Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dish of the Day: Carrot Soup

Whenever I've eaten too much and need to feel clean inside again I make homemade soup. It's so easy to buy prepared soups nowadays that taste like homemade but a glance at the label tells you that they are, in fact, a processed food with lots of ingredients you don't really want or need. Like MSG, too much sodium, starches and bad oils. You don't need to slave over the stove to make a healthy homemade soup; making soup from scratch is often quick, easy and delicious.

Today I made some carrot soup which isn't especially cleansing, as a light brothy soup would be, but I was in the mood for some thick, orangey goodness. This is a very rough recipe as soups should be customised to your own preferences for seasonings and thickness.

- dice a small onion (or a half a large one) and put in a heavy pot with 2 Tbsp olive oil on medium heat; stir frequently
- take 4 or 5 large carrots and roughly chop; add them to pan once onions are transparent, about 5 min
- now add all your spices and ensure they and the carrots all get coated in the oil
** I used 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp turmeric for colour and health properties, a pinch of salt and a shake of pepper
** you could try dried parsley, tarragon, thyme, sage, a bay leaf
- continue to saute spices for 2 minutes tobring out their flavour and then add enough boiling water to completely cover the vegetables; about 3-4 cups
- after about 20 minutes of simmering, your carrots should be cooked though
- cool for about 10 minutes before putting in the blender (or it will explode)
- if using an immersion blender, simply puree at your own pace
- soup should be thick, and this allows you to add additional liquids now for taste
- add in 1/4 cup orange juice, and 1/2 bouillon cube (veggie or chicken) now if desired
** I confess that at this point I also added in 1/4 cup of cream for added mouth-feel
- bring the soup up to simmer again on the stove and then it's ready to eat!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dish of the Day: Gingerbread House

Are you house-proud? I'm not sure I am. This house took a lot of work and if we had the time we'd be doing a lot more renovations. However, time is short, and we don't want the property to get stale. We had fun making this little cottagey home and it has given us some happy family memories. Of course, without enough bedrooms for the 4 of us, it's going to be a short-term arrangement. We're going to have to eat the losses on this one. But not 'til after Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Day After Winter Solstice

What a beautiful day this is! We have been snowed upon, here in Vancouver, for the past 36 hours and yet the sun came out today - on this very first day of longer days - to remind us that winter will not last forever. Thank goodness.

While you may not think that the sun has much to do with a food blog, let's not forget that without the sun we'd be completely lost. Sun makes plants grow, which we and animals eat, and bees buzz and oh don't get me started. As you can see from this photo, It's simply a gorgeous to day to be living in Vancouver and I'm so thankful to welcome back the sun.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shortbread Recipe

I love Christmastime so much! It means I get to bake and eat all the cookies. This is a slightly modified Martha Shortbread shortbread recipe that incorporates some whole grain flours. At Christmas time I always make sure to eat lots of greens and healthy protein sources, so that I can pig out on cookies and not skew my diet too badly towards empty carbohydrates. Spelt flour is a great option for baking: it's usually ground quite fine and has a higher protein content.

- Preheat oven to 350F and take out 1 cup of butter from the fridge to bring it up to room temperature
- When softened, beat butter with 1/2 cup sugar (I use Rapadura, but you could use white)
- Add to this either 3 1/2 cups of white flour, or I use 1 cup white flour, 1 3/4 cup spelt flour and 3/4 cup quick cook oats (not instant). If using unsalted butter, add 1 tsp salt to the flour mixture
- You will now have a crumbly, sandy mixture which you need to be sure is fairly homogenous. These needs to be pressed into a 9" glass pie pan that has been buttered well. You can also put a circle of parchment in the bottom of the pan to ensure the bread doesn't stick. You can also bake in a square cake pan, similarly prepared if you prefer your shortbread to be cut into squares.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven to score the top into triangular wedges. Put back in for 10 more minutes.
- The bread is done when golden brown around the edges. Don't let it get too brown.
- Cool for 15 minutes then cut into wedges or squares.

