Vegan Almond Ricotta

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Hello fellow spoonies!  Today’s post is in preparation for the pièce de résistance of vegan end-of-summer pastas coming up next.  It’s the first day of fall (yay!) and I love the transition of the seasons.  Just a bit of chill in the air, the golden sideways light makes it feel like magic hour all day long!  My garden is at its proudest moment, offering up Parisian gherkins for pickling, heirloom tomatoes, hot chilies, and the biggest sweetest onions I’ve ever grown.   Although this lemony almond ricotta is going to leave your mouth rejoicing in my next recipe, I wanted to post it first, all by itself, because it’s such a good stand in for ricotta or goat cheese in so many dishes.  I love it when layered in lasagna, and have visions about using it in arancini or zucchini cakes.  I also intend to experiment by sweetening it with honey and using it like mascarpone would be used in tiramisu or other creamy desserts.

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This version of almond ricotta was created after a conversation with Amelia, the loveliest, warmest person I think there ever was, who owns the most adorable tiny restaurant Little Spoons cafe outside my favorite yoga studio, Karma Yoga in Denver.  Her menu is filled with sandwiches, soups, and savory and sweet baked goods, lovingly made from the best simple and whole organic ingredients.  She’s wonderful about adapting her menu for different dietary needs.  In fact, the most valuable piece of advice I could give you, if you are looking for something vegan, is to ask her to make you a delicious sandwich, with whatever strikes her fancy. Last time I ended up with freshly baked ciabatta spread with a bit of avocado, good olive oil, salt and pepper, topped with sauteed locally grown wild mushrooms tossed in walnut pesto and fresh arugula.   She added a bit of blueberries at the end–I know, blueberries?!  They were the perfect bright contrast to the earthy mushrooms and creamy pesto.  

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Amelia and I often find ourselves geeking out about the latest freshly grown garden and farmers market food, and describing in detail how to weave together the ingredients to elevate them to the most nom-worthy status.  After a conversation we had about cheese (and how I can’t eat it), and how hard it is to find legitimately good vegan versions made from whole ingredients, I knew I had to bring Amelia my version of almond ricotta.  I was a little nervous–I mean, Amelia is from Italy!  She worked in tourism for a long time and has the inside info about all the best wineries, restaurants and cheese makers in Tuscany.  

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One morning on my way into yoga class, I dropped off two little mason jars–one filled with kale-pistachio pesto, and the other with almond ricotta–for Amelia to try.  When I emerged from class all happy and zenned out, she was raving about how creamy and smooth it was, and what a good substitution it was.  She suggested adding a bit of lemon zest and a bit more lemon juice for a bit more of that cheesy tang.  Hence was born this lemon ricotta, creamy enough to make a vegan weep with joy and non-vegans happily devour!  Just perfect for a pesto pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes…More on that next time!

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And P.S: If you’re in the Denver area, be sure to visit Amelia at Little Spoons cafe!  In the meantime, you can check out the menu and some pictures of her lovely creations on her website or instagram @theselittlespoons.  

Lemony Almond Ricotta

Makes about 2 cups

  • 2 cups blanched slivered almonds, soaked overnight with water to cover by an inch
  • Grated zest from one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
  • ½ teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • 1 cup water

Drain the soaked almonds, and place them in a blender with the lemon zest, lemon juice, nutritional yeast , salt and 1 cup water.  Blend, pushing down the mixture as needed–it will take a while to get the mixture to blend smoothly. Blend until the texture is smooth with just a little bit of graininess  left, like dairy ricotta.  Add an additional few tablespoons of water if needed to achieve the desired texture.  Season with salt to taste.  

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Kale Pistachio Pesto

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My garden is often a good indicator of where I am in life.  Last year, I allowed the “pretty” weeds to flourish, congratulating myself on my cleverness and ability to tolerate a certain amount of chaos.  This year has been Weed-mageddon 2017, due in no small part to my extra permissive new-agey gardening style of yesteryear.  I’ve had to show tough love on the various flowering weeds, pulling them one after another, clearing the way for the plants I want to flourish. How’s that as a metaphor for life?   There are rich lessons to be learned amongst the germinating seeds and tangled weeds.    

