Chickpea and Tomato Soup

This Chickpea and Tomato Soup is healthy, delicious, carb-free and easy to make in less than 30 minutes! All you have to do is chop and simmer the soup until it’s done!  A family favorite, we add this to the rotation in the fall and winter months almost on a weekly basis!
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The girls love this because it is simple, yet flavorful and they have so much fun making it with me (and eating half the ingredients).

Though traditionally mild in flavor, I’ve added fresh and dried herbs as well as a small parmesan rind to bump up the flavor.  You will be amazed at the difference the cheese rind makes.  If you don’t have any, don’t worry … the soup is still delicious!
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To store cheese rinds, simply keep the rinds in a sealable plastic bag and place in the freezer indefinitely.  Pull it out whenever you are ready to use it.  Such a simple and delicious trick!

I did omit the pasta that is usually part of a traditional Italian Chickpea and Tomato Soup because I do serve this with bread on the side.  However, feel free to add in the pasta if your heart and belly desire.  Simply add in 1 cup of any small pasta you have at home (mini macaroni, ditalini, mini shells are some examples you can use).
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From my kitchen to yours, I hope this soup brings as much comfort and warmth to you as it does to my family!

Masala Omelette Yum

These days, I’ve seen and heard friends and family tell me they are working harder than ever, missing meals during the day.  Some are working from home trying to manage homeschool, work and life in general.  Others have a profession that is an essential role to our community right now and are giving so much to us.  While I hope missing meals doesn’t become daily routine, here is a breakfast omelette that will start out anyone’s day on the right foot! Continue reading “Masala Omelette Yum

Butternut Squash and Thyme Risotto Yum

One of my favorite Italian dishes is risotto.  It’s so creamy, decadent, and delicious.  I started experimenting with the basics of making risotto about 9 months ago.
When I first started making it, I was a little intimidated.  To be honest, I had to work up my nerve to attempt it for quite a while as I had heard stories about how hard it is to make risotto.  One day, I decided to just go for it.  If nothing else, I have frozen pizza to serve the family.  (Yep, I always have frozen pizza on hand …. though, currently I stock this amazing cauliflower crust pizza with veggies on top.  Ummm, anyways, story for another time.)
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I must have looked through a dozen recipes to see which didn’t intimidate me and seemed the easiest.  In hindsight, they are all easy.  You see, I think people get overwhelmed with the idea that you have to babysit this dish.  You literally do.  It’s not a quick and easy weeknight dinner but it is an amazing labor of love.  From start to finish, I would say cooking this specific dish (we’re including the time to roast the squash), I spent about an hour in front of the stove.  About 80% of that is stirring the risotto so it doesn’t stick, 10% was prep work and 10% was zoning out the kids while they screamed their latest rock concert with Frozen lyrics.
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The secret to a perfect risotto, you have to stir the broth in one ladle at a time.  Yep, a bit tedious, but this is definitely one of those times where patience brings very delectable rewards.
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During my extensive research to find an “easy” recipe for risotto, I also looked into why I couldn’t just add the broth all at once.  One reason that I found for adding the broth slowly is that by doing so, the rice releases the starch slowly and therefore, giving the dish its creamy texture.  Adding the broth all at once, covering it and leaving it to cook can ruin your risotto in two different ways.  One, the water will sit at the bottom from lack of stirring the risotto and can burn the dish from the bottom.  Second, instead of giving the risotto its creamy texture, dumping the broth all at once can make break the rice and make it mushy rather than keeping the rice kernels whole but cooked and creamy.


I know this seems like a lot but really, it’s just reinforcing the fact that you need to add your broth slowly and you will have an amazing risotto.
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The only other tip I want to add is to constantly check for salt.  I used veggie bouillon combined with water for my broth in this recipe.  You can use a low sodium broth also.  The bouillons tend to have a higher sodium content so don’t add salt until you’ve tasted it.  The parmesan cheese also brings a lot of salt content with it.  The last thing you want to end up with a salty risotto you can barely eat (trust me, I’ve done this too.  Speaking from unfortunate experience).  Keep tasting as you go.
Fun fact, arborio rice looks very similar to idli rice.  In fact, I picked it up and almost used it before I realized there was a slight difference.  The idli rice is a little plumper than arborio.  Of course, I did more research and found that idli rice can be used as a substitute for arborio because of its a medium grain.  When you compare the two side by side, they look very similar.

