Peanut Butter Brownie Torte

Have you seen that post floating around pinterest? It’s a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cake…it looks exactly like a humongous peanut butter cup. Well, I thought it was pretty awesome and my soon-to-be-nine-year-old decided he wanted it for his birthday cake. So, I clicked on it, planning to make it.

It wasn’t a recipe.

It was a cake.

To order.

From Williams-Sonoma.

For $80.00.

Seriously.

Okay, so maybe some of you don’t mind spending 80 bones on a birthday cake, but that is WAAAAYYYY outta my budget. (Yeah, I’m married to a teacher, after all. He has two masters degrees. Don’t get me started.) So, the next best thing is to recreate it. Not too hard: chocolate cake, peanut butter filling, milk chocolate frosting. But, (I thought in my devious-non-calorie-counting-inner-mind) maybe I could IMPROVE on the concept…switch out the cake for brownies (we’re not much of cake people, we tend to have pie for birthdays), keep the peanut butter filling, then cover it in a milk chocolate ganache. Mmmmmmm…I’m sold.

So, I HAD to do a trial run during spring break, so I could take pictures (otherwise my poor birthday boy would have to wait to indulge on his birthday until after my 30 minute staging and photographing fiasco. I figured that wasn’t fair). I learned a lot, and I’ll be making this again before the birthday to take more pictures, as I discovered that it really does need to be refrigerated before cutting into it, although it tastes divine without it, it’s very messy. The kids didn’t mind. So, enjoy the “messy version” pictures. I’ll post with nicer ones in a few weeks. And, as I discovered when I had a piece for breakfast the next day, it actually tastes better chilled. So, plan to make this a day ahead. It’s a little labor-intensive, but ooooooohhhhhhhhhh-so-worth it.

PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIE TORTE

Brownies:

1 cup cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray two 9″ round cake pans with cooking spray. Line the bottom of each with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit. Respray over the paper. This will ensure no problems getting the brownie out of the pan. In a medium bowl, mix together cocoa, sugar and eggs until well mixed. Slowly pour in the melted butter and mix well (be careful not to cook your eggs by pouring hot butter in all at once). Add the flour and mix just until blended. Divide equally between the two pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Do not over bake. Cool in the pans on a rack.

Filling:

1 cup natural peanut butter
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened

Combine ingredients and beat with a mixer (whisk attachment if you have one) for about 3-5 minutes, until it becomes very smooth. Set aside until brownies are cool.

Ganache Topping:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups milk chocolate chips

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, heat the cream until bubbles form around the edges. Remove from heat. Dump in the chocolate chips. Let sit for 5 minutes. Stir well, until well combined and chocolate is completely incorporated.

TO ASSEMBLE:

When brownies are cool, run a knife or metal spatula along the edge of each brownie, loosening it from the pan, then gently turn each over onto a cooling rack. They should come right out. Remove and discard the parchment. Generously cover the bottom layer with filling. Align second brownie on top. Pour some of the ganache on top, until it starts to pour over the sides. At this point, refrigerate the cake and the remaining ganache. About 30 minutes later, remove the cake from the fridge and “frost” the sides with the ganache. Smooth over any bumps and garnish with Peanut Butter Cups as desired. Return cake to refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

REAL food alert: Thanks to this recipe, I discovered that our beloved Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cups contain TBHQ, a preservative linked to stomach cancer. I almost cried. Okay, not really…but I was sad…and annoyed. I assume natural food stores have PB cups that are TBHQ free. Speaking of peanut butter, I use all-natural pb…meaning the ingredients are peanuts and salt. If you use conventional peanut butter, you may want to cut down the sugar a bit. aaand, last but not least: chocolate chips. Check for artificial flavoring in your chocolate chips.

ALLERGY alert: This can easily be made gluten free by subbing brownies with a gluten-free brownie recipe. Be sure to use soy-free chocolate chips if you have soy allergies.

