shakshuka with eggs fresh from the coop

IMG_5125Recently, I overheard my husband telling a friend how he enjoys having hens because they are pets that feed you.  Honestly, I never really looked at it that way.  For me, I wanted the added bonus of fresh manure for the garden, the eggs are just a bonus.  Either way, we end up with plenty of eggs to eat and to share.

While I will use some when I bake, I almost always have many more than we need for just the two of us.  As a result, we will have eggs for breakfast or dinner about once a week and while I love an over easy egg on potato hash or a fried egg sandwich, it can get a bit boring after a while.  To keep it interesting, I look for ways to turn fresh eggs into a meal that is both satisfying and new to our table.

It was in my quest for something new that I found shakshuka, a Middle Eastern Dish that some attribute to Israel while others say Libya, Algeria or Morocco but it is actually a dish native to Tunisia.  Traditionally, it is a spicy vegetable ragout or stew that is made mostly of tomatoes, hot peppers, garlic and spices simmered to thicken and to finish the dish, fresh eggs are cracked and poured into the stew.  As the dish continues to simmer, the eggs slowly poach in the stew.  Gentle basting of the eggs helps quicken the pace and adds flavor.  While quite simple and easy to make, getting the eggs cooked so that the whites solidify and the yolks remain liquid is a bit challenging but well worth the effort.


To make this batch, I followed a recipe found on the website of David Lebovitz.  Actually, I followed it almost exactly except that I added half of a diced red pepper and I used 2 serrano chiles, which added a lot more heat than we expected.  Also, since I had greens in the garden, albeit slightly frozen from the snow and ice on the plants, but freshly picked.  The recipe called for one cup chopped greens but I added more like two cups since I did not want to waste them.  A generous sprinkle of feta chunks adds some saltiness and helps temper the heat of the chilis but be careful not to go overboard since this is not meant to be a cheesy dish.

IMG_5115As the stew was simmering, I cracked four fresh eggs from our hens and carefully added them to the pot.  To make it easier on myself, I baked the stew to finish the eggs and you can too because the recipe explains both methods.  Because David says to serve it with crusty bread to soak up the sauce, I heated several rounds to naan and we stuffed ourselves with the spicy, tomato-y sauce.  Now that I know how to make this dish and cook the eggs to that perfect solid white and runny yolk state, I will be making this again-we certainly have enough eggs!  And for those of you that do not have laying hens, pick up some fresh local eggs and make a batch of this stew; you will not regret this at all!

finding inspiration at the grocery store; $10 tomato sauce

$10 tomato sauce

Maintaining a blog page that centers around food means I spend time looking for recipe ideas.  Using someone else’s recipe (with proper credits of course) is always a possibility but it does not say much for my own abilities in the kitchen.  Having a constant stream of original recipe ideas is challenging and I never know where inspiration may strike.  As some of you already know, I am a member of the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group and once a week, we post a recipe from either Baking with Julia or Baking Chez Moi.  But that is only one day out of seven and what will I do for the other six days?

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I found my inspiration in the pasta and tomato sauce aisle.  Actually, to be more accurate, I found myself stunned that anyone would pay nearly $10 for a jar of tomato sauce.  When I was growing up, the only tomato sauce we ate was my mothers homemade cooked they way my great-grandmother taught her to make sauce.  It has always been the standard by which I judge tomato sauce.  As my children were growing up, I found myself struggling to keep up and generally relied on a jar of sauce from the store.  When money was short, and it frequently was, a jar of sauce and a pound of pasta could feed us affordably and there would be leftovers.  Needless to say, $10 for a jar of sauce nearly knocked me down; I am in the wrong line of work it seems!

It wasn’t hard to figure out what I would be making, photographing and posting on the blog after that.  With so many interesting flavors to choose from, I decided I would make up a batch of sauce and leave the high dollar jars at the store.  Knowing I had some butternut squash to work with, I decided on a batch of butternut tomato sauce.  The two flavors compliment each other well.  The squash which adds a nice velvety texture to the sauce also has enough natural sweetness to balance the acidity of the tomatoes without the addition of sugar.


Because I like a tomato sauce with more than tomatoes in it, I also chopped up some carrots, celery, mushrooms and onions too and tossed them with the butternut squash and a little olive oil.  

