Perfectly Satisfying Pumpkin Soup

The first time I ever heard of pumpkin soup, my knee jerk reaction was, “Ewe, pumpkin soup???” And then I tasted it. It was delicious. Nothing warms the heart and soul like soup does, and it sure hits the spot on a cold winter day. Especially when it’s snowing outside, which it did for three days straight last week, giving me the perfect opportunity to putter around my kitchen.

I had a can of pumpkin in my pantry that had been staring me in the face for months, and it was time to set it free. I found a recipe for pumpkin soup in an old cookbook, and true to form, I used my ninja skills to cut the bad stuff and include some healthier options, like decreasing the amount of butter and substituting the whole milk (ack!) for unsweetened almond milk. It was delicious! And, here it is, the debut of my Perfect Pumpkin Soup.

1 TBS butter

1 medium-large onion, chopped

1 16 oz can pumpkin puree

1 10 oz can chicken broth

3 cups unsweetened almond milk

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp white pepper

In a large saucepan, heat butter over medium heat. Saute onions until tender. Stir in remaining ingredients, and heat just to boiling, stirring constantly. BOOM, that’s all there is to it. It was fabulous! Just for grins I added a small amount of spicy Italian sausage left over from the night before. All I can say is “yum!” This is now my go to soup for the next few months, or at least until it stops snowing, whichever comes first. Enjoy!

Sunshine Beet Salad

I love beets. My husband, not so much. But I don’t know what to do with them when I buy them. Until recently, when I found myself at a Farmer’s Market looking at a beautiful basket of yellow beets. They seemed to be calling my name, and since my husband wasn’t around to stop me, I bought a small bunch.

When I caught up with my husband, he asked me what I had in the bag. I avoided his eyes. “Beets,” I muttered. He got a very guarded look on his face before he asked the obvious question.

“And what are you going to do with them?” “Darned if I know,” I replied. But I knew I’d think of something, or these lovely golden beauties would end up like all of the other beets I buy. Shriveled up in the compost.

I didn’t want that to happen, so I did some research when I got home, collected a few ideas, made my own special changes, (of course), and viola! A fresh salad with beets that even my husband loves. I call it my Sunshine Beet Salad, because I swear, when my husband ate it, I saw the light!

 

Sunshine Beet Salad

2 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP red wine vinegar

2 TBSP lemon juice

Sea salt and ground pepper to taste

3 small golden beets

1 16 oz bag fresh baby spinach

1/4 cup diced red onions

1/2 cups toasted slivered almonds

Whisk together the first 4 ingredients. Peel and thinly slice the beets. You can use a mandoline, but the little ninja in me really loves holding sharp objects like a knife. Besides, I had a bad experience once with a mandoline, but I digress. Toss the beets with the dressing and refrigerate for an hour or two. The vinaigrette will tenderize the beets. Toss with the baby spinach and red onion. Sprinkle with almonds just before serving. For an interesting twist, try adding a small amount of feta cheese on top. In Cheryl’s Kitchen, the rules are there are no rules. Especially when it comes to beets. Enjoy!

Peachy Keen

Ahhhh, it’s late summer and in Colorado its Palisade peach harvest time. If you’ve never had a Palisade peach you just don’t know what you’re missing. The hot days and cool nights of Colorado make it a perfect growing environment for these delectable delights, making them sweet, juicy, and delicious.

However, the harvest season is short, so I have a tendency to over-purchase. As a result, a lot of my peaches are sacrificed. What a waste! A few days ago I looked at my huge box of peaches, some of which were already starting to over-ripen, and I decided to try my hand at freezing some of them.

Looking online, I found several different methods for freezing peaches, some including adding (ack!) sugar and/or artificial preservatives. Nuh-uh. Not for my peaches! They should be treated with the dignity and purity in which they were grown.

So, true to form, I used my ninja skills to choose steps from several different recipes, cut out what I didn’t like and kept what made sense to me. And I came up with one that I could live with. It was actually less work and much easier than I thought it would be, which is why I have a freezer full of peaches to help me get through the long, cold winter. And why I’m going out to buy more.

Here’s my ninja secret freezing technique. However, if you are not using Palisades, you might want to add sugar according to taste. Just saying. Nothing is more disappointing than a sour (or mealy) peach.

Boil water in a large pot. Place ice water in a large bowl, including ice cubes to keep it cold. Make a small cut at the bottom of each peach in the shape of an x. Boil the peaches a small batch at a time for 30 seconds, them remove and cool in the ice water. Gently rub the skin to peel the peaches. I save the skins and put them in the compost bin.

