Category Archives: Autumn

Let’s Make Your Thanksgiving Beautiful + Simple

IMG_1786 Across the glow of candles, you deeply inhale the aroma of comfort + harvest to see the twinkling faces of your beloved people who have gathered to celebrate this feast of gratitude. As the bowls and platters begin their merry go round the table you feel the spirit of Thanksgiving filling your heart.

Once your plate is properly piled on, you taste the first bites and melt into delight. You made this! You didn’t just reheat it in the oven as so many weeknight dinners seem to be lately, rather this dish was simple, comforting and exactly what you wanted to eat today. As an added bonus, making this dinner was a surprisingly joyful process.

Looking up from that first bite, you notice there is a slight hush with occasional murmurs of glee as everyone else dives into their favorite dish. Once each item has been properly sampled, the lively conversation of your family begins again and you find yourself reflecting on the fact that not all Thanksgivings have felt this blissful.
signupbutton_tealRemember the year you drove five hours for dinner only to be served processed food that tasted blah and made you feel icky afterwards? Had you known, you at least would have brought some real food to contribute.

That time when the entire meal was made safe for your sweet cousin who has so many allergies including peanuts, eggs, dairy and gluten, yet the resulting dinner was rather disappointing. There must be a way to balance the safe foods with the traditional deliciousness.

What about when your aunt brought that bizarre fat free fluffy, orange-colored dessert as a replacement for Pumpkin Pie. Even she was laughing through apologetic tears.

And then there is the loving, but slightly controlling hostess who wants to make it all themselves, to not burden another soul with work, but seems to not realize food can go beyond the can or box to include the actual harvest.

Of course, sometimes you are the solo hostess as everyone travels from out of town. As you find you are doing nearly everything yourself, you barely have time to properly plan with kids home from school on break, work to do and daily life still demanding. When that Thursday arrives suddenly all the cooking happens at the last minute and you were almost too exhausted to eat by dinner time.IMG_2260

Are ready to enjoy the process of cooking, planning and preparing this beautiful dinner?

Do you crave a Thanksgiving that is simplified, delicious and truly celebrates the harvest and everyone gathered?

Let’s chat. You and me, on the phone together to guarantee a meal full of love and real food, rather than stress and less than satisfactory dishes.

I have cooked for all types of dietary needs and challenges for Thanksgiving whether I ate it with them or they served it to their own family. The art of planning the meal in advance or delegating to those gathering is something I have spent years crafting.

It is my immense pleasure to consider all the cravings and food needs of your diners as well as your unique schedule and challenges to assist in creating a Thanksgiving that is special for your family.

IMG_1940Through our 30 minute conversation, I will answer all of your questions as we map out a plan to make this year’s Thanksgiving your favorite. I will also set you up with any recipes we determine you need and we will discuss the timeline for making it realistic and simple.

As an added bonus, you can contact me by email or text during Thanksgiving week. It is like a Butterball Hotline except I will answer questions about real food as I ease your nerves through the planning, shopping, and cooking process.signupbutton_yellow

After you sign up for our call, I will send you a calendar to select the perfect time for us to chat.

I am looking forward to helping make this Thanksgiving a calm, celebratory time of beautiful food and delicious time spent with your loved ones.IMG_0654

My Grandmothers for Dia de los Muertos

scan0047-1

My Oma wearing a mustache so that I would let her hold me.

It wasn’t until we participated in the Dia de los Muertos city-wide parade with thousands of us dressed as cavaleros that I fully began to realize the importance of bringing the dead into the light for a party and to honor them. Prior to this, it all seemed a bit too spooky, scary.

Lately, the spirit world has felt more important than my rather logical mind has historically allowed. Certainly there are the ghost hunters, and those who do witch-like magic and bring all sorts of woo-woo into the world, but, I believe the spirit world wants us to listen. While I imagine there are all sorts of ways to do this, for me it is allowing space for my heart to swell, open and remember.

Cooking and gardening are incredibly meditative, and with our local food year I have been doing quite a bit more of both. In addition, I have focused on healing my heart after a rather difficult and emotional year. Throughout my daily meditations required by our local food year, I find myself often thinking of my grandmothers through whispers from my heart.

Plant a circle of six zucchini seeds around that hole of compost.

Add a splash of water to those veggies to soften them slightly.

That volunteer plant coming up could end up being delicious!

Caramel? Yes, make caramel from that local honey and dip apples in it. Beautiful.

Try this gorgeous wine! You only live once 😉

scan0050-1

Build a hoop house, it will bring you goodness for months to come.

My paternal grandmother, my Oma, left this world when I was only 6 years old. I do remember her despite being rather young and living 1,000 miles away. I remember the big patio the entire house surrounded, the high ceiling living room with the grand piano, the trampoline and I swear I remember her voice. I have seen plenty of pictures of her including when I was a baby and refused to let her hold me until she decorated her mouth with a mustache to match my Fathers.

In theory, our limited time on this earth together would logically mean she could have little influence, but I feel her a part of me. I often think she would be most delighted by my family’s efforts to do this Local Food Year and she would adore my husband. I imagine her thinking he is awfully smart, although, he could be a tad taller.

