Entrée, Fall


I had a rough time the first two years of college. It was up and down and there were certainly parts I really liked, but I remember crying in my car asking my parents if I could quit and switch schools on more than one occasion. I was an English major and turns out I am a slow reader with poor retention and grammar. I’d graduated high school with a really tight group of friends I had known my whole life and making new friends was a skill I’d little experience with as an adult. I had broken up with the boyfriend I thought I was going to marry and had one great but a few rough roommates to start. It just seemed...hard. I believe we are equipped to do hard and challenging things but I couldn’t quite find the silver lining. I really wanted to go home. So as my last effort to finish what I started, I applied to study abroad in Spain my Junior year to get better at Spanish (because clearly my English wasn’t awesome) and to hit refresh. And it worked. I loved the experience, saw so much of Spain, started a little romance with Hugh via email, didn’t get much better at Spanish to be honest but came back to school to live with a group of girls that just had great chemistry together. They were fun, kind and communicated well instead of gossip and hurt each other which unfortunately, groups of girls often have the potential to do. I can’t really explain it, or I wouldn’t do it justice if I tried, but those ladies changed me. By the time I moved back towards home to start a career, I was dragging my feet. You couldn’t have told me that three or four years prior. 

I spent last weekend with a few of those ladies and while we don’t keep up as often as I’d like, they are the same sweet women they were in that season. We all now have kids and lives going different directions but I was inspired by our conversations around our rental’s dinner table. One of these was talking about feeding a family, ideally somewhat healthfully, when you are short on patience, energy and creativity. I like to cook and I still find this hard. One of my girlfriends is a nutritionist and and she really believes we dumb down flavors for kids starting at baby food, often followed by bland starches so there is work involved in turning that around when you get to the point of wanting everyone to eat the same meal. It got me thinking of meals I could make that represent something we could all make on a weeknight. I am guilty of dumbing things down too. Hugh and Curran love tacos and burritos so I started with something generally popular, and then made it a little different. I nabbed the name “blender sauce” from the new How to Celebrate Everything cookbook by Jenny Rosenstrach and it’s so telling because you literally throw all the ingredients into a blender at one time and give it a few pulses. My KitchenAid® Pro Line® Series blender has a pulse function so I could keep the sauce a little chunky like I like it and I chopped the mushrooms small so Curran couldn’t single them out from the beans. We ate tacos and even little Cleo girl ate bits of the mushroom saute and avocado bits. We all ate at the same time! I can’t say that happens very often and it was really nice. More of that, please. 

This post was created in partnership with the new KitchenAid®Pro Line® Series Blender.

Mushroom and Black Bean Tacos with Cilantro Blender Sauce // Serves 4

The sauce can be made in a blender or food processor and can sit for a few days so make it in advance if you’d like. The heat of the jalapeno is in the ribs and seeds. The sauce needs some for spice but adjust to your taste. Here it’s drizzled on tacos, but makes for a great salad dressing too. If you don’t stock the spices below, 1 teaspoon of your favorite taco seasoning will do. I was trying to not over stuff the tacos but a little shredded cabbage is welcome here too. 

cilantro blender sauce 

1 bunch of cilantro
2 garlic cloves
4 green onions, light and dark parts
1 jalapeno, barely seeded
juice of two limes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. drained capers
1/2 tsp. salt and pepper

2 Tbsp. grapseed or coconut oil, divided
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 large or 3 smaller portobello mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (roughly one 14 oz. can, rinsed and drained)
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. paprika

8 corn tortillas
2 avocados
goat, feta or queso fresco, for garnish

Throw all the sauce ingredients in the blender and pulse until everything is well chopped and combined. Set aside. 
Warm 1 tablespoon of the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt to the pan and cook for a few minutes until softened. Dice the portobellos and add them to the pan with the garlic, remaining oil and another pinch of salt. Saute until browned and the mushrooms have reduced, about 5 minutes. Stir in the black beans and spices and adjust to taste. 
Lightly char your tortillas over the stove. To assemble, mash some avocado down the center of the tortilla. Drizzle a large spoonful of the sauce and top with some of the mushroom bean mixture. Garnish with a sprinkle of cheese and enjoy. 

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A Vietnamese banh mi is Hugh's favorite sandwich. It doesn't really matter how authentic it is, just that it is good. The bread should be tender but a little toasty on the outsides. The vegetables crunchy and pickled and lots of fresh herbs. His would include crispy bits of pork and I'll take a tofu version. Pro tip from yours truly with a vegetarian food blog, the pre-cooked carnitas from Trader Joes or Costco can be warmed and shredded and sandwiched right in here with no complaints from your omnivorous eaters. I tried out and simplified the recipe in the Tartine Bread cookbook as edited below.  We've let our sourdough making habit die for the time being but I am still intrigued by the recipes in the back of this book. Most of them are naturally leavened bread recipes and techniques but the whole Tartine crew knows what they are doing with flavor so I tweak things to work with store-bought bread. Their recipe for a banh mi is written with pork inside but I really believe these could take on any basic protein. Think pan fried tofu or tempeh or a fish filet or a thin cut chicken breast. I know a sandwich is often thought of as a lunch thing but we don't discriminate over here. I believe frittatas qualify for any of the three meals of the day and sometimes I eat leftover salad with an egg on top for breakfast so all is permissible. And truly, such good things can be made smushed between fresh bread.  

