my maca matcha milkshake

about a year ago i posted a recipe for my favorite breakfast smoothie. i was hesitant to post such similar recipes, but here is the new and improved version of my go-to breakfast smoothie. there is no particular reason i was trying to improve it. it was already delicious. but i recently discovered maca and thought i'd try a variation that would incorporate this superfood root and also pack a green punch to kickstart my gloomy seattle winter mornings. you'll have to try both recipes, compare, and let me know which you preferred! 

i like to take walks through east capitol hill, wandering through blocks of incredible homes and massive trees, and typically ending up at my favorite cookie bakery, hello robin. recently, the herbalist set up show just two doors down from hello robin. i was quite excited about this new addition to the neighborhood, since there is nothing else like it in central or south seattle. they have an incredible variety of herbs, tonics, medicinal teas, etc. after my first trip their, i walked home with wonderful herbs to add to a bed time tea to relax and clear the head, and maca to try in my morning smoothies. i was told that maca root powder aids our adrenal glands, giving us increased energy, stamina, immune function and resistance to stress. sold! anything to give me stamina for my uber-active days is worth a try! not to mention, it adds a wonderful malty flavor to smoothies ... giving this almond milk based smoothie a delightful milkshake quality... a milkshake fit for breakfast or a mid-day snack. 

maca matcha milkshake ~ serves 1
1 or 1-1/2 cup homemade date-sweetened almond milk (or unsweetened store bought)
1/2 medium banana, raw or frozen into cubes
1/2 cup frozen pineapple pieces
*1/2 teaspoon ginger juice (or fresh grated ginger) 
1/4 avocado 
handful of fresh spinach 
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons matcha green tea powder
1 to 2 teaspoons maca powder

*another recent discovery: the ginger people's ginger juice! for those of us without juicers that want to add ginger flavor to cocktails, fizzy water or a smoothie without the pulp of grated ginger... or, for those of us that don't trust our fine motor skills for grating ginger before 8am. 

start with 1 teaspoon of maca. blend all ingredients together until creamy. if using frozen banana, you may need to add 1-1/2 cups milk. if you love the flavor of maca, add a second teaspoon to the mix! 

for date sweetened almond milk ~ makes 4 cups
1 cup raw organic almonds
4 cups water
4 pitted, medjool dates
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

soak almonds in water overnight or for 8-12 hours. drain and add soaked almondds to high speed blender with 4 cups of fresh water and pitted dates. blend on high speed until milky. use a nut milk bag to strain almond pulp from milk. discard pulp (or good luck finding a tasty use for almond pulp. i still have not.) store almond milk chilled for up to one week. add vanilla extract if you like, or enjoy plain. i've also added vanilla beans to my quart glass of almond milk and reused the bean for adding flavor to several batches of almond milk. 

butternut squash soup with oil braised garlic & fried sage

years ago, i studied abroad in switzerland for a semester of college. i was placed into to a vegetable-loving host family who loved to cook and shared dinner with them every night. at the time, and probably still, switzerland is absurdly expensive. i remember trying to buy a bell pepper in the grocery store in geneva, as a snack to have with hummus. the pepper wrung up as $5 us dollars. produce put me over my student budget and dining out was certainly not an option, so i was very grateful to have such wonderful meals provided to me. most nights, my hosts would have a tossed salad with a delicious vinaigrette recipe (that i use all the time!), crusty bread, a spread of swiss and french cheeses, a pureed vegetable soup, and a few nights a week they might eat fish or chicken. it was simple, nourishing food.

every night, the pureed soup with be something new. probably a blend of whatever produce needed to be used up. they were typically green, mildly spiced, and creamy only in texture. but always uniquely different. while i love the adaptability and range of pureed soups, one down side is that every bite is the same. it's not like a chunky stew with big hunks of mushrooms or spoonfuls of beans to keep your tongue entertained. a big bowl of pureed soup is sometimes too much of a good thing. unless of course it's one of those luscious flavors that you cannot get enough of. this pureed soup, might be one of them. no matter what though, a cup of pureed butternut squash soup as first course or paired with a hearty salad or sandwich, is a great way to experience just a little of a good thing.