Roasting vegetables gives color as well as flavor and after about 45 minutes at 425 degrees, the vegetables were soft enough.  First, they went into the pot with all of the other ingredients and I let it simmer a bit then I pureed the mixture.  If you use a regular blender for the job, be sure to do it in small batches, cover it but leave a small gap for steam to escape and drape a towel over the top of the blender.  Hold the top in place and blend on low-speed.  Do not do this unless you are holding the top down or the lid could pop off and send hot sauce flying all over!

IMG_2626Perciatelli is a hollow spaghetti tube and it was the perfect choice for such a creamy sauce.  Some folks will tell you that you should never toss cook pasta with oil to keep it from clumping.  The oil will make the pasta slippery and keep the sauce from sticking to it.  Maybe so but I generally add the oil anyway, but I do make an effort to add only the smallest amount possible.


Roasted Butternut Tomato Sauce

makes about 3 pints

1 1/2 pounds of butternut squash

2 medium carrots

1-2 stalks celery

3-4 cloves garlic

1 medium onion

1 cup button mushrooms, about 8-10

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 (28 oz) can plum tomatoes

3-4 sprigs fresh basil

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1-2 bay leaves (one if fresh are used)

3/4 teaspoon turmeric

3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth, divided

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425.  Peel the squash and cut into large cubes.  Peel the carrots and cut them along with the celery into 1″ slices.  Roughly chop the onions.  Halve the garlic cloves and the mushrooms and combine all of the vegetables in a bowl with the olive oil.  Toss to coat and dump them onto a baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper or foil.  Roast the vegetables until the carrot and squash are fork tender, about 45 minutes.  Dump the roasted vegetables into a heavy bottomed stock pot with at least a 3 quart capacity.

Add the tomatoes to the pot and using your hands, crush the tomatoes a bit to break them up.  Add the basil, thyme, bay leaf, turmeric and smoked paprika.  Add 1 cup of the broth and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer.  Allow the sauce to simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes.  Using an immersion blender (if you have one) or a regular blender, puree the sauce; be sure to take precautions with a regular blender-read the warning above!  Return the sauce to the pot and using the additional 1/2 cup of broth, adjust the consistency of the sauce to your preference.  Season with the salt and pepper and serve with your favorite pasta.  Garnish with additional fresh parsley sprigs and grated Romano cheese if you like.  The sauce can be canned using the same method for tomato sauce or it can be frozen in containers.

IMG_2633Personally, I am planning to grow butternut squash and plum tomatoes in the garden just so I can make more sauce this summer!

One bag of kale, part 4; greens and beans

IMG_1856In my final recipe of the series, I give you one of my favorite recipes.  This recipe is adapted from one by famed vegan chef, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and can be found in her book, Appetite for Reduction and on her website,

Living in the south for as long as I have has influenced many aspects of my life and my meal choices reflect my current location frequently.  The biggest change on my plate is the heap of cooked greens and beans, two things I have never disliked but I also never thought to make a meal of them either.  The difference from the ones I feast on and the ones typically found in the south it that there is no pig on my plate.  Yes, I am a meat eater, yes, I like bacon but truth be told, I like my greens without the added pork products.  Honestly, if they are made well, they do not need the bacon because they have tons of flavor all on their own.

Despite the fact that I am technically a trained chef, while I can bake just about anything, my cooking skills sometimes are lacking and that is where Isa Chandra comes in, specifically her cookbook.  By using her book, I have learned how to make vegetable dishes every bit as amazing as the desserts I produce in my professional life.  Appetite for Reduction as well as Veganomicon and Vegan with a Vengeance are some of the most used books on my shelf and I highly recommend picking any of them up if you come across them.

This recipe uses the last portion of the big bag of kale, it calls for approximately 4 ounces or about 4 cups of kale or any other cooking green.  If you have been following this series, this is approximately 1/4 of the 1 pound bag; part 1 used half of the bag, part 2 and 3 each used 1/8 of the bag and this recipe uses the remaining 1/4.  To repeat the dividing process, for part one, use half the bag.  Take the remaining half of the bag and divide it in half.  Place one half into a storage bag and place it in the fridge till you need it.  Divide the remaining portion into two equal parts and bag each separately and store until needed.  For those of you that are not kale fans, try using mustard, collards or any other green suitable for cooking in place of the kale.

