Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup

Man, being sick sucks. When you’re not running for the nearest roll of toilet paper to wipe your face of snot, you’re gasping for breath because you’re too congested. Sleeping on your side means waking up with one functioning nostril. Everything hurts. The only thing that feels good is your fluffiest sheets and your ass nestled among every last pillow you have on your bed.

Luckily for me, I’m not sick. But my boyfriend is. And yes, I do have a picture of him swallowed in a cocoon of feather duvet and pillows. It’s pretty flippin’ cute. I’ve never seen a boy appreciate 700-thread-count sheets that much, and I’ll save him the emasculation of posting it on here.

Just check my Instagram, in case he ever pisses me off. MWAHAHA.

We finally had our first cold front of the season. It only took till the last week of October for cold-ish air to come barreling through Orlando. My favorite part of living on the third floor of my apartment is being able to leave the windows open for all of the crisp Fall air to come in. And yes, I do consider 67 degrees to fall under the definition of ‘crisp’. We’ve left the windows open all night as well, when it actually dips down to the mid-50’s. It’s quite the treat.

So naturally the third wheel to this sick-boyfriend-cool-weather combination is soup. But not just any soup. For the next 2 months, we’re all obsessed with eating anything orange or belonging to the squash family. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin bagels with pumpkin cream cheese, and of course everyone’s favorite the Pumpkin Spice latte. Butternut squash soup is among this great and glorious category. I’ve tried my hand several times at creating that lovely, velvety smooth traditional butternut squash soup. You know the one that has just the right amount of sweetness, cinnamon, maybe nutmeg, and some other spices that I can’t seem to figure out and it always leaves me thinking I’m better off just buying it at Crisper’s or Panera Bread or some other place that gets soups right.

Not this time.

I perused Pinterest like I do for some inspiration and I came across a recipe for a Thai take on this classic. When I told the boyfriend, I saw the joy rise in his eyes. Apparently he has a thing for squash soups as well. Here’s my take on this recipe.

Do this!

2 Tbs coconut oil
1 sweet onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs fresh ginger, minced
3 Tbs red curry paste
4 cups of your favorite broth (meat or veggie)
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2” cubes
1 14 oz can of unsweetened coconut milk
Salt & Pepper
Lime for squeezing

1. Warm your coconut oil in a deep pot (the kind you’d cook your pasta in) over medium heat.

2. Add your onions, garlic, and a pinch of salt and coat in the oil. Let this cook about 5 minutes, until the onion are translucent.

3. Add your curry paste and ginger and stir to coat your onions. Isn’t that color lovely??

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4. Drop in your chunks of squash, then add about 3 cups of your broth. Everything should be almost submerged. Bring this to medium-high heat and cover. Let it do its thing for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice. When done, take it off the heat.

5. Carefully add the contents thus far into a food processor or even a blender. Since the soup is scalding hot, keep the food chute (that place you stick your food in when you’re shredding it) or the hole in the lid of your blender uncovered. If not, the heat will build up and shit will hit the ceiling in the most literal of senses. If you’re worried about being splashed, gently hold a paper towel over the opening. Hit the pulse button a few time to get it started, then let it blend away until you see no lump of squash or pieces of onion floating around.

6. Pour your soup back into your pot and turn the heat back on to medium.

7. Add your can of coconut milk and stir thoroughly. Depending on thick your soup is (most likely depending on how much squash you used) you’ll need to add your last cup of broth. If you’re out of broth, you can thin the soup with some water. No biggie. Heat this through on medium heat.

8. Taste test! Do you need some salt and pepper? More than likely you will! Depending on what broth you use (low-sodium, who-cares-about-sodium) you may need to add some or not at all. Always season soups at the very end.

9. Serve up with wedges of lime to squeeze. The lime brightens up the soup and really highlights the coconut and ginger.

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Paleo-ish Cookie Dough Bars

I’ve never been a person to shy away from a problem. I enjoy a little fire under my ass. As a matter of fact, I don’t enjoy using the word, “problem”; “challenge” or even “opportunity” is far more enjoyable.

I may just be saying that after having enough previous bosses tell me that.

Either way, I’m stressing. Like, the kind of stress that makes you reach for a Hershey’s bar, some preservative-rich frozen macaroni and cheese and a box of wine. Anything that will leave you in a sugary, carb-induced coma on the couch and slurring your thoughts so badly that even if there was a zombie walking through your living room you couldn’t put two and two together. That, my friends, would be a “problem”.

