LOW CARB CREAMY CHICKEN & MUSHROOM SOUP WITH CAULIFLOWER RICE

Winter Wonderland

If you have been paying attention, some of the most popular buzz-words right now are wellness, self-care, and low-carb. Though, I admit, as I age I realize how important paying attention to all three are. While I have not jumped 100% on the “carbs are evil” bandwagon. One of my intentions for 2020 was to be mindful of creating a meal plan for myself that was lower in carbs.

A couple of years ago, like many people I have encountered, I was diagnosed with thyroid issues. To be specific, Hashimotos Disease, where my antibodies are attacking my thyroid. As if the fatigue and mood swings that come with thyroid issues were not enough, my body has also experienced stubborn weight gain that does not seem to want to leave.

Thus, I’ve tried many different techniques to give my metabolism a boost. Exercise definitely helps and I have found that eating lower carb, helps me feel better. While the scale still moves at a snail’s pace, I feel less bloated and have more energy. So I am going to continue to reduce and do my best to eliminate my intake of sugar, pasta, rice, potatoes, and bread.

I have always been a self-confessed late bloomer. Therefore, while people have been enjoying cauliflower rice, mashed cauliflower, and other low-carb versions of their favorite sides – I was not. Years ago I tried mashed cauliflower and enjoyed it – but sometimes it is difficult when you cook for a family to have to prepare two separate meals. So this year I decided I would try my best to adapt the recipes I make my family to low carb ones for myself (then it would not feel like I am making two separate meals). For example, recently while preparing lasagna I made  a couple of individual servings for myself using all the same ingredients except I swapped out the pasta for a thin layer of zucchini in mine.

The recipe I am sharing today is one that I made for my weekday lunches. My stepson and husband both thought it smelled amazing and after taking a taste they both agreed that it was soup that they both would eat. The cauliflower gives it body and does give it the consistency that rice would. 

LOW CARB CHICKEN & MUSHROOM SOUP WITH CAULIFLOWER RICE

*1 roasted chicken. I used 1 cup of chicken for the soup and used the rest for another recipe  (I roast the chicken, remove the meat, and make bone broth from the carcass)
*4 cups of bone broth or stock
*2 Tablespoons of olive oil
*½ cup of finely chopped onion
*3 ribs of finely chopped celery
*Tablespoon finely minced garlic
*2 eight ounce containers of mushrooms
*12 ounce bag of cauliflower rice (you can find fresh in the produce section of most grocery stores or in the frozen foods. You can also make your own in a food processor)
*1 cup of heavy whipping cream (you can substitute with milk but I recommend the cream for the richness it imparts)
*Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion, celery, garlic, and mushrooms in the olive oil until the mushrooms cook down (approximately 5-10 minutes). Add the broth, chicken, and cauliflower and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the cream and cook for 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy!

While this is not a super thick soup, the flavor is rich and hearty. I did not feel like it needed to be thickened. It would also be wonderful with kale or spinach added at the end with the cream.

If you made any new year’s resolutions for your health, I hope that you are still giving yourself the attention you deserve. Remember, we cannot always be perfect – but we can make small strides that lead to big results. We are worth it!

SOUL WARMING HOT & SOUR MUSHROOM SOUP 

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell

If someone had told me a few years ago that I would look forward to winter, I would have adamantly denied the assertion. However, I must admit that this year I could not wait to buckle up my snowshoes and blaze trails in my backyard. Yet, I admit that this year during my first thirty minutes of heading out, I may have whimpered a bit. What a workout! Thankfully I have a spirited German Shepherd named Apollo who enjoys bounding through the snow with me. Since he spends a lot of time cooped up inside while we are at work, he depends on me to help him burn energy at night and on weekends. Apollo is the best personal trainer and nature is our gym!

One thing is for sure, I never regret a snowshoeing session. Especially at night when the moon is out and it is peaceful. I put one foot in front of the other – a primal rhythm – a magical blend of inertia and determination. Sometimes I have to force myself to stop.
It is easy to get lethargic in the winter and I need to move. Snowshoeing gets my heart pumping, but it’s probably more important for my head. It clears my thoughts and gets rid of stress. After all, self-care is supremely important for our health.

Yet, as much as I love snowshoeing I still love to curl up and be cozy in the winter. There is nothing better than a hot sauna before bed, a fire in the wood stove, and crawling under our electric blanket and flannel duvet.

Speaking of cozy, what is better for a cold winter day than a bowl of piping hot soup? Though, I am a soup girl (regardless of the weather) this recipe is one of my favorite winter warm ups. It is healthy, full of vegetables, and can be tweaked to fit your personal tastes.

My original recipe is plant-based, but you can use chicken stock and even add sliced chicken or pork if you want to. While I use thinly sliced cabbage to bulk it up, it is also wonderful when filled with rice noodles.


