Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Product Review: Earth Cafe Raw Vegan Cheesecakes

This Tuesday, instead of the usual "Things I Am Loving This Week" I am here with a product review. Not that I'm saying that I don't love this product ;-) but the "Things I Am Loving This Week" are ones I buy myself, or were given as gifts from friends and family rather than products I have received to try. In this case I was given free product from a company to sample but I was not paid for my review and my opinions and the review are my own. (And that would be my disclosure so let's get on to the important business of sampling some cheesecake!) ;-)

If you read this blog at all regularly you know of my fondness for raw desserts, so when I was given the opportunity to sample some raw cheesecakes from Earth Cafe, I of course jumped at it. Earth Cafe is a company that makes organic, vegan, raw, desserts, by hand. They operate out of California, but their cheesecakes are sold in stores around the country (I counted 17 states), and they also ship individual orders through their online store. I had seen them at Kale's, my neighborhood natural foods store but had not yet tried them, so I was anxious to get a taste of what VegNews magazine called the "
Cheesecake Champion" and "the best raw cheesecake we have ever sampled" and see what all the fuss was about.

There are few things better than coming home from a long day and finding a box marked "perishable" on your door step and knowing that cheesecake (especially healthy cheesecake, dairy-free cheesecake, less guilt-inducing cheesecake), awaits inside. I open the box and the packaging and dry ice to find four generous slices of cheesecake inside. (OH HAPPY DAY!) The individual containers got a bit banged up in the shipping process, but the slices of cheesecake inside looked unharmed and pretty delicious. Craig, my cheesecake benefactor and company President, had sent slices of Strawberry Fields Forever, Blueberry Thrill, Rockin' Raspberry, and Who's Your Daddy?, a carob mousse cheesecake.

The cheesecakes store well in the freezer so I was able to take my time with the sampling process. Overall the cheesecakes all tasted fresh, the texture was extremely creamy and the crusts were rich, nutty and buttery. They use fresh ingredients, (things like fruit, nuts, coconut, agave, vanilla and cinnamon), organic when possible. I tried the cheesecakes at various stages of "frozenness" and as with most raw desserts I have tried, I like them best somewhat, although not solidly, frozen.

Strawberry Fields Forever: Creamy with good fresh strawberry flavor. Probably the most mild tasting of the 4 samples but still fruity and quite good. (A layer of strawberries or even peanut butter would have taken it to the next level for me).

Blueberry Thrill: Gorgeous purple color and good, strong berry flavor. This one has the right tart-sweet combination that I like in my blueberry treats and ran a close second as my favorite.

Rockin' Raspberry: This one was my hands down favorite. Maybe it was the layer of raspberries in the middle that added that extra flavor and dimension to the otherwise creamy texture, but this one really stood out for me and was the first one finished.

Who's Your Daddy?: I am going to confess to not be a lover of carob, I find it a bit chalky usually and that was my first impression with this one when I tried it thawed in the refrigerator for a few hours. It had a creamy texture but a bit of that chalky-drying after taste. I put it back in the freezer and tried it again and my opinion changed--it lost the carob and tasted more like dark chocolate. Still not my favorite (I tend to prefer fruity-flavors in my cheesecake anyway), but really good semi-frozen and I certainly wouldn't turn down a piece of it. ;-)

Calorie counts for raw cheesecakes are not low (they run between 177 & 194 calories a serving, with 2 servings in an individually packaged slice and 16 slices in a cheesecake), but they are much healthier calories and healthier fats than in your normal sugar and dairy-laden versions. Plus, as with many raw desserts, they are so rich and satisfying that a small slice is more than enough. The whole cheesecakes run about $35.00 online so about $2.19 per slice. (I have to check and see what the individual slices run in the stores here). Not inexpensive, but not unreasonable in the world of raw food desserts especially when you look at all of the ingredients involved and the fact that they are handmade.

Earth Cafe has a delicious, quality product worth the high praise and I am happy I got to try their cheesecake (A big thanks to Craig & team!). I would buy them, probably by the slice--in fact I want to see if they are carrying the Banana Cream, Coconut Carob and Cali-Style Lemon slices here to buy and try sometime. A good occasional indulgence that I feel good about eating, they would be appropriate for raw foodists, healthy eaters or anyone who simply likes a delicious dessert. You can check out the different cheesecakes on their website here or see if there is a store near you carrying Earth Cafe's desserts here.