side salad of massaged kale with olive oil, balsamic and hazelnut dukkah

butternut squash soup with oil braised garlic & fried sage ~ serves 8+
3 pound butternut squash*
2 small yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 head of garlic
1 bunch sage
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 quart vegetable stock
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
salt & pepper to taste

*or 2 pounds butternut squash and 1 pound sweet potato

for oil braised garlic
preheat oven to 350-degrees. peel garlic and cut any large cloves in half so that all cloves are roughly the same size. place in a small ramekin with 1/4 cup olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. cover tightly with foil and bake for 20-40 minutes. cooking time ranges significantly depending on the size of garlic cloves, so check them every 5 minutes or so after 20 minutes. continue to bake until garlic just begins to brown on the edges. remove from oven and let cool in oil, uncovered. i like to make the garlic while the soup is simmering and simply add the garlic when pureeing, but you could make garlic ahead of time to add to soup while simmering.

for the pureed soup
use a vegetable peeler to carefully remove the skin. i trim off the neck of the squash first, then cut both the bulb and the neck in half. cube the neck into small half-inch or slightly larger cubes and set aside. use a sharp spoon to remove the stringy flesh and seed from the bulb halves. slice bulbs into strips and then chop each strip into small wedges roughly the same size of the cubes. set aside. if using a portion of sweet potatoes, peel and chop sweet potatoes into equally sized cubes.

heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. add sliced onions and sauté for 5 minutes or so. chop 2-3 tablespoons for fresh sage into small strips and add to the pot. sauté for an additional minute or two, until sage is fragrant but not crisped. add squash (and sweet potatoes, if using) to the pot along with the chili flakes, nutmeg, a half teaspoon of salt to start and a few cracks of fresh black pepper. add just enough stock to semi-submerge the cubed veggies. better to have not enough liquid than too much - you can always add stock later in the blending process.

cover pot and bring to a simmer, then lower heat and simmer until vegetables are extra tender. by this time your braised garlic should be finished. add garlic drained from oil at any point to simmering soup.

you could use an emersion blender or transfer batches of the soup to a blender to purée until smooth. add additional broth until you reach desired consistency. taste to adjust seasoning. serve immediately, or return to soup pot to simmer if soup has cooled off considerably while blending.

for the fried sage
this is an elegant added touch for serving. i wouldn't make them ahead of time, as they will loose their crispness. just make a few fried sage leaves per serving to top your bowls of soup.

transfer the oil used for braising the garlic to a small skillet or sauté pan. heat over medium heat, being careful to keep oil under the smoke point. trim a few sage leaves and add to preheated oil. (you can test one first, to make sure oil is hot enough - it should sizzle instantly) watch closely, as they fry quickly. i wait until just the very tips start to turn slightly brown. strain from oil and place onto a paper towel to drain. leaves should be brittle yet still vibrant green. 

fresh turmeric red lentil dal bowl

i took a brief hiatus from chef work & blogging over the holidays and escaped to red rocks canyon with david for 10 days. we flew to las vegas with a giant bouldering crash pad and our climbing shoes, rented a car and spent our daylight hours bouldering and hiking through gorgeous canyons. red rocks is a climbing destination david has wanted to visit for quite some time, and neither of us had hit up vegas before. 

when i tell people we went to vegas for 10 days, their reaction is initially one of disgust. fair enough... i can't imagine spending 10 days in vegas the way most people do vegas - eating out and drinking and spending all their monies at casinos. but 10 days in red rocks was fantastic! the canyons are only a 30 or 40 minute drive from 'the strip' and host numerous incredible climbing areas. there were days of climbing in sunshine and t-shirts and other days when we were tucked away in a shady canyon, and i froze my butt off in 30-degree weather while david projected on some ridiculously difficult boulder problem. but the scenery was always incredible, even the views of far away vegas were a delight! 

