Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

2 Oct

Every year, I look forward to “squash season” in the fall. Butternut and acorn varieties are some of my favorites. Yesterday was rainy and foggy here in Charlotte, and for the first time this year, the air was chilly and smelled of autumn. Needless to say, I was in the mood to make soup with the butternut squash and veggies that I picked up from the Farmer’s Market last week.

Most of the soups I’ve had in the past were chock full of fattening creams, so the challenge came in trying to create a low-fat, dairy-free variety. I’m very pleased with how the soup turned out. Rich and creamy from the coconut milk, and the roasted veggies (and apple)  gives it a sweet, nutty flavor. I added some fresh rosemary and a hint of nutmeg, which always adds a sense of “coziness” to soups like these.

So , in honor of October, my favorite month of the year (which isn’t technically fall, but it’s fall enough for me!), here’s the recipe. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

1 med/large butternut squash

1 large sweet potato

I apple

2 carrots

2 stalks celery

1 medium onion

5 cups vegetable stock or broth

2 TBSP Olive Oil

1 TBSP finely chopped fresh rosemary (opt)

Dash nutmeg (opt)

1 can good coconut milk ( I use Trader Joes light variety)

Salt and pepper to taste, or Braggs liquid aminos

1. Pre-heat oven to 375. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. With a potato peeler, peel butternut squash, sweet potato, and apple. Using a sharp knife, cut squash in half length-wise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard. Dice all vegetables and apples into ½ inch cubes.

3. Toss all vegetables/apple in olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and about half of your fresh rosemary.  Spread in lined pans, ensuring that veggies are in a single layer. Roast veggies in oven until tops of veggies begin to turn golden brown, about 35-45 minutes.

4. When veggies are almost done, bring vegetable stock/broth to a boil in large pot. Add roasted veggies to the stock and bring it to a heavy simmer. Cook until veggies are very soft, about 30 minutes.

5. Transfer soup to a blender and puree until smooth (it took 2 blender-fulls for me).

6. Return blended soup to pot. Add the can of coconut milk, remaining rosemary and nutmeg. Re-heat while stirring. When soup is hot, serve!

Health Benefits -What this soup will do for you: Butternut squash is widely considered a “superfood.”  Significant amounts of potassium aid in bone health while  B6 supports the nervous and immune systems.  Most notable are the high levels of carotenoids which have been shown to fight against breast cancer and heart disease. About a cup-and-a-half serving of this soup also provides more than 50% your daily value of vitamin C from the vegetables, which is a powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant. Studies also show that butternut squash has anti-inflammatory effects which may help those suffering from asthma and arthritis in the winter months.

Bon apetit!

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Black Bean Corn Lime Salsa

18 Jul

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MMMmmmm… This is by far one of my favorite things to eat! Most of my family and friends know me to be a Mexi-holic, so this dish is right up my alley. I love how the freshness of the cilantro and lime juice mingles with the sweetness of the corn and tomatoes.

Sometimes, I eat it straight out of the bowl as a side dish. Other times, I add it as a salad topper, or wrap it taco-style in Romaine lettuce leaves. It’s also a yummy topper for that Chili over Quinoa dish that is also a regular at my dinner table. Endless options.

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Recipe

1 can corn, drained (or frozen)

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1.5 cups diced grape or cherry tomatoes (or Roma)

1 finely diced jalapeno, seeds removed

3 TBSP finely diced red onion

1 minced garlic clove

small handful roughly chopped cilantro leaves

juice of 1 fresh lime

dash of chili powder (opt)

dash of cumin/cominos (opt)

 

Stir together all ingredients in a medium bowl. Top a salad or chili. Wrap in lettuce leaves. Eat straight from bowl. Enjoy!

 

Bon apetit.

 

Cucumber-Herb Infused Water

5 Jul

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It has been 100+ degrees all over America these past couple of weeks, and I don’t know about you, but  it’s made me want to chug water like a fish! T

his spring, a friend introduced me to the idea of floating cucumbers and herbs in your ice water. I decided it was a great way to utilize many of the herbs in my garden. We have this massive rosemary bush that I used to cover chicken and beef with, back in my carnivorous days. While the combinations are seemingly endless, my favorite variation has cucumber, a sprig of rosemary, and one mint leaf, gently crushed (per glass). At times, I’ll also use lemon-thyme and basil leaves. While some of these herbs seem potent, I’ve found that the cucumber flavor seems to take the mainstage. If you like more flavor from the herbs, you can crush or chop them. Even cracking a rosemary needle seems to release a lot more flavor.

