sweet potato noodles with kale and walnut sage sauce

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It’s been raining for a thousand years. Well not quite but nearly 2 months straight. I recall the day everything started when the sky opened up and day after day of rain replaced what was supposed to be a bright, sunny season. As I drown my sorrows in liquid vitamin D (which I usually reserve for the dark winter months), I realize maybe this is the new normal and I have to find a way to accept it.

It’s absurd to be frustrated at weather and yet here I am, feeling robbed of strawberry picking, beach day trips, laying in the grass, playing with my kids outside and more. I waited all summer for myself to return to some version of myself but it hasn’t quite happened. Accepting things as they are feels impossibly difficult for me. I wonder if I’m alone or if it’s simply human nature to be resistant to things that go against our expectations. But truly what is there to do other than make peace with what is? When talking about expectations someone dear once said: “if you don’t have any, you won’t be disappointed.” What a concept!

But here we are on the brink of fall and I’m going to optimistically believe that eventually the rain will stop and sunnier days will be on the horizon. They have to be, right? So I’m thinking about fall food, fall flavors and all things I love about this season. Earthy, rich, luscious and satisfying food that fits perfectly well with the start of cooler weather.

There are many foods I associate with fall but one in particular is sage. In my opinion it’s an ingredient that can easily make or break a dish. Sage is a capricious herb; use too much and you find yourself with an overpowering flavor that drowns out all other ingredients. Use too little and you miss out on the beauty and essence of what this robust herb has to offer.

It was sage that inspired the sauce for this dish - a creamy and satisfying concoction. Coconut milk, walnuts, sage and maple syrup work thoroughly well with shallot, kale and garlic to create this delightful sauce. Next came the thing to pair it with. I settled on sweet potato noodles as the ideal companion. It’s an indulgent, fall inspired dish you can throw together in 15 minutes.

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sweet potato noodles with kale and walnut sauce:

  • prep time: 10 minutes

  • cooking time: 15 minutes

  • makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 large shallot, finely cut

  • 1 large garlic cloves minced

  • 1/3 cup walnuts plus extra 2 tbsp

  • 1 can coconut milk

  • 1 tsp fresh sage

  • 1 tsp maple syrup (skip for Whole 30)

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1/4 tsp pepper

  • 2 cups kale de-stemmed and cut into bite size pieces

  • 2 large sweet potatoes spiralized

Equipment:

  • spiralizer of your choice

  • medium frying pan

  • large frying pan

  • blender or food processor

Directions:

Blend coconut milk, sage, maple syrup and 1/3 cup walnuts. Set aside.

Preheat large frying pan on medium. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and shallot and cook for 2-3 minutes until soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Next, add kale and cook for 5 minutes until it begins to soften but still retains a crunch.

Add walnut sage sauce and cook for 1 minute to heat sauce through.

Meanwhile, in medium frying pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil and sweet potato noodles and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add 2 tbsp water to create steam and continue cooking for another 5 minutes until sweet potato noodles are soft. You can cook them longer if you want them a bit softer. Add sweet potato noodles to sauce and combine well.

Serve right away with additional chopped walnuts and if you really love sage, a little extra on top.





strawberry water kefir

 strawberry water kefir
 strawberries
 strawberry water kefir

I've been trying to get this very simple water kefir recipe shot and written for over 6 months but kept putting it off. Other recipe ideas crept in and took priority and to be honest, photographing liquids simply hasn't always been my favorite. Sometimes photos do turn out but most often I find them to be a bit of a challenge. Light has to be just right and in the past when I've had a go at shooting this strawberry water kefir, it wasn't quite what I'd hoped, so I tabled the thing several times.

So for today I had an entirely different recipe planned. I was thrilled, loved the combination and was sure it would turn out just right. But after several tries realized it was not going to happen. It failed miserably. I was dissapointed and truly frustrated about the waste of time and ingredients but this is part of the process so I reluctantly had to accept it. After dusting the tapioca flour off my shirt, I had to come up with an alternative and fast.  

Serendipitously, in stepped water kefir. I'd just made a fresh batch and after staring at the bubbly, pink drink for a while, I realized today may just be its day. I couldn't quite believe it, my beloved water kefir was going to save me. 

