Chicken Artichoke Soup

This soup is perfect for a rainy and gloomy day. I first tried it at an unassuming French bistro/deli in downtown San Diego for lunch one day, and I shortly thereafter became TOTALLY obsessed with it.

It’s creamy yet tangy, light yet hearty, and pretty healthy, all things considered. I replaced the heavy cream (which I am sure the fancy French bistro used) with coconut milk and a little whole milk, and I also added extra lemon juice and a few more hearty vegetables.

chicken artichoke stew in the pot

The best and easiest way to make this is in your slow cooker crock pot. This recipe makes five quarts, so feel free to cook it on the stovetop or halve the recipe  – but even five quarts of this amazing soup will disappear quickly.

chicken artichoke soup

Chicken Artichoke Soup

(makes 5 quarts)

  • 2 (12-oz.) jars marinated artichoke hearts, including the liquid
  • 3-4 lbs boneless and skinless chicken thighs, chopped
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, diced
  • about 2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 1 handful chopped fresh spinach
  • 1 (13-oz.) can coconut milk
  • 15-20 oz. water
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or cream
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 5-6 dashes hot sauce
  • salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients (except the salt) in a 5-quart slow cooker. Cook on the high setting for approx. 4-5 hours or until the chicken is cooked thoroughly. Taste the soup first and then add salt as needed  — you won’t need much salt, depending on the saltiness of the marinated artichokes, but you don’t want to over-salt the soup, so be careful.

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Mason Jar Salads and Mason Jar Dressings

These Mason jar salads are all the rage nowadays, and I am happy to say, I made these before they were cool.

Nothing to it, really, just get all of your favorite salad fixings together, plus a few mason jars. I like to use the wide-mouth pint jars (Ball and other companies even have them in pretty colors), and if you can obtain a few reusable plastic lids (like these), that would be even better.

mason jar salad

I generally like to keep it simple, so I make the same salad for every day. You can obviously change it up so you can have a different salad every day.

Once you have all of your supplies and ingredients, there are only two rules:

  1. Keep the dry stuff dry.
  2. Keep the wet stuff wet.

So, start with the dressing. Fill each jar with a tablespoon or two of your favorite or chosen dressing.

Next, add other wet salad ingredients: fresh tomatoes, legumes, fruits, beans or corn, pre-cooked (and pre-cooled) pasta, avocados, feta cheese, tofu, hardboiled eggs, etc.

Then try to put a “barrier” like chickpeas, quinoa, cucumbers or beets, but if you can’t create a barrier, just make sure the layers cover the whole jar.

Put your greens (lettuce, romaine, spinach, kale, etc.) at the top along with anything else that needs to stay dry, like tortilla crisps or crispy bacon bits.

That’s it!

Now you have premade, healthy meals that are ready to go all week.

beforenaftersalad

Mason Jar Dressings

OK, so these aren’t popular (yet, anyway) but they should be. You know that jar of strawberry jam or raspberry preserves in your fridge that you never use? The one that has just enough that you can’t use it for anything else? What about that one jar of mustard that only has a few teaspoons left? Do you have a container of yogurt that you need to use before it goes bad?

Oh yeah. We’re using up your fridge leftovers with this one.

First, take that almost-empty jar out of the fridge. Shake it around a little. Make sure it isn’t filled with toast crumbs from the last time you used it. The contents of this jar will be your binder.

Next, determine what flavors go well with that binder. Raspberry or strawberry (or other berries) go well with balsamic or dark vinegars. Mustard – particularly spicy mustard – is best accented with white or white wine vinegar. Then add fresh or dried herbs.

Here are a few ideas to mix it up:

  • Berry jam/jelly  +    Balsamic vinegar       +   fresh rosemary or basil = Balsamic Berry Dressing
  • Greek yogurt      +     White wine vinegar   +  fresh dill and lemon = Creamy Dill Dressing
  • Dijon mustard    +     White vinegar +  fresh or dried oregano = Herby Mustard Dressing
  • Pure Honey    +    Apple Cider vinegar  +  sriracha and lime = Spicy Honey Vinaigrette
  • Greek yogurt  + cilantro, lime, hot sauce + fresh, mashed avocado  = Baja Goddess Dressing
  • Creamy peanut butter + soy sauce, rice vinegar + cilantro, ginger = Peanut Ginger Dressing
  • Fresh hummus + white vinegar + feta cheese and fresh basil/herbs = Greek Hummus Dressing

Once you have established the flavors and the binder, simply add a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and put the lid on the mason jar and shake vigorously until completely blended.

