Chicken & Wild Rice Soup

“Soup is liquid comfort.” ~Author Unknown

I’m a total creature of comfort. My sister is constantly trying to help give my wardrobe a makeover because all too often I opt for the “comfortable” (ugly) shoes or the plain jane jeans and t-shirt. Sure, I like to look cute here and there but most of the time- it’s not worth the effort to me because I just want to be comfortable! (Side note: I do have to say- I have made quite a bit of progress in my style- big thanks to my fashionista little sister and her awesome hand-me-downs!)

When it comes to food, I’m the same way. I love comfort food. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, apple pie- it’s hard for me to pinpoint my favorite comfort food since I just love it all. One thing is for sure though…if I am sick, cold, or just feeling plain miserable- nothing cheers me up and warms my body and soul more than a nice bowl of homemade chicken soup. This soup was just about the best thing I could make with my always-on-hand frozen chicken stock, my leftover roasted chicken from dinner the night before, and the awesome rainbow carrots I picked up at the Farmer’s Market. I added some wild rice, and voila! Liquid comfort.

Chicken & Wild Rice Soup (serves 4-6)

Ingredients

2 celery stalks, diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 cup of cooked chicken (I like a mix of white and dark meat), diced

8 cups of homemade chicken stock

3/4 cup of wild rice, uncooked

~ 1 Tbsp. of fresh Italian parsley, minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Method

1. Dice chicken, veggies, and parsley. (I prefer the chicken and veggies to be the same size so I can get a little bit of everything in each spoonful!)

2. Heat a smidgen of olive oil in a med/large dutch oven (with a lid) on medium heat. Add carrots and celery and saute until soft.

3. Add chicken, stock, rice, parsley, and salt and pepper. Cover partially, and turn up the heat to med/high and bring to a boil. When it reaches a boil, turn down to med/low heat, cover fully, and allow to simmer for about 50 minutes or until rice is cooked.

4. Ladle yourself a bowl, and enjoy!

*Note: If you don’t have wild rice on hand, you can make this soup the same way with brown rice as a substitute. However, when I use brown rice I only need to let it simmer for 40 minutes until the rice is fully cooked. Both are equally delicious!

Sushi Bowls

First Friday “Foodie Tip” of the new and improved blog!

I got creative with a small piece of sushi grade tuna our friend and local fishmonger gave us at the Farmer’s Market. I steamed some brown rice and portioned it into two bowls. Then I added grated carrot, grated fresh ginger, snipped scallions, cubed avocado, cubed raw tuna, and toasted sesame seeds. Hubby had the same thing only his fish was seared (he doesn’t like the raw stuff) and he had some cubed cream cheese in his too. We mixed them up with some reduced-sodium soy sauce and that was dinner! Yum!

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

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“Worries go down better with soup.” ~Jewish Proverb

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the changing of the leaves, the crisp coolness in the air, and all the glorious food that is harvested and celebrated this time of year. I go to a local farmer’s market year round and I have to say that this time of year is the best for fresh produce. This soup celebrates everything that is fall- the earthiness of the squash combined with the warmth of the spices- even the golden color! Have a bowl of liquid Autumn!

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (serves 4-6)

Ingredients

1 (3 lb.) butternut squash, quartered and seeded

1 3/4 c. yellow onion, finely chopped

4 c. homemade chicken stock

1 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground coriander

1/4 tsp. curry powder

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. white pepper

1/2 c. heavy cream

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

Method

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place squash quarters cut side up on a foil lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

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2. Roast squash for about 45 minutes or until tender. Allow to cool.

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3. While the squash is roasting, sauté the onions in a large skillet until translucent, then add to crock pot.

4. Peel skin off of squash, and cut into small cubes. Add squash, stock, applesauce, and spices into crock pot.

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5. Cover crock pot and simmer on low for 2-4 hours.

6. Puree soup with immersion blender or in a blender, until very smooth. Stir in heavy cream and blend more if needed.

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Enjoy!

Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

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“True friends are never apart, maybe in distance, but not in heart.” ~Unknown

Every time I make these muffins I think of my best friend, Brett. Last March, I went to visit her during my spring break and I brought some VERY overripe bananas with me because I was determined to attempt vegan baking. I had heard that bananas could substitute eggs as a binder, so I thought we should try it out. I was there for 5 days and each day was packed with all the things that we do best…eating, talking, shopping, wine tasting, eating, talking….it was so great…and so us. One of our other favorite things to do together is bake. On my last night there we still hadn’t used my bananas…so despite it being 11 o’clock at night, we baked. And it was so worth it! We made these vegan banana muffins and they were moist and delicious. Since then, I’ve been adding non-dairy chocolate chips to them to make them even more delicious! They also freeze well. I’ll often make a batch, and then after they cool, put them into a freezer bag in the freezer. For a quick breakfast on the go, I just take them out of the freezer and microwave them for about 30 seconds and they’re perfect! Great with coffee, almond milk or if you are not a vegan- then maybe you’ll go for the cow’s milk! Oh yeah, and feel free to lick the bowl- no eggs!! :)

