Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Midnight Minestrone

At about 10pm my friend Sarah and I were watching finance and budgeting shows like we do every Saturday night (Shout out to Suze O!).  During the show they briefly showed a big pot of minestrone soup when talking about a soup kitchen at a shelter.  The point was to illustrate how terrible it would be to not have savings and end up in a shelter in an emergency.  But Sarah and  I looked at each other, thinking the same thing: Let's go to there.  That soup looks crazy good.

Having already eaten dinner, I tried to brush off the craving.  But at 11pm I was in my pajamas and still thinking about that tomato-ey broth and creamy beans.  I had to make it.

I was out of both home-canned and store bought tomatoes, so I pulled out some of my home-canned tomato sauce for the soup.  This stuff is precious, but I love the idea of a really rich, garlicky, wine-drenched tomato sauce made forming the base of a soup.  Be sure you use a tomato sauce that is so good you want to drink it.

Also, I used some pickled green beans and pickled roasted red peppers in this soup for extra vegetables.  I just rinsed them first to cut down on the vinegar-y taste.  You could definitely use frozen, fresh or canned green beans here.

Midnight Minestrone

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, halved and sliced
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup pickled green beans, rinsed
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, sliced
3-4 cups of really good tomato sauce
1-2 handfuls of pasta (I used bowties)
1 bouillon cube

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add onions, celery and carrot and saute until onions are beginning to lightly brown.  Add the beans, red peppers and tomato sauce, then add water until you have a soup slightly thinner than you'd like (the pasta will thicken it up).  Throw in the pasta and the bouillon cube and simmer about 8 minutes, until pasta and carrots are tender and the bouillon is dissolved.

Enjoy late at night, snuggled on the couch.  Then eat more for breakfast!

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Little Unconventional

Not everyone is going to like this snack.  And even fewer are going to eat it for breakfast like I prefer to do.  But I figure I'd better share this because it's crazy simple and really good for you, too.

Kimchi and Tahini on Crackers

Take 1 very sturdy (that's code for break-your-teeth-hard) whole grain cracker, such as Dr. Kracker or Wasa.  Spread generously with tahini (that's sesame butter) and top with spicy kimchi (that's Korean-style fermented cabbage).  Enjoy.  Then make another because it's so damn good.

I love this snack/breakfast because:
1. It's crunchy, savory and creamy all in one.
2. Dr. Kracker flatbreads are from Texas, like me.
3. It's an excuse to eat kimchi for breakfast.
4. Slathering tahini on anything makes me think of the Seward Cafe.
5. The "Seedlander" variety of Dr. Kracker reminds me of Zoolander.
5. It's more exciting than toast.  And I LOVE toast.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Birthday Drinks

Last weekend was my birthday and, as a result, I'm now the proud owner of a Soda Stream water carbonater.

It's taken me a little while to write about this because it's a little overwhelming.  With the ability to carbonate anything, how can I possibly choose?!  Here are the drinks I've made so far:

  • My first carbonating endeavor was simple, just plain carbonated filtered water.  I'm still marveling at the money (and bottles/cans) we'd save this summer by not buying La Croix.  

  • Next I added fresh lemon juice and a little maple syrup (my usual lemonade).  Of course, it's even better carbonated.

  • My first fail was a honey and rose water soda.  The idea is good, but the execution was flawed.  And the result...chunky {shudder}.  I'll need to work on this one.

  • My favorite drink: TX grapefruit syrup (that's a jam that failed to set) with fresh mint and carbonated water. Amazing!

  • Also good: Strongly brewed mango ceylon tea (decaf for me), fresh lemon, mint, sugar syrup and carbonated water.  It's sweet tea soda.

  • My latest experiments are with rosemary syrup and lavender syrup.  Rosemary and grapefruit with fresh mint are perfect together: citrus-y tart with floral notes from the rosemary and bright mint!  

I can't wait to until my herb garden isn't covered in snow and I can play with fresh lemon verbena, basil and stevia!  And you don't really need a Soda Stream to make these drinks- any carbonated water will do.

Making these syrups is really easy- First, make a big batch of sugar syrup (Heat 1 part water and 1 part evaporated cane juice to boiling.  Cook a minute or two and make sure sugar is all dissolved.  Cool.).  Then flavor small batches of the syrup with each herb/spice.  If you're trying something new, I recommend simmering 1/2 cup sugar syrup with 1 Tbsp. of the dried herb for just a minute or two.  Then cool and strain into an air-tight container.  Store in the refrigerator.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Southern Style

Because I feel the need to give things themes, my birthday was a "Dirty South" themed event.  I ushered in the big 3-0 with biscuits & jam, pickles, black-eyed peas and greens, sweet tea, gangsta rap and red velvet cake.  We planned on playing dominoes, but there was too much food on the table.

