Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Healthy Creamy Vegan Baked Potato Soup

Potatoes have bad reputation. Someone once said that eating white vegetables is bad for you, especially potatoes, they are high in carbohydrates and have no nutritional value. I'm sure whoever said that probably also said that tomato sauce on pizza is a vegetable...

Potatoes are not bad, we make them bad. Loading baked potato with massive amounts of butter, bacon, sour cream and cheese certainly is not healthy, or good for anyone. Mashed potatoes with heavy cream and butter, served with gravy - not healthy at all. Not to mention deep fried french fries and tater tats. Oh but guess how many calories is in one serving of Ore Ida French Fries? Only 120! Wow! This is great! How many grams of fat in the same serving? Oops, can't see - she puts her finger exactly where the fat content on the label is. I'm sure you have seen commercials.

[the picture of potatoes would fit here perfectly, but as of right now I have none, so here is me playing with the set and lighting while the soup was cooking. note to self - photograph potatoes]

But let's go back to the potatoes. Besides their high fiber content (in the skin), potatoes are high in vitamin C, medium potato with the skin provides almost half of daily volume of vitamin C (27 mg). They are a great source of vitamin B6, folate, and minerals such as potassium, magnesium and iron. Potatoes are tubers, that means that they store all the vitamins and minerals needed to grow a new potato plant. So eat your potato whole, don't peel them! Yukon Gold or regular red potatoes are great for mashed potatoes right with their skins. And please do baked your potatoes in the oven. Not in microwave. Oh, and buy organic if you can, conventionally grown potatoes have one of the highest pesticide content among all fruit and veggies.

I love potatoes, and I have to say I eat them quite often. Once I became vegan, I became a big fan of the soups, and even creamy soups that I never used to like before. Especially now, with fall in the full "bloom", the temperatures dropping, cool evenings, bowl of hot, hearty soup is what I love to come home to.

So I have two great recipes for healthy, guilt free and almost fat free, very satisfying potato dishes. My Creamy Baked Potato Soup today, and in the next post - Potato, Roots and Cali Mashed - smooth and creamy, without adding dairy, cheese or any type of fat. Perfect side for thanksgiving dinner.

The secret to creaminess of this vegan soup is immersion blender, two different types of potatoes and lentils. Yes, you are reading correctly, to increase nutrition and protein volume, I added about 1/3 cup of uncooked green lentils to the pot. The amount was small enough, that didn't change the taste of the soup, it only added a layer of richness.

Creamy Baked Potato Soup

2 tsp. olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3-5 garlic cloves, smashed
4-5 small/medium Yukon gold potatoes with skins, diced - more moist and sweeter
1/3 cup lentils

4 cups of water + veggie bullion paste or 4 cups of veggie broth (or more)
sea/pink/grey salt, black pepper, Hungarian paprika, smoked paprika, Italian herbs, (onion powder and garlic powder optional)

I always taste my soup to make sure it doesn't need more seasoning, especially potato soup can be bland if you don't season it right.

Saute olive oil, onions and garlic on medium high, until onion becomes translucent, add chopped up potatoes and seasoning. Stir it all up. Cook for few minutes without any liquid. Add the water/bullion or broth, and bring it to a boil. The potatoes should be covered by liquids, if not add more liquid. Add lentils, cover, reduce the heat to medium low and let is simmer for about 45 to an hour. (until your baked potatoes are ready)

2 russet/baking potatoes (baked in the oven) - more dry inside, adds another dimension to the soup

Meantime bake russet potatoes in 400 degree oven, for about 45 min to an hour, until fork tender, let them cool slightly before handling.

After about an hour of cooking you should have a great tasting potato stock, peel the baked potatoes and crumble them into the soup. Let that cook together for another 10-15 minutes. Puree the soup with immersion blender, or in batches in your regular blender. Make sure it's pureed well, to get the creamy consistency.

Serve it hot in a mug or bowl, with chives, green onions, maybe a dollop of cashew cream on top. This soup is virtually fat free, except the 2 tsp of olive oil for the whole pot, which is really nothing in comparing with traditional loaded baked potato soup. Enjoy your healthy and cozy dinner!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Lake Shelbyville - Family Camping Trip

A week long camping trip to Lake Shelbyville over July 4th holiday was a blast. It was the first time I went tent camping in my adult life. At first I wasn't sure how I was going to like it, the whole idea of sleeping in the tent with tons of bugs wasn't super appealing, but I decided I can do it, and we booked the campsite for a whole week. After that we booked the pontoon boat for 5 days, and it all started coming together very nicely. I started to get very excited about it, making plans, lists, menus... I love to plan things. We decided to make it into a family vacation, with both parents and few of my siblings.