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A new friend and I were geeking out over gardening and food, and as I described my garden, she said, You’re not a gardener…you’re a FARMER!  Besides the fact that I like digging in the dirt, and that I LOVE the payoff of a juicy heirloom tomato still warm from the sun, growing things gives me much more than just perfectly crisp cucumbers and fragrant herb clippings.  Gardening gives me time and open space in my day and my mind.  It’s one of the few places where I can process life, uninterrupted.  In our modern day of constantly being plugged in, these “quiet” places are becoming harder to find… Or maybe they’re still there, but we just don’t think of going there, because we’re so distracted by what’s easy and right at our fingertips.  

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Our ancestors’ lives depended on working the land. When I think of it, I was always meant to be a “farmer.”   My grandpa Duncan lived in Oklahoma on his family’s farm during the dust bowl.  He shook his head and grew quiet when he described the dust storms that would roll in.  No matter what measures his family took to seal the house against the dirt, it would find its way into the house.  On the day of a particularly bad storm, my grandpa saw a black cloud like a wall approaching from the north, as high as the eye could see.  His father Luther thought it was the end of the world.  The family hid in the root cellar as the storm blew for hours on end.  Upon returning back to daylight, my grandpa and his family surveyed the scene–cabbages, cotton and all manner of other crops completely covered by dust, and all of their sheep dead or close to it.   

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They just couldn’t handle the conditions any longer, so the family packed up; all 10 of them piling atop a mattress in the back of their truck, and sold their farm–240 acres of Oklahoma future oil-rich land for $5000.  Like 83,000 others at the time, they migrated to California where they found a job harvesting zucchini.   The “Okies” as they called them at the time faced a lot of prejudice as they scrambled to pick up odd jobs just to survive.  My grandpa went on to join the Navy at age 17 as an aircraft mechanic during World War II.  When he returned from war, he went to school and then got a job working on planes for General Dynamics until he retired.  Throughout his life, his farming roots never left him, and his  garden remained a source of pride. Even into his last years of life, he still had one of the best I had seen.  I think of my grandpa often, when I’m protecting my tomatoes with hail screens like he always did, or pulling the seemingly endless crop of weeds.  

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This year, my garden is bursting with Red Russian Kale.  As much as I love my kale, I don’t want to eat quite as much I grow right away.  I love creative uses for my summer crops that are versatile and also able to be frozen and enjoyed later in the year.  Enter kale pesto; vibrantly green, scented with basil and garlic and a hint of lemon, with a touch of rich “cheesiness” from the raw pistachios.  Toss it with pasta, swirl it in hummus, spread it on a slice of baguette, dot it on pizza, or do what I do and sneak cracker-fuls from the mason jar hanging out in the fridge!  Now this is what we call real food!  

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Sitting here eating a spoonful of kale pesto, I think with satisfaction about this process, come full-circle.  In gardening and in life:  Plant some seeds, pull some weeds (well, lots of weeds), and make room for what you intend to let grow.  Pretty soon, if the weather is right, that seed and that dream just might come to fruition.

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(P.S:  My grandpa Duncan is the twin on the left)

Kale Pistachio Pesto

Adapted from Andrew Weil’s Fast Food, Good Food

Makes about 2 ½ cups

The first time I made this pesto, my garlic scapes were curling whimsically like flamingoes’ beaks out the center of my hard-neck garlic.  Weil’s original recipe calls for using garlic scapes.  As they can be fleeting and hard to find, this version uses regular garlic-cloves.  However, if you can get your hands on some garlic scapes in the spring, they make a wonderful addition!

  • 1 pound (about 16 leaves) kale (lacinato, “dino”, or Russian work best), stems removed
  • 1 cup raw, unsalted pistachios
  • 3 large cloves garlic, chopped (or 6-8 garlic scapes to taste, buds removed, coarsely chopped)
  • ½ cup basil leaves, packed
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from one lemon)
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the kale and cook for 30 seconds to a minute, or until it is just wilted and bright green.  Remove the kale to a strainer, and rinse with cold water until cooled.  Gently press out the excess water.  

Place the kale, pistachios, garlic, basil, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt to taste in the bowl of a food processor or blender.  Blend to a coarse paste, and add extra olive oil to thin out if needed.  Adjust salt to taste.  Store in an airtight container for up to a week, or freeze for up to 9 months.  

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Spinach and “Ricotta”-Stuffed Pasta with Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce

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When I have people over for dinner, different types of recipes typically get responses that fall into a specific category.  Some are the Oh, this is so healthy!-category.  Others, the this is sinful, just give me a tiny slice-category.  There’s the I can’t stop eating this-category, usually related to appetizers. There’s the, this is so rich, you might have to roll me out the door-category.  Anytime I use tofu-ricotta in a recipe, my dinner guests usually fall into the I’d better not eat too much of this-category, but are delighted when they realize that this recipe actually falls into my favorite recipe category: the, this is so healthy but it’s satisfying all my cravings right now category.  

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I know, I know, some people have an aversion to even the slightest mention of tofu.  Everyone’s had soggy unflavored cubes of tofu at some point.  Those little guys give this versatile protein a bad rap!  In this case, the tofu is blended with a variety of ingredients to give it the taste and feel of real ricotta.  The best part is, it tricks the mouth into thinking it’s cheese, but is full of protein!  Even my little brother, for whom pizza is a food group, approves of my tofu ricotta–here’s my recipe for kale ricotta lasagna that had him fully convinced that the world was not as he had previously imagined–I ate TOFU?  And I thought it was CHEESE?!  Mind blown!!!

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Most of my recipes are born out of food daydreams, and this one was no exception.  I picked up a box of brown rice manicotti (which I had no idea even existed) and began to dream of my pre-lactose intolerant days and the deliciously creamy stuffed pastas I had enjoyed in the past.  In that instant, I knew what I must do.  I whipped up a batch of tofu ricotta and lightly sauteed some spinach to stuff inside–creamy, garlicky and full of vibrant greens.   For the top, a fire-roasted tomato sauce filled with garlic and fresh oregano, and basil to garnish.

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I’m of the mind that one shouldn’t eat (or avoid eating) from a place of guilt or shame.  Sure, some foods are very occasional sometimes foods.  I certainly have my share of nope, definitely can’t/won’t eat that foods, mostly of the highly-processed variety.  Sometimes a little sweet treat or crunchy snack is just the thing I want, and I allow myself that every now and again.  I’m highly unlikely to jump on the Paleo, Ketogenic, or any other kind of diet-philosophy band-wagon, but what feels best to me is the way Michael Pollan sums it up:  “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.” For me, being healthy always comes back to using real whole ingredients to make real, flavorful and soul-satisfying foods, and to giving yourself the flexibility to give your ever-changing body what it needs when it needs it.

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To all my vegan, lactose-intolerant compadres, I hope this stuffed pasta takes you back to the pre dairy-avoiding days that only exist in your dreams!  Enjoy!

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Spinach and “Ricotta”-Stuffed Pasta with Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce

I love the freshness of the oregano in this recipe, but if you don’t have any on hand, dried herbs will work just fine and can be substituted using a ratio of  1:3 dried to fresh.  

For the tofu ricotta:

  • 1 (14-ounce) block extra firm tofu, drained
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons mellow white miso
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the pasta and sauce:

  • 4 tb olive oil, divided
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 5 large cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup dry White wine (optional)
  • 1 24 ounce can crushed fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 24 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 ½ tsp dried basil (or about a tablespoon and a half chopped fresh basil)
  • ¼ tsp Crushed red pepper
  • splash of balsamic vinegar to taste
  • 3 tb finely chopped Fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon dried)
  • 7 ounces brown rice or whole wheat manicotti (I like this kind)
  • 8 oz baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • salt to taste
  • Fresh basil to garnish, optional

Process:

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, or until translucent.  Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute.  Pour in the white wine if using, and cook for a couple minutes to burn off some of the liquid.  Add both cans of tomatoes, and dried herbs (fresh herbs are added later), crushed red pepper, and salt to taste.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes slightly darken and the flavors meld.  Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to taste (about 2 teaspoons), and stir in the fresh oregano.  Adjust salt to taste.

