Spiced Cauliflower Couscous with Peas, Radishes, Feta and Mint by Alexa Arnold

I've come up with a lot of reasons not to cook or write lately. I could list them here, but it all kind of boils down to that I'm human and I get into a routine of making fried eggs for every meal when other parts of life feel hard and exhausting, just like the rest of us. This season turned over so fast. I feel like I've been trudging ahead at full speed, and suddenly I looked up and the naked tree I'd been staring at all winter through my kitchen window was filled with apple blossoms. A week later, and it's now full of green. I'm taking this as nature's way of telling me to slow down, get settled, and catch up with the season that I love so much. For me, that slowing down part always begins in the kitchen.

Before heading to the market, I scrolled through my Instagram feed in search of a little inspiration, and stopped at Andrea's photo of a big bowl of cauliflower 'couscous', topped with all of my spring favorites. I love her photos and her recipes, and am seriously in awe of how she somehow balances blogging and farming full time. From a single photo, I felt that familiar feeling of excitement pump through my veins – I had to make this, today, right now, as soon as possible. For some reason, I didn't want to peek at how she prepared this dish – the idea of seeing her photo, grabbing some ingredients and seeing how similar, or not, our versions ended up felt more exciting.  

As a kid, I rarely ate cauliflower. We generally only crossed paths at the kind of family gathering where someone brought one of those already prepared vegetable trays – tasteless celery, baby carrots, cold cauli florets and a tub of ranch dressing. Or sometimes it would show up steamed at dinner and I'd have to pick my way around it. But my feelings for cauliflower have come a long way, and over the past few years it's become a staple in my diet and the star of many of my favorite meals. And since I discovered that this crunchy cruciferous vegetable could be transformed into something so soft and fluffy and delicious, I'm more often than not willing to choose it over a scoop of rice. 

My version didn't turn out that differently from Andrea's. She added parsley, walnuts and pumpkin seeds, while I opted to spice the couscous with cumin, garam masala and then top it with pine nuts. I added my standard vinaigrette while she kept things simple with a squeeze of lemon. The feta adds a nice tanginess, and the peas and radishes made me feel like I hadn't missed out on spring after all. And because the fried-egg-for-every-meal rut is one I'm not ready to dig myself out of anytime soon, I added one on top for good measure. 

Spiced Cauliflower Couscous with Peas, Radishes, Feta and Mint

Serves 4.
Recipe very much inspired by Dishing Up the Dirt.

Ingredients:
> 1 head cauliflower
> 1 bunch radishes (about 1 cup, thinly sliced)
> 1 bunch mint
> 1.5 cups peas
> 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
> 1 cup feta
> 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
> 1 teaspoon cumin
> 1 teaspoon garam masala
> 2 tablespoons olive oil
> Juice of 2 lemons
> 1 teaspoon grainy mustard
> 1 teaspoon honey
> Salt and pepper to taste
> Optional fried eggs for topping

Preparation:
1. Chop the cauliflower into quarters, trim away the greens, and break apart the florets. Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor and pulse until it's completely broken down into rice-sized granules. Be careful not to over mix – you don't want it to be pureed. 
2. Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Transfer the cauliflower couscous to the pan, add the cumin, garam masala, salt, pepper, and half of the red pepper flakes. Let cook until it's lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in the pine nuts and continue to cook for another 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to over cook – you want the rice to stay light and fluffy, not mushy. 
3. While the couscous is cooking, thinly slice the radishes and mint. Transfer to a large bowl, and add in the couscous, peas, and feta, and stir until combined.
4. Prepare the dressing: add lemon juice, mustard, honey, salt, pepper, and remaining olive oil and red pepper flakes to a small jar. Shake until combined. Drizzle over the couscous and stir until coated. 
5. Serve as is, or top with a fried egg. 

