Smoking Corn Chowder

My husband and I love thick, hearty chowders but they can be really high in calories and unhealthy fats.  This easy one pot recipe gets body from pureeing a portion of the vegetables (which include potatoes) and additional creaminess from almond milk, a source of heart healthy fat. It also features smoky flavor from chipotle pepper and smoked paprika.

Ingredients:

  • 3 celery stalks, sliced thin
  • 3 cups red potatoes, diced (or you can substitute sweet potato for some or all of the red potatoes, as I did)
  • half an onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 cups low sodium vegetable broth, divided
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup unsweetened plain almond milk
  • 1 individual chipotle pepper
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

There is something so beautiful about a colorful pile of chopped vegetables.  It doesn’t take nearly as long as you would think to do this!

Heat about 1/2 cup of the vegetable broth in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. I used my favorite cast iron as you can see. Add all of the vegetables and sauté for 5-6 minutes until they begin to soften.

Add the remaining broth to the pan and bring to a simmer.  Cook for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  At this point I brought out my stick blender and processed for just a minute or so.  You don’t want all the vegetables to be pureed completely.  Leave plenty of nice chunks.

If you don’t have one of these “sticks” you can transfer 2 or 3 cups of the soup to a regular blender and process.  Be careful, hot soup in a blender can be dangerous.  Make sure to vent the lid and cover with a towel to prevent disasters.

Stir the blended soup back into the pot (or simply stir if you used the stick blender.) Stir in the chipotle pepper, black beans, smoked paprika and almond milk and cook until the beans are heated through.

Speaking of my love of all things chipotle (weren’t we?), this is what you’re looking for when you go to the store. They are canned, smoked, jalapenos in adobo sauce.

They are plenty spicy so you want to handle carefully.  I used just one in the recipe and chopped it using my handy Pampered Chef chopper.  Of course you could use a knife but my chopper does a great job of milling the pepper into a fine pulp.

With beans, potato, and corn, this soup is hearty enough for a full meal.  I like to top it with cubes or slices of avocado.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

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Squash Spaghetti

Spaghetti squash has become very popular lately with low carb dieters.  I am not one of them but I do enjoy this variety of squash and used it recently to make a super simple dish. My crockpot did all of the cooking.

This is what a spaghetti squash looks like.  They are smooth ovals with slightly pointed ends and a yellow rind.  When cooked the flesh separates into long thin strands and can be substituted or used in addition to traditional noodles to lower the calorie and carbohydrate content of popular pasta dishes. Follow my recipe for a simple spaghetti marinara here.

Squash Spaghetti

Folks, I hesitate to even call this a recipe because it can be made with only two ingredients. But hopefully you will appreciate this easy method of cooking a whole squash.

  • 1 2-3 lb. spaghetti squash
  • 1 jar marinara sauce

Wash the outside of your squash and put it in your crockpot.  Add 1-2 cups of water. Using a fork or sharp knife make several small punctures in the squash. This is to ensure the squash does not decide to explode!

Put the lid on the crockpot and turn the temperature to low.  Cook for 4-6 hours until the squash is tender and pierces easily.  Lift the squash from the crockpot with tongs or other utensils and place it on a cutting board.  I like to put the cutting board in my clean sink because the squash might release some liquid when you cut into it.

When the squash is cool enough to handle, cut it in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.

Empty the water out of the bottom of the crock pot and place the squash halves back into the crock.  This way you can scrape the flesh directly into the pot with little mess as I’ve done here.

Once you’ve scraped out all of the “spaghetti” strands from both halves and discarded the shell you can add a jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce. Put the lid back on the crock pot to heat everything through.  A friend of mine likes to add frozen, prepared meatballs to this. You could also add some greens as I have done here with a pile of Swiss chard from my garden. Depending on what you add it may take 1-2 hours to heat everything through again. When everything is heated through, simply stir and serve.

 

 

Obviously, this is not a fast food recipe but the hands on time is very short.

Please let me know if you try making this “Squash Spaghetti” and how it turns out!

Brownies for Breakfast

These brownies contain a surprise ingredient. Sweet potatoes! Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious and taste great baked, steamed, boiled, or roasted.  Their natural sugars can also be used to satisfy our sweet tooth in ways you may not have considered. Here is a brownie recipe that relies on the sweetness of the potato and only a small amount of additional sweetener.

Sweet Potato Brownies

These can be made with only 4 ingredients; sweet potatoes, nut butter, maple syrup, and cocoa powder.  I added a little vanilla, a touch of salt, and a small amount of chopped dark chocolate to enhance the flavor. Please forgive the paper plate.  I took these to work in the pan and had to make do with what we had.

