A year ago this month, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. The impending treatment protocol looked rigorous. I felt tired and overwhelmed. I considered canceling our monthly dinner parties. Yes. You read that correctly. For the past 5 months, previous to my diagnosis, we had started throwing elaborate dinner parties for our friends. You see, we had just moved onto our new home, which was equipped with my dream kitchen, adjacent to a large dining room and surrounded by plenty of barstools.
I started formulating menus, experimenting with new ingredients and making use of the bountiful PNW produce. My new diagnosis, forced me to eat a more restrictive diet. How could I maintain both a tasty and rigorous entertaining schedule? Then a friend of mine introduced me to a new concept. The Cookbook Club.
The Cookbook Club was exactly what I needed. It allowed me to continue my cooking and entertaining, but on a scaled down level. Being able to choose the cookbook and recipes meant that I had the ability to tailor fit the menu to my dietary needs. And since everyone would be participating, the task of throwing a dinner party seemed less daunting!
Each month I would pick a new cookbook for the dinner party, create an event on Facebook, explain the process and update the menu with each guest’s selection. Many of the recipes are available on Pinterest, so I would just create a link with my preselected recipes from that month’s chosen cookbook, so folks do not have to purchase the book! Within a week of the dinner party, everyone starts to make their selection on a chosen item to cook. The menu ends up developing beautifully.
It’s so much better than a potluck, because the host selects the cookbook and can still have some creativity in the menu. And there are so many great cookbooks available! Every month offered a new opportunity to learn about a new cooking technique, or try out a new ingredient! I ended up using cookbooks from my favorite food bloggers and from Pinterest. Plenty, More Plenty, Smitten Kitchen, My New Roots, are some great cookbooks to consider for your own Cookbook Club!
These dinner parties were a hit! Most of our friends are cooks and/or foodies, so they welcomed the opportunity to try something new! We ended up with 15-25 people at each dinner. Phew! This calculated out to ~7-12 different dishes! What a feast these parties create! I created a large buffet styled area in the kitchen, with small plates to encourage mingling and casual nibbling.
Logistically, most people made their dish at home, so we just had to warm it up. A few people utilized my kitchen to make their entree. So may chefs in the kitchen, it was buzzing!
We hosted a Cookbook Club dinner party every month for 3 months. When the warmer months arrived, we decided to try it for brunch, complete with espresso, mimosas and Bloody Mary’s. YUM!
Thinking of throwing your own Cookbook Club? What ideas do you have? Let me know how it goes:)
Many thanks to MoscaStudio for the gorgeous photography!
The holiday season is in full swing! Like most of you, I’ve been so busy with the season, cooking up a storm, entertaining guests and getting ready for Christmas. I have some advice for you! Slow down. Enjoy your family and friends. Savor the moment! Why not take a slower pace this weekend and start the day with these decadent gluten free apple fritter pancakes:)
They are actually really easy to make, because of this wonderful gluten free pancake mix from XO Baking Company that I found at Home Goods! You can also find it on Amazon, but at double the price. Yikes. Whenever I see it on the shelf, I buy every box!
As you know, I make as much as I can from scratch, but this mix contains simple ingredients and lightly sweetened with pure cane sugar. It’s gluten free base is cassava flour, potato starch and coconut flour. This great combination of ingredients produces a beautiful, fluffy pancake!
I bored a few weekends ago and was inspired by my last Honey Crisp apple to make an apple fritter pancake. I just chopped up the apple into small bite sized pieces and roasted it up with a little butter (or coconut oil), cinnamon and brown sugar for about 10 minutes.
While the apple is cooking, make the pancake mix per package instructions. Carefully, fold the apple mixture into the pancake batter.
To make, add butter or coconut oil to a hot cast-iron pan or skillet…I like to add a little extra to make the pancake more crispy! Use 1/4 cup of batter per pancake and flip when tiny bubbles form on top. I enjoyed these with pomegranates and plenty of maple syrup. Enjoy these on a chilly morning, savoring some calm, with family and friends!
I love throwing dinner parties, but menu planning can be so difficult! So many of our friends (myself included) have very specific dietary considerations. In addition, this is my first Fall season, cooking as a vegetarian. I am trying my hardest, not to get caught up in finding solace in heavy, high carbohydrate, gluten free meals. When my friend Natalie asked me to cook a main dish for her Halloween inspired dinner, I took on the challenge, with gratitude! A great opportunity to perfect a lasagna! A lasagna for ALL!
First of all, the most important consideration for me was the noodles. I decided to use a combination of zucchini “noodles” (simply made by peeling the zucchini into ribbons with the help of a vegetable peeler) and these awesome fresh, grain free, gluten free, lasagna noodles made by Cappello’s.