My Oma and Opa had an incredible garden, including bananas, figs,  apricots, walnuts, persimmons, zucchinis, berries, tomatoes, pomegranates and plenty of citrus. The lemon tree I remember was the first thing you would experience upon pulling through the gates to their Thousand Oaks home. Our big red suburban would park alongside the lemon tree, we’d open our doors and after two days of driving that smell was heaven.

My Oma + Opa also took their six kids on treks through the Sierras. She had this natural sense that we are to tread lightly on this planet, partially from a place of frugality and as a child of the Depression, but I also believe she instinctually knew the importance of conservation. In many ways, this local food journey has made me feel I am following in her foot steps as I dig deeper into  gardening, but also another one of her loves: writing.

oma-portrait

My Oma.

She attended Mills College, where she majored in English with a Philosophy minor and she wrote beautiful poetry. When I was in grade school there was a writing project to create your own book of poetry along with another poet of your choosing. I choose Lucille Allison’s works rather than select a more well-known or frequently published author.

On the other side, my Mom’s mother, who I called simply Grandma and in her later years we all gleefully called Miss Mimi, was a gift who I was able to cherish until right before meeting Xerxes. She was always a character in many ways with a goofball personality, often a twinkle in her eye and a laugh that I can hear easily still bubbling up from my own heart. She was a seamstress, artist, doll maker, potter (I still have a few pieces) and being French Canadian she knew her way around a kitchen with ease and grace. Actually, when I became a Personal Chef, my Mother told me how Grandma had done something similar many years ago and how nearly every meal was inspired by Julia Child.

While my Oma has many recipes I cherish, I feel cooking is where I followed my Grandma’s foot steps. She cooked with love and artistry including perfectly cooked vegetables, but also beautiful desserts such as her brownies, pecan pie, caramels and fruitcake. I grew up having no idea that people disliked fruitcake as it was a treasure in our home. So much so that my parent’s Wedding Cake was fruitcake as well. In addition to picking up her cooking passion, if I am so blessed, I would like to think I have a tad of her goofy sense of humor.

scan0061

My Miss Mimi hanging with her bestie Billy.

In her final weeks of life, my Mother asked me to fly out to Virginia to help her and her sisters as they went through the painful journey of saying good-bye to their mother who decided to stop dialysis treatment. It was of course a time of many emotions, but I cooked my way through it, keeping my family fed and making some of my Grandmother’s last meals.

Every night we would pour glasses of champagne, including one for Grammie and we would toast her to sleep. The last time she sat up fully, Grandma and I decided to watch a cooking show together. Rachel Ray was leading us through Twice Baked Potatoes. Grandma turned to me and said “Oh, Twice Baked Potatoes are a fabulous idea! I will have to make those when I am done with… ” And then she burst out laughing “Oh! I guess I won’t be here!”

A few minutes after that comment she started to feel deeply uncomfortable, and we quickly got her into her bedroom to lie down so she could rest. Once her cries finally calmed and she appeared to be sleeping, my Auntie Amy and I stayed with her to keep vigil. Curled up in her bed peacefully, Grandma peeked one eye open and said to both of us “Did I scare you!?”
For the love of mercy- she was such a hoot!

Even though I have more memories of eating Grandma’s food rather than cooking alongside her as so many chefs I know got there young start, her spirit is often with me as I cook whispering into my soul, try this, listen for that, smell deeply, taste this, fold with care, whisk with abandon, love it all. She is with me.   

jeanne-and-dick

My sweet Grandma and Grandpa.

Several years after my Oma passed away, my Opa found a beautiful lady named Patti who he eventually married and she became my stepgrandmother. We called her Patti Grand, and grand she was indeed. Her first life was in Hollywood, as the wife to Howard Wilson who was a Sound Director whose movies include the Quiet Man. Like my Oma, he passed way too young.

Chatting with Patti Grand, all of us grandchildren were gifted many tales of her attending the Academy Awards, meeting celebrities, and the beautiful places she traveled with each of her husbands. She also taught us how to play poker, and gave me my first sip of Glen Livet. Let’s say, compared to my relatively humble family, Patti Grand brought a bit of glamour and pizzaz to our days.

Soon after meeting Xerxes, and not long after my Grandma’s passing, my Opa became sick and went into the hospital for a brief period. Living only a few hours away in San Luis Obispo at the time, I drove down to LA to be with Patti, cook, clean, and navigate the situation with Opa and the hospital. It was an honor to be there for both of them, to cook them meals they celebrated with love and enthusiasm, but it also gave me ample chit-chat time with Patti where I heard all about her adventures with both Opa and Howard. She lived a colorful life and she cherished it. In her love of the fine life, she also had a handful of recipes I remember and really a rather decadent way of dining and enjoying life in general. This Local Food Year has been incredibly humbling in many ways, but Patti Grand’s whispers are to not be intimidated by the finer things. That price point might feel a bit much for the budget, but enjoyed with love and pleasure it is serving beyond its value.

aaa-9

My Opa + Patti Grand

When they married, Patti Grand had recently been sick and at 80 years old and my Opa merely 75 years, they would talk about how they probably wouldn’t have many years together. In addition, Patti made it clear that she would be dying before Opa. Instead, they were married for 18 years and my Opa sadly died before Patti, just a few days before my own wedding.

