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Butternut Squash and Sage Galette with Cornmeal Crust by Kelsey Vlamis

I realize that butternut squash and sage isn't exactly a ground-breaking combination, but the flavors complement each other so well that I couldn't resist throwing them in this cornmeal crust. I only recently started making galettes, and honestly, I'm not sure why it took me so long. Or why no one ever told me how easy it was? I honestly want to scream it to anyone who will listen. GALETTES ARE EASY AND VERSATILE AND DELICIOUS SO JUST MAKE ONE NOW. But first, let's talk about squash.

Squash is one of the easiest foods to buy local and in-season.

A couple weekends ago, we went to the farmers market and bought about 12 squash of differing varieties: butternut, acorn, squash that look like pumpkin, squash that are cute in an ugly sort of way. We keep them stored in a cool, dry place (behind the couch in the corner of our living room), and expect them to last us until the spring.

This is the original beauty of winter squash: that they can be harvested in the fall and used to feed us throughout a long winter. Though the necessity of such foods is less prevalent now that we can just pop over to the grocery store whenever we want, buying squash locally when it is in season and using it throughout the winter is an extremely feasible sustainable food choice.

While this butternut squash and sage galette is not the healthiest one you can make to use your up your local squash, it's delicious, simple yet impressive, and made entirely of very real food. Basically, as far as indulging goes, this is about as good as it gets. Finally, this galette would make a great side dish or appetizer (especially for Thanksgiving day!), but could also pass as dinner between three people, if served with a side salad.


Butternut Squash and Sage Galette with Corn Meal Crust
makes about 6 slices of galette

ingredients
for the crust
3/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup flour (I used all-purpose, feel free to sub gluten-free or whole-wheat)
salt + pepper
10 tbsp butter, chilled, chopped into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup of water, plus more if needed
1 egg, mixed well for egg wash

for the filling
1 tbsp butter
2 1/2 cups squash, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (about 1 medium butternut squash)
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2-2 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
1/8 cup goat cheese

toppings (optional)
3-4 tbsp butter
8-10 fresh sage leaves

suggestions
for the crust
Prepare crust 1-24 hours before baking. Combine cornmeal, flour, and salt and pepper in a large bowl until incorporated. Add cubes of chilled butter to bowl with dry ingredients. "Cut" the butter into the mixture, using a pastry cutter, fork, food processor, or your hands. If it is taking too long, or the butter begins to warm, pop it back in the fridge for ten minutes before proceeding.*

Once the butter has been cut into small pieces (about the size of beans), and is spread throughout the mixture, add 1/4 cup of water and stir to combine. If mixture is too loose, and more water 1 tbsp at a time, until it coheres. Once mixture is cohesive, transfer to a floured surface, form dough into ball, and knead 2-3 times. Form dough into a thick flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and set in the fridge to rest at least 1 hour.

for the filling
Warm butter (or cooking fat of your choice) on a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and caramelize, stirring occasionally, until browned and crispy in some places, about 12-15 minutes. Add butternut squash and sage to skillet and stir well. Cook until squash is tender. Once everything is soft and slightly browned, add salt and pepper to taste, then remove from heat.

assemble
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove chilled crust from fridge and transfer to a well-floured work surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the crust out into a large, rough circle about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer dough to parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread or crumble goat cheese onto the crust, leaving about 2 inches from the edge. Scoop the squash and onion mixture onto the goat cheese. One side at the time, fold the ends of the crust back over the top of the filling, creating as many edges as you want (I did five). Brush the surface of the crust with the egg wash, and transfer to oven for 40-45 minutes or until crust is browned all over.

optional toppings
While galette bakes, add butter to a small pan over medium heat. Once butter is shimmering and begins to bubble, add fresh sage leaves, allowing to fry for about 3o seconds on each side, before removing and transferring to paper towel. Allow the butter in the pan to cook, stirring often, until it is distinctly brown with a nutty fragrance. Immediately remove from heat and transfer to small bowl. When galette is finished, drizzle it with browned butter and top with the crispy sage leaves.

notes *The crust needs to maintain a colder temperature in order to prevent the butter from melting. The in-tact pieces of butter are key to creating a flakey crust. At any point in time when working with the crust, if you feel it has been out too long or has cooled down too much (even once you've started adding the filling), feel free to pop it into the fridge for 10 minutes before proceeding.

