Crunchy Cabbage Salad with Peanut Ginger Dressing

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As much as I love September, it’s a hard month for blog recipes because it’s not exactly clear what season we’re in. Technically, it’s still summer. It’s generally still pretty hot outside (at least most days). I’m still living in tank tops and flip flops. Yet the word “September” connotes back to school clothes, leaves changing, colder mornings, and basically all things fall. Peaches and tomatoes are on their way out, but I can’t bring myself to post (or even make) apple or pumpkin recipes until after the autumn equinox, which is a whole six days away.  So in the meantime, I just haven’t posted anything.  But then I had my friend Julie’s “cole slaw” the other night, and I was newly inspired.  If this salad had to pick a season, it’s definitely fresh enough to pick summer – but it’s not trying too hard to be seasonal. It’s perfect for a mid-September barbecue, but truthfully you could make it anytime.

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Julie is one of those people who, anytime she makes something you know it’s going to be good. You know this because she is good at everything she does. My mom always says Julie would have been the perfect pioneer woman (as opposed to herself, or either of her daughters, who wouldn’t have lasted a week on the Oregon Trail – we can barely go camping). Julie has five kids (and three adorable grandsons!), and still goes to Barre five days a week and makes dinner for her husband every night. How many people do you know that make an actual meal every night? I can count them on one hand. For those of us who need a little inspiration to make dinner even a few nights a week, however, this is the perfect salad – serve it alongside grilled chicken or fish (double the dressing recipe and use it as a marinade or glaze) and tell yourself you could have been a pioneer woman after all.

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Although the veggies take a little time to chop, this salad could not be easier. I say “salad” rather than “cole slaw” (which might be it’s technical name) because I detest cole slaw – or at least what I think of when I think of cole slaw, which is limp, soggy cabbage with disgusting, mayonnaise-y dressing, usually out of a bag or from a BBQ place (some other things I hate: mayonnaise, salad from a bag, BBQ). This salad could not be further from that, though – all the veggies are crisp and fresh and the dressing is made up of delicious things like peanut butter and soy sauce (using tamari makes it gluten free) and fresh ginger – and not a drop of mayonnaise. So, I’m calling it a salad, and like I said, it’s super easy. Whisk together all dressing ingredients, chop and toss the veggies, and that’s it.

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One year ago: oatmeal coconut chocolate chip cookies

Salad, previously: couscouskale, soba noodle, arugula, cucumber melon, green bean

Cabbage Salad with Peanut Ginger Dressing, from my friend Julie

For the dressing:
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic

For the salad:
5 cups thinly sliced green cabbage (one large head will yield at least 5 cups)
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
2 cups shredded napa cabbage (I had to search for this at the grocery store – it looks more like a head of lettuce)
2-3 bell peppers (I used one red, one orange and one yellow but you could use any color(s) you like), cut into matchstick-sized strips
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchstick-sized strips
8 large green onions, cut into matchstick-sized strips
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

To make:
Combine all dressing ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until smooth and creamy. Let sit at room temperature for thirty minutes (or while you chop your veggies, which will take about that long). Add all sliced and chopped veggies into a large bowl and toss to combine. You’ll need to use the biggest bowl you have, as this makes a ton (you might want to cut the recipe in half if you aren’t feeding a crowd or don’t want leftovers).  Toss salad with dressing just before serving (only dress what you plan to use immediately; veggies and dressing will keep well in the fridge for a few days if you store them separately).

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Lentils with Mint and Feta

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Last summer I posted the recipe for what used to be my favorite Pasta and Co. summer salad.  It was probably the most popular recipe I’ve blogged, at least based on the number of people who told me they actually made it afterwards. And it’s still my sister’s favorite, which reminds me, I need to make it for her as a new baby dinner.  But a couple weeks ago, I was in charge of another new baby dinner and, having completely run out of time to make the salad myself, popped into Pasta and Co. to pick some of theirs up. Unfortunately for me, the couscous was sold out, so I picked up some turkey meatballs, green beans, and a couple different salads that caught my eye, including the lentil salad above. It doesn’t look pretty, but please believe me when I tell you it was the most delicious salad I’ve ever had. So good, in fact, that I had to make it myself the first chance I got – and I haven’t made the couscous salad since. 

