DIY Soups, Tips for Making Soup From Scratch

Greek yogurt adds additional flavor

Whether you just need a bowl of warm soup on a cold day, or the healing powers of chicken soup to fight that cold, nothing beats homemade. Sure it’s faster to open a can of soup but I challenge you to find any canned soup that can beat the taste of soup from scratch. And the best part is that soup can be the easiest menu item to make. Here are some tips to help your soup making.

Make your own stock.

One of the keys to good soup flavor is starting with its foundation, stock or broth. Now, I must be honest and admit that I often cheat and buy canned, low sodium chicken stock. But I also have to tell you that making your own stock is super easy and you can freeze it for future use. Whenever we make a whole chicken, we simply place the carcass into a large pot, cover the chicken with water and add celery, carrots, onions and perhaps a few herbs. Let it simmer for an hour or so and then strain and store in an air-tight container. It’s that easy. And I promise its just as easy for beef or fish stock too. The flavors from your own stock will make a big difference when used as your base of a soup. Especially any seafood stew.

Plan ahead when soaking beans.

The easiest soup recipes to make are the ones that either don’t call for soaking beans or you can substitute canned beans. I say easiest because you don’t have that extra time component for soaking beans. But that being said, bean soups are some of my favorite soups of all time. White bean soup with bacon reminds me of my Grandmother’s house. And that makes the planning worth it. Just be sure to budget in the time to soak beans overnight. Or sacrifice a little flavor and cheat and buy the canned kind, problem solved!

Don’t throw away the seeds!

Nature's mysterious shapes and beautiful colors

Another fun little soup trick I learned when making soups with winter squash is to save the seeds and use them as a tasty garnish. I like to top our butternut squash soup with toasted seeds just like you would add oyster crackers to chowder. They make all the difference in the world. Plus they give a toasty flavor and contrast the sweetness of a pumpkin or butternut squash soup. Just rinse them in cold water and dry them on a paper towel after scooping them out of the squash. Then toss them in a little olive oil and sea salt and roast them in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 10-15 minutes or until just golden brown. Sprinkle them on your bowl of soup or enjoy them later as a healthy snack!

Plan ahead and make weeknight soup even easier!

Soup is one of the easiest recipes because you mostly just throw everything into one pot and let it simmer. It really is that simple. That’s not to say that there are not more complicated recipes out there, or that even the most simple soups don’t require adding things in a sequence. But it really is a simple recipe. The problem is that for some soups, especially those with a lot of veggies is that you spend so much time chopping and prepping. The actual cooking part is easier than the prep work.

To save on time or to be able to make a quick weeknight soup, I suggest chopping things like butternut squash, carrots, celery, onions, bell peppers etc ahead of time and freezing them in air tight containers in pre-measured quantities, i.e. a cup of chopped onion. That way you just have to thaw what you need that day, not a whole large chunk of frozen onions. And keep your pantry stocked with a couple of cans of chicken stock, dried herbs like thyme, basil and oregano and salt and pepper. I’m not a huge fan of buying the already chopped veggies though for two reasons. One: you pay more for them. Two: they don’t taste the same as fresh veggies you chop yourself. But that being said, they are a double time saver. The bottom line: save yourself time by chopping ahead of time.

Soup definitely falls into that category of “What would Julia Child do?”. Yes, that’s right she would make her own! So I challenge you to try a new soup recipe this winter. Ever tried butternut squash soup? Go for it! Read some tips from my previous post here or try out this easy recipe here: (more…)


Fresh Herbs, Take Two

Feeling a little blue that the summer season will be ending soon? And that with the end of the season your fresh herbs might be nearing their last few harvests? Me too.

I simply love the taste of mint and basil in our salads. And there is no way that a change in season will keep us from enjoying them! Wondering how to extend the life of your fresh herbs all throughout the year? Fear not, I have some tips to help you savor them and even share them with friends and family as gifts.

What type of herb are you drying?

Before choosing a method of preservation for your fresh herbs, consider the sturdiness of the herb itself. Tender leaves, such as basil, dill, parsley and mint, are better suited to freezing. But wait, do not just throw them in the freezer, they will turn brown! To prevent them from turning brown and to better capture the flavor, try blanching them first. Take the bunch of herbs, tied together, and drop into boiling water for several seconds, no more. You do not want to cook them. Then with a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer them to a bowl of ice water to chill for several seconds to stop the cooking process. Blot dry them with paper towels or in a salad spinner. Remove the leaves from their stems and spread them in a single layer within plastic storage bags and freeze. Blanched herbs can be frozen for up to four months and can be chopped in their frozen state before being added to soups, stews and sauces. Blanching and freezing herbs was not a method I had thought to try previously, but it can produce more flavorful results for your more tender herbs than simply hanging them to dry.

Reserve air drying for hardier leaves, such as rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender and oregano.

Begin by wrapping a piece of kitchen twine around the stems, creating a loop. Hang the bunch, upside down, in a cool, dry place until they are brittle to the touch, usually four to ten days. Worried about dust while they are suspended in your kitchen? Try enclosing the bunches in a paper bag with enough holes punched in it to keep air flowing. Once they are dry, pick leaves from stems, and place them a tightly sealed air-tight jar. Create your own labels, and don’t forget to date them! Store the dried herbs in a cool, dark place. They should keep for 6 months to a year. They even make great gifts. We often save old spice jars, remove the labels and re-purpose them. You can buy new spice bottles though from a container or kitchen store quite easily and cheaply. It’s sure cheaper and a more creative gift than buying dried herbs!

Other ideas

I did also come across some additional methods for drying herbs in tulle. Tulle is the thin fabric used in sewing projects, or more commonly in veils. To do this, first wash and rinse the herbs and pat them dry. Then arrange the herbs on 18 to 24 inch squares of the tulle. Then loosely roll into tubes, do not bundle them tightly. Loosely tie the ends with kitchen twine and place them in the refrigerator for about two weeks. Once they are dry you can package them just the same as mentioned above, by removing them from the stems and placing them into storage containers.

Another neat trick that I learned recently from the Queen of all things domestic, Martha Stewart, was how to take those frozen basil leaves and create frozen basil and olive oil ice cubes. The cubes are perfect for reusing later for pesto or dips without having to thaw a large batch. Simply take some of the blanched and frozen basil leaves you created previously and place them in a blender or food processor. Tip: using the blanched leaves will ensure you don’t end up with brown cubes. Cover the leaves with extra-virgin olive oil and puree. Pour the mixture into ice cube trays, filling each cube about 2/3 full. This should be about a tablespoon. Place the tray in the freezer. Once solid, remove the cubes from the tray and place into a plastic freezer bag. That’s it, now you can take one or as many cubes as you need from the freezer all throughout the next season and enjoy the fresh basil and olive oil mixture.

Share and Enjoy!

So there you have it. You don’t have to stop enjoying your fresh herbs just because the season ends. You can enjoy herbs during the fall and winter by preserving your summer herb plants. You’ll not only add a fresh pop of flavor to your soups and sauces — you’ll also save money and create some one of a kind gifts!

Written by in: Food Bytes | Tags: , , ,

With a Cherry on Top

Growing up in Montana, one of my favorite tastes of summer was always fresh cherries from Flathead Lake. I remember having a huge flat of cherries in the house in the summertime. Their firm but juicy flesh and sweet taste were like no other fruit I had tasted. The only drawback was the pit, I used to hate having to deal with the cherry pits. I still do. Perhaps that is why it was so exciting when my mom sent us a cherry and olive pitter last year. Now we can throw back cherries and olives with ease!

I as looking at the calendar today and realized that cherry season is here, actually it is almost over, and it got me to thinking about the different types of cherries. And better yet, what else do I not yet know about this delicious fruit?

cherry picking

Out of My Cherry Pickn' Mind, The Domestic Nest

There are two main types of cultivated cherries, wild cherry, to which most cherry cultivators belong, and the sour cherry. Sour cherries are mostly used in cooking, although the Greek culture does enjoy a certain sour cherry drink. Both species have origins in Europe and western Asia. The two types cannot be cross pollinated, meaning that you will not be seeing a wild sour cherry combination, at least in the natural world, very soon. Cherries are not a cheap treat. This is mostly due to the fact that they are a labor intensive fruit. Irrigation, spraying, labor and their vulnerability to damage from rain and hail also make cherries expensive. Cherries, especially wild cherries, remain extremely popular, so demand is never an issue.

Cherries have a very short growing season. The peak season for cherries in North America is in June. In many parts of North America they are among the first tree fruits to ripen. In the United States, most sweet cherries are grown in Washington, California, Oregon, and Northern Michigan.

