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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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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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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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Vegan Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

 

I have to be honest with this post, I have been a little sad this week. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first I have to preface with this – I try really, really hard to not complain. I despise relentless complainers and people who are negative. I have realized how hard it is to be around people who are constantly in that state, it’s both draining and sad. I have hit that point in my life before and I truly think it’s a downward spiral, it can affect both your mind and spirit and I firmly believe it affects your health. Nowadays, when I start drifting in that direction, I try to acknowledge when I am feeling sad or negative, to pinpoint where it is coming from, deal with it, let it out privately (and maybe a little to Mark) and move on. Sitting around and complaining about things you are unhappy about doesn’t change them or you, it simply makes it all seem so much worse. It also starts to push the people who love you, away. You are the only one that can control your life and the decisions you make, if you are unhappy with a situation, a person or how you are feeling, doing something to change it. Even what seems to be the littlest, most insignificant action is better than doing nothing at all.

So back to why I am feeling sad, Saturday afternoon I was in my kitchen at home, baking pumpkins from the market, so that I could puree and freeze the flesh and toast the seeds for a yummy fall snack. As the last pumpkin was finishing baking, I was loading the dishwasher with all the dishes I had used, I hate a messy kitchen. As I was bent over the dishwasher and was standing up, I sneezed so violently at that same moment and instantly felt pain in my low back. It was excruciating. So much so that I had to call Mark into the room to help me down to lay on the floor of the kitchen. I don’t think I am a wuss about pain, I try really hard to be tough. Prior to this, probably the worst injury I can recall is when I broke my foot in college and I cried much, much harder when this happened to me on Saturday afternoon. Saturday and Sunday were quite rough, I needed help standing up, sitting down and getting up the stairs. I couldn’t roll over in bed. It sucked, there really is no other way to say it.

I emailed my amazing chiropractor, Elyssa, shortly after it happened, who is also one of my yoga instructors and she gave me some instructions on what to do to ease the pain and get through the worst of it and I made an appointment to see her first thing Monday morning. By Monday morning I was already feeling a bit better, though with every sneeze, I took two steps backward again (if you know me, you know how much I sneeze, so this part sucked). After the appointment with Elyssa, I already felt a bit better, some of the muscular tension around the pain had lessened and I just felt less stressed and sad. I have been doing some gentle cat and cow poses along with baby cobra. Each day it’s a bit better and I can tell I am on the mend. The hardest part right now is that I can move and twist, I can even get into downward dog, I am sleeping better, but I still can hardly bend forward at my waist, it is just so painful.

I am sad because all of this means at the minimum I have to take at least a week away from my yoga practice and cooking has been slowed down quite a bit, it’s hard to stand over the kitchen counter and cut vegetables and it’s quite painful to bend over to get stuff out of the oven. Don’t get me wrong, I still managed to make a huge pot of vegetable soup Monday night and I roasted a batch of Roma tomatoes to freeze last night, but I have had to slow everything down and not overdo it and make things worse. I know I am lucky that because of my daily yoga practice and the way I eat, I am healing much quicker than if I was without these things, but it is still hard for me to have to sit still and not be active. Over the last few days, not only am I thankful for all the leftovers we have in the fridge, but I am super thankful that I have an amazing husband that makes everything easier. He has had to pick up the slack on doing dishes (I am a little afraid of that dishwasher now), cleaning cat boxes and other things. Because my job requires me to sit at a computer all day, I have had to suck it up and just power through all of this. We have too much work on the books for me to just go lay in bed all day and feel sorry for myself. I am just working with a big pillow behind my back, lots of ice packs and making sure I get up often and move around and stretch. I am getting there.

The reason I decided to share this with you is because when this happened, I was on day 6 of my cleanse. I instantly wanted to just quit the cleanse, have a glass of wine, something sweet and maybe some cheese, yeh cheese would make me feel better. I wanted comfort and sadly I actually thought for a bit that food would give it to me. Thankfully, I sat down and really thought about it, I know that alcohol, sugar are dairy are all inflammatory foods and no matter what they would or wouldn’t do to me physically, I knew it wouldn’t fix this, if anything it would make it worse. (Read this list of the top 10 inflammatory foods, strangely all things I am avoiding while on this cleanse, so luck is on my side in that sense, I didn’t have to remove anything from my diet to ease the healing.) Ultimately, I ate some leftover vegan fettucine alfredo for dinner that night and made my way to bed before 9:30pm, since I knew a good night sleep would do me good.

Sunday morning I was still wanting something more than fresh vegetable juice, so I decided to make this smoothie. It felt naughty, but it was totally cleanse-friendly and with my extreme obsession with all things fall, I knew it would lift my spirits. And, that it did.

It actually tastes like pumpkin pie in a glass. It’s creamy, thick and full of the perfect pumpkin pie spices. It was so filling that I went right through lunchtime and never felt hungry. I love to eat and hate missing meals, so I knew this smoothie was magical. It’s thick just like a milkshake and the sweetness from the dates is incredible.