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Add 2 tablespoons salt and par-cook the pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.  If pasta will be sitting for a while, lightly toss it with oil so that it doesn’t stick together.

To make the tofu ricotta, combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, stopping to push down the sides with a rubber spatula if needed.  Adjust seasonings to taste and set aside.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium frying pan.  Add spinach, and generous pinch of salt  and cook for 2 minutes, or until the spinach has just wilted and is still bright green.  Allow to cool slightly.

Combine the spinach and tofu ricotta in a medium bowl and stir until evenly incorporated.  Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag or large freezer bag, and cut off a small corner at the bottom of the bag.

Spread half the sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish.  Pipe the spinach-ricotta mixture from the bag to fill each noodle, and arrange them in a single layer in the baking dish. Spread the remaining sauce over the top of the noodles, cover with foil and bake according to the pasta package directions, about 40 minutes.   Garnish with fresh basil right before serving if desired.

 

 

 

 

 

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Spring Penne with Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Tomatoes

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It’s about time we got some spring going on up in here!  I’ve been a little sporadic here, and not because I haven’t been thinking about all of you, my wonderful Spoonies!  In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about you and your ability to access all my recipes more easily.  I’m working hard in the background to do a total revamp of Spoon With Me, to be unveiled in the near future!  I can’t tell you how excited I am!  Besides that, let me assure you that I have not been huddled in front of a microwave waiting for my frozen meal to be finished.  Quite the opposite, actually.  I started feeling a little stumped on what to post for the past couple months.  Sometimes when we’re at a loss and inspiration seems like it’s not as free-flowing as we would like it to be, the best thing to do is feed ourselves–the inspiration will grow from that.  

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I love listening to The Good Life podcast, and Jonathan Fields explains it like this–we have 3 buckets–contribution, connection, and vitality.  In short, each bucket can only be as full as the least-full bucket, so if our vitality bucket is empty (how we nourish and take care of ourselves), we don’t have enough energy to connect with others or contribute our ideas and talents to the people around us.  For me, it seems counter-intuitive to pause and step back when I really really want to create, create, create!  I think that if I could just think hard enough, a golden goose egg of an idea will just pop out of my brain.   However, for me, the hamster wheel of spinning thoughts seldom produces the best ideas.  Ideas need space to grow and breathe, then they just seem to appear on their own.  Recently, I’ve been setting the table for creativity, and waiting for it to come (thanks Elizabeth Gilbert!).   For me this happens when I slow down and allow myself to enjoy what I enjoy without pressure.  There’s been a lot of recipe ogling, cooking, playing in the garden, and art-making going on all up in here!  I may not have been posting, but man, I’ve been eating, and creating just to create, and little by little, I’ve felt my blogging inspiration come back!

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With the weather being warmer than any spring I remember in Colorado, I’m starting to crave lighter, brighter fare.  Here’s a recipe I improvised on a night I wanted dinner fast.  It only takes a little chopping, one sheet pan, and in under 30 minutes, voila!  You’ve got dinner!  Perhaps I was feeling a bit Mary Poppins-ish, but I  wanted the sauce to practically make itself as it cooked.  The basic gist is to toss the asparagus, cherry tomato, mushrooms,  an almost-obscene amount of garlic and lemon slices with olive oil on a sheet pan, and broil it until the veggies are slightly blistered and golden.  Deglaze with a little white wine, and what you have in the end is perfectly roasted vegetables and a little pan sauce.  Everything, including the lemon slices gets thrown into a bowl with the pasta, and the last step (almost) does itself–you’ll stir everything together, making sure to push the softened lemon pulp out of the rinds where it will join with the white wine and cherry tomato juices and shallots to form a light and lemony sauce that coats the pasta.  

