Category Archives: Soups and Salads

Roasted Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato, and Cauliflower Soup

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I feel that most of us have an idea of what we’re eating Thursday on Thanksgiving, however, I always find the few days leading up to and following Turkey Day to be those kind of “I have no idea what to eat” days—especially if you’re trying to keep things nutritious. In addition to all of the Thanksgiving eats and treats, my family is subsequently celebrating Hanukah—meaning the amount of sugary and starchy foods will be twofold for me this year. While I’m obviously looking forward to indulging, I can’t help but try to eat healthy and light until Thursday (and the few days after).

It was chilly in Charlotte yesterday, and all I wanted to do was cook a warm and hearty meal. I was craving a cheesy, creamy pasta dish, which we all know does not a healthy dish make. Trying to satisfy my rich and creamy craving, I decided to try a new soup recipe and use cauliflower as a thickening agent instead of cream. I’ve used cauliflower in soups before and have always been impressed with how thick the vegetable makes soups. Since I’ve been all about roasting vegetables this fall, I figured why not roast some of my favorite fall veggies (sweet potatoes and butternut squash), cauliflower, and garlic and make them into a thick and satisfying soup?

The roasted butternut squash, sweet potato, and cauliflower soup was both filling and satisfying. The guy I cook for said it was the best soup I’ve made thus far, and I make a lot of soups. The cauliflower successfully and tastefully made the soup almost like a bisque—yet all those calories found in bisques are not in my soup. One serving of the soup (8 ounces; 1 cup) comes out to only 85 calories, and trust me when I say that it is filling—after only one bowl, I found myself stuffed. Even if you’re not looking for a light soup, this soup can please the appetite of even the hungriest of folk. I may have just found my perfect pre or post thanksgiving dinner.

May you all have a fantastic and food/friend/family filled Thanksgiving. And to those that the holiday applies, have a Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy Hanukah!

Roasted Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato, and Cauliflower Soup

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Ingredients:

-2.5 cups sweet potato, peeled and cut into half inch cubes

-2.5 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into half inch cubes

-1 medium head of cauliflower, florets only

– 4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled (feel free to add more or less depending on your preference)

-1 small or medium white onion, chopped

-Salt and pepper to taste

-Parsley to taste, about 1.5 tsp

-2 to 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil

-3 cups of chicken stock

-2 cups of chicken broth

Directions:

-Preheat your oven to 400 degrees

-Line two baking sheets with foil.

-Peel the sweet potatoes and butternut squash.

-Chop both the squash and potatoes into cubes of equal size. My cubes were a little over a half inch on each side. Place the cubes in a large bowl.

-Peel the garlic and add the cloves to the bowl.

-Chop the stalks off of the cauliflower and place the florets into the large bowl with the butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

-Drizzle a little bit of olive oil, about 2 tbsp, over the vegetables. Add salt, pepper and parsley to taste. You want just enough oil/s+p/parsley to lightly coat the contents. Stir the vegetables around until all the ingredients are well incorporated.

-Place the vegetables on the two baking sheets and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes. Times will vary depending on the oven, so make sure you keep an eye on the ingredients. If there is a little charring, that’s fine, but you don’t want too much.

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-Once the cooking time has elapsed, remove the roasted vegetables from the oven and set aside to cool for about five minutes.

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-While the roasted ingredients are cooling, in a sauté pan, sauté the chopped onion in a couple teaspoons of olive oil (you really don’t need that much oil) and salt and pepper to taste on medium heat. Cook for about five minutes, or until the onion appears translucent.

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-Add the roasted vegetables, sautéed onion, and two cups of chicken stock to a blender. Blend for about 15 seconds and then add the other cup of chicken stock. Continue to blend until the ingredients are well incorporated—about 2 minutes. Depending on the size of your blender, you may need to break up the blending process up in half. If you have an immersion blender, I suggest using it!

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-Pour the blended ingredients into a large pot and place on a burner with low to medium heat.

-Pour in the two cups of chicken broth, add a little bit of salt, and stir the soup until the ingredients are well blended. This soup is very thick, so if you want a thinner consistency, I suggest adding in some more chicken broth or water.

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-Let the soup cook covered on low to medium heat for about 7 minutes. You don’t want to bring the soup to a boil, so if it starts to bubble, you know the soup is ready.

-Ladle into a bowl and enjoy!

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Soups Du Jour

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There is nothing like a bout with the flu that leaves me wanting – and even crying for – my mom. I am quite possibly the biggest baby when it comes to being sick and the only thing that makes me feel like all will be okay is my mommy. Blame her, not me – she was the best nurse a girl could ask for.

