Green Green Noodle Soup

Holiday sweets are everywhere. On the filing cabinet in the hallway of your office, on the coffee table of friends, in your kitchen waiting to be wrapped up and handed out to family and colleagues. It’s the season of giving, after all.

I love this season.

However, among all the sugary kindness, my body craves vegetable goodness. Which is exactly what this soup is.

I made this soup for the first time when the weather had just started turning cold. On that night, one of my best friends came over for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in a little while and despite the exhaustion of a long day’s work, we were both giddy with excitement about spending an evening together. We stood in the kitchen talking, laughing, and sipping wine while I diced zucchinis and washed spinach.

Soon enough, our stomachs started growling and we became impatient to eat. Luckily, this soup is super quick (in addition to being really easy). And despite all that green which looks too healthy to be "good," this soup definitely falls in the comfort food category. The mix of pasta, pesto, and parmesan topped with a spinach-garlic-zucchini purée just hits that perfect sweet spot on a cold winter night.

Within minutes, we were ladling up huge spoonfuls and bringing our steaming green bowls into the living room to sit by the fire, eat, and talk the night away in that cozy way special to old friends.

Green Green Noodle Soup, adapted from The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
8 medium cloves garlic
2 medium zucchinis, thinly cubed
1 lb spinach
5 cups water
freshly ground black pepper
8 tablespoons pesto
parmesan for sprinkling
1 package gluten-free noodles (my favorite for this recipe are these)

Cook noodles as directed on package.

While noodles are cooking, sauté onions, salt, thyme and oregano on medium heat until onions are translucent. Add garlic, zucchini, and spinach. Continue cooking for another five to eight minutes until zucchini is tender and spinach is wilted. Add water and black pepper to taste (add more salt if necessary), and cook for another five minutes. Purée soup in a blender in two batches (or purée directly in pot with an immersion blender).

Divide noodles among the bowls, add pesto (about 1 tablespoon per serving), ladle soup over everything and top with parmesan. Eat immediately!


Gluten-Free Lemon Olive Oil Cake

I made this cake a couple weeks ago on an evening when I had the house to myself. The Christmas tree was twinkling, its reflection making the living room windows glow with the light of a hundred fireflies. An old 1960 album was crackling on the record player, filling the air with ageless Christmas carols. I was in the kitchen, singing along to Bing Crosby’s “Frosty the Snowman” and baking the best cake I had ever tasted. I didn’t know this yet, at the time, seeing as I was still in the process of making it.

But an hour later, the house smelling delicious and the album having been turned a couple times, the cake was cool enough for me to try. I watched the knife slice right through its moist yet firm body and raised a slice to my mouth. That first bite hit my senses with such force that I found myself closing my eyes and gasping in startled pleasure. It was, quite literally, the best cake I had ever tasted.

The lemon gives this cake a light playful taste, while the olive oil adds an unexpected depth and just enough moisture to make each bite deliciously melt on your tongue. The consistency is similar to a pound cake, only this Italian-flared version includes no butter. Plain yogurt and extra virgin olive oil are the only ingredients used for moistness.

Sinless heaven.

This makes the best of gifts. It wraps up beautifully and everyone (gluten folks included) will think you handed them a little piece of ecstasy upon trying it. It also makes a wonderful hostess gift for that New Year’s Eve party you’re attending.

Enjoy with friends and deep belly laughs. Tis’ the season of giving!

Gluten-Free Lemon Olive Oil Cake, adapted from Olives & Oranges by Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox

1-1/2 cups (210g) gluten-free all purpose mix (I used the Ahern Mix)
1/2 teaspoon xanthum gum
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup plain yogurt
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Put oven rack in center position and heat oven to 325°F. Lightly oil two 7.5X3.5 baking pans (or a 9-inch springform pan if you want to make one round cake).

Whisk together the gluten-free flour, xanthum gum, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt in a medium-sized bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until pale and thick on high speed (about 5 minutes). Add the lemon zest and yogurt and beat on low speed until well mixed. With mixer on medium speed, add the olive oil in a steady stream. Reduce speed to low and add the dry ingredients until just blended (or mix by hand with a whisk).

Divide batter into the two baking pans and place in the middle-rack of oven. Bake for 40 minutes, rotating once at the twenty minute mark. Let sit in pan for a couple minutes before taking cakes out and setting them on a cooling rack. Let cool completely before slicing (or at least until the cake is just warm - I couldn't wait until it was completely cool!).

If making one cake, pour batter in springform pan, bake in middle rack for 40-45 minutes, rotating once.

This is a wonderful cake to share with friends over a cup of tea during an afternoon break.



Gluten-Free Cranberry Orange Muffins

Two weekends ago, Josh and I were at brunch at Watts Grocery enjoying a delicious Fall Egg Scramble when he leaned over to me, pointed toward the window, and in one excited breath whispered "It's snowing!" I looked outside, and sure enough, big white snowflakes were dancing everywhere. They were blowing this way and that, making little somersaults in the air and sticking to people's hair and coats as they walked by the restaurant windows. It looked like a scene from a movie.

