Dill Pickle Soup – the Stuff of Childhood Dreams

The soup is still warm in the pot and is settling nicely into my belly and already I find myself writing about it. That is how much I love this soup.

As a child I grew up eating lots of soups that my mom made. Unfortunately for her, I never loved the ones with mystery meat (I would squeeze all the meat juice out and leave a dry meaty hockey puck on the roof of my mouth she would then have to scrape out an hour later. I see now why Mother Nature has given me a picky eater. Well played.)

Anyway back to my favorite soups from childhood – my mouth would smile and my heart would sing if I heard she was making chicken noodle, tomato or dill pickle soup. Those were the three favorites.

Today I take you down memory lane with dill pickle soup. Another Pinterest discovery, pregnancy craving turned delicious meal.

Please don’t doubt me.

Here is the magical recipe and yes, as usual, I eyeballed many of my ingredients – it keeps things fun!

20150228_152640 I modified – so here is what I used.

  • 4-1/2 cups chicken broth + 1 cup of water.
  • 5 medium russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 2 cups chopped carrots (smaller dice) – I used 6 medium carrots
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped dill pickles (smaller dice that’s about 60% of a Meijer 24oz jar of dill pickle spears. buy a second one, you’ll be short on pickle juice otherwise.)
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter – yep.
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup water to mix with the flour and sour cream
  • 2 cups dill pickle juice* (saltness varies – taste the soup before you season more!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

The recipe calls for Old Bay Seasoning – since I was incapable of finding it I researched what it contained and mimicked it closely. This included:

  • a sprinkle of nutmeg
  • few dashes of paprika
  • few dashes of dried dill

But that’s okay it keeps things interesting.

First off you pour in the chicken stock (you can use vegetable stock, it will change the flavor a little. I am an omnivore so I don’t mind meat.), cut the butter into 4 pieces, drop in quartered potatoes and well chopped carrots.

I let it all boil for about 15 – 18 min.

Meanwhile I busied myself chopping up dill pickle spears. Make sure you leave 4 dill pickle spears for eating while you chop. My willpower is weak so I couldn’t resist. I love sour foods (regardless if I am preggers,) so I upped my quantity to 1 1/2 cup of chopped pickles.

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The house was starting to smell extremely amazing. I went ahead and checked my potatoes with a fork to make sure they were soft and dropped in my 1 1/2 cup of pickles.

Next is a step that made me a bit nervous. Sure the originator of the recipe said not to worry, but you still worry as you continue to boil a vat of soup and aren’t sure it will turn out. I mixed my 1 cup of sour cream, flour and 1/4 cup of water. It made a really thick scary looking paste.

I skipped the spoon (it was like scooping cookie dough) and used my fingers to plop  about 2 tbsps of scary flour mixture into the soup at a time while I whisked like a mad woman. Chunky, “globby,” this is hardly food I’d serve my family! Slowly the ingredients started to break apart, including the chunks of potato and mercifully the globs of sour cream/flour/water paste began breaking apart creating an impressive chowder like consistency. YAY!

Next up you will crack open your second jar of pickles and top off your pickle juice to equal 2 cups. You’ll then attempt to cram left over pickle spears from the first jar into this jar. You’ll be successful, though keep in mind anything you don’t fit, you will eat. Rule of cooking.

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Taste your soup to see if it’s sour and salty enough. Then add in a little bit more seasoning. The cayenne pepper added a slight heat, but overall it’s very manageable even if you don’t handle spice well.

So much soup! Let it cook as long as you like, the ingredients have had time to get friendly and things are looking good!

Once you feel the masterpiece is ready, you ladle a bit in a bowl grab a spoon and enjoy. You can have it with crusty bread, but honestly, it’s such a rich, thick, comfort food experience bread isn’t needed.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 5.12.55 PMTuck in!

 

Italian Cooking Storm Strikes Again

It was a simple start. I had some left over ricotta and the idea of it going to waste was simply unthinkable. So with a quick trip for more spinach, some mushrooms and more mozzarella I was ready to strike again.

The recipe

This weekend’s feast was inspired by a ricotta and spinach stuffed shell recipe, once again hunted down on Pinterest (my food board of course). But I can never let a recipe be created without some tweaks, sometimes purely because I misread it. First of all, I read 24 oz of shells (that’s two large boxes worth.) Once I realized I had cooked a box too many of shells I knew something had gone terribly wrong. Yeah, I only needed 24 SHELLS. HAHA, so fun.

