Oma’s Tomato Soup in a Flash

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There are days when I crave french fries, when all I want to do is stop by Yats, this yummy Cajun-Creole restaurant in town, and pick up some chili cheese etouffee. I have weeks where jet lag is clearly a real thing, but I refuse to admit it exists. I will not be weak. Winter starts to creep in, days get shorter, and by the time you get home, the sun has set, the dog still needs to be walked, and despite the fact that it’s only 6 p.m., it’s much too dark and late to make real dinner.

Do not give in to the urge to get french fries or your city’s equivalent of chili cheese etouffee from Yats. Instead make tomato soup. I bet you have all of the ingredients in your house. If not, this weekend stock up on canned tomatoes, buy a spice container of cloves and a jar of Better Than Bullion, and make a habit of always having an onion or two and some garlic in your house.

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This tomato soup is special. Twice a year we would see my grandparents who lived in Holland. My grandmother, Oma, would make this soup with little mini meatballs floating in it. I remember her standing over the stove in her green kitchen making this soup. We would have it or her chicken noodle soup before every lunch in wide bowls with wide rims. My grandfather would pick up his bowl and always slurp out the last drops. I looked forward to Oma’s tomato soup every time they visited us in Indiana. She’d make a big pot first thing and we’d have it before dinner every night.

Even now that Oma is gone, Opa still eats soup every night. When he was here over the summer he gifted me Oma’s cookbook. It’s an old green, hardcover notebook with pages of handwritten recipes. Oma took a cooking class when she was young. Each night she would come home and tell Opa the recipes of the day. He then carefully wrote them down in the notebook.

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This tomato soup is a cinch to make. It requires maybe 10 minutes of hands-on time and 40 minutes of simmering, flavor melding time. This tomato soup has been my go-to meal this fall on nights when I can’t muster up the energy to make a full-on dinner. Plus I happened to be given the glorious gift of a HUGE amount of tomatoes at the end of the summer, which I canned into 10 quarts of tomato awesomeness. Make a pot of this. Double the recipe. Triple it. Curl up with a bowl of it as the days grow shorter. For me, it tastes like childhood. I hope for you it tastes like an easy and healthy dinner on a night you just couldn’t squeeze out one more drop of energy.

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Roast a Chicken for Me

Hello from the Philadelphia airport! I am on my way to Madrid, Spain to meet up with Michael, his sister, and his mom and stepdad! It’s been three long months since Michael left for Sweden. The wi-fi here is atrocious. This is 2012, people! Get with the wireless world. So hopefully I can get this post finished. However, when you read this I’ll be in Madrid already. So technically, hello from Madrid?

Traveling stresses me out only a little bit. Let’s just say this has been a long week, and I won’t drink coffee at night when I’m anxious anymore. The only thing I’ve had planned out for weeks is my travel outfit. Does that sound dumb? Comfort is of the utmost importance when you spend a day and night traveling. Plus, if you want to bring anything extra bulky (like boots), you should probably work them into your travel outfit so as not to have to squash them into your suitcase. Plus, hair gets flat, greasy, and unfortunate after hours on a plane. Thank goodness for braids and head scarves.

Two weeks ago Michael and I had another cooking date—a whole roasted chicken. While this may sound slightly intimidating, trust me, it’s not. And a roasted chicken is just about the best thing you can put in your oven on a Sunday afternoon. Why? Well I’ll just tell you.

A roasted chicken is super hands off. Prep it the day before you plan to roast it by spicing it up a bit. Put it in the oven for an hour to an hour and  a half. That is it!

If you are one or two people a whole chicken will feed you for at least a week. This makes the cost worth it. Chicken on salads, chicken in enchiladas, chicken on pasta….endless possibilities. Get creative with your leftovers!

Chicken parts (bones, innards, the back) are great for homemade stock. Freeze that business and use it once you’ve gathered enough chicken parts and vegetables.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner (how in the world did that even happen already?!) and maybe you don’t celebrate with a large group of people. A chicken is a great smaller alternative to a turkey.

Now, where do you get a whole chicken? I suggest you get yourself to a local butcher or venture to a nearby farmers market and make friends with a chicken farmer. Either of these places will sell you a lovely local whole chicken. Whole Foods or Fresh Market are also excellent options.

Michael did a great job with this recipe as a beginner cook. He even proudly pulled legs and a breast off of the cooked chicken, and was amazed at how the breast looked just like a boneless chicken breast he’d buy at the store.

I roasted some seasonal vegetables (oh so frickin fancy, let me stick my nose in the air, lalala)—cauliflower and potatoes. Put them in the roasting pan with the chicken when there’s about half an hour of cooking time left. Just sprinkle some salt, pepper, and olive oil over them! I also happen to like a little curry on my cauliflower.

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Fish Tacos aka summer.in.winter

Every winter I say the same thing. “This cold, I cannot stand it! I can’t live here another winter. Why haven’t I moved south yet?” And every winter I’m still here, freezing my butt off in Indiana. Now realistically I’d miss snow like crazy. I’d hate having a warm Christmas. I’d miss cozy sweaters and scarves. Regardless, I’m a good cold-weather complainer.

