Nov 23, 2009

Coconut Wild Rice Soup

When the weather turns rainy, I start making soup. It must be one of those "settling in for the winter" tendencies that I have, along with pulling out the flannel sheets and walking around in sweaters and stocking caps. Though this fall has been so mild we've primarily had beautiful sunny days with a few rainy ones scattered about. Maybe I'm wishing for fall more than experiencing it.

Anyways, back to the soup. I've made several lentil versions, a hearty chicken and sweet potato chowder, and a couple weeks ago this delicious coconut wild rice version. It was hearty and used basic ingredients that I have in the pantry so was thankfully pretty easy to pull together.

This recipe was adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Super Natural Cooking, and one I find myself turning to more often then not. I love the simplicity of the recipes, and yet the layers of flavor built in to each one. And wild rice is so hearty and distinct its hard not to try anything that highlights this ingredient.

Reading up about wild rice in my handy Food Lover's Companion, I learned that it is "known for its luxurious nutty flavor and chewy texture, and actually isn't rice at all but rather a long-grain marsh grass native to the northern Great Lakes area, where it is harvested by the local Indians. Though it is also producing commercially in California, as well as several Midwest states." I love learning little random facts about what I eat.

Coconut Wild Rice Soup
adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

Serves 4

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 1/2 teaspoons red curry paste
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 medium potato, chopped
1 cup wild rice, rinsed
4 cups water
1 14-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce (low-sodium if possible)
1 14-ounce can coconut milk

Heat the coconut oil in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat, then add the curry paste, garlic, and onion and saute for 3-4 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Ensure everything is well coated in coconut oil and curry paste before adding the next ingredients.

Stir in the chopped potato, wild rice, and 3 cups of water. Bring to a simmer and add the garbanzo beans. Stir well then lower the heat a bit, and cook, covered for about 40 minutes, or until the rice starts to soften, and split.

When the wild rice is tender, stir in the sugar, soy sauce, coconut milk, and remaining cup of water. Stir, return to a simmer and add salt to your taste. Cook for another 5 minutes to meld the flavors. Remove from the heat and add any additional salt or pepper as desired.

When serving, be sure to ladle from the bottom of the pot to make sure each bowl gets a good helping of wild rice, potatoes, and beans.

Alison's Notes:
*I served this soup with crackers on the side, sliced baguette would also be good.

Nov 11, 2009

Homemade Spinach Pasta

Have you ever made your own pasta? No, I didn't think so. Because really - who makes their own pasta? That is not a retorical question. Until last weekend I would have never thought to make my own, but like most homemade dishes, it is well worth the effort. It's so good!

Over the weekend as I was doing my weekly ritual of scanning the cookbooks and magazines on the shelf to come up with new recipes for the week I came across an easy sounding pasta dish in a new cookbook, The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. This gem was a gift from a friend earlier this year, however with the recipes coming out of the heartland of northern Italy I have saved looking through it seriously until the weather turned cold.

I'm sure other cookbooks I've looked through before have walked me through making pasta, but for some reason this one spoke to me. Maybe because there are no pictures, and so I couldn't get too scared. Or maybe because it offered a hand made variety vs. using a pasta maker (which I don't have). Whatever the reason, I can now say that I've made my own pasta.

It probably, no - it definitely, did not turn out perfectly, but that was part of the beauty of it. It wasn't form made, or uniform at all. There were holes where their shouldn't have been holes, and I didn't have the special tool to make ziti, which my sauce recipe called for, so I went with a basic spaghetti noodle instead.

I'll be trying this again, because I obviously have tons to learn. But for those who've ever thought about trying to make their own pasta - I say go for it, and maybe it will turn out like some of the picture's here, or maybe not...but I can almost assure you that it will taste good!

Spinach Egg Pasta
adapted from The Splendid Table

Serves 4-6, and makes about the same amount as 1 pound of dried boxed pasta

2 jumbo eggs (I used large eggs and added more water when mixing)
10 ounces fresh spinach, rinsed, stemmed, steamed, squeezed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry*
3 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

Mound the flour in the center of the work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs, and chopped spinach to the middle of the well. Using a wooden spoon beat them together gradually incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As more and more flour is worked into the liquid use a pastry scraper (or your hands) to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate as much flour into the dough.

