Sweet Potato Queso and No Excuses for the Swampy Solstice

Excuses. We live by them, alas. God forbid we die by them. Why don’t we eat healthy? I love this new cookbook by Megan Gilmore No Excuses Detox which exists to debunk the heavy hitters, like, I don’t have enough time, or it’s too expensive, or I am too hungry and can’t control my cravings. What I love about this book is the simplicity of the recipes, which are speedy and mostly vegetarian. I also love the attention to cost with the estimated cents per serving. My CSA puts a box full of vegetables together for $20 each week, and then I get the fun of finding new ways to love carrots and sweet potatoes and kale and tomatoes and peppers. Here are a few of my recent favorites.

I recall once ordering queso at a vegan restaurant before I knew that it was a vegan restaurant. There should be a rule enforcing vegan advertising. I recall that the “queso” was horrible. And behold, total redemption of vegan queso.

Sweet Potato Queso, What?

Adapted from No Excuses

1 cup sweet potato, mashed

½ cup water

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tsp chili powder

¼ cup nutritional yeast (what an awesome ingredient)

1 tsp lemon juice

1 cup pico de gallo (below)

Combine everything but the pico in a mixer and blend until smooth. Then put in a saucepan and heat and add pico. Then add chips.


Pico de Gallo

Adapted from No Excuses Detox

1 pound tomatoes, diced

½ cup red onion, diced

½ cup diced green bell pepper

1 jalapeno chile, diced

4 cloves garlic

1 TB lime juice

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp fine sea salt

Combine all together. Duh.


Then try these:

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Adapted from No Excuses

½ cup flour

1 cup sugar

¼ cup coconut oil

6 eggs

2 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ginger

Pinch of sea salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 ½ cups carrots, shredded

Set oven at 350. Whisk all the dry ingredients. Add the wet. Then the carrot shreds. Bake for about 20 minutes until the fork thing happens.

To make frosting, just whip like ½ cup of heavy whipping cream in a chilled mixing bowl, and add 1 tsp sugar.

Stay safe in tropical storm Cindy, New Orleans. It”s a a swampy solstice. Thanks Chain of Fools, it was a lovely night to social ride.

Peach Tart and other Farm to Table Desserts

Saturday. The day when all our front lawns get crew cuts, all the food threatening to rot in the fridge gets whipped into salads and quiches and pico de gallo and fruit tarts. Like am’uricans we went to a baseball game last night and enjoyed beer and nachos and watched the planetary orbits of brilliant white uniforms around a diamond in red clay. Desperate as always to catch a fly, I came home with an empty glove and a vow to return.

Mr Okra came through the neighborhood this morning and I bought some peaches off his truck, and made a peach tart, the recipe from Farm To Table Desserts cookbook by Lei Shishak—brought it to the Midcity Dinner Club’s Cocktail and Dessert party this evening. Delicious. In the cookbook, the recipe is with nectarines. Also, I substituted the mascarpone cheese with ricotta, and I think it was better that way. Beautiful cookbook. Inspiration divided into seasonal suggestions. Gorgeous photography, I recommend.

Peach Tart

Adapted from Farm to Table Desserts

Crust (I made a double batch and did one large and several smalls with the same amount of filling)

1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs

¼ cup sugar

½ cup melted butter


8 oz cream cheese, room temp

8 oz mascarpone (or ricotta)

½ cup sugar

1 tsp lemon zest

1 tsp vanilla

2 tbsp whole milk

½ peaches (or 3-4 ripe nectarines)

1 tb fruity olive oil

½ tsp lemon juice

Make crust: preheat oven to 350. Mix up the crust ingredients and press into the tart pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then cool in the fridge.

Make filling: Mix everything in a paddle mixer on slow speed. Add milk last. Transfer to the cooled tart pan and spread evenly with a leveler. Chill for two hours in the fridge. Right before you serve, halve, pit and thinly slice your peaches. Toss in a large bowl with the olive oil and lemon. Arrange the slices in a concentric pattern on top of the filling. Wah lah. Don’t drop it (I came close).

Like I said, I made a bunch of littles with the extra crust and filling, and topped with blueberries and blackberries.

Tomato Basil Soup with Green Beans and Beet Pesto– Secrets of Skinny Cooking

Membership in a local CSA (community supported agriculture) presents a pleasant challenge—to eat fresh that which is in season. As a relatively new Louisiana gardener, I am on the steep and ascending edge of the learning curve. So far this year I’ve struck gold on Creole tomatoes, okra, limes and jalapeno peppers. They say eggplants are heat tolerant and do great here—we shall see.

