Who Knew Soup Was a Spring Thing …

It has been a little bit cool but really grey, windy and damp for days! It’s been either raining or drizzling for over 5 days straight … and at times just crazy downpours. Then yesterday it was really cool and the same wet. I was craving a warm bowl of soup the other day to comfort me, but since I am also in the middle of studying for finals and end of semester papers I have not had a ton of time on my hands. Thank goodness soups tend to be quick to throw together and are better the longer they cook and sit. My solutions … tomato soup and butternut squash soup.

Tomato soup is a classic and one of hubby’s favorite soups (there are not a lot of soups he can make a meal out of). Pair with a hot sandwich or quesadilla and you have a childhood classic!

Butternut squash soup is hearty and filling, but creamy and luxurious. It is one of my favorite soups on a cold, damp day. It can be made so many different ways and I like them all! 🙂

My tomato soup took a different twist than I anticipated, but it turned out amazing and I think will be the way I make tomato soup from now on!

Tomato Soup

2 large cans tomato sauce
1 large can whole tomatoes
1 shallot – large chop
3 garlic cloves
Penzey’s Ancho Chile Powder
Penzey’s Smoked Paprika
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Chicken Stock
Applewood Smoked Salt
Tomato Paste
Hot sauce (if you like it with a little kick)

Saute shallots until almost soft, add halved garlic cloves and saute just a minute. Add about 1 tablespoon tomato paste, stir in. Add chicken stock and scrape brown bits off the bottom. Add 2 cans of tomato sauce. Let cook until almost bubbly. Add whole tomatoes. Cook another couple minutes. Add chile powder, paprika & black pepper. Let cook a few minutes then taste before adding salt (some tomato sauce is saltier than others). Add salt to taste. Let cook a few more minutes. Keep adding seasoning to taste and let simmer with the lid on for 20-40 minutes. Use immersion blender to blend up the whole tomatoes. Let simmer 20-40 minutes.

Chiffonade basil to top with. Yes, basil and smoky flavors go! Who knew!? 

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Then … the next day … or two days later …

Boil some orzo or tiny little pastas. Drain just short of done.
(You could also add rice (brown or white) or farro)
Start to heat leftover tomato soup on low heat
I cut up some kale, drained a can of chickpeas (cannellini beans might be better), add some white wine (about 1/2 cup), a little more chicken stock and let the soup heat through. Add the pasta or rice. Let it get all heated through until the pasta are done and plate up. I added a grilled and sliced chicken breast to the top. So YUMMY!

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Butternut Squash Soup
1 butternut squash
3 carrots
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
Chicken stock (you could easily substitute vegetable stock)
Coconut milk
2 cups white wine

Soup Topping (I may have gone slightly overboard, but oh man was it gooood!)
Bacon
Mushrooms
Goat Cheese
1 Apple
Chives

Roast the butternut squash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper until tender. Wash the carrots, do not peel, cut into chunks and roast until tender. I usually roast at 350 degrees.

While the squash and carrots are roasting, render out the bacon until crispy. Pull out the pieces and set aside. Add a little olive oil and saute the onion until softened. Add the garlic and saute for just a few seconds. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan, add about 1/2 the carton of chicken stock. Let cook a couple minutes, then add the roasted squash (scooped out of the skin) and carrots. Add the remaining chicken stock. Cook and taste for salt and pepper. Let it cook for another 15 minutes or so and make sure all the carrots and squash are really tender. Either put it in a blender or use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. Add a couple cups of coconut milk. Stir together until creamy and combined. I let it cook for little bit for the flavors to meld.

For the toppings add a little olive oil to a pan, add the mushrooms (sliced), some black pepper and a little bit of thyme. Once the mushrooms are a beautiful browned, add just a tad bit of salt, stir well.

Slice the apple thin (with skin on) and then slice into little matchsticks and then halve.

Ladle the soup into a bowl and top with the bacon, mushrooms, goat cheese crumbles and apple sticks. Then cut the chives pretty small with scissors (sooo much easier than a knife).

Enjoy a delicious, hearty bowl of soup!

