Friday, December 12, 2014

Red Lentil and Coconut Soup

This is one of my favorite soups to make, as well as a household favorite. This soup has a slight sweetness that comes from the coconut milk. I end up throwing other items in it like broccoli stalks, carrots and curry powder which give it multiple layers of flavor. Red lentils are low in fat and high in protein and fiber. Before cooking, place the lentils in a bowl and run your hands through to pick out stones and other debris. Adding the lemon juice at the end makes all of the flavors come to life.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil
1 medium onion, small dice, about 2 cups
2 medium carrots, chopped, about 1 1/3 cup

4 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 can coconut milk, 13.5oz
4 cloves garlic, left whole
1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons white miso paste
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Alternative seasonings:
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger, or 2 tsp ginger juice
- 2 teaspoons cumin or curry powder


In large soup pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion and carrot and sauté until onions are soft, stirring frequently, about 2 to 4 minutes.

Add stock, coconut milk, lentils, garlic and salt to the pot and stir. Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lid and let simmer 10 more minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat once lentils are completely soft and let cool 10 minutes before going to blender.

Pour half the soup in a blender, including the garlic cloves. Add the miso paste, and blend until smooth. 

** Be careful, the soup is still hot, so hold the lid on tight when you first turn on the blender and then lift the lid a little, or remove the small piece in the lid to let the steam vent while the soup blends. 

Return soup to the pot.  Add lemon juice, and any additional seasonings desired and stir to mix. If soup gets too thick, add additional stock.

Pour into bowls and serve.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

The soup will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week. It can be frozen but is best made fresh.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Yummy Lima Bean Dip

If you were asked if you would like some lima bean dip, you might be just like me and think, "uh, no thanks." I was given a menu to work off of that had lima bean dip as one of the snacks and at first I wasnt expecting it to be a great dish. Once we got started working on it though, it was surprisingly good. Lima beans are also called "butter beans" because of their creamy and buttery texture. Similar to garbanzo beans in hummus, they can take on whatever flavor of herbs and spices you want to throw in. 

This is great as a snack in the afternoon, or put it out at a party instead of regular hummus. I like to serve it with these crackers from Food Should Taste Good.

1 16-oz bag frozen baby lima beans
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
Picked parsley leaves from 2 to 3 stems, about 1 tbsp
Juice of ½ lemon, about 1 tbsp
Zest of ½ lemon, about 1 tsp
3 tbsp olive oil

3-4 tbsp water (optional)

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add lima beans and garlic cloves, bring back to a boil and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.

Place lima beans and garlic in a food processor, add the remaining ingredients except water and process until completely smooth.  If the lima bean mix does not move smoothly add a tablespoon at a time of water until mixture is completely smooth.  Taste and add more salt or lemon zest if desired.

Place in serving bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but 1 to 2 hours is best.  Dip will get better as it sits, giving the flavors a chance to develop and becomes completely cold.

Serve with your favorite dippers like carrot sticks and crackers.

Next time I make it I want to play around with adding a little cooked bacon or sauteed shallots. 

**Note: I reduced the amount of oil in this recipe and added some water instead to create a creamy consistency. I wanted to maintain the flavor of the lima beans instead of muddling it with the flavor of olive oil.  You can add more oil if you like. Other additions that would be really good are cumin, cilantro instead of parsley, fresh dill or a little pesto instead of the water.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Cauliflower Salad with Dairy-Free Dill Dressing

I originally posted this recipe in 2012, but have made some updates to the recipe and am sharing it again with you now. 

Cauliflower is a versatile vegetable in that it can be used in many different ways. I have been using it as a replacement for rice for my Paleo clients and it also makes a great cheesy gratin instead of using potatoes. This is a cold salad and uses tofu as the base for the non-dairy dressing.  I use soy products sparingly when preparing vegetarian dishes as I like to have the protein come from legumes and beans. But variety is nice and when making dairy-free creamy dressings, silken tofu comes in handy. This is a great summer-time recipe and shows off the sweetness of the cauliflower. 

1 12oz package silken firm tofu
1 small-medium clove garlic
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tsp sea salt
Fresh dill, about 2 Tbsp chopped

1/4 cup lemon juice (the juice from about 1-2 lemons)
1 large head cauliflower
1 small red bell pepper, small dice, about 1/2 cup (save a little to garnish the salad)
1/4 cup 
minced red onion

Salt and fresh ground pepper

The Salad:
Start heating a medium pot of water over high heat. Cut out the stem of the cauliflower, discard and cut the rest into small florets.  Once water comes to a boil place cauliflower in pot and boil for 5 to 8 minutes. You want it to still be firm and crunchy, but easily pierced with a fork. Drain, rinse under cold water to cool and stop the cooking process, set the colander aside over a plate or bowl to continue draining.

