HARVEST SALAD WITH SPICE ROASTED CARROTS

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 I am comfortable here in Southern California. We have pretty moderate temperatures, the air smells clean from the coastal breeze, we have family close, friends around we've had for decades, we live in a safe area and have jobs we like which support the life we've built in this place (it's a privilege to write things like that, that is not lost on me, especially these days). There is traffic and smog, and property is stupid expensive, but the positives keep us here and hustling. Sometimes being comfortable feels stale and stagnant, and stagnancy does not breed creativity or action or new ideas or a life that feels lived in. Whenever I feel like I have nothing to write or nothing to cook, I need to leave. I need to learn something new, meet new people, eat somewhere I've never been. Travel has always shaken up my routine and paradigms in the best way. So when I landed in both Boulder, CO and Vietnam this past August, I felt ready to learn and absorb a process that was new to me. Celestial Seasonings has been making tea since 1969. I took a tour through their facility and saw the bones of how they blend and produce more than 100 blends of tea. I drink tea, I know what I like, but I can't say I knew very much about the process or curation until I went on this adventure and tasted what a good cup of tea should taste like.

The rural areas of Vietnam are breathtaking. There are people transporting loads five times their size on the back of a scooter, acres of cinnamon trees and people quietly harvesting within the rice paddies, the tops of their conical sun hats poking just above the horizon. My favorite part was watching the people and their process. You can be running the same routine for a while and you start to not even see it any more. My eyes were glued to the window on the long car ride to the cinnamon farm, I listened to every word of the tour, I soaked in each person I saw. How hungry I was to learn and see.

After decades of eating fast food and then thinking healthy was packaged foods labeled as "fat free" and "sugar free," I fell in love with food by working on a farm. I was romanced by the entirety of it - seeds, care, harvesting, market, cooking. To be in Vietnam and witness all that goes into producing cinnamon, one of their largest exports, reminded me of what I love about all this food stuff. Celestial Seasonings showed me the steps of creating tea from seed to sip. The care towards the cinnamon process is followed all the way through to the tea - that assertive but balanced cinnamon involved in India Spice Chai or Bengal Spice gets paired with a handful other spices to make it taste just right in your cup. I met the farmers, the women who clean it up, shave it down and dry it out (process it), I saw how they package it for Celestial Seasonings who then flavor pairs it with a handful of other spices. I met Charlie Baden, their Senior Blendmaster, who takes herbs and botanicals and creates recipes for a perfect cup of tea, and Mo Siegel, who started the company all those years ago in Boulder. The stories within our food system can be gross and greedy, but they can also be really inspiring and motivating. There is a video of part of the story over on my Instagram page.

So I came home with fresh cinnamon and felt like trying something new. I always put cinnamon in baked goods, but how could I use it in a savory application? I grabbed other aromatic spices to play off the naturally sweet carrots and roasted them until just tender. They are delicious straight off the tray, but I will dump nearly anything into a bowl of greens to make a meal of it, so we ended up with the recipe below. I'm predictable with my favorite things, eh? A leopard can't change its spots, even across the globe and back within five days. So into the kitchen with fresh eyes, lots of vegetables, nothing overly complicated or time consuming, and gratitude for the process.

This post is in partnership with Celestial Seasonings

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HARVEST SALAD WITH SPICE ROASTED CARROTS // Serves 2-4

As written, this is a wonderful side salad or a base salad for two to add your choice of protein to make it a meal. Some seasoned chickpeas or rotisserie chicken on top make this an easy weeknight dinner or to pack along for a work lunch.

Line your baking tray with parchment paper for easy clean up of roasting the carrots. 

1 1/2 lbs. carrots, peeled
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne, more to taste if you like spicy
1/2 tsp. sea salt
5 cups spring mix
2/3 cup pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
2/3 cup (about 5 ounces) crumbled sheeps' milk feta cheese
pomegranate seeds, for garnish

dressing

1 Tbsp. minced shallot
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. honey
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
Pinch of fresh chopped parsley
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

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Preheat the oven to 400’. Cut the carrots into 1” slices, on the diagonal and put them on a rimmed baking tray. Drizzle them with the oil, maple, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cayenne and salt and toss to coat well. Spread them in an even layer and roast for 25 minutes until tender and browned on the edges. Remove to cool completely. 

