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No Bake Pecan Pie Bars - Gluten-free, Raw and Vegan

I have become obsessed with Medjool dates and I am still just as amazed now as I was the first time I baked with them. It is incredible how sweet they are. I have made quite a few simple raw “cookie” balls in the processor with just oats and/or nuts, some dates and other goodies like chocolate chips or peanut butter. They are so simple and a totally healthy way to get your sweets-fix. I need to start taking photos of those and sharing them with you. You will love them.

A few months back while shopping at the Lexington CoOp here in Buffalo, I ran across something called a “Raw Pecan Pie Bar” (I forget the name of the company that made it) – it was raw and sweetened only with dates and also had sprouted pecans and sprouted something else (can’t remember, again). It immediately peaked my interest, so I picked one up. It was quite tasty, but I couldn’t help but think I could make it even better. Plus, at $3.50 for a single small bar, I knew I could make it cheaper.

I had been looking at different recipes online for date bars as a base for my recipe and ultimately settled on Oh She Glow’s blog, once again. I liked how simple her recipe was and that it included everything that I love! I made a few additions and changed it up a bit to make it similar to a pecan pie. I am so excited about how these turned out. Oh and one quick thing to mention about these bars, because they aren’t loaded with sugar, you could even have this as a breakfast bar. I cannot believe it is sugar-free, egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free and it’s even raw! If someone rattled off all of those things to me, with the words “pecan pie” – I would likely laugh in their face. You have to trust me though, these are so amazing. Even my southern-boy pecan pie loving hubby liked him, though he took one bite and said “man, these are good, a big ‘ol scoop of vanilla ice cream over top would really make this.” haha some things will never ever change.

I tend to actually have cravings for sweets around this time of year, which is crazy since I really don’t crave sweets that often. I think it could be the fact that everywhere you look there are holiday cookies and sweets just laying out, begging to be eaten. I am trying really hard to stick with my usual way of eating through the holidays this year, so I don’t step on the scale after the holidays to find I put on 5-lbs. I am planning to make a handful of alternative holiday sweets over the next couple of weeks, so I can still partake in the festive eating, but in a healthy way. I am also making sure when and if I do partake in some not-so healthy holiday eating – that I remember that everything in moderation is OK, a taste here won’t kill me and I would much rather have a little and know when to stop then to feel like I am missing out on something I really want.

Do you try to eat healthy during the holidays or do you just forego all healthy eating rules during the holidays?

No Bake Pecan Pie Bars - Gluten-free, Raw and Vegan

No Bake Pecan Pie Bars – Gluten-free, Raw and Vegan

Adapted from Oh She Glows
Makes 9 large squares or more if cut smaller

Crust:

1 1/2 cups whole raw almonds (you could also do 3/4 cup almonds and 3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut)
1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats (if you aren’t gluten-free just use regular rolled oats)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
10 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Date and Pecan Topping:

25 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup roughly chopped raw pecans

Line an 8″ x 8″ pan with two pieces of parchment paper going opposite ways. In a food processor, process the almonds, salt, and oats until a fine crumble forms. Add in the chopped dates and process until crumbly again. It your coconut oil is solid, melt it quick and add to the mixture with vanilla and process until sticky and a bit doughy. If your dough seems a bit dry, you can add a bit more oil, mind was fine as is. Remove from processor and press the dough very firmly and evenly into the pan to form your crust.

Clean the food processor real quick and process the dates with water and vanilla until a thick paste forms, it should be mostly smooth and creamy. You will have to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl often. You can add a tiny bit more water if needed, but you want the paste quite thick. Scoop out the date mixture onto the crust and gently spread with the back of a wet spatula until even.

Sprinkle the chopped pecans evenly across of it and gently press down with fingers. Refrigerate in the fridge until firm for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight. Cut into squares and serve. Store in the fridge or freezer.

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I didn’t get a chance to get on here Thanksgiving Day to wish you all a Happy Day, like I had planned but I was cooking away in the kitchen and watching the parade, the dog show and football! I hope all of my American readers had an incredible day surrounded by people they love most and filled with delicious and tasty fresh foods made with so much love and care. If you aren’t in the US – I hope you have a beautiful Thursday, still!

