Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Soup

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This is the epic soup of Fall.  The combination of all the ingredients with their surprisingly opposite notes of flavor (onions + maple syrup anyone??), all came together to almost taste like a prelude to a Thanksgiving dinner.  It was like eating a Thanksgiving Soup!

Anyway, I’ve never successfully made this soup before, I think I have tried maybe 2 years ago or so, and failed miserably – somehow it just tasted horrible.  But this recipe I found at our local grocery store (HEB for you Texans) was a new spin on the traditional Butternut Squash Soup.  This soup is drastically different from it’s more widely consumed version; it has maple syrup, brown sugar, and apples – giving it a much deeper flavor and intensity as the regular version sticks with the plain ingredients.

I loved how it gave our family a taste of Thanksgiving to come!  I hope you try it and enjoy it!

Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Soup – HEB Recipe

  • 3 pkg. HEB Butternut Squash or 1-Whole Butternut, cleaned and diced discarding peel
  • 2 Apples, cored and diced (Ambrosia Apples are great flavor), or 2 cups Apple sauce (Unsweetened preferred but sweetened works just fine)
  • 8 oz Diced Savory Vegetables (HEB wants you to buy their packages, but I just looked online to see what “diced veggies” could go into this soup normally.  It’s a blend of 1/2 an onion diced, 1 potato diced, along with other optional things like 1 carrot or 1 celery stalk.  It’s up to you what you use really).
  • 6 oz Maple Syrup or 1 cup Brown Sugar (I used 1/2 cup Maple Syrup and 1/2 cup Brown Sugar because I liked the idea of having both in the soup).
  • 1 Tbsp Texas Prime Coarse seasoning (I simply used some parsley & garlic as I didn’t want to buy more seasoning)
  • 1 qt HEB Chicken broth or stock
  • 2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream (I used 1 1/2 cups of milk, whisking it in after the soup was pureed)
  • Salt & Black pepper

Preheat oven to 400’F.

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Amazed at the brown sugar and maple syrup combination!

Amazed at the brown sugar and maple syrup combination!

1 Potato diced

1 Potato diced

The beautiful veggie mixture, onions were added afterwards.

The beautiful veggie mixture tossed and coated, onions were added afterwards.

After roasting for 1 hour

After roasting for 1 hour.  Smelled heavenly, like a Thanksgiving Soup!

After puree, the end result!

After puree, the end result!

Combine all squash, diced apples (applesauce) and veggies and place into baking pan.  Drizzle maple syrup and add seasonings.  Toss to coat.  Roast for 45 min to 1 hr.  Allow veggie mixture to cool and add into food processor in batches to create puree. In a stock pot, pour broth, cream and puree and simmer for 10 minutes.

Adjust to your favorite consistency (by adding more water or broth if you have any left over, or the texture of the puree).  My husband loves soup that isn’t completely pureed, so I make sure to leave some of chunks of the veggies in the soup.  It was glorious!

Bon Appetit!

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Creamy Poblano Soup & Taco Soup

Creamy Poblano Soup

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I love a good, hearty, hot soup in when the weather gets cooler, or for those freezing Winter nights of which we have very few here in Texas.  This soup was just amazing!  I modified a recipe from Epicurious, adding in about a pound of ground beef seasoned with garlic, cumin, and pepper spices, substituting heavy whipping cream for a large can of Cream of Mushroom soup, and adding in a cup of our favorite salsa to add a little more kick, and omitting the butter altogether (it doesn’t need it!).

The roasted poblano peppers really make this soup sooo delish!  It’s hard to stop eating it!

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Taco Soup

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This recipe I came up with on the fly, based very loosely on the traditional Chicken tortilla soup – but instead, using beef seasoned with taco seasoning (garlic & cumin), adding black beans (canned or already cooked, otherwise they get crunchy – ask me how I know!), a cup of salsa, two-three cups of frozen veggies from our fridge, cooked for a few hours in a slow cooker, creates the most wonderful, scrumptious, complex-texture of soup with Mexican flavor.  We ate it with cheese, guacamole, and chips to garnish!

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My picky-eater actually really enjoyed it!  Success!!!!

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So. Amazing.

