Better Bites: Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup with Basil

Soup is an easy, yet healthy and delicious way to get a balanced meal all in one bowl! This version pairs fresh ingredients, with little work, and yields a fabulous end result that not only is great the day you make it, but is better the next day and can even be frozen for later! That’s my kind of meal!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
2-4 ears of corn, stripped from the cob 1 small red onion, chopped
2-3 carrots, sliced into rounds
2-3 yellow squash, cut in half and sliced
1-2 cups of green beans, chopped
3-4 ribs of celery, chopped
1 cup of mushrooms, chopped
Sea salt
Finely ground black pepper
1 quart of tomato sauce (Note: I used some I canned)
1 quart of diced tomatoes (Note: Again, I used ones I canned)
1 quart of water
Fresh basil, torn or cut into strips

In a large stock pot saute vegetables in a little extra virgin olive oil, with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper until onions are tender. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and water and stir to mix. Bring to a quick boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 30 minutes.

Remove cover and add basil:

Vegetable Soup with Basil

Cook for an additional 5 minutes uncovered or until basil is wilted. Serve immediately.

Notes: Any vegetables will work. Zucchini would be a nice addition, as would leeks. This soup, made as listed is vegan.

Chicken Gumbo

Chicken Gumbo

So first up let’s talk some tomatoes!

I spent most of the day canning yesterday. I ended up with 17 quarts of tomatoes from the 40 pounds! My pressure gauge from my pressure canner was broken so I ended up doing the hot water bath method instead. Whatever…It worked, so that is all I can ask for! I’ll replace my gauge and try the pressure method next time and in all honesty I wasn’t too heartbroken that the gauge wouldn’t work since the thought of pressure canning/cooking sort of freaks me out to begin with.

The majority of the jars were canned as diced tomatoes, but I did do two jars of whole tomatoes and 3 of the crushed variety. Now Alexis and I can make lots of tomato based soups this winter! Fun!

Now let’s talk some gumbo! (Why do I keep typing that “gumob” instead of “gumbo”??)

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at gumbo, but just never had. I have made Étouffée in the past, but never gumbo. It’s really a simple dish, and in fact I’ve always sort of thought of it as “gravy soup” given the roux base (Somewhere some Cajun/Creole cook just rolled over in their grave at my sacrilege!), but it provides a definite wow factor with only a few simple ingredients. Simple and delicious…I’ll take it!

What You’ll Need:
1/2 a large red onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
6-8 ribs of celery, chopped
1 cup of olive oil
3/4 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of finely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 1/2 quarts of chicken broth
2 tablespoons of a good salt free Cajun or Creole seasoning
1-2 cups of okra, sliced
2 cups of shredded chicken

First chop onion, bell pepper and celery:

Chicken Gumbo: The Holy Trinity

This is known as the “Holy Trinity” of Cajun and Creole cooking. Set aside.

Now let’s talk roux!

Ultimately you want to end up with a lovely, brown, nutty smelling roux that looks like this:

Chicken Gumbo: Roux

This was my first pass at roux in a while and I have to say I was amazed by how easy it was! There is sort of a stigma surrounding roux that it is hard to make, but I don’t think that is the case! In my head I remembered it as difficult though, I’m not sure why.

Roux is basically fat and flour. I chose to use olive oil, but I’ve seen and read that it can be made with butter or a clear oil. I also added with the flour and oil, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of finely ground black pepper:

Chicken Gumbo: Ready to Make Roux

Stir the ingredients to mix until smooth.

When you read recipes for roux it says to stir constantly and I have to be honest…I don’t stand around and stir ANYTHING constantly! I checked it every minute and half to two minutes or so and gave it a good stir. So it was more like stir, put away a few dishes out of the dishwasher, stir, put away a few more, stir, put away the last of the dishes, stir, wipe down the counter, stir, sweep the kitchen a bit, stir, sweep a bit more, etc.

That being said you have to be careful! You want to make your roux over a low to medium heat. Keep in mind you can go from nutty brown to scorched quickly! When it starts getting slightly brown pay closer attention to your roux. It will turn a lovely brown color and actually smell nutty. Basically you’re making a brown gravy and this takes anywhere from 10-15 minutes.

Once you have browned your roux toss in your “holy trinity” and stir to mix:

Chicken Gumbo: The Holly Trinity Ready To Cook

Cook the vegetables for 5-10 minutes until tender, stirring often.

