Beef and Vegetable Soup

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So we used to make a meal that we called “Olive Garden Soup.” This was a recipe my wife brought to our marriage and it was always one of my favorites. It was basically a couple of cans of minestrone, a couple of cans of beans, a couple of cans of tomatoes, and a pound of seasoned ground beef. Since we started Paleo we haven’t made it because we don’t eat beans and pasta anymore, but I wanted to do something different than the meals we’ve been having lately so I decided to try giving it a Paleo twist.

Remember the soup formula, broth, veg, protein. I started with beef and chicken broth. Then I added my veg.

red onion
green bell pepper
red bell pepper
zucchini
squash
mushrooms
carrots
celery
one can of tomatoes with garlic and onions

Everything gets a rustic chop. Then I browned the beef in a skillet and just before it was done I added salt, pepper, cayenne, oregano, rosemary, basil, and thyme. When that was fully cooked I added it to the pot with the broth and veg.

I let this cook all day in the crockpot and came home to a house full of delicious aromas and a crockpot full of fantastic food. It tasted and smelled exactly like I remembered and I’ve been eating bowl after bowl ever since.

I like playing this game of “how can I make that dish Paleo.” It makes you think creatively and really examine mouth feel and flavor profile and try to come up with exciting new ways to enjoy your old favorites. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. I’m not gonna come up with too many Paleo alternatives to a DQ Reece’s Pieces Blizzard Treat. But sometimes you get to reacquaint yourself with an old standby and have the satisfaction of knowing you’re now eating in a healthy responsible way.

Give this dish a try and tell us what you think!

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Chicken Tortilla Soup, AKA Best Soup Ever

20130830-182326.jpgWe’ve been eating Chicken Tortilla Soup for years. It’s a Sandwell Family classic. My wife started making it for me years ago when we got married, and we’ve made it probably two or three times a month ever since.

The basics of this dish are pretty simple, but you can go in a lot of different directions. This is actually the recipe that we began with that became a lot of other soups and chilis and stews we now make. I’ve given you the equation before. Broth, Veg, Protein. For Chicken Tortilla Soup that means chicken broth, onions and peppers, and chicken.

Tonight, I used,

two cans of rotel
one heirloom tomato
one red bell pepper
one red onion
two jalapeno peppers
three pepperoncini peppers
three tablespoons of salsa
three tablespoons of chopped cilantro
one teaspoon of minced garlic
two tablespoons lemon juice
one tablespoon tarragon vinegar
one tablespoon pomegranate vinegar
one breast of a rotisserie chicken
one box of chicken broth
salt/pepper/cayenne

There are a lot of different tweaks you can put on this dish. Normally I’d like to put green bell pepper in it as well to add a little variation and color. I’d rather use lime juice than lemon juice, and I don’t always use the same vinegars, but I like to have a little acid in the soup to balance the other flavors. But it’s all just shades of difference on the original dish. Broth. Veg. Protein.

Back when we used to eat the Standard American Diet we would have dressed this dish with cheese and sour cream and croutons. And wasn’t that delicious. But now we dress it with a little chopped green onion or a sprig of fresh cilantro and it’s still delicious, only it won’t make our legs rot off. Which is kind of awesome if you think about it.

I made this in the crockpot. With a slow cooker bag, of course. You can make it on the stove top if you’re in a hurry. Prepping all that veg may seem like a bit of a hassle, but you get the hang of it pretty quick. I buy vinyl food service gloves at the grocery store in boxes of a hundred for like a nickle a glove. It makes all the prep super easy because my hands stay clean. Everything gets as fine a dice as you feel like putting on it and goes in the pot. Heat ’til hot than eat like crazy.

This whole pot of soup is only like 700 calories, so you can go as crazy as you want and still feel fine about your dinner. If you want to stretch it a little you can add some water to the broth, or just more broth. If you are feeling lazy or just don’t have the time you can use frozen veg instead of fresh. It won’t be quite as good, but it’s still pretty darn good. And it cooks up just fine in the pot. If you use raw chicken, brown it in a pan first. But if you use rotisserie chicken everything is ready to eat and all you have to do is heat it up.

These recipes aren’t hard to cook. They aren’t expensive. They don’t take a lot of time. They’re easy, and they taste great, and you feel like a superhero after eating them. This is food that fuels your body. It makes you strong. You can make this at night and throw it in the pot the next morning before work and come home to a house that smells fantastic. You can make it after work and heat it up on the stove in twenty minutes. You can make it tonight and have it for lunch tomorrow. You can do this. We do it all the time. Husbands, imagine how your wives will react to coming home to find that YOU have made dinner tonight. Wives, imagine how your husbands will feel when they can relax after a long day at work with a hot bowl of chicken soup. This is comfort food. This is medicine.

