Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Golden Beet Soup, with Goat Cheese and Braised Beet Greens

I first cooked with Golden Beets (or yellow beets?) last year when I saw them at our local Farmer's Market. This was a new food for me, they were tasty, and I was hooked. They taste less earthy than regular beets, but are just as delicious. Plus, the green tops are edible (and nutritious for the whole family, especially our primarily breastfed nine month old baby boy whose iron intake we've been careful to bolster through naturally iron-rich foods). So I got excited when I saw these special beets again this year, and couldn't wait to create something new with them! Last year, I learned that the beets taste amazing when paired with a little goat cheese, so I decided to explore that avenue some more.  This soup was very simply prepared but turned out well, and made enough to enjoy for lunch the next day (by which time it tasted even better).

Golden Beet Soup, with Goat Cheese and Braised Beet Greens

Serves 4 - 6

You will need:

3 big Golden Beets with green tops
1 tablespoon butter
pinch of nutmeg
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil,
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus zest of half a small lemon
Goat cheese - at least 4 tablespoons
salt and pepper to taste

Cut off the green tops about an inch from the base, wash well in cold water, dry, then chop into 1/2 inch strips and set aside.
Scrub grit off, then peel the beets. Cut off the top-part with the green stem remnants.  Dice the beets into 1/2 inch pieces and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a soup pot on medium heat. Add the onions and let them soften and become translucent. Stir in the ginger, then add the beets, and broth. Bring up to a boil, stirring occasionally, then simmer covered for forty minutes or until beets are cooked through and break up easily with a fork.
While the soup is cooking, melt the butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the beet green strips along with a pinch of nutmeg, and the lemon zest. The greens will release water and soften up in a couple of minutes, then remove from heat and set aside until serving.
Back to the soup - when the forty minutes have passed - check the salt, add pepper if desired. Add lemon juice. Give it a good stir. Then very carefully puree the soup using an immersion blender, or in small batches in a regular blender, until smooth. Reheat the soup before serving. Top each bowl with at least one tablespoon of crumbled goat cheese, and the reserved beet greens. Serve with crusty bread. Enjoy!

Note: I have also tried this soup with a splash of heavy cream stirred into the pot after pureeing. It adds a very rich taste, so go ahead and add it if you want that extra oomph. But it is unnecessary, the soup is just as velvety and tasty on its own.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Blackberry Picking with Baby

Blackberry picking is one of our little family unit's summer highlights. Every August here in the Pacific Northwest, like it or not, these purple jewels take over the landscape. To some, they are noxious weeds to be obliterated, to others it is foraging at its finest. Every year Ryan and I brave their thorny defenses to pick several pounds of delicious blackberries. To eat, to freeze, to make our one year supply of jam, to fold into crepes, pies and crisps, to toss into breakfast cereal, to whizz into assorted beverages, and to do whatever else we like with them. One year, I discovered that if I made a sort of syrup out of them, I had the makings for a wonderfully summery (but completely unconventional) Blackberry Vodka Martini. So.much.flavor.

This year, with a nine-month-old in tow, it gets trickier. Since Johann was born we've continued doing the things we enjoy, and venturing out into the brush for berry picking is no different. (So far this year we've already foraged and enjoyed several different berries including salmonberries, red huckleberries, and thimbleberries.) With Ryan's help, it's relatively easy. One of us back-carries him in the Ergo, and aims for the easiest picking, while the other one dons long pants and boldly goes forth into the brush. Easy. So, I thought, why not try going on my own and just head for the easy picking?

So last week, I front-carried Johann (I cannot yet strap him onto my back without help) and we ventured out alone. We got in thirty minutes of picking before before nap time hit. Isn't this the sweetest grumpy face, you've ever seen?

We made it out alive, relatively unscathed, armed with two pounds of ripe blackberries. Not bad for a short time and a few extra challenges.    

I've learned now that blackberry picking with a baby strapped to your chest presents several challenges.

One: you have to go where the blackberries are, which usually means off the trails and into full sun where the best berries (and the thorniest brambles, unfortunately) reside.

Two: you have to pass up several obvious precious clusters of ripe fruit, they're now out of reach because of the much more precious baby strapped to your chest.