Have a delicious week!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ginger-Lemongrass Miso Soup for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Sometimes the body needs a very simple soup, something to nourish and replenish it after a long week. This Ginger-Lemongrass Miso Soup from "The Candle Cafe Cookbook" by Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza is a perfect solution. Candle Cafe is a famous vegan restaurant in New York and a friend gave me the cookbook a few years ago. I pulled it out the other day and was reminded how many simple and delicious recipes it contains. There are lot of wonderful sounding soup recipes in the book but since I had white miso, lemongrass and some enoki mushrooms to use up, and was craving something very simple and basic, I chose this one.

"The Candle Cafe Cookbook" says, "Lemongrass, an essential ingredient in Thai cooking, adds a wonderful, refreshing flavor to soup, especially when combined with miso and ginger. Serve this delicious and revitalizing soup with a salad and simply cooked grains."

Ginger-Lemongrass Miso Soup
"The Candle Cafe Cookbook" by Joy Pierson & Bart Potenza
(Serves 6-8)

1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed, peeled, and thinly sliced
1 tsp sesame oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
3/4 cup white miso
1 cup enoki mushrooms, for garnish
1 cup thinly sliced scallions (green part only), for garnish

In a stockpot, bring 8 cups of water and the lemongrass to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes; discard the lemongrass and strain, reserving the water. Heat the oil in a saute pan and cook the onion and ginger until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a soup pot and add the reserved water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the miso. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with the enoki mushrooms and scallions, and serve immediately.

Notes/Results: Light and easy and nicely flavored, this is a great simple soup for when your mind, body and soul are craving simplicity. It is good on its own--the lemongrass (I doubled the amount) and ginger go well with the miso, but it would also be a great starting point for other ingredients. Cubes of tofu, seaweed, greens, carrot or daikon batons or corn would all be excellent additions. For me, I made a half batch and ate a big bowl feeling comforted and a bit renewed. I would make this again.

Now lets see who is in the Souper Sunday kitchen this week:

Christine from Kits Chow made this spicy Korean Kimchi Stew. She says, "Jjigae are Korean stews that are usually cooked at the table and Kimchi-jjigae is one of the dishes that home cooks make when their kimchi is getting very pungent. There is a big interest in Korean cooking and Kimchi has become international food like sushi. There is no need to make your own. Just buy a jar and try this dish. It is so easy to make and you can put whatever you like in it, eg beef or seafood instead of pork, other kinds of vegetables or top it with an egg. You control the amount of ingredients and the spiciness."

Sometimes the best soups are the ones we just throw together like this Chipotle Black Bean Soup from Foodycat. She says, "When I ordered the chillies for my Mexican Chorizo, I bought a couple of other things as well. A jar of chopped chipotle in adobo, for example. I've seen so many recipes that call for it, but I've never seen it in a supermarket, so I thought I should snap some up. Of course, when push came to shove, I couldn't remember any of the enticing recipes that called for it! But I really wanted to use it, so I threw together this very quick soup.It takes no time at all, but still tastes really good."

Please join me in welcoming Spencer from Live2EatEat2Live Blog. Spencer, (otherwise known as "The Mouse Who Eats" along with partner "The Cat"), is a new blogger, just getting started so be sure to go by and say hello. This week Spencer made a Seaweed Mushroom Soup with Jiu Zao. Spencer says, "As I was browsing the web, I came across a blog about sake lees. Sake lees (or kasu) are the solids after sake has been filtered. ...sake lees contain yeast and essential amino acids that are good for you. The Cat was familiar with sake kasu. She calls it jiu zao, literally, alcohol residual. She’s had it in braised meat dishes and in sauces over meat and fish dishes. ...The soup was not very photogenic, but The Cat gave a thumbs up. And in the end, that’s all that matters."

Another new face for Souper Sundays is Shirley from Enriching Your Kid!, a blogger who focuses on creating healthy and enticing meals for her family. An example is the kid-pleasing Alphabet Soup she made this week. Shirley says, "I have not been able to blog of late, no thanks to the summer viral flu in the air. The kids took turns with it. But it gets even better now! Joel's got summer vacations, begining tomorrow. So I would be busy thinking of ways to keep my busy bodies busy. Hmm I would have to think of a few strategies here. So here's some Alphabet Soup to herald the summer vacations! Simple to make easy to fascinate kids. Now how many letters and numbers can you spot?" Welcome Shirley!

