Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cozy Chicken-dumpling Soup

The fact that Christmas is technically over is enough to make me weep. Actually, I did weep yesterday after  listening to the song Empty four times in a row off of the Ray LaMontagne vinyl I got Nick for Christmas...I am always sad after the hustle and bustle and excitement and planning and joy of Christmas come to an end. Thankfully Nick and I have two christmas' still to come-- one with his parents, and one with my dads side of the family-- so for that I am grateful. I can wean myself off my favorite time of year.

We had a white Christmas with a lovely dusting of snow on the 25th, but today New England is giving us a heavy dosage. Outside its coming down hard and fast and there is already at least seven inches.

 Today is another day off in my luxurious four day vacation, and I am pretty much stranded at home. I am terrified of driving in ANY snow, much less this much, and I left my snow boots in Salem which I am regretting since I could have snow shoed at the farm today...if I could have driven myself there...which I couldn' I guess it's fine. Its a do-indoor-cardio and drink-hot-tea and watch-twenty-episodes-of-Downton-Abbey sort of day anyway.

Our Christmas was a lovely one. It was wonderful to be able to spend so much time with my brother and his family, and with Nick as well. I do not know how I got so lucky as to have him, but I certainly am happy it came about that way. He spoiled me to no end on Christmas with so many beautiful gifts, and my brother and his wife made and stuffed two beautiful stockings for us-- it was overall a perfect day. And maybe I'll cry one more time, because Empty started playing again, and it is maybe the most beautiful song. The most beautiful.

Yesterday, after a seven mile run, an intense deep clean of the house, and a cry fest, I made a light and cozy dinner for Nick and I. After the constant eating of the holidays, I was happy to get us back to our normal dining habit. As a kid, Chicken soup with dumplings was one of my absolute favorite things, and I lightened up ours by cutting the recipe in half and shrinking the size of the dumplings. Because really, you can only eat one, and it doesn't need to be the size of your head.
This recipe makes a minimum of four servings--closer to five, and with just two tablespoons of butter (as opposed to half a stick) it's hardly a splurge. The soup is light and savory, and the dumpling were incredibly light and fluffy-- they practically melted in the mouth. The perfect Post-Christmas-Blues dinner.

2 tsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed and diced
1/2 white onion, diced
4 carrots, two diced, two sliced
1 cup cauliflower florets, chopped small
5-6 cups chicken  broth
about 1 cup shredded chicken
salt, pepper, thyme, sage, and parsley

Dumplings: (I used a buttermilk pancake mix that was leftover from Christmas breakfast-- but it would be just as easy to do without it)
1 1/4 cup biscuit/pancake mix
2 tbs melted butter
dash of salt
1/4 cup 1% milk
1 smashed garlic clove
dash of pepper
1 slice of provolone cheese, cut up 

To start, put a little olive oil into your dutch oven (Hurrah! A non crockpot meal!) and smash up four cloves of garlic. Toss it into the heated oil, and add in half an onion and two of the diced up carrots. 
  Add in a little salt and pepper and cook until the veggies are getting soft. Add in the chicken broth, cauliflower, chicken, and spices. I roasted two large legs of chicken and shredded it, because that's what I had, but you could use left over rotisserie chicken, or turkey, or a cooked breast. Whatever you have on hand.

Let all of this simmer for a half hour or so. This is when I listened to Empty four times and wept. After you've dried your eyes, put the dumplings together. I added in the 1/4 cup milk slowly until it reached the consistency I liked, so it may take slightly less. Drop the batter into the pot by rounded spoonfuls-- it should make at least six dumplings. Cover it up, and let them steam in there for fifteen minutes, or until they've swelled up and taken over the pot.

And then it's ready for the eating!
 Easy, warm, comforting, and filled with the coziness of Christmas. I hope that everyone stays safe on this blizzard-y day, and Merry Just-After-Christmas to you! As you can see, we're still using our Holiday bowls.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sausage Garlic Brusselled Pizza

This week has been a tired one-- but a nice one. Busy and filled with anticipation for the holidays, as well as nervousness that I won't be able to get everything done and make all the preparations I want to make. Every day has been spent making cookies for work (so many cookies!) and trying to keep the house spic and span for my brothers' families arrival on Saturday.

Last night I got home a little earlier than usual for work and thus had time to make dinner right then and there. I've been craving pizza all week, and a few times almost caved into the pressure and ordered it, but I held out for the homemade version I put together last night. And it was worth the wait.
A delightful combination of herbed crust, garlic laced brussel sprouts, savory sausage, and a light tomato sauce. Along with, of course, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Nick, who is a homemade pizza pro, paid me the ultimate compliment by saying "I'd have to work hard to beat this." 

