Quick Crab Bisque

The weather has finally leveled off at a brisk high of 40s and 50s and has signaled the official start of soup season. With Christmas Day in Texas reaching a high of 73, it took awhile for the weather to settle into an appropriate winter pattern. Now that we’re here, soups may abound!

While I’m not a huge fan of soups in general, I do love bisques, and the Pioneer Woman’s Chicken and Dumplings, and Thai Noodle Soup. Dipping crusty bread into thick creamy soup, evokes the memory of evenings by the fire spent with good friends. Soup should be comforting. Soup should not make you feel guilty.

I love creamy soups but, no matter how hard I try, I see visions of me scooping up spoonful’s of cream and guzzling them down, and I can feel the calories ticking up. And if calories are ticking up that fast, it better be from a nice juicy steak. I mean come on soup – you don’t even require chewing! These feelings have prompted me to look for ways to keep that rich creamy texture, without adding a cup of heavy cream to my soup. That is where this gem comes in – 2% Evaporated Milk.

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Clocking in at 1/2 the calories of heavy cream, it adds the richness of cream to your soup without adding the calories. I’m in love. In a pinch I also use regular 2% milk mixed with a cornstarch slurry to thicken things up.

As I was browsing Pinterest (do you see where all my inspiration comes from?) I found this Crab Bisque Recipe  from A Farm Girl’s Dabbles and decided to try it. As usual I made a few modifications based on what was in my pantry, and deliciousness ensued.

Quick Crab Bisque

Original Recipe Here: Crab Bisque

  • Serves 4
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Calories: 236 per serving
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 c. minced red onion
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 Tbs flour
  • 3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 14.5-oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbs cooking sherry, or dry white wine
  • 1 can 2% evaporated milk
  • 8 oz. fresh or thawed frozen lump crab meat
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  1. In a medium stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When hot add the red onion and garlic. Sautee until softened about 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add the tomato paste and cook for another 2 minutes (this reduces the acidic or metallic taste that can sometimes occur). Add in the flour and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
  3. Slowly add in the chicken broth, stirring to remove any lumps as you go. Bring to a simmer and add in the fire roasted tomatoes, paprika, sherry, cayenne, and evaporated milk.
  4. Stir and adjust seasonings as necessary, adding salt and pepper to taste. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until no tomato chunks are left.
  5. Finish by adding the crab meat and bringing up to heat, about 2 minutes.
  6. Serve with crusty bread, or go old school and enjoy with saltines.

Enjoy!

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The Food Lab

My Aunt called me before Christmas and asked if I’d heard of a book called The Food Lab. She explained that it was a book that discussed the science behind the way we cook our food. She asked if I might be interested – the answer was a resounding “YES!”

Never having been a strong student in the realm of science, I was a bit nervous about how technical the book would be, but all my fears were in vain. The vivid pictures, light hearted writing style, and easy to follow recipes quickly endeared this book to my heart. For so long I knew how I cooked but never understood why it worked. Learning the principles that govern our most common cooking techniques allows you to expand beyond the pages of your cookbook, and begin experimenting and creating dishes on your own – and I’ll be honest, that’s when the magic happens!

One of my favorite images in the book shows two dozen eggs lined up, quantifiably displaying the results of hard-boiling eggs in 12 second increments. Now it’s easy to see exactly how long to cook an egg for the desired doneness. Brilliant!

eggs

Picture Source – Serious Eats – Food Lab

It’s 960 pages of pure enlightenment. Though it’s not one you can tote around easily through the kitchen, I like to curl up on my couch and browse through the different topics. I often decide what I want to make for dinner and then crack open the book to read up on any tips or tricks which could elevate my meal to new heights.

I am certain this book will change the way I cook, and the way I teach cooking. Knowledge is power, and in the kitchen it’s a game changer. If you’re interested in upping your culinary game, I highly recommend this book. If you’re only casually interested then be sure check out their website for free tips and tricks!

Food Lab on Amazon

Serious Eats – Food Lab

Many happy culinary adventures to you!