Cappello’s Grain Free and Gluten Free
Yes, they are expensive, but worth the splurge and since they are fresh, there is no precooking needed! (Also, you most likely will have leftovers, that you can freeze for later!) In the past, I had made lasagna without the noodles and I was unimpressed with the soggy results. The noodles soak up the liquid of the veggies, help to maintain the structure and add great texture:)
My next consideration was to make a vegetable rich, meat free sauce. To give the bite and texture of meat, I decided to use a mixture of chopped walnuts and mushrooms, sautéed with onion, garlic, basil and Italian seasoning.
Then, I looked around my kitchen and decided to use the Fall vegetables that I had on hand. Delicata squash, onion, garlic and basil, would be perfect!
I chopped everything up and sautéed it up, along with the “meat” mixture. I added a tablespoon of salt and more Italian seasoning. Once the pan started to get dry, I added about a cup of vegetable broth and continued to stir, until everything looked cooked through.
For the cheese filling, I decided to make two versions. One dairy free and one with plenty of ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
Depending on your dietary needs, you can go either way! There are plenty of great dairy free options available.
I was very pleased with the dairy free ricotta from kite hill.
Ok! Lets make lasagna! To start, I poured a small amount of my favorite tomato sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish. Just enough to spread a thin, even layer. Then I arranged a single layer of the lasagna noodle sheets.
I added a layer of the veggies, topped that with dollops of ricotta and mozzarella, and a hefty amount of parmesan cheese. Then I added an even layer of tomato sauce. Then a layer of zucchini noodles, topped with more of the vegetable mixture, more cheese, more tomato sauce, etc.
It really doesn’t matter what order you do your layers. I didn’t even measure the cheese. I just made each layer consistent and I finished off the layers with a single layer of the lasagna noodles on top, with more tomato sauce and cheese. So, I only used the actual noodles for the top and bottom layers of the lasagna and zucchini noodles in the middle!
Place it in the oven (preheated) at 375 degrees, for 30 minutes, or until browned, hot and bubbly. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes before serving!
***Something to note! If you decide to go with the dairy free cheeses for this recipe, it will NOT resemble traditional lasagna. It will, however, taste yummy and satisfy your cheese and comfort food craving!***
Lasagna for All
An adaptable, gluten free, grain free lasagna (Dairy Free Suggestions)
1 package of Cappello's Gluten Free and Grain Free Lasagna Sheets
3 zucchini, peeled into ribbons
1-2 delicata squash, skin left on, chopped
1 onion chopped
2 cups walnuts, chopped
2 pints of fresh mushrooms, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
3 tbs Italian seasoning
15 oz Ricotta cheese or cheese alternative
2 cups of shredded parmesan cheese
1 ball of fresh mozzarella roughly chopped
1 1/2 jar of your favorite tomato sauce
1-2 cups vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste.
Saute walnuts, mushrooms, onion, garlic and basil with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Once onions are cooked through, add delicata squash. Stir well. Once mixture looks dry, add 1- 2 cups of vegetable broth, stirring well, until squash is cooked through. Add Italian seasoning and salt as needed.
Add enough tomato sauce to the bottom of a large casserole dish. Top with a single layer of lasagna noodles. Spoon an even layer of the squash mixture on top the noodles, add a layer of ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Pour an even layer of tomato sauce on top. Add a layer of zucchini, then the squash mixture, then more cheese and tomato sauce. Repeat. For the top layer, use another layer of lasagna noodles, top with sauce and cheese.
Cook for 30 min in a preheated 375 degree oven.
The dairy free version is very tasty, but does not taste like traditional lasagna! I still recommend it!
September, 2016. I finally get my chance to go back to Africa! Four years earlier, I had travelled to Uganda for 3 weeks on a medical mission. We spent most of our time, under very primitive circumstances. There was often no running water, no proper toilets and questionable sanitary conditions. This time, the experience would be much different. The plan was to spend our vacation on safari, observing the wild animals and hopefully, experiencing new food adventures! Our time would be spent in Botswana and Zambia, celebrating our 20 year wedding anniversary. I can’t wait! The reason we chose to spend a majority of our time in Botswana is that Botswana is renowned for responsible tourism, focusing on a high-end, low impact model which benefits the local people. This focus on sustainability makes it one of the most rewarding and game-rich safari destinations in Africa.
We begin our journey in Cape Town, South Africa, at the southern most tip of Africa. We decide that this will be the spot where we can adjust to the time change, relax and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. I chose a small boutique hotel in Camps Bay.
POD Hotel proved to be the perfect option. It has the perfect blend of sleek, modern and natural elements and is set on a hillside, overlooking the ocean. The management is kind enough to upgrade us to their best room. It’s a corner unit, with floor to ceiling windows, an open concept shower, large tub, unlimited mini bar and snacks and the MOST amazing bed.
They also offer an amazing breakfast, that is included in your room rate! Yum! Highly recommend!
