Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Soup

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Fall is finally here! I’ve been waiting! Summer is great and all…but life is so much easier when you don’t have to apply sunblock to your children every single day and then bathe them every single day and clean up sand in shoes, sand in diapers, sand well, everywhere. Fall is beautiful in Minnesota. The trees are turning, the air is crisp, everything smells like apples and cinnamon and pumpkins, and the FOOD…it just gets better and better. Honestly I don’t really know why our slow cookers are kept in storage until the fall and winter…it’s one of my favorite ways to cook and you can literally cook ANYTHING in them, making your life so much easier. Especially if you have little ones running around who LOVE to turn off the oven, reach for the stove flames, etc. My 17 month old snapped off every single one of my stove knob covers. So much for baby proofing…

So I did a little experiment creating one of those fantastic, super quick videos that are plastered all over my Facebook feed. I figured hey, I have an iPhone, I’ll just place it in my cabinet above my counters and voila! Just one thing missing…the recipe 🙂 So here it is! Also, the entire video is below.

Ingredients

  • 2 large butternut squash (you can do this with any type of squash you like as well)
  • 2 large Honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored and sliced (You can also drop in a cup of unsweetened applesauce at the end and get the same effect)
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into large chunks
  • 36-48 ounces of chicken broth (use 48 if you like a thinner consistency of your soup)
  • 3/4 cup Lite Coconut Milk (in the can, not the beverage. Hubby came home with unsweetened vanilla coconut milk thinking it was for my coffee 🙂
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Parmesan Cheese and Chives for garnish

Directions

  • Wash the butternut squash (NO NEED TO PEEL!) and cut in half (or quarters depending on how large your slow cooker is) and remove the seeds
  • Place the squash, sliced apple and onions in the slow cooker and cover with chicken broth.
  • Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8.
  • Now go do something fun, because dinner is basically made.
  • Butternut squash is done once you can pierce it easily with a fork
  • Remove the squash from the slow cooker, and let it cool for awhile or you will absolutely burn your fingers like I almost did.
  • Scoop out the squash from the peel and place it back in the slow cooker with the apples, onion and broth.
  • Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth.
  • Add in the coconut milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Blend again.
  • Garnish with lots of Parmesan, chives and a drizzle of coconut milk. It’s so good that way.
  • Tip for those with littles: Reusable pouches and sippy cups work great with this soup!
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Keeping it Simple: Losing the Baby Weight

Okay so here’s the deal. With my first babe, I barely gained any weight and I swear I ate everything on the planet. However, when she was born, I was wearing my regular clothes within about 8 weeks…and continued to lose weight and I wasn’t even trying. I weighed less than on my wedding day 4 years ago. This wasn’t necessarily a good thing as my milk supply wasn’t as abundant as I wanted. Clearly, I assumed it would be the same with my second pregnancy. I was hoping I was one of the “lucky” ones where the weight would just magically fall off on its own. I could NOT have been more wrong. At 32 weeks I had gained enough weight for my entire pregnancy and baby was certainly not done growing. It’s true…with a toddler at home, I was eating whatever was easy and whatever tasted good at the time and definitely more takeout than usual due to moving into a new house and caring for a toddler… and bam! I was at the above normal range for weight gain. That’s not exactly what I wanted to hear when I still had 8 weeks to go…! But, chasing around a toddler all day and growing a human is hard work and I was starving…so I didn’t change my diet much…my doc just told me to cut out the cookies. (Yeah, we’ll see)

But, here I am 3 months after Alex was born. I’ve lost 30 pounds since he was born, but I’ve got that stubborn 10 left and man are those 10 pounds mean…but they are what is keeping me from wearing 75% of my wardrobe. I thought about going back to Barre class, but my abs are still split in half and I can’t do any workouts with abdominals. Not sure just doing dainty plies at the barre will force those stubborn 10 away. I thought about joining groups where everyone motivated each other, but the diet was too restricting for a nursing mama. I’ve got a kid to feed. I have to do this on my own and make it work for a busy mom of two, while keeping my kids happy and my husband’s appetite satisfied.

Ha! I love how I’m writing this the day after I housed half of a Lake Harriet pizza.

