Curried Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Soup with Coconut Milk

This is the book that kicked off my food loving, healthy eating, conscious cooking, nutrition fascinated journey.

cook food book

I bought “Cook Food” by Lisa Jervis about five years ago in a small artsy-touristy shop in my hometown of Cedarburg, WI.  I still like looking through the stained and crinkled pages of this small paperback book at the sentences and phrases I underlined and highlighted way back when.  And although there has been much learning and growing since those days, I stay grounded in many of the methods and sentiments that Jervis offered me in this short, friendly guide to health and planet-conscious cooking and eating.

All the recipes in “Cook Food” are approximate and flexible.  Jervis encourages readers from the very first pages to “experiment, try new things, make the recipes your own.”  Well I certainly took that imperative and ran with it. I barely ever perfectly follow recipes (gasp?!) and only break out the measuring cups and spoons when I’m baking.  I tend to use cookbooks as tools of inspiration: I mine them for new flavor combinations or seek advice on how to use an ingredient I’ve never tried.  But… I have to say this non-recipe cooking style doesn’t serve me very well when I want to share something I’ve made here on Funky Beets.  Case in point: I recently made this epically tasty soup, but hadn’t really measured anything in the process. Well, luckily for me (and you!) I do have a pretty slick memory, so I think this should still work out (fingers crossed).

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I’m sure Lisa Jervis would agree here, you should take liberties with this soup, add more of the ingredients you like, leave out the ones you don’t. Get a little artsy with it, and TASTE along the way.  Tasting your cooking as it unfolds is the best way to ensure non-recipe cooking turns out fabulously; I read somewhere American cooks don’t do enough of it, so let’s prove whoever said that wrong.  Let’s dip our spoons liberally in bubbling pots on their way to becoming dinner.  Just don’t forget to blow on your spoonfuls before you sample; this soup won’t taste as good with a burnt tongue.

Curried Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Soup with Coconut Milk

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp coconut oil or ghee

½ medium sweet onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 heaping Tbsp curry powder (or more!)

1 tsp crushed red pepper (for medium-high spice level)

1 Tbsp powdered ginger

1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into chunks

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed

1 (8.5 oz) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes

1 (8.5 oz) can chickpeas

½ (8.5 oz) can coconut milk

water

salt to taste

toppings (optional):

plain yogurt

cilantro

toasted sunflower seeds

Method:

1. In a Dutch oven or other large pot, melt the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté for a few minutes.  Add the garlic and spices, stirring until fragrant.

2.  Next, add all the cauliflower and sweet potato chunks, stirring around with the alliums and spices until coated.  If you have extra time, you can let the vegetables get a little browned (flavor!) before moving on to the next step.

3. To the pot, add the canned tomatoes (with juice), chickpeas and coconut milk.  Now add enough water to just barely cover the cauliflower and sweet potatoes.  Stir it all together until the broth is mostly uniform in color.

4.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and put the lid on your pot.  Stir occasionally.  When the sweet potatoes are soft, the soup could be finished.  If you want to let the flavors meld a bit more, you can leave the soup on low heat for a while longer.

5. Taste the broth for salt and add as much as you like.

6. Depending on your texture preferences, you can go a number of routes here: leave it completely “rustic” and stew-like (would be great over rice), OR blend it partially with an immersion blender so there is some smoothness and some larger chunks (that’s what I did) OR blend it completely for a silky, luxurious pureed soup.

7. Finish by layering on your desired toppings.  Enjoy!

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Soul-Warming Leek and White Bean Soup with Cardamom

On a damp, foggy late fall day there are few things more soul-warming than nestling up to a steaming bowl of homemade soup. The ritual of chopping, sautéing, stirring, and ladling engages your hands and mind. The comforting goodness that results lifts your spirits as you revel in the small accomplishment of feeding yourself and your loved ones from a communal pot. Out of nowhere, you realize the birds outside your window are singing despite the darkness and drear.

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Unfortunate events in our lives can manifest themselves as emotional fog, casting gloom over what might have otherwise been a day of gracious, open-eyed life-living. When something happens to us, when another person wrongs us or hurts us or lets us down, the negative energy can permeate our very fibers. It takes courage and will to rise above the fog, to let the sun burn the clouds away and see the world as it really is: miraculous. And we can’t always do that on our own.

