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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup


 We harvested about half a dozen butternut squashes out of our garden this year, and they are so yummy! My favorite way to eat them is cubed and roasted, they're SO good! I was looking for a way to mix things up an found this recipe for butternut soup. It looked easy and yummy, so I went for it, making a few little tweaks to the recipe here and there. The instructions seem long, but this is not a complicated dish and comes together in an hour or less, even if you have three kids hanging on you or otherwise demanding your attention while you make it (see bonus step).


 What you Need:

- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded, and diced into 1/2 in cubes
- oil (I used canola, but you could use olive oil, or vegetable oil, or whatever you have)
- herbs/spices of choice (I used Herbes De Provence, other possibilities are an Italian herb blend, or ginger and curry)
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2 in cubes
- 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into 1/2 in slices
- 1 onion, cut into 8 wedges
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 tsp celery seed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3-6 cups chicken stock or broth
- milk (optional)
- sour cream (for garnish, optional)

 What you Do:

Basically all you have to do is roast all the veggies, throw everything in the blender, warm it up, and serve. Just in case you want more detail than that, here you go...

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
2. Prepare your garlic head for roasting by slicing the top of it off and drizzling some oil over it. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here are some better instructions. Wrap in tinfoil and place in the oven. You want this to cook as long as possible, so get it in first and make sure it's the last things you pull out when they're all done. 
3. Put your squash cubes in a bowl, drizzle with a 1-2 TBS oil and sprinkle with herbs of choice and salt/pepper. Toss with a spoon so your cubes are evenly coated in oil. Spread in a single layer on a sheet pan. The goal is to use enough oil that all the surfaces on the squash cubes end up with a light coat of oil, but not so much that you have a puddle of oil in the bottom of the bowl after you toss the squash.
4. Working with one veggie type at a time, follow the same instructions as in step 3 for the potatoes,  onions (toss these gently so the layers don't fall apart), and carrots, EXCEPT don't put the herbs on them; just oil, salt, and pepper. I kept my veggie types separate in case the roasting times were different and I needed to pull something out of the oven before the rest were done.
5. Place sheet pan in oven. Roast for 15 minutes. Using a spatula turn all the veggies over and put back in to continue roasting. Check every ten minutes for doneness by stabbing with a fork. If the veggie is soft and easy to pierce then it's done. All of mine were done about the same time, but if yours aren't just take what's done off the pan and put the rest back in.

6. When all your veggies are tender and the smell is so amazing you're about to lose your mind, remove them all from the cookie sheet (Remember that bowl you used to oil them up? It works great to store them all in for a few minutes). While you want some yummy browning on your veggies, if you have any little bits that seem too burned (some of my onion layers got a bit overdone), make sure to discard those. Place the sheet pan over a stove burner turned on to low heat, and pour in a small amount of chicken broth (1/2 cup?). Cook and stir, scraping all the yummy caramelized brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Once you have gotten all the good stuff stirred in, take it off the heat, and pour the goodness into your blender.
7. Remove your garlic head from the oven and unwrap the foil so it can cool enough to work with. You can turn your oven off now.
***Bonus step: Extricate your 5 year old from the exersaucer:
 8. Dump your veggies in the blender, along with the celery seed and enough chicken broth/stock to cover everything. If you want a silky smooth soup add them all now, but if you want a bit of texture than reserve a handful of squash cubes. Pulse a few times to break up most of the big chunks, stirring and adding more broth (or milk for added richness) as necessary. Your garlic is probably cool enough to handle now, so squeeze the roasted garlic out of the skin and add those to the blender. Blend until smooth, adding more liquid if desired. If you saved some squash for texture, add those now and pulse until desired texture is reached.
9. If blending your soup has cooled it too much to serve, warm it up in a pot on the stove. Serve with a dollop of sour cream if desired (yum!).

Calzones

I will admit to never having had a calzone before I made these, but I'm so glad I did! I found this recipe in my favorite Betty Crocker cook book and just had to give it a try. These are pretty easy to make and SO yummy. You can fill them with whatever you have handy and you've got a really yummy dinner ready to go. This filling recipe came from my Betty Crocker cookbook, but we've also used cottage cheese (instead of ricotta), pepperoni, sausage, and pretty much anything else you might put on pizza). Here's a whole page of ideas for ways to make this yummy dinner treat your own. 
What you Need (crust):
2 1/2-3 cups all-purpose flour
1 TBS sugar
1 tsp salt
1 pkg regular dry or quick active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
3 TBS olive or veggie oil
1 cup very warm water (120-130 degrees F)

What you Need (filling):
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (8 oz)
1/4 lb salami, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
ground pepper
1 large egg, slightly beaten

What you Do (crust):
In large bowl, mix 1 cup of the flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast. Add oil and warm water. Beat with electric mixer on medium speed 3 minutes, scraping bowl requently. Stir in enough remaining flour until dough is soft and leaves sides of bowl. Place dough on lightly floured surface. Knead 5-8 minutes or until dough is smooth and springy. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes. (At this point you could just use this dough to make pizza, but why stop here when you could make calzones?)

