Category Archives: Entrée

Classic Falafel – Vegan, and Gluten-Optional!

Eat a good falafel once and you understand why they are so loved. Crunchy on the outside, fluffy and bread-like on the inside. Packed with earthy, fresh, lemony herbaceous flavor, they taste sinful, but are actually all good! If you dip them into cool creamy tzatziki sauce, you have taken them to yet another level. Add bright summer tomatoes and crisp lettuce, then throw it all on flatbread and you have an unbeatable lunch or dinner.

The perk: its all plants. …well, except for the tzatziki sauce, but even that it packed with cucumber (and you could do a vegan version of that too). All those textures and savory flavors scream plant-based diet suitable for anyone, including carnivores.

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falafel
falafel

Here’s how… So Easy!

Soak chickpeas in water and let them sit overnight. You do not have to cook them or anything! Just soak them; it couldn’t be easier.

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Here is your flavor, your texture, all the yumminess you need.

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Drain chickpeas (after they have soaked overnight). Lay them out to somewhat dry. You do not want them to be soaking wet. Finely mince parsley, cilantro, and garlic.

You can use any combination of parsley and cilantro that you like. I like either equal parts, or a little more parsley than cilantro.

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Put all ingredients, except flour, into a food processor. Pulse until the chickpeas are minced. In order to have a nice texture with a bite, do not turn your mixture into mush. Taste and adjust seasonings and salt, if desired.

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Scrape down the sides and pulse once more.

If you feel you need a bit of a binder, you can add chickpea flour or all purpose flour. Pulse a couple more times just to incorporate the flour.

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In a sauce pot, heat cooking oil. I like coconut oil for its digestibility. Peanut oil is also good. Any oil that can withstand high heat will work. Using a portion scoop for uniformity, or just your hands, form little balls.

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Fry them until they are golden brown on all sides, flipping as needed. Remove falafel from oil using a slotted heat-safe spoon and set aside to drain, either on a rack or paper towels.

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Serve falafels over salad, or rice, or in a pita pocket or on flatbread with tzatziki sauce, tomato, lettuce, and cucumber.

falafel
falafel
falafel
falafel

Classic Falafel – Vegan, and Gluten Optional

As-is, this recipe is delicious! But it is also easily customizable. Change up the flavors around anyway you like! Make them more lemony, add heat, whatever floats your falafel boat.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight
  • 1 cup combination of parsley and cilantro, minced (equal parts, 1/2 cup each is very good)
  • 1/2 cup diced onion (about one small onion)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1/4 t. coriander
  • 1/4 t. paprika
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 t. lemon juice
  • 1 t. salt (or to taste)
  • optional: cayenne, to taste (if you can take the heat, this is highly recommended)
  • optional binder: chickpea flour or all purpose flour (1 T or more, as desired)
  • cooking oil, enough to fry falafel (I like coconut oil, or a blend of peanut and coconut oils)

Method

Drain chickpeas (they should have soaked overnight). Lay them out to somewhat dry. You do not want them to be soaking wet. Finely mince parsley, cilantro, and garlic. Put all ingredients, except flour, into a food processor. Pulse until the chickpeas are minced. In order to have a nice texture with a bite, do not turn your mixture into mush. Taste and adjust seasonings and salt, if desired.

If you feel you need a bit of a binder, you can add chickpea flour or all purpose flour. Pulse a couple more times just to incorporate the flour.

In a sauce pot, heat cooking oil. I like coconut oil for its digestibility. Peanut oil is also good. Any oil that can withstand high heat will work. Using a portion scoop for uniformity, or just your hands, form little balls. In pot of cooking oil at medium- high heat, fry falafel until they are golden brown on all sides, flipping as needed. Remove falafel from oil using a slotted heat-safe spoon and set aside to drain, either on a rack or paper towels.

Serve falafels over salad, or rice, or in a pita pocket or on flatbread with tzatziki sauce, tomato, lettuce, and cucumber.

Enjoy!

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Traditional Saag Paneer

The complexity and balance of spices that you get from a plate of Indian cuisine is just healing. It can make you all “kumbaya,” full of peace and serenity. Yep. I said the same thing on my Vegan Not Your Amma’s Saag Paneer… but it is still true.

In one of my favorite studies, Traditional Chinese Medicine, when discussing specific foods beneficial for specific conditions, Indian cuisine comes up A LOT. All those anti-inflammatory spices and vegetables, so good for the body and the spirit.

If you make this dish, take your time. Breathe it in. Build your flavors. Enjoy the happiness.

Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer

This is based on Aarti Sequeria’s Saag Paneer. I like tomato added in, and the method is changed up just a bit for a different texture. Follow the link to get Aarti’s delicious recipe and her garam masala.

We will be jumping right into spice town! Start by combining turmeric, cayenne, salt, and 3 T oil into a bowl to form a loose paste.

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Cut paneer into uniform-sized squares, one inch or less.

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Gently toss paneer cubes with paste until it is well coated. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

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If you are not pureeing your spinach, chop spinach and set aside. Otherwise you can leave it whole.

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Build flavors in your skillet.

In an oiled skillet, saute onions until tender.

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Take the time to caramelize these onions. This is key!

Because there are no Fenugreek leaves in this recipe, we are missing that slightly sweet maple flavor. Caramelizing the onion adds a bit of sweetness. If you really want to sweeten up the dish, you could probably add a bit of maple syrup… I haven’t tried it.

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Add a little water, as needed to allow onions to slowly cook. Let the water cook off.

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Add in chile, if using. Stir.

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Add ginger and garlic. Stir. Cook for a couple of minutes; do not allow garlic to burn.

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Add tomato. Cook for a few minutes, until tomatoes are well incorporated.

