Roasted Tomato Dill Soup


IMG_7877While we’re giving thanks this week for the blessings and bounty in our lives, please remember those less fortunate. Food insecurity is a serious problem in this country (along with food waste, grocery deserts and lack of nutritional education).

I encourage you to forgo the American preoccupation with finding the perfect, unblemished apple and focus on “it’s all perfectly good food.” I’ve mentioned in the past how I think a paring knife and some patience can revive most imperfect fruits and vegetables and when I saw the trailer for “Just Eat It”, a documentary that tackles the issue of food waste, I’m even more convinced how important this concept is to our culinary and food communities.

Many grocery stores and outdoor food markets will sell “day-of” or “ripe” produce. More often than not, this is produce that cannot be sold in-store because it’s slightly imperfect (think soft avocados and lightly bruised fruit).

In addition to the abundance of this produce, it’s often sold at a major discount. Good for your conscious and good for your wallet.

Today, I’m sharing a simple Roasted Tomato Dill soup recipe that specifically uses 4lbs of bruised tomatoes.  Gorgeous, juicy extra-large tomatoes…that I bought for $2, because each one had a small bruise and were softer than “salad-ready” would deem.

Let’s make the hunger issue not an issue, OK?

Roasted Tomato Dill Soup (Vegan)
Time: 1.5 hours ~ Makes: 2 quarts

5 extra large (4lbs), slightly bruised, smushy tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, peeled, sliced
4 tbs olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
4-5 cups vegetable broth
2 tbs dried dill
1 bay leaf
1 can (14.5oz) chick peas
1/2 c. almond milk*
Sea Salt & Black Pepper to Taste
*You can use 1/4c. heavy cream if you prefer a richer soup.
The soup will now be vegetarian, but not vegan. 

Pre-heat oven to 350.
Wash and pat-dry tomatoes. Trim away bruised bits and stems.
Slice evenly and line in a single layer on a cookie sheet (I needed to use two cookie sheets for 4lbs of tomatoes). Sprinkle on the sliced garlic. Drizzle sheets with 2 tbs olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes or until tomatoes are roasty and gorgeous (p.s. Your house? Will smell incredible). Remove from oven, set aside.

Heat remaining olive oil in a deep saucepan and saute onions. After about 5-7 minutes, onions should soft and golden (if they stick to the pan, deglaze with some of the vegetable broth). Add tomatoes/garlic from cookie sheets and toss together with sauteed onions. Slowly add vegetable broth, add bay leaf and dill. Allow soup to simmer together for another 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf, add chick peas. Using an immersion blender, blend soup to desired consistency (or blend by batches in a blender, allowing room for soup to expand). Remove soup from heat, and slowly add milk or cream. Season with salt/pepper to taste. Top with nutritional yeast, avocado or dill. Makes 2 quarts. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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Lighter Vegetable Stuffed Peppers (Vegetarian, Low-Carb & Gluten-Free)

FullSizeRender2Try as I might,  I often start blog posts, get distracted by something else I want to write and the original post languishes, sad and unread. NO MORE! In honor of Throwback Thursday (#TBT), I’m finishing these forgotten gems (?) and sharing them. Some are from a couple of months ago, some are from years ago (fun!). Enjoy taking a look back at some awesome travel and eats.

After two weeks in Boston visiting with family this past September, I indulged in all manner of rich home cooking, party food snacks, dessert every day and so many Bloody Marys. Oh the bloody Marys. Needless to say, I was STUFFED upon returning home to Cincinnati.

Upon filling my fridge and pantry with fresh vegetables, cheeses and lean meats,  I set about making some easy and nutrient-heavy dinners. In addition to my favorite Italian Wedding Soup with Turkey Meatballs, and a lightened up Cauliflower Gratin, I had two large peppers staring at me. I hate when vegetables stare. So I showed them who was boss and stuffed them full of veggie goodness! Take that, peppers.

Rather than use a rice and meat filling as is traditional; I kept these peppers stuffed with all vegetables.  I used a ripe little eggplant which acted a perfect meat substitute and included lots of other veggies to keep this all-vegetable entree feeling hearty.

A note about eggplant: I struggle with making it GOOD. Either I roast it away to nothing or saute it too lightly and it’s rubbery. I’m proud to say, I think this version is a winner! I think marinating the vegetables not only added great flavor; but kept the eggplant from being bitter/rubbery/nasty. You’re welcome.

Adding avocado, salsa and Greek yogurt bulk up the nutrients and satiety factor here. However, you can keep this meal vegan by omitting the cheese and yogurt; and just slather on salsa and avocado instead. We heart vegetables.

