Mama’s Mother’s Day Meal

I have always had a strong connection with my mom. Maybe it’s because she gave birth to me at such a young age. Maybe it’s because she was always ready to play with me after school. Maybe it’s because she constantly supported and encouraged me. Maybe it’s because she made sacrifices for me left, right, and sideways. Sacrifices that allowed me to have all of the things I needed and most of the things I wanted. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because she cooked delicious meals for me every day of this entire world, when she couldn’t possibly have had the time or energy. Yes, now I think we are on to something…

My mom is certainly right at home in the kitchen. Growing up, I can remember getting off of the school bus and walking up the driveway as delicious smells wafted out of the kitchen on the backs of gentle breezes. Pot roast, fried chicken, fried pork chops, hamburgers, steak and gravy, mashed potatoes, fried okra, and many other southern delicacies could be found on our supper table on any given weeknight. How she found the time to whip up such meals on a regular basis, while sometimes working two different jobs boggles my adult mind. She must have been a superhero.

We didn’t get to place requests. You ate what was there or you were up the creek without a paddle. Luckily for us, everything that flew out of her kitchen was simply delicious. I marveled when my classmates would tell me how they would be having dreaded leftovers for dinner in the evening. I never even knew what a leftover was. It was a completely foreign idea to me. When mom cooked, there were no leftovers. Ever. Every last scrap of food on the table was devoured, every single time.

Now let’s skip ahead to the year 2013. Last Sunday, as you know, was Mother’s Day. If you weren’t aware of this, you may be finding yourself in some hot water right about now. Of course, being the good son that I am, I was fully aware of the weekend’s significance and I prepared accordingly. I made the trek to central North Carolina, where I was born and raised, to spend the Mother’s Day weekend with my mom and dad. I showed up at the front door, roses and balloon in hand, as my mom gave me a big, welcoming hug. I had been in the house no longer than two milliseconds before the talk went to food.

“Now tonight, we’ll be havin’ steaks on the grill at your aunt’s house. I think they’ll be bakin’ potatoes and roastin’ corn, too” she said with her gentle and comforting southern drawl. Before I could even get in a word edgewise, the talk turned to her Mother’s Day dinner – which she fully intended to prepare. She had illusions of culinary grandeur which included making homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes, slow-cooked beans, and angel food cake with fresh strawberries. Of course this all sounded great to me, but I couldn’t get past the nagging feeling I had of letting my mom toil away in the kitchen on the day that was supposed to be all about her.

Mother’s Day arrived and we still had plans to make this very traditional, heavy, filling fried chicken dinner. Then something magical happened. We were watching a cooking show on television that morning featuring a baked fish and vegetable dish. The gears in my head started to turn. Apparently the gears in my mom’s head were turning as well. We gave each other a look and decided that we would go out on a limb and venture into uncharted culinary waters. Not knowing exactly how this would turn out, we took the leap of faith and decided to make our own spin on what we had just viewed on television. I made the decision right then and there that my mom was not to lift a finger on this meal. I would prepare, cook, and clean from start to finish. What could be better than a homemade meal on Mother’s Day cooked by your oldest son? A meal that tastes good, that’s what. Hopefully I could deliver on that promise.

The meal that featured an assortment of fish and vegetables was cooked in the oven in parchment paper packets. Here’s what we ended up getting for this experimental Mother’s Day feast. Keep in mind, you can substitute any of the vegetables or fish choices to suit your own taste buds. Use this as a loose guideline as you peruse the aisles of the grocery store.

Red snapper fish fillets
Snow peas
Heirloom cherry tomatoes
Canned or frozen artichoke hearts
White wine or seafood stock
Assorted fresh herbs
Parchment paper

Again, this is the route we chose for this particular meal – feel free to change it up a bit to leave your own fingerprint on this dish.To get started, tear off a piece of parchment paper about 18″ in length. Lay this out flat on your kitchen counter. Place one of your red snapper fillets right in the center of your parchment paper. Lightly season the fillet with some salt and pepper, minced garlic, and a bit of Old Bay seasoning, if you so desire.

Now, sprinkle some shredded carrots around your fish. Place some thinly-sliced leeks and fennel bulb on top of the shredded carrots. If you aren’t too familiar with fennel, it has a wonderful and delicate licorice flavor. When it cooks in the oven, the flavor mellows a bit and the intrinsic sweetness really begins to shine. Slice your heirloom cherry tomatoes in half and add some of these to the mix. These will add a nice pop of color and make things bright and cheery for your Mother’s Day meal. Next, sprinkle in a few tender snow peas. Ahead of time, I’d already prepared a box of plain couscous according to the directions on the box. Place a few spoonfuls of the cooked couscous around the fish to give this meal some extra substance. Add a few of the canned artichoke hearts around the edges and you’re almost ready to cook! Place a few lemon slices directly on top of your fish fillet and some of the fennel fronds, to give an extra anise flavor. To add some moisture to your creation, pour about 1/4 of a cup of your white wine or seafood stock all around the vegetables and fish. I opted to use seafood stock here rather than the wine. As much as I love to drink the stuff, cooking with wine just isn’t how I roll. I prefer to have mine in a glass, thank you very much. Add a tablespoon of butter on top of the fish, which will melt down and provide a silky, rich finish. Sprinkle an assortment of chopped fresh herbs over the top. We went with some thyme, parsley, and basil, since they were in abundance in my mom’s herb garden that afternoon.

Before you seal it up, here’s what your meal should look like. I love all of the bright colors smiling back at me. It’s a meal that you won’t have to feel too guilty about eating, because all of the ingredients are good for you!

To seal it up, tear off a piece of parchment paper just as long as your original piece and lay it over the top. Begin crimping the edges and stapling to ensure that things are as airtight as they can possibly be. Once you’ve sealed it all the way around, you’re good to go. Your fish packet will be ready to pop in the oven!

Your fish and vegetables will cook and steam in their own juices, along with the stock and butter. Place your packets in a 425 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Once you remove them from the oven, let them rest for about 5 minutes so they can continue to cook. Now all that’s left to do is open your packets and pig out! Be careful when you slice into the parchment paper, because steam will be waiting to make its great escape and it could burn your fingers. Once you slice into your packet, you will be greeted by a truly beautiful sight.

What a feast! It’s healthy. It’s easy. It’s self-contained. Place each packet on a large plate to serve. You can eat right out of the parchment paper.

The room was initially quiet, as we looked at this unfamiliar meal that was now in front of us. Everyone began to very cautiously poke and prod around the combination of fish and vegetables. Being the brave one in the group, I took the first bite. The flavors were out of this world! The decision to add some butter was a good one – but then again, when is it not? The lemon really infused its flavor into the fish as it was baking. Speaking of the fish, it was tender, it was flaky, and it was delicious!

Old habits die hard in our house. There were no leftovers, just like the old days. Also, not one, but two momentous occasions occurred on this particular Mother’s Day. We stepped outside of our comfort zone, by trying something completely out of the ordinary for our family. Stepping outside of our comfort zone was completely overshadowed by what happened next. Something that even Nostradamus, in all of his infinite wisdom, couldn’t have predicted. I actually did the dishes. That’s right. The Taste Bud got in the kitchen and cleaned things up. But before you go showering me with praise, you should know that the cleanup process consisted solely of wadding up pieces of parchment paper. Still, I do like getting showered with praise, so don’t hold back. Praise away!

Make sure you leave enough praise for your mom. Even if she’s not still with you, make time to remember the good times. I’m lucky to have spent three wonderful decades with my mom and I’m looking forward to the years, the laughs, and the great meals that are waiting for us in the future. That’s a forecast that The Taste Bud can guarantee.

Honor thy mother with food,

The Taste Bud

Tackling Tuesday

Tuesday is a tough day for The Taste Bud. In fact, it usually turns out to be the toughest day of the week, not just for me, but for folks everywhere. Let’s analyze the rationale behind this for just a moment.

On Monday, you still have good memories from the weekend at the forefront of your mind. This helps ease the transition back into the work week and gives you comfort as you sip the first cup of java in the break room. On Wednesday, you have the satisfaction of knowing you are halfway through the work week. It’s all downhill from here! On Thursday, you know that the next day is Friday. Some folks have even been known to call Thursday “Little Friday.” On Friday, well, it’s Friday! This one is pretty self-explanatory. The weekend is no more than a few short hours away and the commencement of your weekend escapades is quickly approaching.

This brings us back to little ole Tuesday. There’s seemingly nothing special about it. It’s not the beginning. It’s not halfway. It’s certainly not the end. The weekend still feels light years away. You never hear anybody say “Yeah! How about that Tuesday?” It’s for that very reason that I sometimes rely on a food pick-me-up to give this day some extra pep and pizazz. With this in mind, I think of my favorite three-word phrase. Treat yo self.

Three little words that encourage a bit of indulgent behavior. Three little words that encourage me to throw caution to the wind and satisfy that urge for something that will give me a much-needed push toward the Friday finish line. Three little words that help me find inspiration and motivation on even the most desperate Tuesday mornings. So let’s get into the kitchen. It’s time for us to treat ourselves.

It always starts out innocently enough. I take a look into the refrigerator and just happen to notice some beautiful strawberries that I had found at the store. I think I’ll have a few of these luscious, sweet berries for my Tuesday treat. Yes, that should do the trick!

Wow, what a healthy, good-for-you snack I have chosen. I’m treating myself and not even feeling guilty about it. That’s what I call a win-win situation. Then I seem to remember that I have some chocolate-hazelnut spread in the cabinet. I convince myself that surely just letting one of the strawberries take a dip into the chocolatey goodness couldn’t be too bad for me. After all, we are treating ourselves today. It’s Tuesday!

Dipping things in chocolate just makes them taste better. That’s a scientific fact. Plus, it’s just one little strawberry. What could be the harm in that?

I’d say that combination was a success, judging by the berry brutality that has just occurred on my plate. I’m treating myself and things are staying under control. This is wonderful! Then I seem to remember that I have a loaf of ciabatta bread over on the counter. The gears in my brain are turning and my gut is growling. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

I cut off two slices of the fresh, airy bread.

I’m quickly realizing that my innocent Tuesday treat is suddenly turning into an increasingly crazy and calorie-laden creation. As my will power slips out the window, I carry on with this act, almost as if in a treat-yo-self trance. Getting more and more chaotic and frantic, I grab a knife to smear and slather both slices of the bread with the chocolate-hazelnut spread.

Hazelnuts are good for you, I keep reminding myself. Plus, it says on the jar that this spread is made with skim milk. This isn’t so bad. PLUS, I’m going to generously layer some strawberries on one of the slices of bread – as soon as I quit shoveling spoonfuls of this chocolate-hazelnut spread in my mouth.

A not-so-healthy sandwich is now smiling back at me from the plate. It’s all because of you, Tuesday! You’re doing this to me. It could be worse though, right? Of course it could. It’s time to eat. But wait, I seem to remember that I have some butter in my refrigerator. All right, when don’t I have butter in my refrigerator? In a zombie-like state, my hands reach for the butter and drop a tablespoon or so into a frying pan that has magically made its way to the stove without my knowledge. The butter starts to melt. My mouth starts to water.

I’m a sucker for butter and when it’s melted, all the better. The golden liquid will be perfect for frying up my increasingly unhealthy Tuesday treat. This whole endeavor has taken on a mind of its own. I place the two pieces of bread together and gently ease my sandwich into the melted butter.

The sound of the sizzle when the bread hits the pan is pure bliss. The smell of the melted butter browning the bread is one that drives my nose crazy with anticipation. After a few minutes on one side, my nose is telling me that it’s time to flip this sandwich over and get the other side just as golden.

After a few minutes on the other side, we are ready to get down to business. With both sides perfectly golden brown, I remove the sandwich from the pan – as soon as I quit shoveling spoonfuls of this chocolate-hazelnut spread in my mouth. With the sandwich perfectly done, let’s plate it up!

Now it’s time for the big reveal. It’s time to cut our Tuesday treat open and stand in awe of the goodness inside.

Oh my gosh.

It’s so pretty.

It’s time to eat – as soon as I quit shoveling spoonfuls of this chocolate-hazelnut spread in my mouth.

So it wasn’t the healthiest thing. But it sure tasted good. At the end of the day, that’s what treating yourself is all about. Now with my sweet tooth satisfied and my belly nice and full, it’s time for me to tackle this Tuesday head on – as soon as I quit shoveling spoonfuls of this chocolate-hazelnut spread in my mouth.

When you are treating yourself, what’s your favorite food? Or do you sometimes just follow the whims of your own desires and cupboards as I did on this particular Tuesday?

Happy treating (and eating),

The Taste Bud

Choked Up

I find myself getting choked up over quite a few things these days. Sad movies. Sappy songs. Snow in April. Folding laundry. Bad grammar. Especially bad grammar. If your looking to choke me up immediately, its quite easy to do, simply by misusing a few common words. The list could go on and on and on. Lately, something else has been eating away at me. More specifically, I’ve been choked up about something in the culinary realm. I’m trying to figure out how after nearly three decades on this great spinning planet, I’ve only just now begun to realize the wonders and versatility of the almighty artichoke! In my opinion, that’s absolutely something to be choked up about. We are going to resist the urge to be saddened by this revelation. Instead, we are going to embrace the versatility of this awesome ingredient and appreciate the ways that it can enhance our endeavors in the kitchen. Are you with me? Good. Now let’s get in their and cook! (The grammar, again! My heart can’t take it! Bad artichoke pun? Save me from myself!)

There are a few occasions when I think it’s perfectly acceptable to use frozen vegetables. In fact, these frozen veggies can sometimes be the best bargains in the entire store. Let’s welcome our friend, the artichoke. They may appear to be a bit intimidating in the produce section. They seem to stare down at you from behind the endive and eggplant with menacing and holier-than-thou glances. You might find yourself avoiding eye contact, sheepishly casting looks to the baby red potatoes and green beans. You might even find yourself being drawn by the calling of the carrots and cauliflower, as they gently persuade you to take the more familiar, well-traveled culinary path. However, you look back up at the artichokes. Desperately wanting to conquer your fears, you reach out a hand to grab one, but then…

The Taste Bud is here to save you! I swoop in Superman style, wearing a muscle shirt embroidered with the letters TB, that quite effectively draws attention to my non-existent muscles, while my cape flaps in the breeze. As a crowd gathers to stare at this spectacle you suddenly feel a wave of calmness washing over you, as you snicker at this cape-wearing string bean of a superhero. You realize that there is no need to bother with these time-intensive fresh artichokes. Luckily, at most major grocery stores, someone has done most of the work for you. Not only have they done most of the work, it’s going to end up saving you tons of money in the long run. I scoop you up in one arm and we take flight, landing a few dozen yards away in the promised land – the frozen foods section. Right in front of us, we have none other than the frozen artichoke!

They don’t seem nearly as cocky now that we have put them on ice. Although these hearts may be frozen, my heart is nice and warm when I think about all of the time and money I’m saving by buying these already prepared artichoke hearts. For a mere $3.00 a bag, I still assert that this is one of the best bargains in the entire store. Still, there’s a looming question and it’s a question that must be addressed. What are we going to make with these artichoke hearts? I propose a pesto of prodigious proportions. A pesto that will allow our artichoke hearts to shine, with little effort on our part. What’s not to like about that? Now it’s time for you to be the superhero!

For your artichoke pesto, you’ll need:

1 12 oz. bag of frozen artichoke hearts
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
1/2 cup of basil leaves
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of grated garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

To start, cook your frozen artichoke hearts according to the directions on the bag. Mine called for about five minutes in the microwave. When they’ve done their time in the microwave, open up that bag and let the goodness spill out into your kitchen. The artichoke hearts have a subtle citrus flavor that will pair up nicely with the lemon in this recipe.

Here’s what they look like after cooking. Now our frozen hearts have become warm and friendly. Again, you won’t believe how much time and money you’re saving by going the frozen route here. Who wants to be boiling and peeling artichokes in the kitchen all day? Not this Taste Bud. Place your artichokes in a food processor and get ready to add the other ingredients.

Place your sweet basil leaves on top of the artichoke hearts. Now grab your grater and get ready to use some elbow grease!

Let’s get the zest off of that lemon and grate the garlic. By the zest, I’m referring to the outermost part of the lemon. You only want the yellow part. If you start getting into the white part of the lemon, you’ve grated too far! The yellow part of the lemon has such a bright, vibrant flavor since it contains many of the essential oils. These essential oils will flavor your pesto very nicely and accentuate the citrus notes already possessed by the artichoke.

The zest will look like this when you’re finished. These tiny little flecks of yellow are the fruits of your labor for all of that grating. Even though it doesn’t look like much, the flavor power it packs will be very noticeable and quite appreciated by your taste buds. Toss that in your food processor and then give your lemon a nice squeeze, releasing all of its tart juices into the mixture. Toss in the grated garlic and add the grated Parmesan cheese.

The Parmesan cheese will give this pesto a big, salty bite. Plus, Parmesan makes everything taste better. Now give a hearty helping of salt and pepper. You could also add some toasted nuts, like almonds or pine nuts if you so desired. I’ve opted to leave the nuts out for now, because I’m feeling nutty enough, thank you very much.

With all of your ingredients in the food processor, give the whole shooting match a big blend. As everything is getting processed, drizzle in your two tablespoons of olive oil, which will thin the pesto out a bit, while giving it a glistening sheen. After about 30-45 seconds of processing, turn off the machine. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and then process a bit more.

Presto, you have pesto! Between you and me, I’d been waiting this entire blog to use that line. All of the ingredients will be super tiny and everything will be mixed perfectly. Overall, this pesto will have a distinct citrus flavor, but the basil balances that out with some subtle sweetness. What you do with your pesto is up to you. I recommend mixing in a healthy dollop with your favorite pasta. Of course, adding some plump, juicy shrimp on top never hurt anybody.

This pesto pasta is sure to make your taste buds sing. Remember the intimidation you were feeling back in the grocery store as you eyed those artichokes in the produce section? Who is laughing now? You are. You showed those artichokes who the real boss is. You didn’t succumb to the artichoke’s evil glances. You overcame and conquered a bunch of frozen hearts and warmed them up into a pesto pasta masterpiece.

What should you do with the leftovers of your creation? I decided to top some tiny pieces of toast with my leftover pesto and serve them up as an appetizer the next day. I sliced a few pieces off of a fresh baguette and drizzled the tops with olive oil.

Placing these pieces of bread under the broiler for just a few moments will turn them a golden brown color. Then smear a tablespoon of your pesto on the bread and serve!

What a quick and easy appetizer. Hopefully by this point, you’re no longer feeling intimidated by those daunting vegetables over in the produce section. Hopefully you’re feeling empowered. You are the master of your own culinary destiny. No need to get choked up. It’s time to get pumped up and come up with even more uses for this underutilized ingredient! What’s your favorite way to use artichokes? Share your thoughts with me in the comments section!

There is one more tiny thing that continues to choke me up. That one tiny thing would be Monday. That’s today. Drat.

Happy artichoke eating,

The Taste Bud

The Ultimate Utensils

In this day and age, it seems like you can buy kitchen gizmos and gadgets that will do just about anything. They’ll knead your dough. They’ll chop your onions while guaranteeing that you won’t shed a single tear. They’ll simmer, sizzle, sear, sauté, scrape, scoop, spoon, spread, smear, and satisfy nearly every culinary itch that you could ever imagine. They’ll liquify, pulverize, grind, blend, puree, and whip your egg whites into stiff, voluptuous peaks.

Still, when I get in the kitchen, there is one set of utensils I absolutely can’t live without. I don’t have to worry about misplacing them, which is good news for this scatterbrained cook. They’re easy to find, which is good news for this blind-as-a-bat cook. They don’t cost me a single dime and they don’t have to be replaced, which is good news for this tightwad cook. They’re even attached to my body! Yes, when it comes to getting in the kitchen, scrap all of the fancy stuff and just give me the finger. Preferably all ten of them.

Yes, the fingers. The ultimate utensils. You could even say they’re the ultimate uTENsils. Ten fingers (maybe nine if you’re a high school shop teacher) that are capable of mixing, blending, patting, flipping, picking up, kneading, stirring, scooping, and sneaking a taste of your latest kitchen creation.

I can imagine cooking and eating without a fork. I can imagine cooking and eating without a spoon. I can imagine cooking and eating without a knife. I can’t imagine a single possible scenario that involves me cooking or eating without my fingers. The next time you’re in the kitchen, challenge yourself to see how much you can do with them. Throw caution to the wind and play with your food. Besides, you know you want to. It might not always be pretty, but these valuable utensils will always get the job done, hands down.

Is there a utensil you couldn’t live without? If so, what is it?

Happy eating,

The Taste Bud

Will You Marry Me?

Forgive me for being so forward, but you can’t have a wedding until somebody has popped the question! Oh, we aren’t talking about that kind of wedding? You mean this is a blog about soup? Maybe I should start over.

This blog is dedicated to the soup that makes you think of wedding bells and saying your vows – Italian wedding soup. However, a thorough and exhaustive search of the Internet that lasted at least thirty seconds revealed that this soup’s connection to actual weddings may be a bit erroneous. The name appears to refer more to the marriage of actual ingredients within the soup, rather than the meal served after Jim and Ellen got hitched down at Bubba’s Chapel of Bliss in Vegas. Who knows, maybe Jim and Ellen had a hearty bowl of this delicious soup after tying the knot, but my soup-filled gut tells me this is most likely not the case. Regardless, the ingredients in this soup are a match made in heaven and they work together so harmoniously that the odds of a future divorce look to be slim. Perhaps the frequent and successful preparation of this dish could even lead to a wedding down the road, or strengthen the marriage you may already have. If you’re looking to impress that special someone in your life and perhaps dreaming of hearing the sound of wedding bells, this Italian wedding soup might not be a bad starting point. Now we just need the proper combination of ingredients to make this soup sing to the heavens – let’s go!

Don’t you even think about it! I know it might only be $1.50 for a can, but we are absolutely not going the canned route today. Would you want to marry somebody who thought a special dinner came out of a can? Probably not. As for our actual homemade soup, there are many different recipes, but nearly all of them include the combination of meatballs, vegetables, pasta, and dark greens swimming in a chicken broth. The soup-making process is basically twofold. You’ll make the meatballs, then you’ll make the soup. Then at the end, you perform the wedding ceremony and marry the two, just like a regular meatball minister. Here’s my take on what you’ll need to make the tastiest Italian wedding soup in all the land.

For the meatballs:

1 pound of ground chicken
1 pound of ground pork
2 eggs
3/4 – 1 cup of breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of dried sage
1-2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste (be generous)
1 tablespoon of water
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional, if you want a little extra spice)

Starting with the meat, I choose to use a combination of ground chicken and ground pork. The ground chicken is very lean and the ground pork adds a nice flavor without being too fatty. If you used a fattier meat like beef, you may end up with lots of grease floating on the top of your finished soup. We aren’t trying to eat soup that looks like it has suffered from an environmental disaster like an oil spill, so I would stick with the leaner meats. Add all of the ingredients mentioned earlier one by one. After you have added all of the seasonings and ingredients, your mixture should look something like this…

Doesn’t that look great already? The combination of spices, herbs, and cheese will blend beautifully together. Now let’s get messy. It’s all right, love isn’t always pretty. There’s no better way to mix this all up than to just get in there with my favorite kitchen utensils – my hands! Let the mixture squish all through your fingers. Get all of the ingredients incorporated. You should have a nicely mixed conglomeration of meat, herbs, cheese, and spices when you are finished.

Now it’s time to make the meatballs! If you start out with wet hands, the rolling process will be much easier. Take a hunk of this mixture and begin rolling it in between your hands. You want these meatballs to be no larger than one inch in diameter. With the amount of mixture you have at your disposal, you should be able to churn out 35-40 of these meatballs.

Now that’s a good looking plate of meatballs! This part of the recipe could easily be done in advance, although I wouldn’t do it much earlier than the morning of your soup-making endeavor. I personally prefer throwing these meatballs in a pan with a little olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes to brown them on the outside. This won’t completely cook the meatball all the way through, but it will develop a nice layer of flavor on the outside. If you don’t want to do this step, the meatballs could fully cook in the broth of the soup. You’ll just be missing a chance to develop a bit of extra flavor. Remember, we are trying to impress. Attention to detail matters!

After a few minutes on each side, you’ll end up with this result…

Once they get a nice color on the outside, pull them out of the pan. Don’t go popping one of these meatballs in your mouth just yet as they won’t be cooked in the middle. Raw poultry and humans don’t mix too well. After you have browned your meatballs, part one of your soup preparation is complete. Now let’s talk about the soup part of…our soup.

For the soup:
1 medium onion, diced
4 peeled carrots, diced
5 stalks of celery, diced
2-3 grated cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of stelline pasta (or orzo will work fine)
2 quarts (8 cups) of chicken stock
2 cups of water
6-8 ounces of baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of olive oil

It’s pretty tough to top the flavor combination of onions, carrots, and celery. It’s a combination often referred to as “The Trinity” by chefs around the globe and it’s a wonderful starting point for many different soups.

Once your vegetables are chopped and ready to go, get out your big soup pot and heat up your olive oil over a medium heat. Once it’s hot and ready to go, throw in your vegetables. Cook them until the carrots are tender. The goal here isn’t to brown – it’s more of a chance to let everybody get to know one another before the wedding takes place. As everybody is mingling in the pan, they’ll get more comfortable and start to soften. They’ll lose their inhibitions and before you know it, all the vegetables will be acquainted and ready to get on with the ceremony.

We are getting close to the end now. Add a few cloves of grated or finely minced garlic and let that cook for a quick minute. If you let it cook much longer, the garlic could burn, resulting in a bitter taste. Bitter garlic and love don’t mix. Now it’s time to add some liquid to actually make this a soup. Pour in your two quarts of chicken stock and two cups of water. Stir everything together and raise the heat until the soup comes to a simmer. Now it’s time to add our pasta. For this soup, you want a small pasta. Something like orzo or acini di pepe will work wonderfully. At the store, I came across a box of stelline, which are essentially little pieces of pasta shaped like stars. Since I was already feeling like a soup star, or a souperstar, I figured I might as well let that be reflected in my dish.


That’s what stelline looks like, if you’ve never seen it. Since you’re making this dish for your star, it only seems appropriate. Plus, there’s something about eating star-shaped pasta that makes you feel like a kid again. When you add the pasta, give everything a big stir and cover the pot, letting the soup simmer for about 8-9 minutes. This will give the pasta time to cook and release its starch, which will help to thicken your soup. Taste your soup at this point to see how much salt you need. Having the right amount of salt can make or break a soup. Without enough, your soup could end up tasting like a puddle of dirty water, so make sure you use enough. Taste early and often! Now add in your baby spinach and stir. The spinach will wilt down a tremendous amount, so even though it may seem like a lot, it will reduce. Trust me. After a minute or two when the spinach has wilted, the time has come. Everybody is dressed for the occasion. Everybody has had time to think things over…and over. There’s no turning back. Are you ready to perform the wedding? Grab your meatballs. It’s time.

The next step is very important. After you get married, you probably want to be left alone for a little while. We call this our honeymoon. It’s no different for your soup! Let them enjoy the honeymoon, Put a lid on the pot and leave it on a nice, low heat. Let the ingredients have a relaxing honeymoon, free of interruptions, so all of the flavors can combine. This is also the time when the meatballs will finish cooking completely. I recommend letting it simmer for at least thirty minutes, but an hour would be preferred. The longer you let your soup honeymoon, the more you will be rewarded in terms of flavor development.

When you can wait no longer, grab your bowl and get ready to ladle up the soup. I’d knock on the lid first just to be courteous – you are interrupting a honeymoon after all. Dip up a big bowl and get ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor. I recommend serving it up with a piece of toasted bread for dunking – hopefully this wouldn’t be considered being promiscuous for our newly wed creation. I garnish the bowl of goodness with a bit of fresh parsley and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.


It’s a meal fit for a king. You get meat, vegetables, starch, dairy, all combined into one bowl. It may be a labor of love, but it’s one that will reward your taste buds with every single bite. So if you’re thinking of popping the question, making this soup could certainly be the start to getting the answer you desire. If you’re not thinking of popping the question, at least when you’re finished you can officially call yourself a meatball minister. That alone is reason enough for me.

Cook with love,

The Taste Bud

Good Gourd! Pumpkin Pie French Toast!

French toast – it’s something that really takes me back to my childhood. I can vividly remember many a Saturday morning sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter while stacks of it were frying away on the griddle. Of course back then, I wouldn’t have had it any other way than the traditional method. Plain white bread, some eggs, a splash of milk, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. While there’s nothing wrong with that, my taste buds have matured significantly over the years and now I’m ready to experiment with a tried-and-true breakfast food by adding a pumpkin twist.

These days it seems like folks are obsessed with all things pumpkin. There’s pumpkin coffee, beer, pancakes, pie, muffins, cookies, and even toothpaste. Okay, maybe not the last one. Just give it time. Next year we’ll be brushing our pearly whites with a pumpkin pie paste, proven to whiten our smiles in a mere seven days. You get the point. People are seemingly out of their gourds over pumpkin. So I say let’s spread some of this gourd goodness to one of our favorite breakfast items – french toast!

It’s funny how certain dishes come to fruition. One afternoon I was mixing the filling for a pumpkin pie, when a loaf of bread on the counter caught my eye. A light bulb went off above my head and it suddenly dawned on me that if I dunked the bread in the delicious pumpkin pie filling, beautiful things could happen. As a result, the experimental recipe began on a crisp, cool Saturday evening. Here’s how I did it!

Getting ready to cook!

Now that we are ready to indulge in this sweet, rich, delightful breakfast sensation, let’s talk about some of the ingredients you’ll need.

The ingredients you will need

1 can of pumpkin puree (feel free to use fresh pumpkin if you’d like)
1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 loaf of bread
Butter for frying

Since the bread is the star of the show, I opted to use an eggy, sweet, golden Challah bread (pronounced “HAH-lah”). I didn’t just pick this Challah bread for the Challaofit  (pronounced HAH-luv-it). Bad bread puns aside, Challah was simply MADE for french toast! It is dense, slightly sweet, and eggy in texture. It may be a little bit harder to find than your generic white bread, but it’s well worth the search.

The bread

Doesn’t it just look good?! You’ll want to slice it into rather thick pieces that will be capable of soaking up lots of the sweet pumpkin liquid, while holding up during the cooking process. Slice off as many pieces as you think you’ll want to eat.

Preparing the bread for a dip

Look at that rich yellow color. There’s a slight hint of sweetness that will beautifully interact with the flavor of the pumpkin bath that you’re going to give it. Speaking of which, let’s get that going.

In a mixing bowl, combine your can of pumpkin, evaporated milk, sugar, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla extract. Whisk all of the ingredients together until they are combined.

Combining the ingredients

You’ll have a luscious orange liquid that will just be begging for some bread. Don’t leave it waiting. Get ready to dunk your bread in this pumpkin goodness. Take your bread slices and gently place them in your mixing bowl with the pumpkin mixture.

Taking a swim

Swimming together

Let the bread spend a good amount of time in the pumpkin. Cutting the bread into thicker pieces is important because if it’s too thin, it’ll fall apart as it absorbs the liquid. Turn the bread around in the pumpkin until both sides are completely coated. While you’re doing this, get some butter melting in a frying pan or on a griddle.

Butter for frying

Once the butter has melted and is sizzling and bubbling away, get ready to add your bread! As you take the bread out of the bowl, make sure you allow all of the excess pumpkin mixture to drip away. Once the bread slices have dripped dry, add them to your pan. You should immediately hear a sizzle as the bread begins to cook.

Getting golden and beautiful

Leave the bread alone for a good three minutes or so. At that point, give the slices a flip! They should be brown and beautiful, with autumnal aromas wafting around your kitchen. Give them another three or four minutes on the other side and they should be finished!

The color we are looking for!

The final presentation will be enough to get any pumpkin fanatic into a food frenzy! I like to serve these up with a dusting of powdered sugar over the top, along with whipped cream on the side. A drizzle of syrup will complete the dish, with some toasted pecans as an optional crunchy topping. The pumpkin coating will add the perfect autumnal accompaniment to what can be a boring breakfast item.

Time to eat!

Don’t be bashful. Take that fork and DIG IN! Also, don’t think of this meal solely as breakfast food. I’m a big advocate of having breakfast at any time! I probably have breakfast food in the evening far more than I have it in the morning, but this could be a byproduct of me working a second shift job. Regardless, if the craving for pumpkin hits, you now have a new way to satisfy that desire while pleasing your sweet tooth all at the same time. Now that’s what I call killing two birds with one stone – or would it be with one gourd?

Happy eating,

The Taste Bud