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Unfortunately, unlike the couscous salad, the lentil recipe isn’t published in any of the Pasta and Co. cookbooks, so I kind of had to make it up.  Going off of the list of ingredients (so glad I had the foresight to take a picture!), I figured all I had to do was cook some lentils, add red pepper and onion, and then of course feta and mint.  Although I make lentil soup about once a week from October-April, I’ve never actually cooked just plain lentils. And while it’s not hard, I did learn the hard way that they can get really mushy if overcooked.  This salad isn’t the prettiest to look at to begin with, but cooking my lentils an extra half hour or so probably didn’t help.  Trader Joe’s sells lentils already cooked, so you could go that route and save yourself a step.  The mushy lentils were still delicious though – I could have eaten them like soup.

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Aside from figuring out how to cook lentils, this salad is a breeze to throw together. You probably don’t need to “pickle” the onion, but I did as I’m not a fan of raw onions, and I just happened to remember doing so from this recipe (which I should probably make for B&B one of these days!). If you do want to pickle your onion, do so as soon as you get the lentils simmering, and then it will be ready by the time the lentils are finished. Aside from that, it just takes a little chopping and tossing and you’re good to go.  I attempted to write an actual “recipe” but you can pretty much add more or less of anything, to taste.  A lot of people will tell you you need three parts oil to one part vinegar for a true vinaigrette, but I like to start with half and half and then adjust to taste. 

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I told you it wasn’t pretty…but it tastes so good! 

Lentils, previouslysoup (also from Pasta and Co.)

One year ago: cream of fresh tomato soup

Lentil Salad with Feta and Mint, adapted from Pasta and Co. 

Ingredients:
2 cups green lentils (brown would work fine too)
Chicken stock and white wine, for cooking lentils (optional – see your lentil packaging instructions for amounts.  I cooked 2 cups lentils in 2 1/2 cups broth and 1/2 cup of white wine, for a ration of 2.5 cups liquid to 1 cup lentils)
2 red bell peppers, finely diced
1 small or 1/2 large red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup feta, crumbled (or more to taste)
Large handful mint, chopped or torn into pieces (the more mint, the better)
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
1-2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon granulated sugar (for onion marinade, optional)

For the lentils:
Cook according to package instructions. The Trader Joe’s brand I used had me simmer mine with chicken broth, white wine, salt, and pepper for 35-40 minutes “or until liquid is absorbed.” The liquid was nowhere near absorbed after 40 minutes, so I ended up cooking the lentils for over an hour and they turned to mush – other recipes I’ve seen tell you to drain the liquid after the stated cooking time, which I’ll do next time in an effort to keep my lentils intact.

For the pickled red onion:
In a small bowl (or tupperware with a lid), whisk together two tablespoons vinegar, two tablespoons water, one teaspoon salt, and one teaspoon sugar, until sugar is dissolved. Add diced onion and toss to coat. The liquid won’t cover the onions entirely but that’s ok. If you have a tuperware with a lid, you can shake it occasionally if you want, but it’s not necessary. Let the onions marinate in the fridge for half an hour (less time is fine but 30 minutes or longer is ideal).

For the vinaigrette: 
Whisk together equal parts olive oil and red wine vinegar (I used 2-3 tablespoons each) with 1-2 cloves minced garlic (depending on how much garlic you like).  Add salt and pepper to taste.

For the salad:
Add red onion (with brine), red pepper, mint, and feta to lentils and stir to combine.  Toss with vinaigrette and add more oil, vinegar, salt and/or pepper to taste. Let chill and serve cold or at room temperature. Garnish with more mint, if desired.

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Curry Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

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I’m not entirely sure this is a blog-worthy recipe, as no one really needs me to tell them how to make chicken skewers, and pictures of raw chicken really aren’t all that appetizing. I’m posting it anyways, though, because at this point in the summer I’m getting a little sick of the same old grilled chicken/fish/burgers and am in need of inspiration.  So I thought perhaps you are too.  

My friend Alison introduced me to this recipe when we were in law school and for some reason decided to throw an Asian-fusion-themed cocktail party in my tiny apartment (any excuse to avoid studying). I made a Chinese chicken salad that I served in mini Chinese takeout cartons, with chopsticks. This was pre-Pinterest so I’m not sure how I came up with that idea (I think it may have been In Style magazine), but I was pretty proud of myself. Alison made curry chicken satay and it wasn’t until then, at age 25 or so, that I realized you could get such a thing outside of a Thai restaurant.

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The only thing remotely challenging about this recipe is giving yourself enough planning time to marinate the chicken.  The marinade itself takes about five minutes (less if your knife skills are better than mine).  Just make sure to soak your skewers while the chicken marinates.

