Friday, January 27, 2012

Butternut Squash and Spinach Minestrone

My mother hates fall squash.

Therefore, we never ate it when I was growing up. My grandmother has always made butternut squash once a year on Thanksgiving and it looked like baby food so I refused to try it. Plus, why eat that when I could eat more carbs? I've mentioned my obsession with carbs before, right? And sugar, and peanut butter, and cheese, and anything with lots of calories? Yep.

Because of my love of food and blogging, this year, I decided to try it...

WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG?!?! I fell in love. Sweet. Savory. Nutty. Cinnamon-y. Heaven. Lesson learned: Try anything and everything regardless of what it looks like or what people say about it. The worst that can happen is that you don't like. But if you never try it, you could be missing out on something wonderful and a ton of awesome recipes! I don't know how I survived a fall/winter without it.  Never again. So I decided to give this recipe for a squash based soup a try.

This soup was delicious. It does involve a lot of chopping. In fact, I got a blister on my thumb. But that's probably because I was using a super small and crappy knife to cut a large butternut squash. Not smart. Once you get past chopping all of the veggies, the soup is so simple to put together. You basically just dump it all together in crockpot and turn it on.

The pasta is totally optional. I used squash pasta because I love the color, the extra serving of veggies, the cute tiny shape, and that it compliments the "I-am-the-newest-squash-fanatic" theme. I cooked it separately and just added it to my bowl of soup. The next couple times I ate it, I left the pasta out for a lighter meal. For me, the beans make the soup hearty enough and I'd rather eat my carbs with a crusty piece of bread for dipping!

This soup freezes pretty well. The only issue is that the squash chunks don't hold up well. I was sort of disappointed at first. But then I gave it a quick stir and the squash completely disintegrated and created a creamy broth! I think it was a totally pleasant mistake. Love when that happens :)

Butternut Squash and Spinach Minestrone
  • 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled & chopped
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 bay leaf, dried
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 32 oz chicken broth
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can white beans
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into small pieces
  • fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 bunch of bag of spinach
  • 1 cup small pasta, cooked (optional)
  • parmesan cheese, for topping
1. Combine all ingredients except spinach and pasta in the bowl of a crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
2. Twenty minutes before eating, add the spinach to the crockpot and cover again. Just before serving, remove bay leaf.
3. Ladle soup into bowls. Add pasta, if desired. Top with parmesan cheese.

Try the pasta! I'm sure you'll love it. It also comes in a spinach and a tomato variety.

How fresh and fabulous does that look?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles

I'm going to get real for a minute so bare with me.

Do you ever have one of those days? You know, the ones where you just don't want to get out of bed? Or like you just don't feel like anything you do is worthwhile?

Yeah, me too.  Sometimes I feel like I'm constantly working toward my fairytale future, which never seems to get any closer.  It seems like every time I think I'm making progress, I meet another obstacle... that whole "one step forward, two steps back" game. Because I'm always thinking about the future, sometimes I forget to live in the present.  In order to get what I want, I've had to make choices and sacrifices that have left me feeling less than satisfied. Examples: living in an overpriced room in a town where I don't know anyone to go to school, having no social life because I work and go to school full-time, sabotaging all prospects for potential relationships because it's the last thing on my list of priorities, and basically kissing my "fun" early 20s goodbye. 

I'm usually pretty good at ignoring my feelings and plugging along. But sometimes I just get in a funk.  So I do what any normal girl does in this situation.  I turn on some trashy pop music, dance around in my sweatpants, and bake my heart out. 

That's where this recipe comes in.  Chocolate and peanut butter. Sweet and salty. These bite-sized treats are the perfect remedy to the "OMGMYLIFEISAMESSWAHHHHHH" bad moods. In fact, I have made them three times and keep small sandwich baggies of them in the freezer for emergencies. No, I'm not kidding.

Here's the bad mood cure: Put on some trashy reality tv or a marathon of your favorite show. Pop these truffles in your mouth with your left hand while you online shop with your right hand. You'll feel better in no time.  This might not be the healthiest option but it's better than throwing a tantrum like a toddler or alcoholism.

Sorry that these pictures are horrific. As mentioned, I was in a pretty foul mood when I made them and did not feel like being a photographer. And by the time I felt better, they were gone. So just trust me, and make them.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles (50 truffles) from The Sweets Life
-4 tbsp butter, at room temperature
-1 cup powdered sugar
-1 cup smooth peanut butter
-heaping 1/2 cup peanut M&Ms, coarsely chopped or crushed, plus additional for decorating
-1 cup chopped, crushed pretzel sticks
-dipping chocolate melts

1. Beat butter and sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer until evenly combined. Mix in peanut butter, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in the peanut M&Ms and pretzel sticks with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
2. Place dough in freezer for 15 minutes to chill slightly. Remove and form 1-inch balls (approximately) of the mixture, placing on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. Freeze for 15-20 minutes, until firm.
3. Melt chocolate candy melts. Remove peanut butter balls from freezer and, using a fork, dip each one in the melted chocolate, rolling to coat completely. Immediately garnish with chopped M&M pieces or garnish of choice. Lay covered balls on lined baking sheets and continue until all balls have been dipped.
4.  Store in freezer in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Who cares what they look like? They'll be gone before you know it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Greens and Beans Soup

We always make this soup for Christmas so it reminds me of family, fun, and a cozy home.

It's really easy to throw together so we make two whole slow cookers full of it. And it goes very quickly. I think the simplicity of flavors is the main appeal to this recipe. The large escarole leaves and white beans make up the filling components of the soup while the sausage and garlic give a wonderful flavor to the broth. We all top the soup with a healthy portion of parmesan cheese, which thickens the broth and adds a flavor that is a perfect compliment to the garlic and the spice from the sausage.

