Cool Cucumber Soup with Herbed Cucumber Relish (DF)

 photo IMG_0726.jpgI have cucumbers coming out of my ears – and no Big Brothers, I did not eat a seed. I can only assume that our relatively cool Maryland summer has delayed the usual onset of powdery mildew (which has now arrived and I’m combatting according to Big Sis’ suggestion) long enough for my cucumber plants to go bananas, so to speak. I’ve regularly been harvesting not just 1 or 2, but anywhere from 6 to 16 (yes, I said 16) delicious cukes from my 4 cucumber plants. What variety is doing so well in my not very well tended garden? I have no idea. Seed mixups are a real bummer. I digress.

In order to take advantage of my cuke bounty, we’ve been experimenting with some things, and I’ll share more of them over the next few weeks before it snows and puts an end to this whole summer bounty thing. Today, while it is relatively hot, I’ll share a lovely cooling use for all those wonderful cukes.

If you’ve been playing along for a while, you already know how I feel about Deborah Madison. In addition to my Deborah Madison cooking bible, I have a slimmer volume dedicated only to soups, because I really like soup. In this beautifully produced and photographed cookbook, there are a few cool soups perfect for beastly weather. Last night I was inspired by her Cool Cucumber Soup, although as usual I was compelled to make some changes. At any rate we had an 85% approval rating (meaning Picky Pants initially enjoyed it and changed her mind later). So, for all you cucumber lovers, or just those of you who like the sound of an easy cooling meal made from the most abundant veggie out there right now…

Cool Cucumber Soup with Herbed Cucumber Relish (DF) adapted (and made larger and milder) from Deborah Madison’s version in Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen(serves 4)

Soup

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  • 2 pounds cucumbers
  • 1 1/2 c cashew cream (here, from our lovely friend Annie) or yogurt or sour cream
  • 3/4 c herbs (I used dill, basil, and parsley to great effect
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • zest and juice of 1 1/2 lemons

Relish

  • 1 pound cucumbers
  • 2 T chopped scallions
  • 1 T dill
  • 2 T chopped basil and parsley
  • 2 t olive oil
  • zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

Peel and seed the cucumbers – dice 1/3 of them (or one pound) and set aside for the relish. While I often recommend skipping peeling and such, in this case I peeled to remove the bitterness sometimes in the skins. Coarsely chop remaining cukes and place in blender with the rest of the ingredients for the soup. Blitz until smooth. Place in fridge to chill. Yes, that’s it. No, I’m not joking.

Just before serving, combine ingredients for relish in bowl and stir. Done. No muss, no fuss, no cucumbers wasted. Delish. Happy super late summer!

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Buying Healthy at Costo: My Faves

The first time I went to Costco it was with a neighbor. I told her I don’t do well in large stores with lots of different kinds of things to see. “Let me guess; you freeze up?” Why yes, yes I do. She shrugged and said, “Don’t worry. John does the same thing. I’ve got practice. I’ll get you through.”

I like to think that I’ve gotten a little better at managing my scene at Costco. I no longer need a guide or sherpa. I’ve never been tempted by the vehicles or pianos (although I confess camping gear can get a little dicey). I attempt to take a list, and sometimes I even stick to it (silence in the peanut gallery please). At any rate, through all this increasingly disciplined procurement I have discovered that Costco has some remarkable deals on some healthful foods. These have become staples for me that make it easier for me to plan highly nutritious meals or to fake a planned meal with high quality ingredients. While Costco does offer a significant amount of prepared food, they also have a remarkable number of real food ingredients. If you are skeptical, or still in the frozen stage of your Costco relationship, I thought I’d share my top healthful purchases at our local Costco, so you can guide yourself through the onslaught of offers.