My friend Reeni from Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice is here with a hearty bowl of goodness. She says, "I have a spicy soup recipe today for Chipotle Corn & Potato Chowder. It's a simple but satisfying soup brimming with pieces of potato and corn. The chipotle pepper gives it a lingering heat that adds a nicely robust flavor without overwhelming you. It's thick, creamy and a little bit sweet from the cream-style corn. Half-way through some of the potatoes are removed, pureed and added back in to thicken it even further. It's a breeze to make and you probably have everything in your cupboard to make it right now. It's hearty and totally comforting, perfect to curl up with on a cool Spring night."

The wonderful Lori from Fake Food Free has been craving grilled veggies for ages and decided to do something about it with this Grilled Vegetable Sandwich. Lori says, "After finding some zucchini and mushrooms in the fridge I decided to grab the grill pan and make an indoor version of a grilled vegetable sandwich for lunch.I sliced up the vegetables, drizzled them with olive oil, and then sprinkled them with this herb rub.I cooked everything for a few minutes on each side, layered everything on the bread (Flax Oat Bran from Great Harvest) and then grilled the sandwich itself to make it more of a Panini. It hit the spot, but unfortunately it has made my longing for grilled foods even stronger!"

Natashya at Living in the Kitchen with Puppies is multi-tasking this week with her sandwich entry, The Lola Burger. She says, "This week at Michael Symon Sundays we made his famous Lola burger! A gorgeous burger is perched on a toasted English muffin (mine is made from Peter Reinhart's BBA recipe) and garnished with spicy ketchup, dill pickles, bacon, melted cheddar, pickled onions, and a sunny-side up egg. Can you say delicious!? This was a treat and fun to make. The only thing more fun than carbo-loading is fat-loading."

Also a Michael Symon fan and a fan of his burger is Joanne at Eats Well With Others who says, "Bacon cheeseburger. Topped with a fried egg. On a homemade bun. With pickled onions. ... So this week's recipes for Symon Sundays were The LOLA Burger (described above) and Fried Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Capers. There was also a recipe for pickling onions in there because that was one of the toppings for the burger. And I added in a recipe for homemade buns. Because of this whole no bread buying thing. After eating these. I'm pretty sure that Michael Symon is my soulmate. So Michael. If you're reading this. Will you marry me?"

Wow! Some really great soups and sandwiches this week. Thanks to everyone who joined in. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich you would like to share, click on the Souper Sundays link on the side bar for all of the details.

Have a happy week!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pineapple Julep: A "Simple Saturday Sipper" to Welcome Spring

This week's "Simple Saturday Sipper" is a Pineapple Julep, a wonderful way to kickoff the spring season. The term 'julep' is generally defined as a sweet drink, usually a cocktail, and the origin of the word is Arabic (julāb, from Persian gulāb, from gul rose + āb water). Most familiar is the mint julep made from bourbon, water, sugar, ice and garnished with mint. This particular version has no alcohol (although I won't tell if you decide to slip some in), it contains peppermint tea, pineapple juice and mint and comes from "Superfoods: Nutrient-Dense Foods to Protect Your Health" by Michael van Straten & Barbara Griggs.

The drink is supposed to be good for digestion from the pineapple and mint, and also good for fatigue from the energizing peppermint. Pineapple contains bromelain that aids proper digestion and is also considered to contain compounds with antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. Mint, in addition to being a great soother for an upset stomach and digestive aid is stimulating for the circulatory system, heart and nerves. Besides the heath benefits, the combination of peppermint and pineapple in this drink is refreshing and delicious.

Pineapple Julep
"Superfoods" by Michael van Straten & Barbara Griggs
(Serves 1, but can be multiplied to serve to serve more)

1 peppermint teabag
1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup pineapple juice
a sprig of fresh mint, crushed

Put the tea bag in a cup and fill with boiling water. Let infuse for 6 minutes, then strain and cool. When cold, add the pineapple juice, mint leaves, and serve over ice.

