Did Someone Say Chocolate? 2 Ways to Indulge Year-round Without the Guilt & Pounds!

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I can’t think of a better thing to discuss than chocolate. I love chocolate! It dominates the candy aisles in stores on a regular basis, but at this time of year, people purchase more of the stuff than ever. I’d venture to say that it puts the fall pumpkin rush to shame.

The other thing lurking on the candy aisle, however – that troll hiding under the bridge waiting to ambush you – is sugar. If you haven’t figured out yet that sugar takes a toll on your body in more ways than just the addition of unwanted pounds, you’ve got your sweet head in the sand.

This spring, I’ll begin my fourth (Really? Wow!) year of feeding my body all kinds of wonderful things except for sugar and grains. If you’re not humming “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” with your fingers in your ears, you might want to learn a little more about your body and my journey here.)

Yes, I still eat my chocolate (of course) birthday cake. Yes, I still have a big slab of pie at Thanksgiving and cookies at Christmas. Once a week, if that often, I might eat something on a bun. However, my former lifestyle as the Bread & Pasta Queen is over and SURPRISE! – I don’t miss it.

One of the first things I had to figure out was how on earth I was going to get my chocolate – and plenty of it! Chemical sweeteners, such as aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda) or saccharine (Sweet ‘n Low) were not an option. I’d learned enough to realize that would be akin to exchanging strychnine for cyanide. Stevia seemed the only option and, though sweet, sometimes it just didn’t taste “right”.

Dedicated and determined because I had a health issue to conquer, I plunged in, reminding myself that Thomas Edison had far more failures than he had successes and yet, he kept going until he finally got a bright idea!

Today, I’m sharing two recipes that you can enjoy not only in the current chocolate season, but all year round. And, with the FREE printable at the end of this post, you can get started right now!

I have stated in previous blog posts that when it comes to stevia, you get what you pay for. My favorite brand has always been Sweet Leaf and, of the store brands, I still prefer it.

Last week, however, my friend, Sarah, introduced me to the Pure Stevia Extract Powder by Trim Healthy Mama. Again, you get what you pay for, but I found that instead of using a tablespoon of Sweet Leaf in a recipe, I could use ¼ teaspoon of THM stevia! It has no bitter aftertaste and I think I’m in love!  It’s available in one ounce and four ounce bags.

It’s February! What are we waiting for? Let’s have some chocolate!

Not Apologizin’ Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate Ingredients www.midweststoryteller.com

12 ounces milk

2 Tablespoons Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

¼ teaspoon Trim Healthy Mamma Pyure Stevia or 1 Tablespoon Sweet Leaf Stevia

1/8 teaspoon Celtic sea salt

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon heavy cream

In a Pyrex measuring cup, heat the milk in the microwave until hot but not boiling. While it is heating, mix the cocoa powder, stevia and salt in a small custard cup with a mini whisk.

Pour an inch or two of the hot milk into the bottom of a large mug. Add the cocoa mixture and whisk until fairly smooth. Add vanilla.  I call this my “sludge” – a rather unsavory name for something so wonderful.

Cocoa Sludge www.midweststoryteller.com

Continue to whisk while adding the remainder of the hot milk. Add the heavy cream, stir and enjoy!  To make my experience complete, I scoop up Phoebe June and settle into my favorite chair.  Since you don’t have Phoebe June, you’ll have to make do with your own kitty, borrow one or just pretend.

Hot Chocolate and Kitten Time www.midweststoryteller.com

Traveling Version:

When I’m away from home, I don’t like to miss out on my hot chocolate, but toting milk around becomes a problem. I’ve tried using powdered milk in the dry mix so that I could “just add water”, but it failed to give me the texture and flavor I wanted. I’m being nice – it was nasty. I’ve discovered that adding 1 ½ scoops of Reliv Delight makes a wonderful dry mix.

Reliv Delight, a whey-based milk substitute and nutritional supplement, provides the benefits of milk — plus additional nutrients — in a delicious low-fat formula. It supplies your body with a good source of protein and an essential nutritional balance of vitamins and minerals. And at only 90 calories per serving it is also a great way to help maintain a healthy weight. Mix Reliv Delight with water and use it as an alternative to milk — while cooking, in milkshakes, with cereal or simply as a refreshing, creamy beverage. It’s a healthy choice for adults and kids alike.

As promised in the disclaimer on this blog, I’m disclosing the fact that this product must be purchased through a Reliv distributor and that I am a Reliv distributor who may receive monetary compensation should you decide to purchase the product through me. You may do so by contacting me at barb@midweststoryteller.com

This is a great way for me to take a travel mug while on the road and stop for some hot water so that I can have my chocolate fix. All I have to remember is to never leave home without my pre-mixed little baggie of dry ingredients, my little bottle of vanilla and my mini whisk!

