Tag Archives: healthy

How Do You Like Your Nuts?

I wanted to makes spiced pecans for a snack for a day’s excursion to the South Bay and needed inspiration, so I posed this question, “How do you like your nuts?” to some culinary minded friends on Facebook. Usually spiced nuts are mixed with egg whites and baked to allow the seasonings to adhere to the surface of the nut, but for me that is disallowed because of the eggs so I needed a new idea.

Happily my friends came through with suggestions such as rosemary and cayenne, sugar and black pepper and butter!

My memory flashed on a jar of Aji Amarillo chile powder I purchased from Peppahead, a friend’s family business. It’s a beautiful yellow chile with a warm heat and fruity flavor, and much more interesting than cayenne pepper.


My grocery delivery the night before included a sack of fresh rosemary so I broke off a big piece and pulled the jar of Demerara sugar from the pantry cupboard and set to work making hot, spicy, salty and sweet nuts for our snacking pleasure.

I melted almost an entire stick of butter in a skillet and added the sugar, spices and the rosemary and when it was all melty and mixed well, I poured in handfuls of fat pecan halves. Four minutes of stirring later I poured the hot nuts onto a platter to cool and showered them with sprinkles of crunchy Maldon sea salt. I love Maldon salt, it has such a clean flavor and the squared shaped crystals, like little patio umbrellas, crunch delightfully between your molars before hitting your tongue with that perfect salty hit.


When they were mostly cooled I scooped them into a little bento box that would fit into my satchel I was bringing on the trip. I made up a thermos of hot Earl Grey tea and tossed in some little bags of peanut M&Ms for good measure and set off for my fun day with friends.


When we stopped for a break we were the envy of all around us as we popped these rich, toasty, buttery, spicy and sweet and salty nuts into our mouths and groaned in delighted pleasure as all the flavors combined in our mouths. It was an utterly satisfying snack. The best part is that I still have a half a bag of pecans left at home to make more!!!

Spice up your own nuts here! (printer friendly recipe)


For The Zucchini Overwhelmed – Tiger Salad

Some lucky people are swamped with zucchini these days. Imagine a garden in your own yard, filled with summer produce and zucchini and herbs popping out all over. Since I am an urban dweller and dirt-deprived I am quite envious of people with gardens. We just passed the annual “sneak some zucchini on your neighbor’s porch” day, and sadly no one did this to me, but in my urban highrise it would be likely snarfed up by other garden-free zucchini-hungry neighbors.

Photo courtesy of Faith Kramer - Blog Appetit

Photo courtesy of Faith Kramer
Blog Appetit

If you are overwhelmed with zucchini you might like to try the refreshing salad I made for the Bay Area Food Blogger’s picnic.  It’s a riff on a traditional Thai salad that calls for cucumber and celery.  With my weird food intolerances I cannot eat those vegetables so I decided to go with thinly sliced zucchini and fennel to approximate texture and found the combination even better than what I remembered having at my local Thai restaurants.  It was really refreshing with the mint and cilantro leaves and a hit of heat from red chile flakes.   I served with an Asian marinated chicken legs and that was a terrific combination.

My little double-edged mandolin made quick work of the prep, I sliced up the zucchini right into the mixing bowl, then carefully sliced the fennel.  I picked off leaves from the bunches of mint and cilantro, added a pinch or two of the red chile and added shiso dressing until everything seemed moistened enough.  After an hour in the fridge I tossed the vegetables again as the zucchini expressed a lot of water from their contact with the soy shiso dressing.   Before leaving for the picnic I mixed up the vegetables one last time and lifted them out of the mixing bowl with a slotted spoon to leave behind the excess liquid.  I plopped the salad into my picnic serving box and added some more herbs and toasted sesame seeds on top, into my cooler it went and I was off to the park!

Many thanks to Faith of Blog Appetit for sharing her photo of the salad!  Now I need to make her vegetarian paella.

Recipe:  Zucchini Tiger Salad + Shiso Salad Dressing

Victory Blackberry Pie

I made a victory pie, a blackberry pie to enjoy on Superbowl Sunday. Sadly the 49ers lost (even though they shouldn’t have but I don’t want to get into *that*) the pie was still a win because it was my own victory.

I have long had an irrational fear of pie crust, any kind of rolled dough just doesn’t work for me. I never get the consistency of the dough right, it sticks, it rips and tears, it bakes up wrong, it tastes wrong or pasty, it’s just stupid and scary. For years I have struggled with my hot, not made for pastry, hands and have grumpily given up to buying premade pie crusts and hated them.

