Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup for the Thanksgiving Table

I remember when the girls were babies.  Butternut squash, sweet potatoes, peas, even spinach were all some of their favorites.  I'm not sure exactly when the transformation took place, maybe it was when they realized the sheer joy a power struggle brings.  Today, I find myself pleading with them to TRY the zucchini, sweet potato or other vegetable on their plate they believe I am trying to poison them with.  I remind them of the days when I needed to wash the peas out of their hair and had to limit the amount of sweet potatoes they could consume in one sitting.  They shake their heads in disbelief.  I'm sure it won't be long before Riley will learn to role her eyes at me.  Heartbreaking.

Despite my children's new found dislike for butternut squash, I made this soup as a side dish to serve with dinner.  My hope is that with repeated exposure, their love for all things garden fresh will return.  Until then, bribery will suffice.

I however, happen to LOVE butternut squash.  This soup is deliciously sweet, creamy, and a perfect side dish for the Thanksgiving table!  It actually tastes better when made a day or two ahead of time.  Enjoy!
Lola definitely enjoys a good power struggle, but when it comes to food, she will eat ANYTHING!!!!

Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 T butter
  • 6 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
  • 4 cups chicken broth 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of apple cider (optional)

  1. In a large saucepan, saute onion and garlic in butter until tender. Add squash*, broth, cider (if using), marjoram, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil and cook for about  20 minutes until squash is tender.  Stir in cream cheese and allow to melt through.
  2. Puree soup mixture in a blender, food processor or use an immersion blender**, until smooth.  Return to the soup pot, and heat through. Do not allow to boil.

* I like to roast my squash first at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes (or longer if the chunks are bigger).  It adds a nice caramelized sweetness to the soup!

** I bought an immersion blender at Wal-mart a few years ago for around $15.  I don't use it often but it really comes in handy for recipes like this. Here is the newer version of the one I have.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

slow cooker Thanksgiving dinner with roasted asparagus

We will celebrate Thanksgiving twice in the next seven days; once with Mike's family and then again with mine.  Needless to say, my family was *thrilled* to hear that turkey was on the menu this week.  I just couldn't help myself.  The fall is slipping away and I had not yet made one of my favorite fall weeknight meals:  slow cooker  turkey with stuffing.  I realize this is not the slaved over, hours to prepare, from scratch version that we will all be enjoying on Thursday, BUT by using good quality, all natural and organic ingredients, it is a close second.

The original version of this recipe is from one of the Southern Living Christmas cookbooks.  It calls for a 3 pound boneless turkey breast.  If your market carries them, they will be in the frozen meats section, but they tend to be hard to find.  On the rare occasion I do find one, it isn't usually an organic, free range brand.  What I have found to work best is buying 3 large boneless turkey breasts OR buying a turkey breast and cutting the meat off of it.  That is what I did this week.  

You might not put this on your family's dinner menu in the next few days, but it is a great recipe to have in your comfort food, cold weather recipe repertoire!

Prep Ahead Plan:  It's easy to throw this together in the morning.  It takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. This recipe isn't necessarily ideal for people who are going to be gone for a 10 hour work day.  When I was teaching full time, this was a perfect Sunday dinner!   The asparagus takes no time to mix up and can be prepared the night before and kept in the refrigerator until ready to bake.

Slow Cooker Turkey and Stuffing

1 (8 oz) package herb-seasoned stuffing mix ( Pepperidge Farms brand is great and Arrowhead Mills is a good organic brand)*
1 onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3/4 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
3 pounds boneless turkey breast meat, thawed
1/4 teaspon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 (0.88 ounce) package turkey gravy mix (McCormick's is pretty good actually!) 

Coat the inside of your slow cooker with cooking spray. Add stuffing mix, onion and celery. Combine broth and melted butter. Pour over stuffing and stir gently.
Rinse turkey breast. Place turkey in slow cooker on top of stuffing. Combine salt, pepper, and thyme; sprinkle over turkey. Cover and cook on HIGH 1 hour. Reduce to LOW and cook for 5 hours or until a meat thermometer inserted in turkey registers 170 degrees.

Remove turkey to a serving platter. Stir stuffing gently in slow cooker; cover and let stand 3 to 4 minutes. Prepare gravy. Spoon stuffing around turkey on platter.

* I always find that there is too much liquid in the stuffing when it is done.  The stuffing packages are sold in 14 oz bags.  Reserve the unused stuffing to mix some of it into the saturated stuffing in the slow cooker after the turkey is moved to the platter.  

Easy Roasted Asparagus

1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed
2 t olive oil (or more if you prefer)
sprinkling of garlic powder, sea salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss asparagus with the ingredients listed above and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Organic Minestrone Soup Jars ~ the gift of dinner

What could be more personal than giving gifts from your own kitchen?  Gifts from home are gifts from the heart.  Last year at this time, the girls and I started our holiday gift project: organic soup mix jars!  I set up somewhat of an assembly line at our kitchen table and we began the layering process!  As you can see with help from little (clean) hands, the layers are perfectly imperfect which, in my opinion, makes this gift even better!  If you are not interested in anything less than perfection, see the tips below!

You can make these jars up to six weeks in advance.  Just be sure the containers are airtight. I used 16 oz Ball jars for this particular mix and it fit perfectly!  

