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Cooking Ripe! 2012 Review and 2013 Preview

What to do with all of those little yummies?Cooking Ripe! has moved to: CookingRipe.com – please join us on the new site!

Cooking Ripe! was launched in late August of 2012 and has had just under 3000 views so far. It’s been very exciting to get to share my garden-to-table recipes with so many people in such a short time. I’ve been learning a lot about this whole food blogging business and I am ready to take things to next level!

Coming in 2013: Cooking Ripe! will be moving to a new hosting site where we’ll have our very own domain name: CookingRipe.com. YAY! Our very own dot com address. Legit, right? With this change, you’ll notice that the blog will undergo some spiffing up and will get a new overall look. I hope to make it a little more user friendly by adding some slick tools that will make things like recipe printing and pinning a little easier. We’ll likely have a little downtime while we complete the migration process, but don’t worry – I’ll give you plenty of warning when it’s time. Stay tuned for more details on the New & Improved Cooking Ripe!

Tops in 2012: In our few short months online, I’ve had great traffic and feedback on the blog posts. Below is a list of the five most viewed posts on Cooking Ripe! in 2012. Have you tried all of these yet? If not, you better get cookin!

1. The number 1 most viewed post on the blog is Homemade Pumpkin Puree. I had a whole crop of volunteer pie pumpkins in the garden this year, so I had to learn to make my own puree. I’ll never go back to canned! It tastes so fresh and it’s so versatile. Try the many other Cooking Ripe! pumpkin recipes, too.

Roasted Pumpkin Puree

2. The runner-up as the most viewed post is the Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup. I LOVE soup and LOVE orange food, and apparently my readers share my love of soup and orange since it was the second most popular post. This is a simple and creamy cold weather soup with a little ginger kick. Check out the other Cooking Ripe! soup lover recipes.

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

3. Number 3 is my personal favorite, as you can tell by its title: Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Pasta – the BEST pasta you’ll ever eat! Really. You have to try this recipe if you haven’t yet. I got an eggplant in my Bountiful Basket last time and I am thrilled to get to make this recipe again this week. The Hubs doesn’t even mind repeats of this one!

Roasted Eggplant Pasta

4. One would assume this next post would have been number 1 since it includes BACON! and everything is better with bacon, right? Caramelized Brussels Sprouts – with BACON! I try not to cook or eat it very often, but once in awhile you gotta live, right? Brussels sprout lovers and haters can unite to love this recipe, I promise!

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

5. Last, but certainly not least in the round-up of most viewed posts is the Southwestern Green Chile and Corn Potato Chowder. Yes, another soup made the list! This one is creamy and spicy without any heavy cream at all. This is a great recipe to use up your preserved roasted green chiles and warm up on a cool night.

Hatch Green Chile and Potato Corn Chowder

Remember, you can go to Cooking Ripe’s Recipe Index for a complete list of all of the recipes. Also, if you haven’t joined me on Pinterest yet, it’s high time! And, finally – like Cooking Ripe! on Facebook to stay up to date on all blog updates and other tasty tidbits. Stay tuned for a great new year of growing and cooking!

Thank you all for your support. Cheers to a delectable 2013!


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All Natural Dog Treats

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This post is dedicated to my best friends: my Basset Hounds, Daisy and Lola. They have become more than the family dogs; they are our children. They were both rescue dogs who found their forever homes with us and have lived long and happy spoiled lives with our family. Sadly, with long lives comes geriatric health issues. In mid-November, Daisy was diagnosed with Lymphoma and is not expected to have more than a few more months with us. While we were still adjusting to that sad news, Lola was diagnosed with a liver condition and she declined very quickly, so we said goodbye to her just last week.

Lola

Lola

Daisy

Daisy

So, in their honor, I write this post about making their homemade doggie treats. I make these about every two or three weeks and have meant to post the recipe and pictures, but just haven’t taken the time until now. I started making these when we realized that our cheaper dog food and treats were causing some digestion issues for both dogs, but especially Lola. I started reading about and buying healthier grain-free foods for them and then I found some recipes for dog treats and figured that if I made them, I would know what was in them and it would likely be less expensive than the store-bought fancy kind.