Meanwhile my mOm bangs out perfect pie crusts with her elegant, cool hands like she’s making a bed, smoothing out the pastry with effortless strokes. I have watched her and helped her year after year and I’m still a failure.

Then a great lady in town started her handheld pie business. Natalie Galatzer of Bike Basket Pies delivered her mini sweet and savory pies using her cute bicycle and the pie crust was the bomb. I met her when I was doing culinary tours during The Great Unemployment. I couldn’t really afford them but loved the samples she gave during the tour.

When I got a job I would order her pies for myself and then I started ordering them for the office and we all scarfed them up marveling at her great crust and divine fillings. How on earth did she make her pies so well and make so many of them? Practice obviously, and a great recipe.

When she stopped her business due to exhaustion and burnout I was glad for her for taking a rest and selfishly a tiny bit sad because how could I possibly live without her Shaker lemon pies? But then, a fabulous email arrived! Natalie had written a recipe booklet!  It is probably the most adorable recipe book I have ever seen, the illustrations are so adorable and really capture the joy of Bike Basket Pies.  The instructions and recipes are well written and explained and are a joy to use.


But I was still afraid. Then the Great Allergy/Intolerance arrived and fruit was banned from my life, along with many things I loved, nuts, potatoes, eggs, who all knew what else. The doctor still doesn’t know why but one day I could eat raspberry jam, then cherry, then walnuts, then fresh berries (but not strawberries) and the occasional potato chip. This summer I ate about six pies, mostly blackberry, and life was good again.

Last year Natalie announced she was teaching a pie crust making class. I had to go! With a very gimpy ankle I got to the darling Pot and Pantry for her class and made pie crust. It was great, we all had to make a batch and it felt good. I froze the pie crusts from the class since I had yet to go grocery shopping alone.

In early February, after a month of heinous flu and secondary sinus and ear infections, I made it to the farmer’s market with D___ and bought great vegetables and $15 of blackberries and Buddha’s Hand citrus. It was fantastic to shop without a cane and not feel so petrified of being knocked over. I was weak as a jellied eel after a long fever but the sunshine felt great. The moment I got home I went hope to bed and slept for 3 hours. I sugared down the berries though before going to bed for the evening and resolved to bake a pie for the Superbowl.


On Superbowl Sunday I made breakfast and had a nap and tried to knit but that didn’t work, too tired still, but I did get up to make soup from all my vegetables, a minestrone of sorts, and to roll out the pie crust.

I was nervous but just did it, using a Silpat on my kitchen table. It rolled out pretty nicely, cracking here and there but it went okay! I made a rustic pie/tart using a tiny tin, just enfolding the giant berries inside the dough.

I brushed the crust with milk and a generous sprinkling of coarse sugar, and just remembered to add a pat of butter on the fruit. Into the oven it went.


The juices were thick and bubbling, the crust was nicely browned, it smelled good. I was excited.

The game was sad but I thought consolation by pie would be nice. It was better than nice, it was perfect. The 49ers should have won that game but it cut as keenly because the pie was my victory.

The crust was crunchy and yet flakey, it held together, the fruit was delicious and not too soggy or sweet, it was just perfect. I still have one crust left to make a savory pie this week, greens and goat cheese I think or perhaps a winter squash. I can make pie now!

My pie.

My victory.

Natalie’s pie recipe booklet for Bike Basket Pies is available here, I have given away several copies as gifts so I would recommend you buy several.

Greek Comfort Food – Gigandes Plaki (Baked Giant White Beans)

Years ago when I was just 13 and visiting family in Canada I was introduced to Greek cuisine and became obsessed. In my late teens my mom gave me a basic Greek cookbook and over the years since I have made every recipe in it and collected several more wonderful cookbooks that are getting well used. One of my favorite recipes I make again and again is gigandes plaki, or baked giant white beans.


Gigandes are not restricted to the categorization of a winter dish but when it’s cold out there is nothing I find more comforting than a hot bowl of these giant, creamy and tender beans baked in a savory tomato and aromatic sauce with chunks of feta cheese. For those who can, a fried egg on top of the beans transforms the bowl of beans into a perfect breakfast or a homey dinner. I like to eat them one bean at a time, popping it against the roof of my mouth and letting the creaminess mix with the savory tomato and onion and garlic. Each bean is a complete sensory experience, luxurious and yet rustic and healthy.

