Monday, October 21, 2013

Tomato Cucumber Soup

The cold weather has rolled in to stay for the season and with that brings the excitement of my kitchen back to life. Since I live in a tiny, airconditionless apartment the summer is not prime cooking time for me. My most recent in depth home cooked meal was none other than my favorite soup: Tomato Cucumber. Its full of veggies, spices, and love :) I used to call it "Hot, wannabe gazpacho" because of the types of veggies used, namely the cucumber flavor that comes through, but over time it has evolved and therefore the name needed to evolve as well.

P.S. I used to make this recipe by pre-chopping all the veggies in a food processor, but I recently obtained an immersion blender which significantly lessens the work and improves the texture of the soup - if you don't have one of these and you like to make soup, please please please consider buying one. It is my new favorite kitchen toy and I'm constantly looking for excuses to use it!

Tomato Cucumber Soup
Ingredients (makes 4-6+ servings):
1.5 tbls Butter
1/2 medium sized Yellow Onion
3 cloves of Garlic
1/2 tsp of Thyme
3 tbls Flour
~3 cups Chicken Stock (can substitute with 3 cups water + 3 bullion cubes)
3 stalks of Celery
16 oz can Diced Tomatoes in Sauce
8 oz can Tomato Sauce
1 medium-large Cucumber
1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Pinch or two of Sugar
2 tbls Parsley
2 heavy handed tbls Basil
Salt and Pepper
~1/4 cup Heavy Cream

*Note: for easier prep, pre-chop all veggies. They only need to be roughly chopped if you have an immersion blender or plan to blend the soup at the end. Otherwise, finely chop in a food processor and reduce cooking time in steps 3 on by approximately half.

1. In a medium pot on medium heat, drizzle a bit of oil (approx 2 tbls) and add 1 tbls butter. Once butter is mostly melted add roughly chopped onion and sprinkle a little bit of salt and pepper over the onion to add flavor and draw out the juices. Cook until onion softens and starts to become translucent.

2. Add garlic (roughly chopped) and thyme and allow to cook for approximately 3-5 minutes. Your pot should become fragrant. Add flour to form a roux by constantly mixing flour into the oil &butter so that it is absorbed. Once roux begins to turn a light golden color, add chicken stock slowly while stirring or whisking continuously. If you do not stir continuously and pour in stock slowly you will get a lumpy texture - do not cheat here!

3. Add red pepper flakes, and roughly chopped celery. Increase heat slightly to allow to come to a simmer and then lower. You will want the soup to continue simmering for the rest of the cooking process. Allow celery to simmer in soup for approximately 8-10 minutes on medium-low heat.

4. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and chopped cucumber. Allow to simmer for an additional 5-8 minutes.

5. (My favorite part) Get out your immersion blender and blend veggies (I use lowest setting... my immersion blender is powerful). If you don't have one, you can also transfer the soup in batches into a food processor or blender and then return it to the pot for the final cooking/addition of spices.

6. Add pinch of sugar, parsley and basil. Feel free to add a little more basil - this is a flavor that should be prominent at the end. Taste test for salt and pepper and add more if desired. (The saltiness of your rough product will depend on what type of broth/bullion cubes you use and how much you pre-salt your onions at the beginning). Allow to simmer an additional 5-10 minutes so the flavors can marry a bit more. Add the heavy cream - I say approximately 1/4 cup but I just drizzle in a bit to very slightly lighten the color and thicken the soup. You can even omit the cream all together. This is art not science, you can simmer or continue to cook on low heat for longer if you wish - it may even make the flavor profile richer... I just tend to be impatient at this point.

7. Serve with garnishing of your desire, I like to add some shredded cheddar. If you are not a soup-is-an-entree person, this goes very nicely with grilled cheese or, my personal choice, BLTs.

*Recipe disclaimer: I don't measure my spices at home! These are estimates to guide you based on quantity approximation. Always taste your food as you go and remember you can always add a spice but once its in you can't take it out.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Time for some PA Advocacy!

