Curried Sweet Potato Soup

I went to the local Trader Joe’s for some cooking ideas. Like other stores, TJ’s has a line of vegetable soups-in-a-carton. I purchased some of their sweet potato bisque:

The soup is creamy, low in fat, with a high vitamin A content. I decided to add some vitamin C (bell pepper, tomato) and a little zing. Here’s the result:

CURRIED SWEET POTATO SOUP (2-3 servings)

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • One small sweet Vidalia onion, chopped.
  • One large red bell pepper, cored and chopped
  • One medium on-the-vine tomato, chopped
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • One 32 fl. oz. carton Trader Joe’s Sweet Potato Bisque

1.Saute the onion and bell pepper in the oil for four minutes.

2.Add the curry powder to the vegetable mixture and saute for one more minute.

3.Add the tomato and saute for another minute.

4.Mix the sweet potato soup* into the vegetable mixture. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

5.Puree the soup using a food processor or immersion blender. Very good with naan bread.

This soup freezes well and can be reheated in a microwave or Hot Logic thermal bag. (See the “Equipment and Gadgets” section of this blog’s menu to learn more about the Hot Logic mini oven.)

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*If you don’t have access to a Trader Joe’s, pre-made butternut or other winter squash soup will work with this recipe. Several grocery stores, including Sprouts, stock cartons of these soups.

Brown Bag Equipment

We’re still in January, and there are still opportunities for new beginnings. If your resolution this year is to prepare home-made lunches for work, have I got some great info for you! Because in this post, I will discuss equipment that makes the transportation and preparation of hot and cold lunches almost effortless.

Lunch bag. There are lots of fancy lunch bags on the market, in brick-and-mortar stores as well as online. I tend to favor lunch carriers that are compact, but at the same time large enough to contain multiple meals.

After checking prices at various locations, I noted an Arctic Zone lunch bag sold at Walmart for $7.97.

The bag is approximately 6″x9″ and well insulated. It has two interior sections for food storage. Also, it fits easily into a rolling backpack.

Individual food containers. Walmart carries these items for $6.92. They fit nicely into the arctic Zone lunch bag, and they are BPA free, freezer safe, microwave safe, and dishwasher safe.

Cold pack. Assuming that you might not have refrigeration at your worksite, a freezer pack will keep your lunches cold. I found the one pictured below for under $2.00 on amazon.com.

Thermos. What if you don’t have access to a microwave and you want a hot lunch? There are a few options out there. For example, a solid steel thermos will keep food hot or cold for hours. Here’s what I’ve always used:

This item sells for $19.99 on amazon.com. It’s more expensive than other types of thermos…but it works. To get the most out of the device, fill it with very hot tap water and let sit for 10 minutes. Empty out the water and add your heated food. Just as the label says, the thermos will keep your lunch hot for hours, and it holds up to 16 oz. Caveat: The thermos works best with foods that contain plenty of liquid, such as oat meal, soup, and stews. It does not keep pilaf or pasta warm for a long time. But here’s something else that does…..

Hot Logic thermal bag. The Hot Logic mini bag is a single-serving conduction oven contained in a nylon bag and insulated with aluminum. The operative element is a hot plate placed inside the container. The mini bag is sold on amazon.com, along with a Pyrex container for approximately $55.00. You can also purchase the entire set for a comparable price at https://myhotlogic.com.

Hot logic thermal bag
Hot logic thermal bag with 6 cup Pyrex insert

I spent last year testing one of these devices, which heats food in 90-120 minutes. I was impressed by its versatility. It heats up pre-cooked items without drying them out. It can be safely plugged into your car using a converter, per the manufacturer. And here are some other things it can do:

  • Frozen dinner, cooked in its own package. If you don’t have time to unpack a frozen dinner before cooking, you can put the unopened box in the hot logic and cook it like that, per the manufacturer. Cooking time is 120 minutes.

Below is a single-serving frozen dinner I placed in the hot logic, without the Pyrex dish:

After two hours of cooking, I opened the package up. The cardboard was not burned or otherwise damaged. The interior container and plastic film cover were not damaged, either. The food came out piping hot and ready to eat.

Amy’s Ravioli Bowl, after cooking in Hot Logic
  • Cooking meat. The manufacturers have indicated that their product can cook raw fish and chicken. I tried raw chicken last year, and while it came out completely cooked, it was essentially boiled. This is not my preference for hot cooked chicken. Instead, I prefer using the Hot Logic to warm up pre-roasted chicken and other meats (90 minutes). On the other hand, raw frozen salmon came out great. (Assuming that you like your salmon poached.)
Frozen raw salmon seasoned with Lawry’s Lemon Pepper Sauce/fresh dill, and frozen vegetables, before cooking

After two hours of cooking, here are the results:

Frozen raw salmon and vegetables, after cooking.

