Monday, April 21, 2014

Toasted Almond Torte with Ganache

           I love almond and dark chocolate together. I have a couple signature desserts that I have made hundreds of times for celebrations, Holidays, birthdays, weddings or other special meals. Dessert is not an everyday thing in my house but I do love it to finish off a special dinner.  

           Almond torte with ganache probably tops my list, along with lemon squares, carrot cake,  fruit crisps, pumpkin cake or various quick breads and cookies. I am not a great baker so I like to have a few recipes that I know will turn out. Almond torte is easy to make and turns out delicious and  lovely.   I usually will make one well known dessert and one first time, that way in case one does not turn out, I will still have my tried and true.

           That is what I did for our Easter lunch meal with my daughter's future "In-Laws".  Her fiancee's extended family has graciously included us in their holiday celebrations for more than a year. It is wonderful to be a part of this big and friendly family! 

              I have found that this torte is best made a day or two ahead of time. It gets moister and tastes even better. This cake is called a torte because it has more ground nuts than flour in it. While the chocolate goes great with this cake, it is also great with a simple glaze, a raspberry coulis or even plain. I think it is best with a complementary flavor but even plain it is not overpoweringly almond tasting. 

I have been making this so many years and changing it as I go but the idea for the plain almond cake came from a Sunset magazine 25 or 30 years ago. I am not sure how much I have altered the recipe but I want to let you know that a Sunset magazine back in the day was the original inspiration for this recipe!

Toasted Almond Torte with Ganache

1  cup   whole raw almonds, toasted       

   3/4  cup  Butter – Softened*
   3/4 cup sugar
  2   Large  eggs
  ½- 1  Tsp  almond extract
  1/2 Tsp vanilla extract
  3/4   cup  Flour

Chocolate Ganache
 1/3  Cup  Heavy Cream
  2/3  Cup+  Semisweet Chocolate, chopped  squares or chips if you must.  For deeper chocolate,  use a square or 2  unsweetened chocolate and the rest bittersweet
½ Tsp Vanilla Extract
Toasted sliced almonds for garnish 

*You may use softened coconut oil along with the butter. I used about a ½ c butter and ¼ cup coconut oil last time and it was great.

To toast almonds- You may use slivered almonds, sliced or blanched almonds if whole raw almonds are not available. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place almonds in a single layer in a shallow pan. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, watching carefully and stirring often, until golden inside. Cool

Grind almonds in a blender or food processor, about a ¼-1/3 cup at a time. Grind until almonds are meduimly ground, courser than flour but careful not to grind too long or they will become paste.. You may need to stir once.  

Preheat oven to 350 and butter or grease 8"-9" spring-form or cake pan, preferably with a removable bottom. Use parchment paper cut into a round to fit the bottom of your pan, especially if you are using cake pan without removable sides. 

In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each. Add extracts. Either on lowest speed or by hand, gently fold in flour and ground almonds.

Scrape mixture in buttered parchment paper lined 8"-9" spring-form  or greased,lined cake pan.

BAKE at 350F for 20-25 minutes until center springs back slightly.  Cool 15 minutes. If using spring-form pan, remove sides and continue to cool . Once cool, flip onto plate and peel parchment paper.  If you did not use parchment paper, run a thin knife between pan bottom and cake and very carefully use spatula to remove cake to serving platter.

   To prepare chocolate glaze.   In a small saucepan on low heat, heat cream and add chocolate and blend.  Remove from heat and stir until melted. Blend in vanilla. Pour warm glaze over cooled torte, starting at the center and working out toward the edges.  Just smooth glaze with a rubber spatula to the edge of the torte, not down the sides. Sprinkle with toasted sliced almonds if desired. 

Refrigerate until glaze is set and serve at room temperature.   

Store cake in an airtight container. 

