Cauliflower Burritos

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Colorful Cauliflower Burritos

I’ve said it before, but cooking is my “art form.”  I love to eat, I have no rules or diets I have ever, ever followed.  I adore the colors, the textures, the creativity of food I prepare. What does this have to do with Cauliflower Burritos? Allow me to explain…

It was a Monday at the end of July.  Meatless Monday. It happened to be my shopping day at the grocery store day as well.  I only go food shopping when I have over 15 things on the list, and before I go I have a general idea of which meals I am going to prepare – based on when we might be eating away from home, who might drop over for dinner or lunch.  My point is, shopping for food is not random for me. I go with a list, click off each item, and get through the store quickly (I even arrange my grocery list according to the aisles of the store. Don’t knock it, it’s super-efficient). The checkers at the cash register always ask me what I am making and sometimes I even bring them leftover food.  Last week I dropped off some potato salad to Rena, for example.

In case you were wondering, my meals that week included miso-marinated chicken stir-fried with fresh green and yellow beans and tons of fresh herbs, tuna noodle casserole, grilled bruschettas, tuna/bean salad, spaghetti with homemade, basil-laden tomato sauce, and CAULIFLOWER BURRITOS.

Now, I did not have a recipe for said burritos.  I had an idea and a plan, and everything went seamlessly and exceeded my expectations.  It was easy, and we stuffed ourselves to the gills. We ate every morsel on the serving platter along with a fair amount of wild rice pilaf I made.

Clean Plate Club

Here you go, and you are most welcome.

Cauliflower Burritos

Serves two famished eaters (Each of us had two whole burritos.  Honestly one would have sufficed but they were so darned good we just kept going.)

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Cauliflower Ingredients
  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
  • 1 ½ Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp of chili powder
  • ½ tsp of cumin
  • ¼ tsp of garlic powder
  • ½ tsp of salt
  • 20 grinds of fresh black pepper
Instructions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.  I roasted my cauliflower in my handy dandy toaster oven. Toss all the ingredients together in a large bowl and place on the baking sheet.  Roast for 25 minutes, turning once with a spatula midway. Taste to be sure it is perfect, and place into a dish for serving after it is ready. The spices really punch up the flavor here.

All the fixin’s

Meanwhile, prepare a platter with: 

  • Chopped lettuce or napa cabbage (You will see I used leaf lettuce from my garden)
  • ½ large avocado, diced
  • Wedges of lime to spritz on top
  • Sliced cherry tomatoes (mine were homegrown) or diced fresh tomatoes
  • ¼ cup plain unflavored yogurt
  • Fresh DILL (I bet you thought I was going to say Cilantro!  Nope, gotta have something unexpected.)
  • Bottle of hot sauce
  • 4 large flour tortillas.  I put all 4 of ours between two damp paper towels and microwaved them for 30 seconds.  They were so perfect. You can keep them wrapped in a dish towel to keep them warm.

To serve, you can make any type of rice – I had a very non-Central American type of wild rice pilaf here.  Rice can be a side dish or go into the burrito. Put a large tortilla on each plate and let everyone fill their burrito according to their taste.  Add hot sauce if you wish. Enjoy!

PS: Fresh Fruit is great as a side to these.

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Chocolate Chip Tahini Bars

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Crave-Inducing Chocolate Chip Tahini Bars

I am a huge tahini fan, an even huger dark chocolate fan, and I am always on the hunt for new and easy dessert type bars to make.  This recipe adapted from The Washington Post fits the bill on oh so many levels!  One bowl, one pan, easy to eat and freeze and interesting flavors.  

Chocolate Chip Tahini  Bars

Makes 12 bars 

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Ingredients 
  • ½ stick salted butter 
  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar less 1 Tbsp. (140 grams if you have a scale)
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup well-stirred Tahini  (Soom brand, of course)
  • ¾ cup (106 grams) all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 3 oz dark bittersweet chocolate chunks (I use Guittard and chop half a bit more, then leave the other half as is.  I toss the chocolate with about ½ tsp of flour.)
  • ~ ¼ tsp fresh ground sea salt to top the brownies
  • 2 tsp white sesame seeds to sprinkle on top before baking
Instructions

This is for a brownie sized pan but can be doubled for a 9 x 12.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the oven rack in the center.  Line the square brownie pan with aluminum foil, letting there be a little extra on the lip of two opposite sides so you can lift the cookies out as they are cooling.  Spray the foil lined  brownie pan with Pam.

