Go to Home Page

lift, swim, eat, repeat

January 22nd, 2014 | 2 Comments »

It’s frigid outside, again, although nowhere near as cold as it was a week ago. In the pool room of the Y, the sun is making the water sparkle, when it’s able to peek out from the whirling dervishes of snow kicked up by the intense Northerly winds. The snow devils block the two story high windows, but even on this deeply cold day, the warmth in the pool is welcome. I slip in to the water and feel the shock of the cold over my entire body, shivering a little as I push off from the wall.

I’m sore this morning, as our Body Pump class has started a new release, changing the sequences and challenging our muscles all over again. This happens every six weeks, and I equally anticipate it, and dread it. And I love it. And hate it. Change is hard, and this physical change that I’ve been putting myself through for the last 14 months has forced me out of my comfort zone more times than I ever expected. Some mornings, just stretching, and rolling out of bed elicits groans and tender first steps. Going up and down stairs can hurt for the first treads after a good leg workout, and those first strokes in the pool, like today, felt tough, but freeing. Swimming takes the hurt out of muscles torn and battered, challenged through lifting, forced into re-building and growth. But the first 100 yards or so can almost bring tears to my eyes as the soreness abates, the tendons and ligaments stretch and recover. I swim to make it better, then, the next day I lift the bar, clip on the plates and tear myself up all over again.

I’ve always been active, but in previous years, most of that activity was in warmer months, saving my nordic ski habit for Winter. As much as I love the skinny skis, it wasn’t enough, and I knew I needed more; more weight training as I age to help ward off osteoporosis and keep good skeletal health. More cardio to keep my lungs healthy, in a family with history of asthma. And more movement to keep me from languishing through a Winter, sinking in to a soft chair, one eye on the calendar, waiting for Spring, for my bike to come down from the rafters in the garage so I can spin the tires once more. Starting was difficult, keeping at it to make it a habit was even more difficult, but one day I awoke and felt excitement at the thought of another Body Pump class, in realizing it was a swim day and anticipating how good I would feel when it was all over. The rewards were reinforced even further when clothing began to loosen, my shoulders strengthened and those bike rides didn’t feel so strenuous any longer. In 14 months, I haven’t lost a single pound, but everything looks different, and pants that were snug before I started can now be pulled over my hips without even being unbuttoned.

I love this article … stop a moment and go read it, as I think you’ll find it fascinating, too. I was a skeptic, and at one point would have scoffed at the information, but now, I’m a believer, and a convert and gladly head to the YMCA six days a week for one more Body Pump class, or to slip through the water, admiring the sparkling sunbeams on the pool floor as I swim. All the aches, the hurt and fatigue, the sore muscles and mind-numbing but uplifting after-burn combines to motivate me every day, to be better, and stronger.

Soups and hearty warm stews are a constant these days. Nowhere in your kitchen repertoire can you find a dish that is so versatile and so accepting of the varied means to an end. Minestrone is designed to take in the leftovers lurking in the fridge, the odds and ends of vegetables that don’t have a place otherwise, to steep together, to create something that fills you up after a cold day has taken the last of your coping skills away, or a good workout has drained your energy. I love that a good soup or stew tastes better in subsequent days, that the flavors meld and deepen, almost, like continual exercise does with our bodies, becoming something else altogether.

Perfect Minestrone

1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks, with leaves, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced (adjust to taste, I am a garlic lover)
2 small zucchini, peeled and diced
1/2# fresh green beans, cut to 1/2″ pieces
1 bunch fresh kale, rough stems removed and chopped (sub chard, collards, or spinach)
1 32-oz container Pomi* Tomatoes (use equivalent of your choice)
1/4 c. quinoa (optional, but I like the heft and nutrition it adds)
1/4 c. fresh chopped parsley and oregano (basil and thyme are also good)
Parm-Reggiano shavings

In a large stockpot, heat a small amount of oil and add the onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are opaque. Add the carrots, celery and green beans and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to brown a little, maybe 10-15 minutes. Moderate the heat to prevent them from scorching.

Add the garlic and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir to incorporate and cook for a few minutes until it’s wonderfully fragrant. Add the  zucchini and the tomatoes and a quart of broth or water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender enough to pierce with a fork, but not completely soft.

Add the kale, the pasta and the quinoa, if using. Depending on what pasta shape you use, cook until the pasta is al dente. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper. Make sure the pasta is cooked, but also remember that it will continue to absorb liquid as the soup sits.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with a sprinkling of the fresh herbs and some shavings of cheese. Serve with a good bread, if desired.

*- Pomi Tomatoes are a packaged brand of tomatoes available in most grocers. The container is aseptic, with no BPA and the taste is phenomenal, fresh and clean. It’s one of my favorite brands of canned tomatoes on the market.

NOTE: The original version of this recipe called for pasta, as most Minestrone soups do. I subbed in quinoa for a GF option but you can use any small pasta shape of your choice if you wish. The photo shows Orzo pasta.

 

KATE’S NOTES: A good Minestrone is designed to use up vegetable odds and ends. While these make for a delicious soup, use whatever you have available to make your Minestrone unique, and to use up what’s in your refrigerator.

curried vegetable & smoked salmon chowder

April 4th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

March gave us some exceptionally warm days, but the past few weeks haven’t been quite as toasty. Once the sun drops lower in the sky, I’m still shrugging in to sweatshirts and occasionally drawing wool slippers on my feet. I’ve got soup on the mind, with the chill in the air, but not the hearty simmering pots that I dreamed of in January.

What I’m dreaming about is this succulent chowder, light and refreshing for Spring, brightly colored with vibrant greens and flavored with the rich taste of smoked salmon. This is a simple soup to put together so it won’t be interfering with your outdoor time and you won’t feel bogged down from it when you finish.