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Add spices (garam masala, coriander, cumin). Cook for about another 5 minutes. if you want a creamy texture, you can stir in some coconut milk.

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At this point, you can set this mixture aside and sear your paneer. In a hot skillet, brown paneer on all sides. No need to add oil tot he pan; there is enough in the paste.

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When beautifully browned, remove from pan and set aside.

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Add spinach to the skillet with just enough water to barely wilt it. Do not overcook your spinach.

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When it is just wilted and still bright green, using a blender or food processor, puree the spinach. Alternatively, you can omit the puree, if prefered.

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Return spinach to the skillet and add coconut milk or heavy cream, to taste. Add salt, to taste.

My coconut milk was in the fridge. It is very think and delicious… full fat.

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Stir in onion-tomato mixture.

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Add paneer. Serve immediately.

Saag Paneer

A slice of flatbread is sooooooo good with this. 🙂

Saag Paneer

Based on Aarti Sequeria’s Saag Paneer. I like tomato added in, and change up the method just a bit for texture. Follow the link to get Aarti’s recipe and her garam masala.

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • kosher or sea salt, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons nonGMO canola oil or melted coconut oil, plus more for cooking
  • about 12 oz paneer, purchased or make your own
  • 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 T peeled and minced ginger
  • optional: 1 large green Serrano chile, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala, (purchased or homemade, see recipe below)
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach (about 10 oz)
  • about 1/4 – 1/2 cup coconut milk, or heavy cream

Method

Combine turmeric, cayenne, n. yeast, salt, and 3 T oil in a bowl to form a loose paste. Cut tofu into uniform-sized squares, one inch or less. Gently toss tofu with paste until it is well coated. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients. This gives it a few minutes to marinate.

In an oiled skillet, saute onions until tender. Add a little water, as needed to allow onions to slow cook and caramelize. Add in chile, if using. Stir. Add ginger and garlic. Stir. Cook for a couple of minutes; do not allow garlic to burn. Add tomato. Cook for a few minutes, until tomatoes are well incorporated. Add spices (garam masala, coriander, cumin). Cook for about another 5 minutes.

At this point, you can set this mixture aside and sear your paneer. In a hot skillet, brown paneer on each side. No need to add oil to the pan; there is enough in the paste. When beautifully browned, remove from pan and set aside.

Add spinach to the skillet with just enough water to barely wilt it. Do not overcook your spinach. When it is just wilted and still bright green, using a blender or food processor, puree the spinach. Alternatively, you can omit the puree, if prefered. Return spinach to the skillet and add coconut milk or heavy cream, to taste. Add salt, to taste. Stir in onion-tomato mixture.

Add paneer. Serve immediately.

Note: In a traditional ssag, fenugreek is used. Fenugreek leaves have a sweet maple flavor. Without fenugreek, we are incorporating some sweetness by caramelizing the onion.

Garam Masala

This Indian spice mix varies from region to region, and even from cook to cook. Some add in other flavors, like rose, or whatever they happen to like. In its essence this should be a blend of warming spices, those that accelerate the metabolism and wake up your taste buds!

You can purchase a prepared blend, or make your own!

Julie Sahni’s Garam Masala

This beautifully balanced traditional blend is from her book: Indian Regional Classics: Fast, Fresh, and Healthy Home Cooking 

Yield: Makes 1/2 cup

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 3-inch stick cinnamon, broken up
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground saffron (optional)

Method

Put the cumin, coriander, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon and cloves in a dry heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Toast the spices, stirring occasionally, until they turn several shades darker and give off a sweet, smoky aroma, about 10 minutes. Do not raise the heat to quicken the process, or the spices will brown prematurely, leaving the insides undercooked. Cool completely.

Working in batches if necessary, transfer the mixture to a spice mill or coffee grinder and grind to a powder. Stir in the nutmeg and saffron. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to six months.

Enjoy!

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Yoda’s Rootleaf Stew

In honor of Star Wars Day…

Hardcore Star Wars fans will immediately notice the faux pas on this page. But it is not in the food! The food is good! When these spices, which will now be “Yoda spice” to me, hit the pan, the aroma is intoxicating. A feeling of peace and serenity fills the air, and the soul. And with power spices like turmeric and ginger, this would be fabulous for a young Jedi in training!

According to Wookipedia:

Rootleaf stew was a favorite meal of Jedi Master Yoda during his exile on Dagobah. It was a staple of his diet, supplemented by yarum seeds, mushroom spores, galla seeds, and sohli bark. Yoda prepared rootleaf stew the evening that he met Luke Skywalker.

To set the scene…

The only information that Wookiepedia has on the stew’s ingredients is that they “came from plants found on Dagobah”.  So with no access to Dagobah vegetation or knowledge of their Earth counterparts, we have to use a little guesswork to create Yoda’s Stew.

This was done for us by Craig Claiborne in 1983. Chef Claiborne was hired by NPR to create this dish for a 10-part radio drama aired on the station. This recipe is his, with a few tweaks.

Chef Claiborne’s recipe is printed below. Feel free to make it as-is, or tweak it any way you like! It does contain the primary elements, roots (ginger, turmeric), bark (cinnamon), and seeds (cumin, cardamon). There should probably be mushroom added, and I do question the availability of lamb on Dagobah, but the flavors synergize nicely!

Yoda’s Rootleaf Stew

To make this recipe easier, you can gather all the spices together first. This is your coriander, cumin, turmeric, cardamon, cinnamon, and cloves… Yoda spice blend.

(This is pretty much a Garum Masala.)

yodaspice1

I am adding ground lamb because I have ground lamb. However, it seems very unlikely that there would be lamb-like creatures in the swamps of Dagobah. Maybe crustaceans, frogs, and snakes?