While the cauliflower cools, make the dressing:


Place garlic in a food processor and process until finely chopped. The small amount of garlic may bounce around and not all get chopped, this is ok.  Add tofu, lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, salt and dill. Process until smooth. Pour into a bowl and set aside to let the flavors develop.

Don't wash the processor bowl! Leave it for the cauliflower.

Once the cauliflower is cooled, place a third of it in the bowl of a food processor. Use the pulsing action until it is coarsely chopped. Pour into a medium mixing bowl. Repeat with the remaining florets.  

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add silken tofu and let water come back to a boil then simmer for 3 minutes. (This helps to make the tofu easier to digest and improves the flavor slightly as this is going to be eaten raw.) Strain the tofu with a fine mesh strainer. 

Cut any remaining large pieces with a knife. Add most of the red bell pepper to the bowl along with the red onion, sprinkle with a little salt and 4 to 5 turns of freshly ground pepper, about half the dressing and stir until mixed. Add more dressing until it is wet, but not soupy. Adjust seasonings to taste.

**Note!  Letting the dill dressing sit for awhile helps the flavors to develop. Mix the salad, cover and place in the refrigerator for an hour or so. Then taste it again before serving. It will be easier to know whether you want more lemon or salt after it has had a chance to sit. Wait to garnish the salad until you know you love it!

Garnish with red bell pepper and a little dill.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What does it mean to write a book?

I just recently announced to my facebook community that I am writing a cookbook. I had been working on it over a month already, but announcing it out loud to people really made it real.

I have been thinking about writing a cookbook since the year after I got out of culinary school, 7 years ago. At that time I was busy trying to adapt recipes for my own food allergies, making notes, trying them out on other people (without allergies), and sometimes sharing them on my blog. Writing a book was always in the back of my mind, but I was so busy trying to work, getting as much cooking experience as I could, and just trying to make a living at a new career. So there never seemed to be any time to put into writing more than an occasional blog post.

Fast forward to this year and that nagging desire still lingers. Up until April I was still convinced I had no time to write a book, and then a bunch of circumstances suddenly came together and created space in my schedule. I had the choice, go looking for more clients to fill the time, OR use this time for something else. At that same time, I discovered that the nutrition school I attended back in 2004, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, was offering a course on how to write a book, and it was starting the very next weekend.  I did some soul searching, and decided NOW was the time. There was never going to be a "perfect" time, so why not NOW.

Writing a book is an incredibly difficult exercise in persistence and trying to foster creativity. Most of the time I struggle with making sure I am moving forward even when I don't feel like writing. To keep moving forward even when I have doubts.  I can see why getting a book done takes most people years. I have been trying to squeeze it into 8 months. It is hard to force yourself to be creative.

And then there comes this question: I know I can cook, but can I write?

The other day I was working on getting some recipes edited so that I could send them to a friend to test for me. As I was writing the email I was gripped by thoughts of "what if he doesn't like them" and "will he judge me if I give him a badly written recipe"?  I had to stop and take a deep breath and send the email despite my fears.  I feel confident of my cooking skills when I cook for people, but I realized out of this that I am more nervous to hand over a written recipe for evaluation, than to just cook it myself. I am not even half way through this process and have had to work through many feelings of fear and doubts.

Most of my time is taken up by sitting here at this computer, going through an excel file where I have all my recipes noted. I have color codes indicating the status of each recipe like "needs to be written", "ready for recipe testing", or "test again" with notes on what needs to be changed. Each time I go to make a dish, I have a print out of the recipe page and a pen nearby to make notes, like this recipe for a cacao smoothie below.

Having a visual of all the ingredients and their cuts and sizes helps in this process too, like in this picture of all the "mise en place" for meatloaf.

I take this kind of picture before I make each recipe for the first time, which helps to make sure I have all the ingredients ready, before cooking (this is a huge tip for success in the kitchen for any cook), and also as a reference to look back on when I check to make sure I described all the ingredients accurately.

So there is the writing, and testing, but there is also the pictures...... below is my makeshift photography station near the best light source in the house, my office window. I use the big round light diffuser when the light seems too bright as it helps soften shadows on the food.  I will eventually need to hire a food photographer, but for now, taking my own pictures helps me to know whether the dish looks good enough and what needs to be changed.

I love food, and cooking really great food for people is my absolute passion in life. I hopefully can translate that onto paper and create an amazing cookbook that people will actually use.   I am 5 months into the process and it is going slowly, but at least it is going. Hopefully next year I will be able to say I am a Chef and Author.

Thank you to everyone who is supporting me through this process. It hasnt been easy, but it will be worth it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Vegetable Summer Rolls

Summer Rolls and Spring Rolls often get mixed up. Spring Rolls are fried while Summer Rolls are made with rice paper wrappers and are always served cold, with a peanut based dipping sauce.  Summer Rolls are always gluten free as the wrapper is made of only rice.

