Tag Archives: Healthy meals

Chickpea Soup – One Way to Manage Your Produce Budget

Chickpea SoupRecently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projected that the lasting drought in California could have “large and lasting effects” on fruit and vegetable prices. Since California produces almost half of all U.S.-grown fruits and vegetables, their weather has budget implications for us all over the country. Experts are estimating that consumers will have to pay as much as 10% to 15% more this year for fresh produce than we paid in 2013.

A March 12 Hartford Courant article includes a host of ways to trim your grocery budget. One way to lower your expenditures is to use canned or frozen produce, which is something I tend to forget about doing. However, many supermarket brands offer organic options and low-sodium options, which are two of the main reasons why consumers avoid them. And then I thought about a chickpea soup that I just tried, inspired by a recipe in Martha Stewart Living from November 2013, and realized that this dish is a keeper for a few reasons. It was quite delicious, only took about 10 minutes to prepare, and was relatively inexpensive to create. This is a winning combination in my book! I omitted the garlic crisps and red pepper flakes, and substituted asiago cheese for parmesan. So if the higher produce prices start to pinch at your wallet, consider trying this chickpea soup as a tasty alternative that uses canned beans.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced (about 2 tablespoons)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cans (about 15 ounces each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 cups chicken broth (homemade if you have it)
1 cup water
Coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Finely shredded parmesan (or asiago) cheese

Preparation:
Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add garlic, season with salt and pepper. Cook until oil is infused and garlic is just beginning to color (do not let brown), 2 to 3 minutes.

Add chickpeas to oil in pot, increase heat to medium-high, and cook until heated through and creamy, about 5 minutes. Smash some of the chickpeas with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. Add broth and water; simmer until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide soup among 4 bowls. Top with parsley and cheese.

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Minding the Vitamix – Part 1: Turnip, Apple & Potato Soup

turnip soupThe alternate title for this blog post is: Sending My Condolences to the 30-Year-Old Blender.

A few weeks ago my mother-in-law called me to say that her trusty decades-old blender had stopped working that morning. It just conked out while making a smoothie! I offered my condolences because the blender had been a staple in MIL and FIL’s kitchen for some time. However, as MIL noted, all was not lost, because the Vitamix blender that she had her eye on had just gone on sale! She wanted to purchase the new appliance but knew that she would be starting a vacation soon after, and did not want her shiny, new blender to be sitting on her front step. So being the generous DIL that I am, I offered to have it shipped to my house, where I could take it in. And I offered to go one step further – I would test out the new Vitamix. After considerable laughing on both sides of the phone, we decided to venture forth with this plan.

The Vitamix arrived on my doorstep on a Thursday evening. I opened the box to reveal the machine that had a very pretty cinnamon hue. I spent most of that weekend just reading the manual and all of the cookbooks that came with it. There was quite a bit of reading material! By Sunday afternoon I was ready to try my first creation – Turnip Soup! I enjoy roasted turnips and had never tried making a soup that required blending. Now was the time!

I peeled and cubed the turnip before roasting so the vegetable became very tender. I chopped the potatoes and apples yet left the skins on because I figured the Vitamix would blend all those pieces well, which it did. If your blender is not as powerful you may want to peel those items.

Turning a Vitamix blender on for the first time is quite an experience. Please note that any lightweight items (such as napkins, nuts, etc.) on any nearby counterspace will move as a result of the wind current created. The hum is distinctive, kind of like an airplane taking off but not as loud. That Vitamix had the food blended in no time! I had to blend a few batches, which got to be kind of a messy experience, but the blender is really easy to clean. Below are the steps I took to a very tasty blended soup with roasted turnip, apple and potato. I hope that you like the soup as much as SensitiveHusband and I did.

Ingredients:
1 turnip, peeled and cubed
2 apples, peeled (optional), cored, and coarsely sliced
2 russet potatoes, peeled (optional) and cubed
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups vegetable broth (I like Pacific Natural Foods Mushroom Broth)
4 cups water
4 cloves garlic, peeled
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
Cut turnips into (roughly) same-sized pieces, about ½ inch to 1 inch thick, depending on diameter. Don’t worry about precision because the soup is going to be blended anyway. Place turnip pieces in a 9×13 glass pan lined with parchment paper. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Let cool before blending.

Peel the potato and cut it into pieces about the same size as the turnip.

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat the butter over a low-to-medium heat.

Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add the broth, water and potato. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft enough that they can easily be pierced with a knife.

Remove from heat and purée the potato and liquid in a blender along with turnip, working in batches if necessary.

Tip: Use care when processing hot items in a blender as the hot steam can sometimes blow the blender lid off. Start on a slow speed with the lid slightly ajar to vent any steam, then seal the lid and increase the blending speed.

Return puréed soup to pot and bring to a simmer again, adding more broth or stock to adjust the thickness if necessary.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. If desired, add a garnish such as sauteed garlic and kale.

Industries Take Action to Offer Healthier Meals

The past few days have brought news from the fast food and packaged food industries, highlighting actions to increase healthy food options for children.

First, the National Restaurant Association announced The Kids Live Well initiative. More than 15,000 restaurants representing 19 chains have already signed on, with more expected to join in the coming months. For a list of participating restaurants, click here. Participants in the initiative are expected to:
–Offer at least one children’s meal (entrée, side, beverage) that is 600 calories or less; containing two or more servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and/or low-fat dairy; and limiting sodium, fat and sugar;
–Offer at least one other individual item that has 200 calories or less with limits on fat, sugar and sodium, and contains a serving of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein or low-fat dairy;
–Display or make available the nutrition profile of the healthful menu options; and
–Promote the healthful menu options.

In addition, to avoid federal regulation being imposed, some of the nation’s largest food and beverage companies including Kraft, Kellogg, Nestle, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have come together through self-regulation to restrict the kinds of products they advertise and market toward children. A number of food types including juices, dairy products, grains, soups and meals will have limits on the amount of calories, sugar, sodium and saturated fat allowed in foods promoted to children. As it stands, the recipes of about one-third of all food beverages would have to change or the companies will not be able to advertise those products after December 31, 2013.

These recent actions by the fast food and food products industries are positive steps to offer healthier options for customers.