The first time I made this soup I think we darn near polished off the entire pan. What was left over was barely worthy of lunch the following day, and instead of slipping this in the ‘Done’ pile and never looking at it again, I kept it front and center, and dropped another chunk of lovely smoked salmon in my grocery cart for a second showing. It’s a surprising recipe, as on first glance it just doesn’t look like a whole lot. Then you lift the spoon to your mouth and taste the coconut milk broth, rich with curry flavor, the delicious vegetables and then, the sharp smoky fish. It’s a bit sweet, it crunches and it delights.

The soup is wide open for your own personal interpretation too, employing just about any vegetable you have on hand. You could skip the smoked salmon if it isn’t to your liking, instead adding maybe some grilled shrimp or scallops for a bit of boldness. The curry is completely adjustable too. Add more for a bigger kick, if you like. Or just substitute turmeric to add the bright and sunny color. While I used broccoli and kale, I think green beans and bok choy would be delicious in this soup. Not a fan of corn? Skip it. Add peas instead. Or chunks of dark orange sweet potato. That’s the best part of this recipe; it’s superbly easy to make it your own.

Curried Vegetable and Smoked Salmon Chowder

Coconut oil for cooking
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced (I’ve used yellow onion too)
1 jalapeno pepper, cored and seeded, thinly sliced (for extra heat, use a serrano)
1 T. minced fresh ginger
2-4 garlic cloves, finely minced (the amount you use is entirely up to your taste)
2 Broccoli crowns, sliced to bite size (can sub in cauliflower)
2 c. fresh kale, roughly chopped (can sub in baby bok choy, chard or spinach too)
1 c. frozen corn kernels
1/2# smoked salmon
2 T. red curry paste (substitute your basic curry powder if it’s all you have)
1 15-oz can light coconut milk
3 c. broth of choice, or water (I filled the coconut milk can twice)
1 T. fish sauce, or fresh squeezed lime juice
1 T. pure honey
Cilantro, basil or mint, fresh lime wedges, crushed peanuts for toppings, if desired

In a medium stockpot with a lid, warm about a tablespoon of the coconut oil and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, maybe 10 minutes or so. Add the jalapeno, ginger and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring. Pour in the coconut milk and broth (or water) and stir together. Then add in the curry paste, fish sauce, and honey and stir well to incorporate, add in the broccoli, kale, and corn. Stir to blend, then bring to a simmer, cover and allow to cook until the broccoli is tender to your liking. Add in the smoked salmon and heat through. Top each soup with some of the fresh herbs, a squeeze of lime juice and chopped peanuts, if you like those. The soup is perfectly fine without them as well.

 

wild rice & mushroom soup

January 18th, 2012 | 7 Comments »

I did not grow up loving mushrooms. I didn’t even like them, not one little bit. But I surely can’t blame myself, for my only exposure to them as a child of the ’70′s was from a can. And I can’t imagine anything more disgusting than canned mushrooms to a kid. No wonder I was never a fan of the fungus.

As I got older, I allowed a bit of mushroom to pass my lips; I loved them sauteed on a burger, or with a grilled steak. Provided I could have something in my mouth with them, they became only slightly more palatable to me, but I still struggled with texture, and that rich, loamy earthiness to them. Cover them with good red wine, and sauté them in copious amounts of butter and it was ok. Just ok though. Still, they weren’t on my favorites list by any means.

Then I had an epiphany, last summer. A major turning point in my culinary taste occurred at one of the wonderful events I attended last year with the Minnesota Food Bloggers group. It was at Cafe Levain in Minneapolis, and Chef Adam Vickerman created grilled portabella mushrooms, richly glazed in balsamic vinegar. I took a few tentative bites of them and my eyes were opened. I was re-born, re-newed and suddenly, all-out crazy for mushrooms. And to Adam’s credit, I’ve been slightly obsessed, and eating them weekly, ever since.

Mushrooms fit well into a healthy eating plan, and that makes them far more desirable given my all-enveloping obsession. Mushrooms have been revered in Eastern culture for thousands of years for their nutritional properties. Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium, yet they provide important nutrients, including minerals like selenium, potassium, copper, and vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin (the all important B vitamins) and vitamin D. And then there’s beta-glucans- something I’d never heard of before, and according to Mushroom Info:

“Beta-glucans, found in numerous mushroom species, have shown marked immunity-stimulating effects, contribute to resistance against allergies and may also participate in physiological processes related to the metabolism of fats and sugars in the human body. The beta-glucans contained in oyster, shiitake and split gill mushrooms are considered to be the most effective.” 

So I can feel good about the amount of mushrooms passing my lips, and I like that. I can incorporate mushrooms in to just about any dish, but I hadn’t really done much with them in a soup so it was fun to come across this amazing Wild Rice & Mushroom soup recipe on The Kitchn, even better that I stumbled upon it as the coldest air of the month landed on Minnesota, making for a perfect backdrop to a steaming bowl of this thick and hearty soup.

If you love a good wild rice soup with chicken, or turkey, you’ll love this lush recipe, which deeply browns mushrooms to develop their rich flavor. A bath of white wine and some good vegetable broth helps round out the simple but complex flavors. Wild rice was another food item I had to learn how to love, but thankfully, this wasn’t that difficult, and we’ve been enjoying wild rice soups for years. This one, with it deep earthy flavors and thick broth will be on repeat now. We all loved it, and soup is such a good leftover item to have on hand.

Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup

1 c. wild rice, washed
1 large onion, diced
4 celery stalks, diced (I love the flavor of the leaves and used a lot of those)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound of mushrooms, rough chopped (I used baby portabella, but adding some porcini or oyster would be delicious)
1 t. fresh thyme
3 T. AP flour
1 c. white wine (I use pinot grigio in cooking. DO NOT use cooking wine from the grocer. Ugh)
1 Bay leaf
1-2 cheese rinds, optional
2 t. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 c. whole milk or heavy cream (I used a lot less, but adjust according to your taste)
1 T. cider vinegar
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the rice with 1 teaspoon of salt. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 40-50 minutes, or until the rice has burst open and is soft. You can leave it a bit underdone if you  wish, and cook it to taste with the final soup. Drain the rice, reserving the cooking water to use in the soup if you wish. (I did this. Wow. What a flavor)

Meanwhile, heat a teaspoon of oil in a large dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and celery with a pinch of salt and cook until softened and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt. Cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid and start to brown; this should take anywhere from 20-40 minutes depending on the size of your stock pot. I cooked them to a really deep brown. Don’t skip this step as this is where a lot of the flavor of your soup will come from.