When I dig in to the dirt or face an empty page, my Oma’s influence feels ever present. In the kitchen, when I find myself approaching a meal with an eye towards grace, artistry and a wee bit of perfection my Grandma is closely with me. When I find myself enjoying something a bit extravagant Patti Grand reminds me to stay present with it and not over think whether or not I deserve it. The more I do this work, the more I feel a duty to them, who set the stage that women are strong, capable, unique artists with voices that need to share their ultimate truths whether through food, gardening, writing, painting, dancing, hiking or whatever makes their soul sing.

These women came before me and while they may not have sat me down and given me the step-by-step guide for all of what I am to do for this Local Food Year or even my life, I can’t shake the joy I feel from their distant secrets of how to do so many things. They breath life through messages I feel trickling up through spine, into my heart and out from my hands where I can serve them and their lives by living my own from a place of love, light and continuous creation.

When we celebrate Dia de los Muertos, when we look at how the dead have grandly entered and influenced our life, may we each face it not with the ghoulish nature that so often is projected in our society, but rather with profound respect for we are not who we are without these beautiful people who came and placed their marks own our hearts and their lessons within our souls.

I love you Oma, Grandma and Patti Grand!

With humble gratitude,

Lilly

Look Up from Your Latte and See the Change

img_6853

My pumpkin buddy is helping me write today!

In the midst of a hail storm a few weeks ago, my husband ran out to cover the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Meanwhile, I grabbed my scissors dashed out into the darkness and found the one bright orange pumpkin that I kept meaning to pick. Out of the twelve nearly ready for Halloween volunteer pumpkins, I could save at least one, right?

I suspect my husbands efforts were more substantial, at least comparatively, but the pumpkin sitting on the table next to me as I write is rather perfect looking, without a hail pock in sight. Not that a hail pocked pumpkin wouldn’t be delightful roasted down into all sorts of treats, but really… Hail comes and for some reason my husband and I fling ourselves out into the elements to save whatever we can, whether there is a rational reason or not.

The pumpkins arrived in our garden as volunteers. No, they didn’t help me weed or mulch, rather they made themselves comfortable in our tended soil, then spurted, grew and spun around the garden that I had an actual plan for. It took a while for me to guess what they might be and honestly it wasn’t until they were round, orange and obvious did I finally succumb to… yes, that is a pumpkin. The transformation was well over a month ago, but leaving it on the vine the extra week or so just had this irresistible Cinderella effect and with a ton of other stuff to harvest, I felt in no rush to snip it to freedom until the weather threatened to make it unrecognizable.

Around the time my squash went from random-green-gourd thing to pumpkin, there was another change of season: from regular lattes to pumpkin spice lattes.

Gotta be honest… I just don’t get it.

It isn’t because I do not care to drink them, or that I even care if you drink them or not. I actually really appreciate a bit of pumpkin-pie-spiced up food on my plate. Rather my ire is with the fact that a commercial change of beverage suddenly has a greater impact on our society than the fact that actual, real life nature is changing. And it is magnificent.

Why don’t we talk about the smell that ever so slightly lets on that autumn has begun. What about the leaves!? What about the wild temperature fluctuations, because seriously what is going on with that, this time of year?

Instead there is an argument about the joys or annoyances of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. I realize this post shamelessly is included in the latter, but please get your face out of your sweet coffee preferences and look around at the actual change of season. It is actually changing. Gasp. And believe it or not, it has nothing to do with a corporation’s marketing strategy either.

Okay. I get it: cinnamon + ginger + allspice + nutmeg + cloves = comfort. I also imagine you do feel a temperature change that makes these spices a bit more inviting. Maybe you have also noticed a leaf or two falling, and at the least you can’t deny the sun is going to sleep a bit sooner than usual. Of course, I have lived places (looking at you Central Coast of California) where the change of season is a bit less dramatic, but even in the places that lack a definable four seasons: change is happening. I believe in my heart, that despite flipping a calendar to a month that ends in ‘BER’ and the appearance of fall’s most fashionable beverage, your internal clock craves feeling in sync with nature’s transition.

For the love of pumpkin pie spice, please just look up from your latte, whether it is in style or not, gaze out a window, and ask yourself “what is actually in season… from the earth?”

Now that my friends is where the magic can begin. Pumpkins are just the beginning. What about all of the goodness that is coming to an end: tomatoes in deepening shades of red or simply green and ready to fry, eggplant that will soften soon enough, peppers in various stages of heat or sweetness, the end of summer squash, spaghetti squash, delicata, butternut, apples, onions, pears, carrots, beets, roots, and shoots. This is the time to hit the farm stands, while the harvest is heavy and before farmers start to prepare their land for winter. This is the time to squirrel up the goodness into freezers, cans, jars or at the very least fill your belly with the local stuff before your food once again is shipped from who knows where.