What you Do (calzones):
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 2 cookie sheets.
Divide dough into 6 equal parts. On lightly floured surface, roll each part into 7-inch circle with floured rolling pin.
Top half of each dough circle with mozzarella cheese, salami, ricotta cheese, basil and tomatoes to within 1 inch of the edge. Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. Carefully fold dough over filling; pinch edges or press with fork to seal securely.
Place calzones on cookie sheets. Brush with egg. Bake about 25 minutes or until golden brown.

We like to warm up some marinara (or whatever pasta sauce we have handy) and serve it as a dipping sauce. YUM!

Balsamic Glazed Rosemary Pork Cutlets

These were SO yummy, they taste like something you'd pay good money for in a restaurant. They were also really quick and easy to make! We ate ours with baked potatoes and some fruit cocktail (fancy, I know) and they made a great dinner. I found the recipe here.

What you need:
2 tsp oil
1 TBS rosemary leaf, chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 lb pork tenderloin, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slices
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 TBS honey

What you do:
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. While that is warming up, sprinkle the cutlets with rosemary, salt, and pepper. 
Add the pork to the pan and cook about 3 minutes per side, or until done. Remove from pan and keep warm. 
Combine broth, vinegar, and honey, stirring with a whisk. Add to the pan. You want to scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the yummy browned bits from the meat stirred in. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 6 minutes, or until reduced to 1/3 cup and is thick as syrup. While the vinegar is cooking down, it smells pretty strong. Ethan walked in during this time and asked what the heck I was doing with all the vinegar. I told him it was dinner, and you could tell by his face that he wanted to refuse to have anything to do with whatever I was cooking, but he wisely bit his tongue. He didn't regret that decision. 
Once the sauce is reduced and thickened, return the pork to the pan and cook until heated through.


I thought I'd share my favorite trick for speeding up the cooking time for baked potatoes. It's fine to bake potatoes for an hour when you've also got meatloaf or something baking that is going to take just as long, but I hate running the oven for that long when the rest of dinner's only going to take 20 minutes. So, I heat my oven up to at least 400. Scrub the potatoes, and slice in half lengthwise. Carefully score the potato (see above picture), being careful not to cut through the peel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (also yummy to add garlic or onion powder, or whatever herbs would complement your main dish) and put a few dabs of butter on top of each potato half. 
Bake on a baking sheet until cooked through and enjoy! 

Cigares au Chocolat


I recently tried out a french recipe I found online. Making the conversions and figuring this out took a few tries, but I finally got it! These cookies are super yummy and once I had the right amounts and consistency figured out, they weren't too hard! I used a post on butterbaking.com to help me figure out my conversions (it was incredibly helpful!). Here's my Americanozed version of the original recipe.

Cookie Ingredients:

7 TBS of soft butter 
3/4 c + 1 TBS + 1/4 tsp powdered sugar (or a heaping 3/4 c.)
1/2 cup + 3 TBS + 1 1/2 tsp flour (or a scant 3/4 c.)
2-3 eggs worth of egg whites
Room temperature water
Chocolate or dark chocolate (I used 2 1/2 squares of almond bark, so maybe 3/4-1 c. chocolate chips worth)
Something to roll the cookies on (I used a pen).

Filling Ingredients:

1 oz cream cheese
2 TBS powdered sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp cocoa powder*
2 large spoonfuls of melted chocolate*
2 TBS caramel syrup*

small amount of cocoa powder for dipping the end

*Choose whatever flavors you want for the filling. Raspberry would be yummy in this too!


