Friday, September 27, 2013

Curried Butternut Squash & Carrot Soup

'Tis the season for all things orange.

The minute the weather turns cool I immediately start thinking butternut squash soup. I make it in loads every fall/winter and we can't get enough. I love the stuff.

I made a big pot of this last week and it was perfect for a few late work nights and pre-packed lunches. I felt like giving things a twist this time, so instead of making the usual recipe with cinnamon and nutmeg, I went with curry and cumin. I've made it with curry before, but not with all the other spices and the hot pepper. The flavor combo was fantastic. It was a little sweet, spicy and tangy all at once.

The ingredient list may look a little long, but if you invest in a few of these spices for your spice cabinet, you will use them over and over again, I promise! Ginger, curry, cumin and turmeric are staples in my spice rack and I use them everywhere, especially during the cold months. They just taste so warm.

As we were eating the soup I thought about swapping coconut milk for the cream and adding a sprinkling of toasted coconut on top next time I make this. Then today I saw Jessica from How Sweet It Is had the exact same idea with a Thai Butternut Squash Soup, and I start salivating as I looked at all the curry coconutty soup pictures. The next squash that lands in my grocery cart is destined for curry, coconut and peanuts.

And if you're feeling like you need a sandwich to accompany this bowl of deliciousness, might I suggest a smoked cheddar & green apple panini. (More melty cheese pics here). Yum.

Curried Butternut Squash & Carrot Soup

Serves 6-8

1 medium butternut squash
2 large carrots
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 vidalia onion, chopped
3 Tbsp. or 1 medium knob of fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp. yellow curry
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
6 cups water
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
4 tsp. sea salt
2 shakes crushed red pepper
Black pepper to taste
Splash of heavy cream
Chopped cilantro and Greek yogurt OR parmesan cheese for topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. Cut squash in half, scoop out the sides and place on baking sheet. Peel carrots and cut into large chunks, and add to baking sheet. Bake vegetables for about 40 minutes, until tender. Once baked, scoop the squash from the flesh and set aside.

In a large pot, melt butter and add onions. Cook over medium low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add fresh ginger, curry, turmeric and cumin and stir to combine; cook for 1 minute more until fragrant.

Add the cooked squash and carrots, then add 4 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring and breaking up the squash. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth (if you don't have an immersion blender, puree it in a blender).

Add final 2 cups of water, ground ginger, salt, crushed red pepper and black pepper. Simmer an additional 5 minutes. Add splash of cream and stir.

Serve hot topped with fresh chopped cilantro and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


I'm a bit delayed on my weekend recap, but it was a good one so we'll play catch up today. It was a weekend of birthday celebrations, which is never a bad thing.

Saturday morning started with some much-needed "me time" at my favorite yoga studio. I've done yoga at home a few times recently, but haven't been to the studio in a while...and there really is no comparison between doing a video in my living room and enjoying the soothing atmosphere, encouraging company and inspiring instructor of going to a class. Love.

The rest of the day consisted of making salads for lunch and running errands and stopping by my sister-in-law's house to drop off some cleaning supplies and food for the crew working on their deck and porch.

All very exciting. But Saturday late afternoon, I met up with Heather, Cathleen and her boyfriend Jon for a trip into NYC to celebrate our good friend Abby's birthday. There actually ended up being a good size group of all our best friends, so fun.

We started out at a little tapas bar for happy hour, food and live Spanish music and flamenco dancers.

We spent a few hours there, nibbling on hummus and goat cheese tarts and chatting loudly over cocktails, before going to the real event of the evening - karaoke! I must admit, I'm a big karaoke fan. Judge me, I don't care. Give me a few sangrias or Jack & Gingers (or, ahem, both) and I'll be right up there singing Bon Jovi and Journey.

I was bummed Matt couldn't come (someone's gotta stay home with our little guy) but I had a great night with the girls. I originally planned on staying overnight, but caught a ride home with some friends around midnight. I'm glad I did so I could have the whole day at home on Sunday. Which started as all the best Sundays too, with coffee, pancakes and eggs. Followed by yard work, and lots of it.

Followed by more salad, some computer work, and then football.

Followed by takeout sushi for dinner, and then cake baking to commemorate MomMom's 92nd birthday.

