Classic Carrot Salad

Classic Carrot SaladWhen I was a single girl, I used to make a delicious carrot salad all the time. It was just grated carrots, lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and cilantro. A huge bowl of it with some crusty bread and a glass of white wine can make a pretty great dinner. But alas, Alex is a cilantro hater. When I met him, I retired that recipe.

But I miss it! Carrot salad is a wonderful thing. I love having a salad with dinner every night, but the same old mixed greens or baby arugula can get boring. Lettuce-free salads are a great way to change things up while still satisfying a craving for crunchy veggies.

This carrot salad is my take on the classic, creamy version with raisins and apples. I’ve dialed way back on the mayo to keep it light and healthy. I also added fresh parsley (which at least looks like my beloved cilantro) and walnuts for crunch.

Classic Carrot Salad
Makes 4 servings

1 pound carrots
1/3 cup raisins
1 large apple, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
2 tablespoons freshly lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

Fit a food processor with the grating disc. Peel the carrots and cut them in half crosswise. Put them in the feed tube so they are lying on their sides. Process in batches. Transfer the grated carrots to a large bowl and add the raisins and apple.

In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, lemon juice, olive oil, sugar, and salt. Pour over the carrots and toss to combine. Stir in the parsley and the walnuts (if using).

Easy Black Bean Tacos

Easy Black Bean TacosFor 30 years, Alex thought he didn’t like Mexican food. Then we went to a wedding in Napa Valley and the morning after there was a fabulous homemade Mexican brunch, complete with guava mimosas and a woman pressing fresh tortillas. Alex was converted. He realized that he actually loved authentic Mexican flavors. What he didn’t love was the goopy sour cream and rivers of melted cheese that all too often cover them up.

But since then, I have to admit that I haven’t cooked much Mexican food at home. When we lived in Brooklyn, there were literally three taquerias within walking distance from our apartment. Why would I slave in the kitchen when a vegan kimchi burrito bowl from Kimchi Grill was a baseball throw away? (True story: we once ordered delivery on a rainy and extremely lazy night, and they laughed at us.

Now that we’re in the suburbs, good Mexican food is much harder to come by. I’ve started to experiment more on my own. These black bean tacos are almost as easy as ordering delivery. You can make the filling a few days in advance and then just reheat it before dinner. I like corn tortillas, but use flour tortillas or hard taco shells if you prefer. Toppings are limited only by your imagination. I like thinly sliced red onion, fresh cilantro, chopped tomatoes, and avocado.

Easy Black Bean Tacos
Makes 4 servings
Adapted from Vegetarian Times

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 medium jalapeño, seeded and minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1/2 cup water
Corn tortillas, sliced red onion, diced tomatoes, avocado, and fresh cilantro, for serving

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and jalapeño and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the chili, cumin, and a big pinch of salt and pepper and stir to coat. Add the black beans, fire-roasted tomatoes with their juices, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture is thick, about 15 minutes. Using an immersion blender, blend very briefly, until some of the beans are pureed but most are intact and the mixture is chunky. (Alternatively, blend 1 cup of the mixture in a blender and then stir it back into the pot.)

Serve with the tortillas, red onion, diced tomatoes, avocado, and cilantro.

Jalapeño Acorn Squash with Cranberry Walnut Sauce

Jalapeño Acorn Squash with Cranberry Walnut SauceThanksgiving is my favorite holiday. (Can you tell? It’s only mid-October and I’m already talking about it.) For us, it’s a big multi-family affair: my mother-in-law roasts a massive turkey (and always frets that “it just won’t be enough.” A few years ago, she actually made a roast beef too, just in case). My mom makes the cranberry sauce, usually a potato dish, and her famous sweet potato pecan bread. I’m in charge of pies.

I love everything about our Thanksgiving except one teeny, tiny thing: I’m definitely a more adventurous eater than anyone else in my family. I’m all for the classics, don’t get me wrong. But I wish we could spice things up a bit and try some new, non-traditional dishes. I could (gasp!) skip the sweet potatoes with marshmallows, the green beans with almonds, the same chocolate pecan pie we had last year, and the year before that.

