Cooking When You Just Can’t Even

IMG_1821It just won’t stop snowing in Boston. We’ve seen record breaking snowfall (over 70 inches in the last 14 days) and there’s no sign of it stopping anytime soon. The snow is literally taller than me. Even as I write this, it’s still snowing.

This weather is utterly exhausting. Trudging through the unshoveled sidewalks, navigating shoulder-high snow banks, schlepping in oversized, fleece-lined, waterproof boots. It takes forever to get anywhere, both due to the added obstacle of the snow and the gridlocked traffic.

When I get home, I just want to climb into my bed, wrap myself in a fleece blanket, and attempt to warm up. I’ve watched an unprecendented amount of Netflix because it’s just about all I can do. At the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is cook dinner. I just can’t even.

So, there’s been a lot less cooking, especially during the week, in my kitchen these days. But a girl’s gotta eat. So I’ve put together my go-tos for this snowy, tiring season.

  • Soup – this is when my soup season hoarding comes in handy. Just heat up a frozen serving of soup and serve with some crusty bread or topped with a sprinkle of cheese.
  • Scrambled eggs – a go-to in the morning but also for an easy weeknight dinner. Lately I’ve had them taco style served in warmed up flour tortillas with sriracha.
  • Oatmeal – just a couple minutes in the microwave and dinner is served. Even better with milk and sliced banana.

Stay warm, Boston!

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Settling In to Fall

DSC_0693Although the official first day of fall is still a week away, there’s no denying that it’s already here. That autumn chill is in the air, leaves are just starting to turn, and it’s darker and darker each morning when I wake up. It’s sad to see summer go, but part of this transition is comforting. Fall is about beginnings – for many (and me this year) it’s time to go back to school, which is a natural transition time. We’ll all take fewer vacations in the next 3 months, meaning we all settle in where we are at home. It’s rather nice when you think of it that way.

As a friend recently put it – summer is about family and fall is about friends. We probably all spend more time with our friends in the fall than in the summer. Summer is full of family reunions and vacations, and fall is more community focused, through watching sports events, going apple picking, dressing up for Halloween. It’s a great time to connect with your larger family in the community around you.

So, in honor of everything fall has to offer (such as apple picking, corn mazes, pumpkin carving, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin flavored everything, boots, sweaters – do I sound cliche yet?), I’m sharing three previous posts that remind me why this season is so great.

  1. 4 Tips for Soup Season – how to make the most of the cooler weather and fall vegetables
  2. Butternut squash soup – put those tips to good use (plus a story about that time Evan read my diary)
  3. Will Run for Pie – a reflection on one of my favorite fall traditions, the NMH Pie Race (bonus: my simple apple pie recipe)

What are you excited about this fall?

Udon Noodle Soup

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For my birthday a few months ago, I went out to dinner with my sister, brother, and his girlfriend to our favorite restaurant in Boston – Symphony Sushi (or “Symph Sush”, as we call it). While I was waiting for them to arrive (I’m always early, they’re generally late) I noticed a couple girls sitting next to me eating an enormous bowl of soup. It was full of bright colored vegetables, plump udon noodles, and came with a side of veggie tempura that they were dipping in the broth. Although I typically eat sushi and only sushi at Symph, it was my birthday so I decided to branch out. I scoured the menu to see if I could find the soup from the table next door and try it for myself.

Found it, ordered it, and fell in love. I couldn’t believe I had been going to Symph Sush for years and never tried this amazing soup. I ordered it once a week for three weeks after that meal because I couldn’t get enough. Then, of course, I decided to recreate it.

You all seem to enjoy my take-out inspired recipes, so here’s another! This udon noodle soup can be made with all sorts of vegetables. Here I stuck with just greens, but you could add radishes, carrots, baby corn – whatever you like. I really wanted to make this with baby bok choy (and will next time) but the selection in the grocery store was wilted and the kale was a great substitute.

Warning: Udon noodles are not that healthy, but they are delicious! The dark green veggies in this soup definitely counteract the carb heavy udon noodles. For a lighter version, replace the udon with soba or rice noodles. You can also add any type of protein or tempura to this to up the calories and make it a more substantial meal – chicken, beef, or shrimp would be great.

Udon Noodle Soup

Drain 1 package extra firm tofu on paper towels. In a large pot, sauté 2 medium sliced zucchini in ½ tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. After 2 minutes, add 3 cups kale, stems removed and ripped into 2 inch pieces. Cook until the kale turns bright green, then add 1 cup green onions, diced into 1 inch pieces. Grate 2 cloves garlic into the pot and sauté for 5 more minutes.

Add 4 cups vegetable broth and 2 cups water to the pot. When warm (about 5 minutes) add 1 ½ teaspoons lemongrass paste, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon sriracha. Bring to a low boil and adjust seasonings to taste. Add 3 ounces extra firm tofu, diced into ½ inch pieces.

