Saturday, February 28, 2015

Super Easy/Fast Baked Potato Soup

I first had baked potato soup at a Black Angus restaurant near my office close to 20 years ago.  The restaurant has been gone for some time, but the memory of that soup has remained- it was THAT good!  Smooth, velvety potato soup, topped with typical baked potato toppings- yummm!  No wonder I craved it during my pregnancy with my son (who is now almost 19- yikes, where did the time go?!)   The concept is simple:  baked potatoes turned into soup, with chicken broth and cream/milk, and don't forget the toppings- cheese, sour cream, bacon, chives, herbs, the works.  Not the healthiest soup in the world, but certainly one of the tastiest!

The other night I was tired, my hubby and I had not eaten, and were both getting cranky.   A survey of the pantry turned up 3 russet potatoes that were not yet too soft to throw away, but a few days away from it.  So, I scrubbed them and threw them in the microwave.  Soup followed, and let me tell you, it did not taste like a last-ditch-before-tossing-the-potatoes soup!  It was creamy, hearty, and delicious.  And, did I mention, easy??  Oh yes, it was!  I just had to share it here.  This was about a 30 minute total, from start to finish.  Doesn't get easier than that!

Baked Potato Soup, With Toppings

3 slices bacon, chopped
3 medium size russet potatoes
3-4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup half and half

Bacon bits
Shredded cheese
Sour Cream
Chives or chopped green onions

Scrub potatoes and dry.  Prick several times with a knife or fork.  Place on a plate in microwave,  Microwave for about 10 minutes.  Check after 10 minutes and cook for additional time if needed, until potatoes are soft.  Remove from microwave and allow to cool slightly.

 Meanwhile, heat chopped bacon in a pot on medium high heat.  Cook and stir until crispy.  Remove bacon pieces with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel-lined plate.  Drain fat from the pot and return to stove.

Slit the skins of the potatoes open and scoop potato flesh out with a spoon and add to the pot.  Discard skins.  Add chicken broth and heat on medium-high to a simmer.  Simmer 5 minutes.  Use a potato masher to mash potatoes in the broth until no large hunks remain.  Bring back up to a simmer, then add half and half, stirring in to incorporate.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into bowls and top with toppings as desired.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Oatmeal Pancakes With Honeyed Yogurt and Fruit

Looking back, I guess I have not posted many breakfast recipes on this blog!  I guess that's because I do breakfast pretty simply- boxed cereal, toast, or eggs, nothing too fancy. Once in awhile I'll break out the skillet to make pancakes, which are a favorite of my kids.  They are not all that healthy or nutritious, however, so we don't make them often.  Back when they were little, we established a tradition of having "breakfast for dinner" on Friday evenings.  I had toyed with an oatmeal pancake recipe back then, but never really found one that all of us liked a lot.  Recently, I started thinking about it again, so started doing some searches, and ran across a Cooking Light recipe from a few years ago that got great reviews.  I have only made it once (with some tweaks) and am already a fan!

Now, if you are looking for light, fluffy pancakes to soak up real maple syrup like little pillows of sweetness, this is not the recipe for you.  If that's what you want, then we're back to the once in awhile treat of real buttermilk pancakes.  However, if you are looking for a hearty, filling, nutritious alternative and are willing to keep an open mind, give these a try. They are denser than traditional pancakes, but not the hockey pucks that I experimented with a few years ago.  The oatmeal gives them plenty of substance, while the buttermilk helps to lighten the texture.  The original recipe is here, and my version follows.  I prefer honey as a sweetener, so have subbed half of the sugar for honey.  I also reduced the butter, and added 1/2 tsp. of vanilla, because, why not- vanilla is great in pancakes!  The yogurt/fruit topping was my own idea, and I love it- it's just sweet enough without being overly sweet, and deliciously creamy.  Use whatever fruit you like- I used thawed frozen cherries on mine.

Oatmeal Pancakes With Honeyed Yogurt and Fruit

1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1.5 tsp sugar
1.5 tsp honey
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup reduced or non-fat buttermilk
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 tbsp melted butter

1. Combine all dry ingredients into a medium bowl.

2. In a small bowl, combine egg, buttermilk and butter.

3. Stir into dry ingredients until just combined.

4. Heat a skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray.  Spoon batter onto heated skillet.  Cook pancakes about 2 minutes per side or until golden.  Remove to a plate.

Honeyed Yogurt

For each serving of pancakes, combine:

1/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 tsp honey

Stir together until well incorporated.