Tyler has you cook the skewers in a grill pan on the stovetop, but I like to do mine on the barbecue (one less dish to clean).  Tyler also gives you a recipe for peanut sauce, which I’m sure is delicious, but mine is easier: just pick up a small to-go carton from your favorite Thai restaurant.  I’ve never had good luck with store-bought peanut sauce, but if you have you could use that too.  If you wanted to make your own, it’s something you could do ahead of time. This makes a great summer meal or app for entertaining as you can even grill the chicken in advance and serve it cold.  It’s going to be BBQ weather all week so if you’re in a grilling rut like me, I hope this helps! 

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One year ago: Baked Halibut with Tomatillo Salsa

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce, from Tyler Florence

For marinade:

1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon curry powder

For skewers:

1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
20 wooden skewers, soaked in water for about 30 minutes
Vegetable oil or spray, for grilling

Combine the yogurt, ginger, garlic, and curry powder and stir to combine. Pour the marinade over the chicken strips and gently toss until well coated. Cover and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.

Once the chicken has marinated, thread the chicken strips onto the soaked skewers. Heat barbecue and grease grill. Cook skewers for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until cooked through.  Serve with peanut sauce.

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Cucumber Melon Salad with Feta, Basil, and Mint

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Happy summer, everyone! Sorry for the long hiatus from blogging – I wish I had a good excuse, but sadly I don’t. Life just gets so busy in the summer, who has time to cook? But, I’m back now and I have really good intentions of being more consistent. I have good intentions about a lot of things that don’t always come to fruition (gym, yoga, being punctual, curbing my binge-shopping for my unborn baby nephew – just to name a few), but I have a lot of recipes on my to-do list so I’m feeling good about my re-committment to the blog.

It’s finally summer here in the Pacific Northwest, where we can count on blue skies and sunshine only after the Fourth of July. And with temperatures in the 80s and 90s all week/weekend, what sounds better than a cold, crunchy, watermelon salad? I love getting my Martha Stewart Living each month, but I have this problem where I put magazines in a “to read” pile and then kind of forget about them (see above re: “good intentions”). But it’s my dad’s birthday today (Happy Birthday, Dad!!!) and watermelon is one of his all time favorite things, so when we celebrated earlier this week I dug through my pile and tried my best to copy the gorgeous picture on the cover.

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This salad really couldn’t be easier. Just cut up your melons and cucumber, throw in some herbs (you could use just mint or just basil – Martha only lists basil, and most watermelon salads only use mint – it was delicious with both but if you only have one or the other on hand it would be fine), toss with olive oil and lime juice, and you’re good to go.  The feta is totally discretionary – I liked it with, but it would be equally good without. You can prepare the salad ahead of time and then just toss with the dressing before serving. I like my watermelon as cold as possible, so keep the salad in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.

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Cucumber Melon Salad, adapted from Martha Stewart Living 

(note: Martha’s recipe is for one serving, mine serves a crowd)

One cantaloupe, cubed or balled
One small or one half large watermelon, cubed or balled
1-2 large or 3-4 small cucumbers, diced or sliced
Olive oil to taste
Lime juice to taste
Small handful mint leaves, torn or julienned
Small handful basil leaves, torn or julienned
1/4 cup – 1/2 cup crumbled feta, optional
Salt and pepper to taste, optional*

Toss together your melons and cucumber. I used the melon baller for my watermelon and diced the cantaloupe like Martha told me to, but you could cut both or ball both, whatever is easier. If you’re using regular cucumbers, I would cut them lengthwise into quarters and then dice them, but if you can find persian cucumbers (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, etc.) you can just slice them. I read once that in salads like this everything should be the same size (pieces of watermelon = pieces of cantaloupe = pieces of cucumber), so I used that as a rough guideline.

Just before serving, drizzle the cucumber and melons with olive oil and fresh lime juice and toss with mint and basil. I used only a tiny bit of olive oil and two limes (heavier on the lime, lighter on the oil) but you can adjust this to your liking. Garnish with additional mint and basil and sprinkle with feta, if using (I used it this time, but Martha doesn’t and I might not next time – it was good with it but would be just as good without). Chill in the fridge if time allows. 

*I didn’t use salt and pepper as I didn’t think the salad needed any – but if you weren’t using feta I think a little salt would be good.  