Variation: You may add 1 1/2 tsp. finely grated, chopped orange zest to batter with flour, If desired.
You may top with Chocolate ganache or if preferred, make a simple glaze of powdered sugar, almond extract and a bit of water or leave cake plain. If leaving cake plain, you can sprinkle with almond slices before baking.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Green Velvet Smoothie with Avocado, Pear and Spinach

  I love to make smoothies for a healthy meal or snack, don’t you?  I love the taste and texture of this green velvet smoothie as well the nutritional punch it packs! Green smoothies are a delicious way to add veggies along with fruit. 
While this creamy smoothie is thick, it is easily drinkable

           This one is the creamiest, silkiest smoothie I have had and it tastes awesome too—gently sweet and satisfying. A Green Velvet smoothie makes the perfect breakfast or lunch and it can be a filling snack as well but it probably has around 230 calories so be aware.  It has such an awesome blend of nutrient dense foods yet is feels like a decadent milk shake. I think having a green velvet smoothie as a meal a few times a week can help me stay on a healthy, weight loss plan because it is so satisfyingly filling with good fats and protein along with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants from the vegetables and fruit!

           I don’t usually think of following any recipe for smoothies, I just throw in some fruit and kale or spinach along with yogurt or protein powder.  But this combination is so incredibly wonderful that I had to write it down so I would remember! I just love the silky consistency lent by the creamy avocado, yogurt and pear. The spinach and avocado add a beautiful green color but don’t make it too vegetal tasting. To me it is smoothie perfection!

          Even so, the ingredients here are all suggested amounts and optional items. I think I may change this up at times including something like a tart apple instead of a pear along with some ginger root. Or I may try a refreshing addition of citrus such as lime juice or part of a lemon.  Or perhaps a sweeter version made with a frozen banana or a greener version with a leaf of kale and some mint and parsley. This could easily be made vegan and dairy free by skipping the yogurt and adding more avocado with a bit of sweetener and vanilla. The vegan protein shake mix helps with texture, taste and nutrition but it can be omitted. I think the main things that must be here to make a green velvet smoothie include avocado and spinach with some kind of fruit.

Green Velvet Smoothie with Avocado, Pear and Spinach

2 servings

2 1/2  -3 cups fresh spinach, washed
5-6 oz. Greek yogurt (2 % or non-fat) vanilla or plain with  ½ tsp vanilla
1 pear, peeled and cored
½ avocado large, peeled (more if desired)
1 scoop Vega protein smoothie powder, vanilla (vegan protein)
10 grapes, optional
1/2 cup or more water or almond/coconut milk
2/3 cup crushed ice, more or less as desired

Combine and blend all to smooth,velvety consistency. This can be made all together but I like to split the ingredients into two single serving cups to blend.  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Crispy Granola with Clusters

     I have been practicing the art of fine granola making…playing with ingredients and textures, spices and sweeteners, nuts and fruits, grains and flours, temperatures and time… and I have found that there are many ways to make a great granola and perhaps different ideas on what is the best kind of granola.

     I know for me, I was looking for a granola that was lightly crispy- not a painful hard crunch nor a moist chewy texture but that delightful delicate crispy crunch. I love the texture of this recipe, which is created by the ratios and the temperature. Adding the fruit later means it will not harden into little pebbles.

     I like my granola to be sweet, although this recipe can be easily adapted to have less sweeteners and fruit. I want mine to be full of nuts with an impressive protein and nutrient ratio, which will mean there are more calories, so the calorie conscious may want to reduce the nuts in this.

   I really like having clusters of granola that can be eaten like a snack but I also like the bits that can go on top of yogurt, fruit or cereal. This recipe gives both because about half can be broken into clusters while the rest will naturally break into smaller spoon-able bits.

      I realize this recipe has many ingredients but it can be simplified. Let me explain some of the whys, as I understand them.

      I begin with grinding up some oats, almonds and flax seeds. Grinding them into a flour like consistency helps to cement the granola together a bit for clusters. You could skip the flax, but it is very nutritious so I hope you won’t. Almond meal adds both a binder and a bit of oil.

      Next I add two kinds of oats, and sometimes other things like buck wheat. Old fashion oats look nice and have a great texture; they can get crisp or add a little chew. Quick oats, not instant, are broken down so they help to bind and keep things from being too crunchy.  A little flour of some kind also helps with cluster making but can be omitted.  