I knew I had to do what every Italian fears most…cut out some carbs. I’m not willing to cut them all together, but I probably don’t need to eat them more than once/twice a week and my portion may be a bit out of control 🙂 I’m giving myself a realistic timeline to do this. Fall is coming, I had a fabulous stylist at Evereve in Edina outfit me with a new Fall wardrobe that works with my current body and can adjust and look great with whatever weight I end up at. I’m shooting for 6-8 weeks. We’ll see what happens! I’d like to point out I’m doing this for myself. And that Marc Jacobs dress that’s been sitting in the back of my closet 🙂

Now for some motivation…

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Naptime Cooking: Brown Butter Asparagus Risotto

Finally…! A cookbook that caters to the needs (and time restraints!) of a stay at home mom. I LOVE cooking. Since having my second babe, it’s been tough to find the time to shop for, prep and cook good meals that the whole family will love. I found a cookbook on Amazon (because I pretty much ONLY shop online) called The Naptime Chef, by Kelsey Banfield. What I love about it, is that each recipe gives you the prep and cook times so you can plan when you do the prep work, and then know how much additional time you will need to cook. Most of the recipes are 45 minutes of total time, which is great for me and the ingredient lists are minimal, and usually include things I keep around the house anyways. I’m pretty lucky, my babies take naps at the same time for the most part, so I usually have 2-3 hours to myself. My mom comes over once a week to help with the kids and also helps me with the shopping for the week, so all I have to do is cook. It’s pretty amazing. I picked out 4 new recipes to try this week. The first one I tried tonight was the Brown Butter Asparagus Risotto. First of all, brown butter. yum. Secondly, risotto is one of my most favorite foods in the whole world, so I knew this would be a goodie…and it was. Second helpings were had by all. (Okay, this nursing mama may have had 3 helpings…) However, I did have to tell Marielle the asparagus were green beans, and the rest was cheese. Because she loves cheese. And green beans. It’s okay to lie about food to your toddler. I promise. Plus, she loves anything in her bright green Oogaa bowl! Have I mentioned how much I love these bowls? Microwave, freezer, dishwasher, heat safe, OVEN safe, BPA free…virtually unbreakable, which is great for those days when Marielle doesn’t like what I make her and she throws it and her bowl on the floor…but this recipe, she loved! Happy bowl, happy mama, happy Marielle.

I prepared the onion and asparagus during naps, and started cooking when Brendan was on his way home. It was ready the minute he walked in the door. Perfection.

Adapted from Kelsey Banfield’s The Naptime Chef

Ingredients (some modifications made)

  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 1 medium sweet yellow onion
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine ( I used Sancerre…pick a wine you love because you need something to sip on while you cook the risotto for 20 minutes!)
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

  • Bring a wide pot of water to a boil over high heat.
  • Heat the broth in a saucepan over medium heat (don’t boil)
  • Break off the tough ends of the asparagus.  Add the asparagus to the water and cook for about 4 minutes until tender, but not mushy. Remove from the heat and cut into 1-2 inch pieces. I did smaller pieces so my toddler could easily eat them.
  • Heat 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Allow it to bubble and turn a golden brown color. Keep stirring the butter so it doesn’t burn. Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent, stirring frequently.
  • Add in the rice, then carefully pour in the wine. Cook until the wine is almost evaporated. Ladle the hot broth into the pan in 1/2 cup increments cooking and stirring each time until it is absorbed before adding the next. Use all the broth. Risotto should be soft and tender, but still have a bit of a bite to it.
  • Stir in the cheese until melted, and then add the chopped asparagus. Top with additional Parmesan and freshly ground pepper.

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Cheesy Veggie Tortellini Bake

I’m just going to go ahead and caveat that this is not exactly the healthiest of recipes…I mean, it is overflowing with yummy vegetables which is wonderful, but they are definitely hidden in a rich, cheesy carb party…but it’s definitely a party I want to attend. This dish is super family friendly. My toddler absolutely loved it! She could eat it with her fingers which is great… because in her awesome toddler world, we are boycotting forks. Anyways…I found this recipe on Pinterest of course, and the original recipe can be found here.

I used a few different veggies than the original recipe, but you can pretty much use whatever you have in your fridge, that’s what I love about it. I have written the ingredient list below with my modifications…but please visit the original recipe developer’s blog for step by step instructions! Enjoy!

Ingredients
  • 1 package (19 ounces) frozen cheese-filled tortellini
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
Veggies:
  • 1 cup sliced zucchini
  • 1 cup trimmed sugar snap peas
  • 1 cup baby bella mushrooms
  • 2 cups of bell peppers (we love bell peppers…so we did more than the original recipe called for)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup of frozen corn
Creamy base:
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk (I used 2%)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
Top it off:
  • 1/4 cup freshly-grated mozzarella cheese
  • 3-4 tablespoons freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

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Chicken, Leeks and Apples…Delicious for Mom, Dad and Baby!