Notes/Results: Really good! The sweetness of the pineapple juice combined with the coolness of the mint work well together. I used loose peppermint tea, as I had it on hand and brewed it in the morning, enjoying a cup hot and cooling down the rest for the julep. A skewer of pineapple cubes and mint leaves makes a great garnish and snack.You could easily make this into a tasty cocktail by adding a shot of your favorite alcohol. This pineapple julep made a nice afternoon pick-me-up and I would make it again.

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nigella Adapted Thai-Inspired Coconut Milk Roasted Chicken served with her Lemon Mint & Spinach Salad

It's Potluck time at I Heart Cooking Clubs this week so anything goes and any Nigella Lawson recipe we want to make is fair game. I decided to take the recipe for Buttermilk Roast Chicken from "Nigella Express" as inspiration and adapt it (OK, pretty much change all the ingredients), to be a Thai-Inspired dish with coconut milk filling in for the buttermilk, and lots of my favorite Thai ingredients. I am sure the original recipe is quite wonderful but I am restricting my dairy consumption so I picked coconut milk as an alternative. With coconut milk on the brain, my thoughts immediately went to Thai flavors like kaffir lime, lemongrass and ginger, and thus this Thai-Inspired Coconut Milk Roasted Chicken was born.

Since I really just took the techniques from the chicken recipe, I decided to make another Nigella recipe, her Lemon, Mint & Spinach Salad from "Feast" as written, to go with the chicken thinking that the flavor combination would work well. (Plus I had a big bunch of local mint from the market to use up--always a good incentive to make a recipe!). With the chicken (just lite coconut milk in the marinade and a little drizzle of olive oil), spinach salad and a side of leftover brow rice-grain mix, it was a healthy and very tasty dinner.

If you want to compare the two recipes, you can find Nigella's recipe for Buttermilk Roast Chicken at the Food Network here or in "Nigella Express" (pages 274-275).

Thai-Inspired Coconut Milk Roast Chicken
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen, inspired and adapted from Nigella Lawson
(Yields 5-6 Servings of 2 drumsticks each)

10-12 chicken drumsticks
1 can lite coconut milk (or 1/2 can regular coconut milk mixed w/ 1/2 can water)
6 kaffir lime leaves, torn into small pieces
4 stalks lemon grass, white part only, peeled and bruised
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated or minced
2-3 Thai bird chilies or other small hot chilies, stemmed and chopped into 3 pieces
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp crushed peppercorns
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp honey
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

Place the chicken drumsticks in a large freezer bag, and add all ingredients through honey to bag. Squish everything in the freezer bag around to mix the marinade and coat the chicken.

Leave the coconut milk marinated chicken in the fridge ideally overnight or out of the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Take the chicken pieces out of the bag shaking off the excess marinade, and then arrange them in a roasting tin lined with foil.

Drizzle the oil over the chicken and then roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until brown, even scorched in parts, and juicily cooked through.

Notes/Results: Very tender, delicious chicken. The kaffir lime flavor came through really well and I liked the spicy/sweet combination from the chilies and the honey. (The chicken was not strongly spicy but had a little kick--you could pump up the spice if you like it hot or omit the chilies if feeding children). I would have liked a bit more lemongrass taste--maybe by adding some dried lemon grass or some lemon zest. I used a free-range, vegetable-fed, non-antibiotic drumstick from Whole Foods and my packet of 10 drumsticks was less than $7.00, making it a great value. I marinated the chicken overnight and it ended up being very moist and juicy. I would make this again with the changes noted above, and I am also thinking of trying a similar adaptation using curry powder in the coconut milk for a more Indian spiced version.

The salad can be found in "Feast" on page 129 or at the New York Times website here.

For the Lemon, Mint & Spinach Salad, Nigella says, "If this recipe looks like there’s nothing much to it, that’s because it’s true. You’re cutting up a lemon, chopping up some mint, and tossing them together with a little oil and some baby spinach leaves which, if you’re like me, you’re just tumbling out of a package. Simplicity itself, but an end result that has satisfying complexity. I love the balance between the gently ferrous tang of the baby spinach, the sour juiciness of the lemon, and mint, that often underrated herb which gives both peppery warmth and a cool, cool hit at the same time."

