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.

French Bread

Yeah, I don’t have a cute story to tell about one of my sons involving french bread…sorry. I’m just gonna get to the goods.

This is the easiest, softest french bread you’ll ever make. You will never buy a loaf from the grocery store again after making this bread. It’s super soft on the inside and crusty on the outside, exactly how it’s supposed to be.

FRENCH BREAD

2 cups warm water
3 tsp active dry yeast
2 TBS sugar
4-5 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

In your stand mixer, with the dough hook, combine the water, yeast and sugar. Add 3 cups of the flour and the salt. Turn on low and mix while adding more flour 1/2 cup at a time. Stop as soon as the dough comes together and forms a ball. Let the mixer knead the dough for 5 minutes. Every once in a while, check the dough. If it starts to stick to the sides, sprinkle a little more flour on the dough until it comes back into a ball. Try to use as little flour as possible. Remove the bowl and set in a warm place until it doubles, about an hour. On a lightly floured surface, dump the dough out and cut it in half. Take each half and twist it into a long strand, like a baguette. Take one strand and fold it in half, twisting it onto itself. Repeat with the other half. Place them side by side on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Let rise for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a shallow pan filled partway with water on the bottom rack of the oven. Carefully place the baking sheet with the loaves on the middle rack. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are brown and the bread sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped. Let cool before slicing.

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Roasted Red Salsa

I hate tomatoes.

I’m fine with cooked tomato products, like marinara or ketchup. But, raw tomatoes are disgusting. It’s one of the only foods that I just can not stand. That makes my relationship with salsa an interesting one. Obviously, I’m not a pico de gallo type gal. I prefer pureed salsas with no chunks, and I have always just dipped the chip and gotten the juice and flavor on my chip without actually scooping any salsa on there. Weird. I know.

But then, I went to a Mexican food place called “Burger House”, believe it or not. I was skeptical about the quality of Mexican food there. It’s in a small town where my husband lived in his younger years. Everyone in his family swore by the food there (a Mexican place called “Burger House”? Really?)…and they were right! I craved it for weeks after we arrived back home. For the first time, ever, I poured the little cups of salsa over my burro before taking each bite. It was addictive. I analyzed the salsa as much as possible. Obviously it had tomatoes and cilantro, and chilis that gave it a nice kick, but I also noticed tiny pieces of char that made me believe that something on there was roasted. I was on a quest. I have tried various types of salsa, tons of recipes, and came up with a mediocre one that involved canned fire roasted tomatoes.

Then, I happened upon a post  on one particular kitchen one day:  . I made it and almost came undone. It was amazing. It’s pretty darn close to the Burger House salsa, but so fresh tasting, with a good bite. I made a few simple changes to personalize it. When it comes to spice, homemade salsa is always unpredictable. Chilis vary in spiciness from chili to chili, so it’s always chancy. If you’re concerned about heat, start with two peppers. You can also use jalapenos, which are milder, but I prefer the flavor of serranos.

This recipe makes a lot of salsa and is amazing with home grown tomatoes. It also freezes perfectly. I typically make a huge batch, then freeze them in sandwich bags for future consumption. Make some this summer!!

ROASTED RED SALSA

15-25 fresh tomatoes (about 15 large ones, up to 25 romas)
2 yellow onions
8-10 cloves of garlic
3-6 serrano peppers
1-2 limes
1-2 TBS salt
1-2 bunches of cilantro

Start by preheating the oven to 375 degrees. Halve your tomatoes and onions. Leave the papery husk on the garlic cloves, but separate them into individual cloves. If you want more heat, you will leave the seeds and membranes in the chilis, so remove the caps from the chilis now. If you want less heat, you will remove the seeds later, so keep the caps on. Lay the tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers on baking sheets. It’s a good idea to have the tomatoes on a baking sheets that has sides, as they will produce a lot of juice. Roast until the onions are translucent and the tomatoes and peppers are starting to char, about 45 minutes to an hour. You may have to remove the garlic and peppers before the tomatoes and onions. You may also have to rotate pans while cooking to allow each pan access to the heat source. Just check on them every so often until they are all soft and there’s some charring going on. Pull the pans out of the oven. Let it cool for 5 minutes. If you want to remove the seeds from the chilis, put on plastic gloves (trust me…I did this once without them and seriously regretted it). slice open the side of each chili. Use the cap to pull out the middle membrane with all of the seeds attached, and discard. You may also need to use your finger and wipe any residual seeds from the chili. Place the chilis in a food processor. For the garlic, you should be able to squeeze them, allowing the soft cooked middle to go into your food processor. Whatever method, you want to remove any charred husk and any outside layer that is to tough to puree. Place the tomatoes and onions (you’ll probably have to do two batches) in the food processor with the garlic and chilis. Add the juice from one lime, 1TBS salt, and the cilantro, and puree it all. After your two batches are done, combine it in a large bowl and taste it. Add more lime juice or salt according to your tastes. The flavors will intensify in the fridge. I find that this is the best after about a day in the fridge (and it gets spicier, keep that in mind).

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Zucchini Chips

I’ve been seeing pictures of zucchini chips floating around pinterest. My sister swears by a baked version, so I tried it. I couldn’t get what I wanted through baking: a crisp, salty, thin slice of zucchini, like a sweeter, greener potato chip. So, I resorted back to deep frying. Yeah, not the healthiest method, and the nutrition factor is questionable, but, MAN! they were tasty. I much prefer them over potato chips.

