soy snack break

After recouping from last week’s presentation with multiple mugs of hot chocolate, food for fun is ready to hit the blogging circuit again. This week, I offer the six recipes featured last week when presenting a Snack Break at a client’s annual meeting.

Minnesota Soybean has been a long-time partner and my work with them has taught me that soyfoods can be a fun tool in the kitchen. Why not include them in your ingredient palette when you’re thinking through meals, snacks, and even the sweet stuff?

True, some people have allergies to soy and there have also been whispers of soy’s “dark side” in certain media circles. To those with allergies, skip right over these recipes, or try subbing in another type of nut, nut milk, green veg, or flour. And to those who believe soy has that dark side, I’d offer that moderate consumption of soy has yet to show negative effects in any study to date. On the plus side, it’s a strong source of plant protein and fiber and has been proven to reduce high cholesterol levels, possibly prevent against certain hormonal cancers, yadda yadda yadda.

Shopping for and cooking up the snacks for the presentation was loads of fun–as a writer, it’s a treat to move around and create something tangible (and edible!) for a work project. An overestimate of attendees meant there were plenty of leftovers, which I wish I could serve up here. Instead, I’ll post photos and recipes and invite you to try a little soy.

green tea edamame

Green Tea Edamame

  •  1 quart water
  • 4 tea-bags green tea
  • 1 (12-ounce) bag frozen edamame
  • Sea salt to taste

In medium pot, bring water to a boil. Remove pot from heat; add tea bags. Steep 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove and discard tea bags. Return pot to medium heat. Bring tea to a gentle boil. Add edamame. Cook about 7 minutes or until beans are cooked through; drain and discard tea. Sprinkle edamame with salt. Serve immediately. Makes 4 (generous 1-cup) servings.

soy sconesSavory Spring Scones

  • 1 tablespoon vinegar plus enough soymilk to measure 1 cup
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup soy flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sliced green onions
  • Dash cracked black pepper

Heat oven to 500°F. In measuring cup, combine vinegar and soymilk; let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles bread crumbs. Stir in soured soymilk until dough forms. Stir in onions and pepper.

Turn dough out onto well-floured surface; knead dough gently 8 to 10 times, sprinkling with flour as needed. Pat dough into 8-inch circle, about 3/4 inch thick. Cut circle into 8 pie-shape wedges, pressing down with knife without sawing. Sprinkle baking sheet with flour. Gently transfer wedges to baking sheet.

Reduce oven to 450°F. Bake scones 20 minutes or just until golden. Makes 8 scones.

tofu saladEgg & Tofu Salad

  • 3 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh chives
  • 4 hard-cooked large eggs, peeled and chopped
  • 1 (14-ounce) package water-packed soft tofu, drained and chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard, and chives until smooth. Add remaining ingredients; stir gently to coat. Adjust seasoning to taste. Makes 4 cups.

Edamame-Chile Hummus

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen edamame, cooked and drained
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons each seeded diced red and green jalapeño chiles
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In food processor, combine all ingredients; cover. Process until blended, but still slightly chunky. Adjust seasoning as desired. Makes about 1 1/3 cups.

pumpkin granolaPumpkin Soynut Granola

Love pumpkin? Go ahead and double the pumpkin puree.

  • 3 cups old-fashioned (rolled) oats
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup roasted soynuts (can use Cinnamon-Roasted Soynuts, recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

Heat oven to 325ºF. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In large bowl, toss together oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and salt.

In small bowl, stir together maple syrup, pumpkin puree, applesauce, and vanilla. Stir into oat mixture until coated. Stir in cranberries, soynuts, and pumpkin seeds.

Spread mixture evenly on baking sheet. Bake, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes, 45 minutes or until golden brown. Cool before storing in covered container. Makes 5 cups.

1386593552042Cinnamon-Roasted Soynuts

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups soynuts
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 300°F. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray.

