The Real Food Journal

Holiday Entertaining with My Lemon Thyme Vodka Slushy from 300 Best Blender Recipes

Vodka-Thyme Slushy from 300 Best Blender Recipes by robin Asbell

Lemon-Thyme Vodka Slushy from 300 Best Blender Recipes Using Your Vitamix

Your Holiday Shopping Just Got Easier

Just in time for holiday entertaining, I’m proud to announce that my latest book has arrived in bookstores. The 300 Best Blender Recipes Using Your Vitamix (Robert Rose $24.95) is already #76 in Baby Food and #87 in Blender Books on amazon, so it is off to the races!

Of course, baby food is just the beginning, as you can see by the decidedly grown-up drink in the photo above. This project was an exploration of every kind of recipe that the Vitamix makes easier.

Yes, there are smoothies, whole juices, and creamy soups, the first things most people think of when they start lusting after a powerful blender. “Mmm, I could make smoothies after I work out,” goes the thinking. But there is so much more.


Image credit: Colin Erricson

The Versatile Vitamix

We all know that the Vitamix, and other powerful blenders, are great for smoothies. But have you ever used one to grind fresh flour and make bread? Or mince vegetables for a chunky tomato sauce, before you puree the tomatoes to silky smoothness? How about make body care products, like lotions and face masks?

Oh yes, my deep dive into blending will take you there. If you want to get your money’s worth out of your Vitamix, you can find yourself using it several times a day. Grinding coffee, making powdered sugar, even whipping cream is super quick in the blender. I have a whole chapter on energy balls and bars, essentials to take to the gym or on a long bike ride. Fresh nut butters run the gamut from peanut and almond all the way to pistachio and cinnamon walnut. Alternative milks, which cost a pretty penny at the store, are a snap to make, and you can make incredibly fresh and healthful drinks like Golden Almond Milk, infused with turmeric, with my recipes.

Fresh  is Best

Grinding your own flours means that you can make just about any kind of flour, from Kamut and Spelt to gluten-free grain or bean flours. I created a fun assortment of breads, pizza crusts and other baked goods. Yes, you can even make cakes and muffins in the blender.

Using the blender to make spice blends, marinades and dressings gave me a chance to really take the blender around the globe. If you love Chiles based sauces like mole, the blender is your friend. My Ancho Chile and Plantain Mole or Green Pipian Sauce will make your south of the border menus more interesting. Ginger Mango Sriracha Sauce, Thai Blackened Chile Sauce, or Cashew Sambal may be just the sauce for your Asian food cravings. Or, blend up the Instant Creamy Spinach Sauce or Classic Swiss Fondue.

Make Holiday Entertaining a Snap

The book has a whole chapter on dips and spreads, so that you can whip up party fare or sandwich fillings in minutes. Mayonnaise, Cheesy Jalapeno Queso (and Vegan Nacho Queso) and Tapenade are just the basics, and Spicy Beet Dip or Salmon Mousse might be more your style. You can even make a whole assortment of veggie burgers and loaves- Pecan and Beet Burgers and Gyros with Yogurt Sauce are just a couple of the choices.

The book offers plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, so that you or your guests will have just what they want.

The chapter that you won’t find in most blender books is the body care one. I had a blast making scrubs, masks, lotions and skin treatments. Go ahead, read the ingredients on that bottle of lotion in the bathroom, I’ll wait. Once you look into some of those ingredients you’ll see just how much better it is to craft your own version at home, with easy to find natural ingredients. Plenty of the recipes use food you already have in your kitchen!

Make a Signature Cocktail For Your Party

But for today’s post, I’m going to help you out with your Holiday entertaining. Anybody can open a bottle of wine. You want your party to stand out with a unique cocktail. In this one, you start a day ahead to make a thyme-infused lemonade concentrate, then freeze it in ice cube trays.

And you’ll use fresh lemons and herbs, so that you get the most delicious cocktail.

Then, on the night of the party, you just blend the lemon-thyme cubes with vodka, limoncello, and tonic water. It’s like the best slushy ever, with a sweet-tart kick and a herbal note that makes it a step above your usual vodka mixer. You can easily make virgin versions for some of your guests, too, so everyone is covered.

Once you get your blender out and start harnessing the power of this kitchen tool, you won’t want to stop!

Lemon Thyme Vodka Slushy

Courtesy of 300 Best Blender Recipes Using Your Vitamix by Robin Asbell © 2016 Available where books are sold.

If you like lemonade, you will love this cooling, zesty slush. You’ll need to start a day or two before you want to drink it. Once you have the lemony syrup cubes in the freezer, you have delicious drinks in the bank, to dole out on hot afternoons, or for a party.

