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Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Having a creative job means that sometimes you just can’t work. I know that sounds like an excuse, but when you are supposed to be creating something and you just don’t have any ideas, it’s quite hard to “work”. I am very lucky that we now work from home, so some days when that “creative block” happens – if I can’t find some silly administrative task like updating our webstore, shooting photos of new products or responding to emails, I can just walk away from my computer and get into any number of different things that are completely unrelated to work, like taking the dog for a walk, heading to a yoga class, watching TV, reading a book or magazine and my most favorite distraction from work… cooking! This week I have been feeling a bit stressed and the ideas just haven’t been flowing as freely. It has been a bit frustrating to say the least. We have a ton of work on the books right now, so it is no time to screw around or to just stare at a blank sketch pad. Wednesday, I decided rather than sitting at my desk with my sketchpad, that I would make our dinner early, so we could enjoy it for lunch and I could take photos when it was freshly cooked instead of trying to shoot them without daylight or shooting the leftovers the next day!

Beautiful and fresh tomatillos for the Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Roasted butternut squash for the Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Tomatillo's cooking down for the sauce for my Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

So, I got up at my usual 7am and started prepping the squash and the tomatillos for the sauce. Then I went upstairs for a few hours, it was the perfect boost that I needed and I started working on a poster design that I was stuck on and I made some major headway! It felt great. When lunchtime came, I scooted downstairs, preheated the oven, heated up the sauce and started assembling the enchiladas. I popped them in the oven and went back upstairs to work for a bit. When the buzzer rang, I ran down, took some photos and served my husband and our assistant the best lunch we’ve had since we moved the business home. It was actually really fun to eat a bigger meal in the middle of the day. It felt like the right time to eat that way.

These enchiladas, besides being a burst of beautiful colors, are so full of delicious and bright flavors. The squash has a bit of a rustic nuttiness, the tomatillo has a bright almost citrus flavor to it, with a little bit of heat from the lemon drop peppers I added. I thought about adding black beans inside of the enchiladas, but ended up deciding against it since I thought they would just be bursting open. I think even though it would taste incredible, it would be too many things inside with the big hunks of squash. But I will likely make them that way at some point. I used a simple traditional Mexican crumbly white cheese called queso fresca, it was the perfect compliment and didn’t make the dish too heavy and gooey cheesy, which can be a bit too much for me, sometimes. They were delicious topped with a fresh squeeze of lime juice, fresh green onions and cilantro and a little dollop of organic low-fat sour cream. If you are vegan, you could definitely leave out the cheese or substitute Daiya for the queso fresco. Or if you can’t find queso fresco, you could go with a small amount of good quality sharp cheddar cheese.

I have made homemade tortillas in the past when making enchiladas and it is most definitely worth it, but since I didn’t really have an unlimited amount of time to make these, I decided to go with a high quality corn tortilla from the store. The key to making enchiladas keep their shape, is to steam the tortillas first, otherwise they will break apart a bit. I know this and I steamed mine, but I think they should have been steamed a bit more, some definitely fell apart just a tad when I rolled them up. I decided to just go with it, since I knew it would all taste the same, but some would just fall apart when I served them. Of course, the two that I decided to take a photo of did just that when I served them, but I kinda liked how rustic they looked and I love how you could see the color from the squash exploding out. So I said, screw perfection and just went with it! Life isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect and my enchiladas aren’t perfect – and I am OK with ALL of it! I embrace it.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce
Yesterday afternoon I had another one of those moments where I hit a creative road-block, for some reason this one hit me harder than ever. I actually felt sad over it and I let it beat me, a bit. I was working on a project that is seemingly very simple and should have an easy solution, but I was struggling. It broke me! I cried. I decided to take a step away “virtually” and move over to another project and then to editing the photos for this post. It definitely helped and today I am looking at it again with fresh eyes and I am ready to tackle it again. So I wanna hear from you….

What do you do when you hit a creative roadblock?
Do you find cooking and baking to be a good escape from everyday life and your work or does it stress you out too much?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you get through when you are feeling stumped with a problem, creatively or otherwise. Share away!

