Monday, December 21, 2015

A Soup to end the Year

As the year comes to a close, I leave you with a recipe that I’ve made several times in the last few months because it’s been so darn good each and every time. Plus, it’s easy and doesn’t take long to make. What could be better?

The craziness of the last few weeks of parties and shopping is about to wind down, and this soup might just be the ticket this weekend to recovering from the excesses of holidays past. I hope you consider making it.

May I present: Mushroom Soup. 

Earthy, hearty, a meal in itself. If you need more than just soup to satisfy, serve with a salad of mixed greens dressed with a vinaigrette, and perhaps a slice of some nice crusty bread or some crackers and cheese (I’m thinking a creamy Brie or nutty Fontina). 

A wine to accompany this soup should be something equally hearty, that can stand up to it. Something red - perhaps a California Zinfandel, a French Côtes du Rhône Villages (my favorite), an Italian Barolo, or medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Mushroom Soup

Serves 6

1 oz. dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms or a wild mushroom blend*
3 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, chopped (omit if following a low FODMAP diet)
3/4 lb. fresh mushrooms, stems chopped, caps sliced
5 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 Tbsp red wine or brandy
3 Tbsp flour (if gluten free, use rice or tapioca flour)
5 cups broth (beef broth or mushroom broth are best for flavor)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup whipping cream (I use lactose-free sour cream)

Place dried mushrooms in a large bowl and pour enough hot water over them to cover. Let stand 30 minutes. Drain well. Cut off stems and discard. Thinly slice and set aside.

Melt butter in a heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, regular mushrooms and garlic. Saute until onion is golden, about 10 minutes. Add brandy/wine, stir until all liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Add flour, stir 2 minutes. Gradually stir in broth, add nutmeg. Cover, simmer until soup is slightly thickened, about 25 minutes.

Add shiitakes/porcinis to soup and simmer until slightly wilted, about 5 minutes. Add cream and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  Puree with an immersion blender or place soup in a regular blender and whirl until smooth.

Taste soup before serving. If you find you want more “umami” flavor, add a little shot of soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. These flavors add a bit of punch to the soup, giving it a more balanced flavor. But, if you like the soup the way it is, by all means leave it be.

*If you have trouble finding dried wild mushrooms, you can use a few fresh Portobello mushrooms instead. For deeper flavor, you could roast them in the oven a little first. (Of course, if you use fresh Portobellos, then you can skip the part about soaking the dried ones). But do try to get your hands on some porcinis. They are magnificent. 

I hope you enjoy the soup. Do let me know if you end up making it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Balls of Carob

I used to really love sweets. But as I read more and more how toxic sugar is to us, my body just started wanting less and less of it.

That said, every once in a while, I do want just a little bite of something, just a bite! For a long time now, when the craving hits, I'd get my sweets and fair trade organic dark chocolate from the health food store.

But I am usually disappointed with much of what’s on the market, even at the health food store. Everything still has so much sugar (in one form or another) in it!

As usual, I wondered if I couldn’t concoct something healthier for myself at home.

I wanted something made with whole foods, nothing processed. I wanted healthy sweet things, like fruits, in there. I remembered that I hadn’t eaten carob in a long time. I headed to the health food store and started shopping. I got myself carob, dried plums and apricots, unsweetened shredded coconut, and some raw sunflower seeds.

I thought to add some other things I already had in the pantry, like raisins, dried cranberries, walnuts and honey and decided to mash it all together and roll it into a ball. A healthy “truffle” of sorts.

Now, I don’t list exact quantities because it’s really not that important. Just throw in what you think will work. It’s not an exact science.

Here’s what I did. 

Carob Balls


6-7 dried Plums (prunes): 3 soaked overnight in water and 3-4 regular dried (see note below)*
6-7 dried Apricots - same as above
A Tbsp or 2 Carob Powder
About a Tbsp or two of Honey or Maple Syrup
A good handful of Nuts (whatever you’ve got) - walnuts, pecans, almonds
A Tbsp. of raw Sunflower Seeds
A Tbsp or 2 dried Cranberries or a combination of those and Raisins
A Tbsp or 2 unsweetened dried shredded Coconut (optional)


Get out your food processor and fit it with the chopping blade.
Add the prunes and apricots and pulse until you’ve mashed them down.
Add the carob powder and pulse.
Add the sweetener (honey or maple syrup)
Then add the nuts and seeds and pulse again, but not too finely. You still want a little chunk.

If the mass seems wet, add a little coconut. Pulse until just blended.

Take the blade out of food processor bowl and add the dried cranberries. Give it a good stir. Form into balls like in the photo and roll in a little coconut.

Place balls on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and place in the refrigerator until solid.

