asian pear grain bowls

i have received a jury summons. i don't think i know anyone my age that has served on a jury. do i? to be fair, a small part of me thinks this would be an interesting experience. like the day i agreed to work as an undercover asset of sorts for the washington state liquor control board at age 17 - fun for a day of zipping around in cop cars to casinos and bars. but the fun maxed out at one day... similarly, i'd serve on a jury for a day. one day would be fun. but the larger part of me worries i'd be out of work for weeks or even months serving my civil duty. i'm self employed. no one is going to pay me for a leave of absence to sit on a jury. the families i cook for would starve. that's an overstatement, but still, i can't take extended time off! so now i have to persuade the court that i fall under the "extreme inconvenience" category. fingers crossed...

there are pros and cons to being self employed. the biggest challenge is the fluctuation of work load. there are times when i'm catering events and cooking for four or more families each week. and other stretches of time when clients take vacations and i only have 6 or so hours of work to do in a week. if i was more financially driven (or flat broke), those slow weeks would probably stress me out. but i'm neither broke nor motivated much by money. i am fortunate to have a job i love to do that pays my bills. so the overly-booked weeks are the times that stress me out! grated, these busy (and well paid) weeks are what allow me to relax during the lulls. but it i've realized i have to be selfish with my time and relax when the opportunities present themselves. you never know when you're next busy week will consume you. 

the past week has been one of those lovely, relaxing lulls that i've filled with recipe testing, daily yoga practice, reading, gathering together with friends and trekking around the city in this unseasonably warm and sunny weather. at some point last week i spent a good chunk of my morning after yoga practice chatting over beverages at juicebox with a new friend who shares similar passions for yoga, cooking and teaching. i ordered a cup of the daily soup - a hearty blend of barley, root vegetables and thin matchsticks of asian pear. i made a mental note, like i so often do, to reuse those flavors and came up with this lovely dish. you could toss it and serve it as a grain salad, or dress ingredients individually to highlight each component of the dish. only as an afterthought did i think to add avocado to the leftovers i had for lunch the next day... i highly recommend adding avocado, although it was a delightful dish served as pictured here. you choose! 

asian pear grain bowls
1 head frisee 
1/2 cup unsalted, toasted cashews
1 large or 1 1/2 small asian pears
1/4 cup cilantro
1 cup whole grain, hulled barley 
1 avocado (optional) 

for the vinaigrette 
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
juice & zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon honey
pinch of salt & red chili flakes

note: hulled barley is a minimally processed whole grain, with the bran layer intact. compared with pearl barely, hulled barley has more nutrients, protein and fiber! 

bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a small sauce pan. add hulled barley and simmer on low for 25 minutes. at this time the barley is tender but chewy and nutty, which is how i prefer it served in salads. if you like your grains softer or have a weaker digestion, you may prefer to cook them for up to a full hour. strain and rinse with cold water and let drain while you prepare other ingredients. 

slice asian pears into thin matchsticks. cut any matchsticks longer than an inch in half. toss pears with a bit of lime juice to keep from browning and set aside. wash, dry and chop cilantro. roughly chop toasted cashews. tear apart frisee into bite-size leaves. whisk together vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl. 

you can toss all ingredients together and serve as a grain salad. or dress frisee with a small amount of vinaigrette and in another bowl toss together the barley, cilantro and cashews with the majority of the vinaigrette. assemble as pictured, with lime-dressed pears and sliced avocado (optional) on top

my maca matcha milkshake

about a year ago i posted a recipe for my favorite breakfast smoothie. i was hesitant to post such similar recipes, but here is the new and improved version of my go-to breakfast smoothie. there is no particular reason i was trying to improve it. it was already delicious. but i recently discovered maca and thought i'd try a variation that would incorporate this superfood root and also pack a green punch to kickstart my gloomy seattle winter mornings. you'll have to try both recipes, compare, and let me know which you preferred! 

i like to take walks through east capitol hill, wandering through blocks of incredible homes and massive trees, and typically ending up at my favorite cookie bakery, hello robin. recently, the herbalist set up show just two doors down from hello robin. i was quite excited about this new addition to the neighborhood, since there is nothing else like it in central or south seattle. they have an incredible variety of herbs, tonics, medicinal teas, etc. after my first trip their, i walked home with wonderful herbs to add to a bed time tea to relax and clear the head, and maca to try in my morning smoothies. i was told that maca root powder aids our adrenal glands, giving us increased energy, stamina, immune function and resistance to stress. sold! anything to give me stamina for my uber-active days is worth a try! not to mention, it adds a wonderful malty flavor to smoothies ... giving this almond milk based smoothie a delightful milkshake quality... a milkshake fit for breakfast or a mid-day snack. 

maca matcha milkshake ~ serves 1
1 or 1-1/2 cup homemade date-sweetened almond milk (or unsweetened store bought)
1/2 medium banana, raw or frozen into cubes
1/2 cup frozen pineapple pieces
*1/2 teaspoon ginger juice (or fresh grated ginger) 
1/4 avocado 
handful of fresh spinach 
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons matcha green tea powder
1 to 2 teaspoons maca powder