Meanwhile, turnips and beets and potatoes and green beans are coming in by the handful.

The new cookbook Secrets of Skinny Cooking by Victoria Dwek and Shani Taub is beautiful.

This is the first publication I’ve reviewed from Artscroll Shaar Press, the photography is mouthwatering. There is an index sorted by vegetable, and now when I get my CSA delivery, I turn straight to those pages and pick a recipe featuring my bounty.

Over the last two weeks, I very much enjoyed the following:

Basil Soup with Carrots and Tomatoes

Essentially for this, you don’t even need a stock pot. Just roast at 425 or 450 degrees four quartered tomatoes, two or three peeled and diced carrots, one diced onion, several garlic cloves, a chopped bell pepper, and then teaspoons of salt, pepper, dried basil, oregano, and thyme. Roast for 40 minutes. Then transfer all these veggies to a blender, add 1 ½ cups of chicken stock, and a tablespoon of fresh basil. Delicious.

I made this soup with a side of two pounds of green beans.

Glazed Green Beans

Steam and char the green beans. Then whisk together a tablespoon of minced fresh ginger, two tablespoons of tamari, two teaspoons of sesame oil and honey, and salt and pepper to taste. Top with sesame seeds and crushed red pepper as you like.

Last week I made the Beet Pesto.

All I can say is its all good. There are snazzy techniques for sparing oil when roasting vegetables. To saute onions without oil? Possible. And there are desserts. So. Take yourself out for a delicious steak dinner to celebrate all the vegetarianism going on during the week.

Mint Juleps with Shrimp Avocado Chips and Dip

“You go to my head, like a sip of sparkling burgundy brew, and I find the very mention of you, like the kicker in a julep or two.”

It’s been awhile since I’ve sung You Go To My Head, but in these early summer days when I come home to my warm and sunny porch, rot iron lacing with mint vines, these lyrics ring in my brain. It’s julep season in New Orleans.

Mint Julep

Adapted from Oak Alley Plantation recipe

2 cups sugar

1 cup water plus 12 oz more

8 mint sprigs for boiling; 5 for garnish

3 cups bourbon

Crushed ice

Dissolve the sugar in 1 cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low add mint sprigs. Stir until leaves are wilted and soaked. Simmer for 10 minutes uncovered, let cool. Strain. When the sugar water is cool, add bourbon and 12 oz water and mix well. Add crushed ice to six 16 oz glasses and pour the mixture over ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.


Shrimp and Avocado Dip with Chile and Lime

Adapted from Food and Wine

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

1/2 pound shelled and deveined shrimp, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

Kosher salt

1/3 cup sour cream

1/4 cup cream cheese, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 Hass avocado—peeled, pitted and finely diced

2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish

Thinly sliced scallions and jalapeños, for garnish

Hot sauce, chips and crudités, for serving

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the shrimp, garlic and a pinch of salt and cook over high heat, stirring, until the shrimp are white throughout, about 2 minutes. Let cool.

In a medium bowl, mix the sour cream with the cream cheese, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, lime zest and lime juice. Fold in the shrimp, avocado and 2 tablespoons of cilantro and season the dip with salt. Garnish with cilantro, scallions and jalapeños. Serve with hot sauce, chips and crudités.

Pie Irons and Grilled Cheese- Father’s Day is Coming

I have two great cookbooks for the men in your life. The first is Grilled Cheese and Beer–for those with the finer tastes in life. An erudite tour through the subtle delicacies and variations on one theme–cheesy bread. Written by Kevin VanBlarcum & James Edward Davis, this book has stratified levels of complexity and health-consciousness so there is really a grilled cheese for everyone in these pages.

My favorite is the Jalapeno Popper recipe with includes the preparation of a beer batter in which you dip the bread (of course I recommend wheat always), then you baste the toasted sides with cream cheese and sliced jalapeno. Spicy Spicy Spicy.

The book includes suggestions for how to pair your grilled cheese with the right beer– one wants to be careful to consider the mouthfeel and nasal bouquet of one’s libation, that it is complimentary to the exact stinkiness of the selected cheese. Well, may there be no more mystery or guessing game here. Grateful am I to these astute authors. My brother will love this. Izzy enjoys laying next to it while I grate cheese at the counter.

Then there is the second selection, the Dutch Oven and Cast Iron Cooking book by Peg Couch, which introduced me properly to all the various ways one can use pie irons camping style to make pie, calzones, casserole, etc. Fun to use in the backyard firepit–dinner as marshmallow. Or take backpacking with you– the pie iron can double as an impractical badminton racket or weapon. I have been cooking my bread with a Dutch Oven method for the last five years and I am a believer in the way the oven or cloche technique captures moisture and mists the surface of the bread to a thick crust.

