Late night study snack – Spicy sweet potato fries with vegan curry cashew cream

chilisweetpotatofriesandcurrycreamsauceThe life of a working grad student is certainly not a luxurious one.  Long days, late nights, and a hectic schedule are a daily occurrence. It is easy to fall into a rut with food choices when your mind is occupied by exam dates and papers that are due. Sometimes all you want is something quick and easy. But I’ve found that if you think outside of the box a little bit, items that on the surface may seem time consuming and difficult to make, can actually fit into your schedule pretty nicely.

Last night when I got home from class, I knew I was in for a late evening. I had a film to watch, a paper to write about the film and other general homework assignments that are due each week. Yes, I procrastinated, it happens. I knew I would want a late night snack to get me through the night, and nighttime is when my sweet tooth kicks in the worst. My solution: sweet potatoes.  They’re sweet and creamy and I love to add another dimension with a hint of spice.  Cut them up into fries and they’re the perfect snacking food.  And of course, every fry needs a dipping sauce; it’s pretty much a rule.  I have been experimenting with vegan cashew cream sauces, and I wanted to try a different spin on one this time…curry.  For me, nothing says comfort like warming spices, and with the season of cool, dark nights upon us, spicy sweet potato fries and a curry cream sauce makes perfect sense.

This is one of my recipes that has quick, easy prep, and gives you time to be productive while it does the hard part all by itself.  I got home, turned the oven on, sliced, tossed and threw in the sweet potatoes, put some cashews in a bowl of water and got to my homework.  When I was ready for a break from my assignments, my snack was ready for its final finishing touches.  I then promptly devoured it as I got back to my late night of studying.

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries

2 small or 1 medium to large sweet potato

1 TBS olive oil

Cinnamon – to taste

Chili powder – to taste

Sprinkle of salt

Raw vegan curry cashew cream

½ cup raw, organic, cashews

¼ cup water

½ -1 tbs lemon juice

½ teaspoon curry powder

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon onion powder

1 tablespoon dried basil

To start: preheat the oven to 400 and put the cashews in a bowl of water to soak for at least 30 minutes

  • Cut the sweet potato(es) into long fry-like pieces.  I like mine to have some crunch, so I cut them on the thinner side.  A trick I use here is to cut the pieces at an angle, so one end gets crunchy while the other end has more potato to it.
  • Drizzle the olive oil, sprinkle on the cinnamon and chili powder to taste (I prefer a lot of cinnamon and only a little spice, so I do about ½-1 teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash to ¼  teaspoon of chili powder, but of course, adjust how you like it) and toss it all together to coat evenly
  • Spread out on a foil lined baking sheet in one layer and bake
  • Bake for 30-45 mins depending on how well you liked them cooked; toss the pieces about half way through to even out the cooking

To make the sauce:

  • Drain the soaked cashews and discard the soaking water
  • Put them in a blender or food processor with water, lemon juice and seasonings
  • Blend until creamy (you may want to add more water if it’s too thick)

Always TASTE your food as you cook!! Maybe you want more curry, or more lemon, or more cinnamon or more spice! …experiment until you find what balance is right for you!!

My kitchen may be small, but it does big things

my kitchen my homemy kitchen2

Over the past few years, I have really grown to absolutely love cooking and cooking real, whole foods.  People talk to me and ask where this love came from, and they want to know how I do it and how they can do it too.  I would always say I had no idea where it came from…but it’s probably one of the best things to have ever happened to me.

I was always fascinated by cooking. I even came very close to going to culinary school instead of a traditional college after high school.  However it wasn’t until later, into my early 20’s that I really started to experiment in the kitchen.  I watched a lot of food network, always captivated by the beautiful dishes that these hosts created and the ease in which they manipulated the food into something delicious.  So of course, I wanted to do it too. However, I have always had a passion for information and learning, not just doing.  Alton Brown quickly became a favorite of mine, feeding not only my interest in making foods but my hunger for knowledge too.  Over the years, my food idols have expanded to people like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, diving deeper into topics surrounding our culture and food.