we stayed at an airbnb in west las vegas, with a wonderfully helpful host who allowed me the use of her kitchen. we made eggs and coffee in the mornings, and packed homemade soups and snacks for picnics in the canyons. i even made a fair number of dinners at the house. nothing fancy, just hearty warming meals. we did however go out for a few fantastic meals. hands down, our favorite was all-you-can-eat sushi at goyemon sushi house. we had a blast sitting at the sushi bar, ordering excessive amounts of nigiri straight from the sushi chefs. we spent maybe 4 hours or so on the strip, looking into the casinos and bars. and for new years we celebrate with an inspiring cirque du soleil show. we then promptly fell asleep around 11pm and got up early the next day to get back out to the boulders. so many boulders to climb, 10 days was not enough for david. he will probably be returning back to red rocks within the next year. i would tag along again just for all-you-can-eat sushi. 

all in all it was a very diverse and fantastic vacation. getting back into the groove of work and life at home has been a bit of a struggle this past week as it always is after a long time off. although, i truly missed my chef knives, yoga mat and bicycle. being reunited with them this week has been a joy. i certainly took many photos while in red rocks, but none of food. so a new blog post is well overdue! this hearty bowl of goodness was inspired by the fresh turmeric root that had been sitting in my fruit basket since before we left for vegas. i've honestly never used fresh turmeric before. i've ordered it before at juice bars, blended with citrus and carrot, but had never cooked with it. i didn't want to add too many competing flavors in this lentil dish, as i was curious about the turmeric. the end result was fantastic. this dahl is wonderful as a stand alone dish over your favorite steamed grain, or choose from some of the various optional topping offered below. or pile on all the toppings... the combination was delicious! 

fresh turmeric red lentil dal ~ serves 4 or more

1 cup red lentils
1 yellow onion
2 inches fresh turmeric 
2 inches fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch chili flakes
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 cups vegetable stock 
1 large sweet potato
1/2 lemon, juiced

note: the fresh flavor is quite unique from dried turmeric powder, so i can't recommend substituting it. go find fresh turmeric at your local health food store or asian grocer (typically much cheaper at asian groceries!) 

wash and drain the lentils in a fine mesh colander. peel and cut sweet potato into small cubes, about the size of a chickpea, and set aside. peel and grate fresh turmeric and ginger with a microplane zester and set aside. finely chop onion and add to a sauce pan with coconut oil over medium heat. sauté for 5 minutes. add grated ginger and turmeric to pan and sauté for an additional minute. add remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the sweet potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. serve over your favorite steamed grain (i used res quinoa) and top with cilantro or with any of these delightful options...

quick pickled carrots ~ to top 4 portions of lentils
1 cup julienne sliced carrots
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup rice or white wine vinegar

use a julienne peeler to thinly slice washed carrots. rub carrot strips with salt and let sit in colander to drain for 20 minutes. squeeze carrots to drain off any excess liquid then submerge in vinegar for at least 20 minutes, or overnight. you can add flavors like crushed garlic and ginger to the vinegar for an extra zing. 

sautéed greens ~ to serve with 4 portions of lentils
4-6 cups loosely packed bitter greens
1-2 teaspoons coconut oil
salt & pepper

wash and dry greens (i used red kale, but you could use chard or spinach or your favorite green). tear or chop greens into 1-inch strips. heat coconut oil over medium heat and toss greens to coat in oil. cover pan and let wilt. i like my greens to be vibrant in color and retain a bit of their shape, rather than cooking them all the way down to where they darken and dull in color. 

cilantro-lime coconut cream ~ to top 4 portions of lentils
1 cup light coconut milk or full fat coconut cream 
1/2 - 3/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
juice of 1 lime

combine ingredients in blender. if you are using a solidified coconut cream, you may need to add a few tablespoons of water to loosen the cream. this dressing should be slightly runny and pourable. adjust consistency to taste. 