*NOTE: I’ve made this twice. The first time I used regular dried prunes and apricots but found the balls a little dry. The second time, I soaked the prunes and apricots in water overnight but then found the balls didn’t stick together well. Next time I do this, I’m going to do 50/50. I suggest you start with this and then experiment to your liking.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Carrot and Coriander Soup

At last, the weather is cooling off a bit in the evenings (even though we are still in the 70’s during the day). Close enough - it’s “soup weather” as far as I’m concerned. Anything below 60 and I’m there. Time to start firing up the soup pot!

In my last post I mentioned a soup I had made the same evening as the Thai curry. It was very tasty and it works nicely served before Thai or perhaps Indian dishes, but this soup could really be eaten with just about anything. It’s pretty versatile.

The orange from the carrots makes it visually interesting and the addition of coriander, not just the ground spice but the fresh variety called cilantro, make for a nice combination of sweet and savory, one of my favorite.

Carrot and Coriander Soup

Serves 4-6.

1 lb. carrots, preferably young and tender
1 Tbsp coconut oil
3 Tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, sliced, plus 2-3 pale leafy celery tops
2 small potatoes, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
2-3 tsp. ground coriander
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup milk (I used unsweetened coconut milk)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Trim the carrots, peel if necessary and cut into chunks. Heat oil together with 2 Tbsp of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and fry the onion over low heat for 3-4 min. until slightly softened but not browned.

Cut the celery stalk into slices. Add the celery and potato to the onion in the pan, cook for a few minutes and add the carrots. Fry over low heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, and then cover. Reduce heat even further and sweat for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally so the vegetables do not stick to the bottom.

Add the stock, bring to a boil and then partially cover and simmer for about 8-10 minutes until the carrots and potatoes are tender.

Remove 6-8 tiny celery leaves for garnish and finely chop the rest (about 1 Tbsp. once chopped). Melt the remaining butter in a small saucepan and fry the coriander for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, add the chopped celery tops and fresh cilantro and fry for about a minute. Set aside.

Process the soup in either a food processor or blender, or use an immersion blender right in your saucepan, until the soup is smooth. Stir in the milk, coriander mixture and seasoning. Heat gently, taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve garnished with the reserved celery leaves.

For a bit of extra zing, add a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice just before serving.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Thai Tofu Curry

Hi there. Miss me? 

I’m sorry. A lot has happened in the last few months. I started a new job in August (there’s so much to learn); my dog became sick and I had to put her to sleep; I came down with a case of digestive un-wellness that was the worst I have experienced to date; and in between all that I had family visiting for 5 weeks. 

I hope you was the last thing on my mind.

But I have been feeling better this week and I’ve regained a bit of my appetite. For weeks though I was eating minuscule portions and sometimes nothing at all. Sometimes just some bone broth or fresh pressed juice. But when I was ready for some food again, I craved something NOT bland for a change, something with some flavor, but that wouldn’t send me over the edge back into un-wellness. I was thinking Thai.

Thai food is some of my favorite stuff. In my opinion, their flavor combinations and the way they use different spices, herbs and coconut milk are heavenly. 

So while I was perusing my cookbooks I came across this recipe and modified it a bit. I didn’t use the whole berries and seeds when it came to the spices. I was too lazy for that. Plus, I have them ground, so why be wasteful? But if you don’t have them and want an even more extraordinary flavor, I do suggest you get the whole spice and first toast them in a pan, and then grind them yourself. You will not be disappointed.

Make sure to fry the tofu. Getting a bit of a brown crust on at least 2 sides gives it a little more texture but you don’t have to do this if you prefer it softer.

What I really like about this dish is the green paste. It should look like the photo on the left. It has a little tang from the citrus and cilantro and  just a tad heat from the jalapeño and together they make otherwise super-boring tofu a little less boring. And if you don't care for tofu, you could easily serve this sauce over chicken or shrimp. This paste is worth making! In fact, I was licking the food processor bowl with my fingers, so as not to waste a single drop.

We started our meal off with a Carrot and Coriander Soup. That was a good soup. I’ll post that recipe soon. But in the meantime, do try this dish sometime.

Thai Tofu Curry

Serves about 3-4.

2 packages firm or extra-firm tofu, cubed
2 Tbsp. light soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari)
2 Tbsp. peanut oil or coconut oil

For the paste:
1 small onion (I use green onion)
2 green jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. grated lime rind (use an organic lime)
2 tsp. coriander berries, crushed (or ground coriander)
2 tsp. cumin seeds, crushed (or ground cumin)
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp. sugar
2/3 cup boiling water

For the garnish:
thin slices of fresh red chili or red pepper
fresh cilantro leaves

1. Toss the tofu cubes in soy sauce and leave to marinate for 15 minutes or so while you prepare the paste.
2. Put all the paste ingredients in a food processor and grind until smooth.
3. To cook, heat the oil in a wok or large skillet until quite hot. Drain the tofu cubes and stir-fry at high temperature until well browned on all sides and just firm. Drain on paper towels. 
4. Wipe wok clean. Pour in the paste and stir well. Return the tofu to the wok and mix it into the paste, reheating the ingredients as you stir.
5. Serve this dish over bowls of fragrant Thai or jasmine rice. The sauce will flavor the rice as well and be very tasty.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Curried Chicken Salad

Summer is the perfect time for lighter foods when it’s hot and we don’t want to turn on the oven. And chicken salads are ideal. They are also easy to prepare.

