Mushroom & Truffled Ricotta Pasta Salad

It’s been unseasonably warm here in Vancouver these past few weeks. I like it, but I have some concerns about what this weather means for us down the road. Anyways, a rant about global warming isn’t appropriate here, but what I thought would be good to share is a little pasta salad I threw together the other night when it was too hot to cook. Usually this happens in July so I was totally throw off my game in terms of ingredients for a no cook meal.

I’ve seen this mushroom pasta salad on the menu at Tractor, but haven’t ever gotten around to trying it, so I figured I’d just make my own version. My IGA is pretty limited in terms of fun pasta shapes so I settled on the most exotic thing I could find which turned out to be  orecchiette, you know the ones that look like little hats?  But penne rigate or any small tubular pasta would work well with this.  Cause let’s face it, it kinda all tastes the same (I know, I just made a thousand Italian Nonnas cry).

I went for a mix of shiitake and cremini mushrooms, but if you can get your hands on chanterelles or something more exotic go for it!  Saute the mushrooms in some butter and olive oil (I like to mix the two for flavour), and then after they release their liquid and start to brown I added a splash of white wine and seasoned with salt and pepper. Set the shrooms aside.

Use the best quality, full fat ricotta you can get for this. Add a couple tbsp of chopped herbs, whatever is in season is fine. I used mint, rosemary, oregano and basil (all from my new container garden thank you very much!) and to that I added some lemon zest.

Cook the pasta according to the directions and rinse it under cold water when it’s done to stop the cooking and cool it right down. Add the mushrooms, ricotta and a splash of good quality olive oil and then drizzle as much, or as little truffle oil over the top as you like.  Toss and serve at room temperature.

Although delicious the next day, this pasta salad looks its best when it’s fresh. The mushrooms tend to make the ricotta turn a brownish colour that isn’t super pleasing to the eyes after a night in the fridge.

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I served this up with a kale caesar to make it a meal and was pleased with the result. I’m sure you will be too!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. cooked pasta (small shapes or tubes)
  • 4 cups diced mushrooms, sauteed
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 tsp lemon juice + zest
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp white truffle oil

If you want a bit of a kick I feel like you could get away with adding some chili flakes to this, but if it’s terrible I take no responsibility.

Bon appetit!

 

Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with French Lentils

Happy New New Year!  Wow, it’s 2015, I really can’t believe it.  Unfortunately 2014 was a dismal year on the blog for me; not because I wasn’t cooking a ton and doing fun things. In fact, I think my cooking reached a new level and I was doing so many fun things that I just didn’t get a chance to properly collect my thoughts in this space as often as I wanted.

I’m not making resolutions or promises to blog a lot this year, but we’ll see what happens. Two weeks ago I proclaimed this blog was dead, and now here I am, back at it.  Last night I created something so delicious and amazing that I just had to share it.  Also, 2015 should be an exciting year for me for a number of reasons. I’m starting a photography course tonight so that means better pictures to accompany these posts, and I have a a few fun trips planned this year.  In addition to a handful of weekend getaways, I’m off to the Carolinas for a wedding and reunion with my college friends in March, that will take me to Raleigh, and Charleston (yeah, I’m already hungry for that one), and then in September my dream of going back to Iceland is coming true.  Two years after our first visit and becoming completely obsessed with all things Icelandic we’ve decided to do a full island 11 day road trip!  We’re also taking a little side trip to Amsterdam to get our proper Euro fix.

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So now that we’re all caught up and re-acquainted, I’ll let you in on a little secret I’ve learned.  It’s the ticket to perfectly roasted veggies.  Before you toss your veg on the sheet pan, rub a good thick layer of olive oil over it (also really great for moisturizing your hands while you cook).  Then throw down the veg, and drizzle more olive oil and salt and pepper on top.  This ensures that the side that roasts down first gets nice and caramelized in the oven.

And without further ado, the goods.  I had an amazing dinner at Pourhouse here in Vancouver just before Christmas that consisted of a cauliflower ‘steak’ on a bed of lentils with a yogurt raita and papadum’s.  To me it was the perfect plate of food for a vegetarian. So good in fact, that I left vowing to re-create it, which I did last night.  I just ate the leftovers at my desk and felt like I’d had lunch in a little Parisian bistro.  This dish is quintessentially French, it’s hearty, it’s healthy, and inexpensive to make.  The only thing I need to improve is my cauliflower cutting skills.  I only was able to get two actual ‘steaks’ because you need to cut all the way down to the stem.  But don’t worry, just toss whatever you get on a sheet pan and roast it up.