Healthy & Loaded Spaghetti Carbonara

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Our family loves a good, hearty Italian dish, and this is a modified form of the delicious Spaghetti Carbonara I came up with based on whatever leftovers we had on hand this week.  Because we’re big on eating protein in our foods, I added in some cooked chopped chicken (2 breasts boiled and chopped) I had done earlier in the day, the traditional recipe only uses chopped pancetta (a pork product very similar to bacon).  We never typically have real bacon or pork products on hand, however we use different kinds of sausage to flavor meals fairly regularly, and this was the perfect time to use some beef sausage to capture that intense, aromatic and spicy flavor to go with the sauce.

Traditional Carbonara doesn’t use any kind of cream base sauce, however, I find that whipping up a quick white sauce- made from flour, butter, and milk to be super easy and healthier than the typical cream cheese or other cream based sauces used in Chicken Alfredo or restaurant Carbonaras.  I used to make this simple sauce when we were students, not only is it far healthier than using heavy cream or cream cheese, its also more cost efficient.

It’s so rustic, and one usually always has on hand flour, milk, and butter – making it a quick solution without an extra run to the store.

Boil a package (1 lb) of spaghetti, while waiting for it to cook, make the simple white sauce if you want a creamier base for your Spaghetti Carbonara without the extra calories of real cream or cream cheese.  Traditional Spaghetti Carbonara has no cream sauce, if you desire to cook it that way, skip to egg picture.

Healthy White Cream Sauce – Gravy

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Use 3/4 stick butter, or half a cup of margarine, in a pan on medium heat – melt down until in liquid form.  Add 1/2 cup flour, mix together to form a wet, clumpy mixture.  Take OFF heat.

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Add in 1 cup cold milk, and 1 1/2 cups cold water, put back on heat and whisk the mixture until its incorporated into the milk and water to form a smooth, white cream.  Let cook on heat for 5 minutes, slowly stirring every now and then, sauce will thicken nicely.

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I used fresh basil and oregano from our garden, along with some fine garlic to give the sauce flavor.  Add in 1 tsp of kosher salt along with crushed black pepper (1 tsp or to taste).

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Use 2 eggs (or 4 if you’re omitting the white sauce), beat until pale yellow.  Once spaghetti is cooked, pour eggs over drained, hot spaghetti, stirring quickly.  The heat from the spaghetti cooks the eggs and creates a unique texture over the noodles.  Incorporate as much freshly grated Parmesan cheese as you’d like (typically 1/2 a cup to 1 cup).

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This is what it looks like with just the eggs cooked onto the hot noodles (below).

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This is what it looks like when the cream is poured over the egg and cheese mixture (below).  We like it to be creamier this way.

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I briefly cooked (reheated) the meats in the pan and then added them into the spaghetti.  This would be a great time to add in chopped onions, mushrooms, chives or extras you’d like in your dish!

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So there you have it… a healthier version of Spaghetti Carbonara, loaded with chicken, beef sausage, and creamy white sauce based on pantry or fridge leftovers.

Extras you might love to try:

From the Real Italian Foodies, a adorable couple who have an Italian restaurant in Limerick specialising in simple authentic Italian food, and also have a range of fresh Italian pasta sauces under the Real Italian Foodie brand

From  Johnney’s version – not as traditional, but a great alternative and presented in such a manly way….

Pico de Gallo and Low Calorie Taco Salad

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We had an exciting and long day trip yesterday… our summers are like that, full of long, hot and humid days, seeing beautiful sights around our area, taking in the sunlight and baking in the heat.  We were out all day, playing in the heat and water, and came back for dinner and watching Pirates of the Caribbean.  Another severe thunderstorm came in the dead of night, waking everyone up except our oldest, but because of yesterday’s hot adventure, we slept in and awoke to a beautiful, bright morning.

I was planning on making some pico de gallo to go with some refried beans I made from this recipe (modified to add Kosher salt while mashing beans and diced cilantro).  Pico de gallo is like the taste of a crisp fresh Summer, and makes me actually crave tequila Margaritas.

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Fresh cilantro, diced

It’s too easy to make, a bit of fresh cilantro (only fresh should ever be used for pico), 1/2 to 3/4 of a medium sized white onion, diced.

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And about 5 Roma tomatoes, or 2 salad tomatoes, diced.  3 Limes juiced over the diced mixture, or one lemon will do.

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This made a ton of cilantro!  It’s perfect with the homemade refried beans with a little cheese – you feel like you’re eating the famous 1,000 calorie taco salad.