I couldn't remember the last time North Carolina had seen snow this early. There was a buzz of excitement in the air. We walked onto the sidewalk and saw two little girls running hand in hand, mouths opened wide with tongues stretched out catching the snowflakes as they fell, giggling the whole time. Couples were smiling, walking arm in arm and looking up toward the sky.

There is something magical about the first snow of the season. It speaks of cozy winters, Christmas trees, hot chocolate, and warm evenings spent with friends and family by the fire. It also says "The holiday season is here!", which to me means baking time.

So the next morning, with a blanket of snow on the ground and crisp blue skies all around, I made cranberry orange muffins.

What I love about these muffins is that they taste of the holidays without all the excess sweetness you usually get. The tartness of the cranberries and the slight bitterness of the orange rind complement each other perfectly.

I find that each bite trails in its wake the memories of Christmas stalkings heavy with clementines...

Gluten-Free Cranberry Orange Muffins, from Rebecca Reilly's Gluten-Free Baking

1 cup brown rice flour
2/3 cup potato starch
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons tapioca starch
2 tablespoons almond meal
2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
1 teaspoon Egg Replacer
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup hot milk
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
2 eggs
Grated zest of one orange
1 cup dried cranberries
Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

Mix together the brown rice flour, potato starch, sugar, tapioca starch, almond meal, baking powder, egg replacer, xanthan gum, and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, butter, and eggs. Form a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients. Mix until well blended. Fold in the orange zest and cranberries.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and sprinkle each top with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 15 minutes.

Take muffins out of oven and allow to cool in pan for a couple minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Enjoy with a hot cup of coffee or tea!


Chana Masala

Like I've been saying, it's cold here. Really cold. Like, ridiculously cold. I've decided I'm allowed to complain about it until true winter arrives, because technically it's not winter until December 21st. So these temperatures are entirely unacceptable until then.

So, as I was saying, in order to survive these ridiculous temperatures I need to cook very hot, very spicy things. Things that make me feel like I'm in some faraway part of the world where temperatures are more civilized and hotter. Like India, for example.

 A couple days ago, I ventured across the street from my office building to the natural food store that has a delicious hot buffet to check out what lunch options could hopefully heat me up. They had a couple soups (most containing wheat, which thankfully they write down) that I unceremoniously dismissed, and then I saw it.

Right there, in the middle of all the choices, was a fresh pot of Chana Masala. The chickpeas looked so hot and inviting in their obviously spicy and still-simmering dark sauce that I immediately filled up a big cup of it and brought it back to my desk.

Once back in the relative warmth of my office, I shrugged off my coat, sat down, and wrapped my hands around the cup, letting the heat seep through to my frigid palms. Then I dug in. WOWZER. Talk about SPICY. Within a couple bites, I was peeling off layers of clothes and blowing my nose. I had to take breaks in order to make it through the whole cup. And by the end, every inch of my body was warm.

It was everything I had hoped for.

So, of course, I decided I needed to replicate it when I got home. Which I did. The result was a comforting bowl of kick-in-the-pants spiciness. I hope it warms your entire being up as much as it did me!

Chana Masala, adapted from The Food of India

WARNING: This recipe is spicy. Josh literally had sweat rolling down his face as he ate it. We love spicy, so it was a big hit here, but if you would like to tone it down a bit, just omit the green chili and cut down on the chili powder. Although, I recommend it as is. Chana Masala, after all, is supposed to make you sweat a bit.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed
2 inch piece of ginger, grated or finely chopped
1 green chili, finely diced (I only had jalapeno, so I used that instead)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons garam masala
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
4 cups water
4 cups cooked chickpeas, or two 15oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 lime
2 teaspoons salt
cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Sauté the onion, garlic, ginger, and chili in the oil until transparent and well-cooked (about 5-8 minutes). Add the spices and cook another two minutes. Add the yogurt and stir another minute. Add the tomatoes and cook another minute or two. Add the water, chickpeas, juice of 1/2 lime, plus the lime, and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low, add salt and mix in well. Partially cover the pan and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove lime and simmer for another 30 minutes, until liquid has reduced some and the sauce is thicker.

Serve piping hot over basmati rice and garnish with cilantro. Eat and be warmed!

Serves four.


Spicy Black Bean Soup

It has been SO cold lately, it’s not even funny. It was 18°F at 7am yesterday morning. 18°F!! In North Carolina! In early December! It’s pure craziness. Us poor southerners are not used to these kinds of temperatures so early on and we spend our days shivering and unable to get warm no matter how many layers we pile on. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, this weather makes me want to spend my time (all of it) with my feet inches from a fire, or deep under the covers with a good book.

And it makes me want to make hot, hot things in the kitchen. Like spicy black bean soup.

I got home last night and immediately turned to the cupboards and fridge in search of something that would warm me inside and out. I wanted comfort and I wanted heat. I reached for black beans, a red pepper, onions, garlic, and lots of spices. And I set to work.

