Green Gazpacho Shooters

It isn’t easy being green—unless you happen to be this gazpacho! I know, you’ve probably only seen gazpacho in shades of red, and perhaps with a few green bits of pepper or scallion on top. But when I visited our farmers’ market last weekend, I discovered that most of the tomato vendors had sold out. That is, until I spotted these beauties at a booth near the back.

In the end, I was glad that all the red ones were sold out!

The grower assured me that these little gems were indeed ripe, and as sweet as any other baby tomatoes. I don’t remember the variety of the tomato (artisan-something-or-other), but I figured it would be, at the very least, a fun twist on the chilled summer soup I planned to serve at our 3rd of July shindig. I picked up some fresh spring onions and a few yellow tomatoes, too, figuring they would help supplement my gazpacho with garden-fresh goods. The soup wouldn’t be red, but it would be interesting, and I was committed to using farmers’ market ingredients as much as possible.

That raises an important point about shopping local and eating with the seasons—it puts you at the mercy of the harvest, and you either go with the flow or go hungry!

I consider every trip to the farmers’ market to be a treasure hunt!

Fortunately, nobody went hungry at our house that evening, and this easy appetizer was the first thing we shared to get the party started. My instinct was to serve the gazpacho as “shooters,” a quick and simple starter that could be prepped ahead and served, sans silverware, as guests arrived. And I could have served them that way, if I had left off the delicate cubes of yellow tomato, cucumber and avocado, but those made the cups so much prettier, even if we did need to hand out spoons! An additional “garnish” of roasted paprika-dusted shrimp made the shooters substantial enough to hold everyone over for the feast that would come off the grill later.

This was a fun way to welcome guests with a fresh taste of summer!

This recipe was very easy to make (gazpacho always is), and I prepped everything but the shrimp a day ahead, which worked well because gazpacho flavors really develop overnight. Step one was to strip the skins off the tiny tomatoes—you don’t want to put those in the processor, unless you like little bits of peel sticking to your teeth. For this task, I did a quick blanch-and-shock treatment. Bring water to a boil in a pot, and prepare a separate bowl filled with ice water. Cut an “x” on the bottom of each tomato to give the peel an easy place to break. Gently lower the tomatoes into the boiling water, a few at a time, and only for about a minute, and then immediately scoop and transfer them into the ice water. This immediately stops the cooking process, shocking the tomatoes so that the peels can be easily stripped away.


I repeated the process with the larger, yellow tomatoes, which I took time to de-seed first (I kept the seeds for another purpose). I held back the flesh of about half a yellow tomato to use later for garnish, and the rest went into the large bowl of my food processor with the little green tomatoes. A few of them had tougher stems, which I cut off, but most of them were tender enough to toss into the mix.

I haven’t shared much about my processor yet, as I’m still learning all the bells and whistles, but I promise I’ll give it a proper introduction soon. For now, I’ll say that it is quite large (14-cup capacity) and it has a cool “Blendermix” ring that is designed to keep the bowl contents in check when you puree ingredients. I love this because it eliminates the need to stop and scrape down the bowl during mixing. Less work for me is never a bad thing!


When I was satisfied with the smoothness of the tomatoes, I tossed in most of a peeled and seeded, cut-up cucumber (I reserved part of it for a topping), a chopped spring onion and about half of a chopped jalapeno. If you like heat, you can leave the seeds in the jalapeno for a bigger bite. I stripped them out to accommodate guests who may not enjoy heat as much. It’s always easier to add spice than to take it away! Depending on how much texture you want in your gazpacho, you could either pulse in these extra goodies or puree the dickens out of them. I went with plan B and whizzed it up nice and smooth, then transferred the soup to a pitcher bowl and stirred in a splash of red wine vinegar and a quick swirl of good, extra virgin olive oil (Spanish, of course).


Gazpacho is best when it has had some time to “relax” in the refrigerator, so at that point, I covered the pitcher bowl and chilled it overnight. Remember the yellow tomato I set aside earlier, and the last bit of cucumber that didn’t get pureed? My intention was to use them as a garnish/topper on the gazpacho at serving time, so I sprinkled them with salt and combined them in a small bowl that also went into the refrigerator. A little bit of texture on top of the gazpacho would add visual interest and something to tantalize the taste buds on those first few bites.

Even the yellow tomato was so juicy! I reserved the seeds and excess juice for another purpose.

To serve the gazpacho, divvy it up into cute little cups or glasses. We did this an hour or so ahead of our friends’ arrival to save time and last-minute fussing, then tucked them back into the fridge. Top each cup with a few cubes of the reserved tomato-cucumber mixture, and a few cubes of fresh avocado. If you wish to garnish with the roasted shrimp, check out my previous post for Bloody Mary Shrimp Cocktail—the process was the same, but for this gazpacho recipe, I tossed the shrimp with a little bit of salt, garlic powder and sweet Spanish paprika.


This green gazpacho was a perfect starter for the summer meal to come from the grill. It was light, flavorful and very refreshing, and though it was a simple course—from its short list of ingredients to its ease of preparation—everyone loved it so much, they were still talking about it as we hugged our goodbyes.

It doesn’t get much sweeter than that!

Green Gazpacho Shooters

  • Difficulty: average
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This easy green gazpacho can be made ahead in half an hour and is terrific as a starter course for a summer meal off the grill! This recipe requires a food processor, or it can be made in a blender, though you may need to process the tomatoes in batches.

