Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bananas Foster Shake (Dairy Out, Booze Left In!) for Food 'N Flix: Last Holiday

Georgia Byrd dreams up all kinds of possibilities and records them in her journal. Working in cookware in a large department store, she longs to be a professional chef. She also has a crush on a handsome co-worker but can't seem to approach him beyond a little awkward flirting. Georgia doesn't have the courage to make her dreams of a fabulous life come true until a minor accident leads to an x-ray, that leads to a diagnosis of an incurable disease. Given a grim prognosis of just a few weeks to live, Georgia decides to set off on a holiday dream vacation and experience all of her many possibilities in the time she has left. Quitting her job and cashing in all of her savings, she splurges on a deluxe winter trip to a glorious and exotic European hotel and spa where she will live the life she has always wanted to live in the limited time she has left.

Last Holiday is a food-friendly comedy and it's our Food 'n Flix March selection, hosted by Leslie of La Cocina de Leslie. It's a funny, cute and sweet movie that although predictable in plot, shines from the effervescent performance of Queen Latifah. There is plenty to drool over in this movie--a luxury hotel, spa treatments, a new wardrobe for Georgia, LL Cool J--who is looking mighty fine, and of course some glorious food cooked by the world-renowned Chef Didier, played by a surprisingly charming Gérard Depardieu. A feel-good film that I saw when it first came out, it was fun to go back and revisit.

There was plenty of food inspiration in this film, but I was craving decadent Bananas Foster and since the Food Network did a cross promotion with the movie (Georgia is inspired by Emeril Lagasse), I went there to find the specific recipe from the film. Once on the Food Network site, it showed me "other recipes I might like" and I stumbled across the Thick Bananas Foster Shake from Sunny Anderson. One look at the accompanying photo of the caramel drizzled glass and I was hooked. It's a splurge-worthy treat--full of sugar, fat and alcohol--so very fitting for the movie theme. Since all that dairy isn't so good for my system and allergies, I decided to make a vegan version using non-dairy ingredients like coconut milk and coconut "ice cream." My changes to the recipe are in red below. It was completely fabulous with the changes, however you can make it any old way you please, but I do strongly suggest that you make it!

Thick Bananas Foster Shake (The Dairy-Free Version!)
Adapted from Sunny Anderson on Food Network
(Serves 4)

1 cup sugar
1 stick butter, cut into cubes (I used Earth Balance butter substitute)
1/2 cup heavy cream (I used canned lite coconut milk)
2 semi-ripe bananas, peeled and cut into chunks
1 pint vanilla ice cream (I used non-dairy coconut-vanilla ice cream)
1-ounce banana liqueur (recommended: 99 Bananas) +
1-ounce white rum (I used the same amount of a banana rum as that is what I had on hand)
(I added a large pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt)

Melt sugar in a small saucepot on medium heat. When sugar has melted to an amber color, add butter (or butter substitute), stirring until melted. Remove from heat and slowly stir in cream (or coconut milk), being careful not to splatter. (Add a pinch of sea salt)

Pour half the caramel into a bowl and set aside. Fold bananas into remaining caramel in saucepot and return to medium-high heat. Stir to combine and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Set aside and let cool slightly.

Add ice cream, banana-caramel mixture, banana liqueur and rum to a blender and blitz until smooth. Drizzle remaining caramel down the sides of glass goblets. Pour in shake and serve.

Notes/Results: Oh man is this a little bit of heaven in a glass! I defy, no... I double-defy anyone to drink this shake as made above and tell me it doesn't taste like a full of cream, ice cream and buttery caramel banana shake--if not even better from the tropical kiss of coconut flavor! It is just as super thick and creamy as a diary version would be. And, the only thing better than bananas and caramel is bananas with SALTY caramel--so I decided to add a pinch of coarse (pink Himalayan) sea salt to the caramel mixture. Just do it! Speaking of caramel, it is super easy to make--no need to fear it--just watch it, stir constantly, and add your cream or coconut milk very slowly. (And whatever you do, do not decide that it looks and smells so divine that you have to taste it and dip a finger into the caramel banana mixture before it cools down completely! Ouch! Not that I did that... I'm just saying...) This shake is very rich--I made half the recipe (my thighs didn't need any more), which made one big glass for photos, and I ended up being only able to drink about half. Of course I enjoyed the rest much later. If you want to make this child-friendly or are abstaining from alcohol, you could take out the banana liqueur/rum and replace with a banana-flavored extract. Not quite Bananas Foster that way, but it would still be tasty. Yum and yum! I will definitely make this again as a very occasional special indulgence.

