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Farewell Winter – Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
– John Steinbeck

The first day of Spring is a classic metaphor for new beginnings. But it’s also the end to the season of heartiness and perseverance. In Winter we huddle around the hearth. We tend to nest inside. We focus inward. And when Spring blossoms forth, we follow. Bursting with the energy pent up the long, cold months.

To pay tribute to this day of transition, I wanted to find a dish that captures the balance of the heartiness of winter with the fresh zest of Spring. I found it in Tom Kha Gai, a traditional Thai soup made from chicken, ginger, coconut milk and mushrooms. Soup by its very nature embodies the wintry sense of comfort, while the ginger and lemon epitomize the bright promise of Spring. I found my inspiration recipe from She Wears Many Hats and got to work.

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I’m still a Thai cooking novice, so I was nervous taking on a traditional dish like this. But, it turned out to be much easier than I thought; and now I’m ready to face the new season by challenging myself to make even more exotic dishes.

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Here’s my Tom Kha Gai recipe, completely Paleo, and fairly effortless…

Thai Chicken Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

Ingredients

1 lb of Cooked chicken, shredded (I used light and dark meat)

  • 3-4 Peeled carrots, sliced into coins
  • 3 T Cilantro, fresh leaves
  • 1 1-inch piece Ginger, fresh
  • 1 T Lemongrass, dried
  • 8 oz Mushrooms
  • 6 c Chicken stock or broth
  • 1 can of Coconut milk, unsweetened
  • 2 T Fish sauce
  • 3 T Lime juice
  • 1/2 t Red pepper flakes
  • 1 T Olive oil
  • Lime wedges
  • 1 c cashews

Directions

  1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Cook carrot coins for about 4 minutes, stirring often. They should still be fairly firm. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In same saucepan, add ginger and lemongrass, stir to toast until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and stir for another 2 minutes.
  3. Add chicken stock, lime juice and pepper flakes; bring to a simmer and simmer for 8-10 minutes.
  4. Add chicken and simmer for about 4-5 minutes.
  5. Whisk in coconut milk, fish sauce, and cilantro; lower heat and allow to mingle for about 10 minutes before serving. Salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Toast cashews in toaster oven for about 4 minutes. Be careful not to burn.
  7. Top individual soup bowls with cashews. Garnish with cilantro leaves and/or lime wedges.

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Easy, right? Can’t think of a better way to finish out Winter. Enjoy and Happy Spring!

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Winter Beer Bread

Winter can be a time for cocooning and hearth-huddling, at least for me. I think it’s the combination of frigid temperatures outside combined with the dawn of a new year. It is a season ripe for introspection and solo activities, preferably someplace warm. Which is why it’s the perfect time of year for baking.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to try out and shoot a beer bread recipe for Edible Nashville. I have loads of experience with quick breads, but my loaf bread skills are still a bit underdeveloped. Undaunted, I told myself a new year is for trying new things, so I forged ahead.

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This beer bread recipe comes from Tennessee Brew Works, and is a lot simpler than you might think. The most difficult part is allowing yourself time to wait at the different dough-proofing stages. But hey, while you wait, you can pour yourself a glass of Southern Wit – the star ingredient for the bread. Southern Wit is a refreshing Belgium White Ale with pear and honey notes. Yum.

But even if this had been a difficult recipe, I would still be extolling its virtues here because – ohhhh my – it is some of the most delicious bready goodness I’ve ever had! And don’t get me started on its aromatic properties (your house will smell like a gourmet bakery). But that taste – I tell you it somehow tastes better when you make it yourself.

It’s a new year. Go for it! Here’s the original recipe over at Edible Nashville.

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Southern Wit Beer Bread

Ingredients (makes 1 large loaf or 2 mini loaves)

Starter

  • 1 c. Southern Wit (warm), or other Belgium beer
  • 1 c. bread flour
  • 1½ t. active dry yeast
Dough
  • 1¼ c. warm Southern Wit (warm), or other Belgium beer
  • 4 c. bread flour
  • 1 T. yeast
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 2 T. butter (melted)
  • 1 T. salt

Directions

  1. Make starter by combining beer. flour and yeast in a large bowl. Let stand in a warm place (above the oven is usually a good choice) until mixture is foamy and doubled (about 20 minutes).
  2. Add remaining ingredients and mix in a stand mixer until combined. Using dough hook, beat until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Pour a little oil over the dough and place in the warm area to proof until doubled in bulk, about 40 minutes. Then, punch dough down and knead about 5 minutes.
  3. Shape the dough into a narrow baguette shape and place on a baking sheet (or place in a 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pan). Brush with a little melted butter and let rise in a warm area for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake about 40 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow to the touch. Place on a cooling rack and let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing.

