Top 10 Most Popular Recipes of 2020

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

From our cozy little kitchen to yours: Happy New Year!

I agree with Nietzsche’s quote and come up with some of my best ideas when I am simply putting one foot in front of the other.  I talk to my creative writing students about what we are doing when the best story ideas are born. For me, my creativity peeks when I am walking, snowshoeing, pulling weeds in the garden, chopping vegetables, driving to work, taking a shower, or floating in our pool. I keep a journal that I jot down my ideas and musings in so I do not forget about them. I like to call this place a seedbed for future blog posts, recipes, stories, poems, and lesson plans.

My 11th grade students just finished reading Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” and we discussed the unhealthy hold that technology often has on our lives (ironic, I acknowledge, since I am typing this on a computer on my blog… 😉 ) I shared with my students several articles that discussed cell phone addiction and how our digital devices take away boredom and do not allow us to daydream and come up with “big ideas”. Instead of just allowing our minds to wander, we fill our quiet time with checking our social media accounts and email.

Therefore, as we head into 2021, I need to more mindful of how I am filling my down time. While I will continue to fill my Pinterest boards with decorating ideas for the new addition on our house and share ideas and learn new tips on the Homesteading and Crazy-Chicken-Lady groups that I am member of – I will also remember to walk laps in our pasture, spend more time outside with our dogs and birds, and stare at the star studded sky and draw inspiration from the beauty around me.

In 2020, between this blog, Produce with Amy, and my sister blog, Glitter and Dog Hair, I shared 26 new blog posts. That’s a number that I am proud of since I have been trying to create more content. My goal for 2021 is to surpass that number.

As I reflect on 2020, I decided that I would look back at the traffic on Produce with Amy and share the top 10 most popular recipes from 2020. I thought it was interesting that the top two recipes were not new ones – but ones that I created when I first started blogging. I love that people find my posts helpful and enjoy the recipes that I create.

Here they are (click on the blue links to find the recipes):

#1: Paradise in a Jar Salad with Blueberry Lemon Dressing

We are what we eat, after all. I do not know about you, but I want to be vibrant, unique, and bursting with energy.

#2 Glowing Green Mason Jar Salads with Avocado Vinaigrette Dressing

My Glowing Green Mason Jar salads are stuffed with both sweet and savory ingredients and the dressing is equally delicious and nutritious.

#3 Tuna Fish – a 70’s Kitchen Staple & Beyond

While this tuna salad is great on a bed of lettuce, it also makes a phenomenal sandwich filler. I especially enjoy it in a pita pocket or stuffed into a tomato or hollowed out cucumber rounds.

#4 Old Fashioned Sweet Pickled Beets

While beets are an acquired taste, many people who do not enjoy beets as a side vegetables seem to like them pickled. Many people that I have talked to reminisce fondly about a grandmother who was known for her pickled beets.

#5 Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Eat the rainbow and your body will thank you!

#6 Spaghetti Squash & Tomato Soup

The spaghetti squash bulks up this soup and makes it filling.

#7 Sunshine Salad in a Jar with Kicky Mango Vinaigrette

When you see a salad this bright and vibrant, you know it has to be healthy!

#8 Cabin Fever Salad – Greek Pasta

Perfect for a potluck, your workday lunch, or as a side to your dinner.

#9 Low Carb Creamy Chicken & Mushroom Soup with Cauliflower Rice

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 adds body and gives it the consistency that rice would.

#10 Mushroom Swiss Burger Soup – A Simple Pleasure

My inspiration for the soup is in the name: a mushroom swiss burger. However, I wanted to create a recipe that was not as calorie laden as a greasy burger and the side of obligatory French fries that usually accompanies it.

Well, there they are – the Top 10 Most Popular Recipes from 2020! I hope that you have tried them and that you enjoyed them as well. Make sure you check out all of my recipes that are organized in the tabs at the top of this page. Please leave a comment or like this post to let me know that you have been here.

I wish you best wishes for a healthy, happy, and productive 2021! While making homemade meals may take extra time – remember, we are worth it. ❤

*Note – Now that this post is finished, I think I will head outside for a walk. Perhaps it will help me come up with a new recipe to share with you!