Slice the peaches over a large, shallow bowl to capture the juice as you slice them. Add about 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and toss the peach slices to coat with the lemon juice. Save the juice to use later for syrups, cooking, ice cream, yogurt, etc.

Put the peach slices on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. To remove the frozen slices, lift the parchment paper off of the baking sheet. Then it’s easy to peel them off without taking the paper with them. Place them in freezer bags or other appropriate containers, store them in the freezer, and VIOLA! Peaches all year round!

Which does beg the question….why did it take me so long to try this?

Fabulous Frozen Dessert

I’m not a huge fan of desserts, but lately I have been craving a frozen dessert that my mother used to make when my sisters and I were a lot younger, and before we worried about silly things like our weight. I didn’t have the recipe, but fortunately one of my sisters did. Yay! Frozen dessert time!

Then I looked at the ingredients. Sour cream, maraschino cherries, canned pineapple, and Cool Whip, just to name a few. YIKES! So, I used my ninja knives and a few ninja skills to cut out the bad stuff and see if I could make this delicious dessert more palatable to my health-conscious mind.

Substituting Greek yogurt for sour cream, whipped coconut cream for Cool Whip, and using fresh cherries and pineapple worked like a ninja hiding in plain sight. Oh, and I completely eliminated the sugar to complete this fabulous frozen dessert.

Ingredients:

1 14 oz can coconut cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pint Fage Fat-Free Greek yogurt

4 diced bananas

1 cup fresh pitted cherries (yes, it makes a heck of a mess, but it’s well worth it)

1 cup diced fresh pineapple

1 cup fresh blueberries

1 cup chopped walnuts

Start with making the coconut whipped cream:

Refrigerate the can of coconut cream. You can also use coconut milk, but I prefer the cream. Leave it in the refrigerator overnight so the cream rises to the top.

An hour before making the whipped cream, chill a metal mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer. Carefully open the can of coconut cream, making sure you don’t shake the contents. Scoop the solids and place in chilled bowl.

Beat the coconut cream with an electric mixer (I’m thinking your arm would fall off if you tried to do it by hand, unless you have some serious anger issues you want to work through). Start on medium speed and then turn to high. Beat until peaks form, about 8 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat 1 minute longer. You can also add sugar if you want to, but trust me on this. The fruit adds enough sweetness.

Mix together.

Mix the coconut whipped cream and the yogurt until smooth and well blended. Gently fold in the fruit and nuts. After folding ingredients, place in a container and freeze. You can use a freezer safe baking dish, individual custard cups, or foil cupcake liners. Let them set at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!!

Summertime…..and The Grilling Is Easy

Ahhhh….summertime, and the living is easy. And so is the grilling. I don’t know about you, but I do get a little bored with burgers and steaks on the grill. Sometimes I want (and need) something that’s lighter, but still tasty and satisfying.

Fish on the grill is always an option, but let’s face it–living in Denver makes us a bit land-locked, and finding fresh fish choices is a challenge. And, since my husband and I don’t grill it very often, we never get it right. Which leaves me cooking it in the oven, and NOT something I want to do in the heat of the summer. Presuming, of course, that summer will eventually get here. A significant concern, since we got over 2 feet of snow in the high country on the first day of summer.

However, a few weeks ago I hit a home run. And here it is….grilled rock fish and asparagus. Light, tasty, and oh, so satisfying! It is now one of our go-to recipes. Even if my husband is still grilling in the snow.

1 pound rock fish filets

2 TBSP fresh lemon juice

2 TBSP butter

2 TBSP capers

1 tsp fresh dill

salt and pepper to taste

1 bunch asparagus (Use the bigger spears. The slender ones do not grill well, and that is the understatement of the century.)

2 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP fresh lemon juice

sea salt to taste

Lightly salt and pepper the rock fish and place on aluminum foil to grill. Be careful not to overcook. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Add lemon juice, capers, and dill. Stir well. Dribble over the cooked fish.

Cut the asparagus spears in halves or thirds and place in a large bowl. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, ans sea salt to taste. Place on aluminum foil to grill.

Ta-Da! That’s it. Fast, simple, easy, light, healthy, delicious, and a perfect summertime dinner. Enjoy!

Real Men DO Eat Quiche

Real men do eat quiche. Or, at least mine does. He absolutely loves it, and so do I. My ex-BFF always made asparagus quiche every time she had us over for brunch, because my husband loved it so much. It was good, but the rich crust and heavy cream in the filling sat in my stomach like a brick for days, not to mention what it did to my hips.

A long time ago a friend introduced me to a “crustless quiche” recipe she found in a Fannie Farmer cookbook. It included cottage cheese, frozen spinach (yuk!), and just a few other mundane ingredients. However, melted butter formed a lovely crust as it baked. Mmmmmm, butter. Now you’re talking!