Cook the lamb first, then set it aside. Discard the grease from the pan. Keep the fond!

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Chef Claiborne’s recipe calls for A LOT of parsley. I just chopped up about one half of a bunch, then threw in, maybe a cup. Use any amount you like.

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Blooming spices!

A little bit of coconut oil in the pan will bloom your spices beautifully, bringing out all that wonderful flavor and aroma. Ahhhh

If you have sliced your onions, brown those first! Then bloom your spices and throw in your bay leaf and ginger too. My Jedi do not like onion pieces, so I grate my onion and garlic and add it after the spices and ginger. If desired, add heat in the form of peppers. I have habanero, so that will go in.

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Seriously, happy happy aroma…

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Now we have spices, grated onion and garlic, ginger and bay leaf… add water, just enough to make it soupy and allow flavors to continue to meld. I think Yoda would approve of this sauce.

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The lamb goes back in…

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About 5 minutes before stew is thoroughly cooked, with flavors developed to your liking, add fresh chopped parsley. As much as you like.

If you want your stew more soupy, add water, or chicken broth.

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The last item to go in is the spinach. It takes seconds for it to cook. Chef Claiborne cooks his spinach separately, probably to ensure that it is not overcooked, and to improve the texture. I prefer to save time and throw it in at the very end… and I use a lot less spinach.

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Jedi ready!

Yoda Root leaf Stew

In case you did not notice the faux pas… I thought it would be cute to use my daughter’s Old Republic symbol in the background, only to be quickly reminded that Yoda’s time was thousands of years AFTER the Old Republic.

Whatever….

Yoda Root leaf Stew

The stew is REALLY good! Serve it at your Star Wars party. 🙂

Yoda Root leaf Stew

Stay tuned for my Vegan version! To be posted soon!

Yoda’s Rootleaf Stew by Craig Claiborne

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds lean lamb or other meat
  • Salt to taste; if desired pepper to taste
  • Freshly ground 6 tablespoons oil, light or vegetable or other
  • 6 cups parsley, finely chopped
  • cups onions; thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic; finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons ginger root; finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon hot green or red chilies; finely chopped, seeded
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamon; ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 pounds fresh spinach; well rinsed and tough stems removed

Method

  1. Cut the meat into one inch cubes, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Heat half the oil in a heavy skillet and add the meat, turning to brown the pieces on all sides.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in a Dutch oven or heavy casserole and add parsley, onions and garlic. Cook, stirring often until the onions are wilted. Add the meat, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger root, chilies, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir. (I add about 2 teaspoons salt at this point, then adjust at end)
  4. Add water to cover, bring to boil and cover tightly. Let simmer about 2 to 2 1/2 hours until the meat is quite tender.
  5. Meanwhile, drop the spinach into a kettle of boiling water with salt to taste and let simmer about five minutes. Drain well and run under cold water. Drain thoroughly.
  6. Squeeze the spinach to remove all excess liquid. Place the spinach on a chopping block and chop coarsely.
  7. Add the spinach to the stew and stir. Let simmer together about five minutes.
  8. I like to serve this over white rice with steamed carrots.

Enjoy! And May the 4th be with you.

For great food ideas for your Star Wars theme event, please check out my new ebook on Amazon.

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Yoda’s Rootleaf Stew – Vegan

Yes, I’m serious. Yoda stew. Because I am surrounded by nerds, I mean SciFi fans.

There is a school of thought that says that Yoda is vegetarian. If anyone is able to confirm or deny this theory, please do! In any event, with all due respect to Chef Chaliborne’s 1983 rendition of what Yoda’s Rootleaf Stew from the Planet Dagobah might look and taste like, the idea of a vegan version sounds plausible…. and recreating this iconic dish is just fun. Not to mention, a great way to convince young Jedi to eat spinach! Yoda loved it! 🙂

Yoda's Rootleaf Stew

According to Wookipedia:

Rootleaf stew was a favorite meal of Jedi Master Yoda during his exile on Dagobah. It was a staple of his diet, supplemented by yarum seeds, mushroom spores, galla seeds, and sohli bark. Yoda prepared rootleaf stew the evening that he met Luke Skywalker.

To set the scene…

The only information that Wookiepedia has on the stew’s ingredients is that they “came from plants found on Dagobah”.  So with no access to Dagobah vegetation or knowledge of their Earth counterparts, we have to use a little guesswork to create Yoda’s Stew. This was done for us by Craig Claiborne in 1983. Chef Claiborne was hired by NPR to create this dish for a 10-part radio drama aired on the station. His recipe – a Paleo version containing animal protein – is posted here.

The spice blend that Chef Claiborne uses is pretty much a garum masala. It is delicious! And it does contain the primary elements of Yoda’s stew, roots (ginger, turmeric), bark (cinnamon), and seeds (cumin, cardamon). These would be very nourishing and strengthening for a young Jedi in training!

Sooooooooo

When I think of available ingredients in the swamps of Dagobah, something like this comes to mind…

root_leaf1

Yoda did use mushroom, and some sort of tuber would fit in nicely.

Chef Claiborne’s recipe calls for A LOT of parsley. I just chopped up about one half of a bunch, then threw in, maybe a cup. Use any amount you like.

parsley1

To make this recipe easier, you can gather all the spices together first. This is your coriander, cumin, turmeric, cardamon, cinnamon, and cloves… Yoda spice blend.

(This is pretty much a Garum Masala.)

yodaspice2

Yoda’s Rootleaf Stew

In  a little cooking oil, cook the mushrooms first, then set them aside.

mushrooms1

Blooming spices!