Cherries are not only tasty, they also contain health benefits. Cherries contain anthocyanins, the same red pigment in berries. Besides giving them their color, anthocyanins also act as powerful antioxidants. According to a 2008 study funded by the Cherry Marketing Institute, rats that received whole tart cherry powder mixed into a high-fat diet did not gain as much weight or build up as much body fat, and their blood showed much lower levels of inflammation indicators that have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. In addition, they had significantly lower blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides than the other rats. Studies like this one present some interesting findings, but the jury is still out on whether or not the same results are valid for humans. In the meantime I will enjoy my cherries knowing that eating 5-7 servings of fruits and veggies each day has a huge health benefit no matter what additional studies are still pending.

Well known sweet cherry types include “Bing”, “Brooks”, “Tulare”, “King” and “Rainier”. The Lambert variety is grown on the eastern side of Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana. I can personally attest to the tasty quality of the Lambert sweet cherries, yum. Both Oregon and Michigan provide light-colored “Royal Ann” or “Queen Anne” cherries for the maraschino cherry process. Most sour cherries are grown in Michigan, followed by Utah, New York, and Washington. Sour cherries include Nanking and Evans Cherry.

The sour cherry is a favorite in my family. Both for its use in baking as well as the Greek “Vyssinatha” or sour cherry drink. This Greek “medicine” is a family favorite and often used to cure upset stomachs, particularly after a large meal. It is easily made by adding sour cherries to a jar with a few simple ingredients and let it sit out in the sun for 40 days.

So there you have it, everything you wanted to know about cherries in order to enjoy them this season. Cherries are enjoyed best plain but as they start to ripen there are many great recipes to put them to further use. Enjoy!

Written by in: Food Bytes,Nutrition | Tags: , ,

Strawberry Dreaming


Nutrition packed strawberries

One of my favorite things about this time of year is strawberry season. Did you know strawberries have vitamin C, fiber, iron, calcium and protein? That is one power packed fruit! And they taste so good. Biting into a fresh strawberry from the garden is like biting into a taste of spring. (ok, I realize it is now summertime but you get the idea!)

There is nothing like the sweet, juicy taste of a ripe strawberry. And there is nothing more disappointing than the crunchy bland taste of the white inside of an unripe and out of season strawberry. That is why late spring and early summer are the prime time to enjoy this seasonal treat. And if you buy them in bulk you can create homemade ice creams and jams in no time and enjoy them for weeks and months to come.

When buying strawberries, you want to look for strawberries that are bright red (with no white or green around the stem), fragrant, and plump, with no soft spots. And when wondering whether to go organic, the safe rule of thumb is to choose organic when you will be eating the skin of the fruit, such as in the case of the strawberry.

And here is a must know tip: if you are going to be enjoying them right away, it is best not to refrigerate them. To store them, lay the berries flat on a paper-towel-lined plate or in a plastic container and refrigerate for up to 2-5 days. The paper towel will help to absorb the moisture created. Do not rinse or hull them until ready to use.

Another great trick for enjoying strawberries throughout the year is to freeze them. I have found this method for freezing them particularly helpful when making smoothies. As the frozen fruit actually yields a more milkshake like quality of the smoothie. Simply wash and drain the strawberries in a colander. Then place them on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, with just a little bit of space between the berries. Place the trays in the freezer overnight. The next morning, remove the trays and transfer the berries to a freezer safe bag or container. This way the berries are not stuck together and you can place them in serving size bags as well to make your life even that much easier.

So the next time you pass a roadside fruit stand displaying a sign for fresh strawberries, or you pass by some at your local farmers market, make the stop for this tasty spring treat. Not only do they taste good and have countless recipe options, these little power packed treats are incredibly good for you. Some recent studies have shown a link between eating foods such as strawberries, which contain anthocyanins, and preventing heart disease and inhibiting tumor growth. I could go on and on about the health benefits, but the real persuasion is in the taste. Try some fresh, juicy strawberries and you will not be disappointed!

Other strawberry tips or favorite recipes anyone?


Happy 4th of July!

Red, White and Blueberry!

Ok, I know it is totally lame to link to last year’s 4th of July post, but that is how busy my life has been these days! And plus when something is good, it’s worth eating twice right? Click here for last year’s Red, White and Blueberry Dessert.

Wishing everyone a happy and safe 4th of July holiday this weekend!