Makes 4 servings

  • Fine-mesh sieve
  • 2 ice cube trays
  • 4 margarita glasses

Lemon Thyme Ice Cubes

3 cups   water                            750 mL

1 cup     granulated sugar          250 mL

Strips of zest from 1⁄2 large 
lemon (see tip)

35         sprigs fresh thyme                35

11⁄4 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice         300 mL


2 oz       vodka                              60 mL

2 oz       limoncello                       60 mL

12         Lemon Thyme Ice Cubes      12

1 cup     tonic water                   250 mL

4           sprigs fresh thyme                  4


  1. Ice Cubes: Place the water and sugar in the Vitamix container and secure the lid. With the switch on Variable, select speed 1 and turn the machine on. Quickly increase the speed to 10, then flip the switch to High and blend for about 5 minutes, until the syrup is steaming.
  2. Place the lemon zest and thyme in a 4-cup (1 L) glass measuring cup or heatproof container and pour in the hot syrup. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, pressing the zest and thyme up against the sides of the cup to release the flavors into the hot syrup. Cover and let steep at room temperature overnight.
  3. Strain the syrup through the sieve into another measuring cup or bowl, pressing on the zest and thyme; discard solids. Stir lemon juice into syrup.
  4. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze for about 8 hours, until solid. Once frozen, transfer to sealable freezer bags and store in the freezer for up to 3 weeks. (Makes enough ice cubes for 8 servings.)
  5. Slushy: Place the vodka, limoncello and ice cubes in the Vitamix container and secure the lid. With the switch on Variable, select speed 1 and turn the machine on. Gradually increase the speed to 10, then flip the switch to High and blend for about 10 seconds or until slushy.
  6. Turn the machine off and stir in tonic water. Pour into margarita glasses and garnish each with a sprig of thyme. Serve immediately.



For the strips of lemon zest, use a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife to pare off the yellow zest in wide strips, avoiding the white pith.

There’s no need to remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs; both the stems and leaves will infuse flavor into the syrup.












Feeding a Hungry Ghost- Ellen Kanner’s Great Book Makes a Great Gift!


51i6dgfqf-l-_sx322_bo1204203200_One of my favorite writers, Ellen Kanner, wrote a fantastic book that I recommend to everyone who is looking for some Zen and some good food. It’s funny, true, and deeply soulful.

It’s called Feeding the Hungry Ghost, please check it out.

Here’s a link to more information:”Ellen

And a bonus recipe from Ellen for taking the time to click through.

I wrote about spending time in Austin Texas, with Ellen, here.

Bonus Recipe 2016




Roasted Purple Sweet Potatoes In a Tasty Wrap Sandwich, Fuel Your Fire

Roasted Purple Sweet Potato and Tofu Wrap with Walnut Miso Pate

Yes, they really are THAT purple, and they make a sweet, colorful filling for a simple, filling wrap sandwich.

Now that the Thanksgiving stuffing and pie are all gone, it can feel as if the month before Christmas is all about shopping. But I put it to you, you still have to eat. And nothing fuels you for a round of retailing like root vegetables. Don’t get scattered and stressed. What you need is the grounding energy of some earthy roots to keep your feet on the ground.

Roast a Pan of Roots for Easy Wrap Sandwiches

This year I came across some Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes, which are startlingly, gorgeously purple. Not some poetic pale lilac, mind you, but full on violet. I’ve written about Stokes Purples before here.

These color drenched tubers create a pretty dramatic dish, no matter what you do with them. So, since I had some various roots around from my big Thanksgiving cooking session, I thought it would be fun to roast them up with some roots and tofu for an easy to pack wrap sandwich.

Any sweet potato will work in this recipe, so if you can’t find the purples, grab some Garnets or whatever colorful sweet potato your store carries. From there on, it’s just a process of peeling and cubing. A good moment to practice mindfulness, as you peel and chop, and let all your other thoughts drop away. Practice a little kitchen meditation. Breathe.

Mindful Cooking and Mindful Eating

You’ll be glad, when you have these portable, easy wrap sandwiches to tuck in your bag on the way out the door. The focus that you put into making this nourishing food will be well worth it, when you sit down to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Promise me there will be no food court episodes at the mall. There’s nothing good there. Mindless eating gives you all the pain and none of the pleasure.

Tofu is fantastic in this, as it gets crispy on the edges while the veggies become tender, and it all marries in a sweet, savory, sage-kissed riot of flavor and color.

If you are in the mood for tempeh, that would work, too.

You May Just Want This Pate on Everything

Once the caramelized, concentrated vegetables were out, I craved some salty, umami-rich spread to hold it down. Walnuts, red miso, and parsley came together in an instant in the food processor, giving me the perfect pate for the veggies. With a hint of Japanese traditional flavors, this one is a winner, you’ll want to spread it on all your sandwiches, not just the wraps.

A sprinkling of fresh, light mixed greens and a drizzle of hot sauce made it all complete. I now had wraps for dinner and a lunch, ready to stoke the fires on the cold, wet days ahead.

Roasted Purple Sweet Potato and Tofu Wrap Sandwiches with Walnut-Miso Pate on


Roasted Purple Potato and Tofu Wrap with Miso Walnut Pate

Just crank the oven and toss some cubed veggies and tofu in a roasting pan. It all comes together in the oven, and the pate sets it off just so.