In the summer I have made gigandes plaki and served them at room temperature with fried chicken or one large overstuffed sandwich that serves 8. This is truly a fantastic dish for any season, but since it is winter, please do find a bag of dried giant white beans (or giant lima beans, as I have seen them labeled lately) and make a batch now. With no embarrassment I confess I have made them four times so far this winter (but one batch doesn’t count because I fell asleep and burnt them in the oven, my bad cooking mojo continues to haunt me.)

There is no guilt with these baked beans, the beans themselves have a great deal of fiber and this is a low fat preparation. If you are vegan you can omit the cheese easily, many versions of gigandes do not contain feta but I really like the browned outside of the baked feta with the creamy interior that emulates the creaminess of the beans themselves with the addition of the salty tang of sheep’s milk.

A note about the beans, if you read “lima beans” and think, ew, please consider that this method of cooking the beans renders them creamy and soft inside with the texture of white beans or cannelini beans.  Somehow they don’t have that grainy texture that many lima beans seem to have.  I don’t know why, I think it is Greek magic.

Gigandes Plaki – Baked Giant White Beans

1# dried giant white beans, sometimes labelled as giant lima beans, soaked overnight in lots of water with 3 T of salt
3 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, very thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, diced
2T parsley, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried Greek oregano
1 c tomato sauce, or 1 T tomato paste dissolved in 1 c H2O
extra water if desired
6 oz feta cheese, cut into large chunks (I have also made this with goat cheese)
salt and pepper

The night before you make these, or the morning before, soak the beans in a huge quantity of water with the salt added, for overnight, or a minimum of 8 hours.

Drain the soaked beans and throw away any loose skins from the beans.  Do not be alarmed if they look wrinkled, split or otherwise strange.  Place the beans in a large saucepan, cover with cold water by several inches and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.  Cook the beans at a simmer for 40 minutes, skimming the foam or scum that rises to the top of the water.  When most of water is absorbed and the beans are tender with no resistance, remove from the heat, drain a little and let cool.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350. Heat the olive oil in a skillet, sauté onions and garlic with a good pinch of salt for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, over medium heat.  Then add the carrots and tomatoes and sauté for another 10 minutes.

Add the cooked beans, put in large shallow dish, add everything else, except the cheese, and taste for enough salt and pepper. The sauce should be slightly soupy but the beans should not be swimming. Gently fold in the cheese, and bake 1  to 1 1/2 hours or until beans are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Beans should be slightly burnt on top.

Serves 4.

It is highly recommended to make them ahead of time because the flavor of the sauce permeates the beans over time. I prefer them on Day 3 after cooking. Sometimes I add a 1/3 cup of water to the dish before putting into the fridge as the beans will continue to absorb liquid.

I have just finished my last batch and think I will wait a week or so before cooking more.  Maybe I will wait, that is…

Menu Planning

I came home from Thanksgiving with my darling parents and found that my refrigerator door was left ajar about 2″. Horrors! The great dumping and clean-out commenced on Monday night after work and then my fridge was sadly empty except pickles, hard cheese and wine. Time to shop and for menu planning!

D___ and I went shopping together this weekend and I discovered a few shops that I must frequent in the future . A terrific butcher shop on Taraval reminded me of our beloved long-gone Quilici’s, and the lovely guys there helped me with grass fed beef stew pieces, nicely marbled and hefty for $7.99 a pound. They also had terrific dried pastas in shapes like lasagnetti and mezze penne.

Next was the wonderfully inexpensive Asian market with perfect, organic produce and Eastern European dry goods and dairy. You have to love a shop that sells Ak Mak, Bulgarian feta, Russian sour cream and my favorite salsa and chips, plus gigantes beans. I splurged on two huge produce crates filled with groceries for $77.00. The clerk insisted I take my haul away in boxes because they were free, never mind that I can’t really carry one box, let alone two, but they were free, and bags cost $.10! One should never argue with the clerks, they’re savvy, budget wise.

Somehow D___ and I staggered into my apartment with everything in one trip. We filled my dining table with food, and I started my menu planning in earnest over a cappuccino.


