Broccoli, Bean & Cheddar Soup

Healthy Broccoli Bean & Cheddar Soup from Brittany's Pantry is ready in a matter of minutes!I tried this soup a few weeks ago and really liked it.  I recently passed the recipe on to a friend of mine and decided I should share it with all of you too!  It is adapted from the Eating Well website; a fantastic source for simply good food that is good for you.  Its inexpensive, super fast, super easy, and great with a hunk of crusty bread.  Best of all, no cream!  You can eat your fill without the guilt and still enjoy a thick and creamy soup.

Broccoli, Bean, and Cheddar Soup

1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth, or vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 lb broccoli crowns, trimmed and chopped (about 6 cups) or 1 large bag frozen broccoli florets, thawed
1 14-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 c shredded cheddar cheese

Bring broth and water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add broccoli, cover and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in beans, salt and pepper and cook until the beans are heated through, about 1 minute.  Transfer half the mixture to a blender with half the cheese and puree. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.) Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining broccoli mixture and cheese.  Alternatively, blend in the pot with an immersion blender.  Serve warm.

Piggy Pudding & A Word About My Kitchen

Piggy Pudding is an Apple Sausage, Cornbread breakfast casserole that is perfect for a crowd! {Brittany's Pantry}It recently occurred to me that I am making a few assumptions about you, my readers.  The more I read and research different kinds of blogs, I noticed that mine is pretty basic.  And I like that.   I don’t feel the need to crowd the page with irrelevant distractions or pictures of every step of my cooking.  If I am posting a recipe for cookies, I am going to assume that you do not need me to show you a picture of my mixing bowl with butter in it, and then with sugar in it, and then with eggs in it.  In my opinion, this is a lot of  wasted space and a lot to scroll through.  It makes it hard to just read through a recipe and decide if it is something you want to try or something that you would never make.  That said, things about cooking and baking which I feel as if I have known forever (ie. what it means to cut in butter to dry ingredients), might not be something you have ever done if you haven’t ever made biscuits or pie crust from scratch.  So I will henceforth make a stronger effort to be clear about my steps.  And if you ever need clarification, please comment or email me and I will remedy the situation.

Speaking of cutting in butter, it is the process of breaking cold butter down into small pieces to be distributed through out the dry mixture.  If it was softened, like when making cookies, you would have a dough with the fat completely incorporated-not the goal.  When making biscuits or pie crust, you want them flaky, with layers, right?  If the butter stays cold and is ‘cut’ into small, pea sized pieces, the heat of the oven hits it and it melts.  When it melts, it forms a little pocket of steam and puffs a bit, creating the flaky layers we all desire to pull apart in wonderful biscuits.  A food processor will quickly cut the butter of recipe into the dry ingredients, but I usually use it if I am making a decent sized batch.  A pastry blender is easy to use and perfect for a small batch for your family.  They are very inexpensive and probably available in your local grocery store.  You can also cut in butter by using two butter knives.  Keep your butter cold and everything should turn out great.

As an individual who loves to cook, my kitchen is one of my favorite places to be.  This may not be very apparent right now, as I live in a kitchen that is slowly going through a complete renovation and it is anything but functional or inviting.  But it will be!  Let me also take the time to apologize for the erratic blog entries.  I am recovering from bronchitis and pneumonia, my kids are a bit sick, my husband is changing shifts at work, and, of course, the ever present home renovation.  Please be patient.  The entries should pick up again soon.

Anyway…my Mother saved everything.  What does this have to do with my kitchen, you ask?  A lot.  Off the top of my head, I know that my Mom has at least one box in her basement full of nothing but old picture frames.  Lots and lots of picture frames.  No glass, just the frames, mostly old, dusty and broken.  She has kept them for decades just because she may need them someday.  Her desire to hold onto interesting things for the future has proven extremely useful over the years.  But, I am not like this.  If I haven’t used it recently or it does not have extreme sentimental value, I get rid of it.  You won’t find a ton of clothes in my closet; my entire year-round wardrobe fits in a two foot space.  You won’t find boxes of memorabilia in my attic.  And you won’t find a kitchen full of items I don’t use.  It is not pleasant to work in a space where you have to dig to find what you want.  Now, I don’t really care what is in your closet, but what is in people’s kitchen cupboards intrigues me.  Why, may I ask are you still storing that deep fryer you got as a wedding present 10 years ago and have never used?  Why do you have 9 different casserole dishes, but you only use 3 on a regular basis?  When was the last time you purged your utensil drawer?  These are questions I wish I could ask all home cooks everywhere.  And I urge, you…please!!  Get rid of it if you have no use for it.  I apply this philosophy to my whole house.  I have a continual bag in my hall closet that is headed to Goodwill.  Items from my kitchen are frequent deposits.  As my family and my tastes change, so does what I use from my cupboards.  Mind you, its not like I am replacing my dishes every year.  But if there is anything that moving 7 times in 6 years taught me, its DON’T KEEP STUFF YOU DON’T USE!  Clean out, reorganize, make some room, and write it off on your taxes!  You will breathe easier, your home will function better, and you will be a more efficient and productive individual in the kitchen.

