Tag Archives: tips

recipe: Hybrid Garlic or Onion Soup

1 Feb

I have made a bunch of new soups in recent weeks, and some of them were…well…transcendent is the word that leaps to mind, but I don’t want to commit hyperbole here. Anyway, the two that I liked best were the Cheddar Parsnip soup from the Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant cookbook and the 44-clove garlic soup from Smitten Kitchen.

I’ve come to realize that the soups I like best have a few things in common that are easily reduced to a couple of basic elements, which you can then mess with as much as you like! I hereby provide you with the “base recipe” for healthy, delicious, creamy soups (which just happen to be incredibly good winter comfort food). The basic idea is that, instead of thickening with cream (which SK does, by the way, but which is not needed), you puree your creamy vegetables to thicken the soup.

You need:
* some kind of aromatic/spicy vegetable: onion, garlic, shallot, or all three. I use a lot of this–maybe 3 cups of onion.
* some kind of broth (chicken is classic, but you can use whatever you have)
* some kind of spices or herbs (for winter: thyme, dill, or chives are delicious)

and you may want to add:
* a smooth vegetable to puree (parsnips, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes)
* some kind of sharp cheese

The basic procedure is this:
1. Cook your onions/garlic/whatevers in a teaspoon of olive oil until they’re tender, or almost tender.
2. Add broth–the amount depends on your other ingredients. I usually just eyeball it and fill the pot about 2/3 full.
3. Add any other vegetable that you want to puree–the “smooth” vegetables listed above will create a smoother soup, but you can add broccoli, asparagus, peas, etc., to make a cream of vegetable soup that is much better than Campbell’s!
4. Simmer until vegetables are soft.
5. Puree in batches (carefully–hot liquids can be difficult in a blender!
6. Return to pot. Reheat. Add your herbs or spices.
7. If desired, add in some cheese and melt it. Parmesan, Gruyere, or Manchego are all highly flavorful choices that make your soup much more interesting without adding much fat or calories, because you only need a little.
8. Taste and add salt or pepper if you need it. If you’ve used packaged broth, you probably won’t want more salt.
9. Serve. Gasp with amazement that it is not loaded with cream or white flour.

This is creamier and thicker if it contains more vegetables. So load it up! It’s very healthful and incredibly satisfying when it’s cold outside. I like to serve these kinds of soups with a salad or sliced fruit and a slice of whole-grain homemade bread.

Sneaky tip that I haven’t tried yet but I plan to use this week: this would also make a great base for a casserole (whatever you’ve been missing because you didn’t want to eat a can of cream of mushroom soup) or, in smaller amounts, a good sauce for poultry or vegetables.

I plan to make a big batch this week of a basic cream-of-onion soup, using this method, and freeze it in smaller packages to use for cooking. It should freeze beautifully because it doesn’t contain milk, which sometimes separates in the freezer.


water, water everywhere

12 Jan

One of the most common pieces of healthy-living advice (or weight-loss advice, or skin-care advice, et cetera, et cetera) is to drink a lot of water. It’s true, of course, that it is good for you. And it can go a long way toward improving your eating habits, by making sure that you’re not eating when you’re really thirsty or drinking a lot of calories.

That said, not all of us like to drink quarts of water. It is difficult for me to do. I don’t like the taste of it, unless it’s icy cold, and I have two small children, so I don’t always have time to sit and drink a glass of water while it’s still cold.

Here are a few things that help me:
* Consider your alternatives. I drink a lot of decaf iced tea. I know some people argue that it’s not the same as drinking water, but it’s still pretty darn good for you (I drink it unsweetened), and it will keep you hydrated. Some people also swear by a squirt of lemon, lime, or orange juice in the glass of water, or by putting a pitcher into the fridge with some sliced fruit or cucumbers in it. I’m not crazy about those things, myself, but if you like it, go for it. Herbal teas can be good, too, especially if you’re craving a hot drink.

* Monitor your intake. Find an easy way to keep track. Some possibilities: a lot of people find one glass or water bottle that is their special, designated water vessel, and then figure out how many of them to drink per day. I do this, although I count my iced tea! Some people have good luck with putting a number of rubber bands around the cup and removing one each time you finish the water, so that you know when you’ve hit the goal, or put the right number of magnets on one side of the fridge and move them over as you finish glasses of water. Whatever works. But keeping track can help, because many of us don’t realize how little we drink.

