Easy pumpkin soup

The temperatures are starting to drop and my love for all things pumpkin are back in full force.

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Last weekend I made some pumpkin muffins with a pumpkin pie filling on top that are wonderful(recipe to come soon). With the leftover pumpkin, I decided to make us a pumpkin soup. This soup is thick, warm and delicious and was ready in less than 30 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • dash of cinnamon
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cups pure pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup of milk(can use cow, almond, coconut)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil or butter
  • pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries(optional)

Heat oil over medium heat. When hot, saute onion and garlic until onion is translucent.

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Stir in fresh ginger. Cook until fragrant, about one minute.

Stir in curry powder and cinnamon. Cook until fragrant, about another minute.

Add in vegetable broth and pumpkin. Stir well until combined.

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Bring mixture to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, stir in milk. Let heat for about 5 minutes.

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At this point, it is ready to serve. Or for a smoother and creamier consistency, blend or immersion blend. I used my immersion blender to make sure there weren’t any little pieces of onion.

Serve.  Top with dried cranberries, sunflower and pumpkin seeds if you so desire.

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Goodbye, summer

Friday seems like so long ago that I can hardly remember what we  did.  We had plans to go out to eat, but with some torrential down pours right after I got home from work, we decided to order in. We ordered in some chicken shawarma from a new restaurant. It was so-so. So far, I haven’t found a place that competes with a a restaurant by my work. Then we set up an assembly line and put together our wedding invitations. After that was done, we rewarded ourselves with some couch time and started watching Orange is the New Black. Is everyone else watching this show? You should be! It’s great.

Saturday morning, I got up and made a veggie loaded breakfast with homemade tomato sauce, spinach, and eggplant. It was so delicious.

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Then I headed out for a busy day of going to the post office, hair cut and eye exam. The lovely lady at the post office gave me multiple kinds of misinformation including that we needed more postage for our invitations and that they don’t sell the stamps we need at that post office. Being that I needed to get to my hair cut, I delegated the other post office run to Brian. He had a pleasant post office experience, unlike mine, and the man at the other post office said we didn’t need extra postage, hand stamped our invites and mailed them for Brian. After having several unpleasant experiences with the post office closest to us, I will never be going there again. I will happily go out of my way and take extra time to go to a different office. Before my haircut, I stopped at a burger place by our wedding venue and tried out the Hurt Burger. It was supposed to be incredible spicy, but I didn’t think it had much of a kick, despite having jalapenos on it. The fries were really good though. My excuse for eating a burger and fries for lunch is that I need to be able to give wedding guests accurate information about eating establishments around our hotel. Ha!

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Sunday morning, I experimented with a new pancake recipe for Brian. They were incredibly dense and not the proper color, but he said they tasted great. Maybe it was all the cookie butter I slathered on them.

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Frustrated by his wonky pancakes, I didn’t pay much attention to my breakfast cooking and botched my eggs. I spent a good while at my garden then went to my last class of aquatic exercise of the summer. IO am saddened that I will have no more opportunities to be in the pool.  We had a quick “clean out the fridge” lunch before going to buy groceries and run errands. We stopped at Target and goofed around in the toy aisle. I spent the rest of my evening planning Monday’s cook-a-thon and watching more episodes of Orange is the New Black.

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Monday started off with a bang and an open-face egg sandwich. I headed into the kitchen to make black bean brownies, pumpkin muffins with pumpkin pie filling tops(they taste much better than they look), homemade, bbq sauce, curried ginger pumpkin soup, sunbutter and ended the day by grilling steak, burgers, chicken and veggies. We should be eating well all week!

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My long weekend was wonderful and productive with plenty of fresh air and exercise. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Meal Planning 101

I’ve had a few people ask me lately about meal plans. I’ll give you a run down about how I plan our meals.

Brian and I pack and take our lunches to work most days of the week. It’s way cheaper and healthier. Even if you are getting an inexpensive meal out, just keep in mind that restaurants charge you at least 3x or more what it costs them to make it. Meaning: You can make it sooo much cheaper at home. Let’s do the math. If you spend $5 on lunch everyday eating out(which if you live in Chicago you spend more), that means that it’s costs that restaurant at most $1.66 to make your meal.

So $5 x 5 days per week is $25 per week on lunches.

If you made that same thing at home for $1.66 x 5 days a week, you would have spent $8.33.

$25-$8.33= a savings of $16.67 per week. Times 52 weeks per year = A savings of…

$866.84 per year

Wow. It really adds up, doesn’t it? Save almost $1000 per year just by packing your lunch instead of eating out. I bet you’d like an extra $1000 per year.

And really, it’s not that hard. It just takes a little planning.