The homemade refried beans are done without lard and much healthier.  This tasted incredible!  Healthy but full of intense flavor.  We ate it in lettuce leaf (just pull off the leaves from a head of lettuce, wash the leaves individually so that the lettuce head will keep longer in the fridge.  Dry off the leaves and fill with practically anything you want to eat!

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Enjoy a delish and cozy “Taco Salad!

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Israeli Couscous

Even though it’s been rain off and on, flooding in various areas, and muddy shoes galore, we found some time to get to the store to do our weekly shopping this week.

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I’ve always wanted to try out a recipe with Israeli Couscous… and why not in a celebratory way of kicking off a hopefully scorching summer?  This was easy, quick, and full of wonderful aroma and taste, amazing if you’re in any kind of rut emotionally or sensually.

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First, find a good, economical brand of Israeli Couscous.  They typically aren’t expensive by any means, and the minute extra price is a good bargain for adding different flavors and experiences to your children’s repertoire of foods at the dinner table.  My son was wide-eyed to see the pearlescent balls of noodle-like flavor!  Eating can be exciting!

The littlest tomato came from our garden!  Ha!  We were proud :)

The littlest tomato came from our garden! Ha! We were proud 🙂  It’s flavor was more intense!

Dice about 1/2 or 3/4 of a cucumber, and about 3-4 Roma tomatoes.

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I save the extra cucumber slices for sandwiches or quick salad options, putting them a separate ziplock bag from the diced

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From our garden!!! Basil, Thyme, Oregano leaves

From our garden!!! Basil, Thyme, Oregano leaves

It was fun to stop the cooking, run outside to our garden and pick the necessary herbs, it reminded me of living in the country.  Cooking with fresh grown spices and herbs or vegetables is a different experience, the flavor of the herbs, the sheer aroma is overwhelming while your cooking.  It is incredible for the senses, and the taste is wholesome.

Cilantro from our garden... be sure to plant it in an area where it only gets partial sun.  Cilantro is tender and fragile, I've mistakenly had it scorch when it was planted in full sunlight.

Cilantro from our garden… be sure to plant it in an area where it only gets partial sun. Cilantro is tender and fragile, I’ve mistakenly had it scorch to a burnt crisp when it was planted in full sunlight.

Next, saute in Olive Oil, some chopped onions (I keep some handy in the fridge or freezer for quick need like this), add garlic, and your garden herbs to taste.  Cook on low heat, and enjoy the breathtaking aromas that fill your kitchen.

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The couscous should be done by now, add in the cooked & fluffed couscous, the diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and the torn cilantro leaves.

Bring to boil 2 cups of water, add 1 cup of Israeli couscous, turn OFF the heat, COVER the pot, and allow to sit for 10 minutes

Bring to boil 2 cups of water, add 1 cup of Israeli couscous, turn OFF the heat, COVER the pot, and allow to sit for 10 minutes

Mix it all together off the heat

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And it is incredible!  Eat hot or cold, by itself or in a lettuce leaf.  I chose for us simple pita pockets

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Chorizo, Egg, & Biscuit Breakfast Casserole

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Delicious, protein-packed, perfect for a crowd-pleaser dish… you won’t want to stop eating it!  I made this a couple of days ago for a group of women I meet with every week for Bible study.  It’s kind of like a breakfast feast every week as people bring tacos, donuts, fruits, yogurts… it’s like we lure people in with the food, honestly!

Another recipe that would have been great would have been the Breakfast Egg-Muffins, individual so that your guests wouldn’t have to bother with serving… just grab n’ go.

The base of this casserole is pre-baked biscuits cut open (6 usually work instead of the regular 8 that come in a pack)

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While the biscuits bake, you want to mix up the egg & milk mixture. 1 dozen eggs, 2 cups milk

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Next you add your spices, 1 tsp Chili powder, 2 tsp Garlic, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 2 tsp Basil, and if you can find it, 2 tsp of Six Peppers spice

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Also, while the biscuits are baking, the chorizo should be cooking in a pan until it becomes the consistency of cooked ground beef

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Pre-cooked

Once biscuits are done, you’re ready!  Keep oven on at the regular 375 (for biscuits) so that it’s easy to pop the casserole in once it’s combined.  Line your casserole dish (9×13) with open biscuits (about 6)

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Spread the cooked chorizo on top, then pour the egg mixture over into the dish.  Scatter the chorizo so that some is incorporated into the egg mixture also.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes until center cooked (when a fork comes out clean after inserted).  Then add cheese and pop back in for another minute or until cheese melts.

