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Cauliflower and Herb Spread

3 May

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It’s picnic season! I knock on wood as I say this, but Portland has really been delivering some fine spring weather this year, and I can’t wait to keep our outdoor time at its maximum level. Playing outdoors, eating outdoors, sleeping outdoors—it’s all in our future.

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My love of picnics is no secret, but I do sometimes wonder how I can shake up our picnic spreads without diverting too much from what makes a picnic meal so enjoyable for me. Picnics are casual affairs for us, without a reliance on silverware or fussy presentations. While we do sometimes pack a picnic that includes a salad or two thrown into a lidded container, it seems almost antithetical to the very spirit of a picnic to make your food fork or spoon-required. This means our picnics tend to include a lot of cheese selections to pair with bread, a good amount of fruit and vegetables in their most casual form, and, of course, a treat or two…or threeoh, fine to round out the meal. It’s a lovely way to eat, but, tough as it may be to imagine, even I, at times, get a bit overloaded by cheese and sweets.

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Last week, when thinking of ways to diversify our picnics, I started dreaming of my favorite white bean spread. It’s a nearly perfect item to slather over a hunk of crusty bread, and, with silky pureed cauliflower swapped in for the creamy white beans, I began to imagine a new picnic food to audition this year. As it turns out, this combination of sweetly sautéed onions, fresh herbs, and smooth cauliflower is even better than I thought it would be. It’s even better, dare I say it, than cheese. For your friends who are allergic to legumes, it makes a great alternative to hummus or other bean spreads. For your vegetarian friends, it’s a super flavorful topping for bread that needs no meat to make it shine. For your vegan friends, try swapping the butter for ¼ cup of good olive oil, and sauté the onions and garlic slowly, until they begin to really melt. For everyone, make a batch of this right now, grab yourself a picnic blanket and a baguette, and head outside.

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Last Year: Crisp Baked Vegetable Wontons and Spinach, Fennel, and Pear Salad with Brown Butter Hazelnuts

Cauliflower and Herb Spread

1 medium head of cauliflower

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 tablespoons fresh garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped

2 pinches red chile flakes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Trim cauliflower of leaves and tough inner stem. Cut cauliflower into small florets, then place in a steamer basket. Over a pot of boiling water, cover and steam cauliflower florets for 10 to 12 minutes, until the florets are tender. Remove steamer basket from pot, and allow cauliflower to cool a bit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In separate saucepan, melt butter over medium low heat, then add onions, garlic, herbs, and chile flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent about 7 to 10 minutes. Add steamed cauliflower. Mash or puree with a food processor or stick blender until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a dish or bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and serve with crusty bread.

Homemade Granola Bars

11 Apr

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If I were to tell you straight off the bat that these granola bars were made of whole grains, dried fruit, healthy nuts, and no added sugar or sweeteners, you would probably roll your eyes at me and then refuse a taste of what could only be an exercise of virtuous, boring, tasteless snacking. This would be a mistake, of course, because refusing a taste of one of these delicious granola bars is akin to refusing yourself a…well, a taste of a delicious granola bar. A really, really delicious granola bar.

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I am aware that most people do not give one hoot about what goes into a granola bar, and I understand why. Granola bars are not particularly exciting, and being readily available at any number of stores only adds to the banal nature of their status. But, if you are like me, and you like snacking, and you like your snacking to do as little damage to yourself as possible, you start to actually get interested in granola bars and the elements that make a fine granola bar what it is.

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As with energy bars, I tend to think that a granola bar should not be simply a disguised candy bar or a cookie. If you’re going to eat a candy bar or a cookie, just eat a candy bar or a cookie. Conversely, if you’re going to reach for a seemingly healthy granola bar, it should be all that its reputation advertises. Sweetened with pulverized dates and a hit of fresh, unfiltered apple cider (which is merely unfiltered apple juice, for all you Europeans out there), there is nary an extra sweetener included in these fellows. What is included in these granola bars, however, is a whole lot of stuff that is very good for you, and also has the added benefit of tasting good. It’s not all that often that you can find a place where those two distinctions overlap. Take advantage of that knowledge and put these to work right away.

