Jenita’s Calabacitas


To my friends, family and the Mister, I’m Jenny, and sometimes Jen.  My cousins, aunts and uncles throw in a childhood nickname, Jen-Jen, every now and again.  To my cancer survivor friends from First Descents, I’m Flip Flop.  To my Grandma Maria, I will always be Jenita.   My grandma moved to the United States from Veracruz, Mexico when she was a young girl.  

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Calabacitas soup, although New Mexican in origin, has been a staple comfort food in my grandma’s, mom, and aunts’ kitchens for as long as I could remember.  This recipe has evolved in my own kitchen as I’ve made it, and I’ve finally settled on a version that satisfies my taste memory of the soup I ate growing up, and has my own touch, which is why I call this recipe Jenita’s Calabacitas!

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My family has always made calabacitas with a plethora of colorful vegetables: zucchini, yellow squash, corn, carrots, green beans, onions and tomatoes cooked down with salsa to create a flavorful broth.  Mom and the aunties always add a couple pieces of monterrey jack cheese which form cheesy, melty goodness in the bottom of the bowl.  My version uses vegetable broth as a base, and is seasoned with fresh herbs and spiced up with green chili.  I like to heat up corn tortillas until they’re soft and dotted with little golden spots, roll them up and use them to scoop up the tender flavor-soaked squash and veggies.  

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When the smell of fire roasted green chilies wafts through the air at the farmers’ market, I know it’s time to make a big batch of Calabacitas, my ultimate summer and fall comfort food.  

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I hope it makes its way into your kitchen while the produce is so beautifully colorful!

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Jenita’s Calabacitas Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds zucchini and yellow squash, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • kernels from 3 ears corn (about 2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, diced (or 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes)
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 8 ounces roasted hatch-type green chilies, chopped (choose spice level carefully)*
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
  • 2 quarts vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium high heat.  Add the onion and sauté for 4-6 minutes until softened.  Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.  Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Immediately reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 45 minutes to an hour until the squash is very soft and has soaked up the flavor of the broth.  Season again to taste with salt and black pepper.

This soup makes great leftovers, as the flavor improves when refrigerated overnight and also freezes well.


*If using hot chilies, start with less, and taste for spiciness before adding more.



Filed under Uncategorized

Roasted Barbecue-Spiced Potato Wedges with Lemon-Herb Cashew Sour Cream Dip


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I was trying to squeeze the last bits of daylight into my photos, taking pictures on the back patio.  It was close to sunset, and the dusky blue light sat cool and muted on my (finally) ready to photograph potato wedges.  I briefly glanced up and looked toward the back of the yard, near my garden.  The choir in my mind sang a glorious major chord as I saw honey-colored beams peeking over the fence, bathing the far half of the yard in a deliciously warm glow.  Oh brother.  I knew what I had to do.  One large wooden photo background, a cutting board filled with herbs in progress, bowls, measuring spoons, and the like, all needed to make it, stat, to the other side of the yard.  The neighbors probably question my sanity.  In my twenties, I cared about this a bit, but not so much anymore.  I’m beginning to understand the reason for the sequined hats and carefree attitudes of those twice as old as me–at a certain point, one just can’t take as much time to care about appearing foolish when it is magic is happening on the other side of the yard!  I balanced all my props, food and accoutrements on my photo background and carried them topsy turvy style to the prime location. 

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Liz Gilbert, although I was already well on my way to the deep end, this is partly your fault.  You wrote a little book about creativity and inspiration called Big Magic that has only served to amplify my spontaneous and wild creative urges.  I heard your voice in my head saying,  “If inspiration is calling from the other side of the yard, get thee to the other side of the yard!”  When seduced by inspiration, I create big messes, almost unknowingly and frenetically.  When I wake up from my altered state, I see my creation, and all the creative shrapnel, and almost don’t know what happened.

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In my last post, I shared a recipe for the Lemon-Herb Cashew Sour Cream Dip I’m utterly addicted to.  I love to dollop this dip on everything– breakfast hashes, crackers, veggies, and even eat it by the spoonful (don’t judge me!).  I must make a confession.  I’ve been withholding the recipe that this dip was created for–these Roasted Barbecue potato wedges.  I love this dip so much on its own that I thought it deserved its very own post.  