Baja Goddess Dressing

Baja Goddess Dressing

Homemade Bacon – nitrate- and hassle-free

It seems weird, but homemade bacon is one of the easiest recipes I know – and now it’s one of my favorites.

Part of it is because I have a great smoker: it’s a Masterbuilt M7P, and it grills, smokes (both with charcoal or with propane), and has a few other attachments to allow for steaming, boiling, frying, and even campfire cooking.


But I digress. Point is, you need a smoker. You can get a good one for the same price you paid for that fancy grill you have in your backyard right now, and this can grill or smoke.

Once you have the equipment, the ingredients are relatively easy. For unflavored bacon, you only need a pork belly, kosher salt and brown sugar. If you want to flavor it, it’s pretty simple to do so. I’ll explain that later.

Pork bellies may or may not be hard to find: I live in San Diego, and after messing around the first few times I made bacon with going to a commissary (you need a friend in the military to take you shopping for that to work) and going to a fancy butcher shop (waaaay to expensive), I settled on buying my pork bellies from a local Korean grocery store. They are quite cheap ($5-$7 for about a pound and a half), and the bellies are already helpfully trimmed into lovely little blocks, just waiting to be cured and smoked.

Step 1: Once you get the belly home, place it in a large (gallon size) freezer bag, and add one cup brown sugar and two cups kosher salt. [Note: if this doesn’t coat your pork belly completely, add more of both sugar and salt, just make sure there is twice the amount of salt to sugar.] Make sure the salt and sugar is both completely mixed and completely coating the meat. Refrigerate.

Depending on the size of your pork belly, this curing process will take between 2-7 days (7 is for a really huge, dense piece of meat – most pork bellies will take between 3-5 days.) You will be able to tell the belly is cured when the freezer bag has liquid in the bottom and the meat is hard to the touch.

Step 2: Remove the meat and rinse the salt and sugar off, and put it on a clean plate.

Now is where you add flavoring if you desire; I recommend either coating the belly with cracked peppercorns, (real!) maple syrup, or even sriracha for a spicy bacon.


Step 3: Place the belly, on the plate, flavored if you like, with no cover or wrap, in your refrigerator. This will cause an invisible film to develop on the meat, which will act like a magnet for the smoke when you smoke the meat. Leave it this way for at least 12 hours (preferably overnight).

Remember you will need to soak your wood chips for smoking, too, so this would be a good time to put them on to soak!

hickory chips for smoking

The next day, remove from the refrigerator and let sit for about 20 minutes (just to bring it to room temperature) before smoking.

Step 4: Smoke it! Keep your smoker’s temperature between 200-300, and depending on the size and thickness of the meat, the smoking will take between 4-7 hours. 

Make sure you use a digital meat thermometer, or otherwise keep an eye on the internal temperature of your bacon. Once it reaches an internal temperature of 160, it’s ready, but feel free to smoke it longer to increase the wood-smoke flavor.

meat thermometer

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Summertime condiments: Curry Ketchup and Roasted Corn Relish

I had never tasted curry ketchup until I spent a school year in Germany … they use it constantly there. Every dish of french fries comes with a puddle of it, and many German restaurants also have a killer curry-wurst sausage. I haven’t been able to find it in the states other than at the occasional German restaurant, so I decided to make some. 

Later, I amended this project to be a trio of condiments together for the San Diego Food Swap this month. I made spicy mustard (which I have made a few times, see here), as well as curry ketchup, and to change it up a little, instead of a cucumber pickle relish (booooor-iiiing, plus I prefer my pickles on the fried side), I decided to make a thick roasted corn and pepper relish.

All three condiments were a huge hit! Plus, they were all super-easy to make.

For the curry ketchup, I followed this recipe from Coco Cooks, except I quadrupled the recipe to make multiple jars (and I swapped every single one, so it was worth it), and instead of running it through a food mill at the end, I used my immersion hand blender to puree it, and then I used a slotted spoon to scoop out the seeds, spices and stubborn tomato chunks left inside. I also simmered mine a little longer — I figured more time letting all of the flavors get happy together couldn’t hurt. It didn’t.

I halved and quartered about 8 lbs of various ripe tomatoes, and then added all of the sugar, spices and vinegar, and set it to simmer on the stove. As it was cooking for several hours in a huge pot on the stove, I placed a few cups of mustard seeds into a bowl of beer to let them soak …

… and started a fire in my grill outside so I could char some peppers and whole ears of corn for the relish. As always, with grilling whole corn, you pull back the outer husk, then pull out the soft hair inside. Then if you are going to season it, do it now, and pull the husks back over the corn. Then place it on the hot grill with a few bell peppers.

