Monday, November 21, 2016

Simple Thirty-Minute Stovetop Vegetable Soup

Let's face it - most of us indulge a little too much during the holidays. Whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter, temptation in the form of potatoes, gravy, butter, pies, rolls, cakes, candies and carbs galore hit us from every angle. So, it's often nice to have some recipes in our arsenal that are quick to whip up and ones that fall a little more into the "healthful" category to make in the days that follow (ya know, once we've devoured all of the leftovers). This soup is one such recipe.

It's adapted from a Trisha Yearwood recipe that she featured awhile back on her cooking show. I was immediately drawn to it because it seemed incredibly easy to make, used just a handful of ingredients, was totally uncomplicated and wasn't a heavy, cream-based soup. Basically, some chicken broth, tomatoes, diced potatoes, garlic, onions, frozen veggies and seasoning come together on the stovetop in like, twenty-five minutes.

This soup is a great one to experiment with since the flavor profile is pretty basic. The recipe as written is awesome. But, if you'd like to play around with different herbs or seasonings, the sky really is the limit. I encourage you to maybe try it as-written, then go from there the next go-round. (I've used a slight sprinkling of Mrs. Dash's Original Blend seasoning a couple of times in this soup ... and have really come to love it that way.)

What you will find is that this is light and refreshing. Yes, as odd as it sounds, this soup is refreshing (as much as a soup can be, I suppose). It isn't heavy at all and due to the quick cooking time, the vegetables don't become mushy as often happens with longer-cooked soups.

In my house, we love this soup served with saltine crackers and a little shaved Parmesan on top just prior to serving.

Yields 6 servings.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Apple Cider Ginger Fizz Cocktail

Looking for a refreshing, fizzy drink to serve at your upcoming holiday gathering? I may just have you covered with my Apple Cider Ginger Fizz Cocktail. It is light, bubbly, bursting with seasonal flavors and comes together quickly. The adults at your party will thank you when you place one of these chilled, crisp drinks in their hands.

The recipe for these is quite easy and requires only a few ingredients. I recommend putting these together right when you're ready to serve them so that the ginger beer doesn't lose its effervescence. The real key to this recipe is to keep the apple cider and ginger beer very chilled right up until preparation of the drink. Ice cubes can be made the night before using apple cider instead of water, if desired. Doing so will ensure that the drink doesn't get watered down.

Garnish options can include thinly-sliced apples, cinnamon sticks, whole cranberries ... or all three together as I have done. I really encourage you to include the cinnamon sticks, however. When the drink is brought close to the nose while sipping, the scent of the cinnamon truly is unmatchable and really drives home the seasonal aspect of this drink.

If you wanted a little bit of a different hue, some cranberries could be "muddled" with a tiny bit of sugar in the bottoms of the glasses prior to adding the liquids.

Note that I tested this recipe with both bourbon and gin. Either works fabulously, so it's really just a matter of preference on your part.

Servings: 4

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sweet Spiced Pear & Brown Sugar Puff Pastry Tart

Keeping puff pastry on hand in the freezer is something that I recommend for every home cook. It's just so versatile and easy to use. It can be used to create both sweet and savory dishes. The puffy, flaky, buttery layers present so beautifully. And, the results are always delicious and crowd-pleasing. Guests think you've invested a great amount of time in preparation, but the truth is that working with store-bought puff pastry is almost effortless and very uncomplicated. With this recipe, I've taken a sheet of puff pastry, brushed it with perfectly-spiced and sweetened butter, lined it with thinly-cut pear slices and baked it to perfection.

Something truly magical happens during the baking process. The butter mixture becomes almost caramel-like, the pear slivers soften up beautifully, the juices from the pears slightly release to help flavor the tart and the dough puffs up all around the fruit so stunningly.

This can be enjoyed as a dessert or even with coffee in the morning. For dessert, I recommend serving this with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream or even a light dusting of powdered sugar.

This would be a pretty dessert to grace your holiday table this year, too. And, know that you could easily make this into 4 - 6 individual tarts simply by cutting the pastry into small squares prior to topping and baking.

Note that the pear slices can be arranged however you prefer. You can do basic, straight lines of pears or switch it up and do a more-rustic, varying pattern as I have done.

Serves 4 - 6.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Lightened-Up Apple Crisp

With apple season in full swing recently, many of us look for ways to incorporate them into our cooking and baking. But, I, also, know that so many of us are trying to keep to a healthier lifestyle these days. Personally, I have been working lately to cut back on the amount of sugar in my daily diet. Here, I've taken apple crisp - a fall dessert that we all know and adore - and I've made it a bit more healthy. With just a couple of slight changes to my traditional recipe, I've managed to make apple crisp something that I don't feel as guilty about indulging in this time of year.

The changes aren't major ones. The end result is still something that we're all familiar with ... I promise. Basically, I've lessened the amount of sugar to both the filling and topping (about a third less compared to my traditional recipe), swapped in some orange juice and coconut oil for the butter component of the crumbly topping and amped up the warm, autumnal spices for this version.

My husband and I actually found that we preferred this rendition since so many apple crisps can be cloyingly sweet. All of the satisfaction was still there, but with a little less guilt.

Of course, serving it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream is totally up to you. (Swoon!) But, if you'd like to stay on course with the healthy vibe we've got going here, you could opt for a low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt or a small dollop of low-fat Greek yogurt. (FYI:  I like mine with just a tiny splash of heavy cream.)

NOTE: I prefer a combination of both sweet and tart apples for apple crisp.