winter white salad with mandarin and fennel

winter white salad with mandarin and pomegranate

There’s a scene in the Hollywood remake City of Angels that’s indelibly etched in my memory.

The heroine is making a breakfast fruit salad for her lover, which sounds simple enough, but there’s nothing ordinary about this moment.  She sinks her soul into the process and brings the viewer with her.  We are meticulously drawn in to the color, texture and taste of her experience.  The most memorable moment comes when she hand squeezes fresh orange segments all over the bowl, the explosive juices unbound and running glory over the fruit.

It’s been almost 17 years since I watched that movie, and that scene, that otherwise innocuous moment, has done more to ignite my culinary appetite than any other.

winter white salad with mandarin and pomegranate_tree_2

Fast forward two decades and here we are with a beautiful mandarin tree that is now rendering gorgeous, juice-filled fruit with skin that rolls off almost effortlessly.

We watched with hopefulness through the summer as the tiny dark pigmented fruit grew a little each day and mother nature took its course helping the globes graduate through deliberate shades of green, yellow and orange.

winter white salad with mandarin and pomegranate_1

One thing we’ve discovered about harvesting mandarin is that sharp garden shears are necessary to properly release the fruit.  If you try to hand pick the fruit by pulling it away from the branch, the way you would an apple or lemon for example, it will actually rip the skin off the orange at the tip, leaving it behind on the tree, something like so:

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To avoid this, we simply snip mandarin-heavy branches off the tree and then unmold the fruit when we are ready to eat them.

winter white salad with mandarin and pomegranate_tree

Growth is eventually so prolific that regular harvesting becomes necessary to avoid spoilage.  We share with neighbors, incorporate the fruit into recipes and juice like the best of the west coast crunchies.

There are few things quite as delicious as freshly squeezed mandarin juice (great insurance policy against winter colds too). My husband filled four large mason jars worth over the weekend (though not hand squeezed).

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Surrounded by these fragrant, Vitamin C-rich beauties, I couldn’t help but create a cleansing winter salad for you.

I wanted something that allowed the mandarin to shine and enhance rather than detract from its taste and beauty.  I opted for fennel bulb and angel hair coleslaw (another bow to the movie perhaps) and bejeweled the whole affair with another seasonal beauty, pomegranate.

It all comes together in a zingy citrus-ginger dressing that is rather irresistible.

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By the way, the movie is memorable for another reason.  You see, we also happened to have our brand new six-week-old baby boy in the theater with us that afternoon.  He slept (yes, you might say like an angel) on a soft blanket nestled between us.

You just never know the potential of an ordinary moment to transform into the extraordinary.

5.0 from 2 reviews
winter white salad with mandarin and fennel
 
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Recipe type: salad, appetizers & starters
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • FOR THE SALAD
  • 3 cups angel hair coleslaw (from finely shredded light green cabbage)
  • 1 fennel bulb, ends snipped (you can reserve for soup) and bulb chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • ½ cup arils (pomegranate seed)
  • 4 juicy seasonal mandarin, peeled and divided into segments
  • handful of fresh delicate greens of choice

  • FOR THE CITRUS-GINGER DRESSING
  • 2 Tbsp fresh mandarin juice
  • 2 Tbsp white rice vinegar (substitute cider vinegar)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp sesame seed oil
  • 1 heaping tsp grainy Dijon mustard
  • 1 nub fresh ginger, grated (about 2 tsp or to taste)
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • pinch of sea salt and coarse black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Place angel hair coleslaw (or finely shredded light green cabbage) into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add chopped fennel pieces to the same bowl.
  3. In a small container with fitted lid, combine citrus-ginger dressing ingredients: mandarin juice, vinegar, oils, mustard, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper. Close the lid and shake the contents. Be sure to taste the dressing and make any taste adjustments desired.
  4. With your mandarin segments and pom seeds ready, whisk or shake the dressing a final time before drizzling most of it over the coleslaw/fennel, reserving some for topping.
  5. Mix the coleslaw/fennel and dressing together to integrate flavors.
  6. Divide salad mixture among four bowls or plates and top with pom seeds, mandarin segments and greens of choice.
  7. Add a final drizzle of dressing to the top of each salad as desired.
Notes
1) You don't have to shred cabbage for this recipe (unless you wish to), you can simply purchase angel coleslaw;
2) Pomegranate seeds are now also widely available for purchase but I find they do not last very long before spoiling and I have never been disappointed with the freshness, color or taste of seeds drawn directly from the fruit. Despite the minor mess potential from extracting the seeds, I find it well worth the small inconvenience.
3) Keep in mind that the citrus-ginger dressing is slightly less sour/acidic than a traditional vinaigrette and slightly sweeter. I find it a refreshing change and one that works well in this salad but if you prefer savory/sour, just go lighter on the fruit juice and allow the vinegar to take over.
4) For the greens, you can work with fresh chopped herbs or salad greens of choice - we found peppery arugula (rocket) to be a particularly welcome addition here.

winter white salad with mandarin and pomegranate_duo

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Roasted Maple Sriracha Pecans

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Despite some seasonal confusion (my heart is saying pine cones but my eyes are still seeing roses),  I have to say, this dual border fêting is working out quite well for us.

We gladly welcomed the five day American Thanksgiving break with some highly unstructured family time. It’s amazing how much fun you can have doing precisely nothing.

With a house full of boys, I’ve learned to embrace the concept of movement.  Time off generally means planning some kind of high-octane activity that often involves long drives, little sleep and most assuredly, adventure.

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Not this time. Instead, we woke without alarms, lingered over long breakfasts, hung out in our pjs, enjoyed unhurried dog walks and played some intense and at times combative spirited and often impassioned poker (I can’t remember the last time we managed to corral our teenage sons into cards – let’s face it, hanging out with mom and dad just doesn’t cut it at this stage. I guess poker teases the possibility of adventure).

