Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Persimmon Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

'Tis the season everything is pumpkin flavored, even my favorite breakfast. I've been loving persimmons in my smoothies lately because of the texture and natural sweetness. Something about them just cried for pumpkin, so I went from there and came up with this winner.

Persimmon Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
Serves 2

1/2 cup plain kefir (or your favorite yogurt)
1/2 cup milk, or milk substitute (I use homemade unsweetened almond milk)
1 cup pumpkin purée
1 persimmon
1 banana
Juice of half a lemon
Small strip of lemon zest
Small hunk of fresh ginger
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp honey
1/2 cup – 1 cup of ice (depending on your blender and whether any of the fruit is frozen)

Blend it all together and you have sweet, tart, fresh pie in a glass! For breakfast!!!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Arugula Nectarine Salad

I've been feeling summery. Walking up and down Sacramento St. in sandals and skirt during today's sidewalk sale, enjoying live jazz music, a roving magician, and friendly purveyors of goods - all I could think about was a salad, but a special salad. I'd procured a beautiful, local finishing olive oil from March Pantry during today's festivities, and then picked up a bottle of chilled Grgich Fumé Blanc from Wine Impressions. I let these purchases inform my choices at the market. Some baby arugula - I knew just the dressing to make! - and a nectarine; even if they're not quite perfect, yet, my mood insisted. And I built from there.

Now I know plenty of anti-arugula naysayers, who claim the leaf is too bitter for a salad. To them I say two things: 1. BABY arugula, and 2. Dress it right. I used what I remembered from a Cook's Illustrated recipe for an arugula salad with oranges and radishes. It's a simple dressing with a lime juice base. The light tartness compliments the arugula to mask any bitterness. Pair that with the sweetness of nectarine and chevre, toasty pine nuts, and grassy olive oil - well, that's summer right there.

Arugula Nectarine Salad

Serves 2 as an entrée, 4 as a side salad. Multiplies well for a larger group.

4 cups baby arugula
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 Tbs pine nuts
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 small dollop dijon mustard
3T high quality extra virgin olive oil, separated
1 nectarine, sliced thin
2oz. chevre or other mild goat cheese
Cilantro (optional)

Toast coriander in a small, dry pan over medium high heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add to lime juice. Wipe out pan and return to heat. Toast pine nuts in pan for a couple minutes until golden brown, stirring often. Set aside. Into the lime juice and coriander, whisk dijon, salt, and fresh ground pepper to taste. Slowly add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, whisking constantly.* Toss arugula with the dressing and divide evenly between individual plates. Top each mound of greens with a portion of nectarine slices, toasted pine nuts, and dots of chevre. Sprinkle with coarsely ground sea salt and pepper. Finish with a drizzle of the remaining olive oil and a few ripped up cilantro leaves.

*For me, the beauty of this combination is the tartness of the lime juice. If someone is overly sensitive to sour flavors (like the husband man), try whisking in a bit of honey to taste before adding the olive oil.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Welcome Spring with Asparagus Soup

The first produce of Spring is here: asparagus! I whipped up a quick soup to savor its arrival using a Williams Sonoma recipe for inspiration, but making it my own, of course.

Asparagus Soup

Serves 2-3 as an entree, 4-6 as a starter.

1 Tbs olive oil
1 leek, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp paprika
2 bunches asparagus, tough ends snapped off, spears chopped
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth, separated
1/4 cup buttermilk (optional)
juice of half a lemon
fresh ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in pan over medium. Add leek and sauté a few minutes until soft. Add garlic and paprika and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add asparagus and half a cup of the broth. Cover and steam until asparagus is tender, about 8 minutes. Transfer contents of the pan and the remaining broth to blender. Blend on high until smooth. Transfer to a pot on the stove and heat over medium low until hot, without letting it come to a boil. Stir in buttermilk, if using. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Salt to taste, if needed. Top with black pepper, paprika, and a drizzle of high quality olive oil.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Creamless "Creamy" Soups

By now you've all read me go on and on (and on and on) about trying to make my favorite creamy soups and pastas without using cream, which gives me (and apparently more than half of the adult population) tummy yuckies. I usually use other forms of dairy with less lactose, like cream cheese or yogurt. But I recently discovered I could make the most common vegan form at home super easily using my beloved Blendtec: raw cashew cream. I have nothing against dairy, but this is such a nutritious and versatile substitution. It has protein, the same types of healthy oils as olive oil, less than half the fat and calories as heavy cream, and yet tastes and behaves JUST LIKE CREAM in recipes. I now always have baggies of cashew cream in my freezer for anytime I need it.

