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Nothing says holidays like baking cookies…yoga pose cookies that is.

I sketched these out on heavy duty paper from an art store, making yoga pose cutouts (they're cute–admit it!),

Then I made this super simple, super delicious sugar cookie recipe from Alton Brown over at the food network (Note: the dough needs to refrigerate for a few hours between making it and rolling them out. Learn from my mistake and read the whole recipe first!)

I placed ice cubes all over the counter to chill it down (warm countertops melt the butter in the dough too fast, making it a gooey mess), placed my cutouts on the dough, and cut around each with a steak knife.

Popped them in the oven for 7 minutes (note: Alton says rotate them every three minutes. Oh, Alton, you little devil! What the heck does that mean?! In an effort to follow this confusing direction, I rotated the trays 90 degrees and switched the trays from oven rack top to bottom just to mix them up as much as possible. Are you impressed, Alton? Are you??)

They are super delicious and really easy to make. Get going!

Notes:

  1. The dough gets crumbly–patch it back together with a spritz of water. I used my curly-haired sister Hanna's curl-spritzing bottle. It worked!
  2. Keep the counters cool near a hot oven with ice on them
  3. THOROUGHLY dry the counters, dust them with powdered sugar
  4. %%anc%%

  5. Dust the rolling pin with powdered sugar too–otherwise the damn dough will stick to it too.
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We're transitioning to fall weather (on the east coast at least), which means an end to summer fruit and veggies and fruit who masquerade as veggies (you know who you are, tomatoes!). Out with the old and in with autumnal root veggies and colder-weather greens like kale and swiss chard and even lettuces. So…what to do with these?

I just got my CSA box and here's what's on my menu tonight:

Main Course: Cheesy Kale
Sides: Roasted sweet potatos, leeks, and fennel and a crisp salad with cold weather greens and olive oil vinegarette.

HOW TO: Cheesy Kale
Start the rice (I use brown) in a pot by bringing the water to a boil, adding the rice, reducing to a simmer and letting it cook. The rule is twice the water to rice ratio.

Meanwhile, rinse the kale and strip the leave from the stalk. Some people cut them with knives or kitchen shears; I hold and rip because it's faster. Then roll the kale leaves up in a big cigar shape and slice into thin slices. Put aside.

Dice a large onion and saute it in a large frying pan in olive oil or a little bit of broth until the onions start to turn see-through. Add salt, pepper, and kale and continue cooking until the kale turns bright green and wilts. Remove from heat promptly.
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Add the rice to the kale-onions mix and stir it all together, adding more salt and pepper to taste. You can also substitute soy sauce for salt–I love the flavor it adds.

Optional: Add diced kalamata olives (can you tell I'm a salt-lover) and/or grated cheddar cheese. YUM!

HOW TO: Roasted sweet potatos, leeks, and fennel.

Rinse all the veggies. Dice all–making sure that the sweet potato pieces are significantly smaller (about half the size). They are more dense and therefore the pieces have to be smaller or you will end of with over-cooked leeks and fennel (aka “mush”) and raw sweet potatoes.

Spread out on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Roast in the oven at 425-degrees for 20-25 minutes, stirring with a spatula at the 10-minute mark.

Serve it all with a fresh salad and alone everyone to dress their own salad by drizzling olive oil and vinegar (I like apple cider this time of year and it's supposed to be really good for you), salt and pepper.

Bon apetit!

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Time for another delicious recipe. This one, Linguine with Spicy Artichoke Sauce, is from the amazing “Main-Course Vegetarian Pleasures,” by Jeanne Lemlin, which I recently received as a birthday gift. (Super subtle hint-hint: let the b-day greetings commence.)

Don't let the title fool you–this is not just for vegetarians. My carnivorous hubby who didn't eat any vegetables when I met him (shudder) raves about it and my non-vegetarian best friend told me she actually wanted to lick her plate when I made it for her. It's fast, easy, and INSANELY good. Perfect for the weeknight dinner and definitely good enough for guests!

1 TBS of olive oil in a large skillet, heat over medium heat. Add 6 cloves of garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. Cook 2 minutes, stirring often. (You will notice that the oil starts to turn orange and the smell of peppers starts to spicy spicy–this is good).