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Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Meringues

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A few weeks ago I posted a cookie recipe from Miraval, the spa I was lucky enough to visit back in February. I wrote about the cooking class we took, but what I failed to mention is what we snacked on during the cooking class. Meals at Miraval are pretty outrageous – at dinner you sit down and order off a menu, but for breakfast and lunch they have an amazing buffet where you can (mindfully) help yourself to all sorts of fresh, healthy foods.  Each day at lunchtime we got to pick from a beautiful salad bar, delicious soups, wraps, healthy entrées, etc. – and then there were always a few tiny treats to choose from as well.  The day my sister-in-law and I attended the cooking demo, they were serving these cookies – perfect timing because we were then able to ask the pastry chef about them in class (after everyone was not-so-mindfully going back for seconds).

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Kim, the pastry chef, told us these are one of the recipes people ask her for the most, and then proceeded to tell us how easy they are to make. Start with a basic meringue – egg whites plus sugar – and simply add chocolate and peanut butter. How have I not thought of this before? They’re a perfect Miraval treat as they’re relatively low fat/low cal, they’re naturally gluten free, and if you use dairy free chocolate chips you can make them dairy free as well. The recipe calls for organic peanut butter, I used Adam’s no stir creamy – there’s a fair amount of sugar in the meringue “batter” so I think the saltier the peanut butter, the better. Almond butter would also be really good. The recipe calls for mini semisweet chocolate chips, but I suspected these would be even more delicious with dark chocolate – and it turns out I was right. It’s all personal preference though, of course, so you could use whatever peanut butter and chocolate chips you like.

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Kim told us that the best way to stir the peanut butter into the batter is to put it in a ziplock bag, snip off a tiny corner, and “pipe” the peanut butter into the egg white mixture. I’m including the recipe as it appears in the cookbook, where it tells you to drop the peanut butter in by the spoonful, but Kim’s way is easy and fun. Next time I might try to use the piping bag to add it in in little tiny dollops, as my giant swirl needed a bit of stirring to mix into the egg whites, and that of course deflated them. They still turned it pretty dang good, however, and the chunks of peanut butter are my favorite part (I would love to make these with crunchy peanut butter next time, but worried the weight might deflate the egg whites even more).

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The cookbook lists chopped pecans as a topping for the cookies, but Kim used sliced almonds and they’re perfect with the delicate meringue (and will be even more perfect when I try these with almond butter). You could use any nut you like, however, or omit them entirely. No matter how you customize them, they’re simple and delicious. I’m not a huge chocolate person (the lemon raspberry cookies are really more my style), but of course I still ate quite a few of these while at Miraval, when my sis-in-law made them as soon as we were back, and of course now that they’re sitting on the counter while I type this. The best part is they’re practically guilt free – or at least as close to guilt free as you’re going to get when there’s chocolate and peanut butter in the title.  If you try them, let me know how you tweak them and how they turn out!

Miraval, previously: Magic Bars, Lemon Raspberry Cookies, Arugula Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Meringues, from Miraval’s Sweet & Savory Cooking

Yield: 20-30 cookies

3 egg whites
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup peanut butter (preferably organic)
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup nuts, optional (chopped pecans, chopped walnuts, chopped peanuts, sliced or slivered almonds)

Heat the oven to 200 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Slowly add the sugar, and then the vanilla.

Drop spoonfuls of peanut butter throughout the meringue (or pipe as discussed above) and sprinkle the chocolate chips all over. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the peanut butter and chocolate chips into the meringue, leaving streaks of peanut butter throughout (you want it to stay in chunks rather than getting incorporated into the egg whites). Take care not to deflate the meringue (this is tricky, mine deflated a bit but my cookies were still ok).

Drop spoonfuls of meringue (about 3/4-ounce or 1 1/2 tablespoons) onto the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with nuts (if using). Bake for about 45 minutes (I got engrossed in the Patagonia sale online and mine accidentally stayed in for almost an hour – luckily they were ok). Test for doneness by removing one cookie from the oven, letting it cool for two minutes, and then testing to see if the outside is crispy and the inside slightly soft. Let cool at room temperature on the baking sheet and store in an airtight container.