From my kitchen to yours, Enjoy!

Ingredients:
1½ c butternut squash, cubed
1 ½ c arborio rice
1 med onion, diced finely
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp thyme, roughly chopped
6 c veggie broth
1 c Parmesan cheese
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp Oil (Avo or EVOO)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Toss squash with 1 Tbsp oil, salt and pepper.  Spread out on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes.
In a large pot, heat veggie broth until it comes to a boil, then lower the heat to low and cover.
Meanwhile, In a deep and wide pan, heat oil and add onions.  Cook for 7-8 minutes until they are cooked through and translucent.
Add in the garlic and cook for 1 minute on med-low flame.  Add in the risotto and 2 Tbsp thyme and cook for 8-10 minutes until the rice is toasted and has a light golden red color to it.
Add in 1 ladle of broth and wait for it to burn off while you keep stirring the risotto.  As it burns off.  Keep adding the broth 1 ladle at a time until you use up all of the broth.  As the risotto cooks with the broth, you’ll notice it getting plumper and creamier.  When all of the broth is used up, and cooked into the risotto, the texture should be thick and creamy.  Turn off the heat and mix in ¾ c Parmesan and mix well.
Add in the butternut squash and remaining thyme and mix.
Serve hot into bowl and garnish with some of the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Enjoy!

Polenta & Veggie Pot Pie

I love rainy days!  All I want to do is curl up with a blanket in front of the fireplace, read a book with a cup of chai in my hand.  That probably won’t happen till my kids are off to school.

In the meantime, I decided to put together a hearty stew that warms you from your fingers to your toes.  I took the stew a little further and decided to put a spin on it.  I made cute pot pies but instead of the traditional pastry shell, I used polenta and cheese for the crust.  It tasted so delicious, the creamy polenta and the melted cheese just got all of us, especially my daughter hooked!

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I have these cute little Le Creuset cocottes that I got as a gift from our close friends a few years ago and thought my 2.5 year old will get a kick out of eating from it.  And boy was I right!  She insisted on eating her leftovers the next day from these adorable pots!  I was just happy she loved the stew as much as the cocottes!

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I hope these warm you up on a cold rainy (or snowy) day like it did us!

Ingredients:
½ onion, chopped finely
1c cubed butternut squash
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
¼c AP flour
2Tbsp tomato paste
2Tbsp cayenne pepper
1tsp smoked paprika
1tsp cumin powder
¼tsp oregano
½tsp salt (or to taste)
¼tsp ground black pepper
2c veggie broth
1Tbsp Sriracha sauce
¼c milk
2Tbsp EVOO

For the Polenta:
2c Veggie Broth
2c milk
1c Polenta
¼tsp salt
¼tsp pepper
3Tbsp Butter
3oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400ºF.

In a nonstick pan, over medium heat, add EVOO.  Once the oil is heated, add onions and sauté for a couple of minutes.  Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.  Now add the butternut squash and for about 10 minutes or until it becomes tender.  Make sure you don’t over cook it as the squash can get a mushy texture.  Add in all the dry spices and mix well.  Cook with the spices for a 1-2 minutes so they bloom and flavor the squash.  Now, sprinkle in the flour.  Stir for about 3 minutes so the flour cooks.  If the flour doesn’t cook through, you’ll be able to taste a raw, gritty flavor which is so unappetizing.  Add the veggie broth, tomato paste, and Sriracha, raise to a simmer and cook until it has thickened.  Once it has thickened, add in the milk and black beans.  Cook for another 5 minutes.  Taste and adjust for salt.

Spoon the mixture into 4 individual baking dishes or one pie pan and place on a baking sheet with a 2 inch lip.

For the polenta, add the veggie broth and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and whisk in the polenta slowly.  If you add it all at once, the polenta will be lumpy and not cook through.  Keep stirring until the polenta thickens, approximately 10-12 minutes.  Add in the butter and season with salt and pepper.  Spoon the polenta over the pot pie filling and top with cheese.

