Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Slow Cooker Lentil Soup

These are soup days. I love a good soup on a cool or downright cold, night. Soup soothes, warms and comforts like few foods are able. And a soup that is ready, waiting for me after a long day? Well, sign me up!

I've been working on a good lentil soup for some time. Lentils are crazy healthful for you, high in protein, iron, fiber and loads of good nutrients while being low in calories. I've had a few go rounds in trying to come up with a good flavor combination, and I think I have finally nailed it.

This original recipe uses lentils, a bit of quinoa (optional, you could omit) and a bag of frozen peas, carrots, corn and green beans for added convenience. Saute one onion while you gather up the rest of the ingredients, and in about 10-15 minutes, you have dinner on its way to being ready before you even start your busy day.

Slow Cooker Lentil Soup

1 tablespoon vegetable or extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 - 15 oz can broth (chicken, or vegetable if you want to make this vegetarian/vegan)
6 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 cups uncooked lentils
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
10 oz bag (or use about 3/4 of a 16 oz bag) frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, peas, corn and green beans)
1 cup packed spinach, kale or other green, chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
fresh chopped parsley or other herb for garnish, optional

In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat the oil and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes, or until translucent and slightly browned.

Add to a large slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients, except red wine vinegar and fresh parsley.

Cook on HI for 6-8 hours, LOW for 12-14 hours. Add red wine vinegar, stir well. Serve and top with fresh parsley (optional).

Serves 8, and freezes well.

**You may add chopped bacon, ham, sausage or other meat if your family desires.**

Life is sweet,

Monday, November 28, 2011

Turkey Trot and Turkey Feast

Our Thanksgiving was very turkey-ful. First, in the morning, a turkey mini-trot for the boys...

and a 5 miler for my dad and I:

Just had to share this photo my mom (aka, the historian of the family) took of some fellow runners:

After a shower and some champagne to celebrate (for me, my longest race to date and for my dad, to celebrate being in his late 60s and outrunning a girl in her 30s--dad, thanks for easing up on that hill during mile 4), it was time to check in on the smoked turkey:

Thanks to SPH, for being the chef of our family. The meal was delicious and we have some great turkey frozen for future meals. But for tonight, we have leftover sweet potatoes for this week's Meatless Monday Health Eating Challenge: Sweet Potato Enchiladas.

And our meals for the rest of the week too:

Northstar Burgers, Green Salad, Pineapple
Busy Night Garlic Pasta, Broccoli
Chicken and Vegetable Tetrazini
Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup, Bread, Fruit

Have a sweet week,

Friday, November 25, 2011

Meatless Monday: Sweet Potato Enchiladas

Anyone feeling like they need a healthy meal? Yeah, me too.

Yesterday was a wonderful day, and I'll share more about this long weekend on Monday when I'll be back for a longer post, but for now, I share this week's Meatless Monday grocery list for this week's recipe: Sweet Potato Enchiladas.

Here's your grocery list for this amazing enchilada recipe!

1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 - 6oz box or bag of baby spinach
1 sweet potato **OR use some leftover mashed sweet potatoes from Thanksgiving**

1 - 4oz can diced green chilis
1 - 15oz can Great Northern Beans, or about 2 cups cooked Great Northern Beans
10 tortillas
1 -10oz jar or can, red enchilada sauce

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (light if possible)

vegetable oil
chili powder
dried oregano

Pick up these items this weekend and you'll be half-way there to Monday's meatless challenge!

Happy Thanksgiving weekend all (and GO BUCKS and GO 'HOOS!),

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Big Event hosting check-lists -or- how I keep my sanity before hosting a shingdig

I just finished emailing and phoning some relatives for some last minute checks on our Thanksgiving feast we are hosting this Thursday. We have about 20 folks coming by for supper, and since I mentioned checking my list in yesterday's post, I thought I'd share my lists.

These are lists I use every time we have a big gathering. They help me mentally walk through the day and all I have to do, and frankly, save my sanity and my sleep the days before a big event.

I hope they may help you too!

