Sick soup (autumn minestrone)

After my family left, we all got sick. Every single one of us except for my dad has either a cold or a sinus infection.

Sad face.

So, instead of resting on Sunday I ran errands, made this soup, and worked on orders. I can’t seem to help myself.

This recipe comes from the Moosewood Daily Special cookbook, which is just packed with comforting soups. I thought about subbing chicken broth in this recipe since I have so much in my freezer. But the cleanse taught me that veggie soups can have really great depth of flavor on their own, so I left it out. And it turned out to be the right decision.

I also added one thing I learned from Rachael Ray, which is to use the leafy tops of celery when you cook. They have lots of flavor (they’re the greenest part of the whole stalk).

This soup is super healthy, full of the vitamins you need when you’re sick, and it uses a lot of fall veggies that are cheap right now. I bought an acorn squash so ripe it looked like a little pumpkin.

I served this with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, but that’s totally optional. Add a chunk of crusty bread or some saltines and you’re good to go.

Autumn minestrone

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups peeled and cubed winter squash (I used butternut and acorn)
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 1/2 cups golden potatoes, cubed (skins optional)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
8 cups water (it called for 6 but I needed more)
4 cups chopped kale leaves
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium. Add the onions and garlic and saute for 5 minutes. Add the squash, celery, carrots, potatoes, spices, and water, and cook them for another 10 minutes or so. Then add the kale and beans, turn down the heat if it’s bubbling too much, and simmer until everything is cooked through. It only takes about 20 minutes total, but I gave it probably more like 40 minutes just to let everything really blend together.

The only thing I might change next time would be to scale back a little on the kale. I have a thing about wilty greens — a little is fine, but I like the other veggies to be the focus.

Vegan chocolate cupcakes with cocoa ganache

After this tumultuous week of eating, I decided I wanted a baked good that would satisfy my sweet tooth without sending me into a sugar coma. I wanted to use the oat flour I bought a while back — while it’s not labeled gluten-free, it’s whole grain and would at least reduce the load on my gluten-heavy diet.

I googled around to find a vegan chocolate cake recipe that sounded like it would make a good cupcake, and then adjusted it a bit and came up with this:

Vegan chocolate cupcakes
makes 10 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups oat flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 cup water

Cocoa ganache frosting

1/2 cup cocoa powder (use raw cacao powder for an ultra-rich frosting)
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt

Preheat your oven to 350. Mix up the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. Slowly mix the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. The batter will be very thin. Fill your paper cups more carefully than I did!

Bake for 45 minutes. While the cupcakes are baking, mix up the ingredients for the frosting. Though the ganache is pretty soft, you want to leave it at room temperature until the cupcakes are cool and ready to frost. It becomes so thick it’s unspreadable when refrigerated.

The cupcakes are definitely more crumbly than a typical cupcake, but I thought they came out pretty well overall. Certainly the closest you’ll come to a healthy cupcake!

Corn and tomato salad

Strangely, it’s actually been feeling like summer around here. Though it’s been in the low 60s for months, the forecast calls for 80+ degree days over our Fourth of July weekend, and that to me calls for picnic foods.

I’ve been making a black bean/corn/avocado/tomato salad for a long time, but I was thinking I wanted something a little different. This idea from Chez Pim seemed perfect, so I played around with measurements a bit and came up with this.

Corn and tomato salad

3 cups cooked sweet corn (grilled, boiled, or even microwaved works)
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Basil or other fresh herbs to taste (I chopped up a few sprigs of thyme and a few basil leaves)

Combine the corn and tomatoes in a bowl. Whisk up the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl. I ended up using about half of the vinaigrette and saving the rest for salads, but you can use as much as you want.

Serve with baked beans, deviled eggs, and a Nathan’s hot dog. Swing in hammock. Sip lemonade.

I am also excited to report that I spotted our first tomatoes yesterday!

The question now is whether or not they’ll have trouble ripening (that’s what I hear can be a problem). But with our forecast I think they’ll have plenty of heat and sun.

This little guy has taken up residence in the tomato.

I also finally gave up on my old basil plant, which conked completely, and got a new one, which seems to be thriving. Can’t have summer without basil.

