It was a snowy week here in the Northeast and I'm not a cold weather-loving person. Looking at the snowfall is all well and good, but I prefer to stay inside and do that. It's not that I'm necessarily scared about driving in bad weather—been there, done that—but everything that goes with said weather adds up to be a royal pain.
Cleaning off the car and walking on ice both suck...
Letting the car windows defrost for what feels like an eternity before it is possible to see clearly to drive anywhere is annoying...
And don't get me started on what it feels like to be in wet clothes after getting caught in the snow or trudging through feet of it after it's drifted across the driveway.
Ugh, ugh, and ugh.
As far as I'm concerned, on an icky day nothing beats staying toasty in the house, crafting or playing board games with plenty of time for cooking or baking in between breaks. When nobody has to venture out to get anything for dinner, thanks to leftovers or a well-stocked pantry and freezer, it's even better.
This is a vegetarian main dish that includes pantry-staples like salsa, tomatoes, and beans, and takes advantage of the oven—which helps to warm up the house on a cold day, too. Feel free to add chicken or cooked ground meat to the vegetable mixture, if you want added protein, and season to a heat level of your liking. As a happy compromise when I'm cooking for most of my friends and family, I sautee jalapeños (seeds and ribs included) with the rest of the vegetables and serve more fresh ones served alongside as an option, since there are different heat preferences ranging from no heat at all to spicy as possible (with myself preferring something towards the upper end of the heat spectrum.)
Soup is often my go-to lunch since it's quick and easy to grab from a store or a work cafeteria. I always have a stockpile of some kind of soup or chili in the freezer for when I don't feel like cooking when I get home in the evening, too, which I thaw overnight in the refrigerator or, if I don't remember, quickly thaw in the microwave.
I make and eat soup year-round, even during the summer, but nothing beats the magical feeling of eating hot soup on a cold day. It just warms up your body and makes you feel instantly better—at least, for me it does.
This recipe for mushroom barley soup is one of my favorites to make in the crock pot and let cook overnight for dinner the next day. It is healthy and doesn't require a lot of ingredients, making it a perfect recipe for using up pantry and fridge staples.
By this time in the Fall, butternut squash and carrots tend to be "surplus" items in my pantry. They are two of my favorite root vegetables that I love to dice up to add to a vegetable soup, roast with herbs and olive oil for a side dish, or puree after roasting to create a versatile base that can be transformed into several dishes.
When packaged in smaller containers or zip-top bags, this butternut-carrot puree can be thawed a little at a time to use as a quick sauce, soup, or side dish. The portions are flexible, so it's perfect to use up whatever you have on hand.
Here are three quick ways to use butternut squash and carrot puree:
As a healthier side dish alternative to mashed potatoes: Stir in 2 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup milk or heavy cream into 1 cup puree. Serves 2.
As a quick sauce for pasta: Combine 1 cup puree, 1/2 cup vegetable stock, and 1/2 cup light cream in a saucepan. Heat through, and add salt and pepper to taste. Toss with 2 cups cooked pasta and top with Parmesan cheese. Serves 3-4.
As a vegetarian or vegan soup: Combine 2 cups puree with 3 cups vegetable stock in a saucepan. Heat through and finish with 1/4 cup heavy cream. Serve topped with a drizzle of a flavored oil or sour cream, chives, and roasted pepitas or pumpkin seeds. Serves 3-4. Omit any suggested dairy to make a vegan soup.