Meals For The Week:

  • Beef Bourguignon ~ inspired by Mastering The Art of French Cooking
    1. beef, fresh shiitakes, carrots, onion, celery, tomato sauce, red wine, garlic, leek top bouquet garni, chopped parsley. Served with farrow.
  • Chicken Stew ~ inspired by George Bradshaw
    1. chicken thighs, carrot, onion, fennel, bay leaf, chicken broth, dill, roux, white wine,sour cream. Served with jasmine rice
  • Gigantes Plaki ~ from Modern Greek
    1. Great white beans, onion, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, bay leaf, oregano, feta, squirt of lemon at the end. Add shrimp, perhaps?
  • Sautéed Greens
    1. Chard, dino kale, watercress, garlic, lemon olive oil. Serve with quinoa. Breakfast option.
  • Coconut Rice Pudding ~ inspired by Wing Wings
    1. Bomba rice, coconut milk, sugar, sea salt
  • Green Salad
    1. romaine, orange bell pepper, green onion, fennel, avocado, feta, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, Lodi olive oil.
  • Red Beans and Rice ~ inspired by Country Cajun Cooking
    1. Pink beans, andouille sausage, tomato, onion, green onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, Aleppo chile, Sriracha, beef stock, jasmine rice.
  • roasted Corn Salad
    1. Corn, artichoke hearts, edamame, olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon
  • Salsa and Chips ~ post shopping nibbles
  • 20121202-164958.jpg

    Lately I have been preferring to eat my main meal at lunchtime and have something lighter when I get home with a glass of wine or tea. Some of these entrees are also destined for the freezer for when I lack the energy to make something simple.

    I also have a few items in the pantry and freezer that need to be slotted in somewhere:

  • pork truffle butter and crackers
  • adjvar and crackers
  • pork rillettes
  • butternut squash
  • As the dishwasher purrs along, I started poaching the chicken and chopping the vegetables for that stew, and realized I’m tired and want a bubble bath. I’m taking a glass with me to the tub while the carrots, onion and fennel simmer slowly. I’ll finish the stew for supper tonight and cook the greens for breakfast.


    It feels nice to be home with the fridge stocked, good smells perfuming the air and a good meal plan for the next little bit.


    I’ll make sure the fridge door stays closed!

    P.S. Thanks to Laura of Hey Mom What’s For Dinner for the inspiration to plan a batch of meals

    Stuffed Layered Polenta from Herbivoracious

    I had the pleasure of meeting a very talented Seattle chef and blogger, Michael Natkin, as he toured the United States promoting his new vegetarian cookbook Herbivoracious by Harvard Common Press.


    The event was geared towards local bloggers and it felt like a mini reunion with over half the people in the room I would call dear friends.

    Over glasses of lovely Barbera we chatted informally with Chef Michael before he started his cooking demonstration.


    Chef Michael’s book really appealed to me because despite of my great love of fruits and vegetables I feel that my execution of vegetarian cuisine is still in its infancy. I prepare a great variety of vegetable side dishes but the majority of my cooking is very meat-centric and I feel that my menu easily slips into a rut.

    I have a few friends who are vegetarian and have very elevated palates. When we have get-togethers I always stress over what to make for them as my first thoughts generally run to bacon.

    Chef Michael’s fresh and innovative dishes put together ingredients in a manner that made me think “Oooh, that’s terrific, now why didn’t I think of that?!!”

    We were treated to three stunning dishes that night, and I have included the recipe of my favorite dish of the night for you to try: the stuffed and baked polenta.


    I made it a few weeks ago before I was allowed to stand and I must admit cooking while healing from surgery was quite the Herculean task. I needed to rest after each step but I did it. I wasn’t able to do the final bake but a dear pal took care of that for me. My friends who devoured it with me were very appreciative and the kids loved it too.

    I made it again yesterday for friends who were dining with me at home and it turned out so good, I think I may have to make this part of my regular rotation.

    I made my mother’s bechamel, which is simmered slowly with an onion studded with cloves, bay leaf, nutmeg, and knifepoint of cayenne pepper. The minced fresh tarragon was stirred in right before using.

    For the mushroom and greens filling, I had bunches of dino kale, beet greens, and rainbow chard. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can use all of the greens, including the stems, if they are chopped rather finely. You can also use up any greens that you might have in your refrigerator, including lettuces that might be too limp to use in a salad.

    The assembly of the dish is a lot of fun. You spread the cooked polenta into a greased dish and then top it with the greens and the bechamel. I had to use my largest stockpot to make the 9 cups of polenta the recipe called for, and since I cannot stand at the stove for very long, I sat on the seat of my scooter and stirred. It worked out rather well and was less tiring.


    I also added a good handful of grated Parmesan, and the larger pieces of the soft fontina that I could not grate because the cheese is just too squishy. I let these cheeses melt into the polenta before I spread it into the pan.


    The mushroom and greens mixture is spread on top. A good tip is to let it cook down until it is fairly dry to prevent any vegetable juices from softening the lower layer of the polenta after baking.


    The bechamel is spread over the top of the greens. It is very important to be sure you spread the sauce into each corner.


    The remaining batch of polenta is spread onto the top of the filling and smoothed over and topped with cheese.


