I love zucchini like nobodies business. The last summer-squash recipe I shared with you, Zucchini Butter, I literally made and enjoyed for weeks in a row.
Zucchini Fritters is probably my second most favorite way to serve this low-carb vegetable. But I rarely make the dish because of how long it takes to draw all the water out of Zucchini’s vast internal reservoirs (did you know that it is 95 percent water!) Even with the quarantine working-from-home, I just don’t have that extra hour to spend hunched above the sink, squeezing a handful of zucchini at a time.
So… I came up with a quicker way to remove the water from Zucch, by quickly pan-drying the shredded veggie before shaping it into patties! I now use the same technique on riced cauliflower and broccoli.
This whole quarantine-shelter-in-place situation has turned my kitchen into a lab. A Cucee Cooking (and Art) Lab. Not only am I making and baking my own creations, but I am also photographing recipes for the work blog (more on that later.) And although it is difficult to stay home all day every day, having a creative outlet to take your mind off the pandemic has been quite therapeutic. Plus, not commuting 15 hours per week has not been terrible either :)
This tart happened one afternoon when I really needed to take a breather from another hectic day. Cooking, baking, painting, photographing – these are just some of my tools for coping with the overwhelming emotions and the stresses of the shelter-in-place life. In the last few months, I’ve been to the vet more times than in the past few years, have had more things break on me than I could handle, dealt with the bank fraud, human health issues, COVID mood swings… I am going to stop listing; my post is not about COVID life, after all, but about this delicious Chocolate Avocado Tart!
Chocolate Avocado Tart
If you are running low on time, forgo the tart shell altogether and JUST make the filling. It tastes delicious as just Chocolate Pudding.
Use your favorite crust recipe or follow mine. This recipe yields 2 crusts. Refrigerate or freeze the leftover dough (or double the filling recipe to make a larger tart)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease the bottom and the sides of a 12oz ramekin
In a large bowl, mix together the oil and the egg until combined. Add the dry ingredients. Mix well. The dough will be dry and crumbly. Just keep mixing, pressing and stirring, until it’s uniform and there is no almond flour powder left
Divide the dough into two. Save the 2nd portion for another pie
Press the dough into the bottom of the 12oz ramekin. Poke holes in the surface using a fork to prevent bubbling during baking
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden
Blend all ingredients in a food processor, or blender, till smooth
Pour this mixture into the tart crust and use a spatula to smooth it over
Refrigerate for 2+ hours until the oil firms up a bit. The final texture should resemble that of a pudding
I am very picky when it comes to red wine and don’t generally purchase grocery-store alcohol. With one exception. I love LOVE this simple inexpensive natural Tempranillo from Whole Foods. Each time I place a grocery order, this wine lands on my doorsteps.
What does your childhood taste like? Mine tastes like sweet Zucchini on top of toasty bread.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know what zucchini looks like until I came to the States. Either it was a deficit in Soviet Moldova, like pretty much anything else at the time, or simply not grown.
My Zucchini came in a jar, as a thick sweet paste. Think pasta sauce consistency. Mom usually served them on a side of meat or on a piece of stale bread, toasted to unrecognition. Zucchini Caviar, the name for this canned vegetable delicacy, was one of my favorite treats.
The version I am sharing with you yields a slightly runnier zucchini concoction. I recommend using it as a sauce over Zoodles or even as Gazpacho. You can thicken it by adding a few carrots or one sweet potato but the result will be much sweeter in flavor.
Zucchini Butter (Кабачковая Икра)
For Zucchini, use green, yellow, or both. You won’t taste any difference but will notice a slight color change.
Do NOT add water or you will end up with a Zucchini soup :)
It’s Pride Month, and I want to tell you about my experience at a gay club in Odessa, Ukraine 8 years ago. Or maybe 10. I don’t remember anymore.
If you don’t yet know, I am originally from the Republic of Moldova of the former Soviet Union. Moldova bordered with Ukraine and, growing up, I spent every single summer in Odessa, on the Black Sea. The city holds a special meaning in my heart.