While the carrots cool, make the dressing. Into a bowl, combine the shallot, dijon, honey, vinegar, salt and parsley and whisk well. While whisking, drizzle in the olive oil. Taste for seasoning. The dressing can be made up to three days in advance.

To assemble the salad, dress the greens with desired amount of dressing. Top with the carrots, chopped pistachios, crumbled feta cheese and a handful of pom seeds. 

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NUT BARS

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My sister in law made these for a family picnic last weekend and Hugh hasn't stopped talking about them. You know how Lara bars taste reminiscent of real food but they are just too sweet? Personal opinion. Too many dates! Dates are cheaper than nuts per volume, it's business, I digress. For maximum snack staying power we want fat and protein, less sugar, so these are basically a mash of nuts, coconut, coconut oil, and the teensiest bit of maple to gild the lily. Yes, these are super high fat but it's good fat and we got mixed messages about all that too many years ago. Especially if you're active or nursing or in school or diabetic or vegetarian or alive! You need good fats! Speaking of health, the chocolate here is very optional, but I was aiming to make them more attractive for a photo and use them as currency to get my children to eat vegetables. I know you're not supposed to do that, negotiate with toddlers, but I can't help myself sometimes. It seems the only way some nights. ANYWAY. So easy. Two dirty dishes and at least a few days of on-the-go snacks covered. 

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NUT BARS // Makes 12
Adapted from Kitchen Stewardship

The coconut oil here acts as glue for the whole situation, therefore, they hold together better when refrigerated, to remain in a more solid, bar-like state. They are fine at room temperature, but note they will be more delicate and not travel as well. 

2 cups raw almonds (or other crunchy nuts)
1/3 cup flaxmeal
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 cup coconut oil, warmed if it's rock solid
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 Tbsp. maple syrup

chocolate drizzle, optional
(melt between 2-3.5oz. (to taste) of dark chocolate, drizzle over the top of the bars. Refrigerate until it hardens. Cut the cold bars into squares) 

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Into a food processor, add the almonds and flaxmeal. Pulse a few times to chop the almonds well, Add the coconut, almond butter, coconut oil, vanilla, sea salt, cinnamon and maple and pulse until the mixture forms a coarse paste. If the mixture looks to dry (it should look, add another spoonful of coconut oil and/or maple. 
Transfer the mixture to an 8x8 baking dish (lining it with parchment paper will make it easier to pull the whole square out and cut them for portability, but this is not crucial) and press the mixture down into an even layer with a large spoon. If you are doing the chocolate drizzle (note above) you can do that now, and then chill the entire situation. Refrigerate them to solidify (about 1 hour). 
Cut the bars with a clean, sharp, knife, and store covered in the fridge. 

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Entrée, Gluten Free, Summer

MEXI CAULIFLOWER RICE STUFFED PEPPERS

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I'm doing what I swore I would never do and cooking three versions of one meal. Hugh has been doing a super zero sugar/carb/happiness diet and my kids already require limitations because, well, they're toddlery, so cooking has not been that fun lately. I don't have a big enough ego to keep from you that I've actually been angry about it at times. Angry because the three of them have made this task complicated and also because I've been jealous of Hugh's self control. I have pretty good eating habits, but have never been one to stick to a diet, so WHO was going to eat ice cream on the couch with me after the kids went to bed?! I was mad that now I'd be accountable for my late night sweet tooth. Collectively, they had morphed cooking into a chore, something I had to do as opposed to the way I get to nourish and serve them. I know a lot of people who are really burdened by the task of cooking and I had never quite felt that, until recently. 
And yet, the kids are kids and Hugh is a grown man who can decide to eat whatever he'd like despite my paradigms about health, so as I tell Curran when he is whining or getting frustrated, "problem solve!" I can dig my heels in and complain, or I can come up with a solution. Or maybe there isn't a solution, but perhaps there is another way through.