    When viewed from the side through the Pyrex casserole dish you can really see the beautiful layers of the creamy polenta, the savory greens and mushrooms, the creamy bechamel, the rich top layer of polenta and mixed cheeses on the top. It is slid into the oven to be baked until bubbling and golden brown and a little crispy on the edges.


    While this was baking it smelled so divine. We could barely stand it until the timer went off but we held on for a bit longer to let it cool for about 10 minutes until it firmed up a bit so that it could be sliced into perfect straight edge slabs to be slid onto our ready plates. The next day all the leftovers were reheated briefly in the microwave and devoured for lunch. We looked at the empty dish and felt quite sad. It was gone!

    The full recipe is here.

    I am really looking forward to making this again. I think that I may add a fine lardon of bacon to the vegetable mix for extra porky sinfulness.

    Quick and Zesty: Panko Chicken Bites with Sriracha

    Today I’ve been feeling snacky and yet I just can’t get to the grocery store so I dove into my pantry and came up with everything I needed for my favorite quick chicken dish.


    I am almost embarrassed to share this recipe because it falls under the category of Stupidly Simple. It is so toothsome and quick that it would be almost criminal not to share it though.


    Boneless chicken is tossed with Sriracha and coated in Panko, baked quickly until browned and crispy, and eaten as soon as they are cool enough to handle.


    This little tray won’t last long!

    Here is the recipe, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

    Eggless Baking: Luscious Chocolate Wacky Cake with Ganache

    This Thanksgiving my family decided not to make our traditional pumpkin chiffon pie because of my current food intolerances. Sadly for me this year this amazing pie that was carefully crafted and perfected over 50 years by my maternal grandmother contains eggs, so it’s off my menu for a while.  How very thoughtful of my family to make this sacrifice on my behalf though, I was truly touched.

    Before I could get too caught up in the guilt associated with voluntarily or involuntarily imposing my food limitations upon others my mom announced she would be making Wacky cake. This substitution for our holiday sweet was nothing short of stellar and we were all quite excited.

    (one bite left!)

    You may have heard of the iconic Wacky cake, it has been around before the World War II. It is an eggless and butterless cake because eggs and butter were rationed during wartime and often the average family never saw these common staples. The necessity for cake, however,  did not diminish for those on the homefront and a delicious and suitable substitute stepped in to fill the gap and sweet tooth of the Nation. In today’s parlance wacky cake is vegan. It is also tremendously delicious!

    I have fond memories of scarfing down still warm slabs of dense, chocolately Wacky cake in the cafeteria of my elementary school. Our highly gifted school cook, Frances, made Wacky cake at least once a month and served it heavily dusted with powdered sugar.

    My sister taught me how to make Wacky cake  and I recall that she did this so that I could make it when I got home from school so that she could have it but she hotly disputes this! Mom recalls that she first received the recipe from her high school and college friend, Susie Jones.

    Whatever the source, Wacky cake is a wonderful recipe. The cake has a very rich chocolate flavor from cocoa powder, like a devil’s food cake, and has a fine crumb.

    Instead of getting its leavening from eggs the recipe uses baking soda and vinegar which produces a quick but short rising period. The lack of eggs and butter in the recipe results in the cake being less flexible than a egg-based cake so care must be taken if you plan to unmold it from the baking pan. The cake uses oil instead of butter and therefore one could conceivably say that this is a “heart-healthy” cake if a light olive oil or grapeseed oil is used, due to the oil’s antioxidant properties.

    Traditionally the cake is mixed right in the baking pan, dusted with powdered sugar when cooled and served straight from the pan. This spared the cook additional dishes to wash up, saving money on soap powder.   My mom’s piece de resistance was to instead top the cake with a thick, rich, bittersweet ganache.

    It was heavenly.


    Look how thick the ganache is on this slice of cake, how it glistens and shimmers. I do love chocolate.

    Wacky Cake
    1 1/2 c flour or cake flour
    1 c sugar
    3 T unsweetened cocoa (we used to use Hershey’s but mOm used Valhrona)
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. good vanilla
    1 T vinegar (white or cider)
    5 T vegetable oil (grapeseed, light olive oil or canola)
    1 C cold water

    Preheat the oven to 350 F.

    If you wish to unmold the cake, butter the bottom and sides of a cake tin and line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper, and then butter that paper too. In a mixing bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add on one side of the bowl the vinegar, on another the vanilla and on another the oil. Add all of the water and whisk together swiftly and quickly pour into the cake pan and bang it into the oven.

