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Thoughts With Ashley

“So I’m thinking about ordering a pre-cooked turkey.” A friend texted me two days before Thanksgiving. It’s this time of year when the texts from friends and family are less about “how are you doing?” and more closely resemble a conversation with the Butterball helpline. I love it. I consider it an absolute pleasure to be able to speak for hours about all butter crusts, to par-bake or not to par-bake and brining – wet, dry, is it really needed (yes, salt and pepper the day before)? My ease and joy in the kitchen is a gift and one that I absolutely am delighted to share.

“Should I order a pre-cooked turkey? Should I be scared about cooking a turkey?” My friend continued. Even through my iPhone screen I could feel the tension. He was kicking himself for not thinking about all of this sooner and feeling overwhelmed by the weight of the turkey cooking task. “First of all roasting a turkey is not hard.” I started “but don’t let the turkey cooking overshadow the point of the holiday. If a pre-cooked turkey will help you focus on the actual thanks-giving and the company of friends and family then that’s the way to go.”

I love spending hours in the kitchen slowly simmering homemade stock for the purpose of creating a luscious and deeply flavored gravy. Pie crusts and bread doughs relax in the fridge days before the main event. Weeks before I’m scouring blogs, magazines and cookbooks trying to craft the perfect menu although I don’t usually iron out all of the details until the day before. But I realize that not everyone is like me.

And while the table will be mightily set with a half a dozen dishes including caramelized squash with feta and onion, a crisp Brussels sprouts salad with smoky bacon and tart cranberries and a pumpkin pie with a thick sugar cap, the sink will also be piled high with dishes, there will be socks scattered around the house that the dog has chewed and I’ll be lucky if the kids have brushed their hair. But I’m happy and giving thanks for a bustling kitchen and a house filled with people I love.

This time of year is so busy, the endless tasks can so easily choke out the joy and quite frankly the purpose of all the celebrating in the first place. I hope for all of us that the moment we start to feel overwhelmed we’ll order a pre-cooked turkey, or whatever that may look like for all of us. I’ll forgive myself for the lack of Christmas garnish around the house or unmade beds if it means that I’m digging deeper into the peace, hope, and joy that this season seeks to bring us.

Ashley Rodriguez

Food Blogger, notwithoutsalt.com

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Ahhh…Spring!

With a few magical 70 degree days under our belt, I think it’s safe to say that we are well into spring. Even more so than the presence of the sun, I felt pretty sure spring was here the moment I started adding fresh herbs into everything – tucking ruffled mint leaves and licorice-tinged tarragon into my salads and making green sauces of all the herb scraps (throwing in a bit of jalapeño for heat). I may have pushed spring a bit as I poached long strands of jewel-toned rhubarb and rolled them into roses to top an almond cake, but I just can’t help myself – I’m so glad spring is here.

Spring cooking has a lightness about it. The produce that emerges from the just warmed soil is soft, timid even. It’s not yet the full flavored stone fruits or dripping tomatoes of summer. It’s grassy herbs, tart rhubarb, softly sweet carrots, peppery radishes, tender asparagus, and peas that pop with sweetness.

I think also there’s something akin to magic that happens to us Pacific Northwesterners, as the spring sun starts to show itself. Sure, the moment it hits we always fool ourselves into thinking that it’s going to now be here until October. When the rain shows up a few days later we suddenly feel betrayed, but really we know this drill, don’t we?

And yet there’s a lightness about our steps, there’s hope and there’s triumph for passing through another gray season. Because we’ve literally been in the dark for so long we appreciate all the light, the gentle warmth, and the stunning beauty of everything in bloom. We appreciate the new and experience it as a gift.

This morning my husband, while trying to navigate some emotionally distraught children, was pointing out some of the good that we have in our everyday life. “Look!” he excitedly said to our 5-year old, “you have a lunch!” Through tears she said, “But every day I have a lunch!”

She doesn’t see lunch as something to celebrate because it’s part of her every day. It’s so much easier to celebrate what we only get to experience on occasion, like the opening of spring. I hope we all experience each of these sun-filled days with the giddiness and joy we felt on the first day of sun. May it always feel like a sweet gift.