Shelbyville is located in central Illinois, about 4 hour drive (south on Hwy 57) from Chicago, near Decatur. Tiny little town nestled between the farmland and 26 mile long man-engineered lake. Tons of different campgrounds around, few marinas where you can rent a boat, and Walmart. As much as I don't like Walmarts, it actually came very handy, picking up last minute needed food, extra sleeping bag or poison ivy potion... yup...

We picked Coon Creek Campground, Tim and his family used to camp there back in the days, and we decided to go to the same place. I reserved a buddy site, large enough to accommodate all of us - one RV, four tenets, 2 screen tents and we still had some grass left to set up washers game. Site 106, with flush restrooms right across the street - perfect! The site was perfectly located in the woods, so the privacy was not an issue. Below is the panoramic photo of our set up. Couldn't have asked for more perfect spot in the whole campground!

First few days of our stay were little cloudy, rainy and cooler. Sleeping in the tent while it was raining wasn't too much fun. I have a hard time sleeping in general, so imagine the noise of the rain drops on the tent... did not help at all... Red wine, my friend, helped!!!

 [The whole camping crew - 1st Annual Family Camping Trip, Lake Shelbyville, July 2103]

We didn't get to use our boat as much as we wanted to due to the weather, but we managed to get on the water every day between the rain storms, and the guys took advantage of the weather and spend some time fishing. Even the cloudy/cooler weather was fun to hang out on the boat, drinking wine and enjoy the quiet.

Around Wednesday the sun was shining and temperature started raising up. We packed up the boat and spend next 2 days on the lake. Lake Shalbyville is amazing. Even though it was July 4th weekend, and a tons of people on the lake, we were able to find a quiet cove, and spend all the time we wanted in it, with no one else around. The lake is huge, and definitely enough room for everyone to spread around.

Well, one thing for sure - we are doing it again over July 4th holiday in 2014. Two things I'd change - not to bring so much food, that I could feed the small army of french soldiers. Maybe get a small camper, you, know a travel trailer that we can pull behind a truck... r-pod would totally do. But I guess I have to just settle for a larger tent for now... one can dream! everything else was nearly perfect!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Polish Bigos Veganized and Delicious

My favorite time of year is here. Fall. Season for cozy soups, one pot wonders, crockpot, spiced apple cider, cool nights around the fire, drinking red wine...

This week I had a craving for this old, traditional polish dish made from cabbage and sour kraut called bigos.  Traditionally bigos contains large amounts of meat, like sausage, pork shoulder, bacon, and any other kind of meats you can find in your refrigerator. It's definitely a meat dominated dish. I made vegan bigos once before but it was lacking the flavor I knew from the past. I gave up the idea of full flavored, great tasting bigos for a while. Until last week, as I was sitting at my desk at work, in the middle of the day, not even thinking about food, this great idea popped to my head. I decided to  use BBQ sauce in my bigos recipe - i figured the smokiness of molasses should give me the flavor i was looking for. I rushed home to try my new idea. After 2 hours of prep and slow simmering, I had the most amazing, delicious and full of flavor pot of vegan bigos I could only imagine.

                    [ the photo shoot was late in the day, right before it got dark, so the pictures are not anything special ]

The recipe, ok I'm not sure if I can provide specific measurements, since most of my cooking is based on eyeballing the ingredients. Here is the list of ingredients that went to the cast iron, heavy pot:

1 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
[saute onions until translucent]

3-4 cups of freshly shredded green cabbage
3-4 cups of sour kraut, reserve the juice
1 cup of sour kraut juice (or less, depends how sour you like it to be)
2 cups of water or vegetable stock
if adding water, use veggie bullion cube or two
1 can of diced tomatoes with juice
2-3 TBS tomato paste
[add to the pot after onion is cooked, mix well, om medium high heat bring to a boil. make sure your cabbage mix is just covered by liquids]

smoked chipotle pepper
bay leaf
whole peppercorns
hungarian paprica
about a 1/2 cup of thick, smoky, organic BBQ sauce
[mix in, let it cook on low heat for an hour or longer, until the cabbage is soft]

optional ingredients:
smoked tofu and vegan smart dogs, chopped in a small dice, sauteed on the pan with little olive oil and tamari sauce, until become crispy, bacon bits-like, add to the pot on last 20 minutes of cooking.

I hope you give it a try, please adjust ingredients to your own taste, serve with baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, sliced of good polish rye bread.

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