Serve pancakes topped with honeyed yogurt and fruit of choice.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Thai Coconut Curry Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin is one of those foods that I've always thought was just ok.  I don't mind the obligatory slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, but apart from a Cooking Light recipe for delicious chocolate chip pumpkin bread, I really don't cook with pumpkin much.    This time of year, pumpkin is everywhere- in lattes at every coffee shop, in muffins at the bakery, in pasta dishes, and soups.  I've tried pumpkin soup before, and it was....ok.  Nothing that I would go out of my way to have again. One thing I've seen before and never thought it sounded good was pumpkin curry.  Not sure why, but those two things just don't seem to go together.  Well, someone probably once thought that chocolate and peanut butter didn't either, but as we all know, that is the most fantastic food combination on the planet!  Since autumn is upon us, soup weather is here (or almost here), and I have an upcoming soup potluck at work, I thought I would revisit the idea of pumpkin soup.  I wanted something different though- nothing spiced with cinnamon, or that in any way reminded me of pie.  To get some ideas, I turned to one of my favorite food websites, FoodGawker.  It's like Pinterest, only JUST for food- gorgeous pictures, and everything links back to a blog or other website where you can usually find the recipe.  FoodGawker is full of pumpkin dishes right now, so there was a lot to peruse.  I saw a number of pumpkin curry soups, but one with a Thai twist caught my attention.  Thai curry is a lot different than Indian curry, and I was curious how it would pair with the pumpkin.

As it usually happens, I reviewed several recipes, but no one recipe was "it" for me, so I took components from different ones and combined them with some of my own ideas.  The result is very  flavorful and has a nice kick to it from Thai red curry paste.  I have a totally different take on pumpkin soups now, and this is one that I will make again and again!

Thai Coconut Curry Pumpkin Soup

Serves: About 4-6

1 tbsp coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1/2 of a red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
2 tsp. Thai red curry paste or to taste- more if you like it spicier
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used chicken)
2 cups pumpkin, canned or fresh roasted and mashed
1/2 cup coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Heat oil in pot and add onions, carrots and red bell pepper.  Cook 5-7 minutes until vegetables begin to soften and most liquids have evaporated.

2.  Add garlic and ginger, cook and stir one minute.  Add curry paste and stir to incorporate.  Add broth, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are completely soft.

3.  Add pumpkin and mix in well.  Puree in batches in a blender or food processor, or in the pot with an immersion blender, until smooth.

4.  Simmer 15 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in coconut milk.

This is one of those dishes that tastes better the next day, after the ingredients have had a chance to meld together.  If you make it ahead of time, add just half of the coconut milk.  Then when you reheat it, add the rest just before serving and swirl in with a spoon, for a pretty presentation.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Healthy Broccoli, Mushroom, and Cheese Potato "Skins"

In case you haven't noticed, fall is upon us, and that means football season.  I am not a football fan myself- the only football I have watched in the last couple of decades was the local high school's, and only because my son was in the marching band!  But I know that football season means football parties, and that means appetizers!  One of the most popular appetizers around is the potato skin...baked potatoes with the flesh scooped out, filled with butter, cheese, bacon, and topped with sour cream.  Holy cow, my arteries just clogged up typing that!  I have made a lazy version of this for years, in which I bake potatoes and then slice into rounds, which I then top with the typical toppings, and broil to complete.  They make great finger foods- nice little potato rounds full of everything you want on them!  Just...not very healthy, in fact, very UNhealthy.

So, I started thinking about this.  Could I use the same concept but decrease the unhealthy ingredients and up the healthier ones?  In thinking about potatoes, lots comes to mind: mostly, they are served fried, mashed with lots of fatty dairy ingredients, or topped with umpteen unhealthy toppings.  Maybe I could adjust a bit, keep some of the tasty stuff, but substitute something a bit less artery-clogging.  There are a ton of baked potato varieties out there- everything from meat lovers to vegetarian.  I have always enjoyed a broccoli-cheese topping on baked potatoes, and wondered if I could sort of twist this concept to what I had in mind.

There is a delicate balance to consider, so I couldn't omit the fat completely.  But I did reduce it quite a bit, and the result was very tasty!  This is a nice appetizer that would be great for any occasion.  Once the potatoes are baked, you just have to make the topping, and that can be made ahead of time if necessary.  There is some stove time involved, so factor that in, but it is worth it.  This is a nice, tasty, and WAY less fat-filled and greasy version of the traditional potato skin.  I would have no problem bringing this to a football party, or anywhere else for that matter.  The cheddar cheese compliments the potato and provides a bit of creamy goodness, while the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese give it a good bit of crispy/crunchy quality, as well as flavor.  If you're gluten free, go ahead and omit the bread crumbs- there will still be a tiny bit of crunch from the browned parmesan cheese.

