Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Curried Kabocha Squash, Potato, and Zucchini Soup

Curry-flavored, blended soup featuring kabocha squash.

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Harvest Time
I harvested my mini-kabocha squash and potatoes and still have a few zucchini left on the vine so I thought I'd combine them in this tasty soup. Kabocha adds a lovely sweetness to the soup and the potatoes make it creamy and thick. The soup is lightly flavored with curry.

Mini kabocha squash

Purple and gold potatoes
Ingredients for Curried Kabocha Squash,
Potato, and Zucchini Soup.

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Curried Kabocha Squash, Potato and Zucchini Soup
Vegetarian or Vegan, Gluten Free
[Makes 4 servings]

Soup pot
Blender or Immersion blender

1 small kabocha (~1 1/2 pound)
1 pound yukon gold potatoes
1 small purple potato*
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Earth Balance (vegan) or ghee**
1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sweet curry
1/4 teaspoon hot curry
2 medium zucchini (1 1/2 pounds)
4 cups vegetable broth
salt and black pepper to taste

* If you do not use a purple potato, increase the Yukon golds to 1 1/4 pounds.
** ghee is clarified butter and is well tolerated by those allergic to dairy protein and/or those who are lactose intolerant. 

Peel the kabocha squash, remove seeds, and slice. Usually I don't peel kabocha squash, but in this soup, I think the texture is smoother without the skin. Set aside.

Peeled and sliced kabocha squash.

Peel the potatoes and dice the Yukon golds. The purple potato will be removed before the soup is blended, so just cut that one in half.

Heat the oil and Earth Balance or ghee in a soup pot or Dutch oven on medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for several minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add the curry seasoning and stir to coat the onions. 

Stir the onions and garlic with the curry seasoning.

Add the broth, kabocha squash, potatoes, and zucchini. Cook until the vegetables are firm.

Remove a few slices of zucchini, kabocha, and the purple potato halves. The purple potatoes may take a little longer since they are not diced or sliced as small as the other vegetables. But do not overcook them.

Dice the removed vegetables and set aside. (If you want a totally blended soup without little chunks of veggies, omit this step). 

Remove a few slices of zucchini and kabocha as well as the purple potato. 

Continue to simmer the rest of the soup until the ingredients are very soft and start to fall apart, about 20 to 30 minutes. Blend the soup with a hand immersion blender or place in a blender and process until smooth.

Blending with an immersion blender is much faster
and easier than using a blender. Cleanup is easier too.

Stir in the chopped vegetables, simmer a minute or so until they are heated, and serve.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How To Can Thick-Crushed Tomatoes From Your Garden Or Farmer's Market

How to can your garden tomatoes.

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Time to Can Tomatoes
I have a beautiful crop of tomatoes this year. It's so big that it would take every jar in my house to can them, so I'm going to cook them down until they are very thick.

I use every type of tomato in my garden to get a nice combination of acidity and flavor. This year, I was lucky enough to find New Zealand paste tomato plants at our farmer's market to add to the mix. They grew well, they have very few seeds, and they are enormous! I will definitely save seeds from this one for next year.

A 12-ounce New Zealand paste tomato
New Zealand paste tomatoes on the vine

How to Can Thick-Crushed Tomatoes

A large Water Bath Canning pot.
A 5 1/2 quart non-reactive Dutch Oven
Pint canning jars with lids and bands
Lemon juice (1 tablespoon per pint of tomato sauce)

It's hard to say how many jars you'll need per pound of tomatoes because it will vary on the water content of the tomatoes and how thick you want the sauce to be .

Yesterday, I made 4 pints of thick, crushed tomatoes from 15 pounds of tomatoes. Here's what I did:

Wash and core tomatoes.
Cut an X on their bottoms.

Boil for 1 minute or until skins start to curl.
Peel off the skins.
Cut the tomato horizontally.

Squeeze out the seeds and juice into a bowl.
You will strain and save the juice for soup later.

Place the tomatoes in a large, non-reactive pot.
Do not use an aluminum pot or cast iron.
I prefer my enameled Le Creuset Dutch oven.
Crush them with your hands until they are broken up.

