Monday, May 28, 2012

Split Leeky Soup

Split Leeky Soup is one of the few dishes I make that does not contain garlic. I just didn't think it needed it. *ducks in case the Garlic Gods throw lightening* Truly an odd thing for me, but there you are.

One of the best things about making your own soup is that you control the sodium levels. Salt should accent rather than overpower flavor elements. Canned soup corporations have trained many of us to accept and expect overly salted soups. Pause a minute before buying that can of soup, take a measured breath, and read nutrition facts.Notice the excess of sodium and the minimalist vitamins. Then put the can back on the shelf, go home, and make this outstanding soup.

Split Leeky Soup
Nutrition facts are set for 1 T soy sauce

What you need:

6 cups no-sodium Veggie stock
16 oz dried split peas, picked over and rinsed
3 leeks, cleaned and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cups carrots, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1-2 T low sodium soy sauce
6 shakes of Tabasco
fresh ground black pepper, to taste

What to do as you prep for cookery:

split peas
Always rinse and sort through dried beans and peas. The way they are grown and harvested means that every now and then you will find a small stone in the mix. Use a fine mesh colander and check for stones. Then rinse until the water comes out clear.

Put the split peas and stock into a large pot. Bring  to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer about an hour, stir every now and then.

While the peas are simmering, prep the rest of the ingredients.

First, prep the leek. If you have never cooked with a leek before, it is very easy to prep. The part you eat is the white bulb and the lightest green part above the bulb. Leeks have a sort of mild onion flavor and add depth to this soup. Smaller leeks are the most tender, so choose them on the small side if you can.

you just use the white and light
green parts!
Using a sharp knife, cut off the roots, then peel off the dark outer leaves, trim off the top until you just have the white and light green part left. The leaves and roots can be used in two ways - 1) as one of the veggies to be pitched after use but that are wonderful when making stock, or 2) as a "green" in a compost bin.

Slice in half lengthwise, then make thin slices from the bottom up. Leeks often hide a lot of dirt within the layers, so the best way to rinse them is to put them in a bowl of water, swish them around, drain, and repeat until they are clean. Now, put them in a bowl large enough to hold all the veggies for the soup.

Prep the onion by chopping the entire thing. Add to the bowl with the leeks.

Prep the carrots by peeling and chopping to a small dice. Add to the bowl with the leeks and onions.

Pick some fresh parsley, rinse it well, chop it all up, and add it to the bowl with the leeks, onions, and carrots!

Set out the soy sauce, Tabasco, and black pepper in a handy dandy place with a measuring spoon if you like to measure with spoons instead of eyeballs and nose. Because I am careful with salty things, I actually measured the soy sauce and I just used 1 T this time...measuring like that is not the normal thing for me.

How to finish the soup:

I do hope you have been stirring the peas and stock. Not ridiculously hovering all the time, just a twirl sometimes so it doesn't stick to the bottom. Every 15 minutes will do.

Tip all the veggies into the pot and stir. Return to a simmer and cover. Cook, stirring a bit every now and then, until the veggies are soft - about half an hour or so. Add the seasonings, stir, and taste. Adjust upward and onward to the level of spicy saltiness you love most with the other flavors. Start lightly and build.

Serve with a lovely watercress and cucumber sandwich and enjoy a very mindful meal.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Marinated and Grilled Artichokes

This dish is filled with great mindfulness from start to finish. It's three step easy: steam, marinate, and grill.

What you need to get the day before:

Four artichokes - this will make eight servings
nutrition facts

Ginger & Garlic Marinade Ingredients:

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup pure olive oil
2 T fresh ginger, minced
2 T fresh garlic, minced
fresh cracked black pepper

How to prep the artichoke the day before grilling:

Use kitchen shears and cut off about an inch of the top of the  artichokes .
Cut off the thorny tips of all leaves. Trim off a bit of the stem. Remove the little leaves along the stem. Rinse well.

In a large pot, add a few inches of water, a whole quartered clove of garlic and two quarters from a lemon (include the rind). You want the bottom of the steamer basket just above the water line.