Ashley Rodriguez

notwithoutsalt.com

Award-winning food blogger

Author of Date Night In

 

Spring Chopped Salad

We have had this salad many times in the last couple of weeks. The produce changes depending on what’s in the fridge or what looks good at the market. There’s always salami, specifically finocchiona, sharp cheddar, and a bright, shallot-laced vinaigrette that brings it all together. (Serves 4-6)

Use this recipe as a guide. It’s really the sort of meal that does a great job of using up the leftover bits in the fridge. That’s actually how this salad got its start.

Salad Ingredients:

5-6 cups cut, cleaned greens, cut in 1-inch ribbons (I used romaine & treviso)

1 cup blanched fresh (or frozen) peas

1 cup chopped fresh herbs (chives, mint, parsley)

4-5 radishes, chopped

1/2 avocado, diced

1 cup garbanzo beans

1 cup chopped sharp cheddar

1 cup chopped salami such as finocchiona

1/4 cup toasted pepitas

Other Options:

Cucumber

Carrots

Bell peppers

Diced onion

Scallion

Blanched green beans

Asparagus

Pickled peppers

Olives

Shallot and Cider Vinegar Vinaigrette:

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot

1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Combine everything in a medium bowl and whisk.

Add all the salad components to a large bowl then toss with the dressing. Serve immediately.

Recipe by Ashley Rodriguez. Used with permission. All rights reserved. 

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A Summer List

So you have a summer list? You know, the thing you write at the beginning of summer when everything feels possible. For the past several years we’ve had a summer to-do list only to come to the start of a new school year and find all the things we didn’t cross off. Suddenly our wonderful and full summer felt unsuccessful because we didn’t cross things off our list.

Even with those silly end-of-summer disappointments brought on by the list I still have a summer list for this year.  But this list is different. It’s just enough so that if a day has no plans we can turn to it for inspiration but it’s loose enough that we will have no problem crossing off its items. Like picnics on the beach, read a good book and eat cherries by the handful.

We can cross off that last one a dozen times already as June’s massive heat has brought our prized cherries earlier than usual this year. More often than not our cherries never make it into anything except our mouths and I imagine you’re much the same. But I still wanted you to be tempted by this recipe because it uses the sweetness of cherries to balance a tart and savory salad that goes beautifully with anything you may be pulling off the grill this summer.

Pomegranate molasses adds an exotic tanginess that is makes it worth seeking out this ingredient but if you’d rather put time into crossing something off your summer list than seek this out then you can leave it out and add a bit more lemon and a touch of honey in its place.

Whether you are making a list or not I hope your summer days are filled with handfuls of cold cherries and leisurely picnics. Hopefully with this salad included.

ashley rodriguez

Photo property of Not Without Salt. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Couscous Salad with Fresh Cherries

Serves 6-8 as a side.

Ingredients

 

3 cups Israeli couscous

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

Juice from 1/2 a lemon

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups cherries, pitted and quartered

1 cup (4 ounces) marcona almonds

1/2 red onion, diced

1 1/2 cups, packed fresh parsley and mint leaves

1/2 cup crumbled feta

 

Directions

  1. Cook the couscous in boiling water that is seasoned with salt and a glug of olive oil. Drain the couscous while it’s still al dente, about 7-9 minutes but each variety is different so continually check the doneness.
  2. Rinse the couscous with cold water to stop the cooking then set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl whisk together the pomegranate molasses, rice wine vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add this to the couscous.
  4. Mix in the cherries, almonds and onion.
  5. Finely mince the fresh herbs and add those to the salad. Finish with fresh feta.
  6. Taste and adjust to your liking, adding more salt or lemon juice if needed.

Ashley Rodriguez

Chef, Mom, Creator of Not Without Salt, Author of Date Night In 

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Awakening a New Season

If you’ve been following along for some time you may have noticed that at the start of each new season I declare it my favorite. Perhaps it’s because by the end of one season I’m so eager for the next. No matter the reason, I’m declaring Spring my favorite. That is, until Summer makes an entrance.