Our day was perfect, I spent the day cooking in my kitchen and relaxing with hubby, we really needed a day like that, then we headed to my parents to see a ton of family for dessert. It is going to be an insane few weeks coming up so I was very happy to have the perfect balance of a quiet and calm day, with a bit of the usual holiday fare with the extended family.

Of course the best part of making a big feast for 2, is that we have a ton of leftovers. This is so perfect since we are leaving on Friday of this coming week to head to Chicago – so finding time to cook is probably going to be tough. Besides just reheating things, I plan to come up with all kinds of fun and creative ways to eat up the leftovers. This morning I saw a post on the Kitchn with this very topic – lots of great and delicious ways to eat up those leftovers! One of the hardest things to just simply reheat are the mashed potatoes, they are never as creamy and delicious as they are that night! You could certainly make a shepherd’s pie with them or potato pancakes of some sort, which I had planned on doing until I saw this post. The Kitchn had this delicious recipe for Mashed Potato Puffs that caught my eye instantly. Their puffs included ham and cheese, though this was a bit too rich for me after the two days of eating that I just had, so I skipped the cheese and ham and just added a small amount of turkey and some fresh chives from my garden. If you had a vegetarian Thanksgiving, these would still be equally as delicious without any meat at all. These adorable little puffs were super simple to put together and ready in 20 minutes. We had ours for breakfast and we put the leftovers in the fridge for either a side dish or another breakfast. They were puffy, had a slight crisp on the outside and were perfectly soft and creamy inside. I almost always make my mashed potatoes as garlic smashed potatoes, which I add a smidge of Nancy’s Organic Cultured Cream Cheese to for a little bit of creamy and tart flavor. I make my smashed potatoes with red potatoes, leaving the skins on – so my puffs were a bit more rustic and chunky than the original recipe, which I really liked. They can stick a bit when coming out of the muffin tin, at least they did for me, so make sure you grease your tin, even if it is non-stick. I personally didn’t care about that little bit of sticking – they were delicious regardless.

Well we’re off to the country to cut down our Christmas tree today and then to walk around beautiful Elicottville to really get even more into the Christmas mood! I cannot wait!

Tomorrow I plan to make a gluten-free turkey pot pie with some of the leftovers and I am going to cook down the bones to make a turkey stock for soup. What are you making with your leftovers?

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Smashed Potato Puffs
makes between 12 and 24 puffs, depending the size of the pan used
Adapted from The Kitchn

2 cups leftover smashed (or mashed) potatoes
3 large farm fresh brown eggs, beaten
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
1/4 cup shredded leftover turkey (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 400°F and lightly grease the cups of a regular muffin tin or a mini-muffin tin.
Whisk together the smashed potatoes, eggs, chives, and turkey. Taste and season, if necessary, with salt and pepper.
Put a spoonful of the mixture in each muffin cup. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the potato cups are set, browned on top, and hot through and through. Serve immediately.

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Raw Butternut Squash and Kale Salad

I was so excited to be participating in A Book of Yum’s Gluten-free Vegetarian Thanksgiving Event, that I of course couldn’t decide on just one recipe, so I made two! I wanted to re-imagine a classic side dish like stuffing, but I also really wanted to bring something completely new and unique to the table (pun intended). I came across a recipe in Edible Buffalo’s Fall 2011 issue a few weeks ago that I cut out and set aside, since it really intrigued me. It was a raw butternut squash salad – I had never thought about eating squash raw, but I honestly couldn’t wait to try it. In thinking about the recipe and really wanting there to be a rainbow of beautiful fall colors, I decided to change it up add some fresh local kale and dried cranberries instead of golden raisins. I also had some a fresh organic navel orange that I had zested earlier in the day to make another batch of my Chai concentrate and I thought the juice from that would be the perfect complement to all of the flavors going on in this salad.

This beautiful salad is crunchy, sweet and bright. It would be a welcome side dish at any Thanksgiving feast and it is a wonderfully unique option everyone, especially for those who are gluten-free, vegan and/or vegetarian. Plus, I personally love the idea of any Thanksgiving sides that aren’t heavy and carb loaded and more importantly, that don’t require the use of the oven that is always far too crowded on Thanksgiving.