I have always attributed the start of my interest in health and healthy living to the foods themselves.  While it is absolutely accurate to do so, there is also another component to the process that I hadn’t really given its due credit, and that is cooking.  I can’t pin-point where, what, or even really when I started to cook a lot; it was a gradual process.  The more I cooked, the more I wanted to learn about different foods.  The more I learned about different foods, the more I learned about health, and wellness.  Cooking became a catalyst for me to begin a path of health and nutrition self-education.  The more I learned, and the more I experimented, the better I felt and the more I wanted to continue to cook and learn.

When I really stop and break it down, cooking saved me.  Now, I know that sounds a bit dramatic.  It didn’t cure me from any terminal disease, or clean me up from a debilitating addiction; but it did turn my life around.  When someone asks, “What are you passionate about?” cooking and leading a healthy lifestyle are always my top answers.  I found a passion that is bigger than a hobby; I found a way to heal myself, physically and mentally.

Cooking has really given me the opportunity to get in touch with who I am. Because it’s something that you have to set time aside for, and make it a priority, you’re really making yourself a priority.  It allows you to say, I want to do this for me and put the effort in to nourish and treat myself better.  I’ve learned a lot about myself, my likes, my dislikes, I’ve developed my palate and have experimented with foods I never would have thought to try before.  It takes me out of my comfort zone and pushes me to think outside of the box.  I’ve also developed my skills of patience, and acceptance.  I don’t always make homerun dishes the first time, but I know and accept that and I figure out what went wrong and try it again.  My kitchen has also taught me to slow down.  My time there is a time to focus on what I’m doing in the here and now and not on all of the other things going on in my life at that time.  It’s my escape and peace in a busy day.  Cooking has become something very important and personal to me.  I create in the kitchen; I put my whole effort and self into my dishes and I love the food I make.  I completely believe the emotions and feeling you put into your food is translated into the foods themselves. The foods I make are a part of who I am, and when you love the food you create, the food just tastes better.  Fact.

Cooking has also allowed me to heal myself physically.  I spent many years of my life dealing with a lot of stomach issues.  I would frequently get sick after meals, feeling nauseous or have stomach pains.  I was on at least 4 different medications over the years because maybe I had acid reflux? I had an upper endoscopy performed so they could scope my esophagus and stomach to try and find out the cause.  I had scarring but it wasn’t cancerous (thank goodness).  I even ended up in the hospital with a diagnosis of gastritis and a peptic ulcer (oooo…dry toast for 3 weeks, yay).  Nothing made me feel better until I started to play around with my diet.  I now know what foods make me feel sick, and what foods make me feel energized.  A big thing for me was cutting out dairy.  But probably the most important step I took was a basic one, adding in more home cooked, whole foods.  Doing this left little to no room for the processed crap that I ate far too often earlier in life with who knows what in it.

The difference is notable.  The recipe is simple. Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated.  Make time for yourself and your health.  Eat real, whole, organic foods.  Prepare and cook them with love.  Enjoy the process; you will taste and feel the difference.

“Deconstructed hummus” and greens — a zesty lemon, tahini, miso sauce

The fact that I haven’t posted anything in a few weeks has been nagging at me.  One of my goals for this summer was to try and post something at least once a week, whether it be a recipe, tip, or even just some insight into my organization techniques for my hectic life.  But, life happens sometimes, and I can’t complain because my summer has been great so far.  Don’t mistake this hiatus from blog posts to mean that I haven’t been creating in the kitchen.  While I have been eating out occasionally, most of what I eat is still homemade by yours truly! But, because of my go, go, go days and nights, I’ve been sticking to a lot of my old trusty recipes. I haven’t made anything that made my eyebrows pop up like, wow this is goooood, I need to share this recipe… until last night’s dinner.