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup smooth nut butter (I used almond butter)
  • 2 T real maple syrup
  • 1 cup mashed cooked sweet potato*
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Dash of sea salt
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (Additional chocolate is optional and you can vary the amount.  I used 4 Dove Dark Chocolate Promises chopped finely.)

*NOTE: I cooked my sweet potatoes by roasting them whole in the oven at 375 degrees for approximately 45 minutes.

Instructions:
Preheat the oven the 350 degrees. Grease a small 8X8 cake pan or loaf pan and set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, heat nut butter and maple syrup together for 60-90 seconds and blend. Add the mashed sweet potato, cocoa powder, vanilla and a dash of salt and mix very well. At this point you can add the chocolate chips or chopped chocolate if you desire and mix in.
 

Pour the mixture into the greased pan and bake for around 20 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before slicing. Store in the refrigerator.

You may say “What’s the point? Why would anyone want to make brownies with sweet potatoes and no sugar?” All I can say is that I can totally eat these brownies for breakfast without guilt.  Sweet!

Ooo…Lasagna!

I had a bumper crop of eggplant this year.  I guess you could call me the eggplant whisperer.  My favorite recipes to use it are the Caponata and Easiest Eggplant recipes I featured in this post last year but I like to branch out occasionally.  Last week I experimented with a lasagna recipe that used sliced eggplant instead of pasta noodles and I may have to throw this one into the annual rotation.  It was that good!

Eggplant and Red Lentil Lasagna

I found this recipe from one of my favorite plant based sources and used it as a template to create my own version of this dish.  You could totally use your own lasagna recipe and substitute the eggplant (as prepared through the baking step) for noodles to create a lower carb version of something you already enjoy.

Ingredients:
  • 2 large eggplants, sliced into 1/4-inch slices lengthwise (see the photo below)
  • Coarse salt
  • Olive oil
  • 1 28-ounce jar of your favorite marinara sauce
  • Additional cooked vegetables or greens as desired.  I added some oven roasted tomatoes and a small tub of baby spinach.
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked lentils or other beans (canned red or kidney beans might be good)
  • 12 oz. ricotta cheese (I made my own cashew ricotta using this recipe.)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Generously salt eggplant slices on both sides and place them in a colander in the sink.  Let them sit for about 15 minutes. This helps to remove excess water.  If you try to use the eggplant raw, without salting and pre-baking, you might end up with a soggy end product.

Rinse the salt off of the eggplant slices and lay them on a clean kitchen towel.  Top with another clean towel and lay a baking sheet on top.  Press to remove excess water.

Arrange the eggplant slice on baking sheets (might take two baking sheets – I squeezed mine onto one) in an even layer and spray or drizzle with a little olive oil. I use parchment paper and spray. Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce the oven heat to 375 degrees F.

While eggplant is baking, add marinara sauce, lentils, and other vegetables if you are using them to a large saucepan and heat.  You could skip a step here and not heat your sauce but keep in mind it will make your final baking time a little longer.

Here’s a tip. I like to arrange my ingredients in order of how they will go into the baking dish so I don’t get the order mixed up.  Here is a picture of my sauce, cooked eggplant slices, and cheese all lined up.

Spread a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom of baking dish. Then layer on a few pieces of eggplant. Spoon half of the ricotta filling over the eggplant slices and spread into an even layer. Then top with another layer of marinara sauce. Repeat. The top layers should be marinara.

Sprinkle with a little parmesan cheese if desired and cover with foil. Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the top layer is slightly browned. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

If you take the leftovers to work and heat them in the microwave your co-workers might be jealous.  Mine were!

It’s a Zoo-cchini Around Here

I do not grow zucchini because my raised bed garden just doesn’t have enough real estate. Given that, how is it that I always seem to have a zucchini or two (or three!) hanging around the house?  Generous friends, that’s how.  You know who you are, you zucchini pushers!

Zucchini has a mild taste that lends itself to breads and of course everyone’s current favorite – zoodles (noodles made from spiralized zucchini).   I was looking for a simple recipe to use up my gifted squash plus the other summer vegetables I had on hand and came across one from Catherine Katz and her website Cuisinicity. Although the recipe is originally for an eggplant dish, I substituted zucchini for some of the eggplant.  You can see the original recipe here.  Here is mine:

Zucchini and Eggplant Fricassee

  • 1 sweet onion, thickly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large zucchini
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 large ripe tomato, cut into wedges
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dry thyme (or fresh thyme to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp dry rosemary or rosemary blend herb mixture (I used Murals of Flavor from Penzey’s Spices.)
  • 1 bay leaf (don’t forget to remove after cooking and before serving)
  • fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven 350 F. Sautee the onion in the olive oil until just soft but not fully cooked and set aside.