While I used white beans, specifically white kidney beans, you can use any bean you like.  The original recipe calls for black eyed peas, one of my favorites but I have made this recipe with chick peas, fava beans, butter beans and several different white beans, all with delicious results.  Do what you like, you’re the one who is going to eat it!

Greens and Beans

serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups, packed, torn kale with stems removed, about 4 ounces

3/4 cup broth, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 (14.5oz) can white beans, drained and rinsed

3/4 cup tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon sriracha or other hot sauce

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke, optional

In a large, deep pot, heat the olive oil and saute the onions over medium heat until translucent, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute longer.  Dump in the kale, salt and 1/4 cup of the broth and immediately cover the pot for at least 1 minute.  Stir the greens and keep it covered to allow them the time to cook down, about 10-15 minutes and be sure to stir them occasionally to make sure they are cooking evenly.  Reduce the heat to medium low and add the beans, tomato sauce and the remaining broth and allow to cook for at least 5 minutes, covered.  Stir in the sriracha, paprika and the smoke flavor and allow it to simmer for another 5-10 minutes.  Check the seasoning and add additional salt and hot sauce as needed.

One Bag of Kale Recipes:

Autumn Kale Salad with Butternut Squash

Potato-Kale Hash with Chickpeas

Vegetable Barley soup with Kale

one bag of kale, part 1: autumn kale salad with butternut squash

The butternut squash with it’s coating of spices and oil before going into the oven

Kale, it’s everywhere, it’s added to every dish you can think of including sweet breakfast smoothies.  Get over it already.  Kale isn’t meant to be added to a smoothie.  Honestly, have you ever listened to someone go on and on and on as they list the ingredients in the 24 ounce smoothie they just whipped up at home?  Seems to me that if you are going to eat an apple, a banana, a tub of Greek yogurt, a scoop of peanut butter a handful of kale, a scoop of…and so on, you are probably slurping down way more than you really need and that could explain why you haven’t lost much weight.  Ranting a bit, aren’t I.  Well, can you blame me?  As a gardener and a trained chef, it irritates me to see something as nutritionally packed and tasty as kale is being so over used.

So let me start this all over again.  Kale is one of those plants that loves cold weather and is so easy to grow that it is almost impossible not to have a few plants in your garden.  As a matter of fact, kale is a plant that you can grow 3 out of 4 seasons simply by harvesting just the outer leaves and if it sends out a flower stalk, cut it out and add that to the pile of leaves you are going to cook!  One simple rule of thumb, kale should not be grown in the hotter months and for most of us, that means between May and August; not only will it bolt(go to seed) it will attract all sorts of undesirable insects to your garden.  To keep it interesting, search seed catalogs for the different varieties available; we generally grow 2 or 3 types in our garden for variety.

But what if you do not have a garden or do not want to grow your own kale?  Head to the grocery store and buy a bag of kale.  Most grocery stores offer large bags of cut cooking greens, usually kale or collard greens and they weigh a pound.  While most stores offer the traditional curly kale, some carry Tuscan kale in large bags too.

The bag is almost big enough to be a pillow and I can hear you now:  “that’s a lot of kale, I won’t be able to eat all of that!”  Well guess what?  You can eat all of that, you will not waste any of it and you will not get tired of eating it.  Why buy it in a bag instead of by the bunch even though it is a smaller amount?  Because the bag is cheaper, the kale is already cleaned and the larger, woody stems are removed making every bit in the bag usable.  This is the first of 4 posts on the blog showing you how to use the entire bag.

For the first recipe, I have decided to make a salad.  The only thing that gets cooked is the butternut squash and while the squash is in the oven, you can prep the rest of the recipe.  This salad tastes a lot better if it is allowed to sit for a few hours in the fridge and if you make it a day ahead, it will be just fine.  It actually holds up pretty well in the fridge for a couple days but it will not be as crunchy by the second day.

To get started, first divide the contents of the bag in two.  Place on half in a large mixing bowl and set it aside for the salad.  Take the remaining kale and divide it in half as well.  Place one half into the bag it came in and then divide the last portion in half again and bag each of these separately; one will be used in a hash recipe and one will be used in a soup recipe.  Store the other portions of kale in the fridge until you are ready to make the other recipes.