Ingredients

  • 2 dry pints of ripe baby tomatoes (green or otherwise)
  • 3 smallish yellow tomatoes (one will be reserved to chop for topping gazpacho)
  • 1 spring onion or small sweet onion, rough chopped
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and quartered with seeds removed (reserve a chunk of this for topping)
  • 1/2 medium jalapeno, rough chopped (use the seeds if you like it hot)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. good quality, extra virgin olive oil (preferably a Spanish, fruity variety)
  • 1/2 ripe avocado, cubed (this will be a garnish at serving time; do not add it to the blended gazpacho)
  • Roasted paprika-dusted shrimp, optional for garnish (cooking instructions included in note below)

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil and fill a separate, large bowl with ice water.
  2. Wash all tomatoes and use a paring knife to cut a small “x” on the bottom of each.
  3. Carefully lower the tomatoes (a few at a time) into boiling water, and turn them a few times until the peels begin to loosen. This will only take about one minute, unless the tomatoes are less ripe. Scoop them out and immediately transfer them to the ice water bowl, taking care to fully submerge them. Repeat until all tomatoes have been blanched and shocked.
  4. Drain the tomatoes of excess water and transfer them to the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the large blade. Season with salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to break up the large pieces, and then process continuously until the tomatoes are pureed to a smooth consistency.
  5. Add the cut-up onion, cucumber, and jalapeno to the processor. Pulse, then puree continuously to desired consistency.
  6. Stir in the vinegar and olive oil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Transfer gazpacho to a pitcher bowl and refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  7. Dice the reserved yellow tomato and cucumber into bite-sized bits. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Combine these in a bowl and refrigerate to use as a garnish on the soup.
  8. To serve, divide the gazpacho into cups and top with reserved tomato and cuke bits, plus roasted and chilled paprika shrimp (below).

These paprika-spiced shrimp are very simple to make, and you may prep these up to a day ahead. Be sure to give them enough time to chill completely in the fridge before serving time.

Ingredients

  • 12 to 16 shrimp (enough for two shrimp per gazpacho serving)
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. Spanish sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • several twists freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Peel and de-vein shrimp, keeping tails intact for presentation. Pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Add shrimp to a zip-top freezer bag. Drizzle in olive oil and add seasonings. Seal and shake to evenly coat the shrimp with seasonings.
  4. Arrange shrimp on baking sheet. Roast for about 6 minutes, or until shrimp are just barely opaque. Remove from oven and arrange in one layer on a plate. Place the plate directly into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to stop the cooking process. Transfer to a covered container and keep chilled until ready to serve.



Quick & Easy Refried Bean Soup

This recipe was shared with me many years ago by a friend who had the craziest schedule I’d ever witnessed. When she wasn’t running full speed ahead with her two middle-schoolers—to dance classes, soccer practice, music lessons, birthday parties, etc.—she was leading a high school youth group, teaching aerobics classes, volunteering at church and befriending every newcomer to the neighborhood. Her door was always open to visitors, even during the hectic holidays, and she always seemed to have something tasty to nibble on when someone appeared unexpectedly.

She didn’t have what I would call a passion for cooking, and certainly not much time, but she was incredibly skilled at getting a healthful and satisfying meal on the table in no time flat. This soup is one example, and when I pulled it out of my old recipe box the other day, I thought, “of course.” This is not an all-day-simmer kind of soup; rather, it leverages the already developed flavors of two key ingredients—jarred salsa and canned refried beans. Add some fresh onions and bell pepper, some veggie broth and your choice of chili beans and dinner is served.

There’s plenty of hearty comfort in the bowl, with beans, onions and peppers. And your favorite salsa lends a flavor that defies the quickness of the recipe.

The soup is every bit as comforting as any other homemade soup, but only takes 20 minutes, start to finish, which just happens to be the exact amount of time you need to throw a batch of Jiffy corn muffins into the oven (they’re perfect on the side).

What could be easier after a hectic day of shopping and errands during the busy holiday season?


Simple pantry ingredients and a few easy things from the fridge.

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 bell pepper (any color), chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Cumin, salt and pepper

1 cup prepared salsa from a jar* (see notes)

2 cans beans (mix and match; pinto, black, kidney, navy are all good here)

2 cups low-sodium vegetable (or chicken) broth

1 can refried beans

Corn muffins for serving (optional, but yummy)


*Notes

Any kind of savory salsa will work here. It can be mild or spicy, green or red, thick or runny. If you have a can of Rotel tomatoes on hand, you could also substitute with that.


Instructions

  1. Get your corn muffins in the oven, if you’re making them. This soup can be made while they are baking.
  2. Drain and rinse the canned beans.
  3. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Saute onion and pepper until softened. Add garlic and saute another minute or two. Season with cumin, salt and pepper.
  4. Increase heat to medium-high. Add canned beans, salsa and broth, and stir to combine. When mixture begins to boil, reduce heat to medium. Stir in the can of refried beans, taking time to swirl and blend it into the broth. Adjust seasonings to taste. Simmer until ready to serve.


Slow Cooker Turkey Chili Soup

Can someone please explain to me how time works? Because it has only been nine days since my last post, but it feels like 29. Some of the days have been a blur, as we have had non-stop activity in the kitchen during the demolition of the old and especially the arrival and installation of the new. And then, other days it has been so quiet it seems that even the crickets are on vacation. This morning, I literally had to ask my husband, “what day is today?” because amid the ruckus, I couldn’t quite remember. Only one week down and at least five to go—oy, vey!

It would be premature at this point to show you the progress of our remodel, given that we don’t yet have a countertop and the floor is covered in protective cardboard and there is new and ongoing discussion about how much we can configure our backsplash for a couple of design features I’ve been desperate to have. Well, OK, maybe just a few quick photos, but I want to save some for the big reveal!


There is much more to be done, and some of the details our contractor is working through are special enough to be considered “fussy,” so we are fine with some intermittent slowdowns. As far as we know, and barring any future catastrophes, things are still on track for us to be back in the kitchen by mid-November!

The biggest challenges have been exactly as expected—keeping the pets calm and cared for, which has been manageable so far because the weather is nice enough for our cat to chill outside (which she loves anyway) and our next-door neighbor has generously invited me and the dog over for some peace and quiet whenever things get wild over here. The other obvious challenge has been cooking without a kitchen, and today I’m sharing the first real, “cooked” recipe I’ve made since we started the remodel project. Breakfast doesn’t count because we are mainly just using the toaster. And until Friday of last week, we had relied on take-out and sandwiches for lunch and dinner. And (of course) cocktails for me, but that will be another post. 😉

Our first real meal could not have been more perfect for the fall season, and it also could not have been simpler to make, despite the fact that I did not have a stove, a microwave, a sink or a countertop. How did I pull it off?