HEALTH alert: are you kidding me? This is unhealthy…it’s a waste of time to health-it-up. Just eat a small piece and then go hike up a beautiful mountain.

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Real Food Remake: Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup (Slow Cooker)

Real Food Remake

I love finding a good slow cooker recipe.

The problem is that many of them, in the name of convenience, include cream soups or packaged mixes that have msg or other preservatives. A friend recently made this recipe, and I was excited that it didn’t include cream soups, but there were two things I didn’t like about the recipe. First, it used a rice-a-roni packaged mix that has autolyzed yeast extract (which is essentially msg), and second, it asks you to create a roux-based cream sauce on the stove top, add it to the soup and let it cook longer. I LOVE roux-based sauces, but it’s just an extra step that I don’t want to do on a busy day where I am using a crock pot recipe.

So, I changed a few things. First, I subbed the mix for real ingredients (seriously, it takes maybe an extra minute to measure out some spices than to open and pour a box). To avoid making the cream sauce, I added coconut milk to the soup. I picked coconut milk because it makes the soup dairy-free (shout-out to my allergic and vegan friends!!), plus it adds a nice flavor to the soup, especially with the turmeric. To thicken it, there is still an added step. At the end, you add a cornstarch mixture and let it cook and additional ten minutes. It’s still a lot less work than the cream sauce. If you’re allergic to corn, you can go the roux route, or simply take the lid off for the last 40 minutes of cooking and knock it up to high. It won’t be as thick, but it’ll be close.

When I served this soup, my picky one (who you met during this post) declared it “super-super awesome!” All of the kids loved it…until aforementioned picky kid said that the wild rice looked like beetles, then one of the others refused to eat it. So, use that knowledge to your benefit or harm, depending on the coolness factor of eating bugs in your family.

(Oh, I realized as I was typing this up that I completely forgot to add the carrots to the soup. We actually loved it without, and my kids hate carrots (I know, right?!), so I added it to the recipe, but it’s totally optional depending on your tastes).

CREAMY CHICKEN AND WILD RICE SOUP (Slow Cooker)

4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-14 oz cans unsweetened coconut milk
4 oz package wild rice (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 c uncooked brown rice (not instant brown rice)
2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 cup diced carrots (optional)

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
salt to taste

In the slow cooker, mix together everything except the cornstarch and cold water. Be sure to shake the coconut milk cans well before opening, and whisk together well. Cook on low for 4 hours. Combine cornstarch and cold water, add to the soup. Keep the lid off and cook and additional 10 minutes on high, stirring occasionally. Add salt if needed.

REAL food alert. Check your chicken stock for preservatives and msg.

ALLERGY alert: see above notes if you are allergic to corn. If you are allergic to coconut, use 2 cans of evaporated milk.

VEGGIE alert: easily make this vegetarian by omitting the chicken. You can add any veggies you would like, like celery, carrots, root veggies. You could also add kale in the last 10 minutes for a green boost.

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A Small Request

You may have read my previous post on preservatives. Not included in that list are other toxins that are in the packaging that our food comes in contact with. One of those which has received attention lately is bisphenol A. BPA is an industrial chemical that is used to make plastic containers and to line metal cans (including baby formula cans). Research has shown that some of it may leach into the food that comes in contact with it, especially acidic foods, like canned tomatoes. Research has also shown some evidence linking BPA exposure to various health concerns, including neurological problems, endocrine disruption (this involves hormones, especially problematic in fetuses and infants), insulin resistance and cancer.

Click here to send a form letter (super easy!!) to the president of the FDA.

Your kids will thank you.

Bacon Mushroom Chicken

Bacon is everywhere. In quiches, sandwiches, on burgers. Nowadays you see it in pancakes, cupcakes, even lollipops (which are gross, by the way). Jack in the Box even came out with a bacon shake.

