food

Two Soup Sunday: French Lentil and Turkey Meatball with Orzo and Greens

In a strangely ambitious state for a Sunday morning, I whipped together these two soups that will help us through the week's meals. We love having a pot of soup in the fridge to fall back on as a light dinner with a salad or as part of lunch. The French Lentil soup here is gluten free and vegan, and the "French" part of it refers to the small green/gray lentils called Le Puy lentils. You definitely want these and not red, yellow or brown lentils. These have wonderful flavor and they will retain their shape after cooking, unlike other varieties. Both of these recipes are adapted from Epicurious. I got so caught up in cooking that I didn't remember to pull out the camera until the first soup was done, so the only photo of the Turkey Meatball soup is the finished product. I hope you'll enjoy making one or both of these soups! 

TURKEY MEATBALL SOUP WITH ORZO AND GREENS

Ingredients - For the meatballs

  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup plain, dried breadcrumbs
  • 1 pound organic ground turkey breast
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Whisk the egg and water in a medium bowl to blend. Mix in breadcrumbs; let stand 5 minutes. Add turkey, cheese, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper; stir to blend. Using wet hands, shape turkey mixture into small meatballs (about 1.25" diameter). Place on baking sheet; cover and chill 30 minutes. (FYI, my meatball yield was 34. They could have been a little smaller and I probably would have gotten 40 out of the recipe.)

Ingredients--for the soup

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon oregano 
  • 8 cups low salt or unsalted chicken stock
  • 4 cups water
  • 3/4 cup orzo (rice shaped pasta)
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped greens--for this batch I used escarole. You could use kale, spinach, or your choice of other leafy green

Heat oil in a 8-quart soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery and carrots and saute about 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper and oregano, and stir thoroughly, cooking another minute or two. Add the chicken stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the chilled turkey meatballs, turn the heat down slightly and cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Add orzo and 4 cups of water; bring back to a boil, then reduce heat again and cook for 12-15 minutes, until orzo is done. Turn heat off and stir in the greens, and cover the pot. It's ready to serve when the greens are wilted. 

FRENCH LENTIL SOUP

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 cups unsalted vegetable stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cups French lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
  • Balsamic vinegar (optional)

Heat oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots and garlic; saute until vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Add 4 cups of stock, lentils and tomatoes with juice, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 35-40 minutes. 

Transfer 2 cups of the soup (mostly solids) to blender and puree until smooth. Return puree to soup in pan; thin soup with 2 cups water. Season with salt, pepper, and a splash of vinegar, if desired. 

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Season's Eatings: Whole Wheat Gingerbread Pancakes

I've been making these for the past 3-4 years as our breakfast on Christmas morning. Top them with butter and maple syrup or, if you're like me and find them sweet enough without the syrup, just top them with some fresh berries. The composition of these, with the whole wheat flour and Greek yogurt, give these cakes more "staying power" than traditional pancake mix cakes, not to mention an uptick in overall nutrient value. Enjoy these pancakes on Christmas day or whenever the mood strikes you for pancakes that are deliciously different! 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp coconut sugar
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 7-oz container Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 egg

Method

  1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, cloves, nutmeg and coconut sugar.
  2. In another bowl, combine the egg, melted butter, yogurt and milk. Combine the wet ingredients and the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Batter will be thicker than other pancake batter.
  3. Cook batter on a greased skillet until golden on both sides.
  4. ENJOY!

We Kicked Clif To The Curb...And We're Not Sorry.

Clif Bars. They were a staple of existence for us for a good while--Norm especially, as an energy source that could easily slip into a cycling jersey pocket. But earlier this fall we made a commitment to overall "cleaner" eating which, by our definition, meant eating even fewer processed foods. On the whole, we probably eat at least 75% fewer processed foods than a lot of people we know, but we figured there's still plenty of room for improvement. We felt this was one area where we could do better with homemade, and probably with very little effort. 

So, take the ingredients of the Clif bar variety that was often found in our pantry (Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch) :

Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Rolled Oats, Soy Protein Isolate, Organic Cane Syrup, Organic Peanut Butter, Rice Flour, Peanuts, Organic Soy Flour, Peanut Flour, Organic Oat Fiber, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Dried Cane Syrup, Unsweetened Chocolate‡, Natural Flavors, Sea Salt, Cocoa Butter‡, Barley Malt Extract, Soy Lecithin.