Bake in the oven for about 18-20 minutes or until the polenta is golden brown and the cheese is melted.
Remove from oven, garnish with fresh parsley and let it warm you to your toes as you dig in to this deliciousness!

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Grilled Avocado and Peach Salad

Summer is here which means so many things in my household.  Getting the grill out for bbq’s, eating all the fun fresh summery foods, and trying to eat healthy to get in shape for a beach body (this is always a struggle!).  Typically in the past, the hubby and I have done standard bbq’s – burgers, corn, potato salads, chips and dip, etc. etc. etc.  This year, we have been inspired to grill almost everything we eat.
One of my husband’s favorites is Peaches.  So I of course go out to Costco and buy a whole case (or 2) then realize, how are we going to eat so many?!  Well, I promised him we would grill some since he fell in love with the idea of it last year.  I also love avocado and have recently seen them grilled in my dishes in restaurants.  Hey, why not add it in?  If anything, it’s a good source of protein and adds a little meatiness to the plate.
Summer also means that I can harvest some of the vegetables, herbs and fruit in my garden.  I am so excited about my garden that I literally watch it like a hawk every single day and get so happy over the tiniest fruit growing.  Well, we have an abundance of arugula growing as well as Basil.  Oh how I love the peppery smell and taste of both of these leaves!  So delicious especially when they are fresh!  I put Basil leaves in my salad?  Yep.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  I used the leaves but …. I made a basil vinaigrette to go on my salad.
When I told my husband about all the different components of this salad – he was a little skeptical.  How can so many different flavors work together?  Won’t I overshadow the grilled peaches for which this salad was created in the first place?  I decided to find out.  Am I so glad that I did!   The sweetness of the peaches with the peppery arugula and basil was the most divine combination.

Quarter the peaches and avocados and brush with some EVOO.

Heat up the grill (or griddle) and place all the fruit down on one side.  After a couple of minutes, flip to the other side.  Oh I love those grill marks.  And the peaches smell so delicious, I can’t wait to try them!

To assemble the salad, lay down the arugula first, then add some raw cashews.  For the goat cheese, use a fork to crumble it into the salad and finally, add the grilled fruit.  Then, a drizzle of the basil vinaigrette and you’re ready to enjoy a fun, healthy, summery salad!

Ingredients:
For the Salad:
2 c fresh Arugula
1/3c raw cashews
2oz goat cheese
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and quartered
2 ripe peaches, pitted and quartered
EVOO to brush on the fruit

For the Basil Vinaigrette:
3/4 c fresh basil
1/4c red wine vinegar
1/2c EVOO
2 garlic cloves
salt
freshly ground pepper

For the salad:
Brush fruit with olive oil and set aside.  Heat the grill on high heat.  When it is heated through,  place the fruit side down on one side and keep for 2 minutes.  Flip to the other exposed side of the fruit and grill for an additional 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Assemble the salad with the arugula at the bottom, followed by the cashews, the fruit and the goat cheese crumbled in.  Drizzle with Basil Vinaigrette.

In a blender, add all the ingredients for the Vinaigrette and blend to a smooth texture.  Store in an airtight bottle in the fridge.

Enjoy!

Poblano Pav Bhaji Burger Yum

Poblano What?!  A burger with Pav Bhaji?! Yep you heard it right.  A Pav Bhaji Burger….. with Poblano Peppers.  Pav Bhaji is a very popular dish in India and among Indians everywhere in the world.  Back in the 1800’s, workers would take leftover veggies and turn it into a curry.  These workers usually could not afford much so they became creative.  I piggy backed on that creativity and put my own spin to a classic Indian dish. Continue reading “Poblano Pav Bhaji Burger Yum

Baked Asparagus Fries with Yogurt Dip

I’m a big fan of Asparagus.  And of snacking.  And with asparagus being in season now, I’m trying to consume as many as I can!
A couple of years ago during Thanksgiving, we decided to have a potluck with the family.  One of our cousins brought the most delicious Asparagus fries with garlic dip and I have to tell you, they flew off the pan as soon as they were out of the oven.  Definitely a huge hit!  I could snack on these all day!
I’ll let you in on a secret – even though they’re called fries, I’ve baked them, making them healthy along with delicious.  One of the simplest recipes ever that can work as a side, appetizer or hey! a snack all for me!
Try it out:
Wash and pat completely dry the asparagus (if you don’t dry the asparagus completely, the mixture will not stick properly and will become clumpy in places – trust me, I speak from experience)
You’re going to need 2 shallow bowls – 1 for the whisked egg and 1 for the bread crumb mixture.
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Mix 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs and 1 cup grated parmesan cheese.