Directions:
  1. Mix together the butter and powdered sugar for 2 minutes. Mix in the flour, then add the egg whites one at a time. Mix until smooth. If your mixture looks like the picture below, it's too thick:

    Add water, 1 TBS at a time until the mixture is just thin enough to pour. Chill for at least 2 hours. 
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spray with Pam. Using a spoon, pour 2 1/2 to 3 inch circles of batter on the prepared parchment paper. Only pour 4 cookies at a time (more than that will not give you time to roll them before they have cooled and hardened). Bake for 5-6 minutes. The edges will be golden brown. 
  3. Upon removing the cookies from the oven, immediately roll them around the pen (or whatever round object you're using) so there is a hollow in the center. Place them to the side to cool. If they try to unroll, place them with the "flap" on the bottom and brace them on either side (I put a cup on either side of the cookies that wanted to unroll, which was only a few of them really, you won't have to do this with all of them hopefully). Let the cool and set up. 
  4. Mix the filling ingredients until smooth. Scoop into a plastic bag, cut the corner, and squeeze the filling into the cooled cookies.
  5. Melt the chocolate according to package instructions. I added about 1-2 tsp of shortening to my melted chocolate to make it a little more smooth and thin. Place a small pile of cocoa powder to the side. Dip half of each cookie in the chocolate and gently tap off the excess chocolate. Dip the end in the cocoa to resemble ash. Place on a flat surface to cool (I let mine cool on the now cool pan/parchment paper). 

These were a gift for a friend who loves cigar boxes, so I found a fun cigar box at the local Antique Mall, cleaned it out, and used it at the gift box for the cookies. The cookies don't look exactly like cigars, and they don't look as good as the original cookies on the French site, but they tasted amazing and were a lot of fun to make!


Pirate Theme Snacks


This last Saturday I had the assignment to provide snacks for 100 people for our stake camp clinic. Our camp theme is "Embark" this year and each unit has a theme ship. Our YCLs ship is The Black Pearl, so I used the theme of pirates for the snacks. The menu was cheese sticks, grapes and carmel corn with water to drink. The sign says: "Aarggh! Be Best Mateys This Year at Camp! It worked very well. At least the girls thought it all was cute. Naturally there were a few fingertip sword fights with the plastic picks.

Thanks to Marquette and Cameron for naming the grapes! One can always go to them for a cute idea.




Spicy Prickly Pear Glazed Chicken


I found a recipe for this online, but it made 24 chicken thighs and used bourbon. I wanted to make this in much smaller portions and leave the bourbon out so I used the recipe as my base and then tweaked it. This turned out really really yummy! It was incredibly moist and tender and the sauce was perfect. I sauteed some canned green beans to go with this and tasted excellent with the sauce ase well. Here is how I made it:

Spicy Prickly Pear Glazed Chicken:

Ingredients:

  • Olive Oil
  • 1/2 chopped red onion
  • 2 seeded and chopped serrano chile (use more to give this more kick, or less for a more mild kick. 2 chiles gave it just barely a detectable pinch of spice without making this too hot)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • juice from one lime (not key lime!)
  • zest from one lime
  • 2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
  • 3 TBS brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 c. prickly pear juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 TBS butter
  • 6 Chicken thighs (we used boneless, skinless)

Directions:

  1. In a sauce pot, heat the oil. Saute the onion over medium heat until browned. 
  2. Add the chile and garlic and saute until softened. 
  3. Add the cumin and coriander and cook for 2 minutes. 
  4. Add the lime juice and zest, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes. 
  5. Transfer the mixture to an electric blender and puree until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot. 
  6. Add the prickly pear juice, salt, and butter. Return to a boil. Cook until the mixture has thickened. You almost want a paste, but not too gummy. 
  7. In a large resealable bag, combine the thighs with 1/3 of the sauce. Toss to cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. 
  8. Preheat the oven to 375. 
  9. Lightly oil a baking pan (or I just lined mine with tin foil). Lay the thighs in the pan, and brush 1/2 the remaining sauce over the top.
  10. Bake for 25 minutes. 
  11. Turn the thighs over and brush on the remaining sauce. Bake for 20 minutes. 
  12. Broil the thighs for 3-4 minutes to finish off. 
The recipe calls to garnish these with cilantro, but I'm not a fan of the cilantro flavor, so I left that out. 

Peanut Butter and Yogurt Fruit Dip

I had this for the first time yesterday at our weekly play group. One of the other moms brought this to share with everyone and it was SO yummy! It's really easy to make and so good!

What you need:
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used greek yogurt, which has half as many carbs and twice as much protein)
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 TBS honey
1/4 tsp cinnamon

I actually just kinda guessed at the amounts when I made this. The lady who brought this to play group told me the ingredient list but I didn't ask how much of each. You can adjust any and all the these ingredients until it tastes yummy to you. 

What you do:
Warm up the Peanut Butter and the Honey. I used a small pan on my stove top but a microwave would work great too.
Add all the ingredients together and stir until well mixed.
Serve with apples or anything else you might like (we also tried graham crackers and that was yummy too). This makes enough for 1-2 apples, depending on how big the apple and how much you pile on each bite.  :)