I use a version of the Woofies recipe found on the Kitchen Muse blog. I add carrots and usually use about 1/2 white and 1/2 wheat flour. I have also used mashed sweet potatoes and spaghetti squash in place of the pumpkin when I had those leftovers. Dogs can eat many of our household veggies and fruits, but be careful as some are not safe. According to WebMd, we should NOT feed our dogs the following vegetables or fruits:

  • Avocados
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Grapes (or raisins)
  • Persimmons
  • Peaches
  • Plums

On the safer side, we can share these:

  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Banannas
  • Watermelon
  • Carrots
  • Green Beans
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • Cooked potato

Here’s how to make All Natural Dog Treats:

Since I do this every two weeks, I’m not fussy about ingredient amounts and I don’t worry about presentation (no, I don’t have the bone-shaped cookie cutter!). I’ll show you my no fuss, simple method.

Roughly chop up a couple of carrots. I was using up some late garden baby carrots, and left the peels on and some of the stringy roots because the hounds don’t care :).

All Natural Dog Treats

Spray your food processor bowl, lid, blade, etc. with some non-stick cooking spray. This is a sticky dough so this helps with cleaning up. Throw the carrots in the food processor with the blade attachment and give it a whirl or three. Alternately, you could grate the carrots for a finer consistency if you’re not sure your pooch is a carrot lover.

All Natural Dog Treats

Dump in the rest of the ingredients and turn on the processor and let it go until you have a soft dough ball. If it’s looking more wet and sticky than doughy, add more flour. If it’s super stiff, add a little more pumpkin or some water. You want to end up with something a little firmer than pie dough because you’re going to roll it out and don’t want it too sticky.

All Natural Dog Treats

Flour your workspace and roll out half of the dough. I don’t care if it’s symmetrical, I just care that it fits on the baking sheet. I learned that it’s easier to cut it into smaller pieces after I move it to the baking sheet.

All Natural Dog Treats

All Natural Homemade Dog Treats.

Then…..(I think I’m pretty genius to think of this one) I use a pizza cutter to slice it up into bite-sized pieces. Brilliant, right? Again, I’m so not fussy about size and shape – and neither are the pups. I don’t spread out the pieces or anything because they don’t really expand in the oven.

All Natural Homemade Dog Treats

I pop them in the oven for about 45 minutes. They are done when they are pretty hard. If they are softer, they won’t last in a container on the counter as long. If you cut yours larger, they may also take longer to harden. Admittedly, this batch went a little too long because I got distracted and left them in a little long, so they’re a little darker than usual. Daisy said she didn’t mind.

All Natural Homemade Dog Treats

Let them cool, snap the pieces apart and toss into a jar and you and poochie are all set!

All Natural Dog Treats:

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 3/4 cup flour (I use half white and half wheat) + a handful for rolling out dough
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (I usually have homemade in the freezer, but canned works also) – or sub sweet potato or squash puree
  • 2 TBSP peanut butter (I use crunchy)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Non-stick cooking spray (optional)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray food processor parts with non-stick spray for easier clean up later.

2. Rough chop carrots, then place in food processor with blade attachment. Whirl for a few seconds until carrots are finely diced.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and process until a firm dough ball forms. Add flour or pumpkin/water to mixture as needed to get to the desired consistency.

4. Place half the mixture on a well-floured surface, then roll out to about 1/2 inch thickness. Transfer rolled dough to a baking sheet. Use a floured pizza cutter or sharp knife to slice the dough into about 1 inch pieces.

5. Repeat with the second half of the mixture, placing onto a second baking sheet.

6. Bake for about 45 minutes until pieces are hardened. Cool, then snap pieces apart and place in air-tight container.

Your pup will ADORE you even more now! Mine know when I’m making these now and hover about my feet while I’m mixing up the dough. Lola used to be against carrots, but once she got used to the carrots in the treats – because they were TREATS – she decided she liked them and I added them periodically to her food, too. Pumpkin is good for digestion – in people and dogs – so if your pooches have delicate stomachs, these treats may help settle them when they get indigestion.

For other doggie treat recipes, check out my “Doggies” board on Pinterest.

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Easy Vegetable Stock

Homemade Vegetable Stock

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One of my favorite ways to prevent food waste, save money and improve the nutritional value of my recipes is to make my own homemade vegetable stock. If you’re like me, you buy cans or cartons of veg and/or chicken stock to have on hand to make soup, stews and other recipes. I like to use both in place of water to add flavor to all sorts of thing including rice, quinoa, potatoes and other veggies and when cooking meat. But, it seems that a lot of those prepared stocks contain loads of sodium and a lot of those other unpronounceable chemicals so they’re not as wholesome as we might think. Yes, there are some nice organic varieties, but they are usually pretty spendy, so why not make it a home using our own leftovers?