Yummy substitutions:
- Add 1 Tbsp maple syrup and 1 Tbsp less sugar to butter mixture
- Brown sugar
- Add 1 tsp of cardamom to flour mixture
- Add 1 tsp almond extract and press almonds into top of bread before baking

Be warned - you may want to eat this all at once so be sure you have promised some to friends in advance.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dish of the Day: Miso-based Soups

Brrrr!!!! It is unseasonably frigid here and that calls for warm hearty soups. Lazy chefs celebrate miso paste for its ease of use and delicious flavour. Miso is a Japanese fermented food and is usually made by fermenting rice and soybeans. It's important to not destroy the natural enzymes and bacteria by boiling the miso paste and this is why a tablespoon of the paste must be added to a large serving bowl of whatever broth you choose. You don't put miso in a pot and boil it or you will kill off the beneficial bacteria that are a part of the fermentation process.

Miso soup base is a great foundation for a quick and healthy soup that can include tofu, egg or fish, noodles or rice and a large variety of vegetables. You can put whatever is in your fridge into your miso soup.

The miso paste I'm using currently is brown rice and soybeans. I added 1 large Tbsp to a bowl of the water in which I boiled my kale. This was before I discovered there was a worm in the water as well, so I had extra protein in my soup :0(
I then added a soft-boiled egg, some soft tofu, a large pile of chopped, boiled kale and some spicy bamboo shoots.
Some other good miso soup combos are:
- salmon and kale/bok choy with a teaspoon each of soy sauce and maple syrup
- ramen noodles, chicken and broccoli
- tofu, baby corn, green onions
- egg, bean sprouts and sliced, boiled cabbage

For added flavour you can also add gomasio and soya or tamari sauce. However, almost all miso pastes are quite salty so watch it when adding any additional salty items.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making Store-Bought Soup Baby-Friendly

In the winter I used to make a lot of soup but now that I have 2 small mouths to feed (one of which is very picky) I will often buy soups in a box. Or Amy's canned soups. As I've discussed before, many soups are very high in sodium. This is a real problem because our collective taste buds are being trained to equate salty with flavourful. There are a number of ways to cut back on the sodium: watering down the soups, cooking them with slices of potato which will absorb the salt, adding in extra vegetables. But when the baby and I are sharing a bowl for lunch, I find the quickest way of cutting the sodium is to add plain yogurt. The soup becomes creamier and less salty all at once. Those who know me know that I abhor low-fat anything, so I am talking about regular plain yogurt, at leas 3%, but 5% and up is even better.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dish of the Day: Potato Cauliflower Mash

Tonight I was planning on making baked salmon, mashed potatoes and cauliflower with butter for some of us, and with dip for the Picky Eater. Out of a desire to keep dirty pots to a minimum, I decided to boil the cauli with the potatoes, just putting it in 7 minutes behind the taters. When it was time to drain the vegetables and do different things with each of them I thought "what the heck, let's mash it all together!"

So our mash was made with:
- boiled Yukon Gold potatoes with a few skins left in
- half a head from a large cauliflower
- 2 large cloves garlic boiled with the veggies
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup or more of the potato water (reserved)

I whipped it up with the hand-held mixer and left things a bit chunky. It called out for fresh chives, parsley or basil but with none in the kitchen I settled on ground pepper.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Dish of the Day: Chickpea Salad

I had some friends over for dinner last night, with only 1 day's notice, so I needed to throw a meal together quickly. I also wanted to avoid a trip to the grocery store where I would undoubtedly spend too much money. We had fish and rice, but what to do about the veggies? I had almost a whole English cucumber, some grape tomatoes left over and a can of chick peas. Sounds like a salad to me!