When I was little, my dad worked summers at a small resort on the outskirts of Odessa that hosted visitors from all over the country. And, as a kid, I got to reap the benefits by making new friends, learning Table Tennis tricks, and sneaking into night-time grown-up dance parties while my parents were worried sick trying to locate me. They often found me swirling between the legs of tall men and women, imagining I, too, was dancing with someone.
This trip to Odessa, my ex-husband and I stayed in the city’s cultural center rather than the outskirts. At the time, I was just coming out and both of us have decided to take each other back to our homes first, before saying our final goodbyes. One day, after we explored my ex’s neighborhood, we gave each other space to spend a night separately. He went out with his childhood friend to a beach party and I took myself to the only functioning gay club in Odessa. I was planning to dance.
The club was hard to find. I circled around the block a few times before finally spotting a person, standing on the corner of what looked like a gated staircase leading into a basement, the kind of basement we had on the bottom of our 4-story apartment building in Bendery, where we kept home-pickled food for the winter months. I cautiously made my way to this person and asked her if this was THE Gay Club. I was worried to out myself in a country of homophobia. She looked at me in mistrust, nodded, and removed the bolt from the gate. I went down the staircase and entered the basement.
The place looked like any gay club I’ve seen in the States. A disco ball in the main room, right above the dance floor, a bar, tightly spaced pleather booths, a bowl of condoms by the entrance doors. There was a stage and on the stage stood a trans woman, flirting with a butchy cis woman, while fixing her microphone, “раз, два, три.” There was nobody inside the club yet – I must have come too early, as I usually do when I get impatient.
I went up to the bar and got myself a glass of cognac. I was timid. This was new territory for me and I did not know what to expect. I’ve never been around the Russian gay community and I was worried about not being accepted. Acceptance has always been a struggle of mine – having immigrated to another country as a teenager-turning-into-an-adult, I always struggled to feel accepted.
People slowly started trickling in. Men fabulously dressed in brightly colored shirts. Women, in tightly-fitted tanks. A very different-looking crowd from the one cruising the Primorsky Bulvar during the day. And it almost felt like I was back home in San Francisco. Until the woman on stage started singing. The music was Russian Camp, with every other song being either T.A.T.U. or Kirkorov. The dance floor became crowded and I squeezed myself in.
I felt shy and out of place but I kept on dancing, side by side with same-sex couples and friend groups. Suddenly, someone grabbed my hand and pulled me in. It was one of those girls in tight tank tops. I smiled at her and we danced. When the song ended, she dragged me off the dance floor into a booth where her friends were socializing over a bottle of vodka.
We spent the rest of the night getting to know each other. Her friends were asking me about what it’s like to be gay in the USA and I was hungry to know about their lives here. As we parted ways and exchanged VK (ВКонтакте) accounts, Russian take on Facebook, the girl that danced with me took something off her arm and handed it to me, “Here, keep it. I got this rainbow bracelet in Italy last summer. I want you to have it to remember us.”
I returned to the States full of emotions and reflections, with a new bracelet on my hand. I kept up with the girls via VK until we slowly lost touch with each other. A few years later, a few Prides later, I watched the news that the Odessa Pride got stopped, the club raided, and everyone celebrating arrested. And even later, the club was converted into a neighborhood coffee shop.
Russian-Inspired Herring Salad
If herring just is not your thing, feel free to use smoked salmon or any other smoked, pickled, or salted fish instead. Just know that herring is stronger in flavor, so double the amount if using other fish.
Arrange all your ingredients in small bowls in the order of layering
Layer in the following order
⅔ of all the Eggs
½ cup Mayo
Sweet potato or squash
Herring or salmon
½ cup Mayo
⅓ of all the Egg
Sprinkle with pepper and chipotle (optional) to serve. PS, this salad is best cold
Herring and my family go way back. Every night, I’d find my dad in the kitchen at the dinner table by the flowery curtains in our home in Moldova, eating a herring toast and slurping tea from the saucer – his daily supper ritual. So in my mind, obviously, tea pairs perfectly with herring :) This Assam black tea is similar to the one my dad enjoyed in his Soviet days.