House Preparation:
*Empty out closet space or prepare a place for jackets and outerwear (sometimes as simple as a free bed or sofa)
*Spot clean the bathroom, make sure there is plenty of toilet paper and soap, and clean hand towels
*Sweep the entryway to make sure it is presentable
*Have the boys put away toys, especially ones that might cause others to trip
*Do a quick, general spot clean and pick up of any errant items
*Since we have lots of young kids in our extended family, make sure there are no dangerous or toxic items in toddlers’ reach
*Prepare guest accommodations if hosting overnight guests, including towels and linens.

Kitchen Preparation:
*Pull out any serving pieces I might need to use, check that I have counter or table space for dishes and other sides folks might be bringing, also checking serving utensils.
*Determine a space in our home for drinks, dinner serving and desserts.
*Pull out plates, napkins, silverware and glasses, making sure I have enough of each.
*Figure out seating (this can be as casual or formal as you like) and do place cards if necessary.
*Review menu and ensure I have all the food items I need--for instance, if I am using a box mix, that I have all the items needed to make said mix.

Dining Room/Tables Preparation:
*Set up enough chairs, do a headcount if doing a seated dinner
*Put out tableclothes and placemats, if using.
*Either set tables if doing a formal seating, or stack dinnerware for use
*Spot clean or polish anything, if necessary
*Figure out centerpieces, if using.

Final touches:
*Chill wine or other drinks, if necessary
*Make sure your grocery shopping is truly finished (I am notorious for thinking “we have onions” and then realizing I need 3 or 4 and I only have 2), checking each recipe carefully
*Check cleaning supplies, especially dishwasher detergent and dish soap, paper towels, etc.
*Make sure you have a good supply of kitchen towels.

Last but not least:

*Take a load off...and chill for a bit. Chances are, if you are hosting a big group, you will need the extra energy!

Anything I am missing? I would love to hear your ideas!

Life is sweet,

Monday, November 21, 2011

Making a list, checking it twice

No, not that kind of Christmas-y list, my menu list...and house-prep list and so on. We're hosting a big crowd on Thursday, so I've been working on getting all my ducks in a row so the turkey day goes smoothly, otherwise everyone will be in a fowl mood (horrible joke, I know, I just couldn't help myself with all the bird references and all).

If you are looking for some last minute ideas for tasty side dishes, be sure to check out my Recipe Index for some inspiration.

Since this week is pretty heavy Turkey Day preparations, I've kept it super simple with our meals this week:

Breakfast for dinner, featuring Breakfast Tacos for Meatless Monday

Tuna Melt Sandwiches, Spinach Salad
Pantry Pasta*

Hopefully, this easy menu will give me plenty of time to chop, dice, stir, whisk, roast and bake my way to a delicious Thanksgiving!

*basically, I clean out my kitchen with "whatever we have on hand" and make a pasta dish, a great carbohydrate load before the big Turkey Trot my dad and I are running Thanksgiving morning

#if you can, be sure to save about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of sweet potatoes for this coming Monday's Meatless Monday challenge

Have a great Monday y'all,

Friday, November 18, 2011

Shopping List for Meatless Monday: Breakfast Tacos

With all the meal and holiday preparations next week, I decided to stick with a very simple Meatless Monday Healthy Eating Challenge for this coming Monday: Breakfast for Dinner, aka Brinner.

But before you think that breakfast for dinner has to be just scrambled eggs, check out this post I did on Breakfast Tacos.

Breakfast Tacos are an easy and fun dinner recipe, one that you can easily customize for your family's tastes. Serve with a side of refried beans and some fresh fruit and dinner is done in about 15 minutes...which leaves you extra time to start thinking about your Thanksgiving preparations.

Here is your grocery list for the week, feel free to alter the taco toppings to suit your family's tastes:

1 avocado
1 bunch cilantro
fresh fruit

taco shells
1 - 15 oz can refried beans

shredded cheese

Have a sweet weekend,

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Clementine Ginger Cranberry Sauce

This extraordinarily simple recipe yields a sublimely delicious cranberry sauce that is head and shoulders above canned cranberry sauce.

For years I've heard "it's so easy to make your own!" regarding cranberry sauce, and since we're hosting a large group this year, I've decided to make as much of our dinner ahead of time as I possibly can. This sauce is already in the freezer, and I have to say, it is hard for me to keep it frozen and use it now...something I've never felt about canned cranberry sauce.

Canned cranberry sauce is almost always laden with high fructose corn syrup, and I promise you, if you try this simple recipe, you'll be hooked on fresh sauce too.

