At the last family gathering I was totally surprised to hear how many of my family members actually read my posts here on Kitchen Apparel.  More than a few people told me I was crazy for making Ramp Salt, and then promptly asked me what the hell ramps were anyway.  I think when most bloggers start out they are worried that only their family is reading, but for me it was the complete opposite.  I have been pleasantly surprised to hear that many family members that I never thought would even click on my website, are actually reading (yes I'm talking about you Uncle Ron).  So where am I going with this...well, this bright yellow ice cream maker you see, was a Christmas gift from my brother and his wife (my favorite sister-in-law).  They actually bought it for me so that I could use it for posting recipes.  My brother was even awesome enough to pick out this book for me because he knows that I don't drink cows milk and I like to make vegan recipes.  I guess I shouldn't be so surprised that my family is so supportive of my weird domestic hobbies, but I will now be ever mindful and appreciative of their encouragement and love.    

    I also have a little bit of a confession to make today, "I, Sandra Kehoe, have never tasted nor cooked with rhubarb before".  I know, try not to judge me too harshly.  While working with my health coach, Irina Kachalenko I vowed to keep an open mind and try new things.  So this spring I got yet another chance to try a food that I always shied away from because it just seemed weird.  In my mind I have always thought, poisonous leaves on top of super long crazy hot pink stalks of vegetable matter. I'm not so sure I want to go near it let alone put it in my mouth.  So this year I put on my big girl pants and grabbed all the rhubarb at the farm stand counter.  I wonder if I looked a little desperate or maybe they just remembered me from my first trip when I cleaned out their whole stash of asparagus just minutes after they picked it (the crazy lady with two kids, I guess it's pretty hard to forget).  So to make a long story short, lets just say I have a new love for all things rhubarb.  I have been eating it on or with everything for the last few days and I can't get enough.  I really wanted to make an ice cream that was just purely rhubarb because I enjoy the tartness.  We have been having some hot sticky weather here in New Jersey so ice cream just seemed like the perfect treat in lieu of heating up the oven to make a pie.   

Rhubarb Ice Cream (Vegan)

3 cups coconut milk (full fat coconut milk or make your own coconut milk)
1 cup rhubarb syrup (recipe below)
1 cup rhubarb pulp (byproduct of making rhubarb syrup)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoon tapioca flour/starch
2 teaspoons beet juice (optional - to add color - I promise it won't taste at all like beets)

Simmer the 3 cups of coconut milk in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add 1 cup of rhubarb syrup and 1 cup of rhubarb pulp and gently whisk to combine.  Allow the milk to simmer for 2-3 minutes while gently whisking and then remove the pan from the heat.  Whisk in the vanilla, tapioca flour and beet juice.  Transfer the mixture into a glass bowl and place in the refrigerator to cool for at least 4-6 hours. (You can cover the bowl once the mixture cools down a bit).  At this point you need to process the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufactures instructions or until you know it is ready (mine took two batches at 15 minutes each).  Transfer the "soft" ice cream to a container and freeze until the ice cream is set.

NOTE:  I recommend eating your ice cream right as it is processing in the ice cream maker.  They conveniently designed ice cream makers with a hole in the top just for this purpose.  I'm serious, there is really no better way to enjoy homemade ice cream!  

Rhubarb Syrup

Adapted from this recipe by the Hungry Tigress

2 lbs of rhubarb, chopped
1 cup of water
sugar (I used unrefined cane sugar)

    Simmer the chopped rhubarb in 1 cup of water over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until all the rhubarb is disintegrated.  Stir occasionally to make sure the bottom doesn't burn.  Transfer the hot rhubarb into a jelly bag or cheesecloth over a bowl and hang it up to allow the juice to strain overnight.  (This is the perfect time to chill the base of your ice cream maker). 
    In the morning take the juice and place it back into a saucepan over medium heat. (I got 2 cups of juice).  Reserve the rhubarb pulp that is left in the cheesecloth for making the ice cream.  Add 1 cup of sugar to every 2 cups of rhubarb juice and stir until the sugar is all dissolved.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then remove it from the heat to cool.  The rhubarb ice cream will take 1 cup of the finished syrup.  Store the remaining cup in the refrigerator for other purposes.   

"It is through living that we discover ourselves, at the same time as we discover the world around us."  
                                                                                -Henri Cartier-Bresson

    In the spring, foodies and localvores become frantic over one little word:  RAMPS.  What is a ramp you might ask?  Ramps are an edible onion-like bulb that can only be found in the wild from Canada to Georgia.  They look like an exotic scallion with a pinkish purple stalk and beautiful flat green leaves.  What is really cool about ramps is that the whole plant is edible and it tastes like a cross between onion and garlic.  They have a very distinctive odor that is really hard to explain, even for a former fragrance industry professional like me.  After tasting and smelling these awesome veggies, I can tell you that I totally understand all the hype.  If you can get your hands on some of these you will understand exactly what I mean.

