Sunday, January 27, 2013

Kale and Chickpea Soup

Spice Blend from Sarasota
I may have mentioned that as a personal goal this year, I decided to get a yoga teaching certification. The first level of certification is a 200 hour program. As of this evening, I hit a milestone and have made it to the halfway point. I now have 100 hours of training under my belt! I am excited to have reached this point, but truthfully, it's not all about getting to the end. I'm not even sure if I'll teach when I'm done. Mainly I wanted to deepen my own practice and to take on a challenge that would engage me both mentally and physically. This process has turned out to be exactly what I wanted it to be. I am amongst a great group of fellow yogis, learning about asanas, alignment, Sanskrit, anatomy, the history and philosophy of yoga, and about myself. We have a great blend of teachers with many years of experience to guide us along. I look forward to the next 5 months and the lasting effects this experience is likely to have on my life.
Helps to digest beans
As if I wasn't already exhilarated enough when I got home, I then put a concoction of ingredients into a soup pot, cooked it for less than 30 minutes and was rewarded with a tasty meal. There is something very satisfying about doing this. I often follow recipes or at least look at recipes for inspiration. So, when I can put together a variety of spices, veggies, grains and beans that work well together and it works, I get pretty jazzed.
I wouldn't recommend that you run to your kitchen and make this. It's not THAT good, but I did want to record it for myself. I never measured any of the spices, so I'll just take my best guess. Speaking of the spices, I should mention something about those. I used two spices I recently tried from Penzey's. One is called Ajwain. On the label it states that "Ajwain is especially useful in vegetarian lentil and bean dishes, partly as a flavoring, partly because ajawain has the ability to temper the effects of a legume based diet." I thought they stated that very nicely. I found myself wondering how long it took them to come up with that wording and whether there were any chuckles in the office that day as they came up with other possible ways of communicating this message. I will say that I have tried it a few times and have found their claim to be accurate, and that's all I'm saying about it. The other ingredient I used from Penzey's was Toasted granulated onion. It smelled so good in the store I had to buy some. I've found it pretty useful in marinades, salad dressings and soups.
I also decided to use a dried mushroom and spice blend I bought last year in Sarasota that's been sitting on my counter untouched, just looking for an opportunity to liven up a meal. I liked it and could see myself adding it to other soups, and would also like to come up with some other uses for it.

Kale and Chickpea Soup
1 tblspn olive oil
1 carrot, sliced or diced, depending on thickness
1 small or half a medium onion, diced
4 cups of veggie broth
1 small russet potato, diced
1 tblsn nutritional yeast
1 tspn toasted granulated onion
1 tspn ajwain
1 tblspn mushroom paradise blend
2 cups loosely packed chopped kale
1/3 to 1/2 can of chickpeas
1 tspn white wine vinegar
Bragg's liquid aminos to taste
1 cup cooked quinoa

1.  In a soup pot, over medium heat, sautee onion and carrot for about 5 minutes.
2. Add broth, potato, nutritional yeast, granulated onion, ajwain, mushroom blend. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Add, kale, chickpeas, salt and pepper if you want, and vinegar. Let cook about 10 more minutes to wilt kale.
4. Serve over quinoa. This waters down the flavor a bit. I might cook the quinoa in the broth for a bit next time or add more seasoning.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Lemon Tahini Dressing

Jar of tahini dressing
Most days, I eat a salad for lunch, but when the weather gets cold, I find my body reacts better to warm foods. A few winters ago I was having some digestion issues. My doctor recommended I stopped eating salads for a while and instead have some lightly steamed veggies. This did the trick, so from then on I've tried to give up lunchtime meals of salad for the winter months. This shouldn't be that hard to do since there are so many options - soups, veggies and grains, etc., but I struggle with it a bit since I get into a good routine of preparing salads. I also keep a stock salad dressing ingredients in my desk drawer. I did finally purchase a couple of different containers for transporting soup to work. This helps a lot because in the past, I've had several messes by the time I got to the office, or just didn't bring soup because I was too nervous about it.