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Coat each asparagus first in the whisked eggs then in the bread crumb mixture and line on a cookie sheet.
Bake for 10-15 minutes till they are golden brown.  You don’t want to nuke them so they shrivel up, just enough to cook them.  You’ll get a nice crunch to them and they should still hold their original thickness.

For the yogurt sauce,
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Whip the yogurt so it looks nice and creamy and smooth.  Then add in the dill, salt and lemon juice.  Mix well and dip away!

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Here’s the recipe:
For the Asparagus:
1 lb fresh asparagus, trimmed 1″ from the bottom
2 eggs, whisked really well
1 c Italian bread crumbs
1 c grated Parmesan Cheese

For the Yogurt Sauce:
1/3 c non-fat plain yogurt
3 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 425ºF.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease with cooking spray.
Wash and pat completely dry the asparagus.  Dip one at a time in the egg first then in the bread crumb mixture.  Line on baking sheet.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

For the yogurt sauce,
Whip the yogurt to a smooth and creamy texture.  Add in the dill, lemon juice and salt.  Mix well.  Serve with hot Asparagus fries.

Goat Cheese Lingonberry Crostini

Goat Cheese Lingonberry CrostiniI love cheese in any form, especially if it is goat cheese.  Something about the creamy, sweet texture just hits the spot.  This recipe was an accident made in cheese heaven during my pre-marriage days when my roommate and I wanted to be “fancy” without putting in much effort.  We wanted to create a wine and cheese platter and all we really had in our fridge/pantry was a half log of goat cheese, lingonberry jam, grapes, crackers and honey.  Of course we had wine….. lots and lots of it =)

Though it originated with crackers (which you can totally use if you don’t want to do a crostini), over the years, I’ve “refined” it to truly reflect our original vision of a fancy wine and cheese platter.  This crostini is a great hit whether the husband and I are having a “quiet” night in or friends and family over for a dinner party.  Ready in 10 minutes, how can you go wrong?  Here’s how I made it:

1 Sweet Bread Baguette
1/4c Lingonberry preserves
1 small log of goat cheese (about 4oz)
Honey to drizzle

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Take 1 baguette of Sweet bread and slice into 1/2″ slices (be careful not to cut them too thick – they’ll become too “bready” and the other flavor profiles won’t pull through).  Line them on a cookie sheet and drizzle a little olive oil on them.  Pop them into the oven for about 5-7 minutes until they crisp up and look golden brown.

Pull the baguette slices out of the oven and spread some goat cheese on each one.  Next, add a dollop of lingonberry preserve, then drizzle a little honey over them.

There you have it! Easy peasy Goat Cheese Lingonberry Crostinis.  I hope they bring the same smile to your face as they do to mine!

Veggie Stuffed Peppers

There are many days recently where we end up eating leftovers because well, with a 4 month old who wants all the attention, it’s hard to spend time in the kitchen when her drooly smile beckons you to play.  Today however, the husband became the center of her attention allowing me a few moments to whip up veggie stuffed peppers.  Layered with rice, veggies and definitely cheese – this is one yummy pepper!

There are a couple different parts to it so bear with me.  Here’s how I made it:

For the rice:

In a nonstick pot, heat up some oil.  Add the cumin and wait till it starts to splutter.  Add the onions and saute till they turn translucent.  Oh boy! The kitchen smelled so good with just the cumin and onions cooking together, I couldn’t wait till it was done so I can just dig in!

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Once the onions are translucent, add in the tomatoes.  Be careful!  Don’t add the tomatoes when the onions are not done cooking.  The acid from the tomatoes prevents the onions from cooking all the way through and this will change the flavor profile.