I hope I haven’t shamed my Pumpkin Spice Latte lovers, whomever you may be, the truth is I feel sadness for all of our sake that a corporation has yet again a better marketing plan than Mother Nature. There is only one way we can change that. Look up and then seek the goodness that is growing all around you and let that be your guide this crisp, bliss-inducing autumn season.

Harvest Lentil Salad

harvestlentilsalad

Recently, I was invited to do a cooking demo and cook for a local Food Bank to celebrate the harvest + World Food Day. It brought back so many memories of when I was the coordinator of Tucson Food Day just a few short years ago.

This event was a beautiful celebration! First, I cooked all day with lovely friends and volunteers, my children were nearby most of the day content + happy (yes, I was stunned, too), and then I did a cooking demo that was light-hearted + well received. But, my favorite part happened a few weeks earlier when I walked into the Food Bank and they showed me all of the foods available to their clients that they were eager for me to cook with and share.

Barely wilting cabbage, banged up winter squash, onions and carrots– the recipe ideas were pouring out of me onto my handy clipboard. But, then they opened a large bag with teeny-tiny black seeds and asked me “What in the world are these?”

“Beautiful beluga lentils” I seriously had to exclaim!

These lentils are unique and they get their name because they look just like beluga caviar. What a treasure to find in the Food Bank! I took some home to test out a new recipe using the other produce and goods available to the Food Bank clients.

The result was this simple salad. Consider this a base recipe. A recipe that would happily enjoy a bit of sparkling up with bits of dried fruit such as minced apricots or cranberries or even the jewels of pomegranates. The crunch of various nuts or seeds, such as toasted almonds, crumbled pecans or last week’s Candied Chipotle Pepitas would settle in nicely with these lentils. Roasted veggies, roots, or shreds of leaves could be folded in as well. A crumble of feta or shavings of parmesan would also do well in this dish. It calls for water, but cooking the beans in broth adds yet another layer of flavor.

This can be a simple weeknight meal or a side dish to an elaborate holiday dish. Let me know how you glam up these simple belugas.

Harvest Lentil Salad
Beluga Lentils can be found in specialty shops, gourmet groceries, co-ops or health food stores. Another lentil such as French, Green, or Brown lentils can work instead. The only lentil I would avoid are the thinner lentils, such as the red, which are better for soups than salads. 

1 onion, finely chopped
1 cup carrots, sweet potatoes or winter squash, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup beluga lentils, or french or green
3 cups water, or unsalted broth
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 apple, cored and finely chopped
1/4 cup sage, washed and finely chopped, or thyme or parsley

Place the onions, lentils, and chopped carrots (or squash/sweet potatoes) in a pot covered with the water and a lid. Bring up to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 40-50 minutes until tender to the bite. Once the lentils are nearly done, add half of the salt. If there is extra water, increase the heat to boil it off quickly or strain off the liquid using a wire mesh strainer.

In a large separate bowl, whisk together the vinegar and honey. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking rapidly. Add the remaining salt. Fold the cooked lentils into the dressing and then add the apples and fresh herbs. Serve warm or cool and serve chilled.

Candied Chipotle Pepitas

chipotlepumpkinseeds
Roasted pumpkin seeds are certainly a tradition in our home and I hope they are in yours as well. We often keep them simple, since just carving the pumpkin seems a bit of an ordeal with a couple of tiny people wanting to get in on the knife action! But you know me, after that first plain batch, my creativity gets a bit antsy and those innocent little seeds take on some new pizzaz.

Really any spice will do… Pumpkin Pie Spice? Mole? Curry? And I recently saw this variation that uses black tea— yum!

But, this version adds a bit of sweet with smoky spice and it is oh so nice.

Chipotle has become very popular in the last 10+ years or so and it is an easy go to for spicy heat. Although, if you are serving some non-spicy eaters (ahem- looking at my own tiny cutie-pies!) then substitute Smoked Paprika for the chipotle.

There are a couple of ways I use chipotle, the first is to buy a can of peppers as they marinate in their own adobe spices. Pull them out, blend them up and you have this easy sauce to boost any old dish. The other way is to use a simple powder of chipotle.

Honestly, that choice is more of a matter or convenience or availability. Other than blending the chipotles into a sauce, they are equal in their ease of preparation when it comes to glamming up these seeds.

Another thing, you can start with the raw pepita pumpkin seeds which are shelled, usually a bit green and easier to chew. More likely, since it ’tis Halloween week, you are in the process of removing the seeds from the pumpkins and the shells are wrapped all sung in a shell. Smaller pumpkins will deliver fairly tender, chewable shells that you do not need to worry about ‘shelling’. But, the larger pumpkin’s seeds shells might be a bit chewier than you desire. Plan to chew on these after removing the seeds from the shells, similar to cracking salty sunflower seeds.

How do you love up your pumpkin seeds this time of year? Spicy? Sweet? Both? If you are a member of Lilly’s Table, grab the recipe here!

roastedpumpkinseedsCandied Chipotle Pumpkin Seeds

1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon chipotle pepper, powder or paste
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil, or melted butter, ghee or olive oil
3 tablespoons sugar, more or less as desired
1 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste

Preheat the oven to 400.

If using chipotle paste blend it with the oil. If using the powder, add it with the sugar and salt.