The result is quite refreshing! This is now one of my “regular” drinks. I’ll make a big pitcher of it and drink it over the next 24 hours.

A little factoid that I learned this week: cucumbers help your body get rid of excess water weight. This means that this beverage can ultimately help with bloating, and the oh-so-annoying water retention issues that women face monthly. 

 

Have you experimented with “aromatic water” like this before? What’s your favorite combination?

Chia Pudding (Mexican Vanilla or Chocolate)

2 Jul

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I have made a tremendous discovery this week.

Chia Seeds!

If you’re not familiar with chia, they are, in fact, what you used to use to grow those furry pets when you were young. But they have more recently been introduced as a superfood. Legend has it that chia was used by ancient Inca tribes for strength before battle. and I can see why!

Chia Benefits: High in fiber and protein, chia is known to stabilize blood sugar. The seeds are also extremely high in Omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential for optimal mental health. Just 1 TBSP has 150% of your DV of Omega 3’s! These fatty acids can also stimulate your metabolism and weight loss. Moreover, chia is rich in antioxidants, supports heart health, helps the body detox, and also has anti-inflammatory effects.

The seeds look a bit like this:

And much to my amazement, they plump and thicken into a tapioca-like consistency when soaked in a liquid like water or milk! After googling their uses, I saw several recipes for chia puddings, and so I decided to try my hand at a few variations of the stuff. Here are the best ones I came up with:

Chocolate Chia Pudding:

(serves 4)

6 TBSP chia seeds

2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or soy/hemp)

2 TBSP coca powder

1 TBSP 100% maple syrup (this is the secret ingredient)

sweeter of choice, to taste

dash salt

Mexican Vanilla Chia Pudding:

(serves 4)

6 TBSP chia seeds

2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or soy/hemp)

2 TBSP 100% maple syrup (this is the secret ingredient)

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

sweeter of choice, to taste

dash salt

Directions (identical for both recipes):

Combine ingredients (except for the chia) in a blender until well-mixed. Pour into a bowl and stir in chia seeds. Leave on the counter for 15-20 minutes, stirring ever 5 minutes to avoid clumping. The mixture should now have thickened considerably. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours, add favorite fruit topping and enjoy!

Bon appetit!

Carrot Salad with Cherries and Pumpkin Seeds

1 Jul

shaved carrots in lime juice, tossed with dried fruit, apples, fresh mint, pumpkin seeds, and cracked pepper.

I have the oddest food cravings sometimes. On occasion, I even seem to crave foods of a certain color. Perhaps it has to do with the unique nutrients present in the different colors.  When I was a kid, mom always said I should try and make a rainbow on my lunch tray at school, which is a pretty dern good way to explain nutrition to a 7-year-old!

Well today, I was craving the color orange. I looked around the kitchen and found a few sweet potatoes, but I was not about to turn on the oven when the temp was 105 outside. Then I remembered that I had a drawer-full of huge, gorgeous carrots from the farmer’s market that were begging to be turned into a carrot salad.

This dish is a perfect side for a hot summers day. I make it at least twice a month. Sometimes I put it on a bed of lettuce and call it a meal. The crisp taste of the lime marries with the cool mint, and compliments the sweetness of the dried fruit. Pumpkin seeds balance it with an earthy, almost smoky element.

Normally, I also add  a diced apple or  orange to the salad, but today, I didn’t have them on hand. While I used dried currants and goji berries this time around, dried cherries are my favorite variation. Apricots or raisins would also work well. Raw pumpkin seeds are healthiest, but I used a combo of raw and roasted here. Raw sunflower seeds would also work well. I typically pick up all of these items in the bulk section of the health food store.

This salad is as good for you as it tastes:

Carrots: While carrots are mostly famed for their benefits to eyesight, significant research has also found that they prevent heart disease and have other anti-cancer benefits.