On sick days when I was young, my mom would set me up in the living room with a tray of chicken noodle soup, saltines, ginger ale, and Little House on the Prairie (the only show on TV during the day in the 90s and early 2000s that wasn’t a soap opera). You could definitely say I enjoyed staying home sick when I was a child.

Fast forward some 20 years and the perks to being sick are not what I remembered (nor is Little House on the Prairie). After spending the weekend with a terrible case of the flu, Monday rolled in and I finally had an appetite. While I was ready to eat a cow, I took my mom’s advice to take it easy, so I decided to make my homemade chicken noodle soup. It’s an extremely easy soup to make and it tastes like home. The soup is satisfying, yet it’s light and nutritious (just watch how much salt you put in). This is a chicken noodle soup for both the soul and stomach.

When the topic of Tuesday’s dinner came up, I still wasn’t feeling 100%, but I wanted something heartier than chicken noodle soup. Thus, I decided to throw together a roasted red pepper and roasted tomato soup and it was souper! Even if you’re not familiar with roasting peppers and tomatoes, you will find that this soup isn’t too difficult to perfect — It’s a fun challenge. It takes a bit of time, but it is well worth the wait. The soup has a mature and rich flavor where you can smell and taste the roasted ingredients. In addition, it’s a beautiful soup that will surely impress. I highly recommend a great loaf of bread to accompany the roasted red pepper and roasted tomato soup.

Roasted Red Pepper and Roasted Tomato Soup

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Ingredients:

-3 cups of chicken stock (you can use up to 5 cups of chicken stock, but I like mixing chicken stock with chicken broth)

-2 cups of chicken broth (If you want a thicker soup, add less broth)

-3 red peppers (or 1.5 lbs of red peppers)

-6 Roma tomatoes (or approximately one lb of tomatoes)

-1 large onion, chopped

-4 cloves garlic, chopped

-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (for sautéing) and a little extra for coating the Roma tomatoes

-2 pinches dry parsley

-2 pinches dry oregano

-2 pinches dry thyme

-2-3 tbsp of fresh basil, chopped

-Salt and pepper to taste

-2 tbsp tomato paste

-1/4 cup of fat-free half and half

-2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, shredded

-1 gallon size Ziploc bag

Directions:

-To roast the tomatoes, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and set a rack in the middle of the oven.

-Cut off a thin slice off the stem side of the Roma tomatoes and then cut the tomatoes lengthwise in half.

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-Place the tomatoes in a bowl and drizzle about 1-2 tbsp of olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Stir the contents until mixed together.

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-Cover a baking sheet with foil, and if you can, place a wrack over the baking sheet/foil (this way it’s just an easier clean up and the rack makes sure the tomatoes don’t stick). Place the tomatoes skin side down and sprinkle a little more salt and pepper over them.

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-Place on the center rack in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes. REMINDER: ovens vary as do the sizes of Roma tomatoes so just make sure to keep an eye on the tomatoes. You don’t want to char tomatoes (like you will with the red peppers), but a little browning is good. The picture below is what my tomatoes looked like when finished roasting.

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-While the tomatoes are roasting, in a large pot, sauté the garlic, onions, and one pinch each of thyme, oregano, and parsley on low to medium heat for about five minutes or until the onions appear translucent. Once cooked, keep the burner on very low to keep the contents warm.

-Once the tomatoes are roasted, using either a spatula or tongs, transfer them into a blender. Add the onion, garlic, and herbs and blend for about 30 seconds until there is a smooth consistency as pictured below.

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-Place the contents back in the pot and cover. Make sure the burner is off.

-To roast the peppers, put the oven on broil (high is what I recommend).

Thinly cut off both sides of the pepper.

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-Slice through one side of the pepper skin and continue to cut around the core and membranes of the pepper until you can pull the core out. Cut the peppers in half. One of my peppers ended up breaking into three pieces while I was extracting the seeds and core – not a big deal as long as the pepper can lie flat on a cooking sheet.

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-Cover a baking sheet with foil and place the peppers skin side up. With the palm of your hand, push down on each pepper until each one is as flat as possible. The pepper will tear a bit on the edges, but that’s fine.

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-Broil for about 15 – 20 minutes. Remember, ovens vary so your time may be different. Make sure the peppers look charred at some spots. The skins will not peel off properly if the pepper isn’t cooked enough.

-While the peppers roast, chop the basil.