I’ve been making this salad for several years and I never tire of it because I really like the flavor combination of spicy and sweet. I came across the recipe this morning and am thinking about making it again this weekend since the weather remains hot and muggy where I live. There’s something cooling about this salad even though it has some spice from the chutney and curry. The spice is minimal, though, and is really just there to add flavor, not heat.

The salad's great served on a bed of Boston or Bibb lettuce. You could even use the lettuce leaves to sort of scoop up the salad with.

There is no substitute for the wine. If you leave it out it really does affect the taste, even though it’s only 1/3 of a cup. Trust me, I’ve tried. For the mayo, you can use a dairy-free variety if you’re lactose intolerant. I like Vegenaise from Follow Your Heart. I think it’s one of the best-tasting, healthy, dairy-free and eggless mayos out there. They make a variety of mayos to choose from. I usually get mine at the health food store where you’ll see a larger selection, but I’ve even seen 1-2 varieties at the regular supermarket.

Here’s the recipe.

Curried Chicken Salad

6 chicken breasts (depending on the size, you may need only 4)
1 1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise 
1/3 cup white wine
1/4 cup mango chutney
2-3 Tbsp. curry powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped celery (finely diced)
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup raisins
a little grated fresh ginger

Roast the chicken breasts in a 350 degree F oven for 35-40 minutes. While those are cooking, puree the mayo through the salt in a food processor until smooth. This will be your sauce. 

Combine the celery through ginger in a bowl. When the chicken breasts are cool enough to handle, cut them into bite-sized chunks. Add the sauce, toss, and chill for a few hours.

When you’re ready to eat the salad, add 1 cup of warm, salted toasted cashews, if you like. Pecans also work nicely.

Enjoy for lunch on a hot day!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Update on the IBS Food Challenge

I was recently reminded that I never really continued with my story about what I had learned, and how I had fared, on the IBS diet I had initiated last year.

If you recall, I had done some homework on digestive problems and found something called the FODMAP Diet. FODMAP is an acronym for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols”. Quite a mouthful, but basically: components found in many foods that commonly trigger IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) in a lot of people. Here’s a link to the article I wrote on the subject last April.

So what happened after Week 1 on the FODMAP Diet? 

I continued with weeks 2 through 6 and found that I felt better than I had in very long time. Clearly there was something behind this eating plan! Eating out was nearly non-existent because I had to maintain strict oversight of everything I was eating. I was preparing most of my own food and reading labels on the rest like never before.

I discovered early on that I was lactose-intolerant and cut out dairy entirely. This was perhaps the single toughest thing to deal with because I love dairy. But I did it for a while to give my gut a rest. It made a huge difference. Eventually though I would learn through more reading which dairy contained the highest amounts of lactose and just avoided those. Things like milk and soft cheeses (ricotta and cottage cheese, for example) were completely avoided. Hard cheeses like parmesan, pecorino, swiss and cheddar contain very low levels of lactose and I seemed to do alright eating these as long as I ate them in small quantities. Over time, if I wanted to eat or drink something that had higher levels of lactose, I’d take a Lact-Aid tablet which contains the enzyme my body lacks to digest lactose. Problem basically solved. That one was pretty easy to figure out. I still do all that to this day.

What was also a sort of no-brainer was that the usual suspects like beans and hard to digest vegetables were out.

What I also discovered, which took a little more detective work, were a variety of other vegetables and fruits I found I had trouble with. When I reintroduced them into my eating plan after the initial avoidance period, it became clear that things like broccoli, all members of the onion/leek family and asparagus created problems. Apples and stone fruit sat heavily in my stomach, while berries and bananas were much easier. Now I do the best I can to avoid the things I learned trigger IBS symptoms. Eating out makes this more difficult, especially because there are onions in just about everything! 

A list of the common IBS trigger foods can be found here.

This list was compiled directly by the creators of the FODMAP Diet but you can find other lists on different sites. If you just Google “FODMAP Diet Food List”, you’ll get lots of hits.

For you, if you’re suffering from IBS, the foods that cause you problems might be different from mine, but it’s a safe bet to start with "The List" and go from there. The important thing is to start and begin feeling better right away! 

After the initial avoidance phase comes the experimentation phase, where you start reintroducing a different common trigger food each week, and yes, this step takes discipline and commitment. But there is no other way for you to learn what makes you feel bad unless you tackle it like this. Your doctor cannot tell you what foods are doing this to you. Only you can find this out on your own by experimenting. Sorry, there are no shortcuts to doing the work.

