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.

Want to make this recipe?


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? 😉


Welcome Autumn Whole Grain and Bean Soup

Today is the first official day of autumn, and I’m so ready for it this year. Six months ago, it seemed as if time was standing still, as the pandemic threw us into uncharted territory and isolation with very little warning. The world became so weird, and it felt like the days dragged on. Now, we are in the opposite place—or back to normal, you might say—in that the days are moving very quickly once again. I think it’s because we’ve had little choice but to normalize what is happening around our world, and with the new precautions for safety and distancing becoming second nature, time is getting back on track—at least as much as possible.

My favorite part of fall and “cooler weather” is that I’ll soon unpack all my sweaters and leggings and boots, and I can finally put my kitchen focus on my favorite foods, like this autumn soup. Oh, yum!

It’s everything I love about fall, all in one beautiful bowl.

Though I’ve paid a lot of attention so far this month to breakfast (it being “better breakfast month” and all), it bears repeating that September is also designated as “whole grains” month and “mushroom” month. I don’t know who decides these things, but I’m happy to play along by offering up one of my own favorite recipes that incorporates both whole grains and mushrooms, and plenty more hearty satisfaction as well.

The main ingredient for this soup is a dried whole grain and beans soup mix from Bob’s Red Mill, and I cannot tell you how excited I am to see it back on their website. I first discovered this product while browsing through Big Lots discount store, and I felt pangs of sadness when it disappeared from store shelves and Bob’s website a year or so ago. But it’s back online, and I just hit the “buy it” button for two more packages. I love this wholesome blend because it has so much going on in terms of flavor and nutrition. Check out the ingredients list: small red beans, pinto beans, lentils, whole oat groats, brown rice, triticale berries, rye berries, hard red wheat, pearl barley, Kamut Khorasan wheat, buckwheat groats and sesame seeds. That’s a whole lot of hearty going on! It’s simple to cook, with a quick rinse and then bring to a boil and simmer with broth or water. It would be delicious and satisfying on its own, but for my “welcome autumn” soup, I’ve added browned ground turkey, onions, garlic, roasted butternut squash, mushrooms and vegetable broth. It all cooks up into the heartiest autumn weather dinner in a bowl.

It would be so, so easy to make this dish vegan, too. Simply omit the turkey and use vegetable broth and bouillon. You’d never miss the meat.

The comforting nature of this soup is exactly the right way to usher in my very favorite season. You might even say it’s a Sunday Supper kind of meal, given that it builds flavor over a few hours and has a good many ingredients (though all are simple). I make this soup on the stove top, but the recipe is perfectly adaptable to a slow cooker. Begin with cooking the grains and beans on low setting for a few hours, then add the other cooked ingredients and simmer on low another hour or two. However you make it , the leftovers will leave you as satisfied as the original bowlful, and if you happen to have some crusty dinner rolls or baguette slices on the side—well, even better. This recipe will make approximately 8 servings.

Ingredients

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill “whole grain and beans” soup mix

2 cartons (8 cups) vegetable or chicken broth*

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 lb. ground turkey (omit for vegan)

1 medium onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, strings removed and chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup sun dried tomato, cut into small pieces

1 tsp. poultry seasoning (or 1/4 tsp. each ground sage, thyme, onion powder, celery seed)

1 small butternut squash, cubed into 1” pieces

8 oz. package cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced*

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. low-sodium vegetable or chicken bouillon base*

*Notes

Broths are not all created equal, and my recommendation is to be attentive to the sodium content in the broth you choose. Some brands labeled “low-sodium” contain around 570 mg per serving, and others are only around 120 mg. As a rule, I select the lowest sodium broths, as it gives me more control over the final outcome of a recipe. You can always add salt, but you cannot take it away. For this soup, I used vegetable broth, and added richness with the chicken bouillon base.

Cremini mushrooms are my go-to for most recipes, but white or shiitake mushrooms would also be terrific in this recipe.

The bouillon is optional, but I love the extra richness it adds to this soup. I use the Better than Bouillon brand, but it isn’t always easy to find in “reduced sodium” version. I’m thankful that Costco carries it, but you can also buy it online or use another bouillon base. Again, noting the sodium content will help you achieve good results.

A spoonful of this adds incredible depth to my soup.

Instructions

  1. Use a fine mesh strainer to rinse both cups of grain and bean mix.
  2. Add soup mix and 2 cartons of broth to a large stock pot. Bring to boil momentarily, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until beans are tender (approximately 2 hours).
  3. Heat oven to 400° F. Drizzle olive oil on butternut squash cubes, season with salt and pepper, and roast about 30 minutes, or until just fork tender.
  4. In a skillet over medium heat, swirl in olive oil and cook ground turkey until browned, about 5 minutes. Add onions, garlic, celery and sun-dried tomato bits and cook 3 more minutes. Season with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning.
  5. Add browned turkey mixture to the bean soup and stir to combine.
  6. In the same skillet used to brown turkey, add another tablespoon of olive oil and saute mushrooms until just lightly browned. Avoid crowding the pan, or mushrooms will steam rather than brown. You may need to do them in two batches.
  7. When mushrooms are browned, add them to the soup.
  8. Add roasted squash to the soup and stir to combine.
  9. For an extra boost of flavor and richness, stir in a tablespoon of bouillon base, straight from the jar. Alternatively, add two bouillon cubes, and perhaps dissolve them in a very small amount of boiling water to keep the flavor concentrated.
  10. Allow the soup to simmer for a few hours. Enjoy on its own, or with a crusty dinner roll or baguette slices.