    Supposedly we have Martha Stewart to thank for bringing ramps into the limelight, and thereafter sending the population of ramps into decline (See Here).  I remember seeing an article in one of her magazines about ramps but I never though they would be something I could get.  I have never seen them in a grocery store, but some people on the internet have.  The major hurdle to finding ramps now is their popularity.  If someone before you gets to the store or farmers market and knows what they are, you can be sure they will most likely be buying all they can get their hands on.  So I knew my only option would be to go foraging and find some for myself.
    The first thing you need to do to find ramps is look near a stream or river.  There is a fairly large river that is close to where I live so I knew that is where I would start.  We walked along a paved path in a local park that is frequented by joggers and cyclists.  I started getting a little discouraged as we walked for a while with nothing in sight, but we soon came up to a flat clearing close to the water.  I took one step off the path to investigate and I looked down to my right and there they were.  Right there!!!  I found them!!! As the boys played near the river throwing in rocks and sticks I quickly dug up a few and placed them in my bag.  My husband gave me a few looks of bewilderment, either because he was surprised I found some, or because I was actually digging up wild plants with the intention to cook and eat them.  I felt like saying, "it's too late now, you married me!"  I may be crazy, but I like to think I'm at least a manageable type of crazy.

    The next step is to clean your ramps.  When you dig them up they have a slimy membrane that you have to remove to get to the white bulb.  It is almost exactly like cleaning the membranes of a scallion.  The only other thing to do is pop off the roots and rinse the leaves.  Once they are clean the task becomes figuring out how to cook and preserve them.  Fortunately thanks to Martha and a few other food bloggers there are plenty of recipes to try.  Below are a few of the ways I chose to preserve half of my ramp stash so I could slowly experiment with using them.
No, my hands are not that hairy.  My husband graciously offered to be a hand model since it is super difficult to take pictures of your hands while holding a camera ;)

Some of the best ways to preserve ramps:

Pickled Ramps

If you do a quick Google search for pickled ramps you will find more recipes then you know what to do with.  I read through a few of them and decided to go with this one from Local Kitchen.  

I did however use thyme instead of parsley and I added some whole mustard and whole caraway seeds.

Ramp Pesto

After making pickled ramps you have lots of leftover green tops.  There was no way I was going to throw them out so I made some pesto to freeze and use later.

Process the green tops in a food processor and slowly add some oil until a thick paste is formed.  Spoon into an ice cube tray or mini muffin tin and freeze.  Once they are set remove them from the tray and store in freezer bags.   

Ramp Compound Butter

I was most excited to make this, and I thought I was so smart and original for thinking to do this.  Turns out I'm not the first to make ramp compound butter, but I was right because most people say this is the best way to preserve your ramps.

It is really simple, just take 3-4 ramps and chop them up, leaves and all.  Mash 1 stick of softened butter on your counter top.  Mash the chopped ramps into the butter and reshape it into a log and store in wax paper.  Compound butter can keep in the freezer for up to a year.

Blanching and Freezing

I am not sure of the outcome to this method of keeping ramps.  I'll be sure to add an update once I find out if they can hold up to freezing in this fashion.  I have read a few places that say you can do it so I figured it would be worth a try.

Blanch the whole ramps in boiling water for 2-4 minutes so they become a brighter shade of green.  Then quickly transfer them to an ice water bath to cool down.  Pat them dry, place them in a plastic freezer bag and freeze flat.

Ramp Salt

It's like garlic salt, only better!  A great way to preserve the flavor of ramps in a condiment that you can sprinkle on top of any dish.

How to Make your own Ramp Salt

*Dehydrator needed
    The next task on my list is to create some recipes using ramps.  The best ways to use them is with other spring edibles and possibly eggs.  While I wait for some local asparagus to be ready to pick, I have a bunch of ramps stored in the refrigerator.  Keep them exactly like lettuce, with a paper towel in a plastic bag.  They will keep for 2-4 days in this fashion.  Make sure to seal the bag very well, or you risk having your whole refrigerator smelling like ramps.
    Today I am dedicating my post to raise awareness about food Insecurity in America.  I decided to take part in the "Food Bloggers Against Hunger" project after watching the documentary, A Place at the Table.  It opened my eyes to a lot of issues that I never knew about or even considered before.  At first I thought I would have nothing to contribute to a project such as this one.  What do I know about being food insecure?  I can’t even begin to understand how difficult it must be when you can’t feed your family.  I sit behind a computer screen and write about fresh wholesome recipes made with ingredients I didn’t have to think twice about putting in my grocery cart. I take for granted being able to walk into a grocery store to purchase whatever my heart desires that day.  And lastly what could someone like me actually do?  How does one person so far removed from this issue help at all?
    After thinking through this for weeks I came to understand that I could help in a small way.  The little that I can do is listen, learn and help spread awareness.  One person can’t change a whole country and the politics behind it, but there are small things we can all do that will help.

