Back In The Game – Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

I haven’t really been cooking anything NEW recently. I’ve been cooking a lot but really just the same ol’, same ol’. Like cauliflower purée for a party, or beef stew for dinner, or baked chicken with roasted veggies. Great food…just nothing new.

And then my amazing friend Wes gave me an instant pot. And I’m experimenting. Tonight I made butternut squash soup.

It’s been raining for days and more than half of our house is sick…what is better than a rich, satisfying, warm soup? 


I’m not going to into too many details about cooking with the instant pot but instead I’ll tell you the ingredients. 

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs peeled and cubes butternut squash
  • 2 gala apples cubed (peel on)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2″ of fresh ginger
  • 2 tsps of nutmeg
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 sprig of sage
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups of chicken stock 
  • A few strips of thick cut back cut into one inch pieces or lardons if available
  • Handful of spinach per person

I sautéed in olive oil the onions with the sage, salt and pepper, and half of the ginger. When soft I added in the butternut squash and the apples, the nutmeg and the rest of the ginger and let that cook for a bit to brown. I then added the stock and mixed it all up before pressure cooking the soup for 10 minutes. Once releasing the steam, I put in the lemon zest and juice and puréed the mixture with my immersion blender. It tastes outstanding. But to make it more of a meal, I cooked some bacon to put on top after pouring the soup over the spinach. Majorly delish and so quick with the instant pot. 

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai (Sort Of) with Chicken Satay

We are trying to get ourselves back on track after a VERY naughty holiday season…I’m talking Thanksgiving THROUGH the New Year. NAUGHTY!

So this week I’ve been a cooking machine. On Monday, teriyaki shrimp with grilled pineapple, red peppers and broccoli over cauliflower rice. On Tuesday, zucchini noodles and sauteed chard with turkey meatballs and kale pesto. And then last night. Oh, last night! It was DELICIOUS! I made a variation of this recipe that was sort of pad thai, sort of chicken satay salad. I didn’t have tamarind and wasn’t sure I would have the time to make or buy the ingredients…so that is when I veered away from pad thai…and went more towards the Thai peanut sauce I had in the fridge. I also upped the veggie content. Mama needs some green in her din-din. Also, our new nanny is vegetarian so it is challenging me to not only make more strictly vegetarian meals, but meals that can be eaten both vegetarian and high in meat proteins. Always up for a challenge.

  

Ingredients (for four people):

  • 1 large spaghetti squash
  • 2 large carrots
  • four scallions or green onions
  • 1 bag of bean sprouts
  • extra large handful of spinach
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 3 large eggs, whisked
  • about 6-8 chicken tenders
  •  1 package of extra firm tofu
  • Thai Peanut Sauce
  • peanut oil
  • corn starch
  • chopped peanuts
  • cilantro
  • lime wedges

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare all of the ingredients mis en plas prior to cooking as once you start cooking, it will go quickly.

While the oven heats, cut the spaghetti squash lengthwise (stem to stern), scoop out the seeds and innards, cover both sides with olive oil, and sprinkle the insides of the squash with salt and pepper. If you have a dish large enough, you can put them side-by-side, face down in a pan. I don’t, so I put them in two pans. Then add about a 1/4 inch of water to the pan. Depending on your oven, it could take about 30-40 minutes. You’ll know when they are done when you poke at the top and the side collapses a bit. Be wary of the steam when opening the oven. The water makes that first burst of steam VERY hot. [Side note: I used a convection oven so it cut down the time to about 20 minutes.]  [Side note(2): You can do this the night before to save time…spaghetti squash does well in the refrigerator for a few days.]

During the time the spaghetti squash is cooking, prep everything else. Cut your tofu into cubes and sprinkle with about two tablespoons of corn starch. Mix these together and let sit. Skewer the chicken and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Make ribbons of the carrots using a veggie peeler. Roughly chop the spinach. Thinly slice your yellow onion (I used a sprializer to make the process fast and easy). Whisk your eggs. Prepare your green onions by cutting off the white ends and chopping them on the bias…about quarter to half inch pieces. Have everything ready in bowls next to your stove.