Place the  butter in a pyrex measuring cup and melt in the microwave. (Cover the container loosely with a napkin so it doesn’t mess up your microwave.  Or you can melt this in a sauce pan.)  Cool while you measure out everything else.

Using a rubber spatula, mix the melted butter with the brown sugar, add the egg, and keep mixing, then add the vanilla and tahini.

I dump the flour, salt and baking powder on top of the mixed batter, slightly combine it then fold it into the mix (but don’t overmix).  It is like a soft, soft dough. Fold in the chocolate. Scrape the gooey batter into the prepared pan and even it out with a greased offset spatula.  Grind some sea salt on top and sprinkle the top of the brownies lightly with sesame seeds.  

Bake mid oven for 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. If you’re doubling the recipe and using a larger pan –  bake a bit longer, say 22-25 minutes. 

Let cool ten minutes in the pan, then lift the foil-wrapped brownies onto a baking rack.  Once completely cooled, cut into 12 even pieces.  

SO SO GOOD.  These freeze well for up to four months.

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Juana

Juana with my grandsons Isaiah and Asher

My husband and I have been traveling to Guatemala every other month for a year. This magical place is so different from what I pictured in my mind or what I read about the country in numerous news publications.  Our base camp is mostly in beautiful Antigua, which is the “jewel” of Guatemala – a UNESCO World Heritage Site with so many great inexpensive restaurants, yoga studios, and tourism. Clearly, Guatemala is more populated, and less modern than, say, Mexico or Belize but I really love the amount of culture everywhere and the sheer physical beauty in many spots.  Antigua is not representative of Guatemala.  Of course, there are flat, arid areas that are like the wild west too and a lot of abject poverty.!

My favorite part of travel always centers on getting to know the natives.  We have met some very nice ex-pat Americans, Europeans, and Canadians here as well, but I seem to gravitate to the Guatemalans I have met at the daily Mercado, in the park, and on the streets.  Life for most of them is really really difficult, particularly because so many are not able to read or write.  

Every day there are a few hundred Mayan women (and children) milling around the central park, the main tourist street, and a few touristy spots. Most are selling knick-knacks, many of which are made in China.  Most venders sell identical merchandise – scarves, table runners, plastic toys, LED lights, food for pigeons. Day after day, year after year the women come to Antigua to sell their goods to tourists.  

So it was that I got to know Juana, who lives a bus ride away from Antigua.  She is in her mid 40’s and has three sons and a husband. She is unable to do any other type of work since she does not read or write.  Her Spanish, since her main language is a Mayan tongue, is slow and easy for me to understand. She’s a smart woman, this much I know.

Just so you are aware, a lot of really poor Guatemalans hustle the foreigners and ask for money for things such as a sick Grandmother, food, or rent.  I don’t give money randomly for these requests because a lot of the stories are fabricated and I believe in helping someone help themselves. That said, I have been known to buy a nice dinner for an elderly Mayan Grandmother who was begging outside of a restaurant.  

Juana had a story about her husband Miguel needing surgery so that he could work again.  Skeptical me, I had my husband go with the family to a public, church-sponsored hospital appointment and sure enough, he badly needed an operation.  We told Juana and Miguel that we would pay for the surgery and all the tests and medications before and after which amounted to less than 400 dollars.  The surgery was performed in September and both were so grateful to us for our help. This has enabled Miguel to resume his work tilling the coffee fields.  

Juana continued to come to the park to sell her trinkets and we saw that, during the low season when there were few tourists, it was pretty futile  We asked her what else she could do to support her family, She explained that she is unable to find work even as a maid. But then she exclaimed, “I could make and sell tortillas!”  

In two days I found myself in a car en route to a nearby town to purchase a “comal” or special gas-driven griddle specifically constructed for tortilla making.  Juana bargained hard and so did I but she had a lot better Spanish and credibility. I ended up paying $120 US dollars for this huge stove. Next, we loaded the griddle in the Uber and drove to her village of about 300 families.  

Wayne, Antonio & Comal!