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Saute the tomatoes for a couple more minutes until they are tender.  Add in the rice and saute for a couple of minutes so it can soak in some of the flavor.  Then add in the veggie broth, salt, and taco seasoning.  Mix well and let it cook for about 20 minutes until the rice is tender.  Turn off the heat and cover the pot.  This is key whenever I make any type of rice – letting the rice sit in its own steam for 5 minutes.  This ensures the rice is nice and fluffy and makes it taste so much better!

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For the Veggie Stuffing:

Heat some oil in a nonstick pan.  Add the onions and garlic and saute for a couple of minutes. Add in the yellow squash and zucchini and continue to saute for another 5 minutes.  Add in the black beans, salt, fajita seasoning, cayenne pepper and cumin powder.  Mix well and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

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To assemble the peppers:

Preheat oven to 375°.  Spray some cooking spray on a cookie sheet and line the peppers.  Spoon some rice into the peppers, followed by the veggies and repeat till you reach the top.  Sprinkle some cheese on the top and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the peppers are tender.  Serve hot and enjoy!
I’ve included the full recipe below.  I hope you like it just as much as we did.

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For the rice:
1/2c rice
1c low sodium veggie broth
1tsp onions
1/2c finely diced onions
1/2c chopped tomatoes
1Tbsp taco seasoning
1Tbsp Olive Oil
salt to taste

In a nonstick pot, heat up some oil.  Add the cumin and wait till it starts to splutter.  Add the onions and saute till they turn translucent.  Once the onions are translucent, add in the tomatoes.  Saute the tomatoes for a couple more minutes until they are tender.  Add in the rice and saute for a couple of minutes so it can soak in some of the flavor.  Then add in the veggie broth, salt, and taco seasoning.  Mix well and let it cook for about 20 minutes until the rice is tender.  Turn off the heat and cover the pot.

For the Veggie Stuffing:
1/2c diced zucchini
1/2c diced yellow squash
1/2c finely diced onions
1 14oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1Tbsp Olive Oil
1Tbsp Fajita Seasoning
1tsp cayenne pepper
1tsp cumin powder
salt to taste

Heat some oil in a nonstick pan.  Add the onions and garlic and saute for a couple of minutes. Add in the yellow squash and zucchini and continue to saute for another 5 minutes.  Add in the black beans, salt, fajita seasoning, cayenne pepper and cumin powder.  Mix well and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

To assemble the peppers:
2 bell peppers, halved, deseeded
1cup shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 375°.  Spray some cooking spray on a cookie sheet and line the peppers.  Spoon some rice into the peppers, followed by the veggies and repeat till you reach the top.  Sprinkle some cheese on the top and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the peppers are tender.  Serve hot and enjoy!

Basil Butternut Squash Lasagna

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Fall is here and that means squash is everywhere.  So many different kinds but butternut squash is one of my favorites.  I experimented with Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe for Butternut Squash Lasagna and since then, I’ve made a few changes of my own.  This recipe is great to serve for a dinner party, or even to have for lunch leftovers.  If you want the original recipe, I’ll post a link at the end of this blog post.  But for the moment, here’s my version.

Ingredients:
1Tbsp olive oil
1 whole butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2c water
1/4c butter
1/4c all-purpose flour
3 1/2c low-fat milk
Pinch nutmeg
3/4c (tightly packed) fresh basil leaves
1c fresh basil leaves, chopped
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 1/2c shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Add the squash in a heavy large pot full of boiling water.  Cover and simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender – it’ll take about 20-30 minutes.  Spoon out the squash and let it cool for 5 minutes.  Add to food processor and blend until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes.  Add the nutmeg and mix well.  Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender. Add the 3/4 of the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.

Preheat to 375 degrees F.  Spread a ladle of the sauce in a baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan. Spread a little squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Drizzle some more sauce over the noodles.  In the second layer, sprinkle the cup of chopped basil.  Continue layering and top with mozarella cheese.

20151002_192341Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  I found that this makes the sauce not bubble over and the flavors are so much more vibrant.  Bake the lasagna for 40 minutes.  Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.  Garnish with some fresh basil.

*Here is the link to the original recipe by Giada de Laurentiis: Butternut Squash Lasagna