Are you sick of me saying "followed by" yet? Ok I'll stop, so we can talk about cake for a minute. I'll be the first to admit I do enjoy a good old box cake mix. I mean, it's moist and delicious. But it's also really garbage and filled with chemicals and processed ingredients. Also, I really felt like baking - like real baking - with my counter full of flour and the windows open and my cinnamon roll candle burning and football sounds coming from the living room. I love fall baking. And this face.

I used a trusty yellow cake recipe from Joy of Cooking, and added a ton of sprinkles to turn it into homemade Funfetti. Then I made homemade vanilla frosting, also with sprinkles. It turned out just as moist and delicious - if not more so - than the box.

We toted the cake over to Missy's house after dinner to wish MomMom a very happy birthday with the rest of the family.

We'll be doing a full celebration next Sunday (going to the horse races!) but I'm glad we got to spend a little time with her that day.

And all that was...wait for it...followed by the second to last episode of Breaking Bad. #omg. I can't believe it's almost over! I'm so happy it won the best drama Emmy on Sunday night (which I did not watch, because football and Breaking Bad always take priority). I'm thinking a season finale party might be in order next Sunday night.

P.S. I'm now on Instagram! And already highly addicted. If you Instagram, follow me here. I'd love to see you there!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Chocolate Avocado Mousse Parfaits (Recipe ReDux)

It's Recipe ReDux time, and this month's theme was all about no-bake desserts.


I don't actually make a lot of desserts unless we're bringing something to a party, since my usual go-to after dinner treat is a square of dark chocolate. But when I saw this month's theme two things popped into my head. First, this whole "chocolate avocado mousse" trend has been making its round on the blogs and Pinterest for a while and I've sort of wanted to try it, but never wanted to sacrifice a beautifully ripe avocado for a dessert that would mask its flavor. But since we're trying to eat low carb as much as possible and I needed to come up with a no-bake dessert for the ReDux, I figured it was finally time to start playing around with this chocolatey concoction.

Second, Heather & Kevin were coming over for dinner last weekend and I wanted to serve some kind of dessert, of course. Heath & Kev try to eat healthy too so I knew they'd be open to a funky dessert, but it was Saturday night after all, so the trick was to come up with something semi good for us but that also was delicious and worthy of calling a sweet treat.

Mission accomplished! I've seen a lot of recipes for this mousse that actually only use two ingredients - cocoa and avocado - but I wasn't sold on that. I blended the two up and realized that yes, the texture of cocoa powder and ripe avocado is unbelievably smooth and thick like a chocolate mousse, and yes you can't taste the avocado at all - but, it was too cocoa-y and didn't have any flavor.

Add some agave, fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream, and well, now you've got yourself a parfait-in-a-jar that has the perfect amount of sweetness, richness and lightness.

I topped them off with a sprinkling of toasted walnuts and chocolate chips for a bit of crunch.

Great for a treat by yourself, or to share with friends.

Chocolate Avocado Mousse Parfaits

Serves 4

Ingredients - Mousse
2 ripe avocados
1/2 cup cocoa powder
4 Tbsp. agave syrup (substitute honey if desired)
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch sea salt

Ingredients - Filling
4 cups strawberries, sliced
3 tsp. stevia or sugar
1 1/4 cup whipping cream
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Toasted walnuts and chocolate chips for garnish

To make the mousse, combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend well until very smooth. Pour into a bowl and set in the fridge while you make the other fillings.

In a separate bowl, combine sliced strawberries and 3 tsp. stevia or sugar. Mix well and set aside to macerate for a little while.

Lastly, add the cream, sugar and vanilla to a cold mixing bowl and whip on high for 3-4 minutes, until the cream forms soft peaks. 

Once all fillings are complete, set up an assembly line of mason jars or parfait glasses, and layer as follows:

- Mousse
- Strawberries
- Whipped cream
- Repeat once
- Top with toasted walnuts and chocolate chips

Parfaits may be eaten immediately or stored in the refrigerator for several hours.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Week's Worth of Meals

Well, it's nearly 10:00 pm on Friday night and I feel like it's the first time I've sat down to relax all week. Talk about a busy couple of days! I didn't have much time to post during the week, but I did snap pics of all my dinners so we could check in and see how last week's meal planning went. Considering this was one of my busiest weeks in a while - 3 days in the city, two late nights, Matt with an evening soccer game and a fundraising event - I'd say it went pretty well. I'm tellin' you, meal planning is the only way I can make myself stick to eating healthy during such crazy weeks.