    Next…spice in granola? Yes, I love cardamom in it best of all. Get it fresh and just let the fragrance of it in your baking granola drive the house crazy. Originally I was trying different mixes with various combos of spice and flavored oils along with fruits and nuts. Cardamom was added to a pistachio cherry blend but I liked it so well I began adding it to every batch and now I am hooked!

    For sweeteners, the maple and brown sugar really are kind of crucial. I think you can add honey instead of the maple syrup but I love the flavor of maple. Find a pure maple syrup and enjoy! You could use less sugar for sure, but again. I have a sweet tooth or two as does my family.

     For oils, you could use a half cup of anything but I really love the combo of coconut and olive oil. I think they are good for you and tasty, giving the granola its wonderful texture. I tried using a few TBSP of blood orange infused olive oil from We Olive in the mix and I have to say it was awesome!

   Extracts can be substituted or left out altogether, but I love the flavor!

   Using a pan liner is a very good idea. Pressing it all done as well as you can is great for cluster making. You could skip cutting and putting the pan back into the oven but again, it really does help.

   If you prefer big clusters, don’t add any fruit later. Just leave it in the oven for a bit longer, then let it cool for a longer time before cutting or breaking. If you want fruity granola, adding fruit later is best so it does not get overdone.

   All this to say, feel free to play with this recipe to find your own sweet granola! I am sure you will find willing test subjects to help you sample each batch and find the very best for you!

Crispy Granola with Clusters

½ cup oats, either old fashioned or quick cook

¼ cup flax seeds (or use premade ground flax seed meal)

1/3 cup almond slices or almond meal

1 ½ cups old fashioned oats

1 ½ cups quick oats

¼ cup whole wheat flour or gluten free flour

¾ tsp. cardamom (If you don’t want cardamom, use cinnamon or other)

½-1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (Or cinnamon and ginger)

½ tsp. salt

½ cup sliced almonds

½ cup shredded coconut, optional

½ cup seeds, pumpkin or sunflower

½-1 ½  cup other nuts—mix ½ cup each  2-3 of these or choose—pecans, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, brazil nuts, etc.

1/2 cup maple syrup

½ cup+ brown sugar (you can add a bit more if you like it sweeter)

¼-1/3  cup mild oil, olive oil is great, esp. orange infused olive

¼ cup coconut oil

1 tsp. maple extract

½ tsp. vanilla extract

¾ cup chopped dates

OTHER ADD INS –1/2 cup of any-- dried cherries, cranberries, coconut chips or raisins

Line 9 x 15 ish pan with parchment paper or heavy duty foil

Heat oven to 300F

Using a blender or food processor, finely chop the ½ cup of oats, flax seeds, if using, and ¼ almonds until very finely chopped.

In large bowl mix together oats, flour, spices, nuts, seeds, optional coconut  but NOT dried fruit, syrup, sugar, oils and extracts.

In small pan, heat syrup, sugar until smooth and bubbly. Lower heat and add oils. Mix well and cook for a minute. Remove from heat and add extracts.

Pour over oat mixture and stir very well.

Turn out into parchment lined pan and press into pan smoothly with the spoon.

Bake in 300F oven for 30 minutes or so, turning pan half way through if needed.

Remove from oven and press dates, fruits into granola, return to oven

Bake another 10-15 minutes until starting to crisp,

Remove from oven and let cool. Cut it up a bit or break up into clusters and leave them in pan or place them back in the pan and bake for another 10 minutes.

Let cool uncovered for a couple hours until completely cooled.

Variation- Crunchy w buckwheat – 1 ¼ cup quick oats 1 ¼ cup whole oats ¾ buck wheat. Also add a ¼- 1/3  cup almond maple butter to syrups and oils.

Maple Almond Granola Clusters

For those of you who love the clusters!


  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup almond flour (I made my own. See below for easy instructions.)
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/3 vegetable oil (or melted coconut oil)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (I used dark, but light brown sugar will work too)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 300F. Line 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

In large bowl, toss together oats, almond flour, whole wheat flour, slivered almonds and salt. Pour canola oil evenly over the mixture and stir.  Set aside.

