Zoodle Pho (AIP, Whole30, Paleo, GF)

titleAs I promised on instagram, after it appeared in my meal plan twice in as many weeks, today I am bringing you Zoodle Pho.  This is one of my favorite dishes, and has been super easy to make AIP-compliant.  Just cut the rice noodles, bean sprouts, spicy peppers, and anise seed.  Replace with some equally flavorful, AIP-compliant ingredients.

All of you anti-zoodlers, wait!  Don’t go!  I admit, I too, am really not a fan of zoodles.  (Did you know that in the UK, since zucchini are called courgettes, some people call zoodles “courgetti”–like spaghetti, but courj instead of spag?)  I might like the term courgetti better…But whatever you call them, I am now a zoodle acceptor!  At least, in pho.  I think, since there are so many other tidbits in pho: herbs, meat, etc, that you are slurping up with the zoodles, the difference in noodle texture is less noticeable.  Plus, it pack a little more vegetables into this dish, which is always a plus.

zoodles

Pho relies on really good broth–it’s one of those dishes where bone broth really stands out.  And that means that it is extra good for you while on AIP, since bone broth is an important part of the protocol.  In fact, I’ve been adding additional gelatin and collagen to my pho stock whilst on the AI Protocol.  These additions are included in the directions, but are optional, of course.  If you only have regular broth, adding gelatin and collagen can round it out, adding that silky sort of touch that is so nice in pho.

I always do my pho broth in a crockpot, so dinner is quick to assemble when I get home from work, but I’ve included stovetop directions as well.  I also make my own bone broth fairly regularly, to help with our food waste, so I usually have a stash in the freezer.  I flavor my pho broth with onion, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, a touch of sweetener, cinnamon, cloves, and–usually–anise seed.  Anise is not AIP compliant, since it is a seed pod.  (Cloves are, but I cannot remember the rationale…must not actually be a seedpod…maybe they are berries?)  In lieu of the licorice-y anise seed, I turned to another source of licorice-y flavor: fennel.  The actual vegetable, not fennel seeds–which are not AIP compliant.  Thai basil can also taste a little like licorice, and would be a good addition, if you can get your hands on it.

If I have a few extra minutes in the morning, I like to broil my fresh vegetables and roots before I add them to the broth, just until they start to blacken.  The char adds nice flavor.  I, obviously, do not stick the dried spices under the broiler, because they would burn.  So the broiled veg + dry spices go into the crockpot with the broth (and gelatin) and spend 8-10 hours infusing into a delicious, delicious broth for the soup.

Then, at dinner time, it’s just a matter of chopping any fresh toppings and cooking up the meat.  Spiralize up some zoodles/courgetti, plunk it all in a bowl,top it with piping hot broth, and dinner is on the table!

toppings

I prefer shaved steak or pork in my pho, so, in theory the meat is thin enough to be put in the bowl raw and cook in the broth like in Vietnamese restaurants.  However, the broth has to be boiling for this to be achieved, and I have found that the amount of meat that I want in my pho bowl is usually too much for a few cups of broth to cook.  So I just spend 5-10 minutes at the stove, quickly cooking the shaved meat before adding it to the bowl.

Also, this totally makes great–if slightly messy–leftovers for lunch the next day.  The flavors in the broth continue to meld.  Usually, I travel with two containers: one of broth + meat/mushrooms and one container with zoodles + fresh toppings.  I microwave the noodles just enough to take the chill off, then pour over super hot broth right when I’m ready to eat, so my bowl of pho is nice and fresh!

The directions are long, but trust me, it is a fairly quick dish.  Especially when made in the crockpot.  After making it a few times, I hardly have to think about it.  I regularly make this on a weeknight, sometimes even after class, and it comes together very swiftly!  Make some pho this week!

bowl top

Zoodle Pho

Serves 4 | Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook Time: 15 min (+ more, unattended)

For the broth:

  • 6 cups broth (beef or chicken is best, as is bone broth–the silky gelatin is a bonus here)
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 fresh fennel bulb, green stems removed*
  • fresh ginger, 1 thumb-sized piece
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 7 whole cloves
  • 3 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • optional: 1 Tbsp. honey
  • optional: up to 4 Tbsp of gelatin powder and/or 4 Tbsp. collagen powder

For serving:

  • 1 lb. shaved beef or pork
  • 2 medium-large zucchini (or 3-4 c. pre-spiralized zoodles)
  • Coconut aminos