Modifications

Things I adjusted intentionally, I used fresh bagged spinach vs. frozen (simply because that’s what was available to me,) secondly, I wanted to infuse the dish which chopped mushrooms, so I only used half a bag of spinach and made it a go with 8 medium mushrooms. This time I had enough mozzarella, yay! I didn’t have Italian seasoning, but I found a delightful garlic & wild porcini seasoning blend from Spice Merchants at our wonderful Downtown Market.

So what did I do with a bowl full of unused shells? Well I cut up some crabmeat with a “k” (for those of you who aren’t familiar with this term it’s fake crabmeat) chopped up more mushrooms and stuffed as many of those as possibly could fit in my second baking pan. Both pans ended up with a thin layer of sauce, shells, more sauce and a generous drizzle of mozzarella.

I can follow directions

My two pans baked covered in foil at 375 degrees for 35 minutes (at the 20-minute mark I rotated the left pan to the right and the right to the left – keeping things interesting.) As instructed in the recipe, I uncovered both pans at the 10-minute mark.

The results were bubbling, sizzling and perfumed the whole house with Italian comfort food smell. I’d consider 4 shells a serving. We have many more dinners of stuffed shells ahead of us.

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Tuck in!

Culinary Creations for Cupid’s Holiday

What happens when your spouse has to work during the entire Valentine’s day weekend? You figure out other ways to be romantic. This time around I did the planning and it included a tasty late-night meal, a roaring fire in the old fireplace and a romantic comedy.

One of my favorite love languages is definitely food. If I feed you a good meal I am extending my love and care for you. From my heart to your belly. Especially now, while I am preggers, the need to find good, hearty meals has only escalated. No more queasiness, bring on the appetite and bring on the food ideas.

That’s why I’ve long since been a fan of Pinterest, it’s my favorite time-suck and free-time-absorber. Great for when I need a mental break from the usual, or as a fall-asleep aid late at night. But like so many people, I pin and pin but do I actually do?  This year I am striving to find more time for creativity and more time to focus on doing and not just pinning. Therefore, this weekend I did it, I made myself a promise that I needed to start diving into my food board and pulling up some tasty recipes.

I found three distinct winners, all heavy on pasta and cheese. Because you see the baby needs pasta and cheese, or so my cravings tell me. And my spouse, bless his heart, is willing to try what I make.

Valentine’s day winner: Creamy Shrimp and Mushroom pasta. Had I not been so hungry I would have taken some proper photos. But we will rely on those originally posted to Julia’s food blog.

Courtesy of Julia's food blog.

Courtesy of Julia’s food blog.

Why was this little carb marvel a crowd-pleaser? Because it combined a hearty pasta and a creamy flavorful sauce with seafood. I did learn that no matter how tempting the monetary savings of buying peel and cook shrimp, just do yourself a favor and buy ones that have already been prepped. Please, save yourself the frozen fingers and pile of exoskeletons in your kitchen. I would definitely make it again, though I need to find a better way to reheat it, let’s just say it turns a bit thick and clumpy, but ever delicious.

Gratuitous Valentine's Day fireplace photo.

Gratuitous Valentine’s Day fireplace photo.

Since Adam also worked on Sunday my cooking inspiration continued another day. The next recipe I tried was :

Creamy Parmesan Tomato Spinach Tortellini Soup

Yay, I remembered to take a photo before eating!

Yay, I remembered to take a photo before eating!

Not only was it easy to make, it’s quite delicious. Even Henry ate some, though he made sure to pluck off any seen bits of spinach. It definitely thickened upon standing (plus I couldn’t help but add more tortellini to the soup.) Hearty soup that just gets better the next day with simple ingredients: tomatoes (check), spinach (check), parmesan (check), tortellini (CHECK!)

And because I was on a roll I made one more meal during Henry’s mega nap (4.5 hours is unheard of, but it does allow me some creative cooking time. Thanks little buddy!)

The last recipe I tried is called:

Caprese Lasagna Roll Ups

Courtesy of the Tastes Better from Scratch Blog.

Courtesy of the Tastes Better from Scratch Blog.

This recipe was definitely a test in improvision. I reviewed all my ingredients. I thought through the cooking process. I just didn’t focus on the sheer volume of shredded cheese and parmesan this recipe required. Who needs 3.5 cups of shredded mozzarella?! (This recipe.) Who used up all of her parmesan? (This girl.) Luckily I also had some shredded cheddar to toss in for good measure, so my overall cheese quantities worked, even if my math was off for starters. I topped this lovely dish off with some spinach florentine pasta sauce and we devoured it like the other two recipes.