Three: not only do you have to try a little harder to keep your balance, and stay away from the thorns, you also have to keep your baby from reaching out and grabbing thorny leaves and branches! Oye. There were tears.

Bottom line. It takes time and effort, and maybe some pain if you get stuck by thorns, but there is good fruit out there for the picking, it is free, all natural, and we take advantage.

And, at the end of the day, with the baby unit, blackberry picking is so much easier with the help of another. So we plan to carry on this family foraging tradition, and raise Johann to find joy in free and delicious fruit. But next time, I'll bring the dad unit!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Red Lentil Soup

Our little boy, now almost nine months old, loves lentils in all forms. We eat Dal (lentils simmered with Indian spices, typically served over rice or with breads) quite often here and, whenever we put some on his high chair tray, he eagerly reaches for it with his tiny little fists and tries to shovel it into his mouth as fast as possible.  So, yes, we think he either likes the flavors of Indian spices, or Dal itself.  Either way works for me, since lentils are cheap and said Indian flavors occupy a warm and cozy spot in my heart (which is great because I am Indian)!

This soup is inspired from Dal, but has a wonderful flavor which works even if you don't like Indian food, cooks up well in a big batch and is freezer-friendly. (In my experience, Dal, typically does not freeze well, so I was surprised when I discovered that this soup does - probably because it is already pretty broken down and pureed - read on.) I usually double the recipe and stash half in the freezer as soon as it has cooled, for a convenient dinner on a busy night. And why not? That just frees up more time for me to spend with chase after my little one!  

Red Lentil Soup

Red Lentil Soup

Serves 3 - 4

You will need:

1 cup split red lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic (2 cloves)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
optional - 1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
pinch turmeric powder
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
small pats of butter or olive oil to drizzle

Wash and rinse the lentils in several changes of cold water (at least three or four), discard all the rinse water and set lentils aside.
Heat oil in a big pot over medium heat, then add onion and garlic. Saute until translucent and edges of onion start to brown, about 4 or 5 minutes. Then add cumin, chili powder, and turmeric, stir for another minute.  Add tomato paste, broth, water, and lentils and stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring up to a boil, then simmer for at least 30 minutes with the lid mostly on (leave a gap for steam to escape), or until lentils are cooked through. Add lime juice and stir well. Then, with an immersion blender, or regular blender, puree the soup and keep warm until serving.
Serve garnished with cilantro and a pat of butter or a little olive oil drizzled on top if desired, with crusty bread and butter. Enjoy!
Note: this is a basic recipe, feel free to jazz it up with other veggies like carrots, celery, zucchini or, better yet, throw some crumbled bacon or browned sausage on top just before serving.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Our First Backpacking Trip with Baby

We just returned from our first backpacking trip with Johann, and thought we would document a few notes for anyone who is interested. Spending time outdoors, in the heart of nature, recharges us in a way that not much else does. Not only does it provide some R & R, it lets the unimportant things and distractions of daily life fall away so we can fully appreciate God's creation all around us. For us, getting outside is a form of worship. And this is a key family value that we want to impart to our baby, Johann.

I had done some reading about backpacking with babies. We knew it was something we wanted to do as a family, and were happy to find that there are a lot of others who feel the same way. I gleaned some wisdom and got inspired by blogs and WTA trip reports I read about other families who backpacked with babies.

We chose a hike that we were familiar with and thought it would make an easy backpacking destination with baby. Barclay Lake is a small, quiet sub-alpine lake in the Mount Baker National Forest, reached by a 2.25 mile hike with an easy grade.

We had a bit of a bumpy start as Johann had a "blow out" while we were still at the trailhead, just getting our gear ready to go, forcing us to do an outfit change when we hadn't even left yet! Good timing, in hindsight.

When we reached the lake - being the only ones there - we had our pick of campsites. We chose a secluded, beautiful spot by the lake and set up camp.

Our private campsite by the lake

While hiking, Johann was happy to ride in the Ergo, either napping or enjoying the scenery. At camp he had more freedom, so it was a little more challenging with one of us watching him pretty closely at all times. He is not yet crawling, but still got into some mischief! He entertained himself with things like mugs, spoons, and dirt - of course. I was more relaxed when I realized he was going to keep finding the dirt, no matter what. He was especially fascinated by the inside of our tent.

