Roasted Buttercup Squash and Soba Noodle Salad with Creamy Miso Ginger Dressing

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This hearty autumn salad was inspired by last week’s trip to Napa Valley. On our first day, we drove to Sonoma County and spent a lazy afternoon wandering around Healdsburg. SHED, the foodie paradise market and café, was by far our favorite spot. My friend Domonique, a San Fransisco native, mentioned that it’s probably the most instagrammed place in wine country and after seeing it for myself I understand why. SHED exemplifies Northern California culture – hyper fresh, local, sustainable, organic, simple and thoughtful. The eat-local/organic/farm-to-table movement now prevalent everywhere began in this little corner of the world, and spending time there had a profound impact on me. Continue reading

Breakfast Bite: Maple Chia Cherry Granola

DSC_0519You don’t have to spend a fortune on those little bags of artisanal granola you find at the market – it’s incredibly easy to make at home and customize to your liking!  When I was in Telluride last month, the hotel baked a fresh batch of chia seed-speckled granola every morning that was impossible to resist.  I came home determined to (a) make my own version, and (b) buy a home there.  I think my husband is relieved I’m focusing on the granola.DSC_0351DSC_0371DSC_0449Maple Chia Cherry Granola

makes approximately 9 cups

  • 4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • 1 cup almonds*
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios*
  • 1 cup pecan halves*
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons fleur de sel or kosher salt, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups dried cherries**

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

  1. Place oats, coconut flakes, chia seeds, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in a large bowl.  Roughly chop almonds, pistachios, and pecan halves and add to the bowl.  Stir to combine.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, oil, cinnamon, almond extract, and vanilla extract.  Pour over the oat mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.
  3. Spread mixture evenly on a large, parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for 40-45 minutes until mixture is light golden, stirring every 10 minutes during baking time.
  4. Remove granola from oven and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or kosher salt.  Allow to cool.
  5. Stir gently, allowing some chunks to remain.  Add the dried cherries and stir to combine.

*Feel free to substitute with any variety of  nuts.  It’s a great way to use up those odds and ends in your freezer or pantry!

**I add the cherries at the end because I find them to be too tough if they are baked.  This also allows me to set aside a little granola before they are added for the non-dried-fruit-granola fans in the house.DSC_0493

Crispy Kale and Quinoa with Roasted Broccolini and Red Peppers

DSC_0112A few months ago I decided to integrate Meatless Mondays into our weekly menu plan in the name of health and diversity.  The problem is, I have relied heavily on pasta which is not the healthiest option nor is it diverse.  This week I branched out and made veggies the star.  I love that it comes together in less than half an hour and that it’s delicious served at any temperature, making it perfect for packed lunches and picnics.  (And if you aren’t going meatless, this dish is an excellent accompaniment to teriyaki salmon or chicken.) DSC_0035Quinoa is a complete protein which makes it a great meat replacement, and it’s packed with fiber that will keep you full.  Red bell peppers add a dose of sweetness to the dish, balancing out the kale which becomes crispy, smoky and slightly charred under the broiler.  Broccolini, the other main component, is one of my favorite vegetables.  It’s available in most grocery stores but if you can’t find it, regular broccoli works well too. DSC_0081Crispy Kale and Quinoa with Roasted Broccolini and Red Peppers