Raw Butternut Squash and Kale Salad

 

Raw Butternut Squash and Kale Salad
Serves 4-6
Adapted from Edible Buffalo Magazine, Fall 2011 Issue

1 butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded and grated by hand or with a food processor
1 cup kale, washed and stems removed, cut into very thin strips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients, toss and adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate, covered, for an hour before serving.

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Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate

Ingredients for Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate

Spices for Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate

I have seen quite a few recipes floating around on blogs and on Pinterest for homemade chai concentrate. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? It’s so easy and you can customize your own recipe to exactly what you are looking for in your chai. I like mine spicy, with a strong tea flavor and with a subtle sweetness. I find the packaged concentrates from the grocery store to really lack flavor and many times they are just too sweet for me.

I looked around at tons of different recipes and ultimately settled on this recipe. I have made it three times now to get it exactly how I wanted it. The first time I added my coconut sugar and honey in at the end, which resulted in a cloudy concentrate. It tasted perfectly delicious but it bothered me that it was cloudy. I made it a second time using date sugar and honey at the start, the sweetness was so nice but the date sugar I had was a bit clumpy, which annoyed me. The final time I used coconut sugar again but added it at the start, this time I skipped the honey. I saw a few recipes without pepper at all and some with just a tad bit of ground pepper. I really love the spiciness from the pepper so I added in whole peppercorns. I also really love the addition of orange zest and nutmeg in my chai. I love that there are no rules when making your own chai concentrate. Use this or any other recipes as a guide, but tweak the recipe and ingredients to your preference. Have fun with it.

You can serve your chai warm as a hot latte or cold as an iced latte. Either way, I go with a 1 to 1 mixture on the chai concentrate to a non-dairy milk. I prefer almond milk personally, but you could use regular milk or any other non-dairy milk. If you like it less strong, use less tea bags, or mix 1 part concentrate to 3 parts milk instead of 1 or 2. Play around. If you are like me, after you make this once and take the first sip, you will be sure to always have a batch in the fridge.

This concentrate would make a lovely holiday gift in a mason jar with a cute tag, some ribbon or twine, etc. Another great gift idea would be to pre-mix all of the spices and place them with the tea bags into a cute little cheesecloth pouch for an adorable chai concentrate mix packet, so your recipient can make their concentrate whenever they wish, adding or taking away any spices of their choosing. You would just want to substitute dried ginger for fresh and skip the orange zest. And of course provide the recipient with the following instructions ::: To make your chai concentrate, place 4 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 cup coconut, date or raw cane sugar in a medium sized sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and place the cheesecloth pouch in. Simmer for 20 minutes, remove the pouch, then stir in 1 tablespoon of honey (optional). Allow to cool before pouring it in an air tight container or jar and placing in the fridge to cool. Keeps up to 7 days. For a latte, hot or cold, mix one part concentrate to one part milk of your choice, warm up or serve over ice. :::

PS – I am loving the comments about using the concentrate in other things like baked goods or making a syrup from it. SO brilliant, I didn’t even think of that. Great ideas!

Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate

Homemade Chai Concentrate
Yields: 1 batch of concentrate, approximately 4 cups
adapted to suit my personal taste from many different recipes – this one and this one mostly.

4 1/2 cups water
8 bags black tea – I used orange pekoe
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean, split in half (or 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract added at the very end)
1/2 cup coconut sugar, date sugar or raw cane sugar (you can add more or less depending on how sweet you like your chai)
1 – 3-inch section of fresh ginger, cut into pieces
10 whole cloves
8 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 whole star anise pods
1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon raw honey (optional, leave off to make vegan, if you want it to be sweeter without the honey, add a bit more sugar in at the beginning)

1 small square section of cheesecloth, approximately 6″ square (if you don’t want to mess with cheesecloth, make sure you have a good strainer you can use at the end)
kitchen twine

Prepare the teabags by removing any tags if there are any and tying them all together. Prepare the spices, vanilla bean and orange zest by laying them in your cheesecloth, I leave my cinnamon sticks out to make the little pouch of spices a bit more compact. Tie the cheesecloth pouch shut with a small piece of kitchen twine. If you leave the cinnamon sticks out, just tie them together with kitchen twine.

*If you don’t wish to use cheesecloth, you will just add all of your spices directly to the pan when the time comes and strain them out after.

