Monday, December 31, 2012

Vegetable Soup with Black Garbanzos and Shiitake Mushrooms

The soup pot returns

With the decadence of the holidays behind us, I can't think of a better way to end the year than a comforting, immune boosting soup.  Why immune boosting?  For one thing, I've been doing a little research on boosting the immune system for an upcoming article and the more of these healthy foods that you can include in your daily diet, the better.

 One food that consistently appears on immune-boosting lists is mushrooms.

I've known about the powers of shiitake mushrooms for a long time, but check out this Huffingpost interview with mushroom expert Paul Stamets and learn how components in mushrooms can boost our immune system against cancer and other diseases.

Cascadia Mushrooms, at the U-District farmers' market sells some of these medicinal mushrooms, like shiitake mushrooms and lions mane.  Coming soon they say are fresh maitake mushrooms.   Aside from the many health benefits, mushrooms add great texture and flavor to soup.

Another great immune enhancer is garlic.  This year I've noticed more garlic sellers later in the season.  Nash's Organic Produce had some fresh as did a few other venders at the market.  River Farm has dried garlic and so far, no word on how dried garlic stacks up next to the immune boosting powers of fresh raw garlic.   I like to add garlic early in a soup recipe, then squeeze in a bit more just before serving.

Dark green leafy vegetables are also immune system enhancers.  Go for more of the cruciferous greens, since these are the greens that have been most studied.  These too are easy to find, especially in the Northwest where kale practically grows wild.   We have it year-round in yards and at the farmers' markets. 

With all these vegetables, you'll feel healthy just making this soup.

But what about beans?

Beans are the protien base for this vegetarian soup.   Beans also contain fiber and a good amount of magnesium. Black garbanzos have a better flavor and a less mealy texture than the white garbanzos.  You can buy black garbanzo seed from Irish Eyes and grow some of these gems in your garden this spring.   I've got black garbanzos on my list of "must try" new vegetables for my garden this year.

My cooking assistant gives this recipe four paws up.  Try it and see.

Vegetable Soup with Black Garbanzos and Shitake Mushrooms
(Serves 6)
I got black garbanzo beans at Whole Foods, but you can use biege garbanzo's or chickpeas if you can't find black garbanzos. Use a pressure cooker and this soup will be ready in 20 minutes. The sweet potato falls apart and becomes part of the background.  On the stovetop this soup will take an hour or more for the chickpeas to become tender.

1 1/2 cups fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced, stems removed
1 cup black garbanzos, rinsed and soaked overnight
28-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
28-ounce can water
1 sweet potato, but into small chunks
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
1 bunch kale, washed and cut into small piece
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 to 2 cloves garlic
Croutons for garnish

1. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add mushrooms.  Stir and cook until mushrooms soften.  Remove from heat.

2. Combine mushrooms, chickpeas, tomatoes, water, sweet potato, rosemary, thyme and sugar.  If using a pressure cooker, lock lid in place and bring pressure up.  Cook for 12 minutes.  Remove from heat and let pressure come down naturally.  If using a pot on the stovetop, bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, or until garbanzos are tender.  (You could also put the mixture in a crock pot and cook it all day.)

3. Stir the sweet potato into the soup when the garbanzos are soft.   Add the olives and kale and cook on low until the kale softens—about 5 minutes.  Add pepper to taste and squeeze in 1 or 2 cloves of garlic.  Garnish with croutons.

Here's to a healthy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Santa's Cookies

A guest post from Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

Happy Holidays!

There's always something magical about cookie season.  Mainly it's the cookies, if I can put it bluntly. 

In addition to posting our favorite "Santa" bribe cookie, I've gathered 10 more cookie recipes, just in case you don't want to make roll out cookies.  But come on--once a year, make a few cut out cookies.

I thought we'd be baking a new recipe from this old book that came from the library.  I mentioned it in last week's post and from gingerbread brownies, to simple sandies, to anise hazelnut teacakes, I haven't stopped drooling since I first sniffed butter on these pages.  But the truth is-- if  you have a special occasion favorite family cookie recipe, the human sentimental factor wins every time.  Management has made these cookies long before I came to this house, so they're the cookies that always get made.