The narrow walkway leading up to her “house” wouldn’t accommodate a car, so my sturdy 70-plus-year-old husband and the 38-year-old Uber driver Antonio (now a friend of ours) carried the stove about six blocks uphill to her residence.  We opened the door to the corrugated metal outside and I must tell you I have rarely seen anything like this Chickens and roosters running around, no plumbing, no electricity, no running water, just a smallish room for a family of five.  To earn more money, they even rent a cot to someone who sleeps by the kitchen. Wayne set up a propane tank to the stove, we bought her oil and cornmeal and voila, she was in business.

Her youngest son made a sign for the tortillas which she now sells three times a day.  I spoke with Juana about a week later and she was so thrilled with her new business and was earning about 70 quetzales per day, or around $10.   Not bad in a country where the average wage per family is around $1.70 per day! She no longer makes the daily trek to Antigua to sell trinkets.   

Family

I am humbled by Juana and her family. Though I know she and Miguel and their children are thankful for the things Wayne and I have done for them – I believe I am the one who is most grateful.  Just knowing that we’ve been able to make a difference in their lives – and perhaps even their children’s lives for generations to come – makes me verklempt. Best of all – Juana and her family have become our family. And I’ve got to add – she makes the best darn tortillas I’ve ever tasted!

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Giant Raisin Oatmeal Cookies – New and Improved

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The Perfect Cookies!

I keep 99 percent of my recipes on my computer so that I can access them anywhere in the world I might be.  Sometimes I open documents to share with friends, sometimes I need to retrieve a recipe to make in another location, and sometimes I just want to keep my recipes in a place for posterity.  One category – “Things I Love” – is the subset I go to time and time again to peruse beloved family recipes and old old old, tried but true recipes that never disappoint.  

My previously published recipe for raisin oatmeal cookies was one of those all-time faves.  I should mention that I try lots of new recipes (I do have a folder called “Things to try”.)  However, to be very clear, once I land on what I perceive to be the perfect, never fail formula I am risk-averse with certain things – think chicken soup, apricot strudel, Caesar salad.  My raisin oatmeal cookies were one of those tried and true faves, so I felt I didn’t need to search any longer for a superior recipe.

So what prompted me to go into uncharted territory?  After all, I don’t even like raisins.  For some unknown reason, my other half had a hankering for raisin oatmeal cookies, my son Daniel was coming to visit and I wanted to have some treats ready to go in my freezer.  And then, as if the universe was conspiring, I stumbled upon a recipe in a newspaper* with the title: The Best Oatmeal Cookie Recipe We’ve Ever Tried – accompanied by a photo that made my mouth water.

I compared the list of ingredients to my original recipe, and found the same components….BUT the quantities were really different and the method of preparation took a u-turn as well. All righty then, after reading comments from cooks who actually made these, I decided to go forth and bake, incorporating some of the suggestions from bakers’ comments.  I used salted butter then cut the added salt down. The original recipe called for keeping the measured, flattened cookies in the fridge for four days, but I have no time and no patience for such a thing. I wanted and needed them pronto and couldn’t see myself waiting four days to try them. (Just so you know, I made the first cookie sheet’s worth and refrigerated the others on the tray for 15 minutes or so) .  Finally, I used a bit less granulated sugar.

Fresh out of the oven

Let me tell you what.  My condo building smelled like a bakery, and these really huge cookies hit the mark.  My husband and I cut one in half to try it, then we cut another in half to be sure it was really good (it was!). Then I packed up a half dozen to take to my daughter’s house for dessert and received a text later that night that said:  

Cookies are AMAZING.

J  had a brilliant idea and we shared one with some vanilla ice cream. OH MY GOD. I would almost give up chocolate chippers for them! (Don’t tell anyone) 


Giant Raisin Oatmeal Cookies

Makes 15 cookies

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Ingredients
  • 1 cup raisins (I love Trader Joe’s Thompson raisins – very small and plump and superior for these cookies)
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoons fine sea salt 
  • 1½ sticks salted butter, slightly softened 
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups old-fashioned or rolled oats
  • 1 large egg
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Instructions

Soak raisins in hot water for 20 minutes, then drain and shake so all the water is removed.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center of the oven.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.

