Fall

Fall, Gluten Free, Winter, Side

CREAMY BAKED BRUSSELS

He made me cry the first day I got there. I had been on crowded planes with long layovers, crossed time changes and spent the night in some run down hostel with way too much luggage to be schlepping between all modes of public transportation that take you between small Italian towns. I was tired and emotional and I run shy-ish/self-conscious in meeting new people so when George was yelling at me over how stupid it was to be a vegetarian, I cried right there at the table. 

After I graduated college, I made up my own internship of sorts to work at a Bed and Breakfast in Italy. It was run by a couple who used to own an Italian restaurant in my hometown. Lucy, the wife, had a full Italian mother but she lived most of her life in America. Lucy and George owned the place. She was a super friendly, petite, hard working, full of energy, warm and spunky woman. George was there for her. He was along for her golden years dream project and drug his feet and rolled his eyes often along the way. He was a retired surgeon; very smart and attracted to controversial conversations. He hated waste, he hated it before it was part of the green movement to hate waste, and although he scared me most of the time I lived there, I am a more careful consumer because of his staunch stance on the issue. A solid fellow, a great cook, he grew up in Argentina and must have told me three dozen times that his mother was in her late 90's and very healthy from a diet of mostly meat and potatoes. 

For some perspective to the story, I was in my early 20's, fresh off a new definition of what "healthy" meant. I had transitioned from years of eating fat free and sugar free this and that and got really into cooking and produce and working on a farm and now believed my very vegetable centered life was the answer to all things health.

So, Hugh (my super cute then-boyfriend who came with me for a month and worked mostly as a gardener) and I show up for the first time to this completely new place with all new people, super exhausted and jet-lagged and nervous. They were just sitting down to a lunch to welcome us and it was platters of cured meats, grilled bistecca, oven roasted potatoes and arugula drenched in olive oil. It didn't take long for George to notice that I wasn't eating much and he asked me why, at which point I told him I was a vegetarian. Might as well be honest if I was going to be eating all of my meals with this guy for the next 6 months. He then proceeded to berate me - intensely, angrily, loudly - on why I'd made that choice, asked me to cite my research of why it was healthy, asked if I'd spoken to doctors, listed all the nutritional values of the meal he'd prepared and I'm pretty certain he was standing up and pacing by the time I couldn't hold it in anymore and the tears started coming. I had said nothing in response. Hugh was squeezing my leg but he was in no place to defend me because I'm not sure I honestly had answers to his questions. I came to learn this was par for his course, but couldn't help how personally I took it seeing it was the first time I met the guy. Poor first impressions on both ends I suppose. We had a few more chats about it, he eventually added a few meals to the rotation without meat and let me make the salads. I grew a soft spot for George over time, more clearly seeing how he still craved the authority and leadership he had as a doctor and now was in a circumstance he didn't exactly care for. I think they call that displaced anger. That memory was from a decade ago now, but it popped back in my mind amidst the reel of New Years diets having their spotlight season. Vegan, keto, whole 30, non-dairy, paleo... so many perspectives and so many people looking for the answer with a capital "A." I've come to think healthy can mean different things for different people and it's absolutely ok for those definitions to change over time.
 
If I kept in touch with George, I'd tell him I don't really have a name for how I eat and I'm super ok with that. It's mostly from scratch, heavy on the vegetables. I eat eggs, a small amount of animal protein when I need it or want it. I try to limit dairy because I have finicky skin and it's supposed to help overall inflammation and also because I actually like almond milks and coconut coffee creamers. I make most of our baked goods with almond flour or other whole grain flours but we eat classic pizza dough in between so I figure I've got to be breaking even. And yes! I do consult doctors, my blood work is near perfect. I'm loosing a ton of hair but hey, can't win them all. If I was at your lunch table today, I'd eat whatever you were making because I understand how as the host and cook, you just want people to enjoy what you worked hard to serve them. Sorry I didn't understand that then. I won't forget your hospitality, spicy as it was. Big hugs. 

It's a new year, hooray, resolve to take good care of yourself. Eat more food from plants than packages and I think you'll be heading in the right direction. Long term changes over short-lived diets, and if cream fits into your January plan, these brussels are so easy and Hugh made you a sweet little video for a visual this week for a change of pace. 

CREAMY BAKED BRUSSELS // Serves 4

These work as a warm side, smashed into toast or tossed with your favorite noodles with a splash of pasta water and a bit of fresh citrus juice to make an easy meal of it. 

1 lb. brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. dijon mustard
dollop of creme fraiche (optional)
1/2 tsp. sea salt, to taste
fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

fresh parsley, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350' and grease a shallow, ovenproof baking dish. Steam the brussels for 4 minutes, drain and let them cool to the touch. While the brussels steam, mix together the cream, dijon, creme fraiche if using, salt and pepper. 
Chop up the sprouts, use a food processor if you prefer but I'd rather not clean another appliance. Tip them into the prepared dish and pour the cream mixture over the top. Sprinkle the parmesan over the top and bake them for 15 minutes, turning the broiler on for an extra minute or two at the end to brown the top. Garnish with fresh parsley. Enjoy warm.



