Tuscan White Bean, Kale and Acorn Squash Soup

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” – Henry David Thoreau

In preparing for the Thanksgiving week of feasting, I recently found an absolutely addictive and delicious vegan version of a white bean, kale and sausage soup recipe from Veggie Society using puréed acorn squash and leek as the broth base, and I have happily made four times already! Like me, most people are familiar with sweet roasted butternut squash tossed with fall spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger, but to my surprise the acorn squash purées into a very smooth and surprisingly buttery soup base with a mild sweetness which pairs really nicely with fresh Italian spices like rosemary and thyme. I love the simplicity of cooking with ten ingredients or less, and I especially love a good soup to stock up the fridge all week, and this is one is going to be my new standby this year!

Ingredients

  • 1 acorn squash, seeded and diced into chunks
  • 1 bag or bunch of Tuscan kale, chopped
  • 15 oz can Cannellini beans, extra can if you like it chunkier
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 package of any vegetarian Italian sausage (we prefer Trader Joe’s brand but also enjoy Lightlife brand), sliced
  • 2 TB Better Than Bouillon soup base OR 10 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 TB fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 TB olive oil

Sauté leeks with olive oil and garlic in a soup pot on medium heat until wilted and started to caramelize. Toss in acorn squash along with rosemary, thyme and bay leaves then add vegetable broth or 10 cups water with Better Than Bouillon and stir everything together. Once boiling, turn down to simmer and let cook for 25 minutes, or until squash is soft. Remove bay leaves then use hand blender to purée everything into a very smooth thick consistency. Stir in the beans, sausage and kale, then let simmer for another 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. According to original recipe your can also add lemon, red pepper or liquid smoke for additional flavor. So easy!

Mediterranean Fennel Barley Soup

One of my all-time favorite ingredients are lemons. It’s such a versatile citrus packed with vitamin C and adds a distinct tartness to any roasted vegetable. It’s also become my go-to for soup broths that are laden with heavy grains or beans. The lemon juice complements the soft creamy fennel, earthy fire roasted tomatoes and hearty barley in this stew so nicely along with a sprinkle of salty Parmesan on top!

This original recipe came from Eating Well but I switched the white beans to chickpeas and added the lemon juice which really brightened it up. This ones in my fridge for the entire week and only cost about $20 (I doubled the recipe).

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, cored and chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 14-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup quick-cooking barley
  • 1 5-ounce package baby spinach (6 cups)
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, fennel, garlic, and basil; cook, stirring frequently, until tender and just beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, broth and barley into the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice then add spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat. Serve and top with Parmesan cheese.

A little summer stroll…

Enjoying a rare date night dance at friend Tom and Haeley’s wedding… whiskey in hand

Not Yet Summer Cobb Salad

Well it’s spring here in Chicago which means either it’s the 97th day of January OR the sun busts out after a long, dormant winter and vibrant baby green blooms burst forth! The last few days have been rather fickle, but thinking of summer gardens and long walks on the beach got me in the mood for a nice salad so today I opted for a vegetarian Cobb salad which I especially love because it can be adapted with so many ingredients if you feel adventurous. I used a spinach base topped with freshly boiled red and white baby potatoes tossed in a balsamic vinegar and freshly squeezed lemon dressing. But the biggest surprise here was the salty blue cheese, creamy egg and tart green apple combo which I will definitely be making again!!

Not Yet Summer Cobb Salad

  • Spinach salad base, chopped roughly
  • 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
  • 1/3 cup canned chickpeas
  • 1/2 Granny Smith apple, largely diced
  • 1/4 avocado, diced
  • 1 TB blue cheese crumbles
  • 1 cup boiled red and white potatoes, cut into quarters

BBQ Pulled Jackfruit

Jackfruit as a substitute for BBQ pulled pork?! Sounds crazy … but the simple prep, sweet and tart chewy texture, and uncanny affinity to meat made this unexpectedly delightful dish an enticing weekend lunch! Top it off with some vegan mayo on a Hawaiian roll for a pretty satisfying meal.

