Making Springtime Brunch Eggs-actly Right

The first signs of spring, both actual and symbolic, quickly bring us to Easter, Passover and all versions of celebrating the longer days, the thawing out and the renewing of life. Picture any springtime brunch, and eggs are likely to make an appearance, if not find themselves in the spotlight. The quintessential symbol of new life, the egg also happens to be delicious, nutritious and very versatile.  Having survived years of undeserved critique as a food to be eaten only infrequently, it is back and bigger than ever.  Click here to read the Huffington Post’s 8 health reasons to eat eggs.  If you enjoy eggs, opt for fresh, free-range, organically-fed ones.

Hard or soft boil eggs and prop each up in a bagel.  Serve with butter (click here for easy DIY how-to), cheese, smoked fish, avocado, sliced vegetables, and fresh salad greens, and you’ve got a simple to prepare, lovely to look at and fun to eat brunch meal for any size group.

Like bagels, avocados also present themselves as natural egg cups:

If you prefer eggs fried, consider a colorful, vegetably variation on the popular (in my early morning kitchen for sure) egg-in-a-hole.  My children often ask for an egg baked right into a slice of bread for breakfast, so for a special brunch I will make eggs in a pepper ring with added color, crunch and nutrition.  I made some with grated cheddar melted onto the top, and some without. To preserve the yellow-orange sun of the yoke, skip the cheese, otherwise sprinkle it on.

If you are not intimidated by the poached egg (an art I am still working on), here’s a fun edible nest for your springtime table: lettuce leaves, Asian-style bean thread vermicelli, topped with a poached egg.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and salt, and   dig in.

These can be enjoyed by a variety of eaters from vegetarian to paleo/primal, unleavened, wheat- and gluten-free diners (with the exception of the bagel) for a fresh, bright, celebration of spring.

“Green Dream” Creamy Cabbage Soup

Celebrating green?  Whether to mark the first signs of spring, appreciating the Irish, feeling eco-friendly and/or wanting to eat well, here’s an easy blender soup to feed your green.

It’s all about cabbage, an excellent source of vitamin C and K, fiber, folate, potassium and manganese.  Various types of cabbage have been studied for their cancer prevention properties, cholesterol-lowering support, anti-inflammatory action and all around health benefits.

Similar to the traditional Irish colcannon (with its pairing of potatoes and green cabbage), but with a bright surprise thrown in, this soup is a cheerful presentation on any dinner table. It is substantial enough to serve as a full meal, but can also be served in smaller portions as a starter.

Green Dream Cabbage Soup

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 white or yellow potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 green cabbage, chopped
  • 5 cups vegetable stock (or homemade)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil and/or thyme
  • 4 ounces of cream cheese (1/2 a typically-sized package)
  • 1/2 - 1 cup milk (depending on desired consistency)
  • 1 bag frozen green peas
  • nutmeg, freshly ground
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • handful of baby spinach, thinly sliced (as optional garnish)
  • 1 carrot, grated (as optional garnish)
  • croutons (as optional garnish)
Method:
  1. Warm butter in a Dutch oven or other soup pot.  Sauté onions until thoroughly soft (10-15 minutes).
  2. Add garlic, potatoes, cabbage and spices and stir to coat. Pour in stock, bring to boil, cover and reduce to simmer. Stir once or twice as vegetables cook until soft.
  3. Turn off heat, add cream cheese and gently mix in, blending in the cheese using a wooden spoon against the side of the soup pot.  Stir in 1/2 cup of milk, and nutmeg.
  4. Using either an immersion blender in the soup pot, or in batches in a counter-top blender, purée the soup to a smooth bright green mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Add additional milk if too thick.
  5. Serve with brightly colored garnishes such as spinach ribbons and grated carrots, and/or something crunchy such as croutons or roasted seeds.

