Thursday, May 31, 2012

Snappy Fast Fresh Asparagus

Ah, when asparagus is in season I want it to come to my plate every night! It's easy enough to make quickly in several ways. Simmer in a skillet with an inch or so of water for about 10 minutes, drain, and roll around in the skillet with a spray of Pam and a shake or two of oregano or thyme or tarragon to finish it off. Or there are a few other good methods, if you do it right, and you won't be surprised when I say roasting or grilling. The trick to getting it right is just in the timing.
Pam spray or lightly oil a large pan so the asparagus will lay flat in one layer.

Sprinkle of salt and pepper and any of the above herbs, if you like. Now pop them into a 350 oven and watch it! I would check back in about 10 minutes and shake the pan to roll them around a little. If they're skinny stalks they'll may already be done. You're just looking for them to be tender enough to cut with a fork, not beginning to shrivel or they will be on the way to chewy and ready to throw out instead of eat. This is the same guideline for grilling. Asparagus does best on the grill wrapped in aluminum foil with some holes poked into the pack to let a little smokey flavor in but keep the moisture from going out. Don't leave them on the grill long, same rule for checking as above, depending on how hot your grill is. Taste test. If you close your eyes involuntarily, they're ready.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

All Your Veggies in One Soup

 (Printable Recipe)
If you're looking for a scrumptious way to pack your daily diet with plenty of vegetables, this is it. It's spicy, savory, loaded with flavors, and the fresh vegetables are cooked just long enough to still taste great.   And this soup is so filling I often have it as a snack to stave off the cravings for carb loaded late-night junk that just leaves me wanting, well, more carb loaded late-night junk. Best of all, you'll burn as many calories digesting all these high fiber veggies than the total calorie count of one cup!
Start with the mix of vegetables you like best. For me, this is the perfect blend. Crunchy celery and onion, sweet red pepper, dense broc and cauliflower, and plain white cabbage which will only cook long enough to sweeten and soften somewhat - not long enough to turn stinky. If you're wondering about those broccoli stalks, I meant for those to be in there! Not a mistake. I never toss a broccoli stalk because they can be peeled and sliced into little crunchy rounds that are a bit like a water chestnut without the carbs. A wonderful extra in stir-fries or soups or even salad.
Voila. Here's everything taken down to bite size. If you've done the Weekly Veg Prep this part will be a snap.  Now, for the souping.
I like my soup good and spicy but you can tone it down by using plain diced tomatoes rather than Rotel with Green Chilies. Oh, give a try at least once with the spicy heat and see what you think before you just give up. It may just be the best vegetable soup you ever ate. I use two of these 2-quart cartons of chicken stock, 1-2 cans of Rotel, and one or two tablespoons of Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base to enrich the flavor. Soup bases are the secret of many a restaurant chef. There is no comparison at all to bouillon. Word of Warning, however! Not all soup base is created equal. Many are hardly more than lard. If you don't find this brand in your store try to find Minor's. Read the label on any others and run from those that are made with anything other than pure, mostly chicken ingredients. Dissolve the thick base in a little hot water and whisk it well before adding to your soup so it will disperse well into the mix.
Now for the rest of the seasonings. I told you this was a flavorful soup! Don't quake, these are all common ingredients that you'll probably have in your pantry even if you only cook occasionally. Add 1-2 Tbs each of soy sauce, oregano, basil. One teaspoon of chili powder, onion powder, and a 1/2 tsp of garlic powder. I like to use smoked garlic powder when I can find it. The tablespoon of white stuff is Splenda, not sugar, and don't leave this out. It balances all the spicy ingredients while enhancing the other spices. You may even want to add a second or third tablespoon of it when you taste the soup. You won't need salt because the soup base provides enough.
Lastly, give it a nice fat clove of pressed garlic and let the simmering begin. In about 30 minutes, soup's on. But don't cook any longer than necessary for vegetables to be tender crisp or nutrients and flavor will be lost! Enjoy a cup as snack or with a meal of salad and lean protein. If you have leftover lean taco beef or chicken, add a few ounces to the soup for a nice filling lunch. 
*For those on the Take Shape for Life program, top this soup with some crunchy White Cheddar Crisps instead of croutons. Delish!

