banana-hazelnut fudgesicles

the weather in seattle has finally warmed up a bit. enough so that i broke out my popsicle molds. yes, thats right, i own popsicle molds. drawing inspiration from an upcoming trip to italy, i wanted to create a nutella-flavored fudgesicle without the extra fillers. hazelnut-chocolate is an ideal combination, but nutella packs in a silly amount of extra sugar and oil to their product (the main ingredients are sugar and oil... oy!) does that stop me from indulging every once in a while? no. but for my home-made fudgesicle, i envisioned a lighter version made from toasted hazelnuts, cocoa powder ground from raw cocoa nibs and blended with bananas and almond milk. the fudgesicles turned out wonderful! the bananas give them a custardy texture, and the almond milk adds a perfect creaminess. i made a few with whole hazelnuts dropped into the mix - those were fun to eat, but the ones without nuts were a bit more classic. 

banana-hazelnut fudgesicles - makes ~ 6:
4 ripe bananas
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (raw is optional)
3/4 cup hazelnuts (raw or toasted) or 1/2 cup hazelnut butter
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt

if using a high-power blender or food processor you can get away with blending all ingredients together instantly. if your blender can't quite take on whole nuts, simply use hazelnut butter for a smoother texture. a vitamix works best, as you will get a very creamy texture for your fudgesicles.  add more almond milk if the mixture is not quite incorporating fully. the final texture should be like a thick smoothy. scoop into popsicle molds, or into small paper cups with a popsicle stick in the center of each cup. freeze for at least 3 hours. feel free to add whole or chopped hazelnuts to your pops for a fun extra little crunch.

another great dessert idea: follow the same ingredient list, except freeze your bananas first. blend together until you have a soft-serve ice cream texture and eat as is! just as delicious as the fudgesicles!

braised leeks

it's now supposedly 'summer', despite what seattle's weather report says. nevertheless, i keep hoping that my favorite fruits and vegetables will soon make their first appearances at the farmers market. i can't wait for fresh washington berries, apricots, plums, summer squash, peppers and tomatoes. i can't wait!! patience, aubrey, patience. instead, right now, there are leeks... intimidating, huge, time consuming, dirt-filthy leeks. oh, did i fail at making them sound appealing? well, let me add some butter, garlic, thyme and white wine. ah ha! now, leeks sound delicious. 
braised leeks - serves 4
2 large leeks
3 cloves garlic, skinned and crushed
4 tablespoons butter or ghee
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small bunch fresh thyme
1 cup white wine
1 cup vegetable broth
salt, pepper, chili flakes
parchment paper

preheat oven to 350. trim the ends of the leeks, and separate the white stalks from the leafy green sections. cut the white stalk into 2 inch long chunks. if there is any schmuck in the stems, gently rinse with running water but try to maintain the shapes. take the greens, split down the middle with a knife and separate the leaves so that you can thoroughly rinse each leaf. then pile them all up and finely chop them (about 1/4 inch thickness).
skin and crush your garlic and de-stem all of the thyme. heat a large skillet or sauce pant to medium heat, add butter and olive oil, and fry your garlic and thyme until the garlic takes on a very light brown color. do not overcook, otherwise the garlic will turn bitter. add all of the leek greens, and toss to coat. remove from heat.

to assemble, take a 9x9 baking pan (or larger if you are doubling the recipe for a crowd). make a layer of the leek greens mixed with garlic and thyme. tuck in the leek whites - i like to keep mine in neat little rows. pour over with wine and vegetable broth. you want the leeks to be half submerged with liquid, so if you need more liquid, just add at a ratio of 1:1. season with salt, pepper and a pinch of chili flakes if you wish.

finally, take a sheet of parchment paper and trim down to fit perfectly inside of your baking pan. this will act as a layer to keep the leeks from browning but not steam as they would if you put a lid over the pot. this layer will help you retain your liquids a bit more so that you are left with a delicious white wine sauce to spoon out over your leeks and whatever else you might be serving along with your leeks.

bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until all sections of the leeks are fork tender. test a bite of the greens to make sure they are soft and not too chewy. once finished, test for seasoning. add more salt and pepper if you need. garnish with a few sprigs of fresh thyme.

this is great alongside meats, potatoes, toast and eggs, or over a bowl of warm grains!