Are you ready for no-guilt Valentine treats?

Almost everyone seems to love those beautiful chocolate-covered strawberries that cost an arm and a leg. We all indulge without too much guilt because, after all, strawberries are fruit and fruit is good for you and therefore, legal – right? Those sold in stores or special ordered are most likely made with shortening. (Repeat after me: “Shortening. Is. Evil.”) Not only that, but the chocolate coating is loaded with that ever-present, ever-enticing culprit – sugar!

I came up with this recipe to remove the culprits. The results were fabulous and I’ve served them up several times to people who tell me how yummy they are. I usually make them to share, so this recipe makes quite a few! The ones in the photo were gigantic berries and I had enough coating to do twenty-five berries. If they had been “regular” sized strawberries, I think I could have done about forty! What could be easier than dipping whole berries into chocolate sauce and letting them dry? This, combined with the fact that you get to lick your fingers and that your recipients will think you’re oh, so special ought to get you going on this recipe.

Oh, you weren’t going to give any of them away? Well, just be sure and wipe the chocolate off your chin before anybody sees you.

Eat ’em All Chocolate-covered Strawberries

2 pounds fresh strawberries

½ cup extra-virgin unrefined coconut oil

1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder

2 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons heavy cream

5/8 teaspoon Trim Healthy Mama Pure Stevia Extract Powder

½ teaspoon vanilla

Scant ¼ teaspoon Celtic sea salt

Shredded unsweetened coconut for garnish

Wash berries and pat them dry with paper towels or allow them to dry completely on a drying mat.

Washed Berries www.midweststoryteller.com

In a double boiler, small ceramic coated saucepan (or a Pyrex bowl over a small saucepan), melt the coconut oil and butter over low heat. Add cocoa powder, heavy cream, stevia, vanilla and salt, whisking until smooth.

Grasp each berry by its stem and dip into the chocolate mixture. Be sure not to cover all the lovely red part! Allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl before placing the berries onto waxed paper-covered cookie sheet. Place the berries far enough apart so they do not touch.

Dipped Berries www.midweststoryteller.com

Leftover chocolate? Consider re-dipping!

If desired, sprinkle some or all of the berries with shredded, unsweetened coconut while the chocolate coating is still soft.

Do not attempt to rearrange the berries on the waxed paper until the chocolate coating is completely hardened.

Refrigerate until ready to serve or give as a gift. Remember, the chocolate coating will begin to soften at about 76 degrees, so be sure to store your beautiful berries properly. I did, with good intentions to take most of them to some cherished friends. But then, we had this icy weather and didn’t get out and, well, you know how it goes…now you know why they’re called “Eat ’em All Chocolate-covered Strawberries!”

Chocolate Covered Strawberries and a Cup of Tea www.midweststoryteller.com

You can share more than chocolate with a friend. How about sharing this post? You can do that through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

Enjoy your chocolate and don’t forget your FREE printable recipes. Just click on the banner below.

Free Printable Chocolate & Berries www.midweststoryteller.com

I invite you to join me for true confessions! Tell me about your favorite chocolate obsession and how often do you indulge.  Scroll back up to the top of this post and “Leave a Comment”.

It’s the Most Pumpkiny Time of the Year!

America’s annual love affair with pumpkin begins where Labor Day ends and soothes us all with it’s warm flavor through Thanksgiving and its weekend of yummy leftovers. I thought I’d share this recipe to give you just one more pumpkiny thing to delight in before the season comes to a halt and all our fickle hearts leave it behind in search of the perfect Christmas cookie.Zesty Pumpkin Soup with Billy's Biscuits www.midweststoryteller.com

Let me introduce you to Zesty Pumpkin Soup – a favorite of mine that I make at least a couple of times during the fall. Why I don’t make it year-round is a mystery because it’s so yummy. To go along with it, I’m going to give you my recipe for Billy’s Biscuits, because what’s better than a great bowl of soup and a light and airy, buttery biscuit?

I’ve had the Recipe for Zesty Pumpkin Soup for years and years and I’ve tried my best to remember the source so that I can give credit where credit is due. I think I’ve finally remembered where I got it! Years ago, at a local shop, I picked up a super-cheap set of four paperback cookbooks which I believe were called, “Home Cooks’ Easy Recipes”. The pages were printed on newsprint and other than the cover, there were no photos. I tried all sorts of recipes in those books, but eventually parted with them in a garage sale – I think. I’ve looked online and can’t find any such books to reference here, or I would be happy to do so.

The interesting thing about Zesty Pumpkin Soup is that it is savory! Almost all pumpkin recipes are some variation that requires brown sugar and reminds you in some way of the eternal favorite, pumpkin pie. This is really different, but absolutely delicious. The original recipe called for the finished soup to be pureed until smooth. However, I forgot to do this once and ended up discovering that I actually preferred the “bits”, as long as they are finely chopped.