To make it vegan: a creamy consistency can be created simply by cooking potatoes in stock, and puréeing them without adding any cream cheese or milk.  Sautéed leeks can add to the creamy texture.  You can substitute some of the onions with leeks. This soup can also be made vegan by substituting the dairy products with non-dairy versions.

To make it paleo/primal: Use coconut oil for sautéing, and skip the dairy products.  You can use a meat or vegetable stock, and add coconut milk for added creaminess if you like.

Red Velvet Borscht

The beet, like a fist tightly clenching its sweetest, is one of the most brilliantly colored treasures held in the dirt. Once scrubbed (and possibly peeled), it begins to reveal its sweet beauty.  Cultivated in numerous varieties, colors, shapes and designs (if you’ve never admired the Chioggia beet, have a look here), all of which offer an excellent source of folate, antioxidants, manganese, vitamin C, potassium and fiber, among other nutrients. If you like to grow your own, here’s a nice collection of varied beet seeds for a full array.

The wild beet, the ancestor of what we eat today, traces its roots to North Africa. Initially only the greens were eaten (something we would be wise to do more of today). Early Romans began cultivating beets for the roots, and as they traveled through the continent, beets were widely adopted to feed both animals and humans. By the 19th century, they reached the height of their popularity when the Poles built the first sugar beet factory to extract their highly concentrated sweetness.

This versatile beet soup, when served hot, will warm you to the core, and when enjoyed chilled with fresh dill, is wonderfully refreshing.  Blended with an additional splash of water or milk, it becomes an invigorating smoothie.  When I made it for my weekly “Market Day Soup”, I was delighted by the color. This is winter food at its most colorful.

Red Velvet Borscht Soup

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large red onions, diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 red potatoes, peeled and cubed (ideally a variety with red flesh such as Adirondack reds)
  • 4 bright red beets
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon dill seed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • fresh or dried dill weed
  • cream, plain yogurt or sour cream (optional)
Method:
  1. Warm soup pot and melt butter. Add onions and cook for 10-15 minutes over low heat to caramelize. Add garlic, potatoes and beets, stir to coat.
  2. Add stock and dill seeds and bring to a boil.  Cover and allow to simmer until vegetables are soft (approximately 20 minutes).
  3. Turn off heat and add milk.
  4. In batches, puree soup in a blender or food processor until velvety smooth.
  5. Gently reheat, or chill. Serve with a dash of cream or dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of dill.

I added another splash or two of milk and ended up with a delicious savory smoothie.  Just the thing for a quick lunch.

Make it vegan: Substitute olive oil for butter, and a non-dairy milk for the milk.

Make it paleo/primal: Substitute coconut oil for the butter, and coconut milk for the milk.

Potato-Kale Soup: Food From Here

This all local, organic, vegetarian soup was created in honor of Bo Muller-Moore, Team Kale and the Eat More Kale campaign.  It was sold out on The Farmstand Coop the first week, and so I (as Mama D’s Kitchen) ran it for a second one.  Many thanks to all who supported Bo with soup purchases.

This simple-to-make and warming-to-eat cool season soup is reminiscent of both the well-known Portuguese “caldo verde” (green soup) sans sausage and the cold-weather staple, creamy potato-leek soup.  It consists of a smooth, creamy and thoroughly satisfying base with a smattering of visual and nutritional excitement from the bright green kale.  The ingredients are easy to find at year-round farmers markets as well as most supermarkets.

Potato-Kale Soup

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 leeks, thoroughly washed and white and light green portions chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 celeriac (also called celery root), peeled and cubed
  • 3-4 potatoes (such as Yukon gold), peeled and cubed
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 bunch fresh kale (or 1 frozen package, in a pinch)
  • 1/2-1 cup milk or cream (optional)
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • grated parmesan (optional)
Method:
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in large soup pot. Sauté onions and leeks until translucent and with the appearance of starting to melt (this will add to the soup’s creaminess).
  2. Add garlic, potatoes and celeriac. Toss to coat and add vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer until vegetables are soft.
  3. Heat remaining tablespoon of butter in a skillet and give chopped kale a quick sauté.  Watch it carefully and take it off heat as soon as the kale reaches a beautiful bright green color.
  4. Once soup vegetables are soft, purée either in the pot with an immersion blender, or in batches in an upright blender or food processor, until smooth.  I find the immersion blender more convenient, but a traditional upright blender or food processor produces a smoother soup.
  5. Adjust consistency with stock, milk or cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir in kale and serve topped with grated parmesan, if using.