I bought the crust at Trader Joes-- their Garlic Herb Crust. I'm sure I could make my own, but I've never tried and I have a fear of yeast. And besides, Joes makes their so nicely and its cheap and easy...So there it is. 

1 herb crust either homemade or bought
about 1.5 cups canned whole tomatoes
1 tbs olive oil
7 cloves garlic
2 small fresh Italian sausages
about 1 cup shredded brussel sprouts
about 1 cup low fat mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons(ish) fresh grated Parmesan cheese

First, stretch out the crust and put it on either a pizza pan or a pizza stone (you can oil the pan a little to keep it from sticking). Put it in the oven at 400 degrees for about ten minutes, or until it is no longer dough-y. Meanwhile, put the olive oil into a frying pan and heat it. Chop up 5 cloves of the garlic, and drop them in. When there are just turning golden, add the brussel sprouts along with some salt and pepper. Stir fry it all until the sprouts are beginning to soften up a touch, and then remove them.
Put the sausage (squeezed out of its casing) into the same hot pan, and cook until they are barely browned. You want them to finish cooking in the oven. 
Remove the sausage and pour the whole tomatoes into the pan. Smash  the two remaining pieces of garlic and add them, and use a fork to break up the tomatoes a little. Add some salt and pepper and a dash of rosemary. 

Remove the crust from the oven and spread the tomato chunks over it with a little of the liquid. Evenly distribute the cheese, and then scatter the sausage on. Finish up by covering the top with the brussel sprouts.
Bake it at 400 for about twenty minutes, or until everything is browned and melted. And then dig in. Seriously, this is so good. 

I wish we had more leftovers for lunch today...but no one can put pizza away like Nick can. I think I am going to make this again while my brother and his family are in town...

Can you believe it? Five days till Christmas. If the world doesn't end tomorrow...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Better-for-you Shepherds Pie

We have our first Real Snow up here in Maine. It is beautiful, and festive-- and the perfect Snow Man Making Snow if I felt so inclined to haul out my ski pants and make one. Because that is the thing about snow. It is wet and it is cold and it makes me terrified to drive. But I have to remind myself (and remind myself, and remind myself) of my complete and utter childhood joy at waking up and seeing the world white. As a kid, it meant absolute and utter FUN for the day. Clumsy snowball fights. Faulty snow fort creations. Hot chocolate breaks when my mother would wave us inside and we would sip, red cheeked, from steaming mugs of sweet cocoa before rushing back into the white universe. It was nice back then. And it is beautiful now. But I've lost the joy.

 Sometimes I feel blue. I wish I didn't, but I do, so there it is. Sometimes all the Bad in the world makes me ache, and I don't know how I will make it a safe place for my children. And at the same time, I desperately hope that by having children, and teaching them and loving them well, they will be able to make this place filled with a little more goodness. Sometimes I hope that, even though my job isn't glamorous or terribly important, it will influence every child least a little. To love the simple things. To love music, and beauty, and to bring that to people around them. At least I can hope.
Last night Nick, Jon, and I went to see The Hobbit. Which I LOVED! Although I am not surprised its gotten mediocre reviews...but to me, it was perfect. Typically I have a hard time with books-turned-to-movies, and I loved the in depth and leisurely feel of the film. I loved that they were able to include so much of the book, and the background of what I was (as a nerdy kid) TOTALLY OBSESSED with. That is: Middle Earth. So, yes please, bring on another 3 hour movie. And another one after that. I can take it.

Before the movie, we ate Shepherds Pie (at last I am crawling to the point) and it was delicious. Nick has been asking and asking me for this particular meal for a while now, and I've been hesitant to make it. Because a. I have no emotional attachment to this dish whatsoever because I don't remember having it as a kid and b. it seems like a heavy meal. But I lightened it up a touch, and added some extra flavor and flair to the innards of the 'pie'. And I loved it. So did Nick. And now he will stop begging for it. Maybe. He might start begging even more I guess.
Creamy Lighter Mashed potatoes on top of a savory hamburg-sausage base filled with squash, carrots, onions, and green beans. It's warm, filling, and it only took me an hour to make from start finish.
Mashed potatoes:
2 average sized potatoes
3/4 head of cauliflower
1/3 milk (I used raw milk)
1 1/2 tbs butter
1 clove garlic