serves 4 as a main course

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 4 cloves garlic, 2 minced and 2 sliced thin
  • 2 lemons, one zested and juiced, one cut in half and reserved
  • 1/4 cup olive oil + more for drizzling
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon Eden Shake Sesame and Sea Vegetable Seasoning (available in the Asian section of your grocery store.  You can sub other sea seasonings and mix with black and/or white sesame seeds or use plain sesame seeds if you can’t find it) + more for sprinkling 
  • 2 bunches broccolini (about 1 pound), each stalk sliced in half lengthwise or two heads broccoli, broken into very small florets
  • 2 bunches kale of any variety (about 12 oz), large ribs removed and leaves torn into two inch pieces
  • 2 red bell peppers, sliced thin
  • toasted sesame oil
  1. Place quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse well.  (Don’t skip this step or your quinoa will taste soapy and bitter).  Cook according to package instructions.
  2. While quinoa is cooking, whisk together the 2 minced garlic cloves, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon Eden Shake, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
  3. When quinoa is done cooking, stir the mixture from step 2 into the still warm quinoa and set aside.
  4. Preheat broiler to high. Spread the broccolini, red bell peppers, kale and the 2 sliced garlic cloves between two baking sheets.  Drizzle with olive oil (about 2 tablespoons per sheet) and season with salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.
  5. Broil each sheet for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring well half way through.  If both trays do not fit on top rack, rotate trays from top to bottom half way through.
  6. Remove from oven and squeeze reserved lemon halves over the roasted veggies.
  7. Divide quinoa mixture and roasted veggies between four plates.  Drizzle each lightly with toasted sesame oil and sprinkle on a bit more Eden Shake and red pepper flakes.
  8. If making ahead, drizzle the veggies lightly with toasted sesame oil (a little bit goes a long way) when they come out of the oven and toss to coat.

inspired by a recipe from Sarah Copeland’s cookbook Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, discovered on the Sunday Suppers site

An Unforgettable Night at NEXT

Image 10Last night, I had the extraordinary experience of dining at Next for a best friend’s 40th birthday celebration.  19 courses, 3 1/2 hours, rare wine pairings.  I am exhausted and bleary-eyed (we were at the 10pm seating, finishing at 1:30am) but I must get the words down while the night is fresh in my mind.Image 3Next, created by Chef Grant Achatz (of Alinea fame) and his business partner Nick Kokonas, is unlike any restaurant in the world.  The cuisine is changed entirely every four months (“A Tour of Thailand”, “Belle Epoque”, “Kyoto”, and wild game focused “The Hunt” are past examples) and you must purchase tickets through Next’s website rather than call and make reservations.  Tickets sell quickly.  An entire four months can sell out in mere minutes!  Serendipitously, the birthday girl is vegan, Next’s exploration of vegan cuisine fell on her birthday month, AND she was able to acquire tickets.

The inventiveness, the art, the execution – all of those elements are still floating around in my head.  It was as if we were wandering through an enchanted forest, stumbling upon Lilliputian-sized food placed on lichen-dotted rocks, floating in ponds and teetering atop branches.Image 5The two photos above illustrate how even lighting and shadows play integral roles in the theatrical experience that is Next.  (You’ll have to excuse my bad iPhoto shots – I wish I would have had my good camera, but I didn’t want to spoil the mood or drive my tablemates crazy.)  Below, sourdough crackers dusted in green tea powder pose as edible tree tops.  The crackers were used to scoop up roasted avocado spiked with fried kale slathered on a rock (seen in the following image). Image 9Image 8My absolute favorite bite of the night was the tempura swiss chard with douchi (a fermented black soybean concoction) seen below.Image 6And the wine. Oh, the wine!!  The Gramont Nuits-Saint-Georges (a 2009 pinot noir)- served with the divine mushroom course –  was truly one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.  The curry roasted cauliflower with naan (below) was another favorite. Image 2Next would not have been the unforgettable experience it was without the skilled, knowledgeable, tireless waitstaff (a special thank you to  Dave for putting up with my eight thousand questions!).  Thorough without being pedantic, they presented the 19th course (and 7th wine pairing) at 1:15am with the same level of enthusiasm as the first.Image 11ImageTo answer a few questions you may have:

  1. Yes, even the three non-vegan meat lovers were thrilled with dinner.
  2. No, we did not leave hungry.
  3. And yes, we were smart enough to arrange transportation home.

Next’s next menu is Bocuse d’Or, based on the prestigious international cooking competition held biannually in Lyon, France.

Next is located at 953 West Fulton Market in Chicago.  Click here to register for tickets.

