Butternut Squash Soup

I know I haven’t been around much – I’m claiming wedding preparations (16 days out) as an excuse. But I’m here today with a recipe for delicious Butternut Squash Soup.

In the midst of hardcore wedding dieting/juice fasting/exercising, the chilly & rainy days we’ve had lately forced me to indulge in some comfort food-goodness.

It was worth it.

Butternut Squash is a popular fall vegetable. I love it for it’s natural sweetness. To make the preparations for the soup as easy as possible, I used a pre-peeled, seeded & halved squash from my local grocery store. It was a total breeze to cube up the squash.

Looks like a plate of cheddar cheese, doesn’t it? Is it making you hungry? Because it’s making me hungry…

I also peeled & cubed one potato, and chopped up 1/2 of an onion.

Using 4 tablespoons of butter (I know… but it was comfort food!), I started with the onion until it was well on its way to a nice caramelized look. Then I added the cubes of squash and potato, stirring until the vegetables began to brown. I seasoned with garlic salt, pepper, and some Italian seasonings.

I transferred everything into a larger pot, and poured fat-free chicken stock into the pot until it just covered the veggies. I continued to season with salt & pepper, while bringing everything to a boil. I then reduced the heat & let everything simmer for about 40 minutes.

Until the squash & potato were nice and tender.

The next step was my favorite- I used my little hand blender to puree the vegetables directly in the pot.

Once nice & smooth, I added the milk, cinnamon & additional salt & pepper. I used about 1/4 of a cup more broth to thin the soup a bit. I continued to heat the soup for another 5-1o minutes, while I grilled up my sandwiches.

This soup was so delicious, and made me so happy. I topped the soup with ground pepper, and served it with a yummy grilled swiss sandwich, and praised the goodness of comfort food.

Butternut Squash Soup

Recipe (heavily) adapted from here.

Ingredients:

4 cups of butternut squash, cubed

1 potato, peeled & cubed

1/2 of a large onion, diced

4 tablespoons butter (or margarine)

32 oz Fat Free Chicken Broth

1 tsp Garlic Salt

1 tsp Cinnamon

1/4 cup skim milk

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

Instructions:
1. Halve a Butternut Squash, remove seeds & peel. Cube squash.

2. Heat butter in a large saucepan. Saute onions until caramelized. Season w/ Garlic Salt.

3. Add squash & cubed potato. Saute in butter until vegetables begin to brown.

4. Add chicken broth to cover all vegetables, bring to a boil.

5. Reduce heat & simmer for 40 minutes, until all vegetables are tender.

6. Transfer to blender or use hand blender to puree vegetables.

7. Return to stove, add 1/4 milk &  more broth to reach desired consistency.

8. Add cinnamon, and season with salt & pepper to taste.

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Spaghetti Squash… Who Knew?

Recipe for Garlicky Spaghetti (Squash) and Asparagus at the bottom of this post!

So here’s the thing. I make a conscious effort to do what I’ve decided to call eating “smart”. I wish I could say I eat completely healthy foods all of the time… but the truth of the matter is, I love bacon, peanut butter, and cheese way too much to make the healthiest possible choices at all times.

I am, however, a new member of Weight Watchers, and over the past four weeks I have been following the WW program, I have lost a pound to a pound and a half each week. And I had Wendy’s one time. And dessert when I was on vacation last weekend. So go figure. What I’m learning, though the process of looking up and tracking my daily ‘points’, is that eating is a game of give and take. I absolutely can, and will, have bacon every now and then. But when I do eat bacon, I will plan the rest of my daily points accordingly, to allow for the delicious, crispy treat.

My point, which I promise to stick to now, is that food is good, I like it, and I’m happy that with WW I do not have to feel that eating smart is a lifelong sentence of misery. With that said, my biggest obstacle to a life of eating smart is not bacon, or even peanut butter… but PASTA.

Pasta is just so stupid delicious, and I could honestly eat it every night of the week. Now, on WW, I could eat pasta every night- as 1 cup of cooked spaghetti is 5 points (before sauce, meatballs, cheese & garlic bread enter the equation). The problem is not the sauce or the cheese, however, it is the simple fact that no human could possibly eat only one cup of pasta, without returning for seconds. Not this human, anyway. To me, pasta is like a can of Pringles. Once you pop scoop some delicious pasta onto your plate, you just can’t stop.

Fortunately, for the sake of my waistline and fast-approaching wedding day… I have finally discovered the magical pasta-addicts remedy that is Spaghetti Squash. I heard good things about this vegetable, but was slightly skeptical that a squash could satisfy the way a big plate of pasta does. So, I had to try it out!