I can tell my food cravings are leading the charge in the kitchen, for it wasn’t until I was mostly done with the last recipe that I realized I was making all pasta, and two of my dishes used tomato, cheese, pasta and spinach. But no one is complaining.

I’ve temporarily inherited the appetite of a toddler.

I’ve heard many friends tell me over the years that though their subsequent pregnancies were similar the experience was still different and unique. I realize now that this is true. The cravings are still similar – my body has a physical revolt to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and sweet smell of wine or hop smell of beer. Sorry Starbucks and sorry wineries! I’m not worried my love for these vices will come back. I still love juicy fruits, but this time I much prefer a grapefruit over a melon – not that different I suppose. However, last time when I set my mind to a particular craving, I. HAD. TO. HAVE. IT. My relationship is “complicated.”

The Process.

  • I crave something.
  • Then I have to smell or think about it to make sure my brain and my stomach agree.
  • Afterward, I proceed to order it or cook it.
  • Once cooked or served, I have to make sure that it’s still sounding good to my brain 10 min. later.
  • Finally, I have to taste it.
  • If it tastes fine, then I may safely proceed.
  • If it does not, I have to start over and quickly. For the hungry and the queasy do not wait.

More than once, I’ve had to choke something down or opt for another food because partway through this process the idea of what I was about to have fell apart. So when I have a craving the first question Adam asks is, “Is it a hankering? Or a craving?” Then we need to determine if I still feel the same when it’s actually time to eat.

I can be partway through a meal and my stomach decides enough is enough. It not only tastes “bad,” but it actually tastes “repulsive.” Dear fried chicken this is why we broke up early on.

Sweets?

Nah, I can skip those now. I’ve had a lifelong sweet tooth. Particularly chocolate. A love/hate relationship like any other woman. I can skip it now and not feel the pressure to just have one bite. When I eat it, sometimes it tastes to sweet. Who is this person?!

Gummi candy I still like, but it’s not a must for me to thrive. However, the more sour, the better (this especially because of the constant queasiness.)

Celebrating with a bucket of sweets, there is yogurt somewhere in the bottom.

Sour!

Sweet Jesus bring on the sour! I cannot get enough of it. This time around it’s all about the balsamic, “hello caprese salad!” “Heck, just pour it in a cup so I can drink it.” Yes, I’ve read conflicting reports about balsamic vinegar and pregnancy safety, but I am happy to report that my particular stash is California compliant (apparently that’s a big deal on the west coast.) I don’t care, it’s sour, that is all that should matter. sour.sour.sour.sour.sour…..

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Chicken…

Not really, it’s kinda gross. Chicken my go-to meat is no longer, red meat? Oh yes, bring on the steak. Since when?!

I am looking forward to the second trimester which will include less of the constant-jet-lagged feeling I have been navigating for the last 8 weeks. This might also loosen some of my must-have-it-right-nows. I hope it allows me to return to a semi healthy diet, you know where all of the food groups are enjoyed and I don’t feel like I need to eat my weight in cheddar and sour cream chips (which by the way, no longer sound good. Broke up with those during the holidays.)

Will this new kiddo be a picky eater like our Henry? Will he or she have some other food quirks? Is this pregnancy already telling me some things? I think it’s too early to tell. But if you will excuse me I have to find something sour to eat.

How to Have a Dragons Love Tacos Birthday Party

I am a project manager by trade and a party planner by nature, so each birthday is a fun extravaganza in my world. Much of what we had at the party was done during my lunches and after my son was in bed (I took my sweet time and used a month to complete my tasks – this can go a lot quicker if you have more time or your schedule permits.)

This year my son, Henry, celebrated his 3rd birthday. As in previous years we needed a solid theme that would help us figure out food, decorations and fun activities both for kids and adults.  Here’s how we accomplished our mission with success!

1. Pick a theme. This was easy for us, we love reading in the Ramseyer Roost so naturally we are inclined to pick a book theme. Last year we celebrated a bookworm this year we chose Dragons Love Tacos. I asked Henry if he’d be interested (why bother developing a theme if the guest of honor doesn’t like it.) The result was a wide smile and “I like Dragons and Tacos.” Good.20140927_135741

2. Create invites. Most of our invitees were on Facebook, which is where we tracked party specifics, but I still love receiving a traditional paper invitation. We sent out taco invites featuring our favorite dragon on the inside. Cut out yellow circles of cardstock, match a slightly smaller white card stock invite, add some green bits and red semi circles (thanks office circle cutter.) and voila a cute invite to send! Now repeat this about 25 times.