***Note: Serving this tasty treat adorned with tropical drinker stirrers and cocktail accessories is optional but gives it a "holiday" feel. Plus, I firmly believe that if more people took the time to sit down and share a drink (whether containing alcohol or not), with a cocktail monkey on the glass there would be fewer fights, violence, world wars, etc. It is impossible not to be happy when cocktail monkeys are involved! ;-)

The deadline for March's Food 'n Flix is today (procrastination thy name is Deb!) and Leslie will be doing the roundup on her blog very soon. If you like movies and enjoying cooking dishes inspired by them, consider joining us for April's pick: The Big Night, hosted at spabettie. I predict lots of luscious Italian dishes for that one.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Book Tour Stops Here: Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps and Peanut Seitan Noodles

Whether for health reasons, environmental concerns, a love of animals, or viewings of the films Food Inc. or Forks Over Knives, more and more people are changing their diets and eliminating (or at least eating less) meat and animal products. Although I am not a strict vegan or vegetarian, or anything with a label on it, I follow a plant-strong, meat, poultry and dairy free diet the majority of the time. It's for a lot of different reasons, some from the list above, but mainly because my body just feels better eating this way. Sure, there are some things I miss (bacon and cheese) and some things that I will occasionally veer off the path for (good cheese, sushi or good local fish, and the occasional baked good made with butter and eggs), but those are just occasional side trips. In addition to how it makes me feel and how it has relieved many of the issues with allergies and asthma that plagued me for so long, I really love that eating this way has re-energized my cooking, "forcing" me to be more creative, and I love the food I eat.

Now, I love to cook, I am not afraid to try new things and I am comfortable experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients which makes it a bit easier. Still, when I first started dabbling in vegetarian and vegan cooking and eating, I had to do a lot of research and a lot of trial and error to find the right ingredients and products I liked. The Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps by bestselling author Kim Barnouin, takes much of the work out of navigating your grocery or specialty food store and is a small but comprehensive guide to vegan eating and shopping.

Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps is not a cookbook, although there are ten recipes contained in it. It is a spiral-bound handy reference guide to take shopping with you rather than a book that you read cover-to-cover. It is full of tips and tricks for vegans as well as for those who may not yet be ready or even wanting to take the complete plunge into a vegan lifestyle, but who are wanting to try it out. Perhaps a weekend vegan improving their health and reducing their meat intake. (Kim has that covered in a Weekend Vegan chapter with menu ideas, snacks and a few of her favorite recipes.) There are lists of places to shop and vegan restaurants in different cities, but there are also vegan menu options at popular chain restaurants--good when your friends/family don't share your eating goals. Other handy chapters cover what to eat in airports, how to decode a label to make sure the product you are putting in your hard doesn't have any hidden animal ingredients, and tips on being a healthy vegan. The real meat (tofu?) of the book however, are the extensive "swaps" chapters, with lists or the best swaps for dairy, eggs and meats, condiments, dry goods and pantry items, frozen foods, desserts and baking, and beverages. Here Kim gives detailed advice on the best-tasting vegan products and the brands she likes and trusts because of the quality and type of ingredients. Obviously many of these are processed or at least somewhat processed products and Kim readily admits that the products are not all "squeaky clean" and some contain a few artificial or processed ingredients that she doesn't love but that "...we're human. Sometimes we need a piece of soy beef jerky or a calorie-packed salad dressing to get us through PMS or a shitty breakup. The point is to give you options." And, options do abound in this handy book. I consider myself a fairly savvy shopper and many of the items and brands in the book are ones I use and love, but the host of sticky tabs I marked the book with show that there are quite a few new products for me to find and try.

It's not a perfect book. Some of the brands and items she suggests are regional products that may be hard for the person in a remote area to find unless they ship them in. Some of the stores, restaurants and markets she names are specific only to certain areas (although I was impressed that the all-vegetarian Hawaii grocer Down to Earth is listed). If you are familiar with any of the other Skinny Bitch books (Skinny Bitch, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook, etc.) that Kim co-authored or authored, the tone is the similar "in-your-face" tart and blunt style. This can be fun and entertaining, but it can get grating after a while. The original book that started it off Skinny Bitch, was kind of a call-to-arms about the benefits of a vegan diet so strong anti-meat messages were expected. With the Book of Vegan Swaps, I have to assume that the person buying it and carting it around the grocery store is at least somewhat bought into the vegan lifestyle, so the constant litany of the evils of animal products began to annoy me. I got it, I know, let's move on...

Overall, I think this book is a good resource, especially for a new vegan or someone wanting to experiment with different, healthier ingredients or a vegan life-style. I spend time working with individuals and groups looking to improve their diets and much of that is helping them learn to plan, shop and cook so this book will be a useful tool and addition to my reference shelves.

Author Notes: Kim Barnouin holds a master of science in holistic nutrition. A former model, she is the author or coauthor of seven books and has successfully counseled models, actors, athletes, and other professionals using the Skinny Bitch method. She lives in Los Angeles.

Note: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher HarperOne through TLC Book Tours but I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts, opinions and experiences cooking from it are my own.

For my dish inspired by the book, there were ten recipes to choose from in the book itself. I really wanted to make the Cherry Jam-Filled Muffins or the Mint Chocolate Whoopee Pies, but there has been far too much baking and candy-making going on at my house lately. Instead I selected another favorite dish of mine, savory noodles with a peanut butter sauce. In Kim's version, Peanut Seitan Noodles, seitan plays a starring role. When I first started experimenting with it, seitan freaked me out. It just doesn't look that pretty in the package (although raw chicken or other raw meat are pretty unappealing to look at too), and like tofu, there is not a lot of flavor to speak of. That is actually the beauty of seitan--whatever flavor you want can be added to it and the texture is like meat. It is made from wheat gluten and has about the same amount of protein as beef and twice the protein of tofu--great info for my mom who thinks that I can't possibly be getting enough protein eating this way. It's also low fat and of course, since it isn't an animal product, there is no cholesterol.

