It’s January, cue the new year’s resolution clichés!

Butter bean salad with red pepper relish and roasted veggies

Butter bean salad with red pepper relish and roasted veggies

Eating healthy is the most common new year’s resolution in the country*. It’s probably also the first one to fall by the wayside (I blame you leftover Christmas cookies!). That doesn’t prevent me from making a little extra effort to watch my eating habits after the holidays though. All of that gluttony (pork belly, cookies, and marshmallows, oh my!) has a way of making me look forward to salads and vegetables.

Though I indulge in my fair share of beer and foie gras, I actually tend to eat fairly healthy year-round — my meals include a lot of farro, raw veggies and chicken. But the thought of doing something like the Whole 30 is just not really my speed — too much pressure.

However, a few weeks ago I read about the Food Lover’s Cleanse, a 14-day eating plan that Bon Appetit publishes every January. And since you all know how much I love BA, it seemed like the perfect thing for me to try, especially since I only have to stick to it for two weeks!

The basics are no refined sugars or flours, very little dairy (wah!), plenty of lean proteins, veggies and whole grains. Honestly the dairy is the hardest part for me — I love yogurt, cheese and milk. But considering how much cheese I packed away in the month of December, two weeks without it is probably not a bad thing.

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Herb & Garlic Rubbed Poussin with Pistachio Relish

Herbed Poussin with Pistachio Relish

One of my favorite work stories is the day I got a call from a guy who wanted to buy some possum meat. We get that type of call all the time — people looking for beaver, lion and squirrel — so this request was not too strange. I told him we did not sell possum, expecting that to be the end of it.

Instead he started to argue with me, saying that he was looking at our price list online and possum was on there as being a “stock item.” Baffled, I asked him for the item number. He gave it to me and I could barely contain my laughter as I said, “Sir, that’s not possum, it’s poussin — baby chickens.”

That happened years ago but it still makes me giggle.

For anyone else unfamiliar with poussin, they are basically a chicken a few weeks younger than a game hen. Once processed and packed, they weigh about 15-17 oz, making them ideal for a one-bird-per-person dinner.

I rarely ever buy them, but I had a recipe that I wanted to try out and it called for 2 each 3# chickens. Since I was only cooking for two people, I figured two poussin would work just fine.

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Winter Slaw — helping me stay sane, sated and satisfied

Brussels sprouts, hazelnuts, pomegranate seeds and Parmesan

“Get ready for the holidays” salad: Brussels sprouts, hazelnuts, pomegranate seeds and Parmesan

While I like to think it’s still technically fall (it is, right?), this salad has “winter holidays” written all over it. I’m already envisioning it as a staple for my December menu planning. It’s both red and green, the unofficial colors of December, and it uses pomegranate which is a fruit I always forget about until this time of year.

Sorry pomegranate -- it's not you, it's me!

Sorry pomegranate — it’s not you, it’s me!

Anyways I came across this salad while digging through my giant stack of “things to make someday” — pages and pages of recipes liberated from various culinary magazines. I was a bit stressed out because the past few weeks have been so busy I haven’t had time to make real meals. While I’ve managed to whip up several different desserts (just wait for the apple cider caramel post!), my savory cooking has suffered. I’ve been surviving on my favorite ramen and Amy’s frozen “light and healthy” entrees. *sigh

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Autumn Cravings: Roasted Sunchoke Soup

Roasted Sunchoke Soup with hazelnut oil and pumpkin seeds

Roasted Sunchoke Soup with hazelnut oil and pumpkin seeds

Whenever I mention sunchokes, my friend Ariel inevitably brings up the sunchoke soup we both enjoyed as part of a benefit dinner three years ago. It was sinfully creamy with a robust nutty flavor and came indulgently topped with Dungeness crab. It was a soup I was scared to recreate for fear of tainting the fond memories of it.

Also I knew my at-home version would be pale in comparison as I just cannot add as much cream and butter as I’m sure would be necessary to fully capture the flavor of the original. These are why some dishes just taste better if you don’t make them yourself!

