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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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Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free and Vegan)

I absolutely love my mom’s apple crisp, it is one of my favorite things about fall! I have been making my own gluten-free version for a while now and it is so delicious. After I made the vegan apple cobbler two weeks ago with palm oil shortening instead of butter, I decided I wanted to make an updated and healthier version of the apple crisp, too. I’ve actually been calling it Apple Crisp 2.0, but I didn’t think that would make for a good title or dish name. This apple crisp is as healthy as dessert can get in my opinion – it is gluten-free, vegan, refined sugar-free, dairy free, egg free and corn free. Besides using organic all natural palm oil shortening in place of butter in recipes to make them vegan, I have also really fallen in love with baking with coconut oil (I use Nutiva Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil). When solid, it makes a great replacement for butter in many baking recipes that call for cutting it in. The benefits of coconut oil are numerous and can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, soothing, etc. It is great for your skin and hair when used topically and has been found to have anti-aging, regenerative effects. We even use it topically on and feed it to our dog, Seri, when she has itchy skin. She LOVES the way it tastes.

I was also excited to play with date sugar and maple syrup in this recipe instead of refined white or brown sugar. It turned out so perfectly sweet. Date sugar is totally unprocessed, unrefined and raw. It naturally contains fiber and is loaded with vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, and selenium. Because date sugar doesn’t melt the way sugar does, I knew I wouldn’t get that delicious syrup with the apples that I usually get with the brown sugar, so that is how I decided to add in the maple syrup. It was such a small amount, you can barely distinguish any maple flavoring, if any at all. Other options  instead of the maple syrup would be rice syrup or molasses or if you aren’t vegan, you could also use honey. I am so excited about how this apple crisp turned out. It has so much flavor and I actually think it is better than any apple crisp I have made in the past.

You could serve this with your favorite vegan (or not vegan) ice cream or whipped topping. Something that I saw a while back on Healthful Pursuit that I have been meaning to try is coconut whip, which I think would be perfect on top of this recipe. I may just need to make that happen this week.

Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free and Vegan)

Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free and Vegan)

Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free  and Vegan)
serves 6

Filling:
4 cups of peeled and sliced apples (4 med)
2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Topping:
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup certified gluten-free oats (I like Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Rolled Oats)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/3 cup date sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup (1 for the topping and 1/2 to drizzle over the top)
1/3 cup coconut oil (make sure it is somewhat solid and not liquid)

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Place apples in an 8-inch square pan, pour lemon juice over. Add 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, spices and vanilla, toss around to combine.

Mix almond flour, oats, spices, date sugar and maple syrup together in a medium sized mixing bowl.  Cut in coconut oil in to make crumbly consistency.

Sprinkle over the apples, drizzle remaining 1/2 tablespoon of maple syrup over top and bake 30-40 minutes or until apples are tender and topping is golden brown. Serve warm.

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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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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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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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Gluten-Free Heirloom Tomato Tart with Goat Cheese

I love the abundance of tomatoes this time of year. I only had room to plant one heirloom Paul Robeson tomato plant and an heirloom black cherry tomato plant this year, so whenever I need more tomatoes than what I can produce at home, I just pick some up at the farmers market. This past Saturday I bought 8 quarts of Roma tomatoes and roasted them all. I made sauce out of half of them and froze the other half for soup or sauce later in the fall or winter. I have been wanting to experiment with making an heirloom tomato tart with some of the tomatoes coming from my garden and some from the farmers market. After making the delicious pea and goat cheese tart this spring using Gluten Free Girl’s delicious tart shell recipe, I couldn’t wait to make another beautiful and tasty savory tart with it.

I wanted many layers of fresh flavors, so rather than an egg/dairy based tart like the pea tart I made, I decided to start by roasting a whole head of garlic to spread on the bottom of the tart shell before laying on the tomatoes, I then added a handful of flavorful, freshly cut herbs from the garden (I am trying to use those as much as possible, while I still can). I finished the tomatoes with the light, creamy and tart goodness from the goat cheese, that gets slightly browned and crisp on top, while retaining the soft center (thanks for the wonderful idea David Lebovitz) and I also decided this would be the perfect time to make another balsamic reduction syrup to drizzle over the top of it all. You could also take a tip from David Lebovitz and just drizzle a good honey in place of the balsamic reduction.

The only thing I regret about this tart is that because I made it on a weeknight when I was done with work, by the time I roasted the garlic, blind-baked the shell and finished the tart, it was far too late and dark out, to take a good quality photo of the tart as a whole. I knew that my silly little light box and lighting would never do all the beautiful colors justice, so rather than setting it all up, getting frustrated and delaying dinner, I decided I would have to settle for a photo of a single slice of the tart the next day. Small price to pay, but I think you can see from just that one slice just how beautiful and colorful this tart was and you can also see how deliciously crumbly and flakey the gluten-free tart shell is.