Simmer, uncovered, on medium low heat until it thickens. This could take several hours. Add salt if desired. 

While the sauce is simmering and reducing, wash your pint jars very well.  Place the lids and caps in a pot of boiling water. 

Bring a large water bath canning pot to a boil. Keep the pint jars in the hot canning pot until they are needed. This is not just for sterilization, but to prevent breakage later if there is a temperature differential.

Cook down to the desired consistency.
You are now ready to can.

Carefully remove the jars from the hot bath and drain.Place a towel or magazine under them (do not place on a cold counter).
Put 1 tablespoon of lemon or lime juice in every pint jar.

Fill to within a quarter inch of the top.

Wipe the rims clean.
Put on the boiled lid and cap.
Screw firm but not too tight.

Place in boiling water for 35 minutes.
Water should cover jars by 2 inches.
Remove carefully using a jar lifter and place on a towel.

Let the jars cool on a towel.
Label with the date and store in a dark, cool, cabinet.

What about that Juice?
Remember that big bowl of juice and seeds you have from the initial squeezing of the tomatoes? My 15 pounds of tomatoes yielded 4 pints of tomato sauce but there was also 3 pints of juice I didn't want to waste. So I strained out the seeds, and saved it. 

Strain seeds and save the juice.

Use in soups, cook with veggies (it's great for zucchini), or drink it. Refrigerate or freeze for later.

And don't forget to save your favorite seeds for next year. Once you have fermented and dried them, store them in the refrigerator.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ha - I Knew It!
Cracking Your Knuckles Is NOT Bad For You

Though annoying for those around you,
cracking your knuckles is not harmful.

Bad Habit or Not?
If you've been around me for more than 30 seconds, you might notice that I have a habit of cracking my knuckles. My grandchildren have been so impressed by the ease in which I can do this, that they themselves have mastered this skill. When they visited last week, I observed them cracking not only their fingers, but all 10 of their toes - a feat I have yet to accomplish. My heart swelled with pride.

Now you are probably saying, "what a terrible thing to teach your grandchildren." Not so fast.

Years ago, while having my back cracked at the chiropractor, I asked what actually was happening and why it was good for me. He went on and on about  how cracking lowers the pressure which allows fluid to enter between the joints, blah blah blah. "So", I said, "cracking my knuckles must be good for me too since I'm essentially doing the same thing.!"

He was taken aback for a while, then paused, and with a big "hmmmm", he said, "I guess so." I took that as a big YES, do it all you want no matter how much it annoys everyone around you.

So this morning, when I read an article online referencing a study done by Dr. Szabo, a hand surgeon at the UC Davis Medical Center and Dr. Robert Boutin, a radiologist at UC Davis, to see what was causing the "pop" and if knuckle cracking led to hand problems, I was very interested to see the results.

After studying the ultrasounds of 400 knuckles of both knuckle-crackers and non-knuckle-crackers, the knuckle-crackers were found not have any hand problems and had no difference in laxity or grip strength than those who did not crack their knuckles. More encouragement to continue my habit!

There's More to my Story
Both my mother and my maternal grandmother had terrible arthritis in their hands. Their joints were swollen, their fingers were crooked and disfigured, and they were in constant pain. I worried my entire life that I would suffer with this same condition and not be able to play piano, guitar, and all the other things I enjoy doing that require healthy hands. 

But my mother and grandmother were not knuckle crackers! Maybe it's luck, but at 68 I don't have any of these problems. 

So I just wanted to share this tidbit to all of you fellow knuckle-crackers out there and to others who are erroneously telling their spouses and kids to stop cracking their knuckles because it's bad for them. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Shaved Cucumber Salad with Lemon Dill
Less Than 50 Calories Per Serving

Use a mandoline to thinly slice cucumbers.

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How Slicing Makes a Difference
How a vegetable or fruit is sliced can make a big difference on its texture and even its flavor. My daughter was here this week and when I asked her to make a side dish with the garden cucumbers I just picked, she made this beautiful salad.