But whether you choose recipes from a book, blog or use traditional recipes like we do, make sure you have all the ingredients gathered first.  

For local food lovers, check farmers' markets or natural food stores like Marlene's Market and Deli, for local flour, nuts, butter, eggs and dried fruits.   And while most recipes in blogs or books list butter, milk or eggs, you can easily make cookies vegan and substitute Earth Balance for butter, coconut, soy or rice milk for milk or cream and egg replacer or mashed banana (use 1/4 cup for each egg).  

Big hint --Never try to use egg substitutes in recipes that list more than three eggs.  Management claims too many substitutes can create hocky puck muffins and cookies--definitely not a crowd pleasing texture for holiday company.

Gather ingredients
Substitute bananas for eggs if you don't eat eggs--1/4 cup mashed banana for every egg.

The original recipe for these cookies came from an old cookie pamphlet.  Every year, Management cranks out at least one batch. And if I'm lucky, the dough will be left unguarded and I can snatch some tasty treats before they hit the oven.

If you use freshly ground flour from locally grown wheat, add a bit more flour to create a stiff dough.

"The best recipes have stains all around them and the page is bent or torn  from overuse." 

Here's the prize winning recipe:

Ethel's Sugar Cookies
(Makes about 45 cookies, assorted shapes)
Make the dough for these cookies a day ahead.  Then invite other people to join the cookie cutting fun.  You can decorate these with a simple frosting, or you can use sprinkles and mini chocolate chips, but it's find if you like them plain and unfrosted.

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

3/4 cup butter or Earth Balance
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten or egg replacer for 2 eggs

1. Combine the flour, baking powder and sea salt in a large bowl.   Blend well.  In another bowl blend the butter, sugar, vanilla and eggs or egg replacer.  Combine these two mixtures.  The dough should be very stiff to touch.  If it isn't add a little more flour, then gather the dough into a ball and refrigerate for at least an hour.

2. Preheat oven to 400F.  Roll out to 1/8-inch thick.  Cut into desired shapes.  Place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Sprinkle with colored candy sprinkles or wait and decorate with icing when cool.

3. Bake 6 to 8 minutes.

Just in case you think Santa wants something different, I've gathered ten cool possibilities from the internet.

1. Crisp lemon-sugar cookies--these are a lot like the cookies above only lemon.

Cut them in rounds or seasonal shapes. 

3.  Toffee cookies--not for canines since this one contains chocolate, but anything with nuts has got to be good, right?

4. Cinnamon Sugared Walnuts--you can't go wrong with these healthy ingredients.

5. Samoas Bark--yet another recipe you can't share with your canine friends, but for chocolate lover, it's bound to be a hit.

6.  Strawberry Thumbprint cookies--one of my favorites this is chocolate and vegan, how can you go wrong with this one?

7. Cin-ful (vegan) Sweet Potato Cookies--another sweet vegan cookie recipe I'm sure Santa would love.

8. Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies--dairy-free, cranberries and oats--start preheating your oven for this one!

9. Hazelnut biscotti--this is a well-tested recipe around here.  You can use walnuts, pecans or even macadamia nuts if you want.

And finally:

10. The best peanut butter cookies ever.  Most peanut butter cookies taste more sugary, this recipe has more peanut butter flavor and it never fails to draw comments.  

Whatever you choose to make, set them down low, so Santa or "his helpers" can find them.   

Santa, I can't promise to be good.  Best advice: hurry!

Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gifts from the Kitchen

A Guest Post by Finn the cooking assistant (aka the Dog Picker)

Gifts from the Kitchen

Sorry this post is a bit late, it's been a bit hectic and crazy with all the preholiday things that go on around here.  This week a great food gift arrived from our dentist--apples, oranges, crackers, green tea and apple cider mixes.  How cool is that??  Healthy foods and best wishes for good health--I can't think of a better way to celebrate this season.  

Gifts made in our kitchen are my favorite way to spend my time.  Sure, I love to get cool things, like this squeaky dinosaur with a Santa hat.  But what good is a toy?  You certainly can't eat it. And to lay in the kitchen sniffing the scent of cinnamon biscuits is simply divine.

