Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pasta and Beans???

I don't think that I've ever smelled anything fresher or more clean smelling than fresh Basil.  Who can resist a scent so earthy, yet so heavenly?  On the cover of the March issue of "Better Homes and Gardens" magazine is a picture of "Lemon-Basil Pasta." It looked so appetizing that I just had to try it.

Admittedly I was at first a bit thrown off by the combination of pasta and beans in this recipe.  But, I have to say that the combination works quite well together.  The cannellini beans add a buttery flavor that smooths out the tartness of the lemon and basil.  Great job BHG!  This is one of your recipes that I will add to my list of favorites. 

Lemon-Basil Pasta
10 oz. dried linguine or desired pasta
1 19-oz. can white kidney (cannellini) beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 of a lemon
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Add the beans at the last two minutes of cooking time.  (I prefer to rinse and drain can beans thoroughly to remove extra oils and other additives.)  Remove half of the cooking liquid; set aside.  Drain pasta and beans; cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, finely shred peel  from the lemon half (about 2 teaspoons).  In a small skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat.  Add lemon peel; cook and stir 1 minute, or until lightly golden.

In food processor combine cooked lemon peel, basil, the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the juice from the lemon half, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Cover and process until smooth.  Add reserved cooking liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desird consistency, processing mixture after every addition.

To serve, toss hot cooked pasta mixture with lemon-basil mixture.  Makes 4 servings.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cooking with Herbs

Herbs are great for adding flavor and texture to a dish.  Buying fresh herbs is fine and usually not very expensive.  Unless, you factor in the cost of having to throw away the unused portions.  The problem is that herbs don't last very long once they've been cut from the plant.

I once lived in a Condo in the inner city.  On my small deck I created a lovely herb garden using containers.  I grew, basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, chile peppers and tomatoes.  It was wonderful to be able to step out of my kitchen door and pluck just the amount of herbs that I needed to prepare the meal.

My deck was on the south side of the building and was completely exposed to the sun.  This created a bit of a challenge to keep the plants from drying out and getting cooked before I wanted them to. But, with lots of persistence and loving attention I managed to keep them alive and healthy.

Herbs can also be grown indoors in pots.  Considerations have to be made for providing enough light.  That can be done with grow lamps if your home does not have a generous amount of windows that will allow sun to filter in. 

The following recipe is packed with flavor and very easy to make. I saw Nigella Lawson prepare it on her cooking show on the Food Network channel.  The recipe was so simple that I remembered the ingredients without writing them down and was able to replicate it.  I don't know if my version is exactly the same as Nigella's but I like it.

Linguine with Baby Bella Mushrooms

8 oz. Linguine
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic minced
zest and juice of 1 lemon 
4 or 5 medium Baby Bella Mushrooms sliced
2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems
2 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, rough chopped
fresh ground black pepper to taste
Fresh grated parmesan cheese

Fill a large pasta pot with cold water.  Place pot on the stove on high heat.  Sprinkle in a generous shake of salt.  Once the water begins to boil add the linguine and let cook until done.  Pasta should be slightly chewy.  While waiting for the water to boil begin preparing the other ingredients.

In a large serving bowl, place chopped garlic, lemon zest, sliced mushrooms, thyme, parsley, and olive oil. Toss these ingredients together.  Make sure to thoroughly cover all ingredients with the olive oil.  Once the pasta is done drain the water off, reserving some of the liquid.  Add the pasta to the serving bowl and gently  toss all ingredients.  Squeeze in lemon juice and toss once more.  If necessary add a small amount of the pasta water to add moisture. Season with ground pepper and parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Making of a Vegetarian

I've been following a vegetarian diet for three years.  The decision to stop eating meat was not one that I made consciously.  There were major changes happening in my life.  The end of a relationship, and moving to a new home were very stressful events.  As a result of those stressors my body went into a spontaneous detox.  For one week I experienced a severe sore throat, fever with chills, vomiting and diarrhea.  It was another week before I could begin to eat solid foods again.  To my astonishment I had lost the desire for meat, sugar and caffeine.  The consumption of any of those foods would cause an immediate negative reaction in my body.
Since then I've noticed that my body has adjusted, some what.  I can now consume small amounts of caffeine (one or two cups of coffee or tea per day), and even smaller amounts of processed sugars (one or two cookies, or candy). Ice Cream is a definite no.
Through this process I've lost about twenty pounds and I feel better than ever.  Do I miss eating meat?  No, not at all.  As a matter of fact I've developed a definite aversion to the smell of meat.  That applies to fish as well.  Last Christmas while having dinner at my sister's house I tried eating shrimp, which in the past was one of my favorite foods.  I found the taste and texture to be unappetizing.  Proving to me that I really am done with eating meat.
The challenge that I'm faced with now, is finding recipes that will give my body the protein that it needs.  Of course I do take supplements, particularly B-complex, to ensure that I remain healthy and strong.  But, food is the most important source of nutrients for a healthy body.
In this blog I will share recipes, thoughts and ideas for living a life in line with Mother Nature and her bounty. 
Below is one of my favorite soup recipes.  I hope that you will try it, and share your thoughts.  I look for recipes that are quick and easy to make, using the freshest ingredients I can find.  Try it out, and by all means let me know what you think.  Thank you!

Black-eyed Pea Soup

1 cup black-eyed peas
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
3 large ripe tomatoes, diced (I've found that beef steak tomatoes work best)
2 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
1 oz. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste (optional)

* Put the beans in a pan and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil and allow to cook for 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat, keep covered and allow to stand for 2 hours.  Or, you can let the beans soak in cold water over night.  Drain off the water before adding to the other ingredients.
* Heat the oil in a large soup pot, add the onions, garlic and crushed red pepper, cook for 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent.  Stir in cumin, turmeric, tomatoes, stock, half the cilantro and the beans.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Stir in the lemon juice and salt (if desired) to taste. Just before serving add the remaining cilantro.  Serve with your favorite bread and enjoy!