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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Bar Basic is anything but Basic

I was invited to join a group of awesome San Diego food bloggers this week for a pizza party at Bar Basic in the East Village, and it was fantastic! Despite their name, the bar is anything but Basic … the drinks were well-made and strong (hello, Classic Mule!) and all of their pizzas were simple but packed a great punch.

We started off with (cocktails) and the BASIC Salad: a simple but very delicious mix of greens, sliced pears, candied walnuts and gorgonzola, tossed in Basic’s house made vinaigrette.

BASIC SALAD

I knew when I arrived that I had to try the “MASHED” pie – a white pizza with mozzarella, mashed potato and bacon. It sounds like carbs on top of carbs might not be a good idea, but it’s actually pretty small blobs of mashed potato alongside tangy cheese and smoky bacon, so it’s not as overwhelming as you might think.

I regret nothing.

I regret nothing.

We got one pie that was half Mashed and half “4 MAGGIO” also a white with mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, gorgonzola and basil. You guys know how I love cheese, so this was perfect – and the fresh basil on top was a perfect touch.

half Mashed, half 2 Maggio

My second favorite pie of the evening was the “SO MEATY,” a red pie with bacon, pepperoni, sausage, ricotta cheese and fresh basil. It definitely had a lot of meat, but contrary to the name, the meat wasn’t overwhelming or too greasy (which I find often happens with meaty pizzas).

SO MEATY

 

Easy sourdough bread

Sourdough is one of my favorite types of bread ever, and I can’t believe it’s so easy!

If you don’t have your own sourdough starter, you can find instructions on how to make one here. But I got mine from a lady giving it away in a Facebook group post; and if you know anyone who makes their own bread, chances are very good that they have a sourdough starter to share with you.

It’s very simple: you start with this 8-oz jar of bubbly liquid. You can store it in the refrigerator, and once a week, you take it out and empty out half (4 oz.).

You can use this to give to a friend so they have starter, or you can use it for baking bread or a myriad of other sourdough things: muffins, biscuits, crackers, pizza dough, bread, English muffins, even sweet breads and muffins like blueberry or banana. Then you add 4 oz. of water and 4 oz. flour, and mix well. Now you have starter for next week.

sourdough starter

By the way, you can also keep your starter at room temperature and discard/feed it every day, but who has time for that?! That method is for people who have the time to bake a loaf of bread every day.

Here is a simple, quick bread baking method (no, really, this IS quick, most sourdough bread recipes require at least 12-24 hours for proofing and rising). You can make this in one evening after work or weekend morning/afternoon.

Easy Sourdough Bread

  • 4 3/4 cups bread flour*
  • 3 tbsp. white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
  • 2 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast (0.25 oz.)
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 2 tbsp. softened butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. water

First, combine 1 cup of the flour with the salt, sugar and yeast, and mix well. Add the wet ingredients (sourdough starter, milk and butter) and once fully incorporated, slowly add the rest of the flour.

Turn dough out onto a flour-covered surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, then put it back into the mixing bowl (add a little oil first to prevent sticking). Cover and let the dough rise for about 1 hour.

After about an hour, punch down the dough and form into loaves (you can use traditional rectangular bread loaf pans, or form the dough into a ball and bake it in a round cake or pie pan). Let rise another hour.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, then sprinkle the egg wash (a large egg scrambled with 1 tbsp. water) on top of each loaf. Then bake another 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

sourdough bread

*Tip: You can totally use all-purpose flour for this recipe, and it will make a fine loaf of bread. But bread flour is much finer and softer, and will lead to a softer and better piece of bread.

There’s a great post to read about bread makers here.

Need more tips for your starter? Check out these tips and tricks on the King Arthur Flour blog.

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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Spicy Roasted Tomato Soup with Pupusa Dippers

This is my second year participating in the Del Real Foods food blogger recipe contest. Last year, I was lucky enough to have been selected by the company to make a video for my Chipotle Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe, even though I wasn’t a winner. It was so much fun!

(Check out my video and post about my awesome trip to Los Angeles here.)