Kim says, "This is one of my favorite dishes hands down. You can eat it hot for dinner and cold the next day for lunch. It is that versatile and flavorful. On top of that, it’s quick, healthy, and easy to make. The kids will even love it—just change up the pasta shapes for more fun and variety."

Peanut Seitan Noodles
Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps by Kim Barnouin
(Serves 6)

8 oz whole-wheat spaghetti (I used whole wheat fettucine)
1 cup snow peas
2 Tbsps sesame oil
1 cup seitan, cubed
1/2 cup carrots, shredded
1/4 cup cucumbers, chopped (English or Persian)
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 scallion, thinly sliced

For the Dressing:
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsps soy sauce or Braggs Liquid Aminos
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp rice vinegar

Cook the pasta according to package directions; add the snow peas to the boiling water about 1 minute before pasta is about cooked, then drain. Heat the oil in a medium-size skillet and add the seitan; sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the dressing and whisk until well combined and smooth. Add the noodles, snow peas, carrots, cucumbers, and peanuts to the dressing and toss until ingredients are well coated. When done, add the seitan to the noodle mixture. Top each serving with sesame seeds and scallions.

Notes/Results: Easy and very tasty, with good peanutty flavor. The only peanut butter I had in the house was a natural, freshly ground one, so my sauce wasn't as smooth as it would have been with creamy peanut butter but the flavor was all there. I like the crunch of the fresh veggies and added larger quantities to the dish including adding a half of a red pepper, julienned. The seitan crisps up in the pan and tastes great in the mix. Texturally, the cubed seitan is like pieces of pork or chicken--very satisfying. (If you are scared to try seitan, this is a great starter dish that makes it approachable.) Instead of garnishing with sesame seeds which I couldn't seem to find my package of (someone's freezer needs a serious clean out), I just sprinkled some extra peanuts on top. As Kim points out, this dish works both warm and cold but I prefer it right out of the fridge. I would make this again, maybe with something to give it a bit of spice for an extra flavor kick.

I am sending these tasty noodles over to Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by Helen of Fuss Free Flavors who will be rounding up a bevy of delicious pasta creations on her blog on Friday.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lemon-Blueberry White Chocolate Fizzy Truffles: Celebrating My Inner Child with Cook the Books: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

My inner child and I hang out a lot. We like Disney movies. We think popcorn makes a perfectly fine dinner and that chocolate should be its own food group. We will take mashed potatoes over most any side dish--or we will just eat a bowl of them for dinner. We like to stay up late and read under the covers--even though we should be getting plenty of sleep. We pretty much do what we want, when we want to do it. So when I selected Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl as the February/March pick for Cook the Books (the best bi-monthly virtual foodie book club out there hosted by Rachel, Jo and I), and I told everyone it was "to help us get in touch with our inner child," it was petty easy to locate mine.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a book I frequently toted home from the school library, along with Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, until I got my own Scholastic paperback copies. Even as a child I loved how fantastical, dark and somewhat inappropriate it was. I loved the story about how "honest, obedient, loyal, trustworthy, brave, good, kind and starving" Charlie Bucket wins one of five golden tickets to visit Mr. Wonka's secret chocolate factory along with four (very bad and spoiled) other children to discover the wonders contained there. I liked the moral at its core about how bad behavior by children and adults results in terrible (but darkly humorous) things happening to them, while having a good character and doing the right thing leads to good and magical things happening. It's karma baby!

I wanted to be like Charlie Bucket (just not the poor, starving, living with six adults in a tiny freezing cold house part), and visit Mr. Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory and see The Chocolate Room, with it's pure chocolate river, mint grass and candied buttercups. I wanted to drink some Fizzy Lifting Drinks, suck on an Everlasting Gobstopper and wonder over the Square Candies That Look Round. And, once Mr. Wonka got the kinks worked out of course, I wanted to try a stick of the most "amazing and fabulous and sensational gum in the world!" from The Great Gum Machine and enjoy a splendid three-course meal in a little gray stick of chewing gum.

Although it is one my favorite parts in the book (and the movies--both of which my inner child and I own. BTW: We like the original Gene Wilder movie version best, my inner child and me), I definitely did not want to be like Violet Beuaregarde and chew the gum, turn purple and swell up into a huge round blueberry and be rolled off to the juicing room by ten Oompa-Loompas. Still, I took some inspiration from obnoxious gum-chewing Violet, along with those Fizzy Lifting Drinks to create Lemon-Blueberry White Chocolate Fizzy Truffles.

These truffles are not quite as "pretty" as I was hoping for. My idea for them came from standing in line at Whole Foods and seeing a small display of lemon Vita Rocks (a vitamin version of pop rocks). Pop Rocks = popping/fizzing = fun! I knew I wanted to make a truffle of some sort and lemon pairs well with white chocolate. Lemon also goes well with blueberry, and blueberries led right to Violet Beuaregarde, so I decided to place a whole fresh blueberry in the center of each lemony truffle and top with the Vita Rocks and some candied violets for some pretty yellow and purple truffle treats. Of course a smart person would have purchased the Vita Rocks then and there but I had already paid and didn't want to go back. Of course you can guess what happened when I went back a week later... they were out of all Vita Rocks. A quick trip to a nearby candy store netted me some tropical and strawberry Pop Rocks so it was game on--just a bit more multi-colored and with no vitamins. ;-) In addition to the sprinkling on top of the Pop Rocks, I placed a few "rocks" inside each truffle ball with the blueberry, and the result is a nice slow "crackling" kind of pop at the first bite, then a lingering tingly sparkle that along with the juicy fresh berry, provides a bit of uplifting refreshment at the end of the sweet truffle. Lightly lemony, sweet and very pleasing to both me and my inner child!