Lighter Vegetable Stuffed Peppers 
(Vegetarian, Low-Carb & Gluten-Free)
Serves: 2 ~ Time: 75 minutes including chilling time

2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 small to medium eggplant, peeled
1 large white onion, peeled
2 large carrots, peeled
3 cups spinach, cleaned
1 bunch cilantro, cleaned and roughly chopped
4 medium sweet peppers or 2 large sweet peppers (plus 1 extra for the filling)
2 tbs. olive oil (plus more coating the skillet)
1 packet of Simply Organic Southwestern Ranch Greek Yogurt Dip  OR use your favorite combination of Southwestern spices to taste (Adobo, Cumin, Coriander, Chili Powder, Garlic, Salt, Pepper).
4 oz Pepper Jack cheese (or Sharp Cheddar), grated
Sea Salt, Black Pepper

5 oz plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream if you prefer)
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
1 c. salsa of your choice

In a large mixing bowl, trim and dice garlic, eggplant, onion and carrot and throw into the mixing bowl. Roughly chop spinach, add that to the bowl. De-seed and dice one pepper and add to the mixing bowl. Slice the tops off the stuffing peppers, de-seed and set aside.

To the mixing bowl, add olive oil and 3/4 packet of seasoning. Toss well and let marinate for 30 minutes on the counter (or in the fridge).  Meanwhile, stir remaining 1/4 seasoning packet into Greek yogurt for serving.

Pre-heat oven to 350. Spray a shallow baking dish (9×11) with cooking spray.
In a large, deep skillet, add oil. Once oil is hot, add vegetables to skillet, stirring occasionally until eggplant is soft, but not mushy (about 8-10 minutes). Add a dash of salt/pepper here, but if you’ve used the seasoning packet, taste before adding too much salt. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Stuff each pepper half with vegetable mix.* Top each half with shredded cheese.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until peppers are soft and cheese is golden brown. Serve immediately with Southwestern greek yogurt, sliced avocado and salsa. Serves 2. *Before baking, you can allow the peppers to cool  IMG_6463 to either freeze or save for another dinner. Just add shredded cheese and bake when you’re ready! 

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When the Fridge is Bare….

I was having one of those weeks where I made it a personal challenge to use EVERYTHING in my fridge before going grocery shopping (hey, I work from home, sometimes I need to find ways to entertain myself).

After using everything I could possibly use,  I was down to this: IMG_7370[1]

Also, I love you forever Polar Seltzer. Please know I scrubbed out the vegetable drawers before going shopping too.

I stocked up on all kinds of good stuff this past weekend at my favorite Findlay Market and Saigon Market.

To the fridge!
IMG_7589From Saigon Market: 

  • Crispy fried onions (for salads or soups)
  • Water Chestnuts & Baby Corn (for stir-frys)
  • Coconut Milk & Tom Ka paste for Asian-style soups
  • Brown Rice Vermicelli Noodles (for Asian-style soups)
  • From Gibb’s Cheese Stall: Triple Cream Brie, Smoked sliced Gouda and Parmesan.
  • From Blue Oven Bakery: Nut & Seed bread (DIVINE)
  • From Dean’s Market: About 1/2 lb of rolled oats



  • 2 pints grape tomatoes
  • 2 heads of broccoli
  • 3 giant carrots
  • big ole head of Kale
  • giant piece of Ginger
  • garlic
  • sack o’ potatoes
  • fresh cilantro
  • salad greens
  • 4 lbs of Honeycrisp apples
  • Baby pumpkin for festiveness!

Fun tip: Most of this produce was from the “Only $1 table” at Findlay and some of it had bruises/dents. But other than the salad greens, I was cooking everything else, so I just cleaned everything well and trimmed away the nasty bits. Perfect. All the produce you see here was $12. Yup. Not bad.  Lose the conventional idea of “perfect produce” and reduce food waste by using what may not look perfect but tastes just as good.
My soapbox for the day.

So where’s the beef? I had some turkey frozen at home, and had already bought eggs from the farm, so I was well-stocked for proteins!

So what did I do with all of these groceries? 
– Broccoli and Carrots: cleaned and trimmed, roasted with smoked paprika and olive oil
– Apples, peeled and trimmed, tossed with cinnamon, brown sugar, fresh ginger and oatmeal for an apple-crisp (to be eaten at breakfast warm, with a few spoonfuls of coconut milk)
– Tomatoes: halved and roasted, tossed into pasta with Parmesan cheese.
– Kale, trimmed and cleaned: Stirred into a turkey soup. Also roasted with olive oil and garlic for kale chips
– Nut & Seed Bread: Layered with apples and brie for grilled cheese
– Asian vegetables and noodles stir-fried with coconut milk/tom ka paste and stir-fried eggs.