Nutrition Information

Serving size: one cookie (based on a yield of 30 cookies)
Calories: 45
Total fat: 2 grams
Carbs: 27 grams
Dietary fiber: 0 grams
Protein: 1 gram

Pasta & Co. Red Lentil Soup

IMG_6030Spring is allegedly only two and a half weeks away, but you’d never know it if you looked out the window. I had the good fortune to escape to the desert last week (more on that on Friday), but returned home to gray skies, nonstop drizzle, and temperatures in the thirties (I know my Midwest/East Coast friends have it way worse, but even the high thirties is still freezing for this girl at this point). This was the second year in a row that I’ve spent the end of February in Arizona, and it makes me wonder why I don’t spend the entire month there. Potentially March as well – but I digress. The silver lining of this weather is that nothing sounds better than making soup, except possibly curling up on the couch to watch the Oscars with said bowl of soup – and maybe some popcorn.IMG_6022

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IMG_6024So often when I go to post one of my favorite recipes, I wonder how I haven’t shared it with you already, and that is especially true in this case. I could eat lentil soup for every meal – I have a hard time not ordering it when I see it on a menu, or making it immediately when I come across a new recipe. As such, I think I can fairly say I’ve tried quite a few different variations, and nothing comes close to this one – especially for the time and effort it takes to throw it together.IMG_6025

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IMG_6027Simply toast the cumin seeds along with the other spices, then sauté your onions and garlic (I of course use the pre-chopped Trader Joe’s bag of onions), dump in the lentils, water, and tomatoes, and simmer. Note that using water in lieu of chicken stock means (a) it’s vegetarian, (b) it’s so much lower in sodium, and (c) you have one less thing to buy at the store. The recipe tells you to make a “bouquet garni” (I love that term) with the cilantro, but I usually just throw a few stems in and then dig them out after half an hour. Another fun note is that the Trader Joe’s bag of red lentils is exactly two cups – nothing makes me happier than not having to measure AND not having to add a half-used or almost-empty bag of something random to the pantry, never to be used again. Although in this case, you’ll want to make this soup again so you would use them, but still – you know what I mean.IMG_6028

IMG_6035Stir in a little lemon juice and cilantro at the end, and that’s it. So easy and SO good. I like to serve it garnished with more cilantro, a lemon wedge, and perhaps a dollop of greek yogurt, but it really doesn’t need anything. The soup will keep well in the fridge or freezer, so it’s great to package up for lunches for the week – your coworkers will be so jealous, and you won’t have to brave the weather to go grab lunch.

One year ago: coconut granola, lemony banana bread 

Pasta & Co., previously: black bean and couscous salad

Soup, previously: white bean and kale, split pea, tomato, pumpkin black bean, curried butternut squash, cauliflower leek, minestrone, and roasted sweet potato and apple 

Red Lentil Soup, from Pasta & Co. By Request 

Serves 6-8

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or put through a garlic press
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 quarts water
2 cups red lentils, rinsed
1 cup crushed tomatoes in purée (the recipe recommends Paradiso brand; I use whatever I have on hand)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
7 sprigs cilantro, washed and tied together
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons cilantro (or more to taste), washed, dried, and finely chopped
Sour cream, yogurt, or quark to top (optional)

In a large saucepan, combine oil, cumin seeds, coriander, and turmeric.  Over low heat, cook mixture until seeds darken.  Remove from heat and add onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  Sauté over medium heat until onions are translucent.  Add water, lentils, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, and cilantro sprigs.  Bring to a boil and simmer 20-30 minutes, until lentils are very soft.  Remove soup from heat, take out cilantro sprigs, and stir soup for a few minutes to break up any remaining pieces of lentil (do not purée this soup).  Stir in lemon juice and chopped cilantro.  Taste for seasoning (may need additional salt) and texture (may need to be thinned with a small amount of water). Garnish with sour cream, yogurt, or quark, if desired.  Soup will keep well for days in the refrigerator, and freezes nicely.

Sesame Soba Salad with Roasted Shiitakes and Tofu Croutons

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If you, like me, are a fan of cold, spicy noodle dishes, then this salad is for you.  It’s reminiscent of the Pasta and Co. Chinese Vermicelli salad I was obsessed with during college, only that salad has about three times the oil.  This version is lighter, but equally delicious.  I feel like soba noodles are healthy.  And if mushrooms or tofu are deal breakers for you, you can swap them for any other veggies and/or protein you like (although I hope that you won’t, as this is a Melissa Clark recipe and she really knows her stuff).

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If mushrooms aren’t your thing – and don’t get me wrong, they absolutely should be, but since I know that for a lot of people they are not – you could easily leave them out. The noodles are great on their own, and you could add in any crunchy vegetables that you like – I might add some julienned red bell peppers next time.  While I’m not usually a huge fan of tofu, it turns out it’s pretty good when deep fried with sesame oil and tamari.  But you could do this with grilled chicken (marinated in the aforementioned sesame oil and tamari, even), or sautéed shrimp or scallops (Melissa’s alternate suggestion).  Aside from the mushrooms and the tofu, the salad takes five minutes to throw together – you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry already – and you can doctor it up any way you like. The soba noodles are delicious – and naturally gluten free (made from buckwheat), although you need to check the packaging to make sure.