The first thing I'm going to say about this list is that there is not one, but THREE kinds of syrup listed, and one of them is the primary ingredient. The second thing I notice is that there are four sources of soy, and three kinds of flour. Yeah, I think I can do better. So what did I want from a homemade bar? 

  • 10 ingredients or less
  • No baking or cooking
  • Easily accessible pantry staples
  • GREAT TASTE

Well, I'm happy to say, we got what we wanted. I now make a batch of these once a week, wrap them individually and keep them in the refrigerator. This recipe makes eight generous (Clif bar-sized) bars. I switch out the fruit, depending on what we have, or it can be left out entirely. The addition of cinnamon (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon) with raisins as the fruit would be an awesome way to change it up as well.  I use regular rolled oats, but you can make these gluten free by using G/F oats.

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NO-BAKE ENERGY/SNACK BARS

Mix these dry ingredients together (scant measurement--don't go overboard with the dry items)

  • 1 3/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup puffed brown rice cereal
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit (favorites here are blueberries, cranberries or cherries)

Put these wet ingredients (you can be generous with these measurements) in a microwave-safe measuring cup, and heat them for 30 seconds, to make them easier to incorporate into the dry ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1/4 cup all natural, creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seed butter
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry, and then turn into a 8 x 11.5 inch baking pan that has been lightly oiled (I use either coconut oil or avocado oil). Press the mixture firmly into the pan. It will be sticky--I find that applying a little of the oil to my fingertips as well as the pan can help in the pressing process. Refrigerate until firm, and then cut into whatever size bars or bites you wish. Wrap individually if desired, or cover the pan with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

If you try these, let me know how you think we did! Were we right to kick old Clif to the curb?  What other healthy, delicious options can you come up with for this recipe?

 

Three Things I'm Loving Now (Fall 2017)

The way that we're drawn to new things as the seasons change throughout the year is always fascinating to me. Although I'm growing less fond of winter as the years go by, the change of seasons and seasonal flavors, scents, and textures is something I appreciate about living where we do. I know that by late spring I'll be yearning for the stuff of summer again, but for now? Those tomatoes that we loved in late summer--I'm tired of them. The light, airy scents of tangerine and bergamot that I was diffusing a month or so ago? Meh. The pineapple mango smoothies of summer? Not so much.

The scents and flavors that I'm loving right now as we head into fall start off with Clary Sage Essential Oil. Clary Sage is regarded as an effective essential oil for women especially, in balancing hormones and reducing anxiety. 

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Phytotherapy Research found that inhalation of clary sage oil had the ability to reduce cortisol levels by 36 percent and improved thyroid hormone levels. The study was done on 22 post-menopausal women in their 50s, some of whom were diagnosed with depression. At the end of the trial, the researchers stated that “clary sage oil had a statistically significant effect on lowering cortisol and had an anti-depressant effect improving mood.”

As the days get shorter, this herbaceous, slightly spicy oil is super-appealing to me, with something of a warming quality. I love it so much that I've been wearing it on this aromatherapy pendant. I have used Young Living essential oils exclusively for years and highly recommend them for purity and quality. 

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Comfort food. It means something different to everyone. For some it's mac and cheese; for others it's mashed potatoes or a grilled cheese sandwich. This dish that we love draws from middle-Eastern flavors, but it has all the makings of comfort food, in its warm, soft texture. This recipe is adapted from one that appeared in the magazine Veg News several years ago. 

Satisfying Sleek

Ingredients: 

1 cup bulgur wheat

3 cups low-salt or salt-free vegetable broth or stock

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cups kale, chopped

4 teaspoons baharat spice blend (recipe follows)

2 15-oz. cans of black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

Baharat Spice Blend:**

1 Tablespoon black pepper

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground fenugreek

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

**Note: This spice blend makes enough for two batches of Sleek. You will only use half of the mixture for the recipe.

Method:

Place bulgur into a large bowl. Cover with the vegetable broth and set aside for 30 minutes.

