What is at the heart of your tradition, and what matters when it comes to sharing a Thanksgiving table? For me, it’s being together with friends, family - or both, spending time cooking delicious foods, and eating together - enjoying each other’s company with gratitude.
Even though holidays can push all of our trigger buttons so effectively, by being thrown in the stew of family dynamics, the stress of bringing a huge meal to the table and the digestive toll of eating too much - it can also be differently wonderful. It can be exactly what you want to eat, shared with the people you most want to enjoy.
When six of us sit down to our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, for instance, there won’t be a bird, stuffing, mashed potatoes or gravy on the table. Our focus will be on vegetables, cheese and homemade pasta, because that is how I want to love my family this year. All of the vegetables will come from either my fall Hogsback CSA farm share - leeks, onions, garlic, celery root, carrots, squash, thyme, potatoes - or from my parents’ garden - kale, tarragon, rosemary and Brussels sprouts. The other ingredients will come from as close to home as possible, with the exception of a marvelous hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that I brought back from a recent trip to Italy, which has inspired our menu.
We’ll start the day with coffee and homemade prune or poppyseed-stuffed kolacky (Czech filled buns) - an annual Czech tradition that my mother bakes the day before. For lunch, we’ll have a bowl of Celery Root Bisque with a batch of hot rolls right out of the oven. They’ll be my mom's famous crescent rolls - tender and buttery, but this year my husband will be learning to make them with her, expanding his knowledge for his new love of baking.
In between breakfast and lunch, my mom and I will spend a few hours in the kitchen - my favorite place to be on any holiday - where we’ll work on prepping the dinner. I’ll be making one of my favorite things that needs to be made with heaps of love: homemade pasta. I’ll be roasting a buttercup squash, and sauteéing onions to make the pasta into Tortelli di Zucca - or squash and parmesan-stuffed ravioli, which we’ll have with a decadent butter and sage sauce. My mom will be working on the sides and her apple-cranberry tart. We’ll take time away from the kitchen to play cards for several hours, make a fancy cocktail or have a little glass of bubbly, and then sit down to eat our ravioli with a lovely salad, sautéed Brussels sprouts with pecans and shallots, Tuscan white beans (recipe in my Nourish: Spring cookbook), and sautéed kale with garlic. It will be simple and perfect for our day.
Next year it will probably be something entirely different all over again. Maybe there will be more tradition on the table, or maybe not. But it will always include the important stuff: food, friends, family and love. What will be on your table?
Prep time: 30 min
Cooking time: 1 hour
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
4 tablespoons organic butter (substitute extra olive oil for a dairy allergy), divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb celery root (also called celeriac), peeled with a knife or Y peeler, cut into 1/2” pieces
2 large potatoes, cut into 1/2” pieces
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, rinsed and chopped
1 medium shallot, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
6 cups vegetable stock - homemade stock or from organic bouillon cubes - OR water
1 teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces cremini mushrooms, very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Warm a 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, then add 2 tablespoons butter and the olive oil along with the celery root, potatoes, celery, leeks and shallots. Stir to coat all of the vegetables in oil, then cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 15 minutes. Add stock, salt, and pepper and simmer, uncovered, until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.
Purée soup with an immersion blender, or cool for 15 minutes and carefully purée in batches in a blender until smooth, then return to pot. Reheat bisque over low heat, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
While bisque is reheating, warm a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat, then add the butter and mushrooms and sauté, stirring the mushrooms until crispy golden brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then transfer mushrooms to a plate.
Serve bisque topped with mushrooms and a garnish of minced thyme leaves.
This morning tells a story of what it is to have a very large goal, a team of cheerleaders, and the support of those who believe in you.
For years, I’ve written down and assembled my recipes to share with friends who were making a shift in their food journey to eat healthier and feel better. For the past several years, I have been creating even more recipes and dedicating a large part of my time to crafting more foods at both ends of the health spectrum - both hyper-conscious of food allergies and intolerances - and absolutely delicious with no room for apologies.
The story of how sending recipes to friends turned into creating four full cookbooks that make up an entire year of seasonal, local, organic and healthy eating starts with being asked if I was ever going write a book at monthly cooking classes that I teach at Kitchen Window in Minneapolis. Over and over and over again. I finally got good and tired of saying that I was “working on it” and actually started to work on it. It began with a plan to gather all of these recipes, and then ended with it being too big and too much to do for one book.