Spring always comes at a time when I adamantly declare, “No more root vegetables!”. When I crave fresh, bright flavors over long-simmered roasts and braises. I long for those heavy washes of gray clouds to part and let through soft rays of sun so my tender herbs can burst through the dirt. And the moment they do you can be sure I am snipping them with great delight and relishing their grassy, fragrant flavor. From there they tuck into salads, bubbly sodas, under chicken skin and into aromatic curries.

This recipe is a comforting bowl of exotic flavors and Spring’s finest. Heady with garlic, lemongrass and ginger with a heat that tickles the nose and warms the winter out of the bones. With the help of store-bought green curry paste it’s the sort of healthful meal that comes together quickly.

This is also the sort of recipe that makes quick work of cleaning out the fridge. Say, for example, you find yourself with a crisper full of zucchini, then by all means add more to the mix. Don’t have a red pepper? No problem, it’s fine without. It’s the sort of recipe that should suggest a place to start rather than be followed religiously. Make it my way or make it your own, just be sure to make it because the combination of lemongrass, lime and fish sauce is just the sort of thing we need to wake up to this new season.

SPRING VEGETABLE GREEN CURRY

 

For the sake of this recipe, you’ll need to seek out a few ingredients that you may not normally have on hand. Fish sauce should be easily found in the ethnic aisle of your grocery store or at an Asian market. Most stores sell lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves alongside other packaged herbs; check the freezer case too. They can be a bit pricey, but you won’t use up everything in this recipe. Store what you don’t use in the freezer alongside the leftover green curry paste for a healthful and flavorful dinner in a hurry.

 

SERVES 4

1 tablespoon neutral oil (such as vegetable or canola)

1⁄2 cup/120 g green curry paste (available at most grocery stores or online)

1 carrot, diced small

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 (13.5-ounce / 380 g) can full-fat coconut milk

4 kaffir lime leaves (substitute 2 teaspoons freshly grated lime zest

1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips

1 small zucchini, diced

1⁄2 cup / 65 g shelled green peas, fresh or frozen

1 cup / 120 g diced tender asparagus (about 7 to 8 stalks)

1 cup / 30 g assorted herb leaves, plus more for garnish (mint, basil, and cilantro work well

1 teaspoon fish sauce, plus more for serving

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 cup / 200 g jasmine rice, cooked according to package directions, for serving

Lime wedges, for serving

 

In a large sauté́ pan or wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat and stir in the curry paste. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the carrot and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and sauté́ 2 minutes more before adding the coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves. Bring the curry to a simmer and then add the bell pepper and zucchini and the remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the peas and asparagus and cook until the asparagus is just tender, about 10 minutes more. Finish by stirring in the fresh herbs, fish sauce, and lime juice.

Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.

Serve over cooked jasmine rice and garnish with more fresh herbs. Serve with lime wedges and keep the fish sauce on hand. The curry can be made up to 3 days in advance.

 

Ashley Rodriguez is a chef, food blogger, mom, and author of the cookbook  Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship. Check out her blog for more great recipes! notwithoutsalt.com

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March to Health

Reposted from a March 2014 newsletter.

Here we are in March, where days of sun give hope for spring and colorful crocuses push through the stiff dirt in protest of those long dark winter days. It’s also the month where we’re focusing on health.

I was asked to talk to you all about my tips for how I stay healthy and to be perfectly honest, at first I laughed. Me, talk about health?! I ate ice cream last night and have a roll of cookie dough lounging in the the fridge because you never know when the urge might strike. And then I started thinking a little deeper, beyond my sugar cravings, and realized that I do have a lot to say on the subject.

First of all, I have no rules. There was a time when I put a lot of limits on the way I eat. You know what happened? All I could think about was food. All day long I would sit, hungry, dreaming about the food I told myself was off limits. I’m terrible with rules. Give me a rule and I’ll obsess over it. I thought about food day and night and yet never felt satisfied. I limited myself so much that it became my obsession. When I broke a rule I felt terribly guilty and shameful. These rules took the joy out of food and nearly made it my enemy.