Prepare 2 servings of udon noodles according to package directions (microwave, if possible). Serve warm, allowing udon noodles to sit in the soup for a few minutes before eating.

Yield: 3 servings. Per Serving: $2.73, 235 calories, 5g fat, 45g carbs, 8g protein.

True Tomato Soup

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I love the true flavor of tomatoes – in the summer when they are at their peak, I eat them like apples. They are tangy and salty and sweat and acidic – all good things. Although I love a creamy tomato soup as much as the next person, I wanted a soup that really highlighted the true flavor of the tomato. The creaminess in tomato soup often comes from cream or milk, which can add unnecessary calories.

The combination of whole, canned tomatoes and a few fresh tomatoes brings a fresh tomato flavor to this soup. Here, I used roasted garlic, but you could use fresh garlic if you prefer (just use less). Roasting brings sweetness out of the garlic, which balances the acidity of the tomato.  This could be served warm or chilled as a gazpacho.

True Tomato Soup

Roast 1 head garlic in advance (cover in wrap in aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes). Bring a small pot of water to a low boil and add 2 beefsteak tomatoes, whole. When the skin begins to peel off, remove from heat and rinse in cold water. Peel off the skin and cut into quarters.

Sauté 1 cup diced onion in 1 teaspoon olive oil. When the onions are translucent, add 4 cloves roasted garlic and sauté for 1 additional minute. Add a 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes including the juice, the blanched beefsteak tomatoes, and 3 cups chicken broth. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove soup from heat and blend until smooth (I prefer to use a hand blender, but you can use a regular blender as well). Return to medium heat and add 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon sugar. Serve warm or chilled.

Yield: 4 servings. Serving size: 2 cups. Per Serving: $2.06, 100 calories, 2g fat, 17g carbs, 4g protein.

Garlic Carrot Soup

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Remember this carrot soup from a few months ago? Well it’s back!

As I do with all of my soups, I froze a few portions of this when I made it back in October. For the first time, I froze a condensed version of the soup and reheated it on the stove with an equal amount of water. It worked really well and was actually easier to reheat with the added water. Honestly I wish I had made this soup the first time – it’s delicious! Made even more beautiful by the lovely new dishes my Mom bought me for Christmas – thanks, Mom!

Garlic Carrot Soup

Reheat or prepare carrot soup. Cook ¼ cup farro according to package directions. Slice a ciabatta roll in half. Slice a garlic clove in half and rub the cut side on the inside of the roll. Drizzle the roll with ½ teaspoon olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Broil in the oven for about 5 minutes, checking frequently, until brown. Slice the garlic into thin slices and sauté in ½ teaspoon olive oil until brown. Top the soup with the farro, garlic chips, and cilantro and serve with the toasted ciabatta roll.

Yield: 1 serving. Serving size: 2 cups. Per Serving: $2.96, 487 calories, 9g fat, 93g carbs, 18g protein.

Thanksgiving Round-Up

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I feel a little guilty for not posting more Thanksgiving-themed recipes this week. Thanksgiving is like the Olympics of food events and I feel like I’m not doing it justice! I had every intention of sharing something new for your Thanksgiving feast. Last week, I attempted to make pomegranate-glazed Brussels sprouts but failed. It was a good idea in concept, but the finished product was a strange brownish reddish green color and tasted pretty sour. It wasn’t pretty.

To make up for my lack turkey-inspired recipes, here are a few past recipes that would be perfect additions to your Thanksgiving dinner. Have a happy turkey day!

Thanksgiving Round-Up

  • Sriracha Kale Chips: Crisp up a head of kale while the turkey is in the oven. These are a great snack to have on hand while everyone is hanging (or helping) out before dinner.
  • Butternut Squash Soup: Try soup instead of mashed butternut squash – this would be a perfect appetizer before the main Thanksgiving meal.
  • Oven-Fried Tomatoes: Not a traditional side dish for Thanksgiving, but sure to be a welcome addition to the table.
  • Simple Apple Pie: A classic turkey day dessert – make sure to save some room!

Butternut Squash Soup

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My good friend Evan, who I grew up with, read my journal once. We were in middle school and he was over at my house and he snooped.  Unfortunately (for both of us), he happened to find an entry where I mentioned him… in not the nicest day. Luckily, we remained friends, but to this day Evan gives me a hard time about it – even though he’s the one who snooped!

Starting a blog is, in some ways, like sharing your journal with everyone. Evan and I are still traumatized from the one time he read something relatively harmless in my journal, and here I am sharing parts of my life with the entire internet. Granted, I get to pick and choose what you read about me (whereas my journal was meant to be private), but in some ways it feels similar.

So, to protect all of us, I’m going to keep some of my secrets to myself. For example, I’m keeping my signature Turkey Pot Pie recipe locked up, even though I’ll be making it for Friendsgiving this weekend (more to come on that next week). It’s not even a good fit for CLK (too time intensive and not healthy enough), but even if it was, it’s special to me so I’m going to keep it under wraps.