*another recent discovery: the ginger people's ginger juice! for those of us without juicers that want to add ginger flavor to cocktails, fizzy water or a smoothie without the pulp of grated ginger... or, for those of us that don't trust our fine motor skills for grating ginger before 8am. 

start with 1 teaspoon of maca. blend all ingredients together until creamy. if using frozen banana, you may need to add 1-1/2 cups milk. if you love the flavor of maca, add a second teaspoon to the mix! 

for date sweetened almond milk ~ makes 4 cups
1 cup raw organic almonds
4 cups water
4 pitted, medjool dates
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

soak almonds in water overnight or for 8-12 hours. drain and add soaked almondds to high speed blender with 4 cups of fresh water and pitted dates. blend on high speed until milky. use a nut milk bag to strain almond pulp from milk. discard pulp (or good luck finding a tasty use for almond pulp. i still have not.) store almond milk chilled for up to one week. add vanilla extract if you like, or enjoy plain. i've also added vanilla beans to my quart glass of almond milk and reused the bean for adding flavor to several batches of almond milk. 

butternut squash soup with oil braised garlic & fried sage

years ago, i studied abroad in switzerland for a semester of college. i was placed into to a vegetable-loving host family who loved to cook and shared dinner with them every night. at the time, and probably still, switzerland is absurdly expensive. i remember trying to buy a bell pepper in the grocery store in geneva, as a snack to have with hummus. the pepper wrung up as $5 us dollars. produce put me over my student budget and dining out was certainly not an option, so i was very grateful to have such wonderful meals provided to me. most nights, my hosts would have a tossed salad with a delicious vinaigrette recipe (that i use all the time!), crusty bread, a spread of swiss and french cheeses, a pureed vegetable soup, and a few nights a week they might eat fish or chicken. it was simple, nourishing food.

every night, the pureed soup with be something new. probably a blend of whatever produce needed to be used up. they were typically green, mildly spiced, and creamy only in texture. but always uniquely different. while i love the adaptability and range of pureed soups, one down side is that every bite is the same. it's not like a chunky stew with big hunks of mushrooms or spoonfuls of beans to keep your tongue entertained. a big bowl of pureed soup is sometimes too much of a good thing. unless of course it's one of those luscious flavors that you cannot get enough of. this pureed soup, might be one of them. no matter what though, a cup of pureed butternut squash soup as first course or paired with a hearty salad or sandwich, is a great way to experience just a little of a good thing.

side salad of massaged kale with olive oil, balsamic and hazelnut dukkah

butternut squash soup with oil braised garlic & fried sage ~ serves 8+
3 pound butternut squash*
2 small yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 head of garlic
1 bunch sage
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 quart vegetable stock
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
salt & pepper to taste

*or 2 pounds butternut squash and 1 pound sweet potato

for oil braised garlic
preheat oven to 350-degrees. peel garlic and cut any large cloves in half so that all cloves are roughly the same size. place in a small ramekin with 1/4 cup olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. cover tightly with foil and bake for 20-40 minutes. cooking time ranges significantly depending on the size of garlic cloves, so check them every 5 minutes or so after 20 minutes. continue to bake until garlic just begins to brown on the edges. remove from oven and let cool in oil, uncovered. i like to make the garlic while the soup is simmering and simply add the garlic when pureeing, but you could make garlic ahead of time to add to soup while simmering.

for the pureed soup
use a vegetable peeler to carefully remove the skin. i trim off the neck of the squash first, then cut both the bulb and the neck in half. cube the neck into small half-inch or slightly larger cubes and set aside. use a sharp spoon to remove the stringy flesh and seed from the bulb halves. slice bulbs into strips and then chop each strip into small wedges roughly the same size of the cubes. set aside. if using a portion of sweet potatoes, peel and chop sweet potatoes into equally sized cubes.

heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. add sliced onions and sauté for 5 minutes or so. chop 2-3 tablespoons for fresh sage into small strips and add to the pot. sauté for an additional minute or two, until sage is fragrant but not crisped. add squash (and sweet potatoes, if using) to the pot along with the chili flakes, nutmeg, a half teaspoon of salt to start and a few cracks of fresh black pepper. add just enough stock to semi-submerge the cubed veggies. better to have not enough liquid than too much - you can always add stock later in the blending process.

cover pot and bring to a simmer, then lower heat and simmer until vegetables are extra tender. by this time your braised garlic should be finished. add garlic drained from oil at any point to simmering soup.

you could use an emersion blender or transfer batches of the soup to a blender to purée until smooth. add additional broth until you reach desired consistency. taste to adjust seasoning. serve immediately, or return to soup pot to simmer if soup has cooled off considerably while blending.

for the fried sage
this is an elegant added touch for serving. i wouldn't make them ahead of time, as they will loose their crispness. just make a few fried sage leaves per serving to top your bowls of soup.

transfer the oil used for braising the garlic to a small skillet or sauté pan. heat over medium heat, being careful to keep oil under the smoke point. trim a few sage leaves and add to preheated oil. (you can test one first, to make sure oil is hot enough - it should sizzle instantly) watch closely, as they fry quickly. i wait until just the very tips start to turn slightly brown. strain from oil and place onto a paper towel to drain. leaves should be brittle yet still vibrant green. 