This year I thought, why not just make all the newfangled Thanksgiving dishes I want to make before Thanksgiving? That way I get to try all the crazy veggies and desserts I want, without denying anyone the plain mashed potatoes with butter they’ve had since childhood (I’m looking at you, Dad).

First on my must-try list was acorn squash roasted with jalapeño and lime, an idea I got from the awesome cookbook Keepers. For their recipe the authors make a compound butter with the jalapeño and lime zest and then let it melt it over the roasted squash. It sounded delicious, but heavy (4 tablespoons of butter for 4 servings!). For my vegan version, I pared it down to just 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 6-8 servings, and I roast everything all together on a baking sheet.

Then, because I couldn’t leave well enough alone, and because I have all these leftover cranberries in my fridge, I made a quick cranberry-walnut sauce to go over the top. The results pack a punch, from the sweet, caramelized roasted squash, the subtle heat of the jalapeño, the tart cranberries, and the crunchy walnuts. I liked it so much, I just might try to sneak it onto the Thanksgiving table.

Jalapeño Acorn Squash with Cranberry Walnut Sauce
Serves 6-8 as a side dish

For the squash:
2 medium-large acorn squash
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
Freshly grated zest of 1 lime
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:
1 1/4 cups fresh cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup chopped, toasted walnuts

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Halve both acorn squash lengthwise (through the stem end). Cut each half lengthwise into quarters, so that you have 16 wedges. Transfer to a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, maple syrup, jalapeño, lime zest, and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Arrange cut-side down in a single layer and roast for 20 minutes. Flip and continue to roast until squash is tender and golden-brown in spots (a fork inserted in the middle of a piece should meet no resistance), about 15 to 20 minutes more.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Combine the cranberries, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the cranberries pop and the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice and walnuts.

To serve, arrange the squash wedges in a row on a serving platter and spoon the sauce down the middle.

Cranberry Almond Smoothie

Vegan Cranberry Almond SmoothieI have a running joke with a friend that we won’t drink anything with calories if it’s not caffeinated or alcoholic. Juice? Soda? Not worth it. Coffee? Martini? Yes, please. I’ve never been a big smoothie person, and I’m not really into our current collective obsession with jucing. Why would I waste calories drinking something when I could be eating something? Aren’t we all in agreement that eating is so, so much better?

But a few months ago, I bought the Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon. Flipping through it, something about the Green Monster spoke to me. It was a smoothie made with a banana, some almond milk, a tablespoon of almond butter, chia seeds, and a handful of kale. The whole thing was about 300 calories and Angela wrote that she had one for breakfast a few times a week. I happened to have everything on hand to make it, so I whipped one up the next morning. I honestly couldn’t believe how delicious it was. Plus, it made me feel great and kept me full until lunch. I’ve been totally converted, and since that day I’ve had a smoothie for breakfast almost every day.

Not the same smoothie, though. That would be boring. I’ve been playing around with different combinations, some more successful, some less. So far this cranberry version is one of my favorites. If you don’t have a high-powered blender (like a Vitamix) you might need to add a little water to get your smoothie totally–for lack of a better word–smooth. Anytime I have bananas on the verge of overripe I peel them, put them in a sandwich baggie, and toss them in the freezer so I always have them on hand.

Cranberry Almond Smoothie
Makes 1 serving
Adapted from Oh She Glows and The Food Network Magazine

1 medium banana, peeled and frozen
1/3 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon almond butter
Pinch of cinnamon
4 ice cubes
1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)
1/4 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. If your blender is “sticking” drizzle in a little water and blend again.

Spicy Vegan Eggplant Parmesan

Vegan eggplant parmesanWhen I was in my awkward early teen years, I used to go to this gym in my town called Body Techniques. This was in the mid-90’s, and it showed. The walls were decorated with pink and teal heartbeat lines, like the kind you’d see on a heart rate monitor, and half the gym was devoted to a windowed aerobics studio where women in leotards did Tae Bo. I never went to the classes; my favorite way to workout was to take an enormous pile of magazines from the communal rack (preferably the ones my mom never let me read, like Cosmo) and climb on the Stairmaster for exactly 45 minutes, while leaning on the handlebars in precisely the way you’re not supposed to.