Downing Pepto-Bismol, TUMS (or whatever else you’re taking) every day for the rest of your life is no solution. You are masking the underlining problem and ultimately you still have IBS. While there is no evidence that unresolved IBS will lead to colon cancer, stomach cancer, or anything like that, why tempt fate, and why be miserable? If it hurts, something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

Even if you don’t have IBS but you find that sometimes you have “tummy” problems, do an elimination diet like this one to uncover the culprit.

If you need help creating a customized food plan for yourself, seek out the assistance of a nutrition professional who specializes in FODMAP Diets. It will be money well spent to get back to feeling good. One dietician I’ve found whose site is easy to navigate and fun to read is Kate Scarlata’s, found here.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Pizza Crust

Having given up a lot of foods that “regular” people eat, suffice it to say that although I feel so much better having made those changes, there are still times when I crave something on the “verboten” list.

Lately it’s been pizza.

I go into this state where I can just imagine all that doughy, cheesy goodness........the pizza sauce clinging to dough, the pepperoni with just the right “bite”, the cheese congealing it all together, the obligatory few veggies to make you think it’s quasi-healthy. Ah.......but then the harsh reality follows. After the satisfaction of having sunk my teeth into this Italian-American pie, what inevitably follows is a day and a half of digestive agony - the crippling gaseous pain that is enough to land me on the couch asking myself “why”. Why did I have to eat it?

Not worth it.

But, I still miss it.

The craving lingered and unable to resist it any longer I decided it was time to explore pizza crust alternatives. What ingredient could be used, flattened into a disk, that could somewhat pass as a crust? Ideally some kind of vegetable, so that it would be healthier.

Cauliflower, maybe? Not as strange as you may think it sounds. What the hell. I decided to try it. Here it is.

Cauliflower Pizza Crust 

1 small head of cauliflower, florets removed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten

Place a pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven and pre-heat to 450 degrees. 

  • Remove the florets from the cauliflower. Place them in a food processor or blender and pulse until the cauliflower has the texture of sand. You should have about 2 1/2 - 3 cups of cauliflower “sand”.

  • Transfer the cauliflower sand to a microwave safe bowl and microwave, covered, for about 4 minutes.
  • Let your cauliflower cool completely. When cool, place the cauliflower in a clean kitchen towel and wring it tightly to remove as much moisture as humanly possible. You may want to do this in 2-3 batches.
  • Place the cauliflower pulp in a mixing bowl and add the cheese, spices and egg. Mix until well combined. Use your hands.
  • Form the “dough” into a ball and place it on a piece of parchment paper sprayed with a little cooking oil. Place a second piece of sprayed parchment on top of the dough and roll it out into a circle about 1/16 inch in thickness. Remove the top sheet of parchment and carefully transfer your dough to the hot pizza stone/baking sheet. Bake anywhere from 10-20 minutes. My old oven took a little longer. A good oven should take about 10 minutes. Mine took about 20-25. You want it to be golden brown and crisp. Keep checking it after the 10 minute mark and leave it in longer if it’s not there yet. Time is not the issue, it’s being done that is.

  • While the crust is crisping, you can prepare your toppings. I used pre-cooked chicken, ready-made pesto sauce, and then just sautéed some mushrooms in a little freshly minced garlic. When the crust was ready, I spread on the pesto, sprinkled on the ‘shrooms and chicken, and then a little more shredded mozzarella on top. Then I baked it another 7-8 minutes until the cheese was melted.
Important: Let your pizza cool for 2-3 minutes before slicing to make sure that the crust stays intact.

Serve with a green salad and a glass of your favorite red wine.

Verdict: I still miss the dough, but this gave me that satisfaction from my pizza craving that I was looking for, all the while knowing that it was FAR healthier than the real thing anyway.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tuscan Tuna Pasta Salad

When the weather warms up, I really like to eat dinners that don’t require heating up anything in the kitchen. It makes the house hot and me hot, so I like to minimize that. Salads are the perfect thing then.

Tuna is something I don’t usually make much, but it is one of those omega-3 foods that should really have a place in our diets, provided it is responsibly caught. You’ll find the company’s stance on that usually on the label - for instance, Wild Planet’s line of fish. You can find this brand at Whole Foods or Sprouts Farmers Markets here in Southern California.

I used to always get albacore canned in water but I recently discovered the taste of yellowfin tuna canned in olive oil and it makes a big difference! The oil keeps it really moist and the Yellowfin variety has a very mild, un-fishy taste to it. I like it better than albacore now.

Yellowfin Tuna

Anyway, the tuna salad most of us think of is usually coated in mayonnaise, and that’s fine once in a while, especially when you have a fishy tasting fish and want to cover it up with mayo and pickle relish. But I have found that I like tuna salad best when it’s made with an oil and lemon juice dressing. It has a cleaner, fresher taste to it I think, and it allows the flavors of all the other ingredients to come through, especially when there’s a lot going on like in this salad.

