Detox Gazpacho

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Put the chocolate Easter bunny down and back away slowly. I hear the siren song of sugar right along with ya, but we can do this! Instead of eating something which will lead us to wallow in guilt later, let’s eat something healthy and invigorating! This soup is one of my favorite detox foods, so I’m sharing it again.

Springtime tends to make vegetable lovers giddy with excitement. Unfortunately, it also makes us impatient, as the fresh, ripe flavors we crave become  s  l  o  w  l  y   available. Right now, the zucchini at the market (not yet from my garden) looks fresh and delicious. Cucumbers and peppers aren’t half bad right now, either.

But those supermarket tomatoes?

Sigh.

Don’t even bother with springtime tomatoes. I think they’re just little cardboard orbs disguised as tomatoes.

So, what’s a vegetable lover to do? Cheat. Relax, I’m not telling you to cheat on your taxes or cheat on your calculus exam. We’re going to cheat by avoiding fresh tomatoes altogether, even in a dish which ordinarily features fresh tomatoes quite prominently.

How are we going to cheat? We’re going to use salsa and vegetable juice. Stay with me for a minute.

Salsa, whether home canned or store bought, is often a superior alternative to out of season tomatoes. The blend of tomatoes, onions, herbs, and spices offers a whole lot more flavor than whatever was picked green and trucked up from far away, gassed along the way to artificially force a red color (without doing a darn thing for flavor). Likewise, vegetable juice forms a perfect – and perfectly obvious – base for a simple gazpacho. If you don’t believe me, try this recipe. If I’m wrong, post a comment below!

WIN_20150408_091740Ingredients (Serves 4)

1 small zucchini, peeled and chopped

1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped (save one slice unpeeled for garnish later)

1 yellow pepper, seeded and chopped (set aside a small piece for garnish later)

1 red pepper, seeded and chopped (set aside a small piece for garnish, later)

1 clove fresh garlic, diced

1 cup salsa

2 cups tomato-based vegetable juice (such as V-8)

Directions

Add all ingredients except garnish to a blender and puree until smooth. Serve well chilled and sprinkled with colorful diced vegetables. If you’d like, add a dollop of sour cream. Enjoy!

Part I: Kitchen Gadgets to Help You Eat Healthy

Happy New Year, everyone!

If you’ve been following Crowded Earth Kitchen for a while, you know that we don’t make impossible to maintain New Year’s resolutions around here. Instead, we are simply pledging to eat a little leaner and a little cleaner in 2017.

Want to join us? First, throw out all of that leftover holiday junk food. Seriously… that half eaten bag of Hershey’s kisses lurking in your pantry? Those partly stale cookies still sitting on a festive tray? Throw. Them. Away.

Then, stock your kitchen with a few items that will help you on your way to eating more mindfully this year. Throughout the month of January, Crowded Earth Kitchen will feature foods and gadgets that we find useful in our healthy eating journey!

scaleToday’s item is a digital kitchen food scale. Why is a kitchen scale #1 on our list of must have gadgets for the New Year? That’s easy. You can’t improve your meals if you don’t understand what you are eating in the first place! It’s super important to understand how many ounces of different foods you are accustomed to eating in one meal, so that you can make realistic changes that are healthy and – here’s the crux, friends – actually sustainable.

Famili Digital Kitchen Food Scale with Tempered Glass Platform, 11lb Capacity By 0.1oz, White

The kitchen scale linked above is only $6.99. Seriously, friends – $6.99 to start you on your journey to more mindful eating and better health. In the coming weeks, I’ll share simple recipes with the number of ounces of each ingredient spelled out for those who are keeping track. Here’s to better heating, and a healthier you (and me)!

In The Garden: First Harvests

Moving into late July, my Northern vegetable garden has been growing for almost eight weeks. This means – finally! – the first vegetables are being harvested here at Crowded Earth Kitchen! Weather permitting, we’ll enjoy increasingly bountiful harvesting for the next six to eight weeks. So exciting!

Here’s a peek at some of what’s happening In The Garden:

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Banana peppers, always the first peppers of summer, are bountiful this year.

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Ground cherries, a new garden addition, are coming along nicely.

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The first of the hot peppers are turning red!

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Broccoli heads are about six inches in diameter.

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Zucchini are surprisingly late this year, but are finally growing strong.

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We’ve picked about two quarts of beans so far.

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With a new net to protect raspberries from the birds, we’ve harvested a whole quart of berries so far. Happily, we’ll be able to pick again tomorrow!

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Poblano peppers, typically harvested near the end of summer, are already growing rapidly. So delicious…

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Cucumber vines are just beginning to produce. We hope to begin canning pickles in another week or two.