So I restarted with the idea to break it down, and to write and publish just exactly how I live my life - season by season, cooking and eating with beautiful ingredients that are sourced by the prime of their flavor from local growers.
Next, I kept saying that I didn’t want to do a “cooking for kids” cookbook, even though I kept hearing from families that they wanted just that.
So what I ended up doing was creating a healthy cooking series for families - or anyone who want to eat better - while managing food allergies and intolerances in the kitchen. I used my healthful recipes with the all-natural substitutions that are a mainstay in my own kitchen.
And I did it because I had a huge team of help. My team was a group of over 15 women - most of them moms, including my own mom - and two men - both dads. They worked with me for over a year, cooking and testing recipes, serving them to their families and giving me real feedback on what worked and what didn’t. And guess who was eating the food? Kids. Not food that was dumbed down, breaded, flavorless or fried - but real food with whole ingredients and good flavors. Every single recipe was vetted and tested by real families.
The families of my testers are like so many other families out there, who are learning what it means to cook with healthy fats, whole gluten-free grains, colorful vegetables, and without dairy or refined sugar. Families who are learning how to cook more and stock the refrigerator with batches of healthy foods to make busy lives and nutritious eating both possible and delicious.
So the story this morning is that the seasons have come full circle, and I've been humbled in the process. The writing and recipe testing for Nourish: Winter began last September, and I complete the series today with Nourish: Fall, live on Amazon. It’s a huge project completed and at the same time - just the beginning. Cheers - to more good food and healthy living!
Sweet Potato and Anasazi Bean Stew
(from Nourish: Fall by Anna Dvorak)
Anasazi beans are beautiful when dry - speckled white and deep red - and have a sweet flavor and creamy, rich texture when cooked. They have a thin, tender skin which makes them easier to digest than some beans. Native to the desert high mountain regions of the southwest, they cook remarkably well at altitude, which isn’t the case for all beans. Outside of their native region they can be hard to find, so substitute pinto beans instead, which are also a very creamy and meaty bean. Serve this colorful, satisfying stew with a large green salad, and consider doubling it to have great leftovers for lunches or dinners.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups cooked Anasazi beans or pinto beans (or use 1 (14 ounce) can beans, drained and rinsed)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 small sweet potato, scrubbed and cut into 1/2” dice (or 1/2 small winter squash) (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 small Yukon Gold potato, scrubbed and cut into 1/2” dice (about 1 cup)
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 cup frozen sweet corn
1 teaspoon coconut oil or olive oil
2 Roma tomatoes, fresh or canned, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Prepare beans if cooking from scratch. (See full recipe for beans in Nourish: Fall.)
2. Meanwhile, warm a small soup pot over medium heat. Add olive oil and onions and sauté until onions begin to soften and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir and let cook for an additional 3-5 minutes. Add cubed sweet potato and Yukon Gold potato, stir to coat in oil and add 3 cups water along with sea salt, oregano and thyme. Increase heat to medium high; when the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and let cook at a gentle simmer for 25 minutes.
3. While the soup is simmering, warm a small sauté pan over medium heat until hot. Add coconut oil and corn and sauté until the corn begins to turn golden brown. Add corn to the soup pot along with chopped tomatoes and cooked beans and let the mixture simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes. Add 1 cup bean cooking water if needed to thin the stew.
4. Taste for salt and adjust. Stir in fresh cilantro and black pepper to taste and serve.
I am wrestling with the burning question, "Why Does Life in Italy Seem So Much Better?"
Is it because Italians value the little things, take pleasure in the slow and the delicious, live simply and large at the same time?
Maybe. I’m only on day 5 so I am just scratching the surface. I am hunkered down in the hills of Umbria for a month, tucked into a little farmhouse within a cluster of a few homes and barns which are part of a former tiny, ancient, Etruscan village near the Tuscan border.
Life in this area is slow-paced, far away from city air or noises and charmingly beautiful. A bread truck lumbers up the road once a week to deliver Tuscan loaves of any size, and farmers and neighbors who take the shortcut to the next village over putter up and down the hill at random during the day. The neighbor nonna walks slowly out to her garden daily to pick a head of lettuce for dinner and rinses it under the cistern faucet before returning to her kitchen.