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce
serves 6

Tomatillo Sauce
1 1/2 pounds of fresh whole tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 hot chiles of your choice, stems removed (I used dried lemon drop peppers from my garden) – you can skip this or just use one if you want it less spicy
enough water to cover the tomatillos
3 whole cloves garlic, peeled
1 handful of fresh cilantro (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Add your tomatillos and chiles to a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for approximately 5-7 minutes until the tomatillos are soft but still whole. If they aren’t all totally soft, no worries, still remove them from the heat and drain. Add the tomatillos and chiles to a food processor and add 2 cloves of garlic, fresh cilantro and salt, puree all the ingredients together and set the sauce aside.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

1 – 2lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
6-8 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (you can skip the cheese or use Daiya to make this vegan) – reserve approximately 1/4 cup for the topping
12 corn tortillas

fresh lime wedges
fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
fresh green onions, thinly sliced
organic sour cream

Preheat the oven to 400º, place the squash cubes on a rimmed baking sheet toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and place into the oven to roast for 30-40 minutes until tender and lightly browned. Set aside when done.

While the squash is baking, add the onion, garlic, red bell pepper and a dash of salt to the teaspoon of olive oil in a medium pan over a medium-high heat, sauté. Cook for 5-8 minutes until the onion is translucent and both the onion and pepper are tender. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside in a bowl.

Use the same pan from the onion and pepper mixture to heat up your tomatillo sauce. Bring it to a simmer over a medium-heat and allow it to heat through and slightly thicken. Just about 5 minutes.

Once the squash is done, you are ready to start assembling your enchiladas.

Start by spooning a small amount of the tomatillo sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish (I used an 8.5 x 11 pan and it was a bit crowded, but it worked) – just enough to cover the bottom with a very thin layer.

You will need to steam the corn tortillas so that they don’t break when rolled. Moisten two paper towels, working in batches of 3 or 4 tortillas at a time, wrap the tortillas in the damp paper towels and microwave them for approximately 30-45 seconds. Once microwaved, dip each tortilla into the tomatillo sauce, one at a time, making sure both sides get coated in the sauce. Scoop a small amount of butternut squash cubes (probably about 2 tablespoons), the onion and pepper mixture and cheese, keeping in mind how much to use so that you can roll the enchiladas shut and also so you have enough to fill 11 more. Place the enchilada, seam side down, in the baking dish. Repeat until you’ve made as many enchiladas as you want or have filling for (this recipe made 12, with a small amount of squash and pepper mixture leftover).

Spoon the remaining tomatillo sauce overtop all of the enchiladas and top with the remaining 1/4 cup of queso fresco.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until the cheese is slightly melted, golden brown and everything is bubbling. Pull it out of the oven, sprinkle a bit of fresh cilantro on top to make it even prettier and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Serve your enchiladas warm with fresh cilantro, fresh green onions and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, you can also add a dollop of organic sour cream, if you wish.

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Butternut Squash, Arugula and Goat Cheese Pizza

After being on a cleanse for two weeks, removing meat, fish, dairy, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, the usual gluten and processed foods, etc – I was looking forward to slowly adding some things back in this week. I love that after two weeks of removing those things from my diet, I no longer crave them, I don’t feel weighed down, exhausted, sluggish, bloated, etc. I feel like the change of seasons is the best time to wipe your slate clean and start fresh and new. Personally, in my life I like to subscribe to the idea of ‘all things in moderation’. That’s not to say I eat junk food, corn syrup laced sodas, processed foods, factory farmed meats and all that other yucky junk in moderation or at all, but there are some things that, though I know in excess can be bad for you (specifically for me – caffeine, alcohol, dairy, meat, sugar), I think in moderation are OK and in some ways good for you.

I like cleansing because I can reset myself and my cravings and start over with the new season. I don’t see myself giving up dairy entirely anytime soon, or cocktails for that matter, so by doing a cleanse I can clean myself of all the junk in my body and any excessive cravings I may have for these things, especially after months of traveling and eating and drinking more than I would like to.