Cut the eggplant, zucchini, and tomato into thick slices (about 1 inch) and  place them in a large bowl. Add the warm onions including the oil they were cooked in, the spices, bay leaves, salt and pepper to the bowl and mix gently to coat all the ingredients.

Transfer mixture to a large baking dish and spread into an even layer. Place in preheated oven. (As you can see I had to change baking dishes to accommodate all the vegetables.)  Bake for an hour or more until they are to the point of being almost caramelized,  stirring gently once or twice to make sure all the juices cover the vegetables.

This was easy to put together and smelled delicious coming out of the oven.  It makes a great side dish for these late summer days when the weather is a little cooler and you don’t mind turning on the oven. Any left overs could be used in sandwiches or added to pasta sauces. The next time I make it I may try adding some big slices of portabella mushrooms.

How about you?  What are you doing with extra zucchini these days?

Cukes are Cool

At this time of the year my garden and the farmer’s markets are full of the bounty of summer.  I love seeing all the tomatoes, corn, and zucchini and thinking of the things I can make with them.  Another summer vegetable that I look forward to are cucumbers.  I’m sharing two recipes with you today.  One is an old favorite that I have tweaked a bit and the other is a new one I tried recently that everyone seems to like.

Easy Refrigerator Pickles

It wouldn’t be summer if I didn’t make a batch of these almost weekly.  The original recipe calls for white sugar.  There’s  nothing wrong with sugar in small quantities but I almost never have it in the house. Last year I tried substituting agave syrup but the flavor was rather flat. This year I tried honey and I like the results.  This recipe will just about fill a one quart mason jar, depending on how tightly you pack the cucumbers.

  • 1 large or two small cucumbers, peeled and sliced (I like to leave some of the peel on the cucumber – it looks prettier and adds crunch besides retaining the fiber and nutrition in the cucumber peel.)
  • 1 small white onion, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup white sugar or other sweetener
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Begin by combining the sweetener, water, vinegar, and salt in a small sauce pan.  Bring to a simmer and stir until the sweetener is dissolved.  It doesn’t have to boil.

 

Let this cool and preferably chill in the refrigerator before moving on.  Layer the cucumber and onion in a jar, alternating each and packing tightly until the jar is full.  Pour the cold vinegar and water mixture into the jar until the liquid covers the cucumbers.  Put the lid on it and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

These easy pickles are a favorite of my husband’s.  I hope you enjoy them, too.

Cucumber Salsa

It might surprise you that I do not own a large food processor.  I’m perfectly fine using a knife to do all of my chopping but I was demonstrating this recipe in a park recently and I wanted it to move along a little faster. I went online looking for a vegetable chopper that did not require electricity and found this little darling

It’s rather small, just 4 cups, but it was big enough to make one batch of salsa.  The round green button is a knob that pulls a cord to rotates the blades.  I was doing the demonstration at an event geared toward kids and this device was a big hit. Everyone wanted a turn at pulling the cord.  One thing that I have noticed about kids is that if they are involved in the preparation of a meal, they are much more likely to at least taste the results and this time was no different. We all got a workout, too!

Here are the ingredients for the salsa:

  • One medium cucumber, cut into large chunks
  • One medium bell pepper, cut into large chunks
  • One small white onion, cut into large chunks
  • One medium tomato, cut into large chunks
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, diced
  • 1 teaspoon cilantro, or to taste
  • Juice of 1/2 large lime
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried dill
  • salt and pepper to taste

Put the harder vegetables (the cucumber, pepper, and onion) in first and process those a few times before adding the tomatoes.

Add the tomato and process until everything is uniformly diced. Add the jalapeno, garlic, and cilantro last and process a few more times just to blend everything together.

After everything is processed transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the lime juice, dill, salt and pepper. Chill for at least two hours before serving.

Of course you could use a regular food processor for this, or just chop your vegetable with a knife.  I wouldn’t recommend a blender, though, as this is meant to be a salsa and should have some chunkiness.

I have eaten this with a spoon but it also goes great with tortilla chips and here’s the other thing.  I try not to keep large bags of chips in the house because they are a weakness of mine.  It works better for me to make my own chips and make just enough for a single portion or two.  To do this cut corn tortillas into triangles, arrange them on a baking sheet and spray or brush them with a little olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt or seasoning and bake them in a 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes or until crisp.

