Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Curried Ginger Black Bean Soup

We eat a lot of soup during the winter months and I often just wing it with the vegetables I have on hand. Lately, I've been seasoning my soups with curry and ginger. It gives the soup a nice kick, and wakes up the taste buds as we near the end of the season for root vegetables and hard squashes. And the best part is that you can throw this together in no time. Get creative and try it with squash, or whatever veggies you have on hand. Soup is meant to be a creative endeavor, so don't hold back. 

Curried Ginger Black Bean Soup
3 cups of cooked black beans
1 cup of greens beans (cut into 1" pieces)
2 carrots (peeled and diced)
2 large stalks of celery (trimmed and diced)
4 sweet potatoes (peeled and diced)
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock (I like Pacific brand, or of course homemade if available)
1/2 of a large sweet white onion (diced)
1/2 cup salsa (I used Trader Joe's Organic Tomatillo Roasted Yellow Chili Salsa)
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon chili powder
Victoria's Taylor's Toasted Sesame Ginger Seasoning
Olive oil

Place the diced sweet potato on a sheet pan and drizzle with enough olive oil to lightly coat the potatoes. Sprinkle with a few healthy pinches of the sesame ginger seasoning. Roast in a 400 degree oven until browned and tender (about 25 minutes). Remove from the oven and set aside.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to your stockpot. Saute the onion until it just starts to brown. Add the carrots, celery, curry, ginger and chili powder. Saute for another 10 minutes. Add the green beans, black beans and stock. Simmer for 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Add the salsa and roasted sweet potatoes and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with your favorite corn chips on the side.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Chewy Puffed Rice Bars

I hate to waste anything and I'm sure that trait stems from my peasant roots. When my Ukrainian great-grandmother peeled a potato the skins were almost transparent. She knew what it was like to go hungry, so she wasted nothing. I often think about Nanny when I'm ringing up my groceries and wonder what she would say if she could see the prices today. She'd probably shake her head and respond in her broken English, "Oy, yoy, yoy", and perhaps she'd shave those potato skins just a little bit thinner. So, when I found an untouched bag of Nature's Path Rice Puffs cereal in the pantry I figured it was time to put it to good use, and try my hand at a healthier version of the rice crispy treat.


Chewy Puffed Rice Bars
85 grams/5cup of puffed rice cereal
114 grams/1 cup toasted slivered almonds
116 grams/3/4 cup unsalted raw sunflower seeds
90 grams/1 cup toasted coconut and sesame seeds
166 grams/1 cup brown rice syrup
126 grams/1 cup almond butter
65 grams/1/4 cup maple syrup

Toast the almonds in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside. Combine the sesame seeds and unsweetened coconut and bake on a sheet pan until golden brown. You'll need to toss this mixture a few times while it's baking so it browns evenly. Set aside enough (1/4 cup) to sprinkle on the bottom of your pan and on the top of the bars.  Note: I make a larger quantity of this condiment to have on hand for sprinkling over granola or oatmeal. It's delicious and good for you!

Add the puffed rice, sunflower seeds, coconut and sesame seed combo to a large mixing bowl. Set aside. Add the almond butter, brown rice and maple syrups to a sauce pan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it's well combined and smooth. Pour this over the dry ingredients, mixing with a rubber spatula or your hands, until it's evenly distributed.

Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch (about 25 x 32 cm) pan and sprinkle 1/2 of the reserved coconut and sesame seed combination across the bottom of the pan.

Press the puffed rice mixture into the pan and pat it down firmly with a spatula until you have a nice even top. 

Sprinkle the remaining coconut and sesame seeds across the top. Allow it set up for about an hour in the refrigerator. Run a spatula around the edges and turn it out onto a cutting board. Cut into bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They're chewy and just sweet enough to satisfy a craving, without giving you that sugar high you get from most store bought bars. Ally wants to add dried cranberries to the next batch which sounds like a good idea to me. The kids seem to love them, they're healthier and less expensive to make, and Nanny would approve so that makes me happy. Note: You can substitute granola in place of the puffed rice.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cooking for the Family

I'm heading off tomorrow for a week-long business trip. When I'm away for this long I try to set aside some time to cook for the family before I leave. While there have been times that I've left them to fend for themselves, most of the time I stock up the fridge with a soup, a sauce and possibly something sweet to tide them over. 

With these staples on hand all you need is some rice or pasta, or a green salad, and you've got a meal. I cooked the lentils separately so they can sprinkle them on a salad, or add them to the soup. You could even mix a little of the meat sauce with the soup.  Kind of mix and match meals.

Curried Vegetable Soup
2 leeks (washed and thinly sliced)
3 carrots (peeled and sliced)
3 stalks of celery
1 small butternut squash (diced into 1/2 pieces)
12 oz chopped tomatoes (I like fresh, but you can use canned)
1 yellow squash (quartered then cut into 1/2 pieces)
2 zucchini (same as above)
2 teaspoons yellow curry
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes
3-4 leaves of chopped kale or collard greens
1 quart vegetable stock (I like Pacific brand)
2 cups of water
Salt and pepper, to taste

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to your stock pot. Saute the leeks until they just start to brown. Add the carrots, butternut squash, celery, and spices. Saute for another 15 minutes. Add the stock, water, tomatoes, yellow and zucchini squashes and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the butternut squash is tender. Add the chopped greens and salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer for 5 more minutes.  If your soup is too thick just add a little bit more water. You can serve it with a dollop of plain yogurt, or a sprinkle of crumbled goat cheese.

Quick Meat Sauce
1/2 large sweet white onion (cut into crescents, or diced)
1 lb of ground beef (organic is best)
12 oz of chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 tsp dried cumin
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried pepper flakes
Pecorino Romano
Salt and pepper, to taste.

Saute the onions until they just start to brown. Add the ground beef and cook slowly over medium to low heat. Add the spices and tomatoes,  cover the pan, and make sure it's gently simmering. Cook for 1.5 hours.  This simple sauce is always a big hit with my daughter and her friends. I always serve it with Pecorino Romano cheese, which I think is the secret ingredient because I gave the recipe to a friend and when she made it her daughter said, "This doesn't taste like Laurie's." She followed the recipe, but opted for the Kraft cheese in the green container which she said in hindsight was a mistake. Yep, that seems to be the secret ingredient.

I did make a little something sweet and that's coming in the next post.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Winter Solitude at Versailles

Traveling to a popular tourist destination like Versailles during the winter months has a certain appeal. It allows you to enjoy its grandeur at a much more leisurely pace, and you can shoot serene photographs that magically seem to have just the right number of people in them. I like the stark beauty of the bare deciduous trees and empty flower beds during their months of hibernation.

The winter landscape provides a quieter backdrop for the artifacts that grace the grounds.

While I imagine the gardens of summer are glorious, I was taken with the architectural precision of the landscape which is laid bare at this time of year.

There's little that distracts you from admiring and appreciating the attention to detail that goes into the clipping and trimming of every tree, shrub or flower bed.

Or the quiet moments that visitors are able to enjoy during a February afternoon.

As we made our way to the Grand Trianon, a smaller palace on the grounds, the sun began to peek through the clouds.  As the light changed, and I felt the warmth of the winter sun on my face,  I imagined  how nice it might be to come back for a summer picnic...

...but we wouldn't have the place all to ourselves. C'est la vie.