Cucumber Melon Salad with Feta, Basil, and Mint

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Happy summer, everyone! Sorry for the long hiatus from blogging – I wish I had a good excuse, but sadly I don’t. Life just gets so busy in the summer, who has time to cook? But, I’m back now and I have really good intentions of being more consistent. I have good intentions about a lot of things that don’t always come to fruition (gym, yoga, being punctual, curbing my binge-shopping for my unborn baby nephew – just to name a few), but I have a lot of recipes on my to-do list so I’m feeling good about my re-committment to the blog.

It’s finally summer here in the Pacific Northwest, where we can count on blue skies and sunshine only after the Fourth of July. And with temperatures in the 80s and 90s all week/weekend, what sounds better than a cold, crunchy, watermelon salad? I love getting my Martha Stewart Living each month, but I have this problem where I put magazines in a “to read” pile and then kind of forget about them (see above re: “good intentions”). But it’s my dad’s birthday today (Happy Birthday, Dad!!!) and watermelon is one of his all time favorite things, so when we celebrated earlier this week I dug through my pile and tried my best to copy the gorgeous picture on the cover.

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This salad really couldn’t be easier. Just cut up your melons and cucumber, throw in some herbs (you could use just mint or just basil – Martha only lists basil, and most watermelon salads only use mint – it was delicious with both but if you only have one or the other on hand it would be fine), toss with olive oil and lime juice, and you’re good to go.  The feta is totally discretionary – I liked it with, but it would be equally good without. You can prepare the salad ahead of time and then just toss with the dressing before serving. I like my watermelon as cold as possible, so keep the salad in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.

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Cucumber Melon Salad, adapted from Martha Stewart Living 

(note: Martha’s recipe is for one serving, mine serves a crowd)

One cantaloupe, cubed or balled
One small or one half large watermelon, cubed or balled
1-2 large or 3-4 small cucumbers, diced or sliced
Olive oil to taste
Lime juice to taste
Small handful mint leaves, torn or julienned
Small handful basil leaves, torn or julienned
1/4 cup – 1/2 cup crumbled feta, optional
Salt and pepper to taste, optional*

Toss together your melons and cucumber. I used the melon baller for my watermelon and diced the cantaloupe like Martha told me to, but you could cut both or ball both, whatever is easier. If you’re using regular cucumbers, I would cut them lengthwise into quarters and then dice them, but if you can find persian cucumbers (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, etc.) you can just slice them. I read once that in salads like this everything should be the same size (pieces of watermelon = pieces of cantaloupe = pieces of cucumber), so I used that as a rough guideline.

Just before serving, drizzle the cucumber and melons with olive oil and fresh lime juice and toss with mint and basil. I used only a tiny bit of olive oil and two limes (heavier on the lime, lighter on the oil) but you can adjust this to your liking. Garnish with additional mint and basil and sprinkle with feta, if using (I used it this time, but Martha doesn’t and I might not next time – it was good with it but would be just as good without). Chill in the fridge if time allows. 

*I didn’t use salt and pepper as I didn’t think the salad needed any – but if you weren’t using feta I think a little salt would be good.  

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Miraval’s Arugula Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette (and an easy recipe for Vegetable Stock)

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Hi friends – long time no see. I’ve been meaning to get this post up for about a month now, but for a variety of reasons it just hasn’t happened. Life gets busy, I came down with the norovirus, I’ve had a lot of shopping to do for my little baby nephew on the way (!!!)…..excuses, excuses. Mostly though, I’m afraid I haven’t sat down to post this because salad dressing – especially a healthy salad dressing – is just not very exciting.

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I promise that once you make this though, it’s a lot less boring. Believe me when I tell you I’m not a fan of mustard (or any condiment, really), but this dressing is still somehow delicious. I was introduced to it when I took a cooking class at Miraval last month, and since I’ve been back I’ve been making it nonstop. The Miraval recipes are pretty conscious about oil and salt, but it’s amazing how you don’t really miss them here.

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Isn’t this just the prettiest picture you’ve ever seen? Just kidding, it looks gross – sorry! Thickened vegetable stock sounds weird, I know, but it’s a trick they use at Miraval – thicken your veggie stock with cornstarch, and use it in place of (most of) the oil in dressings to cut fat and calories substantially. At first I was kind of annoyed about making the stock, but it’s actually incredibly easy and makes your kitchen smell delicious. You could easily use store bought veggie stock, however – or just skip this step and use more olive oil if you aren’t that worried about it.

