Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sweet Potato Soup and Swiss Chard on Toast

Friday was such a grey, gloomy day that I had to go into our friendly neighbourhood market, Mariposa!
Just look at the sweet faces of Steve and Cait (owners) ready to greet their customers, usually by name!

This market is one of the reasons I love St. Margaret's Bay  - a  neighbourly natural foods store where you can buy local organic produce and products,  free range meats , breads and nutritional supplements... chit chat and catch up with community goings on from the many notices on their bulletin board. And there is lots going on!! If only one could take it all in!

Being a cold, wet day I decided to pick up some ingredients to make a soup and side.
So out comes the lovely soup pot again and the menu is: Sweet Potato Peanut Soup and Swiss Chard on Olive Bread Toast.

Sweet Potato Peanut Soup
As with most soups, I started with a glug of olive oil (as Jamie Oliver says) in my most beautiful soup pot and heated this over medium heat, then added 1 chopped onion and several minced cloves of garlic and sauteed them for a few minutes.

 Here is a tip: I heard somewhere from someone that lighting a candle while you chop onions will prevent the tears associated with the task. So, I tried it for the first time. It worked! Plus.... it created a romantic ambiance - just me and my onion!

Then I added 2 peeled, chopped sweet potatoes, a little ground salt and 2 tsp smoked paprika. I was dying to use this spice since I had read about it on Smitten Kitchen.

 3-Pack Smoked Paprika by La Tienda
This mixture was stirred and the heat was turned up to medium high -  4-5 cups of vegetable broth or water was added and I also added about 1/2 cup of rinsed, dried red lentils to increase the protein of the meal. It was stirred occasionally until the sweet potatoes were softened. 

When the sweet potato softened, I took my potato masher and mashed the soup a little to make a homogeneous, chunky blend. Then the fun part, the 1/2 cup of smooth peanut butter, heated and swirled until the peanut butter was thoroughly blended.
Meanwhile, back at the other counter.......

Swiss Chard on Olive Bread Toast

What a great bunch, huh?! And available locally all year long! I have to admit, up until about two years ago, I pretty much avoided these humongous bunches of greens....maybe a little intimidated by their size! Anyway, I started experimenting with them more over this past year and how I love them now! If you are intimidated by huge bunches of leaves...then...read on!

There is a technique to chopping them up and I feel really smart when I do this in front of friends:
After washing the chard, you fold the leaf over and cut off the rib that runs up the back of the leaf.
DO NOT DISCARD THE RIBS - sorry , I don't mean to yell, but I think I saw you reaching for the compost pail.
Then roll the leaf up like a ....like a ...hmmm...like a sleeping bag and cut the leaves into ribbons.
Then, you can cut up the ribs into ~2 inch pieces. They are cut separately, because they will be cooked for different lengths of time as the ribs (stems) take longer to cook.

To cook the Swiss Chard, I added a glug of olive oil to a shallow saucepan, once this was heated, a couple of minced cloves of garlic were added and stirred for a minute, then the rib (stem) pieces of the chard went into the pan. When these were crisp tender, I added about 1 cup of leaves at a time, stirring and letting them wilt before adding the next cup. When all was wilted, I had the olive bread sliced, brushed with olive oil and broiling in the oven. added scoops of the chard to the top and voila!!

Oh no....not another meatless meal?!

Monday, March 22, 2010

One Pot Curried Lentil and Rice Dinner

I have been a legume fan for a long time and love to promote them to all who will listen! As a young dietetic intern at a big hospital in Halifax, I remember being in a meeting with several food service administrative dietitians and cooks and being asked my opinion on future food trends. Surprised to be asked;  I replied with a one word answer: "legumes".
It didn't go over very big at that time...but I remain loyal to that prediction and think that more people are becoming interested in adding beans and lentils to their diet for their economical, health and environmental virtues.
This is a dish that I have been making since I left home twenty five years ago, taught to me by my sister, Joanne.

