Sick soup (autumn minestrone)

After my family left, we all got sick. Every single one of us except for my dad has either a cold or a sinus infection.

Sad face.

So, instead of resting on Sunday I ran errands, made this soup, and worked on orders. I can’t seem to help myself.

This recipe comes from the Moosewood Daily Special cookbook, which is just packed with comforting soups. I thought about subbing chicken broth in this recipe since I have so much in my freezer. But the cleanse taught me that veggie soups can have really great depth of flavor on their own, so I left it out. And it turned out to be the right decision.

I also added one thing I learned from Rachael Ray, which is to use the leafy tops of celery when you cook. They have lots of flavor (they’re the greenest part of the whole stalk).

This soup is super healthy, full of the vitamins you need when you’re sick, and it uses a lot of fall veggies that are cheap right now. I bought an acorn squash so ripe it looked like a little pumpkin.

I served this with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, but that’s totally optional. Add a chunk of crusty bread or some saltines and you’re good to go.

Autumn minestrone

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups peeled and cubed winter squash (I used butternut and acorn)
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 1/2 cups golden potatoes, cubed (skins optional)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
8 cups water (it called for 6 but I needed more)
4 cups chopped kale leaves
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium. Add the onions and garlic and saute for 5 minutes. Add the squash, celery, carrots, potatoes, spices, and water, and cook them for another 10 minutes or so. Then add the kale and beans, turn down the heat if it’s bubbling too much, and simmer until everything is cooked through. It only takes about 20 minutes total, but I gave it probably more like 40 minutes just to let everything really blend together.

The only thing I might change next time would be to scale back a little on the kale. I have a thing about wilty greens — a little is fine, but I like the other veggies to be the focus.

Huckleberry oatmeal

Mike got me the best anniversary gift — Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day cookbook. As soon as I started flipping through the pages I knew it was going to be awesome, and I wanted to bookmark just about everything.

First up, I tried the baked oatmeal. The photo shows it with huckleberries on top, so I thought I would at least try to find some. I was sure I’d strike out, but there they were at the Berkeley Bowl in little plastic containers. Sweet!

I decided to skip the bananas in the recipe because I really don’t like the taste of baked bananas. But otherwise the recipe was spot-on, and by far the best baked oatmeal I’ve ever had. It’s a little bit sweet, with a little crunch from the browned top, and lovely purple streaks from the berries, which taste a lot like blueberries.

Huckleberry oatmeal
adapted from Super Natural Every Day

2 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup-ish huckleberries or blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and butter a 9-inch square baking dish. In one bowl, mix up the dry ingredients (oats, walnuts, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt). In a separate bowl, whisk up the milk, egg, half of the butter, and vanilla.

Pour the dry ingredients into the baking dish, and then pour the liquid ingredients over the top. Once that’s spread evenly, sprinkle the huckleberries over the top.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is starting to turn golden brown. After you take it out of the oven, pour on the rest of the melted butter.

Brown rice casserole

I’ve had the Greens cookbook for a while, but hadn’t made anything out of it until I picked out this very unassuming recipe for a brown rice casserole. I was looking for something that would be both hearty and healthy. And I appreciated that it was also meatless.

Some of the recipes in the book are pretty labor intensive (ie make one recipe from this page, add another recipe from this page, etc.), but this one was quite simple. It’s also very adaptable to whatever veggies you have in your fridge. I opted to use zucchini and sweet potatoes, along with a few cherry tomatoes and herbs from our mini garden. I nixed the mushrooms because I don’t like them.

I also used homemade chicken stock instead of vegetable stock, mostly because I hate to see it sitting unused in the freezer. And I was excited to finally add nutritional yeast to a recipe. It’s only a little in this one, but I had never used it before.

I was a little worried that the ingredient list was so simple (including plain tofu cubes), that it would turn out bland. But this casserole is really something special. Both Mike and I loved it, and I plan to make it again, possibly with butternut squash or something more fall-like.

Brown rice casserole
adapted from the Greens cookbook

3 cups cooked brown rice (1 cup uncooked)
half block of firm tofu, cubed
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced (use organic if possible)
handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup veggie or chicken stock
6 ounces grated cheddar cheese
A sprinkling of fresh herbs (I used basil and thyme)
More salt and pepper to taste

Get a few things going at once: preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Start boiling water for your rice, and cook it according to package directions. Drain the tofu and squeeze out the water before you cut it into cubes.

Heat the olive oil and butter over medium and saute the onions for about five minutes. Add the garlic, nutritional yeast, cumin, and salt. This part smells amazing.

Add the rest of the veggies and 1/2 cup of the stock, cover the pan, and cook the veggies about 10 minutes or until they start to soften. If you want, you can hold off on the tomatoes until the last few minutes. This part really helps the veggies soak up more flavor.

When the veggies are cooked, add the rice and cheese, and then season with salt and pepper. Mix in the tofu cubes.

Spray or butter a 9×13 baking dish and spoon in the casserole. Even though it seems a little strange, add in the rest of the stock. It will soak into the casserole as it bakes. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15 minutes. When it’s done, sprinkle on the fresh herbs.