Anyway, it didn’t take much for me to become a fan of Del Real Foods. Their products are all minimally processed – for example, chicken and pork that is marinated and fully cooked, but without all of the additives (and tons of salt) that you typically find in premade, frozen “convenience” foods.

This year, I hope I win the contest, instead of just making a video! I am a huge fan of pupusas (I’ve made my own before), and the Del Real brand pupusas are really delicious. Since a pupusa is basically a handheld, self-contained grilled cheese sandwich, I decided to do a Mexican-style play on the typical grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup combo.

If you can, try to use fresh tomatoes. You can use canned tomatoes if necessary, and it will still be delicious, but the extra sweetness that comes from a fresh tomato is a perfect compliment to the spices in the soup. And don’t be afraid of that whole jalapeno pepper — this soup is a little spicy, but it compliments the pupusas perfectly!

 

Spicy Roasted Tomato Soup with Pupusa Dippers

 

Spicy Roasted Tomato Soup with Pupusa Dippers

(Serves 5)

  • 10 fresh tomatoes (or two big cans of stewed tomatoes)
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 1 avocado
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 cube of tomato chicken bouillon (Caldo de Tomate)
  • 1 package of Del Real Foods Pupusas (5 individual pupusas)
  • 2 tbsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 cups water
  • salt and pepper
  • Cotija cheese (for garnish)

Spicy Tomato Soup ingredients

First, begin with the fresh tomatoes and roast them whole in a broiler or over an open flame. (If at all possible, use fresh instead of canned tomatoes for the best flavor.)

Roast the tomatoes until the flesh starts to shrivel and blister, then set aside to cool.

Roasted tomatoes

While the tomatoes are cooling, sautee the jalapeno, onion, garlic and celery in a large pot, and cook for a few minutes until slightly soft. Then trim the stems off of the tomatoes and add to the pot.

 

Veggies for soup base

Next, add the spices, water and bouillon, and bring to a boil. Then cover and let boil gently for about 15 minutes, or until all of the vegetables are soft. While the soup is boiling, prepare the pupusas — it’s really easy, just cook them in a pan for a few minutes on each side.

Pupusas

When the soup is finished, use an immersion blender to blend all of the ingredients, and serve immediately with a hot pupusa, garnished with cotija cheese and avocado.

Spicy Roasted Tomato Soup with Pupusa Dippers

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Disclaimer: I was provided Del Real Foods products free of charge as part of the food blogger contest, but received no other compensation, financial or otherwise, for this post. The opinions expressed herein are my own.

Caramelized Banana Brioche French Toast

Caramelized Banana Brioche French Toast seems like it would be tricky and time-consuming, but luckily, it’s not. Unless you are making these for an army – which you could if you wanted to – they only take a few minutes. This simple recipe is for one, and takes as much time in the morning as a bowl of oatmeal.

I got the idea for a simple caramelized banana sauce from a recipe for caramelized banana pancake squares, from the new release, “The 8×8 Cookbook” by Kathy Strahs. Check out my review of “The 8×8 Cookbook” here and pick up a copy of the cookbook, too.

banana brioche french toast
This is also a great way to use up ripe bananas and slightly-stale bread, but if you can help it, don’t use any bread other than a thickly-sliced brioche bread.

If you’re in San Diego, like me, get it from Cardamom Cafe and Bakery. Trust me; you wont be disappointed.

brioche slice

Caramelized Banana Brioche French Toast

(one serving)

  • 2 thick slices of Brioche bread
  • 3 large eggs
  • a splash of milk
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 ripe banana, sliced
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 5-6 tablespoons butter
  • powdered sugar for serving

Scramble the eggs and add the milk and cinnamon. Place each slice of bread into the egg mixture and let sit for at least a minute on each side so the bread soaks up all of the egg mixture.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons of butter in a pan and fry each piece of bread for about 3-4 minutes on each side. While the bread is cooking, put 2 tbsp. of butter in a separate saucepan with the banana slices facedown. Let the banana slices cook for about a minute in the butter to brown them slightly, then add the brown sugar.

Pour the hot banana and brown sugar mixture over the french toast slices, and serve immediately with a dusting of powdered sugar.

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