Once I am off a cleanse, I don’t go all in again the very next day and make a drink to have with my massive cheese and meat platter, all finished off with a huge plate of cake – but instead I slowly start adding small amounts back into my diet. This is partially so my system isn’t shocked after two weeks of eating mostly vegetables, whole grains and legumes, but also so I don’t just jump back into old habits and cravings. This week I wanted to enjoy and add back in small amounts of locally farmed dairy and meat and some sweets – but only those made from alternative sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup or coconut sugar, no straight cane sugar just yet.

This pizza was the first real treat after coming off the cleanse and I felt like it was a good way to go back in. I made the crust with flaxseed egg replacer (2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds with 6 tablespoons of warm water) and I got the goat cheese from First Light Farm & Creamery, a wonderful local farm with delicious goats milk products. In addition, the arugula, squash and onion were all from the farmers market and the rosemary was from my own garden. It doesn’t get much fresher and tastier than all that!

This pizza is loaded with delicious fall flavors, everything pairs together so well. The arugula retains a nice subtle and spicy crunch, the squash is tender and so perfect with the rosemary and onions and the goat cheese finishes everything off with a super flavorful, rich and creamy tang! As mentioned in the recipe below, please feel free to use your own favorite pizza dough recipe (with or without gluten, it doesn’t matter) or even a good store-bought dough or crust. Since it was a busy weeknight, I used a package of Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free pizza dough mix. Although I have made some delicious gluten-free pizza doughs completely from scratch, I really love how easy and delicious the Bob’s Red Mill dough is for when you don’t have all that time. It is a pre-mixed blend of flours (without any additives or other wacky ingredients) and it comes with a package of yeast. You just add olive oil, eggs (or a flaxseed egg replacer) and warm water, that’s it. I like their crust because it is light, it has the perfect balance between chewy and crispy and it isn’t too thin or too thick. When I don’t have the time to make my own dough it really is a great alternative.

I made this pizza earlier in the week and since then I have had a small amount more of organic dairy and some pasture-raised local meat from our farm.  I am still feeling really, really great! I am really looking forward to having a glass or two of wine this weekend in celebration of my birthday and I am also looking forward to experimenting this weekend with making some healthy sweets made from sugar alternatives. Look for a recipe tomorrow for my gluten-free pumpkin oatmeal raisin cookies made with honey instead of sugar and grapeseed oil instead of butter. Sunday morning we are going apple picking so keep an eye out for an updated version of my gluten-free apple crisp, I am going to try to make a version without butter or sugar! I can’t wait to play.

Hope everyone is enjoying their weekend!

Butternut Squash, Arugula and Goat Cheese Pizza

Butternut Squash, Arugula and Goat Cheese Pizza
makes 8 pieces

1  – 1lb ball of  your favorite gluten-free (or not) pizza dough or a ready-made crust. You are looking for a 14-16″ round crust (I used a package of Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free pizza dough mix and made one large pizza with it instead of two)
2 1/2 cups cubed local butternut squash (about 1/2-inch square pieces)
2 tablespoons olive oil (half for the squash and reserving the other half for the crust)
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped (you can use dried rosemary here, just use less)
3 cups organic arugula, roughly chopped
6 ounces crumbled local goat cheese

Preheat oven to 425º. If you are making your own pizza dough, have it already mixed and rising. While your dough is rising, on a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, half of your salt, half of your freshly ground black pepper and half of your fresh rosemary. Cook the squash until slightly browned and tender, about 25 minutes, tossing occasionally to ensure even cooking. Set aside.

While the squash is cooking, caramelize the onions in the other tablespoon of olive oil with a dash of salt in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Stir often and cook 10-12 minutes until perfectly browned and caramelized. Set aside.

Once all of your toppings are ready, pre-bake your dough without the toppings (mine took approximately 10 minutes), then remove from the oven and top with squash, onion, arugula, crumbled goat cheese and the remaining rosemary, salt and pepper. Bake until the crust is crispy, lightly browned and the cheese is melted, about 15-18 minutes.

Obviously whatever pizza dough recipe or ready-made crust you choose to make this with will be fine, just adjust your cooking temperature and times accordingly (if necessary).