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The greens bed has exploded with chard and kale. Self-seeded tomato plants are peeking through the chard leaves, and will offer a cherry tomato bonus in September.

Freezing Summer Fruit

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Freezing mango slices on trays before packing in freezer bags keeps them from sticking together!

If you’ve been following Crowded Earth Kitchen for a while, you know that we do a lot of canning. You also know we do a lot of shopping at Aldi. It won’t surprise you, then, that the ridiculously inexpensive summer fruit prices at Aldi have us giddy with delight!

Whole pineapples for $1.39! Mangoes for $0.49! Pints of blueberries for $0.69! Nectarines, peaches, and plums for $0.78 per pound!

It’s enough to make cooks passionate about food preservation dance for joy… but here’s the conundrum:

Who wants to stand over a canning pot all day in July???

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Use a straw to suck the air out of your freezer bags before sealing. This helps prevent ice crystals and freezer burn!

Not us, not even with those prices dangled before our eyes. July is for swimming with the kids, reading romance novels on a hammock, and sipping mojitos (great recipe coming up for those) with friends. So what’s a frugal cook to do?

Freeze!

All you need to do in order to take advantage of these prices without sacrificing pool/hammock/mojito time is place whole berries and/or bite size chunks of pineapple, mango, nectarines, peaches, and plums in a single layer (not touching each other) on a baking sheet or small tray. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for a few hours. As soon as the fruit is frozen, transfer the fruit to quart size freezer bags. Finally, use a straw to suck the air out of the bags before zipping completely closed. Tuck those bags back in your freezer, as quickly as possible.

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The individually frozen fruit slices in these airtight bags will taste like fresh summer fruit when allowed to thaw!

When winter arrives, you’ll be able to easily scoop individual pieces of fruit from your freezer bags and enjoy summer goodness long after the warm sunshine is gone!

Now, back to my romance novel…  😉

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Berries may be frozen whole, but should still be individually frozen on baking sheets before packing into freezer bags.

Purslane, the Free Superfood!

WIN_20150714_130402I’ve known for a while that the Hmong women at my local farmers market possess an extraordinary amount of knowledge, having immigrated with many generations of organic agricultural experience, skill, and lore. Even so, I was surprised to see small bundles of pink stemmed plants with small, succulent leaves for sale at their booth.

Earlier the same day, I spent hours picking and discarding these very same “weeds” from my vegetable garden!

WIN_20150714_133026After only a few minutes of research, I discovered that the “weed” I have been hoeing right out of my garden is purslane, sometimes known as pigweed (no respect, I tell you!). Purslane is a highly prized edible plant in much of Asia, and no wonder! Apparently purslane contains more Vitamin A and more Vitamin C per serving than most dark green leafy vegetables, including spinach! In addition… get this… purslane is remarkably high in Omega 3 fatty acids, containing more heart healthy Omega 3s than some fish oils!

Who knew?

Perhaps a better question is, how do I use it?

WIN_20150714_133519Enjoying the bright, citrusy flavor of purslane can be as simple as plucking off the small leaves and tossing them into a salad or sprinkling them over grilled vegetables. Feeling a little more adventurous? In addition to being a nutritional powerhouse, purslane has thickening properties. To take advantage, simply dry purslane in a food dehydrator or oven (lowest temperature) and grind into powder using a food processor or coffee grinder. Then, add powdered purslane to soups and stews in place of cornstarch or roux.

The possibilities are endless. I’d love to hear your ideas for this underappreciated “weed!”

“I Survived My Workout” Tropical Smoothie

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Recently, I decided to add running to my regular but casual workout rotation. I hit the gym a few times each week, but I’m not trying out for the Olympics here, folks. You’ll find me among the masses of regular people just trying to stay reasonably healthy by hoisting myself onto an elliptical machine or a stationary bike and dutifully but ungracefully elevating my heart rate.

But running?

I hate running.

I’m giving it a try because I’m at a fitness plateau and running seems like an obvious way to move forward. If there’s any truth to the “no pain, no gain” sentiment, well, running will DEFINITELY work!

While I’m running, reminding myself that I’m not actually going to die (it just feels that way), it helps to think of a healthy snack I can prepare when I’m finished. I made this Tropical Smoothie today, and it was delicious! You’ll notice that the recipe calls for just a bit of coconut milk (yum). Here’s a tip: if you open a can of coconut milk for this recipe, freeze what’s left in the can by pouring it into an ice cube tray. The next time you make this recipe, just add one ice cube of coconut milk. So easy!

WIN_20150415_110528Ingredients (Makes 1 refreshing smoothie)

1/2 banana, sliced

3 tablespoons coconut milk

1 teaspoon chia seeds

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 generous tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate

3 ice cubes

3/4 cup cold water

Directions: Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.