Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tomato Basil Bisque with "Parmesan" Crisps: Recreating a Favorite Nordstrom Cafe Soup Vegan-Style for Souper (Soup. Salad & Sammie) Sundays

The Tomato Basil Bisque served at Nordstrom Cafe makes me happy. They bring out your cup of piping hot soup (they also have bowls of soup but the richness and cream make me exercise some manner of portion control), with a warm Parmesan bread crisp balanced carefully on top. The soup is thick, creamy and slightly sweet, and the crunchy crouton of bread is perfect for dipping. A little oasis of soup heaven.

Enjoying a cup after freezing my buns off in the way over-air-conditioned waiting room of my car dealership after a battery meltdown, I got to thinking that I should try to make it at home but maybe a healthier version, without the dairy and the saturated fat of the heavy cream... Then there are the cheesy crisps... could I make a non-dairy version of those as well? And could I make a vegan version of the soup that tasted as creamy and wonderful as the original?

A quick search on the web turned up a bevy of recipes for the soup. (Apparently I am only one of the legions of fans who adore it.) Besides the tomatoes, most recipes included a good amount of carrots, dried basil, and of course plenty of heavy cream. I put together my own making a few vegan substitutions and adjusting the other ingredients to fit my tastes (reducing the oil, upping the amount of dried basil, etc.). For the crisps, I came up with a simple non-dairy herbed compound butter, mixed with some vegan Parmesan-like sprinkles. Easy peasy.

Tomato Basil Bisque
adapted from Nordstrom Cafe
(Makes about 8 Servings)

1 Tbsp olive oil
3 large carrots, chopped
about 1/2 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp dried basil
2 (28 oz) cans or boxes whole tomatoes with liquid
4 cups low sodium vegetable stock
1 pint non-dairy (soy or coconut milk) creamer
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
"Parmesan" Crisps (recipe below)

Heat olive oil over in a large stock pot over medium-high heat and add carrots, onion and basil. Cook 10 to 15 minutes or until carrots and onions are somewhat soft. Add the tomatoes and veggie stock, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer about 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and puree soup with immersion blender (or in batches in upright blender), until smooth. Return to saucepan and stir in non-dairy creamer. Warm through over low and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Serve soup in small bowls topped with "Parmesan" Crisps.


"Parmesan" Crisps
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 8 large crisps)

1 mini baguette loaf
olive oil
2 Tbsp vegan butter (such as Earth Balance), slightly softened
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp no-salt Italian seasoning mix or mixed dried herbs
1 Tbsp vegan "Parmesan" cheese flakes + more for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the bread lengthwise at a 45 degree angle into about 1/4-inch long slices. Spray (or lightly brush) both sides of each slice with olive oil and arrange on prepared baking sheet. Place in the oven for about 10 minutes. Remove and turn crisps over then return to oven and bake for another 5 minutes.

While crisps are baking, use a fork to mix the garlic powder, Italian seasoning mix and vegan cheese flakes together. Set aside.

Remove crisps from the oven and let cool slightly. Spread the top of each crisp with the butter-cheese mixture and then sprinkle the tops with more of the vegan Parmesan. Return crisps to the oven and bake for another 5-7 minutes, until slices are crispy and golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving.

Notes/Results: Excellent! My version is delicious--just as creamy, sweet and wonderful without the dairy, and greatly reduced in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. In the handful of recipes on the web the soup had anywhere between a cup to two cups of heavy cream or a cup of heavy cream plus a cup of half-and-half for the eight servings-size batch. If I compare even one cup of heavy cream (820 calories, 88 g of fat / 55 g of saturated fat and 326 mg of cholesterol) to the pint (2 cups) of non-dairy soy creamer I used (480 calories, 32 g of fat / 0 g of saturated fat and 0 mg of cholesterol) it's an excellent overall savings--and makes the big bowl of delicious bisque that I want to eat a more heart-healthy choice. Just be sure to buy an unflavored non-dairy soy or coconut creamer with the shortest ingredient list (French Vanilla Tomato Bisque is not good!) ;-)

