Comfort foods..

There is nothing better on a rainy or snowy day than a big bowl of soup or my new favorite pasta dish. Comfort foods that are healthy, satifying and delicious are not hard to make. Add a thick slice of your favorite whole grain artisan bread and a either a salad or another new favorite vegetable as an appetizer and you are set to go.

I have become a bit obsessed lately with Italian foods, shopping often at our local Italian market. Probably has something to do with the two books I finished this fall; “Bella Tuscany” and “Under the Tuscan Sun” written by Francis Mayes:)

I can spend hours perusing the aisles for olive oil, balsamic vinegar, all shapes and sizes of pasta, fresh olives and the huge variety of quality cheese perfect for garnishing pasta dishes.

I stumbled on a pasta and beans recipe that is the perfect comfort food. I hope you enjoy it.

Pasta Fazool (serves 4-6)

1 tbsp olive oil for cooking
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 carrots scrubbed and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 cup cooked cannellini beans or 1 tin (19oz-398ml) cannellini beans or pinto beans
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth (low sodium)
14oz or 398 ml tin diced tomatoes
½ tsp Italian seasoning or dried oregano
½ cup dry small pasta (shells or orecchiette)
Grated parmesan or romano cheese to garnish
Fresh ground pepper.

In a medium pot heat the olive oil of medium heat and sauté the onion, garlic, carrot and celery until soft, about 5 minutes.
Drain and rinse the beans and add to the pot along with the stock, tomatoes and oregano. Simmer for about 10 minutes with the lid on.
Add the pasta and simmer for another 10 minutes or more until the pasta is tender. If the mixture is too thick add a little extra stock or water. It should be thick but soupy. Season with pepper and grated cheese and serve hot.

I served it this week with roasted brussel sprouts as an appetizer. These used to be my husband’s most hated vegetable and much to my disbelief and even his own we almost have to “count” them out now to be fair.:) I wash and cut in half about a half pound of brussel sprouts. Toss them in a tbsp of olive oil, 1 tbsp nutritional yeast and fresh ground pepper. I then roast them in our toaster oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Then top them with some freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese and eat hot. I dare you to try it!

The best Thai Soup Recipe..

My friend Eunice found this one.  When it comes to spicy her family likes it hot.  My family likes some heat but not so much that you can’t feel your lips:) You will need to have a few items in your pantry that you might not normally stock but so worth it! They have been staples in our house for awhile now. Check out my “pantry” list for details.  I made this soup last week. It really hits the spot after snowshoeing or X-country skiing or any other winter outdoor activity. We have another month at least of winter.  Don’t rush away the days, embrace them. Get  outside , get moving… and before you go out, make a double batch of this soup. You will be glad you did.  Yum!

 Thai Soup (double to make full pot)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 a red bell pepper, diced

2 cups sliced mushrooms (could leave these out or replace with boy choyor carrots)

4 cups vegetable stock

2 Tbsp. Gourmet Garden™ Lemon Grass herb paste (the stuff in the tube or the real thing, if you can find it) ***Could substitute with 1 tbsp lemon juice & 1tsp fresh grated  ginger

1 tsp. fish sauce

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 can lite  coconut milk (398ml)

2 tsp. red curry paste

1 1/2 tsp. Sambal Oelek chili paste

2-3 Tbsp. tomato paste (to taste)

½- 1 Tbsp. cornstarch (depends how thick you want the soup)

2 cups cooked rice ( brown rice or try a mix of long grain with wild rice or black thai rice for some added texture)

Fresh cilantro, parsley or basil leaves shredded for garnish

Lime for garnish

Instructions:

Cook rice and set aside (or use left-over cooked rice).

Heat large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat and add 1 Tbsp. oil. When hot, add mushrooms and cook until golden and tender. Remove to a plate. In same pot, add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil and heat. Add onion, red pepper, (if using carrots or bok choy add here)and saute just until softened. Return mushrooms to pot. Add broth  and heat through. Add lemon grass paste, fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce and simmer 5 minutes. Add coconut milk, turn heat to low, then cover and simmer 2 minutes.

