Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupOver the past couple of years, I’ve learned that a shocking number of people I know and love don’t know how to make one of the simplest recipes in the wide world: Grilled Cheese. It’s not because they’re incapable in the kitchen—it’s just that nobody ever taught them how to make it so that the bread cooks and the cheese melts at similar rates, and the butter doesn’t blacken and smoke up the house.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupLuckily (maybe?), they’re friends with me, a person who will make them a grilled cheese in the moment and then spend four months dwelling on the (non-)event until the middle of January when she decides to write a blog post about the whole (inconsequential) thing. And that’s how we got here. Luckily. Maybe.

Anyway…Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupI make Grilled Cheese for dinner at least once a week because a) it’s easy and I don’t have to think about it too hard, and b) I always have sandwich bread, butter and some sort of melting cheese (usually extra sharp cheddar). It only takes a couple of minutes to butter two pieces of bread and layer cheese in the middle. You’ll notice I don’t use sliced cheese here—that’s simply because I prefer to buy the brick and slice it myself. Do whatever works for you, with the exception of pre-shredded cheese because it’s coated in an anti-caking agent that prevents proper melting. You do not want to impede proper melting on a Grilled Cheese!Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupAs far as cooking goes, I think it’s a pretty human thing to want to cook crispy foods over the highest heat for a couple of minutes, but when it comes to Grilled Cheese (and so many other things), it’s best to ignore that thought, turn down the flame and take your time. Whereas 3-4 minutes over high will yield cold cheese between burnt slices of bread, 7-8 over medium-low will give you perfect melted cheese and buttery, golden edges every time. Those extra four minutes make all the difference in the world.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupBoom! That’s all you need to know to make a basic Grilled Cheese. You can change up the cheese and bread depending on your mood, but as long as you butter the outsides of the bread instead of melting butter in the skillet and cook things low and slow, you will always have perfect Grilled Cheese.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupAnd what’s Grilled Cheese without Tomato Soup? This combination is a classic for a reason—the tang of tomato pairs perfectly with the rich, cheesy, crispy sandwich, making for a simple, satisfying meal.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupAs with Grilled Cheese, my go-to Tomato Soup recipe is easy as can be. Whole peeled tomatoes are crushed by hand, then simmered in vegetable stock with carrots, onion, garlic, tomato paste and spices before being puréed until velvety smooth. Easy peasy.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupTwo things to note:

• I prefer to use canned whole peeled tomatoes instead of fresh. This is for a few reasons, but mainly because canned tomatoes give consistently delicious results. I love fresh tomatoes, but they are only in season for a few months of the year and January isn’t one of them.
• You’ll notice I like to add a pinch of baking soda at the end of cooking to neutralize some of the acidity, but you may also use a teaspoon of sugar or honey. Whatever works for you.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupSo there you have it—one of the simplest meals in the world, explained. Maybe you knew all this or maybe you didn’t. Either way, I hope you treat yourself this weekend. I know we could all use some comfort. No “maybe” about it.Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
makes 2 sandwiches

4 slices sandwich bread (I like Dave’s Killed Bread White Bread Done Right)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
small pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter
4 ounces extra sharp cheddar or other melting cheese, thinly sliced

Spread 1/2 tablespoon of softened butter over one side of each piece of sandwich bread. If using unsalted butter, sprinkle butter with a small pinch of salt.

Turn 2 pieces of bread plain-side-up. Lay sliced cheese evenly over each plain side. Top cheese with remaining pieces of bread, buttered-side-up, so that the buttered sides of each slice of bread are on the outsides of the sandwiches.

Heat a medium-large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add sandwiches and let cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Flip sandwiches and let cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the other side, about 3-4 more minutes.

Serve immediately, with tomato soup (recipe below), if desired.

Tomato Soup
makes about 4 servings

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-large Spanish onion, diced
3-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
1/2-1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, divided
4 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled & sliced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/8-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or a pinch of ground cayenne)
4 cups vegetable stock (I use Better than Bouillon)
small pinch of baking soda or teaspoon of sugar, optional
chopped parsley, optional

Place tomatoes and any liquid in a mixing bowl. Use your clean hands to crush the tomatoes. Set aside.

Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and pinch of salt, and cook for 5-7 minutes, until onion is starting to turn translucent but nothing has browned. Add minced garlic and cook about 1 minute or until fragrant. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until starting to darken.