While many of my neighbors are struggling to locate flour and yeast in stores, I am ripping off the benefits of being Keto, patiently perfecting my low-carb baking skills, using unpopular-during-pandemic nut flours. For sure, there is no better time to be gluten-free then now!
I’ve tried my hand at all types of baked deliciousness: bread, pies, cakes, cookies, bars, to just name a few. Some recipes ended up being super complicated while others were easy-peasy to make.
Today’s recipe might sound fancy-schmancy but don’t let the French name fool you, it is way easier to make this Clafoutis than to pronounce its name. In fact, all you need is a blender and a small set of ingredients to make it. And if you’ve never tried Clafoutis before, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with a dessert that tastes like a cross between a souffle, Dutch Baby, and Flan, with a delicious berry center.
In a large bowl, whisk together almond milk, coconut milk, eggs, almond flour, stevia, vanilla, and salt
Carefully remove the pie dish from the oven. Place the berries in the dish and pour the batter on top
Bake until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or with a few crumbs, 40 to 45 minutes
Cool for about 15 minutes before serving
Before diving into the world of natural wines (see my earlier post on where you purchase them), my drink of choice used to be Cognac. Having tried all sorts of Brandies and Cognacs in my life, anything from $30 to $200, Costco’s Kirkland XO Cognac consistently remained to be my favorite. Aged 12 to 21, it is smooth and aromatic and truly comparable to $150+ name-brand Cognacs.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram #cuceesprouts, you might have seen my post from a few weeks ago when, excited to go Dutch for breakfast (aka Dutch Baby), I messed up and ended up with something totally different. I named my baking mistake Cornbread Pancake.
To tell you the truth, I am still not sure what went wrong but what I am sure is that I like my oopsy pancake so much that I recreated it for you. Enjoy :)
Cornbread Pancake for 1
To make this a family-sized affair, triple the recipe and use a full size cast iron skillet.
Meanwhile, in a blender, combine the almond flour, coconut flour, salt, egg, and almond milk and blend on medium-high speed until uniform
Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven. Swirl the fat around the pan to coat completely. Pour the batter into the hot pan and return the pan to the oven. Cook until the pancake is golden brown along the edges, 10-11 minutes
Hi. My name is CuceeSprouts and I am a non-commital coffeeholic. No morning passes without at least a couple of cups of coffee. And each morning, it is a different brand, blend, and profile of coffee. Here are my top 3 coffees of 2020:
When I was young, no holiday gathering occurred without my mom’s Russian Napoleon – my favorite dessert in the entire world. Oh, those crispy layers of puff pastry sandwiched together with creamy and buttery custard.
When I adopted a low-carb lifestyle, the hardest thing to give up was mom’s Napoleon, as I never dreamed of enjoying anything similar again.
Then about a year ago, I stumbled upon an Instagram post of a flourless meringue-based dessert – a post that changed my life forever. Inspired by the photograph, I recreated mom’s Napoleon with all the Cucee-Approved ingredients.
I’m thrilled to be sharing my Napoleon with you, friends. It requires no fancy ingredients or skills but:
Unlike the original, my Napoleon is best enjoyed right away as the layers are still crisp and light. Once the layers absorb some of the custard, their texture changes to almost custard-like.
If your custard turns grainy – don’t sweat it. Just run it on high in a blender to make it smooth and homogenous.
The custard is a bit runny, to begin with. You can thicken it up by keeping it in the fridge a little longer before layering over the Dacquoise layers.
Bring the coconut cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sweetener and salt until well combined.
Slowly whisk about half of the hot coconut cream into the yolks to temper, then slowly return the yolk+cream mixture back to the saucepan and cook until thickened, about 4 to 5 minutes, whisking continuously. It thickens up very suddenly and quickly, so watch it carefully!
Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla extract. Sprinkle the surface with coconut flour, whisking as you go, to combine well. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 300°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine almond flour and chopped almonds in a bowl. Set aside.
Use an electric mixer with a whisk attachment to whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With the motor running on medium-high speed, gradually add the sweetener, a little at a time, and whisking well after each addition, until medium-stiff peaks.
Carefully fold the almond flour and chopped almonds mixed with a large spatula into the meringue until combined.
