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! 

saffron, fennel & opal apple salad

as the sole vegetarian in the clan, i was always responsible for making a salad or vegetable dish for our thanksgiving feast. with my reputation for cooking, a simple tossed greens salad was not going to cut it as my offering to thanksgiving dinner. and if i wasn't going to eat turkey or sausage stuffing, then i sure as hell wanted a fabulous fancy vegetable alternative for the occasion. every year it's a different dish. yesterday, my family actually celebrated thanksgiving a weekend ahead. i'll be honest, this is not the salad i brought... although it would have been delightful. instead, i brought a spinach salad topped with roasted delicata squash, pomegranate seeds, toasted pine nuts and orange crisps from 'simple & crisp.' it was a huge hit. i wanted to continue to experiment with salad ideas using these fabulous crisps, and came up with a beautiful salad that also highlights all the seasonal citrus and apples! it would be a gorgeous addition to any thanksgiving table. 

simple & crisp is a local business here in seattle. they've come up with a million different ways to use their crisps, but i serve them most often with cheese boards or crumbled over salads. you can find them locally around town at shops like whole foods, or can order them online here if you live outside of seattle. or i suppose if you own a dehydrator you could get crafty and try making your own orange crisps.  

fennel & opal apple salad ~ serves 4
3 small, or 2 medium sized bulbs of fennel
2 small opal or golden apples
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 small package orange 'simple & crisp' crackers

saffron-mandarin vinaigrette ~ makes 1/2 cup  
2 mandarin oranges or satsumas
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch saffron pedals

mix vinaigrette ingredients together and store at room temperature in a jar overnight, or for at least 4 hours until infused with the saffron color. if you don't have saffron, this salad is equally as tasty without it. but for a special occasion like thanksgiving, i'd suggest a pinch of saffron! 

toast slivered almonds on a baking sheet in a preheated 375 degree oven until fragrant and gently browned. let cool. 

thoroughly wash fennel and trim off the bottom of the bulbs. adjust mandolin slicer to its thinnest or second thinnest width. run the bottom of the bulb over the mandolin. slices should be almost translucent, but not so thin that they tear or shred apart. adjust thickness if needed. continue slicing until you reach the frizzy green portion of the vegetable. place fennel in a large mixing bowl and reserve the green fennel tops for later. 

run the apples across the mandolin, starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. do not work from the side of the apple, as you'll miss the beautiful star-shape that appears in the center of your slices. discard the any slices that include tough stem bits. apples should be thin and flexible, but not too floppy. adjust thickness if needed. place sliced apples in mixing bowl. finally, tear off a tablespoon or so of the frizzy green fennel tops, roughly chop and add to the mixing bowl. dress fennel and apples with infused vinaigrette and let rest for 10 minutes before plating. 

to assemble salad, place dressed apple slices overlapping each other on a plate or platter. place a mound of dressed shaved fennel over the apples. sprinkle salad with toasted almonds and crumble about 8 orange crisps across the salad. drizzle any remaining vinaigrette from the mixing bowl over the salad and serve immediately. you can assemble the salad ahead of time, just wait to add the almonds and orange crisps until ready to serve - otherwise they will loose their crisp contrasting textures! 

roasted & stuffed winter squash

somewhat unintentionally, i have ten whole days off from work. i suppose i could be stressing out about this, since there is no 'vacation pay' when you are self employed. but instead, i'm not going to complain about a little break in work. i have friends to catch up with, gigs to play, yoga workshops to attend, recipes to test and even a last minute 4 day trip to orcas island with my band for thanksgiving! i happily accept unpaid vacation time. 

yesterday, i spent a good portion of my day developing recipes ... and um, eating. it was a hoot! i came up with several fun holiday inspired side dishes to share with you all. this recipe in particular, is a new seasonal favorite and would be perfect alongside your turkey on thursday. so simple, delicious, and beautiful presentation. you will love it! 

roasted & stuffed winter squash ~ serves 3-4
1 pound small delicata or sweet dumpling squash
1 cup sliced onions or shallot
1 1/2 cups crimini mushrooms, halved & thinly sliced
2 cups kale, thinly sliced
1+ tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes packed in oil
3-4 oz smoked firm mozzarella cheese 
salt & pepper

notes: i love small delicata squash for this recipe since you can eat the skins. they make for adorable little stuffed boats. however, yesterday my local coop was out of delicata so i picked up a little sweet dumpling squash, which have inedible skins but are great for presentation. squash have various sizes of cavities, so you might aim for extra vegetables to make sure you have enough to fill your squash. if you have extra sautéed veggies you can throw them into a scramble for breakfast! lastly, i used my favorite firm smoked mozzarella cheese i find at whole foods. if you can't find it, you could use a smoked gouda cheese. this recipe is great for making ahead of time.