2 tsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 onion, diced
2 carrots, chopped
2/3 cup butternut squash, chopped
3/4 lb good quality hamburger
1 small fresh sausage or kielbasa
1 cup frozen green beans
2 tbs flour
1/2 tbs rosemary
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbs tomato paste
1 1/2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs soy sauce
1 1/2 cup chicken broth 
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese

Cut the potatoes (skins on) and steam them until they're soft. Remove and place them in a food processor, and steam the cauliflower for about ten minutes. Pulse the potatoes in the processor with some of the butter, half of the milk, the garlic clove, and some s+p. Put it into a bowl, and puree the (now soft) cauliflower with the rest of the milk and butter until very smooth. Add it to the potatoes, and mix them together. 

Cut up the vegetables, and heat the oil in a large, nonstick pan. 
Cook the garlic and the onion until translucent, then add in the meat and some s+p, and cook over medium heat until browned. Drain off most of the fat, and add in the carrots and the squash.
Sprinkle the flour over everything, and mix it in. Add the soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, rosemary, and chicken broth. Add in the frozen beans and then turn the heat to low, and simmer it until the sauce is thickened. 

Pour it into a deep dish pan (I used my dutch oven).
Spread the cauliflower-mashed potatoes over it, and sprinkle the cheese on top. 
Bake it at 400 degrees for ten to fifteen minutes, and then broil it on high until the top is bubbling and browned.
Let it sit for a minute, and then serve it up, piping hot. And there you have it. 
I have to start today's job of making treats for all the families I work for. Just call me Santa...And I need to go on a snow run. Which, I admit, I am not looking forward to. There it is. I cannot tell a lie.

But guess what. In 6 days (less for most of you) we will all be on Christmas Vacation. Four days off of work, and my darling nephew to play with. Hurrah!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Crockpot Acorn Squash with Apple-Cinnamon Pork Chops

Sometimes it is the little things that make a day worth doing...the coffee you get on the way to work. The flower you put in your hair. The dinner you know you're coming back to after the day is done. That was yesterday. Thursdays are a late work day-- I don't get home until 8-- and sometimes I a little bit dread it. But yesterday my small pupils were especially adorable, and the hours flew by and before I knew it, I was home serving up this delicious, cozy winter meal: Crockpot Acorn Squash with Apple Cinnamon Pork Chops. Oh, and bacon laced roast brussel sprouts. Have I mentioned my love of brussel sprouts? Because I love them. And I love bacon. The two together are an all star team.
Subtly sweet Acorn squash paired with savory, tender pork chops and, of course, the delicious was the perfect, wholesome, healthy ending for a full work day. Recipes for Acorn squash are PACKED with sugar typically-- so much that it pretty much negates the healthiness of the gourd. In this recipe, I used only two teaspoons brown sugar and 1 tsp honey-- and it was just enough to enhance the naturally sweet flavor the squash already has. 
Ingredients: (serves two)
1 medium sized acorn squash, halved
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp honey
2 tsp butter
Dash cinnamon, salt, and pepper

2 (or three if you have a husband who eats a lot) thin center cut pork chops
1/2 cup apple cider
2 tsp cinnamon chili rub (pictured below) or 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 1/2 chili powder, 1/2 tsp pepper

2 slices bacon
about 2 cups halved brussel sprouts
1 tbs apple cider vinager

First, slice one medium sized acorn squash in half and remove the seeds. 
Fill each of them with 1 tsp brown sugar, 1/2 tsp honey, and 1 tsp butter. Sprinkle some cinnamon, salt, and pepper over them and set aside. 
Boil the brussel sprouts for about 3 minutes, and then drain and run cold water over them. Slice in half (if  not already halved) and set aside. Cook the bacon until it is just browned, and remove. On a cookie sheet, toss the sprouts with a little bit of the bacon fat, the vinegar, and the salt and pepper. Roast them at 400 degrees for about ten minutes, or until they are browned and sizzling. Remove, and sprinkle the bacon over them. Since I put this meal  together in advance, I refrigerated the sprouts and reheated them before serving. However, if I'd had time after work I would have just cooked them then-- it's up to you. It's a free country.