The white chocolate lemon truffle base recipe was adapted from here.

Lemon-Blueberry White Chocolate Fizzy Truffles
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 24 truffles)

Ingredients for: White Chocolate Lemon Truffle Base:
1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp heavy cream
grated zest of 1 lemon
9 oz good quality white chocolate, finely chopped
pinch of salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into thin slices
2 tsp freshly-squeezed, strained lemon juice
a drop or two of yellow food coloring (optional)

Ingredients for Lemon-Blueberry White Chocolate Fizzy Truffles
White Chocolate Lemon Truffle Base
about 2 dozen fresh blueberries, washed gently and dried completely
2 packs Vita Rocks (lemon) or Pop Rocks (color/flavor of your choice)
granulated white sugar to roll truffles into
candied violets (optional)

Directions for White Chocolate Lemon Truffle Base:
In small, heavy, non-reactive saucepan, combine the heavy cream and lemon zest. Heat over low, until the cream begins to simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, cover tightly with a plate or lid and let stand for 20-25 minutes.

Combine white chocolate pieces, butter slices and a pinch of salt in a heatproof bowl. Reheat the lemon cream mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it returns to a simmer. Remove the mixture from heat and strain through a fine-meshed strainer into the bowl with the white chocolate mixture. Press down on the lemon zest left in the strainer with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible from it.

Place the mixture over a double boiler or a pot (sized so bowl of white chocolate mixture rests on top easily) of warm water on low heat (water must not touch bottom of bowl). Stir the white chocolate mixture frequently just until almost melted, then remove the bowl from the warm pot and stir until the chocolate mixture is completely melted and smooth. Carefully stir in the lemon juice and a drop or two of yellow food coloring if using, and transfer the mixture to a small bowl. Chill at least 4 hours, covering the bowl tightly once the mixture is cold.

Directions for making Lemon-Blueberry White Chocolate Truffles:
On 3 small dry plates, place granulated sugar, Vita Rocks/ Pop Rocks, and candied violets if using--placing each item on a separate plate. Using a small cookie scoop or spoon, scoop enough white chocolate to form small balls of about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Insert one blueberry and a pinch of Vita Rocks/Pop Rocks inside chocolate and roll the chocolate around the center until the blueberries are covered. Roll the filled truffle in granulated sugar until lightly coated. Dip the top of the truffle ball into the Vita Rocks/Pop Rocks and garnish with candied violets if using. Firm up in refrigerator before serving. Store truffles airtight in refrigerator for a few days or freeze for longer storage.

(Note: Pop Rocks are most effective when fresh and will lose some of their popping action after time. Keep hands very dry while working with Pop Rocks or they will be activated. If you live in a humid climate--prepare yourself for random popping as some of the Pop Rocks may pop while they are sitting on the plate. I jumped!) ;-)

This was a fun trip back to childhood with both the book and with the fizzy truffles. I was excited to find a 1964 hardback edition of the book (just like I used to borrow from the school library) at Powell's Books on my trip to Portland back in October. This book is fun for all ages and a good, easy read that puts me in a happy place and is back in my permanent book collection.

I am sneaking this into Cook the Books right before the deadline (bad host!) and so I'll be rounding up all the wonderful entries on the Cook the Book site in a day or two. I'll also be announcing our wonderful judges for this round on that post too.

If you like to read and cook, come join in our April-May round when we will be reading The United States of Arugula, hosted by Jo of Food Junkie Not Junk Food.

Do you have a favorite book from your childhood?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Simple Turkish Lentil Soup for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

I made this simple Turkish Lentil Soup twice yesterday. Once because I chose it from the Whole Foods website to make and sample at their Whole Planet Foundation event. And the second time because the little "taste for seasoning" bite that I managed to snag before the soup was demolished by happy samplers made me want more of it. As in my own bowl. Enjoyed with some toasted pita and some peace and quiet rather than extolling the quick cooking virtues of red lentils to the shopping masses.

When I found myself craving more of this soup and not the veggie soup I was going to make, and finding myself sent home with some leftover red lentils and tomato paste from the demo, I changed plans and using some freezer garlic stock, I whipped up a half-batch for dinner.

You can find this recipe along with other global recipes inspired by Whole Planet microcredit clients at the Whole Foods website here.

Whole Foods says, "This version of Turkey's classic lentil soup is home cooking at its best: Simple, flavorful and nutritious. Make it a complete meal by adding a tangy salad and your favorite flatbread or a crusty loaf of whole-grain bread. This recipe was inspired by Whole Planet Foundation microcredit clients."