Stir in red pepper flakes, hand-crushed tomatoes & their liquid, followed by vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for 20-25 minutes, until carrots have softened.

Purée soup with a hand blender. Alternatively, let hot soup cool for 15 minutes before transferring to a high-powered blender and puréeing. Be careful, as hot liquids expand during blending.

Taste soup and add salt as desired. If soup is too acidic, stir in a small pinch of baking soda or a teaspoon of sugar. Garnish with parsley and serve, with Grilled Cheese (recipe above) if desired.

Leftover soup will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupGrilled Cheese & Tomato SoupGrilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

Spicy Turkey Tacos

Spicy Turkey TacosAs with so many of the weeknight meals that show up on this site, I’ve been making these Spicy Turkey Tacos for years. They became a part of my repertoire when I started my day job in 2016, and they’ve been in my weekly rotation ever since. They’re easy to make, require less than half an hour start-to-finish, and are a guaranteed crowd pleaser—not an easy feat with teenagers!Spicy Turkey TacosThese are a simple & saucy DIY taco seasoning, ground turkey and tomato paste situation that remind me—for better or worse—of the Old El Paso Tex-Mex taco kits my mom made when we were little. But, you know, a little classier because there’s nothing from a packet.

Now, I want to make it exceedingly clear that I am of Czech and British heritage, two cultures that are not known for their tacos. To my knowledge, Spicy Turkey Tacos (and recipes like them) aren’t particularly authentic to anything. Please correct me if I am wrong; I want to give credit where credit is due. Spicy Turkey TacosSpicy Turkey TacosThe key to this recipe is the homemade taco seasoning. It’s a simple blend of chipotle chile powder, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, cayenne and salt, and it is responsible for the majority of the flavor here. The recipe below makes enough for about four pounds of meat, meaning that you can make the seasoning once and then throw Spicy Turkey Tacos together in no time with no notice on a future busy weeknight. Score!

Fair warning that these Spicy Turkey Tacos are called “spicy” for a reason—this taco seasoning was has a real kick to it, so if you aren’t a spicy food person, you may want to reduce the chipotle powder by half (2 tablespoons) or switch to something milder. I promise your tacos still be great.Spicy Turkey TacosSpicy Turkey TacosTo make Spicy Turkey Tacos, begin by browning a pound of ground turkey. Stir in 2 tablespoons each of your taco seasoning and tomato paste until everything is coated. Then add some water and let your taco meat simmer until thickened to your liking. I usually let mine go until the sauce is reduced by half or two-thirds, until it’s thick but still decidedly saucy.Spicy Turkey TacosAs for serving, spoon this Spicy Turkey Taco meat into warmed flour or corn tortillas (or make a taco salad!), and pile on whatever toppings make you happy. I threw cherry tomatoes, diced avocado, romaine lettuce, cilantro, lime, grated cotija and hot sauce on these, but you could go with salsa, guacamole, shredded cheddar, or nothing at all—whatever you like. Next time, I’m going to serve them up with my Pineapple Salsa Fresca for a sweet & spicy finish.

Just living my best pandemic dinner life over here.Spicy Turkey Tacos

Spicy Taco Seasoning
makes a heaping 1/2 cup (enough for 4 pounds of meat)

It is easier to add heat than it is to remove it, so be careful. For a milder blend, reduce the chipotle powder to 2 tablespoons or use 1/4 cup of a milder chile or chili powder. I like this blend with ancho chile powder.

1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) chipotle chile powder or other chile or chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher or sea salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one year.

Spicy Turkey Tacos
makes 1 pound of meat (3-4 servings), but can easily be scaled up

1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 pound ground turkey (leanest I’d go is 93%)
2 tablespoons spicy taco seasoning (above)
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cups water
warmed flour or corn tortillas

For serving (optional):
avocado
cherry tomatoes
cilantro
grated cotija or other cheese
hot sauce (I used Tapatío)
guacamole
lime wedges
romaine lettuce
salsa

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add turkey and cook until browned, breaking it up with the edge of a silicone spatula or wooden spoon as you go.

Add taco seasoning and tomato paste; stir to coat. Add water and let come to a simmer. Let liquid reduce by 1/2 to 3/4, stirring occasionally, until sauce texture is to your liking. Add more water as desired.

