Green Soup with Miso

I hope you had a delicious Thanksgiving – my favorite holiday (could it be becuz it’s all about food?  Well, not ALL…)

I’m sure another recipe is the last thing on your mind right now, but this is a tasty soup which could almost be classified as healing. Plus it is WAY easy! I have made this several times, playing with different herbs and types of miso.  Me-what?  Miso is a fermented soybean paste which has a salty component and can be used in soups, salad dressings, even guacamole.  Miso has incredible health properties.  It contains up to 20% protein, stimulates digestion, and adds flavor without adding fat or traditional sodium content.  Miso is also known to promote alkaline in the body and has been used to treat certain types of heart disease and cancers.

Green Soup

1 bunch organic spinach
1 medium avocado
3 cloves garlic (pressed)
1 TB miso
1 TB raw tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 cups warm water

Put all ingredients into blender and whirl away.  Serves 2.

I also use cilantro or parsley, cumin…depending on what I have on hand.

Guilt Free (Holiday) Baking

Nothing smells more like the holidays than warm pies and fresh baked goodies.  Unfortunately, nothing feels more like the holidays than the extra baggage that comes with them.  Now your favorite desserts can be just as yummy and healthier, too – any time of year.

Photo by Mark Thomas

Photo by Mark Thomas

The Pastry Part

Whether you’re making cookies or pies, cakes or breads, there are more healthy options available to us than ever before.  Many store bought pie crusts are laden with trans fats and made from refined white flour.  Since whole grains are highly encouraged as a great source of fiber in our diet, let’s see how we can incorporate them here.

Unless you are sensitive to wheat (as in gluten intolerant), whole wheat flours are widely accessible – even at Trader Joe’s.  King Arthur and Bob’s Red Mill are two popular brands, or you can save by purchasing in bulk from your favorite health food store.

Another option is spelt flour, which can be substituted one for one to white flour.  Spelt is a distant cousin to wheat but can usually be tolerated by those with allergies.  Just like whole wheat, spelt has a high gluten content which is the protein that binds it all together.

You might also substitute oat flour, nut flours (by simply grinding nuts to a fine texture) or cornmeal in recipes. Other whole grain flours may be combined with all-purpose flour, but make sure you read up on it first to get the right lift and density.

The Inside Scoop

Pie filling is so versatile, but in keeping with my theme of seasonality, let’s talk apple and pumpkin (again.)  As mentioned in my post on pumpkin muffins, you can opt to roast your own, or use store-bought puree.  And when using apples, I tend to leave the peel on (only when organic) – as the skin contains more fiber and nutrients than the flesh.

Invariably recipes call for waaay too much sugar, which I not only reduce in half, but substitute with healthier sweeteners that don’t spike the blood sugar. Agave nectar is a wonderful plant-based variety which comes from the same plant as tequila (no wonder I love it!)  No processing chemicals are used in its production, keeping its integrity as a whole food. One big advantage to using agave nectar over other sugars (even honey) is that it takes longer to reach our blood stream.  Controlling these levels is an important factor in lowering risk for heart disease and diabetes, reducing cholesterol levels, and managing our weight.  Wow.  And you can find it almost everywhere now.

Agave nectar can be used in almost every baking recipe, but since it’s a liquid, reduce the ‘sugar’ amount by 25 percent. You should also cut back other liquids in recipes by same amount.  And again as a liquid, it will cook faster so reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

In addition to baking, agave nectar is delicious in coffee, tea and…margaritas, of course.  Or hot mulled wine this time of year – another holiday scent which is timeless.

Healthy Holidays – Part 1

Just back from the market (it’s already crazy) but haven’t started my cooking yet (so I apologize for no photos.)  I did want to send this off in time for holiday prep – for both the budget and the waistline. I will only indulge you with healthful suggestions this week.  No extra calories required.

“Trimming” at home:

If you are hosting one of the major meals at your house, consider some of these options in your menu plan.

Have a strategy. You know not to go to the store hungry, but also take time to prepare a list of items you will need for your gathering.  If you can do this in advance (of Christmas, let’s say) – be on the lookout for pre-holiday sales.  Just today I got a 2-for-1 deal on pumpkin and cranberries.  And shop early – in the day.

Pick seasonal fruits and veggies. With produce, it’s key to know what’s in season to take advantage of better prices (not to mention all the health benefits, etc.)  Right now there’s an abundance of fresh apples, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, persimmons and pomegranates.  Corn and tomatoes are out, but if you find they are absolutely essential, buy them canned or frozen (organic, of course.)

Try a buffet. This is an economical way to serve many.  Start with the healthier foods at the beginning of your table, and ‘heavier’ items at the end.  People’s plates will usually be full of the good stuff by the time they reach the big-ticket section.  Just make sure you offer several choices of colorful veggies.

Remember, beverages have calories, too.  Especially alcoholic ones.  I have been known to sip here and there (to keep with the festive spirit, of course) and when cooking, it’s easy to lose track.  Just 4 ounces of wine adds up to 100 calories, and come on – that’s barely an aperitif for some.  Be kind to your liver and remember moderation.