Billy’s Biscuits?” you ask. “Who on earth is Billy?” I believe these biscuits began with a recipe known to some folks as “Southern Gal Biscuits”, but I got the recipe from my friend, Billy, after he served them up for breakfast when I was a houseguest. They were the best biscuits I’d ever had.

Here’s Billy –

Remembering Billy www.midweststoryteller.com

I miss Billy, but know that breakfast in Heaven has been kicked up a notch ever since he arrived. I admit to tweaking the recipe for my own use, because I steer clear of shortening and refined sugars, but I’m sure if Billy were here to taste them, he’d approve! Normally, I also steer clear of wheat, but I do have an occasional cheat day. I’d sooner cheat and have these biscuits than almost any other treat. They’re worth it!  Since I’ve never made these without thinking of Billy while I’m doing it, I can’t call them by any other name.

I see you shaking your head and muttering, “Soup – maybe. Homemade biscuits – no way! Where’s the can?” I’m about to take away all your fears about not having enough time or know-how to make these. They are lightning-fast and fool-proof, due to a few little tricks I’ll share with you.

And, best of all, there’s a FREE printable recipe.

Let’s get started –

Zesty Pumpkin Soup

1/4 cup real butter

1 cup chopped onion (chop this fairly small)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

3 cups chicken broth or stock (sugar free) 

2 (14 ounce) cans pumpkin puree

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Sour cream

Chopped fresh chives

Saute onion in butter until soft. Add garlic, curry powder, sald, coriander and red pepper; cook 1 minute longer.

Zesty Pumpkin Soup Step 1 www.midweststoryteller.com

Add broth; boil gently, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes.

Zesty Pumpkin Soup Ingredients www.midweststoryteller.com

Stir in pumpkin, milk and heavy cream. Cook an additional five minutes.

(As you can see in the photo, I tend to use my favorite ingredients from Aldi and Costco.  Finding broth without added sugar is sometimes more difficult than catching the chicken and making your own, so I really appreciate Costco carrying the Kirkland Signature Organic Chicken Stock.)

Garnish each bowl of soup with a dollop of sour cream and chopped chives.

Makes a 3-quart saucepan of soup.

Now, before you nix the idea of making biscuits to go with this quick soup recipe, let me give you four fabulous tips that will make life so much easier!

  1. Mix your dry ingredients ahead of time! If you know you’ll be preparing the biscuits for breakfast (when you are not exactly wide awake and ready to read a recipe and fumble around for ingredients) or if you want them hot and fresh for company, but don’t want to mess up your kitchen and be separated from your guests, this can save time and temper! Just measure all the dry ingredients into a medium-sized mixing bowl and set aside until biscuit time.

  2. Grate the butter! I saw this tip somewhere gave it a try. I could kiss the hand of the genius who thought of it! Whether biscuits, pie crust or any other recipe, I’ll never “cut in” the fat again! All I do is grab a stick of frozen butter and my handy-dandy grater that catches all the bits and work fast. Peel back the paper on the butter and grate it against the grater with the small holes. Pop the lid onto the container and put it immediately back into the freezer! All those frozen little curls of butter will stir into your dry ingredients in about three seconds and you’ll be thanking me for passing on this grand idea. Seriously – always grate the butter!
  3. Invest in a large silicone countertop rolling mat. Oh my goodness! I still dust with flour, but nothing sticks! You can roll out and cut cookies, biscuits – whatever you like – directly on the mat and best of all, when guests arrive,  you can just roll it up, tuck it away and clean it later. No messy counters! I got mine at Aldi for a really reasonable price and the holiday baking season would be a good time to check there. Big name brands tend to be super expensive.
  4. A dough scraper. I mean – really – where have these been all my life? Also, I have a marble rolling pin and I freeze it ahead of time if I know I’ll be making biscuits, cookies, etc. Nothing sticks!

Billy’s Biscuits

1 1/2 cups all purpose non-GMO wheat flour

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

4 teaspoons non-aluminum baking powder

2 Tablespoons coconut sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

7 Tablespoons real butter, grated and re-frozen

1 egg

2/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Quickly add the frozen, grated butter and stir to coat the butter with the flour mixture before the butter begins to melt.

GRATE the Butter! www.midweststoryteller.com

Beat egg in milk; stir into dry ingredients, just until moistened.

Turn dough onto a floured surface. Knead the dough 15 times by folding the entire ball of dough in half, giving it a quarter turn and folding it again. Roll out the dough to 3/4” thickness. Cut into circles with a large 3” biscuit cutter.

