savory sage & squash tart

i spend a considerable amount of time preoccupied with thoughts about flavors. perhaps i should pursue becoming a mixologist at some swank speakeasy and make this preoccupation an actual occupation. anyhow... sometimes inspiration comes from something i've tried here or there, out at a restaurant or a bar and such. and then sometimes a random thought pops into my head for a recipe. for example: "what if i made a savory pumpkin pie?" well now, that's a ingenious idea, aubrey. do it! 

i was envisioning something with winter squash, nutmeg and savory flavors like onion and sage. i wanted it to be a cross between a pumpkin pie and a quiche but with the flavors of a butternut squash soup or something. i considered a pie crust in a pie pan, but then settled on a savory tart crust recipe adapted from the roost blog. i'm quite pleased with this recipe. it would make a fabulous addition to a thanksgiving feast. or maybe for a christmas brunch. or just whenever you need to feel cozy. 

for the crust:

3 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt

for the filling:
2 cups canned or cooked winter squash or pumpkin, pureed
1 egg
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon mace (or use double the nutmeg)
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh pepper
2 oz soft goat cheese

3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, or seeds reserved from squash

small handful of fresh sage
1/4 cup grapeseed oil

preheat oven to 375. 

you can either use canned squash or pumpkin or make your own puree! i used an acorn squash. to do so simply halve the squash, remove seeds, and cut each half into two pieces. in a large pot, steam squash in a steaming basket for 15+ minutes or until the squash if fork tender. let squash cool for 30 minutes before handling. you can reserve the seeds, clean them and roast them on a baking sheet with a teaspoon of oil in a 375 degree oven until lightly brown and use these as your topping for the tart! (or you can use store-bought roasted pumpkin seeds. those are tasty too!) 

let's begin your crust! in a bowl combine all ingredients for crust, stir with a fork until a dough forms. using fingers, press almond meal dough into a un-greased removable-bottom tart pan (or use a pie pan if you don't have a tart pan!) try to form a consistent thickness and use fingers to form a clean edged crust. make several pricks on the bottom of the crust with a fork. place tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes to par-bake the crust. remove from oven and let cool. this dough recipe makes enough for a larger 11 or 12 inch tart pan, if you have a smaller 9 inch tart pan, you may have a bit of extra dough. just form to your desired thickness. 

for the filling, saute onions in grapeseed oil at a low temperature until translucent. then, tear the sage leaves into smaller bits and rub them in you fingers to break down the cells a bit and add the sage to the onions. cook for one minute. once squash has cooled, use a spoon to scoop out the flesh from the rind and place into a food processor. add spices, egg and goat cheese and pulse until smooth. add the sage and onions. i did not process the onions with the squash, but if you would like a smooth consistency you most certainly could. i enjoyed the texture of the sauteed onions in the tart. 

finally, pour the filling into par-baked crust. do not overfill. sprinkle with pumpkin or home-roasted squash seeds. place the baking sheet in the center of you oven and bake the tart for 60-75 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown and the filling is firm - aim for the consistency of a moist pumpkin pie or quiche. remove from the oven and let cool in the tart pan. once the tart reaches room temperature, remove the rim of the tart pan and slice the tart into 6 or 8 slices.

as a garnish, fry sage leaves in 1/4 cup grapeseed oil in a small sauce pan over medium heat. it only takes a few seconds to get crispy. use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove sage from the oil, and let oil drain off on a paper towel. place a few fried sage leaves on each slice of tart! yum. 

in other news. in case i didn't think about flavors enough already, i now have a three-quarter length sleeve tattoo of botanical vegetable drawings. to be exact: an artichoke, garlic, carrot, chilies, asparagus, pea vines, flowering dill, wheat, purple cabbage, rosemary, and of course .... a beet. i'll show more progress when i get it filled in! 

roasted stuffed dates

every family has their own special holiday foods. the staple menu items that cannot be forgotten. for my family, those items are my dad's smoked turkey, which leaves him smelling like smoke for several days to follow. his whiskyed yams, smothered in equally heavy portions of maple syrup, butter and whisky. and then there is a cherry chutney recipe, that came from my first grade teacher who we had invited to our thanksgiving meal. that recipe has been repeated every year since and is expected to appear on the table just as much as they turkey and the yams. a few years ago, my contribution to thanksgiving dinner was an appetizer that are now (happily) expected of me each year. the point being, there is a reward for branching out of the traditional foods we've come to expect. some of the greatest contributions are adapted from the guests we invite to join us for the holidays over the years. you never know what dish will become the latest family "tradition." 

my annual thanksgiving contribution are these roasted stuffed dates. simple, elegant, and oh so delicious. 