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So here we are on the other side of two Thanksgivings and look… it’s time to celebrate again!

The advent calendar is out (yes I still do an advent calendar for my boys, judge if you must), the Christmas cards are in production and Grand-maman’s Bâtonnets à la melasse instructions are on the counter.  I’ve known the recipe for her delicate French biscuits by heart for 15 years but I still need to see it every year.

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And today I’m sharing another delicious holiday nibble that I’ve been making quite a bit lately. Crunchy caramelized love bites that are simply packed with flavor.  The combination of maple and Sriracha together with warm earthy sage and sea salt offers up sweet, savory and spicy notes with every bite.

Not into heat? No problem.

Skip the Sriracha and make a version with maple syrup alone — equally delicious and works especially well on cereal and for yogurt topping, etc. The plain maple version is the one I make the most ~ the Sriracha is just my special holiday edition (wink).

These tasty pecans also make a great game day munchie or a beautiful gift for teachers, neighbors and friends.  Tuck them into a mason jar, decorate the lid if you wish and attach a ribbon.  Festive, delicious and so simple.

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enjoy!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Roasted Maple Sriracha Pecans
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer, Snack
Serves: 2 cups
Ingredients
  • 2 cups whole unsalted pecans
  • 3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp Sriracha hot chili sauce
  • 2 tsp melted coconut oil or butter
  • 1 tsp finely chopped fresh sage
  • pinch sea salt
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together: maple syrup, sriracha, coconut oil (or butter) and sage.
  4. Add pecans to the bowl and, using your hands, toss nuts around thoroughly to ensure they are well coated with mixture.
  5. Invert coated pecans onto parchment paper and spread out such that nuts are not touching. Be sure to scoop out any final wet mixture from the bowl with a spatula and onto the pecans.
  6. Sprinkle coated pecans with some sea salt.
  7. Place tray in the oven for 10-12 minutes to roast (tossing the nuts at least once) until the pecans are fragrant and have begun to brown - **you don't want to burn the nuts** so keep a close eye.
  8. Carefully remove the tray from the oven and allow the nuts to cool before enjoying. NOTE: the nuts will be somewhat soft when they come out of the oven as the glaze is molten. As the nuts cool down, they will crisp up. Enjoy!
Notes
1) Heat (the spicy factor) is very personal and difficult to declare for all. In my view, this recipe generates a mild to moderate heat but again, your experience may differ.
2) You can omit the Sriracha altogether if heat is not your thing. The maple version is equally delicious and works especially well on cereal and as a topping for yogurt and salads, etc.
3) Enjoy these nuts as an appetizer, snack, game day munchie or offer them up as a gift (teachers/friends/neighbors) -- so easy to make and you can present them in a decorative mason jar.
4) Store the pecans in an airtight container for up to 1 week (they are freshest/crunchiest in the first 3 days).

roasted maple sriracha pecans_1

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Baked Ricotta with honey, rosemary & pomegranate

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Complex, enigmatic and beautiful.

I’m not sure there’s another fruit on earth that stirs me quite like the pomegranate.

From its distinctive crown to its soft leathery skin to its chambered interior flush with succulent jewels, the ruby red stunner never fails to capture my attention.

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And in this part of the world, I am blessed to encounter them frequently on my walks.  Although our backyard holds many gems, this particular fruit is not one of them (or, at least, not that we’ve noticed yet).

I say this only partly in jest because it seems that each week since we moved in, we make a new discovery. Persimmon, goji, orange, calla lily and birds of paradise are just a few of the wonders that have revealed themselves to us over the four short months that we have been here.

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Our mandarin tree ~ one of the culinary hallmark’s of the holiday season ~ is now heavy with fruit and I’ve kept a close eye as the globes turned from deep green to yellow and now, finally, a promising blush of orange. The fruit will mature over the coming weeks.

We’ve planted two lime trees, a grapefruit tree and a peach tree and are looking into an olive tree! (oh my).

Needless to say, I continue to marvel at the edible landscape that surrounds us and have to give my head a shake every time I walk outside to pluck a lemon off the tree for my sparkling water, tea or food.

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The lemons that were used in this recipe, and appear in these photos, are a great success story. As you might imagine, the horticulture scene here can be a little daunting to the uninitiated.  I’ve always joked about my lack of experience in the garden and natural black thumb but I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by these gifts from nature that it’s inspiring me to learn.

When we first arrived, the lemons on this tree were no bigger than the tip of my thumb and showed no signs of progress. With a little TLC, we managed to grow them into thriving fruit with a taste unlike any lemon I have ever brought home from a store.

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Fresh and aromatic, you not only taste the difference, you can smell it too! After holding the uncut fruit in my hand even for a moment, the gorgeous fragrance of citrus lingers on my skin like lavender.

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And speaking of dreamy…

This appetizer?  It has to happen.

(I don’t mean to be bossy but you really do want to make it and your relatives really want you to make it too).

If you haven’t yet baked ricotta, you’re in for a treat.  Simple, warming, delicious and satisfying are just a few descriptors that come to mind… but also beautiful and decidedly festive, don’t you think? A perfect holiday choice for all generations.

Bon appétit!

