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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Calabacitas con Crema (Zucchini with Cream)

There’s a song I learned in my 7th grade Spanish class. Here’s how I remember it (starting from the part I can recall): “cinco de mayo, seis de junio, siete de julio, San Fermin. La, La, La, La, La, La, La. Hien a roto la pagareta. La, La, La, La, La, La, La. Hien a roto la pagara.” I sang this for my Brother-in-law once, who is fluent in Spanish, and he looked at me like I was crazy. After messing around with google translate, I’m pretty sure “hien” should be “quien”, but I am still pretty sure somewhere since 7th grade, the song has become warped. We called this the “Smurf Song”…you can guess why. I still sing it today (incorrectly)…every time I hear the words “Cinco de Mayo”. I live in the American Southwest, so Cinco de Mayo is a pretty big deal. We eat Mexican food on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, but I still love to have a little themed dinner on May 5th, just for funsies. This particular dish is one of my favorites. It takes some prep, but it’s sooooo worth it. Plus, it’s fairly healthy to offset the refried beans, rich meat and stacks of tortillas that is normal Mexican fare. Try it for your Cinco de Mayo dinner this year! It’s perfect with soft tortillas, Garlic Pork Roast and Roasted Red Salsa.

CALABACITAS CON CREMA

2 ears of corn
1 large poblano chile
1 pound zucchini or mexican squash
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
1/2 medium sweet onion, sliced into thin strips
2/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a cookie sheet, place 2 ears of corn, still in their husks and poblano chili. Place in the preheated oven. Cook for 30 minutes, turning chili as needed to get a nice blister on each side. The blacker the skin, the better. While corn and chile are cooking, dice zucchini into 1/2 inch cubes. Toss the zucchini in salt and place in a colander. Put the colander in a larger bowl or over the sink or a towel to catch drips. The salt will draw out moisture, which you want to drain off. Let sit for 30 minutes, then dry zucchini on paper towels. Sometimes I have gotten 1/2 cup of liquid, and sometimes only a few tablespoons. Either way, I’ve noticed a difference in the texture of the zucchini after it’s cooked. Cut onion into thin strips. When corn and chile are done cooking, allow to cool, about 15 minutes. Take a paper towel and rub the chile, removing the blistered skin. The blacker the skin, the easier it is to come off. You may want to wear disposable gloves while you do this, as chile oil does not wash off easily and you will be in pain if you touch your eyes after the chile. Pull off the cap on top and any seeds that come with it. Cut open on side of the chile and flatten it out. remove any seeds and discard. Slice the chile into thin strips. Remove the husk from the corn and cut the kernels off.

When the zucchini, chiles, onion and corn are all prepped and ready, Heat oil and butter in a pan over medium heat. And the zucchini and fry, stirring frequently, until brown and just tender (cooked, but not mushy). Remove the zucchini to a plate, retaining as much oil and butter in the pan as possible. If the pan is dry, add another TBS of oil and wait for it to come up to heat before continuing. Add the corn, onion and chile to the pan and stir-fry until onions are soft and brown. Add the zucchini back in to the pan along with the cream. Heat until the cream glazes the vegetables. Remove from heat and serve immediately. If you don’t plan to serve immediately, after the veggies are cooked, combine with the zucchini and let rest. Right before serving, add cream and heat over medium until cream reduces to a glaze, about 3-5 minutes. This tastes best if made and served immediately, so I would suggest you do all the prep work beforehand, then leave this to be your last dish cooked.

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Adapted from a recipe by Rick Bayless.

 

Strawberry Mango Trifle

“Trifle” means something of little value. To me, “A Trifle” is of great value. Traditionally, this European dessert is layers of cake soaked in an alcohol of some kind, jam, custard and whipped cream. Of course, here in The States we’ve bastardized it. Anything that is layered cake (or even brownies or cookie chunks) with a pudding or whipped cream is called a “trifle”. We also tend to use fresh fruit in our “trifles” here in the U.S. But, hey, who cares if it’s traditional or not, whatever you call it (Capulet or Montague), it’s dang tasty, and the perfect dessert for warmer weather.

In this trifle, I avoided the alcohol, and instead use the natural juices from the strawberries and mangoes to drench the cake. Instead of custard I used a sweet lime cream cheese folded with whipped cream for a light filling that perfectly compliments the mangoes.