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Roasted Cauliflower Steak at Pourhouse

Roasted Cauliflower with French Green Lentils and Herbed Yogurt 

Pre-heat your oven to 400.

For the cauliflower:

  • 1 head white cauliflower, trimmed, sliced in half, and then cut into 3/4 in. steaks as best as you can (start from the larger inside pieces and work your way out)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the lentils:

  • 1 cup french green or de puy lentils
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • half a white onion or 2 small shallots diced
  • 1 tbsp herbs de provence
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • water, as needed

For the yogurt sauce:

  • 1 cup full fat Greek yogurt (honestly stop wasting your time with low fat dairy)
  • 1/2 cup chopped herbs (I used dill and mint)
  • squeeze of fresh lemon juice

While the oven pre-heats, boil the lentils over medium high heat with the stock, veggies (feel free to add celery, leeks etc. to this one), and herbs. Cover and simmer about 25 min. until the lentils are tender, but retain their bite, and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add water or more stock throughout this process as needed. I find cooking the lentils in stock vs. water gives a much richer flavour.

Place the cauliflower on an oiled roasting pan, drizzle more oil on top and season with sale and pepper. Roast for 20 min, turn carefully, and roast for another 12-15 minutes, until tender but crisp.

Mix up all the yogurt sauce ingredients and when you’re ready to plate, put a big scoop of lentils down first, top with a piece of cauliflower steak and then dollop of yogurt.

Bon appetit!

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My Roasted Cauliflower Steak

Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s fall.  In Vancouver we’re still having warm days, but the rain is picking up, and the leaves are starting to come off the trees.  That means it’s time to switch from salads to comfort foods, and one of the things I miss most being vegetarian is a good shepherd’s pie.  It’s an easy thing to make, but getting enough protein can be difficult if you’re just using mixed veggies.  So I came up with the idea of replacing ground beef or lamb with brown lentils.  I think the brown ones hold up a bit better than green ones, and they retain a bit of bite, which I like.

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I totally winged this one, and the result was nothing short of amazing…in my humble opinion.  Unfortunately it didn’t photograph well, but I find un-photogenic foods often taste the best.  I also haven’t fully raved about my new Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker on the blog yet, but let’s just say the mashed potatoes that have been coming out of my kitchen lately are some of the best ever.  I decided to pack even more veggies into my shepherd’s pie and threw in a parsnip for fun this time.

Anyways, let’s get straight to the good stuff cause I gotta get back to work.  Here’s my recipe for Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with Parsnip Kale Mash.

For the mash:

  • 3-4 big yukon gold or russet potatoes
  • 1 large parsnip
  • 1 small bunch kale, washed, stemmed and chopped
  • 3 tbsp. butter (use less, use olive oil, whatever makes you happy here)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Make the mash however you usually do, the parsnips and potatoes take the same amount of time to cook and are happy to take a hot bath together.  Add in the butter, milk and kale when they’re done and whip them to perfection (if you were like me and had some leftover creme fraiche in your fridge you would also add that).  In my pressure cooker I did them on the second red ring for 6 minutes and used the natural release method (yes, I am aware there are funny jokes to be made about these instructions). Set them aside and keep warm.

For the base:

  • 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed, picked over and cooked until they are tender but retain some bite (about 15 minutes)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups chopped cremini or white button mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 3 cups vegetable stock or water

Saute the onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms over medium heat for 7-10 minutes until tender.  Add the garlic and bay leaves and cook 2 more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper at this point, and add the tomato paste.  Cook out the tomato paste a bit until it’s bubbly, then add the wine and simmer it down to reduce slightly.  Add in the drained lentils and 2 cups of stock.  Simmer for 20 minutes, adding more stock if it dries out.  Continue cooking until lentils reach desired doneness.  Cooking times may very with green lentils as well.

Once everything is ready and seasoned to your liking (don’t forget to remove the bay leaves), put the base into a 9 x 11 glass casserole dish and top with mashed potatoes. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes and let stand another 10.  I drizzled a bit of white truffle oil on top, and you could also grate some Parmesan cheese.

You could make individual pies for a dinner party if you wanted…otherwise this casserole keeps really well in the fridge, and would also freeze well.

Bon Appetit!

Lazy Summer

I’ve been known to be lazy in the summer. And a byproduct of this malaise is that I cook less…a lot less.  I can’t bring myself to prepare anything more than a salad or a frozen veggie burger on a day that’s hotter than 25 degrees.  Mostly this is because I want to be outside, enjoying the sun and doing fun things.  It may be as simple as having a glass of wine (or two) on my patio with a book, meeting a friend for a walk, or going for a bike ride, but the end result is always the same on these long summer days.  Food is not cooked.

