Here’s another new recipe I whipped up (pun intended) in myNew Ninja Duo Blender. If you like rich, creamy soups, this one’s for you…a perfect bowl of warm awesomeness for a cold fall night!
I’ve made butternut squash soup a number of times, but was pairing this one with a Mexican dinner, and it turned out to be the best version I’ve ever made. Most of these ingredients you probably already have in your cupboard.
If you want a lighter version, use 2% instead of heavy whipping cream (but…I’d recommend the cream.)
Chef Perry SimplySmartDinnerPlans
Southwestern Acorn Squash Soup Total Time: 1 hr 30 min Prep: 30 min Cook: 1 hr Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 whole butternut squash 2 shallots, diced and divided 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced 3 tbsp olive oil 1 Tbsp salt 1 Tbsp pepper 1 Tbsp. ground cumin 1 Tbsp. chile powder 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika 1/2 stick butter 1 1/2 cups chicken stock* Dash of cayenne (optional) 1 cup heavy cream 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
Cut the squash in half, lengthwise, and remove the seeds with a spoon. Cut a flat spot on bottom of each rounded end so the squash will sit flat. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and arrange the squash, cut side up.
To the squash halves, spread half of the shallot, and half the garlic on each.
Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and season with 1 tablespoon each of the salt and freshly cracked pepper, and half of each of the cumin, chile powder, and paprika.
Roast in the hot oven about an hour, until the squash is very tender and the surface is starting to caramelize and collapse.
Allow to cool (make a few cuts to help cooling), and then remove the skin.
In a large sauce pan, heat the butter and remaining olive oil over medium-high heat and when melted, add the remaining diced shallots and saute until they are starting to caramelize, about 5 to 6 minutes.
Add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock and stir.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and add in the reserved squash and the remaining chicken stock. Stir, and then pour into your Ninja blender and hit the “puree” button. (Or, do the same in your blender or food processor.)
The puree will be very thick. Stir in the cream and Worcestershire sauce.
Taste, and add in the remaining spices to your liking, and heat slowly over medium-low heat.
When the mixture comes to a slow simmer, mix again with a whisk and turn heat to low.
Ladle into soup bowls and serve with a sprinkle of fresh chopped cilantro.
Here’s a simple tip that’s gaining popularity with chefs in some of the great high-end hamburger joints right now…if you like grilled onions on your burger, you’re going to love this tasty technique!
In a cold, non-stick pan, toss 1 tbsp. olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and one lg. sweet onion (diced), add a tbsp. of butter, and place the pan over medium heat. Grill the onions until just starting to color.
Of all the flavor profiles, umami is my favorite…and of all of the umami foods, roasted mushrooms are high on the list.
Mushrooms are mostly water, so the secret to really getting that deep, earthy goodness from them is to roast out some of the moisture, almost like a reduction, which concentrates and intensifies the flavor.
That’s why those thin, almost leathery slices of ‘shroom on top of a properly baked pizza are so good!
Here’s what I do with just about any mushrooms I’m going to add to a dish like a pasta, eggs, stuffing, soup*, or even for topping a burger or sandwich.
*Fyi…an uncooked mushroom is a sponge, so by tossing them raw into a soup, stew, etc., it’s going to just soak up whatever liquid it’s cooking in, and you’ll get almost no “mushroomy” flavor from them.
1lb white mushrooms
1/2 stick salted butter
2-3 lg garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. salt, to taste
Preheat oven 10 375F.
Brush the mushrooms clean or wipe with a (barely) damp cloth, then slice 1/4 inch. Any thinner and they’ll start breaking apart.
Combine butter, garlic, and salt in a microwave-safe bowl, and nuke until the butter is completely melted. Stir to mix well, and pour over sliced mushrooms in a large bowl. Toss gently until ‘shrooms are completely coated.
One of the best things about being a food blogger, besides getting to write and test our weekly meal plans, is getting to meet others whose food obsessions equal or surpass my own (and, believe it or not, there are lots of them out there!)
This year I had the chance to reacquaint with some of my favorite food bloggers at the 2014 International Food Blogger’s Conference in Seattle, as well as make some new friends…like today’s guest blogger, Cher, who writes the blog Paleo + Life.
Says Cher, “I believe the best thing we can do for ourselves is to nourish our bodies with food that offers both incredible flavors and abundant nutrition. I started my blog as a way to keep track of my efforts to do just that.”