Combine maple syrup and dark brown sugar in a medium pot over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract.  Pour sugar/maple mixture over oat mixture and stir until everything begins to come together. Break up any lumps and make sure the wet ingredients are evenly coating the dry. The granola will be VERY sticky.

Press into prepared baking pan, flattening the top so it is perfectly even. I used the bottom of a spatula (sprayed with nonstick spray) to flatten down the top.

Bake for 40 minutes, rotating the pan every 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for a couple minutes. Cut into squares and break up into smaller cluster pieces - the granola will be hot so be careful! Throw the clusters back into the baking pan and bake the clusters for 10 more minutes at 300F.

Remove from oven and let the clusters cool completely - make sure they are cooling uncovered because the air will help give them a nice crunch. Enjoy!

Homemade Almond Flour

  1. Pour 1/2 cup almonds into a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times until they are finely ground. Do not let it grind for too long or the nuts will release too much of their oils and get pasty (which is what you would want if you were making almond butter.)
  2. Once the nuts are ground, pass them through a sifter.  Any larger pieces that didn't make it through can be ground up again.

*1/2 cup of almonds = a little more than 1/2 cup almond flour.  Any leftover flour can be eaten - I threw mine into a smoothie!

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Kale, broccoli and cabbage salad with sweet poppy seed dressing

I love kale but have been a bit apprehensive about using it as the main ingredient in a salad. I sometimes add a leaf or two but I was nervous a larger amount of raw kale in salad would be bitter, as some had experienced. Well my worries, about that at least, are over!

I was on visit to my brother and sister in law’s a month or two ago and we had a wonderful salad there. She told me it was from Costco but since we don’t have a Costco store here I took a quick look at the salad ingredients and tried to remember them. I used of few of the same main ingredients here but did not have or could not remember all of them. So this is not quite the same but it is even better tasting to me.

I made a poppy seed dressing to go on it but you could use store bought dressing if you prefer. However, this dressing is incredibly good and I now make it often for all kinds of salads. It is so tasty people who don’t like salad will eat their greens up without complaint! I know it has a lot of honey/sugar in it but it really does help the kale and broccoli taste great. The olive oil is actually good for you! The key to using a dressing like this is not adding too much to your salad. Mix the dressing into the salad before serving and use just a small amount! It is a condiment not the star!

 I used a delicious  apple balsamic vinegar which was purchased on our trip to California at a We Olive store. What a great place to get authentic California olive oil and tasty vinegars. You can order this online from their website or find an olive oil store near you. But you can substitute a combination or cider and balsamic vinegars.

One more tip for a great salad- use the freshest and best quality kale, broccoli and cabbage you can find. Organic is great.  Older stuff that you have left in the fridge for several days after purchase are better cooked, if you are seeking a mild flavor!

Kale, broccoli and cabbage salad with sweet poppy seed dressing 

1 ½  cup  Kale, cut from  stem and cut into small bits-choose  Lacinato/Tuscan or curly kale
1 cup cabbage, finely shredded and chopped
1 cup broccoli stems, trimmed, peeled and cut into small julienne strips, use fresh stems.
1 cup spring mix, including chicory, chopped to same size as other greens. (You may also use a mix of romaine and chicory or any other lettuce, greens you want to try)
Optional- add one chopped or thinly sliced apple
Toppings:    Roasted pumpkin seeds, Slivered almonds, Dried Cranberries, and Golden raisins. Feel free to try other seeds, fruits and nut combinations. Use however much you want; I use about a 1/3 cup of each.
Light coating of Poppy seed dressing or other sweet dressing, recipe below

Prep everything and make poppy seed dressing. 10 minutes before serving, mix in a little poppy seed dressing  into large bowl of the salad ingredients.  Toss well. Add a bit more if needed but don’t overdo. This dressing makes more than you need for this salad and keeps well in the refrigerator.
Make topping then either sprinkle onto the top of the salad in a large bowl to serve or make up individual plates and garnish with topping. You may place topping ingredients in small bowls for people to add at table.
If you use a heartier lettuce like romaine you can save left overs for the next day lunch! The kale, cabbage and broccoli stems hold up well.

