Thursday, January 29, 2009

What do dietitians eat? Book club menu #6

Dietitians do love to eat and talk! This month we finally got around to discussing one of my favorite books, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. We also all love to cook, but I particularly love cooking for my friends who dash over to my house for this book club straight from their busy jobs.

Here is our menu for this night:
~Winter Squash and Applesauce Soup
~Lentil-Chickpea Salad
~Whole grain baguettes (from a local grocery store - even I don't always have time to make everything!)
~Iced Rooibos-Lavender tea (even better iced than hot!)
~Dark Chocolate Hershey Kisses (oh yes, dark chocolate belongs in its own food group!)

(1) Winter Squash-Applesauce Soup
I used all of the remaining winter squash from our Tantré Farm Thanksgiving CSA share plus some of Dick's home-made applesauce for this recipe.

Serves 12 easily

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 cups diced carrots (~4 or 5 large carrots)
• ~1 cup diced celery (~ 1 large stalk)
• 1-½ cups diced onion (about 1 large yellow onion)
• 8-10 cups roasted winter squash (see Special Note below for roasting directions)
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
• 12 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (I used our frozen home-made broth)
• 1 pint unsweetened applesauce
• Fresh herbs of choice, chopped

1) Pull out frozen broth if available from freezer the night before or even early in the morning to thaw in the refrigerator.
2) Begin roasting squash (see directions below).
3) Chop vegetables.
4) Scoop out cooked squash and set aside to cool a bit.
5) Heat olive oil in a large soup pot.
6) Add the chopped carrots, celery and onion. Cook 3-4 minutes until vegetables have begun to soften and onion turns translucent.
7) Add 4 cups of broth and heat until warm but not hot.
8) Take this mixture and puree thoroughly in a blender then add back to soup pot.
9) Now add cooked squash, thyme, and remaining broth. Stir to combine.
10) Heat the soup gently (do not boil).
11) Use an immersion blender to puree soup (or very puree carefully in batches in a blender).
12) Add applesauce, taste and assess texture of soup. If a thinner soup is desired, try adding a bit of milk, broth, even apple juice or cider.

Special Note: Directions for roasting squash - I used 2 small butternut, 4 acorn, and 1 small pumpkin, cut in half, remove seeds and stringy insides (be sure to save the seeds for roasting later), roast the squash pieces upside down on cookie sheet in 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, cool, scoop out cooked squash, discard or compost outer shells (actually my dog loves to eat these cooked squash shells along with any cooked squash that I give her also!)

Special note: Be very careful with the immersion blender. Keep the moving end under the surface of the soup or you will spray the soup all over the kitchen or yourself (which can burn you if the soup is very hot!). My attention wandered just a bit and oops! (notice in photo that I needed to remove the stovetop controls to wash soup spray off of them!).

Garnish with a sprinkle of any chopped fresh green herbs such as parsley, chives, or thyme.

Variation: Add 1-2 teaspoons of curry powder to taste to the pot of soup or put out a jar of curry powder with a shaker top to allow individuals to season their own serving to taste.
Variation: Sprinkle with small amount of sharp grated cheese.

(2) Recipe: Lentil-Chickpea Salad
I first ate this salad when visiting my good friend Rebecca last fall. Her husband loves this salad, but my friend confided that she knew I was her only friend who would eat it with enthusiasm rather than just being polite. And I did! I only modified it a tiny bit, based simply on what I had available in the house, rather than trying to improve on it. It makes a lot and lasts several days in the refrigerator. I admit that I have relished eating the left-overs for lunch on several days following our book club dinner. There are very few (if any) "fast food joints" where I could eat so well. :-) I truly enjoy making my own "fast food" that both tastes great and is nourishing me at a fraction of the cost of what I would pay if I were purchasing my lunch anywhere!

• 1-1/2 quart water
• 2 teaspoons salt - divided (can decrease or omit to reduce sodium in your diet in needed)
• 1 # lentils (the standard brown ones seen on the grocery store shelves - look for an organic brand if available)
• 1/2 cup lemon juice (fresh is best, but juice from a jar will do)
grated lemon zest from one fresh lemon (I added this to the original recipe plus the juice)
• 1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
• 1-1/2 cup chopped celery
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
• 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 2 cups (1 15 oz. can) drained chick peas (garbanzo beans)
• 2 cups finely chopped red onion (great flavor and color)
• 5-6 ounces feta cheese crumbled

1) Bring water to boil, add 1 teaspoon salt, add lentils and simmer until tender, which should be only 15-20 minutes or so. Be very careful not to overcook, as they can turn to mush.
2) Meanwhile, combine lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, oregano, 1 teaspoon salt (optional - I did not add any here), and pepper. Whisk in olive oil.
3) Pour dressing over drained, hot lentils. Cool.
4) Fold in chick peas, onion, celery, and cheese.
5) Serves 8-12 as either a side dish or a main dish salad.

One of the many points of discussion in the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was the "time crunch factor" that is regularly expressed by people who feel their lives are too busy to actually cook any meals at all, let alone healthy meals such as this one. I can hear some people reading this blog saying (politely) to themselves, "Roasting squash??? Gracious, who has time to do that?" I would never expect anyone to throw this meal together from scratch in only 10 minutes. I could not do that myself, so I would not ask or expect anyone else to do that either. However, I do ask myself (in fact I do more than that, I give myself permission) to plan for and value the time I spend cooking as a gift of both health and love to myself, my family, and my friends. I can think of nothing I do that is more important.

Hint: Everytime I cook, I cook in bulk for any dish that can be frozen or eaten for lunch for the next day or two.
If the recipe I'm using says it makes 3-4 servings, I automatically triple it, every time, for any dish that can be frozen. Our freezer is filled with our own healthy "fast food", aka, left-overs!, for those nights when my husband and I only have a short time to figure out what to eat plus sit down to eat at home before we need to be someplace else.

Please share your experiences regarding the "time crunch factor". What are (or were) your obstacles? How have you jumped through those hoops?

Although I included the following food blessing in a recent post, I would like to end this post with same blessing, as this is the one I read at our book club last week. These words perfectly express how I feel about cooking and the joy I experience as I cook for this group of friends once each month.

I do this chore not just to get it out
of the way but as the way to make
real kind connected mind.
May I awaken to what these
ingredients offer, and may I awake
as best I can energy, warmth,
imagination, this offering of heart
and hand.

~~From the Tassajara Recipe Book
by Edward Espe Brown

Savor and enjoy your cooking time, your food, and your health!
Diana Dyer, MS, RD

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