I love bacon, but I’ve been (mostly) taking it out of my diet since we stopped eating cured meats (read here about nitrates and nitrites in cured meat). Every so often, I’ll make one of my favorite dishes, using uncured bacon. Because, honestly…what’s life without bacon? It’s one of the best creations ever…crispy, smoky, chewy, salty…mmm…

This dish is a family pleaser. One of my sons hates chicken. We have to force him to eat dinner when we have chicken. Tonight, I made this…he asked for seconds. (!!!!!)

BACON MUSHROOM CHICKEN

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied and cut in half to make 6 portions
8 slices of uncured bacon
1/2 onion, diced
6 oz. sliced mushrooms
4 TBS flour
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp salt

Start by butterflying the chicken breasts. To do this, flatten as well as you can, then cut the thick side from the inside and flatten it to create a thin fillet. You can also pound it thin, or have your butcher butterfly them for you when you buy it. See the pictures if I’ve confused you, hopefully they’ll help. Basically, you want them thin, so they cook quickly.

Place the bacon in a large skillet and cook over medium heat until crispy. Take out the bacon and drain it on paper towels.  Place the chicken portions in the pan with the bacon grease and brown on each side, until fully cooked through (inside is no longer pink and juice runs clear when cut into). Remove the chicken from the pan and place aside.

The pan should still have bacon grease in it. There needs to be about 4-6 TBS of bacon grease. If you have a hard time estimating, pour it into a glass bowl or measuring cup and measure it. Be careful! It’s hot! Put 4 TBS back into the pan. If there is less that 4 TBS, add butter or olive oil to bring it up to 4 TBS. This all sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. You should be able to look at the grease left in the pan and either pour some out or add some butter in…it doesn’t have to be exact.

Add the onions and mushrooms to the bacon grease and cook until mushrooms are soft and onions are translucent and starting to brown. Dump in the flour and stir vigorously until flour becomes light brown (you are making a roux). Add the chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously and stirring out lumps after each addition. Add the rosemary and salt. Continue to cook while stirring until it thickens. When it’s a thick sauce, add the bacon and chicken portions. This is great served with mashed potatoes. Enjoy!

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World Wednesday: Irish Soda Farls

World Wednesday

Have ever done genealogy? That’s where you track down your ancestors. A few years ago, I felt like giving a go and it consumed me. It’s like the most addictive puzzle ever created. My mom, who was working on her ancestors, gave me a line to work on. The Robinsons. My maternal grandmother’s grandparents. I traced it back to Charles and Catherine Robinson, my 5th great grandparents who came over around the year 1773 from Ireland. It sounds easy summed up like that, but in reality, it was hours of obsessive searching. I’d send the kids off to school, turn on a movie for the littles and the next thing I know, I’m being roused from my puzzle-solving by a dirty diaper, a demand for lunch, eventually my husband is there (Where’d he come from? Why isn’t he at work? It’s the middle of the….oh..it’s 6 p.m.) asking if we’re having PB and J for dinner again. Yeah. I stopped doing genealogy for a while. I figure, in a few years I’ll be missing my kids all day and needing a distraction, and I can pick up the addiction again. BUT, the point here is what I FOUND. At least a part of me is Irish. I was ecstatic. I have always loved all things Irish, the music, the food, the sexy accent. My husband’s main line is Irish as well, and I have a goal to some day trace both of our lineage back to Ireland and take a nice long trip there when our kids are grown and gone.

A few years back, inspired by good friends who have special family traditions marking their ethnic heritages, I decided that we needed a St. Patrick’s Day tradition. I’m not a huge fan of corned beef and cabbage, so I decided to make Irish Soda Farls and Lemon Curd every year. Disclaimer: Lemon Curd is not specifically Irish. I believe it’s more of a British tradition (can my international readers shed some light?), but my kids love it and it’s tasty.