After all, I’m a red-blooded American woman, and nothing says that better than reaching for the sweets and the booze. But since I’m on this kick of eating well, I’ll bypass the creamy cheesy carbs and opt for something a little more wholesome. Something filled with ingredients that my body will actually know what to do with. Don’t worry; wine is still in the mix.

This recipe is actually inspired by one found on damyhealth.com, and I’ve been meaning to make it for several weeks now. OK, weeks really means months. But I’ve been pushed to my stress’ limit to where I have no other option but to make this. And since I love baked goods but can’t bake to save my life, this is totally up my alley. All you need is a food processor and something to heat the ganache with.

MAKE THIS!

Paleo-ish Cookie Dough Bars
Makes 12 squares

Crust:
1 c peanuts
1 c cashews
½ c pitted dates
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs honey

Ganache:
1 c coconut oil
½ cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup honey

1. Place the crust ingredients into your food processor. Pulse together for a few minutes until everything comes together in a ball. Add a tablespoon or two of water f it needs a little help. This is my kind of baking!

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2. Grease a glass baking dish (I used an 8 x 12) and press the crust in an even layer.

3. Put your ganache ingredients into a small pot on the stove top and gently warm it through, until you can see that the honey has incorporated and all of the coconut oil has melted (aka there are no little white balls floating around).

4. Pour the ganache on top of the crust layer in the pan.

5. Cover with plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer for a few hours. Cut it into your 12 squares and enjoy!

*To store, seal in a container and keep in your freezer!

Poached Eggs with Spinach and Pasta

Sometimes you’re just craving pasta… Even at 10:47 in the morning. Appropriate? Maybe.

Perhaps that’s why I love brunch so much. Got some vodka? Add some juice, and magically daydrinking is now encouraged. Take your favorite thing to eat at dinner, throw an egg on it, and VOILA! It’s now acceptable to eat it before noon. Some of my favorite brunchie things are any type of steak and eggs (I had a chimichurri flank steak and eggs at Dexter’s Winter Park that was amazing) and crab cakes eggs bennedict (the gold standard of this is at HUE in Thornton Park, but I heard they are now closed, which may be good because I can only justify paying $14 for this dish there). Sadly I don’t keep crab cakes on hand.

So I rummaged around in my fridge once I finally put my book down, because sleeping in and reading a good book in bed is quickly taking precedent over cardio tennis at 9 in the morning. I do fancy myself a Kitchen MacGyver and I love a good challenge. Kinda feels like Iron Chef, and today’s secret ingredient was the leftover whole wheat penne I’ve had shoved in the back of the fridge since making the conscious decision to slow way, way down on the amount of bread and pasta that I eat. This decision was also made before my friends and I decided to make homemade pizzas nearly every other day for a week, which explained the open jar of pizza sauce sitting in the fridge amongst all of the lovely fruits and veggies I just bought and have barely touched. I blame it on all of the work functions, the awesome friends that I have that just love to share great food in unorthodox abundance, and this new beau of mine that enjoys treating this lady to culinary adventures around town. It’s not entirely my fault.

But since I turned down the urges to order pizza and wings at midnight and opted for a good night’s sleep, I will indulge in a little pasta this morning. Topped with eggs, of course.

Weeee!

You’ll need:

2 eggs
Apple cider vinegar (or any other light colored vinegar, like white wine, just please no balsamic!)
Some kind of tomato-based sauce (pizza sauce, pasta sauce, whatever)
Pasta (any shape and kind will do)
A big handful of spinach

1. Get a pot of water to a rolling boil, salt it, and drop in your pasta. Cook it like usual, for about 7 minutes or until al dente.

2. While your pasta is cooking, get a frying pan, preferably a deep one, and fill it about half way with some water and a good splash of your vinegar of choice. If you need definition of a ‘good splash’, take that as 3-4 tablespoons. Bring this to a soft simmer.

3. Once the water in the pan is lightly bubbling, crack your eggs and slowly add them into the water. This is called poaching. The vinegar in the water and the temperature will keep the whites from making a huge mess. After about 2 minutes, you can take a slotted spoon and gently turn them over in their bath. If you like runny yolks like me, take them out of the water after another 2 minutes and place them on a paper towel to drain. For fully cooked yolks, go for a full 3 minutes.