Set the collapsible steamer basket in the pot and add the artichokes upside down (see the pic). Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cover with a lid. Start checking the artichokes for tenderness after about 30 minutes. They should be done in no more than 45 minutes, but it all depends on the size of the  artichokes. Mine were huge and they took 50 minutes to tenderize. You'll know they are done when the bottoms will pierce easily with a pointy knife and you can pull off an outer leaf with no problem.

see the purple leaves and fuzzy stuff?
Remove the steamer basket of cooked artichokes from the pot, set it in the sink or on a towel covered counter, so they cool. This is a great time to prepare the marinade.

Cut each cooled artichokes in half lengthwise and scrape out the fuzzy bits with a spoon and pull out the purple tipped leaves. This is much easier to do than it sounds.The fuzzy bits are the "choke". The purple leaves protect the "choke" - and they were rather spiny and poky. The entire system is the plant's way to protect and hide the delicate and delicious heart. Aren't plants brilliant!

On a side note, apparently the baby artichokes are entirely edible - including the choke and purple leaves. Don't eat the choke in a regular artichoke though -  there really is a choking hazard there. *makes a note to find baby artichokes one day*

Add the prepped artichokes to a large ziplock bag or two - or other sealed container. Cover with marinade and put in the fridge to sit and get to know each other overnight. Turn the bag a few times over the next 24 hours to make sure the marinade soaks in on all sides.

You can, if you forget to buy the artichokes the day before, prep the artichokes in the early morning. If you continue to forget about prepping until mid afternoon, plan to grill something else. The artichokes need time to co-mingle with their new friend the marinade. Artichokes can be kind of stand offish at first.

What to do on grilling day:

Remove the artichokes from the bag - dump out the marinade into a bowl. You will use it to baste during grilling.

Over medium hot coals, place the artichokes cut side down on the grill. Check after five minutes to see if they are nicely browned. If not, leave on the grill another couple minutes. Turn the artichokes over and baste or drizzle with the marinade. Keep on grilling (putting the lid on is good) another four or five minutes - until the leaf tips start to char.

Serve immediately with a nearby bowl or plate to collect the leaves. There is no need at all for a dipping sauce if you marinated the artichokes the night before.  Scrape the meaty sides of the leaves against your teeth, discarding the leaves. Finally, pay mindful attention to the wonderful heart (the white part in the pics). The heart does extend down into the stem, so don't forget to eat that too. This is one of those hands on somewhat messy things to eat that are great fun. Serve as a side dish or as a conversation initiating appetizer. No artichokes? No worries, make the gingery garlicky marinade anyway and use it as a salad dressing or stir fry sauce!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Roasted Artichoke Quarters and Banana Peppers

Where I grew up, artichokes were not a common vegetable - in fact, my Mom still hasn't tasted one. Oh, I'd heard about them. People that went to fancy restaurants ate them. So, it wasn't until I got to be a fancy person that I was able to taste an artichoke heart. In my unfancy way, I put it on a pizza. It was good. But, eating them in only one way did get tiring.

So, one day I went out to a fancy restaurant with some friends and we shared the roasted artichoke appetizer. You know, the kind where you scrape your teeth on leaves. I had never done that. It was dratted good! Ok, that's two ways to have artichokes that are good so I guess I'd best get to experimenting with them.
with a thin pork chop and organic mac n cheese!

Roasted Artichoke Quarters and Banana Peppers

The things to mindfully assemble and have at the ready so you don't forget anything:

1 baking pan - either pyrex or non-stick or a foil lined metal pan. How big a pan depends on how many bags of artichoke hearts you will use. You want it to fit in one layer for optimal browning. I only needed a 7 x 11 inch pan for a one pound bag of hearts. They were kind of squished together but it worked.

1 pound bag of frozen quartered artichoke quarters - thaw these in the most convenient way for you.

I am not a fan of the canned hearts unless they are organic and it proudly states it is a BPA free can. Glass jars are ok; most cans are not. If you use canned (blech) or hearts from a jar, rinse them and pat dry - why? To reduce the sodium and remove as much of the chemicals as possible that are used in the production of mass produced food. Frozen artichoke hearts are one of the best of all frozen foods - just like fresh.