Poppy seed dressing
3-4 TBSP Apple balsamic vinegar,( if you cannot find this use 1 ½  TBSP balsamic and 2 TBSP apple cider vinegar. We Olive has an excellent Apple balsamic!)
1 TBSP white wine vinegar
3 TBSP  sugar or honey, more or less to taste
½ - 1 tsp. salt
 5 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp. poppy seeds
1/3 cup mayonnaise, light with olive oil or other favorite mayonnaise

In a blender, mix vinegars, honey/sugar, and salt. Pour in olive oil slowly while blender is on low. Once emulsified together, add poppy seeds and mayonnaise. Taste and adjust to preference. This should have an intense flavor with a generous  sweetness to compliment the slightly bitter greens. This can be made several days ahead, Use leftovers in other salads such as plain spring mix with dried fruit and pecans or a coleslaw.





Saturday, September 14, 2013

Vegetarian Chili with sweet potato and pumpkin

I could say that fall is the time of year for chili, but I think anytime is chili season! This chili has lots of good fall flavor in it, and I have already made a couple pots this year even it is not officially autumn.  Chili is so wonderful to warm you up after a crisp fall day of hiking, various sport events or even raking leaves so have the ingredients ready because here come the cooler days of autumn!

Some wonderful friends and I got together to cook dinner that was vegetarian, gluten and dairy free (minus toppings). We had lots of fun and made this chili as well as a quinoa pilaf and gluten free corn muffins.

Here is the chili recipe. Like so many of my recipes, this one can be adapted and changed to fit your preferences! You could throw in some ground beef or chicken if you wanting meat, but this chili is so hearty and thick you will not miss the meat!

Denise’s Favorite Vegetarian chili

3 sweet potatoes, diced
1-1 ½ onion, chopped
3-4 Poblano peppers or Anaheim peppers (may substitute canned chilies in a pinch) roasted, peeled, diced

1 ½ -2 tsp. ancho chili pepper (or if you don’t have dried ancho, use an extra tsp. chili powder)
1 ½ -2 tsp. Chili powder
1-1 ½ tsp. cumin
1 tsp. or so sea salt
½ to 1 tsp. each- onion powder, garlic powder may use a clove of fresh garlic instead)
1-2TBSP brown sugar
1-2 tsp. adobe seasoning, optional (salt, garlic, onion, cumin, black pepper, chipotle, lemon peel blend) You could just use more of all the spices if you don’t have adobe seasoning
For extra spice you may add --1-2 tsp. canned chipotle chili in adobe sauce, chopped (wear gloves! ) if you like it hot OR 1 tsp. chipotle pepper spice Or for flavor without added heat- 1 tsp. smoked paprika

1 bell pepper red or green, diced
3 small zucchinis or yellow squash, any summer squash
Other optional veggies—1 – 1/12 cups roasted corn, sliced carrot, green beans, cauliflower, chopped tomatillos, diced red potatoes,  diced butternut squash (add potatoes or squash with sweet potatoes) or whatever you would like to try!

2-4   cups vegetable broth (start with 2 and add more broth as needed)  
1 can diced tomato, 15 oz or so, fire roasted, organic preferred  
1 can crushed tomatoes,15 oz or so, fire roasted, organic preferred
1-1 ½ cups pumpkin puree, about 1/2- 2/3 of a 15 oz. can pumpkin (Or may substitute 1 small can tomato paste OR use both pumpkin and tomato paste)
½ to 1 cup water, as needed to thin

1 to 2 cans beans, prefer 1 can of kidney beans and one of black beans but any beans are fine
1-2 TBSP cocoa powder
1 TBSP unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate, optional
Salt and pepper to taste, more ancho or chili powder if needed

Toppings—cheese, sour cream, green onions, cilantro, tortilla chips, corn bread

In a wide deep pan, add oil and heat to medium-high and add evenly diced sweet potatoes in a single layer. If they cannot all fit, do this in two batches. Sauté over medium heat stirring often. After about 5 minutes, lower heat to medium-low and add diced onions. Cook on low for about 20 minutes until a bit caramelized and brown and sweet potatoes are starting to soften.  Note: Add any hard vegetables like butternuts squash, potatoes or carrots at this time or cook ahead of time.

