Tag Archives: gluten free

Cioppino – An Easy, Delicious and Healthy Seafood Soup

I grew up in the Carmel/Monterey area. Like San Francisco, Monterey claims cioppino, an Italian-American tomato-based seafood stew, as its own. We would typically find it in restaurant/seafood markets, the kinds that sold clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, and featuring the catch of the day: fish, shellfish, calamari… Everyone knew that a good cioppino was dependent upon good fresh, seafood.

Cioppino on BabyBirdsFarm

Then about five years ago, while my now-husband and I enjoyed a quiet bowl of cioppino, after a day of workshops and hot tubs at Esalen, outside, overlooking the Pacific, I had an epiphany. Was it the breathtaking setting that made this the best bowl ever? Was it a full day of healing hot springs and life changing work? Maaaaayybe. But I concluded it was fresh vegetables!

Esalen, an institute in Big Sur, was founded by hippies 50 years ago to foster the “human potential.” Before that, it was a hotel, frequented by Henry Miller,  and Hunter S. Thompson was a not so reliable employee. As early as 2600 BC, the land was home to the Esselen Indians and revered for the sacred hot springs, located on the edge of dramatic cliffs above the Pacific Ocean.

When I was growing up, my dad often took my sisters and I to the pool and hot springs. We would walk in the back entrance, acting like we owned the place, a technique he perfected, whether it was the “clothing optional” Esalen pools or the Four Seasons.

Today, the only way to stay there is to sign up for a workshop (or personal retreat). It is pricey, but oh, so worth it. In my opinion, one of the highlights of the experience is the food. Almost all of the produce is grown there on the grounds. Their practices of biodynamics and permaculture, self-sustaining and organic, have greatly influenced the way Papa Bird and I approach our own home garden.

Tasting and analyzing that satisfying cioppino, I was confident that all of the tomatoes and vegetables came from their garden, a few hundred feet from the kitchen. Disgustingly fresh. I’m willing to bet the fish markets used canned tomatoes or paste. My cioppino epiphany? The freshness and quality of the vegetables is as much as, or more, important as the freshness of the seafood.

Like my Spanish Stuffed Peppers, this recipe is only an approximation based on tasting, but we enjoy it! We love it served with crusty garlic bread, although sourdough is traditional, and by skipping the bread, it makes a great gluten-free, paleo or low-carb entrée.

Cioppino Recipe – Inspired by the Esalen Kitchen, Farm and Garden

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1-2 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped celery and/or fennel
  • 1 red bell pepper and/or carrot, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, cayenne, paprika and/or chili powder
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 4 large fresh heirloom tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or a 28 oz. can
  • 2 Tablespoons double concentrated tomato paste or 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 3-4 cups of clam juice, seafood broth and/or chicken broth
  • 1-2 bay leaf
  • fresh (or dried) thyme, basil, oregano and/or parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 pounds fresh or high quality frozen seafood such as calamari, scallops, shrimp, etc
  • 1 pound white fish, such as halibut, tilapia or cod
  • 1/2 pound fresh, debearded and scrubbed mussels

In a large soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onion in the oil, followed by the celery, fennel, carrot and bell pepper. Once softened, add the garlic and spices and sauté a minute. Add the white wine and cook off alcohol for a minute. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, clam juice/broth, bay leaf and herbs. Bring up to a boil and then down to a simmer, for at least 10-15 minutes. Adjust the salt and pepper. (I find that I don’t need to add much salt when using clam juice.)

(It can simmer for longer at this point if you would like to make it ahead, and then add the the seafood just before eating.) Bring back up to a low boil and add the seafood and fish. If using frozen seafood, add them frozen, do not defrost. Cover with a lid and cook for 2-4 minutes until mussels open and seafood is cooked.


Some thoughts on seasonality: Really this dish is at its peak in the late summer when tomatoes shine. Check out my post on freezing summer tomatoes for use throughout the year. We were craving this dish this winter, so enjoy anytime.

On the seafood: Crab is classic in San Francisco. In San Diego we have access to good, sustainable mussels. Use whatever is available and that you like! For advice on sustainable seafood, I love the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and use their iPhone app.

Borscht: Good for Your Belly and Your Budget

When I was a kid I hated beets. I went so far as to refuse to carry the serving bowl of beets when my mother asked us to help set the table. The bread I would carry, green beans, sure, but no way would I touch the beets. Now they are one of my absolute favorite vegetables.