Next add chicken broth, Cajun or Creole seasoning, okra and chicken and stir to mix:

Chicken Gumbo: Ready to Simmer

(Note: If you can not find Cajun or Creole seasoning that is salt free then omit the salt from the roux.) Bring the gumbo to a quick boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 1-2 hours partially covered. (Note: I like to do this by leaving the spoon in the pot and placing the lid on. It allows the pot to be partially covered and you’re ready to stir at a moments notice!) Stir occasionally.

To serve, place some rice in the bottom of a bowl:

Chicken Gumbo: Rice

Next top with a spoonful of gumbo:

Chicken Gumbo

You can also serve this with hot sauce and/or chopped parsley.

Notes: You can make gumbo with just about anything. Shrimp is good, or crayfish, or crab, etc. It also freezes well.

Potato and Corn Chowder

Potato and Corn Chowder

Often time you will find in my fridge left over corn on the cob (one of Lex’s favorites!) and left over roasted potatoes (one of Jamison’s staples) and while left overs are good, why not take them an make something else? So that’s just what I did!

This chowder is completely dairy free, making it a bit lighter, but you’ll never miss that addition. You’ll use corn to help thicken the chowder instead of flour as well. This is a fresh, hearty, yet healthy meal that is easy to make. What’s not to like about that?

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
3 garlic scapes, chopped (Note: I found some garlic scapes that had been pushed to the back of my vegetable drawer from earlier this year and they were still good! If you don’t have scapes you can use 2-3 cloves of minced garlic instead.)
2 cups of roasted potato chunks (Note: If you don’t have any left over roast some yourself at 425 F with a little olive oil, sea salt and pepper until golden brown and tender.)
4-6 ears of corn, kernels removed from the cob and divided
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 quart of broth (Note: I used chicken, but whatever you have on hand is fine.)
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 teaspoon of dried dill

In a large pot sauté red onion and garlic scapes in a little extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until tender:

Potato and Corn Chowder: Onions and Garlic Scapes

Next add potatoes and stir to mix:

Potato and Corn Chowder: Onions, Garlic Scapes and Potatoes

Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally to “warm” the potatoes.

While the potatoes are “warming” move on to your corn.

Remove the kernels from the cobs. Take half of the kernels (if you’re using 4 ears then two of the ears, if you’re using 6 then 3) and place them in them in your food processor:

Potato and Corn Chowder: Corn

Next process until mostly smooth:

Potato and Corn Chowder: Creamed

Add the creamed corn to your pot:

Potato and Corn Chowder: Creamed Corn

Stir to mix.

Next add remaining ingredients and stir well:

Potato and Corn Chowder: Almost Ready

Bring to a quick boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes. The soup will thicken a bit as it cooks.

Serve immediately.

Potato and Corn Chowder: Up Close

Notes: You could add in other ingredients if you liked. I had intended to add shredded carrots, but forgot when I was making the soup. You could also switch up the seasonings. Why not Old Bay instead of thyme and dill? Or you could go with only thyme, or only dill. It’s up to you.

Summer Vegetable Soup

Summer Vegetable Soup

Some people think that warm soups are only a cold weather food, but I’ve never fallen into that line of thinking. I love soup, Alexis loves soup, and it seems a shame to just corral it into the cooler months of the year, though I do make more soup during those times. So even during summer you’ll see soup pop up on our menu from time to time.

The other day I was in the mood for soup and surprisingly while I was thinking about soup Alexis actually asked me if we could have soup for dinner. Alexis’ go to soup is chicken noodle, but I decided I wanted to take some of my fresh vegetables and whip up a soup with those. You could really eat this soup year round, utilizing frozen vegetables, but with the fresh variety it really gives the soup that much more!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 large zucchini, chopped
1-2 yellow squash, chopped
1-2 carrots, cut in half and sliced
2-3 ears of corn, kernels stripped from the cob
1-2 cups of green beans, cut into bite sized pieces
1 quart of canned tomatoes (Note: If you don’t have canned tomatoes you can use 2 -14.5 ounce cans of tomatoes instead.)
2 quarts of chicken broth
A generous pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons of dried oregano
1-2 teaspoons of dried thyme

(Note: The proportions of this soup do NOT have to be perfect! If you have a little more of something and little less of something else that’s completely OK. You can mix and match what you add.)

In a large stock pot sauté the onions, celery, zucchini, squash, carrots, corn and green beans until onions are tender. Add tomatoes, chicken broth, sea salt, black pepper, oregano and thyme and stir to mix. Taste the soup and if it needs more salt or pepper add it now.