This winter has been incredibly mild as of yet, and I should really be keeping my whiney mouth shut. I’ve been able to run outside comfortably  in January. Like I can feel all of my fingers the whole run. Yet I still curse the frost on my car windows every morning and swear this will be the last winter I spend here.

So to brighten up even the mildest winter and to give you a breath of summer, I give you fish tacos. This dish is a favorite of mine to order at restaurants. A good fish taco starts with a corn tortilla, a small one please. It’s filled with a few strips of flaky fish, grilled or breaded, I’m not picky. It’s topped with a fresh, bright, tomato-heavy salsa, cabbage, and a dollop of sour cream. It’s like a fresh party in your mouth!

I’ve made the fish tacos in The Essential New York Times Cookbook twice now, and, in my humble and not highly refined fish taco palate opinion, these fit all of the above requirements. This meal is probably one of the only times I will cook out of season. You can totes find decent tomatoes at your local Whole Foods. They’re probably from Mexico, but this one time I say, you support that foreign food economy! Just be sure to buy extra butternut squash at the farmers market this week.

Make some fish tacos for dinner. Go. Remind yourself that winter does have an end, that warm weather will come, that even if you live in a cold locale you can still taste summer.

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North Carolina Pulled Pork

I’m always looking for ways to pretend I’m a true southerner. Pulled pork is a thing, like a Thing, in North Carolina. People say there’s a difference between eastern and western NC barbecue—eastern being vinegar-based and western being ketchup-based. I don’t love overly-saucy and sweet barbecue, so I suppose that makes me a fan of the eastern type.

In my head pulled pork is a summer food that you make for barbecues on sweltering sunny days. You pile the sweet, tangy pork onto buns and eat with a side of coleslaw and a cold beer. Last summer, I did just that. But this pulled pork is made in the crock pot, which, in my opinion, is a decidedly cool-weather cookware. So I say make this all year round. Eat it on buns, straight up on a plate, with a side of collard greens (because that’s how they’d do it in North Carolina guys!) or roasted squash.

This pulled pork does have some ketchup in it, but it not sauce-drenched. It takes a little thinking and planning ahead, but not a whole lot of hands on work. My timeline went like this:

– buy pork at farmer’s market on Saturday
– leave pork out on counter to thaw until Sunday morning
– wake up Sunday to cat and dog scuffling over raw pork butt on kitchen floor, after cat has jumped up on counter and knocked pork to the floor (no cat eyeballs were harmed in the making of this pulled pork)
– rub spice mix onto pork Sunday night, put pork in refrigerator overnight
– make sauce Sunday night and store in jar in refrigerator
– put pork and half of sauce in slow cooker Monday morning and let cook (aka let house fill with tantalizing smells)

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Coconut Curry Noodle Soup

Last time I posted I think the season could still be considered summer. Now we are knee deep in autumn. This is totes my favorite season. Changing leaves, cool weather/perfect running weather, cozy food, and art contest prize delivery trips!

Michael and I ran in a 5K with a few of his friends earlier this month.

I have yet to run a race in my FiveFingers, a goal I set for myself in the spring to reach by the end of the summer, but this 5K was amazing. It was at Mallow Run Winery, a bit south of Indianapolis. Firstly, I’m super happy with my time of 24:25. Guys, that’s a 7:52 per mile average pace! That’s under 8 minutes! These are things I never thought I’d say about myself as a runner. Secondly, we got a free glass of wine after the race. Thirdly, we tasted various wines after our free glasses.

Fourthly, we bought two bottles of wine per couple and sat on the patio and enjoyed many glasses. Wine and running and friendly people are a good combo!

In the last month my magazine’s amazing art director and I have traveled to three cities to deliver prizes for our art contest. Do you have a kid? You should so enter! Multiple perks to these trips include: making the day of a kid and his or her family, giving money to art programs in schools, getting to visit awesome cities!

San Diego. We visited the San Diego Zoo. Oh mah Gawd, it was worth every dollar of the $40 we paid to get in! We ate cupcakes two nights in a row. We saw seals. We hiked on the beach And we saw Erica!

I went to high school with Erica. She moved to L.A. for college and is still there. I’m glad we’ve stayed friends despite miles and time. The kind of weird thing about this whole trip is that most of the time it was cloudy. I thought San Diego was sunny almost all the time.

Knoxville. We had a hotel…disaster…horror story…grossness…long story short, the hotel was terrible and we ran at 11:30 at night. Before we broke free from trucker hell, we wandered around downtown Knoxville. Jen had a contact emergency that took us to this little grocery.

They had growlers and eight beers on tap IN THE GROCERY. Like a little bar in the grocery with awesome beer! I died a little. Just one more reason the South is superior.