Clementine Ginger Cranberry Sauce

3 cups fresh cranberries (the amount in one store-bought bag)
1 clementine, sliced
1 inch piece of ginger, sliced
1 1/4 cup water
3/4 cup white sugar
dash of salt

Rinse the cranberries.

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan.

Heat to medium high until the mixture begins to simmer.

Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until most of the cranberries have split (this process creates a fun popping sound--but be sure to have on an apron in case of a very hoppy cranberry).

Let cool. Remove clementine slices and ginger.

Makes about 3-4 cups cranberry sauce, which freezes well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Holiday (Family) Cocktails

When I spent my first Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I remember my Mother-in-law opening a bottle of champagne and the whole family toasting with a glass of bubbly. It is a wonderful tradition that we have continued: special drinks on special holidays.

Now with two young boys, I've tried to come up new, what they deem, "fancy drinks" to enjoy at holidays and other special events. Since we try to eat natural, whole foods, sodas and other artificially sweetened and gunk-y (yes, that's a technical term) drinks are off the table. Instead, we've come up with some really easy and above all, fancy, homemade drinks for guests of all ages to enjoy!

(Sparkling) Fruit Water

Perhaps the easiest of all fancy drinks, fruit water simply requires fresh, cut-up fruit, water (we think sparkling is fun, but you can use regular water) and a little bit of time for the fruit flavors to marinate into the water.

Making it is as easy as ONE (cut up the fruit of your choice to flavor the water):

TWO (place in a drink pitcher):

THREE (fill with sparkling or flat water and let sit for several hours):

(Added bonus: this is a really super way to use the middle of the pineapple, the part that is too tough and fibrous to eat)

Serve and garnish with fresh fruit:

Other easy fancy drink ideas:

Sparkling Berry Juice

Mix half unsweetened seltzer and half 100% juice in a glass or container. Garnish with a lime and ice.

Spiced Cider

Drop a cinnamon stick and vanilla bean in cider and let sit overnight in the fridge. The vanilla flavor adds a new flavor dimension to the cider. Let kids have their own cinnamon stick or star anise in their drink (if they are older and can understand it is not for their mouth).

Click here for the full description and pictures.

Snowy Hot Chocolate

This is a great dessert drink. Mixing 6-8 oz warmed (heat in the microwave for 45-60 seconds) skim milk and three chocolate kiss candies creates velvety hot chocolate. Let preschooler and older kids stir the milk themselves while the chocolate melts. Sprinkle unsweetened coconut on top for the snow.

Mint Fool-ups

A great alternative to the mint julep. Make a mint simple syrup (Microwave 1 cup water in a glass pyrex until boiling. Add 1/2 white sugar and stir until it melts. Add 10-20 mint leaves and allow to steep, much like a tea, for about 20 minutes. Remove the mint leaves and voila, mint simple syrup). Mix 1/4 cup mint simple syrup with 1/2 cup unsweetened seltzer or club soda. Garnish with a mint sprig!

And there you have it, a handful of ideas to fancy-up your holiday drinks!

Life is sweet,

Monday, November 14, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent and some meals, too

I have a rare Monday recipe (instead of my usual weekly meal plan post--if you opened this post looking for meals, scroll down the bottom) for you this morning, one that isn't *quite* the same as my usual posts.

About a month ago, a natural living speaker came to my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group. She shared lots of hints on using natural cleaners in your home, and then had a raffle for some homemade natural cleaners.

I won homemade all-natural laundry detergent, which I took home and tried out on a load of mildly dirty clothes. It worked great, but I wondered how it would stand up to some really, really dirty clothes. I got my chance for a trial run when SPH and R returned home after a weekend tent camping trip.

You know how certain clothes get so dirty, so mud-ridden, that they can almost stand up on their own? These were the type of clothes SPH and R brought to the laundry room after they unloaded their camping gear.

The result? The homemade laundry detergent worked just like store-bought detergent. I couldn't believe it. So this past week, I picked up the ingredients, made some of my own, and have begun using it.