roasted stuffed dates with balsamic reduction: 

for the reduction ~ makes more than enough:
1 small bottle balsamic vinegar

buy a small inexpensive bottle of balsamic and empty the entire contents into a small sauce pan. bring to a simmer, and then continue to gently simmer, stirring every few minutes, until the volume is reduced by at least half. if you want more of a syrupy consistency, continue until the volume reduces to a quarter. try to maintain a very low simmer - you should see steam rising off, but just a few gentle bubbles, to keep the balsamic from burning. poor the balsamic into a small jar to let cool. remember that the consistency will thicken, once cooled to room temperature. you will likely have an excess of reduction, which will store perfectly in the fridge for several weeks - drizzle over salads, roasted vegetables, meats, bread and oil... everything! 

for the roasted dates ~ makes a dozen: 
(note: this recipe is easy to scale up or down. i like to make 2-3 dates for every person)
12 medjool dates, with or without pits
1/2 cup soft goat cheese, room temperature
1 cup walnuts 
1 tablespoon, chopped fresh rosemary 
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch sea salt 

preheat oven to 375. fillet each date, making one cut on the length of the date and scooping out the pit. roughly chop 1/2 cup of the walnuts and finely chop a few sprigs of rosemary. reserve the remaining 1/2 cup of walnuts. in a small mixing bowl, combing goat cheese, chopped walnuts, rosemary and salt and stir to combine in a crumbly mixture. using your fingers, press about 1 teaspoon or more into the cavity of each date. you may have extra mixture, depending on the size of the dates. feel free to pit more dates and make more! 
ideally, find a small baking dish that won't have too much extra space surrounding the dates. goat the bottom of the dish with a tablespoon of olive oil, and pack the dates close together to prevent them from tumbling over. use the final 1/2 cup of walnuts to fill spaces around the dates. roast in the oven until the walnuts are lightly toasted, and the goat cheese is softened and a touch browned ~ about 20-30 minutes. 
to serve right from the roasting dish, just drizzle with balsamic reduction. or for a slightly more elegant presentation, drizzle balsamic reduction directly onto a serving platter and then place dates on top with extra roasted walnuts and a few sprigs of rosemary. 

these dates are excellent with thanksgiving leftovers. or chopped up and tossed on top of a greens salad! 

happy holidays everyone! - aubrey

better than oatmeal

you've probably had black sticky rice pudding at thai restaurants before, no? rich and soft and creamy. and oh so very sweet. it is served in thailand for either dessert or breakfast, but to me, the american restaurant version is far to sweet to be served as breakfast. rather than adding sugar, i used a small amount of coconut palm sugar - giving the dish just a subtle sweetness and hint of coconut. and rather than coconut cream, you could use almond milk or rice milk or a lighter coconut milk beverage. topped with fresh or dried fruit and toasted shaved coconut, i'd say this breakfast is equally as fulfilling and healthful  as a bowl of oatmeal. better tasting than oatmeal and perhaps, even more nutritious since black rice is full of antioxidants. *note, black sticky rice (aka black glutinous rice) is different from wild rice. it is a shorter grain, and almost purple in color. you can find it at most health and specialty shops! 

black sticky rice porridge with coconut and date: 

1 cup black rice, soaked in 2 cups water for 30-60 minutes
1 cup coconut milk (or almond or rice milk)
pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup pitted dates, quartered
1/2 cup coconut shavings
extra coconut milk for drizzling

soak rice in 2 cups water for 30-60 mins in your steamer or small sauce pan. after it has soaked, turn on heat and let simmer for 45 minutes until rice is cooked and liquid is absorbed. add coconut milk, salt and coconut sugar and simmer at a low temperature for another 30 minutes. if you have raw coconut flakes, toast them in a 350 degree oven on a baking sheet until lightly brown (peek at them every few minutes... they will toast quickly!) to serve, top 2/3 cup porridge with dates, toasted coconut and a few tablespoons of coconut milk (or another rice or nut milk). serve warm! also wonderful topped with raisins, fresh bananas or other dried fruits! 

a beet smoothie

as much as i love juicing fruits and vegetables, i also want the fiber. so a few years ago i sold my fancy juicer and bought a vitamix. *best birthday present to myself. ever.* i've gotten into a habit of packing a smoothie for my lunch. especially when working in an industry that doesn't always allow for a lunch break, smoothies keep me energized, hydrated and full while i'm buzzing around behind the bar or out serving tables. also, they are delicious and packed with nutrients. my latest favorite concoction includes raw beets. gorgeous in color, and delightfully earthy. coconut water for electrolytes and cashews to help you absorb fat-soluble nutrients. it's a smoothie suitable for any meal of the day! note: i have not tried making a veggie/fruit smoothie in a 'regular' blender. my vitamix does a powerful job of creating a smooth and enjoyable texture and consistency that may be lacking from vegetable smoothies made in 'regular' blenders. so no promises, but feedback  is welcome! (sorry, did that sound like a vitamix commercial? i can't help myself. i'm obsessed.) 

beet smoothie...
8 oz coconut water + 1 small or medium beet + 1 small apple + 1/2 banana
2 small carrots, or 1 large + 2 medium stalks celery + 1 handful spinach
1 oz raw cashews, soaked overnight in water & drained
...blend for up to a minute until very smooth. chill to desired temperature.