Monday, August 25, 2014

Moroccan Carrot Soup

Moroccan Carrot Soup
This is an everyday favorite soup in our house. It's filling, tasty, packed with nutrition & not packed with calories. A win-win sort of soup.

I like to have it as an appetizer course, a light meal with some bread, or even as a side dish (I can't be the only one who gets tired of salads and steamed veggies in the side-dish spot, can I?).

It's called "Moroccan" because it uses spices typical of that cuisine, not because the recipe itself actually comes from Morocco. 

It's easy to make a big batch, and freezes well in single portions so that you can have a nice bowl anytime the mood hits you!

Moroccan Carrot Soup
Simmer until fork-tender
2 pounds Carrots (I use a 2# bag of baby carrots for convenience, but you can also clean & chop regular carrots)
Water Just to Cover Carrots
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
When carrots are tender, add
1 rounded Tablespoon Almond Butter
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Salt
puree soup in pot with immersion blender
Taste - you may want to add a dash of sweetener here, if your carrots weren't naturally sweet enough.
Adjust seasonings (Salt & Lemon Juice) to taste
Add more water if needed for desired texture.


I LOVE to garnish this one with Sambal Oelek, which is a wonderfully complex hot sauce with a relish-type texture. Use another favorite hot sauce if desired.  My little girl loves it with no hot sauce at all.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Southwest Black Bean Burgers

These Black Bean Burgers are so simple to make, and tasty. They freeze well, too, so that you can keep them on hand in the freezer for times when you want a quick meal.

You can either serve these with traditional burger toppings, or you can be inspired by the "Southwest" theme and top them with your favorite Southwestern ingredients, like Salsa or Guacamole.

Southwest Black Bean Burgers
Adapted from a book by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (I don't recall which book - but I highly recommend all his books!)
Pulse  in food processor till chopped up, but NOT until it becomes a smooth puree:*
 1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained in Sieve
OR 1 1/2 cups home cooked Black Beans
1 (15 oz) can Diced Tomatoes, drained in Sieve
1 cup chopped Carrots
1 cup cilantro (or a 1/2 bunch - the measurement doesn't need to be precise here)
1 Tablespoon Taco Seasoning
Stir in
2 1/2 cups Oats
Form into patties
Cook on Nonstick Electric Grill (such as a George Foreman or Wolfgang Puck model) for about 10 minutes, till firm 
Bake 400 degrees on cookie sheet, 8 minutes, turn, bake 2 minutes more.
OR, cook in nonstick pan

Note: These can stick to a grill a little - especially if you try to open the grill before they're completely done. For best results, don't remove them from the grill, or open the grill before they're completely done - and you may wish to lightly oil the grill. If they do stick to the grill & fall apart, they can simply be pressed back into patty shape while cooking- and they will stick together again.

*My food processor is a small model (2-3 cups capacity) so I pulse these things in batches, then stir them together with a spoon.

Freezer/Bulk cooking tip: These burgers may be made in advance & frozen for when you need them. They can be frozen either cooked, or raw! If you cook them before freezing them, wrap them in double layers of waxed paper (or your other favorite method to keep them from sticking together when frozen), then simply reheat briefly in microwave when you're ready to eat them. 

If you prefer to freeze them raw, wrap them in double layers of waxed paper (or your other favorite method to keep them from sticking together when frozen), and just pop them into your favorite electric indoor grill to cook - no need to thaw before cooking! : ) 

Tip for dining with Omnivores: Of course, traditional Hamburgers are great to serve to the Omnivore at your table, when the Vegans are eating these. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why I Ditched My High Speed Blender

Do you really need a high speed blender in order to prepare healthy food?
As I read various blogs and articles on the internet, I am constantly faced with advocacy for high speed blenders. This or that author will say, "You must have a high speed blender. It is the only way to do this job!" or "I just love my high speed blender." or, "You don't need a high speed blender if you want to eat processed junk. But if you want healthy, whole foods you MUST have a high speed blender."

One of the distinctives of my blog is a focus on frugal, healthy cooking. Perhaps you've been led to believe that healthy cooking requires expensive equipment like a high-speed blender. If you're trying to decide whether you need one of these devices, perhaps my experience will help you decide. 

Many years ago, we had one of the coveted High Speed Blenders. It was a Vita Mix. When we first got it, we were totally sold on its benefits by the infomercial-style salesman at the state fair exhibit hall. Why, it could even take a WHOLE RAW EGG and grind it up smooth- shell and all - so that you could add it to a smoothie! We were convinced that it was a "must have" to make lots of delicious food. I have to say that when we bought it, we really weren't very healthy eaters. Not at all, in fact! But, we were sold on the idea that owning one of these appliances would make our diet healthier. It didn't.

Over the years, I became more and more interested in home cooking and preparing whole foods. Over time, I stopped eating meat & became vegetarian, I reduced my junk food consumption, I increased my whole foods intake, I lost a fair amount of weight. And, as all of this happened, I found that I didn't use my high speed blender more, on the contrary, as all this happened, I used it less.

