November 21, 2015

We are officially outta here, headed for the land of margaritas and sand! Alas, the weather forecast indicates that things might be a little, ummm…wetter than we’d like, but we’re trying for optimism, here.


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Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, although you do have my condolences about the meal. Beige food! Argh! But hey, if you’re with the ones you love, that’s what really matters. Besides, you can just eat pie.

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Healthier Broccoli Cheese Soup

November 16, 2015



We got our first real snow last week, and the Minxes were excited to wear their new snow boots to school. I felt rather proud of myself because most years, I forget about the need for snow boots until there’s actually snow on the ground. I’ll send the girls off to school in their tennis shoes and make an emergency Target run for snow boots and of course, by then the selection is piss-poor and it honks me off but I shell out the money for third-rate boots because I’m too lazy to go elsewhere, and the girls spend the entire winter season hating their boots (and their unprepared, scatterbrained mother). Not this year. Go me!

What I wasn’t prepared for this year was the sudden craving for a steaming bowl of broccoli cheese soup. Truth be told, I don’t often eat broccoli cheese soup, because I know that nutritionally, it can be a total butt-buster. A bowl of creamy, cheesy, broccoli goodness can easily set you back 500 calories for a mere 1 1/2 cup serving. And that’s not counting the nifty bread bowl that often comes with it if you order it in a restaurant. If I’m going to ingest those kinds of calories, I’m doing it with a burger or some nachos, thank you very much. Not soup.

But this year, once my eyes saw the white stuff on the ground, my stomach said, “How about some broccoli cheese soup, Honeysmacks?”

My tastebuds said, “Oooh, cheese? I think cheese sounds like a fabulous idea!”

Then my thighs chimed in, “Uh, aren’t you on le Regime, Snookums? Remember that little trip to Mexico coming up?” Stupid thighs. They always crush my groove. Hmph.


Luckily, I had an old issue of Cooking Light magazine lying around, and I remembered that there was a broccoli cheese soup recipe in it. I’m usually not very good at remembering which recipes are featured in my Leaning Tower of Food Magazines, but this one I remembered because it was weird. Important things easily slip my mind, but weird? My brain likes weird.

What’s weird about this recipe is the way they imparted a “creamy” texture to the soup without using any cream whatsoever. They didn’t get a creamy texture by using a butter/flour base, either, as is standard. They also didn’t rely on gobs and gobs of cheese because, well, it’s Cooking Light magazine and they kind of can’t do stuff like that.

So how’d they get a creamy soup without any of those old tricks? They thickened the soup with instant brown rice. Overcooked instant brown rice, to be exact.

Sounds weird and kind of unappetizing, right?

I agree with you. But then again, that’s why I remembered the recipe in the first place. And since I bothered to remember it, why not give it a shot? I wasn’t busy scrambling around town for shoddy snow boots, so I had time to make a trip to the grocery store…


The verdict? I must admit, the mushy brown rice mixture looked pretty disgusting, but then it went right into the blender with the cooking liquid and some milk and after a few pulses, it was completely gone so I could forget about it. Please, please spend the extra change to buy a high-quality sharp cheddar cheese; even go with extra sharp if you can find it. That’s the key to good, cheesy flavor because you aren’t using that much of it. You can blend as much or as little of the soup as you like–Cooking Light left theirs a bit chunky but I pureed most of mine. I can see why this soup earned a stamp of “staff fave” from the CL crew. It’s warm and surprisingly creamy and comfortingly delicious. I ended up wishing I’d made a double batch of it.

I especially wished I’d made a double batch because two days later, the family (even my husband, who is Immune System Man) came down with a virus that left us scratchy-throated, feverish and weak in the stomach. We were all operating on weak speed for a few days, but at least I had soup on hand. And let’s face it, better now than right before Mexico, right? Gaa, I’d better shut up or I’ll curse us.


Even if you don’t have snow on the ground or are nursing a virus, you’ll appreciate this soup. You can even eat a healthy-sized bowl of it without guilt. So grab your spoons.






Healthier Broccoli Cheese Soup

from Cooking Light magazine

serves 4-6


4 cups unsalted or reduced-sodium chicken stock, divided (you can use vegetable stock if you want a truly vegetarian version)

1/2 uncooked instant brown rice

1 cup 1% lowfat milk

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

3 minced garlic cloves

1 1/4 pounds broccoli florets, coarsely chopped

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

5 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided (about 1 1/2 cups)*


Combine 2 cups stock and rice in a small saucepan over medium high heat; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Place rice mixture and milk in a blender. Remove the center piece of the blender lid (to allow steam to escape). Place a clean towel over the opening in the blender lid to avoid splatters and blend until smooth.

Heat a large medium saucepan over medium heat. Add oil to pan and swirl to coat. Saute onion 4 minutes, stirring. Add garlic, cook 30 seconds. Add broccoli and salt; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining 2 cups stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 more minutes or just until broccoli is tender. Add the rice/milk mixture and simme2 2 minutes, stirring.

Place 2 cups soup in blender and puree until smooth. Return to pan. Add pepper and 4 ounces cheese; stir until cheese melts. Divide soup evenly among 4-6 bowls; sprinkle with remaining cheese.


* Please buy good-quality cheese in block form and shred it yourself! The pre-shredded kind has much less flavor.