Tuscan Tuna Pasta Salad

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
1 lb. gluten-free pasta
2 cans tuna in oil, drained and flaked, preferably Yellowfin packed in olive oil
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
1/2 cup shredded basil leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup chopped green onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Lettuce leaves
Lemon wedges

  1. Place the oil, crushed red pepper and tomatoes in a jar and shake well to combine. Set aside for 1 hour.
  2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, following the package instructions. Drain and place into a salad bowl. 
  3. Stir in the oil mixture, tuna, olives, and half of the basil. Season with salt and pepper as needed. 
  4. Divide the salad among 4 plates, placing the tuna over a large lettuce leaf, and sprinkle on the Parmesan and remaining basil. Squeeze a little lemon over the top before serving.
Sometimes I add a few more things to spice up my tuna salad even more: cherry tomatoes cut in half, chopped cucumber or celery for a little crunch, a hard-boiled egg, and instead of the kalamata olives, sometimes I use a little olive tapenade which provides even more interesting flavors because it has capers and a few other things in it. Get creative and add whatever suits you. Today I added garbanzo beans which was pretty unique, and tasted better than I thought it would.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Homemade Sauerkraut

I realize not all of you are going to try this at home, but I wanted to share how super easy it is to make your own sauerkraut. I made it a few weeks ago and have been wanting to tell you about it!

Sauerkraut directly translated from the German is “sour cabbage” and consists of finely cut cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a long shelf life and distinct sour flavor, both of which result from the lactic acid that forms when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage.

As I’ve previously written, fermented foods have a long history in many cultures with sauerkraut being one of the most well-known. The Romans mentioned preserving cabbages and turnips with salt but it is believed to have been introduced to Europe in its present form 1,000 years later by Genghis Khan after invading China. The Tatars took it in their saddlebags to Europe. There it took root mostly in Eastern Europe and Germanic cuisines, but also in countries like France.

Ok, that worked for people back then, but why eat it now?

The health benefits of sauerkraut are numerous. It is a source of vitamins B, C and K. Get this: the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of nutrients, rendering sauerkraut even more nutritious than the original cabbage! It is also low in calories and high in calcium and magnesium and is a very good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese.

Sauerkraut contains live lactobacilli and beneficial microbes and is rich in enzymes. The fiber and probiotics improve digestion and promote the growth of healthy bowel flora, protecting against many diseases of the digestive tract. It soothes the digestive tract and is effective against stomach ulcers.

Sauerkraut can even save your eyesight! That’s because it is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, both associated with preserving ocular health.

And perhaps most important of all, for this affects everyone, not just those of us with digestive issues: fermented foods, including sauerkraut, bolster the immune system.  Dr. Oz tells us how and why this is so important.

Anyway, now that I’ve (hopefully) sold you on the importance of eating this stuff not just once a year at Oktoberfest, let’s discuss how to make it. Here’s what I gathered to make mine:

1 head of green cabbage
4 peeled carrots
1 peeled daikon radish
1/2 bunch cilantro
a rather large wide mouth glass canning jar with a gasket and hinged lid (see photo below)

A Note:
While sauerkraut can and usually is as basic as just cabbage and salt for the brine, you can experiment as I did with adding additional vegetables such as carrots or cucumbers, raw ginger or daikon, herbs, and spices such as caraway seeds (very yummy - they will appear in my next batch). Makes things a little more interesting.

Pulse everything in batches in your food processor using the shredding disk. As the processing bowl fills, dump its contents into another larger bowl. Keep working until everything is shredded. When everything is in the larger bowl, sprinkle 6-7 tsp of good quality sea salt over it all and then get your hands into the kraut and start squeezing it.

Really work the salt into the veggies. Do this for about 10 minutes until you extract a good amount of liquid from the vegetables. This is an important step because by doing so you are creating the all-important brine that will begin the fermentation process. Now, spoon the kraut mix into a container large enough to fit it all in there and cover. You’ll want a container that looks something like this:

Ok, so you’re done......for now. Let it do its thing.

The fermentation process:
Every day you’ll need to open the lid and let it burp. Gasses will be forming that need to escape. I let mine sit on the counter like this for 10 days, burping it daily (there was less gas on those final days), until the 10th day when I moved the container to the refrigerator. I didn’t get around to eating it right away because I was going out of town for the weekend, so it sat in the fridge another 3-4 days resting. Sauerkraut, believe it or not, actually improves the longer it sits, so don’t be afraid you have to eat it right away.

The tasting:
So the day finally came about 2 weeks after having started the process when I actually got around to opening up the sauerkraut and trying some. I was pleasantly surprised to find, like the cauliflower I had previously made, that the vegetables were not mushy at all but crunchy even, and that tangy flavor from the fermentation was there, but not overly so. My husband was leery about eating my “science experiment” as he called it, but was also surprised at how good it was.