* A note about this tart shell recipe: For those of you that are gluten-free bakers, I know most of these gluten-free baking recipes can at first seem daunting because of the seemingly long list of flours that you have never heard of, compared to a traditional recipe that just has one type of flour and that’s it. That being said, after you start baking more and more, you just learn what flours you like to bake with and those that you will use over and over, so you should always have them on hand in your pantry. I now have my go-to flours and as soon as I run out of one, I pick it up on my next grocery trip, so they are always on hand, it’s as easy as that. It can get pricey the first time you make something and have none of the items on hand, but thereafter they run out at different paces and you are just picking one type of flour up, here and there. No biggy. I actually had all of these flours on hand, since I always do, so this recipe was super simple. Also, in a lot of ways, this tart shell recipe is easier than the traditional since without the gluten you can’t over work it and you can easily mend any tears with your hand, no harm done. I really cannot recommend it enough, even if you don’t make it with this tart recipe, you should try it out.

Gluten-Free Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart
serves 8-10

Tart Shell
adapted Gluten Free Girl and The Chef – A Love Story (I added in the cheese for this particular recipe)

1/2 cup (63.5g) sorghum flour
1/2 cup (60g) tapioca flour
1/2 cup (96g) potato starch
1/2 cup (102g) sweet rice flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) frozen organic butter
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
1 large local farm fresh brown egg
1/4 cup of ice-cold water

(if making a sweet tart, instead of savory, include 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon)

Sift the sorghum flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, and sweet rice flour into a large bowl. Stir in the salt (sugar and cinnamon if making a sweet tart). Sift into another bowl.

Grate the frozen butter directly into the dry ingredients. The butter will fall into the flours in soft swirls and start to melt in as soon as you stir. Add in the Parmigiano Reggiano. Work with your hands to mix everything, until the dough feels like cornmeal or large pieces of sand.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg and water together with a fork. Make a well in the center of the flours. Stir in the liquid, working from the inside out. Feeling the dough for soft suppleness, instead of stiffness or sogginess. Feel free to use your hands at the end.

Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour, or overnight if possible.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter and flour an 11-inch tart shell, I used sweet rice flour as the original recipe suggested. Pull the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature, about 1 hour. While your tart dough is coming to room temperature, and your oven is preheated to 375º, roast your garlic. Place garlic on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Wrap to enclose garlic in foil, and place on the rack in the center of your oven. Bake until soft, the outside will be golden brown and the flesh will be soft, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven; set aside.

Roll out the dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper, to the approximate shape of the tart pan. (this way you don’t have to flour your countertop and add more flour to the dough).If the dough falls apart or breaks a bit, don’t worry – there is no danger of the crust becoming tough by overworking it, which can happen with gluten dough. Press the dough into the pie pan and repair it that way.

Place the tart shell into the freezer until the crust is frozen, approximately 1 hour.

Butter a piece of aluminum foil approximately the size of the pie crust. Place it butter side down, onto the tart crust and fit snuggly against the sides. Bake pressing down any puffed up spots with a spoon until the shell has a good color, about 15 minutes. The tart should look and feel flaky, rather than sticky. Prepare the filling while the tart is blind baking.

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart Filling

1 large head of garlic
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
2-3 large ripe heirloom tomatoes (I like to use a variety of colored tomatoes, since it is just all so beautiful together)
2 tablespoons olive oil
a large handful of chopped fresh herbs, I used basil, chives and oregano
8 ounces fresh goat cheese, sliced into rounds
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon organic light brown sugar
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven, roast your garlic and blind bake your tart shell, all the details can be found above with the tart recipe. When the garlic is cool enough to touch, with either your hands or a utensil, squeeze the cloves out of their skins and into a small bowl; mash with a fork, and set aside.

In a small saucepan over a medium-high heat bring the balsamic vinegar and sugar to a boil, constantly whisking to prevent burning. Continue cooking until it is reduced by half, stirring often. Remove from heat, allow to cool.

After the tart comes out from being blind baked, evenly spread the roasted garlic over the tart shell’s bottom. Sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano over the garlic. Slice the tomatoes and arrange them over the garlic and cheese in a single, even layer. Drizzle the olive oil over the top, season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the fresh herbs over the tomatoes, reserving some to put on top. Arrange the slices of goat cheese rounds over the tomatoes. Drizzle the balsamic reduction overtop of everything and sprinkle the remaining herbs on top.

Bake the tart for 30-45 minutes or so, until the dough is fully cooked and slightly browned, the tomatoes are tender, but retain their shape and the cheese on top is nicely browned. Transfer to wire rack to cool for 15-20 minutes, serve warm with a bit more freshly chopped herbs and a bit of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, if you wish.

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