Makes 4

3 cups cubed purple sweet potatoes
1 cup cubed parsnips
1 large carrot, sliced
1 10 ounce extra firm tofu, cubed
8 large garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup red miso
1/4 cup fresh parsley
Sriracha sauce
4 9-inch whole wheat tortilla
mixed greens

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Combine the cubed vegetables, tofu, garlic, sage, and oil in a large roasting pan, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast, covered, for 20 minutes, then stir, scraping the bottom with a metal spatula, and roast uncovered for 20 minutes longer. Let cool.
To make the pate, place the walnuts in the food processor bowl and grind to a paste. Add the miso and parsley and process to a smooth paste.
Spread about 3 tablespoons of the pate on each tortilla, top with vegetables and tofu, and mixed greens drizzle with Sriracha as desired. Serve.









This Thanksgiving Try Coconut-Wasabi Potatoes with Miso Gravy and Crisped Sage

Holiday Sides: Wasabi Potatoes with Miso Gravy

Wasabi-Spiked Potatoes with Miso Gravy and Fried Sage

Perhaps I am stating the obvious, but, Thanksgiving is this week. Everyone here in Minnesota has been too busy enjoying the extra bonus round of Summer, oblivious to the holidays right around the corner. I never got around to raking the last of the leaves, but here we are. So if you haven’t got your Thanksgiving sides planned yet, I have a fun one for you.

Shake Up Your Thanksgiving Sides

Certain foods are required for a Thanksgiving meal. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, stuffing, cranberries, perhaps a hot roll or biscuit, maybe green beans or Brussels sprouts. Let’s face it, the Thanksgiving side dishes are where the action is. Depending on your crowd, this is an opportunity to riff a little bit on the tried and true.

Today, I’m fooling around with that Thanksgiving staple, mashed potatoes and gravy. Potatoes are a blank canvas, and the traditional version is primed with lots of butter and salt, then painted with thick gravy. To give it a little makeover, I thought I’d go with coconut milk and wasabi in the potatoes, and make a creamy gravy from red miso and sweetly sauteed onions. Will there be riots?

I’m betting it will go over big, as everyone realizes how bored they were with the standard mash. Keep reading for the recipe.

If you’re still putting your Thanksgiving shopping list together, here’s a handy list of some of my favorite Thanksgiving appetizers, main courses, some sides, even a couple of desserts.

A Handy, Clickable List of Thanksgiving Recipes

For a fantastic veg main course that will appeal to everyone:

Savory Roasted Vegetable Strudel with Hazelnuts.

Homemade Mock Turkey (please forgive the photo-it’s delicious!) with a pomegranate salad recipe, too

For Holiday themed appetizers with a twist:

Baby Squashes Filed with Creamy Squash Hummus

Sage-Pumpkinseed Pate with Pumpkin Corn Chips

To shake up your sides:

Purple Cornbread with Sauteed Apples and Kale

Cranberry Persimmon Chutney

Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Shallots

Wild Rice and Walnut Stuffing with Apples

Yam Fries with Thai Peanut Sauce

For Dessert:

Holiday Hand Pies

Chunky Pumpkin Streusel Pie

Mashed Potatoes with a Twist

I love Thanksgiving. It’s a pure feast holiday, with none of the cards to mail or gifts to buy. Just a big meal to plan and a moment to practice gratitude. I’m glad that we take a whole day to give thanks for food, family, and friends. That’s what I’ll be doing, as I cook up a bunch of sides to take to a friend’s house. I’m the lucky one, she makes the main meal for her extended family, with turkey and all the fixings, and I can bring what I like the best. The sides. Of course, they will all add up to a more than bountiful meal for the vegetarians, and everyone who feels adventurous can have some, too.

wasabi Potatoes with Miso Gravy Holiday Side Dish

Creamy, Coconutty Potatoes with Sweet Miso Gravy and Sage

For my potatoes, I bought some purple skinned potatoes that turned out to be snowy white inside. They were delicious, but you could use your favorite potato. I’d lean toward Yukon Golds, or you can always be traditional and go with a russet potato. I always like to boil my potatoes whole, so that they retain more vitamins, and don’t absorb as much water. Wet potatoes make the mash watery, diluting the flavors. The vitamins in the potato are just below the skin, so if you strip the papery skins off after boiling, you get the nutrition without the skin.

Coconut milk is perfect for mashed potatoes. Use full fat, and don’t skimp. A 15 ounce can contains about a cup and a half, so you will have a half cup left over. It freezes well, or you can use it in the yams with peanut sauce recipe above. You can use wasabi paste in a tube, or mix powdered wasabi with water, in a 1 to 1 ratio.

For the gravy, I went with a nice slow saute of onions in olive oil, and then sprinkled in flour. If you have a GF diner coming, sub sweet rice flour for unbleached. Everyone will be too busy marveling at the miso flavor to notice.  I used plain rice milk, but you can use almond, soy, or your favorite, as long as it’s not sweet.


