Green Goddess

Despite the general lack of cold weather out this way, something about the months of January and February call to me, like those siren songs that tempted Odysseus at sea, and all I hear is sweet, beautiful pleas to make soup.

Of course, our weatherman did say that we were having “bone chilling” cold weather last week. Which to the crazy Californian he is, meant that we had weather in the high 30’s in the wee morning hours, which promptly increased to the 40’s and 50’s. For crying out loud, some people were wearing down coats and scraping “ice” from their cars. Ah, perspective.

Bone-chilling cold weather or not, I gravitate towards soup with open arms, without (bees)wax in my ears, with no restraint or need to resist the temptation whatsoever. There have been quite a few dinners of the soupy, stewy variety as of late, although my inability to post more than once a week has really done a number on the recipes I share with you.

I also haven’t had the chance to talk nearly as much about our meandering as of late, which makes me a little weepy. We’ve had some really awesome weekends out here lately, and maybe one of these days I’ll do a quick Friday post or something to post some pics about life outside of food.

But for the moment, that ain’t happenin’.

If you are finding yourself in a cooking rut (or cookbook rut, I suppose), I still can’t recommend Heidi’s Super Natural Every Day enough. True, I’ve had it for quite some time now, but I still manage to find a recipe to cook that doesn’t disappoint. This lentil/split pea soup is all up in the Interwebs (my friend, Liz, for one as well as here, here, and of course, the source) and for good reason. It’s pretty tasty.

And for me, it meant I got to use my ultra-pink immersion blender that I finally re-bought! A year was way too long to go without my blender, because pureeing in batches in a regular blender is just not something I’m into.

Now, it just wouldn’t be right if I didn’t make a few modifications to a perfectly good-as-is recipe, but I did anyway, although not too much. I definitely recommend using coconut oil for sweating your veggies, although olive oil would work if needed. The coconut oil with the coconut milk though? Rock solid. I also drizzled mine with more of a coconut-curry oil than a butter, because I liked the idea of really driving that coconut flavor home, if you know what I mean. And yeah, I probably used a little less broth than some might prefer, but I like my soups well, less soupy. Oh, and I think the cilantro is a nice finish, but you could stick with the original and do chives, because that sounds pretty awesome too.

Last but certainly not least, I chose green split peas instead of green lentils, but I’m certain they’d both be tasty. I just liked the idea of making my soup “greener” since it was more photogenic. Oh, the things we do for these blogs ;).

 

Green Split Pea Soup
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day; serves 4-6

time commitment: 45 minutes

printable version

ingredients
3 T coconut oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 t red pepper flakes
4-5 c vegetable broth
1 1/2 c green split peas (or green lentils), picked over and rinsed
1/2 t curry powder
1/2 c light coconut milk
salt to taste
cilantro, chopped

instructions
In a large pot over medium heat, melt 2 T coconut oil. Add onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and stir often until onion softens, a few minutes. Add 4 c vegetable broth and the split peas. Simmer, covered until split peas are tender, 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt remaining 1 T coconut oil in a small pan and add curry powder. Stir into the oil and saute for about a minute over medium heat, until warm and toasty smellin’. Set aside.

When lentils are tender, remove from heat, stir in coconut milk and 1/4 t salt. Puree using an immersion blender (or in a regular blender or food processor) until smooth. Add more vegetable broth if you prefer your soup less thick. Taste and add salt, if needed. Serve drizzled with curry oil and sprinkle with cilantro.

