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Soup’s up

8 Nov

When the weather turns cold I crave soup. Tomato basil, spicy chili, corn chowder. Mmm.

I remember the fall of my freshman year in college my mom and I decided to make butternut squash soup from scratch. We picked out a recipe, went to the store and bought all the ingredients, set them all out on the counter and started prepping. I got out the butcher knife to cut the squash and could barely even puncture it. Once I finally got it in at the top I tried pushing it down and couldn’t, and my mom tried and couldn’t, so my dad had to come chop it up. It took him forever. So when I found this recipe for butternut squash soup, I knew I didn’t want to buy a squash (plus, there’s always some left over and it goes bad really fast).

At Walmart in their Market Fresh section (by the produce) they have prepackaged products made by Walmart (this is where I get my pre-made guacamole). In this section they have packaged, cubed butternut squash that comes in a bag and you can steam it in the microwave. Each bag was $2.40 and I needed two bags (1.5 lbs.) for this recipe. I had most of the other ingredients so it was worth it, and I knew the soup would take a while to make and wanted to cut time wherever I could. Now I know you can microwave a butternut squash first before you cut it, but the bags still save time because you just steam them fast in the microwave.

 

Hearty Chicken Stew with Butternut Squash and Quinoa (from Cookin’ Canuk)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded & chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (Market Fresh microwave bags, baby!)
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken broth (I used chicken bullion and made the broth, but my stew turned out THICK so use at least 4 cups. I used the bullion because I already had it, but it’s better to use fresh broth)
  • 1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I used 3 frozen chicken breasts)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small bell pepper (I added this because I didn’t have a full onion and because peppers are awesome)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt (I think I didn’t even add any salt or pepper, which is crazy for me because I put at least pepper on everything. It was great without it though. Just do it to taste)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (For once I didn’t add more garlic. This was enough)
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 can (14 oz) petite diced tomatoes (I got Great Value diced tomatoes from Walmart, but I got the Tex Mex kind. It was out of this world)
  • 2/3 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 3/4 cup pitted and quartered kalamata olives (I hate olives so I left this out)
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley (I used dried parsley and 1/4 cup seemed like a lot so I just gave it several, several good shakes)

Instructions

  1. Steam the butternut squash until barely tender, about 10 minutes. Remove half of the squash pieces and set aside. (Microwave one bag on high for 2-2.5 minutes)
  2. Steam the remaining squash until very tender, an additional 4 to 6 minutes. Mash this squash with the back of a fork. Set aside. (Microwave second bag for 3.5-4 minutes – so much easier!)
  3. In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the chicken broth to a simmer. (In my case, bring water to a boil and add bullion, according to package directions)
  4. Add chicken thighs, cover, and cook until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. (Add frozen chicken to broth, cover, and check periodically)
  5. Transfer the chicken thighs to a plate and allow to cool. Pour broth into a medium-sized bowl.
  6. Return the saucepan to the stovetop and lower heat to medium. Add olive oil.
  7. While chicken is cooking, add onion bell pepper to another saucepan with olive oil and cook, stirring occasionally. When about halfway cooked, add onions until onion is starting to turn brown, 8 to 10 minutes until onions are almost translucent. (Peppers take longer to cook than onions. If you want any of your veggies a bit crunchy, don’t cook them as long. But if you want everything cooked thoroughly, put the peppers in first)
  8. Add minced garlic and oregano. Cook, stirring, for 1 additional minute.
  9. By now the chicken and veggies should be just about done. Transfer the chicken to a plate and allow it to cool. Pour the broth into a medium sized bowl. 
  10. Put all your veggies into the big saucepan your chicken was cooking in – you’ll need the space.
  11. To the saucepan, add tomatoes, butternut squash pieces, mashed butternut squash. Stir to combine.
  12. Stir in reserved chicken broth and quinoa. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the quinoa turns translucent, about 15 minutes. (I didn’t let it cook that long so the quinoa still had a tiny bit of crunch, and it was so good. Just keep tasting it until you like the texture)
  13. Shred the chicken with your fingers or a fork.
  14. Stir the chicken, olives and pepper into the stew and simmer, uncovered, to heat, about 5 minutes.
  15. Stir in parsley and serve.

 

This recipe might seem daunting, and it might be a two-person job, but it really wasn’t difficult. Using the squash from Walmart made it less time consuming but overall it took almost an hour to prepare from start to finish. It was worth it, though. My husband had never had quinoa and was really suspicious of it, but he said this is now one of his favorite meals. Plus, it made a TON so we’ll have leftovers for nights that we’re in a rush. Success.