Bring soup to a quick boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors meld.

Serve immediately.

This soup also freezes well.

Notes: This soup has endless possibilities. You can add in peas, or fresh chick peas, or leeks, or mushrooms, or potatoes, etc. Go with what you have on hand and what you like. You could also add in bit of chicken, steak or shrimp. If you liked rice or noodles either could be added as well.

Better Bites: Two for One: Gazpacho Soup or Salad

Gazpacho Soup

As I mentioned before I’ll be contributing over at Allie’s Answers once a month or so. Today is the day! So stop over and say hello. It’s a great place to get a lot of green tips and ideas!

In the summer it is so easy to eat healthy, local, fresh produce! Some of us don’t have the luxury of being able to have fresh, local produce year round, so we really enjoy it when we do! But if you’re like me after the initial thrill of having a vine ripe tomato all by itself, or fresh cucumbers sliced for a snack, or any other variety of summer garden goody right from the garden/farmer’s market all by themselves has worn off you want to do something else with the natural bounty.

For years I’ve wanted to make some gazpacho, but I always get side tracked. (And in all honesty try…How is it possible that I had never had gazpacho before now?) Gazpacho is the perfect summer time treat! By taking a few simple ingredients and about 10 minutes you’ve got dinner in no time! It’s cool (which is fabulous on a hot summer day), it’s no cook so you don’t have to heat up your house to eat (also great on a hot summer day), there are no animal products or by products (making the dish vegan, for those of us trying to eat less meat and thus reduce our overall impact) and it’s a delicious, not to mention healthy, way to have a filling meal, without eating anything that is too heavy. Overall it’s a very earth friendly recipe and that is always a plus.

Another great thing about gazpacho is that it’s quite versatile. You can add in other vegetables that you like, throw in some herbs, or even add in some bread crumbs if you like. If you aren’t in the mood for soup you can eat the vegetable combination before it’s processed smooth as a salad. Also the proportions don’t have to be exactly the same each time. It’s a forgiving recipe that allows you to experiment each time. It’s quick, easy and delicious and sometimes in the summer that is just what you need!

Gazpacho: Ingredients

What You’ll Need:
6-8 tomatoes
4-6 small cucumbers, cut in half and sliced (Note: You want the pickling size. If you can’t find these you can use one large cucumber.)
1 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 a large red onion, sliced
3-4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of brown rice vinegar

Chop tomatoes and place in a large glass bowl:

Gazpacho: Tomatoes

Next chop cucumbers and add them in with the tomatoes:

Gazpacho: Tomatoes and Cucumbers

And then the green peppers:

Gazpacho: Vegetables and Green Peppers

Red onion:

Gazpacho: Vegetables and Red Onion


Gazpacho: Vegetables and Garlic

And last your black pepper, salt, oil and vinegar:

Gazpacho: Vegetables, Pepper, Salt, Oil and Vinegar

The really great thing about this is that everything can be roughly chopped. It doesn’t have to be uniform or perfect, just chop and go!

After everything is in the bowl you want to stir to mix everything together and let the oil and vinegar coat the vegetables:

Gazpacho Salad: You Can Stop Here or Proceed to Make Soup!

At this point you can do one of two things…You can stop right here and have Gazpacho Salad or you can proceed to the directions below to make soup.

Place vegetable mixture in your food processor or blender:

Gazpacho: Vegetables Ready to Process

Process until smooth and place in a serving dish:

Gazpacho Soup: Ready to Serve

Repeat this process until you have processed all of your vegetables into soup.

You can chill this soup or eat it immediately. It’s great topped with parsley or fresh herbs.

Makes 4-6 main course servings.

And look at this:

Gazpacho Soup

The color and texture is fabulous! Not to mention the taste! You get a zing from the onion, garlic and black pepper, coupled with a coolness from the other vegetables. It’s just the perfect combination!

Notes: If you want a chunkier soup then don’t process for as long. You could also add herbs in with the vegetables. Rosemary, thyme and/or oregano would be great or how about dill? These subtle changes can make it so you have something different, yet similar every time!

Cross posted at Allie’s Answers.

Better Bites: Ten Minute Tomato Soup

Better Bites: Ten Minute Tomato Soup

This weekend flew by for us! I’m always amazed at how fast the weekends actually go, especially as of late! There were play dates to be had, an art class for Miss G, errands to be run, chores to be done, church, and so on and on. I didn’t get half of what I hoped to get done, done, but I accomplished some stuff I hadn’t thought I would get to this weekend either, so that’s always good too.

