Sunday, July 31, 2011

a recipe for roasted beet soup...the most beautiful soup in the world?

winter in napa lasted a long time this year...very long.  like no spring kind of long.  like cold and rainy through the middle of june kind of long.  so our local spring and summer produce is all mixed up.  everything is late.   and, since i participate in a napa CSA, i have been experiencing this issue on a weekly basis.  we have had beets, turnips, onions, carrots, garlic and greens daily since the middle of may...and, honestly, i am ready for beet and turnip season to be over.  i think that is the key to eating seasonal, local food.  just when you are getting tired of a particular item...poof, the season is over and you have to wait a year for it to return.  (this philosophy does not work for tomatoes...i never get tired of tomatoes and their season is always way too short.)

so back to beets.  i love them and have been preparing them a number of ways...i think roasted is my favorite, but i also love them raw in salads.  i have a recipe for roasted and raw beets served with feta cheese on a bed of arugula and sprinkled with preserved meyer lemons that is out of this world.

today i made beet soup that tastes delicious and looks absolutely beautiful.  the soup contains beets that are first roasted and then blended with carrots, red onion and green apple.  it is subtlety spiced with chinese 5 powder and fresh herbs, then topped with tangy greek yogurt.  i confess that i am now slightly addicted...and perhaps wishing beet season gives me just a couple more weeks.  i want to make this again...(and again)

farmer's market roasted beet soup
1 lb red beets  
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 carrots, unpeeled and chopped
1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
1 green apple, unpeeled and chopped
3/4 tsp chinese 5 spice powder
3 cups water
1 fresh lemon basil sprig
1 fresh thyme sprig
1 fresh parsley sprig
kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
best quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup greek yogurt
2 tbsp freshly snipped chives

preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  roast beets by following the directions given in the post want some pink lentils with roasted beets?   cool and peel, then coarsely chop.  set aside

add the 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil to stockpot over medium heat. add carrots, onion and apple to pot and sauté (stirring often) until onion is just translucent, about 15 minutes.  add chinese 5 spice, pinch kosher salt, pinch black pepper and the beets . continue sautéing until onion just begins to caramelize, stirring frequently, about 5 additional minutes. add the water and herbs. allow soup to just come to a boil, reduce heat to very low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour stirring occasionally.  remove herbs.  

if you have an immersion blender (if not, go buy one now!), use this tool to puree soup until it is very smooth. ( if you don't have an immersion blender you can process in a regular blender, but please be very careful.  let the soup cool to warm and add to blender in batches, when pureed, add back to soup pot)

add additional salt and pepper to taste.  just before serving add 2 additional tablespoons best quality extra virgin olive oil to soup, stir and serve in bowls with a dollop of greek yogurt and a sprinkle of chives.

do you have favorite beet recipes?  please share in the comments section of this post...thank you...

diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885
"live a green life of style™ "
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

maybe cucumber coolers with agave simple syrup?

it is cucumber week at summerfest and i cannot wait to see all the recipes from the participating bloggers.  i love cucumbers, but i must confess that i forget about them sometimes.  i use them on sandwiches...have a favorite spicy cucumber salad that i shared last year...add them to my greek quinoa salad (a crucial ingredient for regular greek salads too)....and, of course, they are a staple in my summer gazpacho.  my friend rachelle made delicious cucumber tea sandwiches for book club last week and that recipe is definitely being added to my list of cucumber ideas.  but then i start to lose steam.  what else can i do with this cold, crunchy, refreshing vegetable?

cucumbers contain mostly water and are a good source of vitamin C, silica, potassium and magnesium. their peel is full of beneficial fiber so i almost always use them peel on.  i did some research regarding their other health benefits and was thrilled to find this review from the world's healthiest foods site:

