Category Archives: Meatless Monday

Creamy Autumn Pumpkin Soup

SAM_2073Roasted pumpkin seed garnish for a Creamy Pumpkin Soup…

Author: Cassie Stevens

I love this time of year! The colors are vibrant and warm! The seasons are changing. The weather is getting colder. I welcome the Fall with whisk in hand. I love it so much I named my daughter Autumn. I embrace this time of year and try to enjoy it as much as possible. The smell of roasted root vegetables, baked apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and open fires intrigues my soul. The need to get cozy and warm under a blanket on those cool nights your outside under the stars. As Winter approaches… I waited for this time all year, pumpkin everything.

csg-Landscapes143-GreatSmokyMountains-NorthCarolinaMy mountains dressed in their Fall colors, the Great Smoky Mountains, TN.

Every year for about the past ten years – with an exception to the year I was pregnant with my daughter – I have gone on a pumpkin baking frenzy.  I LOVE pumpkin!! as much as Bubba loves shrimp. Yeah that’s me…

gump pumpkinHa! Ha! Ha! I love it! Pumpkin everything…

I had not tried pumpkin in a soup; until now. I make pumpkin fudge, and pumpkin pie every year. Pumpkin fudge is one of my favorites, but this soup is now on my every years pumpkin to-do list.  This is a great soup. It’s sweet and savory with a creamy texture. I really enjoyed. I really think you will too.

SAM_1976Getting ready to gut a pumpkin…

Pumpkins are beautiful, and they are good for you too! You can do just about anything with a pumpkin. You can turn them into dinner, a dessert, a drink, a candy, carve them up for decorations, or use them as target practice. Enemy Pumpkins!!

SAM_1981Seeded pumpkin quarters…

I love roasting pumpkins. The whole house smells great, and I start feeling all warm and fuzzy (and its not from the moonshine). I have always used pie pumpkins for all my recipes. I was told by someone, somewhere that they were the best for baking. The smaller the pumpkin the creamier the texture, the larger the pumpkin the more fibrous the texture (makes sense). I never realized how many different types of pumpkins there are, until my recent research. I am definitely going to try a few other varieties out to turn into something even more amazing.

SAM_1985Scraping the guts out with a spoon…

I will try to post all my pumpkin recipes and endeavors that I make this year. I really want to dive deeper into the realm of everything pumpkin this year, and possibly can some pumpkin puree for the early part of next year.

SAM_1992Roasted garlic and pepper pumpkin seeds…

One of the best parts of the pumpkin are the roasted seeds. I make them as many different ways as I can. Olive oil and salt, garlic pepper, lemon sage, and even a spicy Cajun seasoning. My one year old daughter loves to eat pumpkin seeds too.

SAM_2009Pure pumpkin puree…

Sweet and delicious pumpkin puree, in its purest form. No salt, or anything  just a little water. Ready for whatever comes its way. Now, this is what I made my wonderful soup from. I have about four cups here in my mason jar. You can put this in the fridge and use it anytime over the next couple of days. I used only two cups (half) in the soup.

SAM_2059Sweatin’ the onions…

Finely dice half an onion and about four cloves of garlic. I really like my garlic so i use a lot. Put half a stick of butter in your skillet and add 2 teaspoons brown sugar, dash of salt and pepper, and cook onions until translucent.  This will start to smell wonderful, enjoy it!

SAM_2060Add 2 1/4 cups of vegetable, chicken, or bone broth and bring to a boil…

SAM_2062Mmmmm the soup is coming together…almost done…

Add pumpkin puree and one 12 ounce can of evaporated milk and bring back to a boil. Let this boil for about ten minutes or so.  Take off heat and place an immersion blender in your pot and blend, or place in a regular stand blender and blend until smooth. You are mostly trying to get rid of the chunks of onion in it. So, if it suites you better you can skip this process.  After blended, or not, cook again for about twenty or thirty minutes. It will reduce and thicken a little. I added heavy whipping cream, and roasted pumpkin seeds to my bowl as a garnish. My husband is lactose intolerant so if I can keep the dairy out I try.

SAM_2063Pumpkin soup….

Doesn’t that look so delicious. I still had a couple of chunks of onion in it, but I didn’t mind at all.  The cream added a delectable texture that was perfect.  My daughter couldn’t get enough of this soup and neither could I.  We both ate until we just couldn’t anymore. I put hers in a sippy cup with a straw, and it went fast. She is such a good eater! I have never had a problem with her not wanting to eat her vegetables (it’s more the fruit she shuns away from).