Kale chips

I have bought kale chips before, but never actually made them myself until now. We had some at a pre-wedding party in Colorado, and they were so good I was motivated to try them out.

I used a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, but really you don’t much of a recipe for these. You just toss torn pieces of kale with salt and olive oil and bake them at 300 for 20 minutes or so.

If you want a different flavor you can spice them up with curry powder, garlic powder, black pepper, or whatever sounds good to you. They come out airy, crisp, and a lot tastier than you would expect. If you’re having a hard time getting dark greens into your diet, this is the perfect way to do it. Juicing is also great.

Next time I will make sure to dry the leaves more thoroughly before I bake them, and I will divide the leaves up into two pans so it’s not as crowded. Some of my leaves didn’t get as crispy as I would have liked.

I used the curly variety of kale, and I like that one best for this preparation. So go forth, and bake kale!

Cashew cream cheesecake

Between my farmers market experience and Joy blogging about cashew-oat milk, I decided to try my hand at making cashew cream.

At first I wasn’t sure what to make with it. Should I make a dip? Or just nut milk? But in the end I decided it would be fun to try a cheesecake.

I used this recipe. I was out of dates, so my crust was basically just a mix of almonds, pecans, and a little agave nectar. But if I had to do it over I think I would just use my recipe for fruit/nut bars instead. It’s so tasty, why mess with it?

So to make this version of non-dairy cheese, you start by soaking cashews overnight in water.

By morning they kind of plump up, just like when you soak dried beans.

Drain the cashews and put them in the food processor with lemon juice, agave and a little vanilla. I was thinking next time it might be nice to put in a little vanilla bean. Or you could blend in strawberries or blueberries for a fruity cheesecake or cacao powder for chocolate.

I think I could have gotten a creamier consistency here if I had a Vitamix, but I tried blending this in our regular blender and it basically just laughed at me. The food processor did a pretty good job.

Then you just assemble the cheesecake. Press the crust into the bottom of a glass dish.

Then spread the cashew cream on top. Put it in the freezer for a couple of hours to harden before serving.

I don’t think this resembles real cheesecake at all in taste, but it’s incredible close in texture. And since it’s basically all protein (you decide how sweet it should be), it makes a great energizing snack that you don’t have to feel guilty about.

Overall, thumbs up.

South Indian black eyed peas

The other day I was flipping through our many public access channels and came across a show about healthy South Indian cooking. I scrambled to write down some recipes, but only got parts of them, so I attempted to recreate this one at home.

I had to reach into the depths of my spice shelf to find some of the ingredients, and I was surprised to find that we actually had them (probably not the freshest, but they worked in a pinch).

I had also never cooked with black eyed peas before, if you can believe it. I guest most beans are pretty much the same, and you could probably substitute whatever beans you had on hand for this.

I thought this turned out really great, and I will definitely make it again. The tomato-y sauce, turned orange by a pinch of turmeric, reminded me of so many Indian dishes I’ve had in restaurants. We poured this over slices of day-old bread, which soaked up the sauce perfectly, but I’m sure it would be great over rice or naan.

South Indian black eyed peas

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cans black eyed peas, drained
1/2 large onion sliced
1 medium tomato sliced into chunks
1/4 fresh mango sliced into chunks
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 whole hot chiles
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black (or yellow) mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt to taste
1 cup tomato sauce

Start by heating a deep skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. When it’s hot drop in the chiles, mustard seeds and fenugreek. Pretty soon the seeds will start popping like popcorn so watch out!

Next drop in the onions and saute until they’re translucent.

Now you can add your tomato and mango chunks and let them soften and cook down a little.

Turn down the heat to medium and drop in the rest of the spices, the garlic, and the tomato sauce.

Stir all that together, then dump in the black eyed peas.

Cover the pan, and let it simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Remove the chiles before serving.

The best oatmeal

I was starting to get a little sick of juices and smoothies, so I thought I’d try a different breakfast food that I felt was equally healthy. I bought some quick oats, just your standard Quaker can variety, and a bunch of fresh berries. Instead of milk I used almond milk, and that little extra bit of flavor makes all the difference to me.