Lemon, Mint & Spinach Salad
"Feast" by Nigella Lawson
(Serves 8)

1 largeish lemon
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, plus extra for the top
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
8oz/10 cups baby spinach leaves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cut off the top and bottom of a lemon, stand it on a wooden board and, cutting down with a small sharp knife, slice off the skin and pith, rotating the fruit until you come full circle. Cut the lemon flesh into ¼ in circles and then each circle into eighths, putting them – and all juice – into a bowl as you go. In other words, you want the lemon in small chunks.

Cut the mint leaves, with scissors for ease, into thin strips over the lemon pieces, and sprinkle over the salt and some pepper. Add the spinach leaves and oil and toss everything together with your hands. Now decant on to a large round or oval plate – or whatever you want to serve this on – and drop a few whole mint leaves over the dressed salad.

Notes/Results: This is a great, simple salad with wonderful flavor. It goes together quickly and the combination of the mint and lemon really livens up the spinach. I was concerned that it might be too sour, but it wasn't at all. It's a light salad and worked well as a side dish, but could also be fun as a main dish salad with shrimp or chicken and a few extra ingredients. I just made a small amount with 1/2 of a large bag of spinach, half a lemon and 1/4 cup of mint. I will make this again.

Two Nigella recipe successes. You can see what the other IHCC participants brought to the potluck by going to the site here and following the links.

Happy Aloha Friday!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lemony Piccata Compound Butter on Sautéed Opakapaka (Pink Snapper)

I don't sleep well as a rule. Even when I am tired, I struggle with getting my mind to settle down and stop all the random thoughts and ideas that run through it. Although it drives me crazy at times, I do come up with some of my best food ideas and recipes after midnight, like this one for a Lemony Piccata Compound Butter. It all started when the very creative Natasha at 5 Star Foodie Culinary Adventures introduced her March Recipe Makeover dish; creating a "compound butter with a twist"--incorporating different ingredients with butter or a butter spread to come up with a unique sweet or savory blend.

Last night (at about 1:00 AM), I finally decided I need to get my act together and decide what to make or the month would pass by me by. At first I was thinking curry, maybe mixed in with some cashews and other ingredients to serve on chicken or fish. Then thinking about chicken and fish got me thinking of one of my very favorite ways of preparing these foods, piccata style.

From Wikipedia: Piccata is an Italian word, the feminine form of the word piccato, meaning "larded." It is also spelled "piccata" "picatta" or "pichotta. When used in reference to a way of preparing food, particularly meat or fish, it means "sliced, sautéed, and served in a sauce containing lemon, butter, and spices." The best known dish of this sort is chicken piccata, using chicken, but the term is also used with veal (veal piccata).

A piccata sauce usually includes lemon, garlic, capers, butter and sometimes other ingredients (white wine, shallots or onions, parsley, etc.) depending on who is making it. So why not put some of those same ingredients into the compound butter?! Bonus, I had everything I needed to make the butter in my fridge and pantry.

For the base we had the option of using a butter substitute like I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (who is kindly providing a prize pack for a winner of this challenge event) or using butter. Since butter is in my freezer and using a substitute required a trip to the store, I went with butter. Plus if I am going to indulge, I gotta be honest and say I prefer the real stuff (no offense to butter substitutes or butter substitute lovers--my Mom is a big fan!) For the other ingredients, I had a small Maui onion which I cooked until almost caramelized to bring out even more of the sweetness, and of course garlic was a must. For big lemon flavor, I zested two lemons and added a couple of tablespoons of the juice and I also brought in some parsley for flavor and color. Finally the star of the show--capers! I wanted to keep much of the shape and texture so I pulsed them in at the end.

I made the butter in the morning and was out most of the day and into the evening hours so I wanted something relatively quick to cook when I got home. I stopped by Whole Foods and grabbed some local opakapaka (pink snapper), a bunch of local asparagus and a couple of scoops of a brown rice blend from the cooked grain section of the salad bar. Once home I steamed the asparagus while the fish cooked (sautéed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper), heated up the rice, and a delicious dinner was on the table in about 20 minutes.

Lemony Piccata Compound Butter
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen

1 tsp olive oil
1/4 onion, sliced thinly (or shallots would work well)
2 cloves garlic, minced
zest from 2 lemons
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp fresh parsley leaves
8 Tbsp butter at room temp or a butter spread such as I Can't Believe It's Not Butter
2 Tbsp capers, drained
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add onion slices and cook on medium-low stirring frequently until soft and starting to caramelize (about 10 minutes). Add garlic and saute another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Combine onion garlic mixture, lemon zest, lemon juice and parsley in a food processor and blend into a thin paste consistency. Add butter (should be at room temperature) or spread and pulse several times until mixed (Don't over-mix). Add capers and pulse another few times. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Either roll into a log in a plastic wrap or place in a small bowl or ramekin and chill in fridge until firm. Serve on top of fish, chicken, veal or vegetables.