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Building Mussels without Breakin’ a Sweat

thai green curry ingredients


We took our cats in for their annual vet visit a couple of weeks ago. And although my cat has always been on the larger side, she’s never been officially classified as fat. Well, not until this visit. We’d tried portioning out their food for the past year to avoid the inevitable weight gain, but we began to notice that my cat would eat not only her portion, but also the portion of her smaller, more timid sister. Two things wrong with that picture: my cat continues to eat too much, and the other cat doesn’t eat at all. Both will lead to poor outcomes…



So anyway, after pondering various ideas, we came to a solution that will avoid both of the former scenarios. We’d feed the “non-fat” cat on the counter, since she can jump up with ease and the “fat” cat can’t, and we’d switch my cat to canned food to easily portion it out and guarantee that the other cat won’t eat it, since she refuses canned food. In trying out various brands of canned food, I’ve realized a thing or two. Some of them are true delicacies, especially for a cat! One kind I bought her was called “Savory salmon w/ lentils & ginger”. I mean, c’mon. It’s no wonder she didn’t like it. And after trying 5 different brands, I’ve come to the conclusion that she, like me, has turned into a Whole Foods snob! Their brand was the only one she ate every flavor of, and the only one she ate with pure excitement. Some, despite her normal tendency to eat all things in sight, were left untouched – overnight. Who would have thought a cat would be able to pick out organic cat food. Fortunately, their foods, unlike human food, are not too much more expensive than the brands at Petsmart.

tange & sasha

And so, in my attempt to find tasty, nutritious, balanced food for my cat, I also went on a mission to find ingredients for my weekend meals. Once I got over the fact that my cat and I now shop at the same store, I was then faced with the frustration of the WF move. The WF I normally buy groceries from is expanding and jumping a block south next month, so finding all ingredients I need at one store was like finding pizza in Chinatown. But no worries, because Dirk’s Seafood was just around the corner, and I knew they’d have the final ingredient on my list, mussels. Oh, I do love mussels.

And, I love curry, and Thai food in general, so a Thai version of clam chowder with mussels instead of clams was right on par with something I’d cook.


mussels in curry broth



The last dish I made with curry is one of my very favorites. Plus, I’d been on a break from coconut since early April, and I was ready to bring it back into my life.

I did make some changes to the original recipe. I’d gone to an Asian grocery a while back and stocked up on some hard-to-find ingredients, so I had Kaffir lime leaves and thai chiles in the freezer. I still added more lime flavor. I’m sure if you can’t find Kaffir lime leaves you could leave them out, but they do add a lot of Thai-ness to the dish. Actual kaffir limes look a lot like regular limes but are sort of bumpy, and they’re smaller. The leaves look like two leaves stuck together. And thai chilies can be bought in little bags with tons in one bag. They both freeze well and last a long time. The ones I had in the freezer are over a year old and are just as fragrant as when I bought them. Also, the recipe called for scallops, and that didn’t seem as good as more shrimp to me. So I doubled the shrimp and took out the scallops. And last, the recipe had no ginger! So I added some.


seafood with thai green curry


I tell you, straight up, this is one of the easiest dishes I’ve made in a long time. It’s full of veggies, seafood, and exotic, complex flavors. It’s actually healthy, although it looks too creamy to be low-fat. But it is. People get real excited about mussels, and the fact of the matter is that they really are a piece of cake to prepare. You literally dump them in a pot and close the lid. Voila. That being said, this recipe would be a true crowd-pleaser and a sure thing for company. And for those with dietary issues – gluten & dairy-free. Need I say more?

green curry broth

Thai Green Curry w/ Seafood
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2009; Serves 4


printable recipe

ingredients
2 T unrefined peanut oil (could use standard refined but will not be as robust)
5 green onions, chopped, dark green parts separated from white and pale green parts
3 T minced fresh cilantro, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 T Thai green curry paste
1 1/4 cups water
1 can coconut milk (light works just fine)
2 red Thai chilies (or 1 red jalepeno chile)
2 kaffir lime leaves (or 2 T lime juice + 1 t zest)
zest of 1/2 lime
juice of 1/2 lime
1 t fresh grated ginger
1 T fish sauce (Thai kitchen brand is gluten free)
1 large carrot, peeled, thinly cut diagonally
4 cups thinly sliced bok choy
1 lb uncooked medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 lb green or black mussels, scrubbed, debearded
2 T chopped fresh basil
2 cups cooked white arborio rice

instructions

1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add white & pale green onion parts, 1 T cilantro, and garlic; saute until tender, about 2 minutes.


