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 

 

5 Veggie Valentine’s Dinner Ideas

Valentine’s day. Whether it is your first or fortieth time celebrating with your special someone, there is no denying it- going out is a mega pain. Every nice restaurant in town is packed with reservations, movie theaters, bowling alleys and any other go-to “date”night locations are packed. Over the years I have found that celebrating Valentine’s day at home is much less stressful, and much more fun.

I have compiled a list of easy, economical, and delish dinner ideas that pair perfectly with board games and a redbox movie. They are simple enough so that you are not stuck in the kitchen cooking all night, and you can snuggle up on the couch and relax, but special enough to make the night a real treat.

1- Build the perfect cheese board.  Treat yourself and take a trip to the “fancy” cheese section of the grocery store. As Ashley from Hither & Thither suggests, get creative and go for what you love! Splurge on some artisinal crackers, bread, olives, and spreads.

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2- Make your own pizza. Again, get creative and try something new! Homemade pizza dough is easy. The Roberta’s Pizza recipe proves that a great pizza dough can be tossed together with items you probably already have in your pantry. Make a few mini pizzas topped with different things, or go for a big heart shaped pie so you can instagram it later.

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3-Breakfast for dinner, chocolate chip heart pancakes. Top with strawberries whipped cream, real maple syrup, nuts and coconut. Swap in whole wheat flour, coconut oil or flax eggs to make a bit healthier.

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4-Slow cooker butternut squash soup. Cozy up up with a spicy, creamy, hearty bowl of veggie goodness. Gimmie some oven’s recipe can be tossed in the crockpot, left to cook for a few hours, then blended when ready to eat. Grab a crusty loaf of bread to go with it, simple and delicious dinner.

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5- Mini chocolate cheesecakes. Nothing says Valentine’s day like chocolate. These mini chocolate cheesecakes with salted caramel topping are perfect for a date night in. I love the small portion recipe because sometimes you want a treat, but don’t want the leftovers hanging around the house all week!

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Enjoy! What are your Valentine’s Day plans? Comment below.

 

Thug Kitchen Roasted Beet & Quinoa Salad

While I am not a huge “new year new me” kinda person, I did have a few things that I wanted to try to keep up this year. Some of these things are eating foods with short and pronounceable ingredient lists, moving toward what I call a “selective vegan” diet – eating my favorite dairy and egg products as a treat rather than an everyday food, and trying new things. One of these new things came to me as a secret santa gift from a coworker in the form of a Thug Kitchen cookbook. If you haven’t heard of about Thug Kitchen, their recipes are designed to “cut through the bullshit” and teach the average person how to cook for a healthy, ethical and practical diet. The book and their website give a good laugh, dropping f-bombs and the #truth in every recipe.

I love to cook, and I love to come up with creative new dishes, but I took this gift as a sign- to try and actually follow new recipes. So when I came home with a bunch of great stuff from the farmers market including beets and kale, and came across this recipe, I gave it a shot. I diiiiiid have to do some adaptations. I didn’t have mustard, and I was not about to only cook 3 beets when I had 5 in the fridge. But I did actually measure things! I didn’t just eyeball the dressing! I almost threw in some asparagus for fun, but refrained. Baby steps.

  
I won’t give away the secret recipe, but the salad starts with peeled and diced beets roasted in a simple dressing. The recipe says to roast for 20 mins at 400 degrees but mine came out at 20 mins hard as a rock- so I will say roast at least 35 minutes. Then just cook quinoa as directed and fold in sliced kale while warm. 

Overall, a great side or main dish over a bed of greens. Check it out, and enjoy!

 

Easy No-Bake Sweet & Salty HolidayTreats

If you like sweet and salty you will LOVE this recipe. A while back, I remember trying a similar version made with matzo bread at my aunt’s house during Christmas. Since the little grocery across the street from my apartment obviously doesn’t carry matz0, I substituted with unsalted saltines.

I’ve been “testing” some sweet treats that I can package in mazon jars and gift for Christmas, but honestly it is so good I am not sure that it’ll leave my kitchen without being eaten. Seriously, it is that good.

I got the recipe from Once Upon a Chef. She uses Ghiradele chocolate chips, pecans, and matzo. Using what I had in the pantry, I used semisweet chocolate chips mixed with a chunk of chopped dark chocolate, salted roasted almonds, and saltines. Next time I might experiment with adding some crushed pretzels and peanut butter chips! Really you can add whatever you like to it.

Do you have any go-to recipies for holiday baking/treat gifting? Do you plan on trying something new this year?
Let me know in the comments below!

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread

My mom has always made the BOMB pumpkin bread. It is so moist and tasty. She would send it back to college with me, and me and my roommates would steal cream cheese packets to spread on a slice or three for dessert. It is just SO good.

There is nothing quite like the smell of fresh pumpkin bread in the oven on a Saturday. And while I am trying to be more health conscious, I knew that I had to find a healthier option so I could still have a slice of fall.

I have tested a few different recipes, and this one by Little Spice Jar is by far my favorite. Moist, healthier, and the addition of citrus adds a little something you just can’t put your finger on.

Check out the recipe on her blog, I highly suggest you test it out this weekend!