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15 Minute Thai Noodle Soup

The first week back to work after vacation always seems especially difficult. Waking up early, being on a schedule, limited lounging-around time, it’s rough. By the end of the day all I want to do is lay on my couch and pretend it’s vacation again. That poses a problem when dinner time rolls around and I’m in no state of mind to think of what to make, let alone stand in my kitchen for an hour. Then enters the 15 minute dinner to save the day!

I love 15 minute dinners, they are joyous, unassuming, and satisfying. I also love Thai Food. When the two meet, beautiful things happen. I was browsing through Pinterest and came across this recipe from Brooklyn Homemaker, for Thai Style Chicken Noodle Soup. I was halfway into the recipe when I discovered I didn’t have coconut milk (shocking, since it’s a staple in my pantry). So I improvised. Below is my slightly modified recipe, that turned out incredibly delicious!

15 Minute Thai Noodle Soup

Original Recipe Here: Thai Style Chicken Noodle Soup

  • Serves 4 hungry humans
  • Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, with a dash of sesame oil for taste
  •  4 cloves garlic, crushed
  •  2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
  •  1 large carrot, thinly sliced into disks
  • 5 shitake mushrooms (or baby bellas) sliced thinly
  •  1 chicken breast, sliced thinly
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  •  1 1/2 cups water
  •  1 tablespoon lime juice
  •  1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  •  1 1/2 tablespoons sriracha
  •  1/2 cup sliced green onions
  •  1/2 cup torn cilantro leaves
  •  6 oz package egg noodles, prepared according to the package
  1. Preheat oil (olive and sesame) over medium high heat in a large heavy bottom stockpot. Add garlic & ginger and cook, stirring often, for 1 minute. Add carrots and mushrooms cooking for 1 more minute.
  2. Add chicken stock, water, lime juice, fish sauce, & sriracha , and bring to a boil.
  3. Add raw sliced chicken and let cook for 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked (depends on how thick you cut your chicken).  Add half the cilantro and green onions.
  4. Meanwhile cook your egg noodles according to the package (mine took 3 minutes). When done, add noodles to the soup mixture.
  5. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Remove from heat, add the remaining green onions and cilantro, and serve!

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Caramelized Onion & Herbs de Provence Pizza

Pizza is a favorite of many, but I find the heavy red sauce and piles of greasy meats on most American pizzas a little tiring after awhile. I ooh and ahh over the artisan pizzas with unique ingredients such as figs and chorizo (Sapristi in Québec City hit the spot on that one), and thankfully my non-picky husband is always game to try something new. He favors the standard mounds of meat on his pie, so when I venture into the world of pizza creation there are a few requirements I must meet:

  1. Meat – this can be chicken, sausage, or steak, but a meat protein is a must to be considered a “meal” by my man.
  2. Base Seasoning – I omit the red sauce in almost all of my homemade pizzas, so I have to replace it with something equally flavorful to balance the pizza.
  3. More than one cheese – pizza is not pizza without cheese, and I like to mix and match to find that perfect flavor combo – goat cheese, mozzarella, and feta, are regular favorites.

Last night I wanted to make a fun and different pizza. After my idea of anchovies or sardines was nixed (fear of stinking up the office with leftovers prevailed) I opted for a more standard combination. The result was a caramelized onion pizza with Tuscan olive oil, roasted veggies, and asiago and mozzarella cheeses.

Sadly, no step-by-step photos today as I was tired last night, and may have also been engrossed in an episode of The Office as I cooked (gotta be real). Here is the recipe:

Caramelized Onion & Herbs de Provence Pizza

  • Serves 2 (with leftovers for the next day)
  • Prep Time: 20 mins
  • Cook Time: 18 mins

Pizza Crust (from Pioneer Woman’s – Veggie Pizza)

  • 1/2 teaspoon Active Dry Yeast
  • 3/4 cups Warm Water
  • 2 cups All-purpose Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 tbs corn meal (for non-stick baking)
  1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water for 5 minutes until foamy.
  2. Combine the flour and salt, and add in the proofed yeast water and olive oil, mix until it forms a nice ball. Cover, and set aside in a warm area and let rise for 1 hour.