preheat oven to 425. 

for delicata squash - place on a cutting board and notice which side it sits more balanced. turn it 90 degrees, hold it firmly to keep it on it's unbalanced side and carefully cut it in half lengthwise. this way, your two halves will sit flat in the roasting pan without dumping out the stuffing. use a sharp spoon to scrape out seeds and stringy flesh. drizzle a quarter teaspoon or so of olive oil inside each cut squash and use your hands to evenly coat the flesh. 

for dumpling squash - carefully trim off the top inch of the squash. use a sharp spoon to scrape out seeds and stringy flesh. drizzle a quarter teaspoon or so of olive oil inside each cut squash and use your hands to evenly coat the flesh. coat the fleshy part of the tops as well. 

place squash cut side down, including the dumpling squash tops, onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. roast for 20-25 minutes, until the squash is just fork tender and the edges in contact with the baking sheet start to brown. remove from oven and let cool. 

while squash bakes, prepare the stuffing. thinly slice onions/shallot and mushrooms. wash and dry the kale and slice it into thin ribbons. drain sun dried tomatoes from oil and chop into strips. 

heat a tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan. sauté onions over medium heat until translucent (5-10 minutes). add mushroom and a splash more oil if the pan seems too dry and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. add kale and sun dried tomatoes and cook until kale is wilted. salt and pepper to taste and remove mixture from heat and let cool. finally, shred the cheese and set to the side. 

to assemble, fill each squash to the brim with the vegetable mixture. top with a tablespoon or two of grated cheese. place each squash back on your parchment-lined baking sheet and return to preheated oven (or store assembled squash in the fridge up to two days before baking to serve) bake at 425 until squash are steamy hot and cheese is fully melted. serve warm alongside the roasted dumpling squash tops. or, if you want to get extra fancy, make some smoked mozzarella frico (aka cheese crisps): sprinkle tablespoon-sized piles of mozzarella onto your lined baking sheet and bake until the edges are dark brown but the centers are still light in color. let cool on the baking sheet and then gently lift them off and plate frico with each squash. 

slow roasted carrots & harissa yogurt

earlier this week, david and i had veterans day off together. as a public school teacher, he get's all sorts of paid days off... and now i finally have some flexibility with my schedule to take time off to join him. we had grand plans to break out of seattle and climb in leavenworth all day. the forecast showed sun so we hopped in the car and drove east. when we got there, it was 28 degrees and cloudy. david assured me that we'd get used to it and that if we warmed up, bouldering in the cold wouldn't be too bad. knowing that we'll be in some cold weather next month climbing in red rocks nevada, i tried to be tough and give it a go. i give myself some credit for trying. i pulled on to a bunch of routes but couldn't top anything out before my hands would freeze. it was still fun and i'm looking forward to hopefully slightly less chilly climbing in red rocks soon! 

since our latest trip to leavenworth, it has been perfectly clear yet awfully chilly in seattle. yesterday, we had another lovely day off together. to appease my quiche cravings, david drove us all the way across town to my favorite bakery, honore, for a slice of quiche and lattes. from there we circled over to the university district farmers market. back in college, i lived in a loft across the street from this farmers market. my saturday routine always involved a fresh juice from chaco canyon and a savory pastry from one of the vendors at the market. if it wasn't raining, i'd put my vegetable haul away and then take my pastry out onto the balcony and enjoy my breakfast. i miss that adorable bohemian loft. the house has since been torn down and some terrible apodment like thing has taken its place. at some point in my absence, the u district market expanded and now takes over several blocks instead the parking lot my balcony used to look out to. it's a wonderful year-round market and buzzes with shoppers even on the chilliest morning of the year season so far. we picked out some winter squashes, some fancy short ribs, and a pound of colorful young carrots that i knew would be perfect for roasting. david reminded me of the roasted carrot salad we shared ages ago at the whale wins. there, they serve fire-roasted carrots with a smokey spiced harissa yogurt sauce. it's been a year or more since i tried their dish, but i figured i could come up with a tasty variation using the same flavors. neither of us had a strong enough memory to compare the two variations, but nevertheless, we happily gobbled it all up. 