Once they are nicely browned, add the garlic and thyme and cook for about a minute. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to coat. Stir the flour until the mixture becomes sticky, and no visible dry flour remains. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the white wine. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan, simmering until the wine has reduced and thickened.

Add the bay leaf, cheese rinds (if using) and stock or the cooking water from the rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for about 20 minutes to blend the flavors. Add the rosemary, milk or cream and the wild rice, cooking for another 10-15 minutes, or until the soup has thickened to your liking. Stir in the cider vinegar, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Original recipe from The Kitchn, by Emma Christenson.

***This soup will thicken as it stands, and the rice absorbs more of the liquid. I’ve found that when re-heating it the next day, it tastes best to scoop out a serving and add water to loosen it up.

Linking up to Soupapalooza 2012!!

Come join SoupaPalooza at TidyMom and Dine and Dishsponsored by KitchenAidRed Star Yeast and Le Creuset

fall in to soup

November 3rd, 2011 | 2 Comments »

Fall weather and a steaming bowl of soup seamlessly slip in to one another every year. Once the weather turns from the sultry summer sun to that burnished hazy look of Fall, where the leaves outside burn crimson against the blue sky and the air chills down the moment the sun slips to the tree line, a steaming bowl of soup seems as natural as taking a breath.

I used to be afraid of soups, in a life so far past that I can’t recall even the precise reason why. I think I didn’t understand how to properly build the flavor of soups, from the slow caramelization of the vegetables, to the added broth and simmer, the final seasoning; a pot of soup intimidated me, and I would marvel over those consumed at cozy cafe lunches, wondering what I could do to achieve such a grand blend of flavor and texture. The truth, once discovered, astounded me in it’s simplicity: a good pot of soup is built like a good house is built, from the ground up. Once this simple procedure is set, the possibilities are endless.

The Soup and Stew category in my Recipe Index is loaded with content. No truer testimony to that perfect soup achievement can be found anywhere else; we’ve enjoyed some amazing, delicious and hearty soups over the years. I may not be the best at photographing them, but I certainly can make them now. I’m so glad too. There is so much love in a pot of soup, simmering on the stove, chasing the wild winds of Fall or Winter away, while keeping time with the hum of the furnace. They fill the house with warmth, with scent and with promise. And the versatility of soup, at least in my head, makes it a perfect meal to eat most every night, no special occasion, or long stretch of time needed. And then there is the health aspect of it, because you know I need to mention how perfect a bowl of thick vegetable soup can be, once you ignore the call of butter and cream. Some of my most perfect bowls of soup have been made from a handful of sadly forgotten vegetables from the refrigerator, past their prime for anything but to be chopped, sauteed and simmered to a delightful, steaming finish.

And bread. Let’s not forget the perfect match to a perfect meal. A loaf of good sturdy bread. Soup and bread, like Fall and sweaters, just fits; it rolls of the tongue seamlessly, and makes perfect sense. A spoon in one hand, chunk of bread in the other, eagerly soaking up the broth and bits of herbs still clinging to the bowl. In my previous life working in an artisan bakery, a loaf of bread and a bowl of soup from the lunch counter was a regular meal, something I craved daily. And I still do. I can dip a saltine cracker in my soup, or nibble on corn muffins too, but nothing tastes better with soup than bread.

These days, without meat to bulk up my soups, I’m consuming them simply loaded with vegetables, and often, legumes. Thick bunches of chard, or spinach or kale make for stellar soups, along with sharply flavored carrots and a host of other possibilities. I’ve made several pots of green soup, throwing in baby bok choy along with the other hearty leafy greens, then pureeing it smooth, sipping it from a  mug, feeling the bright green goodness flowing through me.


This hearty bowl of Ribollita, or Tuscan Bread and Tomato Soup, used up the very last tomatoes from the garden at the lake. Mike came home from a few days there with a sack of sadly misshapen and bruised fruit, the last of a summer bounty and I quartered them and roasted a large pan worth, reserving the tomato liquid and oil to help flavor this pot of soup. The tomato flavor was out of this world; sweet, deep and lush, and a large bag of chopped dinosaur kale added green goodness. This isn’t a brothy soup, and you don’t need to roast your own tomatoes to achieve it, given the availability of excellent canned products. Place the pot on your stove on a gray afternoon, and simmer it slowly. This one doesn’t take much time at all, but the flavor will fool anyone in to thinking it simmered forever.

What is YOUR favorite soup? Do you like to make it at home?

 

Ribollita Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 dried bay leaf
10-ounce bag frozen spinach
2 cans cannellini beans with liquid
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock, for a vegan adaptation)
One 15-ounce can (1 3/4 cups) tomato pureé
9 ounces day old bread, torn in pieces, about 3 cups
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
Parmesan, grated (optional)

Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, onion, carrots, celery, and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the frozen spinach and sauté for a moment to break up any large clumps.

Add beans, stock, and tomato pureé. Bring soup to a boil. Stir in bread and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until soup thickens slightly. Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil. Remove bay leaf and serve topped with grated Parmesan.

Recipe from Apartment Therapy: the kitchen Written complete, with no modifications

 

Those soups above? You’ll find them on my site if you follow these links:

Quick Three Bean Chili

Chorizo Black Bean Soup

Andean Quinoa Stew

There’s a few other good recipes on my site you might like:

Zuppa Arcidossana- one of my most favorite soups from my meat eating days

Hearty Minestrone - Forgive the horrid winter photo and just make that soup. Wow.

Chili Blanco – from 2007, so far back in the archives, and an amazing recipe.

And for some more delicious soup recipes out there, my friends have been Souper crazy as well:

Amy gives you an amazing array of Fall soup options.