To make it vegan: This soup can easily be made without dairy by sautéing in olive oil and eliminating the final addition of milk or cream.  The sautéed leeks, cooked potatoes and celeriac once puréed create a lusciously creamy soup. If you wanted to thin the soup, you can use more stock or an unsweetened dairy-free milk substitute.

To make it Paleo/Primal: Sauté the vegetables in coconut oil, and prepare the soup with your stock of choice. The puréed vegetables will make the soup creamy, so you do not need to add any milk or cream, however adding coconut milk would likely produce a very tasty tropical version of this soup.

To make it non-veg: Substitute chicken or turkey broth for the vegetable broth and sauté thinly sliced sausage with the kale before adding to the potato-leek soup base.

Filling up on Pumpkin

“For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.”

Lyrics to popular song in the 1600s

Pumpkins. We buy them whole in October to perform surgery on, and then expect to see them again in November in a pie.  We’ve come to think of pumpkin pie as one of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Probably not. Together with squashes, they are native to New England, and were a common food source for Native Americans.  Early European settlers adopted pumpkin eating, but it was unlikely that they had the butter and wheat flour we use today for the crust until many years later.

According to historians from Plimouth Plantation, the earliest written pumpkin pie recipes are dated several generations after the First Thanksgiving, and then they treat pumpkin more like apples (which are not native and had, by then, been brought over from Europe), slicing it and sometimes frying the slices before layering them in a crust.

This recipe may more closely resemble an early pumpkin pie than what we are accustomed to today (which, if you tend to have it with canned pumpkin, I urge you to read the latest on BPA in cans, and use a real pumpkin instead).  The filling does contain butter and bread cubes, but these can easily be omitted for historical purity.  A simple filling made with spiced milk and eggs is likely that of the original pumpkin pie.

Today pumpkins are recognized as a particularly good source of vitamin A and beta-carotene, as well as vitamin C.  Since they are naturally sweet, they help satisfy our sweet tooth, preventing a sugar craving. Some research suggests that eating pumpkin works well to balance insulin and is therefore effective for pre-diabetes and diabetes.

Pumpkin seeds have many health benefits, including being a good source of protein, zinc, iron and vitamins, most notably vitamin E. Pumpkin seeds also contain tryptophan, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus.


Bread Pudding in a Pumpkin Shell

An Original Pumpkin Pie

  • 1 pie pumpkin or other nice-looking winter squash (roughly 4-5 pounds)
  • 2 cups milk (or coconut milk*)
  • 1/4 cup butter (or coconut oil*), melted.
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 cups stale bread, cubed
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup raisins and/or dried cranberries or sultanas
  • 1/2 walnuts and/or pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon each of ground alspice, ginger, cloves and/or cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon maple liquor (optional, however, the next time you’re in Vermont, you will not be disappointed if you treat yourself to a bottle of “Cabin Fever” Maple Liquor)
  • whole nutmeg, for grinding