I really like using paper and pen. Notice there is hardly any processed food on the list.

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First, break it down. How many meals do you need for the week? Check your fridge and pantry. What do you already have that you can use?

We both eat our breakfasts at work. So those need to be packed, too. Do you stop and buy donuts and coffee everyday? Don’t even get me started on how money wasteful that is. Make your own donuts/breakfast sandwiches/oatmeal and coffee for PENNIES. Seriously people. I bet it would take less time to make your coffee at home in a Keurig(yes, you can afford a Keurig if you stop buying your coffee everyday) than to stop, stand in line, order and buy it. So what do we eat for breakfasts? Cold oats, oatmeal bakes, tofu scrambles, egg bakes, donuts, muffins and waffles. Yep, make extra donuts, waffles, pancakes ahead of time and reheat. Just as good as the first time.

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Brian and I combined need 12 lunches. I only put 10 because I don’t usually plan the weekend out as strictly as the weekdays. The weekend is when we will eat 1 to 2 meals out. And if we are out running errands or have other obligations, we sometimes eat separately or we just have the leftovers from the week. I try to do one crock pot meal on the weekends. It saves time and makes a lot all at once. I don’t care if you are cooking for one or four, most recipes freeze well. Utilize your freezer, people. So, what are some of my favorite crock pot meals to make? Buffalo chicken, chicken curry, pulled pork, pork tinga, soups…or anything on pinterest. Start it in the morning. When it is done cooking, eat it for dinner. Then portion the rest out. Put a few containers in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.

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I have also made a very conscious effort for us to eat meat less. A lot less. I make veggie burgers often. They are simple, fast and incredibly inexpensive to make. They are also filling, low in fat, high in fiber and protein. Win, win, win, win.

Another thing that Brian and I love are macro bowls. I steam kale, cook black beans, roast sweet potatoes, cook quinoa and bake tofu. Then I divide it out evenly between bowls. These bowls pack a punch in the flavor department, are super healthy and filling. They are really easy to customize, too. You don’t like tofu, substitute meat of your choice. You hate black beans? Throw in any other bean or lentil. Don’t have quinoa, use rice. Kale grosses you out? Use broccoli. You get protein, fiber, veg, and antioxidants. Yes these take a little while to make since you cooking everything separately, but they come in at less than $2 per bowl, using all organic ingredients.

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Two other dishes that we love are rama chicken and orange chicken. Healthier versions of take out food, made at home. Both pack great for lunches, too. Substitute tofu for the chicken and they are vegetarian. Most things you order at restaurant can be made fairly simply at home.

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Are these too healthy of options? Make a pizza. Make your own crust. That’s an option that takes less than 10 minutes to make. Spread on some sauce, cheese and toppings. This makes a very large pizza or two, so you will have a few days of left over pizza, too. Another fast option. Kraft whole grain macaroni and cheese… add a source of protein and vegetables(a lot) to it when it’s done cooking. It saves you from eating the whole box, makes it much more nutritious and gives you 1-2 meals worth of leftovers. Win, win.

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Need a fast weeknight meal? Well, that pizza and mac and cheese come together in about a half an hour. Do you know what else cooks really fast? Fish! Seriously, it takes less than 10 minutes to cook most fish. While that is cooking, saute or steam some of your favorite vegetable(s). Tired of your same old, same old tuna sandwich? Make a tuna melt. Leave the sandwich open-faced, throw on a slice of cheese and broil it for a few minutes.

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Another thing I do that saves me a ton of time during the week is to prepare a lot of vegetables a head of time. It’s easy to cut root vegetables, potatoes, or brussies up and roast them while doing other things around the house. Then I have a quick side to go with any meal throughout the week. Or put some potatoes or sweet potatoes in your crock pot. I also peel and cut up the entire bag of carrots at one time to snack on throughout the week.

I also take full advantage of my weekends and get most of my cooking done then. Take 4 hours one day and see what all you can get accomplished. I bet you will be eating well for days. This weekend, I am going to try to make about 10 days worth of food so there are things in the house through next weekend.

What’s on the list? Crockpot buffalo chicken(some will go in the freezer), a batch of veggie burgers, macrobiotic bowls, pizza, grilled burgers, tilapia and asparagus packets and some sort of breakfast(donuts or waffles) to pack for Brian. There you go. Six recipes that will feed 2 people for 10 days, plus some fresh fruit and vegetables. Getting some done ahead of time sure beats scrambling to make dinner every night.

I can make all of that with less than $70 worth of groceries for about one week of food. That’s $10 per day for 3 meals for 2 people. That makes each meal average out to $1.66. Way cheaper than eating out. And much healthier.

