhood kids kept us entertained harassing Eisley.  Once they learned she preferred chasing sticks to being mauled, everyone seemed giddy, Eisley most of all.

Sometimes, it’s best to just take what the moment offers.


Did you celebrate the summer solstice? 

Where do you enjoy your meals?


Quinoa Pasta with Black Beldis & a Lemon Vinaigrette

2 Thu, 2011 § 2 Comments

One of the beautiful aspects of cooking with fresh ingredients is the variety you get, even within one type of food.  Each lemon I squeeze or zest has slightly different nuances from the last.

Because food differs subtly, cooking by taste is about more than personal preference.  It is also about capturing the moment of (& with) the food & making minute adjustments to bring everything together on the plate.

Tuesday evening, we made a simple pasta dish & arguably one of the best we have tasted.  You can’t go wrong with Black Beldi olives (my recent obsession), artichoke hearts & pine nuts, but this wasn’t just good; it was wow.  Though each ingredient was simple, I mindfully tasted each, striving to create balance between the acid, fat, salt & sweetness of the dish.  I looked for subtle changes that would round out the flavors.

What I kept in mind:

Pasta should be al dente, not mush, so it holds up to other textures.  I had never cooked quinoa pasta before, so I had to watch it carefully.  Pasta continues to cook for a short time after removing it from the stove, so remove & drain it just before you think it is done.

Beldi olives are worth seeking out.  They would be a major fat/heavy component of the dish – especially since I was chopping them — so I didn’t want a heavy sauce.  A vinaigrette with a full-flavored extra virgin olive oil-base would keep it light.  Beldis are briny, full of flavor & can be salty; after tasting one, I realized I could still add more sea salt to the dish at the end without over salting.

Baby spinach would not only add more nutrients, but color & an earthy tone as well — more so since I was going to toss it with warm pasta, which would cause it to wilt slightly — so I did only a couple small handfuls.

Since artichoke hearts have a taste that borders bitterness, I used basil in the vinaigrette to cut through this & round out the flavors.  Basil makes me think fresh.  A tiny pinch of mint would also add freshness.

Toasted, almost smokey, pine nuts add layers in both texture & flavor.

Acid adds brightness to a dish, which is nice for pasta which can easily become heavy.  My lemon wasn’t especially tart & didn’t quite stand up to the olive oil with the typical 1:1 vinaigrette ratio.  I opted to use more lemon juice & garnish each plate with the zest for more punch.

Our artisan feta is a local, distinct goat cheese with a little heat from dried peppers as well as garlic, which would compliment the basil, artichokes, etc.  It is a dry cheese, which would be preferred over an oily one for this dish.

Below are my approximations.  I didn’t really measure anything, & I encourage you to do the same.  After all, each time you make a dish, it should come together a little differently than the time before, as seasons, harvests, weather, etc vary.  No mindless tasting (ie snacking) while you cook; instead, really taste each component & consider how it will all come together.

Quinoa Pasta with Black Beldis, Artichoke & Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette

serves 4 – 6

  • 16 oz small-shaped pasta, cooked al dente, drained & cooled slightly
  • 1 – 2 handfuls baby spinach, torn
  • ~1/3 cup Black Beldi olives, chopped
  • 1 can artichoke heart quarters, drained
  • ~3 T pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet (watch closely: they go from raw to burnt like that :snap:)
  • fine sea salt to taste
  • ~1/4 cup dry goat feta, crumbled
  • zest from one lemon (garnish)

Toss spinach with warm pasta.  Add chopped olives, artichoke & pine nuts & toss gently with a sprinkling of sea salt.  Pour the vinaigrette over the pasta & gently combine.  Sprinkle with feta & toss again.  Garnish individual servings with lemon zest.

Lemon Vinaigrette

  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • substantial pinch dried basil
  • pinch dried mint

Whisk ingredients together.


Do you taste & adjust as you cook or follow recipes strictly?

