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.

Meal Prep Idea: Healthy Egg Salad With Purple Cabbage and Pumpkin Seeds by Kelsey Vlamis

I've decided to start a category for posts that specifically include "meal prep" ideas, mostly because I've had some friends ask for suggestions on how to eat healthy. I realize that when many people hear "meal prep" they picture body builders and personal trainers steaming 10 pounds of broccoli, boiling 15 sweet potatoes, and grilling 20 chicken breasts all at once, to be consumed in perfect portions throughout the week and in between their daily sweat-inducing workouts. For us mere mortals, the idea of consuming the same and relatively plain foods day after day, meal after meal is simply unattainable--perfect body potential be damned. I'm here to tell you that meal prep doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to eat blah chicken or soggy broccoli to prep easy, healthy meals for a week at a time. I promise there is a better way.

I spend a few hours, typically on Sundays, prepping food to be eaten throughout the week. Yes, a few hours--usually between two and three, depending on what I'm making--which seems like a small price to pay for not having to cook the rest of the week and yet still having bomb combinations of healthy food to eat for every meal. It's also not very active cooking, so I can usually get work done at the same time.

My meal prep typically consists of 5-6 different preparations of grains, proteins, fats, and carbs. Usually some combination of roasted vegetables. A raw vegetable salad. A grain and/or legume of my choice, sometimes in flatbread form. A couple different protein dishes. Sweet potatoes. Etc. It changes week to week depending on my mood and what's in season. Better yet, the different combinations I can make with all of the things I prep means different meals throughout the week--you just have to be a little creative.

Take this egg salad for instance. This time I put it on homemade sourdough with crisp raw kale. Sometimes I dip crackers in it (side note: I am convinced there is no better store-bought cracker than Mary's Gone Crackers; the ingredients cannot be beat). Sometimes I spread it on homemade dosas. Sometimes I mix it in with grains and vegetables. Sometimes I put on a bed of greens. I think you're getting the picture...

The point is, here is one awesome, easy thing you can make in advance and eat throughout the week as you please. Simplicity, flavor, and healthiness all included.


Healthy Egg Salad With Purple Cabbage and Pumpkin Seeds
makes about 5-6 servings

ingredients
8 eggs
1/4 cup plain yogurt (any type you prefer, I use full fat)
1/8 cup Dijon mustard
4-5 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 of one medium onion)
1/2 cup purple cabbage (about 1/4 medium purple cabbage)
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
salt and pepper

suggestions
Hard boil the eggs using your preferred method. In the meantime, chop your onion, cabbage, and garlic, and prepare other ingredients. When eggs are cooked, cooled, and peeled, chop them into roughly 1/2 inch pieces. Transfer eggs to bowl and add yogurt, mustard, dill, and garlic. Mix well. Once incorporated, add onion, purple cabbage, pumpkin seeds and salt and pepper to taste.

notes
This egg salad is so easy to make that I hardly think it requires a recipe. I included measurements for those who really think they need it, but I implore to you to scoop the ingredients on freehand and taste as you go--I make this egg salad a little differently every time, and I like it that way.

-Kelsey

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.

Farm-to-Fork | Pig-to-Plate by Kelsey Vlamis

Inspiration: Video, Of Land and Sea | Patience and Preservation from Terasu.

Farm-to-fork -- the ever trendy, catch-all term for food that was cultivated by hand on a homey little farm, and transported directly to your plate for happy, guilt-free consumption. Don't get me wrong--I love a good farm-to-fork restaurant as much as the next hip 20-something. But let's be honest here: what do you picture when you hear farm-to-fork?

Admittedly, I picture manageably-sized rows of fresh greens, of carrots, of tomatoes, of peppers. I picture a wise, able man in a worn-in flannel kneeling next to his bounty as he scoops purple heirloom potatoes out of the cold, promising soil. I picture a brown woven basket filled to the brim with Mother Nature's gifts, ready for transport from the farm straight to a white, bright, minimalistic kitchen to be quaintly prepared by a true artisan, ethical chef, and served to me within the walls of an earthy-toned, uber-trendy, self-aware restaurant.

Farm-to-fork experience at O'o Farms || Maui's upcountry || January 2016

Farm-to-fork experience at O'o Farms || Maui's upcountry || January 2016

That sounds great and all, but unless you are a vegetarian or vegan (which most estimates say make up 5% or less of Americans), you're not thinking about the same process that had to occur to put that 100% grass fed beef, or organic, free range chicken on your plate right beside those farm-fresh vegetables. To ignore this aspect of the farm-to-fork experience, doesn't do justice to the farm or the fork.

This video from Terasu beautifully shows the process by which Brandon D'Imperio converts pigs to prosciutto at his Washington ranch--a true farm-to-fork, or pig-to-plate, experience. The video does not shy away from the harsh reality that the pig must be killed, nor does it vilify it, but rather, it invites the viewer to confront that reality. The reality that even if the pork on your plate was ethically raised, make no mistake, life was lost.

In most cases, it seems we either condemn the killing of animals for food, or we choose to ignore it. Many people are horrified at the thought of killing an animal, and yet they eat meat on a daily basis. Herein lies the tragedy. We are so far removed from our food that, somehow, we are able to eat meat and not once consider the life that was lost in order to bring it to us. In this blindness, the relationship between man and animal is forgotten.

Watching the video was a bittersweet experience for me--as meat consumption probably should be. Though I don't think eating meat is unethical, it is still a sad thought that a breathing, sentient being is slain on my behalf. Sad, but surely beautiful. In the video, Brandon tells how his relationship with food has evolved:

In the beginning for me, food was more about flavor and nourishment, but through the times and experiences I’ve had it’s grown into being more about relationships, love, and patience.

Because he understands everything that goes into putting a piece of prosciutto on his plate--caring for the pig, killing the pig, cleaning the meat, salting, waiting, the patience, the care--he is able to fully appreciate it. He's able to appreciate the relationship between man and animal, the love and care that can go into food preparation, and the animal itself. After all, when all "pork" is to you is a tasty piece of meat that has magically been prepared and served to you neatly on a plate, can you really appreciate the animal from which it came?

In some sense, life on earth exists in clear, decipherable ways. Plants rely on microorganisms to grow, plants convert sunlight into energy, animals eat plants to obtain this energy, animals eat each other, and of course, life after death persists in the form of new life.

And so it goes, humans play our part too. But when we ourselves do not kill an animal, when we don't even think about the fact that an animal was killed so that we could eat it, our role in this cycle grows undecipherable, and we lose the closeness that we once shared with our food and with the earth. And only by once again deciphering our role in that cycle, can our food systems begin to be repaired and our relationship with the natural world be restored.

Do you think about the relationship between man and animal when you eat meat? Do you refuse to eat meat? Or do you choose not to think about it? Let me know your take in the comments!