As you may know from reading my blog, I joined an organic CSA this year.  The beauty of this is that I end up having to buy very few, if any, veggies for the week.  The challenging part of this though, is coming up with ideas for meals based on what I’m given, as opposed to getting to pick out my produce for the week.  Braising greens are something that I have gotten in my share for more than a few weeks in a row.  I’ve cooked them up with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar to bring to a picnic, they were a big hit.  I’ve also sautéed them with sweet onions, and served with sunny side eggs for breakfast, another yummy meal.  But frankly, they’re not the prettiest thing to take pictures of (a wilted mixture of green looks sloppy no matter how much fuss you put into the plating), and subsequently I never became excited enough about the dishes to try and write up a mouthwatering description.

BUT, of course, since I am writing this, clearly I am excited enough about this dish to disregard the visually unappealing nature and try to get across this dish’s worth based on the flavor!

Deconstructed hummus and greens_a zesty lemon tahini miso dressing

I’ve been describing this dish as a sort of deconstructed hummus.  It has the same creamy, Mediterranean taste as hummus, and most of the basic ingredients one would use to make the dip.  The deconstructed part is based on leaving the chickpeas whole instead of blending them with the other ingredients in the dish.   Leaving them whole added another texture which was important in breaking the one note texture of the greens mixture.

The secret in this sauce though is the miso.  If you’ve ever had miso soup at a Japanese restaurant you may know the flavor, but it’s far from the only use for this delicious ingredient.  Miso is a fermented paste made most commonly from soy but there are also other varieties you can buy.  I prefer white miso, it has a more mild, salty/sweet flavor.  Miso is a complete protein, a good source of b-12, high in antioxidants, and because it is fermented it is an enzyme rich food.  It has also been shown to reduce risk for breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers.  Adding a little bit of miso not only bumps up the nutritional value but it also enhances the flavors of the sauce.

Here’s how I made it:

I receive a mixture of all different varieties of greens from my CSA.  Everything from kale, to collards, to swiss chard, so feel free to experiment with whatever you can find.  I prep them by cutting off the thick stems, rinsing and spinning them dry, and simply throwing them in a big pot of heated coconut or olive oil to wilt down stirring occasionally to make sure every leaf gets its chance!  If you’re making a lot, try adding the greens in batches so it doesn’t overwhelm your pot.

Once the greens were mostly cooked, I added one box (because they come in boxes instead of cans now!!) of organic garbonzo beans (aka chickpeas) and heated through.

For the sauce:  (these measurements are guestimates, because I didn’t realize how tasty it would be to remember to measure!!)

  • The zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 TBS organic tahini
  • 1 TBS organic white miso paste
  • A good dash of red pepper flakes (for a little heat!)

Whisk all of the ingredients together in a bowl until it forms a thick paste.  Then slowly add water, whisking to combine, until you get your desired consistency.  It’s really that simple!

Poured over the dish, this sauce coats the greens and chickpea mixture with just the right amount flavor, brightening the bitterness of the greens and pulling the whole dish together.  I served mine with a simple pan seared chicken breast, but I’d be interested to try out it in other ways too; maybe on soba noodles or in a stir fry? Lots of possibilities!!

Chilled ginger-citrus carrot and beet soup

Soup in the summertime seems like a ridiculous idea.  It’s already hot out; you don’t need your dinner to warm you up even more.  A chilled soup on the other hand, can end up being exactly what you might be looking for.  Last summer I had my first experience with chilled soups one Saturday afternoon while perusing the farmers market.  A woman was giving samples of her homemade cold soups, and after trying one I promptly bought 3 containers, it was that good.  The best one that I had was by far her chilled beet soup.  Beets are one of my favorite vegetables, I eat them hot AND cold so it makes perfect sense that a chilled beet soup would be a home run.  I wanted to see if I could do it.

Luckily, I got beets in my CSA this week! How convenient.  What makes this even better is that I have also been getting the most delicious Napoli carrots for the past few weeks too.  They are just the right amount of sweet with a clean crisp finish to them.   I can almost eat the whole pound raw in one sitting.  Good thing I refrained this week, because into my soup they will go!

organic beets

As with almost everything I make, I pretty much made it up as I went along.  I immediately knew the flavor profile that I wanted.  A bright note of citrus and a zip of ginger would definitely compliment the sweet carrots and earthy beets.  I thought back to my basic soup making knowledge and went at it.