Turkish Lentil Soup
from Whole Foods Market

(Serves 6)

1 1/3 cups (about 8 oz) red lentils, picked through and rinsed
7 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (I used a version of this stock from my freezer)
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced (I used about double the carrot)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin (I used double)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
Lemon wedges and chopped mint for serving (optional)

In a large pot, combine lentils, broth, onion, carrot, garlic, tomato paste, cumin and cayenne and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, until vegetables and very tender and lentils begin to fall apart, about 25 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and use an immersion blender to quickly blend the soup until it is creamy but not completely puréed. Or, you can carefully blend about half the soup in a blender, but use caution when blending hot liquids: blend only in small batches, hold the lid down firmly with a kitchen towel, and begin blending on low speed. Add salt and serve with lemon wedges and a garnish of mint if desired.

Nutrition Per serving: 200 calories (10 from fat), 1g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 480mg sodium, 34g total carbohydrate (8g dietary fiber, 4g sugar), 12g protein
(Deb says--you can reduce the sodium by using homemade sodium-free stock, adding just a touch of sea salt and squeezing in some lemon to brighten and replace the salt.)

Notes/Results: Simple and full of flavor, this is a great soup for when you want something satisfying on the table fairly quickly as it can be prepared in about 30 minutes and just requires a bit of chopping up a carrot, onion and garlic and then tossing everything into the soup pot. I added extra carrot and cumin to the recipe--the cumin adds that smoky flavor that compliments the lentils so well. I served the soup without the lemon at the store demo and it was very good (the samples went, people came back for more, red lentils moved off the shelves and recipe copies were grabbed up--so a definite success), but I would recommend adding the optional lemon juice as it brightens up the flavor and gives the soup it's extra flavor "oomph." I partially blended the soup with the immersion blender but you can blend it all, or leave it unblended, depending on your preferences. I will make this again.

I'm going to link this delicious soup up with Sunday Night Soup Nights at Easy Natural Foods. Check out the Rosemary Lamb Stew by SNSN's host, Debbie, in the Souper Sundays roundup below. ;-)

Now let's check out the selection of soups and salads we have waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week:

Janet of The Taste Space has a belly-warming Celeriac and Pumpkin Curry. She says, "Celeriac. Pumpkin. Could I be sharing any more autumn-like produce? As I am munching away through my freezer before our next move, I am rediscovering meals that I should have blogged about but for some reason, I haven’t! Typically, potatoes are used in Indian cooking but here, celeriac adds a different dimension which complements the sweetness from the pumpkin. I also loved the addition of the spinach thrown in for good green measure."

Tigerfish of Teczcape - An Escape to Food made Edamame, Tofu Soup with Leaf Mustard and says, "One of the best ways to use preserved/pickled leaf mustard which can be pretty intense, is to combine with another ingredient which is relatively bland - and create a perfectly balanced flavorful dish. Edamame (considered immature soybeans) and tofu (processed soybeans) both considered part of the legume family, will be suitable to complement the leaf mustard.This vegetarian dish can be served as soup (dunk in noodles if you wish to make a one-dish) or also as a side-dish best paired with rice or congee/porridge."

Corina of Searching for Spice has a pair of soups to share. First up, this Sugar Snap Pea and Asparagus Soup, about which she says, "I found this over at Always Eat on the Good China, who I was paired with for Taste and Create. I made a smaller quantity and simplified the method slightly but the only change in the ingredients was to use stock instead of water and yoghurt instead of sour cream to serve. I always have yoghurt in the fridge but wasn’t quite organised enough to get any sour cream. I loved the fresh end result. It tastes of exactly what it is – pea and asparagus, and is a lovely colour too!"

Corina's second soup is a hearty Finnish Salmon Soup. She says, "...the potato, parsnip and salmon soaked up the flavour of the all spice and were delicious. I don’t often use all spice but it was a flavour I could happily enjoy without needing other herbs or spices. So, it was definitely a success, and a recipe I wouldn’t hesitate to make again. Unlike some soups which are not filling enough for a whole meal, it makes a great one-pot meal, not needing any bread to go with it, although of course you could have some if you wanted."

Please join me in welcoming Debbie of Easy Natural Food at Souper Sundays for the first time this week with an aromatic Rosemary Lamb Stew. Debbie says, "The rosemary part of this stew is inspired by the copious quantity of rosemary that is growing along the sunny side of our house. I have to prune it back several times a year, but lately I’ve been taking sprigs of the tender new growths and tossing them in stews. This stew is so tasty, and I was surprised how much of a sweetness the root vegetables gave it." (BTW: Debbie has a seasonal weekly soup event for soups made with homemade stocks and broths called Sunday Night Soup Night. If you have a soup that fits, check out her weekly post and linky.) Welcome Debbie!

Heather of girlichef has a savory Cabbage and White Bean Soup to share and says, "While I do usually prefer brothy soups, the occasional thick...or thicker than brothy...ones add variety. So I don't dismiss them. Especially when they're beautifully beany. This one in particular is thickened with both white beans and potatoes that are cooked until extremely tender and falling apart and then mashed to add body to the broth. It becomes creamy and luscious which I think makes the perfect backdrop for the bold flavors of cabbage, rosemary, Italian sausage, Parmesan, and balsamic vinegar that actually work together in harmony rather than compete as it seems they should."