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Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpeas with Pine Nuts

I know that I always carry on about my love of pasta on here, but you’d be surprised to know that for as much love as I have for those delicious carbs, I have an equal and unrelenting love for vegetables. I honestly cannot think of a vegetable that I don’t love. I love them raw, steamed, grilled, roasted, it doesn’t matter. After traveling and eating at restaurants, where many times the serving of vegetables on your plate, if they even give you one, is so tiny you can’t tell if it is an inedible garnish or a side dish, I come home with a craving for anything green, leafy or with a stem. One of my favorite things is to go to the farmers market and pick out new vegetables that I have never tried before and experiment with ways to cook them. This past Saturday we grabbed some of the usuals at the market, arugula, tomatoes, swiss chard, cauliflower plus this time I also bought a purple cauliflower, butter beets and a large bunch of perpetual spinach. The perpetual spinach and butter beets were both brought home for juicing and I haven’t yet decided what to do with the purple cauliflower, I will probably just make this dish again. After looking at all of those delicious veggies at the market, I wanted to come home and make a delicious vegetable feast for lunch, so I decided on this.

I love roasted cauliflower, even on its own with just olive oil, salt and pepper, it is so delicious. Add in one of my other favorites, chickpeas and you have a winner. Together with the spices, the high heat and a little olive oil, it gets beautifully browned, caramelized and it has a wonderful nutty and sweet flavor. This dish was inspired by all of the delicious spices I have been cooking with on this cleanse and I added in chickpeas for protein and fiber and the pine nuts for a nutty crunch, which I am a big fan of. We served this as a main dish, with nothing else so we ended up with 2 big servings, with a small amount leftover. This would be good just as side dish or for a real hearty meal, you could serve it over some brown rice, quinoa or even with some pasta.

 

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpeas with Pine Nuts

 

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpeas with Pine Nuts
Serves 2 to 4

1 medium head organic cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cut into large florets
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cups cooked organic chickpeas, drained and rinsed if canned
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
1 teaspoon finely minced, peeled fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1-2 small red chiles, finely chopped, seeds removed for less heat (I used some dried korean heirloom red chiles from my garden)

Preheat the oven to 450º.

Place the cauliflower, chickpeas and pine nuts on a large rimmed baking sheet. Add the spices, fresh ginger and garlic, salt and red chiles. Drizzle olive oil evenly over everything and toss gently to combine. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes tossing occasionally to ensure even cooking, bake until edges are golden brown, and the cauliflower is slightly tender,

Serve on its own, as a side dish or over rice for an entrée.

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Red Quinoa with Spaghetti Squash, Spinach, Fresh Herbs and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Today is day 9 of my cleanse and I am feeling incredible. Besides feeling lighter, clearer and more awakened when cleansing, I really love the opportunity to play around with new dishes. I love the challenge of making fun cleanse-friendly, vegan meals that are loaded with whole, fresh ingredients and of course, flavor. I especially enjoy doing so this time of year, when there is so much exciting produce to play around with.

I am not going to sing the praises of quinoa once again, if you read my blog regularly you know what a nutritional powerhouse it is. I will tell you however, if you haven’t yet experimented with spaghetti squash, you must. It is such an amazing vegetable (well technically it’s a fruit, but whatever) and it is so versatile in vegan cooking. Many people like to eat spaghetti squash in replace of traditional pasta in recipes, I personally love pasta too much to do this on a regular basis, but I have before and it’s good. I had some for lunch today with a bit of the leftover vegan alfredo sauce that I made and it was delicious. Spaghetti squash is especially good simply tossed with butter or olive oil, garlic, fresh sage and some salt and pepper. Much like a pumpkin, you can also toast the seeds from a spaghetti squash, one of my favorite fall snacks. You could certainly use those on top of this recipe, just cut the squash in half before baking, scoop out the seeds and rinse them before toasting. I personally didn’t feel like hacking through the raw squash before baking, which is much harder than cutting into it when fully cooked, so I baked the squash whole. Plus I already had toasted pumpkin seeds from earlier in the day, on hand, ready to be used.