From here I can see green hills where at least 10 different things or creatures are being grown or raised: olives, grapes, wheat, farro, lentils, canola, chestnuts, sheep, honey, and chickens. That’s about it for excitement, which is pretty exciting. It means not only do you get chestnuts but you get chestnut honey, not only do you get sheep but you get pecorino cheese, olive oil, etc. You get the picture, and it is pretty abundant.
So, I am enjoying being where I am and living in the question. In the meantime, I am keeping busy looking after the farmhouse and gardens, as well as writing, walking, painting, learning Italian and of course, cooking and eating. Healthy eating is simple when so many delicious vegetables are grown nearby, many raised from heirloom seeds which favor flavor over traveling ability, and sourced from the garden or the village vegetable store.
A quick chopped salad below is what I made to eat after the thunderstorm last night, along with a starter of pan-fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with homemade yogurt cheese and herbs. This is a nice main dish salad consisting of a little raw zucchini, which is sweet and crunchy when it is young and fresh, contrasted with a little bitter radicchio - a member of the chicory family and a beautiful purple-red - plus some sweet cherry tomatoes and chopped romaine. To truly taste the vegetables, you barely need any dressing - just some good sea salt and a little drizzle of excellent quality olive oil. And maybe a nice glass of Chianti for the full effect.
Zucchini and Radicchio Chop Salad for One
5 large cherry tomatoes or 8 small cherry tomatoes
1 small clove garlic, minced
large pinch sea salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)
1 baby zucchini (no longer than 5 inches)
1 baby head radicchio (about 1 cup chopped)
2 inner leaves of romaine (1 cup chopped)
1-2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced herbs - I used lemon thyme, parsley and chives
Quarter the tomatoes and place in a small ceramic bowl that can hold 2 1/2 cups of chopped vegetables. Toss them with the minced garlic and sea salt and let that macerate while you chop the rest of the vegetables into small, bite-sized pieces. You’ll end up with a salad that looks like you can eat it with a spoon - and you can, if you like. As you chop each vegetable toss it in the bowl on top of the tomatoes but don’t stir until you’ve got it all done. Once everything is in the bowl and it has been about 5 minutes, give everything a stir. Taste it for salt - it should be nicely seasoned - and then drizzle with a little bit of excellent olive oil, about a teaspoon or so. If you have some herbs growing on a pot outside your door or on your balcony (hint: this is a really good idea, whether you’re in Italy or not) then pick a couple sprigs at random and tear them into the salad. Serve immediately, with or without the Chianti.
Heirloom zucchini, cherry tomatoes, fresh rosemary and radicchio. Photos © Anna Dvorak
Today on Earth Day I am cautiously dreaming about what I’ll plant in my new garden this year, what will go in my “foster” garden, and which clever new ways I can organize my herb pots so that they keep me supplied with cooking herbs throughout the summer.
All that, and I am also thinking about food, summer, and recipes - most specifically for my next e-cookbook, Nourish: Summer, which is due out June 1st.
One thing that has changed for me this past year has been paying greater attention what goes on in a typical kitchen for a family with school age children in my neck of the woods. Eleven women - most of them moms - and two men - both dads -have been my recipe testers for the three cookbooks I’ve written, and am writing, thus far. As I’ve received their feedback on the recipes, I’ve used it as a benchmark to write about cooking in a way that makes it so very practical and doable in a regular kitchen with the busy schedule that most families maintain.
This is why I get even more excited when I hear voices who command a much larger audience saying things like, “Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.” That is from Michael Pollan, and it is the message at the forefront of the new book he has just written called “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.”
Without Pollan knowing it, I consider myself part of a big team doing “work on the ground” in communities across America to implement a similar message, by educating about food and how to cook in front of groups 2 to 32 in size.
As a result, I’m pretty darn excited to go and hear Michael Pollan speak live in Minneapolis next week as part of the Inspiring Minds series at Beth El Synagogue, with proceeds to benefit an excellent organization in North Minneapolis called Appetite for Change.