And one salad this week, Chelsea's Citrus & Spice Seared Salmon Salad from Jill of from a recipe from her daughter. Jill says, "The bold taste of the super green, antioxidant, calcium and fiber rich baby spinach leaves, the Vitamin C laden broccoli and the succulent and tender asparagus which is now being heralded as an anti-inflammatory food because it provides a truly unique combination of anti-inflammatory nutrients, are not only an incredibly healthful combo, but this salad bed tastes like the first days of Spring that we are enjoying here in Colorado now. The wild salmon is considered to be healthful due to the fish’s high protein, high omega-3 fatty acids, and high vitamin D content and it’s beautiful orange pink color looks spectacular on a bed of bright greens."

Wonderful dishes this week--thanks to everyone who joined in. If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sunday logo for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Take a sneakpeeq and Win: A sneakpeeq Gift Card Giveaway at Kahakai Kitchen!

Have you heard of sneakpeeq yet? It's the largest and fastest growing social shopping company on Facebook with over 600 brand partners and a daily group of cool products and deals (mainly in the fashion, home decor and gourmet food categories), that are available for a limited time at great prices. As their tagline says sneakpeeq is, "All the things you love, but haven’t discovered."

You can "peeq" at the prices to see what kind of deal you get and by sharing cool finds and other activities, you can earn badges that will give you additional rewards and discounts. I have been drooling over several fun items that are currently posted and I know everyone loves a little shopping treat, so I jumped at the chance when sneakpeeq offered to sponsor a gift card giveaway to one lucky reader and a 20% discount to new members who sign up from Kahakai Kitchen's special link.

When it comes to this giveaway, everybody wins because sneakpeeq is offering everyone who signs up for sneakpeeq and enters the giveaway 20% off your first purchase just for signing up. When you sign up following the special link below, you’ll be entered into the giveaway with a chance to win a $20 sneakpeeq gift card to use on your purchase. $20 actually goes a long way in sneakpeeq’s low-priced boutiques so you'll have a blast shopping and spending it.

Giveaway Details:
  • You enter the giveaway by clicking on this unique link and joining Sneakpeeq. (It's quick, easy and free to join.)
  • The special 20% off discount and a chance to win a gift card is only available to NEW sneakpeeq members who join using the above special link. If you are already signed up or sign in on the site without using the above link, you won't be eligible for the drawing. (And that would be a shame--so use that special link!)
  • Sneakpeeq is currently limited to the United States so only US residents and shipping addresses will be eligible. (Sorry International friends!) ;-(
  • Enter this giveaway by Thursday, April 5th at 11:59 PM HST.
  • The winner will be drawn from all eligible readers who sign up via the special link above and will be announced on Friday, April 6th!
  • Good Luck!
I am especially coveting the Creature Cups with the octopus inside and all the The Meadow salt samplers and the fondue set in a salt bowl pictured above.

What looks fun to you?

Note: sneakpeeq is providing a gift card and discount but I received no compensation of any kind for hosting this giveaway.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tomato and Walnut Pesto on Pappardelle: Quick and Easy Comfort Food

Perhaps this is not the prettiest pasta dish out there. Pappardelle is usually best with a smoother consistency sauce and this coarse Tomato and Walnut Pesto adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros would have been better suited on the spinach ravioli I had in the fridge, or the Ricotta Gnocchi recipe it's paired with in the book. The heart wants what the heart wants however, and my heart was wanting pappardelle (it's my favorite). What it lacks in eye appeal, this one makes up for in taste with the wide ribbons of noodles coated in thick flavorful pesto.

I adapted this recipe a bit--reducing the olive oil, upping the garlic, making it dairy free with a soy-based parmesan, swapping out the pine nuts for some roasted walnuts, changing up some of the ingredient amounts, and topping it with a layer of seasoned panko. My changes are in red below.

Tomato-Walnut Pesto
Adapted from the Tomato Pesto recipe in Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
(Serves 4)

1/3 cup olive oil (reduced to 3 Tbsp)
2 cloves garlic, peeled (increased to 4 cloves)
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes (used organic/no salt tomatoes)
salt (and freshly ground black pepper)
1/2 cup basil leaves, torn
4 Tbsp pine nuts (used 1/3 cup toasted walnuts)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (used 1/4 cup vegan soy parmesan)
(topped it with about 1/4 cup of Italian-seasoned panko breadcrumbs)

Heat 1 tablespoon olive in a medium saucepan with two cloves of garlic. When it starts to sizzle, add the canned tomato. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Simmer over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, periodically crushing it up with a wooden spoon, until the tomato thickens, reduces, and becomes smooth.

Chop the other garlic cloves and add it along with the torn basil leaves and nuts to a food processor or mini chop. Pulse mixture until it's finely chopped, then add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the cheese, and pulse until just mixed. Stir basil mixture into the tomato sauce and heat through. Remove the whole garlic cloves before serving.

Mix with pasta and top with additional cheese or crispy panko.

Note: If you are making the tomato pesto in advance, keep the pesto separate and add to the heated tomato sauce just before serving.

Notes/Results: The pesto has great tomato and basil flavor. I like how the canned tomatoes cooked down into an almost "jammy" state and blend into the basil-nut mixture. I like the texture that walnuts give pesto and I prefer using them to the standard pine nuts. This is a quick and easy dish to make--you can boil the pasta and make the pesto while the tomatoes simmer away and then just toss it all together and serve with a simple salad. Simple and tastes great, I would make this again.