It might not be the most beautiful of dishes, but it will surprise you.

My first time making gnocchi

I pulled this recipe out of Outside magazine, of all places, thinking it would be a good excuse to try making gnocchi for the first time. I figured that since it was in a magazine for manly men (one of my faves, even so), and that it only took up part of one column on the page that it would be easy enough for a beginner. But this recipe is seriously labor intensive, at least by my standards.

Still, I thought it sounded yummy, so I gave it a try.

Potato Gnocchi Tourmalet

You start by baking two pounds of potatoes, which then have to cool so you can peel and mash them. I used russets because that’s what I had on hand, but next time I would use goldens for more flavor.

In a bowl you mix up:

1 1/2 cups flour
2 beaten egg yolks
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt and pepper

When the potatoes are cooled and mashed, mix them into the bowl and form a dough ball. Let it rest for 15 minutes.

Next, make the sauce. I really loved this sauce and might use it for other recipes. The sweet chili sauce is a great addition.

Saute in more olive oil:
1 medium zucchini, cubed
1 small red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced

Then add:
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
salt and pepper to taste

When that’s all mixed together, turn off the heat and set it aside.

Set some water to boil for your gnocchi.

Now you get to actually make the gnocchi. You start by dividing your dough ball into four parts. Roll each section into a long rope, about 3/4-inch thick, on a floured surface. I ended up dividing each fourth into another half to get a manageable rope.

Then you cut the rope into 1-inch chunks and roll a fork over them to get them to curl up a little tighter. If I had one, I would have liked to use a little gnocchi roller.

When your water’s boiling, salt it, and start dropping in the gnocchi in batches of 20 or so. They only take a few minutes to cook, and when they come to the top of the water you scoop them up and drop them into an ice water bath to cool.

By this point you will have dirtied every dish in your kitchen and half your utensils. But you’re so close!

So they’re not the most beautiful gnocchi, but they are tasty.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When all the gnocchi is boiled, you’ll add it to a 9×13 baking dish with the sauce, some chopped fresh basil, and 3-4 ounces crumbled feta cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes. Then sprinkle on 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup pine nuts, and a little more fresh basil. Bake for another 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and golden.

Phew! I am exhausted just typing that.

I was really happy with how this dish turned out, though. It was really tasty, and I can see using the same potato gnocchi recipe to make with other sauces. Maybe pesto or something where you saute the gnocchi in a pan to get that brown crust.

Zucchini orzo salad

Apologies for the long absence! After we went to Big Sur, Mike and I spent a lovely day in wine country at an office retreat. And then I came down with something (again!) and spent the rest of his parents’ vacation in bed. I had all these plans to share photos of our travels, but it was not to be.

The last six weeks have been the busiest and best for me since I quit my job in 2009. But sometimes you pay for overworking yourself, I guess.

So anyway, I am feeling like myself again, and I have some yummy recipes to share.

The first is this super easy orzo salad. I believe I cut it out of a Real Simple magazine a few months ago. It seemed so light and summery. And even though this has been the chilliest summer of my life (we actually made hot chocolate the other night), I decided to make it anyway.

Zucchini orzo salad
adapted from Real Simple

8 ounces orzo
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for sauteeing
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or white)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 medium or 4 small zucchini, cut into half moons
salt and pepper to taste
3-4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried dill

Cook the orzo according to package directions and drain under cold water to cool it down. (By the way, I had the hardest time finding orzo at the store. I finally just bought this one because it looked close enough).

While your orzo is boiling, heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Saute the zucchini pieces with salt and pepper until they start to brown a little. The original recipe didn’t call for cooking the zucchini, but I love that extra layer of flavor.

While that’s going, whisk up your vinaigrette (3 T olive oil, 3 T vinegar, and red pepper) in a big bowl. After you turn off the zucchini and let it cool a little, add it to the vinaigrette and let it marinate about 20 minutes.

Finally, add the orzo, feta, and dill to the zucchini and toss it all together.

Vegan chocolate cupcakes with cocoa ganache

After this tumultuous week of eating, I decided I wanted a baked good that would satisfy my sweet tooth without sending me into a sugar coma. I wanted to use the oat flour I bought a while back — while it’s not labeled gluten-free, it’s whole grain and would at least reduce the load on my gluten-heavy diet.

I googled around to find a vegan chocolate cake recipe that sounded like it would make a good cupcake, and then adjusted it a bit and came up with this:

Vegan chocolate cupcakes
makes 10 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups oat flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 cup water

Cocoa ganache frosting

1/2 cup cocoa powder (use raw cacao powder for an ultra-rich frosting)
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt

Preheat your oven to 350. Mix up the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. Slowly mix the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. The batter will be very thin. Fill your paper cups more carefully than I did!

Bake for 45 minutes. While the cupcakes are baking, mix up the ingredients for the frosting. Though the ganache is pretty soft, you want to leave it at room temperature until the cupcakes are cool and ready to frost. It becomes so thick it’s unspreadable when refrigerated.