SAM_2077So there it is, before it was gone…

Pumpkin Soup Recipe:

2 cups pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)

2 1/4 cups chicken broth (or other broth you wish)

1/2 onion finely chopped

1/2 stick butter

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste


Melt butter in skillet, add onion, garlic, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Cook until onions are translucent. Add broth and bring to a boil for a few minutes. Add pumpkin puree, and evaporated milk and bring back to a boil for a few more minutes. Remove from heat and blend with hand blender.  Return to heat, let cook until soup reduces and thickens slightly. Mix in cinnamon and nutmeg. Serve and garnish with cream and roasted pumpkin seeds or whatever else you wish. Enjoy!

~ Cassie Stevens


Homemade Whole Wheat or Almond Flour (Gluten-Free) Graham Crackers

Homemade Graham Crackers :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

My daughters are totally hooked on graham crackers. We buy boxes of them. It’s something that seems healthy. I mean, really, what’s the worst that could be in graham crackers? If you want to bury your head in the sand (like I have done for years), I won’t judge you. Look away now, because I’m about to gross you out. I have been feeding my kids sugar AND High Fructose Corn Syrup (ick!), GMO canola oil (ew!)… 120 empty calories of processed junk in just 4 squares. Is this something I want kids eating every day for a snack? NO!  Are you still with me? Good!

Cue healthy, I-know-every-ingredient-in-it, fiber-filled, and delicious graham crackers. And just in time too, for my family at least. Because when kids eat graham crackers, they eat more whole grains and fiber. That sounds good to me. The trick is, they have to be made of whole wheat, and most brand name crackers aren’t.

So what do you say? Are you ready to switch to homemade? They’re easier than cookies. They’re ridiculously addictive. They’re simple and wholesome. Let’s get baking…

Homemade Graham Crackers :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

This is the recipe I sort-of followed. Adding almond meal to this recipe increases the amount of protein in these crackers. Getting protein in my kids is pretty tough. Use only almond meal and this recipe can also be gluten free. Almonds (and, obviously, almond meal) are high in monounsaturated fats; you know, the fats that reduce LDL cholesterol, thus lowering heart disease risk? Almonds are also high in antioxidants, vitamin E, magnesium, and potassium.  Use only wheat flour and this recipe will be high in whole grains. I ended up using a bit of both, experimenting to even out the texture. That makes mine 7 ingredients, but who’s counting? 🙂

Homemade Graham Crackers :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

Because coconut oil is semi-solid at room temperature, I warmed up the liquid ingredients in a saucepan on low for a couple of minutes. It helped to be able to incorporate everything.

Homemade Graham Crackers :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

The dough gets to be the consistency of play dough. I was told this by my oldest. She couldn’t keep her fingers out of it. I let her play in it and squish it while I was getting the parchment and pan and oven set up. Then I puttered about for a little bit so that she could keep playing. 😉 It’s the little things that are important.

Homemade Graham Crackers :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

Roll out the dough. Some other time I think we’ll do cookie cutters with this. I think it could work well and be more interactive and fun for the kids to both make and eat. For now, we made squares with a pizza cutter.

Homemade Graham Crackers :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

I sprinkled them with a little coarse sugar. It adds a tiny bit of extra fun, without tons of sugar. It could be left off and it would be fine. The original recipe called for cinnamon on top. My family isn’t really fond of cinnamon, so we left it off.

Homemade Graham Crackers :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

Baked… don’t you wish it was scratch and sniff? Uh oh, am I showing my child of the 80’s age here? Ahem… 80’s kid, loud and proud! 🙂

Homemade Graham Crackers :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

See? It’s so easy! You’ll feel so much better about slathering on some (homemade?) hazelnut spread, apple butter, organic, fair trade chocolate bar and homemade marshmallows… Okay, this is getting out of hand. I think I just drooled a little.

Or just grab an ice cold glass of almond milk and dunk away. That’s what we did. Nom.

Homemade Graham Crackers :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals

Homemade Whole Wheat or Almond Flour (Gluten-Free) Graham Crackers

Whole Wheat or Almond Flour 2 Cups
Salt 1/2 tsp
Baking Powder 1/2 tsp
Baking Soda 1/4 tsp
Coconut Oil 5 Tbl
Milk 1/4 Cups
Honey 5 Tbl


Mix dry ingredients. Combine and stir wet ingredients in saucepan, and heat on low until melted. Drizzle wet mixture over dry mixture while stirring. Place dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out to the same shape as the sheet pan (as much as possible) and 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut into desired shapes. Move dough and bottom sheet of parchment onto sheet pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 18 minutes (more or less, depending on your oven). Enjoy!

Makes about 24 crackers depending on how you slice it.

Nutrition Info* (using all Whole Wheat Flour and 1% Cow’s Mik): Calories: 73, Fat: 3g, Sat. Fat: 2.5g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 73mg, Carbohydrate: 4g, Dietary Fiber: 1.25g, Protein: 1.5g. (Serving size, about one cracker)

Nutritional info* (using all Almond Meal/Flour and 1% Cow’s Milk): Calories: 92, Fat: 8g, Sat. Fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 73mg, Carbohydrate: 6g, Dietary Fiber: 1g, Protein: 2g. (Serving size, about one cracker)

*Nutrition data may not be completely accurate as ingredients used and measuring values may change.