cold lentil, asparagus & goat cheese salad

something you should know: when you combine soft goat cheese with hot lentils, it creates a delicious creamy sauce. add some lemon zest & juice, a bit of spice and you have a very bright flavored lentil dish. this recipe is very adaptable - you could use different colors of lentils, or include different spices or herbs or different seasonal vegetables. you could serve it chilled (as i prefer) or warm. but the base, that delicious goat cheese sauce over lentils, is something you must try! 
* this is an excellent picnic food. 

cold lentil, asparagus & goat cheese salad - serves 4: 
1 cup brown or french lentils
1/3 cup chevre goat cheese
1 clove garlic, crushed
chili flakes
salt & pepper
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dijon mustard (optional)
2 bunches of asparagus, sliced thinly at a diagonal
1/2 cup fresh herbs - i used parsley & chives
2 shallots, thinly sliced

preheat oven to 375. bring 3-4 cups of water to boil. do not add salt to cook lentils. in the mean time, mix together chevre with lemon zest, garlic, chili flakes, salt and pepper. brown lentils take about 20-25 minutes to cook in boiling water. but adjust your cook time depending on the type of lentils you choose to use. do not overcook! you want the lentils to be able to hold their shape in the salad vs. a dahl-like texture. strain and place the lentils into a large mixing bowl. right away, add your zesty goat cheese and gently stir until the lentils are nicely coated. let cool completely. 
prep your asparagus spears - wash, trim, slice - as well as your shallots. toss vegetables with a drizzle of olive oil, salt & pepper. roast in a pan, tossing every few minutes, until the asparagus is just fork tender then remove from oven and let cool. in a smaller bowl, mix together lemon juice, olive oil and mustard. toss this dressing with your roasted asparagus & shallots once they are cooled. 

to assemble salad, mix together your creamy lentils with the saucy asparagus and shallots and top with fresh herbs. season to taste if more salt is needed. serve in pita bread, on greens or as a side dish!

spring salad & frico!

a story about micro greens:
micro greens are seedlings. greens, just beyond the stage of sprouts. they grow quickly and require little space, and are sold at a rather high price. so a place like 'our school at blair grocery' in new orleans - a community agriculture training center - found micro greens to be a highly profitable product to sell to the high-end local restaurants in downtown new orleans. i had the opportunity to visit and volunteer at the blair school while attending the community food security coalition's annual conference in new orleans in 2010. such an amazing project they have going there! if you ever travel to nola, take a look at the list of restaurants the blair grocery delivers their produce to. (it will be a great place to start when there are so many options for restaurants in that city. whew. food overload!) anyhow, now whenever i eat microgreens i think of new orleans.

and now for the recipe... this salad was inspired by a recipe from one of my favorite jamie oliver cookbooks crossed with a salad i had at uneeda burger in fremont (i highly recommend this burger joint!)  frico - or baked crispy cheese - makes for a delicious crunch in addition to the creamy textures in this salad. frico, i found, is the best addition to any salad. they make a great gluten free alternative to croutons, or if you typically add soft cheese to a salad like chevre, try frico instead!

recipe serves 4 side dishes or 2 entree salads:
1 cup shredded asiago cheese
2 large bunches carrots, ends trimmed & cut at diagonals
1/2 cup fresh english peas, shucked
1 avocado
2 cups micro greens
1 orage, juiced
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
fresh oregano
1 pinch chili flakes
sea salt & black pepper (or lemon pepper! oh la la)

preheat oven to 425. toss sliced carrots in 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt & pepper. bake for 20 minutes or so until fork tender. finish under the broiler for another 5 minutes until a bit crispy. let cool and turn the oven down to 375. in the mean time, shuck your peas and make a dressing with citrus juice, olive oil and spices. to make the fricos, shred cheese (you can really use any type of hard aged cheese and you can also add herbs or lemon zest to add flavor if you are so inclined). line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and lightly brush the paper with olive oil. pile a few tablespoons of shredded cheese on the sheet, leaving a few inches of space between each mound. the higher your mound, the more solid your frico will be. if you like a more latice-like frico, spread out the cheese a bit more. bake for about 10 minutes, watch closely though and bake until just lightly brown. let cool and remove from parchment paper using a thin spatula and let cool on a paper towel or serve directly onto salad.

to assemble salad, toss together peas, carrots & micro greens with a light amount of citrus dressing. top with a wedge of avocado and either a full frico or frico crumbles. such great spring flavor!