Summer Lentil Salad with Swiss Chard

Here we are in August. It’s hot. The world is exhausted. And here I am posting another recipe. I might delete it next week, in fact I might delete the whole blog with it. At this point cooking is merely a distraction from the chaos, and I haven’t derived the same enjoyment from it (or anything else) as I have in the past. But every so often, maybe once a month I come up with a recipe on the fly that I’d like to make again so here we are.

I’ve got plenty of Swiss chard in the garden this year (it’s the most beautiful vegetable) and to be honest it’s not my favorite of the leafy greens. It has an earthiness that I feel is an acquired taste. I can handle any kale you throw at me. I love mustard greens, bok choy, cabbage, collards, arugula, you name it. Chard, however is a different story. I had to choke it down the other day when I tossed it with some pasta. The stems and ribs have a flavor that can be overpowering but I was determined to find a way to enjoy it. I’m happy to report that the sweet-tart dressing, the nutty flavor of the roasted cauliflower, and the earthy lentils provided the perfect counterpoint and allowed me to overcome my aversion.

Summer Lentil Salad with Swiss chard
1 small head cauliflower, chopped into small florets
2 to 3 medium carrots, scrubbed and grated
1/4 cup chopped, lightly toasted walnuts
3 tbsp Sicilian Lemon white balsamic vinegar*
1 1/2 tsp Herbes de Provence**
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup (dry/uncooked) French green lentils
2 tbsp coconut aminos or reduced-sodium tamari
1 tbsp onion flakes
1 bunch Swiss chard, washed, stemmed, and chopped into bite-size pieces
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the cauliflower florets on a parchment lined baking sheet and dry roast for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer florets to a large mixing bowl; add the grated carrots, walnuts, balsamic vinegar, Herbes de Provence, and the lemon juice. Toss to combine.

Meanwhile, add the lentils and 3 cups of water to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a steady simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain any remaining water and rinse with cool water in a mesh strainer.

While the lentils are simmering, heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the coconut aminos and the onion flakes. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and add the chard. Steam fry just until the greens are wilted. Do not overcook!

Add the cooked lentils and chard along with the pan juices to the cauliflower mixture. Toss to combine, add some freshly ground black pepper to taste, and adjust the seasonings if necessary. The salad makes about 4 to 6 servings, and tastes best if chilled for at least an hour before consuming.

*If Lemon Balsamic Vinegar is not available, you can substitute 2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice (use the zest too), or white wine vinegar. In this instance, I’d recommend also adding a tablespoon of natural sweetener such as date nectar or pure maple syrup to balance the earthiness of the chard.

**Herbes de Provence is quite aromatic; I’d recommend starting with one teaspoon. Add a bit more if you’d like a more pronounced flavor.

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Tropical Treat Cake

Fun fact: I used to hate pineapple. Thankfully that is no longer the case. Since pineapple is so naturally sweet, and I have a major sweet tooth, I’ve incorporated it into a lot of different recipes. Some of my favorites have been pineapple habanero jam, pineapple basil sorbet, and I even made a pineapple shandy once that was really refreshing. Today I bring you pineapple cake, frosted with a surprise ingredient: white sweet potato! Sounds weird, right? But it’s so tasty, you won’t even care.

I’ve been doing a lot of experimental baking while in quarantine. I stocked up on several different whole grain, gluten-free flours since wheat flour does not agree with me (I’m not celiac; I have an auto-immune condition and unfortunately the proteins in gluten are triggers for inflammation.) I’ve also cut way back on sugar, opting to use dates and other fruits as sweeteners instead.

Meet Jersey, a white-fleshed sweet potato that forms the basis of my coconut frosting. They aren’t always available in my area so I consider them a seasonal treat. They are really sweet and delicious.

These days my home-baked goods have to check several boxes: no dairy, no oil, no refined sugar, no eggs, no gluten, no xanthan gum, and minimal starch. After considerable trial and error, I came up with a recipe that I am proud to share and I think it’s one of my best recipes to date. It’s definitely more involved than dumping a box of cake mix into a bowl but I promise it’s worth the effort.

