Tag Archives: Real Food

Sorrel Soup

I’ve got four very vigorous sorrel plants in the garden. (I wanted to put a picture up, but at the moment I can’t find my battery charger.)They were green and beautiful all winter, and are now growing like weeds. Sorrel, for those of you unfamiliar, has a lemony flavor that ranges from mild in tender, young leaves to fairly pronounced in larger leaves.  The young leaves are great for salads, sandwiches, and appetizers (a chiffonade of young leaves on a toasted baguette, topped with goat cheese and mango or ham and melon is fantastic), while the older leaves are great in soups and casseroles.

The key to using older leaves is to pair them correctly. I find that  sorrel works very well when paired with either sweet foods like asparagus or red pepper, or creamy foods like cheese, cream, or almond or coconut milk.

Sorrel Soup Base

2-3 tsp. olive or coconut oil

1 large onion, peeled and diced

2-3 bulbs garlic, crushed and chopped

2-3 c. sorrel, washed and roughly chopped

4 cups stock*

1/2-1 cup cream, thick almond milk, or coconut milk

-salt and pepper

Directions: In stock pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cover to sweat (do not burn or crisp). Stir frequently. When onion is translucent, add sorrel and stock, reducing heat to simmer. Allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes, until sorrel is tender. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Remove from heat, puree with stick blender if desired, and stir in cream. Serve.

*You can use any kind of stock you want, depending on what you’ll be doing with the soup. If you use vegetable stock, make sure it isn’t at all bitter, or the soup will be unpleasant.

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For me, this is a base recipe, and while it’s yummy on it’s own, usually it’s just the beginning of something much more interesting!

Sorrel Chicken Soup

-Base recipe ingredients

2 carrots, diced

-1 large boiling potato, diced

-Use chicken stock

-2 c. cooked chicken, shredded or chunked

-Spices, as desired: Italian parsley, rosemary, salt, pepper, tarragon

Directions:  Sweat onions and garlic, as per base directions. Add carrots and potatoes and cook until they begin to soften, stirring occasionally. Add chicken (you can use raw chicken and add it after the carrots and potatoes, as well), sorrel, and stock. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Puree if desired. Stir in cream and serve.

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Tom Kah Gai (Thai Chili Coconut Soup)

Broth

-Base ingredients. minus cream

-1 tsp. palm sugar or sucanat (more to taste)

-1 can coconut milk

-Red peppers, seeded and chopped. (your favorite kind, number to suit spice preference)

-Chicken stock is preferable, but vegetable is fine

-Coriander, 1 tsp or 2 fresh roots, peeled

-1.5 inches galanga or ginger root, peeled

-1 tsp to 1 tbs. chili garlic paste

Additions

-1 lb.  raw chicken, chunked -or- 1 lb. extra firm tofu, pressed and chunked

-zest of two limes, or 4 keffir lime leaves if available

-1 lb. mixed mushrooms, chopped roughly

-About 2 tsp. fish sauce (to taste, you may need more or less. Start small and add)

Garnishes

-Cilantro or basil leaves

-lime juice

Directions: Sweat onions and garlic, and sweat. Add all broth ingredients and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain chunks out of broth, squeezing strained chunks gently to yield all juices, and return broth to heat. You can either mince the strained chunks and returned to soup, or throw away (I don’t put the red pepper back in, but do put the other stuff back–it’s not as pretty as without, but it’s really yummy).  Add the additions, return to simmer, and allow to cook until chicken is done. If using tofu, allow to cook for about 15 minutes.  Taste, and add more sugar, fish sauce, or chili garlic paste to taste. Garnish and serve.

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I also use the base to do Greek Lemon Chicken Rice Soup, Mexican Tortilla Soup, and Spring Vegetable Noodles soup, among others. I’d love to read what others do with their sorrel!