The result was a make-you-sweat (only a little, though) sPiiiCy black bean soup. It did the trick - made me warm all over. Josh even decided to go for a walk outside after a bowl. It didn't quite have that effect on me, but pretty close.

If you're looking for something to heat your soul after those frigid temperatures outside, I suggest a bowl of this soup!

Spicy Black Bean Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1 red pepper, diced finely
1 teaspoon coriander
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 15oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2.5 cups vegetable stock
juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste
0.5 cup of plain yogurt (optional)

Sauté the onion and pepper in olive oil on medium heat until the onion becomes translucent (about 4-5 minutes). Add the garlic and sauté one more minute. Add the spices and cook, stirring constantly, one more minute to bring out their flavors. Add the beans and stock, bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer ten minutes.

Blend soup in a blender (or in pot with an immersion blender). Return to pot, add lime juice, salt to taste, yogurt (if desired) and reheat. Serve hot, hot, hot!

Makes 3 servings.


Bok Choy and Shiitake Mushroom Sauté with Sprouts and Peanuts

I have a new love. Once you check out the cookbook Clean Food, I'm guessing you will to.

I have a lot of health cookbooks that concentrate on whole foods and healthy meals, but this one is different. It still does all of that, but it also incorporates a truly holistic approach to health. One that is about balance and not just food. As her website states, Terry Walters (the author) "is all about good health - body, mind, and soul." Ah, happy words.

Plus, her recipes are absolutely delicious. What more could you ask for?

I have been flipping through the cookbook every chance I get - it's on my nightstand at night, on the couch with me in the morning while I drink my coffee, and in my bag when I leave for work so that I can read it on my lunch break. I have been wanting to make almost every recipe I read. Immediately. Unfortunately, I can't drop everything and spend my days in the kitchen (no matter how hard I wish I could), but I can spend my evenings there.

Last night I made a stir-fry with bok choy and shiitake mushrooms.

Shiitake mushrooms have been a staple of mine for some time. I absolutely love their taste and versatility, not to mention their amazing health benefits, so they end up in at least one or two meals a week.

Bok choy, on the other hand, is not usually a vegetable that I buy. It's not that I don't like it, but habit usually has me reaching for kale or mustard greens or swiss chard when it comes to my regular leafy greens. After the meal last night, however, bok choy is sure to become a much more frequent visitor to the kitchen. It's absolutely delicious (with surprisingly tender sweet leaves)!

This recipe also includes onion, ginger, garlic, and clover sprouts. Talk about health in a bowl. And did I mention that it's delicious?

Bok Choy and Shiitake Mushroom Sauté with Sprouts and Peanuts, adapted from Clean Food by Terry Walters

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tablespoon (about one inch) grated fresh ginger
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons gluten-free tamari
4 tablespoons gluten-free Thai peanut sauce
2 heads bok choy, chopped
4 oz package of clover sprouts
1 cup dry-roasted peanuts

In a large skillet, sauté the onion, ginger, and garlic in the olive oil until onions are translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the mushroom, half the tamari and peanut sauce and cook for 5 minutes until mushrooms are caramelized. Add one tablespoon of water at a time to deglaze pan as needed. Add remaining tamari and peanut sauce and continue sautéing the mushrooms another 3-4 minutes.

Stir in bok choy and mix with other vegetables until well blended. Cover pot and steam for one minute. Uncover, fold in sprouts and cook everything for one more minute. Stir in peanuts and serve hot.

Makes three servings.


Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie

Two years ago I would have given anything for the last couple days.

I was living in Kenya then, discovering a new country and trying to find myself. Those six months in Nairobi were an unforgettable and oh-so-important time in my life, but they were also very lonely. I didn't know many people and I spent much of my days in quiet solitude, writing. I spent the rest of them baking.

One of the very few cookbooks I brought with me was Rebecca Reilly’s Gluten-Free Baking. I swear that cookbook saved my life. Or my sanity, to be exact. There’s only so much self-reflection one can take before starting to go a little nuts around the edges. And so, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I found myself in the kitchen.

I spent practically every day of those six months writing in the morning and baking in the afternoon. By 3pm, if you happened to drop by, you would find me covered in some sort of gluten-free flour, dancing (probably to the beat of Mamamia!), and baking anything from muffins to scones to biscotti...to, of course, pie.

It was in the late afternoon light of that African kitchen that I discovered my first truly delicious gluten-free crust. Straight from Rebecca Reilly's book, this crust is an all-around winner, working beautifully with both sweet and savory dishes. I once made a quiche with this crust and was told by someone who didn't know it was gluten-free that it was the best crust he'd ever had. I'm not kidding. If you don't have Rebecca Reilly's book, you should get it. The woman knows what she's talking about.

I loved those long hours spent in that white-tiled kitchen, hands covered in butter and flour, lost in my own little world. I loved the creativity, the experimenting, and the discoveries that came from trying new things. I loved it all.

Except when the holidays rolled around.