Have I mentioned how much I love Real Simple? I do. I love the magazine, the cookbooks and the website. It’s my go to for simple, healthy meals. I honestly haven’t tried a recipe from it that I haven’t loved. The best part about their recipes is that they use very few ingredients and it’s always whole, healthy ingredients, so I can feel good about feeding them to my family. Marielle’s tastes (and appetite!) are growing, and evolving into loving the foods that my husband and I eat. Dark meat may not be the healthiest part of the chicken, but it’s incredibly tasty and reheats beautifully without getting dry. This recipe gives baby lots of new flavors (Rosemary and Leeks) along with familiar tastes (Chicken and Apples) Removing the chicken from the bone, adding the apples, leeks and some of the cooking liquid and either pureeing for younger babies, or mashing for older babies makes a delightful meal for your little one. And you!

Recipe courtesy of Real Simple (slightly adapted)

Ingredients

  • 4 small apples (I used Honeycrisp and Haralson for both sweet and tart flavors)
  • 2 leeks (white and light green parts), washed and chopped into 1/2 inch circles
  • 6 small sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 4-6 chicken thighs

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400° F. In a large roasting pan, toss the apples, leeks, rosemary, oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  2. Season the chicken with ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper and nestle, skin-side up, among the vegetables.
  3. Roast until the chicken is cooked through and the apples and leeks are tender, 40 to 45 minutes.

Banana Nutella Swirl Cake

I have a problem…with sweets. They are my absolute weakness and I honestly cannot control myself when it comes to desserts. Last Friday, I made a batch of brown sugar butter cookies…they were SO good, I ate all of them…by myself…in 3 days…except for the three that Brendan managed to eat. I’ve also been known to eat entire sleeves of Thin Mints and Oreos on my own…Brendan pointed out that I would have had to have eaten about 5-6 cookies a day for it to make sense that they were totally gone by Tuesday…yikes. Hey, I’m feeding a baby. I need the calories! However, I felt pretty badly that on Tuesday night when he asked for a cookie for dessert, I had to reveal that I had eaten the last one (or 5) that day.

Cookies are a little more time consuming and tricky to make when you have a 7 month old crawling all over the place, so I decided to make a cake. No time for an intricate layer cake, I made what is referred to as a “snack cake.” Simply put, a basic cake you make in a one layer pan. No frosting, nothing fancy. I looked in my cupboard and saw the large container of Nutella that I had been spoon feeding myself over the past few weeks, and decided this would make a fantastic addition to my cake. I made a basic vanilla cake with some banana, and swirled in Nutella before placing it into the oven. I’m pretty sure this will make up for me being a cookie monster.

Vanilla Cake with Banana and Nutella Swirls

  • 3 cups of all purpose flour
  • 2 cups of granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of whole milk
  • 1/2 cups canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ripe banana
  • Nutella

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13 inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Add in the milk, oil and vanilla, and combine using an electric mixer.

Add in the egg and banana, and beat with the electric mixer until well combined, about 2 minutes.

Place the cake in the oven for about 5 minutes to slightly warm up the batter and pan. Remove from the oven. This helps the Nutella “melt” into swirls a little easier.

Using a large spoon, drop dollops of Nutella around the pan…you can use as much or as little as you like!

Using a butter knife, swirl the Nutella throughout the cake. Be sure to thoroughly swirl the Nutella in, or it will just sink to the bottom of the cake.

Place back in the oven for 50-60 minutes. (depending on the pan you use as well as your oven)

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Béaba Babycook: Baby’s First Chicken & Apples

The time has come to introduce Marielle to her first protein. At 7 months old, she hasn’t rejected a single type of food that we’ve offered her, but I was definitely skeptical about steaming chicken and pureeing it…First of all, have you ever seen anything look so unappetizing? But, I have to say, it tasted great, just like chicken should. My concern was that the texture would freak her out a little, and it definitely did. She didn’t spit it out, because the flavor is good. But the texture is definitely strange for a baby. This is definitely one to have the camera ready for! The look was priceless. Unfortunately for babies, they don’t get to slather BBQ sauce on their chicken…so it’s a little dry and pasty when pureed.

To help her with the texture, I added her pureed apples into the chicken and mixed them together, and she LOVED it! You can try adding pureed sweet potato, apple, pear or whatever food is familiar to your baby to make the introduction to proteins a little more tolerable.

To make pureed chicken breast, fill your Babycook with Level 3 water. Cut one or two organic, boneless chicken breasts into 1/2 inch cubes and place in the steaming basket. Turn on the Babycook and let it cook away. Once it’s finished, puree the chicken with a little of the water until it forms the consistency your baby will tolerate. I think I added about 4 tablespoons of water total to create the puree, and then added her apples to the mixture just before serving.