Nourishment, flavor, comfort–it’s all in there!

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Heirloom Tomato and Grilled Watermelon Gazpacho

A few hours before my 50th birthday, I had dinner by myself at a local restaurant where a friend of mine was a server. This was a very intentional decision I made because, as strange as it may sound, all I wanted for my birthday was to hear Guido describe the specials. The “u” in his name is silent, so it’s pronounced “GHEE-doe.” He is of Argentinian descent and a beautiful person (inside and out), but please don’t misunderstand—this was not any kind of romantic inclination. Guido knew that I was a full-fledged foodie, and he had a remarkable gift in his ability to describe food with exactly the right words to make me want that dish.

How often have I rolled my eyes in a restaurant when a perky server bounces up to the table with the trite declaration, “Hi, I’m Ashley (Bridget, Connor, Danielle, whatever) and I’ll be taking care of you.” Sweetie, please, you have no idea what it will mean to take care of me. I’m a high-maintenance guest, so brace yourself. And while you’re at it, please stop with this cliché.

But not Guido, an old soul who has always seemed to know instinctively what I’m craving, from wine to appetizers to dessert. He never promised to take care of me, he just did so. And he never asked whether I wished for freshly cracked pepper from his giant pepper mill—he knew me, like a culinary soulmate, and I followed him when he moved to work in a different restaurant. He used words like “exquisite” and “succulent,” and he looked me in the eye as he described the dishes from memory rather than reading off his order pad. Of course, I realize the possibility that he was merely very persuasive in his approach, and that he may not have known what I wanted as much as he made me want the dishes he was selling. And I’m OK with that.

Either way, on my birthday that year, he positively nailed it when he “suggested” that I should begin my birthday meal experience with one of the chef’s special starters—a refreshing bowl of the house-made grilled watermelon gazpacho.

OK, what?

I have no idea what else I ate and drank that evening, but I never forgot about that gazpacho. It was everything I imagined and expected—fresh, chilled, flavorful—but unlike any I had ever had before, courtesy of the summer-sweet watermelon. And grilled, at that. The level of cool, clean refreshment was off the charts, and I’m very excited to finally make my own version of it, so I can share it with you. I’ve followed the lead of Guido’s chef by grilling wedges of fresh watermelon. I’ll mix it up with additional fresh watermelon, ripe heirloom tomatoes, red onions, cucumber and jalapeno. Doesn’t it sound like summer?

Though gazpacho is most often served as a starter, I’ve turned mine into a cool summer meal, with addition of paprika-dusted grilled sweet shrimp and creamy cubes of avocado. When you’re ready to make this, use the ripest, freshest farmer’s market tomatoes you can get your hands on. Grocery store tomatoes will not cut it for this one. And it’ll be best to use watermelon at its peak sweetness as well.

In a blender or processor, the whole thing comes together quickly, then just chill it down in the fridge overnight so these flavors have plenty of time to mingle.

From start to finish, this dish reminds me of Guido, whom I have stayed in touch with, but have not seen since that night at dinner. I should call him up and invite him to taste this gazpacho. It also reminds me of turning 50, and for some, that might not be a positive. But, without question, it turned out to be the best year of my life. Can a soup change one’s life? Probably not, but like any other food, sometimes it can hold a special place in your story.


Ingredients

3 cups chopped heirloom tomatoes* (see slideshow for peeling tips)

2 cups chopped grilled watermelon*

1 cup fresh watermelon

1/2 large red onion, rough chopped

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and rough chopped

1 good sized jalapeno, seeded and rough chopped

1 tsp. coarse sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

1/2 tsp. seasoned salt

1 tsp. sweet smoked paprika

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1 lb. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 tsp. sweet smoked paprika

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 scallions, washed and trimmed

Extra virgin olive oil

1 avocado, peeled and cubed

Juice of 1 lime

1/2 jalapeno, diced (optional to taste)

*Notes

I love heirloom tomatoes because they taste the way I remember tomatoes, rather than mealy and bland from the supermarket. If you can pick them from the vine yourself, even better! But if you don’t have a garden, no problem (after all, mine belongs to the deer). Head to the farmer’s market and don’t be shy about trying different varieties. It’s often the funky-looking tomatoes that have the very best flavor!

Grill the watermelon in large thick slices, as chunks are more likely to fall apart. We did them outside on the gas grill, but if you have an indoor grilll, that will work as well. The goal is to concentrate the flavors of the watermelon.

Here’s a quick visual tip for peeling tomatoes without boiling water and handling them when they’re all hot and slippery. My grandmother taught me this easy trick that works every time.


Instructions for the gazpacho

  1. Begin by grilling up several wedges of fresh, ripe watermelon. Cool them, and refrigerate until ready to proceed with the pureed soup.
  2. Peel your heirloom tomatoes, and remove seeds if desired. Pluck out any obvious watermelon seeds.
  3. Load up the bowl of your food processor or blender with the watermelon, grilled watermelon and peeled tomatoes. Work in batches if necessary. Pulse several times until mixture is evenly combined and “soupy.”
  4. Remove half of the pureed mixture to a separate bowl, then add the onions, jalapeno and cucumber to the processor and pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper, seasoned salt and vinegar and pulse again to combine.

Transfer the processor mixture to the bowl with the rest of the puree and adjust seasoning to taste. Refrigerate puree at least overnight to really blend the flavors.


Instructions for shrimp and serving

Shrimp cook quickly, so I grilled them indoors rather than waiting for the outdoor grill to heat up. Grilling scallions mellows out their flavor, which is exactly what I wanted for topping the gazpacho.
  1. Toss the shrimp with just enough olive oil to coat it, then season with paprika, salt and pepper and toss so that the spices are evenly coating the shrimp. Spray or drizzle the scallions with olive oil.
  2. Grill the scallions and shrimp (I used the integrated grill on our gas range) until they are desired doneness and scallions have sweet little grill marks. Allow both to cool slightly.
  3. Peel and cube the avocado and squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice over them to prevent browning. Chop the scallions. Dice the jalapeno.
  4. Ladle the gazpacho into serving bowls and top with the shrimp, avocado, jalapeno and scallions. Finally, a quick twist of freshly ground black pepper (did you know that black pepper has amazing health benefits?—Guido always said that when he brought the pepper mill to my table).

Light, fresh and delicious!

Here’s what I love about this soup—

  • It’s cool, and in the midst of intense heat of a Southern summer, a welcome relief.
  • It’s delicious, fresh and healthful. Just savoring these marvelous flavors in their natural state makes me want to take up yoga and change my name to “Sunshine.”
  • It’s very low in fat. I don’t know the specific count, but there’s none in the soup, a nominal amount in the shrimp, and only the good-for-you kind in the extra virgin olive oil and avocado.
  • A single serving satisfies a full daily requirement of nutrients, vitamins, fiber and antioxidants.

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Creamy Tomato Bisque

There’s a reason “tomato bisque” is on so many restaurants’ menus. It’s a classic comfort food, and so simple to make from regular pantry ingredients you’ll wonder why you ever settled for the stuff in a can. My version includes a bit of red bell pepper and carrot for a touch of extra flavor and sweetness. This is perfect on a chilly day or rainy night, and we love to pair it with a tuna on homemade rye or classic grilled cheese sandwich.



Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper

1 medium onion, chopped (I like sweet onions, but yellow works well here, too)

1/2 medium red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 tsp. Italian herb seasoning (or some combination of oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary)

A pinch of crushed red pepper

28 oz. can peeled plum tomatoes (San Marzano, if possible)

1/2 cup vegetable broth or 3/4 cup V-8 juice

1/4 cup whole milk, half-n-half or heavy cream (omit or substitute canned coconut milk if vegan)

Freshly grated parm-romano cheese blend (omit for vegan) and chopped parsley or basil for serving

Tools

cutting board and knife, heavy-bottomed tall pot, flat wooden utensil or spoon, immersion blender*


Let’s Get Cooking!


Place a deep, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add a generous swirl of olive oil (about 2 to 3 tablespoons). When oil begins to shimmer, add onion, pepper and carrot all at once. Salt and pepper to taste, then stir and cook until all begin to soften. Add chopped garlic and seasoning blend, stir and cook another minute or two until onions seem slightly translucent.

Add the plum tomatoes, using your hand to squeeze each tomato into the pot. This helps release the juices and gives them a head start on breaking up in the pot. Squeeze slowly and gently so you don’t wear it! Add all the tomatoes plus all remaining liquid from the can, but discard any basil leaves that may be in the can. Add broth or juice, stir to mix evenly and bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered on medium-low about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Adjust seasoning to taste.

When mixture appears less chunky and somewhat reduced, turn off heat and use an immersion blender to puree until mixture is as smooth as you like. Simmer on low another few minutes to allow air bubbles to disperse and soup to reduce to your preferred thickness. If it’s too thick, stir in a bit more vegetable broth. Remove from heat and swirl in milk or substitute. Ladle into bowls and swirl a drizzle of olive oil over the top of the soup and sprinkle with parm-romano cheese and fresh chopped herbs as you like.

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Dinner is served. We love it with a sourdough grilled cheese, but any kind of sandwich is a good side.

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