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I go through phases based on the seasons, and in the summer, as soon as the days get longer and the air gets warmer, the social butterfly in me comes out.  Beach after work? Beer on a patio? Dinner with friends? I just can’t say no in the summer.  It’s like I stop thinking about how much sleep I want, or how much money I’m spending, or the fact that if I go out I will inevitably have to buy lunch the next day.  I just say yes!  A friend of mine told me about her ‘summer of yes’  a few years ago and I quite like the idea of having a couple of months a year where you just do what feels right!

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But, lately, as the summer days are starting to get shorter (it’s dark now at 9pm, le sigh) and the air is a little cooler I’ve been incredibly inspired in the kitchen.  It’s like I’m a lost little puppy who found its way home! In the past couple of weeks I’ve been cooking, and baking (which is rare for me) up a storm.  My fridge is always full and I haven’t had an excuse to go for lunch in a while.  My husband is in heaven!

Now don’t worry, I’m not going to use the f word just yet, because we still have 4 more weeks of summer to go, but I will say that the days of just salad satisfying me for dinner have officially passed.  So in case you’re wondering, here’s what’s been going on in my kitchen.

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I made a split pea soup for my husband to have as an afternoon snack at work (yeah maybe it’s weird, but he likes it).  Just a little something simple I threw together the other day.  2 cups of dried split peas, 4 cups of veggie stock, diced carrot and onion (which I sauteed a bit), a couple pinches of herbs de Provence and I let it simmer for about an hour before I pureed it with my immersion blender.  Easy peasy (literally)!

I also made an awesome grilled vegetable ratatouille the other night.  I grilled up zucchini, these funny looking round light green squash (not sure what they are called), a couple peppers, eggplant and tomatoes and once everything was cooked to my liking, I sliced it up and threw in some crushed garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, herbs de Provence (yes, this is a theme), and seasoned it with some salt and pepper.  It was even better cold the next day!

Since I clearly have France on my mind, I also made my own version of a French potato salad.  I used mixed white and red nugget potatoes, thinly sliced fennel and green beans. My vinaigrette was simple too, grainy dijon, champagne vinegar (vive la France!), and olive oil of course.  That with a glass of rose and a Peter Mayle book and you might as well be spending a year in Provence!

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I’ve also rekindled my love for Deb Perleman’s blog (Smitten Kitchen).  I’ve made her barley, corn and haricot vert salad, as well as her chickpea and roasted pepper salad. Both were hits with friends at BBQ’s.  And as we speak, I’m waiting for her herbed potato and summer squash torte to come out of my oven.  I had fun making it so even if it’s terrible it’s not a loss!  Getting a little more comfortable with my mandoline over here…no big deal!  Let’s hope I still have all my fingers at Christmas though!

And on to the piece de resistance. The baking. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s usually pretty good…and not too sweet.  I hate overly sweet, sugary things.  I see kids at sporting events with cotton candy stuck all over their hands and faces and I have to look away, like I’ve seen a snake or something.

Every August with zucchini is in abundance I make this chocolate olive oil zucchini bread. Who are we kidding, it’s a cake, but it’s a healthy cake!.  Simply amazing!  I also adapted a recipe from my new Turkish cookbook for a fig and walnut cake.  Here’s my version:

  • 8-10 fresh figs, quartered
  • 2 T semolina or corn meal
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 T orange juice, or zest of an orange
  • 1/2 C olive oil
  • 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 1 cup yogurt (I used goats yogurt as it’s more Turkish)
  • 2 C flour
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 cup walnuts chopped

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour an 11″ spring form pan and set it aside. Mix the figs together with the semolina and 2 T sugar in a small bowl. Beat the remaining sugar with the eggs until smooth.  Add orange juice, olive oil, buttermilk, vanilla and yogurt.  Mix until smooth and then add the walnuts, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir until incorporated.

Spoon half the batter into the pan, then sprinkle the figs on top.  Top with the rest of the batter and bake for 40-45 min. depending on your oven.

So there you have it, I’m back in the saddle after some summer shenanigans. I’m feeling inspired and happy back in my kitchen where I belong.  Soon enough there will be posts about football and stew and red wine, but for now, I’m enjoying this beautiful lazy summer here in Vancouver!