But when sunchoke season rolled around this year, I still felt the urge to make a soup. For my wallet’s sake, I eschewed the crab altogether and for the sake of my waistline I used half and half instead of cream. But happily for my belly, this soup was still outstanding and totally hit the spot on a blustery fall day.

Sunchokes, if you’re unfamiliar with them, are rhizomes that resemble gingeroot. They are knobby and fairly unattractive as far as produce goes. However, their unassuming appearance belies their deliciousness. They are sweet when roasted and inherently nutty in flavor. I cannot get enough of them, even overlooking their, well…troublesome nature.

To make this soup, I started with this recipe, changing things up slightly. The main change I made was roasting half of the sunchokes in the oven until they were caramelized. This gives the flavor of the soup some extra depth.

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Pickled Blueberries — a tart treat for summer salads

Pickled Blueberries w/ Summer Greens

Pickled Blueberries w/ Summer Greens

My husband and I took a trip to Tacoma recently to visit my family. We didn’t have much in mind in terms of plans, so when it turned out my aunt wasn’t feeling well, we happily took over dinner duty. My husband, who can never do anything halfway, took our meal to a whole new level of delicious.

We started with the several pounds of beef ribs that my aunt had planned on making and added to them: a huge pan of mac and cheese, green beans with crispy bacon, roasted new potatoes and (to add some semblance of health) a green salad.

To make the salad as interesting as its accompaniments, we jazzed it up with plenty of fresh herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon) and a lemon cucumber from my grandma’s garden. Deciding it still lacked some zing, we raided the last of the blueberries from one of her bushes and quick pickled them.

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The “recipe” is simple — combine water, red wine vinegar and sugar using the basic ratio of 3:2:1, heating until the sugar has dissolved. Cool slightly and pour over berries. Add a few springs of thyme, a bay leaf and a clove. Let sit for an hour or longer.

Once you drain the liquid, you can use it to make a vinaigrette for the salad. We started with a portion of the liquid and added minced garlic, a pinch of finely chopped fresh thyme and EVO. I only wish we had had some pecorino or Parmesan cheese but I can say it was still a mighty tasty salad.

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I’d call this a successful last-minute meal! (*Not pictured was dessert: my favorite summer standby, mixed berry spoonbread, with fresh whipped cream. Yum!)

So good!

So good!

Dense, Delicious Melons (or utilizing culinary compression)

Compressed watermelon salad w. olives, feta, micro greens and olive oil

Compressed watermelon salad w. olives, feta, micro greens and olive oil

Nothing really says summer like watermelon. Even though I think it’s best au naturel — ice cold with a hint of salt — I also really love mixing it into a (mostly) savory salad. I was introduced to the idea while working the pantry station as a line cook years ago. On the menu was a salad of perfectly cubed watermelon garnished with crumbled feta, pitted kalamata olives, mint leaves and mint oil. Somehow, even though I was familiar with the classic melon and prosciutto pairing, this combination pretty much blew my mind.

I’ve since added that watermelon salad to my revolving summer repertoire where it has, for the most part, stayed the same. The salt from the feta and olives is outstanding with the sweet melon. For greens, I still use mint when I have it around, but have found spicy greens like arugula, baby mustard greens or nasturtiums also work fabulously. And a little red onion is just a good thing overall. In lieu of mint oil, I’ve found a drizzle of lemon juice or good extra virgin olive oil is all that’s really needed to “dress” this salad.

However, after this year, I’m adding a new modernist element to my old favorite — compression.

The first time I had compressed watermelon was Friday night when my parents were in town visiting. My husband made us an appetizer that was as gorgeous as it was delicious — sliced raw scallops marinated in olive oil, togarashi and lemon served with cubes of watermelon and heirloom tomatoes. While the whole thing was fabulous, it was the melon that made the dish so interesting. Compressed it mimicked the look of tuna, glistening and meaty. It was no longer light and airy chunks, but instead dense and toothsome jewels.

Again, I was blown away.

Compressed watermelon

Compressed watermelon

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