In medium bowl, beat egg white just until frothy; beat in vanilla. Fold in soynuts. Stir in brown and granulated sugars and cinnamon.

Spread soynuts evenly on baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, 20 to 25 minutes or until just lightly browned. Cool slightly, breaking up any clumps before serving. Makes about 2 cups.

All together now:

tofu, edamame, soynuts, oh my!

tofu, edamame, soynuts, oh my!

gettin’ your freekeh on

If I ran analysis and crunched numbers, I could tell you exactly how many food for fun recipes are “healthy” and how many not so much. But since running analysis and crunching numbers sounds a bit dry, I’ll just say that the “better for the soul than your waistline” recipes found here far outnumber the “good for you” recipes.

Yet. If this blog more accurately reflected how I cook, it would offer a better balance. While I love my sweets (and my cocktails), the meals I make tend to showcase whole grains, veggies, lean proteins, etc. That said, the sweet stuff garners more attention (and generally seems more fun), so I don’t often include main dishes here. But today I will.

Epicurious.com‘s recipes grace my email box daily and today’s caught my attention. I’d just been thinking supper possibilities as I opened the email and Stir-Fried Buckwheat sounded good. With a bag of buckwheat groats already in my freezer (or so I thought), this recipe would make a healthy vegetarian entrée.

What intrigued me most was how the grains were cooked. First, they were mixed with an egg, then toasted for a brief time in a large saucepan. Vegetable broth was added and the grain simmered 15 or so minutes until the broth was absorbed. The cooked grain was then spread out on a baking sheet, each kernel separated as much as possible for cooling. When added to the stir-fried and seasoned veggies, the grains mostly remain separate.

cooling the kernels

cooling the kernels

A quick search of the freezer failed to uncover buckwheat groats, but I found freekah and gave that a go instead. (Do you know freekeh? I first discovered it a year or so ago and figured it as the next quinoa. Billed as cracked green wheat, it’s chewy, slightly sweet, and adds variety to a whole grain repertoire. As for being the next big thing in the grain world, it’s now sold at Costco–a sure sign of being mainstreamed.)

freekah: a young, green cracked wheat

freekah: a young, green cracked wheat

Another change was subbing curry paste for the chile paste as that’s what I had on hand (paste is paste, right?). As well, I didn’t have any green beans, so added color with a handful of chopped fresh mint.

Stir-Fried Freekah

Stir-Fried Freekeh

Nutritionally, it makes a better side than main as it’s all carbs, but a sprinkle of peanuts upped the protein content. Though my girls weren’t impressed, I was. Reminiscent of fried rice, it also had its own personality: warm and slightly salty and savory and herby. I’ll definitely be making it again.

up close and personal

up close and personal

So while food for fun will continue highlighting ice cream, cookies, cakes, bread, adult beverages, and the like, it’ll also serve up the occasional healthy dish. The way I see it, not-so-good-for-you food can be enjoyed (relatively) guilt-free when you’ve filled up on the good stuff first.

tofu on the table

Before kids, I ate an über-healthy diet. No meat, lots of veggies, regular intake of fatty fish, legumes, and whole grains. I still had the sweet tooth I do now, but figured that my overall low-calorie and nutrient-rich diet more than balanced any high-fat, high-sugar indiscretions.

Then came kids. Pregnancy threw my body for a loop as I was completely turned off all vegetables. Bizarre. I also developed ravenous protein cravings and anything whole-grain had WAY too much flavor. Having food issues when pregnant isn’t uncommon and it’s temporary, but each pregnancy still threw off my healthy-eating groove and it takes work to go back. I’m glad to love fresh produce and whole grains again, but returning to occasional meatless meals has yet to happen.