With an electric mixer cream together butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down frequently. Do not to overbeat.

Add flour mixture to creamed butter and sugar and mix on low speed until just combined. Everything will look way too dry, but do not fret.  Mix in oats, followed by drained raisins, egg and vanilla and beat until just combined.

Use a ¼-cup ice cream scoop (or do this by hand) and measure dough onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Cover the sheet of balled cookies with a piece of waxed paper and flatten each blob with the base of a flat bottomed measuring cup so they are around 3 ½ inches across.

Before baking

To bake cookies: put one sheet of cookies at a time in the preheated oven.   Bake until cookies are golden-brown on the outside but still soft in the middle, about 17 minutes. Remove from the oven and let them rest on the cookie sheet for five minutes, then transfer with a spatula to a rack to cool.

These stay perfectly in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days, or in the freezer for up to a month. 

Cook’s Notes:
  • The cookies are about 4 ½ inches in diameter after baking, so I suggest putting only five cookies per sheet and baking one at a time mid-oven.  Before baking, they measured three inches in diameter so you need to allow for the spreading that takes place.
  • The original newspaper recipe included a note that this recipe was “Adapted from Melissa Weller of Sadelle’s, New York City.”  Bravo, Melissa … BRAVO!  Very very well done!
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Easy Peasy Mac & Cheesy

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So Easy! SOOO Good!!

I heard on the street that mac and cheese can be made in the pressure cooker or instapot.  That sounded a little counter-intuitive to me, and I’m a skeptic to boot. BUT I was being open-minded and decided, while on 10 days of babysitting duty for my 10, 7 and 3-year-old grandkids, to try this.  HUGE HUGE HIT, huge huge amount of mac and cheese produced without powdered cheese or a box, and huge huge huge oohs and ahhhhs from the kids.

This takes less than 10 minutes stove to table, and I am here to tell you it is so good.  We ate like starving animals the first time through, and the kids had enough leftovers for lunches at school and after-school snacks. In other words, you get a lot of bang for your buck.  

You are golden if you own either an instapot or a pressure cooker. If not, borrow a friend or neighbor’s pot.  I’m a pressure cooker owner and I’m not about to buy another kitchen workhorse, so the directions here are for a pressure cooker.  If you are an instapot owner 1) Good for you and B) you’ll have to adapt the directions for the instapot. I suspect it will take longer to come to full pressure is all.

Easy Peasy Mac & Cheesy

Serves 8-10 at least

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Ingredients
  • 1 pound dry elbow macaroni
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp salted butter
  • 12 oz can of evaporated milk
  • ¼ cup water
  • 3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (I was lazy and got the pre-shredded kind.  Each package had 2 cups worth so I used 1 ½ packages and saved the rest to melt on toast)
Instructions:

Place the dry macaroni, 4 cups of water and 2 teaspoons of salt in a pressure cooker.  Stir together and lock the lid, bring to full pressure and set a timer to cook it for exactly 4 minutes.

After the four minutes are up, use the quick (manual) release.  I always wear hot mitts when I do this and I keep a towel wrapped around the valve so the stuff that bubbles out doesn’t make a huge mess or burn my hands.

Unlock and remove the lid away from you so the steam doesn’t come rushing out at you.  The noodles will be cooked and the water absorbed. WOO HOO.

Stir in the butter, the evaporated milk and the quarter cup of water.  Then add the grated cheddar cheese a half cup at a time so it melts entirely.  Stir together, add pepper and serve hot. Leftovers can be dumped in a buttered casserole dish, refrigerated and eaten for up to three days later.  We reheat each serving briefly in the microwave oven, but I have to say my grandboys took this to school and ate it at room temperature.

Cooks Notes:

You could add either some drained tuna fish or flaked salmon or diced cooked broccoli at the end.  Me? I just love straight up mac and cheese every once in a while, particularly when it is dead simple to make.  

Our daughter, the mother of these three little angels we babysat, tried this when I made it yet again last night  She was blown away by how cheesy, I mean easy, it is.

 

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Kitchen Sink Soup

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Kitchen Sink Soup – Guatemala Style!