+Any combination of below:

  • Lime wedges
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Green onions
  • Sautéed mushrooms
  • Fresh mint
  • Fresh basil or thai basil
  • Raw or pickled red onion
  • Bean sprouts**
  • Fresh jalapeño**

*When not on AIP, replace with 4 anise seed pods–skip the broil and treat like other whole spices

**Only when not following AIP, these pulses & nightshades are not AIP-compliant

Crockpot Method:

In the morning, set the broiler to High.  Slice the onion in half, remove the paper-y skin.  Slice the half of the fennel bulb in half again.  Slice the ginger in half (it can be peeled, if desired, but I usually just leave the skin on).  Place onion, fennel, and ginger face-up under the broiler for 5-15 minutes, until beginning to blacken.

Meanwhile, if using gelatin powder, add up to 4 tablespoons to a bowl of about 3/4 c. cool water.  Allow to bloom: the gelatin will soak up the water and no longer be a dry powder.

Add remaining broth ingredients (broth, cinnamon, garlic, whole cloves, fish sauce, honey–if using) to the crockpot.  I tie up the cloves in a bit of cheesecloth or drop them into a tea satchet to keep them together.  You can add them loose, but just need to remember to strain them from the broth in the evening.

Add the blackened onion, fennel, and ginger to the crockpot.  Add in the fully-bloomed (no longer dry) gelatin powder.  Stir, cover, and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Stovetop method:

Stove top is entirely the same as above, but, instead of adding the ingredients to a crockpot, put them in a large stock pot.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1-2 hours.

Serving:

When ready to serve, strain out the onion, fennel, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.  Discard.  Just broth should remain.  If using collagen powder (up to 4 tablespoons), add to the broth at this point.  Sprinkle over the hot broth and stir until dissolved.  Turn the crockpot back to High, or turn the heat under the stockpot up to medium.

Spiralize the zucchini into noodle shapes.  I prefer to leave the skin on and I break the strands every 8 inches, or so, so that the noodle length is manageable.

Prep the toppings: slice the limes and green onions, slice and sauté the mushroom, chop the herbs.  Set aside.

In a large, shallow pan, cooked the shaved meat over medium.  I separate all the thin layers with my fingers before laying in the pan, to ensure the pieces cook evenly.  Once the meat is browned, add a splash or two of coconut aminos.  Cook for two minutes more.

To assemble a bowl:  place 3/4-1 c. of zoodles in a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds-1 minute.  The aim is just to get the zoodles warm, but not to actually cook the zucchini.  Lay the warm meat and any desired toppings over the warm zoodles.  Top with about 1 1/2 c. of hot broth.  Enjoy.

To store: place un-warmed zoodles in a large container, with or without additional fresh, cold toppings (herbs, onions, etc).  In a separate container, store meat and mushrooms in the broth.  Reheat and re-assemble when ready to eat.

bowl side

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Butternut Squash Soup (GF, DF, AIP, Whole30, Paleo)

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This soup kicked off our first AIP dinner almost two weeks ago, because I knew exactly what I was doing–thus it was a sure success.  I’ve made it plenty of times before, and knew that I just needed to omit the curry powder and cayenne, and swap coconut milk for the cream.  The squash adds a nice lusciousness to this thick soup, making it extra filling!  I usually make it with bone broth, since that is what we tend to have around.  I recommend it for anyone on AIP, because bone broth is an important factor in the protocol.  But veggie broth is an easy swap to make, which would result in a vegan dish.

Blended vegetable soups, like this Butternut Squash soup, or the Carrot-Ginger Soup that is on the plan for this week, are great options for my AIP.   Carrots and squash both add a natural sweetness and the dense vegetables easily make for a thick and smooth soup.  I love autumn/winter squashes and I love root vegetables, so tranforming them into soups was pretty obvious.

