nut-free

snowy trees in winter

Winter Comfort Foods

This is usually about the time of year when I start to feel like winter lasts forever and there is no end in sight.  Especially when the groundhog predicts 6 more weeks of winter!  Luckily, as with most problems in my life, I can usually find a way to fix it with food.  😉 

 

But, seriously, I know that a lot of people struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (or more aptly referred to as “SAD”).  I do, too.  I mean, sure, I try to tell myself things like, “The trees look so pretty all covered in ice!” or “Another snow day means I get to spend more time connecting with the kids!”  And those things are true and they even work to cheer me up for a while.  But, at this point, I am just done. with. winter.  

 

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system.  Moving on!  And since winter is certainly not done with us just yet, we all need to find ways to keep looking on the bright side!

 

I’ve started thinking of wintertime as a hibernation period for myself.  A time of year where I allow myself to sleep more, slow down, do less, read more, and eat lots of comforting food.  Warmer, flavorful meals that fill your body up and leave you feeling better about life.  Sometimes, this is in the form of a dessert.  But, more often, it is in the form of a soup or stew or – my new favorite this winter – a curry dish.  If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve been trying out lots of curry dishes this year! 

 

Today I am sharing two comfort food recipes that I hope will help you (and me!) get through the next 6 weeks of winter.  The first recipe is for a slow cooker butternut squash soup.  I made this recipe over the holidays when our family was all in town visiting and came over to our house for dinner and a gift exchange.  I have a serious case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when it comes to parties and gatherings so I love to choose slow cooker recipes that can be prepared earlier that morning or even the night before.  That way, when the guests are mingling and talking and laughing, I can be right there with them instead of being stuck in front of the stove stirring a pot or putting the finishing touches on a fancy dish. 

 

For this particular recipe, you can peel and chop the ingredients up to a day ahead of time and put them right in the crockpot to store in your fridge overnight.  In the morning, just add the liquids, pop the crockpot insert into your slow cooker and turn it on.  Even if you’re not entertaining, this is a great way to have a warm, comforting soup ready for you when you get home from work on a cold, winter weeknight!

 

 

If you’ve never prepared a butternut squash before, or just wondered if there is a “right” way to do it – there’s not.  But here is how I like to break it down when I need a peeled and cubed butternut squash for a recipe.

 

 

If you do end up trying this butternut squash soup recipe, I highly recommend topping it with these chickpea “croutons” from My New Roots.  We love making these for soup or salad toppings, or even just to have around for a healthy snack!

 

 

Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Soup
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Ingredients
  1. 6 cups butternut squash, peeled and chopped
  2. 3 carrots, chopped
  3. 1 cup scallions, shallots, or mild onions
  4. 8 fresh sage leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried sage)
  5. 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary)
  6. 3 cups vegetable broth
  7. 1 cup dairy or non-dairy milk
Optional toppings
  1. roasted pumpkin seeds
  2. crumbled bacon
  3. yogurt
  4. roasted chickpeas
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours.
  2. Remove from heat and blend soup using an immersion blender until smooth. Serve with the toppings of your choice. Enjoy!
Notes
  1. Makes: 6-8 servings
Life From Scratch http://lifefromscratch.com/

 

The second recipe that I am sharing today is for Vegetarian Loaded Baked Potatoes.  This is another great example of a healthy version of a comfort food that will leave you feeling full and satisfied!  

 

 

Vegetarian Loaded Baked Potatoes
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Ingredients
  1. 6 large potatoes, scrubbed
  2. 1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
  3. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 1 green bell pepper, diced
  5. ½ cup onion, diced
  6. ½ cup carrot, diced
  7. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  8. 15 ounce can tomato sauce
  9. 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or coconut aminos)
  10. 1 tablespoon honey
  11. 1 teaspoon chili powder
Optional toppings
  1. sour cream
  2. shredded cheddar cheese
  3. chopped chives
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and pierce with a fork on all sides. Bake for 45-60 minutes, turning once, until tender when pierced with a fork or knife.
  3. Place lentils in a medium saucepan and cover with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer gently, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, until tender. Strain off any extra liquid.
  4. Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the pepper, onion, carrot, and garlic until tender, about 5-6 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, soy sauce, honey and chili powder and simmer for 15 minutes, until sauce has thickened and reduced slightly.
  5. Add cooked lentils to tomato mixture and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes, or until mixture is warmed throughout.
  6. Cut a slit in each potato and top with vegetable-lentil mixture. Top with additional toppings, if desired. Enjoy!
Notes
  1. Makes: 6 servings
Life From Scratch http://lifefromscratch.com/

 

For the rest of this cold winter, you will find me warming up in the kitchen next to our woodstove cooking something comforting and delicious…

 

What is your favorite winter comfort food?  