Roast peppers --Turn oven on broil and place washed, slightly wet peppers onto foil lined pan under broiler. Broil until skin is charred and blackened on one side and then turn until all is charred.  Once skin is charred throughout, remove from oven and fold foil over the peppers and seal up foil to let peppers steam. Let it cool about 10 minutes, then open foil and use gloves or carefully remove stem, seeds and membrane and skin. Using running water helps. Wash hands carefully or discard gloves. Chop roasted pepper and add to onion, sweet potato mixture.

To the pot, Add spices, sugar and salt and continue to cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Remember you can always add more spice later so go easy! I would skip the canned chipotle and some of the dried chili pepper if there are sensitive palates eating this. You could allow people to add hot sauce to spice it up at the end. It will taste a little spicier the next day.

Turn pot to low heat and stir in summer squash, bell peppers, roasted corn and any softer vegetables you are using and sauté for another minute or two.

Add tomatoes, broth, pumpkin puree, beans, cocoa, and optional chocolate and gently stir well. Simmer on low for about 25-35 minutes and gently stirring until everything is nicely cooked through and thick. Taste and add more salt or spice. If it is too spicy, add a little more broth and pumpkin and perhaps a tiny bit more brown sugar.

This chili is wonderful topped with a bit of sour cream, cheese, green onions and cilantro, Serve with corn bread. If you have leftovers you could serve it over cooked pasta such as macaroni or spaghetti noodles.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013


   Making pesto more intuitive and flexible than preparing most other recipes. You don’t really need a recipe if you make it often. It is kind of like biscuit baking in the south. It is made with a few key ingredients which can be adjusted or varied. Yet I have had pesto I was not all that fond of and pesto that I loved. The pesto I made last night was the latter; it possessed a flavorful, fresh taste  with a kick of garlic that was delicious alone and was wonderful in a few recipes I made using it. So I want to remember just what I did this time.

I am not a pesto expert. I really began to enjoy pesto when I visited Italy and tasted fresh pesto slathered on bread with a sweet ripe tomato sliced on top. Even with that sublime experience, I still have not made pesto all that often. I usually  only make it a couple times a year or so, when my summer basil is winding down and sprouting more buds than leaves. I am not sure why I don't buy basil from a green house in the winter and brighten a dreary winter day with the fresh luxurious taste of pesto! Perhaps this will be my year of pesto!

Pesto is basically basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with a pinch of salt blended together in a food processor or blender.  Basil is most often used but parsley, mint, other greens can all be included. I might try a mix soon since all of my herbs need to get used up before autumn is upon us, which despite the 90 F temps here will be sooner than I imagine!  You can also try different nuts.  You could skip the cheese for a dairy free/ vegan version, but I would add a little more salt and maybe some red or black pepper for interest. You could use less oil and substitute just a little water. As I said, pesto is flexible and adaptable!! I will give you some idea of the mix I put together last night but it is really just a springboard for you to try out your own version! Let me know if you find any interesting additions!!

   While pesto is probably best freshly made, this batch stayed fresh several days and it should last around a week in the refrigerator well sealed, with a thin veneer of olive oil over it and a piece of plastic wrap over the olive oil then another airtight seal over that. I sometimes freeze pesto in an ice cube try then tightly seal the pesto cubes up and keep frozen until needed over a few months.

A word on some of the ingredients

    I am still figuring out how to find good olive oil after reading up on the lack of purity of much of the olive oil on our store shelves. It has really made me distrust the labeling on olive oil. I now try to buy certified California extra virgin olive oil but I am still trying to figure out who to trust and which oils to buy, especially the ones that are imported. This I do know-olive oil should not taste rancid or have that bad after-taste. Real olive oil is not bought in large bargain batches, it will go bad! Look for quality and fresh taste sold in a darkened bottle preferably with some kind of certification of authenticity. Buy only what you can use up in a couple months after opening. Also, look for olive oil with a sell by date closer to two years or a recent harvest date as it is better when fresh.