Notes/Results: Pretty darn amazing if I do say so myself. Wonderfully creamy and lemony with that wonderful slightly briny-tangy flavor that capers give a dish. This butter has BIG flavor--a little goes a long way, (good when we are talking about butter!), and it took a simple basic piece of fish to a whole new level. The bites of asparagus with the butter were amazing as well so this is a great one for livening up all kinds of veggies (spinach or other greens, potatoes, zucchini, and artichokes all come to mind--I mean can you imagine it with an artichoke?!), as well as chicken, veal, shrimp, etc. I made a small butter roll and put the rest in a little dish. Both worked fine and although I thought it about it after the fact, I think next time I would put it into little candy molds for some fun shapes and more visual appeal. This one was worth losing some sleep over! I will make this again whenever I need a little decadent indulging. ;-)

If you want to create your own creative compound butter or compound butter substitute, you have until Sunday, April 4th and you can get all the details on the 5 Star Foodie site (just click on the button above). Natasha will be posting a round-up of all the creative recipes on Monday, April 5th so be sure and check it out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Things I Am Loving This Week

It's Tuesday and time for the "Things I Am Loving This Week"--those (mostly) food-related things I am enjoying and want to share.

Remember these fresh macadamia nuts from the Big Island, purchased at the farmer's market that I am still loving? I cracked a bunch of them (not an easy task even with the fancy cracker--it gets tiring!), and thought it would be fun to use some in a pesto.

Rather than just mixing them with basil, I added an equal amount of baby spinach for an extra nutritional boost. I also had a lemon that needed to be used and added the zest and juice to brighten up the pesto and the buttery flavor of the mac nuts. And so with all that, a new love, my Lemony Basil-Spinach-Mac Nut Pesto was born.

For the pasta I used the Quinoa Linguine from Ancient Harvest. It is a gluten-free blend of quinoa and corn and has a decent amount of fiber at 4g per 1/2 cup serving. It also has a very similar texture to regular semolina pasta which I like. I had some leftover roasted chicken breast that I chopped and threw in for some protein.

Lemony Basil-Spinach-Mac Nut Pesto
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 1 & 3/4 cups pesto)

2 cloves garlic
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp macadamia nut oil or olive oil
1 cup packed fresh baby spinach leaves
1 cup packed basil leaves
1 cup macadamia nuts
salt & pepper to taste

Combine garlic, lemon juice and zest and oil in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add spinach, basil and mac nuts and puree' until desired texture. (Add water as needed for a thinner pesto). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve with Quinoa Linguine with Chicken: Cook pasta according to package instructions and drain reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water. Toss pasta with the pesto mixture (Use as much pesto as you like) and chopped chicken breast. Serve with some chopped toasted mac nuts and basil leaves as garnish.

Notes/Results: Delicious--it really hit the spot with bright color, great flavor and some good healthy fats. Mac nuts are a great source of calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese and zinc and also contain of fiber and B-vitamins. While higher in fat than some nuts, it is mostly mono-unsaturated fat and mac nuts contain no cholesterol. However you could easily sub another nut like cashews, walnuts or pine nuts. I left out the cheese that is so often in pesto and didn't miss it but if you must have cheese, grate a little and put it on top in place of the buttery chopped macadamias. I will make this again.

I loved this pesto and I am going to send my entire dish (with a very long name) Quinoa Linguine with Chicken in Lemony Basil-Spinach-Mac Nut Pesto along to Ruth's Presto Pasta Nights, one of my favorite blog events. PPN is being hosted this week by Savory Specialist at Our Taste of Life. You will find the round up for PPN 156 on her blog on Friday.

From pesto to pickles. Have I ever expressed my great love for really good dill pickles here? It must have something to do with the salty brine as in my beloved capers. I get pickle cravings sometimes and when I saw The People's Pickles from Rick's Picks, I knew I had to try them.