The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays have always been particularly special to me. Not because of all the food and presents (although those are wonderful too), but because of the time spent with family. Growing up, Mom always worked relentlessly to make the holidays special. And to her, that meant everyone working together. On Thanksgiving morning, she would gather the whole family in the kitchen and start handing out tasks and potato peelers. We would sit around the kitchen table, listening to music, talking, teasing, and laughing as we prepped and cooked together. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we would spend entire weekends baking together, filling the house with the intoxicating smell of cinnamon and cloves.

And so, two years ago, thousands of miles away alone in my kitchen in Kenya, this time of year was difficult, to say the least. I would have given anything to be in the kitchen cooking and baking, my mother next to me. Which is why I would have given anything for the last couple of days.

This Thanksgiving morning found me and my family in the kitchen, coffee in hand, ready for the day. Side by side, we sang to music and laughed as we worked, preparing mountains of food to share with each other and close friends. It was a day of warmth, joy, and love.

It was exactly what the holidays are all about.

I'm thankful to be home.

Gluten-Free Crust, from Gluten-Free Baking by Rebecca Reilly

1 cup Basic Gluten-Free Mix (see recipe below)
2 tablespoons sweet rice flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (omit if using crust for savory foods)
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice or cider vinegar

Mix the gluten-free mix, the sweet rice flour, the sugar, and the salt in a bowl. Cut up the butter into little chunks and work them into the dry ingredients with your hands to form a coarse meal. Make a well in the center of the bowl and break the egg into it. Add the lemon juice to the egg and work both into the dry ingredients with a fork until well combined. Form the dough into a ball or flat cake at the bottom of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes (or up to a couple hours if you want to prepare the dough in advance) until it is hard enough to work with (if the dough is too warm, it will be soft and difficult to roll out).

Roll the dough out between two sheets of wax paper. Once rolled out, peel off the top sheet and flip the dough into a greased 9-inch pie pan. Peel off the other layer of wax paper, and form the dough into a pie crust, fluting the edges.

To prebake the crust, preheat the oven to 400ºF. Poke holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Makes one 9-inch pie crust.

Basic Gluten-Free Mix

2 cups brown rice flour
2/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca starch

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.

Makes about 3 cups flour.

Pumpkin Pie Filling

I made this pie with pie pumpkins (pictured above), but it is just as delicious with canned pumpkin. If using pumpkin that you cooked yourself, you may need to add an additional egg than what the recipe calls for. Mine was more liquid than usual, so I added another egg and it did the trick.

1 1/3 cup mashed pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups milk
3 eggs
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Mix all ingredients together with a whisk until well blended. Pour into pie crust and bake for 45-55 minutes. This makes a lot of filling, so you may have enough to bake a little dish of it on the side.

This filling is also delicious on its own without a crust, so if you're in the mood for pumpkin custard or pudding, omit the crust!


Gluten-Free Creamed Onions

Certain smells trail memories in their wake. Strong memories. Wonderful memories. A scent with such a world attached to it has the power to make you travel instantly, to bring you back to that first kiss under the weeping willow, the scent of freshly fallen rain still clinging to its green leaves. It has the ability to instantly whisk you back to afternoons spent with your grandfather, laughing and talking as you watched his powerful but gentle weathered hands break away the shells of pistachio nuts that he handed to you to pop in your mouth, one salty bite after another. To this day, pistachios still make me think of Switzerland and my grand-papa.

One of the most powerful scents in the world for me, the one that carries the largest suitcase of memories with it, that instantly sucks me back to my childhood, is the smell of onions slowly sizzling in butter or olive oil. For a moment, I am a little girl again, hungrily inhaling the air in my mother's kitchen and asking what's for dinner. That single smell bottles up all the comfort and security of home.

And never is it more powerful than at Thanksgiving.

Every year, for as long as I can remember, my mother made creamed onions for Thanksgiving. It was always my favorite dish.

I loved the way the kitchen smelled as the onions slowly crackled and hissed in the butter, eventually allowing it to turn them to a soft caramelized gold.

I would always steal one, fascinated at how easily I could squeeze the little round bulb out of its outer layer, straight into my mouth. I would then savor the caramelized skin last, perfect in its sweet saltiness. Yes, I love onions. Unabashedly.

And so, this Thanksgiving, I am sharing one of my all-time favorite holiday dishes with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

I will say, however, that although this is a simple dish, it's one you definitely have to work for. Pealing those dozens upon dozens of tiny onions is not a task you want to do alone. Believe me, I found out the hard way. I made it this weekend to bring to work for a Thanksgiving lunch on Monday, and spent an hour Sunday afternoon sitting on my kitchen floor peeling onions. My hands still smelled of onions when I woke up the next morning.

This is a true Thanksgiving meal - one that is supposed to be prepared in a kitchen full of family and friends, all laughing, talking, and working together.

All, in turn, creating a day, and memories, worthy of thanks.

Gluten-Free Creamed Onions

2 10oz bags of pearl onions (any color will do - in this recipe I used one bag of yellow and one bag of red)
4 tablespoons butter
1.5 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups milk
200g (about 2 cups) grated cheddar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Peel the onions, but leave them whole. Sauté in 2 tablespoons butter on low heat until soft and golden.

