Chilled Lemon Cucumber & Fresh Pea Soup for summer

29 Wed, 2011 § 1 Comment

“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon…the two most beautiful words in the English language.” ~Henry James

The essence of summer reveals herself in many forms:

the intoxicating sweetness of small, deeply red strawberries

pungent, smokey notes wafting from a grill

giggles & splashing rise from the pool…

the tart-yet-sweet burst of cherry tomatoes popping in my mouth…

buttery, flaky fried zucchini melting over my tongue…

floating cucumbers freshen & sweeten a cool pitcher of water…

Summer afternoons are delicious.  It is not just that I am a hot-weathered girl.  The colors, the sounds — the full sensory experience of summer it bright & alive — bringing with it pieces of nostalgia & chance to create our own stories.

Often the intense afternoon heat diminishes my appetite; but rather than forgo eating, light & cooling soups have been on my mind & just the treat my body has craved.  It is no secret I am a simple cook.  When ingredients are fresh & at their peak, there is no need for frills.  I prefer to let the food speak for itself.

I have always wanted to try a chilled cucumber soup & remembered seeing a recipe where Helene used lemon cucumbers.  Perfect, because I just happened to have a couple lovely lemon cucumbers from farmer’s market waiting in the crisper & fresh peas to shuck.

Chilled Lemon Cucumber & Fresh Pea Soup with Pistachios

lightly adapted from Tartelette

In a large pot of boiling water, blanch 1 cup fresh peas until just tender, about 6 – 8 minutes.  Drain & immediately immerse the peas in a bowl of cold water, preferably with ice, to cool & stop the cooking process.  Drain completely once they are cold.

While the peas cook, peel & chop 2 – 4 lemon cucumbers.  I did not seed mine but definitely would if I were using regular cucumbers.

Place the peas & cucumbers in a food processor & puree until smooth.  After pureeing, you might need to add water, or “milk” like I did, depending on the amount of water in your cucumbers, to reach the consistency you desire.  I added just a splash of (vanilla) hemp milk, which added a slight creaminess & sweetness to the soup.  I was afraid water would water it down & make it bland.  Add sea salt & fresh pepper to taste.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Garnish individual bowls with a couple crushed, toasted pistachios.

makes 3 – 4 appetizer servings or 1 – 2 full servings

~

What is your favorite chilled soup?  What are your current summer cravings?

Baking Quick Breads (by ratio) & Orange-Saffron Muffins [Gluten-Free]

17 Fri, 2011 § 10 Comments

Early mornings are meant for the kitchen.  Flours dust the counter tops as the sun slowly reaches its way across bowls & bamboo mixing spoons.  Sometimes, 4am (or even 5am) feels too early to be awake & baking breads; but often, I relish this unique perspective of our home as the house fills with light & sweet aromas.

While I enjoy this intimate time with myself, it’s not purely selfish.  Dave doesn’t seem to mind waking to smells of freshly baked millet muffins or Summer-infused quick breads.  I look forward to sending him to work with a scone, a fresh slice of sweet bread or a muffin.

I have taken to creating more baked goods rather than buying bread from the store, especially as I am delving into gluten-free varieties.  Baking my own is less expensive, but more than that, it’s rewarding & sparks creativity.  Experimenting with gluten-free flours is becoming more interesting than sticking to whole wheat, though I still rotate in batches made with kamut.  There is much more variance & diversity of flavors & textures when you explore what lies beyond all-purpose & wheat flour.  Corn. Oat. Rice. Buckwheat. Amaranth. Almond.  Each is distinct in its nuances & offers something different to your baking.

I am becoming very partial to the combination of almond & oat.

Orange & saffron as well.

I have just started baking with a scale & following weight ratios rather than measuring by volume (ie measuring cups), which immediately amped up my confidence in creating rather than simply following recipes.  Baked goods each have a ratio of flours to liquids to eggs to fats.  What makes bread different from pancakes — & these different from pizza dough or a croissant — is not just the ingredients, but how those ingredients work in proportion to each other.  Of course, there are still many recipes out there I have fallen in love with which need little to no adapting; but baking by ratio gives me the freedom to make these recipes my own by more easily swapping flours or the type of liquid or fat I use.

Try it.  My kitchen scale set us back only $20 & is more than worth it.

To ease you into this, I did translate my recipe back into approximate volume measurements.  These will only be useful if you use the exact ingredients I did though, because each flour, oil, etc has its own specific weight.  I’m a newby just playing around, having fun & certainly no expert.  This is a great post if you are interested in learning more about cooking with ratios.

The ratio for baking quick bread is 2 parts flour: 2 parts liquid: 1 part egg: 1 part fat.  To fill a 9 x 5 loaf pan, you would need 227 grams of flours, 227 grams of liquid of any kind, 113 grams egg (2 of them) or egg substitute & 113 grams of fats.   This ratio also works for making muffins.

Almond Meal Muffins with Orange Zest & Saffron

makes 12 muffins

or slightly fewer if you want a higher muffin top

  • 110 g almond flour (~heaping 3/4 cup)
  • 117 g oat flour (~heaping 1 cup)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 131 g orange blossom honey (~1/2 cup)
  • 63 g coconut milk (~1/4 cup)
  • 34 g fresh orange juice (4T) & zest from one orange
  • 2 eggs (113 g)
  • 113 g coconut oil, melted (~1/2 cup)
  • tiny pinch of saffron, seriously only a few strands

Preheat oven to 350*F.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients.  Combine wet ingredients separately.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients & mix.  Fold in zest & saffron.  Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling to the rim. Bake for 13 – 15 minutes until muffin tops are lightly golden & a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

These are crumby & moist, best eaten with a fork, fresh & warm from the oven.