The best part? All told, it cost less than $4.50 to make enough for 160 loads of laundry. The even better part? No chemicals, no gunk, no nothing to harm our environment. Sounds pretty good to me!
Homemade Laundry Detergent

1 bar, Dr. Bronner's Castille Soap -OR- 1 cup liquid Dr. Bronner's Castille Soap* (from Whole Foods)
1/2 cup washing soda (sold at Meijer's)
1/2 cup borax (sold at Target)
5 gallon bucket with lid (sold at Home Depot)

Using a food processor with a grater attachment, or an old-fashioned regular grater, grate the Castille bar soap, or simply use the liquid Castille.

Heat 6 cups of water until very hot, but not boiling. Pour the water into the 5 gallon bucket, and add the Castille soap. Stir until dissolved.

Add washing soda and borax, and stir until dissolved.

(for this next step, you really want to make sure that the bucket is in a place where you will be storing it, so you won't have to carry it. Once the bucket is full, it is heavy!)

Fill the bucket within a few inches of the top, and stir well. Let stand overnight.

In the morning, stir again. There will be a gelatinous topping, so you want to stir the detergent, until it is the consistency of egg-drop soup.

You are now ready to use the detergent. I used a ladle and a funnel, and re-used several plastic juice and cider containers, and poured the detergent into several smaller containers, and stored the rest of the detergent in the bucket.

TO USE: Simply add 1/2 cup of the laundry detergent, while the water is filling the basin, so it mixes with the water.

*Dr. Bronner's comes in all sorts of nice scents, I chose a citrus scent, which works great. However, since the scent comes from essential oils instead of chemicals, it is much more subtle than traditional detergent. If you want stronger scents, add essential oils. But honestly, I love the way clothes just smell, well, clean.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And our meals for the week:

Meatless Monday Challenge

Pasta Puttanesca, Broccoli, Bosc Pears
Homemade Falafel, Hummus, Cucumber Salad
White Chicken Chili, Corn Spoonbread, Pineapple
Gnocchi with Peppers in a Goat Cheese Sauce

Have a sweet week,

Friday, November 11, 2011

Meatless Monday: Easy Tofu and Veggie Stir-fry

Okay, if you've read the title of this week's Meatless Monday Healthy Eating Challenge, and turned up your nose at a certain four-letter word, I am here to try to convince you that you really should try cooking with tofu.

I understand. Tofu can seem a bit odd if you've never cooked with it before, but cooking with it is easy and delicious, since tofu takes on the flavors of any sauce or other foods in a dish. The trick to cooking tofu is to coat it in either flour or corn starch and to saute it so it develops a bit of crust.

Tofu and Veggie Stir-fry

1 pound block, extra-firm tofu
1 tablespoon corn starch (or 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour)
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
2 cups vegetables, cut in small pieces (broccoli, bell peppers, green beans, edamame, carrots, etc)
1/4 cup Soy-Vey Teriyaki, or other stir-fry sauce of your choice
3 cups cooked brown, white or jasmine rice

Slice the tofu and place on a clean dish cloth, folded in half.

Cover and place something on top to gently press out any extra moisture. Let sit in the towel for about ten minutes.

Cube in 1/2 - 1 inch pieces. Place in a bowl and toss with the corn starch.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, place the tofu in the pan, allowing a bit of space between each piece.

Let cook for 3-4 minutes, then flip. You don't have to cook the tofu on all 6 sides, but make sure 2-3 sides have a good brown on them. Remove from the skillet or wok.

Add the garlic, onions and vegetables and stir-fry for 5-7 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp tender.

Add the tofu back to the pan, along with the sauce. Gently toss for 1-2 minutes.

Serve over 3/4 cup rice.

Serves 4.

So, are you ready? You can do this!

Here is your grocery list for the week:

2 cups vegetables--such as broccoli, bell pepper, carrot, etc.
1 pound extra firm tofu

Teriyaki sauce or other stir-fry sauce
3 cups cooked rice (1 cup uncooked)

vegetable oil
corn starch

Have a sweet weekend!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Green Lantern Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette

I am a big fan of marketing healthy food to your kids. Silly names, the right twist on a food name, or comparing a new food to something they like, can all help get some good powerful power foods in your sweet peas' bellies.

So when I decided to try and do a green salad that was raw kale, I decided to call it the Green Lantern Salad (we're big into super heroes). Then I switched gears to talk about the dressing...how it was made with apple cider (their favorite drink right now) and honey. I'm pretty sure if I said "we're having kale salad," they wouldn't have been as accepting.