Which is why tonight’s supper was so much fun. I bought tofu a week or so ago, thinking it would be good to cook with again. I found a recipe in my collection I had clipped from an old Vegetarian Times and set about to make Barbecued Tofu. I was trying to use up an overabundance of zucchini, summer squash, and bell peppers, so subbed those in for the veggies called for in the recipe. I made a few other tweaks and this is what I came up with.

barbecued tofu and sweet brown rice

The flavors were good, though a homemade barbecue sauce would have made it even tastier. My husband dutifully ate a serving, though his preference would have been something more meat-and-potatoes. And while I would love to report that my girls gobbled it down, they weren’t thrilled with tonight’s meal.

It’s on me to finish the leftovers (of which there are plenty–this recipe makes a lot), but I don’t mind as this dish is versatile. It’ll be tasty stuffed into pitas, wrapped in tortillas, tossed with pasta, or served over mixed greens. But tonight, alongside brown rice, it made a warm, comforting, and über-healthy meal.

Barbecued Tofu

  • 1 (14- to 16-ounce) package firm tofu
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 each red, yellow, and orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 each zucchini and yellow summer squash, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 to 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 400°F. Coat large baking sheet lightly with olive oil.

Drain tofu; pat dry on clean kitchen towel. Cut tofu into bite-size pieces.

On baking sheet, toss together vegetables. Drizzle with some of barbecue sauce. Toss to coat, adding sauce as needed. Add tofu to baking sheet; drizzle with sauce as needed. Roast, stirring gently once or twice, 20 minutes or until vegetables are desired doneness. Season with salt and black pepper. Makes 8 servings.

bowl of red part deux

Spring is here–yay! Fresh seasonal produce has started appearing in the store–slowly at first, but the collection will grow as we move forward into summer and then fall. For now, I’m more than content with the beautifully young and tender bunches of asparagus, bright red and juicy strawberries, and fragrant bunches of slender green onions that fill produce bins.

Asparagus gets me especially excited as it truly is seasonal. Green onions are sold year-round, should they be needed for topping tacos, chili, and the like. But asparagus is something I’ll only buy from late-March to maybe mid-June. It is sold at other times, but only because it is shipped in from far far away and at $6ish a pound, wouldn’t be worth it. I’ll enjoy my asparagus now. Check out this gorgeous bunch.

pencil-thin asparagus!

The success of the other day’s pureed bell pepper soup inspired me to take things a step further and do something similar with asparagus. Instead of making a proper soup, I simmered the asparagus (after trimming, washing, and breaking into smaller pieces) in a small amount of water until the asparagus was bright green. I then added about 1 1/2 cups water and heated through. The immersion blender worked it into a smooth puree, after which I stirred in a spoonful or two of low-fat sour cream. My daughter had just brought in a handful of chives from our front porch (another sure sign of spring), so I snipped a few of those into the “soup,” then seasoned with salt and thinned it with a bit more water.

The next step was to spoon the beautiful green puree into soup bowls. On top and on only one side went a ladleful of the reheated bowl of red. The pretty green/red contrast would have looked lovely at a Christmas meal, but asparagus and red bells are spring and summer veggies (at least they are here in Minnesota), so that won’t happen here. But my husband and I enjoyed this soup-on-a-soup for last night’s meal alongside leftover shredded roast pork and baked sweet potato chips.

The final bowl was pretty for sure, but it also made for a nice flavor combination. The red bell pepper soup had a strong and savory flavor while the pureed asparagus–salt and a hint of chives the only seasoning–was content to be in the background adding a lightly sweet note. As well, I had been a bit overzealous in pureeing and brought the asparagus to a froth–lots of air bubbles made for a lighter flavor and texture.

Can’t say that my kids ate the soup (though they each tried a spoonful), but the adults at the table spooned up our veggies with gusto. It was a fun and easy way to make something simple look elegant. You could combine any number of “creamy” vegetable soups and purees to come up with different color and flavor combos. Creamy potato and broccoli soups, carrot and tomato. Or do dessert and puree chilled fruit soups in contrasting colors–spoon a chilled honeydew soup alongside a cantaloupe soup for a Chilled Melon Mix-Up. If you enjoy shopping produce aisles and farmers’ markets, think pureed soups next time you shop for seasonal fruits and veggies.

pureed asparagus and bell pepper soups

bowl of red

A recent sale on red bell peppers got me thinking about pureed bell pepper soup. Today was the day for this soup. Not wanting to take time to find a recipe, I made it up as I went along. This cooking philosophy doesn’t always serve me well, but today I struck gold (or ruby?). The results were just what I’d hoped for.

