Healthy Cookie: Creamy Creamless Vegetable Soup

 

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Folks, you may not know this, but we need food to live. I know most of the time it’s like we’re only eating for pleasure and enjoyment, but our body actually does need the nutrients we’re cramming down our gullet. However, a problem arises when we forget that and start inhaling garbage simply because it tastes good. You’ve got to get something nutritious out of the food you’re eating every now and then.

Now, I won’t pretend to be perfect in this area. Once or twice a week, I let myself eat whatever delicious junk I want to eat. But the rest of the week, I try to eat healthy so my body can get what it needs. It certainly isn’t easy; I find nothing more difficult than picking up carrot sticks when all I want is mozzarella sticks. The only way to enjoy healthy eating is if the healthy stuff is also tasty. We’re all kids at heart in that we won’t eat something we don’t like, no matter how good it is for us.

So let’s talk about soup now. Soup is a wonderful food in that, if you make it right, it’s super filling and satisfying, and you can eat a TON of it for very few calories. What I’ve got for you today is a super soup; it’s just about as jam-packed with nutrients and good-for-you stuff as it can be, plus it’s so comforting and filling that you may need a nap after eating it.

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My Creamy Creamless Vegetable Soup may sound a bit contradictory, but here’s how it works: we cook a trio of veggies in a flavorful broth until tender then puree it with sweet potato and cannellini beans to create a faux-creamy soup. The texture is velvety and rich, but you don’t use a drop of cream.

Besides making the soup creamier, the beans also bulk things up and add protein. Plus, don’t get me started on the multi-dimensional flavors here. With all the different veggies, garlic, onions, and a combination of chicken and veggie stock, your taste buds are going to be quite entertained.

Stop and think the next time you’re about to eat empty calories. Why eat tasty garbage when you can eat tasty good-for-you grub like my Creamy Creamless Vegetable Soup instead?

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. This is a good way to get your kids to eat something good for them because pureeing the soup hides the veggies.
  2. You can make this soup earlier in the day then reheat later when you’re ready to eat.
  3. This makes a lot of soup, so you can feed a family or enjoy the leftovers. P.S. the leftovers are even better!
  4. The Splenda doesn’t really make the soup sweet; it’s just to balance of the flavors and keep things multidimensional.
  5. You don’t have to chop the veggies super small since they get pureed later anyway.DSC_0927

Creamy Creamless Vegetable Soup
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Yield – 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups chicken stock (or all veggie stock if you’re vegetarian)
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 3 large carrots, peeled & chopped into coins
  • 2 heads of broccoli, chopped
  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped
  • 2 cups cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
  • 2 packets of no-calorie sweetener (I used Splenda)
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, stir together the chicken stock, veggie stock, and water. Add the onion and garlic. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, place the sweet potato on a microwave-safe plate lined with paper towels. Poke holes in the top of the potato with a fork. Microwave on high for 5 minutes then flip and microwave for another 5 minutes. Slice in half and let cool for a few minutes before removing and discarding the skins. Chop into chunks.
  3. Add the carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower to the simmering broth. Cover and let cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
  4. Turn heat to low. Use a slotted spoon to fish out about 2 cups of veggies. Set aside. Stir in all the remaining ingredients plus the potato chunks to the broth. Use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. Return the reserved veggies to the pot and serve.DSC_1062

Light Summer Pasta w/ Ricotta & Fresh Veggies

The other day, I was with my sister and mother at the grocery store as they were planning their dinner. I was only half paying attention because I usually make my own meals. It’s easier that way since I’m not only a vegetarian, but a picky one at that. My sister wanted mac and cheese, and my mother, who is on a health kick lately, retrieved a box of Velveeta to check out the nutrition stats. Both my mother and sister were appalled at the atrocious amount of fat and calories for one teeny-tiny serving. My sister then inquired, “Why don’t we make our own lighter pasta dish?” That was when my interest was piqued.

I butted into the conversation, offering to make the light pasta myself. I am always grabbing at opportunities to make bloggable dishes. Since my mother isn’t crazy about cooking, she was fine with me taking the reigns. And so, I began calculating how I could make something that tastes rich and flavorful like mac and cheese without all the fat and calories. Plus, I wanted to add in as many nutritious benefits as I could.

First thing first: I opted for whole-wheat pasta. To be frank, you’re a fool for ever using white pasta these days. Whole wheat and whole grain pastas are packed with protein and fiber, offering you way more nutrition than white pasta ever could. And it’s such a simple switch to make! No taste is compromised, plus you get a nice al dente bite.

Next, I knew I needed some cheese, so I went for lower fat, higher flavor options.First, I employed parmesan. It’s got some serious salty, tangy flavor, so a little bit goes a long way. Then, to get some awesome, indulgent creaminess, I used fat-free ricotta cheese. That adds a wonderful texture without adding all the calories and fat that milk, cream, or butter would.

Using olive oil instead of butter also helps us out. Then, because I believe light food does not have to equate to flavorless food, I bring in fresh garlic and shallots to really up the flavor ante. Finally, a trio of summery veggies bulk up this dish while providing tons of vitamins. Plus, they’re plain delectable!

This light and flavorful pasta is perfect for summer time. It’s not gunked up with cream, butter, and fatty cheeses that will drag you down like the summer heat. Instead, it’s got creamy ricotta, just the right amount of tangy parm, garlic, shallots, and fresh veggies. It’s a perfect medley that you won’t feel guilty about eating.