Written by in: Food Bytes | Tags: , , ,

Irish Carbomb Cupcakes, An Extra Sweet St. Pat’s Day

Guiness and Bailey Irish Carbomb Cupcakes

Guiness and Bailey Irish Carbomb Cupcakes

Well friends I am thrilled to share with you that not only did I get the corned beef right this year, I also tried a new cupcake recipe that was so yummy I could not believe how easy it was. These cupcakes have Guinness in the cake batter, Bailey’s in the chocolate ganache center and Bailey’s and Kaulua in the frosting. YUM!! To save time you could omit the ganache, but who wants to miss out on that yummy chocolaty center, not me!

Here is the recipe from IrishCentral.com, with a couple of my tweaks. Enjoy!


Serving: 12 cupcakes

1/2 cup stout (Guinness)
1 stick, 8 tbsp., unsalted butter
1/4 plus 1/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 plus 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 plus 1/8 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1/3 plus 1/6 cup Greek Yogurt or sour cream

For the Baileys ganache filling:

4 oz. (60-70% cocoa) dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. Baileys Irish cream

For the Baileys butter cream frosting:

1/2 stick, 4 tbsp., unsalted butter, at room temperature
2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2-3 tbsp. Bailey’s Irish cream
2 tbsp Kahlua Liquor


To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. Combine the stout and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs and Greek yogurt to blend.

Add the stout-butter mixture slowly and beat just to combine. (Allison’s Note: if the stout mixture is still warm you don’t want to cook the egg, so add it in a little at a time) Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed just until incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners, filling them about 2/3 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache filling, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until simmering, then pour it over the chocolate. Let sit for one minute and then whisk until smooth. If the chocolate is not completely melted, place the bowl over a double boiler or give it a very short burst in the microwave (15-20 seconds). Add the butter and Baileys and stir until combined. (Allison’s Note: you can do this step as a double boiler, simply place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl over top a small saucepan filled 1/3 full with water, add the cream and heat until chocolate is melted, then add butter and Baileys and stir; remove from heat). Set aside to let the ganache cool until it is thick enough to be piped. (You can use the refrigerator to speed the cooling process, but be sure to stir every 10 minutes or so to ensure even cooling.)

Meanwhile, cut out a portion from the center of the cupcake using the cone method (a small paring knife works best for this). Once the ganache has reached the correct consistency, transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a wide tip and pipe it into the cupcakes. (Allison’s Note: you can also dip the tops of the cupcakes into the ganache just before it cools completely and allow the ganache to harden on the top of the cupcake before piping the frosting)

To make the frosting, place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Gradually add the powdered sugar until it is all incorporated. Mix in the Baileys and Kahlua until smooth. Add more if necessary until the frosting has reached a good consistency for piping or spreading. Frost the cupcakes as desired.

This recipe is from the wonderful food website Annie’s Eats/ IrishCentral.com

Come On Get Healthy, Celebrating National Nutrition Month

Eating Fresh and Healthy Is Easier Than You May Think!

Eating Fresh and Healthy Is Easier Than You May Think!

Did you know it is National Nutrition Awareness Month? While we should make an effort to eat healthy all year round, it doesn’t hurt to place extra attention on eating right this month. In 1980 the American Dietetic Association coined March as National Nutrition Month® in response to the growing public interest in eating right. The campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. For more information, visit eatright.org/nnm. Eating healthy is not always easy when our lives get busy. That is why planning weekly menus and having access to a library of healthy recipes that are easy to prepare and inexpensive to stock are so key to eating right.

In celebration of eating right, we tried a new recipe this week that is so ridiculously easy and tasty for a weeknight side-dish, that its healthy benefits are an added bonus. Try this deconstructed version of guacamole the next time you are looking to work in some healthy vitamins and good fats.

Avocado, Cucumber and Tomato Salad

This is a great salad recipe, but also an alternative way to serve avocados instead of making guacamole. Not only is it easy, it is full of healthy nutrients and good fats.


1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half

2 hass avocados, sliced in half and then scored into 1inch squares

1 Japanese cucumber, un-peeled and sliced

1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped

1 tbsp Anaheim pepper, finely chopped

juice from ½ a fresh lemon, squeezed

sea salt

freshly ground pepper


Toss all of the ingredients in a medium salad bowl. Serve immediately. (It’s that easy!)


Making Valentines Day Extra Sweet, Baby Lava Cakes

hmmmm....dark chocolate lava cake!

hmmmm....dark chocolate lava cake!

Happy Belated Valentines Day to everyone! We enjoyed our day in sunny SoCal yesterday and found ourselves so thankful for our beautiful life together. My husband made the most delicious dinner of grilled lack of lamb on a bed of swiss chard with pomme frites and a beet salad with feta cheese and argula. It was so good that I do not have any photos, we enjoyed it too much!