First, I chopped and seeded 4 large red bell peppers. Next, the peppers sautéed in just a bit of olive oil. When the bell peppers were just starting to brown, I added a splash of white wine (1/4 cup?) and a spoonful (1 tablespoon?) of low-sodium chicken bouillon. I stirred to dissolve the bouillon, then poured in about 1 cup (maybe a bit less) water. Next, I added about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried basil, covered the saucepan, and simmered the soup until the bell peppers were tender (15ish minutes). A quick whir with the immersion blender pureed it smooth (you could also transfer the soup to a traditional blender for the puree). The pan was removed from the heat so I could add 1 to 2 tablespoons 1% milk and about the same amount plain low-fat yogurt. Stirring in the dairy off the heat was important as both are low-fat and sure to curdle the high-acid soup if brought to a boil.

It was all pinch-and-dash, so I was glad to see the soup turn out well. The color was bold and the flecks of dried basil added a touch of rustic. Pressing the finished soup through a fine-mesh strainer would have rendered it smooth as silk, but I preferred the hint of texture from the bell pepper skins. I loved the deep and savory flavors–lots of bell pepper with a heavy hint of basil. And when I did the math, I figured I’d eaten half of the recipe (which made about 3 cups total). That means I downed two (!) large bell peppers. Wow. That’s some serious vitamins A and C as well as fiber and all the healthy “plant chemicals” we hear so much about. A very nutritious bowl of red, for sure.

pureed red bell pepper soup

banana bread and the soybean

Back in the late-’90s, I was swimming in soy. Minnesota Soybean, a commodity organization, hired me to help educate folks about the health benefits of soyfoods. I knew very little going in, but after studying the research on soyfood consumption, I was convinced that enjoying whole soyfoods (NOT taking soy pills) in moderation can be healthy. Fast forward to 2012 and soyfoods are found in mainstream grocery stores. Soymilk is frequently sold alongside dairy milk. Tofu hasn’t replaced steak (and I hope it does not), but in part thanks to the emphasis on enjoying the occasional meatless meal, soyfoods have found their way into many kitchens.

Minnesota Soybean came to mind when I was cleaning out my files recently and came across a recipe brochure I had helped put together. The photos were dated, but the card for banana bread caught my eye. I’ve had a large bag of overripe bananas in the freezer for a while and this seemed a good use for them. Other draws included the whole wheat flour and ground flax in the recipe–this banana bread would be whole-grain and healthy. Crushed soynuts were also stirred into the batter, upping the nutrition and adding taste and texture.

I made the banana bread a few days later and it was indeed delicious. Sweet, rich, and nutty, it’s great toasted and spread with butter for breakfast. A slice makes a filling late-morning snack. Tonight, I spread it with cream cheese and date jam and called it dessert. My girls are iffy on it, but my husband thinks it’s grand. Anyone looking to add whole grains or soy to their diet–or anyone who likes banana bread–should give this recipe a spin.

Banana bread with soynuts

Flax Banana Bread

This recipes makes two loaves–I cut ingredient amounts in half and made one.

  • 1 2/3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup ground flax seeds
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk (or 1 tablespoon vinegar plus enough milk to make 1/3 cup–let it stand 5 minutes before using)
  • 6 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2/3 cup crushed soynuts + extra for sprinkling

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 2 (9-inch) loaf pans.