This is also a good time to sear the chicken skewers. If you have a grill pan, use it. If not, a shallow pan works best (maybe something you use for pancakes).  Spray the pan with oil and sear both sides of the skewers until both sides are golden brown where it touches the pan and the interior is beginning to turn white. You will put them in the oven to cook through when the spaghetti squash is out.

Put a wok or large pan on the stove on high heat. Set two large bowls to the side of the stove for the cooked food. We’ll do this in steps. When the wok is hot, add a few teaspoons of peanut oil and coat the pan. Add the tofu and cook until all sides are golden brown. Put into the bowl when finished. Keeping the pan hot, add a bit more peanut oil and cook the onions until slightly browned and softened. Add these to the bowl with the tofu when cooked. Add a bit more oil, then pour in the eggs, rolling it around the pan making a thin omelette. My experience had me letting the center “set” a bit instead of continually moving it around the pan. Once it begins to set, cut it with your tongs into small pieces and it will finish cooking quickly. Add this to the bowl on top of the tofu and onions. Turn off the heat for the pan and check the spaghetti squash.

At this point it should be softening. If so, remove the pans from the oven and let them cool while you begin cooking the other veggies. Don’t cook the veggies until the spaghetti squash is ready because you’ll want the veggies warm and don’t want to overcook them. When the spaghetti squash has slightly cooled, drain the water from the pan(s) and turn them over using either a fork or a oven mitt. Using a fork, shred the inside into “noodles.”

Put the seared chicken skewers in the (now dry) pan the spaghetti squash was in and into the hot oven (still at 400 degrees) with the skewer part covered in tinfoil. These will be ready by the time everything else cooks. Use a meat thermometer to double check, though.

Turn the heat back up on the wok and add a splash of peanut oil. Add the carrots, bean sprouts, and green onions to the pan. After a minute or two, turning the veggies often, add the spinach, mixing the spinach in with the rest of the veggies. Add those veggies to the second bowl and set aside. In the hot wok add just a splash more peanut oil, coat the pant, and put the spaghetti squash noodles into the pan in a even layer around the pan. Let them sit for a bit to get some crunch. Stir again and let sit.

While that sits, add three or four tablespoons of the peanut sauce to a bowl and add a splash of hot water to thin out the sauce. Pour some of this sauce around the edge of the pan and mix it into the spaghetti squash. Once well mixed, add all of the other ingredients and stir in the remaining sauce. Check the chicken. Remove when finished

Plate the dish and finish with chopped peanuts, chopped cilantro, and two lime wedges. Drizzle the peanut sauce (not thinned) over the whole plate. Ta da! Enjoy!

 

Tarragon chicken breasts, cauliflower puree and beet salad

The plates were literally licked clean last night. There wasn’t a speck of food left, even after second rounds. THAT is how good dinner was last night.

The family and I are going to Hawaii next month and are dead set on eating healthily until that trip. We were a bit bad this last month with birthday cake here, homemade banana pumpkin bread there, pizza here, a sando there. It is time to get back on the saddle!

Ingredients:

Chicken

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • salt/pepper
  • tarragon
  • chickpea flour

Cauliflower Puree

  • one head of white cauliflower
  • two cups of chicken stock
  • salt/pepper
  • one teaspoon dried rosemary
  • one teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • butter
  • one medium red onion

Beet salad

  • five roasted beets (I prefer Love Beets)
  • two clementines
  • heaping handful of baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup of feta
  • balsamic dressing of your choosing

Getting started on this dinner was a bit of a struggle. I couldn’t decide on anything. But I also didn’t want to have to go back out to the grocery store. I knew we had chicken breasts, I knew we had cauliflower…and that was ALL I knew. I had made roasted cauliflower just the night before so I didn’t want to cook the same thing. Then I remembered cauliflower puree…god’s gift to those that don’t want to eat mashed potatoes (I think I even like the cauliflower ones more). I got working on those because they take a bit longer than everything else. I could figure out the rest while the cauli was cooking down. I also forgot to get a picture. Oops!