My one and only specialty

22 Oct

My dad loves mexican food and we grew up making salsa and guacamole. We perfected a blend of spices and citrus juice to add in to guacamole. My dad makes a famous salsa with mangoes, raspberries, tomatoes, cilantro, roasted green chiles, hot peppers, and a secret ingredient that has won him many blue ribbons at salsa cook offs. A couple of years ago my dad called me and said he saw an amazing ingredient to add into guacamole from Bobby Flay. Now, people put some pretty strange ingredients in guacamole but I had never thought of this.

Peas.

Avocados can get expensive and if you add equal parts peas, you can double the size of your guacamole for a fraction of the cost. I like to buy a package of pre-made Wholly Guacamole for $4, which gives you two cups and if you add two cups of peas you’ll have enough for a party! Peas also are very nutritious and add a whole new dimension of goodness to your dip because they’re high in protein. And I promise it doesn’t taste like you’re just eating a bunch of peas.

Here’s my recipe:

1 package spicy Wholly Guacamole

2 cups frozen peas

1/2 lime

1/3 cup canned corn

1/3 feta cheese

Put the peas in a strainer and run hot water over them until you can easily smoosh one with your fingers. Put the peas in a food processor and blend until all peas are mashed (not smooth). If you want a smoother texture, add in the guacamole and blend it some more. Combine the guacamole and peas in a bowl and add in corn and feta cheese (I don’t usually measure out amounts for these; it’s all according to taste). Squeeze the lime and keep tasting (you don’t want the lime to overpower it).

I can make this in about ten minutes and it’s such a crowd pleaser! Bust it out the next time you have friends or family over and make them guess what the “secret ingredient” is.

Aside

Cup of delight

12 Oct

One of my favorite parts of the weekend is making big breakfasts. I don’t have time during the week. I usually just grab a Chobani and go (if that). On Saturdays, eating until we’re stuffed is a ritual. Usually we go for a pancake mix or french toast, but a while ago I tried this recipe that blew my mind. Eggs in a ham cup?! Two of the best breakfast components combined together in an upright, stand-alone bowl.  However, as revolutionary as it seemed, it still needed even more pizazz.

Image

(Source)

Here’s the recipe:

Eggs Baked in Ham Cups

6 thin slices of ham (Only one per person!)
6 large eggs (Same ^)
grated white cheddar, mozzarella, Gouda or other cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
2 huge handfuls of raw spinach
4 thick slices of tomato
2 pieces of whole grain bread
2 tablespoons of your favorite salsa
1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray muffin tin with olive oil spray. Line each muffin cup with a slice of ham, letting it ruffle up the sides. Crack an egg into each, sprinkle with a bit of cheese and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the white is set but the yolk is still runny.

After 10 minutes, pour olive oil into a sauce pan on medium heat. Add in spinach.

Put your bread in the toaster.

Sauté the spinach until it’s about halfway done (estimate!). At this point you should be able to push it to the side a bit. Add in your tomato slices (they’ll sizzle a TON) and cook those for about a minute, flipping often. 

Take the ham cups out when you touch the egg and the top is set but it’s still jiggly when you touch it. You might need a fork to get them out (the ham edge is usually shorter on one side). 

Serve immediately, on their own on a plate or set in small dishes for extra support. Put your toast down on a plate and pile the ham cup, tomatoes, spinach, and salsa on top. Flatten the ham cup (and break the yolk) with a fork and enjoy your open egg sandwich! (I eat mine with a fork because once you have the ham and the broken yolk and salsa the bread gets soft again. If you didn’t toast the bread, it would get soggy).

Now, you might be wondering, “Why go to all the trouble to make a ham cup if you flatten it and put it on toast? Here’s why. Baking the ham and egg in the oven make the ham hot and crisp instead of it just getting hard like it does when you warm it up in a pan. The second, and more important reason, is because baking the ham cups in the oven for 10 minutes allows you to get out your other ingredients, prep them, and start cooking them. Then everything is cooking at once and it’s all done (and hot) at the same time. Plus you don’t have to use all your pans at once and constantly be flipping and monitoring (something’s bound to burn).

This is the hardest part about cooking for me: getting it all done and ready at the same time. By the time one part of a dish is done, another part is cold or overcooked. This way, everything is done at the same time, everything is hot, and everyone is happy!

Sneaking veggies in

28 Sep

Unlike a lot of people, my husband loves vegetables. His bona fide favorite food is asparagus. He likes vegetables so much that when we go to Panda Express and, in an effort to not eat a 1500 calorie meal, order a side of steamed vegetables instead of rice or chow mein, he doesn’t even mix the veggies with the sauce from his entree. He says he likes the way they taste (with no seasoning or anything!), but that’s just too much for me to handle.

I can eat a side of vegetables if they have a flavor besides a vegetable flavor, or a salad with a strong dressing. Plain old steamed veggies, though? Bleh.