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Another take on homemade granola bars (although a thicker, sweeter, heartier option) can be found here

Last Year: Cider-Braised Greens and Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes with Lemon Tarragon Aioli

Homemade Granola Bars

2 cups oats (not quick-cooking oats)

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup roughly chopped nuts or seeds of your choice (I used almonds, pepitas, and sunflower seeds)

½ cup dried fruit of your choice, roughly chopped to be of similar size to the nuts (I used chopped dried apricots, but raisins, dried cherries, or dried blueberries would also be good)

1 cup pitted whole dates (plain, with no added sugar)

¼ cup unfiltered apple cider (also called unfiltered apple juice)

1/3 cup almond butter

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9” by 13” baking pan with a sling of parchment paper, then slightly spray or brush the pan and paper with vegetable oil.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, cinnamon, sea salt, nuts, and dried fruit. Toss to combine.

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the pitted dates and apple cider. Pulse until the mixture forms a thick paste, with some visible chunks of date still remaining.

In a medium bowl, combine date and cider mixture with almond butter, vanilla, and vegetable oil, then whisk to combine. Pour wet mixture over oat mixture. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the ingredients together until they are thoroughly combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your hands, then pat the mixture into the pan, pressing it down into the edges and corners. The mixture will really, really want to stick to your hands, so keep rewetting your hands as necessary until you’ve flattened the mixture completely into the pan.

Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. I baked the batch pictured above for far too long, so it is overly darkened at the edges. Don’t make the same mistake.

Allow the bars to cool for at least an hour before attempting to cut them. Cutting with a large serrated knife (like a bread knife) works best for these. The granola bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week, but they will keep indefinitely if kept in an airtight container in the freezer.

Avocado, Fennel, and Egg Salad

22 Mar

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I have an almost phobic dislike of mayonnaise. It wasn’t always this way. I can remember not caring one way or another about mayonnaise when I was a kid, but, as an adult, there are few food items that make me want to turn around and run more than the sight of mayonnaise. I don’t care for the odor, I possess no tender feelings about the taste, and, up until a jar mistakenly showed up in our refrigerator last week, I don’t think I had so much as touched a jar of mayonnaise for the better part of a decade.

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So, what is a person to do when the topic of egg salad comes up? Ordinarily I would just excuse myself politely and then shudder off any lingering thoughts of the m-word, but since I have taken it upon myself to help those who may be in need of some post-Easter-egg-dying recipes, ignoring the problem really isn’t going to help anyone. Besides, shouldn’t we all just face our fears instead of—okay, no, so I am not even going to pretend that I am planning on making friends with mayonnaise. I’ve lived this long without it, and I think I am doing just fine.

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Luckily for me, and lucky for the state of egg salad, one doesn’t need mayonnaise in order to whip up an utterly dreamy batch of egg salad. Looking for another creamy sidekick to help bind some eggs together, it occurred to me that I could just use the food that I have been using for years to adorn my sandwiches in place of mayo: avocado. Super smooth, wonderfully rich, and delightfully mild, avocados make a perfect addition to egg salad. Because I have been on a huge fennel kick lately, it seemed only natural to add a handful of chopped fennel to the salad, and, sprinkled with a shot of fresh lemon juice, it was just the thing to make this salad sing. Piled on slices of hearty, multigrain bread or nestled on top of a hill of fresh greens, it’s an egg salad I think anybody would greet with open arms.

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Last Year: Polenta Toast with Roasted Asparagus and Fried Eggs

And, in case you missed the link above, here is an article I wrote for Portland Farmers Market last year about naturally dying Easter eggs (those beautiful eggs seen in the picture above were dyed using onion skins!).

Avocado, Fennel, and Egg Salad

1/3 cup chopped fresh fennel

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

½ medium avocado, peeled and diced into cubes

3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh fennel leaves

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

salt to taste

In a small bowl, combine chopped fennel and lemon juice. Toss to combine, then set aside while you prep other ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine avocado, eggs, chopped fennel leaves, pepper, and salt. Toss to combine. Add chopped fennel, along with any remaining lemon juice from the bowl, and toss everything together to combine. Taste for seasoning. You may want to add more salt and pepper.

Serve on toasted bread, on top of fresh greens, or, if you are my husband and you like to use a tortilla chip as a fork, eat it as a dip with tortilla chips.

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