Add the water and sugar to a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and put in the tea bags, cheesecloth pouch and cinnamon sticks. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat strain the concentrate through a sieve or just remove the tea bags, cheesecloth pouch and cinnamon sticks. At this point if you want a bit more sweetness you can add a tablespoon of honey, stir to dissolve. I don’t always do this, but it is a really nice touch. Additionally, if you didn’t use a whole vanilla bean, add your vanilla extract now. Stir to combine.

Allow the mixture to cool before pouring it into an airtight jar or container. This amount fits perfectly into a 1-quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

** To serve, mix 1 part concentrate with 1 part milk of your choice. I personally love unsweeteened almond milk (you can even make your own). Heat for a warm beverage or serve over ice for a cold drink.

Ice Chai Latte made from Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate

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Arugula, Fennel and Orange Salad

Once the fall really sets in, I already start missing my green veggies. I know we are blessed with squash and root vegetables aplenty throughout the winter, but I really start missing all the beautiful local green stuff from the peak of the summertime. I love that at this point that we are still able to get our hands on arugula, kale, spinach and other leafy greens, but I know soon those will be hard to come by. So, I try to get in as much as possible. I grabbed the fennel, arugula and red onion at the farmers market this past weekend along with some potatoes, bok choy, peppers, beets, carrots and as many other vegetables as I could get my hands on. Gotta get it all in now.

I absolutely love salads, any type really. I rarely meet a salad I don’t love. This cool-weather winter salad has so much vibrant flavor. The peppery crisp from the arugula, the subtle hint of anise from fennel and the tangy sweetness of the oranges all come together perfectly. If I had some in the pantry, I would have topped this salad with some toasted walnut pieces.

What is your favorite fall/winter salad?

Arugula, Fennel and Orange Salad
serves 4

Vinaigrette
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon wholegrain or stoneground mustard, no salt added
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
juice from half an orange (or lemon) – approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salad
5 cups baby arugula, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced crosswise
1 1/2 oranges, peeled, white pith removed and cut into segments (use the remaining half for the vinaigrette)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced

In a small bowl combine all dressing ingredients and whisk to thoroughly combine, set aside.

Place the arugula in the bottom of a large serving bowl, scatter the orange segments, fennel slices and onions over the arugula; drizzle the dressing over the salad to serve, toss gently. Serve.

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Concord Grape Jam

Concord Grape Jam

I got an email a few weeks ago from Farmers & Artisans, an amazing local shop that features produce, dairy and meat from local farms. They were offering 4 and 8 quart baskets of Concord grapes from Blackman Homestead Farm in Lockport. I decided with how much I am in love with my juicer right now, I need to buy the 8 quart basket, so I could experiment with making juice and trying to make jam for the first time. I never buy jam at the store because I hate all the preservatives, but occasionally I will buy a jar from the farmers market. I was a little concerned about the jam making since I had never done it before and I really didn’t have a great way to remove the seeds as I don’t have a food mill. I made jam twice, trying out two different methods to see which would work best. The first way, I added the grapes whole to the food processor, with the sugar and pulsed them a few times to break them down and mash em up. Then I cooked the jam down, allowing it to thicken. Once it seemed like it had cooked down enough and was quite thick, I ran it through a strainer to remove the seeds. The only problem with this method is that not only did it remove the seeds, but it also removed the thick hunks of gooey goodness (the natural pectin) that makes jam what it is. I ended up with more of a Concord Grape sauce or thinner jelly. I tried adding it back to the saucepan to allow it to thicken more, but it just didn’t do it. The jam needed bits of the skins and more of the natural pectin. All was not lost, I have been spooning the first batch of jam over granola and oatmeal, it would also be great drizzled over ice cream or yogurt or in a smoothie.

So, the second time around I decided to separate the skins from the flesh or pulp (and therefore the seeds) of the grapes, one by one. It sounds kinda tedious, and I guess it kinda was, but I didn’t mind, I knew it would be worth it. Then I pulsed the skins with the sugar in the food processor and cooked that down on its own, cooking the pulp down in a second saucepan by itself, mashing every so often to break it down. Once the skins had cooked down quite a bit and really gotten thick and jam-like, I strained the pulp from the other saucepan through the strainer to get as much of the juice and added it to the beautiful skin mixture. It was surprising how easy the whole process was. From what I have read Concord grapes are a slip-skin variety grape so I suppose that is what made that part of the process so much easier than I had anticipated.