Here's a snapshot of the last week:

On Sunday night I prepped a big veggie lasagna so we would have dinner on Monday night and a few lunches for the week.

I used this recipe by Food Babe for Vegetable Lasagna with No Noodles, and it was fantastic. Honestly we didn't miss the noodles one bit.

I never thought to put kale on top of lasagna, and it was awesome. The kale got crunchy and crispy under the cheese and made for a great texture. Yum. 

Dinner on Monday night was taken care of, so when I got home from the city we got to just nuke the lasagna and then relax with Monday Night Football.


Tuesday was my one day home this week, so when I finished work at 6:00 I had time to make a pot of homemade butternut squash soup.

I roasted off the veggies for 30 minutes, then cooked the soup for 30 minutes, and in one hour we had steaming bowls of orange goodness. I twisted the recipe up this time and it was a good one, so I'll share it soon. The good thing about big pots of soup is I got a second dinner and another two lunches out of it as well.


Wednesday was a city day, so quick-cooking scallops were on the menu. While the scallops were searing, I made a quick batch of massaged kale salad dressed with flax seed oil, lemon juice and fresh garlic.

We had leftover butternut squash soup on the side. This was the epitome of a fall meal. Loved it!


Last night was a really late one for both me and Matt, so we kept dinner really simple. We consulted the meals list and went with Cod with Avocado Tomatillo Sauce from a paleo cookbook. Even though this was a "Fun" meal with a new recipe, this literally took 20 minutes to make. It was citrusy, light and so, so good.

Granted we didn't make any side dishes to go with it, but meh, who needs 'em. Especially when you're eating it on the couch (spot the remote control behind the fork?).


And it's finally Friday! Fridays are usually "Freebie" days, but I'm going into the city tomorrow night with the girls to celebrate my good friend Abby's birthday, and I know we'll be going out to dinner, so I didn't want to blow a Freebie night on ordering out tonight.

After feeding Riker and putting him to bed, I cooked a Lightlife soy burger and put together some quick lettuce tacos with salsa, avocado and red peppers. And a pumpkin beer on the side. 

I'm eating these guys watching Bridesmaids on TV since Matt has another soccer event tonight. Not a bad way to spend a solo Friday evening. :) Hope your weekend is off to a great start!

Monday, September 16, 2013

One Week Away

So, did you get your tickets yet? The FoodBank Culinary Classic is just one week away! Just $500 enables the FoodBank to provide 1,500 meals to hungry families, and there is so much more need than you might imagine. Last year the FoodBank served over 8 million pounds of food to 127,000 children, elderly, disabled, working poor and families in crisis. And if you're wondering how much of your donated money actually goes to these families...well that would be $0.94 of every dollar. They are rated one of the best nonprofits and nearly ALL your money will go to those needy families.

Now if that isn't enough reason to donate and get your butt to the Culinary Classic, maybe the lure of some of NJ's best chefs and food pairings with craft beer, wine and specialty cocktails will get you there.

There will be many great chefs and restaurants participating, including celebrity chef David Burke, but one of my favorites is Chef Mike from ABG (formerly Atlantic Bar & Grill). From "sexy" appetizers to gourmet seafood to house infused cocktails, everything he makes is exciting and amazing.

I can't wait to see what he comes up with at the Culinary Classic.

If you want more details on all the restaurants coming to the Classic, check out the Jersey Bites post here. And of course, go buy your tickets - bring a friend, a coworker, a spouse or significant other, or just come alone and hang out with me. ;) Hope to see you there!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

End of Summer Bounty

So how's everybody's Sunday going? I just came back from a Bed, Bath & Beyond trip and a little pampering at the nail salon, and am currently feet up watching the football games while Riker naps, windows open and fall scented candles burning. I'd say it's a pretty good end of the weekend around here. :) I had a lot of housework and running around to do the last two days so it feels good to relax.

Yesterday after a quick workout, meals planning and grocery shopping, I stuck around the house while Matt and one of his work friends made a short voyage up to north Jersey to claim a large piece of meat they'd ordered earlier in the year. That's right, a large piece of meat. A whole side of beef, to be exact.