Healthy Broccoli, Mushroom, and Cheese Potato "Skins"

The "skins" is in quotation marks because it's not just the skins.  Baked potatoes are cooled and sliced, then topped with yummy ingredients.

2 medium russet potatoes
Olive oil cooking spray
1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup diced onion
1/2 cup broccoli, chopped small
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped small
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp. shredded good-quality parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

1. Prick potatoes with a fork and either bake in the oven, or microwave until tender.  Set aside and cool completely.

2. Heat a skillet on medium-high with 1 tbsp. olive oil.  Add onions, cook 5 minutes until translucent.  Add broccoli and cook another 5 minutes, until just tender.  Add mushrooms and cook 3 minutes.  Add garlic, salt and pepper, and cook 1 minute.  Set aside.

3. Spray a 9x9 square pan with olive oil cooking spray.  Preheat broiler in oven.

4. Slice potatoes into 1/2 inch rounds.  Place in a single layer in prepared square pan.  Spray top of potato rounds with olive oil spray.  Broil about 5 minutes.

5.Sprinkle cheddar cheese atop potato slices evenly.  Broil about 3 minutes or until cheese is melted and barely bubbling.

6.  Top potatoes and cheese with broccoli mixture in an even layer.  Combine bread crumbs and parmesan cheese and sprinkle over broccoli mixture.

7.  Broil 1-2 minutes until cheese browns on top.

8. Remove from oven and allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Hummus is one of my favorite snack foods.  I don't remember the first time I ever tried it, but it was as an adult, probably in my 30s.  When I bought my first food processor, the very first thing I made in it was hummus- in fact, wanting to make hummus at home was the reason for buying my first food processor!  I used the recipe out of the Moosewood Cookbook, and in time, developed my own way of making it. I prefer making my own to buying hummus at the store- while there are some good brands out there, it seems like they always put cumin into it, and I really do not like cumin in hummus.  Not to toot my own horn too loudly, but I get a lot of compliments on my hummus.  My kids love it- my daughter would happily live on it if I let her.  In fact, as I have been typing this, she walked into the kitchen and asked if I would make more today, since she just finished off what was in the refrigerator.

Mine is a pretty simple recipe.  After many years of making it, I can do it without measuring anything.  It comes together pretty quickly in the food processor, and it's best to make it with time to let it sit in the fridge a few hours or overnight before serving, to let the flavors meld.  I have added other ingredients in the past- roasted red pepper, green onions, spinach, but really like the simplicity of the plain, unadorned hummus.


2 cans garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained and rinsed well
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 heaping tablespoon sesame tahini
The juice of one lemon
About 3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Water, as needed to thin

1.  Place drained and rinsed garbanzo beans, tahini and garlic in food processor.  Pulse to chop into a coarse crumble.

2.  Turn processor on low and drizzle in lemon juice and olive oil a little at a time.  Use a spatula to scrape mixture down into the bowl of the processor as necessary.

3. Taste, and add more lemon juice if necessary (if one lemon does not yield enough juice, I  supplement with bottled lemon juice)

4.  Thin with water as needed, until mixture attains a creamy consistency.

5.  Add salt and pepper and process to incorporate.  Taste and add more if necessary.

6.  Refrigerate at least a couple of hours before serving; overnight is best.  Serve with pita bread, pita chips, crackers, raw vegetables, etc.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Spaghetti Squash Casserole- Two Ways

Recently I was looking over my past entries in this blog, and I realized that I have posted a lot of pasta recipes!  Pasta is great- it's delicious, filling, fast, and if you use whole grain pasta, pretty healthy.  However, not everyone can eat pasta- those on low-carb diets, or those who are on a gluten-free diet.  We like pasta just fine at my house, though it is not the most figure-friendly food on the planet, but as I said, it's quick and easy, so ends up making an appearance at dinner frequently.

I've seen a lot about using spaghetti squash as an alternative to pasta, and my past attempts were not always that successful.  It's a texture thing- while it may LOOK like spaghetti noodles, and are fairly mild-flavored, the texture is NOTHING like pasta.  I learned early on that when cooking with spaghetti squash, it's best to use it in dishes where you are not expecting the texture of spaghetti.  Therefore, something like, say, spaghetti, is out of the question.  I have had pretty good luck with casseroles, though.  The spaghetti squash is lighter than pasta, but has enough heft and substance to provide a good structure to a casserole.  My first experiment was a casserole in which the spaghetti squash strands were mixed with ricotta and parmesan cheeses, an egg, and some sauteed veggies, mixed together, and baked.  It was tasty!  This weekend, I tried a different casserole, not one, but two ways.  I didn't plan it that way- I just ended up with more ingredients than I could use for one casserole, so whipped up a second "lazy" version with the rest!

