Sandwich Struggle

Confession time. I have a problem. Sandwiches have always been a struggle for me. Such a pity, since I love nothing more than the idea of a sandwich. What could be better than a bounty of wonderful ingredients slapped between two thick pieces of bread? Maybe it’s toasted, maybe it’s not. Either way, it’s sure to be delicious as you bite into it and your taste buds are overwhelmed with a flurry of flavors. For me, this is the moment where the train grinds to a screeching halt.

I have a condiment conundrum. Going all the way back to when I was just a tiny little Taste Bud, sandwich condiments have repulsed me. Mayonnaise? Forget about it. That thick, creamy white substance will never touch my sliced bread. Uh-oh. Do you hear that? That music? It’s getting louder. Could it be? It’s building in a slow, but definite condiment crescendo. It sounds like the music from the shower scene in the Hitchcock classic Psycho. This could only mean one thing…

AHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Horror of horrors! Don’t even think about getting any of this stuff within a 50 foot radius of me. Simply taking this picture was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. I’m not meaning to direct all of my disgust toward the bright yellow mustard. I’m an equal opportunity hater when it comes to any mustard. Dijon, spicy, whole-grain, German, English, Chinese, Bordeaux – I hate ’em all. My dilemma should be quite clear at this point. If I can’t stomach any of the popular condiments, how am I able to eat sandwiches? I have one word. Dry. Think Sahara Desert dry. Perhaps even Atacama Desert dry – the driest desert in the world.

Yes, I’ve choked down many a dry sandwich in my day, much to my own displeasure. Thankfully, there is one sandwich that solves my struggle. A sandwich that stands out above all of the rest. A sandwich that requires no condiments to be absolutely and utterly fabulous. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the grilled cheese sandwich has arrived to save the day and take me out of the doldrums of dryness forever.

Like a sandwich symphony, the grilled cheese has it all. Let us take a moment to marvel at its beauty.

My hero! What’s not to love about this? Two thick pieces of bread oozing with cheesy goodness. Even better, these wonderful creations are grilled up using lots of one of my favorite ingredients – butter! Everything is better with butter. I should print bumper stickers with this slogan. Now back to our grilled cheese…

The options are overwhelming. You can experiment with the type of bread. You can experiment with the type of cheese. If you’re feeling especially feisty, you can even mix and match your cheeses. Don’t be afraid to add other ingredients to the party. I’ve been known to put bacon in my grilled cheese sandwiches. Why? Everything is better with bacon. I should print bumper stickers with this slogan. Why do I keep getting sidetracked with visions of bumper sticker grandeur today? Back to our sandwich! Let your imagination run wild. See that ripe avocado on your counter? That could make a wonderful addition to your next grilled cheese creation. How about those juicy tomatoes that will be coming in by the bushel this summer? Why not add a slice or two? Do what tastes good to YOU.

Most importantly, the grilled cheese sandwich beautifully solves my condiment conundrum. No condiments are required, because these culinary creations were made for dunking! Grilled cheese and soup go hand in hand. They’re a match made in heaven. Bellying up to the table with a grilled cheese sandwich and a steaming bowl of soup sends my taste buds into hysterics and gets my heart all aflutter. What kind of soup should you use for the dunking experience? Use your favorite, of course. There are no rules. If it is appetizing to your taste buds, then you have made the correct soup selection.

As I pick up the grilled cheese and give it that satisfying dip into my bowl, I see it soaking up even more flavor, while getting a nice dose of hydration and moisture. Your soup becomes a spa for your sandwich, accentuating its intrinsic beauty. That first bite is pure bliss. No condiments needed here. Mayonnaise and mustard can take a hike! Grilled cheese, I salute you!

What’s your favorite grilled cheese and soup combination?

Happy dunking,

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

Feeling Crabby

Feeling crabby? Hey, it’s Monday. At least you can take some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Mondays have been bringing a crabby feeling to folks all across the world for years, decades, centuries, possibly even millennia. Some scientists even theorize that this crabby feeling on a Monday can be traced all the way back to our dinosaur ancestors in the Jurassic period. Meanwhile in 2012, those in the work force are desperately clinging on to their good memories from the weekend, while deadlines and projects loom on the horizon. I’m reminded of that old saying about making lemonade out of lemons, except I’m going to apply it to crabs. When life gives you crabs, make crab chowder! (Something about that doesn’t sit well with me, but let’s just go with it…)

A nice, hearty chowder that is sure to lift your spirits on a Monday (or any day of the week, for that matter) is just a few simple ingredients away. Technically, it’s a crab AND corn chowder, but the crab really is the star of this show. Here’s what you’ll need to get started!

16 ounces of crab meat (I used claw meat)
3-4 slices of bacon
A few stalks of celery
1 onion
3-4 Yukon gold potatoes
Frozen corn kernels (yellow or white)
2 cups of seafood stock
1 cup of heavy cream
1 1/2 cups of whole milk
4-5 bay leaves
1 tablespoon of Old Bay seasoning
2-3 tablespoons of flour

Gathering the goods

As with all good things in life, this crab and corn chowder starts with BACON! That crabby feeling is already starting to disappear, isn’t it? Take a few slices of bacon and give them a rough chop while your big pot heats up on the stove.

Bacon gets ready to fry!