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These spiced potato wedges come together very easily, and make a great side or party appetizer.  I love the combination garlicky, smoky wedges with the cool herby dip.  Do you have smoked paprika in your spice cabinet?  I love to add it into my spice mixture for anything I want to add a savory smokiness to–veggie crumbles for taco meat, corn on the cob, pan fried tempeh, and many other things.

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It might be inconvenient at times, but I believe it’s infinitely worth it to say yes to the magically golden light on the other side of the yard, yes to the frenetic messes that appear as a side effect of creative reverie, yes to deciding to photograph a recipe at 6 pm when daylight hours are melting away, yes, yes, yes to the cheap little thrills that make life more colorful and exciting, and by all means, yes to roasty potato wedges with dip!

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Roasted Barbecue-Spiced Potato Wedges with Lemon-Herb Cashew Sour Cream Dip

  • 2 pounds medium yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch thick wedges
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Lemon-Herb Cashew Sour Cream Dip for serving (optional), recipe here

Preheat oven to 425˚.

On a baking sheet, toss the potatoes with the olive oil, spices, salt and pepper.  Arrange in a single layer.

Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until the bottoms of the potatoes are golden and crispy.  Use a stiff spatula to pop the potatoes off the pan using a firm scraping motion.  Serve while hot with the dip.


Filed under Appetizers, Sauces, Side Dishes, Snacks, vegetarian, Vegetarian and Vegan

Lemon-Herb Cashew Sour Cream Dip (v, gf)



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Lactose intolerants and L.I sympathizers, gather round!  This is the holy grail of creaminess for all who can’t eat dairy yet still crave dip.  Sour cream, oh, how I’ve missed you these past few years!  I came across this recipe for the “best damn vegan sour cream” on Gluten-Free Vegan Pantry, and I thought to myself, we’ll see about that. I felt like I was anticipating a blind date (which is how the Mister and I met, by the way).  Don’t get your hopes up too high.  This could be really good, but it could also end up like all those other train wrecks.  I’ve been holding out hope for a sour cream substitute that a) doesn’t taste like cashews, b) doesn’t taste like plastic, c) has the texture of sour cream, and most importantly, d) Is made with real, whole ingredients, not chemicals.  Is that asking too much?  To say the least, I was very pleasantly surprised (both by the sour cream and the man)!  The Mister and I are celebrating our 9 year wedding anniversary on Thursday, and I’ve got my 9th batch of vegan sour cream in the fridge.  I’d say things are going quite well!  

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When cashews are soaked, something magical and ethereal happens.  See their halo?   Soaking the cashews softens their flavor, and most importantly, makes them blendable and transformable.  If you read my last post, you know the name of the game for me right now is to eat, eat, eat.   My strategy is to devour as many nutritious, calorie-dense whole foods as possible.  Whether you’re trying to gain weight, lose weight, or maintain, I am convinced that there is no fad diet or quick fix better than just eating real food.  Enter, delicious herby dip.  

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What is the history of dip?  Is it an american thing?  Or did we just create a blanket term for any kind of thick sauce scooped up by a vehicle such as a veggie or a cracker?  David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria  exhaustively researched the subject, and I can sum it up with the following: the 50’s, the invention of potato chips, the emerging American couch potato class, and the need to deliver food to one’s mouth while watching the glowing box…  Another proud example of American ingenuity.  Americans loved dipping so much that we changed the word from a verb to a noun.  The emergence of the first recipe for crudité also emerged in France around the same time.  Crudité sounds so much more sophisticated than dip, but it’s a means to the same end: Use something delicious and crispy to deliver something saucy and flavorful into your mouth. Repeat if needed. 

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Luckily, dip doesn’t have to be that packet of processed powder that we have probably all stirred into sour cream and devoured at some point or another.  Although admittedly addictive and tasty, the first three ingredients are maltodextrin, salt and monosodium glutamate.  That doesn’t sound like food to me! I like to whip up a batch of this real food dip to snack on throughout the week (or, let’s be honest–over the course of a few days).  It’s cool and herby with hints of garlic and onion, creamy, and smooth.  The hardest part is remembering to get those cashews soaking.  The rest comes together quite quickly!  I’m looking forward to the tenth year sharing life’s crazy adventures with the Mister, and I’m sure my 10th batch of vegan sour cream will be close to follow!  Enjoy your maiden vegan sour cream voyage!  