This is an easy to make soup--especially if you use an immersion blender to blend it in the soup pot, but if you want a smoother version you can use a regular blender or run the blended soup through a strainer. I happen to like the thicker, more rustic texture. The crisps taste buttery, garlicky and cheesy and are a great pairing with the soup (although it is also the perfect dipping soup for a grilled sandwich). You can sneak both the soup and crisps past your carnivore friends and family and even yourself, without anyone being the wiser. Of course if you want the full saturated fat of the dairy version ;-) just use heavy cream in the soup, and butter and cheese on the crisps. All together a fun experiment that turned out incredibly well, and that I will make again.

Let's look at some more make-again soups and a sandwich hanging out in the Souper Sundays kitchen.

Heather of girlichef tried a spicy Chipotle Albóndigas Soup and says, "Overall, a very tasty version of Albóndigas Soup. The one little factor that sort of bothered me was the cornmeal in the meatballs. I think it gave them a bit of a weird, gritty texture. My oldest son thought the same thing, the hubs didn't say anything. Although, it didn't stop us from eating them. I will probably use bread crumbs instead of the cornmeal next time, though. Other than that, tasty broth chock full of veggies and meatballs with just a hint of smoky heat (stir in more of the adobo sauce from the chipotles...or just add more chipotle if you want even more heat)."

Janet from The Taste Space returned home from vacation to enjoy this hearty Iraqi-Inspired Eggplant and Seitan Stew. She says, "...this was a savoury, comforting stew. Filled with warming spices like nutmeg, smoked paprika, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin and cardamom, you have a winning combination with silky yellow split peas and chunks of seitan in a pomegranate-infused sauce. I modified it only slightly by using liquid smoke and substituting Aleppo chili flakes for the larger chilies."

My pal Kat from Our Adventures in Japan has been enjoying some soups lately and put together this colorful Kabocha & Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup that she served with crusty baguette. Kat says, "I recently threw together this soup with some veggies I had in the fridge. ... This was creamy and delicious, not to mention easy and fast. I hope to make more soups with the upcoming cold weather."

Tigerfish from Teczcape-An Escape to Food has a spooky Chicken Feet and Beans Soup that she says can also be called "Halloween Franken-feet Soup" Tigerfish says, "I belong to the school that says "yes" to chicken feet. Braised chicken feet is one of my go-to order whenever visiting a dim-sum restaurant. ... Apologies if this has given you a fright but it's Halloween :D ...what's better to present real frightening food? I don't sugar-coat biscuits, cookies and cakes to Franken-fright anyway. As a first attempt to cook chicken feet soup, it was surprisingly a breeze to success. Really, all you need is time and patience to cook down the chicken feet till tender."

Finally, Foodycat says that her husband Paul doesn't like to share plates but this sandwich might be an exception. She says, "Pan Bagnat is a delicious sandwich, pretty much impossible to make in individual portions. It's basically a salad nicoise stuffed into a slightly hollowed out crusty loaf, which is then pressed to make slicing into tranches possible. You can do it with just grilled vegetables (aubergine, courgette, peppers) or with tomatoes, tuna, radishes, anchovies, olives... pretty much anything with that sort of Provencal robust flavour. It makes a great picnic dish and a really substantial lunch."

Thanks to all my friends who joined in this week with their soup and sandwich creations. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo for all of the details.

