Monday, September 24, 2012

Fall Abundance, and a Recipe for Creamy Sweet Squash Soup

Fall is an exciting time of year. Nature is full of color and transformation as we prepare for the arrival of the colder weather. It is at this time of year that you will start finding a mesmerizing array of winter squash at the markets. I have a personal preference for Kabocha or buttercup squashes. I find them to be drier in texture and sweeter to the taste, and are richly satisfying however they are prepared.

Kabocha squash, onions, and cabbage, all ready to be long steamed!

Since not all squash are created equal, here are a few tips for picking a good one:
First, look for squash that have an orange spot; this is a sign that it ripened in the field, which gives it a sweeter taste. Feel the squash, make sure that it has some weight to it, which is a sign of vitality. Be sure to check the stem-- ideally you want to pick a squash that has a nice, dry stem. If you notice a little sap seeping through the skin of the squash, this is also a sign of sweetness.

No matter what you do with your squash, it is going to be delicious, especially if you follow my guidelines for picking a good one! Here are some of my favorite ways to prepare it:

Sweet and Delicious.
  • Long steaming- cut the squash into large chunks and steam until tender. 
  • Squash Butter- peel the squash, cut into 2” by 2” chunks, place in a pot with a small amount of water, cover, and slowly steam it over low heat for a few hours, adding water when necessary, until the squash is tender enough to mash with the back of a wooden spoon. Squash butter is delicious on a piece of steamed sourdough bread, or serve it as a vegetable side dish, or as a sweet snack. 
  • Sautéed and Simmered: prepare with other sweet vegetables such as carrots, onions, parsnips, leeks, etc 
  • Creamy Sweet Squash Soup, see recipe below 

Creamy Sweet Squash Soup
2 cups onion, diced
1/2 medium-sized squash, such as Kabocha, peeled and cut into chunks
6 cups of water
Sea salt
Fresh herbs or sautéed leeks for garnish, optional.

Place diced onions in a pot with water enough to cover onions by an inch.
Add a tiny pinch of salt and bring to a boil over medium flame, continue to cook onions for several minutes or until they become translucent.
Add squash and additional water to cover the vegetables by approximately one inch.
Add an additional generous pinch of sea salt, cover, and bring to a boil on a medium to medium-high flame.
When water begins to boil, reduce the flame and simmer on medium-low for approximately 20 minutes or until the squash is tender.
Using a hand food mill, puree all the ingredients.
Return the pureed vegetables to the pot.
Garnish with finely chopped fresh herbs (rosemary or parsley are especially good) or sautéed leeks.

The consistency of this soup may be adjusted by the amount of vegetables and water. If soup becomes too thick, add additional water until desired consistency is reached.

For a richer flavor, try frying the herbs until they are just crispy before garnishing the soup.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Monticello and the Case of the Missing Blueberry

One of our last hurrahs for the summer was a weekend trip to visit our family in Virginia.
As “foodies” and staunch advocates of organic gardening, we thought it would be fun to visit
Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.

We left Philadelphia early and arrived at Nathan and Marina’s home a little after lunchtime. Since we wanted to make the most of our time at Monticello, we grabbed some organic walnuts and blueberries to take along as snacks. 

Look they even have bees!
There is a lot to see at Monticello. We opted for the garden tour. 
All I can say is that Thomas Jefferson was a landscape genius. 
Every aspect of the garden was impeccably designed and well thought out to create an outdoor masterpiece. Thomas Jefferson 
was also into seed preservation and collected many varieties of heirloom seeds from his garden. It is interesting that what one of America’s founding fathers respected the the importance of good food and understood the role it plays in our future. Jefferson had 
the insight to preserve seed quality. Unfortunately, these days many people seem to want to do exactly the opposite of this, thanks to modern agricultural practices and politics.
Summer squash 
Food quality is important to me and I want to know what I am eating;
I want to keep my blueberries pure and free of genetically 
modified ingredients.

And now for the magic question, why the title of this post? Well, one thing about organic foods is that they are not all perfect which is exactly the way food is supposed to be. In a box of fruit you may get two or three inedible pieces as I did with my blueberries. In my effort to separate out my few funky berries, one escaped. We searched the car several times but the berry was never found. I guess it is just one of those unsolved mysteries.

Denny, Susan, Nathan and Marina overlooking the lower garden.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hi, I'm Back!

I feel as though the summer just flew by. How can it be September already?

I did not intend to have a summer vacation from blogging, but I found myself much busier than anticipated. We held five different seminars at the Strengthening Health Institute, where I am co-director and head chef. Denny and I also taught at the Kushi Institute Summer Conference. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching my cooking class and presenting a lecture on “Macro Nouveau” (our new approach). We are also in the process of making some changes at the Strengthening Health Institute. We will be revising some of our existing programs as well as adding numerous new classes. Doing so has been extremely time-consuming, but I think that these new changes will be more than worth our efforts.

Outside of work, I spent a good deal of time with my family and friends. Our family vacationed in the Thimble Islands, staying at the house of a dear friend. We also took a weekend trip to visit family in Virginia. In August, I celebrated a “notable” birthday. Denny even threw me a surprise party. 

The harbor at High Island,  a bit of paradise!

Now that it is September and the season is changing, I am going to get back into the writing groove and will do my very best to post more regularly. You can expect a new post about once each week.

Today I would like to share one my favorites for a “quick and easy meal,” steamed sourdough bread. It is quick, simple, and nourishing. I’ve also included a variety of topping ideas and a recipe for steamed tofu sandwich filling. With school beginning this is a great, easy, healthy lunch solution. 

Tony's outdoor shower overlooking the Long Island Sound

Steamed Sourdough Bread

This is so easy to do and is a life-saver when you are pinched for time and need something nourishing and quick. It is completely satisfying and works for any meal.

You will need a steamer basket and a pot with a cover. Simply put a little water in the pan. Place the basket in the pot. Put the bread in the steamer basket, cover the pot, and turn on the flame to low or medium-low (if your steamer basket is one of the collapsible kinds that fit inside the pot, use a low flame). Steam until you can smell the bread, then remove the bread from the basket. I like to place the slice on top of a bamboo mat to cool; the mat prevents the condensation from making the bread soggy (yuck). Allow the bread to cool a bit before adding your favorite topping.

Here are some of my serving suggestions:
Use a nice spread of nut or seed butter together with sauerkraut
The classic PBJ or substitute tahini or another seed or nut butter for the “P”
Serve with hummus or make a sandwich
If you’re feeling fancy, add some steamed tofu. It is thoroughly satisfying.

Steamed Tofu Sandwich Filling
Take one block of tofu, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices and lightly press with a towel to get rid of excess moisture. 
Captain Isaiah

Oops these are bottoms not toppings!
Make a savory mix of the following ingredients:
4 parts shoyu
1 part mirin
1 part umeboshi vinegar (Optional ingredient)
4 parts water 

*Note: For younger children dilute the
  mixture with extra water to make it
 less salty.

Place all of the liquid ingredients in a saucepan. Add the tofu and simmer
lightly (about 1.5 to 2 minutes) on each side.
Remove the tofu from the pan and allow to cool and drain before assembling your sandwich.

My Favorite Toppings:
Mustard and/or hot sauce
Sauerkraut or pickles
Grated carrot
Sliced cucumbers

*You can also make this sandwich in advance and wrap it up. Refrigerate it and it will
keep for 1 or possibly 2 days.