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If you are a mushroom person, I will tell you that the extra step is worth it here – the roasted shiitakes are SO dang good. I made this the other day without them (only because I had everything but the mushrooms and was too lazy to go to the store) and I really missed the texture and meatiness they normally add.

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The vinaigrette is simply soy sauce, a little sesame oil, rice vinegar, orange juice, and freshly grated ginger – it’s so easy to put together, I wonder why I don’t do it for every meal. The cucumber is great for crunch, and I’m of the opinion that cilantro makes everything better.  Take an extra two minutes to toast your sesame seeds, and you have a gourmet, healthy, and delectable meal that’s almost too pretty to eat.

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The one thing I would note about frying the tofu is that it makes a huge mess – I’ve finally learned my lesson and taken everything else off the stove so that the splatters are limited to the stove top – and I think the cleanup is worth it. You could also add the tofu plain, however, and save yourself the calories and the mess.

One year ago: white bean and kale soup

Melissa Clark, previously: coconut granola, banana bread, split pea soup, corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, pan roasted halibut, carrot mac’n’cheese, kale salad.

Sesame Soba Salad with Roasted Shiitakes and Tofu Croutons, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

Serves 4

For the Salad:
7-8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
2 tablespoons toasted (Asian) sesame oil, more to taste
3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 (12.8 ounce) package soba noodles
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice (about half a small orange)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon grated ginger root
1 medium cucumber, peeled
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lightly toasted sesame seeds

For the Croutons (optional):
1/2 pound extra-firm tofu, drained and sliced into 3/4-inch slabs
1 tablespoon peanut or olive oil
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted (Asian) sesame oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the mushroom caps into 1/4 inch strips. Toss the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce, and a pinch of salt. Spread the mushrooms out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and slightly golden, 8-10 minutes.

2. Cook soba noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse quickly under cold running water; drain again completely.

3. In a bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 3 tablespoons soy sauce, the orange juice, vinegar, and ginger.

4. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into quarters and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut each quarter crosswise into thin slices.

5. To prepare the tofu croutons, pat the tofu slabs dry with a paper towel. Heat the oil in a nonstick pan. When it shimmers, add the tofu and let it cook undisturbed (stand away from the pan, as the oil will splatter) for 3 minutes. It should be golden brown on the bottom. Flip the tofu pieces and continue to cook for about 2 minutes longer, until the underside is golden. In a small bowl, whisk together the tamari or soy sauce and sesame oil. Pour it in the pan with the croutons and cook for 1 minute longer. Drain croutons on a paper towel-lined place.

6. In a large bowl, toss together the noodles, cucumber, mushrooms, scallions, cilantro, sesame seeds, and dressing. Serve topped with the tofu croutons, if desired. Drizzle the salad with more soy sauce and/or sesame oil just before serving if it needs perking up.

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Whole Grain Pear Hazelnut Muffins

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This cookbook has been all over my favorite food blogs of late, so I ordered it despite the fact that my breakfast typically consists of a green smoothie (or a Starbucks bagel on the too-common occasion that I’m out of a green smoothie ingredient). So far I’ve made the whole grain pancake mix, the blueberry breakfast bars, and these muffins. I’ve given the pancake mix as birthday and hostess gifts, and it’s been a hit. I made the blueberry bars when I spent the night with my friend Kyle and her picky toddler year old last week – Ellie gobbled them up, but Kyle and I decided that, while delicious, they seemed more like dessert than breakfast.  Next on my list of recipes to try: Bacon and Kale Polenta Squares (hold the bacon), Strawberry Oat Breakfast Crisp (although I suspect it, like the blueberry bars, might also be better suited as dessert), and Zucchini Farro Cakes – YUM.  And of course variations of this granola.  These muffins, though, are a definite win – you can do them ahead of time, and they really do feel healthy – the perfect breakfast treat.

My grandfather passed away a few weeks ago, at the age of 94. He spent the last few days of his life in the hospital, which was not the way he would have wanted to go, but he received such wonderful care from the doctors and nurses that we were all glad he was there. I wanted to do something nice for the nursing staff as a thank you and had planned to bake these cookies, but my cousin Christina (a nurse herself) suggested bringing in something healthier, as nurses get a lot of cookies.  I had seen these muffins on a couple blogs, and this seemed like the perfect excuse to try them.