My final note for today is about my compost bin.  Now, I am not going to lecture you about the importance of recycling (which you all should be doing) or which foods you should be buying organic (the dirty dozen), or the easiest way to conserve water in your home (low flow shower heads).  But my compost bin is particularly cool.  My husband, my children and I continually strive to reduce the amount of waste our house produces.  In addition to purposely buying items in packages that I know are recyclable or reusable, we cut our kitchen waste by using a rotating barrel compost tumbler.  We compost tea bags, coffee grounds, apple cores, banana peels, lettuce that has gone bad, and all manner or raw foods.  Mixed with shredded newspapers, grass clippings, chopped up dead leaves, pulled weeds, last years annuals, and the trimmings from my iris bulbs, I end up with free fertilizer for my gardens and less waste for the garbage man.  There are lots of different kinds of compost bins out there for every yard regardless of available space or effort you want to put forth.  I have even seen counter top bins made only for coffee grounds and filters!  Think about it.  It may be a change you want to try this year.

And now, because I hate to do a blog entry without a recipe, here is a quickie that is perfect to whip up for breakfast or brunch when you have a house full of people during the holidays.  This might sound a bit strange, but it is excellent, trust me.  I saw Paula Deen make something like this years ago, and while I have no idea if this is anything like her original recipe, this is how I make it.  And the picture below is how I serve it, with scrambled eggs and fruit.  A big glass of juice and coffee with a bit of extra maple syrup for drizzling and mmmmmmm.Piggy Pudding is an Apple Sausage, Cornbread breakfast casserole that is perfect for a crowd! {Brittany's Pantry} Piggy Pudding
Serve this drizzled with honey or real maple syrup.  If you have Apple Cider Syrup on hand, its even better.

1/2 lb breakfast sausage, browned, crumbled and drained of fat
2 apples, such as granny smith or golden delicious, peeled cored and sliced thin
1 T flour
1 T of sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix

Spread the sausage in the bottom of a 9X9 glass baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Toss the apples, flour, sugar and cinnamon together and layer on top of the sausage.  Mix the corn muffin mix according to package directions and pour evenly over the top.  Bake at 375 for 20 -25 minutes, or until golden brown all over the top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean.
Note: I like to brown the sausage ahead of time and keep it in my freezer or fridge.  That makes throwing this together in the morning sooo much easier.

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Easy Sweet Potato Biscuits | Brittany's PantryMmmmm sweet potatoes.  How do I love thee?

Many ways.  And I hope that all of you do too!  I have discovered that there are really two kinds of people out there.  Those who ate sweet potatoes growing up and those who didn’t.  I, you may be surprised to learn, did not grow up eating sweet potatoes.  I think I had them a time or two, smothered in melted marshmallows at my aunt’s house at Christmas time.  Of course, I loved them.  Who wouldn’t love a thick, creamy, unidentifiable orange vegetable, sweet as candy and and covered in melted sugar goo?!  Seconds please!!  While I always considered myself a sweet potato lover, this was really the extent of my experience.  We didn’t eat them in our house and now that I think about it, I am really not sure why.  I should ask my parents one of these days.

I was introduced to sweet potatoes by a close friend who is originally from southern Mississippi.  At the time, we were living in Hawaii because out husbands were assigned to the same nuclear submarine.  When you are thousands of miles away from your family (and most of the time apart from your spouse as well), any little bit of home is welcome.  The first time she made her Granny’s Sweet Potato Casserole, it was a revelation.  It was outrageously good, as most food made by southern women is, and remains one of my favorite ways to eat them  But what really struck me was that she made them with fresh sweet potatoes.  Everyone else I knew just dumped them out of a can.  When I mentioned this to her, her jaw dropped.  In the south, I was told, they are so common they sell them on the side of the road in paper grocery bags. In more recent years, I have become profoundly grateful for this, as she frequently brings back several pounds for me when she makes the trip home.

So on that fateful day in Hawaii, I was hooked.  She taught me how to buy them-no large blemishes or moldy spots, nice and firm-and how to eat them.  I have been making them dozens of ways ever since.  This is one of my favorite creations.Easy Sweet Potato Biscuits | Brittany's Pantry Sweet Potato Biscuits
Sweet potatoes are a bright, versatile tuber that contain a wealth of nutrients.  If you haven’t experimented with them lately, this time of year is perfect.   They are cheap, plentiful in the super markets, and recipes for inspiration abound!  There is a reason they are the favorite first food of babies everywhere!  Feel free to use pumpkin or squash in place of the potatoes if you like.

Lightly butter or spray an eight inch round cake pan.
In a medium bowl mix together:
2 c flour
2 T  brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
Using a pastry blender, food processor, or two knives, cut in 6 T cold, unsalted butter that has been cut into small chunks.  Once the butter is the size of small peas, add:
1 c mashed sweet potato & 1/2 c low fat buttermilk, mixed together

Add wet ingredients to dry and mix lightly with a fork.  Using clean hands, continue to mix dough with your fingers, just until everything is incorporated and dough starts to come together in a ball.  DO NOT OVER MIX.  The less you handle the dough, the more tender your biscuits will be.  This dough will be very sticky.  Dust your hands with more flour as needed when handling the dough.  At this point you could roll and cut the biscuits, but I rarely do this due to time and mess.  Especially for this recipe.  I recommend dividing the dough into 7 equal parts (just eyeball it), patting each of them gently into a disc, and snuggling them into the greased cake pan.  They will hold each other up as they rise.  Sprinkle the tops with sugar and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the biscuits are firm.  Let cool in the pan 10 minutes.  These are incredible plain, but with honey or apple butter, they become absolutely fabulous.
Note: You can make mashed sweet potatoes several ways.  Bake or microwave the potatoes and then scoop out the flesh and mash with a fork.  You can also peel the sweet potatoes, cut into chunks and then steam them.  I usually don’t like to boil the potatoes for this recipe because it adds too much moisture, but use your own judgement.
Honorable mention:  These are great for brunch.  To make them really over the top, add 1/2 c finely chopped cooked bacon and one green onion, diced.