Maybe I'll toss this guy around a few times, but mostly I prefer to sleep with my toys and eat food gifts.

Canine Gifts

What dog doesn't love a biscuit?  And homemade?  Oh, don't get me started.  Check out these dog biscuits and don't about these biscuits I recently posted. Even when we give dog biscuits as gifts, some get burned and those are always mine.  Love kitchen mistakes!

Another great canine gift is sweet potato chews.  Here's an easy recipe:

Sweet Potato Dog Chews
(Each average sweet potato makes about 6 chews)
You can set the oven temperature to 175F and dry the chews longer.

Sweet potatoes or yams

1. Preheat oven to 200F.

2. Slice sweet potatoes lengthwise, about 1/4-inch thick.  Place flat on a baking sheet and bake from 8 to 12 hours.  Turn off oven to allow sweet potatoes to get crispy if you like.  Keep these treats in the freezer if you aren't going to use them within a week.

Pretty Coco posing with her sweet potato chews.

Human Gifts

First of all, let me point out, humans have way too many material things.  This season, why not unplug the Christmas tree and get busy making your own gifts.  

For starters, check out  this article in the Sound Outlook about gifts from your kitchen.  The article  includes tips for mixes, snacks, flavored vinegars, sugar and salt and custom made gift baskets.  My canine nose can't take vinegar, but I'm told it takes it only takes a couple of weeks to make this raspberry vinegar, and it could make a nice New Year's or  house warming gift after its strained and put in a pretty container.  Cooking stores have great containers.  Also check out thrift stores because you never know what you'll find.  (Some of my best blankets have come from Goodwill.) 

Vinegar is not a canine favorite. In fact, I'd rather eat an entire box of Satsumas.   Why not consider putting  a few Satsumas in the dog's sock instead of the same old boring tennis ball.

And if you want to get all Martha Stewarty, why not pick up some great gift tips from books at your public library.  This old Better Homes and Gardens book has tons of crafty stuff plus many cookie recipes which I hope we'll make on Christmas eve.

And if you're no Martha Stewart, consider buying some cool fruit and pantry items at your farmers' market and making a specialized gift pack.   A baker might really like some flour from Bluebird Grain Farms or Nash's Organic Produce.  

And  salad lover could probably go for some great apple cider vinegar from Rockridge Orchards.

Always a big hit is to include a book or two.  I'm told this is shameless self-promotion at this point. Just about everyone I know is more interested in healthy eating.  For pete's sake when I'm eating more vegetables than the average American, people must be starving for tasty healthy recipes.

Healthy is the key for 2013, so why not gift the gift of good health and send fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grain rather than the traditional rich treats.  Meat- and dairy-free couldn't hurt a few more humans eitehr. 

If I could just reach that orange. .  . .  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Spicy Pickled Carrots

I just got back from a visit Phoenix.  Nearly a week of hiking and sun--it's almost a bit much for a Northwest native who loves rainy days. One of my favorite things to do in any city is visit the farmers' market.  And even though I've been there before, I had a list of things I wanted to bring back so we went to the Roadrunner Farmers Market.    This great market has grown alot since I first went there a few years ago.  The bell for starting sales rings at 8am on Saturday.  The park around the market, makes a great place to have a picnic or talk a walk.

I got pistachios, pecans, dates, dog biscuits and some tiny hot peppers.  I even found some local Sundowner apples, grown in Wilcox, AZ, east of Tuscon. These apples have great flavor and are the lesser known relative of Pink Lady apples. When I spotted Edible Phoenix on a market table, I picked up a copy to peruse the articles and check out the recipes.  I didn't get very far when I found Diane Morgan's Spicy Thai Pickled Carrots.

I love pickles and I've never eaten carrot pickles.  I'm sure you could probably use any kind of carrots you want.

I chose Nash's carrots, which are legendary around here.  Some people call them carrot candy. The carrots get sweeter when it's cold outside.  Same thing goes for Brussels sprouts, so look for the sweetest sprouts and carrots in the Northwest after a cold snap hits.