So let's talk about this bubbly, delicious strawberry water kefir. If you're a soda drinker and are reading this blog, I'm going to go on a limb and say that maybe you're trying to make some sort of change and improve the health of your gut. Well you're in luck; this probiotic drink is a delicious and healthy alternative to the conventional stuff. But there is a commitment involved. Every 2-3 days, you have to switch the grains from their current water to a fresh batch of sugar water. Your grains will continue to grow and expand and eventually you will have to split and add them to other containers or if you have any takers, give some away.

Sound intimidating? It's not. I was sure I was going to mess it up when I first tried it but you'll see just how simple it is. In my opinion, the water kefir gets better after several batches once the grains really get used to the new environment. I've made this recipe many times with a variety of fruit and have settled on strawberries as holding up beautifully, fermenting well and though naturally losing their red color, they flavor the water perfectly. 

Since I can't find grains locally, the next best thing is Amazon. I've ordered from this company several times and can't say enough about their quality and consistency. 

 strawberry water kefir
 strawberry water kefir and strwberries
 strawberry water kefir
 strawberry water kefir

strawberry water kefir

  • prep time: 5 minutes

  • fermenting time: 2-3 days

  • makes: 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup raw organic sugar

  • 1 batch water kefir grains (this varies from 3 tbsp-5 tbsp)

  • 4 cups spring water (it's important to use spring water)

  • funnel

  • 3-4 sliced strawberries

Equipment

Directions

Combine sugar and water in wide mouth bottle and stir with wooden spoon until sugar dissolves. Add water kefir grains, cover with coffee filter or cloth and secure with rubber band. Store at room temperature for 2-3 days. 

Once water kefir has finished fermenting, strain liquid in bottle with stopper and reserve grains. 

Add strawberries to the freshly poured water kefir, secure stopper and let water kefir sit on the counter for 1-2 days until you start to see bubbles and strawberries have lost their color. (You may not see a lot of bubbles until about the 2nd or 3rd batch)

Wash wide mouth bottle well and start the process all over again. 

You can do this indefinitely. Once you have about 1/2 cup grains, you can start dividing them into 2 batches. 

 

 

instant pot pulled pork with coleslaw

 instant pot pulled pork
 instant pot pulled pork
 sweet potato stuffed with pulled work and coleslaw
 red cabbage 

Growing up, I disliked cabbage. That's a bit of a problem in a country where cabbage is eaten at alarming rates. It was often on the menu in one fashion or another and every meal was met with the same resistance. I didn't like it, I didn't want it. Defying your elders when food is put in front of you is in bad taste and doesn't happen often when you're a Romanian child, but I stood my ground - I was not going to eat it and they couldn't make me. Of course unless it was in the form of sauerkraut, but that's a different story. 

When I moved to the United States, I was introduced to coleslaw. I couldn't believe that such a food existed. It contained so much of what I loathed - not one but two types of cabbage and it tasted sweet. Why? Why would anyone eat this? 

But at a cookout several years ago, it was served along side pulled pork and I decided to give it another shot. To my surprise, not only did I like it, but loved it. In fact, I couldn't stop eating it. Which brings me back to the concept that whatever we envisioned to be true once upon a time, may not always be that way. Stay open...

But let's talk about pulled pork, which was the catalyst to my liking coleslaw and ignited my love of cabbage. I look at pulled pork as sort of the deus ex machina as it certainly changed the course of my life. I know, pulled pork? But really, it did. It opened my eyes to everything wonderful about this absurdly delicious combination. Out of maybe all classic American recipes, this may just be my favorite. I can eat pulled pork and coleslaw until I explode. Think I'm kidding? I've had to unbutton my jeans (discreetly, of course) on more than one occasion after eating it. 

So I was in the mood for this combo and decided to take some shortcuts. Shamefully patience is not always one of my virtues, especially when it come to cravings, but this is where the Instant Pot comes in. I admit, I don't use it nearly as much as I should but was glad to have it when the mood for pulled pork struck. 

I played around with a few different dry rub variations as well as the cuts of meat and I'm torn between butt and shoulder. Honestly, either will do as long as it fits in the pot. Around 4 lbs is about as big as the Instant Pot can handle. And for the coleslaw, I kept things paleo and replaced the traditional sugar with just a bit of honey. The combination of pulled pork and coleslaw is unmatched. What you serve it on is entirely up to you. I went with baked sweet potatoes (speedy instruction below) as the base but if you're not paleo, feel free to serve them on soft buns or stick with just pulled pork and coleslaw. 