This meal is full of flavor and it quite hearty. Beyond the nutty crunch of the quinoa and the fall flavor from the squash, I love the taste and aroma from the fresh herbs, the slight crunch from the spinach, the subtle heat from the chile and the brightness of the lemon juice at the end. The crispy toasted pumpkin seeds on top were the perfect finish to the dish. For a dish that is incredibly healthy and light, this dish filled both Mark and I up perfectly. The leftovers are also just as delicious as a room temperature or cold salad.

Feel free to play around with whatever fresh herbs you happen to have on hand, sage would be nice here as well as rosemary, parsley, basil, oregano or whatever fresh herbs you can easily get your hands on. You could also use arugula instead of spinach which would bring a lovely peppery flavor to the dish.

Red Quinoa with Spaghetti Squash, Spinach, Fresh Herbs and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Red Quinoa with Spaghetti Squash, Spinach, Fresh Herbs and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
serves 4-6

1 cup red quinoa (you could also use regular quinoa here)
1 1/2 cups water
1 large peeled whole garlic clove
1 spaghetti squash
1/4 cup fresh herbs, I used chives and mint
1 spicy hot chile pepper, finely chopped, seeds removed for less heat (I used an heirloom lemon drop pepper, you could also use a jalapeno or dried red pepper flakes)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 cups organic baby spinach, roughly chopped
1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375º.
Place the whole spaghetti squash in a shallow baking pan, pierce with a knife or skewer and place in the center of the oven (this is a must so it doesn’t explode). Baked for 45 minutes to an hour, until you can easily pierce it with a paring knife.

While the squash is cooking, rinse quinoa well and place in a medium saucepan with 1 1/2 cups of water and garlic clove. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and it’s fully cooked. Fluff with a fork and place the cover on the pan until the squash is finished baking.

Meanwhile, cut up your fresh herbs, mince the garlic and pepper and add all to a large serving dish.

Once the squash is cooked remove it from the oven and allow to cool slightly, enough so that you can handle it. At this point, if your pumpkin seeds are raw you can increase the oven temperature to 400º and put them in to be toasted.

When cool enough to handle, cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise with a serrated knife. Scoop out the seeds and fibrous strings from the center of the cooked spaghetti squash. Gently scrape the tines of a kitchen fork around the edge of the spaghetti squash to shred the pulp into strands. Add the spaghetti squash to the serving bowl. Remove the whole garlic clove from the cooked quinoa and add the quinoa to the serving dish. Add in the fresh spinach and toss everything together to combine. Your spinach will wilt a bit from the heat of the quinoa and squash. If you want the spinach fully cooked, you can quickly saute it in the pan you cooked your quinoa in. I personally like the crunch from the fresh spinach. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon over the dish. Salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately topped with fresh herbs and a small handful of toasted pumpkin seeds.

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Vegan, Gluten-free Fettucini Alfredo

I have fully admitted to my love-affair with pasta on this blog, many times. It is something I cannot live without and is almost always included in my weekly menu planning. Not only are pasta dishes simple and fun to create but they can easily be made with ingredients you have in the pantry and your refrigerator and many times can easily be made healthy. Even with the healthiest of pasta recipes, to me it is a major comfort food, it always will be. Probably the number 1 comfort food on my list.

Although I am on a cleanse, I wanted to make sure to experiment with at least one cleanse-friendly pasta dish. Of course, as I mentioned in my post about my cleanse, there are many different types of cleanses out there and many different items you can remove from your diet when cleansing. Obviously this recipe may not work on every cleanse. For me already being on a totally gluten-free diet, removing gluten when cleansing is never a major hassle or issue, but it is very important to a cleanse and to detoxify your body. For me one of the biggest things I like to remove from my diet while cleansing is dairy. I am not a milk drinker and I rarely cook with it, but cheese is what gets me. I love cheese. So with that in mind, I wanted to come up with a cleanse-friendly pasta dish that would bring the comfort of any other gluten-free pasta dish I would make, but with cleanse friendly ingredients.

I love gluten-free pastas and find them to be much lighter compared to traditional wheat-based pastas. I personally prefer brown rice pastas and I love Tinkyada brand organic pastas. They have three or less ingredients, organic brown rice, rice bran and water. That’s it. When I cleanse the majority of what I eat is fresh vegetables, legumes and whole grains – I certainly cannot go without pasta. Brown rice pasta falls within the constraints of my cleanse and though I don’t eat a ton of it, a dish like this is a perfect way to forget you are even cleansing at all. If you don’t care much for brown rice pasta, there are also corn and quinoa based gluten-free pastas that are also quite delicious, as well.