Ingredients:

4 medium sized beets – cut into small chunks (the smaller the pieces the faster it cooks!)

About ½ pound of carrots (I just couldn’t part with them all!) – also cut into small chunks

About 4 ½ cups of organic vegetable stock – low sodium

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 spring onion bulb, diced – I also received these in my CSA, they have a light, sweet, onion flavor that I knew wouldn’t be too overpowering.  If you can’t find them, try using a shallot.

1 TBS olive oil

Juice of ½ lemon

Juice of ½ orange

1 TBS grated ginger – As I’ve noted in other recipes, a good tip is to keep your ginger in the freezer.  It stays fresh longer and you don’t have to worry about peeling it, you just use a microplane and grate what you need!

 

Making this was pretty simple, here’s what I did:

  • Sautee the garlic and onion in the olive oil (you want to cook out the raw flavor)
  • Add the stock and bring to a boil
  • Add the beets and carrots and cook until they are fork tender
  • Add the lemon juice, orange juice, and the grated ginger to the pot, stir, and take it off of the heat. *The last thing you want to be doing is adding a hot liquid to your blender, so make sure you let it cool down!!*
  • Once it’s cool, pour it all into the blender and blend!
  • Chill in the fridge for about an hour and EAT!!

chilled ginger citrus carrot beet soup in blender

 

I garnished mine with some pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and it tasted great!!

chilled ginger citrus carrot and beet soup

You can definitely eat this soup hot too, so keep it in mind during the fall and winter months.  Just reheat it on the stove after you blend it and enjoy.

My first CSA share of the year!! I love local, organic food <3

So yesterday I picked up my first share of produce from the certified organic farm that I am doing a CSA with this year!! I cannot explain how excited I am to finally be able to participate in something like this.  If you want to know more about what a CSA is, and its benefits, I spelled it all out HERE!  I love the idea of getting fresh, local, organic produce every week.  Also, what excites me is getting to try new vegetables!! As you may know, I’m an experimenter with my food, so not knowing each week what I will be getting, and sometimes getting things I don’t normally use, will really push me to expand on my cooking and be able to share new and exciting things with all of you guys, my readers!!

It’s pretty early in the growing season, but I still got a bunch of AMAZING things this week! Here’s what I got!!

First CSA share

A Genevese basil plant (so I will be able to grow and have my own basil all year long!)

Baby mixed salad greens (so tender and delicious!!)

Mixed braising greens (I’m thinking braised with cider vinegar…can you say YUM?!)

Rainbow Swiss Chard (will make for some beautiful food pictures!!)

Napoli carrots (they raved about their carrots; I can’t wait to try them!)

Haukeri Turnips (something new for me…he said they’re tender; you can eat them raw or roast them)

Radishes (he said they’re especially spicy ;)…I say: good!)

Spicy white bean, sweet potato and kale soup

“Well the weather outside is frightful”….ok ok I won’t start singing winter wonderland songs but it’s really quite true lately.  It’s been chilly and rainy for days with the exception of one nice day…where is the nice weather?!! So I decided to give in and cook myself something warm and comforting to cozy up on my couch with and embrace this crappy weather….and what’s better than soup?!! I wasn’t planning on posting this recipe on the blog, because for me, soup is EXTRA hard to pay attention to what I’m putting in it.  It gets a little of this and a little of that, and oh, no wait, a little more of that…soup is about tasting as you go and tweaking it to perfection by building the flavors.  But this was so simply delicious, I will do my best to explain it all 😉 and please, tweak as you go too! Start with little dashes and add more if you like the way it’s going, it’s a great way to introduce new flavors to your palate.