Now let’s talk some quick, delicious, yet healthy tomato soup!

Healthy food doesn’t have to take an inordinate amount of time, nor does it have to taste like cardboard. Healthy recipes can be whipped up in no time and you don’t have to worry about losing taste either. This soup is the prime example. If you like tomato soup you can have a fabulous version in about ten minutes….How great is that?

What You’ll Need:
2 – 15 ounce cans of tomato sauce
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of dried basil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium sized pot add tomato sauce, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, basil, a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper and stir to mix. Bring to a quick boil and then simmer for 5-10 minutes and serve.

Makes roughly 4 servings.

Better Bites: Ten Minute Tomato Soup

Notes: This truly is a whip it up fast kind of soup. It goes perfectly by itself or even better pair it with a grilled cheese on whole grain sandwich!

Beggar’s Stew

Beggar's Stew

Years and years ago I stumbled across a recipe for a soup called “Beggar’s Stew”. I think it was while we were still in Alabama so that was over ten years ago. It was in one of those little slow cooker magazines that are usually stationed in the checkout isles at the grocery store.

Over the years I had planned to try it, but just never got around to actually making the soup. Most of the ingredients stuck in my head however…Yes I remember trivial bits of information that I should have long since been forgotten…You don’t? ;oP

As I recall this soup had a creamed soup in it, but I decided that was over kill. Don’t get me wrong, I do use cream of soups from time to time (and here’s a shocker…I even like Velveeta once in a blue moon! ;oP) but this just didn’t need it given the recipe also called for heavy cream. I decided to lighten up the cream with the fat free half and half as you’ll see below. I love half and half because it gives you that essence of cream, without all the fat! Especially if you can find the fat free version, it makes it all the more fabulous without as much of the guilt!

I also don’t remember the exact vegetables other than diced tomatoes, onion and mushrooms, but decided to use some that I’m fond of to round out the soup. I know there was thyme, so I decided to go with a very healthy dose of that particular herb. I believe the recipe originally called for turkey, but I’ve wanted to try ground chicken for a while so I decided to make it a bit simpler. Overall everything came together well and this most definitely is on the “Let’s make it again!” list!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 pound ground chicken
1 medium onion, chopped
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of dried thyme (Note: I actually prefer dried thyme to fresh. Fresh is good, but drying thyme just makes such a lovely concentrated flavor. I feel the same way about basil as well, but that’s neither here nor there at the moment. ;op)
1 leek, chopped
1 large carrot, cut into little cubes
4 ounces of cremini mushroom, slices
4 ounces of button mushroom, slices
2 quarts of chicken broth (Note: I make my own most of the time, but you can use the store bought variety.)
1 – 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, undrained
1 – 16 ounce package of frozen corn
1 – 10 ounce package of frozen Lima beans
1 pint of fat free half and half (Note: If you can’t find fat free, regular half and half would be fine, or you could go all out and even use heavy cream if you preferred.)

In a large stock pot sauté onion with the ground chicken in a little olive oil (not more than a tablespoon tops) with sea salt, black pepper and thyme. When chicken is done through add leek, mushrooms and carrots and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in chicken broth and can of diced tomatoes and stir. Add frozen vegetables and bring mixture to a quick boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook covered for 30 minutes or until carrots are tender.

Once carrots are tender add half and half and stir to mix. Cook for 10 minutes to heat through and serve.

Beggar's Stew: Up Close

Notes: As always you can mix up soup any way you like. You could use different vegetables. You could throw in some diced potato. You could leave out the meat. You could add in other herbs. It’s all a matter of personal taste.

Dianne’s Maryland Crab Soup

Maryland Crab Soup

I had intended to do a Halloween themed recipe for today, but it just didn’t come together. So you’ll have to settle for Maryland Crab Soup instead. Happy Halloween to all you out there that celebrate the spooky day and especially to my best friend Darlene, since it’s her favorite holiday!

Now let’s talk some soup!

I love crab. I’ll readily admit though when I think of eating crab I think of crab cakes or crab legs or a crab boil or even deviled crabs, well before I think of Maryland Crab Soup. In fact since I moved to Maryland in 1999 I’ve had Maryland Crab Soup exactly once at a restaurant out on Tilghman Island called Harrison’s Chesapeake House and I instantly fell in love. Despite that fact I still hadn’t had it since then, even though I’ve been back to the Chesapeake House itself several times since then. That however was about to change.