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Your dough should look a little something like this ^ for your first kneading. If it’s too wet, add in a little more flour.

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In the last step before baking, hand roll your dough into a baguette shape like I did, or you can place the dough into a loaf pan.

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Did I mention it smells fantastic?

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Your final loaf pairs well with Gouda, pecans, pears and of course, beer. It’s great for mid-winter entertaining. But just as great as a simple, warm snack for cocooning on your own.

Jen

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Baked Eggs with Sweet Potatoes and Harissa

Winter will always be baking season to me. It’s the season to warm yourself around the heat of an oven, whether you’re making cookies, pies or a simple dinner. The latter is what I was after – I wanted to branch out to find a new  recipe for a family meal time that was hearty, healthy and maybe a bit more exotic than a typical casserole. Eggs are a standard crowd-pleaser in my house, so I started with them as the first ingredient.

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In researching recipes, I came across one that had just the right blend of healthy and exotic – Tunisian Shakshuka. This baked egg dish has many variations, but the basics are the same – eggs, onions, other vegetables, Italian parsley and harissa paste. I decided to make mine with green beans and sweet potatoes.

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I found that it wasn’t too difficult to pull together, especially if you prep and cut your veggies beforehand. And I was entranced by the rich, earthy aroma that filled my home while it was baking. Best of all, my family loved it! The warm, gooey-ness of the eggs mixed with goat cheese and the veggies was irresistible. One modification there, I held the harissa for the portion that went to my little lady. So keep that in mind if you don’t like that kind of warmth!

Baked Eggs with Sweet Potatoes and Harissa

Ingredients (makes 6-8)

  • 8 eggs
  • 2–3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
  • 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ pound green beans, ends trimmed and snapped in half
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • ⅓ c. heavy cream
  • 1 c. harissa sauce
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • Handful of spinach
  • Fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

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Directions

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Rinse and chop all vegetables.
  • In a large cast iron skillet, mix sweet potatoes, onion, bell pepper and string beans with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You may also mix them in a large bowl and then portion out into 6 single-serving skillets.
  • Bake for 35 minutes or until potatoes are just tender. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
  • Pour the cream evenly over the vegetables, then spoon in the harissa and goat cheese. Sprinkle torn pieces of spinach on top.
  • Then, gently crack the eggs into the skillet (or skillets) and season again with salt and pepper. Return to the oven and bake another 8–10 minutes or until eggs are cooked to your liking.
  • Remove from oven, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

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I definitely recommend trying this if you’re looking for a new dish to spice up your baking routine. Although I served it for dinner, it could also be the star of a holiday brunch with friends. After all, this is the time of year to share the warmth. Enjoy!

Lavendar Granola Ingredients

Recipe: Lavender Cashew Granola

Cold days are for baking up warm granola. The smell of cinnamon and toasted oats just wraps your heart in a hug, no matter what the thermostat says. In honor of February & Valentine’s Day, I wanted to make a granola that was both heartwarming and had that special heart-day touch – flowers. I haven’t done a lot of cooking with flowers, but this lavender granola was so simple, my confidence has begun to unfurl. And after eating the delicious results, I certainly feel ready to take on new floral-culinary adventures.

Making Granola

A few tips, courtesy of Healthy Nibbles & Bits, where I found the original recipe:

  • Check on the granola as it bakes, and scoop out any that starts to get too brown (usually on the sides). Over-toasted oats are not so tasty.
  • Flower shop lavender is not the same as culinary lavender. You never know what kinds of chemicals might be sprayed on the sprigs you get from a florist. I found my culinary lavender buds in the spice section at my local Whole Foods.
  • If you like granola clusters (and I do!), stir in a whisked egg white. If you don’t, omit it.

Blueberry Lavendar Yogurt

To turn this crunchy treat into a complete Valentine snack, I used the granola as the star ingredient in a layered parfait. My little lady is partial to blueberries, so I chose those and blackberries for the fruit. Blueberry Greek yogurt rounds out the components for my parfait assembly.

I loved how the subtle taste of lavender played nicely with the boldness of the blueberries. It created a lovely palette, too. And since it’s all fairly healthy, seconds are easy to say yes to. Just like a Valentine’s Day hug.