Soda Farls are like a pan-cooked quick biscuit. The dough is very soft and the result is a very soft, tender bread. Traditionally, the dough is rolled out, cut into fourths and the browned in a skillet. I cut mine into eighths, because it’s easier to work with and the kids feel like they get more when they can have seconds or thirds. (Yeah, you moms know what I’m talking about, parental trickery rocks). This works great in an iron skillet. Unfortunately, mine was accidentally soaked and has some rust we need to scour off, so it wasn’t available for my farl-cooking this year.

IRISH SODA FARLS 

4 cups flour (I used half whole wheat)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups buttermilk*

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and soda. Slowly mix in buttermilk until dough starts to form. Dump onto a lightly floured surface and knead a little until dough is fully combined and smooth. Dough will be very soft and a little sticky. Reflour your surface, and divide the dough into two halves. Roll each half into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into fourths or eighths. Heat a thick-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Place your dough in the skillet and cook on each side until brown and the middle is cooked. Turn down your heat to medium after the first batch to avoid the pan over heating. If you find that they are sticking, reflour the dough before putting it in the pan. Serve hot with butter and jam or lemon curd.

*If you don’t have buttermilk, Measure 2 cups of milk into a bowl and add 2 TBS lemon juice or white vinegar. Let it sit 15 minutes before using.

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Technique Tuesdays: Double Boiler. Recipe: Creamy Lemon Curd

Technique Tuesday:

Double Boiler

Lemon Curd is a great companion to Irish Soda Farls that we make each St. Patrick’s Day. Curd is essential a fruit custard made with egg yolks. This recipe calls for a double boiler. I don’t know about you, I don’t know anyone who owns an actual double boiler. It isn’t even necessary as long as you have a sauce pot and metal bowl that fit together nicely. You’ll notice in the picture below the recipe my very dirty stove. You will also notice how the “double boiler” should look. You do not want the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Essentially, the point of a double boiler is to heat something using indirect heat, to avoid it scorching or curdling. It’s used to melt chocolate and make custards, among other things. The custard is heated by the steam created by the boiling water underneath.

This lemon curd recipe results in a creamy curd, not the gelatinous kind many use for a lemon meringue pie. It’s perfect for a topping for breads or as a spread.

CREAMY LEMON CURD

5 eggs yolks
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 TBS lemon zest
4 TBS butter, cut into pats and chilled

Fill a small pot with about an inch of water, place on the stove over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, in a metal bowl that fits on top of your pot, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk well, until light and creamy. For smooth curd, pour the juice through a fine mesh strainer to remove any pulp. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest. When the water comes to a boil, quickly reduce heat to low, to keep to a simmer. Place bowl on pot and whisk continually until thick. This takes about 10 minutes, but will vary. You know it’s ready when it thickly coats the back of a spoon or reached 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add in the butter, one pat at a time, stirring each until it melts before adding the next pat. Pour into a container or bowl and press plastic wrap against the surface of the curd. Refrigerate until cool.

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Raspberry Lemonade Floats

Summer is fast approaching, and there’s nothing better in the summer than a frosty, creamy, refreshing drink. For this post, we have a guest interview. This delicious concoction was invented by my oldest son (age eleven) one night at dinner. His eyes lit up suddenly and he exclaimed “Ooh! We should put ice cream in pink lemonade, you know, like floats?”

So, we tried it…and it’s delicious! The tartness of the lemonade is smoothed by the creamy sweetness of the ice cream. I subbed raspberry lemonade for pink lemonade to add a little extra dimension.

Here’s my interview with the inventor:

Me: How did you come up with the idea for the Raspberry Lemonade Floats?

Him: Um, well, I like ice cream. My brother mentioned lemonade, and I thought since people really like root beer floats, I thought we could try it with pink lemonade.

Me: You are a great cook, do you have a specialty you cook?

Him: Pancakes…well, not pancakes. I like making sausage egg burritos, those are fun…and easy.

Me: What’s your favorite food to eat?

Him: Mac n Cheese and Stroganoff

Me: Who’s your favorite cook? 😉

Him: My mom. (smiles)

Well, there you have it. An interview with one of the greatest up and coming food inventors. Even though summer is still a few months off, spend some time in your kitchen with your kids this summer, teaching them to cook and helping them invent their own creations. Creativity is contagious!!