Toss the oil onto the seeds until they are evenly coated. Sprinkle on the sugar, chipotle powder and salt. Taste. Add more spice, sugar or salt as desired. Although, know that the flavors will develop as they cook and you can always adjust the seasonings after they have cooked for a few minutes.

Spread on a baking sheet and toast for 8-12 minutes until you hear popping sounds. This means the seeds are toasty and ready for flipping. Toss the seeds, shake the pan to make sure they are not overlapping and return to the oven if needed to toast up a bit more. This is also a great moment to taste and adjust any of the seasonings as desired. They are done when there are more gold seeds than white and the sugar has caramelized on the seeds.

Happy Halloween!!!

Cook seasonally. Eat consciously. Live well,

Chef Lilly

Cheddar Squash Bake

squashcheddarbakeYou have cut them in half, chunked them into pieces and roasted winter squash before, but…
Have you tried shredding it?

Now is the time!

Out of all the squash possibilities, butternut is a great place to start shredding as the skin peels easily with a veggie peeler, the seeds scrap out without issue and then a big hunk can be shredded on a box grater.

However, if you are lazy like me, big peeled chunks can be placed in a food processor with the grater attachment and in a few minutes you will have a mass of bright orange shreds and… as a bonus you are less likely to scrape up your fingers as I manage to do on box graters!

Once you have these shreds, you can fold them with leftover quinoa and a few otherbutternutquinoapatties ingredients to make these beautiful Butternut Quinoa Patties as are featured in this week’s meal plan.

But, even easier is to toss the mass with olive oil, salt and bake it in the oven until it starts melting into itself. While the heat takes care of it, shred up a bunch of sharp cheddar.

Toss and press it together. More oven time.

Then dip into this gooey side dish which can become the main dish alongside your favorite fall salad.

Did I mention there are only FOUR ingredients… one of which is just salt! Roll up those sleeves and grab a grater!

Cheddar Squash Bake

One pound of squash with about two ounces of cheddar makes a decent serving, so adjust the recipe according to the number of people and squash you have available. Also, Lilly’s Table offers a handy-dandy way to adjust servings in this recipe as well. Give yourself about an hour to let the squash properly melt with the cheese in the oven. 

3 pounds butternut squash
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces cheddar

Preheat the oven to 400.

Cut the squash into four chunks: first through the middle just above the round, seed-filled part. Next, cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Peel the skin away with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Shred the chunks with a box grater or cut smaller and shred in a food processor.

Toss the shreds with the olive oil and salt. Pile high in a baking dish. As the squash bakes it shrinks down significantly so a smaller dish works best. A larger dish will give you a very thin finished product. If you are concerned it will overflow in the oven, place a baking sheet underneath. Bake for about 20 minutes. Toss and bake for another 15 minutes until the squash is starting to fall apart.

Meanwhile, shred the cheddar. Toss half of the shredded cheddar with the squash as soon as there is room in the dish. Press down, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake 10-20 more minutes until the top is golden and the center is tender when you spoon into it.

Poached Pears with Spiced Ricotta

IMG_9515With Autumn’s official arrival, some people are excited about the crispier air & the changing colors, but as always I am excited about the food. Of course, I am eyeing those winter squash and pumpkins, but at the moment I want to talk about the fruits of fall and how a ting of spice can make magic.

Lately, we have been swimming in apples. We find apple tree owners who are overwhelmed by their supply and we arrive with ladders or small children on our shoulders and lend a hand. We are always happily to adopt your fruit, by the way! Certainly, we feel we are the true benefactors as I haven’t spent a dime on apples in months. My children happily pick them up and start munching at nearly any opportunity. My one-year old isn’t even picky as he picks up apples off the floor that have previously been nibbled on, most likely by him. We certainly feel grateful for these apples. However, lately I have been dreaming about a similar fruit, but with a slightly sexier shape: the pear.

I have this vague but happy childhood memory of canned pears that my Mom would dollop with ricotta and call breakfast. I loved it! That was entirely the inspiration for this simple, yet elegant breakfast.

Poaching in juice is certainly the appropriate way to go if you will be starting your day with this dish, but if you prefer to call this dessert (or a fancy-schmany brunch?) by all means use champagne, riesling, prosecco or any drinkably delicious white wine.

When poaching fruit a low simmer is ideal, but I like to get there quickly by turning the heat high first and I keep a close eye on it. If possible, reduce the hot juice just before you see more than a couple of bubbles burst along the edges of the pan.

After the fruit is removed, blast that heat high and reduce the juice (or vino!) into the most lovely sauce.

There is really only one way to make this dish a more delightful, which is to make a farmers cheese/ricotta from scratch. Stop it. I see that eye roll! What if I told you that making the cheese is probably easier to make than these Poached Pears? Well, you might just have to stay close to this blog, because I will be posting the creamy farmers cheese recipe soon. Although, this one will get you by for a bit, too.