It’s so simple, I can’t believe I wasn’t doing it sooner. I wish I could take credit for the simple idea, but I learned it from this post on Simple Bites.  I follow her quickie version and make a new batch of stock about once a month.

I compost a lot of my kitchen waste, but sometimes my compost pile can’t keep up with my new scraps, so I learned to keep some large freezer bags in my extra freezer. Each time I cook and have some veg scraps, I set them aside as I’m chopping and cooking, then I throw them in the freezer bag. I usually wait until I have about three full bags and then I split the scraps between two of my dutch ovens. I fill the pots with water and then bring to a boil, then simmer on the stove for about an hour or so.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Homemade Vegetable Stock

After the stock cools, I strain it using coffee filters in my colander (cheesecloth also works) and then container it for the freezer (and I must reserve some for pouring over the Hounds’ food, also).

This is Daisy, my best sous chef

This is Daisy, my best sous chef

Since I use different quantities of stock for various recipes, I freeze it in a variable quantities. I have used ice trays for when I need just a little stock, like to saute some veggies or to add a few spoonfuls to sauce or gravy. I also use muffin tins to make cup sized quantities. I use those to add to rice, quinoa, couscous, and some pastas.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Finally, I freeze larger quantities in quart-sized mason jars, or large plastic yogurt containers (usually about 32 oz). The larger quantities are perfect for soup and stews and anytime you want to boil something but add more flavor than using plain water. I LOVE making mashed potatoes by boiling the potatoes in veg stock or chicken broth. All kinds of extra flavor! When I use the ice cube trays or muffin tins, I freeze in the trays then pop them out and put them all in a large freezer bag. Then I just grab a hunk of stock from the freezer as needed.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

What kind of scraps to save for stock:

  • Stems and ends of any veggie – think of all the parts you cut off and discard from veggies like carrots, zucchini, onions, greens, etc.
  • Veggie peels, from vegetables like potatoes, carrots, eggplant, etc. (be sure to thoroughly wash before peeling so you don’t end up with gritty stock)
  • Herb stems – fresh or dried both work well
  • Seeds and inside “goop” removed from pumpkins and squash

I try to ensure that I end up with a good variety of veg parts when I put them into my pots to boil, so if one vegetable is a little bitter, like eggplant, another one will balance it with some sweetness, like carrots or sweet potatoes. The addition of leftover herb stems really pumps up the flavor of the stock like no store-bought kind you’ve had. I also personally like to ensure there are some tomato and potato parts in my stock – I’m not sure why, but I just think the stock needs those basic flavors.

Tomato canning waste made a nice stock ingredient

Tomato canning waste made a nice stock ingredient

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Leftover parts from roasted pumpkins went in my stock recently

Inner strings and seeds from roasted acorn squash is now veg stock

Inner strings and seeds from roasted acorn squash is now veg stock

The boiled waste can still be composted, if desired, so you’ll be getting double duty from those scraps – cool, right?

I hope you’ll give the homemade stock trick a try. It really doesn’t take much extra time because you can boil it while you’re doing other kitchen duties, then you just have to strain and store it. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get a little charge out of making it yourself instead of buying it because you’ll know exactly what’s in it and you’ll know you took a little time to make something healthy and yummy for your family.

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Homemade Fresh Italian Salad Dressing

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Tis the season for over indulgence so it’s really hard to remember to eat some healthy food occasionally. It’s also really tough to slow down long enough to make a balanced meal. But, with a little planning and some simple recipes, we can maintain some semblance of a healthy diet through the holiday season. Really! Here’s an easy dressing recipe to make and use all week long.

I always thought there was some sort of secret voodoo involved in making fresh salad dressing. I don’t know why I thought it was difficult, but it seemed like something that was unnecessarily complicated when there’s an entire aisle in the grocery store devoted to the bottled stuff – and a lot of healthy bottled varieties at that. My opinion on those bottled dressings totally changed this summer when I started trying some homemade dressings.

I had such a bumper crop of fresh lettuce I HAD to get creative with it. I figured I couldn’t afford to buy a bunch of different dressings to top our plethora of greens, so I better learn to make some homemade versions. I also had some fresh herbs from the garden and also from my Bountiful Baskets, so I decided to dive in and give it a spin. I’ll never go back. Well, I tried when I was too lazy to make some dressing for a salad one night. YUCK. It just is not the same. All those…extra preservatives really do change the flavor of the whole salad.