It’s my multi-purpose friend, the slow cooker!

Say hello again to our multi-purpose slow cooker, the same one I used for our final “Chopped” challenge when Les tricked me into cooking all that kielbasa. The “browning” setting on this 7-in-1 appliance saved the day for my new adventure of “cooking without a kitchen.” I browned the ground turkey and onions, then added all the other ingredients, switched it to the slow cook setting, and let it simmer until Les walked in the door at the end of his workday. I was so excited to have actually cooked, and there was something very comforting about having the aromas of that chili soup filling the house. We needed a good, home-cooked meal at the end of such a crazy, noisy week. And, because it all came together in one pot, even the cleanup was easy.

This original recipe is one of my favorites, and it conjures warm and fuzzy memories for me. A few years ago, on a gloomy February day during another crazy time in my life, I’d scrambled through the cabinets for something to make that did not require a trip to the grocery store. I didn’t have a whole can of tomatoes, but I did have a small can of salsa, plus some roasted green chiles, half a bag of frozen corn, a can of beans and a carton of chicken broth. When I settled in with a bowl of this delicious concoction, which is not quite chili and not quite soup, I loved it so much, I took time to write it all down, and I’m glad I did because it was just right for such a crazy time as this. And there’s another benefit to it—easy leftovers!

Of course, you don’t need to have a special slow cooker to make it. Feel free to use a soup pot or Dutch oven. I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ll do next time—you know, when I have a shiny new kitchen!

If I had an oven this week, I would have made a batch of cornbread to accompany this tasty chili soup!

Ingredients

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 small sweet onion, chopped

1 lb. ground turkey (or turkey breast, if you prefer leaner meat)

3-4 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika

1/2 tsp. ancho chile powder

Salt and pepper

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

4 cups chicken broth (this is equal to 1 large carton)

7 oz. can roasted green chiles, chopped

1 small can Herdez salsa (about 8 oz.)

1 1/2 cups frozen roasted corn

1 can black beans, drained

Tortilla chips for serving


Instructions


  1. Add olive oil to the slow cooker (or pot), on a medium heat setting. Saute the onions until they are soft and translucent, then push them to the outside of the pot.
  2. Add the ground turkey, about half at a time, breaking it up into bits with your fingers as you go. When you brown ground meat, it’s a good idea to cook a small amount at a time to maintain a steady heat. Otherwise, the meat will just steam. When all the turkey is browned, add the chopped garlic and the spices, plus salt and pepper, and cook about one minute until the garlic is fragrant.
  3. Sprinkle the flour over the ground meat mixture and stir it around to evenly coat all the meat. It should seem a little dry on the surface of the meat; add a touch more flour if needed to get this appearance. Cook the mixture two minutes, add the green chiles and cook two more minutes.
  4. Add the chicken broth to the pot all at once. Stir gently to mix the broth with the roux-covered meat mixture and cook until it reaches a slight boil, then reduce the heat and simmer about one hour. At this point, I switched the slow cooker setting from “browning,” which is essentially the same as cooking on a stove top, to “high slow cook.”
  5.  Add the roasted corn, black beans and salsa and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste. Simmer on low setting for two hours or more, until you’re ready to serve.

For our first “cooking without a kitchen” meal, I served this comforting turkey chili soup with tortilla chips, but it’s really delicious with a fresh batch of skillet cornbread.



Crab & Artichoke Bisque

If this soup looks and sounds familiar to you, it’s because you are a faithful reader of Comfort du Jour, and you probably remember it from the Chopped Challenge post of a few days ago. In that post, I detailed my thought process in transforming a basket of ordinary mystery ingredients (curated by my darling husband, Les) into stunning food magnificence. Dramatic? Perhaps I have been watching too much of the real “Chopped” on Food Network and channeling host Ted Allen. Or blame the stars—I am, after all, a Leo.

Anywho, because of the overwhelming response and multitude of requests for the details of this recipe (OK, it was only my foodie pal, Dorothy, who requested the particulars, but she is enough), I share it today for your culinary pleasure. Dorothy and I met on WordPress, the digital platform for my blog, and we follow each other’s kitchen adventures with great joy and mutual encouragement. Her own blog, The New Vintage Kitchen, has me swooning over homemade delicacies on the regular, so if she wants one of my original recipes, you can bet I’ll hustle it up here. This works out well for me, too, because my usual M.O. is cooking without a specific plan or purpose, adding a little of this and that, skipping all effort of writing down the ingredients, amounts or instructions. Inevitably, Les will casually mention how much he enjoyed the such-and-such that I made back in oh, I don’t know, 2017, maybe? And at that point, I have absolutely no idea how to replicate it. Sigh.

That will not happen with this delicious soup, which also happened to be easy to make, even though I felt at the time as though I was flying by the seat of my pants (I was). I created it as a challenge to myself, to avoid the pitfalls of my own comfortable repertoire, and to surprise Les with something more interesting than the most obvious dish I might have otherwise prepared from my mystery basket (pizza). Do I not already make enough pizzas here on the blog? [Insert shameless plug for Pizza Party page] Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to jot down my method and amounts, so this will be a piece of cake—no, wait, a pot of soup—and I will be able to refer back to my own blog to revisit the recipe anytime I want (you’d be surprised at how often I really do this).