Make your own dessert.  Ah, my favorite subject.  Some of the sugar-laden, trans fat pies I’ve seen out there continue to feed this recession!  Even store bought pie crusts can fetch up to $4 a piece, vs. about $1 for homemade (and so much tastier, too.) If you’re intimidated by baking, tomorrow’s post will contain some healthful tips in part 2 of our series this week.

More Reasons to Buy Organic

Sorry for missing a week. I was enjoying the good life in Hawaii and haven’t quite mastered the remote blog mechanics just yet.  But more on that later!

Periodically I will jump back on my soap box to eschew the virtues of eating organic and sustainable foods.  This morning the New York Times provided yet another compelling article which highlights the hazards of melamine – found in much of the human food chain – especially imported from China.  In summary, this dangerous chemical is infecting many of our staples, which is of even greater concern to young children.

Of course we know about this product from the pet food recall last year which killed thousands of dogs and cats.  But melamine seeps its way into our own agriculture through conventional fertilizers, and can affect not only the beef we consume, but the milk from cows and eggs from chickens who eat contaminated feed.

Bottom line (again) is to stick with trusted food sources which are locally grown. Personally, I am not feeling too confident about many of China’s assurances these days…and my body is my temple.

>> Just in time for Turkey Day – check out this Sam Fromartz’ post on how to order local items, from fresh greens to the big bird.

Pumpkin Primer

Wait!  Don’t send your pumpkin to the compost pile without extracting the fleshy goodness inside.  There are a variety of ways to use pumpkin,  the least of which is in baking.  The moisture is absorbed beautifully by whole grains, making the end result moist and tender.

Pumpkin is highly nutritious and most noted for its seeds, which are full of protein and EFAs (essential fatty acids.)  But the meat itself also has many health properties. It helps prevent cancers, cataracts, and regulates blood pressure.  Key nutrients are calcium, iron, magnesium and beta-carotene, which explains why it prevents visual impairment.

Your recipe will determine the preparation of the pumpkin. For baking I prefer to roast it to bring out golden, caramel flavors. The best pumpkins for baking are sugar pumpkins which tend to be a little smaller than the ones we use for carving.  To bake, cut in half and scoop out all the pulp and seeds (save those for toasting.)  I sprinkle a splash of olive oil on top and bake at 350 until tender (which could take up to an hour.)   Once cooled, you will have enough for the following recipe, and maybe more for a vegetable curry.

Pumpkin Muffins

2 C whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. nutmeg
½ C unsalted butter
¾ C Sucanat or brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 C fresh or canned pumpkin (you can also use sweet potato)
1 C chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans are best)
Pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare two muffin tins with liners.

Whisk together first seven ingredients in medium bowl.

Cream butter and sugar in mixing bowl until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping sides and bottom of bowl.  Mix in vanilla and pumpkin.  Add dry ingredients, blending gently until moist.  Stir in nuts.

Scoop batter into muffin cups and top each with pumpkin seeds.  Bake until toothpick comes out clean, approximately 22-24 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on rack for five minutes before removing muffins from pan.

>>Let me know if you have a favorite recipe for toasting the seeds!

Trick or Treat? Beware Foods Toxic to Pets

A slight deviation this week – but it is seasonal! Our dog, Ellie, loves to romp in the vineyard (hubbie Jay is president of Cuvaison Estate Wines.)  So there we are on one of our regular outings when Ellie became enamored with the ‘bounty’ of dried grape clusters that didn’t make the cut for wine. She must have stopped at every other row, gobbling up at whatever her mouth could muster, devouring stems, seeds and all.  At first I thought, good – she’s getting her fruit ration for the day – until I suddenly remembered that grapes were on my list of toxic foods for pets!  Fast forward past the ‘loose’ evidence that something wasn’t right with her digestion and Ellie has recovered nicely.  She has found another ‘natural’ snack – carrots – which is safe and great for the teeth.

If you Google ‘toxic foods for pets’ you will discover a slew of tips and opinions on the subject. One of the better sources I found came from “” with regards to dogs ingesting grapes.  Thankfully, we did not need vet intervention this time, but it is something to watch closely.  Keep the ASPCA Poison Center number handy.  They are available 24/7 and have a team of experts to help.

For more information on other foods pets should avoid, check out Wise Geek.  You’ll notice chocolate is potentially fatal – something to make note of during the holidays, including Halloween.

Ratatouille Two Ways

I’m always trying to find new ways to use eggplant and in keeping with my motto of eating with the seasons, I thought I’d play around and see what appeased my discriminating palate. While ratatouille isn’t original, I have added just about everything from the farmers’ market (save the fruit) and cooked up two variations.

Ratatouille over Polenta

Ratatouille over Polenta

And now to mention the nutritional bennies eggplant contains: it is heart healthy, high in potassium, vitamins A, C, and B complex.  It’s also a good source of fiber and is low in calories (just 28 in 1 cup.)  I guess because eggplant seems more substantial, I would have thought that number to be higher – but that’s what makes it an ideal food for weight control.