First, it lost its prime real estate on my kitchen counter,and it was relegated to a cupboard. Then, as I found I used it less and less, it lost its place in the cupboard, and was exiled to our storage room. Once in a long while, I would pull it out to do some job that it seemed particularly well-suited for, only to find out that it was no more effective at the job in question than my other kitchen tools, but it took up a lot more space, and could perform fewer functions than the others! Finally, I decided to simply give it away- and that's what I did!

Why did it keep getting demoted? I found that other, smaller & cheaper kitchen appliances were not "just as good," but rather, they were BETTER!

If I wanted to make Hummus or another thick dip or spread, my little food processor could do the job faster & better (over the years, I have had three different small food processors that hold 2-3 cups of food - my current is a Sunbeam Oskar similar to this one - I got it at a thrift store for $2.99). I had to stop the high speed blender and scrape down the sides repeatedly, but the small food processor didn't require this special treatment. I could gradually add liquids to either machine as it ran if I needed it to. And, the small Food Processor could also chop, slice or shred a variety of vegetables much more effectively than a blender could!

If I wanted to puree a hot soup, I had to risk splashing myself with boiling liquid to do it in the high speed blender, or I could simply stick an immersion blender (also known as a stick blender - pardon the pun) in the pot and do it on the spot. (I have a Braun similar to this one that I bought at a thrift store - brand new still in the box - for 2 or 3 dollars). Even better, the immersion blender is super-easy to clean in the sink - whereas the high speed blender was a tough cleaning job. (The salesman said you could just blend soapy water in the machine & rinse - but  that cleaning method wasn't always so effective for us.)

If I wanted to grind a grain or spice (which, let's face it, is a pretty rare need in most kitchens), I can always pull out the coffee grinder - once again - a purchase that was 2 or 3 dollars. And, as it is a smaller machine, I don't have to fill it so full to reach the blades - that's a real advantage when grinding spices.

The salesman said that the machine could crush ice - and it can - but the cubes get caught under and around the blades now and then and have to be dislodged - which isn't always easy. We found ourselves resorting to our previous smack-with-a-heavy-ice-cream-scoop method.  And, let's face it, who wants to pay a few hundred dollars for an inefficient ice crusher?

So, after years of wanting to love our High Speed Blender - and hearing from others how wonderful it was - I finally concluded that I simply had no use for one.

Now, I understand that there are fancy models that can freeze your smoothie while they blend it, but if I keep my bananas in the freezer, I can just make the frozen smoothie in my food processor - and I don't have to worry about the bananas spoiling if I don't get to them fast enough.

And, similarly, the fancy models can heat my soup while they blend it. But, it's a simple matter to heat my soup on the stove top, and the immersion blender is so much easier to use & clean! And, I don't like all of my soups pureed, anyway. 

Now, when I see people share that they are trying to save up several hundred dollars to afford a High Speed Blender, I cringe inside.  I haven't found a single kitchen job that can be done by a High Speed Blender that cannot be done more easily, conveniently, and cheaply with standard kitchen equipment. It is true, the high speed blender does do one job my other machines can't. It can grind a raw egg with its egg shell - but I don't eat raw eggs or egg shells! Truth of the matter is, I have absolutely no need to grind up a whole raw egg, shell and all, and add it to a smoothie!

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Five Traditional Breads to Make Without an Oven

In the Summer, I like to keep the oven turned off, that keeps the house cooler - which is more comfortable. And, that's better for the environment - and for my budget - since I'm not using fossil fuels to both heat and cool my house at the same time! 

There was a long period of time in my life during which I lived without an oven. I searched for oven-free breads and couldn't find any (this was pre-internet). If you're in the same situation, you might like these recipes any time - not just in Summer. 

And, most of these recipes (with the exception of the slow cooker bread) will make a couple of servings of bread much more quickly than the oven ever could - that can be a huge advantage on a busy night ANY time of year!

On top of all that, if you're on a budget, homemade bread can save as much as 90% off of store bought (assuming $4. for a loaf of Artisan bread from the store, or .40 cents for a similar - but tastier - bread made at home) 

Best of all, these recipes are easy and delicious! All of the breads are freezer-friendly IF you have leftovers - but I'll bet you won't ; )

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Vacation Soup

Vacation Soup
I call this soup "Vacation Soup" for a few reasons:
1) It's easy to make when you're on vacation.
2) It's a good vacation from heavy, rich food, but still substantial.
3) It's a great vacation for a cook who doesn't feel like cooking.

It's super easy and super quick to make, only requires 3 ingredients - including water- and can be made in a hot pot type appliance in a college dorm, military barracks, or hotel room (fire code permitting, of course!)

We eat this soup a lot when we are on vacation - it's easy to make in a kitchenette, and doesn't require a stocked pantry. At the end of a long day of visiting or sight-seeing, it's easy & fast & satisfying. And, we all like it. A lot. We serve a plate of  fresh veggies & olives alongside to make a complete meal.

I was inspired to make this when I visited a family member in a nursing home, and saw that the residents were routinely passing up the regular fare (which looked quite good) to order a soup like this one. It made me think of one of my Mom's old standbys. The first time I served it, my little daughter asked if I might schedule it into our menu for every Monday from now on!