5.0 from 2 reviews
Baked Ricotta with honey, rosemary & pomegranate
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 15 oz/425 grams (about 2 cups) whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp lemon zest, or to taste
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary + more for garnish
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ¼ cup or so pomegranate seeds (arils)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • drizzle of honey for topping
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 375 F
  2. Combine ricotta, lemon juice, lemon zest and finely chopped rosemary together in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Taste the ricotta mixture and make any seasoning adjustments desired - rosemary, lemon juice/zest, salt & pepper - before placing the mixture into an oven proof dish (ideally ½ - 1 quart size).
  4. Drizzle olive oil over the ricotta mixture and place it in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes or until it has heated through and begins to bubble around the edges.
  5. Carefully remove the dish from the oven and drizzle with a light touch of honey and a sprinkling of sea salt.
  6. Garnish with pomegranate seeds (pressing them gently into the mixture) and rosemary, as desired.
  7. Enjoy immediately with cut up fruit, vegetables and/or sliced bread/crackers.
Notes
1) Ricotta is a rich source of vegetarian protein. A quarter cup of ricotta packs 7 grams of protein (more than an egg!). This two cup appetizer has approximately 56 grams of protein.
2) It's hard to beat the full fruit of the pomegranate for quality seeds - when you cut into the fruit you will find the arials at their freshest, most succulent and richly pigmented. Having said that, you can save time and mess by purchasing the seeds on their own, so the choice (as always) is yours.
3) There are many different ways to present the pom seed topping on this dip. In the featured recipe, I decorated half the ricotta with a generous amount of seeds and created a dividing line with a chunky piece of rosemary. Another attractive way is to sprinkle the seeds all over the surface (they will appear like polka dots) and toss individual rosemary sprigs here and there between the seeds - they will look a bit like pine needles. Really pretty!
4) I did try baking the pomegranate seeds in one version but I don't recommend it. It will dehydrate the seeds and leave them rather lackluster which you definitely don't want. On the other hand, you can tuck some additional seeds into the ricotta mixture (as opposed to leaving them on the surface) for more texture if you wish - this method seems more resilient to baking.

baked ricotta with pomegranate_blog_3

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Sesame-Ginger Beef & Broccoli

sesame beef & broccoli_final

So tell me, do you like to mess with tradition?

(let’s keep this particular conversation centered on the kitchen shall we).

I ask because I shared a cranberry sauce from the kitchn on Facebook yesterday and the post bombed.  I wasn’t concerned about the bomb; I was however fascinated by the possibilities underlying it and what I might infer from it (great stats problem to bring out your inner geek).

Since the likelihood of all of my fans needing to scratch their backs at precisely the same time that my post entered their news feed is about as probable as the entire population deciding they no longer eat cranberry sauce during the holidays, I was left with two more likely explanatory variables: the use of unconventional ingredients in this particular recipe was a nonstarter (star anise, ginger, fig) and maybe, just maybe, people don’t like to mess with tradition… especially when it comes to their holiday classics.

So tell me, as my random sample audience, do you stick to the same tried-and-true recipes year after year for the holidays or do you crack open the cookbooks (kindles) looking for new ideas and inspiration.  Are there certain dishes that are simply sacrosanct (there’s no hope of deviating from them even if you wanted to) while others negotiable?

For my part, I can’t remember the last time I made a turkey for Christmas (or Thanksgiving) but there are other aspects of our holiday celebration that are more traditional — like our oatmeal buttermilk breakfast scones — a definite must!

sesame beef broccoli_blog_1_update

As for today’s recipe, you’re looking at the most popular and frequently requested dinner in our home right now!

Thin slices of tender beef with broccoli sautéed in a mouth-watering sesame-soy ginger sauce.  Not only is it delicious and nourishing, it’s also cooked in one pot and you can have it on the table — start to finish — in less than 30 minutes.  Faster than takeout.

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I have two strong recommendations for making this dish optimal:

The first is to buy a tender cut of beef — do not be tempted to buy those “pre-cut” strips of stir-fry beef in packages.  You will be very disappointed. Instead, I highly recommend flat iron (top blade steak) for this recipe which will literally melt in your mouth.  And it’s not that expensive. I pay about $14 for 1.5 pounds and the broccoli/rice/onion are peanuts.  So you’re looking at a cost of about $4 per person taking into account all the major ingredients.

Secondly, do not be shy to ask your butcher to slice the meat for you — I even ask my butcher to slice squash and pumpkin for me (those things are treacherous!)– they have the machinery that allows them to slice the meat very thin which is precisely what you want for this recipe.  The thinner the better.  I request a width-wise cut and that way I don’t have to cut the meat again at home unless I want to.

5.0 from 3 reviews
Sesame-Ginger Beef & Broccoli
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Main Dish
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • FOR THE BEEF BROCCOLI
  • 1.5 to 2 pounds tender beef cut into very thin strips (I recommend flat iron/top blade steak)
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
  • 1 Tbsp or so sesame seeds for topping
  • ~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~
  • FOR THE SESAME-GINGER SAUCE
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce (use tamari for a gluten-free version)
  • 1 Tbsp tamarind sauce (optional, I tend to have it on hand and love the flavor)
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp coconut palm or brown sugar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 heaping tsp (or to taste) chili-garlic sauce
  • 1 large nub of ginger, peeled and grated
  • ~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~
  • FOR THE CORNSTARCH SLURRY
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved into 1 Tbsp water
Instructions
  1. Whisk sauce ingredients together in a small bowl or container with fitted lid and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet set to low-medium heat, sautée onion in some olive oil.
  3. Just before the onion becomes translucent, add the broccoli florets to the skillet and toss with the onion. You don't want to overcook the broccoli but merely saturate the color and soften it slightly.
  4. Remove the onion and broccoli from the pan and set aside for a moment.
  5. In the same pan, increase heat to medium-high, add a bit more oil and sautée meat quickly on one side and then flip to the other side. This should only take about 1 minute. The thin meat will cook very quickly and you don't want to overcook it.
  6. Once the meat has been flipped, return the onion and broccoli to the skillet and add the sauce (giving it a final whisk beforehand).
  7. Add the cornstarch slurry to the skillet and allow the mixture to just come to a boil, mixing the whole time.
  8. Remove skillet from heat and divide mixture among four plates. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy with rice or as desired.
Notes
1. Please see my top two recommendations for succeeding with this recipe in the body of the post. Both are very helpful -- the first, critical.
2. Although pretty in its Japanese aesthetic, I don't normally serve this meal in divided portions. In reality, the broccoli is mixed in with the meat and the sauce. I just wanted to do something different for the presentation.
3. I have found with cornstarch over the years that it really doesn't work well to mix it directly into a sauce. It's worth the extra minute dissolving it in water first before integrating it.
4. Although I have not tried it in this particular recipe, I often use tapioca flour as a thickening agent. So if you prefer to skip the cornstarch, this is another good option.