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Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (yields 12 muffins)

Ingredients

3 very ripe bananas

1/4 c. vegetable oil

3/4 c. organic cane sugar

2 c. flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

dash of nutmeg

1/3 c. vegan mini chocolate chips (optional)

Method


1. Preheat oven to 375. Meanwhile, mash the bananas in a medium sized bowl and add oil and sugar, stir to combine.

2. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients into the dry and stir until combined. Fold in chocolate chips.

3. Grease or line muffin pan. Fill each cup 3/4 full.

4. Bake for about 20-25 minutes at 350. *Lower the temperature to 350 degrees after about 2 minutes of baking time. Muffins are done when a toothpick comes out clean. (Mine are usually done right at 20 mins)

5. Allow muffins to cool for 1 minute in the pan and then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

(This tip of spiking the oven temperature in the beginning and then lowering it actually helps prevent the muffins from sticking!)

Enjoy!

Eggplant 101 (and Roasted Veggie Melts)

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“Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.” ~Elizabeth Berry

Eggplant used to scare me. I avoided it at all costs. That is until I learned about its properties and how to prepare it. If you handle it incorrectly it could be your worst nightmare but if you treat it properly, it could be your newest best friend. I want to share some secrets of the world of eggplant with you and hope that you give this magnificent vegetable a chance in your kitchen!

Varieties of Eggplant:

There are many different varieties of eggplants in the US. The most common are the Italian eggplants which are usually dark purple (almost black) and oval shaped.

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The second most common is the Asian or Japanese eggplants. They are long and tubular, sometimes even twisty.

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You can even find white eggplant, speckled eggplant, and more! But as far as taste goes, there is not much of a difference. Some say that the Japanese and white eggplants have a more mild flavor than the Italian varieties. To me, they taste the same. However, the Japanese eggplants do tend to have thinner skin. When deciding which variety to buy, I suggest you focus more on the shape that you want for your eggplant in whatever recipe you plan to make. For example, if making a casserole, I want my eggplant slices to be small and round, so I would go with the Japanese variety. If making eggplant sandwiches, I would choose the Italian eggplant because I like large slices that fit on my bread. It’s up to you!

Choosing Eggplant:

1. Buying local eggplants is much preferred. You are guaranteed to eat them when they are in their peak season (which means they will taste better) and of course it is one of the best ways you can be environmentally friendly. If you can’t buy them at your local farmer’s market then choose organic eggplant at your local grocery/health food store.

2. All eggplants should have smooth skin, free of blemishes and bruises, and be firm when lightly squeezed. (Don’t squeeze too hard!) Avoid an eggplant that is wrinkly or that has soft spots, those are signs that the eggplant is too old. Eggplant is best kept in the refrigerator until ready to prepare.

Preparing Eggplant:

The most important property you need to know about eggplant is that it is absorbent. Like a sponge, it will soak up any liquid that you put on it. This can be good if you are making eggplant parmesan but this can be very bad when it comes to oil. Many people (who prepare eggplant incorrectly) complain of eggplant being mushy- and it can be if you let it soak up liquid!

That is why sweating the eggplant is essential before cooking it. This is when you salt the eggplant and allow it to sit. The salt extracts the excess liquid within the eggplant, so that when you cook it and it absorbs more moisture, it isn’t too moist.

Sweating Eggplant:

Decide whether you will peel your eggplant or leave the skin on. This is up to personal preference. Then slice your eggplant as you wish, either horizontally into rounds, or lengthwise into strips/slices. Be careful not to cut your eggplant too thick or too thin, as this will either make it too dry or too moist. I usually cut mine to 1/4” thick slices. Then lay out all your slices and salt them. If you want to be really thorough you could salt both sides but I usually just do the top. Then set your kitchen timer for 30 minutes and let them sweat. When 30 minutes is up, rinse the salt off under cool water, quickly (like you would a mushroom- you don’t want it to absorb all the water!). Dry well on paper towels, pressing down lightly to absorb all the water. Then you are ready to cook your eggplant!

Cooking Eggplant:

My preferred method of cooking eggplant is roasting. You can also grill, sauté or fry eggplant (we don’t like to use the “f” word in our house!). If grilling eggplant, make sure you brush both sides of your slices with olive oil before placing on the grill. Today I’d like to focus on roasting eggplant. My instructions for roasting eggplant are included in my recipe below. I typically roast my eggplant this same way before using it in almost any recipe!