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Recipe Review: Chicken Curry with Spinach and Fenugreek

We joined Cook’s Illustrated online earlier this year, and have been dabbling with some recipes.  I’m always interested in International cuisine, of course, so I was pretty excited to see that they had a decent collection. Some of the recipes I want to try are waiting on ingredients I’m going to have to get from out of town, but this one uses things I commonly keep around.

*Note: I will not be copying the specific CI recipes here, both because I’m fairly sure it’s a breach of the CI user terms and because I like to support publications that do good recipes, which can only happen if people pay for them. Hopefully the reviews, and tips, tricks, and changes will help not only those people who use CI, but also others who might be using a similar recipe.

Let me start by saying I already make a darn good curry because I’ve been lucky enough to have amazing Indian cooks share their techniques and ingredient preferences with me.  So, this wasn’t about learning to make curry, but about making a different curry.

The first thing you always do before starting a recipe you’ve never made before is to read it all the way through. There were some things I noticed right off the bat that were a bit odd, most of which I’ll get to in a minute when I talk about how actually making the recipe came off.

But, the one I want to talk about now is the “mystery ingredient” that appears in the directions, but not in the ingredient list: yogurt. No where in the ingredient list does yogurt appear, but in the directions it says “Stir in garlic, ginger, chicken, ground spices, fenugreek, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and tomatoes or yogurt.”  Wait, what? Aside from being completely absent in the ingredient list, generally one doesn’t use yogurt as a substitute for tomatoes. While much Indian food does use yogurt, I decided to skip it this time around since it wasn’t in the ingredient list. If you decided to cook this, and use yogurt (whether in addition to or in place of tomatoes) please let me know how it goes.

Decision made, I assembled the rest of the ingredients:

Starting to assemble the ingredients.

The weird paste-like stuff you see in that plastic cup is puree’d garlic & ginger. I have to say, my Magic Bullet does this really well. The basic ingredients are spices, chicken, tomatoes, onions, garlic and ginger, jalapeno, spinach, and potatoes. I didn’t have access to any local spinach for this recipe, and the only way I could get organic at the store was frozen, which is what I used. Fresh would probably add a bit more flavor. I also used organic, free-range chicken, which I highly recommend when doing Indian food of any kind–it just takes flavor better.  The other thing you don’t see here is potatoes, because despite the recipes saying “get everything together before you start,” looking at the recipe it was obvious there would be about 45 minutes before the potatoes get added. Generally, it’s best not to cut potatoes this far from cooking, or to at least keep them in water until it’s time to add them.

One of the best ways to get that rich, aromatic taste of authentic Indian food is to roast the spices. The header blurb thing for this recipe talks a bit about that, so I was surprised to see that they added the spices along with wet ingredients and oil. I did it their way, and I have to admit I was a bit disappointed.  It certainly wasn’t bad, it was just lacked some depth. If I make this again, I’ll dry roast my spiced first before adding oil, onions, and the rest of the ingredients.

Everything else went together as per directions. The only change I made was to seed the jalapenos, which I shouldn’t have done. I was concerned the dish might be too hot (Thadd’s not as big a spicy food fan as I am), but it ended up lacking heat because of this. They did impart a nice flavor, though.

Simmering before adding the spinach or potatoes.

I thawed the spinach and squeezed out the excess water before adding it, and cut the potatoes shortly before they went in.

Excuse the blurry image. Between the steam and my weirdly-lighted kitchen, it was a difficult capture.

Finally, it was served over white (yes, white) rice. I wanted to do white basmati or jasmine, but this is what I had on hand.

The verdict was overall very positive. There were three of us at dinner, and we all enjoyed it. It didn’t suffer for a lack of yogurt, though I may add some at some point just for giggles.  There are some tweaks I would definitely make, however:

-Leave the seeds in the jalapeno.

-Roast the spices before adding other ingredients.

-Consider adding about half again as much spice. While good, it lacked a bit in the spice (not heat, which is different) department in all of our opinions.

If you try this recipe, let me know how it goes for you, and if you made any changes.