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Just throw all ingredients (except for your whole grain mustard and olive oil) into your blender and puree, then slowly add the oil.

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Whisk the whole grain mustard in once the dressing is removed from the blender, so that the grains stay whole. I know it doesn’t look pretty, but it tastes so good (and healthy!).

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You can use this dressing on whatever salad you like, of course, but in the class we made arugula with cranberries, pine nuts, and goat cheese, so that’s what I did here. I used dried cherries instead (my favorite!) and toasted the pine nuts – delicious as a starter, or add some grilled chicken and call it dinner. My favorite Miraval tip, for the next time you’re entertaining: put on a pair of plastic gloves and plate your salad with your hands – it looks so much prettier that way and you can really make it stand up on the plate. If only I could go to cooking school every day!

Miraval: highlights and cookies

One year ago: eggplant parm (yum, now I’m craving this again)

Honey Mustard Dressing, from Mindful Eating

Yield: 2 1/2 cups

1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/2 cup whole grain dijon mustard
2 tablespoons roasted shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon roasted garlic (or raw, or a combination or roasted and raw, depending on how garlicy you like things), chopped
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup thickened vegetable stock (recipe below)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper (black pepper would work fine too)
Chives, optional

If using a mixing bowl: combine mustards, shallots, garlic, honey, and vinegar; mix well. Add thickened stock, oil, salt, and pepper, and whisk to incorporate the stock and oil. Add chopped chives.

If using a blender: Add all ingredients except whole grain mustard and olive oil; blend well. Stream in oil. Pour into a bowl and whisk in the whole grain mustard (so that the grains stay intact – you don’t want them to break down in the blender).

Dressing will be thick and creamy. Toss with arugula and any garnishes you like – I love it with dried cranberries or cherries, toasted pine nuts, and goat cheese.

Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons: 44 calories, 1.5 grams of fat

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Miraval’s Vegetable Stock, from Mindful Eating

Yield: Makes Two Quarts

3 cups onions, peeled and quartered
1 cup celery (no leaves), roughly chopped
1 cup carrots, roughly chopped
1/2 cup leeks, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, quartered
2 tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup fennel, roughly chopped (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4″ x 4″ cheesecloth
6 inches butcher twine
2 quarts cold water

Heat a large stockpot with the vegetables; stir occasionally for 3-5 minutes to prevent scorching. Tie spices and herbs inside cheesecloth with butcher twine and add to pot. Cover contents with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for two hours. Strain stock and use or cool in an ice bath. Refrigerate or freeze for future use.

Nutrition information per cup: 47 calories, zero fat

For thickened vegetable stock:

2 cups + 4 tablespoons vegetable stock
4 tablespoons cornstarch

Heat two cups of stock to a rolling boil. Combine 4 tablespoons cold stock with the cornstarch to make a slurry. Add the slurry to the boiling stock and whisk constantly until the stock thickens to a sauce-like consistency. Cool completely in an ice bath. Cover and refrigerate for later use. Thickened stock will keep up to one week – stir well before each use.

Friday Faves: Miraval Edition

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 early morning desert hike

Last week my mom, sister, sister-in-law, and I had the incredibly good fortune to hop a plane to sunny Arizona and spend a few days at Miraval, an amazing resort and spa outside of Tucson that I’ve been referring to as “Oprah’s Spa” (Oprah and Gayle went a number of years ago, and then Oprah sent an entire audience full of groups of girlfriends during her final season – if you were wondering).  Our days went a little something like this: breakfast, fitness class/hike/yoga, coffee/juice/smoothie bar break, classes or lectures (fitness, nutrition, cooking, mental health, photography, you name it), lunch, spa treatment, more classes or lectures, maybe some pool time, happy hour, dinner, bed.   Needless to say, our trip wasn’t nearly long enough and I can’t wait to get back.  A few highlights:

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life in balance spa – my new happy place

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hummingbird mama and her babies in their nest in the courtyard (in a kumquat tree!)

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pool time (not pictured: my prickly pear iced tea, so delicious!)

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desert sunset

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cooking demo with the pastry chef – lemon raspberry cookies and arugula salad with honey dijon vinaigrette (recipes coming next week, get excited!)

