Sunday, January 18, 2015

North African Butternut Squash Soup

I have found that my tastebuds are getting more adventurous as I get older.  I have my basic butternut squash soup recipe which is delicious but sometimes it's fun to switch things up a little.  I'm so glad I tried this recipe.  It is a treat to the eyes as well as the tastebuds - colorful and delicious and provides lots of healthy vegetables (some kale or lentils might be good additions too).

A note about the ingredients:  The small cinnamon stick gives it just a hint of cinnamon flavor without overpowering.  The harissa is a chili paste that can be found in middle eastern markets and gives a nice depth of flavor.  This soup also has ground turmeric.  Hopefully you've heard about the health benefits of turmeric.  It's a superfood spice that's getting a lot of press lately.  It can reduce inflammation and has many other health-protecting properties.

Feeling adventurous in the kitchen?  Give this soup a try - your body will thank you!

North African Butternut Squash Soup
from The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook by Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Makes 6 servings

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1/2 to 1 tsp harissa, or 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
6 cups cubed butternut squash or pumpkin (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 14.5 ounce can plum tomatoes, chopped with their juice
2 bay leaves
1 short piece of cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups water or chicken stock
1 or 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro, optional

Combine the olive oil, carrots, celery, and garlic in a heavy-duty stock pot set over medium-low heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft but not brown, about 10 minutes.  Add the chopped pepper,  the harissa or crushed red pepper, and the butternut squash and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add the chopped tomatoes, bay leaves, cinnamon, turmeric, salt and pepper to taste, and 2 cups of water or chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer and cover the pan.  Let simmer about 20-30 minutes or until the squash is very soft.  If desired, blend the soup with a blender or a stick blender (I left mine chunky).  Add lemon and cilantro and adjust seasoning if needed.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mexican Wedding Cookies

When Christmas comes around, I always ask the kids what treats they most want to make for Christmas.  Here's "the list" for 2014 and it's a good one!

English Toffee
Peanut Butter Blossoms
Orange Cookies
Caramel Brownies
Cinnamon Rolls
Gingerbread Men
Pecan Butterballs

Although I have no less than 4 recipes for cinnamon rolls/sticky buns on this blog, I just realized that I am currently using a 5th recipe!  I'll have to share that with you soon.  The only cookie on the list that I haven't shared with you are these Mexican Wedding Cookies, or Butterballs.  They are a bite-sized morsels of buttery, nutty goodness... kind of like Butter Pecan ice cream in cookie form!

Mexican Wedding Cookies
Makes about 40 1-inch cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup confectioners sugar, divided, plus more for rolling
1 cup pecans (or almonds or walnuts)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or silicone liners.

Sift together the flour and salt and set aside.  Process the pecans and 1/3 cup confectioners sugar in a food processor until finely ground.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and remaining 1/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the nut mixture and the vanilla and beat until well combined.  Add the flour and mix until just combined.

Using a small cookie scoop to portion and using your hands to roll, form the dough into smooth 1-inch balls and place on the cookie sheet.  Bake the cookies for 15 minutes or until beginning to lightly brown on the bottom.  Remove the cookies from the oven and immediately sift confectioners sugar on the cookies.  Allow the cookies to cool completely on the cookie sheet.  When the cookies are cool, roll them in a bowl of powdered sugar until well coated on all sides.  Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pumpkin Pie with Oat Crust {gluten free}

We traveled to New Bern, NC this past Thanksgiving to visit my parents and to see my brothers and their families.   The family is expanding with marriages and a baby on the way and it's rare these days that we are all together, but everyone was there and that made it really special!

I made this pumpkin pie to serve alongside my brother's famous rhubarb custard pies so that the guests could have a gluten-free option.  I had no idea how it would taste until we cut into it and tried a piece.  It was so good that Mark dubbed it "best pumpkin pie ever", gluten-free or not!  Coming from a pie connoisseur, that's saying something!  The crust held together nicely and the pumpkin custard sliced up beautifully.  If you're looking for a gluten-free dessert to make for Christmas, try this recipe!  Happy Holiday Baking!

Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from
Makes one pie

2 cups pumpkin puree (I used homemade roasted pumpkin puree)
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup honey (I might try a little less next time)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or add 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cloves)
Oatmeal pie crust (recipe below) or crust of your choice

Prepare the crust and chill.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, canned coconut milk, and 1/2 cup honey until smooth.  Whisk in the eggs, cinnamon, and pie spice.  Pour into the chilled pie crust just below the crimped edges.  Carefully transfer to the preheated oven and bake for about 50 minutes or until the filling is no longer jiggly in the middle.  If you have filling leftover, pour it into ramekins and bake until done (no jiggles).  Cool completely and chill before serving.

Oatmeal crust
Adapted from Good Without Gluten by Jules, Lepoutre, and Yanase
Makes a single pie crust

80g (2/3 cup) oat flour
45 g (1/3 cup) tapioca starch
40g (1/3 cup) almond flour
50g (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon) confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
80g cold butter (6 tablespoons), cut into pieces
1 egg

Place all dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter pieces and pulse until butter pieces are pea sized or smaller.  Add the egg and pulse until mixture holds together.  Press the dough into the pie plate using wet hands, or parchment to keep your hands from sticking (a little tricky but try different things and see what works for you).  Try not to make it too thick at the corners of the pie pan like I did (i.e. try to make it the same thickness all the way around.)  Crimp the edges and chill until firm, about one hour.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Banana Pecan Oat Bars

Looking for a healthier treat to take to a meeting or get-together?  These delicious banana oat bars are a great alternative to those sweeter snacks that are made with refined sugar and flour.  You could even grab a bar for a quick breakfast on the go, and they are great with a cup of tea in the afternoon.  They are also wheat and dairy-free.  Enjoy!