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4. After the pasta is done, drain it, add it back to the pot, and throw in your handful of spinach. Wilt the spinach, which won’t take too long because of the heat of the pasta. Toss in a few spoonfuls of your tomato sauce to coat the pasta and heat through.

5. Put the pasta and spinach into a bowl, then top with your poached eggs. I added a chiffonade of fresh basil and some pepper, but you could also throw on a little grated Italian cheese or a drizzle of quality olive oil.

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Zucchini ‘Fries’

Zucchini is a great vegetable that is readily available and especially cheap when it’s in season in the summer. Oddly enough I get into a rut when it comes to using it. I love grilling it in long strips and throwing the leftovers in an antipasta salad the next day, cubing it for kabobs, or sautéing it with a little oil and garlic. But that’s where my mental block begins!

There is a place that I absolutely love here in Orlando called Graffiti Junktion. Aside from their amazing burgers, they make the best zucchini fries served up with a dish of spicy remoulade similar to the dressing you’d get with a blooming onion. I have eaten an entire bacon cheddar burger and split an order of zucchini fries a few occasions. It could possibly be the best hangover helper I’ve ever encountered. However, sometimes your body tells you that you need to forego the beef patty the size of your face and all of the deep-fried goodness. This recipe by no means replaces the Junktion’s zucchini fries, but it does make for a nice substitute you can make at home and feel good about.

3 medium-sized zucchini cut into sticks about the size of your finger
Salt
2 large eggs
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
½ cup Parmesan cheese (I like the shredded kind, personally)
1 Tbs dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano

1. Toss your zucchini sticks in a liberal amount of salt. Leave them in a colander over the sink for at least an hour. This will release excess water in the zucchini, so they come out more firm than mushy. Watch the magic happen!

2. After the zucchini have done their thing, rinse them well to remove the salt, then thoroughly pat them dry with paper towels.

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3. Preheat your oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Beat your eggs in a bowl large enough to dip your zucchini sticks in to coat them.

5. Mix the bread crumbs, parmesan, and herbs in a separate dish large enough to dredge the battered zucchini in. My favorite method is to put this into a large Tupperware container (the kind I’d use for a salad), then add no more than 2 or 3 sticks at a time. Hold the container over the sink and gently knock the sides with your hand to coat.

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6. Place the sticks on your baking sheet with just enough room so that they don’t touch. Bake for 12-15 minutes before flipping and baking for another 12-15 minutes, or until they are golden all around.

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Serve them up with your favorite dipping sauce!

Lunch: Provencal Potato Salad

I like to call this The Pantry Cleaner. Basically, take all of your things in your pantry and just dump them in here. Not really. But basically.

Provencal Potato Salad

Provencal Potato Salad

Usually I can’t stand recipes that call for so many ingredients. And you still have to make the base of this recipe, which can be found HERE. But, Ina Garten again works her magic, and everyone that I had try this at the office agreed its pretty flippin’ amazing and totally worth the slaving in the kitchen.

OK, maybe you’re not really slaving… Just opening up a few jars, mincing a few things, and peeling some eggs. If you’re a fan of nicoise salads like I am, your mouth will thank me. Thankfully this does make a pretty hefty batch, so get ready to eat a few bowls of this or feed a small army of friends. Since this is a pretty complete meal, you’ll have a great lunch for the week!

Here we go!

½ lb haricots verts (fresh green beans, to you and me)
1 recipe French Potato Salad
1 can of tuna fish, drained
½ cup capers, drained
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small red onion, minced
½ cup pitted olives, chopped
6 hard-cooked eggs, quartered

1. Get a giant ass mixing bowl with your French Potato Salad in it.

2. Get a pot of water to a rolling boil. Drop in your haricots verts and cook for about 3-5 minutes. You want to keep them fairly crisp, instead of too mushy. Drain and give them a chop in half.

3. Add the haricots verts, tuna fish, capers, cherry tomatoes, onion, olives, and eggs to the potato salad. Toss well and serve!

So pretty...

So pretty…

...So yummy!

…So yummy!