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Lemon-Herb Cashew Sour Cream Dip

This cashew sour cream has become a staple in my house.  One of my cookbooks has a rule:  Always be soaking.  I agree, it’s best to be ready to whip up this dip when the craving strikes!  I use my high-powered (Vitamix) blender to achieve an extra- smooth texture.  Any blender will do, but just make sure to scrape down the edges as you go, and add a little extra water if needed.   This dip can be made a day or two ahead of time, and the flavor improves when chilled overnight.  If you would like to make plain sour cream, which has an infinite number of uses, just omit the dip ingredients!  

For the sour cream:

  • 1 cup raw unsalted cashews, soaked 8 hours or overnight
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 TB fresh lemon juice (finely grate and reserve 1/2 tsp zest)
  • 1/4 cup water (plus additional if needed)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the dip:

  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons finely sliced fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon minced dill leaves
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
  • Salt to taste
  • Additional minced herbs to garnish

Make the cashew sour cream:

Drain the soaked cashews, and put them in a blender with the lemon juice, water, nutritional yeast and salt.  If it is too thick and won’t blend, add additional water, a tablespoon at a time.  Blend for about 3-5 minutes until very smooth, stopping to scrape down the edges if needed.  Chill for 2 hours or more (or, in a pinch, put in the freezer for 20 minutes until cold and slightly thickened.

In a medium bowl, mix the cashew sour cream with all of the dip ingredients.  Season with salt to taste and garnish with the herbs.



Filed under Appetizers, Condiments, Sauces, Snacks, vegetarian, Vegetarian and Vegan

E.A.T Sandwiches with Sun-dried Tomato Aioli


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E.A.T–Egg, avocado, tomato…  Three things I haven’t been able to enjoy for a while now.  I’m at the tail end of a month-long break from a chemo drug that made me lose a crazy amount of weight, and decreased my appetite and tolerance for many of the foods I love–you can imagine how hard this has been based on my clear obsession with food.  Right now, food tastes absolutely magical.  Every time I eat, I feel like I’m in some sort of kaleidoscopic hippie dream.  Whoa man, these flavors are for real!  A month ago, I got down to my lowest weight ever (not a good thing), and I keep a chipper face, because whatever the “normal” of the hour happens to be, I’m going to make it the best damn normal I can.  I’m nervous to be off the medication that has helped me so much, but all I can really worry about is right now; and right now my job is to eat, be, and enjoy the technicolor tastes of all my long lost food friends.

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I eat like Van Gogh painted; crazed and unapologetic, making up for lost time.  I’m eating for my life and my health, to add some extra strength and pounds.  My soft-coated wheaten terrier has felt the inconvenience of my increased food intolerances.  She looked on eagerly as I prepared her favorite food, which she hadn’t eaten in a very long time.  Luca, today is a special day, I told her as I fried up the egg with some cracked pepper and fresh thyme.  I found some positively juicy heirloom tomatoes, and layered it all up on toast slathered with sundried tomato aioli, with buttery sliced avocado, fresh arugula, salt, pepper, the egg of course, and a drizzle of tuscan olive oil given to me for my birthday.  

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I crunched through the bread, and when the combination of tomato juices, peppery olive oil, and egg yolk hit my mouth,  it got audible.  Hunched over my counter top, I mumbled expletives between bites, messily devouring in my exploded kitchen (maniacs don’t have time to clean as they go). Luca looked up at the spectacle, waiting expectantly for me to sprinkle a few bits of egg on top of the uneaten food in her dog bowl.  We both ate voraciously, and gratefully.  I don’t know what will happen when I go on my new medication.  I don’t have to care about that right now.  Right now, food is my hot crush and psychedelic escapade, and I’m going on an unapologetic magic carpet ride.

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You can swap ingredients to fit your dietary needs of the moment–use gluten-free bread, or just serve it right on top of the greens like a salad.  You want some cheese?  Slap on some white cheddar, vegan cheese, or whatever will give you your technicolor egg sandwich experience.  You may customize to your heart’s desire, but promise me this: You will eat this E.A.T sandwich voraciously and unapologetically, as if rediscovering something you’ve gone years without.  Knowing that will make my day!  

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E.A.T Sandwiches with Sun-Dried Tomato Aioli

This recipe can be customized as you wish, and easily scaled up.  The aioli is easier to blend when made in a larger quantity, and will keep for about a week in the fridge.  It can be used for sandwiches and wraps, or my favorite, on this rosemary tortilla española.  If you’d like to make less,  chop and smash the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and salt into a paste and mix it by hand into the mayonnaise.  It will not be as smooth or deeply colored, but will still taste delicious!

For the aioli:

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise or vegan mayo
  • 3 TB finely chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh basil
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice, or sherry vinegar if you have on hand

For the sandwiches:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 large egg
  • leaves from a few sprigs thyme, roughly chopped
  • salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • sliced tomato
  • sliced avocado
  • baby arugula/baby spinach mix, or your choice of greens
  • 2 slices sprouted grain bread, or your favorite sandwich bread
  • extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  1. Make the aioli: Blend all aioli ingredients in an immersion blender, blender, or small food processor until smooth.  Adjust salt and pepper, and lemon juice or vinegar to taste.
  2. Cook the egg: Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat.  Sprinkle a bit of salt, and pepper onto the pan, then crack the egg on top.  Sprinkle the top with the thyme, and a bit more salt and pepper.  Cook for about 4 minutes for over-easy, or 5-6 minutes for over-medium.
  3. While the egg is cooking, toast the bread.  Spread the aioli on the toast, then layer the avocado, tomato on one side, and the  arugula-spinach mix on the other.  Drizzle the olive oil over the greens, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper to taste.  Add the fried egg on the bread, and serve while hot.



Filed under Breakfast and Brunch, Main Dishes, Sandwiches and Burgers, Sauces, vegetarian, Vegetarian and Vegan

Chive Blossom Vinegar and Inviting the Hamster off the Wheel


I’m fixated with the expressive community of purple puffs that reside outside my back door. My chives are the first to wake up from winter, and right now, their blossoms are at their peak.  I’m off work for the summer (one of the big perks of being a teacher), and need a little structure for my days.  If I boil it down, my needs are as follows: nature, time to think and create, time to be productive, a little social interaction, and time to just be.  Unchecked, I always have so many ideas about how to spend my energy, I become a neurotic hyper hamster trying to conquer the world by running in a circle.  I make to do lists and to don’t lists, and on the days that are the seemingly most free of duties, I fret over getting enough meaningful things done.  I have decided to structure my time in a purposely unstructured way.   


I’ve always fallen into the trap that nature, thinking, creating, feeling productive, being social, and even just being, have to be a big deal.  I have to pack up A, B, C and D, and drive to X location to be in awesomeness.  Only when I’m there, if I get there at all, after a lively internal debate about where to go, I think, am I sitting in the right spot?  Am I missing out on something else I could should would be doing?  Opera performances at the Met are a big deal.  Foreign policy negotiations are a big deal.  Brain surgery is a big, big deal.  This is not a big deal, but it’s hugely  important.  


Lately, I’ve been inviting the hamster off the wheel (you know, the one who spins and spins and says, “Do this, do that, think-think-think your way into trouble, out of trouble, if only you could just thiiiiiiink a little harder!”).  I’ve tried forcibly removing the little guy at times, but he is often like a 3 year old.  The more I try to force him off, the more he wants to run.  Coaxing is the key.  Hamster, you know I love you, right?  You are so motivated and you consider things from so many different angles!  Why don’t you take a break while I go out into my garden?  Let’s keep it simple.  I might pull a few weeds, or I might just sit and admire how nature takes its own path even if we try to tame it.  I might stay out for 2 minutes, or 2 minutes might turn into two hours.  Here’s a cool glass of whatever hamsters like to drink, wiith an umbrella on top.  Even hamsters need to breathe.



These beautiful little blossoms are part of my purposely unstructured-structured morning routine.  There they are, three steps from my back door, a representation of nature.  Spears of green, shades of purple, lavender, and pink.  Dried remnants of the wrappers they grew too big to fit into.  The damp coolness that hovers over the grass, and the sideways hazy morning light, beaming warmth onto my groggy face.  Noticing nature in its many forms has become step one of my morning routine.


Purple is the color I associate most with spring–crocuses, lilacs, and chive blossoms.  Purple reminds me to wake up, step outside, and be mindful.  The heat will ramp up soon, and bleach the color away from our crazy headed plant companions. Luckily, we’ll have beautifully fuscia-tinged jars of liquid spring to perk up our favorite dishes and to remind us to take a moment to invite the hamster off the wheel to breathe, see and notice.


Chive Blossom Infused Vinegar  

  • Chive blossoms, enough to fill your chosen jar
  • Vinegar (white wine or champagne), enough to fill  your jar(s)


Wash and dry the chive blossoms.  Stuff the chive blossoms, 2/3 full into clean and dry jars.  Heat the vinegar to an almost simmer, and then pour it over the chive blossoms.  Push the blossoms down gently to submerge them (they will still want to pop up, and that’s okay).  Put a lid on the jar and place in a dark cupboard to steep for about a week.  The liquid will be a bright fuchsia color, and taste lightly oniony.  Pour into another clean jar through a fine mesh strainer.


Filed under Canning and Preserving, Condiments, Edible Gifts

Spring Veggie Shepherd’s Pie with Roasted Garlic-Cauliflower Whip

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This is comfort food with a surprise nutritional kick!  Bam!  Just when you say, “oh I’d better not eat very much of that”, I say “gotcha!”.  There is NOTHING “bad for you” in there.  B-b-but….where’s the heavy cream?  No buttah?!  And that is where I smugly tell you that you can, rather must, eat more and be comforted, without the cloud of self-inflicted guilt over too much of this or that.  These are vegetables people!  Eat, drink and be merry!  My house, my rules.

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These little pies would be perfect for a holiday meal,  Sunday dinner with the family, or any other time you want to see a vegetarian turn helplessly giddy.   This recipe is sans the lamb, of course.  If you have the kind of person at your table that doesn’t consider it a meal without meat, you could go one of two routes: First, entrance them with the balanced flavors of the white wine and tarragon vegetable stew and see if they even give a second thought to the “missing” ingredients—I play this game all the time.  If I’m intently staring at you while you take your first bite, it’s usually because I’ve tricked you in one way or another into eating something healthier and better than you ever expected.

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If you’re really sure your dinner companion isn’t going to be happy without some meat on his or her plate, you could add a little to the mix. Traditional shepherd’s pie is topped with fluffy mashed potatoes.  My version is crowned with a golden whip of roasted cauliflower and garlic.   Have you ever whipped cauliflower?  To me, it tastes like a more flavorful version of garlic mashed potatoes.  I have nothing against potatoes.  I know some would argue with me on this, but I don’t stress excessively over the naturally occurring starches, sugars, etc in fruits and vegetables.  Obviously, I’m not advocating to eat a truckload of potatoes and nothing else.  The key for me is to vary the types of foods I eat throughout the day and week to make sure that I have a good balance of carbohydrates, fats, and protein, and a large variety of fruits and vegetables.

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I’ve been thinking about this because a couple weeks ago, I went to Cancer Con, a young adult cancer conference put on by Stupid Cancer.  I spoke on a panel to 700 people (yikes!) about how I support my mind and body through cancer with nutrition, meditation, yoga and other physical activity.  I also attended a talk with an integrative oncology nutrition specialist.  The speaker, Mark Cohen (a clinical oncology specialist) advocated for eating a diet of a diverse variety of foods that are warm, whole, and cooked.

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I know some are convinced of the benefit of a raw diet, but I know that my body digests foods better and therefore absorbs nutrients more readily when I cook them.  If you eat real food, you don’t need rules, Michael Pollan explains in his book Food Rules.  This philosophy feels right in my gut (pun intended).  It’s not a new idea, but with so many fad diets, with lists of dos but mostly do-nots, it’s easy to get confused.

Spring is officially here, and when the weather inevitably swings toward the cold and damp, I hereby invite you to “indulge” in this veggie loving shepherd’s pie.

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Spring Veggie Shepherd’s Pie with Roasted Garlic-Cauliflower Whip

Stew adapted from Feasting at Home

Makes 4 to 6 Servings (Four two-cup pies or one 8×8 casserole dish)

For the cauliflower whip:

  • 1 large head cauliflower, broken into 1 1/2 inch florets
  • 3 large cloves garlic, in their skins
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2  cup vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons regular or vegan butter

For the stew:

  • 1 lb diced waxy potatoes (yukon gold, red or fingerling)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion or pearl onions
  • 4 cups any combination of the following: diced carrots, celery, fennel and crimini mushrooms (*see footnote for more details)
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine or vermouth
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons gluten-free (or regular) flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons arrowroot starch (or use additional flour)
  • 4 cups flavorful vegetable or chicken stock, homemade or store-bought
  • 2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen shelled green peas
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Special Equipment Needed:

Immersion blender, blender, or food processor

2-cup pie dishes or 8×8 casserole


Preheat oven to 425˚F.

Cover the potatoes by 1 inch water in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add a tablespoon salt to the water.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are on the firmer side of being tender.

Make the Cauliflower Whip:

Toss the cauliflower and garlic in the olive oil, salt and pepper on a large sheet pan.  Roast in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender and deep golden in places.  Pop the garlic out of their skins into a large bowl with the roasted cauliflower (or into a food processor or blender if not using an immersion blender).  While hot, add the vegan butter and stir until melted.  Add the stock and blend using an immersion blender until smooth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Make the stew:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan.  Sauté the onions for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat, until translucent.  Reduce heat to medium and add the carrot, celery, fennel, mushrooms, and salt and pepper to taste.  Sauté until the carrots are crisp-tender, about 8-10 minutes.  Pour in the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze, cooking for about 3 minutes until most of it evaporates.  Add the potatoes, nutritional yeast, and arrowroot starch and flour.  Stir to coat.  Add the stock and mustard, and stir until it comes to a boil and thickens.  Add the peas, tarragon, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer for about 10 minutes to allow flavors to meld.  Fill the pie dishes or casserole dish with the stew.  Spread the cauliflower whip in a layer on top.

Reduce the oven to 400˚F.  Bake the pies for 20 minutes.  Turn oven on low broil, and cook an additional 5-6 minutes until the top is spotted a deep golden color (watch closely while broiling to avoid burning).  Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Freezing directions:

Spoon the stew into an oven safe, freezer safe dish and top with potatoes.  Cover with saran wrap and put inside a large freezer bag.  When ready to use, thaw in the refrigerator for 2 days.  Bake in a 400˚oven for about 30 minutes until hot and bubbling.  Broil the top over low for 5 minutes to achieve a speckled golden top.


*Note: I used 3 large carrots, 2 large ribs celery, 1 medium fennel bulb and about 3 oz crimini mushrooms.


Filed under Main Dishes, vegetarian, Vegetarian and Vegan

Lemon Berry Custard Pies (GF +Vegan, No Added Sugar)


Vegan Lemon Custard Berry Pies (13 of 15)

I’m quickly becoming a dessert activist.  The little people in my head are marching around with picket signs and chanting Vegans are sweet too!  Dairy-free treats are fun to eat!  Mo dairy, mo problems!  Gluten-free sweets are great for me!  Desserts ain’t just for the iron-clad belly!Sensitive belly?  Oh welly!  Sweets and peace for everyone!  Make vegan bellies happy!  This month, I celebrate 7 years as a cancer warrior.  Cancer has taught me to be creative and adaptable, to live well in the face of challenges.

Vegan Lemon Custard Berry Pies (2 of 15)

I created this recipe for a fellow cancer survivor who eats a diet completely free of added sugars.  At first, my brain drew a blank.  I love stevia as a sugar free sweetener, but normally use it in combination with another sugar source such as honey, agave or coconut sugar to round out its slight bitterness.  What’s sweet but not processed?  I tossed in a few soaked dates, which added the deep sugary roundness I was looking for.  Even the Mister, a self-proclaimed stevia hater, approved.