A little bit of coconut oil in the pan will bloom your spices beautifully, bringing out all that wonderful flavor and aroma. Ahhhh

If you have sliced your onions, brown those first! Then bloom your spices and throw in your bay leaf and ginger too. My Jedi do not like onion pieces, so I grate my onion and garlic and add it after the spices and ginger. If desired, add heat in the form of peppers.

spicebloom1

spicebloom2

This grated onion and garlic looks like mush, but it is flavor! Full delicious flavor.

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Now we have spices, grated onion and garlic, ginger and bay leaf… add water, just enough to make it soupy, allow flavors to continue to meld, and to cook your taro root. If you prefer, use potatoes.

Add in your diced taro root. Couldn’t you imagine something like this tuber growing in the swamps of Dagobah?

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When the taro root is just about tender and cooked through (raw taro root can be toxic to the liver), add mushrooms back in, and your parsley. Use as much parsley as you like.

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If you like, add lentils. This is about 1/4 cup rinsed and cooked french lentils. French lentils fill out the soup beautifully with a firm meaty texture and earthy flavor.

If you want your stew more soupy, add water. The last item to go in is the spinach. It takes only seconds for it to cook. Usually I use a heartier green in soups and stews, but spinach just seams more appropriately swampy.

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Jedi ready!

Yoda's Rootleaf Stew

Yoda’s Rootleaf Stew

Altered from Chef Claiborne’s recipe from the 1983 NPR Star Wars features, this vegan version would do Yoda proud!

Ingredients

  • 8 oz mushrooms, quartered (baby portobella used here)
  • Cooking oil (I like coconut)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced (or grated)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoons ginger root; finely minced
  • optional: 1/2 teaspoon hot green or red chilies; finely chopped, seeded
  • Spice blend
    • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
    • 1/8 teaspoon cardamon; ground
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup peeled and diced taro root
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup cooked lentils (I like french lentils)
  • 1 cup finely chopped parsley (use as much or little as you like)
  • 1/2 – 1 pound fresh spinach; well rinsed, sliced (or kale or collards, if you prefer a green leak that holds up better in a stew)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Method

  1. In  a little cooking oil, cook the mushrooms first, then set them aside.
  2. In the same oil (add a little more, if needed), brown sliced onions, then add peppers, ginger, and spices to bloom them. Lastly, add minced garlic. If you have grated your onions and garlic, add them in after the spices are bloomed.
  3. Add taro root (or potato, if using) and just enough water to cover and cook them. Cook taro root until it is just about tender, uncovered. Adjust water level as needed.
  4. When the taro root is just about tender and cooked through (raw taro root can be toxic to the liver), add mushrooms back in, and your parsley. Use as much parsley as you like.
  5. Add lentils, if you are using them.
  6. Add spinach at the very end. If you are using a heartier green, add it in about 5-7 minutes before stew is completely cooked.
  7. If you want your stew more soupy, add water. Adjust seasoning, as desired (salt and pepper).

Serve immediately. It is very good over rice!

Enjoy!

For great food ideas for your Star Wars theme event, please check out my new ebook on Amazon.

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Easy Pan Seared Petite Lamb Chops

If you like tender juicy savory lamb chops, eat them in the spring. They are almost tender with no effort. Especially if you choose good quality lamb – those that were allowed to feel grass under their feet and enjoy a natural healthy life.

All you need is a good heavy saute pan or cast iron skillet, a little salt and pepper, a few minutes, and you are good to go! Even better if you blend up a quick sweet minty pea puree. The sweetness of a fresh puree compliments the savoriness of lamb, making it, as my son says, “even better!”.

lamb_castironpan3

Here’s how…

Sprinkle lamb chops with salt and pepper and allow them to rest for 30 minutes. We like pink Himalayan sea salt.

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Heat an oiled skillet to medium-high temperature. When the pan is hot, place lamb chops on it. If you here the sizzle, then good things are happening. (maillard reaction – flavor!)

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When the first side is beautifully browned (and sweet), flip the chops over and brown the other side. When both sides are brown, remove from heat and allow chops to rest for a few minutes.

lamb_castironpan2

If you like your chops a little more cooked, place them into a pre-heated oven (350º) until they have reached desired doneness. You can determine doneness by pressing gently on the flesh. See this post for specifics.

The savoriness and slightly gaminess of lamb is DELICIOUS with this sweet creamy pea puree. Also, adding a bit of lemon to the pea puree will cut the luscious fat of the lamb. Yum!

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petitelambchops2

Easy Pan Seared Petite Lamb Chops

Ingredients:

  • petite lamb chops
  • 1-2 T cooking oil – we like coconut
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: pea puree

Method

Sprinkle lamb chops with salt and pepper and allow them to rest for 30 minutes. We like pink Himalayan sea salt.

Heat an oiled skillet to medium-high temperature. When the pan is hot, place lamb chops on it. If you here the sizzle, then good things are happening. (maillard reaction – flavor!) When the first side is beautifully browned (and sweet), flip the chops over and brown the other side. When both sides are brown, remove from heat and allow chops to rest for a few minutes.

If you like your chops a little more cooked, place them into a pre-heated oven (350º) until they have reached desired doneness. You can determine doneness by pressing gently on the flesh. See this post for specifics.

If you have a meat thermometer, your lamb chops will be rare at 125-130 degrees, medium-rare (most tender) at 130-140, medium at 140-150, medium-well at 150-155, and well-done at 160-212.

The savoriness and slightly gaminess of lamb is DELICIOUS with this sweet creamy pea puree. Also, adding a bit of lemon to the pea puree will cut the luscious fat of the lamb. Yum!

Enjoy

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Venison Tacos with Pickled Beets and Asiago

With a freezer full of wild-caught venison, gifted to my kids from their grandparents, it occurred to my son that he had probably made everything with ground venison except for the one food he loves the most – tacos!