The cupcakes are definitely more crumbly than a typical cupcake, but I thought they came out pretty well overall. Certainly the closest you’ll come to a healthy cupcake!

Corn and tomato salad

Strangely, it’s actually been feeling like summer around here. Though it’s been in the low 60s for months, the forecast calls for 80+ degree days over our Fourth of July weekend, and that to me calls for picnic foods.

I’ve been making a black bean/corn/avocado/tomato salad for a long time, but I was thinking I wanted something a little different. This idea from Chez Pim seemed perfect, so I played around with measurements a bit and came up with this.

Corn and tomato salad

3 cups cooked sweet corn (grilled, boiled, or even microwaved works)
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Basil or other fresh herbs to taste (I chopped up a few sprigs of thyme and a few basil leaves)

Combine the corn and tomatoes in a bowl. Whisk up the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl. I ended up using about half of the vinaigrette and saving the rest for salads, but you can use as much as you want.

Serve with baked beans, deviled eggs, and a Nathan’s hot dog. Swing in hammock. Sip lemonade.

I am also excited to report that I spotted our first tomatoes yesterday!

The question now is whether or not they’ll have trouble ripening (that’s what I hear can be a problem). But with our forecast I think they’ll have plenty of heat and sun.

This little guy has taken up residence in the tomato.

I also finally gave up on my old basil plant, which conked completely, and got a new one, which seems to be thriving. Can’t have summer without basil.

Kale chips

I have bought kale chips before, but never actually made them myself until now. We had some at a pre-wedding party in Colorado, and they were so good I was motivated to try them out.

I used a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, but really you don’t much of a recipe for these. You just toss torn pieces of kale with salt and olive oil and bake them at 300 for 20 minutes or so.

If you want a different flavor you can spice them up with curry powder, garlic powder, black pepper, or whatever sounds good to you. They come out airy, crisp, and a lot tastier than you would expect. If you’re having a hard time getting dark greens into your diet, this is the perfect way to do it. Juicing is also great.

Next time I will make sure to dry the leaves more thoroughly before I bake them, and I will divide the leaves up into two pans so it’s not as crowded. Some of my leaves didn’t get as crispy as I would have liked.

I used the curly variety of kale, and I like that one best for this preparation. So go forth, and bake kale!

Strawberry-rhubarb crumble

I wasn’t planning on making anything with rhubarb this week, but when I saw those bright red stalks at the grocery store, I just had to get some.

I realized, though, that most of my rhubarb recipes are the kind of giant pans of sugary goodness that kept me from losing weight for a long time. So I wanted to make something sweet, but slightly less indulgent. Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry-Rhubarb crumble is about half the size, with only one layer of crumble, as my rhubarb crisp, so I thought it would be a good substitute.

I left out the lemon zest, but otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. It’s super simple.

You chop up your fruits, then start mixing the crumble in a separate bowl. It comes together in about 10 seconds.

Then you add a few ingredients to your fruits and mix them up until they’re good and saucy.

Sprinkle the crumble on top, and bake.

We just ate ours plain, but it would be great with a dollop of whipped cream or a little vanilla ice cream.

Or you could substitute other fruits, like berries or peaches. I just love that bright red color of the strawberry/rhubarb combination.


No, not the pancake kind. The British, oaty, chewy bar kind that Mike and I first sampled when we were in Spain.

I’ve been wanting to make them since I got back, but didn’t get around to it until now.

Actually, the problem was that I couldn’t find a key ingredient, golden syrup. I kept looking for it in grocery stores, but no luck. Then one Sunday at the Berkeley Bowl I realized that (of course) they had a British foods section, and there it was.

Golden syrup is a lot like corn syrup, but really thick and gooey.

So once I had that I cobbled together some different recipes I found online and came up with this one. Next time I make them I’ll use a little smaller pan for thicker bars (maybe 8-inch square), and put down some parchment paper so that I can remove them easily. I had a heck of a time getting them out of the pan.

You can also add just about any kind of dried fruit or nuts to change up the taste, or try substituting honey or agave nectar. Though these are definitely buttery and sweet, they are more like a granola bar than anything, and they are great fuel for site-seeing, shopping, or workout days.

Cranberry flapjacks

1/2 cup butter (or sub margarine for vegan flapjacks)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons golden syrup
2 3/4 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Heat up a saucepan to low heat, then add the butter, brown sugar, and syrup. Stir until all the butter is melted.

Next add the oats, cranberries, coconut, and ground flax seeds and stir to combine. Stir quickly so that the syrup doesn’t harden. (Reminds me of making Rice Krispie Treats!).

Press the mixture into a greased or parchment papered 8-inch square oven-safe dish. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Resist the urge to mess with these until they are cooled. They will just fall apart. If you wait too long, though, they will be really hard to cut. So when they’re just cool, loosen the edges, flip over the pan to remove the whole thing, and then cut the block into 9 squares.

I personally love just about anything oaty or granola-like, so I’m crazy for these. I am going to work on some other adaptations!