Lavender Cashew Granola

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup buckwheat groats
  • ⅔ cup unsalted cashews
  • ⅔ cup walnut halves
  • ⅓ cup maple syrup (honey works also; add a bit more if you like a sweeter granola)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 t dried lavender
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 t pure vanilla extract
  • small pinch of salt
  • 1 large egg white

Parfait ingredients

  • 1 and ⅓ cup blueberry Greek yogurt
  • ½ tsp dried lavender
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • ½  cup blackberries

Directions for granola

    • Preheat oven to 325ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat to prevent burning.
    • In a large bowl, mix all the granola ingredients together except for the egg white.
    • In another bowl, whisk egg white with whisk or electric mixer + whisk attachment until egg white becomes become frothy. Pour the egg white on top of the granola and stir gently.
    • Spread out the granola on top of the baking sheet.
    • Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until the granola is browned, rotating once. Let the granola cool completely before breaking into clusters.

Directions for parfait

    • While the granola is baking, mix the Greek yogurt with ½ teaspoon of lavender. Refrigerate the yogurt for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the lavender flavor to set in.
    • To make the parfait, alternate layers of yogurt, granola, and fruit.
    • Store leftover granola in an airtight container in room temperature.
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Valentine Treat Bags

I’ve always been a crafter. From papier-mâché projects in Elementary School (that I took way too seriously), all the way to jewelry-making as an adult. But recently I’ve enjoyed the connection crafting can have to the season we’re in. It can help you be more present. And crafting with kids can teach them that same stillness, while instilling them with pride in accomplishment.

For February, I decided to celebrate the season by adding a new touch to an old favorite – Valentine’s Day cards. I wanted a cute way to package the candy and cards that my daughter will hand out in class – and I wanted it to be simple enough that she could get in on the act. I settled on mini cotton bags as the candy+card vessel, after looking through a lot of inspiration. The Valentine dressing is simple – an intricate heart stamp and ink pad color of your choice.

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I did a few samples first, and then let my daughter take over. We worked on the floor with craft paper over our hardwood to protect it. I think being lower to the ground gave her better leverage to stamp.

 

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It’s such a forgiving craft, too. With the natural fabric of the pouches, a little smudge or lightness here and there just adds to the look. But the best part? My little lady is thrilled to give her classmates a sweet keepsake that she helped create.

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The finished product – ready to be filled with goodies!

Materials:

  • 15-20 pouches (or however many you need for your class)
  • 1 stamp pad in red, or desired color
  • 1 heart stamp

Directions:

  • Flatten pouches. If too wrinkly, you may want to iron them briefly before stamping
  • Stamp each pouch with heart stamp
  • Fill with cards and goodies and gift away!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Kale Guacamole Bowl

Recipe: Super Bowl Kale Guacamole

I adore guacamole. And what’s not to love, really? It’s salty, sour, is equally amazing on a corn chip or a carrot stick. And let’s face it, it’s a staple of game-watching gatherings these days. So what better way to bid another football season farewell than by raising a green-dipped chip high in cheers?

 

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In honor of the Super Bowl, I wanted to find a “super food” (in quotes because that’s not a real thing) to complement the game…and maybe make me feel not-so-guilty about the eating sins of Super Bowls past. So when I found this kale guacamole recipe, I knew I had scored (yes, I’m making a cheesy sports reference).

Avocados are one of those culinary sneaks that can envelop other tastes, or taste like not much at all, depending on what other flavors are in play. I made some minor modifications to the original recipe, and found that I really couldn’t taste the kale at all, what with all the garlic going on. Truly this was a simple, nutritious, crowd-pleasing version of the dip we’ve come to love. Score indeed!

Game Day Kale Guacamole


Easy Kale Guacamole

Main Ingredients

  • 4-5 kale leaves, separated from stems
  • 2-3 ripe avocados
  • 1/4 red onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 T fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1/4 t cumin
  • 1/8 t cayenne
  • 1 lime, juiced

Directions

    • Boil (or steam) kale for 8 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop cooking.
    • Combine onions, garlic, and kale in food processor until smooth.
    • Add remaining ingredients and continue to process until desired thickness.
    • Salt, lime and more cayenne to taste.
    • Serve with salted tortilla chips. Yellow corn is especially nice with this recipe.
Persimmon Sea Green

Food Palette: Winter Persimmons

I’ve always been fascinated by this illusion: place one color next to another, and watch it take on new meaning and intensity. Color inspiration can come from anywhere – textiles, everyday objects, nature, and of course, food. For my post series Food Palettes, I explore how the color of food can be both appetizing and creatively stimulating.

This week I spied some particularly lovely persimmons at my local grocery. Such a beautiful and underrated fruit! There’s an almost velvety texture to their tight skin that’s very regal and old-world. When I look at them I can imagine dining with nobility in centuries of yore!

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Today’s palette takes inspiration from the proud persimmon and the subdued light of winter.

Persimmon Seagreen Palette