I love these as a snack or even as my whole meal, since they are full of yummy vegetables. Prepping all the ingredients can take time so I dont make them very often. The peanut dipping sauce is really worth all the work though. 

There are endless combinations of fillings you can use for these and I have provided my favorite, vegetarian version. You can also add cooked shrimp, thin slices of cucumber, or bean sprouts, mint and cilantro leaves. I like mine better than any of the ones I get in a restaurant because I can put all my favorite ingredients in. 

Vegetable Summer Rolls
Makes 30 Rolls

Dipping Sauce
½ cup peanut butter
1 tsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp lime juice, about 1 lime
5 tbsp tamari
2 tbsp maple syrup
½ tsp ginger juice, from freshly grated ginger (or more if you like ginger)
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp hot chili sauce like sambal oelek
Chopped green onion to garnish

In a medium bowl, mix sauce ingredients, set aside to let flavors develop.  
*Tip: if you cannot have peanut butter, the sauce is also good with almond butter instead.

Fill a large pot half way with water and bring to a boil. Add carrots, and blanch for 2 to 3 minutes, just until soft, but still slightly firm, pull carrots out, rinse under cold water and place on a paper towel. Bring water back up to a boil and repeat the same steps with the green beans.  After removing green beans, turn heat off, and add rice noodles to the water, to soak – following package instructions.  Rinse with cold water and set aside in colander to cool and dry. 

Assemble all the filling ingredients on the counter, around a large, clean cutting board, or a clean, empty spot on your counter if it has a smooth surface. 

Take a bowl big enough to fit the wrappers in (I used the tin pan below) and half fill it with cold water. One at a time, place a wrapper in the water until it is pliable, about 30 to 40 seconds, but not completely soft. Lay flat on your counter.

Place a piece of lettuce just below the center of the wrapper, then layer on top a basil leaf and the rest of the vegetables, (3 to 4 pieces of each, carrot, green bean, bell, and 1 or 2 slices of avocado). 

Bring the bottom of the wrapper, (side closest to you) up over the filling, tucking it in, then fold the left and right sides in over the filling and gently roll away from you, pressing gently to form a tight roll, and end seam side down. Place on a plate and repeat.  If you get a good groove going, you can assemble the filling, and then before starting to roll, place the next wrapper in the water to soften. If you are moving slowly though, they will get too soft by the time you get to it and you should just wait and do them one at a time. 

Cover rolls with wet paper towels to keep them fresh and soft. Best served the same day. (Mine were still good on the second day, but by the third the wrappers were either too dry or falling apart.)

Serve cold, or at room temp. The sauce will firm up in the fridge if you make it ahead of time. Make sure to take it out of the fridge about an hour before serving to check if is the right consistency. It should be slightly thick, but still pourable. Add a little water if needed.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cooking for First Descents

Heart shaped rocks found by the river in Tarkio

When I first got involved, I didn't know what cooking for First Descents would be like, but at the same time I knew it was what I needed to do. I just had no clue at the time how much the experience would mean to me.

I first learned about First Descents from my culinary school's alumni job board.  Back in March of this year, there was a post that FD was looking for a west coast chef for a program this summer.  Within 5 minutes of the post going up, I was on the phone asking about it.   I have cooked for retreats before and it is my absolute favorite kind of setting to work in. The fact that these trips would also mean cooking for people dealing with cancer just made it even more of a perfect match for me.

When the idea first came to me about going to culinary school back 10 years ago, it was partly because I had a passion bubbling inside of me to cook for people with compromised immune systems, specifically, those with AIDS and those going through cancer treatments. I had lost my own Mother to stomach cancer 5 years previous to that. Going through her cancer experience brought us both new realizations about the link between food and health. I started studying naturopathic healing systems and my interest in clean, healthy food grew. Unfortunately, my Mom passed so quickly that we were not able to make a difference in her diagnosis. Over the years I realized I wanted to find a way to give back and help others in a way that I was not able to help her.

Evening campfire in Hood River, OR

I jumped into working with First Descents and immediately committed to two weeks in Hood River, Oregon in June.

View of Mt Hood from the deck

It took about one day of being there, meeting the Program Directors, all the participants and volunteers, that I was begging to do more programs this summer. I am incredibly lucky and was asked to do a week in Tarkio, Montana in August, and two weeks in Santa Barbara coming up in September.

Cooking for a group like this means long days in the kitchen. We made breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus an afternoon happy (or "appy") hour which gives the group something to snack on when they get back from the river. The menus are meant to be healthy, but also just good, clean, familiar food. We also have to tailor our menus to accommodate food allergies and try to keep everything low sugar and organic whenever possible.