He is fine with his standard taco… which is pretty much nonGMO taco shells, seasoned and spicy ground meat (cumin and cayenne or bust!), shredded lettuce, and cheddar cheese. No salsa. No sour cream. No guacamole. No fun! That’s fine; he can have his sublimely simple tacos which allow him to relish the flavors of venison. But in my never-ending endeavor to encourage my kids to combine new flavors, there must be additional offerings on the table.

Because venison is soooooooo lean, the grandparents add in beef fat, at about a 75-25 ratio. If you have access to venison, you probably already have a method and ratio that you like. If you do not have, or do not eat wild game, Grass Fed Beef would also be very delicious in this taco. With either of these free range meats, you will get that deep savory flavor, rich mouthfeel, and Omega 3!

The earthiness of beets and and wild flavors of venison create a natural delicious pairing. Add to that some crumbled Asiago cheese, with enough tang to bring another yummy layer, but not so much as to distract from the meat and beets, and you have flavor synergy! I did not grow up with wild game and do not eat it, but even my eyes roll back in my head when a bite of ground venison topped with Asiago hits my palate.

Venison Tacos

Venison Tacos with Pickled Beets and Asiago Cheese

The best meals are usually nothing more than combining simple flavors of real food.

Corn tortillas… venison + corn = well, duh!

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Add a little peppery arugula…

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ventaco2

And some fresh corn salsa with buttery creamy avocado…

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ventaco3

Now, our slightly sour quick pickled beets

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ventaco4

And that wonderful Asiago cheese gently cascading over the top… Oh my goodness!

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Venison Tacos

Enjoy!!!

Venison Tacos

Venison Tacos with Pickled Beets and Asiago

Ingredients

  • Corn taco shells
  • Ground venison with taco seasonings – see recipe below (or use grass fed beef)
  • Arugula
  • Corn salsa – see recipe below
  • Pickled beets – prepared, or make your own, easy make ahead recipe here
  • Asiago cheese, crumbled

Method

Prep all components in advance and set them on the table for a delicious make-your-own-taco feast. Or assemble any way you like.

Suggested layering – Taco shell, ground venison, arugula, corn and avocado salsa, pickled beets, Asiago.

YUM!

Levi’s Ground Venison for Tacos

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 T cooking oil, we like coconut or nonGMO canola oil
  • 1 lb ground venison (with beef fat added)
  • optional: 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 2 T chile powder, we use ancho
  • 1 T cumin
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • salt, to taste
  • optional: 1/4-1/2 t ground Mexican oregano
  • optional: coconut milk

Method

Place ground venison into a lightly oiled and heated skillet. Break up the meat with a spatula or potato masher. Add onion if you are using it. I LOVE onion. My son does not, so this is my addition. Add spices (chili, cumin, garlic, oregano, if you are using it) at this point so that flavor infuses into the meat more thoroughly. Add about 1/2 t salt. When meat is cooked through, drain grease, if there is any. If desired, for a little sauciness, add coconut milk. Start with about 1/4 cup. Stir and cook a few more minutes until it is warmed through and a nice spicy sauce has formed.

Taste and add salt, pepper, and adjust seasonings, if desired. Cater to your tastebuds.

Note: Chili powders are often a combination of chiles and other spices. Each brand will taste a little different from the next. So when reading any recipe containing this ingredient, use your own tastebuds as a guide. I like pure ground ancho chile because I know what it tastes like and can add any other spice to it that I like.

Corn Salsa with Avocado

Ingredients

  • corn
  • avocado, diced
  • fresh lime juice
  • optional: diced jalepeno
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Method

You can use either fresh corn heat frozen kernels. Use any amount you need. Add to the corn, diced jalepeno if you would like some heat. You can either leave this raw or throw it in a saute pan with corn and coooking oil for a little quick heat. Stir in diced fresh avocado and drizzle a bit of fresh squeezed lime juice for acidity and to prevent browning of avocado. Salt and pepper, to taste. Done!

 

Enjoy

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EASY Rosemary Steak with Cheesy Gnocchi and Fresh Asparagus

This is a win-win EASY half-make-ahead special dinner. I love those! You get credit for taking the time to make something special for someone special.  But why suffer to do it?

Picture it: The messy work is all done… cheesy delicious pillowy gnocchi, lovingly made with your own two hands, are waiting for you in the freezer, the rest of the meal is all prepped and ready to go, seasoned steaks mellowing on the counter. You are rested and have only about 20-30 minutes of cooking ahead of you. Then sit down to rosemary steaks, wine, praise and accolades… what more could you possibly need?

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Tips

Simple foods made from simple ingredients are usually the best! However, your finished meal is only as good as the quality of the ingredients you use. A dinner made from grass-fed beef and butter and unbleached organic flour is just going to taste better (as well as be better for you) than lesser quality ingredients. Protein is a wise place to splurge. You can make up for it by incorporating Meatless Mondays. 🙂

If you want, you can save money on wine. No need to buy the most expensive, but you should use wine that you would actually drink. I always keep a couple bottles of Whole Foods Three Wishes… four bucks and great for cooking!

How to temp your Steak

If you have a meat thermometer, your steak will be rare at 125-130 degrees, medium-rare (most tender) at 130-140, medium at 140-150, medium-well at 150-155, and well-done at 160-212.

You can also judge doneness just by feel. Here’s how!

A little trick to determine doneness… from Beef and Lamb.com.au

  • Rare steaks. Make a circle with your index finger and thumb, press the ball on the palm side of your thumb. Steaks with the same soft texture will be rare.
  • Medium-rare steaks. Make a circle with your middle finger and thumb, press the ball of thumb. Steaks with the same soft and springy feel will be medium rare.
  • Medium steaks. Make a circle with your ring finger and thumb, press the ball of thumb. Steaks with the same springy feel will be medium.
  • Well done steaks. Make a circle with your little finger and thumb, press the ball of thumb. Steaks with the same firm feeling will be well done.