What to Bring: Lemon Garlic Hummus

DSC_0307Store-bought hummus makes an appearance at almost every casual get together these days, but you can up the ante by bringing a flavor-packed homemade version to this year’s Memorial Day cookout.  It comes together in minutes, and DIYing it allows you to use fresh seasonal ingredients that may not appear in those little round tubs at the grocery store.DSC_0305Lemon Garlic Hummus

makes 3 cups

  • 2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (use two or three cloves if you are less of a garlic enthusiast)
  • 3 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • a few grinds of pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzle
  1. Set aside a big pinch of the lemon zest.
  2. Place all of the ingredients except for the olive oil and the pinch of lemon zest into the bowl of a food processor and process until combined.  Through the feed tube with the food processor running, pour in the olive oil and process until hummus is smooth and creamy.
  3. Place in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with the reserved lemon zest.

The jar of tahini will last for ages in the fridge, so if you keep garlic and a few cans of chickpeas on hand, you’ll find yourself throwing this together all of the time with whatever you have in the house.  Jarred roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, ghardiniera peppers, chipotles, artichokes, and olives all make great versions, and the recipe is easily halved.

recipe and photos by the aesthete and the dilettante

Strawberry Avocado Salad with Fennel and Mint

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If you’ve been craving bright, fresh, seasonal ingredients that taste like Spring, I have the perfect salad for you.  Sweet strawberries, creamy avocado and crisp shaved fennel are layered on delicate bibb lettuce leaves and dressed with a lime-ginger-mint vinaigrette.  Finished with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of sea salt, this salad makes a light, satisfying lunch or delightful first course for a Spring inspired menu.

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Strawberry Avocado Salad with Fennel and Mint

serves four

  • 1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey, plus more for drizzle (replace honey with 2 teaspoons agave if making vegan)
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves
  • 1 head Bibb lettuce, leaves torn into large pieces
  • 1 small fennel bulb, fronds removed and shaved thin with a knife or on a mandolin
  • 2 avocados, halved and sliced thin
  • 8 ounces fresh strawberries, sliced
  1. Whisk oil, lime juice, honey, ginger, shallot and mint together in a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Layer fennel, strawberries and avocado on lettuce leaves on four plates and dress with vinaigrette.  Drizzle each salad with honey and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.  Garnish with fresh mint.

DSC_0405recipe and photos via the aesthete and the dilettante

The Perfect Cookie

Okay, so perfect in a cookie is awfully subjective.  But these Ginger Sparkle Cookies are crispy on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside, spicy, sweet, healthy (comparatively speaking), and can easily be made vegan and/or gluten-free.  Phew.  And did I mention that they are insanely delicious?  As in, I cannot stop putting them in my mouth delicious?  I suppose that negates the healthy factor…

This recipe comes from a very accomplished vegan cook and close friend of mine.  If you don’t have soy milk on hand, I have made them with real milk in a pinch and they turn out just as well.

Ginger Sparkle Cookies
(makes 24-30 cookies)

  • 4 tablespoons turbinado or demerrara sugar (you can use regular sugar, but the large crystals of the above are what add sparkle and crunch to the cookie)
  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour or 2 1/3 gluten free all-purpose baking flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum ONLY IF you are using gluten free flour (this aids in binding)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 soy milk or regular milk
  • 1 cup regular sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease two cookie sheets or line them with silpat.
  2. Place turbinado or demarrara sugar in a small bowl.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices (and xanthan gum if using gluten free flour).
  4. In a separate large bowl, combine the oil, molasses, soy or regular milk, vanilla, and regular sugar.
  5. Pour dry ingredients into wet and combine well.
  6. Roll into 1-inch balls, flatten into a disk, press the cookie tops into the turbinado or demerrara sugar and place sugar side up on prepared cookie sheet.  (Fair warning, the dough will be sticky.  I find it helps a great deal to keep a tablespoon or so of canola oil in a tiny bowl so I can continually coat my fingers and palms with it during the rolling process.  It won’t entirely prevent the dough from sticking to your hands, but it’s almost impossible without it.)
  7. Bake 10-12 minutes, then let cool for 5-10 minutes on sheet before transferring to cooling rack.

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