a holiday party menu

starting back in high school, i've organized and hosted an annual holiday cookie party. i'd invite all my girlfriends over, bake a million sugar cookies, mix 50 shades of frosting, sit around decorating and eating cookies, and send them all home with 3 or 4 other kinds of cookies i had made earlier in the week and a quirky cookie cutter as gifts. i managed to host about 6 consecutive years of cookie parties with the same group of gals... but then one by one they all seemed to move away from seattle and the tradition fizzled. some of those women are now back in seattle (hurrah!) but now there is a new obstacle preventing me from hosting a party this year: i am fully booked! i can't complain - this is a good problem to have, especially considering it's my first holiday season as a personal chef. every weekend i've been catering a couple holiday parties. it's a lot to plan and prep for, and it's keeping me pretty darn busy. but it's always a blast once i get to the party! 

i thought i'd share a few of my favorite holiday party recipes with you all. a few elegant bites to impress your guests and bring color and flare to the usual spread of meet & cheese boards. these recipes can all be prepped a day or more before your party, so that you can focus on sprucing up your home for your guests and not be stuck in the kitchen all day. enjoy! and happy partying! 

dukkah-crusted butternut squash & beetroot skewers ~ makes about 40 skewers
1 small butternut squash
6-8 small-medium beets
1 cup dukkah nut & spice blend (recipe here
3 tablespoons olive oil

40 x 3-1/2" bamboo cocktail skewers (or toothpicks) 
disposable gloves, in case you want to save your fingers from turning red

wash and scrub the beets. coat with a tablespoon of olive oil. make a little package out of foil and wrap up the beets so that they steam a bit inside the foil. roast at 375 for 40-60 minutes, or until beets are just fork tender. let cool completely and then use a paper town to gently rub off the skins of the beets. cut beets into sixths or eighths and store in fridge until ready to serve (can be done up to 2 days in advance

use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin from the squash. use a sharp knife to carefully cut the squash in half. use a spoon to remove seeds and stringy flesh from the cavity of the squash. then cut the squash into small 3/4" cubes. trim at least half of the cubes so that they are as close to perfect as possible - not rounded or triangular, so that they sit evenly as the base of your skewer (this step can be done one day in advance

place cubed squash in a large mixing bowl, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. toss to coat. sprinkle 3/4 cup dukkah and toss to coat. spread squash out onto parchment-lined baking sheet. if they are too crowded, split onto a second baking sheet. roast at 475 in preheated oven until edged are browned. 

(note: i made these in one oven, and did not need to turn the squash - but in another oven, the bottoms started to brown too much, so i turned them once and continued baking for a few more minutes... so just watch close) 

to assemble, sandwich one sliced beet between two cubes of squash. be careful to not get your beet stained fingers all over the squash. i skewered the cube of squash to lay flat on the serving platter, so that the skewers stood up straight. but you could serve them lying down as well, especially if they will be passed around the party. serve with a dusting of dukkah on the platter. 

fig & cured olive tapenade ~ makes about 1 cup
1 cup cured black olives
1/2 cup dried mission figs
2 tablespoons fig jam/spread
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 small clove garlic, crushed
fresh cracked pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

(note: i've also made this recipe with just dried figs - about 1 cup - or with just fig jam - about 1/2 cup)
in a food processor, combine all ingredients until roughly chopped. serve with a sliced fig on top, so your guests know what's in the tapenade. store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

syrian red pepper & pomegranate dip ~ makes about 2 cups  
4 roasted red bell peppers
¼ cup olive oil, divided
1 cup toasted walnuts
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1-2 tablespoons aleppo pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon sumac (optional)
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon sea salt

combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until smooth, or leave a bit of chunky texture from the walnuts. best served at room temperature, but can also be made ahead a day or two and stored in fridge. 

serve dips with flatbread, seedy crackers or 'simple & crisp' dried fruit crisps. 

