Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Vegan or Not Broccoli Soup

Autumn is in the air. Even though the trees aren't turning their gorgeous colors yet, the nights are cool and the air smells of fall. It was a gorgeous day here in the Berkshires and I went out for a late afternoon hike to clear my head and get the blood pumping. My borrowed dog, Ginger, waited all day for me to get my act together and take her out for a hike. She's such an awesome companion!

Cooler weather means warmer foods. I love soups in the fall and winter. Cheap and easy to make, especially when you need to clean the refrigerator out of the week's leftovers or use up miscellaneous veggies in the crisper. I usually make my own veggie and chicken stocks (save those celery tops, onion peels, mushroom stems, herb stems, beef & chicken bones, etc.)

Broccoli soup is one of my favorites (and so nutritious - more about that below); wish my teenage daughter would eat it. I keep telling her one day she'll like broccoli; I just get a scowl and "gross mom I'll never like it". This time of year broccoli is available at the local farm markets (and usually quite inexpensive; organic preferred). No cream needed in this soup! I prefer this dairy free version; creamy due to the addition of oatmeal. There are various options for stock and herbs; so, adjust according to your tastes. 

I am not vegan, so I use what I have on hand which sometimes includes chicken stock and/or butter/ghee.
1 tablespoon olive oil or other vegetable oil (butter/ghee works too)
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 stalk celery, diced (1/4-1/3 cup)
2 garlic cloves, chopped/sliced
1/2 tsp salt (omit if using stock with salt added)
2 large broccoli stalks (yes, you need the stalks; don't just buy crowns)
4 cups water, vegetable stock or chicken stock (home made or store bought low salt)
1/2 cup rolled oats (whirl in a blender about 15 seconds) or use 1/3 cup quick oats
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh herb of choice (or 1 tsp dried) such as dill or thyme or oregano.
black pepper (optional)

In a soup pot warm oil over medium heat and add onion, celery, garlic, and salt (if using). Partially cover and let cook about 10 minutes stirring occasionally. 

Wash broccoli and cut crowns into florets (you should have 4-5 cups). Reserve 1-2 cups florets.

Peel stems to get at the tender part of the stalk and chop (about 2 cups).

Add broccoli (except reserved florets), herbs, and water/stock to pot. (Do not be tempted to add more liquid; the water/stock will just cover the vegetables. Too much water will make the soup too thin; you can always add more later if you like a thinner soup).

Cover and bring to a gentle boil; lower heat and simmer about 5 minutes. Add oats, cover and simmer about 10 minutes (stir occasionally) until vegetables are tender and soup thickens. Don't worry if oatmeal clumps.

In a glass measuring cup, add reserved florets and cover with water. Microwave on high a few minutes until crisp tender and bright green; drain. Or, cook in small pot or steamer on the stove.

Remove from heat and add lemon juice and black pepper. Puree soup with an immersion blender (or let soup cool and whirl in a blender/food processor in batches) until smooth. 

If eating immediately, add florets. If not eating immediately, let soup cool completely before adding florets and refrigerating. 


Nutrition Info: 

Broccoli, a cruciferous vegetable, is one of the healthiest veggies you can eat (along with other greenies such as kale, collards, swiss chard, bok choy). What does it do?
  • can help lower cholesterol (steamed/cooked is best)
  • supports detoxification (helps get rid of toxins in the body)
  • 1 cup supplies 250% RDA of Vitamin K and along with Vitamin A helps rebuild Vitamin D stores. (As a New Englander, I take a Vitamin D supplement Fall-Spring).
  • has anti-inflammatory benefits
  • can help people suffering from allergies
  • provides many vitamins (C, B6, E, B1, B2) and minerals (chromium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and many more).

Monday, August 8, 2016

EcoM8s: Clams and Vitamin B12 for Brain Health

EcoM8s: Clams and Vitamin B12 for Brain Health: I really enjoy seafood, all kinds of fish, shellfish, and bivalves. I'm careful to purchase seafood that is sustainable, pole caught or ...

Clams and Vitamin B12 for Brain Health

I really enjoy seafood, all kinds of fish, shellfish, and bivalves. I'm careful to purchase seafood that is sustainable, pole caught or caught/fished in an environmentally friendly manner. The Monterey Bay Aquarium seafood watch app is my go to guide when I'm at the fish market purchasing my seafood.

There are all kinds of health benefits from eating seafood. Clams (along with mussels, sardines, crab, trout, and wild salmon) are high in Vitamin B12, an essential vitamin for brain health and healthy nerve cells. B12 is also absorbed and concentrated in animals (beef liver is an excellent source). If you are vegan or vegetarian it is important to take a B12 supplement. (FYI, the body can store B12 and you could go a couple years without supplementation before you start to notice symptoms of deficiency. Click here for more info for vegan and vegetarians. This article from the University of  Maryland Medical Center describes symptoms of deficiency, food sources of B12, and supplementation information. It is important to talk to your regular physician, a doctor of Naturopathy,  or dietician expert about supplementation; do not try and supplement on your own.

