'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!