Chicken Noodle Soup with Parmsan Broth and Greens by Alexa Arnold

I stood in line at the grocery last night, alongside everyone in our neighborhood, stocking up on essentials – eggs, a loaf of my favorite grainy bread, chocolate, the makings of a hearty soup – in preparation for the impending blizzard New York's been talking up for the past week. The line stretched as long as the length of the store, but moved quicker than I initially thought it would. I felt the same anxiousness to get home as the people around me, but when I finally stepped outside, it wasn't so cold, so I chose the long route home. I called my dad while I walked. We exchanged the usual updates and he mentioned he'd just finished a great book – a copy for me, already on its way. I made a couple of extra loops around my block, as Dad dove deep into the author's thesis: research is showing that the health of the brain is intrinsically related to the heath of the microbiome, the vast population of organisms that live in our bodies and evolve based on our lifestyle and food choices. Meaning what we eat plays a role in the health of our microbiome, and is connected to how we think and how we feel, and possibly even diseases or other ailments we experience. He talked about the detrimental affects of processed food, sugar and antibiotics on our microbiome, and how he's now looking at what we put in our bodies in a whole new light. Our conversation jumped all over the place, from breastfeeding, to cooking with whole foods, to the importance of probiotics, to the time I tried to grow a kombucha scoby from scratch (spoiler: 'booch farming isn't for me). He did most of the talking, which I didn't mind at all. I've been there, time and time again, and I recognized the excitement in his voice – the same fire I feel, the same rage about the political and economic forces that shape our food choices, and the same desperate desire to make a meaningful impact in my own life and in the lives of others. I felt a twinge of pride and a deep sense of connection. This book illuminated for him so much about the things I'm passionate about, and for me, our conversation underlined a quality that we both share: the need to always be learning, and an excitement about sharing what we've learned with the world. 

So here I am, attempting to share a small slice of what I know and love about food. About whole, real, nourishing food. About the joy and strength and comfort I've found in food's power to heal. 

The snow did fall on the city after all, and it's still coming down. At the sight of it this morning, I set out to make the warmest, richest, most filling, and most comforting soup that's ever come together in my kitchen, and I feel pretty pleased with where I landed. It's a snow day soup – the kind that needs to sit and simmer for hours, but still only requires two dishes. The broth's inspired by Bon Appetit's Parmesan Broth, one of my favorite broth recipes, and it will make your kitchen smell glorious. Like pure goodness.

A few things worth noting: There is chicken in this recipe, but if you're not into meat, the parmesan broth is so wonderfully fragrant and flavorful that you could go without the chicken and still have a hearty base for the soup – though I'd recommend adding some beans to give the end result a bit more girth. Second, this broth needs about two hours of simmering to get really flavorful, and the longer the better – precisely why this is the perfect snow day soup. Don't let time scare you off, though. The recipe is still fairly simple: you make the broth, while it simmers you cook the chicken and slice the carrots and set them aside. You clean your kitchen or watch Netflix or read the book you can't put down while you wait. And once the broth is nice and full, you strain it, add the noodles, carrots and chicken, and you're done. It's worth the wait. And last: wondering where to get a pound of parmesan rinds? I found mine at my neighborhood market, which has a nice fancy cheese section, but I've also seen that at Whole Foods. Basically, grocery that sells blocks of parmesan has the rinds – you might just have to ask. And they're cheap, like $2 per pound. As you buy blocks of parmesan in the future, save those rinds! They keep well in the freezer, too. Just toss them in a freezer-safe bag or jar with your other food scraps, in preparation to make your next broth. 