Cutest Halloween Cupcakes from Cake Couture
Chocolate with Chocolate Ganache & Marshmallow Cream Frosting.
Love the cyclops! ;-)

Have a happy, healthy, spooktacular week!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Roasted Ratatouille: A Not So Traditional Take on a Classic for Food 'N Flix: Ratatouille

A few years ago I took a trip to New York with friends, staying in a short-term rental apartment in the city. It was my favorite kind of trip ... shop, eat, shop, eat, shop for food, eat more food... you get the picture. A few days into the trip after a particularly long day of shopping and eating, I woke from a dead sleep to the pitch black room and sounds of rustling coming near the area of my shopping bags--like someone was rummaging through them. After gathering my nerves I reached for the bedside lamp and turned it on, not sure what to expect (burglar? ghost? good friend turned kleptomaniac?) The glow from the light showed no one but I got a quick glimpse of something large, black and furry darting for the closet door. Ewww! It was a rat! Interrupted in the process of looting my Dean & Deluca bag full of tea, chocolate and spices. I won't go into all the gory details but suffice it to say that the apartment managers were called, exterminating occurred, nothing was left on the floor anymore, all food stuffs of any kind ended up in the fridge in the kitchen, and the lights were left on all night for the remainder of my (now pretty sleepless) stay.

In a bright shiny technicolor Disney world, the rat would have been a somewhat cute little fella named Remy who dreams of becoming a chef and was simply searching for some quality ingredients in my shopping bag to whip me up a delicious breakfast or a steaming pot full of Ratatouille.

Unfortunately this was not "my" rat...

In the world I live in (aka the real world), it was instead a big dirty bugger who gnawed through a bag of gourmet salt and vinegar chips and some dried fruit (thankfully all tea, spices and chocolate were safely encased in tins). Rat bastard! So as much as I enjoy the warm-hearted animated Disney foodie movie Ratatouille, our Food 'N Flix pick for November, hosted by Beth Anne of The Seventh Level of Boredom, it still gives me the heebie-jeebies when I think too closely about rats hanging out and cooking food.

I wanted to make a Ratatouille for the film (luckily there are still plenty of zucchini and tomatoes lurking about here), but I wanted a little different take on the classic. Enter this Roasted Ratatouille from a classic northwest cookbook, Jerry Traunfeld's "The Herb Farm Cookbook." Instead of simmering away on the stove, the veggies and plenty of garlic are bathed in herbs and oil and roasted, then chopped and stuffed back into the eggplant shell and baked.

Jerry Traunfeld sats, "The traditional version of ratatouille, a late summer vegetable stew from the south of France, is cooked on the stovetop, but this dish is cooked entirely in the oven. The vegetables are brushed with a mixture of herbs and olive oil and then are roasted together on the same baking sheet. They come out of the oven tender, but not mushy, and imbued with the fragrance of the roasted herbs. You scoop the eggplant from its skin and chop it with all the rest of the roasted vegetables, mix everything together with some fresh basil, stuff it back into the eggplant shells and bake it again. The second time in the oven, all the flavors have a chance to meld."

Roasted Ratatouille
The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld
(Makes 4 to 6 Servings) (Or 2-3 as a main dish)

1 medium eggplant (about 1 1/4 lbs)
1 medium zucchini (about 4 oz)
1 large red bell pepper
1 lb ripe plum tomatoes (about 6)
1 head garlic
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh sage
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme
about 3/4 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
2 Tbsp fresh bread crumbs

1) Roasting the vegetables:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the eggplant in half, leaving the cap on. With the tip of a chef's knife, score the flesh in a diamond pattern, making cuts 1-inch apart and almost to the bottom without piercing the skin. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into 4 slices. Pierce the pepper in several places with the tip of a knife. Cut the tomatoes crosswise in half and poke out the seeds with your finger. Cut off the top quarter oh the head of garlic. Stir 1/4 cup oil, the rosemary, sage and thyme together in a small bowl.

Spread out the vegetables on the baking sheet and brush them with the herb mixture, coating all sides of the zucchini and pepper. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and black pepper and roast until the eggplant is tender, the zucchini begins to brown slightly, the pepper skin is blackened, the tomatoes are shriveled, and the garlic is soft, about 40 minutes. All of the vegetables should cook in approximately the same amount of time. Let the vegetables cool until you can handle them.