Biscuits Ready for the Oven www.midweststoryteller.com

Transfer biscuits to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

Yield: About 8-10 biscuits.

Enjoy your quick and heart-warming autumn meal. If you’ve prepared your dry ingredients and butter for the biscuits ahead of time, you can whip up the biscuits while the soup is simmering and have them ready to serve!

Savor the Flavors of Fall www.midweststoryteller.com

Have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends! And…don’t forget your free printable recipes below.

Free Printable Banner www.midweststoryteller.com

Questions? Comments? If you make the soup and/or the biscuits, let me know how you liked it! Scroll back up to the title of this post and “Leave a Comment”. And why not SUBSCRIBE, so you’ll receive an email reminder each time Midwest Storyteller has something new.



5 Easy Mixes That Make Life Healthier and Easier!

When I look at the stats that turn all of you into a mass of numbers and bar graphs – my, that sounds so impersonal and unfriendly – I can tell that the fans of Midwest Storyteller really enjoy the humor. It seems like you need a good laugh and are quick to pass it along to brighten someone’s day.

I love it! That’s my favorite part of what I do!

However, when I’m out and about, chatting with people, it seems that many share a common request: RECIPES!

People don’t need to spend much time around me to know that I eat “clean”. Those who don’t know me very well assume that I live on wild hickory nuts and tree bark, something that they, unless they’re out of their ever-lovin’ minds, would never choose to do themselves.

Bowlful of Nature www.midweststoryteller.com

Those who know me well enough to get a taste of what comes out of my kitchen are surprised at the yummy-ness.

They (whomever the mysterious “they” are) used to call us health food “nuts” and it wasn’t because people like me sat around eating cashews and pecans. It implied that a certain degree of loopy-ness swirled inside the heads of those who didn’t think the world revolved around, and was made a better place by, granulated sugar and plenty of Crisco.

Reason is beginning to dawn for Americans at last. People are being advised by doctors, nutritionists and friends to feed their bodies the fuel it really needs and to avoid the stuff that they know is taking them down the same road of pain and ill health they’ve watched friends and family travel.

At the top of the list of culprits, lurking everywhere, is –

Sugar Incognito www.midweststoryteller.com

If you are making the wise choice to get sugar out of your diet, I am on your side! The delightful-tasting stuff only makes your body more susceptible to inflammation, diabetes, cancer and other ailments.  I’m not picking on any particular brands here.  As you can tell, it’s not been eradicated from our house entirely.

The biggest challenge lies in how to avoid hidden sugars. Companies love to put it in everything. Is it really addictive?  Well, rats aren’t people, you might want to see a study in which rats, already addicted to cocaine before given the choice, preferred sugar to cocaine 8:1.  It’s difficult to read the details  and not be bowled over by it! 

The stuff is practically omnipresent.  If you don’t believe that sugar is in everything, I challenge you to purchase a bottle of salad dressing without any!

When I walked away from sugar, I spent two weeks in foul temper! Each time I got ready to prepare a meal, I examined the back labels of all my ingredients. Soy sauce, seasoned salt, chicken broth – why did any of these contain sugar in the first place? I would’ve have started a letter writing campaign if I hadn’t been so busy trying to find something to eat!

One particular group of convenience items really had me steamed! All those little packets we’re so accustomed to tossing into recipes and those little shaker bottles that we sprinkle over our food – almost every one of them had sugar.

Oh, but it’s gotta be such a tiny amount! That’s not going to hurt anybody.”

I hear your pathetic, whiny voice. Not only do small amounts add up if it’s in everything you eat, but these small amounts keep the cravings alive! If you remove all sugar from your diet, the cravings go away. Yep! I promise.

It all sounds like so much trouble when I can just grab what I need when I’m at the store. Who wants to mess with stirring up all this stuff?”

Oh, now you’re really sounding like you need me to send you to your room! It all seemed like a big chore to me at first, too. However, since I’ve pioneered the territory for you and am furnishing you with all the recipes, I’ll just stand here with my hands on my hips, tapping my foot, waiting for you to man up or pull up your big girl panties – whichever. 

I’m not perfect in my attempts to stay completely off the stuff.  Christmas does roll around and if I’m going to make cookies for everybody else, then by golly, I’m gonna eat a couple of ’em!  There are also some Belgian truffles that come into Aldi stores every year during the holiday season and, I mean to say – YUM!  One of my dreams is to develop a sugar free recipe for those, but I am wandering from the point.  Where were we?  Right – MIXES!

I’ve come to realize that making my own mixes is much more convenient, and cheaper, than buying the packets at the store! Once a few basic ingredients become a staple on your pantry shelves, you’ll no longer be running to the store, wasting gas and precious time, all for that silly (and expensive) little packet. You’ll either stir up the simple ingredients within a couple of minutes, or you’ll grab one of your pre-made packets because, yes, you are talented enough to measure all the ingredients into little snack baggies or mix up a whole jar of the stuff to keep on the shelf!