Sides: French Potato Salad

This is another stab of mine at an Ina Garten recipe. That woman really does no wrong in my book, and this recipe proves just that. I’m a big fan of Southern-style potato salad, but this one is so fresh and flavorful with the tangy vinaigrette and fresh herbs that it’s a nice detour from mayo-heavy potato salads that we’re used to.

I will be honest, I’m not crazy about recipes that call for a million ingredients. I’m also not a fan of ingredients that are highly-specialized or very expensive. However, I passed up my usual six pack of fancy beer and decided to pick up some fancy vinegar instead. Luckily my grocer had a clearance on a walnut champagne vinegar. Even on sale, this shit was like $7 for 6.75 oz. But once you add your vinaigrette to the warm potatoes and you get a nose full, you’ll understand. And when your friends are asking you what that flavor is in the back that they just can’t place and you casually say, “Oh. It’s just this champagne vinegar I picked up. Sounded like a good idea at the time…” Get ready for the eyebrows. Shit just got real.

Here we go:

2 lbs of small potatoes (I love the little red ones, but feel free to add the white and reds together for color)
3 Tbs champagne vinegar (I used a walnut champagne for extra flavor… and it was on sale)
½ tsp Dijon mustard
10 Tbs quality extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup minced scallions, white and green
2 Tbs minced fresh dill
2 Tbs minced parsley
2 Tbs chiffonade of basil

1. Get a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add some salt, the same way you would if you were cooking pasta. Add the potatoes and cook for 20-30 minutes. Once tender, drain them and then add them back to the pot and throw the lid on them. This will let them steam, which lets them develop this creamy texture. Sounds nuts, but just go with it.

2. While your potatoes are at the spa, add your vinegar, mustard, oil, salt and pepper to a glass jar*. Shake it furiously until all of the ingredients combine to make a smooth dressing-like vinaigrette.

3. Take your warm potatoes and chop them into thick cubes. This may mean you’re quartering them, or if you’re using larger potatoes you’ll need to cube them a little smaller. Do what feels right.

4. Toss the potatoes with the vinaigrette, then add your fresh herbs. The warm potatoes will absorb the vinaigrette like a sponge, unlike if they were cold. The end results will be tasty potatoes literally packed with flavor from the inside out. Serve this warm or at room temperature.

French Potato Salad

French Potato Salad

*Pro tip: I keep little glass jars around the house for all kinds of shit. Every time I’ve used up a jar of olives, mustard, or whatever, I throw it in the dishwasher and add it to the collection. They are fantastic for cleaning your skate bearings (when friends stop by for a bearing cleaning party, I can send them home with a little jar or dirty turpentine!) and they are great for when you make your own dressings and marinades. Just throw your ingredients all into the jar, seal the lid tight, and shake like crazy… Preferably over the sink, just in case that lid got loose on you! It’s much fast than that whole ‘drizzle the oil slowly and whisk till your arm falls off’ method, and when you’re done you can throw it in the fridge, the cooler, your lunchbox, wherever… And it’s less mess.

Makin' dressing...

Makin’ dressing…

Sides: Clean Eating Waldorf Salad

This week I’ve been focusing on eating my veggies, especially ones that I don’t eat much of. Celery is one of those things. I tend to only use it in soups, but its one of those great veggies that is full of vitamins and fiber. Much to my surprise, it’s pretty damn good mixed with fruit.

Waldorf Salad is one of those recipes that freak me out also because of the mayo that’s used. Mayo + fruit + celery just doesn’t seem right. Luckily this recipe swaps out the mayo for Greek yogurt, and it’s a great snack to have later in the morning around 11a when your stomach starts craving lunch a little early.

Let’s get started!

1 cup celery, diced (about 3-4 stalks)
2 Granny Smith apples, diced
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup grapes, halved
1 single-serve container of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
¼ of a lemon

Throw the celery, apples, walnuts and grapes into a large tupperware. Squeeze the lemon into the container of yogurt and stir it well. Add the yogurt to the other ingredients, snap on the lid, and shake furiously to mix everything together. Keep chilled until you’re ready to serve.

Waldorf Salad

Waldorf Salad

Pro tip: Keep the walnuts in a bag and when you’re chopping them, take the back of your knife and smash them with your palm instead. This will keep them in one place, and when you’re ready to add them, just pour them from the bag. Less mess!

Smashing walnuts!

Smashing walnuts!