Concord Grape Jam

You could certainly make a larger batch and go through the hassle of canning and preserving if you wish. I am not versed at all in preserving and honestly am quite intimidated by the whole process. Maybe some day when I have a huge kitchen and tons of storage space I will experiment with it.

This jam is preservative free and is full of intense grape flavor. It is perfectly sweet and tart. I am sure you could experiment with using honey as a sweetener instead of sugar, I just wanted to go the traditional route for my first time. If I get around to experimenting with honey, I will report back.

Obviously if you have a food mill you can simply process the grapes whole with the sugar, then use your mill to remove the seeds and cook down the mixture in one pan, no need to strain.

Gluten-Free Multi-Grain Rolls

Gluten-Free Multi-Grain Rolls

I decided to fully enjoy this jam I needed to make some delicious gluten-free multi-grain rolls. I couldn’t just slop it on any ol’ store-bought bread or roll, it seemed sacrilegious. I used gluten-free girl’s recipe with a few subtle substitutions. I used tapioca starch instead of potato flour and I made my own oat flour since I couldn’t find any that was certified gluten-free. I highly recommend this recipe. These rolls are incredible and I love that the recipe is gum free (no xanthan or guar gum). They are super crusty on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. These rolls are perfect as is with a little jam, toasted with a veggie burger, etc. The same recipe with make two boules instead of the rolls, if you wish. I thought I was in love with gluten-free girl’s previous bread recipe, but this one blows it out of the water. Try it!

Oh and by the way, I have a very small amount of grapes left – not enough to really do anything major with – so I plan to soak them in vodka to make some tasty Concord grape infused vodka!! Come on, how could it not be good?

Concord Grape Jam

Concord Grape Jam

Concord Grape Jam
makes about 1 cup
Inspired by Healthy Green Kitchen and a handful of other recipes I came across

2 lbs fresh local concord grapes, about 5 1/5 cups or so (if you can find them seedless YAY – I wasn’t that lucky)
2/3 cup organic raw sugar plus 1 tablespoon
juice from 1/2 lemon

Separate the skin from the pulp of each grape, by applying pressure to the grape with your thumb and index finger, shooting the pulp right out. It’s fun and very simple to do.

Process the grape skins with the sugar in your food processor or blender until mostly smooth but still a tad bit chunky. If you want your jam super smooth, process longer. Transfer to a medium saucepan and add the juice of half a lemon. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Watch it carefully and stir often so it doesn’t stick or scorch. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for approximately 25 minutes until it has reduced down and thickened.

Meanwhile in a smaller saucepan cook the grape pulp (insides) and 1 tablespoon of sugar over a medium-high heat, bring to a boil and mash the pulp as it cooks to break the down. Once bowling reduce the heat and allow to simmer as long as your grape skins do. Once the grape skin mixture has thickened, remove the pulp from the heat and strain through a strainer or cheesecloth to remove the seeds. Add the juice that drained out to the grape skin mixture.

Allow the jam to continue cooking another 10 minutes until thick. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if it isn’t sweet enough for you. This was plenty sweet for me. The jam will continue to thicken as it cools. Trust me. It also thickens a bit more once in the refrigerator, so down cook it down too much.

Allow the jam to cool before pouring it into a well cleaned and tightly sealing jar. This jam will keep in the refrigerator for approximately 1 month.

NOTE: I have to apologize for the lack of process photos with this post, I had intentions of showing step by step photos of the entire process. However, the morning I was making this jam it was very dark and stormy. The lighting in my kitchen was horrible and with the yucky wind and rain, I wasn’t able to tote things out to the back patio as I usually do. If you have any questions regarding the process, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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Butternut Squash & Chickpea Coconut Curry (Crock Pot Recipe)

 

I absolutely adore my slow cooker. It is so perfect for those days where you kinda feel like cooking, but you don’t really have the time or desire to stand around stir this pot so it doesn’t stick, toss that thing in this dressing, cut up this and that. I always love eating at home and cooking my own meals, but sometimes after a long day of work, I just don’t have the energy to head to the kitchen and start on another 1-2 hour adventure. Though it hardly feels like work, sometimes it’s just hard to muster up the energy after a long and busy day. With a crock pot there is no preheating, no keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t over cook, no stirring. It’s just simple, easy home-cooking. When you are ready to eat, just head to the kitchen and serve yourself. I always tell Mark that my crock pot is the closest I will ever come to having a personal chef, it really feels like that.

