Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Italian Wedding Soup - Light

I have some house guests visiting and I wanted to make two pots of soup, so I needed to think of one that would be a good counterpoint to Potato Leek Soup (a previous post). I decided on Italian Wedding Soup, but chose to use ground Chicken instead of ground Pork or Beef to make it lighter. It's called Wedding Soup, not because it is served at weddings, but because it is a mixture of meat and vegetables that "marries" well. And, there are probably as many different recipes as there are Italian cooks. It is considered an American Italian soup and is served in many restaurants. I have had kinds with different kinds of little Pasta and some with White Beans or Garbanzo Beans, but the main ingredients are always meatballs and some kind of green vegetable - Escarole, Kale or Spinach are the usual ones. Since I love Spinach, I went with that and I used Gluten Free Orzo from DeLallo, which is made from corn and rice flours. This soup has a base of chicken broth with Carrots, Celery, Onions along with the Spinach. It has a delicate flavor and it's beautiful!  To me, that is always a wonderful bonus. If you don't care about being Lactose Free, it is quite wonderful with a sprinkling of Parmesan Cheese.  Since soup season is starting, you should try this soup - it's  also delicious!

Italian Wedding Soup Light

8 cups Chicken Broth (preferably homemade)
2 large Carrots (I used Orange and Yellow), peeled and cut into small pieces
2 large Celery Stalks cut into small pieces
1/2 large onion or 1 small onion cut into a small dice
1/2 cup Orzo
5 ounces of Spinach washed
1 pound ground Chicken (best if it is a mixture of dark and light meat)
2 slices of Gluten Free White Bread (I used Udi's) - crusts removed and cut into tiny pieces/crumbs
1 egg
2 teaspoons dried Basil, divided
2 cloves Garlic, minced fine
1 teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Fresh Pepper
Optional:  Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

In a large pot, put in Chicken Broth, Carrots, Celery and Onion and bring to a boil. Add in the Orzo and cook for 10 minutes on a simmer.

Meanwhile, mix ground Chicken, Bread Crumbs, Egg, Basil, Garlic and Salt in a bowl until well combined.  Wash hands and shape into small meatballs. Heat the Olive Oil in a large frying pan and cook the meatballs until brown on one side. Using a spoon, turn the meatballs over until browned on the other side as well. Then add to the soup and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add in the Spinach and sprinkle with the remaining Basil and Pepper before serving.

Five Element Analysis

This is a soup with plenty of broth so it is a Water Element Dish. However, the Chicken and Chicken Broth contribute the Wood Element and the Celery adds even more. The Earth Element is represented by the Carrots and Corn Flour in the Orzo and the Garlic, Basil and Onion bring in the Metal Element. Only the Fire Element is missing, so this soup would be wonderful served with a Fiery Lettuce and Tomato Salad to achieve a Five Element balance.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Baked Coconut Custard with Passion Fruit Topping

My friend Jeanne gave me a big bag of ripe Passion Fruit from her yard in San Diego to take back to Seattle in my suitcase, which smelled quite wonderful afterwards. I love Passion Fruit - it is called Lilikoi in Hawaii and Maracuja in Brazil. These are very healthy little fruits and contain lots of fiber and Vitamins A and C and lots of Minerals too. In Europe, it is considered a good medicine for nervous unrest and is used to calm the nervous system, which I frequently need. However, I think it is a delicious fruit that has such a unique tropical flavor.

So, I promptly cut them all in half, scooped our the wonderful flesh and added a bit of sugar to preserve it in the refrigerator. Some people strain out the seeds but I love their little crunch. At first, I couldn't think of what to make with them and finally decided to make Coconut Custards and spoon the delicious Passion Fruit on top. I've never actually made Coconut Custards before, but I know that there is a ratio of 1/2 cup of milk to 1 egg for a regular baked Custard, so I figured Coconut Pudding wouldn't be much different. I used an entire can of Coconut Milk from Trader Joe's, which is 14 oz and quite thick. I then whisked in some sugar and a pinch of salt and Vanilla and added some eggs and baked it the traditional way - in a water bath.  When done and cooled, I spooned the Passion Fruit on top and I was in dessert heaven!  You could use fresh Strawberries, lightly sweetened with sugar, or Peaches, or Raspberries if you like. Any way you serve it, it's a delightful non-dairy alternative Baked Pudding and the Passion Fruit was so delicious that this dessert was a joy to eat! 

Baked Coconut Custard with Passion Fruit Topping

1 can Coconut Milk - 14 oz.
1/2 cup Sugar or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
4 eggs

Heat oven to 325 degrees and boil a tea kettle full of water.  Have ready a large 11 x 17 glass baking pan and 6 ramekins set inside the baking pan.