So to all of you, I wish a bountiful and happy Thanksgiving. Despite all that goes wrong in the World, if we are lucky enough to sit down to a feast this week, we truly have a reason to be thankful.


Coconut Wasabi Potatoes with Miso Gravy and Crisped Sage

The beauty of this is that you can make it gluten-free just by subbing rice flour for unbleached, and nobody will notice at all. I used a good local cider with a balance of sweet and tart flavors, for a hint of apple.

Makes 5 cups potatoes and about 4 cups gravy


2 pounds potatoes
2 teaspoons wasabi paste
1 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion
3 tablespoons unbleached flour or sweet rice flour
2 cups rice milk, plain
1 cup vegetable stock

2 tablespoons apple cider
1/4 cup red miso
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh sage leaves
olive oil

Boil the potatoes whole, strip off the skins while hot and put through a potato ricer or mash by hand. Whip in the coconut milk, wasabi and salt. Keep warm.
In a medium pot, heat the olive oil and add the onions. Stir over medium heat until they start to sizzle. Reduce the heat as needed to cook for about 20 minutes, let the onions get some color and really get soft. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir it in. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Whisk in most of the rice milk, vegetable stock, and cider, and save about half a cup. Whisk the mixture in the pan over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Whisk the miso into the reserved liquids, then whisk into the simmering gravy. Add salt to taste.
Heat the olive oil in a small saute pan over medium high heat, and drop in sage leaves, they will sizzle and crisp quickly. Transfer to a paper towel.
Serve potatoes with gravy and topped with crisped sage.









Tibetan Tsampa, Climb Your Mountain with Sherpa Foods


tibetan tsampa

A bowl of Tibetan Tsampa with Westernized Touches

Tibetan Tsampa for Spirituality?

Have you ever wanted to be a little bit more like the Dalai Lama? More serene, loving, and inspiring to everyone around you? Well, you may have a few thousand hours of meditation to get through first, but on your way, you can try eating the same thing for breakfast.

No matter where he goes, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people dines on the traditional Tibetan tsampa and butter tea breakfast of his native land.

Now, thanks to Sherpa foods, you can buy pre-roasted and ground barley tsampa, seasoned with a touch of Himalayan sea salt. Boil some strong tea, whip in some butter, and stir it into the tsampa for the breakfast of a Lama. Or, for a more Western approach, try one of the flavored varieties, like Toasted coconut, Apple Cinnamon Pecan, Cherry Almond Cranberry, or even Chocolate Almond.

Traditional Tsampa

Traditional Tsampa

Tsampa Has a Storied History

In the frigid, mountainous region of Tibet, not much grows. For centuries, barley has been a staple, because it is hardy enough to be cultivated there. The natives survived on a spartan diet, comprised of few root vegetables, milk and meat. It’s a place where staying warm and fed is about survival more than gourmet pleasures.

This ancient barley, like the quinoa of Peru, is such a nutrition powerhouse that it has served as the central source of nutrition for the Tibetan people. Toasted and ground barley flour was the convenience food of the region, requiring only hot water to reconstitute. It is still served in restaurants, and diners mix the powdered barley with tea to make a thick, moldable paste, which is eaten like bread.

Tibetan Tsampa is such a cultural touchstone that calling a Tibetan a “tsampa eater” means she is part of a growing group struggling to keep the Tibetan language and culture alive.

The Yuthok family,  brother Renzin and sisters Namlha and Tsezom, are the founders of Sherpa Foods. They come from a long line of Tsampa eaters, and are passionate about spreading the goodness of this ancient food. “Tsampa is such a unique food with amazing cultural significance and history,” says Renzin, “I felt that I had to help tell its story, preserve the traditions of the Himalayan people, and share our ancient food with the world.”

If the incredible nutritional benefits of organic sprouted barley and the tastiness of a hot bowl of goodness aren’t enticing enough, Sherpa Foods warms your heart even more by donating a percentage of sales to the Sherpa people, who have been devastated by earthquakes, poverty and oppression.

(This is a sponsored post for a product I truly like.)

Tibetan Tsampa

Climb Your Mountain with Tibetan Tsampa

Westernized Tibetan Tsampa (Pa)

Serves 2

Hot Sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup water

1 large jalapeno, stemmed and seeded

1 bunch cilantro

1 clove garlic, peeled

4 scallions, coarsely chopped


2 medium blue potatoes, cubed

2 cups brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

2 small watermelon radish or part of a daikon



1 1/2 cups very strong black tea

3/4 cup Traditional Tsampa

1-2 tablespoons butter (or coconut oil)

Finely shredded Myzithra cheese, or other dry, aged cheese

Himalayan salt to taste

First, make the sauce: Place the rice vinegar and water in the Vitamix, then add the remaining ingredients. Secure the lid and select Variable Speed 1, then turn on the machine. Gradually increase the speed to 10, then High. Blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowl or pitcher. Makes more than you need.