2) Assembling:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. With a large spoon, scoop out the flesh of the eggplant without breaking the skin. Peel and seed the red pepper under running water. Chop the eggplant pulp, red pepper, zucchini, and tomatoes coarsely and combine them in a large mixing bowl. Squeeze the garlic out of its skin into a small bowl and mash it with the back of a fork, then stir it into the chopped roasted vegetables along with the vinegar and basil. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Put the eggplant shells in a shallow baking dish in which they fit comfortably and spoon in the ratatouille, dividing it between the halves. At this point the dish can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Drain any liquid that accumulates in the baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the fresh breadcrumbs and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bake the ratatouille until it's heated through and starts to bubble around the edges, 25 to 35 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

Notes/Results: Not your normal stewish ratatouille but delicious all the same. Roasting the veggies brings out the flavor and the sweetness and the combination of the garlic and the rosemary, sage, thyme and basil is enticing. This will have to go down as another dish I made this week that isn't exactly photogenic but tastes really good. (Bonus--it was not made by a cartoon or real rat!) ;-) If there are not still zucchini around in your neck of the woods, this would be a great recipe to sub out your favorite veggies in based on the season--a winter squash or maybe some mushrooms would be nice. A make again recipe.

The deadline for this month's Food 'N Flix is October 31st, Beth Anne will be doing a round up shortly after or join us for November's pick, Simply Irresistible hosted by Cocina de Leslie.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mushroom Gravy over Mashed Potatoes (Tasty Vegan & Gluten-Free Comfort Food)

As starchy side dishes go, there are the rice or grain people, and then there are the potato people. As much as I try to eat brown rice or other whole grain sides to get the benefits from the fiber, when I REALLY want starchy comfort food I go for mashed potatoes. Gravy is a bonus. An even bigger bonus when it is this easy, "meaty" vegan Mushroom Gravy. Confirmed carnivore? That's OK. This gravy is tasty enough that no one will notice it's vegan plus it's more heart-friendly too.

Mushroom Gravy
From "The 30-Day Vegan Challenge by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau"
(Makes 3 Cups)

Patrick-Goudreau says, "Perfect for mashed potatoes, stuffed squash,, or biscuits and gravy. Puree it to make a smooth, creamy concoction, or leave it chunky. As the latter, this gravy is fantastic as a side dish, served over quinoa, or as a topping for Salisbury tofu or tempeh."

2 tsp non-hydrogenated non-dairy butter, such as Earth Balance
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 lb cremini mushrooms (about 20 mushrooms), thinly sliced
2 cups vegetable stock
3 Tbsp flour or other thickener such as cornstarch or arrowroot
2-3 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce (I used low-sodium, GF tamari)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the butter in a a large skillet and sauté the onion over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes more, until they soften and turn golden brown.

In the meantime, in a separate bowl, whisk the flour into the stock along with the tamari, thyme, and black pepper. When there appears to be no lumps, and it to the onion mixture and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until thickened, 5-10 minutes.

For smooth gravy, puree it in a blender or food processor. You may want to play a little with the flavor and add more tamari or pepper to taste. Reheat the mixture if necessary on low heat in a saucepan.

*Note: Wheat-free, if using cornstarch as thickener. (Also Gluten-free if using a GF tamari.)

Notes/Results: A delicious and satisfying gravy that you could serve anyone at your table (OK, maybe not the ones allergic to mushrooms, but everyone else at the table.) ;-) Use cornstarch and gluten-free tamari and it is great for those with allergies or intolerances. Serve it over meat for your meat-eaters or over meat-alternatives for your veg friends--it's very versatile. Not the most photogenic dish, but very tasty especially served over some organic buttercream potatoes whipped up with a little olive oil and creamy coconut milk for fully vegan comfort food. A fabulous side dish or, you could just fix a bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy and eat it for dinner... cross-legged... on the couch... maybe while watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills... (Not that I would do that of course. I'm just saying...) ;-)