slow roasted carrots & harissa yogurt ~ serves 3 as side dish
1 pound young rainbow carrots (about 3-4 inches long) 
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt & pepper to taste 

1/3 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 teaspoon pure maple syrup 
1-2 teaspoons harissa paste 
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons orange juice
large pinch sea salt

golden raisins and thinly sliced mint for garnish

preheat oven to 350 degrees. trim greens from carrots and brush with a cloth to clean off any dirt. do not peel. drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil and season heavily with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. place in a roasting pan or baking tray and roast for 30-45 minutes without rotating the carrots. after 30 minutes, check firmness of carrots. they should be fork tender and caramelized. 

in the mean time, whisk together the remaining ingredients in a small bowl, adjusting spiciness with more or less harissa. if you can't find harissa paste, you could use a dried harissa spice blend, starting with just a 1/4 teaspoon and adding more if you like spicy heat. 

to plate, spread yogurt sauce on a plate and pile high with roasted carrots served warm or at room temperature. drizzle with a bit of olive oil and top with golden raisins and thin shreds of fresh mint or parsley. 

pumpkin ale bread

there are currently bread crumbs and pepita seeds strewn about my kitchen. the countertops are filled with ingredients in various stages as i prepare for a dinner party. my camera and props are blocking the path from the kitchen to the living room. i'm taking a moment away from the mess and the dinner prep to write a halloween inspired blog post before our guests come over. i've been hearing a funny whining sound from the dish washer, which i regretfully ignored for a solid half hour while i fiddled with photos ... that sounds? the sound of gallons of foam bubbling out the bottom of the dishwasher. how do these have a way of happening right before dinner parties? i am the idiot who poorly read the dish soap label. i suppose i should go deal with that mess. but first, i have got to share this recipe with the world! 

beer bread was a frequent occurrence growing up. i remember my dad letting me try a sip of beer long ago as a kid. i thought it was less than tasty. but i loved love loved when he made us beer bread. it's stupidly simple to make, and i feel ashamed i don't make it more often. i did however think to make it for a client this week. the aroma made me so jealous i hadn't made some for myself. so today, inspired by halloween i whipped up a pumpkin ale bread that i am quite thrilled to serve with dinner tonight! this particular recipe is the offspring of my dad's old beer bread recipe and a recipe from the fabulous spoon fork bacon blog. it is a savory loaf with sweet spices. it would be fantastic with a hearty black bean and pumpkin soup, or with sautéed greens and fried eggs for breakfast. 

happy halloween! 

pumpkin ale bread ~ serves 6

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
12 oz pumpkin ale
1/2 cup pumpkin purée (homemade, or unseasoned canned purée)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon clove
1/2 cup grated parmesan or sharp cheddar
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup raw pepita seeds

preheat oven to 375. line a 9"x5" bread pan with two overlapping strips of parchment paper (or grease with butter or oil). combine dry ingredients and cheese in a mixing bowl. add pumpkin ale, egg and pumpkin purée and fold to combine. do not over-mix. pour batter into prepared bread pan, sprinkle with pepita seeds and bake for 75 minutes or until inserted knife comes out clean. let cool out of bread pan for 30 minutes before slicing.

puréed roasted cauliflower soup with dukkah

soup season! finally! i seem to never tire of soup during the cooler months. they are simple, nourishing, comforting and the best left-over meal imaginable. i roast whole chickens on a regular basis, just so that i can make batches of homemade chicken stock... and enjoy the tasty chicken too. but the stock! oh my word! i've been saving every scrap of vegetable - carrot tops, celery stems butts, onion skins (which are highly concentrated with bionutrients!!) - and storing them in the freezer until the next batch of stock. it's a wonderful way to use the whole of every plant, and adds depth to your homemade stock. oh and don't throw away the rinds to parmesan cheese. save them in the freezer until your next batch of vegetable or chicken stock! 

eating on the wild side ... and a bowl of homemade spiced lentil soup inspired by sprouted kitchen 

this past week, i was fending off a cold. which for the first time in my life, i think i actually successfully fended off a cold. usually there is a valiant effort of resistance against getting sick, and then one day it takes hold and you are inevitably sick. not this time! this time, i saw the signs, and fought back with vegetables. seriously. i've been reading this wonderful book 'eating on the wild side' all week. it is fascinating and packed with valuable information about how to choose/store/prepare vegetables to retain the most nutritional and medicinal benefits. you think you know something about nutrition, and then this book blows your mind. 