If you are a frequent flyer to my blog, you already know I'm a Physician Assistant. Given the recent passing of national PA Week (October 6-12, 2013), lets take a moment to spread the word about PAs!

A PA (Physician Assistant) is a member of a medical care team supervised by a physician. Depending on what part of the country you are in, and what medical setting we are discussing, this medical team can include multiple physicians, PAs, nurses, medical assistants, or it can be a two person team consisting of just the physician and the PA.

The details of physician supervision varies by state, but overall the term generally means that physicians oversea and delegate the activities the PA performs and assumes some level of responsibility for the medical care provided by a PA. The physician need not always be in the same vicinity as the PA nor does the physician always dictate each and every medical decision a PA makes. PA's are an extension of physicians. We are educated in the same model as physicians and we are licensed by the state in which we practice to provide competent medical care. We must graduate from an accredited PA program and pass a national board examination in order to become licensed.

What I do:
I work for a major medical center in the department of hospital medicine (we take care of all the patients admitted to the hospital under general medicine, as opposed to a specialty such as neurology, surgery, cardiology). A day in my life begins with reviewing lab work, test results, vital signs, rounding on 12-16 patients with or without the physician present, make a medical plan with the physician and carrying out that medical plan whether it be ordering tests, prescribing medications, or calling specialty consultants. The physician may physically be on the floor with me for as little as 2 hours, or as many as 8-10 hours a day depending on their practicing style. When they are present, we work together coordinating patient care, tests, consults, and social needs with the social work team. When the physician is not present, I not only continue to carry out the plan discussed with the physician, but handle any issues that may come up in the meantime. However, I am never completely on my own and can always reach the physician on call by phone, pager, or text if needed.

For links to more information: Click here!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Waking in Autumn

The air is different now. It's smell has changed and the lens of your eye captures a more burnt quality in the color of the leaves and grass. Its a subtle change, something you may not notice in the middle of your day, but something you surely feel as you struggle a little bit more to wake in the morning with your alarm clock. It seems the sun has decided to push "snooze." What's ten more minutes? As you come into your body from that dream state, your skin is first to realize the morning crispness. Yes, ten more minutes, please. Anything to postpone sticking your toes out into the world from their snuggly abode under your sheets and blankets.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

F is also for Food

I seem to be starting a theme here for Fall -- first fantasy football, now food, perhaps I'll dedicate a whole month to "F" related posts in honor of Fall (then again perhaps I won't since this alliteration was mostly coincidental).

Anyway, the point of this post is to discuss food. Rather, its to discuss diet. I've written a post or two in the past about improving healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise, and since its something that is constantly on my mind you should expect to see this topic come up every now and then. Today I read an article entitled the Anti Inflammatory Diet from JAAPA (The Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants). I have an inflammatory condition so articles like this always intrigue me on a personal level to begin with so of course I read it.

The article touched on concepts we already know: whole grains are better for you than refined grains, excessive sugary and deep fried foods are bad for you, eat more fruits and vegetables. What was different was the extensive number of statistics the article posed with regards to the differences in inflammation within the body of individuals who eat "western diets" (low fiber, high refined grains, sugars, fried foods, red-processed meats) vs. those who eat a "prudent diet" (high fiber, fruits, veggies, fish, whole grains, legumes, etc). The article referenced several studies that showed significant results that should be quite meaningful to any medical practitioner.

Overall, the conclusions were that inflammatory markers (signs of inflammation in the body) were increased in those who consumed the "western diet". This not only meant that these individuals were more at risk for conditions such as cardiac disease from the high fat intake, or diabetes from the high sugar intake, but that they were more at risk for their bodies to be under a chronic state of inflammation, which wears and tears on your tissues over time. Unsurprisingly on the contrary, those with a "prudent diet" had decreased inflammatory markers = less inflammation, less damage, overall healthier and at lower risk for future health conditions. Yay for fruits and veggies!