Monday, March 1, 2010

Zuppa Toscana - Me style!

We moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana just over two years ago. We really like it here. Now, I admit, I NEVER thought I would live in Louisiana - but I thought the same about Mississippi, Kentucky, and West Virginia. I have to admit, Texas wasn't surprising (I grew up with an avid Red Raider's fan!) but we did live on the actual border of Texas/Arkansas... PHEW! That's lot's of local cuisine! During all these moves, one restaurant remains the same - and mostly predictable - Olive Garden! I know, it's a chain restaurant that serves semi-original dishes. Not really a classic or wondrous place - but I think they have done it well. I really enjoy eating there! I like the environment as well as the typically consistent quality to the food.

Until this move.

My favorite "Girls lunch out" is their soup and salad. (Although my family is tired of my rattling that eating iceberg lettuce is akin to eating crunchy water. Has NO nutritional value other than a carrier of yummy flavor for other foods (olives, onions, and lots of dressing!!). I suppose it is cheaper for a restaurant, but the salad would ROCK with some true greens added in there! BUT aside from all this, I love it. I love the Zuppa Toscana soup. It is hearty and filling without being heavy thick. It just makes me happy.

Until this move.

Lake Charles' Olive Garden chefs apparently feel that they have creative licensing when it comes to the production and serving of this classic soup. Never ONCE have they served it with kale included (a crucial part of the deliciousness!).

Ok. Ok. YES I am rambling and fussing. BUT... but.. as you can see in the picture there are greens and they describe the dish as "Spicy sausage, russet potatoes and cavolo greens in a creamy broth". So, after the time I asked for my soup to have some greens added, and they brought me a "bunch" of cold, uncooked greens on a plate... WELL - I decided there had to be an alternative!


My mum-in-law found it. It claims to be an actual version of the restaurants recipe. I can not vouch for that, but I can say that it is the exact same (or better!!!) than the "real" versions I have had at various O.G. all over the US! I was very excited!

SO, below, I proudly offer my soup of choice. My delight - for day and night. For quick lunches (it freezes unbelievably well, and nukes even better!) or evenings where you just don't want to... (like tonight!!)

For your consideration and enjoyment.

Olive Garden's, Zuppa Toscan

Makes: 6-8 servings


  • 1 lb ground Italian sausage (I usually use turkey...)
  • 1½ tsp crushed red peppers (We don't use nearly this much, because even J our one year old loves this soup...)
  • 1 large diced white onion
  • 4 Tbsp bacon pieces
  • 2 tsp garlic puree
  • 10 cups water
  • 5 cubes of chicken bouillon (I actually use a paste that I keep in the fridge - no MSG and tastes better! You can get it anywhere from Walmart to health food stores! It's more $$ but lasts a LONG time and better for you!)
  • 1 cup heavy cream (remember - it's one cup in the HUGE pot of soup! So, not really bad...)
  • 1 lb sliced Russet potatoes, or about 3 large potatoes
  • ¼ of a bunch of kale (SO important!!!)
  1. Sauté Italian sausage and crushed red pepper in a large pot. Drain excess fat, refrigerate while you prepare other ingredients.
  2. In the same pan, sauté bacon, onions and garlic over low-medium heat for approximately 15 mins. or until the onions are soft.
  3. Add chicken bouillon and water to the pot and heat until it starts to boil.
  4. Add the sliced potatoes and cook until soft, about half an hour.
  5. Add the heavy cream and just cook until thoroughly heated.
  6. Stir in the sausage and the kale, let all heat through and serve. Delicious!

Can you believe how easy this is? AND this GOOD! YUMMO! Enjoy!! Hey, leave me a note and let me know if you tried it and what you thought!


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On the art of bread making - to loaf or not to loaf...

Recently I decided to answer myself a question. Why do I pay for bread? Why when I insist on buying - or resentfully not - "nicer" loafs of bread. I hate paying upwards of $3 or $4 for a loaf that will be eaten by my seven year old who would rather - honestly - have cheap honey wheat? She likessss the soft goooo. Not me - I like texture and it seems texture = more money!

So, as my grandmother - Doris Boyer - never bought a loaf in her life - why can't I attempt to create wholesome goodness from what equals very little moooola? Honestly - it can't cost even a $1 for a loaf of homemade goodness!!! That's not common these days - to make it is usually more expensive. Just ask Martha - she is the queen of making homemade more special and more expensive. Martha and I are close too. (wink wink)

So. Experiment 1.
It didn't rise. It took twice as long as it said to rise and then, well, never really did. Did I mess up the amounts of flour or yeast? Is this what I get for pulling stuff off of the internet and looking for something that would work with the ingredients I had in my pantry (without going out)? Well, although B, E, and J declared it delish, I wasn't happy.

Experiment 2.
Same recipe again. Being more careful with the flour. Now I wonder if the online recipe is somehow off on the amount of flour called for. It seems to ask for much less than the other recipes I see. As well as I have to add a bit more to create a dough that will pull away from the bowl of the happy green mixer - while using the dough hook. (Did I tell you about my green happiness? Another day, another day. But three words - green, Williams and Sanoma, and sale!!!)