I am one of many students at my university that has recently been wronged: we’ve had money and personal belongings stolen from us, unexpectedly and in the midst of impending exams and holidays – a time when we could all use a big hug rather than a metaphorical punch in the gut. These acts hurt and enrage us and make us feel helpless. This experience made me less apt to trust others and weakened my faith in the unspoken bonds I share with all the hard-working, diverse women that surround me in our beautiful little school.

But then there are the people that burn away the fog, that fortify our belief in humanity, that help shift our outlook back to optimism and love.  Thank you to you. You are my sun today. I am writing this because you changed my thought patterns, something I could not have done alone. This soup is for you, too.

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Soul-Warming Leek and White Bean Soup with Cardamom

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. butter

1 very large or 2-3 medium leeks, white parts only, sliced thin

2 cloves garlic, finely diced

¼ tsp cardamom

4 medium carrots, sliced into ¼” thick coins

1 large potato, any variety, diced into ½” chunks

6 cups stock of choice (or as I did, 4 cups vegetable stock + 2 cups water)

1 29-oz can white (cannellini) beans, drained and rinsed

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 Parmesan cheese rind (optional)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

~6 leaves dinosaur kale, coarsely torn

freshly cracked black pepper and salt to taste

olive oil for serving

Method:

1. In a 4-quart or larger pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat.  Add leeks and sauté until just softened, but not brown.  Add garlic and cardamom and sauté a minute more.

2. To the pot o’ alliums (leeks and garlic), add carrot coins and potato chunks.  Pour in your stock and turn heat to medium-high, bringing liquid to a boil then reducing to a simmer.  Add white beans, rosemary sprig and Parmesan rind, if using.

3.  Continue simmering soup until carrots and potatoes tender, adding more liquid as needed for desired consistency.

4.  Turn heat to low.  Stir torn kale leaves into soup and cover, cooking just until kale is bright green, about 3 minutes.

5.  Remove soup from heat; allow it to cool slightly.  Puree soup with standard or immersion blender until your preferred texture is reached.  I liked it mostly smooth, allowing just a few hearty chunks of potato and flecks of kale to prevail.

6.  Serve with a drizzle of olive oil plus salt and pepper to the soup-eater’s liking.

7. Let the steam from your bowl rise up and give you a mini-facial; listen for birds.

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Red Cabbage Gratin

Not long ago, I went on a gratin-pinning spree.   If you don’t know what that sentence means, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.  Just kidding, mom!  To my Pinterest page of recipes, I added kale and sweet potato gratin, Brussels sprouts gratin, and the beauty I’m featuring today: red cabbage gratin.  In case you’ve not had the pleasure of knowing a gratin, it’s a food preparation “in which an ingredient is topped with a browned crust, often using breadcrumbs, butter, and grated cheese” (Wikipedia).  Random aside: in grade school, the cafeteria served a mysteriously orange offering called “potatoes au gratin.”  All the kids called it “potatoes o’ rotten.”  ‘Nuff said.

head of red cabbage

Any gratin worth making is a vegetable one, in my humble opinion.  And this why when I discovered a slideshow featuring just these sorts of dishes over at the Saveur website, I went on the aforementioned pinning spree.  At the time I found these recipes, the trees had just begun their wardrobe change and the air was only beginning to resemble a Honeycrisp apple.  Now it’s full-fledged comfort food season, and with Thanksgiving right around the corner, there’s nothing more welcome in my oven or my tummy than a casserole dish of cheesy, crispy, gooey vegetables.

