Thursday, September 27, 2012

guest post: fall fennel salad

This is a guest post from my friend Hannah, a fellow foodie and lover of earthy things. She's got so much creative energy I can hardly stand it, and she's another one of those rare people who will geek out about vegetables and dirt and nutrition with me. You can visit her over at her blog Thanks Hannah!

While I profess to love vegetables, there are some that I would never buy for myself. And for better or for worse, those very vegetables regularly turn up in my CSA share from Mhonpaj's Garden. Last week it was fennel.

they look so relaxed

 Fennel's strong licorice flavor of has never pleased me. The last time I had to prepare its swollen leaf base, I roasted it with a mess of other vegetables for a Build-Your-Own-Pizza dinner.

that fennel in the upper right corner looks appetizing, does it not?

But it just could not compete with the other, far more delicious options, and was tough to boot. So when I got four bulbs in the last delivery, I sighed, and asked my sister-in-law if she wanted some. "I'm not sure," she said. "If you can tell me of a good way to make it, sure. My previous experiences with it left a lot to be desired."

Those words inspired me to take up the gauntlet once again. Luckily, a relative had sent me a copy of Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without, which has several intriguing fennel recipes. I picked the only one without citrus (!), made a few modifications, and served it up.

"This is really good," my dinner partner said. Not once, not twice, but three times he gave this approbation.

I liked it, too. Crunchy, salty, savory, and sweet, this salad has it all.

fennel salad with apples, figs, and cheese

Fall Fennel Salad
adapted from Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Recipes I Can't Live Without
Yield: 4 servings.

2 fennel bulbs, very thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
scant 1/2 cup kalamata olives, quartered
6 dried Black Mission figs, slivered
1 Cortland apple, very thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 T olive oil
1+ T apple cider vinegar
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup sliver almonds, toasted
1/4 cup shaved Romano cheese

In a medium-sized bowl, toss together the fennel, olives, figs, and apples. Drizzle in the olive oil and apple cider vinegar and toss until everything is coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss again. Taste, adjust the flavors, then cover and refrigerate up to one hour.

Just before serving, sprinkle some more apple cider vinegar to taste and add the almonds and cheese shavings. Toss lightly but thoroughly, and serve immediately.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

sweet & spicy oven-roasted chickpeas

With the beautiful fall weather we've been having these past few weeks has come a renewed desire to spend time in the kitchen--and I'm quite certain it has something to do with the arrival of the cool weather, but it also seems like maybe life is slowing down just a little bit, and there is more time for just sitting and sipping warm things and reading. More time to spend stirring, roasting, smelling, and tasting. Almost like the cool weather is a small reminder to take a step back, put on a sweater, and remember what it feels like to relax. Gosh it feels good.

I'm not sure if life really does slow down in the fall, that could be completely counterintuitive, given that school starts again, and vacations are over, but there is certainly something to be said about the comfort of routine and warm slippers. Or maybe it's just because I adore this season so I somehow make myself more present. Not sure. Either way, I want to cook. Lots of things.

Now concerning these chickpeas, I've admittedly never been a big 'bean' person. Might be the texture?My mom never served beans when I was growing up, save for the occasional baked ones from a can, which are not awesome, let's be real. Having given beans more than a few chances on my own, I still can't say that I'm sold on them...I don't want beans on my burrito at Chipotle, wrinkle my nose at cold bean salads, and am more or less terrified of the refried variety. I do love hummus, which may be the exception, but the relationship really stops there.

Now beans can be a great source of protein and fiber, especially if they're prepared well, and they are dirt cheap, especially if you buy the dried kind in bulk, so they actually are pretty great. They are most easily digested and utilized by the body when you take the time to pre-soak them before cooking. Beans contain an array of important minerals in addition to their fiber and protein, so they really are an excellent thing to include in your diet. It's just a matter of making them attractive to the palate...

Claire's acorn squash she roasted with garlic and jalapeƱos...awesome.

Enter my beautiful friend and fellow Spanish-speaking-artsy-food geek, Claire. The girl knows a thing or two about making good food, oh yes. I got to spend the afternoon playing in her kitchen the other day, and it was fantastic. I'm so lucky. I learned so much, and the time we spent was just lovely. These oven-toasted chickpeas are simply a revelation. They are so good. Ooh, and so easy! The sweet and spicy variation was what we went with this time, but you can really use any combination of spices, sweet or savory, tangy or spicy. They get crispy and chewy and salty and sweet...mmmm. Fabulous for snacking...and maybe even sharing. Thanks Claire, you're an inspiration :)

sweet & spicy oven-roasted chickpeas

You can use either canned chickpeas or those you cook yourself. For maximum nutritional benefit, pre-soak dried beans with a splash of vinegar, and cook them in boiling water. If you go for the canned ones, no worries, two 15-oz cans should equal roughly 4 cups. 