I’m in Antigua, Guatemala as I write this post.  We are renting a small apartment in the center of town, and my kitchen here is very small and barely useable.  For example, the smallish electric stove is mostly rusted out and one burner only offers up high heat. That’s it.  The pots and pans are so worn that I bought myself one cheap fry pan and one cheap small saucepan. Oh, and I brought a couple of knives, a potato peeler, and a lime squeezer.  Forget about the oven—smoke pours out when I try to preheat!

Check out my stove!

Amazing what one can do if motivated.  I am someone who does not enjoy restaurant food too often.  Saturday, while my husband was saving the world, I ventured out and bought “pollo entero de horno” or whole roasted chicken.  The first night we had a bit of roasted chicken with some vegetable laden rice and sauteed veggie that I made. . The next day I composed large salads with sliced chicken, mango, tomato, cucumber tossed with Tamarind dressing for lunch.  There were a few chicken sandwiches, chicken salad sandwiches, and four days later, the only bits left were untouched parts with very little meat on them. Waste not, want not. Besides, I craved soup.

So…I rifled through the fridge and cupboards.  Into the pot went the chicken neck, back and part of a thigh.  I added water to cover, probably around five cups. Since this wasn’t going to be any type of gourmet dish, I added everything else at the same time: half of a large green zucchini, chopped in half-inch bits, one regular carrot peeled and chopped into half-inch pieces, some white skinned potato cut up, three quarters of a white skinned onion, a few cloves of garlic, about a half a cup of Basmati rice and a handful of cilantro.  Salt and pepper. Cooked for 45 minutes partly covered. Lime juice at the end.

For some reason this tasted really great—it was hearty and thick,  and fed four adults some nice servings along with raisin macadamia nut bread slices slathered with butter, and cubes of papaya with lime.  

The next time you have some chicken bones or parts left over, make soup with everything but the kitchen sink.  And make it your own. I’d have added some green beans or white cooked beans if I had them, some sliced celery, perhaps pasta in lieu of rice…honestly, this came about just because of what I had in the kitchen here.  

Just so you can see what I did in a recipe format:

Kitchen Sink Soup

Makes 4-5 servings

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Ingredients
  • Leftover cooked chicken parts (i.e. neck, back, wings or whatever you have)
  • Water to cover said chicken
  • ½ large zucchini, cubed ½ inch
  • 3 fingerling potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces but unpeeled.  
  • 1 large carrot, cubed ½ inch
  • 1 small white onion, unpeeled but cut into half
  • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • ⅓ cup raw white basmati rice
  • A handful of cilantro or dill
  • Salt (it takes a fair amount)
  • Black pepper
  • Juice of ½ lime for the end
Instructions

Cover chicken bones with a little meat clinging to them in a large saucepan.  Cover with fresh water by a ½ inch. Add everything else on the list but the lime.   Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook partly covered for 45 minutes. Fish out the onion, garlic and chicken bones (pick any chicken meat you find and return to the pot).  Squeeze fresh lime juice and add to taste along with extra salt and pepper.

 

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Morning Glory Muffins

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Marvelous Morning Glory Muffins

The other day I was looking at the Washington Post food section, and lo and behold – Ellie Krieger’s recipe for Morning Glory Muffins popped out at me.  Back in the day…way back in the day … I lived in Sioux City, Iowa. Bakeries weren’t common then like they are now, but I remember my mom taking me to get “morning glory buns.”  These yeasted pillowy buns contained nuts, apple shreds, carrots, raisins, coconut, and pineapple. I remember thinking that they sounded weird, but once I tried them I was hooked.  

I have never made them in their yeasted form, but now that I am typing this and I am feeling creative, I don’t see why I wouldn’t make challah dough then fill a rolled out rectangle with the same mixture.  I will report back when I have the time to follow through on this brilliant idea.

Anyway, I love breakfast muffins – particularly when they have whole wheat flour, oil, and less sugar than normal.  The only scones or muffins I eat happen to be those I bake – I am too cheap to pay good money for way less quality and unknown ingredients!  I copied the Washington Post recipe and here I am.  WAITING, as my kitchen smells with the most amazing smells, the last five minutes for these babies to be done.  The cooling rack is ready, the timer is ticking away and I am trying to write down every little change I made to the original recipe.