Crisp pickles with tons of garlic--what could be better? These will definitely keep any nearby vampires (or non-garlic eaters!) at bay---they are full of garlic flavor and they are yummy. I love the thick and chunky pieces and that they are low in sodium too--a bonus when snacking on pickles.

Plus you have to love the slogan on the label--so true!

Chocolate isn't the next logical step from pickles but I am so loving this Vosges Organic Peanut Butter Bonbon Chocolate Bar! Made with organic peanut butter, pink Himalayan salt, Maldon sea salt in a deep milk chocolate, it really nails that salty-sweet, peanut butter flavor.

The chocolate crisps just right, the thin layer of peanut butter filling inside is just creamy enough to be almost perfect and the salt level is good without being overpowering. This may be my new favorite flavor of Vosges (I was a confirmed Barcelona Bar fan) but keeping my mind open, I bought some little sample-size bars in a few other flavors that I have yet to try and will talk about in another post.

So that is what I am loving this week--pesto, pickles and peanut butter-chocolate bars.

How about you? What are you loving this week?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Creamy Lemon-Rice Soup with Mini Meatballs: Lemony Goodness for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

When I saw a recipe for Creamy Lemon Soup with Lamb Mint Meatballs in the March 2010 issue of Sunset Magazine it stayed in my head and I knew I had to make it. In an feature on the next generation of meatballs (the Puttanesca Sliders are on my must-make list too), I loved the combination of a Greek avgolemono (chicken and rice soup with lemon and beaten eggs) base with the savory tiny meatballs. The perfect comfort food.

The recipe can be found on the Sunset website here.

I did make a few changes to the recipe. First off, finding ground lamb is hit or miss here and my usual source was out so I subbed in some ground bison or buffalo. Since I am currently trying to avoid dairy, I subbed almond milk for the milk in the meatballs, which I baked instead of pan-frying both for ease and to reduce the fat. Finally I doubled the lemon--because I loves me some lemon. (My changes are in red below) The result; this Creamy Lemon-Rice Soup with Mini Meatballs, was exactly what I wanted and a bright, not-to-heavy soup to welcome Spring with.

Sunset Magazine says, "This classic Greek soup, avgolemono, gets its velvety texture from beaten eggs. Once you add them, be sure not to boil the soup, or the eggs will curdle. These lamb and mint meatballs are meant to be tiny so you get one in nearly every spoonful of soup."

Creamy Lemon-Rice Soup with Mini Meatballs
adapted from Juliet Glass, Sunset Magazine, March 2010
(Serves 6--Makes 8 Cups)

1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
1/4 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1 garlic clove, minced
finely shredded zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp each chopped fresh mint leaves & flat leaf parsley
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 lb ground lamb (I used ground bison)

Soup and Serving:
7 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
wide ribbons of zest from 1/2 lemon (use a vegetable peeler)
1/2 cup aborio rice or sushi rice
1/4 cup vegetable oil (omitted)
3 large eggs
fresh juice of 1 large lemon (I used 2 lemons)
chopped fresh mint and parsley

Make meatballs: In a large bowl, combine egg, panko, milk, garlic, lemon zest, mint, parsley, salt, and pepper and let sit a few minutes for crumbs to soften. Add lamb, breaking up with your fingers, and mix well with your hands.

With wet hands, form meat mixture into 3/4-inch balls (use about 3/4 tsp for each)and set on a rimmed baking sheet. Chill until a little firmer, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make soup: In a large covered pot, bring broth and zest to a simmer. Add rice and simmer over low heat, partially covered, until rice is al dente, about 20 minutes.

While soup simmers, heat oil in a large heavy frying pan (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat. Cook meatballs in 2 batches, turning once, to brown on 2 sides, about 6 minutes total. Shake pan, rolling meatballs around to brown a little further. With a slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to paper towels. (I cooked the meatballs on a rack over a foil-lined pan in a 425 degree F. oven for about 10 minutes)

With a slotted spoon, remove zest from soup and discard. Add meatballs and bring to a simmer over high heat. Turn off heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs to blend and add lemon juice. Whisk in a ladle of hot soup. One at a time, whisk in about 5 more ladles of soup, then return mixture to pot. Rewarm over low heat if needed. Serve immediately with more mint and parsley.