With a diet of no rules, however, I can think more clearly about eating that cookie. Do I really want it? Today, maybe yes. But I don’t sit around dreaming of the cookies I can’t have, so I don’t crave them nearly as much. When I do enjoy them, I savor it—feeling good about its sweetness. I don’t fret over the calories. I enjoy the moment and move on.

I also listen to my body. I know that I feel much better when I eat meals laden with fresh produce. There’s no denying it. I feel strong, alert, energetic and healthy. I like that feeling. So when I’m not feeling those things, I take it as a sign that I need more vegetables and good food. Those are the times when I pack the blender with fresh spinach and toss in an apple, carrot and lemon juice.

When you listen to your body you are also aware when it says, “I’m done.” There’s no need to keep eating when I’m full. Again, when there are no rules it’s much easier to avoid overeating because you have no reason for an unhealthy binge. You’re free to stop and look forward to the next meal when you’ll feel hungry again.

I practice radical moderation. What’s so radical about it? Sometimes even my moderation needs moderation. I’m a firm believer in Julia Child’s great quote, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” There are vacations, birthday parties and holidays which make healthy eating difficult. Enjoy the party then the next day, recover with salad. I’m not talking about plainly dressed greens here. Even salads can be fun (see recipe on back).

Just like everything else in life, it’s all about the little decisions. Do I really need to find the closest parking spot? Why don’t I take a few moments to walk around the block? Is that second latte the best idea? One cookie really is enough, mostly. These little decisions add up to big changes over the course of a few months, years and a lifetime. It’s not about big, radical changes that fall by the wayside before dinner is ready. It’s about a lifetime of little decisions that value yourself, your health and the health of your family.

One last thing before you go make the salad. People often ask how I teach my kids about health. I live a life following the advice I just gave you. My kids are watching. They see me choosing to walk to the store rather than drive, they see me happily enjoying a produce-packed smoothie and a colorful salad for dinner. They also see me enjoying a bowl of ice cream. I want my kids to see food for the gift it is. Not a burden or a set of rules that need to be governed. My desire is for them to respect food and to love their bodies well. I teach them by doing the same for myself.

Ashley Rodriguez

Food Blogger ~ www.notwithoutsalt.com

 

Recipe from Ashley’s new cookbook, Date Night In is available on Amazon.com: Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship. Recipe used by permission.

KALE WITH APPLES, CURRANTS, AND WARM PANCETTA VINIAIGRETTE

Ingredients                                                                                                                            Serves 2

4 ounces (110 grams) pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 bunch Lacinato kale or spinach

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 small shallot, finely minced (1/4 cup or 40 grams)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1/2 apple, unpeeled and diced (I like something tart and crisp, like Pink Lady or Granny Smith)

1/4 cup (35 grams) dried currants

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1/2 a small lemon)

Shaved Parmesan, for finishing

 

Instructions

  • Add the pancetta to a large sauté pan set over medium-low heat. Cook until brown and most of the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the pancetta to a large sauté pan set over medium-low heat. Cook until brown and most of the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes.
  • While the pancetta cooks, wash the kale, remove the tough inner ribs, and cut into 1-inch ribbons.
  • Once the pancetta is brown, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the shallots and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until the shallots are golden around the edges and cooked through.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, mustard, and red wine vinegar.
  • Pour the warm vinaigrette over the kale. Add the apples, currants, and lemon juice. Toss to combine. Use a vegetable peeler to shave large, thin wisps of Parmesan over the salad to finish.
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Begin, Again

I recently came across something that I wrote on the first day on 2014. That day didn’t set off to a great start. My oldest, Baron, ended up in an emergency walk-in clinic with an earache that was causing him to shriek in pain. I wrote of the events of the day and how I started to see them as a bad omen for the year. “If this is how the first day of the year started then what’s the rest going to be?” I asked myself.

Thankfully, I quickly stopped that train of thought and realized that, first of all, aches and pains are a part of life and often a reminder of how grateful I am to have most of our days filled with healthy bodies and, secondly, as much as I love a clean start, I don’t need the calendar to tell me when to start. I can simply begin again and again and again.