For years it was my go-to quiche recipe. But, it just didn’t seem very healthy or nutritious. Go figure. So, I used my stealthy ninja skills to cut, draw, and re-arrange a few things. I added fresh vegetables and the results were short of miraculous.

Then, for good measure (and because it is quiche, after all), I added the coup de gras—bacon! If you’re not a fan of bacon, you can use turkey bacon or just leave it out entirely so it is a vegetarian dish. You may want to even play with a few variations of your own. Just in case you like to play with your food. So, here it is, my Best Quiche Ever!

 

10 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp sea salt (I like the Himalayan sea salt, because it’s pretty.)

1/2 cup butter (melted)

1/2 cup flour

4 cups coarsely chopped fresh baby spinach

3 cups cooked butternut squash, mashed (Mashing things really helps with anger issues. Not that I would know).

2 cups shredded cheese of your choice (I use either cheddar or a blend of mild cheeses. Depends on my mood).

10 strips chopped cooked bacon (I buy the precooked kind. My late father would be horrified. Frying bacon was his forte in the kitchen).

10-12 spears fresh baby asparagus

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt the butter in a 9x13x2 baking dish, but I would prepare the batter first so the butter doesn’t burn. I learned that one the hard way. Beat the eggs (I do it by hand using a whisk, once again releasing any pent up aggression), mix in the flour, sea salt, and baking powder.

Add the spinach, squash, bacon, and cheese. Mix well. Melt the butter in the oven. Remove pan from oven, gently and carefully (another harsh lesson learned the hard way), add the batter to the pan. Evenly distribute the asparagus spears on top, gently pressing into the batter.

Return to the oven and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Reduce heat to 350 and cook for another 35-40 minutes. Stand 5 minutes to set before serving. This is great paired with French Bread, my Hallelujah Kale Salad, and a light white wine. Enjoy!!

A Chicken In Every Pot

In 1928, Herbert Hoover promised the nation that there would be “a chicken in every pot” if he won. I love that idea, especially if it’s in my crock pot.

But I never could manage to cook a whole chicken in my crock pot. It always came out as a big mushy mess. It tasted okay, but the texture was horrible. And then I found a crock pot recipe for a “rotisserie” chicken.

When I read the recipe I did a mental head smack. I was cooking it way too long! No wonder why mine was a mushy mess. So, I tried the recipe and it was fabulous. Of course, true to form, I changed the ingredients around a bit. After all, blind obedience never was my forte.

I love chicken, not only because it is incredibly versatile, the health benefits of chicken is nothing to scratch at. (Sorry, bad chicken humor). I do cook (and eat) a lot of chicken. But I was recently banned from bringing chicken for lunch by a small group of vegans who were offended by my chicken.

How could you possibly be offended by a chicken? That poor bird never did anything to hurt anyone. Besides, it gave its life for me. The least we can do is show it some respect and appreciation. I know I always say a few words of thanksgiving before I eat it. I just make sure I say them silently so I don’t offend anyone.

I love chicken. I have one in my crock pot right now. I’m getting ready to download the 25 new recipes that showed up in my inbox this morning. I will raise a drumstick in salute to that noble bird. I might even break out into a rendition of the chicken dance. Because there really should be a chicken in every pot.

Major Mac and Cheese Makeover

I love comfort food. Who doesn’t? My favorite has got to be macaroni and cheese. Good old-fashioned, rich, creamy, gooey, stick-to-your-ribs (and to your hips) macaroni and cheese. It sure does hit the spot on a cold winter evening or when you feel you need some home-style cooking. But seriously, who needs all that extra fat and calories?

I spent years trying out recipes of “lightened up” mac and cheese. They sure did save on fat and calories, because they were so awful I couldn’t eat them. Maybe that was the intention all along. But I still wanted my mac and cheese. So, I used my stealthy ninja skills along with my sharp objects to cut down on the bad stuff and to sneak in some healthy additions as well.

By using high protein pasta, decreasing the amount of butter (but not eliminating it completely), using unsweetened almond milk instead of whole milk, substituting butternut squash for 1 cup of cheese, and tossing in baby spinach for good measure, I believe I finally nailed it. After many tried and true attempts, here is my Major Mac and Cheese Makeover.

16 ounces  Barilla Protein Plus penne pasta

2 TBSP butter

1/4 cup flour

1 tsp dry mustard

1 tsp white pepper

dash hot pepper sauce

2 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk

1 cup cooked butternut squash

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

3 cups chopped baby spinach

Spray a casserole dish with no-stick cooking spray. Cook the penne pasta according to directions, drain and place in the casserole dish. Add the chopped spinach and toss gently. In a medium saucepan,  melt butter. Stir in flour, mustard, pepper, and hot pepper sauce and blend until smooth. Mix the cooked butternut squash in a food processor with 1 cup of the almond milk and blend until completely smooth.