I would consider either of these cookbooks an excellent Father’s Day gift.


Redfish Court Bouillion and Spiced Scallops with White Quinoa Grits

Always love seafood in the summertime! Especially when it’s seafood I caught on my own line. I went out with KP and my dad to some shallow bayou-y gulfish areas south of New Orleans and had the most thrilling catch of my life—reeled in an enormous redfish bull from a precarious teeter totter of a vessel—our Old Town featherweight, fondly known as the banana boat. So wonderful to share this memory with my favorite and most beloved of witnesses! Dad, Happy early Father’s Day. KP– thanks for being my anchor (emotionally) while that fish pulled our canoe around for fifteen minutes and for encouraging me not to let go or let up. Both in the boat and out of the boat, you are steady and assured.


That night I cooked up the catch into this Red Fish Court Bouillion recipe I got from an old Creole cookbook. It was delicious!

Redfish Court Bouillion

If scallops were half as fun to catch, I would have gone out hunting for some of those too, but instead, I fished these out of the ice at Costco.

White Quinoa Grits with Scallops in Spice Oil

Adapted from Food and Wine and Bon Appetit


3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 small leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth

1 cup white quinoa, rinsed and drained

Kosher salt


Spice Oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

6 black peppercorns plus freshly ground for seasoning

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more

1/4 cup olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice


1 1/2 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil

8 large or 12 medium sea scallops, side muscle removed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups mixed cilantro and flat-leaf tparsley with tender stems

Olive oil (for drizzling)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice



In a medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the leeks and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Whisk in the quinoa and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and porridge-like, about 25 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and season with salt and pepper; keep warm.

Spice Oil

Grind first 4 ingredients and 1/2 tsp. salt to a fine powder in spice mill. Transfer to a small saucepan over medium-low heat; add oil. Cook until oil begins to simmer, 2–3 minutes. Scrape into a small bowl; stir in garlic and lemon zest. Let cool for 5 minutes, then stir in 1 Tbsp. lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper, and more juice, if desired.


Heat grapeseed oil in a large heavy skillet over high heat until oil begins to smoke. Season scallops with salt and pepper. Sear until well browned, about 3 minutes. Turn; cook until just barely opaque in center, about 30 seconds longer.

Meanwhile, place herbs in a medium bowl and drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over; season salad to taste with salt and pepper. Divide scallops between 2 plates; spoon 1 Tbsp. spice oil over each plate (reserve remaining oil for another use). Garnish with salad.

Get some seafood for summertime!



Cilantro Lemon Soup, Ginger Fried Rice and Boogaloo

Bayou Boogaloo sailed through Mid City this weekend. There were many, many pirates. Most of them neon. I saw a stuffed dolphin on a guy’s shoulder, next to his mullet’s tail. We sailed our trusty Old Town Featherweight from stage to stage, along side a fleet of giant rubber duckies. Summer has arrived in the Crescent City.

Stay green and stay sun screened.

Cilantro Lemon Lentil Soup

Adapted from Penzeys Spices

Cilantro Oil:

1 Cup fresh cilantro, cleaned and chopped

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2-3/4 Cup olive oil


1 TB. olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp. ground allspice

3/4 tsp. salt

1 Cup dried lentils, rinsed

6 1/2 Cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

4 TB. fresh lemon juice

pepper, to taste

For the Cilantro Oil:

Put the cilantro in a blender with 1/2 Cup olive oil and the salt. Puree and drizzle in more olive oil until you reach your desired consistency. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

For the Soup:

Heat the olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until browned, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the allspice and salt and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add the lentils and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Transfer about 1/3 of the soup to the blender and puree until smooth. Return to the stockpot and stir. Add the lemon juice and pepper. Drizzle with cilantro oil before serving.

Kale and Ginger Garlic Fried Rice

Adapted from Food and Wine

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

One 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

6 scallions, thinly sliced

Kosher salt

6 cups coarsely chopped curly kale leaves

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 cups day-old cooked short-grain white rice

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

In a wok or very large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the ginger, scallions and a pinch of salt. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring constantly, until the ginger and scallions are tender, about 2 minutes. Add the kale, season with salt and stir-fry until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the cooked rice and stir-fry until heated through, about 3 minutes.

Make a well in the rice and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the eggs. Cook without stirring until the eggs begin to set at the edge. Using a spatula, scramble the eggs until just set. Stir the eggs into the rice along with the vinegar and oyster sauce and season with salt. Serve immediately.