Braised Collards with Currants, Chickpeas & Cashew Cheese

18 Mon, 2011 § 3 Comments

Meet one of the random dishes that triggers a good amount of teasing.

Did I mention it is breakfast?

Dave — & most people — find it bizarre I can eat greens in the morning.

I feel completely nourished & balanced when I start the day with something like this though.

Immediately after a good swim & moderate bike ride, I had a recovery drink of coconut water, maca, blue berries, half a banana, a tablespoon of hemp protein, ground flax & carob powder.  About an hour later, braised collard greens tasted perfect.

Cashew cheese complemented the collards & is a quick & simple condiment to make.  I have found the ratio I like for a small batch using 1/4 C raw cashews : 2 T nutritional yeast : 1/2 T flax oil.  I use the “chopping” attachment of my magic bullet to first grind the cashews to powder, then add the nutritional yeast & process to mix.  Add the oil & combine till slightly moist & crumbly.  This lasts 2 – 3 servings for me.  You can make a larger batch:  simply use half the amount of nutritional yeast as cashews & a quarter the amount of oil compared to the nutritional yeast.  I am going to try it using sunflower seeds next time.


Prepare the collard greens by slicing the leaves from the stems; discard stems (or give to your dog to munch on).  Roll each leave in on itself & slice thinly into ribbons.  Heat a small amount of coconut oil in a medium pan on medium to medium-high heat; add the collard ribbons & toss using tongs.  Cook until the leaves are lightly braised (seared), tossing occasionally.  Splash with balsamic vinegar & toss again.  Cover & reduce heat to low.  Cook until leaves wilt; add currants & chickpeas.  Cover & continue to cook, tossing so it wilts & braises evenly, until collards are soft.  Serve in a wide bowl & top with hemp seeds & cashew cheese.  A mochi waffle on the side provided a nice, contrasting crunch.

I felt fueled for our day of climbing — our first trip to the Pit!


Do you ever like greens in the morning?

Tasty Tempeh

15 Fri, 2011 § 3 Comments

I want to like tempeh.  I really do.

This cultured version of soy is so much better for you than other more-processed ones.

The only tempeh I have ever really enjoyed is a tempeh burger from New Frontier’s Natural Marketplace.  That I need to figure out how to replicate.  Other than said burger, there is something about the texture & taste I struggled with — until yesterday — because I just may have found my tempeh answer.

I was not expecting this to turn out at all, let alone be really really tasty.  Even when the tempeh was steaming in the pan alone, the kitchen smelled wonderful.  One reason might be we tried a new brand for the first time: Wildwood’s Organic Tempeh (onion herb).  They make my favorite tofu; it only makes sense they make my favorite tempeh as well.  This will be the only brand of tempeh I buy from here on out.  Another reason: I steamed it first, which helped the flavors develop/hold & might have helped with the texture-thing too.

p.s. I am normally not a gravy person & usually opt out of slopping it on my food.  This though, slop away.

Tempeh Gravy

  • 8 oz package tempeh, cut into 1.5″ squares
  • 1/2 C water
  • sea salt
  • 1 – 2 T extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil (I will use coconut oil in the future)
  •   onion of choice (we used 3 “green”/young onion bulbs), chopped
  • 2 T kamut flour
  • 1 C hemp milk
  • sea salt, fresh pepper & Bragg’s Aminos/tamari, to taste

In a medium saute pan, combine tempeh, water & salt; cover & steam over medium heat until water is gone.  Add olive olive to pan & cook the tempeh squares on all sides until lightly browned & crisp.  Remove from pan & set tempeh aside.

Add a little coconut oil to the pan if needed; then add onion & cook until softened & translucent.  Sprinkle with flour & cook 1 – 2 minutes longer.  Whisk in milk & slowly heat — reducing the temperature if needed — bringing to a low boil until it thickens.  Return tempeh to pan, seasoning with salt, pepper & Bragg’s if desired & heat through.