And now… may I introduce:

Poached Pears with Spiced Ricotta
Serves two for breakfast, or four for dessert 

2 pears, cut in half, seeds removed and peeled
2 cups pear nectar or apple juice
1 cinnamon stick or a pinch of ground cinnamon
1 whole star anise pod, or a 1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ideally freshly grated off a whole nutmeg piece
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 cup ricotta cheese or fresh farmers cheese

Place the peeled and deseeded pears in a saucepan in an even layer. Pour the juice on top and add enough water to just barely cover the pears. Add all of the spices: ground or stick of cinnamon, star anise, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. Bring up to a simmer over high heat. Reduce immediately to a slight simmer, cover with a lid and cook 5 minutes. Flip over the pears and continue to cook another 5-8 minutes until just barely tender.

Remove the pears, set aside to drain and cool slightly. Raise the temperature on the poaching liquid to high. Reduce for 8-12 minutes until only about 1/2 cup of syrupy liquid is remaining.

Whisk a few tablespoons of the reduced juice into the ricotta or farmers cheese. Serve the pears with the poaching liquid drizzled around and the spiced cheese filling the inside of the pear.

What fruits are you excited about this season?

Cook seasonally. Eat consciously. Live well,

Chef Lilly

Eggplant Napoleons and 4 Steps for Perfect Eggplant

IMG_9325Eggplant is one of those vegetables that easily fall into the love/hate realm. I am an eggplant lover, my husband, not so much. That being said, he is a good sport and I do my best to make irresistible  dishes. Since I am such a big fan, I can’t really say exactly why someone would be less than joyful to eat eggplant, but my best guess is that eggplant dances on the bitter side. And I am here to offer you solutions! It is a bit step-by-step, but if you skip a one that is okay, too:

1. Dine in season. I know, Eggplant Parmesan sounds like a great idea for a mid-December holiday meal, but that is asking for trouble. I have noticed, the bitterness is more subtle the sooner the veg is picked off the vine. This is probably reason #228 as to why one should eat food according to the season. Just in case you needed a few more reasons.

2. Pick a good one. If you are shopping in the summer or early fall (aka eggplant season) this should be an easy task. Start with a shiny eggplant in one of the glorious shades it arrives: deep purple, rosy, white, green and everything in between. Other than big brown patches, the color can be anywhere on this lovely spectrum. Pick up the prettiest one you can find, rotate and examine it for any bruising or obvious damage. Now gently press your finger into the flesh. It should be firm and your efforts should not indent it. (Unless you were being too aggressive, in which case: stop that, gentle my friend, gentle.)

3. Check out the seeds. This is where the bitterness often hides. When you slice into the fruit if the seeds appear large and ornery then it was probably very mature when it was picked. It is still good but, you will want to follow the next step. If the seeds are diminutive and less obvious such as in a smaller, younger eggplant then do not bother with the next step unless you need to remove excess liquid. Which is also a good idea if you plan to introduce any oil to your dish.

4. Salty osmosis. I don’t remember much from my high school chemistry class, but when it comes to food I have occasional flashbacks. Osmosis is one of them and I geek out on it a bit. Basically, a generous sprinkle all over the cut flesh of the eggplant will draw out excess liquid… including the bitterness! There are other advantages to this step, because eggplant operates like a thirsty sponge, when you draw out some of the liquid it collapses the cells and when you add oil to it to roast, grill or sauté you will not need to use as much oil. Even if you love fat, using too much can get costly so this is a great strategy. Want a bit more about eggplant and osmosis– this article is helpful.

To get your osmosis going: first, cut the eggplant it whatever shape you need. For the Eggplant Napoleon recipe below you will want slices. Once you have salted the eggplant, let it rest at least 10 minutes, but up to an hour is even better. You will notice a dark, brownish liquid seeping out. This is good! When you are ready to use the eggplant, give it a quick rinse without soaking it with the water. Then with a clean towel, gentle press and dry it. The eggplant is now ready for show time.

This Eggplant Napoleon recipe gives all the enthusiasm of the more classic Eggplant Parmesan (which I also love) but with a bit less oil, less ingredients, no gluten or starch and not even a sauce to worry about, just fresh tomatoes, herbs and cheese. I like to use a fresh mozzarella, but that is hardly required, firm mozzarella, provolone and even smoked versions of those cheeses could all work. Occasionally, I will do a fresh ricotta, but I still like to top it with some mozzarella, because I love when it gets that golden, nearly crisp topping.

Eggplant Napoleon
serves: 2 main dishes, or 3-4 as a side dish

2 pounds of eggplant (preferably the big, round, short ones)
1 teaspoon salt
4 ounces mozzarella
2 tomatoes
1/2 cup basil
2 tablespoons olive oil (more if needed)

Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch slices. Sprinkle a pinch of salt on each side and spread it out in a colander for at least 10 minutes. Longer if you have time, up to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 425.

Slice the mozzarella and tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices. Wash and tear the basil into pieces.

Rinse the eggplant and pat dry or press in between a towel until no longer moist. Drizzle a baking dish with olive oil. Spread the eggplant slices throughout, not overlapping. Bake for 10 minutes. Flip and bake 5 more minutes until they are just starting to become golden. Pull from the oven and reduce the temperature to 375.

