A ‘crock ton’ of tomato soup

When we were kids, my Mom made tomato soup from a can (this was because of her own bad childhood encounter with tomato soup).  It was the Campbell’s tomato soup, and it never, ever tasted good.  As a result, all tomato soup was repulsive to me.

I don’t know when I changed my mind on it.  It was probably some event or dinner, where tomato soup was served, and I kind of had to eat it to not look ridiculous.  Whenever it was, I realized that tomato soup that’s not from a can is actually kind of amazing.

Lisa gave me this recipe for Slow Cooker Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup which combines some of my most favorite foods: tomatoes, cheese . . . well that’s it.  Lisa warned me that it makes a ‘crock ton.’ (haha) And it really does.

Like all crock pot soups, it’s a lot of ‘toss in the pot & cook.’

Diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, onion, basil, garlic, salt, and pepper.  The recipe called for 1 tablespoon of salt and Lisa warned me that it was way too salty, especially when you add a salty cheese like Parmesan.  I am not a salt person at all, so I dropped it down to 1 teaspoon.

Chad, my regular taste-tester, adds salt to everything, and he said the salt level was juuust right.

Cook for 2 hours.  Then I got to use my handy new blender.  I also need a ladle, because transferring the soup to the blender was a bit of a hassle.  Then I whipped up a roux.  I grabbed the wrong measuring cup and added 1/2 a cup of flour instead of 1/4.  I don’t think it caused any real problems.  Finally I tossed in the cheese, which I didn’t measure, so there was probably a little too much. Though, I mean, you can’t really have too much cheese.

On to the grilled cheese.  I’ve never made it before (gasp!) which is a little ridiculous, I know.  For whatever reason it always seemed way too simple to just butter the bread, but it on the pan, add some cheese & flip. I did a whole bunch of googling and decided to just go for some sourdough bread some American cheese slices – don’t judge, it’s the best melting cheese.  Something I read said go for mayo instead of butter so I gave it a whirl – I burns a lot more quickly than regular cheese, but the taste is still amazing.

There was a crock ton so Mom & Dad got some (Mom said it was good!), so did Chad, and I brought some in for another co-worker.

I will absolutely make this soup again, and of course I’ll be living off of grilled cheese from now on.



Rustic Marinara, I guess?

I grew up on Prego. I’m sure my mom made homemade sauce at some point,  but I’m not sure what her go-to recipe was. I don’t have a go-to recipe either. When I make pasta at home, I go for low maintenance and quick.

This recipe was pretty low maintenance and quick, and pretty boring, too. This came from a Martha Stewart Food magazine from about 5 years ago.  I have a binder full of ‘found’ recipes that I turn to on occasion, or when I can’t find another option.  I probably should have done some more searching for this one.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 – 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes, crushed
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Heat up the oil, get the garlic and red pepper flakes fragrant.

I forgot to crush the tomatoes before I poured them in. I’ve also, apparently, misplaced the power half of my immersion blender.

I made do with this black tool and my hand crank egg beater.  That tool, by the way, is super useful when you’re browning ground meat and other random things.  Useful for this, too. It’s Pampered Chef and it’s apparently called a ‘Mix ‘n Chop.’

Heat it on a fast simmer for 15 minutes.

The sauce was super bland. I definitely need to spice it up. This made 4 cups so I’ve got about 3 more in the freezer that I can improve upon later.   (Not pictured: the cheese that was necessary to make this yummy).

Anyone have any tips or great recipes for marinara, please pass them my way!!   I’ve found a good one on Cooking Light that takes 7 hours instead of 15 minutes. I’m super intrigued!

State-Themed Drinking in July

This has obviously been my favorite challenge so far.  (Also, July was my birthday month, so more reasons to celebrate).

I’ve got two cocktails for you in one post!

Colorado Bulldogs

Lately, my friend Liz has been on a Colorado Bulldog kick.  I’m not sure what started it, but she’s been drinking them all summer long.  Sometimes I join, sometimes I pass. To me it’s not the most summery of cocktails, but it’s super yummy and very easy (almost too easy) to drink.