One of my favorites this Martha Stewart recipe for Fresh Italian Dressing. I keep the basic recipe, but fiddle with the herbs and the amounts a little. The trick is in the preparation, which isn’t hard, but just something you may not know if you haven’t made your own dressing before.

Here’s how:

Gather your ingredients, so they’re all handy to make the process super quick. Start by chopping your garlic and fresh herbs. The original recipe calls for basil, oregano and marjoram. I never have fresh marjoram, so I use thyme instead. I would imagine that any kitchen herb, except maybe mint or cilantro, would work with this dressing, so don’t worry if you don’t have exactly these herbs. Can you use dry herbs instead of fresh? Sure, but use one teaspoon of dried herbs for one tablespoon of fresh herbs and know that it may not end up with the amazingly fresh taste that the fresh herbs create. Still, it will be better than the bottled stuff, so go for it. As always, I’m not that precise in my measurements with the herbs and it doesn’t seem to matter.

Left to right: thyme, garlic, oregano, basil

Next, whisk the vinegar with the garlic, sugar, mustard, pepper flakes and salt & pepper. Let’s pause and talk about the whisk itself. I bought this cool springy whisk at a yard sale recently and it’s quickly become one of my favorite kitchen tools. It is the perfect thing to get a great emulsification going with a salad dressing.

In a separate bowl, whisk the two oils together. I always feel like it’s more oil than I need, so I have cut down on both by equal amounts and it’s worked out fine, also.

Vinegar mixture on left; oil mixture on right

Ok, here’s the part you want to pay attention to because it’s the one critical step! Emulsification. Martha explains that’s when you suspend the oil in the vinegar. This happens when you slowly add the oil into the vinegar while you whisk away. If you just dump, it won’t do that suspension thing, so take a minute and slowly pour and whisk and then BAM! Emulsification happens!

Finally, whisk in the herbs and viola, it’s dressing! I like to let it sit for a few hours, if possible, before serving because it allows the flavors to develop more completely.

I make dressing so often now that I invested in this little cruet that I found on Ebay to store it. Isn’t it cute?

Homemade Fresh Italian Dressing

Yield: about 1 1/3 cup

Ingredients (directly from original recipe):

  • Two small garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • 2 tsp dried mustard
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh marjoram (I used thyme), finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

Directions:

  1. Chop fresh herbs and mince garlic.
  2. in a small, but deep bowl, combine and whisk together vinegar with mustard, red pepper flakes, sugar, 1.5 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and garlic.
  3. In another small bowl, whisk together the two oils.
  4. Slowly drizzle the oil into the vinegar mixture, whisking continuously until all ingredients are well combined.
  5. Whisk in the herbs.

Serve immediately, or let sit for a few hours while flavors marry. Refrigerate for up to one 1 week (I have gone longer, but that’s Martha’s suggested shelf life). Be sure to give it a vigorous shake before serving.

Notes for next time:

As I mentioned above, I use less oil than called for and it works out fine. If you don’t think you’ll use up the dressing within a week, try halving the recipe. I have also added a little lemon juice to brighten it up a bit. I think I tried balsamic vinegar once and it was also very good. Otherwise, I really like this dressing as is.

The fresh herbs with the oil and vinegar really are so spectacular. You won’t believe how much tastier your salad is with a fresh dressing on top. I also like to use Italian dressing when cooking veggies. Instead of just drizzling in some olive oil when sauteing or roasting, drizzle on this dressing for more flavor. Imagine tossing some fresh tomatoes in this dressing and then roasting it in the oven. Oh my!

See my Dips, Dressings and Sauces board on Pinterest for more fresh dressings.

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Caramelized Brussels Sprouts – with BACON!

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Today was a Bountiful Basket day, which is always a good day. I get so excited to see what arrives on the truck. Today’s haul was really exceptional because it included a few things I haven’t tried to cook with yet: water chestnuts and spaghetti squash. I’ll keep you posted on how those work out, but while I was helping at the pick-up site, I heard several people grumbling that they were not excited about the very large bag of Brussels sprouts we were getting.

Why, oh why can’t we get past the sprout hating, people? Just because grandma boiled them to death and made you eat those slimy things, doesn’t mean they are inherently yucky.