Laurie shares an African Peanut Soup that I can’t wait to make.

Angharad gives us even more soup recipes to enjoy

 

What’s on YOUR plate this month??

when you just know

March 30th, 2011 | Comments Off

Little in life is predictable. And this is especially true during the month of March in Minnesota. Despite the warmth and rain that melted almost all of the 90″ of snow we’ve received this past Winter (because, officially it IS Spring!) we got socked with yet another snow storm that dumped a wide range of snow depths around the Twin Cities. And, obviously, generating a great deal of complaints from a state’s population that should be anything if not aware of what March can bring around these parts.

But is is Spring, after all. The sun is high enough to melt this stuff fairly quickly. One would hope, anyway. According to my gardening journal, last year at this time, the ice was out on the lakes in my area. We aren’t even close to that this year.

My boy was on Spring Break recently. To him, a week off school is a huge sigh of relief. This kid can’t wait to get beyond the expected and into what he truly wants to do. It was also a week to sleep late, and to spend time with me, just one on one. And on a quiet Tuesday, we did just that. Mentioning I had a gift card for Panera Bread, his face lit up with excitement and I knew there needed to be no more discussion on where we would enjoy lunch that day, after a trip to the chiropractor and a quick run through Target.

I’ve never been in a Panera at lunchtime when it’s not insanely crowded, weekend, or weekday alike. People love the place, for so many reasons. At our recent Twitter party for Panera, the TweetChat room I was in was relentlessly spitting out tweets from eager participants, so many of them, in fact, that Panera was trending on Twitter that day. And I was struggling to keep up with the words speeding by my eyes. What do they love about the place? The breads. The pastries. The muffins. The cookies. The soups. The salads. The sandwiches. The breads. Everything, it seems. You look around the room, during the crowded lunch hour and you see a wide range of people who are blissed out over their meal; elderly couples sharing coffee and rolls, families with a table full of trays, napkins, drink cups, loud conversation, shouting children and parents watching their kids enjoying a good meal. I saw folks engaged in a quick business lunch, carefully brushing crumbs off the suits and skirts of the corporate world. And it was clear that my boy wasn’t the only young person radiating Spring Break happiness. The place was full of kids.

One aspect of the Panera Twitter Party that I took away was how many parents really loved the fact that Panera offered a better option for their kids than fast food joints. Kids can be so fickle with their appetites, but take them to Panera and they’ve got dozens of options to satisfy them. Who doesn’t love a bowl of Creamy Wild Rice and Chicken soup? The thick noodles in their Chicken Noodle Soup just shout out ‘Comfort food!’. And then there are sandwich options to quell even the pickiest of eaters. And of course, when all else fails, there’s Mac and Cheese, PBJ sandwiches and Grilled Cheese. You can get hot Panini sandwiches. There’s basic green salads available, and a wealth of varied options that include Thai Chopped Chicken, Asian Sesame Chicken and a Fuji Apple Chicken Salad. Calorie counts are clearly listed, yet another appealing aspect of having a meal there. People like to know what they’re eating; they like to know what goes in their mouths, how it affects them and where they stand with their food.

And of course, Panera offers a full espresso service, coffee and tea by the Republic of Tea company, which has some amazing flavors of teas. You can get fruit smoothies, made with Stonyfield Farms Organic yogurt, one of the best commercial yogurts available. And every Panera has free WiFi for surfing, or working. Then there’s that cozy fireplace to gather around when the snow falls. And falls. And falls.

Griffin and I indulged fully that day for lunch, taking advantage of a free cookie from my PaneraRewards card. For every visit to Panera, they swipe your card and the rewards start piling up. A free espresso drink. A free bagel. Free pastries. And best of all, it’s free to join. Just grab a card at any Panera and fill out the information on their website.

He always orders the same thing when he goes; a bowl of Wild Rice soup and half a Sierra Turkey sandwich. He gets chips as a side with his soup, those deliciously crunchy kettle chips that are perfect for dredging through a bowl of hearty soup. Given his slight exacting nature, he always takes apart his sandwich to rearrange the filling. “It’s more even that way.” is what he always says, plus he can remove the offensive raw onions and most of the greens. For my lunch, I ordered an Italian Combo sandwich, thick with roast beef, turkey, ham and salami (and yes, I deconstructed it to ‘make it more even’ as well.) and also half a Chicken Cobb salad. We shared a Mint Crinkle cookie afterwards, marveling at the crunchy chewy edges surrounding the soft pliable center; cookie nirvana, if you ask me. A perfect mix.

The nice thing about that sort of lunch with my boy is knowing how happy it makes him to spend time with me, and with eating food that he really loves. We could be sharing a pizza or hoagies, or tacos, chips and salsa, but more importantly, we’re sharing time together. Sometimes we talk endlessly. Other times, we’re both just content to be right there next to one another, silently appreciating the companionship. He may be a teenager that strives for his own dependence, but it also seems that the further he stretches in an attempt to gain his own footing in the world, the more he needs to know, without a doubt, that we’re there to fall back on, regardless. A lunch, a shared cookie, the menial task of running errands and managing our time during my days off, it all matters. He never needs to say anything to me about what he needs; I just know. Like I know of a good place to have a decent lunch that I’m happy to feed my teenager, the time we need together is instinctive. We gravitate towards it naturally. Like everyday people to the food they can trust.

DISCLAIMER:
I was financially compensated for writing this post, and provided with the gift card that bought our meal.
All comments, claims and opinions are mine, and were not influenced by Panera or it’s associates.
Get Connected!
Twitter handle: @panerabread
Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/panerabrea

 

the appeal of the predictable

January 21st, 2011 | 3 Comments »

A predictable life isn’t all that bad. You know what to expect, you’re comfortable in the routine and it works to rarely step outside of something that you know is always going to be there. You have Tacos on Tuesday, you do laundry every Wednesday whether you want to or not and the floors get cleaned on Sunday. Predictability makes for less stress, without a doubt.