The food was piping hot, flavorful, and completely cooked. (Advisory: While frozen and pre-cooked vege’s heat up well in the Hot Logic, you can’t cook raw vege’s in the device.)

  • The Hot Logic works with a variety of cooking containers. You can heat food using aluminum, plastic microwave safe, and glass containers. In order to keep cooking odors from escaping into your work space, I would recommend using the Pyrex container. It contains odors better than other materials.

In conclusion, I hope I’ve provided you with information that will open your mind to the variety of foods you can bring to work for lunch. Next week, I’ll continue with brown bag recipes.

Making Soup Out of Salad

Cabbage and Kale Salad Soup

I recently went to Walmart in search of a healthy salad to offset the fatty holiday fare I’d eaten. But it was a cold day, and none of the selections looked especially inviting to me. Suddenly, I got a bright idea……

Bagged salad

CABBAGE AND KALE SALAD SOUP (3-4 servings)

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 bag of Walmart’s Market Side Sunflower Bacon Crunch Salad (only use the vegetables, which include green cabbage, romaine lettuce, kale, red cabbage, carrots, green onions)
  • 1 medium sweet videlia onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh dill, minced
  • 2 tablespoons dried celery flakes
  • 2 tsp. Lawry’s seasoned salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 cups water

1.Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the vege’s from the salad bag and the chopped onion. Do NOT add the salad dressing, bacon crumbles, or sunflower seeds!

2.Saute the vege mix for about 5 minutes.

3.Place the vege’s in a crockpot. Add dill, celery flakes, salt, bay leaf, and water.

4.Cover and cook on High for 3 hours.

5.Remove the bay leaf. Puree the mixture using a food processor or hand immersion blender.*

The butter gave my soup a rich flavor. I added a little extra salt, but you might not want to do so. This soup freezes well and can be heated at work using a microwave or one of the portable devices I have previously recommended. (Check out the “Menu” for this blog and look under “Equipment and Gadgets.”)

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*Several months ago, I purchased a Cuisinart immersible hand blender from amazon.com. It cost about $50, and was worth the money. The device has a detachable blade and is much easier to clean than the traditional blender or food processor. You just stick the blade end into the cooking vessel, push the button, and the device does its work within a minute.

Instead of a Resolution…a New Habit

An apple a day…..

Instead of applying a new resolution for 2020, I’m trying something different. I want to create a new habit.

I got the idea from a book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by journalist Charles Duhigg. The author cites scientific research that tells us where habits come from and how they are hard-wired into our brains. One outcome from this research is a formula for breaking bad habits and creating new ones. According to Duhigg, science tells us that you can’t really get rid of a bad habit. However, you can substitute a healthier routine and thus improve the habit.

I will apply the formula to my own situation in creating at least one new good habit:

1. Identify the routine. While I did not gain weight around the holidays, I got into some bad eating habits that played havoc with my digestive system. Holiday sweets, too much diet coke, very little fruits and vegetables made me….well, a little “uptight and out of sight.” One bad habit has been to nibble on some leftover sweets late in the morning, after I have finished exercising at the gym. I’m always hungry at that time.

2. Experiment with rewards. I’m going to start by adding at least one piece of fruit to my diet for now. I am extremely fond of apples, and during this part of the year, the markets offer some tasty varieties. I love the flavor and crunchiness of a good apple, and I love to see them displayed on my kitchen counter. So I pulled out a really pretty pasta bowl, went to the market, and bought some apples:

After swimming 12 laps today, I came home feeling hungry. Instead of grabbing a candy, I grabbed an apple. It was very satisfying as a mid-morning snack! And I got some fiber in my system. Oh, and while eating the apple I watched enjoyable videos on my computer.

So here’s a summary of Duhigg’s habit loop:

  • Cue: Mid-morning hunger.
  • Routine: Go to the fruit bowl and eat the apple.
  • Reward: The taste and crunchiness of the apple is satisfying, especially while watching enjoyable videos.

I’ll let you know how this new habit is doing. Meanwhile, I’ve successfully continued another new habit I started a few weeks ago: Drinking a glass of water when I get up in the morning. Before, I slaked my morning thirst with coffee. But I find that extra glass of water works well into a morning routine:

  • Cue: I’m thirsty in the morning.
  • Routine: Before I have my first cup of coffee, I drink eight oz. of plain water.
  • Reward: I’m no longer thirsty. I feel relaxed and refreshed.