The basics:

  • 1 shot of Kahlua
  • 1 shot of Vodka
  • 1 shot of Half & Half (or cream)
  • Ice
  • Coca-Cola



Pour the shots over ice & top it off with Coca-Cola!  The cocktail might be something that would benefit from a martini shaker just to get everything really well mixed.  Though it could also make a big mess.


It’s a 1:1:1 ratio, so if you want to up the ante a little, just make sure you double the Kahlua, Vodka, & Half & Half in equal measure!


I def want to whip one up in the fall some time, or maybe toss in a scoop of vanilla ice cream? This is a cocktail that is designed to be doctored.

Recommendation; don’t drink through a straw, it goes down waaaaaay too easy!

Hawaiian Mimosa

I was looking for something a little more fruit-based for my second cocktail, and I stumbled upon this post: Hawaiian Mimosas.  It has 3 things I love: Prosecco, Pineapple, and Malibu.

(I’ll confess, 22 year-old me spent a summer drinking Malibu + Pineapple cocktails at crappy dive bars).

The details:

  • 1 shot Malibu
  • 2 shots pineapple
  • Top with Prosecco
  • Garnish (if you’re so inclined)


Chad & I were both so excited to try this one, it sounded delicious.


It was just, too sweet!  It might’ve been different if all the ingredients were well chilled (only the Prosecco was).  But I still think the Malibu & pineapple combo was just a little too much sugar.  You know something is sweet when you can feel it in your jaw.

I loved the kismet element of both these cocktails being state themed.

Any bartenders out there have tips on how to make these even more delicious?!

I’ll be back soon-ish with some red sauce.  In the meantime check out Lisa’s 10-ish minute red sauce recipe!


Say it Ain’t Cilantro Burger (Actually, black bean burger).

OMG this burger is so good.  Just.  So. Good.

I first tried a black bean burger at a local restaurant, I never thought I’d like it, but it turned out to be something I’d crave from time to time.  When this month was burgers, I knew I wanted to give black bean a whirl at home.

The recipe I chose is super easy, but it involves lots of ingredients, and each requires at least one prep step.  I pulled the recipe from a great local cookbook (this one is from a local TV personality).


In my research I found that most black bean burger recipes are pretty labor intensive when prepping the patty.


The recipe calls for: onion (chopped), garlic cloves (whole), cumin. Into the food processor and pulse until roughly chopped


Plus: black beans, bread crumbs, and chopped cilantro.  Add these and pulse until it’s just combined.

Then toasted chopped walnuts, salt, pepper, and one beaten egg. Mix it up.  Into patties and then into the fridge for an hour.


While it was chilling I made some I topped it with some cilantro lime aioli with: mayo, Greek yogurt, lime juice, cilantro, garlic, salt & pepper.  The recipe calls for finely chopped cilantro, but I didn’t like the cilantro when chopped by hand, so I went after the mixture with my immersion blender.

The recipe called for cooking this on a grill pan for 4-6 minutes per side.  Since I’m grill-less I did some googling and decided that 6 minutes on my George Foreman should be good.

Things started to fall apart a little as I took the patties off the grill.  Next time I will pulse for longer, and maybe add another egg yolk to help keep the patties together.  Uniform sizing would probably also help.


Final burger included some guacamole on the bottom, burger, a little bit of feta cheese (I had it on hand), and the cilantro lime aioli.  Yum!

I’m a definitely adding these to the my regular rotation!


(also, fun fact, the titles for both my blog posts come from the TV Show Bob’s Burgers.)



The Say Cheese Burger

The weather ’round these parts is pretty nice right now, though, it’s been a little humid and my hair is frizzy.  The demon bugs that shall remain nameless (aka mosquitoes) are out in full force and my ankles are becoming well-acquainted.

Basically – it’s grillin’ season.  And with June being burger month, I demanded that Chad teach me how to make one of his most excellent cheeseburgers.


I got some meat, an onion, and some buns at the grocery store, the rest of his regular components he had on hand.