Pizza Toppings:

  • 1/2 red onion thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 large tomato, or two handfuls cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • Bunch of arugula, watercress, or spinach (whatever you have on hand)
  • 1 green onion sliced on the bias
  • 1 chicken breast sliced on the bias
  • 1 cup asiago blend, shredded cheese
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella perlini (halved)
  • 1 1/2 tsp Tuscan Olive Oil
  • 2 tsp Herbs de Provence, divided
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 tbs Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp butter
  1. Heat the oven to 350 F, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, spray lightly with olive oil.
  2. In a skillet over medium heat, add 1 tbs olive oil and 1 tsp butter, heat until shimmering, then add the sliced red onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and 1/2 tsp herbs de provence. Stir to combine, cover, and turn heat to medium low and let cook down for 10-15 mins.
  3. Remove the lid from onions and cook for 5 more minutes, letting the liquid reduce.
  4. While the onions are cooking, slice the tomatoes, bell pepper, and green onion and lay them on the aluminum lined baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes, or until soft.
  5. When the veggies are out, turn the oven up to 475 F.
  6. When the onions are done, set them aside with the other veggies. Add a dash of oil to the pan, if needed, add the sliced chicken to the pan. Sprinkle with another 1/2 tsp Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper. Cook until JUST done, stirring occasionally, about 3-5 mins.
  7. On a clean surface gently roll out the pizza dough to fit your baking sheet (mine is 17″ x 12″). Sprinkle your baking sheet with the corn meal, and lay your pizza dough on top. The dough does not need to be perfectly shaped, just an even thickness.
  8. Sprinkle the Tuscan Olive Oil across the dough and spread with your hands or a spatula until even. Sprinkle dough evenly with the remaining 1 tsp Herbs de Provence.
  9. Layer the pizza with tomatoes, caramelized onions, bell peppers, green onion, watercress/arugula, chicken, shredded cheese, and finish by dotting with halved mozerella perlini.
  10. Bake pizza for 15 – 18 mins at 475 F, or until crust has a light brown edge.

Slice and enjoy!

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I don’t know where I’m going

When you’re 17 and looking at the prospect of college, career, and life on your own, you feel an incredible pressure to KNOW what you want to do for the rest of your life. Your confident peers all seem to know the path of their next 5-10 years, with college, grad school, and a boyfriend, (that they’re sure will become a husband) all carefully lined up. And there you are unsure of what you even LIKE doing, let alone what you want to commit to for the rest of your life. But let me tell you a secret…

It’s okay to not know where you’re going.

Between the ages of 18 and 28 your life changes dramatically – you change. You discover passions you didn’t know you had, you fall in love with things you thought you hated, and the guy you hoped you’d marry…well lets just say you’re thankful you didn’t. Life becomes a beautiful, confusing, delightful puzzle for which you’ve lost the box. And it’s okay. It’s good.

A decade and a half ago, when I was deciding on a major, all I knew was that I wanted to help people, I wanted to travel, and I wanted to have an exciting life. (How’s that for a business plan?) I settled on International Relations, but after a bad experience with economics, I switched to History, deciding that if I wanted to help people I needed to know where they came from, and what their stories were.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have been able to articulate what it was about history that captured me. It gave me the skills to read critically, write effectively, and to value the stories of who we were and who we’ve become. These are key values in my life – it is why I am constantly drawn to writing, to communicating stories, histories, and dreams. It is essential for us to know where we came from, for it will inform our decisions of who we will become. But a career in history was never in my sights, instead it was to become a tool set I would use throughout my life.

My last 10 years have shown me so many things I had a passion for that I never fully realized. Spreadsheets have a calming consistency that’s surprising, math still makes me want to cry, writing is a deep seated passion, and food…well food is something I fell in love with and it’s turning out to be a huge motivator of my future.

