Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring Chicken Soup

Forsythia! Eucalyptus! Live Oak! Red Bud! Yes, it is spring time in California, less affectionately (and in an alarmist tone) referred to as ALLERGY SEASON (cue doomsday foreboding music). But seriously people, happy as we all are to see our surroundings brightening and blooming, many of us are also suffering a bit from constant symptoms of allergies which can bring on or just mimic the symptoms of a bad head cold. Old fashioned as it may be, there is nothing better tasting to me when I feel stuffed up and foggy than hot chicken soup. I don't quite remember when it entered her repertoire, but at some point my mom started making an Asian-inspired chicken soup with coconut milk, tangy kaffir lime leaves and that unmistakable laser-like citrus taste of lemongrass. 
This soup is packed with major immune boosters and a host of powerful digestive aids, expectorants, sore throat soothers, and other curative wonders described below. 
I have tried to recreate mom's perfect soup from memory a couple times with subpar results. Eventually I combined my memory of her soup and a Tyler Florence recipe. The result is near-perfect, though I have to say, when I am under the weather, nothing is quite as healing or comforting as Mama herself.

Coconut Chicken Soup
adapted from Tyler Florence on The Food Network

2 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1.5 lbs), cut into 1-2inch cubes
1 quart Organic chicken broth
1 stalk lemon grass, white part only, cut in half lengthwise
1 4-inch piece of ginger (or galangal) peeled and thinly sliced
1 Habanero pepper, de-stemmed and halved lengthwise
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with the flat side of a knife
1 (13oz) can full fat coconut milk
2 T Thai fish sauce
Shitake and other mushrooms, halved (or quartered if large, about 10oz)
4 limes, juiced
a scant 1/2 cup of corn starch
1/4-1/2 cup coconut oil
3 scallions, chopped
chopped cilantro and basil to top

In a bowl, toss the chicken cubes with the corn starch until each piece is well coated.

Heat a pan over medium-high heat and let half of the coconut oil heat until fully melted. Working in batches, cook the chicken in one even layer, letting brown on one side before flipping it over with tongs. About 5 minutes on each side depending on the size of your chicken cubes. Place the cooked chicken on a paper towel-lined plate or sheet tray. You may need to add more coconut oil between batches.

In a large pot bring the broth to a boil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, pepper, lemongrass, and mushrooms, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 10 minutes to infuse the broth with the herbs.

Uncover, add the chicken, fish sauce, coconut milk and lime juice. Simmer about 5 more minutes until chicken is heated through.

Ladle into bowls and top with  chopped scallion, cilantro and basil, and maybe even a wedge of lime if you have extras lying around.
Foods That Bring the Fight*
Coconut Milk: A complete protein, chemically comparative to mother's milk, warming, thirst quenching, high in organic iodine which has laxative properties and soothes internal membranes.

Garlic: Antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, digestive, expectorant, detoxifier. As Dianne Onstad notes, "One raw crushed garlic clove contains the antibiotic equivalent of one hundred thousand units of penicillin."

Ginger: Antispasmodic, appetizer, expectorant, promotes circulation, helps stimulate and energize the body especially when fighting illness.

Lemongrass: Analgesic, digestive, helps relieve headaches.

Lime: High in Vitamin C, contains potassium, magnesium, iron. Antiseptic, helps sore throats, loosens mucus and stimulates lymphatic system, gall bladder and liver. Alkalizer (despite its acidic taste), destroys putrid bacteria in the mouth and gut, builds lung strength, encourages rebuilding of tissues.

Mushrooms: High mineral and vitamin content--particularly zinc, no sugar, general immune boosters, anti-cancerous, neutralize toxic buildup in the body.

*Onstad, Dianne. Whole Foods Companion (White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2004) selected pages 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Homemade Sugar Scrub

The other day I was listening to this, and dancing around the kitchen while making, for the thousandth time, a tried and true Dorie Greenspan recipe for rosemary-shortbread cookies. There is an instruction in the recipe to "rub the sugar with the rosemary until moist and aromatic." This is my favorite step because the sugar does become just that--moist and aromatic. I lift my hands out of the bowl and if I close my eyes I could just as easily be standing on a sunny hill in Tuscany surrounded by flowering rosemary bushes.  While dancing-myself-clean around the kitchen I realized that my hands were not only delicious smelling but silky smooth. I had just gotten a lovely little exfoliation for my kitchen-worn, climbing-worn hands. This is the (duh) light bulb moment. Why buy chemical filled body scrubs at the pharmacy when I could so easily make my own from my pantry staples? So that is what I did. If you don't have rosemary growing in your backyard or if you don't care for the smell or if you want body scrub that will last indefinitely, you can replace the fresh herb with a few drops of your favorite essential oil.
What does scrubbing your skin have to with wellness, you might ask? Skin is the body's largest organ. Through sweat the skin gets rid of excess water, minerals and salts, constantly helping the body detoxify. Skin cells form at the lowest level of the epidermis and gradually make their way to the top where they die and fall off. Exfoliating helps slough off the dead cells and keeps the pores clean and open so they can do their job. Exfoliation also helps improve circulation which helps stimulate cell renewal. And, of course, it makes your skin glow and makes it feel extra soft which is always nice.

This scrub is relatively abrasive so I wouldn't use it more than once a week. You could also opt to use it on just your knees and elbows which are often the roughest patches of skin on the body. Scrub away, and enjoy. Some other time I will get into the virtues of having solo dance parties in your kitchen.