I decided when making this alfredo sauce rather than trying to experiment with different nut milks, which I knew wouldn’t give me the thick and creamy affect of an alfredo sauce, I would go the route of a raw nut based sauce. Cashews tend to be great for this. Even without excessive soaking, you can just add boiling hot water to cashews just before pureeing and get a delicious creamy sauce. I took the above photo the next day with the leftovers, since it was too dark to take photos the night we ate it. I honestly don’t think the image fully captures just how creamy the sauce really is, it is incredible. There isn’t an overwhelming nutty flavor to the sauce and by adding garlic, basil and some nutritional yeast, it’s very hard to tell that it is even dairy free. Beyond nutritional yeast’s nutty and cheesy flavor, is a great source of protein and fiber, it is rich in B-complex vitamins including B12 and it contains the glucose tolerance factor that helps in the regulation of blood sugar. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, it is definitely worth exploring adding it into your diet.

The beauty of this sauce is that it doesn’t actually need to be heated up, so if you like to eat raw, you could skip heating it up, use your favorite alternative raw noodle, like thinly sliced raw zucchini (or other raw vegetables), kelp noodles, etc and just pour the raw cashew cream sauce right over for a delicious and healthy raw meal.

I had some beautiful zucchini and yellow squash that we picked up at a farmers stand on our drive home from NYC so I added that and a carrot to the dish for some additional health-benefits as well as the very lovely colors. You could play around with many different vegetables here including fresh spinach, peas, etc.

I had a small amount of sauce leftover that I put in the fridge, I figured it would be delicious on some steamed broccoli or over a baked potato, etc. I have a feeling you will fall in love with this healthy alfredo sauce.

Soaking raw cashews for Vegan, Gluten-free Fettucini Alfredo

Veggies for Vegan, Gluten-free Fettucini Alfredo

Vegan, Gluten-Free Fettucine Alfredo
serves 6

1 1/2 cups raw, unsalted organic cashews
3 cloves garlic
1 cup warm water (you may need more)
3 teaspoons nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 ounces of your favorite gluten-free fettucine or linguini, I use Tinkyada’s organic brown rice pasta
handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 zucchini, julienned
1 yellow squash, julienned
1 carrot, peeled, julienned (or you can wash and peel the outside, then peel the entire carrot instead of julienning it, which is what I did)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the raw cashews in a glass bowl, cover in water. Let soak as little as a few hours or overnight.

In a large saucepan bring your water to a boil and cook your pasta according to package directions.

Drain the soaked cashews and rinse well, place into your food processor with garlic, salt, pepper and 1 cup of water. You may find you need to add more water if the sauce is too thick, but you can always add more. Process until smooth and creamy. Once it is at your desired consistency, add in the nutritional yeast, pulse a few times to combine. Set aside until you are ready to heat it up.

While your pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a skillet over a medium-high heat, add your julienned vegetables and sauté a few minutes until tender. Remove from heat.

Once the pasta is cooked, reserve 1/2 cup of your cooking liquid, drain and place in a large serving dish. Pour the alfredo sauce into the saucepan you used to cook your pasta and heat over a medium heat, stirring often to keep from sticking. Once warm, pour over the pasta.

Add the vegetables and fresh basil to the pasta and sauce. Toss to combine, adding some of the pasta cooking liquid if the sauce is too thick. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, topped with freshly chopped basil and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, if you wish.