A decade after graduating with my B.A. I began pursuing my MPH in Nutrition. Andy Stanley’s quote of a 1992 book challenged me, “What do I believe is impossible to do in my field but if it could be done would fundamentally change my business?” – Joel Barker, 1992 “Paradigms” This started me on a journey of asking myself, what impossible problem am I designed to challenge? The answer? Helping others learn how to cook healthy, nutritious meals, so that they can care for themselves and for their families. In short, improving the health of our society.

That’s a lofty dream, so where on earth do I start? My first answer was to pursue my MPH in Nutrition. But now, 6 months into a 30 month stint , I have so many more questions, I am more aware of how much I don’t know, the specific job ahead of me is undefined, and how I want this to shape my life is still unknown. But I do know that this passion has been inside of me for a long time, and this step to pursuing my MPH was a leap of faith. I may not know where I’m going, but I know I’m supposed to go.

Today, I challenge you to ask yourself the question – what is my impossible problem and how can I solve it? Sit with it for awhile. It’s okay if you don’t know where you’re going, sometimes we’re well into the journey before we discover the destination.

not know

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Writer – Five Minute Friday

Usually when I get blogs sent to my email, I delete them in a hurry to “clean-up” and move on, forgetting the whole reason I subscribed in the first place. Today, something caught me and I stopped to read Lisa-Jo Baker’s post “Five Minute Friday:Writer”. Here’s the skinny: 

Each Friday, write on the given prompt for five minutes flat. No major editing, no worrying about punctuation or grammar – just write. Then post and share. Oh, and encourage the person who shared before you. That’s the ONLY rule. It’s a good rule.

Well…that sounded like an attainable challenge, one right up my alley. And so, I’m joining in. I’m inconsistent at best with posting, and maybe, hopefully, this can be a really, really good thing for me. 

Here we go…

Writer

This word brings up so many thoughts and emotions in me. I love writing. I’ve loved it since I learned how to write. I would steal away and write stories about anything and everything, but I was always afraid to share them, afraid to hear the critiques and the “This would be better if…” I mean after all I was 7 years old, I wrote for the adventure of it.

As an adult I have longed to sit down and write. I have a million stories in my mind, but always with the question – is it worth writing these stories? Is it worth the time, the criticism, the questions? And yet, so often in my life people have spoken over me about writing, about pouring myself out on the page. A quill pen, a symbol that was imprinted on my heart 6 years ago, and still, I don’t write.

Writing is intimate in its creation. And then so violently and quickly it becomes public. What you write and post you can’t take back – someone somewhere has seen it. How do you form into words those feelings those thoughts, so that they can be understood and shared? How do you take your heart and lay it on a page and watch as the world comes to take a look?

So I write. Privately. Secretly. And on rare occasional I’ll let someone in to read it. I’ll let someone see my heart there – red against white.

But I want to be a brave writer. I want to tell a story and to change a heart. I want to say “It’s okay – you’re not alone.”

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Lego Your Prego – Pasta Sauce

There’s something so deliciously satisfying about serving a meal that you made from scratch. I beam like a little schoolgirl when I place my homemade meal in front of my hubby. He appropriately smiles and ooh’s and ahh’s and I know my act of love has been accepted.

It’s easier than you might think to make things from scratch. But it can seem daunting at first. One of my favorite quick week-night meals is pasta. I make it in a myriad of variations and the possibilities are endless. I once made an Alfredo sauce that was to die for – but knowing how much cream cheese went into it made me worry for our coronary heath. So, that’s a once a year sort of meal. Okay, like three times a year but let’s not get crazy.

A simple red sauce is quite easy to make. From the base you can add cheeses, creams, spices etc. to make it whatever type of sauce you’re craving.  Here is my go to base:

*Please note I am a “by feel” cook and I guestimate most of my homemade meals. Start with a few spices, taste, and add as you desire. The more you do this, the more you’ll get a feel for how much of something to add from the start. 