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I love the idea of cooking with whole grains – especially oats – and the pears make the muffins incredibly moist and dense without being too heavy. Sara from Sprouted Kitchen suggests a way to make them gluten free; Deb from Smitten Kitchen suggests you add chocolate, which they definitely don’t need, but I would imagine would be delicious.   Point being, you can swap out ingredients or doctor them up any way you like. I loved the pears but you could definitely use apples too.

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It looks like a lot of bowls (and it is), but it’s really only the dry ingredients and the wet, combined with my tendency to make a mess in the kitchen and dirty more bowls than necessary. Deb includes suggestions to “streamline the recipe” (use fewer bowls) for anyone that doesn’t have the luxury of a dishwasher.

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You could chop the nuts in a food processor, but I was worried they would get ground up too finely so I used a ziplock bag and my go-to crushing utensil, a bottle of wine. I also ate a lot of hazelnuts in the process, yum.

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Pear-Hazelnut Oat Muffins, from Whole Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon (she’s a Seattle gal so I’m extra happy to support her!)

Makes 12 standard muffins (and maybe a few more)

3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 firm medium pears, such as Bartlett (you want them firm so they don’t get too mushy when you grate them)
2/3 cup natural cane sugar, such as turbinado
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan (I’m going to try coconut oil next time)
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin tin, or line with papers.

In a bowl, combine the oats, flours, baking soda, baking powder, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt. Mix well and set aside.

Peel and core the pears, then grate them into a bowl using the large holes of a box grater (or the grater attachment of your food processor). You should end up with about 1 cup of shredded pear [Note: I doubled the recipe so grated four pears, and ended up with about four cups of grated pear, unpacked – I dumped them all into my batter and the muffins turned out fine. Just in case you were worried about ending up with too much grated pear].

Put the sugar in a large bowl. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the butter to the sugar and stir until well combined. Whisk in the buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and pear until you have what resembles a loose batter. Add the flour mixture and fold it in gently. Reserve 1/2 cup of the hazelnuts to sprinkle on top of the muffins; stir the other 1/2 cup into the batter. Be careful not to overmix.

Fill the muffin cups almost to the top with batter, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup hazelnuts. Put the muffins in the oven and immediately decrease the heat to 375 F. Bake until the tops are golden brown and feel firm to the touch, even in the center, 25-27 minutes (they might look done before they really are – the tops will brown before the fruit-filled centers are cooked through).

Let the muffins cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Muffins will keep in an airtight container for up to two days; they also freeze well.

All wrapped up for Grandpa's nurses, along with boxes of See's chocolates, his favorite

All wrapped up for Grandpa’s nurses, along with boxes of See’s chocolates – his favorite

Roasted Sweet Potato and Apple Soup

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So I realize “sweet potato and apple” seems a little fall-ish, at least to me, but this post has been in my draft folder since October, and I figured I might as well post it during a January “Soup Week” rather than leave it there until next fall (mainly, because I will have forgotten about it by then).  And altruistically, I thought some of you might want it sooner – there’s a good possibility that you have all of the ingredients for this soup in your house already, and could make it for dinner tonight.  In less than an hour, with zero trips to the grocery store.

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This recipe is courtesy of my dear friend Ellie, who is mom to one of my all-time favorite kids (Liam, age 4.5). Last fall Ellie subscribed to some sort of family-friendly recipe sharing service, where they would give you weekly meals that were healthy, kid-friendly, budget-friendly, quick, etc. I can’t really remember the details, I just remember I happened to be there for dinner the night that she made this and I got really exited about it – so excited, in fact, that I went home and made it for myself, and brought it to work for lunch for weeks thereafter. Turns out it’s not just moms that need quick and healthy meal ideas, it’s all of us.

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By “quick and easy,” I’m talking really quick and really easy. Simply peel and roughly chop two sweet potatoes, one apple, and one onion. Toss them with a couple garlic cloves, a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them all together for about 30 minutes at 450 degrees F (stirring every 10 minutes or so).

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Something strange is happening with the lighting (instagram filters) in these photos, but they’re a before and after.  Once the veggies and apple are done roasting, simply dump them into a pot, cover with chicken or vegetable stock, and purée.   Garnish with a little greek yogurt and perhaps some chives and you have yourself a quick, healthy, and delicious bowl of soup. Bon Apétit!