Do you read the ingredients lists about your food? Is it easier to just avoid looking at the back of the packaging? No judgement here… been there. Sometimes I wish I could go back to that happy place.


April is National Grilled Cheese Month


Author: Cassie Stevens

I just recently became aware of this new-found holiday, and I like it. Who doesn’t love a good grilled cheese? It is such a versatile sandwich. There are so many ways to make a grilled cheese. You can add ham, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, sprouts, olives; just about anything goes good between bread and cheese. It’s great with homemade tomato soup on a cold day, or just a quick lunch.  You can go wild with different cheeses and breads. I like a good ole’ plain, gooey grilled cheese. Nothing fancy, just real butter homemade bread and sliced cheese. Yum! So, experiment and celebrate this month then tell me….

How did you eat your grilled cheese this month?

Dry Your Own Fresh Herbs

Author: Veronica Hilliard

Dry Your Own Fresh Herbs :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

I’m not a very patient person. I want things done now and done right. I also got fresh herbs in my Bountiful Baskets Italian Pack add-on. I’ve thrown away too many veggies and wilted herbs that I’ve started looking closely at my basket when I get it home and trying to process everything in a way that it will get used and not wasted. About a month ago we got two HUGE heads of bok choi in our basket and I chopped one of them up and threw it in the freezer for adding to soups, stews, and stir fries later on. These are things that I normally wouldn’t buy for my own recipes, but have been excited to learn how to use when I get surprised with them. So add all this together and it equals…

I need to dry my herbs.

Dry Your Own Fresh Herbs :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

I’m not a big fan of many herbs. I’ve never been fond of thyme or rosemary. I haven’t been able to eat sage since I lived in Idaho and smelled sage brush everywhere. I do LOVE me some fresh basil and I like the flavor of oregano. But, I got fresh thyme and rosemary in my basket (along with basil) so I’ll be a sport and use it. I just highly doubt I’ll use it before it goes bad. And because I’m impatient, I just popped it in the oven to dry.

Dry Your Own Fresh Herbs :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

Set your oven as low as it goes. Mine stops at 170 degrees F. I wish it would go lower for delicate herbs like basil, but it won’t. My toaster oven does though. I did my basil separately in there. A word of caution… I wouldn’t do this in the oven if it doesn’t go lower than 175 degrees F. And probably try another method on your delicate herbs. They will turn all brown and possibly start to cook or start to burn at anything higher than 125 degrees F or so. Watch closely because things can escalate quickly and you’ll end up smoking out the bad spirits with burning sage instead of sprinkling it over your chicken.

Dry Your Own Fresh Herbs :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

After about 10-15 minutes…

Dry Your Own Fresh Herbs :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

I separated the leaves from the stems and put them back in for a little longer just to make sure they were dry all the way. If they aren’t completely dry when you pack them up they will mold and get nasty before you can use them. Make absolutely sure they are dry, but don’t let them go for too long or they’ll start to burn a bit and the taste will suffer.

Dry Your Own Fresh Herbs :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

Dry Your Own Fresh Herbs :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

When you know your herbs are dry, you can store them as you like. Crunch them up with your hands or a mortar and pestle, combine them into an herb blend, or just leave them as is. I like to store mine in re-purposed, BPA-free glass jars. These jars come from MW Polar Brand fruit. To be honest, I bought them just for the jars!  My kids think they’re an extra special treat. They are also inexpensive. I always find them around a dollar each.

Other ways that you can dry herbs/herbal teas include:

  • Microwaving them – Good for delicate herbs such as mint or basil. Place leaves between two pieces of paper towel and microwave for 10 seconds at a time until dry. This is the shortest method but some people question the safety of microwaving food.
  • Placing leaves in a dehumidifier – If you have a dehumidifier, it’d be a great way to speed things up. Not as fast as the microwave but faster than waiting days or weeks.
  • Remove leaves, chop, and put on clean, dry cotton towels – This takes a couple of days but preserves the flavor and color better than other methods.
  • Tie in a bunch and hang upside-down in a dry area – This method takes the longest but preserves the flavor and color best.

Dry Your Own Fresh Herbs :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

Fresh or dried, herbs are good to add to your diet. They make food a little more fun, add fragrance and flavor. You can feel like a real chef when you’re serving your family and friends thyme-speckled lamb and a beautiful caprese salad with a sprinkle of fragrant basil.

1 T of  dry herbs equals 3 T of fresh.

Have you dried your own herbs? What is your favorite method?