Needless to say, during the recipe testing and photographing process, I ate a lot of pulled pork and think this recipe is excellent if you have about 2 hours to work with and want to have all the taste of slow cooking with none of the waiting. 

 cilantro
 stuffed sweet potatoes with pulled pork and coleslaw
 coleslaw
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 red cabbage, cilantro and pulled pork

instant pot pulled pork with coleslaw

  • prep time: 10 minutes
  • cooking time: 1 hour 40 minutes
  • yields: 8-10 servings

Ingredients:

For pulled pork: 

  • 3.5-4lbs pork butt or shoulder
  • 1 tbsp coconut sugar
  • 3 tsp paprika
  • 1/8 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of one orange
  • tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup broth or water
  • optional: serve with bbq sauce

For coleslaw: 

  • 1/2 cup home made mayo or store bought
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 head finely cut red cabbage
  • 1/4 head finely cut green cabbage
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot

Equipment

Directions

Pat pork shoulder or butt with paper towels to ensure the spice mix sticks. Combine all 9 dry ingredients under pulled pork in medium bowl. 

With lid off, turn Instant Pot on to Sauté option. Add olive oil, and sauté pork for 3 minutes on each side. Turn off instant pot. 

Add orange juice, broth, apple cider vinegar and lock lid. Turn Instant Pot on to manual for 60 minutes. Once time is up, let Instant Pot naturally depresurize. 

Remove pork from Instant Pot on cutting board and shred with two forks. Carefully, discard about half of the cooking liquid and add pulled pork back to the Instant Pot. Seal lid, turn it back on to manual for 5 more minutes. Let naturally depresurize once more. Give it a stir and serve on its own or with this paleo bbq sauce.

While the pork is cooking, add all ingredients under coleslaw in large bowl, combine well and serve right away. It will store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 

* For speedy baked sweet potatoes, pierce sweet potato a few times with fork, rub with a little olive oil and place on microwave safe plate. Use the sweet potato sensor option and cook turning once until sweet potato is soft. 

 

 

 

 

paleo thai noodles

 paleo thai noodles
 red cabbage
 red cabbage and cilantro
 paleo thai noodles

It was a balmy August night. New York summers are unlike any other. The city seems to swallow up all of the sun's energy during the day and slowly release it at night, engulfing its residents in a veil of heat. But it didn't matter, the city's lights were brightly gliding by as we crossed the Brooklyn bridge. The cool cab was a welcoming respite from the temperature and I took it all in eagerly anticipating the screening of Donnie Darko at the Brooklyn Brewery. 

During my college years I went through a pretty intense movie obsession phase. When I wasn't buried in books and between nights out, I was getting my movie fix. I mostly had a thing for foreign and indie films. Sure blockbusters were cool, but I liked losing myself in character's lives and more often than not, those intense, complex stories were found in independent films. It seemed to fit my escapist nature. 

One day a friend mentioned that I really needed to see the movie Donnie Darko. I tend to be hesitant when someone tells me that I "have to" see or read something but decided to give it a shot anyway. And so my sheer infatuation with this film began. I can't say with certainty what did it. It may have been the time in my life, the soundtrack, story or simply the character's lives that had me hooked. It wasn't called a cult film for nothing.

We'd arrived and as is typical in my nature, I get overly excited about things I'm into and go overboard. Before the movie even started, I'd had several beers and was busy chatting and chain smoking when the wave of nausea came over me. I caught the opening scene only to spend the next hour or so in the bathroom. Empty stomachs and strong beers are not a good match, I learned. But somehow I miraculously pulled through and managed to catch the last part of the film. In my 20s, I had an absurd ability to hang and recover. That is no longer the case, but those were good days. 

Despite the earlier episode, I was fine, in fact, I was more than fine - I was starving and felt like I'd gotten a second chance at the night. We decided some food would probably do everyone good. Nearby we spotted a Thai restaurant and decided to make our way over. It was one of the prettiest spaces I'd been in. Whether it was my feeling better and functioning at that point or if the place really was that special, I can't recall, but the colors, shapes and energy were palpable. Everything had a mystifying glow. 