HOT & SOUR MUSHROOM SOUP

  • 4-8 cups of vegetable stock (depending on how much broth you want)
  • Two 8 ounce packages of chopped fresh mushrooms 
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin strips (½ cup)
  • 3 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped (or one bunch of green onions)
  • 1 can of bamboo shoots
  • 1 cup of cabbage, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon of sesame oil (you could also use coconut oil or your cooking oil of choice)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon of fresh ginger root, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons of tamari (soy sauce would work as a substitution)
  • Chili garlic sauce (to taste. I used two Tablespoons because I like my soup extra spicy. I find this sauce in the Asian section of the supermarket)
  • 1/4 cup of rice vinegar
  • 1/2 a bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped

Saute the onion, garlic, celery, and carrots in oil until soft. Add the mushrooms and lightly saute for approximately ten minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for thirty minutes. Before serving add a dash of rice vinegar, sesame oil (I highly recommend sesame oil since it imparts so much flavor), tamari, and chopped cilantro.

My advice to you is to make a pot of this delicious soup and head outside in the sparkling and beckoning snow. Whether your outdoor session includes snowshoeing, shoveling the driveway for a neighbor, or making snow angels — warmth will greet you when you come inside. While food may not be the answer to life’s problems, trust me, this soup comes close.

CHICKEN SOUP WITH LEMON, DILL, AND CANNELLINI BEANS

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

We had an ice storm in early February and it turned our apple orchard in a series of crystal chandeliers.

Even though I grew up in the Upper Peninsula, I always was a fair weather Yooper. While I loved to spend every waking hour outside in the summer, in the winter I could often be found hunkered down with a good book and a hot beverage. That all seemed to change when I met my husband John who is an avid outdoorsman. His simple belief is that you can withstand any weather if you have the correct clothing. Needless to say, over the past four years I have acquired quite the collection of boots and attire for all seasons. I have the right gear to pan for gold in an Alaskan glacial stream, the proper boots to hike the mountains in Montana, and even the outerwear to withstand all the frosty weather that Marquette County can dish out.

Yet, I must admit that I still found myself dealing with winter outdoor adventures with a heaping dose of dread. So this year when I told my husband that I was finally serious about snowshoeing, he called my bluff and hauled me to a local sports store and bought me an early Christmas present – boots that were made for snowshoeing. Since we already had the snowshoes and twenty-seven acres of snow-laden property, I had zero excuses. John joined me in blazing the first trail and I have been crushing my goal of snowshoeing at least five times a week one snowy step at a time. An added bonus is that to date I have lost 13 pounds and have toned up my legs and core.

I cannot believe I didn’t start snowshoeing sooner! If you have never been snowshoeing before, give it a try. I find it both relaxing and exhilarating and it gives me time to reflect and ponder. My favorite way to round out my excursion is a pot of soup simmering on the stove followed by a hot sauna before bed.

John and our pup Apollo helped me blaze the first trail on our homestead in December. We have received several FEET of snow since this photo was taken.

The trail that I melt all of my stress away on.

Our Golden Retriever Gracie loves to frolic in snow! Look at that smile.

The recipe that I am going to share with you today is a refreshing twist on a traditional chicken soup. It combines the accompaniment of tangy lemon and dill and, instead of rice or noodles, gives an extra boost of protein with cannellini beans (white kidney beans). If you are a vegetarian, you can easily make this soup vegetarian friendly use a quality vegetable stock and replace the chicken with extra beans.

As with any flavorful soup, I think that the most important ingredient is a superior stock or broth. When you start with a good broth you reduce the cooking time of your soup because the flavor has already been developed. In recent years I have read a lot of information on the health benefits of bone broth. While I was a vegetarian for over eleven years, after being diagnosed with Hashimotos Disease (thyroid disease), I slowly started reintroducing meat (chicken and pork) that my husband and I raise ourselves – as well as small amounts of locally raised beef.

Whenever I roast a chicken I make sure to utilize 100% of the animal and always make broth (I can or freeze what is not going to be consumed within a day). Chicken broth is simple to make and my go-to method is to use my pressure cooker.

LEMON CHICKEN SOUP WITH DILL & CANNELLINI BEANS

  • 8 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 medium chopped onion (1/2 cup)
  • 3 ribs of chopped celery
  • ¼ cup of chopped carrots
  • 2 Tablespoons of minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 cups of chopped roasted chicken
  • 1 can cannellini beans
  • 3-4 lemons (juice and zest)
  • ¼ cup of chopped fresh dill
  • ¼ cup of chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • *Optional – flour and butter or cornstarch for a thickening agent

Sauté the onion, celery, garlic, and carrots in olive oil until soft (approximately 5 minutes). Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add chicken meat, beans, and reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the lemon juice, zest, dill, parsley, salt, pepper, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

If you want to thicken the soup you can use flour and butter. I combine three Tablespoons of flour with two Tablespoons of butter in a pan on low heat. When it forms a paste-like texture I add a ½ cup of hot broth and whisk until smooth (you can add more stock until there aren’t any chunks of flour) and then add the mixture to your soup and stir in well (you can simmer for a few minutes). You can add more the mixture if you want the broth to be thicker, but I prefer this soup to be thinner.

Another healthier option to thicken this soup is to puree the beans and incorporate into the soup. This is a good way to “hide” beans from small children who won’t eat them. I have found that this a healthy alternative for cream-based soups as well. You get the same creamy consistency without having to use heavy cream.