In the meantime, melt the remaining two tablespoons butter in a medium sized saucepan. Whisk in the cornstarch until well blended. Slowly pour in the milk a little at a time, whisking constantly so that the sauce thickens. Once all the milk has been incorporated and the sauce has thickened, stir in the cheese until well blended. Add the nutmeg. Salt and pepper to taste.

Put the onions in an ovenproof container (I used a square 8X8 dish) and cover with the sauce. Bake for 30 minutes.

Serve hot!


Gluten-Free Apple Pie with Oatmeal Cookie Crust

Thanksgiving wouldn't be Thanksgiving without apple pie.

Well, that's not exactly true. In my book, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, but apple pie is a close second.

I've had trouble, over the years, finding a gluten-free apple pie that I actually liked. There have been plenty that have been passable, but I usually find them either too sweet, too bland, or they leave me with an aftertaste of some oddly bean-tasting or too-much-tapioca flour. So when I saw a recipe for apple pie with an oatmeal cookie crust in The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Molly Katzen, I knew I just had to try to make the gluten-free version. It seemed just different enough to hold a world of potential. And, boy did it.

People, I have a new favorite apple pie.

I mean, check out this crust:

It's a giant oatmeal cookie, only easier to make. There's no rolling out of finicky gluten-free dough. You just throw the ingredients together and then press them down into the pan, forming a deliciously thick oatmeal cookie bottom (that doesn't fall apart!). It couldn't be easier, and it goes perfectly with the tart, slightly sweet apple filling. The crust also makes a scrumptious topping. I'm already planning to use it for my next fruit crumble.

So for this Thanksgiving dinner, I give you a slice of oatmeal-cookie apple pie!

For more gluten-free Thanksgiving recipes, check out Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef's Thanksgiving Post. You'll be overwhelmed with the cascade of gluten-free deliciousness as everyone sends in their favorite recipes. There's no need to feel deprived this holiday season!

Gluten-Free Apple Pie with Oatmeal Cookie Crust, adapted from The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Molly Katzen


1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup gluten-free flour mix (I used this one)
1/3 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup almond meal
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix the vanilla in with the melted butter. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and mix well. Press firmly into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan, keeping a handful of crust for the topping.


3 medium-sized granny smith apples, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Put the sliced apples in a large bowl, drizzle with lemon juice and mix well. Add the spices, lemon rind, and cornstarch and mix well again. Gently stir in the sugar until well combined.

Layer the filling into the unbaked crust and sprinkle with the handful of reserved crust.

Bake for 50 minutes or until the apples are tender and the crust is golden.

Serve hot or warm. This pie is also delicious the next day (or two) reheated and served warm.



Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Biscuits

When Shauna and Danny from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef put out a shout-out to post a gluten-free recipe for Thanksgiving, my mind started racing with ideas. I was planning on posting gluten-free Thanksgiving recipes anyway (after eight years of eating gluten-free, I’ve got quite a couple), but this was something more. This was a project I was really excited about.

Years ago, Shauna’s blog (at the time, Gluten-Free Girl) came as a godsend - it was the first blog I found that actually offered recipes for gluten-free baking. In 2006, not wanting to spend another Christmas missing out on all the cookies and baked goods that fill our house during the holidays, I turned to the internet in desperation…and there it was. A warm-hearted, funny, and delicious blog full of gluten-free recipes. I never turned back. That year, thanks to Shauna, I made all sorts of Christmas cookies.

Really, it's thanks to her that I finally decided to start a blog this year. And now, I want to help her give to others what she gave to me. If you or someone you know cannot eat gluten, check out this post (you will find all sorts of delicious Thanksgiving recipes, all gluten-free). She and Danny also just published their first gluten-free cookbook. It’s a beautiful book, bursting with love, life, and scrumptious recipes. You want this book.

So I’m happily joining the throng of bloggers out there helping to spread the word. I will be posting more of my regular gluten-free Thanksgiving recipes in the week to come, but I wanted to start out with something completely new, something I had never tried before. Finally, after much flipping through cookbooks, I found what I didn't know I was looking for.

Sweet potato biscuits.

Biscuits are the type of food people who have been recently diagnosed with gluten intolerance think they can never eat again. Well think again, my friends. In truth, you’ll find that nothing is really ever off limits (as long as you keep an open mind and are willing to experiment!).

These biscuits are soft and fluffy inside, slightly crispy outside, and they taste of the holidays. Not to mention, they are super easy to make.

Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Biscuits, adapted from The World’s Best Recipes by Sarah Ainley

1 1/4 cups gluten-free flour (I used Shauna and Danny’s gluten-free all-purpose flour mix – I urge you to make a big batch and always have some on hand. It’s delicious and super handy!)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3/4 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes
2/3 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add the sugar and mix in well (I find a whisk works best to get all the dry ingredients uniformly blended).

In a separate bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with the milk and butter. Mix well.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the liquid ingredients into the well and mix everything until well blended.