In sharing her journey toward health and a whole foods lifestyle, Cher offers fabulous recipes, honest book reviews and indulges her affection for kitchen gadgets great and small.
Here’s one of Cher’s favorite paleo recipes, which she was kind enough to share with me, and it looks amazing! Also, I am a hopeless junkie for capers, and I think adding them to this salad is simply brilliant. This Super Simple Paleo Salmon Salad would make a very classy little appetizer at your next dinner party, a great lunch or snack option, or a fabulous dinner salad over a bed of mixed wild greens!
Be sure to follow Cher on Facebook and Pinterest as well, for lots more delicious paleo recipes!
(By the way, if you’re enjoying this article, you may want to subscribe to our free newsletter; we’ll send seven amazing dinner recipes and a shopping list to your inbox each week. Plus, you’ll be helping us teach nutrition, shopping, and hands-on cooking classes to at-risk teens!)
Super Simple Paleo Salmon Salad
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
1 small can of salmon (drained if water-packed)
1 teaspoon lemon garlic seasoning blend
1 medium tomato
1 teaspoon capers
Combine avocado, salmon and lemon garlic powder in a medium bowl. Mash vigorously until well-combined.
Slice the cucumber into thin rounds and the tomato into wedges.
Arrange in an alternating pattern around your serving bowl.
Using an ice cream scoop, scoop a generous serving of salad into the center of the serving bowl. Sprinkle with capers and parsley; serve immediately.
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After six years, Cher Underwood Forsberg is still delighted that she gets to wake up in Portland, Oregon every day.
Though she loves her hometown of Chicago, she feels strongly that there’s just an unreasonable amount of winter there. She cooks paleo food, chases after her unruly brood of children and their feral dog, and blogs about it at Paleo + Life.
As you know, we’re spending the month of November developing our “Dollar Dinners” – a new series of free dinner plans featuring the healthiest possible recipes we could develop that fall at or below the average SNAP benefit allotment.
Our goal is that most will be 15-25% below the $1.50 per-serving average, as we want to allow for some fresh fruit and vegetable snacks, as well.
Here’s my question:
Obviously, at that limited of a budget, occasionally we’re going to have to go with the “best possible option”, when preferred (& more expensive) foods simply won’t fit in the weekly budget.
Growing up as I did, where I did, things like chicken-turkey hotdogs and bologna were a staple of our diet. While I’m certainly not going to advocate those as a “healthy food option”, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on how often, if ever, items like that could be included in limited portions and as one ingredient in a otherwise healthy dish? (Something like a cabbage-zucchini stir-fry.)
No more than once a week
No more than twice per month
No more than once a month
Again, we’re making no pretense that these will be the healthiest meals one can cook, but that we’re making the best with what folks have available to them, and looking to vastly improve their current diet. The vast majority of the meals that include meat will still be a fresh, unprocessed, lean-protein options.
Please comment below!
PS – We’re not interested in vegetarian or vegan commentary. These plans will include 1-2 meatless dinners per week already, so this is not the question. Thanks!
PPS – I know that subject line was pretty inflammatory…but it got you here, right?
After watching the demos for the new Ninja Duo blender system at International Food Blogger’s conference this year, I was pretty excited to find out that I had won the drawing to receive one of these bad-boys for myself!
My old blender has seen better days, so the timing couldn’t be better.
I have a slew of recipes I want to try out, and the unit came with a beautiful little cookbook, but I’d promised my daughter that the first thing I’d make would be our traditional blackberry-banana smoothies, which we make from the berries we pick here on our little farm.
While probably not the fanciest thing I’ll make in the new Ninja, it’s a treat we make often here, and would be a make-or-break recipe for any blender in the Perkins’ house.
Needless to say, the Ninja Duo passed the test with flying colors. It’s triple blades and Auto-IQ blending made short work of my smoothie ingredients, finishing up in about half the time that the food-processor took on the same dish.
The frozen berries, which sometimes bogged down the Cuisinart, pureed with no noticeable effect on the Ninja.
Another thing I love about this machine is that it comes with the Nutri Ninja feature, a separate single serve cup attachment with it’s own blade.
I think this would be an ideal set up for families who have food-allergy issues, as they could use the the smaller Nutri Ninja blender cup solely for non-allergen foods, helping to reduce the risk of cross contamination when the larger unit is used for foods that some members of the family may need to avoid.