Dessert was my domain yesterday. And we did pause for a brief moment to snap a quick photo (above). I debated what sort of healthy chocolate decadence to create. I settled on a recipe I found in my Better Homes and Gardens New Bridal Edition cookbook. The results were similar to a chocolate souffle but the recipe was much faster to make. And the best part is that you can make it up to step 4 and then just keep it chilled until 30 minutes before you intend to bake it, meaning that it is a great dinner party dessert with unbelievably rich and delicious, souffle-like  results.

Here is the recipe: (more…)


Hayley’s First Pupcake, Happy 2nd Birthday!

Puppy's First Pupcake!

Puppy's First Pupcake!

Miss Hayley had a very special treat today on her 2nd birthday, she had her first Pupcake.

Pupcakes From Cups La Jolla

Pupcakes From Cups La Jolla

A local cupcake lounge in La Jolla, Cups, offers peanut butter and bacon Pupcakes. Yum! It came in a small plastic bag and it appeared to have a cupcake liner, but it turns out the cupcake liner is edible! Judging by how quickly Hayley gobbled it up I would have to assume they are out of this world delicious!

Happy Birthday Miss Hayley! It seems like only yesterday we brought you home from Helen Woodward Animal Center.


Chocolate, decadence with a benefit?

Babycakes Vegan Chocolate Cupcake

Babycakes Vegan Chocolate Cupcake

By Allison Baloglu, for YourSmartKitchen

Something struck me as funny today. Chocolate is so often associated with sweet treats, but actually if you have ever sampled pure cocoa, it is actually bitter. And if you have ever read the ingredients on most chocolate bars, they have to add sugar to get the sweet flavor we enjoy. Sometimes the milk chocolate bars we have grown to love are less than 50% chocolate. Which means that for milk chocolate lovers, you may actually be more addicted to the sugar than the chocolate. And white chocolate does not even contain chocolate solids, it is simply cocoa butter, sugar and milk. But some good news for you dark chocolate lovers out there: dark chocolate is full of healthy antioxidants. Dark chocolate treats are usually over 65-70% chocolate solids, or cocoa, content.

So what’s so healthy about dark chocolate anyway? Chocolate contains flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. Antioxidants, which are found in a variety foods, protect the body from aging and promote good cardiovascular health. They do this by neutralizing “free radicals” in the body, which are molecules that cause cell damage. Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants. And while there are several studies pending to determine exactly how many antioxidants there are in chocolate, there is significant evidence to suggest that a small serving of chocolate contains equal amounts to red wine, or other fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids can help lower blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol, and balance certain hormones in the body.

Dr. Oz on Oprah, Antioxident Rich Foods

Dr. Oz on Oprah, Antioxident Rich Foods

Still not sure I completely understood what an antioxidant really did, I watched an episode of Dr. Oz on Oprah’s television program. He conducted a visual representation that really clicked with me and helped me to understand how they perform. Common antioxidants are vitamins C, E and beta-carotene. So as an example Dr. Oz had a lemon, which contains vitamin C, and some apple slices on a table. He explained that the term antioxidant means just that, it combats oxidation. When you slice an apple it will turn brown when left out and exposed to oxygen. But, if you squeeze lemon juice on the apple it prevents, or at least delays, the oxidation process. Seeing that example made sense to me. So imagine those antioxidants, like vitamin C for example, are hard at work inside your body too. This is why consuming these vitamins has so many benefits, including keeping your skin looking young and firm. That must be why the Greeks say to make food your medicine!

Now, this does not mean that just because cocoa powder and dark chocolate contain all these health benefits that you can over indulge. Like with anything else in your diet, moderation is key. Chocolate when consumed as part of a balanced diet can be a heart healthy treat. In addition to tasting good and lowering blood pressure, it also stimulates endorphin production, which gives a feeling of pleasure; it contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant; and it contains theobromine, caffeine and other substances which are stimulants. Theobromine by the way is the ingredient that makes this substance so toxic for pets. Their systems are not able to unable to metabolize the chemical effectively. So keep it to yourself and enjoy!


I am going to be whipping up some tasty Valentines Day creations this week, stay tuned for Flourless Chocolate Cake, or Chocolate Souffle, whichever sounds tastier later this week!!

What is your favorite chocolate recipe? And remember, chocolate can be savory or sweet, it isn’t just for dessert!

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