Butternut Squash, Apple Cider, & White Cheddar Soup

According to my husband (and various news outlets) this October has been the rainiest on record here in Phoenix. And we are not mad about it. Rain, rain, do NOT go away! While I think I would get sick of overcast skies and waving windshield wipers if I lived somewhere like Portland, where it’s constant, I’m happy to soak it up while it lasts here in the desert. After all, rainy weather is SOUP weather, and who doesn’t love a warm-you-up-from-the-inside-out bowl of comfort? Especially when that bowl contains the magical mix of butternut squash, apple cider, and white cheddar?

Seriously, the combination in this delicious soup is like if someone held a contest for a meal that represents the Ultimate Flavors of Fall. Earthy with squash, rich with sharp white cheddar, with a hint of sweetness from the cider–oh, and did I mention pumpkin ale goes into the mix, too? Mm-hmm. Even my nine-year-old, who claims to hate butternut squash, grudgingly admitted this soup was goooooood. And unlike some soups that need to simmer for ages before they’re ready, this one doesn’t take long to cook. To make it extra quick and easy, start with a bag of pre-cut squash from the produce section of your grocery store. Rounded out with cheesy toast and a side salad, it’s the perfect dinner for a rainy day.

As for me, I’ll just be over here enjoying my soup weather as long as I can…


Print Recipe
Butternut Squash, Apple Cider, & White Cheddar Soup
Cozy up to a bowl of this unique soup with the perfect blend of fall flavors!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. Melt butter over medium heat in a large stock pot. Add butternut squash, onion, garlic, and salt. Saute until squash has softened slightly, about 8 minutes. Add pumpkin ale, apple cider, and broth. Simmer another 10-12 minutes or until squash is totally softened. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth. Whisk in white cheddar until melted, then stir in nutmeg.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Cooking For Keeps.

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Amazing All-Purpose Tahini Sauce

In the past, I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid using tahini. It’s just so expensive, I thought, and what on earth would I do with an entire jar of sesame paste? Sure, I like hummus like any red-blooded Millennial, but I just couldn’t see making that much of it from scratch.

Little did I know that tahini can be used for other things besides hummus.

A few weeks ago I came across this helpful post on Babble that set me straight. Twenty-eight ways to use tahini that AREN’T hummus? The mystery! The intrigue! Turns out the sesame flavor and smooth texture of tahini lends itself to salad dressings, pestos, and even…brownies? While that particular suggestion may be going a bit too far for my tastes, the idea did broaden my horizons. When I ended up buying a jar at Trader Joe’s (for only around $3–far cheaper than I expected) it was with plenty of options on my radar.

This amazing all-purpose tahini sauce started its life as a dressing for a to-die-for roasted cauliflower salad over at Budget Bytes, but in my house, it’s turned into so much more. This week I put it on baked salmon, dipped pita in it, and have been seriously considering its possibilities as a sandwich spread. (With a bit of deli turkey, sprouts, and cucumber, it sounds like Mediterranean perfection.) I could see it working well on grilled chicken, as a veggie dip, or on falafel.

And, if you’re really adventurous, I suppose you could even use it in brownies.


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Amazing All-Purpose Tahini Sauce
A tangy sauce that works perfectly on fish, chicken, or just for dipping!
Servings
(makes about 1 cup)
Ingredients
Servings
(makes about 1 cup)
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a measuring cup, mix all ingredients until well combined. Keep covered in the refrigerator.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Budget Bytes.

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Chocolate Mint Layer Cake

Hi, my name is Sarah and I’m a cake-aholic.

And I am also a nutritionist.

Do we have a problem here? Not necessarily. I mean, while I absolutely love cake, I don’t eat it every day, I maintain a healthy weight, and my diet is generally (I’d like to think) pretty healthy. In fact, I’m a big fan of the 80/20 principle when it comes to eating: stay on course nutritionally about 80% of the time, do what you like–within reason–the other 20% or so. (I even wrote an article about it here.) So do I feel bad posting a totally indulgent, party-perfect Chocolate Mint Layer Cake on the blog today?

No, I actually don’t. Especially because today is my birthday.

This cake isn’t actually for my birthday (mine will be a Neapolitan Strawberry-Vanilla-Chocolate sugar bomb I intend to make this afternoon), but rather, for my mom’s a few weeks ago. My mom and I have a little arrangement where, because I love making cakes and we both love eating them, I get to make her a cake of my choosing every year. Usually with chocolate.

This year mint chocolate was calling to me, and this recipe, modified from Lindsay over at Life, Love, and Sugar was exactly what I was looking for–except that with our family size, I didn’t actually need THREE layers. (Though I may have wanted them.) The cake came out fluffy and moist and kept well in the fridge, where it shockingly actually lasted a week. And though, with mint frosting, it can be tough to strike the right non-toothpaste-y, yet not-too-mild note, this stuff does so beautifully.

I’m no cake decorating expert–I’ve taken one single class at my local Michael’s with an instructor who was oddly enthusiastic about using Snickers to garnish cakes–but I have to say, I think this, with its pretty green color and tempting Andes mint pieces, turned out looking particularly appealing. And tasted amazing. What more does a birthday cake need?

P.S. I’m not including nutrition info for this one. It’s my birthday and I DON’T WANNA KNOW!