My favorite oatmeal

1/2 cup quick oats
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 cup of your favorite berries
Drizzle of agave nectar

Mix up the oats and almond milk in a bowl and microwave them for about 3 minutes, or until you get the consistency you like. Drizzle on the agave nectar (just a little bit!) and sprinkle on your berries.

I love oatmeal, too, because it’s such a great base for whatever toppings you want to put on. Maybe dried fruit or nuts — I’m thinking figs and walnuts — or a drizzle of maple syrup would be better on a different day.

Quinoa burgers

These are the best veggie burgers I’ve ever made.

Normally I have a lot of problems with burgers that are too dry, fall apart, or just generally don’t resemble a burger in the traditional sense. But the secret here – binding your burgers with hummus – is genius!

Plus, this recipe is vegan and gluten-free, so it’s a home run.

Quinoa burgers
adapted slightly from savvyvegetarian.com

1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa (I used my mix of red and white quinoa)
1/2 cup hummus
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
1 tablespoon wheat-free tamari
4 tablespoons brown rice flour
1/2 teaspoon each of dried basil, coriander, paprika and garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon thyme
Pinch of salt and pepper

Mix everything in a big bowl. Divide into four patties. Heat a little olive oil and brown for about 5 minutes on each side.

Split pea soup

Continuing with my run of trying new foods and eating like someone who has no teeth, I tried split pea soup tonight.

Sure, it’s not the most attractive soup, but it’s really yummy and hearty, perfect for a winter weeknight dinner.

I thought this recipe turned out great. It’s full of flavor, including a little sweetness from the carrots.

Split pea soup
adapted from Barefoot Contessa

1/2 pound split peas
1/2 cup diced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large carrots, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
5 cups water

Heat the olive oil over medium in a soup pot and saute the onions, garlic and carrots until the onions are translucent. Sprinkle on the salt, pepper, and oregano.

Add the water and half the split peas, and simmer for 40 minutes.

Add the rest of the peas and simmer for 40 more minutes.

Voila, easy peasy soup. Har har.

I also loved the shake I made on Sunday when I had almost nothing left to eat in my refrigerator.

It was one cup of frozen mango chunks, two cups of unsweetened almond milk, a tablespoon of flax meal, and a teaspoon of agave nectar. The extra almond milk did the trick (it only has like 40 calories per cup).

While we were out running errands on Sunday we decided to go to Oakland and try Blue Bottle Coffee, which we’d heard so much about.

Since I’m off caffeine (though I did notice they had decaf beans), Mike tried an iced coffee and got some beans to go, and reports that it’s awesome. Love their packaging, too.

I knew it wouldn’t be a big deal for me to give up coffee, but I thought I would struggle more with my attachment to Diet Coke. Lately, I haven’t wanted any at all. In fact i don’t even put lemon in my water or make tea very often anymore. Mostly I just want plain water, which is pretty strange for me.

Two weeks down, two more to go…

Juice-it-yourself breakfast

Now that I’m on two liquid meals a day I figured it was time to break out the juicer.

This thing is powerful. When you turn it on it sounds like a lawnmower. It’s a little scary, but it does the job.

What comes out is a little scary, too. First it’s this multilayered colorful juice, and then when you mix it all together it becomes the color of pond scum. Not so appetizing, but the weird part is that it does actually taste good. If you’ve ever bought a Green Machine juice at the grocery store you know what I mean.

So anyway, here’s my recipe. Never thought this is what my breakfast would look like.

1 apple
1 lemon
2-3 carrots
2 big kale leaves
2 ribs celery

I tried adding pineapple once and it was a little too sweet.

For dinner I’ve been having a really yummy butternut squash soup. I bought organic squash, and they turned out to be the brightest orange color and full of flavor. I roasted one squash (cut into chunks) with a couple of carrots and one apple. Then I sauteed some onions and celery, added four cups of water, a little apple cider vinegar and turmeric to my pot plus all the roasted veggies, and blended it all with my immersion blender.

It came out so well. There was no need for cream at all. I tried having a chilled avocado soup, too, but it wasn’t very good. It just made me think I was eating a bowl of salsa with no chips.

My other discovery this week is that it’s fun to blend red and plain quinoa together to add a little more color to your meals.

Next week I tackle lentils. I know you’re excited.