The answer to my dinner-time woes

There are a few cons to the cooking and eating of Spaghetti Squash in place of pasta.

a) It doesn’t really taste like pasta. So if you expect a forkful of carb-filled goodness in your first bite, you will be disappointed. But if you try spaghetti squash expecting to taste a yummy vegetable, I believe you will be quite pleased.

b) It is expensive. One spaghetti squash costs around $6.00.

c) It is kind of a pain to cook/prepare. Cooking a SS takes about 45 minutes, so plan ahead.

Cons aside, the spaghetti squash meal I prepared last night had some very big pros.

a) The final meal was, to me, completely delicious, and very filling. (Recipe below!)

b) Spaghetti squash, being a vegetable, is a whopping ZERO POINTS for all you Weight Watchers folks out there. I repeat… ZERO points. Dig in.

c) I felt great after dinner, and can’t wait to cook SS again!

And so, without further ado, I present to you my recipe for Garlicky Spaghetti (Squash) and Asparagus

Ingredients:

1 spaghetti squash (find it in the produce section at your local grocery store!)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Asparagus, cut into bite sized pieces

2 teaspoons Minced garlic

Salt & Pepper to taste

Cooking the Spaghetti Squash

There are several different ways to cook a Spaghetti Squash. I opted for what seemed to be the easiest route- cooking the squash whole in my oven.

1. Puncture several holes in the squash with a fork.

2. Place the squash in a baking dish close to its size, and add 1 1/2 cups of water

3. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, or until a sharp knife can be inserted with little resistance.

4. Allow squash to cool, then slice the squash lengthwise with a large, sharp knife.

5. Remove the seeds from the center of each section.

6. Use a fork or a knife to scoop out the insides, creating stringy, spaghetti like pieces!

Meanwhile:

1. Heat olive oil on medium heat in a large saucepan. Add garlic and cook until lightly browned.

2. Add asparagus and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until asparagus can be easily pierced with a fork.

(I have double the oil/asparagus in my saucepan, as I cooked pasta for FH to mix with half. He was not sold on the delicious promise of the spaghetti squash!)

Toss the spaghetti squash & asparagus until evenly coated in the garlic oil sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

WW people- the only cost in this meal is the EVOO (and cheese if you use it). I calculated my meal at a total of 9 points plus!

The verdict- spaghetti squash scores! Have you ever tried it? What creative & healthy meals have you cooked lately?

Panera Pick-Two Inspired Soup and Sandwich

I love me some Panera. When I lived in Pittsburgh, there was a Panera Bread just a five minute drive away from my house. I probably had Panera for lunch or dinner at least twice a week.

Many miles (and many pounds) away from those college days, I still crave the exact same meal from Panera Bread: the You-Pick-Two combo of Creamy Tomato Soup and the Chicken Caesar Sandwich. Caesar dressing and tomato soup are two of my all-time favorite things. Put them together & add some amazing asiago bread (and, of course, those delicious potato chips…) and I am in heaven. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for my bridal-body-diet-plan), we do not have a Panera bread nearby.  I am usually able to convince FH to make a special trip on the weekends, but a weeknight Panera craving will go unfulfilled these days.

That is, until tonight. When I masterfully recreated my favorite Panera meal… and… (yes, it gets better) for half the calories!

I checked the nutritional value of my Panera Pick-Two of choice here using the Panera Bread Nutrition Calculator. Including the chips (lets be honest, I always ask for chips. Apple? Yeah, right.)  my meal of choice carries a whopping 760 calories. Ouch. And that is not including the times I also got a cup of Panera’s vermont cheddar mac & cheese. Oh, you say decisions like this lead to weight gain? Who knew.

Anyway…

Tonight’s homemade version weighs in at about 350 calories (for 1 sandwich & 1 cup of soup), yet still packs flavor.  Now that is a Tuesday Miracle.

Chicken Caesar Sandwich

{Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats}

First I poached three chicken breasts (1 sandwich for me, 2 for FH). I boiled them for about 12 minutes, and then pulled them apart by hand.

I moved the chicken pieces into a saute pan on low heat & added three tablespoons of Ken’s Lite Caesar Dressing, a handful (maybe 1/4 of a cup?) of DiGiorno Three Cheese Shredded Blend, & some dried parsley & pepper. (I LOVE the taste of pepper in my Caesar dressing- so I probably used a full teaspoon).