On the Menu: April 1-7th Edition

I don’t usually write on Sundays, and you won’t see this until tomorrow, but I had a few minutes and thought it would be a nice excuse to sit down. What a crazy, beautiful weekend! Wine tasting with friends yesterday, then today spent in the garden, making yogurt and chicken stock, and doing some spring cleaning. I’m whipped. I’m going to enjoy an apple, some amazing Herbs de Provence Chevre from Spring Mill Farm, some bread from Lorraine bakery, and a nice glass of wine from whichever local vineyard Thadd pulls out of the cupboard.

But first, I thought I’d share our menu for the week.

DINNERS:

Sunday (tonight): Sweet potato and black bean burritos. Local sweet potatoes with homemade re-fried black beans in a tortilla, topped with salsa and cheese. This dish is a favorite here.

Monday: Chicken curry with spinach and fenugreek, over brown basmati rice. Remember when I said I’d be trying new recipes? Well, this is one. I’ll be blogging it later this week.

Tuesday: Grilled butterflied chicken with roasted beets and potatoes, and sorrel soup. Thadd and I will be sharing the cooking, which is a bit unusual–typically Tuesdays are his night to cook; but, this change may be permanent since our schedules have both changed a bit this month. The chicken carcass will make stock for one of our soups next week, the roasted beets and potatoes are local, and the sorrel is from the garden. It’s lemony taste should make for a great soup that you’ll see here either late this week or early next.

Wednesday: Mushroom, pork, and vegetable kebabs. Spring is the time for local pork, and we’re going to grill these on Tuesday with the chicken (charcoal is expensive, so we don’t waste grill time).

Thursday: Tofu Thai peanut noodles. Thadd’s night to cook, and he’s in the mood for Thai.

Friday: Leftovers.

Saturday: Cannellini au Gratin, with fresh salad and bread. 

As I’ve said before, we love cannellini beans, and this is one of our all-time favorite ways to cook them (in fact, it’s just one of our favorite recipes, period). It’s hearty, filling, inexpensive, and very sophisticated. And goes great with either red or white wine (or, compromise, and get a dry rose’!).

What are you eating this week?


Egg-ucation: You Can’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover

The other day, I was in the small store where I pick up my eggs and the woman in front of me asked me if I preferred the  eggs I bought there (which are a variety of colors, including white) to the brown eggs I bought in the store. She went on to say she would only eat the brown eggs, not the white eggs, she got from Kroger because the white ones upset her stomach. Upon further discussion with her, it became clear that she thought there was some kind of difference internally because of the external shell color, which told me two things: 1) marketing works and 2) her stomach upset is likely totally psychosomatic.

Unfortunately, many people have been duped by marketers into thinking that brown eggs are somehow special.  Many of the “special” eggs at the grocery store are brown exactly for this reason, and it’s been a very effective ploy. So I thought it was worth some time to clear up some things about eggs.

1. Shell color is a function of chicken species, and indicates nothing about how a chicken was raised or the nutritional value.

The blue eggs seen here are likely from the breeds Ameraucana or Araucana. The tan ones may be from Andalusia or Australorp.

2. “Cage Free” eggs from most grocery stores are a waste of your money. The definition of “cage free” just means that the chickens aren’t raised in cages. In almost all commercial egg operations, they’re still de-beaked, never see the outdoors, eat exactly the same diet as birds in cages, and are still packed in tighter than sardines.

3. “Free Range” eggs from most grocery stores are just as big a waste of your money as “cage free,” and for the same reasons. Yes, that includes never seeing the outdoors.

4. You cannot tell if a chicken is free-range by it’s egg yolk color. There was a time, until fairly recently, that those of us advocating farm fresh, true free-range eggs pointed to the yolk color as an indicator. These yolks were made yellow by a the free-ranging diet that contained foods with a lot of pigment, which followed through to the egg yolks. Darker yellow also indicated fresher eggs. Unfortunately, commercial egg producers caught on, and many use either natural food dyes, like marigold petals, or unnatural food dyes to color the egg yolks.