Although this recipe has few ingredients, the thinly shaved cucumber slices give it an elegant presentation. Its tangy lemon dill dressing coats every little slice and makes a great low-calorie summer side dish. If you are a fish eater, this lemon dill salad pairs perfectly with grilled wild salmon.

A mandoline is used to slice the cucumbers 

To cut the cucumbers this thin, you will need a mandoline slicer. Please be careful when using this tool and ALWAYS use the guard, although it's tough to do when cutting these thin cucumbers. This is what happened to me last year when I didn't take my own advice while making dehydrated apple slices!

Be super careful when using a mandoline

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Shaved Cucumber Salad with Lemon Dill
Raw Vegan, Gluten and Dairy Free
[makes 6 servings or more]

2 English or 8-inch, tender garden cucumbers, with skin
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or more to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried dill or 1 tablespoon fresh
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

Wash the cucumbers but leave the skin on. Carefully slice on a mandoline using a thin setting.

Be VERY careful not to cut your fingers.
My daughter is not using the guard in
this picture despite my pleas.

Mix up the lemon juice and oil and pour over the cucumbers. Season with the dill, salt, and pepper. Let the cucumbers sit in the dressing, in the refrigerator, for 30 minutes and then serve.

Per serving: 46 calories, 4 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 g cholesterol, 31 mg omega-3 and 358 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 1 g protein, 4 g dietary fiber, and 196 mg sodium.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Julienne Cut French-Style Green Beans Are Easy To Make With Flat Romano Green Beans

French-style green beans with tomatoes, garlic and basil.

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Romano Green Beans
I love these flat green beans - they are one of my favorites to cook and grow. This year I ordered Johnny's seeds - Northeaster OG Pole beans, online. I don't think it's too late for you to plant them. In fact, I will start a second crop in a week so that I'll have more beans in the fall. 

These pole beans are growing up my hog wire fence
My daily harvest with 10 plants started from seed

French-Styled Green Beans
I love the look and texture of julienne cut, French-styled green beans but they are very difficult to make. It's so hard to julienne a round green bean that most people avoid making French-styled green beans. But when you start with a flat bean, it's a LOT easier.

Today's recipe uses Romano green beans, tomatoes, fresh basil, and garlic - all from my garden! Hopefully you have some of these in your garden or available at your local farmer's market. 

This recipe is very low in calories (less than 60 calories) and a great dish to make if you are watching your weight. 

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French-Style Green Beans with Tomatoes and Basil
Vegan, Gluten and Dairy Free
[makes 4 to 6 servings]

Medium saucepan for blanching and 10-inch frypan with cover.

12 ounces flat, Romano green beans
1 large or 2 small tomatoes (~9 ounces)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. 

Clean the green beans and trim the tops. If they are very long (8 inches or more), cut in half and place them on a cutting board.

Cut the long beans in half
Thinly slice the beans vertically, being very careful not to cut yourself and set aside.

Cut the stem top off the tomatoes and place in boiling water until the skin starts to loosen, about 60 seconds. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and let cool to the touch. Do not pour out the boiling water - you will be using it to blanch the beans. Keep the heat on the water. 

Peel the skin off of the tomatoes and dice, retaining all the juices. Set aside.

Place the julienned beans in the boiling water and blanch for 3 minutes. Drain the beans.

Heat the oil in the frypan on medium-low heat and cook the garlic until fragrant, about a minute or less. 

Add the blanched beans to the pan and toss in the oil and garlic. 

Add the diced tomatoes with their juices, the fresh basil, salt and pepper. Cover and cook a few minutes until the beans and tomatoes are the desired texture.

Cover and cook until beans and
tomatoes reach the desired texture. 

Serve as a side dish as is or over a grain. Doug and I ate the entire recipe over rice for lunch with a sprinkle of Go Veggie Vegan Parmesan Grated Topping.

Per serving (4): 58 calories, 3 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 57 mg omega-3 and 352 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 2 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 3 g dietary fiber, and 296 mg sodium.

Per serving (6): 39 calories, 2 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 38 mg omega-3 and 235 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 1 g protein, 4 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, and 197 mg sodium.