Drive the Demand for Better Food

     What does that mean?  It means we need to make a conscious effort to support local organic farmers that grow fruits and vegetables.  We subsidize the wrong crops in this country and by creating a higher demand for locally grown produce we will create the need for more of it.  Farmers markets are becoming more and more popular.  You can visit, Local to find one in your area.  Farmer's markets are seasonal so when they are not available make better choices in your grocery store.  Always try to buy organic fruits and vegetables that are produced as close to where you live as possible.  If there are no farmer's markets in your area and you live in New Jersey like I do, look for the "Jersey Fresh" signs in your local grocery stores.

Spread Awareness and Write to the Politicians in Your State

    Visit this website and submit a letter to congress.  It only takes a minute to send a letter asking the politicians in your state to support anti-hunger legislation. This is a quick and easy way to help!  (I sent my letter :)

    Please do your part as a fellow American and learn about the issues that we all face together even if they don’t affect you directly.  Check out the documentary, A Place at the Table.  You can download and watch it on iTunes or Amazon.  If you enjoy this documentary as much as I did, then please urge others to see it as well.
    So the dish that I am featuring today is a Fire Roasted Tomato Soup.  I wanted to have something that could serve as both a hearty vegetarian dinner, and provide some great leftovers for lunch.  One big pot makes this soup easy to prepare, all the ingredients can easily be found in a typical grocery store and this soup is super fast to make (about a half an hour).  I also wanted to make this soup because it is a family favorite and the weather here in New Jersey has still been a bit chilly. 

    I tried to calculate the cost of this meal per person, but it will vary greatly depending on the ingredients that you use.  I used mostly organic items when I made this dish, and when I calculated out the price it came to about $ 3.32 per person per serving (large bowl of soup and big wedge of bread).  If you were to purchase regular items the cost decreases to $2.58 per person per serving.  The personal choice is up to you, but if you can afford it, purchase organic tomatoes, spinach and peppers because they are all items that are subjected to heavy amounts of pesticides when grown conventionally.         

Fire Roasted Tomato Soup

6 Servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 (28oz) cans of fired roasted whole tomatoes with their juices
2 cups of vegetable broth (To save some money make your own from food scraps, Oh my Veggies shows you how, HERE)
4 cups of water
3 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon dried basil and dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground paprika
pinch of ground cayenne pepper  (if you like some heat)
1/2 cup of whole wheat orzo (or any other type of small pasta)
2 cups of cooked cannellini beans or 1 (19oz) can

2 roasted red peppers, chopped (use either homemade or a small jar of chopped roasted red peppers)
a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
grated Parmesan cheese for topping

    In a food process or blender, puree the tomatoes with their juices and set aside. In a large soup pot heat the oil over medium high heat.  Add the chopped onions and saute until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and cook 1 minute more.  Add the pureed tomatoes, vegetable broth, water, salt, basil, oregano, paprika, and cayenne pepper (if using) and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and add the orzo, cannellini beans and roasted red peppers.  Simmer, partially covered for 15 mintues.  Just before serving (see note below) add the fresh spinach and a few cracks of black pepper.  Allow the soup to cook just until the spinach wilts.  At the table serve your soup with some bread and grated Parmesan Cheese. 

NOTE:  The spinach is best when it is only cooked until it is wilted.  If you do not want to serve the whole soup at one meal then ladle the extra soup into containers before adding in the spinach to the soup you will eat.  You can reheat the remainder of the soup another day or even store the extra in the freezer for an even quicker and easier dinner another day.
    The first day of spring has come and gone, and I've been trying not to read all the bloggers on the west coast who are in full spring mode with their asparagus and radishes.  That will be us soon and there will be ramps on the menu don't you worry (yes, I said ramps!).  But in the meantime I have been staring at my gorgeous citrus stash and trying to prepare myself for the inevitable diminish of bright citrus sunlight.  Sure with modern grocery stores you can still get citrus in the summer, but it is never as good and my favorite varieties won't be around for long.  I have been thinking about the best way to preserve my beautiful winter citrus so it will last through the summer months, and I finally came to the conclusion that I must make marmalade.  