Chad kindly chopped up an onion for me.


Beef, onion, an egg yolk.  Apparently adding the white would make it more meatloaf-y.

Some Worcestershire, shredded cheese (Rob says this is a new addition) and something called ‘Brady’s Cheese Sprinkle’ from Penzey’s.

Then time to get my hands dirty, literally.  Mix it up, until it’s combined, but not for too long or it gets tough.


Into patties, with a little smush down at the center to help cook.

Then on the grill!  (plus some cheese, of course).


Dinner is served!

These make a super yummy burger.  I’d go for this combo if you’re ever looking for ways to doctor things up a bit.

Chad’s grilling word to the wise “It’s not about charcoal or gas, fancy or basic, you just have to know your grill.”




I want cheers

My original plan was to make the same pizza dough recipe, but try it with my stand mixer instead of hand kneading.  Over the weekend I spent some time with my friend Madeline and her two adorable kiddos.  Madeline’s plan was for us to make homemade pizza, so I decided I’d give you a blog post featuring those two adorable mini-chefs.

Madeline’s pizza dough recipe is pretty similar to the one I originally used.


She puts the yeast in the warm water to get it going.  Once it’s foamy she adds all-purpose flour, salt, olive oil, and honey.  (My original recipe called for sugar or malt syrup, and I used sugar).


Got it mixed up, and we kneaded with the combo of hand and spoon in the bowl.  This was different from my 8-10 minutes of kneading (and then throwing in the air like a fool).


Once it’s combined and stretchy, it goes into the oven to rise for awhile.


Chef Dane popped up onto his stool with cookie cutters in-hand, because when he sees Madeline with a rolling pin, he assumes it’s sugar cookie time.


Chef Dane spreads the marinara sauce, attempting the new technique of ‘sauce-under-crust.’

Chef Andren assists in artfully distributing the cheese on top of the marinara.

Spread some olive oil on the crust, pop in the oven, and bake til delicious!  Chefs Dane and Andren sample the cheese to ensure quality & deliciousness.

The dough was much better, more even, and not quite as tough or bread like.  I also preferred the traditional cheese pizza (my favorite, seriously) to the Margherita.

Madeline has always had a good ‘touch’ for cooking.  She makes delicious, simple foods with a little bit of flair and a lot of confidence. She just kind of wings it with some recipes, not worrying too much about being exact.  While making the pizza, the best part wasn’t eating it, but it was enjoying the experience of cooking and the help of our 2 adorable assistants, and who can blame her.

I’m sure you’re thinking: “Janine, that title is in no way relevant.”

Chef Dane enjoys the art of toasting.  Well mostly just the glass-clinking part, not the speeches.  Every 2-3 bites of pizza, he stops, raises his bottle of milk and announces “I want cheers!!”  Demanding that we clink glasses with each other before moving onto the next bite, it was probably my favorite part of the meal.

Pizza Margherita

I have never made a homemade pizza crust before.  That’s three for three on the ‘new experiences’ front for this blog!

(Here’s a preview!)

I busted out my trusty baking cookbook (that has amazing and detailed instructions) and decided for this first pizza I would hand knead the dough. Next time I’ll use my stand mixer instead of kneading by hand.  This recipe calls for yeast, which seemed appropriate.

Yeast is one of those things that can be pretty easy to work with, if you know what you’re doing.  It can also be super intimidating.  I feel only vaguely confident with yeast.  This time I got pretty lucky.

This pizza dough recipe is pretty basic: flour, water, yeast, sugar, and salt.  There’s enough for two 12 to 14 inch pizza crusts.


The yeast got all foamy.  I wasn’t as exacting with the water temperature and the time as I should have been.


Added the flour.

Mixed it up.

Up next was the hand kneading for 8-10 minutes.  Unfortunately kneading is a two-handed job, and I didn’t have any assistants around to photograph the process.  I will admit, kneading the dough was pretty soothing.  It was a good way to get out a little stress.

I let the dough rise for about 2 hours, and then punched it down (beware – don’t punch the bowl), covered it in plastic wrap, and let it rise in the fridge overnight.  I wish I’d caught a picture of it while it was on the first rise, it almost blew up out of the bowl.  (This is maybe a sign related to my poor timing skills with the yeast).

The next day, I got the dough out to rest and started on prepping my tomatoes for the Pizza Margherita.

Blanch, peel, & seed.  Then they’re chopped.  I didn’t get quite all of the moisture out, which was a problem when baking.


Prepping for the margherita (that’s sliced basil on the right).


Divide it in half, cover, & let the dough rest a little longer.


Rolling it out.  It’s much stretchier than a traditional dough, and rolling it often involves the dough shrinking back in on itself a bit.


Trusty assistant, Chad, sliced the mozzarella.


After I rolled out the crust, we decided to give the whole pizza toss thing a chance.  It worked pretty well, and I think stretched things out a little more.  It didn’t call for it in the recipe and I admittedly have no idea if this is the right kind of pizza dough to toss.  This may have contributed to the tougher nature of the crust, things might have gotten overworked.


In the oven.


Final product!

I definitely don’t think I’ve mastered things, but I was pretty happy with the results.  The original recipe called for heating up a pizza stone for 30 minutes, and then placing a prepped pizza onto the stone.  Once the pizza was ready, it was to heavy to move, or I didn’t have the appropriate tools.

Also I wasn’t in love with this margherita recipe.  The tomatoes still had too much moisture.  I think I’d do it with a really basic pizza sauce next time, instead of fresh tomatoes.

The crust I think was a little too thick and dense, which may have meant there was something wrong with my kneading, the yeast sat too long or something else.  It did not reheat well.

I’m looking forward to trying it again!  Let me know if you have any suggestions or tips or help for things I did wrong/can do better next time!

Steak on the grill

Well.  I can say, quite confidently, that I have eaten steak three times in my life.  One of those times was for this post.

(I’m not trying to be hyperbolic here, either.  I’m a cheap date, as they say.)

I also have only operated a grill maybe twice in my life.  And when I say operated, I mean . . . opened and turned the food, and then maybe closed the grill, or removed the food?  I like grilled food, but I don’t have outdoor space, or the patience to grill things.

So I asked my ol’ buddy Chad to fire up his grill and teach me a little about this fancy cooking technique.  He’s made burgers & chicken breasts on the grill that are quite delicious.  His response: “well, I don’t usually grill steaks but . . . sure!”  So off we went to Kowalski’s, where I made friends with Zeke the Butcher.  (I assume he’s a butcher, he may also just be a dude who works at the meat counter at a local grocery store).

Zeke was obviously charmed when I informed him that I knew nothing about grilling steaks and had only ever eaten steak twice in my life.  He was crazy helpful, informing us about cuts of steak, propane vs. charcoal (basically charcoal is life? I dunno), the meaning of blue rare (which I guess is like eating sushi but beef . . . ).

Zeke also gave some pro-tips:

  • Let the meat sit out for at least an hour.
  • Sear the steak on high heat to get those nifty grill marks.
  • Turn the heat down and cook for 6-7 mintues per side (or until its 150ish inside).
  • Stick the heat thermometer in from the side not the top.
  • Let it rest before you dig in.

Zeke said that since I didn’t have a ‘flavor preference’ or something, they had NY Strip Steaks on sale and that seemed like a good place to start.  We grabbed some steaks, some potatoes, and some vegetables and went to town.

We let the potatoes (with holes poked, coated in oil, and wrapped in foil) sit on the grill for at least an hour.

Rob kindly cut the fat off the meat, seasoned and oiled it for us. (I’m still recovering from the whole spatchcocking event).

He also chopped the vegetables, tossed them in oil, salt, pepper.

Veggies on the grill: they took a bit longer than the steaks.

Chad manned the grill for the most part.  But I got the gist of it. Put it on the grill.  Don’t futz.

I’m  fan of that, it’s the opposite of a lot of cooking where you’re stir stir stir all the time.


