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Autumn Veggie and Sausage Soup

4 Oct

We’re a month or so into the school year and the whole lunch thing is dragging me down.

Not the kids’ lunches. We’re set there. It’s my lunch that’s the issue. I am sandwiched and salad-ed out, completely over frozen entrees, and too busy (and cheap) to run out to eat every day or cook myself something new at 11 each morning.

Yesterday was rainy and cold and generally disgusting around here (again! paging Noah…), and it felt like a great day to break out the soup pot for a simple recipe that would last all week.

I started thinking I’d make a bean and sausage soup recipe I found online, but reviews of it said it needed more ingredients and was pretty blah as written. I went to the grocery store and started picking out things that looked good, and before I knew it, the original recipe was right out the window and a new one was born, filled with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Which is really the ideal way to cook and eat, saving yourself from older produce that’s been hauled cross-country, maximizing flavor, and keeping a little cash in your pocket.

This calls for a parmesan rind. I always keep a hunk of fresh parmesan in the house for grating over pasta and veggies. It seems expensive, I know, but you only use a little bit at a time and it’ll last almost forever wrapped tightly in plastic and stored in the fridge. For this recipe, you cut off the (inedible) rind and toss it into the pot, and then fish it out at the end. It adds a wonderful, subtle nutty flavor to the soup and is well worth the step. If you don’t have one, no worries. Go ahead without it.

I used smoked turkey sausage in this because that’s what I like. You can use whatever you enjoy, or substitute ham or bacon for a similar smoky flavor in the soup. Non-meat eaters can add extra beans to beef up the soup and toss in a little liquid smoke (a LITTLE–that stuff is potent) or smoked chipotle Tabasco for a similar effect.

This was warm and creamy (from the beans–neat trick, eh?) and smoky and comforting, and perfectly perfect for yet another cold, rainy day. I’m looking forward to my second bowl today and would love to hear what you think if you try it. You need:

Olive oil

4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 a sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 a butternut squash, peeled and diced (about a cup and a half of diced squash)

7 oz smoked sausage (I used turkey; mine comes in 14 oz packages, so I used half and froze the other half for another time), chopped into bites

1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed well

1 zucchini, diced

The rind of a hunk of Parmesan cheese (I always have a hunk around. Add a little salt if you don’t have this)

A dried bay leaf

About 2 cups of chopped fresh kale (use spinach if you can’t find kale)

Salt

Pepper

About 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning

Half a lemon

Heat your soup pot over medium heat. Coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil. Saute the onion and sausage until the sausage just starts to brown a bit. Stir in the garlic and keep it moving for about a minute.

Pour in the chicken broth and add all of the rest of the ingredients except the kale and lemon. Stir, cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the butternut squash softens, stirring every so often.

Stir in the kale, cook 10 more minutes, and fish out the Parmesan rind and the bay leaf. Squeeze the lemon over the pot, stir in the juice, and enjoy. Makes about four servings.

Yummy Asian Noodle Soup

6 Sep

I had this past weekend to myself.

Did you hear that??

To. Myself. As in, the husband took the children away for two and a half days and I had my own house to my own self, with just me in it, totally alone. For a weekend. A long weekend. A long, quiet, uninterrupted weekend. For the first time in more than 10 years.

It. Was. Beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong–I adore my family. Love them, love them, love them. But do you have any idea what you can do with two and a half days all alone in your own house that you live in? You guys should see the pile of stuff I have outside for charity pick-up today (I’d take a picture but it’s raining and I don’t really do wet more than necessary). And you should see my immaculate basement and my spotless kitchen and my gorgeously clean and organized bathrooms, and the way things are folded and stacked just so in my linen closet. AND I watched two girly movies all by myself and slept late both days and did a little shopping (shhhh!).

Right?? Wonderful and amazing, and I was super glad to see my gang pull in the driveway yesterday afternoon, because I’d had a fabulous couple of days to regroup and recharge, which makes all the difference every so often.

I also cooked. For myself. Things that my family would complain madly but that I made and enjoyed greatly because they weren’t here. It was fun, gang. Serious fun.

One of the things I made was this delicious Asian Noodle Soup from Words to Eat By, which is among my favorite food blogs, especially for moms and dads who have precious little time to get a healthy, tasty meal on the table every day. I give it a big thumbs-up! I had it for lunch and dinner one day, and I have another bowl ready for my lunch today (I also borrowed her photo, which was much better than mine). A few notes:

I used dried garlic and dried ginger from The Spice Hunter in this. The simmering reconstituted it, and sometimes it’s just easier than using fresh, especially in a soup. I used about a tablespoon of each.