    This marmalade is my love note to all my favorite citrus varieties.  I only just met Cara Cara, but it was love at first cut.  Her perfectly orange exterior coupled with a sweet pink inside.  Then there is the Moro Blood, whose bright colors and intense flavor never fail to impress.  And lastly the Sumo, bumpy and bulbous but with all the taste and convenience of a tiny mandarin.  These three varieties are my choice, but you can use whatever citrus you have available or that speaks to you in an intimate fashion.

    Please proceed with intent because making and putting up marmalade is no simple afternoon project.  Anyone that knows this blog, understands that I am not about quick and easy.  I enjoy making food that slows down life and brings enjoyment.  We move too fast, wanting instant gratification in so many aspects of our lives, but what ever happened to sitting for a while and focusing on a single project.  Making things from scratch doesn't have to be difficult, but it does require attention and time.  Personally, this is my favorite way to relax and find peace.  If your hobbies lead you to other activities then you can find delight in knowing that you can easily get great marmalade in a store or farmers market (or stop by my house for some!).  

Winter Citrus Marmalade (CaraMoroSumo Marmalade)

made 10 jars (4 oz each), but you can use any size jars you like

4 lbs of citrus (I used an assortment of Cara Cara, Sumo and Moro Blood Oranges)
4 cups of the liquid from cooking the zest
5 cups of sugar (I prefer to use unrefined natural cane sugar but regular white sugar is fine too)

Wash the oranges in warm soapy water and then dry completely.  Using a serrated vegetable peeler or sharp knife, remove the zest from all the fruit.  Stacking a few of the zest strips at a time, slice them as thin as possible.  Collect all the zest and place it in a large pot with 2 quarts of water.  Bring the zest and water to a boil on the stove top. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the zest is tender.  When finished drain the zest from the water and reserve 4 cups of the cooking liquid. 

While your zest is simmering this is a great time to supreme all the citrus fruit.  Collect the segments and juice into one bowl and collect the membranes and seeds in another bowl.  Once all the fruit has been separated, collect a handful of the seeds and some of the inner membranes and bundle it into some cheesecloth and tie shut with twine so that no seeds can escape.  Prepare a boiling water bath and sanitize your jars and bands.  Place cleaned lids into warm water and set aside.  Set sanitized jars and bands on the counter in preparation of filling.   

In a large and deep pot combine the drained zest, 4 cups of cooking liquid, segmented citrus, sugar, and the cheesecloth bundle of seeds.  Bring everything to a vigorous boil and continue to boil until the mixture reaches the set point at 220° F, which can take about 30 to 40 minutes or longer.  Make sure to stir occasionally so it doesn't burn.  The mixture must hold at 220° F for 1 minute after you remove the pot from the heat source (you should also test the marmalade using the freezer test).  If the marmalade is not ready then return the pot to the heat and cook an additional 5 minutes and test it again.  Once it is set to your liking remove the pot from the heat and remove the cheesecloth bundle and discard it. 

Ladle the marmalade into the prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch head space and wipe the rims clean.  Add the lids and bands (finger tight), and process the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.  Remove the jars from the boiling water and set on top of a kitchen towel on the counter to cool.  Listen for the tink, tink, tink of sealing jars and check the seals using the finger test the next day.  Label your jars and pass them out to family and friends!

If you would like additional information about canning and techniques visit these two great sites: Food in Jars and Local Kitchen.  You can also pick up a free "Intro to Canning" on the Ball website: Click Here.   

    So are you tired of me using sunflower greens yet!  I can't help myself, they are just too much fun.  I use a pallet of them and immediately start growing another.  I realized the other day that I wanted to share a juice recipe that included sunflower greens to show you yet another way to use them.  This juice is not for the beginner and definitely not for anyone who has a bad relationship with beets.  But if you are into juicing and interested in a new combination, then let me introduce you to one of my favorites: Sunflower Sunset.
    You may be thinking, "why is this drink called Sunflower Sunset?"  Because every juice (just like every color of paint) needs a great name.  One of the fun parts to juicing is trying to come up with a name for the color of juice that comes out of all the different combinations of fruits and vegetables.  Do you ever wonder how the names get chosen for colors?  Like, whose really fun job is it to come up with a new name for a crayola crayon.  Color is so important because even without putting something in your mouth you can taste and feel it just by seeing it's color.  Was "Sunflower Sunset" the correct name for the color of this juice, you tell me?    

The juicer that I use is a Breville Juice Fountain ® Compact

How to grow your own Sunflower Greens:  Click Here

Sunflower Sunset Juice (Raw & Vegan)

approx. 3 cups of juice (results will vary between juicers)

1 pallet of sunflower greens (approximately 2 cups)
3 peeled moro blood oranges
3 organic beets with their tops, scrubbed completely clean from dirt or sand
1 peeled sweet potato
4 large organic carrots, scrubbed clean
1/2 teaspoon spirulina*(optional)

Process the sunflower greens, oranges, beets, sweet potato and carrots through your juicer.  Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of spirulina if using.