"The silica in cucumber is an essential component of healthy connective tissue, which includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone. Cucumber juice is often recommended as a source of silica to improve the complexion and health of the skin, plus cucumber's high water content makes it naturally hydrating, a must for glowing skin . Cucumbers are also used topically for various types of skin problems, including swelling under the eyes and sunburn. Two compounds in cucumbers, ascorbic acid and caffeic acid, prevent water retention, which may explain why cucumbers applied topically are often helpful for swollen eyes, burns and dermatitis. "

they had me at "a must for glowing skin".  the article also reminded me of my cucumber cooler drink....perfect for the hot days of summer.  i keep the cucumber in the refrigerator until the last minute and ensure the other ingredients are prepped and ready to go.  then i peel and chop the cucumber and quickly throw everything in the blender, process and serve immediately so that it is ice cold when i serve.  this recipe makes 2 drinks but is easily doubled or quadrupled.  perfect for a party...(and it is pretty tasty turned into a cocktail too)  note...this drink is one of the few times i peel cucumbers in recipes...the little bits of peel aren't especially nice in the drink ....but, if i am making it just for me and want all the health benefits possible, i skip the peeling step and call it a smoothie.

i also make an agave simple syrup to sweeten the drink.  most simple syrups are equal parts water and sugar cooked until the sugar dissolves.  i am trying to avoid white sugar whenever possible and decided to experiment with agave.  since agave is already a liquid, it is not absolutely necessary to combine with the water, but i find that the reduced sweetness and thinner consistency works better in drinks.  try the simple syrup if you have the time...if not, just add regular organic raw agave nectar...either way is delicious...

let me know what you think....and please share your favorite cucumber recipes in the comments section below.
cucumber cooler with agave simple syrup
agave simple syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup organic agave nectar
combine water and agave nectar in small saucepan.  heat over low heat just until simmering.  turn off heat and let cool to room temperature.

1 organic english cucumber (or 2 garden cucumbers)
1/4 cup water
juice from 1 small lime
2 tbsp chopped mint
1/4 cup agave simple syrup (refrigerate the rest for another use)
4 ice cubes
mint leaves for garnish

peel cucumber.  cut a few thin slices and reserve for garnish.  cut the remaining cucumber into large pieces.
add all ingredients except garnishes to blender.  pulse until liquefied, thick and frothy.  serve immediately garnished with the mint and cucumber slices.
**note...this drink becomes a delicious cocktail by adding vodka, gin or tequila!

now it is your turn to participate in summer fest. simply leave your cucumber tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below, and then go visit food network and do the same same.  be sure to check out all the other participating bloggers.  their recipes sound amazing!

Pinch My Salt: Chilled Cucumber, Kefir and Avocado Soup
What’s Gaby Cooking: Cucumber-Basil Gimlet
In Jennie’s Kitchen: Radish-Cucumber Crostini
Big Girl Small Kitchen: Spicy Cucumber Salad with Shallot, Ginger and Mint
Grecian Kitchen: Summer Cucumber Salad
And Love It Too: Cucumber, Mint and Watermelon Salad
Cooking With My Kid: Cucumber Limeade
FN Dish: Summer Fest: Cucumber Recipes
Healthy Eats: Cool Cucumber Soup
Food for 7 Stages of Life: Cucumber Cherry Salsa
Cooking With Elise: Green Tea Cucumber Pops
Glory Foods: Cucumber and Shrimp Boat
Virtually Vegan Mama: Fire-Roasted Tomato and Cucumber Gazpacho
Food2: When Life Gives You Cucumbers, Make a Cucumber Cocktail
Cooking Channel: Cucumbers Stuffed with Crab-Mango Salad
Recipe Girl: Bread and Butter Pickles
Taste With the Eyes: Spicy Pickled Cucumbers with Wakame and Garlic Blossoms
Virtually Homemade: Cold Thai Cucumber-Mint Soup
Add a Pinch: Cucumber Tea Sandwiches
The Cultural Dish: Ahi Tuna with Cucumber Sauce and Salad
Daily*Dishin: Cool n’ Zesty Cukes: 7 Minute Summer in a Jar
Daydreamer Desserts: Cubanita Margarita
Purple Cook: Cucumber Gazpacho with Indian Flavored Shrimp Relish
Indian Simmer: Cucumber at its Best with Chaat Masala
Big Apple Nosh: Quick and Easy Homemade Pickles
Sweet Life Bake: Agua de Pepino
The Sensitive Epicure: Tzatziki with Grilled Gluten-Free Pitas and Fresh Cucumbers and Peppers
A Way to Garden: Cucumber-Growing Q&A and the Best Pickles
Cooking with Books: Summer Fest: Cucumbers


diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885
"live a green life of style™ "