In a bowl, combine the Coconut Milk and Sugar and whisk lightly. Taste and add more sugar if desired.  Add in the 4 eggs and mix until combined.  Pour equal amounts of the Custard Mixture into the 6 ramekins. Carefully pour the boiling water around the ramekins to a height of 1 inch.  Then careful place the baking pan into the oven. Bake for 60 minutes.  Take out of the water and let cool, then cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve. The custards can also be served warm. Top with Passion Fruit or another Fruit Topping to serve.

Passion Fruit Topping

1 cup Passion Fruit Pulp (preferably fresh, but could also use frozen)
2 Tablespoons Sugar

Five Element Analysis

As a dessert, this is clearly an Earthy food and the Coconut Milk makes it even Earthier. The Eggs bring in the Water Element and the Passion Fruit combines both the Wood Element as it is a tart fruit and also the Fire Element for it's beautiful red color outside and the fiery orange red pulp inside. The Vanilla Extract contributes the Metal Element so this then becomes a balanced little dessert, which is hard to achieve!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pumpkin Spice Chia Pudding with Sugared Pecans

The first signs of fall are showing up in the nip of the evening air and of course the leaves are just starting to turn. And, I've developed a bit of a sweet tooth these last few days. My latest offering is a Pumpkin Chia Pudding that tastes a lot like Pumpkin Pie. But, it's sweetened with Maple Syrup and topped with Sugary Pecans. These nuts are so good that you might find yourself making them just for themselves and the recipe works for walnuts and almonds too. I liked this Pumpkin Pudding so much that I may very well serve this for Thanksgiving instead of making a pie. I made it for dessert, but you could just as easily eat it for breakfast. It's creamy and rich and full of the spices that make you think of Autumn. Pumpkin is also full of Vitamin A and is a very grounding food and the Chia Seeds are especially good for digestion. I served it to the students in a class and it was a big hit.  I hope you try this one!

Pumpkin Spice Chia Pudding with Sugared Pecans

Pumpkin Puree - 14 oz can
¼ cup Chia Seeds
1 cup Almond Milk
1 1/2 teaspoons Cinnamon
½ teaspoon Ginger
¼ teaspoon Nutmeg
¼ teaspoon Cloves
2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt

The night before, put the Chia Seeds and the Almond Milk in a container. Then mix together the Chia mixture with the Pumpkin Puree, the spices, Maple Syrup and the Salt.  Refrigerate for at least two hours or until ready to serve. Top with chopped Sugared Pecans before serving.  

Sugared Pecans

1 cup pecan halves
2 Tablespoons Butter, Salted
2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar

Melt Butter over Medium heat.  Add pecans and toss to coat with butter. Add in the brown sugar and stir until caramelized - about 4 to 5 minutes. You will see the sugar mixture getting thicker, the pecans getting toasted and it will smell wonderful! Spread pecan on parchment paper or wax paper to cool.  Break up slightly to sprinkle on top of pudding. 

Five Element Analysis

Pumpkin and all fall squashes belong to the Earth family with that beautiful orange flesh and natural sweetness and this is a sweet dessert so it is definitely an Earth Food. The Chia Seeds add the Water Element and the Maple Syrup brings in the Wood Element. The Spices contribute the Metal Element. Only the Fire Element is missing so have this pudding with a cup of tea and you will have a balanced little dessert or breakfast!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Avgolemono Soup

When I was a college student, I lived in an apartment with three other roommates and money was always tight. Since I loved to cook and had the most experience, I was quickly designated as the one who most often made dinner, while the others divvied up the chores of shopping, prepping and washing dishes. My goal back then was to see how far I could stretch our grocery budget and one of my tricks was to buy a whole chicken and have it one night for dinner. Then, I would make chicken salad sandwiches the next day and I would use the bones to make broth and add in the scraps of chicken with some carrots, onion and celery and also some rice, pasta or potatoes to make a filling soup. These days, I don't have to watch my grocery budget, but I still play this little game and I still almost always make chicken soup out of roasted chicken bones and bits of leftover meat.

The other night I roasted a chicken in the Greek fashion with Lemon Juice, Olive Oil, Salt and Rosemary with some Onion, Garlic and Potatoes roasted in the drippings. The secret was to marinate the Chicken for a little while in the Lemon Juice and then squeeze some more on mid way through roasting. It was delicious!  Afterwards, I took all the bones and all the leftover drippings and onions and of the roasted Garlic Cloves and made a broth. I strained it and made Avgolemono or creamy Greek Lemon Chicken Soup. This is a really easy soup and if you want to make it with canned chicken broth, it would be great too, but I love the idea of using up leftovers. 