Smashed Potatoes Benedict with Roasted Tomatoes & Sour Cream Pesto by Kelsey Vlamis

Ah, the potato. America's most-eaten vegetable (albeit usually in the form of french fries or chips), the fuel of the Irish, and a source of much controversy (will it make me fat or won't it??).

I grew up under the impression that potatoes were "unhealthy". Well, if not unhealthy, then at the very least a "waste of calories". There's no nutritional benefit to eating potatoes, they said. The sweet potato has a lot more going for it, they said. Go for more complex carbs, they said.

As I've grown up--and as the base of human knowledge has evolved--my fear and distaste for potatoes has subsided. While not something I eat regularly, I and many others acknowledge that the potato can very well be part of a healthy diet. While it is true that there are more complex carbs you can seek out, potatoes themselves are in actuality pretty harmless--not to mention an insanely powerful food source.

POTATOES: A SAVIOR & A VILLAIN

While working on a dairy goat farm in rural Alaska this year, I discovered a newfound appreciation for potatoes. I would spend the day mounding the potatoes of this year's harvest, and the evening enjoying the potatoes of last year's--potatoes that had been harvested last fall, and yet were still perfectly nourishing more than 6 months later.

I realize that in the age of industrial processing, wax-coated apples, and, well, refrigeration, this seems a tad short of impressive. But make no mistake, the Potato's ability to keep for that long without much aid (they were kept in an underground potato cellar) explains why it became a staple in so many people's diets. Growing potatoes provides the unique opportunity to enjoy the bounty of your personal harvest all year long--without refrigeration, pickling, or modern processing.

So, here's to celebrating the potato, a vegetable that has served as both crucial sustenance during a long winter, and the salty-processed deliciousness that is partly responsible for America's obesity problem. If that isn't an interesting vegetable, then I don't know what is.

SMASHED POTATOES BENEDICT

I've concluded that smashed potatoes are probably the best kind of potatoes. They are everything I want from a potato and more. Soft and starchy on the inside, brown and crispy on the outside, and slightly flattened so that every bite has a little bit of both. Am I the only one who doesn't like to eat the mushy center of a potato all by itself?

When I thought about the texture and shape, making a smashed potatoes benedict seemed obvious. Because potatoes are a rather dense food, I knew I wanted to keep the other components of the benedict relatively light, hence the roasted tomatoes instead of meat and the pesto instead of hollandaise. The idea to make a sour cream pesto came from two simple truths. First, sour cream + potatoes = bomb. Second, I had sour cream in the fridge.

I suppose what I ended up with isn't really a benedict at all, other than being somewhat similar structurally. None the less, a smashed potatoes benedict is delicious, healthy, and simple, and will impress people all the same. Plus, this recipe would be very easy to make for a group: I know millenials love their brunches.

SMASHED POTATOES BENEDICT
with roasted tomatoes and sour cream pesto.

Ingredients
6 small potatoes
6 poached eggs*
2-3 large tomatoes
olive oil for greasing
salt and pepper