As much as food can be comfort and this isn’t a bad thing in the least, it’s also quite exciting when you can shift your mindset away from the really bad stuff to find that comfort in other, healthier foods. I made it through the worst of this back pain, I stuck with my cleanse, I didn’t take a single medication and I am proud of myself. I have another appointment with my chiropractor tomorrow and I am hoping that maybe next week I can get myself to a gentle/restorative yoga class.

Vegan Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
serves 2

3/4 cup cooked pumpkin (you can use canned, but fresh is much better)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened organic vanilla almond milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely minced
2-3 Medjool dates, pits removed (soak first if they aren’t soft)
(You can add honey or maple syrup if you wish for it to be sweeter)
*you can experiment with adding a small handful of raw pecans to make it even more creamy and to get a nice lovely taste. I have done this when I have them on hand and it’s so delicious.

Add all of your ingredients to the blender. Puree until smooth and creamy.

If your pumpkin and/or almond milk isn’t cold, you could add a handful of ice. I decided not to, so it would stay as creamy as possible. You can also add a splash of water or additional almond milk if your smoothie is too thick. Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon and/or nutmeg.

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Honeydew Almond Milk Smoothie

After our nearly 2-week long trip that we took mid-July to California for the Renegade Craft Fairs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I am so happy to be home for a stretch and back into a more normal routine. It seems to take a week or two for things to settle down and feel calm again after a trip that big and with how crazy we were before we left. Besides being able to cook and bake in my own home, one of the most important things for me is to get right back into my daily routine of yoga. I try to get to 5 or 6, 90-minute classes a week. I tend to prefer the morning classes, since I can just come home after I practice and get right to my desk and work for the rest of the day. I don’t eat before I leave for yoga, I usually have a kombucha after I practice, so most times when I get home I am not looking for a large meal, just something light to hold me over until lunch. Many mornings I whip up a quick smoothie and head up for my office. So I can “eat” and work. This past week I was just making up smoothies as I went along, trying out new flavor combinations and just exploring. This honeydew almond smoothie is probably my favorite discovery of the week. It was simple, very light and had a unique and bright flavor. The honeydew that I cut up was so sweet on it’s own I didn’t even have to add any sweetener. If your honeydew leaves a bit to be desired in the sweetness department, feel free to add in a tablespoon of agave syrup or honey.

We don’t leave home again until August 24, when we had back to NYC for another event with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We are doing a poster for St. Vincent who is playing on the rooftop of the Met. I am so excited to be going back to the city again but I am trying not to count down the days to that trip so as not to rush our time at home, but it is hard. I am hoping to accomplish a ton in the time before we leave again. Beside all of the work we have on the schedule, I have a ton of cooking and baking I want to do, a few crafty projects and some work around the house. Here’s hoping I can be that productive.

Honeydew Almond Milk Smoothie
serves 2

2 cups honeydew, diced (this was half of a melon for me)
2 cups, organic unsweetened almond milk
1-2 cups of ice

Add all of the ingredients to the blender and process until smooth. Serve immediately.

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Summer Squash Salad

Zucchini and yellow squash are two of my favorites and both automatically come to mind when I think of summertime eating! They remind me so much of growing up, my parent’s always had an abundance of both growing in our garden. The last few years when I have planted them in my own garden, they take up a HUGE amount of real estate and never really produce much. They must not like my soil. I skipped out on planting them this year. Thankfully, my parent’s still grow both in their garden and never have a problem sharing with me.

After our family dinner this past week, I came home with a bag full of beautiful yellow summer squash and I couldn’t wait to start cooking with them. They are wonderful sliced and browned up on the grill, sauteed or roasted and added in salads or pasta, etc. Not only as a kid when my dad would cook with them, but now as an adult in my own kitchen, I always find myself eating the raw squash slices as I am cutting them to cook, so I decided I wanted to experiment with a raw salad.

When I was dreaming up this salad, I was so excited about it combining so many beautiful summery ingredients and flavors, some of my favorite ingredients. The soft and flavorful squash pairs so nicely with the crisp and spicy radishes and the peppery arugula rounded it all out with a refreshing bite. The fresh mint was a nice compliment to the light and refreshing dressing, the brightness from the lemon sings in your mouth with every bite and the toasted walnuts were a bonus crunch at the end. I couldn’t help but feeling like this salad is everything that summer is about, on one plate.

The other great thing about this salad are the many wonderful variations you could take, by changing out the herbs and going with fresh basil, oregano or chives. You can play with different nuts and seeds like toasted pine nuts, almond slivers or even sunflower seeds. You could even top the salad with cheeses like feta, goat cheese, fresh parmigiano reggiano, pecorino or asiago. I personally opted for no cheese since we wanted a vegan side-salad to accompany our vegan creamy avocado pasta. There is so much you can do with this salad. Keep in mind when picking squash that smaller, younger squashes are better since the larger squash tend to have larger tougher seeds and sometimes a tough skin.