In large bowl, stir together flours, flax, baking soda and salt. In separate bowl, beat together butter, applesauce, sugars, eggs and buttermilk with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in bananas. Add mixture to dry ingredients, stirring just enough to blend. Stir in 2/3 cup soynuts. Divide batter between pans. Sprinkle tops of each loaf with additional crushed soynuts. Bake 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes or until knife inserted into center of each loaf comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

chili’s chili (sort of)

My husband took our oldest daughter to Chili’s for lunch yesterday. She bowled me over by raving about her dad’s order of chili. Since when did she like something as complex as chili?  There are at least six different foods “touching” in any bowl of red, which seems an automatic turnoff for her picky 9-year-old taste buds. Chili also has potential to be nutritious, which should also make it unappealing to her. She usually sticks with kid faves such as mac-and-cheese or pizza when dining out. Which is why her announcement that she LOVED Chili’s chili floored me.

Not one to let a healthy food opportunity pass by, I hopped online and searched “Chili’s chili recipe.” Got a page of hits, one of which led me to a recipe I thought I had a shot with considering my pantry contents. Ironically, this recipe contained no vegetables save one onion and a can of tomato sauce for eight servings. I changed it up a bit (see pepper pots for more on my ability to follow recipes), cutting the beef amount in half, adding bell peppers, and replacing the tomato sauce and soup (!) with canned tomatoes. A bottle of Corona was sitting on the counter, so couldn’t help but add a slug to the pot; a spoonful of cocoa power also made it in. The recipe called for masa flour to be stirred into the chili at the end of the hour-long simmer, but unable to follow a recipe, I threw in a few tablespoons of cornmeal (no masa flour in the house) just after the beef and veggies were browned. Voilà (or olé?), a pot of chili was born. Topped with shredded cheese, olives, sour cream, and sliced green onions, it was a mild and lovely winter warmer.

The best part–my family loved it! My husband is an easy sell as he’s as supportive as they come. But getting it past my girls was huge. I was ecstatic that they loved a dish that was packed with vegetables and out of the realm of foods they normally eat. I include the recipe here, but know that this is an approximation. With all of the slugs and handfuls, I’m only guessing on amounts.

Sort-of Chili’s Chili
Makes 6ish servings

  • 1 pound ground lean beef
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small orange bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 or so tablespoons fine cornmeal
  • 2 or so tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 or so tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons beer
  • 1 1/2 to 3 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In large saucepan, cook beef and onion, stirring occasionally, until browned. Add bell peppers and garlic; sauté until vegetables are tender. Stir in remaining ingredients except salt and black pepper; cover. Simmer 40 minutes or until slightly thickened and flavors are blended. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve with favorite toppings.

in defense of school lunch

My youngest daughter and I join my eldest for school lunch every Thursday. I brown bag it as I’d rather bring my own. In past years, I packed all of my daughter’s lunches as well, but she now (usually) prefers eating what the school kitchen has to offer. This used to bug me, as I’m well aware of the high childhood obesity rates. It’s so easy for kids (and adults) to make bad nutrition choices. Junk food lurks around every childhood corner–cookies after musical rehearsal, juice boxes and candy-bar like granola bars after soccer, the list goes on. And the school lunches I remember were high in calories and low in good nutrition. Lately, though, things are looking up. True, mini corndogs were on today’s menu, but so were carrot sticks, broccoli florets, and baked sweet potato fries. The pizza crusts and tortillas are whole grain. Fresh fruit is always offered. But at the end of the lunch period, it’s less about what the school serves and more about what the kids will eat. Cut-up fresh vegetables may be on the menu, but if those veggies end up in the trash they haven’t added to anyone’s 5-a-day.

The most important nutrition responsibility, I feel, falls on parents. Kids who learn to like fresh fruits and veggies at home are more likely to eat them at school. Does my daughter make healthy choices? Not always. I’ve seen her eat her chocolate chip cookie first and leave the veggies untouched. (Yes, I call her on it. So far, she still wants me there.) But I keep hoping that by setting (mostly) good examples with my food choices, my daughters will eventually come round. And in the meantime, I know they’ll get (again, mostly) good nutrition at home and the school meals are better than they used to be.