My Cooking Assistant loves  Nash's carrots.  No hiding place safe.

The carrots below were at the Ferry Plaza Market in San Francisco. They have a similar look to Nash's carrots, but I bet they aren't as sweet as Nash's.  Not in the winter, anyway.  So just because a vegetable is oversized, don't assume it isn't sweet or tender.  Sometimes the best tasting vegetables are those that are allowed to become mature.

I didn't have a Thai pepper, but on a scale of heat, it's just below a habanero, and that's what the little red pepper is.  So I changed the name of the recipe, and I also changed the proportion of the ingredients since I had more than 12-ounces of carrots and I felt like the recipe needed a bit more vinegar.

Diane's recipe also mentioned peeling the carrots, but I'm not into peeling because lots of vitamins are just under the skin, so unless they look really beat-up, I leave peel on.  It's up to you.  

The original recipe can be found in Roots: The Definitive Guide with More Than 200 Recipes. I'm checking it out at the library!

Here's my revised version:

Spicy Pickled Carrots
(Makes about 2 cups)
These carrots are great sidekicks for sandwiches, or add them to salads for some zip.  How hot they are depends entirely on the peppers used.   I find the hottest peppers come from places like Arizona or Texas.  I carried them in my carry-on and until a pepper-bomber strikes, I think I'm safe toting them home.

1 pound carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 hot pepper, sliced thinly (include the seeds and the carrots will be very hot)

1. Toss the carros with the sea salt and let them sit while you prepare the spicy vinegar.  

2. Combine the vinegar, brown sugar and hot pepper in a saucepan.  Bring it to a boil, stirring the mixture so the sugar dissolves.  When it boils, remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture over the carrots.  Stir, pushing the carrots down into the vinegar. 

3. Cover and refrigerate.  The flavors marry and the carrots are best if you wait a day to eat them.  They will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Simple Broccoli Salad

A guest post by Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

What's on your salad plate today?  We've been having lots of broccoli lately.   Management has been stocking blanched broccoli as a regular snack item in the refrigerator, and since we're all vegetable lovers here, I do expect my share.

I got up from my morning nap, the second I sniffed the peeled orange.  I'm awake right away when good things are happening in the kitchen and I must say this is one of those unique salads that adds some zip to any winter menu line-up.   If I was allowed to eat it all, I certainly would have.  We must all do our best to eat more vegetables.

It has a simple orange dressing and if you live in California, you're a lucky dog because you can pick all the oranges you want up at a farmers' market.  If you live in Washington state, unless you have some kind of awesome greenhouse, you'll be buying oranges at the grocery store.

Our oranges go fast, seems everyone loves them.  I wake up from a deep sleep when I smell oranges being peeled and I'm there pronto to claim my share.  I'm not above whining, because I've learned the squeeky wheel gets greased and when you whine, Management knows you're serious.  A little shuffling from side to side helps too when begging.  I should give classes on the art of begging.

Management also keeps an assortment of apples and the cook selected a Pink Pearl apple.  Not only do they have great flavor, the aroma drives me mad with desire, and for humans the pink color is stunning.

As for avocados-what doesn't go with avocado?  We try it in everything around here, and let's just say I've been known to eat more than my share of avocado on occasion. 

Just seven ingredients plus salt and pepper for this little salad.  How much easier can making a salad get?  

Broccoli, Avocado and Apple Salad
(Serves 4 to 6)

4 cups broccoli, cut small, florets and stems (peel stem if it seems very tough)
1 pink pearl apple, cored and diced (not peeled)
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, and diced
1/4 cup fresh orange juice (use 1 or 2 mandarin oranges)
1 clove garlic
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon veganaise or garlic aioli spread
Salt and pepper to taste

Blanch broccoli for a few minutes in a large pot of boiling water.  Remove from heat, drain, and plunge (or rinse) broccoli in cold water to stop cooking. Broccoli should be fork-tender Drain. Combine broccoli with apple and avocado in a serving bowl.

Combine orange juice, garlic, olive oil and veganaise.  Gently blend into the broccoli-apple-avocado mixture.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

I'm sorry Santa, once again I couldn't resist.