VEGETABLE BANH MI // Makes 2-4 depending on size

Recipe adapted from Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

 The garlicky fish sauce here adds great salty flavor but is not completely necessary if fish sauce is not your thing. Add another garlic clove and a pinch of pepper flakes to the green aioli to bump up the flavor there a bit. As noted above, the sandwich can take on any protein.

pickled vegetables

1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup water
3 Tbsp. natural cane sugar
2 tsp. sea salt
1 bunch carrots, julienne peeled
1/2 a red onion, shaved thin

green aioli

1 garlic clove
juice of one lime
1 small jalapeno, seeded and stemmed
1 small bunch basil
1 small bunch cilantro, some saved for garnish
1 cup good quality mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. sea salt

garlicky sauce

2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. vietnamese fish sauce
1 Tbsp. chili oil (or olive oil and a dash of pepper flakes)
pulpy juice of half a lime

2 avocados
1 baguette, cut and lightly toasted

In a large mixing bowl, combine the red wine vinegar, water, sugar and salt and stir to combine. Add the carrots and onions and toss them around in the pickling juice. Set aside for at least 30 minutes. These can be stored, covered, in the fridge for a week.
For the green aioli, blend all ingredients in a food processor until mostly smooth. Set aside or store covered in the fridge until needed.
In a mortar and pestle or food processor, mash together the garlic, fish sauce, chili oil and lime. It will be thin and that's ok, it's just intended to drizzle. 
Mash the avocados. To assemble the sandwiches, lightly toast your baguette. Smash avocado on one face and generously spread aioli on the other side. Top with a heap of pickled vegetables, a bit more cilantro and a drizzle of the garlicky sauce. 

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Appetizer, Feeding Babies


The thing about cooking and summer is that often times, meals are thrown together. It’s lighter longer, we’re outside and it’s so warm out that less actual cooking and more assembly sounds more like it. Tomatoes with a thinned pesto drizzled on top and thick slices of bread on the bbq. Peaches and lentils and lots of herbs mixed into some quick-cooking quinoa. I love when it can be both easy and good, not exclusively one or the other. There is so much great produce this time of year to pull it off. With a toddler and a very messy mash-eating baby at the table, Hugh and I have found it more peaceful to feed, bathe and put the kids to bed and then have dinner ourselves. We can actually talk, sip wine instead of swig it, and no one is asking me to pull the green bits out of their turkey meatballs. And lunch, since we’re usually all around for now, my default is sandwiches but everyone is tiring of those lately too. I started piling things on crackers instead, same but different. In this case, I used the new Wasa THINS. The ingredient list is short and wholesome, they’re great to eat on their own, but also sturdy enough to hold some of my favorite toppings. I have vivid memories of original Wasa crispbread from my childhood - my mom would eat them with mustard as part of some diet she was trying or slather them in peanut butter and honey for my sister and me. These are not just for Curran, these most definitely end up being for all of us. If we’re pulling a late afternoon beach day and I know everyone will get hungry, I bring some dips and cheese to keep everyone happy until dinner time. I can’t get over zealous with the vegetables for the toddler but I can make these recipes below to taste and they make for a quick little lunch. I love that these crackers are thin and delicate so they don’t take over. Crackers can be too much sometimes. All said, let’s just keep snacks and meals easy while the produce is amazing and we’d rather be outside.

This post was sponsored by Wasa Crackers. All words, photos and opinions are my own. Visit their site for more recipe ideas or check out the #snackingwithwasa hashtag.


The trick is to make sure you have a “glue” to hold things down - mashed avocado, nut butter, hummus, ricotta, maybe a soft goat cheese. I have a toaster oven that I use daily so it’s easy to warm up the pizza one but I understand this isn’t the case for everyone. It only needs a minute for the cheese to melt so you could pop 'er in the real oven as well. 
I wrote the recipes for one, but if you are going to make one, you might as well make a few whether it’s a snack or lunch situation. These recipes will work on any Wasa cracker or sturdy cracker of choice.

Pizza Crisp

1 Wasa THINS or similar cracker
1 Tbsp. pizza sauce
1 Tbsp. grated mozzerella
1 Tbsp. grated parmesan
chopped olives
dried Italian Herbs, for garnish
chopped basil, for garnish

Preheat a toasted oven or oven to 375º. Spread the pizza sauce on top of the cracker. Evenly sprinkle the mozzarella and parmesan. Toast for 1 minute for the cheese to just melt. Top with a sprinkle of dried herbs and fresh basil. Enjoy warm.

Peach Crisp

1 Wasa THINS or similar cracker
1 Tbsp. mascarpone
1 tsp. maple syrup
pinch of cinnamon
1/2 a ripe peach, sliced thin
granola, for garnish

Mix the mascarpone with the maple and cinnamon. Spread it on top of the cracker. Arrange the peach slices on top and garnish with granola.

Veggie Crisp

1 Wasa THINS or similar cracker
2 Tbsp. prepared hummus or mashed avocado
1/4 of a cucumber, thinly sliced
shaved fennel
chopped herbs and celery leaves
sea salt and pepper, for garnish

Spread the hummus or avocado on the surface of the cracker. Arrange the vegetables and herbs. Finish with a sprinkle or salt and pepper. 

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