The trick to this soup is tempering the eggs which make the soup creamy. This means that you add some hot chicken broth to the egg mixture and then add the eggs back into the rest of the soup. At that point, you must keep the soup at a very low simmer for only a few minutes or the eggs might curdle. 

This soup is nourishing and satisfying as only creamy soups can and there's no cream in it.  The little bits of Orzo (I used DeLallo Gluten Free Orzo made from Corn) and chopped up chicken give it some texture. If you like, you can use rice but it will be a lot softer and I like the Orzo's chewiness. And, I like it creamy so I use less chicken broth. This soup is just a bowl full of lemony goodness!  Avgolemono is one of my favorite soups and I want to share this recipe with you.

Avgolemeno Soup

5 - 6 cups of Chicken Broth (preferably homemade using chicken bones, roasted onions and garlic, then strained) - less for thicker soup, more for thinner soup 
Optional:  1/2 small onion minced and 2 garlic cloves minced if not using homemade broth
1/2 cup Orzo (you can also use Rice)
1 cup chopped cooked chicken (can also poach one chicken breast in the broth, remove and chop up)
2 eggs
1/2 cup fresh squeezed Lemon Juice (about 2 medium Lemons)
Salt to Taste
Sprinkling of fresh ground Pepper

Heat the Chicken Broth (and add onions and garlic if not using homemade broth). Bring to a boil and add the Orzo. Cook until al dente.  Taste for salt and add if necessary.  Add in the chopped chicken and reduce to a simmer. Meanwhile, whisk the Eggs and Lemon Juice together in bowl. Use a one cup measuring cup and scoop up broth and whisk into the egg mixture. Then slowly stir in the egg mixture. Cook for 1 -2 minutes more. Sprinkle with fresh ground Pepper and serve with a few Dill Fronds on top. 

Five Element Analysis

Soup is a Water Element food and the Eggs add even more Water. The Chicken Broth and Lemon Juice bring in the Wood Element. The Onions and Garlic contribute the Metal Element. I used an Orzo made from Corn, which contributes the Earth Element, but if you use regular pasta, which is made with Wheat, you have added more of the Wood Element. So, it is advisable to serve this soup with a meal that includes a Fiery food, like Salad and an Earth Food, either as a main course or a dessert to create a Five Element balance. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Gil's Summer Herb Salad

My friend Gil from Israel sent me this recipe after seeing my blog. I was very intrigued when I saw it and I even printed it out. But, the recipe languished on my desk until I was searching for something else yesterday. Once I found it again, I knew I had to try it and I was so glad I did. This is an amazing salad! The freshness of the Parsley and the pungency of the Dill mix together beautifully with the lemony dressing. The Cherries add some sweetness and some chewiness and the toasted Pine Nuts add just the right soft crunch. Texturally, this herb salad was a delight and it was so delicious that I had to share it with you. Thank you so much Gil!

Gil's Summer Herb Salad

2 cups of loosely packed Parsley Leaves, removed from the stems
1 cup of loosely packed Dill Fronds, removed from the stem
1/2 cup sliced Green Onion tops
1/2 cup Pine Nuts
1/2 cup Tart Dried Cherries, cut into small pieces of Dried Cranberries
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Honey
1clove Garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Salt
pinch of fresh ground Pepper

Wash the Parsley and Dill in a strainer and then put into a salad spinner or rest on paper towels to dry. Place in a bowl and add the Green Onions.

In another small bowl, mix together the Lemon Juice, Olive Oil, Honey, Salt and Pepper. Pour over the salad and toss to coat. Let sit for 30 minutes up to 60 minutes.

Toast the Pine Nuts in a frying pan, stirring constantly until they are light golden brown.  Remove to a plate to cool. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the salad to serve.

Five Element Analysis

Parsley, Dill, Garlic and Green Onions all belong to the Metal Element so this is an example of a rare Metal Salad.  The Pine Nuts bring in the Water Element, whereas the Olive Oil and Lemon Juice contribute the Wood Element. Cherries or Cranberries belong to the Fire Element and become even more Fiery when dried so that element is covered.  The Honey brings only a hint of the Earth Element so plan to serve this wonderful salad with another dish that is Earthy to create a balanced meal.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Plum Sauce/Plum Pudding

I have an Italian Prune Plum tree in my backyard that gave us a huge number of plums this year that were just harvested. Of course, I ate a lot of them fresh, but in order to save them for later, I made a lovely Plum Sauce that when thickened with cornstarch can become a wonderful Plum Pudding. It has a lovely tangy flavor that's not too sweet and when layered with whipped cream or whipped coconut cream, it becomes a beautiful parfait. This sauce freezes well and can then be a wonderful addition to smoothies. Of course, you could can it, but I don't can much and honestly, this sauce usually doesn't make it to the freezer either. This is such an easy recipe but I think you will enjoy it. And, if you want to make it even more exotic, you can add spices, like Cinnamon and a little nutmeg or you can also add Five Spice Powder, a little Tamari and some Garlic Powder and make a Chinese Plum Sauce. I personally like it drizzled over cake. If you have plums, you will want to make this sauce or pudding!

