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Italian Sausage and Squash Soup


Silky, chunky, sweet, and spicy – this autumnal soup with an Italian accent is full of texture and flavor contrasts, yet is surprisingly simple to make. It’s a spectacular tribute to the season’s abundance of golden butternut squash.” 

Definitely their words…not mine! But it draws you in to the recipe doesn’t it?! My mom made this soup last year from a Cuisine at Home Magazine (It’s a really fun cooking magazine with lots of pictures and tips/tricks and NO ADs! Got to love that. I have not yet bought a subscription but it’s on my magazine bucket list). This is by far my FAVORITE soup I’ve ever had. I get cravings for this soup and have yet to make it for myself. That’s going to change this week :)

My mom gave me the recipe but with all the moving I’ve done in the last few years, I have no idea where it is. So, I decided I would type it here so I can grab it when I need it. The first time she made it she also did a yummy bread. I’ll do a second post for the Cheesy Garlic Bread that goes awesome with this soup and any others that you make this winter soup season.

To begin, this recipe has a tip about working with squash from the magazine….

The size, shape, and density of hard winter squash, like butternut, requires careful knife work. Buy small squash if possible (easier to handle), then peel with a vegetable peeler and cut (carefully) with a sharp, heavy chef’s knife.” 

I also asked my mom if she had any tips or tricks when making this recipe. She suggested that if you don’t have a hand blender and need to use a regular blender  that you should take their suggestion about doing the blending in batches seriously! Only fill the blender half full for each batch or you are likely to decorate your kitchen ceiling and counter top with a beautiful butternut squash color. She also recommended that you put a towel over the top of the blender in case any soup seeps out of the top. The heat of the soup causes funny things to happen in that blender so less is more when blending your batches.

Enjoy!!!

Italian Sausage & Squash Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 lb bulk Italian sausage
  • 1 1/2 cups onion, diced
  • 2 T garlic minced
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1 inch chunks (about 1.5 lbs)
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp ground dried sage
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 cups baby spinach, packed
  • 3 T. Brandy
  • salt and pepper to taste

Brown sausage in 1 T of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate; set aside

Sweat onion and garlic in 1 T. oil in a large pot over medium heat until soft, 5 min. Increase heat to medium-high, add squash and pepper flakes, and saute 5 min.

Stir in broth and water, bring to a boil and simmer until squash is very soft, about 10 min. Puree soup with a hand blender (or in batches in a standard blender), then add bell pepper, cream, sage, and sugar; simmer until bell pepper is tender, about 5 min. Stir in spinach, brandy, and sausage, and simmer until spinach wilts and sausage is heated through, about 2 min; season with salt and pepper.

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BBQ Chex Mix…yes please!


So, I love bbq…we’ve established that. And what better way to get that bbq flavor any time you want then to make up a chex mix that is easy to munch!

My first attempt at making this recipe was a few years back from a Super Bowl party at home. I did it in the oven because I thought it was laughable to do in the microwave. Not to mention, putting stuff in the microwave to cook seems…less like cooking…more like…something else. It doesn’t feel like cooking unless I’m turning on a stove or oven so if someone  tells me to take the short cut in a recipe and do it in the microwave, I usually turn up my inexperienced nose and use the oven/stove to complet the recipe, convinced it will taste better.

Well, I should have hung my head in shame after making this in the oven. It was a soggy, sticky mess and not very delicious….at all. Boo. I, of course, blamed the failure on the recipe and vowed to never try it again.

2 years changes things, because I got it in my head to cross the bridge one more time and give it a try when I had the same bbq craving this summer. I need to get off of my mental high horse regarding microwaves because this recipe is a total success in the silly thing. And FAST! If you’re having a party or work full time like me and need a quick something to bring to a get-together, this may be your new go to!

Here’s the recipe and my experience with microwave cooking :) (CHEAP NOTE: The cheapy in me bet myself that I could get all the ingredients for this yummy snack at the 99 cents store. I was almost right…just had to get the Chex Mix at the store. Everything else was a quick pick up there. Score! )

Step 1: Grab a bowl and your ingredients. The recipe calls for Cheese-It type crackers, but I found these whales at the 99 cents store and I have to say, this is my new favorite cheese cracker to add to this mix. Better flavor then the cheese its.

Step 2: Mix your dry ingredients..6 cups of Chex, 3/4 cups honey roasted peanuts, 1.5 cups of pretzels and cheese crackers. I have been using my big red plastic bowl for this project, however, I’m pretty sure that’s not a great idea when microwave cooking. Best bet is a nice big glass bowl. Much less toxic.