We are "Getting a Little Nutty, or Seedy" at I Heart Cooking Clubs this week. You can check out all the other nut and seed-filled dishes by going to the post and following the links.

I am also sending this dish to Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by Juli of Pictures of All My Princesses. Stop by her blog on Friday to see some fabulous pasta creations there.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Creamy Greens Soup with Chickpea & Spinach-Artichoke Crostini from "Quick-Fix Vegan" for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Sure, St. Patrick's Day was yesterday, but eating green is good all year round. Creamy Greens Soup served with Chickpea and Spinach-Artichoke Crostini are a great healthy and tasty way to get some dark, leafy greens into your diet and get back on track if your holiday festivities included over-indulging in things like corned beef and green beer.

I received a copy of Quick-Fix Vegan: Healthy, Homestyle Meals in 30 Minutes or Less by Robin Robertson to review a few months ago and for some reason I overlooked it until this week. Tragic, because I love Robin Robertson's vegetarian and vegan recipes and I have several of her books which are always good sources of easy and tasty recipes. Quick-Fix Vegan is no exception. The recipes in this book are designed to be cooked in 30 minutes or less and use easy-to-find ingredients.

There are 150 recipes in the book like Moroccan Pumpkin Hummus, Jerk-Spiced Kale Crisps,
Green Chile-Tofu Migas, Coconut-Curry Chickpeas and Cauliflower, Rotini with Creamy Avocado Sandwiches, and Herb Sauce, Skillet Lasagna, Last-Minute Laksa, Chesapeake Chickpea Sandwiches, Seitan Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce, Deconstructed Bahn Mi Salad, Soba Slaw, Indian Shepherds Pie, Mac and Cheezeburger Bake, Better than Bechamel, Butterscotch Apple Cookies, and Shortcut Baklava. In addition to the recipes, there is an introductory chapter on setting up a "quick-fix" vegan pantry and some basic recipes to make convenience foods from scratch.

You don't have to be a vegan to enjoy the recipes in this book--there is a little something for everyone. It would be a good cookbook to start cooking and eating a more plant-based diet, or just dabble into a few meat-free Mondays, but there is enough variety in recipes to satisfy someone with more experience and more vegan cookbooks on their shelf. Quick-Fix Vegan is a compact paperback book, and there are not photos of the recipes, but the instructions are clear and easy to follow. I'm pulling this one out of the stacks to a more prominent place on the shelf as there are a lot more recipes I want to explore beyond the soup and crostini that I "road tested" for my review.

Robertson says, "Inspired by a Southeast Asian side dish made with spinach and coconut milk, this easy and healthful soup makes a delicious first course or accompaniment to a sandwich or other hearty fare. To make it more substantial on its own, stir in some cooked quinoa and white beans a few minutes before serving time."

Creamy Greens Soup
From Quick-Fix Vegan by Robin Robertson
(Serves 4)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups coarsely chopped greens, such as spinach, chard, kale, or a combination (9 oz)
2 cups vegetable broth (I used this one minus the ginger)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (13-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk, or 1 1/2 cups non-dairy milk

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, cover, and cook until softened, 5 minutes. Add the greens, stirring to wilt, about 3 minutes. Stir in the broth and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are soft and the flavors are well combined, about 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat and puree with an immersion blender. Or, transfer to a stand blender or food processor and puree in batches, then return to the pot. Stir in the coconut milk and heat until hot. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Robertson says, "Made with a few pantry ingredients, this terrific appetizer takes only minutes to prepare. The creamy and piquant topping, made with chickpeas, artichokes, and sun-dried tomatoes, is positively addictive served on toasted ciabatta bread slices. In addition to crostini, the topping can also be spread onto wrap sandwiches or served as a dip with crackers."

Chickpea and Spinach-Artichoke Crostini
From Quick-Fix Vegan by Robin Robertson
(Serves 6)

2 to 3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups packed baby spinach or arugula1
1/2 cups home-cooked chickpeas, or 1 (15-oz) can, drained and rinsed
1 (6-oz) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf ciabatta bread, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
ground fennel seed (optional)
1 basil sprig for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a food processor, mince the garlic with the spinach. Add the chickpeas, artichokes, tomatoes, basil, lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper. Process until almost smooth. Add up to 2 tablespoons of water if the mixture seems dry, then pulse to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Arrange the bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Serve at room temperature, or warm to bring out the flavors. To warm the topping, microwave for 1 minute or heat in a small saucepan over low heat, then transfer to a bowl. When ready to serve, sprinkle with fennel, if using, and top with the sprig of basil. Spread the topping onto the toasted bread and serve.

Notes/Results: Coconut milk and leafy greens are a perfect pairing. The soup is creamy and full of flavor. A good base broth is critical in this one. Obviously you save time by using a store-bought broth but it's worth an extra 30 minutes to make your own or better yet, have some homemade broth stockpiled in the freezer. I used my favorite go-to garlic stock so there was plenty of good garlic flavor in the soup. My greens were a mix of about 4 cups of curly kale and 1 cup of baby spinach to round it out. Simple and delicious. The crostini are a wonderful pairing with the soup as the tangy flavor adds a bright contrast to the savory greens. The spread is almost pesto-like and easy to make out of the pantry with a trip to the herb garden for some basil. I would make both recipes again.