I don’t make my cauli puree the same was as most people. I pull out my cuisinart FIRST and shred the cauliflower using the shredding disc. From there I put the shredded cauliflower into a large, high sided pan, add salt and pepper, and mix in the two cups of chicken stock. I turn the heat to med/high and stir frequently. I cook this until the liquid is mostly absorbed into the cauliflower. This is a good time to peel and chop your red onion and prepare the chicken (more on that below).  Once the stock is absorbed I add the rosemary and thyme. I cook that for a few minutes and then stir in the parmesan. Once that is mixed well, I pour (in two batches) the cauliflower back into the cuisinart (now with the regular chopping blade) and whir until smooth. I set it aside in a bowl and cook the rest of the food. Back in the pan where I cooked the cauliflower, I pour a tiny bit of olive oil and a add a pat of butter. When that sizzles (should be quick with the hot pan), add in the red onion. Turn the stove to medium/low. The key to this recipe is browning the red onion while still keeping it soft. When cooked to your desired crispiness, stir it into the cauliflower puree.

The chicken couldn’t be easier. Pound out the chicken to equal thickness. Salt and pepper the top and wait a few minutes. Then sprinkle on a thin layer of tarragon and spoon on a thin layer of chickpea flour. Rub the tarragon and chickpea flour gently into the top of the chicken breast. Don’t worry about the bottom side. You don’t want to flip the chicken to season the other side because the chickpea flour will become a paste.

When the cauliflower and the onion are finished, add a bit more oil/butter to the bottom of the pan and, once sizzling, put your chicken breasts into the pan, chickpea flour side down. While that cooks (on medium), repeat the seasoning process on the other side of the chicken breast in the pan. Flip when the chicken becomes opaque on the bottom. Cook the chicken to 165degrees.

While the chicken cooks, cut up five beets into 1/2 inch pieces. Peel two clementines and slice horizontally. Chop the spinach into bite size pieces. All all of the above and the feta into a bowl. Toss with a dressing of your choice (Hubs makes a super simple, kick ass creamy balsamic that paired well with this — balsamic vinegar, olive oil, plain yogurt, mustard, lemon, salt and pepper).

This whole meal was filling, spectacular (if I do say so myself) and had no offending starches (potatoes, flour, etc).

Easy Egg Muffins for Brunch

On Easter, our very small neighborhood (three families, each with two kids) was having a small get together/breakfast/egg hunt. Our family had made previous plans for brunch but we joined for the early morning portion (egg hunt, bagels, mimosas, coffee). I was feeling a little guilty about leaving early so thought I would use some easy stuff in my refrigerator to bring.

The day before I had “blown out” six eggs for decorating and needed to use those eggs asap so decided to make some egg muffins using that and some leftovers that were about to spoil.  This took at total of 5 minutes of prep, 30 minutes to cook and 15 minutes to cool/set. Makes 12 muffins. 

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs (beaten)
  • two cups of roughly chopped fresh baby spinach (though thawed and drained frozen spinach would work, too)
  • about two cups of leftover chopped rotisserie chicken
  • a cup of halved cherry tomatoes
  • a cup of leftover cooked quinoa
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • about a packed cup of crumbled feta

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all ingredients in a big bowl thoroughly. Spoon into paper muffin cups in a muffin pan. As these won’t “rise” very much, spoon the mixture a bit taller than the rim of the pan. Cook for about 30-45 minutes. Once cooked through, take them out of the oven and let cool/set for about 15 minutes. They’ll last in the fridge, covered, for about a week. Great for car trips or anything where you need “handy” food. But they look FANTASTIC for pot luck brunch.

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I’ve done these a ton of different ways. I like to cook them at the beginning of busy weeks when I know I won’t have time to cook lunch. Everyone in the family can grab and go for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even a snack. If you have a kid that enjoys food, these are great for lunchboxes, too.
 