Here's the thing about kale: if you find only the big leaves of kale, they are pretty tough and need to be sauteed, baked or blended into something else in order to be easily eaten. But if you find small leaves of kale, they can be eaten raw, much like spinach or other green.

Lastly, I added cut-up pear and walnuts to this salad, since that suits our tastes. Add diced red apple and cranberries and you'll have a great looking salad for the Thanksgiving and Christmas!

Green Lantern Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette

1 bunch kale
1/2 cup apple cider
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons water (or extra oil--I use water to cut down on fat)
1-2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard powder
pinch (about 1/8 teaspoon) dried thyme
1/4 cup walnut pieces (optional)
1 medium pear, diced

Wash the kale and remove the leaves from the center stem. Chop kale well.

In a jar with a lid, combine the apple cider, oil, water, 1 tablespoon honey, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard powder, and thyme. Close and put lid on tightly. Shake well. Taste--add one more tablespoon honey, if desired.

Serve greens, topped with dressing and walnuts and pear, if using.

Serves 8 as a side salad.

This salad holds up well to the dressing, and does not get soggy like lettuces and baby spinach sometimes do. If you wanted to make this for Thanksgiving, you could dress it and place it on the table or in a buffet line and it would keep well.

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mashed Sweet Potato and Squash Bake

A few weeks ago I asked you what recipes you might like for Thanksgiving. I had lots of emails and messages about healthy side dishes, and specifically, for ones that could be egg-, gluten- and dairy-free.

How 'bout a recipe that fits all these descriptions?

I developed this recipe as a replacement for the traditional sweet potato recipe using lots of sugar and marshmellows, my boys' favorite Thanksgiving side dish, so I was a little bit nervous to see how they liked it.

This sweet potato recipe was inhaled by my boys.

I added acorn squash, since squash is super-healthful and a vegetable my boys don't readily eat on its own. Since the greater the variety of vegetables, the greater array of healthfulness, I added the squash, and honestly, you couldn't even taste it.

One last bonus: this is a great make-ahead dish. You can make it 1-2 days before baking *and* it freezes great too.

Mashed Sweet Potato and Squash Bake

3 pounds sweet potatoes
1 medium acorn or similar squash, such as butternut squash
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
3-4 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (optional--but is a good, natural fill-in for the white marshmellows)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place the sweet potatoes on a foil-lined cookie sheet.

Cut the acorn squash in half, and remove the seeds and pulp. Place upside down on the same baking sheet.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes and squash are very tender. Let cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees if baking immediately.

Peel the sweet potatoes (the skin will just fall right off!) and scoop out the cooked flesh of the squash. Place in a large bowl.

Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, bourbon (if using) and honey. Blend with a handheld mixer or stand mixer to whip.

Pour into a 9x13 baking pan. Top with unsweetened coconut and chopped pecans, if desired.

Bake 20 minutes or until sides are bubbly.

This tasted so good, the boys didn't even miss or ask for the marshmellows!

Life is sweet,

Monday, November 7, 2011

Meal Plan and Falling Leaves

First, our meals for the week, I hope they may give you some inspiration:

Meatless Monday: Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli, Clementines
Simply Crusted Baked Fish, Radicchio and Arugula Salad, Roasted Parsnips
Lentil Soup (new recipe), Bread, Homemade Applesauce
Tofu Stir-fry with Broccoli, Baby Corn, Red Peppers

Second, a picture of R, raking leaves, which gives me inspiration, thinking of the day when we can hand over some outdoor tasks to the boys!:

And after a little raking, of course there is always time for playing too:

Of course, after all the raking, I looked up to see:

Which means, we still have plenty of raking to come...

Life is sweet,

Friday, November 4, 2011

Meatless Monday: Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli

Are you ready for next week's Meatless Monday Challenge?

For Monday's meal, we'll be making a homemade macaroni and cheese that has both cauliflower and broccoli mixed into the cheese sauce. Before you think, "there is no way my child will eat mac and cheese with cauliflower in it!," let me share that neither of my boys are big cauliflower fans, but both love this recipe.