Spread the love! Mix up several batches in snack baggies, spice jars or other food safe containers, apply a cute computer or hand-made label and fill a basket for a thoughtful, homemade gift.

Ready for the recipes? Let’s have all the fun, all the flavor – and none of the sugar!

There are also a free printables below, so be sure to print those out.

I’ll post more mixes soon. Be sure to hop on over to the side bar and sign up for free. If you are on a phone or tablet, you can go to the “Contact Me” page to find the subscription form. IMPORTANT: You must confirm the subscription in your email or it will not work! 

Hopefully, my recent round of “technical difficulties” is over and posts will now be coming to you in a more timely manner.

Let’s mix it up!

Italian Salad Dressing Mix

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon dried flat-leaf Italian parsley

¾ teaspoon garlic powder

¾ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

¼ teaspoon xanthan gum

¼ teaspoon citric acid

Measure all ingredients into a snack-sized re-sealable bag.

Make several packets up ahead of time, store in a freezer container and grab one whenever you have a recipe calling for a package of Italian dressing mix.

NOTE: The mixes you buy in the store also contain a small amount of dehydrated carrots. You might want to grate a little carrot into your recipe to give it those little flecks of color that are so appealing to the eye!

Taco Seasoning Mix

(for seasoning one pound of burger)

2 Tablespoons dried minced onion

½ to 1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon garlic powder

In a 10-inch skillet, brown the burger. Drain off any excess fat. Add the taco mix and ½ cup water. Simmer until onion bits are tender and excess moisture is absorbed.

Cream of Whatever (or “S.O.S” – Soup or Sauce)

2 cups powdered non-fat dry milk

¾ cup arrowroot powder

2 Tablespoons dried minced onion

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon ground savory

1 teaspoon dried flat-leaf Italian parsley flakes

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon dried tarragon

¼ teaspoon dried marjoram

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

OPTIONAL: 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning.

Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Store in an airtight container.

One batch equals nine (10.5 ounce) cans of creamed soup.

For one can of cream soup:

Combine 1/3 cup of dry mix with 9 ounces COLD water in a saucepan. Whisk until well blended. Heat, stirring constantly with the whisk until thickened.

Add to casseroles or other recipes just as you would a can of soup.

Need Cream of Mushroom Soup: Stir in chopped mushrooms with the dry mix and water.

Need Cream of Celery Soup? Add 2 Tablespoons dried celery flakes to the saucepan.

Need other flavors? Use your imagination!

NOTE: I have seen variations of this recipe all over the internet, but I have changed it so much to eliminate sugar, wheat and corn products that I am calling it my own. However, I’d like to thank Jillie, over at One Good Thing by Jillie for all the tips I’ve received from her blog. She’s a great source for gluten-free recipes, safe cleaning solutions and more.

Seasoned Salt

½ cup sea salt

¼ cup paprika

2 Tablespoons ground tumeric

2 Tablespoons onion powder

1 Tablespoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon citric acid

NOTE: If you truly feel that something is “missing” as compared to the seasoned salt you buy, it is, without a doubt, the sugar. If you like, you can add 1/8 teaspoon Sweet Leaf stevia powder to this mix. Sweet Leaf really lives up to their claim as the best-tasting stevia. I purchase my Sweet Leaf stevia at Natural Grocers, my local health food store.  It’s available in drops, a powder canister and individual packets.  I use whichever form I need, depending on the recipe.  If you’ve yet to make friends with stevia because you don’t like the taste, you probably need to switch to this brand. It’s a bit more expensive, but lacks some of the extra ingredients that cause that “off” taste. Another tip on stevia – USE LESS! It’s tough to get it through our heads, but it really is so much sweeter than sugar. Yet, we ignore the label and use too much, causing us to complain about the taste and the cost. How silly is that?

BONUS: Here’s a link to another great mix – Dry Buttermilk Ranch Mix – submitted by Scotdog on www.allrecipes.com I use allrecipes.com often.  It’s especially great when you have excess of a certain ingredient.  You can do a word search and see all the recipes that have that ingredient.

Back to the Buttermilk Ranch Mix:  We have found it to be absolutely yummy. You can print it out from their site. I have a few tips in preparing and using it –

  1. We had to cut the garlic powder in half. It seemed just a bit too potent when made according to the recipe.  Adjust this to your liking.
  2. For dressing, I mix it with ½ cup milk and ½ cup full-fat mayonnaise. I like a mayonnaise I found at Trader Joe’s. It has no sugar.
  3. For a dip, use ½ cup mayonnaise and ½ cup sour cream.  :


IMPORTANT: I found that “as is”, this worked great for mixing into a dip where you prefer to see all the wonderful little bits of herb and spices. However, when made into a dressing, they tended to make things separate and appear “not so lovely”. I solved this by putting all the ingredients except for the buttermilk powder into my small blender and turning them into a fine powder. Now, I have a smooth, herbed ranch dressing!