    If you are going to serve it out of the pan, sift together the dry ingredients as above directly into your baking pan (an 8″ x 8″ square Pyrex), then make three holes in the dry ingredients. In one hold put the oil, the vinegar in the second and the vanilla in the third. Pour over the cold water and mix well with a fork and bake.

    Bake for 20-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs. A bit of care must be taken when baking wacky cake to not over-bake it or it will be perilously dry.

    Unmold after cool, if desired (using the wax paper lined pan) and cover with ganache, or sift over a blizzard of powdered sugar.

    Great Ganache

    Once you add ganache to this cake there is no going back. In fact, after making this ganache I feel like putting it on everything.

    1/2 c + 2T heavy cream
    1 tsp. vanilla
    1 tsp. butter
    5 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
    1 T good bourbon (optional)

    Place the chopped chocolate into a bowl. Heat up the cream until it is very hot but not boiling, and pour it over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is smooth. Add the butter at this point and the vanilla and the bourbon, if using. If you are not using the bourbon in the ganache, shame on you and just drink that tablespoon.

    Keep stirring the ganache with a spoon, not a whisk, until it begins to thicken. When it is thicker than gravy, pour/spread it over the cooled cake. If you want those attractive dribbles down the side of the cake pour it on when the ganache is a little bit thinner, slightly thicker than chocolate syrup or caramel sauce. I prefer it on the stiffer side so that I can spread it over just the top of the cake.

    If you like, you can make a double batch of ganache, and spread half of it over the top, and then let the remaining ganache thicken a bit more so that you can spread the sides of the cake.

    Be sure to do what we did and carefully clean the mixing bowl with our greedy fingers and tongues.


    The finished Wacky cake with ganache was utterly delicious and was perfect with the last bit of red wine from our Thanksgiving dinner.

    The best part of Wacky cake is that it is so simple to make, you can bake it up right before dinner or as an after school treat like I used to.

    Cool Beans – Hummus Reimagined

    Hummus is a traditional middle Eastern spread or dip made from chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tahini (sesame seed paste), olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and salt.

    You can make hummus out of any other kind of bean though, such as white beans, soy beans or edamame and even lentils.  You don’t have to be stuck with garbanzos if you don’t like them!

    Last Spring I wrote about making hummus from white beans and it is truly delicious.  Instead of using expensive, heavy to carry canned beans I prefer to soak and cook my own beans for any bean-type purpose like hummus or soups.  But what do you do if you don’t have a lot of time?  You can buy white bean hummus at Trader Joes, but now we have other options.

    This week the kind folks at Eat Well Enjoy Life send me some hummus to try.  (Please note that I received free product from this company and was not otherwise compensated.)


    They sent me three varieties:

    • Edamame Hummus with a roasted red pepper and sesame topping
    • Tuscan White Bean Hummus with roasted red peppers, pine nut and garlic topping
    • Spicy Yellow Lentil Hummus with apricots and sunflower seed topping
    Since the samples were delivered to my day job I decided to utilize my coworkers in a taste test.  If you ever want to have a thoughtful evaluation of a product I highly recommend using expert retail and consumer consultants.  A true test would not be complete without a survey, so I crafted a brief but thorough written form for my volunteers. What an enthusiastic response!


    Hummus scoring

    The hummus was a big hit.   I set out some crackers and pita chips and the three types of hummus.

    Hummus tastingCheeeeps

    The kitchen immediately was filled with the scent of garlic, herbs and olive oil.

    Hummus collage(L-R: Spicy yellow lentil; white bean; edamame)

    Each tub is attractively packaged and the ingredients are simple, no artificial anything and non-GMO sourced.  Given the constant news about the evil Monsanto is spreading with their genetically modified everything and how we are ingesting their products and acting as their human guinea pigs with unknown health repercussions it is wonderfully refreshing to have a packaged food company specify on their labels if their ingredients are GMO or non-GMO.  It was interesting to note that all of their products are cholesterol free.  I like it that they use extra virgin olive oil as well.

    I asked my volunteers to rate the hummus on taste, texture and whether they would purchase this themselves, and overall favorite flavor on a scale of 1 to 10, one being “hate”, 5 being “meh” and 10 being “love”

    Out of ten respondents (a relatively small sample), the overwhelming favorite was the spicy yellow lentil hummus with a weighted average of 8.0, followed by white bean at 7.2 and edamame at 6.7.

