Monday, June 30, 2008

Apartment Soup v.1

First some exciting news:
I have moved to Vancouver! Woo-hoo! I have always had an admiration for this city, and I am so happy to finally be living here! I love it so much, except for one factor.
The heat.

I've been here a little over a week and every day it has been sunny, hot, and muggy. Not at all what I expected from a city in the pacific northwest that is known for rain and overcast skies! I love the rain, and have been very sad that I have not had any to enjoy. There has only been one overcast day so far, and it only sprinkled then.

But through all this heat I am craving one thing and one thing only. SOUP! Why? My only guess is that maybe I am trying to make my new apartment and my new city feel "homey" and I guess soup does that for me? I don't know any other reason why making soup in almost 30 degree weather seems like a good idea.

But alas, since I moved in a little over a week ago, all I could think of was making a big pot of lentil soup. It's just something I had to do. So on my first (and so far, only) overcast rainy day last week, I decided to take a walk to Granville Island to check out the farmers market. I ended up with a pretty bounty of fresh and cheap vegetables, all begging to be put in a soup.

So with a combonation of farmers market loot, and some kitchen staples I bought at a swanky Save-On downtown, my first Apartment Soup was born.

mmm, soup

My biggest problem with making this soup was only one thing-I have no blender! As I was doing my apartment shopping back in Alberta, I kept telling myself I have no need for a blender. I told myself, "It's just so big and bulky, and all i'd need it for is to make smoothies, which I can do much easier in my Magic Bullet." Of course the one thing that a blender is good for that a bullet isn't would be BLENDING SOUPS. I stupidly realized this when I really wanted this soup blended, and so in a haze of hunger and impatience did a few quick blitz of the soup serving by serving in my magic bullet. It was a bit scary, since the bullet is plastic and I had hot soup in a little container. But all turned out fine. There were a few remaining chunks as seen in the picture, but that's okay since it adds more of a rustic feel.
The point of all this is that if you have a blender, feel free to chop the peppers and veg to any size you like. If you are like me and are sans-blender, I'd reccomend chopping them very small, unless you like big chunks in your soup.

Red Lentil, Pepper, and Kale soup.

1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 small yellow pepper, chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp curry power
1 tsp paprika
a few generous cracks of black pepper
1 tsp salt
16 oz can of chopped tomatoes, with juice
1 cup of water
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1/2 bunch of kale (no idea how to measure this really, just throw in a few handfuls.)
hot sauce (optional)

Finely chop the onion and add to a medium sized pot with the olive oil. After the onions begin to soften*, add the salt, pepper and spices. After about a min, add the red and yellow peppers and a little more olive oil if needed. Add the canned tomatoes, water, and lentils. Cover over medium heat about 20 mins, or until lentils are ready. Chop up the kale, and throw into the soup during the last few mins. Blend if desired. For added heat, add a few squirts of hot sauce.

I have made this soup similar to this in the past with all different sorts of veggies added-carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, etc. Feel free to play around with what goes in here.

*A lot of lentil soup recipes advise to put a tbsp or so of tomato paste in this step. I would be all for it if i could get my hands on tomato paste in a tube. But since I cannot, and I have no other use for a can of tomato paste, I omit this step.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Granola "Muffins"

granola muffin

For some time now, I've been on a quest for a healthy homemade granola bar. For the past few years I've relied on store bought granola bars for a quick breakfast option I could eat on the go. But as I've grown more health conscious , I've grown to realize that most of these conveinent bars are not a healthy choice. A while ago I tried a recipe for baked granola bars, using peanut butter and egg white as a binder. The bars ended up tasting fine, but they didn't have the chewy texture I was looking for like the store bought bars.

I gave up on the quest for some time until finding this 'power bar' recipe at 101 Cookbooks. This post set a whirl of frenzy in the ol' mind grapes. These power bars sounded exactly like what I had been dreaming of making all this time!
So I set to work immedietly on my own version. I based it all on what I had kicking around the kitchen, so It ended up being a fruit version-using peanut butter and blueberry syrup as the base, with mixed nuts, coconut, raisins, dried cranberries, and apricots. I liked them fine enough, but I knew there was a better version waiting to be discovered.

This version is what I like to call "Healthy Decadance" Yes there is peanut butter, but it's organic natual peanut butter, with no added sugar or salt. It's got plenty of protein from all the nuts used, and I've snuck in some healthy ingridents that don't effect the taste negetively. I even let myself use (dark) chocolate chips! (because dark chocolate is good for you!)

One thing that most excites me about this recipe is the muffin shape they recieved. This idea occurred out of pure laziness, when I found that our only decent size square pan was dirty, and I was in no mood to clean it. I instead decided to form these in a muffin tin. Taking away an extra dish to wash and making even more convienient sized granola bars? Yes please!

granola muffin

But since I hate dishes and won't dirty a dish unless I need it-that includes measuring cups! I didn't measure any of these ingredients. The following is just an approximation of what I used.

Granola "Muffins"

1/2 cup rice cereal (I used Special K)
1/2 cup oats
2 cups of nuts, roasted (whatever variety you desire!)
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 tbsp flax meal
2 tbsp wheat germ
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

1-1 1/2 cup natural peanut butter (smooth and chunky both work, I prefer chunky)
1/4-1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract (coconut or almond would also work)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp espresso powder

Preheat oven to 350. Scatter the nuts and coconut on a flat pan, and roast until the nuts are slightly browned and the coconut is golden. About 5-7 mins. Stir once half way through. Keep an eye on them, make sure they don't burn!
While the nuts are roasting, combine the rice cereal, oats, flax, wheat germ, and chocolate chips. Once the nuts have cooled a bit, add to the oat/cereal mixture.
While the nuts are cooling, combine PB, syrup, and honey until fluid. Add the salt, extract, cinnamon, espresso, and mix well.
Add the saucy mixture to the rest of the ingredients, mixing well. Using a spoon, place a small ammount of the mixture in a greased muffin tin. Spritz your hands with some pam, or roll around some butter and press down firmly on each muffin. Let cool to room temp.

The possibilities here are really endless. Try playing around with different flavored syrups, nut combinations, or even cereals. It's an easy recipe to adapt to the ingredients you have on hand and like!