for sour cream pesto
1 heaping cup fresh basil
scant 1/4 cup pine nuts (or other nuts, I used almonds because I had them)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sour cream
1-2 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Grease two baking sheets with olive oil.
3. Pierce potatoes with a fork, then microwave them for about 6 minutes, flipping occasionally, until soft.**
4. Slice tomatoes in 1/2 inch slices. Place onto baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5. When potatoes are soft, place them onto a flat surface, cover with paper towel or dish towel, and using the heel of your hand, individually smash the potatoes down slowly, into ~1/2-inch thick disks. Try to keep them together, but do not worry if you lose some pieces.
6. Using a spatula, place potatoes on the second baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and rub it in to make sure potatoes are covered. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
7. Move both baking sheets to the oven. Tomatoes are ready when they've begun to char, ~25-30 min. Potatoes are ready when they are visibly darker and crispy around the edges, ~35-40 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, make pesto: add ingredients to food processor. Pulse until desired consistency. Ideally, it will be a chunky spread-type texture.
9. Shortly before the potatoes are done, poach your eggs.*
10. Remove potatoes from oven, and plate ingredients as follows: smashed potatoes, spread of pesto, roasted tomatoes, poached egg, more pesto.

*This is my preferred method for poaching eggs. I <3 Alton Brown.
**You can definitely boil your potatoes instead. It was Sunday morning and I was hungry, hence a la microwave.

Dreaming of Jamaica | Sourdough & Garlic Sauce by Kelsey Vlamis

On the north coast of the island of Jamaica, 1.5 hours from the hustle and bustle of Kingston, 3 hours east from the resort relaxation of Ochorios, and just a few miles up the road from Robins Bay town and into "the bush", sits Yerba Buena Farm. And on Yerba Buena Farm, bananas, mangoes, and sugar cane thrives. Chickens, goats, kittens wander. And a family lives.

I had the privilege of staying with Kwao (kuh-wow) and Agape (ah-gah-pay) at their small farm where they keep bees and raise their six boys (and do plenty of other things). All of the boys resemble their father, whose long, lean, dark frame is topped by his wild dreads--with the exception that 4 of the boys' dreads are blonde and none of them can grow a beard. Agape, looks similar, but has longer, thicker dreadlocks that graze her lower back.

Atop a hill sits the kitchen, a mostly wooden structure, relatively open to the elements, where racks of bananas and plantains hang from the ceiling. Buckets of fresh Jamaican all spice (a key ingredient of 'jerk') rest along the wall. Kittens and lizards come and go as they please. And in the middle of the day, the entire family gathers to escape the Jamaican heat, during which time you can hear any of the boys (Kwao included), pining for a refreshment: "Agapeeeee, watahmelonnnnn."

When you exit the kitchen and follow the stone path downhill towards the ocean, the farm surrounds you. The compost pile and sugar cane on your left. A massive mango tree and a built-by-hand brick oven on your right. You pass two bungalow-type structures that serve as bedrooms, until you reach the largest one at the end that the whole family stays in.

We stayed in one of these rooms, towards the bottom of the hill, right on the coast. Days were slow, salty and sweaty. Spent wrestling with 7-year-old Enoch. Learning to make sea salt from 13-year-old Melchizedek. Trying to understand 4-year-old Kofi's mix of English and Jamaican Patois. Visiting the market with Kwao and 15-year-old Emmanuel.

But often, days were spent talking with Agape. About her life, and Kwao's, and theirs. About Jamaican culture, about their farm, and of course food. They are Rastafarians, which--contrary to popular stereotypes--is not very common in Jamaica. It's why their whole family has dreadlocks--also not very common in Jamaica--and why they eat entirely vegan.

Agape cooks exclusively over fire--either on a metal stove made of rebar, or the brick oven Kwao built. They eat what grows on their farm, what they can get from the market in Kingston, and a lot of oil. Upon finishing the last of a bowl of sautéed green bananas, in which I admittedly left more than a tablespoon of oil at the bottom, Agape said:

You know, Kelsey, the real Jamaican way to eat that would be to mash up your bananas so you could sop up all this oil--for the calories.

Though she smiled as she said it, my mind filled with the talk of low-calorie foods and calorie-counting diets, and I couldn't help but feel a bit silly wondering how we in the United States (as well as other developed nations) had gotten ourselves into such a strange predicament.