Well, this ended up being too dense. Made a mean grilled cheese though. Perfect texture for that, but my tuna salad proclaimed it too heavy. Again, E and J loved it... or perhaps it's just the Nana Jam spread on it. (My mum-in-law's gift to earth - strawberry freezer jam...yum!)

Experiment 3.

When in doubt, Meg turns to Martha. You know.... MARTHA.... So, out came my new to me cookbooks (Christmas door weights/cookbooks from the girls and B for me!) I have so enjoyed trying different recipes from here. So I actually get B to buy all the needed ingredients. There were a rather long and different set than in my previous experiments. ALSO this calls for a round loaf - no pans here! I wonder....

Well, it did rise. But not to the extent I was expecting. It was just "heavy" feeling... don't know how else to explain this. But I thought it to be going well - until I cooked it. It alone could be used as hardtac to keep you alive for years. Not good... But B (ever the encourager) slices it and proclaims it heavy but good.... He only lies to make me feel good. He even ate my risoto the other day - I didn't, but he did. What a support.

So, I proclaim the third try to worse on the clock, tummy, and pocketbook. So, round rock sitting in my glass cake server on the island. Who dares to try me will live forever..... (or not, but you may survive a long long time...)


  1. hmmm
  2. ummm
  3. ok. So, need a new recipe. Any ideas?
  4. I have lots of leftover supplies - so i am not giving up.
  5. Not I!
  6. To be continued - one day!!!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Going Organic

Brad and Meg, I've enjoyed reading your recent cooking adventures! So interesting! For those who don't know me, I'm Brad's cousin... and Meg invited me to participate here on The Persnickety Pantry. Last winter I posted a few of the slow-cooker recipes I was trying from the Fix-It-and-Forget-It cookbook.

This winter I'm on a (semi)organic food kick. My newest cookbook (a Christmas gift) is Nourishing Traditions. It has a lot of really weird recipes... raw meat appetizers, anyone? ...but also some good information about nutrition and health.

What got me started in this direction was watching some documentaries this past year on food processing in America. If you're interested, they are available for instant download at Netflix if you have a Netflix account. (If you don't, I think you can get a 2-week free trial.) We watched:
  • Super Size Me
  • King Corn
  • Food Inc.
 We know we don't eat healthy, so my mission is to figure out how I can change that for my family! I started with reading labels. I was amazed at how many foods contact either high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated vegetable oils. So that was my first baby step-- to eliminate those 2 ingredients from our diets. It has been a challenge, but by careful label-reading I've found acceptable substitutes for most things my family enjoys. We've been doing that for about 6 months or so.

My next step is to start cooking from scratch as much as possible, so that I know that everything that's in our food is what I put in it myself. Ideally that step would include organic meat and vegetables and raw milk, but due to cost and availability I can't go there yet.

Right now I have a pot of what-is-supposed-to-eventually-turn-into-beef stock boiling on the stove. I need to go skim the "scum" off and turn the heat down to let it simmer for 12 to 72(!) hours. More of my cooking adventures later!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Illness brings Miso Happiness!

Meg has been sick this week.  Very sick.  Sick enough that she has repeatedly considered going to the Doctor.  Thought about it, but was determined to beat it with it's own stick....  SO she has umcka'd (umcka is a wonderful natural cold medician!!!)  During a recent conversation with her mother, Ginger, she found out that even Dr. Oz loved trying to find natural ways to get well.  Everyone knows that studies show that Chicken Soup helps one to get over a cold faster.

But apparently the traditional Japanese soup, Miso, is also known to help one get well faster.  Since then, Meg was determined to make some of this delicious wonder and enjoy it's healing effects.  If you are confused as to what Miso is, think of your favorite Asian restaurant,  and the great little bowl of soup always accompanied with that sweet little salad.  Well, this is that soup.  YUMMY!

Funny enough, several weeks ago B and M watched a "Good Eats" about this exact soup! So, after doing some reading, we decided to go visit our local Asian market.  They were so helpful!  After buying all our needed supplies, we came home - and B made it all! Meg was pooped out, it was the first time she had been out all week.  Frankly it left her beyond tired!  But B jumped in and created a meal masterpiece!

First he followed Alton Brown's recipe for Dashi.  Dashi is the broth that is the basis to the Miso soup.  YUM!  Then after making the soup, he went on and made shrimp stir-fry with julienned vegetables and fried rice!  WOW!!!  If you are interested in the recipes, they are available here -

Dashi Recipe
Miso Recipe

As for the fried rice, well, that's in his head!  He has it down to quite a science anymore.  Emma regularly asks for it.  That's great because it's so full of wonderful vegitables!  I will have to get him to write down his thoughts on it.  All I can say is that I would rather stay home and have his rice than any other any day.  That's saying a whole lot because I LOVE rice!  Next?  To make our own eal roll and then we will be fully happy on the Asian dinner idea!