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Warm Sautéed Spinach with Feijoa in a balsamic beurre blanc

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As I write this entry, sunlight is streaming in through my morning kitchen and I’m noticing a myriad of lush green feijoa, otherwise known as pineapple guava, nestled in the grass under our evergreen tree.

With today’s generous harvest decorating the landscape, you would hardly know that I just collected two full bags of the fragrant egg-shaped fruit yesterday afternoon.

My only wish is that I could ship a bucket full to each and every one of you as it’s simply not possible to keep up with our harvest.  We’ve been donating generously.

As you might imagine, pineapple guavas are an entirely new experience for this Canadian family.  We observed with great anticipation and hopefulness through the summer as the delicate white flowers on the tree eventually transformed into tiny burgeoning green fruit.  Amazing just how small life starts out. By early fall, our beautiful feijoa tree was producing fruit in the range of one to four inches long with great vigor and abundance.

The pineapple guava is a highly aromatic fruit.  I would describe it as floral to the point of almost being ‘perfumy’ — a characterization my husband heartily disputes suggesting that tropical is a much more flattering and accurate description. (He loves his feijoa) and so do we.

The best way to harvest feijoa is simply to allow the fruit to fall from the tree and the simplest way to enjoy it is to cut the fruit straight through the center and scoop out the pulp with a spoon.  This works well for enjoying the fruit on its own or for incorporating it into smoothies, preserves and all manner of baked goods (breads, muffins, loaves and desserts). You can also peel the exterior green skin (as I have done in this recipe) and slice the pineapple guava for salads and side dishes.

pineapple guava tree_blog

Surrounded by feijoa, the big question was what to make with this delightful fruit…

I came across recipe after recipe of baked goods and desserts incorporating pineapple guava, many of which sounded delicious, but I just wasn’t in the mood (maybe next year).

The turning point came on my flight home from Canada this week.

pineapple guava_feijoa_blog_2

I watched the movie Julie & Julia (again), and I couldn’t get beurre blanc off my mind.

Fearlessness and butter.

 Perfect. Suddenly, I knew exactly what I wanted to make.

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If you have not yet seen the movie based on two true stories, (one of blogger Julie Powell and the other of Julia Child’s debut in the culinary world), you must.  It’s just one of those feel good inspiring stories that will put a big smile on your face and get you dreaming in color.

5.0 from 3 reviews
Warm Sautéed Spinach with Feijoa in a balsamic beurre blanc
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Side or Salad
Serves: Serves 4
Ingredients
  • FOR THE SAUTEED SPINACH:
  • 1 large container baby spinach (approx 280 grams/10 oz)
  • ¼ cup red onion, diced
  • ¼ cup dried wild blueberries (substitute cranberry or dried fruit of choice)
  • 2 cups oyster mushrooms (approx 180 grams/6.5 oz), chopped (substitute mushroom of choice)
  • 4 feijoa (pineapple guava), peeled and sliced (substitute 2 apples or pears)
  • ~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.
  • FOR THE BALSAMIC BEURRE BLANC:
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp white wine (substitute vinegar for alcohol free version)
  • 1 Tbsp minced shallot
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice + zest for garnish
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 4 Tbsp butter (I used salted), cut into 4 pieces (about one tablespoon each)
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together: balsamic vinegar, white whine, shallots, lemon juice and honey.
  2. Add mixture to a small skillet and heat until it starts to simmer and the liquid reduces by about half.
  3. Add the butter to the skillet, one piece at a time, whisking to combine. Continue whisking until the butter is well combined and the beurre blanc emulsifies into a heavenly sauce-like mixture.
  4. Taste the beurre blanc and make any seasoning adjustments desired -- salt, pepper, honey, etc. as desired.
  5. In a large skillet add 1 Tbsp of the beurre blanc and toss in the red onion and oyster mushrooms to brown - about 1 or 2 minutes - remove onion/mushroom from skillet and set aside.
  6. In the same large skillet, add another tablespoon of beurre blanc and toss in the spinach. Using a wooden spoon or tongs, sauté the spinach just until it is saturated (it will reach a deeper color and look wet). Be careful not to overcook the spinach -- you want it to take on a soft and silky texture but you don't want it to be mush. This should take less than one minute. Best to err on the side of undersaturated.
  7. Working quickly, return the onion/mushroom mixture to the skillet with the spinach and add in the blueberries and sliced feijoa (or apple/pear) to warm through. Make any final seasoning adjustments as desired.
  8. Serve immediately and enjoy!
Notes
1. You can enjoy this spinach sauté as a side or a salad as desired. Of course, you can easily substitute ingredients by necessity and preference. I don't expect that the majority of my readers have access to pineapple guava ;-) but I do think any seasonal fruit would be delicious here.
2. There is really only one time to enjoy a warm spinach sauté and that's right from the pan. So unlike many other dishes, this is not one I would recommend reheating or bringing to a potluck.
3. Two suggestions for obtaining optimal sear on mushrooms - gently brush the mushrooms with minimal water to clean them (mushrooms already contain abundant water and will turn to mush if soaked in water) and give the mushrooms plenty of room in the pan.
4. Oyster mushrooms (along with shiitake, maitake, enoki, and other Asian species) are reputed for their medicinal benefits, notably immune-enhancing and anti-cancer properties. Harvard medicine graduate, Dr Andrew Weil, writes prolifically on this subject.

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Autumn Kissed Oatmeal Carrot Muffins

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If I had to name it, I would call fall the season of low and slow.

The days pass like all the others and yet nothing is the same.

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The fresh mornings, fading evening light, cool breezes and falling leaves.

Words, images and childhood memories looking for a place to nest.   Fall steeps me in nostalgia somewhere before my beginning.

Most of all, it requires me to slow down.

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Try as I might to expedite,  I’m seduced by the promise of a solitary woodland walk, the comfort of warm jasmine tea, the transformative power of a crackling fire and the simple, reassuring pleasure of cinnamon carrot muffins baking in my kitchen.

Amos Lee’s Colors is hitting all the right notes — nothing too loud please.  I’m feeling quiet, contemplative and grateful.

How does fall make you feel?

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5.0 from 6 reviews
Autumn Kissed Oatmeal Carrot Muffins
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Snacks
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • 1 cup 100% whole grain rolled oats
  • 1 cup spelt flour (or flour of choice)
  • 1 cup fine grated carrots
  • 2 heaping Tbsp wheat germ (or ground flaxseed)
  • ½ cup plump golden raisins
  • ⅓ cup palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 2 egg
  • ½ cup buttermilk (or milk beverage of choice)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 F.
  2. Using a food processor or simple grater, grate carrots into relatively small pieces.
  3. In a large bowl, combine: oats, spelt, raisins, palm sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together: eggs, buttermilk, olive oil, apple sauce, vanilla and grated carrots.
  5. Add wet ingredients to dry mixing only until combined.
  6. Grease 12 regular sized muffin cups (or lined paper cups) with a little olive oil (I use the spray for this to create a thin even coat).
  7. Divide muffin batter among the 12 muffin cups and top each with a few additional sprinkles of raw oatmeal and carrot.
  8. Bake muffins until they are just beginning to brown around edges and are firm to the touch – 16 to 18 minutes depending on the temperature of your oven.
  9. Allow muffins to cool slightly before enjoying.
Notes
Nutrition & Cooking Notes:

1) You can easily make these muffins gluten free by substituting a gluten-free flour in place of spelt flour and using flaxseed in place of wheat germ.
2) Wheat germ is a simple and excellent way to enhance the nutrient content of recipes (desserts, casseroles, cereals, smoothies and baked goods). It delivers an impressive amount of plant protein by weight (2 Tbsp contains 4 grams of protein - almost as much as an egg) and is also an excellent source of vitamin E and folic acid. Other well represented nutrients include: phosphorous; magnesium, zinc and plant based iron.
3) Spelt flour has beautiful baking properties. It is a soft and silky whole grain that is related to wheat (and does contain gluten) however many who have digestive conditions other than celiac disease find it easier to digest than wheat.

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Some of you may have noticed that Inspired Edibles has a whole new look!  I hope you enjoy it as my as I do.

Moving to a new platform after three years+ of blogging is no small task and there is still work to be done but hopefully the transition will continue to move along smoothly – low and slow – and cause little disruption.

Thank you for your patience ♡

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Butternut Squash Pad Thai

Well I can’t very well move on from summer without sharing the story of the season.

I feel a bit bad spinning it into a story because it does have an unfortunate outcome but if there’s anyone I know who can take a situation like this and turn it on its head, it’s this guy.

Our budding actor was back in action this summer with a great program out of Palo Alto offering ‘professional training for serious young artists’.  All was going along tickety-boo until one day our young Robert De Niro decided to have a Raging Bull moment and take his acting career to a whole new level (the movie buffs among you know exactly where I’m going with this…).

When our son was asked to act out the emotion “anger” he decided to punch the wall in front of him with full force (no half measures people, this is serious acting).  Now, to his credit, the wall was fully padded with one of those thick gym mats (the kind that baseball players hit without restraint, all limbs on board) so he thought he was safe. But in this case, regrettably, our inexperienced boxer broke a wrist and a finger in the process. Not a fun day at camp.

But there was some light at the end of the tunnel and a line delivered in a way that only he can that sent this mom into hysterics.

After spending a painful and at times emotional afternoon in the ER (this was his 7th and 8th broken bone after all), our weary but undefeated fellow glances over at me in the car and says “well, look at it this way Mom. Now I can say that I broke two bones in someone’s body by throwing a single punch. So what if it happens to be my body!”

(I had to pull off the road I was laughing so hard).

~~~~~~~

Well, I’m just delighted with the way this recipe turned out.

I often venture new experiments but if they don’t meet a certain taste threshold, they never see the blog.

This recipe packs all the delicious flavor you would expect from a traditional Pad Thai but uses the fall classic butternut squash in place of rice noodles.  The raw vegetable ‘noodles’ are tossed into the sauce at the last minute allowing them to warm up but maintain their al dente texture – the result is a resistant bite and no mush.

As much as I adore the taste of grain-based noodles/pasta, they don’t play a big part in my diet at this stage.  Sure I’ll enjoy the chef recommended gnocchi when I’m dining out on occasion (and savor every morsel) but generally, I find this kind of food doesn’t do me a lot of favors.  I just end up feeling bloated, tired and unproductive waiting out the storm until the diabetic coma passes.

Our whole family loved this dish – hope you do too!

Butternut Squash Pad Thai

Butternut Squash Pad Thai (naturally grain free, gluten free)

For the Pad Thai

  • 1 Tbsp grapeseed or olive oil
  • 1/2 butternut squash, peeled and shredded with this handy tool
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 generous cup fresh bean sprouts of choice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 pound medium-size shrimp (about 8-10 shrimp)
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onion
  • 4 Tbsp chopped roasted peanuts
  • 1 fresh lime, cut into segments
  • Optional: chopped cilantro
For the Pad Thai Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp (or slightly more) tamarind
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
  • 2 Tbsp coconut palm sugar (substitute brown sugar)

Serves 2

Nutrition & Cooking Notes:

  1. You can easily substitute chicken or tofu in place of shrimp in this recipe for the protein component.
  2. Pad Thai derives its distinctive flavor from tamarind (not soy sauce).  You should be able to find tamarind in the Asian section of your grocery store but, failing that, certainly at any Asian grocery store.
  3. This particular sauce does have some kick to it (heat) so if spicy is not your thing, diminish the chili garlic sauce or omit it altogether depending on your sensitivity level.
  4. When it comes to preparing Thai cuisine, I always recommend sampling the sauce to determine the right balance of sweet, salty, sour, spicy — this way, little adjustments can be made suited to your particular taste preference.


Directions:

  1. Cut butternut squash in half (lengthwise).  
  2. Peel half the butternut squash with a simple carrot/potato peeler (reserving the remaining half for roasting and adding to soup, sauces, dips and stews).
  3. Using this tool (the best $11 investment you’ll ever make) or a spiralizer, shred/spiralize the peeled portion of the butternut squash, setting aside the resulting ribbons or ‘noodles.’ The skin of the butternut squash, even once peeled, is a little tougher than other vegetables such as zucchini so it may feel a bit resistant to shredding at first. Once you’ve found the right angle though, you should have no trouble carving into it to create your ribbons/noodles.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small container with fitted lid, combine sauce ingredients: tamarind, fish sauce, chili garlic sauce if using, and sugar, shaking well to combine.  Taste the sauce and make any desired adjustments to try and achieve the ideal balance between sweet, salty, sour, spicy ~ the hallmark of Thai cuisine.
  5. Heat a large skillet or wok over medium heat and sauté the shrimp in some grapeseed or olive oil just until opaque (this should only take a minute or so).  Remove shrimp and set aside.
  6. In the same skillet, sauté shallot and garlic over low-medium heat just until softened and fragrant.
  7. Add the bean sprouts to the skillet, mixing to combine with the onion/garlic for another minute.
  8. Spread the onion/garlic/sprouts mixture to the sides of the pan and add eggs to the center allowing them to set slightly before gently mixing in with the other skillet ingredients (the heat should not be too high at this point – you don’t want to brown the egg just delicately cook them).
  9. Return opaque shrimp to the skillet, mixing to combine with the other ingredients.
  10. Add the butternut squash ‘noodles’ to the skillet along with the sauce (being sure to give it a good shake before adding it), mixing to integrate and warm through.
  11. Divide the warm butternut squash shrimp pad Thai between two plates (I like to bring some of the shrimp to the top of the plate) and top with a sprinkle of green onions, peanuts and cilantro as desired.
  12. Serve a lime wedge or two alongside each dish and be sure to squeeze some fresh lime juice all over the pad Thai before savoring (the lime is not meant as mere decoration!).
© Inspired Edibles

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Soy-Braised Pork Tenderloin with Star Anise and Cinnamon

I’m listening to the rain fall.

But it’s not happening outside my window.

My son showed me another way, here.

Now into its third year of a historic and severe drought, this beautiful state desperately needs water.

With over 400 commodities, California is the nation’s most productive agricultural state (as well as a leading world producer) and the country’s sole producer of a dozen crops, including: almonds, artichokes, olives, raisins and walnuts. The golden state also employs a significant percentage of the country’s farm workers.

With water supplies dwindling by the day and first time legislation being enacted to regulate its use, we’re doing what we can to conserve and yes, even will the sweet rain.

~~~~~~

When I first came across this gorgeous looking braised pork tenderloin over at With a Glass, I assumed that it was roasted.  Although I don’t make it very often, I have only ever roasted pork tenderloin and never in my dreams would I have imagined a result this favorable from a skillet.

The meat itself is rendered gorgeously tender but it’s the depth of flavor that might just take your breath away.  The nuanced fragrance of the star anise is a standout in this warming autumnal dish with its range of aromatic sweet notes complemented beautifully by the cinnamon and garlic.

Although the ingredient list is short and the recipe straightforward, the flavor is complex, bold and refreshingly unique.

I’ve made this recipe a couple of times now and generally serve the pork over rice or quinoa (which sops up the juices beautifully) with some applesauce and a side of veggies.

It’s a recipe that is simple enough to whip up on a weeknight and impressive enough to serve to guests or enjoy for Sunday night dinner, which is how we most recently appreciated it. There were oohs and aahs at the dinner table and not a single morsel left on anyone’s plate including the mini adults.

It’s a winner in our books (thank you Sissi!) and I hope you enjoy it too.

Soy-Braised Pork Loin with Star Anise & Cinnamon

Soy-Braised Pork Tenderloin with Star Anise & Cinnamon ~ adapted from With a Glass
  • 1 pork tenderloin (2.5 pound range), cut into chunky pieces
  • 10 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce* (or tamari for gluten free version)
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 4 star anise
  • 8-12 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
  • 2 Tbsp coarse sugar, brown sugar works well
  • 1 cup water
  • For the corn starch slurry: 1 heaping Tbsp corn starch and 4 Tbsp water
Serves 6
Nutrition & Cooking Notes:
  1. *Most authentic versions of soy-braised pork tenderloin (Chinese in origin) call for dark soy sauce.  Since I have been unsuccessful at finding one that does not contain artificial colorants, MSG and sulphites (quite a load for those of us who are migraine sensitive), I opted for regular soy sauce.  While I’m sure there are passionate feelings/attachments to dark soy sauce and its relevance in this recipe, I can assure you, I did not feel cheated ;-).
  2. I recommend trying this recipe in its current form before adding other aromatics such as ginger, sesame oil, etc.  I normally encourage variation, departure and experimentation but you may find that this recipe already has plenty going on and more layers may detract rather than add.
  3. The reasons I love this recipe so much are the same reasons I would not be able to eat it on a regular basis (and it has nothing to do with the pork!) — the intense, distinctive flavors of the sauce strike just the right note of surprise and delight on occasion.
Directions:  
  1. Whisk together 6 Tbsp soy sauce and 1 Tbsp honey in a shallow dish large enough to accommodate pork.
  2. Marinade pork pieces in the soy mixture for at least 20 minutes (or overnight).
  3. In a large skillet or wok, sauté garlic cloves in some olive oil over medium heat until the garlic takes on a golden color.
  4. Add the two pieces of cinnamon and the star anise to the skillet and sauté together with garlic for another minute.
  5. Add the marinated pork pieces to the skillet alongside the garlic, cinnamon and star anise, allowing them to brown slightly.
  6. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together 2 Tbsp coarse sugar with remaining 4 Tbsp soy sauce.
  7. Pour the whisked soy mixture into the skillet along with the water (1 cup) and allow the dish to simmer uncovered for about 1 hour (or more) until the pork has cooked through and the sauce has reduced and darkened somewhat.
  8. Prepare the corn starch slurry by whisking together the corn starch (1 heaping Tbsp) and water (4 Tbsp).
  9. Add the corn starch slurry to the skillet mixing well to incorporate into the soy mixture and allowing the sauce to boil gently just until the sauce has thickened (this should only take a minute or less).
  10. Remove skillet from heat and plate the pork and garlic pieces over grain or vegetable of choice (leaving the cinnamon stick and anise behind) but not their amazing flavor!


