Cream of Mushroom Soup

Ahhhh…Cream of Whatever soup…when you hear this, does it bring to mind thick, gelatinous condensed soups from a can? My mom was masterful with condensed soup. So was I: give me a miniscule grocery budget and some condensed soup, and I can perform miracles. That changed 6 years ago when we stopped eating soy and processed foods (read that story here). In college one of my favorite meals was cream of mushroom soup, from a can, condensed, with added water. It turns my stomach to think of it now. But, I still love an earthy, creamy Cream of Mushroom Soup. So, I set out to make one from scratch. I was a little wary, because I have two kids who don’t like mushrooms. One hates them. I was amazed when my mushroom hater asked for his third helping. (This is also my super-picky eater who loves nothing and strongly dislikes soup of all kinds). Every person in my family declared this one “a keeper”!

CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP

makes 8 servings

12 ounces mushrooms, any variety
1/2 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 TBS fresh thyme (removed from stems)
2 TBS olive oil
3 TBS butter
1 TBS worcestershire sauce
3 cups chicken stock
4 TBS cornstarch
3 TBS water
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
sea salt
cracked pepper

Prep: Chop mushrooms up finely. Dice your onion. Mince or press your garlic. Remove thyme from stems and measure out 2 TBS worth.

In a pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft. Add garlic and thyme and cook an additional minute. Add mushrooms and worcestershire. Cook, stirring occasionally about 5 minutes, until much of the moisture from the mushrooms (say that 10 times fast) has come out into the pan. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Combine cornstarch and water and add it to the pot. Cook, stirring, until mixture becomes slightly thick. Add cream and milk and heat through. Salt and pepper each bowl to taste.

REAL food alert: check your worcestershire sauce for additives. The only brand I found with no additives was Lea & Perrins (the kind in the ostentatious paper wrapper). Check your chicken stock for msg and other additives. Check your cream for additives.
ALLERGY alert: worcestershire contains anchovies. You can just leave it out if you have a fish allergy. To make this dairy-free, substitute a plain alternative milk for the milk and cream. Plain almond milk would be a good flavor match. If it isn’t thick enough, you can add more cornstarch/water at the end, just be sure the soup is very hot when you add the cornstarch in or you may get lumps. Also, use all olive oil and leave out the butter.
VEGGIE alert: to make this vegetarian, sub veggie stock for the chicken stock. To make it vegan, see the dairy subs above.
NOTES: The dairy portion of this recipe is flexible. 3 cups of any dairy will work. I used whole milk, but you can use skim with the cream, or half and half. You could use skim for  the entire 3 cups, it just won’t be a very creamy soup. Skim evaporated milk is an option as well, if you are looking to lower fat content, but I’m not a huge fan of the flavor. In my opinion, the way it’s written is how it tastes best, but make it work for your family how you need to and it will still be delicious. 🙂

recipe adapted from season with spice

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Two Tasty Tomato Dishes

My mom is an incredible gardener. My dad was, too. I am not sure yet if I’ve inherited this ability. My pinterest board is filled with great gardening tips and ideas. I have aspirations to have a gorgeous garden from which I can pick and make fabulous fresh dishes. Unfortunately, I’m a little lazy and very forgetful. Our first garden attempt was dry and dead with in two weeks (I live in the desert, so gardening here takes a little more effort, care and *ahem* regular watering). I really want a garden, but I know two things must be in place before I can be successful: 1. I must be done with school. 2. It must be on an automatic watering system. When I can get these two things done, I look forward to a wonderful harvest and learning many new things!

If you already have a garden and are wondering what to do with your huge crop of tomatoes, here are two super tasty recipes for you! The sauce freezes well, and the soup is perfect with crusty grilled cheese. To be honest, tomato soup for me has always been an excuse to eat gooey grilled cheese sandwiches. When I made this soup, I ate one half of a sandwich. The soup was so good it didn’t need anything, so I left the sandwiches to the kids and had seconds of soup. The sauce goes well with some mild italian sausage, if you’re a carnivore, and piled onto a tender whole wheat pasta. It’s perfect summer comfort food with some grilled asparagus.

EASY CREAM OF TOMATO SOUP

serves 4 (main dish) or 6-8 (side dish)

2 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 TBS fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook while stirring until they start to brown. Add garlic and cook and additional minute, or until garlic barely starts to brown. Add tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add basil and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add salt and sugar and remove from heat. Pour into a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender to puree. Puree well, until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the cream. Heat on low until warm again. Serve. Garnish with fresh basil or croutons, if desired.

