Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Acorn Squash and Pumpkin Soup

One of the joys of getting vegetables delivered to my door is that I have no choice regarding what I get. Sound like a bad thing? Let me explain. Choice can be debilitating. Almost everywhere in the US, consumers are faced with an abundance of choice at the grocery store. Just stroll down your local supermarket and see how many varieties of ice cream are sold, as a simple example. Our abundant food choices also includes several "easy" options that we can choose almost without thinking. This category includes fast food, ready made supermarket food (the soup and salad bar.. frozen dinners) and restaurant food. Going down this road does not take much effort (it does take money, but with credit cards it is easy to forget finances when hunger strikes).

So choice really throws a wrench in my meal planning. I can imagine thousands of possible meals, with thousands of possible ingredients. If I am making the trip to the store myself, I look up recipes, pick a few, list the ingredients and then check to see which store has the best deal for my purchases. Ultimately, this translates into A LOT of prep work, read: time. Juggling work and school and food, time is not something I can afford to waste.

Home delivery, on the other hand, eliminates the kabillion ideas in my head, and forces me to consider a simpler set of problems: what can I do with acorn squash? How do I prep purple cabbage? One veggie at a time, I look for recipes that suit what I have, instead of going to the store to buy ingredients. As a bonus, this has saved some valuable real estate in my spice rack (as you can imagine, with all of the spices required for Indian cooking, my collection is quite extensive), because I don't buy a whole jar of spice for just one recipe.

This soup was the product of this deductive approach to cooking. I got an acorn squash in my grocery delivery. I had a decorative mini pumpkin. Now what?

I was actually dissatisfied with my search for acorn squash recipes; I wanted something savory and not sweet. But I did pick up some great tips: cut the squash in half, scoop out the stringy stuff and the seeds, and microwave cut side up with a bit of water. I zapped both the pumpkin and the acorn squash together for about 15 minutes. I was able to use a spoon to scoop the fleshy cooked squash and pumpkin from the tough rind. The skin separated fairly easily when the squash was well done.

This soup recipe is my personal adaptation of a recipe for sweet potato soup. It is yummy.

2 cups cooked squash
1/4 cup diced onion
1 and 1/2 cups vegetarian broth
2/3 cup skim milk
1 and 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp Chinese 5-spice
salt to taste
green onion to garnish (optional)
Brown onions in oil with salt and pepper. Add cooked squash mix (from cooking method above), vegetable or chicken broth, Chinese 5 spice, and mustard. Heat through. Spoon the mixture into a food processor or blender, add milk, and process till smooth. Varying the amount of milk will alter the thickness of the soup, so use your personal preference as a guide. Ladle into bowls and serve with green onions and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Yummy crustless quiche

This recipe is a quick and easy find that I will definately be adding into my common rotation of recipes. Fresh bacon crumbles combine with egg and Swiss cheese in this delightful no-hassle quiche. I added spinach, mushrooms, and broccoli to the mix; it was delicious!

Recipe link: I served this for brunch along with a fresh green salad.

I can't wax poetic on the wonders of bacon like our friends at, but I will say a little goes a long way to enhance the pure tastiness of this quiche.

Good luck with this one-- I hope you like it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Green grocer delivers a box of goodness

Today was the first day of veggie delivery! I was so excited about the amount of produce - 12 items total that filled up a pretty substantial box. I got:
Bananas (4-5)
Plums 5
Green apples 3
Oranges 3
Pears 4-5
Bunch of spinach
Head of red cabbage
Box of mushrooms
Red potatos 5-6
Avacados 2
Bunch of celery
Acorn squash 1

I am a big fan of taxonimy in every day life; sorting, classifying, compartmentalizing things. It can be anywhere and with anything: groups of people wearing the same category of clothing (cultural, yuppie, hippie, urban); loads of laundry (colors but also types-- potatos jeans don't mix with my blue sweaters); events in a day (agendas, to do lists, incoming/outgoing mail) the possibilities are endless.

No I am not really an organized person--it's not really about being neat or efficient-- it's more of a means to rationalize the swarm of information buzzing around all day completely out of control. Lists, categories and classifications are tools for processing volumes of information that would otherwise be too bulky to handle at once.

In my case, despite my enthusiasm, the "small" box of produce was a bit overwhelming. I decided to create an order of operations based on how quickly food spoils to determine what to eat first.

As far as veggies go, normally avacados are high on the list, but in my case the avacados aren't ripe yet.

Here is the veggie list:
Acorn sqash

And fruits:

So what does this mean? But of course! The order of food spoilage dictates the order of consumption. Hmm so tonight-- spinach and mushrooms in a garlic Alfredo sauce. Mmmmm. Man I am hungy-- and that meal is pretty quick and easy.
Here is a great recipe with ingredients I just happen to have on hand:

Bon apetite, and good luck sorting through your own taxonomies for the elusive answer to the question: what's for dinner?

Monday, October 19, 2009

MSG in soup

How/why is it that Chinese restaurants go out of their way to declare their food and sauce packets MSG free, yet MSG is a common ingredient in everyday supermarket foods? MSG is no less addicting because it comes in a can of soup. MSG is an FDA recognized food additive, with no conclusive links to any major health problems--but I would rather be better safe than sorry.

I would really love an ad campaign for MSG free products across the food spectrum, from store shelves to restaurant menus. It would put pressure on manufacturers who use MSG to reconsider, and it would generally raise awareness about the prevalence of MSG in our foods.

It is especially upsetting to me that Campbells, makers of my favorite soups growing up, uses MSG in their classic recipes. These soups are the ones most likely served to kids (they are at least marketed that way). I was sick last week and potato brought home some soup for me. It was chicken soup for my soul-- and neurotoxin for my brain. Unfortunate find, but I will keep spreading the word on MSG products as I come across them.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mid day pick up

Our Saturday was filled with lots of activity. We had brunch at a local restaurant, walked to the local hardware store (I love that our neck of the woods has a bunch of mom and pop type stores), and walked to the grocery to get some milk. At home, we undertook a major clean up project-- decluttering the closets in our small apartment. Whew-- it was a lot of work, and when it was done, Potato and I were pretty exhausted. VoilĂ , snack time to the rescue.

This lovely spread of kiwi, gryere (no idea how to spell that) cheese, and almonds along with a cup of steaming jasmine tea, kicked away our mid-day slump. The key? Fresh fruit, and a snack that isn't too big. Crunchy things work well too (a fresh apple does wonders for the tired soul). A little caffeine doesn't hurt-- but skipping the coffee can lead to a better nights sleep.

Now, although moving a bit slower than the morning, we still have enough energy to make it to an outing with friends in DC. Happy saturday- go out and enjoy the world.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Veggie delivery, part II

I have signed up for the green grocer veggie delivery service! To start, I ordered a small mix of organic and non-organic fruits and veggies, just to make sure that I don't waste anything. I also skipped the milk and eggs option--they ask that we leave a cooler out on delivery day. Since I don't have a cooler, I want to figure out when the delivery will actually occur, and buy an appropriately insulated cooler (if it's going to be out all day, i'm going to need a substantial cooler.. If not a thin insulated bag will do).

A reader commented about the value of sharing extras with roommates, apartmentmates, coworkers, and friends and family. This got me thinking-- that would be a great way to connect with the people around me, sharing my bounty or burden (acorn squash). Food is the tie that binds--I have this great mental image of a small basket of sqash being gifted to my neighbors, what a great way to establish a healthy relationship with those around you.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A quest for a happy chicken

I buy my eggs from a variety of sources, depending upon when and where I am getting my provisions for the week. In an effort to streamline my purchases, every once in a while I hit up costco. What can one or two people reasonably buy at costco? More than you might think-- organic milk is sold in three half gallons that keep for quite some time in the fridge. Tortillas are sold in two 15 piece packs, and the coffee varieties are delish. And the eggs. I have a love hate relationship with organic cage free eggs-- first off, why are they wrapped in styrofoam or clear plastic (non recyclable..)? I want a happy chicken and a happy planet, are those ideas so hard to reconcile? There are exceptions (giving nature brand of cage free organics from whole foods for example) but I don't understand why it isn't the norm to sell cage free organic eggs in cardboard cartons. The costco eggs are sold in a styrofoam two-pack that is wrapped in plastic. Overkill in the packaging department.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I want the chicken to have a happy life. I would be personally horrified and appalled to find out that my money was going to support a dingy dark shed with thousands of chickens piled high, unable to stand or walk properly; living their short miserable lives in a putrid shed. Because when you think about it, a chicken in a shed is not in a cage.