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  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, about 10 ounces
  • 8 ounces asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 6 ounces crimini mushrooms, halved and thickly sliced
  • 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced, about 4 oz
  • 8 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 lemons, sliced thick, seeds and ends removed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 8 ounces whole wheat or brown rice penne (this is my favorite gf pasta which can be found at many local grocery stores)
  • ⅓ cup dry white wine (vegetable or chicken broth will work too)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • a couple pinches crushed red pepper, optional

 

Preheat broiler on low.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Toss the cherry tomatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, shallots, garlic, lemon slices and thyme in olive oil, and season w/ salt and pepper to taste.  Broil on low 4 inches from the heating element for 10-15 minutes.  Cook the pasta according to package directions while the veggies are broiling.  You want the cherry tomatoes to pop and be darkened in spots, the asparagus crisp-tender and slightly under-done. If the vegetables don’t seem to be cooking enough, broil on high for a few minutes, watching carefully.  Add the white wine and put back in the oven for a few minutes to reduce slightly.

Toss all the vegetables, including the lemon slices in a large bowl with the hot pasta.  As you stir, press the inside of the lemons against the sides of the bowl– the lemon pulp will come out of the rinds to create a sauce. Remove the peels from the pasta.   Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of crushed red pepper.  Garnish with the chopped parsley and serve while hot. 

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Hearty Vegetable Mushroom Stew

 

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Brrrr-zee-pants:  an exclamation often used in my house as an expression of extreme coldness.

In my house growing up, my dad liked to keep the thermostat at around 60 degrees.  The lowest temperature I remember seeing was 56˚.  I’d walk around the house in layers, blankets swathed around me like a linen closet beauty queen, shivering.  Back in those days, you could usually find me in the Bahamian paradise of my bedroom, space heater on full whack, swim suit, sunglasses and towel. When it was time to forge out into the tundra (the rest of the house),  I’d layer up to go on my covert mission, creeping down the stairs in my blanket to the mission control panel in the downstairs hallway.  Can’t get caught–Oh hello dear brother.  Just walking in the hallway.  Where’s dad?  Beep beep beep beep beep–think he’ll notice an extra 10 degrees?  Let the back and forth heater games begin!

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Warmth is a core value of mine, and although my house isn’t cold now–luckily, the Mister and I are compatible on our thermostat preference setting (MFEO, I tell you), my most favorite spot in the house is in my zen den, in front of my space heater.  It makes even the most mundane tasks appealing.  When I visit dad’s house now, I wear my Antarctic hooded coat, and bring my emergency preparedness blanket.  I may have gotten a lot of my creativity and imagination from my dad, but one thing I sure didn’t inherit is his tolerance for cold.

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The weather out here in Denver has been bipolar these days.  One day it’s 75 degrees.  The next, a howling snow storm.  On the days I would classify as BRR-ZEE-PANTS, I like to cook something filling and warming.  Before I stopped eating meat, I used to love a good beef stew, although it wasn’t really the beef I was after.  I was always a vegetable hoarder growing up.  Mom would make a pot roast in the slow cooker, with carrots, potatoes and celery, and I’d pass by and sneak forkfuls before dinner.  I also have fond memories of making really hearty stews in my early cooking days.  My diet has changed substantially since then, and although I don’t crave the beef, I do crave the taste memory of a good beef stew–dark, rich and hearty with lots of vegetables; the kind of soup that warms you up from the inside out.

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This stew is perfect for the most brr-zee-pants-iest of days.  Melt-in your mouth carrots, parsnips and potatoes suspended in a thick, rich mushroom broth.  You can simmer it on the stove, or as I like to do with any soup or stew recipe, sauté the vegetables and assemble the soup completely, and save the simmering step for the slow cooker.

There are still some blustery days to come, so next time you think to yourself, “gee, I feel quite brr-zee-pants right now”,  I hope you’ll cuddle up in the Bahamian paradise of your space heater, and try a big bowl of this stew!