After all, they’re just mini cabbages – do you like cabbage? Ok, if you said yes, then you like Brussels sprouts. The end.

I know my fellow Bountiful Basketeers are scrambling to find recipes to try with their bag o’ sprouts, so I thought I better get this one posted ASAP.

I like Brussels best when they are crispy, and while I have oven roasted them in a few different ways (see Crispy Parmy Sprouties), I haven’t tried them on the stove-top before tonight. Since the oven was busy making a meatloaf (yeah, my carnivorous husband insisted I feed him meat “for a change”), I decided to make some skillet sprouts. I was hoping to attain some crispiness, so I opted for a caramelizing technique…and to do that, I did something I almost never do: I used BACON. Only two strips, though!

The result was just what I wanted: crispy, tasty, salty and savory. Mhmmm…I can pretty much guarantee that your whole family will jump on-board the Brussels flavor train with this recipe. You can’t go wrong when you’re cooking with bacon, right?

Here’s what I did:

Slice up about half an onion – more or less to suit your tastes. Place two slices of bacon in the skillet set to medium heat. After it cooks for a few minutes, add the onions. Keep the heat to medium, or medium-low, so they don’t cook to fast.

Quarter the Brussels by slicing them lengthwise. I started with about 10 large sprouts.

When the bacon is cooked through, but not crispy, remove from the skillet so it doesn’t overcook. Chop it up to add back to the skillet later.

Add the quartered sprouts to the pan and continue cooking on medium-low heat. Depending on how much bacon grease remains in the pan, you might need to add some extra virgin olive oil to the pan. My bacon wasn’t very thick, so I needed to add a good drizzle. I probably left my skillet cooking for about 20 minutes. It’s important not to rush the cooking, or they’ll end up cooked on the outside and still hard and uncooked on the inside. Stir occasionally.

Once your onions and sprouts start getting that happy caramel brown color, go ahead and add the bacon pieces back in. Once the bacon is crisp and the sprouts are sufficiently caramelized (dark golden brown), they are done and ready to eat!

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts – with Bacon!

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 10-14 fresh Brussels sprouts, quartered
  • ½ large onion, sliced
  • 2 slices of bacon
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat skillet to medium heat. Add bacon, then onions after a few minutes.
  2. Quarter the Brussels sprouts, lengthwise.
  3. When bacon is cooked through, but not yet crispy, remove from pan and chop up, reserving for later.
  4. Add Brussels to skillet and continue cooking over medium-low heat. Add a drizzle or two of olive oil, as needed, depending on amount of bacon grease remaining in the pan. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Once onions and Brussels turn a dark golden brown (about 20 minutes), add the bacon back into the pan and cook until it crisps up.
  6. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Notes for next time:

The Hubs and I were pretty pleased with how these turned out, so I wouldn’t change much. I did think that it might have been pretty to add some carrots, which would also taste great with bacon and onions. Another idea: instead of bacon, you might use diced ham and make it more of a skillet meal.

Simple, right? I do feel a little bad about the bacon, but it was only two slices – and, honestly, it would have been fine with only one slice. I am pretty certain that even the sprout haters will like this recipe, so give it go and see how it goes over at your dinner table.

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See my Brussels Sprouts board on Pinterest for more sprout recipes.


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Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup – orange you ready for some soup??

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I love orange veggies! Pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, sweet orange peppers, butternut squash….mmmhhhmmm. They all inspire images of cozy Fall evenings by a fireplace. Comfort. Fall is in the air here in SW Colorado. The nights are cooling off enough to force us to close some windows at bedtime and when we drove up to Telluride this weekend, we saw that the leaves are turning crispy golden colors already.

Another sign that Fall is upon us is that the Hubs has a cold. That’s the downside of the season change, right? I’m fending it off, so far, but I feel some sniffles coming on, too. So Fall is arriving and we’re a little sickly, so that means it’s soup season! I adore making soup. There is something so wholesome and satisfying about mixing up a batch of comforting soup and letting it simmer quietly on the stove. I think one of the first real scratch cooking recipes I made was soup – Tuscan bean soup, I believe, and I was amazed how simple it was to make and how yum-o it was to eat.

The Hubs requested chicken soup over the weekend and we finished it last night, so I wanted another soup recipe for tonight. My kitchen is overflowing with veggies from the garden and from my most recent Bountiful Baskets haul, so I assessed what I had and started my daily trolling of Pinterest for  ideas. I found it: carrot soup! I have tons of my own garden carrots and also two packages from Bountiful Baskets. I’ve never made carrot soup, but I have made pumpkin soup and it sounded similar – and it’s orange! YAY! My inspiration recipes are from Basket 411 (which I’m glad I found because it’s all about using Bountiful Basket produce) and from Food 52. I stole borrowed a few ideas from both and made my own version tonight.

It turns out that I got to combine the carrots with another orange veg: sweet potato (or yam)! Orange squared!

Secret ingredient: sweet potato!

So here’s what you do:

Start by peeling and chopping up about 6-10 carrots into bite-sized pieces. Personally, I only peel my carrots if I can’t get all of the dirt out of the nooks and crannies because you lose a lot of nutrients by peeling. You need to wind up with about four cups of chopped carrots. I have some very large, odd looking carrots from my garden, so my quantity of carrots to start was only about 4, plus a couple of normal carrots.

This is what happens when your carrots get “uneven watering” and you don’t thin them enough – freaky carrots!

Chop up carrots into bite-sized pieces measuring about 4 cups

Next, peel and dice one sweet potato (or yam) and toss into a bowl with the chopped carrots. Peel a few cloves of garlic and add to the bowl. Pour about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil over the mixture and gently toss to coat all veggies in the EVOO.

Combine carrots, sweet potato, garlic and EVOO

If this process sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s basically the same process described in my post about roasting cherry tomatoes. Yep, we’re going to roast these veggies before we throw them in the soup. Roasting brings out all kinds of flavorful yum in veggies and since it’s cooling off, we don’t mind having the oven on for awhile.

Dump the mixture onto a jelly roll pan (rimmed baking pan) and spread veggies into a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes until largest pieces are very tender. If they begin to scorch, move to lower rack or reduce heat to about 400. Each oven is different, so adjust accordingly.

Dump veggies onto baking sheet and spread into a single layer

Roast at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes until largest pieces are very tender. Be sure to taste test to be sure.

While the orange veggies are roasting in the oven, caramelize an onion in your soup pot. The roasting and caramelizing both take about 20-30 minutes, so do other kitchen chores while they’re working.

Caramelize an onion while the orange veggies roast

When the orange veggies are roasted, pour in some vegetable stock to deglaze the soup pot before adding veggies.

Sidebar: speaking of veggie stock, you should make your own! Really! It’s super simple and it’s healthier than the commercially processed kind. Plus, you’ll always have some on hand when you need it. See my method for Easy Vegetable Stock here.

Freeze veg stock in muffin tins then store in big baggies for easy use

I used about 2.5 cups of stock, but I like a thicker, heartier soup. If you like a thinner soup, use more stock. You can also add more after you puree it to get the desired texture. Bring stock and onions to a medium boil.

Dump the roasted veggies in the pot and add the ginger and thyme, with a little more salt and pepper. I decided we needed a little acid to counteract the sweetness of the roasted veggies and caramelized onions, so I added about two or three heaping spoons of my roasted tomato mixture from the fridge. If you don’t have roasted tomatoes, just chop up a couple of tomatoes and throw them in the pot. You cold also use about half a can of diced tomatoes, drained.

Combine the rest of the ingredients and let simmer on low for at least 10 minute or longer

Next, add the other secret ingredient: Worcestershire sauce. I know: weird, right? I don’t even know what’s in the stuff (no, I don’t  want to know), but I swear by it in soups and stews. Adding it increases the richness of the soup exponentially. I only use a quick glug or two, but it makes all the difference. Trust me.

Finally, chop the parsley and add to the pot. Once all of the ingredients are in, simmer covered on low for at least 10 minutes to allow all of the flavors to get happy and dancing together. I believe soup must simmer and you must be able to smell from outside your front door before it’s “done.”

To finish, you need to puree it. You can use a blender or food processor, but you’ll need to cool it to warm before doing so or it blows the lid off. Also, don’t overload the container; process in batches. I am lucky enough to own an immersion blender (and I highly recommend you invest in one, too), so I just buzz it around the pot until I get the right texture. The Hubs  and I like some chunkiness to out soup, so I leave it pretty thick and don’t blend down all of the pieces (though I do try to get the garlic pieces all pureed in). Add water or more stock if you want a thinner consistency.