5. Organic eggs receive no special treatment in the US. They are fed an organic diet, but currently studies don’t show a difference in nutritional value between organic commercial eggs and non-organic commercial eggs. I am not saying difference don’t exist, but thus far commercial eggs are commercial eggs as far as we can tell.

6. Studies show that eggs from hens raised on pasture have up to 4-6 times more vitamin D, 1/3 less cholesterol, twice as many Omega 3 fatty acids, 25% less saturated fat, more than triple the amount of beta carotene, and more vitamin A than conventional/commercial eggs. Typically, you must buy local eggs if you want pastured. It doesn’t matter what color they are.

There are probably two breeds of chickens eggs in this carton. These are less than a few days old, truly pastured, and come from my own county.

7. A “vegetarian” diet doesn’t make for better eggs. Chickens aren’t suppose to be vegetarians, they’re intended to eat bugs and worms, as well as plant matter. That is where many of the nutrients that make eggs desirable come from. The insinuation behind “vegetarian” diet is that the chickens aren’t getting “weird” things that might be hiding diseases or something (mad cow? TB? I have no idea). The reality if they’re not getting organic feed, they’re getting pesticide-laden grains and vegetable scraps. If it is organic feed, they’re still missing the ingredients needed to give them the nutrition that pastured eggs have.

Marketing affects so much of what we eat. It’s often difficult to separate fact from fiction, reality from fantasy. Companies make a lot of money on food, and will go to fairly great lengths to get you to buy something for a higher price. Don’t fall for it. There’s definitely a place to spend more money on some food items, but it’s often not where the food producers and retailers want you to think it is.  There’s no point in spending more money on something that’s exactly the same as something that is less expensive.

So the answer to the original questions of do I prefer farm-fresh, local  eggs to commercial brown eggs is yes, but it has nothing to do with shell color.


What I Eat–And Why, Feb. 20th

Today I’m going to do what I eat, as well as the “why” behind my decision to eat it. Everything we eat is a decision. Sometimes, I eat something just because it’s yummy and I love food, sometimes I eat it because I need something specific nutritionally, sometimes I choose not to eat something because I know it’s not great for me. Choices are important, and we make food choices all day every day.

Breakfast:

Farm fresh eggs with sautee’d kale, cherry tomatoes, green pepper, and nutritional yeast. WHY: I am still staying away from grains for breakfast except on weekends with Thadd, so eggs are a good choice. Mine are farm-fresh and pastured, so they have about a third less cholesterol and a quarter less saturated fat than store-bought, as well as a lot more Vitamin D, E, Omega fatty acids, and beta carotene. Eggs are also one of the most bio-available proteins, so are a good way to start the morning. The veggies add fiber, flavor, and a lot of other phytonutrients, as well. The nutritional yeast is for flavor and b vitamins.

Snacks: banana. Almond milk-banana-peanut butter shake.

Lunch:

(Excuse the bad picture, I was having camera issues.) Raw milk kefir.  Homemade ciabatta, turkey, and organic greens sandwich. Carrot and celery sticks.  The kefir is full of pro-biotics from the fermentation, as well as vitamin D, CLA, Omegas, and all the other great things from pastured milk. Thadd made homemade ciabatta last night, and I couldn’t just let it set there. It’s so yummy, with no preservatives; but, it’s still simple carbs. So, I made the decision to eat a half a bun instead of a whole one, filling it with low-preservative turkey and organic greens. The celery and carrots provided more fiber.

Dinner: Sauerkraut, smoked sausage, roasted potatoes. This is a late night for both Thadd and me, with both of us unable to eat dinner until almost 9PM, so it’s got to be something fast. We don’t use a ton of sausage in this, just enough for flavor. This batch of sauerkraut isn’t homemade, unfortunately. I need to make some more.