Not quite sure what I should do with the potatoes, I suspect some sort of Gouda/potato gratin is in my future….
Do you let your fridge get bare?
What’s your favorite thing to make when you’re low on groceries? 

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Smokey & Brothy Cauliflower Soup

IMG_7119Sigh. It was 28 degrees outside and 50 degrees inside my house today. I suppose cooler days are here to stay? And yes, I am a freak about waiting as long as possible to turn on my heat. Blame my New England roots or just my sense of competition but last year I made it to November 15 and now I have a title to beat (she says while wearing yoga pants, socks, Uggs, long sleeve shirt and fleece pullover – cozy!)

To help keep my house from you know, freezing me from the inside out, I decided to make soup. I had bought quite possibly the largest head of cauliflower I had ever seen at Findlay Market last week. While I’ve enjoyed some of it roasted with turmeric, steamed as a side dish and raw in a salad this week, I still had lots to go. To the soup pot!

I love a rich bowl of soup and it would have been easy to add milk or cream to the smooth cauliflower base, but I decided to keep this cauliflower treat broth-based. Still tons of flavor; but with that perfect slurp-able broth consistency. Excellent for bread dunking and mug drinking. Plus calories and fat clock in at 90 cals and 3 grams of fat per serving respectively (as calculated by me on So go wild and have a second bowl.

Lest you think I’ve gone totally healthful on you, this recipe has cheese and bacon in it.

Smokey and Brothy Cauliflower Soup
Time: 1 hour ~ Servings: 8, 1-cup servings

4 slices (1/3 lb) center cut bacon, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled & diced
1 large yellow onion, peeled & diced
2 tbs AP flour
1 large head of Cauliflower, trimmed and chopped (about 4-5 cups of florets)
5 – 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth (depending on your brothy preference)
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
1 tbs dried thyme
1 tbs dried parsley (or 1/4 c. cleaned and chopped fresh parsley)
1 tbs smoked paprika (more or less to taste)
1 tsp black pepper
Salt (optional)

For serving: additional shredded cheese, crumbled bacon and black pepper

Set a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add bacon. Cook until bacon is starting to crisp (about 5 minutes), add garlic and onion, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a small pot, add cleaned cauliflower florets and 1/2 c. water. Cover pot and cook over medium heat until cauliflower is fork tender about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Once the garlic/onions/bacon have softened, sprinkle in flour, tossing to coat the vegetables. Slowly, add about 1 cup of broth to deglaze the pan, Stir briskly to bring up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and ensure the flour is incorporated. Add remaining broth and allow soup to come to a simmer.

Pureeing the cauliflower: I used my immersion blender to blend the softened cauliflower in it’s own pot until smooth. I then slowly added the pureed cauliflower to the soup. I wanted to keep the bacon and onion discernible but you could certainly add the softened cauliflower to the soup, and puree the entire soup to the consistency you want. I prefer to use an immersion blender, but a regular blender is fine. Just allow room in the blender for the hot soup to expand.

Once the cauliflower is blended into the soup, stir in cheddar cheese. This is optional. I think it adds a bit more dimension and flavor; but you can skip it if you prefer to keep the calories even lighter (or save for serving at the end). Time to season! Stir in thyme, parsley, black pepper and smoked paprika. I love the smokey flavor of the paprika, but it’s up to your taste preference.  Taste here before adding salt. Bacon, broth and cheese will add salt so you may only need a pinch.  Allow soup for simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes.
Makes 8, 1-cup servings.
Serve with crumbled bacon, shredded cheese and/or parsley.

Can I reach my mug of soup from under my blanket?


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Exploring Saigon Market

FullSizeRenderGrowing up Lebanese, I often accompanied my mother or grandmother to the local Arab grocery store. Not only did it carry the bread, spices, nuts and olives my family liked to use, it was the only store around that did. This was the 1980’s – za’atar, tahini, Syrian allspice, dried pumpkin seeds and assorted Greek, French and Italian olives were not available at every Whole Foods. #thestruggle.

I loved the warm comfort of knowing the aromas and familiarity of seemingly “exotic” items in the stores, and how my family often knew if not the folks working at the store at the time, than at least some of the other shoppers.