Recipe link: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/214481/dry-buttermilk-ranch-mix/?internalSource=hub%20recipe&referringContentType=search%20results&clickId=cardslot%201

Printable Italian Dressing Mix & Taco Seasoning www.midweststoryteller.com

Printable S.O.S. and Seasoned Salt www.midweststoryteller.com

Comments? I’d love to hear how you use these simple mixes. Also, I’ll do my best to answer your questions.  Just scroll back up and click on “Leave a Comment” under the title of this post. 

Saturday Pasta (for any busy day of the week!)

Saturday Pasta www.midweststoryteller.comIt’s time for another great recipe! This one, another of my inventions, will appeal to everyone who likes things flavorful. While not hot and spicy, it certainly isn’t bland.

Why Saturday, you ask? No particular reason, except that Saturdays around our house seem to turn into project days, with Smuffy working on his and me working on mine. Smuffy likes to sleep in on Saturdays before launching into some DIY project that makes a lot of noise and is likely to stink up the place.  I’m just thankful that only a couple of them have landed him in the emergency room.

It has always amazed me that no matter how late Smuffy sleeps, the “rumbly in his tumbly”, as Winnie the Pooh would say, speaks to him at the same time every day. Though he may have slept till ten and lingered over breakfast, he reappears at noon on the dot, looking weak in the knees and asking what’s for lunch.

I’ve wondered if it isn’t triggered by sound. For years, Smuffy has come home for lunch, Monday through Friday, to the tune of the neighborhood church bells. They chime various lovely hymns a couple of times a day. Perhaps on Saturday, at the sound of the noon bells, he thinks he’s hungry. Have the bells trained him to eat at noon, no matter what? I think that’s how they do it with rats in a maze.

Often, I’ve stood there, wondering what on earth I’m going to fix so that I can get on with my own project. Neither of us wants to go out. Meat is frozen. My mind is blank.

Then came this idea. I threw it together so fast I hardly knew how it did it. Smuffy says it’s hearty, healthy and “restaurant good”. It must be, because he likes variety, yet I can pretty much toss this together on any busy weekend and he’ll happily gobble it up. That’s really saying something, considering it has no meat! Smuffy likes meat – a lot!

Also, it has no dairy! I know some of you have been waiting for recipes like that. With no sugar and the only grain being brown rice pasta, the healthy eaters can’t go wrong.

A few notes before we start:

  1. Don’t get hung up about it! I make this with what I have. I’m giving you the perfected version. Make it this way the first time, just so you know what you’ve been missing. Then, you can always try some of the things I’ve experimented with along the way, such as zucchini instead of spinach, etc. We would never make it without the sun-dried tomatoes. We think they really make the dish.
  2. Don’t be a snob. Use fresh mushrooms if you can, but if you’re out, by all means use canned mushrooms.
  3. I did not grow up in a kitchen where everything was the finest and best (although most of it was homegrown), but I’ve learned something. Though I’m frugal, I’ve learned that it’s better to pay for good ingredients and have good food I enjoy. It’s so much easier to say no to junk food when I’ve just created something healthy and delicious. That’s why I’m recommending brands on two ingredients. Jovial Brown Rice Pastas are fabulous! They came highly recommended by America’s Test Kitchen. Through the years, I’ve tried innumerable substitutes for white flour pasta. This one is the hands-down winner. Jovial Pasta People – I love you! Smuffy says he can’t tell the difference between it and “regular” pasta. I’ve bought the spaghetti and the lasagna noodles and they’re both great. Once you try this, you may want to check around for a bulk price.  Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil, one of the top two olive oils recommended by America’s Test Kitchen, has become a staple item in my kitchen. Ah – the flavor! In case you haven’t heard, there’s a whole big deal out there concerning olive oils and which companies you can trust. You may not be getting what you think in those beautiful bottles. Colavita is the real deal, and it makes this recipe delicious. I get it at my local supermarket in bottles and also in bulk, where I can get a deal on large tins.
  4. Speaking of oils (and we’ll cover this in more detail in a future post), there are three oils in this recipe for a reason. Butter adds flavor, but tends to burn. Coconut oil resists burning and keeps the butter from browning without changing the flavor. I keep both kinds of coconut oil on hand – refined and unrefined (or extra virgin). You’ll want refined for this. Olive oil, though not a trans fat, does (just as most of the other oils do) turn to a trans fat when heated. It should be used to “dress” the dish when finished.
  5. Don’t be lily-livered and leave out the “heat”! There are not enough red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper in this to make it spicy, but we find it necessary to give the recipe that certain what-cha-ma-call-it.