**If you have leftover soup, re-heat it gently on the stove so the cheese doesn’t separate.


Readers, do you remember the Teacher Appreciation Week Crockpot Debacle from last Spring? Well, after some kind-intentioned kitchen helper K.O.’d my crockpot last year, I hadn’t bothered to replace it, since late spring and summer weather really don’t necessitate crockpot-type meals. Once fall rolled around, though, I knew it was time for a replacement, and I wanted something good. After all of my past crockpot trauma, I felt like I deserved something a little highbrow. Specifically, I wanted a crockpot with the following attributes:

~ a cast iron insert, so I could sear meat and sweat vegetables directly in the slow cooker and not have to dirty extra pans

~ easy to operate (eg: not too many bells and whistles)

~ programmable with a timer, preferably one that I could program to run on the high setting for a few hours, switch to  low, and then keep on the warm setting until serving time

~ a locking lid for transport so this assholery doesn’t happen again

As luck would have it, William’s Sonoma was having a kick-ass sale on slow cookers, so I got a really quality one for 50% off.  The only downside is that it does not have that locking lid I wanted, so if I’m going to be transporting whatever’s in it, I’m going to have to get creative. Anybody out there have some genius tips/tricks/hacks for me? I’m all ears.

You’d think that the first thing I’d make in my new toy would be chili, or a stew, or a roasted hunk of meat, but the weather has been pretty mild here and I didn’t really feel like cooking something that heavy.

Instead, I went with this side dish recipe for orzo with lemon, zucchini and arugula. It sounded light and bright and a nice change from the usual side dishes of rice and potatoes that I get so bored with.  I call this boredom Side Dish Ennui, and I’m afflicted with it often. I’ll plan dinner around an interesting entree, add some sort of veg, and then when I think about what to serve on the side to round out the meal, I think “fuckityblah.”  Bread, rice, potato. Those things = fuckityblah, don’t you think?

This features orzo, which is a small, rice-shaped pasta. You can cook it simply on the stove and toss it with butter and some herbs and it would be perfectly nice, but I liked this recipe because they claimed that by cooking the orzo in the slow cooker, some of the starch slowly releases, giving the dish a creamy, risotto-type consistency.

A creamy, risotto-type side dish that I didn’t have to stand over a stove and constantly babysit and stirstirstir while trying to get the rest of the dinner together? Sounds pretty good to me.

There are a few extra steps to get the dish right, but the steps aren’t difficult and require the microwave, so it’s not a big deal.

True to their word, the orzo did come out creamy and the zucchini tender, and by stirring the arugula in right at the end wilted it slightly but still retained its signature peppery bite. The cheese added richness and nuttiness, and the lemon juice/zest brightened it up nicely. My only recommendations would be to increase the amount of red pepper flakes if you like a little more heat, and I also thought the addition of a fresh herb at the end might have been nice, like a sprinkle of flat-leaf parsley or some torn basil.

As for the cooking times–if you’re dealing with something delicate like orzo and zucchini, definitely begin with the smallest amount of cooking time called for and then check for doneness. Slow cookers can vary widely in how hot and how fast they cook; those first few dishes you make in a new slow cooker are kind of nerve-wracking. Will it cook like my old one or does it run super hot? Will my roast be beef jerky? Will my chicken need 2 extra hours to cook?

My orzo/zucchini were cooked perfectly in an hour. If I’d let it go for two, it would have been mush. And…admitted cooking fuckup here…After we’d eaten and enjoyed the dish, I cleaned out the pot and realized that instead of following the instructions to cook it for an hour on the high setting, I’d cooked it an hour on the low. Whoops! But it didn’t seem to matter because everything came out delicious. Maybe I just got lucky, or maybe this is a forgiving recipe.  Anyways, I think my new slow cooker must run hot. More trials will tell.

This recipe would be a great addition to a holiday buffet because you can save stovetop space by using the slow cooker, it comes together in an hour, and it’s relatively healthy but tastes rich.

If you have side dish ennui or are just looking for something a little different, give this a try. It would be great paired with chicken, or if you want, you could stir in some seared scallops or shrimp and make it a meal. How easy is that?




Lemony Orzo with Zucchini and Arugula

serves 4

from Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution


2 1/2 cups chicken broth, plus more as needed

1 cup orzo

1 onion, finely chopped

4 minced garlic cloves

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 pound zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced into 1/2-inch thick slices

salt and pepper to taste

3 ounces Asiago cheese, grated (about 3/4 cup)

2-3 ounces baby arugula (2-3 cups)

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


Lightly spray the inside of a slow cooker (4-7 quarts) with cooking spray. Combine onion, orzo, olive oil chopped garlic and red pepper flakes in a microwave-safe bowl. Cook on high, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and the orzo is lightly toasted, about 5-7 minutes. Place mixture in the slow cooker.

Microwave the chicken broth until hot and steaming, about 3 minutes on high. Add to the slow cooker and immediately add the chopped zucchini, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Cover and cook until orzo and zucchini are tender, about an hour on high. Check after an hour; if orzo needs more time, cover and check every 15 minutes, adding more broth if needed.

Stir in 1/2 cup Asiago and stir until orzo is creamy. If mixture seems overly thick, add a little hot chicken broth. Stir in the arugula, lemon zest and lemon juice. Top with the remaining cheese and cook on high about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and arugula is slightly wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.


Rosemary-Infused Tom Collins

October 11, 2015