This is a take on lasagna, and though I used ground beef, ground turkey or chicken would be equally good, and would lighten the dish even further.  I used a jarred spaghetti sauce, though a lot of the recipes I researched call for using canned or fresh tomatoes and making your own quick sauce.  I had jars of sauce in my pantry, so in the interest of time, used it.  I used what veggies I had on hand, which included zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, and onion, but you can use other veggies as well.  Eggplant would be good, as would broccoli or asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, etc.  In the first version, I started with a layer of cooked spaghetti squash strands on the bottom of a 9x9 pan, then spread on a layer of ricotta/cottage cheese mixed with an egg, then topped with my sauce, which included the beef and veggies.  In the second version, everything was mixed together and plopped into the pan and baked.  Both are tasty, and next time, I might do a hybrid of these, where I mix the spaghetti squash strands with a bit of the cheese and sauce for the bottom layer, then layer as described above.

This recipe makes a lot- I probably could have done one large (9x13) pan, but did two smaller ones instead.  If you just want one smaller pan, just use half of a spaghetti squash and cut the rest of the ingredients in half.

Spaghetti Squash Casserole, Two Ways

1 average-sized spaghetti squash
1.25 pounds ground beef (or turkey)
Olive oil
1/2 of a large onion
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
1/2 of a red bell pepper
1 jar of spaghetti sauce (I used a roasted garlic and onion one)
1 15 oz. container of part skim ricotta cheese
About 1/2 cup low fat cottage cheese
1 egg
About 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Optional: shredded mozzarella for top

(Side note and funny story: I did not have any mozzarella, but did have some string cheese.  I decided to slice a few of them up and sprinkle on top of the casserole, figuring they would melt together.  Um, nope!  They maintained their shape and rather rubbery texture, so I had a polka-dotted casserole top!  Hence not having any photos of this dish.  Next time I make it, I'll take photos.)

Method 1:

1.  Slice spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.  Spray a baking sheet lightly with cooking spray and place squash halves cut sides down.  Bake at 375 for 30-45 minutes until soft.   Cool, then use a fork to shred the strands of squash out of the skins.  Set aside.

2.  Dice the onion, pepper, zucchini and yellow squash into uniformly sized pieces.  Heat a couple tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet and add vegetables.  Sautee until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.  Remove vegetables to a plate and set aside.

3.  Add ground beef to pan and cook, breaking it up to crumble as it cooks.  Drain excess fat and liquids.  When completely cooked, add vegetables back to pan and heat through.

4.  Add spaghetti sauce and heat through.

5.  Meanwhile, mix ricotta and cottage cheeses together in a bowl with one egg, until egg is well incorporated.

6.  Spray a 9x13 pan or two 9x9 pans with cooking spray.  Add spaghetti squash strands in an even layer about 1/2 to 1 inch thick.

7.  Spread cheese mixture over spaghetti squash.  Top with sauce.

8.  Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, until sauce is bubbly.  Sprinkle with parmesan and/or mozzarella cheese and bake 5 minutes more, until cheese is melted.

Method 2:

1.  Follow steps 1 through 5 above and prepare pan(s) with cooking spray.

2.  Mix spaghetti squash, cheese, and sauce together in a bowl and pour into pan.

3.  Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, until sauce is bubbly.  Sprinkle with parmesan and/or mozzarella cheese and bake 5 minutes more, until cheese is melted.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Open-Faced Fried Egg and Tomato Sandwich

I love tomatoes- as long as they are ripe!  Now is the perfect time for using fresh tomatoes in cooking- they just don't get better than they are right now.  This is a delicious breakfast, lunch, or light dinner, and comes together very quickly and easily.  Sometimes I add a slice of bacon and sometimes I leave it off.  Spinach or other tender greens are also good on this.

Open-Faced Fried Egg and Tomato Sandwich
Serves: 1

1 slice sourdough bread, lightly toasted and buttered
1 egg
1 slice sharp cheddar cheese
1 small ripe tomato, sliced
1 slice crisp bacon (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Heat a small frying pan and spray with cooking spray.  When hot, crack egg into pan, salt and pepper to taste, and cook to desired doneness.  Add cheese to top of egg.

2.  Place egg on top of buttered toast.  Top with bacon (if using) and tomato slices.  Salt and pepper tomato slices to taste.