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downtime at the villa

Pasta & Co. Red Lentil Soup

IMG_6030Spring is allegedly only two and a half weeks away, but you’d never know it if you looked out the window. I had the good fortune to escape to the desert last week (more on that on Friday), but returned home to gray skies, nonstop drizzle, and temperatures in the thirties (I know my Midwest/East Coast friends have it way worse, but even the high thirties is still freezing for this girl at this point). This was the second year in a row that I’ve spent the end of February in Arizona, and it makes me wonder why I don’t spend the entire month there. Potentially March as well – but I digress. The silver lining of this weather is that nothing sounds better than making soup, except possibly curling up on the couch to watch the Oscars with said bowl of soup – and maybe some popcorn.IMG_6022

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IMG_6024So often when I go to post one of my favorite recipes, I wonder how I haven’t shared it with you already, and that is especially true in this case. I could eat lentil soup for every meal – I have a hard time not ordering it when I see it on a menu, or making it immediately when I come across a new recipe. As such, I think I can fairly say I’ve tried quite a few different variations, and nothing comes close to this one – especially for the time and effort it takes to throw it together.IMG_6025

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IMG_6027Simply toast the cumin seeds along with the other spices, then sauté your onions and garlic (I of course use the pre-chopped Trader Joe’s bag of onions), dump in the lentils, water, and tomatoes, and simmer. Note that using water in lieu of chicken stock means (a) it’s vegetarian, (b) it’s so much lower in sodium, and (c) you have one less thing to buy at the store. The recipe tells you to make a “bouquet garni” (I love that term) with the cilantro, but I usually just throw a few stems in and then dig them out after half an hour. Another fun note is that the Trader Joe’s bag of red lentils is exactly two cups – nothing makes me happier than not having to measure AND not having to add a half-used or almost-empty bag of something random to the pantry, never to be used again. Although in this case, you’ll want to make this soup again so you would use them, but still – you know what I mean.IMG_6028

IMG_6035Stir in a little lemon juice and cilantro at the end, and that’s it. So easy and SO good. I like to serve it garnished with more cilantro, a lemon wedge, and perhaps a dollop of greek yogurt, but it really doesn’t need anything. The soup will keep well in the fridge or freezer, so it’s great to package up for lunches for the week – your coworkers will be so jealous, and you won’t have to brave the weather to go grab lunch.

One year ago: coconut granola, lemony banana bread 

Pasta & Co., previously: black bean and couscous salad

Soup, previously: white bean and kale, split pea, tomato, pumpkin black bean, curried butternut squash, cauliflower leek, minestrone, and roasted sweet potato and apple 

Red Lentil Soup, from Pasta & Co. By Request 

Serves 6-8

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or put through a garlic press
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 quarts water
2 cups red lentils, rinsed
1 cup crushed tomatoes in purée (the recipe recommends Paradiso brand; I use whatever I have on hand)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
7 sprigs cilantro, washed and tied together
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons cilantro (or more to taste), washed, dried, and finely chopped
Sour cream, yogurt, or quark to top (optional)

In a large saucepan, combine oil, cumin seeds, coriander, and turmeric.  Over low heat, cook mixture until seeds darken.  Remove from heat and add onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  Sauté over medium heat until onions are translucent.  Add water, lentils, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, and cilantro sprigs.  Bring to a boil and simmer 20-30 minutes, until lentils are very soft.  Remove soup from heat, take out cilantro sprigs, and stir soup for a few minutes to break up any remaining pieces of lentil (do not purée this soup).  Stir in lemon juice and chopped cilantro.  Taste for seasoning (may need additional salt) and texture (may need to be thinned with a small amount of water). Garnish with sour cream, yogurt, or quark, if desired.  Soup will keep well for days in the refrigerator, and freezes nicely.

Sesame Soba Salad with Roasted Shiitakes and Tofu Croutons

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If you, like me, are a fan of cold, spicy noodle dishes, then this salad is for you.  It’s reminiscent of the Pasta and Co. Chinese Vermicelli salad I was obsessed with during college, only that salad has about three times the oil.  This version is lighter, but equally delicious.  I feel like soba noodles are healthy.  And if mushrooms or tofu are deal breakers for you, you can swap them for any other veggies and/or protein you like (although I hope that you won’t, as this is a Melissa Clark recipe and she really knows her stuff).