1) Produce  photo IMG_0510.jpg

There are a lot of good deals on produce at Costco, although many of them are packaged in ways that I just can’t stomach, so I’m going to focus on the really exceptional, and less poorly packaged, deals here. My favorite Costco discovery is the bag of Power Greens. It has several hearty greens mixed together and is perfect for adding to salads, soups, smoothies, and anything else you would normally add greens to. Don’t forget greens freeze just fine, so the size of the bag shouldn’t put you off. It’s 4.99 for a massive bag of greens that you would normally buy in little piddly amounts in a plastic box. Carrots are also an exceptional Costco score provided you use them a lot. We are carrot lovers and use our 10 lb bag in plenty of time. This bag comes with two bags inside, so it would also be easy to split with a carrot loving friend. Avocados at a dollar apiece? Yes please.

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Frozen produce is also a good deal with organic sweet peas going for just over a dollar a pound. Our Costco also offers frozen organic corn and mixed vegetables. You can find other great deals on dried fruit at Costco. They offer a wide variety of high quality dried fruit at lower than grocery store prices. Just check the ingredients to find the varieties that do not have added sugar. ;-)

2) Nuts and Seeds

While Costco does not fill my raw cashew needs, they manage to answer all my other nut cravings and requirements, and again they do it at prices that consistently beat grocery stores, even those with bulk bins. Kirkland almonds, pecans, walnuts and pistachios are permanent residents on my Costco list. We’ve also gotten pine nuts and chia seeds there (prohibitively expensive at the market, and they do keep just fine).

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3) Grains and Beans

 photo IMG_0546.jpgOrganic brown rice at Costco rings in at 1.16 per pound. Costco also sells sprouted dried beans and organic quinoa at better than grocery store prices.

4) Nut Butters While with the nut prices Costco has, I should really be making my own nut butters, I confess that I don’t. This is one place where I let convenience win the day. Kirkland brand organic peanut butter is a staple in our house. We’ve recently been pleased to also find organic almond butter, both at substantially lower prices than I can find them in the market.  photo IMG_0526.jpg  photo IMG_0528.jpg

5) Pantry Staples  photo IMG_0534.jpg

This is the category for a miss-mosh of ingredients that we buy at Costco and that we’ve found to be higher quality, and less expensive, than any of our other local options. Our Costco pantry staples include: Kirkland maple syrup, Kirkland extra virgin olive oil, dijon mustard, and Kirkland balsamic vinegar.

6) Beverages  photo IMG_0519.jpg

While we no longer buy most of the packaged beverages offered at Costco, we do enjoy the screamin’ deals on snooty coffee. If you are a whole bean coffee purchaser, you should check their prices out. We also occasionally take advantage of sales on coconut water.

7) Bread  photo IMG_0508.jpg

We have had a good experience with whole grain sandwich bread at Costco and have also occasionally enjoyed the gigantic stack of whole wheat tortillas that they sell for the same price as a dinky grocery store package.

8) Better Junk While we typically eschew junk food, the occasional whole grain tortilla chip goes a long way toward limiting the sense of overwhelming deprivation that can consume my kids. Costco has great prices on a few items that I would categorize as better junk. We typically buy one of these for gatherings or vacations and enjoy the leftovers.

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So there you have it, the bulk of my permanent Costco list on my phone (which the children now read and manage in a very dictatorial fashion, much to my chagrin). One of the biggest barriers to healthier eating is the cost of high quality ingredients. If you already have a Costco membership, check out these amazing deals. If you don’t have one, but are now tempted, consider giving it a try – or touring the store and doing the personal calculation of whether or not it makes sense for you, or for you and a friend. I am staring at that picture of chips as I write this… I am weak in the face of chips. Hope you are all having a glorious summer and if you are already a huge box store shopper, what are your favorite healthy (or healthier) deals?

Naturally Sweet Sweet Potatoes

Sitting here between these two holidays and all of their associated traditional dishes, I find myself scrambling pretty regularly to get some non-holiday food on the table between chores in preparation for family, friends, and food. Last night I ran an experiment that just may change my holiday table forever – it certainly gave us a pleasant surprise for dinner.