    Most of the respondents liked the toppings on each hummus, with the sweet apricot and sunflower spread on the yellow lentil as a clear winner.  Their least favorite ranking of the edamame surprised me because I preferred the edamame because of its fresh, light flavor.  The texture of the white bean hummus was off-putting to some, they cited a thick and sticky mouth feel.  Given that I have made a lot of white bean hummus I scored it high in texture and thought the roasted peppers and pine nuts were a delicious touch.

    Overall the respondents would buy the white bean and yellow lentil hummus on their own, and half of the group would purchase the edamame hummus.

    I am looking forward to seeing this product in a store soon, for it offers ease and convenience, and the flavor and textures were spot on.  The hummus is also gluten-free and Kosher.  Hummus is a healthy way to add good fats and fiber to your diet, and if you don’t have the time to make it yourself then the Eat Well Enjoy Life brand is one you should seek out.

    Allergy note:  Happily for me I did not have any allergic reactions to the hummus, although I did not try the topping for the spicy lentil and white beans because I am avoiding stone fruit and nuts.  Hopefully this means I can have legumes, lentils and sesame seeds going forward, or perhaps I did not react because I am taking horseloads of antihistamines.   Again, uncertainty and fear of eating anything is rearing its head, but I am being as calm and cautious as I can.   Yesterday I discovered that I had a very strong reaction to eggs and today I discovered that almonds are no bueno.   This makes me very sad, however it is better to know and to feel good than to mourn foods that are toxic to my system.  

    A Beautiful Bowl of Soup

    I will confess that I watch every cooking show out there. It was my Saturday morning habit since high school to watch our local PBS station for all the cooking shows. I absorbed all the advice, tips, methods and creativity like a dry sponge thrown in a bucket. Half the time I would fall asleep though, due to staying up till the wee hours celebrating the end of the work week, so you might say that some of that learning was through osmosis!

    In the early years of cable the cooking shows were terrific, now not so much but I still leave it on, even if I’m not paying attention to it overmuch. This week, on a wild and stormy night, I was knitting away on a pair of socks and all of a sudden my attention was snapped to the tv like a cat spying a laser light flashed on a wall. Ina Garten was making chicken soup.

    Chicken soup holds a spot of great affection in my heart, and I have tried more variations upon a theme than Mozart. Like Mozart there is no one good recipe for chicken soup, and, in my mind, there is always room for another recipe in my kitchen.

    I liked the look of Ina’s chicken soup. It had fat little meatballs made of chicken, which appeals to me much more than a beef or a pork meatball. This soup also had fresh spinach, tiny soup pasta and carrots, and *dill*! How divine it looked! I really wanted a bowl right then and there.

    The next day I was still thinking about it and the rain had calmed somewhat when someone twittered that they were actually making this very same soup! It seemed like the thing to do so I pulled chicken breasts and sausages out of my cleverly packed freezer, and headed to the store between rainstorms for spinach and herbs, and a few other necessities such as Cambozola and rose champagne. I also needed Pecorino and they had just cracked a huge wheel of it, so delicious.

    A pile of Pecorini, destined for my soup

    Back indoors in the nick of time, I started making my beautiful bowl of soup. This recipe is a whole lot easier if you purchase ground chicken, but I have an aversion to pre-ground meats. Do you really know what is in it, when it was ground and how well the grinder was cleaned? So given that and how easy it is to grind up a couple of chicken breasts myself, I popped on the grinder attachment on the Kitchen Aid and in less than 2 minutes the chicken was done. Then I cubed up a piece of good sourdough bread and tossed it into the grinder. This cleans out all the chicken from the grinder but also is a quick way to make fresh breadcrumbs.

    In the minichop I minced up some garlic and handfuls of fresh parsley, added the cheeses and then popped the skins off of the sausages and mixed everything up.

    meatball collage

    These sausages are special, from the Lockeford Meat & Sausage Co. on the highway up to the Gold Country. For years I have wanted to stop there and it was all at once worth the wait and yet I am kicking myself for not stopping there earlier. They make about twenty varieties and the four kinds I brought home were not nearly enough. Although the soup recipe called for a half pound of chicken sausages, I had purchased exactly a half pound of fat little breakfast links from Lockeford so they were destined to be used in my preparation.

    Lockeford collage
    (the Lockeford Shop window, me and my haul of snausages, a painting of pigs above the shop counter – cute! If you go, check out the maple, the apple, the breakfast and the Dakota sausages, oh so good!)