Eggplant Orecchiette Pasta with Cauliflower

I used to hate eggplant. When I was abut 11, dad had a heart attack and was told no more red meat; so, mom decided it was eggplant everything. After about a month, I couldn’t even look at an eggplant anymore, and frankly neither could anyone else in the house. She finally gave in and started making some other stuff, but it was a very long time before I willingly ate eggplant again.

What changed my mind? Babaganoush. I had no idea what this was when it was served to me in a Middle Eastern restaurant in Detroit, but I was immediately in love. When I read the menu and found out it was roasted eggplant, I resolved to give eggplant a second chance. I am so glad I did, because today it’s one of my favorite foods.

I like this sauce served on orcchiette pasta (and now, I don’t have a picture–I forgot to charge my camera battery), but you could serve it over anything. It would go great with spaghetti squash noodles, or in the summer with vegetable ribbons. The inspiration is from the latest Vegetarian Times, but I tweaked a good bit and turned it into a stuffing instead of a filling (though it’d be awesome as a filling, too).

Eggplant Sauce

1 eggplant, washed and diced

12 oz. canned tomatoes, drained and juice reserved

1 onion, diced

1/4 c. kalamata or other quality olives, pitted and diced

1/3 c. sundried tomatoes

2 tsp. capers

2 tsp. nutritional yeast

2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary

2 tsp. chopped fresh basil leaves

2 tsp chopped fresh mint (optional–this will be great in the summer)

1/4 – 1/3 cup cream

1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

Directions: Toss first 5 ingredients onto a baking sheet, and roast at 400 degrees, stirring occasionally, until brown and tender. Remove from oven, and put all remaining ingredients, while hot, into food processor or blender. Add reserved tomato juice. Blend until smooth (I left mine a bit chunky, because I like chunks). Serve immediately, or refrigerate for later use.

As a note, I think this is best fresh. It was good reheated, but better fresh.


Paula Deen Is Not the Problem

Why is everyone vilifying Paula Deen? Did I miss her announcement that she was supposed to be a pinnacle of health and wellness, and  that people should eat what she was cooking on her show if they wanted to improve their physical well-being? Because that’s really the only way this whole backlash over her recent announcement she has Type II diabetes makes any sense. It’s a cooking show, not a healthy lifestyle show. I don’t recall ever hearing this woman tout the health benefits of her cooking.

If anyone watched her show and seriously thought “Wow, she is the picture of fitness and health I aspire to,”  the very least of our problems is Paula herself.

Do I think it would have been great if she had, instead of becoming a spokeswoman for a diabetic medication, decided to change her diet and lifestyle and share that on her show? Sure, that would be great.  But, it’s not what she gets paid to do. It’s her personal life–she has no obligation to share what changes she is or is not making with the rest of the world. There is power in celebrity, but just because there is power, there is no obligation to expose your life for the “greater good.” We all have things we struggle with, and we certainly don’t all open each and every one of those personal things up to the rest of the world. Simply because she is a celebrity is no reason for us to expect her to do so, either.

Paual Deen is not a menace to society. She’s a woman who gets paid to cook interesting things on television, end of story. The problem is that people are sitting on their arses watching that much TV in the first place, that our nutrition education is horrible, that we feed our kids appallingly bad foods that set them up for obesity and type 2 diabetes, and that our food system is so broken it’s hard to know where to begin fixing it. These things are menaces to society. That our nutrition education system is so poor that someone would watch a cooking show hosted by a clearly-overweight woman using ingredients that are often very unhealthy and think “Gee, I bet that’s good for me,” is a menace to society.

If one cooking show host is more powerful than our nutrition message in this country, then it’s not the show host that is the problem, folks.

Turn off the TV, go to the gym, and the come home and cook a healthy dinner. Then, volunteer at a school garden, help your elderly neighbors cook a meal, ask your sister to go for a walk, write your representative about GMO/GE labeling, plant a garden, Occupy Monsanto. Do something, for heaven’s sake, to counteract this woman’s influence, if you really think she’s that big of a problem.  See, Paula Deen crisis averted.