Chicken Noodle Soup with Parmesan Broth and Greens

Serves 6; Cook time: 2.5 hours.
Broth inspired by Bon Appétit's Parm Broth

Ingredients:
For the broth:
> 1 head garlic, half crosswise
>1 onion, quartered
> 1 bunch each of thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage
> 2 bay leaves
> 2 tablespoons olive oil
> 1 tablespoon peppercorns
> 1 cup dry white wine
> 1 lb parmesan rinds
> 12 cups water
For the soup:
> 8 chicken thighs, bone in
> 4 large carrots, thinly sliced
> 3 cups dried bow-tie pasta
For topping:
> 1 cup basil leaves
> 3 cups arugula
> 1/2 cup bread crumbs, toasted
> 1/2 cup shaved parmesan
> Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
1. Prepare the broth: Heat the oil in a large soup pan over high heat. Add the onion, garlic and bay leaves and cook until browned. Add the wine, peppercorns and almost all of the herbs to the pot – you'll want to save a few sprigs of each for the chicken. Bring to a boil and cook until the wine has reduced by half. Add the parmesan rinds and water, reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 hours. 
2. Prepare the chicken: Set the oven to 400 degrees. Finely chop the remaining herbs and mix with salt and pepper in a small bowl. Toss the chicken in the herb mixture until evenly seasoned. Place the seasoned chicken in a baking dish, and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the meat registers at 165 degrees. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Once the chicken is cool enough to touch, remove the meat from the bones, and shred it by hand or with a knife. Set aside. Place the bones and skin in the broth both for the remaining cook time. 
3. Finish the soup: Strain the broth through a fine sieve, and set aside in a large bowl. Place the sliced carrots in the now-empty broth, and sauté in a bit of oil for 2-3 minutes. Return the broth to the pot, bring to a boil, add the pasta and cook for around 10 minutes, or according to package instructions. Right before the pasta is cooked al dente, add the chicken. Simmer for about 3 minutes.
4. For serving: Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Top with arugula, basil, parmesan and a sprinkle of toasted bread crumbs. 

Sweet Potato, Corn and Kale Chowder by Alexa Arnold

The first frosty flakes of the year are floating around outside my kitchen window, swirling in the garden and landing, like a blanket, on top of the few hardy stems of chard and kale that still stick up out of the ground. Other crops have been covered in an attempt to fight off the freeze, and the woody remains of what once was a windy tomato vine is reminding me that this is only temporary – though I've never experienced a winter as long and cold as these past two in New York. Nevertheless, I'm ready for the long haul. I'm curled inside on the couch, Orson's leaning his little head on my lap, and there's a big batch of this sweet potato, corn and kale chowder on the stove. 

Over the last few months, I've been trying to commit to making a big batch of something – soup, curry, salad, rice – that will get Grayson and me through a week's worth of lunches at work. For some reason, committing to this is harder than it seems for me, but I'm determined to build a habit out of it that sticks. Beginning with this chowder. This chowder is pure comfort – sweet enough to remind you of summer, but grounded by the heartiness of the sweet potatoes and kale. The coconut milk gives it a luxurious, creamy texture and the whole thing comes together in under an hour. I get a real kick out of making a dish with as few ingredients, and in as uncomplicated a way, as possible, and yet the full flavor of the end result makes it seem like this recipe must be more complicated than just throwing everything in one pot. But it's really that simple.

Sweet Potato, Corn and Kale Chowder

Serves 8.

Ingredients:
> 1 large yellow onion, chopped finely
> 2 cloves garlic, minced
> 3 large sweet potatoes, cubed
> 1 bunch kale
> 3 cups corn kernels
> 4 cups vegetable stock
> 1 can coconut milk
> 2 cups water, or more, depending on your consistency preferences
> 1 tablespoon coconut oil
> 1 tablespoon dried thyme
> Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
1. In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, sauté the onion and garlic with the coconut oil, until soft and translucent. 
2. Add the sweet potatoes, vegetable stock, thyme and corn to the pot. Cook for 5 minutes, until slightly softened. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the coconut milk, raise the heat to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer for 20 minutes. 
3. Using an electric hand blender, purée some of the mixture, but be sure to keep plenty of whole sweet potatoes and corn kernels in the mix.
4. Add the kale to the pot. Stir, and add as much water as you'd like to reach your desired consistency. I found that 2 cups did the trick. 