    I especially like that the meatballs are baked, so I formed them into little balls and baked them off, in two batches, and then started chopping the soup vegetables. Because I adore carrots I used a whole bunch, plus a fat Spanish onion and the last of the celery. I also had some green beans left from a giant packet from Costco so I added about 2 cups of them too. That’s the nice thing about soup, you can really add anything in the fridge to it and the additions only make it better.

    veggie collage

    The vegetables were sauteing in a nice glug of green olive oil and by that time the meatballs were finished roasting. I couldn’t resist and had to sample one. Well, three. Well, okay four but they were really delicious. They have a snappy bite with a good chicken flavor overlaid with a nice garlic and herb note, then the subtle earthiness of the cheese comes through.

    Chicken meat balls 2

    While the meatballs were cooling, and I was trying to resist temptation and avoid snacking on any more, I added a lot of chicken broth to the pot, although sadly not homemade, and a hefty glass of wine (some of the wine was for me too naturally).

    New Message
    (Michael and David Enigma, a Viogner, 2006. Note the sheen of condensation on the glass. My fridge is too cold, so if you pour a glass of wine and it looks like this, it’s too chilled to drink. I take my white wines out of the fridge to sit for 30 minutes before serving.)

    The vegetables and broth simmered away together and I splashed about in the sink washing a wonderful bunch of Cal-Organic spinach. This was the perkiest, most gorgeous bunch of spinach ever, so delicious and tender.

    Perky spinach

    I had a smidgen of a packet of good soup pasta in the pantry, this is artisanal extruded pasta from Italy, fat miniature stars, and they look so adorable when cooked up and nestled in your soup spoon. I tossed them in the soup for 12 minutes. Next time, I will cook them separately to keep the soup more brothy.

    Good soup pasta

    The meatballs and a huge mound of freshly chopped dill went in the soup pot next, then a few grinds of fresh black pepper. A moment later all the spinach went in, swirled around with my wooden spoon, then it was time for dinner. Of course I burned my tongue a little because I couldn’t wait for the soup to cool for a moment before trying it. I sat curled up on a chair next to the radiator, listening to the rain patter on the windows behind me while I enjoyed my beautiful bowl of soup. What a perfect rainy evening!

    Beautiful soup

    Ina’s Italian Wedding Soup

    2 chicken breasts, ground*
    4 breakfast sausages, removed from their casings, or ½ # chicken sausages
    1 fat slice of sourdough bread, ground or 2/3 c fresh white bread crumbs
    1 clove of garlic, minced
    A large handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
    ¼ c Pecorino Romano
    ¼ c Parmesan, plus extra
    3 T milk (I forgot to put this in but it was fine)
    1 egg, beaten a little
    ½ tsp. salt and 6 grinds of pepper
    (olive oil)


    Olive oil
    1 onion, chopped
    1 bunch of carrots, scrubbed well and chopped
    2 stalks celery, chopped
    2 c fresh green beans, chopped into ½” lengths
    10 c chicken stock
    A glass of dry white wine
    1 c small pasta (cook separately in salted water if desired)
    A large handful fresh dill, chopped
    A large bunch of fresh spinach, well washed, stems removed, large leaves torn in half
    Salt (if needed) and pepper

    Mix the meatballs

    Mix well with your hands all of the meatball ingredients, and then wash your hands. With damp hands, roll a tablespoon of meat mixture to form 1” – 1 ½” balls, place on a baking tray covered with parchment paper. Drizzle with a little olive oil and bake for 30 minutes at 350˚ F or until they are cooked through and browned. Try not to eat too many.

    *If you don’t have a meat grinder or a KitchenAid grinder attachment, you can grind the chicken breasts using a Cuisinart. Use the metal blade, cut the chicken into large chunks and pulse about six times or until the meat is ground nicely. You can also grind your own fresh breadcrumbs in the Cuisinart. Use the same method with a clean bowl and pulse until the bread is is small crumbs. If you don’t have any of this equipment, put it on your birthday/Christmas wish list and buy pre-ground chicken meat at a really good butcher.

    Make the soup base

    In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and sauté the soup vegetables until tender, 10-15 minutes. Then add the stock and wine and simmer for 15 minutes. Then, add the pasta and cook until tender (unless you cooked it separately). Add the meatballs and dill, simmer a minute, then add the spinach. Stir in the spinach down into the broth and simmer until it is tender, another minute. Serve with extra Parmesan if you want. Excellent on a rainy night.

    (here is a link to the original recipe)

    I hope the next rainy night you try making this soup. Or on any night! I also think these meatballs would be a great appetizer for a potluck if they are served in some sort of sauce, I will work on that and let you know. I am not sure why this is called wedding soup. It has never been served at any of the zillion Italian weddings I have attended. If you know the origins behind the name, please do share.