Not-So-Perfect Muffins

Note that I am not a baking perfectionist (usually) and that my muffins aren’t exactly the same size.  OK by me. The taste is better than I imagined. There is texture enough for my palate. Out of 12 muffins, 8 ½ now remain less than an hour later.  (I had help from the other person who lives here). The recipe sounds OK but the result is way better. Exceeded my expectations, as they say.

Morning Glory Muffins

Makes 12 nice sized muffins

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Ingredients:
  • ⅓ cup white raisins
  • ¾ cup walnuts (coarsely chopped)
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup avocado or other neutral oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • One 8 oz can crushed pineapple, juice and all
  • 2 medium carrots (peeled and grated)
  • ½ cup unpeeled grated apple (mine was a Braeburn because that is what was handy)
  • 1 ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour OR use 1 cup whole wheat flour plus ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tsp coarse Turbinado sugar for the top of the muffins
Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 with the rack in the middle.  Spray or grease a regular sized muffin tin with oil-one for 12 regular sized muffins

Soak the raisins in hot water, and leave them alone while you get everything else done

Toast the walnut pieces and the coconut at 350 for 1 ½-3 minutes.  I did mine in the toaster oven and they were done before I could blink.  If you overdo the coconut, it will burn – so watch out.

Whisk together the cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ginger in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl whisk the oil, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla until well combined.  Add the pineapple and it’s juice and mix well. Drain the raisins, discard the water and stir the drained raisins into the liquid ingredients.  Then add the grated carrot, apple, and cooled toasted nuts and coconut. Stir until barely mixed.

Using an ice cream scoop, divide the batter equally among the 12 muffin wells, sprinkle with a pinch of turbinado on top and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and wait five minutes, then remove the muffins to the rack to cool completely. These freeze for up to three months and stay fresh for a few days at room temperature.  As if.

Oh, and soft cream cheese makes the perfect topping.

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Quick Curry Lentil Soup

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Sumptuous Curry Lentil Soup

Following my trip to Antigua, Guatemala, I searched out a recipe for “curried red lentil soup.” During my visit, I had a real “yen” for soup and our rental apartment stove is so off balance that it is tough to saute or cook with much accuracy.  The stove tilts to the right, so if I use a pan and add oil, the bottom of the pan is never coated because I end up with a pool of oil in one spot of the pan. The stovetop also has two settings that function: off and full on high power. Nothing in between.  Suffice it to say, I use my toaster oven and do really simple cooking.

There is a wonderful little place across town, near to where we hike a few times a week.  On the way home one Sunday, I stopped and bought a pint of red lentil curry soup. Boy, it hit the spot and I decided then and there to try to replicate it when I came back to Seattle.

I found the recipe below in a two and a half-year-old Bon Appetit magazine and, of course, tweaked it here and there.  It is good, It is easy and quick to prepare, it is filling, it checks all the boxes for me.  And it stays refrigerated for a few days — easy to reheat for another lunch or dinner. It is vegan, in case that matters to you.

Red Lentil Curry Soup

Serves 4-6

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Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium brown skinned onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled, finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon medium curry powder (I bought mine in bulk at the market)
  • 1 pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (add more if you love spice)
  • ¾ cup red lentils
  • 1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes (mine were fire roasted)
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • Fine Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves (for serving)
  • 1 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk, shaken well (full fat for me)  I removed about ¼ cup (for serving) f
  • Lime wedges (for serving)
Instructions

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.   Cook onion, stirring often, until softened and golden brown, about eight minutes. Add garlic, ginger, curry powder, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about two minutes. Add lentils and cook, stirring, about one minute.

Add tomatoes, ½ cup cilantro, a generous pinch of salt, and 2 ½ cups water; season with pepper. Set aside 1/4 cup coconut milk for serving and add remaining coconut milk to saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft but not mushy, 20–25 minutes. Season soup with more salt and pepper if needed.

To serve, divide soup among bowls. Drizzle with reserved coconut milk and top with more cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

This soup can be made three days ahead (just wait to add the toppings when serving). Let cool; cover and chill.

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Upscale Orzo Salad

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Upscale Orzo Salad

I would have to say that generally, I am not a pasta salad lover.  At all! I do like my Tangy Noodle Salad, although for over 15 years I made that salad in huge huge huge quantities for catering purposes.  It took a long time before I could even think about eating Tangy Noodles, but now? I do enjoy it every now and then.