Pre-AIP, this soup was inspired by Panera’s Squash Soup.  The honey, listed as optional here, is a necessary addition to get close to a Panera-copycat taste.  Their’s is definitely a sweeter soup.  It’s kind of like vaguely-savory pudding…but in a good way!  Some honey/sweetener is allowed on AIP–it’s better if it is natural, of course.  And there is a limit to sugar that should be followed.  I can’t remember the exact grams, but it equals about 2 pieces of fruit per day.  Two weeks in, I can feel myself leaning a little on sugar–I’ve always been a fruit-loving person.  I’m trying to limit myself to just a piece of fruit with lunch, thus saving a little sugar for where I feel it is best spent: dinner.  Especially in all of these Thai- and Asian-inspired dishes, a bit of sweetness can round out all of the tangy-sour-umami-salty flavors that are favored in these dishes.  That being said, while on AIP, I’ve left out the honey in this soup, leaving it a little more savory.  It is still a very tasty soup–especially with a little crispy bacon crumbled over top.

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Butternut Squash Soup

Serves: 4-6 | Prep Time: 20+ min  | Cook Time: 10-15 min

  • 1 butternut squash (about 1.5-2 lbs)
  • 1 medium onion, yellow/vidalia/sweet preferred
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 large apple, or 1/2 c. applesauce (unsweetened for AIP)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 c. pumpkin puree (pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch of ground mace (or nutmeg, if not following AIP)
  • 3 c. bone broth (chicken/poultry broth is the most “neutral” flavor vs beef, pork, etc)
  • 1 can (15 oz) coconut milk
  • optional: 1 Tbsp honey
  • non-AIP optional: 1 tsp. curry powder*
  • For serving: cooked bacon, sliced green onions

*contains nightshades, do not add when following AIP

Prep the squash: If you have time, roast the squash for a slightly richer flavor (caramelization is your friend!)  Carefully slice off each end and then split the squash lengthwise with a large, sharp knife (the skin will be pretty tough to get through).  Scoop out the seeds and place the squash halves face up on a baking sheet.  Roast at 400 degrees F for 30-45 minutes, until fork easily pierces the squash.  OR Microwave the squash for a faster prep time:  slice off the very ends of the squash and split in half lengthwise with a large, sharp knife.  Scoop on the seeds and place the squash halves face up on a microwave-safe plate.  Microwave for 6-8 minutes, until a fork easily pierces the squash without resistance.  Remove from microwave or oven when cooked and set aside to cool.

Prep the vegetables: peel and chop the carrots, peel and dice the onion, mince the garlic cloves.  Dice the apple.

In a large pot, add the coconut oil.  Heat until shimmering, then add the chopped onions and carrots.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the garlic and apple and stir for one minute, until garlic is fragrant.  Scoop the cooked and cooled squash out of the skin and add to the pot with the vegetables.  Add the pumpkin puree and all of the spices, stir to combine.

Add the broth, stirring until the mixture is mostly uniform.  Bring to a boil, stirring often.  Once boiling, remove from heat.  Add honey, if using.  Blend until smooth with an immersion blender straight in the pot; or ladle soup into an upright blender–but be sure to only fill it halfway.  The hot soup will expand and could overflow/cause burns if the upright blender is filled up.  Blend in batches or in the pot until the soup is uniformly smooth.  Add the coconut milk and whisk or immersion-blend until fully incorporated.

Serve immediately, garnished with crumbled bacon and green onions for AIP, or with pumpkin seeds if not following AIP.


Ginger Carrot Soup

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I had to pop in and share this recipe!  I tossed it all together without much thought yesterday morning, but it turned out so good that I’m sure it will soon become one of our staple soups in my house!  The carrot base is cheap and the crockpot cooking makes it easy (although, I’ve included stove top directions that are very simple, as well).  I used chicken broth, as that is what I had on hand, but since this recipe is already dairy-free, it can be made vegan just by choosing vegetable broth!

This soup is super silky and feels rich.  The lemon juice at the very end adds brightness, while the curry powder and turmeric provide depth below that punch of ginger flavor.  The carrots add their own natural sweetness, making this the perfect soup for those gray, rainy autumn days!  Coming home to this soup after 12 hours of work and class was pure heaven!