Now, assemble your napoleons:
Start with the base eggplant- I choose the largest rounds available for the best base. Top with a tomato, few pieces of basil and then a slice of cheese. Repeat until all of the eggplant is used, with the smallest rounds last. Finish the top with a slice of cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until a knife easily slices into the eggplant and the cheese is golden.

What is your favorite eggplant recipe? Please tell me in the comments below.

Cook seasonally. Eat consciously. Live well,

Chef Lilly

Naked or MarshmallowsMy senior year of college, we found out a few of our friends were not going home for Thanksgiving. It seemed a crime for them to not enjoy a turkey feast, so we decided to have a pre-holiday meal altogether. There were about 20+ of us in our circle of friends and I went to task finding out everyone’s must-have T-day dishes.

Since I was a vegetarian at the time, I had no interest in cooking the turkey, but a couple of friends signed up for that job. So, other than the mashers, which arrived fluffy with beautiful red skins throughout, I made the rest of the meal.

I remember a few items being requested that I had never actually made before such as Green Bean Casserole, Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows and Creamed Corn, but they were requested and thus I worked on figuring out how to make them. Please note, this was long enough ago that the internet was not swarming with information, so many phone calls later I figured it all out.

While the college crowd was thrilled, I found myself pleased and grateful for my incredible friends, but not completely satisfied with the canned food-centric feast I had prepared. The years of Thanksgivings that followed became an unraveling of that meal.

Thanksgiving can be as simple or as complicated as you like, but I also see no excuse to eat processed food. Not just because I prefer the flavor of real food, but most sides are easier to prepare than most of us believe.

Here are a few ways to create an unprocessed, easy as pumpkin pie, Thanksgiving:

1. Fresh not Canned Sweet Potatoes (aka Yams)

The last time I opened a can of sweet potatoes (possibly that day back in college), I was amazed by the slightly syrupy, super starchy, lacking in flavor nuggets that were inside. No wonder you need marshmallows! Oh, and yes, they were called yams, (except they are not actually yams unless they are white, not sweet and all starch) but that is another story for another day.

The can-free, tastier, easier method: Scrub your sweet potato, prick all over with a paring knife, and toss in the oven alongside whatever is cooking. A temperature between 325-425 will be sufficient to roast them. Once you can squeeze the sweet potato and it feels soft, about 25-60 minutes depending on a number of factors such as the sweet potato’s size and the oven temperature, then it is ready. Chill it outside or in the fridge until it is cool enough to handle them and then peel off the skin. They will be crazy sweet from roasting and can be chopped or smashed from this point forward to be used with your favorite flavors or toppings.

What is your favorite sweet potato topping? We do this Streusel Topped Sweet Potato at home, but do you prefer Marshmallows?

2. Green Bean possibilities beyond the tins

Since the Green Bean Casserole is such a classic, try this simple enough version including my own homemade creamy mushroom sauce and crispy, oven baked onion strips. While I love dairy, I found myself wanting to explore the vegan possibility and recently created this Creamy Cauliflower Green Bean Casserole.

Typically though, I keep it simple with steamed green beans, maybe a squirt of lemon, a generous dollop of butter and toasty almonds, aka Green Bean Almandine.

3. Veggie Time

Turkey’s don’t make people sleepy. Turkey’s starchy buddies exhaust us.

One of my biggest complaints about this otherwise tasty meal is the lack of vegetables. Nothing balances all that starch like a nutrient packed salad or cooked veg.  Of course, green beans are popular, but what about a salad? Or roasted vegetables? If you are a guest at a T-Day dinner, volunteer to bring a vegetable or side salad. Here are some of my favorites:

Chopped Kale & Pomegranate Salad
Creamy Roasted Potato & Apple Salad
Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Florets

But, you can also make it crazy simple with your favorite salad mix, a crumble of dry cheese (maybe blue or feta?), pecans or other toasted nuts, and generous splash of a good quality balsamic and olive oil. This Balsamic Dressing recipe is what I use when my balsamic is not rich and aged. Follow the season’s abundance- it will not let you down!

IMG_18884. Skip the Pre-made Gravy

Here is the deal. If you are already making a turkey, the gravy is simple to make delicious and amazing. You have all of the ingredients, most likely. Flour (all-purpose or gluten-free rice flour both work) and butter (or your fat of choice- ghee? bacon? olive oil?) are critical. A box of good quality chicken broth is about as ‘processed’ as I would go if you want to cut corners. We make homemade broth at our house after roasting chicken or turkey wings and I try to always have some available before Turkey day. Here is my gravy recipe and I will keep it up and available to you until after T-day this year. If you have never made it before, this is your year. Grab a whisk and let’s make a delicious gravy.

If you have vegetarian guests, this vegan Mushroom Gravy will satisfy your entire crowd. I say this as a non-mushroom eater. They are pretty much my least favorite veg, but this gravy surprisingly makes me happy.