2 beautiful picked fresh from your garden perfectly orange banana peppers, rinsed, seeded, and cut into chunks a little smaller than the hearts.
2 T olive oil
6 chopped garlic cloves or a couple good well rounded teaspoons of dried garlic (more garlic is never a bad thing so don't skimp)
fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1/4 cup Panko
1 fresh lemon, cut into wedges

Preheat the oven to 375 F

What to do with all these lovely things once you have prepared them and have everything sitting in a nicely regimented line either on plates or little bowls:

In a medium sized bowl, gently combine the hearts, pepper chunks, olive oil, garlic, black pepper, and Panko.

Pour the mixture into your baking dish and pop it into the oven. Ignore for at least 45 minutes. Call your Mom, check your email, do something productive.

Then go check to see how they are doing. Unless your oven runs hot, they will not be brown enough yet, so increase the heat to 425 F for an additional 15 minutes. The bottoms of the hearts will be so beautifully brown when they are done!

Serve at the table with lemon wedges for folks to squish on top of the roasted hearts if they like. Excellent side dish for just about anything. You could, I suppose, drizzle with a pinch of melted butter. But that really is not necessary.

Enjoy mindfully.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Broke on Your Ass? Get this Cookery Book.

buy it here
Am loving my new cookery book from Gabi Moskowitz, the BrokeAss Gourmet!

You don't own the book?! How can you cook?! Good grief.

Gabi makes it easy and affordable even for those of you broke on your ass. It's a serious bargain too, on sale at amazon for only $11.41.

Want a sample? *tucks a napkin under your chin*

Brown Butter Pumpkin Mac and Cheese. just repeat those words a few can stop now, it's time for dessert.

Salted Fudge Brownies. to die for over and over again.

Sweet Potato Fries with Sriracha Aioli. *sighs*

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Onions and Sage. no more going out for wimpy over priced pumpkin ravioli. Save money and eat like a foodie!

The MonkeySpanker. I'll let you get the book to find out what that is.

Third Date Chicken - if a guy doesn't get to the third date with Gabi, they are unworthy of chicken this good.

This book is worth the cost of admission if only for the brownies...and the chicken....and the...

Buy it here!     Like her on FB!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Meatballs for Pasta

My Italian-American meatballs are made two ways - one firm and small for soups and the other a little larger and semi-firm for simmering away in garlic and basil infused tomato sauces. For Meatball Soup I use dried bread crumbs (Progresso or your favorite is just fine or you can get that mortar and pestle out and use your own well toasted bread). But when I make them to eat with pasta, I use soft fresh bread.

It is important to bake the meatballs separately before adding to the sauce. Otherwise the fats from the meat get all mixed up with your otherwise beautiful and healthy sauce. Nothing mindful about a fatty sauce.

Meatballs for Pasta

What to assemble and measure first because you are so mindful in your preparations. All amounts chosen with the knowledge as to just how flavor filled your family loves its food which will guide your choice in the range of seasoning measurements:

One very large bowl
1 egg
2-4 teaspoons ground garlic*
1 t ground onion
1-1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried or 1 Tablespoon fresh parsley
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 slice of whole wheat bread, torn into tiny pieces and wet down with just a little milk (think tablespoon or so)
1/2 cup or more of your favorite hard Italian cheese - Parmesan, Romano or any of the variations - sharp or mild as is your preference
1 pound of lean ground grass fed beef** (it's better for you and tastier)
1 large baking dish (I love my Pyrex cuz I don't have to worry about the metal flaking off and it cleans easily)
Non-stick spray

* come to think of it, this ingredient is not so very mindful. I use ground garlic not after considered thought, but habitually. I've always done it that way. I suspect that the granules will distribute more evenly which is a good thing. But if you want to crush or mince garlic, be my guest. Ditto with the onion.

** do NOT get "grass finished" beef. It means they sat in those inhumane unsanitary cages and were fed things a cow was not designed to eat and finally force fed some "grass" before taking to market. The words "grass fed" are a legal statement of how the cows were fed. Become a vegetarian rather than buy meat that was not humanely raised.

What to do, or how to have a lot of fun with messy stuff:

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Spray the pan with non-stick spray.

In the large bowl add the egg and seasonings and mix using your hand. Dump in the soaked bread and mix again. Dump in the cheese and mix again. By now your hands are gloriously messy, but you're not done yet! Now dump in the beef and mix using that messy hand. Knead and smash until the bits are all nicely and evenly incorporated.

