Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Better Together eating Tuscan White Bean Soup

Sometimes you realize just how much better life is when you share it with someone else.  Shopping is much more fun with a friend.  Dancing is better with a partner.  Studying is more productive with a motivated classmate.  And, I might add, driving from point A to point B in icy conditions is much, much safer because I have a sweet husband who is willing to also be a perpetual driver. 

For the past few years, each January, my husband and I have decided to subject ourselves to a "detox" fast of sorts.  My in-laws call it the "Nuts and Berries" diet (I wonder if they are discretely calling us nuts); for a few weeks we cut out meat, refined sugar, butter, beer and wine, and processed foods in general.  The result is that we have a great increase of fruits and vegetables in our diet; our insane sugar cravings (which have been piqued by all of the holiday sweets) subside as do those for rich, buttery foods; and we feel much better in general.  Even as we add those eschewed ingredients back into our diet in moderation, our eating habits continue to carry a healthy dose of those good fruits and vegetables whose appearances had dwindled during the holidays. 

The thing is, while we both find ourselves craving this time of discipline after a few weeks of out of control eating, it's much more difficult to carry out after a week or two.  A trip to the grocery (or even a glance in our pantry) leaves us gazing longingly at blocks of cheese, bottles of wine, or bags of chocolate rather than our intended destination of dried fruit or raw vegetables.  If either of us were to go at this alone, I have a feeling we wouldn't make it an entire month.  But we encourage one another and hold each other accountable.  And we both look forward to the day that we "break our fast" together. 

This white bean soup may just be my favorite recipe from our January detox ritual; it has even made appearances in our regular menu planning!  It is fresh and flavorful, perfect for a healthy lunch or dinner.

Tuscan White Bean Soup

Adapted from Care2

1 pound white navy beans
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 leeks, white and tender green parts, cleaned well and chopped
1/2 onion, diced
5 celery stalks, diced
3 carrots, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 cups water
5 teaspoons vegetable base (such as Better than Bouillon brand), or bouillon cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
minced fresh rosemary, lemon wedges, and grated fresh parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Sort the beans and place them in a medium heavy pot.  Add enough water to cover the beans by two inches.  Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute.  Turn off the heat and let the beans sit for 1 hour.  Drain and rinse the beans; set aside. 

In the same pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the leeks and onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.  Add the celery, carrots, and garlic and cook for 10 minutes more, stirring often.  Add the beans and water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.  Add the vegetable base, rosemary, and pepper, and cook for 40 minutes more, until the beans are soft. 

Carefully transfer 3 cups of the soup to a blender.  Puree and return to the pot.  Stir in the lemon juice.  Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Sprinkle each bowl with a pinch of extra rosemary and Parmesan cheese if desired, and serve with a lemon wedge. 

Print Friendly

Pin It!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reasons to Celebrate and Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo

We’re finally back in our Yankee home after a two-and-a-half week trip to the South. It was such a joy to spend time with our family and friends. For the most part, we did just that; we sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed our time! I hardly cooked a thing while we were on the road. Most of the time, I would regret that fact, especially since I didn’t spend any time making holiday treats during exams, but it was time for everyone else’s culinary skills to shine and for us to relish our cherished time at home.

Of course, the holidays are really a time for us to celebrate! We did so from our arrival until our departure.

We arrived in Knoxville after a long journey, and spent the next few days, celebrating both Christmas and family reunions, but also the baptism of our youngest cousin.

A few days later, after a family Christmas trip to Nashville, we took the short trip to Montgomery for another family celebration, and celebrated the birth of Christ with a feast.

Everywhere we went, the halls were decked.

Everywhere we went, there was wonderful food to be had (including the “roast beast”).

The days after Christmas were cause to celebrate in and of themselves; on those days we did whatever we wished. Finished a puzzle, read a book (or kindle), visited, gathered in the kitchen for leftovers, watched a few movies. It was delightful.

And then we celebrated some more; we ate a delicious meal during the last few moments of 2010, and cheered in 2011 with some of our dearest friends. We gathered after supper to make resolutions and predictions for the New Year.  We spent the next day with many of these friends watching football and babies.

After most of the delicious Christmas goodies had been eaten, it was finally time for me to spend some time in the kitchen. I wanted to make something comforting, but not too rich; something that would move us away from the sweets and towards a healthier New Year.  Gumbo seemed just the thing. This gumbo is full of vegetables, is just a bit spicy, and even my brother, who eschews okra and the like, seemed to enjoy it.

We’re back up north, and I have one more reason to celebrate. War Eagle!

Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo

Adapted from Southern Living's Homestyle Cooking

2 pounds frozen okra
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 small onions, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
1 cup chopped green onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 6-oz can tomato paste
3 large bay leaves
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ¾ teaspoon Cajun seasoning (Pilleteri’s, Cachere’s, or equivalent)
¼ teaspoon hot sauce
½ teaspoon ground red pepper
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
dash white pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes (undrained)
7 cups water
1 pound spicy link sausage, cut into ½ inch lengths (Conecuh, Andouille, or equivalent)
2 ½ pounds medium fresh wild shrimp, peeled
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
4 cups hot cooked rice

Heat ¼ cup oil in a large Dutch oven. Add okra and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 35 minutes, stirring often. Remove okra from the pot and set aside.

In the same pot (there will still be some bits of okra in there), combine 2 tablespoons of oil and flour in the pot and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly with a roux whisk, until the mixture is fragrant and has darkened in color. Add onion and celery; cook 5 minutes. Add bell pepper, green onions, and garlic; cook 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and the next eleven ingredients (through water), and the reserved okra; stir well. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Add the sausage and cook for 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and heat until the shrimp are cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Remove and discard the bay leaves, and stir in the parsley. Serve over hot rice.

Print Friendly

Pin It!