Recipe:

These “roasted veggie melts” are great for lunch or dinner. Even non-veggie lovers are sure to love this sandwich since it is reminiscent of an Italian sandwich- only in this case, sans meat. Eggplant is a great meat-replacer. If we’re at home we like to make them this way under the broiler on crusty bread. Another thing I like to do is after cooking all of these veggies let them cool and put them into tupperware containers in the fridge. Then we take regular bread to lunch, veggies, and cheese, etc. We toast the bread at work and melt everything else on the bread and it’s a healthy yummy lunch!

Roasted Veggie Melts (makes several sandwiches)

Ingredients

1 medium Italian eggplant, rinsed and dried

2 bell peppers, cut into long strips

1 yellow onion, cut into long strips

3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly

extra virgin olive oil

kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 tomato, thinly sliced

Crusty rolls

provolone cheese slices

herbes de Provence/Italian seasoning

Italian dressing/mayo

Method

1. Slice your eggplant into rounds about 1/4” thick. Lay on cutting board. Salt them and allow to sweat for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

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2. Quickly rinse eggplant slices under cool water and dry well on paper towels.

3. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray or brush with oil. Arrange eggplant slices on baking sheet. Freshly grind some pepper over them- they don’t need any more salt. Brush with a light coat of olive oil on top sides of the slices. Or you could spray them with non-stick cooking spray of your choice.

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4. Roast eggplant in oven at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes depending on how thick or thin slices are. Check on them if needed to make sure you don’t burn them.

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5. Sauté the onions and peppers in some olive oil over medium heat until soft, then add garlic and sauté for a minute more. Season with salt and pepper.

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6. To make sandwiches, open up your hoagie rolls and lightly brush the insides with olive oil. Preheat the broiler and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (or use the same one from the eggplant) and spray with non-stick spray or brush with olive oil.

7. Lay open-faced hoagie rolls on lined baking sheet and on bottom side of each roll layer roasted eggplant slices. Then top with some of the pepper, onion and garlic mixture. Lay some slices of tomato on top, sprinkle with seasoning of your choice (I like to use herbes de Provence, hubby likes Italian seasoning) and put some provolone cheese on top.

8. Put open-faced sandwiches under broiler until bread is crisp and cheese is melted. Keep watch so they don’t burn! About 2 minutes.

9. Then drizzle some natural Italian dressing on top (or in my husband’s case he likes to put mayo on it) and Enjoy!!

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Here are some other Eggplant Recipes that I’ve tried and really liked:

Cornmeal-Crusted Ratatouille Tart (I used whole wheat instead of cornmeal for the crust)

Eggplant Gratin

Grilled Vegetables

Stuffed Eggplant with Shrimp and Basil

– Also stay tuned for my own recipe for Eggplant Burgers coming soon!!

Photo Credits:

Japanese Eggplant

Italian Eggplant

Margherita Pizza

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“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” ~George Bernard Shaw
I love pizza. I mean, I LOVE pizza. My husband laughs at me when I say something is my favorite food. He says that “I always say that.” Well, I am a true foodie…I just love food. But c’mon, who doesn’t LOVE pizza?

 I actually didn’t have my first real slice of pizza until I was a preteen. Seriously. I was born with a severe dairy allergy- not lactose intolerance. I am allergic to the protein in cow’s milk casein. My poor Mom had to read every single label before buying food to make sure it didn’t even have any milk derivatives in it (these were the days before “allergens” were listed on the food labels!). If I had any amount of dairy I would get severe hives, my throat would close, and I would stop breathing. This didn’t happen often though (I think only once) since we watched what I ate and always had Benadryl handy, just in case.

So what do all kids have at their birthday parties to eat? Generally two things: cake and pizza. I could have neither. So that I wouldn’t feel totally left out, I was allowed to eat the pizza if I first pulled all the cheese and toppings off and if after eating it I took Benadryl immediately. I used to imagine what cheese tasted like…it was what I craved the most when I was “allergic.”

Lucky for me, allergies can change as a child goes through their adolescent years and in my case- they did in a good way. I am still technically allergic to milk just not as severely. Since 11 years old I’ve been able to eat it in small amounts. Yay!

I love every kind of pizza there is: think crust, deep dish, sauce, no sauce- you name it. But one of my favorite kinds of pizza is Margherita Pizza. But I’ve found that many restaurants don’t do it to my standards. On my ideal margherita pizza I have 3 staples: fresh basil, fresh mozzarella cheese, AND sliced tomato. That last one many places like to leave off and just leave the sauce as the tomato element.