You will need a food processor to make this recipe; a mini food chopper or blender will not work. A strong blender such as a Vitamix could work in a pinch but has not been tested, so proceed at your own risk. Just read the recipe carefully and follow all steps in the recommended order and you’ll be fine.

Gluten-Free Pineapple Cake

One 9×13 inch cake, 24 servings

Coconut Frosting
12 oz. white sweet potatoes (such as Hannah or Jersey)
3 tbsp (48 grams) coconut butter (not coconut oil)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup lightly toasted, unsweetened coconut flakes

Cake
1 8-oz. pouch pitted deglet noor dates
3/4 cup (6 fluid oz.) chickpea aquafaba
1/4 cup (64 grams) coconut butter (not coconut oil)
1 tsp almond extract
1 1/4 cups (10 fluid oz.) unsweetened almond milk
1 14-oz. can (1 1/2 cups) crushed pineapple in 100% pineapple juice
1 cup (160 grams) millet flour
1 cup (140 grams) sorghum flour
2 tbsp (18 grams) arrowroot starch
1 tbsp (14 grams) aluminum-free baking powder
1 tsp (6 grams) psyllium husk powder (note: this replaces the xanthan gum typically required in gluten-free baking – use ground flax if you can’t find psyllium husks)

Note: you’ll need to make the frosting and prep the dates the day before you bake the cake.

Make the frosting: Scrub the sweet potatoes and pierce them in several spots with a sharp knife. Wrap them tightly in foil and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet (the parchment is optional, but the sweet potatoes tend to ooze a thick syrup which is nearly impossible to remove from the baking sheet.) Bake at 375 degrees F for one hour and fifteen minutes. Remove from foil and let cool for about 5 minutes. Carefully remove the peel. At this point you should use a digital scale to measure out 12 ounces. Transfer the warm potatoes to a food processor. Add the coconut butter and blend until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and blend again to incorporate. Transfer frosting to a glass container and chill in the fridge. Make sure to wash the food processor since you’ll need to use it again to make the cake the following day. 😉

Prepare the dates: Check each individual date for any pits or stem ends that were not mechanically removed. Use a knife or kitchen shears to chop each date crosswise into thirds. Add the chopped dates to a jar and add the aquafaba. Do not be alarmed by the aquafaba odor, it will disappear once the cake is baked. Cover the jar and refrigerate overnight.

On baking day, bring all of the cake ingredients to room temperature. Line a 9 x 13 inch pan with parchment or lightly coat with cooking spray. If your coconut butter is solid, place the jar in a pan of hot water until it melts into a liquid state, and stir it before measuring.

Transfer the aquafaba-soaked dates to a food processor. Blend for 4 minutes, stopping the machine occasionally to scrape the sides of the container. Add the coconut butter and almond extract; blend for another minute. Scrape the sides of the container once more and replace the lid; with the machine running, slowly pour the almond milk through the opening in the lid until the milk is fully incorporated and the puree is uniform in color.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours, arrowroot starch, baking powder, and psyllium husk powder. Stir in the date puree and the entire can of pineapple, including the juice. Stir until the flour is fully incorporated but do not over mix. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan. Cover tightly with foil and let the batter rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake cake for 30 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean (a few moist crumbs attached to the toothpick are OK.) Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a cooling rack and let it cool completely before frosting. This step prevents the cake from having a soggy bottom.

Remove the frosting from the fridge and stir briskly to soften it up a bit. Spread over the cooled cake using an offset spatula and sprinkle with the coconut flakes. Cut the cake into 24 squares and enjoy. Store any leftovers tightly covered in the refrigerator.



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Irish Pub-Style Vegetable Soup + Brown Bread

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day, readers. Last year while traveling in Ireland I was lucky enough to try many versions of their ubiquitous vegetable soup. Almost every single pub we visited had it on the menu and it was always served with brown bread. It hit the spot every time. I’ve been craving it ever since I got back, but for various reasons I didn’t get around to creating my own version until now.

I made this soup a couple of days in advance for two reasons. First, we all know soup tastes better the next day, and second, I wanted to make sure I had enough time to make a loaf of brown bread – which should be served as fresh as possible. As my luck would have it, the grocery store was out of whole wheat flour. So, in this time of self-quarantine I used what I had in my pantry and ended up making a variation on this gluten-free recipe.

brown bread

A note on the soup: Most of the vitamins and minerals of the vegetables reside in the peels so whenever possible, I left the peels on. You will hardly notice any peels since the soup is blended, and we all need to boost our immune systems right now! So if it’s within your means, try to buy organic and leave the peels on. I’ve been using this fruit and veggie wash to make sure my ingredients are as clean as possible.

Irish Style Vegetable Soup
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
3 large leeks, halved and rinsed well (white and light green parts only), sliced
4 large carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1” chunks
5 medium red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1” chunks
1 small celeriac, peeled and cut into 1” chunks
1 medium sweet apple (I used a Pink Lady), cored and cut into 1/2” chunks
8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried tarragon
3/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp sea salt – preferably Celtic Sea Salt
1 quart low-sodium vegetable broth
4 cups water
2 tbsp vegan butter (I used Miyoko’s Creamery Butter to mimic Irish butter)
1/4 cup full-fat, plain non-dairy milk (I used soy milk)

In a large stockpot, heat the grapeseed oil over medium heat for about a minute. Add the leeks and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables, apple, and garlic to the pot along with the herbs, black pepper and sea salt. Add the vegetable broth and the water. The vegetables should be completely covered with liquid. If they are not, add additional water as needed. Cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium low and let simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Use a blender to puree the soup in batches, filling the blender only halfway each time to avoid any hot soup explosions. I used two large Pyrex bowls to hold the pureed portions while I blended the rest. Return all pureed batches to the pot and stir in the vegan butter and non-dairy milk. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed. If the soup is too thick, add some additional non-dairy milk.

Serve in your favorite soup bowl with a slice of freshly baked brown bread slathered with softened butter (vegan or Kerrygold depending on your preference) and imagine sitting in a cozy pub with the scent of burning peat wafting through the air. Sláinte!

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Please Stay Home

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and in the near future I’ll share more about what I’ve been up to lately. In the meantime, I want to make a request of all my American readers: Unless there is an emergency, or unless you are required to report for work outside your home, please stay home. The problem I have with the graphic above is that it advises to stay home when you’re sick. That’s not good enough. The reason this virus is spreading exponentially is because too many infected people are going out in public because they have no symptoms. It can take days for symptoms to appear! We all have a responsibility to flatten the curve and keep our communities and healthcare workers safe. This article offers compelling, data driven information on why staying home is so important right now. Thank you for your time.

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Take Me to the Wies’n

Towards the end of August, I took a quick road trip to visit my cousin and her family in Ohio. They’re lucky enough to live within a stone’s throw of Germania Park, where we attended the annual Oktoberfest hosted by the Germania Society of Cincinnati. This Oktoberfest is held earlier than the one in downtown Cincinnati, but it was still enormously popular. They had a midway with rides and games, a sheltered area with a huge dance floor, and tents with alpine souvenirs. As to be expected, there were men in lederhosen and loferl, and I spotted many women wearing beautiful dirndls. I also had the joy of watching my cousin’s family compete in the rope pulling contest.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I smuggled a pre-cooked Beyond Meat bratwurst inside my satchel — which I paired with sauerkraut and Düsseldorf mustard that I ordered at the park. It might’ve been the best idea I’ve ever had, but I’m crossing my fingers in the hope that someday, the Germania Society will sell these meatless sausages at their events.