2. Add curry paste; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add water, coconut milk, chiles, lime leaves, lime zest, lime juice, ginger, and fish sauce. Bring to simmer. Add carrot; cover and cook until carrot is just tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Layer bok choy, shrimp & mussels in pan. Cover & simmer until mussels open and shrimp & bok choy are cooked, about 5 minutes.

4. Stir in dark green parts of onions, 2 T remaining cilantro, and basil.

5. Divide rice among 4 bowls. Ladle curry mixture over rice & serve.

RHCP – Live in Chicago

rhcp_logo

Red Hot Curry Paste, that is. I only wish it were the Chili Peppers. And with an almost one year “hiatus” I’m a little worried, if you care. You must, since you’re reading my blog :). They released Stadium Arcadium, the 28-track double album, in early 2006 and have been stagnant since. I mean, if I released such an awesome album I might feel that I needed a 3 year break as well! Shheeeesssshhh. I think I listened to it non-stop for months. Plus, one of their singles was in perfect time to make it to our wedding CD – “Hard to Concentrate”, track 3 on Mars. I’m starting to think that the RHCP may be finished, but I am still going to hold out hope since they are my favorite band of all time. For whatever reason, Anthony Kiedis doesn’t seem to age. And if he does, I don’t notice it with all the drooling I do when he’s on TV. Tee hee hee. Of course, the drooling comes to an instant halt once Flea runs out in his tighties. Word on the street is that they may be together again soon, but who knows. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and will settle for being able to attempt to play “Snow” more than five seconds on Rock Band meanwhile thoroughly enjoying Dani California.

Anyway, with only a few blog posts I’ve become amazed at how skilled I am at rambling. I wasn’t planning on talking about the Chili Peppers, but oh well! The whole purpose of this post was to brag about one of my favorite little fishies – Halibut. Seems to go well with anything I cook it with. I made it “en papillote” a while back and I thought it wasn’t going to get any better with the lemony juicy goodness the fish-in-parchment produced. But I was wrong – and terribly wrong. The only sad part about halibut is that it’s a little pricey, so it’s not like I can cook it every freakin’ week. Have to throw in some tilapia and salmon to balance out the expense! But if you ever treat yourself to a thick juicy halibut steak (and the “flash frozen” ones in the Whole Foods frozen fish section are just as good as the fresh IMHO) you have got to try this recipe. Especially if you like red curry paste. Happens to be one of my favorites.

halibut with sauce

It’s one of those dishes that tends to linger for a while. This can be good and bad. It means you taste it for a while, but it also means you should have some gum or other breath freshener on hand if you’re eating with anyone (other than your spouse of course!).


Here’s the recipe and some pics. I’ve got to get better at photography though if I’m going to keep posting pictures of my food. I’m sure you could serve it with something else, but this way you get some greens with the bok choy and the rice just sops up that juice. The sauce is just enough of all the flavors – a hint of coconut milk but not too much, a hint of freshness with the basil, lime juice to balance it all out, and the red curry paste for the spice. I am usually a speedy eater but ate this nice and slow so that it would last. I’ll also enjoy it again tomorrow for lunch – yippppeee!!!


Halibut with Coconut-Red Curry Sauce
served with baby bok choy coconut rice; 4 servings

print recipe

ingredients
2 teaspoons canola oil, divided
4 (6-ounce) halibut fillets
1/2 cup medium dice onion
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce*
1 teaspoon red curry paste
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

instructions
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness. Remove fish from pan; keep warm.

Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add onion, green onions, and ginger; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and the next 4 ingredients (through coriander). Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in basil and juice.

Seasoned rice with bok choy:
Combine 1 cup coconut milk and 1/2 cup water (or just use whatever is left of coconut milk from dish and use water for remainder) and 3/4 cup basmati rice in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil.

Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 12 minutes. Stir in 2 cups chopped baby bok choy; cover and cook 8 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Combine 1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil; stir into rice mixture.