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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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Lentil Soup

Well it is official, this past Friday marked the Autumn Equinox, so that means we are officially amidst my favorite season – Fall! Besides all the beautiful weather, cooler temperatures and lovely leaves – we are also blessed with some of my favorite foods of the year. Squashes, pumpkins, apples, brussels sprouts…pies, crisps, soups, stews, roasts…the list goes on and on. As much as I want to enjoy every single one of these things, after a long summer of traveling and the indulgences that goes along with it, I decided to once again mark the shift of the seasons with a cleanse. We were in NYC this past weekend, so rather than starting my cleanse on the equinox as I would have liked, I started on Monday. That was our driving home day, so it was definitely a bit tricky, but I was able to pack some snacks ahead of time for the car rides, like kale chips, roasted chickpeas and unsalted cashews. Plus our gracious hostess in Brooklyn, Karen, made me a delicious glass of fresh kale, apple, celery and cucumber juice before we hit the road. I made a delicious batch of kitchari (recipe coming soon) as soon as I got home and was able to make it through day 1, without a hitch.

I am doing a minimum of 2-weeks this time around, but definitely shooting for a full 28-days if my schedule allows. As with the cleanses I have done in the past, I am loosely following the Ayurvedic traditions, along with the items I tend to have issues with, personally. I am very excited to have a group of 25+ friends on Facebook that are all following along and participating in their own matter. It’s so amazing to have other people to motivate me and as a support system, it makes it even easier. Since I have had quite a few people ask me about how I cleanse, I thought I would put a very loose description of what I personally do in this post. If you have any additional questions about what I am doing, please contact me and I will do my best to help.

I am avoiding the following things:
Dairy*
Eggs
Sugar
Excess Salt (I will use a very small amount when cooking)
Caffeine
Alcohol
Meat (chicken, beef, pork, etc)
Fish and Shellfish (shrimp, scallops, mussels, etc)
Gluten (wheat, barley, oats, rye, etc)**
Soy
Corn
Foods with preservatives, additives or chemicals, and foods grown in an environment laced with chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and canned, frozen or processed foods.**

*Ayurveda doesn’t restrict dairy, but I personally seem to have issues with it, so besides ghee, I am avoiding all dairy during my cleanse.
** these are both things that I avoid on a regular basis, but are very important to a cleanse

So you are probably wondering what exactly I am eating, then…

What I am eating:
Fresh organic fruit. I am going light on the fruit because of the sugar and I am focusing on suggested fruits that are best for digestion such as apples, pears, figs, prunes, papaya, etc.
Fresh organic veggies. Some of the best for digestion are leafy greens, cabbage, celery, brussels sprouts, broccoli, etc
Whole organic grains such as brown rice, quinoa, amarynth, buckwheat, millet
Beans like lentil, mung beans, etc
Vegetable juice and broth
Soups and stews made with vegetables, legumes and grains.
I am cooking with a small amount of olive oil and/or ghee (indian clarified butter that is GREAT for detox)
Raw honey (sparingly)
lots of luke warm water with lemon and/or ginger
detox tea (I like Yogi brand Detox tea)
I am also taking probiotics in the morning after breakfast

I plan to get as many recipes on this blog throughout the cleanse, so you can see a good example of how I eat when I am cleansing.

Here are some additional tips that I have learned along the way:

Some of the differences with an Ayurvedic cleanse vs a regular cleanse is that it teaches you to avoid or focus on foods specific to you and your body-mind type (or your dosha) and it’s needs. Also, although you should be eating TONS of fresh fruits and veggies, you shouldn’t eat them raw during this cleanse. Raw foods are harder on your digestive tract, so you should be heating and/or boiling your veggies and eating them warm.

Eat whole, fresh, natural foods, organic if you can get it. Buy your produce fresh, and consume it quickly.

Also avoid ICE cold water and beverages, it can disrupt the “fire” needed in your digestive tract.

Cook with digestion-enhancing, detoxifying spices such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, clove, ajwain, fenugreek, dried ginger, Chinese cinnamon and fennel. Add the turmeric to foods as they are cooking, and sauté other spices in ghee or olive oil and pour over prepared dishes for the best therapeutic benefit.

According to Ayurveda, each meal should be a feast for all of your senses. When your plate reflects an appealing variety of colors, textures, flavors and aromas, your digestive juices start freely flowing in anticipation and your body, mind and heart are all fulfilled by the eating experience.