The grilled baked potato was phenom.  The veggies were lovely and had a hint of that grill-flavor to them.  The steak was . . . a big piece of meat.  I enjoyed it!  I really did.  (I also busted out the BBQ sauce).  I probably won’t make one for just myself, or order it for my meal.  But I will probably end my self-imposed steak embargo the next time someone says ‘I’m gonna grill some steaks, want one?’

So long as they don’t throw stuff at me for the BBQ sauce.


April – Steak

Janine Here.  It’s April which means it’s Steak month!  I’m interested in this month’s challenge because I know absolutely nothing about grilling, unless a George Foreman counts (and I’m gonna guess that’s a no).  Also.  I don’t really like steak . . .

My plan:  Find someone to teach me how to grill a steak who also might be okay eating the steak that I grill (or not throwing a plate at me if I put BBQ on it).  I’ll probably do at least 2 steaks, maybe a salad?  A sandwich?  Teriyaki?  Let me know if you have any suggestions!


Lisa Here: I’m also not super thrilled about steak month. I like steak, but I feel like it costs more than it’s worth. Maybe I’ll find out if that’s true or not. I just think that when I go to a restaurant and steak is, let’s say, $20 and chicken is, let’s say, $10, why not just get chicken? I’ll enjoy it just as much, if not more, than the steak. But I recognize that others like steak and that I should learn to cook it. Also, chicken gets boring sometimes and steak might be a good thing to have for dinner once in a while.

My plan: I want to make it on the grill. I also want to make it inside on…the stove? in the oven?. I should also be the one to purchase it and learn about different types (cuts?) of it and their corresponding price.


Remember, two weeks ago, how excited I was to do this roasted chicken, just because of the word?

Spatchcocking isn’t a fancy concept, it’s the same as butterflying a chicken, really.  But instead of simply butterflying the breast, you’re butterflying the entire chicken.

The word might come from a combo of dispatch (like to kill) and cock (as in chicken).  There is also apparently something called spitchcocking, which is the same thing except with an eel.

And how do you spatchcock a chicken?  Well, you take some scissors or a knife and you cut out the backbone of the chicken.  Then spread it open and roast or grill it with the breasts facing up.

Yes, you read that correctly, backbone.

I didn’t take any pictures of the process because honestly . . . I hated every minute of it.  I read some instructions and watched a couple of YouTube videos.  Then I grabbed my scissors (which I very quickly realized were not quite sharp enough for this task) and  . . . yeah.

I’m not the biggest meat lover. But I’m not naive, I know where it comes from. I may not have spent a lot of time on farms in my day, nor do I truly understand the process of raising and butchering of an animal.  But I do understand that the chicken I’ve got on my salad, was once covered in feathers and lived on a farm of some kind.

So when I took my dull-ish scissors to the backbone of this chicken, I tried to remember that this is a part of the process of butchering a chicken, how they get the chicken breasts I buy in packages at the grocery store, and I’m learning something new here.

They say that the meals you enjoy the most are often the ones prepared by someone else.  But sometime over the past year + (especially while doing our 52 Week Challenge) I really tried to focus on enjoying the process as much as I enjoy the meal itself.  And maybe this makes me childish or dramatic, but I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy eating this chicken very much.  And I learned a lot in this month’s challenge, but I never want to cut the backbone out of a chicken ever again.

I will say, though, that if you can handle the prep process, spatchocking is a pretty great way to cook a chicken.  Even with my 4.5lb chickens (because 3.5lb chickens don’t exist) it only took about an hour at 400 to get it up to temperature.

I used a recipe from Mark Bittman (who is a great cookbook author).

  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • salt & pepper

Mix it all up and baste every 10 minutes, rotating the chicken.  The sauce made the skin a little crispy, but it tasted delicious!  Carving wasn’t too bad, either.

I probably won’t be roasting a whole chicken ever again, or at least not without someone to assist during the not-so-fun parts.  But I am pretty happy about this month’s experience.  Have I mastered this essential?  Yeah, probably.

Now what does one do with the backbone of a chicken?