Not only do I hope you try this soup, but if you are craving winter adventure, I hope you log a few miles on a pair of snowshoes soon. If you are not athletically inclined (as I am not), snowshoeing is not a difficult activity and it is said to burn twice the calories as walking. I find that I do not have to over-dress, but rather dress in layers. I usually wear a pair of thicker leggings with knee high socks to protect my calves from any deep snow that finds its way into my boots. I layer a t-shirt with a sweatshirt, a lighter winter shell jacket, a scarf, a knit headband to protect my ears, and a flexible pair of gloves. I also apply a generous layer of moisturizer on my face and balm on my lips. When I snowshoe at night I wear a headlamp to light my way (though sometimes I just let the stars guide me). I recommend bringing a camera to capture nature’s beauty, a bottle of water, and follow the invigorating activity with a hot shower or a sauna.

I promise that you will find yourself craving the outdoors. In fact, I am heading outside now. Our 90+ pound, 10 month old, German Shepherd Apollo enjoys the exercise as much as I do. Nature calls – make sure that you answer – and don’t forget to warm up with a hot bowl of healthy soup!

Hurry up, Mama!

My beautiful snowshoe trail.

Apollo my personal trainer

 

Velvety Butternut Squash Soup

“The house was very quiet, and the fog—we are in November now—pressed against the windows like an excluded ghost.”
E.M. Forster, Howards End

The last of our beautiful leaves – the trees are naked now and everything is white. I need updated photos.

November in Upper Michigan arrives with a fierce and energetic gust. The color has already been torn from the trees, so November gales stir up Lake Superior and remind us that whether you are Finnish or not – Yoopers have sisu. It is one of the reasons that we live here. Surviving a UP winter gives one stamina and a keen sense of perseverance. When traveling, our snow totals give us bragging rights and the wild beauty keeps us stimulated and inspired during long tedious months of frigid weather.

During November, social media, advertisements, and news outlets remind us that we should be thankful. Therefore, we tick off our blessings: health, family, friends, careers, pets, and all the stable factors in our lives.

While I try to be thankful year round, November naturally makes me focus on the abundance I have been given.

With my husband and I both possessing demanding jobs, both kids in hockey, and everyday household chores that include farm duties – simplifying our meals is essential. It is my obsession to make sure that our nutritional needs are met and that the majority of our meals are homemade. Therefore, in the coming months a variety of hot and nourishing soups will be a mainstay in our kitchen. This recipe for butternut squash soup is simple, satisfying, and healthy. The texture is velvety and so smooth you will not believe that it does not contain cream.

 

VELVETY BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

*Butternut squash (three small, two medium, or one large)
*1 cup of chopped onion
*1 cup of celery
*1 Tablespoon of minced garlic
*1 Tablespoon of finely chopped ginger
*3 chopped Granny Smith apples (I left the peelings on)
*4 cups of stock/broth (vegetable or chicken stock)
*1 teaspoon nutmeg
*1 Tablespoon cinnamon
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Optional – sweetener to taste (maple syrup or brown sugar). I like the soup without sweetener but my husband likes it sweet.
*Optional – I like to add a large bunch of sage from my garden (remove before pureeing)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Pierce Butternut Squash and place in a baking dish (add a couple of cups of water to bottom of the dish)
  2. Roast squash for 30-45 minutes at 400-450 degrees.
  3. Peel squash and remove seeds.
  4. Sauté onion, garlic, celery, and ginger until soft.
  5. Add the stock along with apples and squash.
  6. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool a bit and puree in blender.
  8. Serve with a dash of cinnamon on top and/or a sprinkling of walnuts, pecans, or croutons.

This soup freezes well and is a wonderful way to round out a meal. Add a simple salad and it is a great lunch and it is elegant enough to serve to guests.

Make sure you check out my other soup recipes.

Thank you for reading my blog. As I reflect over the things that I am thankful for, you are part of that list. I love being able to encourage others to enjoy cooking and share my healthy recipes. May your November be full of warmth and laughter around your kitchen table.

Our driveway looks so magical in the fall. John had to plow this weekend – which doesn’t make it look quite as pretty!

 

Vegetarian Chili – A Labor of Love

“The songs of our ancestors are also the songs of our children”
― Philip Carr-Gomm

My late grandfather Thomas Puskala was a soil artist and his straight, manicured vegetable rows were a work of art. He was an organic gardener before it was hip and he carefully recorded the seasons and moments of insight on his calendar. He cited the migration of geese and robins, jotted down when he planted the peas, and detailed the ebb and flow of frost’s destructive fingers. I think of Grandpa when I publish a new blog post. He would have loved how I document my garden with snippets of poetry, layers of photos, and the capacity that my words and recipes have for outreach. Technology affords us the opportunity to document our lives with vibrant threads of meaning.

Thank you to my cousin Alicia for this photo of Grandpa Puskala. ❤

I thought of Grandpa this past summer and fall when I grew and put up over thirty quarts of garden tomatoes. Our new hoop house made for a remarkable growing season and our tomato plants became tree-like and laden with juicy fruit. It felt therapeutic to quarter the scarlet orbs (skins and all) and roast them with garlic and onion for marinara, plunge them into boiling water to remove the skins for stewed tomatoes, and add spices to the boiling pot and render salsa with fiery depth. Though, through the canning process, I am preserving more than just an Upper Peninsula of Michigan summer in jar. I am also encapsulating Grandpa’s old fashioned values and his affinity for nourishing his family with wholesome food and living as close to the land as possible. Every bubbling pan of lasagna and simmering pot of tomato basil soup is a homage to my grandfather’s legacy.