You’ve asked. I’ve answered. A weekly meal plan to save your waistline and pocket-book!

Hunker down vegetable soup

With Sunday’s pending ice storm, I decided that a big batch of piping hot soup was in order. I had been drooling over blog posts of vegetable soups all week, so I decided to clean out the crisper drawer in the fridge and transform it to soup. What a good decision.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, sliced or diced
  • 3 large carrots, sliced
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 2 zucchini, cut in quarters then sliced
  • 1 14oz can diced tomatoes(preferably fire-roasted)
  • 1 15oz can of beans of choice(I used butter beans)
  • 8 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • fresh ground pepper

Heat oil in dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes until glassy. Then stir in garlic and cook for about another minute.

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Then add in carrots and celery. Cook another 5 minutes until celery and carrots start to soften.

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Stir in zucchini, oregano, parsley and basil. Cook another 3 minutes.

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Add in can of tomatoes, beans and broth.

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Cover and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 20 minutes. Add pepper to taste. You can add salt, too, but I didn’t think it needed any.

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This soup is so good, filling and hearty. A huge dose of vegetables in every bowl! I absolutely love it!

Morrocan Lentil Soup

I made this soup from the current issue of Eating Well last weekend and have been eating it non stop. Actually, I think I ate it about 8 days in a row. Great flavor and tons of nutrients and anti oxidizing ingredients. And I love cilantro. Do you know all of the health benefits of cilantro?

So, make the recipe. And look at all the pictures of me making it.

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Tips to succeed in healthy eating

It’s day 2 of the new year! How is everyone doing on their resolutions?

I had a very successful day yesterday. After having a few drinks on New Years Eve, I wanted to eat crap yesterday. Even if I only have one drink, I always want to eat crap the next day. I hate it. Which is why I have cut back and almost eliminated alcohol from my diet. But I didn’t eat crap yesterday. I knew ahead of time that I would probably want to eat crappy and safe guarded myself against it. How?

Planning.

That is the number one key to being successful in healthy eating. Plan your grocery lists and stick to them. Plan your meals. Plan to have healthy snacks ready. Look at restaurant menus ahead of time and decide on what you will order. Doing this will eliminate the impulsive poor decisions.

I almost always have eggs on hand. They are one of my favorite breakfasts and they are so filling and nutritious. They go great with a side of fruit or veggies. I will eat eggs for almost any meal as my source of protein. Even better…they are inexpensive. And cook very quickly, so they are a fast and easy meal.

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The other thing I do is make large batches of things. Eat some. Freeze some. Always have food on hand to eat so you don’t grab fast food or go out to eat. I dedicate a good portion of my weekends to cooking so I have food during the week and have no excuse for making poor choices when I get home late and don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen. I made a big batch of this amazing Moroccan lentil soup that Brian and I can’t stop eating.

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I also made two big batches of kale salads. The avocado kale salad and the detox kale salad. I love kale salads because they are packed with nutrients and kale is so hearty that it will last for days in the fridge without wilting. Pre-made salad? Perfect.

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Utilize your slow cooker. If you don’t have one, get one! They are great for making big batches of soup and a whole variety of other things, including desserts! Look what I made in my slow cooker while I went out to dinner yesterday.

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What are those mysterious bundles of aluminum foil? Sweet potatoes. Cooked in the crock pot. Ready to go so I can just reheat the sweet potato and have a filling and healthy side at any meal this week. Just wash, poke a few holes, wrap them in foil and place in slow cooker. Cook on high for 2.5 to 4 hours depending on size and amount of potatoes in crock pot.

Combat hunger by having healthy snack on hand. I always pack an extra piece of fruit or some carrots to snack on while I’m at work. I also keep a bag of almonds in my desk drawer.

So combat pit falls by planning. Always have something healthy ready to eat to avoid temptations.

Easiest baked potato soup

I saw this pinned and thought it had to be too good to be true. I am so glad that I did!

A few years ago at Christmas time, my dad and I set forth in the kitchen with the goal to make loaded baked potato soup. Ok, so maybe it was my goal, I just drug him along for the ride. He was a good sport about it. It started with a roux and cooking things in bacon fat. All things that sound wonderful and delicious. It was a painstaking and time-consuming process and highly disappointing when we ended up with a blah product. So blah that we just kept adding things to it to try to give it flavor. It ended up turning out acceptable tasting after a lot of tinkering and no where close to the original recipe.

This soup is much different from that soup. Flavorful and couldn’t be easier to make.

I got the original recipe from here, but these were my measurements:

  • 3 pounds of russet potatoes, diced(I did not peel)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 32 oz chicken broth(you could sub veggie)
  • 1-2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon seasoning salt
  • 1 teaspoon minced dried onion
  • 8 oz cream cheese

Put everything but the cream cheese in your crock put. Set on low. Let cook for 8-10 hours.

When you come home from a day at work, it will look something like this:

If you like your soup a little chunkier, pull 1-2 cups of the diced potato out and set to the side. If you want smooth soup, leave everything in the crock. Add in cream cheese.

Use an immersion  blender(much easier and less dishes) or a regular blender(in batches and be careful due to steam) and blend until desired consistency reached. Stir in potato chunks if reserve don the side for a chunkier soup.

Top with bacon, cheese, sour cream(I used plain greek yogurt), chives or anything else you like on your soup.

This soup is honestly almost too easy and too delicious to be true. it would be perfect to serve for any sort of gathering with a toppings bar for people to top their own bowl. I can’t wait until lunch to dive into a bowl of leftovers. Mmmm.

Chipotle apple turkey chili

I emailed myself this recipe not long after making my last batch of chili. The original recipe is apparently from the Rachael Ray magazine.
This chili is very slightly sweet with a deep smokey flavor with some spice. It’s a nice change from the standard chili recipe.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds lean ground turkey
1 can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 gala apple, diced
1 stick cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1 cup apple cider
2 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons tomato paste

Heat the olive oil on medium heat in a large dutch oven or soup pan. Cook onion and garlic until onion translucent. Add in turkey meat.

Cook until browned, breaking into chunks while cooking.
Finely chop 3 peppers and add that and one tablespoon adobo sauce to turkey.

Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the coriander, cumin and paprika.
Add the diced apple.

Add the cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Cook for another 10 minutes or until simmering. Add in the tomato paste, cider and chicken stock.

Simmer for at least 20 minutes, up to two hours.


I am convinced the longer it simmers the more tasty it becomes. Whether this is true or not, I let mine simmer for about an hour and a half.
You can top this chili with more apple and some cheese. I served it with a side of corn bread.

Homemade tomato soup

I have been in soup mode lately. I think it’s the perfect starter, side dish or even main course. I like tomato soup, but not really a fan of the canned stuff. I like mine nice and thick with a lot of flavor, not just a bowl of boring acidity.

Since I have never made tomato soup before, I started out by googling things like “the world’s best tomato soup” and “best tomato soup ever.” I quickly eliminated several of them based on the amount of cream they used or the lack of flavor in the ingredients. When I saw this recipe I knew it was similar to one of the favorite bowls of tomato soup I have ever eaten.

Ingredients:
8 baby carrots, diced
1 stalk of celery with leaves, chopped
1 small onion diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons butter
pinch of thyme
pinch of oregano
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar(optional)

Preheat oven to 450F. Separate tomatoes from their juice. Reserve juice to the side.

Place pieces of tomato in a roasting pan, drizzle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

Roast for about 20 minutes or until deep red and caramelized.

While the tomatoes are roasting, heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep pot. Add in carrots, celery, onion and garlic.

Cook until onions translucent, about 7-10 minutes. Make sure you get those nice and tasty little brown bits.

Then add roasted tomatoes, tomato juice, vegetable broth, butter(use Earth Balance to keep it vegan), thyme and oregano. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables softened.

At this point, taste the soup. If it’s too acidic or you prefer a sweeter taste, add the sugar. If you add sugar, simmer 5 more minutes. Next, use immersion blender or carefully transfer soup to blender and blend to desired thickness. I put the soup in a blender and left the spout open a little to let the steam out then pulsed until nearly smooth.

This soup is so good that I might have to make another batch. Roasting the tomatoes really gives it depth and complexity of flavor. The added vegetables really help to cut the acidity, too. Even my tomato hating boyfriend loved it.

Leek, potato and kale soup

This is a wonderful soup. Absolutely delightful. A broth based soup so chock full of hearty chunks of vegetable that is it filling enough to be a meal all on its own. Oh, and it has kale in it. If you are new to Spatoola, you should know that I LOVE kale. Recipe adapted form Edible Perspective.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts, rinsed
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 4 small to medium red potatoes, diced
  • 4 cups kale, chopped
  • 15oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 2.5 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water(optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Saute leeks until golden brown.

Add in garlic, salt, thyme and black pepper. Stir for about a minute or until very fragrant.

Add basil and can of tomatoes(yes, juice and all) and broth. My soup was a little thicker than I wanted at this point, so I added an extra coup of water. Do as you please. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

Stir in potato, kale and garbanzo beans. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.

I ate a bowl of this soup for lunch almost everyday for a week and didn’t get tired of it. Once done, it has a very rich and buttery flavor to it.