Step 3: Combine your other ingredients for the sauce…garlic and onion powder, bbq sauce and vegetable oil. My little oil bottle looks like it’s olive oil…it’s not…thus the silly blue label. Had to use the vegetable oil for something so I decided to pour the small amount I had left into the glass bottle. Very hand, but confusing for this recipe :)

Step 4: Pour bbq mixture into dry ingredients

Step 5: Mix it well. I have to admit that the first time I made this I was highly skeptical that the little amount of bbq sauce mixture was going to coat that 6 cup+ mixture of dry ingredients….but have faith. It does cover the whole lot of it. I found that the bbq sauce that tends to be thinner is better for this recipe. I’ve used KC

Masterpiece and then this dollar store buy and though I prefer the taste of KC or a Kraft Honey BBQ sauce, this one did a better job combining. My one tip is to mix well and try not to make up any more of the bbq mixture if possible. Remember you don’t want this to be soggy but crunchy. The more you put on, the longer you’ll likely have to cook it. Here is a picture of what it looks like all mixed…not a whole lot different hu :)

Step 6: Put your bowl into the microwave and put 7 min on the clock. I recommend opening up the door and stirring after the first 2 min and then I usually open and stir every min until I hit the 7 min mark. I’ve had an incident where the mix started to burn, so I’ve been careful ever since. As a hint, you won’t notice anything magical happening to the mix. It’s not going to look much different from when you put it in so don’t be using that as a sign to know when it’s done. I’ve learned that the hard way and I wish they would have explained it in the recipe.

Here’s a picture of what it looks like after a few min in the microwave.You can kind of see what I mean…nothing much different. Don’t worry, you’re still doing everything right. It’s going to seem like it’s still too wet when you finally pull it out, but don’t be discouraged, just follow through with the recipe.

Step 7: Roll out your parchment/wax paper and spread your mix and separate the pieces. Believe it or not they will dry and be crunchy! They will also be stuck together so you can put them in a Rubbermaid like shown below and shake the dickens out of it. That is sure to separate the pieces….I guess the same can be said for a gallon bags…but then you don’t get the terribly loud noise…choices, choices.

I hope you give this a try. My Life Group friends enjoyed it…think Jamie and CJ tried it this summer too… I’d like to try this with some of the other flavors that the Chex website offers.  Tell me of your Chex mix adventures below!

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Alternate Uses for Food Items from…Real Simple Magazine


I love Real Simple Magazine and figured I would make a point to share some of these fun tips that they send out in their newsletter. I always forget them so if I post them here, I have no reason to :) If you would like to subscribe to their newsletter you can click here. Enjoy!

Spaghetti as Candle-Lighter

If you don’t have extra-long matches, use an uncooked piece of spaghetti to light multiple or hard to reach candles.

Lighting candle

LifeSavers as Birthday-Candle Holders

These sweet treats are perfect for holding birthday candles. Make sure you buy the original rolls of candy for a snug fit. (The LifeSavers sold in big bags are slightly larger and don’t work as well.) Secure the candles inside the candies, then place on top of the frosting, all without making holes in the cake.

Cupcake with a candle held by a LifeSaver

Toothpick as Tape Saver

Mark the end of a roll of clear packing tape by sticking a toothpick under the flap. No more wasting half the roll just to seal one box.

Cellophane tape

Baking Soda as Silver Polish

To polish silver: Wash items, then place on aluminum foil in the bottom of a pot. Add a baking-soda solution (¼ cup soda, a few teaspoons salt, 1 quart boiling water) and cover for a few seconds. The result? A chemical reaction that gets the black off the gravy boat.

Baking soda and silver bowls

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Chips, Dips, Goat Cheese and Crackers!


I feel like that title needs to end with an “Oh My!”. Just like Wizard of Oz…this was another adventure in cooking….okay that’s hammy I know, but a nice segway, don’t you think?!?

I made this meal up last Sunday before my room mate came home and our cinnamon roll baking experience began…(to follow in a future post). Before she got home I decided to make up a nibbly lunch…meaning snacky stuff and not exactly healthy :) I was in the mood for a lighter lunch and so I decided to go through the pantry and refrigerator and figure out what I had on hand.

I’m a big fan of making home made pita chips since it’s a very easy and quick snack to have with store bough hummus. I’m also a big fan of using my old tortillas for a savory or sweet snack. That is what inspired me to get this snacky meal going since I had both on hand. I had bought some goat cheese (Jamie will appreciate that..:) at the store and had a few ripe avocados from our tree (I’ll have to take a picture to show you…it’s huge!) to make some guacamole…so this was quickly becoming a chips and dips meal!