So here’s my version of this late summer dish using those yummy tomatoes we just canned and roasted:

If you have time, sprinkle the eggplant with salt once sliced to extract some of its bitterness.  I made dishes with both soft rosemary polenta , and baked over farro pasta.

Ratatouille over Farro

Ratatouille over Farro

(like rigatoni – only whole grain)

Ratatouille – Serves 6

2 yellow onions, diced
2 cans diced tomatoes (14 oz. ea.)
2 cups roasted tomatoes
1 medium eggplant, sliced
2 zucchini or yellow squash, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced and seeded
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced
Fresh oregano and sage or dried Italian herbs
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
A big wedge of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Preheat grill. Brush eggplant, fennel, pepper and squash with olive oil and sea salt.  Grill to desired texture and set aside.  Chop once cool.
Sweat onions in olive oil, lightly salted.  Allow to cook until soft, no color. Deglaze pan with small amount of vinegar and reduce until pan is dry.  Add canned tomatoes and allow to cook until juices reduce, forming stew-like consistency.  Add herbs and season to taste.  Combine with all tomatoes and grilled veggies.

Serve over soft polenta or whole grain pasta (photo below) and top with freshly grated cheese.

Preserving Summer: Roasted Tomatoes

It seems we wait all year for just the right time to pluck those ruby red and yellow globes from our gardens or farm stands, and then all too soon they are gone.  Goodness knows we don’t want to then depend on the grocery store for a new supply, because we are all about seasonal produce.  Do you really need a flavorless tomato in January from Chile? Methinks no.

So in the interest of preserving the fullest flavors possible from this great source of lycopene and vitamin C, I have immersed myself in the kitchen canning and roasting tomatoes for sauces and stews in the months ahead.  It’s also therapeutic and economical.

This is the first of a three-part series on prepping tomatoes for future use, and recipes to enjoy today. Its not too late to grab the last of San Marzanos, Romas or plum tomatoes from the farmers’ markets.  And they’re at a great price now. YUM.

Roasting Tomatoes

Preheat oven to 300. Cut tomatoes in half and remove seeds.  Put in bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss with sea salt, garlic powder and fresh ground pepper to taste.  Be careful not to overdo the salt, as they become pretty concentrated when roasted.

Place cut-side up on cookie sheet or roasting pan lined with parchment.  Bake for two hours or until tomatoes are about half their original size.  You might want to check on them after 60 minutes to make sure the outer ones don’t burn.

Once cooled, you can either store them in the refrigerator in oil, or vacuum seal them and stash in the freezer.  When ready to use, add fresh garlic and herbs, and whatever meat source you desire.

Next up: late summer dishes using…uh, tomatoes!

Are You A Green Foodie?

Like many people, I subscribe to several blogs and every now and then, I actually read them:) OK seriously, I do, and today I’d like to share one of my favorites: The Daily Green.  It covers a range of my favorite topics – food, the environment, green issues, and recipes – everything except pets (a future blog.)  Inside today’s edition there’s a quiz for my fellow devotees committed to living green and ingesting organic. It tests your knowledge on a variety of food sources and briefly touches on the Slow Food movement. Even if you’re inching your way towards sustainable food (bravo!) I think you’ll find it educational and hopefully inspiring.  Afterall, that’s why we do this.  It’s delicious fun!

Cranberry Beans and Garlicky Kale

Cranberry beans are gorgeous for their color alone, but they also have a wonderful texture which is somewhat creamy beneath a hearty skin.  And they’re fresh right now at your local farmers’ markets. Steve Sando pairs them with my favorite green – kale- another super food, loaded with calcium and anti-oxidants from vitamins A and C.  Serve this as an appetizer or light lunch with soup or salad.

3 TB extra virgin olive oil

1/3 C chopped white or yellow onion

3 garlic cloves

1/8 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary

1 1/2 C cooked cranberry beans

2 bunches kale, tough stems removed, coarsely chopped

1/2-inch-thick slices crusty artisan bread

Grated pecorino romano cheese

Preheat oven to 400.

In large, heavy skillet over medium heat, warm 1 TB of olive oil.  Add onion, one garlic clove and rosemary. Saute until soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Put sauteed vegetables and beans in food processor and blend until smooth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Put the bean puree in a small skillet and warm over low heat.  You will have about 2 cups.

In same skillet you used for onions, etc. warm the remaining 2 TB olive oil over medium heat.  Add remaining garlic and saute for about 10 minutes.  Do not allow the garlic to brown.  Add kale and stir until it begins to wilt.  Partially cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender – about 8-10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

Brush bread slices with olive oil.  Arrange on baking sheet and toast in oven until crisp, about 7 minutes.  Spread bean mixture over toasted bread and top with kale. Sprinkle with cheese and serve on a platter.

Serves 4-6

Recipe borrowed from “Heirloom Beans”