Anyway. Drain away most of the bacon fat from the pan, then place the pork chops (well sprinkled on either side with Cinnamon-chili rub and s+p) into the remaining fat and cook until just browned. 
This rub I received from a friend at my wedding. Delicious. 
Remove the meat and place it at the bottom of the crockpot. Pour the cider over it, and a little more cinnamon. Place the squash on top, cover it, and cook on low for 7 hours. 
Then, come home from work and dig into a good-for-you comfort meal. 
There you have it. Its hard to believe that Christmas is less than two weeks away...significantly less than two weeks. I have wrapping, and package sending to do. Also laundry. Also a run. Before work. So I'm going to get moving. Happy Friday everyone!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


The incredible thing is, I am sick again. I had been on a small mental high about the fact that, compared to me in the old days, I was hardly ever getting coughs and colds. But now since suddenly both myself and my husband are working consistently (daily in my case) with kids, the germs are bound to be abundant. So, I am typing this with a (literally) dripping nose. Charming.
I am filled with body pain, exhaustion, and headaches, so yesterday I took it easy with a 2 mile beach walk and today I rested in total. I slept in. I stayed in my pj's. I drank tea. Then I went to work.

I feel amazingly blessed to live in a place so beautiful. And to have quick access to views like this. Oh, New England.

Lupe loves nothing more than running into the waves, the freezing icy cold waves-- even in winter time. This is because she has Dog Blubber I guess.

My dear friend spent the day with me on Sunday and we did some Christmas shopping and then made a good dinner for Nick and his friend Jon who also works on the farm. I was inspired by a recipe on Skinny Taste to  put together this pasta dish. That is usually how my recipes work-- I am not so good at thinking up things on my own, but if I see a picture of something I like, I can easily create my own version of it. Which is exactly what happened with this dish.

Al dente penne tossed in a savory turkey-sausage sauce and combined with bacon laced brussell sprouts-- and its so filling that you really don't need to eat much. This recipe should serve at least seven. 

1 lb lean ground turkey
2 Italian sausage links
1/2 white onion (diced)
6 cloves garlic (divided)
1 carrot (diced)
2 stalks celery (diced)
1 large can whole tomatoes (pureed) 
1 small can fresh tomato sauce
salt, pepper, and a dash of Italian seasoning
1-2 crumbled up dried mini peppers, or a shake or two of red pepper flakes
about 1 1/2 cups shredded brussell sprouts
1 slice of bacon
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)
1 package penne pasta

First, put the turkey in a nonstick pan, and crumble the sausage into it as well. While this browns up, dice all of the veggies, and thinly slice the sprouts. Once the meat is cooked, remove it from the pan and cook the slice of bacon in the remaining oil. Once crispy, remove the bacon and throw three diced garlic cloves in. Cook just until they start turning golden, then add the sprouts in with some salt and pepper (as much as you prefer. I like a good amount). Cook them until they are just tender, and then remove them into a separate bowl and crumble the bacon on top.

    In the same pan, add the diced celery, carrot, onion, and the remaining garlic with some more s+p and some Italian seasoning. Once the veggies are cooked down, add in the meat, the pureed tomatoes, the crushed red peppers, and the tomato sauce. Stir it up, add in a little more seasoning, and simmer.
While the sauce cooks (on low) boil the water for the pasta, and cook it until it is just al dente. Drain the pasta and put it back into the large pot. Pour the sauce over it, add the mozzarella, and the brussell sprouts. Combine everything, and then serve it up with some (optional) Parmesan on top. 
Trust me when I say this is SO GOOD! The sauce is a little bit creamy (thanks to the mozzarella) and the meat is flavorful and savory with the addition of the sausage in there. And, like I said, its so filling that you don't really end up eating that much. Plus, on top of it all, its a pretty lean indulgence.

Today I am accessing one of my own recipes to make dinner, which is exciting. Nick requested the butternut-squash carbonara, so I'm checking my archives to make sure I doit right. I also managed to squeak out a 3.3 mile run today despite my miserable, aching, sick body. They say exercise can speed the healing we'll see.

I hope you are having a wonderful week. Christmas is coming!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Skinny-Creamy Perogies

Last night Nick and I watched Start Wars episode V, the Empire Strikes Back. Which I used to be OBSESSED with as a twelve year old in Thailand. Nick and I hadn't seen them in years, and years, and, while reveling in the sweet nostalgia, we laughed. Nick fell asleep (like he does) after about fifteen minutes-- before they'd even made it out of the snowy wonderland that the rebels were hiding out on-- but I watched all of it. And, you know? Even with the one-liners and the terrible acting (Luke Skywalker, I'm talking about you.) it was so, so good.

The other night I had an overwhelming craving for macaroni and cheese with kielbasa-- and age old favorite of mine. But, to be quite honest, I don't eat things like macaroni and cheese. So I tweaked it. And what came out was a delicious, cheesy, creamy meal that was tasty and filling and didn't make me feel guilty (or give me cheese-belly).

Introducing: Skinny- Creamy Perogies. Now, as a disclaimer, Nick, who is a Perogie purist (as in, he refuses to enjoy them unless they are made in the way he grew up eating them--stir fried with onions and sausage) wasn't a huge fan. I, however, loved it. And that's what counts. Cause I do the cooking and the buying of groceries.

It was a quick meal-- and I used lots of freezer basics. 

Ingredients: (serves 3)
2 cups frozen cauliflower florets
1/2 cup milk (I used raw milk since that's what we had-- but 2% would be ideal)
1/2 grated cheese (I used cheddar and Parmesan)
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp oregano
1/2 cup frozen pees
1 package frozen or fresh Perogies
two links fresh Kielbasa

First, boil or steam the cauliflower until softened, about ten minutes. Place the kielbasa, split down the center, on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Roast it in the oven at 415 degrees until they are browned and cooked through.
 Place the cauliflower in a food processor with the milk, salt, pepper, oregano, and garlic, and puree until very smooth.
Cook the Perogies according to the package directions. Pour the cauliflower puree into a sauce pan, and stir in the cheese. Turn the heat to medium, and add the pees and then the cooked perogies. Stir until everything is well coated with the sauce, and the cheese is melted. Serve it up along side the kielbasa. 
I ate mine with a little bit of barbecue sauce on the side-- delicious. And you could just as easily make a real classic mac and cheese with elbow noodles instead of perogies. That way if your husband is also a purist, he won't be able to complain.

Have a wonderful, sunlight filled Thursday. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Winter Beef Stew

Last night, we decorated our tree, and now the house is officially Christmas-fied. All I need to do is find some stockings that are actually pretty, not horrific looking. Oh, and that won't cost an arm plus a leg. Everything that is cheap in the stores is so tacky looking...Any ideas?

                                             Lupe in the truck, heading out to get the tree.

Before we commenced the decorating of the tree, we enjoyed a cozy dinner of Winter Beef Stew. Now, all beef stews are relatively winter-y. But I think this one is particularly so because of the presence of the winter root vegetables that I put in there. At least, to me it is. Granted, yesterday was legitimately a balmy day for December 3rd, but since I am chilled if the thermometer is anywhere below 80 degrees, stew was necessary. 

Also, I would like to point out that, while love means many things, it also means learning to use mushrooms in cooking because your husband loves them even though you, yourself, loathe them. 

This stew was a delicious medley of butternut squash, turnips, potato's, carrots, onions, and tender chunks of beef. With a little bit of mini alphabet pasta thrown in for good measure. Oh, and mushrooms. I picked mine out.
2 stalks celery
4 cloves garlic
1/2 of a large onion
2 carrots
1 large turnip
1 small russet potato
about 3/4 cup chopped butternut squash
3 mushrooms of whatever sort you somehow enjoy
1/4 lb stew beef
48 oz plus a little more canned or homemade beef broth
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp herbs provence
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbs water
About 1/4 cup (dry) tiny pasta

Finely chop the onion, garlic, and celery and cook them in a little olive oil in a nonstick pan. Slice the mushrooms large so you can easily remove them from your stew. Add some salt and pepper to bring out the flavor.
Peel (if necessary) and chop up the rest of the vegetables into hearty chunks-- except for the potato which I chopped small since I only used one.
Throw these into a pot or a crockpot and add in the seasonings and Worcestershire sauce on top. 
Once the veggies in the pan are softened, pour them over the root vegetables, and slice the stew beef into small-ish chunks. Again, I sliced mine pretty small since I didn't use much.

Pour the broth over top, add a little more salt and pepper, and cook it until everything is soft. In the crockpot I cooked it on high for six hours. A half hour before serving, whisk the cornstarch and water together and add it to the soup to slightly thicken the broth. Cook the pasta until just soft in a pot of boiling water, and add it to the soup right before dishing it up.
We ate ours with a slice of rustic seeded bread. And it was a perfect pre-tree decorating meal.
On top of it all, its a cheap dinner that will last for a solid three or so meals (if there's only two of you) and it's super healthy. 

Enjoy this warm, Indian Summer weather we're having. Fingers crossed that it lasts. Also, is anyone else so upset that The Walking Dead is on hiatus until February?