 

 

Cucumber salsa makes a nice, fresh tasting alternative to regular salsa and it’s a great way to use all of the vegetables that are in season right now.

Please let me know if you enjoy these recipes.

 

A Toast for Summer

Bruschetta (brew-sketta)  is an Italian dish of toasted bread with toppings. It can be eaten as an appetizer, a light lunch, or even as breakfast or dessert.  Although there are many versions of bruschetta that can be prepared at any time of the year my favorites are perfect for summer time.  Here are two recipes that I love.

Classic Bruschetta

In this iconic version the toasted bread is rubbed with a clove of garlic as soon as it comes off the heat.  The garlic melts into the bread and the tomato, onion, and basil topping is spooned over.  Warm crunchy bread topped with cool herbed tomato makes for a mouthful of delicious.

  • 2 cups assorted tomatoes cut into large dice. I usually use Roma tomatoes but almost any type will do. Some people like to squeeze the seeds out of the tomatoes.  I usually leave them in.
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped (aren’t the little red onions from my garden cute?)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil plus additional for brushing
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 loaf rustic Italian or French bread cut into 1/2″ slices.
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled, halved

Combine the tomatoes, onion, 3 tablespoons olive oil, basil, and balsamic vinegar in medium bowl; season with salt and pepper. You can make this a couple of hours in advance and leave at room temperature. Stir it occasionally.

 

Preheat grill or broiler. Lightly oil the bread slices on both sides.  I use this handy sprayer to get a light, even coating of oil.

Place the bread directly on grill (or under the broiler as I did here) and toast; watching carefully so that it does not burn.  Turn and toast the other side.  Take the bread off the grill and immediately rub one side with the peeled garlic clove.

Top toasted bread with tomato mixture and serve. (Alternately you can cut an entire loaf of bread in half crosswise. Toast just the cut side; rub with garlic and top with the tomato mixture. this makes a nice presentation for parties and you can cut slices at the table.)

One variation of this classic dish adds white cannellini beans to the tomato mixture which would make it a perfect light lunch.

 

Strawberry Goat Cheese Bruschetta

I tried this slightly sweeter version of bruschetta recently for a weekend breakfast.  It was easy to put together and I could have made it even easier by toasting my bread in the toaster.

There is really not much of a recipe involved. The ingredients are simply:

  • Toasted bread slices
  • Goat cheese
  • Sliced Strawberries
  • Balsamic vinegar (You could boil some balsamic vinegar to reduce it and make a thicker, syrupy topping but I used a bottle of espresso balsamic from one of those fancy vinegar and oil stores.  It was thick enough!)

Toast your bread, spread with a thin layer of the goat cheese, and top with sliced strawberries.  Drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over the top and garnish with thinly sliced basil.  Lovely!

By the way, did you know that the best way to store any extra herbs, like basil, is to keep them in a glass jar with a little water in the bottom in your refrigerator? It will last for several days like this.

If you’ve never tried bruschetta before you do not know what you’re missing.  Please let me know if you enjoy these recipe.

 

Let Me Eat Cake!

  • Hot Fudge Cake

I was looking for a healthier cake recipe for Mother’s Day. I wanted something that didn’t have white flour or white sugar and it had to be chocolate! I found this recipe from the EatPlant-Based blog and had to try it.  I substituted coconut sugar for the brown sugar and still got good results.  (You know that most of the brown sugar sold is just white sugar with a little molasses added, right?)

 

 

The assembly is rather strange.  There is no sweetener in the cake batter other than the natural sweetness of the applesauce.  The sugar all goes into a hot water mixture that is poured over the cake batter in the pan.

 

As the cake bakes the batter rises to the top and a pudding forms in the bottom.  Once the cake cools you invert it and serve with the pudding on top (no frosting required!)  Here’s the finished cake.

One note – it’s best to cool the cake completely and then leave it in the pan until it’s ready to serve.  I tried flipping it over onto a plate while it was still slightly warm and the pudding ran all over the place. I ended up flipping it back in and chilling it until the next day. That’s why there are no pretty pictures of it being served.  It was still good!

Stand Up to Diabetes and Heart Disease

Think about how much time you spend sitting down. If you are like many Americans you spend hours every day in front of the television or the computer, in the car, on airplanes, in classrooms, and at your desk or in meetings at work.

Sitting or being inactive for long periods of time is referred to as being “sedentary” and it can have serious health implications. It increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. There are several studies that show that more time spent sitting means a shorter life overall.

If you are sitting down you are not exercising your heart, lungs, and muscles but you may also be damaging your blood vessels. Excessive sitting constricts the arteries in your legs.  This means blood flow is blocked and that can raise blood pressure and contribute to heart disease.