It was my first time trying Thai food and I distinctly remember that noodle dish. Entering unknown territory is scary but so exciting - a matter of perspective I suppose. That night, my love affair with Thai food began. The noodle dish in front of me had so many layers of flavor and textures that my tastebuds were experiencing nirvana. 

While today's dish will likely not bring on any such feelings, I try to play around with Thai recipes as much as I can and made a paleo version for you. The crunch from the vegetables and cashews mixed with the gooey creaminess from the almond butter and tahini, will hopefully make you swoon the way it makes me. 

*If you're not paleo, you can easily substitute peanut butter for almond butter, pad Thai noodles for the carrots and zucchini and peanuts for cashews.

 paleo thai noodles
 paleo thai noodles
 chopsticks and cilantro
 paleo thai noodles
 paleo thai noodles

paleo thai noodles

  • prep time: 10 minutes
  • cooking time: 2 minutes
  • makes: 2 servings

Ingredients

Sauce

Vegetables

  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 large zucchini or 2 small, spiralized
  • 1 large carrot, spiralized
  • 1 cup red cabbage, sliced
  • 1/4 red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp chopped toasted cashews
  • 1 tbsp sliced scallion (green part only)
  • optional: a few leaves of thai basil or regular basil chopped

Equipment:

  • small frying pan
  • large bowl
  • spiralizer of your choice

Directions

In frying pan add coconut oil, zucchini and carrot spirals and cook, stirring frequently, for 1-2 minutes on medium until the noodles are warm and slightly soft. Remove from heat and set on plate to cool.

In mixing bowl combine all ingredients for sauce and mix well. Don't worry if the sauce is a bit thick. Zucchini contains a lot of water and will thin it out. 

Add zucchini and carrot noodles to sauce as well as cabbage, red pepper, cashews, scallions, cilantro if you'd like Thai or regular basil. Serve right away.


 

 

grilled vegetables with balsamic and basil

 grilled vegetables with balsamic
 grilled vegetables with balsamic
 grilled vegetables with balsamic
 grilled vegetables with balsamic
 grilled vegetables with balsamic

Red onion - an unassuming vegetable hiding a gentle sweetness and flavor behind its many layers. It took me a while to fully come around to this lovely vegetable. I used to catch glimpses of it in the grocery store, modestly nestled next to the sweet and yellow variety but hardly ever did I think to cook with it. I guess it seemed a bit intimidating so I stuck with the familiar kind. 

But truth be told, red onion is now one of my favorite vegetables. Aside from its alluring color, red onion has a sweet, mild flavor that enhances many a dish. 

Las weekend my mother visited. And as is typically the case, she comes baring little gifts of one kind or another. While I insist that I need nothing and she doesn't have to, this time though she nailed it when she walked in with a massive pot of basil. There are few things that bring me as much joy as fresh herbs. But along with the basil she also brought an array of vegetables that were now strewn about my counter so my job was to figure out what to do with the mishmash. 

Days past and I still hadn't figured out what to do with all the vegetables on hand. Roasting of course was always an option but I wanted something else. Then I remembered the red onion sitting in the fridge from a previous recipe I'd made and it all came together. I would keep things very simple and grill the vegetables, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and finish them with balsamic vinegar and fresh basil. 

I won't lie, you can play around with this recipe as you see fit and swap out the vegetables to suit your liking but what you absolutely can't be without is the red onion. It changes the entire flavor profile of the vegetables. It brings out the best in them in an almost inexplicable way. You'll see...

 grilled vegetables with balsamic
 basil
 grilled vegetables with balsamic
 grilled vegetables with balsamic

grilled vegetables with balsamic and basil

  • prep time: 5 minutes
  • grilling time: 10 minutes
  • makes: 4 servings

Ingredients: 

  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • handful of green beans, trimmed
  • 2 red bell peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 2 balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil chopped

Equipment

  • large mixing bowl
  • tongs
  • grill
  • grill safe plate
  • cling wrap

Directions:

Preheat grill on low.

In large bowl combine all ingredients aside from vinegar and basil and mix well. 

Add all vegetables to grill safe cast iron plate (most grills come with one) and grill for 10 minutes on low (stirring occsaionally) until soft but still retaining a bite. 

Place grilled vegetables back in bowl, add balsamic vinegar and basil and stir until vegetables are coated. Cover with wrap and let sit for 5 minutes. Serve right away.