* If you don’t like water, you can get some of that water in foods. Fruits and vegetables (especially high-water ones like cucumbers and watermelon) are great for hydration. Soups can be good, too, although packaged soup is usually salty enough that the sodium going to outweigh the hydration benefits. If you make your own, use homemade or low-sodium broth and avoid adding salt.

* If you like other drinks that are less good for you (my particular vice is diet Dr. Pepper–I know, I know, it’s clearly the worst part of my daily diet), decide what water you will drink before you have the less-healthy drink. For me, I have to drink two tall glasses of water before I’ll open a soda.

* If you use a water bottle, keep track of how big it is. A lot of the time, people get overwhelmed thinking they have to drink bottle after bottle–but my bottle is 20 oz, for example, which is 2.5 glasses of the 8 per day that many people recommend. So I try to drink three bottles in a day if I’m out and about, teaching or whatever.

holiday mayday?

23 Dec

So, though I am still in major dissertation-writing mode here, I decided to pop my head in and write a little bit about something that I have been thinking about: healthy living during the holiday season.

It seems to me that all of the suggestions for this are pretty much the same: don’t arrive at a party hungry, snack on the vegetables, drink sparkling water instead of wine, etc. My question is: does anyone do this stuff?

My holidays aren’t like the ones that magazines describe. I don’t have a round of holiday cocktail parties to attend, for example. I have Thanksgiving dinner with my family, Christmas dinner with my family, and a bunch of really yummy holiday baking recipes that I somehow feel that I need to make. And it’s cold, which makes me want comfort food, and I’m busy and stressed, which makes it more likely that I will flake out on making a healthy dinner.

So, here are MY suggestions for a healthier holiday, based on the challenges that I face during the season. (If you do have a slew of holiday parties to get through, then the standard advice is probably going to help you.

1.) Holiday baking: if you tend to bake a lot of homemade treats to give as gifts, the chances are good that some of those treats are not leaving the house. Right? My personal bete noire is Chex mix. So this year I am simply not making any. I had some at my mom’s house and that’s that!

You can reduce the number of unhealthy holiday treats that you and your family eat by making things that are less “snackable”–for example, there’s a nice recipe for apple cider jam here , or cookie/bread mixes in jars are nice. Or, of course, you could assume that the recipients are also trying to live a little healthier this holiday season and give healthful food gifts or nonfood items. A couple of gift ideas I’m going to try next year: gift certificate for a walking date with coffee afterward; an offer of baby- or pet-sitting; or, if you’re feeling wealthy, a gift membership to a local CSA.

A couple of inexpensive things you can also consider: things like herbal teas and fancy coffee are often much appreciated. They feel decadent and fun, but without adding a lot of unhealthy sugar and whatnot to the recipient’s diet.

Finally, a Christmas cookie or two is not going to make or break your lifestyle. It’s the cookie every afternoon for weeks that can make a big difference. So if you’re a baker and definitely going to make those cookies, set aside a day and do it all! Then have the cookies you want, box up the rest, and give them to their lucky recipients.

2.) In my opinion–and this is just my opinion–you shouldn’t worry about what you eat at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. If you manage to resist the variety of dishes you want, you’re likely to feel deprived and just overeat later. It does help me to remember that I do not like to feel stuffed. There are a few things on the holiday table that I don’t eat for the rest of the year (creamed onions, anyone?), and I eat them without guilt and enjoy my meal, and try not to overeat. Especially if you’re eating a healthful breakfast and making sure that you get some protein in your meal, it’s really not going to hurt you to indulge in whatever it is that calls your name at a holiday dinner. There’s a reason it’s considered a Thanksgiving/Christmas feast, after all. Just savor it and consider it a special occasion.

If that seems wrong to you, consider this: being healthy is only partly about the physical. It’s also about emotional and mental health. And I don’t think I’m the only person for whom those holiday meals are a celebration and a moment of looking back at the old year and ahead to the new year. The flavors of the foods that have said “holiday” to me since I was a child are part of that experience. I find it renewing and joyful to share those things with my loved ones (unless I overdo it, at least, and then the sense of joy gets a little blotted out by the sense of “oof, where’s my bigger pair of jeans?”).

3.) Don’t forget to make time for exercise. Even on Christmas day, setting aside 20 or 30 minutes to get a little exercise will help you feel better and give you more energy for your celebrations! While you’re in a time crunch for gift-shopping, wrapping, cooking, et cetera, remember that exercise usually pays for itself, time-wise: it makes you more alert and productive. So make that time!