Variations: replace any of the above with corn kernels, kale, sausage, sweet peppers, sun dried tomatoes, chopped broccoli, pancetta, pepperoni, ham, cheddar. I’ve done all of them. Basically whatever you need to get rid of.  Below is some muffins I made earlier in the week that were heavier on the quinoa, onion, kale, pancetta, corn and crumbled goat cheese. They were a HUGE hit.
 
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Sort of Farinata/Faina and Watermelon, Mint and Feta Salad

Our new au pair (“S”) is from Argentina. Prior to living with us, she lived in Minnesota for a year (brrrr!). I think she is loving California’s weather after this brutal winter. That means she has been far from home for over a year and hasn’t eaten anything from her home country in that long. So I started doing research on typical Argentinian food. Not sure if I’ve mentioned it here, but I am an awful preparer of meats. For some reason they baffle me. I can never get the crust right, the inside the right temperature. Thus, I forego, and leave it to the experts. Steak was out. What else? Empanadas? Not really in our food parameters (being encased in a flour dough, and all). And then I learned about faina. VERY similar to the Italian farinata/ceccina that we prepared when our Italian au pair was with us. I decided this was the way to go. Except, of course and as is typical of me, I changed it practically completely. Ended up being more like a nod to Argentina than an actual tribute or “taste of home”. Don’t get me wrong. It was awesomely flavorful. It just wasn’t “faina.”

Faina is traditionally make with chickpea flour, eggs (or “flax eggs”), salt, pepper and olive oil. Sometimes rosemary. Sometimes cheese. When we cooked the ceccina for E, it was blaaaaaaaand. I didn’t want that to happen again! I oomphed it up with pancetta, tomatoes, red onion, basil, oregano, kale and spinach. Mushrooms would have been EXCELLENT in this. Alas, none in the house. 

But one can’t eat farinata alone! So I picked mint, cut up a watermelon and added some feta for a fantastic spring-y salad. And, as a side, added some of the pulled rotisserie chicken that costco now sells by the bag. Have you have this?! It is the best. All of the benefits of rotisserie chicken without having the pull if off the bone. Very flavorful. 

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Ingredients (serves four)

Farinata

  • Cup and a half of chickpea flour
  • 3 tablespoons ground flax
  • Water as needed
  • Cup of chopped pancetta
  • One whole red onion thinly sliced
  • Handful of spinach, chopped
  • Two fronds of kale, stripped and chopped
  • Cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Total of one cup of finely chopped rosemary, chopped oregano, chopped basil
  • Half a cup of crumbled feta

Salad

  • Watermelon
  • Mint
  • Feta
  • Balsamic glaze

Chicken

  • pulled rotisserie chicken 🙂

 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. You are going to need a cast iron or oven safe pan for this. Set you chickpea flour base by putting the flour into a large bowl and adding water until it is the consistency of pancake batter (I suggest if you have time doing this a few hours ahead of time as I’ve heard that it makes the batter “stronger”). In a separate bowl, make your flax egg by adding water to the flax until it is moistened. Let that sit until your batter is ready.


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Chop the herbs, chop the spinach/kale, chop the tomato, chop the onion.

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Add salt and a good dose of pepper to the batter. Mix in the flax egg with a whisk. While that pulls together, saute the pancetta and onion in your cast iron pan on the stove top.

Add the kale and spinach to the pan, cooking through. Add the herbs and remaining ingredients to the batter and then the contents of the pan. Mix gently but thoroughly. Add a bit of oil to coat the bottom of the hot pan. Pour the mixture into the hot pan and put into the oven for 25-30 minutes. All ovens are different (sadly). It is finished when it is pulling away from the sides of the pan and browned on top. The interior will be soft and chewy. The exterior crispy. Let the farinata cool in the pan while you prepare the sides. Flip onto a plate once cooled. Serve as slices.

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The salad is easy. Chop the watermelon into bit size pieces, chop fresh mint, pour in some crumbled feta cheese and a bit of balsamic. Mix. Ta da!

I just threw a bit of the chicken into a saute pan to warm quickly. It is already cooked through so doesn’t need much.