We had the best time and to top it off, my cousin’s hubby managed to score us a ride home on a golf cart. Hilarity ensued! I hope to go again next year. But the fun wasn’t limited to Oktoberfest. I got to do a little day drinking at Jungle Jim’s (a huge international market) and stocked up on my favorite hot sauce. I got to soak in their hot tub under the stars while we listened to the crickets. I got to pick handfuls of wild strawberries and feed them to their chickens. It was a perfect long weekend spent with some of my favorite people and it made me feel grateful to be alive.

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Easy Pickled Purple Cauliflower

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I love all vegetables (with the exception of raw tomatoes) but one of my absolute favorites is purple cauliflower. I went to the farmers market yesterday to pick some up and almost didn’t find it – out of nearly 40 stands I spotted one farmer who had 3 heads of it – so I snatched one up just before closing time. I had originally planned on sharing my recipe for refrigerator dill pickles using cucumbers since we have a bumper crop in the back yard, but the visions of magical purple pickles were too thrilling to ignore.

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I wanted these pickles to harness as much Wisconsin terroir as possible, so all ingredients (save for the vinegar and salt) were sourced locally. The rosemary is from my garden, the rest of the vegetables (and honey) were obtained at the farmers market. I have to admit that these pickles are the most gorgeous color I’ve ever seen and they taste fantastic. The recipe is pretty forgiving, so substitutions can be made based on what’s available.

Honey Garlic Pickled Cauliflower with Banana Peppers

The quality of these pickles rely on using the freshest possible ingredients, so try to use locally grown produce if possible. Additionally, banana peppers are typically mildly hot but mine were quite spicy, so keep that in mind if you’re sensitive to spicy foods.

12 ounces purple cauliflower florets
1-2 banana peppers, sliced into 1/4” rings, seeds removed if desired
6-8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 1/2 cups filtered water
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp coarse sea salt
3 tbsp unfiltered honey

Place the cauliflower florets, banana peppers, garlic, and rosemary sprigs in a jar or a container with at least a 6 cup capacity. In a small saucepan, bring the water, vinegar, and sea salt to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt crystals. Remove from heat and stir in the honey. Immediately pour the brine over the vegetables. Cover and let the pickles cool a bit before placing in the fridge.

Store the pickles in the fridge for up to a week. The pickles will be ready after a day or two, depending on your personal preference. If you sterilize the container before adding the ingredients, you can safely store them for a few weeks.

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August Abundance

We started harvesting the first tomatoes a couple of weeks ago. This one is an indeterminate heirloom cherry tomato called ‘Snow White’ – it’s actually pale yellow and the plant is incredibly productive! Everyone who tried these tomatoes have liked their flavor, too.

This year I planted Wasabi Arugula and was blown away by how much it tastes like wasabi! I had several people try it at our family reunion and ended up sending seeds home with a few of my cousins. I will definitely be planting this one yearly from now on, I think it would be incredible rolled up in some avocado and cucumber maki, or incorporated into a cold soba noodle dish with ginger-sesame dressing. The plant next to it is ‘Cherries Jubilee’ nasturtium. My niece and I have been snacking on the peppery leaves – they taste like watercress! The flowers are so beautiful.

My nephew planted some Persian mini cucumber seeds in spring and I didn’t think they were going to survive. They were transplanted twice and I didn’t fertilize them for over a month. I was wrong. These just started producing about a week ago and he was so excited to harvest the first one yesterday. It was sweet and delicious. I also planted two ‘Kirby’ pickling cucumber plants under the deck and they’re growing like weeds. We’ve been harvesting a handful nearly everyday and I’m going to making some dills this afternoon. They’re delicious eaten fresh, too.

Perhaps the most exciting development is this softball sized watermelon, and the healthy carrot patch. We thinned the carrots a bit yesterday and the kids got to have them as a snack. It’s so fun to grow things that I’ve never attempted to grow before and I’m already thinking about next year’s garden plans. My nephew wants to grow chili peppers. I can’t argue with that!