*Spirulina is one of those health food items that is said to be super great for you.  I was recently introduced to this blue-green algae by my health coach.  Spirulina makes my mouth very dry when I consume it, but it doesn't seem to bother me when placed into a juice in small amounts.  It has a grassy and earthy flavor that seems to work well with the root vegetables in this juice which is why I like to include it.   

    I think this recipe pretty much speaks for itself.  Winter vegetable stew is just that, a stew made from vegetables and eaten in the winter.  It is simple, warm and delicious to say the least.  I was actually looking for a great reason to use the last of my canned heirloom tomatoes and a root box full of sweet potatoes.  I found a new mixture of beans and grains by Bob's Red Mill and I knew I had dinner plans in the making.  The signs of spring are quickly sprouting (pun wholeheartedly intended), so this was my opportunity to make the last of my warming soups and stews before we jump outside and start shedding some layers.   
    There is nothing difficult here, just great ingredients and one large pot.  Soups and stews are my favorite thing to make for dinner because I can prep the ingredients a little at a time during the day, and throw everything together at the end.  Or you could even make this ahead of time and reheat it in a few minutes (and there are always leftovers after serving 2.5 people, which equals a future free night from cooking for me!)  Served alongside some crusty whole wheat bread, there is nothing quite like the warmth and comfort you get from a big bowl of stew for dinner. 

Winter Vegetable Stew

1 cup of Bob's Red Mill Whole Grains and Beans, soaked overnight *
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 small spring onions, sliced (yes I put spring onions in a winter stew - if you can't find them use 1 medium onion, chopped)
1 large leek, halved and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
4 stalks of celery, sliced
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 quarts of Ultrabroth or Vegetable Stock
2 teaspoons salt
1 bay leaf and 1 bundle of fresh thyme and rosemary (About 3-4 springs of each)

1 (2-inch) square of Kombu (This is to aid in the digestion of beans, useful but not essential)
14 oz jar or can of chopped tomatoes, drained (I was able to use canned summer heirloom tomatoes)
5-6 fresh leaves of sage, finely minced

Rinse your grains and beans mix thoroughly.  Soak them overnight in a bowl full of water that is about 2-4 inches above the beans.  The next day drain the grains and beans and discard the water.

In a large pot heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the spring onions, leek, garlic, carrot and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes or until the onions become translucent.  Add the sweet potatoes, grains and bean mixture, ultrabroth or vegetable stock, salt, bay leaf, thyme/rosemary bundle and kombu.  Bring everything to a boil and then reduce the heat.  Simmer, partially covered, for 40 minutes.  

After simmering for 40 minutes, turn off the heat.  Remove the bay leaf, kombu and thyme/rosemary bundle and discard.  Add the 14 oz of chopped tomatoes and minced fresh sage leaves.  Give a few good stirs and then your stew is ready to serve. Of course make sure you have some yummy crusty bread to serve along side your stew.

* If you would like to make this stew gluten-free pick a different bean mixture that doesn't have whole grains such as Bob's Red Mill 13 bean soup mix or your choice of dried beans.

    If you have never heard of rejuvelac before then you are in the same place as me a few months ago.  If you gave me the word not only would I not know how to spell it, but my best guess as to the definition of such a word would have been perhaps something used in a Spa?  I came across rejuvelac a few times as I was learning about sprouting, micro greens and raw foods. I was happy to find out that this weird liquid is actually a healthy fermented drink used to aid in digestion (considered a probiotic).  It is quite easy to make and it is also a key ingredient in many vegan cheese recipes.

    I get satisfaction out of sprouting and growing my own food, so being able to make my own probiotic drink sounded like something I wanted to try.  The taste of rejuvelac leaves something to be desired, but like a few healthy foods that I've tried, you develop a taste for it (take Kale for example).  Rejuvelac now regularly takes up space in my refrigerator alongside the fresh juice and chilled water.  I put it in my children's juice and I will drink a small glass almost every day.  Definitely a really cool thing to learn to make.  Rejuvealc today...perhaps wine or beer tomorrow!  