Sauerkraut, as long as it remains raw and uncooked such as this one, is a tremendous addition to anyone’s health. Make some and enjoy it for lunch, alongside a sandwich or some lovely gourmet sausages with mustard.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Chicken Noodle Soup

Most of you know by now that I just love soup. I inherited this gene from my mother. And this week the temperatures here in Southern California provided the ideal conditions for “soup weather”. So I looked for something new to try out. New to me, but certainly not new to most. The humble, but ever popular, Chicken Noodle Soup sounded good.

This recipe contains digestive-friendly ingredients that soothe the digestive tract. There is nothing in it that could irritate, so just like when you have a cold and aren’t well, a bowl of chicken soup is perfect for when you need a little something soothing for your insides.

Just like in my post a few years ago on that wonderfully fragrant Vietnamese soup called Pho, this soup, as nearly all of them, calls for a rich bone broth to start. If you’re short on time, you can certainly use a prepared chicken or vegetable broth, but as I stated in that article, making your own homemade bone broth is not difficult and because of the rich nutrients that a bone broth contains, it’s definitely worth making.

Here’s the recipe I made this week.

Chicken Noodle and Vegetable Soup

Image result for chicken noodle soupIngredients:
2 Tbsp olive or coconut oil
3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 large stalks celery, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. turmeric
5 thyme sprigs, plus 1 Tbsp. finely chopped
3 marjoram sprigs, plus 2 tsp. chopped, or 1-2 tsp. dried
8-10 cups of homemade chicken bone broth
10 oz. boneless skinless chicken thighs, thinly sliced
1 cup corn kernels (frozen is fine)
1 cup rice vermicelli, broken into short lengths
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrot, celery, bay leaf and turmeric, and cook, stirring regularly, for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened.
2. Add the chicken and brown a little with the vegetables. Add the herbs sprigs, broth and corn kernels and simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes (10 minutes if you’re using fresh or canned corn, 15 minutes if you’re using frozen).
3. Meanwhile, pour boiling water over the vermicelli noodles and let them soak in a bowl until they soften. Drain.
4. Remove the bay leaf and herb sprigs from the soup, add the noodles (*see note below) and cook an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped thyme and marjoram, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with a sprinkling of parsley.

*You will surely have leftovers. In that case, I have found that the noodles soak up too much of the broth and get mushy the next day. What I do in Step 4 is leave the noodles out and instead, when the soup is ready, I take my bowl, put some noodles in the bottom and pour some soup over the top, and then sprinkle with parsley. I keep the noodles separate when storing them in the fridge overnight as well. So I would just add the herbs in Step 4, and leave out that bit about adding the noodles, and proceed with the rest of the directions.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fermentation vs. Pickling

For those of us with digestive issues, and even for those of us without digestive issues, fermented foods can be an important aid in maintaining the delicate balance of our gut flora.

But what is fermentation?

Fermentation goes way back in our history. At some point, humans figured out a process to ensure that foods could be easily preserved (before refrigeration) and could be made easier to digest. The diets of every traditional society have included some kind of lacto-fermented food so news of this process must have gotten around somehow. Europeans consume lacto-fermented dairy, sauerkraut, grape leaves, herbs and root vegetables. The Alaskan Inuit ferment fish and sea mammals. Asia is known for pickled vegetables, sauces and kimchi in particular. Farming societies in central Africa are known to make porridges from soured grains.

But what exactly are fermented foods and how is fermentation different from pickling? 

The dictionary defines fermentation as metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, gases, and/or alcohol. It occurs in yeast and bacteria, but also in oxygen-starved muscle cells, as in the case of lactic acid fermentation. Fermentation is also used more broadly to refer to the bulk growth of microorganisms on a growth medium, often with the goal of producing a specific chemical product. Salt is typically used to create a brine, in which foods are allowed to “ferment” for 3-7 days or even longer. 

While most people think about beer or wine when they hear the term fermentation, it is the bacteria that are responsible for lacto-fermentation. The “Lacto” portion of the term refers to a specific species of bacteria, namely Lactobacillus. Various strains of these bacteria are present on the surface of all plants, especially those growing close to the ground, and are also common to the gastrointestinal tracts and mouths of humans and other animal species.

Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. Beyond preservation advantages, lacto-fermentation also increases or preserves the vitamin and enzyme levels, as well as digestibility, of the food. So before science showed this to be true, traditional societies already knew this. 

Pickling is defined as the process of preserving, even expanding, the lifespan of food by either anaerobic fermentation also in brine but typically by immersion in vinegar. The resulting food is called a pickle or "pickled [insert word here]”. Pickles and relishes are a part of the American food tradition. Since the advent of industrialization, most pickling is done with vinegar, which offer more predictable results, but no lactic acid.