The same can be said for making and then subsequently breaking resolutions. I’ve made them in the past then broke them shortly after and allowed the guilt I felt from not living those resolutions to hide the fact that each day is a day to start fresh – each hour even. There then is no pressure to hide from failed resolutions because each slip up is simply an opportunity to begin, again. There’s great freedom in that.

When the need arises to begin again, I’d love to suggest you do so with this simple carrot salad. Shredded carrots are dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and a few warming spices that hint towards winter because we need whatever we can to feel the warmth in these months. There’s also a bit of red chile which really warms; the amount is really up to you. It’s a welcomed bit of freshness in the season of long-simmered stews, cream-filled braises, and cupsful of hot chocolate. None of which are bad things, mind you.

While I’m not one for resolutions, I’m okay with seeking more grace in 2015 – for ourselves, for each other, and for the freedom to see each day as a new beginning. May that resolve guide us to more health, joy, and love in the coming year.

by Ashley Rodriguez                                                                           

Chef, food blogger, author and full-time mom. You can read more of her writings at www.notwithoutsalt.com

 

Fresh Carrot Salad                        

This recipe comes from my brand new cookbook, Date Night In, which was the work of resolving to spend more time dating my husband in the comfort of our home. know picnics and winter aren’t synonymous, but I do tend to think of picnicking when I eat this salad. I’m particularly fond of the gentle wisp of cinnamon in the salad that’s warming without making the carrots taste too sweet. Add more jalapeño if you like heat.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced

3⁄4 teaspoon ground coriander

1⁄8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1⁄2 teaspoon sweet paprika (smoked or regular)

1⁄2 fresh red jalapeño pepper, seeded and very thinly sliced

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt

8 ounces / 230 g carrots, grated (2 to 21⁄2 cups)

1⁄2 cup / 15 g chopped fresh cilantro

 

Directions:

Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, coriander, cinnamon, paprika, red jalapeño, and salt. Toss the dressing with grated carrots and cilantro.

This salad can be made 1 day in advance; I’d advise adding the cilantro just before serving to keep it fresh looking.

Date Night In Book Trailer from Not Without Salt on Vimeo.

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A Homemade Thanksgiving

Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.”

John Henry Jowett

 

It’s that time again isn’t it? Time to decide if the potatoes will be gratined or mashed. Mashed, definitely mashed. So then mashed with sour cream, heavy cream, butter or all of the above? Will the green beans be casseroled, roasted or simply blanched then tossed with browned butter? What sort of spice and herb mix will go into the stuffing? Perhaps you have had this all long figured out. Maybe there’s no change from year-to-year. I can appreciate that too.

I love scouring magazines, websites and cookbooks this time of year for the classics and new twists on the classics. But this year what I’m most struck with as I start to visualize the Thanksgiving table is not what recipes, flavors, and ingredients I’ll use but rather how incredibly thankful I am to have a spot at the table.

I’m finding myself less motivated by which method I’ll brine then roast the turkey and more inspired by the heart of the holiday; being thankful. The simple fact that I get to think about my potato preparation, which pies to include in the dessert line up, and who is joining me at the table, well, that’s enough.

Coming to this realization was first met with a bit of fretting over the fact that it’s already into November and I haven’t given the food as much thought as I normally do. Thoughts of letting people down, and lackluster side dishes began to swirl before that rational voice inside my head, however soft it may be, began to whisper, “just be thankful.”

There will be a feast, maybe it won’t be as inspired as the Latin Thanksgiving menu we enjoyed last year but I will be thankful, grateful and very full by the end of the day.

 

TURKEY ROULADE WITH SAUSAGE STUFFING

inspired by Ina Garten

Serves 8

This is a twist on the classic bird but the classic flavors are all there. Extra bonus – it doesn’t take nearly as long to roast.

The most difficult part about this recipe is tying the stuffed turkey just prior to roasting. It makes the job much easier if you have an extra set of hands help you get the turkey to submit. It’s going to be messy and you’ll feel a bit clumsy. Be brave and confident as it will come together and your reward for such bravery will be a flavorful and moist turkey that will sure evoke elation and cheers as it’s brought to the table for (easy) carving.