I'll share a delicious pasta sauce I've created using cashew cream soon (I'm packing for a move and my recipe is taped up in a box stacked somewhere). First I'll share how I've used cashew cream as a direct substitute in creamy soup recipes with excellent results. Earthy, velvety "cream" of mushroom:

And smooth, tart "creamy" tomato:

I swear you can't tell the difference!

Tonight I gave cashew cream a true test: reducing the calories in cheesy broccoli soup without reducing the flavor. This is a fun, easy one, that turned out surprisingly satisfying while saving over 200 calories (nearly cut in half!) and 25 grams of fat (19 of those saturated) per bowl. A warning for those avoiding cream for different reasons than me: this is NOT a dairy free, vegan recipe!

"Creamy" Broccoli Cheese Soup

Serves 4-6.

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 14oz packages frozen broccoli, thawed
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup cashew cream
1 cup 1% cottage cheese
1 1/2 cups 2% cheddar cheese, shredded

In a large, heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven sprayed with cooking spray, cook onion over medium-high heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add broccoli florets and chicken broth, cover, and simmer until broccoli is tender, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, puree cashew cream with cottage cheese and set aside. Once broccoli is tender, puree soup in two batches, return to pot, and whisk in cashew cream and cottage cheese mixture. Return to simmer, then slowly whisk in shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese. Season liberally with salt and pepper to taste. Optional: top with croutons or shredded Parmesan cheese.

Next, the ultimate test to see if cashew cream has really returned all my favorites to me: Clam Chowder. I hardly dare hope, yet I'm giddily optimistic!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lemongrass Coconut Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Here's an easy one. I took the America's Test Kitchen's method of braising sweet potatoes before mashing and replaced the cream, butter, and sugar with slightly sweet light coconut milk and aromatic lemongrass.

Lemongrass Coconut Mashed Sweet Potatoes

2lb sweet potatoes (2 large or 3 medium small), peeled, quarted lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 1/4in slices
1/2 cup light coconut milk
3 pieces dried lemongrass, smashed under flat end of knife, or 3in piece of fresh
1/2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in saucepan. Cover and simmer over low for 35-45 minutes until they fall apart when poked with a fork, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Remove and discard lemongrass pieces. Mash sweet potatoes in pan with potato masher, whip with hand or stand mixer, or use ricer or food mill. Serve hot.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

It's About Health, Not Religious Freedom

This post is quite the departure from how I usually use this blog, but this issue concerns me enough that I will use every outlet at my disposal to get my story out there, because my story is the story of many women. 

I know I have a lot of friends and family against mandated coverage of birth control & other issues surrounding women's health for moral/religious reasons. There are a lot of articles out there arguing both sides of the current political debate surrounding this issue, such as this one about Rick Santorum's stance. I know articles like this mostly only reach people who already agree with the side of the issue it argues. But this is so important, too important for us not to listen to each other. It's such a personal issue for me, and it is difficult to discuss publicly, but this debate is making something that should be personal very very public. In this political climate, it's important for women to share their personal stories to reframe the discussion. Please, even if you ignore every article out there, at least read my personal story to see why it's not an issue of sex or morality for me or my Republican, Catholic parents. This mostly food-related blog may not be the best forum to change people's minds, but the framing of this issue is hurting so many, and this is one way available to me to share my story. Feel free to pass it along. 