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Penne con la Zucca (Penne with Pumpkin / Kabocha): Harvest Fare from Tessa Kiros

I got a small taste of fall being in Portland last week. I would have liked a little more sun but at least the crisp cool air and the bright colors from the turning leaves were there. Since moving to Hawaii over 10 years ago, fall is one of the things I miss the most--not that I am complaining or anything, it's just always been my favorite season. Food at least gives me the opportunity to create a little autumn magic, even when it's a bit sticky and humid out. This Penne con la Zucca, or Penne with Pumpkin from Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook by Tessa Kiros, makes me want to go put on a fuzzy sweater and jump in a pile of leaves. There's a little touch of fall in every bite.

I used a local kabocha squash (aka Japanese pumpkin) in my version--perhaps my favorite winter squash. I also added in some garlic and used a couple of links of organic Italian chicken sausage I had in the fridge. Combined with some multi-grain penne (5 grams of fiber), it is a satisfying bowl of pasta goodness. The kind of dish you'd enjoy on a cool night with a big orange Harvest Moon--our theme for I Heart Cooking Clubs this week, or sitting in front of the fan on a warm October night in Hawaii (a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do). Either way it's delicious. ;-)

Tessa Kiros says, "Pumpkins are used in a variety of dishes, including breads, jams, soups and pasta. Because they keep well once harvested, they often present on Tuscan tables during the winter months."

Penne con la Zucca (Penne with Pumpkin/Kabocha)
Adapted slightly from Twelve by Tessa Kiros
(Serves 6)

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
(I added 3 cloves of garlic, minced)
1 Italian sausage, about 80 g (3 oz), skin removed and crumbled or 80 g (3 oz) of unsmoked pancetta, chopped finely. (I used 2 organic Italian chicken sausages)
300 g (10.5 oz) skinned, cleaned pumpkin, peeled and sliced finely (I used kabocha)
400 g (14 oz) tin of peeled and pureed tomatoes with juice (I used Pomi chopped tomatoes)
1/2 small dried red chilli (I used a good-sized pinch of crushed red chili peppers)
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) penne or other short pasta
about 120 g (1 1/4 cups) grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and sauté the onion until it has softened. add the sausage or pancetta and sauté until it has browned lightly.

Cut the pumpkin slices into small pieces of about 2 cm (3/4 in) and add them to the pan. Add the tomato and chilli, and season with salt and pepper. Add about 750 ml (3 cups) of water and simmer for 30-40 minutes. The pumpkin should melt into the sauce a little and there should be enough liquid to coast the pasta. Add a little more water, if necessary, to prevent the sauce from sticking.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Cook the penne according to the packet instructions. Drain and mix into the sauce, tossing quickly to coat evenly. Put into individual pasta bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Notes/Results: This is one really lovely bowl of pasta. The sweet creaminess of the kabocha or pumpkin, the kick from the dried red chilli, the savory bits of sausage... Yum! I ended up cooking mine about an hour total to get it to a good creaminess, but beyond cutting up the squash it is pretty effortless to make--just simmering away and making the kitchen smell heavenly. Although I have not been cooking and eating much meat lately I was doing some freezer cleaning out and had some good organic Italian chicken sausage stashed away that I didn't want to waste so I used it in this dish. If you want to make it vegetarian, just omit the sausage entirely, use a veggie sausage or some minced mushrooms. As with most squash,kabocha is loaded with nutrients like beta carotene, iron, vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, and a few of B vitamins--perfect for building up your fall immunities. This is just a great dish all around and one I will make again.

You can check out what the other IHCC peeps made for their Harvest Moon dishes by going to the post here and following the links.