*For gluten-free, substitute regular soy sauce, gluten-free brand

Marmalade & The Rainbow

gingerbread cake with marmalade filling

If you know anything about Scottish pop, you may have heard of a band called Marmalade. They’ve been compared to the Beatles (?), but mistakenly covered a pretty popular Beatles song back in the day, which turned out to be their biggest “hit”. Hence the reason they never became too popular. They do have a handful of good songs though – “Reflections of My Life”, “Carolina on My Mind” (which I’m quite sure was a James Taylor original and thus another cover song), and a little diddy called “Rainbow”. Though you may have initially thought so, this post is NOT about that band OR that song. Sorry Scottish pop lovers. But here’s a picture of them just in case you really are beat up about it:

 

marmalade the band

Sexy eh?

 

What this post is about is marmalade and a little about rainbows.

After my Sunday adventure making soup, I stole a quick peek outside to check on the weather. Rainy Sundays sure are icky. But in Chicago’s early March, it’s always nice to have one more excuse to stay indoors. Of course, the rain continued to pour down and I found myself wondering when, or if, there might be a rainbow at the end of the nasty storm. You know, a little bright end to the day. No such luck – so rather than waiting for a happy ending in a glimmer of sunlight, I decided to create my own. Cake. Cake with Coconut and Ginger. Cake with Orange Marmalade.


Tropical Gingerbread Cake
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

Printable recipe

ingredients
Cake:

Cooking spray
9 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
1 t baking powder
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1/2 c butter, softened
3/4 c granulated sugar, divided
1/2 c packed brown sugar
2 T finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 large egg yolks
2 T molasses
3/4 c light coconut milk
4 large egg whites

Frosting
3 large egg whites
Dash of salt
3/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 c water
1/2 t vanilla extract

Remaining ingredients:
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup flaked sweetened coconut, toasted

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 350°.

 2. To prepare cake, lightly coat 2 (9-inch) cake pans with cooking spray.

 3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring well with a whisk.

4. Place butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, and ginger in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in molasses. Beating at low speed, add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with coconut milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

5. Place 4 egg whites in a large, clean bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form using clean, dry beaters. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form.

6. Gently stir one-fourth of egg white mixture into batter; gently fold in remaining egg white mixture. Pour batter into prepared pans.

7. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire racks.

8. To prepare frosting, place 3 egg whites and dash of salt in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until foamy using clean, dry beaters. Combine 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan; bring to boil. Cook, without stirring, until candy thermometer registers 250°. Pour hot sugar syrup in a thin stream over egg white mixture, beating at high speed until stiff peaks form. Beat in vanilla.

9. Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with marmalade and 1 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake; sprinkle top of cake with toasted coconut. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.

At first I was a bit concerned about my gingerbread cake, as the layers were a little crooked. I can’t say that I’ve ever made a cake with “uncrooked” layers though, now that I think about it. After the first taste, I knew I was being silly. It was dense for cake with egg whites, but full of flavor. If you don’t like ginger, you wouldn’t like it though. Since there’s fresh ginger in it, you get a nice fresh taste of it every so often. And the coconut on the outside has a lovely crunch that almost melts in your mouth with the soft fluffy icing.

In addition to absolutely loving this cake recipe, what also made me post this story is a discussion I heard on NPR. I recently started plugging in my iphone on the commute in an attempt to smarten up and listen to the news. Of course I managed to find an NPR podcast about food. So much for listening to news… ! The segment today had a brief tidbit on marmalade. Of all things, a lovely ingredient that just happened to have found its way in to my cake! Apparently marmalade sales have seen an 8% decline over the last year. What is that??!!! Why oh why would someone stop buying marmalade? I must say I was a little saddended by that fact. But on the other hand, I knew I wasn’t one of those losers contributing to the decline in sales. Who are these people and how do we stop them??!

Take home message: Buy some Smucker’s Orange Marmalade (or make your own) and make this cake! You’ll be glad you did. I sure am.