Rejuvelac (Made from Rye)

makes 3-4 cups

1 cup of Rye Grains (I buy mine from Sprout People HERE)
cold water
a glass jar large enough to hold 1-2 quarts of water (I use a carafe)

Sprouting the Rye:
Rinse your rye grains and put them in a glass jar.  Cover the grains with 4 cups of cold water and set the jar in a warm spot out of direct sunlight for about 8-12 hours or overnight.  Drain off all the water (I place cheesecloth over the top of the jar to keep the grains in the jar and allow the water to drain out).  Place the grains that have been completely drained back in the warm spot.  Every 8-12 hours (or once in the morning and once at night) rinse and drain the grains.  In 2-3 days of rinsing the grains should sprout little tails (roots) as seen above.

Making the Rejuvelac: Once your grains have tails fill your jar with 3-4 cups of water and set the jar aside in the same dark spot out of direct sunlight for 2 days.  After two days the water should look cloudy and even bubbly.  This is the finished rejuvelac, so the last step is to drain the rejuvelac from the rye grains into a container that you can keep in the refrigerator (rejuvelac is great cold).  You can discard the rye grains by putting them in your compost or even scatter them outside in the yard for the birds and squirrels.  (I've also been exploring some recipes for raw crackers with the leftover grains)
This same process can be done with other grains as well, but I agree with the Sprout People that Rye makes the best tasting rejuvelac.

Aged Chevre with Horseradish (Raw and Vegan)

Adapted from a recipe by Miyoko Schinner in VegNews Magazine (September/October 2012)

makes 1 roll, about 7 inches in length

2 cups of raw cashews, soaked in water 8 hours or overnight
1/4 cup of rejuvelac (recipe above)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3 teaspoons prepared horseradish + extra for rolling (extra is optional)

Drain the water from the raw cashews that have been soaking in water.  In a high speed blender or food processor combine the cashews, rejuvelac and salt.  Process until the mixture is smooth.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover it and let it sit for 2 days, allowing the cheese to get thicker. 

After two days add the nutritional yeast, lemon juice and prepared horseradish to the cheese and mix until combined.  On a flat surface, lay out a sheet of wax paper.  Place the cheese mixture into the center of the wax paper and form it into a roll (about 7 inches long) by applying light pressure and rolling the wax paper back and forth (this may take some practice).  On another piece of wax paper spread out some prepared horseradish and transfer the rolled cheese on top of it.  Gently roll the cheese allowing the horseradish to cover the roll on all sides.  Roll the cheese up in the wax paper, tie the ends and set the cheese on a plate in a cool place for 2 to 4 days to let it firm up some more.  After a few days you can transfer your cheese to the refrigerator where it can age for up to 8 weeks.   

I sliced my horseradish chevre and served it with some roasted beets and sauteed beet greens.

Roasted Beets, Vegan Chèvre and Sautéed Beet Greens
    Did you know that February is National Sweet Potato Month? Neither did I until just recently.  I'm not sure if this is an official or unofficial thing, but I am beginning to wonder if that is why my grocery store had an excess of sweet potatoes.  Either way, sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods that I equate with comfort.  I can't remember why I was thinking that I wanted some sweet potato biscuits, but I know that I wanted something warm from my oven (that was also gluten-free and vegan). 

    Despite my attempts to counter seasonal affective disorder with excess amounts of vitamin D, I still can't shake the chilly, wet drabness that has been lingering around lately.  I have been longing to see sprouting daffodils, robins bobbing around my yard and the grass growing a more vivid shade of green with every warm rain shower.  February may be sweet potato month, but if ever there was a color for a month I would give February "beige
."  As I was collecting my pictures for this post I realized that I was lacking great color, but sometimes you mirror how you feel in your environment.  Right now the interest is on texture, patterns, shadows and mood.  So therefore, I am trying to project warm, cozy, crackly and delightful thoughts to usher us through to those brighter and more colorful months ahead.

Sweet Potato Biscuits (Vegan & Gluten-Free)

Adapted from Apple & Oat Biscuits by Green Kitchen Stories

makes 8-10 Biscuits

Sweet Potato Mash
1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil, at room temp
2 large sweet potatoes
1 cup water
1 small apple, peeled and chopped * (optional - I find it adds a little extra sweetness)

2 cups gluten-free oat flour
1 cup sorghum flour

1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons of arrow root or cornstarch

6 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil, at room temp
1 cup of the sweet potato mash

1/4 cup maple syrup

Making the Sweet Potato Mash: Peel and chop the sweet potatoes and apple (if using).  In a saucepan heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin coconut oil and toss in the sweet potatoes.  Give them one good stir and then cover and cook for 5 minutes (it is ok if they burn a little, in fact it is a good thing if they do).  Stir in 1 cup of water and the chopped apple then give it one more good stir.  Bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork.  Take them off the heat and mash them with a fork or a potato masher.  You can leave it a little chunky if you like.  Set the mash aside.  (This will probably make plenty of extra so you can either make two batches of biscuits or save the leftover mash and eat it with some brown sugar and a pat of butter)