I know that I am not alone in taking extra steps to make healthy meals for my family. However, with cold comes with an offering of food temptations. Making wise food choices can be a challenge and craving comfort food makes it easy to surrender to indulging in too sodium and sugar laden treats. With spring right around the corner, you may be thinking of ways to jump start your healthy intentions. A great tip that I try to incorporate into my family’s meal plan is to have soup or chili on hand. This guarantees that we always have a quick and homemade dinner or lunch in a pinch. The chili recipe that I am sharing with you is heavy on fiber from beans, which makes it filling.

I started sharing recipes on my blog in 2013, and I like to challenge people to experiment with vegetarian or Vegan recipes. Not only do those who practice a plant-based diet know how to find alternative and filling sources of protein, but often plant-based recipes use healthy spices and herbs for flavor. This chili recipe is one that I have shared with friends for years and I always mention, that if desired, they can add meat. However, most report back that they enjoyed the recipe without meat. This recipe is on rotation in our house year round, but it is especially satisfying in the winter months as the temperature dips (which is still the case in Upper Michigan).  I often make a double or triple batch and it freezes well. This year I even pressure canned a few quarts to keep on hand in case of an emergency.

Last weekend I participated in a chili cook off at the 5th Annual Wellness Fair at Gwinn High School. I took first place in the amateur division – winning over two student groups and my boss Sandy Petrovich, the Superintendent of Gwinn Area Community Schools. It was neat to watch Ms. Petrovich and her student competitors banter back and forth. It was exactly how a school function should run – it was well attended and involved all of our education stakeholders. The entire event made me so proud to be a Modeltowner!

The Wellness Fair was exciting to participate in and GACS Food Service Director, and organizer of the Wellness Fair, Barbie Ward-Thomas does a phenomenal job encompassing all types of wellness in the event: physical, emotional, financial, and social wellness. We are so lucky to have her as our support and advocate for health at GACS!

To see a story of the event covered by local media click HERE

My award winning chili!

I served up my chili with sour cream, wedges of lime, and fresh cilantro!

I was pleased to have been selected first place by community tasters (everyone is invited to sample the chili and cast a vote). It is always interesting to see the look on people’s faces when you mention that the chili is vegetarian. Some people look at you skeptically like you are trying to spread an agenda, but then I explain how flavorful it is and full of ingredients. If that does not win them over, I like to mention how easy vegetarian chili can be on your pocketbook since beans are extremely affordable (especially if you buy dry beans and cook them yourself). I also made sure to bring a jar of my canned tomatoes to show people the love and attention that I put into my chili. ❤ Love wins every time!

THREE BEAN VEGETARIAN CHILI
*3 cups of tomatoes
*1 cup tomato juice
*1 cup of chopped green bell pepper
*1 cup chopped celery
*1 cup chopped onion
*1 cup of corn
*3 minced cloves of garlic
*1 cup white beans (cooked)
*1 cup black beans (cooked)
*1 cup kidney beans (cooked)
*1 small can diced green chilies
*1 Tbsp ground cumin
*1 Tbsp ground coriander
*1 Tbsp dried oregano
*1 Tbsp chili powder, (Add as much for desired heat.)
*Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions:

Sauté celery, onion, green pepper and garlic with olive oil. Add all ingredients to crock pot or stock pot (you may also want to add a cup of water). The longer the chili cooks, the better it will taste. If I cook via stove-top I simmer for 60 minutes. Using the slow-cooker method I cook on low for 4 hours. Season to taste (adding more chili powder or “heat” if desired).

You can also toss in other vegetables that you have on hand. In the past I’ve added zucchini, carrots, and even cabbage.

While you can use canned beans that you purchase at the market, I suggest buying dry and cooking your own (makes it even more economical). I make the beans in bulk and freeze. One pot makes approximately fifteen cups. While it is fantastic alone, sometimes I like to add a dollop of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, chopped green onions, fresh cilantro, an avocado wedge, whole wheat pasta or quinoa, and/or a squeeze of fresh lime juice to perk up the flavor even more. Add a side salad (the one featured here incorporates citrus, pomegranate, jalapeno slices, and avocado) and you have a nutritious and hearty, but not heavy, meal. For easy to assemble homemade salad dressings, make sure you check out my blog.

I hope that you were fortunate as my family to have a bounty of tomatoes over the summer. If you do not garden, you are missing out on one of life’s most simple pleasures. There is nothing like a tomato fresh off the vine – still warm from the sun. Take advantage of a blustery UP day to dream about tilling a small plot of land or filling a row of containers on your deck with lush plants. My husband and I will spend our winter months pouring over seed catalogs to fill our new hoop house in the spring. I know my grandfather is watching and I know that he loves our farm. ❤

My new cards I had printed to give out at the Wellness Fair in hopes of drawing in new readers.

Spring Fever Remedy: Cucumber Soup

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

Our hoop house is in the distance, patiently awaiting summer.