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Rosemary Steaks, with Goat Cheese Gnocchi, and Fresh Asparagus

Do Aheads

Make and freeze your goat cheese gnocchi in advance. Find simple instructions here.

The day before (or even earlier in the same day), purchase and prep all your ingredients, including pesto, so that you can put it all on the table quickly when you are ready to serve.

The night of…

Season your steaks and allow them to come to room temperature, while you prepare the rest of your meal and set your table.

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In a skillet, place asparagus (tough ends cut away) with water to lightly steam. Allow water to cook off and add a bit of butter of olive oil to lightly brown them, if desired. Do not overcook. Just cook them until they are tender-crisp, then set them aside, tented to keep them warm. Rinse out your pan to use for steaks.

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Do not remove gnocchi from the freezer until you are ready to quickly cook them. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop in a few frozen gnocchi dumplings at a time, being careful that they stay separated. They will cook on the bottom of the pot for a few minutes. When they float to the top, continue cooking for 1-2 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon. Toss with pesto or sauce. Keep warm.

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If your steaks are thick, preheat oven to 350°.

For your steaks, heat about 1-2 T oil in your skillet. When pan is hot, add your steaks. They should sizzle. (Do not crowd the pan. Cook one at a time, washing out pan in between steaks, if needed) Do not move steak until it browns and releases on its own.

Seriously, can you see that sizzle? Can you hear it? Can you smell it? Mmmm

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When the first side is nicely browned, flip it and brown the other side. If you cooked your steak quickly, it should still be a nice medium-rare. If you have thick steaks, and want it to cook a little further, place them in the oven to continue cooking to desired doneness.

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Set steaks aside, tented with foil. Allow them to rest.

If there is excess oil in the pan, pour that off and discard. Add shallots to the pan and cook for just a few minutes until they are tender.

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Add wine – preferably with the skillet moved off the heat so as to not start a fire. Deglaze the pan, scraping up all those yummy bits from the bottom.

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Cook wine until it is reduced by at least half and alcohol is cooked off. Add a pat of butter to finish the sauce.

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Plate your meal with sauce under or over steak and gnocchi piled up on top.

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Rosemary Steaks, with Goat Cheese Gnocchi, and Fresh Asparagus

No need to slave over a hot stove all day. Make your gnocchi in advance, so you can pan fry steaks and pull everything together quickly for a delicious special dinner for two.

Ingredients:

  • Two steaks – filet mignon if you prefer a lighter meal
  • rosemary, enough to sprinkle over steak
  • cooking oil (I like coconut oil)
  • 1 T shallots, diced
  • 1 cup red wine (anything you would drink)
  • 1 T butter
  • gnocchi, frozen in advance – recipe here
  • pesto, either a prepared pesto or make your own – earthy kale pesto recipe here
  • fresh asparagus spears (tough ends cut off and discarded)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • optional: bread, salad, wine, anything you like

The night before… gnocchi can be made well in advance, if you like… 

Make and freeze your cheesy gnocchi. Directions here. You can use a delicious purchased prepared pesto, or you can make your own simple pesto the night before. Directions here.

The night of:

Season your steaks generously with salt, pepper, and rosemary (we like a lot of pepper). Set steaks aside, allowing them to come to room temperature, while you prepare the rest of your meal.

In a skillet, on medium-high temperature, place asparagus with a little water to cook. Allow water to cook off and add a bit of butter of olive oil to lightly brown them, if desired. Do not overcook. Just cook them until they are tender-crisp, then set them aside, tented to keep them warm. Rinse out your pan to use for steaks.

Do not remove gnocchi from the freezer until you are ready to quickly cook them. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop in a few frozen gnocchi dumplings at a time, being careful that they stay separated. They will cook on the bottom of the pot for a few minutes. When they float to the top, continue cooking for 1-2 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon. Toss with pesto or sauce. Keep warm.

If your steaks are thick, preheat oven to 350°.

For your steaks, heat about 1-2 T oil in your skillet. When pan is hot, add your steaks. They should sizzle. (Do not crowd the pan. Cook one at a time, washing out pan in between steaks, if needed) Do not move steak until it browns and releases on its own. When the first side is nicely browned, flip it and brown the other side. If you cooked your steak quickly, it should still be a nice medium-rare. If you have thick steaks, and want it to cook a little further, place them in the oven to continue cooking to desired doneness.

Set steaks aside, tented with foil. Allow them to rest.

If there is excess oil in the pan, pour that off and discard. Add shallots to the pan and cook for just a few minutes until they are tender. Add wine – preferably with the skillet moved off the heat so as to not start a fire. Deglaze the pan, scraping up all those yummy bits from the bottom. Cook wine until it is reduced by at least half and alcohol is cooked off. Add a pat of butter to finish the sauce.

Plate your meal with sauce under or over steak and gnocchi piled up on top.

Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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Easy Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Winter Kale Pesto

When these pillows first hit your palate, you taste that rich full sauce. Then the tang of the goat cheese builds and blends with the other flavors. Oh my goodness! For me this is a Remy-flavor-synergy-happiness-moment. If you don’t know what I am talking about, click here for a clip from the greatest movie ever made. 🙂

In my culinary school restaurant, I spent so much time making gnocchi. It was one of those methods that just seemed important to master. And it is one that, if you allow yourself to be “in the moment” as you prepare it, it is an absolute joy to make. In the restaurant, we made a traditional potato gnocchi with ricotta. Yummy! But time-intensive. This goat cheese gnocchi is MUCH quicker to make, and it does not disappoint.