The recipe for the salad comes to me from a fellow blogger, Angela Roberts of The Spinach Tiger.  My husband came with me to a potluck and Angela made the salad for the party.  He liked it so much that he actually looked her recipe up and he has been using it ever since.  We both enjoy it and often use the recipe as a starting point.  For this version, I used a butternut squash instead of the sweet potatoes and I subbed dried apricots and smoked pecans for the dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds.

This is also one of those dishes that you can serve as a vegetarian entree or serve it on the side with grilled poultry or fish-you choose.  As a matter of fact, the recipe is so flexible that you can get creative with what you add to it.  You could easily swap out the kale for another green, arugula comes to mind, just be mindful that a softer green will not hold up as well as kale in the long run.

The addition of nuts adds protein so if you are keeping this vegetarian or vegan, feel free to add more than the recipe calls for.

Autumn Kale Salad with Butternut Squash
Adapted from The Spinach Tiger
Makes enough salad for 2 large entree sized portions or 4 side salads
8 ounces chopped kale, half of a bag
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Vinaigrette dressing, recipe follows
1/4 cup diced dried apricots
1/4 cup chopped smoked pecans
additional dried fruit and nuts for garnishing the salad if desired
Preheat the oven to 400.  Place the kale in a large bowl and set aside.  Toss the butternut squash with the olive oil, maple syrup, salt and the spices, place it on a baking tray and roast until soft, about 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let it cool.  While the squash cools, make the vinaigrette dressing.
To make the salad, add the squash, apricots, pecans and the vinaigrette to the kale in the bowl and toss to combine.  Place the salad in the fridge and let it sit for a few hours to soften.
Vinaigrette Dressing
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons pumpkin seed oil
6 tablespoons olive oil (or all olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Place the vinegar, garlic, maple syrup and mustard into the canister of a blender.  Turn the machine on to a low speed and with it running, pour the oils in in a steady stream to emulsify.  Add the salt and pepper while it is still running.
One bag of kale recipes:
Potato-Kale Hash with Chickpeas

coconut-corn soup with red curry

As the weather shifts from hot to cool, soups appear on our table frequently.  One of my favorite flavor combinations in a soup is corn and coconut milk with a little red curry paste and as the temperatures begin to drop, it is one of the first soups I will make.  The soup is not as thick as a traditional cream soup but it is every bit as filling and on occasion, I add a few shrimp when I serve it for dinner but usually, I prepare it with just vegetables.  To get the true flavor of corn in this soup, use 3-4 ears of corn when they are in season.  Prepare them by slicing off the kernels and breaking the cobs in two.  Simmer the cobs in the soup for 15-20 minutes and then remove them.  Although corn is a real star in late summer, the convenience of frozen products keep it around all year and this recipe can be made with frozen corn kernels which is what I did for this recipe.

Use this recipe as a guideline; add fish, seafood or poultry pieces if you like, keep it vegan if not.  The vegetables you choose are up to you.  For this batch, I used corn, onions, carrots, celery and red peppers but you could easily add mushrooms or chunks of hard squash.  To make it a little extra filling, serve it with rice.

coconut-corn soup with red curry
serves 4
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced small
1-2 ribs celery, sliced thin on the bias
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into thin strips
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 (12 oz) bag of frozen corn, thawed
2 cans light coconut milk
3 cups vegetable broth
3 large sprigs of basil
1 (2-3″) stalk of lemon grass
2-3 slices of fresh ginger
1-2 tablespoons fish sauce, optional
garnish-additional fresh basil, cilantro, slices of jalapenos, bean sprouts if desired
2 cups cooked rice
In a deep, heavy bottomed pot, melt the coconut oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots, celery and red bell peppers and saute until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and the curry paste and saute for another minute.  Pour in the corn, coconut milk, broth, 2 of the basil sprigs the lemon grass and ginger slices and adjust the heat so that the mixture simmers gently for 15 minutes or so.  Remove the basil sprigs, lemon grass and ginger slices and add the fish sauce if desired.
To serve, arrange the garnishes on a large platter for all to share.  Divide the soup into large bowls and serve the rice in small dishes on the side, allow everyone to garnish their bowls as they desire.
***If you have fresh corn on the cob, omit the frozen corn and add the fresh shucked corn and the cobs in its place.  Allow the soup to gently simmer for at least 15 minutes to extract the flavor from the cobs.  Before serving, remove the cobs.
***If you chose to add fish, seafood or poultry, add it when the soup is at the simmer and stir to prevent it from sticking to the pot.  Allow the soup to simmer long enough to ensure that the protein is properly cooked.