So really fermentation and pickling are nearly identical, as they are both methods of preserving food and contain a salt brine, although pickling includes the use of vinegar. But fermented foods offer distinct advantages for the digestive system over pickled ones because of the lactic acid.

I had read that digestion could be improved by eating a few spoons of fermented foods at the start of each meal. This would entail having a jar of the stuff around at all times. But before investing the time to making some at home, I decided to look for an example at my health food store. I had sticker shock. A 16 oz. mason jar of it cost $11.00! I did get it, in the name of research, and it was tasty, but I am not about to shell out $11.00 every time I want some, so the next step was to make it myself. And it’s a good thing - it’s ridiculously easy to do.

First on the list to try is Curried Cauliflower. It sounded zippy and a little spicy and interesting. Here’s all you need to make it.

1 small head of cauliflower (about 3 cups of small florets)
2 1/2 Tbsp. curry powder of choice (you can go spicy or mild here, up to you)
4 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
3 Tbsp. sea salt
1 quart of water

1. Make a brine by heating up the water, adding the salt, and allowing it to dissolve. Allow to cool to room temperature.

2. Cut the cauliflower into small florets.

3. Place the garlic cloves in the bottom of a mason jar. 

Add the curry powder followed by the cauliflower. Pour the brine over the vegetables until they are covered, leaving 1-1/2 inches of headspace. Place a lid on and shake well to dissolve the curry.

4. Place cover on jar and allow to sit out at room temperature for 3 to 7 days until fermented. You may have to burp the jar for the first few days to release pent-up gases. To do this simply open the jar until any pressure is released and immediately retighten.

Once you are satisfied that your cauliflower is fermented (it has a little tang), you can move it to cold storage.

Stay tuned - we’ll see what it tastes like later in the week!

Ok, so what’s the word on the cauliflower? I let it ferment on my countertop for 5 days since that was a happy medium between the 3-7 that was recommended. Any less and I didn’t think it would have the same zippiness. And it was surprisingly good! The cauliflower retained its crunch while having a nice little tangy curried flavor. I usually eat it as a snack when I get home from work, before I go for my walk. I take it to work and eat it alongside whatever leftovers I’m bringing. It would be a good side for a sandwich. My sister-in-law folded it into an omelet she made with spinach and kale. I might also add it to a salad or have it as a side to a bunch of Indian dishes. If you made it, what have you done with it? 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Family Minestrone

With many people still buried in winter weather, it’s fitting to get just one last soup recipe in before, hopefully, the weather turns around and warms up - just in time for the start of Spring! 

As you know, I love soup, and this is one of my favorites. I can hardly believe I haven’t posted it yet!

Image result for minestroneMinestrone is a thick soup of Italian origin made with vegetables, often with the addition of rice or pasta. It wasn’t until much later when tomatoes and potatoes were brought to Europe from the Americas that those ingredients were added and became staple ingredients in the soup. However, common ingredients such as beans, onions, celery, and carrots have always been part of Minestrone. The soup can be vegetarian, contain meat, or contain a meat-based broth (such as chicken stock).

It’s a soup with a thousand versions. Perhaps it’s like anything else, depending on where you go, regional influences determine what goes into it. And often what goes into minestrone is as simple as what’s on hand or in season. There are winter minestrones and summer minestrones. 

For those dishes for which there is no one set recipe, we tend to like that to which we are accustomed, and for me that would be the Minestrone of my mother. I’d have to ask her where she got her recipe, but I know I wrote her version down on a little 3x5 card back in my 20’s as she dictated it to me in her kitchen one day, and I’ve still got it!  Who even uses 3x5 recipe cards anymore?

Despite the fact that I love the recipe just the way it is, sometimes I add chopped greens to the soup, like chard or kale, if I have some and it needs to be used up.  No matter which version you use, one thing we can all agree on is this: minestrone is often better the day after you make it. This is so simple to make and tastes so wonderful.

Here’s my family's version of Minestrone:

1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced (really, add as many as you can handle)
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
4 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 can organic tomato paste
approximately 10 cups broth (vegetable, chicken or beef) or water or a combination thereof
Image result for minestrone1 cup chopped cabbage
2 carrots, sliced
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp. ground sage
1 can kidney beans
1 zucchini, chopped
1 cup green beans (frozen will work)
1 cup elbow macaroni
Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large pot. Add garlic, onion, celery, parsley. Cook until soft. Stir in the tomato paste and the next 6 ingredients. Mix well. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover, simmer one hour. Add remaining ingredients except for the cheese. Cook 10-15 minutes more until macaroni is tender. 

Sprinkle Parmesan over the top. 

Serve along with the soup a nice slice of toasted Italian bread like chiabatta or focaccia, something you can dip into some olive oil. Or maybe some Parmesan crisps. For wine, I would recommend Chianti or a lighter Zinfandel - nothing too heavy. Maybe start dinner off with a simple salad of mixed greens tossed in a light vinaigrette and you’ve got yourself a wonderfully hearty, veggie-rich dinner.

