I’m lucky I didn’t burn the house down

This past weekend, I baked and cooked around the clock for two entire days. None of it was planned! And yet all of it went smoothly.

Action JacksonThis particular bowl saw a lot of action // muffins, granola, macaroons, grain-based sausage, brownies . . . I’m full just thinking about it

While the muffins were cooling and the granola was baking, there was an impromptu birthday party. I had no idea there were triplets in the house!

birthday girlsthere ain’t no party like my nana’s tea party // . . . happy birthday, dear Rainbow Sparkles, Kookaburra, and Click . . .
zesty macaroonsorange zest-spiked macaroons // totally on a whim, because I needed something to do while the granola was baking

At one point, I had four slow cookers going at the same time. Beans, more beans, lentils – and the richest, smoothest marinara I’ve ever made. Accidentally slow cooking my marinara sauce for 18 hours was the key.

grain-based Italian meatballsspaghetti and grain-based meatballs simmered in glad-I-didn’t-burn-the-house-down marinara // meatball recipe will be posted on Wednesday
researchresearch! because somehow, I was still actually hungry // I rarely eat when I’m cooking or baking, the smell all on its own makes me feel stuffed

There was also potato focaccia bread, triple chocolate buttermilk brownies, multiple tester recipes for two of my favorite cookbook authors, and another accidental discovery – my wok is the perfect popcorn popper.

When I wasn’t actively cooking, I managed to leave my kitchen. There was a library visit, grocery shopping, Lego building, movie watching, more Lego building, winter clothes sorting, book reading, and even laundry. Whew! Just thinking about it all makes me tired. The only thing we didn’t do was go for a hike, because my still-healing knee was throbbing. Apparently, standing on an injured knee for several hours straight will do that.

Oh, and there was also this soup.

cup o' soup creamy tomato soupI used both my slow cooker and my oven for this, and it was totally worth it
soup dregsthe best part of cleanup duty

Slow cooker tomato soup

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This recipe may read as long and complicated, but most of the time is spent waiting for the soup’s base ingredients to melt together in your slow cooker. It can be made on a stove top, but the results just aren’t the same. You’ll need to purée the base by itself, and then again with the rest of the ingredients once they have roasted. I usually combine everything in a tall, stainless steel pasta pot and use my stick blender, but a stand blender or food processor will also work.

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Soup base, to slow cook:
1/2 cup red lentils
1/4 cup steel cut oats
2 medium tomatoes, chopped (or 10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved)
1 tablespoon chicken-style broth powder
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
10 basil leaves, torn
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
salt and white pepper

Soup body, to roast:
4 medium tomatoes, quartered (or 20-25 cherry tomatoes, halved)
1 large shallot or red torpedo onion, quartered
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
large pinch kosher salt
large pinch turbinado sugar

Finishing garnish:
nutmeg
agave
crostini or croutons, optional

In a 2- or 3-quart slow cooker, combine the first seven ingredients (red lentils through smoked paprika) with 2 1/2 cups of water and set to low. Allow everything to cook for six hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water if needed. You want enough liquid to purée everything easily at the end, but not so much that it will be watery. When the six hours have passed, purée everything until smooth and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Keep the base warm in your slow cooker until the roasted vegetables are ready.

When your slow cooker has about an hour to go, preheat your oven to 375 F / 190 C. In a baking dish, arrange the quartered tomatoes and shallot, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with oil and vinegar, then sprinkle on the salt and sugar. Roast until the tomatoes have caramelized and their juices are concentrated.

Combine the puréed base and the caramelized tomatoes, shallots and their juices in a blender or food processor (in multiple batches, if necessary) and purée until completely smooth, adding water if needed.

Garnish with a drizzle of agave and fresh grated nutmeg, and serve with small crostini or croutons.

Yield: 2-4 servings, depending on course and appetite

Prep time: 10 minutes | Slow cooking time: 6 hours (mostly unattended) | Roasting time: 30-45 minutes

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Asparagus & caramelized red onion pesto

In my kitchen, there is no such thing as too much pesto, and I’ve been making this one the past couple of springs when asparagus is in season.

I grow purple asparagus at home, but the spears are so tender and sweet that I eat them right on the spot. For this pesto, I make a special trip to the farmers’ market to pick up a bunch of bright green spears.