Once the corn is cooked, simply strip the corn by removing the husk entirely, and remove the corn by standing the ear on one end and running a sharp knife down each side. Since we are making a relish, don’t worry if the kernels don’t look pretty and perfect.

Don’t forget to chop those roasted peppers, as well as a whole onion (and additional jalapeno or other peppers, if you want an extra kick:

Then, once all of the corn, peppers, and onion are diced, add 2 cups of vinegar and 1 cup of sugar, as well as 2 tablespoons each of kosher salt, garlic powder and cracked black pepper.

Let it simmer for about an hour, until the corn and onion are a little tender but still crunchy. This is an excellent topping for grilled fish and baked salmon, as well as just for a simple and tasty dip for tortilla or pita chips.

Now that the relish is finished (and getting ready for its 20-minute hot water bath), I blend the now-soft mustard seeds with fresh and smoked jalapeno pepper and smoked garlic, and puree them all a little in the food processor. Then it goes on the stove with the remaining ingredients while I puree and skim the curry ketchup.

The ketchup is refrigerator-only, but the corn relish and mustard can both be sealed in sterilized mason jars in a 20-minute hot water bath.

Adventures in Pickling (Garlic, Mushrooms and, yes, Pickled Strawberries)

This April is the one-year anniversary of the San Diego Food Swap, a fun foodie event that I organize locally. It’s a great way to meet great cooks, practice your cooking skills, and get rid of surplus in your preserving pantry. This month I decided to make a few different pickles.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I need to step up my garlic game. Sure, roasted and even smoked whole heads of garlic are tiny blobs of heaven, but what about pickling them for extra punch? Preserved and Pickled has this delicious one, and I adapted it with a little extra white vinegar.

Pickled Garlic Cloves

(Try to keep the cloves whole, but trim off the hard ends.)

  • 2 Cups White Vinegar
  • ¼ Cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • ¼ Cup Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • ½ Teaspoon Coriander Seeds
  • ½ Teaspoon Mixed Peppercorns
  • 2-3 Small Dried Red Chiles

Try to keep the cloves whole, but it’s OK if they break a little. Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for about 5 minutes. Then fill sterilized mason jars and seal in a hot water bath for about 10-15 minutes.

I also did a version of my friend Belinda’s pickled red onions, which are a zingy compliment to pretty much any sandwich, wrap or burger. I added a bay leaf and a little more sugar.

I think my favorite of these are the pickled some cremini mushrooms. Knit and Nosh posted a fantastic recipe for these cheese plate darlings, and once again, I take a great recipe and make it my own with a little more spice — I used jalapeño instead of bell pepper and chili flakes, and added a little extra red onion.

Pickled Cremini Mushrooms

(Try these on your next cheese plate!)

  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, washed and cut into quarters
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup diced jalapeño
  • 1/2 cup onion, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorn

Quarter (or halve the smaller) mushrooms, and dice the peppers and onions. Add to a pot with the vinegar, salt, and water, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars with peppercorns, and seal in a hot water bath for 10 minutes to seal.

I found this fantastic pickled strawberry recipe on The Daily Meal, and adapted it with different spices (star anise and a little coriander).

Spicy Strawberry Pickles

(This is a recipe for one big jar; adapt as necessary.)

  • 6-7 strawberries, stems removed
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 sliced or halved jalapeño or serrano pepper
  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole coriander

Slice or halve the strawberries and place into sterilized mason jar(s). Add the coriander, pepper and salt, while bringing the vinegar and sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Pour the hot brine into the jar(s) and place the two-piece lid. Give it at least three days to get to its full pickle flavor. Keep refrigerated.

Crispedy, crunchedy … the perfect pickle is now a killer snack

I accidentally stumbled upon the perfect and most crowd-pleasing snack … one that anyone can make using their favorite spices and crunchy details. I learned to make pickles just last summer, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to make a delicious pickle. Honestly I am constantly surprised when I learn how easy it is to make something from scratch instead of buying it packed with preservatives and salts (not the least of which are salad dressing, mustard, bacon and sauces), but this one still blew my mind.

The principle is this: there’s a difference between pickling and preserving. Preserving entails freezing something or cooking and sealing it in such a way that means you can store it in a mason jar on a shelf for an indeterminate amount of time.

If you want to make pickles that you seal in a mason jar and store on a shelf in your pantry or basement for months and/or years, you need to follow a specific recipe that creates a certain pH level and makes it safe for whatever vegetable you are canning to be sealed in a jar using either a hot water bath or a pressure canner.