3/4 cup dried cherries (or cranberries)

1/2 cup brandy

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 ½ cups diced onions (2 onions)

1 cup (1/2-inch-diced) celery (3 stalks)

3/4 pound pork sausage, casings removed

1 ½ teaspoons paprika

1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves

3 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, toasted

3 cups herb-seasoned stuffing mix (homemade recipe below)

1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade

1 large egg, beaten

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons good mustard

1 whole turkey boned (save bones, wings and giblets for gravy and stock)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

 

Place the dried cherries in a small saucepan and pour in the brandy and 1/4 cup water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, crumbling it into small bits with a fork, and saute, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes, until cooked and browned. Stir in 1 teaspoon paprika and a pinch of salt. Add the cherries with the liquid, the chopped rosemary, and hazelnuts and cook for 2 more minutes. Scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon.

Place the stuffing mix in a large bowl. Add the sausage mixture, chicken stock, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and stir well. (The stuffing may be prepared ahead and stored in the refrigerator overnight.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place a baking rack on a sheet pan.

Lay the butterflied turkey skin side down on a cutting board. Sprinkle the meat with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and spread the mustard over the turkey.

Spread the stuffing in a 1/2-inch-thick layer over the meat, leaving a half-inch border on all sides. Don’t mound the stuffing or the turkey will be difficult to roll. (Place any leftover stuffing in a buttered gratin dish and bake for the last 45 minutes of roasting alongside the turkey.)

Starting at 1 end, roll the turkey like a jelly roll and tuck in any stuffing that tries to escape on the sides. Tie the roast firmly with kitchen twine every 2 inches to make a compact cylinder.

Place the stuffed turkey seam side down on the rack on the sheet pan. Brush with the melted butter, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and remaining ½ teaspoon paprika, and roast for 1 3/4 to 2 hours, until an instant-read thermometer registers 150 degrees F in the center.

Cover the turkey with aluminum foil and allow it to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Carve 1/2-inch-thick slices and serve warm with the extra stuffing.

 

Homemade Stuffing Mix

3 cups ½” diced rustic bread

½ cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, sage, rosemary, thyme etc.)

½ teaspoon garlic powder

3 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

pepper

 

Combine everything in a large bowl and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350*F until bread is golden and dried out, about 20 minutes. Stir the mixture halfway through the baking process. Taste and add more salt if desired.

 

-Ashley Rodriguez

Chef, feeder of three hungry children, creator of Not Without Salt and author of Date Night In, Running Press 2015.

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Late Summer Soup

For weeks now people around me have been hinting at fall. “It’s coming!” they’ll say. Or, “Did you feel the chill in the air? It’s almost here.” And I would just simply look at them and shake my head, not yet. I wasn’t ready and fretted a bit not knowing if this would be the one year that I regret the coming of the next season. But I should know this by now; it happens in an instant and I think today is that instant.

We’ve just returned from three days of camping in the woods. A sort of last hurrah complete with a camp fire that never quit, a breezy hike to the beach, bacon cooked until crisp over the fire, stories told with sticky marshmallow covered fingers, and dirt, well, everywhere. As we were packing up our tents, the gray clouds started to sprinkle and the ice cream cone that I craved just the day before turned into a spiced cider craving. Suddenly, thoughts of apples hanging low in the trees made me giddy and raspberries seemed so last season. I’m craving butter baked into pies tucked around tart, crisp apples and sturdier vegetables roasted until sweet then whirred into a light, yet creamy soup that gently warms during the soft coolness of the evenings.

I have that sort of soup today (recipe below). It’s hearty and yet somehow light, which in my mind is the perfect setup for a transitional soup. You know, the sort that can still be enjoyed on a sunny day but satisfies when the days are getting shorter and you need more heft than the salads of summer can offer. This soup uses an assortment of vegetables with cauliflower making up the bulk, but really it could easily be adapted to what you have lying around. The idea is a tray filled with roasted vegetable blends with onions, stock and cooked potatoes, so that it’s creamy but not heavy cream creamy – that wouldn’t be right for a transitional soup.