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Quick Skillet Vegetarian Tacos

20170329_135414I had a really full day of hard core, nose in the books, studying today and needed something nutritious and filling, but really quick for lunch. I pulled from what I had in my pantry and fridge. Vegetarian tacos for the win!!

First things first, peel a sweet potato, cut into bite-size chunks and throw onto a sheet pan to roast. Add a little olive oil, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder and chili pepp!er and toss to coat. I used Ancho Chili Powder and oh man, the flavor this adds! Roast for 10-15 min or so at 400 degrees.

Open cans of corn, black beans (rinse well before adding). Chop a bell pepper (I used orange) and shallot (you want bite-size, not minces).

Saute the pepper & shallot. Add salt & pepper and let cook till just softened. Add the corn, black beans, garlic powder, chili powder & smoked paprika and let cook for a few minutes. I had some frozen green chilis that I just threw in and let melt in. Add the roasted sweet potato. I had a little bit of rice leftover from dinner the other night which I add and then I added a little chicken stock (you could easily use vegetable stock) to help reconstitute and soften the rice. Cook with the lid on a few minutes and taste for seasonings.

Put on your favorite tortillas and add cilantro and avocado. If you want a little kick add your favorite hot sauce. Spritz with some lime juice to add a nice bit of acid.

Back to the books for me!

Poached Eggs … Non-Benedict

Since taking that cooking class a couple years ago where I learned how to poach an egg. Since then it was game on! It’s another thing I make whenever I am home in the mornings. They don’t take long to make and they are a good source of protein and the healthiest way to cook an egg. They are also a blank slate, you can go with just about any flavor palette. I almost always toast up an English muffin and then look to see what I have in the fridge. There is almost always turkey bacon, some sort of spinach or arugula and shallots. Sometimes I have fresh mushrooms, an avocado, tomatoes, a bell pepper and some fresh herbs. It’s a blank slate and goes with so many things!

Last week I had made something southwestern the night before and so I had some black beans, green chiles, an onion, a mix of spinach and arugula, taco sauce (a secret love) and fresh cilantro. Voila breakfast! I sauteed everything but the cilantro, added a little taco sauce … layered everything up and topped with fresh cilantro. Oh man! So good with the buttery richness of the runny egg yolk. SO GOOD!

Here are a few pictures of variations I have made starting with my southwest eggs non-benedict!

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Below is my classic – poached eggs on top of a mushroom, shallot and spinach saute and english muffin topped with fresh tomatoes. I often like to spread the english muffin with goat cheese:

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Below is poached eggs on top of fresh spinach, turkey bacon and a buttered english muffin:

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Below is a variation with goat cheese, avocado, sauteed shallots, spinach and chickpeas:

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Farro Salad

On the days I am off work, I need to make the most of my time at home … and today was no different. I had a good bit of reading, homework and 2 quizzes I needed to do, in addition to grocery shopping, laundry, etc. I also wanted to make sure it was nutritious and would help fuel me for the rest of the day.

When I am home I try to be very intentional about eating really healthy and incorporating as many fruits and veggies as I can. Since I am home and have access to my kitchen (refrigerator, oven, stove, etc.), I can also be a little creative (as opposed to just a quick sandwich).

I had heard the many benefits of farro, but had a hard time finding it at my local grocery stores and had not tried it yet. Today was the day! I finally found it and thought since I was home I would whip up a little farro salad. Really filling and tasty! It’s also something that will store well and I can eat on for a couple days while I am home cranking away on homework. Seriously worth a try! It’s like a nuttier, heartier, more firm rice.

This is my Mediterranean farro salad (I have made a similar salad with orzo) with a twist that is an unusual ingredient, but works so well with all the other components.

1 cup farro (cook according to package directions)
1/2 cucumber (unpeeled, all the nutrition is in the skin)
1/2 red bell pepper (could also use yellow or orange)
1 small shallot (could use a red onion as well)
1/2 pint strawberries
1/2 cup spinach (I also love arugula in this)
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives (halved)
1/2-3/4 cup Greek dressing
Feta or goat cheese crumbled

Dice up the cucumber, bell pepper and strawberries into the same sizes (I did a small’ish dice). Cut up the shallot pretty small (mine was much smaller than the other veggies, no one likes biting into a hug hunk of onion).