IMG_0439I love sweet potatoes.  We’ve gushed about this nutritious tuber here before, and found ways to work it into so many different meals and treats (breakfast, soup, more soup, brownies, cookies, dinner). I know that many families have a tradition of holiday sweet potatoes that include all manner of sweetener from maple syrup to marshmallows. I confess these preparations have rarely appealed to me, but I wondered if there wasn’t another way to go with that sweetness – to enhance the natural sweetness in a nutritious way.  Looking around the kitchen I spied an overabundance of ripening bananas and it occurred to me that I might be on to something.  A quick google search told me I could, indeed, roast bananas.  One small step for me, one large step for sweet sweet potato dishes. Continue reading

Leftover Mashed Potatoes Make Great Soup…

It doesn’t matter who we’re having or what we’re eating, if I’m cooking for more than our little clan, I just can’t get the amount right.  Faced with a holiday dinner, I routinely make about twice what is actually required, sure that I may not be making enough.  In my mind every guest is a 14 year old athlete with a limitless metabolism and elastic waistband.

Thus our recent Thanksgiving dinner left us with a giant container of mashed potatoes in the fridge.  Now normally I am just fine with lots of mashed potatoes around, but truth to tell I am the only REAL mashed potato fanatic in the house.  Mr. Little Sis likes them, but can’t eat them for days and the kids are just not into them at all – there’s only so much a girl can do faced with all that mash.  I hated to think of it going to waste… surely there is another way.

While I could have made mashed potato pancakes, we’d had latkes just a few nights before, so no dice there. After being tired, cold, and a little lonely after the long weekend playing games and watching movies with the family, soup just seemed like the thing to do.  And what could be easier than making soup from mashed potatoes, especially if you have a leek.  This really doesn’t merit a recipe, but I’ll write it out that way to make it easy to follow.  You’re welcome.

Leftover Mashed Potato Leek Soup with Wilted Spinach and Basil

  • olive oil for the potIMG_0404
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts cleaned and chopped *
  • 4 cups mashed potatoes (I used these non-dairy beauties)
  • 2 c water
  • 1/2 t salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1 c coconut milk (or whatever you prefer)
  • olive oil for the pan
  • About 5 ounces of fresh spinach (or as much or little as you like – it DOES shrink a lot)
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • small handful of fresh basil, chopped

* Leeks are dirty little suckers.  When they grow up through the soil, they bring quite a bit with them, trapped in the layers.  Cleaning them can be tricky.  I simply cut the portion of the leek I intend to use into quarters  the long way.  I think place those quarters (they will separate – it’s okay) into a bowl of water, let them sit while I prepare other bits, swish them around and then rinse.  Works like a charm, every time, and I learned it at fancy cooking school, so it must be right, right? ;-) I can say that the bowl of water is always cloudy and dirty – so it seems to do the trick.

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Warm olive oil in the bottom of a soup or stock pot, place chopped leeks and a sprinkle of salt in pot, sautéing and stirring occasionally until the leeks are tender and the white parts are a little translucent. Add the mashed potatoes and stir to combine.  Add water and salt and stir to combine. Here’s where we’re gonna have some variation.  If your mashed potatoes were perfectly cooked, had no lumps and were smooth as silk, you will only need to bring your pot of yum up to temp.  If, like most of us, your potatoes were delicious but slightly less than perfect, you may want to bring the pot to a gentle boil to cook the potatoes just a little bit as the flavors mingle.  When potatoes have reached the texture you prefer, add the coconut (or whatever) milk and ground pepper.  While the soup comes back up to temp, prepare the spinach.

Warm olive oil to low-medium in a pan (I used cast iron). Add spinach, a sprinkle of salt, and the garlic to the pan.  Turn/stir spinach frequently to encourage wilting throughout.  When nearly all wilted, add the fresh basil. Stir for a little while longer. When all spinach is wilted and bright green, remove from heat.

Serve soup with a few forkfuls of spinach, some lovely bread (ours was a non-dairy apple cheddar quick bread which I’ll share soon), and a salad.  Delicious, satisfying, and a great way to use too much comfort food. Hope your holiday provided you with memories, laughter, and leftovers you love to eat over and over again.

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Soup De Doo!

Everyone I’ve talked to in the last week or so has at least one person in their house who’s sneezing, coughing, hacking, and otherwise feeling miserable.  Both of the Sis sisters have been plagued as well. In my house, all four of us fell to this school born scourge.  And so, while appetites have not been hearty around here lately, we do seem to agree on the goodness of soup.  All soup, any soup, warm wonderful soup.  The fact that we had our first TRUE cold weather of the season only made the call for soup more compelling.