I have had carrot soup on the brain since receiving two giant carrots in my Hungry Harvest Produce Delivery Box.  Seriously, they were each as tall as a wine bottle!  Hungry Harvest is a service that delivers recovered produce (fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go uneaten/be sent to the trash) to my door on a weekly basis.  The variety in the boxes forces me to get creative in my cooking and meal-planning, and I feel great knowing that I am helping to reduce food waste!  Those incredible carrots were rejected at the grocery store for being too big, and, without Hungry Harvest, would have ended up in a compost pile–or worse–a landfill.  The vegetables that I receive aren’t rotten–they could be too big, small, or “ugly”, or even have just been packaged or transported differently than the grocery stores requested.  I am absolutely a “happy customer” of Hungry Harvest, and I’m also a Hungry Harvest Ambassador.  If you would like to join me as a #hungryharvesthero and try your first HH box, you can follow this link: http://hgryhv.st/2hoYVUj and use the code “HERO5” for $5 off the box (that’s over 30% off!).  Full disclosure: If you choose to try a box through my link, I will get a discount on my next HH box as well!

carrot soup

Ginger Carrot Soup

Prep time: 15 min | Cook time: 40+ min | Serves: 4

  • 6-8 carrots
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 2 inch fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 inch turmeric root*
  • 3 c. broth (chicken or veggie)
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger, heaped
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, leveled
  • 1/2 tsp. curry powder, leveled
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 lemon

*You can use 1 tsp. ground turmeric if you don’t have actual turmeric root (mine is stashed in my freezer from months ago when Hungry Harvest sent fresh turmeric in one of my produce boxes)

Place the top oven rack at the middle of the oven and set the oven to high broil.  Spread parchment paper over a pan.  Peel the carrots, onion, ginger, garlic, and turmeric (be careful, the turmeric will stain!  With this little root, I usually use a paring knife to peel it over the sink, so I’m not staining a cutting board.  If you need a surface, a small ceramic plate will usually hold it’s seal and won’t stain.) 

Spread all the peeled vegetables and aromatics in the pan and place in the oven.  Broil for about 10 minutes, or until the onions, garlic, and ginger are beginning to brown.  The carrots will soften, but won’t brown.

Tip all of the broiled vegetables into a crockpot.  Add the dry spices and the broth.  Set to cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.  Alternately, tip the vegetables into a sauce pot and add the spices and broth to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then cover and bring down to the barest simmer for 30 minutes, until a fork easily pierces the carrots.

Once finished, whether by crockpot or stovetop, add in about 1 cup of the coconut milk.  Use an immersion blender to puree until smooth right inside the cooking vessel, or carefully ladle into a blender.  If using a blender, only fill halfway to avoid the scalding liquid from escaping!  Puree in batches until smooth.  Strain the soup through a sieve, to pull out the thread-like ginger that will never get smooth.  Squeeze the juice from one whole lemon into the soup and stir to combine.  Serve hot, a little fresh cilantro is nice, too.


Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey Pot Pie Soup

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In the midst of these last few crazy weeks (2 days until final paper is due, 2 weeks until performance weekend), I wanted to jot down the recipes I’ve made in order to use up our Thanksgiving leftovers.  We had a very relaxed Thanksgiving, with most of my family coming over to M’s mum’s house.  Naps occurred, and plenty of food was eaten!  I brought pecan pie, apple pie, maple custard pie, and a dish of my Gluten Free Knock Off Pepperidge Farm’s Cornbread Stuffing.  And the necessary pre-dinner pickles and olives.  It’s a family tradition!

We came home with a huge amount of pie (surprise, surprise), a lunch’s worth of vegetables, and enough turkey and stuffing to stretch for a couple of meals.  I also made sure to bring home some of the bones from the turkey, so that I could make some broth for this soup!  I boiled the bones a second time after making the soup.  I’ll make a gravy from that tonight to go with sausages and Yorkshire Pudding and greens.  Tomorrow, I’m planning to use up the last of our turkey in Turkey and Broccoli Quiche to give us plenty of leftovers for lunches this week.

The soup is a nice mixture of leftovers and fresh foods (mostly the remaining fresh veg left over from preparing other thanksgiving dishes), and makes a hearty dish from a fairly small amount of food.  It has all of the flavors of pot pie, without the fuss.  I served my soup with pie crust points.  One of the crusts that I made the day before, while prepping desserts, shrank too much during it’s par bake.  I made another crust, but I saved the first and finished baking it laid flat.  This added the perfect crunchy bite to accompany my soup!  This soup is very forgiving.  Use whatever meat and vegetables that you have on hand and need to use up: chicken, potatoes, green beans, and peas would all be splendid!

