Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Easy Pumpkin Soup

I LOVE pumpkins! They're the calorie-conscious gal's answer to the sweet potato, among many other glorious things. I picked up a couple different pumpkins from Berkeley Bowl and the white skinned, orange-yellow fleshed guy was a big let down. Hardly any taste. So what to do? Make a soup! No point risking a baked good disaster.

For this soup I employed an easy technique I picked up from a Belgian friend, which uses a handheld blender. If you don't have one (get one, they're cheap and fantastic) you can just use a regular blender or food processor. It tastes especially great on a cold night with some fresh, crusty bread and sweet butter.

Pumpkin soup:
1 small-medium pumpkin (butternut or acorn squash should sub nicely)
1.5 large veggie bouillon cubes, or 3 small
about 4 cups of water
3 garlic cloves
1 medium onion
1/2 apple (I used pink lady, but any sweet-tart variety will do)
1/2 T turmeric
1/2 T cumin
1 t cinnamon
1/2 cup plain yogurt
salt and pepper to taste

goat cheese
raw pumpkin seeds
fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 375F, pierce the pumpkin four times near the stem and bake for 45-60 minutes until tender. Once it has cooled enough to handle, remove the skin and chop. Place in a big pot with the next ingredients through the apple. Fill with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a mild boil until all of the ingredients are tender enough for a wooden spoon to break apart, about 20-30 minutes. Add the spices and stir for about a minute. Turn off the flame, add the yogurt, and blend. If you have a hand blender, you can put that directly into the pot. Otherwise, just dump into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth and thick. If you prefer a thinner soup, add more water or stock. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish and get warm!
4 servings at about 100 calories

Leftover Glory: Mixed Grains with Pumpkin and Brussels Sprouts

After being introduced to such a vast world of whole grains, there are some nights that I am spoiled for choice. A great solution is to whip up a big pot of mixed grains. Inspired by, I cooked one up on Sunday night and stored the rest in the fridge for a versatile, ready to go staple. It's a great idea because grains can take a long time to cook from scratch if you're putting them on at the end of the day - and this way, there's no need to decide what kind you want!

Now, let me profess my undying love for brussels sprouts! I am not crazy about fall or winter fruit (I'm a summer fruit gal) but I do love winter veggies. I can't get enough of brussels sprouts and have recently discovered a delicious, fast and easy way to cook them as an alternative to my usual roasting. This week I cooked them with some capers, chopped anchovies, crushed red pepper, and fresh lemon for a tasty (salty) twist. I made up a whole pan, and again, stored 'em in the fridge for a quick go-to veg. These I mixed with some roasted kabocha pumpkin, my favorite of the pumpkin/squash varietals.

Combined, these make a filling, toothy, fresh and healthy meal that you can heat up in under five minutes and enjoy throughout the week. For some protein, you could throw in tofu, beans, meat, or a handful of mixed nuts/seeds like I did today.

Mixed grains:
1/2 cup wheat berries
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup whole oat groats
1/4 cup wild rice
1 t sea salt

1 small kabocha pumpkin
1 pound brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and halved (or quartered if extra large)
1/3 cup water
3 large garlic cloves, minced
3 T capers
5 anchovies in oil, drained
1 wedge fresh lemon
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
olive oil spray (or fresh olive oil)
sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Add'l toppings in photo (1 serving):
1 wedge avocado (about 1/8 of a small fruit)
1T (8g) walnuts, chopped
1/2T (8g) raw pumpkin seeds
1T fresh parsley, chopped*

Mixed grains:
Rinse and place in a large pot (I used a dutch oven) with about 5.5 cups of water (better too much than too little since you can always drain any excess water at the end). Add salt and bring to a boil before reducing to a simmer, uncovered, for about 35 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Pierce the pumpkin 4 times and cook for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size. When tender, but firm (easily pierced by a sharp knife), remove and let cool.