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Delish and ready for breakfast!

Simple, Warm, Delicious Refried Beans

 

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Refried beans are the simplest dish to cook if you’re wanting an incredible, homemade taste of Mexican-American style beans.  My oldest son (4), is crazy about the warm bean & cheese breakfast tacos we eat here (at any time of day) in Texas… and it’s great to be able to whip up a big easy batch of refried beans to sate his cravings 🙂

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I found a great recipe here, at slate.com, follow the directions to create this dish.

You can use dry or canned beans – only use dry if you have 4-5 hours to spare while they cook in the crock pot, canned is fine and is faster overall.  Make sure to add enough salt and pepper to taste – with their warm, gentle flavor, these beans just hit the spot!

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Halloween Cookie Cakes

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This month we’ve made a couple of cookie cakes – one just the size of a personal pizza, and then one really large one (the size of a pizza pan) for a party.  These taste amazing, from a homemade chocolate chip cookie dough recipe from GOOP.  It’s truly easy to do – easier than making cookies even because it takes less time!  And yet it tastes richer than the commercial cookie cakes they overprice.

Enjoy!

Tate’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Read original issue here

ingredients

makes about 40 cookies

  • 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) lightly salted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (Nestlé can’t really be beat)

preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 350º.

2. Whisk the flour, soda and salt together in a bowl.

3. In another large bowl, mix the butter with a wooden spoon to lighten it a bit and then mix in the sugars.

4. Add the water, vanilla and eggs to the butter mixture.

5. Stir in the flour mixture until just combined and then fold in the chocolate chips.

6. Spread all of the batter evenly across a foiled, greased pizza pan.  It should be about 1/4″ think.

7. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the center is firm and the whole cookie is browned.

8. Let the cake sit in the pizza pan to cool, and leave it in the pan for easy transfer (cookies break).

 Recipe adapted from Tate’s Bake Shop.

Our pictures of this baking pleasure!  My son loves this first pic… says it reminds him of how good it tastes 😉

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It takes only a few minutes to whip up the batter (the only thing that takes awhile is waiting for the butter to soften to Room Temp – but that can be sped up with the microwave).  You can also use any kind of chip… peanut butter, white chocolate (which is divine!), M&M’s work well, or caramel chips.  Doing it homemade gives you endless options to make this your own special cake.

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If you’re worried about decorating it, don’t worry – with the variety of icing tips out there, you will be able to make a pretty design.  Start with the edges… this is just a simple “star” tip (a classic one at the store) and you just get used to pressing only for a second and out will come this little design.

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For me, I’ve practiced the ghost busters logo, but it’s also easy to write on cake, outlining the letters with another (skinnier tipped) color.  Sprinkles add a great dimension as well, and your kids will love putting them on!

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And the end result!

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Mouthwatering Chicken Tortilla Soup

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There’s nothing quite like really great homemade food – food that tastes so good, you feel like you’re eating from a wonderful restaurant.  This soup falls into that category – definitely a keeper in our family!  It was so amazing that we almost couldn’t stop getting refills!

I had made plans a couple of weeks ago to figure out how to make a really great tortilla soup, I bought the chicken broth, made sure we had copious amounts of frozen chicken ready to go in the freezer, and cheese for the topping… but being pregnant, the thought of de-thawing chicken and the work to put it altogether was too overwhelming.  But this soup was so much easier than I thought!  And it’s amazing how delicious it is with nearly anything you’ve got to throw in – let me give you the guidelines of what I did (loosely following the instructions from this great cook, The Pioneer Woman).

 

I decided to make this sporadically tonight, simply because I couldn’t stand not having it when I’ve been craving it for so long.  But because of my impatience, I made this without doing the proper prep before hand, but if you prep well or take some short cuts along the way, you will be able to make this extremely fast.