For this reason, I love browsing in ethnic grocery stores. They’re often tiny and crammed to the brim with stuff. There may be some dust on the jars or you might find the rice in 3 different places,  but for me that adds to the fun of the browse.

I know that ethnic markets can be intimidating if you don’t speak the language or are not familiar with the ingredients. More often that not, the shop clerks are happy educate you on what you’re seeing; but I personally like to ask a fellow shopper what they plan to do with an item. I like to browse the shops using the aisle markers or pictures on the ingredients (seriously) as a guide. The additional benefit to shopping in your local ethnic market is that it’s usually way, way cheaper than purchasing from a grocery store.  Items are not “specialty” here, they’re just items!

One of my favorite spots here in Cincinnati is Saigon Market. Specializing in all Asian foods, as well as some Middle Eastern and European items – Saigon Market always offers up something new to try.

On this visit, I purchased some Asian staples to restock my freezer and pantry:

Tom Ka paste: I was looking for peanut sauce for noodle and stir fry dishes, but was told they were out.  I decided to try this instead. I love Tom Ka soup (and it’s unique flavor of galangal, lime, coconut and shallot sauce sings to my umami -loving soul) so I thought this might be an interesting substitute sauce.

Green Pickled Mango: I love all things pickled and do prefer mango to be tart versus overly sweet. A staple of SE Asian meals, pickled mangoes appear often with Indian meals as well.

Coconut milk: At Asian markets they sell coconut milk in smaller cans, amen! Sometimes you just need a little, not a full 14oz can.  (plus this little guy was .95c – a full size can at my Kroger costs $3.19!)
IMG_6399Chicken/Vegetable Potstickers and Vegetable Spring Rolls: I keep both of these items in my freezer at all times for quick snacks or when friends stop by drunk.

Brown Rice Vermicelli Noodles:
I make ALOT of Asian-style soups at home, so these noodles are a constant at my house. Finding BROWN RICE noodles can be difficult to find; but again, the Asian market stocks it easily AND his huge packet was $1.69. Um, YES.

Big ole piece of fresh ginger: Something I always have on-hand for soups or throwing into tea.

Dried Woodear mushrooms: I’m a big fan of dried mushrooms as they don’t expire and are easy to use. Already dried and sliced, these mushrooms make a perfect dumpling filling or tossed into a stir fry with chicken. Bonus; this bag was  $1.59. Yup. I’ll take them.


The grand total for these “specialty” items was $18.80. Yup, for less than $20, I have a whole assortment of fun new items to experiment with in the kitchen.
Get out there and explore the world through food.

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Japanese-Style Fried Green Tomatoes with Spicy Sushi Mayo

More tales from my little garden. So, after 2 months of love, sunshine and water… I’ve got a beautiful crop of grape tomatoes! BUT….(there’s always a BUT with this garden) while they are growing beautifully, there is nary a blush, a hint, a whisper of red. All green. Sigh.

I know the woodland creatures have been enjoying these little green delights before they can mature and while I’m doing my best to keep them at bay,  I was desperate to get in on the action before all the tomatoes were gone.  I nicked a handful of the green beauties and off to the kitchen I went.

Fried green tomatoes were an easy choice, because Hello, I love them. But these little grape tomatoes didn’t seem right for a BLT or just to serve in slices.  I wanted to do something a little perfect tangy bite slathered in a creamy, spicy dip.

Once I went through the pantry, I realized I had panko, wasabi powder and rice vinegar…and an idea began to form. Theses are definitely not your Granny’s fried green tomatoes; but I love them. A spicy, crunchy little bite with that beloved sushi restaurant mayo flavor. Just yes.

Japanese Style Fried Green Tomatoes with Spicy Sushi Mayo
Time: 25 minutes ~ Serves 2

1/2 c. panko crumbs, blended (to create a crumb consistency)
1/4 c. wasabi powder*
12 cherry or large grape tomatoes
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c. frying oil (safflower or vegetable)
Seasoned Rice Vinegar
Sea Salt
*Can be found in Asian markets. Or add a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Spicy Sushi Mayo