   When looking for cheese for pesto, I do not buy the bargain parmesan plastic...err, I mean cheese. Parmigiano reggiano cheese is authentic, from a particular region of Italy. It does cost a little more but the taste is more than worth it!! Get good cheese to use in your pesto! It should not be waxy or tasteless.

   Pine nuts are expensive but you don’t use a large amount. I think they taste wonderful in pesto! But try other nuts if the cost of pine nuts is prohibitive.

   I used a generous portion of garlic in this pesto and it was a pronounced flavor in it but it was sooo good. I think less garlic is perhaps more authentic but don’t be afraid to make this the way you would like.


4 ½ -6 cups basil leaves, loosely packed
1/3 cup pine nuts, ( for a combination of nuts such as walnuts or almonds along with pine nuts, use up to ½ cup )
1/3-1/2 cup grated
, (or other hard cheese like pecorino)
1-3 garlic cloves, crushed (I used 3 but it makes for a pronounced garlic kick, which I love!)
¼-1/2  teaspoon salt
Splash of lime or lemon juice, highly optional
1/4-1/2 cup extra-virgin high quality olive oil (it should not have a heavily bitter or rancid taste, but be light, fruity or peppery and fresh)

 Using a food processor or blender, begin with about half the basil leaves, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, and salt and pulse so that everything is finely chopped. Add in the rest of the basil leaves and process until everything is finely chopped, scrapping down the sides as needed. Now, open the top to pour the olive oil in as it is processing, being careful that it does not splash out of the top. Process or blend just a few seconds more until pesto is uniform and emulsified.

      So once you have pesto, how do you use it? I love it on bread or pasta. Baguette slices could be toasted with a thin brush of olive oil and then a dollop of pesto with a dusting of Parmigiano broiled for just a moment, perhaps adorned with a slice of tomato.
Pesto is wonderful on chicken or fish that is grilled, roasted, broiled or baked. It is great on veggies or pizza and in a white bean dip. You could make pesto pinwheels or pesto cheese straws for an appetizer.




Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Quinoa with Roasted Squash, Poblano, Corn, Pepitas and Avocado

A few weeks ago I posted on facebook that I had a new favorite dish. Well here it is...It is Quinoa with roasted acorn squash, mild chili peppers, corn and pumpkin seeds topped with avocado and cilantro and it is marvelously delicious!!  It can be served cold as a salad, hot as a pilaf or room temperature. It does have a large number of ingredients but they come together pretty easily. Still it might be a good idea to double everything and have a little extra to make the time worthwhile and also because it is super good.
I couple of tips for this. First, I made this with fresh corn and made a broth using the corn cobs and veggie broth but you could easily skip this step and just use frozen corn. I don't think it will be a big change in the finished dish. 
Make clean up easier by using just one baking sheet to roast all the veggies and seeds-just put foil over it each time.
This recipe is great for a springboard so be confident in substituting similar items or skipping things you do not like. For example, you could use fresh or frozen corn. Or you could use sweet potatoes or kombucha pumpkins in place of the acorn squash. You could even try this dish with brown rice. You could skip an item or two. For example, if avocados are expensive, just don't use them.
Please let me know if this recipe is easy enough to follow, I would like to make it simpler if needed. And if you make it, comments are appreciated greatly! It lets me know what you think and if anyone is reading :-)
Quinoa with Roasted Squash, Poblano, Corn, Pepitas and Avocado

2-3 ears of corn or about 1 cup of frozen corn ( more or less as desired)
 Few TBSP oil for roasting all the veggies and seeds
2 cups veggie broth
1 cup quinoa, rainbow, plain or mixed, very thoroughly rinsed
Juice of 1 lime, about ¼ cup, to taste so may use more or less as desire
Splash of olive oil
1 tsp salt, (more when served  if needed
½ tsp adobe seasoning and ½ tsp Cajun spice or cumin- you might start with a little less if you don’t like spice  (if you don’t have these spices use anything you like with a bit of warmth to it)

