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At first glance this soup might look suspiciously similar to the one posted before it. Pureed, a bit orangey, some green stuff on top. The taste, on the other hand, is very different. The soup represents my first attempt at putting myself out there and making friends with cauliflower. Just like brussel sprouts before him, the cauliflower is one of those vegetables I intuitively stayed clear of for most of my life. Oh cauliflower, how could I have been so wrong about you? So much for listening to your gut.

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My good friend Jess who is a loyal reader of this blog showed up to my house last week with a spectacular appetizer offering. This recipe was so good and so gone by the time dinner was ready that I happily ended up with a huge portion of leftover ceviche at the end of the night so I am doubly grateful to her for this. Here she is to tell you how you too can achieve dairy nirvana in just a few short minutes of prep time. Enjoy!

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Christa has been kind enough to indulge me as a guest blogger, and I regret that I cannot regale you with stories of food-shopping extravaganzas.  I simply went to Market Basket to obtain the ingredients used to make this appetizer, as I have come to discover that shopping there saves one 20-25% on the monthly grocery bill.  (The only problem is that the entire state of Massachusetts knows this, so the lines are as long as the lines at my local DMV, except at 7:00 am, which is when the store opens in my neck of the woods.  Therefore I cannot truthfully state, as Christa so often does, that Market Basket is The Best Place on Earth, as it is actually a little slice of hell).

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Okay I know I keep crying wolf with “THIS is the best place ever”, “No, actually it’s THIS”, or “I think THIS is tops”, but I do seriously think I’ve found heaven. On Route 6 in Truro. The Atlantic Spice Company is a wood-framed  warehouse nestled on the side of the road on one of the thinnest and most remote parts of Cape Cod. Thus, you have to make an effort to get there, and believe me it’s well worth it. It is all because of Atlantic Spice that I have a relationship with smoked paprika, Saigon cinnamon, and Gumbo File. I’m telling you, a girl could spend many happy hours wandering this place and it’s probably only 1000 square feet. In my next life I’m going to own a spice shop…maybe even in this one.

Anyway, my most recent trip to Mecca unveiled a previously unexplored region of this store’s inventory, the grains. Uh oh, my wallet was not pleased. I’m just warning you now, I’ve stocked up on about six months worth of every kind of quinoa, cous cous and barley you can imagine so get ready for some heavy blogging. This week’s feature is actually a pasta (gasp!), right? Isn’t orzo a pasta? In any case, the sweet potato flavor caught my eye and after an extensive discussion with the store owner I learned that when he sampled this flavor he was surprised by the bold taste that can often be lacking from flavored pastas. Sold! Sweet potatoes aren’t typically a summer ingredient, so I used the pasta instead to get the flavor without the oven roasting. I’m going to tell you about the two versions I made this week and I think at some point my roommate is helping me to plan how to incorporate the orzo into a true sweet dish/dessert type thing.Versatility is the name of the game.

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Boy, it’s been a busy few days of cooking and eating around here. I threw a crazy fun dinner party on Saturday as part of a cooking challenge that I’ll have to tell you about later, but this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write about the star of my kitchen this week, quinoa.

I know I’ve extolled the virtues of quinoa (“keen-wah”) on these pages several times already, but it really bears repeating in a blog dedicated only to this pseudo-grain. Many of you may already be familiar with using quinoa in your kitchen since it seems to be one of the more popular was to inject healthy carbs into your diet these days. From what I can tell quinoa is actually some sort of beet or spinach relative, making it in actuality a vegetable, and I hear it’s chock-full of protein so the glycemic index is likely low and it’s gluten-free. Most of the time you’ll see quinoa used where rice, orzo, or other pastas may have been.

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Here I am posting about another herb/spice blend I’ve been experimenting with, za’atar. I have to thank my roommate for this one, I think she picked up a jar of this from somewhere special, which is why I won’t be using a ton but will definitely have to search for a replacement when she leaves in a couple of months! Double sadness. Za’atar is prominent in Middle Eastern cuisine, particularly Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, etc., but even as far as Morocco.  I think the blend living at my house came from Lebanon. Generally we’re talking about a base of sesame seeds, sumac berries, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and salt, although various types may use additional herbs to distinguish them like cumin or fennel.

I am told by those in the know that za’atar is most commonly used as a paste or spread for unleavened breads and meats, however I find it useful when you want to cook up a bunch of vegetables with beans or lentils or whole grains. Gives them a spicy kick that isn’t hot like if you were to season with peppers or chilis. I like to make food with this kind of flavor if I’m using chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) or raisins, or carrots. Those are the kinds of ingredients you’ll find in a lot of Middle Eastern dishes, along with lentils, pine nuts, and even spinach. This type of cooking lends itself really well to caramelizing onions! Once you’ve done that, add the za’atar and then begin adding your vegetables and other ingredients. You can even take the opportunity to spice the meal up a bit more with additions like cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and my favorite, cinnamon. For some reason I think the cinnamon really makes it taste like it’s from Morocco to me. Not that I’ve ever been there. Sigh. It’s on the list. Actually, in general, cooking meals with flavors like these makes me long to walk through an open spice market in one of the major cities in this region taking in the sites and smells. Bliss, I tell you.

Anyway, give za’atar a whirl, or make your own blend using your favorite flavors listed above. You’ll have endless options for flavorful meals galore!

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The warmer weather here is making me want to eat lighter things. Soups and stews are on hiatus and back in style are the salads and wraps. Since I’m all about sofrito this week, I wanted to show how I turned what is a very versatile meal concept into a showcase for the flavor blend.

This meal is essentially a soft taco with some foliage instead of a tortilla. Accordingly, I will often go with cumin, chili powder, or even a taco seasoning blend to add flavor to the meat or beans that I’m cooking for the filling, but really just about any combo will work. I’ve noticed that when I eat healthily I like to really spice things up so that I don’t feel unsatisfied. It works! Please note with the recipe that it makes enough for about 87 people, so if you’re cooking for one you may want to love the idea of leftovers. Also, I was thinking that you could make some rice or quinoa and mix in the filling leftovers for a different sort of delivery. Topped with avocado, it would be great. I would be trying that idea out here, but my very hungry friend was over yesterday and my leftovers are no longer. I’ll take that as a ringing endorsement for the meal. Okay, onto the wraps.

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Every now and then I get a little carried away in the produce aisle and end up in a frantic cooking spree necessitated by the many vegetables in the fridge teetering dangerously close to the edge of spoilt. This week I had all the makings of a Thai dish: snow peas, carrots, broccoli, ginger, basil and thai chilis. Of course in an effort to bring some color to these pages, I threw in red peppers for good measure.

Taste the rainbow:

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The great thing about a meal like this is that you really can throw in the kitchen sink. If you don’t have/don’t like the vegetables that I have chosen, you can use all sorts of alternatives. Mushrooms, cabbage, any number of meats, shrimp, or tofu, peanuts, squashes, even eggplant will all work. Traditionally, stir frys or vegetable blends might be served over rice but I chose to use quinoa here. Quinoa, as I’ll be sure to go into in more detail later, is a healthy whole grain prevalent in South America. It’s very light tasting when you’re looking for something carb-y but not heavy and can be used along with any number of flavors or ingredients. And it’s gluten free giving it wide appeal. The second greatest thing about this meal is that less than a half an hour separates you from sitting in front of a delicious bowl of this stuff.

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