One Pot Curried Lentil and Rice Dinner
Another appliance recommendation: a rice cooker! We had a student from China live with us for four months several years ago. Kim was an 11 year old with a big appetite and although he didn't appear homesick, he told me that he missed his mother's rice and that I MUST buy a rice cooker.
So, to appease him, we went out together to pick one. Looking at four choices, I was hoping that the smaller would suffice, as I was thinking about cupboard space - and really, how often would I use it!?
As I pointed to the smaller ones Kim would announce "not big enough". So we ended up coming home with what I thought was an immense appliance to 'just cook rice'.
Well, every time I take out that rice cooker to make oatmeal porridge, barley, lentils and yes.....rice, I think of the brave little boy, Kim, with the big appetite!
So, back to the recipe:

I usually make a big pot of this in order to have 'planned leftovers' for the next day - so if you don't want leftovers then reduce the recipe!

Rinse 1 1/2 cups  dried green or brown lentils and 1 1/2 cups brown rice.
Put them in the rice cooker with 6 cups water
Choose the rice setting which will be about 50 minutes.
Clean and break a whole head of cauliflower into flowerets.
Measure out 1 cup frozen peas.
When there is about 12-15 minutes left on the rice cooker timer, open the lid quickly and throw in the cauliflower and peas   ---no need to stir.

I use about 5 tbsp of Patak's Mild Curry Paste, mixed with ~1/2 cup coconut milk (you could also use a broth). The amount of curry paste you use, is, of course, a matter of taste.

Blend this together in a little bowl (o.k., so it is a one bowl AND a one pot dish). When the rice, lentils and veggies are cooked, pour the curry coconut sauce into the cooker and mix all of the ingredients together.
I served this dish with sliced mango. A little dollop of plain yogurt and chutney is also nice.

Everyone in our family loves this dinner....except our sweet little carnivore, Bella!
Look how disappointed she is when we have meatless meals!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Panini Party

Halifax had a spectacularly sunny weekend - everyone was smiling at each other on the streets, joggers and walkers were out in full force and dogs were in a frenzy sniffing all of the fresh spring mud!

In the mood to celebrate; we asked friends over for dinner- not thinking that we really didn't have a lot of time to actually MAKE dinner due to son, William's soccer finals ( they won 'GOLD' !)

Soooo, what to make???

It turned out to be a Panini Party - I don't usually recommend an appliance that really only makes  one kind of food - but this has to be the exception. I love my panini grill.  There are multipurpose grills out there - but ours just does paninis .

We went to two of our favourite markets - the Halifax Brewery Market and Pete's Frootique to pick up  smoked ham, roast turkey, spicy pepperoni, havarti cheese, avocados, hothouse tomatoes, breads and other fine ingredients.

To celebrate the spring- like weather we served lime cordials and put plastic bugs and daisies on the table.

The panini grill pan only makes two or three at a time so it creates an informal, fluid atmosphere of people eating at different stages.

My favourite combination was sliced avocado, roasted red pepper, pesto, turkey and a little havarti cheese. The heating of the sandwiches makes the flavours more pronounced and the bread crispy and chewy.

We served the Purple Cabbage Salad that was mentioned in a previous blog.
And a green salad of pea shoots and baby spinach leaves.

If you don't have a panini grill ..... maybe you should get one for your husband for his birthday! :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Still Winter Veggie Stew

By March everyone in Nova Scotia is starting to talk about spring - starting seeds, gardening, how we don't have to go south now b/c spring is almost here etc...
I hate to  ruin the fun, but spring in Nova Scotia is sort of an extension of winter (I still love living here though!). One of the best parts about it being 'still winter' is that we can keep cooking soups and stews!

I have a beautiful new soup pot from my favourite store, Thornbloom. It is heavy, deep and everytime I put it on my stovetop to start a soup/stew I get a thrill - and I have had it for 2 months. You may think that getting excited about a pot is a little strange - but once you cook with the best, you will understand.

Here is a stew that I make frequently - with variations on the theme. Let's call this one: Still Winter Veggie Stew:

Start with diced onion, garlic and celery in a pot with a little olive oil. Saute till translucent.
Add 4-5 cups of vegetable broth and a couple of cups of boiling water.

Add chopped cabbage, turnip, carrots, and cook until tender.

Add 1-2 cans of drained and rinsed chickpeas (or cooked chickpeas), a couple of tsp of cumin, a dash of cinnamon, a little salt and freshly ground pepper.

Just before serving you can throw in some frozen peas and cook for a couple of more minutes.
Here it is on the stove...in 'the pot'. I also threw in some raw broccoli for the last few minutes of cooking...

Serve it over brown rice, quinoa or, as we did on this night, barley. A rice cooker does a fine job on barley.William is  really excited about the stew in this photo. Bon Appetit!