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Red Lentil Ratatouille

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to update ye old blog.  Not sure where 2014 has gotten to, but it’s certainly getting away from me!  So far the year is off to a good start, and after another amazing dinner with friends at Nuba in January I decided that my ingredient of the year would be eggplant.  It’s so versatile and you can almost completely disguise it in things which is cool.  The problem is that I’m pretty crappy at cooking it.  I haven’t had many flops, but one of my worst was an eggplant lasagne that was underdone.  Let’s just say there’s nothing worse in this world than undercooked eggplant.

Oh yeah, and we got a new camera for Christmas, so now you’ll get to see nice photos that are actually mine on the blog!

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I don’t always like following other people’s recipes, but I do like modifying them (this is modified from Market Vegetarian), which has really helped me with my transition to vegetarianism.  I love the idea of French and Indian flavours melting into one another so I decided to make this recipe for eggplant, tomato and red lentil curry my own.

Here’s my recipe:

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced in half and then cut each half into eights
  • olive oil
  • 1-2 ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 c passata (or tomato sauce)
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 T fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 T each chilli powder, cumin and curry powder
  •  2 cups veggie stock (you can use water if you want)
  • 1/4 cup roasted red peppers
  • 1 cup split red lentils, rinsed
  • Fresh basil, torn

In a large pot over medium high heat cook the eggplant until browned on all sides, and it releases the oil back to the pan.  This takes a while so be careful not to burn your eggplant in the process.  Then remove the eggplant to a small bowl and set aside.  Cook the onion, garlic and ginger until fragrant soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes until they start to break up.  Then add in the spices and brown slightly.  The key to a good Indian dish I’ve learned is that you have to cook out the spices!  Add the passata once the spices have done their thing, and also allow it to cook down a little.  Once that’s done add in the lentils and the stock and let it simmer covered, stirring occasionally.  I added my eggplant back in after things had simmered about 10 minutes.  Then I let it simmer another 15 minutes or so, adding more stock as I needed to.  I like my lentils to be very done, and I enjoyed the way the eggplant sort of melted into everything else.  This was not the intent of the recipe I modified, but in my kitchen I do things my way!  If you do happen to undercook your eggplant (mine was a bit underdone) throw it in with the lentils sooner rather than later and it will just cook along with everything else and absorb more flavour.

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The result, served over some basmati rice, was hearty, flavourful and delicious.  My husband was sad that there wasn’t more leftover.  The above recipe yielded 3 large dinner portions, so I think next time I’ll double it.  You could get 4 servings out of it if you served it with a salad or some samosas.  Enjoy!

My Spice Jars Are Empty

It’s been 9 months since I became vegetarian.  It was a slow progression, but over that time I have eaten less and less meat. And my desire to consume once loved foods like bacon, salami and burgers has also diminished greatly.  I’ve realized that you can find substitutes or alternatives that take the place of all these things.  Although part of me will always miss these foods, and I may slip from time to time (all bets are off on vacation), I have to say that I am much happier on my new clean eating program.  I also find that I’m discovering new flavors, ingredients and cooking methods that have improved my overall cooking a ton!  My husband, friends and co-workers will all concur on that.  My mother still thinks it’s weird that I eat lentils, but I’ll make something that will win her over one of these days.

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So that brings me to a conversation I had this morning with my co-worker about how when you cook vegetarian you can’t rely on the meat to flavor your dish, you have to do it through spices.  It used to take me ages to go through one of those little spice jars; getting to the point where I was basically cooking with dried flavorless dust.  Most people don’t know that the shelf life of dried herbs and spices is really not more than a year or two at most.  Not very economical if like the old meat eating me, you only go through a tablespoon of allspice annually when making your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

But the new me is going through spices like crazy, so much so that I notice my spice jars are often running on empty.  My kitchen is global, so I don’t really lean towards one type of cuisine over another, but I find the spices I’m using the most these days are: nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, turmeric, cumin, coriander seeds and chili powder.  Other items have also recently become essential in my fridge/pantry that used to seem foreign to me, such as: jalapeno peppers, capers, anchovies (yes, I am aware they are not vegetarian), creme fraiche, miso paste, ginger, tahini, artichoke hearts, caramelized onions, and roasted peppers (the latter two items I always make myself).

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Maybe it’s because I’ve broken out of my shell, or I’m older and more confident now, but I feel like nothing can hold me back in the kitchen anymore.  I’m not afraid to try new flavors, experiment with a crazy recipe, or go completely off the rails and try something that’s all mine.  My successes far outnumber my flops, and nowadays I’ll even make something I’ve never done before for a dinner party, which is about as risque as I get.