As your babies tastes develop, try adding in some fresh herbs such as basil or parsley for a savory treat!

 

Beaba Babycook Puree Chicken Breast

Béaba Babycook: Baby’s First Applesauce

Beaba Babycook ApplesauceThe time has come to introduce Marielle to her first fruits. Besides yogurt, she has only had veggies and cereals. I wanted her to get used to the not so sweet foods before introducing the fruits, which I am sure she will absolutely love. There were a few options for her first fruit. I wanted to do pears, but I couldn’t find good organic pears, so I decided to try apples first. It’s important to choose an apple that has low acidity and is naturally sweet. This will make it easy to digest and yummy in their little tummy! This is truly a treat…I think I ate about 1/3 of the recipe myself…What? It’s important to try it before feeding it to baby! 🙂 I used 6 organic Gala apples, peeled, cored and chopped into cubes. Using water level 2 in my Beaba, I steamed the apples until the Beaba was finished (about 15 minutes) I poured the cooking water into a measuring cup and placed the steamed apples back into the Beaba. I pureed just the apples first to see what the consistency would be. While it was very smooth, I wanted to thin it out just a bit. I added about 1/4 cup of cooking water to the puree and processed until velvety smooth. I have a feeling she’s going to love this one. Clearly, I did!

Because apples cook down so much, 6 small apples made about 6-7 containers of applesauce.

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Béaba Babycook: Puréed Sweet Peas

This was one of the easiest meals I have made for Marielle. While you can make it more difficult on yourself by shelling fresh peas yourself, it’s a lot easier, and just as nutritious to use organic frozen peas. Frozen veggies actual contain tons of nutrients and steaming them retains those nutrients. Simply fill the Babycook steaming basket full of frozen peas, add water (level 3) to the reservoir and press steam. The peas cook in about 15 minutes. I ended up using all of the cooking water to thin out this particular puree, since they are pretty thick and starchy. They turned out perfect! Vibrant green, fresh tasting, and just a little bit sweet. I wasn’t sure Marielle would love the peas on their own, but she did! They have become one of her favorite foods so far. One bag of peas made 10 containers of food for Marielle.

 

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Béaba Babycook: Puréed Sweet Potatoes

When I first found out we were expecting, one of things I was most excited about (besides becoming a new mama!) was the opportunity I was going to have to make my own homemade baby food. The first item I registered for was a Beaba Babycook baby food maker. I had done my research and this was the one that everyone raved about. Steamed foods retain the most nutrients. There are so many benefits to making your own baby food if you have the time. One, you can control exactly what is going in to your baby’s food. Two, you can eat organically without the cost of prepackaged organic baby food. Three, it’s really quite simple and with the right equipment, it doesn’t take much time at all.  Baby’s first solid foods are single ingredient foods such as sweet potatoes, sweet peas and rice cereal. If baby isn’t interested in the taste of the puree, try mixing a little breastmilk or formula into the puree when serving for a more familiar taste.

Marielle has already mastered organic rice cereal, so the next step was to introduce sweet potatoes. I used one large, organic jewel sweet potato. Make sure you are using the types that are orange. They have more vitamins than the white/yellow sweet potatoes. But, you can use both.

This is a huge money saver as well. My organic sweet potato cost about a dollar and I made several meals out of it. If you were to buy a jar of organic sweet potato baby food, it would cost you over a dollar PER jar!

 

Step One: Wash and peel the potato and cut into cubes. I did half inch to one inch cubes and it worked perfectly.

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Step Two: Place cubed sweet potatoes into the steaming basket of the Beaba. Fill the water reservoir using water level three.

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Step Three: Press the steam button on your Beaba, and leave it! It’s that easy. Water level 3 foods take 15 minutes. When the timer dings, it’s done!

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Step Four: Remove the steaming basket using the provided spatula. I tasted the potato to make sure it was done…not going to lie, it was delicious! Pour the cooking liquid into a separate container. Place the sweet potatoes back into the Beaba to puree. Turn the button to pulse the machine, pureeing your food to the desired consistency. Use the cooking water to thin out the puree if you wish.

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Step Five: Let the puree sit at room temp for an hour or so before refrigerating or freezing. Spoon puree into your freezing containers of choice. You can use covered ice cube trays or containers specifically for storing baby food. I personally like the OXO Tot Baby Blocks freezer storage system.

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Make sure you label your foods with the type and dates. Homemade baby food can be frozen for up to 3 months for optimal quality and nutrient retention.

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