I like that the veggie bit of this is wide open so you can use what you want. I used spinach (a lot of it–it shrinks down markedly when you cook it), mushrooms, scallions, a few carrots, and a can of Chinese stir-fry vegetables I found in the Asian aisle of my supermarket, which were perfect for this. You could, of course, ditch the chicken or tofu and make this an Asian vegetable soup as well.

Get the mirin (also on the Asian aisle at the supermarket). You could substitute sherry with some sugar, but I think the mirin makes a huge flavor difference, and it keeps for a very long time so you’ll use it all up. That’s also where you’ll find the soba noodles, which leads me to…

If you’re going to have leftovers or you’re making this for a few days, don’t add the noodles to the soup in the pot. Instead, put some noodles in your bowl and ladle the soup over it, and then store the noodles in the fridge by themselves. Each time you heat a bowl up, add noodles. That way, they won’t disintegrate into mush by day 2.

This would be delicious with a shot of sriracha or other hot sauce if you like your Chinese food spicy. As it was, it reminded me greatly of my favorite soba noodle soup from my favorite Asian restaurant, and was perfect for my calm, productive weekend at home. I hope you try it, and thanks to Debbie for writing it!

Just Like That Famous Tomato Basil Soup

11 Oct

I was blessed at my second real, post-college job to make three wonderful friends. Jocelyn, Aimee, Kate, and I spent many a lunch and happy hour giggling and chatting, wandering the city, flirting with boys, and mapping out where our lives would go. Those girls knew me better than almost anyone. They threw my bachelorette party when I got married and were the first to send little onesies and Mickey Mouse T-shirts when my son was born.

We kept in touch for years, the four of us, in drips and drabs, stops and starts, ebbs and flows. The way old friendships go when everyone has families and careers and starts juggling soccer practices and field trips and the next phase of life.

Kate and I stayed especially close, probably largely because we lived close to each other. I was her maid of honor; she was my confidante when life got overwhelming. When she called me three years ago to tell me she’d been diagnosed with cancer, I cried for awhile and then sucked it up and tried to be there for her, going out to lunch and dinner while she could, and then bringing lunch to her when she tired too easily.

I didn’t do it as much as I should have, I know now. There was always work to do and kids to shuttle and life in the way, you know? But all the way until our last visits in a hospice facility, she made me laugh. We laughed together. And we cried and we talked about everything, from the fish in the pond outside her room to what happened when this life ended.

My friend died in June, a few weeks short of her 38th birthday. The rest of us reconnected and came together to mourn her, and this past weekend, I met up with her family in a two-mile fundraising walk sponsored by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Wearing our purple T-shirts with water bottles in hand, we applauded those fighting the disease and those surviving it, and we all choked back a tear or two for Kate, whose name we proudly wore on our backs.

The walk was a sort of closure for me. It was a beautiful day and her husband and my daughter and I spent the two miles talking and laughing. We’ve healed, her friends and family and me. Just like Kate would have wanted.

I came home and made a batch of tomato basil soup, because that’s what our foursome always ordered when our lunch hours found us at the La Madeleine restaurant up the street from our office. Rich and creamy and comforting, it’ll always remind me of my friends and the blessings they’ve always given me.

This came from the internet. Randomly. Like a lot of copycat recipes, it’s posted everywhere with credit to a bazillion people. I cut the whole recipe in half, substituted evaporated skim milk for the heavy cream it called for, cut the butter in the original, and used frozen crushed basil instead of fresh; my grocer carries it in little cubes near the frozen veggies. If yours doesn’t, substitute dried or finely chopped fresh.

This really does taste like the famous soup we loved so much back in the day, without the calories or price tag. Every time I make a batch, I make a point to call a friend and just say hi. And then I look skyward and raise a spoon to Kate.

To make this, you’ll need:

2 cups canned crushed tomatoes (freeze the rest if you’re using a big can)

2 cups of tomato juice (I bought an 11-ounce can at the store and made up the difference with water–just as good)

1 tbsp sugar

4 tsp crushed or finely chopped basil (use 2 tsp if you’re using dried)

3/4 cup evaporated skim milk

3 tbsp butter

Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the tomatoes and juice to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Add basil and simmer another five minutes. Stir in milk and butter. Salt and pepper to taste and serve. This is also delicious the next day.