When your pot is nice and hot, throw that hunk of meat in there and listen to it sizzle!

Bacon getting crispy

After a few minutes in the pot, the fat will render out and the bacon will get crispy and brown. When it’s completely cooked, take a slotted spoon and lift your bacon out of the pot, being sure to leave as much bacon grease behind as possible. This bacon grease will eventually be used to cook your vegetables, allowing the bacon flavor to perfume its way all throughout the chowder. Set your cooked bacon on a plate, lined with some paper towels to soak up any excess grease. The bacon will be used to garnish your chowder at the end.

Crispy, crunchy, salty goodness!

Now that we have the bacon all crisped up, it’s time to turn our attention to the vegetables. Take a few celery stalks and an onion, giving both vegetables a fine dice. You don’t want the pieces too large, so it’s important to remain aware of the size of your vegetables here. Take your Yukon gold potatoes and cut them into cubes, which should be larger in size. If you cut the potatoes too small, they’ll turn to mush in the chowder and ultimately lose their shape and texture. I like using Yukon gold potatoes for this recipe because of their beautiful yellow color and their creamy texture. Be honest, did you nibble on some of that bacon while you were chopping? That’s all right. So did I.

Organization is key!

Remember all of your bacon drippings back in your big pot? They should be beckoning at this point and pleading for some company. That company would be your diced onion and celery. Add those two ingredients to the pot and let them cook over medium heat for a few minutes until they soften and get a light golden brown color.

Cooking the onions and celery

Once the onions and celery have softened, it’s time to get some spuds into the mix. Add your cubed Yukon gold potatoes and give everything a big stir.

Yukon gold potatoes

Let the potatoes cook with the onion and celery for 7 or 8 minutes. The potatoes won’t be cooked completely at this point, but that’s all right. There will be plenty of time for them to simmer once the liquid is added. At this point we need to think ahead. We are about to add a lot of liquid, but we don’t want our final product to be too runny. It’s time to add a thickener. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour on top of your celery, onion, potato mixture and stir. Leave this on the heat for about 2 minutes, to help cook out some of that raw flour taste. Now that we have added the flour, when the liquids get added to the party, everything will begin to thicken slightly to the consistency we want.

Flour will thicken things up

Now it’s time to get some liquid into this chowder, in what will begin the final stages of our meal! First, add in 2 cups of seafood stock. Luckily these days, you can find seafood stock readily available at most larger grocery stores. The stock gives a nice depth of flavor to your chowder and will give the impression that it has been bubbling away on the stove all day long. After adding the seafood stock, add several bay leaves, and a heaping tablespoon of Old Bay seasoning. The bay leaves have a nice floral aroma and the Old Bay will make you feel like you’re out on the beach at a crab boil.

Ingredients mix and mingle

So at this point you might be wondering when the crab makes its glorious appearance. That time would be right now! I used claw meat from the grocery store, but you could certainly boil and pick your own crabs, if you’re feeling ambitious. I opted to take a little bit of help from the grocery store and make things a bit easier on myself. Even if taking the simpler route, be sure to pick over the crab meat because stray shells can sneak their way in and ruin your chowder, bringing that crabby feeling back. Not good. Once you’ve looked over your crab meat get ready to dump it into the pot.

Sweet, delicious crab

The crab meat is sweet, tender, and carries a briny flavor that will make your chowder taste like the sea. Corn is a perfect addition because it mirrors some of the same sweetness that can be found in the crab. I used a few cups of frozen white corn, which is typically a bit sweeter than yellow corn kernels. Add your corn into the pot right behind your crab. When you thought this couldn’t get any better, it’s time for the addition of some dairy. We need a cup of heavy cream plus 1 1/2 cups of whole milk. This isn’t the place to skimp. Don’t think about the fat and calories. Think about the crabby feeling that prompted this whole cooking endeavor and how satisfying it’s going to be when the first spoonful passes through your lips. After all, that’s why exercise was invented, right?

Time to simmer

At this point, everything is in the pot and now it’s time to be patient and let it simmer. Partially cover your pot, lower the heat, and let the chowder simmer for about an hour or so, stirring occasionally to keep things from sticking. After about an hour, the chowder will have thickened, all of the flavors will have had a chance to marry, and the potatoes will be perfectly tender. It will be a nice creamy color, with a hint of pink from your Old Bay seasoning. Now all you need is a big bowl, a big spoon, and a BIG appetite. The big appetite won’t be a problem, because after you’ve smelled this chowder bubbling away for the past hour, you will be ravenous. Ladle out a generous portion into your bowl and don’t forget to top the chowder with a few pieces of your crispy bacon from earlier. That will be the perfect salty, crunchy finish to such a sweet and creamy chowder. The first bite is pure perfection. You get a nice hunk of hearty potato, the celery and onion singing slightly in the background, while the sweet crab and corn step up to be the stars of the show. All of those ingredients swimming in a sea of cream, milk, and stock, infused with bacon, bay leaves, and Old Bay. As a grin of total satisfaction washes over your face, the crabby feeling you had just a bit more than an hour ago will be replaced by a nicer crabby feeling. That feeling will only intensify, as each bite you take will be better than the last. So the next time Monday gives you crabs, get into the kitchen and make some chowder!

Chowder is finished!

Happy Monday and happy eating,

The Taste Bud