I pulled this recipe from Dana over at Minimalist Baker after seeing it on a friends' Instagram. I was bored of the salads I was making for one (because God forbid there was a fresh peach or strawberry in there! The sugar! I'm mostly kidding, Hugh, I get the science). I started off making these stuffed peppers for me, as warm food sounded good, and then realized I could make this meal work for everyone. The kids ate the filling wrapped into a tortilla with some avocado and a little more cheese. For Hugh, I skipped the beans and added shredded, pre-made carnitas. There we were, eating together at the same time, which I think is what I was missing the most. I may have had to do an extra step or two but really, no big deal. Deep breaths, just be flexible. It sounds silly when I read this over, trite even, given the state of the country, but I think many of our larger lessons can be taught within the scale of our small reality. I suppose with time and grace, our guards come down and we realize that as easy as it is to blame other people and get mad, we have the power to be part of the movement forward. What a responsibility we have to our own families - to people we love, and to those we don't know. What a refining process it is to care for them well, even if it doesn't look like our way. Now, for more of that, on a bigger scale. 

Speaking of, I am including a few links for giving towards those affected by the storms in Texas, the Carribean and Florida. These are organizations that have a good Charity Watch rating. This isn't an easy season for me to leave the roost, but I wish I could be there with boots on the ground, holding babies and feeding people. I'm inspired by those giving so much of their time and resources. Unfortunately, I know there will be another time I can do this in the future. I know there are many more, so go ahead and tell us about them in the comments if they are something you've looked into.

Houston Food Bank
Preemptive Love Coalition
The Texas Diaper Bank needs diapers, obv
UNICEF
Save the Children

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MEXI CAULIFLOWER RICE STUFFED PEPPERS // Serves 4
Adapted from Minimalist Baker

Dana's original version is vegan, but I see that you can take this recipe any direction towards what your family eats. I added a small amount of sour cream and goat cheese to keep the insides creamy and the whole thing not overly dietetic, but you could leave those out to keep it dairy free. You could go with no cheese, or use goat, cheddar or queso fresco (I am sounding ambivalent about the cheese choice, but I think all work here). I have added chopped grilled chicken or prepared carnitas for company. This way you can do a few vegetarian peppers and then add meat for those that prefer it. It's pretty flexible. 
The times given below will leave your peppers with some texture. If you prefer yours really soft, add 5 minutes to both roasting times. 

3 bell peppers, ribs removed
extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (coconut or avocado work too!)
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. riced cauliflower (store-bought or from one, medium cauliflower)
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. cumin
1/3 cup prepared salsa
5 green onions, chopped
1.5 cups cooked black beans (roughly a can, drained and rinsed)
1/3 cup sour cream
3/4 cup (about 6 ounces) goat cheese, white cheddar, queso fresco, plus more for serving

avocado, green onion, limes, sour cream, hot sauce, for serving

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Preheat the oven to 400'. Grease a large baking dish with coconut oil or whatever you use. Put the halved peppers in the dish and rub them all over with said oil. Roast for 15 minutes for them to just soften. Turn the heat up to 425'. 
While the peppers roast, make your filling. In a large dutch oven over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the garlic, cauliflower rice and salt and stir to mix. Let it cook for a minute or two. Add 1/4 cup of water (this will help the cauliflower soften) and stir again. Add the chili powder, cumin, prepared salsa, green onions and stir. Cook another 5-10 minutes until the mixture is softened but not soggy. Set it aside to cool slightly. Stir in the black beans, sour cream, cheese and mix. If you are adding any other cooked protein, add it now. 
Stuff the mixture into the peppers - be generous. Pop it all back in the oven for 15-20 more minutes to warm through. For serving, garnish with sour cream, avocado, green onion, hot sauce, go crazy!

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