This is how it's done, people.  

My BFF Sarah made red velvet cake and even boiled down beets to make a natural red food coloring because she knows I won't touch the artificial stuff.  Just look at all that cream cheese frosting! (And, yes, I know I look like I'm about to gleefully slaughter the cake with that knife).

My other BFF Brandon drove in from Madison and whipped up the black eyed peas and greens from Appetite for Reduction.  We cashed out the bottle of liquid smoke on this one. 

My birthday was basically an excuse to eat biscuits all day.  I made a double batch and used a little cookie cutter to make them much smaller than usual.  Here they are with my favorite jams from this year: Raspberry Chipotle, Cranberry Ginger and Apricot Vanila.

If I was in the South still, these would have been picked from my own pecan tree, but the bulk bins at the co-op made do.  I coated these in a mixture of melted Earth Balance and maple syrup and tossed them with chile powder, cayenne and cinnamon before roasting them.  Positively addictive.

Does anyone else's family do this?  We always had crackers with cream cheese and jalapeno jam when I was growing up, but most of my friends were baffled by this (they ate it anyways).  These are Back to Nature brand "Ritz" style crackers with Tofutti cream cheese and my own jalapeno jam from way back in '08.  

Not pictured: Pickled okra, sweet tea, gin 'n juice and a fantastic Trinidadian habanero-pineapple dish.  I'll be making that soon and telling you all about it.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Proper Pantry

I know people are really busy these days, but I think it's really important to make time in life for baking cookies. Or bread.  Or bars.  Or really just cooking in general.  So many people think they're too busy to bake cookies, but I think that with a properly organized pantry, it doesn't take more than 5-10 minutes of actual work to pull a couple dozen cookies out of the oven.

Remember the old study that showed that using a boxed mix isn't any faster than baking from scratch?  Sometimes just the perception of something being time-consuming can keep you from doing it.  Sure, baking cookies takes longer than opening a package of Oreos.  But it's only a few minutes and the taste is SO much better.  Not to mention, home-baked whole grain, naturally sweetened cookies with actual dark chocolate, fruit and nuts are a heck of a lot healthier.  

As long as you have all of the ingredients you need and are able to read a recipe, you can bake a little something.  But finding all the ingredients you need is pretty critical.  If it's hard to find the baking soda and the chocolate chips are hidden, baking becomes a chore.  This is where having an organized pantry comes in.

I'm a big fan of organizing things in jars (what?  you hadn't noticed?).  And I'm an even bigger fan of using a label-maker in conjunction with said jars.  This, paired with logical placement of the baking ingredients on the pantry shelf makes whipping up some cookies no big deal.

I recommend grouping your ingredients as they are found in recipes rather than alphabetically.  So my dry baking ingredients are together (baking powder, sugar, cocoa, xanthan gum), my liquid sweeteners are together  (agave, stevia, brown rice syrup, etc.) and my flours are together (millet, tapioca, wheat, pastry, etc.).  Spices are grouped similarly, but then alphabetized within each group.

Stocking Up
It's also important not to run out of your baking staples.  I like to know that on any given day I have the ingredients make nearly any basic baked good: gluten free chocolate chip cookies, a loaf of whole wheat bread, biscuits, cornbread, etc.  Sure, this required extra attention when making my grocery list- But it's pretty easy if you use a grocery list template!  

My list template is an Excel spreadsheet of all the staple grocery store items I never want to run out of.  There's a column for us to check off when we use the last of something.  This means that everyone in the family is responsible for adding to the list as they use the last of foods.  Then when it's time to shop, I just grab the list, do a quick check and then head to the co-op!  Everyone's list is different, but just send me an email if you'd like my copy to use as a starting point for creating your own.  

My guess is that if you're still reading this, you're either already doing most of these things yourself and this is making perfect sense or you're concerned about my sanity for caring so much about the organization of my pantry.  But I promise that it helps make cooking and baking so much faster and easier if you organize things and always keep the staples in stock.  And anything that enables me to bake two dozen Chocolate Trail Mix Cookies (when it was parent-teacher conference night, I had to work until after 7pm and still hadn't made my dinner at 8pm) is worth it.  

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Crazy Antioxidant Salad

I feel healthier just being in the presence of this salad! Lettuce, alfalfa & onion sprouts, carrots, avocado, blueberries and sunny seeds- heck yeah!
The dressing is a sweet & tart blend of pomegranate molasses, balsamic vinegar, flax oil and Himalayan pink salt.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

New Favorite Things

I'm totally in love with these products this week.  No, no one is paying me to tell you about some super-sexy, trendy products.  These foods are about as un-sexy as you can get.  That's right, I'm excited about crackers and prunes.