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3. Figure out a menu. Again dragons to the rescue, our menu would mostly have beef and chicken tacos with plenty of fixings & mild salsa – dragons hate spicy salsa (we did include spicy stuff for the humans.) With our head count we calculated that 8lbs of beef and 8lbs of mild cilantro lime chicken would do the trick. Here are the original recipes I used to create our beef and chicken taco feast. Below is how I adjusted or modified recipes to fit our specific needs.20140927_135648

Tips for beef: I did cook the beef in a large pot before transferring to the crock pot. We purchased the taco seasoning in bulk at Costco (it’s got a fair bit of heat, but it’s really awesome.) Once we transferred to a crock pot we had steamy taco meat ready in about 2-3 hours on high. We then turned it to low to keep warm as the party rolled forward.

Tips for chicken: I did pour out most of the chicken liquid after it finished cooking – I would recommend leaving about 1.5 cups, it was a bit dry. I modified the recipe to add 1 jar of mild salsa (I would recommend 2 jars), two limes squeezed into the mix, and a nice bunch of finely chopped cilantro, a few tablespoons of cumin and paprika, garlic powder, some pepper and a pinch of salt. Don’t be afraid to add more spice, we needed a low-spice option for our dragons and guests.

4. Cake. Each year I challenge myself with baking/creating some edible masterpiece (read cobble together as best as my untrained abilities allow.) This year I research the internet for taco cakes (I still had some of my senses not to try a dragon shaped one.) It was fun and it turned out. Here is how we accomplished the taco cake.CAM01475

5. Taco Piñata. Yep this party didn’t feel complete without one. I found this project and it was my guide, it allowed me to use a left over diaper box for construction (we hoard enough boxes to build a fort). I purposely used scotch tape to hold it together – we don’t need Fort Knox, and even with multiple hits it held on for dear life. Lots of kiddos enjoyed it.SAM_4037

 

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6. Decorations! This was perhaps the easiest thing for me. I scanned pages from our copy of Dragons Love Tacos (I would have purchased some if those decorations existed in the market.) And proceeded to frame some with colorful sheets to add a bit of fun to our walls, I used the red dragon to feature as our 3D decoration, circles were once again assembled into tacos, I did a taco garland (50 small tacos, one knotted long piece of thick string and 4 hours of trying to untangle. Be careful how you create this, it looked like Russ’ ball of Christmas lights.) We added streamers and some Cinco de Mayo decorations courtesy of my mother-in-law. We also labeled all our food with taco labels (fold your circles in half and write in pen. It’s that easy.)20140927_135919

7. GAMES & CRAFTS, GOODIE BAGS! To be honest this is really more the icing on the cake, everyone had a great time just chilling out in the sun room, backyard, swings and slide as well as the sand table. A cold beer or margarita can make any party a fun place to be so you really don’t need much more. But that didn’t stop us from having a memory game (resize scanned book sheets and uniform cover sheet, cut out circles and glue stick together, make as many pairs as you wish.) I also found this fun project on Pinterest for making your own fire breathing dragon. The wee ones received assistance from the mammas but for the most part it was a simple craft a kid can do. Lastly, the evening can’t be complete with some goodie bags (yes in addition to the candy bags the kids received, we like to send our youngest guests home as sugared up as possible.) Goodie bags contained some bouncy balls, mini taco erasers – which were surprisingly hard to find, playing cards, stickers, bubble solution necklaces.SAM_4041

We had a blast celebrating our kiddo turning 3, our love of tacos and our love of dragons. Hope you have fun planning/partying at your next Dragons Love Tacos extravaganza!

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From Market to Super Food

Sometimes a Saturday morning trip to the Fulton Street Farmers Market results in more than just a fun and relaxing date with my mini man. Oh sure we weave our way slowly through the crowds admiring the fresh offerings as well as people watching. We spot kids running around or snacking, babies sleeping, people chatting, moms debating, dads parading kids on shoulders while couples, friends, and individuals pick and choose their food and exchange their tokens or money for a chance at something delicious.