Beet Borscht

Did you know that beets have been considered an aphrodisiac since the time of the ancient Romans? They have also been used for medicinal purposes, as well as a natural red dye since at least the 16th century. No wonder these all natural red velvet cupcakes I made for Valentine’s were such a hit!

I most often roast them in large chunks with a little coconut or olive oil and salt and pepper. Leftovers, if any, are great in salads the next day. The tops of the beets, or beet greens, can be sautéed like collards, kale or any greens.

My second favorite preparation of beets is being featured in this soup. Borscht has been made in Eastern European countries, like Russia and the Ukraine, since the 14th century. It’s hearty, economical, and for those with New Year’s Resolutions, filling while being low in calories. Although they are naturally sweet, and contain about 10% natural sugars, 1 cup of beets has only 50-75 calories.

For this recipe, and all of my recipes, please feel empowered to improvise and substitute ingredients. The only essential one is beets! The recipe works equally well with vegetable broth, making a satisfying vegetarian meal, although beef broth is nice, too. You can even throw in beef stew meat chunks, especially for a chunky borscht. I used a big potato, parsnips and some carrots from our garden, along with other veggies.



Beet Borscht Soup Recipe

  • Tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 3 carrots
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 3-4 large beets, with beet greens
  • 1 large turnip and/or rutabaga
  • 1 large or 2-3 small potatoes
  • 3-4 parsnips
  • 1 quart of beef or vegetable broth
  • 1-2 cups of water, or as needed
  • 1 small red cabbage
  • 2-3 teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice, or to taste
  • salt, pepper, paprika
  • greek yogurt, creme fraiche, or non-dairy sour cream (for a vegan meal)
  • fresh dill

In a large soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onion and carrots for five minutes in the oil with salt and pepper, and then add garlic. Add the hard, root vegetables (beets, turnips, potatoes, parsnips) and the broth. Add enough water to cover all of the vegetables. Bring to a boil and then lower to a steady simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes and then add the cabbage, simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Adjust the seasoning and add paprika. Add the vinegar or lemon juice to taste.

Option 1: Serve as is as a nice chunky borscht.

Option 2: Puree the soup until smooth. (I like to serve it chunky on the first night and pureed the following. Two soups in one!)

Top with greek yogurt, creme fraiche or sour cream and fresh dill.

Tips for Feeding Baby:

This makes great baby food, from months 8 or 9 on.

Raw Cashew “Horchata”

Horchata is a sweet rice drink found in most Mexican restaurants around here. I love it, but it is so sweet and not that good for you. Let’s just say I wouldn’t give it to Baby Bird. My husband the other day made a comment about how I should honor myself enough to eat as well as I feed her. Hmmm, something to think about.

Anyway, I’ve had this bag of raw cashews that I have been wanting to use. The other day I threw a few in a version of this puréed butternut squash soup, which was good, but I was still wanting to try out a nut milk with our new blender. I was inspired today to try making a horchata-inspired cashew milk.

raw cashew horchata

Forgive the poor photo quality and any typos as I’m blasting this off from my phone.

Raw Cashew Horchata Recipe

  • 1 cup of raw cashews
  • 1 Tablespoon of agave, golden syrup or sweetener of your choice, or to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3 cups of water
  • Ice

Place first 5 ingredients in a blender and blend very well. Serving chilled over ice vastly improves the flavor.

Variation: This would probably be delicious with raw almonds as well.

And the verdict? Two sippy cups quickly drained and baby sign for “more.”

Hoppin’ John with Black Eyed Peas: Good Luck for the New Year

Happy New Year!! It is gray and chilly today, even here in San Diego, and it is an absolutely perfect day to be cozy and lazy together at home. Southern tradition dictates that you simply must eat black eyed peas on New Year’s in order to have good luck and prosperity in the coming year.

 “Hoppin’ John” is a simple dish. And although it could be dressed up with bacon and/or Southern greens, I found the homeyness comforting after a night of rich food, like baked brie and short ribs, and alcohol. (Luckily I was the designated driver and escaped a new year’s hangover.)

Hoppin' John with Black Eyed Peas

Traditional Black Eye Pea Hoppin’ John Recipe

  • cooked brown rice
  • cooked black eye peas (about 2 cups)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 ribs of celery
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • salt, pepper, cumin and cayenne to taste
  • 2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth

Sauté the onion and celery in olive oil. When soft, add the garlic and spices and sauté another 1 minute. Add the cooked peas and broth. Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve over rice.

This is a baby friendly dish. Obviously defer to your own child’s needs, but try from 9 months on.