~

Do you bake using ratios?

p.s. The first bread is my vegan variation of Marla’s Strawberry Snack Cakes.

Quinoa Pasta with Black Beldis & a Lemon Vinaigrette

2 Thu, 2011 § 2 Comments

One of the beautiful aspects of cooking with fresh ingredients is the variety you get, even within one type of food.  Each lemon I squeeze or zest has slightly different nuances from the last.

Because food differs subtly, cooking by taste is about more than personal preference.  It is also about capturing the moment of (& with) the food & making minute adjustments to bring everything together on the plate.

Tuesday evening, we made a simple pasta dish & arguably one of the best we have tasted.  You can’t go wrong with Black Beldi olives (my recent obsession), artichoke hearts & pine nuts, but this wasn’t just good; it was wow.  Though each ingredient was simple, I mindfully tasted each, striving to create balance between the acid, fat, salt & sweetness of the dish.  I looked for subtle changes that would round out the flavors.

What I kept in mind:

Pasta should be al dente, not mush, so it holds up to other textures.  I had never cooked quinoa pasta before, so I had to watch it carefully.  Pasta continues to cook for a short time after removing it from the stove, so remove & drain it just before you think it is done.

Beldi olives are worth seeking out.  They would be a major fat/heavy component of the dish – especially since I was chopping them — so I didn’t want a heavy sauce.  A vinaigrette with a full-flavored extra virgin olive oil-base would keep it light.  Beldis are briny, full of flavor & can be salty; after tasting one, I realized I could still add more sea salt to the dish at the end without over salting.

Baby spinach would not only add more nutrients, but color & an earthy tone as well — more so since I was going to toss it with warm pasta, which would cause it to wilt slightly — so I did only a couple small handfuls.

Since artichoke hearts have a taste that borders bitterness, I used basil in the vinaigrette to cut through this & round out the flavors.  Basil makes me think fresh.  A tiny pinch of mint would also add freshness.

Toasted, almost smokey, pine nuts add layers in both texture & flavor.

Acid adds brightness to a dish, which is nice for pasta which can easily become heavy.  My lemon wasn’t especially tart & didn’t quite stand up to the olive oil with the typical 1:1 vinaigrette ratio.  I opted to use more lemon juice & garnish each plate with the zest for more punch.

Our artisan feta is a local, distinct goat cheese with a little heat from dried peppers as well as garlic, which would compliment the basil, artichokes, etc.  It is a dry cheese, which would be preferred over an oily one for this dish.

Below are my approximations.  I didn’t really measure anything, & I encourage you to do the same.  After all, each time you make a dish, it should come together a little differently than the time before, as seasons, harvests, weather, etc vary.  No mindless tasting (ie snacking) while you cook; instead, really taste each component & consider how it will all come together.

Quinoa Pasta with Black Beldis, Artichoke & Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette

serves 4 – 6

  • 16 oz small-shaped pasta, cooked al dente, drained & cooled slightly
  • 1 – 2 handfuls baby spinach, torn
  • ~1/3 cup Black Beldi olives, chopped
  • 1 can artichoke heart quarters, drained
  • ~3 T pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet (watch closely: they go from raw to burnt like that :snap:)
  • fine sea salt to taste
  • ~1/4 cup dry goat feta, crumbled
  • zest from one lemon (garnish)

Toss spinach with warm pasta.  Add chopped olives, artichoke & pine nuts & toss gently with a sprinkling of sea salt.  Pour the vinaigrette over the pasta & gently combine.  Sprinkle with feta & toss again.  Garnish individual servings with lemon zest.

Lemon Vinaigrette

  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • substantial pinch dried basil
  • pinch dried mint

Whisk ingredients together.

~

Do you taste & adjust as you cook or follow recipes strictly?

Indian Creek & [Flourless] Almond Butter Cookies

28 Thu, 2011 § Leave a comment

We always wish we had something sweet when sitting around the fire.

[photo by David Finch]

The smore suggestion is often thrown around, but vegan marshmallows are expensive & usually use syrup — & Allie-approved graham crackers & chocolate aren’t exactly cheap either…& I’m out of homemade chocolate…already.

We went with cookies, because cookies are easy & easy to tailor.  I did not want a flour-based one that might leave us feeling heavy for climbing, so these use almond butter as the base with ground flaxseed to bind everything together.  They are a little crumbly — not so much so they disintegrate on you, but they might not survive milk dunking —  subtly sweet & [almond] buttery.  Cookies that were exactly what I was wanting for our camping trip:

Almond Butter & Cacao Nib Cookies

makes ~16 small cookies

Preheat oven to 350*F.

  • 4 dates, pureed into paste
  • 1 C almond butter, unsalted & stirred well
  • 1 flax “egg” (whisk 1 T freshly ground flaxseeds with 3 T warm water, allow to thicken ~10 minutes)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • ~1/4 C cacao nibs (or mini-chocolate chips)

Combine all ingredients except cacao nibs & mix well [you don’t want to bite into a salt or baking soda cloud].   Stir in cacao or chocolate pieces.  Spoon into tablespoon-size balls & flatten onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for ~12 minutes until lightly browned.  Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack & cool 15 minutes longer.

~

What sweets or treats do you take camping?

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