We enjoyed this with rosemary & lavender socca & PERFECTLY roasted cauliflower.  I roasted small florets of cauliflower at 375*F in coconut oil only, tossing occasionally, until they were golden brown — meaning caramelized, which was reflected in the sweet, crispy, buttery flavor.  Dave added a touch of salt to his; but I thought they were per-fect just as they were.


Do you like tempeh?  How do you like to prepare it?

Roasted `Caps with Sun-Dried Tomato Aioli

25 Fri, 2011 § 10 Comments

It is officially Spring, but she keeps dancing with Winter.

While I am starting to crave lighter & greener foods, I still want something I can sink my teeth into.

Can a dish be light & hearty simultaneously?

That doesn’t make sense, but maybe you know what I mean.

This open-face is just that meal.

It is also quite effortless.

Rub a couple portobell caps with olive oil & roast, round-side down, in the oven at 400*F for 8 – 10 minutes until soft.  Toast a couple slices of artisan bread: ciabatta or focaccia would be nice; we used a delicious sea salt & rosemary loaf from a local bread bakery.  Next come the greens.  I topped my toast with radicchio [the mushroom & aioli mellowed the greens, which complemented the sandwich really well!].  Dave used a milder, winter green mix.  Set your roasted cap on top of the greens & dust lightly with garlic powder [or rub garlic over your caps before roasting].  Dave melted a little French cheese over his cap [a cross between cheddar & parmesan].  Finally, top your cap with sun-dried tomato aioli.

Sun-Dried Tomato Aioli

[enough for 2 – 4 sandwiches]

Take ~12 sun-dried tomatoes & soak for 10 minutes if not already soft.  If they were stored in oil, rinse & squeeze of excess water.  Put in a food processor & chop well.  Add ~3 big spoonfuls of Vegenaise & pulse until combined well & at desired consistency.  Add 1/2 tsp dried oregano & a pinch of sea salt.  Pulse again.  Too easy! Adjust measurements according to your taste.

All that was missing on my sandwich were a couple slices of bacon avocado.  If you can get your hands on one, do it.  They are smooth & buttery; with just a little sea salt, they are heavenly over mochi waffles or toast.  Alas, my avocado was not quite ripe.

On my side: asparagus from our CSA, roasted perfectly with olive oil & sea salt at 400*F for about 10 – 12 minutes, tossing often.  Even Dave — the asparagus hater — said they turned out.  Score!

Off to bed because I have to work bright & early. 😦  It’s for a good cause though.  And it’s all fun & surprises after that!

Enjoy your weekend. 🙂


What are your Spring-Winter transition cravings?

Simple, Fresh

21 Mon, 2011 § 10 Comments

The bulk food bins & I have bonded deeply the last few years.

You know it’s serious when your husband says,

“I’ll leave you to it – this is like Disneyland for you,”

before he darts off for the meat & cheese counters.

Buying bulk is less expensive & less wasteful, especially if you BYOB [bags].  It offers variety & a chance to try small quantities of something, by buying only what you need; this means your goods are likely fresher.  It also seems fresher to pour my grains, seeds, beans, nuts & dried fruit from glass rather than plastic bags or containers.

We keep a lot of our bulk items in our favorite snap containers from World Market.  I always have more bulk than I have containers for though, so I also store food in mason jars as well as reuse other food jars, which once held oils, pickles, etc.  Food storage does not have to be expensive; in fact, it can be downright cheap.

As long as it stays fresh, I am happy.

Dave is right: the bulk section makes me embarrassingly excited.  Whatever my food mood, I can generally fill it here.

Lately, my Spring [fever] mood has been light & distinct, using only a few ingredients to highlight simple flavors.

Five[or six]-ingredient grain salads.

[I have seen variations of these online but can’t find the links now.  Sorry.]