Spicy white bean, sweet potato, and kale soup

The basic ingredients:

2 TBS EVOO

½ white onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 can of organic cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

About 2 cups of organic kale

1 medium sweet potato, diced into small cubes (I like to leave the skins on)

Organic vegetable broth, low sodium (I used about 3/4 of a quart container)

Seasonings:

Salt and pepper

Cardamom

Cinnamon

Ground cayenne red pepper

 

Instructions:

  • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium and cook the onion until translucent
  • Add the garlic and cook another minute, then add the kale and sautee until wilted
  • Add the beans and sweet potato and stir to combine
  • Pour the vegetable broth over everything until you have a little more broth than you would want if you want it soupy, or a little less if you want it thicker.  The broth will cook down and thicken up some so keep that in mind.
  •  Now I add my seasonings.  Like I said, dash and taste and figure out what works for you.  With the cayenne I started out with just a little bit and built it up to make sure it wasn’t too hot.  The cardamom and cinnamon, I did a couple dashes of each since I love those flavors together, especially with sweet potatoes! And as always, season with salt and pepper.
  • Bring up to a boil, cover and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender.
  • Once the sweet potatoes are fork tender, check your seasonings again.  You want a balance between the sweetness of the potatoes and cinnamon and the heat from the cayenne.  Adjust as needed and ENJOY!!

Baked Squash Stack with White Beans and Stewed Tomatoes

A little while back I had the pleasure of ‘talking food’ with one of my sister’s closest friends Emily and her husband Andy.  It’s not every day that I meet people who get excited about vegetables like I do, (and I completely plan to steal from their garden this summer 😉 haha).  But tonight’s recipe was inspired by them.  While we were swapping food favorites and looking through old pictures of dinners (because I’ve been taking pictures of my food long before I ever had a blog… I’m weird I know) Andy came across one that he immediately wanted the recipe for.  If you know me, or have read my blog before, then you are well aware that I am not good at recipe writing.  I also rarely make the same thing twice, partly for that reason.  However, I can always decipher what ingredients I had used in something and frankly, it’s more fun sometimes to use the same flavor profile but find new ways to re-invent it!!  This is a twist on the dinner that they saw and it came out delicious!!

Baked squash stack with white beans and stewed tomatoes

Baked Squash Stack with White Beans and Stewed Tomatoes

Ingredients:

2 medium yellow squash

1 medium zucchini (you can swap these two depending on which one you want more of; I just happened to have these quantities so I went with it!)

1 can organic cannellini beans (no salt)

1 can organic stewed tomatoes with Italian herbs

1 TBS extra virgin olive oil

Garlic powder

Italian seasoning

Directions:

  • Drain and rinse the cannellini beans and transfer them to a small bowl.  Using a fork, mash the beans into a chunky paste.
  • Also, drain the stewed tomatoes and put them in a separate bowl.  (squash give off a lot of liquid when they cook so you won’t need the extra from the tomatoes)
  • Slice your squash and zucchini into thin rounds, keeping them each in separate piles
  • Spray a baking dish (mine was 8×8) with non-stick spray and lay out an even layer of your first yellow squash in the bottom of the dish.
  • Season the layer with garlic powder and Italian seasoning
  • Take ½ of the mashed cannellini beans and dot it on top of the layer
  • Take ½ of the stewed tomatoes and using your fingers break them apart it into chunks, spreading it on top also.
  • Next, layer your zucchini and repeat the same seasoning steps followed by the remaining cannellini beans and stewed tomatoes.
  • Top with the final layer of yellow squash
  • Season with Italian seasoning and drizzle with 1 TBS of extra virgin olive oil to allow the top to brown up in the oven
  • Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes or until the squash are tender and cooked all the way through, test this by sticking a fork in it! (the bake time will vary depending on how thick or thin your rounds are and also the size of your baking dish)
  • Broil for a few minutes at the end to brown the top

Baked Squash Stack with White Beans and Stewed Tomatoes Overhead

Baked Squash Stack with White Beans and Stewed Tomatoes Sideview

I also think this dish would be amazing sprinkled with some fresh grated parmesan or pecorino cheese (but since I’m dairy free 😦 you’ll have to let me know!!!)