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If mushrooms aren’t your thing – and don’t get me wrong, they absolutely should be, but since I know that for a lot of people they are not – you could easily leave them out. The noodles are great on their own, and you could add in any crunchy vegetables that you like – I might add some julienned red bell peppers next time.  While I’m not usually a huge fan of tofu, it turns out it’s pretty good when deep fried with sesame oil and tamari.  But you could do this with grilled chicken (marinated in the aforementioned sesame oil and tamari, even), or sautéed shrimp or scallops (Melissa’s alternate suggestion).  Aside from the mushrooms and the tofu, the salad takes five minutes to throw together – you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry already – and you can doctor it up any way you like. The soba noodles are delicious – and naturally gluten free (made from buckwheat), although you need to check the packaging to make sure.

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If you are a mushroom person, I will tell you that the extra step is worth it here – the roasted shiitakes are SO dang good. I made this the other day without them (only because I had everything but the mushrooms and was too lazy to go to the store) and I really missed the texture and meatiness they normally add.

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The vinaigrette is simply soy sauce, a little sesame oil, rice vinegar, orange juice, and freshly grated ginger – it’s so easy to put together, I wonder why I don’t do it for every meal. The cucumber is great for crunch, and I’m of the opinion that cilantro makes everything better.  Take an extra two minutes to toast your sesame seeds, and you have a gourmet, healthy, and delectable meal that’s almost too pretty to eat.

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The one thing I would note about frying the tofu is that it makes a huge mess – I’ve finally learned my lesson and taken everything else off the stove so that the splatters are limited to the stove top – and I think the cleanup is worth it. You could also add the tofu plain, however, and save yourself the calories and the mess.

One year ago: white bean and kale soup

Melissa Clark, previously: coconut granola, banana bread, split pea soup, corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, pan roasted halibut, carrot mac’n’cheese, kale salad.

Sesame Soba Salad with Roasted Shiitakes and Tofu Croutons, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

Serves 4

For the Salad:
7-8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
2 tablespoons toasted (Asian) sesame oil, more to taste
3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 (12.8 ounce) package soba noodles
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice (about half a small orange)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon grated ginger root
1 medium cucumber, peeled
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lightly toasted sesame seeds

For the Croutons (optional):
1/2 pound extra-firm tofu, drained and sliced into 3/4-inch slabs
1 tablespoon peanut or olive oil
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted (Asian) sesame oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the mushroom caps into 1/4 inch strips. Toss the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce, and a pinch of salt. Spread the mushrooms out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and slightly golden, 8-10 minutes.

2. Cook soba noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse quickly under cold running water; drain again completely.

3. In a bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 3 tablespoons soy sauce, the orange juice, vinegar, and ginger.

4. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into quarters and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut each quarter crosswise into thin slices.

5. To prepare the tofu croutons, pat the tofu slabs dry with a paper towel. Heat the oil in a nonstick pan. When it shimmers, add the tofu and let it cook undisturbed (stand away from the pan, as the oil will splatter) for 3 minutes. It should be golden brown on the bottom. Flip the tofu pieces and continue to cook for about 2 minutes longer, until the underside is golden. In a small bowl, whisk together the tamari or soy sauce and sesame oil. Pour it in the pan with the croutons and cook for 1 minute longer. Drain croutons on a paper towel-lined place.

6. In a large bowl, toss together the noodles, cucumber, mushrooms, scallions, cilantro, sesame seeds, and dressing. Serve topped with the tofu croutons, if desired. Drizzle the salad with more soy sauce and/or sesame oil just before serving if it needs perking up.

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Whole Grain Pear Hazelnut Muffins

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This cookbook has been all over my favorite food blogs of late, so I ordered it despite the fact that my breakfast typically consists of a green smoothie (or a Starbucks bagel on the too-common occasion that I’m out of a green smoothie ingredient). So far I’ve made the whole grain pancake mix, the blueberry breakfast bars, and these muffins. I’ve given the pancake mix as birthday and hostess gifts, and it’s been a hit. I made the blueberry bars when I spent the night with my friend Kyle and her picky toddler year old last week – Ellie gobbled them up, but Kyle and I decided that, while delicious, they seemed more like dessert than breakfast.  Next on my list of recipes to try: Bacon and Kale Polenta Squares (hold the bacon), Strawberry Oat Breakfast Crisp (although I suspect it, like the blueberry bars, might also be better suited as dessert), and Zucchini Farro Cakes – YUM.  And of course variations of this granola.  These muffins, though, are a definite win – you can do them ahead of time, and they really do feel healthy – the perfect breakfast treat.

