Creamy Garlic Zucchini Soup

Over the weekend, my household gardener and brewmaster (a.k.a. Eric) met up with a chicken-keeping pal to trade some homegrown produce. In exchange for a bag full of jalapeños and habaneros and a nice bunch of fresh herbs, we got six eggs and the Largest Zucchini Ever. This zucchini was seriously about two feet long and weighed at least ten pounds! Eric took half of it to a Memorial Day pool party and grilled it in thick slices; I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the rest.

I don’t really get tired of squash—especially zucchini—and I’m glad it’s zucchini season. You can roast them, grill them, use them as filler, make them into soups, put them in pasta—the possibilities are nearly endless, and they are healthy and filling. But I am kind of afraid to see what size zucchini we’ll be getting from this guy by August!

Anyway, this soup is easy, not requiring a lot of prep work, and the result is shockingly rich and quite silky! I would encourage you not to peel your zucchini; leaving the skin on adds to the nice green color, as well as providing additional nutrients.  Sometimes leaving the skin on gives the final dish a bit of a bitter aftertaste, but, in this case, that’s more than compensated for by the half stick of butter.


I also highly recommend making the sourdough croutons. The rich, tangy flavor of the bread, especially after it’s toasted in olive oil, is an excellent counterpoint to the fresh, creamy flavors of the soup. The addition of the croutons transformed this from a great dinner into a memorable one that I will no doubt make again soon.

Especially if I get anymore ten-pound zucchini!

Creamy Garlic Zucchini Soup

6 cups zucchini, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil, halved
~1 tsp garlic powder
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 white onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 tsp paprika
~ 2 cups roughly chopped greens*
salt and pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
3-4 slices sourdough bread (stale is perfect!), roughly cut into 1″ squares

1. Preheat oven to 325°. In a large roasting tin, toss diced zucchini in about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, along with the garlic powder and some salt and pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes, turning the pieces over with a spoon about halfway through.

2. Meanwhile, heat remaining olive oil and butter over medium high heat in a large stock pot. Add onions and garlic, stir, and cook for about five to ten minutes, until onions are fragrant and translucent. Add celery, paprika, and a dash of salt and pepper, and cook for another five minutes. Pour in vegetable broth. As soon as it starts to lightly boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and allow to cook for approximately 20 minutes.

3. Remove zucchini from oven and add to pot. Stir thoroughly, and allow to cook for about five more minutes. Meanwhile, add the sourdough squares to the pan, toss in remaining oil and juices, and spread out evenly. Return the pan to the oven and cook for about three minutes, until nicely browned, then remove and set aside.

4. Remove soup from heat and allow to cool slightly (for about five minutes). Add greens, then pour the soup into a blender (you will need to do two separate batches) and blend to desired consistency. I prefer this soup very creamy, so I blend for about three minutes on a higher setting like “cream” or “purée.” After all your soup is blended, return it to the pot and stir in cream. Taste, and add more salt and pepper as desired.

5. Ladle out into serving bowls and garnish with the sourdough croutons. Serve immediately.

Serves 4. Reheats nicely to make even tastier leftovers, and also freezes well.

* I used homegrown green leaf lettuce.


Stella’s Slow Cooker Chili

I know it’s practically summer already, but Eric had a real hankering for chili, and who am I to refuse?  If anything, I want to encourage his assimilation as a Texas nationalist, right?

We found some ground chili meat on sale, so we decided to try out various flavor combinations with the old slow cooker, and this was the winner.  It’s so tender and hearty, with just the right amount of heat from the chiles.

I’ve used black beans here at Eric’s insistence.  You can of course used canned beans, and kidney beans are more traditional; just skip the first step, involving cooking the beans alone in the pot on high heat. And, yes, I know that beans in chili is blasphemous in Texas. But the boy insisted; bless his heart. Plus, it makes the chili go a lot farther, so it’s great it you’re on a budget! And I’m a sucker for black beans. Love ’em!

1 cup dried black beans
1 cup water, halved, plus more as needed
2 lbs. chili beef (ground into large pieces)
1 tsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1-2 jalapeños, finely diced, to taste*
1/2 oz. dark chocolate (one square, or 1/8, of a regular bar)
1 heaping Tbsp Gebhardt’s chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
6. oz tomato paste (1 small can)
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp Chili Garlic Cholula Sauce
1/2 can of Guinness
2 cups grated cheddar cheese, to garnish
saltines or Fritos, to taste

1. Rinse and sort beans in a colander, under cold running water, removing all stones and imperfections. Place in crock pot with 1/2 cup water and turn to high heat. Allow to cook for about one hour, until the water is mostly absorbed.

2. Meanwhile, chop your other ingredients and cook the beef. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add ground beef and sauté for about fifteen minutes, turning the meat frequently. Once it’s browned and cooked through, remove from heat; drain juices.

3. Add beef, beef, onion, celery, jalapeños, chocolate, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, salt, pepper, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, Cholula Sauce, Guinness, and remaining 1/2 cup of water to the crock pot, stir thoroughly, cover, and turn heat to low.