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Hearty Vegetable Mushroom Stew 

Makes: 12 cups,  6-8 servings

  • 2 TB vegan butter2 TB olive oil
  • 1 1/4 lb  small onions such as cipollinis, ends trimmed, peeled and quartered (or use the same amount of yellow or sweet onions, diced)
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch
  • 2 med parsnips, sliced 1/4 inch (8 oz)
  • 4 stalks celery, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 pound crimini mushrooms, chopped 
  • 1/2 cup marsala wine or dark beer
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1 quart mushroom broth
  • 1 quart vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried wild mushrooms, woody stems removed
  • 1 1/2 pounds fingerling, yukon gold or red potatoes, cut 1 inch x 1/2 inch
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 TB Braggs liquid aminos or soy sauce, more or less to taste
  • 1 tsp worchestershire sauce (check for vegan if needed)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 TB arrowroot starch or cornstarch, whisked into 1/4 cup cold water or broth
  • 1 TB apple cider vinegar

Heat butter and oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the onions and toss to coat.  Sprinkle with salt, and cover and allow to sweat for 3-4 minutes.  Uncover and sauté for 2 minutes until softened.  Add carrots, parsnips and celery.  Cook for 3 minutes.  Add garlic and fresh mushrooms.  Sauté for a few more minutes, .  Deglaze plan with the  marsala wine or beer, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add tomato paste.  Stir to coat the vegetables.

Add the broths, dried mushrooms, potatoes, bay leaf, thyme, liquid aminos and worcestershire sauce.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, but careful not to over-salt because the stew will cook down and concentrate a bit.    Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 40 minutes, or until potatoes are tender, or put in the slow cooker on low for 8 hours.  Stir in the arrowroot or corn starch slurry. Remove 2 cups of the soup to a blender.  Puree.  Add back to the soup.   Stir in the apple cider vinegar.  Adjust salt, pepper and liquid aminos to taste.  

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Creamy Vegan Mushroom Sauce with Gnocchi

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It was a lazy Saturday afternoon–well, at least it would have been if I could sit still for more than two minutes without wanting to cook, create, or do .  I had most of the ingredients for this mushroom sauce and made a spur of the moment decision to finally photograph and blog this recipe, since it’s become one of the Mister and I’s favorites in our dinner rotation for the past few months.  I just needed a couple things.  No need to consult the recipe.  Besides, it’s all in my head…Mind like a steel trap!  I left, went to the store, came back.  Oops, forgot the mushroom broth.  Ummm, that’s okay, I’ll use the tiny amount of mushroom broth I have and fill in with veggie broth, which I always have on hand.  Okay, we’re good!

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Cooking, cooking, photographing, destroying the kitchen…  I pulled up my recipe, and read through my notes.  Oh yeah, I normally add cashew cream.  Dang it! Cashews haven’t been soaked, because I don’t actually have any in the pantry.  Oh no!  It’s almost sunset!  I have maybe another 45 minutes before this baby needs to be made, plated and photographed in the already waning light.  You don’t have time to go to the store again, self!  Wait self, you mean to say that you didn’t even read your own recipe before going to the store?!  Hey, hey now self, I thought I had it all under control.  Well next time, maybe you’ll –I know I know, I just thought it was all up here, in the brain!  Steel trap, my–Okay, okay!  Maybe next time!  A sage word of advice:  always read the recipe first.  I think I secretly like flying by the seat of my pants.  I love finding solutions for a problem when option one isn’t possible.  Limitation inspires creativity.

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These recent years have been an exercise in limitation.  The last almost 8 years have been an improvisational dance of give and take with cancer.  It has changed or taken many things important to me,  giving some things back after a while, taking some things forever.  If I thought I only had one option in life, that there was only one way to do things, I would be plumb out of options.  Limitation inspired me to adapt and get creative when I felt like I was losing all the things I loved to do.  At my worst point, and for about a year, I experienced constant debilitating spasms in my neck and back caused by radiation treatment to my spine. In addition, the chemo caused a chronic cough that sent zaps of pain throughout my back, so intense they eventually broke a rib. The medicines that made that spasms slightly bearable made my stomach extremely ill, taking away my enjoyment of many of the things I loved most, including food!

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During those days, you could find me laying in a yoga class listening to the teacher and imagining the poses, doing the very few I could muster.  Food and I had a precarious relationship, so I developed as many variations of broth and rice soup as I could think of, and dove into my favorite cookbooks and food blogs, trying to find things that would appetize me.  I fell in love with writing and lettering in my journal, because it was something creative I could do with very little movement.  I still live with cancer every day, but I’m grateful to say that my latest treatment regimen has been kinder on my body, and I’ve been climbing mountains in Thailand, gaining strength in my yoga practice, and am able to eat food that excites me again!

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No matter your limits, let them inspire you to dream of all the things that are possible and not get bogged down chasing all the things you’ve lost.  Know which things to pursue and work toward, which things to wait patiently in hope of a reunion, and which things to let go the best you can.  There are things I will never get back, and every day is a balancing act, but I’m here now, each new day an opportunity to turn limitation into new possibilities.

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The kitchen is a fun playground for this exercise.  I’m the most creative when I have to find a way to create with what I have on-hand instead of running to the store for all new ingredients.  Recipes are guidelines, and the recipes I post here are often snapshots in time of my latest version.  They constantly undergo little tweaks and additions based on what I have, what I’m craving, or a wacky idea I think just might work.  Don’t be afraid to make your own additions!

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The Mister loves this recipe.  My in-the-moment adaptations worked well, and the sauce kept the same character;  creamy, rich, savory and chock full of mushrooms.  We like to have it over gnocchi paired with something lighter and more nutrient-dense on the side like my brussels sprouts salad, since the gnocchi is pretty starchy and filling.  This sauce would make a great mushroom gravy over mashed or roasted potatoes, whipped cauliflower, a cauliflower steak,  salmon or piece of seared chicken for the non-vegetarians.  It also makes a great pasta sauce.  We have options, people!

Let’s let our limitations in the kitchen and beyond inspire creativity and possibility!vegan-mushroom-stroganoffspoonwithme-com-11

Creamy Vegan Mushroom Sauce

This sauce is extremely versatile, and can be served over gnocchi, pasta, or as a gravy.  

makes 3-4 servings as a main dish sauce

  • 3 tablespoon vegan butter, divided
  • 1 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil
  • 3  shallots, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 ounces  cremini mushrooms, diced
  • 3-4 cups mushroom broth
  • ¾ cup  white wine
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for garnish
  • 3 tablespoons all purpose or gluten-free flour
  • ¼ to ½ cup cashew cream (see below) or full fat coconut milk
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 24 oz gnocchi or pasta for serving, cooked according to package directions (Delallo makes a great gluten-free gnocchi)

 

Heat 2 TB of the butter and the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat.  Saute shallots until they soften, 2-3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper to taste.   Sauté, stirring occasionally,  for about 6 minutes until softened but still retaining some firmness.  Add the white wine and stir to scrape any bits off the bottom of the pan.  Cook the wine down for a couple minutes then add mushroom broth and thyme  Bring to a high simmer to concentrate and thicken the broth for 6-8 minutes.

Melt remaining TB butter in another nonstick pan.  Whisk in flour to form a roux.  Whisk the roux into mushroom mixture.  Whisk in the cashew cream or coconut milk to taste.   Adjust salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot over the gnocchi or pasta, garnished with fresh thyme.  

Cashew Cream

Process adapted from Beard and Bonnet.  See their detailed tutorial here.

Cashew cream makes a great dairy-free substitution for heavy cream in recipes such as soups and sauces.  This recipe makes more than you will need for the mushroom sauce, but is much easier to blend in a larger quantity.  Leftovers can be drizzled on a soup, on Mexican dishes, or on a hearty quinoa bowl.  Cashew cream can also be used as a base for a creamy salad dressing.