Spray the pan with non-stick spray. Shape the meat mixture into large balls and arrange in the pan.

Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes or til they start to brown and the meat is cooked. The length of time depends on the size of the meatball. There is no need whatsoever to overcook them in the oven if you are going to simmer them in sauce, so don't fret it. Just let it go 25-35 minutes as is convenient for you.

Inhale. Salivate. Repeat.

Use tongs to lift the meatballs out of the fat and nestle them gently in a large pot. Cover with your favorite sauce. If you let the meatballs cook long enough to get the lovely brown bits on the bottom, make sure you scoop them out with the meatballs and add them to the sauce.

The balls in the pic were the result of a double batch. It made 16 meatballs - this is required whenever my son is home for dinner. A single batch (the recipe above) will get you eight goodly sized delectable balls of meat. If you are interested in nutrition facts, here they are. I've got it set to show the calories and such for one large meatball.

Yes, you can sub in ground turkey - humanely raised free range turkey. Increase the seasonings though as the milder meat will need more help. Definitely use the "or more" part of the cheese too.

Note for the seasonings: I use the high end always. Garlic lovers in my family and so that seasoning is always off the charts too far for some. I list the minimum required in all my recipes, so ramp it up to suit you. Use your nose after the mixture is ready to be shaped and if it smells great, it's right. If it doesn't smell awesome yet, add more. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Way Too Many Hot Peppers

I frequently complain about certain aspects of living in Texas - such as oh, the oppressive heat, flying cockroaches the size of hummingbirds, and fire ants - but, I do love the fact that we have two growing seasons. Most of the year round, I reap and eat what I sow in our garden.

Right now the peppers are going bananas. I have more Super Hot Chilis, Long Thin Cayennes, Jalapenos, Habaneros, Serranos, and hot and sweet Banana peppers than we can possibly eat. We've tried drying them, but I stopped doing that the first time a batch of hot chilis whirled around in a mini chopper and my eyes burned so much I thought I was going to have to gouge them out.

We cannot eat them fast enough so I chose my newest fave thing to do with peppers - blanch and freeze them. It's remarkably easy. Blanching just means that the veggies spent a few minutes in boiling water and then were submerged in ice water. Think of it as veggie torture and you may find it far more fun.

How to Blanch and Freeze Peppers

Hot Peppers!
Here's what you need to mindfully assemble ahead of time:

1 freezer bag for each type of chili, appropriately labeled with a sharpy marker so you don't forget what kind of pepper was in the bag.
Peppers - rinsed well
1 larger bowl filled with ice and water
1 small or medium sized pot of water ready to boil
1 little sandwich bag or rubber gloves
1 sharp knife
1 cutting board
paper towels

Are you ready? Ok, here's what you do:

Put the sandwich bag on the hand that will touch the peppers - I like using the baggie instead of rubber gloves. I don't have to clean gloves or wonder where they've been before they touched my food. You just peel the baggie off when you are done by turning it inside out and pitch it so you never have to get the burn your eyeballs out stuff on your fingers. The burning stuff is capsaicin, and your eyes, nose, and skin are better off having very little contact with it.

Long Cayenne Peppers
Holding the pepper with the bagged hand, slice off the stem end, push the stem off the cutting board onto the paper towel. Make a slit about half way or more, depending on what kind of pepper you have, lengthwise along one side. Many peppers concentrate their seeds at the stem end, but not all. For the peppers that spread their seeds from top to bottom, slice entirely in half.

Stand or lay the pepper on the paper towel and scrape out the seeds and membranes with the knife tip. Repeat until you have all the peppers to this point. I like to make strips if the peppers are big. Most small peppers can be left as they are. If the peppers are all the same size, they will blanch well and the strips make it easier to quick chop a few for cookery later.

Turn the sandwich bag inside out and discard that with the paper towel holding all the seeds.

Finally, you get to Blanch those Peppers!:

Set the water to boiling - I do this after the peppers are prepped because it is too easy to mindlessly ignore the boiling pot on the stove while prepping hot peppers. One thing at a time, paying attention the whole way.