Usually when I make pita chips I use a cayenne pepper/sea salt mixture that I keep on hand to season the pita chips. However I switched it up this time around. You see in the picture above that there is a little red topped Rubbermaid container, which is my home made taco seasoning.  I decided that would complement the guac a little better and was an easy substitute. The taco seasoning is from a grilled chicken taco pizza recipe  on the Food Network posted by Aaron Mccargo, star of Big Daddy’s House. I love this recipe because it makes up lots of extra that I get to use long after I make the pizzas. I highly recommend making some up for stuff like this when you want to spice up your homemade tortilla and pita chips. It’s awesome with avocados to make a salsa as well (used on the top of the pizza (see recipe via link above).

Back to the process….I started everything out by cutting my pitas in strips or chip shaped pieces. I like doing strips…mostly because I stink at making chip shaped chips :) I kind of like using older pitas, because they end up having a crunchier finish, but the results can be the same with newer pitas if you set your oven temp accordingly.

 

I then drizzle the pita pieces with olive oil. I always use olive oil however, I’ve resorted to vegetable oil when I’m out of olive oil and get the same results….so I think it’s safe to say you are good to use whatever oil you have on hand. You don’t have to use a whole lot of oil to do the trick but feel free to brush the oil on to get an even coat to cover the pieces.

After coating them with oil, I sprinkled the seasoning over them. I’ve made the mistake of going overboard and regretted it since it’s far too strong. So, I’ve learned the age old saying of “less is more” works wonderfully when seasoning the pitas.

 

 

The next step is to put them in the oven. This time I put them in for 10 mins at 350 degrees. this is just a starting point. You can always keep them in longer depending on what consistency you’re going for. I like the crunchy/soft texture to them. You can also put them in at a low broil setting for a shorter amount of time and get nice crispy chips. If you broil, please learn from my mistake and DON’T GO FAR!

I can’t tell you how many batches of overdone pita chips I’ve made because I decided to go to the bathroom or in the other room….some were still edible and others…lost forever. “Why didn’t you put a timer on” you ask?…I don’t have a good answer to that other then to say that I make stupid mistakes in the kitchen…a lot…which is what this blog is kind of all about :) So, learn from my mistakes…set a timer and stay in the kitchen if you decide to broil them. I recommend 3 min on the clock…you can probably gage your oven’s strength after 3 min and then flip them over and go from there :) Good luck! Above is what mine looked liked…one of my better batches.

Next I made up the guacamole from our ripe backyard avocados. Actually…these were probably picked too soon since the color of the avocados looked a little too light. Still had a great flavor but it looked a little funny. Avocados may be a post I do later, after some research. I should know how to pick them since we have a tree.

Anyways….I used the seasoning packet that you see above. I can get them at our local 99 cent store so it’s the cheapest and tasty way to make up guacamole. The only thing I’ll add is some fresh lime juice (also from a tree out back) to keep it pretty colors. My family is a big fan of guacamole so we make it a lot with family get-togethers and this is the seasoning that we’ve all come to like. Some mixes are too spicy for our “gringo” heart-burn prone palates so if you share these restrictions, I recommend this one :) I wanted it to look more restauranty so sprinkled some Parmesan cheese on the top of it when I was done (see picture below) which was a yummy addition…not sure if that’s actually what they use in the restaurants but it sure tasted good :)

As I mentioned before I also made up some tortilla chips from old tortiallas. I had bought some cilantro jalapeno toriallas from  Fresh and Easy and decided to make some chips out of those for my Mexican Chips and Dips extravaganza!! I have made chips by deep frying them but that was a little more involved them I wanted to get to today, so I went for baked chips. I decided to just use my cooking spray to coat them and chose not to use any salt or seasoning since the tortillas had flavor enough.

I put them in the oven for a little shorter amount of time since they definitely don’t take as long. Again this was just a place to start. They can stay in as long as you need them to. I didn’t take a picture of the finished product but you’ll notice them in my final picture. I had some fun trays that I put them in and kind of left them out to enjoy throughout the day  It was a tasty and easy meal for the lighter lunch I was in the mood for. I pulled out my goat cheese and put it on a plate with some garlic cracked pepper crackers and some kalamata olives. As pretty as I thought it looked, it also tasted pretty awesome too. I’m a big fan of the olives and goat cheese together. I’m wish I had, some carrots or tomatoes or something else to add to these over carbed trays…maybe next time.

So that was my fun chips and dip lunch last Sunday! No big mistakes this time because it’s all stuff I make pretty regularly but I would still love to hear any tips or tricks that you have in making these same things. . I’ll be posting my adventures with making Cinnamon Rolls with my room mate Emily very soon and I promise that, that experience is filled with oopsies and boy-I-hope-this-works moments…since those make the journey of cooking more fun I’ll include all of them! More to come…let me know what you think of the stories so far! Would love to hear from any and all readers!