  • 1 cup raw unsalted cashews
  • 1/2 cup filtered water, plus more for soaking
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, to taste

Place the cashews in a bowl and cover with the filtered water by an inch.  Allow to soak overnight (or, if you forget to soak ahead of time, cover the cashews with boiling water and soak for 20 minutes).  Drain and rinse the cashews.

Blend the cashews, water, lemon juice and salt in a high powered blender or food processor until very smooth, adding more water if needed, for 1-2 minutes.  If using a regular blender, immersion blender, or food processor, you will need to blend it for longer.

Leftovers will keep in a sealed container for 3-4 days, or can be frozen up to 6 months.  If you choose to freeze the cream, run it through the blender again once defrosted to smooth out the texture again.

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Brussels Sprouts Salad with Cranberries and Toasted Walnuts

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I’ve returned from my adventure in Thailand (more on that coming soon!), and am slowly readjusting to normal life again.  The contrast was stark; in just two very long travel days, I went from 80˚ weather, new colors, foods and experiences, to the all too familiar snow, holiday traffic and the Christmas mania!  No bah humbugs intended, but it was kind of nice trading a couple weeks of the inundation of holiday advertisements and rush to buy presents for trekking, climbing, caving, hanging out with elephants, and connecting with an amazing group of cancer survivors in Chiang Mai.  Can you really blame a girl?  

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Today’s recipe involves a vegetable that the Mister grew up hating.  It’s funny how when you’re a kid, you can’t imagine how the steamed vegetable you can’t stand could have any other incarnations other than the way it’s been prepared on your dinner plate.  I’ve always liked brussels sprouts any which way, but I’d never thought to eat them raw.

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My first dalliance with a Brussels sprouts salad was at a friend’s dinner party this summer.  Although quite simple, with lemon juice and zest, good olive oil, toasted walnuts and parmigiano on the side, it contained the perfect balance of flavors.  I love the simpler lemony version to serve as a side to a rich pasta such as the vegan mushroom stroganoff I seem to make weekly these days (will share the recipe soon!).

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I’ve jazzed up this version of the Brussels sprouts salad to make it complement traditional  holiday dishes.  This latest version is jeweled with dried cranberries, tossed with a lemony maple-dijon vinaigrette, and topped with crispy roasted Brussels sprouts leaves.

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The adventure continues, this time in the kitchen!  I hope you have a wonderfully happy holiday!

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Brussels Sprouts Salad with Cranberries and Toasted Walnuts

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

This festive salad makes a great side to any rich winter dish.  The roasted Brussels sprouts leaves are a fun garnish, but can be omitted if time is limited.

For the salad:

1 ½ pounds brussels sprouts

¾ cup chopped walnuts

¾ cup dried cranberries

For the dressing:

½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from a large lemon)

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from a large lemon)

½ teaspoon dijon mustard

1 teaspoon maple syrup

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 -¾ tsp salt, to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

For the roasted Brussels sprouts leaves (optional):

Reserved outer leaves from 1 ½ lb Brussels sprouts

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt to taste

 

Preheat the oven to 375˚F.

Cut off the bottom stem of each Brussels sprout, and pull off the outer layer of loose leaves, reserving the crisp ones, discarding any that are wilted brown.

Toast the chopped walnuts in a frying pan over medium heat, until they begin to sweat and smell toasty.  Supervise closely and stir often, as they will burn quickly.  Set aside to cool.

Toss the outer leaves with a tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake for 5 minutes.  Remove any leaves that are crispy and turning golden brown, stir, and bake for another 2-3 minutes, until all the leaves are crispy and golden brown.  Remove to a paper towel covered plate.

Cut the Brussels sprouts in half lengthwise, then slice very thinly.  Toss the sliced Brussels sprouts, toasted walnuts and dried cranberries together in a large bowl.

Make the dressing:

Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, dijon mustard, maple syrup, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Whisk in the olive oil in a slow stream to incorporate.  Adjust salt to taste.  

Toss the dressing with the salad.  Garnish each individual serving with the crispy roasted Brussels sprouts leaves, if using.

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