Fascinated by the tent

But we had a few challenges.

Sleep was by far the biggest hurdle. He was content to stay up with us until 10 pm, when the light faded, and woke up EARLY, with the sunrise, ready to start the day at 5:05 am! The cold was another challenge, as overnight temps dropped into the low 40s. It was a bit warmer inside the tent and Johann was pretty bundled up inside Ryan's sleeping bag, but we were still worried. Tasks that went easier with two people, like setting up the tent and stringing up the bear bag, were also a bit of a challenge. Finding a way to keep Johann occupied was not the easiest, so we had to do things in short stretches of time.

Entertaining himself with a spoon while we cooked breakfast

Overall, he was kind to us and seemed to enjoy all facets of the experience - exploring with us (a lot!), sitting on the beach, gazing up at the mountains, stars, and the magnificent forest canopy, smiling sweetly at the few fellow backpackers who we ran into later, all the birds and various nature sounds.

Exploring with Daddy

The north face of Mt. Baring

Barclay Lake looking east

Ryan and I had distributed our pack weights so we each carried 38 lbs, including Johann whom I front-carried in the Ergo. We had definitely overpacked, but we figured that was safer than leaving an essential item behind the first time. We didn't end up needing more than half the diapers we had packed (we used disposables for the trip.) We did not skimp on diapers, clothes/extra layers, and food for ourselves. Johann is breastfed so nothing extra to carry there. We packed two thin burp cloths, but decided we can make do with our bandanas and washcloths next time. If the weather is dry, we can wash and dry them in time for reuse.

On the whole, we had a wonderful time, loved the sense of accomplishment since this was a big goal for us, and returned recharged! The lake and vistas were gorgeous, and we enjoyed the peace and quiet.

Mt. Baring at sunset
Barclay Lake at sunset

The reflection of Mt. Baring in the lake at sunrise

We are glad we did this before Johann started to crawl, and we will be doing it again soon. I'm sure a crawling baby will bring a host of new challenges so it will be interesting. We'll be sure to share anything new that we learn.

P.S.: Neither my husband nor I know anything about taking pictures, but we thought these turned out rather nicely. None of the images have been edited in any way.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Inspired by Misticanza: Pasta with Ricotta and Wilted Garlicky Greens

I had never heard of "misticanza" until a few months ago while reading an article about springtime in Italy. Basically, "misticanza" is Italian for mixed wild herbs, generally tossed together in a salad. The word came across my mind again this week, creeping up on dinnertime, and all I could think was that I wanted to eat some greens. Like right now.

So, dinner was decided then. Rigatoni tossed with creamy ricotta, garlic sliced and fried just until golden brown, and whatever greens I could get my hands on (we only had arugula in the refrigerator so I used that) quickly wilted in that same pan with the remnants of the garlic oil, generously sprinkled with sea salt and freshly grated parmesan. To round out the dinner plate, I added a bruschetta, of sorts, that my husband and I love, with garlic, fresh tomatoes, basil, and a squeeze of lemon. Tasty. Simple. Wholesome.  

(And, until I actually go to Italy, hastily cobbled together yet delicious concoctions such as these are more than enough. For now.)

Rigatoni with Ricotta and Wilted Garlicky Greens

Serves 4

You will need:

Half a 12 oz. box of dried rigatoni (or any short pasta),
4 tablespoons ricotta
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 semi-packed cups greens (I used arugula)
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
sea salt - to taste
freshly grated parmesan - to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, and toss with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Set aside in a large serving bowl.
Heat remaining oil in a small frying pan on medium. Add the garlic slices, and fry just until golden brown (took about a minute on my stove). Then add the greens and let them wilt, this should take another minute. Add this, the ricotta, and pepper to the pasta and give it a good stir until the ricotta is well incorporated and it all comes together. Serve with sea salt and parmesan. Enjoy!