I’m assuming we are not the only coughers and hackers out there, so I thought I’d pause for a moment to do a bit of a soup tour.  But why, you might wonder, why worry so much about soup  recipes when there is nearly an entire aisle full of prepared soups waiting for me at the grocery store? There are many reasons why we prefer homemade to “factory” soup (my nephew’s designation). Canned soup is extremely high in sodium, when the label says low sodium, it means it’s lower than the salt lick next to it.  Canned soup also contains MSG (a good one to avoid according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest) even when it says it doesn’t, apparently.  Canned soup contains a plethora of unnecessary preservatives and unusual ingredients (like monster carrots and celery) that are in that can solely because it is a highly, and violently processed, canned food.  Finally, canned soup is expensive.  No, it’s not the most expensive thing you can buy, but compared to homemade soup, which can be one of the most frugal meal choices you can make, it costs a fortune.

So for all you coughers and hackers, all you frugal home cooks, all you folks who are feeling the first signs of winter, I bring you Soup De Doo!

Soups for Healing

   

1. Cold Kickin’ Soup –  My go to choice for headcolds and other respiratory yuck.

2. Shweet Potato Stew – Super soothing anti-inflammatory sweet potatoes with fantastic flavors.

3. Lentil, Mushroom and Sweet Potato Soup – Warming broth with healing mushrooms and anti-inflammatory sweet potatoes.  Greens for added nutrish and power protein lentils.

Crock Pot Wonders

 

 1. Slow Cooker Vegetable, Bean and Barley Stew – So easy, so delish.

2. Slow Cooker Creamy Tomato Soup (DF) – You know you miss that tomato soup – you don’t have to.

3. Slow Cooker Creamed Lentil Soup – A surprising and simple slow cooker soup.

Twisted Classics

1. Roasted Butternut Squash Soup – Roasting the veggies brings out their sweetness.

2. Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup – Wild rice is so great in soup – never mushy.

3. Bellywarming American Black Bean Soup – We always think of Southwest flavors for black bean soup – this twist reminds us that black beans are very versatile.

Ready for a great big bowl of soup? I know I am (sniffle, hack, cough).  Be well, and get better before the gathering extravaganza begins!

Chickpea Salad Sammies (DF)

Lunch arrived today amidst a variety of house renovation chores.  Having little time to make a hot meal as I might have liked to, I decided sandwiches would be just the thing. Lacking our usual go to sandwich fare, and having eaten most of the leftovers earlier in the weekend, I was in a bit of a pickle (har har) about what kind of sandwiches I could pull together.  And then it struck me… literally.  The precariously balanced can of chickpeas in the pantry tipped and landed on my foot.  I decided I would show that can who’s boss.

In trying to figure out how to quickly incorporate chickpeas into a sandwich without mashing them and cooking them somehow, I considered typical sandwich offerings.  The notion of a chickpea salad came to mind immediately, and I knew a route that combined the chickpeas with some manner of creaminess and some savory herbiness could only lead to a good lunchin’ place. A quick dip into the fridge and the spice rack and I was off to the races.

Chickpea Salad (GF,DF) makes enough for 4 generous sandwiches and some leftover for a lunch or two

  • 2 outer ribs celery, choppedIMG_0306
  • 1/2 red onion (or whatever you like), chopped
  • 2.5 c cooked or canned (rinsed and drained) chickpeas
  • 4 T sunflower cheese (or creaminess of your choice)
  • 2 T dijon mustard
  • 2 T white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 – 1 t dried thyme
  • 2 t dried tarragon
  • 1/2 t salt
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 avocado, cut into smallish pieces
  • sprinkle paprika (opt.)
  • green olives, chopped (opt.)

