Warm Fennel White Bean Dip with Kale and Parmesan

Food 2013 013 I’m not going to tell you that I’ve been too lazy to keep up the blog lately. Or that my daily routine leaves me tired and uninspired sometimes. I’m not going to tell you that I feel just a teensy bit overwhelmed with planning a wedding or that I like to give my brain a rest with an episode of Scandal most weekdays. Because you don’t wanna hear that complain-y crap!

What I am going to tell you is that I’m back to share recipes with you.

While I’ve been away from voracious for a bit, I’ve still been in the kitchen most days cooking nourishing food to keep us going. I’ve even cooked some especially good things. But I’ve mostly been falling back on dishes that are easy for me to make and aren’t deemed “blog-worthy”.

I’m making a promise to work harder to share the dishes that are coming out of my kitchen with you – because I know that we all need a little inspiration for simple healthy food that tastes good. Or at least I do.

And I’m starting out easy with a dip.

This is a new spin on the old can of white beans. Or bulb of fennel, depending on how you look at it. It’s creamy, dip-able, spreadable and great for sharing. I love the fresh rosemary in this but you could use thyme, parsley, basil or any other herb, really. I’d probably use a bit more when using leafy herbs though.

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3-Seed Fennel Slaw

3-seed slaw2

Truth time: I used to love me some KFC.

These days I don’t find myself at fast food restaurants that much…or at all. But as a pre-teen and teenager I was all about an extra-crispy meal with potato wedges and a biscuit. Ohhh the biscuits.

Between the heavily seasoned crunchy chicken and biscuit/potato double-carb-punch, the whole situation was near perfect for my 15-year-old palate. The one and only problem was that nasty little styrofoam container filled with mayo-laden, tasteless coleslaw. I just couldn’t get into it. I liked vegetables and salad (albeit less than fried chicken), but this was not that.

So I went along in life thinking of myself as an anti-slaw kind of lady; until one day it occurred to me that slaw could be made into something I could enjoy. I’m a total texture and crunch fan, so I knew we could make this work.

We could keep the cabbage and carrots aspect and add some fennel for gourmet flair, but we’d have to ditch that mayo business. In its place, we can use a Greek yogurt and vinegar-based dressing along with lots of seeds for tang and spice. (This method also works for eliminating mayo from tuna and egg salads.)

I’m bonkers for the fennel’s aniseed flavor and crunch and for the taste and texture of toasted sesame, fennel and cumin seeds. I like the lightness of the dressing and how it allows the spices and vegetables to shine through.

This is how we shall do slaw from this day forward in my house.

Bring on the (non-Kentucky) fried chicken. (Or veggie burgers.)

3-seed slaw 1

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Caramelized Fennel and Blood Orange Salad

I’m not going to lie, there was a time not-so-long-ago that I didn’t really get fennel.

Its shape intimidated me and its texture and strong aniseed flavor when raw were kind of turn off.

So I left the cream-colored bulbs alone for a while.

But my curiosity was stoked when Mr. F and I started watching old episodes of Australian Masterchef (you know, to assimilate into this cooking show-loving country.)

Turns out, every chef and judge that came through those kitchen doors freaking loves fennel. It’s the cool, cheffy vegetable that when used, the contestant would get mad props for such “clever cooking” or “understanding flavors.”

Mad. props. yo.

Inspired, I gave fennel another try.

Following my compulsion to roast nearly every vegetable under the sun, I gave it the old…well, roasting treatment. Obviously.

And that’s the story of how I discovered the real-life (non-reality tv) joys of fennel.

Each week when we’re at the farmer’s market, F lobbies for a fennel purchase and I’m always happy to oblige. I kind of love it that he loves this weird-looking vegetable as much as I do. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, somehow.

While my default way to cook fennel will probably always be roasting, I’ve found that pan roasting/caramelizing can be another excellent alternative.

This salad is a great combination of sweetness from the caramelized fennel, tart citrus from the blood oranges, saline bite from the black olives and peppery kick from the arugula. Perfect for your weekly fennel fix!

Caramelized Fennel & Blood Orange Salad
– 1 large fennel bulb, cut into thin slices
– olive oil
– salt
– 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
– 1 blood orange, segmented (juice reserved for the dressing)
– 4 large handfuls of arugula
– 1-2 tablespoons sliced black olives

To caramelize fennel, heat oil in a large skillet over a medium high heat. Add fennel and toss to coat in olive oil. Pour in the balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring only once or twice and adding a tablespoon or two of water if the pan looks dry. You want the fennel to get some nice color on it, so stirring it only occasionally is important.

Allow the fennel to cool and arrange your salad with the remaining ingredients. Toss with Blood Orange Vinaigrette (see below).

Blood Orange Vinaigrette
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
– 1 tablespoon blood orange juice (from the pith of the segmented orange)
– 1 teaspoon honey
– salt and pepper

Place all ingredients together in a jar with a lid and shake well to combine. Serve over the salad and store remainder in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Roasted Fennel and Pear Quinoa Salad

I’m beginning to write myself a life handbook. Basically it’s just an Evernote list that I can refer to when I need a confidence boost, or some real-talk from myself.

I add to it in those moments when I’m feeling inspired or insightfully self-possessed and think I’ve figured out something about life…so yeah, it’s a slooow process.

Sometimes I curse in this list to get my point across. That’s something you should definitely know about me: I have a terrible mouth, which I inherited from my Grandma. I’ll do my best to not curse when I’m talking about quinoa.

One of my most important life bullet points is: Be nice to yourself. Seriously, stop being so hard on yourself.

I wish it didn’t require the seriously.

But I don’t think I’m alone on this one. I think we can all be a little hard on ourselves. We’re not making all the right moves in our careers, we’re not making enough money, we’re not fit enough, thin enough, cool enough, good enough. And all of that crap kind of has to stop.

It’s important to set goals for yourself and do your dang best, but it’s also important to ease up and show yourself a little love, kindness and leeway. Be good to yourself starting…now.

Start by packing a picnic with some fresh bread, avocado, fancy salt and this salad and heading somewhere pretty and peaceful. Roasted pears and fennel with nutty quinoa and peppery arugula will make you feel like you’re doing the right thing. Seriously.

Roasted Fennel and Pear Salad (serves 2-4)
– 1 fennel bulb cut into 1 inch/2.5 cm thick sections
– 1 pear, cut into 1/2 inch/1 cm thick sections
– olive oil
– salt & pepper
– 1 cup of cooked quinoa
– 1 cup arugula
– 1/4 cup goats cheese, crumbled

Honey Dijon Dressing:
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinegar
– 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
– 1 teaspoon honey
– splash of water

To cook quinoa: Rinse 1/2 cup of quinoa in a mesh colander. Place 1/2 cup quinoa and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, covered. Remove from heat and let stand (covered) for 5-10 minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork and serve.

Heat oven to 450 F/230 C.

Lightly oil a baking sheet and arrange the fennel and pears on it. (Keep the pears on one side and the fennel on the other, so that if you need to remove the pear before the fennel is ready, it can be done easily)

Roast for 15 minutes and check on your baking sheet. Pears should be soft and golden – this is your cue to take them out. Place the fennel back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes until soft and browned in places.

While your pears and fennel are roasting, make the dressing by whisking the ingredients together in a small bowl or pouring them in a jar with a lid and shaking vigorously.

Once the fennel is roasted, toss your quinoa and greens with 1 or 2 spoonfuls of dressing. Stir in some of your fennel and pear, reserving some to arrange on the top of the quinoa and greens. Top with crumbled goat cheese and drizzle a little more dressing on top.