Once the farro is cooked, make sure it is strained (you do not want any residual liquid). Let cool a few minutes (you don’t want rubbery cucumbers). I stuck mine in the fridge for about 5 minutes. Add the shallots, bell pepper, olives and spinach (the spinach will slightly wilt). Mix up well. Once it is cooled more, add the cucumbers and  strawberries. Add Greek dressing and combine well. Add feta or goat cheese. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve and enjoy!

It would be delicious with some grilled shrimp, salmon or chicken!

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Farmer’s Market Season

This is the first summer in two years that we haven’t been moving, so we are so very excited about taking full advantage of all summer in our area has to offer. This past weekend we went to our local farmer’s market for the first time and I can’t wait to go every weekend we can and eat some really fresh produce! We picked up some BEAUTIFUL greens, local meat (no hormones, no antibiotics), local goat cheese (some of the best I have EVER had, it’s AMAZING), local honey and local coffee. We used the greens in a salad and I have pretty much used them every chance I have gotten:

I marinated some mahi mahi in an Asian marinade and put it on top of these beautiful greens with some other veggies

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For lunch today I made a salad with beets and some of that local goat cheese and greens. ohhhh man! I also put some of the greens on my sandwich. What a difference in taste from store bought greens! I wish we had gotten more!

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Hot Sauce Side Note

I have a new found love … HOT SAUCE! I have never liked hot/spicy food. I like food that is flavorful and I never minded a little “kick”, but as my mom says, “I don’t want eating to become an athletic event”. Sometimes a little heat adds a needed component to a dish. A few months ago I had a hot sauce that was really smoky because it was recommended as a good paring with what I was eating. I tried just a little. It didn’t really have much heat, but it had a nice smoky flavor, so I really enjoyed it. Then I was at Chipotle and there was a similar hot sauce that was smoky and I thought I would try it. HOOKED! Ya’ll, this is the STUFF! I pretty much put it on whatever I can now. It has this amazing smokiness with that hot sauce tang. It has some heat, but not enough to be considered in the “athletic event” category. It goes particularly well on fish tacos, eggs and hollandaise. Yummmmmy! It’s my new go-to condiment!

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Chicken Burgers

Not much says summer like burgers on the grill! I mean what is better than a hot meat patty topped with fresh, crisp lettuce and a nice cold tomato, ketchup, mustard, mayo for you southern folk, dill relish or pickles, melty cheese for you dairy loving  peeps, a nice soft bun and my personal favorite avocado slices and a fried egg. That and a cold beer is just amazing! There are so many different types of burgers. So many different meats that can be used and flavor palates that a burger can take on. It can be whatever you want it to be. Classic or edgy … burgers are summer!

A recent doctor’s appointment says I need to lay off red meat and greasy burgers, among other things. No way I can just give up burgers, I LOVE them. It really has nothing to do with the fact that they are usually made out of beef, it’s the burger concept. So many toppings that can be personalized. I had to find an acceptable alternative, I wasn’t going to make it through the summer without them. My mom can’t eat red meat, so she makes turkey burgers and I had one she made recently and it was pretty good (I am not a fan of ground turkey, so that was the only thing I didn’t like about it, otherwise it was DELICIOUS). I thought I would see about using some ground chicken and see if I liked that better. Let me tell you … after a little experimentation … I am not going to miss beef burgers at all! These chicken burgers are a really healthy alternative and full of flavor! Even hubby loved them and doesn’t miss the beef aspect!

A word of caution, you have to be careful with ground chicken (& ground turkey for that matter), it will dry out quick and be kinda bland. This recipe has given me super flavorful and moist burgers. It’s a great base to add whatever flavor palate you want. Also, this recipe is heart healthy! 🙂

1 lb ground chicken breast
1/2 of a ripe avocado
1/2 of an onion
1 clove of garlic (2 cloves if you’re like me and love garlic)
1/4 – 1/2 cup bread crumbs
smoked paprika
salt/pepper to taste
fresh herbs when I have them

Throw the avocado, onion, garlic, breadcrumbs & salt & pepper in a food processor. Process until paste. Put the ground chicken and paste into a bowl and combine with your hands (seriously, hands are the best kitchen tools! ;). Pop the mixture back in the fridge for about 20 minutes b/c at this point it will be kinda sticky and loose. Form into burgers and cook on the grill for about 5-6 minutes per side.