Then last week, everything changed. I was kind of tired of salads with barley, salads with quinoa, salad with brown rice…and I happened upon a recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentis.  Containing pasta! But not that corkscrew kind slathered in mayonnaise you find in the deli section. Nope, Giada knows better. Hers contains orzo, dried cherries, arugula, toasted nuts – some of my favorites. I glanced at her recipe and then I went to town.  I immediately switched and swapped ingredients around and changed proportions so that the pasta is not the main show here, but merely a background ingredient.  

This is quick to make, plus it’s a great hot weather, non-mayonnaisy summer salad.  It has crunch from the toasted nuts and arugula, sweetness from the cherries, a little bitter from the greens and lemon juice and salt from the goat cheese.  

When my husband peered into the refrigerator he started with “You know, I don’t like pasta salads.”  “Uh-huh, just try it” I replied. And the rest is history since he ate two pretty large helpings.

Upscale Orzo Salad

Serves 4

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Ingredients
  • 6 oz orzo pasta
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 cup fresh arugula
  • 2 oz crumbled goat cheese
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, chiffonade
  • ¾ cups dried cherries
  • ½ cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • For garnish: 8 bing cherries, seeded and sliced if you have them  + about 2 Tbsp toasted pecans  
Instructions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add orzo and cook until not quite done, stirring once or twice, about 6-8 minutes.  Drain well and run cold water over the pasta. Shake until no water remains. Spread the orzo on a large rimmed dish and add the oil.  Add salt and pepper and toss once more. Refrigerate for around 10 minutes until it has cooled.

Meanwhile, measure and put the rest of the ingredients except the lemon juice and zest into a bowl.  When the orzo is cool, add the bowl of chopped ingredients and mix. Add lemon juice and zest, stir and taste to see if you would like more salt. 

Before serving, I usually slice a few fresh Rainier or Bing cherries on top just for interest and sprinkle the top with a few chopped nuts.  

The salad keeps in the fridge for a few days and is really light and wonderful.  This recipe is enough to feed four but can be easily doubled for larger groups. You could make it your own by subbing a different type of toasted nut, spinach instead of arugula, mint in lieu of basil, chopped dried apricots for the cherries.  Capiche?

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Grilled Bruschetta

Beautiful Bruschetta

Nothing pleases me more than eating peak season produce in the summer AND not spending hours making a meal.  I am not really sure where or when I got this yen for bruschetta … There was a new restaurant in Antigua, Guatemala last time we were there that served “toasts” that tasted great so perhaps that is where the seed was planted.  And I have noticed many restaurants advertise similar appetizers on their menus – but the ones here stateside include fairly hefty price tags. And really – it’s just bread and toppings – nothing can be simpler! I promise – even for you “non-cooks.”

All you need is some good rustic bread, a bit of olive oil, Ricotta or goat cheese or even whipped cream cheese, vegetables, fresh herbs…and away you go.

Here is what I did today for lunch at home.  I grilled some “Como” sliced rustic white bread from the Essential Bakery after drizzling it with some good extra virgin olive oil. Two minutes on each side until the bread is warm and a little crunchy on the outside but not too much.  !removed the bread from the grill, brought it to my kitchen and topped each slice with about two tablespoons of whole milk ricotta cheese – because why not whole milk ricotta cheese? Then a dusting of freshly ground black pepper. Next, I pressed some halved homegrown cherry tomatoes onto the cheese, cut side down, and topped this with leaves of fresh basil and a few pickled onions. Oh, and a few flakes of Maldon salt.

The flavors exploded in my mouth.  My husband hummed his way through lunch.  I told him to expect variations of bruschetta all week long – radishes and butter and sprouts, thin zucchini ribbons and smoked peppers, goat cheese and arugula with cucumber, avocado with beefsteak tomato…he was truly happy about my new obsession.  

Recipe?  Not so much.  Just get creative depending on your palate – and what’s in season.  I am a girl who grills but I do not own a grill pan for my indoor stove.  A grill pan would work just fine if you have that item and don’t want to use the outdoor BBQ.  Call this breakfast and top it with an egg, make it your own.  

 

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