 

 

Today is a snow day off of work/school and to say that I have spring fever is an understatement. I have been dreaming of leafy green vegetation since the first hint of snowflakes graced the sky. A couple of weeks ago my husband John planted trays of seeds in our family room window, and in front of our sliding glass door. Daily we watch the thermometer that measures the temperature in our hoop house – waiting until it is warm enough at night to start planting the seedlings. Today it is only 30 degree in the hoop house, but on sunny days it has been reaching the low 50s. Last summer was our first taste of large scale gardening and we are hooked. Winter was our time to dream and make plans for even better produce.

Morning Glory

This was in the beginning of the season. We ended up going to a drip hose watering method since the plants were ENORMOUS and a sprinkler wasn’t able to do the job.

Last year we were able to harvest cucumbers from July until late October. Not only were we able to fill our shelves with quarts of pickles, we were also able to share our bounty with friends.

It was a learning process since it was our first year with a hoop house. This year we will be adding a large fan to circulate the air and we will be start our pumpkins inside and move them outside. We will also make sure that we have plenty of seedlings as backup for when plants (such a broccoli) go to seed and stop producing.

We used a trellis system with pulleys and plastic clips for the tomato and cucumber plants.

As I tried to come up with different ways to serve up crunchy slices of cucumbers, I often joked that I needed to come up with a cucumber cookbook. While my eleven-year-old step daughter Avalon’s favorite way to enjoy cucumber is putting them on her eyes to pretend she is at a spa, I think one of my favorite ways is a cool and refreshing bowl of cucumber soup. In fact, this time of year I find myself yearning so much for summer that I make sure that I pick up the ingredients at the supermarket so I can whip up a batch.

We harvested this many cucumbers often on a daily basis.

 

My favorite way to eat cucumbers is sliced with some fresh dill, raw apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. I am even known to eat this for breakfast.

This soup is light, healthy, and a wonderful way to welcome spring. You will also want to set this recipe aside to recreate in the summer when cucumbers are in their prime. It is a wonderful meal when the temperatures soar and cooking in a hot kitchen feels out of the question.

Stick with wholesome and fresh ingredients and your body will thank you.

CREAMY CUCUMBER SOUP WITH AVOCADO & DILL (makes one large bowl or two small)

*1 large Cucumber
*1 cup of Plain yogurt (use your favorite brand – low fat or full fat version. Greek yogurt is thick and works well for this dish)
*Juice and zest of one lemon or lime
*
1/2 Avocado
*1 small clove of Garlic
*1 Tablespoon of Onion (or a couple green onions)
*Few leaves of Kale or Spinach
*¼ cup of fresh Dill (or to taste)
*Salt and Pepper to Taste

If it is a garden cucumber, or organic from the market, I only remove ½ of the peelings. Cut the cucumber in half and with a spoon remove the seeds (they make the soup too runny). Chop and reserve ½ of the cucumber. Add the other half of the cucumber and the rest of the ingredients to a blender. Do a quick blend if you want the soup to be chunky and longer if you want it smooth. Pour in a bowl and add the chopped cucumber to the top and a sprig of fresh dill.

This soup is extremely versatile and if you are not fond of dill you can use cilantro. I like to add different toppings depending on what I have on hand. Some of our favorites are kalamata olives, feta cheese, and grape tomatoes. Sometimes if I am looking for a lighter soup, I leave out the avocado. Since it’s so easy to make you can leave the ingredients out for friends or family members to make their own bowl.

It only seemed fitting that I snapped a photo last summer in the hoop house. ❤

If you have spring fever like I do, I encourage you to try a new recipe or do something light and lively with the decor in your home. Grab your camera and record the way the sunlight sifts through bare branches or watch the way your pets delight in puddles of sunshine. Continue to dream and eventually spring will be here! Until then, make the most of today and enjoy every healthy moment.

 

Here you can see the pulley system that we used for our plants. It really worked well and we will be using this system again. It is unbelievable how heavy tomato plants and cucumber vines get and this system really helped hoist them up.

A Love Affair With Cooking: Roasted Beet Soup with Ginger and Coconut Milk

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell

I have said it before. Food. It should be simple. We should eat to live. Yet, we have an intimate connection to the food that surrounds us. Food is comfort, culture, community, family, and a way to celebrate and nurture others. Food is smell, taste, and texture. It even has socio-economic implications. While there are many emotional associations with food, I try to remember that the bottom line is that food is sustenance and fuel. Therefore, it is important to put wholesome food on the table for myself and family.  

If you are like me, the pleasure of cooking runs deep. It includes carefully selecting ingredients at the market (or even better, growing our own). It involves all the  slicing, roasting, sautéing, and simmering that brings a dish to the table. However, part of the enjoyment for me also comes in the presentation. I believe that we feast with our eyes first and the joy I find in a pretty plate of food back to my childhood. My mom made even a simple lunch elegant by serving mac-n-cheese (almost always homemade) on her cream wedding china with the delicate gold band and lime Jello (sometimes with grated carrot) in footed pressed glass dessert cups (purchased with Gold Bond stamps from the IGA). She taught me that meal time was an event that was worth our time and attention and I try to pass this lesson on to my own family. Sometimes this means something as simple as a sprig of fresh mint in John’s glass of iced tea when he’s working outside on our farm, a whimsical straw for Lukas’ smoothie, or Avalon’s handwritten name cards when guests pay us a visit.

