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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wild Rice Soup with Mushrooms and Thyme


Some creamy wild rice soups are heavy and sticky, but this is a more delicate version. The lighter broth makes it easy to appreciate the other flavors and textures, like soft, savory mushrooms and chewy, nutty wild rice.

Chicken is an optional ingredient, but it does add a nice amount of protein. Without chicken, I serve this soup as a starter or alongside a salad. With chicken, I serve it as a main course.

I used leftover roasted chicken but a rotisserie chicken would also work. I added fresh thyme because I always have it on hand in my window garden, but you could substitute dried thyme if need be. Soak the wild rice for a few hours in advance if you can.

1 strip pasture-raised bacon, chopped, or substitute 2 tbsp grass-fed/organic butter
1 medium onion
4 stalks celery
2 cups thinly sliced crimini or shiitake mushrooms 
4 cloves garlic
Sea salt
Ground peppercorn
1 cup wild rice, soaked
4 cups chicken, mushroom, or vegetable stock
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, or substitute 1 tbsp dried thyme
1/2 cup grass-fed/organic cream (optional)
2 cups cubed or shredded pasture-raised chicken

Warm a soup pot with a heavy bottom over medium heat. Add the butter or bacon and cook until the butter has melted or the bacon has crisped and the fat has rendered.

Reduce the heat a little and add the onion, celery, and mushrooms. Stir occasionally and cook until the vegetables are soft and starting to brown. When they start to stick to the bottom, stir in a pinch of sea salt (which will release some moisture) and reduce the heat to low.

Once the vegetables have browned a little bit, add the garlic and stir until it becomes aromatic. Add the wild rice, stock, and dried thyme if you are using it. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the wild rice is tender, about 45 minutes. If the liquid level becomes low during cooking, add some boiling water.

Once the wild rice is cooked, stir in the cream, cooked chicken, and fresh thyme if you're using it. Taste the soup for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments. Continue cooking the soup over low heat, stirring occasionally, until hot. Do not boil the soup after you've added the cream. Serve immediately.

If you're making this soup in advance, remove it from the heat after you've perfected the seasoning. Set it aside for up to two hours or cool it to room temperature and transfer it to the fridge until you're ready to eat it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Spring Lettuce Cups: A 5-Minute Lunch


This simple spring lunch is light but satisfying. Using leftover roasted chicken and vegetables, you can create these lovely lettuce cups in mere minutes.

I used golden beets because I roasted some last night alongside a chicken. You can substitute any other vegetable, fresh or roasted, like bell pepper, tomato, cucumber, or celery.

I also added fresh pea shoots because they're in season now. Pea shoots are a good source of vitamin C and they taste like spring.
If you don't have pea shoots you can substitute scallions, fresh herbs, or sprouts.

This recipe makes 4 lettuce cups, which is enough for 4 starters or 2 main courses.

1 cup cubed or shredded leftover  roasted chicken
1 cup cubed roasted beets 
1 to 2 tbsp home-made vinaigrette 
1 cup fresh pea shoots
4 medium leaves of Boston lettuce (also called butter lettuce), cleaned and crisped in the fridge

Toss together the chicken and beets with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat them. Taste for seasoning and, depending on how seasoned the chicken and beets already are, add a bit of sea salt if needed.

Gently fold in half of the pea shoots, then pile the mixture onto the lettuce leaves. Garnish with the remaining pea shoots and eat immediately.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Steamed Artichokes with Balsamic Dipping Sauce


Like other flowers, artichokes are ready in the spring. That makes this simple starter timely in more way than one. Not only it is seasonal but it's a snap to prepare. Just rinse the artichokes and steam them until tender, then serve them with a vinaigrette made in minutes.

Eating steamed artichokes can be a sensual experience: plucking petals one by one, tearing away the flesh with your teeth, looking forward to the tender center.  It can be a romantic way to start a special dinner for two, or fun way to encourage kids who like to play with their food to eat more vegetables.

Pick artichokes that are green, consistent in color, firm, and heavy for their size.  Look for ones whose petals (which look like leaves) are tightly closed, especially in the center.

For the dipping sauce, I used a combination of red wine vinegar and aged balsamic vinegar. You can use any vinegar you like or even substitute freshly squeezed lemon juice.

1 medium or large artichoke per person
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic or more
Ground peppercorn
Sea salt 
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
½ cup olive oil or more to taste

Rinse the artichokes and place them inside a large lidded pot. Add a couple of inches of water at the bottom and cover. Warm the pot over medium heat until the water starts to simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook until the artichokes are thoroughly tender, about 20 minutes or more. When you can easily pull out a petal, they're done.