for example, i learned that if you crush or chop garlic and then let it rest for 10 minutes before exposing it to heat, you will retain more valuable antibacterial and antioxidant properties. the book explains why smaller yellow onions have higher concentrations of nutrients and antioxidants than larger or sweeter onions. i learned about all the sexy cancer-fighting benefits of cauliflower, and that even white cauliflower is packed with nutrients (although other colors still rank higher)... so i put this all into practice when i noticed a stuffy nose and ate a lot of alliums, mushrooms and miso soup, and this delightful soup, and magically did not fall sick. instead, i went and kicked some butt at my first real climbing competition. plant powered and strong. 

puréed roasted cauliflower & parsnip soup with dukkah ~ serves 10
2 heads white or yellow cauliflower (about 2 1/2 lbs)
2 lbs parsnips
1 lb small yellow onions
1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons olive oil, split
6 cloves garlic
3 quarts homemade or store bought stock of choice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoons ground black pepper
dukkah (see recipe below) 
chopped parsley for garnish
parsley oil for garnish (optional) 

note: this made a rather large batch, but the soup freezes well for wonderful leftovers. you could easily halve this recipe if you prefer

preheat oven to 425. cut cauliflower into evenly sized florets, and chop stems into 1 inch cubes. toss cauliflower in a large mixing bowl with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. toss to coat and then spread cauliflower out onto two large baking sheets. spread out so the cauliflower is not mounded and there is space for them to roast, not steam. roast for 20-30 minutes until bottoms are browned. let cool. 

in the mean time, crush garlic and let rest in a bowl for 10 minutes. chop onions and sauté in 3 tablespoons of oil in a large soup pot for about 5 minutes, until soft. clean but do not peel the parsnips (the skin has tons of nutrients!) chop parsnips into small cubes and add parsnips, garlic, salt and cumin to the pot and sauté for a few additional minutes. add just enough stock to completely submerge the parsnips. simmer covered, for about 15 minutes until parsnips are fork tender. add the roasted cauliflower (saving a few florets for garnishing soups) and add more broth to just submerge the cauliflower. return to a simmer, covered, and cook until cauliflower stars to fall apart - about 10 minutes. 

you could use a immersion blender, however i couldn't get quite the smooth consistency i was looking for with my immersion blender, so i processed the soup in smaller batches in my blender. return blended soup to pot and stir in additional broth if the consistency feels to thick for your liking. 

serve bowls of soup with a good tablespoon of dukkah sprinkled on top, the reserved roasted cauliflower florets, parsley and/or parsley oil. 

parsley oil ~ makes about 1 cup
1 bunch or 2 cups loosely packed parsley, stems removed
1 cup organic olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed

wash and dry parsley, then remove stems. place parsley into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped - alternatively you can hand chop parsley, it just takes longer than 5 seconds. place chopped parsley in a medium sauté pan with 1 clove crushed garlic and 1 cup olive oil. sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes until parsley is a rich, deep green color and not fried brown. remove from heat and let sit for at least one hour. up to 8. use a fine-mesh cheesecloth to strain the parsley from the oil. squeeze out all the oil and store in an air tight jar or chef squeeze bottle. store in cool dark place with other oils. drizzle parsley oil over soups, salad, eggs, or mix into vinaigrettes or simple marinades. it adds beautiful color to any artful plating. 

dukkah egyptian nut & spice blend ~ makes about 1 cup 
recipe adapted from 'my new roots

1 cup raw hazelnuts
½ cup raw sesame seeds
1 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon sea salt

in a dry skillet over medium heat, roast coriander and cumin seeds together until fragrant, stirring often (about 2 minutes). place seeds in mortar (or spice grinder) along with the black peppercorns. return skillet to medium heat and roast hazelnuts until fragrant, stirring often (about 10 minutes). let hazelnuts cool on a plate. finally, toast sesame seeds over medium heat until fragrant, stirring often (3-5 minutes) then let cool. 
grind spices finely and transfer them to a large mixing bowl. rub hazelnuts together or in a cloth to remove skins. hand-chop or pulse hazelnuts in food processor until they resemble coarse bread crumbs. transfer hazelnuts to bowl with spice mixture. add salt and toasted sesame seeds. stir to combine. let cool completely then store in airtight jar for up to one month. serve dukkah over soups, salads, roasted vegetables, sautéed greens, fried eggs, or traditionally as a dip with bread and olive oil.

