Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tomato Spinach Soup

I never liked tomato soup growing up.  I didn't even like tomato-based soups.  I loved tomatoes, ketchup, spaghetti sauce...but not soup.  Thankfully my tastes have broadened over the years, and tomato-based soups are a welcome addition.

Today's recipe is simple, tasty, and can be easily personalized.  That last bit is the reason I won't be posting amounts, because this is really a taste-as-you-go kind of soup.  If it's missing something, add more.  If you don't like oregano, don't add it.  I don't think anything short of adding bananas or chocolate pudding would make this taste bad.  And even then, I mean, who doesn't like bananas and pudding?

This starts, quite obviously, with tomatoes.  Choose a juicy variety, chop them up and throw them in the blender or food processor.  If you don't have either, just dice them.  As they cook they'll soften and become more liquidy anyway.  Canned tomatoes would be a cheap, easy substitute.  I'd get the kind with no added salt so you can add just the amount you need later on.  Whatever you use, throw it in a pot and turn the heat up to medium.

Next up is onion.  Chop it up and throw it in.  Doesn't get more straightforward than that.

Next up is spinach.  Hated by children everywhere, I find myself eating a lot of it these days.  Fresh or frozen will work.  If using fresh, chop or tear it into more manageable pieces; if using frozen, chances are that's been done for you.  Toss it in the pot.

Peppers, anyone?  I had a bag of frozen mixed pepper strips I wanted to finish up, so I decided to toss them in.  I've made this soup both with and without, and I like it both ways.  If you like 'em, use 'em.

Moving on to the garlic: I've always been quite passionate about my garlic and I don't remember the last time I was without a bulb of it in the apartment.  For this soup, like all of the other ingredients, it's a matter of personal preference how much you put in.  I used one large clove last night for an amount that could have easily served two (had I not eaten the whole thing), and I thought it could have used a little more.  Or a lot more.  Did I mention that I really like garlic?

What next, what next?  Ah, basil - another favorite.  Fresh basil is one of the best smells ever, hands down.  I definitely recommend fresh over dried.  Just pluck of some leaves, chop them up, and throw them in.

Repeat that last step with oregano, and if you like, marjoram and/or thyme.  I stuck with basil and oregano this time, but I'm generally an equal opportunity eater when it comes to Italian spices.

Next up was plain old salt and pepper.  Again, I like freshly ground pepper the best, but work with what you've got,'s going to taste good no matter what!  Simmer on the stove until it passes a temperature and taste test.  This soup is incredibly low-calorie, so a few extra spoonfuls aren't going to kill you :)

Lastly, enjoy!  And you probably shouldn't tell your roommate or significant other that you've made soup until you decide whether or not you want to keep that second bowl all to yourself.

The results: Quick, simple, yumminess.  This would make a great appetizer or side dish, and you could even use it as a pasta sauce.  Serve with cheese and warm bread for a light evening comfort meal.

The alternatives: I think any number of spice combinations would make this a great dish.  I've made something very similar with curry powder, garam masala, and turmeric with great results.  Zucchini would probably be a great vegetable addition as well.

The skinny: Since this is so customizable, the nutrition information will change from pot to pot.  As I made it last night, a full bowl (about 2 cups) had 124 calories, 1.2 g fat, 26.8 g carb, 8.8 g fiber, and 6.6 g protein.  As an added bonus, you'll get 148% of Vitamin A (of which there is no upper limit from vegetable sources), 125% of Vitamin C, 25% of calcium, and 37% of iron.  If you're dying to know the nutritional info on your own pot o' soup, keep track of the amounts you put in and send me the list.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Still alive...

Cooking has been about the last thing on my mind for the past couple of weeks, sad to say.  My architecture portfolio was due to determine where I'd be placed in the new program, and I spent quite a bit of time fretting, procrastinating, and finally working on it meticulously, going nearly two full days without sleep, and driving four hours round trip, all to have the powers that be glance over it for a whopping five minutes.