Sloppy Joe’s on Homemade Buns

Remember those buns from my last post?  This is probably my favorite way to serve them-split open and overflowing with tangy sloppy joe filling!  The buns can be frozen and so can the filling so make a full batch of both and split it-serve half and freeze half for a quick meal when you are short of time.

Smoky Sloppy Joe’s
adapted from Taste of Home
serves 4-6

2 pounds ground meat, turkey, beef or soy-or any combination of them
1 small onion, diced small
1/3 cup small diced celery
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 small can roasted, diced green chilis
1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon steak sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
fresh buns, homemade from my recipe, or purchased

Over medium heat, cook the beef or turkey until no longer pink.  Add the onion and celery and saute until soft.  Add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute.  Place the contents of the pan into a mesh strainer and drain off the excess fat.

Return the meat to the pan, add the remaining ingredients and simmer the mixture for 30-40 minutes.  The mixture will thicken, if it becomes dry, you can add small amounts of broth or water, but be sure to simmer it long enough to allow the flavor to develop.

For those of you using soy crumbles instead of meat, you will need enough to replace two pounds of meat.  Saute the onions and celery in olive oil until translucent.  Add the garlic and saute for another minute.  Add the crumbles and the remaining ingredients and follow the directions as written for the meat version.

lentils with pasta, a family recipe

while growing up, i did not experience much in the way of exotic or ethnic food.  my mother stuck to the basics and although the meals were usually simple, they were also prepared from scratch and memorable.  her stuffed cabbage, meatloaf and scallopini come to mind but nothing stands out more in my memory than the few recipes that my great-grandmother taught her to make.  of course, tomato sauce with meatballs tops that list but lentils with pasta is a very close second.

perhaps it is just that i am in a new city and away from everything i was accustomed to.  maybe it is a touch of homesickness even though nashville was not my hometown.  what ever the reason is, i chose to make a pot of lentils with pasta the first time i decided to cook a meal in my new kitchen.

lentils are so flexible in the kitchen; they can be so many things.  personally, i have used them as a meat substitute in a vegetarian burger, in soups as both a garnish and the main ingredient and in countless recipes that were side dishes served with other items.  in this dish, they are the star.  the ingredient list for this recipe is short and you can choose to keep it that way or you can add to it if you like.  while i generally prepare this so that the result is a protein packed vegan dish, you could easily change that simply by swapping out the vegetable broth for one made with meat or poultry.   go ahead, make a batch, put it in the fridge and eat it all week long, it holds up well and can even be frozen and served later on a day that you just need a little comfort food.

a few notes about the recipe:  my great grandmother typically used tubettini, or little cut tubes, when she made this but you can use what you wish.  in the past, i have used ditalini, tubetti and even elbows but this time, i used acini de pepe which is shaped like little balls.  the lentils need to be cooked first and you can use whatever liquid you like to simmer them in.  for my family, this has always been a meatless dish but feel free to use whatever broth you like, or plain water if that suits you too.  keep in mind that lentils usually cook pretty quickly with a ratio of 1:2, lentils to liquid.  however, if the lentils are older, they will require more liquid, and this time, mine took almost 4 full cups of broth to get soft.  when my mother makes them, she will actually saute the onions in a little lard but i always use olive oil since i do not keep lard in the house but you can use whatever fat you like; a little smoky bacon fat might be a nice addition.  my lentils with pasta always seem a little more heavy in tomatoes than my mother’s but i like that.  this time around, i used my last pint of homemade tomato puree from the pantry but you could easily used a can of crushed or pureed tomatoes.  and finally, if you are lucky enough to have basil in the garden, cut a few sprigs and simmer them with the lentils, just remove them before mixing in the other ingredients.

nana’s lentils with pasta

1 cup green or brown lentils
2-4 cups vegetable broth or water, see notes above
1 can tomato puree or crushed tomatoes, 14.5 ounces
1 cup small pasta, see the notes above
1 medium onion, diced small
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

place the lentils in a 4 quart sauce pot with 2 cups of broth and the tomato puree.  bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the lentils until they get very soft.  add additional broth as needed to keep the lentils from getting dry or scorched.

bring a quart of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until it is al dente.  drain the pasta, toss it with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking together and set it aside until the lentils are ready.