I came across this company, Vermont Natural Beef, while home visiting my parents last winter and really wanted to give their program a try. They have a farm of all natural, grass fed, well treated and happy cattle, and they sell it at practically wholesale prices. The catch is you have to buy an entire side (that's nearly 300 pounds of beef) and they only sell once a year. So we got a few friends to join in and split it amongst 5 couples. I think we have enough ribs, steaks and ground meat in the freezer to last Matt and Riker the entire winter. I won't be partaking, but I like knowing that my family is eating healthy, humanely raised beef.

Getting the delivery yesterday meant one thing for Matt: steaks for dinner. So we invited Heather & Kevin and their two girls, Delia and Avery, over for dinner.

The boys had grilled T-bone steaks, which they said were super tender and really delicious, but I made habanero peach grilled shrimp for me and Heather. The shrimp were part of an organic delivery service we're trying out (they deliver wild caught seafood and local organic meats and other products right to your house), and were pretty good.

Before dinner we had a few simple snacks of veggies with spicy dip, and tomato mozzarella salad with fresh basil and tomatoes from my garden.

My basil was dying a few weeks ago, but all the sudden it's become huge and healthy, so I'm taking full advantage. I actually roasted the tomatoes with garlic before adding them to the salad, which made them super juicy and sweet. The warmth was also a nice change to the typical chilled caprese salad.

Heather and I chatted over Blue Moons and glasses of white wine while I cooked and the boys played with the kids outside. It was so nice to just sit and catch up. I'm telling you, I am ready for fall and nights at home. :)

I made a few different sides for dinner, including baked sweet potato fries, grilled zucchini and summer squash, and a winter slaw I saw on Barefoot Contessa a week or two ago. The slaw had raw Brussels sprouts, radicchio and kale with a lemon vinaigrette and parmesan cheese.

All dressed up:

I loved this salad. It was crunchy and colorful, and slightly bitter. All that raw greenery also made it feel like a power salad with so many vitamins in one bowl.

For dessert I made homemade watermelon pops for the kids - which they actually didn't eat since they opted for carrot cake that Delia brought over instead, and honestly, I would've made the same choice. ;) For the adults I made chocolate avocado mousse parfaits with strawberries and homemade whipped cream.

Yum! I can promise you I'll be sharing this recipe later in the week. What a great night with our good friends!


Today started with paleo apple cinnamon "pancakes", coffee & day planning, and clearing the garden of the last of its bounty.

We got one really good final crop.

Eggplants, peppers and tomatoes, oh my!

I see eggplant rollatini and a large pot of chili in my future. Speaking of, I'm giving myself another 20 minutes of being a couch potato before getting my butt into the kitchen for some meal prepping for the week. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How to Plan Weeknight Meals

I've gotten a few reader questions lately about how I have time to cook being a busy mom with a full time job and a tough commute into the city a couple times a week. I'm no stranger to hectic work weeks and I certainly have my nights when I just can't deal with turning on the stove, but cooking healthy meals for my family is important to me, so I do the best I can. But I do have a few tricks to make weeknight cooking easier, so I'm going to share all my secrets with you.

Okay, there really is no big secret. The key is in the meal planning. If you have a plan, it's much easier to pick what you'll make each night; otherwise, if you're like me, you might find yourself staring hungrily into the fridge or cupboards after a long day of work with all your creative juices sapped and having no motivation to come up with a dinner idea, getting more tired and hungry and cranky by the minute. To escape those hungry, cranky, non-creative dinnertimes, I meal plan. And here's how I do it:

Step One: Every two weeks, I set aside time to make a list of meals that we'll eat for the next two weeks and then build a grocery shopping list based on the meal plan. I try to make it an enjoyable experience rather than a chore: I usually meal plan on a Sunday morning, in my pajamas with a cup of coffee and a bunch of cookbooks around me for inspiration. Sometimes I'll put on a favorite Food Network show, like Barefoot Contessa to really set the mood. ;)

This has become a sort of ritual for me and I really look forward to it.

Step Two: When making the meals list, I try to strike a balance between being creative and being realistic. I need to include meals that'll get me excited and actually want to cook (and make my family want to eat - as in, grilled fish and veggies for 5 nights in a row simply won't cut it, and we'll get bored and end up ordering out) but I also need to make sure they're simple and quick to prepare so I don't get overwhelmed. If I have my heart set on making a lengthy recipe, I'll make it for dinner on a weekend, or cook it on a Sunday afternoon and freeze it for later in the week.