Vegetables: Preheat the oven to 425. Toss the potatoes with a little oil and place on one end of a sheet pan, toss the brussels with oil and place at the other end. Sprinkle with salt as desired. Roast for about 25 minutes, until browned and tender.

Slice the radish.

Pa: Put the hot tea in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and add the butter or coconut oil, put the lid on and hake the tea vigorously until the butter is melted and emulsified. Place the Tsampa in a medium bowl and pour the hot tea over it, stir it in. Let stand for a few minutes. Taste, if you want more salt, add it, if you think the grain is too firm, microwave it a minute or so.

Serve the Pa in bowls, with roasted vegetables, Myzithra cheese, and hot sauce on top.












American Quinoa is Here! Crank the Oven for a Roasted Broccoli Quinoa bowl with Feta

American Quinoa Bowl

American Quinoa in a Great Bowl!

Americans love quinoa. It’s the Meryl Streep of grains.

It’s been the great whole grain success story, and continues to grow. I attended the Whole Grains Council conference in September, where trendologist Kara Nielsen gave us a fascinating presentation on food trends. According to Nielsen, food go through phases of inception, adoption, proliferation, and finally, ubiquity in the marketplace. Quinoa is firmly in the proliferation phase, and because it is moving onto menus at Wendy’s and other large chain restaurants, is is poised to hit ubiquity.

In pop culture terms, ubiquity is Meryl Streep level. It’s household name level fame. Not flash in the pan famous-because-it’s-famous fame, but earned fame from a body of high-quality work. Quinoa. Meryl Streep. Maybe?

The other side of that rise to ubiquity has been the concern that our appetite for a grain that was only grown in the mountains of South America was causing problems. Stories of Peruvians who could not afford to buy the staple grain, and even violence over prime growing land gave quinoa a dark side. It created a dilemma for shoppers.

Is quinoa really sustainable, and is our hunger for it harming the people of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador? There’s no simple answer. But a major change is in the works. We have finally cracked the code to grow quinoa in the US.

It wasn’t as simple as just planting a few seeds.

Quinoa plants

Quinoa plants

It took years of work by plant breeders, like Kevin Murphy at Washington State University, to develop varieties that could grow here. Quinoa thrived in the cold, rocky mountains of the Andes for centuries, and doesn’t do well if the temps hit 95F, or if it rains when the grains are close to maturity. With some careful breeding, there are now Quinoas being grown in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and other regions that don’t get too hot.

So look for American grown quinoa and give it a try. It’s being marketed by Lundberg Farms  and may even be in that bulk bin.

To celebrate this new, American made quinoa, I cranked up my oven and made a roasted broccoli quinoa bowl.

Broccoli, the brassica that took a back seat to kale in recent times, roasts fast and takes a good sear from the pan. I always want to cut it so that each piece has a flat side to make full contact with the pan. Then crank the oven to 425, so it’s really searing that surface before it’s completely limp. Add some slivered red chiles and red onions, to caramelize and shrivel to a sweet, chewy background, and you have a winning combination of veggies.

Roasted Broccoli, Chiles and Red Onion for American Quinoa

Roasted Broccoli, Chiles and Red Onion

The new quinoa has all the nutty-tasting charm that we love. To go with it, a roasted veggie medley has lots of sweetness going on,  and salty, creamy feta is a perfect pairing.

For a sauce with some weight, I went with a pesto-like puree with arugala, lots of lemon and olive oil, and thickened it with a little yogurt. Arugala is my go-to herb when basil is no longer free from my backyard plot. The leafy greens are just as flavorful as basil, but since they are considered salad, they are a bargain all winter long.

Now that quinoa is near “ubiquity,” we can breathe a sigh of relief. American grown quinoa gives is a chance to support American farmers, and take some pressure off the Andean growers. When you see quinoa bowls at Applebee’s and McDonalds, you’ll know, the Meryl Streep of grains is here.

American Quinoa Bowl

American Quinoa with Roasted Veggies and a Green Sauce

Roasted Broccoli and Chile Bowl with Creamy Arugala Sauce

Look for the new American grown quinoa and give it a try in this dish, or keep supporting economic growth in South America. It will be delicious either way.

Serves 4

1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 cups broccoli floret
1 medium red onion, slivered
2 large red fresno chile, slivered
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons yogurt (or non-dairy yogurt)
1 cup arugala
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (for a vegan feta click here)

Cook the quinoa in the water for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Drizzle a tablespoon of the oil on a sheet pan and add the broccoli, red onion and chile. Toss to coat. Roast for 20 minutes, until the onions are browned and shrunken and the broccoli is browned. Let cool slightly.
In the Vitamix, combine the remaining olive oil, lemon juice, yogurt, arugala, garlic and salt and secure the lid. Start on low speed and gradually increase to high, then blend until very smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
Serve the quinoa in bowls, topped with the broccoli mixture, the sauce, and crumbled feta.