saute the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent, add the garlic and continue to saute for a few minutes more.  the longer they cook and soften, the better;  crunchy onions just do not improve the texture in the final dish.  turn the heat down if needed to keep the garlic from scorching.  small amounts of broth can be splashed in to prevent it from burning and will deglaze the pan and add some extra flavor.  set this aside while you wait for the lentils to cook.

the lentils should be allowed to absorb most of the liquid that you cook them in which is why you do not add the full 4 cups of broth at the start.  start with 2 cups and add more, half a cup at a time as needed.  however, if you get the the soft stage and still have a bit of liquid in the pot, you can drain some off but leave it a little on the moist side so that the pasta can absorb it as the dish sits.  otherwise, it will be really dry.

using the pot that the lentils were cooked in, add the onions and the pasta to the lentils and stir to combine.   season the dish with salt and pepper as desired.  serve immediately or let it sit for a day-the flavor will get even better!

vegan white bean and kale soup

winter is determined to stick around and make us miserable.  while the northeast gets to dig out of snowfall after snowfall, we just get colder and colder.  it is true that it does get cold in nashville and in winter, it is not uncommon for the temps to drop to the 20 degree mark.  but consecutive days with single digit lows and highs in the teens, that is not normal.  luckily, having a pot of soup simmering on the stove is all it takes to bite back the chill.

i love a good white bean soup but i find that most recipes are heavy on the beans and almost always include a large portion of smoky bacon or ham products.  what i was craving this afternoon was a good old bowl of italian style white bean and escarole soup;  a hearty broth served with beans, a little vegetable and a lot of bitter greens.  since i didn’t have any “shcarole,” i had to settle for some kale and quite honestly, it was just as good.  to keep it vegan and heart healthy, i used vegetable broth as a base, diced mushrooms to give it a “meaty” texture (and an umami factor) and to add a little authenticity, a small amount of smoke flavor.  it was all i needed to chase away the chill.

vegan white bean and kale soup
makes about 1 1/2 quarts
(about 4-12 ounce servings)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced small
2 carrots, peeled and diced small
1 cup fresh button mushrooms-about 4 large ones, diced small
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can white beans; navy, great northern or cannellini (or you can cook 1 cup dried)
4 cups vegetable broth
4 cups fresh kale, torn and loosely packed in the cup
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
pinch or two of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1 teaspoon smoke flavor-to your taste
if you will be cooking your own beans, do that before starting the soup.  when the beans are ready, then begin cooking the vegetables.  if you are using canned beans, drain and rinse them before adding them to the soup.
in a 4 quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  add the onions, carrots and mushrooms and saute until the onions are translucent.  add the garlic and saute for a minute or two.  add the beans, broth, thyme and red pepper flakes, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer the soup until the carrots are soft.  add the kale and smoke flavor and allow to simmer for a few minutes to wilt the kale.  season with salt and pepper and serve with freshly baked bread.

carrot-ginger dressing

back in june, i attended a food styling workshop hosted by the nashville food bloggers.  it was not only a fun way to spend a saturday morning, it was very informative.  we learned how to style a salad.  sounds easy doesn’t it?  well, while it isn’t rocket science, it is complicated in that you have to arrange things just right or it doesn’t look appetizing and won’t photograph well.

the class was led by teresa blackburn and she showed us two techniques.  first, how to plate an actual salad and all of the components in it and then how to tell the same story with just a forkful of food.  my photos below will tell my story.

when we go out to japanese restaurants, my favorite dish always ends up being the salad served while waiting for sushi to arrive.  more than once, our daughters, and sometimes my husband too,  have passed their bowls to me.  weird, isn’t it?  what could be so wonderful about iceberg lettuce covered in pureed carrots?  well, for me, it’s the dressing.  there has always been something about that dressing for me.  it must be the combination of fresh, raw carrots with ginger and soy sauce, some of my favorite flavors.  recently, i found a recipe for carrot-ginger dressing from saveur magazine.  after making a few subtle changes, our own honey for the sugar and a little sesame oil, i had more than a pint of dressing to  keep me fed for the next week!  then i realized it was a chance to try and photograph a salad using my newly acquired skills.