Here's my rule of thumb for the meals list:

1. For a two week time period, make a list of about 11-12 meals. The fact is, we do like to order out or go out to dinner with friends on a Friday or Saturday night. If I plan a full 14 meals, I'll feel stressed about using all the ingredients in my fridge and guilty if we go out to eat. If I plan for 11-12 meals, I know I've got a few freebie nights we can use whenever we want. Balance!

2. I don't decide ahead of time when I'm going to make what. I just make the list, put it in a drawer, and then every night we consult the list and decide what we're in the mood for.

3. I plan for the following types of dinners:

Fun: 4-5 fun or new meals that require a recipe (but can be made in 45 min or less OR can be made ahead and frozen, in which case I commit to cooking them on a Sunday evening)
Old Standbys: 3-4 meals that I've made before and don't require a recipe (no duplicates from the two weeks prior if possible unless we're craving it again - boredom will make you ditch the meal plan in a second!)
No-Brainers: 2-3 super easy, no think meals (big salads, veggie burgers, baked fish, etc. I usually keep a few no-brainer things on hand in the freezer so I can pull them out as needed)

This past week, for example, I made a batch of homemade veggies burgers to stick in the freezer and a big pot of crab and cod chowder on Sunday, which we ate for dinner on Monday.

I used my trusty Joy of Cooking cookbook, which never lets me down. I used homemade crab broth I made from our crab fest on Labor Day (omg what a difference in taste when using homemade broth) and swapped sweet potatoes for regular potatoes and milk for heavy cream. It was heavenly. Plus, we got one dinner and two lunches for both me and Matt out of it. Big pots of soup are always a meals list win.

On Monday night, since dinner was already made, I prepped a simple eggplant lasagna (took me 30 minutes) and stored it in the fridge for Tuesday's dinner since I knew I'd be home late that night.

Wednesday night was another late night for both me and Matt, so we made it a "no-brainer" night by cooking up a few sausages (soy sausage for me) and tossing them with frozen broccoli, some sauteed onions, hot sauce and a little cheddar cheese. This literally took 15 minutes to make - it's not pretty, but it was really good.

Thursday evening we had to drop my car off for service and run some errands, so it was another "no-brainer" night. I pulled out a few homemade veggie burgers from the freezer, cooked them in a skillet and topped them with habanero cheddar cheese and avocados.

There's a suspicious lack of greenery on this plate, I know. I usually will at least cook some frozen veggies to have on the side, but I was tired. And lazy. And the huge veggie burgers were filled with carrots, zucchini and red peppers, so really it was a full meal in one monster patty.

And then last night was a freebie. I almost ordered out, but really didn't want to do pizza again, so dug around and found that I had a half bag of tortilla chips leftover from our BBQ a few weeks ago and all the fixings for nachos. Friday night nachos and more Sons of Anarchy, yes please!

I topped the chips with sauteed red peppers, onions and soy crumbles, shredded cheddar and garden jalapenos. On the side we had homemade green tomato salsa, a quick guacamole (made from a sad looking avocado that really needed to be used) and some sour cream. Perfect.

I actually did my meals planning and grocery shopping this morning for the next few weeks, so I'll give you a sneak peek at what you might see on the blog.

Meals Plan 9/14 - 9/30

1. Grilled steak and shrimp with winter slaw and grilled veggies (we're heaving Heather & Kevin and the girls over for dinner tonight)

2. Curry with tofu and veggies (Old Standby)

3. Cod with avocado tomatillo sauce (Fun)

4. Grilled steak and scallops (No-Brainer)

5. Herb crusted snapper (Fun)

6. Southwestern salmon (Fun)

7. Vegetable lasagna with no noodles (Fun - recipe from FoodBabe)

8. Big salads with toasted coconut tofu (No-Brainer)

9. Lettuce tacos (No-Brainer)

10. Manhattan clam chowder (Fun)

11. Gingered butternut squash and carrot soup (Old Standby, a play on this recipe)

12. Spaghetti squash with marinara and meatballs (Old Standby)

I also have veggie burgers, soy "sausages" and a bag of shrimp stowed in the freezer to pull out in case we need some extra no-brainer nights.

And there you have it! Meal planning has been the ticket for me to ensure I make time for cooking and making healthy meals. Let me know how it goes for you, and if you have any other tips for meal planning or weeknight cooking, please share!