At Yerba Buena, when we weren't passing around guinep from the market or sucking on sugarcane pulled straight from the ground, we were eating a variety of vegetables, fruits and grains. We ate starches like plantains, breadfruit, or cassava, and rounded out meals with grains like rice, lentils, or Agape's insanely delicious homemade sourdough.

In the style of traditional sourdough, she mixes flour and water and let's it sit out in the heat, kickstarting a fermentation process that results in a unique, thriving colony of bacteria and yeast--essentially, an active sourdough starter. After she prepares her dough and lets it rise, she places it into her cast iron skillet, and puts the whole thing right into the fire of her brick oven.

Agape actually was raised in San Fransisco. Her and Kwao have both lived in the United States and Jamaica, and have gained a valuable and unique perspective because of it. Alongside her nourishing sourdough, Agape often served a sauce made by blending garlic and oil, which somehow results in a creamy, white and extremely potent garlic sauce. This, she learned from her Greek grandmother.

This is the world we live in today--so connected to each other that two Americans, one of Lebanese descent and the other Norwegian descent, can sit in a kitchen in the Caribbean and share a meal with Jamaicans that includes tropical fruits and vegetables, a bread preparation that likely originated in the Middle East thousands of years ago, and a dish from Greece.

Cuisine fusions are not so much a category of restaurant as they are the natural and unavoidable result of our interconnectedness and our ability to travel places--and get ingredients--that were historically inaccessible.

Last week, I found myself longing for Jamaica, and Yerba Buena, and the boys, and Kwao and Agape, and really Agape's meals. And so we decided to recreate this one dish to get a taste of our Jamaica--which ironically, is actually a taste from Greece. We made a dense loaf of sourdough that included sprouted lentils, rice, and wheat in our cast iron skillet, and paired it with a blended sauce of yogurt, olive oil, and plenty of garlic. We opted for yogurt instead of using just oil because we're lucky enough to not have to eat strictly for calories.

Despite the apparent differences in lifestyle between Yerba Buena and my hometown in Illinois, there are unavoidable similarities as well. As I watched and interacted with the boys, I was reminded of my own little cousins, and I was struck by how similar they really were to each other. How they are motivated and entertained by the same things. How they try to play with and engage me in the same ways.  How I could use the same exact tactics to dodge getting dragged into something if need be.

And even beyond the kids--when it's dinner time and Agape calls out to everyone, and they trickle in one by one to gather in the cozy kitchen and eagerly fill their bowls... how different is it really than my own home, my own mother, calling out to my own family when dinner is ready and waiting to be served? Though I am not the first to notice it, there is comfort in that fact. That maybe the one thing that is really shared across most cultural divides is the creation, anticipation and nourishment of a meal--and perhaps most of all, the enjoyment that comes from sharing it with others.


CREAMY GARLIC SAUCE
For dipping, spreading, or drizzling.

Ingredients
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic
pinch of sea salt

Instructions
1. Add ingredients to blender.
2. Blend until creamy and garlic is totally incorporated.
3. Enjoy however you please - I recommend as a dip with hearty sourdough.

Note: This will have a strong raw garlic flavor! If this is off putting to you--or you're worried about your breath--try using less garlic, or roasting it first.

The Ultimate Salad Cheat Sheet by Kelsey Vlamis

Kale & arugula drizzled with olive oil & balsamic, topped with pumpkin, sunflower, & hemp seeds, bell pepper, carrot, radish, pickled beets, and avocado.
Kale & arugula drizzled with olive oil & balsamic, topped with pumpkin, sunflower, & hemp seeds, bell pepper, carrot, radish, pickled beets, and avocado.
But, I can't eat salads every day! It would be so... boring.

I think it's safe to assume that at one point or another, most people have been able to relate to this sentiment (myself included)--or would be able to, should someone propose such an atrocious idea to them. However, since learning to redefine what "salad" actually means, that statement couldn't be further from the truth for me. I do eat salads for lunch, just about every day--and let me tell you, each one is significantly (okay I'll admit it, sometimes not-so-significantly) different than the last. The goal of my Ultimate Salad Cheat Sheet is to help you do the same.