In a small bowl, add curry paste, Sambal Oelek, tomato paste, 2 Tbsp. water and cornstarch and mix until incorporated. Stir into soup until combined and heat until soup simmers, thickens very slightly and has a velvety appearance. Add cooked rice, cover and simmer 5 minutes.  (You can also add more curry paste, tomato paste and/or Sambal Oelek to taste at this point, as well).

Pour soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro, parsley or basil leaves and serve with additional Sambal Oelek for those who prefer a hotter soup.

 

 

Vegetable Barley Soup….another delicious and nutritious grain

It is snowing, lovely and white and the perfect time for a hike outdoors then a steaming hot bowl of yummy soup.  I have adapted this recipe to exclude the beef and added in more vegetables. It is hearty and delicious. Barley, especially in whole-grain form (hulled or “pot barley” ) is an excellent grain to add to your repertoire. It is more flavourful and has a chewier texture than white rice, with a more subtle flavour than brown rice.

barley_pot

Barley is versatile: and like oats, it is an excellent source of soluble fibre, which can help in lowering blood cholesterol levels and is high in thiamin and fibre.

One serving of 1/2 cup cooked barley provides 97 calories, 1.8 g protein, 0.4 g fat, 3 g fibre.

Whole grain pot barley contains high levels of numerous vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin E, niacin and folate.

This recipe is easy to make. I like to make the soup in the morning (20  minutes tops), and adding it to the slow cooker. No matter what the rest of the  day looks like, whether off to work or out for a hike, a ski, snowshoeing or skating, nothing beats coming home to a hearty bowl of hot soup with a thick slice of whole grain bread.  Enjoy:)

Vegetable Barley Soup

 1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ tsp salt

1 lb mushrooms, sliced (any variety –white, cremini, shitakes, oyster or portobellos or any combination of)

1 each carrot and celery stalk, chopped

1 small turnip, diced

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried

2 tbsp no salt tomato paste

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

4 cups low sodium vegetable stock

3 cups water

½ cup pot barley

1-2 bay leaves

1 can (540 ml) black beans or white cannellini beans or combination of

 

1. In a large deep pot, heat oil over medium heat and sauté onion and garlic with salt until onion is soft. Add mushrooms, carrot, celery, turnip, thyme and cook for about 15 minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated from the mushrooms.

 

2. Add the tomato paste and  vinegar; stir to coat the vegetables. Add stock, water, barley and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes or until barley is tender or after boiling, transfer to a slow cooker, set to low for about 3 hours.  Add beans and heat through. Remove bay leaf before serving with fresh ground black pepper. Makes 4-6 servings.

Winter Squash…

Loaded with Vitamin A, dietary fibre and just plain deliciousness, squash is a favorite winter vegetable in our house.  I grew up eating acorn squash mostly. My favorite recipe that I still make today for my family is pretty simple. Cut off the ends and then half it then quarter it. (This is no small feat, it is tough to cut so be careful) Scoop out the seeds. Then mix together about a tbsp of butter or becel margerine with a tbsp of brown sugar, sprinkle in some cinnamon and mix together to form a paste. Then core an apple and arrange thin slices on top of each quarter of squash that has been arranged skin side down on top of parchment paper. Divide the cinnamon butter mixture evenly on top of the apples, add a little water to the bottom of the pan and bake uncovered for 30-45 minutes until soft. At the 30 minute mark baste the juices back onto the squash and add 2-3 walnut halves to each squash. This serves 4.

If you have never served squash to your family and wonder what the different types and uses are click on the link below for reference.  I have also added my favorite Squash soup recipe of all time. I used a combination of Kabocha and Butternut squash for my recipe the last time I made it.  I doubled it and froze it. Enjoy!

http://whatscookingamerica.net/squash.htm

Curried Squash Pear Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 medium buttercup, butternut or kabocha squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1 inch cubes (or a combination of any of the above)

5 carrots, thinly sliced

2 anjou or bosc pears, peeled, cored and diced

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp turmeric

½ tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp grated fresh ginger root

1-2 tbsp coarse sea salt

8-10 cups water

In a large saucepan heat oil on medium heat and sauté the onion until it becomes translucent. Then add the squash, carrots, pears, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, gingerroot and salt, stirring to prevent sticking and burning for about 8-10 minutes. Add the water ( I started with 8 cups) and bring to a simmer.  Cover the soup and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. The squash and carrots should be soft but not mushy.  Remove from the heat and blend half of the soup and return it to the unblended soup. Stir and enjoy. OR… if you prefer a smooth creamy soup, blend all of the soup. Serve topped with toasted pumpkin seeds, or a dollop of non-fat plain greek yogurt and fresh ground black pepper.