© Inspired Edibles

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Autumn Oatmeal with Apple, Cranberry & Walnut

My mom sent me four autumn leaves in the mail.

They were the first she gathered from the trees near her home.  I found them pressed together neatly in a card with her signature handwriting slanting almost vertical along the page.

She said she wanted to send them to me so I wouldn’t forget about the fall.

Delicate and impossibly light, I removed the leaves from the card and carefully placed them on the kitchen table.  I had a sinking feeling they were going to fly away even though I was inside.  I sat there staring at them and imagining my mom in a younger version of herself, walking in the autumn leaves with her big rimmed sunglasses and pink lips, my cheeks pressed into my hands, tears streaming down my face.

So much for getting tougher with age.  I only soften.

These are the gifts I cherish most. The gestures, the kindnesses and the feelings I no longer have words for.

Autumn Oatmeal

Autumn Oatmeal
  • 1 cup 100% whole grain oatmeal (steel-cut or rolled)
  • 2 tablespoons flaxseed, ground into meal
  • 1 tsp coconut oil or butter
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 apple, skin on and diced
  • 2 + 1/2 (or more) cups water 
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce 
  • 1/4 dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup raw walnut pieces
  • milk beverage and drizzle of honey, as desired

Serves 2
 
Nutrition & Cooking Notes:
  1. Flaxseed profile: flaxseed is an excellent source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids (known as alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) fibre and lignans (plant compounds believed to be protective of breast health).  
  2. Grinding flaxseed: unlike chia, flaxseed must be ground in order to be bioavailable (absorbed and usable by the body).
  3. How to buy & store flaxseed: I strongly recommend purchasing unground flaxseed (the whole seed) as opposed to pre-ground meal and simply using a dedicated coffee grinder or mini blender as needed.  Any remaining ground flaxseed should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge. This is because the omega-3 fat in flaxseed is quite volatile and reactive to light and ambient temperature.  Often, ground flaxseed that has been left to sit out on the shelf for weeks/months in broad daylight will go rancid.  Keep your unopened flaxseed in a cool, dark place and once opened, store in the fridge.
  4. Oats: both steel-cut and rolled oats offer a good source of soluble fibre – the kind attributable to helping keep blood cholesterol in check.  Whether you are choosing steel-cut oats (chopped into larger sizes) or rolled oats (‘old fashioned, quick-cooking oats’ that have been rolled or flaked for easier cooking), be sure to choose 100% whole grain.  Oats should have at least 3 grams of fibre per serving and ideally zero sugar and zero sodium.  
  5. Unsweetened Oats: buying the oats unsweetened allows you to decide how much and what type of sweetener you would like to add to your cereal, rather than the manufacturer.  I am not a fan of instant oat cereals (powdered oats) because, even when they are 100% whole grain, these cereal packets almost always have sugar and sodium added to them. 
  6. Cinnamon: cinnamon is not only delicious it has also been shown to have a positive effect on blood glucose levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.  Easy ways of adding cinnamon to your diet include sprinkling it over your cereal or yogurt, adding it to smoothies, soups, stews and baked goods, topping your coffee with it or making your own cinnamon tea.
  7. Other Seasonings: I’ve kept the seasoning simple here but of course, you can amplify with nutmeg, clove, cardamom, vanilla, etc. as you like.  If you are sulfite sensitive, you may wish to avoid commercial brands of “pumpkin pie” spice however (which commonly uses the preservative) and create your own blend of spices. Pumpkin pie spice is generally made up of a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice but cinnamon/nutmeg will get you mostly there.
Directions:
  1. Heat coconut oil or butter in a skillet set to medium heat and sauté diced apples just until they begin to soften (about 30 seconds or so) then remove from heat.
  2. Meanwhile, place oatmeal, ground flaxseed and cinnamon together in a pot, stirring to combine with a wooden spoon.
  3. Add water to the oatmeal mixture, stir and allow it to come to a gentle boil on the stove-top. Immediately reduce to lowest temperature to simmer.
  4. Add warm apples and cranberry to the simmering mixture, stirring to combine. If the mixture is too thick to stir fluidly (the flaxseed will swell) add a little more water.
  5. Simmer/cooking time will vary depending on the type of whole grain oats you are using (steel-cut oats are comprised of larger pieces and take slightly longer to cook than rolled oats which have been cut into smaller pieces for quicker cooking).
  6. Remove oatmeal mixture from heat, stir in apple sauce and make any final seasoning adjustments before dividing between two (or more) bowls and topping with walnut, milk beverage of choice and a drizzle of honey, as desired.
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Zucchini Pasta with Chicken, Mushroom & garden fresh Marinara Sauce

Whenever I find myself running behind on my writing commitments and the pressure starts to mount, I paint my fingernails red.

A strange cure for writer’s block perhaps but it works for me.  Red is one of those colors that just won’t be denied. Bold and energizing, it’s an accelerator and mood changer. And it turns out that it doesn’t endure procrastination very well either.