I threw my multi-grain sandwich thins  into the toaster while heating up the chicken mixture.

I easily built my sandwiches by filling the sandwich thins w/ the chicken mixture, and adding some mixed greens & a slice of tomato.

Meanwhile… I was making:

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

{Adapted from here}

2 (28 oz) can of crushed tomatoes

16 oz fat free chicken broth

12-15 fresh basil leaves

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup skim milk (recipe called for cream… talking wedding dress in my mind said no way, lady!)

1/2 cup butter or margarine (I used margarine)

Step 1- bring the crushed tomatoes & chicken broth to a boil

Chop up your fresh basil, and toss it in! Add pepper to taste.

Turn the heat down to low, and add the milk and margarine.

This soup, ladies & gents, was amazing. FH said, and I quote, “delicious”.

Take that, Panera! (No chips needed).

Enjoy your night, everyone! I am currently watching New Girl- my favorite Tuesday night show. I totes adore Zooey Deschanel… and laugh my bootie off at her show!

Temporary Solutions {Part 2}

As detailed in Monday’s post, FH & I embarked on a quest this past Saturday to purchase a new piece for our kitchen- to replace our old, small kitchen cart & help create some more counter/storage space in our small kitchen while we save & dream for a future kitchen renovation.

After a long search, we finally found two pieces of furniture at IKEA- which I then proceeded to spend the remaining afternoon building. FH is good at a great many things, but assembling furniture is not one of them. I single handily built the desk and wall to ceiling shelves in our second-bedroom-turned-office, and I assembled our TV stand/entertainment center as well. Most of our furniture is ‘temporary’ much like our kitchen- as eventually we hope to acquire some nicer pieces. Second-floor apartment living is not ideal for large, single-unit furniture, either.

I am a visual learner- so instructions portrayed by cartoon-like pictures are pretty easy for me to interpret. I would much rather see a diagram than read written instructions.

My tips for successful assembly of IKEA furniture:

1. Carefully separate all pieces, including screws/dowels/etc. & make sure you can tell the difference between each size item.

I use the top of the cardboard box to separate all of the small assembly pieces.

2. Accept help. While FH lacks the patience to carefully follow each step of the assembly, when it comes to lifting/flipping furniture pieces or screwing in the 100th screw when my hand is getting tired… occasionally I need to *ask for* help. When assembly IKEA furniture I assume a very independent, GIRL POWER mentality that often makes it difficult to remember this tip.

3. Your dog probably cannot help you very much, so enlist your partner/buddy to entertain said dog.

Or, your construction zone may look something like this:

3. Take your time & resist the urge to throw things. Sometimes, the pictures just don’t make sense. Or you built the entire thing & then realized one tiny piece was backwards. It happens to the best of us IKEA furniture builders. Take a break, eat a snack (Doritos for me), and before you know it, you’ll be done & proud.

My two pieces took about 3 hours total to assemble. It was a bit tedious, but we are very happy with the results:

Done!

Both carts have wheels, and the smaller one on the left has an extension. Putting the microwave (yes, it is a different, smaller microwave) on the shelf leaves lots of counter space, and our important every day dishes still fit on the one bottom shelf. (We purged a few extra items & relocated some bigger pieces to a cabinet in our back hallway). I will probably not store anything too heavy or breakable on the small cart, as I plan to move it towards the sink/stove/kitchen counter when in need of extra cooking space.

The best part about our new furniture is we that have created a separate working space in the kitchen. I can juice/blend/etc. over by the sink in the morning, and FH can make a bowl of cereal or pack a lunch on the cart next to the fridge. We hope to have significantly less elbow-bumping, frustrating mornings from now on.

I updated the chalkboard calendar...finally.

I love the nice bright white w/ the wood counter top.

I put the new rolling cart to use while preparing dinner last night. It served as a great place to lay out my ingredients.

Ingredients for a new Stuffed Peppers recipe

 

I often cook from recipes I find online (more now, thanks to Pinterest!), so I use my iPad propped up on a plate stand.

Works like a charm!

Dinner was absolutely delicious Turkey Stuffed Peppers from Skinny Taste.

This delicious, healthy, take on traditional stuffed peppers uses lean chopped turkey & fat free chicken broth for an amazingly flavorful stuffed pepper at 184 calories for one half-pepper.

Mine turned out SO great- FH loved them & I was super proud!

Delicious! I put a salad of mixed greens, feta cheese & craisins w/ balsamic vinaigrette dressing on the side. YUM!

Find the recipe at Skinnytaste.com & make them for yourself!