Pumpkin Seeds: Of the seeds group, pumpkin seeds are at the top of their class. Recent studies have haled these seeds for their ability to lower cholesterol, promote prostate health, combat depression (with L-tryptophan), prevent osteoporosis (zinc), and also have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Raw seeds are recommended, but the roasted variety also carry benefits. Just be wary of added oils they may use to roast them. Also a surprise, Dr. Fuhrman recommends eating seeds with your greens, as certain compounds in each of these foods make the other nutrients more productive. So always through a tablespoon of seeds on your salad or  cooked greens!

Dried Cherries: Studies show that this superfood can decrease your LDL cholesterol levels, help you sleep better, combat excessive fat around your waist, and prevent stomach cancers.

Ingredients:

3 medium carrots, washed

juice of 1 fresh lime

handful of raw pumpkin seeds (or sunflower)

handful of dried cherries (or other dried fruit)

1 apple, cored and diced

1 TBSP chopped mint leaves

salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions:

If not using organic carrots, peel skin and discard. Using potato peeler, peel remaining carrots into long strips.  In large bowl, combine carrot, lime juice, dried fruit, diced apple, seeds and chopped mint. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Will last in refrigerator for up to 3 days.

I hope you enjoy this recipe! Feel free to leave a comment and let me know how it is. There are plenty of variations you can do with it. Whatever suits your mood.

In the words of Julia Child… Bon apetit!

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Southwest Fiesta Bowl with Chili and Quinoa

30 Jun

Southwest Fiesta Bowl with Chili and Quinoa

Black bean chili served over a bed of golden quinoa. Garnished with crisp corn, avocado, fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. You won’t believe it’s health food.

Tonight, I had an intense craving for Mexican food. So I pulled out a container of frozen vegetarian chili that I had made last week, and reheated it on the stove. Then came the idea to make a “Mexi-bowl,” similar to those I love so much at Qdoba or Chipotle, but much healthier. The result was so delicious that I literally can’t wait to eat the leftovers tomorrow!

Your body will love you for this meal. Here’s why:

Quinoa: Historically prized by the Incas as a “sacred seed,” it comes in golden, red, and black varieties. When cooked, the texture is similar to wild rice. Because it’s gluten-free and has a low glycemic index, it won’t put you in a food coma. On the contrary, the stuff actually has a high protein and fiber density, which will keep you full and energized for hours. One cup has the same protein content as one-and-a-half eggs! But unlike an egg, that same seving of quinoa also offers up significant amounts of calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and potassium, which will keep your brain, heart, bones, and nervous system happy.  You can find it at your local grocer or heath food store.

Avocados: Recent research shows that adding avocados to tomato-based dishes increases your body’s absorption of key anti-oxidants that the tomatoes provide. When added to a salad, it can help your body absorb 200-400% more caratenoids. It also has significant anti-inflammatory properties, and may help alleviate arthritis, etc. Don’t be afraid; the healthy fats in avocados are monoumsaturated. This means that they won’t make you fat! On the contrary, they’ll actually decrease your risk of heart disease. TIP: Most of the nutrients exist in the green flesh closest to the peel. Try to retain as much of that as possible. Cut your avocado into quarters (lengthwise), and then peel the skin like a banana.

Beans: Packed with protein, black beans are known as a resistant starch, which means that your body won’t convert them to fat in the same way it converts pasta or french fries. Compounds in the beans are absorbed in your colon, decreasing risk of colon cancer significantly. One cup has 15 grams of fiber, and 15 grams of protein (same as a serving of salmon), which will fill you up for hours. Beans stabilize your blood sugar, and  have been known to drastically reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, while even reversing it in some cases. Beans also greatly improve cardiovascular health, preventing heart disease. Nutritional experts suggest eating a cup per day!

To summarize, the incredible health benefits of this meal will help prevent heart disease, cancer,  and type 2 diabetes, relieve inflammatory disorders, and promote strong bones, nervous system, and brain health.