Puree the soup to the desired texture, adding water or stock to thin if needed

Return pot to stove and reheat until hot. Simmer a little longer, or serve immediately.

Simmer pureed soup on low or serve immediately

Garnish with whatever you like and have on hand. Some toasted nuts or pumpkin seeds would be lovely. Or, some cilantro or green onions would be good. I meant to add green onions, but the Hubs arrived and I got distracted and forgot. Crusty bread or toast makes a great dipping tool (too bad we finished the baguette with the chicken soup). Cuddle up under a flannel blankie by the fire and enjoy your orange soup!

Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chopped carrots (about 6-10 carrots)
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 4-5 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (canola would also work)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 onion, sliced (preferably yellow)
  • 2-3 cups vegetable stock (could sub chicken broth)
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger (fresh is best, but I only had some in a jar)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2-3 heaping Tbsp roasted tomato mixture (or 2 chopped tomatoes, or 1/2 can diced tomatoes, drained)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 1-2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Garnish (optional): nuts or seeds, green onions or cilantro

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine diced carrots, sweet potato and garlic in a medium bowl. Toss withe EVOO to coat all veggies.
  3. Dump mixture on a jelly roll pan (rimmed baking sheet) and spread into a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Roast in over for 20-30 minutes until the largest pieces are very tender.
  5. Meanwhile, caramelize the sliced onions in a large soup pot (see caramelizing instructions here).
  6. Deglaze the soup pot with a little veggie stock, then add another 2 cups of stock. Reserve the remaining stock to add as needed during the puree process.
  7. Bring soup to a medium boil, and add ginger and thyme and a little more salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Add remaining ingredients.
  9. Simmer on a low heat for about 10 minutes.
  10. Puree in blender or food processor (cool to warm, then puree in batches) or using an immersion blender. Blend to desired consistency, adding stock if needed.
  11. Return to stove and reheat until hot.
  12. Garnish with nuts or seeds, green onions or cilantro.

Notes for next time:

I like spicy food, but since the Hubs has a sore throat, I didn’t spice this recipe with anything other than the garlic and onions. Next time  I would add some red pepper flakes or a little curry powder or paste to heat it up. I also might try using basil rather than parsley and I might add a little red wine to the soup. Another thought is to toss  a little balsamic vinegar with the veggies before roasting. I also thought out adding some roasted corn after pureeing the rest of the soup. The Hubs liked his soup, but required a grilled cheese sandwich on the side to feel satisfied after a long day of working while sick 🙂 I was full after my bowl.

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Mexican Zucchini Succotash (Calabacitas)

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It’s that time of year when squash is taking over our gardens, kitchens and every other available corner of our lives. It’s great that it’s so easy to grow, but after you’ve made 88 loaves of zucchini bread, it’s time to change things up a bit. Zucchini is a very versatile veg, so you can really put it in most any recipe and it’ll make a great addition. My friend Mary even made a zucchini cobbler for book club once and it was way yummy (it was actually sweet, not savory).

This is some of the squash that is currently hanging around in my kitchen

I have a speedy weeknight, one-pot wonder of a zucchini meal for you that the whole fam will devour. When I first started growing zucchini, my husband kept talking about something his mom used to make with zucchini, corn and cheese. He called it calavacitas, but in doing some research, it looks like calabacitas and calvacitas are the same basic dish – each family just has their own way to say it. The beauty of it all is that there are many versions of the old-school dish, so we can tweak it however we want!

I also use the zucchini, corn and a little cheese, but I add a few more ingredients to make it more of a main dish. I use chicken as the protein, but you could swap that out for pork, ground beef, or shrimp – or you could leave it out and make it a vegetarian meal instead. It is really fast to throw together and it’s one of those recipes where you can sub out any ingredient you don’t have for one you do have and get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Simple one pot Mexican Succotash!

Start by dicing the chicken into bite-sized pieces. I used some chicken tenders (about 3) I had in the freezer, but you could use breasts or boneless, skinless thighs also. The meat is easier to dice if it is still about half frozen.

I buy a large package of chicken tenders when they’re on sale and then freeze smaller portions to pull out as needed.

While you’re dicing the chicken, heat a large saute pan to medium heat. When hot, add a few swirls of EVOO and let it heat up. Add 3-4 cloves of minced garlic to the pan and cook for a minute – be careful not to scorch it as burned garlic tastes really bitter.  Chop up about a quarter (or more, if you like!) of an onion and add to the garlic.