Spooky Pumpkin Spice Buckeyes, Halloween Candy to Feel Good About

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Meets Pumpkin and Spice

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Meets Pumpkin and Spice

T’is the season for pumpkin spice to invade our every waking moment. The Grinch in me used to hate this phenomenon. In fact, I only recently tried a Pumpkin Spice Latte at the coffee shop. That’s because I have one hard and fast rule when it comes to food.

All foods that claim to be “pumpkin spice” must contain real pumpkin and real spice.

It’s that simple. Same thing with any other flavor. Flavored coffees fill me with a specific and irrational anger. Maybe it’s because my confused brain tries to figure out why a deformed, counterfeit flavor that kind of reminds me of something good is wrecking a decent cup of joe.

So, long after the endless procession of pumpkin spice enhanced foods jumped the shark and entered joke territory, I finally relented. I do love pumpkin pie, and a few of the pumpkin spice offerings have turned out to be ok, if made with real pumpkin, real spice, and about 150% fewer fake ingredients.

Like the chips in this post from last year.

So decided to make an old recipe from my youth. We lived for a few years in Akron, Ohio, where I was introduced to the peanut butter buckeye. Buckeyes are peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate, and it’s important to leave a circle of peanut butter bare, so they resemble the buckeye. And I learned in grade school that the buckeye is the official tree of Ohio.

Akron is named for the latin word Akros, which means high ground. I also learned that in grade school, and for some reason I remember it more readily than most of my internet passwords. But I digress.

So, I thought I would try making buckeyes with some actual pumpkin and actual spice, and they turned out pretty delicious.



The buckeyes that I fell in love with were made by one of my Dad’s professor friends, a sculptor who was also the first real live vegetarian I had ever met. He kept them in the freezer year ’round, and made them really big. It was fine for them to be a little messy-looking, since they were just for family and friends. I have fond, sugar-tinged memories of babysitting at his house, watching Carol Burnett while decimating his buckeye reserve.

Perhaps to save his stash, he told me his recipe, which included the powdered milk that I used here. It’s not something you see in most buckeye recipes, so maybe it was an attempt to make them a little healthier. Vegetarians then, as now, were always being advised to get more protein.


These peanut buttery little treats are a perfect Halloween candy. Put them out for anybody who stops by this season, and get in on the pumpkin-spice phenomenon without a bunch of weird colors and flavorings.

Just keep it real, and have a happy Halloween!

Pumpkin Spice Buckeyes

Makes about 35

1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
3 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup powdered milk or protein powder of choice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, divided
1/2 teaspoon clove, divided
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
3 tablespoons Turbinado sugar

In a large bowl, mash the peanut butter and pumpkin until smooth. Dump in the powdered sugar and powdered milk or protein powder.
In a small bowl, combine the spices and stir, and put half in the bowl with the peanut butter mixture. Stir the powdered sugar, milk and spices on top of the peanut butter until well-combined, then stir into the peanut butter underneath.
Use a 1 tablespoon-sized scoop to make balls of the mixture, dropping them on a parchment-lined sheet pan, then chill. Roll between your palms to make smooth. Freeze.
Combine the remaining spice mixture with the Turbinado sugar in a cup. Mix. Melt the chocolate, and stab each frozen ball with a toothpick, then dip, and dip one side in the spice mixture, and replace on the parchment or another cool surface, like a marble board. Repeat until all the buckeyes are dipped. Keep refrigerated until serving time.





Warm Up with the Chile Pepper Bible, Sweet & Mild To Fiery and Everything In Between


cpb_coverAre you a chile head, or do you lean toward the mild side of the spectrum? Believe it or not, there is a chile dish designed for your palate in the Chile Pepper Bible From Sweet to Fiery and Everything In Between (Robert Rose $27.95), written by Judith Finlayson. In this expansive and exhaustive new book, you are sure to learn a great deal about the history, health benefits, and preparation of the many chiles on the market.

For instance, did you know that when Columbus made his fateful journey, he was seeking not just gold, but the nearly as valuable commodity of black pepper? Before he settled for taking chiles back in its place, black pepper was the only heat known outside of the Americas.

Of course, the rest is history, as chiles have become part of the fabric of cuisines the world over. It’s hard to imagine Thai food with black pepper instead of Chiles isn’t it? This diaspora of hot peppers has resulted in countless new varieties, all integral to the culture they call home.

There are so many, in fact, that Finlayson has to admit that chile culture changes so quickly that she couldn’t hope to write the final word on any of them. To top it off, many chiles travel under different names in different regions of the world, so cataloguing them is a difficult task. Finlayson takes the smart tack of starting with the five major species of capsicum, and traces their descendants all over the globe. There is a handy grid for each one, listing the chile, heat level, description and uses.

The bulk of the book is made up of recipes, with a wealth of informative sidebars featuring the backstory of a chile or spicy preparation in the recipe. Chapters start with appetizers, soups, salads, all the variations on main courses, including a meatless chapter, sauces, even drinks and desserts.