5. Stuffing? 

I know Pepperidge Farm and Stove Top sold us all a long time ago with their ‘easy’ take on stuffing. But, your favorite bakery fresh bread chopped into pieces and dried out will give you all that love without the processed ingredients. You can also go crazy with any combination of carb-rich bread: whole-grain, studded with dried fruits, pumpernickel, gingerbread, cornbread, panettone, and more! Here is my recipe for drying out the cubes yourself, but really it is quite simple. If you do it a few days before you won’t even need an oven. 😉

Gluten-free? There are certainly lots of possibilities these days for that, but last year I did this Herb Polenta Stuffing and it kind of rocked. This year the Roasted Root + Polenta Stuffing is rocking my world.

Your turn! How do you un-process Thanksgiving? Or are there a few dishes you prefer to have out of a box or can, otherwise it just doesn’t taste like turkey day.

Comment below and let me know!

Cook seasonally. Eat consciously. Live well!

In gratitude,

Lilly

Creamy or Lumpy Mashed Potatoes?

Mashers AD Creamy or Lumpy

Want more Thanksgiving recipes? Sign up for our newsletter and get four of my favorite recipes sent your way today!

To prepare for a huge Thanksgiving project I was working on several years ago, I asked friends & family about how big of a serving they prepared for every side dish.

This was the conversation with my Mom:

Me: How much stuffing per person?
Mom: ½ cup.
Me: Sweet Potatoes?
Mom: Hmmm… ½ cup.
Me: Harvest Rice Salad?
Mom: ½ cup, too!
Me: Mashed Potatoes?
Mom: 2 cups.
Me: Hahahahaha!

Clearly, as a family we are big fans. Huge, in fact! We must have an amazing recipe? Actually, we change it up a lot, but we always follow a few essential tips to ensure the tastiest, creamiest potatoes:

1. Start with cold water.
Peel the potatoes, if desired. Cut into even chunks and place directly into the pot of cold water. Once all of the potatoes are chopped and taking their cold bath, then bring the water up to a boil. This will ensure even cooking, rather than cooking the outside of the potato and leaving the inside hard.

2. When are they done?
The potatoes are done when they can be smashed with a the back of a spoon or fork. If you like a lumpier Mashed Potato, going a bit more el dente is fine, but if the goal is smooth and silky, you will want them soft. Drain the potatoes well before the next stage.

3. Creamy, Lumpy or Glue-like?
Over-beating or mixing the potatoes to oblivion will not result in a creamier potato, but rather a gluey, strange pile of blob as the starch in the potatoes becomes overworked. This has happened to me and I sometimes salvage them by making Potato Pancakes. But, patties of mashers are not the goal of course, so instead simply avoid mashing too much.

Lumpier potatoes are easier than creamy, because you are typically compelled to stop mashing sooner. Regardless, the best way to make them creamy or lumpy is to select the perfect mixing devise. Everyone has their preferred method, but avoid a food processor, blender or handheld immersion blender. In general, my favorite mashing tools are the cheapest and involve mostly my own elbow grease… or a buddy who is lurking in the kitchen ready to assist.

I have had luck with the following mashed potato tools and I put them in order of my preference, with links:

  • a simple potato masher I recently upgraded from plastic to all metal. Something about smashing burning hot potatoes with plastic creeped me out.
  • Potato Ricer This device is helpful for squeezing excess liquid out of cooked greens, too!
  • Food Mill
  • Wire Whisk This works best if your potatoes are tender, soft or you want to make lumpy mashers.

For the following, I have had some gluey experiences with these methods, but I have also had creamy deliciousness, too. Your call:

4. Flavor them up!
Beautiful flavor can often make up for potatoes that weren’t what you were hoping for. Whenever possible, warm the ingredients prior to adding. These are a few of my favorite add-ins:

  • Melted Butter
  • Brown Butter
  • Warm Cream or Half & Half*
  • Stock: turkey, chicken, vegetarian or ‘no-chicken’ broth
  • Garlic (raw or roasted)
  • Fresh herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (in general I avoid basil, mint, and cilantro for this application)
  • Lemon zest
  • There are so many more options… such as chopped kale or shredded veggies, mustards, cheeses, etc.  Get creative and share your favorite combinations in the comments below!

5. Bonus Tip
Does the type of potato matter? I believe there are certainly starchier and creamier potatoes, but just like people each one lends its own unique flavor and texture to the experience.

I tend to do russets, because that is what I grew up with, but thinner skinned yukons, reds, and goldens all make a delightful masher, arguably, better than the russets that I normally use. I believe the hearty skin on the russets should be peeled, but I usually skip peeling if the potato is thin-skinned.

My sister and I made Purple Mashed Potatoes one year. The best part was how the color on the plate next to the drab starchy sides and beige turkey made the experience so much more exquisite! I highly recommend giving them a try soon for your most colorful T-day ever.

6. Got leftovers?
Technically leftover mashed potatoes are  a rarity in our home. But, Shepherd’s Pie and Potato Pancakes occasionally appear when we do manage to make too many potatoes.

What are your Mashed Potato tips? I know I hit just the tip of that fluffy pile of advice, so please enlighten all of us with your insightful comments below.

Cook seasonally. Eat consciously. Live well!
In gratitude,

Lilly

 

*Yes, any milk, including skim milk can work in theory, but if flavor is what you are after go for a bit more fat. At least whole milk, please!? If you are feeling nervous about fat, chicken or vegetable stock is probably a better route for adding flavor.