One day I remember reading an article about “10 things you should never eat” or some such nonsense. Basically, it was a list of foods that you might not think were fattening, but in actuality were really bad for you. I can’t recall all of them, but #1 was fettuccini Alfredo. Breaded, fried, and super-cheesy Eggplant Parmesan also made the cut. I’m definitely not one to see foods as “good” or “bad”–I believe there is room for everything in our diet in moderation–but something about that list stuck with me, and now whenever I see eggplant parm on a menu I skip over it and chose something else.

But the thing is, I really love eggplant. Like, a lot. Even more so when it’s caramelized and golden-brown and baked up with a garlicy, basily, slightly spicy tomato sauce and an avalanche of crunchy breadcrumbs. Over the years, I’ve tried my hand at several low-fat versions and been uniformly disappointed. Then several months ago, I decided to give it one more chance, this time using Mark Bittman’s recipe for vegan eggplant unparmesan. What a revelation. He bakes the eggplant slices with a tiny amount of oil, and then layers them with a quick and simple homemade tomato sauce. The whole thing is covered with an almost absurd amount of panko, which absorbs all that sauce as it bakes, so the slices come out thick and substantial. It was perfect. Well, almost.

I couldn’t help tweaking it just a little bit. First I cut the recipe in half. We are a family of three, and a 9-x 13-pan of anything (with the obvious exception of brownies) is a little too much for us to handle. I found that an 8-x 8-inch pan served four generously. Second, I know Mark is a minimalist, but I thought his sauce needed a little maximizing. I swapped the onion for extra garlic, and added dried oregano and a huge pinch of red pepper flakes. A big scoop of tomato paste and a splash of red wine really boosted the umami flavors. Lastly, I added some nutritional yeast to the panko to give it that cheesy flavor.

Finally I have my ideal, healthy eggplant parm! As you might be able to tell from the photo, if you are serving non-vegans, you can easily sprinkle some mozzarella over their portion before adding the panko. I like to eat this on its own, but you could also serve it over pasta (think linguine) for a more substantial dish. Leftovers will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Spicy Vegan Eggplant Parmesan
Makes 4 Servings
Adapted from Mark Bittman

1 medium to large eggplant, about 1 1/2 pounds
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons red wine
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
3/4 cup whole wheat vegan panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Slice the eggplant crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet and brush both sides with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast the eggplant until softened and starting to brown, 25 to 30 minutes, flipping once halfway through.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil with the garlic in a large skillet. Cook over medium heat until the garlic begins to sizzle, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the oregano, pepper flakes, and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens, 20 to 25 minutes.

Reduce the oven to 400°F. Spread about 1/3 of the tomato sauce in the bottom of an 8-x8-inch square baking dish. Top with half the eggplant and half the basil. Add another 1/3 of tomato sauce, then the other half of the eggplant and basil. Top with the remaining sauce.

In a small bowl, stir together the panko and nutritional yeast (if using). Sprinkle evenly over the top and bake until the panko is toasted and the sauce is thick and bubbling, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.


Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Indian Spices

Creamy Roasted Red Pepper SoupDo you have any cooking roadblocks? Like procedures or ingredients that make you run in the other direction? I think pie crusts and yeast breads stop a lot of people in their tracks. It’s understandable–they are time consuming and difficult to get right. You really have to have a “feel” for when they are ready. And who among us hasn’t been scarred by a traumatic experience? I once spent hours making a gorgeous, six-braid challah stuffed with dried fruit, only to have it turn out heavy as a brick with raw dough in the middle.

But for some reason, my biggest culinary roadblock has always been roasting red peppers. I’m really not sure why. It’s so easy! But for years, I’ve reverted to buying the jarred version. Maybe it’s because I once watched a former roommate roast a red pepper over our gas stove, with a spatula in one hand and a giant glass of wine in the other. The blue flame licked over the pepper and dangerously close to the roll of paper towels on the counter, and I imagined our whole apartment going up in flames.