Yet, life isn’t always in alignment with keeping it predictable. Our day to day existence can be thrown all over the map without a lot of effort, and having the ease of the expected sometimes can make those erratic days feel less of a burden. The same can be said about our meals too. I love variety in my kitchen, and will highlight the best of those recipes here for you to enjoy as well, but in addition to our stretching in the foods that we eat, we do a lot of repeats too; we make a batch of burgers, bake some chicken, cook up a pan of enchiladas, or jambalaya or stir up a large pot of different soups. I made a gorgeous pork tenderloin the other day, slathered in the roasted garlic mustard I made as Christmas gifts. It was lovely, but it was predictable, especially with the roasted potatoes on the side.

And in going out for a meal, I love to experiment, to try out restaurants especially that serve ethnic cuisine I don’t to make at home. I love Indian food, and often leave it to the experts to create. Thai food, Chinese and Mexican are other cuisines I love to sample from restaurants. Sometimes they’re predictable, but I try to choose menu items that are unfamiliar so that I can experiment with other flavors and the different aspects of the culture.

But then, there are those times when I just want something simple, something I know will deliver satisfaction and consistency, and stopping in Panera will give me just that.

It’s not fancy, or lavish. It’s comforting and simple. Anyone can go there, from a 2-year old to the elders in your family. The selections are easy and familiar. You can count on the soups being warm and soothing, with a nice chunk of bread to dunk in, with a wide variety of good sandwiches and salads to satisfy everyone’s tastes. Their line of artisan breads are crackly on the outside, soft on the inside, and if baked goods and coffee are your thing, Panera offers lots of rich decadent options along with plenty of chewy bagels, and a bottomless cup of java to help you through the morning. WiFi is also available, and the stores are comfortable, and usually quiet enough for a few hours of work.

Just recently on a chilly morning following church, Mike and I stopped in for some soup, and soon a bowl of their Creamy Tomato Soup was sitting in front of me, with a delicious Asiago cheese bagel on the side, to pull through the steaming bowl. The taste reminded me of being a kid, sitting at my Mom’s kitchen table with tomato soup and a grilled cheese, and I loved how it gave me that sense of comfort. There’s really nothing more to it than that; it’s predictable and widely available and always there, something you can count on.

DISCLAIMER:
 I was compensated for this post and my meal was complementary.
 All thoughts, opinions and feedback in this post are my own and were not
 influenced by Panera or their affiliates in any way.

love your lycopene

December 8th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

The primary reason for the type of cooking I do is my health. Our health. This has been at the front of my mind since Griffin began eating solid foods as a baby. Before he was even born I knew I wanted to be able to feed him in a healthy manner, with fresh scratch-made foods and a lot of variety. It felt at times like a monumental task, being entrusted to feeding. teaching and educating this blank palate he had, and giving him the tools to grow strong and vital from the inside out.

I made the majority of his baby foods from scratch, from the foods I was eating. Granted, this was only 15 years ago, but I came across an incredible amount of ignorance over it, people who told me he would suffer from malnutrition because of the foods I fed him. I was appalled at the ignorance. Here I was, cooking carrots, beans and squash, pureeing them smooth and using them for his meals and I was accused of not feeding him properly. What about that was wrong?

Now flash forward to the presence; this type of cooking for your baby is the gold standard. Scratch foods are the goal, and one’s health through the foods they eat is the #1 topic on most anyone’s mind. Obesity and diet related diseases are out of control. If ever there was a time to take control of one’s health by what we put in our mouths, now would be it. And so what moves through my kitchen has to pass a certain level of scrutiny; is it a whole food? without trans fats? no MSG? low in sodium? what are the health properties? and probably most importantly, how can I do all of this and maintain our food budget?

One aspect of cooking that I try to utilize as much as possible is to fill each meal with multiple items that all contribute to healthier eating. I use a lot of legumes when I can, fresh vegetables wherever possible and load up a pot of soup with everything imaginable.

This Hearty Minestrone is a perfect example of the type of soup we love in this house; rich and delicious, chock full of good things.

Canned tomato products make a regular appearance in my winter repertoire, my bubbling pots of chili, soups of all kinds, warming roasts and numerous pasta dishes. The presence of heart-healthy lycopene is very high in tomatoes, and has found to be much more readily absorbed from canned products than in fresh ones, and you know, finding a good tomato in Minnesota during the winter months is a laughable matter. Being able to pull out a can of tomato product to add the all-important element of health to our diet makes dinnertime a bit easier. On the plus side, using Hunts tomato products insures top quality standards, as the tomatoes are Flash steamed, preserving the full flavor of tomatoes for home use year round.

ConAgra Foods recently presented effective evidence for the benefits of lycopene in the American diet, stating that the health advantages of tomato products, in addition to the lycopene, include significant levels of Vitamin C, fiber and potassium, more than twice the potassium of notable sources such as bananas, potatoes or orange juice. In conjunction with research done at the University of California-Davis, participants in a six-week study who experience high blood pressure found a marked decrease in numbers when they consumed twice daily amounts of canned tomatoes. (Source: Tomatoes: The Everyday Superfood for Heart Health)

But back to that Minestrone, shall we?

Hearty Minestrone
Adapted from Tyler Florence, Real Kitchen cookbook

2 quarts chicken stock
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 # small rigatoni, or other hearty shape of pasta
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 fresh sage leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
3/4 pound loose Italian pork sausage (sweet, or hot- both work well)
3 medium carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes (I like to use the Hunts brand with basil added.)
1 bay leaf
1-2 15-oz cans cannelloni or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 10-oz package frozen green beans, preferable the steam-in-the-packet kind
1/2 bunch fresh parsley leaves, finely minced

-Combine the stock, crushed garlic, rosemary, sage and thyme in a big saucepan and simmer for about 15 minutes to give the stock a nice, garlicky herbed taste. Keep warm.
-Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the rigatoni.
-Pour 1/4 cup olive oil in a large stockpot. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with the side of a big spoon until well browned.
-Add the carrot, onion and celery to the saucepan and cook for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.
-Stir in the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, cannelloni beans, green beans and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally. The soup will develop more flavor the longer it simmers. Cook over a very low flame for up to two hours, or for as little as 30 minutes, depending on how much time you have. Remove the herb stems before serving.
-Cook the rigatoni according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
-To serve soup, place a small amount of cooked pasta in the bottom of a soup bowl and ladle the hot soup over the top. Sprinkle with the parsley, and shredded parmesan cheese, if desired.