I used to believe that this would never be a problem for me because I am good about exercising but studies show an increased mortality risk related to sitting for long periods of time even in people who also engaged in regular physical activity.

I’ve been working at “not sitting” for a while and here are some of the things that have helped me reduce time spent on my butt:

Set an alarm – I have a fitness tracker with an inactivity alert that reminds me to get up and move. You could do the same thing with your phone, an alarm clock, or a kitchen timer.  Set the alarm for 60 minutes at the most (30 would be better). Every time it goes off stand up.  You could even take a little walk.

Walk and watch – Instead of just sitting in front of the TV, stand up and watch or walk around. I sometimes do laps around the basement while listening to the news. You’d be surprised at how little you miss even if you aren’t watching the screen constantly.

Stand up for other things – I am lucky enough to have a standing desk at work. In fact I am standing as I write this.  I’ve also found that, with a little creativity, I can read while standing by placing my phone or tablet on a shelf in the kitchen.

It doesn’t take much effort to improve sedentary behavior and reduce your health risk. You don’t have to spend hours in the gym or even move much.  You just have to stand up!

 

Crunchy Granola – Sweet and Simple

  • Peanut Butter Granola
  • Crunchy Quinoa Granola

You may remember that I am a huge fan of oats. I consume them in some form or the other almost every day.  At this time of year I tend to switch from my usual hot oatmeal to granola.  Granola from the store can get pretty pricy, not to mention that it often contains too much sugar or other ingredients I’d like to avoid, so I started making my own long ago.

Homemade granola is dead simple to make and you might already have all the ingredients you need at home.  For a long time I used a recipe that required boiling the liquid ingredients in a saucepan and pouring over the dry ingredients but recently I’ve tried a couple of new, easier to prepare versions that I can wholly recommend.

Peanut Butter Granola
I made this granola recently as a treat for my husband instead of the peanut butter cookies I’m sure he would have preferred.  I think this is my new favorite and I may have forgotten to tell him that I made it for him.  I found the recipe at the  Table for Two website and I love it that it’s only 5 ingredients. I doubled the recipe and it turned out great!

Ingredients
  • 4 tbsp creamy peanut butter
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats NOT quick oats

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Add peanut butter to a large bowl pop in the microwave for about 30-45 seconds until the peanut butter is melted. Stir in the honey and then add in the cinnamon and vanilla extract.
(Note: the original recipe calls for microwaving the peanut butter and honey together but my local honey expert says that microwaving honey is a NO NO!)
Add in the oats and stir until they are completely coated with the mixture.
Spread in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes. It may take more or less time to turn a golden brown. I like to mix it up and move it around a bit about halfway through the cooking time so that it browns a little more evenly. The granola will still look soft when you take it out but it will  harden as it cools.  Here’s my before and after baking shot.

Here is how I have been eating this.  I microwave a cup of frozen, mixed berries and top it with the granola.  It tastes just like a fruit crisp. Yum – I am all about dessert for breakfast!

Crunchy Quinoa Granola

Quinoa is becoming more and more mainstream in the US.  It’s a high protein “pseudo” grain (meaning that it is actually a seed but has similar nutrition to grains) that grows well in poor soils.  Therefore many countries around the world are attempting to cultivate it as an answer to food shortages. There are several varieties of quinoa.  I like to use the red; not because it tastes any differently but because it is more colorful.

 

This recipe from Iowa Girl Eats uses raw, uncooked quinoa.  You will want to rinse your quinoa in a fine wire mesh strainer.  Quinoa has a natural coating that some people find bitter and washing removes this. It can go right from the strainer into the recipe; no need to dry it.

I really like this recipe because the quinoa adds not only additional protein but a nice pop, crackle, and crunch; hence the name.

  • 2 cups gluten-free or regular old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 Tablespoons flax seeds (I used ground flax as whole seeds don’t get digested well)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • dash of salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 1 cup raisins
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper.
  2. Combine all ingredients except raisins in a large bowl then stir to combine. Spread mixture on prepared baking sheet then bake for 15 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until golden brown. TIP: watch closely at the end to make sure granola does not get too dark. Granola will not be crunchy right out of the oven. Stir in raisins when granola is cool and store in an airtight container.

Please note: I have substituted maple syrup for the honey and canola or sunflower oil for the coconut oil with good results. And by all means leave out the raisins if you are a raisin hater.  You can substitute dried cranberries or serve with other fruits as you will see I did with the next recipe.

Making your own granola is a great way to save money and control your intake of processed sugars.  Try one of these recipes and let me know what you think.