My grandfather passed away a few weeks ago, at the age of 94. He spent the last few days of his life in the hospital, which was not the way he would have wanted to go, but he received such wonderful care from the doctors and nurses that we were all glad he was there. I wanted to do something nice for the nursing staff as a thank you and had planned to bake these cookies, but my cousin Christina (a nurse herself) suggested bringing in something healthier, as nurses get a lot of cookies.  I had seen these muffins on a couple blogs, and this seemed like the perfect excuse to try them.

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I love the idea of cooking with whole grains – especially oats – and the pears make the muffins incredibly moist and dense without being too heavy. Sara from Sprouted Kitchen suggests a way to make them gluten free; Deb from Smitten Kitchen suggests you add chocolate, which they definitely don’t need, but I would imagine would be delicious.   Point being, you can swap out ingredients or doctor them up any way you like. I loved the pears but you could definitely use apples too.

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It looks like a lot of bowls (and it is), but it’s really only the dry ingredients and the wet, combined with my tendency to make a mess in the kitchen and dirty more bowls than necessary. Deb includes suggestions to “streamline the recipe” (use fewer bowls) for anyone that doesn’t have the luxury of a dishwasher.

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You could chop the nuts in a food processor, but I was worried they would get ground up too finely so I used a ziplock bag and my go-to crushing utensil, a bottle of wine. I also ate a lot of hazelnuts in the process, yum.

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Pear-Hazelnut Oat Muffins, from Whole Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon (she’s a Seattle gal so I’m extra happy to support her!)

Makes 12 standard muffins (and maybe a few more)

3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 firm medium pears, such as Bartlett (you want them firm so they don’t get too mushy when you grate them)
2/3 cup natural cane sugar, such as turbinado
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan (I’m going to try coconut oil next time)
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin tin, or line with papers.

In a bowl, combine the oats, flours, baking soda, baking powder, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt. Mix well and set aside.

Peel and core the pears, then grate them into a bowl using the large holes of a box grater (or the grater attachment of your food processor). You should end up with about 1 cup of shredded pear [Note: I doubled the recipe so grated four pears, and ended up with about four cups of grated pear, unpacked – I dumped them all into my batter and the muffins turned out fine. Just in case you were worried about ending up with too much grated pear].

Put the sugar in a large bowl. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the butter to the sugar and stir until well combined. Whisk in the buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and pear until you have what resembles a loose batter. Add the flour mixture and fold it in gently. Reserve 1/2 cup of the hazelnuts to sprinkle on top of the muffins; stir the other 1/2 cup into the batter. Be careful not to overmix.

Fill the muffin cups almost to the top with batter, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup hazelnuts. Put the muffins in the oven and immediately decrease the heat to 375 F. Bake until the tops are golden brown and feel firm to the touch, even in the center, 25-27 minutes (they might look done before they really are – the tops will brown before the fruit-filled centers are cooked through).

Let the muffins cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Muffins will keep in an airtight container for up to two days; they also freeze well.

All wrapped up for Grandpa's nurses, along with boxes of See's chocolates, his favorite

All wrapped up for Grandpa’s nurses, along with boxes of See’s chocolates – his favorite

Kale Salad with Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette and Garlic Breadcrumbs

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I had really good intentions of posting this recipe earlier in the month, when people were still sticking to their new years resolutions. I had big plans for a “salad week” to follow “soup week,” but “soup week” turned into just “three days of soup,” and then things got a little busy and I dropped the ball on salad week entirely. Never fear, though, because it’s still January for three more days. And besides, this salad is so good I think it can be enjoyed long after we’ve given up on our resolutions.

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There was a time, not too terribly long ago, when the thought of raw kale made me wary. I loved it in soups, or sautéed as a side dish, but I really thought the bitterness needed to be cooked out in order for it to be edible. My friend Lindsay told me about this salad, and I must have sounded skeptical because she then sent me the cookbook and demanded that I make it immediately.  As soon as I tried it I was converted. The two tricks are: (1) make sure to use Tuscan kale (aka dinosaur, black, or lacinato), and (2) take the “ribs” out. Tuscan kale is better raw than other kale varieties, and the ribs are what makes it bitter, so once they’re gone you’re golden. I really think cutting the leaves into thin ribbons helps, too, for presentation if nothing else.

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The dressing is the best part – almost like a Caesar dressing, but without the egg and anchovy (which are the reasons I won’t eat a Caesar salad). Just whisk (or blend) olive oil, lemon juice, and good parmesan with a little salt, pepper, a pinch of chili flakes, and garlic. Melissa’s recipe calls for raw garlic, but as I’m not a raw garlic lover I roasted mine first. Coat the kale with the dressing and breadcrumbs and you have yourself a delicious, healthy treat. I’m now pretty into ordering a kale salad whenever I see it on a menu, and with the exception of the “marinated lacinato kale” at Tom Douglas’s Serious Pie, I have yet to find one that beats this.