Lentils & Barley with Cardamom

  • 1 cup pearled barley
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 cup almond or hemp milk
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup coconut, toasted
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 cup cashews, toasted

Combine & rinse barley & lentils.  Combine with water & milk & bring to a boil.  Lower heat, cover & simmer 30 – 40 minutes until most of the water is absorbed.  Toward the end of cooking, stir in cardamom, salt & raisins.  Once water is absorbed & grains are cooked, allow to rest a few minutes.  Stir in coconut & garnish individual servings with cashews.

Tarragon Vinaigrette over Quinoa & Roasted Beets

  • 3 T champagne vinegar
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T tarragon [fresh if available; I used ~1 tsp dried]
  • ~6 medium beets, roasted
  • ~2 cups cooked quinoa
  • pumpkin seeds, toasted
  • sea salt & fresh pepper

Combine  vinaigrette ingredients & toss with quinoa & roasted beets.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper & top with roasted pumpkin seeds.  Tarragon is my new favorite combination with beets.  I can’t wait to get my hands on some fresh.


Do you shop the bulk section?  What has been your favorite find?


16 Wed, 2011 § 6 Comments

There is kale galore at our house.

Well, maybe not galore, but after buying a bunch at the store, we got another bundle in our CSA share.

Because Dave does not especially enjoy it, I try to [openly]sneak it in with foods he does love.  I am pretty sure potatoes are one of his favorite vegetables.

I used to be scared of potatoes — ok, I still am a little — even now, I consider them sort of an indulgence.  [I know, it’s weird.]  We don’t have them often, but when we do I am reminded how divine a nicely roasted ‘tater is.  [I kind of hate the word “tater”.]  They may not hit our plates often, but hopefully they turn out yummy enough to fill Dave’s needs…at least to some extent.

Technically, this wouldn’t be a gratin because it doesn’t have a “browned crust” from bread crumbs, cheese or a lot more butter, but the nice crisp skin of the potatoes is enough for me!

Red Potato & Dinosaur [Kale] Gratin

4 small servings

  • 8 – 10 small red potatoes, sliced into ~1/2″ thick rounds
  • 1 leek, sliced thinly into half moons
  • small bunch of kale, stemmed & roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces [~2 cups?]
  • Earth Balance butter
  • mirin or other white cooking wine
  • red pepper flakes
  • lavender salt [optional]
  • chives [optional]
  • Greek yogurt [optional]

Preheat oven to 375*.

Parboil potatoes 5 – 10 minutes until just tender.  Strain & set aside.

In a cast-iron or other oven-safe skillet, heat a small amount of Earth Balance.  Add leeks & saute until tender & translucent, ~ 2 minutes.  Remove & set aside.  Add chopped kale to skillet, adding a splash of mirin & pinch of red pepper flakes crushed between fingers; toss & saute until slightly wilted.  Remove & set aside.

Using the same skillet, coat lightly with the Earth Balance & place one-third of the potatoes in a single layer in the bottom of the pan.  Continue layering as follows: half the kale & leek; half the remaining potatoes [adding a couple tiny dabs of butter if desired]; the rest of the kale & leek; top with final layer of potatoes & more butter if desired.  Cover skillet with foil & place in oven ~30 minutes.  Remove foil & bake 5 – 15 minutes longer, watching closely, until potatoes are lightly browned & crisp. [I turned the broiler on for a couple minutes to crisp them a bit more — watch closely!]

Serve with yogurt, chives & lavender salt.

This was tasty even though it was simple as far as seasonings, so add more or other herbs to suit your taste.  Dave topped his with cheese, which you could even add into the layers for a more indulgent meal.  I loved the slightly crispy potatoes with the occasional bursts of heat from the pepper flakes.  I think Greek yogurt is my favorite potato condiment, plus I needed some protein.  The gratin even kept nicely for lunch/leftovers the next day.  I will play around with the oven temperature & time in the future to perfect the browning/crisping of the potatoes.  I am pretty pleased this worked!


How can I sneak the rest of this kale into Dave? 😉

Does anyone else have a difficult time seeing potatoes as “healthy” food?

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