By the way, I realized when writing this post, that this Creamy Greens Soup is the 200th soup posted on Kahakai Kitchen which I think is fun and kind of crazy too. ;-) Yay Soup!

I am also linking this soup to Sunday Night Soup Night, a seasonal weekly soup event hosted by Debbie at Easy Natural Food. You can never have too many Debs or Debbies celebrating soups in my opinion! ;-)

Note: I received a copy of Quick-Fix vegan from the publisher (Andrews McMeel) but I received no monetary compensation to review it. As always, my thoughts, feedback and experiences cooking from it are entirely my own.

This week we have lots of soups, a couple of salads and even a sandwich waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen. Let's take a look.

Janet of The Taste Space made a hearty Finnish Double Pea Stew with Apples this week and says, "It is a wonderful merriment of a hearty stick-in-your-ribs winter split pea stew combined with a sprinkling of spring with fresh (or in my case, frozen) peas (I used the sweeter petit pois from President’s Choice). Apples also add a hit of sweetness without being too discernible. The vinegar and mustard temper and balance the soup extremely well along with a whiff of nutmeg and coriander. The flavours are not over-the-top but they marry very well."

Please join me in welcoming Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe, making her first appearance at Souper Sundays all the way from Melbourne, Australia with Pumpkin Facon Soup, She says, "Those who have read my previous post about tofu bacon will be aware that this is my latest culinary love. One problem I have with it is the lovely marinade that is leftover after I cook the facon (fake bacon). I hate to throw out food, especially one with maple syrup that is quite pricey. I struck upon the idea of adding it to the pumpkin soup. The white miso complemented the flavours nicely. It was a delicious creamy soup with a crispy topping. Perfect for a relaxed long weekend." Welcome Johanna!

Heather of girlichef had an opportunity to try several varieties of South African Veri Peri cooking sauce and used the one she liked best in this Caldo de Mariscos (Seafood Soup). She says, " favorite variety was the 'garlic'! I knew I wanted to work it into a recipe. And soup was definitely the way to go.Using my preferred method of making a rich, flavorful broth complimented by tasty bites of seafood and plenty of goodies as garnish, Veri Peri fit right in. The Garlic Veri Peri accented the whole garlic well and the addition of Veri Hot upped the heat level enough to warm your whole body and soul, spoonful after delicious spoonful."

Debby of A Feast for the Eyes celebrated St. Paddy's Day with her own Guinness Irish Lamb Stew and says, "For those of you who aren't fond of lamb, because it tastes very strong-- believe me, the lamb was not only buttery tender, but mild. I only wish I had invested in a couple more pounds of meat, because I loved it. My husband has been won over by this dish. Everyone had second helpings. I'm a convert to using Guinness in recipes, as it doesn't leave a "beer" taste. Instead, it adds a depth of flavor that is subtle, yet flavorful. This recipe makes a lot, and I'm so glad. You don't have to wait for the luck o' the Irish to make this. Keeper recipe, if I do say so myself-- and one of my own creation."

Tigerfish of Teczcape - An Escape to Food has both a soup and salad to share this week. First, her Duck Soup with Tomatoes and Spices, about which she says, "Braising (with five spice powder or whole cloves, star anise, cinnamon sticks etc.) is the most popular way to cook these duck wings. But I really could not bring any energy to prepare the marinade...then marinate...and wait. So. The solution. For me. Make Soup. ... Have it as a soup (side) to rice or dunk it noodles to make a one-dish!

For the warmer days, Tigerfish also made a spring-friendly salad. She says, "In view of spring-like weather and longer days to come, here is some lighter fare, in addition to my endless of a quinoa creations - Quinoa with Roasted Asparagus, Carrots and Edamame. I do not like cold food, so I prefer a warm (warm does not equal temperature hot!) version of this quinoa salad."

Stash from The Spamwise Chronicles has four little salads on one plate with his "A Quartet of Tastes" and says, "The spring equinox is next Wednesday, but it feels as if we’re in late April instead of mid-March, due to the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been experiencing lately here in New York City. As much as a small voice in the back of my head keeps telling me that this weather is not normal, it does feel good — at least on a superficial level to be able to shed our winter clothes if only for a week or two. Perhaps this appetizer can put that small, unquiet voice to bed for a little while longer."

Carol from There's Always Thyme to Cook.. is back with some veggie-filled Broccoli Slaw with Pad Thai Dressing that she made to accompany a glazed salmon dish and says, "Slowly we're eating more and more fish. Not often, but way more than never. I saw this glaze over at Karen's Back Road Journal and it looked so good, I had to try. Together with the broccoli slaw it was one fantastic dinner. We really enjoyed it.

Finally we have one sandwich creation this week from Ana at Sweet Almond Tree, this Egg and Avocado Salad Sandwich. She says, "Do you like green eggs and ham? If you do, I have the perfect green egg salad for you. It turns green when avocado is mixed in the recipe. I started eating avocados after I had gastric bypass surgery. Their texture is smooth and they are easy on the stomach, so they have become good friends of mine. Almost two months after surgery I still have avocado about twice per week. ... Now you might say that the salad looks like guacamole, but it doesn't taste like it. It has it's own unique taste."

Wonderful dishes this week! Thanks to everyone who joined in. If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the side bar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week!