fava bean fūl

there is something about fall that makes me crave simplicity. simple joys like walking down our street and looking up at the remaining colorful leaves in the trees or biting into a first-of-the-season washington apple. there are so many wonderful seasonal flavors to enjoy during the fall! lingering heirloom tomatoes and chili peppers from the farmers market. the arrival of fall squash and pumpkin. bountiful leafy greens... all things i love to enjoy simply prepared.

tomorrow i am teaching a private cooking lesson with a focus on mediterranean cuisine. i am quite excited! we'll be sampling flavors and dishes from morocco, egypt, cyprus and turkey... four countries i've spent collectively about half a year living/traveling in. i had quite a bit of fun designing this cooking lesson and day dreaming about past adventures. while putting together my menu and recipes, i realized how simple mediterranean food can be. when you have delicious seasonal ingredients, you don't need a lot of frill or flair. you just need a bit of intuition and a few basic cooking skills in order to craft a delicious and nourishing meal. i suppose the ability to artfully plate a pile of wilted greens and smushed beans only adds to the enjoyment of simple foods. 

a bit about this dish... fūl, or ful medames, is a traditional egyptian dish served often for breakfast or lunch. cooked fava beans are blended with simple spices, oil and lemon juice (almost like a warm hummus) topped with diced vegetables, herbs or boiled eggs. there are tons of different versions, this is just my favorite pairing. fava beans and chard! 

fava bean fūl serves 2-4

2 cups cooked fava beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup chopped tomatoes for garnish (optional)
¼ cup parsley for garnish (optional)

1 large bunch rainbow chard
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon aleppo pepper
salt to taste

gently mash fava beans with a fork. heat olive oil in a sauté pan over low heat. warm the fava beans and add the remaining ingredients. cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes and continue to mash until smooth.

sauté garlic in olive oil and add chard and water and sauté over medium heat until water is evaporated and greens are tender. season to taste. to plate, spread fava bean mixture onto a platter and top with sautéed chard. garnish with aleppo pepper, chopped tomatoes, chillies, parsley, hard boiled eggs or chopped red onion. 

'halva' energy balls with kasha

today i got a little taste of being a celebrity chef. well sort of. i had the opportunity to be interviewed on natural choice network's radio show! i was joined by carey thornton, an instructor from seattle tilth who teaches all sorts of interesting things and is an expert on all things pickled and preserved. together, we talked about different methods of preserving harvests, the difference between pickling and fermenting, where to buy bulk farm fresh produce, and about foods fit for hiking, camping or any outdoor adventure. you can listen to the full segment via the networks archive (listen here) and as promised, i wanted to share with all the listeners my favorite trail food recipe and share some links for a few of the things mentioned during the show! 

first, let's talk about a typical day hike or full day adventure. most likely, pack weight is not a huge issue in comparison to an overnight backpacking trip where every ounce counts... in those cases, dehydrated food is key. especially if you'll be replenishing your water mid trip. but when it's just a single day, you are going to need adequate hydration anyways - so whether that comes from food or water, you'll be carrying the same water weight no matter what. 

for a typically day hiking around and climbing outdoors, david and i typically hit the trail with: (1) smoothies - packed with frozen fruit so that it stays cold event after we take it out of the cooler in the car, (2) energy balls - recipe below - or some other kind of nut-based snack, like these pecan flour biscuits, (3) salmon jerky - we love loki fish's salmon jerky, an avocado in a tupperware or some hard cheese, and my favorite 'all rye' breaf from tall grass bakery and (4) nuun tablets, which david recently became obsessed with. 

photo/gif by james ransom

i'll also mention my other favorite product for packing snacks. bee's wrap! it's like reusable plastic wrap!!! it's durable, washable, and is perfect for tossing into your backpack! pack it in, pack it out. you can find it on provisions (which by the way, if you want to do me a solid, you can follow this referral link!!! you get a $20 credit and then i get a nice little credit to provisions for purchasing more food photography props for this blog... so please, help a gal clutter up her kitchen even more!) 

and finally. this recipe for my favorite day-hike snack. you can use any type of nut butter really, or any type of dried fruit in place of the goji berries. if using tahini, note that the 365 brand tahini is very runny in comparison to other brands. i'll have to test the recipe sometime with another brand tahini to see if proportions need to change. but the final texture should not be overly crumbly or too sticky. 