Stir in 1 28-oz can of plum tomatoes, finely chopped and well drained. (Note: I don't drain them. I add in the tomato juice because I like it saucy…uh, I mean I like sauce.)

Add 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Place the linguine (or pasta of your choice) and cook until al dente. Taste to avoid overcooking.

Add 1 6-oz jar of marinated artichokes and 1/4 cup fresh parsley (mine from the garden–huzzah!), simmer 5 more minutes.

Drain the linguine (or pasta) and place in a large bowl (or return to pot to save dishes), toss with the sauce and serve, sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Holy freaking YUM.

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The garden bounty continues and this week the featured delights are tomatoes and basil…which means it’s time for homemade Caprese Salad.

Simple, easy, classic and utterly delicious. Chop some tomatoes and fresh mozzerella, slice some basil, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, a dash of vinegar (I’m into white balsamic right now), sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. #amazing!

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Recently, I spent a lovely summer evening sipping white wine out on the deck with my friend Meredith. In between catching up on riveting details on our respective puppies (I don't need to remind you of Pelu's adorableness…or maybe I do; she just started fostering puppies for her friend's rescue mission at kill shelters–I know, I know! SO awesome!!), she regarded my garden dubiously.Finally, after a courage-building sip, she said, “I've always wanted to try having a garden, but I need to start slowly. What do you recommend?”

No question: HERBS! Herbs are hearty, easy to grow, and most rewarding to all gardeners, are easily incorporated into dinner.

This summer, I'm growing parsley, rosemary, oregano, dill, and pots and pots of basil. In fact, I'm growing three sorts of basil just to compare them: traditional Genovese basil that you'd use in Italian dishes, Thai basil that you'd presumably use in Thai cooking (I'm a novice there, stay tuned), and Aussie sweet basil. I have no idea what that means or should be used for–consider yourself forewarned.

This weekend, two Australian friends stayed with us and we spent Friday night cooking dinner, drinking wine, listening to music, and laughing. (Note: these activities should be thoroughly mixed at all times.) On the menu: pesto fresh from the garden. The three of us headed out there (Pelu supervised) and picked a colander full of Genovese basil which I then whipped into a batch of pesto and served with a side of sauteed collard greens (also from the garden) and roasted beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes (also organic but not from my garden).

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So easy. So healthy. So delicious!

Pesto basics:
Nuts (traditional recipes call for pine nuts, I like almonds instead. Can also use walnuts). About 1/3 cup.
Parmesan cheese (freshly grated). 1/2-1 cup.
Basil! 2 cups.
Garlic – 2+ cloves depending on your taste
Olive oil. Traditional recipes call for 2/3 cup. I like to substitute pasta water to make it healthier.
Salt and pepper to taste. I like it salty and peppery.

Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta of your choice. Sometimes I use fun shapes of traditional pasta. Sometimes I use brown rice pasta for a gluten-free option if a guest needs it or I just want to change it up.

As it's cooking, hand grate the cheese or run it through your food processor with the shredder attachment. Put aside in a big bowl. Change to the blade option and throw the basil, garlic, and nut in. Blend until pureed. Add the cheese and drizzle olive oil in to keep the pesto from sticking to the sides. Remember that you can do this with pasta water as a substitute to cut calories and keep it healthier. Add salt and pepper.

When the pasta's done, RESERVE AT LEAST 1 cup of PASTA WATER!! Then drain the pasta and throw in a big bowl. Add the pasta water into the food processor to thin it out (you want it soupy but not too thin), then pour it over the pasta. Voila! Healthy easy dinner in less than 20 minutes!

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It's no secret I love food. I love everything about it: growing it, cooking it, appreciating when others have cooked it, and, of course, eating it.

But breakfast is a real conundrum. What's a busy, health-loving, food-loving, modern-day gal on the go to do? I'm not going to cook myself a big breakfast on a weekday morning, but a bowl of processed, sugar-laded crap that passes for cereal isn't going to cut it either. Cue my lovely Aussie friend Matilda recently presenting me with a glass jar tied with a lavender bow. Inside was her homemade granola.

The verdict? YUM. Yeah…it was that good. 