Once the dough has become a cohesive mass, use the pastry scraper (or a knife) to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface - these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough about 3 minutes, so that the consistency is elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny smooth, and very elastic. Don't shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it relax at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to three hours.

Using a regular size rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time. Keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. Shape it into a ball and being rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins out start rolling and stretching the dough using your hands to pull the dough as you continue to turn it a quarter turn. Stretch the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way, then gently pushing the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the dough in place with the other hand. Repeat these processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner.

The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For spaghetti and other flat ribbon pastas it should be thin enough to see your hand through it. Be careful to not take two long in thinning and stretching as the dough starts drying out, and then it can be difficult to stretch and will possibly cook unevenly.

Either lay the pasta sheets onto a flat surface, or drape them over the back of a chair covered with a dish towel to dry for 20 minutes, or until leathery in texture (turning several times to encourage even drying). Repeat with the remainder of the dough.

To cut, roll up the pasta and slice it to the desired width, then lay it out as necessary to continue drying or cook up in very salty water. This fresh pasta cooks very quickly, and is done in about a minute of cooking in boiling water.

Alison's Notes:
*I used one large bunch of organic spinach from Earthbound farms.
**Like I said this was my first go at it and I definitely struggled with the stretching of the dough. As I write up the instructions I'm already thinking of ways to make it easier and quicker next time.

Nov 8, 2009

Buckwheat Pear Pancakes

Sometimes I have a hankering for eating something specific, and this morning it was pancakes. On a crisp fall Sunday morning, this sounded like the perfect breakfast.

Not sure if I've mentioned my marathon training yet, but - for the past three months I've been training for the Santa Barbara Marathon with Team in Training. As the mileage has continued to creep up each week (next Saturday I'm running 20 miles, the longest I've ever run before), I've had to be more and more careful with what I eat. And the thing is...I want to be.

The more I run, the faster and stronger I want to get and much of that has to do with what I eat. As my coaches say, "You are what you eat." I've heard this before, but training for a marathon has made it more real for me than ever before.

Needless to say, these days I'm really trying to cut down on the sugar, processed food, and saturated fat in my diet. And at the same time figuring out new ways to eat good, nourishing food. Which is how the buckwheat pancakes came about. When I woke up wanting pancakes this morning, I knew that I wanted to make a healthier version of this breakfast treat. Buckwheat flour, which I picked up a while ago from my local food co-op, is a whole grain flour with a distinct nutty flavor, and its loaded with magnesium and other heart healthy benefits. Making it the perfect flour substitute in my pancakes.

Also, instead of regular sugar I used honey. A friend recently turned me on to the idea of using honey instead of sugar. She was telling me that up to a certain point you can use a one to one ratio of honey over sugar. I'm pretty sure it was at least 1 cup, so my substitution worked out just fine in this recipe.

I added the pears for the fun of it. I thought they were a nice flavor combination with the buckwheat, and I like how cooking them directly into the pancake batter softened and toasted them just perfectly.

Buckwheat Pear Pancakes
adapted from Betty Crocker's Fast Pancake Recipe

makes 9 medium sized pancakes

1 large egg
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 pinches salt
1/2 pear, thinly chopped

Beat egg in a medium bowl with a fork until fluffy. Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the pear just until smooth. Heat skillet over medium heat or to 375. Grease pan with butter.

For each pancake, pour about 1/4 cup batter onto the skillet. Place the thinly chopped pears into the batter. Cook until bubbly on top, puffed and dry around the edges. Turn and cook on the otherside until golden brown.

- Next time I might try using all buckwheat flour to see what it tastes like, or adding chopped nuts instead of pears. There are all kinds of combination's to try here.
- This was a great recipe for two, but I would definitely plan to double it if there were more people coming for breakfast, or I wanted left overs for the week.