Banana Pecan Oat Bars
adapted from Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free by Ricki Heller
Makes 12-16 bars

1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
1 Tablespoon finely ground flaxseed
1/4 cup coconut or almond milk
1/4 cup avocado oil or melted coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon natural smooth almond or sunflower butter
2 medium, very ripe bananas
1/3 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup whole oat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment or coat the pan with coconut oil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the coconut sugar, maple syrup, flaxseeds, milk, oil, vanilla, and almond butter until sugar is dissolved.

Cut the bananas into chunks and add to the bowl.  Mash the banana chunks with a fork, leaving a few smaller pieces here and there.  Stir in the cranberries and chopped pecans.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, coconut, oat flour, baking powder and salt.  Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture and stir well to combine.  The mixture will be wet.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is dry and a tester inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean.  Cool completely before cutting into bars.  Freeze any portion which will not be consumed within a day or two.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Purslane - is this super weed growing in your garden?

Purslane is a common weed found in most of our yards and gardens.  I call it a superweed, not because it is unmanageable, but because it is a nutritional powerhouse!

Check out these nutrition facts:

-purslane has more omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of ALA) than any other plant food.  100 grams of fresh purslane contains 350 mg of ALA.  Increasing our intake of omega-3's has been linked to better heart health and decreased systemic inflammation.

-it is a good source of many vitamins and minerals including vitamins C and E, riboflavin, beta carotene, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and calcium.

-purslane is also high in dietary fiber, contains antioxidants and is reported to contain compounds which help with depression.

Purslane growing among the thyme and rosemary.

In my garden, I practice selective weeding.  I'll pull other weeds and leave the purslane to grow.  It is actually beneficial to the surrounding plants as it provides a great edible ground cover which helps retain soil moisture and prevents other weeds from taking over.  It grows low to the ground so it doesn't impede my other plants from getting the sunlight they need - and it's such a cute and happy looking plant!

Purslane is an annual plant that reseeds itself each year.  The seedlings will appear when the soil warms to 76 degrees F.  The plant will grow in just about any soil conditions, even in the cracks of the sidewalk, and the seeds can remain viable in undisturbed soil for more than 30 years.  I will allow some of my purslane to flower and go to seed to ensure that I will have more purslane next year.

I think purslane is delicious.  It has a mildly tart lemony flavor. I eat purslane straight from the garden sometimes, but most of the time I'll add it to a salad along with other greens.  (Only harvest purslane in areas which you know have not been chemically treated.)  The leaves, tender stems and flowers are all edible.  Just pinch off the stems, or pull the entire plant and cut off the roots if you are trying to control the plant.  

I added olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the bowl of purslane in the photo at the top of this post and ate it all!  It can also be added to potato salad, soups, or anywhere you would use spinach or other greens.

In the case of purslane,  I'm happy to ask my kids, "have you eaten your weed today?"

Purslane as ground cover under my tomato plants.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Cookies for a Texas Barbecue

What would a Texas barbecue be without some Texas sheetcake and these great Texas-sized cookies?  I placed silver dragees on the stars to give them some bling and added a few hats and boots to the mix.  These cookies were made for the day-after-the-wedding family picnic a friend had recently for her newlywed daughter and son-in-law.  Congrats and YEE HAW to the newlyweds who will be spending the next chapter of their life in Texas!

PS...take a look at my veggie garden at!

Take a peek at my garden!

I am in love with my garden.  It's miraculous and meditative and rewarding and beautiful.  Just look at the growth that has happened this Spring already!

Our garden on June 4th...

Our garden on June 19th...

And to think, just 4 years ago, the garden was just another bed of grass and pachysandra!  What a huge difference!  (We also put an addition on the house - those doorways don't exist anymore.)

Tomatoes and sunflowers June 4th...

The same bed on June 19th, only two weeks later!  The sunflowers in the middle of my tomato bed were volunteers leftover from our winter bird feeder.  When they are done blooming, I will have to pull them out so the tomatoes can get more sun.  This is a new staking system for me this year.  I'm hoping it will hold up to heavy tomatoes.

Here's the same general space four years ago...

This photo was taken on May 8th.  Kale, spinach, lettuce and chard.

The kale has been the winner!  Here it is on June 7th and still growing, even after picking every few days.  (Let me know if you'd like any kale!)

My herb garden on May 8th...

 My herb garden today... parsley, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, lemon basil, basil, spearmint, peppermint, sage, chives, oregano, a little stevia, and a lot of lavender!

 I planted several things, many of which I've never grown before.  In this bed (photo below) there are peas, eggplant, green beans, carrots, radishes, lettuce, onions, spinach, chard, kale, and a watermelon!

 Like the sunflowers, there were other volunteers in the garden.  I think I pulled out about a thousand tiny tomato plants, and I'm not even exaggerating!  I let a few of them grow.  I think this is a cucumber plant that seeded itself from the compost pile.  I'll have certain identification when it blooms and fruits.  Maybe it will be a surprise!

We also have several flowers in this compact space to make everything beautiful.


Bee balm... the bees and hummingbirds love these...

and lilies are blooming right now.

 We bought two fig to us this year...

...and still have the old standbys...rhubarb (below) and an ever-growing raspberry patch on the other side of the garage.

Against the railing down below the garden is asparagus, corn, a few tomatoes, rhubarb and lilies and figs.

Is it any wonder that summer is my favorite season?!  Do you have any favorites growing in your garden this year??


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