Perfect Tomato Soup

Garnished with homemade croutons and a sprig of thyme.

Garnished with homemade croutons and a sprig of thyme.

Tomato soup is one of those basic dishes that can either be delicately delicious or maddeningly mediocre…and I feel like it’s often a total crapshoot as to which one I’m going to get when I order it at a restaurant. The obvious solution to this problem was to perfect my own recipe, which, thankfully, turned out to be incredibly easy. I started out with this recipe and then modified it to suit my personal taste and the ingredients I had on hand. Because I was so pleased with how the soup came out, I will now make it a point to keep my pantry stocked with plenty of cartons of chicken broth and Pomi strained tomatoes so that I can whip it up whenever I want. Paired with grilled cheese (or better yet, grilled ham and cheese) sandwiches, it makes the perfect cool weather lunch or dinner.

Ingredients:
1 TBSP unsalted butter
3 to 4 TBSP good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 TBSP finely chopped white or yellow onion
3 or 4 garlic gloves, peeled and minced
2 TBSP white flour
3 cups organic, free-range chicken broth
1 26-oz carton Pomi strained tomatoes
2 to 3 tsp sugar (or to taste)
Several sprigs of fresh thyme (or whichever herb you prefer — oregano, basil and rosemary would all work well)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine butter and oil in a pot or dutch oven and heat over medium-low heat until butter is melted.
2. Add the garlic and onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they just start to brown around the edges.
3. Add flour and stir into the garlic and onions.
4. Add broth, tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
5. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.
6. Remove and discard herbs. Allow soup to cool slightly before serving, and then garnish with croutons, crumbled cheese, or chopped fresh herbs. Enjoy your comfort food!

November 5, 2014 at 10:30 pm Leave a comment

Truly Healthy Banana Muffins

bananamuffins455

 I snuck in a handful of chocolate chips. I’m no saint.

I’ll be the first to admit that I can sometimes go overboard with the healthy substitutions when I bake. It’s gotten to the point where, when I say, “I made chocolate chip cookies!”, my husband suspiciously replies with “what’s in them…or not in them?” And while chocolate chip cookies made with whole wheat flour and one-third of the sugar that the recipe calls for are, admittedly, an acquired taste for some, something like banana bread actually lends itself really well to modifications that pump up the nutritional quotient. In fact, if you use sweet, overripe bananas, you can actually omit the sugar from the recipe completely and still end up with a tasty breakfast or healthy dessert. And if you throw in an extra banana or two, you can cut down significantly on the butter (you can also use coconut oil). Here’s how I do it:

Ingredients:
4 TBSP (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or coconut oil at room temperature
2 large eggs
4 overripe bananas
2 TBSP milk
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional: 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Thoroughly grease the cups of a 12-muffin pan.
2. Mix together butter, eggs and milk until throughly blended. Mash up bananas and blend into mixture.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture and mix throughly to combine. If using, stir chocolate chips into the batter.
4. Scoop batter into muffin cups and bake at 325 for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until muffin tops remain firm when lightly pressed.

Enjoy! These muffins are amazing right out of the oven. I store in the fridge to keep them fresh, and then cut one in half, toast lightly and spread with a little butter when I’m ready for a treat. Pure, wholesome goodness.

May 7, 2013 at 1:34 am Leave a comment

Spiced-Up Smoothie

Why yes, that IS an original Great Muppet Caper glass from McDonalds circa1981.

Why yes, that IS an original Great Muppet Caper glass from McDonald’s circa1981.

How do you make a virtuous, run-of-the-mill fruit and vegetable smoothie more exciting? Simply add spice. Extras like cinnamon, cardamon, ginger and nutmeg can turn your boring old daily smoothie into something reminiscent of a festive holiday punch. Below is my recipe for a green berry smoothie with a spicy twist. Of course, the beauty of smoothies is that your really don’t need a recipe – just throw in whatever sounds good. For example, I sometimes like to swap out the spinach for basil leaves, and omit the cinnamon and cardamom. It really just depends on which fresh ingredients I have on hand.

Spicy Spinach Berry Smoothie Ingredients:

1/2 cup of frozen blueberries
Five or six strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup of fresh spinach leaves
1/2 cup of orange or cranberry juice
1/2 cup of water (to cut down on the sugar of using only juice)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom

April 11, 2013 at 7:41 pm Leave a comment

Butternut Squash and Pear Crisp

It’s a good thing butternut squash have a long shelf life because I really have to work up the energy to tackle one of those suckers. My pathetic knife skills combined with my lack of upper body strength make chopping them up a major chore. Fortunately, I came up with a recipe worth the effort.

butternut

I think I did a halfway decent job of hacking this thing up.

As with many of my recipes, I sort of wing the measurements as I go along, so feel free to tweak to suit your taste. Note: You can easily make this vegan by subbing coconut oil for the butter.