I’ve raved about Deb Perleman’s blog Smitten Kitchen a ton, but I’ve recently discovered Sprouted Kitchen, which is equally as wonderful.  Both offer a ton of vegetarian recipes, or give you the option to add or omit meat which I love.  So giving full credit to these amazing ladies who I would love to have in my kitchen one day, here are some of my recent favourites.

From Smitten Kitchen: Miso sweet potato and broccoli bowlKale salad with pecorino and walnuts (goes great with a simple pasta), One pan farro with tomatoes (which I modified, my version here), Warm butternut squash and chick pea saladDeb’s Three Bean Chili.

Unfortunately most of the Sprouted Kitchen recipes I’ve been trying are from Sara Forte’s book, so I can’t share them with you, but buy her book, you won’t regret it!  I did make a big winner from her blog last night though: Pasta with fennel, arugula and lemon.

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And lastly, for a bit of middle eastern flavour try Yotam Ottolenghi’s mejdara, a mixture of lentils, rice, caramelized onions and divine spices.

These are all things that a year ago I would have probably considered making, but would have never pulled the trigger on.  I’d have thought, oh my husband won’t get enough protein from that, or I don’t know how to use miso, or even, fennel…I’m not sure I like that. So my advice to you is to try new things, you don’t have to become vegetarian to experiment with new flavors.   And over time you’ll start to learn what flavors go (or don’t go) with others, what you like and what satisfies you…and then your spice jars will be empty too!

Foggy Fall Food

We’re in the midst of one of the most beautiful and perfect fall’s I’ve ever experienced. A string of sunny crisp days, and clear, but not too cold nights is more than any girl can ask for. But the past few days have been a bit different; the city has been completely socked in by fog.  Thankfully I also enjoy a good foggy day, and last night, I took some cooking inspiration from fluffy grey cloud blanketing downtown.

I decided to make my own applesauce!  There’s nothing more appropriate for a foggy fall day than warm applesauce, loaded with cinnamon and nutmeg.  My friend Laura recently told me how she does applesauce in her slow cooker, so I figured I’d try that.  The result was perfect and it made my apartment smell absolutely amazing while it simmered away. My husband and I had to use every ounce of restraint to not dig in before it had cooled enough not to scald us.  But that was just part one!

Part two of last night’s meal was the star of the show.  Earlier in the month, as the weather turned I had a hankering for Ina Garten’s Pan Roasted Root Vegetables.  But as a vegetarian I was a bit lost as to what to serve them with, because usually I would serve them with roast chicken.  So I went out, bought a free range, very expensive bird, and unfortunately wasn’t the least bit satisfied.  But last night inspiration came to me and I decided to make oven roasted root vegetables and serve them over warm quinoa with a shallot dressing.  I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but the silence at my dinner table said everything (usually we’re a very chatty bunch).

So here’s a couple recipes that you can modify and make your own to your little heart’s content.  They embody everything I love about the fall, and go nicely with a big glass of red!

Slow Cooker Apple Sauce

  • 10 apples, peeled, cored and cut into wedges (I used a mix of granny smith and gala)
  • 1/4 c brown sugar (more or less depending on how sweet you like it)
  • 3 cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 long strips of lemon zest
  • 1T ground nutmeg

Throw everything in your slow cooker and simmer on high for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally, because you don’t want it to stick to the sides and burn!  Next time I’m going to try adding some dried cranberries and see how that turns out.  It’s seriously so good that you’ll want to eat it over vanilla ice cream.

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Roasted Veggies and Quinoa

  • 4 cups cooked quinoa (warm)
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • Turnips, rutabaga or celery root peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 4 handfuls brussels sprouts, par boiled and halved
  • Red onion, sliced, but not too thinly
  • Fresh parsley for garnish

Turn your oven on to 450 and toss the veggies with some olive oil, salt and pepper on a sheet pan.  Roast for 10 min, turn, and roast another 10-15 min. until easily pierced with a fork.  Be careful not to over cook them.

When the veggies are done, add them to the quinoa with any drippings or browned bits form the pan.  Add your dressing, lots of options here.  I used a pre-made shallot vinaigrette from Whole Foods that was delicious, but if I’d had to go from scratch I would have done oil, honey, dijon and red wine vinegar as my go to.  The warm veggies will soak up a good amount of the dressing so you’ll use more than you might think.  It reheats beautifully for lunch the next day as well!

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Although these are both incredibly simple recipes, I wanted to share them, because I think a lot of people try to overcomplicate cooking, and are displeased with the results.  These aren’t fancy, but they taste great, take almost no active time to make and are pretty healthy and balanced.  To me the fall is all about rustic food that tastes good, warms the heart, and sends you to bed feeling full and content.  Mission accomplished!