Kale salad, previously: here (scroll all the way to the bottom).
Kale otherwise, previously: White Bean and Kale Soup, Kale Pesto.

Raw Tuscan Kale Salad with Chiles and Pecorino, from In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

Time: 20 minutes
Serves 2-4

1 bunch Tuscan kale (aka black or lacinato)
1 thin slice country bread (part whole wheat or rye is nice), or 1/4 cup good, homemade coarse breadcrumbs (I made breadcrumbs from gourmet store-bought croutons)
1/2 garlic clove (I used 1 whole clove roasted garlic)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
1/4 cup finely grated pecorino cheese, plus additional for garnish
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for garnish
Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Trim the bottom 2 inches off the kale stems and discard. Slice the kale into 3/4-inch ribbons. You should have 4-5 cups. Place the kale in a large bowl. [Note: I de-stem the entire kale leaves, which makes this salad take a lot longer than the 20 minutes Melissa estimates, but I think it’s worth it.]

2. If using the bread, toast it until golden on both sides. Tear it into small pieces and grind in a food processor until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. [Note: I put garlic croutons in the blender and it turned out great.]

3. Using a mortal and pestle or a heavy knife, pound or mince the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt into a paste (if using a knife, use the side to smear and smush the garlic once it’s minced). Transfer the garlic to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, pinch of salt, pepper flakes, and black pepper and whisk to combine. [Note: I do this with my immersion blender, which I think makes it extra creamy – and lets you skip the “smooshing the garlic” step. Also I used a whole clove of roasted garlic rather than half a raw clove.] Pour the dressing over the kale and toss very well to combine thoroughly (the dressing will be thick and need lots of tossing to coat the leaves). Let the salad sit for 5 minutes, then serve topped with the breadcrumbs, cheese, and a drizzle of oil.

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Roasted Sweet Potato and Apple Soup

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So I realize “sweet potato and apple” seems a little fall-ish, at least to me, but this post has been in my draft folder since October, and I figured I might as well post it during a January “Soup Week” rather than leave it there until next fall (mainly, because I will have forgotten about it by then).  And altruistically, I thought some of you might want it sooner – there’s a good possibility that you have all of the ingredients for this soup in your house already, and could make it for dinner tonight.  In less than an hour, with zero trips to the grocery store.

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This recipe is courtesy of my dear friend Ellie, who is mom to one of my all-time favorite kids (Liam, age 4.5). Last fall Ellie subscribed to some sort of family-friendly recipe sharing service, where they would give you weekly meals that were healthy, kid-friendly, budget-friendly, quick, etc. I can’t really remember the details, I just remember I happened to be there for dinner the night that she made this and I got really exited about it – so excited, in fact, that I went home and made it for myself, and brought it to work for lunch for weeks thereafter. Turns out it’s not just moms that need quick and healthy meal ideas, it’s all of us.

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By “quick and easy,” I’m talking really quick and really easy. Simply peel and roughly chop two sweet potatoes, one apple, and one onion. Toss them with a couple garlic cloves, a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them all together for about 30 minutes at 450 degrees F (stirring every 10 minutes or so).

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Something strange is happening with the lighting (instagram filters) in these photos, but they’re a before and after.  Once the veggies and apple are done roasting, simply dump them into a pot, cover with chicken or vegetable stock, and purée.   Garnish with a little greek yogurt and perhaps some chives and you have yourself a quick, healthy, and delicious bowl of soup. Bon Apétit!

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Roasted Sweet Potato and Apple Soup

Total Time: 50 minutes (20 minutes prep/30 minutes roasting)

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium-sized chunks
1 firm apple, such as Gala or Jonagold, peeled, cored, and quartered
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste (I used more)
1/8 teaspoon pepper, or to taste (I used more)
3-4 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Yogurt, chives, croutons, and/or roasted pumpkin seeds (my personal fave), for garnish

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.  Put the sweet potatoes, apple, onion, and garlic in a roasting pan.  Toss them with the olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast, tossing every ten minutes or so, until they’re soft, about 30 minutes.  Transfer roasted veggies to a soup pot and add just enough broth to cover them (if you’re going to purée the soup in a blender, you can just add the veggies and broth to the blender).  Purée (using immersion blender or a regular blender or food processor) until smooth, adding more broth if necessary.  Warm the soup over low heat, or refrigerate for up to one day, or freeze for up to 3 months.  Stir in yogurt or sour cream just before serving for a creamier taste, if desired.

