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It is that time of year where the weather gets colder and we inevitably have sick days where we want to eat healthy foods that improve our immune function while also allowing us to still lay in bed getting that much needed R&R. Slow cooker and baked meals can be our best go-to meals in these inevitable situations, and soups and baked fruits are here to accommodate that need!
One important thing to do when keeping your kitchen stocked, is to purchase or prepare your own frozen blends ready to go for stir-fry meals, soups, and stews. This habit will save you when it comes to sick days (or weeks!) and the need for quick meals fast. This includes the following necessary stock items:
- Frozen and finely chopped onion, carrot, celery, squash (as a mix or separately)
- Frozen greens (kale, spinach, and collards)
- Frozen strings of carrots and zucchini
- Frozen corn (sweet or not, depends on your preference) and peas
- Frozen chopped bell peppers
- Frozen chopped mushrooms (mushrooms can be cooked to resemble meat crumbles and bacon! If you consume them. And they keep well frozen.)
- Frozen berries and chopped fruits (makes cobblers very easily)
- Frozen minced garlic, ginger, herbs (you can make your own by adding cleaned and chopped garlic/herbs to oil or water in ice cube trays and freezing before placing in labeled bags)
- Canned/jarred/bagged cooked beans and lentils (black, pinto, Cannellini, and lentils)
- If you consume them, soy products such as tofu and edamame
- Vegetable stock, or bouillon cubes
- Jarred tomatoes, tomato paste, and sundried tomatoes
- Noodles and pasta, including ramen, macaroni, and spaghettis
To easily make soups that will soothe a sore throat or help open up your sinuses, follow the basic recipe below, using whatever vegetables you have on hand that you enjoy:
- Steam fry 2 cups of (using small amounts of water in a heated pan that produces a consistent steam) onions, garlic, carrots and celery until softened.
- Add in other vegetables of choice. The photo below includes: riced cauliflower, zucchini noodles, sweet corn, kale, and broccoli. At the same time, add 8 cups of vegetable broth of choice and bring to a low boil over medium heat.
- Add seasonings of choice. Vegetable soups like this are great with thyme, oregano, tarragon, bay leaves, and parsley. I like using some turmeric for color and cayenne helps a lot with congestion as well; both are immune-boosting spices.
- If you want to add beans or tofu, not is a good time to do so by adding strained beans or chopped tofu.
- Add in 1 cup of dried pasta of choice. My favorite gluten free pasta is the Trader Joe’s brand of fusilli noodles. They are rice-based and hold up VERY well in soups. Cook until the noodles are done.
- Salt and pepper to taste, but I recommend doing this after your soup is done and when being served so it can be adjusted for each individual bowl or cup served.
It is important when you plan to leave foods slow cooking on the stove or in a cooker, to purchase one that can evenly distribute the heat so you don’t come back to partially burnt foods. Personally, I love Dutch ovens and my Instapot. Either will work for the recipe above. Using a slow cooker or Instapot that can turn off at a certain time and keep food warm is a really good idea for new parents and busy families!
Baked apples are reminiscent of apple pie which is a major comfort food for many Americans. They are harvested each fall when naturally grown, and this is the perfect time of year to get the best tasting ones you can find! But apples have a lot more going for them than just reminding us of yummy food from our childhood. They are very hearty, so can last a long time on the counter. They also contain antioxidants, fiber, and many micronutrients. While they are great as a quick snack as is or sliced and topped with peanut butter, they can be transformed into a decadent and comforting snack or meal by baking. To bake an apple, follow the instructions below:
- Using an apple corer or knife, cut out the top stem of the fruit. You can more easily hollow out the middle by using a melon baller. Keep the bottom and core out just enough of the center to get some filling in there. Place the apples in a baking dish.
- Fillings can be made from a variety of items, from oats/cinnamon/brown sugar, to dried fruits and chopped nuts. Some of the best tasting is chopped walnuts with raisins, chopped pecans with dried cranberries, and chopped almonds with chopped dried apricots. Add spices to the filling. The most commonly used spices to go with apples are cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Use nutmeg very sparingly, if at all, especially when making this for children or the elderly.
- Lastly, drizzle in some honey or maple syrup into the center of the apple over the filling.
- Cover the baking dish with the lid, or foil, and bake for 1 hour at 350°F.
To serve baked apples (or baked pears), eat warm after baking. Other suggestions are:
- You can top them with yogurt, ice cream or frozen yogurt (dairy free options are recommended for human health and the health of the planet, not to mention for the benefit of our animal friends!) for a delicious dessert.
- Topping baked fruit with vegan yogurt is also a great breakfast to look forward to on cold mornings.
- Chop up the baked fruit and add to your hot breakfast cereal for flavoring.
- Use in a smoothie along with dairy free milk and 1 Tbsp nut butter for a great milk shake.
- You can use the baked fruit as a filling for homemade breakfast bars which you can easily make as a layered casserole, or as individually folded pastries.
- You can used them chopped as as side condiment for homemade “meats” as well. Like a chutney.
- Chop the baked mixture until fine and use it as a sandwich spread with your nut butter of choice. For cold days, toast your bread first and serve this open-faced with a light honey drizzle and some additional cinnamon sprinkled on top.
- Get creative and share your suggestions in the comments below!
Lastly, you do not need to stick to fruit for making a baked dessert. Squashes such as acorn, butternut, kabocha and pumpkins all make wonderful baked desserts! Once baked, you can serve them just as suggested above, or you can bake them into pies, scones, or custards.