Leftover Turkey Pot Pie Soup

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes

  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 4-5 button mushrooms, diced
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 small sweet potato, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 c. shredded, cooked turkey**
  • 3 c. turkey (or chicken) broth*
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1-2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1-2 Tbsp. cold water
  • salt & pepper
  • fresh thyme, for serving

*To use up more leftovers and save some money, make your broth from the bones of your turkey/chicken!  I roasted the bones at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes, placed the bones in a pot with 1 quart of water and boiled, covered, for 20-30 minutes.  I then cracked the lid and let the broth reduce by about a quarter, just so that the flavor was more concentrated.

**I used white meat in this recipe, knowing that the dryness of the meat would, obviously, not be a problem in this soup.

Once all of the vegetables are chopped, melt the butter in a soup pot and add the diced sweet potato.  Stir to cover the vegetables in the butter and place the lid back on.  Allow the vegetables to sweat for a minute.  Repeat this process by adding, first, the carrots, then the onion and celery, and finally, the mushrooms and garlic.  When the vegetable mixture is soft and the onions are translucent, add the broth.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer, covered with the lid, for 10 minutes.  Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and milk.  In a small dish, mix the cornstarch and cold water until smooth, then add to the simmering soup.  Cook for another minute or two, until the soup has thickened.  Taste the soup, and then add salt and pepper to taste.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh thyme leaves.


A Breath of Fresh Air (And French Onion Soup: 3 ways)

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February is hard.  It has been consistently difficult for the last few years, but the month still manages to sideswipe my January-fogged brain and trample me into the ground.  After we settle from the holiday cheer that lights up the winter through the New Year, we are only left with cold, gray January and February stretching out endlessly before us.  In recent years, just to make this worse, our area gotten all of our snowstorms in February and March, prolonging this dark, plodding winter.  This year was no exception.  In February, I brood and mope and slowly descend into that dark stasis that is only relieved by the warmth breath of spring sunshine.  I lose all ability to handle stress and instead, I find myself stuck swinging from panic to apathy, endlessly.  February is a hard time for me.  This year, I made it even harder.  I was hunkered down, as usual, prepared to doze away the month in mild depression, but, instead, I added more projects.  In addition to starting our Saturday rehearsals, I also spent February applying to grad school and moving into a new apartment (roommate-free!) with M.  Both are things that I truly want to do, but I will readily admit that both events were poorly timed.  Shortly afterward, I was finally forced to assess my mindset and its affect on my behavior, and, after a lot of ugly crying and a spoonful of resentment, I made myself come up with a plan to help me.  My plan to de-stress was all about self-care.  (That label makes me cringe at the cheesiness, even if the intent is so important).  Making time for me, treating myself well, engaging in activities that would make me happy and make me better.  To my surprise, when I finally settled on a list of activities, they were things like watching tv shows without multi-tasking and napping intentionally, without a guilt-trip.  Reading books.  Journaling.  Taking care of my hair.  Planning a garden.  Big things and little things to get back in touch with myself.  And, most crucially, a plan to continue all of these activities regularly.

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Fortunately, this quest for self-care coincided with the ground slowly beginning to thaw.  Our first sunny day was about a week into my new routine, and it has stayed either not-cold or sunny since then.  (There have been some warmish rainy days or cold, sunny ones, but spring is definitely on the way!) I’d like to think that my first forays into de-stressing have been exceptionally successful, but I think most of the credit has to go to the promise of Spring sunshine and warmth.  While Daylight Savings Time is still kicking my butt when I try to get out of bed each morning, the fact that it is just starting to grow dusky at 7:00pm is a huge relief.  I am so, so ready for Spring.  As part of my more conscious self-care, I am trying to return to more nutrient dense foods.  We re starting to figure out those little things that really “work” to help us feel great.  For M, its vegetables, tea tree oil, and being outside.  For me, its probiotics, healthy fats, and sunshine.  I know that I feel better with rich broths and healthy fats in my regular diet, so I am stocking up on bones, avocados, coconut milk, and fish.  (Some of my favorite vegetables–asparagus and artichokes–are, delightfully, back in season, too!)  We endured a trail of poor food choices and a lot of eating out during the moving process.  First we had to unpack, then we had to wait for pantry cabinets to arrive to store all of our dry foods (I’m still picking spices out of a moving box each night), then our oven was smoking horribly for a week where I wasn’t able to start dinner until 9:30pm and I was too afraid of setting off the fire alarm for our poor upstairs neighbors to allow the oven cleaner to burn off properly.  By the time that I was able to cook dinner–really cook dinner: chopping vegetables and simmering sauces and turning on the oven–I was blissful.  I had missed the routine of dinner prep.  Living the roommate-free life means I get to try new recipes as well.  I tried to be cautious with strong- or odd-smelling recipes, or those that took too prolonged of a cooking time, when we lived with other people.  I hadn’t really realized the weight of sharing a kitchen until it was lifted.  We have lived in our new apartment for exactly one month and I have already made two batches of stock from bones in my crockpot.  24 hours for chicken and four days of siphoning and replacing the liquid for beef bones.  I didn’t have to worry that the crockpot would be in the way, or that the smell of broth would get overwhelming.  Now, I can make whatever odd experiments I want.  I am sorely tempted to try brewing kombucha, but so far I am hesitant to forfeit anymore of my limited counter-space.  But a batch of vinegar-boiled potatoes and fried fish are coming back on our dinner menus soon!