The soup ingredients themselves are no mystery. You’ll need lump crab meat and canned artichoke hearts, plus some onions (I used leeks), small red potatoes, seafood stock or veggie broth, a generous glug of white wine, a splash of cream and an immersion blender. Oh, and some crispy bacon for serving. If you don’t have an immersion blender, I am confident that this soup would also have been delicious in the style of a chowder, and I almost made it that way myself, except for the fact that Les loves creamy soups, and bisques in particular. I took a chance pureeing it, given that the potatoes had red skin and the leaves of the artichoke hearts can be kind of stringy, but it worked out beautifully. So you choose which works for you.

As a bonus, I will also share the ratio of ingredients for the tangy tapenade I served on the side, taking advantage of another basket ingredient (Kalamata olives) that didn’t seem to fit the soup itself. Enjoy!

Note to self: Must make again; Les loved it and declared my Chopped challenge a “winner.” And it just might be served one day in Dorothy’s own kitchen, or perhaps under her majestic maple tree named Alice, and that would make me super proud.

Recipe makes about 6 servings

Ingredients

1 slice thick center-cut bacon, diced* (see notes)

2 leeks (white and pale green parts), sliced and cleaned (or 1 medium onion, chopped)

2 Tbsp. salted butter

4 smallish young red potatoes, skin-on, diced (should be about 1 1/2 cups)

15 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained*

3 cups seafood stock or veggie broth*

About 1/3 cup dry white wine

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

1 or 2 bay leaves for simmering

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup heavy cream

8 oz. lump crab meat

1 rib celery, strings removed and finely minced

Lemon slices and freshly chopped parsley (for garnish)


*Notes

The bacon I used for this recipe was pasture-raised and very thick cut. If using a grocery store brand, I recommend the thickest center cut available, and consider using two slices.

If you intend to make the artichoke-Kalamata tapenade, cut a few of the artichoke hearts in half, reserving the very tender parts for the tapenade. Otherwise, use the entire can in the soup. These artichoke hearts were packed only in water, not in oil with spices.

I used seafood stock from a carton because I already had it on hand. I knew the crab would be introduced at the very end, and I wanted more of the seafood flavor simmered into the soup. If I had the time (and enough shrimp shells in my freezer stash) I probably would have made this from scratch. In a pinch, a favorite veggie broth would work well. Or perhaps veggie broth, plus a small bottle of clam juice.


Instructions

  1. Place a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the bacon to the pot and cook until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set it aside.
  2. Add butter to the bacon grease and saute the leeks (or onions) until tender. Stir them around to loosen all the browned bacon-y goodness from the bottom of the pot.
  3. Add the potatoes and artichoke hearts and toss to coat in the bacon drippings mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the stock, white wine, lemon juice and bay leaf. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to simmer for about 45 minutes. Check to be sure the potato cubes are completely tender.
  4. Remove bay leaf from the pot. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup mixture to the desired consistency. Stir in heavy cream. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  5. Add most of the lump crab, reserving a bit to sprinkle on top of each serving. Add the minced celery here at the very end also, for a surprising little bit of texture in each spoonful. Stir gently to combine and simmer until the crab is warmed through. Drizzle a bit of olive oil into the reserved crab and place it near the stove to warm.
  6. Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Top each bowl with a tablespoon of reserved lump crab, a sprinkling of the crisp bacon, a scatter of fresh parsley and a broiled lemon slice.

Broiled lemon slices: Cut thin slices from the center of a lemon (where it is thickest). Remove the seeds and press between paper towels to remove as much juice and moisture as possible. Arrange the lemon slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet and broil on low for a few minutes (watch them closely). I placed mine on a baking sheet with another item and baked them for about 20 minutes, and the result was nearly the same.


Artichoke-Kalamata Tapenade

A handful of pitted Kalamata olives, preferably packed in brine with oil

1/4 cup artichoke hearts (only the tender “bottoms”)

2 large “lemon twist” cocktail olives in vermouth (mine were Tillen Farms brand)

2 Tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes, snipped into bits and rehydrated with boiling water

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (mine happened to be from Kalamata olives)

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper


Chop up the olives, artichoke hearts and cocktail olives (including lemon peels inside) into very small bits. Do this by hand, as a food processor would pulverize them into mush. Drain the sun-dried tomatoes and add them to the mix. Stir in lemon juice. Drizzle in olive oil and stir to coat everything. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper. Serve alongside the soup with crackers, pita, crostini or bread sticks.




French Onion Soup

Leave it to the French to take a mountain of sliced onions, a bit of broth and a few Provencal herbs and transform them into a heavenly, melt-in-your-mouth soup. The dismal weather that has become something of a default around here this winter has had me in the soup mood, and this one is astonishingly simple—from ingredients to technique.

One thing that sets French onion soup apart from others is the amount of time spent simply preparing the onions. You can use a mandolin or processor to make quick work of slicing them, but there isn’t much you can do to speed up the cooking. In a Dutch oven on the stovetop, it can take up to two hours to properly caramelize the onions—that is, to draw out their moisture and let all the natural sugars burst forth. If you work too quickly, you’ll have sautéed onions, but they won’t have the luxurious sweetness that is a signature of French onion soup. One way to get this done with minimal fussing is to use a slow cooker, set on the lowest setting. Another is to caramelize them in the oven, allowing a low-and-slow transformation, perhaps even overnight. The extra effort and preparation time has landed this soup in the Sunday Supper category here on Comfort du Jour, but I promise—however you approach the whole onion caramelization thing, it is well worth the wait.

If you’re the make-it-all-yourself type, feel free to slow roast some beef soup bones and make your own stock, too. I had a momentary lapse of reason and tried this myself, but mainly ended up with a bucket full of tallow and two sinks completely filled with dirty pots and bowls. As far as I can tell, a good quality store-bought stock is a gift from heaven, so that’s what I used. Make it vegetarian with a good vegetable stock or combine the two as I did for wonderful layers of flavor.

The final touches on top of French onion soup are toasted baguette or bread slices and melty shredded Gruyere cheese. Yes, it’s a luscious bowl of classic French comfort food that is guaranteed to warm you up in these final weeks of winter.

The melty cheese on top makes this soup even more satisfying!