Making the Biscuits:  Preheat your oven to 450° F.  Place a cookie sheet in the oven to warm while you prepare the biscuits.  In a large bowl whisk the oat flour, sorghum flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and arrow root starch.  Add the 6 tablespoons of extra virgin coconut oil and, using your hands, work the oil into the flour mixture until it resembles small crumbs.  Add 1 cup of sweet potato mash and 1/4 cup of maple syrup and use a spoon to mix everything together until you can gather it up in your hands.  Work the dough in your hands by pressing everything together, working the dough as little as possible.  Flatten out the dough into a round about 1-inch thick.  Using a biscuit cutter or a drinking glass (about 3-inches in diameter) cut out as many rounds as you can.  Gather up the dough and cut out the rest.  Take the warmed cookie sheet out of the oven and line it with parchment paper.  Place the biscuit rounds on the cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are hard and the bottoms slightly browned. 

*These are best eaten warm out of the oven with some coconut oil spread and a drizzle of maple syrup.  If you need to make them ahead you can always cut them in half and warm them in a toaster oven. 
    I am not really that big into Valentine's Day celebrations.  I have had my fare share of good Valentine's Days and bad ones too!  I contemplated coming up with some chocolatey sweet dish, but my husband gave me a little hint (I really hate surprises) that he was going to get me some chocolate.  That covered it for dessert so the only thing left to do was prepare a dinner.  Over the last month I have been working hard to develop the ingredients in this dish.  The reason why I've decided to post this just in time for Valentine's Day, is because making this meal was truly a Labor of Love.  

    I am not a vegan, but I do enjoy eating and making vegan dishes.  After seeing an article in VegNews Magazine for vegan cheese, I knew I had to make some.  One of the ingredients that is needed in most vegan cheese is Rejuvelac, which is a drink made from sprouted grains.  Rejuvelac takes a few days to make, and preparing and aging the cheese takes a few more (about 8-10 days in total).  Was it worth it? I would say it is definitely worth it if you live a vegan, diary-free, or RAW lifestyle.  The reason I decided to go with Aged Chèvre was because I love the combination of goat cheese and beets.

    *If you are not a vegan or you don't want to spend a week or two preparing nut cheese you could always make substitutions.  Swap out the cheese and make roasted lamb, wild caught salmon, or dare I say filet mignon (which is what I would put with it, if we were being "grass-fed and pasture raised" carnivores that day). You could even just use regular goat cheese if you want, but whatever you serve make sure to add some horseradish to it because it goes great with the beets.   

Roasted Beets, Vegan Chèvre and Sautéed Beet Greens

serves 2

2 bunches of organic beets with tops (about 6-8 small beets)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
grey sea salt (Sel Gris)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Aged Chèvre with horseradish (For the recipe - Click Here)
Micro-greens for garnish

Roasting Beets
Preheat the oven to 400° F.  Scrub the beets until all the dirt is removed.  Cut the tops off, leaving about 1-2 inches of the stem attached.  Lay down a layer of aluminum foil and lay down a layer of parchment paper on top.  Place the beets in the center of the parchment lined aluminum foil, drizzle them with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle them with sea salt to taste.  Close up the beets, bundling them with the parchment lined aluminum foil.  Place the package in a roasting pan to collect any drippings and place it in the oven for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until tender.  To serve the beets, peel them (or if they are organic, I just leave the skins on) and cut them in half or keep them whole.  You can drizzle a little extra extra virgin olive oil and salt on top if you prefer.

Sautéed Beet Greens:  About 10-15 minutes before the roasted beets will be done, start to prepare the greens.  Start a large pot of water on the stove top and bring to a boil.  Thoroughly rinse the beet greens under running water to remove any dirt or sand attached to the leaves.  Cut off the stems and discard them.  Prepare a bowl full of ice water and place it on the counter top close to your stove.  Once the water on the stove is boiling, place the beet greens in the water and blanch for 2 minutes.  Take them out of the boiling water and transfer them right away to the ice water bath.  After they have cooled drain them and squeeze all the water out of them.  Roughly chop them.  Heat 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil in a non-stick skillet and add the minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute or until fragrant.  Add the chopped beet greens and saute for a few minutes and toss them around to coat.  Season them with salt and pepper and then serve warm. 

Serve your sauteed beet greens and roasted beets alongside slices of Aged Chèvre with horseradish and garnish with micro greens to make it look all fancy! 

    Normally when you say sunflower, most people will think of either the big beautiful yellow flowers or the perfect little black seeds that taste great roasted with salt.  But there is another aspect to the sunflower plant that most people have not heard of before: Sunflower Greens!  Bright, crunchy and green, they almost remind me of a cross between iceberg lettuce and cucumbers. Except these little greens are packed full of nutrients.
    Sunflower greens are rich in lecithin and chlorophyll, both of which are great for your health.  They are packed with vitamins, minerals and are almost 25 percent protein.  Sunflower greens can be used in salads, raw wraps, as soup toppings, in a sandwich or even juiced.

    I have never seen sunflower greens available in grocery stores near me, but I do know that in some places you can find them.  If, like me, you are not one of those lucky people, growing sunflower greens yourself is the only option.  It is really not difficult to grow them.  If you follow this step by step guide I promise you can grow your own in a sunny spot in your kitchen or home.

How to Grow Sunflower Greens

STEP 1:  Preparing a little greenhouse/garden bed

  1. Purchase some whole sunflower seeds that are meant for human consumption (Not the kind you feed the birds with).  I order my seeds from the Sprout People, but I am sure there are other places you can find them as well.
  2. Save one of those white plastic food containers with clear plastic tops that you get from ordering take-out food and poke a few holes in the bottom with scissors or a pen (If you don't order take-out then you could always use a regular plant pot that has drainage).  Save the plastic top to use as a cover while the seeds are under the soil and then you can use the top as a drip tray as they start to grow bigger.  (As you can see below I saved two of the clear plastic tops so I could have a top and a drip tray at the same time - We order a lot of Thai take-out because bringing a 3 year old and a 1 year old to a restaurant is just not fun!)
  3. Get organic potting soil and fill the plastic tray up to the rim (or about 3/4 full).  Now you have a little greenhouse/garden bed all set up for your seeds.

NOTE:  The tray that I am using below is 7''L x 4''W x 2''H.

           STEP 2:  Sprouting the Sunflower Seeds

For the size tray that I use, I will sprout about 1/4 cup of seeds.  If you are using a larger tray then you will need to increase the amount.

  1. Clean the sunflower seeds by rinsing them under cool water and cull through them to make sure there are no sticks or rocks (it happens sometimes).
  2. Place the clean seeds in a jar, bowl, or cup and add enough water to cover the seeds completely.  The seeds will float so to keep them all underwater place another cup or bowl over the top of them.  Leave them to soak for 8-12 hours or overnight.
  3. Next you need to spread the seeds out into a sprouter (this is the one I own) or you could even make your own by using another plastic take-out tray with holes in it.  It just needs to be something with good drainage.  (A colander would even work)
  4. Twice a day you need to rinse the seeds with cool water.  Let the water drain off completely and set the container out on the counter. (The idea is to keep them moist without being submerged in water)
  5. Continue to rinse your seeds twice a day (for normally about 2-3 days) or until the seeds start to sprout little white tails as seen in the picture to the left.

STEP 3:  Plant Your Sprouts
  1. Using a mister or spray bottle, moisten the dirt inside your greenhouse/garden bed quite thoroughly.
  2. Take your sprouted sunflower seeds and lay them out in a single layer (they can be overlapping a little) on the moist soil.  You want to keep them snug together because they will grow better.  
  3. Place the plastic top on to keep the moisture in, and move the greenhouse/garden bed to a warm spot out of direct sunlight.
  4. Once or twice a day, if the dirt or sprouts seem to look dry, give them some water (I like to use the spray bottle).  You want to keep them moist, but not soaking. 
  5. Once your greens start to open and push up like the picture below you can remove the plastic lid and move the greenhouse/garden bed to a nice warm and sunny spot and water daily, always making sure the soil is moist.
  6. The greens will grow and continue to stretch their leaves, always following the sunlight so you may need to give the greenhouse/garden bed a turn around every once and a while to keep them growing straight. 
  7. Another thing you will notice is that sometimes the seeds will stick to the leaves, you can just gently pull or pop them off.  (I find this task useful for relieving my occasional OCD ;)
STEP 4:  Harvesting your Sunflower Greens
  1. To harvest your sunflower greens all you need a pair of scissors or small garden sheers.  For optimal taste it is best to harvest the leaves before their second set or "true leaves" begin to sprout.  In the picture below you can see how these greens are a little past where they should be, because you can see their second set of leaves.  They will still taste fine, but try to grab them before this happens.  
  2. You can store your cut greens in the refrigerator (they will last quite a while).  
  3. Then just dump out the roots (I put mine in the compost bin) and start again.
And there you have it!  It's not as hard as all the steps might suggest.  Sunflower greens are in my opinion the easiest of the micro-greens/sprouts to grow.  It is even a fun project that you could do with your children.  The whole process takes only a few days so they can quickly see how a seed becomes a plant...a cool plant that they can eat!