French Onion Soup: Stave Away the Winter’s Chill

“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

 

Back in 2014 when I was a vegetarian, I shared a recipe for a plant based French Onion Soup. Since then I was diagnosed with thyroid disease (Hashimotos) and I gradually reintroduced meat back into my diet to reduce the amount of soy that I was eating. While we tend to eat mostly chicken and pork (which we raise ourselves) we do buy locally raised beef as well. Therefore, I thought it was time that I shared a traditional recipe for French Onion Soup that did incorporate beef.

I made this soup for dinner last weekend. My 11 year old step son 
Lukas would have normally turned up his nose due to the “onions” but he enjoyed it too (I did ladle most of the onions out of his bowl). He’s growing up!

I started it the day before by sautéing the onions in our breakfast bacon grease. I slow simmered a roast with beef broth (while I do normally make my own – I did purchase a carton of broth from the store). Of course, before serving, I added tons of Swiss cheese on top of toasted French baguette and finished each bowl under the broiler.

A lot of people do not add meat to French Onion Soup and stick to the broth. However, I fondly remember the best onion soup I’ve ever had more than twenty years ago at a restaurant in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The soup had huge savory chunks of meat and was hearty and delicious. I like when a bowl soup can serve as a meal and this soup definitely does. 

 
I need to find hearty oven safe soup crocks because I didn’t brown it long enough – I was worried the bowls would crack. I also miss fresh garden sage and thyme. What a perfect dinner for a gray Sunday in December.

FRENCH ONION SOUP

*5 cups of vegetable stock (I bought an extra large container)
*3 cups of water
*Optional – 1 cup of red wine
*1 small beef roast (2-3 pounds)
*8 medium sliced onions
*4 minced garlic cloves
*2 sprigs of rosemary (2 teaspoons dried)
*2 clusters of sage (2 teaspoons dried)
*6 strands of chives (2 teaspoons dried)
*1/2 cup of parsley (2 teaspoons dried
(I do not chop the fresh herbs but tie them in a bunch with string and add them to the soup)
*3 Tablespoons of your favorite cooking oil, butter, or bacon grease
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Loaf of crusty bread
*Swiss cheese (several cups)


For this soup I slow simmered the roast in the beef broth the day before for 3 hours and sautéed up the onions and added all the ingredients into the crockpot and stored in the refrigerator to cook the next day. However, you can make it all in one shot. 

I have read recipes where the onions are placed raw into the soup pot or crockpot, however, I think that caramelizing them well in a pan gives the soup a depth of flavor. Divide up your cooking fat and onions in three batches and cook on low heat. Add a little salt to the onions and cook until brown and caramelized. Saute the minced garlic with the last batch of onions. Add the onions, garlic, herbs, and broth to the crock-pot.


Cook on high for four hours (times may vary according to your slow cooker.  This soup could be also be made on the stove top and I would recommend cooking it on low for a few hours).

Serve the soup hot and top with toasted bread. Slice the bread, top with cheese, and allow to brown under the broiler. Dig in! You will find the leftovers of this soup are even better than the first bowl. 

Enjoy!

This weekend we also took advantage our our sauna. It definitely makes the cold weather bearable.
My husband made sure to honor my Finnish roots by making sure we had a sauna on our homestead.

It was 11 degrees this morning in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and my husband was tinkering with the sprinklers?! Covid may have temporarily cancelled hockey for our Lukas. However, it didn’t cancel a father’s love for his son and love of the game. 🏒 
 
John doesn’t use a liner, but normally there’s lots of snow right now that he packs down underneath the rink with his tractor. It’s been a strange winter. Though, I’m sure the snow will show up in full glory.

Thank you for following my blog and sharing my recipes. Make sure you check out all the other soup recipes I have created. Stay warm and take care of yourselves and each other. 💚
 

 

 

MUSHROOM SWISS BURGER SOUP: A SIMPLE PLEASURE

“The simplest things are overlooked. And yet, it is the simplest things that are the most essential.” 

― Thomas Lloyd Qualls

What strange times we are living in. For many months I have sat poised at my computer attempting to write with a huge question mark looming over my head. I am sure you have had many of the same emotions.