1/4c. mayo*
1 tbs. sriracha (or more to taste)
1 tsp lime zest
1 tbs. fresh chopped cilantro (optional)
*Try substituting non-fat greek yogurt. Lighter in calories but adds great tang.
1. Clean tomatoes, pat dry and slice in half lengthwise. Set aside and make mayo.
2. Whisk mayo ingredients in a medium bowl. Adjust heat and seasoning to taste. Chill in refrigerator until ready to use.
3. In a shallow, wide bowl combine panko and wasabi powder. In a separate bowl, add beaten egg.
4. Line a cookie sheet with paper towels or brown paper bag.
5. In a heavy skillet, heat oil (you may need more or less depending on your skillet size,  (you want enough to comfortably cover tomatoes half-way).  To test oil, flick a drop of water into the pan, if it sizzles, it’s ready, if it splatters, it’s too hot!
6. Dip tomatoes in egg, roll in panko until coated, then immediately drop into oil. Repeat steps for  3-4 more tomatoes, but don’t crowd the skillet.
7. After about 1-2 minutes, the tomatoes should be golden around the edges and ready to flip. Allow to fry another minute until completely golden.
8. Remove from oil and set on lined cookie sheet to drain excess oil.
9. Immediately sprinkle with sea salt and a drizzle of seasoned rice vinegar.
10. Serve with mayo. Serves 2 as an appetizer.

Who needs ripe tomatoes…

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Squash Blossom Frittata

My little garden has been a challenge.
As you know, I have ZERO garden talent. However, one day back in May, I threw four zucchini seeds in four pots…and lo and behold, they GREW. I felt all-powerful.

(happier times)

And then…
….one plant withered and died before growing past a seedling.
….one plant grew leaves! And then was chomped by the dreaded “vine borer” bugs.
IMG_4899 copy
(evidence of the vine-borer punks)

….and then there were two.

They grew, they flourished, they produced flower after flower.
I had hope! (and recipes!)


I went to the oracle (random friends at a cookout); and I was told in no uncertain terms if there were flowers but not fruit, then my zucchini was not pollinating properly, aka I didn’t have bees. Hmm, OK – what does one do if there is a lack of bees? “You’ll have to pollinate them yourself” a friend said with confidence (and beer in hand).

Wow. Ok. Zucchini pollination. Basically, the boy zucchini have to “talk” to the girl zucchini to get the fruit party started. DID YOU KNOW THAT YOUR ZUCCHINI HAVE BOY AND GIRL PARTS? Note, this is why I’m a writer and not a botanist.

So, I put on some Barry White, poured everybody a glass of red wine and tried to get the boy zucchini to talk to the girl zucchini. For the technical side of this, go to a reliable source, (not me). Spoiler alert: it involves a Q-tip.
IMG_4908 copy
Despite the sweet garden lovin’ environment I provided, still no zucchini. Sigh.

Though nary a zucchini grew, I got tons and tons of zucchini blossoms (before the vine borers got these last two plants too, and I admitted zucchini defeat).

I decided to turn the squash blossoms into frittata and forget I ever wanted zucchini in the first place. Just making some zucchini lemonade here.

I love the bright, herbal almost sweet taste they add to dishes. They literally taste like summer to me. For this recipe, I paired the delicate blossoms with fresh sweet basil, salty ricotta salata and punch of lemon zest to produce this summery frittata.

Squash Blossom Frittata with Ricotta Salata and Basil
6-8 squash blossoms
1 handful fresh basil (roughly 1/4 c.)
8 eggs
4 oz ricotta salata (or feta cheese), crumbled
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tbs Italian seasoning (or a few pinches of oregano & thyme)
Sea Salt, Black Pepper
2 tbs butter

Harvesting your blossoms: Pick male blossoms (the female are the ones that produce fruit, ALLEGEDLY). Learn to identify the boy parts on zucchini here.  You can pick the blossoms open or closed (they are only open in the early am). Check for little bugs and remove. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry.

Pre-heat oven to 350.
Rinse basil and pat dry. Roughly chop and set aside. Thinly slice zucchini blossoms lengthwise. In a large bowl, whisk eggs until foamy, sprinkle in a pinch each of sea salt and black pepper, whisk again. Stir in ricotta salata. Fold in basil, blossoms and lemon zest. Gently combine.

In a heavy oven-safe skillet, over med-low heat, melt butter (coat up the sides of the skillet as well). Slowly pour in egg mix. Allow frittata to set-up in the skillet (resist the urge to stir).

Once the edges start to look firm, transfer frittata to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until frittata is set in the middle (i.e. doesn’t look wet or wiggle when you gently shake the pan).

Remove from the oven. Allow frittata to cool in skillet slightly. Then cover skillet with a large plate and gently flip frittata out of the skillet onto the plate, and using another plate, flip to right-side up. Or simply slice and serve from the skillet. Serves 4. Serve alongside a salad and some fresh bread.
IMG_4943You won’t even miss the zucchini.

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