Let’s get cooking. This goes together in the time it takes your water to come to a boil and your pasta to cook. Don’t forget your FREE printable below.

Saturday Pasta Ingredients www.midweststoryteller.com

Saturday Pasta

1 Tablespoon butter

1 Tablespoon refined coconut oil

½ large onion, (slice thin, then quarter the slices)

½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, snipped into small pieces with scissors)

1 (4 ounce) can mushrooms or, preferably, fresh mushrooms

4 ounces fresh spinach

5 to 6 ounces Jovial Brown Rice Spaghetti

20 Kalamata olives (½ of a 6 ounce jar)

¼ cup (or more) Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

A “sprinkle” of cayenne pepper

Sea salt

In a large skillet, heat butter and coconut oil over medium heat. Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil.

Add onions to the skillet and stir.

In a small custard cup, pour a little water (approximately 3 Tablespoons)over the sun-dried tomatoes. Microwave them on on high for one minute to reconstitute them. Set aside.

Add mushrooms and olives to the skillet. Stir. Lower heat so that onions do not begin to caramelize.

When water reaches a full boil, add pasta and ½ teaspoon sea salt. Cook according to package instructions until al dente.

Meanwhile, pour one to two tablespoons olive oil into a large pasta bowl. Add red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper. Stir. Set aside.

Pepper Flakes in Oil www.midweststoryteller.com

Add spinach to the skillet. (This will fill the skillet.) Cook and stir until spinach wilts and mixes with the other ingredients.  Add sun-dried tomatoes (with liquid) to the mixture.

Skillet Mixture www.midweststoryteller.com

Drain pasta. Add to pasta bowl. Toss to coat with the flavored oil. Add the skillet mixture, scraping the skillet clean with a spatula. Toss ingredients together, adding remaining olive oil. Season to taste with additional sea salt and more olive oil, if desired.

Serves 4. 

Don’t forget your FREE printable recipes!  Just click on the arrow below. 

PRINTABLE Recipe Saturday Pasta www.midweststoryteller.com

SUBSCRIBE in the right side bar if your on your computer or on the CONTACT ME page if you’re on a phone or tablet so you won’t miss more delicious recipes. 

You might also enjoy “Creamy Leek Soup with Chicken and Sweet Potato“.  Check it out here! 

Save this great recipe on Pinterest or share on Facebook and other social media by clicking on the icons.

CORRECTION: I’ve led you astray!

In my last post, I shared the recipe for a soup of my own invention, “Creamy Leek Soup with Chicken & Sweet Potato”.  However, in the FREE PRINTABLE, I somehow managed to cut out the heavy cream from the bottom of the ingredients list.

My thanks to Judy, one of my eagle-eyed subscribers, who noticed and sent me a comment to let  me know.

I’m always eager to fix my mistakes, so I encourage you all to call such things to my attention.

I fixed the FREE PRINTABLE on the original post, but here it is again in case you need to print it out again.

Creamy Leek Soup Printable Banner

Creamy Leek Soup with Chicken & Sweet Potato (a simple “Award Winning” Soup)

While it’s still soup weather…   Well, it’s soup weather somewhere, I suppose. Here in the Midwest, it’s been wonderfully weird. A nearby town set a record a few days ago when the temperature hit seventy-eight degrees! It’s February. That’s weird. That’s wonderful! So many areas of the country received winter’s full blast while we were just – chilly. It has to get mighty warm for us to give up on nourishing, yummy soups at our house, though.

This soup was born of necessity – and that’s another post for another day. Having taken yet another serious step forward in improving my food choices, I’d adapted many of my old recipes into grain-free, sugar-free versions. One day, oozing with inspiration and having one of those “if I were the perfect soup, what would I be like?” mind excursions, I hatched a plan. It must have been one of my super-duper, genius, over-the-top, brainy days, because after a trip to the store and a little time at the stove, I rolled my eyes and patted myself on the back. All my past kitchen flops had been compensated for and I knew I had a winner.

I needed a winner. I had a reputation to uphold. Each year our church sponsors the Souper Bowl of Sharing. Soups are judged and the top-rated soups receive the coveted “Golden Ladles”. I’d received three consecutive Golden Ladles, so why not go for a fourth? Besides, all proceeds go to the area food bank. They deserve a great soup, right?

Golden LadlesMy own high praise of this soup comes to you from a life-long sweet-tater-hater.  I’ve only embraced the rock-hard, ugly roots in the last few years.  I think it happened in a daring restaurant experience when I lost my head, blurting out, “I’ll have some of those sweet potato fries.”  I’ve been experimenting with them ever since.