Print Recipe
Chocolate Mint Layer Cake
Minty, chocolatey, and totally indulgent, this cake makes the perfect choice for a birthday or other special occasion!
Course Dessert
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings
slices
Course Dessert
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings
slices
Instructions
Make the chocolate cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and grease two 9-inch cake pans well. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour through salt). Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and add egg, egg white, milk, and vegetable oil. Mix to combine. Add vanilla and boiling water and mix until well incorporated.
  2. Divide batter evenly between the two pans and bake 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.
Make the mint frosting:
  1. While the cakes cool, mix softened butter, shortening, and powdered sugar until smooth. Add water or milk, vanilla, and peppermint extract and mix again. Slowly add food coloring to your liking (I'd say go with about 2/3 green and 1/3 yellow) and mix until color is even.
  2. Place one layer of the cake on a platter and frost the top. Top with second layer of cake and frost the entire cake, reserving about 1 1/2 c. for extra frosting garnishes.
  3. To get the look pictured, use a cake decorating tip like Wilton 1M to pipe swirls around the outer edge of the cake's surface. Insert whole Andes mints into the swirls, press them into the base of the cake, or garnish however you like!
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Life, Love, and Sugar.

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Mediterranean Baked Eggs With Croutons and Tomatoes

Do you eat eggs at dinner?

Though I almost never eat eggs at breakfast–I’m more of a grains gal to start my day–I am weirdly, unaccountably loyal to them at dinner. I suppose it’s partly because I grew up eating dinner quiches on a regular basis, but partly because eggs have so much going for them. They’re cheap, first of all, and relatively easy to purchase locally. Then there are all their nutrition benefits. With 6 grams of protein, a sizable dose of vitamins D and B12, and only around 70 calories, a single egg packs plenty of nutrition.

Also, the health concerns that used to plague most consumers about eating too many eggs have been shown to be largely unfounded. Whereas in decades gone by, the medical establishment believed that high intake of dietary cholesterol led to high blood cholesterol, we now know that saturated fat and fiber play a far more important role in blood cholesterol levels. So the days of avoiding eggs for the sake of your HDL and LDL are past.

Which is really good news for this amazing Mediterranean Baked Eggs with Croutons and Tomatoes.

This delightful breakfast-lunch-or-dinner dish comes from America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, a fabulous resource I’ve been working my way through since receiving it for my last birthday. If you like Mediterranean flavors (or dig the health perks of a Mediterranean diet), you’re going to love this unique combination of crunchy croutons, garlic-herb roasted tomatoes, tangy feta, and baked eggs. Something about the match of blistered, tender tomatoes against the crunch of croutons and the heft of the eggs has made this one of my new favorite meals.

Made step-wise by baking the croutons and tomatoes at the same time, assembling, and baking again, this recipe may look slightly daunting at first, but ultimately is quite simple once you get the hang of it. Plus, the baking time involved gives you a few extra minutes to toss a light salad–True Food Kitchen’s Kale Salad, perhaps?–to complete the picture of an unforgettable Mediterranean-style meal.

Bring on the eggs for dinner!


Print Recipe
Mediterranean Baked Eggs With Croutons and Tomatoes
A breakfast-lunch-or-dinner standout full of Mediterranean flavor: crunchy croutons, garlic-herb roasted tomatoes, tangy feta, and baked eggs--yum!
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the bread chunks with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and spread the bread into it in an even layer. Set aside.
  2. In the same large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil, minced garlic, oregano, tomato paste, sugar, salt, and pepper. Add cherry tomatoes and stir to coat. Spread evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, pouring any additional olive oil mixture over tomatoes.
  3. Place both the dish of croutons and the baking sheet of tomatoes in the oven. Bake the croutons for 10 minutes and the tomatoes for 20 minutes.
  4. Once both tomatoes and croutons have baked, pour tomatoes over the croutons and gently stir together, adding an additional 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Using a large spoon, make six shallow indentations in the mixture. Crack one egg into each indentation. Season with salt and pepper. Return the baking dish to the oven for another 12 minutes or until eggs are just set.
  5. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then sprinkle crumbled feta over the top and serve.
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Naan-chos with Gazpacho Salsa

In a perfect world, every culture would have its own version of nachos. I can see it now: German nachos with a crispy potato base and sausage crumbles on top, Indian nachos with lentil crackers and chicken tikka masala… the list goes on. But since we don’t live in a perfect world, sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands, nacho-wise.

Since I’m such a fan of the Mediterranean diet, and that region doesn’t exactly have its own native nachos, I’ve been meaning to make something like these “naanchos” for ages, especially after coming across Rachael Ray’s version years ago. I’m so glad I did! These made the perfect light lunch for my day off yesterday.

With a naan flatbread base, hummus swirl, and gazpacho-flavored salsa, this twist on the usual nachos takes your tastebuds on a tour around the Mediterranean. The gazpacho salsa on top (a riff on my regular gazpacho), is a refreshing pico de gallo-style dip, with manly chunks of red pepper, tomato, and cucumber. Put together with chewy flatbread, cool hummus, and salty feta, I could also see this combo serving as a unique appetizer for entertaining or a nutrient-packed afternoon snack.

Like their namesake, these naancho nachos might just make you go…

 


Print Recipe
Naan-chos with Gazpacho Salsa
Nachos with a healthy Mediterranean twist!
Instructions
  1. Make the gazpacho salsa: Place garlic cloves in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping blade. Process for a few seconds until garlic is minced. Add the chunks of cucumber, tomatoes, red pepper, and red onion and process another few seconds until the mixture reaches a pico de gallo consistency.
  2. Pour the mixture into a large bowl. Stir in olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Toast the naan in a toaster/toaster oven. Spread with a layer of hummus, then slice into wedges.
  4. Place wedges on a serving dish. Top with gazpacho salsa and sprinkle with crumbled feta. Serve immediately, and store any extra salsa tightly covered in the fridge.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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