KATE’S NOTES:
I like to keep the pasta separate from the actual soup when I make Minestrone due to the pasta’s amazing ability to absorb a phenomenal amount of liquid. It is, however, entirely up to you and I certainly can’t deny the added flavor of cooking the pasta in the incredibly flavorful broth that this recipe makes. For an extra delicious added flavor, top slices of good crusty bread with shredded parmesan cheese and broil until browned and toasty, then float them on the soup.

Disclaimer:
I was compensated financially for this post in cooperation with The Motherhood.com We Heart Tomatoes campaign, ConAgra Foods and Hunts Tomatoes. Sources included information supplied by ConAgra Foods. All other information in this post was my own opinion.

warming winter soup

December 1st, 2010 | 30 Comments »

It’s time, everyone. Time to roll back my sleeves, part the curtain and say ‘Ta-Da!!’ to the recipe created for the Marx Foods and Foodie Blogroll Iron Foodie Competition.

Iron Foodie 2010 | Here's Why that will be me:
MarxFoods.com -- Fine Bulk Foods The Foodie BlogRoll

It’s something wholly appropriate for winter, for soothing the soul and senses and for nourishing the body and boosting one’s resolve to face the chill of the day, the brisk wind at your back and whipping through your hair.

Within the bowl of steaming soup, of soothing soft noodles to slurp and crunchy sprouts, there’s a sense of calm that begins to spread over you with the very first mouthful. Outside lays the endless expanse of snow, as far as you can see and the memory of dragging a cartful of groceries through the parking lot, turning your back to the wind that cut through you with the precision of a laser…. it sticks in you like a bad dream almost. My coat gets stiff in the cold, and even though I may be warm inside, the crackle I hear when I move my arm sounds like the material could shatter at the slightest touch.

Winter just means soup, and this soup was a perfect tonic for that trip to the grocers, and really, for any nagging sense of imbalance that might cross your day.

The Iron Foodie Challenge was to utilize at least three ingredients from the Mystery Box sent to the contestants from Marx Foods. Everyone’s box contained Fennel Pollen, Smoked Sea Salt, Tellicherry Black Peppercorns, Bourbon Vanilla Beans, Maple Sugar, Dried Aji Panca Peppers, Dulse Seaweed, and Dried Wild Porcini Mushrooms. Our products were sample sizes only, so basically we had a pretty small window to work with. I knew I had to really think over my recipe before taking it to the kitchen because I couldn’t screw up. I had no back-ups.

Right away, I knew it would be a noodle soup. With the seaweed and porcini mushrooms, a big steaming bowl of noodle soup was a given. I love having one set down in front of me in a restaurant, the scent of rich broth reaching my nose, golden noodles, green herbs and lots of wonderful vegetables. I contemplated adding chicken to mine, but settled on tofu to use up a container in my refrigerator. The result was wonderful, and Mike and I sat down next to each other, forks in hand and happily slurped from the bowl, exclaiming over the subtle bursts of flavor.

Warming Winter Soup

From my kitchen:
One block extra firm tofu
4-oz soba noodles
1/2 c. fresh bean sprouts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

From Marx Foods:
Fennel Pollen
Dried Porcini Mushrooms
Dried Aji Panca Chilies
Dulse Seaweed
Smoked Sea Salt

Take the block of extra-firm tofu and slice through it the wide way into three equal portions. Place on several layers of paper towel and cover with several more paper towels. Place something heavy over the three portions and weigh it down to press the liquid out.

In a small bowl, measure 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of fennel pollen and 1/2 teaspoon of smoked sea salt. Whisk to incorporate and set aside to blend the flavors. Whisk occasionally to combine.

Bring a kettle of water to a rolling boil. Place dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Place dried peppers in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set both aside to soften.

In a medium saucepan, bring 1-1/2 quarts of good chicken stock to a boil. Add in 4 oz. of soba noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving the broth, and rinse noodles to stop cooking. Set aside. Place broth back in pan over a low flame. Place a length of paper towel or cheesecloth in a wire strainer and place over a measuring cup. Drain the porcini mushrooms through the paper lined strainer to remove and dirt or grit, reserving the mushroom broth in the cup. Add the mushrooms to the simmering broth. Check the mushroom stock for clarity, and add to pan with mushrooms.

When the chilies are soft and pliable, snip them with a scissors into the bowl of a food processor, and add several tablespoons of their soaking liquid. Process the peppers until they are well chopped, adding more soaking liquid if necessary. Strain the pepper mixture through a wire strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much chili puree as you can. Whisk 1-2 tablespoons of olive or sesame oil into the pepper puree.

Remove the tofu from the paper towels and brush with the fennel pollen/oil mixture, then heat a saute pan to nearly smoking. Carefully place tofu steaks in pan and sear for about 5-7 minutes or until nicely browned, then carefully turn over steaks and sear the other side for about 5 minutes. Place on fresh paper towel to drain and cool enough to cut into bite size pieces.

Place dulse seaweed in bottom of a deep soup bowl. Ladle the hot broth with mushrooms over the seaweed. Add the cooked soba noodles, cubed tofu, bean sprouts, cilantro and basil. Drizzle the soup with the chili puree and serve immediately. Season with more smoked sea salt, and pepper if desired.

turkey hangover, with extras

November 27th, 2010 | 5 Comments »

It happens, right? There’s so much turkey, and celebrating and eating, then more eating and more celebrating and having another piece of pie before we drag full tummies home and into bed, falling exhausted against the pillows.