2016 by Alexa Arnold

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It's become a ritual, likely inherited from my mother, that before I leave for any extended trip, I spend days scrubbing our apartment clean. From the floors, to the piles of laundry we’d let build up over weeks, to the dust that’d been gathering on the hard-to-reach windowsill in our bedroom. I emptied out the fridge, gave extra sweet potatoes and parsnips and ginger root that would likely go bad to friends, and wiped down every last inch. I did all of this in anticipation of the feeling I’d get to feel when we returned three weeks later to a spotless, clean apartment. A clean slate for a new year, all of our belongings in order.

Naturally, the turn of the year has left me reflecting on 2015, our second year living in the tiny apartment that overlooks the garden in Park Slope. It was a year of learning and growth, as is every year, but this year felt particularly challenging and rewarding. My job took me all over the country to advocate for healthy, just, and sustainable lunches in schools, and pushed me to try new things, let go of my need to control, and speak up for myself and my beliefs. The city that felt so foreign to me two years ago feels like home, so much so that I can’t imagine leaving. We joined our first CSA in the city and built relationships with farmers at the markets in our neighborhood, which gave me the sense of community I’ve missed so much about Kentucky. I ran miles and miles around Brooklyn, along streets lined with apple blossoms, then lush leafy greens, then string lights and fir trees and the smell of the heartwarming excitement that comes with the end of year holidays. I started this blog, and pushed myself to share more about how food has empowered me. 

Instead of sharing a recipe today, I’ve included a few photos of a calendar I put together for 2016, along with some intentions for the year. Finding the perfect, well-designed calendar is among my favorite ways to celebrate the new year, and compiling one of my own was a fun way to revisit memories from the past year. The photos, all taken by me, come from scenes in my kitchen, the farmers market, and on working farms I’ve had the opportunity to visit. Market bins filled with beets in January, spring peas boiling on the stove in May, paw paws in the hands of the farmer who grew them in October, and root vegetables ready for roasting in December. My talented friend, Jessica, designed the text and lettering for each month. Each page is printed on thick cardstock, then stacked and clipped together on a small clipboard. The clipboard has magnets on the back, so the calendar can be hung on the fridge, serving as daily inspiration for seasonal eating. Alternatively, it can easily be hung on a wall using a small nail. It should also be noted that the overall design of the calendar is very much inspired by Artifact Uprising, whose minimalist aesthetic I completely adore.

If you happen to be interested in purchasing one, please reach out to me through my contact page, in the comments, or at bestbiteoftheplum@gmail.com.

And last, some intentions for 2016: laugh louder, work harder, live lighter, love deeper, judge slower. Embrace change with open arms. Remember that you are enough. 

Wishing you and yours a happy, full and adventurous year. To those who've been following, reading, connecting and cooking – thank you. 

Chocolate Espresso Sea Salt Cookies by Alexa Arnold

Each year around the winter holidays, my workplace puts together a cookbook, filled with familial or other favorite recipes submitted by members of our team. Many featured recipes have been passed down through generations – the secrets of Grandma's famous breakfast casserole, prepared by her every Christmas morning, Dad's special spelt dough, or the cranberry recipe that finally made cranberries a star of the holiday meal table. The project got me thinking a lot about which recipes friends and family would think of when they think of my cooking. Vegetarian cooking, like my Roasted Root Vegetable dish, certainly would come to mind, but probably also these Chocolate Espresso Sea Salt cookies. These cookies are everything I look for in a dessert – crispness on the edges with a soft, gooey, chocolate center, topped with flakey sea salt. Basically, the perfect partner to a scoop of vanilla ice cream (which if you know me well, you know I'll advocate for vanilla ice cream over the fancy flavors any day). They're so good, I refer to them simply as, "the cookies", and friends know exactly which cookies I'm talking about. I've been known to bake them for birthdays, ship them across the country to surprise friends, and bring them to holiday gatherings. To put it simply, I'd be honored to be thought of alongside these cookies. 