The good thing about exploring chiles in your own kitchen is that you can customize the level of heat. If a recipe looks delicious to you, but you are afraid that a whole Scotch Bonnet or handful or Thai Bird chiles will be too much, you can make the dish and add the chiles as you see fit. As Finlayson points out, chiles are far more than just heat. Each brings a unique flavor, and in each dish, those flavors have been put to best use by the cooks of a faraway region of the world.

The range of this book is impressive, covering the kinds of global foods we have all fallen in love with. A chile laced version of Deviled Eggs might feel familiar for you, or you may be drawn to one of the Malaysian, Ethiopian, Haitian, or other recipes from faraway lands that are probably not as easy to find at restaurants in your town.

Finlayson is a world traveler, and has pursued a love of hot food since a trip to Mexico in the 1970’s. She has scorched her palate and taken the plunge to taste fiery dishes at every opportunity, and brought them home for you. Her research and depth of knowledge makes this more than just a compendium of hot recipes.

For this recipe, I sought out the elusive Aleppo pepper. If you have a Middle Eastern grocery you will find a jar of it it there, or you can always find it online. According to Finlayson, Aleppo Pepper has a medium-hot, deep fruity flavor. It may actually be Turkish Maras pepper, and if you must substitute for it, you can use ancho chiles or a bit of Italian red pepper flakes.

The dip was fantastic smeared on pitas, and the next day enlivened an avocado sandwich with all the nutty, fruity flavor it promised.

If you want to warm up with a culinary journey into the world’s chile-laced foods, this book will carry you through the winter and beyond

Delicious and Colorful

Delicious and Colorful

Middle Eastern Walnut Dip (Muhammara)


Courtesy of The Chile Pepper Bible: From Sweet & Mild to Fiery & Everything in Between by Judith Finlayson © 2016 Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.


Depending upon the source you consult, this roasted red pepper and walnut dip is Armenian, Arabian, Turkish or Syrian in origin. In any case, it is healthful, delicious and a welcome addition to any mezes platter. I like to serve it with warm pita bread or cucumber slices. If you are not meat-averse, this dip can also be used as a sauce for kebabs.


  • Food processor


2         red bell peppers, roasted (see Tips, bottom, or store-bought)

1⁄2 cup  walnut halves, toasted

1⁄2 cup  pine nuts, lightly toasted

4         green onions (white and a bit of the green parts), cut into chunks

2         cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

2 tbsp  freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tbsp  pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp  sliced red finger chile

2 tsp    Aleppo pepper (or 1⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper)

2 tsp    ground cumin (see Tips, bottom)

1 tsp    salt

1⁄4 cup  extra virgin olive oil


  1. Peel, seed and cut roasted red peppers into quarters. In food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine roasted red peppers, walnuts, pine nuts, green onions, garlic, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, finger chile, Aleppo pepper, cumin and salt. Pulse until finely chopped, about 15 times, stopping and scraping down the side of the bowl as necessary.


  1. Add olive oil and pulse until blended and desired consistency is achieved, about 6 times. (You want some texture to remain from the walnuts.)


  1. Transfer to a small serving bowl. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. If refrigerated, before serving, let stand at room temperature to allow the flavors to bloom, about 20 minutes.


Makes about 2 cups (500 mL)

Vegan Friendly

Gluten-Free Friendly



To roast peppers: Brush peppers lightly with oil and place them directly on a hot grill on a preheated barbecue, or arrange them on a baking sheet and place under a preheated broiler. Grill or broil, turning 2 or 3 times, until the skin on all sides is blackened, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl. Cover with a plate and let stand until cool. Using a sharp knife, lift off the skin, reserving any accumulated juices. Discard skin, stems and seeds.


For the best flavor, toast and grind cumin seeds yourself.













Tasting Minnesota with Betsy Nelson, A Curated Collection in a Cookbook


When you try to answer a question like “What is Minnesota food?” you can make yourself crazy, just trying to sort out where Minnesota cuisine begins and ends. Is it  the food of the first wave of immigrants, or the tenth, or do you include the latest?

Well, leave it to a native Minnesota chef, artist, and poetic interpreter of all things, Betsy Nelson, to lasso this sprawling subject. Rather than try to hammer out a doctrine of regional purity, Nelson curated a selection of recipes from the current “tastemakers,” ranging from top restaurant, food truck and pastry chefs to cookbook authors to cocktail mixologists, all contributing to the vibrant, burgeoning cuisine that is happening in Minnesota.

The result is a collage of images and flavors that meld into a panoramic view of a food scene. A food scene that is rapidly rising to claim the respect it deserves.

This selection reflects the full span, with dishes that make the most of our bounty of freshwater fish, locally raised meats and dairy, outstanding produce, and of course, wild rice. Familiar names like Amy Thielen, Lenny Russo, Tammy Wong and Heather Janz share the same pages, representing the diverse cuisines that have become part of the fabric of Minnesota. Minnesota is not just about lefse and lutefisk, if it ever was.