Serve meat in warmed tortillas with desired toppings.

Leftover taco meat will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Spicy Turkey TacosSpicy Turkey TacosSpicy Turkey Tacos

Honey Butter Drop Biscuits

Honey Butter Drop BiscuitsSouthern-style biscuits are one of my go-to comfort foods. I make them regularly for weekend breakfasts and quick dinner side dishes, and there’s almost always a bag of them in my freezer. I don’t even need to look at the recipes anymore—I know the proportions, methods, times and temperatures by heart. Yep, I’m a biscuit gal, just like my grandma.Honey Butter Drop BiscuitsHoney Butter Drop BiscuitsHoney Butter Drop BiscuitsAll that said, I’ve never really gotten on the drop biscuit train. I guess I thought they were cheating or something—the ingredients and mixing methods are nearly identical, but you don’t have to pat and cut anything, instead scooping the sticky dough directly onto a pan before baking. I suppose that without dirtying a surface or doing extra work I assumed that they were a slightly-less-good version of the “real deal.” But I was wrong. So, so wrong.Honey Butter Drop BiscuitsTurns out, drop biscuits are their own thing entirely. They’re fluffy and tender instead of flaky and layered, and they have these extra crispy-crunchy exteriors with which I am now fully obsessed. And the recipe works with both whole milk and buttermilk, and (!) I don’t have to scrape an invisible layer of butter and flour off of my countertop every time I make a batch. Drop biscuits, where have you been all my life???Honey Butter Drop BiscuitsI won’t lie to you: drop biscuits are not a traditionally beautiful food. They’re scraggly, craggy and have slightly wonky shapes, regardless of whether you use a cookie scoop, a spoon or your hands to dole out dough. They’re super delicious, just a little ugly. Or at least they are until you give them a glossy coat of salty-sweet honey butter.Honey Butter Drop BiscuitsHoney Butter Drop BiscuitsOhhh yes.Honey Butter Drop Biscuits

Honey Butter Drop Biscuits
makes 10-11 medium-large biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar or honey
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into cubes
1 cup whole milk or buttermilk, very cold

Honey Butter:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
pinch of Kosher or sea salt

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add chilled butter. Using your fingertips (not your palms!) or a pastry blender, cut cold butter into flour mixture until it is roughly the size of peas.

Pour in 1 cup cold buttermilk. Stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until a sticky, shaggy dough forms.

Scoop dough by the 1/4 cup and drop biscuits a couple inches apart on the prepared pan. Bake biscuits for 12-14 minutes, until they have puffed and are starting to brown.

Make the honey butter. In a small bowl, combine butter, honey and salt. Microwave in 20 second increments, stirring between, until melted together. Brush onto warm biscuits. Serve.

Biscuits are best the day they are made. Leftovers may be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of days. Biscuits without honey butter may be frozen for up to 3 months.

Honey Butter Drop BiscuitsHoney Butter Drop Biscuits

Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}

Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Although I have never publicized it this way, I have privately referred to this time of my blogging year as “Savory January” for some time now. You see, every January since starting this site, I (mostly) switch focus from sweets to weeknight meals, sides and other savory pursuits. It’s not for weight loss, “cleansing” or any reason beyond keeping things interesting—I cook as much as I bake, and those recipes deserve their moment in the blogging sun, too. Is switching up my blog POV for one month a year weird? Sure. But I like variety, and also this is my website and I can do what I want.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Pasta e Fagioli has been one of my favorite recipes for years and years. At its most basic, it’s a vegetable soup with pasta and beans, but it’s so much more! It’s easy, it’s cheap, it’s hearty, and it’s dang delicious. Oh, and it’s vegetarian—vegan without the cheese, gluten-free depending what kind of pasta you use. Yesssss.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}I made this Italian staple all the time when I first moved to NYC, but moved on to other things because that’s just how cooking goes for me. I make something regularly for a few weeks/months/years and then I completely forget about it for a few more weeks/months/years. In this case, I remembered Pasta e Fagioli on the last night of our Maine trip this past October. We had some produce to use up, and we had some tomato paste, beans (aka fagioli), pasta and cheese ends lingering…and well, when life gives you lemons, you know.