Place the brussels sprouts in a large pan with 1/3 cup water and cook covered on a medium high flame for 3 minutes or until tender. Remove the lid and allow to continue cooking so the water evaporates. Once the water is gone, spray generously with olive oil and toss to coat with the garlic and pepper flakes. Continue to toss constantly to avoid burning and ensure an even browning. Add the capers and anchovies once the garlic and sprouts start to get a nice brown, about 3 minutes. Toss for 1-2 more minutes and add a squeeze of lemon evenly over the mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Chop up the cooled pumpkin in to bite size pieces. I love the skin so I leave it on, but feel free to remove if that's a little too much roughage. Half a small pumpkin will mix nicely with the sprouts and the rest you can keep on hand for other uses. Just wrap and store in fridge.

A serving of mixed grains is 120g and 150 calories (and buckets of fiber!). Top this with 1/4-1/3 of the veggie mix and the additional toppings. All together, this bowl of greatness will run you 400 calories and give you that really satisfied, wholesome feeling of fullness. The kind I love best.

*I always keep fresh parsley (aka nature's multivitamin) on hand to toss on pretty much everything I eat (similar to my sprouted seeds and pesto). What I've found is that it keeps best, and is most likely to get eaten, if I wash and chop it as soon as I buy it. Then I dry and wrap in a paper towel and store in a ziplock bag in the fridge. It will keep for 1-2 weeks like this.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Kefir: A New Love

Most days of the week (well at least half), I recently started a new breakfast routine with kefir at its base. Kefir is a fermented milk drink similar to buttermilk (sounds irresistible already, I know! But seriously, please keep reading because it does get better, I promise) and is a natural source of probiotics with antioxidant properties. It's also a great dairy option for those of us who don't tolerate the lactose in milk so well. Trader Joe's carries both the plain and a strawberry flavored version (which I haven't tried) for around $2.50/quart and Whole Foods has a range available, including organic and goat's milk varieties at, of course, higher prices (around $5). But if I could afford it, I would definitely opt for the organic since it is a dairy product (cows, antibiotics, growth hormones, etc.). One cup has 120 calories, 3g of fiber, and 14g of protein.
Here's my recipe for kefir success (single serving):
1/4 cup (20g) uncooked multi-grain cereal (including oats, rye, barley, wheat) 65 cal
2 T (20g) raw oat groats, pre-soaked* 75 cal
1/2 cup kefir 60 cal
8g raw walnuts, chopped 52 cal
14g dried cherries 50 cal
1 t ground flaxseed 10 cal
a drizzle of (organic) agave nectar** 15 cal
Total calories/serving: 327;
Total fiber: 7g
The night before your anticipation-packed breakfast, soak the cereal, pre-soaked oat groats, and walnuts in the kefir and store in the fridge. Make sure you stir them to mix or the kefir will just sit on the top.
In the morning, the oats will have absorbed the kefir. Add the remaining ingredients, with cinnamon to taste (sometimes I'll throw in some nutmeg or ground ginger if I'm feeling spicy. Stir everything up and enjoy! The combination of these flavors and textures will leave you craving more;)
*Raw oat groats are what rolled-oats are before they're steamed and rolled flat; or steel cut, before cut. Raw, they look like pearl barley, and are available in the bulk section of health food stores or online ( Soak them in water overnight, strain, and store in an air-tight container in the fridge.
**Agave nectar is a liquid sweetener made from the agave plant (like tequila). It has the same number of calories as honey (60/1T) but is sweeter and less thick. It's also really low in the glycemic index compared with other natural sweeteners and is great for baking or sweetening sauces.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Making Pesto

Lately I've taken to making pesto to keep on hand for various uses. It's a great way to include raw foods conveniently and keeps well refrigerated in an air-tight container. I use it mostly to spread on sandwiches, but it's also great in tuna salad and on pizza. I do variations on this every time I make it, but here's the basic recipe:
1 bunch fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 bunch parsley (curly), chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 T walnuts (optional)
1 T extra virgin olive oil
To make: alternate basil and garlic in a food processor (or blender) and pulse as you go. Throw in the parsley last and once everything is blended to satisfaction (you can choose a level of coarseness to taste), add Parmesan, lemon juice, and walnuts if using. Salt and pepper to taste and throw in the olive oil last, once all is well combined.
Serving size: 1 tablespoon; Calories: 15/serving (without walnuts)