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.