ZUCCHINI CHIPS

4 cups water
1/8 cup salt
2-3 zucchinis
oil for frying

In a large bowl, add salt to the water. Stir until dissolved. Slice zucchini very thin (think potato chips). It’s easiest to use a mandolin, food processor, or the slicing part of a box grater. Soak the zucchini in the salt water for 15 minutes. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large pot to 350-375 degrees. I usually throw a slice in to see if it immediately starts bubbling around the food, that’s how you know it’s ready. Oil at a correct temp leaves less oil on the food, so it’s fried, but not greasy. If you put your food in too early, it will soak up oil before getting fried, leading to greasy food and higher calories.  While waiting for the oil to heat, dry off your zucchini slices as much as possible. Water hitting hot oil will spatter, so be sure you are wearing an apron, and keep your distance. I quickly blotted the zucchini with paper towels, and didn’t have a spattering problem at all. When the oil is ready, dump a handful or two of the zucchini slices into the oil. You want them to be able to float individually in the oil. Use a wooden spoon to separate any that are clinging together. You essentially want to cook one “layer” of zukes at a time. Watch your heat, If they are cooking too slow or too fast as you go, lower or increase your burner temp. Once you see that they are starting brown, remove to a plate covered in paper towels using a slotted spoon. My kids loved these, and I wish I had cooked a double batch!

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Mini Hootenanny Pancakes

Hootenanny…hootenanny..hoot, hoot, Hoot!

That’s what we say when eating these pancakes. I’m not sure where that came from, I think I read someone else’s story that their family did it growing up, and it kinda stuck. These are also called “German Oven Pancakes” or “Dutch Babies”. I am not biased against various European countries, so we’ve stuck with Hootenanny Pancakes.

There are also various ways to eat them. Traditionally, they are made in a pie tin, then sliced up kinda like a pizza. My husband likes it with syrup, butter and powdered sugar. I prefer it with fruit of some sort and whipped cream. One thing I love about breakfast is that it’s an easy excuse to eat dessert as a meal without feeling guilty.

This recipe uses a large muffin tin (the kind that makes six muffins, not twelve) to create cute little individual cups to be filled as your heart desires. The optimum fill portion for the best cups is about 1/3 full. if you fill it 1/2 full, they will be thick and not quite form into cups.

HOOTENANNY PANCAKES

6 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
3 TSP butter, melted

additional melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend all ingredients in a food processor, blender, or with an immersion blender.  You want to make sure all the flour is well incorporated and the batter is smooth. Put a tablespoon of melted butter in each of the six muffin divots. Fill each 1/3 full with the batter. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until puffed up and golden brown. Invert onto a cooling rack.

Fill with your favorite fruit, syrup, Nutella (ooh, that’s a great idea!), or whatever you please. I filled these with Easy Strawberry Topping.

EASY STRAWBERRY TOPPING

3 cups strawberries
1/2 cup sugar

Combine the strawberries and sugar. Let sit for 30 minutes. Mash with a potato masher, or puree.

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ALLERGY alert: These can easily be converted to gluten-free by using gluten-free flour. They can be made dairy-free by subbing an alternative milk, and using 100% vegetable margarine or oil in place of the butter.

Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s Pie is the ultimate comfort food. Yeah, I know, you’re thinking “No, it’s not. Macaroni and Cheese is”. Well, we could arm wrestle over it, but for me, meat and potatoes will beat pasta every single day. Plus, add some green veggies to it, and it turns into health food. Can’t beat that. This is a very versatile recipe, and is perfect for using up leftovers. I personally use leftover roast from my Garlic Pork Roast, or Pot Roast. If you don’t have leftovers, it’s till very tasty using ground beef or ground turkey. Heck, you can use leftover turkey from thanksgiving, and your kids will love you! I also use leftover vegetables, my kids prefer corn and green beans. If you don’t have leftovers, cook up some frozen or fresh veggies. You can use canned, if you must.

SHEPHERD’S PIE

1 lb. ground beef or turkey, or leftover shredded roast.
2 cups assorted cooked vegetables: green beans, carrots or corn.
4 TBS butter
4 TBS flour
2 cups beef broth, or broth from cooking the roast.
4-5 cups mashed potatoes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook ground meat, if using, until brown. Spread meat (either the ground meat, or leftover roast) into a 9×13 pan. Spread vegetables on top of the meat. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add the flour and cook while whisking until light brown (you are making a Roux). Add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition, removing all lumps before adding more broth (click on roux link for additional help). When all of the broth is added, whisk continually until thick. Pour over the meat and veggies. Spread mashed potatoes on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

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REAL food alert: Many canned and boxed stocks and broths have preservatives or MSG. Double check the ingredients list to make sure there are no ingredients you aren’t comfortable with. Better yet, Make your own broth, or use the liquid from cooking the roast.

ALLERGY alert: This can be made gluten-free by subbing gluten-free flour. If the gravy does not sufficiently thicken, use 1 TBS cornstarch+ 3 TBS cold water, and add it while the gravy is boiling. Stir until thick.  Be sure you double check your stock/broth to make sure it’s gluten-free. This can be made dairy-free by subbing 100% vegetable margarine or oil for the butter.

VEGGIE alert: You could make this vegetarian by using veggie broth, and subbing the meat for cooked beans. Make it vegan by also subbing the butter for oil or 100% vegetable margarine.

For a freezer meal, assemble everything except mashed potatoes. cover snugly with heavy foil. Freeze. To serve, defrost and top with mashed potatoes.

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)