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onions. Cook until soft. Add the spice blend and the bulgur mixture, and the black-eyed peas. Bring what liquid there is to a boil, stirring so that it doesn't stick. If the bulgur has soaked up most of the broth, add water in 1/2 cup increments. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the kale and continue simmering for another 5-10 minutes or until kale is wilted. Take off heat; stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

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A Fall Beverage Discovery! Apple cider in the fall will probably always be one of my favorites, but it's not something I will have every day. Something I DO have every day is my Greens Blend from Life's Abundance. In the fall, though, a big cold drink isn't too appealing, unless it's after a sweaty spin class. Well, guess what? I tried my Greens Blend hot, and I love it! I mixed a scoop of Greens Blend with 12 ounces of water in a shaker bottle, and once blended, poured it into my favorite mug. A minute and 30 seconds in the microwave, and I have a warm, delicious drink with a subtle berry flavor. I'm excited about keeping my phytonutrient game strong through the fall and winter by enjoying this as a hot beverage! 

These are three of my favorite things for Fall 2017--what are some of yours?

 

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When Roast Chicken Was a Special Occasion

When I was growing up, there were meal patterns that could pretty much be relied upon. Saturday nights were hamburgers, Sundays were beef pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy. Monday or Tuesday usually made use of the leftover roast in the form of soup or was just reheated; leftover mashed potatoes became potato (pan)cakes. Pasta would make an appearance one night, sometimes macaroni and cheese; other times spaghetti with meat sauce. Meat loaf, ham slices or pork chops might round out the rest of a typical week. Chicken was most often cut up and fried, sometimes with mashed potatoes and gravy; other times with waffles and gravy (the partial Pennsylvania Dutch heritage showing itself.) 

Rarely did we have roast chicken. I won't say "never", it just seems to me, looking back, that it was an uncommon occurrence. I vaguely remember thinking that it must be hard to roast a chicken, because it really didn't happen much more than the roast turkey or whole ham we would have on holidays.

What I've learned in my own cooking experiences is just how easy it is to roast chicken. So easy that it's not out of the question for us to enjoy it on a weeknight. The method we've adopted is based on the signature dish of chef Jonathan Waxman's restaurants, which include Barbuto (New York) and Adele's (Nashville). The chicken itself is ridiculously simple and plainly delicious, with only salt, pepper and olive oil for the roasting. What makes the dish special is the fresh salsa verde that goes along with it. Combining arugula, parsley, fresh herbs, lots of garlic, capers, anchovies and a little hot pepper, it makes an amazing, fresh accompaniment to the chicken. 

Let's talk about that chicken for a minute. If you want to make amazing roast chicken, let me suggest that you NOT go to the grocery store. Find yourself a farmer's market with a local producer who raises organically fed, free range chickens. It will be more expensive than buying at the store, but it is absolutely worth the money. The two of us always get at least two meals out of a whole chicken--sometimes three, if there's breast meat that can be incorporated into a dinner-sized salad. 

When we first started making Jonathan Waxman's roast chicken, we watched this video to get the cutting technique and the salsa verde ingredients down. One note on the salsa verde is that we use WAY less olive oil than Mr. Waxman recommends. It's also the opinion in our household that the salsa verde doesn't keep that well as leftover, so we're cautious not to make more than we will eat when the chicken is first served. 

What are your meal patterns? We no longer have certain dishes on specific days of the week, but this roast chicken is one of our go-to's when we want a simple meal that will give us a day or two of leftovers that we can combine with veggies, beans or salads. 

 

Waxman calls for everything to be rough-chopped, which we do. We just use less olive oil than recommended to finish the salsa verde. 

Waxman calls for everything to be rough-chopped, which we do. We just use less olive oil than recommended to finish the salsa verde. 

It doesn't get much simpler than this--the two chicken halves go in the roasting pan, fat side up, with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper on each side.

It doesn't get much simpler than this--the two chicken halves go in the roasting pan, fat side up, with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper on each side.

The plated version. Although the entire half never gets consumed in one sitting and the skin gets discarded, we like to put the salsa verde right on top of the roasted half.

The plated version. Although the entire half never gets consumed in one sitting and the skin gets discarded, we like to put the salsa verde right on top of the roasted half.