So what makes something a "salad"? Let's look to Merriam Webster:

saladnounsal·ad\ˈsa-ləd : a mixture of raw green vegetables (such as different types of lettuce) usually combined with other raw vegetables : a mixture of small pieces of raw or cooked food (such as pasta, meat, fruit, eggs, or vegetables) combined usually with a dressing and served cold

And then, my personal favorite:

:  a usually incongruous mixture

Though the two initial definitions work just fine, the third is perhaps the most creativity-inducing definition to go by. The possibilities of what makes up a salad therein being... endless! So, how could this level of potential variability illicit such notions as "boring" or "monotonous"?

I contend that these feelings are merely a result of being conditioned (probably due to what was served on the too-rare cafeteria salad bar all those years in public school) to think of salad and picture crunchy, wet, flavorless lettuce and blah veggie toppings with ranch or Italian dressing...a thought that simultaneously evokes both comfort and disgust for me. Comfort because well, have I not been served this salad my entire life? And disgust because, when this is what salad meant to me, I thought I hated salad. Alas, I've come to define salad in new terms and I want to inspire you to do the same. So when I tell people I eat salad every day, they can stop looking at me like I don't enjoy every second of it.

Kale, quinoa, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, pickled beets, pumpkin & hemp seeds, drizzled with a blend of tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. Uffda.
Kale, quinoa, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, pickled beets, pumpkin & hemp seeds, drizzled with a blend of tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. Uffda.

THE ULTIMATE SALAD CHEAT SHEET

The key to loving and eating salads frequently is to stock your kitchen with anything and everything you might need. I've concluded that there are five general categories of salad ingredients, though they can be mixed and matched and combined in absolutely any way you choose. They are:

  1. Greens
  2. Veggies
  3. The "Meat"
  4. Toppings
  5. Dressing

Greens, of course, can be any (or no) greens--the more unique, the better.

As for the Veggies, either fresh from the grocery store or leftover in the fridge from last night's dinner. Try washing and chopping a variety of vegetables Sunday night and storing them in the fridge, ready to be added to any salad at a moment's notice.

The "Meat" refers to the bulk of the salad, or the ingredient that is most likely to leave you filling full and nourished--this does not necessarily mean meat, but could also be fish, avocado, sweet potato, etc. If you are a meat/fish/egg person, try cooking something at the start of the week (chicken, salmon, hard-boiled eggs, etc.) and keeping it in the fridge to add to salads as you wish.

The Toppings, can quite literally be anything sprinkled atop or stirred into your gorgeous heap of produce. My personal favorite? Goat cheese--you wouldn't believe the creaminess it adds, I'll tell ya.

And finally, the Dressing, or the primary flavor vehicle in your salad, which can include a variety of oils, vinegars, spices, or any liquid/sauce of your choosing.

Keeping this in mind, I created the simple salad cheat sheet below that includes example salad ingredients that you can start stocking in your kitchen right now--just print it out and pin it on your fridge for inspiration, and check it before you head to the grocery store. Of course, the salad cheat sheet is not exhaustive; rather, it's merely meant to inspire you to begin to imagine all the possibilities that should come to mind when you hear the word "salad". Not to mention, what better time to take your first steps down the road of salad-enlightenment then at the start of the New Year?

What's your view on salads? Any ideas/tricks/tips to share on how you work salads into your own life?

Tempeh Fajitas with Red Chard Wraps by Kelsey Vlamis

Tofu, Tofurkey, tempeh, seitan, Beyond Meat meats... it's very apparent, there are a lot of "meat substitutes" out there. Some of which (tofu, tempeh, seitan) existed long before making their way into the trendy restaurants and vegetarian households of the West.