PREP: 10 minutes         COOK TIME: 10 minutes       SERVES: 4-5*

*(Perfect for hungry hubby, guests, or left overs)

  • 2 8 oz cans of Hunts tomato sauce (Hunts uses steam to peel tomatoes rather than chemicals – GO HUNTS)
  • 1 14.5 oz can of Hunts diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp Chili powder
  • 1/3 cup diced onion (more if you love onion)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (substitute 1/4 tsp garlic powder, if needed)
  • 1 summer squash, peeled and chopped
  • 1 zucchini, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 or 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1-2 handfuls baby spinach, chopped roughly
  • 1 TBS Olive Oil
  1. Heat 1 TBS Olive Oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. When shimmering, but not smoking, add the diced onion and garlic into the pan. Stir constantly to make sure garlic doesn’t burn. Saute for about 1-2 minutes or until garlic is fragrant and onions starts to soften. *Note, I throw these in to cook while I peel and chop the other veggies.
  2. Add in chopped veggies – squash, zucchini, bell pepper – and sauté until veggies are tender, about 4-5 minutes. *You can add whatever veggies you like, but these blend well and I hardly know I’m eating veggies!
  3. Add in Italian Seasonings, chili pepper and black pepper, stir to coat all veggies. If you are substituting garlic powder, add it here. Let cook while you open up the cans of tomatoes.
  4. Add in tomato sauce and drained diced tomatoes – you might want to turn down the heat before you do this so the tomato sauce doesn’t splatter all over your favorite white shirt. Experience is a great teacher. 
  5. Add in the salt gently – there’s nothing worse than an over salted dish. But also nothing worse than an under-seasoned one either! Here is where you will add more of whatever spices are needed.
  6. Toss in the chopped spinach and stir it in so it’s under the nice hot sauce. Let it sit there and get nice and wilty while you drain the pasta and get ready to eat.
  7. NOTE: if you are cooking ground beef/pork you can cook that first, set it aside and saute the veggies in the brown delicious bits left in the pan. This really adds flavor. Same if you sauté some chicken and set it aside to rest. Re-add the meat at the end.

HINTS:

  • If it doesn’t taste “pasta saucy” enough, add in more Italian seasoning
  • If it tastes too “tomato saucy” add in a dash of salt.
  • If it’s missing “depth of flavor” try adding some garlic powder.
  • If all else fails, add cheese. 🙂 

VARIATIONS:

  • You can add in some heavy cream to make it a smoother creamy sauce. I do this when I’m feeling fancy.
  • You can add in grated Parmesan cheese – note that this makes it a little lumpy sometimes, but also tastes great!
  • Add cream AND cheese – mind blown!
  • Add a bit of cayenne to heat it up, add in cream, a dash of wine (sherry or the real stuff) and BAM, you have FANCY pasta sauce and your husband will declare “Let’s never eat out again!” and you’ll re-think this whole cooking from scratch thing.

SCALED DOWN VARIATION:

If you’re cooking for one and you don’t want leftovers for a week (who does, really?) here is a fun variation:

  • Spray PAM into a skillet, let it get really hot (smokin’) and toss in half a package of cherry tomatoes. Let them get blackened on all sides – shaking the pan occasionally.
  • When they are bursting, smush them with your spatula (again, avoid wearing a white shirt).
  • Add in the 8 oz can of tomato sauce, 1/4 tsp salt, 2-dashes chili powder, 2-dashes garlic powder, 1/4 tsp ground pepper, 1/4 tsp Italian Seasoning.
  • Add a dash of cream, and a dash of sherry or wine (if you have it, if not don’t sweat it).
  • Chop some spinach and throw it in, add your favorite protein, serve over pasta and enjoy!

There you go – a myriad of pasta variations! I think once you give it a try you’ll be sold – it’s easy, it’s healthy, it’s sugar and preservative free, so really, what’s not to love? And just think how you will impress your friends and family with your mad skills. Amazing.

Just as an FYI here are some quick facts on the top three store-bought pasta sauces and links to their nutrition info:

Happy pasta sauce making!

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