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Successful Bone Broth/Beef Stock!

The bone broths were quite successful and very exciting.  My beef broth gelled! I ended up with about four quarts of broth after four days, so soup was definitely in order.  French Onion soup is one of my standbys.  One that I’ve now learned to make three different ways, given the time I have available to prepare dinner.  The addition of the rich bone broth made this soup even more delicious, adding a lovely silky quality to the broth.  As mentioned, I have three ways that I like to use to prepare this soup.  The first is the traditional recipe, where you caramelize the onions slowly, for nearly an hour, before constructing the soup.  The second is a quick-cook stovetop method, browning the onions over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes.  You get lovely color, though not quite as deep of a caramelization.  The third way is a crockpot method, started the night before you want to serve the soup.  This involves caramelizing the onions overnight in the crockpot and then adding all the other ingredients in the morning before allowing the flavors to meld in the slow cooker all day.  All three methods use the same ingredients and result in very similar soups.  Choose the method that best suits your prep time and enjoy!

P.S. Did you notice that I had to trade a gas stove (love!) for a glass top?  Boo!  Even so, I think it was a worthy compromise for our new place!

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French Onion Soup

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 3-4 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 2 Tbsp sherry*
  • 4 cups beef broth (preferably bone broth/stock)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 c. red wine**
  • Salt and pepper

To serve:

  • Bread
  • Shredded gruyere cheese
  • Butter

*If you wish to avoid alcohol, substitute an equal amount of beef broth

**If you wish to avoid alcohol, substitute an additional 1 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar + enough beef broth to make 1/2 c. of liquid

Traditional Method (Onion prep):

Melt the butter in the pan, coating the surface evenly, and then add the sliced onions.  Stir to coat the onions and allow to sweat over medium heat.  Over a few minutes, the onions will soften and turn translucent and finally begin to brown.  When the onions begin to turn color, turn the heat down to low and stir occasionally.  Over the course of an hour, the onions will condense caramelize to a deep brown.  Proceed with the recipe.

Quick Cooking Method (Onion prep):

Melt the butter in the pan, coating the surface evenly, and then add the sliced onions.  Stir to coat the onions and allow to sweat over medium-high heat.  Stir constantly.  Over a few minutes, the onions will soften and turn translucent and finally begin to brown.  Continue stirring over high-heat as the onions continue to brown to a deep amber.  Proceed with the recipe.

Traditional/Quick Cooking Methods (Soup prep):

Once the onions have caramelized, add the minced garlic.  Stir for 1-2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant.  Add the sherry and stir well to deglaze the pan.  Use your spatula to scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan.  Add the beef stock, bay leaf, thyme, balsamic vinegar, and wine.  Stir thoroughly and turn the heat to medium.  Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes to combine the flavors.  Remove bay leaf before serving.  Salt and pepper to taste

While the beef is simmering, prep your bread.  Butter your bread and then decide on your method.  You can either broil the cheese on the bread separately to add to the soup, or wait until the soup is cooked, then ladle into oven-safe bowls, top with the bread and cheese and broil directly.  Broiling should only take 2-5 minutes, just enough time that the cheese melts and begins to bubble and turn brown.

Slow Cooker Method:

Coat the inside of a slow cooker crock with oil, then add the slice onions.  Turn the slow cooker on its lowest setting (8 or 10 hours) and allow the onions to cook over night.  In the morning, add the butter, minced garlic, and sherry to the slow cooker and stir well, until the butter is melted.  Add in the broth, bay leaf, thyme, balsamic vinegar, and red wine.  Reset the slow cooker to high for 4 hours or low for 8-10 hours and allow soup to cook.  Remove the bay leaf and add salt and pepper to taste before serving.  Broil the bread and cheese at meal time.