There’s also the leek, which is a member of the allium family, but the flavor is lighter and somehow more refined. We could boast of all the vitamins found in leeks here too but we don’t want them getting a big head.

Their paper-thin layers tend to collect dirt so I like to cut the leeks in half then run them through cool water. From there I thinly slice them and use them as you would onions. But even raw in a salad they do just fine, as their flavor is less abrasive than their cousin’s. They are just the right match for this sort of late-summer soup.

I should have remembered that my moment would come eventually. The one where I’m suddenly ready for cool weather and cozy evenings at home, or maybe I’m just too tired and don’t want to think of unloading the car from our camping trip. Either way, tonight seems like the perfect one for this soup.

by Ashley Rodriguez                                                                           

Chef, food blogger, and full-time mom.

You can read more of her writings at www.notwithoutsalt.com

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Soup

Ingredients

1 medium head cauliflower,

1 large leek, white part cut in 1/2-inch slices

4 celery stalks, cut in 2-inch pieces

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, sliced

1 potato, diced

1 tsp thyme leaves

Pinch chili flake

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 13.5 ounce can coconut milk (or whole milk)

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Pepper

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 400° F.
  • Toss cauliflower, leeks, and celery with 3 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Roast on a baking sheet for an hour or until vegetables are tender and there is a good deep color on many bits of the vegetables.
  • In a large pot add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat. When the oil shimmers add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the roasted vegetables, potatoes, thyme, chile flakes, stock, coconut milk, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring to a boil then reduce to the heat to medium low. Simmer for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  • Carefully puree the soup in a blender. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Recipe adapted from the book Small Plates and Sweet Treats


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Ahh…Summer!

It’s here! I want to shout it from the rooftops, from the mountaintops, and from the sun-drenched beaches. Summer is definitely here. I see it in the overextended and heavy branches of my tomato plant, in the dirt covered toes of my kids, and in my neglected house, as we run out the door at the first sun sighting in an attempt to soak up as much vitamin D as we can.

We have plans to read books on the beach and wet our toes in the ocean. A new tent has been purchased and at least two camping trips are in the works. There are strawberries to pick and cherries are just coming on. Summer is here!

My days are planned around the food we can eat, in an attempt to sneak in as much of this season’s bounty as I can possibly muster. Berries are in our morning oatmeal and sit atop our freshly made frozen yogurt to cool us down in the afternoon. I pick vibrant green mint and chives and toss them into eggs and blend them into salad dressings. The cherries never even make it into the food, as the kids devour them by the bagful before I get to them. Corn sits next to our grilled chicken and is tossed into our salads, along with nectarines and fresh herbs. Summer is here!

If screaming from the mountaintops isn’t your thing, my featured salad recipe (below) will do it for you. It is loaded with all the best of summer: fruit so juicy it drips to the floor and turns everything sticky, sweet corn, and green-staining herbs – all making this salad the best sort of food for a picnic. Serve alongside barbecued chicken or vegetables for a complete meal. Put aside any leftovers for tomorrow, so you can linger in the sun all day without worrying about dinner. It’s the salad that heralds the arrival of summer for you, so you can just sit and enjoy it all.

Ashley Rodriguez

Food blogger www.notwithoutsalt.com

 

GREEN RICE SALAD WITH NECTARINES AND CORN

Recipe from Vibrant Food, by Kimberley Hasselbrink  (serves 3-4)

 

Green Rice:

3/4 cup brown basmati rice

1 1/4 cups, water plus 1 to 2 tablespoons more for the sauce

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 small jalapeño, seeded and chopped

Zest and juice of 1 small lime

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Fine salt

 

Grilled Corn:

2 small ears fresh corn, husks and silk removed

Extra-virgin olive oil

Fine sea salt

1/2 lime

 

Other Ingredients:

2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus more for garnish

1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish

2 medium-ripe nectarines, pitted and thinly sliced lengthwise

1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco (I used Feta)

 

Directions:

1.            In a small saucepan, combine the rice and water, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Let the rice stand for a few minutes, then fluff. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

2.            Preheat the broiler.

3.            To grill the corn, lightly oil both ears of corn and place in a small baking dish. Broil about 6 inches from the heat, turning every few minutes, until golden and blackened in spots, 10 -15 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside until cool enough to handle. Using a large, sharp knife, cut the kernels from the cob to yield about 1 cup. If you have more than this amount, save it for another use. Transfer the kernels to a bowl and toss with a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime. Set aside.