Plum Sauce

4 cups Prune Plums, seed removed and cut into quarters
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 - 1/2 cup Water if you want a thicker or thinner sauce

Put the Plums with the water and sugar into a heavy saucepan. Heat the pan over medium heat and stir to melt sugar and mixture begins to boil. Reduce heat. Stir frequently as the plums start to soften - about 15 to 20 minutes. Use a stick blender and blend until only a lithe chunky or perfectly smooth as desired.  Add in additional spices if desired.

Plum Pudding

Add 3 heaping teaspoons of Cornstarch mixed with 2 Tablespoons of water and add to the Sauce mixture. Continue cooking until it is thickened.  Cool and strain and store in the refrigerator until cold.  Layer or top with whipped cream or whipped coconut cream to serve.

Five Element Analysis

Plums belong to the Fire Element as do most stone fruits and the sugar adds the Earth Element. If you add any spices, like Cinnamon you bring in the Metal Element. But as you can see this sauce needs to go with other foods so it is best served as a Fire/Earth dessert.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hainan/White Cut Chicken

Since I wrote about the fresh Chili Garlic Sauce that I used on my Hainan Chicken, I figured I had better give you the recipe for that as well.  Hainan Chicken is a really popular dish in Singapore and it's a great way of getting lots of soup and tender chicken and delicious rice that you cook in the broth. I grew up with a variation that is called White Cut Chicken and it is still one of my favorite ways to cook chicken. The secret is to only boil it for a very short  time and then take the chicken off the heat and leave it covered to steam for 40 minutes longer. You then remove the chicken and let it cool completely and then you cut into bite size pieces. Now, traditionally you use a cleaver and hack through the bones to cut the chicken up, but I like my chicken boneless, so I take the meat off the bones in pieces as big as possible and then cut it up. Of course, the breast meat looks the best as it comes off in one big chunk and if you slice it partially sideways, it makes for a great presentation. 

The usual sauces that are served with Hainan/White Cut Chicken are the Chili Sauce that was my last post and also a Soy Sauce and Vinegar with Scallion Sauce and also a grated Ginger Sauce - basically grated Ginger and Salt. To make it easier, I mix it all together. It's very similar to the sauce made famous by Momofuku, but really, that recipe is pretty classic  to most Asian cuisines and I don't really think you even need to measure. I've included my version below. It is shocking how good this plain chicken tastes with these sauces and if you serve it with rice that has been cooked in some of the leftover chicken broth, you have a fabulous meal. I like to serve it with a Cucumber Salad. The chicken is so tender and the sauces are so savory and pungent - this dish is a delight for your tastebuds!

Hainan/White Cut Chicken

1 Whole Chicken about 3 pounds
1 Tablespoon Salt + 1 1/2 Tablespoons more
Water to cook Chicken

Take 1 Tablespoon of Salt and Rub it all over the skin of the chicken. Then place it into a big pot and add enough water to come up to cover most of leg and thigh, leaving the breast uncovered.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Then turn off the heat, push the pot over to an unheated part of the stove and let sit for 40 minutes.  Then take out the Chicken and cool.  Strain and taste the broth and add additional salt. Use the broth to make rice to serve with it and save the rest for soup.

When the chicken is fully cooled, pull the meat off the bones in as big chunks as you can. Cut into bite size pieces.  Serve with Chili Sauce and Tamari, Scallion, Ginger Sauce.

Tamari, Scallion and Ginger  Sauce

4 - 5 Scallions, trimmed and sliced finely
2 - 3 Tablespoons Tamari
1 teaspoon Rice Wine Vinegar
2 inch chunk of Ginger grated
1/2 teaspoon Sesame Oil

Mix together and let sit for at least 15 minutes to let the flavors meld. It will hold in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Five Element Analysis

Chicken belongs to the Wood Element so that element is covered and the way of cooking this dish is very Watery.  The Tamari and Sesame Oil add even more of the Water Element. The Scallions and Rice add the Metal Element and the the Chili Sauce contributes a good amount of the Fire Element. The Ginger contributes the Earth Element and the Cucumber Salad I served it with adds even more, making this a balanced Five Element meal!