February 4, 2015 By Adrienne Fawcett

Carol D’Anca helps a student with quinoa; photos by John D’Anca

Carol D’Anca helps a student with quinoa; photos by John D’Anca

A recent Saturday afternoon loomed large and grey on my calendar. It was way too cold to be outdoors for longer than it takes to get from the garage to the back door of my house. My husband and kids were busy. My friends were busy. My dog was practically embedded in the sofa. And I was binged out on Netflix. I wanted to go somewhere, do something, create something. And then (on the Daily North Shore calendar) I saw a listing for a cooking class at Elawa Farm in Lake Forest … It was the perfect antidote to winter doldrums.

The class is taught by Carol D’Anca, an integrative nutritionist and founder of The Academy for Plant Based Cooking. Until this winter, Carol taught out of her kitchen in Highland Park, but when she outgrew that space she moved the program and all of her ingredients, equipment and place settings to Elawa Farm.

First a note about the location for those readers who have not visited. Elawa Farm is a jewel on the North Shore, a renovated estate farm from the early years of the 20th century that sits in the middle of an organic garden and Middlefork Savanna and shares space with the Wildlife Discovery Center (which is home to myriad reptiles, birds and even a bobcat). Elawa was built as a gentleman’s farm for Elsa and A. Watson Armor (hence the name Elawa), and has been lovingly and meticulously restored over the past 20 years. During the winter when the trees on the savanna are bare, you can see the Chicago Bears Stadium in the distance.

Now about the cooking class.  It focuses on Plant Based Nutrition, which is another term for vegan — but Carol doesn’t call it vegan. “It can turn people off,” she said, “when the goal is to turn them on to a delicious and healthy way of cooking.” Her motto: “Small changes can produce great results.”

Carol starts the class with a short presentation on the pros of cooking with plant-based ingredients, promising that the meal of roasted squash, quinoa, broccoli soup and other green, red and yellow vegetables and seeds would be just as filling as a plate of steak and potatoes. (It was).

Elawa may have been a gentleman’s farm one day, but Carol’s program is a working class – you will chop, sauté, bake, blend and even clean up. If you think it sounds like a chore — it’s not. It’s fun. I didn’t know anyone in the class when I got there, but by the time the last plate was scrubbed clean I felt I had made new friends. Happens when your time in the kitchen is rewarded with a delicious meal and a glass of wine.

Recipe For Winter Doldrums #2

And you get to bring home several delicious, healthy — and easy to prepare — recipes. If you’re interested in trying this out– visit the Elawa website; there are six new classes on Saturdays beginning February 21.

Here are a few of my favorite recipes, along with more photos of the class:

Recipe For Winter Doldrums #3

Broccoli- Leek Soup
This is a wonderful addition to a winter meal or a stand-alone dish for lunch. For additional texture and a bit of crunch, top with pumpkin or pepita seeds or serve with a healthy cracker. I use “Mary’s Gone Crackers” brand.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Leeks chopped finely, include some of the tender green portion as well
  • About 1 and 1/2 pounds of broccoli, separate the florets and cut into pieces
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock – You can prepare your won with water and simmering whatever vegetables you have or you can purchase a good vegetable stock. The brand I use is Kitchen Basics. It has the lowest salt content of any prepared stock.
  • Pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. If you can use fresh white pepper to grind it’s nicer for the presentation.

Directions:

  1. Warm the vegetable stock in a large pan.
  2. Sauté the leeks in a non-stick pan for 3-5 minutes or until softened. Remove the leeks and sauté the broccoli. You may have to do this in two or three parts if your pan is small. Sauté the broccoli until lightly softened but still has good green color.
  3. Add the leeks and broccoli to the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Cook until vegetables are tender.

 

Pecan, Quinoa and Cranberry Stuffed Acorn Squash

This is a hearty fall and winter dinner entrée. The blend of sweetness from the cranberries with the savory of the shallots is just right!

Ingredients:

  • 1 large acorn squash cut in half and seeds removed
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans (you may want more if you like a crunchy texture)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries (preferably dried with apple juice instead of sugar)
  • White balsamic vinegar – add on top at the end. I used Sicilian Lemon balsamic vinegar from The Olive Tap. It’s our favorite. Do use a white balsamic to avoid turning your beautiful recipe brown.

Directions:

  1. Bake the acorn squash halves, cut side down until tender (about 45 minutes but time can vary based upon the size and freshness of the squash.) Add a little water at the bottom of the pan and bake at 350 degrees.
  2. Sauté the shallot in a nonstick pan such as a Scan Pan that is safe to use.
  3. Stir in the pecans, quinoa and cranberries.
  4. Stuff the acorn squash with the quinoa mixture and bake an additional 10-15 minutes. Serve with a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar on top.

Delicious Almond/ Cranberry Cookies

A delightful cookie that combines the nutty flavor of almond flour with the sweet and tartness of dried cranberries. It’s a favorite!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups almond flour (Note: You can make your own almond flour by processing blanched almonds or you can purchase almond flour at most Whole Foods or similar stores in the bulk aisle. This recipe works best with purchased almond flour.)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons almond butter
  • 1/4 cup grade B maple syrup (grade B is darker, considered the best for baking and has the most intense flavor but you can use whatever you have)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cups dried cranberries that are sweetened with apple juice (also available in the bulk aisle of most Whole Foods or similar stores)
  • 2 tablespoons water

Directions:

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix together the almond flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In a medium sized bowl whisk together the almond butter, maple syrup, water and vanilla.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and mix well using a spatula. There is no need to use a mixer. Keep stirring until it all comes together forming thick dough, then fold in the cranberries.
  5. Form dough into balls and place n the prepared baking sheet. Note; cookies won’t spread so no need to allow large spaces between them.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes or until the bottoms are browned.
  7. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for another 5 minutes and transfer to a cooling rack. They will be soft coming out of the oven but will firm up as they cool.

Cookies will keep 2 – 3 days in an airtight container but will soften up a bit again when stored.