Mini man and his shades

Mini man and his shades

We stop along the way and choose a few ingredients then decide to split a fresh raspberry scone from GR Bagel. It’s worth every penny, Henry offers a shy smile as he continues to devour our tasty treat. I discover a rare find for myself as well, red currants. Something I grew up picking right off of the overgrown bushes at my parents house, the shrubs and house no longer in our lives, but the memory lives on.

red currants

red currants

Today I was looking for a few key ingredients to make a new super food recipe I found through Red Tricycle. The recipe is simply called Spinach Avocado Pesto Linguine. Friends, this is a magical dish I tried for the first time today. It fulfilled all of my recipe hopes and dreams: it called for 3 cups of tightly packed spinach leaves (we just bought a gigantic bag that we now need to consume rather quickly), it needs fresh garlic (Babcia Adela always encouraged our family to eat lots of fresh garlic to fight against colds.), avocado (one of the foods Henry is actually willing to eat) and basil, which I can never use quickly enough in our garden and then it results in a woody stem and wilted leaves.

Courtesy of Red Tricycle.

Courtesy of Red Tricycle.

The zing of the lemon and lime really wakes up the flavors of this creamy dish. You can opt to not add the parmesan or pine nuts, but let’s face it, pesto isn’t quite pesto without these. But it’s better than traditional pesto, because it calls for no oil. All the creaminess comes from the avocado. I love the duality of this dish. I made more than enough of the sauce and know that we can enjoy the linguine again, but we can also repurpose this tasty sauce as a topping for burgers, as an alternative guacamole or even as a base sauce for a pizza or wraps.

My not-so-pretty version.

My not-so-pretty version.

I encourage you to try the recipe and let me know if you love it too.

Food Gems and Other Unexpected Gourmet Finds in Grand Rapids – Part 2

Oh Maru how I love you!

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 11.53.10 PMA couple weeks ago my Evil Twin Jacqui and I had a mommy night out, a night to reset and find balance away from the usual set of responsibilities. It started with a card for Valentine’s day, actually. Evil Twin found a card just for me that spoke to my core, my stomach. We realized the last time we saw each other sans kiddos was when she was still the parent of 1 child expecting her baby girl (her darling daughter will be 1 in July…. so if we use both hands and carry the 1 then divide by… yes, it’s been too long.)

It would only seem fair that when we finally agreed on a date and found ourselves on our own, we would need to enjoy some sushi! Cue the trip to Maru. We stepped into the quaint and inviting restaurant, filled to the brim with trendy  folk from all corners of our side of the Mitten. Huddled over in deep conversation while warm infused tea and saki was enjoyed.

One thing I wish I had realized is that Maru, unlike most of the restaurants in town, takes reservations. We were gifted with a 45 minute wait, but having waited for almost a year since this place opened, and 10 months since Evil Twin and I were out and about by ourselves, we chose the path of patience. Not easy when you are up against this team of Onlies. We passed the time window shopping on Cherry and popping into the few places still open. We didn’t last long and decided to stare down people while we waited for our table.

Pleasant surprise #1 – our wait went from 45 minutes to about 20. (Much more tolerable for an Only.)
Pleasant surprise #2 – you can get a drink while you wait (that’s nothing new), but you can also have them fresh brew some steamy fruit-infused tea (we chose one with strawberry, blueberry and a hint of pineapple.) What’s so special about tea? The experience made me feel like I was enjoying the Farmer’s Market. I was breathing in warm air, letting the sun hit my face. Like magic.Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 12.58.43 AM

Pleasant surprise #3 – we were seated right at the bar. We watched the sushi masters construct the most perfect rolls I have ever seen. Some were as colorful and artistic as stained glass. We found a happy place.  I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a scene of The Holiday, sitting in the sushi bar. I would vote for being Kate Winslett but that would leave Jacqui being Jack Black, I don’t think she’d be okay with that.Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 11.25.05 PM

Anyway, we ended up ordering two different rolls, one was called crunchy shrimp and the other was lollipop. They were delicious, we could tell because our conversation disappeared and was replaced with yummy noises. And that’s okay sometimes you just need to appreciate what is right in front of you.

Though I will never be quite trendy enough to fit in with the perfect Maru regulars, I still embraced the whole experience and will make it a point to return. The atmosphere was inviting, yet intimate. The food was fresh and perfectly assembled, the flavors of our rolls were unique and original but familiar and perfectly balanced, just like our mommy night out.

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P.s. No leftovers survived the evening. Which only gives us reason to return.