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

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

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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Lazy Sunday Soup

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I love lazy Sundays. Any weekend day is generally better than a work day, but sometimes I need a day before I’m fully decompressed from the work week. Plus, there are usually a lot of things to do on Saturdays – things that require showering, having to be somewhere, knowing what time it is, etc. My friend Kelly coined the phrase “no-shower Sundays,” and I try to participate whenever I can. If ever we have plans on a Sunday, we’ll usually text each other beforehand to decide whether or not we need to shower, and if the answer is yes, whether the activity is actually worth doing. Lately I’ve been taking a spin class on Sunday mornings, which I love, but also which makes me feel like I’m cheating myself out of a truly lazy Sunday. I mean, you definitely have to shower after spin class.

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Even after spinning and showering, however, there are still a lot of hours to fill with lazy Sunday activities before I have to concentrate on prioritizing my Sunday night TV watching/DVR-ing. Making soup is one of my very favorite ways to spend some of those hours – it’s especially great in the fall and into January, when you can watch football while in the kitchen, but even now that the season is over it still seems to me like the perfect way to feel productive while actually just hanging out at home in your sweats.

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My quest for the perfect white bean soup started at Specialty’s, a bakery/lunch place with three locations within walking distance from my office. Specialty’s is probably most famous for their cookies, but they also offer decent salads, delicious sandwiches, and four different soups each day. I was addicted to their caprese sandwich for a time, but once they put the nutrition information on their website I had to switch to soup (sad day). The soups are posted online daily, so I’ll often check the location next to my office, as well as another one a few blocks north and a third a few blocks south – each store’s daily offerings are different, and the lentil dahl is completely worth the walk. One day, with lentil not appearing on any of the three menus, I decided to stay close to home and try the “Tuscan white bean” at the store closest to me. The soup was smooth and creamy and tomato-y and delicious – and vegan, so I knew the creaminess wasn’t coming from anything bad for me like cream or butter, but from the beans themselves (and, it turns out, from dehydrated potato flakes, which is another lesson in why its better to make everything yourself). I decided I needed to learn how to make something similar, and while a google search provided a plethora of recipes, none seemed to be exactly what I wanted. Most did not purée the soup, but I wanted mine to be thick and creamy – although I do love white beans in their unpuréed form. A lot of the recipes I found involved sausage – I don’t eat meat, although I’ve made “my” soup now with sausage for other people and they tell me it’s delicious. Many vegetarian recipes suggested adding a parmesan rind to the broth as it simmers, in order to impart a richer flavor that the meat would otherwise add. Almost all of the recipes included kale. So, I compiled everything I liked about all of the recipes I read and when Sunday rolled around I started to experiment – the resulting recipe is below. I promise I created it myself but there are probably lots of identical recipes out there – and if there aren’t, there should be, because its easy and delicious. If you’re interested in a more gourmet recipe, I also really love this one – and it gives you an excuse to open a bottle of wine, which can be another excellent Sunday activity.

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If anyone else has any lazy Sunday traditions and/or soup recipes, I would love to hear them! Or, we could just talk about the Grammys – what is going on with Rihanna and Chris Brown? How am I so old/unhip that I’ve never heard of Wiz Khalifa? Will I have time this week to catch up on all the other shows I missed last night? These are the issues currently weighing heavily upon my mind. Luckily, soup making is a destresser, so it was perfect for Grammy night.

White Bean Soup with Kale
Serves 6-8

Olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (more to taste)
1 32-ounce box low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 15-ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed (low sodium if you can find them)
1 large handful fresh basil leaves, more or less to taste
Oregano and/or other Italian seasoning blend, to taste
1 bunch Tuscan kale (also called dinosaur kale or lacinato kale), washed, center ribs removed and chopped or torn into bite-sized pieces
Parmesan rind, optional
Italian sausage, optional
Toppings: grated parmesan, croutons, basil chiffonade

Start with a healthy drizzle of olive oil in a soup pot or dutch oven. Sautée onion over medium heat for 5-8 minutes or until translucent. Add carrots and celery and sautée until veggies are soft, 5-8 more minutes. Add garlic and cook a couple minutes longer, then add stock, tomatoes (with juices), one can white beans, basil and herbs, and Parmesan rind if using. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, then turn down to low and cover pot. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes, then remove from heat, remove parmesan rind, and purée with an immersion blender until smooth (if you don’t have an immersion blender, you can purée in a stand blender – just do so in smaller batches and with the steam vent in the lid open or a dish towel in lieu of a lid, otherwise you may end up with soup all over your kitchen and yourself). Add the kale and remaining can of white beans and return to heat until kale is slightly wilted and the beans are warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve soup topped with parmesan, croutons, and/or basil.

Sausage option: brown sausage links in a small amount of olive oil in pot before starting soup. When sausage is cooked through, remove from pot and slice into rounds and set aside. Make soup as above – no need to wipe out pot, just add more olive oil with the onions if necessary – and then add sausage back with the kale and beans at the end.

Note: I list out chopped onion, carrots and celery – on a truly lazy Sunday, I enjoy buying fresh veggies and peeling and chopping them myself (except for onions, which are torture on my poor eyes), but if you want to save yourself the effort, the Trader Joe’s pre-chopped Mirepoix is an awesome alternative. Just dump the whole thing in and sautee it all together for 10-12 minutes, then add the garlic and continue as above.

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