A pasta dish as good as this needs to be shared over at Ruth's Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this this week by Theresa of The Food Hunters Guide. Check out her round up on Friday of lots of delectable pasta creations.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Delectable Lentil Soup & a Review of "Eat Vegan on $4 a Day" for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

Yesterday was a long day. I had five 45-minute workshops about eating organic on a budget to deliver for a conference for military spouses. All in all it went really well, except for some issues with the projector for my presentation and the groups seemed engaged with lots of questions and comments--a speaker's dream. ;-) It felt really good to be able to give back in a small way to the families of those who fight for us. Still, at the end of the day I was exhausted, drained both physically and mentally. It was nice to come home to a great smelling slow cooker full of this Delectable Lentil Soup from "Eat Vegan on $4 a Day: A Game Plan for the Budget Conscious Cook" by Ellen Jaffe Jones. A little chopping and dumping things into the crock pot in the morning and a bowl of warm, healthy comfort was ready to be served up.

Today, when we all seem to be struggling to put good food on the table without emptying out our wallets, Eat Vegan on $4 a Day is a good resource. Author Jaffe Jones has a background in journalism and financial consulting, found her own way to a healthy lifestyle and now shares that with others by being a personal trainer and running coach as well as teaching healthy cooking classes. She has packed this softcover 148 page book with tips for budget conscious vegan cooking and plenty of recipes for vegan dishes made with simple, relatively inexpensive ingredients. I have to confess that I did not go price out the recipes to see if I truly could make them on $4 a day here in Hawaii (My guess is that I would probably need to add at least another 20% based on our higher prices), but owning a bevy of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks with sometimes difficult to find ingredients, I appreciate the fact that the majority of the recipe ingredients used in this book can be readily found in the grocery store and often on sale, making them much more budget friendly.

The book includes an introduction explaining why Jaffe Jones wrote the book (she got tired of hearing how food stamp allotments made it so people could only afford convenience items like like macaroni and cheese and Twinkies and knew she could feed them healthy fare for less), Where are the Broccoli Ads?--about how consumerism effects our eating choices, Financial Planning for Food Shopping, and vegan cooking basics in Plant Based Nutrition and Cooking 101. There are recipe chapters divided by breakfasts, soups, salads, salad dressings, entrees, spreads and sides, desserts and snacks.

Recipes I tagged to make are; Kid-Friendly Cocoa Puffs, Sweet Potato Muffins, Cuban Black Bean Soup, Five-Ingredient Salad for Pennies, Tabouli, Easy Miso Dressing, Quinoa Loaf, Brilliant Tofu Burgers, Taste of Thai Saute, Load 'Em Up Burritos, Veggie Sushi, Sweet Potato Skins, Wheat Berry Pilaf, Apple Crisp, Carrot Cake to Live For, Coconut "Ice Cream" and Chocolate-Cherries Jubilee Smoothie; although plenty of others caught me eye. Lentil soup were on my mind though and so I chose to try it first.

Ellen Jaffe Jones says, "Lentils are the fastest-cooking legumes. They are tasty and meaty all on their own, but in this recipe they are standout."

Delectable Lentil Soup
"Eat Vegan on $4 a Day"
(Makes 8 Servings / $.50 per serving)

7 cups water
1/2 lb Yukon gold potatoes, cubed
1 cup green or brown lentils 1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp vegetable broth powder
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp crushed dried rosemary
1 can (14.5 oz) unsalted crushed tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted), undrained
ground pepper
2 tsp red wine vinegar

Put the water, potatoes, lentils, carrots, celery, bay leaves, vegetable broth powder, garlic, basil, oregano, and rosemary in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Decrease the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring frequently, for 35-45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Add additional water if the soup is too thick. Stir in the tomatoes and pepper to taste Cook, uncovered, for at least 15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the soup from sticking to the bottom of the pot and adding more water if the soup is too thick. Remove the bay leaves and stir in the vinegar and salt to taste. Serve hot.

Tip: This recipe can easily be made in the slow cooker--it will take 6 to 7 hours to cook on the low setting. Your kitchen will be filled with fragrant smells when you return hours later.