On the upside, everyone I've met so far at the new school seems very friendly, I might get to embarrass myself in front of the associate director with what I'm sure will be some very bad German, and the academic advisor for my program is a fellow runner.  I might just like it there.  Everything is still up in the air - money, work, and a roof over my head - but I'm looking forward to a change.  Sometimes a new city, a new routine, and the new outlook that comes with it are good for the body and soul, and it's usually worth the time and stress it takes to put it all in place.  In der Zeit wird alles gut.

That being said, I'm looking forward to putting my chef's hat back on within the next few days.  I've taken the past couple of days to recuperate and reset my internal clock, and I've got a bit of an injury to contend with as well.  It's possibly a stress fracture, but I'm hoping it's something less serious that will go away quickly with a combination of rest and denial.  Denial works for most things, right?

In lieu of a pretty picture and a yummy recipe, let me just say that instant coffee powder, unsweetened cocoa powder, unsweetened soymilk, and ice in a blender make a delicious, guilt-free, antioxidant-rich treat.  It only tastes bad for you.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Vegan Whole Wheat Banana Flax Muffins

I'm not a vegan, although some days I could easily have people fooled. I have no problem with eggs, but I have a big problem with the way chickens are treated on factory farms; and since cruelty-free eggs are expensive, it's rare that I actually have eggs in the fridge. Luckily there are plenty of ways around it when I'm baking.
For today's recipe, I used the flaxseed trick: for each egg, mix 1 tbsp ground flax seed (either grind your own or buy it pre-ground as flaxseed meal) with 3 tbsp warm water. I do this right when I start gathering my ingredients together, since the longer the mixture sits, the more the flax absorbs the water, and the more egg-like its consistency gets.

This was a highly experimental recipe, finalized by glancing at standard banana bread recipes, making my substitutions, and adjusting mid-process to get the right consistency to the batter.  I have to say I'm quite pleased with the result!
2 tbsp ground flaxseed + 6 tbsp warm water
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup mashed apples (or unsweetened applesauce)
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed

Preheat your oven to 325°F. Mix your flaxseed and water and let it soak, stirring occasionally, while you put the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Add the flax-and-water mixture and mix everything well. Grease two muffin pans or line with paper baking cups. Fill 10 of the cups halfway and bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a couple of the muffins comes out clean. Cool the pans on a wire rack, or if you used paper cups, remove them immediately and cool.
The results: Moist, dense, and delicious.  I promise you, you won't notice the whole wheat flour and you won't miss the oil or the eggs.  I used paper baking cups but I didn't let them cool before digging in (twice).  As a result, my muffins stuck to the paper, but this could simply be because they weren't cool enough.  If I have the same problem with the cooled ones tomorrow, I'll nix the cups and just oil the pans.

The skinny: Each muffin has 91 calories, 0.8 g fat, 123 mg sodium, 19.6 g carbohydrate, 1.4 g fiber, 7.1 g sugar, and 1.8 g protein. If you use 2 tbsp brown sugar instead of 1/4 cup (which I will be trying next time), each muffin has 84 calories, 17.9 g carbohydrate, and 5.4 g sugar. This makes each muffin count as 1 Weight Watchers Point for my parents :)

The alternatives: These muffins are admittedly small.  I wanted something snack-size, but you could easily make half as many normal-sized muffins.  You might just have to lower the temperature to 300 and increase the time by 10-15 minutes.  I'll also try this the next time I make them to get the exact formula.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pineapple-Ginger Glaze

It was Hawaiian night at empo's house as I invited a recent high school graduate over for dinner.  On the menu: veggie medley served over red and brown rice with lentils, topped with a pineapple-ginger sauce, with piña colada smoothies for dessert.

If you've never had red rice, try it!  Its nutty taste is a great compliment to any number of flavors, and its rich color (seen here with long grain brown rice and white basmati for reference) is sure to add some visual interest to your rice dishes.  Red rice takes longer to cook than brown rice, so when I plan on serving both I use separate pots.  The time difference isn't extreme, so you could just as easily cook them together; the brown rice would just be a bit softer than the red.

In addition to the rice I boiled some lentils and steamed a colorful mix of vegetables: broccoli, yellow squash, sliced baby carrots, and red, yellow, and green peppers.  Since I knew the pineapple-ginger sauce would be full of flavor, I didn't bother seasoning anything while I was cooking it.

Now onto the sauce!  If you'd like to try it, you'll need: 
2 tsp minced ginger
2 tsp minced garlic
1 20-oz can crushed pineapple in its own juice
6 tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
First I sautéed the ginger and garlic in a bit of water over medium heat.  (I prefer not to heat my oils.)  After a few minutes I added the pineapple and soy sauce and cooked for a few more minutes until it started to boil. really is that simple!  This makes 4 servings of 166 grams each.  (I often forget that normal people use measuring cups and not food scales, so next time I'll measure by volume, not by weight.)

The result: Delicious!  I will definitely be making this again!  You just can't beat a sauce that comes together this quickly and still tastes great.  It's also great cold: I had leftovers for lunch today and didn't even bother to heat it up.

The skinny: A serving of the sauce alone has 101 calories, 750 mg sodium, 23.3 g carbohydrate, 1.2 g fiber, 17.3 g sugar, and 4.2 g protein.  (The sodium is high, but considering this sauce eliminates the need for seasonings anywhere else in the dish, it's not that bad.  Sodium content will also vary depending on which brand of soy sauce you use.)

The alternatives: For you meat-eaters out there, I'm sure this would be wonderful over grilled chicken with veggie kabobs and rice.  I have a sneaking suspicion it would even be good as a sweet-and-sour dip for baked pita chips.  If only I had some freshly-made pitas lying around so I could test that theory...

(Admittedly we never got around to making smoothies, but they're on my mind and I think I might have to try to concoct something tonight.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Whole Wheat Pitas

Tonight's recipe is courtesy of Emeril Lagasse from the Planet Green website (found here).

The process: I followed this recipe as written and ran into problems right away. The dough was very sticky and a good bit of it wound up under my fingernails. I ended up adding extra flour while I was kneading (once I removed half of the dough from my hands), probably 1/3-1/2 cup.

The next "problem" I ran into (which was more likely a typo in the recipe) is that the dough made 12 2-ounce balls (using a food scale for consistency), not 16. I'm suggesting it's a typo as opposed to chef's error since it made exactly 12 balls, with no dough leftover.

The recipe called for an oven temperature of 500°, which is just a tad frightening, but hey, anything for homemade pitas. I was able to bake 2 pitas at a time on my upside-down baking sheet. There's a satisfying little "pop!" when the pitas puff up, creating that trademark pocket. Since I had to open the oven so often, I ended up turning the temperature up to 525°. That way the actual temperature stayed where it needed to be, and all 12 pitas came out well. I'll tell you this: baking these things is not for the faint of heart...that oven is HOT!The results: They look beautiful, if I do say so myself, golden brown and flour-dusted. The texture is very nice: soft with just the right amount of chewiness. They're very salty, however, and next time I'll definitely be cutting back to 1 teaspoon.

The skinny: As I made them, each pita has 160 calories, 3.2 g fat, 390 mg sodium (!), 28.3 g carbohydrate, 1.1 g fiber, and 4 g protein. (With only 1 tsp salt in the recipe, sodium content would be reduced to 196 mg.)


I'm horrible at introductions. They always seem to be a bit corny, no matter how well-thought-out they are, so instead of posting some all-encompassing "about me" entry, I'll keep it short.

I'm a 24-year-old laid-off student: what basically amounts to the trifecta of Broke. Lucky for me I enjoy cooking, which makes feeding myself on a pauper's budget much easier than it would be if I had a weakness for eating out or buying meals in cardboard boxes. Also helping in the money department is not eating meat. Lentils are a girl's best friend, and the people who say it's diamonds clearly have not had my curried lentil soup.

I think that's plenty of introduction for now. After all, it's not about's about the food!