Oh, speaking of the larger blender unit, another awesome thing about the Ninja is that it’s capacity is great enough to make enough smoothies (or anything else) for the whole family.
Blackberry Banana Smoothies
2 medium bananas, peeled
1 cup frozen blackberries
1 cup non-fat vanilla yogurt
2 Tbs. sugar (or non-sugar eq.)
1 cup milk
Place all ingredients into the Ninja blender.
Blend on high for about 15 seconds (using the “Frozen Drinks Smoothies” button – how awesome is that?), or until it is creamy and smooth!
It’s a new term, one that has not, until now, had precedence in history.
For hundreds of years, since the first “restoratives” (ie: restaurants) opened in France, following the toppling of the French monarchy and the world’s first “professional” cooks who worked for them suddenly found themselves without employment, the commercial chef and the home cook have eyed each other distrustfully across a wide abyss of training, technique, mythology and methodology.
That began to change on November 23, 1993 when TV Food Network was launched.
Okay, that’s not exactly true, Julia Child paved the road for Emeril, Bobby, and all of the other “celebrity chefs” with The French Chef in 1963, as did Graham Kerr with the introduction of The Galloping Gourmet in 1969, but the globalization of food-related television really exploded in the early nineties.
The point being that starting back then, and growing exponentially over the last two decades, the line began to blur. Techniques and terminology what were previously only available and comprehensible to those who indentured themselves to a restaurant kitchen at a young age, or shelled out the bucks to attend culinary school, became commonly and easily available to anyone who was willing to watch and study what was being offered for free (or at least for a minimal cable television subscription) and cared to pay attention.
Please take noteof that last paragraph…words like “watch”, “study”, and “pay attention” are key.
Sitting on your rear-end, sucking down Doritos and staring vapidly at a chili throw-down, ain’t what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about people who watch the right shows (more “Good Eats”, less “Hell’s Kitchen” please) on Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, and an increasing number non-cable channels, with a pen and notepad in hand, and then test and practice what they learn in the “lab” of their own home kitchen, treating the medium more like correspondence courses, and less like a mindless hybrid of game shows and soap operas.
Knife skills, French techniques, building on mother-sauces, deglazing, mise en place…
We can take what is actually about the cooking from these shows, and winnow the gold nuggets from the falderal of high-pressure, turn-and-burn techniques designed specifically to keep you alive and cooking through a 300-cover night, and not necessarily about creating two, four, or six perfect plates of food for your family.
Another amazing resource, possibly an even better one that the cable network shows, that has helped bring about this cooking evolution are online video sources like YouTube. Here, instead of being at the mercy of a television show’s production calendar, you can actively search out short “how to” videos on specific techniques, often presented by professional chefs, on thousands of culinary subjects and recipes.
It’s like having a free, private cooking instructor in your own kitchen!
The Home Cook and the Professional Chef.
Understand this: one is not more or less than the other, or at least it doesn’t have to be.
There are those who aren’t interested in being a “home chef”, just like there are those of us who couldn’t care less about knowing how to change our own oil (sorry, Dad!) And, that’s okay. Nobody has to know how to sousvide an egg, or chiffonade parsley, or blanch a duck, to put a fresh, healthy and delicious dinner in front of their family…as long as they can do the latter, that’s all the skill anyone needs to have.
The Home Cook, and the Professional Chef are each their own animal, and now the Home Chef is an evolving hybrid of the two…someone who cooks nearer a “professional level” of quality (if not quantity) using and improving on the classic “Mom’s methods” with two-plus centuries of techniques and styles perfected by professionals.
I point out “quantity” because this is a large part of what you’re paying for at culinary school…it’s not just the techniques, it’s how to perform them on a massive scale, very very quickly, in such a way as to conserve costs and maximize profitability, the business of professional cooking…but none of which are skills required when cooking at home.
With the availability of online (or on-air) education, these are really the only factors that will separate the professional chef from the dedicated home chef of the future.
It’s an exciting time to cook in, and those of you who are willing to research study, and practice practice practice are ushering in a new age of food in the home kitchen.
This is one of my next level comfort dishes, and I’m excited to add it to our weekly meal plans.
The key to making this awesome is attention to detail. You can use a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, and you can use canned green chiles…and it would be good.