One of my favorite ways to get Vitamin B12 is by eating clams. Here is my go to recipe:

Clams Steamed in White Wine with Garlic and Shallots 
Serves 2-3 as main meal

3 pounds clams (if collected in the wild they need to be purged/cleaned and degritted -click here for more info).
2 small shallots, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc is good; California style with lemon and citrus notes works well)
Chopped fresh parsley
Fresh crusty bread

If you purchased your clams from a seafood market, chances are the distributor has already purged the clams and they are ready for cooking. I buy and cook my shellfish on the same day so I don't have to worry about keeping them alive for very long. For info about storing click here.

Rinse clams under cold water and place in a colander.
Heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté shallots and garlic about a minute.
Pour in white wine. Boil until you have half of the volume, about 1/2 cup.
Add clams, cover and steam and until they start to open, about 5 minutes or so.
Add butter, cover, and cook until most or all of the clams open (another minute or so). Discard any that do not open. 
Sprinkle with parsley. 
Our family tends to just pull from the pot on the table (so they and the broth stay nice and hot).

 I serve mine with warm crusty bread, a green salad/Caesar salad, and fresh corn on the cob. It is summer after all!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Poaching Chicken

Eating nutritious foods along with regular exercise are the keys to staying healthy, happy, and feeling good about yourself. Science has proven over and over that if you feed your brain and body nutritious foods, the happier and healthier your life. My favorite recent books with the most recent science include The Happiness Diet and Eat Complete, both by Drew Ramsey, MD. I highly recommend these books - great information, humorous, and some excellent recipes too.

Chicken is one of my go-to proteins; easy to prepare and my family will eat it a variety of ways. For families on the go, it's easy to prepare poached chicken to store in the refrigerator to add to salads, quesadillas, stir fried rice, pasta, or whatever else you can conjure up. I buy organic or locally raised free range chicken. It costs a little more, but, I have a problem with conventional methods of raising chickens (inhumane in my opinion) and believe the stress that the animals go through finds its way into the meat and into me; no thank you. There is enough stress in life; I don't need to eat animals that were stressed out.

For those of you that say it takes time to prep food; yes, it does. But, you can prepare poached chicken while watching the evening news, a TED talk, while you watch over your kids doing homework, or while you get in a 30 minute exercise routine from the web or CD (I love Beachbody programs). I'm poaching a batch right now at 9pm.

So, here it is. My easy, tasty poached chicken breast recipe. The broth gets saved and frozen to use again for poaching and/or for a soup base.

2 whole chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
Water (or if you have some leftover chicken stock, use it) to cover the chicken by about an inch
1/4 cup white wine or vermouth
3-4 sprigs flat leaf parsley
1 onion, sliced
3-4 celery tops (the small stalk with leaves)
1 clove garlic, smashed
dash of salt and pepper

Place chicken breasts in a large saucepan or small stockpot.
Add stock or cool water to cover by an inch.
Add in wine/vermouth, parsley, onion, celery, garlic, salt, pepper.
Bring to a boil.
Turn off heat, cover pot, and leave on burner for 30 minutes (longer if breasts are very large).
Use a meat thermometer in thickest part of breasts; should read 160 degrees.

Remove from pot and let cool slightly. It's easiest to remove skin and meat from bones while still warm.

Remove skin and pull meat from bones. Remove any extra fat and chop into large pieces.

Strain stock and compost solids.
Stock will keep in the refrigerator for 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Reusing this stock several times for poaching will give you a delicious rich chicken stock to use in the fall/winter months as a soup base.

Note: To poach a whole chicken, follow recipe but when water reaches boiling, turn to low and let simmer 10 minutes before turning off flame. Let sit 25-30 minutes and check with meat thermometer.

One final note: Be mindful of how much you are eating. Most people eat too much protein at one sitting. Two large chicken breasts (mine for this post were 2 1/4 pounds) yield about 4 cup of cut up chicken. A serving size is 1/2 cup. So, this recipe can serve about 8. It cost me $13 for two organic chicken breasts which ends up being $1.60 per serving.

And, a few scraps for my neighbor's dog, Ginger. :)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Purslane - Weed It or Eat It?

For years I would "weed it." Until, I found out that you could "eat it." And, that its nutritional benefits are extensive. I had forgotten about it this year since we moved from the country and into town (although still a New England country town); it doesn't grow in my yard, yet. I stopped by a local farm today to pick up some asparagus and strawberries, and there it was! Freshly wild gathered.

  • Full of minerals: calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium - most American's eating a MAD diet (Modern American Diet of processed and fast foods) are deficient in these important minerals
  • One of the few plants offering a high amount of  omega-3 fatty acid in ALA form (other forms DHA and EPA are obtained from seafood). Omega-3 fats are not produced in the body and you must get them from food. They play important roles in brain health and are the building blocks of cell membranes.
  • High in Vitamin E (provides 6 times more than spinach)
  • Rich in vitamins A, B, and C. 
How to eat it?
  • raw in salads
  • lightly steamed
  • lightly sauteed with a little olive oil, garlic and salt
For more information:
Chocolate and Zucchini
Mother Earth News
Edible Wild Food

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Seafood and Kale...Its what's for dinner!