Then we open the fridge to see all that leftover turkey. That is, if you’re lucky enough to be gifted with leftovers.

I always make more than I think I even need. I’m fine with leftovers, in fact, I love having to re-purpose my food into something else. And this year, with a huge ziploc bag of turkey, I am chomping at the bit to make some awesome meals in the next few days. So, what’s in your plan for that meat? The leftover gravy? The stuffing? Extra potatoes?

These are some ideas for that extra bounty from our holiday.

The simplest of all meals would be to combine turkey, and any leftover gravy that you have and serve it over bread. or leftover mashed potatoes. Or both. Talk about comfort food. This is one of Griffin’s most favorite meals to eat, and I’m sure if I suggest this to him, he will roll his eyes in pleasure, nodding emphatically for me to put it together.

A good frittata is perfect for using up leftovers, and if there are leftover mashed potatoes, you can whip up an interesting version of it by whisking the potatoes and eggs together. This will create a fluffier version of frittata, or make it into a scramble by adding chopped turkey and a little bit of cranberry relish if you have it. Cranberries in eggs is surprisingly good, but just a little as it can easily overpower all other flavors.

Leftover mashed potatoes can be made into Potato Cakes. This rich and comforting food is a rare indulgence in our house, but perfect for those potatoes. Form the mashed potatoes into a cake and dredge it in seasoned flour. Heat a skillet, and melt some butter then place the cake in the skillet and let it sit until the bottom is superbly browned and crispy. Carefully flip it over and do the same to the other side. Be patient and keep the heat moderate, as you will be amply rewarded with a crusty and hot little side for your breakfast.

Will you make soup? That’s pretty standard, especially if you have a turkey carcass to use. I love a good soup, and we eat soup in the wintertime every week. My friend Missy has a wonderful recipe for Creamy Turkey Wild Rice soup on her blog. The photos make my mouth water. That’s the kind of soup that will make an appearance in my kitchen too, as there’s nothing better for a cold night than a warm and creamy, comforting pot of soup. One year I discovered just how good leftover gravy was in making soup. I started a pot of vegetables sizzling before I realized that I was out of soup stock base. I did have gravy, leftover in the freezer so I pulled out the container and chopped out just enough pieces, adding it to the pot with water. It made for a perfect soup.

A quick meal to throw together with leftover turkey could be Turkey Quesadillas. We like to keep tortillas on hand, as well as cheese so that a quick meal can be put on the table when the creativity flow has been stymied. Heat your tortilla in a pan then top with shredded cheese and chopped turkey. If you enjoy them, you could add canned beans too, like pinto or black beans. Top with another tortilla, and cook, turning once until tortillas are crispy and browned. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

A good option for lunch would be a turkey salad. I love Curried Chicken Salad, and substituting turkey is perfect. The recipe I include below calls for dried cherries, but subbing either dried cranberries, or even a scoop of extra cranberry relish would make this really delicious. Bonus points for utilization!

Another favorite salad option, one that would be perfect for lunches at work is this Turkey and Dried Cherry Pasta Salad. Again, sub in dried cranberries, or the fresh relish for a unique taste. And another good salad option, making a hearty dish that’s perfect for a meal or as a side is this Turkey & Wild Rice Curry Salad from Brenda, of A Farm Girl’s Dabbles. I saw her recipe and just about started drooling. I love salads like that; there’s just so much going on in one bowl. It’s a party for anyone’s tastes buds.

And naturally, a turkey sandwich is standard. Jazz it up by spreading your bread with cranberry relish first for a nice twist.

Curry Cashew Chicken Salad
From The Curry Book by Nancie McDermott

2 cups cooked chicken
1/2 c. dried cherries, cranberries or raisins
1/2 c. chopped roasted salted cashews
2 green onions, finely chopped

Dressing:
1/2 c. mayo or preferred creamy spread
2 T. mango chutney or fruit spread of choice
2 t. curry powder
2 t. red wine vinegar
1/4 t. fresh ground pepper
1 t. dijon mustard

Combine chicken, fruit, nuts and onion in bowl. Separately, mix together dressing ingredients and stir until combined and creamy. Pour over salad and stir thoroughly to coat. Chill. Eat.

Turkey & Dried Cherry Pasta Salad

1# pasta of choice
2 c. cooked turkey, chopped
1 c. dried cherries (sub cranberries, or even raisins)
1/2 c. minced red onion
1/2 c. minced celery
1/2 c. chopped toasted almonds

Dressing:
1/4 c. powdered sugar
2 T. white vinegar
1-1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 T. cold water
2 T. poppyseeds
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine cooked pasta, turkey, dried fruit, onion, celery and almonds in a bowl. Whisk dressing ingredients together until smooth and pour over pasta mixture, tossing to coat. Serve topped with extra almonds, if desired.

kitchen insight, and 3-Bean Chili

November 9th, 2010 | 9 Comments »

Here’s the thing about the works going on in my kitchen; they aren’t perfect or always balanced although I do strive for the most nutritional value I can find. We don’t dine exquisitely, sampling wonderful fare every night. I don’t pore through cookbook after cookbook stuffing pages with notes, markings, tabs and ratings. Sometimes I don’t cook at all. Sometimes we graze. Sometimes I just look at my husband and ask him to go get us a pizza. Sometimes he does.

This is a Calzone stuffed with veggies and cheese and made with scratch dough. Mike did not bring this home.

I make burgers from scratch, and lots of soup. We do make our own pizza including dough for the crust, so those pizza seeking forays I send Mike on are fairly uncommon. We eat a lot of chicken, and we eat fish and pork. Beef is rare in our house but on occasion I will splurge on a good steak dinner for The Carnivore and I. I stock a good pantry with lots of canned goods like beans, tomatoes, tuna, salmon, rice and grains and other items that can help me to put a good meal together if I get stuck. I get stuck a lot. My husband loves vegetables and doesn’t care for much meat. My Teen loves meat. Every day. He eats vegetables but only grudgingly. Making these two happy isn’t always the easiest feat. But I do the majority of the cooking so I make what I want. If they don’t want to eat it, it’s not my problem. I’m no one’s short order cook. It works for us. I understand that it doesn’t work that way for everyone. But please don’t ask me what to do about your picky eater because I probably will tell you and you probably won’t like it.

