Work from home has both benefits and drawbacks. The main benefit is not spending 3hrs per day on the commute and using this newly-acquired free time to stay physically and mentally healthy, cook more, and work from anywhere, including my partner’s house.
A few weeks ago, I spent a whole week living in Berkeley where I turned my partner’s kitchen into a home office. And when I finally came back home, I realized I had nothing in the fridge except for some dying zucchini.
These zucchini were really not looking that great, as you can imagine. I don’t like to waste food so I threw them on the grill and turned them into this delicious side.
I moved to Foster City, California the summer of 2004. I fell in love with this 4mi Bay Area town, of beautiful water ways and a cool climate. When entering a bidding war for my house, I remember asking my real estate agent about the presence of the AC. “Just open all the windows, dear, and feel the breeze,” she smiled, “Foster City never gets hot!”
Fast forward to the summer of 2020. A portable AC, two heavy-duty Dyson fans, dogs and humans in constant search for a cool spot on the tiled kitchen floor. Global Warming = the city of no central ACs, melting.
Cooking in the global-warming heatwave is definitely different. Most of it happens outside, on the grill. Most of it is quick: grilled burgers, steaks, veggies. And most of the time, I am grateful for these quick healthy meals, feeling too hot to cook anything more extravagant. But weeks, months of the heat and quick meals, I start missing those time-consuming creative kitchen projects and start seeking more involved cooking ideas.
That is how I came up with this delicious vegan sour cream recipe idea.
I’ve lived and traveled all over the world, but only in the United States of America have I had a dessert with a vegetable in a starring role!
This summer, being blessed with a fridge full of zucchini, I made a whole lot of delicious zucchini dishes, some of which I’ve already shared with you on my blog. So when I got bored with the savory ideas, I decided to play American and turn the last of the zucchini into a cake.
All-American Zucchini Cake with Vegan Lime Frosting and Strawberries
Warning: if you are like me, you’ll find yourself eating frosting with a spoon when no one is looking. So, because I love and care about you, I suggest keeping spoons in a locked drawer when working on this cake :)
Other variations: cake only (no frosting,) cake only with the addition of strawberries pieces, cake+cream cheese only, cake+strawberry toping only.
In the first two weeks of the quarantine, I went through all of my kitchen drawers and shelves to prepare for shelter-in-place. Rice (wait, how old is that – last time I bought a bag of rice was over 10 years ago!), “fresh” thyme in the vegetable crisper that aged into a dry herb, homemade farmers cheese with a thin pink coat of mold (yikes!)
At the time, we did not know for sure how COVID spreads, and going to stores for fresh produce was highly discouraged, especially for the immunocompromised, like myself. Grocery delivery became a new norm but getting a delivery spot was as probable as winning a lottery.
So this past half a year, I’ve been cooking with what I’ve got on hand, instead of making daily trips to stores to hand-pick special ingredients. When Imperfect Produce delivers extra kale I never ordered, I make Kale chips, Kale salad, Kale breakfast hash, and Kale soup. If I see Zucchini on sale at Whole Foods delivery, I make zucchini cake (soon to be on my blog,) zucchini “butter”, zucchini soup, and zucchini crisps.
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: