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Zuppa Toscana Soup

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A Delicious (Better Than?) Olive Garden Copycat

Zuppa Toscana Soup

My first trimester of pregnancy was rough, but it wasn’t just tough on me.  It was definitely tough on Craig, too, and I know we were both counting down the days until it ended.  For starters, the nausea was almost unending, and if there was even a brief moment I didn’t feel totally sick, I was worried something was wrong with the baby (I will make sure to relish those brief moments the next time I am pregnant).  And O-M-G I cannot believe how exhausting it is to grow a baby!  I pulled more all-nighters than anyone I know in college, and that exhaustion seriously cannot compare to the first trimester of pregnancy.  I am now a believer that the only people who will ever know the true meaning of the word “exhaustion” are woman who have dealt with this first trimester symptom.

Craig was definitely a trooper through my first trimester.  He found time to pick up around our place and do dishes and laundry, plus he never complained about my insane napping schedule on top of needing nine hours of sleep each night.  He also never complained about the fact that we were eating pasta for probably between seven and ten meals a week because it was the easiest thing on my stomach.  And when boiling pasta became to daunting of a task for me (it takes a lot of energy to watch the water get hot and occasionally stir!), Craig took over that task, as well.  And somehow he also managed to dominate that block’s exam in med school!

Cooking and baking were just not happening during the first trimester, so when it finally came to a close at the end of March and I was starting to feel a little bit more like myself again, I decided we needed to celebrate with something new and delicious!  But what?  We had a cold front coming in, so I knew that this would probably be my last chance to cook a yummy wintry meal.  Then I remembered my trip to Ohio a month an a half earlier to visit family.  (Thankfully, my morning sickness did not start until the day after I got back to Charleston from that trip.)

It was FREEZING up in Ohio, and it snowed for most of our visit.  One afternoon my mom, aunt, cousin, and I couldn’t decide what to do for lunch.  We ended up at Olive Garden, and I had not clue what to order (it’s not somewhere I get to go often since it is mostly Craig-unfriendly).  My cousin and aunt suggested the unending soup and salad, but I couldn’t decide on the soup.  Everyone offered to me what their favorites were, when the waiter mentioned that I could always start with one type of soup and then choose another type of soup after that.  What a perfect solution for indecisive Ashley!  I started with the Zuppa Toscana soup and would move onto another type of soup after that…at least that was what I thought before I tried the soup.  It was so amazing!  I don’t remember if I had two or three bowls of it.  Yum, yum, yum!

Here are just a few snapshots from the Ohio weather we had during our visit. Our Charleston “cold fronts” have nothing on this!

Fast forward to the end of my first trimester, and I knew this soup would be the perfect celebratory I-can-cook-and-eat-normal-food-again-plus-we-have-a-cold-front meal.  I just had to figure out how to make it Craig-friendly.  So, after some researching, I based this recipe on one that I found from food.com, but I made quite a few changes based on reviews.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb hot Italian sausage
  • 2 or 3 medium to large potatoes, washed but unpeeled
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 or 5 strips of cooked bacon
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 cups of kale (veins removed and sliced thin, like ribbons)
  • 32 oz of chicken broth (one standard sized carton)
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
    • To make Craig-friendly (dairy-free) half and half, buy a can of coconut milk and let it chill in the fridge for at least a couple of hours.  It will separate into a cream on top and watery stuff on bottom.  Then, open the can and use a spoon to skim the coconut cream off the top.  Mix together equal parts coconut cream and plain soy milk (3/4 cup of each for this recipe).

Directions

  1. Remove the sausage from its casing.  Cut into 1/2 to 1-ish inch pieces, and then brown the meat.  Set the browned sausage aside the whatever stockpot you will be using for the soup.
  2. Chop up your bacon, and put that in the stockpot, as well.
  3. Sauté the onions, and add to the stockpot.
  4. Slice up your potatoes into skinny little pieces, leaving the skin on, and toss into the stockpot.
  5. Add your chicken broth, water, and minced garlic to the pot.  Boil the ingredients in the pot for about thirty minutes, or  until the potato pieces are tender.
  6. Add the kale and half and half, mix everything together, and let the soup simmer for about another fifteen minutes.
  7. Enjoy!

Zuppa Toscana Soup - Delicious!

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“Get Well Soon” Chicken Noodle Soup

An Instant Slow Cooker Classic

So unfortunately, after a fabulous Labor Day Weekend with my family, this work/school week started out with the hubster getting sick.  Padre and my twin brother, Alex, were not feeling well over the weekend, so with that many people in such close quarters, we all knew that someone was going down.  The question was, of course, who?  Of course, no one ever “has time” to be sick.  We’re all too busy, we have too many things going on and too many commitments.

I actually kept thinking how funny it was to me that everyone was trying to explain to each other why they really couldn’t get sick, where as everyone else apparently just “couldn’t get sick.”  Maybe it’s my family’s competitive nature, but I was wondering what that conversation actually accomplished.  It’s not like germs were going to say, “Oh, well this person really doesn’t have time for us, so we’ll go infect that person instead,” although that would be quite considerate.

My other thought was that I wasn’t helping by including myself in the “who actually can’t get sick” conversation, but I did, anyway.  The difference was that I wasn’t trying to explain to everyone why I couldn’t get sick.  I was trying to explain to everyone why Craig couldn’t get sick.  Sure, someone would probably end up getting sick this week, but I just kept hoping it wouldn’t be Craig.  I would be better off getting sick instead, or if Craig did have to get sick, he needed to be able to hold it off a little longer.  There were too many things going on this week, from volunteering at a free clinic, to a Wednesday night class Craig is taking this term (besides his regular classes), to being a supplemental instructor for first year students, to lab.  This week was just not the week for Craig to get sick.