Asparagus isn’t in season right now where I live, but it’s in season somewhere, right? When I found this recipe in one of my torn and tattered notebooks over the weekend, rather than rewrite it I decided to post it here.

asparagus.redonion.pestoYep, definitely worth a trip to the farmers’ market.
capellini.w.asparagus.pestoWorth the effort.

Asparagus & caramelized red onion pesto

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Thin asparagus spears are preferable, as they are less fibrous. If you use thick stalks, you’ll need to peel them before steaming. If you have a steamer basket (or stainless steel colander) that fits over your pasta pot, use it instead of an asparagus steamer. This dish tastes equally well hot, at room temperature, and cold, especially as a midnight snack. We like ours tossed with capellini. (My favorite gluten free brand, hands down, is Jovial.)

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1 large handful (25-30) thin asparagus spears
2-3 red torpedo onions or 1/4 red globe onion
2 teaspoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast, to taste
1-2 teaspoons lemon zest, to taste
large pinch of coarse salt
pasta water to thin, if needed

Snap off the woody ends from your asparagus stalks. Thinly slice your onions; there should be enough to loosely pile into a 1/3 measuring cup. If using a red globe onion, cut a few thin-as-possible half moon slices, then cut into small strips about 1/4 inch long. Set up your steamer, your pasta pot (if not using to steam the asparagus), and a small cast iron or nonstick skillet for the onions.

Steam asparagus until fork tender. While the asparagus is steaming, put a teaspoon or two of olive oil into a small skillet over med heat. Sauté the onion until it begins to caramelize, then remove from heat and transfer to your food processor. When the onion and asparagus have both finished cooking, begin heating your liberally salted pasta water.

Cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces and add to the food processor. Pulse a few times until the mixture is almost puréed. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients. If you need additional liquid, add some of the pasta water, a tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt and additional lemon zest, if needed.

Drain your pasta, reserving a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water. Add the pesto and gently toss to coat, using some of the reserved water if it’s too thick. Season with cracked pepper and coarse salt at the table.

Yield: 1 Cup

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes

My love affair with red torpedos // vodka sauce // raw not-vodka sauce

Today I’m feeling like a Talky McTalkerson and am dying to wax nostalgic about all of the things that make a vodka sauce so good, but I don’t have time (and you may not have the patience). So, I’m going to distill it down to just this:

alcohol + tomatoes + heat = a release of alcohol-soluble tomato goodness

It’s that simple! Any alcohol will do, preferably one that is as flavorless as possible (enter: vodka) so that as the tomatoes cook down, no trace of alcohol flavor remains. More often than not, I use a dry white wine.

red.torpedos.justpulledRed torpedos: they look like football-shaped shallots.

Have you ever grown the red Italian bunching onion called red torpedo? If not, grab a couple of seed packets, fill a pot with vegan compost-rich soil, and get on it! In my climate, I’m able to grow red torpedos year-round, and they proliferate equally well in pots and in the ground. They tolerate summer heat as long as they’re in partial shade, and they love a slight chill in the air. I have no idea where to buy them, but they grow so easily I’ve never bothered to look. Red torpedos can be used any time a recipe calls for red onion, and they can be paired with a bit of mild garlic to replace shallots. They are mild and sweet and taste great raw. They roast and caramelize well. Also, they’re pretty. In short, the perfect onion.

red.torpedosReady for the skillet (vodka sauce) or the blender (raw sauce).

If you have really amazing just-picked tomatoes with a flavor that knocks your socks off, then this recipe can easily be adapted into a (not vodka) raw tomato cream sauce. I make it both ways, mostly depending on how much time I have. If you’re good about mise en place, you can start either version of this sauce while you wait for your water to boil, and be done in time to dress your pasta.

crostini_pesto+vodka.saucePairs well with pesto.

Vodka sauce // raw tomato cream sauce

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If you don’t have any red torpedo onions, 1/4 a small red globe onion will do nicely.

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3 red torpedo onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 handfuls small/medium tomatoes or 3 large tomatoes, cored and chopped
1/4 Cup dry white wine
1/2 Cup raw cashew pieces
1/2 sweet bell pepper, optional
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a skillet or heavy pot over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to caramelize – about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and wine and bring the pot to a simmer, stirring and smashing the tomatoes around in the pot as they cook down. Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat. Add everything to a blender or food processor – if you’re including the sweet pepper, add it now. Puree until smooth, adding water if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make this recipe raw: omit the olive oil, and blend everything straightaway.

Yield: 1 1/2 – 2 Cups

Prep time: 5 minutes raw, 15 minutes cooked