August 8, 2015 Leave your thoughts
Hello everybody, and happy summer! As we speak, I am sitting on my grandparents’ porch, feeling the warmth of the sun and marveling at how pretty dappled trees look in August. The air is filled with energy, the days are long, and everyone seems to be in a good mood.
By the way, did I mention that I’m volunteering on a farm this summer? Well, in case I didn’t, yeah, I’m helping out over at Amber Waves Farm. It’s a pretty sweet gig.
It’s amazing to be outside in the mornings, pulling vegetables out of the ground with my hands and smelling the earth around me. I’ve done “pick your own” produce since I was a child, but I often forget about where my food is really coming from, so being on a farm is the perfect solution for someone who loves to cook. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to pull cucumbers from the field and eat them for lunch a few hours later, or eat fresh sugar snap peas right off the stalk. Such a nice change of pace from my life as a student.
(Yes, there is a baby in the CSA box. No, babies are not offered in Amber Waves’ CSA box.)
With the warmer weather also comes warm weather food, which is always best on the simpler, quicker side. Who wants to crank up the oven to 450 degrees or slave for hours over a stove when it’s already hot outside to begin with?! Not I! There’s also suddenly so much more local produce to buy (or for me, to pick), so a savvy chef would best make use of what he or she can find at the farmer’s market, or at least conveniently at the grocery store.
Here are a few ideas for some lighter meals and snacks you can make on these warmer summer days, or at least what I’ve been eating a lot of lately. I hope you enjoy! 🙂
Avocado Toast with Fresh Vegetables
One day in late spring, I needed to pack myself something for lunch and didn’t have much in the fridge to choose from. I saw half an avocado, some Ezekiel bread, and a leftover tomato from the night before, so I figured, “Well, how bad can it be?!” I toasted up two slices, smashed on some avocado, added the tomato, and garnished everyone with sea salt and black pepper…and when I took a bite, I was WOWED. How could something simple taste so good?!
Avocado toast is a no-brainer on a warm day. It’s filling but not stuffing, and you can really use whatever vegetables are in season, be it cucumbers, tomatoes, or even fresh corn. I recommend investing in a good sea salt, because it’s SO worth it. Add a little lemon zest or juice if you have a second; otherwise, just dig in.
If you’re gluten-free, feel free to use gluten-free bread as your toast or brown rice cakes (which are AMAZING with this). If you’re paleo, try smashing an avocado on top of big slices of raw zucchini or jicama–just find something relatively large and crunchy.
Smoothie Bowls (and Smoothies in General)
When the weather gets hot, eating a bowl of oatmeal is like a sentence to sluggishness and sweating at 8:00 A.M., at least for me. I need to eat something cool in the morning, or I have the strong urge to go back to sleep, for some reason. Does this happen to anyone else?
Anyway, I love having a big smoothie bowl first thing in the morning. I usually do something simple for the smoothie base–maybe a frozen banana or two with some almond milk or a bit of cocoa powder–then top it off with lots of fresh fruit, especially berries. For some protein, I’ll throw in some cacao nibs, chopped nuts, or hemp seeds, and that keeps me full and happy until lunch time.
I highly recommend adding a handful of spinach or kale to your smoothie, or using a teaspoon or two of spirulina powder to get some veggies and additional nutrients in. If you’re an athlete, feel free to include a scoop of protein powder in your smoothie.
Sushi with Whole Grains
Sushi tastes SO GOOD, and surprisingly, it really isn’t that difficult to make. It’s light on the stomach, filled with different textures, and can be made to scale: if you’re alone for dinner, sushi is a great choice, and if you’re having six or seven guests, sushi is still a great choice. Just decide how much rice you’d like to make–I’d say about 1/2 (dry) cup per person, to be generous–and get rolling.
Of course you can use the classic white rice, but sushi is delicious with brown rice or even quinoa! With these less starchy grains, I recommend adding a little rice vinegar mixed with some water and a bit of sugar to help hold everything together.
Personally, I’m a big fan of vegetable sushi filled with cucumber, carrots, bell peppers, a little avocado, and some fresh mango, but you can also use fresh seafood if you’d like. (Just make sure it’s sushi grade!) If you’re looking for inspiration, check out my Purple Vegetable Sushi, where I show you how to roll and assemble your own sushi from scratch.
Pasta Loaded with Vegetables
Not gonna lie, I’m super into pasta. What I love about it is that it’s like a blank canvas for other flavors and can be thrown together in under a half an hour. Even in a typical grocery store, there are so many different kinds of pasta to choose from in all shapes and sizes: pick what looks appealing to you! I love the heartiness of whole wheat pasta, so that’s my usual go-to, but I’m also a fan of brown rice and quinoa pasta. (By the way, the pasta pictured above? Oh yeah, those are llama-shaped, and made out of quinoa. Cool beans.)
Use whatever vegetables you have on hand–onions, garlic, tomatoes, broccoli, the list goes on–and give them a quick saute in some olive oil. Add a splash of wine or broth and maybe a little tomato paste, and voila, you have a great base! Throw in your desired pasta, give it a stir, and garnish with some fresh herbs, sea salt, and pepper.