 

First, season some chicken breasts (I used three big ones, but you can use less or more depending on how much soup you want to make).  Season with garlic, cumin, chili powder (I’m out of chili powder so I used a spice called Six Peppers – really great), and Spanish Paprika.  Bake, boil, poach, or pan fry your chicken… I pan fried so that it would be a little faster, and it came out a little blackened which actually added to the flavor wonderfully.  If you want to do this even faster, used left over chicken breasts already cooked ahead, or Rotisserie chicken makes it incredibly easy!

While your chicken is cooking, use a big soup pot to sauté any veggies you want to include in your soup, onions, bell peppers, are great – I left them out so that my 4 year old, who’s recently joined Picky Eaters Anonymous (they should seriously have parental consent for those kinds of things), would still eat it.

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Before the chicken was really cooked all the way through I decided to cut it up into smaller pieces and add a cup or two of water that made it easier for them to continue to cook without burning anymore (I’m really great at burning things when I’m impatient & starving).  The water turned into a spicy seasoned broth to add into the soup.

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Once the chicken is cooked, shred it with a fork and transfer it to the pot to create the soup.  If you cooked the chicken with a little water, add that “sauce” in as well.

Pour in the chicken broth (or create it from about 32 oz or 2 lbs of boiling water with chicken bouillon cubes to taste/instruction).  If you want to make a really big pot, use 2 containers of 32 oz chicken broth.  This soup tastes so good, you might want to use 2 containers just to make sure you have literally tons.

Pour in 2 cans or a large amount of frozen corn, and 2 cans or a decent amount of pre-made black beans.

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Add in diced tomatoes if you have any (Rotel is great)- we didn’t, so I just used about two cups of tomato-based salsa (mild or medium – unless you love spicy soup).  I worried that it would taste so obvious that I used salsa, but it didn’t at all… and the tomato base really gives the soup a better texture once it cooks into it.  It turns it from “chicken noodle thin” to “chicken tortilla thick.”

I also added in a couple of spoonfuls of jarred cilantro.  Freshly chopped would be better, but you don’t need to include this step at all, just if you want to add a little more to the taste.

To make up for the lack of veggies, I added in some carrot puree I made to supplement for my Picky Eater… about 1 cup.  It’s amazing how many things you can add carrot puree into without it ever being noticed – and it packs Beta-Carotine, which converts to Vitamin A in your body, and much needed Potassium & fiber.  So if you’re like me (and my son) and don’t particularly like eating your carrots unless they’re drenched in Ranch, puree some in a blender with a little water to create a great addition.

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Cut up some tortilla strips and either add them directly into the soup for a nice soft filling, or bake/fry them to throw them on top (whichever is your preference).  I actually just threw them into the soup, and it was great having that added soft texture with the chicken.

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Bring the pot to a roaring boil and then cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  About ten minutes in to the cook time, taste your soup to make sure it’s the correct amount of seasoning for you – add more garlic or cumin if needed, or add a cup or two of water if you want it a little thinner.

Top with cheese, avocado, tomatoes, tortilla chips, or sour cream.

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Ahhh-maz-ing Soup!  You must give it a try!

 

Rainy Days, Spring, & Blueberry Muffins!

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I’m so happy that Spring is here, more flowers, more color, more sun!  We’ve been enjoying the weather and a little gardening recently… along with playing in the rain.  I’m eating  delicious, warm, sweet & tart blueberry muffin right now as I write this… it makes me think of Spring.  Spring is here in Texas.

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Blueberry Muffins are ridiculously easy to make, however, this recipe was doubled so it made over 24 muffins – if you want less just halve it.  Also, if you’re using fresh berries, that’s fine, but if you’re using frozen, don’t de-thaw them before adding them in.  See?  Super ridiculously easy.

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Ingredients:  Set Oven to 350’F

  • 2 cups blueberries frozen or fresh
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar + 1 tsp for each muffin top
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 4 tsps. baking powder
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tsps. vanilla extract

Mix all dry ingredients together first.  Whisk eggs in a cup or bowl then pour into flour mixture along with the oil, vanilla extract, and milk.  Only mix enough so that it’s all incorporated!  If you over mix, the muffins will be hard and distasteful.  Once just blended, add the blueberries and gently fold in to the mixture.

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Use cupcake/muffin liners (paper is fine) and fill each cup 3/4 full.  Add about 1 tsp (or less) sugar to each top to create a wonderful first bite impression.

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Bake for 20 minutes or until a fork inserted comes out clean.  Recipe should make about 26 muffins.

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So Spring!  So delicious!