Topping

  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds (although it makes a great deal of sense to use the seeds from your pumpkin, I have to admit that I like the taste of the greenish-colored “pepitas” better)
  • butter or oil, just enough to coat pan
  • 1 teaspoon maple sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 350º degrees.
  2. Wash pumpkin. Cut off the top of the pumpkin and clean out the inside.  Brush the top and inside with a little melted butter.
  3. Replace cover on pumpkin and heat in oven for 20 minutes.
  4. While pumpkin is in oven, scald milk for the bread pudding filling. Remove from heat and add butter and maple syrup.  Pour mixture over stale bread cubes and let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Then add eggs, raisins, nuts, spices, vanilla and splash of liquor.
  5. Take pumpkin out of oven, remove the top and fill with the bread mixture and grate some fresh nutmeg over the top.  This time without the top, place pumpkin in a baking dish and bake for 1- 1 1/2 hours or until the pumpkin is soft (cooking time will vary depending on the size of the pumpkin) and the pudding is cooked. Any leftover filling can be cooked in ramekins, which will not need the full cooking time.
  6. To make the topping: melt butter in a small skillet, add the pumpkin seeds.  Give them a shake and/or stir several times and watch them closely since they burn easily.  Once browned and starting to pop, remove from heat and sprinkle with cinnamon and maple (or regular) sugar.
  7. Remove pumpkin from oven and allow to cool slightly.
  8. Serve as boat-like slices with a wedge of pumpkin as the base, filled with bread pudding and how about a nice dollop of vanilla yogurt, creme fraiche, freshly whipped cream or ice cream on top. Sprinkle all over with cinnamon pumpkin seeds.

Thanks to Wilson Farm in Lexington, Massachusetts (my childhood farmstand) and our early American foremothers for the inspiration for this recipe.

* Note to Primal/Paleo eaters: This type of pie can be easily adapted to a hunter-gatherer diet.  Like the early New England settlers, omit the bread cubes and butter, and make the custard with coconut oil, coconut milk and plenty of eggs and spices. The links above connect to these products in BPA-free packaging.

Butternut Squash Soup with a Touch of Thai

Eating local takes on a whole other level of satisfaction when you have the good fortune to eat what you’ve just harvested from your garden.  My butternut squash plants had a good summer and are now treating me to what is sure to be a tasty fall and winter.  Low in calories and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, butternut squash is a nutrient-dense vegetable commonly available in fall and winter. You can capture its particularly high concentration of vitamin A in soups, roasted, mashed or baked into sweet breads and desserts.

As committed as I am to eating food from here, I also love many flavors from afar. Though that may sound incompatible, it is often just an ingredient or two, or a specific herb, spice or seasoning, that gives an otherwise locally sourced dish an international flavor. Kaffir lime leaves, for example, decidedly not native to northern Vermont, but recently spotted at the local food coop, lend a distinctively delicious Thai flavor to this soup.

Butternut Squash Soup with a Touch of Thai

  • 1 average-sized butternut squash (or 2 small), peeled, seeded and cubed
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced or grated
  • 3 medium-sized potatoes, peeled (for a smoother soup) or unpeeled (for greater nutrition), cubed
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil or butter
  • 8 cups water or vegetable broth
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 cup coconut milk, cream or milk
  • possible toppings: cilantro, thai basil, croutons, roasted pepitas or butternut squash seeds, shredded coconut, peanuts, sriracha hot sauce and/or a swirl of cream.

Method:

  1. Melt coconut oil in a soup pot and sauté onions until translucent, then add garlic.
  2. Stir in potato and squash cubes and stir to coat.
  3. Pour in water or stock, add kaffir lime leaves and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover until vegetables are soft, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. With an immersion blender in the soup pot or in batches in a traditional blender, puree the soup to a velvety smooth consistency. Stir in milk.
  6. Serve in bowls and garnish with toppings of your choice.

True Love Brownies

Two years ago around Valentine’s Day, I was working as a nutrition coach for the Vermont Biggest Loser competition, and I wanted to offer my hard-working team a delicious treat: something they had been avoiding diligently, such a brownies.  We had turned their diets around in order to stabilize their blood sugar levels.  The team was doing a fantastic job sticking to low-glycemic meals which were helping them feel satisfied longer, have fewer cravings, enjoy consistent high energy levels and lose weight!  Along those lines, I made them a batch of low-glycemic brownies for a great-tasting, high-protein, high-fiber chocolatey treat. Being flourless, these brownies are also a great dessert for those following the Paleo (who allow themselves the flexibility of including legumes, as I do) diet, wheat-, grain- and/or gluten-free diet.