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Roasted Sweet Potato and Apple Soup

Total Time: 50 minutes (20 minutes prep/30 minutes roasting)

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium-sized chunks
1 firm apple, such as Gala or Jonagold, peeled, cored, and quartered
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste (I used more)
1/8 teaspoon pepper, or to taste (I used more)
3-4 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Yogurt, chives, croutons, and/or roasted pumpkin seeds (my personal fave), for garnish

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.  Put the sweet potatoes, apple, onion, and garlic in a roasting pan.  Toss them with the olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast, tossing every ten minutes or so, until they’re soft, about 30 minutes.  Transfer roasted veggies to a soup pot and add just enough broth to cover them (if you’re going to purée the soup in a blender, you can just add the veggies and broth to the blender).  Purée (using immersion blender or a regular blender or food processor) until smooth, adding more broth if necessary.  Warm the soup over low heat, or refrigerate for up to one day, or freeze for up to 3 months.  Stir in yogurt or sour cream just before serving for a creamier taste, if desired.

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Grandma’s Minestrone Soup

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My grandma is a pretty cool lady – she turned 94 this past October, and she’s still going strong. She’s been married for 68 years, raised seven children, and doted on 26 grandchildren and five great grandchildren (so far), with a few more on the way. She’s a three-time cancer survivor and has gone through three hip replacements, and even though she now uses a walker to get around and struggles with arthritis in her hands, she still loves spending time in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, she’d rather spend her morning shopping and then having lunch at the Nordstrom cafe (she and I have that in common), but even at 94 she still loves to cook for her family.

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Grandma is famous for her soups, though most of them don’t have recipes. Fortunately, she clipped this one out of The Oregonian (our local paper) many years ago, and we’ve all been gobbling it up ever since. It’s a pretty traditional minestrone soup, although you could definitely add/omit any vegetables and beans to your liking. It’s a great January soup because it’s so healthy  – especially if you didn’t add cheese and pesto at the end like my sister and I like to do. You could even omit the pasta if you wanted to, although it’s a pretty small amount so I usually leave it in.

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This soup comes together pretty quickly – you could even use the pre-chopped mirepoix that you can find at Trader Joe’s or high end grocery stores, although I kind of like the thick carrot coins that you can get by slicing them yourself. Of course I always use pre-chopped onions (Trader Joe’s was sold out when I went this time, so I used the onion-shallot-garlic mix, which worked just fine). If you don’t mind chopping onions, lucky you. If you do go with the pre-chopped option, however, all you have to do is slice the carrots, celery, parsley, and cabbage. Everything else just gets dumped right from the can into the soup pot.

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The recipe tells you to start with the broth and just dump all the veggies in. I like to start by sautéing the onions in a little olive oil, then adding the broth once the onions have softened up (5-10 minutes) and following the recipe from there.  I should probably note here that if you don’t have a really large soup pot or dutch oven, you might want to cut this recipe in half.  My dutch oven is a 5 1/2 quart (I think), and I could only add three of the four boxes of chicken stock before I started to worry that the pot would overflow once I added in everything else.  I have no idea what I used to make this soup in, but I’m now in the market for the 7 quart Le Cruset.

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Barely room for the beans and pasta, literally (add the pasta as close to the end as possible so the noodles don’t get too mushy). I ended up ladling about half of the soup into another soup pot and then adding my last box of chicken stock that way (2 cups in each pot). I’m now really thinking hard about what color 7 quart pot I want to get, though, because that just seems like an unnecessary step (read: any excuse to get a new Le Cruset!). This sounds like a shopping excursion for me and Grandma!

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Minestrone Soup, from The Oregonian, a really long time ago

4 quarts unsalted beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons salt (less if you’re using store-bought broth – I used 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3 large carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
5 stalks celery, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
2 cups chopped onions
1 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes (you can use a 14 1/2 ounce can if you like a less tomato-y soup, but I love it with the bigger can)
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
1 15 1/2 ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 1/2 ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup uncooked macaroni noodles
Parmesan cheese and/or pesto for garnish (optional)

Bring stock to a rolling boil in a large stockpot.  Add the salt (if using store-bought broth, reduce the amount of salt to 1-2 teaspoons to start with), pepper, oregano, parsley, carrots, celery, cabbage, onions, and spinach. [Variation: I sauté my onions in a small amount of olive oil to begin. Once the onions have softened, add stock, bring to a boil, and add veggies and seasonings as instructed above.] Return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add the kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and pasta and  simmer until the macaroni is tender, about 10 minutes more. Turn off heat and let stand for one hour before serving. Garnish with parmesan and a dollop of pesto if desired.

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