Except apparently it was.

So with our home still in total disarray from the weekend, I set out full-force on a mission: To create a great “Get Well Soon” chicken noodle soup!  So what exactly are the components that make up a “Get Well Soon” chicken noodle soup?  Well, this was my list of requirements:

  • The recipe had to make a legitimate amount of soup without a lot of extra effort.
    • Nobody wants to have to make a new batch of soup every day or two when sick.  When you are sick and tired, you want the soup ready to go at almost a moment’s notice, so that means that you definitely want leftovers.  Even though I’m not sick (yet), I don’t want to have to make soup for Craig every couple of days while he is sick.  You could say that makes me an undedicated wife, or you could say that makes me a loving and resourceful wife who prefers to spend her time wisely.  If I can get it all done at once, why not?  Plus, I wanted to make enough soup that I would at least have a little bit ready for me if I do get sick.  Even if I have to make another batch, I want to be able to eat some soup first to give me the energy I need to make more.  And, BONUS, if we don’t use it all up, we can freeze what is left so that we have some to heat back up when we need it later this fall or winter.
  • It had to be made in the crock pot.
    • So I’m not currently sick, and I could have definitely made some chicken noodle soup in a big pot on the stove instead.  However, I wanted this recipe to be something that I could repeat later on, whether it is Craig who is sick or me or even (way in the future) one of our little “Craig-lings” (that’s what my parents call our future children).  When I am sick and achy and have a fever, the last thing I want to do is to have to stand over a stove, stirring soup while my legs are begging mercy for me to lay back down, and the steam and heat rise up, surround, and attack me, causing the beads of sweat I may have already have from the fever to turn in to a raging river of sweat pouring down my body as my temperature continues to escalate.  No, no.  I want the soup to basically make itself while I lay in bed, willing my body to get better.  And in the future when I have kids, I feel like I’m going to want to be able to focus on caring for them when they are sick, or if Hubster is sick, I would like to be able to get the kids out of the house to go do things so Hubster can actually rest.  I mean, Jada can be high-maintanence for a pup sometimes, but I am pretty certain kids will require even more effort than she does.  So, yeah, if this was going to be a recipe I could definitely use over and over again in the future, the crock pot was a must.
  • It had to use boneless chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken or chicken pieces.
    • There are plenty of soups out there that use whole chickens or chicken pieces, and quite honestly I would probably enjoy just about every one of them.  I’m really not picky.  However, I stock up on boneless, skinless chicken breasts when they are BOGO at the grocery store, so I always have some in the freezer.  As I made clear in my previous point, I want a soup that requires little effort in preparation so that I can still make it when I’m sick or don’t have a lot of time.  Plus, when someone is eating chicken noodle soup because they are sick and not just because he or she is craving it, I am guessing most people don’t want to have to worry about picking out any pieces of chicken bones or anything that got overlooked in the crock pot.  They want to be able to eat the soup in a half-asleep state and put the bowl right to their mouth at the end so they can slurp up all the goodness before returning to their nap.  So for the sake of all the sick soup eaters and slurpers out there, I was determined for the recipe to call for boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Easier to make, and easier to eat.

So in the end, I got some inspiration from a few different websites, and eventually just decided that I would have to make this my own.  I guess I would say I ultimately adapted this from a recipe I found on the Southern Food section of about.com, but I definitely made some changes so that it would better fit my tastes as well as meet all of my soup requirements.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 – 2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • I just used a three-pack of chicken breasts because that was easiest, and this recipe is obviously all about what is easiest.
  • 5 cups water
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tsp seasoned salt
  • 1 tsp salt
    • This is about how much salt I used, but you really need to add more or less to tasted, based on whether you are using low sodium chicken broth, plan on eating your soup with saltine crackers, etc.
  • 1/4 -1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
    • You could use 3-4 tbsp dried parsley instead, and it would work fine.  I just personally prefer using fresh ingredients when I can, but honestly, if I am making this soup when I am actually already sick in the future, I will just go for the dried parsley if I already have all the other ingredients on hand and want to avoid a trip to the grocery store.
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8-10 oz noodles
    • I used extra wide egg noodles, and those were awesome in this!

Directions:

Place all the ingredients except the noodles in your slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours.  Remove the chicken and bay leaf.  Cut up or shred the chicken, and then return it to the slow cooker.  Cook your noodles separately* and add them as you serve the soup.

*Instead of cooking the noodles separately, you could add them when returning the chicken to the crock pot, and then continue to cook another hour on low or thirty minutes on high.  I knew that I would be ready to eat by the time I shredded my chicken and returned it to the slow cooker, so I went ahead and cooked the noodles so they would be ready.  I also chose to just add them to each bowl I served instead of tossing them into the slow cooker because since I knew I was planning on having leftovers to use throughout this week, I didn’t want the noodles sitting in there the whole time and getting too soggy.  Plus, Craig and I can add more or less noodles to our soup that way, depending on personal preference.  If we end up freezing some soup for later, I will just boil up some more noodles when we pull the soup back out.  This time, I actually just went ahead and cooked an entire 16 oz bag of noodles, and we are using what we want in the soup, and when we are done with the soup, we will probably just have what is left of the noodles as regular pasta.

I was a little nervous making this, as I am still working up my confidence in the kitchen, but I really enjoyed the soup (besides the fact that I was sweating because it is still in the 90s here in Charleston), and it really seemed to hit the spot for sick Hubster.  We had it for dinner last night, and then he actually had it again for breakfast this morning because nothing else was sounding as good.

So whether you or a loved one is getting sick, or if you’re just craving some easy, tasty chicken noodle soup as the cooler weather approaches, give this recipe a try.  And if you getting sick or are already sick, please get well soon!

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