-Once roasted, remove the peppers and immediately place in the Ziploc bag and seal it close (this helps with the removal of the pepper skins). Let the peppers steam for about fifteen minutes. Remove the peppers and peel the skins off: start at one of the ends and scrape with your fingers until a thin film-like layer of skin comes off. The skin is very thin, so try not to mash the pepper as you peel (If you’re having a hard time peeling the skin off, you can try using a knife to help).

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Skinless Roasted Red Peppers

Skinless Roasted Red Peppers

-Place the peppers and basil in the blender and add about ¼ cup of chicken stock. Blend until smooth. Add in the roasted tomato mixture and two cups of chicken stock and blend until well incorporated and smooth. Pour the roasted red pepper and tomato mix back into the pot and put the heat on medium.

-Add in the remainder of the broth, another pinch each of thyme, oregano, and parlsey, and salt and pepper to taste and stir.

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-Next, stir in the Parmesan cheese and half and half until well incorporated.

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-Cover the pot and let the contents simmer for about 30 minutes on low heat. Stir ever so often (I probably ended up stirring every five minutes, but I’m compulsive).

-Ladle into a bowl and enjoy!

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Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

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Ingredients:

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-3 cups of chicken stock + 6 cups of chicken broth (Again, I like to combine these two, but just make sure you have around 9 fluid cups of some type of broth)

-3 cloves of garlic, chopped

-1 chicken breast

-1 medium white onion, chopped

-3 green onions, sliced (optional)

-1 cup of celery, sliced

-2/3 cup of carrots, chopped

-1 cup spinach, loosely chopped (optional)

-1 cup of dry noodles of your choice (I used rotini)

-2 tbsp extra olive oil for sautéing

-Salt and pepper to taste

-Pinch of parsley for garnish

Directions:

-In a large pot, sauté the garlic and onion with salt and pepper to taste for about five minutes on medium heat or until the onions appear translucent.

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-Pour in the chicken stock and broth and add a pinch of salt. Let the contents come to a boil.

-Once the broth is boiling, put in the carrots, green onions, celery, and spinach. Let cook for about a minute.

-Next, drop in the chicken breast (note: I’m poaching the chicken breast).

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-Cover the pot and cook for ten minutes on medium heat (you don’t want a full boil, but you want more than just a simmer). Stir occasionally.

-After ten minutes, flip the chicken breast over and cook for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

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-Take the chicken breast out and place in a bowl.

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-Pour in the cup of noodles and make sure they cook for the desired time in the soup. My noodles took about eight minutes. If you prefer, you can always cook your noodles separately and add them in at the end.

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-While the noodles start to cook, shred the chicken with two forks. I also cut the chicken, but if you prefer bigger chunks, just shred the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and pour back into the pot.

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-Once the noodles have cooked, lower the heat to low and let the soup simmer with the top on between five and ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

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-Ladle into a bowl and enjoy!

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Beet, Pear, and Goat Cheese Salad

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Salads have become so lackluster. Over the past five years, my salad intake has dropped considerably because I tire of the limited and predictable Americanized salad options served at most modestly priced restaurants. Unfortunately, the only restaurants where I’ve been left astounded over a plate of leafy greens don’t exactly fit my budget.

I’ve accepted the fact that if I want tasty and unique salads, I have to prepare and enjoy them at home, which is fine with me. A few months ago, I had the yearning for this beet salad I ordered at one of those fancy, five-star eateries (a rarity). The boyfriend, however, didn’t seem so excited – salads never satisfied his hunger or palette. With steak as its companion, I had an inclination that my boyfriend would find a beet, pear, and goat cheese salad fulfilling and tasty. Lucky for me, I was right!

My beet, pear, and goat cheese salad was a victory. The salad was savory with a mature, elegant, and fresh taste. The distinct ingredients accompanied each other so well, leaving our taste buds uniquely satisfied. The goat cheese added a creamy touch, but it didn’t overpower the other flavors or the caloric count (like many other creamy dressings). I finally got my five-star salad at a price I could afford, and even my boyfriend stamped his approval. This salad can be enjoyed as an appetizer, side dish, or entrée – just add your favorite type of protein (steak is highly recommended).

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Ingredients (serves two large portions or four small portions):

-3 fresh beets approximately 2 inches in diameter, sliced and quartered

-1 pear, sliced and halved

-Approximately 3 cups of mixed greens

-1/4 cup of goat cheese (you can always add more)

-1/4 cup of balsamic vinaigrette dressing

-Sprinkle of salt for the beets once they are cooked

Directions:

-The beets need to be cooked. There are countless methods to cooking beets, but I prefer to boil mine because I find they turn out the most tender and tasty. First, fill a large pot with water and about a tsp of salt and bring to a boil. Next, cut off the stems, leaving about an inch or two still attached to the beet. If there is a root, cut it off as closely as possible.