onion-skin broth & tuscan bread soup

while the soup itself is stupid easy to make, this is not a recipe you just whip up. you'll have to set an intention to make this soup several weeks or months from now... why? because it is all about the broth. and collecting the ingredients for the broth, without shortcuts, takes a long long time. that said, i can think of a shortcut for those of you with less patience. 

about this broth... i wrote a few weeks ago about the amazing book called 'eating on the wild side.' by page 62, i had a vision of this soup. a soup that utilized the nutrients and antioxidants of onion skins - which apparently is the most nutrient dense part of the vegetable! and here i've been composting onion skins for years!! when i've made pho broth before, i remember it called for roasted onion skins to add depth of flavor, so i was curious what a simple onion-skin broth would taste like. so i have been hoarding onion skins in my freezer for months. any time i slice an onion for a stir fry or another recipe, i add the outer later and skin to a gallon ziplock bag i store in the freezer. it dawned on me later to combine my stash of parmesan rinds with the onion skins. those i had been saving for sometime anyhow and adding to stocks for an incredible added flavor. the addition of the parmesan made the broth smell incredible while it simmered away... almost like a french onion soup! 

it took me a bit more than a month to fill up my gallon bag with onion/shallot skins and parmesan rinds. you could add carrot or parsnip tops to the bag too, if you want to save them from the compost. i jokingly described this recipe to my dad as compost soup, but that didn't sound too appealing. what it is though is delicious!! 

onion-skin & parmesan-rind broth ~ makes 1 gallon
1 gallon sized ziplock full of onion or shallot skins and scraps of onion
6-10 inches of parmesan rind
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 gallon water

you'll also need a nut milk bag or fine-mesh cheesecloth 

in a large pot, combine all ingredients to submerge skins. try to float the parmesan rinds on top of the onion skins, so that they don't stick to the bottom of your pan. cover and bring to a simmer. turn stove down to lowest heat and simmer overnight, or for at least 6 hours. i then strained the broth through a colander to remove the onions and parmesan, and then strained it through cheesecloth to remove any grit that may have been on the onion skins. store broth in fridge or freezer or make into a large batch of soup! 

here's my idea for a *shortcut* ... take a few pounds of small yellow onions (smaller are more nutrient dense) and simply slice them into quarters, skins intact, and make a broth with that! if you don't eat parmesan too often, ask your specialty shop if they have any rinds or buy a couple rind-iest chunks of parmesan you can find and immediately cut the rind and to add to your stock. cover onions and rinds with a gallon of water and a few teaspoons of salt, and simmer overnight. 

tuscan kale, white bean & bread soup 
1 cup dried flageolet or other white bean (or 3 cups cooked beans) 
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups thinly sliced shallots
2 large bunches tuscan kale
1 loaf crusty bread
1/2+ cup shaved parmesan 
fresh cracked pepper to taste

soak dried beans overnight. drain from soaking water. add soaked beans to a crock pot or large soup pot and submerge under 2 inches of water. cook as directed on package or bulk bin or until a few beans just start to break apart. drain beans from cooking liquid. 

crush garlic and set aside for 10 minutes. in a large soup pop, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. saute sliced shallots (saving the shallot skins for your next batch of broth!) until translucent. add crushed garlic and saute for just 2 minutes longer. add the cooked beans and 3 quarts to a gallon of onion-skin broth and bring to a simmer until beans are perfectly tender. season to taste. finally, wash and de-stem the kale. slice into thin ribbons and set aside.

i like my kale wilted but not overcooked in soups. so i store the kale on the side and just wilt a few handfuls with smaller portions of soup. however, if you are feeding a crowd, add both bunches of kale to soup and simmer until wilted. 

to serve, brush slices of crusty bread with olive oil. top with a pile of shaved parmesan and broil until edges are brown and cheese is melted. serve parmesan toasts on side, or dunk into the soup... or for a classic take on tuscan bread soup, tear toasts apart and add the chunks to bowls of soup!