Rosemary Sugar Scrub
1 cup sugar
1/8-1/4 cup fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil (or coconut or other high quality oil)

Pour the sugar and chopped rosemary into a bowl and rub with your hands until the sugar is moist and aromatic. About 5 minutes (longer if the aroma is helping you fantasize about being somewhere other than your kitchen). Stir in the olive oil and mix until everything is well combined. Put in a jar or container with a tight fitting lid and store in your shower.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Butternut Squash with Coconut, Lime, & Pepitas

It is so spring-like in Sonoma these days. The air is warm, trees are in full blossom, and you can't go more than a block without seeing the unfailingly cheerful daffodils popping up, craning their necks, eager mouths turned towards the sky. All that said, I have yet to see a great outpouring of spring vegetables at the market and so I carry on enjoying the tail-end season of the wintry ones. Squash, I have learned of late, is a little discussed miracle vegetable. It is one of the easiest foods to digest, it is packed with potassium and vitamin A, and it is both filling and low in calories. It is a highly alkaline food and, according to Chinese medicine, helps reduce inflammation in the body. Butternut squash is a particular favorite of mine. I like that the texture is less stringy than some other winter squashes and you just can't help but feel great when you eat something that is naturally of that rich, orange hue. This recipe has all the grounding, warming elements of a winter dish and a brightness from lime zest and juice that lightens the flavors a bit as the days lengthen and the chill begins to thaw. 

Butternut Squash with Coconut, Lime & Pepitas
serves 4-6 as a side dish

1 large butternut squash, peeled, cleaned of seeds, and cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds *
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut**
zest and juice of one lime
3-5 Tolive oil
salt & pepper
Pre heat oven to 400 degrees. 

Spread butternut squash cubes in one layer on one or two cookie sheets. Drizzle with about 3 T olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 25-30 minutes.

While the squash is roasting, toast the coconut in a dry, cast-iron pan over medium high heat, stirring occasionally until the coconut is fragrant and turning a light brown at the edges. 

Put the coconut in a bowl or on plate to cool and return the pan to the stove. Stir the pumpkin seeds, a pinch of salt, and about 1 T of olive oil together and toast the seeds over medium high heat until they brown and puff up. Remove from heat and sprinkle with salt. If you have space in the oven you can also do this in a small roasting pan while the squash cooks, about 5 minutes.

Combine the squash, coconut and pepitas in a mixing bowl. Zest a lime over the bowl, then cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice over the mix. Toss gently with your hands, taste and adjust salt as needed. You may want to add a bit more olive oil and lime at this point as well. 

Other nice additions include (but are not limited to):
chopped cilantro
raw scallion
diced jalapeno

I ate mine, as you can see, with sauteed rainbow chard and garlic.

* Pumpkin seeds are a valuable source of Omega 3 fatty acids and protein. They are high in both magnesium and zinc, help promote good circulation, and nourish and heal the digestive tract.

**Coconut is another powerful healing food. It is best digested with salads and cooked vegetables. It soothes internal membranes and has a gentle laxative property, making a great detoxifying aid. Dried coconut is made up of about 68% oil. Coconut oil has been used in Ayurvedic healing for millions of years and people all over the world still tout its powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, among many others.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fettuccini with Goat Cheese, Bacon, and Fava Leaves

Monday, after a long day of climbing, we burst into the house, ravenous, and ready to eat just about anything in sight. I opened the fridge, hoping to see some feast I had brilliantly made in anticipation of this moment, only to be reminded that we desperately needed to go grocery shopping. Not even a jar of peanut butter to tide us over. We needed dinner and we needed it fast.

This pasta dish came together with what we had on hand: a package of bacon, a pound of brown rice pasta, some goat cheese, and an endless supply of tender, young fava leaves from our backyard. Fava leaves are a beautiful, silvery-green color and they have the same subtle, nutty flavor of the young fava bean. I have been eating them raw in salads with blood oranges (another obsession of late) and avocado, or throwing them in last minute to grain dishes and soups. The flavor has the same promise of spring as young pea shoots or the first slender stalks of asparagus.
If you don't have fava on hand you can easily substitute another green. Dandelion greens will add a nice bitter bite to the dish and sorrel will give it a lemony lift. If you are in a greens-deprived place, there is always delicious, reliable kale. The beauty of this pasta is the ease of the recipe and its potential for endless iterations with whatever you have on hand.

Fettuccini with Goat Cheese, Bacon & Fava Leaves
Serves 4 (or 2 SUPER hungry people)

1lb Brown Rice Fettuccini (or regular fettuccini)
1 medium sized yellow onion, chopped
4 or 5 pieces of thick cut bacon
4 oz chevre
3 large garlic cloves smashed with the back of a knife
4 cups fresh young fava leaves
salt and pepper
parmesan to top

Heat a large cast iron pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, about 20 minutes. Remove the bacon and place on a paper towel-lined plate. If your bacon yielded a lot of fat you may want to drain off half of it to save for another use. Be sure to leave a good amount (at least 1/8 of a cup) in the pan. Once the bacon has cooled, chop into good sized chunks, about 1/2 an inch. 

Stir the garlic and onion into the bacon grease (careful for grease splatters!) and lower the heat a little. Add lots of fresh cracked black pepper and stir periodically. You want the onions to be soft and starting to brown by the time the pasta is finished cooking.

While the onions and garlic cook, bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the pasta and stir. Cook until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water then drain the pasta in a colander. 

Add the pasta, bacon and goat cheese to the pan of onions. Stir everything together, adding small amounts of the reserved pasta water at a time to help the sauce come together. Once everything is well mixed and the pasta evenly coated, remove from heat and stir in half of the fava leaves. Once the leaves are well mixed and wilted add the remainder of the leaves.

Serve immediately topped with fresh grated parmesan, cracked black pepper, and--if you are as citrus obsessed as I-lots of fresh lemon zest.