Using a spoon, scoop mounds of batter out of bowl and drop onto a greased cookie sheet. You should have about nine biscuits. Bake until puffed and lightly golden, about 18 to 20 minutes.

Eat warm, plain or with a tad of butter. These are also delicious the next day, reheated in a toaster oven.

Happy eating!

Makes 9 biscuits.


Pumpkin 101

See that adorable pumpkin patch under the crisp blue mountain sky? (You can't see the mountain sky in the picture, but it's there and it's very blue.) That’s where Josh and I got our first two pumpkins of the season. We were driving to a campground in the mountains bordering North Carolina and Virginia a couple weeks ago (trying to get a last chance at camping before the weather made it too cold for fun) when, there it was. We didn’t even see it until we were almost passed it. It was late afternoon, that hour when the sun turns everything it touches to gold, and the pumpkins looked on fire. Without a second thought, we pulled over, made a U-turn, and went straight back to it. It was my first time ever in a pumpkin patch. I could barely contain my excitement as we walked among the twisting vines and endless sea of bright orange gourds...ideas for fall recipes were galloping through my mind. I wanted to bring home at least a dozen, but after inspecting quite a couple, we (much more realistically) settled on our two favorites.

For the last couple of weeks, those two pumpkins have been sitting patiently on the kitchen floor. This weekend was my first attempt at a recipe with one of them. It was a complete disaster. I attempted gluten-free pumpkin gnocchi. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that we ended up having tortilla chips and homemade hummus that evening. It was a sad night.

However, all was not lost. For one, I learned how to prepare pumpkin from scratch. It’s really not that different from a butternut squash; it’s just way more intimidating. So instead of sharing a recipe here, I’ll share how to prepare a pumpkin.

The first step is to get the pumpkin on the counter.

Good. Now don't get intimidated. It's just big and orange, but you've got the knife.

Next, you want to stabilize it before you start peeling it. Gently slice off the top and the bottom, so that it will hold still and sturdy when you stand it upright.

Now you're ready to start the peeling. Holding the pumpkin still with one hand, take the knife and slowly start to slice long strips of the skin off, from top to bottom. The skin is not very deep, so you only need to cut off the very outer layer. This will take a little while (and depending on how sharp you knife is, some arm power), but don't rush it. Slow and steady is the key here.

Once you've gotten all the skin off, slice the pumpkin in two. Without its skin the pumpkin is very soft, so there's no need for force here - the knife will slide right through.

Look at all those seeds! Before you take a spoon and start scooping the innards out, pull out all the seeds and set them aside (you don't have to do this, but pumpkin seeds are delicious roasted, not to mention very good for you!). Once you've gotten the pumpkin seeds safely out (if you want them), scoop out the rest of the insides with a spoon.

And voilà!

You've got a pumpkin ready for dicing, or slicing, to roast or sauté or whatever else strikes your fancy (just don't try gluten-free pumpkin gnocchi for your first recipe).

I wish you lots of orange pumpkin fun!!


Pumkin Mushroom Sage Sauce over Pasta

There is a passage in Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” that describes the feelings one starts developing towards certain vegetables by the end of the season. I think this specific passage is about asparagus – those beautiful, sensual, green stalks that start jutting out from the dark earth in April. We await their arrival with impatience, and we know that, as soon as they arrive, we need to eat them. Then and there. If you wait too long, they lose that fresh only-in-season unmistakable taste of true asparagus. So you gobble them up. You throw them in everything imaginable, from salads to pizza to pasta to bread…until, by the end of the season, you can’t imagine ever eating another stalk. Which, of course, is the whole point of seasons, isn’t it? Because just when you think you can’t take it anymore, the earth stops giving you asparagus and starts tossing baskets full of tomatoes and zucchini at you. And the whole process starts over again.

In fall, my asparagus is the pumpkin. Those hard, round, bright orange fruits that bring to mind fall leaves, holidays, and magic carriages (yes, Cinderella was my favorite book when I was a child. My mother says she must have read it to me at least a thousand times. I think she may be kidding about that number…but I’m not sure).

And so this fall, I am warning you, you will get very sick of pumpkins. It’s starting; the recipes are piling up in my mind and I can feel them just about to reach the breaking point. They will soon start pouring out and showering you with pumpkin everythings…

…starting with a creamy pumpkin-mushroom-sage sauce tossed with pasta. Talk about comfort in a bowl. You add a glass of red wine and a crackling fireplace, and I promise you’ll feel like you’ve died and gone straight to cozy heaven.

This recipe however – let me be completely honest here – was my pre-attempt at delving into true pumpkin cooking. I have two very real, very beautiful pumpkins sitting on my kitchen floor waiting for me to take a knife to them.

But, no matter how excited I get at the thought of carving my first pumpkin of the season, there is also something a little daunting about the task. Or a lot daunting. So, at 8pm on a weeknight, when I got home and got ready to start dinner, I decided carving pumpkins was really more of a weekend task. This recipe, therefore, was made with good old canned pumpkin. It’s still 100% pumpkin, but I think we can all agree it never tastes quite as good as the in-season fresh kind. So, if you have fresh pumpkin on hand, by all means, use it here. Your taste buds will do an extra little dance.