But take my word for it…roasting your own chicken and chiles makes all the difference!
Roasted Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas
8 roasted, skin-on chicken thighs, diced. See recipe.
Coarse salt and ground pepper
5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 large white onion, diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1lb fresh green chiles (hatch or Anaheim)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup chicken stock
1 can (15oz) green enchilada sauce
12 corn tortillas (6-inch)
12 oz shredded Mexican cheese blend (3 cups)
2 Tbs. schmaltz (rendered chicken fat – see recipe above.)
Roasting Green Chiles
In the oven: place chiles evenly in a single layer on a foil-lined roasting pan. Place in the oven about 4-5 inches under a pre-heated broiler, until the skins begin to blister and blacken (just a few minutes) within minutes.
Flip the peppers to blister all sides evenly. Place directly into a large zip bag or seal-able container and allow to steam 10-15 minutes.
Founded in 2007, Blog Action Day brings together bloggers from different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important global topic on the same day. Past topics have included Water, Climate Change, Poverty, Food, Power of We and Human Rights, with over 25,000 blogs taking part since 2007.
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It seems like every day I see some new politician, or news personality, or celebrity talk-show host discussing their recent eye-opening, life-changing experience of living for a month on a “Food Stamp Challenge” – the simulated grocery budget of a family on food stamps.
Invariably, when the receipts are tallied at the end of the month, and the last journal entry, or blog post is made, the summation of the experience begins with a heart-felt, “I never understood before…”
First and foremost I want to say that I know that something is better than nothing. I appreciate the desire to help, and whatever compassion, or empathy, or social awareness (or whatever you want to call it) that comes along with this experiment.
I get that some good people are trying to make a difference, and I applaud that, but please don’t ever, ever…think that because they did a Food Stamp Challenge, that they understand.
Don’t think that someone can load up a couple of bags of cheap groceries in the back up their Outback, cruise on home to a nice house in the ‘burbs, and fix dinner in their modern kitchen…and know what it’s like to be poor.
Ask any police officer if a one-night “ride along” makes you understand what it is to be a cop, or any serviceman or woman if eating an MRE makes you understand being a soldier. Yes, people can spend a faintly uncomfortable month paring down their food budget, heck – they might even lose a few pounds and gain a little insight, but until they live in the same cheap apartments and ignored neighborhoods, wear their old clothes, feel their frustration and hopelessness, and lay awake at night with their fears…
All they’ve done is shopped like the poor.
Until they’ve have carried those groceries home a hundred times, through two bus transfers, and an eight block walk through a rainstorm, past the drug deal in the parking lot, and up two flights of stairs to an apartment that may or may not have had the electricity turned off, (and it’s January)…
Until then, they don’t understand.
Until they’ve faced staring down long years of an unchanging life, the absence of hope for a better future (not in 30 days, or 30 years)…years where things like new cars (or any cars), nice restaurants, vacations, etc., anything beyond the grinding out of daily survival, are as far off the radar as a trip to the moon; watching their children grow up never “getting”, until finally they stop asking, until they begin to come to an understanding that these things are not meant for them, and they begin to harden…
Until then, they don’t understand.
Until they’ve looked at all the things they cannot buy for their kids, cannot experience with them, cannot give them, and realize that while they can’t have things so many other children take for granted…but that the simple joy of a cheap fast-food meal, or a sugary soda pop, or junk-food snack, or hell…even stupidly spending every penny they have for a ridiculously priced pair of tennis shoes…is a single moment of happiness that they CAN give them (and themselves) now, as a momentary reprieve from the unending grayness of life.
That the cheap sugar and salt and fat bomb will, for a moment, eclipse all of those lost hopes and dreams they had as a parent, and numb the crushing guilt and helplessness they feel every waking moment.
Does it make them feel like a bad parent?
Probably. God knows they get enough judgement and derision on the subject.
But then, they feel that way every morning when sending their kids off to school in clothes they hate, on a breakfast of watered-down milk, every winter night when they tuck them into a cold room because they don’t dare turn the heat on…in fact, they feel like that all the time, and at least they get a smile from those french-fries. At least they can give them something besides the constant, bone-wearying, broken-record response of “No, we can’t afford that.”
A brief blink in their day where they don’t feel like a failure…like if God really loved their children, He’d have given them to someone else.