(Note: I buy the butternut squash already cubed in the produce section of the grocery store. I got tired of wrestling those bad boys and losing the fight. Guess my ninja knives aren’t as sharp as I think. Or my ninja skills).

Add the squash and almond milk mixture to the pan, and slowly add the remainder of the almond milk. Cook until the mixture boils, stirring constantly. Add the cheese and cook just until cheese is melted, stirring constantly. Pour mixture on top of pasta/spinach mix, cover and cook on 350 degrees for 1 hour. The results are a smooth, creamy, mild flavored, and oh-so-satisfying macaroni and cheese. Without the fat, calories, and the guilt.

Hallelujah Kale Salad

I have a love-hate relationship with kale. On the one hand, I love the incredible health benefits in this beautifully colorful but pungent vegetable. On the flip side, I don’t like to eat it. Period. End of discussion.

A few years ago, I used my stealthy ninja tricks to sneak more kale into my diet. I had started juicing, because I heard about the almost magical benefits of this latest dietary fad. One of my friends even assured me that her green juices gave her “super powers.” Hmmmmm….I thought to myself, who wouldn’t want that? And I started adding kale to my juices.

Since my martial arts class started at noon, it was always a challenge to figure out when to eat lunch. Eat too close to noon and you feel like you’re going to throw up. Which would certainly defeat your opponent, but there are better ways of doing that. Eat too early and you’re defeated by your own plummeting blood sugar. Having a freshly rendered juice before leaving for the dojo seemed to be the perfect solution.

Until the day when I was feeling exceptionally adventurous and put an entire bunch of kale in my juice before I ran out of the house to go to class. Class always began with a vigorous acrobatic warm up including a complex series of rolls, falls, cartwheels, etc.  After my first 2 rolls I realized I had made a serious error in judgment. I managed to keep it together (if you catch my drift) for the rest of the class, but I assure you, I never did that again!

Recently, a friend of mine shared her kale salad recipe with me. It involves “massaging” the kale to make it soft and tender. Always skeptical, I tried it in spite of my misgivings, figuring I could always put it in the composting if it was inedible. It was delicious! So good that I ate the entire bowl in one sitting, without the dire side effects I experienced from the kale juice. Halleluja! Kale really can be irresistible! So….here it is. My Hallelujah Kale Salad.

1 bunch green kale

1 ripe avocado

1 lemon

sea salt

Mash the avocado in a large bowl. Strip the leaves from the stem, tear into smaller pieces, and toss them into the bowl. Add the juice of half a freshly squeezed lemon and “massage” the ingredients together with your hand. Not only does it soften and tenderize the leaves as you work the avocado into the kale, it’s an awesome way to work out some anger issues. Not that I would know anything about that. (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes right now). Sprinkle sea salt to taste and mix together.

You might want to add a bit more lemon juice. I like things that are tart (like myself), so I actually use an entire lemon. During a creative streak, I tried adding ingredients like garbanzo beans, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, etc., but it didn’t quite work out. In this salad, the kale stands alone. Enjoy!

Bavarian Pork With Sauerkraut

I grew up in a home and with an ethnicity that relied heavily on sauerkraut for cooking. I even remember my dad drinking the juice directly from the jar, saying it was good for your health. Blech! Even though I did like sauerkraut as a kid, I really learned to love it as I got older. And luckily, I married a guy who loves it, too. Even if he is from the South. However, neither one of us will drink the juice. But I will cook with it.

I found this little gem of a recipe so long ago I can’t even remember where it came from. The original recipe calls for baking it in the oven, but I prefer cooking it in the crock pot, with a thin layer of the sauerkraut over the pork chops. I apologize in advance to my vegetarian and vegan friends. Having included that disclaimer, here ya go:

1# pork cops 1/4-1/2″ thick

salt and pepper to taste

2 C drained sauerkraut (Feel free to drink the juice and toast to my father’s memory).

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large apple, sliced thin

2 tsp brown sugar

2 TBSP chopped parsley

1 tsp allspice

Brown pork chops and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.  Toss the sauerkraut with the chopped onion, 1/2 of the apple slices, parsley,and  brown sugar. Place in a baking dish (or bottom of crock pot). Lay the pork chops on top with the remaining apple slices. Cover and bake at 350 for 1 hour, or cook on low for 8 hours in the crock pot.

This dish really hits the spot on a cold winter’s night. And my ancestor’s would be proud!