Any gnocchi makes a great make ahead, leaving you with very little to do the night you wish to serve them. This one is perfect for impressing someone you love. They will appreciate the extra effort you took for them, but you do not have to tell them how easy it was. Very few ingredients create amazing flavor!

Are you ready? Her’s how!

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Making you dough

In a mixing bowl, place goat cheese and egg. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. You only need a little because your goat cheese is already delicious. You are just bumping up flavor for the flour you will be adding.

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Crumble your goat cheese to make it easier to beat.

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Thoroughly blend ingredients together. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed to incorporate ingredients.

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Add sifted flour a little at a time and mix together until a sticky dough is formed.

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You will have a little flour left over, up to 1/4 cup. At this point, I like to chill the dough for a few minutes to make it easier to manipulate.

Roll about 1/4 of the dough and place on a floured surface. Leave the remaining dough in the fridge.

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Roll the dough until it is formed into a “snake” shape.

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Cut dough into 1 inch pieces.

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If desired, use a fork or a gnocchi board to create little indentions into each gnocchi pillow. You do not have to do this, but it will give you little grooves to hold any sauce into which you toss you cooked gnocchi.

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gnocchi_method

Repeat with all remaining dough, collecting them onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. At this point, I like to place the cookie sheet into the freezer for about 20 minute, or until gnocchi chills and sets.

Ah! Little soldiers lined up in a row and ready to serve.

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Then they can go into a plastic bag for use any time you like. I LOVE make-aheads!

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Cooking Your Gnocchi

Cook gnocchi by bringing a pot of water to a boil. Drop in gnocchi (freshly made or frozen), a few at a time, being careful that they stay separated.

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They will cook on the bottom of the pot for a few minutes.

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When they float to the top, continue cooking for 1-2 minute.

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Remove with a slotted spoon.

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Mmmmmmmmmm

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Toss your little dumplings with pesto or any sauce you like. Bolognese or a pork and tomato Italian gravy is delicious!

I am keeping this one vegetarian. Kale pesto adds its own flavor layers without overwhelming the gnocchi. Because almonds pair BEAUTIFULLY with goat cheese, for this gnocchi, I put almonds in the pesto. The flavors sing together.

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On the side, I am adding tomatoes in a lemon-vinaigrette to cut the richness of the cheesy gnocchi. Yum!

These chocolaty brown tomatoes beckoned me at Whole Foods.

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Just wash and halve or quarter your tomatoes. use a prepared vinaigrette or make your own. I just diced a little shallot, and whisked it together with 3 parts extra virgin olive oil and one part fresh lemon juice. Add a little salt and pepper, to taste. Toss in tomatoes. Done!

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If desired, garnish with shaved Parmesan.

If you want, you can also load those tomatoes up on a nice thick slice of crusty bread. Check out this super simple Bruschetta recipe.

Easy Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Winter Kale Pesto

This recipe yields about 45 beautiful little gnocchi pillows. If desired, you can easily double the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup all purpose flour (preferable organic), sifted
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • kale pesto, or a prepared pesto (you only need 1/2 recipe of kale pesto)
  • optional: cherry tomatoes with lemon vinaigrette
  • optional: Parmesan cheese shavings for garnish

Method

In a mixing bowl, beat together goat cheese and egg. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed to incorporate ingredients. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. to taste, and blend. This is to season the flour; the goat cheese is already delicious.

Add sifted flour a little at a time and mix together until a sticky dough is formed. You will have a little flour left over, up to 1/4 cup. At this point, I like to chill the dough for a few minutes to make it easier to manipulate.

Roll about 1/4 of the dough and place on a floured surface. Leave the remaining dough in the fridge. Roll the dough until it is formed into a “snake” shape. Cut dough into 1 inch pieces. If desired, use a fork or a gnocchi board to create little indention into each gnocchi pillow. You do not have to do this, but it will give you little grooves to hold any sauce into which you toss you cooked gnocchi.

Repeat with all remaining dough, collecting them onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. At this point, I like to place the cookie sheet into the freezer for about 20 minute, or until gnocchi chills and sets. Then they go into a plastic bag for use any time you like.

Cook gnocchi by bringing a pot of water to a boil. Drop in gnocchi (freshly made or frozen), a few at a time, being careful that they stay separated. They will cook on the bottom of the pot for a few minutes. When they float to the top, continue cooking for 1-2 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Toss with pesto or sauce. Serve.

You can make Kale Pesto in advance. Refrigerate it and let those flavors develop even more. Get recipe here.

Enjoy!

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Cheesy Turkey Quesadillas with Cranberry Salsa

It is all about options… and saving time, and saving money, and having delicious food with optimal nutrition… with options.

What could be more simple, or option-friendly, than quesadillas?

Tortillas

Oh how we love to wrap our foods! You can wrap up just about everything but soup. Wraps not only make our food easy to eat, and portable, but they add another layer of texture and flavor that compliments the filling. Because of this love of wraps, you can now find a version of a tortilla for pretty much any diet… vegetarian, gluten-free, grains-free… whatever you like!

They are pricey, but you can even purchase Paleo wraps – gluten-free, raw, vegan, low-carb and made from only coconut meat and coconut water. 

paleo_wraps

You can make these turkey quesadillas with any of those wraps for a great way to use up leftover turkey. But here is one more option to throw into the ring. Yuca Root works for almost all diets, from vegan to paleo, and offers a little variety for your sandwich/wrap dining experience.

Yuca has very little flavor on its own. It is slightly nutty, and starchy like a potato. If you do not cook it thoroughly, it can become a little gummy, so I roll it out as thin as I can and cook it until it looks almost overdone. At that point, it becomes crispy golden brown, holds its filling and its shape, and makes for a tasty little lunch.