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

want a cool tip for grilling hamburgers?

i am not a grilling expert.  growing up, my dad was the barbecue master...the very traditional
mom-does-all-the-cooking-except-for-dad-at-the-grill kind of childhood.  then, as an adult, we lived in san francisco for 15 years, and the cold & foggy summers did not lead to many outdoor cookouts.  it wasn't until we moved to napa that i started experimenting with bbq. and by bbq, i mean grilling over coals....not using a gas grill.  i wanted "authenticity"...not ease of use.

my initial attempts were not pretty.  i struggled to get the coals get them to stay hot...and to figure out how long to cook the food.  many of the first few dinners resulted in charred outsides...and rare (ok, raw!) exteriors.  i did not have any "experts" around, so i learned by watching cooking shows, reading everything i could and experimenting, experimenting, experimenting....

the two best things i learned were use real hardwood charcoal...not the more common briquettes.  hardwood burns hotter and cleaner, lights more easily and contains no impurities or chemicals.  the brand i use is from whole foods and their hardwood comes from waste wood reclaimed from the lumber no trees were cut down for this product...reuse, repurpose, reimagine. tip #2...use a chimney starter.  a chimney starter is an amazing tool which enables you to light the charcoal without any of that horrible smelling lighter fluid.  you add newspaper to the bottom chamber, fill the top with the hardwood charcoal, light the paper and 15 minutes later...viola!  your charcoals are hot and you are ready to spread them out and begin grilling.   i love this device.

ok...experienced grillers are probably thinking "ah...duh!  nothing new here"  and they would be absolutely correct....these are truly the basics of grilling.  but, since these tips helped me...i am hoping they will also be of use for other newbies.   please feel free to share your favorite grilling ideas in the comments section of this post.  i could use the help!

now...for that hamburger tip i promised.  my hamburger patties always started out looking beautiful...carefully crafted, handled as little as possible, made from freshly ground grass fed beef....but as soon as i grilled them they puffed up...almost like a meatball!?   i knew better than to smash them down with the spatula (never do that, you lose all the juices) i was a bit at a loss.  then i read about the "thumbprint" tip.   what a cool trick!  after you form your patties, use your thumb to form an indention in the center of each one.  exactly as if you are making thumbprint cookies.  then grill as normal.  the indention somehow keeps air from forming in the center so no more puffy burgers.  how cool is that?

happy summer grilling everyone!


diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style™ "

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

want a recipe for fresh peach cookies?

it is peach week at summer fest and i couldn't be happier.  i love summer...and i adore stone fruit....peaches, apricots, plums, pluots, nectarines, cherries...all are wonderful, but i think peaches are my favorite.  i eat them almost every day when they are in season .  i mean, how delicious are beautiful, ripe peaches with cold milk on cereal? or baked in a pie, crisp or cobbler? blended with yogurt and almond butter in a smoothie? grilled on the barbecue and served with vanilla ice cream?  peach jam?  chopped with onions, tomatoes and jalapeño peppers for salsa? oven roasted with balsamic vinegar? i could list hundreds of recipes...or just suggest finding a perfectly ripe peach and eating out of hand. 
last summer i made the desserts for a good friend's wedding...she requested southern classics...and did not want a cake. so i made fresh peach pies with pecan/streusel topping and homemade vanilla ice cream....the perfect way to celebrate a very special day.

courtesy brooke cheshier
i love it when something that tastes as sweet and delicious as peaches is actually good for food at its best. according to :
"Though low in calories—one cup of sliced peaches has only 60 calories—and composed of 80 percent water, peaches are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids. The dose of fiber in peaches acts as a gentle laxative, aids digestion, and may also help combat cancer. The fruit is rich in cancer-fighting vitamin A in the form of beta carotene, as well as the immune-boosting vitamin C, which also protects against heart disease. Rich in iron and potassium, peaches help ensure proper functioning of cells, the balance of fluid and electrolytes in the body, and nerve signaling. Lutein and zeaxanthin—two carotenoids found in peaches—help guard against blindness caused by age-related macular degeneration."