Ingredients:

1 cup dried quinoa

2  cups water

1 cup canned, fresh, or frozen corn

1 avocado, sliced

fresh cilantro

lime wedges

For the Chili:

2 cups black beans, rinsed

1 large can tomatoes w/green chilis (or 2 small cans Rotel), w/juice

2 TBSP tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 cup organic vegetable broth

1 TBSP chili powder

1/2 TBSP ground cumin (or cominos)

1 tsp sweetener of choice

salt+pepper to taste (opt)

In a medium pot over medium heat, sautee peppers and onions in vegetable broth until tender, adding more broth if it all evaporates. Add garlic when the veggies begin to soften. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste.

Place quinoa and in medium sized pan. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork.

Spoon 1/2 cup quinoa into bowl. Top with chili, corn, cilantro, and sliced avocado. Squeeze a lime wedge over the top for added flavor (and to keep the avocado from browning.”

(Other tasty toppings might include shredded carrot, salsa, and green or red onion.

Bon appetit!

| In the Beginning |

30 Jun

I’ve always loved to cook. You can ask my mother. When I was a mere tyke, mom would tiptoe quietly around the kitchen. She knew full well that if I heard so much as an egg break against the side of a mixing bowl, I would come tumbling down the stairs and into the kitchen, push a chair haphazardly up to the counter, and attempt to help. Unfortunately, mom also knew that this “zealous fervor” meant that only half of the cake batter would be left in the bowl by the time I was done with it. The rest would be spattered on the ceiling and cupboards, oozing off the counter and dripping through the stove burners.

Thankfully, mom never discouraged me from “helping,” but rather encouraged my passion. She also had me on “dish-duty” by the age of 4, hoping that if I learned to clean the things I dirtied , I would become a more careful, intentional cook. Of course, dish duty was a whole wonderland itself. I would line up all the dishes on the counter, fill them with a ridiculous amount of soap suds, and pretend to run an ice cream parlor. Mom would find me an hour later, soaking wet and covered in bubbles.

At the age of 9, cooking came with a newly added responsibility. My dad became ill, and was hospitalized and homebound for the good part of a year. During this time, mom took a second night job while my brother and I helped care for dad and I cooked the meals.  In my free time, I would watch PBS cooking shows, filling yellow legal pads with notes on how to broil fish with Julia Child, make gnocchi with the ladies on The Italian Kitchen, or soups from The Frugal Gourmet. (When I was older, I especially loved Father Dominic and his fantastic bread-making  techniques!) 

Times were rough, but I learned to be creative with what we received from the food bank and stamps.  The “necessity is the mother of all inventions” maxim proved to be very true. If we had Jello pudding on hand, I would melt down some berry preserves into a sauce and layer it in champagne flutes with the pudding, some bananas slices, and mandarin oranges, or whatever was in the pantry. I learned how to julienne vegetables, and salads took on a sculptural quality. I learned to appreciate how much better food tasted the more artful it looked and the more aromatic it smelled. The Junior League Cookbook was my companion. I’m pretty sure mom thought I was destined to be a chef. But at the time, I wanted to be a geologist.

Fast forward a couple of decades.. Alas, I am not a chef, nor a geologist. I work for a nonprofit by day, and experiment culinarily (new word) by night. But all this time spent on my evening hobby has added a few inches to the waistline! In a last-ditch effort to bring back a healthier me, I am now on a new quest of health-conscious cooking, learning more and more daily about how food impacts our body (and how the production of it can impact our health). The recipes you’ll see on this site are inspired by Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat To Live nutritarian lifestyle plan, which focuses on eating foods that have the highest nutritional benefits and protect us from cancer and disease– mostly fruits, veggies, beans, seeds and nuts. Many of these recipes will be dairy-free, gluten-free, meat-free, and free from processed flours, sugars, and little-to-no added fat.  And they will be LOADED with tasty, good-for-you nutrients.

So far, I’ve lost nearly 10 pounds in 3 weeks by adopting these new eating habits, and that has given me the motivation to continue with “zealous fervor,” while continuing to create delicious dishes from life-giving foods.

My hope is that this site will inspire you to create meals that are life-giving for you and your family. So read on, cook well, live fully, and open your table to others.

Bon appetit!

Genesis 1:29 “And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”

p.s. > Here’s a “grownup” photo of me and mom on another cake-baking escapade about 5 years back. 

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