Note: if you have any of this leftover, it is better to eat it cold or at room temperature rather than heated. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Chipotle Carnitas Mac n' Cheese

With a new baby around, going to the grocery store has become quick business. Get the list, go in and come out before any potential for a mama or baby meltdown. So, of course, I now delay grocery shopping for as long as possible. Last night, with an "open" dinner plan, I wondered what I could do with some leftover carnitas and a pantry full of dried pasta. Turns out, lots.

By the way, if pasta is not your thing, venture back to the obvious yet delicious. Fold it into an omelet. Stick it into a quesadilla or grilled cheese sandwich. Use as the meat in your favorite chili. Make Dumplings, or Pork Buns. Or curry it up and heap liberally over rice. So. Many. Options.

But back to that pasta.

Despite my butchery of international cuisines here, this is delicious and really works. A little smoky chipotle flavor adds depth and heat - leave it out if it's not for you. Oh, and did I mention that it can be made ahead? I put it together during nap time, and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours, then put it in the oven right before we ate, freeing up my hands and time for the pre-dinner meltdown that ensued. But, at the end of the day, baby was calm again, and we had a tasty cheesy pasta dish with just the right balance of textures adorning our dinner plates. Life is good.

Chipotle Carnitas Mac n' Cheese
Makes 6 to 8 servings

You will need:

1 box dried pasta shells or macaroni (I used a13.25 oz box of Whole Grain Shells)
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons flour
2 cups nonfat milk
1 cup shredded mexican blend cheese
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons chopped up chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
2 cups cooked shredded pork

Cook pasta according to package directions, set aside. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, then stir in the flour to make a roux. Slowly pour in milk, whisking well to prevent clumping. Once the sauce has slightly thickened, remove from heat. Add cheese, chipotle peppers, cumin, and oregano. Stir until cheese has completely melted and spices are incorporated. Combine the sauce with the cooked pasta, and pork and pour into a 9x13 baking dish. (You can now cover it and put it in the refrigerator until ready to bake, or up to 12 hours.) Add topping if you choose to (see below), then bake uncovered at 375 F for 30 - 45 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and topping is golden brown. Enjoy!

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano

Just before baking, melt butter in a small microwave-safe dish or 20 seconds, then stir in breadcrumbs and spices. It should be crumbly. Sprinkle over pasta before baking.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

You might ask, where have I been these past few months? I might say...having a baby. This blessed event occurred last November, but only now do i feel the fog of new motherhood lifting and am once again happy to resume experimentation in the kitchen. Content as I am to do little more than care for my precious baby boy, this foodie will go crazy if she does not get her kitchen zen in daily doses.

But back to this soup.

Despite a recent spike in unseasonably warm sunny days here in Seattle we're still enjoying various winter comforts, richly fulfilling squash soups being chief among them. This one has a few tart apples tossed in, giving it a nice lift in flavor. (Cooking with apples in savory uses is highly underrated, in my humble opinion.)

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

This Butternut Squash and Apple Soup is simple to make with just a few ingredients, and has all the richness of a creamy soup without having any actual cream in it. (Two key factors to a new mother who enjoys food but has less time to devote to making it these days.) But it freezes like a dream, so make a big batch and let it feed you twice, or thrice. 

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Serves 4 - 6

You will need:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon allspice
optional - 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
3 packed cups mashed roasted butternut squash (Note: I roasted a medium sized butternut squash and had 2 cups leftover. Use it to make risotto or red curry!)
3 small apples, cored and roughly chopped, with skin on
4 cups vegetable broth
pinch black pepper
salt to taste

SautĂ© onions and garlic in olive oil in a fairly large soup pot on medium heat. 

Add the spices and stir a minute or two, until the onions are well coated and fragrant. Add the apples and roasted squash, stir well. 

Add pepper and broth, bring up to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 30 minutes. Carefully puree the soup in batches in a food processor or using an immersion blender, then return to pan and let simmer until serving. Salt to taste. 

If you like, top the soup with a little greek yogurt or roasted butternut squash seeds. (Save the seeds, rinse off any fibers, pat dry, stir in a little butter and salt, spread on a baking sheet and roast at 350 for 10 minutes or until they start to "pop.") Serve with crusty bread, or just plain ole' buttered toast. Enjoy!