This recipe calls for you to "mash" the cauliflower a bit and mix it in the cheese sauce. By using a small pasta shape, such as shells, instead of the traditional macaroni noodle, the cauliflower gets lost in the texture of the pasta.

The original recipe called for turkey bacon crumbled on top, but I am omitting it for this week's challenge.

Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli

1 pound small shell pasta, preferably whole grain
½ small head cauliflower
2 cups broccoli florets
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups skim milk
1 ½ cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon dried mustard powder

Bring 10 cups of water to a boil in a large stock pot. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions.

Using a metal colander placed over the boiling water, steam the cauliflower and broccoli until very tender. Drain the pasta and set aside.

Place the cauliflower in a bowl and break into very small florets with the back of a fork.

Set the steamed broccoli aside.

In a medium pot, melt the butter and heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the flour and stir well until the mixture is fully incorporated. Add the milk and stir constantly with a whisk to prevent lumps. Increase heat and continue to stir until the mixture comes to a simmer.

Let simmer 1-2 minutes and remove from heat. Add the cheese, salt, pepper and mustard powder. Stir until the cheese if fully incorporated.

Add the cauliflower and broccoli, stir well.

Serves 6.

Now for the grocery list:

1 small head cauliflower
1 head broccoli

1 pound box small shell pasta, preferably whole grain

6 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese
skim milk

olive oil
ground white pepper
dry mustard powder

Have a sweet weekend!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Green Tomato Chutney

Yesterday I shared a recipe for homemade Pumpkin Butter that I think would make a delicious gift from your kitchen for someone special.

Today I share a recipe for another kitchen gift...one that will use all those green tomatoes that you may have lingering in your garden or on your kitchen counter. In the past, we've used green tomatoes to make tasty Harvest Muffins, but this year I used them in a savory new way.

I'd never made homemade chutney before, but I found it to be fun and easy! Give it a try, you will create the most beautiful condiment, see?:

I posted the recipe today at FamilyEducation.com. Click here for the recipe for Green Tomato Chutney!

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Butter

Okay, so I know last night was the Great Pumpkin of pumpkin nights, but am I the only one who leaves all our pumpkin/non-jack o'lantern gourds up until Thanksgiving? Yep, November is all about pumpkin too.

While I love pumpkin pie and (even more) pumpkin cheesecake, my favorite Thanksgiving pumpkin treat is pumpkin butter. I love it since it is sweet and tastes decadent and yet is pretty darn healthy too. The sort of love that would lead someone to lick a jar clean in one sitting, not that I've known anyone to do that (wink, wink).

I started thinking that I could easily make pumpkin butter in our slow cooker since pumpkin butter is essentially just pureed pumpkin, spices and sugar, allowed to cook for a good long time. Guess what? You can make homemade pumpkin butter, and you can reduce the amount of refined sugar too, by using apple cider and honey instead.

Tasty, easy and more healthful too? Sounds like a winner to me!

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Butter

1 - 29 oz can pureed pumpkin
3/4 cup apple cider
6 tablespoons honey or molasses
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)
dash of salt
brown sugar to taste (optional)

Combine all ingredients except brown sugar in a slow cooker.

Stir well and then scrape the sides so the pureed pumpkin mixture is not on the sides.

Cook on HI for 6-7 hours, LOW for 12-14 hours. Be sure to prop up the lid of the slow cooker with either a wooden spoon or, my favorite, a cinnamon stick*, to allow steam to escape, so the pumpkin will thicken.

Once it reaches the desired consistency and is a deep brown color, do a taste test. Is it sweet enough for your palate? If not, add brown sugar, starting with about 1/4 cup. A lot of pumpkin butters have up to 1 cup or more of added sugar, so adjust to your taste. Additionally, you may add additional spices, if desired.

Makes about 3 cups pumpkin butter.

*using a cinnamon stick to prop open your slow cooker lid will act almost as a natural potpourri, since the escaping steam will carry the cinnamon and pumpkin butter fragrance throughout your home.

Once the pumpkin butter is made, you can freeze some for Thanksgiving--since many of you emailed and left me messages about more healthy Thanksgiving desserts, as well as dairy, egg and gluten-free desserts, this would be a super dessert dish. To serve as a dessert, I would put in small bowls, almost like a pudding, and give folks dippers to enjoy with it.

Life is sweet!