Ingredients:

  • 2 20-ounce cans young green jackfruit in water or brine (not syrup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • BBQ sauce (any kind, I used a store-bought generic brand)

Drain and rinse your jackfruit, then chop into smaller pieces from the inner core to the outer edges. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F while cooking jackfruit and garlic on medium high in a large pan with vegetable broth for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Using a potato masher, smash the jackfruit lightly just enough to pull apart the fibers. Spread jackfruit on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and add 1/2 cup of BBQ sauce and bake for another 10 minutes until it is sticky and sweet. This literally could not be easier! Try it with avocado, cole slaw or a side of corn on the cob.

Cowboy Caviar

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A few weeks ago I found out about Cowboy Caviar after I had made a simple bean salad that was reminiscent to someone of this recipe which they shared with me. Not only do I love the name, but I also love it’s simplicity and subtle different flavors that really make this recipe shine. The spicy base of black-eyed peas, avocado, corn and tomatoes combined with the red wine vinegar hot sauce is simply dynamite on a bed of romaine lettuce with crumbled tortilla chips on top – and it didn’t even need additional dressing.

The good news is that black-eyed peas are cheap, high in protein, and low in calories, cholesterol and saturated fat. They also have a good amount of potassium and iron. If you are concerned about iron intake on a vegetarian diet, beans and dried fruit (such as raisins and apricots) will more than compensate what you don’t get from red meat. Additionally, eating foods high in vitamin C will actually increase iron absorption in the body. So enjoy this salad with a handful of dried fruit for a healthy, nutritious meal!

COWBOY CAVIAR
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons hot sauce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 firm-ripe avocado (about 10 oz.)
1 can (15 oz.) black-eyed peas
1 can (11 oz.) corn kernels
2/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 pound Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Salt

In a large bowl, mix vinegar, hot sauce, oil, garlic, and pepper. Cut avocado into 1/2-inch cubes. Add to vinegar mixture and mix gently to coat.
Drain and rinse peas and corn. Add peas, corn, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes to avocado; mix gently to coat. Add salt to taste.

Bahamas Time, and Enchilada Casserole

BeansI haven’t been on a vacation since before my kids were born. Sure we’ve had a weeknight away here and there for sanity breaks, but my passport has sat untouched since 2008. Ever since eagerly planning for the family reunion in the Bahamas a few months ago, the word “vacation” has become a verb, noun and adjective in our household. A Holy Grail even. We’re going “On Vacation.” We put our pants on and acting like a good boy “To Vacation.” We are going to have a great “Vacation Day.” So naturally the trip had to start off with tears at the airport because mommy didn’t properly arrange for passports for the boys and after all that packing and planning and Asher screaming “I WANNA GO ON THE AIRPLANE WAAAAAH” in his Panama hat we ended up going home instead. Then mommy flew out for vacation with her overseas family while daddy stayed with the boys and applied for passports in Chicago for three days and never slept. But as most things that seem too perfect in the beginning go, the kinks and stress paid off in the end because it helped me value even more what we had gained at the end of the journey.

There is nothing like not knowing what time it is and, more poignantly, not caring what time it is. The Bahamas is a magical place frozen in time full of warm sea water, white squishy sand, coconut trees growing wild, and a general sense of peace and pleasure. Nestled into the quiet nook of Lyford Cay on the island of Nassau is a private little bay and a gorgeous villa where you can literally walk out your bedroom door and follow the manta rays that stalk the shore at dawn. Where tiny little hermit crabs are the same shade of white as the sand, and where night herons screech and dance amongst the palms. A place where the 1940’s polo-themed living room with no walls opens to a plantation style porch on one side and a peach travertine pillared courtyard that welcomes the Caribbean rain water on the other. Where the turquoise water is so shallow and calm that a baby can sit there for hours. Where toddlers develop a general sense adventure, jumping into swimming pools, wading through the Caribbean Sea, sleeping in a Queen size bed. Even one day in this island haven makes the effort with two young children worthwhile. Sigh.

Enchilada Casserole I was in the mood to continue to the fiesta when I returned home – hence today’s recipe for Enchilada Casserole. The bean salad from the recipes makes the perfect side dish for a BBQ or can be the stuffing for peppers or enchiladas, but I opted for the Enchilada Casserole because it is makes a hearty dish that you can serve with fresh avocado and cilantro. And margaritas.