This recipe is exceptionally easy, just toss all (well, almost all) of the ingredients in to your crock pot in the morning and check back later. I decided to keep out the peas until the end and wished I had done the same with the spinach, so I altered the recipe to reflect that. That’s it. You could certainly fuss with sautéing the onions and garlic ahead of time if you wish, but I really don’t see why you should bother. I tossed it all in and it was ready to go 6 hours later. I had some beautiful spinach and peas from the market so I decided to toss those in for some extra greeny goodness and that was our meal.

I truly think this was the best curry I have made yet. I personally have a wonderful yellow curry powder that I love, though I know many people swear by making your own mix, toasting the spices yourself, etc. I have yet to try that as I really love the powder I buy. If you prefer to take that route, please do. Beyond being extremely easy to make, this curry is loaded with flavor and is so satisfying. I served it over a small serving of brown basmati rice and topped it with fresh cilantro and a bit of unsweetened shredded coconut. The perfect cleanse-friendly, fall meal.

Butternut Squash & Chickpea Coconut Curry (Crock Pot Recipe)
serves 8

2 1/2 cups diced butternut squash
1 1/2 cups dried organic chick peas
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can organic coconut milk (you can use light here, I didn’t)
1 bunch of fresh spinach, rinsed and roughly chopped (you could also use kale here)
1 1/2 cups freshly shelled peas (you can use frozen here, if you wish)
1-2 large tomatoes, diced
3 cups vegetable broth or water
3 tablespoons yellow curry powder (you can use your own blend of spices here, I just happen to have a premixed curry powder from a local indian grocery store that I love)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (save some for serving)

Rinse and sort through the dry chickpeas. Cut the skin off the squash, remove seeds and cut into 1 inch square cubes. Add all of the ingredients to your slow cooker besides the peas and spinach. Cook on high for 6 hours. About 20-30 minutes before serving add in the fresh peas and spinach, and give it a stir. If your sauce seems to be a bit too thin or watery when it is done cooking, you could make a quick mix of cornstarch and hot water and pour a tablespoon or two of the mixture into the crock pot, allow it to simmer a bit longer. This will thicken it right up.

Serve over brown basmati or jasmine rice topped with fresh cilantro, mint or basil and maybe even some shredded coconut.

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Rosemary Roasted Butternut Squash

This is another cleanse-friendly recipe that I made as a side dish to my lentil soup. You could actually just toss the roasted squash cubes right into the soup just before serving if you wish, but Mark and I really wanted to savor the crispy brown little bites on their own.

Roasted butternut squash is super easy to throw together and it makes a delicious fall side-dish. You can also add it to soups, stews or even atop salads. Butternut squash is packed with nutrients and antioxidants, it is low in fat and it provides an ample dose of your daily fiber. You can read more about all the wonderful health benefits of butternut squash from Whole Living here.

Like most things that I tend to gravitate toward when cooking, what I love most about squashes are their versatility. You can roast butternut squash with a wide array of different spices and herbs, you can toss it with a bit of maple syrup or brown sugar and cinnamon, you can puree it for soup, the list goes on and on. Grab yourself some fall-harvest squashes this weekend at the market and get to playing, the possibilities are endless. We hit an adorable farmer’s stand on our way home from NYC and I nabbed two butternut squash, two acorn squash, a spaghetti squash and four pie pumpkins. I plan to grab even more this weekend at our farmers market.

I chose rosemary as the star of this show because my potted rosemary in the garden is looking wonderful and it pairs so wonderfully with fall and winter dishes like this. You can certainly play around with other herbs or spices, thyme and sage are both wonderful with squash, you can also try smoked paprika, cilantro, tarragon, the list goes on and on.

Rosemary Roasted Butternut Squash

Rosemary Roasted Butternut Squash
serves 2-4 (depending on how large the squash is)

1 medium butternut squash
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
Olive Oil (I probably used under a tablespoon, you can use more here if you wish, I was just trying to keep this very light)
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400ºF

Halve the squash lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out and discard seeds. Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler (if you can, this never works for me) or cut into big chunks and keep steady on the cutting board while cutting off the peel with a sharp knife.

Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with chopped rosemary, minced garlic, a small amount of sea salt and fresh ground pepper and toss to evenly combine. Spread out evenly in a single layer. Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender and golden brown, about 30-40 minutes.

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Curry Kale Chips

I fell in love with kale chips last summer. I had grown kale in my garden and had an abundance, so I decided to try my hand at the healthy snack that I kept hearing about. However, I never really got to eat very many of the ones I made. Unfortunately the day I decided to make them was the day after we had to rush our dog Derby to the emergency animal hospital, she had to stay the night so they could run tests and give her fluids. At the time I started making the chips, I was waiting to hear some good news about our little girl, so I was trying to pass the time and keep my mind busy since I couldn’t help but think the worst and just sit at home crying. Cooking and baking always provides that escape for me, a great way to “get away” and just create in the kitchen. Little did I know that by making those silly little kale chips on that very day, I would never ever be able to look at them the same way again.

I have found, at least for me, that food is always a great reminder of past times. Good or bad. The simple smell or taste of a dish can take you back to being a kid, remind you of a loved one, an amazing dinner party and so many other things. While that first batch of kale chips were baking last summer, my phone rang and it was the vet, they told me Derby had taken a turn for the worse and that we should come right there. After a series of many, many tests and an emergency surgery, Derby passed away later that same night. It was all so quick and it was all so completely unexpected. The kale chips sat on top of my stove, on the very pan they were baked on, for days. I couldn’t eat them, I had no appetite, but for some reason I couldn’t throw them out either. They reminded me of a time when I had hope that Derby was going to make it, I was baking them to pass the time until the vet called to say I could pick her up. I eventually threw the chips out, but I had been unable to make them since, which I know sounds totally crazy, but it was true. The mere thought of making them could just bring on the tears.

I know this is a completely, ridiculously sad back story for a food blog post about silly old kale chips, but I didn’t feel honest telling some wonderful and happy story about how I came to make these kale chips, it just didn’t feel right. I honestly kept thinking about what I would write when I was making them. I finally made the chips now, because after the one year anniversary of Derby’s death passed us in July, I promised myself that I would find the time to make these again. It most likely sounds silly to you, but I just wanted to wait and do it when I felt like I could handle it. I didn’t want to get over it or forget, I just wanted to be able to handle it and grow from it. I know, they are just kale chips, but it was about the healing for me.

The other ironic part about the kale that I planted and grew last summer, is that it somehow lived under the 3+ feet of snow the covered my garden this winter. At the first major melt, this past spring, the plant peaked through what snow was left and it was still green somehow with leaves still on it and immediately began growing again. Once the snow had melted and our new puppy Seri could get into the garden, she made a B-line for the kale and would steal the leaves off the plant and run around the yard, eating as much as she could. That dog absolutely loves kale. So much so, that many times she prefers that to any fancy meat treats we buy her. The entire time I was cutting up the raw kale to make these chips, Seri was under my feet, looking at me, waiting for any bit to fall. It was exactly what I needed. Maybe it wasn’t irony at all.

These chips are a perfectly crispy and healthy snack that is perfect for all you chip lovers. I personally have always loved a good crunchy or crispy savory snack. I honestly could eat an entire bag of kettle chips in one sitting, if I didn’t know better. Thank god I do. The kale chips are light and airy and you don’t even get a hint of the bitterness that kale can be known for. They are a tad bit spicy, the flavor from the curry is so perfect and the coconut flavor is very subtle but I felt like it would round it all out nicely. If you don’t like spicy, leave out the cayenne pepper or you can even leave out the curry powder and coconut flour and just go with a little freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt. Honestly, the flavor possibilities with kale chips are endless. You could use garlic powder, smoked paprika, cumin, etc. If you aren’t vegan, parmesan cheese would also be delicious on these. Play around. You will definitely be addicted once you make these, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try different flavors.