Hope that you decide to venture out into the world of Asion cooking! Shopping for the ingreients were half the fun.  We came home with extra rice noodles for the next time pad thai desire hits.  As well as four adorable little spoons for our soup.  I love food....

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dear Martha

I've always loved to cook, but I've loved to learn more than anything.  Recipes are one thing, but the ability to create on my own is something altogether different.  And usually elusive.  So when I saw Martha Stewart's Cooking School on sale at Marshalls, I just knew we had to have it.  And like true culinary nerds, Meg and I dove in, and on a recent road trip, I read to her all the delightfully fascinating minutiae of the cooking world. 
Example:  did you know that when you sear meat in a pan, and it seems to carmenlize, it's actually called the  "Maillard reaction"? 
Admittedly, I don't want a degree in this, but I do want to know the 'whys' of cooking, not just the whats.   So Meg and I are endeavoring to learn together.  Inspired by our weekly ritual of "Good Eats" on the Food Network, and the occasional food flick like "Julie & Julia", we aim to make 2010 a year of learning, experimenting, and freedom from the oppression of the recipe card!

So tonight I tried something new.  With limited aid of a recipe, I made "seared pork medallions" with a pan sauce.  In keeping with my new years resolution, I won't give you the recipe, but the ingredients, then a few simple observations:

8 oz pork loin, thin cut, salt pepper
shallots, apples, raisins, butter
heavy cream, brandy

1.   Hot pan = great sear.  Great sear = great bits stuck to the pan for the sauce.   Juicy bits of carmemized meat make an awesome sauce.
2.  Good alcohol is a must.   For those of you spying on me at Albertsons, YES, i was in the liquor aisle, and YES, I did buy sherry and a Argentinian shiraz.  I've decided something:  no more cooking with "cooking wine".  It's absolute rubbish, and doesn't help the flavor one bit.
3.  Heavy cream and butter are irreplaceable for a good pan sauce.  I tried subsituting milk.  No luck.

The grade?  Probably a C+.  Tasted okay, but would have been better had I used cream and brandy, instead of sherry.

Let's try this again....

Ok, so this time last year I tried this idea. Let's write about our favorite foods... it didn't work so well. Mostly because, well, I didn't write! So, B and I have decided that we are going to again try to tackle this idea.

Mostly we will write about what we cook. Whether we like it or not is a different story. B gave Me a set of wonderful books for Christmas. The theme this year was to be Christmas in the Kitchen - Easley style! So, Ms. K (K. Cook) feel free to join in at any time! First he found a wonderful HUGE Martha Stewart cooking book. WOW.

Of course he found this at our favorite getting place - TJMAXXXXX so, I would suggest you run out and find it there!  Then he turned around and the new one was there too!   Now... you must go see if you can get that one too!!! Of course, as he was leaving he found the best one of all!!!

Martha Stewart Cooking School Cook Book!!!!

OH MY Little Heart!!!!

Happyness abounds!

So, starting on page 256....

So, tonight we started in.... B took tonight's cooking and he prepared the Sauteed Pork Medallions.  WOW!  He had to make several adjustments, it called for a bit of heavy cream - we didn't have that, so he used Emma's 2% milk.  He used dried sage version fresh because it is winter.  Also, didn't have true Brandy, so B used something else... I think perhaps Sherry.  ANYWAY, regardless, I can't imagine how wonderful the true recipe would taste because B's version was true bliss.  We agreed that there would be some true reasons for trying the the actual recipe.  The cream would make the sauce "stick" a bit more, probably hold a bit more flavor also.  I don't know enough about the Brandy vs. Sherry, but that might significantly change the flavor.

IF you find this book, I hightly suggest this recipe!!  Well, now I need to refill my coffee and find a tidd bit of something sweet tasting.  Probably another cup of my apple cider vinegar/lemon juice/ stevia/ hot h2o and don't forget that 1/8 tsp of baking soda to cut the acidity!!  That way those pretty toothies are not hurt!

Good Night world!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

My new(est) addiction!

So my idea in this site was to help us find great meals. Well, I have to admit it, I just haven't had as much time as I would have liked to work on this... BUT I have found something that will make working on this SO much easier! It is a site...

YEP, it rocks, it's awesome. And best of all, it's easy to post our favorite meals on HERE! YEAH! I am really excited about some of the new meals on here - and on the new site. So, go ahead, check it out. But be sure to let us know what foods you like!

Want to know more about Bust-a-meal? Here is what they say about themselves!

How is Bust-a-meal different from any other recipe site?
Most recipe sites are oriented to have you spend a lot of time on their site. While that's great for casual browsing, it doesn't help you address the daily dinner dilemma: what to cook for the family tonight? Bust-a-meal helps you plan and prepare one or more meals for your family quickly and efficiently. You can look up recipes based on ingredients you already have, or plan a week of menus, and you can generate a shopping list categorized by grocery store aisle.

I'd say that says it all! Enjoy - but be sure to let us know!