Despite what you might think from this selection, I am not constipated.  
But I DO love whole grains and delicious fruit!  

I'm a longtime fan of Wasa brand crackers, but sometimes they're just a bit too...crunchy.  And healthy.  These thin & crispy Wasa crackers are light and crispy, with big salt flakes on top and excellent rosemary flavor.  While they're not 100% whole grain, they are mostly whole grain and really fantastic spread with hummus or chevre of the cashew or goat variety.  I've stocked up just in case my co-op runs out.

I got a craving for prunes earlier this week and figured that wasn't the sort of craving I should ignore (unlike my cravings for chocolate, peanut butter and salty snacks).  The organic d'noir prunes are made by Sunsweet-  I didn't even know they made organic fruits or that we carried any of their products at my co-op, so I was really surprised to #1: see that these were organic and #2: taste how freaking amazing they are.  But after checking them out, I found out that they're a cooperative- Hooray!  Love those grower co-ops.  I seriously had to ration these out for myself because I could have eaten the whole bag in one sitting.  Dangerous!!!  They weren't fully dried like so many other, not-awesome, prunes.  These are plump, moist and packed with plum-y flavor.

I think I'll dedicate this post to the fact that I'll be turning 30 next Sunday.  This is the start of old age, people. Prunes and crackers.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Plans for Spring

It's time to start my garden planning!  While I know that it'll be at least a month and probably two before I can plant anything, I have to start planning my garden now for my sanity.  The snow was melty today and my sundresses were calling my name.  Even the cats are starting to consider going outside again (they change their minds when they see the snow, but they keep checking).

Part of my restlessness comes from recently attending the MOSES Organic Farming Conference a couple of weeks ago.   Being surrounded by farmers just makes me want to plant something!   While at the conference I picked up a couple of elderberry sticks.  These little twigs will sprout new elderberry bushes this year.  For now they're forming roots and shoots in a little mason jar in my kitchen.  Soon they'll be growing among the day lilies in the backyard!   Then I can make juice, jam and tinctures with them!

I picked up something else exciting at the conference: Shiitake mushroom plugs!  These thimble-shaped plugs will fit into holes drilled into fresh logs in the yard and produce shiitakes for about 3 years.  I might have gone a bit overboard by getting so many... especially considering that I'm the only person in my family who likes shiitakes.  Luckily, I have some friends who will soon have freshly cut logs for me and I'll supply them with some plugs.

Also new for the garden plan this year: hazelnuts, okra and asparagus (assuming it successfully comes back).  Oh, I can't wait for spring!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Salad Bar Night!

Inspired by an extra-awesome salad bar salad at my co-op, I decided to repeat the experience at home.

This is a fantastic way to use up all the veggies in the fridge! I had locally grown hydroponic lettuce, a CA grown spring mix, thinly sliced carrots, and chopped cauliflower in the biggest mixing bowl I could find. Then the optional toppings were: artichoke hearts, yellow bell pepper, baked tofu, kalamata olives, home-pickled roasted red peppers and sunflower seeds. Dressing options were vegan ranch or olive oil and fig vinaigrette.

This might be a new Friday night tradition!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bean and Sausage Stew

It's March and I'm not really excited that it was -2 this morning and that we're getting snow tomorrow.  Basically the only exciting part about cold weather right now is soup.  Yes, soup is exciting.  Don't laugh.

I'm especially excited about this soup because it's pretty different from my staples: Indian-style rasams and brothy Asian noodle soups.  This soup deserves to be called a stew and it's a "meat and potatoes" type meal!
I used the Tofurky kielbasa in this recipe, but if I had to do it over, I'd use the Field Roast sausages because I generally just like those better.  And they just went on sale at the co-op today!!!

Bean and Sausage Stew

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 medium gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2 vegan sausages (I used Tofurky Kielbasa), sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. fennel seed, ground
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. celery seed, ground
1 16 oz. can cannellini beans, drained
1 Tbsp. mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy soup pot, heat olive oil.  Add the onion, celery and carrot and saute until onions begin to become transparent.  Add the potato and sausages.  Stir and cook just a couple minutes, lightly browning the sausages.  Add the garlic and all the spices and beans. (I ground the fennel and celery seeds in a mortar).  Stir and immediately add enough water just to cover.  Bring to a boil and then lower heat to maintain a steady simmer. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until carrots and potatoes are tender and broth has thickened.  Add mustard and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with a big hunk of bread and a bright, fresh green salad!