Recently for lunch I brought some quinoa with steamed veggies and lemon pepper tofu. I then squeezed lemon all over the top and sprinkled it with sesame seeds. It was fine, but was lacking some oomph. Then, as if my my food prayers were being directly answered Meaux Marie posted this lemon tahini dressing that was exactly the thing I was looking for. I had it this week over quinoa, steamed broccoli and carrots, and then sprinkled some dried cranberries on it. This makes for a tasty and satisfying lunch. Plus, the dressing can't be easier to make. I used a mason jar to make it in and then left the jar of it at work so I had a few days worth of lunches. I'm going to try baking some tofu in it and see how that goes. I'll report back. If you want Meaux's full recipe, here's the link to her blog:

Lemon Tahini Dressing
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tspns tamari soy sauce
4 tblsns tahini
juice from one lemon (or more to taste)

1.  In a jar add all the ingredients and shake vigorously.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Spinach Parmesan Balls

Spinach balls go well with hot sauce
My friend, Sallie, made these for a gathering she had recently. I found them to be good party snacking food because of their size and texture. They are tasty and they don't crumble all over the place when you bite into them. You can also get creative with dipping sauces. I was eager to try them out, so I brought them to a football watching gathering last night. We poked around in the fridge for something good to accompany them and ended up just mixing up a couple of different hot sauces and Voila! it was perfect. We also experimented with dunking them in the Cashew Lemon Dip I brought (see earlier post). I didn't think that combo was a match made in heaven, but it was clear that something lemony would go really well with these also. A lemon tahini dip would be quite nice I think.
One word of caution: don't be fooled by the fact that they have spinach in them. Spinach doesn't necessarily equate to healthy when the spinach is rolled up in cheese, butter, eggs and bread crumbs! I was taken aback a little when I noticed how much butter was in the mix. At first I thought it said 1/4 of a cup, but then realized when I went to go make them that it was 3/4 of a cup! I ended up using Earth Balance vegan "butter".  It worked fine and made me feel slightly better about eating them.
Sallie made some variations on the original recipe she found on and then I made a tiny bit of a variation from hers, so here is the final outcome.

Spinach Parmesan Balls
2 10 oz boxes frozen spinach, thawed and drained well
3/4 cup earth balance (or unsalted butter)
1 small red onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
4 eggs
1/2 tspn paprika
1/2 tspn of ground chipolte pepper (alternatively use 1 tspn of smoked paprika in place of the paprika and chipolte)
1/2 tspn salt
1/4 tspn pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Sautee the onion and garlic in a little of the butter on medium low heat for about five minutes. Add the paprika and chipolte. Cook for another minute or so, then add the rest of the butter until it is melted.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix all the other ingredients. Then add onion butter mixture.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll the mixture into balls the size of a walnut. I ended up getting about 35 of them.
5. Bake for 15 minutes, then take them out, flip each of them over and bake another 15 minutes. The original recipe called for 20 minutes in the oven without turning them, and that might be enough for you, but I wanted them browned on both sides.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cashew Lemon Dip

If you've had your fill of hummus and/or you're going to a party with vegans, this is a great recipe to have on hand. You need to have a little foresight, however, because the cashews need to be soaked for 12-24 hours ahead of time. Although, my friend who gave me the recipe said she has skipped that step, added some water and it's been fine. I served this with some gluten free crackers at a party and that satisfied needs for both dairy and gluten free folks.
This was originally called Creamy Cashew Cheese, but I don't think that represents it that well. The nutritional yeast does give it a hint of a cheesy flavor,  but I almost think it's a turn-off calling it that. Maybe cashew and cheese don't go that well together? There's probably something better to call it, but I'm going with dip for now.
Once you get the base recipe you can mess with adding things in it. I put chives in it the last time I made it. I have some ground chipolte pepper and I'm thinking of trying some of that to give it a smoky flavor.

Cashew Lemon Dip
2 cups raw unsalted cashews, soaked for 2 hours
2 tblsp nutritional yeast
1 tblsp lemon juice (I added quite a bit more)
2 tsp white balsamic vinegar (I think I used cider vinegar)
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp granulated onion powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp white pepper

1.  Place cashews in food processor. Process about 1 minute until rough paste forms.
2. Add the water and remaining ingredients. Process 3-5 minutes, until smooth.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Thai Peanut Sauce

A postcard from the MFA exhibit
Today I saw an exhibit at the Boston MFA. It showcased postcards and the important role they played in communicating and also in advertising in the early 1900s. It was a great collection and I highly recommend it.  It's fun from a graphic design and also a historical point of view. There's also a great looking show at the ICA currently: Art, Love and Politics in the 80s, and the Peabody Essex Museum has a hat exhibit going on that looks fun. So if you're looking for something to do on a winter weekend, there you go.
On a completely unrelated side note, I went to a Three Kings Party last night that included a Yankee Swap. One of the gifts was a pair of squirrel underwear. Yes, that's right. It was a very popular gift in the game. I have some things to say about this, but I think I'll just leave it alone for now. 
I've been meaning to post this recipe for Thai Peanut Sauce for some time now, and I plan to make it this week, so it reminded me. I've tried several different recipes for Thai Peanut sauce. This particular one was given to me by my friend Kathy. I've had it a few times and thought it was very good, so I think I'll stick with it. I typically use this for baking tofu, and/or putting it over soba noodles with stir-fried veggies. Kathy has stir-fried veggies in the sauce and then put them in tortillas for roll-ups, as another idea.