Use the knife to scrape the pepper slices off the cutting board into the boiling water. Boil for 2-3 minutes - two minutes if the pepper slices are small and three if they are a little bigger. If you are doing larger chunks of peppers - such as bell peppers - you may need to boil for 5-7 minutes. You don't want to cook them completely.

Avoid breathing the steam as they cook - or as you pour the water off. A small whiff will tell you why this is not good.

Drain the peppers and immediately plunge them into the bowl of ice water - press the strips down with a spoon to make sure they are immersed. Keep the peppers in the ice water for the same amount of time they spent in the boiling water.

Super Hot Chilis
Remove the peppers from the bowl, spread on a paper towel and pat dry. Place the peppers inside the freezer bags, spread the peppers a bit so they don't freeze in a lump that will be hard to separate. Ideally, they hardly touch each other. Lay the bag flat in your freezer until the pepper strips are firmly frozen. Then they can be moved about and touch each other without argument or melding together in a peppery glob.

Why do all this?:

Peppers exude an enzyme that can make them deteriorate even when frozen. Blanching kills the enzyme that makes mush out of your peppers and they stay nice in the freezer for a much longer time.

The whole thing takes only a few minutes and you don't have to feel badly about consigning otherwise uneaten peppers to the mulch bin... you can, if you choose, feel badly about torturing the peppers. Either way is very mindful indeed.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Two Ways with Gallo Pinto

Such a beautiful name for a simple rice and bean dish. One thing I love about this is how the dish so easily morphs to fit your day. It can take time to prepare and be a lovingly hand crafted thing of all naturalness or it can be made on the fly with convenient items and enjoyed on a work night. Below are my two ways with Gallo Pinto - one slow and the other fast. Think about which fits your way to live today and enjoy the goodness.

This dish is wonderful on its own with a salad or as a side dish to just about anything - smoked sausage, grilled chicken breasts, or fajitas are great choices.

Because those of you that need the fast version will not hang around long on the page, the fast version is first. I've run the nutrition for both assuming it is a side dish and put links under the titles.

pinto beans
Speedy Gallo Pinto
nutrition facts


one box of flavored* whole grain rice or rice/vermicelli mixture
     Good flavor choices include: pilaf, chicken,
     Tex-Mex, Spanish, etc
1 16 ounce can of beans, rinsed and drained
     Last time I made this I used black beans with
     Near East's Whole Grain Pilaf, any bean will
     do - white, black, pinto, red, kidney, etc. Choose the one you like best or that best suits the other flavors of the meal.
1 t granulated garlic
Sriracha sauce

The very simple things to do:

black beans
Start the rice per package directions except that you will add an extra teaspoon of garlic powder. In the meantime, rinse and drain the beans in a colander. When the rice is about 10 minutes from finishing, dump the beans on top and cover - do not stir, just let them sit on top and heat while the rice finishes cooking. When the rice is done, give it all a stir. Serve with the Sriracha sauce.

Now, was that not incredibly simple?

*Have you ever read the labels on the boxes of flavored rice? Most contain an entire day's ration of sodium in one serving. So, do get a lower sodium flavored rice and reserve the fast way for those days when you are otherwise eating low sodium or you really need to get a filling quick and reasonably nutritious dinner on the table asap.

Lazy Day Gallo Pinto
nutrition facts

Do this first:

1/2 a pound of dried beans, rinsed, picked over for stones, and soaked (overnight or fast method as you prefer - check the label for directions). Drain the pot, rinse the soaked beans, return them to the pot, cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until the beans are tender - about an hour or so depending on your choice of beans. Drain and reserve.


1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, pressed or chopped
red bean

1 red bell pepper
1 yellow or orange banana pepper
1/2 t cracked black pepper (or to taste)
3 cups cooked brown rice
3 cups cooked beans
Sriracha sauce

What to do:

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onion until it softens a bit - at least 10 minutes. Add the peppers and saute another five minutes or so. Add the garlic and saute for another two minutes. Sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper. Add the beans and rice and stir until everything is nice and hot. Serve with Sriracha (or salsa!).

There are so many mindful options with this sort of dish. Change up the peppers to your hearts content. Skip the Sriracha (although why you would want to do that I have not a clue). Or add jalapenos or serranos instead of adding the heat at the table. Mushrooms are wonderful in a dish like this, chop them up and saute them with the other veggies. Enjoy it often!