Hearty and Healthy Veggie Minestrone Soup

Tis the season to ditch all plans, curl up on the couch and have a quiet night in. It has been the type of cold lately that just paralyzes you just in the trip from the car to the house. On days like this, there is nothing like coming home to a hearty home cooked meal. It’s the best feeling when you open the door and smell your amazing concoction waiting for you.

But let’s get real… we still got #goals so we gotta keep it healthy. This week I put together a random soup and I had to share it. It is hands down the BEST soup I have made this year. It’s chuck full of my favorite things. It is light, filling and the flavor of the veggies and beans works perfectly. You can improvise based on what you have in the house and what you like.

My “recipe” is:

  • 1 small butternut squash peeled and cubed
  • vegetable stock
  • 2-3 stalks of celery
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1/2 red onion diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 can great northern beans
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • Your favorite spices- I used salt, pepper, dill, oregano, basil and red pepper flakes.
  • Cooked pasta shells

Chop veggies the night before. toss in the crockpot and refrigerate overnight. Cook veggies broth and beans in crockpot for 4 hours on high. Add pasta just before serving. Serve with a chunk of crusty bread. Since the veggies don’t get a good sauté, add a little drizzle of olive oil at the end too.

Storage tip- keep pasta shells stored separate and add as needed. This keeps them from getting overly soggy.

What is your favorite winter soup?

10 Kitchen Tips to Make Your Life Easier

When I see a recipe for something that requires fancy tools and 100 complicated steps, I will most likely step away. I like to keep things simple, easy and practical. If I can’t do it in the half hour between my yoga class and Jeopardy, it’s probably not happening. The same goes for the groceries I bring home. If I know that it will go bad in a day or two- odds are it won’t get finished before it gets tossed.

What keeps me encouraged to keep eating and cooking good, healthy food are a few tricks that I have picked up along the way. They are simple things that make cooking easier and tastier.

  1. When you open a bag or box of baby spinach or spring mix place 2 clean dry paper towels in the container with the greens. This helps dry out moisture, and keeps your veggies from getting soggy so quickly.
  2. Store celery in water. My college roommates taught me this trick and I have never looked back. When you bring home a head of celery, cut and wash it then immediately store in a tupperware container filled with cold water. This keeps the celery so crunchy!
  3. When making something in the slow cooker, prep it the night before. Chop up veggies, add seasonings and other dry ingredients and refrigerate. Add sauces, canned beans and tomatoes just before turning on in the morning.
  4. Buy frozen fruit and veggies. Frozen fruit makes the BEST smoothies and blender sorbet. Frozen peas, corn and green beans are always a great way to eat a quick veggie when there is “nothing to eat”.
  5. Use your blender or food processor to finely chop garlic and onion to go in soups, chilis and sauces. Let’s get real chopping fresh garlic is a pain and no one wants to bite into a big chunk of onion.
  6. When in doubt, season with some good olive oil and fresh ground sea salt and pepper. There are few things that don’t taste amazing dressed this way.
  7. Make your own breadcrumbs to go on top of casseroles. I am not one for creamy heavy casseroles, but if you are making a dish that calls for something crunchy on top, quickly whip up some homemade. Crumble slices of bread in a bowl, add 1 tablespoon or so of butter and some dried herbs and microwave until butter is melted. Mix it all together and you have the best topping.
  8. Save glass pasta, pickle and jam jars for leftovers. Toss them in the dishwasher and use to store homemade salsa, sauces, and homemade dressings. They seal tighter than most tupperware or pyrex containers and fit perfectly on the door of the fridge.
  9. Pizza is best reheated in the oven. The crust gets re-crispy and the cheese gets melty.
  10. Make a batch of cookies and drop half the dough on 2 separate cookie sheets. Bake one sheet and enjoy, freeze the other sheet of cookie dough balls and keep for a rainy day when you just want something sweet. Just make sure to bake the frozen dough at a much cooler temp.

What are your kitchen tricks?

 

*featured photo from kaboompics.com because my kitchen is not that pretty 🙂

Easy (for real) Spicy Homemade Pepper Jelly

I can’t take full credit- a version of this recipe was passed on to me by a coworker. I have always loved Stonewall Kitchen’s spicy sweet pepper jelly, but never considered making it at home. Really, I never considered canning or “jellying” anything. I knew it was a science that required accurate measuring (nope not doing that), temperature monitoring (didn’t even own a thermometer) and perfect timing (LOL nah).

However, it was summer, I was eager to buy up any and all local spicy peppers and this INCREDIBLE pepper jelly recipe fell into my hands. After giving the jelly a taste on a plain ‘ol cracker, I was convinced I had to try and make it. I went out and ventured into the ever-intimidating canning aisle of the store. I wobbled back to my apartment with way too many mason jars and a little container of pectin and started cooking.

A bit of advice- wear plastic gloves. Or if you are like me and can’t be bothered by that, let your hands and any other skin surface you touch burn like fire all day.

Anyway, the jelly came out great. Gave me confidence in canning and preserving, it was so easy! After trying a few different versions of the recipe, I have found one I really love. But be warned, this is spicy. Not like…Franks red hot sauce spicy. It’s more like when you order thai food and accidently get the “hot” option- spicy. If you like more mild spice, switch out some of the hot peppers for a equal weight/size in red pepper.

This stuff is best served over baked brie or a block of goat cheese with crackers or crusty bread. Great to keep in the pantry for a quick appetizer and perfect to take to a superbowl party. I have even used this stuff in a pinch in place of sweet and sour sauce in stir-fry and it was great!

So here it is- give it a try, and let me know how it comes out!

 

Easy Spicy Homemade Pepper Jelly

Makes 1.5 Quarts

Ingredients:

  • 4 Jalapenos
  • 5 Thai dragon peppers
  • 1 Red pepper
  • 1/2 Sweet onion
  • 3/4 cup Apple cider vinegar
  • 1 3/4 cup White sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon Pectin

Instructions:

  • Chop peppers and onion on food processor
  • Bring all ingredients except pectin to a boil in a saucepan. Stir for 1-2 minutes
  • Take off heat and stir in pectin
  • Boil exactly 1 minute
  • Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes
  • Fill sanitized and heated jars with jelly leaving a small space at the rim
  • Flip jars over on a towel and let cool upside down until room temperature