Thai Peanut Sauce
1/4 cup honey
1//4 cup (4 tblsp) smooth peanut butter
3 tblsp soy sauce
2 tblsp rice vinegar
2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tblsp sesame oil
2 tspn fresh minced garlic (2 small or 1 large clove)
1 tblsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Stir all together in a small bowl. That's it!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Baked Lentil and Brown Rice Casserole

I think it's fair to say that I've tried lots of things thus far in my life, but it's also true that there are so, SO many more things yet for me to experience. For instance, I have never poached an egg. This isn't the kind of meaningful or awe-inspiring activity I would add to my bucket list, of course, but I do feel motivated to try it in the near future.
Great cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi
The impetus of this desire is coming from two sources. One is the lovely new cookbook a friend gave me for Christmas. It's called Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. The pictures alone are worth owning it for. There is a recipe for Mushroom Ragout with Poached Duck Egg that is calling my name and I anticipate this to be the first recipe I will attempt from this collection. Then, this past weekend, I had brunch with my cookbook giving friend at the Beehive in Boston's South End. I adore this place. The downstairs is brick walled and funky with live jazz or blues music playing often. I remember the first time I walked downstairs, I felt like I had accidentally stepped out of Boston and into Manhattan. Somebody from Manhattan would likely disagree with me and tell me I have no idea what I'm talking about, and this is likely true. All I'm saying is that this place has some serious character. Anyhow, Sallie ordered one of their signature dishes, Eggs Shakshuka, and I panicked when the waiter came over because I wasn't ready, so ordered an omelet. When our meals were delivered, I immediately had poached egg envy.  So I either need to get myself back to The Beehive soon, or learn to poach an egg for myself.
 I'm also intrigued by trying an egg from a fowl other than chickens. It goes without saying that whatever egg I eat is derived from feathery friend is living a good life roaming the range by day, sleeping in a soft bed at night, eating real food not seeped in antibiotics and willingly hands its eggs over to the farmer as payment for its room and board. I've started going to the Winter Farmers Market in Somerville on Saturdays. They do have eggs, but I'm not sure if they only ever have chicken eggs, but I plan to find out.
So, I will get back to you on how egg poaching goes. In the meantime, I have lots of recipes I need to post from dishes I tried over the holidays. This one is not picture worthy because it's not necessarily visually appetizing. It is nothing to get excited over, but it's a good one to have around. It's a basic, nutritious and extremely easy casserole. If you're in the mood for a casserole, but you're not in the mood for several steps, this is what you need to make. Nothing has to be cooked prior to adding it in. The ingredients are just mixed up in the baking pan and tossed in the oven.  It takes a long time to cook which is the trade-off, but you hardly have to tend to it at all.
It would be great with a green veggie on the side. It also lends itself well to experimenting to suit your tastes. I will provide you with the basic recipe which has many Internet sources, and you can play with it.

Baked Lentil and Brown Rice Casserole
3 cups veggie broth
3/4 cup uncooked lentils, sorted and rinsed (I tried a small black variety that I preferred over the green ones)
1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (or high quality garlic powder)
1 tspn (at least) Italian seasoning and/or whatever other spices seem like a good idea to you (the 2nd time I made this I used a tblspn cumin and a couple tspns of oregano and liked this blend better)
salt and pepper to taste
shredded cheese, optional
chopped avocado, optional (when using cumin blend)

1. Pre-heat oven to 325
2. Mix all ingredients in a 2 qt casserole or 11X7 baking dish
3. Cover with foil and bake for at least an hour or until all water is absorbed. I check it after an hour, but have found it typically needs at least another 20 minutes.
4. If using cheese, add now and bake for another 10 minutes until melted. When I made the cumin blend, I did not bake cheese on the top, but topped it with chopped avocado and thought that was a good combo.