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Grandma’s Minestrone Soup

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My grandma is a pretty cool lady – she turned 94 this past October, and she’s still going strong. She’s been married for 68 years, raised seven children, and doted on 26 grandchildren and five great grandchildren (so far), with a few more on the way. She’s a three-time cancer survivor and has gone through three hip replacements, and even though she now uses a walker to get around and struggles with arthritis in her hands, she still loves spending time in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, she’d rather spend her morning shopping and then having lunch at the Nordstrom cafe (she and I have that in common), but even at 94 she still loves to cook for her family.

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Grandma is famous for her soups, though most of them don’t have recipes. Fortunately, she clipped this one out of The Oregonian (our local paper) many years ago, and we’ve all been gobbling it up ever since. It’s a pretty traditional minestrone soup, although you could definitely add/omit any vegetables and beans to your liking. It’s a great January soup because it’s so healthy  – especially if you didn’t add cheese and pesto at the end like my sister and I like to do. You could even omit the pasta if you wanted to, although it’s a pretty small amount so I usually leave it in.

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This soup comes together pretty quickly – you could even use the pre-chopped mirepoix that you can find at Trader Joe’s or high end grocery stores, although I kind of like the thick carrot coins that you can get by slicing them yourself. Of course I always use pre-chopped onions (Trader Joe’s was sold out when I went this time, so I used the onion-shallot-garlic mix, which worked just fine). If you don’t mind chopping onions, lucky you. If you do go with the pre-chopped option, however, all you have to do is slice the carrots, celery, parsley, and cabbage. Everything else just gets dumped right from the can into the soup pot.

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The recipe tells you to start with the broth and just dump all the veggies in. I like to start by sautéing the onions in a little olive oil, then adding the broth once the onions have softened up (5-10 minutes) and following the recipe from there.  I should probably note here that if you don’t have a really large soup pot or dutch oven, you might want to cut this recipe in half.  My dutch oven is a 5 1/2 quart (I think), and I could only add three of the four boxes of chicken stock before I started to worry that the pot would overflow once I added in everything else.  I have no idea what I used to make this soup in, but I’m now in the market for the 7 quart Le Cruset.

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Barely room for the beans and pasta, literally (add the pasta as close to the end as possible so the noodles don’t get too mushy). I ended up ladling about half of the soup into another soup pot and then adding my last box of chicken stock that way (2 cups in each pot). I’m now really thinking hard about what color 7 quart pot I want to get, though, because that just seems like an unnecessary step (read: any excuse to get a new Le Cruset!). This sounds like a shopping excursion for me and Grandma!

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Minestrone Soup, from The Oregonian, a really long time ago

4 quarts unsalted beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons salt (less if you’re using store-bought broth – I used 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3 large carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
5 stalks celery, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
2 cups chopped onions
1 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes (you can use a 14 1/2 ounce can if you like a less tomato-y soup, but I love it with the bigger can)
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
1 15 1/2 ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 1/2 ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup uncooked macaroni noodles
Parmesan cheese and/or pesto for garnish (optional)

Bring stock to a rolling boil in a large stockpot.  Add the salt (if using store-bought broth, reduce the amount of salt to 1-2 teaspoons to start with), pepper, oregano, parsley, carrots, celery, cabbage, onions, and spinach. [Variation: I sauté my onions in a small amount of olive oil to begin. Once the onions have softened, add stock, bring to a boil, and add veggies and seasonings as instructed above.] Return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add the kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and pasta and  simmer until the macaroni is tender, about 10 minutes more. Turn off heat and let stand for one hour before serving. Garnish with parmesan and a dollop of pesto if desired.

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Roasted Cauliflower, Leek, and Garlic Soup

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Back in November I realized I had only posted five soup recipes in the then-nine-month life of this blog, and promised to remedy that.  Somehow two more months have gone by without any more soup – I’m going to blame Thanksgiving and Christmas, but really it’s pretty inexcusable. We’ve done white bean and kale, split pea, cream of fresh tomato, black bean and pumpkin, and curried butternut squash. I don’t know how I’ve had a (wannabe) food blog for almost a year and haven’t posted my favorite lentil soup, or chicken noodle, or even a chili – apparently I’ve been holding out on you all.  I’ve had a sweet potato and apple post in draft form since October, and I’m thinking I might share that this week even though it seems a little fall-ish.  I’m going to make my grandma’s minestrone tomorrow, and I have a couple others I’ve been wanting to try out, so if all goes according to plan this might be a Soup Post Every Day week on the blog (starting today, of course – I got sucked into Downton Abbey on Sunday night and thus couldn’t get this post up as planned yesterday).