Lest you be nervous to try a dish starring cooked cabbage, let me just tell you that the flavor of this dish is sublime, thanks no doubt to the Parmesan and breadcrumbs.  But even more special is the tender chew and sweet, nutty aroma of the red cabbage after being bathed in paprika-spiked cream for an hour or so.  Saveur recommends serving this eye-catching purple beaut’ alongside roast pork, turkey, or lamb (perhaps as awesomely out-of-the-box Turkey Day fare), but I think it would stand up just fine as a meal with a green salad and some seedy crusty bread.   This is the type of dining I like to do the night after Thanksgiving: something healthy, yet naughty enough to gently ease you off that gluttonous cliff that is the holidays.   Cheers!

sliced red cabbage

Recipe modified slightly from Saveur

Red Cabbage Gratin

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

7 cups shredded red cabbage (about 1 small head, medium shred)

1 ½ cups half and half

2 tsp. Hungarian (sweet) paprika

1 tsp. sugar

½ tsp. freshly grated pepper

salt to taste (go easy; you can always sprinkle on more just before eating)

topping:

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup finely chopped almonds (hello, food processor)

½ cup toasted whole wheat bread crumbs (props if you make your own; I used Gia Russa brand)

 Method:

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Grease a 3-quart baking dish with one tablespoon of the butter.  Put the shredded cabbage into the greased pan and set aside.

2.  In a 1 quart or larger saucepan, combine the half and half, sweet paprika, sugar, salt and pepper.  Heat mixture over medium heat until it just begins to simmer and steam.

3. Pour hot cream mixture over cabbage and stir to distribute evenly.

4. Toss together Parmesan, chopped almonds, and breadcrumbs in a bowl; sprinkle evenly over the creamy cabbage.  (It may seem like a lot of topping, but trust me, use all of it.) Dot the top of the gratin with remaining one tablespoon butter.  Feel free to drizzle with olive oil if it seems a bit dry.

5.  Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake the gratin until the cabbage is pleasantly tender and most of the half and half is absorbed, around 45 minutes.  Then, take off the foil and turn the oven up to 400°F and bake 10-15 minutes more, until the breadcrumb-cheese-nut mixture is thoroughly browned and crispy.  Let the gratin cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

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red cabbage gratin

red cabbage gratin 2

My Granola Brings All the Boys to the Yard.

And they’re like, it’s better than yours.
I could teach you, but I’d have to charge.

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Nah, I’m just kidding. I won’t charge you for my awesome granola recipe.

I’ve been making my own granola for about as long as I’ve been cooking for myself. Cereal + milk is one of my most favorite comfort foods. It’s a meal or a snack or a midnight munchie. Unfortunately most cereal, even those posing as healthy, aren’t so great for us. They’re chock full of sugar, GMO corn and soy, and artificial colors and flavors, a few things I’d rather keep out of my body. (Unless of course it’s Halloween – then it all goes out the window for one night. Hello fun size pack of Skittles, blueberry Tootsie Pop and Reese’s peanut butter cup.)

I started making my own granola so I have could that satisfying bowl of sweet, milky, nutty, crunchy goodness at a moment’s notice. Since crafting my first batch, based off a recipe in Louisa Shafia’s “Lucid Food,” I’ve always just eyeballed my ingredients. Well, my pops recently “hired” me to make him big batches of granola to have at his office desk for healthy out-of-hand snacking. Score! Now it’s just a matter of slotting the time to churn out 4 pounds of granola every couple weeks. On behalf of this new “business agreement” I decided to finally measure my ingredients and write down the recipe. This helped me figure out cost as well as ensure a consistent product every time. And now, I get to share my “secret” method with you!

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Ashleigh’s Granola

Ingredients:

4.5 cups oats
3 to 4 cups nuts and seeds, depending how nutty or seedy you are
1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp coarse salt

1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup canola or olive (non-virgin) oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extraxt
1/2 cup maple syrup

add-ins:
coconut flakes
chia or sesame seeds
dried fruit
chocolate, etc.!

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Method:

Preheat your oven to 275ºF.

Mix the dry ingredients (oats, nuts, spices, salt) together in a large bowl.

In a small sauce pan, combine the wet ingredients (oils, extracts, maple syrup) and stir together over low heat.  Continue heating just until coconut oil is completely melted.

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir well until all the oats are moistened.  If the some of the oats are still a little dry, add a bit more olive oil or maple syrup to the mixture.

Distribute the granola onto two parchment-lined baking sheets (with raised edges is best) and spread evenly.