buckwheat groats & a snack pack

"halva" energy balls with kasha ~ makes about 15 balls
2/3 cup organic tahini (i used whole foods 365 brand) 
3/4 cup toasted kasha (aka buckwheat groats)
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup dried goji berries
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt

in a food processor, combine chopped dates and dried fruit. pulse until finely chopped. add tahini (or another nut butter), honey and salt and pulse to combine. transfer mixture to a bowl and add kasha and chia seeds. use hands to evenly mix. wash your hands (clean hands make it easier to roll the balls), then scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the mixture and roll it into a ball, compressing them a bit with your palms so that the kasha does not crumble apart. set finished balls into a tupperware. store in airtight container in the fridge or freezer. they do not require refrigeration (they are fine for multi-day hikes), but they store longer in the fridge and even longer in the freezer. 

eggplant fesenjan

it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to turn off my brain. it keeps swirling with thoughts of all kinds. david left before the sun rose this morning for a short climbing trip to cananda. he asked me what my plans were for the weekend. my response was simply to "be active." because when i allow my body to stop moving, this is when the thoughts swirl aggressively. there's a sanskrit word for this state of mind in the yoga practice: "vrittis." yoga is one way to calm this whirlpool in the mind - it is a moving meditation. for me, cycling, climbing and even sometimes cooking are other ways to calm my mind … between all of my daily activities, i find myself almost constantly in a state of moving meditation.

so this morning i visited a friend's yoga class. (doing exactly what i told david i would do. be active.) her words challenged my perception of this constant state of movement. she questioned whether movement was sometimes used as a distraction from the bigger picture. it struck a cord with me. why am i stuck in this whirpool when my body finds stillness? i have much to reflect on and need to create more time to simply sit, reflect, journal or discuss. in stillness.

on an entirely different note, i have an incredible recipe to share. it's my vegetarian take on a dish my father often made for us when i was growing up. the recipe for fesenjan originally came from a iranian family friend. it is a rich & tangy persian stew made with chicken, walnuts and pomegranate. these flavors came to mind the other day, but i wanted to create a meal to feature beauitful eggplants i had picked up fresh from the farmers market. and here you have it. eggplant fesenjan. 

eggplant fesenjan ~ serves 4
for the sauce 
1 onion, finely chopped 
2 cups raw walnuts
2 tablespoon olive oil or ghee
1/4 cup tomato sauce
3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup or 1 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon sumac
1/2 teaspoon aleppo chili flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 pinch saffron

for the eggplant
6 small japanese or chinese eggplant
1 tablespoons sumac
1/2 teaspoon aleppo chili flakes
1 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons olive oil

saffron rice
2 cups jasmine rice
3 cups water
1 pinch saffron
chopped parsley for garnish

starting with the sauce, finely chop walnuts by hand or in a food processor until just a bit courser than a nut flour. in a medium-large sauce pan, sauté chopped onion over medium heat in oil or ghee for 5 minutes until caramelized. add tomato sauce and sauté for another 2 minutes. add remaining ingredients and simmer for 30-40 minutes. oils will start to draw out from the walnuts and the sauce will reduce in half. once the sauce starts to simmer, start cooking rice and then roast the eggplants. 

for the rice, i divided the rice into two pots and cooked one with saffron and the other without. this is how my dad used to cook the rice for a beautiful contrast in color and presentation. or sometimes he would just top white rice with a smaller scoop of deeply saffron-colored rice. alternatively, you can cook all rice together with a pinch of saffron for a lightly-colored rice. 

for the eggplant, preheat oven to 400 degrees. cut eggplants in half and use a sharp knife to score the flesh in an 'x' pattern. be careful not to cut through the skin of the eggplant, but cut fairly deep. mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl and poor evenly over the fleshy part of each eggplant. use your hands to rub the spiced oil mixture into the flesh, and lightly on the skin of the eggplants. place onto a parchment lined baking sheet skin-side down. depending on the size of the eggplants, roast for 20-30 minutes until skin is lightly crisped and flesh is fork tender. i'd suggest waiting to roast the eggplants until you have the sauce simmering and rice steaming.

to serve, toss saffron rice with white rice and top with baked eggplant and a small cup of stew or douse it directly on top!