Per 1 1/2-Cup Serving (as written in magazine): 312 cal., 51% (158 cal), from fat; 21g protein; 18g fat (5.3g sat.); 20g carbs (0.7g fiber); 344mg sodium; 179mg chol.

Notes/Results: Creamy, hearty and delicious, this soup really hit the spot. A perfect soup to please kids with the mini-meatballs in almost every bite and no pesky vegetables getting in the way ;-) In fact, in making this again, I would probably throw a few veggies in just to up the nutrition a bit--maybe even some fennel for something different. Baking the meatballs worked perfectly. I baked them on a cookie rack over a foil covered pan so any fat and juices drip down. In addition to the lamb and bison, you could use lean ground beef, turkey or chicken in the meatballs. The soup goes together easily, with making the meatballs the only slightly time-consuming part and although best served fresh, reheats fine as long as you do it "low and slow" and don't boil it so the eggs don't curdle. I would make this again happily.

Lets take a look in the Souper Sunday kitchen and see who is here this week:

Debby from A Feast for the Eyes made a gorgeous green Creamy Asparagus Soup from one of her favorite recipe magazines, Cook's Country. She says, "Winner, winner, winner! Craig and I both loved this soup a lot. The first thing we commented about was the pretty color. We do taste with our eyes, don't we? The balance of asparagus flavor was perfect. Craig didn't taste the peas nor the Parmesan cheese. These surprising ingredients complemented the overall flavor of the soup. I think you could easily substitute the heavy cream for half and half, or even milk. To us, 1/4 cup of heavy cream for six servings isn't too big an indulgence."

Wanting to use up some leftover beer and please her meat and potato loving parents, Joanne from Eats Well With Others found the solution in this Irish Beef and Guinness Stew. Joanne says, "And I have to say. That the meat. And potatoes. And Guinness notwithstanding. This was amazing. The best stew I have ever had. The leftovers are even better. The day after the day after leftovers are. The. Best. And I imagine that the third day would have trumped all. But just try getting it to last that long. Impossible, I tell you. Im. Possible."

Natashya from Living in the Kitchen with Puppies used the gift of some Caribbean pimento peppers from her husband's coworker to make a stew, this Island Style Beef Curry. She says, "With great trepidation I opened up a pepper. It looks like an elongated and pointy habenero, and indeed is related, but has no heat. It is gloriously fruity and floral. I braced myself when I bit into a tiny piece, sure that fire would follow. It didn't. No heat, all flavour. So I did my best to create a laid-back Island-style stew, cue the steel drums."

Here's a new friend to welcome, Zibi from her blog, Fresh Slowcooking. I love that Zibi found my blog and Souper Sundays while looking for a gingery soup broth and finding my post on a Tyler Florence recipe! Her resulting Meatball Ginger Stew looks wonderful. She says, "I prepared this in my slow cooker, and Instead of using strips of beef, I made baby meatballs out of some grass-fed ground beef we had in the freezer. Since my husband and I were both feeling under the weather, I was aiming for something really gingery that would soothe our symptoms. In the end the soup had a really meaty flavour and the ginger and green onions added a refreshing flavour to the soup overall. It's probably due to my dulled senses from my cold, but I think this soup would actually benefit from even more ginger, depending on your tastes." Glad to have you here Zibi!

Instead of buying the Taiwanese salads from the self-serve counter at her local Asian market, Christine from Kits Chow began making her own healthier versions at home, like this colorful Carrot Salad. Christine says, "I stopped buying the salads because of their heavy hand with the salt. The salads were inedible. The salt wasn't mixed into the salads and I bit into a hunk of coarse salt. Now I make my own. I used the mandoline to slice the vegetables but it isn't necessary."

Graziana from Erbe in Cucina made some cute little "packages" of Rolled Sandwich with Russian Salad for a party she recently hosted. She says, "As many of you already know, I prepared an 'all-appetizers' lunch, and I promised to post all the recipes. I started the lunch with some canapes and brochettes: this is the first one. You can prepare Russian salad at home the day before... or buy it if you feel overwhelmed! Tie the sandwich with a chives (or nira garlic) leaf. If it breaks, take a deep breath and start with a new leaf."

Great recipes this week--thanks to Debby, Joanne, Natashya, Zibi, Christine and Graziana for joining in the fun. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich recipe you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sunday logo for all the details.

Have a wonderful week and Happy Spring!