While the artichokes steam, mix up the vinaigrette. Grate the garlic into a mixing bowl and pour the vinegar on top. Sprinkle in some sea salt and freshly ground peppercorn, and allow it to sit for a few minutes if you have time, so the garlic can soften and the sea salt can dissolve. First whisk in the mustard, then the olive oil. Taste it for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments. Set the sauce aside and serve it with the steamed artichokes as soon as they're ready.

To eat the artichokes, start by pulling away the bottom petals and discard the ones that don't have fleshy white parts at the bottom, where the petal came away from the heart of the artichoke. Start eating the petals when they begin to look like this:

Dip each one in the sauce and scrape away the white fleshy parts with your teeth.

As you work your way up and the petals become more tender, you can bite off more of the petal, leaving the tougher, thorny tips.

Eventually, after the petals become very small, they will disappear and you will find the choke.


Use a spoon to scrape away the choke from the artichoke heart. Discard the choke.

Cut the heart of the artichoke into bite-sized pieces and enjoy your prize.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Yogurts Are Not Created Equal

For people who tolerate dairy products well, yogurt is a healthy food. Because it's full of protein and contains natural fat, whole milk yogurt satiates hunger and minimizes elevations in blood sugar. It also  promotes good digestion and supports the immune system.

But not all yogurts are created equal.

Common commercial varieties are often laden with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, corn starch, modified food starch, whey protein concentrate, stabilizers, emulsifiers, preservatives, gelatin, artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, and unpronouncibles like disodium phosphate.

Some even come studded with cookies, candy, or sugary processed breakfast cereals. And to extend shelf life, some manufacturers actually pasteurize their yogurt, killing off the beneficial bacteria.

These sorts of yogurts are junk food, not health food.  

The best yogurt is:
  • Made From Whole Milk
Avoid low-fat and fat-free dairy products. They are processed foods with chemicals added to compensate for the fat that's missing. And our bodies need fat.
  • Grass-Fed
The best yogurt comes from cows who ate their natural diet of grass and other green plants. When cows are raised on pasture, their milk is full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory actions in the body (cows fed grain produce milk full of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids).
  • Hormone-Free
If you can't find grass-fed dairy products, organic is the next best thing. At least the animals were not given hormones, antibiotics, or pesticide-laden food. These chemicals can make their way into meat and milk and cause health problems in humans.
  • Plain 
Making yogurt requires only 2 ingredients: whole milk (from cows, goats, or sheep) and live bacteria.

The bacteria essential for culturing milk are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, but yogurt makers often add other friendly bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bifidus, Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus reuteri.
  • Full of Live Cultures
Yogurt should say on the label “contains live and active cultures.”

Do not buy products labeled "heat-treated" or “made with live cultures.” You can also look for the Live and Active Cultures (LAC) seal from the National Yogurt Association and the phrase “meets National Yogurt Association criteria for live and active culture yogurt.”

Bacterial cultures give yogurt its characteristic tart and tangy flavor. To please a wider variety of palates, some manufacturers add sweeteners and reduce the amount of live cultures to make the yogurt less tart. Remember that yogurt is supposed to taste tart. It's the healthy bacteria that make it that way.

When you eat whole milk plain yogurt, the creaminess balances the tartness and it's very good unsweetened. Plain Greek yogurt (made by straining the yogurt and also called "strained" yogurt)
 is even thicker and creamier than regular plain yogurt. Removing some of the liquid (whey) gives it a thicker consistency, closer to sour cream.

If you're not won over by its natural flavor, choose plain yogurt anyway and sweeten it yourself with whole fruit and/or small amounts of honey.

If you can, buy your yogurt from a local source or make it yourself. If you're looking for it in grocery stores, Stoneyfield Farm Organic Plain yogurt is widely available, organic, and exceptionally creamy.

As a food, yogurt is incredibly versatile. It makes a great breakfast or snack. It can be used in savory dishes like curries and soups, or in sauces for lamb, beef, and fish. Use it as a garnish for spicy dishes like chili, quesadillas, or huevos rancheros.

Or serve it for dessert: alone or with fruit, layered into a parfait, baked into a clafouti, or frozen into creamsicles. Use fresh fruit in the summer and home-made compote or thawed frozen berries in the winter.

Raspberries give off a ruby red juice as they thaw, which looks stunning against creamy white yogurt (stir it in to make your yogurt pink). If I use frozen, thawed blueberries or strawberries, I usually purée them before serving. These berries retain great flavor after freezing but once they thaw, they seem soggy. A purée is a more pleasing texture and takes just a minute to make in a food processor.

I always taste thawed berries for sweetness before I serve them and, if need be, stir in a little bit of honey. The fruit acids will help dissolve the honey if you let the mixture sit for a few minutes.