Ingredients

4 pounds sweet onions, sliced

1 stick unsalted butter

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence seasoning* (see notes)

1 bulb roasted garlic

1/2 cup dry wine (red or white, for deglazing the pot)

8 cups (2 quarts) low-sodium broth or stock (beef, vegetable or combo)

Crusty French bread slices (toasted, for serving)

Shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese (about 2 Tbsp. per serving)

*Notes

Herbes de Provence is a blend of seasonings native to the Provencal region of France, and the brand I use includes thyme, rosemary, garlic, lemon peel and lavender. The combination of this seasoning is aromatic and typically used somewhat sparingly, but it is such a central flavor to French onion soup, I’ve used a good amount in this large batch. As always, take note of the salt content of any seasoning blend you use so that you can adjust the overall salt accordingly.

Instructions

I’ll walk you through it, and you’ll find written instructions below, plus a link to download the recipe for your files. 🙂

  1. Slice onions about 1/4” thick, preferably from stem to root ends, rather than into rings. For this recipe, I think it’s helpful to have the onion pieces generally the same size, and the top-to-bottom slicing will help you achieve that.
  2. Place a heavy Dutch oven over low heat, and melt the stick of butter in it. Add the onions at the same time as the butter if you’d like. But if you are using a slow cooker, melt the butter first, then toss the onions thoroughly to coat before cooking on low setting. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the onions around in the pot, and resist the urge to turn up the heat. Proper caramelization is important for this recipe, and it’s a long, slow process. Happily, you don’t have to stand over it constantly; as long as you stir the onions occasionally, it’s fine.
  3. After an hour or so, start watching for signs of browning on the bottom of the pot. This is a sign that the onions are caramelizing and once it begins, it proceeds more quickly. Stir more frequently from this point, but do not increase the heat.
  4. When caramelization is complete, the onion mixture will begin to look like it’s frying rather than simmering—this is because the moisture content has fully dissipated. Add the herbs de Provence, roasted garlic, salt and pepper.
  5. Pour the wine into the pot, and use your utensil to scrape up any browned bits that have stuck to the pot. The acidity of the wine will dissolve those tasty bits back into the onion mixture.
  6. Add the stock, bring to low boil and then reduce to simmer, covered, for a couple of hours.
  7. Serve the soup in warm bowls or crocks, place the toasted bread on top, then scatter shredded Gruyere or Swiss over the bread. If your bowls are broiler-safe, put them on a baking sheet and broil just long enough to make the cheese gooey. Alternatively, you could put the bowls in the microwave for about 30 seconds, or go high-tech with a kitchen torch and brûlée the cheese into blissful melty goodness.
I want to plunge a spoon right through this screen and into that cheese!

Want to make this recipe?


Brunswick Stew

After 30-plus years in the Southeast, I’ve come to appreciate many of the traditions, especially the ones related to food. There’s a particularly tasty tradition that occurs here in the fall, when churches, civic groups and Boy Scout troops set up giant, outdoor cast-iron kettles for their Brunswick stew fundraisers. They sign up volunteers, who take turns stirring the simplest of ingredients into a delicious aromatic stew, and folks arrive in droves to enjoy it by the bowl, and to take home quarts for freezing. It’s tradition and it’s delicious.

If you look into some of the old-time church cookbooks, you’d likely find Brunswick stew recipes that begin with fresh-caught rabbits or even squirrels, but (thankfully) my introduction to this homey, comforting soup was a chicken version, and that’s what I’m sharing today.

Brunswick stew is one of those comfort foods that tastes rich and hearty, but checks in on the low end of the fat-and-calories scale. Feel free to swap in other vegetables that suit your fancy—it’s what folks do in different parts of the South and depending on where you are, you might find potatoes, green beans or carrots in the bowl.

You can roast your own chicken if you’d like (overnight in the slow cooker makes amazing broth at the same time), but to keep it quick and simple, I’m using a rotisserie chicken this time, plus packaged broth, a few simple fresh and frozen vegetables, and a can of tomatoes. Whip up some corn muffins while it simmers, and dinner is served.

Can you taste the comfort?

Ingredients

First, the essentials. This is a Southern classic comfort food, so the “holy trinity” of peppers, onions and celery is the foundation of the recipe. Any color bell pepper is fine for Brunswick stew, but I personally find the red and orange bells to be a bit on the sweet side, so I’m using a green bell.

Okra came to the Americas from Africa in the 1600s, and it remains a staple of Southern cooking. You’ll find it in many Cajun and Creole recipes in Louisiana, and it’s not unusual to see it breaded and fried, or even pickled, which I love in a Southern-style potato salad or on deviled eggs. The pectin in okra gives it some thickening power when it’s cooked in liquid, but some people are turned off by the slightly slimy texture. Two things can minimize this: don’t overcook it (for this recipe, it’s added at the end), and cook it in combination with tomatoes, which is what’s happening in this Brunswick stew.

If you make this stew in the late summer or fall, of course you would want to use fresh corn, lima beans and okra.


1 deli roasted chicken, dark and white meat shredded* (see notes)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

4 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

3 large cloves garlic, chopped

15 oz. can diced tomatoes

2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth

1 bay leaf

2 cups frozen corn

2 cups frozen lima beans

2 cups frozen sliced okra

1/4 cup BBQ sauce

2 to 3 Tbsp. tomato paste

A few shakes hot sauce (optional, Frank’s RedHot or Texas Pete recommended)

Salt and pepper, of course


*Notes

If you prefer to roast your own chicken, more power to you! If you have time to work ahead, you might also want to make your own stock. Or you could make your own stock from the frame of the rotisserie chicken. After de-boning and shredding the meat, toss the bones and skin into a pot with cut-up onions, celery, carrots and just enough water to cover it all. Simmer a few hours then strain out the solids, and you’d have a great alternative to the packaged broth (or, at least, some of it).