A while back I picked up some fresh Maryland crab meat and I knew I wanted to make some soup this go around and the result was fabulous! This soup is tomomatoey, spicy and oh so lovely! If you like Maryland Crab Soup, then give my version a try. I think you’ll be glad you did!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 large potato, chopped
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning (Note: More if you prefer spicy, less if you don’t.)
2 – 14.5 ounce cans of diced tomatoes, drained
1- 15 ounce can of tomato sauce
1/2 of a 16 ounce package of frozen peas (Note: Normally lima beans are used for MCS, but I didn’t have any on hand since Miss G tends to adore them and go through them quickly, so I went with peas instead.)
1/2 of a 16 ounce package of frozen corn kernels
2 cups of water
1 pound of crab meat, rinsed and picked over for shells (Note: No matter how well you do this, inevitably some shells might make it into the soup.)

In a large stock pot saute onions and potatoes with a little sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper until onions are tender and both onions and potatoes are slightly browned.

Next add Old Bay Seasoning and stir to coat. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, frozen peas and frozen corn, along with water and bring to a quick boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until potatoes are fork tender.

Once potatoes are tender add crab and cook for 5 minutes to heat through. Serve immediately.

Notes: This soup is extremely easy to make and has a bit of a wow factor to it too. It is also very healthy, so that is always an added plus. You could use lima beans in place of the peas as I mentioned above.

Simple Beef Stew

Beef Stew

When it comes to beef stew I’m very minimalistic…The simpler the better! You don’t need a whole lot of things going on to make a fabulous, delicious meal in one. This stew is comfort food at its finest, because sometimes something comforting is just what you need.

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 pound of beef stew meat
Sea salt
Black pepper
1/4 cup of unbleached all purpose flour (Note: If you wanted to make this gluten free you could use corn starch or tapioca flour.)
1-2 cups of frozen peas 3 large carrots, cut into roughly 1 inch chunks
1 large potato, cut into nice bite sized chunks
2-3 cups of small button or baby portabella mushrooms
4 cups of beef or mushroom broth

Preheat oven to 275 F.

In a large oven proof dutch oven sauté onion in some extra virgin olive oil until just soft. Add beef and sauté until browned. Add a generous pinch of sea salt, a good amount of freshly ground black pepper and stir to coat. Add vegetables and beef broth and stir to incorporate.

Place dutch oven covered into the oven for 3-4 hours, removing from time to time to stir, until veggies are tender and broth thickens. Serve immediately.

Beef Stew

Notes: Beef stew is fabulous served with a nice piece of crusty bread. It’s definitely a fabulously hearty meal all in one!

Leann’s Chili

Leann is a dear friend that I met through my sister. They go to church together and she has sort of become our sister in spirit! Both my sister’s children and Alexis call Leann “Aunt Leann” and in fact someone once told me when they saw a picture of us together at Katherine’s baby shower for Nelson that she and I looked so much alike they thought we really were sisters! I took that as the utmost compliment! So sit back, relax and let’s enjoy some chili Leann style!

Leann blogs over at My Mind’s Eye about everything from her nephew Lincoln, to sports, to life in general.

Leann's 5 Bean Slow-Cooker Chili

What you’ll need:
2 lbs ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 package chili seasoning mix (regular)
1 package chili seasoning mix (hot)
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can each (rinsed and drained) black beans, pinto beans, Great Northern Beans, Cannellini beans
1 can chili beans, undrained
2 cans (or one large can) petite diced tomatoes, undrained
Shredded Cheese
Sour Cream

Leann's 5 Bean Slow-Cooker Chili

Brown ground beef with onion. Drain off fat. Stir in chili seasoning packets. In the bowl of your slow cooker, combine ground beef and onion mixture with beans, corn, and tomatoes. Stir in 1-2 cups of water just to keep the mixture from drying out. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with cheese and sour cream on top and corn bread.

Leann's 5 Bean Slow-Cooker Chili

Overnight instructions: You can also prepare this the night before and have it cook all day while you’re at work or out running errands or what have you. Prepare as above, but omit the 1-2 cups of water until the next morning when you are ready to turn on the slow-cooker.

Leann's 5 Bean Slow-Cooker Chili

Leftover Suggestion: Refrigerate any leftovers and you can use the chili as burrito filling for another, different meal. Just fill a flour tortilla with a small heated up portion of the chili. Add sour cream and cheese and fold the burrito as usual.