A good, simple bowl of lentil soup. Nothing fancy but lots of flavor in the bowl. I chose to use my slow cooker on the soup so I chopped my vegetables a little larger so them would retain some of their texture after 7 hours in the cooker and they were just right for me. The spices, garlic and veggie stock add a lot but the touch of vinegar at the end is what brightens and enlivens the soup. Except for the potatoes, I had everything on hand to make the soup so it was economical. You don't have to point out to your family that this is a vegan soup--it is hearty and savory enough to satisfy your meat eaters, but if you are a cheese fan, a little fresh Parmesan would be lovely too. I would make this again.

Eat Vegan on $4 a Day would be good for vegetarians and vegans of course, those looking to reduce meat and processed food, people looking to learn some basic vegan recipes that don't require searching for unusual ingredients, and anyone looking to save some money and still eat well.

Disclosure Statement: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher and PTA Reader Rewards but I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions and cooking experiences are entirely my own.

We have a group of great recipes and cooks in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week, lets go take a look.

Heather of girlichef has her adaptation of Robin Miller's Southwest Chicken Soup to share and says, "This basic soup has great bones. I decided to add some corn, because I love those sweet little kernels bursting between my teeth.I also added garlic and some chicken broth (and used half the amount of tomatoes called for). You could also add some cooked beans with great success. With a few splashes of Tabasco and served alongside a grilled cheddar sandwich, this made a delicious...and quick...meal."

Since the weather where she lives is warm during the day but cool in the mornings and evenings, my friend Kat from Our Adventures in Japan has been enjoying some soupy morning meals like this Pumpkin Sweet Potato & Spinach Soup. She says, "Because it has been nippy in the mornings, we've started having soup for breakfast, with a crusty baguette or in this case, a slice of sweet potato sesame seed bread, it is a nice way to start the day. The other night I made this soup from leftover pumpkin, sweet potato and spinach. This was delicious, thick and a little sweet from the pumpkin and sweet potato."

Joanne from Eats Well With Others made an exotic Green Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Warm Spices and says, "It may be the worst shade of green known to man and ugly as hell. But you'll forget all that the second you put it into your mouth (I'm really struggling to resist a good hearty "that's what she said" right now. For the record.).With the infusion of coconut milk and all of my favorite warming spices (cardamom! cinnamon! cloves!) it is a soup to be reckoned with. And to top it all off, it's so healthy that I'm pretty sure it'll infuse you with any stamina that you were lacking."

Pam from Sidewalk Shoes has two entries this week, this hearty Barley, Beef and Mushroom Soup and a sandwich below. About the soup she says, "Please do not let this horrible photo dissuade you from making this soup. It was not the most photogenic soup, I’ve ever made. And yes, I am blaming the soup and not the photographer, okay. ... This was so good! The combination of dried mushrooms and fresh added layers of flavor and made the broth so rice and creamy. I used ground beef instead of chuck. Since I used the slow cooker, I browned my beef, put it in the slow cooker, sautéed the leeks, carrots and mushrooms and added them to the cooker with everything else and let it cook all day. Total comfort food!"

Janet from The Taste Space has been busy making salads all week and has three to share, starting with this Tarragon Green Bean and White Bean Salad. She says, "I hesitated about bringing another bean salad to the party, especially with tarragon, but once I tasted it I knew it would be alright. Green beans aren’t so scary, are they? This salad was simple. Lightly steamed green beans were paired with Great Northern white beans in a light tarragon vinaigrette. Like most of Sarah’s recipes, I decreased the oil, and in the hubbub of the party, I forgot to add the toasted hazelnuts. No worries, though, because the salad was gobbled up."

Janet's second salad is a White Bean and Barley Salad with Tomato-Pomegranate-Tarragon Sauce about which she says, "The super quick sauce was courtesy of The Breakaway Cook. Deep, rich flavours from pureed sun-dried tomatoes, pomegranate molasses and fresh tarragon. I substitute a dried apricot and agave for the apricot jam and decreased the oil without any problems. The pomegranate molasses added a subtle taste but really added that extra dimension and it worked wonderfully with the tarragon. I was so happy to love the sauce, because it made a ton!"