Add garlic to taste: I used 3 cloves

Now add the corn. If you have fresh corn on the cob, just slice it off the cob straight into the pan. I used two cobs in mine.

Once the corn gets a little sear on it, place the diced chicken in the pan, along with some salt and pepper. Sprinkle in about a 1/2 tsp each of cumin and Mexican oregano. Stir and simmer over medium heat.

I have a lot (a ton) of these little green peppers – we think they’re Sandias – so I chopped up a few and threw them into the pan. You could use bell peppers or whatever type of pepper you might have on hand – or just skip if you don’t.

We received a mystery pepper plant from a friend that we think is a Sandia pepper and it’s very productive, so I threw some in for some flavor.

Next, add some chopped tomatoes, and/or salsa. I had some (or about a thousand) cherry tomatoes and some fresh salsa so I added some of both. Use what you have on hand. If you think you’ll need a little more heat, throw in some red pepper flakes.

Throw in some tomatoes and/or some salsa and let it all simmer together until the chicken is fully cooked and tomatoes are softening.

Then continue by chopping the zucchini (or yellow squash) – I used about two regular sized zuccs to feed two of us. Add more for a larger group (or to use up more of your harvest).

Slice the zucchini in half, then slice each half horizontally.

Repeat with the other half until you have quarters

Chop the quarters up into about 1/2″ slices

Add the zucc to the pan and stir into the mixture. Cover and simmer for about 3-5 minutes. Watch the zucc, though, because you don’t want to let it get overcooked and mushy.

Add the chopped zucc and cover. Simmer 3-4 minutes.

At this point, your meal is complete – well, the Hubs says it’s not complete until you add the cheese! He likes a lot of cheese all mixed up and melted in the pan, but since I’m on the healthy kick, I shred a little on the side so we can each add as much or as little cheese as we like.

I had some sharp cheddar and some Monterrey Jack cheese on hand; use what you have, or skip if you prefer no cheese

Garnish with some green onions and/or cilantro and you’re ready to eat!

Can it get any simpler than that? If you have other veggies you need to use up, go ahead and throw them into the pot as well. I think some diced potatoes or some green beans would be a happy addition – and would add a little more bulk if you’re trying to stretch the meal a little further. I could also see beans – maybe pinto or black – rounding it out nicely, as well. You could also wrap it up in a corn or flour tortilla to make it more kid friendly or portable.

Mexican Zucchini Succotash

Servings: 2-3

  • 2-3 medium sized zucchini, diced
  • Diced chicken (2-3 tenders/thighs/1 large breast) – or similar quantity of pork, ground beef or shrimp
  • 1/4 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Sandia peppers (or 1/2 bell pepper), diced, seeds removed
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
  • Corn – 2-3 fresh cobs or 1 small can drained or 1 cup frozen
  • Tomatoes, diced (1 handful cherry or two regular) and/or 2 Tbsp salsa (optional)
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup grated cheese (optional)
  • Red pepper flakes (optional – to taste)
  • Salt and pepper + 2 Tbsp EVOO

Directions:

1. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of EVOO to lightly coat the bottom of pan.

2. Add garlic, saute for 1 minute then add onions. Saute on medium heat, stirring occasionally.

3. Remove corn from the cob and place in pan with garlic and onions.

4. Stir cumin and oregano, along with salt and pepper into the mixture.

5. Once corn is beginning to sear, add diced chicken to the pan.

6. Let the chicken begin to brown and then stir in tomatoes and/or salsa. Let simmer until chicken is no longer pink. (If you’re using shrimp, add the tomatoes, allow to cook five minutes then add shrimp with zucchini, making sure they are cooked through (pink) before removing from heat.)

7. Add diced zucchini, cover and cook 3-5 minutes until zucchini is tender but not mushy.

8. Remove pan from heat and stir in cheese, if including it – or use as topping for individual portions. Garnish with green onions, cilantro and red pepper flakes to taste.

Notes for next time: The Hubs liked this version of his childhood favorite and endorsed the addition of the chicken. He said I made it a little spicy for him (perfect for me), so taste before adding extra heat with peppers. I will make with shrimp next time (when I’m home alone) because the Hubs is weird about shrimp mixed into other food – he likes it on the side (??). Otherwise, I might also add some beans next time.

I would love to hear your spin on this old, new again classic.

Need other zucchini recipes (who doesn’t?)? See my squash board on Pinterest.

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