Curry Kale Chips

1 large bunch of kale, torn by hand into bite-sized pieces, stems removed
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coconut flour (if you can’t find coconut flour, just blend coconut flakes into a fine meal in your blender)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (you may need more or less depending on how large your bunch of kale is)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 375º F. Clean the kale very good, after removing the stems and tearing into bite sized pieces, allow the kale to air dry or spin it dry in your salad spinner. Lay the dry kale pieces in a single layer on two baking sheets (you may need more or less baking sheets depending on how much kale you have). Since I had two baking sheets covered in kale, I drizzled one tablespoon of olive oil over each. Toss the kale around with your hands to evenly coat it all in the olive oil. In a small bowl mix together the curry powder, coconut flour, cayenne pepper and sea salt. Sprinkle half of the spice mixture over one pan and half over the other. Toss the kale gently with your hands to evenly distribute the spices.

Place the pans in the oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes until the edges of the kale pieces are brown and they are crispy. Keep an eye on them. Be careful not to burn them. Once done, place the baking sheet on a rack to allow it to cool. I find storing the kale chips in a tightly closed paper bag, the best way to make sure they remain crispy.

FYI – kale chips are also wonderful crumbled up and sprinkled over popcorn.

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Gluten-Free Crispy Zucchini Rounds

I have seen a number of crispy oven-baked zucchini recipes floating around online and in cookbooks, some as rounds, some as “fries”, but obviously all were made with regular wheat flour and breadcrumbs, so they weren’t gluten-free. However, with my insane love of zucchini, every single time I would see a photo of one of these recipes, I would instantly salivate, how couldn’t crispy oven-baked zucchini slices be delicious? I decided to experiment with making my own gluten-free version and I have to say for the first attempt, they turned out perfectly. I am so excited. I love when that happens.

The outside was so incredibly crispy, the inside was tender. Topped with a bit of freshly shredded parmigiano-reggiano and some fresh basil from the garden, each and every bite was full of flavor. I only sliced up one of the large zucchini we grabbed from the farmers market, but it was more than enough for the two of us as a side dish, with plenty leftover. It would be enough for 4 people, but if you like this as much as we did, it is actually a perfect sized side dish for two. We ended up eating seconds, since they were so delicious. I served this alongside some gluten-free penne with a delicious mint pesto .

These crispy zucchini rounds would also be wonderful as an appetizer. You could create a delicious creamy dipping sauce or even serve them with some hot marinara sauce. Though a dipping sauce would be delicious and fun, we went nude and enjoyed them as is. They were so full of flavor, they didn’t really need anything more.

Gluten-Free Crispy Zucchini Rounds
I ended up using my mandoline slicer to make sure each round was cut evenly, so they would cook evenly, but it isn’t necessary. You could simply cut by hand, doing the best to keep them generally at the same thickness.

Gluten-Free Crispy Zucchini Rounds

Gluten-Free Crispy Zucchini Rounds
serves 2-4

1 large zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch thick rounds
2 large farm fresh brown eggs *see below note about making this vegan*
1/3 cup tapioca flour (sometimes called tapioca starch)
1 cup gluten-free bread crumbs, plus more if needed
1/4 cup shredded parmigiano-reggiano cheese
Olive oil for drizzling
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 450º and lightly grease a large baking sheet (or two smaller) with olive oil . On 2 separate plates, add tapioca flour and bread crumbs. Lightly beat 2 eggs in a medium bowl.

Dust both sides of zucchini rounds with the tapioca flour, dip in egg, and pat onto the plate of gluten-free bread crumbs. Place in a single layer on the baking sheet(s). Drizzle olive oil over the top, sprinkle with sea salt and a very small amount of the parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes on the first side, using a spatula flip each zucchini round over (you can drizzle a bit more olive oil on this side, if you wish) and bake an additional 10 minutes until crispy and lightly browned on both sides.

Remove the baking sheets from the oven, sprinkle the remaining parmigiano-reggiano cheese and the fresh basil overtop of the rounds and serve immediately. Salt and pepper to taste.

*To Make This Vegan: After a request on Facebook, I decided to make these again, but this time I attempted to make them vegan. In place of the two eggs I used 3 teaspoons of Ener-G Egg Replacer with 1/4 cup of warm water. Stir together until fully mixed. You may find you need to make a bit more depending on how large your zucchini is, but that is a good starting point. Substitute the egg replacer for the eggs in the above recipe, do everything else the exact same and just skip the parmesan cheese. That’s it. They turned out just as delicious, with a perfectly wonderful crispy brown outside.

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