ENCHILADA CASSEROLE
12 corn tortillas
3 zucchini, diced
1 can black beans, drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 small can sliced black olives
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
30 oz can red enchilada sauce
1 bunch of cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup of shredded Mexican cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large pan, add olive oil and fry the zucchini for 7 to 8 minutes on medium heat, until translucent. Stir in the chili powder and cumin, then mix in the corn, beans and olives. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Arrange 6 corn tortillas on the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Top with half the bean mixture then pour half the enchilada sauce over the mixture. Add another layer of 6 corn tortillas, then top with the remaining bean mixture. Pour remaining sauce evenly over the top layer. Top with cheese or soy cheese, then bake for 40 minutes.
beach

Easiest Chana Masala

chana masalaIn the Western World, turmeric root is often used as an agent to color curry powders, mustards, butters, and cheeses. But in the Eastern World, turmeric root is widely used as a medicinal ingredient used to treat inflammatory and irritated skin conditions, and to encourage healthy digestion and liver function. Surprisingly, just 1 tablespoon of turmeric contains 15% of your daily iron needs and even contains a moderate amount of vitamin B6 so it’s health benefits are verifiable. Native to Southeast Asia, turmeric has been considered highly auspicious and holy in Hindu and Tamil spiritualism for millennia so I find it especially intriguing as a spice.

My Easiest Chana Masala recipe is so soul satisfying even my toddler eats it (well, he picks out the cauliflower parts and then devours the chickpeas). The warm, bitter flavor of the turmeric and the rich, earthy curry powder are the two shining ingredients in this embarrassingly simple dish that piques everyone’s interest when I heat it up in the office microwave. By now you should know that I like to get my bang for the buck, and this dish does not disappoint coming in at around $10.

EASIEST CHANA MASALA
32 oz can of diced tomatoes
32 oz can of chickpeas, drained
1 head of cauliflower, stems removed and florets set aside
2 medium onions, diced
1 Tablespoon turmeric powder
2 Tablespoons curry powder
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
Olive oil

Add a generous amount of olive oil to a large saute pan. Saute the garlic and onions on medium heat until they are browning. Then add the cauliflower florets and cook for another 4-5 minutes, constantly turning. Add turmeric and curry powder and mix until well combined with the cauliflower mixture. Add the diced tomatoes and chickpeas, cover the saute and let simmer for 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is just soft enough to stab with a fork but still has as bit of a crunch. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve immediately. The great thing about this dish is you can easily improvise and add your favorite vegetables to change up the recipe.

Ev
Chard Soup

The Big Freeze

photo 4-17 degrees Fahrenheit is no fun! For only the second time in the almost 15 years that I’ve lived in Chicago, the city has shut down and people are barricading themselves at home. Chicago’s a tough city, but this is ridiculous. Yet somehow, I look out my window and there are still folks walking nonchalantly down the street and waiting at bus stops for buses that surely are not coming as the street is no longer visible. There are children happily holding hands with their daddies as they get dropped off at the daycare across the street, while Asher meanwhile kicks and screams as we wrap him in a blanket like a burrito and strong daddy has to carry him the one block distance which feels like a mile and he screams at the top of his lungs that he doesn’t want mommy’s scarf. People are posting videos all over Facebook of what it looks like to toss a cup of boiling water into the air as it turns to hot mist. I get it people, you’re not deterred by this weather. But you know what? I prefer to stay indoors. Tent forts have been our preoccupation this weekend for Everett, and Asher’s exploratory nature has taken him throughout the house pulling out old toys and making collections of like objects. Our heaters have been bumped up high enough that Asher came into our room last night at 1:00am asking for a cup of water because his room was hot. I don’t care!

photo 2photo 3Gearing up for the Big Freeze of 2014 naturally took us Costco. Last Saturday, Asher adamantly pushed the over sized shopping cart through the television aisle dazing at the large screens proclaiming that this is where the eggs are kept, and then happily declared “They have couches here too!!!” We busied ourselves in the cafe with pizza and churros, and then spent nearly $200 on nothing. Yes, I have enough toilet paper, paper towels, and coffee creamer to get us through this Apocalypse. But somehow we got home and I felt like I didn’t buy anything of substance or nutrition. Well, I did get a pineapple.