Long story short, I used up ingredients, was able to feed my people in under an hour start-to-finish and also became obsessed with Pasta e Fagioli again. We’ve been back in Brooklyn for three months and I’m still over here making this every couple of weeks. The heart wants what it wants.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Making Pasta e Fagioli is super simple and you probably have most of the ingredients already. The method is nearly identical fo the way I make Sausage, White Bean & Kale Soup because why fix what isn’t broken?

Start by cooking the mirepoix (French term for carrot, celery & onion) for about ten minutes. You’re not going to get any color on it, but this is where the flavor building begins. Add some garlic, and then coat it all in tomato paste and let it caramelize for a few minutes. Add some herbs (fresh or dried), vegetable stock and water, and let that all simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the vegetables are soft. Finish it all off with a couple of cans of white beans and a bunch of kale (or any hearty green) and let them warm through, then combine the soup with cooked pasta in individual soup bowls. All that’s left to do is grate some parm over the top and call it dinner.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}If you’re wondering why I cook the pasta separately from the rest of the soup, it’s because I’m a single lady who eats a lot of leftovers and hates mushy pasta. I do this with chicken noodle soup as well—by keeping the two components separate, the pasta doesn’t overcook or get waterlogged and sad. If you have a group to feed or will otherwise not have leftovers (or maybe like your pasta really soft?), feel free to toss it in the pot with the beans and kale.

Pasta e Fagioli takes less than an hour start-to-finish and keeps like a dream. I made a big pot on Sunday night and have been reheating it for quick dinners when I get home from work. Let me tell you, it’s taking the edge off the post-holiday blues.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}

Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}
makes 4-6 servings

For pasta:
water
Kosher or sea salt
splash of olive oil
1 1/2 cups small pasta (farfalline, ditalini, elbows)

Soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium carrots, peeled, sliced into thin half-moons
3 ribs celery, trimmed, thinly sliced
1 medium-large yellow onion, diced small
1/2-1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, divided
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
4 cups vegetable stock
4 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 bunch kale or chard, stemmed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 15-ounce cans cannelini or other white beans
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for topping
grated parmesan cheese, for topping (optional)

Fill a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pot 2/3 full with water. Bring to a boil. Salt well and add pasta, cooking according to the package directions. Drain pasta and return to the pot. Drizzle lightly with olive oil to keep it from sticking together whil you prepare the soup.

Heat olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion and a pinch of salt to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until starting to soften (about 10 minutes). Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir to coat. Let cook for 2-3 minutes, until tomato paste begins to darken. Add bay leaves, thyme, optional red pepper flakes, vegetable stock and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook 20-25 minutes, or until vegetables are soft (but not mush).

Remove bay leaves. Add beans and kale and let cook 5-7 more minutes, until greens have wilted a bit. Stir in parsley. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

For serving, place about 1/2 cup of cooked pasta in each bowl. Top with soup and stir together. Garnish with Parmesan, if desired.

Soup will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days.

Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}

Friday Favorites: 2020

Friday Favorites: 2020Happy New Year! This post is coming at you from the recent past—December 29th—so I hope no new terrible things have happened between then and this posting. 2020 was such a weird year. It started off okay, but quickly devolved to…well, whatever this is. I, for one, am hoping for hope in 2021.

As a preface to this list, I wrote three paragraphs about the events of last year (staying at home, flour shortage, bread, people learning to bake, blah blah blah) and then deleted them because, you know, you were there. It was a year where nearly everything changed, but at least one thing remained the same: I was here, baking in Brooklyn. Here are some of my personal favorite recipes from 2020.Friday Favorites: 2020
Mini Layer Cakes

There weren’t many layer cakes on here in 2020, but the ones that made the cut were teensy—just enough for 4-6 servings. Perfect for a pandemic, right?!Friday Favorites: 2020
Pecan Sandies

Buttery shortbread is difficult to beat for ease and pure deliciousness, but adding in a hefty dose of toasted pecans (and nostalgia) never hurt anything.Friday Favorites: 2020
Black Forest Cake {Schwarzvaldtårta}

I got a little homesick around my birthday this year, so I made a Black Forest Cake {Schwarzvaldtårta}, which happens to be a Fort Worth favorite. You won’t find chocolate sponge or cherries in this recipe, but if you are into light-as-air almond dacquoise, whipped cream, dark chocolate and the best kind of chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag), you are in for a treat. Did I mention it’s naturally gluten-free?Friday Favorites: 2020
“I Got Yolks” Chocolate Chip Cookies