Truthfully, I am not a big fan of most mock meats, especially ones consumed in the West. Though I won't go into too much detail (I'll save that for another day), in cultures where these meat substitutes have been a staple for hundreds of years, they tend to be prepared much differently--usually by fermenting soy--than how we process the same products here in the states. The debate is ongoing, but many believe these differences in preparation make all the difference in whether or not soy is healthy.

As for the more recently created mock meats, like Tofurkey and Beyond Meat, their ingredient list doesn't quite meet my own personal standards for "real food". Though I can recognize the potential benefits of these products, I personally choose not to consume them--again, a conversation for another day.

But today: Tempeh. Tempeh is made from naturally fermenting whole, cooked soybeans. It originated in Indonesia, where it has been consumed for hundreds of years; and perhaps most importantly, has been fermented for hundreds of years. Thankfully, traditionally fermented tempeh is easily available here in the U.S. as well, hence my preference for tempeh over other soy-based products. The other good news is, tempeh is actually delicious. Really, I mean it. Take it from this meat-eater, tempeh can have a place in your kitchen, not necessarily as a satisfying substitute to prime rib, but as a unique and tasty food product that can hold it's own. And if you're one of those people who try to avoid certain meat products due to the environmental impacts, such as myself, then yes--it could be considered a more environmentally friendly alternative.

As with most meals I make, these tempeh fajitas were pretty simple. Although tempeh has a nice, earthy flavor all on its own (what does "earthy flavor" even mean anyways??), it took on the flavor of the marinade wonderfully. I went with a classic Mexican taste, with lime juice and jalepeno being the key players.

The kicker--I ditched the usual tortilla for a big, beautiful leaf of red chard. I loved the color addition, but more importantly red chard is awesomely and surprisingly flexible (and let's be honest, it's a lot more appealing health-wise than the atypical enriched bleached white flour tortilla). I encourage you to try it, even if the tortilla is usually your favorite part. I find that as long as what's inside the tortilla packs a flavor punch, I don't usually miss the soft texture and light sweetness that a tortilla provides.

So, if you've never tried tempeh, these tempeh fajitas are a very simple way to step out of your comfort zone! And if you have, hopefully you've been inspired to try it with a new twist. Enjoy!


TEMPEH FAJITAS WITH RED CHARD WRAPS

Ingredients
1 package of tempeh
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 white onion
2 spoonfuls of coconut oil (or another oil/butter)
1 large leaf of red chard
1 avocado
1 scoop of your favorite salsa

For the marinade
1/2 lime, freshly squeezed
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 jalepeno, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper

Instructions
1. Combine all the marinade ingredients in a small container and set aside. Mix well.
2. Slice the tempeh into 1/2-inch thick strips and place into a bowl, lying as flat as possible.
3. Pour the marinade over the tempeh, being sure to coat every piece. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, turning the tempeh over half way in.
4. While tempeh is marinating, begin work on vegetables. Slice the red bell pepper into long, thin strips.
5. Chop the onion into flat, square-like pieces.
6. Heat 1 spoonful of coconut oil on a skillet over medium-low heat for about a minute.
7. Add the peppers and onions, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and begin to brown. About 7 minutes.
8. Remove the tempeh from the fridge. Push vegetables to one side of the skillet. Add 1 spoonful of coconut oil to the clear area of the skillet. Let heat for 1 minute.
9. Place the tempeh flat onto the clear area of the skillet. Pour remaining marinade over the tempeh.
10. Let tempeh brown for about 8 minutes. Flip each piece to let the other side brown for about 8 minutes as well.
11. Once tempeh has browned, incorporate the vegetables with the tempeh. Let sit on low heat for a few more minutes.
12. Cut the hard lower stem off the red chard leaf and place the leaf veins up.
13. Add the tempeh fajitas mixture to the top of the red chard.
14. Serve with fresh avocado and your favorite salsa.
15. Wrap the leaf around the goods, and eat up your tempeh fajitas!!