4 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
4 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper*
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

If you're using canned chickpeas, drain them in a colander and give them a good rinse. Put them in a large bowl, add the olive or coconut oil and the next four ingredients and toss everything together really well--it works best when you use your hands, in my opinion.

Spread the chickpeas on a large baking sheet, and make sure there is enough room so they're not crowded--you want them to get crispy! You may also want to use foil on your baking sheet to help with the cleanup...just a suggestion of course.

Bake them in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, giving them a good shake after about 10 minutes, and making sure to keep an eye on them--they get toasty fast!

Try not to eat them all before they're cool, they get even better when they're more crispy!

*Like I mentioned, you can do whatever you want with the spices here. The next batch I make is probably going to have some curry spices and maple...just saying, you can go so may directions--be creative!

"we cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy."
-joseph campbell


Saturday, September 8, 2012


Not only has it been forever since I've written anything on here, it seems like it has been an eternity since I have had a minute to sit and take a breath and think, or just be. It's funny how life can get so full sometimes that you start to lose yourself if you're not's a dangerous spiral downward, and one that is so consuming that you don't realize what's happened until you've been sucked in and who you were starts to slip away. Priorities shift, and things that were important are all of a sudden disregarded or forgotten, like the people who matter, the hikes in the woods, the sunsets, the ability to take time and just rest. These are important things--the things whose significance or place should never waver, and I think I've really finally started to understand why.

It has been a great summer, but I think it's time to slow down a little, now that fall really is on it's way. It's time to remember and re-discover the things that make this life beautiful...time to find my creativity again. So here we go.

This post has been a very long time coming--it's not going to be current in really any way, but that's okay. I'm actually going to write about a wonderful trip I took earlier this year to southern California to visit one of my very favorite people in the world. Alyssa has lived in Pasadena for the past two years, and I finally had an opportunity to go out and visit her and see her world. The trip was lovely, refreshing and relaxing and just so good. Southern California is beautiful--there are flowers everywhere, just growing as they please, the sun shines nearly every day, and there are always peaches at the farmers market. I've always found that nothing renews my appreciation of God's creation quite like traveling. It is so amazing to see the different parts of the country and the world, and see how different nature can be. There is so much to see, so much to be in awe of. I had the sweet opportunity to go off on my own for a day and explore, so I headed to Santa Monica, got on Highway 1 and just started driving. The Pacific coast is gorgeous...the ocean is stunning. I could sit on the beach and watch the waves for days, I think. It's crazy to think just how big the ocean is. Made me feel so small.

This has been lengthy already, I know, and I apologize. I'll get to the part about the food soon, I promise. To preface that, though, the reason I had a day to myself during my "visit-Alyssa" time was because she had planned to spend that day with her man, to celebrate their anniversary. I'm not one to mess with love, so I had no trouble giving her up for such an occasion. I love being on my own sometimes anyway, so it was perfect. They had an entire day planned, and Alyssa had informed me that a picnic on the beach was one of the things they were going to of course I asked her if she'd let me make them a picnic lunch. Luckily she trusts me.

I don't remember everything that made it into the picnic basket, but what I will share is the sandwich I made for Alyssa and Nathaniel--something called a muffuletta. He loves olive tapenade, and for some reason I knew that was one of the defining characteristics of a muffuletta, so I think that might have been where the idea came from. I had never made or eaten one before, it was just something that I had apparently tucked away in my mind along with the rest of my random food-geek knowledge. The sandwich used an entire loaf of sourdough bread, lots of tapenade, and plenty of meat, cheese, and arugula. It was gorgeous, and it was really easy to cut into wedges and wrap in foil for the picnic basket...I'm totally making this for a picnic sometime. Oh, and if I remember right, they liked it quite a bit. I think I might get another chance at making them dinner sometime...I sure hope so. I'd love to go back for a visit.

recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

You can be awesome and make your own tapenade from scratch, but since I wasn't in my own kitchen, I opted for the pre-made Trader Joe's stuff, which was still really great. Just saying, there's always the option if you're feeling ambitious.


1 (1lb) round bread loaf, preferably sourdough
4 oz thinly sliced ham
4 oz thinly sliced mortadella
4 oz thinly sliced salami
4 oz sliced provolone
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
arugula leaves
prepared olive tapenade

Cut the top part of the bread off (about the top 1-inch or so) and set aside. Hollow out the bottom and top halves of the bread loaf to make room for all of the goodness. Spread plenty of tapenade onto the bottom of the bread and also onto the cut side of the bread top. Layer the meats and cheese at least twice in the bread bottom. Top it off with the onions, arugula, and more of the tapenade.

Carefully replace the top of the bread loaf and either refrigerate or cut into wedges immediately for serving. I think the sandwich might actually get a little better with time as the oils from the tapenade have a chance to soak into the bread a little bit. Either way, enjoy!

"Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places, where others see nothing."
--Camille Pissarro