Perfect Corn Chowder

27 Sep

It’s pouring down rain today. I’m wearing jeans and a cotton shirt, curled up on the couch with my laptop and work files, listening to the drops bounce off the roof and windows.

It’s a corn chowder day.

This recipe is one of my most requested. Every time I serve it or take it somewhere, someone wants to know how to make it. And they rarely believe how simple it is. It’s rich and creamy and comforting, and–surprise!!–really light, calorie-wise.

There are no potatoes in this chowder. I think that’s a good thing. I love me a good potato, but I want my corn chowder to taste like corn. Which this one does. I’ve written it using chicken because that’s usually how I make it, but you can do this with shrimp, crab, scallops, or just more corn instead of a bird. If you do use chicken, really anything you have is fine–leftover roasted or grilled chicken, pulled-apart rotisserie, or even cooked chicken strips from the grocery store’s deli department. Give it a rough chop and dump it in. It’s all good.

I adapted this recipe from Cooking Light, bumping up the veggies, playing with the spices, and adding some smoked Tabasco. You won’t believe how good that makes this.

This works great cooked early in the day and reheated, it’s a superstar of a leftover dish and gets better every day, and does really well kept hot in a slow cooker on the warm setting. I’ve set it out at parties that way–just crack the lid a bit or leave the top off so it doesn’t thin out too much.

I had a bowl for lunch today, and chances are good this will be my dinner later today. It’s that good. I hope you like it too.

To make this corn chowder, you’ll need:

Two tbsp butter (the real stuff…trust me)

Half a small or medium yellow onion, finely chopped

Two stalks of celery, finely chopped (or about 1/3 cup from the salad bar)

Two tbsp of flour (I suspect arrowroot would work if you want to go gluten-free)

3 cups lowfat milk (I use 1 percent)

1 – 2 cups cooked chicken, shrimp, crab…whatever, roughly chopped.

2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 14-oz can cream-style corn

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried dill weed

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 to 1 tsp smoked chipotle Tabasco

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion and celery and cook until soft (about 5 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute (to get rid of the raw flour taste). Stir in milk, cream-style corn, corn kernels, chicken (or shrimp or crab or whatever), spices, and Tabasco.  Bring to a boil and cook until thick, about five more minutes. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle some shredded Parmesan on top if you have it.  Makes about 6 servings.

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Cup of Comfort Chicken Noodle Soup

31 Jul

A few years ago, my doctor asked me to go on a salt-free diet. Which wasn’t easy–you’d be shocked at how much salt is in seemingly innocuous pantry fare. Canned tomatoes: full of salt. Canned beans: full of salt. Frozen meals: full of salt.

And canned soup: FULL OF SALT. Cups and cups of it. Really, really bad.

I’m not a big soup eater, but every so often, a girl just needs a cup of chicken noodle soup. And so I came up with a recipe that is super easy and tastes really good, without the salt of canned soup. It also freezes beautifully, which makes it perfect to keep around the house for those I-feel-icky soup days. More on that in a moment.

To make healthy (really) chicken noodle soup, you’ll need:

1/2 lb chicken breasts (about two boneless, skinless breasts), diced (this is easier if it’s partially frozen)

1/2 cup carrot, diced small (running a knife through the shredded carrots at the salad bar works great)

1/4 cup celery, diced small (ditto for the salad bar)

1/2 medium onion, finely minced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 tsp salt-free poultry seasoning (I get mine at http://www.thespicehunter.com)

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

6 cups no-salt-added chicken broth (that’s 1 1/2 cartons)

2 cups water

1 bay leaf

1 cup egg noodles

Coat the bottom of a large stockpot with olive oil and place over medium heat. Once it’s hot (you’ll see ripples in the surface of the oil) add the onion, celery, and carrot, and stir those around until they start to soften–about five minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper and stir, and immediately add the chicken and 1 tsp poultry seasoning before the garlic burns.

Cook the chicken, stirring occasionally, until it’s starting to brown just a bit on the outside but don’t cook it through. Add the broth, water, remaining poultry seasoning, and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Let that simmer about 15 minutes, or up to an hour.

Add the noodles. Cook for five minutes or until on the hard side of al dente and remove soup from heat. Fish out bay leaves and serve immediately or freeze.

I freeze this recipe for my in-laws regularly, putting it into individual serving containers and labeling those with the date. And it does really well–best of all, no salt!

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