fresh turmeric red lentil dal bowl

i took a brief hiatus from chef work & blogging over the holidays and escaped to red rocks canyon with david for 10 days. we flew to las vegas with a giant bouldering crash pad and our climbing shoes, rented a car and spent our daylight hours bouldering and hiking through gorgeous canyons. red rocks is a climbing destination david has wanted to visit for quite some time, and neither of us had hit up vegas before. 

when i tell people we went to vegas for 10 days, their reaction is initially one of disgust. fair enough... i can't imagine spending 10 days in vegas the way most people do vegas - eating out and drinking and spending all their monies at casinos. but 10 days in red rocks was fantastic! the canyons are only a 30 or 40 minute drive from 'the strip' and host numerous incredible climbing areas. there were days of climbing in sunshine and t-shirts and other days when we were tucked away in a shady canyon, and i froze my butt off in 30-degree weather while david projected on some ridiculously difficult boulder problem. but the scenery was always incredible, even the views of far away vegas were a delight! 

we stayed at an airbnb in west las vegas, with a wonderfully helpful host who allowed me the use of her kitchen. we made eggs and coffee in the mornings, and packed homemade soups and snacks for picnics in the canyons. i even made a fair number of dinners at the house. nothing fancy, just hearty warming meals. we did however go out for a few fantastic meals. hands down, our favorite was all-you-can-eat sushi at goyemon sushi house. we had a blast sitting at the sushi bar, ordering excessive amounts of nigiri straight from the sushi chefs. we spent maybe 4 hours or so on the strip, looking into the casinos and bars. and for new years we celebrate with an inspiring cirque du soleil show. we then promptly fell asleep around 11pm and got up early the next day to get back out to the boulders. so many boulders to climb, 10 days was not enough for david. he will probably be returning back to red rocks within the next year. i would tag along again just for all-you-can-eat sushi. 

all in all it was a very diverse and fantastic vacation. getting back into the groove of work and life at home has been a bit of a struggle this past week as it always is after a long time off. although, i truly missed my chef knives, yoga mat and bicycle. being reunited with them this week has been a joy. i certainly took many photos while in red rocks, but none of food. so a new blog post is well overdue! this hearty bowl of goodness was inspired by the fresh turmeric root that had been sitting in my fruit basket since before we left for vegas. i've honestly never used fresh turmeric before. i've ordered it before at juice bars, blended with citrus and carrot, but had never cooked with it. i didn't want to add too many competing flavors in this lentil dish, as i was curious about the turmeric. the end result was fantastic. this dahl is wonderful as a stand alone dish over your favorite steamed grain, or choose from some of the various optional topping offered below. or pile on all the toppings... the combination was delicious! 

fresh turmeric red lentil dal ~ serves 4 or more

1 cup red lentils
1 yellow onion
2 inches fresh turmeric 
2 inches fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch chili flakes
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 cups vegetable stock 
1 large sweet potato, unpeeled 
1/2 lemon, juiced

note: the fresh flavor is quite unique from dried turmeric powder, so i can't recommend substituting it. go find fresh turmeric at your local health food store or asian grocer (typically much cheaper at asian groceries!) 

wash and drain the lentils in a fine mesh colander. brush off any dirt from sweet potatoes and cut into small cubes, about the size of a chickpea, and set aside. peel and grate fresh turmeric and ginger with a microplane zester and set aside. finely chop onion and add to a sauce pan with coconut oil over medium heat. sauté for 5 minutes. add grated ginger and turmeric to pan and sauté for an additional minute. add remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the sweet potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. serve over your favorite steamed grain (i used res quinoa) and top with cilantro or with any of these delightful options...

quick pickled carrots ~ to top 4 portions of lentils
1 cup julienne sliced carrots
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup rice or white wine vinegar

use a julienne peeler to thinly slice washed carrots. rub carrot strips with salt and let sit in colander to drain for 20 minutes. squeeze carrots to drain off any excess liquid then submerge in vinegar for at least 20 minutes, or overnight. you can add flavors like crushed garlic and ginger to the vinegar for an extra zing. 

sautéed greens ~ to serve with 4 portions of lentils
4-6 cups loosely packed bitter greens
1-2 teaspoons coconut oil
salt & pepper

wash and dry greens (i used red kale, but you could use chard or spinach or your favorite green). tear or chop greens into 1-inch strips. heat coconut oil over medium heat and toss greens to coat in oil. cover pan and let wilt. i like my greens to be vibrant in color and retain a bit of their shape, rather than cooking them all the way down to where they darken and dull in color. 

cilantro-lime coconut cream ~ to top 4 portions of lentils
1 cup light coconut milk or full fat coconut cream 
1/2 - 3/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
juice of 1 lime

combine ingredients in blender. if you are using a solidified coconut cream, you may need to add a few tablespoons of water to loosen the cream. this dressing should be slightly runny and pourable. adjust consistency to taste.