Sound like a lot of ingredients, I know, but this whips up super quick.  Combine the chopped celery, onion, and chickpeas in a bowl.  In a smaller bowl mix the sunflower cheese, mustard, vinegar, and seasonings.  Whisk (or fork it as I usually do) until incorporated.  Scrape wet bowl into dry bowl.  Stir until they’re all playing nicely.  Add avocado and stir again to combine.  It’s okay if the avocado smushes a bit – it will just add to the creaminess of the salad.  Serve with a sprinkle of paprika and a dusting of chopped olives.  We had ours on whole wheat bread with red lettuce.  Delish, and just right for a VERY busy weekend.

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Lentil, Mushroom, and Sweet Potato Soup (GF,V)

You know how we feel about lentils around here…  OR, if you’re new and you don’t, I’d like to send you here first before you then do a search on lentils and see how ridiculously fond we are of this little protein and fiber packed cheap meal makin’ legume.  Lately our weather has been driving my food cravings and after our recent spate of unseasonably warm weather (leading to Cold Sesame Noodle perfection), we’ve had a predictably unpredictable Mid-Atlantic weather shift to slightly cooler than average with rain – lots and lots of rain.  Not much better remedy for wet and damp days than soup.

And so we turn to our humble pantry staple, the lentil. This soup is great because it doesn’t require that much in terms of super fresh food, but packs a nutritious and flavorful punch.  I found it on Dr. Weil’s site after doing some basic searching for soups.  He apparently got it somewhere else.  I’ve done a little tinkering – out of necessity rather than critique. I’d encourage you to do the same.  Soup can be very forgiving and is a great place to use up veggies that are on the verge of being unusable. Continue reading

Tofu Bahn Mi: Plant Strong Vietnamese

When our twins were 6 months old we moved from our inner ring suburb to what is geographically known to those in our former metro area as the “exurbs.” We are fully ex-ed from the “urb.” The Our exurb, ironically, is just outside of a lovely town. There are restaurants here, and thankfully an increasing number of options for ethnic food; however, lately I find that I simply feel better when I cook at home, even if I am sacrificing a real chef’s authentic dish in favor of my approximation that serves to satisfy a craving.  I often “make do.” This time, I wasn’t “making do.” This dish was fabulous. Continue reading

Tapas for Two, or Four

Miss Picky Pants (known for the remainder of the post as MPP) is a grazer.  She is easily overwhelmed by large portions (with the exception of cake, of course), and loves to have just a bit of as many things as possible.  In a desperate attempt to have dinner out a few years ago, Mr. Little Sis and I took the twins to a Tapas joint here in our little burg.

Don’t know if you’ve ever walked 4 year old twins into a restaurant before, but I can tell you it’s the rare restaurant staff that greets this moment with true enthusiasm.  Weren’t they surprised to find out that as long as they kept the bread and little plates coming, MPP and her all cuisine loving brother would be just fine, thank you very much.  To be fair my little MPP, she comes by the small plate thing honestly.  I love having bits on the plate to choose from , tie together, nibble on, mop up with bread.  Yum. Tonight we had just such a plate.  If there had been sections dividing MPP’s food, everything would have been perfecto.  All of it was simple, hearty, and super yummy.  Perfect for these increasingly cool evenings.  A little preview of autumn’s heartier fare. The highlight of the meal, for me, was garlic mushrooms, a classic tapas favorite. The beauty of this dish is its simplicity and its versatility. Want it with rice – rock it out. Over quinoa? Keen. With pasta? Perfection. Garlic mushrooms, a foodie’s best friend. Continue reading

Slow and Simple Tortillas, Beans, and Rice

There are times when we all need a fast meal.  We are overbooked. We are overtired. We are overworked. There are also times we need a slow meal. We are overworked. We are overtired. We are overbooked. So we stop and go to the kitchen and pull out ingredients to make a meal that is comforting, that is universally accepted in the home, that everyone can help make. We bring our consciousness back to the basic reality of finding nourishment and achieving flavor. We bring our attention back to the domestic, in the very best sense of the word, the hearth, the heart of our existence on this earth. We use our hands to turn ingredients into a basic meal. We are still likely overbooked, but less tired, and the work is restorative, the motion therapeutic, the company a balm. Slow food. Breathing. We CAN wait a few more minutes. Especially if it means we get homemade tortillas. Continue reading