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-Wash the beets with room temperature water. Don’t wash or rub them too much or else you will take a layer of skin off of the beet.

-When the water comes to a boil, put the beets in the pot, cover with a lid, and lower to medium heat so there is a constant boil. Boil the beets for 60 minutes. (*Note: beets come in a variety of sizes from a large marble to a baseball. The smaller the beet requires less cooking time. When purchasing your beets, try and buy them as equally in size as possible so they cook evenly.)

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Don’t forget to put the cover on the pot.

-Once the beets have cooked, drain the water, put the beets in a colander, and run cool water over them for approximately 30 seconds—enough time to cool them so you don’t burn your hands when taking the outer skins off.

-Cut the remaining stems off of the beets.

-Slowly and carefully, start to peel the outer layer of skin off the beet. I find it’s easiest to pull from where the stem was. If cooked properly, the skin should come off fairly easily. Repeat with the next two beets.

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-Slice and quarter the beets, lightly salt them, and set them aside.

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-Slice and halve the pear. Set aside with the beets.

-In a large bowl, measure out the 3 cups of mixed greens and add the pears, beets, and goat cheese.

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-Pour in the ¼ cup of balsamic vinaigrette dressing and mix the contents together with two salad spoons.

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Enjoy!

Skinny Fried “Rice”

One of the reasons I love to cook is that food is incredibly adaptable and easy to make your own. Yes, one has to stick to the basic chemical elements and science of cooking, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with and modify recipes.

Like any normal human being, I love to eat, but my metabolism isn’t getting any younger. Consequently, I’ve been delving into different ways to cook healthier versions of not-so-healthy dishes. A few months back, I came across cauliflower fried “rice”. Yes, I mean Chinese fried rice, but rice is not an ingredient – cauliflower is its replacement. I quickly waved off the recipe after remembering the countless dinners where my mother tried to force feed the vegetable to my brother and me.  It never worked – up until this past Monday, I had never before purchased cauliflower.

Leave it to Pinterest to change my ways. A recipe for this so-called fried rice caught my eye, literally. The blogger with the recipe made a point to say that the cauliflower fried rice fooled even her children into thinking they were eating the real thing. Kids duped by food? This had to be too good to be true. I was happily convinced to attempt this healthier version of one of my favorite Chinese foods.

I know it sounds unappetizing, but the cauliflower fried “rice” was delicious.  The texture was different from regular fried rice – it was more like eating fried couscous – but it didn’t feel like a contrived side dish one eats just because it comes with a healthier incentive. And what was the biggest plus of all? Oh, you know, just saving around 645 calories! Yes, you read that right. The recipe calls for three cups of cauliflower at 75 calories, instead of three cups of rice at 720 calories. It was the first time I didn’t feel guilty about eating all of my fried rice. There was only one drawback: no fortune cookies.

Cauliflower Fried Rice

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Ingredients (Adapted from http://www.familyfreshmeals.com/2013/03/cauliflower-fried-rice.html):

– 3 cups of shredded raw cauliflower without the stalks (use a food processor or cheese grater)

– 1 cup of frozen peas (I added extra because I love peas)

– 1/3 cup of shredded carrots

– 4 garlic cloves, minced

– 1 medium white onion, diced

– 2-3 TBSP of canola oil

– 2 eggs scrambled

– ¼ cup of panko breadcrumbs

– ¼ cup low sodium soy sauce, or to taste

Directions:

-On medium heat, sauté the garlic and onions in oil for about 5 minutes or until golden and tender.

-Add the peas and carrots to the pan and let cook for about 3 minutes. Stir well.

-Add the cauliflower, panko, and soy sauce. Cook for another ten minutes while periodically mixing the contents of the pan. Mix in the scrambled eggs and let cool for a couple of minutes.

Since the cauliflower fried rice was part of dinner for meatless Monday, I paired the dish with an Asian slaw salad topped with a honey vinaigrette dressing.

Asian Slaw with Honey Vinaigrette Dressing

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Dressing Ingredients:

– ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt, plus a dollop of light mayonnaise

– 2-3 TBSP of Dijon mustard

– 4 TBSP of honey

– 2 TBSP of rice wine vinegar

– 2 tsp of vegetable oil

– 2 TBSP of water

Salad Ingredients:

– 1/3 cup of chow mein noodles

– 1 Package of Asian slaw salad

Directions:

Place all of the dressing ingredients in a food processor and mix for about 15 seconds, or until well blended. Pour over salad and top with the chow mein noodles.

Enjoy!