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My girlfriends and I had a “cookbook exchange” a while back – like a white elephant, where everyone brings a present, you draw numbers, people can steal from you, etc. – except the presents were all cookbooks. My friend Karrie brought this one, and although I came away with something different, I had heard such good things from Karrie about Clean Eating (she subscribes to the magazine) that when I got home I ordered the cookbook. Some of the recipes seem a little less “clean” and a little more “diet-y” to me (somehow I don’t think of reduced-sodium cream of broccoli soup as “clean,” and there are a few casserole recipes that call for that, which I found strange), but overall I really like it.  And of course January is the perfect month to get really into eating “clean.”  I may have added a little more olive oil and salt than the recipe calls for, but it’s still a lot less olive oil and salt than usual so I feel ok about it.

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I’m not a fan of raw cauliflower, but I’ve recently discovered that (like most vegetables) it’s pretty delicious when roasted. And even better when puréed into a soup. I am a fan of leeks, though, which is why this recipe caught my eye in the first place. It also sounded perfect for a cold January night – it’s not as cold in Seattle right now as it is in other parts of the country, but it’s still soup weather almost everywhere.

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I’m pretty sure you could roast any combination of veggies, purée them with chicken broth, and turn them into a delicious soup – that’s basically all you do here, with the addition of a little nutmeg (which I couldn’t even taste, so I’m not sure it needs it) and milk added in at the end. Oh, and a few bay leaves.

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Your cauliflower will be very soft after it’s done simmering, so I broke mine down with a rubber spatula before puréeing.  That way, you can purée it with an immersion blender easily.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, however, a regular blender or food processor would work fine.  Adding a cup of milk turns it into a gorgeous, thick, and creamy soup you would never think is missing anything (although as I add in the notes below, a few garnishes won’t hurt).

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Roasted Cauliflower, Leek, and Garlic Soup, from The Best of Clean Eating

Serves 10 as a first course/makes 8 cups
Hands-on time: 15 minutes/total time: one hour

3 leeks, white part only, washed and thickly sliced
1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 head garlic, top cut off so cloves are exposed
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 bay leaves
1 cup skim or 1% milk
3 cups shredded basil
3 tablespoons hot water

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Toss leeks, cauliflower, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Spread onto baking sheet and roast in center of oven, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is browned and almost tender, about 25-30 minutes. [Note: I was worried that the soup might be too garlic-y, so I wrapped my garlic in tin foil – probably not necessary but better safe than sorry.]
2. Scrape leeks and cauliflower into a large saucepan or dutch oven. Add chicken broth and bay leaves. When the garlic has cooled a bit, squeeze the cloves from the skin into the pan (discard skins). Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes. Purée soup with an immersion blender, or transfer to a blender or food processor in batches and blend that way. Once the soup has been puréed, stir in milk and add more salt and pepper to taste (I definitely added a little extra here as it tasted pretty bland to me – but remember the basil is going to add a lot more flavor, so no need to panic like I did). Reheat before serving.
3. Place basil in blender with hot water. Purée until smooth. Ladle soup into warm bowls and garnish with the basil. [Note: I followed these instructions and it didn’t work too well – although I suspect it might work fine in a food processor, but I don’t have one (wah, wah). I ended up thinning mine with more water and a fair amount of olive oil; I also added a spare clove of roasted garlic and some salt to spice it up a bit.  At this point I started to wonder why I didn’t just use regular pesto, but I suppose that’s not as “clean.”  Though FYI, you could definitely go that route.  You could also garnish with one or both of my two favorite soup garnishes, parmesan cheese and croutons.  But again, not as clean. Alas.]

Soup keeps in the refrigerator for up to five days; in the freezer for up to a month. Prepare the basil purée a day before serving.

Nutrition info per 3/4 cup serving: 76 calories, 2g fat, 0g saturated fat, 11.5g carbs, 3g fiber, 4g sugar, 5g protein, 114mg sodium, 0.5g cholesterol

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