Instructions

If the pictures here seem to defy the ingredient amounts listed, there’s good reason for it—on this particular day, I only had half a rotisserie chicken, so I halved the entire recipe. The ratios are the same, and this stew is so satisfying and delicious, I’m already regretting that I didn’t run to the store for another chicken!


  1. Place a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil. Sauté onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic until vegetables are soft and onions are translucent. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, shredded chicken and broth. Add bay leaf, reduce heat and simmer up to an hour.
  3. Add frozen corn and lima beans, but reserve frozen okra until about 20 minutes before serving, to prevent the okra from breaking down too much. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper to your preference.
  4. Stir in BBQ sauce (and hot sauce, if using), and add the okra to the pot. When the bright green color of the okra begins to fade a bit, it’s ready to serve!

Want to make this Southern classic?


Bean & Bacon Soup

Nothing makes me crave soup more than a snow day, or as is usually the case in North Carolina, an “ice day.” Like much of the U.S., we have been under threat of severe winter weather this week, and it finally arrived overnight in the shape of freezing rain. Bleh. Rather than stare out the window at the ice accumulating on the trees behind our home (beautiful, but dangerous), I’ve decided that I will make soup, and I am thankful once again to be cooking with gas. Power outages be damned, we will have a comforting bowl of something to eat. I wish I had a pot large enough to feed all of Texas this week.

Soup is a very forgiving meal, allowing you to use whatever you already have in the fridge and pantry, and this one is very true to that. A few cans of beans, some stock from a carton, basic vegetables and thick-sliced bacon comes together to create hearty, soul-warming goodness.


Ingredients

A few slices of thick-cut bacon, cubed (measuring about 1½ cups)

1 medium onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

Several carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)

Salt and pepper

3 cans (15 oz.) white beans (cannellini, great northern or navy)

1 carton low-sodium vegetable broth

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 or 2 bay leaves


Instructions


  1. Heat a medium-size soup pot over medium heat. Toss the bacon cubes in the pot until all edges are crispy and fat is mostly rendered. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined bowl and drain off excess grease, keeping about two tablespoons of it in the pot. You’ll return the bacon to the soup after it is simmered and pureed.
  2. Add the mirepoix (onion-celery-carrot) to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until onions are translucent and carrots are just tender.
  3. Drain and rinse the canned beans and add them to the pot. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add vegetable broth, tomato paste and bay leaves. Stir to combine and bring soup to a low boil, then reduce heat, cover pot and simmer an hour or two.
  5. Remove bay leaves and puree some of the soup, using an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor. If the power is out and you’re cooking in the dark, use a potato masher. Blend as much or as little as you like; for me, this is usually about 2/3 smooth with chunks of bean and vegetable throughout.
  6. Return crisped bacon to the pot and continue to simmer about an hour, until bacon is softened and its smoky flavor has infused the soup.


Want to make this comforting soup?



Midwinter Minestrone

Cold weather and shorter days gettin’ you down? Me, too. We’ve had a few close calls this season for snow or wintry mix, but not much has materialized here in the South, though we’ve had our share of cold, dreary days and nights. My friends and family around New York and Boston have seen far more than their share of winter this week, thanks to the Nor’easter that dropped a foot or more of snow. And Punxsutawney Phil, the jumbo rodent in charge of this whole thing, saw his shadow (or perhaps felt the snowflakes falling against his fat cheeks) this morning, and declared “six more weeks of winter.” The bottom line is that winter is getting old; we are all tired of it. What we need is some warm and nourishing comfort food.

I finally pulled out our 7-quart cast-iron Dutch oven and made a huge batch of this soup that never fails to chase away my midwinter blues—a steaming hot bowl of Italian flavor that is chock-full of fresh, nutritious vegetables, spicy Italian sausage, creamy beans and petite pasta. This is the kind of food that warms you from the inside, whether you’re dining at the table or curled up with a soft blanket on the sofa while eating your minestrone from a pottery mug and binging on Netflix. Whatever comfort looks like for you, this soup has it covered.

Minestrone is Italian, obviously, so I’ve seasoned it with my own “Mamma Mia” blend of herbs and spices. This seasoning blend was born more than a decade ago when I participated in a “reverse offering” experiment at church. We were given $20 and challenged to double (or more) that money for charitable donation. The effort was intended to show how we could use our own talents to make a difference in the world. I bought a bunch of bulk spices, turned them into blends and packaged them into baby food jars (which I found for free on Craigslist) with little fabric-wrapped tops for individual sale. The end of the story is that my $20 turned into almost $60 (a fine return), and I still have several of my blends in regular rotation today. Mamma Mia seasoning contains dried oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram and ground fennel seed, plus garlic and crushed red pepper. It’s zesty, herbal and a little bit spicy, and just the right punch of flavor in this minestrone.

Nothing says “comfort” better than a bowl of nourishing soup, and I hope you’ll find it just right for stuck-at-home days, snow days, waiting for snow days, sick of the snow days and—well, pretty much all the days.

Who says comfort food can’t be good for you? This soup has so much going on nutritionally.

This recipe makes about 4 quarts. You will need a large soup pot, slow cooker or Dutch oven to hold all the ingredients, but the recipe can easily be halved for a more manageable batch. This soup also freezes well, so you can pack some away for another gloomy day.


Ingredients from the pantry

Choose low-sodium, organic ingredients as much as possible. The spice blend in the jar is my own Mamma Mia seasoning.

Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper (of course)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 Tbsp. fresh chopped garlic

1 carton low-sodium vegetable broth

1 carton low-sodium chicken broth* (see notes)

28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in tomato puree (San Marzano preferred)

15 oz. can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed (cannellini)

15 oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

2 tsp. Mamma Mia Seasoning blend (see the end of the post for ingredients, or substitute another salt-free Italian seasoning + a few hearty shakes crushed red pepper flakes)

2 cups dry ditalini (or other petite shaped pasta, such as small elbows or mini farfalle)


Ingredients from the fridge

It looks like we are eating the rainbow with this soup!