Black Forest Cake {Schwarzvaldtårta} requires a whole lot of egg whites, which means you’ll have a whole lot of leftover yolks…which means you should make some “I Got Yolks” Chocolate Chip Cookies. To put it plainly, they’re simply the best chewy chocolate chip cookies to ever come out of my kitchen.Friday Favorites: 2020
Crispy, Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yes, this was a year with two chocolate chip cookie recipes. These crispy, crunchy ones were a long time coming, and were they ever worth the wait!Friday Favorites: 2020
Funfetti Cookie Cupcakes

Rainbow sprinkles and cookie cake are two of my favorite things. Put them together and make them mini? How can I resist?!Friday Favorites: 2020
Buttermilk Pancakes

Perfect fluffy pancakes eluded me for years, but not anymore! These are really good and really easy. Oh, and those golden tops? They’re easier to achieve than I ever thought possible.Friday Favorites: 2020
Chocolate Quinoa Cake {Gluten-Free}

One of my biggest accomplishments this year was staying sober through…everything. While I normally don’t celebrate my sobriety date on here, it seemed important to publicly acknowledge it during a time of so much struggle. When I hit seven years in April, I celebrated at home with this Chocolate Quinoa Cake. It’s made with an easy blender batter, is naturally gluten-free, and absolutely delicious with a blanket of chocolate buttercream.Friday Favorites: 2020
Homemade Chocolate Shell

Making my own ice cream toppings is one of my favorite warm weather pastimes. This two ingredient Homemade Chocolate Shell has appeared on this blog many times over the years, but 2020 was when it finally got its moment to shine.Friday Favorites: 2020
Almond Boterkoek {Dutch Butter Cake}

I brought in 2020 eating Almond Boterkoek on my friend, David’s couch. Eight weeks later (to the day!), I figured out the recipe for myself. It’s a simple cake, perfect for any occasion, including saying goodbye to our weirdest year on record.Friday Favorites: 2020
Brown Butter Nutella Swirl Muffins

Brown Butter. Nutella Swirl. Muffins.

Need I say more?Friday Favorites: 2020
Meyer Lemon Sweet Rolls

Imagine biting into pure sunshine, but with butter and icing. That’s what these are like.Friday Favorites: 2020
Grapefruit Sandwich Cookies

These sweet, tart, teeny-tiny cookies are filled with a homemade ruby red grapefruit curd. So, so good. I cannot say this more explicitly: you must make these. Must.Friday Favorites: 2020
Oatmeal Puff Pancake {Gluten-Free Dutch Baby}

Puff Pancakes are my favorite weekend breakfast of all time, and making them whole grain and gluten-free? Well, that makes them even better.Friday Favorites: 2020
Oatmeal Waffles {Vegan & Gluten-Free}

Crisp on the outside, soft on the inside waffles made without flour or animal products? You better believe it!Friday Favorites: 2020
Gingerbread Cake {Vegan & Gluten-Free}

Speaking of making things vegan and gluten-free, finally making a Gingerbread Cake for my friend, VJ, was a great way to end the year. It’s dark, perfectly-spiced, and slightly sticky. It might just be the only Gingerbread Cake recipe you’ll ever need.Friday Favorites: 2020
Pumpkin Spice Spread & Pumpkin Pie S’mores

If you’ve been here a while, you know I love to sing the praises of sweetened condensed milk—that stuff can do anything, including make a spreadable pumpkin pie filling for everything from toast to s’mores.Friday Favorites: 2020
Cream Biscuit Pecan Sticky Buns

Back when the pandemic began and shelves were empty, I threw my plans out the window and baked and blogged exclusively from what I already had on hand. These Cream Biscuit Sticky Buns were one of the results—a mash-up of two of my favorite things.Friday Favorites: 2020
Maple Sugar Cookies

These little sugar cookies have huge maple flavor. Made with brown butter, brown sugar and a double dose of pure maple syrup, they’re impossible to resist.Friday Favorites: 2020
Cocoa Brownies

I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention that this blog turned five years old in 2020! It was a highlight of my year, as was celebrating with the Cocoa Brownies from my first post. They’re easy, fudgy and so, so good.

Have you made any of these recipes? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

Friday Favorites: 2020