Zucchini Noodles with Kale, Spinach and Avocado Pesto

Keeping with my New Year’s Resolution, I am still doing at least one vegetarian dinner per week. Last night Hubs was out so it was just me and S. It came together relatively quickly but I HIGHLY suggest making the pesto before the kids go to sleep…because the whirring of our Cuinsinart caused our daughter to FREAK. OUT. I mean, she has heard it before…but for some reason last night she was not a fan to say the absolute least. But the dinner was great! Healthy and delicious. And vegetarian!

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The Kale, Spinach and Avocado Pesto

  • About two cups of de-stemmed and torn dinosaur kale
  • One large handful of baby spinach
  • Half of an avocado
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1/4 chopped red onion
  • Grated parmesan
  • About 1/3 to 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

The “Pasta”

  • Two large, thick, fairly straight yellow zucchinis
  • 3/4 thinly cut sliced red onion
  • crumbled goat cheese
  • olive oil to cook
  • 1/4 cup salted water

In a cuisinart, blend pine nuts, lemon and kale while slowly pouring in some of the olive oil. When the kale is chopped and there is room in the work bowl, add the spinach and avocado. As that whirs, add more olive oil until blended smooth. Add the chopped red onion and the salt and pepper and about 2 heaping tablespoons of grated parmesan (this is to taste…check the taste and add more if you want).

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Spirulize the zucchini (if you don’t have a spirulizer, cut lengthwise slices into a zucchini almost to the end but leaving the end in tact and use a veggie peeler to make “noodles”) and sprinkle with salt and coat with olive oil.  

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Heat some olive oil in a pan and add the sliced red onion and cook until slightly crispy. If needed, cut the noodles (as they can be QUITE long) to about 1′ in length. Add them to the pan over the onions. Cook the “noodles” for a bit until softening and put in a bit of water. Add in the pesto and stir until all of the noodles are coated. Once warmed through, add the chopped tomato and sprinkle in the goat cheese. 

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Plate and serve! Easy peasy! (Serves two with enough for one lunch leftover…today I am going to add leftover chicken to the leftover sauce. YUM!)

 

We devoured this spring salad

Is it a salad? I don’t really know. It is more like one of my standard mash-ups of yummy ingredients. A bit like the Ranch Salad. A bit of a variation on the Avocado Tartare from Food & Wine that I posted a few weeks ago.

And as usual, I wanted something easy, quick and healthy. This met all of those requirements.

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Ingredients (serves two):

  • One large boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • One firm but ripe avocado
  • One large red shallot
  • A few fronds of curly kale
  • A heaping handful of spinach
  • A handful of cherry tomatoes
  • Two meyer lemons
  • A tablespoon and a half of dijon mustard
  • A few sprigs of curly parsley
  • A few drops of sriracha
  • A teaspoon of Worcestershire 
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter/olive oil for cooking

Chop the chicken into 1″ cubes and salt and pepper all sides. In a pan, heat up (over medium to high heat) a pat of butter and a dollop of olive oil. When hot, add the chicken and cook until opaque and almost cooked through (about 135degrees). While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onion and kale by thinly slicing the shallot and removing the stems from the kale and chopping into tiny bits. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Add a bit more oil and turn the pan to medium heat, and throw the thinly sliced red shallot and cook until starting to crisp. Add the kale and a dash more of the olive oil. Cook, turning often, until the kale is soft. While the kale is cooking, chop the spinach into smallish pieces (about 1/2″) and prepare the sauce. Juice two meyer lemons into your serving bowl. Add the chopped parsley, dijon, srirracha, Worcestershire, salt and pepper and whisk until blended. Add the chicken back to the pan with the tomatoes and cook until the chicken is at 160 degrees. Pour the hot chicken, kale and onion (and all of the juices) into the sauce and add the spinach raw. I always add the avocado last as I hate when it starts to turn brown. So now cube your avocado and add it to the bowl. Mix all of the ingredients gently until the sauce covers everything.

We scarfed this down. It was SOOO good. From start to finish it took less than 30 minutes and probably could be sped up if I used two pans (to cook the onions/kale and chicken separately). 

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