Minestrone Soup

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The holidays are over and with the drop of a ball it’s officially a new year. There’s a good chance that a few of you have decided to start the new year off on a healthier foot. I’m not personally one for making resolutions, for me they rarely stick. Instead, I try to use moderation as a guide and make any changes I want through out the year. I started using the gym on a regular basis in the middle of August and just this past fall I started twice weekly yoga classes.

Still, after a month of heavy holiday foods, my body is just screaming for vegetables and “good for you” meals. What a body wants, a body gets. So I decided my first homemade meal of 2012 was going to be something chock full of vegetables, but still filling and comforting. Just what I needed on the day that I drove Jesse to the airport AGAIN for another trip to China. At least this time I get to meet him out there in February!


Minestrone Soup

Ingredients
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small zucchini, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 small yellow squash, diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 small carrots, diced
1-2 celery stalks, diced
1/3 cup frozen lima beans
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 (15 oz) can reduced sodium diced tomatoes, with juices
2 (15 oz) cans vegetable broth*
3 cups hot water
1 (15 oz) can Kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz) can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups kale, finely chopped (tough stems discarded)
1/2 cup small pasta shape
Pinch of kosher salt, if needed

*Make sure to check the labels when you buy your broth. I found that my store brand had almost 200 mg LESS sodium than the national brand. I try to use as much reduced or lower sodium canned goods as possible when making this soup, especially since the cans are being layered together.

Directions
In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, zucchini, squash, celery, lima beans, carrots, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onions turn translucent. Add the dry spices and bay leaves to the vegetables and stir. Make a well in the center of the pot and add the tomato paste. Stir to coat the vegetables. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the diced tomatoes with juices, vegetable broth, and water. Bring soup to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Increase the heat the high and bring to a boil. Add the kale and pasta* and cook for 8 minutes.

Remove bay leaves before serving. Serve with fresh grated Parmesan.

*If you plan to make this soup and eat it later, you might find that cooking and storing the pasta separately will prevent “too chewy” or soggy pasta. Personally, in soup, I kind like the next day soggy noodles.

Adapted from Food.com

Stuffed Acorn Squash

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There isn’t a lot of fall weather that goes on in San Diego. In fact, the temperature last week was higher than it was for most of the summer. But that hasn’t stopped me from craving my favorite fall foods. Especially when I read posts on Facebook from all of my friends back in Ohio, which is exactly how I came across this recipe for Stuffed Acorn Squash.

It’s not something that I have ever made before, but I could tell by the ingredient list it was a winning combination. The squash adds a mellow flavor with just a touch of sweetness that balances perfectly with the somewhat spicy sausage. As with the Asian Lettuce Wraps, I was wary about using the apple. Typically fruit and savory is not a combination I like, but it works in this so don’t be afraid. Jesse kept asking, “What’s in this? It’s really good”. Which is always is a good sign.

Really quick before I get to the recipe – Today is the day that Jesse heads out for another month in China. Please excuse me while I cry like a baby having candy taken away. You’d think that maybe it would get a little easier each trip, but alas, it has not. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be OK. I’ll do what I did last time and keep myself busy and honestly a month is a whole lot shorter than his last trip. 4 Mondays. Totally doable. Now that my temper tantrum and pep talk are over, I’ll move on to the post.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Ingredients
2 acorn squash, halved and seeded
2 tablespoon butter, melted
1 clove of garlic, pressed
1/4 teaspoon ground sage
1 lb mild sausage (I used turkey)
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
4 ounces mushrooms, chopped
1 apple, cored and chopped (macintosh)
1 cup panko crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon sage
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the melted butter, garlic, and 1/4 tsp sage. Brush the inside and outside of each squash with the butter mix. Place the squash on a cookie sheet, cut side up, and roast for 50-60 minutes, or until fork tender.

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage. When the sausage is browned, remove it from the pan and place on a paper towel lined plate, set aside. To the skillet add the onions, celery, and mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes. Add the apples and cook for another 2 minutes.

Return the sausage to the skillet then remove from heat. Season with sage, salt, and pepper. Stir in the panko and Parmesan. Add the egg and stir to combine.

Divide the stuffing evenly among the four squash halves. Return to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes.

Serve with extra Parmesan for garnish.