I filled my slow cooker with a triple batch of this soup and, yes, I took home another golden ladle!

Souper GirlSo many people have asked me for this recipe. I think you’ll love it. If you can’t have dairy, I weep for you. I don’t know how you’d alter this and come up with anything close if you try to avoid the cream.

A few notes before we start –

1. If you haven’t worked with leeks, they look like giant green onions. However, their oniony taste is delightfully delicate! They pick up a lot of sand and grit while growing, though, which is why the recipe says to halve lengthwise. This will enable you to fan the layers apart and rinse all the dirt out. Then, just pull all the layers back together, lay flat side down and slice into thin ribbons. Use all the white part and a good portion of the green, but not any parts that look extra tough. The green parts will soften well during cooking.

2. I place the chicken in my slow cooker or a large skillet, season it with salt & pepper, and cook on LOW for a while ahead of making the soup. (Your chicken will be tough if cooked too fast.) When it’s thoroughly cooked, I place it on a cutting board and use one of the handy-dandy Pampered Chef dealy-bobs featured in the photo below.. It shreds it to perfection in no time! I get my Pampered Chef items here.  If you don’t have one, just slice across the grain, then pull apart.

3. Do not confuse sweet potatoes with white potatoes when it comes to cooking time. Cubed sweet potatoes cook FAST! The best way I’ve found is to take a large knife and slice off a 1/2″ slab. Then, turn the sweet potato over onto the flat surface you’ve created and slice the whole thing into more 1/2″ slabs. Stack a few together, cut into 1/2″ strips (like French fries) and then into cubes. Sweet potatoes are solid and difficult to cut when raw, but don’t let them fool you. Once cubed and put into the boiling broth, I’d advise giving them the taste test after about five minutes.

4. I invented “Faux-broth” as a  substitute for chicken broth one day when none of the stores nearby had chicken broth without sugar in it. Again, I let my mind wander. (It’s not always dangerous.) I threw together a series of things that I would have used if I were seasoning, for instance, a chicken for roasting. I feel a little silly, I must say, for sharing a recipe for water with herbs in it, but I’ve used it over and over again.  Anyhow, if you’re out of broth, this “flavored water” will get you by in a pinch. It would also be helpful in lowering the calories in the soup.  The first time you make this soup, I’d advise using real chicken broth. Then, you’ll know how it’s meant to taste. (That’s what I used for the soup contest – and I won – I’m just sayin’.)

OK – Let’s make AWESOME, prize-winning soup! And, don’t get your under-drawers in a bunch over the butter and heavy cream. Fat doesn’t make you fat – carbs do. Sugar does. This soup is satisfying. Besides, as I often tell Smuffy – nobody’s forcing you to eat four bowls.

Let me restate a portion of my disclaimer. (See the sidebar for the whole thing.)   It is my promise to properly disclose any items which may have been given to me for consideration, are sponsored, or contain affiliate links. Some links on my site may be affiliate links for which I could receive a commission for your click-through and/or purchase. I only feature brands and companies that I have used and genuinely love. All opinions are completely my own.  As of the published date of this post, I received no commissions/payments for any items mentioned or featured in photographs contained in this post.

Below the recipe, you’ll find a link to a free printable which includes both the soup and the faux broth.

Creamy Leek Soup Ingredients

Creamy Leek Soup with Chicken & Sweet Potato

1 large leek, halved lengthwise & cleaned well, then sliced into 1/8″ ribbons

1/4 cup butter

1 to 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, seasoned, cooked & shredded.

2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2 ” cubes

2 cups chicken broth (with NO sugar)

2 cups heavy cream

In a medium skillet, cook & stir leeks in butter until very soft over medium heat.  

Meanwhile, bring broth (or faux broth) to a boil.  Add cubed sweet potatoes.  Return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer till just tender (5-10 minutes).  Add leeks (with butter), cooked chicken and heavy cream to the pot.  Heat thoroughly. 

Great with fresh, homemade biscuits & a salad! Makes 7-8 cups.

Enjoy the awesomeness!

A word of caution about food safety:  If the grateful recipients of your awesome soup present you with a Golden Ladle, examine it carefully.  You might want to keep it “just for show”.  I’m highly suspicious of a spray paint job!

Bowl of Creamy Leek SoupDon’t forget your two-for-one free printable!  If you’d like for your faux-broth to be smooth (minus the visible bits of herb), you can always put your dry herbs in a small processor and spin until powdery.

Creamy Leek Soup Printable BannerQuestions? Comments? If you make the soup, let me know how you liked it! Any fabulous recipes you’ve invented on a brainy day?

More “Golden Ladlel Winners” coming up, so be sure to SUBSCRIBE!