As a teacher, this school year I am taking things day-by-day. Each day at the end of 7th hour I say a little prayer of thankfulness that I was given another day of face-to-face instruction with my students. Before I leave for home, I collect any items I might need in the event we receive notification that we are moving to distance learning. I knew it was inevitable and yesterday morning we received news that we are moved to Distance Learning for the next two weeks. We are slated to return for face-to-face instruction on November 30th. My fingers are crossed that it happens.

While I try not to let my heart and head grow anxious with a web of uncertainty looming, I find that it is the simple things that keep me grounded. This fall I planted over three-hundred tulip and daffodil bulbs, I decided that my pandemic hairstyle needed a stylish change, and I subscribed to a couple of home delivery meal kits to glean new ideas for our menu. While I love to cook and plan our family dinners, the school year during the time of Covid-19 has had me frazzled. The meal kits have been a refreshing option in our meal rotation and I am gathering some new ideas for our table. Roasted carrots are now a regular feature on our plates, my husband does not despise ginger as much as he thought he did, and my step son is wild about steak topped with goat cheese butter. 

In times of uncertainty, such as during a pandemic, relying on wholesome, home cooked food is both comforting and nourishing. When I plan out our weekly menu, I plan a few quick meals for spontaneous changes in our schedule, work days that turn into work nights, and evenings when I do not have enough energy to prepare entire meals. On these evenings, soup helps fill in the cracks. A bowl of soup can help stretch leftovers (especially with a pre-teen in the house) and it can be partnered with a salad or sandwich for a meal.

I can eat soup year round, but during chilly winter months, a steaming bowl of soup is especially satisfying. My husband and step-son prefer a creamy and hearty soup and they gave two thumbs up to the recipe I am sharing with you. 

My inspiration for the soup is in the name: a mushroom swiss burger. However, I wanted to create a recipe that was not as calorie laden as a greasy burger and the side of obligatory French fries that usually accompanies it. While this soup is more indulgent than a broth based soup, you can slim it down with your choice of ingredients.  It can fit well into lower carb dining and if you do not eat meat you can add extra mushrooms (they are a great substitute for meat) and use a high quality vegetable stock. 

MUSHROOM SWISS BURGER SOUP

*1 pound of ground beef
*4 cups of beef stock/broth
*8 ounces of sliced mushrooms
*½ cup of chopped onion

*3 ribs of chopped celery
*2 Tablespoons of minced garlic
*2 Tablespoons of olive oil
*8 ounces of Swiss cheese (and more to top the finished soup. I used a Swiss gruyere blend)

*4 Tablespoons of butter
*½ cup of flour

*1 cup of milk (I used 2% but you can also use cream)
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Optional – 2-3 Tablespoons of tomato paste (I did not add any to this batch, but it adds a depth to the body of the soup)

*Optional – croutons to top the soup

Saute the onion, celery, and garlic in olive oil for a couple of minutes and add the ground beef to brown. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes. Make sure that the mushrooms, ground beef, and onions are brown and caramelized. Add the broth and bring to a simmer.


In a separate saucepan melt the butter and slowly incorporate the flour. Whisk well for 2-3 minutes and be careful not to burn. Add the milk into the butter and flour mixture (roux) and whisk well so there are not any lumps. Add the swiss cheese into the roux until it’s melted. Spoon the roux into the soup pot and mix well.

Simmer for 10 minutes and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the soup with a sprinkle of cheese, a few croutons on top, or a toasted baguette. Enjoy!

Mushroom Swiss Burger Soup


As chilly weather and snow accumulates outside, this soup will help keep you and your loved ones warm and nourished. Making food for others is a simple act of kindness that reminds us that many of life’s greatest pleasures are simple. I find cooking extremely grounding during these challenging times. Make sure you check out my soup tab for over twenty other healthy soup recipes.

November is close and as we welcome the holiday spirit into your heart, I wish you health and happiness. Take care of yourself and take care of each other. Eat more homemade food, eat your vegetables, and wash your hands!

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan in fall splendor.
Find the beauty in your backyard.
Photography and enjoying nature is one of my simple pleasures. Along with cooking, of course.

 

AUTUMN HARVEST: CREAMY CHICKEN SOUP WITH ROASTED JALAPENO

 

“Use what you have, use what the world gives you. Use the first day of fall: bright flame before winter’s deadness; harvest; orange, gold, amber; cool nights and the smell of fire. Our tree-lined streets are set ablaze, our kitchens filled with the smells of nostalgia: apples bubbling into sauce, roasting squash, cinnamon, nutmeg, cider, warmth itself. The leaves as they spark into wild color just before they die are the world’s oldest performance art, and everything we see is celebrating one last violently hued hurrah before the black and white silence of winter.” — Shauna Niequist

I have heard some bloggers refer to soup as a “hug in a bowl” and I heartily agree. It is one of my favorite ways to nurture and take care of my family. A steaming bowl of soup is a mainstay in our house. I enjoy a leafy green salad as an accompaniment and my step son and husband are fond of a gooey grilled cheese sandwich with theirs. I am also known to partner mine with a grilled cheese sandwich (made with swiss and the addition of crisp lettuce, a couple slices of ripe tomato, and wedges of dill pickle). I learned to love grilled cheese with those toppings in Jamaica (of all places). Of course, everything tastes better when served up at a little beachside grill!

When I make soup, I often make a couple of different kinds because soup freezes well. I freeze in a Mason jar (leaving a couple of inches of headroom). I like using jars because I can see what kind of soup it is and then I can pull it out of the freezer the day before for a quick meal. This is especially handy this time of year when we are often running to hockey practice after school and I do not have a lot of time to prepare dinner.
CREAMY CHICKEN & ROASTED JALAPENO SOUP

*4 cups of chicken broth
*2 cups of cooked chicken (I use a whole chicken in the Instapot. Once the chicken is finished cooking I remove the meat and set aside and then use the bones along with seasoning and vegetables for broth)
*2 Tablespoons of olive oil
*2 Tablespoons of chopped garlic
*½ cup of chopped onion
*½ cup of chopped celery
*½ cup of chopped carrot
*3 chopped roasted jalapeno peppers 
*4 ounce can of chopped jalapenos
*1 cup of heavy cream (you can use low fat or regular milk)
*8 ounces of shredded queso quesadilla cheese (you can use pepper jack, mozzarella, or your favorite variety)
*1 stick of butter
*1 cup of flour
*Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the garlic, onion, celery, and garlic in olive oil. While these ingredients soften, roast the jalapeno. Cut the jalapeno in ½ and deseed, put on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, roast for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Add the chicken broth to the sauteed vegetables.

In a separate saucepan melt the butter and slowly incorporate the flour. Whisk well for 2-3 minutes and be careful not to burn. Add a little bit of the liquid from the soup pot into the butter and flour mixture (roux) and whisk well so there are not any lumps. Pour the roux into the soup pot and mix well.

Add the chicken, canned and roasted jalapeno, cream, and cheese. Simmer for 10-15 minutes and add salt and pepper to taste.
This recipe is versatile and you can make it as spicy or mild as you wish. Roasting the fresh jalapenos gives them a slightly smoky flavor profile. I will often roast extra jalapeno and serve on the side so individuals can give their soup an extra kick if they wish. Roasted tomatoes, squash, and corn also are a great autumn addition to this soup and you can top your bowl with crushed tortilla chips or roasted pumpkin seeds. If you are looking for a brighter taste you can add a squeeze of lime juice and top with fresh cilantro.

The butter and cream in the recipe can be reduced if you want a lower fat version, but the roux in combination with the cheese thickens it to a velvety consistency. Since November is the season of thankfulness, you may want to splurge a little. Trust me, this soup is worth it!

As the weather cools, this soup will help warm you and your loved ones up. Making soup for others is a simple act of kindness that reminds us that many of life’s greatest pleasures are homemade. Make sure you check out my my soup tab for over twenty other healthy soup recipes

Our community has been through a lot of challenges and I hope you are able to reflect and count your blessings. Take care of yourself, take care of each other, and embrace the positive!

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.