Burger Night in Tarkio

While I and my sous chef are cooking away in the kitchen all day, the group goes out and learns how to kayak, surf or rock climb. The three programs I have done so far have been kayaking trips.  For many of the participants this is the first time they have ever been in a kayak. And, they have just left their home and come across the country to a new place where they do not know anyone. But none of that matters. They are surrounded by people that are happy they are there. They are among people with similar stories and struggles, and somehow, out in the great outdoors and on the river, the magic of creating a new family, happens.

Evening campfire in Tarkio, MT

What I get out of being a part of this group is hard to express. This is unlike any other cooking job I have ever had, and maybe it is because it really doesn't feel like a "job".  I can only say that I am thankful to be a part of these trips and to meet so many strong, courageous and inspiring people.  And did I mentioned they are all between the ages of 18 and 39? (yeah, cancer sucks.)  As I shared at one of the evening campfires, I may be physically tired, but my heart is full.

I even got to leave the kitchen one morning and get out on the river with the group. Now that was fun. Nothing like being out on the river with the sun and rapids to remind you to slow down, stop thinking and worrying about everything, and appreciate the day.

Rafting in Montana with our guide, Uncle Dirt

My life is forever changed for having been a part of this amazing family. I am thankful for the people I have met and the stories I have heard. The beauty of Mt Hood and Tarkio, Montana sure don't hurt either.

Oh, and I learned a new recipe for these delicious treats, a natural chocolate truffle. YUM! Don't ask me what is in them, just let me make some for you. You will thank me later.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fantastic Carrot Cake

I mentioned before how I have been thinking about carrot cake a lot lately. It just happens to be my husband's favorite kind of cake. I like to make it as muffins and leave it unfrosted. I think the cake is tasty and sweet enough without the added sugar. For company though, I add a cream cheese frosting.

Here is my unfrosted gluten and dairy free version. I have also made a non-dairy frosting using a combination of shortening and margarine instead of the butter and cream cheese. You can also use tofu-based cream cheese like Tofutti, which I only use sparingly. It is a little too over processed for me. 

So onto the cake:


1 1/4 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
2 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cardamom

2 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup applesauce
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups canola or grapeseed oil
2 tsp vanilla

2 cups finely shredded carrot, packed
3/4 cup golden raisins


Preheat oven to 350.  Spray two 8" cake pans with cooking spray and line with parchment.  Or place 12 muffin cups into muffin tin.

Measure out all dry ingredients into a medium size bowl and whisk to mix.  Set aside.

Place all of the wet ingredients except the carrot and raisins in a separate larger bowl and using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat on a low to medium setting until well incorporated. 

Add the dry mix to the wet and beat again until the batter just comes together. 

Add carrot and raisins and stir to mix with a rubber spatula.

Pour batter into cake pans or muffin cups and bake for 35 minutes.

Cupcakes reduce time to 20 minutes.  Remove from oven when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Carrot Cake Part I - how to convert a recipe to gluten free

I have been hearing a lot of talk about carrot cake lately, and it has made me want some, badly.  All I need is to hear a mention of a food once, and it gets me thinking about it, especially if it is something I havent had in awhile.  Then if another person mentions that food too, well, then I am on a mission to get some.  That is just how strange cravings can be.  So, I could either go out and try and find one at a store that is gluten free, or try to make it myself.  I lean more towards making it myself because anything fresh is going to beat what is in the freezer section.

I remembered the carrot cake I made during culinary school being really good. I was gluten free back then, but still had to go along with the majority of the curiculum and make my cake with regular flour.  I still have all my recipes from school so I decided that was a good place to start. I dug it out along with the picture I took of my creation (because I was just that organized and even then understood the value of capturing everything I made).

I took a look at the recipe and began my notes for conversion. The original recipe called for 3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour.  I created a blend of brown rice, potato, tapioca and sorghum flours to equal 3 cups including a tsp or two of xantham gum (for better binding).  Then I left everything else in the recipe the same. I love how the school's recipe suggests coconut oil or canola, so I used coconut. I thought it would really complement everything else in the recipe.

40 minutes later and I had a beautiful set of carrot cupcakes. I found them to be a little crumbly so I will be making a second round with a few tweaks.  I read recently that sweet rice flour helps to reduce the crumbliness of gluten free baked goods so I am thinking about adding that into my flour mix.  I will post my recipe once I get out the kinks.  This batch is definitely worthy of eating and sharing so I decided I should dress them up a bit. I didnt have any cream cheese in the house (I cant eat cheese either) so I put together a vegan buttercream made of spectrum vegetable shortening, earth balance margarine, powdered sugar and some vanilla. It actually tastes better than it sounds. Cream Cheese would have been perfect, but this frosting looked really nice too.

Then, they still needed a little something extra so I shredded some carrot and toasted it in the oven. I also toasted some coconut, added that to my toasted carrots and sprinkled the mixture over the cupcakes.