This sauce gives you a small taste of what the season has in store. Let’s call it an opening act, or an amuse-gueule, to what the real fruit of fall will soon bring to the table.

Pumpkin Mushroom Sage Sauce over Pasta

This sauce is super simple and quick to make. It’s perfect for a busy weeknight or anytime you’re in the mood for some comfort food. And your vitamin A will be through the roof!

1 package gluten-free spaghetti or linguini
10 cloves garlic, pressed
20 sage leaves, chopped
2.5 tbsps butter
10 shiitake mushrooms, sliced (you can use any type of mushroom you like, but shiitakes are my favorite for taste and health benefits)
1 15 oz can 100% pure pumpkin
1.5 to 2 cups vegetable stock (depending on how thick you want the sauce)
3 oz cream cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan to serve with (optional)

Cook the pasta following the directions on the package.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the 0.5 tbsp butter in a heavy based frying pan and throw in the mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium high heat until slightly brown and cooked through (about 5-7 minutes). Set aside.

In a large pot, sauté the garlic in the remaining butter for a minute (do not let brown). Stir in the sage leaves and cook one more minute. Add the canned pumpkin and the stock. Stir everything well, bring to boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cream cheese and stir well until the cheese is melted and everything is well mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately over pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and freshly cracked black pepper.

Enjoy cozily!

Serves 4


Roasted Broccoli with Carrot Sauce

Things have been crazy around here lately. Good crazy – the kind of crazy that involves lots of salsa classes and late-night dancing, pet-sitting my parents’ two big beautiful black dogs that I adore (but that are quite a handful!), learning new things like pole dancing (so fun!) – but crazy nevertheless. All this running around has left me grasping for a way to come up with quick meals, while still maintaining a balanced diet and not skimping on cooking (at least not completely). I’ve had my good ole’ staples when I’m on the run – hummus with veggies, dry roasted almonds, fresh crunchy apples, etc. – but tonight I was craving something more. I wanted colors on my plate. I wanted something new, something that would involve creativity, but that wouldn’t take all night.

So after getting back from my salsa class, I dropped my bags and went straight to the fridge. I spent a couple minutes eyeing the insides and weighing my options. I had a couple heads of broccoli, which I took out. That would take care of my vitamin C. I went back looking for something that would make a pretty contrast to the green of broccoli and found a bag of organic carrots (hello vitamin A!). I found the idea of simply steaming or baking broccoli and carrots boring, but I loved the idea of baking the broccoli and then drizzling a bright orange liquid on top of the crispy green stalks. I’d never made carrot sauce (I’d never even heard of such a thing), but I liked the concept and it couldn’t be that hard, right? Now I was excited!

So I got to work peeling and chopping.

Let me stop for a second here to share how oddly calming I find the simple act of chopping. I don't know if any of you feel the same, but when I am at the counter-top, vegetable in one hand and knife in the other, all of my senses get wound up in the moment, my eyes concentrating on the bright orange of the thin slices, my ears taking in the rhythmic sound of the knife against the cutting board – thud, thud, thud – so soothing…I often find myself slipping into a meditative state. A welcome place at the end of long hectic days...

And then, just like that, I am awakened out of my zone - the olive oil is hot, the onions get thrown in, where's that garlic press? - and I'm off, throwing everything together, listening to the sizzling of the vegetables, inhaling the smells that quickly surround me.

Before I know it, there it is: carrot sauce.

I try it. It's smooth, sweet...but it's missing a little something. I throw in a dash of cayenne. Ah, there we go. Now it's got a kick.

I peek into the oven and steal a stalk of slightly crispy broccoli. It's ready.

And so, after a long day of work and dancing, I finally sit down with a hot steaming bowl of bright fresh colors. I take a bite - garlicky, a little crunchy, and smoothly sweet. Perfect.

Sighing contentedly, I relax into the night.

Roasted Broccoli with Carrot Sauce

Roasted Broccoli

2 heads broccoli
6 cloves garlic, pressed
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon herbes de provence
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Cut the broccoli into bite size pieces (don't discard the stalk - it's full of extra calcium and iron! Just peel off the tough outer layer and slice the stalk up). In an oven-proof dish, mix the broccoli with the garlic, olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper. Toss everything well, massaging the oil and garlic into the broccoli with your hands. Once everything is mixed, put the dish in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes turning every 5-10 minutes. If the broccoli is getting too crispy toward the end, turn the oven temperature down a bit.

Carrot Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
10 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
3.5 cups water
1.5 cubes vegetable bouillon
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add cumin and coriander and sauté one more minute. Add carrots and cook for one minute stirring frequently to mix everything up. Add water and bring to boil. Once water is boiling, turn down to a simmer and add vegetable bouillon. Stir well to dissolve the bouillon. Cook everything on low for about 20 minutes, or until carrots are very tender. Once carrots are cooked, blend in batches and return to pot. Reheat and add cayenne pepper to taste.