Here's the recipe:

Vacation Soup
1 liter (or one quart) of boiling water
2 large cubes of Vegetable Bouillon (such as Maggi or Knorr)
1/2 pound (1/4 Kilo) of Fideo type Pasta (if Fideo is unavailable, break Angel Hair into 1" pieces)
Simmer for about 7 minutes, or till pasta is done the way you like it .

Serve. (Some like to add a dash of lemon juice to taste at the table)

Variations: Add your favorite frozen vegetables or dried mushrooms to the boiling water before adding the pasta. The pictured soup includes Broccoli & dried Shiitake Mushrooms - I cut the Mushrooms into bite-sized pieces with kitchen shears just before serving. (But, we most commonly eat just the noodles and broth without the veggie additions.)

Tip for dining with Omnivores: Add diced cooked chicken before serving, or serve a cold cheese, salami & cracker tray alongside.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Easy Yeast Bread in the Slow Cooker

 Artisan Bread from the Slow Cooker
In the Summer, I don't like to turn on the oven, but I do like fresh yeast bread that I can slice. It's wonderful to make a loaf of fresh bread in the slow cooker, and it only takes a tiny bit of hands-on time. If no rain is expected, I cook this out on the balcony, so that it doesn't heat up my house at all!

Slow Cooker Yeast Bread
First, prepare dough according to this recipe
Or, if you prefer Whole Wheat, use this one
Easy Artisan Whole Wheat Bread Dough
(Don't be intimidated! This recipe is so easy, simply measure, stir, and wait!)

Once dough is ready, tear off a piece of parchment paper about 1 1/2 feet long (1/2 Meter) . Shape bread as for Boule, and place on the center of the paper. Slash if desired (this isn't strictly necessary in slow cooker bread). Lower the paper, dough and all, into the crock. Press Paper away from the dough and against the edges of the crock (so the bread has a little room to expand in the crock).

Dough Positioned in Crock with Parchment

Sprinkle dough with sesame seeds or other topping if desired. Cover with the crock lid, with 2 paper towels snugly lining the lid. The paper towels absorb the moisture as it evaporates during bread baking, and keeps it from "raining" on the bread while it bakes.

Crock Lid lined with Paper Towels

Place  Slow Cooker with Bread in a warm place to rise for 30 to 60 minutes without turning it on. Then, without opening, turn Slow Cooker on High, and cook for 2 hours. At the end of the two hours, check to see if bread looks done (the top should look barely done, and spring back from the touch - it will not be quite as golden brown like bread from an oven). If it's not quite done, let it cook for 15 or so minutes more (the second time you make it, you should know precisely how long it will take in your machine).

The Crispy Bottom Crust of Bread from the Slow Cooker
Carefully lift finished bread out of crock using parchment paper. Remove from paper, and cool on wire rack or other place where air can circulate to cool the bread without it becoming soggy. The Bread will be darker on the bottom than it is on the top, and crunchy. The bottom can become tough if allowed to cook too long.

And, in response to the request for a "crumb" picture - here ya go! : )

This bread has a delightful texture inside - very similar to the bread I make in the oven from the same recipe.

Slice & Enjoy!

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Easy, Cool & Creamy Summer Oats ( Muesli )

Easy, Cool & Creamy Summer Oats ( Muesli )
I always loved Oats when I was a kid. I have always had a major sweet tooth, so I liked either "Instant Oatmeal" (which should be called Instant-Sugar-Rush), or if homemade, I had a little Oatmeal with my sugar. ; )

As I became more health conscious, I sought to reduce my excessive sugar intake some, and I found this way to prepare Oats that is sweetened with naturally occurring sugars rather than processed ones, but still as tasty as that stuff I ate when I was a kid. Even better, it's cool & creamy instead of warm and, um, sticky. But wait, there's more! You can throw this together in the evening, and the next morning, you or your kids can pull a ready-made breakfast from the fridge : ) But, if you really crave the hot stuff, you can warm this up in the microwave before eating it.

This is a standby summer breakfast for me. I've been making it for about 20 years now. I cannot recall for sure, but I think I started out with a recipe from Burgers 'n Fries 'n Cinnamon Buns by Bobbie Hinman, and over the years adapted & simplified it.

Here's the Recipe

Cool & Creamy Summer Oats ( Muesli )

1 ½ Cups Oats ( Old Fashioned or Quick )
1 Cup Non Dairy Milk
1 Cup Apple Juice
Cinnamon (about ½ tsp)
Raisins (lots)
Leave in fridge overnight, eat cold in the morning (or, make at least 15 minutes before eating )

Yield: about 3 cups 

This recipe is infinitely variable. You can substitute Cardamom for the Cinnamon. Dried Figs or Dates or Apricots instead of - or in addition to - the Raisins. Top with your favorite fresh, seasonal Berries or Fruit just before serving. Add nuts if you like. If you like your Raisins chewy, rather than plump, add them just before eating.

If you want a fancier presentation (or want to delight your kids) you can put out several topping bowls and let each Breakfast-er top his or her own.

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