Kalamazoo. The Bell’s Brewery is located in Kalamazoo. Oktoberfest is in season. Have you had Oktoberfest on tap at the Brewery that it comes from? Holy amazing caramel-flavored beer awesomeness! We sat in the bier garden and enjoyed some pints. I left with a six pack of Oktoberfest and a variety six pack.

I just realized that I sound like a drunk. Wine. Beer. Beer. I am not a drunk. I am not a drunk …

So cozy autumn food. It goes well with Bell’s beer. It goes well with cool weather. Unfortunately we are having some sort of Indian summer during the days. 70s and 80s, what? I don’t care. I’ve been cooking roasted chicken, potatoes, and butternut squash (which, sidenote, is amazing, sweet, and creamy just diced, salted, peppered, and nutmeged, and roasted), vegetarian chili, and a new soup, coconut curry noodle soup.

This soup is coconuty, spicy, flavorful, and I love the slurpy noodles. I actually managed to eat most of the soup with chopsticks! As is, the recipe is vegetarian, but I’d say add in some chicken or shrimp if you so desire. One of my favorite soup perks is how it lasts for multiple meals. This one gave me two dinners and two lunches. Plus, it was insanely affordable. I got my ingredients at the farmers market and an incredible international grocery in town called Saraga. They have a whole aisle practically of curries. And all sorts of produce from around the world. And all of the exotic food that costs a fortune at the regular grocery cost half the price. I think overall, this meal, or four meals, cost me around $10. Seriously, guys.

The recipe calls for Singapore noodles, but you can sub any rice noodle. Laksa paste is a type of curry paste. I found a jar at Saraga, but if you can’t, just go for any curry paste available. As for vegetables, I used a carrot, a zucchini, and a red pepper.

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Days 17, 18, 19, & 20 a.k.a. I am behind

Creativity is hard to document!

I have also been a bit of a slacker lately. Probably at least half of my creative endeavors have involved cooking, something I do on a regular basis. The whole idea of this month was to stretch my wings and let some creative juices flow. So I’m pacting to do stretch and flow more the second half of this month.

Day 17 

Mira attended a picnic at 100 Acres at the Indianapolis Museum of Art with Michael and me. The summer sun and extensive playing and exploring wore the pup out and she stole some drinks…many drinks…from Michael’s plastic cup. Luckily I had my water bottle with us, too.

Day 18

Homemade bread requires some planning to make. It’s certainly not difficult, but between hours of multiple risings and baking, the whole thing must be planned into the day. Due to bad planning on my part, we had no bread in the house on Saturday morning, and all I wanted for breakfast was some runny eggs with bread. So I made biscuits from Smitten Kitchen. They’re quick and fairly easy. My tips are these: the dough is quite sticky. Add maybe 1/2 cup extra flour. Make sure to bake them until they are truly golden. Slightly underbaked biscuits are not as delicious as fully baked ones. Breakfast was consumed too fast for photos.

Day 19

Happy Father’s Day! I have a…weird…awesome…hilarious…inappropriate dad. He dresses up in drag to raise money for Alzheimer’s, he tells me he needs a classy place for his whores to host more high-profile customers (my father is not a pimp), and he misses my mom when she leaves town for multiple weeks. So, on Sunday, my brother, his girlfriend, Michael, and I made dinner for him: Salads and stuffed shells from 101 Cookbooks.

The secret to these stuffed shells? Lemon zest. It’s mixed into the ricotta filling and spread across the bottom of the baking dish. Trust me, it really adds a unique flavor to the whole meal.

The beauty of this pasta is that you can make it in advance. This would be a great dish to make on a Sunday afternoon, freeze, and then make during the week after work. Scroll down to find the recipe after the jump!

I also went up to Zionsville for the annual pet parade and took a few photos for Robert Goodman Jewelers’ Facebook page. My favorite

Day 20

I hung my shelf in the living room! Finally the photos that have been tucked away all hidden on my bookshelf have a real home. And now I have a place to put flowers that is Lolacat-proof! The white roses are from my parents in honor of Oma.

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Days 9, 10, & 11 – Photos and Lentil Burgers

I got a few days behind. I did something creative each day. Posting, not quite.

Day 9

Day 10

I’ve made these lentil burgers and posted the recipe before. Last time I made them I had the hardest time getting them to stick together to form actual patties. Since then I’ve read a few other lentil burger recipes. The trick? Blend or food process about half of the burger mixture to a puree. I’ve updated the recipe, so just click on the link above! Also, this time I used red pepper flakes instead of a jalapeno, one chopped up carrot, two mini sweet peppers, and homemade pesto (with basil from my garden!) instead of the sour cream sauce.

Day 11

We went to Bloomington for the day on Saturday to meet up with three of my friends from my days on the IU Equestrian Team. We’re kind of spread out through the midwest these days, but something about spending three or four years together working to make a tiny team into one who competed at Nationals, forms a …. bond … keeps you close. We spent the day drinking (I promise I did not drive back to Indy drunk that night! I would never.) and Meredith ordered this pretty drink with a popsicle in it.

I’m making lots of things in the kitchen today! Can’t wait to share them with you!