Bake at 275ºF for 15 minutes, remove the pans and stir the granola well. Return granola to the oven, rotating the pan positions.

Bake another 15 minutes (30 min total so far).  Remove the pans and add about a tablespoon of olive or melted coconut oil to each of the pans of granola. Stir in chia or sesame seeds, shredded coconut or other non-meltable mix-ins.

Bake 5-10 minutes more depending on how the browning is coming along. (35-40 min total bake time)

Remove granola from oven and place on cooling racks until totally cool.  Mix in any chocolate, etc. at this point.

Store your beautiful homemade granola in an airtight container and enjoy for up to a month, if it lasts that long.

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Ashleigh's Granola Label

Sweet Potato Pie with Creamy Vanilla Swirl, People!

Just as there are dog people and cat people, there are most definitely pie people and cake people.  I’d say most dog people are pie people, and many cat people are cake people, but let’s not get into it, okay?  I am both a dog and pie person, but I think even cat-loving cake people will enjoy this pie.

I whipped this baby up for a family get-together during the Christmas season.  It went over swimmingly, with only an enigmatic trapezoid-shaped slice left at the end.  For the love of my GF aunt, it’s wheat-free and the crust is made of (GF) gingersnaps!  Daintily swirled with vanilla scented cream cheese and permeated with soul-warming spices, this pie offers melt in your mouth comfort but doesn’t weigh you down like that slice of triple chocolate cheesecake you wish you hadn’t had.  Beckoning you with loads of vitamin A and antioxidant-laden spices, this is the kind of pie you may have to have a second slice of.

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I came across the recipe in Eating Well magazine, this year’s holiday issue to be exact, which I promptly plastered with post-it notes because ALL the recipes looked amazing.  Aside from this pie, I also made an awesome quinoa & beet salad they featured in a section on ancient grains (pictured below).  The process is simpler if you have a food processor or blender. If not, I’d reluctantly suggest buying canned sweet potato, or better yet, go to Goodwill and hunt down a secondhand blending appliance!  I ❤ my immersion blender.

I adapted this recipe from Eating Well.  I changed a few things, first switching out traditional store-bought gingersnaps for gluten free ones (Mi-Del brand are awesome; try not to eat them all before you make the pie).  I also substituted European-style yogurt for the called-for vanilla Greek variety, (it’s what I had in the fridge and was an easy way cut out some of the added sugar) and then added a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I made the crust with coconut oil instead of canola and bumped up the spices a couple notches.  The sweet potatoes should be roasted in the oven, but can surely be microwaved in a pinch.

Go on, have your pie, and eat it too!

Sweet Potato Pie with Creamy Vanilla Swirl

Prep: 40 minutes              Cooking & cooling time: 4 ½ hours

Serves: however many slices you cut it into : )

Ingredients:

2 medium-large sweet potatoes

6 ounces crispy, gluten free (Mi-del brand) gingersnap cookies (26-28 small cookies)

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup plain (European-style or Greek) yogurt , divided

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon allspice

1/4  cup (2 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel)

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Method:

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Wrap sweet potatoes in foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast until very tender (test with fork), about an hour. Carefully unwrap and set aside to cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°.

Process gingersnaps in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl, add coconut oil and stir until well combined.

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Using your fingers, spread and pat the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan.

Bake until just barely beginning to darken and your kitchen smells like a gingerbread man’s butthole, about 10 minutes.

Wipe out the food processor workbowl of any lingering gingersnap crumbs.

Peel the sweet potatoes and transfer to the food processor. Puree until smooth, then measure out 1 ½ cups of sweet potato (if you have extra puree, reserve it for another use or eat it, NOW). Return the 1 ½ cups puree to the food processor and add brown sugar, 1/2 cup of the yogurt, eggs, egg yolk, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice; pulse just until combined.

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Pour the sweet potato filling into the (possibly still warm) crust and spread to distribute evenly.

Clean and dry the workbowl.  Add the remaining 1/4 cup yogurt, vanilla extract, Neufchâtel cream cheese, powdered sugar and ginger.  Puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed.

Now, the fun part(!!!)  Plop tablespoonfuls of the cream cheese mixture onto the sweet potato filling, spacing them evenly. Draw the tip of a wooden skewer or a butter knife through the cream cheese mixture and sweet potato filling repeatedly to create a whimsical swirled design.

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Bake the pie until firm to the touch and starting to puff around the edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack, at least 2 hours.  Cracks may occur, don’t cry; you’re about to experience heaven… in pie form.  Now go adopt a Weimaraner and call it a day.

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And here, the lovely ruby-hued quinoa & beet salad:

quinoa beet salad

Butternut Squash Pasta with Goat Cheese and Toasted Sage Pecans

I spend more time than the average person thinking about food, I’m almost certain of it.  Before falling asleep and upon waking, I’m deciding what breakfast is going to be.  At school, at work, while making other food, I’m concocting dinner ideas, sometimes pondering ways to eek out a meal from the few things I’ve got left lying around the fridge when grocery shopping hasn’t happened for a while, other times staring at a lone butternut squash from the CSA box, trying to think of a novel way to use all that remains of our 20-week adventure of eating local produce.

I wanted to honor this beautiful squash, this bright orange beauty that turned dewy and permeated the kitchen with a sweet, musky scent as soon as I sliced it open.  So I invented something, though I’m sure the flavors have met before in other kitchen.  It’s something I’d call comfort food – like macaroni and cheese, but better.  I scribbled the game plan on an index card and got to work.

This is the kind of food we want to fill our bellies with when the weather gets feisty.  It’s pasta that has lots going on (which I love since I get bored easily when eating a lot of the same thing.)  It’s goat-cheese creamy, pecan crunchy, sage earthy, nutmeg spicy and butternut sweet, and a little nutty thanks to the addition of brown butter which in my opinion really put it over the edge of awesome.  To counter the richness of the dish, serve it with an easy mixed green salad and some pear slices.

Butternut squash and goat cheese pasta with toasted sage pecans

Prep: 35 mins   Cooking time:  a hour or so

Serves 4, probably with some leftovers

Roasted squash:

1 butternut squash, halved with seeds scooped out

2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter

1 teaspoon coarse salt

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Pasta

8 oz (1/2 package) whole wheat linguini noodles

1 cup pasta water, reserved

3 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3-4 leaves sage, en chiffonade

½ cup pecans, chopped

¾ cup crumbled goat cheese

freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

Method

Pre-heat oven to 475° F.

Place squash halves skin side down on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Rub squash flesh (inside part) with coconut oil or butter; you want a nice even layer of fat.

Sprinkle squash liberally with coarse salt and grated nutmeg.

Place squash (on baking sheet) into the pre-heated oven and roast until you can easily poke a fork through the thickest part of the squash’s flesh, (but squash is somewhat firm, not mushy) about 30-40 minutes.

Allow squash to cool.

Remove skin from squash. It should peel off pretty easily, but you may need to slice some off with your knife too.

Dice squash into ½ inch cubes and store in fridge until you’re ready to prepare the meal.  (I made my squash in the morning, went about my day, and then prepared this dish that evening for dinner.)

Boil a large pot of salted water for pasta.

Once water is boiling, add half a package (8 oz) whole wheat linguini noodles.

While pasta cooks melt 3 tablespoons butter in a skillet over low heat.  Continue to cook butter very slowly until it takes on a nutty, almost sweet smell.

Add the garlic and onion to browned butter and turn up heat slightly to sauté the alliums for about 5 minutes under tender and slightly brown.

Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to skillet, allowing spices to toast for a minute.

Add sage and pecans, and a drizzle of olive oil if things are getting dry.  Stir and cook for about 3 minutes, until sage is wilted and nuts are toasted and shiny.

When pasta is al dente, remove from heat and drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water.

Return pasta to pot and add cubed squash, goat cheese and half the pasta water.  Turn on heat to medium low and stir to combine.

Add the pecan and sage mixture from skillet into pasta pot, making sure to get all the butter and browned bits using a spatula.  Add remaining pasta water as needed and stir to combine.

Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Top each serving with a few whole pecans and a bit of goat cheese.   Enjoy!