RASPBERRY LEMONADE FLOATS

Vanilla ice cream
Raspberry  lemonade
Fresh raspberries (optional)

Line up several tall glasses. Drop two scoops of vanilla ice cream in each glass. Pour raspberry lemonade over the ice cream. garnish with fresh raspberries.

REAL food alert: many lemonades are filled with corn syrup, and sometimes artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Look for “natural” lemonades that are fruit juice and real sugar, or make your own! Ice cream also varies with the amount of additives. Breyers and other natural brands are a step up from conventional brands, full of all sorts of additives and corn syrup. Get used to reading labels for your family’s health. Or….make your own. 😉

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Memory Monday: Baked Salmon

Memory Monday…

I was probably six or seven. I don’t remember exactly when it was. I just remember the trees feeling huge, the light dancing off the water blinding me a for a few seconds, while I tried to refocus on my sisters quietly making their way up the side of the stream. My dad loved to fish. He was patient with us the most during those precious camping trips. He taught me how to walk “like an indian”..heel, toe, heel, toe…slowly and quietly. He showed me how to pick the deep water holes  where the fish hung out, or how to watch for where the water broke over rocks in the stream, and the niches near there where you would find them. I still can’t even put into words how to find a good spot on a stream to fish, but I can picture it in my mind, and feel it when I conjure that memory.

I think I’ve probably been fishing a couple times in my adult life, and I still remember those times with my family growing up, the taste of fresh trout cooked on the open fire. No fish, ever, tastes as good as a fish your seven year old self reeled in, cleaned by her indulgent father, and cooked up on a hot fire of wood.

But, if I had to pick a “second-best” fish, it’s this recipe. The first few times I cooked fish, it felt daunting. If you’re scared of cooking fish, now’s the time to try. There are three ways to know if it’s cooked right, and I’ll walk you through it. You’ll probably over cook it the first few times, and then you’ll get the feel for it. This recipe is super easy and tasty. When each of my kids were ready for “regular” food that wasn’t pulverized into a mushy pulp, I would make this once a week. The fish is easy to chew for little ones and super healthy, with lots of brain-building omega fatty acids. My kids still love this dish.

I actually don’t use the measurements here, I just squeeze a lemon over it, sprinkle with seasoned salt and Italian seasoning, and press a clove of garlic or two and spread that over best I can. But, if you’re a measuring type person, there are measurements for you. They may vary, based on how much fish you are cooking. You can use this same recipe for any type of fish, and any size, whether it’s filets or portions.

To determine if the fish is cooked, use a fork and “flake” in the thickest part of the fillet, by putting the fork in and turning it. You want fish that will 1.Flake easily, 2. Has clear liquid, 3. Is opaque. I think the “flake easily” part can be misleading for a person new to cooking fish. Salmon is a soft fish, and “easily” is a  loose term. You want the flesh to be fairly firm. Appearance will help you a ton. The flesh should be opaque, meaning it doesn’t look at all like light could shine through it. Also, check out the liquid in the fish. It should not be milky, but should be fairly clear. I like buying the salmon that has the skin on one side. It keeps the fish from sticking, keeps the bottom from drying out when you cook it, and it easily removes from the skin after being cooked, by putting a  spatula between the skin and the cooked fish to lift the fish to the dish.

A few comments on salmon: be aware that farm raised salmon has artificial color added. Go to your store’s fresh fish section and compare the wild caught with the farm raised salmon, the color difference is striking. Wild caught salmon is a robust color. It is also much lower in fat and cholesterol than farm raised. Wild salmon is typically higher in both protein and usable omega fatty acids. In my pictures, I included a picture of the underside of the fish, which has a grey layer. That part seems to creep out new fish cooks… and kids. It is the fat that connects the skin to the flesh. If you are super conscientious about your fat intake, you can scrape it right off. But, I would point out that it is a good kind of fat, with lots of omegas. I always keep it on, especially for my kids.

