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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Natural Foods Cooking Retreat – Day 2

On the second day of our Natural Foods Cooking Retreat Chef Jenny had the perfect segue from Day 1 into our early start on Day 2. She had made sure that we poached some extra pears from the previous night's dessert and turned them into a beautiful breakfast beginning. The sweetness of the poached pears and tartness of the Greek yogurt made for perfect contrasting flavors in my book.

Poached Bosc Pears with Tart Greek Yogurt and topped with Ginger Crumble
We got very busy building breakfast at the beginning of Day 2
I was thrilled to get some new healthy breakfast recipes because so many cookbooks and other resources for natural foods often ignore this important first meal of the day. One group made Spiced Apple, Buckwheat and Oat Porridge. It was very thick, satisfying and the perfect comfort food to warm up a cold winter's morning. We served it with our own handmade nut milk using almonds that were soaked overnight then blended in purified water. Chopped Brazil nuts topped it all.

Spiced Apple, Buckwheat and Oat Porridge simmered and filled the kitchen with great aromas
Scrambled Tofu was the beginning of our spicy Fijoles recipe that had all of trimmings to make your own breakfast tostadas.

Tofu Scramble with onions, red bell peppers and lots of Mexican spices.
Tofu Frijoles Bar
Breakfast of Champions plate with Tofu Frijoles Tostada, Porridge and a Breakfast Bar Bite
We also learned how to make our own High Protein Breakfast Bars with only the healthiest ingredients at a fraction of the cost of commercially produced energy bars. These snacks are sweetened with honey and loaded with flaxseeds, hemp seeds, almonds, and fruit. We call them "Breakfast Bars" but they make a great snack anytime of the day.

High Protein Breakfast Bars disappear very quickly
For the egg lovers we made a great Chard and Leek Frittata. It tasted right out of a pricey restaurant menu but had inexpensive wholesome ingredients. Chopped thyme and oregano kept it really fresh. I could eat this every morning and even make sandwiches out of it hot or cold!

Chard and Leek Frittata
It was time for a break as Day 2 involved two complete meals. As great as breakfast tasted it was just the first half of the day's menu. We returned to some knife skills tips and quickly put them to work making the classic Holy Grail of all soup starters, Mirepoix. We diced carrots, celery and onions as the base for a trio of soup recipes.

Basic Lenti Soup (right), Moroccan Red Lentil Soup (left) and Thai Style Lentil Soup (rear)
Mike works the greens in the food processor
Jenny did a really interesting experiment with flavoring. We all started with the Basic Lentil Soup and she passed around a plate of seasoning options. We added each individually and noted their impact on the soup. Surprisingly, salt was neither the one that was preferred nor even the most interesting. For me it was fresh lemon juice that hit it out of the park.  I now plan have lemon wedges for squeezing right next to the salt and pepper shakers accompanying more of my meals.

Clockwise: Lemon Juice, Parsley, Sea Salt, Miso and Balsamic Vinegar flavoring add-ons.
Hands down for me the Moroccan Red Lentil Soup was the winner. When red lentils are well cooked they melt and get an incredibly creamy texture. It is rich in both taste and protein. Just before serving we tossed in some chopped chard which added color, freshness, texture and another layer of flavor.

Moroccan Red Lentil Soup
The next recipe pleasantly surprised me because I was introduced to Delicata Squash. We were all talking about the popular Butternut variety and how it tastes great but is also very hard. Delicata is not only easy to cut but you can also leave the skin on. I love how its stripes almost resemble grill marks.
Maple Roasted Delicata Squash
Here Rebecca and Nancy cut the squash into crescent shapes for even roasting in the maple syrup.

Freshly Toasted Pumpkin Seeds stand by to provide crunch
We tossed Arugula in a vinaigrette that included some maple syrup, folded in the roasted squash and topped it with toasted pumpkin seeds for crunch. This salad was super simple to make but was unique, colorful and a certain guest dazzler.

Maple Roasted Delicata Squash Salad
My closing shot is another Jenny gem for dessert. Never forgetting how many chocolate lovers and those with a serious sweet tooth are out there she capped another great day of food with Chocolate Mousse Parfaits. This dessert was decadence with a difference. The secret ingredient that added great texture and healthy fats was avocado. Yes, you read this correctly. You CAN sneak veggies into a dessert that will delight and impress. We topped it with a fresh Raspberry Coulis and chopped Brazil nuts. YUM! More will follow in my recap of our final Day 3 coming soon.

Chocolate Mousse Parfait

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