Warm up a nice soft bun and top with your favorite things and enjoy! 🙂 My personal faves are avocado slices, ketchup, brown mustard, lettuce, tomato, goat cheese and occasionally a fried egg! 😉

Super Simple Summer in a Snap

It is freakin’ hot here … I mean so hot I literally might melt. This weather is really not my cup of iced tea. There is no relief in sight and I was desperate for some relief. At the grocery store I saw some really yummy looking watermelon that cooled me just looking at it.

This year while living out in the country, hubby & I decided to try our hands at gardening. One of the things we decided to “try” was basil … well, apparently when it rains it pours. We have basil almost literally come out our ears!

With summer bearing down on us and fresh, cool ingredients … I had to try a flavor combination I had heard was delicious, but never experimented with. Success!!

Here it is … one of my new favorite flavor combinations and something that is going to keep me cool all summer

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Crumbled Feta (this would also be good with goat cheese crumbles)
Basil (chiffonade)
Balsamic Vinegar

Cut up the watermelon into bite size chunk. Add the basil and feta crumbles. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Variation: Add cucumbers for some crunch and ridiculous freshness!

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Lately I have been trying to like quinoa. I know it is amazingly good for me and a healthier option than many of the carbs I love so much. The first time I tried quinoa was a few years ago and I really didn’t like it, it was pretty flavorless and the texture was not my favorite. I have since learned that it absorbs a lot of flavor and so it requires more seasoning than rice or pasta and that the texture is not as bad as I thought. I made some for a dinner recently and had quite a bit leftover (apparently a little also goes a long way). I was trying to go with a Mediterranean theme for dinner tonight and remembered growing up my mom really liked tabouleh (& I really disliked it b/c of the texture). Well, quinoa sorta reminds me of tabouleh in texture so I thought why not go that direction.

I have also been trying to eat more cooked fish (go figure, I will eat it raw, but really don’t care for it cooked). So we did a Mediterranean grilled fish, grilled green beans and the quinoa salad. Hubby said it was a very “earth muffin meal”. HA! I will still have to work on being able to eat entire filets of fish, but the rest was quite tasty. Even hubby liked the quinoa salad and if hubby liked it, we might just be on to something! This makes a great side to grilled chicken or fish and the flavor palatte is crisp and very summery!

Ingredients

2 cups of cooked quinoa
1 cucumber20150603_191400
1 shallot
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup kalamata olives
1 lemon
Feta or Goat Cheese Crumbles
Salt & Pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
Parsley, chopped

Cook the quinoa according to package directions. I like to cook mine in chicken broth (veggie broth would work too), just adds good depth of flavor.

Meanwhile, cut up the shallot and sauté in just a little olive oil. At the last minute throw in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds to a minute. Not too long or it will burn. Remember to season your shallots with some salt and pepper. Don’t worry, the quinoa will be able to handle it and you want to layer your flavors. Set aside.

Peel the cucumber, cut in half crossways and then lengthwise. Take out the seeds and squishy part in the middle until you have half moons and slice just a little chunky. Set aside.

Cut the Kalamata olives in half crossways and set aside.

Once the quinoa has cooked and is cooled at least to room temperature. Add the cucumbers, shallots, tomatoes and olives. Stir to combine.

Add the chopped parsley, juice the lemon into the quinoa mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the cheese crumbles for each individual serving.

Semester of Cooking

One reason I’ve been a bit absent is that I’ve been taking a class that involved quite a bit of cooking this semester. Here are all the things I made this semester: (can’t believe it’s over already)

Dutch Apple Muffins
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Salad with Vinaigrette
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Creamy Broccoli Soup
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BBQ Steak w/Bread Crumb Topping
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Chicken Provencal
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Eggs Benedict
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Beef Chili

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