I’m still not so sure about sharing this secret with you, but I’m going for it. I’m about to reveal my secret for making any type of soup. It’s a fool proof recipe. It’s actually less of a recipe than it is an equation. It boils down to:

Liquid + Vegetable + Protein = Soup

The proportions depend on how you like your soup. If you like a thicker soup (such as chowder), add more vegetable and less liquid. The protein can be blended into the soup, mixed in to the soup, served on the side, or right on top. Confused? Here are some pieces to make the puzzle come together:

  • Liquids: any variety of broth or stock (chicken, beef, vegetable, seafood), water, or milk
  • Vegetables: asparagus, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, corn… anything your heart desires
  • Protein: for blending: any type of bean or silken tofu; for mixing: quinoa, faro, or other whole grains; on the side: chicken, beef, or shrimp; on top: quinoa, cheese, or more beans.

You can combine more than one vegetable or liquid to come up with the best balance for you. Trust me, this is fool proof. For this recipe, I used water and chicken broth for the liquid, onions and butternut squash for the vegetable, and quinoa on top as my protein. Let me know what combinations you come up with and keep my secret safe!

Butternut Squash Soup

Cook ½ cup dry quinoa according to package directions. In a large saucepan, sauté 1 cup diced onion in 1 tablespoon butter. When the onions are translucent, add 3 cups diced butternut squash, 3 cups chicken broth, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until squash is fork tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and blend until smooth. Add ½ teaspoon salt.  Serve each portion topped with ¼ cup cooked quinoa. Yield: 3 servings. Serving size: 2 cups. Per Serving: $2.77, 148 calories, 1g fat, 33g carbs, 6g protein.

Carrot Soup

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My first soup recipe on CLK is (drumroll, please)… Carrot Soup!

I had a little trouble with this one at first. My first version came out looking like baby food. Like I’ve said before, not everything you make is going to be pretty. Luckily, I figured out the right proportions of liquid to carrot so you won’t have to suffer through the same mistake.

This makes an absolutely enormous batch, so unless you’re planning to freeze half of it, I would suggest cutting the recipe in half. If you are planning to freeze some of it, leave out the 8 cups of water at first. This results in a concentrated (read, baby food) version which you can freeze in storage containers. When you reheat it, add 1 cup of water per cup of concentrated soup. This will save you space in your freezer and makes reheating the soup easier! 

Carrot Soup

Peel and chop 6 cups carrots (approximately 3 pounds) into 1 inch pieces. Dice 1 cup onion. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onions in oil for about 5 minutes or until translucent. Add carrots and sauté, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth and 8 cups water. Cover and heat on high until boiling. Boil carrots for about 15 minutes or until soft. Add 1 can cannellini beans in the last 2 minutes of cooking. Remove from heat and blend until smooth. Add ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and ½ teaspoon garlic powder.

Yield: 8 servings. Serving size: 2 cups. Per Serving: $2.18, 283 calories, 3.5g fat, 57g carbs, 12g protein.

4 Tips for Soup Season

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It’s just about soup season and I’m pretty excited about it – for a couple of reasons. First of all, soup can be one of the healthiest meals you can eat, especially if it is vegetable based. It’s true that soup can also be very unhealthy – by using lots of butter, using cream as a base, or loading your bowl with cheese – but everything is good in moderation. Soup is also very affordable. The main ingredients are vegetables, stock, and beans, all of which you can find at very low prices in your grocery store (especially when buying in bulk). And finally, despite popular opinion, soup is really, really easy to make.

Healthy, cheap, and easy – sounds perfect for CLK! So, as we embark on soup season, here are four tips to help you make the most of it!

1. Buy storage containers with twist on lids. These are essential for transporting soup for lunch. Snap on lids are too risky and may result in soup spilled all over your bag. It’s also preferable if these are freezer safe (see tip number 3).

2. Stock up on stock, broth, or bouillon. Healthy soups use these as a base rather than cream. When you’re at the grocery store, check to see if anything of these are on sale. Before you decide what to use, check out this article from Real Simple magazine about the difference between the three options. I used to buy bouillon cubes but now stick to reduced-sodium chicken broth.

3. Break out (or invest in) your blender. Having a blender opens up a lot of possibilities when it comes to soups. You can blend pretty much any vegetable into a soup very easily. If you don’t already have one, I suggest purchasing a hand blender. They are perfect for blending soups and save you from having to transfer the soup from the pot to the blender.  

4. For every soup you make, freeze at least one portion. This is my favorite part of soup season. I usually make one soup per week, freezing at least one portion each week. In the coldest, darkest week of winter – when it’s dark at 4PM, freezing cold, and the last thing I want to do is go to the grocery store – I have a soup week. All week I eat the soups that I have in my freezer. I might pick up some cheese to top it off or bread to dip in, but generally I save myself a trip to the grocery store!