oh...and one tip about the peel! much of the fiber and nutrients are contained in the peel. many recipes call for peeling...only do this if you are making something which requires a delicate texture...otherwise leave the peel on...grab all the nutrients you can.

it has been really hot this week so i planned a "non-party party".  i contacted a bunch of my friends and told them we would be home all day sunday hanging out by the pool.  i said..."stop by for a quick dip, or stay all afternoon...we will have plenty of food and drinks".  i made a bunch of easy to make, easy to serve dishes, ensured we were well stocked in beer, wine and sunscreen and bought a ton of ice. dessert? fresh peach cookies served with vanilla ice cream drizzled with dulce de leche.  how good does that sound?

the non-party was so much fun.  the first guests arrived around 1:00 pm...the last ones left a bit after between, lots of friends, food, swimming, eating, drinking, talking, laughing...does not get better than that....

the cookies are a delicious and different way to use fresh peaches and, happily, they are good for you, too.  equal parts fruit and cookie dough, they are made with spelt flour; a whole grain high in fiber.  the cookies are low in fat and only lightly sweetened with agave nectar.  let's see...a cookie full of fresh fruit, high fiber, low fat, low sugar and delicious?   how cool is that?

fresh peach cookies
(cookies are best eaten within a day or two of baking)
3 cups spelt flour (or white whole wheat flour or unbleached white flour, but you lose the whole grain high fiber benefit with the white flour choice)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup raw agave nectar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups finely diced fresh peaches
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

preheat oven to 325 degrees.  oil 2 baking sheets or line with silpat.  set aside.

add the dry ingredients (the first 8 items of the recipe) to a bowl and stir to combine.  in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs until frothy.  add the olive oil, agave nectar and vanilla and beat until well mixed.  add 1/2 the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and beat until just combined.  add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until combined.  add the peaches and coconut and mix until incorporated into the dough.  drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 1/2 inches apart. bake 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven until golden brown. let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes and then place on wire racks and allow to cool completely before serving.

now it is your turn to participate in summer fest. simply leave your fresh peach tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below, and then go visit food network and do the same same.

the cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the participating blogs. yes, copy and paste them everywhere! that way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. everyone benefits, and some pretty great dialog starts simmering. have fun!

participating bloggers:
CIA Dropout: Peachy Keen Panna Cotta
What’s Gaby Cooking: Peach and Blueberry Cobbler
In Jennie’s Kitchen: Easy Peach Preserves
Daily Dishin: Fresh Peaches and Cream No-Bake Pie
Cooking With My Kid: Peach & Friends Cobbler Pie
White on Rice Couple: Peach Heirloom Tomato Salad
Cooking With Elise: Bruschetta with Grilled Peach Chutney
FN Dish: Summer Fest: Peach Recipes
Taste With The Eyes: Warm White Peach and Blackberry Cobbler
Recipe Girl: Fresh Peach Pie
A Way to Garden: Farm Fresh Peaches Frozen to Perfection
Sassy Radish: Peach, Apricot and Blueberry Cobbler with a Cornmeal Crust
Sweet Life Bake: Sweet Peach Ancho Chile Salsa
Indian Simmer: Indian Peach Gujiya
Pinch My Salt: Creamy Peach Smoothie
Dixie Chik Cooks: Peach Cobbler
Food2: 5 Killer Peach Flavored Cocktails
Healthy Eats: 8 Ways You Didn’t Know You Could Eat Peaches
Cooking Channel: Peaches on the Grill
Add a Pinch: My Grandmother’s Peach Cobbler
And Love It Too: Pan Seared Salmon with Fresh Peach Salsa
The Sensitive Epicure: A Summer Peach Tart, Gluten-Free
From My Corner of Saratoga: Double Caramel Peaches
She Wears Many Hats: Peach Wonton
I am Mommy: Peach Bread


diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style™ "

Follow napafarmhouse on Twitter
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