whole milk ricotta & fig balsamic reduction

a few weeks ago i made 4 gallons of 'fresh breeze' whole milk into a giant batch of homemade ricotta cheese for a very large tasting event. thank goodness for ginormous all-clad pot for my parents gifted to me years ago, because i needed every single ounce of ricotta from that single batch. it was a project that took over my whole kitchen for the good part of an afternoon, but i assure you that ricotta is a much simpler endeavor when you are making small batches and takes hardly any more effort then it does to make a pot of tea so long as you have the right tools. it's one of those things that afterwards, when you are spooning fresh warm ricotta straight from the cheesecloth you ask yourself "why don't i make this more often?" because it's not just a lasagna filling. you don't even have to make it into anything really! you can just pile some on top of fresh fruit and call it breakfast... or dessert... or a sweet mid-day snack... 

whole milk ricotta & fruit ~ serves 2 
6 fresh figs
1 ripe nectarine or peach 
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoon fig balsamic reduction (see recipe below) 
2/3 cup whole milk ricotta cheese (see recipe below) 
mint leaves (optional) 

remove stems and slice figs into quarters. divide onto two plates. slice nectarine or beach into small bites and divide evenly onto the plates. top with 1/3 cup whole milk ricotta on each, and drizzle with equal amounts honey & balsamic reduction. top with torn mint leaves. 

for fig balsamic reduction
2 cup inexpensive aged balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons store bought fig preserves/jam

in a small sauce pan bring balsamic to a simmer, lower heat so that balsamic is hardly bubbling but steaming. simmer until volume reduces to a quarter. once reduced, add fig preserves (or 1 tablespoon honey) and stir to dissolve. remove from heat and let chill in a jar or squeeze bottle.

whole milk ricotta ~ makes about 20 oz 

1 gallon organic whole milk 
1 teaspoon citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon fleur de sel 

you will also need butter muslin or very fine-mesh cheese cloth. a nut milk bag would work as well! 

in large pot stir together milk with the citric acid & water solution. heat milk on stove top over medium heat to 185 degrees, keep covered to warm quicker, but stir often to prevent milk from scorching. keep the milk mixture simmering at 185-195 degrees until you start to see curds separate from the whey. the whey will become less milky and more clear - it will become distinctly curdy! at this point, remove pot from heat and let sit, undisturbed, for 10-15 minutes. 

line a colander with cheese cloth and carefully ladle the curds from the pot directly into the cheesecloth to strain. tie the ends of the cloth around the cheese and hang to drain for 20-30 minutes, or let rest suspended in a bowl in your strainer (as pictured above). mix with salt and serve immediately at room temperature or store in airtight container for 1-2 weeks. 

roasted red pepper romesco

the end of summer is gradually becoming a reality. on wednesday, david had his first day back at school teaching high school math. i regret not taking a 'first day of school' photo of him in his bike commute getup. next year! that same day, i stupidly went grocery shopping for a client during another local highschool's lunch break and was swarmed by teens on their first day of school venturing off campus to the nearby whole foods. note to self, this was terrible timing. 

the last few weeks have been quite a rush! catering celebrations of all sizes, including a beautiful garden wedding for two amazing gentlemen. contributing to their special day, observing some very sweet moments, being told it was the best wedding food a guest had ever tasted, feeling sincere gratitude from the grooms, and pulling off a farm to table dinner for 85 people... that day was the most rewarding experience for me as a chef yet! thank you nick & joe! 

today i am excited to be teaching a cooking lesson on fun little appetizers to a group of women that competed and kicked ass in macksmo's latest 6-week fitness challenge. their prize: a lesson and meal with chef aubrey. among the many recipes we will be tackling tonight is this roasted red pepper romesco sauce and peppery baked pita chips. perfect party food. 

roasted red pepper romesco dip
4 red bell peppers, quartered and seeds removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup walnuts
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon Aleppo chili flakes
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt

on a baking sheet or roasting pan, lay out peppers cut side down. use hands to evenly coat peppers with oil. broil on high for 10-15 minutes, until completely charred. place charred peppers in a chilled metal bowl and seal with plastic wrap. let the peppers steam and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. once chilled, use your fingers to gently peel off and discard the charred skin. add the finished roasted peppers into a food processor with remaining ingredients, and pulse to combine. romesco can be served chunky as a dip or smooth as a sauce. it is best tasting at room temperature. serve with homemade pita chips, a vegetable platter, or as a sauce for a pizza! so many beautiful uses! 

note: you can also add half a can of chunky tomatoes to make this into a slightly thinner sauce perfect for topping pasta! 

click here for my baked pita chip recipe!