STRAWBERRY MANGO TRIFLE

4 large mangoes, chunked
2 cups strawberries, halved
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
8 ounces cream cheese
4 TBS fresh squeezed lime juice
1 angel food cake

In a large bowl, combine mangoes, strawberries and 2/3 cup sugar. Let sit for at least 20 minutes to create juices. Meanwhile, whip the cream until very thick. See this post if you need help on this part. Scrape whipped cream in to a separate bowl. In your mixer bowl, combine cream cheese, lime juice and 1/3 cup sugar. Whip until smooth and fluffy. Fold the whipping cream into the cream cheese mixture. Folding is a method where you softly and slowly cut through the mixture, and “fold” it over, until it is mixed. It allows the whipped cream to stay as fluffy as possible. If you stir it in, it will turn liquidy. Here is a good video that shows the method.

Cut or break your angel food cake into chunks. In a trifle dish or large bowl, lay down a layer of cake. Top that with fruit, then the cream mixture. Repeat. Be sure to include the juices with the fruit so it can soak down into the cake. Finish it off with the whipped cream mixture, and garnish with fresh fruit.

REAL food alert: A store bought angel food cake will be full of all sorts of additives, including chemical preservatives and artificial flavors. You may be able to buy a more natural one at a store like Trader Joes or Whole Foods. Making one yourself does take a special pan, and a bit of work, but they are SOOOO much better tasting. Eventually I’ll post a recipe. Meanwhile, try this one. Whipping Cream: check for additives and artificial flavors in your whipping cream. For more info, check out this post.

check out all that nice juice…mmm…

Whole Wheat Breakfast Pockets

Breakfast.

It’s the bain of my existence.

Or it’s a stable beginning to a day of healthy eating.

Or it’s an indulgent part of a fabulous day the ends in me with chocolate stains on my shirt.

It fluctuates between those three.

I have to have protein with my breakfast, and so do my kids. If we have an easy cereal morning, within a few hours everyone is grumpy and hungry. The problem is, I’m not always in the mood to make eggs and my kids aren’t always in the mood for whole grain oatmeal. I need an easy pre-prepared breakfast option for crazy days and lazy days.

I took inspiration from frozen hot pockets, and decided to make some myself, but healthier. The crust is a super soft and flavorful honey whole wheat bread, rolled thin, so there’s no heaviness (I know what you’re thinking when you hear “whole wheat”…banish that thought). The greatest thing is how flexible the filling can be. My kids prefer eggs, sausage and cheese. You can just do eggs and cheese, or get creative with stir-fried veggies, quinoa, curried potatoes. One of our favorites is leftover sausage and gravy with scrambled eggs. The best thing? These can be frozen, then nuked in the microwave for a super simple, quick breakfast on the go, but HEALTHY!!! You’ll win the mom of the year award.

WHOLE WHEAT BREAKFAST POCKETS
makes 18 pockets

1 cup warm water
1/4 cup raw honey
1 1/2 TBS yeast
1/2 cup oil
1 egg, whisked at room temperature
3-4 cups whole wheat flour, divided
4 TBS vital wheat gluten
1/3 cup dry milk
1 tsp salt

Take the egg out of the fridge to bring to room temperature, whisk it in a bowl. In a mixer, with dough hook attached, stir together warm water and honey. Add yeast and let sit for 5 minutes, until frothy.  Add oil, egg, 2 cups of wheat flour, gluten, dry milk and salt. Mix on low until well combined. Add 1 additional cup of flour. With mixer on low, add more flour a little as a time, as needed, until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and creates a ball. Your goal here is to add as little flour as possible. Let the mixer knead the dough for 5 minutes. Check on it every once in a while and add small portions of flour as needed if dough  sticks to the sides of the bowl.

When kneading is finished, cover bowl with a towel and place in a warm spot to rise for one hour, or until double in bulk.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dump dough on a lightly floured surface. Divide into 6 equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a rectangle. Roll it as thin as you can without it ripping. Cut each rectangle into 3 pieces. Place 1/3 cup of whatever filling you are using onto one side. Fold it over and pinch the edge shut (this works best if you bring the bottom up and fold it over the top before pinching. Place them on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Let cool before placing in freezer zipper bags and freezing. To reheat, take from freezer and microwave for 35 seconds.

FILLING:

Sausage, Egg & Cheese:
1/2 lb breakfast sausage
12 eggs
cheese of choice

Brown sausage in a skillet. Drain well. Scramble eggs and cook in a skillet until cooked through, but not brown. Mix the sausage in with the eggs. Use as a filling, topping with cheese as desired before pinching shut.

REAL food alert: check your sausage for MSG, BHA and BHT. Check your pre-shredded cheese for various additives, including some that contain popular allergens (best bet: buy it and shred it yourself).

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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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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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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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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.

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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