Monday, October 22, 2018

Meatless Monday--Tuscan White Bean and Fennel Soup

Looking at my blog archives, I can see I've developed a pattern.  Right around this time of year, when the mornings and evenings are crisp and the days are cool and cloudy, I fall into a pretty consistent repertoire of soups and pumpkin baked goods.  I want to say I'm sorry, but the truth is, I'm not.  Soup and pumpkin baked goods are two of my favorite things!

This soup is new to me and a welcome addition to my steady stream of fall and winter soups.  It's not new to its creators, the very lovely Sonja and Alex Overhiser of A Couple Cooks.  In fact, their cookbook notes say its one of the first recipes they came up with.  Packed with fennel, tomatoes, garlic, and Italian herbs, it's no wonder they've nicknamed it "pizza soup."  

Sonja and Alex say it's a recipe they still make to this day and I can certainly see why.  With just a bit of chopping and a few cans to open, this soup comes together easily, making it an ideal weeknight meal.  Since it's vegan, it keeps in the refrigerator all week without issue--perfect for lunches!  

I'm a fennel lover, but if you're not, please do still give this soup a try.  When cooked with other savory ingredients, fennel becomes smooth, earthy, and slightly sweet and leaves behind the licorice flavor it has on its raw state.  Besides fennel seed is a common ingredient in Italian sausage, just adding even more pizza flavor to this already craveworthy soup.

tuscan white bean fennel pizza soup

Sweet, earthy fennel, creamy white beans, fire-roasted tomatoes, and a savory blend of Italian spices make this simple, healthy soup one you'll want again and again.  Who wouldn't love pizza soup?
Tuscan White Bean and Fennel Soup
slightly adapted from Sonja and Alex Overhiser, Pretty Simple Cooking

2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
1 fennel bulb
1 small red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. smoked paprika 
1 (28-oz.) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, San Marzano if available
1 (15-oz.) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, San Marzano if available
1 bay leaf
1 qt. vegetable broth
2 (15-oz.) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
4 c. packed spinach leaves OR
1 bunch Tuscan kale (also called Lacinato or dinosaur)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional--soup is otherwise vegan)

1.  Heat a large stock or soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add oil and bring to temperature.

2.  Meanwhile, prepare fennel by cutting off any tough parts on the bottom of the bulb and the stems from the fronds up.  Reserve some of the fronds for garnish and dice the bulb and remaining stems.  Add the fennel and onion to the pot and sauté 4 minutes until softened, but not browned.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, and paprika.  Sauté for 30 seconds.

3.  Carefully add the tomatoes and their juices to the pot, along with the bay leaf, and simmer 5 minutes.  

4.  Add the broth and beans and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce back down to a simmer, then add the spinach or kale, along with the salt and black pepper.  Simmer until the greens are tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf, then taste and adjust seasoning.

5.  To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with shaved or grated cheese and/or fennel fronds, if desired.

yield: 6 servings   

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Banana-Date Flaxseed Bread

Like a lot of people, I could probably eat banana bread for breakfast on the regular.  Plain, toasted with a little butter, topped with peanut butter, it's all good to me.  But also like a lot of people, I really shouldn't eat banana bread for breakfast on the regular.  That's where this banana-date flaxseed bread comes in.

Is it every bit as sweet and cakey (because let's be honest--banana bread is very nearly cake) as the banana bread you grew up with?  Nope.  But it is a whole lot less bad for you.  The granulated sugar is drastically cut, with some of the sweetness being replaced by the dates.  In addition, some of the flour is replaced by flax meal, which gives the bread a deeper, nuttier flavor and brings in a whole host of nutritional benefits such as being rich in fiber and omega-3s, aiding digestion, and showing promising effects on lowering cholesterol, fighting diabetes, and combatting cancer.  

Flaxseeds, particularly when ground into flax meal, are wonderful for skin and hair health, which is why I first started incorporating them into my diet several years ago.  An esthetician mentioned it to me during an outstanding, informative facial.  I went home, started stirring flax meal into my yogurt, oatmeal, granola, and many baked goods.  I will say, after a lifetime of struggling with my skin--particularly while living in Phoenix's arid desert climate--I could definitely see an improvement in elasticity.  I'm not a certified expert in any of this, but I can offer my testimony.

Plus, if that testimony means you get to have banana bread for breakfast, why would you argue?

banana date flax bread

This banana-date flaxseed bread ups the fiber and omega-3s for a breakfast treat you can feel good serving yourself and your family.   

Banana-Date Flaxseed Bread
adapted from The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook

2/3 c. mashed ripe banana
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. flax meal (I like Bob's Red Mill brand)
1/4 c. flaxseeds
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. whole pitted dates, chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 350° F.  Prepare a standard-sized loaf pan by coating with oil and a light dusting of flour or spraying generously with baking spray.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat banana, sugar, oil, and eggs at medium speed until well blended.

3.  Combine flour, flax meal, flax seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  Gradually add to banana mixture, beating until fully blended.  Add in chopped dates.

4.  Pour mixture into prepared loaf pan and bake 50-55 minutes, testing by inserting a toothpick or cake tester into the center of the pan.  Cool ten minutes on a wire rack, then turn out of pan and cool completely.

Yield: 1 loaf  

Monday, September 24, 2018

Meatless Monday--Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

We're in this wonderful time of year where the temperatures are finally starting to drop a bit, which immediately has many of us looking for recipes that feel more like the fall comforts we've longed for all summer.  Still, especially for those of us in the southern part of the country, late summer produce is still plentiful.  This soup combines the best of both of those worlds.

My friend Annie is always on point with her recipes, so when she called this vegetable soup "craveworthy," I knew I had to give it a spin.  As usual, she was right.  

I did make the tiniest of adaptations--increasing the red pepper flakes for just a bit more heat and using tortellini and cherry tomatoes because I had some on hand that needed to be used up.  The first time I made this, I used the entire four cup carton of vegetable broth and decreased the water to two cups.  After I did that, I realized I should've stuck with Annie's ratio so I'd have a cup of broth left for reheats.  Her ratio of equal parts broth and water is in the ingredient list below; choose according to if you'll be serving all the soup in one meal or divvying some out for lunchtime leftovers.

The basil pistou is what takes this to star level.  It's basically pesto's French cousin, made without pine nuts, and it's a perfect way to use up some of the basil that's still going strong in your summer garden.  You know what, though?  One of the times I made this I used the last bit of store bought pesto (cue Ina Garten--"store bought is fine") and the soup was still completely, as Annie said, craveworthy. 

vegetable soup with basil

This vegetable soup with basil pistou hits the sweet spot of fall comfort and late summer produce with the perfect blend of flavors and textures you and your family won't be able to resist.

Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou
very slightly adapted from Everyday Annie

For the pistou:
1/2 c. fresh basil leaves
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (approx. 1/2 c.)
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

For the soup:
1 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/2-in. thick, and washed well
1 rib celery, cut into 1/2-in. pieces
1 carrot, peeled and sliced 1/4-in. thick
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (plus more to taste)
4 c. vegetable broth
2 c. water
1 c. cheese tortellini, orecchiette, or other small pasta
8 oz. green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-in pieces
1 (15-oz.) can white beans, drained 
1 small zucchini, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/4-in. pieces
1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved

1.  Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the leek, celery, carrot, and 1/2 tsp. salt.  Cook until the vegetables are softened, 8-10 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes.  Cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add in broth and water and bring to a simmer.

2.  Meanwhile, make the pistou by combining all ingredients in the small bowl of a food processor.  Process until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl, as needed.

3.  Stir in the pasta and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes.  Add in green beans and simmer until bright green and still crunchy, about 3 minutes.  Stir in beans, zucchini, and tomato and simmer 3 minutes more.  Season generously with salt and pepper to taste.

4.  To serve, ladle into individual bowls and top with a generous dollop of the basil pistou.

yield: 6 servings

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Baklava Granola

I hope y'all are ready for another granola recipe because I just can't seem to keep trying them.  What can I say?  I'm not sure I'll ever get tired of yogurt, fruit, and granola for easy weekday breakfasts.  I seem to have several for each season.  With September on the horizon, you'll want to bookmark my apple pie granola.  Come October, feel free to switch to this pumpkin quinoa granola.  When winter and the holidays roll around, I think you'll really like these home for the holidays and chai spice varieties, which make perfect homemade gifts.

I've also got plenty of recipe for granola you're sure to enjoy any time of year.  Simple honey granola, tropical granolacitrus sesame granola, and this cherry pecan muesli all come to mind.  

I'm adding this baklava granola to the list.  It's much less sweet than the famous dessert it's named after, but it's packed with buttery pistachios.  Those green specks are highlighted by bright orange bits of dried apricot.  Spooned over plain yogurt mixed with honey and cinnamon, it really is a lighter, more filling version of baklava parading as a decadent breakfast.

With buttery pistachios, sweet dried apricots, and cinnamon-spiced oats, this baklava granola pairs with honey-cinnamon yogurt for a healthy breakfast that feels completely decadent.

Baklava Granola
adapted from Cooking Light, August 2018

2 c. rolled oats
2 TBSP honey
2 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp. orange zest
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 egg white, whisked
3/4 c. unsalted pistachios, chopped
1/2 c. dried apricots, chopped
plain yogurt, cinnamon, and honey, for serving

1.  Preheat oven to 325° F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.  In a large bowl, toss together oats, honey, butter, orange zest, cinnamon, and ginger.  Stir in egg white and pour granola out onto lined baking sheet.  

3.  Pat mixture into an even 1/2-in. thickness on the baking sheet (do not spread out).  Bake for 25 minutes, rotating halfway through.  Allow granola to cool, then break into clumps and toss with pistachios and apricots.        

4.  To serve, mix desired amounts yogurt, honey, and cinnamon, then sprinkle with granola.

yield: 8 servings

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Salmon with Lemony-Pistachio Herb Relish

We've officially reached the point in the summer where I'm starting to look forward to fall.  Don't get me wrong, I'm extremely anti-pumpkin spice before Labor Day.  Honestly, I can't really get into it until October 1st, but I stop getting irrationally annoyed at stores for selling pumpkin spice everything when we've at least passed the unofficial end of summer.  

But people.

It's still. so. hot.  

Much too hot to run the oven unless you absolutely have to.  

salmon lemon pistachio relish

Fortunately, with this salmon with lemony pistachio-herb relish, you don't have to.  Just heat up a pan, countertop grill, or outdoor grill.  While that's going, chop up all the relish ingredients...and voilá!  A clean, healthy, light, and fresh summer meal that won't inadvertently heat the whole house.  

Keep it light, easy, and cool this summer with this simple salmon topped with bright, fresh lemony-pistachio herb relish. 

Salmon with Lemony Pistachio-Herb Relish
relish from Cooking Light, August 2018

4 servings salmon, either in individual filets or one large piece
1 TBSP olive oil, for brushing
1/4 c. finely chopped roasted, salted pistachios
1/4 c. chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 TBSP chopped fresh mint
1 TBSP minced shallot
1 TBSP lemon zest
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper, plus more to taste
red pepper flakes, if desired (optional)

1.  Heat sauté pan or grill to medium high heat.  Season salmon liberally with salt and pepper.  If using a sauté pan, heat the oil and place salmon skin-side up.  Cook 3-4 minutes then flip and cook, skin side down, 1 minute more.  For a grill, brush the grates with the oil.  Cook skin side up, 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned, then flip and cook on skin side 3-4 minutes more.

2.  Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl.  To serve, spoon over salmon and serve immediately.

yield: 4 servings