BAKED SALMON

1-2 large salmon filets, about 2 lbs total weight
2 tsp lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp season salt
2 tsp Italian seasoning

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place salmon, skin side down, on a foil- or parchment-covered baking sheet. If your fish does not have skin, lightly grease the foil to keep it from sticking. Drizzle the lemon juice on top, followed by the garlic, then the seasonings. Bake 10-20 minutes, until it it opaque and the juice runs clear.

REAL food alert: check your seasoned salt for MSG, additives and preservatives. To avoid artificial color, only buy wild caught salmon. If using frozen fish, check ingredients for preservatives, including TBHQ. Always buy fresh when you can.

Recipe adapted from My Genius Sister (not a blog…my actual sister…they are all geniuses, actually…)

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Undercooked

Fully Cooked

The gray stuff is healthy fat, perfectly edible and yummy.

Easy Chewy Granola Bars

My dad passed away a couple of years ago. He was a sporatic, but obsessive, cook. He spent the better part of a year one year perfecting chocolate chip cookies. He experimented with various recipes, tweaking the measurements, substituting butter, margarine and shortening in various ways. In the end he even specified the exact sized scoop you should use to scoop the cookie dough onto the sheet, before pressing each one with your thumb and refrigerating it over night. Some of my best memories of him are him in the kitchen, making the perfect fluffy omelet, or out grilling his specially basted chicken. I think most of my cooking skills come from my mom, but my analytic side definitely comes from my dad.

This last Christmas, a dear family friend gave me a Fred Batterfinger Spatula” target=”_blank”>fun finger scraper, shown in the pictures of this recipe. She chose it, knowing I loved to cook, and because the company who makes them is called “Fred” (my dad’s name is Fred), and each scraper has “Fred” on the handle. She said that way I would always think of my dad while cooking. It’s one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. It also started me on a love affair with quirky “Fred” products. I’ll list some of my favorites after the recipe.

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to make chewy granola bars at home, without all of the preservatives, refined sugar and hydrogenated oils you find in the ones in the grocery store. I think I channeled my dad when I made these three different ways in one day, attempting to get them perfect.

The thing I love about homemade granola bars is that you can customize them to be as healthy as you like, also geared toward your kids’ likes and avoiding allergens. This recipe uses peanut butter. If you have allergies to peanuts in your house, substitute the gooey part with 1 cup sugar + 1 cup honey + 1 TBS butter (if they have coconut allergies as well), and cook the same.

EASY CHEWY GRANOLA BARS

3/4 cup natural peanut butter (no sugar, just roasted peanuts and salt)
2/3 cup raw honey (read here about raw vs. processed honey and dangers of store-bought honey)
1 TBS coconut oil (if you don’t have coconut oil, substitute butter)
2 cups oats (use gf oats for gluten-free granola bars)
1 cup crisped rice cereal (I have no notes for this, but didn’t want them to feel left out)
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (ditto)

In a large bowl, combine the oats and cereal. In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine the peanut butter, honey and coconut oil. Stir continuously. When the mixture barely starts to bubble, continue stirring for 2 minutes, then immediately pour over the oat mixture. Stir until well combined. Let sit for a few minutes, until it’s still warm, but won’t burn you to touch it. Add in the chocolate chips and lightly stir. They will melt a bit, so don’t over mix. Pour the mixture into an 8×8 square pan. Place a large square of wax paper over it and press down as hard as you can, compacting the entire mixture into the pan. Let cool in the fridge for 15 minutes. Cut into 8 bars.

You may want to double or triple this recipe, although it’s easiest to make in smaller batches. You can also personalize it, by adding ground flax, coconut, dried cherries, raisins, etc. have fun!! I’m sure you have noticed that coconut oil for weight loss is making waves right now, this is why I use it as much as I can get away with.