Chestnut Bundt Cake — Naturally Gluten Free and Delicious

Well, this next recipe isn’t quick or simple, and the featured ingredient, chestnuts, may be seasonal, but turns out they aren’t likely local unless you live in Italy. Not much of an endorsement? Well it turned out to be delicious, gluten-free without trying to be, and to be honest, I just want to remember it so I can make it again! Chestnut recipes are actually not that plentiful on the internet. Dessert chestnut recipes at least.

I kind of stumbled upon this recipe in a round about way. I impulsively picked up a bag of fresh chestnuts at Trader Joe’s, thinking it would be a fun way to get into to the holidays. When I lived in Spain, street venders came out once the weather turned chilly to sell fresh roasted chestnuts. So, last week our house filled with the smell of chestnuts roasting… while I yelled at Baby to stay back from the oven each time I opened it, “HOT!” (She loves to say “hot” now.) From my time in Europe, I also had vague memories of a sweet paste made from chestnuts and set out to make that.

I roasted the chestnuts according to the package. They were okay. I kind of felt like I was eating acorns though. Then I found this video on how to make chestnut puree from fresh chestnuts. After roasting and peeling the chestnuts, you boil 2 cups of them in 2-3 cups of water with 1 cup of sugar and a vanilla bean (I used two vanilla beans.) They boil for 30 minutes and are then pureed with a little orange zest. Mine tasted delicious but it never got super smooth. Perhaps I should have roasted them longer or if I had a better blender, but mine still had a little bit of texture to it. Don’t get me wrong, I still ate quite a bit straight from the spoon. Sugar and vanilla definitely highlight and feature the somewhat bland taste of chestnuts.

I still wanted to do something good enough to share with friends as we were going to a holiday party. I thought the little harder bits of chestnuts would be less than ideal in a creamy dessert, like a Mont Blanc, but good in a cake. I finally found the recipe below deep in a foodie thread and it ended up being delicious… sweet, but not too sweet, and with an excellent crumb. As a bonus, the recipe calls for almond meal instead of flour which was perfect since one of my good friends is gluten intolerant. One thing: learn from my mistakes: I greased my pan but skipped flouring it. I should have “floured” it with almond meal. I also let my cake cool over night in the pan. Uggh, it meant that the cake was really hard to get out. Mine actually fell apart a little. I had to think on my feet and patched it together with a little melted unsweetened chocolate, mixed with half and half and a little sugar. That was probably another happy accident as well!

Chestnut Bundt Cake Recipe

Recipe found in a thread on chow. The original poster said that her “mum uses the French sweetened chestnut puree in tins in the baking section at Wholefoods.”

Whip/beat together
300g/10.5 oz. confectioner’s sugar
400g/14 oz. sweetened chestnut puree (store bought or recipe follows)
200g/7 oz. butter (I used 4 oz.)
7 egg yolks

300g/ 10.5oz ground almonds
1 good pinch baking powder

Add carefully without overbeating:
7 stiffly beaten egg whites.

Pour into a greased and floured baking tin or bundt mold. Bake for 60-65 minutes at 350F/180C.


  1. The poster suggested reducing the butter by half. I was happy with the results from 4 oz. or 1 stick of butter.
  2. To easily make this cake gluten-free, substitute the flour with almond meal when preparing the pan or bundt mold.
  3. You can tell this isn’t an American recipe as the ingredients are listed by weight instead of volume. For a snazzy-looking, reliable, and reasonably priced kitchen scale, try the Escali Arti 15 Pound, 7 Kilogram Digital Scale. (Today the purple one is half off!)

Fresh Chestnut Puree (made from fresh chestnuts)

  • 1 pound of fresh chestnuts
  • 2-3 cups of water (enough to cover the chestnuts)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1-2 vanilla beans
  • zest of one orange
  • (optional) splash of cognac

Step 1: Preheat oven to 425° F. With a very sharp and pointy knife, cut a small “X” into the flattest side of each chestnut. Roast the chestnuts for 20-30 minutes, until the skins start to peel at the “X”. (Note: another option might be to boil the chestnuts.) Once they are cool enough to handle, but before cooling completely, peel off the tough outer shell and brown inner skin.

Step 2: Boil 2 cups of the roasted and peeled chestnuts with enough water to cover them, and 1 cup of sugar. Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and add the seeds and the bean to the pot. Boil for 30 minutes until the liquid has reduced to a syrup. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Step 3: Remove the vanilla bean and puree the chestnuts and syrup with the orange zest and optional cognac in a food processor or good blender. (I skipped alcohol since I shared a little with Baby.) Add a little more water, as needed.