If you're not a huge fan of garlic, this soup probably isn't for you because the flavor is very pronounced. I think the soup would be very bland without the garlic so I wouldn't recommend leaving it out or decreasing the quantity. If you don't love spicy food, you can substitute the hot sausage for sweet Italian sausage.

As I mentioned previously, this recipe makes about two full slow cookers of soup so feel free to cut the recipe in half. But don't be afraid to have a ton of leftovers. This soup tastes better after it sits for a couple days because it seems to get more garlic-y (I'm Italian... there's no such thing as too much garlic).  It also freezes well!

This is the perfect soup for the cold busy nights that I know everyone is experiencing after the holidays :)

Greens and Beans Soup
  • 3 heads of escarole
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 3 pounds of hot sausage (or sweet, if you prefer)
  • 6 cans of Great Northern or Cannellini beans, 4 drained and 2 with liquid
  • parmesan cheese for garnish
  1. Wash the heads of escarole. Cut into 1 inch strips. Place the escarole in a large, tall pasta pot.
  2. Fill the pot with water to the top of the escarole. Heat on medium until the escarole has wilted. 
  3. Mince the garlic. Saute the garlic and hot sausage in a frying pan until cooked through and browned.
  4. Drain most of the liquid from the sausage and add the garlic and sausage mixture to the pot with the escarole.
  5. Add the 4 cans of drained beans and the 2 cans of beans with liquid to the pot. 
  6. Simmer for about 20 minutes to let the flavors come together. 
**If you do not have a pot large enough, simply split the ingredients into multiple pots. Just be sure to keep the ingredients in all of the pots equal so they have the same flavor.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Pumpkin White Hot Chocolate

I told you I wasn't done with pumpkin. Can't stop. Won't stop.

Pumpkin white hot chocolate. As soon as I found this recipe, I went to the grocery store and bought two bags of white chocolate chips. I knew that this would quickly become an addiction.

I was right. I had four in one week.  I justify the guilt of consuming that much white chocolate by thinking of how much money I saved by making the hot chocolate rather than buying one at Starbucks. So what if I had to log some extra hours at the gym? It was totally worth it.

I love the texture of this drink. I used skim milk and it still had an extremely creamy texture as if I had used half and half because of the pumpkin. I like to think that means it's more healthy. Leave me to my illusions, please.

The only changes I made to this recipe were to use skim milk instead of whole, increase the amount of cinnamon, and use white chocolate chips instead of a chopped bar. I also changed the servings from 4 to 3 because it would only make 4 small servings and... good luck only having a little of this!

It's definitely an interesting and delicious variation on white hot chocolate. It's gotten me thinking about other white chocolate flavor combinations like with raspberry, peanut butter, peach, caramel, etc. This could get very dangerous.  How long do you think I could live off of only hot chocolate? Until the weather warms up? I'll let you know...

Pumpkin White Hot Chocolate (3 servings) from Closet Cooking
·         3 cups skim milk
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces white chocolate chips
pinch salt
1. Heat the milk, pumpkin puree, and spices in a sauce pan until it just starts to simmer.
2. Add the chocolate and stir until it has melted.
3. Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream and garnish with cinnamon.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Turkey Pot Pie

Hi everyone!  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are currently enjoying the New Year!

My resolution for 2012 is to stop neglecting this blog. I just get so distracted around the holidays with spending time with my family and really committing to complete relaxation. But now I have no more excuses because the next holiday is Valentine's Day and that means nothing.

The recipe I'm sharing today is something I made from Thanksgiving leftovers. Yes, that's right... Thanksgiving... like back in November. It's a tribute to how much of a bum I've been.

There's few things I love more than Thanksgiving leftovers. I could eat potatoes and stuffing for weeks and never get sick of it. I also love turkey, probably because my family really only eats it around Thanksgiving (which will definitely be changing). This year my mom mentioned that she was craving pot pie so I figured I would give it a shot. I had never eaten or made a homemade pot pie. I only remember eating the little frozen ones on a weekly basis when I was growing up. Then as I got older I realized that a tiny pie that doesn't fill you up packs in over 500 calories.  Not okay.

I used the Pillsbury recipe for a chicken pot pie. The only real changes that I made is that I doubled the turkey and added sauteed mushrooms, which is reflected in the recipe below. That sounds a little excessive but as I was making my filling, it looked really runny. I thought a runny filling would make for a soggy pie that would be hard to serve. I think I made the right choice because it was moist and tasty without being soupy.

This was really easy to make and the perfect comfort food for a chilly night. It would be really easy to do with leftover or rotisserie chicken as well. I'll put that on my "to do" list and so should you! :)

Turkey Pot Pie (6 servings)
  • 1box Pillsbury® refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 3/4 cups Progresso® chicken broth (from 32-oz carton)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 cups shredded cooked turkey
  • 2 cups Green Giant® Valley Fresh Steamers™ frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
  • 1 8oz package of mushrooms, sauteed 
  1. Heat oven to 425°F. Make pie crusts as directed on box for Two-Crust Pie using 9-inch glass pie pan.
  2. In 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until well blended. Gradually stir in broth and milk, cooking and stirring until bubbly and thickened.
  3. Stir in turkey, mixed vegetables, and mushrooms. Remove from heat. Spoon chicken mixture into crust-lined pan. Top with second crust; seal edge and flute. Cut slits in several places in top crust.
  4. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown. During last 15 to 20 minutes of baking, cover crust edge with strips of foil to prevent excessive browning. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

I could have stopped at this point and eaten it with a ladle