Seafood...its what's for dinner! Mussels are a great value ($3.99/lb; 1 lb per person for a main meal is plenty) and nutritious, especially for feeding the brain with Vitamin B12, DHA and EPA (Omega-3 Fats), Selenium, Vitamin C and protein.

A healthy brain needs Omega-3 Fats found in seafood. Some Omega 3's (ALA) are found in greens, flax seeds, and chia seeds but the benefits from the type in seafood are better absorbed by the body and greater than plant-based to prevent depression, dementia, and heart disease.

Vitamin B12 is found only in animals and seafood; and is a common deficiency in those that are vegan or vegetarian. Low levels of B12 can cause irreversible brain damage and deficiencies cause depression and anemia.

Selenium is a powerful antioxidant and is needed for metabolism and thyroid function.

Check out Drew Ramsey's book Eat Complete for detailed information about these vitamins and for the mussels recipe.

Kale! I love kale! I eat it sauteed, raw, grilled, and crispy from the oven. Kale, a cruciferous veggie is full of nutritional benefits. And, spring kale from a local organic farm is sweet and tender. Kale contains a large dose of Vitamin K, Vitamin C and Vitamin A and many trace minerals. Kale supports brain and bone health, cardiac health, and supports the immune system.

Here's my kale Caesar salad recipe:

1 bunch kale, washed and leaves pulled from stems and torn
1 head of romaine, washed and leaves torn

4-6 anchovies
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1/2 cup olive oil
Parmesan cheese

Blend first 6 ingredients in a jar using an immersion blender (or small food processor) until garlic and anchovies blended. Add in olive oil and blend.

Mix dressing (not all will be needed) and greens and add Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Whole Chickens - Use the livers to make Liver Pate

In an effort to save money, reduce my impact and produce less garbage, get rid of plastic (especially from my food items), and eat healthy without wasting food I now only buy whole chickens (usually organic) and cut them up myself. If you don't know how to do it, just go to You Tube and find a video, it's simple as as long as you have a good sharp knife and/or a pair of kitchen shears. So much cheaper to buy than parts and gives you many different cooking options. Organic whole chickens in my area are $2.99-$3.99 per pound compared to parts which run $3.99-$7.99 per pound and I get the bonus of the bones to use for broth, neck, giblets, and livers. So, the livers. Yes, they are small and you could just fry one up and give it to your dog or cat (they'll love you for it)! Or, you can do what I do....save them in a glass jar in the freezer.

At Thanksgiving I added my large turkey liver to the jar which I had to pack in to get it to fit and realized I needed to use these up sometime soon. The perfect time....New Year's Eve! I was invited to a couple parties and what better than to bring an appetizer of liver pate! Cheap, easy and quick to make, yet an elegant treat.

Here's my recipe (adapted from several that I've used):
1 pound organic chicken livers (or combination of chicken/turkey)
10 tablespoons organic unsalted butter at room temperature
1 small onion, sliced thinly
1-2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or rosemary (or 1 teaspoon fresh minced)
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons cognac or brandy (could use white wine as well)
salt and pepper

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat*. Add onions, garlic, thyme, bay, and livers. Cook about 5 minutes (cooked through but still slightly pink). Add 2 tablespoons cognac, salt and pepper to the pan and scrape up any browned bits. Transfer to a food processor or bowl (if you have a food wand) and add the rest of the cognac. Process livers until chopped. Add in the rest of the cognac and remaining butter 1 tablespoon at a time continuing to process after adding each tablespoon until smooth and creamy. Transfer to ramekin(s), cover airtight, and place in refrigerator. If not using right away, melt a little butter and pour a thin layer over the top of the pate before covering airtight. Keep in the refrigerator for 1 week and frozen up to 2 months.
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*Some recipes call for simmering the livers in water instead of sauteing so they don't dry out. Maybe I'll try it next time and compare.

I enjoy it on herb spelt crackers or fresh bread with a little mustard and cornichons.

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Stay tuned for more on cooking and using the whole chicken.

My Waste:
Livers from whole chickens - no waste except for the times my chicken comes in shrink wrap. I usually buy from the meat market and have it wrapped in paper which I then use as a fire starter. I suppose I could just bring a small stock pot with me to the store and have it put in there. Hmm, maybe next week. It will be interesting to see the looks I get.
Butter - wrapper goes in the trash; cardboard box gets recycled.
Onion - grown in my garden; when I run out I just buy bulk and don't use a bag (or use a cloth bag)
Garlic - bulk produce
Thyme - from my garden fresh or dried; when I run out I bring and refill a small glass herb jar from bulk containers.
Bay, salt, pepper - refill a small glass herb jar from bulk containers.
Cognac - glass jar gets recycled; plastic top goes in the trash.
Cornichons - buy in a glass jar that gets reused or recycled; plastic top is trash. I wish I could get them from the bulk olive bar. I'll have to ask.
Crackers, Bread - Tend to be the most wasteful since they are packaged in plastic trays inside a cardboard box. The plastic and box get recycled. Buy fresh bread and bringing your own cloth bag for the bread produces no waste.
Mustard - buy in a glass jar that gets reused/recycled or make your own (that's another recipe for another day)