If you should feel adventurous, other ingredients to consider adding or substituting:
potatoes (maybe instead of the pasta, but add them earlier on so they cook all the way)
1 can tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 tsp fresh chopped oregano or thyme, or a little of both
1 bay leaf
fava beans
fresh peas
Tuscan kale, chopped
summer squash

Tips: the longer something takes to cook, the longer you’ll want it in the pot cooking. For instance, if the pancetta gives off some fat, I’d use that in lieu of the olive oil at the start. Leeks and potatoes should go in early; beans, peas and squash later towards the end.

Monday, February 23, 2015

What's in Season? Try Leeks!

Image result for california agricultureWe are rather spoiled here in California. Not only all this glorious weather, but the state provides nearly half of the country's fruits, vegetables, nuts, wine and dairy. We have just about everything! 

Indeed, agriculture in California is a nearly $40 billion industry that generates $100 billion in related economic activity! It's a big deal. But while we have a plethora of food grown here, let's face it: food grows everywhere. And eating the foods that grow where you live, instead of having them shipped to you from afar, is important.


There are a number of good reasons to eat more local, seasonal food:
  • to reduce the energy (and associated CO2 emissions) needed to grow and transport the food we eat
  • to avoid paying a premium for food that is scarcer or has travelled a long way 
  • to support the local economy
  • to reconnect with nature's cycles and the passing of time
But most importantly, because seasonal food is fresh, and so tends to be tastier and more nutritious.

While it's important to consider the environmental impact of our food choices - such as food miles (the distance food travels, or rather the energy consumed, getting it from place of production to our table) - it's hard to deny ourselves the pleasures of imports not widely grown in North America, such as pineapples and bananas. Plus, buying imported food can help make a much needed contribution to developing countries' economies.

But it's silly, really, to buy grapes from Chile, or lamb from New Zealand, when for many weeks or months of the year you can feast on far superior native versions, often at a lower cost financially as well as environmentally. Whenever an ingredient goes out of season, another delicious food has come back into season. It keeps things interesting, I think. Why do we really need to eat tomatoes year round? They are horribly tasteless at any time of year other than summer. This is why people used to can and preserve: they would take the bounty of summer and squirrel away their stash for the winter when less was available. The food retained its freshness and ripe taste.
Image result for leeks
Ok, so it's winter and we haven't squirreled anything away. We're city folk who don't can or preserve. What is there to eat at this time of year that we can feel good about? 

Leeks. If you haven't tried them, grab yourself a bunch next time you see them at your farmer's market or supermarket. 

Leeks are related to garlic and onions but have a much subtler, sweeter and more sophisticated flavor. They can be used to enrich soups or stews and they partner brilliantly with potato and cheese to form tasty side dishes and suppers that comfort and satisfy during fall and winter.

One of my favorite things to do with leeks is to make Potato Leek Soup. It's a very simple soup but do not underestimate it's heartiness. It is very satisfying. It can be pureed and made creamy with the addition of a little cream, it can be left chunky, you can leave it vegetarian or add bacon for a little extra zing.

Another nice thing to do with leeks is to braise them, getting a little color on them to sort of caramelize them. This really sweetens them up. They can also be grilled. 

No matter what you do with them, make sure to clean them well, as dirt can be often left behind. You'll want to cut off the end a bit at the point where the roots grow and then make a slit down the long way just about half way through and run water through it, releasing the layers one by one to loosen up any dirt that might still be hiding.

May I present: Potato Leek Soup. Make it and let it soothe your soul!

Potato Leek Soup
Image result for potato leek soup
3 large or 6 medium leeks, finely chopped
1 1/2 lbs. boiling or baking potatoes, scrubbed well
2 Tbsp. butter
Salt and fresh ground pepper
Milk or water to thin the soup, if needed
A splash of heavy cream

Slice leeks lengthwise and slice down the long end, holding the leeks under running water to rinse out any dirt or sand, quarter the potatoes lengthwise and slice them thinly.

Melt the butter in a wide soup pot, add the leek and potatoes, and cook over low heat, covered, for about 10 minutes. Add 7 cups of water and 1 1/2 tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are soft to the point of falling apart, about 30 minutes. Press a few of them against the side of the pot to break them up. If the soup is thick, you can thin it with a little milk or replace the milk with cream (highly advised). If opting for cream, add only at the very end. Taste and adjust your seasonings if needed.

That’s the basic recipe. There are countless options for how to continue. What I would do is this: instead of pressing the potatoes against the side of the pot, which is fine if you’re going to leave your soup chunky, I would transfer the soup to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree it. If using a blender, bring the soup back to the pot and then add the cream. 

Garnish with chopped chives and parsley. 

This soup can also be served chilled. In that case, it’s called vichyssoise (pronounced veeshee-swa).

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