(Btw – that’s not dramatic prose talking – I was told that by a woman in a soup kitchen, who was living with her three children in a tent.)
Until they’ve been ground down by year-upon-year-upon-year of life at the bottom of the well.
Until then, they don’t understand.
You see, I grew up with a woman who knew these things. A divorced invalid, raising a child in Portland’s ghetto neighborhood of Rockwood, spending the last weeks of many-a-month living on potatoes and government cheese…my mother knew these things very well. She understood.
And the assumption of understanding, based on a month of mild inconvenience (often with the an underlying smugness of “Well, it was hard, but it wasn’t that hard”…) disrespects a lifetime of hardship and sacrifices that she, and all of the parents like her (and some much worse off) went through, and go through every single day.
Frankly, it pisses me off.
Don’t get me wrong, by all means please help…but do something tangible.
Sympathy without action is worthless.
Empathy, or even sympathy, without action is worthless…worse that worthless, it’s counter-productive, as others will follow your example. I don’t need to have cancer to comfort an old friend who does, and you don’t need to “live on assistance” to help people who do.
Volunteer at a food bank, contact a local ministry or non-profit and be part of an outreach program, give to local charities, become a constant, burning, unyielding, pain-in-the-ass advocate to your local politicians and decision makers…and God bless those of you who do these things…I hope you don’t take offense at anything I’ve said here, as it wasn’t directed at you.
If, however, people want to know what it’s like to be poor, so they’ve “been there, done that”, I wish they’d do me a favor…do it for a year, in my old neighborhood, on foot, in the cold and dark, with their children…no life-lines…and I may begin to take their “experience” seriously.
Until then, no…they don’t understand.
-Chef Perry SimplySmartDinnerPlans.com
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I love chicken thighs, and we use a lot of them in our weekly meal plans…delicious, easy to prepare, hard to mess up, and economical…what’s not to like?
This is my personal favorite recipe, both for straight-up eating with some steamed veggies and maybe a little fresh pasta, but especially as an ingredient for making amazing chicken soups, pizza and enchiladas, casseroles, and anything else that calls for succulent, savory, bursting-with-flavor chicken.
Maybe the best part being, you can get a family pack (or two) on the cheap, cook them all up like this, and they stay moist and juicy enough to be used in a variety of recipe through-out the week!
Here’s how I do it and, yes, it’s really this easy…
Simply Amazing Chicken Thighs
8 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 lemon, juiced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 Tbs. deli-style mustard
2 Tbs. honey
2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
Mise en place: Rinse the chicken thighs and pat dry.
Glaze: whisk together the mustard, vinegar, and honey. Season with salt and pepper, bring to a low simmer and keep warm.
Toss chicken in a large mixing bow. Drizzle with oil and lemon juice, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss all together until the chicken is evenly coated.
Marinate at least an hour, but all day in the fridge is better.
Place the chicken on an oiled pan and roast in a preheated oven (375F) skin-side down, for 20; flip the thighs and roast another 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven, switch from bake to broil, and brush each thigh generously with the warm glaze. Broil 5 minutes, watching carefully, until a medium golden brown.
To serve immediately: Allow chicken to rest 10 minutes, in the liquid, and serve straight up, or with sauce.
To use in a later recipe: Allow to cool 15-20 minutes in the liquid, then remove chicken from the pan, and place thighs in a clean lidded container (or gallon zips) and refrigerate.
You can make a fantastic finishing sauce by deglazing the roasting pan with a little white wine, maybe some diced shallots and/or mushrooms. bringing to a simmer, and whisking in a healthy knob of unsalted butter. Mmmm…
(BTW, this is an older video, don’t worry, our meal plans are still free! )
If you aren’t into the sauce, strain all of the drippings through a fine mesh into a measuring cup. Chill overnight, and in the morning, lift off the solid white fat and store separately from the lemony-chicken broth below it.
This rendered chicken fat is what Ashkenazic cooks (of Jewish-German descent) refer to as “schmaltz”, which makes an absolutely lovely cooking substitute for butter or oil. Cooking in schmaltz will make the best eggs ever!
But man, oh man…this chicken is so good!
Simple enough to make for a fast weeknight dinner, classy enough to be served over wild rice and drizzled with pan sauce for a fancy dinner party…it’s as versatile and it is delicious!
Here are 3 great recipes you can use these Simply Amazing Chicken Thighs in: