Author Archives: Lesley

Oh, geez, it's been so long since I've written a blog post, that I now have a ton of stuff in the queue to write about. Twitter and Instagram make it so much easier to share things that I love quickly, but sometimes, I need a little more room to fit all my praises.

bfreebagelFirst up, let me tell you about BFree gluten-free breads. I'm not GF, but I am always interested in breads that have more nutrition and fiber than conventional wheat-based breads. BFree breads do not contain wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts or soy (all the major allergens) and are all vegan. But they do contain other ingredients like pea and buckwheat flours, flaxseeds, and other nutritious and fiber-filled elements. The BFree product line is huge, so there is a little something for everyone, regardless if you're gluten-free or just want breads with a higher dietary fiber level, more protein, or lower glycemic index.

When I expressed some interest (after hearing that they're now carried at Publix), the folks at BFree generously shipped me a box full of products, so I got to try everything! Because there are white and "brown" versions of just about all their products, there are some taste and texture variations. The white breads are definitely better suited for folks who miss traditional white breads. They're all delicious, but not quite as nutritious as the seeded and brown products. It's also worth noting that you need to keep them refrigerated because they are free of synthetic preservatives, so they can mold quickly in a humid kitchen. My favorites are the pita (virtually indistinguishable from wheat pita), bagels (far better than other GF bagels I've tried and very similar to other grocery brands as far as taste and texture), and the rolls (heartier than most dinner rolls, so they're more satisfying and filling). Find out where you can purchase them with their store locator.

Nocciolata-Dairy-FreeNext up is Nocciolata Dairy-Free, an organic hazelnut and cocoa spread. There's a milk version of it, too, but I tried the vegan version. I loved it. Though I must admit that I ate the entire jar (not at once!) with just a spoon. I didn't make anything with it. It was just really satisfying to eat it that way. It's perfectly sweet (not too sweet), so I didn't get a headache from eating it (or a sugar rush); it was just pure hazelnut and cocoa flavor. Insanely delicious. Perfect texture.

I also recently tried Califia Farms Toasted Coconut Almond Milk. I really hadn't intended to, but my local store was out of my favorite So Delicious Coconut Milk. I have to say, I'm really impressed. I don't know that I'd love the other almond milks they produce (almond milks are a little too...earthy may be the word...for my taste), but I really loved the toasted coconut version. I like it straight, but I also love it mixed with my tea.

IMG_4450Lastly, I'm all about Nasoya tofu these days. If you're sensing a theme, you guessed it: these are all vegan products. I've gotten less tolerant for dairy recently (cheese and yogurt are fine, but I've been off dairy milk for 15 years and recently phased out dairy-based ice cream). Nasoya's silken tofu is great in a smoothie that really works as a meal replacement since it's packed with protein. It needs some strong fruit flavors (like frozen strawberries) to cover up the soy taste, though. I mix it with coconut milk, too. And I still LOVE the sesame ginger baked tofu. Recently, I made a dinner of steamed broccoli with zucchini and carrot noodles, tossed with Soy Vay toasted sesame dressing and topped with the sesame ginger tofu (cut into cubes) and sprinkled with Eden Foods seaweed gomasio. Truly fantastic dinner.

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Yikes! It's been a long time since my last post! It's just not as easy to get a decent photograph of food any more. I know that's not the most important thing, but the lighting in my kitchen is just so bad. The first floor of my house is more a basement than anything, so good lighting is a challenge. 
common violet

Anyway, violet jelly? Yes, violets! The common violet that many people consider a weed on their lawn. Since I don't have enough sunlight on my shady property to grow much, I'm now foraging--ha! Violet jelly is a rather old-fashioned recipe since it does use foraged plants, but one that should really make a comeback. All of the flowers in the viola family are edible (including pansies) as long as they haven't been treated or sprayed with chemicals. My yard is a weedy wonderland, so all the violets are safe to consume. This past weekend, my daughter and I collected a bowl full of violet blooms to make this jelly. It takes hundreds to do so. The best way to harvest them is to pinch at the base of the bloom because you don't want any greenery (stems or flowers) in your mix. Then, you just wash them, soak them, and make the jelly. It's really simple!

And the result is fantastic. First, the jelly is a beautiful dark purple that you can see right through. Filtering your lemon juice (or using bottled lemon juice) makes it even clearer. The taste is sweet and just a bit tart. It is really delicious and would be great on toast, but particularly accompanying some brie or a thin schmear of goat cheese on a piece of baguette.

violet jelly

Violet Jelly
yield: four or five 8 ounce jars

2 heaping cups freshly-picked wild violet blooms (fully opened)
2 1/2 cups water
the juice of one lemon (or 1/4 cup lemon juice), strained
4 cups sugar
1 package of pectin (I used Certo liquid pectin; use powdered pectin as directed)

Rinse the flowers and place in a large glass bowl. Boil the water and pour it over the flowers and steep for 8 to 24 hours. Strain the flowers and pour the infused liquid into a large sauce pan (strain through a jelly bag or fine cheesecloth if you want to strain out the finest debris or dirt for a super clear jelly). Stir in the lemon juice and pectin and bring to a rolling boil. Stir in the sugar and return to a hard boil, stirring constantly. Boil for about a minute more. Turn off and remove from heat and skim off the foam. Ladle the hot liquid into prepared (sterilized) canning jars leaving a 1/4 to 1/2 inch at the top. Run a skewer around the edges to let out air bubbles (which are not likely), wipe around the rims (and just inside), and seal. Process in a boiling hot water bath for 5 minutes. (If you have not canned before, follow these canning instructions.)

A few notes:

I tried to reduce the sugar to 2 cups and I don't advise it. Tasted great, but did not jell well. Sugar is also a preservative, so it's necessary for long-term storage.

Don't boil for too long as that will also affect your jelling. Overboiling can break down pectin. Use the jelly test to determine if your mixture is ready to be canned. And be sure to use fresh pectin. Old pectin (more than a year old) will not jell. You can use a jelly test to see if it's ready, but you should be able to tell from a skim of jelly and foam that forms.

Overboiling applies to the hot water bath, too. If you are at 1000 ft altitude or lower, five minutes is plenty.

The foam you skim is still edible and delicious, just  not pretty. Set it aside and eat it later.

Here's another good primer if you've  never made and canned jelly before.

 

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I've been thinking about stuffing a pumpkin for a while. Specifically, I was looking for a recipe where I could just cram some uncooked wild rice or quinoa in a pumpkin and have a meal after a couple of hours. I didn't find that, but I did find a simple recipe that's extremely customizable that was originally from Dorie Greenspan. It's a perfect vegetarian main dish or side dish for fall or Thanksgiving dinners. It's really easy, too. The short version is: get a pumpkin, remove the guts, stuff it with cheese and bread, and cook it for two hours. But the longer version may be a bit more helpful.

And please excuse my photos. I snapped these as I was cooking and serving, not sure how it would turn out and not up for a photo sesh. But they give you a good idea of sizing and doneness. I placed my pumpkin in a 7 qt Dutch oven.

All done! I forgot to remove the lid to brown the stuffing and it still tasted great.
All done! I forgot to remove the lid to brown the stuffing and it still tasted great.

Vegetarian Stuffed Pumpkin
serves 4-6
adapted from a recipe by Dorie Greenspan via PBS

  • 1 medium "pie" or "sugar" pumpkin, about 3 pounds (about the size of a basketball)
  • Smoked salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups stale or refrigerated bread cubes (½-inch)
  • 8 - 12 ounces cheese, such as Gouda, Havarti, Gruyère, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into ½-inch chunks
  • 2–4 chopped garlic cloves (to taste) or 1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • About ¼ cup snipped fresh chives OR
  • 1 tablespoon of Wash Park seasoning blend from Savory Spice Shop
  • About ⅓ cup heavy cream or milk

Place the oven rack on the lower middle or lower setting and pre-heat the oven to 350F.

Scrub the outside of the pumpkin to clean. Then cut a hole in the top large enough to clean out and stuff the pumpkin, making sure to cut at a 45 degree angle so that the resulting lid will rest on top (like a jack-o-lantern). Scoop out the seeds and strings and remove them from the lid as well. Discard or keep the seeds for roasting later. Sprinkle salt and pepper inside the pumpkin (and around the edges) to taste.

Combine the bread, cheese, garlic, and seasoning in a large bowl and toss together to mix. Place the stuffing in the pumpkin and pour the cream or milk on top to moisten.

Pumpkin ready for roasting. Note how the top was cut at an angle to keep the lid secure.
Pumpkin ready for roasting. Note how the top was cut at an angle to keep the lid secure.

Place the lid on top and put the pumpkin in a large oven-proof casserole or Dutch oven or on a large baking sheet (contents may bubble over or pumpkin may lose shape). Cook for two hours or until the stuffing is bubbling (check after 90 minutes for doneness). Remove the lid for the last 15 minutes or so to brown the stuffing, if desired. The pumpkin is ready when the skin can be easily pierced with a fork.

To serve, scoop contents and cut portions of the side of the pumpkin.

Notes: I used Gouda and Havarti, which tasted great. A Gruyère or Emmenthal would have made a creamier filling, though (think fondue). For a heartier meal, reduce the salt and seasoning and add veggie sausage. I served mine topped with arugula and with a side of rice pilaf (with golden raisins and walnuts).