Our first day in South Africa, is spent on an all day tour of the wine country through African Eagle (arranged by the hotel). An amazing day, exploring the sights, sipping wine, shopping and enjoying good food. We started our wine tasting at Zevenwacht.
It’s a beautiful estate, located on a small lake, with gorgeous views. I loved how they paired their wines (Sauvignon Blanc) with a variety of cheeses.
Next we stopped in the town of Stellenbosch, located on the heart of the Cape Winelands. It is adorable, with its oak lined streets and Cale Dutch, Georgian and Victorian architecture!
It is picturesque and quaint, with lots of sidewalk cafes and shops.
We stopped for a quick round of shopping (a bit pricey) and then head to lunch in the town of Franschhoek. Our tour guide makes a recommendation for lunch. Not satisfied, we find another restaurant, off the beaten path. The menu looks perfect, the tables are set under large trees….and there is no one there?! We decide to take a risk and it is amazing! The duck confit, I am told, was very good. I ordered the salmon salad, over smashed potatoes. It is heavenly.
The Sauvignon Blanc is the icing on the cake! The name of the restaurant is Cafe des Arts. A great find! I hope it’s still there!
Our next stop is at Taste at Laborie.
Lots of good tastes!
We are welcomed by a cozy tasting room connected to a beautiful patio. Here, we get to sample a variety of wines and as an added surprise, brandy.
Our last stop is at Marianne, which offered the best views of the day, which was perfect since the sun was beginning to set in the sky, casting a beautiful glow on the landscape. Heavenly!
Extensive wine menu
The next day, we opted for a half day tour of the Cape of Good Hope, Boulder Beach and surrounds. This included a hike around the Cape of Good Hope. I was in heaven! Imagine breathtaking vistas, crashing waves, Penguins, ostrich, and baboons!
Hiking the Cape
Between both of these tours, we sadly, did not have a chance to experience much of the food scene in Cape Town (which is supposed to be amazing), so I guess that means I need to go back!
Our journey to our safari begins four hours north in Maun, Botswana, via a 12 seat Caravan😬.
The Okavango Delta
On our way to camp
The Okavango Delta is fertile and green, despite it being the dry season. The view from the airplane is utterly unreal. From 10,000 feet you can see numerous of herds of elephants, pods of hippos and a few wandering giraffe. For the next 10 days, we will visit 4 Sanctuary Retreats lodges in Botswana, along the Okavango Delta and in Zambia, on the Zambezi River. My goal is to eat a pescetarian, gluten free diet. Will this be possible in Africa?!? Yes! It is!
The food at all if the lodges was very good, with tons of dietary options and each lodge was able to accommodate my gluten free diet. All of the Sanctuary Retreat lodges that we stayed at offered the same enormous meal plan, which is included in the cost of your stay. For breakfast, they offer a large continental breakfast, along with a small menu offering eggs and various side dishes.
Breakfast with a view
Coffee, tea and baked goods are offered during the morning game drive.
Coffee and tea
To my surprise, each lodge prepared gluten free goodies, specially for me! Lunch is served in three courses, with wine and multiple options available.
Lunch on an island on the Zambezi River
Eggplant caprese stack
Mixed bowl of veggies and feta
Generally, a gorgeous puréed soup or beautiful salad to start. Meat, fish and vegetarian options were available for the main course. The desserts were rarely gluten free, so I opted for a fruit plate. High Tea is served before the evening game drive with a huge selection of sweets and savories along with coffee and tea.
At the end of the evening game drive, they serve a sundowners, which generally consists of wine, beer or cocktails with nuts, dried fruit and beef jerky.
Finally, dinner is served at 8pm and it’s another three course extravaganza. Phew!
All of the Sanctuary Retreat lodges that we stayed at were fantastic. Each place had magical element about it! Our favorite had to be Baine’s Camp. Located on a private concession in the Okavango Delta, this rustic styled lodge, with only 8 rooms, is intimate, has amazing service and has gorgeous surrounds.
Special thanks to Henry for making us feel so at home! Picture candlelit bubble baths under the stars as well as sleeping under the stars in the comfort of your four poster king sized bed, with the sounds of hippos, and crickets singing you to sleep. The Elephant Experience that they offer made for one of the most memorable days of my life.
And the game drives here were some of the best of our entire trip! These were experiences right out of my dreams…..
The newly remodeled Chief’s Camp was the most luxurious of all of the accommodations. We were welcomed by a huge guest house, filled with floor to ceiling windows, to take advantage of the panoramic views of the Moremi Game Reserve.
Gorgeously decorated, each guest house came complete with an indoor and outdoor shower, huge soaking tub and our own plunge pool. The food was also amazing.
We were treated to a BBQ feast of their traditional foods under a moonlit sky. The game drives here, were also very abundant! We saw the big five!
Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero was a larger camp, located on a hill top with stunning views of the Chobe River.
The chef here took special care in arranging my gluten free options. He checked in with me at every meal. I really appreciated this special attention.
The evening boat rides were wonderful and gave us a different viewing perspective for the elephants, African buffalo, hippos, crocodiles and birds.
We did enjoy one afternoon at the spa here, as well.
We were very pleased with the tranquil facilities and our massages!
Sussi & Chuma, located in Zambia, on a beautiful stretch of the Zambezi River, marked the last stop of our trip. We spent 3 days exploring Victoria Falls, taking boat rides, fishing and enjoying the spa.
The chef here made the best gluten free toast and muffins, using cassava flour. Have you ever used it? It was the base for much of the gluten free goodies that were made for me in Africa. It’s made from a root, so it’s gluten free and grain free.
Best of all it’s easy to use. The chef was kind enough to share his recipes for pancakes and chapati with me. As an added bonus, Malala (the esthetician) went entirely out of her way and purchased a 2 kg bag of cassava flour for me to take home.
(Can you imagine explaining that to the customs officer in Amsterdam?!)
Something I love about traveling the globe, is being exposed to a multitude of new flavors, spices, textures, ingredients and food combinations. My travels stay with me, not only in my memories and pictures, but in the recipes and food inspiration that follows me back to my kitchen. On this trip, the two things I have developed a huge appreciation for are cassava flour and the safari tradition of the sundowner.
The sundowner is an essential part of traditional safari life, the concept of having drinks while watching the sun go down.
Sundowners after a game drive at Baine’s Camp
It originates from the time of the great safaris of the 1920’s. Picture the serving of elegant ‘bush’ cocktails against the unforgettable backdrop of the African sunset. Our sundowner began with a gentle drive to a scenic spot where wine, cocktails and snacks are set up. Magical, memorable and romantic, the sundowner is an experience not to be missed and I look forward to replicating back home in Oregon, but there is NOTHING like an African sunset.
I generally don’t eat potatoes. Probably because I grew up in a Mexican American household where rice was the predominate starch. Because of this, I have not mastered mash potatoes, scalloped potatoes or the summer favorite, potato salad…..that is, until now!
I stumbled into the most adorable sack of baby, tricolored potatoes while grocery shopping this week. I promptly purchased them, with the intention of making the best potato salad, ever. A beautiful potato salad, devoid of mayonnaise and tangy, bright and lemony.
For the vinaigrette, I relied on one of my favorite recipes. The base of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and a hefty shot of dijon mustard would be the perfect dose of flavor to liven up the potatoes.
My garden is bursting with herbs, so I added a hefty handful of basil, purple basil, thyme and chives. These herbs and their blossoms, are perfect to add a layer of fresh flavor to any salad and they also provide a gorgeous pop of color. I also tossed in some arugula to boost the green factor:)
Potato salad generally has relish or pickles added to it to intensify the flavor. Luckily, my refrigerator is full of homemade pickled beets, carrots and onions.
Next time you are at the grocery store, look for pickled veggies that are readily available. These veggies are the perfect addition to any summer salad! I roughly chopped these up and added them to the mix. They looked like confetti, dancing in the salad.
The potatoes are so small, only 15 minutes of boiling was needed to cook them through. When they became cool enough to touch, I sliced them in half and added all of the ingredients, in a large bowl.
The arugula became perfectly wilted in the process. The vinaigrette soaked into the warm potatoes. I placed the bowl in the refrigerator to chill.
My last step was to soft boil 4 eggs. This last step is mandatory. I prefer 7 minute eggs, where the yolks are just barely cooked through and still a bit runny. If that is not your thing, go for the 10 minute egg (a true hard boiled egg). Once the egg has cooled down, slice it carefully in half (you don’t want to loose too much of the yolk) and add it to the potato salad. Go ahead and stir it in so that the yolk spills into the salad. The yolk adds a layer of thickness and richness to the vinaigrette, without weighing it down too much.
As you stir, use your spoon to gently chop up the egg whites, so that it incorporates evenly throughout the salad. Add salt and pepper or a squeeze of lemon juice if needed. Sprinkle with additional herbs and blossoms to garnish. Enjoy! And by the way, it’s even better the next day;)
1/4 cup of chopped, fresh herbs (recommend chive, basil and thyme)
2 cups arugula or other greens
4 eggs billed to your preference
3 TBS apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp honey
2 TBS whole grain mustard
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 pinch of salt and pepper
Boil potatoes in salted water for 15 minutes. In a separate pan, boil eggs to your preference and allow them to cool. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice on half and add to a large bowl along with the arugula, herbs and pickled veggies. Whisk last 7 ingredients together to make vinaigrette and add to salad, coating all ingredients evenly. Add salt and pepper or lemon juice if needed. Place in refrigerator to chill. Once eggs have cooled, cut them gently in half and stir them into the salad.