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I’ll let you all know how these new habits are getting along throughout January. Meanwhile, look for new recipes on this blog starting next week!

Reference: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg

Navigating the Holiday Office Banquet

The holidays are here….and so are the holiday office parties. I’ve included in this post some good information from the American Heart Association regarding how to negotiate seasonal parties while maintaining your waistline:

APPETIZERS AND HORS D’OEUVRES

• Get involved. Whether potluck or not, offer to bring a dish. You can make a healthier item, giving yourself at least one good option to enjoy.

• Come prepared. If the party is during lunch, eat a healthy breakfast followed in mid-morning by a high-fiber snack, such as an apple or a small handful of almonds. If the party is at the end of the day, enjoy a proteinpacked lunch like grilled fish or chicken with a salad and then later in the afternoon have another high-fiber snack. If you’re not too hungry when you go to the party, it will be easier to avoid overeating.

• Go easy. Avoid loading up on foods that are fried, buttered or have a lot of cheese and cream. Even though the portions may be small, these fat-laden bites can really pack a punch. Look for fruit, veggies and dip, whole-grain crackers, and baked or grilled items.

DESSERTS

• Use the buddy system. By splitting a dessert with someone, you can cut the calories and fat in half and avoid being wasteful. It’s a win-win!

BEVERAGES

• Mix it up. If alcohol is being served, alternate each glass with a glass of water. This will help reduce your thirst while filling your stomach and you’ll consume fewer calories.

• Watch seasonal drinks. Many holiday beverages have so much added sugar, they may as well be a dessert. Keep in mind what else you’ve eaten; it may be best to enjoy these drinks on another day.

Reference:

Post-Thanksgiving Turkey Leftovers

Bear Creek Chicken Noodle Soup with turkey leftovers

What to do with that leftover turkey? My husband’s solution is to use Bear Creek soup products. You can find them at Sprouts, as well as many mainline grocery stores.

Peter added 1 1/2 cups of chopped turkey and a couple of sliced yellow squash to a package of Bear Creek Chicken Noodle Soup. It was delicious!

Thanksgiving for Two: Turkey Breast

Roasted turkey breast

If you are only cooking for yourself or another, don’t let that keep you from enjoying some Thanksgiving turkey. Consider roasting a turkey breast.

That’s what my husband and I are doing. Earlier this week, I purchased a lovely kosher Empire turkey breast from Trader Joe’s. (I should mention that many other stores also offer this alternative to the entire bird.) I vacuum bagged the breast and placed it in the freezer. Wednesday, I plan to thaw it out. Thursday, I will place it in a square glass casserole dish, and cook it for about an hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. I always stick one of those instant thermometers into the breast to confirm the center of the meat is at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit when done.

If you are single and don’t anticipate getting leftovers from a host’s Thanksgiving meal, I would still recommend cooking a turkey breast for yourself. White meat turkey is quite delicious and a nutritious addition to any brown bag lunch. I enjoy turkey in a sandwich with both mustard and mayo. It’s delicious in pita bread with hummus and makes a good addition to home-made meat and bean burritos. I also like it in salad and soup.

Here’s a nutritional break-down for six ounces of roasted turkey breast, no added ingredients (Source: United states Department of Agriculture)

  • Calories: 320
  • Fat: 12 grams
  • Saturated Fat: 4 grams
  • Cholesterol: 120 mg.
  • Sodium: 110 mg.
  • Protein: 48 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams

I’m assuming that the above breakdown is for turkey with skin, because MyFitnessPal.com lists far fewer calories and fat for skinless turkey breast. (appx. 200 calories with 2 grams of fat per 6-oz serving.)

One final note: Whenever I prepare cooked meat of any kind, I always vacuum bag it using my Food Saver. I think this device is a great investment, especially for you single people out there. Used properly, the Food Saver keeps cooked meats, rices, pastas, and cheeses from drying out prematurely, and it eliminates food waste. I’ve been able to safely eat vacuum-bagged cooked meat up to two weeks after I first cooked it. Also, when you freeze raw meat using the Food Saver, you don’t get freezer burn. Safety warning: Keep raw meat and cooked meat in separate bags to avoid contamination.

My FoodSaver

Reference:

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/shared/PDF/Chicken_Turkey_Nutrition_Facts.pdf

https://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calories/turkey-breast-skinless-boneless-370357228?v2=false