Full disclosure: I’m honored to have been asked to contribute a couple of recipes to the book, and have them featured alongside the work of such an outstanding group of food creators. It also feels great to have had my recipe made and styled by Betsy Nelson and photographed by her talented husband, Tom Thulen. The book is truly a collaboration between the two, as Nelson selects the recipes and Thulen makes gorgeous photographs that create a sweeping snapshot of Minnesota food.


Photo by Tom Thulen

Roasted Ramps and Watercress with Pumpkin Seed Chèvre Medallions by Robin Asbell (Recipe below)

Tasting Minnesota is a big, glossy hardback with plenty of full page photos, worthy of a spot on your coffee table. It’s also got you covered for every meal, as well as drinks and dessert. If you haven’t had the chance to check out the hidden gem restaurants in Duluth, Two Harbors, Bemidji, Stillwater, Callaway, or for that matter, a Minneapolis neighborhood that you just haven’t gone to yet, the book gives you some teaser recipes to make your mouth water. After making it at home, you may find yourself wanting to make a breakfast trek to the Wild Hare Bistro in Bemidji for Wild Hare and Smoky Squash Chowder, or the Breaking Bread Cafe in North Minneapolis for Buttermilk Herb Biscuits and Chorizo -Poblano Gravy.  Cornmeal Sunfish with Pickled Ramp Aioli from the Salt Cellar in St Paul, or Pepita Ancho Butter and Pumpkin Jam Sandwiches from the Lake Avenue Restaurant in Duluth might call your name. It would be worth a drive to Victory 44 in Minneapolis for the Buttered Popcorn Pot de Creme, or Alexandria, for Molten chocolate Cakes with Beer Ice Cream from La Ferme.

One such temptation is the recipe below for Pepita Granola from Hola Arepa. Hola Arepa is one of the hottest dining destinations in South Minneapolis, and I’ve been there a few times for dinner, but never brunch. Now that I know that there is Pepita Granola sprinkled over flan on Saturdays and Sundays, I may just have to get over there.

‘Til then, I can make the granola myself, and eat it by the handful.

If you already love Minnesota’s food, this is a perfect book for you. If you not familiar with our scene, Tasting Minnesota has put together a tasty introduction for you. This book is sure to be a keeper, and will soon be dog eared and stained with good memories.



Photo by Tom Thulen

Pepita Granola

Roasted Ramps and Watercress with Pumpkin Seed Chèvre Medallions




This salad is a poem to spring, with the fresh and vibrant flavors of ramps and watercress accented by tangy chèvre. Roasting the ramps gives them a soulful, subtle flavor.


16 ramps

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds

4 ounces firm chèvre log

1/4 cup pumpkin seed oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1 head red leaf lettuce

1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed

1/2 pint raspberries

Serves 4

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Trim and clean the ramps, leaving the green tops intact. In a medium bowl, toss the ramps with olive oil and then place in a roasting pan. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for 20 minutes, or less if the ramps are thin.

While the ramps are roasting, spread the pumpkin seeds on a small baking sheet and toast in the oven till lightly brown (watch closely so they don’t scorch), 5 to 10 minutes.

When the ramps are soft (poke with a paring knife), uncover and set aside to cool.

Chop the pumpkin seeds and spread on a plate. Slice the chilled chèvre log into medallions and roll in the chopped pumpkin seeds to coat.

In a small bowl, whisk the pumpkin seed oil with the lemon juice and salt and set aside

Wash and dry the lettuce, then tear into pieces. Arrange the lettuce on four plates and top with the watercress and raspberries. Arrange the coated chèvre and four ramps on each plate. Drizzle with the dressing and serve.

Pepita Granola



This addictively snackable granola may become your new favorite. Hola Arepa serves this with their yogurt flan, but you can scatter it over a bowl of yogurt or just nibble it right out of the jar.


3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

3 cups frosted cornflakes cereal

1 cup coconut flakes

1 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)

1/2 cup powdered milk

2 tablespoons corn flour

1 tablespoon salt

1/4 cup honey

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1/4 cup sunflower seed oil or other neutral oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Makes 8 cups


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.


In a large bowl, combine the oats, cornflakes, coconut flakes, pepitas, powdered milk, corn flour, and salt and toss to mix. Distribute the mix evenly onto the baking sheets.


In a medium saucepan, bring the honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, and oil to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the sugar mixture evenly over the dry ingredients on the sheet trays and mix with a spatula to distribute well. Bake for 20 minutes, mixing again with a spatula after 10 minutes to ensure even baking.


Remove the granola from the oven when it is a deep golden color. Spread the granola onto a clean sheet of parchment to cool completely. If you want larger chunks of granola, allow it to cool undisturbed on the baking sheet. Granola will become more crunchy after it has cooled. Store in airtight containers at room temperature for up to a week or in the freezer for a month.


Note: This recipe can be easily varied by substituting your favorite cereal for the frosted flakes or using peanuts, cashews, or other nuts in place of the pepitas. 














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