Spread the mixture onto the baking sheet in an even layer.
Bake in the center of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden. Cool and set aside.
Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the Dacquoise into four even rectangles. No need to trim the edges – keep them rustic looking.
Using a wide flat spatula, carefully peel them from the parchment paper.
Position one meringue layer on a large serving plate and coat it evenly with the pastry cream. Cover with the second Dacquoise layer, repeat with the cream. Continue with the rest of the layers. You can leave the final layer dry or top it with the last of the cream.
I enjoy wine pre-dinner. It is my aperitif. So by the time, it is dessert time, I am on my second cup of tea. My current tea of choice is Earl Grey Supreme.
Passover has notoriously been a difficult holiday for me as I’ve never been a Matza girl. Not as hard as Yom Kippur, but because of its length and restrictions, not easy at all.
It has been years now, probably 10, since I switched to a no-grain diet. And one of the perks of being Ketoish Paleo is that Passover is a breeze now! No need to stop eating bread and grains – I never eat them now, to begin with.
So what DO I eat then? I eat a lot of animal protein, such as fish, chicken, and beef. Eggs. And easy-to-digest vegetables, such as cauliflower, tomatoes, zucchini, and avocados. And I bake with nut flours because I have a sweet tooth like no other. Yes, I don’t even miss wheat anymore. But I do miss dairy, which I have a lot of in the fridge nowadays, as my kids are little cheese-lovers.
I developed this pie for them. I had a Paleo pie crust in the freezer, that I made a while back, and a block of feta that was hiding behind all the gourmet cheeses for months now. And since creativity is the only thing that keeps me going through the quarantine, I got creative and made them a Kosher-for-Passover (OU-P) Spanakopita Pie/Quiche.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and oil. Whisk.
Add the almond flour and sea salt to the bowl. Stir until well combined.
Press the dough into the bottom of a 9in round pie pan.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden.
Lower the oven temperature to 325F.
In a large skillet, heat up the oil. Add onion and saute for 4 minutes until the onion is starting to brown, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook for an extra minute. Add spinach, continue to cook until all the liquid evaporates and the mixture is dry. Season with salt and pepper.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the spinach and the remaining filling ingredients. Stir until all is well-combined.
Evenly spread the spinach and feta filling over the pie crust.
Bake for 45 – 60 min, or until the pie is golden brown. Remove from the oven and rest for 10min before serving.
I’ve recently discovered a new natural wine seller, MYSA, and have been enjoying their wines daily. My new favorite wine that they sell is Picofino Vinessens from Spain. Follow the link to get 20% off on your first order with them.
Behind everyone’s closed doors and tightly draped windows, a lot of anxious thoughts are circulating. Are we going to be able to get on an Amazon Fresh delivery schedule before running out of eggs? How much coffee do we put on the order form without hoarding it? Do we have enough art supplies to last through the next few months of isolation? How about the disinfectant wipes? Do I ask the kids to wash our pets’ paws in soapy water for 20 seconds after each walk or do I buy them puppy shoes? How can I keep track of all the different online workout studios I have recently signed up for? Will our economy crash and burn in the next few weeks? How do I make sure I have enough natural wine to keep me sane throughout this mess? Will my company start laying people off as a result of the failing economy?
Yes, there are lots of anxious thoughts circulating in everyone’s homes right now, including my own. Anxious thoughts driving anxious questions. And those questions driving more anxious thoughts. It is a vicious cycle.
So… Let me try and break this cycle for you. Though I might not be able to help you feel safer in your employment status or offer you assistance in sourcing the disinfectant wipes, I do have an answer to at least one of your important questions, ”How do I make sure I have enough natural wine to keep me sane throughout this mess?”
CuceeSprouts’ Guide on Keeping Your Natural Wine Cellar Fully Stocked During the Quarantine
I’ve tried many new shops, clubs, and wineries that claim to hydrate you naturally in the past few years. Some blew my mind with their offerings while others felt like a complete waste of money and experience. Only a few places made my list. Those I am sharing with you now:
Offer wines that are Natural, Biodynamic and Organic
Source or produce high-quality wine that won’t break your bank
Ship locally and nationally, at minimal to zero cost to you
I divided my list into two categories:
Wine Stores & Wine Clubs that source and sell wine online
This is, by far, my favorite wine shop. They have a natural wine sommelier on staff who can offer recommendations tailored to your preferences. For example, I always request classic, full-body, zero to low intervention red wine under $30 per bottle. To get a recommendation, I suggest emailing or calling their store before placing an online order.
Delivery fees and bottle discounts: Free delivery anywhere within California on orders of $129+
A new natural wine club with an outstanding wine selection. Their sommelier tailors shipments to your wine preferences – just email them before placing an order. If you are not ready for a wine club order, you can order wine by the bottle as well.
Delivery fees and bottle discounts: Wine club and individual bottle orders over $100 ship free. 10% off on 12+ bottles. 20% off on your first order
I used to primarily shop at this store, back when I sourced my own natural wines. This day and age, I only recommend you shop with them if you know your favorite natural winemakers as they do not provide any sommelier advice.
Delivery fees and bottle discounts: The wine shop is located in NorCal and SoCal and they ship locally only. So check to see if they ship to your area. The shipping fee for orders under $200 is $12, over $200 is $8. Orders over 1K ship free
Let me introduce you to my favorite Sonoma-Napa winery. It is for sure one of the only local wineries that practice minimal intervention winemaking. Lucky for us, they are currently waiving the shipping costs and offering 10% off on any wine order.
Delivery fees and bottle discounts: orders over $100 ship free. 10% off any order
Spring is a magical season. With the trees blooming. And the sun shining brighter. The days starting earlier. The Farmers’ Markets exploding with sweet peas, green garlic, and young asparagus. Beaches getting busier. People dusting off their hiking gear. Mother Earth waking up from its deep winter sleep.
Every spring. Except for this one.
This spring is the Shelter-In-Place Quarantine spring.
It is a lonely spring.
The roads are silent.
The buildings are locked.
The trails are undisturbed.
The beaches are quiet, except for the occasional wave whisper.
The Farmers’ Market parking lots are deserted.
The shelves in the grocery stores are plastered with the out-of-stock signs.
The restaurants are closed. Some closed forever.
People are cooped up in their homes, with infants on their laps and teenagers roaming around in search of digital entertainment.
Kids are doing school work via Zoom, from their living room couches, while their parents stream workout classes in their pajamas next to them.
Disney+ takes off while the local bars close their doors forever.
The supply chain pauses the manufacturing of sunscreens to catch up with the production of anti-sanitizers and hospital masks.
The grocery delivery services replace isle browsing.
The hospitals are over-crowded.
This spring is definitely like no other.
This spring, I planned to organize a trip to Croatia with my teenagers as it would be the last summer of all of us together before college. And I planned to teach more Barre classes, albeit my asthma. And to share with you a handful of unique low-carb recipes that I’ve been diligently developing for the past many months.
But, no, there won’t be any vacation planning – travel is limited to the essential-only indefinitely. Or new class teachings – all the studios are closed. Or cool recipe sharing – most of us have nothing but basics in our home.
This spring, with the ingredient shortage and the limited access to groceries, our kitchen experiments are all about resourceful “pantry cooking”, reuse of the leftovers, and creative improvisation with the ingredients we have on hand.
The recipe I am sharing today is just that. It is a process, a list of steps, rather than a creative venture: re-use the leftover protein from last night’s dinner, locate the last of the vegetables in the fridge, mix them all with pantry staples and enjoy. This is the time when my Post-Soviet skills of making “something out of nothing” comes in handy!
Dice the vegetables. Place in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
Dice or shred the chicken. Add to the mixing bowl. Stir to combine.
Add the mayo, lime juice, salt, and pepper if desired. Stir to combine until the whole mixture is nice and creamy.
Sprinkle with seeds if you have any.
Serve immediately, or refrigerate to enjoy later.
You might be worried about your wine disappearing from your wine fridge at a faster pace than before, but don’t you worry – the universe has your back. My next post is ALL about where to source natural wine, from the comfort of your own couch. In the meantime, open what you have in your wine cellar and start chopping those vegetables!