for the actual bowl of salad, i attempted to use props with an asian flair to them.  i carefully arranged the salad but left it undressed.  next i staged the shot, set up the bounce card on a tripod, put the camera on another tripod and began taking test shots.  finally, i dressed the salad and took some shots.  meh…so disappointing.  i fussed and futzed and so on and so forth.  nothing.  no matter what, it just looked blah.  the lighting was not very interesting either.  it was late afternoon heading to early evening and the light was bordering on harsh.  i almost gave up completely but then had a thought; what if i broke it down and told the story of the salad with just a forkful of food?

it was if the stars suddenly aligned.  the lighting changed and it made the tomatoes and the dressing glow.  the shot isn’t perfect, but i didn’t expect perfection-just a chance to practice the skill.  and of course, to eat a small boatload of salad with carrot-ginger dressing.

saveur carrot-ginger dressing
makes about 4 cups dressing

1 cup vegetable oil-i poured 2 tablespoons sesame oil into the measuring cup and then filled it with canola oil
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoons sugar-i used wildflower honey from our bees
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
8 ounces carrots, raw-peeled and chopped into pieces
6 ounces onions, diced

the directions call for processing all of the ingredients in a food processor until smooth.  i did this but my food processor left it too chunky for me, i dumped it in the blender and blended it until smooth.  season with salt and pepper if desired.  serve over wedges of iceberg lettuce.  

gardening for cake: zucchini-carrot bundt cake

sometimes, you have to resort to bribery.  to attract volunteers to the demonstration garden, we tell perspective volunteers that there will be cake to snack on.  we also tell them that there are plants and produce to share but the cake seems to get their attention quicker.  but baking a cake every week means that i have to find a recipe and secure the ingredients.  every now and then, someone comes out to the garden with a dietary issue that can make it especially challenging.  we recently had a few volunteers who followed a vegan diet and that makes baking cakes a real challenge.

believe it or not, butter adds moisture and flavor to cakes as well as texture from the fat.  eggs strengthen the structure and help add volume by holding the air that is mixed in during the baking process.  milk and buttermilk add flavor as well as moisture-try substituting water sometime, you will taste the difference.  let’s not forget, a true vegan diet also means no honey since the harvesting process kills bees and honey adds moisture, helps retain moisture with its hygroscopic nature and honestly, it tastes really good in a cake!  when you have to eliminate these items, it can make baking a good cake difficult, even for a pro.

with the garden in full swing now, there are so many possibilities.  berries, figs, peaches, carrots, summer squash and let’s not forget an abundance of herbs to choose from.  in my own garden, i had a few zucchini and some carrots to harvest and they both work well in cakes.  since this is a vegan recipe, i had to make a few changes to the original recipe.  the current darling of the diet world is coconut.  this recipe utilizes both coconut oil and an unsweetened coconut milk beverage rather than the traditional kind in the can.  to find these ingredients, check the natural food section of the grocery store.  the oil is sold in jars and is semi solid at room temperature.  the coconut milk beverage is packed in quart sized cartons and is sold alongside soy and rice milk.  substituting the eggs is tricky.  to get a nice texture with a small crumb, i find that ener-g egg replacer works the best and this can also be found in the same section of the store.

and for those of you that are not interested in baking a vegan cake, this recipe can be quickly converted.  substitute and equal amount of butter for the coconut oil, buttermilk for the coconut beverage and 3 large eggs rather than the equivalent amount of egg replacer.

vegan zucchini-carrot bundt cake
makes 1 bundt cake serving 10-12
1 medium to large carrot
1 zucchini
1/3 cup pecan pieces
4 1/2 teaspoons ener-g egg replacer (or 3 large eggs)
2/3 cup coconut oil (or 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft)
2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk beverage (or 1 cup buttermilk)
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a bundt pan and set aside.  grate enough carrot and zucchini to measure 2 cups.  place the pecans on a baking tray and toast until fragrant, about 5 minutes.  let them cool before using.  whisk the egg replacer into 3 tablespoons warm water and allow it to sit while you begin mixing the batter.
cream the coconut oil with the brown sugar and the salt.  the oil will liquefy as it mixes so it is not necessary to mix for more than a couple minutes.  add the egg replacer and mix well, scrape the bowl too.  sift the flour, baking powder and spice blend over the batter.  fold it in a few times.  sprinkle the coconut beverage over the top of the batter and fold together.  sprinkle the zucchini and carrots over the top and fold together completely.  scrape it into the prepared pan.  bake the cake until a cake tester comes out clean, about an hour.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes and then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.