Vegan Lemon Custard Berry Pies (3 of 15)

Within the strict parameters of the sensitive belly’s diet, the sugar cravers get creative!  Just because you can’t indulge in the typical milk, sugar and gluten-laden treats doesn’t mean you have to sit in a corner eating a piece of fruit, or worse, nothing, while everyone else indulges in a creatively and deliciously concocted dessert.  Nobody puts Baby in the corner!

Vegan Lemon Custard Berry Pies (4 of 15)

Vegan Lemon Custard Berry Pies (5 of 15)

These little desserts come with a salty sweet crust made with toasted coconut, nuts, dates, and sea salt.  This is a versatile crust that can be used with any dessert or pie that doesn’t have to be baked after filling.  The creamy custard-like filling will make you question everything you thought you knew about vegan desserts.   When layered together, it’s salty-sweet, nutty, and creamy, with a lemony zing to wake up the tastebuds from a their long winter’s nap.  On top, a colorful burst of flavor from berries.

Vegan Lemon Custard Berry Pies (6 of 15)

Vegan Lemon Custard Berry Pies (1 of 15)

These little guys would be equally suited to a small informal event such as a dinner party or baby shower, and a fancier event like a wedding.  I always get the most gratification when people who think that the dessert couldn’t possibly fit their dietary needs’  eyes light up when they they discover they can partake along with everyone else.  Eating dessert is such a sensory experience, a way to share something enjoyable with those around us.  When I have the occasion to eat dessert, it’s because I’m with friends.  We’re having fun!  We’re spoiling ourselves, and even the belly-challenged among us need spoiling every now and then.

Vegan Lemon Custard Berry Pies (7 of 15)

Phew!  Now that we’ve found dessert peace and harmony, we can commence rock-starring our way through life’s other challenges!

Vegan Lemon Custard Berry Pies (1 of 1)

Lemon Berry Custard Pies   (vegan + Gluten-Free, no added sugar)

Makes 6 quarter-pint mason jar pies

For the “custard”:

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in boiling water for an hour, or in cold water overnight
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (reserve the zest to garnish)
  • 1 cup chilled coconut cream (see note)*
  • 3/4 tsp powdered stevia
  • 3-5 pitted dates, soaked in hot water for an hour
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla

For the crust: 

  • 1/2 c cup roughly chopped pitted Dates, chopped
  • 3/4 cups cups mixed raw nuts, toasted and cooled slightly
  • 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, toast in dry pan for about 2 min, or until slightly golden and fragrant
  • 1-2 pinches of sea salt, to taste


  • 2 cups berries, sliced or chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • zest from 1-2 lemons

Equipment Needed:

  • Quarter pint jars, ramekins or muffin liners for serving
  • Blender
  • Food processor

Blend the filling:

Blend the cashews, lemon juice and chilled coconut cream very thoroughly in a blender, pushing down the sides with a spatula as you go.  If needed, add a very small amount of the coconut liquid to loosen it up if it won’t blend.  Blend in the stevia.  Add the dates, one at a time, tasting after each addition (I used three).  Blend in the vanilla.

Make the crust:

Blend nuts with coconut in a food processor.  Add the non-soaked dates gradually and pulse until they are incorporated.  Blend in the salt to taste.

Press 2 tablespoons of crust mixture into the bottom of each mason jar or muffin liner in a muffin tin.  Spoon some of the cashew custard mixture over top.  Chill in the fridge for at least 3-4 hours, or quick chill in freezer for 20-30 minutes (the texture will end up firmer than a pudding but not as firm as cheesecake).

Top with the chopped berries and garnish with lemon zest.

*When using coconut cream to make into pie fillings, whipped cream, etc, it is important to use the white cream and avoid the clear liquid.  If you can’t find coconut cream, you can use 2-3 cans full-fat coconut milk.  The cream should be at the top after chilling.  Just scoop it out and discard or reserve the clear liquid for another use.  I like Trader Joe’s and Thai Kitchen brands.  I have also found good quality coconut cream at Asian grocery stores. 


Filed under Desserts, Vegetarian and Vegan