Finally Janet made this colorful Roasted Golden Beet and Lentil Salad with Mint and Cilantro and says, "Beets can be controversial. Love them or hate them. Personally, I like beets and really enjoy them after they’ve been roasted. Golden beets have a more mild, sweeter flavour, so I jumped with glee when I found them on sale. I figured the only place I could safely bring a beet salad would be to a Polish crowd. Adapted from Whole Living, this salad is quite simple. Lentils and beets. Ginger, mint, coriander and cilantro. OK, the ingredient list sounds long but it all worked seamlessly together. Nothing was overpowering. Everything worked well."

Pam from Sidewalk Shoes second entry this week is Giada's Tuna and Artichoke Panini. She says, "Oh my. Such goodness. If you are looking for a quick and easy sandwich (perfect for football watching), look no further. I’m not going to bother retyping the recipe, because I did not change a thing (other than to add only half the amount of artichokes called for, simply because I apparently can’t read a recipe correctly before going grocery shopping). So, follow the link above to the Food Network site, or look it up in your cookbook, and if you don’t have Giada’s Everyday Italian Cookbook, I highly recommend it."

Thanks to everyone who joined in with their delicious dishes. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays sidebar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Feta Fournou (Baked Feta) and Salata Marouli (Lettuce Salad): Simple Greek Fare

Coming back from a trip and trying to get back in the groove of things always makes me tired. It also makes me crave simple food like this little combination dinner of Feta Fournou (Baked Feta); slightly salty and creamy spread on warm pita and slice seeded baguette, partnered with Salata Marouli, a very basic salad of Romaine lettuce, dill and red onion. These recipes both some from Food From Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros, and they are also my entry for Peasant Food, our theme this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs. Peasant food means rustic dishes made with a few readily accessible, usually inexpensive ingredients, and these two recipes are a great and delicious example.

Kiros says, "This is nice made in small individual ceramic dishes. Mine are flat and about 4 1/4-inches in diameter and 1 1/4-inches high. Serve hot with bread."

Feta Fournou (Baked Feta)
Food From Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros
(Serves 2, or 4 as Part of a Meze)

7 oz feta, crumbled
1 1/2 oz green sweet pepper, finely sliced (about 1 small)
1/2 small tomato, chopped
1 to 2 Tbsp olive oil
2 good pinches of dried oregano
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Divide the feta between 2 small shallow ceramic dishes. Scatter the green pepper over the top and then the tomato over the pepper. Drizzle on the olive oil, crumble the oregano in and top with a good grind of black pepper. Bake until a bit crusty on the sides, about 20 minutes.

Kiros says, "So plain yet so good, and it goes well with many things. One of the plain salads always available in Greece. Use best-quality extra virgin olive oil."

Salata Marouli (Lettuce Salad)
Food From Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros
(Serves 6 to 8)

14 oz Romaine lettuce
2 Tbsp chopped dill
1 1/2 oz green onion or red onion, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 large lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the lettuce, shake it dry, then shred the leaves. Pat them dry with paper towels. Put in a bowl with the dill and onion. Dress with the olive oil and lemon juice just before eating. Add salt and pepper and toss lightly.

Notes/Results: A very easy to make dinner with bright flavors--perfect for enjoying while unwinding after a long day with a glass of wine. Both dishes have five ingredients not counting salt and pepper, and they go together quickly. Prepare the salad and warm and slice the bread while the feta bakes and it is on the table in under 30 minutes. The feta is of course as wonderful as you would imagine baked feta to be and it is delicious on the bread. The salad seems a little basic, but it tastes fresh and bright with the lemon and dill and goes perfectly with the baked feta. I would make both dishes again.

You can check out what the other IHCC participants made for Peasant Food week by going to the post and following the links.