Tortellini Sausage Soup

This soup is hearty and full of veggies. Serve it with crusty bread and it's a full meal soup. The tortellini and sausage make it satisfying and flavourful, while the veggies add a boost of nutrients so no salad is needed (I become firmly Team No Salad once the lovely summer veg is gone).

Ingredients

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cups assorted diced vegetables (I did 1 onion, 3 stalks celery, 3 carrots, and a large handful of green beans)
300g smoked turkey sausage, sliced (I cut mine in half and then did 1/4" slices for half moons)
1 - 796mL can crushed tomatoes
4 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp dried oregano
2 cups water
1 - 350g package tortellini (I used rainbow four cheese)
2 (packed) cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
grated parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

Directions

Heat olive oil in large soup pot over medium-high heat.

Add assorted diced vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and onion is translucent (approximately 7 - 10 minutes).

Add sausage and cook for another minute or two until it starts to brown slightly.

Add tomatoes, stock, oregano, and water and bring to a boil.

Add tortellini, and cook, stirring occasionally, per directions on package (usually 6- 8 minutes). In last minute of cooking, add spinach and parsley.

Top with grated parmesan cheese and serve with crusty bread.

Serves 8.

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Cauliflower Cheese Sauce

Listen. I'm firmly planted in the "foods are not other foods" camp. Avocado is not pudding. Bananas are not ice cream. Cauliflower is not rice / pizza / nachos (I needed a fainting couch after that last one).

Now, before you get all "some people have dietary restrictions!" on me, I know. I know that some people can't have regular pizza crust so cauliflower pizza crust is a great way for them to enjoy pizza. My problem is with the "eat cauliflower nachos Guilt! Free!" nonsense. Bitch, please. I eat all my nachos guilt-free. And if you watch the cauliflower nachos video (which I've done approximately 87 times because raaaaage) you'll see that the cauliflower nachos are topped with roughly thirteen pounds of cheese. Not so guilt-free if you think about it. Which I have. A lot.

Anyway. Not a fan.

Until last week. Last week I took the kids over to Vancouver Island to visit my aunt. Nothing makes you realize how little your kid will eat until you're in someone else's home, nixing every single food suggestion they have because you know your darling child will reject it. Ugh. My aunt had a secret weapon, though. She served Grady pasta with cheese sauce. He loved it. Cheesy pasta without the usual side of "crazy mom trying to push carrots and broccoli down my throat." This wasn't normal cheese sauce, though. It was cauliflower cheese sauce. Grady ate -and loved- a vegetable without arguing. Do I feel a little sneaky? Yes. Do I wish that my kid would just eat three square meals every day without fighting and negotiating? Absolutely. Will I let this stop me from sneaking vegetables into his food? NEWP.

So! If you have a vegetable-adverse eater (or if you want to eat cheese sauce Guilt! Free! *eyeroll*), this is the sauce for you.

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower
2 cups grated aged cheddar cheese (or regular, but the aged makes the sauce taste more cheesy)
1 cup of milk (give or take - depends on how thick you like your sauce and how big your cauliflower is)
1 heaped teaspoon mustard
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 teaspoon salt

Directions

In a large pot, cook cauliflower in boiling water until fork tender.

Drain cauliflower and buzz with immersion blender until smooth.

Add cheese while the cauliflower is still hot so it melts nicely. Buzz with immersion blender until well mixed.

Add milk a little at a time, buzzing well with immersion blender (this is key! you don't want lumps) until you reach the desired consistency.

Mix in mustard, Worcestershire Sauce, and salt.

Makes approximately 8 cups of sauce. Freezes well.

Serve over pasta or steamed veggies or thin with a bit of milk or cream to make soup.

Revel in your genius.

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Meal Plan 1/4/2016 - 1/8/2016

I'm more than ready to jump back on the meal plan train after weeks of eating decadent holiday meals and way too many trips to various restaurants. I'm not joining any of you crazy Whole 30ers but I am ready for more vegetables in my life.

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Monday: Creamy Tomato Spinach Soup with Quinoa and Chickpeas served with crusty no-knead bread and fresh pineapple for #MeatlessMonday. I made this bread and did 1 cup whole wheat flour + 2 cups all-purpose flour. I also added 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh rosemary, about 1 teaspoons of cracked black pepper, and a cup of finely grated asiago cheese at the initial mixing stage because I am incapable of following directions.

Tuesday: Leftover Slow-cooker Chicken Teriyaki-ish that I froze a couple weeks ago, steamed broccoli, and fresh pineapple.

Wednesday: Mom's Macaroni and Cheese served with green salad and barbecued sausages.

Thursday: Grilled flank steak served with giant green salads.

Friday: Breakfast for dinner - leftover flank steak with eggs served with pancakes and fresh fruit. Real talk: the pancakes will likely be served with berry compote and whipped cream.

How to Make the Best Macaroni and Cheese

My mom has made the same macaroni and cheese since my siblings and I were little kids. Macaroni and cheese night was the best night. Looking back on it now, macaroni and cheese night was probably a "stretch the pay cheque until grocery day" meal or a "I cannot give a single more eff" meal for my mom but to us kids it was a special treat. I will never forget the day my dad tried to make mom's macaroni and cheese. My mom was in the hospital giving birth to either my little sister or brother so my dad was taking care of me and my older sister. He made my mom's macaroni and cheese but decided to give it a little flair in the form of onions, green peppers, black pepper, and olives. Have mercy. I'm still not over it.

Mom's Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

3 cups dry elbow macaroni pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 heaped tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk (I use whole milk because I am sinful but you can use 2% if you want a lighter sauce. If you use skim milk I will give you side eye so hard.)
1 teaspoon mustard (pro tip: don't use grainy mustard if you plan to serve this to a picky child or they will ask you why you put "nuts" in the cheesy pasta and you will die a little inside.)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional but it really enhances the cheesiness so I don't recommend skipping it unless you've got vegetarian concerns.)
2 cups grated cheddar cheese (I use old cheddar and it is decadent but regular cheddar is fine too.)
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F.

Prepare macaroni per "al dente" instructions on the bag. Drain and set aside.

Melt butter over medium-high heat in medium-sized saucepan. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until butter and flour are combined well and the mixture has begun to smell a bit nutty, about 90 seconds - two minutes. If the roux starts to darken, turn down the heat.

Add the milk slowly, whisking vigorously. I usually add the milk cup by cup, taking time to whisk and thicken the sauce between cups. Cook until sauce is thickened to the consistency of runny yogurt. Remove from heat and whisk in mustard and Worcestershire sauce.

Now! This is important. If your sauce came anywhere close to a boil, it is too hot to stir in your cheese right now. Your cheese sauce will curdle. You will cry. Your macaroni and cheese will not be as good as my mom's macaroni and cheese. It is worth your time to sit and wait and be patient for five minutes. Go make a cup of tea. Take a few deep breaths. Come back in five minutes.

Right! We're back. Stir grated cheese into your sauce, reserving about 1/2 cup to sprinkle on top. Taste and season with salt and (white) pepper. Mix sauce into pasta, spread into a casserole dish, top with grated cheese, and bake for 15 - 25 minutes until bubbly. Enjoy!

If you're not serving a toddler and want to fancy things up a bit, skip the melted cheese on top and make a nice crunchy topping from a couple tablespoons of melted butter and about 1/4 - 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs. If you want to get really decadent, you could also mix some crispy fried bacon bits and green onions into the panko mixture. Just don't bring that nonsense around me or my older sister.

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Instead of reheating the leftovers in the oven, I like to scoop the mac and cheese into a saucepan and reheat on the stove with a bit of extra milk to prevent the pasta from drying out.