1 Can Rotel
1 Onion
1/2 Red Bell Pepper
1 small Yellow Squash
1 small Zucchini
Half head of Broccoli, including stems
1-2 cups Cauliflower florets
3 stalks Celery
1/3 head Cabbage
1 Garlic Clove
2 32-oz Chicken Stock
1-2 Tbs Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base
1 Tbs Soy Sauce
1 Tbs Oregano
1 Tbs Basil
1 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1-3 Tbs Splenda (to taste)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Easy and Tasty Roasted Vegetables

Roasting vegetables is the easiest possible way to enrich their flavors with nothing added but heat and a bit of salt and pepper. Everything becomes tender and natural sugars caramelize. Cauliflower sweetens and improves in a way that's hard to describe - I'll just say that I rarely chose to eat cauliflower before trying it roasted and now it's one of my favorites.

Roasting at 350, the vegetables will be ready in around 30-40 minutes. If you do a Weekly Veg Prep like I do, you can have this in the oven in about 10 minutes and work on a main dish while it cooks.
Stack up a few handfuls of those pre-sliced squashies and give them a quick criss cross cut or just halve them.
Rinse the cauliflower and broccoli along with any other vegetables not pre-washed during the weekly veg prep (because I'm sure you're on the path to eating more veggies and having them ready will lead you straight down the green path you seek, oh health guru). Chop half an onion and 5 or 6 strips of red pepper. Also, I like to pull the broc and cauliflower pieces into smaller bits that will cook as quickly as the pepper and squash.
Now, into the bowl with the rest of you veg bits and let's anoint this lot with a tablespoon of good tasting and good-for-you olive oil. Getting the right olive oil sometimes takes a few tries. If it's strong and objectionable, try again until you find a nicely flavored olive oil. I like the Costco Kirkland brand oil that has the year of pressing right on the front label like a wine. Lucini and Colavita are both good supermarket brands also. They may not be cheap, but you'll only be using this oil sparingly and it will last! Better to have a good flavor.
Give it all a good toss around to lightly coat everything well so nothing sticks or burns in the oven.
One last element. I like to grate some sweet Vidalia onion over all on a really fine grater that mainly produces juice and pulp. Just a tablespoon or so is enough. You don't really taste onion in the finished dish, just good seasoning. The only other seasoning you need is a little salt and a good hearty shake of pepper. I say that all the time, I know.
And it's ready to go. I give it a check and turn everything with a big metal spatula at about 15 minutes or so and take it out when you begin to see a little browning here and there. Taste a little bite to be sure the harder vegetables are cooked through.   I make a big pan like this at least once a week so there will be plenty for several days. I've even added a scoop to pre-made soups or salads.
I think you'll be roasting veggies so often now that you might want to change it up and try some of these other seasonings I've experimented with and enjoyed. Most of the time salt and pepper is fine for me. But all of these are good too
2 Cups Broccoli Florets (1 small head)
2 Cups Cauliflower Florets (1/3-1/2 head)
1/2 Onion
1/2 Red Bell Pepper
1/2 Yellow Squash
1/2 Zucchini
 1 Tbsp Olive Oil

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Weekly Veg Prep

I want to make it as easy as possible to get fresh vegetable servings every day so I take about 30 minutes each week as I soon as I get home from the grocery or Farmer's Market and prep all the vegetables before I put them up. This way they're ready in bags for me to grab a handful to stir-fry, roast, or throw on a salad. It's quick and easy to make any veg recipe or my every week favorite: All Your Veggies in One Soup.

 From this wholesome stack of greens (and yellows and reds) I toss the peppers and squash into a colander and give them a good spray down with Veggie Wash to dissolve the evil waxes often applied before shipping. If you're lucky enough to be buying from a farmer who is bringing these right from his field, then a quick scrub with water is all you need. I don't wash the cauliflower or broccoli till later when ready to use because I don't want them to deteriorate from any moisture left behind. This problem is easy to avoid with the peppers and squash because they're easy to dry. Too many nooks and crannies in the broc, baby.
To quick slice the squash I use my ancient Ronco slice-o-matic. There are plenty of newer mandoline style slicing devices everywhere from Walmart to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. You don't have to search eBay for an awesome replica of my supercool Ronco slicer-dicer. It doesn't really dice. That just sounded fun to say. 
For the peppers, I cap and seed them and slice in thin strips about 1/4"  and bag separately. 
This is a lovely green cauliflower. My market also carries the yellow and purple cauliflower and when I get over my suspicions about it I'll try some. Here's a quick link with pictorial assistance on how to take this big fat baby down in a flash so it's ready to bag up too. (That link will take you to my other food blog and bonus instructions for making roasted cauliflower - go easy on the olive oil and it will count as a healthy lean veg, but, ummm, don't linger over there for long!)

And, here you go - a great stash of ready vegetables to start off a healthy week!
For those on the Take Shape for Life program, remember there are many other vegetables choices! These just happen to be my favorites and a good mix of yellow, green, red, choose according to what you like best!