I, like many many women, have polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. Hormonal birth control has saved me from a lot of pain and many other medical problems including costly, invasive emergency surgeries (after having gone through one before being treated). It has since probably saved my ability to have children in the future, and may prevent my condition from causing cancer. It very literally may save my life. And even though sex & birth control had nothing to do with why they prescribed it to a 15-yr-old sexually inactive girl, my family's insurance did not cover my medicine because my very conservative, religious state didn't require them to. Luckily, my very Republican, CATHOLIC parents were willing to pay to protect my health and were financially able to. I would certainly not call my treatment cheap, or "a few dollars a month." But they never even considered it a moral issue, not for a moment, not even for the blink of an eye. Because of COURSE they would protect their daughter. 

Yet the same insurance in the same state covered Viagra. Which one is all about sex?* And even if it IS about just sex for some women who take it, one person has a different moral code and religion than another. It is their right to make those decisions, and hormonal birth control is valid preventative medicine in those cases. Let us choose what to do with our bodies, and you can choose what to do with yours. Viagra should be covered for sexual health, as should drugs for women's sexual health. Denying coverage changes neither behavior nor beliefs, and this argument should not be framed as such when people's health & lives are at stake. Everyone should of COURSE want to protect their daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, nieces, cousins, friends - ALL the women in their lives. That should be our moral obligation.

And remember, making it available does not force anyone to use birth control. If you are morally or religiously against birth control, don't use it. To the Catholic Church and other religions against birth control: You have the religious freedom to preach to your congregants not to use birth control. They have the religious freedom to follow your teachings and to not use it. Availability does nothing to alter teachings or beliefs. If someone doesn't believe in it, having hormonal birth control covered by their insurance is not going to change that. Not having it covered by insurance will not alter my or anyone else's opinion that it is okay to use, but it can seriously affect someone's health. This issue should not be framed as a religious freedom debate. This is about health. And that's how we should talk about it.

*Note: There are also non-sexual applications for Viagra, but I would like to see numbers comparing percentages of Viagra prescriptions used solely for sexual purposes vs. percentages of birth control prescriptions used solely for sexual purposes. Viagra is openly acknowledged to be used mostly to treat ED, even in prime time commercials - that's how comfortable society is with men's sexuality vs. women's. And women are prescribed Viagra for sexual function, too, but I wonder what attitudes would be toward it if it was used by mostly women. The current discussion frames women's sexuality as immoral and icky - to the point public figures are willing to risk our health to signal to voters their negative feelings toward it, and yet men's sexuality is freely acknowledged as acceptable and a RIGHT. Let's move on from letting sexism irrationally dictate our health care. Let's reframe this discussion. NOW.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Orange" Soup... *ahem* I mean, Tomato Soup

Recently I shared memories of lunches reading with my brother and mom while we ate soup. As soon as I got my Blendtec, I set about creating an adult version of the "white" soup, or Creamy Mushroom Soup, I favored those childhood afternoons. I figured I might as well delve into reverse engineering my mom & brother's favorite, too: "orange" soup, or Creamy Tomato.

This time I started simple, since that's what ended up working previously. You know what - simple was all I needed! In the Blendtec, this fresh soup is just about as easy as opening a can of Campbell's. Using a standard blender adds only minimal extra work.

Fresh & Easy Tomato Soup

Amounts for 1 serving. Multiply amounts by number of servings you'd like - it's best fresh, so try to avoid leftovers. Only blend as much as 2, MAYBE three servings at once, depending on the size of your blender carafe. Blend additional batches for more servings.

1 tsp. Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base dissolved into 1 cup hot water (or 1 cup of your favorite vegetable stock)
2 whole roma tomatoes, woody nub removed (for a standard blender, chop tomatoes)
Up to 1 tsp. agave nectar (depending on how sweet the tomatoes are - at the height of the summer tomato season, you won't need any sweetener)

Place all ingredients into blender and secure lid tightly. Select "Soup" option on the Blendtec to get hot, delicious soup straight from the blender. For a standard blender, puree until completely smooth, then transfer to microwave safe bowl or a pot on the stove to heat.

For a more complex flavor, try adding one or more of the following ingredients. Amounts given for one serving; multiply for additional servings.

3 leaves fresh basil
1 strip red bell pepper
Small wedge yellow or sweet onion
Small wedge avocado
1/2 inch cube of cheddar cheese (or equivalent of shredded for a standard blender)