This soup, which I saw on Joy the Baker a few weeks ago, and haven’t been able to stop thinking about since, finally made me face my fears (and stop being so lazy). Spoiler alert! Homemade roasted red peppers are so much more delicious than the bottled version. But you probably knew that. Also, you don’t have to use the kitchen burner method. For this recipe, you roast them in the oven until they are nice and charred.

It was really easy to “veganize” this recipe. I simply substituted soy cream for the regular cream. I think full-fat coconut milk would be even better, so use that if you have it. I also scaled the recipe up a bit so that I would have plenty of leftovers for lunch for the week. If you are making the cashew sour cream, note you will have to soak the cashews for at least 8 hours. Garam masala is a warm Indian spice mix. If you don’t have it, use 1/8 teaspoon each cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg.

Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Indian Spices
Makes approximately 2 quarts, 6-8 servings
Adapted from Joy the Baker

5 red bell peppers
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 small carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 bay leaf
5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup soy cream or full fat coconut milk
Cashew sour cream, for serving (optional) recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick spray. Arrange the peppers on the baking sheet and roast, flipping occationally, until they are charred all over and beginning to collapse, about 30 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and seed the peppers (the skins should pull off easily). Set aside.

In a large stock pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are beginning to color and soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin, garam masala, and bay leaf and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the roasted red peppers and any juices and the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and fish out the bay leaf. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (alternatively, puree the soup in batches in a blender). Stir in the soy cream or coconut milk. Taste the soup and season with more salt and pepper.

Cashew Sour Cream
Makes about 1 cup

1 cup whole raw cashews, soaked in water overnight or for at least 8 hours
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Large pinch kosher salt

Drain the cashews and transfer them to a blender. Add the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and 1/2 cup of water. Blend on high until the mixture is completely smooth and creamy. Leftovers will keep for about a week in the fridge.


Walnut Rosemary Polenta Cakes

Walnut Rosemary Polenta CakesWhen we lived in Brooklyn, sometimes on my way home from work I would stop at this fancy gourmet shop not too far from the subway. They had unbelievable prepared foods, with unbelievable prices to match. I’ll never forget the time their sidewalk sign advertized a special: “Buy 9 sandwiches and get the 10th for $10.” Alex still laughs about their $9 artisanal graham crackers. Ah, Brooklyn. In some ways I miss you dearly. In others, not so much.

Something I do miss, though, is their polenta cakes. They were fat and crispy on the outside, with golden-brown edges, and a creamy, cheesy interior. They were flavorful enough to be eaten alone, but even better topped with chunky tomato sauce or a pile of sautéed mushrooms. Polenta cakes are not rocket science. I probably should have made my own. But these were just so good I couldn’t help myself, even at their wince-worthy price.

These polenta cakes are very different then the ones we got in Brooklyn, but I think they are just as delicious. With no cream or cheese, they are much healthier–you don’t need to think of them as a special occasion indulgence. Plus, they’re downright budget friendly. All you need is some vegetable broth, cornmeal, herbs, nuts, and spices.

Polenta cakes make a terrific cold-weather weeknight meal. They are hearty and comforting, and you can prepare them ahead. You can make the polenta up to two days in advance and then just fry the individual slices right before dinner. Feel free to play with the nuts and herbs. I can’t wait to try this with hazelnuts. I served these cakes with slow-roasted tomatoes and a big kale salad. Use any chunky sauce you like.

Walnut Rosemary Polenta Cakes
Makes 4 servings
Adapted from Bon Appetit

2 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (or a mix of broth, white wine, or water)
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary
1/3 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Vegetable or canola oil, for frying

Spray a 9-inch pie dish with nonstick spray.

In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable broth to a boil. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is very thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, olive oil, and nutritional yeast (if using). Stir in the rosemary and walnuts. Spread the polenta evenly in the prepared pie dish and cool until firm, at least 1 hour. At this point, the polenta can be covered and chilled in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Preheat the oven to 200°F and line a baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup. Heat a thin layer of vegetable oil in a large, nonstick skillet.