4.            Transfer the rice to a large bowl. In a blender, combine the cilantro, parsley, jalapeño, lime zest and juice, olive oil, a pinch of salt, and 1 tablespoon water. Blend until smooth. Add up to 1 more tablespoon of water to thin the sauce if it’s too thick. Spoon the mixture over the rice, scraping any remaining sauce out of the blender with a spatula, and mix until the rice is evenly coated.

5.            To finish, add the corn and additional parsley and cilantro to the rice. Toss to combine. Transfer the rice to a serving platter. Sprinkle the nectarines and queso fresco over the rice in even layers. Garnish with additional parsley and cilantro. Best if served immediately. Can be made up to a day in advance; bring to room temperature before serving.

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The Avocado

It was almost embarrassing how giddy I was about the rows and rows of avocado trees that lined the slope at the house I stayed at in California. I became known as the girl who eats avocado for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.. What can I say? I love their wrinkled skin that hides a soft, citron flesh. The taste is like grassy butter that slathers beautifully on toast or is great eaten alone with a squeeze of lemon plucked from the tree nearby.

I justified my avocado binging by saying I was making up for lost time. You see I wasn’t always an avocado fanatic. My infatuation began with guacamole and now I’m perfectly happy with an avocado and a spoon. As an adult I can now appreciate all the health benefits that comes with eating avocados. They are packed with protein, help to regulate blood sugar levels and protect against many types of cancer. They are indeed high in fat but it’s the sort of fat your body needs. It’s the sort of fat that makes your skin glow, your hair healthy and can be a nutrient dense replacement for butter in many recipes.

An avocado is in its prime when a soft nudge against the dark skin yields slightly. It’s neither too firm nor too soft. The exterior is uniform in color and if you carefully take a peek under the little cap where the stem was once connected it should look bright and green. If it is brown than the avocado will be brown too. If you want to speed up the ripening, store the avocados in a closed brown paper bag. Throw a banana in the bag to really get things ripening quickly.

As I walked through those avocado trees and stood there starry eyed at those branches dripping from the weight of the fruit I couldn’t help but envy California and the sun that makes avocados so abundant. But perhaps I wouldn’t appreciate them as I do now because for me, they are a luxury and one that I don’t take for granted. So when an avocado is in the kitchen I do my best to make sure it remains the star of the dish.

Here are a few ideas to make an avocado shine in your kitchen:

 

Grapefruit Guacamole: Dice two ripe avocados and mix with diced segmented grapefruit. Add a squeeze of lime and 1/4 cup or so of finely diced red onion. Add salt then taste and adjust.

 

Avocado Salad with Orange, Olives and Mint: Serve sliced avocado along with peeled and sliced oranges. Top with pitted and chopped kalamata olives and garnish with fresh mint. Serve alongside grilled fish.

 

Avocado Ice Cream: Because of the fat content, avocados turn into a creamy ice cream. Blend avocado with coconut milk (and cream if you’d like), add a bit of sugar, a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime. Freeze in your ice cream machine or turn it into popsicles. Avocados also make smoothies taste like a rich milkshake.

 

Chilled Avocado Soup

Serves 4

1 avocado

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or more)

2 tablespoons lime juice

salt and pepper

Blend the avocado with the broth, lime juice and a pinch of salt. Taste and add more salt and pepper to your liking.

Garnish with cilantro, diced mango, diced onion, sliced melon, chopped tomatoes or peppers.

Serve chilled as an appetizer or first course.

 

Ashley Rodriguez

Food Blogger

www.notwithoutsalt.com