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Some of my favorite “Fred” products:

” target=”_blank”>Pastasaurus: Adorable pasta server with the head of a dinosaur. My kids love it.

” target=”_blank”>”Equal Measure” Measuring cup: a glass measuring cup that measures up to 2 1/2 cups, includes standard and metric measurements. The kicker is that it also includes measurements like “volume of half of the human brain” and “one hundred and fifty thousand poppy seeds”. Practical, yet humorous…and it appeals to the science geek in me.

” target=”_blank”>Unzipped-Bag Shaped Glass Bowl: the company has all sorts of funky-shaped stuff, and this is one of my favorites..it’s a glass bowl, but shaped like an unzipped ziploc bag full of something, sitting up. Perfect for a candy bowl, or fish bowl, or just a conversation starter. Clever.

” target=”_blank”>Cake Candelabra: For the diva, or just for an extra special birthday, this candelabra sit a top a birthday cake to hold your candles. I’m thinking I need one for my 40th birthday…which won’t be for another 20-30 years…

Lasagna Soup

I know that in my Zuppa Toscana Soup post, I said that I don’t go to Italian restaurants. That does not mean I don’t like Italian food. I mean, what’s not to like? A perfectly seasoned sauce over tender meat, topped with ooey gooey cheese?

Lasagna is one of my favorite foods in the world. I happened upon this recipe for Lasagna Soup and was blown away. It’s a tomato broth soup with big pieces of Italian sausage, plenty of onions and spices, some fresh basil to lighten it all up, poured hot over a ball of ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. Life Altering. Seriously. I served this with my homemade French Bread, and it was almost an out-of-body experience. I should mention that I don’t consider canned tomatoes “real” food, only because many cans are lined with BPA, which are of special concern for tomatoes, because the acidity in tomatoes makes them leach more BPA into the food. I tried to find an alternative, and didn’t. Using self-canned tomatoes from glass jars, or roasting some tomatoes in the oven (like in my Roasted Red Salsa) would both be acceptable substitutes for the canned tomatoes here.

LASAGNA SOUP

8 oz fusilli pasta, or lasagna noodles broken into bite sized pieces.
2 tsp olive oil
1 pound mild Italian sausage (or hot, if you like some kick)
3 cups chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 TBS tomato paste
1 28 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into strips.
8 oz. ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
more shredded mozzarella cheese for the top

In a large pot, boil your noodles to “al dente” (not super floppy) according to package directions. Drain and set aside. In your soup pot, drizzle the olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until pieces are starting to brown. Add the onions and contnue to cook, stirring frequently, until the sausage is fully cooked and the onions are translucent. Add the garlic, Italian seasoning and tomato paste. Cook for a minute or two, until the tomato paste darkens. Add in the tomatoes with their juice and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. When the soup is done simmering, add the noodles and basil into the soup. To serve, place a dollop of cheese mixture into each bowl and pour the soup over it. You can sprinkle more mozzarella on top, if you desire.

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Adapted from: A Farm Girls Dabbles

REAL food alert: Read above about canned tomatoes. Check your Chicken stock for MSG. Check your sausage for MSG and Preservatives .
ALLERGY alert: to make dairy-free, eliminate the cheese. For gluten-free, use rice pasta.
VEGGIE alert:  to make vegetarian, eliminate the sausage, use veggie broth and add zucchini, summer squash or eggplant. Also eliminate the cheese to make it vegan.
HEALTH alert: to make it healthier, use turkey sausage and wheat pasta.
For a freezer meal, or to make ahead, add everything except the cheese mixture and noodles. Freeze in gallon-sized freezer bags. To serve, defrost, add in cooked noodles and make the cheese mixture.
To convert this to a slow cooker meal, cook sausage and onions, place them in the slow cooker. Add the remaining soup ingredients (minus the cheese). Increase the chicken stock to 8 cups. Add in uncooked noodles. Cook on low 4 hours.