As soon as I see those bright red chiclets moving across the keypad in a trail of fire, it’s like a call to action. Suddenly I’m transported out of the doldrums of my languid mind and into a place of movement and activity, whether I want to or not.

I don’t think it would work on any kind of regular basis, and I wouldn’t care to have my hands ablaze more than a few times a year, but every now and again, seeing red is where it’s at.

Does color change you?

~~~~~~

I know I should be moving on to back-to-school themes and fall givings and such but you’ll forgive me for holding off on the pumpkin posts for now.

It is still August after all and I’m really not in a rush to abandon summer especially while mother nature continues to turn out such gorgeous late summer produce.

And speaking of spoils, we received another generous haul of garden tomatoes and basil from our neighbors this past weekend.  In fact, we got the full tour of their plantation (so inspiring) and this time, I decided to make a roasted marinara sauce from their givings.

Instead of serving the Italian sauce with a conventional grain-based pasta, I decided to switch things up a little and work with zucchini – another abundant vegetable right now.

Some of you might remember this handy dandy shredding tool from this post that allowed me to make short work of my green papaya. That is the same tool I used to make the zucchini pasta threads.  You could also use a spiralizer (I don’t own one but I understand they are quite versatile and will produce a noodle like shape).

If you make this recipe expecting your great-aunt Angioletta’s pasta, well, this is not it. On the other hand, you may be surprised to discover just how appetizing this dish is in its own right without comparison. A warm and savory roasted marinara sauce mingled with sautéed mushroom and chicken over a bed of light and delicious zucchini.  You might just like it. A lot.

Zucchini Pasta with Garden Fresh Marinara Sauce

Zucchini Pasta with Garden Fresh Marinara Sauce (grain free, gluten free)

For the Marinara Sauce
  • 4 lbs (about 12 medium sized) fresh seasonal tomatoes, cored
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste, optional
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut in chunks 
  • 6-8 peeled whole garlic cloves, or to taste (we love our garlic!)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt & pepper to taste
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, or to taste
  • pinch of red chili pepper flakes, as desired
Makes approximately 2 cups of Marinara Sauce

For the Zucchini Pasta

  • 4 medium sized fresh zucchini, unpeeled and shredded or spiralized
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 4 oz each), cut into bite sized cubes
  • 1 carton (about 2 cups) sliced fresh mushrooms of choice

Serves 4

Nutrition & Cooking Notes:
  1. Roasting Method: I have used different methods to roast tomatoes in the past.  This particular method uses higher heat for a shorter duration.  I recommend using a dish (as opposed to a baking sheet) for this method because the vegetables will release significant fluid.
  2. Converting Zucchini into Pasta: In order to convert the zucchini into pasta like threads, you will need either a shredding tool such as the Kuhn Rikon Julienne Peeler (the best $20 investment you will ever make) or a spiralizer (links above in write-up). Anything else will likely be an exercise in futility and frustration.
  3. Adding Protein: I talked about the function and importance of protein in this post.  Without the addition of protein to this zucchini marinara, this dish becomes essentially a vegetable salad (zucchini, tomato, onion, garlic & mushrooms) perfectly nutritious in its own right but has no more holding power than a bag of carrots (about 20 minutes). Protein is critical for building this dish into a meal, staving off hunger and creating satiety. If chicken is not your thing, use any protein of choice, animal or vegetable.  You can also purée beans or lentils directly into the sauce during the blender step rather than adding them whole.  Lots of options.
  4. Lovely Lycopene! Tomatoes are not only rich in vitamins (A, C, K) and minerals (folate, potassium) they are also the best dietary source of lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant found primarily in cooked tomato (and to a lesser extent in watermelon and pink grapefruit).  It has been linked to the reduction of prostate cancer (as well as other cancers) and cardiovascular disease and more recently, to a reduction in photodamage caused by the sun (how neat).  Lots of promising research on lycopene.
Directions:

Heat oven to 425 F

  1. Using a tomato corer or a simple knife (which is what I used) remove the center part of each tomato and discard.
  2. Place tomatoes, hole side up, in a baking dish along with onion and garlic.  It doesn’t really matter how they are placed – haphazard works.
  3. Drizzle the veggies with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper (and any other seasonings desired).
  4. Place vegetable tray in the oven and roast for about 35 minutes or until the tomatoes have started to break down, juices are running and the onion/garlic is taking on some golden coloration.
  5. Remove baking dish from oven and allow it to cool.
  6. Meanwhile shred or spiralize the four zucchinis and set aside the pasta.
  7. Place a large colander inside a bowl and carefully transfer roasted vegetable and their juices into the colander allowing the juices to drain into the bowl – reserve some of the juice.
  8. Transfer strained vegetables to a blender or food processor and blend/process until combined.
  9. At this point, you can either add the basil to the marinara sauce and blend/process together or reserve the basil for topping.  You can also taste and adjust marinara seasonings to your liking.
  10. If the marinara sauce is thicker than you would like, simply add some of the reserved roasting juice and blend.  If the mixture is more dilute than you would like, add tomato paste to desired consistency (it acts as a thickening agent and also adds a rich red color to the sauce).
  11. Meanwhile, sauté cubed chicken and mushroom in a large skillet over medium-low heat with a little bit of olive oil. Note: when chicken is cubed in this fashion it does not take a long time to cook (about 2 minutes or less) so it works out just fine tossing them together.
  12. When chicken is cooked through (no longer pink inside – it will happen quickly) add the marinara sauce to the skillet and mix to combine with the chicken and mushroom just until everything is warm. Make any final seasoning adjustments (note: you can also add capers, olives, cheese as desired).
  13. Divide zucchini pasta among four bowls/plates and top with chicken, mushrooms and marinara sauce.
  14. Top the pasta with fresh basil and a sprinkle of red chili peppers, as desired.
© Inspired Edibles

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