Hearty Mushroom-Spinach Soup

While I am not usually a fan of soup for dinner, my husband is, and this month I found two soup recipes that looked hearty enough to possibly satisfy. Plus they both had the alluring added bonus of “requiring” the purchase of a new kitchen gadget. Though there’s barely room in my ‘magic closet,’ I could not resist.

So two weeks ago, I made New York Times “Recipes For Health” columnist Martha Rose Shulman’s Winter Vegetable Soup With Turnips, Carrots, Potatoes and Leeks – because it looked tasty and required a food mill, a kitchen implement I’ve often wondered about. More on that adventure in another post.

Last night, I was tempted by a recipe that appeared that day (oh the spontaneity!) in the NYT. I always have good luck with Melissa Clark recipes, so I went right on out and purchased an immersion blender and ingredients for her Mushroom-Spinach Soup With Middle Eastern Spices.

The immersion blender was a bust. Literally. I need to find and buy a different brand; luckily I have an old fashioned blender, so that saved the day. Which was good because this recipe was delicious – both very tasty and hearty enough for the not-soup-lover in me. Beyond a new lo-co meal, the whole reason I tried it (besides the fact that I love mushrooms) was Ms. Clark’s quite accurate description:

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

“This is a very hearty, chunky soup filled with bits of browned mushroom and silky baby spinach. A combination of sweet and savory spices – cinnamon, coriander and cumin – gives it a deep, earthy richness.”

Sounds good, right? It was. It even looks hearty, as you can see in this picture that accompanied the recipe.

The picture and description enticed me to try the recipe – to run right out and buy the ingredients, actually.

But I have two quibbles with the recipe as Ms. Clark published it.

First, it does NOT take one hour. It took me 1.5 hours – and I didn’t even dice shallots.  So if you are going to try this recipe, give yourself at least 90 minutes. AT LEAST. Nothing’s hard, it just takes time.

Second, once the soup is cooked, step 4 of the recipe is not quite accurate. The recipe says, “Using an immersion blender or food processor, coarsely purée soup.” After my immersion blender mishap, I poured the soup – nearly all of it – into my blender and hit puree. Once back in the soup pot, I realized the recipe was not accurate for use of an – oh wait – she said food processor, not old fashioned blender.  My bad.

OK, so what I was going to say is that the directions should say to purée only half of the soup or something to that effect – because Ms. Clark’s soup has some beautiful big chunks of mushrooms in it post-puréeing (and mine did too, before I puréed it – see picture below on the left.) But puréeing pulverized nearly all of my mushroom chunks (see photo on right). I was a little sad about that – but now see that was my fault (though actually, I’m not entirely convinced that if you put ALL of the soup in a food processor and coarsely puréed it, you’d still have some nice big mushroom slices. A guess on my part, but I still think you should not food processor purée ALL of it!).

MushroomSoup2

Pre-purée: looks like recipe pic!

MushroomSoupBlended

Post blender: few mushroom chunks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly that was not my only error. I also forgot to buy shallots. This recipe calls for 1/2 pound of diced shallots – that is a LOT of shallots: far more than the 1 head I had on hand. Instead, I used fresh pre-diced onions and diced them further. (And still, it took me 1.5 hours to make this soup without peeling and dicing a huge number of shallots!)

MushroomSoupFinalMy mistake(s) notwithstanding, this was still delicious. It does have a vaguely Indian flavor profile – so if that’s not your deal, you may prefer different spices. You can see from my terrible picture that I served this as suggested, with a dollop of plain greek yogurt. Along with a nice loaf of fresh French bread, both my husband and I enjoyed this dinner. It’s a tasty lo-co meal that’s a great change of pace from a meat-based meal, and to my surprise this was a totally satisfying dinner. Plus, it’s easy to make on a weeknight – as long as you have the time for and don’t mind dicing.

So, another Melissa Clark recipe win.

I’ll let you know if the immersion blender works better than a regular blender when the one I ordered from Amazon arrives!  I hope it’s not too big; my magic closet is filled to the ceiling. Literally.

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Why You Should Ask Your Doctor About HS-CRP

If you have high cholesterol but no other cardiac disease risks, ask your doctor about the High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (HS-CRP) test.

The HS-CRP test is an important predictor of heart disease risk. Actually, as explained in Why You Should Ask For Advanced Lipid Testing, if you are concerned about heart disease risk, you might want to ask your doctor about three key tests: HS-CRP, ApoB and LDL Pattern Type. (While they’re separate tests, all are included in one single Advanced Lipid Panel blood test.)

The HS-CRP test in particular predicts heart disease risk by measuring inflammation in the blood vessels. That the HS-CRP blood test is an excellent predictor of heart disease risk has been widely established. A page on the National Institute of Health about HS-CRP states, “Evidence supporting the hypothesis that elevated CRP levels contributes to increased cardiovascular risk is now available from at least six major prospective studies…”

The HS-CRP is particularly relevant for women. WebMD’s Heart Disease and C-Reactive Protein (CRP) Testing article explains that in the large Harvard Women’s Health study (WHS), “results of the CRP test were more accurate than cholesterol levels in predicting heart problems. Twelve different markers of inflammation were studied in healthy, postmenopausal women. After three years, CRP was the strongest predictor of risk. Women in the group with the highest CRP levels were more than four times as likely to have died from coronary disease, or to have suffered a nonfatal heart attack or stroke compared to those with the lowest levels. This group was also more likely to have required a cardiac procedure such as angioplasty (a procedure that opens clogged arteries with the use of a flexible tube) or bypass surgery than women in the group with the lowest levels.”

That said, if you are already taking a statin or being treated for high blood pressure, the HS-CRP test might not be appropriate. According to Dr. Andrew Weil’s What is elevated C-reactive protein? article, “CRP levels don’t appear to help predict the risk of heart disease in patients already being treated for risks such as high blood pressure or high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. A 2010 analysis of British data on 4,853 patients found that C-reactive protein levels didn’t yield any more information about the risk of heart disease than LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels or high blood pressure in patients who already were being treated with a cholesterol-lowering statin drug or with medication to lower blood pressure.”  However, it goes on to say that, “Other physicians, including Dr. Weil, think that all adults should have an hs-CRP test whenever their cholesterol is tested.”

A powerful statement.

My cardiologist appears to agree; at my visit on Christmas Eve, he ordered an advanced lipid panel and an HS-CRP test. There was a mixup on the advanced lipid panel prescription (more on that in another post) so I don’t yet have those results, but I was delighted to see that my HS-CRP test came back with even lower risk than last year.

I was surprised at this result, but apparently should not have been. With a bit of research I found that HS-CRP should be measured over time, as there is high variability in this test. According to the Mayo Clinic, “C-reactive protein (CRP) is an acute-phase reactant and has high intraindividual variability. Therefore, a single test for high-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) may not reflect an individual patient’s basal hs-CRP level. Repeat measurement may be required to firmly establish an individual’s basal hs-CRP concentration. The lowest of the measurements should be used as the predictive value.”  I saw this in my own results: in December 2014 my HS-CRP level was 0.8 and in December 2015 it was 0.3.

As both of my HS-CRP measurements are below 1.0 mg/L, that puts me at “lower relative cardiovascular risk” according to the goals printed at the bottom of my test results.  Here are the guidelines:

HS-CRP Guidelines

Do you know your heart disease risk as measured by HS-CRP? If you fall into the category of those for whom the HS-CRP test is a good predictor of heart disease risk (meaning, you aren’t already being treated for heart disease or you have an inflammatory disease), ask your doctor about this simple blood test and get more insight into your heart disease risk.

 

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