I’m so excited, in fact, that I bought two tickets. So, if you’d like to join me next Thursday to get a taste of what inspires me and hopefully get a little inspired yourself,
(...read the rest of the blog HERE and get the full instructions!)
I’ve been writing my own recipes down since the mid-90s, just keeping little scrawled notes of what I had cooked using vegetables in my garden and especially good combinations of ingredients. The shift towards helping other people make healthier foods in their own kitchens began when I assembled a booklet of recipes for our friends Anne and Kelley six years ago because they wanted to start cooking healthier at home.
I also began shifting from just having my own little garden in my backyard, which I learned how to grow from my parents, to promoting local small farmers and thinking about larger food issues. I began learning about what farmers were doing about local food issues, and how much thought and effort they put into growing incredible foods for our tables.
As things have evolved, I still create new dishes for myself and my family, but now a big part of what I do is share what I’ve learned about food – in this blog, by teaching cooking classes, and by serving up the flavors with anyone who happens to come into my kitchen.
Now it’s all come together as I’ve published my first cookbook, an e-cookbook called nourish: winter, part of a series that I’ll release over the next year called nourish: cooking with love in four seasons. It couldn’t be more local, organic, seasonal or healthful. My whole goal is to continue to help people get back to cooking from scratch - making wholesome, delicious and healthful foods. I love sharing ideas and tools for healthy living, about knowing why good food matters, and how it's possible to do something about it at home. I truly believe that not only is good food important, it should taste really good at the same time – not just in my kitchen, but yours as well.
Here's a sample recipe and photograph from the cookbook. Enjoy!
Roasted Delicata Squash
Delicata squash have a light, delicate flavor and a firm texture. Maybe the best part about them is that you can eat them skin and all, saving time and fuss. Serve them as a side dish or atop a crisp green salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Yield: 2-4 servings
2 tablespoons coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 delicata squash
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375º. Wash squash thoroughly and dry. Slice into 1/2” rings and scoop seeds out of each slice. (You can also cut off each end and scrape out all of the seeds at once.) Rub all surfaces of each piece with oil – skin and cut edges – and place on an ungreased heavy baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast until soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Photo credit: Mike Dvorak Photography
I have lots of opinions about food. Things I love, things I wouldn’t touch, and things I want everyone to go out and enjoy, right now.
One of my very favorite things is the Mill City Farmer’s Market in downtown Minneapolis. Tucked behind the Mill Ruins along the Mississippi River, Mill City Farmer’s Market is what I’ve come to consider the jewel in the crown of metro area farmer’s markets. Of course I know that everyone has their favorites, but this happens to be mine. Here’s why:
1. I love the quality of food I can find there: the Market has chosen vendors who meet the highest standards of local and sustainably grown, pesticide-free and/or organic foods, plus quality goods.
2. I adore Brenda Langton. With her rich history in the metro food scene serving some of the most honest and responsibly-sourced food from early St. Paul days to Cafe Brenda and now Spoonriver, she has created an amazing food zone at the Market with passion, vision, and a whole lot of work. Mill City Market has become the new standard for organic, quality and innovative local market vendors in large part to her energy and commitment.
3. I love the variety: greens, cheeses, breads and pastries, handmade chocolates and crackers, herbs, wild-caught salmon, and perfect ice cream. I can shop here on Saturdays and stock my fridge for days.
Here are some of my very favorites:
But go, find more gems for yourself, and make sure to buy lots of fresh veggies so you can go home and put together a super-local and delicious summer meal that doesn’t take more than a little tossing in a salad bowl.
(P.S. I would be a big liar if I didn't mention that I get a bag of organic, cardamom-spiced mini donuts from the Chef Shack at least once a summer for utter donut perfection. Just make sure to eat extra salad later to make up for it.)
Super Simple Spinach Greek Salad for Two
two large handfuls fresh spinach (about 4 loose cups)
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
10 Kalamata olives
1/4 red onion, extremely thinly sliced
2 ounces Singing Hills Goat Dairy feta
2 tablespoons best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 fresh lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
large pinch sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Wash and spin dry the spinach. Tear into bite-sized pieces into a medium bowl. Top with tomatoes, olives, onion, and feta. Drizzle with the olive oil, lemon and sprinkle on the oregano, salt and black pepper. Toss well to combine and serve immediately.