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Hot in Madison

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Maxwell Street Days in Madison, WI

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m currently recovering from an intensely hot (and busy) couple of days. A friend invited me to Madison for a quick overnight trip to celebrate her birthday, and I gladly accepted since we so rarely see each other these days. This trip had everything: delicious beer and a Bavarian pretzel at The Great Dane, a Farmer’s Market, Maxwell Street Days, delicious coffee, and quality time with quality people.

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Vegetable garden on The Square

Once I arrived in town, we headed to dinner at The Great Dane – may I suggest the Crop Circle Wheat Hefeweizen if you’re there to drink – and we were feeling a bit rushed by the waitstaff. It turned out that their AC wasn’t working so they had to close early. This happened on the same day that two separate fires in the city resulted in power outages for approximately 12,000 residents of Madison, and it couldn’t have happened on a worse day (there was a heat index of over 100 degrees!) To make matters worse, our server forgot to give back my debit card and I didn’t realize it until the next day. But we still had a nice dinner despite the minor infractions.

The next morning we braved the heat and went to the farmers market and ogled the most beautiful locally-grown fruits, vegetables, honey and maple syrup, fresh baked breads and pastries, jams and pickles, and everything in between. After we finished making the loop, we were in desperate need of some iced liquids and AC so we headed to a new favorite coffee shop in Madison.

After taking our sweet time cooling off inside Ancora we decided to check out Maxwell Street Days for the short remainder of time I had before it was time for me to leave town.

No trip to Madison would be complete without entering the state capitol building and rubbing the badger’s nose for good luck, so I obliged. I did manage to make it almost all the way home before the torrential downpour, so there you have it.

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Signs of Life

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I started collecting knick-knacks for a gnome village. It’s a work in progress.

And some blue things: my borage is getting massive, and I found a big pile of Blue Jay feathers this morning. I suspect it was an owl’s dinner but it’s hard to know for certain.

We finally had a break from all the rain and the garden is starting to explode. All the seedlings have true leaves and it’s very exciting to see how much taller they get each week.

The sunflowers, carrots, and watermelons are just getting started.

Meanwhile, the tomato plants are getting huge in no time. The one in the pot is a patio variety called Big Dwarf and the one in the cage is a white cherry tomato. Life’s too short to grow boring tomato varieties if you ask me! I planted borage and basil next to them, since they’re excellent companion plants.

My niece is having fun watching her seeds grow too, including this very healthy patch of cilantro. She loves checking the alpine strawberry plants each week to see if any are ripe for picking. And my nephew is excited to watch his cucumber plant get bigger and bigger each time he visits. We have big plans for refrigerator dills in our future. 😉

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Better than Nothing

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I wish I could present you with an exciting garden update, but we’ve had some pretty lackluster weather since the start of spring so there’s not much to see yet. I did get the rest of my seeds planted as of last week Sunday and most have started to emerge, but they’re still too tiny to capture with a camera lens. So instead, have a look at what’s to come:

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My dad built this prototype raised bed planter for carrots and other root vegetables. There’s a v-shaped insert to allow enough space for deep taproots. The screened cover will hopefully deter the deer from grazing, and is removable for watering and harvesting.

I just tucked the last of the summer annuals into the front yard flower bed. And I must admit that I’m really pleased with how these begonias are looking in this galvanized pail that I scored at the hardware store (several small drainage holes were drilled into the bottom before planting.)

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The birdhouse trellis will soon be covered with sky blue morning glories, and the square cage is currently protecting some small sunflower seedlings from the family of rabbits living under the deck.

I picked up a handful of tomato seedlings at the Ozaukee Master Gardeners plant sale a few weeks ago and after a weeklong hardening-off period, they are settling in quite nicely.

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A hand-built cedar tomato cage that withstands severe midwestern thunderstorms.

That’s about all I’ve got for today. I will do my best to update this space a little more frequently, as inspiration allows. Here’s to dirty fingernails and muddy knees. 👩🏼‍🌾

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