1 poblano, Anaheim  or other mild  pepper
2/3 to ¾ cup pumpkin seeds(pepitas), raw
Small acorn squash ( or half of a larger one)
3 green onions, white and green parts sliced
½ cup cilantro, chopped, extra 2 TBSP to garnish top
1  small avocado, sprinkled with more lime juice, salt

1) If using fresh corn, begin by cutting kernels off the cob into a large bowl. Turn the cob around and then flip other end up to get all the kernels. Reserve kernels for roasting.
 If you have the time and would like to--Place the cobs in a large pan with the vegetable broth and cook on low for several hours to get corn broth flavor. Remove corn and strain broth, measuring to see if you have 2 cups. If not add water,This may be done a day or two ahead.
Note: if you are using frozen corn (or if you just want to) skip this step—this is just fine! Just use broth, no need to strain.
Pour the broth into rice cooker or back into pot if you prefer to cook quinoa on the stove.
2) Quinoa- Rinse quinoa several times to remove the bitter coating. You may want to let it soak for five minutes in a bowl of cold , swish it around several times then strain out water using a fine sieve.
Cook quinoa in rice cooker just as you would cook white rice or in covered pot according to directions or simmer about 15 to 20 minutes and drain and fluff.)   Place quinoa in a large bowl and sprinkle with lime juice to taste. Add olive oil, salt and spice.  

Turn oven on to broil-
3) Poblano or Anaheim  pepper- While quinoa is cooking, wash the Poblano or Anaheim pepper and place on large piece of foil under broiler, turning every few  minutes with tongs until all skin is charred and loose. ( This can be done over the flame of a gas stove or on the BBQ grill if desired.) Remove and wrap in foil to steam chili pepper. After about 15 minutes, open foil and wash off pepper, pulling off and discarding charred skin and stem with seeds and membranes. Wear gloves if you are sensitive and wash hands carefully afterwards—you don’t want to rub chili oil in your eye!! Coarsely chop pepper.

Then Preheat oven to 425

4) Corn--.  Cover baking pan in foil, if desired for easy clean up, and spread corn out on sheet and sprinkle with oil, salt and pepper. Place in hot oven-425. Use spatula to turn corn a few times.

After 15 minutes see if the corn is browning and getting firm. If it is, remove corn to a dish or bowl.

Lower heat to 375 ( but put acorn squash in immediately after removing corn)

5) Acorn Squash—While corn is roasting, slice clean acorn squash in half and remove seeds. Place a few Tablespoons of water in the pan and place squash cut side down, and bake for about 18 minutes (This step could be done well in microwave for 9 minutes). Cook just until starting to barely soften. The squash will continue cooking in a later step after you peel and cut it up. For now, remove squash from oven and place on cutting board to cool before next step. Okay, on to Pumpkin seeds!

6)Pumpkin seeds-- Remove squash from oven to cool while you place pumpkin seed in a baking dish with a bit of olive oil and salt perhaps a sprinkle of smoked paprika, onion or garlic powder.  Place in 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until crispy and light.

Raise oven temp to 400 degrees

Acorn Squash—Once the squash is cool enough to touch, cut into slices lengthwise and cut/peel skin off. Chop into pieces of about 1”. Once you are done with the pumpkin seeds, place acorn squash back onto sheet with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with brown sugar and dust with cayenne and cinnamon. Mix a bit then put into oven for about 25 -30 minutes, turning once or twice, until beginning to be caramelized and crunchy.

Chop cilantro, slice green onion.

Immediately after squash is done, add into the quinoa the chopped chili pepper, roasted corn, and half of the pumpkin seeds, chopped cilantro and green onions, saving the rest to garnish the top.

Slice avocados and sprinkle them generously with lime juice and a hint of salt. You can either mix in half the avocado and garnish with the other half or just mix it all in.

Plate salad and top with avocados, some of the roasted pumpkin seeds, green onion and cilantro OR top with these in the bowl.

This salad is great served room temperature with the roasted squash just out of the oven. It could be served hot or cold.