Thursday, February 27, 2014

Two Soups, Two Coasts, One Day

I'm getting over a little cold that gave me an excuse to curl up on the sofa with a good book, drink lots of tea, and enjoy hot, home made soup. Cooking home made soup and taking it easy aren't necessarily compatible goals. But I pulled out these two yummy, tried and true recipes today, both so simple to make that I was able to prepare the spinach soup for lunch while putting the lentil soup in the slow cooker for dinner.

The first of these soups comes from my days in the Northeast, a recipe from Wegmans grocery store for Spinach Soup.

My only change for this recipe is to skip serving the egg on top of the soup. Instead I like to turn the soup into a meal by pairing it with an egg sandwich. Spinach Soup has also gone great with a quick veggie burger sandwich, pita pizza, or simply with fresh bread and hummus or peanut butter. Above the soup is pictured with my lumpy, delicious, freshly baked loaf of white whole wheat bread.

In the slow cooker for dinner is a soup recipe from Whole Foods, my new go-to grocery store on the West Coast. Whole Foods doesn't present Turkish Red Lentil Soup as a slow cooker recipe, and I've certainly made it many times on the stove top. But I noticed right away how well the recipe lends itself to the slow cooker. I normally sauté the veggies on the stovetop for about five minutes, then combine veggies and all the other ingredients (except for the optional lemon, which I leave out completely) in the slow cooker. I cook the soup for 8 hours on high, or for 4 hours on low. It makes the whole house smell awesome.

Tonight I'll be serving Turkish Red Lentil Soup with pasta ai broccoli. Lentil soup is an awesome vegetarian second to a pasta with vegetables first course. It also goes well with bread and salad. And sometimes I sneak it into an Indian meal in place of dal.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Plato and the Reuben Sandwich

At what point is my alternative sandwich no longer a Reuben?

The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, is famous for a lot of things.  The Reuben sandwich is not one of them.

One of the things Plato is famous for is his theory of Forms.  Plato posited that there is an ideal Form, Form with a capital F, for everything we come across in everyday life.  The Reuben sandwich, the one we all mean when we say we want a Reuben sandwich, is the Form, the ideal.  The actual sandwich we eat is not.

When my native New Yorker husband says he's craving a Reuben sandwich, he has a Form in his mind that goes something like: buttered rye bread with Russian dressing, corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut.  According to Plato, no sandwich I could make would possibly hold up to that ideal Form.

Big thanks to Plato for letting me off the hook.  Since I can't possibly make the ideal Reuben sandwich, then I'm free to make it lower in fat, vegetarian, and whole grain.

This is the Reuben sandwich I actually make, light years distant from the Form:

2 slices 100% whole grain spelt bread
1 t Earth Balance Spread
1 t Thousand Island dressing
2 slices Hickory Smoked Tofurky
2 T well-squeezed sauerkraut with caraway seeds
2 slices Swiss cheese

I butter the outside of the bread, put Thousand Island on the inside of the slice.  Then I sandwich the Tofurky and sauerkraut between the two slices of Swiss cheese.  I toast the sandwich on my panini press.

I tried to balance the fact that my spelt bread isn't rye bread by using probiotic sauerkraut with caraway seeds.  The smoked Tofurky is supposed to be giving the impression of corned beef.

You could even go further with the alternative Reuben sandwich.  Vegan Thousand Island and vegan cheeses are available for those who avoid dairy.  Gluten free bread could be substituted- who knows, maybe there's a gluten free deli rye out there somewhere!

But here's the one change I tried to make that didn't work:

In an effort to curtail the huge fat content of this sandwich, I tried to leave off the "butter" (Earth Balance) on the outside of the bread, thinking that the fat from the Swiss cheese and Thousand Island were far more characteristic to the sandwich than the butter.  My husband wouldn't buy it.  A Reuben sandwich that hasn't been greased on the outside with something, somehow, is apparently not a Reuben sandwich.

His refusal on this point brought me into deep thought about what, exactly, makes a Reuben sandwich a Reuben sandwich.  How far away from that Platonic ideal of the Reuben can we get, before the sandwich we've created is no longer even a shadow of that Form?  Apparently I can take away the corned beef and swap out the rye and still sort of have a Reuben.  But if I forsake buttering the outside of the bread I do not.  If I took out the dressing it would not be a Reuben.  If I took out the cheese it would not be a Reuben.  If I put in vegan cheese would it become a Reuben again?

And what about all these substitute foods?  Play foods, really, foods in costume designed to look and somewhat taste like something they are not.  Soy disguised as turkey, cashews disguised as cheese.  Are any of these products Food with a capital F?  And if they are not Food, then is it because they were processed and packaged in a factory?  Or if I had made my own vegan cheese at home, would vegan cheese qualify as Food?

The question of alternative food substitutes is fodder for another post.  In the meantime, I'm left wondering whether a Reuben with much of its artery-clogging properties removed is still a Reuben, and feeling very grateful that the Reuben craving only comes once or twice a year.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Retro Recipe Computer

We just spent a delightful afternoon at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.  My husband drooled over the Babbage Difference Engine, ancient mainframes, and video game consoles from his childhood.  I was wowed by this totally awesome and completely impractical piece of engineering from 1969: the Honeywell recipe computer.  