My Favorite Tomato Basil Soup

LM tomato soup bowl title

We are falling quickly into Fall!  I am a-okay with that (except for the impending leaf mold–ugh, my allergies are inescapable).  Fall is my favorite season and–now that we have hit the first of October–I can start including pumpkin in all of my recipes without shame!  Well, truth be told, aside from Dunkin’s pumpkin coffee, I still haven’t been hit with major pumpkin cravings.  Tikka masala, on the other hand, I would like to eat for dinner every night for the rest of time.  Ahem.  I had a life-changing dish of tikka masala when we went out to eat with M’s mum and aunt last week.  Seriously, I am still dreaming about it.  I may try to adapt Aarti’s recipe for a slow-cooker.  My crockpot is my saving grace these days.  I have a slightly new schedule that includes two later evenings per week.  Though I’m still home within a fairly reasonable time, given M’s unpredictable schedule, its easier for me to set something to cook through the day so he can eat it early if he has an evening call.  And with our Saturday classes starting this weekend (Auditions! My favorite day!) our schedules are back to being downright hectic.  We will adjust soon enough…I was almost getting bored with normal days.

That reminds me: I have this new schedule, in part, because I–technically–have a new job!  Really, its more like an uber-promotion.  I’m still with the same companies that I love and adore, but I am officially a salaried employee!  Yep, this twenty-something has finally landed the grown-up job!  Guys, I’m comparing insurance plans and everything!  Whoa.  My first ‘day’ is next week, and then I have orientation the following week and we get right on rolling like nothing has changed.  Except that Columbus day will be my first paid holiday ever!  Anyways, to say the least, it is super comforting that I don’t have to worry about securing benefits and can really focus on my job full-time.  I did have to give up my box office job, which was sadder than I thought.  But, chances are, I will probably see more shows now that I am not working at the venue, and I expect I’ll be stopping by to visit and chat.  M still works there, so I’ll certainly keep up with everyone.  They all love Punc there, too, and I am sure they wouldn’t mind a visit or two from her.

In the meantime, while I can’t yet give you a recipe that will make you fall head-over-heels in love with Tikka Masala…I can maybe do the same for Tomato Basil Soup.  I’ve talked about my childhood of picky eating before.  When I finally decided I could eat soup (savory liquids were too weird for a while), it was a couple years before I would eat any soup except for Tomato Basil.  Thus, I am quite well-versed in all of the variations of Tomato Basil soup: unfussy versions with little-to-no cream where the tomato flavors stands out boldly all the way to the soft, smooth versions where cream and butter soften the brisk tomato edge.  This recipe, my favorite, sits somewhere in the middle.  The cream and butter make this rich and filling, but using the tomato juice along with the tomatoes and tomato paste prevents that bright tomato flavor from being overwhelmed.  A touch of lemon and basil add just enough depth to keep things interesting.  The best thing is, this soup comes together in under 30 minutes for a quick, comforting dinner!

LM Tomato soup dinner 2

Tomato Basil Soup

Serves: 4 | Prep Time: 5 min. | Cook time: 20 min.

  •  1 (15 oz) can of high quality crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 2 c. tomato juice
  • 2 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • about 10 basil leaves
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 4 Tbsp. butter

Add the tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato paste, lemon zest, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  If using an immersion blender: drop the basil into the soup and blend to desired consistency.  I like a slightly chunky soup.  If using a blender: please only fill the blender halfway–or less!  The heat and steam will expand and you will risk painful splatter if you overfill the blender.  Do the soup in multiple portions if needed.  Using a blender, I would blend about half of the total soup to get the thick consistency I prefer.  Return all soup to the pot, stir in cream and butter.  Stir occasionally until butter is melted, then stir briskly to fully incorporate all ingredients.  Serve immediately.