Spread the flour on a plate. Cut the polenta into 8 wedges. Working in batches, dredge the wedges in the flour and fry until crispy and golden-brown, 4 to 5 minutes a side. Transfer the wedges to the baking sheet and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Two Potato Latkes

Two Potato LatkesWhen I switched to a mostly vegan diet, one of my primary goals was to put plant-based dinners into regular rotation. I felt like I had slipped into a completely meat-dependant way of cooking. Every time I made a grocery list, I would think about the days ahead and whether we would have chicken, beef, pork, or fish. I had a couple dozen recipes that were tried-and-true, and I pretty much cycled through them over and over. What I wanted was to build up a similar repertoire of vegan recipes, so that my go-to, don’t-have-to-think-about-it dinners were healthy, eco-friendly, and animal-free.

Which brings me to latkes. Potato pancakes are the ultimate weeknight meal, and I’ve never understood why we reserve them for only eight nights a year. Ingredient lists don’t come much shorter or cheaper, and while of course they are best sizzling straight from the skillet, it’s also totally acceptable to make them ahead and reheat in a low oven. Plus, they are already vegetarian. It’s just a matter of those pesky eggs, which bind everything together like, well, a pancake. Some recipes for vegan latkes just omit the egg, and perhaps increase the amount of flour or add cornstarch. I thought that would make my latkes to heavy, and I was doubtful they would hold together without something to mimic the gel-like qualities of an egg. I decided using “flax eggs” (one egg = one tablespoon ground flax mixed with three tablespoons of water) was the way to go.

For my first attempt, I got all ambitious and added raw, grated beets to the potato mixture. My dreams of crispy, jewel-toned latkes were quickly dashed, however, when they ended up tasting really soggy and vegetal. (Alex actually didn’t finish his, and I have never, ever seen him leave a latke behind.) For my next go, I used sweet potato instead of beets. Success! These latkes were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, and held together perfectly. And while they aren’t ruby red, they are a pretty shade of orange, which feels perfectly appropriate for October.

A word about technique: I’ve cooked lots of latkes over the years. One thing I’ve learned is not to fuss with them to much. Let them cook undisturbed in the skillet for four to five minutes before flipping. The edges will get very brown and you will worry they are burning. Stop it. They’re fine. If you flip them to early they won’t be crispy, and there’s nothing sadder than a limp, insipid latke.

If you are making the cashew sour cream, note that you will need to soak the cashews for at least 8 hours beforehand.

Two Potato Latkes
Makes approximately 24

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
6 tablespoons water
1 1/4 pounds russet potatoes (about 2 small)
1 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 small)1 medium onion
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Vegetable oil
Applesauce, for serving
Cashew sour cream, for serving (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven t0 200°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

In a small bowl, stir together the ground flax seeds and water. Set aside until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Peel the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and the onion and shred them in the food processor using the shredding attachment. Transfer to a large bowl. Squeeze the mixture with paper towels a few times to absorb excess liquid. Stir in the flax-water mixture, flour, salt, and baking powder until well combined.

In a large skillet (preferably cast iron) heat a thin layer of oil. Drop 1/4-cupfuls of the potato mixture into the skillet and cook without disturbing until the edges are deep golden brown and the latke releases easily from the bottom of the skillet, about 4 to 6 minutes. Flip the latkes and cook for 4 to 6 minutes more. Transfer to the baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining potato mixture. Serve with the applesauce and cashew sour cream.

Cashew Sour Cream
Makes about 1 cup

1 cup whole raw cashews, soaked in water overnight or for at least 8 hours
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Large pinch kosher salt

Drain the cashews and transfer them to a blender. Add the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and 1/2 cup of water. Blend on high until the mixture is completely smooth and creamy. Leftovers will keep for about a week in the fridge.


Orange-aideThis past July, while we were on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, Owen fell in love with this lemon-lime-orange-aide sold at the farmers’ market across the street from our house. It came in big plastic cups, and since Owen has yet to master drinking vessels of the non-sippy variety, much of it ended up on the front of his shirt and pooled in his sandals. Oh well. He’ll get there. He’s getting bigger everyday!