Ingredients:
1 large butternut squash
4 pears
1/4 cup butter
1 TBSP maple syrup (brown sugar is also fine if you don’t have any syrup)
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oats
2 TBSP brown sugar
Dash of salt

1. Peel butternut squash and chop into approx. 1/2-inch cubes (discarding pulp and seeds).
2. Peel and chop pears into approx. 1/2-inch pieces.
3. Melt 2 TBSP of butter (saving the rest for the topping) in a 9″ x 12″ roasting dish and stir in the maple syrup and cinnamon.
4. Toss squash and pear cubes in butter and syrup to coat.
5. Melt 2 TBSP of butter in a bowl. Add flour, oats, brown sugar and dash of salt and stir until mixture is crumbly. (You may add another sprinkle of cinnamon here if you like.)
6. Distribute flour mixture evenly over the squash and pears. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, or until topping is golden brown and squash is fork-tender.

This recipe has less butter and sugar than most crumbles, so you can actually feel pretty good about eating your fruits and veggies. It makes a nice not-to-sweet dessert and a lovely breakfast. Hell, I even ate it for dinner tonight. Enjoy!

crisp

Already a piece missing – couldn’t even wait to take the photo.

December 1, 2012 at 4:39 am Leave a comment

Sweet Potato Quinoa Fritters

A small person’s hand snatches a fritter.

It used to be easy to get my kids to eat quinoa – all it took was a little soy sauce. But that got old after awhile…for all of us, so I sought out creative recipes online for pan-fried quinoa patties. The following is a hybrid of various veggie patty recipes I found that makes use of two of my favorite healthy staples: quinoa and sweet potatoes. They’re delicious on their own at any time of day (reheat leftovers in a pan with a little oil for a richly satisfying breakfast). I like them best spread with a thin layer of Dijon mustard and topped with sliced avocado. Pop the whole shebang into a bun and you’ve got an excellent vegetarian burger alternative for your summer barbecues.

Ingredients:
3 large sweet potatoes
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
2 eggs
2 tsp dried (or 1 TBSP fresh) thyme
2 cloves chopped garlic
Salt to taste
2 to 3 TBSP olive oil for frying

1. Bake sweet potatoes at 375 degrees until soft (about 45 minutes). Scoop the insides into a bowl and discard the skins.
2. While potatoes are baking, place quinoa with two cups of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook until all of the water is absorbed (10 to 15 minutes).
3. In a large bowl, mix together the cooked sweet potatoes and quinoa (slightly cooled), and add all remaining ingredients except cooking oil. Mix thoroughly by hand.
4. Heat oil to medium-high in a frying pan. Form the fritter mixture into patties by hand: 2 to 3 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick.
5. Cook fritters in batches, flipping halfway through, until lightly browned on each side, adding more oil to the pan as needed.
6. Drain on a paper towel and cool slightly before serving with your favorite toppings.

June 25, 2012 at 9:15 pm 1 comment

Vegan Lemon Bars

I found this recipe for vegan lemon bars via Pinterest and was intrigued by the premise. Lemon bars are usually so ridiculously decadent and over-sugared, so I liked the idea of using coconut milk in the filling, whole grains in the crust, and easing up on the refined sugar. As I’m wont to do, I made some substitutions. I used maple syrup instead of agave in the filling (and about three-quarters of the amount). And I wasn’t sure what “coconut butter” meant, so I used coconut oil in the crust. Also – and this was a risky move – I found some old herbal stevia in the pantry and used it in the crust in place of rapadura sugar. This was a misstep, as the greenish tint and grassy taste leant a distinctive “rabbit food” quality to the crust that wasn’t entirely appealing. Powdered stevia would probably be a better bet (but check the recommended ratio because I believe it’s significantly more potent than sugar). Despite the odd crust, they were pretty tasty. No picture to share because my daughter and I gobbled them up before I had a chance to photograph. You can find the recipe (and prettier photos than I could’ve taken) on Vedgie-Wedgie.com and experiment with your own modifications (or not) – I’m not going to post it here because it has waaay more than five ingredients.

May 14, 2012 at 6:46 pm Leave a comment

Raw Pistachio Pesto

Raw pistachio pesto generously slathered on fresh ciabatta.

My dear friend Paige introduced me to raw pistachio pesto at the sustainable potluck I hosted a couple of months ago. She’s a busy gal and didn’t have time to prepare anything, so she picked it up along with a fresh baguette at Whole Foods…thereby introducing me to what turned out to be my favorite any-time-of-day meal ever. The problem is my favorite Whole Foods doesn’t carry it; I have to go to one of the busiest stores in Los Angeles with the nightmare parking lot to find it in the olive bar. (Talk about a “first world problem” – damn, do I sound obnoxious or what?) This inspired me to make it myself, tweaking the ingredients along the way (e.g. adding arugula for a nutritional boost). Here’s the recipe I came up with:

Ingredients:
1/2 cup raw shelled pistachios
2 cups loosely packed arugula
2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Juice of one 1 lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until desired consistency is reached, adding more olive oil if needed.  Note: You may need to process in batches if using a mini prep or blender.

May 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm Leave a comment

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