It’s obvious Kraft and Velveeta can’t turn out pasta this nutritious, but I guarantee that boxed junk won’t be half as delicious and flavorful either.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. You can feel free to use whatever veggies you like.
  2. You can use a different pasta shape, but I recommend sticking with something that has ridges to catch the ricotta.
  3. This is a great side for barbeque nights!
  4. This is also an awesome vegetarian meal. Between the protein-packed pasta and all those veggies, this is a hearty dish.

Light Summer Pasta with Ricotta & Fresh Veggies
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. whole-wheat rotini or fusilli
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 heads of broccoli, chopped
  • 1 summer squash, sliced in coins
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into coins
  • 1 cup fat-free ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • dash red pepper flakes

Directions:

  1. In a large pot of salted, boiling water over high heat, cook the pasta according to the box directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large sauce pan, bring the olive oil to medium heat. Saute the the shallots for 2 minutes, then add the garlic and saute for another 2 minutes.
  3. Add the broccoli and squashes and stir to coat in the oil. Add another tablespoon of oil if it seems dry. Cover and steam until veggies are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Turn the heat down to low. Season veggies with salt and red pepper flakes. Add the pasta and cheeses and stir until well-coated. Turn off heat and serve immediately.


Rainbow Roasted Veggies

Summer seems to go on forever in the best way possible, up until Fall appears once more and we realize how quickly the season of sun truly sped by. But those long summer days can start to melt into one another, becoming monotonous and dull. I say we shake it up. Let’s make this the summer of color and zest. We’ll start with these Rainbow Roasted Veggies.

If ever there was a dish that said “summer,” this is it. It is colorful, exciting, and bursting with fresh flavors. Oven-roasting brings out the best in this colorful array of veggies, extracting that wonderful flavor just waiting to break out. Butternut squash, zucchini, onion, red peppers, and broccoli are all attending this summer party, and they’ve each got something delicious to offer. Together, they create a colorful spectrum of oven-roasted deliciousness. Season it up good with salt and pepper, then add some red pepper flakes to bring the summer heat. Finish it with a sprinkle of grated parm if you like.

This is summer perfection. It’s got flavor as big as the sun, and it’s so simple!

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Use whatever veggies you like, but I found this to be a winning combo.
  2. Use fresh veggies; it really makes a difference as far as taste & texture goes.
  3. Chopping is annoying. Get it done beforehand so all you have to do later is pop the veggies in the oven.
  4. Don’t like spiciness? Omit the red pepper flakes.

Rainbow Roasted Veggies
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 1/2 butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 large or 2 small heads of broccoli, chopped
  • 2 roasted red peppers from a jar
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • dash red pepper flakes
  • optional: 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Set aside.
  2. In a microwave-safe bowl filled with 1/4 cup water, cook the butternut squash on high for 5 minutes. Drain.
  3. Combine all the veggies in a large mixing bowl, reserving the roasted red peppers, onion, and garlic. Mix in the olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes until evenly coated. Pour the veggies out in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes or until just about done, then add the red peppers, onion, and garlic and roast for another 5-10 minutes or until golden brown and fork tender. Top with parmesan cheese & enjoy.


Sauteed Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Onions

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s hard for me to label food as truly delectable if it isn’t smothered in cheese, slathered with a rich and creamy sauce, or encased in breading and submersed in piping hot oil. Indulgent foods have a leg up on everything else; that’s just the way it is. Few people prefer raw broccoli to golden, crispy french fries (and if you do, God bless you).

But is the idea that food can only be good if it is made rich and fattening simply a product of our fast food-eating, cookie-stuffed cupcake-baking nation? Perhaps we’ve become so brainwashed by the influx of indulgent eats in America that we’ve forgotten how delicious a simpler dish can be. Maybe it’s not true that richer is always better; maybe that’s just something we’ve been conditioned to believe.

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Thanksgiving Sides: Oven-Roasted Asparagus

Thanksgiving means many things depending on who you are. To a foodie, it means the best day of the year. To a man, it means football. To a child, it means putting on a polite facade when Aunt so-and-so insists on squeezing your cheeks and telling you how much you’ve grown. To the head cook in the house, it often means hell.

No matter how much you love cooking, preparing for Thanksgiving can be a traumatizing event. Every year, a couple days before The Big Day, my mom starts grumbling about how much she hates holidays. She doesn’t actually hate holidays. What she hates is spending the whole day cooking, and I don’t blame her. Planning and executing a successful Turkey Day feast is no simple task. It becomes even more challenging when you’re working with what she accurately refers to as “The Barbie Oven.” Yeah, it’s really that small (check out my What’s Cookin’ slideshow if you don’t believe me). We wind up cramming various side dishes into every square inch of that oven and cooking things in the toaster. The bird gets deep-fried, which is good because we wouldn’t have a place for it in the oven anyway.

I know my mom is not alone when it comes to Turkey Day terror. It’s so much food, a whole day’s worth of cooking (sometimes two if you’re the make-ahead type). And the pressure! Everyone’s counting on you to put the feast of a lifetime down on the table. It’s got to be perfect. Who wouldn’t be stressed?

Luckily, my mom’s had my help in the kitchen the past couple of years. We’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t (mostly what doesn’t). For one, not every dish has to be complicated. If you’re making fancy fresh rolls or an impressive roasted turkey, there’s no reason why everything else has to be complex.

This Oven-Roasted Asparagus is absolutely delicious, and it’s SO EASY to make. It’s exactly the kind of side you want to serve up on your Thanksgiving table. It’s got a beautifully impressive presentation, delicious oven-roasted flavor, and no one will know how little effort it took.

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