Winters in the UP of Michigan are long and cold.  I winter my front porch geraniums in the window sills of my classroom, and in the mudroom of our home, so in the heart of winter their scarlet blossoms can remind me of July. Red is one of my favorite colors and I am naturally drawn to foods that are bright and vibrant as well. Tomatoes, bell peppers, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and apples are high in antioxidants and protect us against cancer and heart disease. I always remember learning in school that blood-red vegetables help fortify and our own blood and immune system.

Beets are one of those vegetables that people seem to either love or hate. I grew up adoring my mom’s pickled beets and as I grew older I enjoyed roasted beets as a side or in a salad. While it is an acquired taste (my husband did not enjoy this recipe and he does like beets). I thought that I would share a recipe for you that uses this root vegetables as a main ingredient. This dish would be a perfect starter course for a romantic Valentine dinner. Afterall, beets are earthy, sensual, and when roasted take on a sweet taste and luscious texture. The color of this pureed soup is exquisite and begs to be ladled into a pretty bowl with a backdrop of glowing candles and soft music. Corny? Perhaps. However, trust me, if soup can be sexy – this one is! If only my husband John would agree. 😉 

ROASTED BEET SOUP WITH COCONUT MILK & GINGER
*2 bunches of beets (roasted)
*4 cups of coconut milk soup base (I found locally in Wal-Mart. You can substitute four cups of vegetable or chicken broth and ½ can of coconut milk from the Asian food section)
*1 rib of celery, chopped
*¼ cup chopped onion
*1-2 cloves of minced garlic
*½ inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
*Olive oil (couple of Tablespoons)
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Optional – garnish with chopped cilantro or dill

I found this product at Wal-Mart and I will buy it again.

Preparing beets can be a bit messy but their sweet flavor and silky texture makes
them worth the mess.

Cut the beets into several pieces. Scrub well and leave the peelings on. If you
have smaller beets you can cut in 1/2 or thirds. Once they are done roasting the peels will slide right off. Roast the beets for 40 minutes at 450 degrees (time may vary depending on your oven). After 20 minutes give them a toss. Let the beets cool a bit before removing the peel.
Saute the onion, celery, garlic and in olive oil until soft. Add the ginger and saute for a few minutes. Add the coconut milk base (or stock and coconut milk) and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes and puree soup in the blender. Warm the soup to serve. If you desire, garish with a sprig (or chopped fresh dill) or cilantro (both flavors work well with beets).

Printable Recipe HERE: ROASTED BEET SOUP WITH COCONUT MILK
One of the benefits of living in a cold climate is that winter allows us to spend time inside and enjoy the pleasures of cooking. Remember to nourish your body with a rainbow of vegetables so your health benefits from a variety of nutrients. With this soup, you have the color red covered! If you love beets as much as I do, make sure you check out my other recipes that use beets (Links to recipes below).

Roasted Beet, Mango, and Blueberry Salad with Orange Dill Dressing

Scarlet Salads in a Jar with Cherry Chipotle Vinaigrette
Peach Salad with Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese, Pistachios, & Raspberry Orange Dill Dressing

Spaghetti Squash Soup with Tomatoes

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver

As the wind howls and snow falls outside I contemplate this beautiful scene. We had an incredible growing season in our new hoop house and I cannot wait to see what 2018 brings for the Waldo Farm.

As 2017 takes its final bow, I imagine that I am not alone as I reflect on the past year. Experience has taught me to not have regrets, but to believe that everything happens for a purpose (even if we are too close at the time to realize that gifts come in multiple wrappings and disguises).

I believe that we are our worst critics and that we must focus on the positives in our lives and not wish time away waiting for the things that we long for. We must focus on the now, while planning for the future. Even small changes can impact our tomorrow and help us achieve our dreams. 

What if we decide, as we reflect on the past year, to not beat ourselves up for all the broken promises we made (to ourselves or others), and we focus on the strides we made to live a full life? What if at the same time we made small and manageable resolutions and intentions to plan, grow, and set goals? Imagine entering 2018 with a mindset that allows us to move forward with wisdom and courage.
My goals for the New Year, as every year, are to focus on my health. After being diagnosed with Hashimotos disease this fall I have had to take many deep breaths and learn new things about my body. I profoundly believe that taking care of ourselves allows us to better take care of others. Since we have to eat every day, the way we nourish our bodies seems to be a natural start. While my taste buds naturally gravitate to fruit and vegetables – I can easily be lured into treats and indulgences that are heavily processed (especially over the holidays). Therefore, I have to make time to prepare wholesome food in my own kitchen.

While you will find a wide array of salad recipes on my blog, in the winter months I enjoy accompanying my greens with a steaming bowl of soup. Broth based soups help fill you up at mealtime and even make a satisfying and guilt-free snack. I love filling my stockpot, or crock-pot, with vegetables and have found that sliced cabbage or spiralized squash make a wonderful substitute for rice or pasta.

In the soup recipe that I am sharing with you today, I use spaghetti squash to bulk up the bowl.  This was a recipe that I shared back in 2013 and it is one that I keep going back to. This year this soup is extra special to me because I was able to can tomatoes from our hoop house and had a bounty of spaghetti squash. Of the benefits of growing squash in the summer is that when kept in a cool place it will last for months. Plus, I have noticed that local supermarkets offer a wide variety of squash throughout fall and winter. Some people are intimidated by the task of preparing squash, but they actually are not labor intensive.