This is the best soup ever.

Chili Night!

20130825-195528.jpgTonight we decided to make chili in the crockpot. We both like almost exactly the opposite kinds of chili. I like traditional flavored chilis with thin broths, she likes BBQ flavored chilis with thick broths. We both like them to have beef as the main protein and a tomato base. Tonight we decided to make a thick, traditional flavored chili.

Normally I would want to make this in the crockpot in the morning and then let it cook all day so the flavors could all blend in the pot. But we didn’t go grocery shopping until late this afternoon and we wanted chili for dinner so I did things a little differently this time.

I started by making the sauce in the crockpot. In a crockpot liner bag I mixed,

1 small can tomato paste
1 can rotel chili starter
1 can diced tomatoes with sweet onions
1 jar tabasco brand chili starter
1 tbsp butter
1 can pumpkin puree

My wife has written before about how we use pumpkin puree to thicken some of our curries and stews. It’s a great, nutrient dense way to thicken a dish without adding cream or fat. It absorbs the flavors of the dish and adds a bland orange color.

Then I mixed some of my own chili seasoning. I don’t like to use the stuff at the grocery store because they use a lot of grain products in the mix. Instead I just make my own out of spices I have in the pantry. Tonight I used

chili powder
crushed red pepper
cayenne powder
garlic powder
mustard powder
ginger powder
paprika
rosemary
salt
pepper
cumin

For me, traditional chili seasoning is all about the cumin and the chili powder. Everything else gives dimension to the flavors, but those are the two that form the base of what I like in a chili. I put this aside for a while and began working on the meat and veg.

For the meat we used one pound of 93/7 ground beef and three slices of precooked bacon which I put a fine dice on and set aside for later. Normally we get 90/10 grass fed beef but tonight we just didn’t want to hit one more store so we went ahead and just grabbed what they had on the shelf at the grocers. I put that in a skillet and put the heat on medium and while that was browning I got to work on the veg.

green bell pepper
red bell pepper
red onion
jalapeno
baby portobello mushrooms
minced garlic

I put a fine dice on all of that and put it in a bowl on the side. I like to use fresh veg when I make chilis and soups, but in a pinch I’m willing to settle for frozen. Tonight I had the luxury of taking my time and prepping my food so I went with fresh everything. In the past I used to put beans and corn in chili, but I don’t eat those foods anymore which is I why I went with the mushrooms. They give a similar mouth feel and a similar umami flavor profile to the dish. And they’re great for you.

About the time I finished prepping all that food the meat was done browning so I tossed the bowl of veg in with it and tossed it for a minute with the beef and the fat that had cooked out of it. After a few tosses I added the bacon and the chili seasoning I’d prepared earlier to the skillet and continued tossing it for another five minutes or so to cook down the veg. Then I added it all to the crockpot and stirred it in with the sauce.

I cooked it on high for about an hour before I couldn’t wait anymore and started dishing out bowls. It was fantastic, packed with flavor, and very filling. It had a nice thick consistency, with a little bit of fat from the butter and the beef and the bacon to give it just a little creaminess, and every bite was packed with fresh cooked veg.

I love making chili. We usually make it through the fall and winter and not so much during the spring and summer, so it’s been a few months since we’ve made one here at the house. But now that the seasons are changing we’ll be making several more in the near future. I’m sure we’ll make little tweaks and changes, but this is the general format we follow. Sauce. Veg. Meat. I mentioned that before when we made the Southern Style Chicken Soup. It may have seemed like a lot of work went into this dish, but it probably didn’t take more than twenty minutes to make the whole thing. If you’ve never worked in a kitchen before, there’s probably going to be a little bit of a trial and error period as you learn to break down vegetables. But it’s really not hard. And the results are definitely worth it. And like I said, if you’re in a pinch, just use a bag of frozen veg. It’ll cook up quick enough in the crockpot.

Figure we can get at least three or four meals out of this pot of chili. For 15-20 bucks give or take. Way less than we’d spend eating out, and way better food than we’d get at any restaurant. If you like your chili with BBQ flavor, add a little sauce. If you like it with hot sauce, go crazy. I think this is great with tabasco or sriracha or red hot. You really can’t go wrong.

Give it a try!