So I usually add vegetables to an already made dish, like grape tomatoes into pasta. Sometimes, though, it has to be more creative than that and more sneaky, like this recipe for meatballs that are half zucchini:

Source: Iowa Girl Eats

Here is Iowa Girl’s recipe:

Sneaky Meatball Subs

Serves 5 – I made enough to serve 2

Ingredients:

1 small zucchini – I still used 1 whole zucchini because I wanted my meatballs to be half zucchini and half meat

1/4 small onion (red or white) – I used the same amount for 2 people because I like a lot of onion in everything

4 garlic cloves – And garlic. Love love garlic. 

1lb ground turkey – I used only half a pound (half of one freezer pack). We buy ground turkey in bulk and separate it into 1/4 pound packages which is the perfect amount to add into spaghetti or taco soup for 2 people. 

1 egg white – This is important to help the meatball stick together. If you don’t have an egg white separator, you can do it with the shell.

1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon salt – I almost always add in more salt and pepper than a recipe calls for. I don’t think people understand how little 1/2 teaspoon is! That’s hardly even a pinch. 

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs – Gives the meatballs volume and helps them stick together

5 hot dog buns – We only used two but of course you can’t buy just two. We got Sara Lee’s multigrain buns. 

1 cup marinara sauce – I just eyeballed it.

5oz mozzarella – This was way too much. I tried slicing the cheese thinner (she does 1 oz. slices – holy cow!) I think a small handful of grated mozzarella cheese would be better, and less calories, and less gooey (this is coming from someone who doesn’t like gooey, though). 

Directions:

1. Grate the zucchini, onion and garlic in a food processor with the grating blade attached, then remove the contents to a separate bowl. Alternatively you could use a box cheese grater for the zucchini and onion, and finely mince the garlic. (I just chopped everything up as tiny as I could and put it in my food processer). Attach a non-sharp S-blade to the food processor then return the zucchini mixture to the processing bowl.

2. Add the ground turkey, egg white, Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and bread crumbs to the food processor then pulse to combine. Alternatively, use your hands to mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees then place a wire rack over a foil-lined baking sheet, and spray generously with non-stick spray. Shape turkey mixture into 15 meatballs, using ~2 Tablespoons of the mixture per meatball (I used an ice cream scoop to get the sizes right). Place onto the wire rack (I put them on a pan lined with tin foil and they did stick a tiny bit on the bottom but I don’t have a wire rack) and bake for 20-22 minutes, or until no longer pink the center.

4. Turn the oven to broil, then open up the hotdog buns and place three cooked meatballs in the center. Spoon marinara sauce on top of the meatballs, then top with 1oz mozzarella cheese per sub (or a small amount of grated cheese if you don’t like gooey). Broil until the sauce is warm, and cheese is golden brown.

5. To freeze & reheat leftover meatballs: Cool cooked meatballs completely then place the baking sheet into the freezer until meatballs are frozen solid, anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. Place into a freezer-safe container or plastic bag. To reheat, microwave for 4-5 minutes, or place onto a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.

 

I wish we would have made more and frozen them to eat later because these turned out so good! The buns got mushy on the inside and kind of fell apart so I recommend toasting them a bit first. There are actually a lot of ways to sneak vegetables into meals (zucchini is the most common I’ve seen). It’s very moist and when combined with stronger flavors is virtually impossible to taste. I see them most often in baked goods, such as brownies and cakes, but the possibilities are endless.

What vegetables could you sneak into your meals?

A quest for healthy (and easy) eating

13 Sep

If my high school had done senior quotes in our yearbooks, I probably would have picked George Bernard Shaw’s adage, “There is no love more sincere than the love of food.” Eating is a spiritual experience and there is almost nothing better, to me, than an amazing meal

However, there’s almost nothing worse than trying to cook an amazing meal and screwing it up because it’s too complicated and you’re too much of a novice to get it right. So although I love to eat, sometimes I really hate cooking. On this blog I’ll find recipes from other blogs, recreate them, and give tips on how to adjust the recipe to a beginner’s level.

When I was younger, my mom used to tease me and say I had better marry a man who could cook because I was pretty much useless in the kitchen. I could “make” a lot of food:  cereal, grilled cheese, sandwiches, or anything that came in a box that I only had to add water and maybe eggs to (even that was pushing it, though). Needless to say, when I got married almost two years ago, I practically burned the house down and couldn’t “cook” anything edible   struggled. For the first few months I only used recipes from the Keeping up Cookbook, a great beginner’s cookbook. From that point on I learned how to start with a recipe and customize it and make it my own.

Then I found Pinterest. And my mind exploded.

Since I began “pinning” recipes about a year ago I have seen some crazy recipes, like baked goods without any ingredients typically associated with baking and meals that call for obscure ingredients you have to order off Amazon (if I planned that far in advance, I wouldn’t be searching Pinterest at 6 p.m. for something to cook for dinner right now). However, I also discovered greek yogurt is amazing and can be used as a substitute for fatty ingredients, and quinoa is as much fun to cook/eat as it is to say.