Is there anything more lovely than garden tomatoes?

SPAGHETTI SQUASH AND TOMATO SOUP

  • 6-8 cups vegetable stock
  • 28 ounce can of tomato sauce
  • Quart of tomatoes (large can)
  • 1/2 large chopped onion
  • 3 ribs of celery chopped
  • 1 bell pepper chopped (I use 1/2 yellow and 1/2 red)
  • 1 large carrot chopped
  • Large cooked spaghetti squash (Approximately 10 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon each of oregano, rosemary, and basil

To prepare the squash simply pierce with a knife, or fork, and place into a shallow baking pan that is filled with water. (I bake the squash whole and use about an inch of water).

Bake for approximately 60 minutes at 375 degrees (the time depends on the size of your squash).

Let cool and cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and use a fork to shred the squash. It will naturally pull apart in strands that will resemble pasta.

To prepare the soup, sauté the onion, garlic, celery, pepper, and carrot in the olive oil until soft and add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer for 30-45 minutes. Makes 15 cups.

You could cut the recipe in 1/2 and it would still make a generous pot of soup. I like to make extra to freeze. You could add beans for protein and add any other vegetables such as zucchini and mushrooms. It is delicious, filling, and the addition of tomato sauce makes it taste similar to spaghetti.

When my friend Jackie made this soup she added a dollop of cottage cheese and a sprinkle of Parmesan and said it tasted like lasagna. Add some croutons or a slice of garlic bread and you have a satisfying meal that will keep your healthy resolutions in check.

Whatever your goals are for 2018, make sure that they are achievable and realistic. Setting small goals helps us achieve success that will snowball and we can confidently make the next steps to finding our balance. Let us make sure to make time for our health in the coming weeks, month, and year. Trust me, we are worth it!

I was also able to can tomatoes and salsa from our tomatoes.



Roasted Vegetable Stew

Roasted Vegetable Stew by Produce with Amy“Just as a painter needs light in order to put the finishing touches to his picture, so I need an inner light, which I feel I never have enough of in the autumn.”
― Leo Tolstoy

My heart is not feeling autumn joy this weekend. The sky is gray and yesterday my husband Mike fired up the furnace. I guess when the inside temperature dips below 60 it is sign that it is time to rely on artificial heat. To help deal with my seasonal funk I made time to read, write, and I cooked up a storm. Chopping vegetables is therapy for me. Instead of turning to unhealthy food for comfort this coming week I decided to stock our house with an abundance of vegetable rich meals. I made a batch of autumn themed Mason jar salads, vegetable lasagna, and a rustic roasted vegetable stew (the salad and lasagna recipes will be shared soon).

Do you roast vegetables? It is a simple technique that brings out the sweetness in produce and makes the house smell incredible. When making this stew you may want to make extra roasted vegetables to use in other recipes and serve as a side during the week.

Roasted Brussels SproutsFor this stew I roasted the following in three batches:

1st Batch:
*Brussels sprouts (you will need 1 cup for this recipe.

I roasted extra for my jar salads for the week). If you are buying fresh, buy 2 cups (they shrink) or one bag of frozen. 

 

2nd Batch (Vegetable Medley):Roasted Vegetable Medley
*1 small zucchini
*1 medium onion
*3 ribs of celery
*1 yellow bell pepper
*8 ounces of mushrooms
*1 pint of cherry tomatoes (I add the cherry tomatoes in the last 15 minutes of roasting).

This recipe rendered 4 cups of vegetables. I used two cups for this stew and 2 cups for my vegetable lasagna. Therefore, you may want to cut the recipe in 1/2.

Roasted Root Vegetables

 

3rd Batch (Root Vegetables):
*3 carrots
*3 parsnips
*1 pound of potatoes (I used fingerling potatoes)

I did not season any of my roasted vegetables since the stew will be seasoned. I chopped, drizzled with a little olive oil, and roasted for approximately 40 minutes (turning at the 20 minute mark) at 400 degrees.

The carrots, parsnips, and potatoes were roasted for 50 minutes.  If I was roasting the vegetables to serve as a side I would also add salt, pepper, and minced garlic.

This weekend I also roasted 3 heads of garlic. If you have never roasted garlic before, you have to try it. Roasting garlic makes it sweet, mellow, and creamy. It is terrific in hummus, spread on bread, and is great in any recipe that calls for garlic. I added one entire head to this stew but if you are using regular garlic you can use a couple of minced cloves.
Roasted GarlicDirections for roasting garlic:

Slice the end off of the garlic bulb (the wider end). Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and wrap in tinfoil. Pop into a preheated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes at 450 degrees (depending on your oven).

After roasting the garlic flesh will become soft and will slide right out of the bulb. It’s marvelous spread on bread, in hummus, and works well in any recipe that requires garlic. I always use all of my roasted garlic immediately, but it would keep well for a week in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.

Roasted Vegetable Stew by Produce with Amy
ROASTED VEGETABLE STEW

*6 cups of vegetable stock (I used bouillon that I purchased at our co-op)
*1 head of roasted garlic
*2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon of dried)
*Handful of lemon thyme (or 2 teaspoons of dried)
*1 cup of roasted Brussels sprouts
*2 cups of roasted vegetable medley
*Roasted root vegetables
*Juice and zest of one lemon
*1 bunch of chopped, fresh parsley

Bring vegetable stock, roasted garlic, and fresh rosemary and thyme to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add all the roasted vegetables and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add lemon juice and zest and stir in chopped parsley.