I washed the chick peas and took off their shells in a big steel bowl. Did you know that chick peas have a skin covering them that makes them harder to digest? I have trouble with too much fibre and so I take these off even though it's a bit of a pain. In a large salad bowl I put 1 Tbsp dijon mustard, 2 Tbsps white vinegar and 2 Tbsps of a strong olive oil. Whisked with a fork and there was my salad dressing. I chopped the tomatoes, diced the cuke and then added the chick peas.

This was made the night before so the salad ingredients could really soak up the flavours of the dressing, and so I had less to do the night of the party.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dish of the Day: Spiced Roasted Cauliflower

Another dish that's a timesaver, this cauliflower requires very little prep and gets baked in the oven.

You'll need:
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 1 large shallot or a small sweet onion
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 2 TBsp honey
- 1 tsp each nutmeg and cumin seeds
- sprinkle of salt

Set the oven to 375F. Take a whole head of cauliflower, wash it and remove the stem. Roughly chop shallot. Then place florets and shallot in a baking pan and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle on nutmeg and add in cumin seeds (or ground cumin if that's all you can get your hands on). Sprinkle on salt and place in oven for 20 minutes or until florets are tender.

Remove pan from oven and add in raisins and honey. Mix together so that raisins a

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dish of the Day: Fresh Papaya

What's better than a fully-ripe exotic fruit? Not much. I've been able to find some very fresh organic papayas recently in a few places. Not very locavorous of me I know, but I blame it on the Bug, and my search for healthy foods for her that she can eat with minimal supervision and not choke. Papaya is one of those soft fruits that are simply packed with vitamins and minerals and she loves it. Me too!

When the Bug's daddy and I went to the Cook Islands on our honeymoon we tasted papaya (pau-pau) that was freshly picked each morning. It made us realise how much is lost when exotic fruits are shipped over to North America. And naturally, it demonstrates the benefits of eating fresh, local food, like our own summer peaches. But when you can get your hands of a little piece of tropical heaven: a Hawaiian pineapple, for example, or a mango from the Philippines, it's a wonderful treat. Like a mini vacation in your mouth. The Bug sure agrees.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dish of the Day: Spinach Lasagna

I used to think that lasagna was too rich and too much work for me, but I just saw a few examples of quick methods on the old boob tube recently. That expression doesn't really work anymore does it?

Anyway, I bought some Primo whole-grain oven-ready lasagne noodles and a package of baby spinach and some mozzarella and figured I was ready to go. NOTE: Even for a small pan of lasagna you need more than one bag of spinach, and this became apparent early on. Fortunately I had a bag of Stahlbush chopped spinach in the freezer which saved the day. I was also keen to make the lasagna tasty, but to avoid using heavy cream or loads of cheese, as is the convention. A roux was the solution for making a creamy, yet not overly heavy sauce. Here's what I used to make my healthier spinach lasagna:

- box of lasagna pasta
- 2 bags of spinach
- milk, flour, butter to make a roux
- 1/2 pound (225 gm) mozzarella
- 1 tablespoon pesto
- 1 handful parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper to taste

While I wilted/boiled the spinach (1 -2 minutes for fresh, 3 minutes for frozen) I made 1 cup of roux and dammit, I just now realised it would have been a lot better with some white wine added in). Then I drained the spinach and added the spinach to the roux saucepan and removed it from the heat. Some of the spinach water went in too, and this is okay because with the oven-ready noodles you don't want things to be too dry. I placed a saucy spinach layer in the bottom of a greased 8" x 8" square glass pan, then sprinkled on all the mozza cheese. Then added a layer of noodles, then the other half of the spinach and then noodles directly on top. Then I added the parmesan cheese and covered the pan with foil, so it would all melt but not burn and to keep the moisture in.

Baked for 35 minutes at 400F and then 5-7 more minutes with the foil cover removed to all the top to brown slightly. You don't want to brown this too much unless you have really layered on the cheese because the oven-ready noodles tend towards the dry side. Voila! Quick, easy, healthy dinner.