REAL food alert: check chicken stock for msg and additives
VEGGIE alert: to make vegetarian, sub veggie broth for the chicken stock.
ALLERGY alert: for dairy allergies, sub a non-dairy milk, like coconut or almond milk, for the heavy cream.
HEALTH alert: this recipe is only about 150 calories per serving. If you want to health it up even more, you can reduce the cream to 1/4 cup, and sub honey for the sugar, or eliminate the sugar.

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ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE

3 pounds fresh tomatoes (about 6-10), cored and quartered
1 head of garlic
1 TBS fresh thyme, chopped
1 TBS fresh rosemary, chopped
salt
sugar
3/4 pound mild italian sausage (optional)

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place the tomatoes on one or two foil covered baking sheets, along with the head of garlic (do not separate the cloves, just remove any loose paper from the outside). Sprinkle the thyme and rosemary over the tomatoes. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until tomatoes are slightly charred. Rotate pans halfway through cooking, if they don’t both fit on the same rack in your oven. Remove from oven when done roasting. Pour the tomatoes and any juices into a blender or food processor, or pour into a bowl if you use an immersion blender. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the root end of the garlic head. Pull the garlic head apart into three or four chunks. Squeeze the soft roasted garlic pulp into the tomato mixture and discard the tough exterior. Blend the tomatoes, garlic and herb mixture until desired consistency (we like minimal chunks, but you may like chunks in your sauce). Add salt and sugar to taste (if you have nice ripe tomatoes, you won’t need sugar, if you have grocery store tomatoes, you may need a pinch or two). The sauce is ready to serve with pasta. If you like meat in your sauce, brown sausage in a large pan over medium heat. Add sauce and cook for 10 minutes.

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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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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.

Zuppa Toscana Soup

I hate eating at Italian restaurants.

I cannot justify paying $10 a plate for pasta that I can make just as tastily (it’s a word…) in my own kitchen.

My favorite thing at Olive Garden is their black-tie cheesecake. (Yeah, I can probably make that, but it takes a long time, then I’d be stuck eating a whole cheesecake myself. What? Share?)

Then, one week I got some kale in our Bountiful Basket.

My choices were to find a recipe to make with it, or feed it to my husband’s classroom’s pet turtle. One of my friends suggested this soup, and boy am I glad they did! A cross between a creamy soup and a broth soup, with potatoes, sausage and kale…it’s now a family favorite.

ZUPPA TOSCANA SOUP

1 lb hot or mild italian sausage
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
32 oz chicken broth
3 cups water
3 medium potatoes, unpeeled.
3 cups kale
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

In a soup pot, place Italian sausage and diced onions. If the sausage is in links, remove the casings before putting them in the pot. Use hot Italian sausage if you like a kick. My kids prefer mild. Cook over medium heat. When the sausage is mostly cooked, add the garlic to the pan. Stir together and cook until sausage starts to brown. Remove the sausage, onion, garlic mixture to a bowl to wait.

In the same pot, over medium-high heat, pour in the chicken broth. Scrape any tasty brown bits from off of the bottom of the pan. Add the water to the pot. While waiting for that to boil (you can turn it to high if your pot can tolerate it), cut the potatoes into large matchstick-shaped pieces. I achieve this by cutting each potato in half lengthwise, then half again lengthwise, then turning onto the flat side, cutting lengthwise four more times, then in half. I am pretty sure only 2% of you understand what I’m talking about, so look at the picture for guidance. Place the potatoes in the pot with the broth mixture. Boil for about 10-15 minutes, until you can easily poke a potato with a fork, but they aren’t quite completely cooked.

Add in the kale, which you have cut into thin ribbons (discard the thick vein), and lower heat to medium. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, until kale is tender.

Add in your sausage mixture and heavy cream (and red pepper flakes if you need more kick). Lower heat to medium-low and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

Serve with homemade bread. (That’s an order!!)

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REAL food alert: Check your sausage ingredients for MSG, BHT or BHA.

ALLERGY alert: To make this dairy-free, simply substitute the cream with an alternative milk. Coconut milk is thick and would work well, it will change the taste a bit, but give an island flair. Add some sea salt if the alternative milk makes the soup too sweet. Check your broth and sausage ingredients for allergens.

HEALTH alert: you can lower fat by subbing half and half or evaporated skim milk for the cream. You can also use turkey sausage.

VEGGIE alert: You can make this vegetarian by subbing veggie broth for the chicken broth, omitting the sausage or subbing in cooked beans for it. You can make this vegan by also subbing the cream for an alternative milk (see above)