Printable Recipe: ROASTED VEGETABLE STEW by Produce with Amy

Pin it HERE.

If you are like me and enjoy a steaming cup or bowl of soup to help chase away a chill and bulk up a meal – make sure you check out my other soup recipes.

As the cold weather progresses, I promise to share more ideas for healthy comfort food. Thank you for joining me on the quest to enjoy plant-based meals. If you have a favorite fall or winter recipe – please share. Make sure you stop by my Facebook page and join the conversation. I wish you a healthy and productive week!

Italian Vegetable Soup

Italian Vegetable Soup by Produce with Amy“Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”
― Susan Sontag

The first month of the new school year depleted my energy. Each evening I found myself returning home exhausted and in a fog. I felt filled up and content, but I had little energy to do anything but rest, eat dinner, and go to sleep.

Last week after arriving home from work I felt guilty sitting on the sofa as sunshine filtered Athenathrough the burnished leaves – autumn was quickly approaching and summer was making one last stand. The weather was warm and I should have been going for a walk.

Midweek I mustered up the energy to go outside and plucked a bouquet of blooms from my garden – late roses and the sunflowers that the birds planted. I placed the flowers in one of my Fiestaware pitchers and marveled at how splendid they looked set up against the setting sun. It was the perfect backdrop to snap a few pictures of a bowl of my latest recipe – a vegetable soup. Our cat Athena let her curiosity get the best of her, which led to a spontaneous photo shoot. Instead of shooing her away, I let the moment bathe me in beauty and I thought to myself how refreshing it felt to pay attention.

This tiny pocket of brilliance in my evening bubbled over into my classroom the next day. I took out a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and read to my creative writing students about how important it is for us to fill the well. I encouraged my young writers to fill their hearts and minds with sounds, scents, and sights. We talked about Cameron’s philosophy of going on an Artist’s Date to nurture our creativity.

I decided to follow my own advice and I took the weekend off. I did not grocery shop, cook, do housework, or grade. Sunday my husband Mike and I traveled a couple of hours north to Ontonagon, Michigan and visited the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and enjoyed the day basking in 80 degree weather. We swooned over the glistening beauty of Lake Superior and were rendered speechless at the sight of the Lake of the Clouds ensconced in waves of scarlet and copper hued leaves.
Lake of the Clouds

Two days into a new week and I feel a bit of my fatigue lifting. I believe it is because I allowed myself to be astonished by my surroundings and I made time to fill the well and nurture my own creativity. I snapped photos, scribbled in my journal, and laughed.

As testament to the lightness that I feel this week, I am able to share my latest recipe for soup. A steaming bowl of soup radiates fall and this combination makes the best of fire roasted tomatoes and the last of summer’s herb garden. Dried herbs will work – but as always – fresh is best.

Italian Vegetable Soup by Produce with AmyITALIAN VEGETABLE SOUPFire roasted tomatoes

*4 cups of vegetable stock
*3 chopped carrots
*3 ribs of chopped celery
*3 cloves of minced garlic
*2 cans fire roasted tomatoes (the cans that I used were 15 ounces each)
*1 can of tomato sauce (14.5 ounces)
*1 chopped green bell pepper
*1 small chopped onion
*1 spiralized zucchini (or chopped if you do not have a spiralizer)
*8 ounces of fresh, sliced mushrooms
*13-14 ounces of cannellini beans
*1/4 cup of chopped fresh basil (2 teaspoons of dried)beans
*1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley (2 teaspoons of fresh)
*2 sprigs of chopped fresh rosemary (1 teaspoon of dried)
*2 sprigs of chopped fresh oregano (1 teaspoon of dried)
*5 strands of fresh chives (1 teaspoon of dried)
*1 Tablespoon of cooking oil (I used coconut oil)
*Salt and pepper to taste
(I also added a few baby pea pods and green beans from my garden)

Saute the garlic, onion, celery, bell pepper, and carrots in the cooking oil until soft (3-5 minutes). Add the mushrooms and cook for an additional four minutes. Add the vegetable broth, fire roasted tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Cook on medium heat until the soup boils. Add the beans and fresh herbs. Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the spiralized zucchini. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Since I like my spiralized zucchini al dente, I add it after the soup has cooked. If you are used chopped or sliced zucchini you may want to add it when you add the mushrooms.
I like to add the herbs close to the end of the cooking progress to maximize their flavor.

Simmering soupFinished soupItalian Vegetable Soup by Produce with AmyPrintable Recipe: ITALIAN VEGETABLE SOUP by Produce with Amy

Pin it HERE.

Find my other soup recipes HERE.

Thank you for your interest in my blog and please share if you enjoy my posts and recipes. I would love to hear from you. Make sure you follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and stop by my Facebook page and give it a like (all the links can be found on the right hand side of the page).

As we move into winter I promise to continue to share my ideas for healthy comfort food. This week I will be experimenting with a plant-based roasted vegetable stew. Have a wonderful week and I challenge you to pay attention and fill the well of your creativity.

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