Spoon carrot sauce over roasted broccoli and enjoy!!


A Blending of Seasons

It seems the weather is playing tricks on us. I had planned to write about soups full of comforting warmth this week, but with temperatures that reached close to 90º, soups just didn’t feel quite right (unless you ate them late at night when the temperatures were once again in their right minds).

Instead, late afternoons found us searching for something refreshing, something that would cool us down but that still tasted of fall. So Josh took it upon himself to find a solution, and he did.

I present you – or, rather, he does – with: The Cider Martini.

In other words: apple cider disguised in a summer suit.

The glass in itself looks refreshing (oh, how I love martini glasses!), but the true magic doesn’t happen until your lips touch the silky gold liquid. That first sip fills your senses with the delicious spiciness of autumn, but ends with a revitalizing kick that leaves you refreshed and all summery-fall feeling. It’s a drink that makes you smile, mixing nostalgia for a season that is past and excitement for one that is beginning.

Try it – you won’t be disappointed!

Cider Martini

The following quantities make one glass. A shaker can hold two glasses worth, so just double the quantities and shake it all up if you're making this for two.

1 ounce good quality rum
0.5 ounce good quality whiskey
3 ounces apple cider
a couple ice cubes
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
a sprinkling of nutmeg and/or allspice

Put the rum, whiskey, apple cider, and ice cubes in a shaker. Shake vigorously until well-combined and cold. Pour into a martini glass. Garnish with a sprinkle of spices and a cinnamon stick. Sip and enjoy!


Mulled Cider and A Fall Party

On Friday we threw fall a party. It’s the least we could do, really. When I think of all the gifts fall brings us every year – breathtaking scenery, cool temperatures, crisp blue skies…it even manages to do away with those pesky mosquitoes! – honoring it with some sort of celebration seemed like a small but necessary gesture.

So we went out and gathered the ingredients that the season made readily available. We concentrated mainly on apples and asked friends to bring whatever stroke their fancy.

Someone brought a delicious curried sweet potato dip, while someone else brought a mouth-watering pumpkin cheesecake.

I made baked goat cheese with honey and apples, a combination lusciously tart and sweet at the same time.

Once baked, the apples become soft and just a little brown, melting into the warm cheese and creating a perfect silky bite with just the right amount of tang.

We dug in without holding back.

But the pièce de résistance was the mulled cider. I had it cooking on the stovetop when people started arriving, infusing the house with the scent of cinnamon and cloves. Pulled like magnets toward the spices, everyone walked straight to the kitchen, sniffing the air and inhaling deeply, nose above the pot and eyes closed in sensory pleasure.

I made three huge pots of it throughout the night. We kept taking breaks from the singing and music by the fire in the backyard to come back in and refill cups with the warming fall drink, relaxing more into the coziness of the evening with every sip.

And so, on this second Friday in October, we officially welcomed fall with steaming mugs of cider, friends, music, a bonfire, and belly laughs that ricocheted deep into the crisp night air.

Hot Mulled Cider, slightly adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Holiday Entertaining

This recipe makes 6 mugs full once you add the liquor. The original recipe calls for brandy, but we used rum and/or whiskey. My favorite is rum with a splash of whiskey - I don't usually like whiskey, but in this drink it gives it a nice little kick. I highly recommend it!

The recipe is also delicious with no alcohol, but it will make less.

4 cups (32 fl oz/1 L) apple cider
4 teaspoons honey or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
8 cloves
8 cinnamon sticks
1/2 an apple, thinly sliced
rum, brandy, whiskey...your choice!

Select 6 mugs. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cider, honey, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and 2 of the cinnamon sticks. Bring to just below a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 20 minutes.

Pour desired amount of liquor in a mug. (Start slow if you're not sure how much you like - you can always add more!) Divide the hot cider mixture evenly among the mugs, pouring it through a fine-mesh sieve. Garnish each serving with a cinnamon stick, a sprinkle of your favorite spice, and 1 or 2 apple slices. Serve at once!

Note: Since I wanted people to be able to come and get refills whenever they wanted, I doubled the recipe and, once it was ready, passed it through the sieve into another pot, which I kept on low heat so that it stayed hot. I left a laddle next to it and people were able to get refills throughout the night without having to deal with filtering the liquid.

Baked Goat Cheese with Honey and Apples, slightly adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Holiday Entertaining

1/2 lb (250g) log soft or semi-soft goat cheese
1 crisp apple (my favorite is Granny Smith)
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Gluten-free crackers for serving

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Place the log of goat cheese on a baking sheet. Flatten it some with a spatula. Halve and core the apple and thinly slice it lengthwise. Put the apple slices in a bowl, add the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the honey, and turn the apples to coat. Drizzle the remaining two tablespoons honey over the cheese, and layer the apple slices on top.

Bake until the cheese is warm throughout and softened and the apples are tender, 8-10 minutes. Using a wide spatula, transfer the cheese to a platter. Serve warm with crackers!
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