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup each green and red bell peppers, chopped

1/2 bulb fennel, sliced and chopped*

8 oz. cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 fat handful kale leaves, chopped small*

1 handful fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley, cleaned and finely chopped for garnish at serving

1 or 2 lbs. bulk hot Italian sausage* (optional, see notes)


*Notes

Minestrone is perfectly adaptable for a vegetarian, or even vegan, option. Simply swap more vegetable broth for the chicken broth and skip the sausage in favor of additional beans. For texture and interest, I’d recommend a can of garbanzo beans in place of the meat.

Fennel provides a real Italian flavor to minestrone, and the flavor is echoed in my Mamma Mia seasoning, which includes ground fennel seed. It has a crunchy texture that is similar to celery, and a slight licorice flavor that blends well with the other ingredients. Use only the white bulb part of the vegetable (see the slides for more description).

Any type of kale can be used in minestrone. Lacinato kale is commonly used in Italian cooking, but I used curly kale. If you prefer, you could also substitute about 1 1/2 cups finely shredded and chopped green cabbage. These hearty greens add texture and fiber to the soup.

You decide how much sausage, if any, you use in this recipe. My batch included only 1 pound this time, and I used a chicken sausage that was labeled “hot Italian.” Turkey or pork sausage would also work or as mentioned above, you could omit the meat altogether for a vegan version.

Want to make this in a slow cooker? Go for it! The soup doesn’t need much attention other than occasional stirring or adding ingredients. After the initial cooking of sausage and veggies, simply dump everything into the slow cooker and let it go on high heat for several hours, or low heat overnight. It may help to give the kale a quick sauté before adding to the crock, given that it is much larger volume before cooking and most slow cookers recommend filling only 2/3 full.


Instructions

First, the pictures, or you can scroll down for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.


  1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat 4 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned, breaking up larger pieces with a spoon or wooden utensil.
  2. Add chopped onions, carrots, celery, peppers, fennel and garlic. Stir and cook until vegetables soften, and the moisture released from them has mostly evaporated.
  3. Scatter Italian seasoning blend over the ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Move the sausage and vegetables to the outer edges of the pot and drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil in the center. Toss in the mushrooms, half at a time, and gently toss them around to lightly brown them. If you’re using a slow cooker, transfer the mixture at the end of this step.
  5. Add the whole plum tomatoes, squeezing each thoroughly by hand directly into the pot. This will assist in breaking down the tomatoes for quicker cooking. Empty all puree into the pot as well.
  6. Add the vegetable and chicken broths and stir to combine. Heat soup to a low boiling point, then reduce heat to a simmer. This will take about 15 minutes.
  7. Stir in finely chopped kale and stir. Add piece of Parmesan rind and allow it to simmer with the soup for a few hours.
  8. Near the end of your expected cooking time, drain and rinse the canned beans. Season them with salt and pepper before adding them to the soup.
  9. Fill a large pot with water and cook the ditalini (or other petite pasta) to al dente texture. Drain pasta and add to the soup just before serving. Alternatively, drain the pasta, toss with a small amount of oil to prevent sticking, and transfer it to a separate bowl to be added to soup as it’s served. This will help you enjoy the soup several days later, without mushy noodles.
This soup is destroying my midwinter blahs!

Want to make this nourishing soup?


Mamma Mia Seasoning Blend


1 Tbsp. granulated garlic

1 Tbsp. dried minced garlic

1 Tbsp. dried Mediterranean oregano

1 Tbsp. dried basil leaves

1 Tbsp. fennel seed, crushed

2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1 tsp. dried marjoram leaves


“Un-stuffed” Cabbage Roll Soup

One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is an unexpected twist on a food from my childhood. I remember seeing a recipe card in some family member’s collection for a dish called “glumpkies” or “go-umpkees” or something like it. Who knows the story on the name of the dish, but I remember that I really liked these rolled up packages of seasoned meat and rice inside tender leaves of cabbage and smothered in rich tomato sauce. It was pure comfort food, and though I’ve made them plenty of times in their classic form, I much prefer this simple, one-pot interpretation.

My Comfort du Jour twist on stuffed cabbage is what you might call a “deconstruction,” and it makes the classic dish a lot more approachable with minimal effort. It’s a pain to pre-cook the cabbage for traditional stuffed rolls, and in many ways, it even feels dangerous. I’ve burned myself in some of my early attempts to make the rolled-up version, and in some other attempts I’ve ended up with too much of the cabbage head remaining, and limited options for how to use it because it’s been boiled. That certainly won’t work for cole slaw, and what else are you gonna do with a bunch of extra, partially-cooked cabbage?

One of the flavors I always associate with cabbage rolls is caraway, the same seed that gives deli rye bread a distinct seasoning. I don’t know where the caraway was introduced to this dish for me, but it adds a little something that really works with the rustic chunks of cabbage, tomato and ground beef. If your family has a favorite traditional season, consider how you might put your own spin on my recipe with those beloved flavors.

The rest of the ingredients are simple, and you only need a medium stockpot and about an hour of simmering to get it on the table. Enjoy!

Served with a slice of crusty bread, this soup is hearty, satisfying and comforting.

Ingredients

1 lb. lean ground beef (90% lean is good)

1 tsp. caraway seed, crushed or milled in a spice grinder*

1 medium onion, rough chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

2 cups green cabbage, rough chopped

15 oz. can diced tomatoes, preferably low sodium

Salt and pepper

1 32 oz. carton beef broth, preferably low sodium

Cooked brown rice for serving


*Notes

Caraway seed is the same spice that gives rye bread a distinctive flavor. I’m not sure how I came to associate this flavor with stuffed cabbage rolls, but it is really delicious with the cabbage, tomato and meat. Substitute your own favorite flavor, or simply omit this ingredient. The soup will be delicious either way!