I refused to share. I hoarded it like some crazy lady.  I think I devoured it in what can only be described as truly astounding speed. And I was promptly inspired to make my own.

According to my sister the nutritionist, granola with fat-free plain yogurt is a great way to start your day because it's a good source of calcium, vitamin D, and lean protein from the yogurt, as well as whole grains, dietary fiber, and healthy (monounsaturated) fats from the nuts. It's also a heart-healthy breakfast that will keep you fuller, longer. Best of all, it can be made ahead and eaten all week. Oh, and did I mention it's also delicious??

Here's a basic version:

Preheat the over to 250.

In a big bowl, combine about 3 cups of whole oats with 1 cup of slivered almonds, 1 cup of sunflower seeds, and 1/2 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut. Stir in 1/4 cup canola oil and 1/4 cup maple syrup until everything's well-mixed and fully coated.

Spread out on a baking sheet (recommend pre-spraying with cooking oil spray or lightly covering with oil so it doesn't stick) and bake for 90 minutes. STIR IT EVERY 20 MINUTES.

Remove and let cool. Then add 1/2 to 1 cup of raisins depending on how much you want. Or dried cranberries.

Voila!

Adjustments and options: The recipe called for an additional 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 more of oil but I cut them out to keep it less sweet and more healthy. If you like it sweeter, play with these measurements.

SUBSTITUTE: Any nuts or seeds you want! I tried pumpkin seeds last week and they were awesome. They're super recommended in the world or ayurveda, so definitely give them a go. You could also use cashews or whole almonds or sliced almonds or walnuts or peanuts or flax seeds or anything else. Ditto on the dried fruit: cranberries, mango, blueberries, cherries…whatever you want! That's the joy (and the power – bwahaha) of being the chef! :)

NOTE: Do *NOT* try to make a speedy version by broiling it for a few minutes. I tried and all I ended up with was a tray full of charred bits and an apartment filled with smoke. Learn from my mistake.

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Confession: I read Le Cordon Bleu educated chef and author Kathleen Flinn’s first book, “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry,” a few years ago and loved it so much that I would’ve bought whatever she wrote next, no matter how good, bad, or unrelated. Fortunately, her subsequent book, “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks,” IS both good and also related.

I’m enjoying the same things about it that I enjoyed in the first book–her storytelling, the way she uses words, her sense of humor (I’m currently reading a chapter called, “The Pleasures of the Fish,” the name of which alone made me laugh), her sincere love and appreciation for food, her humility, and, of course, the recipes.

I confess,when I first read the flap, which talks about how a chance meeting with a stranger in the grocery store whose cart was loaded up with heavily processed, pre-fab crap items, inspired Flinn to start the experiment that led to this book (she selected nine women who mostly eat frozen or fast food and taught them how to cook), I was worried that I’d be a little bored. Not because the topic’s boring–it’s not! I love stories of transformation and food–but because I’m already in a heated state of agreement with the premise and principles.

I eat an organic (whenever possible), plant-based diet with fish as my main source of protein. Fast food? Never touch the stuff. Frozen? Nope–I’m the 1950s time traveler who accidentally landed in this era but still loves to cook everything herself.

Yeah, that’s right–I actually love to cook. I love everything about it–I love paging through cookbooks, dreaming up menus, shopping at the farmer’s market, and cooking everything from scratch. I’m the geek who loves the taste, smell, and preparation of food and most of all, I love to eat.

No judgment on those who don’t, but you can understand my concern that I’d be all, “been there…done that…[yawn]” while reading this. Well I needn’t have feared. Flinn deftly offers many tips and tricks that I’ve learned from AND yummy recipes that are accessible to all levels of home cooks. I’m currently excited about a certain tomato and shrimp recipe.

I still love, “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry,” the most. But maybe you always love the first book you read by a certain author the most (Loyalty, people! Loyalty!). Or maybe it’s just plain hard to compete with a story that takes place in Paris. But that’s not a knock against “Kitchen Counter.” I’m thoroughly enjoying this second culinary/literary output by this thoroughly talented author and highly recommend it to all.


Note: The American Society of Journalists and Authors awarded “Kitchen Counter” first place in non-fiction/memoir for 2012.What can I say? Can I pick ’em or what?!