My best piece of advice is to use a pasta that’s in a similar shape to the vegetables you’re using. For example, if you’ve got little cherry tomatoes in there, use shells or orecchiette (helmet-shaped pasta); if you have sliced onions or julienned zucchini, go for linguini or spaghetti.
Ice Cream and Sorbet…Basically 24/7
My first dessert was ice cream, and ever since then, it’s been my favorite. I love it all: ice cream, gelato, sorbet, sherbet…if it’s a frozen treat, I’ll try it.
I’m also obsessed with making ice cream and sorbet, if you haven’t been able to tell from my Instagram page. I love coming up with unique flavors and figuring out a way to make them healthier and vegan, if possible. Some of my favorite flavors I’ve tried this year are Cheap Date (date-caramel ice cream with a splash of rum–get the joke?!), black raspberry-sweet corn, and roasted apricot with ginger and walnuts. The possibilities are endless…or you could just be boring and make vanilla or chocolate ice cream. 🙂
Speaking of which, here’s a recipe for you, giving you the low-down on how to make your own sorbet! I tried to be as clear and specific as possible, so whether you’re a novice or an old pro you can still make your own frozen treat to enjoy.
Are you absolutely terrified of making your own ice cream? Has your ice cream machine sat untouched in your closet for years? Do you just eschew from frozen treats because of all of the cream and sugar? Then this recipe is for you: there’s no cooking involved, and all you need is a blender–you don’t even necessarily need an ice cream maker!
Use whatever fruit is in season, or use thawed frozen fruit or tropical fruits (like a combination of bananas and mangoes) in the wintertime.
Pictured in recipe index is an almond-dragonfruit sorbet I made in Hawaii. 🙂
Yield 6-8 servings
4-6 cups of fruit of choice (I love the combinations of strawberry/banana and raspberry/peach)
2/3-1 cup of unrefined cane sugar or coconut sugar
1 tablespoon of vodka or alcohol of choice
1/2-1 tablespoon of vanilla, almond, or citrus extract (optional)
1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice (optional)
Handful of herbs, like thyme, sage, or lavender (optional)
Here’s how it works: first, put all of your fruit in the blender with NOTHING else. Blend until everything is pulverized, then look on the side and see how many cups of fruit puree you have.
My rule of thumb is to use 3 tablespoons to 1/4 cup of sugar for every cup of fruit puree: for example, if you have 4 cups of fruit puree, use 1 cup (or a little less) of sugar. It doesn’t have to be exact: just round up or down to the nearest whole number if you have, say, 3 1/2 cups of puree.
Feel free to scale back the sugar a little bit, but DON’T overdo it. Because sorbet has no fat, you’re in a battle against liquid to prevent your frozen treat from becoming too icy, and sugar helps keep things from becoming an edible igloo. With tarter fruits–like strawberries and blueberries–you’ll definitely need more sugar, but with sweeter fruits–like bananas and really ripe peaches–you can use less.
Once the fruit has been blended, add the calculated amount of sugar, vodka (this also helps prevent the igloo problem), and extract/citrus juice/herbs, if you’re using them. This is your chance to be creative with your flavors, so go crazy! Here are some combos I’ve made:
- Strawberry/banana puree with lemon juice and vanilla extract
- Raspberry/peach puree with lavender
- Dragonfruit puree with almond extract
Blend again. Once everything has been well-incorporated, pour the puree into a bowl and place it in the fridge to cool for 4-6 hours. This is critical: you don’t want to be putting warm ingredients into the frozen ice cream machine base.
When the cooling time has elapsed, pass the puree through a sieve to remove any seeds or big pieces of herbs that didn’t get blended properly. Now you’re ready to get things rolling!
Here are the two methods for churning the sorbet:
ICE CREAM MACHINE METHOD: Pour the fruit puree into the ice cream machine’s base and churn according to your manufacturer’s instructions. (I churn mine for half an hour, usually.) Once churned, pour into a glass loaf pan or plastic container, cover with a piece of plastic wrap or a lid, and let harden in the freezer overnight (or for at least 12 hours).
BLENDER METHOD: Pour the fruit puree into a large flat glass dish, cover with a piece of plastic wrap, and freeze until just solid, 1-2 hours. Remove the dish from the freezer and cut the contents into squares–it doesn’t have to be perfect–and put them into the blender. Blend until just incorporated, about a minute, then pour the puree back into the glass dish and freeze for another 1-2 hours. Repeat this process twice more, then pour the finished product into a glass loaf pan or plastic container. (The purpose of this is to add air to your sorbet, which will make it creamier and also allow it to freeze better.) Cover with a piece of plastic wrap or a lid, and let harden in the freezer overnight (or for at least 12 hours).
Let the sorbet sit out and thaw for 10 minutes before scooping and eating.
What are some of your favorite summer foods? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook and let me know!