Christmas Chocolate Bark

Christmas Chocolate Bark

 

One of the holiday traditions in our family is to bake Christmas cookies together.  Each December, we pull out our cookie recipes and pick out our favorites, gather and shop for the ingredients, turn up the Christmas music, and get to baking.  I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember – back when I lived at home with my parents and baked with my mom and brother and sisters, when I moved out and lived on my own and baked cookies for everyone at work, when I got married and baked cookies for family parties and gifts, and now the tradition has come full circle and I am baking with my kids.  It’s such a great feeling and so comforting to take part in a tradition that has been passed down over the years!

 

This year, when we looked over our recipes, the kids and I came up with the following list, which we hope to package together and use as gifts for each of their teachers, our mailman, the bus driver, their great-grandparents, the barber, our neighbors, and anyone else that we think of who seems like they could use some Christmas cheer in the form of sweets!

 

·         Soft Molasses Cookies (our favorite newcomer from last year’s baking list)

 

·         Holiday Gingerbread Cookies (quickly becoming an old standby for our family and a fun tradition for the kids to use the cookie cutters and decorate the final result with homemade icing)

 

·         Gingerbread Biscotti (a new recipe we are trying this year – seems promising!)

 

·         Pumpkin Pie Energy Bites (a variation on my Granola Energy Bites)

 

·         Christmas Chocolate Bark (a variation on my Chili Chocolate Bark)

 

 

Here is how we made the Christmas Chocolate Bark:

 

making Christmas Chocolate Bark - step 1      

 

Place 12 ounces of chopped dark chocolate (70% or higher), 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, and 1 tablespoon of ground Ceylon cinnamon in a double boiler.  I like to use a glass mixing bowl over a medium pot of boiling water.  Heat and stir until melted and smooth. 

 

making Christmas Chocolate Bark - step 2

 

Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of chopped crystallized ginger plus ¾ cup each of dried cranberries and pepitas.

 

making Christmas Chocolate Bark - step 3

 

Pour chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Spread evenly with spatula. 

 

making Christmas Chocolate Bark - step 4

 

Sprinkle with another 1/4 cup each of dried cranberries and pepitas, as well as some coarse sea salt.  Use the spatula to gently press the fruit, nuts and salt into the chocolate ever so slightly.  You want the red and green colors to still be visible in the end product but you need to press them in enough that they will stay put when the bark is cooled.

 

making Christmas Chocolate Bark - step 5

 

Place in freezer for 15 minutes or until hardened.

 

making Christmas Chocolate Bark - step 6

 

Break into pieces and serve immediately or store in fridge or freezer in airtight container. Enjoy!

 

Christmas Chocolate Bark

 

Whether you are planning a baking extravaganza as we are, or you just need a little pick-me-up in the form of chocolate, or maybe you signed up to bring a dessert to your holiday party – here is a recipe that is sure to be a winner!

 

Christmas Chocolate Bark
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Ingredients
  1. 12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  2. 1 ½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  3. 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  4. 2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, chopped
  5. 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries, chopped
  6. 1 cup pistachios (roughly chopped) or pepitas (whole)
  7. coarse sea salt
Instructions
  1. Place chocolate, cocoa powder, and cinnamon in a double boiler (I like to use a glass mixing bowl over a medium pot of boiling water) and heat and stir until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in all of the crystallized ginger plus ¾ cup each of the dried fruit and nuts.
  2. Pour chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Spread evenly with spatula. Sprinkle with remaining dried fruit and nuts, as well as coarse sea salt. Use the spatula to gently press the fruit, nuts and salt into the chocolate ever so slightly. (You want the red and green colors to still be visible in the end product but you need to press them in enough that they will stay put when the bark is cooled.)
  3. Place in freezer for 15 minutes or until hardened. Break into pieces and serve or store in fridge or freezer in airtight container. Enjoy!
Life From Scratch http://lifefromscratch.com/