Here are are some jar assembly tips:
1.  Good quality organic ingredients make all the difference.  
2.  Finding a good quality, organic vegetable bouillon in a jar was tricky.  I bought the kind packaged in individual squares and mashed them with a fork.  Alternatively, you could combine the cubes in a magic bullet and blend them up for a few seconds.
3.  If you have a wide mouth canning funnel, it will be helpful in loading the ingredients into each jar, especially if your kids are helping!  You can find them at Wal-mart.
4.  It is also helpful to pack down each layer with a tall spice jar or something else thin and round.  This will assure even layering...see picture above  for a good example of uneven layering :)
5.  Include a gift tag.  I created a word document with the cooking instructions, printed it out on cardstock, cut it with fancy scissors, whole punched it and tied it on with ribbon.  Email me if you would like a copy of it!  j.eagan@cox.net

Organic Minestrone Soup Jar Mix

¼ cup red lentils
¼ cup green split peas
¼ cup barley
1/3 cup vegetable bouillon powder
2 tbsp. parsley flakes
3 tbsp. onion flakes
1/3 tsp. thyme
1/3 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. basil
approximately ¼ cup ditalini pasta

In a 16 ounce jar, layer from the bottom in the order given, then seal the jar.

Include these instructions on your gift tag:In a very large saucepan combine 8 to 10 cups of water, a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, and soup mix. Add 2 chopped carrots, and 2 to 4 chopped potatoes (optional: 2 cups chopped cabbage). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for one hour or until peas are tender. Enjoy!

This is the brand of bouillon I bought from whole foods.  Amazon sells it in bulk as packs of twelve. I'm guessing you have no use for 192 vegetable bouillon cubes but I thought I would post the brand I used.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Baked Potato Soup

We woke up to the first dusting of snow here in Rhode Island and it is only November 8th!  I wish I had watched the weather and put this on the menu for tonight!  It is the perfect comfort food to serve as a hearty dinner alongside a big salad.

I make tons of soup during the winter.  I feel like I never stick to one recipe as I throw ingredients into the pot, so feel free to adjust this recipe as you see fit.  I like to cook the bacon and toss it right into the soup.  This tends to soften it up a bit so some people prefer to reserve the bacon and sprinkle it on top of each individual serving.  Also, I like a little bit of celery in my potato soup but many potato soup recipes do not include it.  

Even if you don't consider yourself to be a great cook, try making a variety of soup recipes!  They are very difficult to mess up!

Prep Ahead Plan:  Soup is the ultimate prep ahead dinner!  It only tastes better as it sits in the fridge for a couple of days.  I like to make a big pot when I have a couple of hours to spare on the weekend.  During the week I can usually get at least one dinner and two or three lunches out of it!

  • 3 bacon strips, diced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 T  flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 t thyme and 1/2 t of basil*
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup half-and-half cream
  • Shredded Cheddar cheese (for sprinkling on individual servings)
  • Minced fresh parsley
*optional seasonings

1.  In a large soup pot, brown bacon.  Remove  bacon and set aside. Drain all but about 1 tablespoon of bacon fat for sauteing the veggies.

2.  Saute onion and garlic in the drippings until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper; mix well. Gradually add broth. Bring to boil and stir for a few minutes, add the potatoes and allow to cook through (about 10 minutes or less depending on how small you cubed them).  
3. Add cream and heat through but do not boil. Garnish with bacon, cheese and parsley.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Penne with Five Cheeses ~ as it is made at Al Forno in Providence

Mike and I don't  go out to dinner as often as we would like.  That is why I love coming across recipes that  are simple to make at home but result in a restaurant quality dish.  

Johanne Killeen and George Germon are the owners of the renowned restaurant Al Forno, located in Providence.   These chef/owners are also the authors of an amazing cookbook called Cucina Simpatica.  Their book showcases Killeen and Germon's magial style of putting together ingredients simply, yet with an outcome that is complex and tantalizing.  

Penne with five cheeses is one of the recipes featured in their fabulous cookbook.  It is simple yet versatile and works well for either a weeknight meal or dinner party.  The original recipe calls for the pasta to be baked in six separate gratin dishes.  I loved that idea but unfortunately do not own a set so I used a 9 X 13 baking dish.  If you are lucky enough to have six, 1 1/2 cup gratin dishes, spoon the pasta into them and bake at 500 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

Prep Ahead Plan:  Prepare the recipe the night before and leave covered in the fridge overnight.  Before baking, uncover and give the penne a good mixing before baking it.


  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes in thick tomato puree
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (1 1/2 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup shredded imported Italian fontina (1 1/2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup crumbled Italian Gorgonzola (1 1/2 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 pound imported penne rigate pasta
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter


1.  Spray a 9 X 13 baking dish with cooking spray (or butter it). Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2.  Bring 5 quarts of salted water to a boil in a stockpot.  Cook penne in boiling water for 5 minutes.  Drain well.
3. Combine all the ingredients except the penne and butter in the 9 X 13 pan and mix well. 
4.  Mix penne into the pan with the rest of ingredients.
5.  Dot with the butter and bake until bubbly and brown on top, 20-25 minutes.