As I mention above, normally I avoid raw vegetables and fruit since it can disrupt your digestive tract and it is harder to digest, however this time around, I am including juices that I am making from fresh, organic vegetables and fruit. I decided to include this, as most mornings I go to yoga from 9:30 – 11:00am, I do not eat before I practice yoga and by the time I get home around 11:30, I am not quite ready for lunch but I am slightly hungry. The juices have been a great and fast way for me to get much-needed nutrients without having to prepare an involved breakfast, plus it is light enough that I am ready for lunch a couple of hours later.

I made this lentil soup for dinner last night and served it with some roasted butternut squash with rosemary, on the side. It was so delicious and perfectly satisfying. I love lentil soup because it can be quite versatile, every time I make it, it is a bit different from the last. You can experiment with different spices and flavors, you can add many different types of vegetables, including leafy greens like spinach or kale and if you aren’t on a cleanse, you could even top it with a delicious homemade yogurt sauce.

When I made this particular pot, I wanted to make sure to include some cleansing spices and I also wanted to get some smokey spice from a couple of dried chipotles. If you don’t like the spices I used, experiment with your own, there are so many possibilities, you could use smoked paprika, yellow curry powder, chile powder, dill, etc – the flavor combinations are endless. For a real hearty pot of lentil soup, you could add some brown rice or other grains to this soup, which I have done in the past and it is delicious. Just add the uncooked rice with the lentils, and skip the pureeing at the end. You could also roast the butternut squash (recipe coming soon) with spices to match your soup and just add it to the pot just before serving. Honestly, I debated this for quite sometime, but ultimately I really wanted to savor and enjoy the crispy browned bites of squash on their own, it felt like such a treat.

Sometimes I like my lentil soup smooth with just a few whole lentils, which is how I made it this time. If you wish to have a chunkier, heartier soup, simply skip the pureeing step and serve the soup, as is.

Lentil Soup
serves 6-8

2 tablespoons of ghee or olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1-2 dried chipotle(s)
1 medium organic red onion, diced
2 cloves of organic garlic, minced
1 organic celery stalk, diced
1 organic carrot, peeled and diced
1 organic green bell pepper, diced
a dash of sea salt (I used very little since I am cleansing)
3 cups of lentils (you don’t have to presoak lentils, but I do as it is supposed to lessen the gassy after-affects)
8 cups of low-sodium organic vegetable broth or water (you may need to add more if your soup gets too thick)
1 large organic tomato, diced (you can just use a can of organic diced tomatoes here, if you wish)

For serving:
1 small tomato, diced
1 small bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1 green onion, thinly sliced

If you wish to soak your lentils, rinse them well, sort through to pick out any small stones and place in a large glass bowl. Cover the lentils in water and allow to soak a few hours. Once you are ready to make your soup, drain the lentils and rinse again. If you aren’t soaking your lentils, just rinse well, pick through to remove any small stones and allow to drain.

In a large stock pot, heat the ghee (or olive oil) over a medium-high heat, add the cumin seeds, turmeric and dried chipotles, stir until fragrant and the cumin seeds begin dancing around the pot. Add in the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, bell pepper and a dash of salt, saute for approximately 7 minutes until the vegetables are translucent and soft.

Add in the lentils, vegetable broth (or water) and diced tomato, turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a medium-high, cover and allow to simmer for approximately 45 minutes, stirring often. Cook until the lentils are tender. This may take less time, it may take more time, it depends on the lentils you are using and it depends if you soaked them first. You also may need to add more broth or water if the soup becomes too thick. Salt and pepper the soup to taste. You can leave the soup chunky as it is, or if you wish for it to be smooth and creamy, remove the dried chipotle pepper(s) and puree 2/3 of the finished soup in batches, in a blender, adding it to a large bowl as you go and then adding it all back to the pot when you are finished. Stir to combine. Serve the soup topped with freshly diced tomatoes, chopped fresh cilantro and green onions, or whatever your toppings of choice may be.

 

NOTE: the above information about my cleanse is not meant to be taken as medical advice. Every individual is different, this is just what I have found works for me. There are obviously different ways of thinking and a gazillion different types of cleanses. I have done this particular style of cleanse many times over the last two years and have always had great results. Please acknowledge what is right for you, your own body and health and take this all into consideration when embarking on a journey like this.

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