The Honeywell 316 was designed to store a cook's favorite recipes, and even had a cutting board on top!  Not one was ever sold, but I like to think it's a spiritual predecessor to my beloved Paprika App on the iPad.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Heather Vs. Home Made Nutella, Round 1

First round standings: Heather, 0; Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, 1.

I used to live in Turin, Italy, home of Gianduja chocolate hazelnut spread.  We loved walking to the annual chocolate festival held at Piazza Castello, where we'd cruise the artisan booths not for chocolates, but for the amazing chocolate hazelnut spreads.  There were white chocolate spreads, dark chocolate spreads, milk chocolate spreads.  And they came in every flavor imaginable, including hot pepper!

So these days grabbing a jar of Nutella off the grocery store shelf leaves me a little cold.  I came across this nifty recipe from Vitamix for Chocolate Hazelnut Spread and was so excited!  

I was really surprised by the Vitamix recipe, since it required making a thick syrup from sugar and water on the stovetop, then letting the mixture cool until it became brittle.  I was then supposed to break the caramelized sugar into pieces, grind them in the Vitamix, and add the nuts.

But of course I couldn't execute the recipe as written, I had to try to make it just a little healthier, using wholesome turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) instead of white granulated sugar.  As a result, my cooled caramelized sugar never got any harder than a thickened paste.

A series of misadventures followed, in which my poor Vitamix overheated from the effort of grinding both nuts and sticky sugar.  I took frequent breaks, and eventually made a gritty, but delicious paste.  I soldiered on, adding olive oil and vanilla as per the recipe.  And then I made a huge mistake.

In an effort to cool the mixture and to blend the paste into and even smoother cream, I added a little cold water.

The hazelnut cream immediately curdled.  Water and hot oil began to separate.  The water actually started to boil in my blender!  And the hazelnut chocolate paste grew gummy and tough.

Hours of hard work and four cups of hazelnuts went down the garbage disposal.

But I learned some valuable lessons in the process of my kitchen disaster.  Most important, never add water to nut butters while grinding!  Although I've added water with no problem when blending sesame paste (tahini) in the Vitamix, tahini and hazelnut paste are clearly two different beasts.

Since that epic disaster I've been itching to have another go at the chocolate hazelnut spread.  I have some ideas to even the score, like grinding the hazelnuts into butter before adding the sticky sweetener.  I'm also planning to use brown rice syrup as my alternative sweetener instead of making the caramelized sugar paste.

Who knows, my quest for home made, wholesome sweetener "Nutella" may just end in another disaster.  But there will be a Round 2, Chocolate Hazelnut Spread.  Oh yes, the rematch is coming.

Monday, February 17, 2014

It's a hit- Curried Sweet Potatoes with Chickpeas and Chard

This recent addition to my recipe repertoire was an instant success.  I loved it at first bite, and everyone else I've served it to has, too.

Curried Sweet Potatoes with Chickpeas and Chard  from tastes awesome!

I pretty much followed the recipe as written.  My only change is that I don't use canned chickpeas, rather I use my own method of pressure cooking chick peas with salt, cumin, and cayenne.  It's easy to overcook, so keep your eye on those sweet potatoes.  Most importantly, don't leave out the raisins!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Frosting That Saved Valentine's Day

Healthy frosting is an oxymoron, but there are a couple times each year I have to try to make it a reality, and Valentine's Day is one of those times. When my first attempt at healthy frosting ended in disaster, this recipe for 1 Minute Chocolate Frosting from CDKitchen came to the rescue.
This frosting sounded too good to be true. Simple ingredients whose healthier alternatives I had on hand, and only one minute to make? It actually took me over an hour because the frosting boiled for one minute, then needed a long time to cool. That said, this one hour chocolate frosting was very forgiving of alternative ingredients and saved my hubby's Valentines Day treats!

Boiled frosting is a great option for attempting frosting with more wholesome sweeteners because it takes granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar. I could easily substitute turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) for the white granulated sugar, I subbed Earth Balance for the butter, and used organic almond milk instead of dairy milk. All those changes, and the frosting still turned out great! Although I beat it in the mixer as per instructions, I don't think it really needed to be beaten, at least not with my mix of ingredient substitutions. It was already spreadable when just cooled and stirred.
Here is my altered recipe:
1 cup turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup Earth Balance
1/4 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
I dumped everything in a sauce pan and brought to a roiling boil, which I then kept going for 1 minute. I was supposed to put the vanilla in after the boil, but putting it in at the beginning didn't seem to hurt. I transferred the molten frosting to a bowl and let it cool for at least 45 minutes. At that point it was ready to stir (or beat) and spread sparingly for a fun, but not too unhealthy treat.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Hard work, but someone's got to do it!

I've been indulging in these gourmet jams, not just because they're low sugar and yummy- but because I really want the jars! I keep a huge spice drawer with jars of bulk spices. These nifty square jars won't go rolling every time I open the drawer.