It would be doubly appalling because I pay a premium for these eggs for a reason. I want to cast my vote in favor of the idyllic chicken story-- a free roaming clucker pecking willy nilly at the grass, wandering here and there and generally doing chickeny things.

So what is the truth? Where did my costco eggs come from? I don't have the answer. But why? Why don't I know where they came from, and why can't I trust the labels "organic" and "cage-free"?

Part of the problem is definately the lack of control and standardization of product labelling. Transparancy should be the goal, because when a customer pays a premium for something, they should know where their money is going.

Dont get me wrong, there are still consumers who want/need lower priced eggs. I just happen to want a better egg, and while I am able, I am willing to pay for it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On bread

A good day is shaped by miniscule events that seem irrelevant when taken individually, like the smile from your grocery clerk or arriving at the metro just as the train is pulling into the platform, or reading a funny article that actually makes you laugh out loud. So what little things can we control to at least set up the day for going well? How about some toast?

Breakfast is oft referred to as the most important meal of the day-- nutritionally or otherwise, I think breakfast is important because it sets the tone for the day. I am going to venture out on a limb and advise that whatever makes you feel good is good for breakfast. But really think about that criterion: do you feel good after a huge breakfast? After a sausage egg and cheese biscuit? After a cup of fruit? Nutritionally there is no universal answer, but that doesn't mean we don't try to regulate the thought behind eating. I suggest a lose standard---really think about how you feel after certain kinds of meals, and let your honest introspective assesment of your own body be your guide. After all, who knows you better than you?

Today I had toast for breakfast, with a light serving of butter and homemade jam (thanks mom!). Bread is such a simple staple-- but oh so delicious.. And for me, just enough to turn that frown upside down.

Some favorites of mine-- cinnamon raisin bread, fluffy potato bread, hearty oat nut bread, and banana and zucchini bread. Take the time to eat breakfast, even something as simple as a slice of bread-- and see if it sets the stage for a better day.

Veggie delivery

I'm thinking of ordering from a local/organic veggie delivery service to make sure that I get my daily dose of produce. Before law school, I had the luxury of browsing farmers markets, strolling the aisles of whole foods, and scooping up exotic items from the international markets. Now, I am lucky if I shop once every 10 days...and my produce is the first thing that gets eaten up; when it's gone, my resources are limited to pricey cafeteria fruit (and although I am in a part time evening program, the cafe closes before my first class ends, so unless I make it there early, I'm out of luck in the fruit and veggie department)

Behold my $1 banana.

Any ideas? So far my reseach has led me to the green grocer's site, as well as a community supported agriculture site in the area... The idea with the csa is that you own a share of the produce from a local farm. Some of them have delivery services, and some have pickup centers throughout the dc metro area.

However-- being busy, it might not be a good idea to get a box full of high intensity veggies (requiring lots of prep, like acorn squash) because they will probably spoil before I get to them. On the other hand, though the task may be difficult, it is definately worth doing-- it's far too easy to eat like crap when you have the ready and pressing reality of "no time."

Tonight, however, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy my $1 banana.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tofu Curry

Tofu curry is a great vegetarian staple.. This easy meal requires quite a few spices, but you may be able to simply your shopping with a multi-purpose spice mix of bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and cardamom pods. These mixes can be found at an Indian market.

Tofu Curry:
1 box extra firm tofu
1 Tbsp oil
1 can diced tomatoes
1/3 bag of peas
1 jalapeno pepper
1/4 medium onion
1 Tbsp ginger + garlic paste (make on your own.. can make large quantities, 1:1 ratio, and freeze for use later. Can even freeze in small ice cube tray to make little pods)
1 bay leaf, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
red chili powder (adjust according to preference)
black pepper

Whew, get all that? fortunately the ingredient list is the complicated part. The cooking part is easy. Fry the tofu and set aside (note, tofu fries really well on "high"). In the same large saucepan, brown onion in a little bit of oil. Add the whole spices (cumin seeds, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and cloves). Fry for a minute. Add the ginger garlic paste, fry for a minute. Add the powders (coriander, cumin, turmeric, chili, and black pepper), and then add the can of tomato. Add ~1cup water, let it sim for 10 minutes. When nice and tasty (the longer it sims the better.. I leave mine for a good 1/2 hour), add the tofu and green peas. Garnish with fresh cilantro, optionally. Serve hot with parathas, chapati, naan, or rice.