Pumpkin Coffee Cake, and Dreams of Fall

coffee cake I had a bee in my bonnet this weekend, as my husband lovingly likes to say. I was seriously in the mood for Fall. I wanted our fireplace lit, with romantic ambient candles on tables while my family gently played crossword puzzles and nibbled on gingerbread cookies, and I lit the kettle for tea. I wanted the smell of pumpkin pie spice to fill my house on this glorious chilly fall weekend, and I wanted an autumn wreath hung on our door with neighbors smiling at us and commenting how lovely the mums looked with the pumpkins on our front door step. None of these things happened.

Reality: a trip to the dollar store to stock on Halloween decorations with my nap-deprived 3-year old who screamed at the top of his lungs for the orange loader trucker he found in the toy aisle, while my husband desperately tried to get through the long check-out line which was 9 people deep because naturally they only have one cashier during their busiest times, paired with my sheer disappointment at the luck luster quality and variety of fall decorations. In truth, their seasonal aisle was more stocked up for Christmas than Halloween. On the up side, yellow cake mix was on sale this week for .99 cents at the grocery store, so for a busy mom who likes to cook but hates to bake, this was a perfectly easy compromise to usher in the change of season and satisfy my dreams of Fall!

PUMPKIN COFFEE CAKE WITH BROWN SUGAR GLAZE
⅓ cups Water
1 can Pureed Pumpkin (15 Oz)
2 whole Eggs
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 box Yellow Cake Mix (18 Ounce Box)
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 cup Brown Sugar, Divided
½ cups Flour
4 Tablespoons Butter, Melted
¼ cups Granulated Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
¼ cups Heavy Whipping Cream
1 cup marshmallows (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large bowl mix together the water, pumpkin, eggs, 1 Tablespoon of vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice until well combined. Add the cake mix and baking soda and mix until just combined. Grease a 9×13 pan with butter and pour batter into pan. In a small bowl mix together 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour and melted butter. Use your fingers to sprinkle over the top of the cake. You can also throw some marshmallows on top for an added bonus if you like! Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. For the glaze, combine the other 1/2 cup brown sugar, granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and heavy cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir until all sugar is dissolved. When cake is finished baking, poke holes in the top with a toothpick. Pour glaze over the cake, making sure to cover all surfaces. Serve cake warm or at room temperature.

Greek Lentil Taverna Salad

asher and everett This week we reached a major feeding milestone when Everett nonchalantly picked up a Cheerio from my hand, popped it into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. No choking. No gagging. Then he reached for another, and angrily slapped my hand away when I tried to put one into his mouth without giving him the chance to practice his fine motor skills. He has only just recently started snacking on the Gerber puff snacks which all but melt in your mouth so this came as a bit of a shock to me. I can’t believe our 9 month old is already self-feeding!

I have been racking my brain thinking of all the crazy baby recipes I used to make for Asher. Which reminded me of how he absolutely LOVED pureed lentils as an infant. Even to this day, I can pop open a can of Progresso lentil soup on a no-cooking day of desperation and he will gobble the contents of the can without even cooking it. Can I admit that to the world? I guess I just did.

lentils So today’s recipe is for an oustanding Greek Lentil Taverna Salad which did amazingly well in the fridge for a few days. It really could not be easier, and cost around $12 for 6 huge portions. Needless to say, Asher loved the lentils.

GREEK LENTIL TAVERNA SALAD
1 English cucumber, chopped into half moons
4 large beefsteak tomatoes, chopped into large pieces
1 red onion, sliced into slivers
1 package of crumbled feta (traditional flavor)
1 bunch of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
2 cups of lentils
2 packages of cremini mushrooms, sliced into quarters
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, diced

DRESSING
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a sauce pot, boil 5 cups of water. Add lentils then let simmer for 20 minutes. When lentils are done, immedialty drain in collander and set aside to cool. In a frying pan, add olive oil and diced garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Then add mushrooms and sautee for 7-9 minutes until the mushrooms have a nice brown color. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooled lentils with the mushroom mixture then add the salad dressing ingredients and let marinate for 10 minutes in refrigerator. Meanwhile, add fresh salad ingredients in a large salad bowl. When you are ready to serve, scoop a heaping portion of taverna salad with 1/2 cup lentils as a topping. The flavors from the lentils will act as a dressing for the salad, but you can add additional red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper if needed. This can be made vegan without the feta, you will just need a tad more salt to bring out the flavors.