Adapted from Food.com

Asian Lettuce Wraps

Last week the family I nanny for went on vacation so that meant two things for me. One, STAYCATION – which after the craziness of this summer was very, very welcome. Two, lots of cooking and baking. Well the staycation was awesomely relaxing and my kitchen took the beating like a champ.

Since getting back from China I have really wanted to get back into a groove of meal planning and I figured a week at home was the perfect time to get started. I have to say it’s AMAZING how many more vegetables I include when I plan my meals in advance. Every night I was just enamored with the beautiful colors included in all of my meals. Especially this meal.

I came across this recipe the morning I made my meal plan and it went straight to the front of the line. Besides Jesse jokingly saying, “Wow that appetizer looks great, what’s for dinner” (Do you know what popular chain restaurant he was thinking of?) these lettuce wraps went over really well. I loved the punch of veggies and the fact that I was able to not only cook a meal without dairy or a major carb, but that it was actually really enjoyed by all.

Recipe Note: The most time consuming part of this whole meal is chopping the veggies. I recommend doing all of the chopping and throwing the veggies in a bowl before starting up the stovetop. Once you start cooking everything goes really quickly. Also if you’re feeding people with big appetites, I would recommend multiplying the recipe time 1.5 or 2.

Asian Lettuce Wraps

(Adapted from Good Thymes and Good Food, previously on Annie’s Eats)

Ingredients

Sauce

4 tsp hoisin sauce
4tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
3 tsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp cornstarch
Freshly ground black pepper

Filling

2 tsp canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 lb. ground turkey, chicken, or pork (I did a combination of ground chicken and pork)
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup carrot, very finely diced
1/2 green apple, finely diced
2 green onions, thinly sliced

Lettuce, for wrapping

Directions

In a measuring cup, whisk together all of the ingredients for the sauce, set aside.

Heat a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add the canola oil to the pan along with the garlic, shallot, and ginger. Cook for 30-60 seconds or until fragrant.

Add the ground meat to the pan, breaking into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook until the meat is no longer pink then create a well in the center of the pan by pushing the meat to the outside edges. Add the onion, bell pepper, frozen peas, and carrot to pan and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally add the sauce, apples, and green onion. Stir to evenly coat and cook for 1 minute to allow the sauce to slightly thicken.

Serve with fresh lettuce.

Cold Veggie Pizza Appetizer

Saturday, Bayday, Bayday!!

My sister has been visiting for the past week and we’ve been having an absolute blast. One of our jokes is that no one can make us laugh more than ourselves, except maybe each other. Don’t worry, I know you’re probably giving me the side eye right now because reading that doesn’t make much sense. Like most families, and especially sisters, we have a lot of inside jokes and from the outside looking in we are just weirdos. Actually from the inside looking out we’re pretty strange too — but we have FUN which is the most important part.

One of the fun things we did during her visit was have Saturday Bayday Bayday (best said like the motorsports commercials “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday”). Around lunch time we headed out to the bay with a few friends for a day of frisbee, sunbathing, eating, and good fun. Unfortunately we wound up cutting the day a little short when the sun disappeared and the clouds showed up, but the rest of the day was still a blast. And of course there was no shortage of food.

I’ll be sharing a few of those recipes in the next few weeks and I thought I would start with this super easy appetizer. I think this is one of things that everyone has had and everyone has their own way of making. This just happens to be the way I made it. I didn’t use a recipe as I have had it a million times and felt pretty confident about making it without one (but I did take notes so I could share it with you). It must have been a big success because it was a crowd favorite. Good news is it was also easy!

Cold Veggie Pizza Appetizer

(Sunny Side Up recipe)

Ingredients

2 cans of refrigerated croissant dough (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
1 cup cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 packet Ranch dressing mix*
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp paprika
2 cups chopped veggies of your choice**

*1/2 packet was plenty for my tastes, but taste the dressing as you’re mixing and add more if needed ** I took the easy way out and bought a mixed bag with broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, and chopped it up. Bell peppers, onions, even cucumber would also be great.

Directions

Unroll the cans of croissant rolls and place on a baking sheet. Press together so it forms one big rectangle without seams. Bake according to package and allow to cool.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, Greek yogurt, Ranch, and seasonings until smooth.

Spread the dressing over the crust in an even layer. Top with chopped veggies and cut into even squares. Serve cold.