I stumbled across the recipes on a blog a few years ago (it's since been closed down, but a version of the original recipe is still up on Food52), and I've adapted it very slightly over the years. I've played around with gluten-free flour blends, and given how little flour is included in the recipe, I can barely taste the difference. Aside from the 10 ounces of chocolate, the espresso is truly what makes these cookies shine, though I'll warn you that if you enjoy a late night cookie, you might find that the caffeine keeps you up later than you'd planned. These cookies are meant for sharing, so consider doubling the batch.

Chocolate Espresso Sea Salt Cookies

Adapted slightly from Food52
Makes 15-18 cookies, depending on size.

Ingredients:
> 10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
> 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
> 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
> 1/3 cup flour (I used all-purpose, but feel free to experiment with other flours)
> 3/4 cup sugar
> 1 teaspoon baking powder
> 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
> 2 large eggs
> 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
> Additional sea salt, for sprinkling

Preparation:
1. Roughly chop the chocolate into fine, thin pieces. In a microwave of over the stove, melt 8 ounces of the chocolate, the butter and espresso powder. Mix until combined, then set aside.
2. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla together until combined. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the bowl and whisk until combined. 
3. In a third bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add this to the bowl with the chocolate, eggs and sugar, and whisk together until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Mix in the remaining 2 ounces of roughly chopped chocolate. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap or foil, and let sit in the fridge for 1 hour or overnight. The longer, the better.
4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Using a large spoon, drop small scoops of dough onto a nonstick baking sheet, spacing the cookies 1-inch apart. (You can also line your baking sheet with parchment paper or a drizzle of oil to avoid the cookies sticking to the sheet). Bake for about 10 minutes and then remove the cookies from the oven. Top each cookie with a sprinkle of flakey sea-salt. They should be soft, but not too soft – they'll continue to harden as they cool. Let them cool on the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 
5. Consider serving them alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream. You won't regret it. 

Roasted Root Vegetables + Cider Vinaigrette by Alexa Arnold

As soon as the wind picked up and the temperature dropped, my oven kicked the bucket. We had a long, hot summer so I'd barely turned it on in months, except for the occasional roasting of cherry tomatoes. We went a couple of weeks without it and it turned out to be a fairly easy fix, and the first dish I'd been eager to get back into our winter rotation was a simple roasted root vegetable medley. This meal is a staple in our home as soon as the fall and winter crops arrive on market tables. We serve it up for dinner as a main course, reheat it for breakfast with a fried egg on top and bring it to all of the winter holiday gatherings. It's ridiculously simple, but I've received more praise when I bring it to potlucks than any other dish. Slathered in olive oil, rosemary and thyme, roasted vegetables taste spectacular on their own, but the sweet, tart vinaigrette is what takes this dish to the next level.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Cider Vinaigrette

Ingredients:
Note: Feel free to change it up and use different vegetables. Beets and different varieties of squash and potatoes are all delicious. The combination below is my standby, but this recipe is perfect for adapting as you'd like. 
> 2 large potatoes (or a handful of smaller fingerlings)
> 2 large sweet potatoes
> 1 butternut squash, peeled and seeds removed
> 1 bunch carrots (about 6 medium sized)
> 3 medium sized parsnips
> 1 medium yellow onion
> 1-2 tbs olive oil
> 4 cloves garlic, minced
> 1 tbs crushed dried rosemary
> 1 tsp dried thyme
> Salt and pepper to taste
For the cider vinaigrette:
> 1 larger shallot, minced
> 1 tbs grainy mustard
> 1 tbs honey
> 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
> 1 tbs olive oil
> 1 tsp sea salt
> 1/2 tsp black pepper

Preparation:
1. Cube the potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, and parsnips into bite size pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Slice the onion into small pieces and add to the bowl. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper and mix until all of the vegetables are covered. 
2. Heat the oven to 375'. Transfer the vegetables to a cast iron skillet or other large baking dish. Bake for 45 minutes, pulling them out halfway to stir. 
3. Prepare the vinaigrette: Add the shallot, mustard, honey, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper to a small jar and shake until emulsified. 
4. Once the vegetables are soft, remove from the oven and let cool. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and stir so they're evenly covered.