4. Cook for 8-10 hours, adding more water as needed, if the meat dries out (I usually cook mine overnight starting at 9:00 or 10:00pm, and it’s perfect by about 7:00am).

5. To serve, spoon out into bowls, top with grated cheddar, and enjoy with crackers or Fritos. Once the chili is done, you can turn the heat to the “keep warm” setting and leave it out all day, eating a bowl whenever you want.

Serves 4-6. Also refrigerates and freezes beautifully.

*I only used one, because our homegrown peppers tend to be very hot.

Not Your Mom’s Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

Remember how your mom used to make that chicken, broccoli, and Campbell’s cream of mushroom casserole? Remember how delicious it was? A comfort food classic!

Well, I’ve updated it with fresher ingredients, and I think you’ll like the result. While my recipe is a little more involved than throwing canned chicken, frozen broccoli, and canned soup into a casserole dish, it’s really very easy. This one doesn’t dirty many dishes, and makes enough for some leftovers for your lunch (unless you have several kids!). There are a few steps, but the prep time is pretty minimal, making this a great weeknight recipe. Hey, there’s a reason Mom made it so often! And it’s just as satisfying as you remember, without all the salt!

2 large chicken breasts
~1 tsp olive oil
2 cups uncooked brown rice
3 Tbsp butter
1/2 one white onion, finely diced
2 cups cremini mushrooms, chopped
~1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp celery salt
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups broccoli florets, chopped into bite-size pieces
4 heaping Tbsp Greek yogurt
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)

1. Preheat your oven to 325°. On a cookie sheet, lay out a large piece of foil. Place chicken breasts on the foil, and drizzle with olive oil. Tent chicken in the foil and bake for approximately 25 minutes, until chicken is cooked through, tender, and juicy.

2. Meanwhile, prep your other ingredients as above. Start by combining the rice and approximately three and a half cups of lukewarm water in a stock pot and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Allow the rice to cook for ten to twelve minutes, until it’s done and almost all of the water has cooked off.

3. While the rice is cooking, begin the vegetables. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add onions and mushrooms and cook for approximately ten minutes, until fragrant. Add balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and celery salt, and stir. Continue cooking for about one or two more minutes, then add chicken broth and stir again. Finally, add the broccoli. Cook for approximately five minutes, or until broccoli is bright green but still somewhat firm.

4. Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the oven. Once it’s done, allow it to cool slightly. Lightly grease a 3 quart baking dish (I use a rectangular Pyrex dish) with olive oil or butter. Cut the chicken into workable pieces, and finish shredding it into rough chunks with your hands, putting the pieces directly into your baking dish.

5. When the rice is done, drain any excess liquid and add the rice to the casserole dish with the chicken. Next, mix in the vegetables and any broth in their pan. Add yogurt, cream, pecans, and more salt and/or pepper, if desired. Mix thoroughly with a large spoon, then use the back side to press the mixture down in the dish to form a casserole of even depth.

6. Place the whole dish back into the oven and bake at 325° for a further 20 minutes. Remove from oven very carefully, and allow to cool on the stove top for about three to five minutes, then serve. Garnish with parsley, sage, sour cream, and/or cheese, if desired.

Serves 6.

Also makes excellent leftovers—just microwave and stir!

The Shiksa’s Shakshuka

I’ve been meaning to try the shakshuka recipe from The Shiksa in the Kitchen for ages.  Tori’s blog, which focuses on food history and culture while spotlighting Jewish and Israeli recipes, is one of my favorites.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that she’s my food blogger hero.  Her recipes are presented step-by-step with clear photographs; she always includes a back story that is very engaging; the dishes she presents are invariably fun and delicious; she is a fellow history nerd; her photography is amazing; and, reading her blog, I always, always learn something.  If you’re confused and/or offended by her choice of moniker, read her explanation here.

I became interested in Judaism and Jewish culture in 2009 when my best friend invited me to attend a class with her at Congregation Shir Ami in Cedar Park.  One of my favorite things about Jewish culture is, of course, the emphasis on food and celebration.

Though I have little interest in eating kosher (after two years as a vegan, self-limiting my culinary options and segregating myself from almost everyone else through ideological food choices, I can’t see myself ever going down that path again), I find the history of Jewish food fascinating.  It is a story of adaptation and innovation, stretching over six continents, and underpinned by a deep, joyous love of food and community.  And it’s not all gefilte fish and matzoh balls, as evidenced by the diversity of mouth-watering recipes on Tori’s blog.

I had planned to make more Italian hot beef sausage with cheesy mashed cauliflower last night, but then Tori reposted the Shiksa’s Shakshuka, and I was reminded that I still hadn’t given it a try.  It has always looked so good–I can’t believe it’s been nearly two years since she posted it, and I hadn’t tried it yet!  So last night, having all the ingredients on hand, I whipped up a batch.  It was easy, affordable, and filling.

We love eggs for dinner at my house, so it was a winner.  In addition to adding two homegrown serrano chiles for added heat, I did make a couple of changes to Tori’s recipe: I used a yellow bell pepper that I had on hand, and I added a splash of red wine!  L’chaim!

Go check out Tori’s amazing post about this popular Israeli dish, and get the recipe here.