Important! Never eat Yuca raw! It is toxic, especially bitter yuca (aka cassava, manioc). It is rendered safe through removal of its juices (or gasses in the juice), by soaking, fermenting, thoroughly cooking, and/or drying. When you buy tapioca flours, or African products such as garri, fufu, apu, and pupuru, this has been done for you.

For quesadillas, you will need:

  • tortilla wraps or yuca (cassava) doughget easy make-ahead instruction here!
  • leftover turkey
  • leftover turkey gravy
  • cheese – virtually any cheese you like
  • Cranberry Salsa – find the easy recipe here (other options here and here)
  • optional: diced jalapeno
  • optional: anything else you want to add, sauteed onion and peppers would be good

Assemblage…

Now you are ready to assemble your quesadillas.

You can portion your yuca dough any way you like, I like to use a 2 1/2 oz portion scoop.

yuca_scoop

Place yuca onto parchment paper. I lightly oil the parchment for easy rolling and removal. Add another piece of parchment over the dough and flatten and roll the dough until it is about the size of a corn tortilla.

Smaller tortillas are easier to mange in a skillet.

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Remove the top layer of parchment and build your flavors, one layer at a time, on half of the yuca wrap.

Turkey…

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Gravy…

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Cheese and jalapeno…

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Salt and pepper, if needed. Then use the parchment to fold the yuca tortilla in half over your filling.

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Gently pull back parchment.

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Use a nonstick skillet, or a heated and oiled skillet, to pan sear your quesadilla. Use the parchment to carefully transfer it to the pan in tact.

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When the first side in browned, flip it over to brown the second side.

Notice the white fold… that is underdone and doughy. I press this down to get it more thouroughly cooked. And I do cook yuca a little longer than it seems one should. Flat yuca is good! Undercooked yuca is just gummy. In fact, if you want to be really sure that you don’t get gumminess, consider making two rounds, browning them both, then filling them, and browning them a little further to let the cheese melt. Mmmmmm

The fold method is the quick one. 🙂

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When your quesadilla is sufficiently browned and crisp, serve immediately. But, if they have to sit, you can throw them back in the pan to re-crisp them.

Cut them into triangles.

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Cheese… Mmmmmm

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Get your cranberry salsa out of the fridge. It is time for it to join those cheesy quesadillas.

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Enjoy!

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Grilled Goat Cheese and Cranberry Sammy

Butter – bread – tangy cheese – sweet cranberries – tangy cheese – bread – butter.

– Need I say more?

I am not really sure if this is lunch or a constructed cheese plate. But YUM! Tangy and sweet notes all blended, melting, and gooey between the buttery crunch of grilled toast… this is pure indulgence. And if you choose your ingredients wisely, you can pack a lot of nutrition in there! A whole cup of fresh cranberries can make a sandwich. Add to that real butter, good goat cheese, and whatever bread fits your diet – whole grain, gluten-free, organic – and just enjoy.

Pair these buttery tangy sweet flavor notes with a hot creamy soup and you have optimal flavor-texture synergy.

Cranberry Sauce

If you have any leftover cranberry sauce, this is a delicious way to use it up. Or, you can make a quick Raw Cranberry Salsa or a sugar-free Cranberry Chutney with honey, orange and spices. If you want to keep it very simple and sweet, all you need are fresh cranberries, and sugar.

Place cranberries into a skillet with a little water. Add more as you go, if needed.

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Cook cranberries until the begin to pop.

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Sprinkle cane sugar over them – as much or little as you like. Or use honey, agave, whatever sweetener you prefer. If you like, you can add a little lemon juice and a pinch of salt to enhance sweetness.

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Taste – without burning your tongue! Let most of the water cook off. You want it saucy, but not too wet. When the sauce tastes good to you, it is done. Put it in a bowl and start assembling your sandwiches.

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Sandwich Time

Place buttered side of one slice of bread into a heated skillet.

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Spread cranberry sauce over the goat cheese.

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Place the second slice of bread over the first with the goat cheese pressed gently into the cranberry sauce.

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Layers = butter – bread – goat cheese – cranberries – goat cheese – bread – butter – Mmmmmm

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When the first side of the sandwich is toasted and golden, flip it over the toast the second side.

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I almost ALWAYS cut my sandwiches on a diagonal. But ultimately, I am not the boss… the food is… this sandwich needed to be cut straight across… I can’t explain it. But I am not going to argue with results.

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Grilled Goat Cheese and Cranberry Sammy

Note: Although this is listed under “gluten-free”, of course it is only as gluten-free as the bread you choose. With all these other flavors, who needs gluten anyway?

Ingredients

  • cranberry sauce, salsa or jam
  • goat cheese
  • bread – any bread you like to grill (gluten free, whole grain, organic, whatever you like)
  • butter (preferably organic and grass fed)

Method

Slice two pieces of bread from your loaf. Spread butter over one side of each slice. Spread goat cheese over the other side of each slice. This can get messy. It is a little less messy if you stick your buttered sides together while you add goat cheese. Or just assemble the entire sandwich on a cutting board. A little butter on the cutting board wont hurt.

Place buttered side of one slice of bread into a heated skillet. Spread cranberry sauce over the goat cheese. Place the second slice of bread over the first with the goat cheese pressed gently into the cranberry sauce.

Layers = butter – bread – goat cheese – cranberries – goat cheese – bread – butter – Mmmmmm

When the first side of the sandwich is toasted and golden, flip it over the toast the second side.

Remove, cut in half, plate and serve.

Highly recommended – serve with a creamy savory soup… maybe a cauliflower coconut milk concoction. The sweet and tangy notes and buttery crunch of the sandwich pairs beautifully with a hot creamy soup.

Enjoy!

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