BUT … if you just want a jar of fresh pickles, that you’ll keep in the refrigerator and NOT store in a cupboard or pantry, you don’t need to worry about any of that. You can make your pickles as spicy, as vinegar-y, as sweet, or as herby as you like, using whatever vegetables you love the most. It’s really quite brilliant.

From left, pickled eggplant, sweet peppery pickled cherry tomatoes and dill cucumber pickles. The results of my first hands-on pickling class.

For this recipe, I used some lovely whole baby cucumbers, with one end trimmed ever so slightly to fit four of them into a quart-sized wide mouth jar. The only thing you need to keep in mind is the time … refrigerator pickles take a long time to get their full flavor, particularly when the flavor needs to permeate a whole cucumber of a slice of one. I let these sit in the fridge for over 2 months before I sliced and pickled them.

Make the pickles according to your own tastes, but for me, it’s sweet and dilly.  Stuff a mason jar with four baby cucumbers, a clove of thinly sliced garlic, and one tablespoon each of kosher salt, whole peppercorns and dried dill. Then I brought two cups white vinegar, two cups water, and one cup sugar to a boil (just enough to dissolve the sugar and bring it to a rolling boil), and pour it directly into the mason jar. Once the jar is cool, refrigerate it until you’re ready to use the pickles.

I cannot stress enough the degree to which the flavors of this pickle are all up to you. Add peppers or even jalapenos. Add extra garlic to spice it up, or extra sugar (even honey) to make it sweeter. Maybe use red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a different depth of flavor, or omit the vinegar altogether and pickle your cukes in nothing but water and salt, if that’s the way you like to eat a cucumber. It’s all up to you.

Then, we fry them. Fried pickles are a staple at many southern restaurants, and during my time in Tennessee and Texas, I had fried pickles a few times (not to mention a myriad of other fried things), and honestly I didn’t care for them very much … mostly because I really didn’t like pickles in any form. Now that my tastes are progressing, and now that I can make my own pickle just the way I like it, my chances of loving these little fried bits of goodness grow exponentially.

Now comes the fun part! You can take this custom-made pickle and make it into the most crowd-pleasing snack ever. The only tools you need are a serrated knife (seriously) and a pan for frying.

Heat your oil and slice your pickles using a serrated knife. Those ridges will help the crispy goodness to stick to your pickle during the frying process.

While your vegetable oil is heating, prepare a bowl of egg wash (eggs beaten with a little water) and a dish of flour and of your favorite crispy coating. I used panko crumbs, but you can use any seasoned or unseasoned breadcrumbs, corn meal … hell, use Doritos or corn flakes if that’s what blows your hair back.

Coat each slice in flour, then dip in egg, then coat in the crispy crumbs, then drop into the oil.

Cook for about a minute on each side or until they are golden brown.

I like to serve these with a little bowl of mayo mixed with a few tablespoons of the brine from the pickle jar. It’s amazing, but honestly, you don’t need a dip.

Eat them quickly – they’re best when freshly fried.

I almost forgot to take pictures first, and this was very nearly my best photo of the fried pickle project.

Pickled Honey Jalapeno Rings

Spicy. Sweet. Tangy. Pickled.

Oooh, these are so fabulous. This is a bit of an unusual pickling recipe but it delivers an amazingly tangy, sweet and spicy pickled pepper ring that complements any soup, salad, side dish or meat entree. It only requires a few ingredients and is easily sealed in a hot-water bath, with no special equipment or extra work necessary. I adapted this recipe from Linda Ziedrich’s “Joy of Pickling.”

honey jalapeno rings recipe card

First, slice and, if you like, seed about 2 lbs. of jalapeno peppers. For the best visual effect (I love a pretty pickle as much as I like a tasty one), use a variety of colors and sizes.

As a public service announcement, let me tell you: you are not, I repeat, NOT, too cool for gloves. No pain is worse than the burning of your eyes when you accidentally rub one of them with a peppery hand. Use gloves when slicing these peppers or you’ll pay for it later!

Then start a quart of apple cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons pickling salt and 2 teapoons honey in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Then add the slices of jalapenos and bring it to a boil again.

Add the sliced peppers to clean, sterilized jars, and add a teaspoon each of black peppercorns, whole coriander seeds and a slice of fresh garlic. The pour the liquid from the jalapenos into each jar and add about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil to each jar.

Seal the jars in a hot water bath for about 10 minutes. For best results, store the jars in a cool, dry place for about three weeks, and let the peppers get as spicy and delicious as possible.