Soups On…fresh tomatoes, red wine… Minestrone Soup

This soup is worth the effort, especially now when the ingredients are all fresh,  local and in abundance!  Tomatoes… I think I planted a few too many this year, though there is nothing that tastes so wonderfully fresh than a tomato! I have diced and measured out many bags for the freezer already and I know I will be glad when January rolls around and grocery store tomatoes just don’t taste like tomatoes anymore.

I hope you enjoy this Minestrone recipe.  The wine adds something special:)

Speaking of wine, we are off on our very first Bike Tour to the Napa Valley in California. We will cycle (yes, on peddle bikes) an average of 65 km per day on rolling hills through vineyards, see the redwoods and do a little wine tasting. Can’t wait:)

 

MINESTRONE- SERVES 6-8

 

2 cups cannellini or white kidney beans, fresh, canned or dried and soaked overnight

2 bay leaves

2 fresh tomatoes, squashed ( I use a potato masher)

2 small potatoes, peeled and cut in half

Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper

4 small red onions or 1 large walla walla onion, peeled and finely chopped

4 carrots, peeled and chopped (large chunks)

4 sticks celery, trimmed and chopped

1 head of fennel, chopped

6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 small bunches of fresh basil, leaves and stems separated (finely chop the stems only)

5 cups fresh Roma (or a combination of) tomatoes diced or 2 cans of good quality no sodium added  plum tomatoes

4 small zucchini, quartered and sliced

2 glasses of red wine

1 good sized bunch of swiss chard or spinach, washed and roughly chopped including stalks

4 cups vegetable stock

4 oz dried whole wheat spaghetti pasta

Grated Romano cheese, to serve (optional)

Your favorite hot sauce

 

  1. Beans- Cover the dried cannellini beans with a generous amount of cold water in a bowl overnight. (make sure the water is at least 2 inches above the level of the beans). In the morning, drain the water and put beans into a good sized pot with fresh water, again covering them with water by at least 2 inches. (If you are using fresh or canned cover with water- start now)  Add the bay leaves, squashed tomato and potato. Cook for 30 minutes to an hour (less if fresh or canned) or until tender and soft but not mushy. Keep an eye on them making sure there is water always covering them, and check by tasting after about 25 minutes to see if they are done. Drain, reserving about a cup of the cooking water, and remove and discard the bay leaf, tomato and potato. Season with the salt and pepper and a splash of olive oil and set aside.
  2. While the beans are cooking, heat a glug of olive oil in a stock pot and add the onions, carrots, celery, fennel, garlic and the finely chopped basil stems. “Sweat” on low heat, with the lid left ajar for about 20 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the diced tomatoes, zucchini and red wine and simmer gently for another 15-20 minutes.
  3. Add the chard or spinach, vegetable stock and the seasoned beans. Put the dried spaghetti pasta into a plastic bag and gently bash with a rolling pin to break the pasta into pieces. Add to the soup pot. Stir and continue to simmer until the pasta is done.
  4. If the soup is too thick add a little more stock or the reserved bean cooking water to thin it down. Season to taste with a little more salt and pepper if needed.
  5. Serve with torn up Basil leaves, a little grated Romano cheese and a few drops of hot sauce. Yum!

Asparagus Soup…..mmm good!

I have been looking for a good Asparagus Soup for awhile now… found this one online, tried it and loved it.  Enjoy… the season for asparagus is short.