How to turn moist decadent brownies into something healthy?  Well, you need an unexpected ingredient. I thought if I included it in the name of the recipe, it might turn you off before giving it a try.  So I renamed them “true love brownies” since I think one of the best way to show love is to offer healthy foods.

“True Love” Black Bean Brownies (I know that sounds strange, but try to stay open-minded…)

* While great for people cutting down on coffee/caffeine, instant coffee substitutes are made from grains, often barley, which contains gluten.

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease an 8″x8″ baking pan.
  2. Melt butter or coconut oil in a small saucepan.
  3. In a small bowl, beat eggs (or whisk together flaxseed meal and water).
  4. Combine all ingredients in the pitcher of a blender and puree until smooth.
  5. Pour into prepared baking pan. Bake 40-45 minutes or until set. Do not over bake
  6. Let cool. Cut into small squares (or hearts using a cookie cutter) and enjoy one at a time.

This rich combination of chocolate, eggs, flaxseeds and black beans offers a substantial amount of protein and fiber, making these brownies wonderfully filling and satisfying, very tasty and full of love.

Nutrella: A healthier, home-made “Nutella”

Ghana, is only second in the world to Côte d'I...Real chocolate in their pods
In a previous post, I mentioned that I was experimenting with a homemade version of the chocolate-hazelnut spread sold under the brand name “Nutella” (which, depending on where you live, contains differing amounts of sugar, either vegetable or palm oil, milk, soy and artificial flavors - click here to be fully convinced to make a healthier version yourself).  A reader asked for the recipe.  I am happy to share, but need to be honest: I don’t actually follow recipes very often and when I get inspired to try something new, I tend to add a little of this, and then a little of that…. until it looks and tastes just right, but creating the encore is a little more challenging.

I will work on coming up with a bone fide recipe, but for now, what I can pass along is the following “suggested guidelines” and encourage you to experiment in order to come up with the perfect flavor/consistency combination for you and those who share your kitchen table. If you are unfamiliar with some of the ingredients or are not sure where to find them locally, I linked them to Amazon Groceries, who will gladly deliver them to your door.

Nutrella = more nutritious “nutella”

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together equal parts cashew butter (of course you can use hazelnut butter, as they do in the Nutella factory, but it is generally harder to find - though easy through this link - and more expensive) and sesame tahini (for a nut-free version, you should use tahini and sunflower seed butter); add several heaping spoonfuls of real cocoa powder ideally organic and fair-trade (so not Swiss Miss mix), a good pour of maple syrup and a smidge of pure vanilla extract.  Mix these together and check the consistency.  I wanted mine a little smoother (going for that luscious silky texture), so I added just a bit of light olive oil (coconut oil, grapeseed, a nut oil or sesame oil would all work well too).   Add some ground cinnamon, and/or maybe some cloves, ginger, nutmeg… whatever you like for added flavor.  A few drops of almond extract bring out the nutty flavor with a suggestion of marzipan, while orange extract creates that beautiful chocolate-orange marriage.

In my Mexican-inspired batch, I made the same base, but then added a heaping spoon of cinnamon and a considerably smaller spoonful of chili powder.  This is all about the flavor package, so you just have to keep tasting (could be worse, right? I have two children who graciously volunteered) to find the perfect flavor combination.

The mocha flavor is made, again, with the same base, but this time adding a heaping spoonful or two of instant coffee or grain coffee substitute for flavor. I like Inka Coffee Substitute which I use frequently to make “kids coffee” for my children and for anyone cutting down on caffeine.

To satisfy a crunchy mood, I added cacao nibs. The fat in the base mixture magically erases the natural bitter flavor of real chocolate, allowing for a stronger chocolate taste with a higher antioxidant and fiber content.

I’d love to hear what you come up with.  Please share your favorites!