This crust is actually Emeril’s recipe, so I gotta give him the credit. The instructions are given for someone who is making it by hand. I used my standing electric mixer with the dough hook- so you could do either one! Thin parmesan crust topped with fresh sauce, sliced tomatoes, chunks of fresh mozzarella baked in a HOT oven then topped with fresh basil = the secrets of this delicious pizza!

Parmesan Crust (makes dough for 1- 15 inch pizza crust)

Ingredients

1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)

1 (1/4 oz.) envelope active dry yeast

1 tsp. honey

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 3/4 cups of flour (I used organic white whole wheat flour)

1/2 cup of finely grated parmesan cheese

pinch of salt

yellow cornmeal for sprinkling baking sheet- to prevent sticking

Method

1. In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, honey, and 1 Tbsp. of olive oil, stirring to combine. Let set until mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. In a small mixing bowl, combine flour and cheese. Add 1 1/2 cup of flour mixture and salt into the bowl with the yeast. Mix by hand until it is all incorporated and the mixture is smooth.

3. Continue adding flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, working the dough after each addition, until dough is smooth but still slightly sticky. You may not need to use all the flour.

4. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand until dough is smooth but slightly tacky (3-5 minutes.)

5. Oil a large mixing bowl with the remaining oil. Place dough in bowl, turning to coat all sides of the dough with oil. Cover and set in a warm place, free from drafts until doubled in size- for about 1-1 1/2 hours. (*As I was making the dough I preheated my oven to “warm” and when it was done preheating I turned the oven off to allow it to cool down a bit but still be warm. I covered my bowl with a damp kitchen towel and put in oven to rise.)

6. After dough is done rising, place onto a lightly floured surface. Knead by hand about 5 times and then roll it out. Form a ball again with the dough, lightly flour, and wrap dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. (*This allows it to be easier to work with when you roll it out!)

7. Now that the dough has rested, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface to your desired thickness and size. I did a 15 inch thin crust.

Tip: Before topping, to transfer pizza dough from your surface to the pizza baking sheet, roll most of it onto your rolling pin (leaving the rest to hang) and lay onto baking sheet.

Margherita Pizza

Ingredients

1 prepared parmesan crust

~ 3/4 cup of tomato sauce (homemade preferred)

1/2 of a tomato, sliced very thinly

~ 8 oz. fresh mozzarella packed in water, drained and sliced

handful of fresh basil leaves

Method

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Brush the entire top of the crust lightly with olive oil. Use the back of a spoon to spread the desired amount of sauce onto the crust, leaving room around the edges for crust.

2. Top with tomato slices. Break pieces of mozzarella with your hand and place small pieces (~ 1 inch) over whole pizza (except crust).

3. Bake at 500 degrees for 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and crust is golden. (Mine was done at 12 minutes because I wanted my cheese slightly browned) While pizza is baking slice the fresh basil leaves into small ribbons.

4. Remove pizza from oven, allow to cool slightly, then add basil. Slice and serve!

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Enjoy!

Watermelon Lemonade Chiller

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“We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.” ~Alfred E. Newman

In case you haven’t noticed there is a massive heat wave going on in our country right now with many states temperatures reaching in the triple digits! Escape the heat by making a pitcher of this semi-frozen watermelon lemonade..and invite your friends to share!

Two of my favorite things to have on a hot summer day come together in this drink! Watermelon, and fresh squeezed lemonade! I first heard of watermelon lemonade from another food blog Rawmazing and thought it was just brilliant! I made some and was smitten. However, I thought it would especially amazing if it was a little bit frozen…hence “chiller.”

Watermelons are packed full of nutrients. They are full of vitamin C, A, B6, and potassium. Watermelon is also a great source of lycopene. Studies have shown that diets that include foods rich in lycopene such as watermelon and tomatoes can greatly reduce your risk for certain types of cancer. Lycopene is also good for the heart.

Lemons are another amazing fruit. They are great for ridding the body of toxins. The citric acid in them aid in digestion and is also said to help break up kidney stones. Lemons are also vitamin C power packs. Vitamin C is a vital antioxidant that helps to build your immune system and protect your body from infections. Vitamin C also aids the body in iron absorption in the blood.

Enjoy and stay cool!

Watermelon Lemonade Chiller (serves 4)

3 cups of frozen cubed seedless watermelon

3 cups of fresh seedless watermelon, cubed

juice from 2 1/2 lemons, freshly squeezed

liquid stevia to taste

1. Add frozen and fresh watermelon in a blender. Add lemon juice, and blend.

2. Add a few drops of liquid stevia to taste. (If fruit is ripe enough, you may not even need it!) If you would like it to be a bit more frozen, add ice.

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Nutrition of lemons

Nutrition of watermelon