Summer Squash Salad Recipe
serves 4

1 pound summer squash (yellow or green, or a mixture of both)
5 to 8 radishes (depending on how large they are)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup whole walnuts
1 bunch of baby arugula, roughly chopped
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet, the oven or toaster oven and set aside and allow to cool, then roughly chop.

Slice the squash very thin slices using a mandoline or a steady hand and a sharp knife. Set aside in a large bowl. Do the same with the radishes. Add in the roughly chopped arugula.

Combine the oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk together. Pour the dressing over the squash, radishes and arugula, toss lightly. Let stand for at least 10 minutes. Add in the fresh mint and toasted walnuts, toss gently again to thoroughly combine.

Serve to individual salad plates or on 1 large serving platter, top with fresh mint and freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy immediately.

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Horchata

It has been a hot summer in Buffalo. One of the hottest that I personally can recall. We’ve been traveling a ton and trying to enjoy every last-minute of the heat and sun while we are in town. We don’t leave again for another month so we hope to get the bikes out a few times, head to the beach and maybe even squeeze in some hiking or camping or something. Now that we are working from home, we really want to take advantage of the summer months while we can and enjoy the beautiful weather, before the snow and cold set in.

One of my favorite things about the short-lived summertime in Buffalo, is playing around with refreshing drink recipes. Admittedly, I planted mint in my yard, just to make mojitos and this summer I even infused my own liquors after reading this article in Bon Appetit magazine. Now that I made my first two batches and they turned out great, I plan to write-up a post about them.  Don’t worry though, it isn’t just “adult beverages” I like to create, I love making fresh smoothies in the morning, iced teas, flavored sparkling waters and the like. Naturally, when I came across a post on David Lebovitz’s blog about making homemade horchata, I couldn’t wait to try it. There is nothing better than an ice-cold refreshing glass at an authentic mexican restaurant. OK, so maybe it is a close second to a good margarita, but it’s still incredible. It’s light, full of delicious flavors and it is perfect on ice on a hot summer day. There are few “authentic” Mexican restaurants here in Buffalo, (as far as I am concerned, none of them are authentic) and definitely no taquerias, so the chances of finding horchata here, are slim to none. I usually reserve my mexican indulgences for when we travel, rather than being let down, so when we aren’t traveling and I am craving Mexican, I tackle it myself at home. It isn’t nearly the same, but I still find it to be better than any of the Mexican restaurants here. I make my own tortillas, pico de gallo and guacamole, which is already a step above most places. We are actually having black bean tacos at home this week and I cannot wait.

When I saw how easy this horchata recipe was, I knew that this would be another Mexican treat worth trying at home. It is quite simple, you will spend more time waiting for the rice to soak then all of the prep time combined. You definitely want to make sure you strain in through cheese-cloth so you get all the rice bits, otherwise it will settle to the bottom of the pitcher in the fridge.

In addition to David’s recipe, I also checked out Rick Bayless’ recipe and many others. I came across many variations on the recipe, some include almonds, lime zest, etc. I decided to alter them all slightly and go with my own combination and I was very happy with the results. Oh and definitely try a glass with a shot of good rum stirred in, YUM!

Another fun twist you can take with the horchata is something that I have now learned is called a “Cochata”: Iced Coffee + Horchata. I made this apparently trendy drink in accidental desperation the morning after making the horchata. I wanted an iced coffee and realized after it was poured that we were out of any milk or cream, so I poured in a large glug of the horchata and was instantly in love. You have to try it.

On a side note, I apologize for the lack of posts and recipes on here, we just got home from nearly 2 weeks on the west coast. So I am hoping to get more recipes up here in the next few weeks as we are home for a month straight, finally. It has been a busy summer, full of travel and events, so I am excited to have some time at home.

Ground up rice and spices for horchata

Horchata
Makes 7 servings
Adapted from recipes from Rick Bayless and David Lebovitz

2/3 cup white rice
2 cinnamon sticks
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
3 2-inch strips of lime zest (colored rind only) 3/4 inch wide
3 cups of hot water
3/4 – 1 cup sugar
3 cups of cold water

Grind the rice in a blender or spice grinder into fine pieces. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl and add in the cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and lime zest. Stir in 3 cups of hot tap water, cover and let stand at least 6 hours or preferably, overnight.

Remove the cinnamon sticks and pour the mixture into a blender and blend for 3 to 4 minutes, until it no longer feels very gritty. Add 2 cups of water, and then blend for a few seconds more. Set a large sieve over a mixing bowl and line with 3 layers of dampened cheese cloth. Pour in the mixture a little at time, gently stirring to help the liquid pass through. Squeeze the cheese cloth firmly to extract as much of the rice flavor as possible.

Add 1 cup of water and stir in your desired amount of sugar, mix until the sugar is dissolved. Taste, and adjust sweetness, if necessary. If the consistency is too thick, add additional water. Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. Stir before pouring.  Serve over ice with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon on top.

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