Instructions

  1. Press ground beef on a cutting board or parchment into a flat shape, about 1/2″ thick.
  2. If you have a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, use it to crush or grind the caraway seed into smaller bits. This is not essential, but it contributes flavor without the seed texture.
  3. Sprinkle the caraway powder or whole seeds all over the surface of the ground beef, and press to fully adhere it.
  4. Place a medium, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Swirl in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add onions and sauté until slightly softened and golden. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Tear off bits of ground beef and add them, only a few at a time, tossing in the hot oil to cook the edges before adding another small handful. Repeat until all ground beef is lightly browned. Avoid the temptation to add all the meat at once, as this will result in mushy meat rather than browned, individual bits.
  6. Add the chopped cabbage to the pot and toss to begin cooking. Add tomatoes, sauce included.
  7. Add beef broth and stir to combine. Allow mixture to come to a light boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer about an hour, until cabbage is tender.
  8. Serve over brown rice.

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Creamy Curried Butternut-Cauliflower Soup

This soup will help you slide nicely into autumn, with its bright and light vegetable flavors, seasoned with warm, aromatic Indian spices, and made richer with a last-minute swirl of cream. This is a recipe that moves along a sliding scale in many ways—you can make it with anything from chicken bone broth to vegetable broth, or spicy to mild, or light to creamy (either with real cream or coconut milk).

When my husband, Les, noticed my description of this soup as “curried,” he seemed surprised, and noted that he didn’t remember enjoying curry before. Sound familiar? If you’ve tasted something called “curry” in the past and found it weird or unpleasant, let me fill you in on the probable cause—poor labeling. You see, curry isn’t a flavor or a spice on its own. Curry is a method of cooking, not just in India but throughout much of Asia, and it happens to involve use of many spices, some of which you’d find in a grocery store “curry powder.” But just as “chili powder” is ambiguous (or even sketchy), so is curry powder. Depending on what brand you buy, you may end up with varying ratios (and quality) of spices. Check out this spice tin Les and I found in his mom’s cabinet a few years ago:

The idea of adding this stuff to a can of chicken gumbo soup has literally squashed my appetite for the rest of the day. Breaking news: adding a non-descript (and probably stale) spice blend will not improve an already overly-processed canned food. It’s no mystery why nobody ever uses this stuff, including Les’s mom—this can was never opened.

But curry cooking shouldn’t take the punishment for poor packaging. These flavors can be fantastic, and in my estimation, it may be better to make your own blend to match the spices to your taste, and also to enhance what you’re cooking, which is hopefully more fresh and interesting than condensed canned soup. If I had an Indian grandmother, I’m quite certain I would have learned to cook with one of these close at hand. A “masala dabba” holds a collection of individual spices, and the cook knows which combination is best for the meal.

This looks like beautiful art to me! How many of these spices can you identify?

Mixing and matching spice ingredients makes a lot more sense than a one-spice-fits-all approach, and I’d love to have my own masala dabba one day. For now, I’ll make do with what I have in the pantry, and for this veg-heavy soup, I’ve chosen warm, pungent spices, most of which are in another common Indian blend—garam masala. I’m trying to use up all my “pre-made” blends to make more space in the cabinet, so I’m beginning with the garam masala, and embellishing with extra ginger, pepper and cardamom, and also a bit of turmeric, to punch up the bright color of the butternut squash.

Garam masala literally translates as “warm spice mixture,” implying that the spices make you feel warm inside, and that certainly is true with this creamy, autumn-embracing soup. It brings a whole lot of healthy to a weekend meal (or meatless Monday), and you may as well make a large batch of it, because the leftovers will warm up in a jiffy for weekday lunches or dinner. Serve it with a salad or sandwich for a satisfying, comforting meal.

This recipe makes approximately 8 servings. I cooked it on the stove top, but it’s easily adapted to a slow cooker.


Ingredients

3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed

3 cups fresh cauliflower, cleaned, trimmed and chopped into florets

1 cup carrots, chopped

3 cups low sodium broth (I used vegetable, but chicken would work also)

1 tsp. kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, drizzled over vegetables

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 medium sweet or yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

5 cloves garlic, chopped (about 3 Tbsp.)

1 tsp. garam masala

1 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. turmeric

1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. ground cayenne (optional)

1/2 can coconut milk (regular or light)

Spiced crispy chickpeas (recipe follows) and chopped pistachios (optional), for serving


Instructions

It takes time for these flavors to develop, but the steps are very simple. Here’s the visual, then spelled out instructions, and a downloadable PDF version at the end.

  1. Place a large stock pot over medium heat. Add squash, cauliflower and carrots, plus 3 cups broth. Drizzle with 3 Tbsp. olive oil. Simmer 1 hour (or in slow cooker on high for 2 hours).
  2. Sauté onions until softened, caramelized and browned on edges, add garlic and seasonings and sauté 5 more minutes. When soup pot vegetables are soft enough to mash with a fork, add the onion-spice mixture and simmer another hour (or in slow cooker on low for an additional 2 hours).
  3. Use immersion blender to puree soup to desired smoothness. Add more vegetable broth if  needed for easy blending. Alternatively, allow mixture to cool somewhat, and transfer mix to a regular blender (in batches if necessary), then return soup to mixing pot. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired, simmer on low until ready to serve or refrigerate if cooking ahead.
  4. Just before serving, stir in coconut milk, stir until blended. This adds a wonderful, creamy richness to the soup and accents the warm spices.

A little extra somethin’

We gave this fragrant, flavorful soup a little decoration, with a sprinkling of roasted chopped pistachios and these seasoned crispy chickpeas:

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and patted dry with paper towels

1/4 tsp. garam masala, plus salt and pepper

Heat oil in small skillet over low heat, swirl chickpeas until coated, then add salt and spices. Stir and swirl frequently until the beans look smaller and feel firmer. Remove them from heat and allow them to cool completely before serving.


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Now, ‘fess up in the comments below. How many unopened, outdated spices are in your cabinet right now? 😉