Warm Up From Winter: Quick and Easy Taco Soup

taco soupWe just got another snowfall yesterday.  We’ve had two in the last couple of weeks.  This one was only an inch or two, but the one before was a little more serious–we had about 4 inches before it started to rain and turned it all into slick, heavy slush.  That storm was predicted to be much larger, so the grocery stores were cleared out by the night before.  We were quite prepared, mostly with wood and water, since our well water will stop if the electricity is knocked out.  Luckily, everything stayed steady.  In general, I think it all looked much worse than it was, in reality.  That snowfall was the first we’d gotten this season.  Its been quite cold, but stayed dry until then.  Now, we are stuck in a strange cycle of warm days falling into freezing ones.  Everyone’s immune systems seem to have gone haywire, since one warm week was enough to have several plants send out pollen, and the constant swing from warm to cold has worsened the last few flus and colds running through our workplace.

snow daffodils

Even the daffodils are confused

After a stretch of warm days, the weather turned blusteringly cold overnight, much to my displeasure.  After running through the cold from one job to the next, I was craving hot, steamy, spicy soup to take off the chill of the day.  We were almost due for a trip to the grocery store, but, thankfully, my stock of canned goods got me through this recipe.  If you are looking for something quick and simple, stick to the cans or whatever you may have on hand for this recipe.  Equal amounts of fresh or frozen ingredients can definitely be used!  You can also adjust the heat level to your tastes by adjusting the amount of chili powder and hot sauce.  This is a solid medium heat level–I wanted a definite kick in this simmering soup.

taco soup toppings

I also have some very exciting news: we found out yesterday that we were approved for our rental application!  M and I will be moving in with our friend S, into a townhouse with a beautiful open kitchen.  I have amazing amounts of cabinet space, granite countertops, a proper pantry, a gas stove, and a breakfast bar!  We can move in April 1st, and I will definitely be posting some pictures soon afterwards.  It’ll be wonderful to live in a house with our own washer and dryer (instead of hauling the laundry out to my mother’s) and to have Punc live with us fulltime (again, instead of out at my mother’s).  This will also be my first time stocking my own kitchen!  I am supremely excited!  I have way too many plans for crafts and gardening–look out for some crafty posts on here soon!

taco soup plate

I will do my best to keep my excited gushing in check.  The next few weeks will be a little bit hectic as we try to pack and organize.  I know we won’t exactly realize what we need until we are actually in the house, so it’ll be a slow process.  I will keep you posted!  And, I have several recipes waiting in the wings, so I will try to stay on track with posting!  For now,  enjoy this soup before the days grow too warm…it is the perfect pick-me-up at the end of a brisk day!  I made some chili-spiced sweet potato wedges as a side dish (sprinkle sliced potatoes with oil oil and spices, bake at 400 degrees F for 25-35 minutes).  I highly suggest topping the soup with a bit of sour cream–it melt gloriously into the broth.  But feel free to alter this to your taste.  You know what you like best!

taco soup top

Taco Soup

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 30 minutes

  • 4 c. (32-oz or 1 lg box) low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 large chicken breast
  • 1 med. red onion
  • 1 14-oz can of diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1 16-oz can of kidney beans/black bean
  • 3/4 c. frozen corn (or 1 sm. can of corn)
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 1/3 packet taco seasoning (about 1 Tbsp–I used Trader Joe’s*)
  • Hot sauce to taste (I used 1 dash of Dave’s Insanity Sauce, I would have used more of a regular tasbasco or Frank’s)
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp fresh cilantro (or 1 tsp dried)
  • Sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, lime wedges, and fresh cilantro, optional

*Trader Joe’s Taco Seasoning contains no gluten-containing ingredients.  Please always check store-bought mixes for hidden gluten!

Add the chicken stock to a large stock pot.  Heat to a boil over medium heat.  Trim any fat from the chicken breast, then place in the boiling stock to poach.  Return to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.  Cook for about 10 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked through.  Remove breast from stock, set aside to cool.  Optionally, skim any bits of fat from the stock.  While the chicken is poaching, chop the onion on a medium dice, and drain and thoroughly rinse the beans (if using canned).   In a small skillet, cook bacon.  Remove to side to cool.  Add onions to the skillet, cook for about 3 minutes in the bacon grease.  Spoon onions out with a slotted spoon.  When the broth is hot and you have removed the chicken, add the onions, beans, tomatoes and corn.  Raise the heat to return soup to boil.  Stir in garlic, taco seasoning, chili powder, cumin, hot sauce, and cilantro.  Shred the reserved chicken, and chop the cooked bacon into small pieces.  Add meat to post, stir, and return to boil.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream, shredded cheese, a lime wedge, and more cilantro.  We served our with margaritas!  Enjoy!