That’s a Mediterranean Tuna Antipasto Salad. It was stellar.

Keeping a well-stocked kitchen, including pantry and freezer is vital to making dinnertime less of a hassle. Outside of a good stocked pantry, I keep my chest freezer full. I buy frozen vegetables like peas, green beans and corn (the only ones I think taste good from their frozen state). I keep lots of bread in the freezer, and hamburger buns, always stocking up when it’s on sale. I keep packages of frozen tilapia on hand. The brand I buy has individually wrapped filets in it that thaw quickly, making it a good option for last minute ideas. Like yesterday. At 4:00pm I had no clue what I was making for dinner. But by 5:30, we were eating Fish Tacos with rice and a Chipotle Corn Relish. And it all came out of the pantry or the freezer. On the plus side, I used up a few leftover items in the refrigerator from previous meals so there was utilization there as well. I’m not the type of cook that makes up two meals and freezes the second one, although sometimes I have. It’s nice when I do. I wish I was prone to do more of that.

This is version 1.0 of the Fish Taco. This is not last night’s Fish Taco,

I don’t write menu plans each week, opting instead to make a large list of foods that I wish to cook. These are ideas that are not regular occurrences in our kitchen, options that may require some ingredient to be on hand in order to make the dish. Like our favorite Healthy Sloppy Joes. Or Thai Thighs. Or Griffin’s favorite Indian Chicken, or the Jambalaya he loves. This list is where I try out new recipes and ideas. Some of them work. Some do not. If they’re wonderful and I think others would enjoy them too, then I will blog about them. I don’t blog about everything we eat or cook because that would be ridiculous. We have lots of repeats in our meals, and there are always food items on hand to make these repeats. The list is a guideline, and I shop from this list so I know what I can make based on what’s available.

That’s Roasted Rutabaga topped with Poached Eggs. Simple. Divine. Perfect.

And grocery shopping; we have a budget that we try to stick with. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. We don’t eat out much due to financial constraints. When we do eat out, I like it to be at places that make food I can’t make at home so often our choices for dining out run to ethnic restaurants. We don’t do fast food although Griffin will eat it. When I grocery shop I use a list 90% of the time and I stick to it, avoiding any aisles that I don’t need to wander down. I rarely buy on impulse although I will purchase items on sale if I find them and then I try to utilize them if they aren’t on my meal list. I look at grocery ads but I don’t use coupons because I rarely find any that are for foods we eat. If I see a good sale at the grocer, I will stock up. I will make a special trip for it too if it’s worth it. Boneless chicken breasts on sale 2-for-1 is worth a trip. Kleenex on sale is not.


Nutella Pound Cake anyone?

I bake too, although not as much as I wish because I think my thighs are already a bit too chunky. But I make muffins, scones, quick breads, cakes, cookies and all other manner of yummy sweet treats. Many of these are for special occasions, like the cakes. My favorite items to bake are the muffins and quick breads. Griffin is good at making cookies and enjoys it a lot.

And speaking of that boy, he’s really stepped up his game in the kitchen and lately has made us some incredible meals. His confidence is much, much better and his skill is increasing exponentially. I love it when he cooks. Love. It.

I have a cupboard of cookbooks and I love them all but I don’t utilize them as much as I should. I have some go-to books for everything and my most favorite one is the Cooks Illustrated Best New Recipe. It’s a freaking monster of a book but it’s loaded with CI’s anal and detail oriented works and I know that the recipes are fool-proof and perfect. I have books I use for adding healthier recipes to our diet; I have ones that steer me towards comfort foods that I crave on occasion and cookbooks that I turn to for fancier inspiration. I have a few reference books to help me with questions, like the Food Lovers Companion. I have a few books that help me figure out substitutions if I somehow run out of an ingredient. I have some ethnic cookbooks that make me sigh with delight. A great deal of the inspiration I find for our meals comes from my food magazines – I get Eating Well, Bon Appetit and Saveur – and of course, the amazing and varied talent of my fellow food blogging friends.

Like these ladies. Just a handful of the local crew- fom left to right: Kelli, Amanda, Shaina, Stephanie, me and Crystal.

The wealth of information about food and cooking is staggering out there, and there’s something for everyone. It’s both overwhelming, frustrating (because there is a lot of BAD stuff out there too, and plenty of misinformation) and yet it’s also wonderful, varied, engaging and encouraging. This post is just about what I do, and as I said, it doesn’t work for everyone but this is what works for us. Our kitchen is truly the hum that resonates throughout our entire home, and also out into the world via this blog.

And just for kicks, I’m passing along one of my favorite and quick pantry recipes for 3-Bean Chili.

I love this steaming and soothing pot of chili and it comes together so fast (well, if you have the items on hand) and yet it tastes like it simmered all day. Full of fresh peppers, along with three kinds of canned beans and a big can of tomatoes, it’s so satisfying and good for you. Skip the bacon if it isn’t your thing. We never use it in this recipe but I imagine it adds amazing flavor.

Quick Three Bean Chili

From Food and Wine magazine, April 2008

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 slices of bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 jalapeños, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chili powder
One 15-ounce can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
One 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Chopped cilantro and sour cream, for serving

In a medium soup pot, heat the oil until hot. Add the bacon, onion, jalapeños and garlic and cook over moderately high heat until the onion is softened and the bacon fat has been rendered, about 5 minutes. Add the chili powder and cook over moderate heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the beans, tomatoes and stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer the chili over moderately low heat until thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve with cilantro and sour cream.Kate’s Notes: I used a can of chili beans- pinto beans in chili spices, unrinsed! – in place of regular pinto beans; I had it on hand and it worked beautifully. I also reduced the chili powder to 2 tablespoons due to the presence of the chili spices in the beans.