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Entrée, Soup, Winter, Fall, Gluten Free

BUTTERNUT + RED LENTIL SOUP

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I'm currently on my third double chocolate cookie despite having all sorts of  recipe testing leftovers in the fridge I could cobble into a more nutritious lunch. Can cookies be lunch? I could swipe almond butter on top for protein. Why didn't I give these away like I said I would? 'Tis the season I suppose; always makes me feel like baking, it's getting the baked goods out the door that appears to be the challenge. So in between, there are easy dinners. I have been asked three times for a butternut squash soup recipe by different friends or readers and I realize we only have this stew to reference. I generally prefer my soups chunky, but let's add a pureed one to the archives for good measure. I saw this one while flipping through Melissa Clarks' recent book and it sounded too perfectly simple and spiced not to try. Plus, I had all the ingredients. I swapped in a little curry powder for some of the cumin, added ginger at the end and garnished it with a bit of cilantro and toasted coconut. Optional changes, of course. Cheers to easy dinners, and cookies too, of course. 

BUTTERNUT + RED LENTIL SOUP // Serves 4-6

Adapted from Dinner by Melissa Clark

I find soup thickness to be a matter of taste. You can always add more broth at the end to thin it, but it's tough to go the other way. Start with the yields below, and you can thin it out after if need be. 

3 Tbsp. ghee or coconut oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. curry powder
pinch of cayenne
3/4 tsp. sea salt
fresh black pepper
1 cup red lentils
12 ounces peeled and chopped butternut squash (about one medium squash)
1 qt. low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
13.5 ounce can of coconut milk
fresh ginger, to taste
fresh lime juice, to taste

cilantro and toasted coconut, for garnish

In a large dutch oven over medium heat, warm the ghee or coconut oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the tomato paste, cumin, curry powder, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. Cook another minute. Add the lentils, squash, broth and bring it up to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low and cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes until the squash is tender. Stir in the coconut milk to warm through and add grated ginger and fresh lime juice to taste (I used about a 2" nub of ginger and 1 whole lime). Use a blender or immersion blender to make a chunky puree. Season to taste. It probably needs a bit more salt but that is to your discretion. 

Garnish to fresh cilantro and toasted coconut. Leftovers will keep covered in the fridge for a week. 

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Entrée, Fall, Gluten Free

LASAGNA STYLE SPAGHETTI SQUASH

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We've talked potatoes and pumpkin pie to death so let's move on to solving dinner problems for all other days of the year. I would take one of these lasagna squashes over a majorly brown thanksgiving plate any day. Sorry, bah humbug. Last year, I had dinner with some of my dearest college girlfriends at Malibu Farms (have you seen their cookbook? It's beautiful and casual and colorful) and I still think of this spaghetti squash dish we shared. It was creamy, but not overly so, could be ordered vegetarian or not, tasted like comfort food but didn't sit in your gut as such. I know in the season of cooking and romantically long prep time with your glass of wine and holiday tunes, this recipe may come off as old news, but a simple dinner is what I am more interested in in the long term. I made four, and my kids mostly poked at it. They saves well and can handle a reheat the following day or perhaps you have another couple over to share. I made a few notes in the headnote on meal suggestions. 
Grateful for this space - that my life and cooking may grow and change and these pages reflect the process of such. Happy belated Thanksgiving to you, lovelies.  

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LASAGNA STYLE SPAGHETTI SQUASH // Serves 4
I served this with a simple arugula salad on the side. If you have animal-protein-hungry people in your life, brown some ground turkey or beef and add it to the marinara layer. The squash can be roasted in advance to get ahead and everything else comes together pretty quickly.
No dairy? Kite Hill makes a fabulous almond based ricotta if you can find it (try Whole Foods) and maybe you can top it with some toasted breadcrumbs or pine nuts to give it the richness it will lack from the other cheeses. Trader Joes also started carrying a premade, vegan cashew pesto in the fridge section that I imagine would be lovely mixed in with the shredded squash layer. I trust you can make adjustments where needed. 

2 small spaghetti squash
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 a yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
8-10 oz baby spinach or kale
8 oz./ 1 cup ricotta
1 tsp. dried Italian herbs (or dried oregano or fennel seeds if that's what you have)
4 oz. / 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella, plus more for topping
1/3 cup parmesan, divided
juice of half a lemon
2 cups homemade or your favorite store-bought marinara
fresh parsley, for garnish

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Preheat the oven to 400'. Halve your squash and scoop out the seeds. Rub all sides with a thin coat of oil and roast the squash, cut side down, for about 45 minutes, or until the squash shreds easily. Let them cool for 15 minutes and then carefully shred all the strands into a bowl, keeping the squash shell intact. Reserve squash shells. Squeeze them with a dishtowel to remove some of the moisture if the squash looks soggy. 
Warm a generous tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions along with a pinch of salt and saute for a few minutes until fragrant and softened. Add the garlic and saute another minute. Add the baby spinach and saute until just wilted, about 1-2 minutes. Add the spinach to the bowl of squash, along with the ricotta, dried herbs, mozzarella, half of the parmesan and the juice of half a lemon. Stir everything to mix. Taste for salt and pepper, it will likely need both. Line the bottoms of the squash shells with marinara and sort of push it up the sides. Add the cooked ground meat here, if using. Be generous on the sauce, it needs the acid to balance the creaminess. Distribute the squash mixture on top. Sprinkle the tops with a little extra mozzarella and parmesan. Line a baking tray with parchment and bake the squash for 20 minutes to warm through. Broil them for a couple minutes at the end to finish and brown the tops. 
Garnish the tops with fresh parsley and serve warm. 
 

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