 

Creamy Asparagus Soup- Jamie Oliver

800 gms asparagus, woody ends removed

2 tbsp olive oil

2 medium white onions, peeled and chopped

2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped

2 leeks, trimmed and chopped

8 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Chop the tips off of your asparagus and put these to the side for later.  Roughly chop the asparagus stalks.
  2. In a large deep soup pot heat olive oil on medium and add the onions, celery & leeks and sauté for about 10 minutes, until soft but not browned.  Add the chopped asparagus and stock and simmer for 20 minutes with the lid on.
  3. Remove from the heat and blitz with a hand blender until smooth or put into blender in batches (be careful –it’s hot!)
  4. Season the soup bit by bit with salt and pepper until just right. (This is important, just do a little at time (I used about 1 tsp in total of salt).
  5. Put the soup back on medium high heat and add the asparagus tips and bring to boil, then simmer for a few more minutes until the tips are tender.

 

Delicious!  Best Asparagus soup and it’s dairy freeJ

Meal Plan Week Four

Spring has sprung and meal planning is a must. Here is another week of ideas and recipes for another favorite soup, Indian Red Lentil – Dal Shorva,  Almond Crusted Halibut (now in season), a homemade Caesar Salad Dressing and what you have all been waiting for ….Sesame Baked Tofu. Yum! 🙂

Meal Plan-Week Four

Sunday           Vegetable Stir Fry on Brown Rice with peanut sauce and Sesame Baked Tofu

Monday           Nicoise Salad, Almond Crusted Halibut

Tuesday          Lentil & Bean Stuffed Baked Sweet Potatoes, steamed asparagus

Wednesday     Indian Red Lentil- Dal Shorva, 1 thick slice alpine bread

Thursday        Leftover Lentil and Beans, toasted whole grain pita, sauteed swiss chard

 Friday             Black Bean Quesadillas and guacamole, spring salad with homemade dressing

 Saturday        Pesto kissed tomatoe pasta, Caesar salad with homemade dressing & crouton,  steamed broccoli

 

INDIAN LENTIL SOUP (DAL SHORVA)

2 ¼ cups red lentils or yellow split lentils or mung beans (red lentils cook fastest)

1 ½ tsp turmeric

¾ tsp cayenne pepper

1 ½ tsp ground cumin

 ¾ tsp curry powder or ½ tsp cardamon

4-5 bay or curry leaves

9 cups low sodium vegetable stock

  1. Rinse lentils. Add lentils, stock and turmeric, cayenne, cumin, curry and leaves to soup pot and bring to a boil. 
  2. Let simmer until the lentils are very soft (about 25-30 min)
  3. If using bay leaves remove them now. Curry leaves can be left in the soup.
  4. Mash soup slightly but not too smooth.
  5. Saute together in a small non-stick pan 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 tsp mustard seeds, 1 ½ tsp dry mustard powder and 3 tbsp vegetable oil until garlic is softened.  Add to soup, stir will and serve hot with a wedge of lemon squeezed in.

ALMOND Crusted Halibut

 ½ cup almonds chopped

¼ cup  wheat germ

1 tsp dried tarragon

1 tsp grated lemon rind

Pinch salt and fresh ground pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

4 fillets (about 3-4 oz each of halibut (skin removed)

      1. Place almonds into a food processor and chop until resembles oatmeal. Remove to a shallow dish and add wheat germ, tarragon, lemon rind, salt and pepper and combine.  

      2. Pat fillets using paper towel, brush some oil over the fish. Dredge in nut  mixture to coat both sides.

      3, Place fillets on parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake in oven at 425 degrees for 10-20 minutes depending o thickness.

Sesame Baked Tofu

 1 block x-firm or firm organic tofu

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce

¼ tsp cracker pepper

1 tbsp sesame seeds (raw)

 

Cut tofu into ½” cubes into  a small bowl  and add the remaining ingredients.  Stir and let sit for about 15 min, toss a couple of times more.  Spread on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. (this works really well in a toaster oven)

Add to any Asian flavored vegetable stir-fry.

Caesar Dressing

¼ cup olive oil

1 clove garlic minced

¼ tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

1/8 tsp dry mustard powder

½ lemon, freshly squeezed

1 ½ tsp white wine vinegar

½ tsp honey

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Whisk all ingredients together.