A toast to good health

Well, damn. Sometimes I impress myself. Like when I whip up a very tasty, extremely nutritious dinner from what I happen to have in the kitchen. Tonight I made a wheat berry pilaf, honey-spice roasted carrots & sweet potatoes and a simple garlicky rainbow chard.
But it was the Wheat Berry Pilaf that truly stole the show.

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Ingredients
1 1/2 cups hard red wheat berries
1 quart chicken, vegetable or mushroom broth (I used the latter)
2 bay leaves
1-2 ribs celery, very finely diced
1 package Trader Joe’s rosemary pecans & cranberries*
2 tsp orange zest
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Toast your wheat berries in a dry pot briefly over low heat. Add broth and bay leaves and cook for about an hour, until they reach the consistency you like. You might need to add another half cup or cup of water. Mine eventually all absorbed, but sometimes it has to be drained.
2. Turn heat to lowest setting. Stir in remaining ingredients and a splash of white wine if you happen to have some around (optional).

*TJ’s rosemary pecans & cranberries are… amazing. If you lack a TJ’s, you have my empathy, and here’s a recipe for making your own. You could just toss in pecans, cranberries, and fresh or dry rosemary, but it wouldn’t be the same. The TJ’s pecans have absorbed the herb.

For the carrots and sweet potatoes I simply whisked together olive oil, honey, orange juice, cumin and dried ginger, plus salt & pepper. Then tossed the veggies in the glaze and roasted at 425┬░ for about 30-45 minutes.

The Swiss chard is a classic, easy recipe, just wilted with garlic and red pepper flakes.

 

No Artificial Flavors

So far, this whole October Unprocessed thing is a breeze. It probably helps that I didn’t really have to make many changes. In any case, I think what I eat on a day to day basis just goes to show that it’s not hard to eat healthfully, deliciously and wholesomely. Even avoiding processed foods on a budget.

So the Boston Local Food Festival was freaking spectacular. I was overwhelmed in the best way possible: by unthinkable amounts of deliciousness. I ate shredded chicken gorditas with pumpkin mole sauce and pepitas, pork belly sandwich with something pickled on it (don’t recall), a mini tart filled with pumpkin jam (!) and free samples of every variety, including butternut squash bread, fresh goat cheese, and handmade white chocolate with pink peppercorns and sea salt (out of this world). I came home with a beautiful bunch of swiss chard, a “mini CSA box” (great concept), a pumpkin cake slice with marscapone and pepitas, and chocolate-raspberry jam…

Now, what I’m going to do with two lil potatoes, a lone tomatillo, a single kale leaf, a couple of baby beets (and some purple garlic/onion/what is that?) is a mystery and will take some creativity. I’m open to suggestions!

Confession: I love cool, drizzly fall days. Even thunderstorms and feet of snow. As long as I can stay inside, I am perfectly content with the weather being a mess outside. I savor long rainy Sundays as an opportunity to cook, read, drink a glass or two of wine, and seriously relax. It also forced me into cleaning, which was not fun, but overdue. So I woke up, made a pot of coffee to enjoy with my pumpkin-marscapone cake (too full to eat it at the festival) and promptly set about baking cookies. Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip-Pecan cookies with a perfect chew, to be precise.

But my real goal for the day was to make a pot of homemade soup, which I admit I haven’t done in a while. And it’s one of my favorite things to do, especially on a lovely grey fall afternoon. Since I took up soup making about a year ago, I can’t remember eating soup from a can a single time. It’s one thing that is always better homemade, and that anyone can learn to do. Once you start, you’ll never look back. When I first got into making soup, I followed recipes strictly and with caution, feeling that it was a complex magical formula I’d dare not toy with. But I’m rarely one to follow recipes, and now that I’ve got the hang of souping, there’s nothing holding me back. This recipe is my very first soup to invent all on my own. Rustic and wholesome, it is hearty, comforting and highly nutritious. Very much of the season.

Pumpkin-Swiss Chard-Cannellini Soup

2 (14 oz) cans pumpkin puree
1 qt. veg or chicken stock (read the label)
1 medium or large sweet potato, cubed 1/2″
1 sweet onion, diced
1-2 carrots, thinly sliced,
1-2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 (14) oz can of cannellini beans (navy beans or chickpeas if you can’t find them)
1 hefty bunch of fresh chard, sliced crosswise into 1 1/2″ strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
Butter
Olive oil
Handful fresh thyme, sage, or both
Dried rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
1/3 c. milk, 1/2 and 1/2 or cream, optional
1/2 c. toasted pecans, chopped, optional

  1. Heat your oven to 425. Toss cubed sweet potato with a splash of olive oil and a generous seasoning of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Roast just long enough to get medium-soft, about 15 minutes.
  2. While your potatoes are cooking, bring a large stockpot of water to a boil, and stir in the swiss chard. Simmer for about 8 minutes, drain and rinse your pot.
  3. In the bottom of the stock pot, melt 3 or so Tbsp butter and a glug of olive oil. Add the onion, carrots and celery and stir to coat. Unless you’ve bothered to strip the thyme leaves from the stems, which I did not, simply place the bundle of thyme on top so you can later discard it. If you have the sage, give it a fine chop and toss it in with the aromatics. Go ahead and add the dry rosemary, too.
  4. Let the aromatic veg cook down until soft and fragrant and golden. Remember to keep an eye on the potatoes and set them aside when they are soft, but not mush.
  5. Remove the thyme and stir in the garlic. Allow to cook for 1-2 minutes until your whole kitchen smells beautiful. Then add both cans of pumpkin, sweet potatoes and the broth and stir until it’s all well incorporated. Season with an initial dash of nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon. Cover and let simmer, with an occasional stir, for about 20 minutes.
  6. Swirl in the cream, if using. Taste your soup and adjust the seasonings. I found I used more nutmeg than the other spices, but didn’t measure a thing, so follow your instincts (cautiously) and add more of each as necessary. Puree the soup with an immersion blender, if you have one. If not, you can choose to puree in batches in a food processor or upright blender, or you can keep it chunky.
  7. Finally, stir in the beans and chard and allow to simmer another 5 minutes until warmed through. Taste and season for salt and pepper. I found it was better with a pinch of sugar, too.
  8. Serve with a sprinkle of crushed toasted pecans, if so desired. A fall salad with pears and goat cheese would be lovely. I enjoyed it with a simple slice of multigrain pullman.

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