In fact, yesterday was his second birthday. Even when you’re only turning two, I believe everyone deserves a special birthday cocktail, so I decided to recreate Owen’s beloved beverage at home. (In addition, I’ve been battling a nasty cold, so a mega-dose of citrus sounded pretty good to me, too.)

My first challenge was finding the electric juicer someone gave us for our wedding. I finally located it way in the back of a cabinet, behind my ice cream maker, spice grinder, and an unidentified plastic appliance. Possibly part of the ice cream maker? Who knows? I probably should have thrown it out, but what if someday I need it? This is the same line of reasoning that has led me to save the vast majority of my Sweet Valley High collection, the t-shirt from every race I have ever run, and issues of Cooking Light from 2007.

But enough about my hoarding tendencies. We were talking about juice. This recipe is a snap and comes together in about five minutes. You need two cups of juice, which I got from three oranges, two lemons, and two limes, using the aforementioned electric juicer. Handheld citrus presses aren’t quite as efficient, so if that’s what you are using, you may need additional fruit. This is great by itself or topped with club soda. If you’re not sick, and not two, add a shot of bourbon.

Makes approximately 2 quarts (7-8 cups)

1 cup sugar
4 cups water, divided
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

In a medium saucepan, simmer the sugar and 2 cups of water until the sugar dissolves. Transfer to a pitcher. Stir in the remaining water and the orange, lemon, and lime juice. Chill before serving.

Broccoli Salad with Avocado and Pistachios

Broccoli Salad with Avocado and PistachiosMany years ago, I got to spend one day doing kitchen prep work for an event featuring two of my all-time favorite cookbook authors–Ina Garten and Patricia Wells. I honestly don’t know how I held it together enough to dice chicken breasts and shred zucchini. The whole time I felt like I had to make a conscious effort not to blurt out “Oh my gosh I love you both so much and I have all your cookbooks and I want to learn everything you know and also can I come over to your house for lunch?” Somehow I managed not to do anything mortifying, and–even better–the two salads I helped to make were truly delicious.

The first Patricia Wells recipe I ever made was a broccoli salad. The broccoli is blanched and shocked in ice water, and then tossed with a lemon-pistachio oil dressing. You mound the broccoli on a serving platter and surround it with thin slices of avocado. Finally, to gild the lily, you shower the whole thing with chopped roasted and salted pistachios. The finished dish is a study in green, and at once creamy, crunchy, and salty. When Alex and I first started dating, it was one of the first things I made for him. It never fails to impress.

Another broccoli dish I love is Ina’s simple roasted broccoli with lemon, pine nuts and garlic. Let me just say, if you’ve been steaming your weeknight broccoli this whole time, you’re doing it wrong. Roasting is absolutely the way to go. Instead of mushy and waterlogged, the broccoli gets all crispy and charred. It’s totally addictive.

What could be better than a mash-up of the two? For this salad, I borrowed Ina’s idea of roasting the broccoli and applied it to Patricia’s salad. This is the kind of side dish that makes people forget about the main course. It’s perfect for the colder months, when we are all craving hearty, satisfying fare. If you don’t have pistachio oil don’t feel pressured to run out and buy it (it can be super expensive). Just use a really high quality olive oil for the dressing.

Broccoli Salad with Avocado and Pistachios
Serves 4-6 as a side dish
Adapted from Patricia Wells and Ina Garten

For the dressing:
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons pistachio oil or high quality extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:
2 heads of broccoli, cut into large florets (about 10 cups)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large ripe avocado, halved, peeled, and thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped shelled roasted salted pistachios

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. To make the dressing, combine the lemon juice, zest, and pistachio or olive oil in a small jar and shake to blend.

On a large baking sheet, toss the broccoli with the olive oil until well coated and season with salt and pepper. Roast until the broccoli is crisp-tender and just beginning to brown in spots, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

To assemble the salad, mound the broccoli in the middle of a serving dish. Arrange the avocado slices around the broccoli. Drizzle with the dressing and sprinkle with the pistachios.